2023 Winterfest To Feature Trams, Hybrid Model

2023 Winterfest To Feature Trams, Hybrid Model
File Photo

OCEAN CITY – Despite some weather-related hiccups, Ocean City’s Winterfest of Lights was largely successful and tourism officials this week promised a few new wrinkles for next year including bringing back the trams in a hybrid special event.

During Monday’s Ocean City Tourism Commission meeting, members got a review of the 2022 Winterfest of Lights, the 30th rendition of the annual festival. Winterfest opened on Thursday before Thanksgiving weekend and closed on New Year’s Eve just before a slightly rain-spattered fireworks show.

In between, over 100,000 paid attendees walked through the stunning array of holiday light displays and other amenities including photo opportunities with Santa and other family-friendly events.

Winterfest last year did have a handful of weather cancellations but losing some of those dates did not diminish the success of the event, Special Events Director Frank Miller told the tourism commission on Monday.

“At around 104,000 visitors, we were a little up from last year,” he said. “There were very good numbers, and we lost a few key days.”

It was learned on Monday the 2023 Winterfest of Lights at Northside Park could go back to a hybrid event of sorts. A few years ago, because of ongoing COVID concerns, Winterfest was modified to a walk-through event, and it was an instant critical and financial success. For decades, Winterfest attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors who rode the Boardwalk tram through the massive array of light displays around Northside Park.

However, because of social distancing and other pandemic-related concerns, Winterfest was modified in 2020 to a walk-through event and the long lines and families cramming onto the trams were eliminated. The modified event was well-received, and the visitor numbers bear that out, but Business and Tourism Development Director Tom Perlozzo told the commission this week the working plan is to bring the trams back to some degree.

“In 2023, we’re going to bring back the trams,” he said. “They appeal to a different demographic. We’re still going to maintain the walking path option. It will likely be a hybrid of the two elements.”

Perlozzo and Miller have visited the popular Schellville winter festival in neighboring Delaware to seek different ideas for enhancing Ocean City’s Winterfest of Lights. Both have promised to retain the nostalgic elements of Winterfest in Ocean City while looking for new ideas.

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 and more modifications are likely in the future. Miller said Perlozzo and the staff continue to look for ways to make Winterfest, and all special events, even more enjoyable for visitors.

One element added in 2022 was fireworks shows on New Year’s Eve at both Northside Park as a crescendo for Winterfest, and downtown at the Inlet with another related event that included drive-in movies and other family-friendly events.

Inclement weather ultimately moved the downtown events to New Year’s Day, but the fireworks went off as planned at the end of Winterfest at Northside Park, according to Perlozzo.

“The fireworks on New Year’s Eve in the rain drew a lot of visitors,” he said. “It was very popular despite the weather. The fireworks downtown on New Year’s Day also turned out to be a big hit.”

Mayor Rick Meehan praised tourism and special events officials for pivoting and keeping Winterfest vibrant during challenging times around the pandemic in general, and for their vision with the 2022 event in particular. For example, the model train Winterfest Christmas Garden was on display at the convention center. Meehan on Monday suggested Winterfest of Lights at Northside Park should maintain regular hours during the week between Christmas and New Year’s because there are a lot of families visiting the resort during that time.

“The model train garden was awesome,” he said. “It was very well-received. For the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I would keep Winterfest open the entire time. There are a lot of visitors here that week and we have families that are that have relatives visiting here.”

Perlozzo said despite the success of the modified walk-through Winterfest the last few years, tourism officials are always exploring ways to make the event bigger and better and attract even more visitors during the offseason. He told the tourism commission on Monday the elements of Winterfest that have made the event so popular over the decades would remain, but adding new features is the goal for the 2023 rendition.

“In 2023, we have the ability to add a few elements,” he said. “When you look at Winterfest, it has $92 million in direct and indirect impact. We’re talking about going back to a larger tent and doing more things inside. We spoke to a local amusement park and have talked about bringing in some kid’s rides.”

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.