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OC’s Winterfest of Lights opens Thursday, Nov. 19

(Nov. 19, 2015) Prepare to be dazzled during the 23rd annual Winterfest of Lights, beginning on Thursday, Nov. 19 at Northside Park on 125th Street.
“This has become an annual tradition for families and gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy the holiday experience Ocean City offers,” said Frank Miller, special events superintendent for the Town of Ocean City.
The opening ceremony kicks off at 5:30 p.m., on Thursday, with the Ocean City Elementary School’s “OC Stars” performing holiday songs and dance in addition to an appearance from Santa. Mayor Rick Meehan will “flip the switch” to illuminate the 50-foot Christmas tree, which officially opens the Winterfest of Lights and there will be free rides on the Winterfest Express after the celebration.
The 12-minute tram ride takes guests through 58 acres of more than 400 displays from fairytale characters to the 12 Days of Christmas accompanied with holiday music. From Nov. 19 through Jan. 3, 2016, visitors will have the opportunity to see almost one million lights during their ride through the park.
“It really magnifies the holiday feeling you get this time of year and people really enjoy it,” Miller said. “Grab a blanket and enjoy the ride. There is a little bit for everyone, you leave with terrific memories and make sure to grab hot chocolate after the ride.”
Winterfest of Lights has a different layout each year to keep excursions fresh for returning visitors. Riders have the challenge to find their favorite displays in new locations. The city’s crew began setup in early October to transform the park into a winter wonderland.
Santa will be back to greet visitors and listen to Christmas wish lists through Dec. 23. Children also have the option to write a letter to Santa and put it in his mailbox.
Mrs. Claus will be back to join Santa in spreading holiday cheer, with her focus on staying healthy and helping others.
A tented pavilion, where visitors wait in line for their ride is heated and includes the Winterfest Village.  Yukon Cornelius Gift Shop is filled with ornaments, stocking stuffers, souvenirs and holiday gifts. Hot chocolate and coffee can be purchased from the Ocean City Recreation and Parks Booster.
In addition, visitors can take priceless family photos with a classic Winterfest Express tram car inside the pavilion.
“The Boardwalk tram was a popular asset last year and we have expanded the hotspots for photos,” Miller said.
Winterfest of Lights has become a tradition for local residents and families visiting during the holiday season. Many visit the award-winning nighttime festival each year to take the guided open-air tour through the park accompanied by holiday tunes.
Last year, 111,042 passengers took a ride through illuminated Northside Park during the 46-night holiday spectacular, according to Miller. On an average night, 2,238 people came to view the displays.
Ridership was up from the previous year, with 19,294 more passengers checking out the holiday tradition.
The biggest night last year was Saturday, Nov. 29, when 7,799 people road the tram, with Saturday, Dec. 13 following with 7,156 people enjoying the displays.
“We saw a steady increase and it was one of our better years,” Miller said. “We are very happy with the results.”
The event generated a little more than $500,000 for the city, he added.
The Jingle Bell Run and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show will be returning for the fourth year. The run will take place on Dec. 6, which is sponsored by the Town of Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department and OC Tri Running. The race will take runners through the spectacular displays at Northside Park. The New Year’s Eve celebration will include live entertainment, free giveaways, hot chocolate and a ride through the Winterfest of Lights.
“We have upgraded our New Year’s Eve experience this year,” Miller said. “We are bringing in two deejays, attendees can see themselves dancing on a large video screen and there will be many giveaways including a Coca-Cola bicycle Boardwalk cruiser.”
Winterfest of Lights organizers hope to attract more event sponsors this year, which offsets some of the costs to put on the extravaganza.
The Berlin Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Coca-Cola, Carousel Group hotels and the Clarion have already been slated to sponsor.
The Winterfest of Lights has won numerous awards and received an abundance of accolades throughout its 23 years. The American Bus Association named Winterfest of Lights one of the Top 100 Events in North America for 2014, an honor it also earned in 2013 and 2011. Maryland Life Magazine has voted it “Maryland’s Finest Holiday Tradition.”
The attraction was ranked No. 1 in 2008 on the Professional Travel Guide Editor’s Top 10 of the nation’s largest and best holiday lights displays. Winterfest of Lights was No. 2 in the country on “America Online City Guide’s Top 11 Lighting Displays.” It followed Disney-MGM Studios display in Orlando.
Winterfest of Lights runs nightly through Jan. 3, 2016 at Northside Park. Hours of operation are 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5:30-10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The cost to ride the train is $5 for adults. Children 11 and younger ride for free.
To see a preview video of what’s in store for Winterfest of Lights, visit Call Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department at 410-250-0125 for more information.