Kings Island, just north of Cincinnati in Mason, Ohio, many times over the years and have had countless numbers of wonderful experiences. I've ridden their world-class roller coasters, watched Broadway-caliber shows in their state-of-the-art theaters, and enjoyed some of the best theme park food anywhere. I've spent hours exploring it's beautifully-landscaped grounds with dear friends who traveled from Los Angeles, California and Altringham, U.K. and all points in between to enjoy Kings Island with me.I've visited
But I don't think I ever had as much fun as I did on a cold, rainy, drizzly, misty evening a few days ago when I braved a three-hour-drive in a downpour to attend Kings Island Winterfest.
That's how good it is.
Granted, by the time it opened at 4pm the rain had lessened up, but it never really stopped all night. It was always drizzling, or at least misting, and several times the huge star at the top of the Eiffel Tower, now transformed into one of the tallest Christmas "Trees" in the world, was totally lost in the mist 300 feet above the millions of holiday lights that transformed one of the most beautiful parks in the country into a dazzling celebration of the holiday season. But it didn't matter... it was Winterfest, and it was spectacular.
I admit that I'm a bit effusive in my enthusiasm for this event. Winterfest is not exclusive to Kings Island — many other Cedar Fair parks now extend their seasons into the New Year with their own version of Winterfest, as they should. I wish my home park, Cedar Point, could somehow join them, but its exposed location in Lake Erie makes this a meteorological impossibility. For Theme Park Insiders who live close enough to a Cedar Fair Winterfest, get there! If it's half as good as Kings Islands version, you'll have a wonderful time.
I won't go into everything because I didn't have time to see everything. At least half of the park is open, with several major rides and many smaller ones running, even in the rain. Mystic Timbers, the 2017 Golden Ticket winner for Best New Ride, was running, and I was finally able to ride it — front seat with only two other riders (who sat in the back). It's an incredible ride, fast, smooth, and it's nearly tied with Steel Vengeance on my list of best coasters. I suspect it was built with the intention of keeping it operating even in the cold of Winterfest, and I also suspect that whatever is "in the shed" didn't like my Cedar Point HalloWeekends knit cap — I swear I felt something stronger than the wind rip it off my head on my third ride of the night!
Flight of Fear, a completely indoor LIM-launch coaster, also was running, and I don't know if this was special for Winterfest or not but the flying saucer at the entrance had all its running lights colored either red or green. This is just one of numerous high-quality theming touches I noticed. Nearly every building, shop, theater, and restaurant had been renamed and had new signs with seasonal titles such as "Blitzen's Hot Beverage Bar," "11 Pipers Piping Pizza," and "Mistletoe Munchies." The Racer Coaster was not running, but the entrance was closed off by two large Christmas trees, one red and one blue for the two colors and names of the trains.
The Kings Island and Miami Valley Railroad took riders through a musical light show portraying the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the Grand Carousel at the base of the Eiffel Tower/Christmas Tree has never looked better, glowing brilliant white in a sea of glittering lights. The International Fountain, running from the front gate to the Eiffel Tower, has been frozen over and now is called Snow Flake Lake, and hundreds of families were skating around and around (and occasionally down on their butts!) Horse-drawn carriages and motorized trolleys rolled down International Street, WinterFest Way, and Coney Elf Village, carrying guests throughout the park, and dozens of small, temporary booths were set-up surrounding the base of the Christmas Tree, where local artists and craftspeople were selling what seemed an endless assortment of gift items from baby bibs and finely crafted leather goods to hand-carved wooden boxes and personalized Christmas ornaments.
There was no way to see all the live entertainment being offered — there just wasn't time. "Tinker's Toy Factory" was a family-oriented musical staged in the Festhaus with a wonderfully-talented cast, and we also caught in passing "Cool Yule Christmas," "Four Drummers Drumming," and several street performers portraying characters from "A Christmas Carol." I was privileged to watch the magnificent tree lighting ceremony with Ebenezer Scrooge on one side of me and the ghost of Jacob Marley on the other. Later, as we were leaving the park as it was closing, Mr. Scrooge obviously had found his Christmas spirit, for as often as he was grousing "Bah! Humbug!" at the beginning of the evening's events he was wishing "Merry Christmas" to everyone as they left the park, a huge smile on his face. To me, he wasn't an actor — he was Ebenezer Scrooge who had been visited by three Spirits and had discovered the true spirit of Christmas.
The food we enjoyed was top-rate in quality, the hot chocolate was freshly-prepared and just the right temperature, and the Cinnabon that I treated myself to was steaming in the cold air as I watch the skaters circling the frozen fountains on the rink.
One interesting thing I noticed — I saw several instances where special-needs adults were working throughout the park, passing out maps and show schedules, sweeping (and in one case taking pictures for guests as they stood by the Winterfest sign with the skating rink and Christmas tree behind them), and in every case they looked like they were having a better time than anyone else in the park. One charming young woman told me as much. She asked if I wanted a map, and after I took it and thanked her she broke into a huge grin and proudly told me, "I love my job! I'm having so much fun!" She wasn't alone — everyone, employees and guests alike — was smiling, laughing, and often chatting with total strangers.
In spite of the rain, or perhaps because of the rain, my evening at Kings Island Winterfest was an experience I will always treasure. We get so lost in the busy-ness of Christmas, in finding the perfect gift, the perfect wrapping paper, and the perfect Christmas tree that we forget to stop and enjoy the simple things that are what is truly important. There was much that I didn't have time to do at Winterfest — and I really don't care. What I was able to do was magical.
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