Winterfest - PKI
Paramount's Kings Island - WinterFest
November 26, 2005
Having grown up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I grew up with the tradition of going to WinterFest, and I don't think I missed a year of the original festival. One of the first things that happened when Paramount purchased Kings Island was the announcement that WinterFest would be discontinued. It seemed at the time that Paramount was going on a fast road to alienating themselves from their customer base. The last WinterFest was in 1992, which means its been 13 years since the festival last took place. The return of WinterFest has been rumored for several years now, to the point where the line got blurred between an honest rumor about the return of WinterFest and those just wishing to make it so.
On July 25, 2005, the announcement came that WinterFest would indeed be returning. A buzz filled the air as those of us old enough to remember the original WinterFest were eager to return to its revival. I truly believe that the local area, for the most part is ready to embrace WinterFest again, but its up to Paramount to put on an event worthy of a revival. Sure, the event seems to be overpriced, and season passes would not be accepted, and then the whole business of being strong armed into choosing a specific date to attend. We decided to go with the "Good Any Day" tickets, purchased with the stern warning that "The event may sell out, and you may not be able to go on the day you want"
Well, now its November 26, 2005. I check the weather forecast, and it will be low 50''s/high 40's with no rain and calm winds, I cant imagine the weather in Cincinnati getting much better for the run of WinterFest, so we make the decision to go to WinterFest. I first call the park, and confirm that the event is not sold out tonight, and the tone in the Guest Services person voice implied "We're not even close to being sold out" I had first checked the website to see if tickets were available for tonight, but the first weekend's specific day tickets were not available, and more interesting the FestHaus and Bubba Gump's tickets had also been removed, but International Restaurant tickets had been added. International Restaurant will only be open a very few days during WinterFest.
So Mom and I left Coasterville, Ohio around 3:15PM, arriving at the park around 3:40PM. We pull up to the toll plaza and I note that special WinterFest parking rates have been put into place, general parking is an almost reasonable $5, and preferred parking is an outrageous $10. We pulled up to the toll collector, and I hand over my parking pass, and learn that parking passes are not accepted for WinterFest. For those of you who ignored the parking price the first time I mentioned it, well its $5. Since there are technically no gold passes during WinterFest, the Gold Pass lot has been opened up to general parking. We park the car and head up to the entrance plaza.
Up at the entrance plaza, I note that outside of holiday music on the sound system, not much has changed since the regular season. I note that the Season Pass Sales building has been converted to WinterFest Ticket Sales, I think its for the same reason the tram circle has been removed, which is to ease the congestion in the entrance plaza. I also suspect the metal detectors are the chief cause of that congestion. As I go through the metal detectors I have to ponder why ice skates wit nice sharp blades are allowed past, and small pocketknives are forbidden.
We made our way to the front gate, and had no trouble entering the park using our pre-purchased good any day tickets. ($19.99, $16.99 with a season pass) Walking under the front gate, we picked up the special WinterFest park maps, and I verified that yes International Restaurant is open tonight. A Montgomery Inn ribs and chicken dinner is available up there for $26.40.
Coming out into front gate plaza, I make a beeline for the Toy Factory Ticket booth to pick up our reserved show tickets. The park has gone on a big campaign into scaring people that the event will be a sell out, and that it will be busy enough to justify trying to get people to prearrange their show time and the meal time. I approached the ticket booth where there was no line, and all three windows advertised that they were distributing tickets for the 4:30 show. Ah, but my preplanned visit (perhaps I read the Disney Unofficial Guide a bit too much) had me all set to take in the 8:30 showing of Santa's Toy Factory. This is a human based ticketing process, so I ask if 8:30 tickets are available, to which the ticket distributor reached around back and produced 8:30 show tickets for me. It is worth noting that you only need to send one person to the ticket office, and you don't even need to produce valid admission tickets to cover the amount of show tickets you are requesting.
Show tickets safely in pocket, I'd say that all the homework is done, and its time to see what the park has managed to arrange. There wasn't a great influx of people in the park yet, and the International Street lights are not lit yet, so it looks pretty much the way it did on closing day of the regular season. I do notice the barriers around the little tiny stage with the fanciful looking gizmo at the head on Internal Street is still there, and as I suspected this will be involved in the nightly tree lighting ceremony. The Royal Fountain ice rink is set up and looks ready for skaters. We start at the front gate and work our way up the south side of International Street.
In the small gift shop next to Guest Relations, they have set up Box Office Gifts, whose major stock in trade is 2006 season passes, sold with the pitch that you can buy now, and not have to pay until April. Continuing on, we go into what is normally Convenience Corner, and find that that store has been converted to the Trim A Tree store full of all your holiday decorating needs. Continuing on, the parks version of Build-A-Bear has signed on for WinterFest, which should be very popular. In the store that is Girl Space in the summer has been remade into Hometown Gifts, which sells local sports related items. At this point you have to exit the gift shops, and we continue down past the open LaRoasa, and mini donuts stand. I noted that the mini donuts stand has added alcoholic coffee drinks to its menu, Greater's was open, and a popcorn wagon was setup outside Graters to round out the block.
Proceeding to the second block the Spanish Building looks to about the same as it is in the summer, with the glassblower shop and candy store being the main tenenats. Stepping out of the Glassblower shop, I note the set for Scrooges House, which had been a feature of the original WinterFest. I also now realize that I never returned to hear Scrooge's show. I note that Starbucks is open, and I note a tree has been setup in front of the Emporium. By this time I can see the first wave a skaters starting to take to the ice, and I can see the garland and decorations lining the International Street shops.
We continue past Starbucks, and I notice some elves doing some last minute work as they were replacing the regular summer park map with the WinterFest park map. I also not the inner ring of Tower Circle has been closed. We make the turn towards Santa Land. Santa Land is in the area that used to be called Hanna Barbera Land. I note the Age and Weight game is closed as well as Chick-Fill-A (and it's not even Sunday!) Going past the Lost Parents office I note they have what are meant to look like old fashioned silver trees. Proceeding into Santa Land the railing are wrapped in that same silver garland, and the lightpoles are covered in neon green and orange decoration. For those seeking religious diversity in their winter time events I note a Hanukkah themed song on the PA system. I note the blue ice cream stand is closed, but the HB Carousel is open, yes with the HB Characters, and the park map still has it as the HB Carousel, so in effect the last HB rides will be taken during WinterFest.
Speaking of open rides, Top Cat's Taxi Jam is open, and I get excited at first because I see the sign only says you must be taller than 36", I see nothing saying y9ou must be shorter than 60". Well that is still on the more detailed ride sign at the bottom of the hill, so I still do not have the Taxi Jam credit. We continue through Santa Land, or that is we attempt to continue through Santa Land, but security is busy erected a barricade, two ropes set at most 10' apart. Clearly there is a reason why they don't want you using the main path as they have posted THREE security guards to block this maybe 5-10' wide stretch of closed path.
The guards do point out that you can cut through the Scooby Doo meet and greet area (which was open). I'm sure Scooby is going to love having his area congested by all the people trying to get around Santa Land, as the Scooby meet and greet is not that big of an area. We come out on the other side of the Scooby meet and greet and I note that the Pixie and Dixie kids swing ride is open, as well as Scooby Doo's Haunted Castle. I also noted that the Boulder Bumpers façade is in the process of being removed.
There had been some buzz, including on PKI's own website, that Scooby Doo would receive a holiday overlay. Well the outside of the attraction has the same WinterFest decorations as the rest of Santa Land. I also noted the attraction signage did not read "Scooby Doo's Christmas Caper" as originally planned. We entered the haunted castle where we found the queue area to be even darker than usual, then we were able to walk right onto the ride. The ride itself, is in fact, the exact same ride as it is during the regular season, except for the fact that the background music seemed to be missing. Nothing special. We backtrack across Santa Land, again cutting through Scooby's meet and greet area, where I guess Scooby was getting major annoyed and was leaving his meet and greet area.
We took a walk over to the Animation Station building which is serving as the Santa Claus meet and greet area. We walked through the building to see the theming. It's meant to look like an old time department store toyland. Well, except the toyland here is along the back wall and the toys are not able to be played with, as they would be at an old time Toyland. I note a major queue area has been set up to wait to see Santa, and we then head out the back door.
We walk towards Nickelodeon Central, where I note something very interesting. You see up by Boulder Bumpers they have put fabric sheeting up to block off the midway, and also to obscure vision into the area. Well back here by Nick Central, just regular metal crowd control barriers are being used. This means that I can observe what is going on. I was overjoyed to see that the Slime Zone Water Maze appears to be having a meeting with a bulldozer. The fences are set up so I can maneuver around and still see into South Pie. Scooby's Ghoster Coaster is pretty much all removed except for the entrance façade, and sadly the kiddie whip is also gone, as well as just about everything back in the old South Pie area. A crane is set up next to the station for Yogi's Sky Tours, so I snap a few pictures of the demolition of HB Land. On my way out from my little nook I run into a couple other coaster enthusiasts and then we continue on our tour towards Rivertown.
I notice the fabric sheets are blocking off Atom Ant's Airways, so we walk back towards Busytown Grill. Oddly enough I notice the HB water race game is open, while the flip-a-chicken game is closed. A couple wire frame topiary like reindeer stand in front of the HB restroom building. We make our way into Rivertown. Immediately, the background music starts to take a country twang to it. I note the Old Time Photos stand is open, and a popcorn stand is open. From the popcorn stand, there is absolutely nothing open in Rivertown until you reach the train depot. I am surprised that Wings is closed as Wings would add another indoor dining option, and bring life to the area. I note along the fabric sheets blocking access to Nick Central there is a single "12 days of Christmas" poster.
We crossed the bridge into lower Rivertown, where I noted the basketball game was closed, as were the games up by Wild Thornberries. I noted the train ride was not set to open until 5pm, and as such as it was only about 4:40 there were no trains and no crew in the train station. We bought an order of fresh cut fries from Rivertown Potato Works ($4.50) We sat next to a portable heating pole and enjoyed our fries while waiting for the train ride to open. At around 4:55 we joined the growing queue for the train ride, and I look around and I can swear those luminaire bags where not there when we first walked trough the area. Rivertown's walkways are now lined with lit luminarie bags. A close inspection of the bags reveals they are actually either battery or electric power. While waiting for the train ride, we were offered a free sample of a food product that consists of a lightly breaded apple wedge served with a little cup of dip made up of whipped cream and strawberry syrup. I must say the free sample was a nice touch, and I note the Depot Sundae shop is open, which is a surprise because that stand seems to be closed during the summer.
Right at 5PM, the train ride opened. A big sign out front proclaimed the ride "White Christmas Express" The signs that usually read "Losantiville" now read "Holiday Junction" We go through the entrance turnstiles, and I note a cart loaded high with old time suitcases is sitting in the area right next to the waiting area. As we enter the waiting area, I note that there is a soldier also waiting for the train ride. You see, the White Christmas Express is loosely based on the movie "White Christmas", which you will not be surprised to learn is a Paramount movie. The basic storyline is that you are traveling with Bob Wallace, who is a WWII soldier on his way home, just in time for Christmas. While we wait for the train to arrive we note the arrival of two other characters, a person dressed in a period train conductors outfit, who will be your emcee, followed promptly by a porter who rushes in with the luggage cart, mishandling the luggage by the way. The Conductor welcomes us, using a period microphone, to the White Chirstmas Express, and talks about how its good to go home for the holidays, then ask if anyone here is on there way home. This, of course is the WWII soldier (Bob Wallace) cue to answer loudly that he is. The conductor allows Bob onto the platform and makes note of the fact that Bob is on his way home after several years of serving his country overseas. The conductor also makes note of the fact that Bob is a good singer, and he chides Bob into singing a song for the people waiting in the train station. Bob sings "White Christmas", just as the train is pulling in. At the conclusion of the song, the conductor thanks Bob and then gives the safety rules for the train ride. We are now allowed to board the train, and I note that both the conductor and Bob Wallace have also boarded the train.
The train departs the station and I note the conductor will be giving the narration using what is not a period appropriate microphone. As we round the corner by Tomb Raider, the conductor gives the ride safety speil again, ending with "No easting, drinking or smoking on the train, so you'll have to save those Ne-Hi's and Lucky Strikes for later. The conductor then sets the whole solider returning home from war, making it home just in time to finally celebrate Christmas with there family storyline. We also pass the one token lit tree along the entire train ride. As the train goes along the course, it passes several scenes which all contain a postcard telling the story for those fast enough to read, flanked by the picture on the other side of a small scene. I suppose these are the postcards between Bob Wallace and his family through the war while he was separated from his family. The conductor narrates the story, and at one point chides Bob into singing another song, this time its "Home for the Holidays" The song seems to timed so that just as the song is ending, you reach Bob Wallace's house, to which Bob shouts for them to stop the train. The train stops and Bob runs up the lawn and is greeted (via recorded narration) with his family in a very emotional reunion. The train then has to return to the station, and the conductor becomes a conductor in another sense as he pulls a conductor's baton out of his pocket and leads the train passengers in a chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and then I note there are a couple other holiday lighting arrangements, one by the Boomerang Bay train crossing, and one underneath the White Water Canyon bridge. The conductor leads the group into giving the next group waiting in the station a seasons' greetings, then we exit the train ride. All in all I liked the train ride, sure it could have used a lot more lights to become a winter wonderland, but then maybe they wanted to me minimalistic with the lights and decorations in order as to not overshadow the message of the story. I don't want to make this political, but in these days of action in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other world nations, the notion of soldiers from our armed forces wishing above all to be able to be home with their families for the holidays is a very real, very relevant wish in today's world. It may have been a way to bring a Paramount movie into WinterFest, but it's also a nice tribute for the armed forces and those families here at home who are today wishing for the exact same dream presented by the train ride. All in all, its about a 12-15 minute experience, and they had both trains operating.
We continued our way around Rivertown, and I noted the Peach Basket game was open, and they have added a nice holiday touch by placing a wreath around the mouth of each basket. Continuing on, I noted they had placed a wreath on the fabric covering over Tomb Raider, and that they had placed further coverings over the lockers in this area. In the gift shop located directly across from Tomb Raider, they have set up Rivertown Crafters. The shop holds a wood carver who will make signs for you house or deck or boat, or what have you. And also a candle maker. Well he calls himself a candle maker, I call him a lamp maker, as the stock in trader is unique oil lamps that look a bit like fancy candles but are really oil lamps. As the vendor said the benefit is you can use them and resuse them.
We continued down past the open Beast Arcade. (Sorry to get your hopes up but the Beast is sleeping behind is portable fencing barriers), and further past the open Rivertown Pizza. I note the pathway up into Coney Mall has been blocked off by a Funnel Cake Trailer. That must have been a pain to shimmy up that trailer, and from a side view, that looks to be exactly what they did, built a platform so the trailer could sit on a flat surface.
I note the time to be about 5:30, and I also not the first showing of Holiday Illuminations is set for 5:45, but to watch the 5:45 puts getting up to see the International Street Lighting Ceremony in danger. So we bypass swan lake, and its Holiday Illuminations and head around the pathway that winds around the closed Italian Job. I note the Paradise Isle snack bar is open, and a big wreath has been placed where the Floral Clock usually sits. I looked up and noted another wreath on the backside of tower. We walk as towards Coney as the pathway allows up before we hit the barriers right at the pathway to the Carousel. Looking back into Coney, it looks as if the games midway is lit up for some odd reason. We head towards the Carousel.
The Grand Carousel is a true vintage antique, and has a wonderful history behind it as it was the carousel for the famous Ohio Grove: Coney Island of the West, in other words the forerunner of this park. I can't resist taking a ride on the carousel, and it's only a one cycle wait. I note PKI has not added safety belts to their Carousel, and the carousel seems to be turning faster than usual for WinterFest. I also note that while there is holiday band organ music being played, it is not coming from the actual band organ attached to this carousel, instead it is canned band organ music. At the conclusion of the carousel ride I hear the announcement that the tree lighting is in 15 minutes.
In many ways this WinterFest is a return to the way this park used to run, what with live shows and special happenings all day long, and friendly announcements telling you what you can see "In just 15 minutes" We make our way up to the tower end of International Street and find seats on the seat wall right next to the bandstand. I notice the lights are already on lining the International Street shops so as to give the area some lighting. Gee, thats a step towards returning International Street to the way it always looked at night.
Right around 6:00 an announcement was made that the tree lighting ceremony was about to begin. For those who need to watch the actual ceremony the stage is at the front gate end of International Street. We are introduced to the Mayor of WinterFest, and I presume this is going to be a very dignified tree lighting just like at Anytown, USA. What we receive is practically a parody of the tree lighting ceremony at Anytown, USA. We are presented with a bumbling mayor of WinterFest, who can't seem to find the proclamation in his pocket, then thinks he has it but its actually the preamble to the Constitution, and then he finally starts to read a proclamation so boring he skips right through it. It's an attempt to interject humor in a situation where humor is not needed. The ceremony again turns serious as we are introduced to the WinterFest family of the day (which seems to get drawn via radio station promotions). The family of the days task is to throw the switch to light the lights. Just like any other tree lighting ceremony, of course usually the lights come on without a hitch. Well not here, as the mayor tries to explain a very fanciful complicated piece of machinery to the family, and then the family fails several times to get the lights to come on. The mayor finally pulls out a plunger, and the family uses the plunger. As they plunge fireworks explode off the top of the Eiffel Tower, then the Paramount Stars light up (how corporate of them), then the strands of lights lighting the tower come one, then the tower itself starts to light up through he use of spotlights powerful enough to make it look like the tower has changed colors. After the tower has been lit, the light sculptures and colored floodlights for the ice rink come on, bathing the ice rink in a sea of fanciful light. Ahh, its so nice to see International Street all lit up again. We wait for the trees lining International Street to light up, but they never do.
At the conclusion of the tree lighting ceremony, which takes about 5 minutes, we retraced our steps back to Swan Lake. As we approached Swan Lake, I thought I saw guests walking in the grass to get closer to the lakeside. As I arrived at the prime viewing area for Holiday Illuminations, it appears the park has opened the grassy hill alongside the lake as a viewing area for Holiday Illuminations.
Holiday Illuminations is an adventure in light, sound, and pyro. Yes, I realize that sounds a lot like IllumiNations at EPCOT, except that this one is done on a much smaller scale, several times nightly. So we crowd around the lake, and at 6:15 the show starts. Before the show foggers cover the lake in a think fog that with the slight use of the power of suggestion turn the lake into a snowy ice capped lake. It starts slowly with the trees lighting up one by one and then flashing to holiday music. Then the snowflakes start to flash on and off to the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Faries" Other songs follow with other patterns of lights and the three Christmas trees on the show barge. The show comes to a big finale with a fireworks finale. I admit I am a sucker for these kind of light shows, so I was mesmerized by this one and really enjoyed, it from my perch on the paved midway which gave a nice stadium like view over the crowd huddled down at lakeside.
Okay, so far I have enjoyed White Christmas Express and Holiday Illuminations, and yes the tree lighting ceremony was a tree lighting ceremony, eveni f it could stop trying to be funny. The stuff in Santa Land I am totally neutral about. So to reitrerate I am having a fun time at WinterFest, and so we continue back to Eiffel Tower, again cutting around by the carousel as I think the hill is a lot less steep, and we turn into the Nickelodeon Holiday Tree Lot. The Tree Lot, quite simply, is just a Nick character meet and greet area disguised to look like a tree lot. I'm sure the unique holiday themed photo opportunities with your favorite Nick character was a hit with the children, but I'll pass on this attraction. I can also report that my Mom wasn't the only one standing outside the Nick Tree Lot, scratching their head, asking out loud "Who would go to Kings Island to buy a Christmas tree?" After all a huge tacky banner is strung across the entrance reading "Christmas Trees For Sale" I also found it fitting that the Charlie Brown theme was playing as I was touring this attraction. You know as in the Charlie Brown trip to the tree lot? I figure if it weren't for the big remodeling project going on in the Santa Land section of the park, this attraction would have been incorporated into Santa Land somehow. I liked this area better as the site of the live nativity scene as it was in WinterFest of days gone by. Speaking of live animals, where is the horse and carriage ride? Thats another old WinterFest tradition that must not have made the cut.
I take the opportunity to go down and tour Bubba Gump's Yuletide Feast, billed to be a redneck Christmas. The eatery is advertised by totally tacky "used car lot signs", you now those big message signs with the flashing arrows on top. What's more they wrote Christmas as XMAS on that sign, which is just one of my pet peeves. I peer into the Shrimp Shack, and there are a few interesting props strewn about, but overall it doesn't look like a bad place to eat, and thanks to the canvas walls, and the portable heater poles, it actually feels quite nice inside. I also note that Lt. Dan's Backporch Bar is open. I also note the bar is festooned with nautical signal flags, just of the same sort I was suggesting a few weeks ago we use on the yardarm pole by Top Gun to spell out Top Gun. Here, my handy field guide tells me they are just arranged in alphabetical order.
We leave Bubba Gumps and head back towards International Street. I notice the airbrush shop has to share space with some arcade games, that the main funnel cake stand is open, then we come back to International Street. We walk through what is usually the Emporium, but is now Crafter's Village. Inside Crafter's Village, we see a candy stand, a booth for a sponsor radio station to do live broadcasting, a portrait artist, fused glass maker, glass jewelry maker, blown glass artisan, porcelin ornament maker, pottery booth, and much more. It has the feel of an upscale crafters fair. We exit the other side of the Crafter's Village and go down the path to the WinterfestHaus. I note the other wood carver (Name keychains) is open, and that at the end of the pathway there is another one of those tacky 'used car lot signs' pointing the way to Bubba Gumps.
As I approach the WinterfestHaus I note the front looks to be nicely restored, and a Christmas tree stands where the little fountain once stood. Signs outside tell me of the various food options I will find inside. We enter the Festhaus and I find booths for LaRosa's Pizza, Busken Bakery, Grater's Ice Cream, as well as a traditional cafeteria setup. An informal tour of the dining room reveals that most diners, as well as my Mom opted for the LaRoas's Pizza. I opted for the more traditional holiday meal. The park had advertised a special meal in here that includes an entire meal, including beverage and desert for $14.99. Well, that package is now totally off the table, I suppose unless you already bought a voucher for it through PKI.com. Instead the deal was $11.99 for your choice of turkey or roast beef (neither one hand carved), dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and a dinner roll. When I asked about the deal to get desert and a beverage with it for $14.99, I was given a shrug of "We have no idea what you are talking about" I have a feeling a lot of things about this event are being done on the fly, such as the opening of the International Restaurant (which is not on the park map), charging for ice skating (I could have sworn I heard that was going to be included in admission originally), the whole Scooby's Christmas Caper that never was, etc. I opt to purchase a Coke, but decline desert. So I stepped out of the cafeteria having paid just over $15, and feeling that while I received a nice meal, it wasn't all the park promised me on it's website. I also note that any reference to the WinterFestHaus meal has been removed from the park website, and guess what, they just raised the admission price in a way. It used to be tickets were $19.99 on the web or $24.99 at the gate, now you have to purchase at least three days in advance to get the $19.99 rate, if you purchase less than three days in advance the presale ticket is $22.99. See what I mean about changing stuff on the fly? This is the kind of stuff that is likely to upset potential customers. I mean their prices are nearing what they were charging in post season for access to the entire park and its rides (minus Boomerang Bay) - which was $26.99 in post season.
Well, anyway, I enjoyed my turkey dinner while watching some live entertainment on the center stage in the Festhaus. I think their sound engineer is laboring under the impression of "The Louder the Better", and the light engineer is happily using the bright sopts which also serve to blind people sitting in certain parts of the dining room. You have to watch that with a theater in the round style setup. I think the webs tag "performers from every land" falls into the usual PKI overhype machine, but all in all I found the Festhaus entertainment to be nice enjoyable dinner music style entertainment.
We relax in the WinterfestHaus taking in the food and the live entertainment till its time to poke our heads out to see the parade. We walk back up towards Eiffel Tower and find a nice gap in the wall of people watching the parade from right around the Bandstand. I figure this will be a prime viewing spot as its usually a 'show spot' on he Nick parade. Unlike what Jeff had told us, the parade starts from Santa Land and ends in Riverown The parade is opened by the Mayor of WinterFest riding in one of the parks old antique cars, then the floats start interspersed by street performers. For example after the float about Santa's Workshop you see a crew where once guy is traveling by pogo stick, another by scooter, and another by bike. After the candy factory float there are huge walking gumdrops, and I suppose sugar plum ferries who dispense candy to the children lining the parade route. Walking snowman, walking Christmas trees, a marching band like group complete with flag twirlers and all The parade ends with Santa Claus himself who is busy making a list and checking it twice. I thought it was a fantastic parade, PKI has really stepped out as being a park that knows how to put on a parade, and as the saying goes "Everybody likes a parade" I'd rank the parade as my second favorite attraction, of the major attractions. Also at the parade I noted guest behavior at a parade that is something so rude. Less than 2 minutes before the parade started, I am convinced she encouraged her young child to run out into the parade route, which, of course she inched her way past the assembled crowd under the premise of "I have to collect my kid, then I'll come right back out" She proceed to sit her child on the ground which is fine by me, small people should have the front seats, but guess what, when the parade started she totally forgot about that promise to move back to her original spot. Also, guess who did a mad dive through the assembled crowd to get both herself and her child to the next attraction AS we were still watching the last float go past. I recall the last float was Santa. I hope Santa made a note of her behavior and so forth. I will also note that trying to go backward through the crowd is not the way to get out on an area that has just had a theme park parade. Your best exit is to wait for the security rope to go past then exit FORWARDS into the parade route and walk backwards along the parade route.
After the parade we go down to explore the last International Street building. I note the area where the caricature artists are usually setup has become a hot soup (in a bread bowl) and baked potato stand. The Nickelodeon Shop is still very much the Nickelodeon shop except that its Christmas themed nick stuff, and stuff like a Spongebob Squarepants themed televison set. A Skyline Chili has taken the place of the Mexican food eatery.
We exit the store and spend about 20 minutes just relaxing alongside International Street just watching the ice skaters, and enjoying all the pretty lights. The ice rink provides a continuous live show, where your fellow park guests are the performers. I note the ice rink setup has been flipped from the old Winterfest, with the skate rental and stuff like that up at the Tower end of International Street, and apparently the ice rink warrants its own generator. We watch the skating till about 8:20 then get in line, per the tickets sitting in my pocket for the 8:30 showing of Santa's Toy Factory. It appears the queue is ling, reaching almost back to the entrance of the International Restaurant, which I find odd since everybody should be using tickets for this attraction. It seems they are not letting people off International Street past the stroller rental area to even get near the Paramount Theater until the doors open, and then only after presenting valid tickets.
We enter the Paramount Theater for Santa's Toy Factory and take seats in the back of the house roguhly behind the engineers booth, so back central. Wonderful seats for the show, in fact. The show starts, and its a broadway musical style production telling the story of Santa's Workshop on Christmas Eve wo use a plot something similar to the movie "Elf" in that they can't get Santa's sleigh to fly because the Holiday Spirit Meter isn't all the was to the top. The show also makes a nice argument about how everybody wants the extravagant, expensive gifts and the notion that simple old fashioned gifts won't be appreciated. Of course you know it comes to a dream sequence where a little girl is just ecstatic about receiving a teddy bear. Its strange, I can almost swear I have seen this show, but its just a faint fuzzy memory. Yes, I'm sure I have seen this show before, sure some of the lines may have been updated like asking for Xbox , iPod, and other things that didn't exist in the days of the original Winterfest. And yes, they may have changed in some of the newer carols, but the main show from the sets to the general premise, I can swear I have seen before. It's like a déjà vu moment where you it seems like "I've done this before" That's not to say the current cast of characters didn't do a good job with it, to the contrary the acting and singing seemed to be great, as witnessed by the applause the cast got between every scene. The show might be original, it might be a revival of the old Winterfest show. I don't think it matters, what matters is that at least the audience of the show I was in seemed to just eat the show up. They were loving it! They have added some 4D effects, like having it snow inside the theater, and having the characters rush up the aisles towards the end of the show apparently passing out candy was a nice touch. The show, is as its billed to be, the headliner attraction at WinterFest.
We walked past the last gift shop, Front Gate Gifts North, which is your official WinterFest logoed merchanside headquarters. We have now come full circle, and I take some more photos of International Street, and I notice that apparently taking family pictures on the tree lighting ceremony stage is permitted. I ask the person assigned the job of watching the stage if she would take our picture. She agrees to do it, so we have a great picture portrait of our day at Winterefest, at no charge. Take that Keyhole Photo people, and yes Keyhole Photo is open.
We are about to leave the park, but its a Kings Island tradition to end the day with a funnel cake, and besides I didn't get any Festhaus photos. So Mom and I walk back to the Festhaus. We arrive at the Festhaus at 9:28, but unfortunately I learn that the Glockenspiel on the front of the Festhaus has been turned off for WinterFest. I get mom seated inside the Festhaus, and she watches Jack Frost and his comedy magic/juggling act while I go to the funnel cake stand. One funnel cake with powdered sugar please. $6.06 later I am returning to the FestHaus. Tonight I have gotten an education in why during the summer I don't eat in the park. We enjoy our Funnel Cake, we watch the FestHaus entertainment close up show for the night. We watch food service end at the Festhaus for the night, and some nice cheering going on in the kitchen which I can only imagine is for something like "We served "X" meals today!" or "We made a mint of our guests today" something like that. It was clear that we were the last to leave the FestHaus tonight, as I heard a food service team leader announce in a shocked voice "Hold it down, we still have two guests eating in here"
After we finished our Funnel Cake, and I get anal about making sure all the powdered sugar is cleaned off our table, we head towards the park exit. In fact, we walk through the exit tunstiles just as the "Park is closed" announcement plays. We take a brief survey before exiting out to the parking lot.
As we pull out of the parking lot, we compare notes. While neither of us can really find any flaws in Winterfest, I mean all the shows were great, enjoyed the train ride, and all the right elements were there, by that I mean crafters, ice skating, and holiday decorations, there is something intangible that is missing. We both felt an empty void upon leaving the event. Its like the event has all the right attractions, but it lacks soul, it lacks spirit. The magic is not back, I mean yeah they are going through the motions, they have put a lot of effort into the event, and the attractions taken individually are all really nice, but there just seems to be something missing, and it bugs me that I can't figure out what it is. If asked how they could improve WinterFest, I can't come up with anything they didn't do that would have made me feel satisfied. Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy I went, and I look forward to WinterFest 2006, however like Wendell in Santa's Toy Factory, it just didn't do it for my personal Holiday Spirit Meter, whereas it seems like the old Winterfest was a holiday spirit overload.
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