Kings Island Winterfest 2017
After a twelve year hiatus, Kings Island has brought back the popular Winterfest event. The holiday-themed celebration ran primarily through the 1980’s featuring live shows, ice skating and lots of seasonal treats. I had never personally attended any of the previous incarnations of Winterfest, so when the park announced its return I was interested in checking it out. As it so happens, we had an unseasonably warm holiday weekend, so it seemed like the perfect time to visit Kings Island.
The park was open from 5-10 PM this evening. We decided we wouldn’t need the full five hours in the park, so we opted to leave the house around 5:30. It was still light when we left, but after a twenty-minute drive it was already dark. That was good for the purposes of enjoying the park’s light-up decorations which the camera on my cell phone does not do justice.
Mindy and the girls posed for a picture outside the park entrance. Right from the start, there was a sense of excitement. We weren’t even inside the park yet and it was obvious that the decorations were over the top.
As expected, the warm weather had brought out all the local passholders. I don’t think I have ever seen Kings Island this packed before. I am sure that is partially a reflection of the fact that large portions of the park were not open. You can’t really ride roller coasters in the winter even. Additionally, I can’t even imagine what staffing the park for a three-week long event must entail. From the parking lot, we knew the place would be busy. The scene at the entrance only confirmed that theory.
The entrance to the park had been redone as a big festive house with Santa and his sleigh landing on the rooftop. There were lines of people waiting to get in, but I have to give credit to the staff in that they kept the lines moving. Despite this heavy crowd, I don’t think we waited more than 5 minutes to get into the park.
From the outside, I could see the glow coming off of International Street. My expectations for this event were raised before we even passed through the turn-styles.
I was not disappointed. Once again, I have to say, my little cell phone camera does a lousy job with these nighttime photos. If nothing else, you get a sense of how lit-up everything was. Every square inch of the park that was open felt a lot like Christmas. The fountain that runs through the center of the park had been turned into a giant ice skating rink. While we didn’t intend to participate, its existence contributed to the overall festive atmosphere.
Ice skating was $15/person which included the rental of your skates. There were also devices available to help keep novice skaters on their feet. I have heard some complaints that the $15 fee was a little steep on top of whatever admission you paid to get in. But apparently a lot of people (I’m guessing mostly passholders) thought it was worth it to ice skate in an iconic location like the fountain because the line to skate stretched all the way to the Festhaus in Octoberfest.
We gathered at the entrance to decide what to do first. Attractions were a low priority for us. We knew lines would be long and even if it was warm for this time of year, a lot of the rides would still be chilly. We have access to these same attractions during the Spring, Summer and Fall.
Mostly, we just wanted to soak up the atmosphere. Mindy had come hungry which is not something we usually do as season pass holders. Food service is not one of the park’s strengths so we typically keep our dining to a quick snack. But with all the holiday goodies Winterfest offered, Mindy wanted to sample something a little more substantial.
International Street is lined with dining options including pizza, coffee, ice cream and other sweets. Mindy was interested in the Cinnabon, but the line was long so we decided to press on. We hoped that maybe the lines would be shorter for dining options farther from the park entrance.
All of the shops and eateries were given festive new names and signage. The candy shop was renamed the Candy Cane Cafe. Mindy and the girls shopped around but decided to hold off on snacking.
Some of the shops had been converted into indoor activities which I imagine will be even more popular as the temperature drops. At the North Pole Post Office, kids can write letters to Santa Clause. The large Planet Snoopy gift shop was turned into a Christmas Craft workshop. Somewhere in the park there was an upcharge event where kids could decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus.
It seemed like you couldn’t turn around without seeing live performers. There were actors dressed as Christmas characters like Jack Frost, sugar plum fairies, nut crackers and Ebeneezer Scrooge. We interacted with several, but the streets were so bustling with action that I didn’t stop to take pictures.
There were also live musical performers singing all the holiday standards. We stopped to watch a few minutes of the stage show that was going on in front of the tower before we headed on to Planet Snoopy.
The tower was draped in strands of what I assume were LED lights giving it a tree-like shape from a distance. The lights danced and changed colors creating some dazzling effects. At one point, they created a nighttime city-scape with Santa and his sleigh flying over head. From pretty much any vantage point in the park, you could always look to the tower for something interesting.
The Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights is another popular seasonal event. It’s been a long time since I have attended but I would say that the Christmas decor at Winterfest is bigger than anything else in the region. Literally everything in the park looks like it has been lit-up by Clark Griswald.
The Planet Snoopy area was flooded with sidewalk projections of snowmen, nut crackers and other images of holiday iconography.
All the trees in the area had over-sized Christmas lightbulbs which made them look a little like Charlie Brown’s sad tree in the Christmas special. Naturally, music from the animated classic played in the area and there was a live show featuring the Peanuts characters.
Over the last couple of years, Tom+Chee has become more and more of a presence in the parks. Now they have what looks like a permanent location in Planey Snoopy. Even if you’re not from the area, you may have seen the growing restaurant chain on the Food Network or Travel Channel. They specialize in gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup, but what gets them the most media attention is a grilled cheese donut dessert.
The lines for just about any of the dining options that might be considered for more than a snack were prohibitively long, so we pressed on.
Mindy wanted to ride Boo Blasters. She’s really good at those shooting range games/rides. Kara was appehensive at first but Mindy suggested that they may have given the haunted house a holiday theme. To my surprise, the holiday decor did extend into the actual attraction although it was still primarily a spooky ride. I also noticed some screens had been added to the ride that I don’t remember being there this past summer. So it was nice to see Boo Blasters getting an upgrade.
The lines for all the rides were on the long side. That’s not at all surprising given that most of the park’s headline attractions were closed for the season. The line for Boo Blasters extended just past the entrance, but it moved quickly. I think we waited around 15-20 minutes which wasn’t bad at all. Especially since it is all indoors.
After riding, we went looking for something to eat. We stopped by the Cinnabon on International Street again. The line was much shorter, but we quickly realized that was because they had run out of almost all of their inventory. Our next stop was Starbucks because Josie wanted a peppermint mocha. Nope, that place was packed too. So Mindy decided to get in line for an Auntie Em’s pretzel.
Nearby was a counter selling turkey legs. I’m no fan of the meaty snacks, but some of the other holiday items appealed to me. They had cinnamon pull-apart bread (aka “monkey bread”), cranberry-glazed meatballs, baked potatoes (regular and sweet) and hot chocolate. I hopped in that line while Mindy and the girls waited for pretzels.
The line moved relatively quickly and soon it was my turn. I wasn’t sure what to get, but I decided to run the risk of over-ordering. I got an order of cinnamon bread which came in an aluminum foil loaf pan, some of the meatballs and two hot chocolates. I was juggling hot food and drinks as I made my way through the crowded sidewalk to where the girls were. As it so happened, their line hadn’t moved much. Mindy decided to abandon her pretzel and we all shared what I had bought. As amusement park food goes, it wasn’t bad for $20 (counting the Gold Pass discount).
After our snack, we went in search of the train in Rivertown. Getting there was a bit complicated as some of the pathways I was familiar with were not open, but we didn’t mind because there was so much to see everywhere you went. We passed through a gingerbread village and Wintefest Way which reminded me a lot of the Snoopy Starlight Spectacular which Josie liked when she was little. By the time we actually got to the train, we were actually too tired to wait in the long line. It looked pretty impressive, but the girls had their fill of holiday festivities and we decided to call it a night.
Overall, I was very impressed by my first visit to Winterfest. Yes, it was crowded and the lines for everything were long. That’s partially due to the event’s popularity. But the point of an event like this isn’t to ride all the rides. I can see possibly being disappointed if you had to pay the gate price. But if you’re a season pass holder, the opportunity to see park lit up for the season is a treat. And if you’re not, Winterfest sure is an added incentive to buy a pass next year.