Winter Fest promises family fun starting Friday in Gulfport

The lights shine in Jones Park for the very first night of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival last year.
The lights shine in Jones Park for the very first night of the Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival last year. SUN HERALD File

The Gulfport Harbor Lights Winter Festival will light up the holidays when it returns to Jones Park on Friday through Jan. 1.

The festival fills Jones Park with lighted trees and displays, along with live music, a Santa Village and rides.

The second-year event was created to make Gulfport, and the Gulf Coast, a holiday destination. Gulfport spokesman Chris Vignes said turnout for the first year showed success in meeting the goal.

“Last year we saw just over 42,000 visitors,” Vignes said. “This year we’re anticipating 60,000 to 65,000 coming to visit.”

The city partners with Island View Casino and Coast Transit Authority to present the grand display. This year, they are taking everything that worked and delivering it on a bigger scale, he said.

“It’s bigger and better than last year,” Vignes said. “There are more lights, and it’s an all-new show. There are lots of people coming back. It’s a great place to be a kid and a great place to bring family and friends.”

The walking tour of lights is about a one-hour experience with large static displays and holiday music. Those who don’t want to walk may ride through on a heated CTA trolley.

There will be 12 nights of live music on weekends and each night of the week before Christmas. Performers are Blondefire, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center Wings, David Knorr Trio, Just Vibe, Jesse Dance Studio, Shari Pol, Northwood Church, Rock U2, Jesse Hill, Big Fun Brass Band, Coast Big Band, Sims Family Singers, Davis & Sax, Southern Sound and Something’s Up.

St. Nick will be at Santa’s Village from 6-9 each night through Dec. 23. Kids can tell Santa their wish list and have their photo taken with him. Children also can take their own photos at Elfie Selfie stations. On select nights, there also will be a Christmas Village with vendors offering products and snacks.

Six rides will include a carousel, a kids’ train and the return of Santa’s Big Wheel — a 65-foot Ferris wheel that provides a dynamic view of the light show and downtown Gulfport. Tickets for the rides are $2 and $4.

The gates open at 5:30 each night. Entry ends at 9:30, and the park goes dark at 10:30. The event will be dark Dec. 24-25.

Admission is $5 per person; ages 2 and younger are admitted free. Holiday Savings Cards offer 12 admissions for $40. Tickets are available at the gate, or in advance at the city’s Leisure Services Office, 1422 23rd Ave., and the second floor of the Harbor Services Office in Jones Park, 2250 Jones Park Dr.

Free parking is available on-site. Paid parking is available at the CTA parking garage at 2015 15th St., where free shuttles will run to the event.