Winterfest will never happen at Cedar Point. This extremely popular event that keeps many Cedar Fair parks open through the holiday season could never be held successfully at the company's flagship park due to its location jutting into Lake Erie. An early version of the event was tried in 1994, but probably due to the bitter cold, icy causeway, and limited winterized facilities, it has not been repeated.
Yet for the first time since then, Cedar Point is offering a holiday-themed event to the residents and visitors to north central Ohio. “Season of Joy” at Cedar Fair’s newest resort, Sawmill Creek in Huron (located just a few miles from Cedar Point), is a fun, family-oriented event that offers guests nearly two dozen holiday-themed experiences. My wife and I spent the Friday evening after Thanksgiving there and had a wonderful time.
The events were organized into four categories:
The first two categories could be combined into one since they both featured a variety of entertainment venues presented throughout the buildings. Elf - the Off the Shelf Tour featured “Gingy,” an elf comedian with a talent for improv. Santa’s Helpers ran a holiday trivia game show where guests competed for prizes. The Mistletones, consisting of Holly, Dolly, and Carol, presented an Andrews Sisters-style close harmony show of popular holiday melodies, and In Thy Dark Street Shineth was set on Christmas Eve 1947, when a New York lounge singer and her piano-playing brother are stranded on their way to Chicago. Sawmill Creek offers to put them up in exchange for entertaining the resort’s guests.
Other entertainments offered dueling pianists, two comedians presenting Dicken’s Christmas Carol in twenty minutes, holiday movies, and a holiday sing-along. Most of these events were presented several times throughout the day and evening, and all were free of charge.
Holiday Boot Camp was a collection of DIY workshops designed “to inspire your inner elf.” How to untangle that mess of Christmas lights that you shoved into a box last January, how to decorate a wreath and make the perfect bow, and how to design and create the tackiest, best ugly sweater are a few of the workshops offered.
Eat, Drink and Be Merry offered adult beverages to create and enjoy at Merry Mulligan’s Pub, and hot cocoa and s’mores to keep guests warm around several firepits burning in the beautifully-decorated Sawmill Courtyard. Except for any alcoholic beverages or additions to your hot cocoa (which required a fee), these and every other event were offered at no charge.
We spent the evening at the resort, but there was no charge to attend any Season of Joy events. It is open to any visitor to Sawmill Creek, whether a paying guest or not. This was a very generous gesture to Sandusky and the surrounding area by Cedar Point.
The decorations in, on, and around the Sawmill Creek Resort were very impressive. Dozens of decorated trees, what looked like miles of evergreen swag, and classy ornaments throughout the buildings really gave us the feeling that Christmas was here. Along with the outdoor firepits, several indoor fireplaces added so much to the Season of Joy feeling.
I mentioned that my wife is disabled and in a wheelchair. Cedar Fair has invested millions of dollars into refurbishing Sawmill Creek from a rather worn-down property into a beautiful, clean, modernized resort. That doesn’t mean they got everything right the first time, but we immediately felt they had tried and were willing to learn how to improve. My wife pointed out a place in our room where a “grab bar” would assist her in the shower. We mentioned that to a maintenance worker named Jason, who was very interested in our suggestions. He passed it on to his boss, Scott, who found us and passed it on to the facility's general manager. He told us later that everyone appreciated the suggestions and would probably be implemented soon.
We had dinner in the resort’s main restaurant, The Miller’s Table. The food was wonderful, even though it was quite pricy (a great special-event meal), and the service was excellent. They had a special holiday-themed drinks menu. I only tried one, and it was not my favorite.
Sawmill Creek (by Cedar Point Resorts) is a terrific addition to the Cedar Point family, and the Season of Joy events were fun, entertaining, and a great way to get into the Christmas Spirit. It will never be as big, splashy, and spectacular as Winterfest at Kings Island or any other Cedar Fair holiday event, and there is nothing wrong with that. It was friendly and welcoming, and every person I saw there - young and old - had a smile. I hope that Season of Joy continues for many years.
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The "just make it a food festival" trend is very, very good.
I’m having flashbacks of time spent at Sawmill Creek Resort with my best friend’s family when I was 12 or so and went with them to Cedar Point. Was a beautiful resort then, and happy to hear it’s been refreshed and is part of Cedar Point. I’m guessing the old (and very 70s) spinning water wheel surrounded by lots of plants is gone. Loved that as a kid! Reminded me a bit of the old Walt Disney World Village Marketplace in style, and even the Polynesian.
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Seasonal parks are still tinkering with winter holiday events with many Six Flags parks completely nixing Holiday in the Park this year and other parks significantly trimming down their offerings.
This collaboration that Cedar Point has developed could be the future, particularly for parks where trying to operate rides in winter weather conditions is impractical. For as much as I go to these events for the rides and their inevitably short lines, the future of winter theme park operations is towards shows, lights, and holiday-themed foods. Just as rides are secondary to most Halloween events, they're even less important for winter events, and if parks can offer compelling holiday entertainment at a fair price, they can make these events lucrative, and provide that desired year-round flow of revenue.