Santa has steady job at Holiday World

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Ho. Ho. Ho. Santa's got a permanent job at Holiday World.

Of course, that's not surprising since the theme park -- billed as the world's first theme park -- is in Santa Claus, Ind.

The small, rural town appears to have cornered the market on Santa statues. They're everywhere. Nearby is the Santa Lodge, complete with Christmas lights year round and a giant Santa statue on the front lawn.

Joni and I took the kids to the Indiana theme park for the weekend. Naturally, we stayed at Santa Lodge, where Christmas lights twinkle year-round.

You can't help but smile when you walk into the motel lobby. It's decorated with a Christmas tree, a Christmas sleigh and an assortment of elves and presents, all accompanied by Christmas music.

A waitress at the motel told me that you get used to hearing Christmas music year-round.

At the nearby theme park, an employee insisted that all that holiday cheer helps make Christmas last.

When you enter the theme park, you're greeted by Santa -- an elderly man in black boots and white beard who ends up in the middle of a lot of family photos.

Our family has been to a lot of theme parks, but we've never been to one where we were greeted by Santa.

Christmas is one of our favorite holidays. Throw in a few thrill rides and you have a tourist attraction nestled among the rolling farms and forests of southwest Indiana.

Of course, the town of Santa Claus wasn't always so cheerful. Its original name was Santa Fe until another older town in the same state with the same name demanded this second Santa Fe change its name.

So residents settled for a name everyone loves: Santa Claus.

That made sense because the town's main attraction was Santa Claus Land, promoted as the first theme park when it opened in 1946. The theme park's original train still chugs around the tracks, although squeezing into the small cars can be difficult for adults.

The park changed its name to Holiday World in 1984 after adding sections celebrating Halloween and the Fourth of July. But with Santa giving hugs at the front gate, visitors can't help but be convinced that this theme park remains Santa Land at heart.

Becca was thrilled at riding the roller coasters. Both Becca and Bailey liked playing the arcade games where they actually won something: soft, cuddly stuffed turtles and frogs.

Our family loved riding bumper-car horses and buffalo. Becca convinced me to ride the Liberty Plunge, which pushes you toward the heavens and then drops you several stories before the contraption comes to a stop.

When Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death," he could easily have been referring to the Liberty Plunge ride. Immediately after the ride I felt like I was on the losing end of that statement.

But I soon recovered. It's hard not to smile -- even if your stomach is in knots -- when you have Santa as your mascot.

Another plus is that this theme park is outfitted with soft-drink shelters where visitors can get unlimited free drinks. Our family treated these places like they were thrill rides.

We weren't used to getting free drinks at an amusement park.

All we can say is "thanks, Santa."

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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