Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Seeking Santa

by Paul Ruben

Having survived the holiday season and recently returned from a visit to Santa’s Land in Cherokee, North Carolina, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the many other Santa parks around the world.

 family theme park and zoo, this particular Santa’s Land features the famous (their claim, not mine) Rudicoaster alongside a collection of classic children’s rides, some fun shows, and a beautiful mountain setting. That’s me standing by the Bambis that pull Santa’s sleigh.

This is not, however, the only festive-themed park in the United States. Santa’s Land, a 55-year-old attraction in Putney, Vermont, has re-opened for the holiday season after closing as a year-round attraction due to the recession. The 41-acre (17-hectare) park features meet-and-greets with Santa Claus, a reindeer petting zoo, a train ride and an Elf House.

It got me thinking. Christmas has been a popular theme for many parks. Created in 1949, Santa’s Workshop in North Pole near Lake Placid, New York, bills itself as the USA’s oldest theme park. It was designed by Arto Monaco, a former Walt Disney artist. Santa’s Workshop was ahead of its time and spawned many imitators.

Santa’s Workshop, Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a Christmas-themed family amusement park that has been in existence since 1956. The village was to be identical to the one built in Lake Placid.

Famously, Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana – what a name for a town! – began life as Santa Claus Land in 1946 and changed to its current name in 1984. The park remembers Santa Claus (the man, not the town) with a large statue at the entrance of the park, a large Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene.

Santa’s Village was a theme park that operated in East Dundee, Illinois from 1959 to 2006. It was built by Glenn Holland, who also built two other Santa’s Villages in California, one located in San Bernardino County and the other in Santa Cruz County. Santa’s Villages were the first franchised theme parks in the world.

There is another Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire. This Santa’s Village was the brainchild of Normand and Cecile Dubois who, in the early 1950s, wanted to create something novel to their region. It opened in 1953 and continues to thrive today.

Outside the States, SantaPark near Rovaniemi, Finland, opened in November 1998. The park is designed to emulate the cavern residence of Santa Claus on the Arctic Circle, and recently added an Angry Birds Activity Park as a sister attraction. It opens for the festive season from late November through until the middle of January, and also in summer from mid-June to mid-August. Rovaniemi is also home to Santa Claus Village. Popular culture often depicts Santa Claus (or “Joulupukki” in Finnish) coming from Lapland. Therefore, tourists come every year to Rovaniemi to meet Santa. It’s closer to the North Pole than Indiana.

Santa’s Village & Sportsland in Ontario, Canada, is a holiday theme park operating during the summer. It is over 50 years old. Another Canadian park, Village du Père Noël, Val-David, Quebec, offers children the chance to visit Santa at his summer residence. In 1953, Réal Rousseau and Jacques T Melchers built in the beautiful Laurentian Mountains, and the park has since welcomed over three millions visitors.

For the last few years, London has hosted a seasonal event called Winter Wonderland in the prestigious setting of Hyde Park. Featuring specially-themed rides and attractions – including a dedicated Santa Land – and a German-style Christmas market and food and drink outlets, it attracts more visitors in seven weeks (about 2 million last year) than many amusement parks get all season.

I’m sure I’ve overlooked some others, but that’s more parks and attractions dedicated to Christmas than those celebrating an imaginary mouse or the number of flags they fly. The appeal of Christmas-themed parks is based on the three ages of man. There’s the age when you believe in Santa Claus, when you don’t believe in Santa Claus, and when you are Santa Claus.

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