By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Johnny O’Hanlon was slipping and sliding at times, but other times he was gliding along on the ice like an expert skater.
He was doing incredibly well Saturday for his very first time ice skating, especially for a 6-year-old.
“It’s really fun. I love ice skating,” Johnny said, smiling. “It’s really icy.”
The surface of the skating rink was fake ice, but it was slippery just like the real stuff. Children and adults alike tentatively skated around the rink – some of them struggling to keep from falling, while others simply tumbled in laughter.
The skating rink was just one of the many family-friendly attractions during a Thanksgiving weekend of fun at the second annual Winter Village festival at the Ludlam hotel, restaurant and bar complex in Sea Isle City.
Chris and Amy Glancey, the husband and wife who own the Ludlam, estimated that about 2,000 people attended the festival on Friday and another 2,000 on Saturday, about double the size of the crowd during the Winter Village’s debut in 2022.
The event has proved so popular that the Glanceys plan to bring it back every year as a holiday attraction – not just for the Ludlam, but also for the entire town.
With thousands of people visiting Sea Isle for the long holiday weekend, the festival helped to re-energize the town during what is normally a quiet time of year at the shore.
“In my mind, it’s something that the town really needs. It’s something that the town needs for the second homeowners, the businesses and the residents,” Amy Glancey said.
“Now, Sea Isle City can be a destination for the whole weekend,” Chris Glancey added.
The festival combined live entertainment, shopping, dining, 20 different vendors and an assortment of kid-friendly activities all in one location at the Ludlam complex, at the corner of Landis Avenue and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in the heart of Sea Isle’s downtown.
“It’s great for the businesses, it’s great for the community and it’s a great crowd,” said Anthony Edwardi, manager of Mike’s Seafood, one of the vendors at Winter Village.
Edwardi predicted that the Thanksgiving holiday weekend will continue to grow in Sea Isle in years to come because of the combination of Winter Village and Sea Isle’s Christmas parade.
“I think it’s a great big deal for Sea Isle City to have this many people here during a time of year that’s normally slow,” he said.
On Friday night, the Winter Village festival coincided with Sea Isle’s annual Christmas parade and holiday tree lighting. A crowd in the thousands lined the sidewalks and packed Excursion Park for the parade and tree lighting ceremony.
“I think this is the largest crowd I’ve ever seen for any event in Sea Isle,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said Friday night after the holiday celebration wrapped up in Excursion Park. “The amount of people is amazing. If this is any indication of what it will look like for the holidays, then we’re going to have a great season.”
Elisa and John O’Hanlon, of Philadelphia, brought their children, the aforementioned Johnny and 3-year-old Samantha, to Sea Isle for the weekend to enjoy the Christmas parade and Winter Village and to do some holiday shopping.
“This is absolutely wonderful. This is a great attraction for children and parents. Overall, it’s a fantastic idea,” Elisa O’Hanlon said of the festival while watching Johnny, Samantha and her niece, Finley Graham, having fun at the ice rink.
For the children, the festival also featured appearances by Santa Claus and colorful Christmas decorations throughout the Ludlam property. Adults enjoyed drinks at the bar, live entertainment, holiday craft vendors and beverage tastings.
Fire pits provided some warmth Saturday during the 40-degree temperatures. There were also tents that served as a venue for entertainment, shopping and holiday decorations.
Everyone savored good food. At Mike’s Seafood cabana, for instance, there was a steady line of customers buying the restaurant’s famous crab balls, New England clam chowder and popcorn shrimp.
The Metzinger family, of Rockledge, Pa., made the Winter Village festival one of the centerpieces of their holiday getaway weekend at the shore. They began their weekend by watching the parade and tree lighting ceremony and then continued the fun with a visit to Winter Village.
“This is very nice. It’s got something for everybody to do,” Joe Metzinger said of the festival.
Joe was joined by his wife, Kait, their couple’s three sons, Joey, 5, Jimmy, 3, and Tommy, 2, and the children’s grandparents, Grace and Joe Metzinger.
“First, we did the parade and tree lighting. Then it was ice skating and arts and crafts. Next, we’ll see Santa,” Joe Metzinger said of his family’s activity-filled holiday weekend in Sea Isle.