May 20, 2008

Summer Fun Guide - Return to Santa Claus

Kima Bay: photo courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari Kima Bay is Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari’s new monkey-themed waterplay attractionSanta Claus Land was my first amusement park. I was maybe four or five years old, growing up in Evansville, when we made the trip. I don’t remember much about the rides. Some kind of roller coaster, maybe a Tilt-A-Whirl ... but such thrills paled to the unassailable fact that Santa Claus himself, when he wasn’t consorting with elves in the North Pole, lived in Southern Indiana, just a short drive from my hometown. Talk about luck. And because it was Santa Claus Land, this was obviously no fake-beard mall Santa. This was real.But it was the rides that brought me back. A few years ago, planning a trip to Evansville with my wife and my own kids, I saw that Santa Claus Land — now Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari — was a Mecca for fans of wooden roller coasters like me. My kids are game for most things. My wife kind of hates amusement parks, but she realized she couldn’t back out of this one. And so we found ourselves on the morning drive through small towns and farm fields, shielding the kids’ eyes from the sign announcing the very-real “Santa Claus Cemetery,” and then pulling into the blazing-hot parking lot. We were there.We quickly got a few roller coasters under our belts, and all agreed that The Raven was our family favorite and most worthy of multiple trips. As we boarded for the second go-round, I announced, in my best Vincent Price, my newly learned fact that the coaster was named The Raven exactly 145 years after Edgar Allen Poe’s mysterious death. Creepy. We dashed around to a few other holiday zones and their attendant attractions, but as soon as the kids saw Splashin’ Safari, it was all over for Holiday World. My youngest immediately announced he wanted to compete on the Jungle Racer, which requires you to slide belly-down a steep, watery incline on a thin rubber mat. For me, it was the only painful ride of the day, for reasons I won’t go into here. The oldest and I braved the line for the then-new Zinga, the giant Seussian toilet-bowl that is now de rigueur for the best water parks.photo courtesy of Holiday World & Splashin’ SafariIt was on this day that my wife made a personal discovery: As much as she dislikes amusement parks, she does enjoy water parks. While she floated in one of the wave pools with the kids, I put my shoes back on and scored some more roller coaster rides. Ah, family harmony. Plus, she admitted that, if she has to be dragged to an amusement park, Holiday World is the one for her. It was remarkably clean, the food was good enough and wasn’t too overpriced, and then there are the wondrous freebies: fountain drinks and sunscreen, both in limitless supply. (Note: The park recently added several food items that are suitable for people with various food allergies.)By park’s closing, we were happy, we were exhausted, and our youngest had only gotten lost once. Yet the day wasn’t complete. On the way out, my kids and I ducked into a gift shop to see Santa. A sign announced that he was done for the day. How could Santa be finished when there are still believers to be seen? Then I spied him, in suspenders but no red jacket — kind of a casual Friday look for Santa — getting ready to knock off. He waved my kids over, handed them two little toy mice, and listened to their Christmas wishes. For a moment, the rides and the big waves all melted away. Forget Holiday World. We were back in Santa Claus Land. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com