Monday, June 16, 2008

Family vacation: Mile 1760, fini

I spent yesterday strolling through 95-degree heat, listening to Christmas carols, saying hello to Santa Claus and sipping all the free soda I could drink at a major amusement park that was giving away as much as I could pour down my throat.

I know what you’re thinking, “Sure I can believe in Christmas carols in June and I can still, even in these jaded days, believe in Santa. But, c’mon, what major amusement park is going to give away free soda.”

We just got back from two days at Holiday World in charming Santa Claus, Indiana. It took that long for the place to vault to the top of my list of favorite amusement parks in America. It has three coasters ranked among the top 12 in America. And it has one of the best water parks I’ve ever been to.

But, yeah, it’s the free soft drinks that really got me. Val said, “I’d be amazed if an amusement park was giving away free water. Usually they charge you $3 for bottled water or even a buck for a styrofoam cup.”

Not at Holiday World, a park that since 1946, has sought to wed the town’s name to our most joyous holidays. There are themed sections and attractions for Halloween, Thanksgiving and , of course, Christmas.

I’m hopeful they’ll one day act on my suggestion and open some attractions for my favorite holiday, April Fool’s Day.

Santa Claus marketing director Paula Werne (and doesn’t every job description sound better when it’s fronted with “Santa Claus?”) said this year the park decided it would, working with Pepsi, scatter free soft drink oasis huts around the ground.

No catch. You stroll in, grab a 16-ounce cup, fill it with ice, and then choose from a selection of more than a dozen Pepsi products. Drink it and fill up again and again until all the carbonation makes you too giddy to ride a roller coaster.

Nutrition conscious guests can satisfy themselves with ice water.

“When we told people in the industry that we were going to give away free soft drinks," she says, "they got in our faces and shouted at us, “How could you do that? Do you know how much money that’s going to cost you? And how it’s going to make us look?'”

Werne said the day the free soft drinks program was instituted, the number of petty complaints dropped to zero. People are just thrilled by the gesture.

It’s worked out so well for Holiday World, the Koch family owners began brainstorming about what else they could give away.

They settled on free sunscreen.

So we’re home now. I don’t feel like leaving Latrobe for the rest of the summer. We just concluded an 8-state, seven-day swing that covered 1,760 miles. We did it with a nearly 2-year-old and a 7-year-old.

And no DVD players.

We sang songs, played license plate games and I educated the kids on the great music of The Kinks, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and other rockers that wouldn’t wear Mickey Mouse ears in basements full of free cheese.

I don’t know what my kids’ll grow up to be. Who knows? Maybe by not letting them stare at plate-sized screens playing repeated showings of “Alvin & The Chipmunks” and “Madagascar” as the beautiful countryside rolls by will turn them into homicidal maniacs. Maybe they’ll end up in prison, forever resentful of my tasteful tyranny during long family vacations.

But I know this: Someday their cellmates’ll be grateful.

You’d hate to do time with somebody who’d rather groove to Miley Cyrus than Van Morrison.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Glad you enjoyed your first Holiday World visit!

So you want an April Fools Day? We actually polled the readers of our park blog, and they came up with all sorts of ideas for new holiday sections:

Come see us again soon!