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Updated: November 5, 2021

After a COVID cancellation last winter, carnival will return to Portland in expanded form

Carnaval gathering inside an igloo Photo / Tim Greenway The first-ever Carnaval ME, which included a ticketed ball inside an igloo, attracted an estimated audience of more than 10,000 people, according to the organizer.

The winter carnival known as Carnaval ME will return in February after a pandemic hiatus as a larger and longer festival on Portland’s Eastern Promenade.

Designed as a sister event to Carnaval de Quebec, a 10-day Canadian winter festival that dates to 1894, Carnaval ME 2020 took place in Portland as a three-day event on the eve of the pandemic. Organizers saw it as an off-season business and fundraising opportunity, and the event raised over $25,000 for WinterKids, a Westbrook-based nonprofit that promotes cold-weather activities and recreation for children.

Carnaval ME was canceled in 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns. But now, the expanded outdoor event is expected to draw 25,000 people from Feb. 18-27, 2022.

“In the 1920’s, thousands of people came to Portland for a Winter Festival. The city was turned into a winter spectacle of ice castles, sculptures, sled dogs, ski jumping, and outdoor festivities. Now, a century later, we’re ready to bring the party back to leverage Maine’s best experiences,” the event’s owner and manager, Shamrock Sports and Entertainment, said in a proposal to the city.

Portland-based Shamrock is a sports and entertainment sales and marketing agency led by Brian Corcoran, a former NASCAR and Fenway Sports Management executive.

“We are seeking to build a celebration that not only drives economic impact but promotes charitable giving year in and year out and presents the region as a destination for all seasons,” the proposal said.

Carnaval ME will kick off on the evening of Feb. 17 with a gala opening party. Over the next week and a half, the festival will feature ice sculptures, an 80-foot-wide inflatable igloo that can hold up to 400 people, a beer garden, and skiing and snowboarding demonstrations. The Narrow Gauge Railway will be used as transportation to and from the event area along the waterfront.

A “sneak peek” event on Wednesday in Monument Square will preview the festival with live music, ice sculptures, snowboarding and skiing demonstrations, and food and beverages. More information about the 2022 festival will be posted on its website.

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