Normally, this time of year at California’s Great America means the gates are locked tight, seasonal workers are filling out job applications elsewhere and the mechanics are ensuring that the coasters are ready for spring. Not so fast this year, because on Friday the park inaugurated Winterfest and the fun will keep going through the end of 2016. Holiday sounds from Burl Ives to Bruce Sprinsgsteen fill the air. New trees clad in colorful lights dot the landscape, toy soldiers are assisting at the front gates, and some maniac has landed his sled on the Goldstriker first drop under the rechristened North Pole.
Just inside the turnstiles, the park’s signature fountain has been transformed into Snowflake Lake, and for an additional fee skates can be rented for a turn or two around the ice.
For opening night Olympian Polina Edmunds was on hand to assist in the tree lighting featuring the Great America Holiday Singers. While I staked out a spot for the festivities, My son went forth with his camera to investigate the nearby decorations, even finding snow flurries. (Photos by Colin Ricketts)
Great America entertainment includes some low key kids shows, but their bigger productions have been consistently featuring dedicated and talented performers for the last few years.
Even if one never sought out a show, so much was happening that it was easy to encounter someone in a costume while merely walking around (Photos by Colin Ricketts).
With few exceptions, the whole of the park was decked out from shops to games, and even the First Aid station got in on the action.
Several holiday activities were available including Sally’s Christmas Crafts
The option of sending Santa a message via the North Pole Postmaster
Or paying an additional fee to decorate cookies at Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen (Photo by Colin Ricketts).
Beginning December 17 there will be a traditional turkey feast available in the Pavilion, normally used for pregame activities at the adjacent Field of Jeans, Levi’s Stadium.
Orleans Plaza was one of the more colorful sections of the park.
The Coca Cola Polar Bear Plaza presented by Coca Cola was filled with light, photo opps, a stage that included a wreath toss competition, but no Pepsi.
Taking a cue from their sister Cedar Fair park to the south, the park featured Crafter’s Corner, with a variety of artists and craftsmen showing and selling their wares (Photos by Colin Ricketts)
Over in Planet Snoopy people were exploring Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree Lot, many were getting photographed with some round headed kid inside.
Oversize decor enhanced this section of the park for the benefit of its target audience (Photos by Colin Ricketts).
The back part of the park is closed for Winterfest, and backstage at Great America is actually the center of the park, which is essentially a big oval. Therefore, Candy Cane Lane has been constructed to allow the traverse of this backstage area. Still looks a bit industrial, but I suppose it’s better than backtracking. The sweet Toyland at the far end helps take one’s mind off of the warehouse motif.
I spent time looking at one area of Hometown Square,
Another MiceChat camera was looking in other directions. Even Massacre Manor joined in, although Madame Marie will not be welcoming visitors until Haunt returns (Photos by Colin Ricketts).
There is actually more to do than we could accomplish in a few hours, despite the park shrinking for the event. Advance tickets are only 25 bucks, so one will get one’s money’s worth. We did make it into the final performance of the night for It’s Christmas, Snoopy, an ice skating spectacular in the Great America Theater. While my ice interest is more along the line of seeing Joe Pavelski skate around with the Stanley Cup over his head rather than seeing a man skate around with a woman over his head, I will not deny that it is an impressive sight. From giant skating cupcakes to Linus reminding us of the reason for the season, it was a solid performance start to finish.
All in all it is a solid effort, and a new arrow in Great America’s Quiver. Winterfest will continue select nights through December 30, and I’ll return next time for another Day by the Bay.