Holiday World

Do you believe in Santa Claus? Well, Santa Claus has to be real because the map says so. Yes, Holiday World is in a small rural town in Southern Indiana that bears the name of the jolly old gift-giving fellow.

The park bears more than a passing resemblance to Santa Claus as well. It too is friendly. It too is generous with the presents, giving guests free parking, free sodas all day long and a free waterpark complete with free inner tube rentals and free sunscreen. If you've ever tired of the larger corporate parks where you feel as if you are being gouged at every concession stand turn, you too will believe in Santa Claus the moment you step into Holiday World.

While the park is small it houses two of the world's best wooden roller coasters with the classic air-time beast known as Raven and the larger, relentless Legend. Billed as the original theme park, open years before Disneyland came to be, Holiday World is divided into holiday themes. The coasters reside in Halloween while the park's modest collection of flats and a kiddie area can be found in the red, white and blue splendor of 4th of July.

The park is a regular winner of friendliest park awards and this family-owned institution deserves it. On a recent trip I crossed paths with Pat Koch -- the owner of the park -- sweeping away to keep the entrance to the waterpark spotless. Can you imagine seeing Michael Eisner scraping gum off a Fantasyland bench? No. I can't either. On the way out, literally as the last guests to leave, her son and park manager Will Koch came over just to make sure we had a ride home. We did. We were just waiting for the courtesy shuttle van to take us back to the adjoining campground.

Pros: The free sodas, everywhere. From self-service stations to ordering one up wherever park food is sold, it certainly helps your dining dollar last longer knowing that you aren't being hit up for a couple of bucks for glorified sugar water. The friendly park staff will win you over before your day is done and the smiles are contagious -- just look around at the happy park guests. The waterpark is a major attraction, often even more popular than the park itself in the early afternoon.

Cons: While the park is small, with everything at a close distance, it is quite hilly -- which may make it a challenge if you're pushing a stroller uphill from the coasters and waterpark at the end of the day.

3 Tips:

-- You'll notice the traffic pattern of folks flocking to the waterpark an hour after the park opens. They will then all head out later in the afternoon. In other words, the lines for the regular park rides aren't that bad during the early afternoon, unlike what you would find at most amusement parks. And with many locals heading back home after the waterpark you will find the coasters have reasonable lines at night.

-- Even if the park can be taken in over less than a full day, why not truly live the adventure and camp out at the adjacent Lake Rudolph. If you aren't the camping kind, consider renting an anchored motorhome for the night. The rates are as reasonable as a nearby hotel and you have the free shuttle taking you in and out of the park.

-- The food is your standard park fare of burgers and pizzas. Want something off the beaten path? Try the Frito Pie served at the taco stand. A bag of Fritos is sliced open and topped off with seasoned ground beef and shredded cheese, then baked. Don't worry, it tastes a lot better than it sounds. Just don't eat the bag!

- Reviewed by Rick Munarriz

Official Park Link - Holiday World

Unofficial Park Link - Negative-G

Nearest Hotels with online booking discounts:
 -- Lake Rudolph Campground -- Next to the park
 -- Baymont Inn Dale
 -- Scottish Inns Dale
 -- Santa's Lodge

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