Kings Island WinterFest 2017

WinterFest at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, is a frozen festival of Christmas color, food, fun and amusement park rides. With the twinkling holiday lights, decorations, music, and performers, Kings Island has transformed itself once again into a winter wonderland just north of Cincinnati.

WinterFest initially began at Kings Island in 1982 and ran until 1992 with one reappearance for the 2005 season. Now after 12 years, it’s back. This is the plaza entrance at about 4:30 pm on December 28th, 2017. This is mostly a night-time event, with parking gates opening at 4 pm most operating days. Start times may vary, so check the Kings Island website at General admission at the gate is $35; $25 online.

WinterFest typically operates on weekend evenings beginning with the Friday after Thanksgiving and is open most evenings between the day after Christmas and the day before New Year’s Eve. Once the sun goes down, the real transformation to a winter wonderland begins, as there are nine theme areas, like Candy Cane Lane and WinterFest Way.

The Pop Culture Christmas shop, near the Front Gate on International Street, is a nod to nostalgia: the Star Wars droid R2-D2, that “leg-lamp” from A Christmas Story, and ornaments proclaiming “Merry Grinchmas.” In this store, Darth Vader has his own ugly Christmas sweater.

For WinterFest, the Festhaus has become Tinker’s Spielzeug Haus. “Spielzeug” is the German word for “toy.” The Festhaus is a great place to see a live show indoors. Because it’s Christmastime, the show is called Tinker’s Toy Factory, which runs on the half-hour from 5:30 pm till 9:30 pm.

Visitors to Spielzeug Haus, just like Festhaus, pass through metal rails to a cafeteria-style serving line on either side of the wooden tables and benches. The Festhaus was created to simulate a Biergarten atmosphere, and beer is indeed served here. The Festhaus is comfortably heated, as the temperature outside is dropping into the mid-teens as the sun goes down.

Tinker’s Spielzeug Haus has many food options, including two traditional Christmas dinners. Panda Express is open, as is LaRosa’s Pizza, and there is a chicken tenders and fries basket. This is the traditional turkey Christmas dinner. There is also a ham dinner. The sides are stuffing, potatoes and green beans with ham (pick two). The cranberry sauce was unavailable today.

It’s the night before Christmas and the elves at Tinker’s Toy Factory at the North Pole have lost their Christmas Spirit . . . help them find their Christmas Spirit in this 25-minute song-and-dance show at the Festhaus. Santa Claus himself makes an appearance to help Tinker (center-left boy-elf) figure out what Christmas is all about. (This show was fun.)

Night has fallen and all of the lights are shining, especially here at the Snowflake Lake ice skating pavilion. The Festhaus, too, is lit up, in the center background. A skate rental is available on the far side of Snowflake Lake, as are Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Starbucks, and Skyline Chili. Behind the camera are a Graeter’s ice cream shop with hot cocoa, a fudge shop, and a LaRosa’s pizza place.

The Cool Yule Christmas show happens every hour on the hour at the International Street Stage beginning at 6 pm. This group performs many different pop songs and standards, so you might see a different show at different times. This is the 6 pm show on December 28th. At 5:30 pm, there is a tree lighting ceremony right here, where the Eiffel Tower becomes a magnificent Christmas tree.

Candy Cane Lane, left of the Eiffel Tower, is a fun walk-through zone with swirling optical candy canes, a photo-op ginger bread house with costumed Christmas characters, and a life-size gingerbread family. Jack Frost and a Christmas fairy pose for photos at the gingerbread house, and the guide will take pictures with your phone. The Grand Carousel is nearby and all decked out for Christmas. 

Mrs. Claus herself is just as busy as Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. She’s baking cookies at Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen. This is located on the left side of International Street when facing the Eiffel Tower. This shop is all about decorating cookies for Christmas, and it costs $14 (plus 95 cents tax) to participate. This shop is comfortably heated with seating. We didn’t see Mrs. Claus on our visit, but there were plenty of elves.

We paid the $14.95 total at the check-out register and were handed a white box containing four enormous shortbread cookies. This shoppe had a very helpful staff of Elves who prepped a table for us and got us four ketchup-style squeezy bottles of frosting. There are two glitter stations in this room, one being on the left. Candy glitter is dispensed into little white cups to take back to the table.

Our shortbread cookies came in the shape of a house, while other folks got Christmas trees. These cookies are enormous, with the glitter cup here being a little larger than a silver dollar. We had red, white, green, and blue frosting. These cookies were actually delicious. Our teen son ate his at the table, while three other cookies went home in the box, and were wrapped and frozen for a week. They were still tasty.

The Reason for the Season is nestled in a quiet spot behind the Eiffel Tower, right along with His parents, the Three Wise Men, and an angel in an understated stained-glass style presentation. In Charlie Brown’s Christmas Town, on the other side of the park, there is the Nativity Stage with singers, a manger, and a stable of live animals. This runs from 5:30 pm till 9:30 pm. (Your editor did not see this personally as she’d had enough of the bitter cold.) 

WinterFest Way runs behind the Eiffel Tower and to the right of Candy Cane Lane, leading into Rivertown Wonderland. (The map says there is a service animal relief station here.) Want a rock n roll Christmas sound track? You’ll hear Chuck Berry’s Run, Run, Rudolph, plus Elvis’s Blue Christmas, and the Pretenders’ 2000 Miles. There are a few places to take photos and get hot chocolate here. 

The Eiffel Tower, all decked out in Christmas lights, stands at 314 feet tall, with the Artisan Village beneath. There were glass blown tchotchkes, leather items, and wall hangings in the crafter’s shops, of which there seemed to be about two dozen. There is so much more to explore beyond the Eiffel Tower, including rides like the Mystic Timbers coaster, the Dodgem bumper cars, and Boo Blasters.

This is our last stop for photos at the Front Gate before leaving WinterFest 2017 for what would be the last time. Temperatures would drop even further until KI’s last day on December 30th, at which time Facebook said there would be no rides and limited attractions. It’s always a good idea to call ahead of your visit, plus look at Facebook for any weather-related information. This isn’t the Great White North, but it is the WinterFest closest to the North Pole and we do get snow here!

WinterFest returns next November, and Opening Day for 2018 was posted as April 14. It’s a fun place to work, and I worked WinterFest 1986 in the Fudge Shoppe wearing a German dirndl dress. My brother worked in Admissions, wearing a parka. Most positions require you to be 16, but 15 year olds may also work. My son worked at Festhaus, and will be returning next year, as will the rest of us. 

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