Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip: Holiday World
Written by Robert Niles
SANTA CLAUS, Ind. - Wooden roller coasters belong in, well, the woods. So it seems appropriate that one should have to drive deep into the Indiana wilderness to find what might be the best collection of wooden roller coasters in the country.Tweet
Holiday World might be the most isolated theme park in the nation. Forget about walking across the street to a fast food joint for lunch outside the park. The nearest food to this park is acres of corn, not just on the cob, but on the stalk and in the husk, as well.
Located in the tiny town of Santa Claus, Indiana ("Look," said Laurie as we approached the park, "it's Saint Nicholas Catholic Church!"), Holiday World lies a two-lane country drive south of Interstate 64, a bit more than an hour west of Louisville.
While the park itself might isolated, you can't say the same of its visitors. I've never overheard more talk of visits to various top parks around the country as I heard waiting in the queues at Holiday World. Makes sense, too. There are almost no locals here to pad the crowds. Nor does rural Southern Indiana attract the "go-along" tourist crowd the way the Orlando parks do. No, those who take the time to make the drive to Holiday World are seasoned, dedicated theme and amusement park fans.
Based on a suggestion from TPI reader James Rao, Natalie and I started by making a sharp left to begin our day at The Raven, a 1995 CCI production. We arrived a half hour after the park opened, and The Raven was already a half-hour wait, with two trains running. (Like I said, Holiday World's visitors are pros....)
The Raven drops you into a series of swift turns in the woods, with one skimming riders along the surface of adjacent Lake Rudolph. Fast and powerful, The Raven finished with a one-two punch of a tight turn, followed by a stiff block brake just outside the station. Natalie jumped off the coaster, elated, her roller coaster appetite ready for even more.
We made the short walk over to our next stop in Holiday World's coaster trio, The Legend.
The Legend offers everything The Raven did, in about triplicate. As I tweeted after the ride, "Sorry, Raven fans, but The Legend is in a different league." Steep and swift, The Legend mixes tunnels and turns in a deep woods setting that immediately prompted me to wonder where it might rank among the top wooden coasters I'd ridden.
That lasted until I rode The Voyage.
Holiday World's tallest and fastest coaster is clearly its best, and well deserving of its claim as the best wooden roller coaster on the planet. I haven't ridden all of them yet (most notably, I've yet to visit El Toro in New Jersey), but The Voyage is my new favorite among those I have.
Saturdays in July are the most crowded days of the year at Holiday World and the 70-minute wait in a back-and-forth underground queue left me feeling as hopeless as a pilgrim halfway across the Atlantic. (The nautical nets and ropes hanging from the ceiling added to the feeling of waiting in a ship's hold.)
But we did, at last, emerge
The Voyage's initial drop propels you into the steepest secondary hill I can recall, setting up a delightful series of dips and drops, each one pushing me out of my seat for a generous helping of airtime.
The turnaround on wooden coasters is usually the "jump the shark" moment, after which the thrills diminish as the train's potential energy dissipates and the train scuffs off momentum on its way back to the station. Not on The Voyage. Someone at The Gravity Group figured out that you can carry extra speed and energy if you don't let a little thing like the ground stop your coaster's momentum. The Voyage's back half delivers a thrilling triple-dip of subterranean tunnels that gives riders a satisfying taste of a wooden coaster in the dark.
Yeah, this ride earns a 10.
The rest of my half day at the park?
Natalie demurred on joining me for the ride on The Voyage, but eagerly volunteered to ride with her mother on Pilgrim's Plunge. Well, they were eager until the wall of water greeted them at the bottom of the 131-foot drop.
Laurie said that the most thrilling part of the ride actually was the lift ride up to the drop. Sitting in the back row, there's no visible support for the boat on its trip of the 90-degree vertical lift, creating a disturbing feeling that you are floating into the sky.
Brian and I also enjoyed Gobbler Getaway, a Sally shoot-'em-up dark ride. At first, I envisioned PETA pickets around a ride where the goal was to shoot as many turkeys as possible for Thanksgiving dinner. But grandma doesn't want you to shoot the turkeys, just to use your "calls" to draw 'em out of hiding.
The action's the same though. Aim the
I racked up a 570 on the targets, with Brian bagging a 370. Laurie, however, scored a big turkey egg - zero. There's a big advantage here riding in the front seat, as you'll have the clearest shot at the small targets. (It also helps to be a half-way decent shot. If Laurie ever gets really mad at me after one of these trip reports, I don't have to worry about her coming after me with a gun. She'd just miss.)
Brian skipped the coasters and enjoyed some time on the park's Holidog's Fun Town playground.
While I rode The Voyage, Laurie convinced Natalie to go for a spin (literally) on Revolution. (Or, as Natalie called this centrifuge ride, "The Vomitron.") We skipped the Splashin' Safari water park, as well as the rest of the collection of low-capacity, over-crowded (for today, at least) spinners and carnival-style rides sprinkled throughout the park.
We enjoyed the Thanksgiving-style lunch at the Plymouth Rock Cafe, splitting an adult turkey and an adult fried chicken meal among the four of us.
Not as tasty as grandma's, the meat and fixin's nevertheless stood up well as theme park fare. And the free soft drinks, available throughout the park, helped keep the cost reasonable, as well.
In addition to the free Pepsi products, Holiday World offers free parking (!) and free sunscreen. I figured the sunscreen would be lotion or spray, and was surprised to find that it is actually a massive screen of clouds that keeps the park cool and comfortable throughout the day.
What? That wasn't a special effect? Okay, well, it still was nice to spend a day at a park, and not feel burned.
Stay tuned this week for our next visit on the Theme Park Insider summer roadtrip, to Kings Island, north of Cincinnati, Ohio.
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