For those who are not familiar with HW, it is actually two parks in one: a theme park and a water park. One $40 adult ticket ($30 for those under 54”) grants you access to both parks. Additionally, you should know that HW offers a total family environment that includes free parking, free soft drinks (and water), free sun screen, and (like most major theme parks) only allows smoking in certain designated areas. Furthermore, their restaurants (all counter service) offer decent theme park food at pretty reasonable prices.
Please note: the water park looked truly amazing, but we did not visit it. Despite it being one of the top rated water parks in the nation, we were on our way back from our BGE vacation (trip report coming soon!) and only had time for about six hours of touring, so the water park was out.
The non-water park side of HW is loaded with lots of kid friendly rides. In fact, there are only about a half dozen “adult” attractions that I would regularly visit were I a local and above the age of 8: three wooden coasters, a log flume, a white water raft ride, and a dark ride in the Buzz Lightyear vein. However, for a small town park, the place is amazing. Not polished and pretty like Disney or Busch, but clean as a whistle and friendly as all get out. I was impressed.
We started with the Halloween section of the park and The Raven, which is a short, fast, unrelenting masterpiece of a wooden coaster. When we first arrived, there was only one train running (which proved to be a bigger problem on the next coaster), so we were limited to one ride. We did manage to get in the front row and had a great time. I especially loved how the trees and lake are melded into the track layout. Very nice. This coaster does have a themed queuing area that looks like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, however the theme does not carry through to the rest of the ride as the eerie music soon gives way to modern pop and dance tracks. A bit of a disappointment, but I guess the JAWS theme could get old after a while….
Next we went to the Log Flume, Frightful Falls. It is a short ride, but built entirely out of concrete, so you definitely feel it when you hit the sides especially on some of the sharper turns. The ride starts in a tunnel (which has a bit of a mildew scent), but the darkness is a nice touch. There are also a few dips and rapids along the way before the requisite drop at the end. We got a little wet, but not much.
Our third stop was The Legend, another wooden coaster, and another wooden masterpiece. Longer, taller, faster, and rougher than the Raven, this beast really got my attention. Just waiting in line is interesting since the train shakes the entire queuing area whenever it passes nearby! Unfortunately the ride operators or park management, or someone who hates me, made the decision that only one train would be enough for this ride. So we sat in line for about 40 minutes waiting. One of the attendants told me that by noon everyone would be in the water park and that one train would be plenty. He turned out to be right, but why not run more trains in the morning then take one off when the crowds lessen? I was in a pretty foul mood, and sweating like a pig (it was already 90 degrees that morning), but the ride cheered me up. And the crowds did indeed move on, so things opened up a lot for the rest of the day.
After the Legend we headed straight for the granddaddy of them all, The Voyage. Situated at the back of the park in the Thanksgiving area, this wooden coaster is the park’s major attraction. A beautiful collection of wood measuring 1.2 miles in length, this coaster was the real reason I went to HW that day. Thankfully, there were two trains running so we pretty much walked onto the ride and got ready to go.
A bit of a side note for those who have not been to HW before: these guys are pretty serious about safely. So much so that their coasters are the slowest loading coasters I have ever ridden. Not only do you have to wear a seat belt and a lap bar, but you also have to get fondled by an attendant who tightens your lap belt every single time you ride. My advice to you all: tighten the lap restraint then hold the strap out for the attendant so he/she does not have to go groping around for it. Unless, of course, you are into that sort of thing…
Also, the seats on the wooden coasters are very small and cramped. Perfect for my family as we are in the lower averages when it comes to height and weight. But I saw some hefty and tall people look really uncomfortable in those seats…be wary.
Anyway, if the Voyage is not the best wooden coaster in the nation, it is definitely in the top two. Amazing and unrelenting from start to finish, I was shocked at how much fun it was. The drops, the 90-degree turns, the tunnels, the air time…wow…this coaster is an absolute monster. And still a pretty smooth ride for all that. I was one of the few people brave enough to hold his hands up during the entire ride, but I considered it a true test of my coaster riding mettle once the ride was over. I rode this coaster four times in a row and felt that it alone was worth the price of admission. If you are a wooden coaster fan you owe it to yourself to ride The Voyage.
In fact, all three wooden coasters at HW are standout rides that would be among the featured attractions at any theme park in the nation, imho. It just shocks me to no end that a place named Santa Claus, Indiana, is the wooden roller coaster capital of the world!!
The next “major attraction” on the tour was a dark ride called Gobbler Getaway. In this Buzz Lightyear knock off, the rider tours through a series of Thanksgiving events shooting turkeys and scoring points. My whole family had a lot of fun with this decently themed attraction. There is even an animatronic Grandma at the entrance of the queue explaining the ins and outs of the ride. We rode this one several times comparing scores. The attraction is well thought out and enjoyable, though for some reason it does not produce the addictive desire to replay like Buzz does.
We toured the white water raft ride, Raging Rapids, next. This ride start outs in complete darkness which is a very nice effect However, nothing really happens in the tunnel, so ultimately it is a let down. There is a nicely themed town along the way, and some decent rapids and high speed splashing, however there is no Kali River Rapids/Grizzly River Run drop at the end, which is kind of the new standard. Still, it is a decent ride, well worth your time.
We spent the rest of the day re-riding wooden coasters and visiting the various kiddie areas of the park for my 42” tall, 5 year old daughter. There are a few other midway attractions like a round up, an octopus, a scrambler, a very short slingshot (the shortest I have seen outside of the baby sling shots in most kiddie lands), a host of other spinners, and a carousel. Nothing spectacular, though the rides were in keeping with the overall family theme of the park.
We did not get a chance to watch any shows except the dive show, which was a lot of fiery fun. The kids still talk about some of the stunts from that spectacle, especially the “free style” diving section of the routine. It was a good show, definitely worth your time.
We did not eat a full meal in the park, but we purchased a lot of souvenirs, drank a lot of free soda, and bought some blue/red soft serve ice cream swirls just to see if they were any good. The kids liked the soft serve; the wife and I did not.
One other note: at least six rides broke down in the six hours we were in the park. That seems like a pretty high number of issues in a smaller park, however, they were repaired quickly and running again in a flash. Still one break down an hour is not good. My guess is that because the season has just started, some of the rides are a bit rusty.
Overall we had a good day at the park. The coasters were worth the price of admission and the family atmosphere was a plus. I would definitely like to spend a day or two in the water park side of HW, but we’ll save that for another vacation….
While HW is not up to the level of a Disney or Universal park, it is a very nice theme park with a lot of nice touches and a great atmosphere. Since it is the oldest theme park in the nation, and there is a themeparkinsider.com page already devoted to it, I definitely think it should have a permanent link on the right hand side of the blog flume in the “Other Parks” section. Please make it so, Robert.
And for those of you who have never been to Santa Claus, Indiana, get out your maps, save some extra $$$ for gasoline, and get going!
Question: where do you normally stay when you visit HW? Or are you close enough that you just drive in for the day? We stayed at the Baymont Inn, but it wasn't cheap, and the only food option was Denny's....not so ideal for a short vacation...
When I wrote "if the Voyage is not the best wooden coaster in the nation, it is definitely in the top two", the other woodie I was thinking of was El Toro. I have not ridden it yet and I don't know when or if I will get back to New Jersey, but I left myself some leeway because of all the good things I have heard about El Toro!
I also think that when a coaster is as good as The Voyage, there is almost no room for something else to be better...instead there are just slight variations of greatness. In other words, El Toro is probably just as excellent as The Voyage, but not more excellent, if you get my meaning.
Maybe someone who has ridden both can comment about the differences and similarities?
We stayed at that same Baymont Inn and also ate at Denny's. From what I understand that is the only option unless you drive about 30 mins east on the highway to an exit with more dining and hotel options.
With King's Island being an hour closer to us and with more things to do in Cincy, we will most likely continue our annual KI trip and then work HW in every few years. They also have an on site camp ground and cabins if you are into the camping thing.
There is also the Santa Clause Loges or whatever, but when we drove by it, it did not look that nice.
As for camping....not since I was a kid and could go a day or two without a shower or a real toilet. =)
Maybe Evansville, about 45 minutes to the west is the best bet? They have a Drury Inn & Suites...
Sounds like we both need to plan a trip!! =)
But I agree, for now, Jasper is probably the best option for an extended stay.
(and do take half a day to go down to Mammoth Cave National Park. Really breathtaking stuff)