Saturday, July 16, 2011

Holiday World and Santa's Lodge Vacation

Ever since we moved to Indiana, we have heard people raving about their experiences with Holiday World and Splashing Safari amusement park. It has so much to recommend itself: free drinks all day, free sunscreen, family atmosphere, and the combination of both daring rides and refreshing water. Time after time, others have encouraged us to visit this park.

I have to admit, I have been dragging my heels for years. Every year, John would suggest it and I would say, "I really don't want to go to a big, crowded amusement park with two little ones and a teenager who is chomping at the bit to ride big rides all day (thus leaving me, inevitably, with the two overwrought little boys). Part of that was my growing anxiety issues (thus the near panic attacks at Big Splash Adventure and the mobbed Children's Museum), but part of it was that it just didn't sound FUN.

So, once again, I went along just because everyone else wanted to go. By the time John got around to making our accommodations all the less expensive rooms at Santa's Lodge were taken (that's his story and he's sticking to it ... but perhaps he wanted the more spacious room all along). Thus, we found ourselves in a glorious Family Whirlpool Suite.

It was marvelous. It was glorious. It was so exciting for the little boys that ... we almost turned around and went back home on the first night (perhaps you have never experienced my boys on a high of excitement and anticipation - yikes). You can actually take a virtual tour of our room here.

The room boasted a king size bed (somehow Bryce and Sean finagled that one on the first night) and two queen size pull-outs, a microwave, fridge and kitchen area. Of course, the most exciting feature of all was the jacuzzi. The boys had been talking about it all week, saying "the first thing I'm going to do when we get in the room is jump in the hot tub."

Thankfully, the Lodge also had an indoor pool (another "must-visit" for my younger boys). So the first evening, I was able to sit in a cozy room watching a lengthy (gruesome) news show interviewing Jaycee Dugard. I would have been unable to watch this at home because the content was not appropriate for child viewing. Despite the horror the show inspired, it was so wonderful to watch in peace and quiet while Daddy took the boys to swim!

Monday morning, we headed over to Holiday World and purchased two-day tickets. The anticipated heat index for the day was 110 degrees! Let me tell you, we felt it (especially Sean and I, since we are both prone to heat stroke and sun burn). If we had not been able to fill up complimentary cups of ice water repeatedly throughout the day, I don't think I would have survived. John and I also marvelled at my new-found ability to deal with the crowded lines and anxiety laden experiences (thank you, effective medicine!).

The park is divided into themed sections based on holidays. I quickly stowed our swim gear in a locker in the water park area and met the boys in the Thanksgiving section. I loved how each part played accompanying theme music. In the Thanksgiving area, we were treated to "We Gather Together."

Bryce immediately determined his favorite wooden roller coaster of all time - The Voyage. He and Trevor rode it together first (given their sibling animosity of that morning, it was a true miracle of gathering together - ha!). Of course, Bryce was so impressed that he begged Dad to ride it with him next, so I dragged Trevor and Sean into my "favorite" ride - Gobbler Getaway (favorite because it is air conditioned, has no sudden swerves or surprises and is genuinely fun) where you shoot turkeys with a laser gun. Bryce even convinced me to try this "awesome roller coaster" on the second day of our visit. With all that shaking, my insides may never be the same, but at least I can say I survived The Voyage!

(Photos courtesy of the Holiday World web site)

Other favorite rides were: the Revolution (finally the little boys were willing to ride it alone because it was making me far too dizzy) and the Legend (which I never tried because Bryce said it has such hair-raising turns that it actually gave him a headache on the first evening). Besides, because of Sean's height (44 inches) there were many things that he couldn't ride and I stayed with him while the others went on. (He has since been drinking milk like there's no tomorrow because he is convinced that it will make him grow taller. Immediately after drinking, he asks me to measure him again ... funny kid!)

The heat drove us to spend most of the day in the Splashin' Safari section, which meant that I was sporting a major lobster-shaded burn for the second day. But it was a lot of fun. I loved riding Watubee because we were all five in the inner tube together as we went down. Zinga was a bit of a disappointment because we waited almost 50 minutes on surfaces that scorched bare feet and then the ride was quickly over. I think all the boys loved the Bahari Wave Pool the best. Even Sean was jumping to ride the waves.

Our favorite eating establishment (again, due to the intense heat) was the Plymouth Rock Cafe. The children's meals (real home-cooking, to get away from burgers and fries) were only $4. The place was air-conditioned (ahhhh) and the food was delicious.

The second day's visit was slated to be a bit cooler, but when we left the Lodge (even earlier than the first day) the temperature gauge read 98 degrees - urgh!. I was very concerned that we would end up spending a lot of time in the water and sun again, so I donned John's over sized t-shirt and Sean's floppy hat. I looked ridiculous, but I didn't damage my skin any further, so I won't complain. Plus, the second day, we remembered to bring along flip-flops and swim shoes so that the sun-scorched pavement wouldn't blister the soles of our feet so much.

Shortly after lunch, a storm blew in (and I mean blew in, because it actually pulled the umbrella right off our table). At first we were waiting it out against a wall of a building, but it was getting downright cold and the thunder and lightning were extremely dynamic. I noticed Bryce was standing by a family restroom, so I asked if anyone was in it. He and I ended up spending a half hour crammed with ten other people in the small 4 x 5 foot bathroom (we chuckled because no one offered to take the throne). I thought John and the boys were in the Pepsi Oasis, but they had come out and watched what they called "a tremendous lightning show!"

Once the storm looked like it was blowing over, we had this brilliant idea to try to get in the front of a line for the Wildebeest (billed as "America's longest water roller coaster"). Sadly, everyone else had the same idea and we discovered that the power to the ride had been knocked out. It is definitely on our to-do list for our next visit. Even the wave pool was out of the question because the lightening just kept coming back. Finally we headed to our old stand-by, Gobbler's Gathering and when even that was shut down, we went back to the Lodge.

The boys were quite bummed about the heat and storms keeping us from getting to ride all of the rides in the park or even from getting our money's worth out of our visit. Still, I reminded them, "we will never forget our first visit to Holiday World." I'm sure we'll be remembering this for years to come.

Plus, our early return to the Lodge meant that we ended up trying their downstairs restaurant/buffet. Since it was evening, the lit up decorations were stunningly beautiful. I found myself wishing my mother were there to see it. She would absolutely love a visit and a meal there. The food in the buffet was amazing! I think Bryce may have eaten 12 chicken wedges. We were all grateful for the delicious fruits and vegetables, too. And the apple cobbler was fantastic, as well.

I was so impressed that I even asked the hotel if they would send me some pictures to use on my blog post:

They don't capture the magic of seeing these decorations in the evening, but it still gives a view of how cozy and quaint the experience was. John kept saying, "we should have your family Christmas gathering here in December!" Of course, I still want to keep it here in our home, but I can understand why he'd want to bring everyone to Santa's Lodge. It was a wonderful experience. I doubt I'll drag my heels when the suggestion comes up next year!

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