If you don’t live in the Midwest, then you’ve probably never heard of Holiday World. Even if you have heard of it, you probably haven’t been there unless you live in the southern regions of the Midwest. When I was a kid, my parents took the family there every summer. I haven’t been in at least six years, and I can’t wait to go back with some friends next month. Things look like they’ve improved significantly in the small town of Santa Claus, Indiana.
Holiday World, which use to be called Santa Claus Land, is an amusement park located off I-64 about an hour west of Louisville. The park is divided into several sections, each one celebrating a different holiday. You have Christmas (for obvious reasons), Halloween, the Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving. These days you also have Splashin’ Safari, which is a water park, and something called Holidog’s FunTown, a section dedicated to the little kids.
The park first opened in in 1946, nine years before Disney got around to starting his egotistically named joint. Santa Claus Land, therefore, was the world’s first theme park.
Santa Claus Land’s owners changed the name to Holiday World in 1984 after adding the Fourth of July and Halloween sections to attract more visitors. This is the park that I remember best as a kid. Even though they changed the name, everyone still called it Santa Claus Land. The best ride at the time was the Firecracker, a tiny roller coaster that almost gave you whiplash. The Firecracker has since been removed from the park. Apparently Holidog’s FunTown now resides in that section.
Holiday World continued to draw visitors throughout the Midwest during the 1980s and 90s, despite the presence of Kings island just outside of Cincinnati. I can only remember going to Kings Island twice. Holiday World was way more fun. If nothing else, they had that giant Santa statue. I would climb all over that thing, but that was before everyone was so litigious that companies could still allow children to have fun without calling their lawyers for a consultation.
Holiday World’s fun factor became especially more awesome in the 80s when it started investing a ton of money into the park. Many of the upgrades that I loved so much as a child, however, have been replaced by newer features. Some kid will inevitably get upset that these new ones have been removed a couple decades from now, so I feel justified lamenting the lose of my beloved Banshee, bumper boats, and Virginia Reel. They even took out the wax museum and the petting zoo.
Today’s park, however, looks pretty good in comparison to the small town one that I once enjoyed. Pilgrim’s Plunge is listed as the tallest water ride in the world; Holiday World is also home to the Wildebeest, which is the longest water coaster in the world. The theme park also has a wooden roller coaster that has received best-of awards for the past three years in a row. It seems that they’ve replaced a lot of the themed elements with straight-up thrill rides, which is probably a good business decision. People don’t want wax museums. They want to to be scared out of their minds. The amazing thing is that my family actually spent so much time hanging around Santa’s Workshop and the wax museum back in the 80s. As much as I hate to admit it, the recent changes are for the best.
One thing hasn’t changed, though. They still have free unlimited soft drinks.