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Santa's Village

Oh What Fun it is to Ride

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Santa's Village train ride photo

A certain red-suited gent serves as the engineer of the train ride at Santa's Village.

Arthur Levine
Ah, the White Mountains. New Hampshire's majestic Presidential Range offers so many wonderful sights: Rugged mountain peaks poking through sun-streaked clouds, the spectacular National Forest along the Kancamagus Highway, the red and green Dodgem cars plowing into each other at Santa's Village.

Too blasé to marvel at the area's natural wonders, kids prefer man-made attractions like Santa's Village. For decades, the park has been a whimsical, yet vital part of the region's warm-weather vacation offerings.

While not as old as the Flume, time appears to have almost stood still at the park. For wistful baby boomers, it is as if their grainy home movies or black and white Brownie photos come to life when they revisit the attractions with their own children.

In an era when Six Flags and Disney feature hyperactive roller coasters and multi-million dollar high-tech rides, the White Mountain park has retained its down-home charm and gentle appeal. That's not to say that its attractions have not evolved or that the park hasn't introduced some innovative new rides and shows. But Santa's Village does take pride in the sweet nostalgia it offers.

"We're still like old New Hampshire," asserts the family-owned park's Elaine Gainer, a second-generation operator. "We call ourselves a New England family tradition."

I'm Dreaming of a White Mountain

Legend has it that Gainer and her dad, Normand Dubois, were driving along Route 2 in Jefferson, New Hampshire when a deer jumped in front of their car. Narrowly missing the animal, three-year-old Elaine asked her father if that was one of Santa's reindeer. Like an epiphany, Dubois, seeking a career change, purchased the land and opened Santa's Village in 1952. Decades later, young families still delight in the Christmas-themed park.

Kids of all ages love Rudy's Rapid Transit, a not-too-fast, but not-too-wimpy, roller coaster with the red-nosed reindeer leading the train of cars. Other rides include a thrilling "Yule" log flume, a train ride with a certain jolly red-suited gent serving as the engineer, and a carousel with flying reindeer instead of horses.

One of the most popular and unique attractions at Santa's Village is Santa's Skyway Sleigh. Individual monorail cars, designed as adorable sleighs, wind their way along a track throughout the park.

Presentations include a 3-D Christmas-themed film and live magic shows at the park's Polar Players Theater. The climate-controlled facility also features an animatronic Christmas show and Santa's Clauset, a dizzying maze that can keep kids comfortably occupied on rainy or sweltering days.

Prices inside the park for food and gifts are quite moderate. "We offer really good value," says Gainer. "While we give senior discounts, we recognize that young families--our core audience--need to be treated special also."

Interaction Attraction

One of the hallmarks of Santa's Village is its hands-on interaction. "Rides are nice but they're passive," says Gainer. "We want to get kids involved."

The Polar Theater complex includes Santa's Workshop. Here kids become Santa's helpers. They can decorate their own ornaments or personalize keepsake T-shirts. At the park's bakery, children can add the icing and other goodies to gingerbread men. And kids can be seen punching their "Elfabet" cards at elf-stamping machines hidden throughout the park. Children who collect all 26 letters win a prize.

The ultimate interactive experience at Santa's Village, however, is a personal audience with jolly old St. Nick. Holding court at his summer residence, children can get an advance request in to the man who's making a list and checking it twice.

Is the Nintendo generation too cool to enjoy a park that seems stuck in the 1950s and pays homage to St. Nick? "The myth dies hard," says Gainer. Indeed, with Bing Crosby perpetually crooning "White Christmas" amid the Currier and Ives setting, the park oozes nostalgia and speaks to the child in all of us. Today's sophisticated kids aren't too jaded; they are too busy having a ball and tucking away their own Santa's Village memories.
Things to know

  • Location: Jefferson, NH (in the White Mountains region)
  • Phone: (603) 586-4445
  • Geared to families with pre-teens
  • Open in the spring, summer, limited dates in the fall, and weekends in December.
  • Halloween event
  • Food: Typical park fare, very reasonably priced
  • Compare rates for Santa's Village-area hotels at TripAdvisor.
Highlights
  • Rudy's Rapid Transit roller coaster
  • Yule Log Flume
  • Santa's Skyway Sleigh monorail
  • A Tinkerdoodle Christmas 3-D presentation
  • A personal meeting with Santa
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