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Despite COVID-19 challenges, Tampa's Winter Village and ice skating rink open for season

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in downtown Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. — Even a pandemic can’t stand in the way of Tampa‘s Winter Village. The holiday decorations and skating rink are back again starting Nov. 20.

But this year, as you might imagine, there have been some COVID-19 modifications.

“It’s really exciting,” said John Delacruz, who couldn’t wait to stroll around the Winter Village.

For him and others, it’s a sure sign of the holiday season.

“It’s been crazy, you know. And this is finally when we have a chance to actually come out and get to sightsee and kind of socialize a little bit more,” said Delacruz. “So, I’m really excited about that.”

While COVID-19 couldn’t keep the holiday spirit away, the pandemic brings changes to this year’s event.

“We had to think through a lot of things this year,” said Rachel Radawec, one of the event’s organizers. “But we knew deep down that as long as it was safe, we wanted to bring this.”

Some things you immediately notice as being different this year.

The village is smaller, with only five vendors to reduce the chances of crowds gathering.

Sanitizing stations are scattered throughout the area.

And sadly, there are no sand sculptures this year.

However, the event’s centerpiece, the ice skating rink is still available this year.

75 minutes of skate-time as well as skate rentals are included with your $15 admission, but they are limiting capacity to 50 skaters at a time to maintain social distancing.

That means it won’t be first come first serve. You have to reserve a slot online at the Winter Village website here.

“Even if you bring your own skates it’s still $15,” said Radawec. “But we know most people in Florida don’t have their own," he added with a laugh.

Skaters will also be asked to keep their distance. Face coverings are mandatory both on and off the ice.

“Even if you have to wear a mask, I would still come down here and see it,” said Andrea Rohm, visiting Curtis Hixon park. “Because, it just gives you a better feeling.”

Santa will make his way through the village at various times throughout the event.

The light show, always a favorite, will still be held from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.

And there’s something new this year. The Curtis Hixon Park choo-choo train ride. The train has 12 seats, available first come first serve, and carries one family - wearing masks - per car. The train is also sanitized between its 10-minute trips around the park.

Organizers hope The Winter Village will bring a smile, some inspiration and maybe a little holiday cheer to a year that could surely use it.

“That’s the biggest thing, is that we are creating memories for people year after year,” said Radawec. “And we hope that that still able to be accomplished. We think the magic is here. We think the spirit is here. And we just can’t wait to see everybody.”

For safety, tickets must be purchased online this year, but if you forget, there are signs all over showing you how to do so easily through your smart phone once you arrive.

Winter Village At Curtis Hixon Park is open through Jan. 3, 2021 - seven days a week, 4 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. on Saturdays, and noon on Sundays.

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