Ocean City’s popular Winterfest of Lights kicks off Thursday night for its 28th year in the Maryland resort town, but it will be different this time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In years past, people would bundle up and pile onto a tram for a 12-minute ride around Northside Park’s 58 acres to see the light display and then visit Santa and maybe have a little hot chocolate.
This year, folks will still bundle up, but they’ll need comfy walking shoes because they’ll be on foot to see the lights, following a half-mile path around the park off 125th Street.
Ocean City said there will be upward of 1 million lights at the park, including lights on about 200 live trees — something new this year.
People will be able to take their time going through the loop around the lagoons on the south end of the park, wandering through attractions like Candy Cane Woods.
As always, they will be able to watch the synchronized light-and-music display on the traditional 50-foot Christmas tree that the town puts up.
Kids will still be able to see Santa, provided they are wearing masks, have their temperatures taken and fill out health-screening forms. He’ll be wearing a mask, too. Children won’t be able to sit on Santa’s lap for photos but will be able to sit in his sleigh and take photos with him nearby.
Of course, there will still be hot chocolate at the park’s entrance (although it’s OK to bring your own).
And the all-important gift shop returns, but not in the huge tents that are typically set up outside. The gift shop will be inside the recreation center and masks will be required.
Winterfest will be open from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, until Jan. 2, 2021.
Tickets cost $5 for anyone who is 12 or older and can be bought online or at the festival’s entrance on 127th Street and Jamaica Avenue. Scooters, power wheelchairs and standard wheelchairs can be rented on site for $10 for two hours.
In a non-pandemic year, Ocean City typically draws an estimated 104,000 visitors to Winterfest. This year, it’s estimated that number will drop to about 69,000.