A Wonderland Like We’ve Never Seen Before
Back in October of 2017 during in an interview with Matt Ouimet, the CEO of Cedar Fair at the time, it was casually mentioned that Canada’s Wonderland would debut Winterfest in 2018. However, the 2018 season got going with no mention of Winterfest. It became a sidelined thought as our attention was focused on that big hole in the middle of Vortex’s helix.
Fast forward to August 15, 2018, the day we finally got that announcement for Winterfest which would debut in 2019! Attractions like a nightly tree lighting ceremony, skating on Snowflake Lake, select rides, and pictures with Santa were among the many things teased.
From what I had already seen online of the other parks already doing Winterfest in previous years, my expectations for Winterfest at Wonderland were already set very high.
So, did Wonderland meet that high standard that I believe other parks were hitting? I’m sure you already know the answer, but with this post I wanted to dig in a little deeper and share my thoughts on various aspects of Winterfest and on some of the things that went on this holiday season at the park.
Singing From The Heart – Entertainment Reviews
Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of singing shows that have been at the park. The themes and styles of the shows had never really caught my interest enough to take me away from the rides so I enjoyed the fact that the park seemed to lean toward the acrobatic and stunt shows in recent years, even in the choices of outside performers being invited to the park like the Chinese Acrobats and West Coast Lumberjacks.
With that said, I wasn’t sure what I would make of Winterfest going in since it’s such an entertainment-focused event with many singing shows.
Well. They got me.
The performers at Winterfest are some of the most talented performers I’ve ever seen at the park. They’re great at singing but they’re also so good at emphasizing emotions into their performances, whether it’s with their facial expressions or just the way they interact with each other on stage. Although people may disagree, I like the consistency of Wonderland’s Winterfest shows – None of the singers add their own little oh’s and woah’s that I feel is unnecessary most of the time, and everyone was performing the choreography near perfect every time. With some of the choreography at the other parks being a bit too fast and aggressive for my liking, there’s beauty in simplicity here at Wonderland.
I didn’t want to do a full ranked list of the shows because I didn’t watch any of the shows in the kids areas and I didn’t want any of the performers in the shows at the bottom of the list to feel bad, so I’ve settled on sharing my top three.
#3 – Tinker’s Toy Factory
Tinker’s Toy Factory is a show put together by Les Productions Haut-Vol using the script from other parks. At the other parks, this is a singing performance but Wonderland took it up a notch by making it into a cirque show.
I loved the flow of the show as each cirque performance was slotted into the script so elegantly. I’d even go as far to say I personally enjoyed this a bit more than the summer Tundra cirque show. Tinker’s included that fun style of humour that’s found in every Les Productions Haut-Vol show, from performers “accidentally” landing on their crotch, to “failing” at launching an elf to get a star on the tree.
I found the singing and dialogue in the show to be a bit hard to follow at times but it still had great music and melodies. I was so focused on the cirque acts that this didn’t really bother me much at all.
I hope that this show will be just as much fun to watch next year!
#2 – Tree Lighting Ceremony
The tree lighting ceremony is something I had to watch every time I visited Winterfest. While the Starlight Spectacular shows have made the night life on International Street exciting, I don’t think it compares to what the tree lighting ceremony has done here. The talented performers along with the aesthetic of the two 50-foot tall Christmas trees and the lighting on Wonder Mountain made for such a lovely sight every evening.
#1 – Cool Yule Christmas
🎵Haul out the holly🎵
🎵Put up the tree before my spirit falls again🎵
Cool Yule Christmas was my favourite show for 2019 Winterfest.
I know others had picked Holly Jolly Trolley over this and I totally get it because their performers are just as amazing (the singers from both shows make up the tree lighting ceremony cast so it’s no wonder why I loved that so much), but I personally preferred the songs in Cool Yule. The lighting and the giant tree also made for a very fun experience into the evening.
What’s a Holiday without Gluttony? – Food Reviews
The quality of food options at Wonderland has increased dramatically over the recent years so I was really excited to see what they would do with Winterfest. Many quick service window food locations in the open areas of the park served at least one new Winterfest-exclusive menu item in addition to summer classics like cheeseburgers and chicken tenders. Backlot Cafe and Marketplace, the two indoor restaurants at the park, had both of their menus completely redone for the Winterfest season. Wonderland also operated a food location within the Christmas Market in Courtyard.
My Winterfest Food Favourites!
If you somehow happen to actually read my trip reports, then you can probably guess what my favourite Winterfest meals were!
The Bison Burger available at North Pole Treats (Backlot Cafe) was the best burger I’ve ever had at Wonderland. It’s topped perfectly with fresh vegetables and warm bacon, all on a soft brioche bun. The bison burger was available at Backlot Cafe a few seasons ago but was removed from the menu, and even back then I was saying it was my favourite burger at the park. I hope it will return to the regular season menu eventually!
The Turkey Dinner available at Marketplace Festive Feast was a surprising hit for me as I’m not really a fan of turkey. However, this was an impressively well-rounded meal that had me completely satisfied, with healthy servings of mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, steamed vegetables, and cranberry sauce. With how popular it was, I would love for it to be served in Backlot Cafe too just so that there’s the option to go there when Marketplace is too busy or closed for a private event.
The Food is Nice and Warm, but Also Needs to Chill
A week or so before the Winterfest season began, the meal plan menu was posted onto the park’s website. Initially, I was very excited because there a bunch of new items on there. However, as the season began, my perspective of the menu changed very quickly.
My issue with it (and it is a personal opinion you don’t have to agree with) was that some of my favourite high quality food options from the summer were replaced with the Winterfest holiday dishes. Don’t get me wrong, I love when the park tries new things and it makes sense to change things up for Winterfest, but there were times when I would have taken the usual over what was being served at Winterfest, particularly with Backlot Cafe’s completely different menu. For example, I would have taken beef tacos (or burrito bowl) over the ham, turkey, or deep fried cauliflower tacos, or a slice of meat lasagna over the beef cannelloni. And with the park’s unique Indian station moved over to Marketplace, I was missing my butter chicken as they had veggie curries and tandoori chicken instead. Again, it is personal complaint that’s not really a complaint because there were Winterfest meals I did enjoy, including the ham mac and cheese pictured above, but it would be nice to have some of the regular season favourites available during Winterfest.
Honestly, I would not question the ability of getting chicken souvlaki in the middle of December.
There’s Always Room for Dessert!
After a summer of getting more funnel cakes than usual, and usually regretting my decisions afterwards, I stayed away from them during Winterfest. However, I did try several new Winterfest dessert items! Over the course of my 7 visits to Winterfest, I tried the pull-apart cinnamon bread, maple taffy, cookie dough cannoli, and apple churros.
Of the four, I liked the apple churros the most. They were affordable and shareable, though still fine to eat by myself without having me feel like I’ve eaten too much. They’re fried to order and come with ice cream that goes so well with it. This was literally the very last thing I enjoyed at Winterfest so it’s regrettable that I didn’t try them earlier as I would definitely get these again. I hope they’ll return this year, even during the regular season.
Overall, the dessert selection scattered throughout the park was impressive. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves in the next season.
Five Million Lights, and Then Some – Park Expansion and Adjustments
On my first visit to Winterfest on that first Saturday of the season, it was apparent that the event was very popular right from the beginning. One thing I remember so vividly was trying to get in and out of the kids areas through Candy Cane Lane (the rainbow bridge). Since that was the only way to get to the kids areas, there was massive crowd constantly going through there that made it a bottleneck. The pathway between Kidzville and International Festival through Frontier Canada was opened the following weekend to alleviate that issue.
It was very surprising and impressive to see how much they managed to do in just one work week, with new lights and decorations along the path, moving Four Drummers Drumming to that area, and opening Flying Eagles and a couple additional food locations. I seemed like a last minute decision and yet they seemed very well prepared to do it. There were more changes as the Winterfest season went on, including the opening of Thunder Run and Taxi Jam, and adding more hot chocolate refill stations. Again, it’s very impressive to see how much they were able to adapt and improve so dynamically.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the park open up more on the south side to add more pathway area for guests to spread out. If anything, I’d be surprised if they didn’t.
Skate the Night Away – Snowflake Lake Skating Review
I’m not a strong skater but I’ve always wanted to practice and work up some skill. Skating at Wonderland seemed like the best and most comfortable space to get started.
I skated a few times at the park, the first time with rentals and the following sessions with my own skates. The process of signing up for skating at the Skate Rental Shop (True North Gifts) was very well put-together, with a “sign-in” area for signing waivers, then moving along to payment and pick-up for the rentals if you needed them. For the times I didn’t need rentals, it was still pretty easy to get a spot by signing up as soon as I got to the park, though times slots filled up quickly. It seemed like they reserved a certain number of spaces so that people wanting to skate with their own skates wouldn’t constantly get blocked out by online reservations.
As for the actual skating experience, it varied between sessions depending on who I ended up on the ice with… It was uncomfortable for me when some skaters were going too fast around everyone for my liking, especially people using the skating aids – I was constantly scared I’d have my legs taken out by one of them. Outside of that, it was a fun experience with people struggling alongside me, and with the lighting and having the beautiful Wonder Mountain right there. I have no regrets skating at the park and am looking forward to it again next season.
A Fantastic Beginning to A Yearly Tradition
So back to that initial question: Did Wonderland hit that high standard for a Winterfest event?
There was never a time at the park where I felt like the quality was lacking. There was so much to do, even for a childless millennial like myself. I can’t wait to see how the event will grow next season.
A huge thank you to Canada’s Wonderland and all of the amazing staff and performers responsible for making it happen!