Weather was the determining W for last year’s Waco Wonderland with suddenly cold temperatures and rain forcing cancellation of the Waco Christmas parade and delaying Saturday’s opening by a few hours.
With a better forecast this year, planners hope to regain momentum for a downtown celebration centered on Heritage Square that, coupled with other Christmas-related events scheduled this weekend, should draw thousands of people.
In addition to Waco Wonderland, which includes lighting of the Waco Christmas tree, fireworks, a Christmas parade and a three-story Snow Tube Hill, the first weekend of December will feature Christmas at the Silos, Christmas on the Brazos, a Dr Pepper Christmas at the Dr Pepper Museum and First Friday activities, some of which are holiday-flavored.
“Heritage Square is going to be packed,” said Jonathan Cook, the city’s community promotions specialist. He sees synergy in the multiple events rather than crowd cannibalism.
“We see it as a great opportunity for us. It shows the momentum of what we’ve got downtown and is not so much competitive, but more complementary.”
Some 5,000 people attended the Christmas tree lighting and fireworks that opened last year’s Waco Wonderland and Cook estimates if the weather proves fair, this weekend could see attendance in the neighborhood of 15,000 people.
Waco Wonderland starts Friday with the lighting of the Waco Christmas tree at 6:45 p.m., followed by fireworks. The three-story, 150-foot long Snow Tube Hill, which delighted Waco innertubers (at least those 42 inches and taller, the hill’s qualifying height) at its debut last year, returns this weekend only, with hours from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
Special weekend events include a petting zoo from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday and a free outdoor screening of the 2003 family comedy “Elf” at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Wonderland’s 65-foot-high ferris wheel and children’s train ride will operate during regular Wonderland hours of 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. A $5 wristband allows unlimited Snow Tube Hill, ferris wheel and train rides as well as petting zoo admission. Eagle Eye Ranch will provide carriage rides for $5 a person.
Thanks to organizational support from the Family of Faith Worship Center and its pastor Ruben Andrade, the Waco Christmas parade will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, running down Austin Avenue from 11th Street to Heritage Square, following an 8 a.m. Wonderland Run by Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas.
Waco Wonderland will feature a Mistletoe Marketplace with some 20 vendors, a dozen food trucks and visits with Santa Claus in the Santa House. Local schools and community groups will provide live entertainment from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Heritage Square also will host a Dec. 8 night opening of the Downtown Waco Farmers Market with Christmas vendors and, on Dec. 15 and 16, a White Buffalo Market that emphasizes vintage and handcrafted items.