Friday, July 25, 2014

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus, Indiana

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The spirit of St. Nick is alive and well in a corner of southern Indiana. You’ll also experience living history at Abraham Lincoln's boyhood home, dramatic roller coaster drops, a splashin' safari and even a hike into the deep depths of a cave. A driving trip to Santa Claus, Indiana, will offer something to delight every member of your family, from the history buff to the spelunker, from the water park aficionado to the mini-golf enthusiast. Just 360 miles and six hours from Chicago, it’s well worth a long weekend trip.

Pack a picnic and head south on Interstate 65, reaching your first stop in time for lunch at the park that stands on the site of the Lincoln family farm: Abraham Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Lincoln spent 14 years on the Indiana farm, from ages 7 to 21. Hike the historic trail of Twelve Stones; each stone marks a significant event in Lincoln’s life. The trail passes over the farmhouse site and past his mother’s gravestone (Nancy Lincoln died after drinking the milk of a cow infected by the toxic white snakeroot plant when Abe was just nine years old). Take a moment to reflect with your children on what it must have been like to set off as a pioneer family into the wilderness and build a farm from practically nothing, as the Lincoln family did when they arrived at this 160-acre claim near the Little Pigeon Creek in frigid December 1816.

Just a short scenic drive through the forest is Santa Claus, Indiana. The main attraction of this small vacationers village is Holiday World, the world’s first-ever theme park, family-run since 1946. Relive a year of holidays in a single day by visiting each block of the park: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and Christmas.

I visited Holiday World with my gang of two teens and a 4-year-old, and there was something for everyone - including me! - at this fun theme park. The teens had a blast on the theme rides, especially the three wooden coasters located around the park - The RavenThe Legend and The Voyage.

All aboard the Holidog Expresss

My 4-year-old daughter was delighted to see Santa Claus in the middle of June, strolling around the park; she adored, above all, the many Christmas-themed rides, including Santa's sleighs, as well as Holidog's FunTown, a mini park within the park that offered rides for the preschool/toddler set, as well as a splash area to cool off on hot summer days.

Splashin’ Safari, the park’s on-site water attraction rounded out the festive fun for everyone in our family. Don’t miss the three-story drop on Liberty Launch, a log ride down Frightful Falls, a whiz around the sky on Blitzer’s Airplanes and of course, a 154-foot drop at 67 mph and 2.4 seconds of "air time" on the best wooden roller coaster in the world, The Voyage.

Don’t forget to stop and visit with Santa Claus. He’s available for chats with both good and bad boys and girls all day long, in Christmasland.

Holiday World is a first-class theme park: affordable, bright, safe and enjoyable for children and adults, minus packed-to-the-brim crowds. Free sunscreen and soft drinks make for a more affordable (and comfortable) day.

You’ll find more signs of the bearded man in red and his accomplices throughout Santa Claus. Visit the local Santa Claus Museum and send a Santa Claus-postmarked, Christmas-themed postcard to your friends from the post office next door. Play a round of mini-golf at a course that circles around a melting snowman at Frosty’s Fun Center and grab a frozen hot chocolate and a variety of colorful candy canes at Santa’s Candy Castle.

We spent the night at the Lake Rudolph Campground in a deluxe family cabin. Adjacent to Holiday World (free shuttle service to the theme park is provided), the campground features family cabins, as well as tent and RV sites. With its kitchen, master bedroom, comfy living room and upper level sleeping loft just right for the kids, our cabin was roomy, clean and comfortable.

The kids especially got a kick out of the holiday decor. Lake Rudolph's playground, pool, water slides, rental golf carts, game room, lake with rental kayaks and paddleboats, s’mores on a campfire and a wide starry sky rounded out the fun.

Before heading home, we headed underground. At 4.6 miles in length, with upper-level passages and two parallel underground rivers formed more than a million years ago, a visit to the Marengo Caves is both educational and exciting. Choose from a variety of underground tours, with itineraries for both claustrophobes (the 35-minute long Crystal Palace Tour) and the ambitious spelunker (the five-hours-long Marengo Explorer adventure; helmets, lights and back-up lights are provided). Even my 4-year-old had a blast exploring the deep, dark caverns, with their stunning stalactites and stalagmites. After our cave hike, the kids mined for gems.

Mining for gems at Marengo Caves

A trip to Santa Claus is a fun adventure for families looking for a theme park experience that's affordable and a bit closer to home. The educational stops along the way turn the trip into an interesting learning experience for all.

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