Theme Park Insider Summer Roadtrip, 2010: Holiday World
Written by Robert Niles
SANTA CLAUS, Indiana - We hadn't planned to visit Holiday World during this year's roadtrip. We'd loved our trip last summer to the southern Indiana theme park (turningTweet
But when one of my good high school friends from Indianapolis suggested meeting him and his son at Holiday World for the day instead of in Indy, the immediate cheers from the rest of my family made my response a quick "Yes!"
I'll defer to last year's trip report for a broader overview of the park. But I wanted to add a few notes from this year's trip:
The day started on a sour note, when we arrived 20 minutes after park opening to find the queue for The Raven already posted at one hour and 15 minutes, along with a note that the coaster would be running only one train all day. That's a Six Flags-circa-2002 move. Ugh.
But we got through the queue in just 55 minutes, and 10-year-old Brian, who's just warming up to roller coasters, declared it "the best ride I've ever been on." I found the ride as exhilarating as last year, a delightful romp through the woods, with the tunnels and trees amplifying the sense of speed. Laurie, who's not a wooden coaster fan, complained of a rough ride, but I found the coaster among the smoother woodies I've ridden over the past two years.
All that said, though, when we walked past The Raven later in the day, around 2:30, the ride was a walk-on. When visiting Holiday World, keep in mind that the Splashin' Safari water park side opens one hour after the Holiday World side, pulling many people away from the thrill rides and over to the water slides. Also, The Raven seems to function here much like Spaceship Earth does at Epcot - it's the weenie that draws in everyone as they enter the park, leading to huge lines in the morning, but little to no line later in the day.
I'm a huge fan of riding the Holiday World coasters in size and chronological order: The Raven, The Legend, then The Voyage. But unless you're among the very first people through the gate in the morning, go do something else in the park until lunchtime, then hit the coasters. In my - admittedly limited - experience, you'll find shorter waits. Throughout the theme park side, we found short-to-nonexistent waits during the afternoon, as so many people headed over to the water park.
Oh, Voyage, what has happened to you? The much-anticipated new Timberliner coaster trains remain MIA; when I visited yesterday, The Voyage was running two trains, one a familiar blue train with the gold and red trim that I remember riding last summer. The second was a red train that looked much like the train from The Raven.
Which made me wonder, did they take a train from The Raven and run it on The Voyage? (Now that I think of it, that might explain why there was only one train available on The Raven. *Update: Yup. See comments.) Whatever the red train's origin, it provided the roughest ride I've ever experienced on a roller coaster. Gone was the smooth, swift ride I enjoyed on The Voyage last summer. This time, I felt like I was riding a train that might at any moment leap from the tracks. Lemme use a racing analogy: The red train carried all of the speed that I expect on The Voyage, but none of the downforce. The train felt loose, whipping me around every curve instead of driving me through them. It's an edge-of-control experience - one, frankly, that appealed to the thrill freak within me. But if you don't know how to ride a "loose" attraction (relax your muscles and go with the flow - like you're riding a horse), it can leave you with a skull-ringing headache.
My friends rode the blue train, though, and said that the ride felt as smooth as ever to them. Go figure. I'd love to hear some other readers' reports.
The Plymouth Rock Cafe remains, for the money, the best counter-service restaurant in the theme park business. Roast turkey and gravy with a roll and three sides for $8.99? With unlimited drinks included? Really? Throughout the park, we continued to find Holiday World's food tasty and reasonably priced. Not only that, Holiday World's employees will do whatever they can to accommodate your needs and requests.
Brian looked longingly at the caramel apples behind the counter at Mrs. Claus' Kitchen. But what he really wanted, he said, was a cut-up, plain apple, with a side of caramel sauce. So we asked, and the employees behind the counter whipped that up for Brian. It's what you can do when you've got a candy store where people actually make the candy, as opposed to retailing something shipped in from a central kitchen. More importantly, it's what you can do when you've create a culture that values customer service over mindlessly following some procedure or script.
Caramel and apples are nice, but Holiday World also creates custom meals for people with food allergies, too. Just ask at the park's main restaurants, and with an hour's notice, they can whip up a meal that avoids up to eight common allergens, including gluten, eggs, nuts or wheat.
Of course, Holiday World offers plenty of guilty-pleasure snacks, as well. Which brings me to the fried Oreos.
Frying changes the Oreos' texture, softening the hard cookies to a cake-like texture. Enveloped in batter, the fried Oreo tasted like a combination of funnel cake wrapped around a thin slice of chocolate cake. (FTW!) We spent the extra 90 cents to gild the lilly and slather the whole thing in hot fudge sauce, too. Still, four Oreos in sauce ran only $3.95, and provided more rich, gooey awesomeness than the six of us could eat.
A final note on service. When we returned to our car, we were frustrated to discover that we'd failed to throw away the coffee and smoothie cups that we'd picked up during our morning drive, which were now stinking up the car. But what to do with them now? No one wants to walk all the way back to the park.
Then we looked up, and what did we see next to our car?
Yep, Holiday World's got the details covered.
Next: Universal's Islands of Adventure and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. In other words, Robert finally gets more butterbeer.
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