New Orleans isn’t known as a winter wonderland. The chances for a White Christmas are about as good as your shot at catching Santa stuffing the stockings above a nonfunctional fireplace. But organizers of NOLA ChristmasFest are bringing sleigh-loads of the holiday spirit to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
NOLA ChristmasFest, formerly known as Christmas in the District, will deck the halls (OK, just Hall B) of Morial Convention Center daily from Friday through Dec. 27. The festival’s figurative star on top of the tree is an indoor ice rink. New Orleanians and visitors alike are invited to lace up their skates and glide on top of the 50-by-80-foot hunk of real ice.
“Every year, we’ve done something different,” said Diane Lyons of NOLA ChristmasFest. “This is the first year we’ve had an ice rink — the first time an ice rink with ice real has been put inside since the 1980s,” referring to the former ice rink at the Plaza at Lake Forest Mall in New Orleans East. “Children and adults learned to skate back in the Plaza, and soon they’ll have the opportunity to have a new ice rink in downtown New Orleans for the first time.”
Organizers hope to attract 20,000 people to NOLA Christmas Fest, and the ice rink should prove to be a popular attraction.
Building a frozen ice sheet in a climate-controlled setting takes some doing, explained Bob Johnson of the Convention Center. The engineer and ice-rink setup arrive in New Orleans a little more than a week before NOLA ChristmasFest opens. The underlying structure beneath the ice uses a portable refrigeration system to pump cold liquid through bulkheads and pipes laid on the floor and covered with sand, Johnson said. After the structure is built, the long process begins, as the ice grows with thin layers of freezing mist. It typically takes about three days to fully rig a rink, and organizers plan on constant maintenance to keep the ice fresh for rosy-cheeked revelers.
All-access tickets to the festival ($20) include rink time and a skate rental, as well as access to all the other attractions inside the fest, from themed inflatables and carnival rides to costumed characters and more than 70 decorated Christmas trees. With general admission tickets ($5), attendees can ride the Kringle Carousel, enjoy the walk-through maze, meet the holiday characters and marvel at the hall of Christmas trees.
NOLA ChristmasFest aims to create a new tradition for local families, as well as regional and national visitors. “This is a pivotal year where it’s all coming together,” Lyons said. “It becomes the ultimate New Orleans vacation or winter staycation for people who can’t afford to go in the snow somewhere, to experience winter magic under one roof at the Convention Center.”
The fest opens on Friday and will be open daily from noon to 8 p.m. Christmas Eve hours are noon to 5 p.m., and the festival will be open on Christmas Day from 2 to 8 p.m. Those who can’t put off getting into the Christmas spirit can get an early start: Festivities kick off a with a lantern parade, beginning at Fulton and Lafayette streets, at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Children of all ages are invited to march in the parade, which will conclude inside NOLA ChristmasFest, giving marchers a sneak preview of the fest. Children and their guardians interested in participating should register online in advance at www.nolachristmasfest.com.
For any newly minted skating fanatics, NOLA ChristmasFest will offer a season pass ($75), which grants access for all days of the festival. Although skating rental is included, any seasoned skaters who own their own skates are welcome to bring them.
For more information about NOLA Christmas Fest, including discounted parking information and registration information for the Lantern Parade, visit NOLAChristmas Fest.com.