Holiday World: A Great Weekend Destination

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Summer vacation may be over, but Holiday World is still open and worth considering as a weekend destination. In fact, if my family's experience is any guide, the prospect of smaller crowds and cooler temperatures could make for an even more satisfying experience.
 
My wife, triplet sons and I visited on a cool summer Thursday in Auguast, which was was perfectly timed for both weather (partly sunny, high in the 80s) and crowds, which were so light that we scoffed at various signs warning of hour-long wait times if the line extended that far.
 
Raise the temperature by 15 degrees and the attendance by a few thousand and it would have been a much less pleasant day. Waiting in a hot line for an hour to ride something like The Raven roller coaster that lasts about a minute is like listening to a joke with an interminable set-up: The punch line had better kill.
 
The key to a successful late-summer/early-fall visit to Holiday World and the adjacent water park Splashin' Safari may lie in dividing your ride itinerary into two categories – wet and dry.
 
We did an exceedingly poor job of this.
 
Our plan at Holiday World was to divide our day into distinct experiences – wet and dry. First, roller coasters and swings, etc., then a a change of clothes and the rest of the day at Splashin' Safari.
 
This was a good plan, but my wife and I visited the amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana with our nine-year-old triplet sons. We chose Holiday World, instead of, say, a weekend at a vineyard, because as parents we enjoy our children's joy to an extent that, to put it mildly, is not reciprocated. Our children love us, but I've yet to see them share looks of quiet gratification when they see us sipping an exceptional cappuccino or hear us talking about a favorite production of Les Mis.
 
We went to Holiday World to court and cultivate their exuberance, and it worked. Of course, their exuberance, once unleashed, is not easily channeled. Seconds after we wobbled off The Raven (well, I was wobbling), one of the boys shouted, “Let's the ride Frightful Falls!”
 
“Yeah!”
 
“Yeah!”
 
Gabrielle and I took in the log ride in which the visitors ahead of us screamed their way into a splash at the bottom of a conveyer-belt hill.
 
As I deliberated a response, the boys decided to take my lack of immediate refusal as affirmation and zoomed toward the entrance. My wife offered a smile and a shrug and followed, and I felt like saying, “The plan. What about the plan?”
 
Holiday World may be tough on plans, but the park does a good job of making the experience as easy on parents as possible. It's clean and well-organized. Stations offering free water, soft drinks and sunscreen abound.
 
The food – well, it could be worse. The pizza, chicken and burgers are generally somewhere between regrettable and unexceptional. And we won't even talk about the coffee. The treats, however, like the buckeyes and other confections we had from Mrs. Klaus' Kitchen are outstanding.
 
The customer service, by and large, is excellent. Holiday World's staff is friendly and helpful. On the more intimidating rides, I took comfort from the pleasant, blasé expressions on the faces of the Holiday World hosts and hostesses, many of whom looked to be in high school or college. If this excursion stood a serious chance of ending in agony, death and mangled metal, wouldn't they look a little more concerned? Instead, they checked our straps and harnesses and smiled, occasionally pausing to flirt with one another.
 
We went from the HallowSwings (dry) to Raging Rapids (wet) to the Revolution (dry) and you get the idea. When we finally got changed into swim clothes at Splashin' Safari, which necessitated long waits outside of changing rooms, I didn't have the strength for the 350-foot Hyena Falls. Instead, I was content with smaller water rides and with watching the children play on Monsoon Lagoon, a kind of aqua playground. I appreciated for the electronic scanning technology embedded in the paper bracelet I get with the rented locker, all of which made remembering where we've stored our still-damp clothing much easier.
 
We spent our day at Holiday World going from wet to dry and back again, but when we left that evening, the boys were tired, smiling, with a day full of good memories.
 
Exactly according to plan.
 
Holiday World is open weekends through October 27. Splashin' Safari has closed for the season.
 
About Graham Shelby
A writer, professional storyteller and public radio veteran, Graham's work has been published in various newspapers and magazines and heard on NPR news and on programs like Marketplace and A Prairie Home Companion. He recently performed an original story in New York as a guest of The Moth. Follow Graham on twitter @grahamshelby.
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