Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., may be the only place on Earth where you can celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and the Fourth of July all in a single day.
The family-owned theme park prides itself on its collection of record-setting rides and an award-winning water park that’s included with the price of admission.
In 1946, park founder Louis Koch opened Santa Claus Land in this small Indiana town to pay tribute to the town’s namesake elf. The self-proclaimed “world’s first theme park” featured a train, a toy shop, a few kiddie rides and, of course, daily visits by Santa Claus.
In 1984, Santa Claus Land became Holiday World with the addition of themed lands dedicated to Halloween, the Fourth of July and eventually Thanksgiving.
Since then, the family enterprise has expanded to include a water park (Splashin’ Safari), campground (Lake Rudolph Campground & R.V. Resort), shopping center (Kringle Plaza) and housing development (Christmas Lake Village) in this southwestern Indiana town of 2,200.
For more than a decade, Holiday World has received the annual Golden Ticket award from the Amusement Today trade group as the friendliest and cleanest theme park in the industry.
The park-wide dedication to kindness extends to the free parking, soft drinks, sunscreen and Wi-Fi provided to every visitor. Park matriarch Pat Koch, known as “The General” for her commitment to cleanliness, has been known to scrub the park’s bathrooms herself. She personally greets visitors every morning at the front gate and thanks them on the way out at closing time.
In 2004, Holiday World received the Applause Award, the highest honor in the theme park industry presented biennially by the International Assn. of Amusement Parks & Attractions. Previous winners include Europa Park (Germany), Efteling (Netherlands), Cedar Point (Ohio), Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Florida) and the Magic Kingdom (Florida).
A closer look at the Top 10 rides and attractions at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari:
1) The Voyage - The 2006 hybrid wooden coaster with a steel structure was designed by Gravity Group with trains by Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Themed after the voyage of the Pilgrims to America, the 6,400-foot-long Voyage has been named the world’s best wooden coaster by Amusement Today for the past five years. Reaching speeds of 67 mph, the ride is known for three drops of at least 100 feet and a stunning 24 seconds of air-time throughout the voyage. Of all the wooden coasters I’ve ridden, I’d say Voyage ranks right at the top alongside Six Flags Great Adventure’s El Toro. Both coasters feature a ton of air time and relentless speed that continue right up to the end of the ride.
2) The Raven - The 1995 wooden terrain coaster was designed by Custom Coasters International and built by Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Taking its name from the Edgar Allan Poe poem, the 2,800-foot-long Raven was named the world’s best wooden coaster from 2000 to 2003 by Amusement Today. I found Raven to be the smoothest of Holiday World’s wooden coasters and loved that the train literally disappeared into the forest upon departing the station.
3) The Legend - Opened in 2000, the sequel to Raven was designed by Custom Coasters International and built by Philadelphia Toboggan Co. Based on the Sleepy Hollow legend, the 4,000-foot-long wooden terrain coaster races through the woods as if chased by the Headless Horseman. The ride’s lateral G forces can make for rough riding; I found the front row to be more forgiving than the back.
4) Mammoth - Opened this summer, the 1,763-foot-long ride snatched the title of world’s longest water coaster from Wildebeest. The ProSlide water coaster employs a conveyor belt to ascend the lift hill and linear induction motors to propel the clover-leaf rafts up hills. It’s the first water coaster I’ve ever ridden and the best water ride I’ve ever been on.
5) Wildebeest - The 1,710-foot-long ProSlide water coaster employs a conveyor belt to ascend the lift hill and linear induction motors to propel the toboggan rafts up hills. In 2011, Wildebeest was named the world’s best water park ride by Amusement Today.
6) Pilgrims Plunge - The Intamin shoot the chutes ride claimed title of world’s tallest water ride when it opened in 2009. After a unique elevator scissor lift, the boat races 50 mph down a 131-foot drop at a 45-degree angle.
7) Raging Rapids - The 1990 white-water raft ride includes a journey through the flooded Western town of Boulder Canyon and under a river-spanning curtain of water. Good luck staying dry amid the million gallons of water surging and splashing all around you along the 1,200-foot-long serpentine course.
8) Frightfall Falls - The 1984 log flume travels through a spooky tunnel and a pun-filled graveyard before descending down a 35-foot drop into a splash down finale.
9) Star Spangled Carousel - The 2008 Chance Rides carousel features a menagerie of 30 animals, including a rabbit, dolphin, tiger, zebra, cat and dragon.
10) Freedom Train - The quarter-scale model of a Baltimore & Ohio locomotive was the original ride at Holiday World and remains the only attraction back to the 1946 opening of the park.