The people of Vancouver have no shortage of opportunities to get into the holiday spirit. Even dismissing the hustle and bustle of shoppers rushing home with their treasures, we can ride the carousel at Burnaby Village Museum, ride the Christmas train at Bright Nights in Stanley Park, or be surrounded by the Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge. But these are all outdoors and Mother Nature doesn’t always agree with our plans.
That’s one of the biggest appeals to Vancouver Winter Wonderland. Unlike the other festive attractions happening around town, Winter Wonderland is housed indoors at the PNE Forum. Indeed, it’s billed as “Canada’s Largest Indoor Christmas Festival.” Sounds good, right?
Heading inside on a particularly rainy Vancouver afternoon, we were greeted with the promise of a joyous time filled with a variety of activities. The ticket booth handed us a special postcard for children, since we were there with our daughter. This postcard provided us with six free activities and, if we completed all six, we would be presented with a “free gift” at the end of our journey.
The initial feel of Vancouver Winter Wonderland wasn’t so much as a “Christmas festival” as much as it was like a trade show. Part of that has to do with the atmosphere of the Forum and part of that has to do with the good amount of space dedicated to random vendors.
They weren’t really selling “holiday” items, per se; these are more like the merchants you’d find in the same Forum building during PNE or at the night markets in Richmond. There were samples of juice and cereal, for instance, plus some strange variation on the Segway or hoverboard. The strangest exception was the vendor selling “sugar bears” (sugar gliders). It was quite jarring to see the sale of live animals at a show like this.
Walking a little further into the building, we found the main stage where some live holiday music was being played by a local high school. There isn’t much seating–just a row of benches–plus a few bean bag chairs placed in front. The crowd wasn’t huge, but more seating would have been appreciated.
As mentioned, the postcard provided us with six free children’s activities. One of these was the holiday-themed temporary tattoo, getting applied to Addie’s arm above. At the top of the post is the bear-shaped inflatable slide, which was also included in this list of six. Without the card, I believe they were charging $5 to go on the slide. We were also given a free game of ring toss.
Santa was on site for pictures as well, though the picture was only taken on what appeared to be an iPad mini. A digital copy sent via email is free, while physical prints are $5 each. The email ended up in my junk folder and on about an hour’s delay.
At the info booth, kids (and adults) are provided with the opportunity to decorate their own Christmas ornament with markers and glitter. If you go, I suggest you do this first so that they can hang your ornament to dry on one of the trees. I’d also suggest visiting the people at Telus, who will take your photo and place it on a free roll of festive wrapping paper.
On the website, you’ll see mention of a giant walk-through snow globe available for family photos. What you get is a sizable inflated plastic ball with the Winter Wonderland backdrop behind you. Like the Santa pictures, these photos are also captured on an iPad and are provided as a free digital download or as $5 prints. Again, check your spam/junk folder.
I didn’t go in with the grandest of expectations. Vancouver Winter Wonderland has a good idea in theory and they’ll have plenty of room to grow in future years should they return.
As it stands, the choice of vendors doesn’t really fit with the theme (Vancouver Christmas Market does a much better job with that) and the staff need better training. When we asked questions, it felt like no one had the answers for us. If it were not for the postcard of six activities, which provided us with a sense of mission, I’m not sure how we would have spent our time.
More information can be found on the official website. Vancouver Winter Wonderland runs until Sunday, December 20th. General admission tickets are $5 for all ages; kids under 2 years old are free.