See the 88th annual Country Club Plaza lighting ceremony and fireworks show in 20 seconds. Jill Toyoshiba The Kansas City Star
See the 88th annual Country Club Plaza lighting ceremony and fireworks show in 20 seconds. Jill Toyoshiba The Kansas City Star

Travel

Four fetes worth a winter road trip

By MeLinda Schnyder

Eagle correspondent

November 24, 2017 05:53 PM

UPDATED November 26, 2017 01:20 PM

Whether you’re looking for a festival to stop into while traveling to visit family this December or you’re planning a weekend getaway, we’ve pulled together four of our favorite picks for holiday road trips this season.

The well-established Christmas festival at Silver Dollar City has upped its holiday cheer to 6.5 million lights while Kansas City’s long-standing Worlds of Fun theme park is hosting its first winter festival. Lawrence is catering to spectators with the 25th year of one of the largest all-horse parades in the country, while Oklahoma City is giving adventure-seekers snowy slopes to slide into the season.

Winter Wonderland Weekend

Lawrence

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If we have good weather on Saturday, Dec. 2, a crowd of more than 10,000 will line Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence for the 25th annual Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.

“We’ll have 60 entries this year and they are all either riders on horseback or driving authentic rigs, there is nobody on foot and no rubber tires,” said Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. and a member of the parade’s organizing committee. “We have entries from all over the Midwest, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas. We’ll have entries of all sizes, including big six-horse teams pulling wagons. The final entry is a stagecoach with a Christmas tree donated by Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association followed by Santa, Mrs. Claus and the elves on horseback to end the parade.”

The parade begins at 11 a.m. at 7th and Massachusetts streets and proceeds south to 13th. Zogry’s organization is promoting a Winter Wonderland Weekend to coincide with the parade, encouraging visitors to stay downtown for several days of holiday fun.

There is a two-day craft market and workshop, a gingerbread festival, the Tails & Traditions Family Holiday Festival at Watkins Museum of History, a holiday buffet at the historic Eldridge Hotel, free kiddie candle dipping at Waxman Candle, caroling and Santa sightings. For the first time, the Lawrence Festival of Trees – now in its 31st year – is leaving its 50 decorated Christmas trees and 20 wreaths up long enough to be viewed before or after the parade. Locals decorate the trees and wreaths every year at Liberty Hall and auction them off as a fundraiser on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving.

See a full schedule of events at downtownlawrence.com/winter-wonder-weekend.

WinterFest at Worlds of Fun

Kansas City

New to the region is a winter festival at Worlds of Fun, a concept that owner Cedar Fair Entertainment Company has successfully rolled out at several of its properties around the country.

The theme park’s 235 acres are decorated with thousands of lights from now through Dec. 30 and each night they’ll hold a lighting ceremony where Snoopy and his special guests will insert a giant plug into an oversized power outlet to electrify the centerpiece 70-foot-tall tree. One of the park’s iconic thrill rides, SteelHawk, won’t be operating because its 301-foot-tall structure is wrapped in Christmas lights.

You can, however, ride 25 regular rides (weather permitting), including about a dozen aimed at younger kids in the Planet Snoopy area of the park, two of the park’s seven roller coasters and the two rides that opened in 2017: Mustang Runner and Falcon’s Flight. Le TaxiTour, the popular ride that allows you to drive antique taxis, has been transformed into a drive through the 12 days of Christmas.

Also scheduled each evening: 16 well-known holiday characters throughout the park, activities like writing Santa letters and make-and-take ornament craft stations for ages 12 and under and 10 live shows, including Sounds of the Nativity with carolers and live animals.

A large outdoor ice skating rink requires a separate ticket, and several activities inside WinterFest require an extra fee: photos with Santa and decorating cookies with Mrs. Claus.

You can purchase smoked turkey legs, egg nog, hot chocolate along with other seasonal food and drink, and more than 30 locals artisans are selling handmade items in a German Christmas market setting.

WinterFest is open 5 to 10 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 24-Dec. 17 then daily Dec. 18-30. They are closed Dec. 24-25. Tickets start at $25 per person, $21 for kids and seniors and are cheaper online (worldsoffun.com) than at the gate. There is also a parking fee of $17 per vehicle, $15 if purchased online. The ice skating rink is open 4 to 11 p.m. on the same days as WinterFest.

Plaza lights up on Thanksgiving

Fireworks light the sky over the Country Club Plaza during the 88th annual Thanksgiving night lighting ceremony.

Jill Toyoshiba The Kansas City Star

Downtown in December & WinterFest

Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City’s Automobile Alley, Midtown, Bricktown Canal and Film Row twinkle with more than 300,000 bulbs and a series of events and activities are planned throughout the month-long Downtown in December.

One of the main draws is the LifeShare WinterFest at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, which transforms the first-base side of the baseball field into snow tubing slopes and the rest of the ballpark into a winter wonderland of lights, trees and other holiday décor. There’s Santa’s workshop with arts and crafts and a small train on the third-base concourse for kids 12 and younger.

Organizers redesigned the slopes last year, adding a synthetic slide base that is then topped with two to three inches of manmade snow. Three of the lanes are 145 feet long and one is 75 feet. There are no age limits, but you must be at least 42 inches tall to ride down the bigger slopes and no lap riders are allowed.

“The base makes the slide operable in all weather conditions,” said Alex Freedman, director of Communications and Broadcasting for Oklahoma City Dodgers Baseball. “Typically we would lose two to four dates due to weather, but we didn’t lose a single date last year with the new base.”

Snow tubing sessions last 120 minutes and begin at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. with Saturday and Sunday operations through the first half of the month then daily operations from Dec. 16 through Jan. 1 (closed on Christmas). Single-session tickets are $13 for all snow tubing riders. For those not wanting to tube, the cost is $3 to get into the ballpark and enjoy WinterFest. Save $1 per ticket by purchasing online at downtownindecember.com/lifeshare-winterfest.

Downtown OKC also has outdoor ice skating at the Devon Ice Rink in the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Cost is $13 per person or $8 if you bring your own skates. The rink opened Nov. 10 and is open daily through Jan. 28, including holidays. A live DJ puts on Rock N’ Skate from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday in December.

Among the dozens of events and activities listed at downtownindecember.com are many that are free, from narrated water taxi rides showing off the decorations along the canal from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays to a shopping village of 35 Oklahoma-owned pop-up shops in geodesic domes that look like igloos.

Silver Dollar City An Old Time Christmas

Branson

Because 5 million lights weren’t enough to stand out in Branson, Silver Dollar City has added 1.5 million new lights to An Old Time Christmas Festival. Officials at the 1880s theme park say the additional 145 miles of LED lights is the largest single lighting expansion in the past two decades of the festival.

Huge light tunnels lead to the new 70,000-square-foot area called Christmas in Midtown. It features elements created at Silver Dollar City: light displays soaring nine stories high, flying angels, animated reindeer pulling a sleigh, moving trains and a 90-foot tree.

An Old Time Christmas Festival also includes rides, a twice-nightly light parade starring Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and more than 30 other costumed characters on musical lighted floats, two Broadway-style musical productions and other holiday shows, a musical living nativity, a five-story special effects tree, a 12-foot talking and singing Christmas tree, strolling carolers, holiday dining and shopping at storefronts, many that feature demonstrating craftsmen.

Silver Dollar City is open for the festival Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 23, plus Wednesday, Dec. 20, and then daily from Dec. 26-30. Hours are 1 to 9 p.m. most days, with extended hours on Saturdays. One-day tickets are $62 adult, $51 ages 4-11.