By Dylan Bailey
Dickens on Centre, an enchanting holiday event on Amelia Island, has been a source of magical joy for countless visitors over the years. With the upcoming 9th annual event (Dec. 7-10) poised to be the best yet, I sat down with two of the key orchestrators, Marilou Welling and Mariela Murphy, from the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau (AICVB). They shared insights into the event’s past, present, and future, painting a vivid picture of the unforgettable experiences that await attendees this year.
Marilou Welling, the director of engagement for the AICVB, alongside Mariela Murphy, the special events director, are two of the pillars supporting the grandeur of Dickens on Centre.
Mariela, with her extensive experience in event planning, handles everything from vendor coordination to entertainment. With the support of her talented team, she ensures that every facet of the festival runs smoothly.
On the other hand, Marilou, leveraging her background in hospitality and PR, handles promotional activities and special engagements related to the event. Together, they work tirelessly to bring the Dickensian world to life on Amelia Island.
The festival has evolved dramatically since its inception, growing more popular with every passing year. According to Mariela, the event has witnessed a surge in attendance recently, with an increasing number of families and tourists flocking to enjoy the festivities.
Even with the pandemic a few years ago, it didn’t stop the success of the event. In fact, the team managed to introduce new elements like the Enchanted Village and the Run Like the Dickens fun run, which were well-received by the attendees.
Dickens on Centre offers a smorgasbord of entertainment options. From music to theatre, there’s something for every taste. One of the most exciting highlights last year was the drone show – an awe-inspiring spectacle that lit up the skies with beautiful imagery. This year, the team plans to take it a notch higher with a 3D drone show, promising a richer and more engaging visual experience for visitors.
Another noteworthy feature of the festival is its emphasis on community involvement. The event partners with local organizations, like the MacArthur YMCA, to create an immersive, community-centered experience.
This year, the team aims to further enhance the festival experience. While the event won’t be expanded in terms of its physical footprint, several new features and enhancements are being introduced.
For instance, the Second Street stage has been upgraded to match the main stage, meaning top-notch performances on both platforms. Additionally, more vendors and food trucks have been added to the mix, offering a greater variety for guests to enjoy.
One of the key factors contributing to the success of Dickens on Centre is the strong emphasis on community involvement. The team works closely with local businesses and authorities to ensure a harmonious blend of tourism and community needs.
Looking ahead, Marilou and Mariela are optimistic about the future of Dickens on Centre. They believe that the event’s unique charm and the unforgettable experiences it offers will continue to draw people from near and far.
While they plan to keep enhancing the festival with new features and improvements, they assure that the essence of Dickens on Centre will remain the same – a magical, Dickensian world where visitors can step away from their daily lives and immerse themselves in the joy and wonder of the holiday season.
Wrapping up my conversation with Marilou and Mariela, one thing is clear – Dickens on Centre is more than just a holiday event. It’s a labor of love, a community celebration, and a magical experience that brings the spirit of Charles Dickens’ world to life on Amelia Island.
This year, as the festival gates open, we can look forward to a better, refined and even more magical Dickens on Centre – a testament to the dedication and passion of its organizers and the community that supports it.
Dickens on Centre
Dates: Dec. 7-10, 2023