Holiday World: This Quirky Theme Park Offers Family Fun on a Budget

People ride a wooden roller coaster
Riders at Holiday World fly through a banked slope on Voyage, which includes one of the steepest drops on any wooden coaster. Photo courtesy of Holiday World

I confess that I was a little surprised to find out there is a town called Santa Claus in Indiana, but it was actually pretty easy to find in the southern part of the state, between Evansville, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.  

The town is all about St. Nick and there are only 2,500 permanent residents, with the rest coming in the summer and, of course, in December. My family didn’t find any buses, taxes or sleighs with reindeer, but we did find it easy to get around.

This is where I found a theme park that is the best-kept secret in family fun on a budget.

I was ready to go to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari the minute I heard they offered free soft drinks and free sunblock. Once I arrived, I found plenty of other reasons to have a cheap vacation in this little town with a big name.

Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari are actually two different amusement parks, but you only need one admission ticket to enjoy them both.

Ticket prices vary from $29.99 to $42.99 depending on the day of the week and season. The website shows all ticket prices on a handy calendar, so you can save by planning your trip ahead for a day when tickets are cheaper.

Happy Holidays

A full loop on a roller coaster.
Riders reach the pinnacle of a loop on Holiday World’s Thunderbird rollercoaster. Photo courtesy of Holiday World

Holiday World is divided into sections named for four major holidays: 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Each section’s rides, food and shops are themed to that holiday. You can grab a Goblin Burger in Halloween, then hit up the Star Spangled Carousel in 4th of July.

Among the wild rides is Thunderbird, the only launched wing roller coaster in the U.S. It has been featured on the Travel Channel for its unique speed at the start. The Voyage, one of the longest wooden coasters in the world, was named the No. 1 wooden roller coaster in the nation by Time magazine. Even with all that fame, I was impressed at how the lines always moved quickly.

Although I was with older kids, there were families there with toddlers who had just as much fun in the water park and on the rides. Holiday World is very good at separating the attractions for different ages.

For younger kids, and those who are interested in something not too daring (like me), there are plenty of options, including Eagles Flight, Gobbler Getaway and Reindeer Games.

Splashin Safari Water Park

A water park call Splashin' Safari.
Splashin’ Safari includes the two longest water coasters in the world, numerous raft and water slides and two wave pools. Photo courtesy of Splashin’ Safari

Regardless of the age of your kids, you’ll find they can get bored pretty easily. I liked the idea that you can go back and forth between the two parks at your leisure. Whenever we felt like it was too hot, we simply walked to the Splashin’ Safari side and cooled off. (Our girls loved the Mammoth water coaster, but the lazy river was more my speed.)

We were able to fit all of our things in one large locker at the water park for $15. The changing rooms were clean and convenient. Cabanas were available to lounge in at an extra cost of $229 a day, but I found plenty of lounge chairs for no charge both in and out of the sun. Stations with free sunblock are located throughout the area.

That’s Entertainment

A girl performer twirls hoops.
A girl performs with hoops at Holiday World’s Hoosier Celebration Theater. Photo courtesy of Holiday World

Mixed in with the rides at Holiday World are entertainment venues. Live shows range from musical acts to magic and stunt shows. They run continuously all day and into the evening.

I caught a few shows while I waited for the kids to finally tire of the roller coasters. My favorite was “Dive!”, a cross between a circus trapeze act and Olympic diving.

Strolling entertainment can be seen all over the park and includes Hollidog, Kitty Claws and Santa’s elves singing, dancing and interacting with kids.

Employees wearing character costumes pose at a theme park.
A group of Holiday World characters, including Holidog and Kitty Claws, pose at the theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Holiday World

Freebies Start in the Lot

What makes Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari the best deal in amusement parks is all the things they give out for free. I think we are all tired of the theme parks that nickel and dime you until you’ve spent more per person there than the hotel room.

In addition to the complimentary sunblock, we didn’t have to pay for parking. (They even added an electric car charging station in the lot this year.)

In my opinion, the biggest perk at Holiday World has to be the free soft drinks throughout both parks. The selection includes Pepsi soda products, iced tea, lemonade, fruit punch and cold water.

You’ll also find the stations at all the restaurants, so you don’t have to pay for drinks there either. The amount you can save on keeping your family hydrated on a hot day will easily pay for a meal.

Great Deals on Food, Too

More than two dozen food options are available. Our favorite was the Mexican restaurant, The Alamo. The kids’ meals are only $3.99.

Sam’s BBQ has tasty pulled pork and huge turkey legs. For those who need it, there is also a gluten-free pizza restaurant.

Check for specials on the website and on signs when you arrive. For example, on Mondays, you can get a free Rice Krispy Treat if you eat at certain restaurants, and on Fridays, you can get $1 off every piece of fudge at Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen.

One of the few other things you might pay for at Holiday World – games – also have specials available on certain days.

Stay Here for Cheap and Easy Accommodations

Your best option for accommodations when coming to Santa Claus is Lake Rudolph. I’ve stayed there twice and it’s great. The huge complex has various size cabins, cottages and RVs for rent. There are also spots where you can park your own RVs or pitch a tent. Rates are very reasonable, and you’ll have a kitchen and barbecue to save money on meals.  

I really like the Christmas Cabins. They have a huge deck and separate sleeping areas. When you stay at Lake Rudolph, you can also take a tram back and forth to Holiday World, so you don’t even have to get into your car.

The kids also liked having a swimming pool, a lake for fishing and a general store with more ice cream flavors than I’ve ever seen.

The only other accommodations in Santa Claus are Santa’s Lodge and a Baymont Inn and Suites.

While in Santa Claus…

Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari are certainly the main attractions in Santa Claus, but there are other things to do in this Christmas-themed town.

Santa’s Stables offers horseback riding for all levels, and my girls had their first-ever rides. We started our Christmas shopping with some unusual finds at Santa’s Toys and the Santa Claus Christmas Store, and Santa’s Candy Castle had a delicious peanut butter frozen hot chocolate, which I was glad I could buy a mix of to bring home.  

There is one more thing you can do in this town that you can’t do anywhere else in the world: send a letter postmarked from Santa Claus.

All it will cost you is a stamp.

Marcia Frost is a freelance writer and TV travel expert who is always on the lookout for places to vacation on a budget.