Winter WonderFest momentum grows as organizers plan Community Closing Party

Now open every day through New Year’s Eve
December 21, 2017

Now in its sixth week of fundraising and holiday merry-making, one might think that Winter WonderFest is beginning to wind down. That would be a mistake. "We are full speed ahead!" exclaimed Peter Briccotto, event director for the award-winning event.

"Each week more and more people are discovering how much bigger and brighter Winter WonderFest is for 2017," said Briccotto. "And cooler!" as he gestured toward the new Visit Delaware Ice Rink. "Now that schools are recessing for the holidays, Winter WonderFest is the perfect playground for kids of every age."

"You'd be amazed how many grown ups tell us this experience makes them feel like a kid again," said Mary Shapiro who oversees the scores of volunteers who help keep Winter WonderFest running smoothly. "We're always happy to welcome more volunteers," she added. "Give us a call at 302-727-0221."

To accommodate the larger crowds Winter WonderFest has added more days for people to see the Light Spectacular holiday light display, and to take part in all the activities at the Christmas Village and Santa's Workshops. "You can enjoy this amazing festival every day now through New Year's Eve day," said Briccotto.

The Visit Delaware Ice Rink opens at noon until 9 p.m. Activities at the Christmas Village and Santa's Workshops are open from 5 to 9 p.m. "We have a few dates remaining for groups to book the rink for their private holiday and birthday parties," noted Briccotto. Reserve by phone at 302-727-0221.

On Dec. 24 and 25, only the Light Spectacular at Cape Henlopen State Park will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. "We want to provide a go-to Christmas event that all people can make into their family's holiday tradition - especially for folks who have small Santa believers," said John Snow, president of Festival of Cheer which oversees the powerhouse fundraising event.

“The 1.5 mile light show vehicle route, nestled in the park's picturesque campground, is also ideal for those who are entertaining out-of-town family and friends here at the beach," added Snow, "It's much bigger this year, with 90 displays, captivating drive-thru's and 19 very creative animations. Definitely a car load of fun!"

Snow was quick to point out that Winter WonderFest not only exists to entertain, but also to raise funding to support Sussex County nonprofit groups. "Every dollar we raise stays right here in Sussex County," noted Snow. "So while you're making your own holiday memories, you're also supporting the community." In its first year alone, Festival of Cheer awarded $100,000 from Winter WonderFest proceeds to 17 local nonprofits which provide services for visitors and residents alike throughout the county.

Earlier this month Winter WonderFest was awarded Best New Event by Southern Delaware Tourism, citing its local philanthropy and extraordinary appeal to draw hundreds of visitors to lower Delaware.

"We're now seeing visitors who are also buying admissions as holiday gifts for their neighbors and co-workers," said Josh Grapski, Festival of Cheer treasurer. "With admission to the Christmas Village and The Light Spectacular, they're gifts you know the recipient will enjoy," added Grapski. "Employers can also use Winter WonderFesy admissions as the perfect Christmas bonus for deserving employees and their families." 

Guests enter the venue by strolling along Schellville's Christmas Lane. Curious kids can explore the elaborately styled interactive kid-size structures inside and out. There's Mistletoe Market, Schellville Town Hall and Rudolph's Barn to name a few. There's even a vintage movie house continuously playing the classic movie "Elf."

Inside the Ferry Terminal Santa's Workshops offer a variety of craft-making classes for children. St. Nick is waiting to greet visitors next to the towering Christmas tree. "Our Santa loves to pose for memory-making pictures, and is often accompanied by Mrs. Claus," said Briccotto.

More squeals and giggles as the Ferris Wheel, Super Shot and The Rainbow offer a joy ride up to the sky. There are also less daunting rides for the small kids.

People also gather around the open fire pit while roasting marshmallows and listening to nightly professional music on the main stage. To really chase away the chill everyone is welcome to warm up and hang out at the Crooked Hammock Lodge. Guests can enjoy craft beers, cocktails, hot cider and coffee, and they are welcome to eat their hot pizza slices at the Lodge which is right next door to the unmistakable Grotto's Pizza Food Truck.

Other Christmas Village activities include supporting other charities at the Giving Tree to purchase a Luminaria in memory of a loved one. There's also a larger-than-life snow globe from Presenting Sponsor Schell, and more great photo ops with the kids playing inside the globe.

Make front page news at the Cape Gazette's free photo booth contest. Take a shot, post it online and enter to win great prizes.

The centerpiece of the Village is a Visit Delaware Ice Rink. It's another example of making this year's Winter WonderFest bigger, and definitely cooler, thanks to Presenting Sponsor Visit DE. tourism. The new rink is three times bigger than the previous year, and replaces the synthetic surface with real ice. Both public sessions and private lessons are available.

Closing party set

For those who say "all good things must come to an end," Briccotto promises the New Year's Eve day closing is going out with a bang. "Well, make that a special Beach Ball Drop!" he said. "It's really a fun, family-friendly community event for everyone who supports us. And our way to say thanks to the volunteers, supporters, our thousands of visitors, and our generous sponsors." The closing celebration is Dec. 31 from noon to 7 p.m. with plenty of free activities,

Briccotto explains that the early party timing gives families a chance to have a memory-filled New Year's celebration with their kids, and still have time to attend their other festivities later in the evening.

Details are online for the New Year's Eve Closing Party. Also find dates and times for Light Spectacular, Christmas Village and Santa's Workshops, plus admission and skating reservations.

Winter WonderFest Box Office phone is 302-727=0221. Box office hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.