After Thanksgiving, when the turkey and pumpkin pie are but a memory, our attention turns to the height of the holiday season.
Between Black Friday shopping and watching football on TV, our family is decorating our Christmas tree, baking for holiday parties and gearing up for some of the most festive weeks of the year. It’s an eventful time and, especially while my children are young, I’m always looking for ways to let them experience some of our community’s favorite holiday traditions.
This year, we’re hoping to try Pensacola Winterfest. Ranked the No. 1 Christmas event in the state by Florida Travel & Life, it is also one of the reasons Expedia named Pensacola one of the Top 25 cities in the United States for Christmas festivities.
Winterfest features a 50-minute, ticketed trolley ride through Downtown Pensacola with 16 performances along the way. Singing guides hop on board the trolley and lead the way to scenes from popular holiday movies like “The Polar Express.” Peanuts characters and the Grinch are just a few of the characters that riders will encounter along the way.
The theatre-on-board-a-trolley experience begins Friday, Nov. 24, at 6 p.m. On opening night, it follows the annual Elf Parade at 5 p.m., a free event featuring kids, parents and many of the Winterfest characters strolling alongside costumed musicians on a six-block route. Beginning and ending at the old Escambia County Courthouse at the corner of Palafox and Government Streets, the parade makes its way around Plaza Ferdinand, which is nicknamed Plaza Wonderland during Winterfest.
The Plaza is where the annual tree lighting occurs, and Winterfest trolley tours culminate here, as well, so that guests can enjoy additional shows, stories and snacks, plus free games and visits with Santa.
Heidi Ward of Pensacola says she has enjoyed Winterfest with her family every year since 2010.
“The children are now 10 and 13 and still look forward to this special event every year,” she said. “They love the classic holiday stories and carols, topped off with ‘snow’ at the courthouse, Santa, Rudolph, hot chocolate, jingle bells and candy canes. We all get a kick out of singing Blue Christmas with Elvis. We wouldn't miss it!"
Winterfest performance trolley tours run nine nights of the season: Nov. 24 and 25, and Dec. 1, 2, 8, 10, 15, 16 and 17. Reservations are recommended. Prices vary by date, ranging from $14-19 for kids and $21-35 for adults.
If you can’t make it to Winterfest, enjoy the simple beauty of holiday lights around Downtown Pensacola any night of the season. Walk, take a Pedicab or whatever mode of transportation you prefer to see the city all lit up. In 2016, lights stretched the length of Palafox Street, from Wright Street south to the Palafox Pier. We took our cameras and snapped more than a few photos here last year.
Closer to I-10, Wonderland of Lights will brighten up the Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds most nights from Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23 through Dec. 30. Beginning at 6 p.m. each night, enter by the carload and drive through a winding trail of large, festive light displays. Cost is $20 per vehicle (up to 8 passengers). Also available at the event will be photos with Santa, camel and pony rides, holiday treats, and a giant Christmas mural that guests can take part in decorating.
What other Pensacola traditions do you plan to enjoy with your family this year?