OC Hoping Weather Cooperates For New Year’s Fireworks

OCEAN CITY — Winterfest of Lights has enjoyed another successful holiday run, but resort officials are keeping their fingers crossed for a big finale.

Winterfest of Lights opened the Thursday before Thanksgiving and will close just before midnight with a planned fireworks show to ring in the new year. Winterfest has enjoyed solid visitor numbers this holiday season with only a handful of weather-related hiccups since opening in November.

However, two of those scratches came on back-to-back days last Thursday and Friday, Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, which would traditionally be among the busiest weekend nights for the festival at Northside Park. The event reaches a crescendo on Saturday, New Year’s Eve, with a Winterfest countdown beginning at 11:30 p.m. followed by a planned fireworks show at midnight to ring in the new year.

Special Events Director Frank Miller said this week last week’s cancellations brought the number of closed days at Winterfest for the entire season to three. However, with a threat of inclement weather on New Year’s Eve, the number could change. Although the temperatures on Saturday are expected to be mild for late December, the forecast is for rain, which could curtail the festivities.

Though no official attendance numbers were available this week, Miller said anecdotally the numbers appear strong. Miller said resort officials are watching the forecast and keeping their fingers crossed for a strong finish on Saturday.

“Winterfest is doing well, and our guests are still enjoying the walking experience,” he said. “We have lost three days to weather this year and New Year’s Eve is not looking promising but is still too early to tell.”

Like so many other special events in Ocean City, Winterfest continues to evolve for a variety of reasons. Changes borne out of the pandemic have remained in place, resulting in the current pedestrian-only concept, and more modifications are likely in the future. Miller said Business and Tourism Development Director Tom Perlozzo and the staff continue to look for ways to make Winterfest, and all special events, even more enjoyable for visitors.

“As you know, Tom has brought fresh energy to the tourism effort, and I do see exciting things for our 30-year-old event moving forward,” he said.

Visitors and residents have largely supported the modified walk-through Winterfest of Lights, with its light displays arranged around the roughly half-mile walking path around the lagoon. Anecdotally, many visitors said they preferred the leisurely pace of walking through Winterfest and enjoying each of the light displays and lingering around their favorites for a while, compared to waiting in line for the tram and getting whisked quickly through the park.

Earlier this year, it appeared there would not be a New Year’s Eve fireworks show uptown at Northside Park and Winterfest of Lights. In November, the Mayor and Council approved a contract with Celebrations Fireworks to provide fireworks shows uptown at Northside Park and from the beach downtown on the Fourth of July, along with a fireworks show from the downtown location near the Inlet on New Year’s Eve along with other associated events including drive-in movies.

However, a casualty of that contract with Celebrations was the proposed fireworks show at Northside Park as kind of a crescendo for Winterfest of Lights. Fireworks vendors have had some reservations about shooting the displays from the long pier at the west end of Northside Park and because Winterfest and its displays will still be in place, launching from an adjacent soccer field in the park was deemed to be not an alternative.

However, earlier in December, local resident and promoter Bob Rothermel and TEAM Productions, which produces the fireworks shows at Sundaes in the Park throughout the summer, presented a plan to launch fireworks from the pier at Northside Park on New Year’s Eve and not cause any modifications to Winterfest. The council approved the uptown fireworks show on New Year’s Eve in an arrangement separate from its contract with Celebrations. As a result, there will likely be fireworks at midnight on Saturday provided the weather cooperates.

Downtown, there will be two drive-in movies at the Inlet lot including the children’s show Encanto at 7 p.m. and Top Gun:Maverick at 9:30 p.m. with the grand finale fireworks at midnight to ring in 2023.

As usual, the town is offering free bus service on New Year’s Eve to safely move revelers around. Free bus service will begin a 6 a.m. on Saturday until 3 a.m. on Sunday. Buses will run about every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and every 15 minutes or so from 6 p.m. on Saturday to 3 a.m. on Sunday. On New Year’s Day, bus service will be available from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. and the fee will be $3 for an all-day pass.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.