We wound up on vacation to Santa Claus, Indiana, because of one bright and cheerful Christmas at least 20 years ago. My sister and I opened a present under the tree that was just a slip of paper in a box. At first, we assumed we were cheated out of a hard-earned gift from Santa. As we held it up to our dad’s video camera, questioning the whole purpose of the holiday, my parents prodded us to read the note.
In my mother’s handwriting, Santa’s note said he was sending us all on a big trip that year. My sister and I got to pick the destination! Not surprisingly, we were beyond excited, and we immediately asked to use the computer to find theme parks.
The usual suspects appeared on the list, but scrolling a little farther led us to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. My sister and I were still high on holiday spirit, so when we saw that this theme park had an entire section devoted just to Christmas, and that Santa was there year-round, we figured it would be perfect because we could have a fun trip to a theme park and thank Santa all in one go. Vacation to Santa Claus, IN here we come! Except…
Our parents, surprised by our selection, explained that Santa had provided money for a trip that didn’t include airfare, so we needed to find a vacation within driving distance of our Arizona home.
We wrote a thank you letter to Santa, and had a magical time in Disneyland that summer. But it didn’t stop my sister and me from wondering about a trip to Santa Claus and Holiday World. It became a long-running joke in our family whenever we talked about vacations or moving destinations—I’d even applied to Indiana University, and said if I went we’d finally get to experience the fabled park.
Fast forward to adulthood for my sister and me. We’re both married—she living with her husband and two kids in upstate New York, and me in Arizona with my husband. As summer faded into fall, we decided it had been too long since we’d seen each other and we tried to convince the other to visit.
During the back-and-forth discussion, I off-handily made the same joke we’ve said for years: “Hey, I think Holiday World is sort of halfway. Let’s go there.”
I heard a slight gasp as she thought about it. “Yeah, why don’t we?”
I hadn’t realized it was even a viable option. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah! We’ve been talking about this place since we were kids—let’s finally go!” Her smile was audible. We ironed out the plans right then.
Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t able to get out of his classes for the trip, and my brother-in-law had professional training to attend, but it would still be fun with my sister, her children and me (trying to be a cool uncle).
Arriving in Santa Claus, Indiana, I noticed the town was cute and quaint. Old-timey light posts that looked like someone had to light a candle with a flame in order to illuminate the street stood proud along roads. Roads bore names like Christmas Boulevard and Mistletoe Drive. Half-timbered buildings and cabins lie just beyond, next to an assortment of Santa Claus statues.
But we weren’t here just to look at the town. So we pulled into Holiday World, and walked through the gates into the Christmas section.
It was a little odd to finally see the place we’d been talking about for more than 20 years. In my head, I imagined Holiday World to be kitschy and geared only to children. I was pleasantly surprised to see that wasn’t the case at all. Clearly no corners were cut in making this park.
“This looks amazing!” my sister exclaimed.
The kids were bouncing little balls of energy as we tried to keep up with them through the shops and kiddie rides in Christmas village. Seeing some of the roller coasters just beyond Christmas, we decided to split up and let my sister and three-year-old niece stick to the smaller rides while I took my seven-year-old nephew to Halloween to ride the two wooden coasters there. My sister was happy to stay away from the bigger rides, and I was happy to get my adrenaline pumping.
Halloween was themed exactly as I’d expected—gothic style buildings, many of the shops painted in bright orange, black, and purple. Rides included Scarecrow Scrambler, and The Raven, which was our target right now.
I learned from some other folks in line at The Raven that the three wooden coasters in the park have been consistently rated in the top 25 wooden roller coasters in the world, and some of them even held the title of best for numerous years. How had I not come here sooner?
We didn’t manage to snag a front seat, and my nephew was a little miffed at that. But once we flew down the first hill—reaching nearly 50 miles per hour—he was whooping and hollering and having a great time! By the end of the ride, he forgot about not being in the front and we agreed it was an awesome ride in any seat.
“So, you got a taste of the wooden coasters. Want to hit the big one?” I asked him, already walking in the direction of the Thanksgiving area of the park.
I was met with a resounding, “Yeah!”
I checked in with my sister. She would take my niece to the 4th of July area, while we tackled the big ride, The Voyage.
Walking under the section of The Voyage’s track to enter the area, my nephew wanted to wait see the coaster car go over us. We heard lots of cheers from the riders who were coming to the end of the ride.
Thankfully, my nephew just barely passed the height requirement—good, because I wanted to be the cool uncle. As we got closer to the loading bay, he asked if we could wait for the first car. The attendant let us and we only had to wait a minute or so longer.
The ride itself was something else! I was getting butterflies in my stomach as we climbed the first hill, 163 feet in the air. We then plunged down, nearly hitting 70 miles per hour, and crested a few more hills giving us a feeling of weightlessness. After a few drops that dipped below ground level, we started a series of heavily banked turns that had us pinned this way and then that. Back underground, we climbed a hill in total darkness and picked up speed again as we barreled through the supports of the earlier hills—a classic wooden coaster visual trick that made even my barely-tall-enough-to-ride nephew duck. More banked turns and hills, and before we knew it, we were right at that brake strip over the entrance to the area, cheering ourselves.
We made our way to 4th of July to meet up with my sister and niece, exclaiming the whole way about our amazing ride. My nephew excitedly told his mom about how much fun he had with me, and I was sure I gained some cool uncle points.
Making plans (all over again)
We went on to enjoy the rest of Holiday World together, but we didn’t have time for the waterpark on the same grounds, Splashing Safari.
“When we come back for the waterpark, maybe you’ll be tall enough to go on the steel coaster with me!” I told my nephew. “It has loops and everything.”
“We’ll just have to make sure it doesn’t take us 20 years to get back to Santa Claus,” my sister chimed in.
“Oh, it definitely won’t be that long,” I said confidently.
“It can’t be!” my nephew pointed out, “We still need to meet Santa!”