Old staples like Santa combined with a host of new holiday-themed activities to highlight this year’s Holidazzle, which opened in Loring Park on Friday night.

An estimated 250,000 people will turn up over the next five weekends to the annual holiday event. Over the past three years in Loring Park, Holidazzle has doubled its heated space and increased its on-site vendors to more than 60, as well as adding additional programming.

“I view it as the winter state fair, a great gathering for Minnesotans in the cold part of the year,” says Mark Durkop, who lives across the street from Loring Park. He said the event has gotten bigger every year and become “more festive and attractive.”

All the beloved favorites have returned, like Santa, the fireworks, outdoor movies and lights throughout the park, said Leah Wong, vice president of external relations at the Minneapolis Downtown Council, which is coordinating the event with 14 business and corporate sponsors. This year’s budget is $750,000.

But, she said, there’s plenty that’s new.

There’s “the silent disco,” for example, at the WinterSkate ice rink, where people can get a headset and listen to their favorite tunes while skating on Thursday evenings. The rink is open through March 4 and is the only refrigerated ice rink in the Minneapolis park system, Wong said. The rink is free and you can bring your skates or borrow a complimentary pair at the warming house. There’s also a craft and vinyl night on Thursdays in a beer garden with participatory craft making and records playing in the background.

On Fridays, people can buy s’more kits and roast marshmallows over a bonfire. On Sundays, they will be selling a Holidazzle omelet with your choice of Holidazzle sauce. There will be alpacas and rescue puppies on hand at 11 a.m. on Sundays and local children’s book authors will do readings at 1 and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

The event includes “a snow globe” where patrons walk inside to take their own holiday photo. You can also get your picture snapped with Santa. Dogs are welcome.

“We have added another interactive activity — the Thwing,” says Wong. Participants can climb onto swings created by local artists, and as the swing moves, the centerpiece art installation moves.

Also new this year is the Holidazzle open-air sleigh on wheels, pulled by a pickup truck that will run between Loring Park and the corner of 6th Street and Nicollet Mall about every 20 to 30 minutes. Parking will be available for $5 or less, depending on the day of the week, in a ramp near Minneapolis Community and Technical College, 1420 Hennepin Av. S.

And on Saturdays, in partnership with Metro Transit, people can get a free ride on buses and the light rail to the Holidazzle. You can print out your free ride pass at holidazzle.com. Holidazzle is also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

The experience comes after a few years of tweaks: The Holidazzle parade was ditched five years ago, and a smaller event on Nicollet Mall with a $6 admission is also history after one winter.

David Joles - Star Tribune
Holidazzle kicked off with a blast of fireworks amid Friday night's drizzle, which had Santa strolling Loring Park in Minneapolis with an umbrella.