“Christmas in July” is one of those phrases that has kind of lost whatever meaning it originally had. A couple weeks ago, though, we decided to make it a reality with a visit to upstate New York’s Santa’s Workshop theme park. Located in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, mere minutes from Lake Placid and several ski destinations, the park is truly a step back in time.
It originally opened in 1949, and–I can’t stress this enough–very little has changed. Walking through the park is like stepping back to the 50s. There’s a small museum in the village that showcases vintage photos of the park, any of which could have been taken this year. When a majority of theme parks continually try to reinvent themselves, add new attractions, or otherwise try to keep themselves “fresh,” Santa’s Workshop has clearly decided to rely on nostalgia.
And it works.
The park is really divided into two sections: there’s a section with rides just inside the entrance, and Santa’s Village is down the hill. Let’s begin at the top.
Now, I doubt these rides are original to the 50s (in fact, their website claims some of them were added as recently as 2003), but many of them feel like it. They have a rickety charm that’s usually relegated to small-town carnivals. Unlike modern theme parks with their manufactured thrills, the rides here give you a real sense of danger. Especially Santa’s Sleigh Coaster. Behold:
Needless to say, the kids rode everything and loved it all.
There’s also a playground, bounce house, carousel, and a couple other small rides. For the 2yo, though, the definite highlight was a miniature train (the Candy Cane Express) that makes a lovely circuit through the woods, over a bridge and waterfall, and through a tunnel.
Down the hill is Santa’s Village, home to charming little buildings that house a hat maker, candy maker, toy maker, blacksmith, museum, and chapel. The first four are all basically shops.
The museum houses all sorts of nostalgia and memorabilia related to Santa’s Workshop. Collectibles and merchandise from throughout the years are on display. Some of it’s a little creepy (hang on for that), but some of it’s actually quite interesting.
For instance, did you know that in 1951 there was a Santa’s Workshop View Master reel, making it the first theme park to be “immortalized” in stereoscopic vision? I’ll bet you didn’t. I didn’t either, so I promptly bought one on ebay. (I’m a certifiable nerd.) Let me tell you: it is glorious.
There’s also a small farm in the village, which is home to several rabbits, chickens, turkey, etc. While we were there, they actually brought in two 3-day old calves. Literally. They carried them off the truck, and the calves still had their umbilical cords attached! Crazy.
Also on tap is a reindeer barn, which the little Roarbots simply adored. There were three baby reindeer, one adult, and a veritable mountain of greens the kids were able to feed them.
Now, you may be wondering. Is Santa really there? Oh, yes, indeed. Given a central place of honor in the village is Santa’s House. And there he sits on his throne for the better part of the day (i.e., when he’s not in one of the shows they put on).
And yes, he’s a good Santa. In fact, he might’ve been one of the best I’ve seen.
I mean, come on, isn’t this why you visit a place called Santa’s Workshop?
So, what’s the verdict? Like I said, this place is a trip back in time. The kids loved it, which wasn’t really a surprise. We ended up spending more time there than we thought we would, and I think I would recommend it if you’re in the area. It’s fairly well located to many of the major tourist destinations in the region: Lake Placid, skiing, Lake Champlain.
It’d be nice to see a fresh coat of paint on some of the attractions and decorations. There’s a difference between nostalgia and neglect, and there was unfortunately a lot of rust and flaking paint to be found.
Also, the price of admission is fairly steep at $22.95 per person (under 2 are free and 65+ are slightly cheaper), so the initial outlay to walk through the doors can be quite expensive for a family. However, it’s open year-round, and this place is probably pure magic when covered in snow.
Still, if you dig the theme and are ready for a bit of time travel, it’s money well spent. There are only a handful of these Santa/Christmas theme parks scattered throughout the country, and it’s certainly a trip to remember.
Start making some good ol’ fashioned 50s-style memories with your family. You won’t regret it.
And if you’re more inclined to the creepy end of the spectrum? You won’t be disappointed: