Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 18, 2013

Head down to Holiday World

Kokomo Tribune

---- — As one walks through the gates of Holiday World, the feel is that of a theme park. The sounds and smells are the definition of sugar-coated summer fun. Rides peek over the gate, foreshadowing the destinations that will claim your stomach and make your laughs linger a little longer. This is Holiday World.

However, the free drink “Oasis” spots – each drink station has doorways designed to blow air that keeps flies and bugs away from the superbly-clean drink stations – scattered around the park. First thoughts that came to my mind when I heard about these free drinks: The cups were likely the size of rinsing cups a masked dentist hands you while you recline uncomfortably in a chair. The flavors were limited. The food prices made up for anything that would be free.

I was wrong on all three counts. The sizes were generous; I’ve seen restaurants serve smaller cup sizes than Holiday World’s. There was every flavor I’d ever seen and some I’d never heard of before. I quickly relived my days of making “suicides,” turns out taste buds outgrow Yoo Hoo, but never mixing five soda flavors. The food prices, at nearly 20 different themed restaurants or food stops, were incredibly affordable: Two corn dogs, fries and cookies totaled below $6.

At first glance I thought, “Holiday World mission makes sense.”

However, Paula Werne, director of communications at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari, told me Holiday World’s consideration for its guests goes deeper than a mission. It’s a way of life.

“The first thing you do when you invite someone in their home is offer them a drink, you don’t charge them for that drink,” Werne said of the free-drink policy. “This is our home and we’re happy to welcome guests into it.”

Now, this is Holiday World. Immediately the welcome is warm, the layout is logical and the feel is quaint; despite the lengthy lists of world-famous rides. While I was visiting, a roller coaster club from England was there to ride The Voyage, which holds the world record of the most air time for any wooden coaster.

“The park has grown in its 67 years, but we want to grow the park and keep that feel of Mayberry. We never want people to lose that feel of they’re coming home; that they’re part of a neighborhood when they’re here,” Werne told me in Holiday World’s Christmas-themed area designed for younger children; an original sign from when the park was Santa Claus land welcomes toddlers to the rides and reminds park-goers of the park’s foundation.

“We were the first theme park, ever. There were amusement parks, but Santa Claus land was the very first theme park. Santa Claus Land even came before Disney Land, obviously Walt did well for himself, but we were the very first one,” Werne said with a smile.

Today, the original Santa-Claus styled theme exists throughout the park, but there are more themes that have been added: Halloween, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July divide the park into themed sections, with each section boasting matching rides and restaurants to coordinate with the theme.

But, it’s the water element that has literally sent waves of cheers from those who visit. Splashin’ Safari doesn’t require extra admission. In fact, one can hop on the three wooden coasters in the morning and cool off for a southern Indiana afternoon all on the same $39.95 admission ticket (discounted group rates can be found online).

The water park is home to the nation’s largest water ride and the world’s second largest, the title was just lost to a water park in Italy according to Werne.

The two wave pools, water playgrounds for kids and winding water slides, don’t short yourself on time here, especially with the addition of Hyenna Falls. My suggestion? Spend an entire weekday slip-sliding down the more prominent slides (The Mammoth) and a second day at Hyenna Falls.

Although the themed spirit that is Holiday World increases its sprawl along Indiana State Road 162 in Santa Claus, Ind. , the theme park proves to stay true to its favorite theme: warm welcomes.