This post was written in 2012, so some information may be out-of-date. Please be sure to check their website for the latest event details.
There are so many fun, family-friendly outings listed on our 2012 Holiday Activities Page, including one of my favorite holiday outings from last year: our visit to Winterfest in Bushnell Park. This year, I couldn’t wait to take my family back for the festivities. What I didn’t expect was to find so many new activities! So I thought I would write a new post with all the new details. We have actually been twice already. That’s how much fun we had 🙂
Bushnell Park is right smack in the middle of downtown Hartford, and there is plenty of available metered street parking on the perimeter (at least on the weekends; I don’t know how crowded the parking situation is during the week). There are two kinds of meters– the kind that accept change and the kind with a little blue bag over their heads that tell you to pay at the pay station up the street. Those are the meters to use if you don’t have any spare change because you can actually use a credit card. (Of course, on the weekends the parking is FREE.)
The ride is just over 3 minutes long (but it felt much longer to me; good thing hubby likes to ride the carousel with Boo). You can tell from the signage that there are a lot of little ones who like to ride this carousel 🙂
Boo has always been wary of carousels, but this time we had great success! That’s because this carousel has bench seats, stationary horses, and the horses that go up and down. So we started with the bench and worked our way up. I promise Boo was smiling during the ride (but all my shots are way too blurry).
If you’ve never been to the Bushnell Park carousel, it’s worth a visit even if you go at another time of year. It’s a beautifully restored and maintained carousel that dates back to the early 1900’s. And it’s open to the public for everyone to use and enjoy (aside from Winterfest, it is open May through mid-October). Now that’s pretty amazing.
This year, there is a whole slew of special events happening at the carousel during Winterfest including music, special guests, and even a scavenger hunt.
Right next to the carousel is a great playground. That was our next stop. It’s got two separate playscapes (one for bigger kids; one for littler kids), tons of neat tunnels, fun slides, and that awesome padded surface that we love so much. Plus, there is a picnic area and a long row of benches where parents can supervise all the action (and perhaps relax a bit). In the summer, it has some kind of water feature too. I still need to get back there in the warmer months to check that out.
After a brief play session (if Boo had his way we would still be at the playground), we, ummm, bribed Boo with some popcorn from the carousel so we could walk over to the far end of the park and check out the rest of the festivities.
Some fun activities we passed on the way included a train ride around the park ($3/person for a 7-minute ride):
And pony rides ($5/ride):
Over by the Pumphouse Gallery you’ll find the skating rink where you can rent skates and take to the ice for FREE. The whole process is very easy. Just pick up a pair of skates from the pick-up window in the trailer beside the ice rink, and when you’re done return them to the window next door. I even noticed that there are spiffy new blue skates this year 🙂
There are also bleachers where you can sit and watch the skaters while listening to the holiday tunes drifting from the loudspeakers. Boo is still a little young for the ice, but he does love to watch. And he really loves the music.
I didn’t see anywhere secure to stash shoes or belongings though, so that’s something to consider.
Another big change this year involves the FREE 5×7 photo with Santa. Yes, they are still FREE, but this year they are even better. Last year’s Santa photos took place in the carousel, which was a little crowded, a little chilly, and didn’t have much ambiance. This year, the kiddos can visit Santa in his “workshop” (a.k.a. the Pumphouse Gallery), which is not only adorable, but warm!
Head around the building from the ice rink and you’ll see a sign telling you where to enter. There will probably be a line, so my suggestion would be to get yourself over there right at noon for the photo, then enjoy the other Winterfest activities afterwards.
Once inside, an “elf” will take your child’s (or children’s) name(s) and write it on a dry erase board that she’ll flash at Santa while you head over to the big jolly man. That way he can call them by name. How cute is that? A professional photographer will take the picture (either just the kiddos or get the whole family in there if you want) and you’ll leave with your FREE photo. (Donations to support Winterfest are accepted and you do get entered in a raffle to win Santa’s chair if you choose to make a donation).
Last on my list was to scout out the snack situation. Last year I stopped by two or three times and could not seem to figure out if there was any kind of regular schedule to when the snack huts were open (sure didn’t seem like it). This year appears to be much better organized. This year’s Candy Cane Cafe has two locations, one by the ice rink (the red one), and one right outside the entrance to the Santa photos. The rink-side one is open daily, while the other one is just open on weekends. The menu is pretty limited, but it does serve hot beverages and snacks like warm soft pretzels and hot dogs. Bring cash.
Another new addition to Winterfest is the Christmas Tree lot. For $40 you can pick up your tree while you’re there PLUS get a FREE ticket to Holiday Light Fantasia at Goodwin Park (a $12 value). I’m not really a Christmas Tree expert since my family is Jewish, but these look pretty nice to me. And proceeds benefit the Channel 3 Kids Camp. A great deal and a great cause. Credit cards are accepted for tree purchases. Ask in either of the Candy Cane Cafes for help selecting your tree.
In case you can’t tell, I am really impressed with all the improvements to Winterfest 2012. Like I said at the top, we’ve already been twice! Between the carousel and the playground, there is more than enough to keep a toddler occupied. The train ride is a nice bonus. Add in a lovely stroll through the park, watch the skaters, grab a snack, and just enjoy being in the heart of our capital city with all the other families enjoying the festivities and the season. It’s one of those events that reminds us why this really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Now go! 🙂
P.S. Don’t forget to stop by our 2012 Holiday Activities Page for even more ideas for holiday fun with your family!
Bushnell Park, Hartford
Get directions here (I used the Pumphouse Gallery address to get you to the right spot):
Hours & Admission:
Winterfest runs now through Monday, January 21st 2013 and includes:
FREE Ice Skating
Sundays – Thursdays, 12 pm – 8 pm; Friday – Saturday, 12 pm – 9 pm
Don’t have your own skates? Winterfest has free skate rentals.
FREE Photos with Santa at the Pumphouse (through December 23)
Saturdays and Sundays from 12 pm – 3 pm
Carousel rides (through December 30th) Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am – 7 pm; $1/person
Train Rides Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 7 pm*; $3/person
Pony rides Saturdays and Sundays starting at noon (weather permitting)*; $5/ride
Candy Cane Cafe; Sunday – Thursday: 4 pm – 8 pm, Friday – Saturday: Noon – 9 pm
*I’m guessing these two activities end December 30th when the carousel closes for the season, but I don’t know for sure.
Tips & Things to Bring:
- Dress warmly as most of the events are outside (even the carousel is chilly). Also, the ground can get a little muddy, so keep that in mind when you choose your footwear.
- Bring cash for the Candy Cane Cafe. Credit cards are only accepted for Christmas Tree purchases.
- Bring cash for the train ride and the pony ride if you’re interested in those activities (I’m guessing that they don’t accept credit cards out in the field like that).
- Credit cards are accepted at the carousel ticket counter but only for a minimum purchase of $10 (that’s a lot of rides!). Bring cash if you’ll only need a few tickets. Of course, in a pinch you can always get some popcorn 🙂
- If you plan to pay cash, no bills over $10 are accepted.
- The carousel has bench seats, stationary horses, and moving horses, which makes it great for kids of different ages (or temperaments).
- If you’re planning on a Santa photo, head there first when it opens at noon to avoid a lot of waiting in line.
- There are porta-potties behind the carousel and over by the skating rink. I checked out the ones by the carousel and while they are not too terrible, there wasn’t any toilet paper in any of them. So come prepared 🙂
- There are no hand-washing facilities or baby-changing stations that I saw.
- Click here for a map of downtown Hartford that includes the structures and buildings in Bushnell Park.
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