A winter carnival is again being planned for Portland’s Eastern Promenade, this time a 10-day event in February that the organizer says is aimed at drawing attention to the area as a year-round destination.

Carnaval ME is scheduled for Feb. 18-27 and will feature food, craft beers, ice sculpting, skiing and snowboarding demonstrations and train rides, according to documents presented to the Portland City Council by the organizer, Shamrock Sports & Entertainment. Councilors unanimously approved an order setting the festival dates and reserving the site at their Oct. 4 meeting.

This will be the second Carnaval ME and will be a considerable expansion over the two-day event held on the Eastern Promenade the last weekend of January in 2020. The event will be held mostly outdoors and is expected to draw 25,000 people during its run, according to the proposal presented to the city. To put that number in perspective, an estimated 15,000 people gathered on the Eastern Promenade this past Fourth of July to watch fireworks.

“I think the winter can be long and dark, so anything that can give people a little brightness and festivity is often appreciated,” said City Councilor Belinda Ray, whose district includes the Eastern Promenade. “I think this is something being brought forward with great intentions, and we’ll see how it goes. It’ll be up to a future council to decide whether it should continue.”

According to the proposal, a large inflatable igloo structure for food and beer events – called Bites and Brews – will be set up in a parking lot on Cutter Street, which leads down from the Eastern Promenade to the water. The inflatable igloo will host events where Maine craft brews are paired with creations from local chefs. The parking lot will also host a beer garden for patrons.

Nash Asbury, 3, of Scarborough tries skiing for the very first time with Sunday River instructor Ally Fischang in the demo area at Carnaval ME in 2020. Staff photo by Jill Brady

A team from the Sunday River ski area in Newry will help build a Rail Jam area for snowboarders and skiers to compete on the Eastern Promenade park hillside, according to the proposal. Patrons will be able to ride the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad to and from the festival.


Brian Corcoran, chief executive officer and founder of Shamrock Sports & Entertainment, did not want to expand on details of the festival this week. He said he is planning a formal announcement Wednesday, which is happening from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Portland’s Monument Square. The proposal presented by Shamrock to the city said it is seeking to create an event that “drives economic impact” and “presents the region as a destination for all seasons.”

When Corcoran announced the first Carnaval ME he said it would be a way to stimulate tourism and hospitality spending during a quiet time for the industry in Maine. On average, about 15 percent of Maine’s 37 million or more annual visitors come in winter. The lowest occupancy rates for Cumberland County hotels this year were in January and February, at 37 and 46 percent, compared to the high of 87 percent in July, according to STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company based in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Having a 10-day winter festival that includes a focus on Maine’s red-hot food scene should help increase tourism in a usually slow time of year, said Lynn Tillotson, president and chief executive officer of Visit Portland, a regional tourism organization. Tillotson said her office has been working in recent years to promote more winter tourism in the Portland area and an annual winter festival could be a big part of that effort.

“I think knowing they can go to a festival will help people when they’re deciding where to go” in the winter, said Tillotson. “It gives them a reason to come, and while they’re here, they’ll realize how amazing Portland is in the winter and they’ll want to come back, and tell their friends.”

Ignatius Bidwell, 7, left, of Portland watches with delight as Janoah Bailin of The Way We Move juggles under the Carnaval ME igloo in 2020. Staff photo by Jill Brady

The festival could also be helpful in getting people who may want to live and work in the area to come see it in winter, said Quincy Hentzel, president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. Hentzel said she’d like to try to work with the event’s organizers to stage an event during the festival that might include area employers.

“I think we’ve become an even more desirable place to live and work (during the pandemic), especially for a lot of people looking to experience the great outdoors and have a safer place to raise their families,” said Hentzel. She said that once people see the opportunities available in Portland – including for work and recreation – the area is “an easy sell.”


The plans include a gala at the Carnaval ME site on Feb. 17, the night before it officially opens. Then, beginning on Feb. 18, all the festival’s events and areas will be open daily beginning at 11 a.m., with closing times at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. on various days, according to the proposal made to the city.

The order approved by the council says that the festival organizer will pay applicable permit fees, license fees and costs for city staff assistance. It will also hire police officers, parking control officers and other city staff to help oversee the festival, the order said. City officials don’t know yet how much the festival organizer’s fees or other costs might be because details are still being worked out, said Andrew J. Downs, director of the city’s Public Assembly Facilities Division.

Ray said the first Carnaval ME ran smoothly, and she did not get any complaints from residents about noise, traffic or other problems. While the festival will likely attract people from outside Portland, Ray thinks it will attract families and young people from the neighborhood – especially the snowboarding and skiing components.

“There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood interested in snowboarding, so to have this in their backyard is great,” Ray said.

The 2020 Carnaval ME was similar to what is planned for this year and included Bites and Brews sessions, the ski and snowboard area, and ice sculpting, among other activities. Admission was $20, good for both full days of the festival. Admission plus a Bites and Brews session was $65. There was a fundraising gala event the night before the festival as well. Carnaval ME was not held in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Corcoran has billed Carnaval ME as a “sister event” to the famous winter carnival in Quebec City, Canada, that dates to 1894. The proposal to the city said that Portland had its own winter festival in the 1920s, which featured sled dogs, ski jumping and other outdoor activities.

Shamrock Sports & Entertainment is a Maine-based marketing firm that partners with sports and entertainment businesses and has put on several events in Maine. Besides the first Carnaval ME, Shamrock has organized Portland’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which before the pandemic included fireworks and a live performance by the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Shamrock also organizes the Live and Work in Maine Open golf event to benefit Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

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