Saturday, December 2, 2017

2017: First Annual Winterfest Review

Several months ago, in April, I wrote an opening day review.  In that review, I stated in essence that the opening day of 2017 wasn’t perfect and in my opinion, there would never be such a thing as a perfect opening day.  Now there really is no such thing as a perfect opening day of anything, but my point was that I kept hoping on one particular opening day I would arrive and I would find “Christmas Morning” or a Worlds of Fun like the one I remembered.  

I found it.

And as I mentioned it wasn’t “technically” perfect, but it literally screamed in the voices of hundreds, if not thousands of Worlds of Fun employees that someone really cared.  That the people that put together Winterfest at Worlds of Fun saw it as a place worth instilling with their own personal sense of “Christmas Spirit”, which probably at some point also was reflected in very real blood sweat and tears and probably a significant helping of “lack of sleep”.  They made the park into something I had thought wasn’t even possible anymore.  They made Worlds of Fun … Magical.  

And for me.  It was Perfect.  

Polar Bears in front of the gate.

I like most was hesitant when I heard about Winterfest coming to Worlds of Fun the first time a year and a half ago.  One looked at Worlds of Fun, which let's all be honest has its problems, and then looked at Silver Dollar City… and thought how are they going to pull this off?  We knew from late 2016 that a lot of work would be put in the infrastructure of the park and that Winterfest was a major focus for the 2017 season.  

Just this year, 2017, we found out the park would be operating some rides, and only a month or so ago got an idea what those rides would be (List of Rides:  At the same time, we received a feeling for what Winterfest would entail, the stunner was the sheer number of Live Entertainment offerings. TEN.  Even at its peak, Worlds of Fun had never offered so many Live Entertainment options.

Though we had seen the park putting up lights as early as August, no one outside of the park itself really knew what the lights would entail, how many there would be, and what they would look like.  A friend of mine posted a photo of Front Street at the tail end of Halloween Haunt that blew me away, and then came the photos and video of the Steelhawk Tree, and then the KCTV5 video that just blew everyone away.  When we drove by the park Wednesday night, right before Thanksgiving, both Jeff and I were awed by what we saw.  

Photo Op at the front gate.

It was one of the few times, and the first time in a LONG time neither of us had a clue what to expect when we walked into the park, which leads me to why I am writing this review today, partially.  Hopefully, this will help those coming to Winterfest from here on out this season. Prior to arriving it's important to note that the toll plaza and security opens at 3:30 pm, the gate and international plaza along with Ice Skating open at 4:00. We arrived at around 4:15-4:30, and there was a short line at the toll plaza, but was painless traffic wise.  Both Jeff and I had season passes, and we brought my mom, who hadn’t been to the park with me since before I was 12 years old.  We ended up pre-purchasing her ticket online for the bring-a-friend price of $19.99, which was approximately $27 with fees attached, but still worth buying online to avoid the lines at the park.  The bring-a-friend price is good only on Fridays and Sundays and does not include the week prior to Christmas.

Blue Christmas Trees in front of Festhaus

We parked about halfway back in C lot, and had a short wait through security and were able to walk into the park without a problem.  I found out later on that the traffic on Worlds of Fun avenue (and I think onto 435?) increased exponentially in the hour that followed. I would definitely recommend arriving early.

Das Eishaus Skating, crowds were light when this photo was taken around 4:30-5 pm.

The International Plaza area was already quite crowded since the rest of the park wouldn’t open until 5 pm, traffic was cut off at the Scandi/Orient bridge.  We took a few photos and moved towards the Ice Skating Rink, which is located in the Festhaus Picnic Pavilion near the Grand Carousel.  Its name is not without mention since its appropriately and thematically named Das Eishaus.  At this point, we could see the multitude of lights on the various buildings and trees but it didn’t have as much impact as it would have in just a short passage of time as it grew dark.  My mom and I decided to sign up for Ice Skating for the 8-9:30-time slot and they gave us a wristband, they had other time slots available including 4-5:30, 6-7:30, and 8-9:30.  It was $15 for each person and included ice skate rentals.  

Snow Queen and Prince along with the Grand Carousel.

We next discovered the array of different Winterfest characters, some roaming some not so much.  So, it’s not just Santa that has a photo op!  Next, to Grand Carousel the Snow Queen and Prince held court, and yes… I was coerced into getting a photo with them.  Someone posted on dot org’s Facebook about how Disney would sue Worlds of Fun over the use of these characters…which can’t possibly occur as the characters were not created by Disney but by a Danish author Han Christian Anderson, in 1844.  Fascinating enough, this makes not only the characters fabulous by design but also amazingly appropriately themed to the Scandinavian section of the park. 

Frosty's Furnishings/Plaza Gifts

Many of the shops and restaurants at Worlds of Fun have been renamed and re-themed for Winterfest, and it can get confusing, so, let me cover those as well.  Plaza Gifts, the old Scandi Skees building turned gift shop, is now Frosty’s Furnishings, and like many of the various gift shops has not only been renamed but completely transformed, Frosty’s features not only a variety of unique Winterfest Worlds of Fun merchandise but a wide variety of Christmas collectibles as well.  Next door, Norma’s Funnel Cakes has been turned into Sugar’s Cake Factory, and features both funnel cakes and fried mint Oreos with Egg Nog dip (yes you read that right).  Pizzo Pizza is now Dasher’s Diner and instead of pizzas features Monkey Bread, Mini Donuts, and Smoked Turkey Legs.  Chickie and Pete’s is also open in its normal location and serves its normal menu.  It along with several other locations through the park is honoring the seasonal dining plan.

The Scandinavian Blue Christmas Trees in the dark.

By this time it was already near 5:30 so we found a spot for the Tree Lighting Ceremony at 5:30. A word on shows, about half of them are on the half hour, and the other half, on the hour, and there is absolutely no way you can see them all in one day.  If you can only go once, like us, I can attest that you cannot make a bad decision as to what you see, everything is excellent, and we found it exceptionally hard to choose what to see.  The Tree lighting is short, about five minutes tops, and like all the rest of the shows offers exceptional entertainment value, plus the 70-foot tree is fiber optically timed to the music played and performed, offering its own performance.  Plus, there is snow.  Not real snow, more snow suds (what we call “Florida Snow”), but it definitely adds to the festive atmosphere.  “Cool Yule Christmas” also performs at International Plaza on the hour and while we didn’t catch the whole show, it features live performances of many popular Christmas hits.  

Toy Soldier (I'm Painted On it's Not a Costume!), and Christmas Carol.

A confusing point for us was the showtimes themselves, I would not only recommend picking up a park map in the nearby gift shop or gate area but also STRONGLY recommend picking up a 2017 Experience Guide in Guest Relations which includes SHOW TIMES and more detailed information on the almost innumerable activities.

Lit Koi and Lotus Blossom.

Appropriate merchandise at Rickshaw Rudy's and signage... Jeff and I believe Winterfest is Clark Griswold Approved.

After the tree lighting, we headed towards Americana, both to check out the lights and a few of the shows around Americana.  I had seen the lights going up in the Orient with my own eyes months before and I was curious how it would look and had been thinking it had the possibility to be a fascinating and unique take on Worlds of Fun’s own Asian theme.  I was not disappointed.  In fact, it was one of the most beautiful light displays I have ever seen, simply because of the unique factor and how well the park pulled it off.  Imagine every attraction and building outlined in red and yellow lights. Glowing lotus blossoms and lit koi fish float in the various ponds, two large twisting dragons are poised vividly over Spinning Dragons.  A vast field of Red Asian Lanterns overhang the central garden pond.  Absolutely, strikingly beautiful, and I don’t think my mouth closed once while taking it in. 

Beautiful Red Asian Lantern Festival

A little commentary before I continue.  I like so many others had no idea what to expect from Winterfest, I had watched a few videos from other parks such as Great America in California and Knott’s Berry Farm, but I figured it would be simply “put up some lights and a Christmas tree and throw in some shows” and that would be it.  I was blown away by not only the number of activities but the quality of those activities being offered.  I would also mention that the park not only kept to the theme in many cases but highlighted the theme in a spectacular fashion.  

Animated Dragon Lightning over Spinning Dragons

We almost passed by Richshaw Richards, now renamed Rickshaw Rudy’s, the small gift shop located next to Spinning Dragons.  Retail options are fabulous park-wide, but I absolutely loved the creativity of options at Rudy’s, which features merchandise from various Christmas cinema hits, including the infamous “Leg Lamp” from “A Christmas Story”, “Home Alone” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.  If you even remotely enjoy any of these movies, Rudy’s is a must stop.

Polar Bear Plaza

Winding our way around Ripcord we headed for Patriot Plaza, and while Patriot is closed for the season the area surrounding it is alive with activities and has been renamed Coca-Cola Polar Bear Plaza.  Polar Bear Plaza not only features a Polar Bear Character for photo ops, recreations of classic-styled Coca-Cola Billboards, small games and a DJ but also Polar Party Gifts (Patriot Landing), which is a must stop for any Coca-Cola collectible fans.

Front Street/Hometown Square

The Americana section is home to three different shows.  Hometown Square, located at the Americana Sunken Fountain is home to two of them, “Jingle Jazz” and “The Mistletones”, Mistletones features a more 40’s and 50’s style musical selection, while Jingle Jazz is more modern, both feature 3-5 live performers in dazzling costumes that offer not only great entertainment but wonderful atmosphere too.  The entire Front Street area is dazzling as well, with both its Victorian Front Street Mall and surrounding oak trees completely covered in white lights, and nearby solitary tree lit in Americana style with red white and blue lights. 

Vittle Griddle is now Vixen's Fixen's.

 Front Street Emporium like most retail locations is transformed for Winterfest, and renamed The Mistletoe and includes high-end Christmas décor, as well as the popular Worlds of Fun hot air balloon merchandise and ornaments. (if you want one of those snow covered balloon shirts this is the only place to find one!) Nearby Vittle Griddle has also been renamed to Vixen’s Fixins’ and serves Turkey Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries, and is also included in the Seasonal Dining Plan.

Christmas Bluegrass at Country Junction.

A little after 6 we made it to Country Junction to see the show “Christmas Bluegrass” which performs on the hour. Christmas Bluegrass features the local Kansas City band “Old Sound” playing many Christmas favorites both old and new. There were some glitches getting the lighting just right, but a few minutes into the show they had their own “Christmas Lightning Ceremony” and they put on a good show for the portion we experienced.  The Depot was next door, and we had hoped to get a ride on the train, but it had an enormous line the entire night if it’s a must do definitely plan on getting to the train early!  

Entrance to Planet Snoopy.

We briefly checked out the lights at Planet Snoopy, which were creatively different from anything else in the park, almost like gigantic C9 bulbs done in Sunday Funny Page colors.  (primary colors).    Cyclone Sam’s was also open for riders, and it didn’t seem to have too much of a line.

Crafter at Artisan Alley.

Bicentennial Square/Timberwolf Games area is next, and like everything else in the park is thematically renamed this time to Artisan Alley.  Prior to Winterfest I wondered for a first-time go-around on Winterfest how many crafters would be present, the truth is quite a few, at least two dozen of them, offering beautiful crafts, many of them home decoration, jewelry, t-shirt design, or gifts.  You could easily spend an hour just on Artisan Alley alone! For those not wanting to tote their purchases around the park with them Worlds of Fun also offers Package Pick-Up or Gate Delivery, for free. 

Boys and Girls Club Snack Stand in Snoopy Arcade. (games have been removed)

One detail we found is that many of the food locations, even though there are a plethora of them, had extremely long lines.  The old Snoopy Arcade (Uncle Sam’s Skeeball Hall) had a small snack stand and relaxation area with picnic tables, and was virtually deserted, it is sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club and if you are looking simply for a snack or something to drink, or simply a place to sit that’s warm, it’s a great place to stop.

Mrs. Claus Kitchen (Deja Vu)

We next headed for Europa, which is referred to by the park as Winterfest Way. All of Europa’s rides were in operation, and the area comes complete with a 40-foot fiber optic Christmas tree and surrounding lights, which are synchronized to music. Paisano’s, Europa’s full-service restaurant, and one which is not usually open was open and also renamed to Dancer’s Snack Stand which serves pizza, as well as home-made cannoli.  (it is also on the Seasonal Dining Plan). Next door, the normal Déjà vu has been transformed into Mrs. Claus Kitchen, for $15, guests receive a large box of four oversized cookies to decorate themselves.  Across from Déjà vu/Mrs. Claus Kitchen is Le Taxi Tour.  This isn’t your normal “Taxi Ride” though; instead, it is bedecked in a blazing tribute to the Twelve Days of Christmas, rather a unique take on the more traditional drive-through light display!  As you might imagine the line is quite long for this totally unique attraction, which can really only be fully appreciated on-ride.  An important note, if this sounds like an experience you are wishing to have I would strongly recommend heading directly to Taxi’s or expect to wait in line for awhile.

Tinker's Toy Factory

Originally our plan was to ride the train and then come back and see the Moulin Rouge show “Tinker’s Toy Factory”, when we took note of the crowd in front of the theater we decided to wait for the show instead which was 30 minutes away.  Tinker’s is definitely a unique live entertainment option, since it's not your normal song and dance revue show as is typical of the Moulin Rouge.  Instead, it tells more of a story, in the form of a comedy/musical styling.  The story is, and I am greatly simplifying here, that one of Santa’s Elves has lost the Christmas Spirit necessary to drive Santa’s Sleigh, and that the story is in helping the elf get his Christmas Spirit back and by doing so realizing that “Old-Style, Classic Christmas” is still relevant. It’s cute, funny (RUFFLES!), and entertaining, and definitely unique, the costuming is fabulous and its worth your time, but realize it is definitely different than any of the other shows available at the park during Winterfest.

I don’t think any discussion on Winterfest is complete without also mentioning all the roaming characters.  What we found is that some tend to stay in a particular place (such as the Snow Queen) and some tend to roam, such as Holly, Jolly, Jack Frost, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Gingerbread Man.  We ran into Gingerbread Man in Europa, and they are all available for photos, in addition to being a wonderful addition to entertainment.  

Fire pit area in Africa.  "Fill a Stocking" stocking selection area at Snoopy's Stocking Stuffers (Moroccan Merchant)

Moving down to Africa, we found a few fire pits set up across from Casbah Games and Moroccan Merchant (now renamed Snoopy’s Stocking Stuffers) complete with about a dozen Adirondack chairs, just perfect for keeping warm on the cold days I am sure that are ahead.   Across from the fire pits is the Snoopy’s Stocking Stuffers, (Moroccan Merchant), which is easy to bypass but offers a pretty creative shopping experience.  Yes, it's your typical clearance store BUT guests can fill either a normal size stocking for $15 or an extra large stocking for $100, with ANYTHING in the store.  If only I had had more time….

Around the corner from Snoopy’s Stocking Stuffers, begins Africa Season of Lights, and along with the Orient, the African lights and theming are one of the highlights of Winterfest.  The first thing that stands out is the lit Giraffe, and this isn’t your three-foot Walmart variety, no this is more like a 20 foot, life-size lit version, surrounded by a Rhino and an Elephant on the other side of the Africa bridge.  A dozen stars, to signify “the reason for the season”, light the bridge itself.  Prior to Winterfest opening, there were some arguments being made on Worlds of Fun’s official Facebook stating that Worlds of Fun was strategically avoiding using the word “Christmas” in its celebration of Winterfest.  The argument was that Worlds of Fun was going a completely secular route and avoiding the entire reason for the holiday.   Well… They didn’t.  


First, yes they did include a lit Menorah and Kwanzaa bundle, which I thought was a wonderfully inclusive touch (and I was sure I took a photo of the Kwanzaa bundle but can't find it now!).  Second, almost half of the African section of the park is dedicated to the Nativity, with a life-size nativity located in the Zulu station, as well as nativity animals such as goats, sheep, donkeys and even a camel,  are available for petting and feeding in pens surrounding the Nativity area.  The show “Sounds of the Nativity” is performed every hour on the half hour and involves live vocalists performing traditional Christmas carols that celebrate the nativity scene.  It's quite beautiful, and quite lengthy allowing guests to experience it at their leisure.  

The petting zoo/animal menagerie also takes up the old Big Game Hunt, and pretty much spells the end to that attraction, which isn’t entirely a surprise, and isn’t really a terrible loss, as especially in the last decade it had gone from virtually never played obsolete, to a more of a dinosaur than Dinosaurs Alive.  It was time to go.  I did mention on Facebook that I love the location they chose for the Nativity since though historically/biblically it actually occurred in the Middle East… Africa at Worlds of Fun is about as close a representation as the park gets, the surrounding architecture lends itself well to the depiction.

Candy Cane Lane near Scrambler and Sea Dragon.

Moving upwards from Africa back into Scandinavia we entered Candy Cane Lane (lower Scandinavia), Scrambler was in operation and had a rather minimal line.  Sea Dragon’s entrance was turned into a miniature gingerbread village, and we found Jack Frost there, and I have no idea who they found to play the character but he was quite entertaining!  Really fit Jack’s frosty shoes well.  The surrounding plaza area encompassing Scrambler and Sea Dragon is themed to “Candy Canes” with each tree wrapped in appropriately colored lights and projected candy canes dance across the pavement. Right up the steps is Ms. Candy Cane who has her own “throne” and like all the roaming characters is absolutely worth a stop for a photo.  

Now, who have we been missing this entire time?  (Six pages in!), well how about the big guy himself, Santa Claus!  Of course, he is at Worlds of Fun’s Winterfest!  And he has his own set up right at the North Pole… well…. Scandinavia, which admittedly is close!  Kids can stop and both write and mail their letter to Santa at the North Pole Post Office (The Lift/Norseman’s Niceties), but you can also meet the head elf himself at St. Nick’s Pics located at Tivoli East just up the hill from the Tivoli Music Hall.  Photo packages are available at an additional cost.

One of our last stops was to see “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Spectacular”.  I wasn’t sure what to think of a Tivoli show that featured Peanut’s Characters, but it was the highlighted, big blockbuster show, so I went in with an open mind.  It was very good, the talent was great, the characters fit into the show perfectly, the costume changes were amazing, and I loved the little storyline that went along with it all.  It really is a perfect show for the entire family something for everyone of every age to enjoy!

Sugar Plum Fairy! (She seems familiar...) and Holly and Jingle.

One thing I haven’t mentioned and it deserves to be mentioned is the costumes.  All of them, from the Gingerbread Man to Tinker’s to Charlie Brown Christmas Spectacular, and everything in between are dazzling.  As many know the head of costuming at Worlds of Fun, Dawna Welborn has been costuming ambassadors and live entertainment performers now for over forty years, since before the park even opened in 1973.  Dawna is retiring at the end of this year and deserves each and every accolade she receives, she honestly doesn’t get enough credit for being a Worlds of Fun classic all by herself.  Not only that, she and her band of elves, in their own cramped workshop created not only the costumes for all of Worlds of Fun but also the four other parks in the Cedar Fair chain celebrating Winterfest too.  Just amazing, and we all will miss her so much.  

Union Depot area with line for the train, there is a line but its very organized.

About this time my mom and I headed back to Das Eishaus for some ice skating, we had zero problems getting our skates, and I loved the ice-skating helpers (kind of like walkers?) they had to help less able skaters, turned out I was better than I remembered.  We also caught the tail end of  “Cool Yule Christmas” performed at the International Plaza stage, and it provided a wonderful backdrop to a great evening.

Walkway out towards C & D lots.

Overall, we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do.  I really tried to chase down the Holly Jolly Trolley, which I have heard from numerous people is one of the best shows at Winterfest, maybe next time right?  With everything I missed, I am amazed how much we got around to seeing and doing.   One piece of advice I can give, decide ahead of time what you really want to do.  If shows are important pick two or three you really want to see.  If you want to do any rides such as Taxis or the Train, by all means, get in line early.  Shopping both in Artisan Alley and in the various other shops are worth checking out too but are open with no lines all night. Really, the only criticism I have and it’s not really even “criticism” is also one that has been echoed by others… five hours just isn’t enough.  I would strongly recommend if you have a season pass to make plans to go more than once.   Literally the day afterward… I was already looking at my schedule trying to find a way to come back and I live right down the road from Disney World!  I am most definitely looking forward to next year, and am excited to have Winterfest become a new Worlds of Fun tradition.