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Year-round holiday
By Shannon O'Brien and Jayette Bolinski

At the top of the 163-foot lift hill on The Voyage, a wooden roller coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., the view was exhilarating: "It went up so high it almost went up in the clouds. I could almost see the parking lot where we came in," 9-year-old Preston Reynolds said.

Then the ride inched over the peak and barreled down the tracks, whipping the riders around dramatic curves, rushing them through dark tunnels, and, at times, making them feel weightless. It was an experience Preston and his dad wouldn't forget but didn't want to repeat either.

"I thought I was going to be sick," Preston said.

"I might have enjoyed it if it wasn't so painful," Brock Reynolds said, referring to the jarring effect the ride had on his back. Preston much preferred the Antique Cars, which he happily rode again and again.

 It was Amy Reynolds, Preston's mom and Brock's wife, who suggested the family take a trip to Holiday World.  She had been reminded of the amusement park during a conversation with a friend from an Internet forum and recalled going there once as a little girl. At a family function, she threw out the idea of everyone spending a few days together in Santa Claus, Ind.  

The family was game. Included in this adventure were her dad and stepmom, Terry and Darlene Barkley; her half sister and brother-in-law, Heather and Shane Michaelis; and their children, McKenzie and Chase; her other half sister and brother-in-law, Nena and Bob Wells; their kids, Reaghan and Kayden; and a friend, Kaitie Dunn.

 The families live in different parts of Illinois, so they drove separately and met at Lake Rudolph, a campground and RV park where they rented two cabins. Each cabin had a loft that slept up to three children, a futon in the living room, a bedroom, bathroom and full kitchen. In the back, were a grill and fire pit. The park provided free transportation between Lake Rudolph and Holiday World so they could take breaks from the rides and go back to the cabin to eat lunch or relax.

Though the cabins at Camp Rudolph offered free Wi-Fi, they didn't offer television, which allowed for "really good family bonding," according to Amy. The family cooked out on the grill, lounged on the deck together, swam in the pool and made s'mores.

But most of their energy was focused on enjoying the amusement park. "We spent a lot of time on 'lazy river,'" Amy said, referring to a ride officially named Congo River, where visitors loll in inner tubes and bob about the waves. The Raging Rapids was one of Amy's favorite rides and was a big hit with her family members, too. The ride includes sections of calm water as well as rough rapids and water geysers.

"I lost my Cardinals visor on it," Amy said. To which Brock, a Cubs fan, responded, "That's really terrible," with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. In general, the wait to get on rides wasn't awful. Some of the lines for the water rides were long, but it took only 20 minutes for family members to get their turn on the roller coasters - not bad by amusement park standards.

The park, which used to be called Santa Claus Land, is divided into holiday themes including Christmas, the Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Each section has its own collection of rides.

"We were there two days, and there were all sorts of rides we didn't get on," Amy said. According to the park's Web site, "Holiday World features 100 acres of rides, shows, games and attractions." The park offers free drinks, free sunscreen and free parking. "As far as amusement parks go, it's relatively inexpensive," Amy said.

For those who prefer to mix in some American history with roller coasters and water rides, Lincoln's boyhood home is nearby.  Amy, Brock and Preston visited it on the first day of the trip, prior to everyone else's arrival.

They walked the "Trail of Twelve Stones" at the park; each stone comes from a location that holds historical significance in Lincoln's life. There is a stone from the battlefield at Gettysburg, one from the Old Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.; and a stone composed of four bricks set in concrete. The bricks are from the Kentucky home of Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd. Visitors older than 17 pay $3 per person to enter the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, with a maximum charge of $5 per vehicle.

The Reynolds family has a couple of tips for those who may want to visit Santa Claus, Ind., and Holiday World. They recommend staying at Camp Rudolph because of the free shuttle service between the camp and the amusement park.

However, if prospective visitors take this suggestion, the family also recommends bringing an air mattress because the futon isn't terribly comfortable. And a portable fan would come in handy for anyone sleeping in the loft because it was much warmer there than in the rest of the cabin. They also recommend going during the week because the cabin rates were better and the lines at the park didn't seem as long.

They said they noticed the wait for rides seemed longer on Friday.

When Preston was asked what he thought people should know prior to visiting Holiday World, he had this to say: "Some rides are scary and some rides are fun. But most of the ones I went on were fun." 



North Pole, N.Y., will leave you with visions of sugarplums in your head

Almost every night since September, my 2-year-old son whispers a secret in my ear before he goes to sleep.

"I want to go see Santa Claus at the North Pole again," Henry will say quietly with a smile as he snuggles under the covers. Across the room, his 4-year-old brother, Matthew, sings Christmas carols from his bed.

Both my sons have had visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads ever since we spent a day at Santa's village in North Pole, N.Y., during our family vacation in September.

North Pole is a year-round Christmas-themed amusement park nestled in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The hamlet sits just outside of Wilmington, N.Y.

According to Cornell University meteorological data, North Pole is one of the most likely places in the Northeast to have a white Christmas. Based on historical weather data gathered at nearby Tupper Lake every year since 1948, the chance of snowfall on Christmas at North Pole is 96 percent.

Santa's village at North Pole, which dates to 1949, sits on the side of Whiteface Mountain, a popular stop for skiers, snowboarders, hikers and other snow- and scenery-loving visitors. With a peak of more than 3,400 feet, Whiteface has been the site of various Olympic competitions, and Lake Placid is about a 25-minute drive away.

The village is a collection of Alpine-style buildings, including Santa's house, a chapel, a reindeer barn with real reindeer, a theater, an outdoor amphitheater, a toyshop, a glassblower's shop, a sweet shop, a hat shop, a world-of-Christmas store, a restaurant and a post office.

The village also has an amusement park with various Christmas-themed rides, such as a train, a carousel with reindeer to ride, a Christmas tree ride, a kiddie bobsled ride, a small Ferris wheel, a small roller coaster and more.

In the center of the village is the "north pole," a large, frost-covered pole that kids can touch and leave their handprints on.

Various costumed characters, such as Chris Moose and Rowdy "The Rascal" Reindeer, roam the village and pose for photos with children. Live musical performances and skits are scheduled throughout the day on various stages throughout the park.

Kids also can stop by year-round for a visit and photos with Santa Claus at his house.

According to the village's Web site, www.northpoleny.com, the U.S. Postal Service in 1953 awarded Santa's Workshop at North Pole  "rural postal station" status. Visitors can mail letters at the post office, and they are canceled with a North Pole postmark before being delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.

Those who can't drop off their mail there but want a North Pole postmark can package their pre-stamped mail and send it to North Pole Postmaster, P.O. Box 1768, North Pole, NY 12997.

North Pole bills itself as was one of the country's earliest theme parks. Its opening on July 1, 1949, garnered widespread media attention. Its opening day attendance was 212, and its single-day record attendance was more than 14,000 on Sept. 2, 1951.

- Jayette Bolinski



Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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