Winterfest is Pensacola's Favorite Holiday Celebration
Pensacola Winterfest believes everyone deserves joy. We host a 6 week public celebration of the Christmas season in Florida, bringing family-friendly entertainment downtown on 23 nights from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Santa Claus headlines an event featuring theatrical tours, kid-friendly activities, games and rides. Our volunteer-driven organization raises money to support artists and artisans in Northwest Florida.
Here is an album of our favorite photos from 2017
For media inquiries, please contact Caron Sjoberg
New this year
A Christmas Story musical stop in Seville Square
Expanded Island of Misfit Toys at Rudolph's Plaza
More tasty treats at the Gingerbread House and Crazy Tree Café
Sat. Nov. 17. Santa's Photo Party and “Santa In His Sleigh” Drawing Contest Children are invited to draw pictures of themselves with Santa in his sleigh. Escambia County’s Art Specialist Angela Barberi selects the winner, who then is invited to ride with Santa in his sleigh for the Elf Parade on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Invitational flyers are distributed in Escambia and Santa Rosa school systems. Children may bring their drawings or participate onsite where materials are provided. This activity promotes creative skills. Artwork of the top five contestants is exhibited on area electronic billboards for thirty days. Children who submit drawings will receive a free photo of their visit with Santa.
Sat. Nov. 24. Polar Express Movie Night The movie is an inspiring adventure based on the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the magic of Christmas—and the wonder of life—never fades for those who believe. There will also be a Polar Express Costume Contest! The best dressed children, conductor, hobo and elves will receive prizes, including tickets to the Polar Express Mini Tour and the Winterfest Express Mini Train.
Sat. Dec. 1. Santa’s Cookie Festival Among all of the magical aspects of the Christmas season, nothing is quite as fun and delicious as the cookies. No one knows cookies like Santa Claus! Now, with the help of Santa himself, Winterfest will be inviting professional and home bakers to whip up their best cookies for the first Winterfest Christmas Cookie Festival. Twenty of Santa’s favorite chefs will be selected to offer their best cookies in a variety of categories to be tasted by a judging panel. After the judging, ticketed adults and kids will have the chance to sample the entries and will choose their favorite for a “People’s Choice” award. Children will also be invited to decorate cookies.
Sat. Dec. 8. Hermey and Bumble’s Dental Clinic Hermey (the elf from the Island of Misfit Toys) wanted to be a dentist at Christmas Town and famously fixed Bumble’s toothache. Dr. Stu Bonnin, pediatric dentist, will use Bumble in a fun and entertaining program highlighting proper tooth care. This activity fosters healthy dental practices in children.
Sat. Dec. 8. The Magic of Christmas with the Island of Misfit Toys
In cooperation with Cumulus Broadcasting, children may bring toys as Christmas gifts for families in need. Characters from the Island will be on hand to entertain.
Sun. Dec. 9. Santa's Lego Workshop Designed for children under age 12, participants are invited to either bring an original Lego construction from home or construct one at Christmas Town. Children will be divided into two age groups (4 to 7 and 5 to 12). The theme of the Lego contest is “Christmas Ornament.” The ornaments will be placed on a display tree which will remain at Winterfest during the season. Winners will receive a photo with their Lego construction and Santa and will be featured in billboard advertisements throughout the Pensacola area.
Sat. Dec. 15. Santa's Puppy Party Partnering with the Humane Society and the Hotel for Dogs and Cats, puppies and dogs that are eligible for adoption are brought to Christmas Town where families can choose a special new friend to take home.
Sat. Dec. 15. Papa Noel’s Cajun Christmas Party Join Papa Noel, the Cajun Santa Claus, as he welcomes children to sit with him in his pirogue. As he reads the “Cajun Night Before Christmas” story to the children, his team of alligators will entertain! Also available for a nominal fee: Cajun-style gumbo for a delicious warm treat.
Sun. Dec. 16. Gumdrop Christmas Bridge Workshop The Pensacola Bay Bridge Replacement Project will provide an excellent opportunity to bring the new bridge “alive” by introducing children to the art of bridge building, with a variety of hands-on experiences that incorporate principles of science, history, mathematics, engineering and art. Children will build their own Gum Drop Bridge (using gum drops and toothpicks)
Mon. Dec. 24: Santa Send-off The Santa Send-off Party was introduced in 2017 and drew hundreds of attendees. Six children are recognized for their “Letters to Santa” that best represent the true spirit of Christmas, with the “best” letter writer presented with the bell from Santa’s sleigh and a special “Santa Scholarship” of $500.00 The scholarship money is raised from Cookie Festival entry fees. This closing event serves as an inclusive and community-oriented celebration for families and children of all ages.
... and more to be announced!
New Daytime Tours
• Scrooge Mini-Tour Dates: December 21, 22, 23, 24 (1:00 PM- 4:00 PM) Scrooge, Marley, Bob Cratchet, along with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, bring The Christmas Carol alive as Scrooge re-discovers the true meaning of Christmas.
• Magical Christmas Mini Tour with Paul Morrell Dates: November 17, 24, 25 December 2, 8, 9, 21, 22, 23, 24 (12:00 PM - 3:00 PM) Paul Morrell, an early learning music specialist with the Escambia County District Schools, will entertain passengers using puppets, songs, and magic tricks to tell the stories of the Polar Express and the Grinch.
• Polar Express Mini Tour Dates: Nov. 24, 25 (12 noon - 3:00 PM) This 30 minute tour immerses guests in the story of the Polar Express with visits from favorite characters. The Conductor leads a magical journey to a life-size steam engine with snow swirling all about, and recounts the story of the boy who received the first gift of Christmas...a bell from Santa’s sleigh! Passengers re-discover the wonder of the beloved story book, along with the belief in the magic of Christmas, and will receive a mini-cup of hot chocolate and a keepsake bell.
Evening Mini Tours
• Polar Express Mini Tour Dates: December 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (5:00 PM - 8:00 PM) See description above
• Grinch Mini Tour Dates: December 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 (5:00 PM - 8:00 PM) Passengers journey on an exciting adventure to Whoville, with the Mayor himself and the meaniest, greeniest grouch of al - the Grinch! Guests will find out what happens when the Grinch tries to ruin Christmas, plus meet more surprise Dr. Seuss characters who will sing and entertain on this fun mini-tour.
Mini Tour Creative Activities Participants in the mini tours are invited to dress in costumes befitting the tour theme. Children wear pajamas for the Polar Express tour and entire families dress as their favorite Whoville character for the Grinch tour. Those who participated are acknowledged and special prizes of train tickets are awarded to the “best dressed” on each trolley ride.
Dates: November 18, 23, 24, 25, 30 December 1, 7, 14, 15, 16 Winterfest’s premier tour features 16 performances along a 60-minute trolley trip through downtown Pensacola. Singing guides accompany guests into a world of wonder with scenes from everyone’s favorite holiday characters. With incredible sets, costumes, and musical performances, guests enjoy appearances by Scrooge, the Cajun Santa Claus and his team of alligators, the Peanuts gang, the Cat in the Hat (with Thing 1 and Thing 2), the Grinch and friends from Whoville, The Polar Express, a Living Nativity scene and even Elvis! It’s a wonderful family-friendly experience that embodies the spirit of Christmas.
23 Nights of Santa downtown - you can reserve a spot to skip the line
The $10 reservation fee goes towards any purchase you make
Now offering sleigh "dashcam" videos with Santa in our premium package
Package prices start at just $18
Visiting Santa is always free for kids
The Elf Parade: A noncommerical, kid-scale parade
Children are invited to dress up as elves and march in the parade with the Alligator second-line band and favorite characters from the trolley tours. Categories of costuming include “Best Ears,” “Best Costume,” “Best Stroller,” “Best Wagon,”and “Best Ugly Sweater”. This wonderful event brought out approximately 1,200 participants in 2017, including many families dressed in coordinated holiday costumes with their decorated wagons and strollers. www.elfparade.comwww.elfparade.com
As the Elf Parade concludes at the old Courthouse, an entertaining program of songs performed by characters from the performance tours will be presented on the Courthouse steps, plus a featured performance by vocalist Kendra Carr-Pineda. The Mayor of Whoville, The Grinch and other “dignitaries” will flip the switch to light up downtown Pensacola’s “Festival of Lights” up and down Palafox Street. At the same time, realistic artificial "snow" begins to fall, delighting children and adults alike.
As the climax to the Opening Ceremony, the sky will light up with a spectacular fireworks display, timed to the theme music from the Polar Express movie.
Reindeer Games and Free Activities
Visits with Santa The look on a child’s face when they climb into Santa’s sleigh to share their wish list with Santa Claus himself is simply priceless...but it’s available to children at no charge at Winterfest’s Christmas Town. Assisted by friendly elves, each child receives personal attention from Santa, with a professional photographer on hand to capture the moment. Photo prints and a digital copy are available for a nominal fee. (available during all 22 Winterfest dates)
Realistic Snow Part of the magic of Winterfest is the artificial snow that delights children and adults alike. As a Winterfest tradition, since the very beginning, the “snow” falls in front of the old County Courthouse and forms the backdrop for the Marley and Scrooge performances which take place every 15 minutes on performance tour evenings. (available during all 22 Winterfest dates)
Scrooge & Marley Performance As a lead-in to the Scrooge trolley performance, Jacob Marley emerges from behind the columned portico in front of the old County Courthouse dressed in his fearsome, ghostly garb. He confronts Scrooge, chasing him onto the waiting trolley. The three-minute performance takes place approximately every fifteen minutes as the performance trolleys prepare to depart. A trio of Dickens characters sing carols and read a passage from “The Christmas Carol.” Small “tracts,” traditionally styled handouts with five stories about Christmas, are passed out to the crowd. (available all performance tour days)
Island Of Misfit Toys Performance Just as the performance tour begins with the Marley and Scrooge set in front of the Courthouse, it ends with a spirited tribute to Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer. As the trolley pulls up to the Island of Mis t Toys on the Christmas Town stage on Government Street, Sam the Snowman greets passengers with the song “Holly Jolly Christmas,” while the Bumble blows his wintry breath. (available all performance tour days)
Letters to Santa This activity offers children a seat at miniature picnic tables, where they can use a variety of provided art materials to write a personal letter to Santa. They can then leave in a letter box onsite. Additional mail boxes will be placed in downtown stores. The children are assisted by Winterfest’s education coordinator LaDonna Day, a teacher in the Santa Rosa public school system. The writers of the four letters that best represent the “Spirit of Christmas” will receive a special ride on the Polar Express mini-tour for them and their families. The first place winner receives the “First Gift of Christmas” on Dec. 24: the bell from Santa’s sleigh and a “Santa Scholarship” of $500.00. This activity focuses on creative writing and art skills. (available during all 22 Winterfest dates)
Children’s Storytime A professionally-produced puppet and magic show, featuring many favorite Christmas characters, is presented by Paul Morrell, an early learning music specialist with the Escambia County District Schools. Especially designed for children under ve, the show also appeals to older children and adults while promoting imagination, curiosity and participation in children of all ages. (available during all performance tour dates)
Chalk Christmas Tree Decorating Winterfest has constructed a little forest of wooden trees painted with green chalkboard paint. Children are invited to decorate the trees by drawing directly on the trees with colored chalk. The forest is part of the theme of Christmas Town. The trees will remain on display throughout the season. This activity promotes creativity, imagination and art skills. Prizes will be given each night for most imaginative decorating. (available during all performance tour days)
Winterfest Express Train (ticketed activity) The train rides through Christmas Town in a loop every fifteen minutes, allowing passengers to enjoy an overview of all the Christmas Town activities. The train seats 22 adults and children. No reservations or advance purchase required. Train tickets are among the awards given for contests. (Available during all 22 Winterfest dates)
My Sleigh Ride with Santa Drawing Contest Elf Parade Contests: Best Ears, Strollers, Wagons, Costumes, and Ugly Sweaters Mini-Tour Costume Contests: Who Fashion Show, Polar Express PJ Party Letters to Santa Scholarship
Orange Blossom Special summer train rides
About Winterfest of Pensacola Inc.
Number 1 Christmas Event in Florida, from Florida Travel + Life Top 20 Events in the Southeast US for November 2016, from the Southeast Tourism Society Top 25 Cities in the U.S. for Christmas Festivities, Best American Towns for Holiday Shopping 2016, 2017
Winterfest is run by an all-volunteer board and senior staff. We also have hundreds of volunteers working with us each year on tourism development, downtown climate, fundraising, and customer service. Our volunteers together contribute over 10,000 hours annually to the festival and operations.
Downtown Pensacola is home to many great businesses and cultural institutions, and Winterfest works to highlight family-friendly entertainment and educational options throughout the year. From Santa's shopping trips to historic train tours, we help bring families downtown to contribute to the thriving climate of sustainable, neighborhood-scale business that makes Pensacola such a great place to live.
During downtown special events, Winterfest also provides parking services to visitors - our trained volunteers make private lots available to the public at reasonable prices and provide assistance and directions to visitors, with proceeds going to support local performers, artists, and artisans as well as other partner nonprofits.
We operate the First City Christmas holiday calendar to promote events around the Pensacola Bay Area that are not part of Winterfest.
Santa Photo Party
Santa gathers children from across the Pensacola Bay Area to draw pictures and take photos in his sleigh the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Our Christmas Storytime with Paul Morrell debuts at this event as well. Winning drawings are featured on billboards around Pensacola in the week leading up to the Elf Parade, and the winners ride in the Winterfest Express Train during the parade. One lucky grand prize winner rides in Santa's sleigh in the parade.
Elf Parade and Opening Night
The Elf Parade is a kid-scale, noncommercial parade and celebration to kick off the holiday season in style. Led by Fred Domulot and the Alligator Brass Band, hundreds of families in costume march along a route through the Seville Historic District while onlookers enjoy a performance from Kendra Carr-Pineda and other local artists.
At the Opening Ceremony after the parade, Scrooge and the Grinch turn on the First City Lights that decorate downtown throughout the season, and start the first snowfall of Winterfest. Fireworks cap the celebration, and then all the fun activities of Winterfest begin!
Winterfest Performance Tours and Mini-Tours
Winterfest's flagship Performance Tour runs 9 nights during the holiday season and features an hour of performances from a huge variety of Christmas characters. Where else can you find Elvis and the Grinch on the same stage?
Starting in 2017, Winterfest also offers "mini-tours" for younger kids. These tours are each focused on a single story or experience, and they run during weekend days during the season and all week leading up to Christmas Eve.
Polar Express at the Saenger
1500 kids and parents gather on the day after the Elf Parade to experience the excitement and wonder of The Polar Express in Pensacola's historic Saenger Theatre. Contests, prizes, and visits from Christmas characters make this a special night for kids of all ages.
No one in the world eats more cookies than Santa, and he's ready to try something new! Home, professional, and child bakers compete to make Santa's favorite cookies each year at the Cookie Festival, and hundreds of guests join us to taste cookies and vote on the people's choice awards.
On Christmas Eve, just before Santa returns to the North Pole to start his yearly deliveries, kids gather around his sleigh to hear the funniest, most heartfelt letters he received during the holiday season. Special prizes are given, including a $500 scholarship to one lucky child.
Winterfest supports Gallery Night in November and December with family-friendly activities and wandering Christmas characters to make the night extra special for kids.
Winterfest supports the Pensacola Christmas Parade by offering visits with Santa, games, and a special Letters to Santa event in our plaza before and during the parade.
In Downtown Pensacola
Downtown Pensacola is the vibrant, growing community hub of Northwest Florida. Historic streetscapes and beautiful bayfront parks anchor a destination for families looking for a great place to live, learn, shop, and dine year round. As the first European settlement in North America, the history of five flags and six nations is woven into the fabric of daily life.