Editor’s note: Laura Jackson Roberts loves a new adventure. And in that vein, we’ve started our occasional “FRIDAY TRYDAY” series, where she will be trying out and sharing with readers a variety of experiences. Today, she tries to stay warm on Oglebay’s Frosted Hilltop. Come along …Let me be clear about one thing: I am not a Christmas-in-November person. I don’t even put my tree up until Dec. 10 or later, partly because I don’t want it dropping all its needles on Dec. 26 and partly because I just can’t handle Christmas before it’s actually time for Christmas.
Each year I hope to make it through the entire season without hearing “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” (This year I made it until Nov. 19.) I know we’re all quite divided on this holiday thing, so you do you, and I’ll do me, but understand that if I’m a little cranky, it’s because my husband already strung snowflake lights across the living room walls, and I’m still trying to figure out whether to make real cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving or use cran-in-a-can. (Yet another divisive issue. Oh, America.)
I tell you this because I recently spent an evening on Oglebay’s Frosted Hilltop, something I wouldn’t normally do in November but for the sake of Friday Tryday.
THE FROSTED HILLTOP
Located in the former Wheeling Civic Garden Center — which closed last year after 80 years — park visitors can spend an evening on the hilltop immersing themselves in holiday spirit. For me, that looked like my 9-year-old leaping over light displays and benches in the interest of bettering his Parkour skills, petting all the dogs that walked by and keeping the staff moderately busy with questions and jokes. Make no mistake: this is an activity likely to be populated with kids — as it should be — so you’re bound to share your evening with some youthful energy. That’s a Christmas thing, right?
You’ve got your choice of the Snowflake Express, the Frosty Wagon and the Ice Lounge. Or, all three together.
THE SNOWFLAKE EXPRESS
The Snowflake Express lives inside the old greenhouse. The festively painted train travels around a circular track amidst icicle lights, Christmas trees and characters from Disney’s “Frozen.” Holiday music plays, and it’s warm and comfortable inside.
This one is for smaller kids. Props to my guy for enjoying the ride anyway, even if he was a bit old for it. Parents can fit on the train with some effort, but children can safely ride it alone and wave as they go by. The ride lasts around five minutes.
THE FROSTY WAGON
Holiday and winter lovers of all ages can enjoy the Frosty Wagon. Pulled by a tractor, the wagon offers benches for riders and is decorated, again, in the theme of “Frozen.” It’s got an accessibility ramp and room for wheelchairs.
The wagon departs from behind the amphitheater and heads south along the Susan Wheeler walking trails. The ride takes 20 minutes, and it’s open-air, so prepare for the weather. (I bundled myself up until I could barely walk and then proceeded to lose my glove somewhere between the car and the front desk, so I had one very cold hand.) We pulled out at 5:30, at dusk, so we caught the last warm light from the sunset and saw Venus twinkling in the evening sky as we made our way down the path past the lights.
The great part about the wagon ride is the view, of course. You can see everything from the Mansion Museum to the Good Zoo, down to Schenk Lake and up to Wilson Lodge. The ride is smooth and slow, and it’s populated by Oglebay’s own white-tailed “reindeer.” (In fact, somehow, the park has convinced them to stand next to the displays that depict their likenesses because every time we passed a lit-up deer, it was surrounded by a herd of everyone’s favorite, hoofed Oglebay resident.)
My son greeted the deer (loudly), pointed out lights and, to my utter joy, snuggled up against me and sang Christmas songs. I found myself wishing for a falling snow and a fresh blanket of white on the ground, because it always makes the lights look amazing. (I confess we don’t see the lights every year, so some of the displays were new to us.)
The wagon plays holiday music (everything from the “Frozen” score to classics like “Oh, Tannenbaum”) and, after descending to the lake, climbs the hill again to pass the knob and the famous green trees. The ride culminates in an illuminated tunnel in the arboretum, at which point all the wagon-riders are ready for a warm beverage.
Pro-tip from a friend: If you’re a chilly sort, keep your core warm with thermal wraps from the drug store.
THE ICE LOUNGE
For cold riders or those who just want to watch the lights from the hilltop, the Garden Bistro has been transformed into the Ice Lounge. Instead of umbrellas, guests can sit beside fire pits and look out at the illuminated valley.
Inside, you can purchase hot beverages including hot chocolate, mulled cider, mulled wine and “adult” hot chocolate. (I didn’t get a chance to taste that last one as I was driving the kid home.) You can also buy a s’mores kit that includes (you know what’s coming) graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey bars.
My son got hot chocolate, and I got cider, and we took the s’mores kits out to the patio to sit by the fire. The kit did not include a roasting stick for the marshmallows, something I was quietly grateful for. My wild child, a sharp stick and fire is a poor holiday combination. (“Dear Santa, this year I’d like to have my stitches removed in time for New Year’s. P.S.: Thanks for the burn cream.”)
Instead, we ate the s’mores un-melted, drank the warm drinks and watched the Frosty Wagon travel around the park. He hugged more dogs on their walks, hopped over a few more displays and climbed into the car, saying, “That was a great Mom-kid adventure!”
In summary: Dress warmly, bring kids (or not), feel festive and eat/drink/be merry as desired.
The Frosted Hilltop is open 5-9 p.m.Monday-Friday; noon-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5; a Combo Pass (Train and Wagon Ride) is $10. Beverages and snacks are available for purchase. Tickets available at the Welcome Center on The Hilltop.
Oglebay provided us with complimentary wagon, train and food tickets. I was not compensated financially for my review of this experience.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is an environmental writer and humorist in Wheeling, West Virginia. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Chatham University and serves as the Northern Panhandle representative of West Virginia Writers. Her hobbies include hiking, travel and rescuing homeless dogs. Visit her at laurajacksonroberts.com.