The boys and I journeyed to Santa Claus, Indiana, early Wednesday afternoon. We arrived at the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort, where I had reserved a tenting site. I hadn't been to a campground since I was little, traveling with my parents to spend two weeks in Colorado with my maternal grandparents and great grandfather. That was a while ago. I didn't really expect that we'd be on our own, out in the woods, surviving by our wits and guile — after all, the Web site advertises water and electric hookups for the RVs. I forgot what "amenities" really meant in this situation, though: swimming pool, a couple of playgrounds, boat rental, a camp store full of crap, a game room. And in this case, golf cart rentals (which I didn't use) and free WiFi (which I did). If you're a camping purist, you wouldn't like it. If you like the outdoors and want to save some money, it's just the right thing.
Santa Claus, Indiana, is a small country town, but without the town and without the country. It's the exact opposite of the suburbs that I have gotten (perhaps too) used to: A gas station, a hardware store, a pizza shop, a sandwich shop, and a grocery store. Note the use of the indefinite article a, signifying singularity. There were no superfluous retail shops: not the familiar drug stores on opposite corners; no gas wars between Shell and Speedway; no used car dealership; no five "Starbuckses" (not even one!). Maybe there was more to Santa Claus than just what I saw, but we came in from the north and didn't see anything. When we left the campground to find some dinner, I went west and didn't see anything. The next morning, looking for a nice breakfast, I went south, toward the border with Kentucky, and passed through two small towns before I turned around empty-handed. Our breakfast came from the gas station's convenience store.
Just about the only reason anyone would ever go to Santa Claus, Indiana, is for Holiday World/Splashin' Safari. And I guess that suits the locals fine enough. That's the only reason we went there.
We were waiting at the gates when Holiday World opened the next morning at 10:00 our time (because this is one area of Indiana that, for some reason, chose to follow central time). A note to parents and grandparents: If you make this an early-morning trip so you can be there when they open, Kringle's Cafe, near the front entrance, is the only place that offers coffee, which is included in HW's free unlimited beverages.
We spent nearly the entire overcast day in the Splashin' Safari section of the park, which amounts to a large water park within a park. I won't get into the specifics of the rides, except to say that Bakuli was my favorite, if only for the ingenious design of it. Here are a few of my observations overall, though:
- The water: Was damn cold!
- The hair: We weren't there long before I noticed the remarkable (and, in my opinion, alarming) number of mohawk haircuts. Most of them were on young men between the ages of, say, eight and twelve. But I did notice at least one mohawked man in his late teens or early twenties.
- The illustrations: Never before have I seen such a collection of tattoos! (Not to mention various facial and nipple piercings.) Apparently, the management of the park noticed, too, because they included "offensive body art" on their list of park no-nos. One man had his entire back done up in what looked like a symmetrical skull, though I suspect that, on closer inspection, the image was actually made up of a number of smaller items arranged to look like a skull from a distance.
- The attire: The water park was filled with hard bodies, soft bodies, thin bodies, thick bodies, bony bodies, and blubber bodies, all in various swimwear. There were a lot of bikinis there; I can see why a teenage boy would want to get a summer job there. Not all of the bikini'ed guests were, shall we say, enriching the aesthetics of the locale, but many a young, tanned lady showed her soft flesh. It made me glad I don't have daughters.
- The staff: I know my boys probably didn't really appreciate this, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the park staff. The rides weren't manned by the indifferent, dull-faced teenagers that you might find at some other theme parks (and here I'm recalling our trip to Indiana Beach two years ago) or worse — the shirtless, chain-smoking, carny wannabes that show up at the state fair midway each year. The staff at HW smiled and interacted with the guests. At the bottom of each water attraction, a staff member was there to help us out of whatever inflated flotation device had transported us through watery twists and turns, and more often than not, we were met with a smile and either a question about how the ride was or encouragement to enjoy the rest of our day at the park. Maybe this was because my two boys were just so cute, but I'll assume that this was standard practice. As both a parent and a guest, I really appreciated the friendliness of the staff.
- The lines: Weren't horrible, especially in the morning. They got longer as the day went on and the temperature rose. I had forgotten that I don't really do great with heights until we were stuck in line for the Zoombabwe.
- The worst thing about the park: Since we went on the second day of July, I assumed that the weather would be, well, July weather. Turns out that temperatures were uncommonly low, and the sky was overcast until after 4:00. I hadn't bothered packing any towels, figuring we would dry off in the sun and breeze between rides, which generally we did. But with the cold water combined with the cold air, it wasn't enough. So, I bought a towel. A nice, embroidered towel the color of canteloupe meat that we could use to dry off a bit, but mostly to keep warm, and that would serve as a souvenir to remind us of our splendid vacation. I didn't have it for long; someone stole it while we were waiting in line for a ride.
Holiday World has some great things going for it. The free unlimited beverages were great, and we were never far from either a restroom or a drink station. The drinks were all Pepsi products, but I was glad to see that dieters weren't as limited in their drink choice as they would be at a standard fast food restaurant. The free sunblock was a nice touch, too — I just wish I would have used more of it. The prices for food were high, as expected, but not movie-theater high, not totally exorbitant. The price to get into the park wasn't so bad, either. I know we certainly got our money's worth. We might even go back next year.