Holiday World is a hidden gem of an amusement park tucked amongst the cornfields of Southern Indiana. It opened as Santa Claus Land in 1946 as the nation’s first amusement park. My mom went when she was a little girl and when the park had little more than a small train and a petting zoo. I’ve also been visiting Holiday World since I was little and have continued the tradition with my own family. Today the park is the most family-friendly amusement park I’ve been to and they have the BEST waterpark ever (at one point it was the second largest in the world!). Some of the best parts? FREE drinks all day, FREE sunscreen and FREE parking. Can’t beat that!
Cost: $39.95/adult; $34.95/child if purchased online. You can get a second-day ticket for $23.
When to visit: June is the best month to visit. Even on the weekends it’s not super crowded and it’s generally hot enough to enjoy the waterpark. Obviously weekdays are the least crowded days though. In our experience, the first couple weeks of August is the most crowded time to go.
Where to stay: Santa Claus, IN is so small and is seriously in the middle of nowhere (I think there might be more than 1 stoplight but I can’t remember). Nothing but cornfields and Holiday World. There are pretty much just 3 options for places to stay, unless you want to stay out of town.
- Santa’s Lodge: I give this hotel about 2.5 stars. It’s just not great. The lobby decor is nice and festive but the highlights end there. The rooms are no better than a Motel 8 but they are priced similar to a Hyatt Place. The pool is extremely small for such a large hotel and the food in the restaurant is mediocre at best. If there are no other lodging options, then I would rather stay here than stay out of town simply because of convenience. Santa’s Lodge is across the street from Holiday World. There are better places to stay though.
- Lake Rudolf Campgroud: If your family enjoys camping then Lake Rudolf Campground is a great place to stay. Our friends recently camped here and they loved it. If tent camping isn’t your thing then they have nice cabins available too, fully equipped with kitchen and bathroom. The campground pool is large and nicely maintained and they have a play area with a few slides. A nice bonus: there is a shuttle available that will take you from the campground to the park. Lake Rudolf Campground is located just beyond the Holiday World parking lot.
- Santa’s Lakeside Cottages: We LOVE this place! In fact it’s one of our favorite places to stay overall, even outside of Holiday World. I can’t say enough wonderful things about it! It is family-owned and the owners are so accommodating and nice. The cottages are adorable and I feel like I’m staying in a nice hotel rather than a cabin. They are 1-2 bedroom cottages, fully equipped with kitchen and 1 or 2 baths. Our favorite cabin is #8 Prancer’s loft. Each cottage has a private charcoal grill and firepit and most of the cottages have a hammock. There are 3 fishing ponds and you can rent fishing poles for $5 for your entire stay. There are 2 nice playgrounds, a lovely pool with splash pad, and laundry facilities. We love Santa’s Cottages so much that we reserve a day of our Holiday World vacation just to hang around at the cabin to swim, fish and roast s’mores. Love it!
What to eat: Like I said, drinks (Pepsi products) are FREE! In general the food is a little better than typical park food and there are a few places that we always like to eat:
- Kringle’s Kafe – We always get pizza here. Not super expensive and really good crust.
- Plymouth Rock Cafe – Enjoy Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of July! The turkey legs are my fav.
- Barbecue USA – Fairly decent pulled pork sandwich, and it’s a nice change from the typical amusement park burger.
- Wildebeestro: Looking for healthier fare? This place serves up a great chicken salad croissant sandwich and chicken, roast beef or hummus wraps.
- Udderly Blue Ice Cream: All of the ice cream in the park is tasty, but I especially love this blue soft serve. I like to get the blue raspberry/cherry twist.
- Picnic!: If you want to take a break from the parks, there are nice picnic areas by the parking lots outside of the gate. The picnic area by the lower parking lot is a great location because it’s right by the lake.
- Splashin’ Safari Waterpark – The waterpark is simply incredible. We probably spend 75% of our time there. We stake out a spot in Safari Sam’s Splashland and leave our towels and stuff there for the day. It’s the best place to play if you have a toddler. Adam had the time of his life playing on these slides!
There are so many slides here that we spent 75% of two days in the waterpark and didn’t even get to ride all of them. I love that the height restrictions are such that my 7 year-old boys are tall enough to ride every slide. Our favorite slides are the Mammoth, Wildebeest, Hyena Falls and Zinga. If there are long lines then I recommend prioritizing those first. Mammoth and Wildebeest have single rider lines, so if you don’t mind riding separately, you can get on quickly.
The lazy river and wave pool at this waterpark are fine but they aren’t the best compared to other waterparks I’ve been to. The lazy river is slow and too shallow. The waves in the wave pool aren’t that big. However, these are the only two complaints I could possibly dig up about Splashin’ Safari. It is simply awesome!
- Rides – For those taller than 48 inches, The Voyage is the best ride in the park. It is by far my favorite wooden roller coaster. It’s a really long ride too. Just when you think it’s over, it keeps going!
One of our favorite family rides is Gobbler Getaway, a dark ride where you compete against each other and, using a gobbler gun, call as many turkeys as you can. Other favorites of the boys are Eagles Flight, Raging Rapids and Lewis & Clark Trail. My two year-old had a blast on all of the kiddie rides. One thing I love about Holiday World is that they have tons of rides that don’t have a height requirement.
Tip: Visit 4th of July or Thanksgiving first because the lines for these areas are shorter in the morning.
- Holidays – Holiday World is a celebration of holidays and it’s so fun to experience them in the middle of summer. So fun to sit on Santa’s lap in the middle of June! There are four themed lands: Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and 4th of July.
Outside of the Park
There are a few areas of interest outside of Holiday World too:
- Santa’s Candy Castle – we stopped here for the first time this year and I’m so glad we did! Matthew and Jordan had so much fun chatting with a “real” North Pole elf online. After their chat, the elf quizzed them and then gave them some things to work on (for example, they pledged to brush their teeth more often and to make their bed. Haha.). Then they both got a certificate stating that they are officially on Santa’s Nice List. They LOVED it and, although it was a small thing, it was a trip highlight for them. Also, if you are a collector of Christmas books, then this is a must-stop for you. They have a large selection of Christmas books at a fraction of the cost that you would find them in stores. I bought some very nice books for just a few dollars each. Finally, don’t forget to grab your frozen hot chocolate on the way out!
- Santa Claus, IN Post Office – Thousands of people mail letters from this post office each year so they can get the special “Santa Claus Station” postmark. Also, if your child sends a letter to this post office then they will receive a letter back from Santa! The tiny post office answers 13,000 letters from children each year.
- Lincoln State Park – Just a few miles away is Lincoln State Park, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home. If you have time, this is a great side trip, especially if your child has studied U.S. History in school.
Holiday World is a family tradition and we look forward to going back every year!