The holidays are such an exciting time for families. It’s fun to get swept up in the magic of celebration, whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or another special observance for your family. Speaking as a parent, to see that magic in a child’s eyes is what makes all the effort worth it.
WinterFest has lots to offer, by way of magic. The park is decked out in 5 million lights. We’ve got more than 30 holiday attractions, including a dozen live shows and performances. Kids can meet and take photos with more than 20 WinterFest characters. Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang are here! There’s yummy holiday food, hot chocolate, rides and ice skating. Plus don’t forget Mrs. Claus and the big man in red. Santa's here too!
When coming to WinterFest for the first time with a family in tow, I’d suggest a little advance planning to make the most of your night. There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot to consider especially because I bet you’ve never been to Canada’s Wonderland in the winter before, right?
As a Canada’s Wonderland insider and as a parent, here are my best tips to help you make the most of your visit:
1. Get on the website and do some research.
I was never one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of parent. I research and I get organized. It's how I survive. And I highly recommend that approach when coming to WinterFest. Though you may have been to Wonderland before, you need to check out the new park map and make note of our operating dates and hours. Many of the areas have new WinterFest names, like Elf Village and Charlie Brown’s Christmas Town. Plot out the locations of the shows you want to see, where they are and when they’re taking place. Show times are listed on each show’s webpage. Make note of other key locations, like food venues, family washrooms, baby-changing stations, hot chocolate refill stations and decide on a route. Then when you get to the park, grab a hard-copy map when you enter at front gate, for handy reference or download the Canada’s Wonderland app, which includes a digital map.
2. Bundle up! Think waterproof and lots of layers.
Plan to be outdoors for most of your night and dress accordingly. Watch the forecast and put the kids in snow gear if needed. If you’re bringing a stroller or wagon, tuck a blanket in there for extra comfort. Hand warmers also go a long way.
3. Make note of the opportunities to warm up.
Across the park, we have propane patio heaters, fire pits with Muskoka chairs and a couple warming centres (one in Charlie Brown’s Christmas Town and another in Elf Village). But there are other opportunities to get inside from the cold: check out any of our holiday stores, the Christmas Market, or see the Tinker’s Toy Factory show in Canterbury Theatre. The kids can come inside Sally’s Christmas Crafts to make their own keepsake ornament, decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus at her kitchen (note: extra charge activity, but you get four really massive cookies) or have a photo taken with Santa Claus at St. Nick’s Pics. Get warm by getting a little exercise at the Polar Party (an outdoor dance party with headphones) or go skating on Snow Flake Lake (see tips on this, below).
4. If you’re going to do the hot chocolate, check the locations of the refill stations.
The WinterFest souvenir hot chocolate mug is a great spill-proof, BPA-free cup to get for the kids, and who doesn’t love hot chocolate? You can purchase your mug at any one of our 14 hot chocolate locations, or get it online in advance. And because there are so many refill locations, don’t feel you need to stop at the first one you see to get your hot chocolate. The mobile app is the best resource for finding those spots.
5. If you want to skate, don't forget to reserve a time.
It’s free if you bring your own skates, but you need to head over to the skate shop as soon as you arrive to reserve a time for that evening. Space is limited and the 30-minute sessions can fill up. The only way to guarantee a skate time is to book it online in advance of your visit, for $10 per person. That fee also includes skate rentals. Read more about skating in this blog post and on the Snow Flake Lake skating page.
6. Plan to be early for the bigger shows.
If you’d like to see our Tree-Lighting Ceremony and show at 5:30pm, Cool Yule or Tinker’s Toy Factory in Canterbury Theatre, it’s best to head to those spots early in order to get a better view or seat. Check the showtimes on the website or app in advance and make note of travel time and distance in the park so you can get there on time.
7. Make sure your phone is fully charged.
There are so many photo opportunities at WinterFest, including all the meet and greets with the WinterFest characters like Jack Frost, the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Ice Prince and Princess. With the cold weather, sometimes our mobile phone batteries lose power more quickly, so it’s best to make sure you’ve got a full charge to start.
8. Don’t forget these necessities.
I’m sure every parent has their checklist of what-not-to-forget when planning an outdoor winter trip with the kids. On my list when going to WinterFest: tissue for runny noses, baby wipes for sticky hands (especially if you’re doing cookies with Mrs. Claus), extra gloves if/when the first pair get wet and a plastic bag to put those wet things in.
9. Consider a Gold Pass so you can visit as many times as you like.
This isn’t just a sales pitch, but rather some honest advice because it’s impossible to see and do everything at WinterFest in one night. There are so many shows, so many of the themed areas and photo ops, meet and greets, plus the rides and activities… it’s too much to cover in one visit. Plus, if you’re bringing kids, you know things sometimes go sideways – they get tired, or cranky and suddenly you’re cutting your trip short. It’s great peace of mind, as a parent, to know you can come back again to see what you missed.
So here's the details: If you purchase the 2020 Gold Pass now, you get all the benefits of a season pass next year (unlimited park, water park, PLUS Halloween Haunt and WinterFest), and you can start using it right away and come to WinterFest this year as often as you’d like.
If you come to WinterFest, I hope it brings some of that holiday magic to you and your family!