As Ice Queen Thyra approached our family group at the Aurora Winter Festival, our granddaughter Hazel’s eyes got even larger than usual and she was initially reticent to meet a character straight out of a storybook.
But, her shyness quickly vanished and she grinned from ear to ear as Queen Thyra kneeled down to speak to her at eye level. And after word got around it was Hazel’s third birthday, Rivera the Ice Elf also sought us out to wish her a happy birthday and also fuss over eight-year-old Nola.
We attended the media preview of the Aurora Winter Festival on the Conchord Pacific property at Northeast False Creek Nov. 22 and before we arrived had many questions about what to expect. Assuming others are also interested in the festival, I thought I’d answer some of the questions we were most curious about before we went starting with the basics. There’s also lots of information available at aurorawinterfestival.com.
Parking: There is a small parking lot directly adjacent to the west side of the festival site, which costs $20 for the night. There is also some street parking and a little further away there are the lots at Science World and at 180 Keefer St., the Costco parking lot at 605 Expo Blvd. or the International Village parkade at 88 W Pender St.
Santa: At least when we were there, Santa was in attendance but for story telling only — not to meet directly with kids. But it didn’t seem to matter to our girls, who watched as Santa told the story of Prancer the reindeer and the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). I won’t give away the ending.
Adult beverages: There are several places across the festival site to purchase cocktails, spiked hot chocolate and warm cider and wine. The prices are pretty much standard for any festival or sporting event. You’re also allowed to walk around with them, which is nice.
Rides: There is a brightly coloured Ferris wheel, a Berry go Round — imagine strawberry-shaped Tilt-a-Whirl cars, and the Choo Choo Train. The 200-foot tube slide wasn’t open when we were there, but was being tested by staff so should be open now. You have to buy tokens for the rides, which cost $3 each. As far as I could see, the rides cost one token each.
Ice rink: It’s not covered by anything more than lights, so when we were there the rain was playing a bit of havoc with it. But that didn’t stop kids and adults from renting skates and twirling around the Frozen River. You can also bring your own skates.
Mystical Worlds: OK, they’ve nailed it with this attraction. There are lights upon lights, upon lights and many of them are at a kid’s eye level so the girls loved this section. I had downloaded the festival’s app, which includes a quest so Nola used my phone to find different figures and scan their bar code. Once she completed the quest Nola was able to show her accomplishment to an elf at the entrance to Mystical Worlds and in return she received a small gift.
Food Garden: There’s a wide variety of food available, but what I liked most about it is the fact it’s covered, had heaters and is adjacent to the rides so anyone who wasn’t riding could sit with all of the gear in a warm, dry space.
Market vendors: I was surprised to see, at least while we were there, that there aren’t a lot of flashing toys for sale. But maybe those are yet to come. Instead, there was a lot of local gifts and clothing for sale. What we did see were helium balloons available in a variety of shapes — think unicorns and dinosaurs — with feet on them. The balloons only float about a foot or two off the ground so they appear to be walking. We bought the girls a balloon on the way out and were surprised at the price, $7 each, about half of what we were expecting to pay.
Washrooms: The majority of the washrooms are portable washrooms, but if you walk to the very end of the row closest to the Food Garden, there is a trailer with stalls and sinks.