Holiday World, and the Magic of Local Amusement Parks

One of the family traditions that I cherish the most is our yearly day trip to Holiday World, a semi-local indie theme park. It started many years ago, solely because two tickets to Holiday World has always been a prize choice for selling 600 boxes of Girl Scout cookies (this year that prize moved up to 650 boxes, because inflation). The first year that the kids sold over 600 boxes of cookies, they excitedly picked out those tickets as prizes, and we had SO much fun there that they've made it a point to choose that prize every year since.

When I was a kid, some of my favorite vacations were trips to semi-local indie theme parks. Dogpatch USA had better theming, but Silver Dollar City had better rides. I was a nervous kid who had trouble learning social scripts, so I particularly adored the feeling of visiting one of these parks a second or third time in my childhood, already knowing the best rides and what I wanted to see the most and what the day, in general, would look like. I no longer have any of those connections with where I grew up, but I really love seeing my kids have a similar relationship to this theme park. It's a cozy, familiar feeling, and it makes me happy to feel like their childhoods have this connection with mine.

The Theming

The theming is pretty brilliant, because holidays aren't copyrighted! It also makes for a fun game of trying to think of new holiday-based lands and rides that should be added. While waiting in line for Wildebeest this year, Matt, Will and I fully fleshed out the New Year's Eve land that the park should totally do--there could be a Tower of Terror-esque drop ride, and an all-ages dance club, and it could be the one area in the park that serves alcohol. We also need a Land of Lesser Holidays, with a St. Patrick's Day dark ride with a leprechaun playing tricks, and an Easter Space Ranger Spin-based dark ride where you can hunt Easter eggs. 

The actual Holiday World decorations are kind of cheezy, because I don't know when they were last updated but it was certainly before we started going--also, I think this cat used to move?

But I swear that it's part of the charm! 

The Rides

I'm not a particular coaster enthusiast, but I know that many of the roller coasters at Holiday World are considered quite special. Three of the four big coaster are wooden, which is apparently a big deal, although to me, a wooden roller coaster mostly means that you're going to get the crap beat out of you while you ride it. I literally have bruises today from riding The Legend this weekend!

I LOVE the chalkboard drawing of the Headless Horseman, and the way that one of the ride operators rings a giant school bell every time the coaster launches, and all the covered bridges that you go through.

With The Raven, I like checking on my car in the parking lot from the top of the lift hill, and I like flying over the pond. 

I also like to ride it again on our way out, because the path from the back to the front of the park is entirely uphill OMG, but The Raven's exit is a little closer to the park entrance than where you get on, so you've 1) saved some steps, 2) had a little rest, and 3) got your adrenalin up for the last bit of the walk.

The Voyage is Will's favorite coaster, and she said this weekend that her personal goal is to ride it four times every visit.

This one in particular about scared the ever-loving snot out of me the first time I rode it, because I had no idea it was going to go THROUGH the ground, then off into the woods, and then I just kept riding it and riding it and thinking, "Surely the ride should have been over by now? Did I die and now I'm riding a roller coaster forever?"

The Thunderbird is Matt's favorite roller coaster. He likes it because it's smooth and it's over quickly, because he doesn't actually like roller coasters:

I think The Thunderbird is super disorienting, because I have to take my glasses off and then it's just flipping me all over the place.

The Holiday World gift shop was offering very nifty little metal models of all of their roller coaster tracks this year, and I LOVED them and thought they would be awesome souvenirs, but just between us, I ain't paying 35 dollars for a spontaneous souvenir. We already spent 35 dollars on a drive-through McDonald's breakfast that morning, something that's so infrequent that when the kids were looking through the McDonald's breakfast menu on my phone, Will literally read the description of the McGriddle out loud to us, her mind blown at the miracle of modern fast food technology. I will cherish in my heart forever the memory of her exclaiming from the backseat, "It's got pancake buns!!! With MAPLE SYRUP FLAVORING!!!" Like, what magic will the world offer her next?

Anyway, I wanted a tiny metal roller coaster model and I didn't buy one. I did find the company that makes them, though, and see? They're super cute

The Shows

I was VERY SAD to learn that this year, Holiday World didn't have a full-on original musical production going on, but instead had a comedy juggler and a comedy magician. We went to see the comedy magician, and it was miserable. I was so bummed! He kept bringing small children onto the stage and then coaching them through some small-scale trick and then coaching the audience to loudly applaud them so that they could feel like real magicians. I complied, but, I mean, I have spent the past 18 years of my life loudly applauding children performing middling feats of adequacy--I really don't need to also have to do it for strange children in my free time. Especially not when I knew that I was supposed to be watching a full-on original musical production, and it was supposed to be one of my favorite things about the day! Seriously, I kid you not when I tell you that I bring up one or other of the past Holiday World shows in some capacity several times a year; they are EPIC AND I LOVE THEM.

Like an inside joke, these are probably nearly unwatchable if you weren't there at the time, but I have to share them anyway. I will be the first to admit that the actors are not always perfectly on pitch, but that just means that they're singing live, and on whatever random day we happened to visit, at whatever random showtime of the many they had that day, they were absolutely singing and dancing their hearts out. They were all extremely well-rehearsed, and their sincerity and enthusiasm shown through.

Here's the 2019 show, an original jukebox musical with a fun plot and tons of magic tricks:

The 2021 show was less well-crafted, and an unbiased eye would objectively call it bad, but in my VERY biased opinion, it cycled right back around from awful to AMAZING. Some of the song choices were hilariously off-topic (Midwestern boy singing Bruno Mars with 1000% camp enthusiasm? That's me sitting fourth row center, beaming at him and clapping enthusiastically!), and the circus components kept getting more and more ridiculously over-the-top (they don't do it in this video, but when we watched it live, at the end of the opening number some actors came rolling out on top of giant balls like circus bears of yore, and I burst into silent but hysterical laughter and did not stop until twenty minutes after the curtain dropped), but I kid you not when I tell you that I had not enjoyed myself so much since before March 2020. 

I think I've mentioned before how much I love outsider art--art, that is, that isn't "professional," isn't studied, isn't, perhaps, polished, but IS nevertheless skilled, sincere, and fresh. I love fanfiction, fan art, folk art, all the lovingly handcrafted bits and bobs on etsy, and, apparently, large-cast productions at local amusement parks.

Also, super randomly, there's a diving pool and they do a diving stunt show several times a day? YOU CANNOT NOT GO TO THE DIVING STUNT SHOW IT IS AWESOME.

The Associated Media

Obviously something isn't fun unless you study for it, so on the drive to Holiday World we listen to episodes from their official podcast:

"The One with the Cat's Meow" was surprising, because they randomly got one of the founders of Meow Wolf as a guest? I LOVE Meow Wolf, so I was stoked. Will and I went to a similar immersive art experience in Columbus, Ohio, so now all I need to do now is plan a trip to Denver, Las Vegas, or Santa Fe!

On the way home that night, I remembered that one of my favorite This American Life episodes revolves around a theme park, so I streamed it for us. My favorite segment from the episode isn't so much about theme parks, but about what is clearly the kindest, most inspiring, and most skilled boss probably anyone has had the privilege to work for. 

Okay, I just looked him up, and he has his own website! Looks like he's got a public speaking side hustle, and I say more power to him--if he ever motivationally spoke at an event I attended, I bet anything he would be the first motivational speaker I ever found motivational. Way better than the guy at a Girl Scout all-day thing a few years ago who advised us to let cars cut in front of us because life is too short. Like, Sir. I am a woman. If I let everyone who wanted to cut in front of me cut in front of me, I would never get there.

When the kids were a little younger, I'd sometimes do a theme park physics unit with them around the time of our yearly visit to Holiday World. I'd introduce them to the always amazing Rollercoaster Tycoon, or I'd have them build paper coasters, or sometimes we'd just watch some of these Disney Science of Imagineering videos. It was a little weird not to turn this year's trip into a homeschool lesson!

You know how the mommy bloggers' favorite summertime guilt trip is saying that you only get eighteen summers with your children before they're grown, so MAKE EVERY SECOND COUNT DO NOT REST UNTIL MAGIC PERMEATES EVERY MEMORY? Well, that yearly trip to Holiday World was the final hurrah of Will's eighteenth summer. I'm lucky enough to get one more fall and half a winter with her, still, as she's not heading off to college until January, but the bittersweetness is already there. She won't be selling Girl Scout cookies this winter. We don't even know what adventures she'll be having next summer, or whether they'll include a trip to her favorite little Southern Indiana theme park with her old mum. 

I hope they will. I mean, she only managed to ride The Voyage twice this time, so she's got some catching up to do!