OCEAN CITY — Near-perfect weather along with summer-like crowds on many weekends during the holidays resulted in a new attendance records for Winterfest this year, Ocean City officials learned on Monday.
While the weather has taken a sudden turn for the worse this week with a return of winter temperatures, many days in late November and through December pushed into the mid-60s and even 70 on some occasions, creating near-perfect conditions for Winterfest, the resort’s signature special event during the holidays. As a result, the crowds came in droves, making the 2015 Winterfest of Lights a record-breaker, shattering most of the figures from 2014, which set a new standard last year.
Last year around 111,000 local residents and visitors came through the gates at Northside Park. This year, however, 126,924 enjoyed the Winterfest tram and all it has to offer, Special Events Director Frank Miller told the Mayor and Council on Monday.
The record-breaking crowds also created a new standard on the bottom line for the special event. Miller told the Mayor and Council this week the budget for Winterfest is $490,000, but 2014 set a new mark with $541,000 in revenue. The 2015 event erased that short-lived record, however, with $644,000 collected at the gate.
“It was absolutely terrific,” he said. “This will be the model for future years.”
Miller said a variety of factors conspired to set the new records for Winterfest, most notably the favorable weather for the most part, particularly on the weekends. For example, the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, with daytime temperatures in the 70s and summer-like crowds in the resort, drew a record 22,423 to Winterfest. It was a trend that continued through most weekends in December, and even though the temperatures dropped a little late last week and fog and mist pervaded the resort area, the big crowds continued to make their way to the special event, culminating with the fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. Miller praised the stellar weather, but also the hardworking, dedicated Winterfest staff and all of the departments that contribute to its success.
“We really did have a model year,” he said. “There were no major weather issues on the peak holiday weekend days, so we had a maximization of opportunity. That was a huge factor. The people we have working on it all play a major role in the success and that was another huge factor.”
Mayor and Acting City Manager Rick Meehan praised Miller and the Recreation and Parks Department staff, along with the other city departments that contribute, from Public Works to the Police Department, for their roles in making 2015 the best ever for Winterfest of Lights.
“I’d like to congratulate you and your staff,” he said. “You did a fabulous job from the beginning right through the end with the fireworks on New Year’s Eve. We’ve heard nothing but compliments and everything was perfect.”
Miller said the special event is driven by the new visitors experiencing Winterfest for the first time, but also the local residents and return visitors from all over the region who have made it part of their holiday tradition over the years.
“Many come back year after year and it has become a family tradition,” he said. “Years ago, we had kids sitting on Santa’s lap and telling him what they wanted for Christmas and now those kids are coming back with their own children.”
With the Boardwalk tram making its way along the scenic pathways through the hundreds of holiday lights displays, Winterfest has something to offer for everyone, which contributes to its growing success, according to Miller.
“It’s a unique experience,” he said. “It’s different than a lot of the other ones where you drive your own vehicle through the displays. With Winterfest and the tram, everybody gets to enjoy the experience.”
Council President Lloyd Martin agreed Winterfest’s success should be attributed to the staff that makes it happen year after year and hoped the upward trend would continue.
“It was very well done,” he said. “The weather could not have been better and hopefully we keep that trend up.”
In related holiday news, Meehan said the free bus rides offered by the town of Ocean City on New Year’s Eve to safely move holiday revelers around and curtail drinking and driving on the holiday also set a new standard this year.
“The New Year’s Eve free bus ridership we offer set a new record this year,” he said. “The ridership doubled on New Year’s Eve with twice as many people taking advantage of the program this year compared to last year.”