July 2016- I pulled into the Kings Island parking lot and heard my app ding on my phone, as is customary every time I get to my home park. However, instead of some kind of coupon or something, it reads "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." I get in and instead of the crappy pop music that usually blares down International Street, I'm treated to the pleasant sound of Christmas carols accompanied by the sight of garland, tinsel, and wreaths adorning the midway. On a day that was so hot there were heat advisories on the news, this certainly seemed out of place. Two weeks later, the park posted that an announcement would be made in the Festhaus on a day I wasn't working, so I hopped in the car and headed down to the park to make it. There was speculation that this Christmas in July promotion they had going on was really a big fat hint for the return of the Winterfest of the nineties and infamous Paramount era revival. And just like that, Don Helbig was on stage running through all the great things that would be coming to the park in December of 2017 against the cheerful tinkle of sleigh bells as fake snow fell against red and green lights, shielded from the sinister heat in the air conditioning. Over a year later, the time has finally come. My good coaster friend Ben had invited me to meet him and his parents at Kings Island for our first Winterfest experience on a Sunday when we could all make it, and after the event had rave reviews its first day, I was nothing short of pumped. Sunday afternoon I piled in the Jarrettmobile and headed to Kings Island, with expectations higher than ever. After a peaceful drive down on rather desolate roads (strange coming off the Thanksgiving holiday), I was there! After getting to the gate and realizing I had left my wallet and pass in my car like an idiot, I ran and grabbed it and went in! And the very first song I heard happened to be one of my favorite Christmas songs too! After meeting Ben's family, we all went strolling around the shops where I came across this sweatshirt rocking a CP tag for some reason. Anyone who knows anything about merch know why this might be? While waiting for the tree lighting we all went to grab our hot chocolate cups and I have to say, their hot cocoa was really good! They serve it at a temperature where you could spill it on yourself and make a fortune suing the park, it's nice and creamy, and you can tell they didn't want to just throw a pack of Swiss Miss in and call it done. (Sorry for the blurry photo, I took this with my phone using one hand ) International Street looked beautiful coming in! We then went over to Eiffel Tower for the tree lighting! Let's deck these :zippermouth: halls! The tree lighting ceremony is a nightly thing and I had wanted to see it, but this was the moment I knew that this event would not only shatter my expectations, but also the incessant hype it had gotten on Facebook for the past two days. They bring a show choir out for a few musical numbers and then Snoopy comes out with the Charlie Brown Christmas song playing. A family is then invited on stage, says where they're from in a fashion similar to the fireworks in the summer, and given the honor of flipping this giant light switch and turning it on. OH MY GOD. This tree lighting is, without a doubt, the most visually impressive thing I've seen at my home park. Once the family is on stage they have us all turn around and count down. As the crowd counts down, the lights cascade on in succession, climbing from the ground up to the top of the tree before flashing and starting the light sequences. Instead of just blinking on like a normal lighting, there's buildup during the countdown and something nothing short of spectacular that emerges at the end. And if having a 270-foot cone of dancing colored lights towering over you turn on wasn't enough, it's accompanied by snow! And not like the fake soap suds and fan effect used during Christmas in July and the announcement, like actual snow that's cold to the touch. A few more Christmas carols highlight the occasion and then you're sent off to enjoy the beautiful park, now with a giant Christmas tree taking a light show up into the night sky over everything. Three lights got stuck on the tree so I complained to guest services and demanded a refund. #CedarUnfair Next up we headed to Tower Gardens...aka the most neglected area of the park that us locals love to joke about. Tower Gardens was transformed into Candy Cane Lane (apparently the Christmas Candylane trademark was taken by some idiots in Pennsylvania so they got as close as they could without getting sued) and it looked amazing. It was so weird to see how much they transformed this rotting, overgrown remnant of days gone by into something beautiful for the holidays. We went to grab some dinner next at the Festhaus. Ben's dad and I got Panda and Ben and his mom got LaRosa's. On the way to Action Zone Ben's family practically had to rip me away from the Oktoberfest pond because I couldn't get a shot I liked of it. Next time! Ben and I were going to take on the sledding hill and say hi to Jenny's brother who was working it, but the line was taking a while so we decided to just get a snowglobe picture and head to the rest of the event. We did the carousel next, and while getting on I snapped a rare photo of Ben abandoning Boo Boo! /insidejoke We went to Rivertown next, passing through the lit area formerly home to Snoopy's Starlight Spectacular. It looked absolutely beautiful! They hid a cute little Woodstock in this bush! I think this was my favorite area of the event. Next up was the ride the brand new ride that brought Kings Island another Golden Ticket Award and my favorite ride at my home park, Mystic Timbers! I was so excited I forgot to bring back Rivertown pics, so I'll have to post those on a later visit. But here's some new theming put in MT's line for Christmas! Well that was amazing as well! This thing definitely goes on the naughty list with how aggressive it was being up front! That tossed me around more than the customers on Black Friday, and if you add in the total darkness only broken by the occasional light from the train and the chilly air feeling like it'll rip your face off, you have quite the experience! Ben and I did it twice with a little more than a stairs wait both times and I was nothing short of impressed! There's a few Christmas props in the shed (though the sequence remains the same) and they were even twisted enough to put a few mistletoe berries over the shed door! Double dipping for the holidays! Ben's parents don't do coasters so they sat this one out in Reds, but going back to meet them I did see this! Could this be a big fat hint or Don being a troll? The rumor was that we were getting antique cars next year... Cool shot of Diamondback in line for the train. Sadly though, no shots to be gotten from the track as it's hard to photograph lights when moving like that. But its themed to the Twelve Days of Christmas and it's really cute and well done. This is literally the best one I got. After a quick round of Boo Blasters, we made our way to the front of the park to head out. While stopping to grab a few photos of International Street I ran into Banshee marathoner Brendan and his girlfriend Morgan and then literally thirty seconds later my friend Melissa found me! It's a re-goon-ion out here! I thought this one looked great on my camera but it's just kinda meh when I post it. Still a good shot, though. Speaking of regoonion, I popped away for a bit to find Connor at his new post on games for Winterfest. Played his game and won a cool (and very soft) Winterfest pillow that's currently on my bed. He said I was the last customer he had that night too so I must have scared them away. And with that I met back up with Ben and his family and we headed out! Driving away as that cone of light illuminated the sky behind me was actually pretty sad. However, I knew I would be back next Sunday for the rest of the month to do it over again! My pillow and my cup bearing the Winterfest logo! After waiting in anticipation since it was announced last summer and seeing it hyped all over Facebook all weekend, I was a bit worried I'd be let down by this event. Let me say this very clearly: Winterfest was well worth the wait and it deserved all the praise it's gotten and more. To see some place that's as special to me as Kings Island with that much effort put into making it look that beautiful was incredible. I'm not sure if it's my favorite holiday event (but it might be!) but it's definitely up there. It had the balance of activities and lights that I think is important to making one of these types of events enjoyable in weather that's not exactly ideal for typical amusement park activities. Cedar Fair released their financial figures from the first day of this event and they absolutely cleaned house and with the effort they put into this, they deserved to. As a retail worker that can be a bit of a scrooge around this time of year, I can be a bit of a scrooge usually but this honestly made me excited for Christmas. I'm so glad we got this event and I can't wait to return next week!