Real life grinches and faulty rides: An inside look at Hyde Park’s “Winter Wonderland”

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas” – Calvin Coolidge

Large, bright white lights dull your senses. Faint sounds of blunt blades cutting through ice attack your overwhelmed ears along with other noises. Screams of children. Children who have the harsh, cold wind whipping over their warm, goose-bump ridden bodies. Children jam-packed in one is four flame painted cars while being thrown 128 miles per hour through a glowing yellow hoop.

Screams of joy. Cries of babies. Babies who are finally viewing the lights. A rainbow of vibrant colors. The aroma in the air hits you like a truck. Suddenly you surround yourself with pastel yellow, orange, and red carts selling sausages. Charcoaled chestnuts in smokey birch wood carts. Crepes with bananas and hazelnut spread in pine garland lined displays.

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Despite all of this joy, to my left is a bunch of grinches. Not even an arm’s length away from me stand four older women by a set of four trash bins. On every woman’s face is a look of pure hatred. Disgust. Each of them turning their noses up to the screams.

“We walked in expecting lots of stalls,” said 71-year-old Katie Harvey, “we were not expecting this.”

One of her sisters, 71-year-old Jean Bell, is upset because they came here for one reason: the ice sculptures. All four sisters are upset at the inability of the security guards on duty to be able to direct them in the right direction. “We wanted to see the ice sculptures,” said Bell, “We didn’t come for all of this noise and harsh light.”

By the end of their long journey, they have walked the perimeter of Winter Wonderland three times and exclaim that they are leaving. “I wouldn’t suggest coming here,” said Bell, “It’s too crowded, too loud, and the staff are not at all helpful. Unless you are young, it’s not worth it.”

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Our spirits need to be lifted. It is hard to think that anyone could be so upset in this park full of so many holiday treasures. Thankfully we run into the perfect stand to lift our spirits. Hot chocolate: a hot, dark, delicious drink guaranteed to add a little bit more color into our night.

The first time hot chocolate machine operator, 24-year-old Diana Jones, is all smiles when we came to her tiny, candy cane themed cart. The list of hot chocolate varieties above her warm plum purple pom topped winter hat sparked a little flutter in my heart. Peppermint, caramel, s’mores. All of the options are overwhelming, but in the end, the cool aftertaste of peppermint mixed with hot chocolate liquid is appealing.

The squeal of the whipped cream being layered on top is a sound that brings delight. The creator of the masterpiece said that she’d only been working there for a few hours. “My boyfriend has been working here for four years,” said Jones, “he really encouraged me to work here. He’d come home every day with a free large hot chocolate and I became envious.”

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Despite all of this holiday cheer and happiness, my night ends with a life-threatening and heart-racing ride experience. Behind the walls of the log themed ride, “Barrel of Laughs,” is a hell like no other. The ride has no line. It is eerily quiet.

But, this high gravity ride that creates enough air pressure to stick me to the wall is my favorite. I loved scaling the wall and turning upside down when I was a child before. That was before they basically banned the machine in the United States. A few feet were chopped off by the floor of the ride.

Stepping into the dark, gloomy barrel, I am all smiles. The excitement builds up in me and when the ride finally starts spinning. I am as happy as a child on Christmas. That is until the floor drops. And so do I. I am suddenly in my worst nightmare.

Across from me is 25-year-old Steven Matthers standing two inches from the dropped floor, just barely hanging on. When we finally are let off of the spinning barrel of mayhem, both Matthers and I are a mess. “I am scarred for life,” said Matthers with tears streaking down his face, “I think I pooped my pants. My life flashed before my eyes.” Steven later goes to the bathroom and discovers that his pants are, “stain-free” with a smile on his face.

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Despite the near-death experience, discovering what could be the world’s best hot chocolate was well worth it and the warm glow of the twinkling lights are certain to give anyone visiting a cozy holiday feel. My suggestion? Don’t fall for the ride with no line; literally. Maybe there is no line for a reason.

Words: Jillian Keith

Images: Jillian Keith

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