“We should go to (Global) Winter Wonderland!” senior Katia Dahmani shouted to me one Tuesday in Octagon.
I immediately thought, “That would be a lot of fun. Let’s do it!”
Unfortunately, Global Winter Wonderland at Cal Expo (1600 Exposition Blvd.) is not as wonderful as the name may seem (or worth the price).
Junior Mehdi Lacombe, senior Sahej Claire, Katia and I tried it out on Nov. 11.
Purchasing our tickets online made getting into the park much easier. Also, we could add our tickets to our Apple Wallets on our iPhones, so we didn’t have to print them at home.
The only problem was the price. The General Admission and Unlimited Ride Wristband Package cost $34 plus a $1 fee, if bought online. The ticket website showed that this package was on sale from $53.
That’s an outrageous price for a single visit to the park, despite the unlimited rides! (An unlimited ride wristband by itself costs $36, and adult admission alone is $18.)
In fact, an adult season pass to Global Winter Wonderland is $49 for unlimited rides and admission for the entire season. So who would buy the $53 package for one night?
We were soon to find out, though, that the park was barely worth the $10 parking fee, even if we did save money by going in a single car.
The first problem we ran into was actually locating Winter Wonderland.
As we turned into the main Cal Expo entrance, we saw two cars in the parking lot, and a sign for the Harvest Festival.
However, Sahej immediately looked up the hours for Winter Wonderland and confirmed that it indeed was open.
Now we just had to find it.
Luckily, a woman stationed at one of the parking booths instructed us to go back out onto Exposition Blvd., make a left, then continue on down to the second Cal Expo entrance.
Once there, the first thing that we noticed was the cold. It was 46 degrees, and we were all underdressed. We hoped that there would be heaters in the park.
Even from outside the park, we could see the dazzling array of lights. A huge yellow lion head rose 10 feet above the chain-link fence, and an Eiffel Tower dotted the sky in the distance.
And the park was filled with little kids.
We soon realized the park was organized by continent or “quasi-continent,” as there were some areas, like “Fantasyland.”
Our first mission was to redeem our ride wristbands at the ticket booth across the park, so we began walking through the continents.
First up was North America, by far the smallest of all and completely biased.
All the lighted figures in North America are from New York City! Where is the representation from the other major cities in the United States (Or Canada? Or Mexico? Or Costa Rica? Or even Greenland?)?
That said, the New York City figures were well done. A ginormous light-up Christmas tree, almost 20 feet tall, represents the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. The tree is covered in vibrantly colored Christmas lights and glows a soft green.
There is also a perfect re-creation of the Statue of Liberty and even a re-creation of the New Year’s Ball on top of One Times Square.
Right next to North America is South America, which features a variety of Mayan and Aztec structures.
The main feature of South America is a colossal Mayan step pyramid, probably modeled after El Castillo at Chichen Itza.
The pyramid emits a brilliant bright orange light, drawing people in from all over the park. It’s a simple structure but beautiful.
After traveling across North America and South America, we found out that the map we’d been given wasn’t right. It was almost as if we had a map from last year’s park.
For example, on the map, it shows Fantasyland in the back left-hand corner of the park, but it is in the front of the park on the right.
Undaunted, we forged on into Africa, where we were faced with a life-like lion rising almost 25 feet into the air.
Kids ran excitedly through the lion’s mouth, screaming. Multiple small pyramids, palm trees and huts are also scattered all across Africa.
After Africa came Oceania, which is not a continent that I had ever heard of. A quick internet search revealed that Oceania is an ecozone consisting of Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Australasia (Australia).
In Oceania there are schools of beautifully colored fish tightly clustered around green seaweed.
Also in Oceania is a breathtaking re-creation of the Sydney Opera House. The famous peaks of the structure glow a stark white and are almost exactly the same as the original building. I felt like I was in Sydney, despite the giant floating octopus near my head.
Next on our journey to the ticket booth was Asia, which contains dozens of beautiful Japanese gardens filled with five-foot flowers and vines. There are also a couple of intricate Chinese dragon heads with huge bulging eyes.
But the main feature of Asia is the Taj Mahal, which is about the width of a Country Day classroom. It has many detailed windows, columns and domes, much like the original.
The least appealing continent is the mythical Fantasyland, which has very few light attractions. And those it does have are dull and run-down, such as a gingerbread house that’s falling apart and has many blown-out lights.
The main castle in Fantasyland is also falling apart. There are light-up soldiers guarding the castle, but many are missing their trumpets or swords. The castle itself also has many missing lights.
Finally, we arrived at the most impressive continent of the night: Europe. Europe is the largest “continent” in the park, as much area as Africa, South America and North America combined.
Europe features many of its major landmarks: the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, a Venetian bridge and the Arc de Triomphe.
But the best is the stunning Leaning Tower of Pisa. It leans at just the right angle, and each step of the tower is colored in a bright red, green or yellow.
Surrounding the tower are five women, each elaborately dressed in flamboyant dresses and headpieces. The facial expressions on each of them are insanely lifelike. I couldn’t figure out why they were surrounding the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but they were still interesting to look at.
Thus, the displays include all the major continents and ecozones except Antarctica. Why no cool igloos and polar bears?
All in all, the light attractions are mostly engaging and fun to look at. But that’s really all you can do: look.
At one point, Katia wanted to sit on one of the temples in Asia but couldn’t because they were all roped off. We could only admire the structures from a distance.
In addition, the around-the-world journey takes only 10 minutes.
After a few terrible and unsafe rides, we became hungry since none of us had eaten dinner.
On the website Winter Wonderland advertises “delicious international cuisine.”
However, there are only four places to get food – a dessert stand, a fries and burger stand, a pretzel stand and a funnel cake stand.
At the dessert stand, Katia and I shared a churro, one of the four options, which included caramel apples, snow cones and cotton candy.
After one bite, Katia remarked, “This tastes like a fish stick.”
She was right. The $3 churro was bland, overly crunchy and slightly fishy. But I was hungry, so I ate the whole thing, which I later found out was a bad idea.
Then we waited in a 15-minute line at the fries and burger stand.
The fries and burger stand had very few options: fries, a burger, a cheeseburger or a corn dog. You could also order drinks.
However, waiting in line we could see the workers preparing cheeseburgers.
“Look,” Mehdi said. “You can see him putting on a piece of cheese to cover up the undercooked meat.”
So our total order was only fries.
Sahej and Mehdi both reported that that the $4 fries in a medium-sized basket were good: crisp and not too greasy.
“There is no way that you can really mess up french fries,” Sahej said.
The pretzel stand may be the only so-called “international cuisine,” but it definitely was not “delicious.”
The stand looks like a Dutch-style house and has four moving mannequins at the top.
Each pretzel was $7. But the choices were exotic: cinnamon pretzels, pizza pretzels (covered in pepperoni and cheese), salted pretzels, plain pretzels, pretzel bites and many other strange flavors for a pretzel.
I chose a classic pretzel with salt. How could they mess up a salted pretzel?
But it was only OK. Katia and I shared it, and we finished it all. It was very doughy and fatty, and, like the churro, had an unusual taste.
Afterward I was left with a bad stomachache. And I wasn’t the only one.
After our experience with the first three, we passed on the funnel cakes.
We never did find that “delicious international cuisine.”
Soon after we headed home as we were freezing and there was no source of warmth in the entire park.
So if you go to Global Winter Wonderland, have a nice In-N-Out burger beforehand – and bring a jacket.
—By Jack Christian