My kids would go to your park first

My family went to your park on August 8 and 9.

We loved it!!

It started out raining both days so wait time was minimal. The Voyage was the best ride I have ever been on!!

We came with nine people.

The staff was super friendly and it exceeded my expectations. If you knew my love of amusement parks that is hard to do!! My kids have been to Disney World (Magic Kingdom and MGM), Universal (Studio and Islands of Adventure), Kings Island, Great America, Busch Gardens, Sea World.

If you asked them they would come to your park first.

My son would like to suggest a steel coaster, he wants to name it Santa’s Sleigh!!

Thank you so much,

Bob B.
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Golden memories

Hosting the Golden Ticket Awards was a blast.

It was well over a year ago that we started bugging Amusement Today publisher Gary Slade that we wanted to host the Golden Ticket Awards again. Turns out he already had us in mind. (Surely it had nothing to do with him wanting to ride this new coaster of ours…)

We hosted the first awards program five years ago. Prior to that, it was an announcement that was publicized via a news release from the Amusement Today offices in Texas. In 2001, we talked Gary into holding a news conference here for that announcement.

One other park attended back then. Our friend Jeff from Kings Island.

My what a difference five years makes! Jeff was back again, this time in his new position with Schlitterbahn water park. And a whole bunch of other parks were represented as well, Dollywood, Kings Island, Busch Gardens, Cedar Point, Sea World, and more.

So we made a weekend out of it.

Before we go much farther, let’s talk about Janice.

She was my partner in crime in planning the awards show. After a wonderful career in PR at Cedar Point, Janice retired to care for her cute little son, Matthew, and has picked up some freelance work with Amusement Today.

Last weekend was a homecoming of sorts for Janice.

You see, Janice is originally from Santa Claus, Indiana. She grew up working at Santa Claus Land and then Holiday World. She had an internship at Opryland and then went on to Cedar Point.

I asked her for a photo from way-back-when.

Apparently Janice has the home version of PhotoShop.

Can’t help but wonder whom Janice cropped out of this photo.

Maybe someone in the Witness Protection Program?

Janice is thoughtful that way.

So thoughtful, in fact, that she had to be moved out of our Games Department long ago.

It seems her heart would melt when a child didn’t win, so she’d say, “Close enough!” and would hand over that season’s prize.

Eventually, when it became obvious she was giving away the prizes; Janice was moved to a less budget-sensitive department.

Holidog gives away hugs, so that was a safe place to send her.

That was in the mid-’80s, during Holidog’s more slender years. During his disco phase.

What’s not to love?

Now it’s Janice’s mom who works at Holiday World, at the Front Gate.

Janice, Brian, and little Matthew like visiting her old stomping ground. Matthew’s already figured out who should get his attention.

Each park that hosts the Golden Ticket Awards program has added its own twist. It’s not really a competition, but it’s nice to leave your mark.

So Will, Mrs. Koch, Chris, John and I met back in the winter to start scheming.

One of our suggestions was to continue to take the announcements into the arena of becoming an awards “show.”

Step One was to line up “presenters.”

Janice and Gary liked our suggestions and tweaked the list to reflect folks from throughout the industry.

Here they are, after the festivities:

In the back row, from the left, are Chris Gray from Great Coasters, International (GCI) … Nick Laskaris from Mount Olympus Water & Theme Park (his Hades wooden coaster won Best New Ride last year … so he presented in that category this year), Jeff Pike from GCI (I hope I didn’t get Chris and Jeff backwards; I’ve no doubt they’ll straighten me out if I goofed). Next is The Gravity Group‘s Mike Graham and then David Blazer from SRO Associates, a show production company in Texas. David brought the house down when he announced that the park that had won in his category wasn’t present to pick up their award, so he’d have it up on eBay within a few hours. Happily, only two parks were “no shows”; most parks sent multiple representatives to take part in the weekend’s events.

Next to David is Rick Root, the president of the World Waterpark Association. Not sure what happened to Charlie Bray, the president of IAAPA (the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions) but he was also a speaker and presenter.

In the front row, that’s Janice on the left. She presented the Best Landscaping Awards along with our own Frieda Foertsch. At 95 years old, Frieda still drives a stick-shift to work. And when she came on stage, the audience gave her a standing ovation. It was so touching when the Busch Gardens Europe communications director (who admitted to not being able to even “grow a weed”) accepted her Golden Ticket and kissed Frieda tenderly on the cheek. And when it was time to announce the Best Landscaping in a Waterpark, Frieda was delighted: “Oh, a good German name–Schlitterbahn!”

Next to Janice is Mark Rosenzweig from Zamperla (creator of the Howler roller coaster and HallowSwings to name just a few), Tim Baldwin from Amusement Today, and Carole Sanderson, the president of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.

Back to the planning stages, we wanted to come up with a way to make the show our own. To do something that no other park would do (sort of along the lines of the “Free Unlimited Soft Drinks” concept).

Let’s see … surely, we reasoned, no other park would be willing to humiliate themselves.

So we put together a little ditty to sing to the crowd.

No, we didn’t rely on our talented park performers; we assembled the “B Team”: Will, Mrs. Koch, Will’s wife Lori, Matt and me.

Matt is our controller. Who knew an accountant could carry anything but beans in a bucket?

It was gratifying to see that so many folks from out in the park wanted to watch. They added great enthusiasm and a lot of body heat to the Holiday Theater.


Beth, from Dayton, Ohio, was in the audience. She emailed me to give me the grand news she’d captured the opening song on video and posted it at YouTube.com.

Thanks, Beth. Nice to know our great oeuvre will live on via the Internet. Mighty thoughtful of you…

As we moved into the various award categories, it was fun to witness the charm, humility, pride and excitement of the different park representatives.

Later, many of the winners posed together for photos.

Can’t resisting posting this photo as well.

Mrs. Koch is clowning around as the winners get into place.

That’s Cedar Point’s general manager, John Hildebrandt, in the yellow shirt, looking on. Wonder what’s going through his mind?

Toward the end of the show, Will’s wife, Lori, came back on stage to sing the following lyrics to the tune of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”:

I Hope You Ride

I hope you never lose your childlike wonder
You get a thrill as coasters fly by
Loud as thunder
May you never take one single Guest for granted
Not even the one who just now raved and ranted

I hope you feel great pride
Knowing you entertain a nation
Whenever one train leaves, bring another in the station
Every menu item’s got to be deep-fried
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

I hope you never fail to hear the happy laughter
And know those memories are treasured ever after
Even though the work is hard … the hours long
You know after just one season … you belong.

Don’t let line-jumping cretins
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Reconsider
When we say we’re one big family
Love’’s implied
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

I hope you feel great pride
Knowing you entertain a nation
Whenever one train leaves, bring another in the station
Every menu item’s got to be deep-fried
And when you get the choice to sit it out or ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride
I hope you ride

And to close the ceremony, Will presented Gary Slade with a framed plate.

That’s right, a plate.

A plate from the Christmas Room at Santa Claus Land.

We didn’t realize till later that Gary collects old plates … so he got sort of choked up.

So much so, he didn’t notice the little washerwoman (a la Carol Burnett) who came in the front door with her mop and bucket to clean up the theater.

Gary kept talking and the audience, who could clearly see it was Mrs. Koch under the apron and mob cap, started giggling.

It wasn’t till Mrs. Koch came up on the stage with her mop that Gary was reduced to a stunned silence.

And then, she sang.

I’m so glad we’ve had this time together…

The little song didn’t end with a tug on the ear, though. The Queen of Clean blew a kiss.

And the audience cheered.

Top drawers

What an alarming newspaper headline to greet you first thing on a Saturday morning: “Holiday World visitor suffers humiliating loss.”

Now what?

Must be something about a ride we used to have. We hear all summer long from folks who want us to know how scarred their families are since we removed the Banshee four years ago. They really do get emotional about it.

One poor guy emailed to check about whether we still had the Virginia Reel tilt-a-whirl. It seems he and his now-wife had shared their first kiss on it. He was worried about keeping her busy during their visit so she wouldn’t realize it was gone, too.

And two days ago, an emailer lamented the disappearance of the ’70s-era piano-playing chicken.

But only one person mourns the loss of Tank Tag.

The Lost Parents/Height Measurement Station located next to the Alamo used to be the building for Tank Tag, a life-sized game built in 1992 with, you guessed it, tanks. Tori, our rides director, insists on still calling that little building Tank Tag, despite my frequent protests.

On the two-way radio: “We need more Phone Find wristbands at Tank Tag!”

Where?

Using logic to appeal to Tori does no good. The Alamo replaced Tank Tag back in 1997. That means Tank Tag disappeared a full decade ago, long before many of our seasonal employees started working here.

Tori doesn’t care. Tank Tag is Tank Tag and it delights her that the rest of us grumble at the mention.

Back to that headline. The article turned out to be a “column.” One of those opinion pieces.

The author’s humiliation was the loss of his undies in Splashin’ Safari.

Not the first time this has happened.

It’s interesting to read the comments posted following the column. The subject of underwear seems to bring out very strong opinions. Some found the story cute and amusing while others were offended or annoyed.

Another rather personal item was left behind earlier in the season.

See it there? Hanging on the steel support…

A hairpiece.

We don’t allow cameras onboard The Voyage.

We don’t allow fanny packs (sorry Liz) onboard The Voyage.

We don’t allow cell phones onboard The Voyage.

But no one ever thought to mention…

Scream your hair off?

At the time, I was escorting a German journalist on a photo walkback of The Voyage.

(Anyone know the German word for wig? How about Tank Tag?)

Jochen was kind enough to forward the wig photos last month, knowing they were excellent fodder for blogging.

And yes, even though we don’t hang onto scivvies, the hairpiece was turned in at Lost & Found. (I cleverly stopped by Voyage Photos & Gifts and snagged a bag. Didn’t want to have to walk through the park holding someone’s hair, after all.)

Just think if the columnist had been the one to lose the hairpiece. Oh, the possibilities for headlines:

“Trip highlight: Voyage rider and hairpiece part company”

“Holiday World promises to comb park for wig”

“Loss of hair on coaster causes brush with embarrassment”

Ah, these hair puns really grow on you … in a permanent sort of way.

Tubular, baby!

Child with inner tubes

Charlotte was kind (and, rightly so, proud) enough to send us these photos of Abbey …

Child with inner tubes

… and Eli. 

Eli with inner tubes

Of course, inner tubes are always free at Splashin’ Safari.

Simply tubular, baby!
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Rolling out the red carpet

Only two more days.

Mr. Lincoln looks like he can barely contain his excitement, don’t you think?

And the real estate agents are showing their support.

These awards have unlocked incredible community spirit.

And, oh yeah…

Inside the park, too…

Here we are at the theater…

Joan Rivers just called … she’s got some gig in Hollywood Sunday, so you can have her seat.

Snakes on the brain

Long green snake at Voyage

Been wrestling all season about whether to share this story.

Snakes, after all, cause many people to get the vapors. And here I am, fresh out of smelling salts.

But in light of the movie that’s getting so much attention these days, it’s time to unleash.

Back in late April, before The Voyage opened to the public, we held a photo shoot of the new coaster in action.

I hung out with the photographers, partially as an escort but also to pick up any tips about the best place to stand for photographing The Voyage.

The bottom of the second drop is a really good spot. You can get close enough to it that the train full of screaming riders is in the foreground and you can also show the enormity of the coaster with the first drop in the background.

Sounded good to me. When the photographers moved on to their next angle, it seemed silly not to snap off a few of my own.

The Voyage wooden roller coaster

Although The Voyage is basically out in the dense woods, there’s a nice little access road just to the west of the structure. An occasional butterfly will flutter by, but that’s about it as far as wildlife encounters.

Feeling safe, I assumed the standard photo-taking position. I could hear the train click-clicking up the lift hill. Standing perfectly still and holding my breath, I was ready for that train to soar down the first hill, sail up the second, and I would take that perfect photo just as it filled the frame.

But it was not meant to be

As the train was still heading up the lift hill, I felt the bottom of my left pant leg shift slightly.

Hmmm.

A little low-ground breeze, perhaps?

Stalwart and determined, I continued to squint through the viewfinder.

Seconds later, another sensation at the bottom of my slacks.

Must be standing near a rogue clump of grass growing up through the gravel road. Yes, that must be it.

The train was just about to crest the lift hill. No time to check out the weeds.

But then…

My ankle started going numb.

At that point, it was time to check out the woman-eating plant.

But it wasn’t a plant.

Looked like a long, bright-green shoelace, actually.

How in the world did a shoelace make it all the way out here? Doesn’t look like something one of the construction guys would have worn.

And even Lord Chadwick doesn’t get that carried away in his dress.

But it wasn’t a shoelace.

Shoelaces, after all, don’t have little hissing tongues. Not even the bright green ones.

Snake?

SNAKE!

A snake, wrapped snuggly around my left ankle. With enough snake left over to extend another 15 inches or so, doing a poor imitation of a discarded shoelace.

So, I did the snake dance.

Frantically shook my foot and leg so that Sir Snake would come loose and slither off, never to be seen again.

The snake would have none of it. Must have been enjoying the ride. And the slight hint of Bounce Ocean Breeze on my white anklet.

Time to step up the dance.

In one fluid moment, my left foot returned to the ground and my right foot stomped on the hissing end of the beast.

Get OFF!

With a mighty yank of my left foot, I managed to rip my leg free of the reptilian embrace.

Not to worry; my stomp did no harm. May have knocked a bit of sense into the serpent, actually, as he quickly slithered toward the edge of the path.

Ah, but I was quicker.

The fun was not yet over.

“Get back here you so-and-so! No one will ever believe this; I’m taking your picture!”

Like a madwoman, I chased after my tormenter and snapped the following:

Long green snake at Voyage

Ah, but he got the last laugh

Just before he disappeared into the woods, the fiend posed for one final shot.

It was not until I’d returned to my office and got a good look at the photos that it became apparent.

The little asp somehow knew the first letter of my last name:

Long green snake at Voyage

Or perhaps the long and lanky fellow has a coaster design all his own?
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In good hands

Ah, good … Craig’s on the scene.

You remember Craig, right?

Tom’s there, too. Griping that the sound of the drill reminds him of going to the dentist.

Ugh. He’s right.

The colonel and the coaster

It’s been nearly a week since we hosted the “Partnership for Peace” exchange group from Slovakia.

It was fun to see that speaking different languages doesn’t really get in the way of fun.

Or coaster riding.

Oh, how I wish I could remember his name.

He’s the Colonel.

It was obvious he was in charge as the group made their way across our parking lot.

Slovakians like to give gifts. Something else we have in common.

The Colonel presented Will with a Slovakian flag and a thank-you plaque.

(Will gets all the cool gifts. Have you noticed?)

We walked the group down to Thanksgiving for their first ride.

A quick announcement in the station, cheers all around as we Americans welcomed them, and they were off.

And they were back.

What’s this?

Shock and awe?

I did notice he didn’t join the group that later rode The Raven.

Their wonderful translator told us that Indiana and Slovakia are close to the same size, geographically and by population.

But Slovakia doesn’t have any roller coasters.

Not even a single theme park.

They know who Santa is, though.

First time, from Decatur

My husband and I visited your park this past weekend for the first time, and we were very impressed. We greatly appreciated the free parking and soft drinks, as well as reasonable food prices. Also, the doggie kennel was a lifesaver for us, as we could not have left our dog back at our camper for the day.

The park was very clean and very well laid out and we will definitely be recommending it to others.

Thanks for maintaining a great place for everyone to have a good time!

Lisa R.
Decatur, Illinois

P.S. The Voyage was awesome!

Three score

We're not quite to Four Score and Seven yet, but a 60th Anniversary is nothing to sneeze at these days.

It was on August 3, 1946, that Santa Claus Land opened in the tiny town of Santa Claus, Indiana.

Louis J. Koch (Will's grandpa) had purchased the land in the 1930s and waited until World War II was over before launching his retirement project. Will's other grandfather, Jim Yellig, was on hand as Santa.

Will's uncle John Long was there. "It was crowded," he remembers of that day. "It was a great day for the family."

And what about Santa's pretty little daughter?

Surely Patty Yellig was there to celebrate the grand opening.

"I honestly don't remember being here," she told a reporter this morning, with a sheepish grin. "After all, I was 15 and probably thought there was something far more exciting going on somewhere else that day."

Mrs. Koch paused from her interview to hug a boy named Jake. He's from Seymour, Indiana, and spent all day yesterday at the library writing a letter to her, complete with photos.

He also slipped her a computer disk. I think she offered him a "computer assistant" job, effective immediately. Mrs. Koch and my husband proudly proclaim each year at our company Christmas party that they plan to be the "last computer illiterates on earth."

It's quite charming that we occasionally receive, out of the blue, scans of wonderful old photos from folks who have been visiting for decades.

Here's one from St. Louis. Brothers Dave and Joe visited Santa Claus several times way-back-when; this photo is circa 1966.

Dave and Joe with Santa Jim

I saw Dave in the park earlier this season. He's still living in St. Louis and he's still got that cute little smile.