Lebanon Reporter

August 22, 2007

Holiday World is the happiest place in Indiana

By Scott Hutcheson/The Hungry Hoosier

Even though we’ve officially got nearly another month on the calendar until fall, the start of school and Friday night lights signify the end of summer. Around the hallways and lunch rooms I’m sure there have been lots of conversations starting with the inquiry, "What did you do this summer?" When my first-grader responds to this question, tops on his list is a visit to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, Indiana.

This was our second visit and on the way home, my wife and I agreed that this will be one of our every-summer traditions and when we’re older and greyer these trips will likely be among our most cherished memories of when our kids were small.

Much has been written about Holiday World, the nation’s very first theme park, opened in 1946 as Santa Claus Land. The Koch family are practically rock stars in the theme park industry, garnering award after award. Coaster enthusiasts from around the world flock to the park to ride top-ranked rides. Less, however, has been written about the food and in my opinion, there is plenty to get excited about here as well.

There are 17 different eateries spread out over the two parks. The first thing I noticed about food at Holiday World is the price. We’ve all been to these places that take advantage of captive families by gouging them with overpriced food. This is not the case at Holiday World. A simple burger, fries, and drink combo meal is less than what you would pay at most fast food chains.

Inexpensive food is one thing, but good quality food at a reasonable price is what you’ll find at Holiday World. Over the last two years of visits, with four in my family, I’ve probably purchased at least 25 meals. There has never been a disappointment and the extras are what really add to the experience. One simple extra is the little baggie of vegetable toppings that are packed separately from the burger. When you order the sandwich you get the wrapped-up meat and bun and then lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle in a small plastic bag. The bun stays dry and the vegetables crisp.

Variety is anther selling point. Sure there are plenty of hot dogs, nachos, and cotton candy but you can also find salads and fruit. Without a doubt, the most unusual items are at the Plymouth Rock Café where it is Thanksgiving every day - roast turkey, pumpkin pie and a ton of vegetables and side items along with lots of other entrée and dessert choices. Holiday World may be the only theme park in the world that serves green beans. This is probably the most expensive meal in the park and it is still quite reasonable - $7.99 for an adult entrée with three sides and $4.99 for a kid’s entrée and two sides.

For me, the most impressive aspect of food at Holiday World is their commitment to Indiana grown and produced foods. This is not something that would “have” to do. Holiday World has more than 1 million people visit each year, many of them eating several times a day. With numbers like that, it is nearly impossible to use local foods in a state like Indiana. The numbers just don’t add up. Yet, Holiday World makes it work. When it comes to produce, if we grow it in Indiana, chances are you’ll find in on the menu during the harvest season. Also, local pork from Dewig Meats in Haubstadt supplies moist and delicious pork chops available at the ZOOMbabwe Grill.

The food is just one of the reasons I love Holiday World, but it is part of what makes this place special. The attention to detail and the little things - free soft drinks, sunscreen stations - help make this one of the happiest places in Indiana. My boys still love a certain mouse and all his Florida pals, and we’ll go visit them a couple more times before we’re empty nesters, but Holiday World will be an every-summer destination for our family.

More information about Holiday World is available online at www.holidayworld.com, including full menus for all their eateries. This time of year they are open on the weekends through Oct. 14.