When you arrive at Santas Village in Bracebridge, Ontario, you feel the excitement in the air immediately. Kids scamper about, discussing what they want to do first when the gates open. They can barely contain themselves, and some of them don’t.
The plan for most of the kids is to get their elf hats, which are granted to a limited number of children who are first through the gates. You receive tickets for elf hats when you buy your admission to the park, but in my experience, you have to remember to request the elf hat tickets.
When the gates do open, you enter into the 60-acre park, situated along the Muskoka River amongst tall trees in a natural woodland setting. Created by local citizens as a tourist attraction to encourage vacationers to Bracebridge, Santa’s Village has been hosting Christmas in the summer for the young, and the young at heart, since 1955. Since Bracebridge sits on the 45th parallel, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, locating Santa’s summer home here just made sense.
Take the Train Tour and Visit Santa at His Summer Home
With 60 acres of land, Santa’s Village has room to roam. Rides include a roller coaster, a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel. Some rides have height restrictions, but most of them are suitable for kids of almost any age. If you start by taking the train tour, you will get a glimpse of a large section of the park, including Elf Island (which has enough netting and climbing equipment to satisfy the monkey in every kid), and Santa’s farm.
Be sure to check Santa’s house early to verify the hours that Santa is available for visits with the kids. When you visit Santa, your child receives a token that allows him or her to redeem it for an ornament for decorating at Santa’s Workshop. The ornament will be a keepsake to hang on your Christmas tree, reminding you of your Bracebridge adventure when you pull it out every year.
Ride Santa’s Summer Sleigh or Enjoy One of the Other Many Christmas-Themed Rides
One of the more fun things to do, particularly for parents who want to just sit down for a change, is to take a ride on Santa’s Summer Sleigh. A boat cruise along the Muskoka River, it is operated by a lively and entertaining captain who was doing this job way back in the late 1980s when we were taking our children. It was a pleasant surprise to see Captain Ricky again when we returned with our grandchild. Captain Ricky subsequently retired in 2013. We’re sad to see him go, but wish him a happy retirement.
Be aware, though, that while much of the park has plenty of shade, the lineup for the boat cruise can have you standing in the blazing sun for a while. While moderate, careful sun exposure can be a good thing, standing unprotected for lengthy periods in the sun can be dangerous. Remember your sunscreen, hats, water bottles, and cover-ups. It is also possible to take turns standing in line while the rest of the group catches some shade on the nearby benches.
The theme for everything is, of course, Christmas. The Ferris wheel consists of Christmas balls that guests sit inside and ride up for a bird’s-eye view of the park. The Jumpin’ Star Mini-Dropper was our granddaughter’s favourite and she went on it multiple times with her grandpa. At three, she was too afraid to go on Rudolph’s Roller Coaster Sleigh ride, but that is a popular ride with kids even just slightly older.
Playgrounds and Water Parks Provide Old-Fashioned Fun and a Way to Cool Off
Santa’s Village is a paradise for kids. In addition to the rides, there are playgrounds so that kids can run off some steam in a contained area while parents supervise. There are swings, slides, and, on Elf Island, plenty of things to climb and from which to hang. For birthday parties, there is Birthday Party Park, and Santa’s Village offers packages that can include food for the party and even loot bags.
They didn’t forget the water play at Santa’s Village. Even the northern parts of Ontario can get hot and humid in the summer, and playing in water is a great way to cool off. There is a beach, as well as Splash Zone, which is a play area just for kids.
Shopping, Food, Mrs. Claus’s Bake Shop, and Live Entertainment
If you have a debit or credit card burning a hole in your wallet, then you might want to give it some relief at the gift shop. Examine the offerings carefully. Some of them are inexpensive because they are cheaply made. We ended up buying the shoddiest doll ever created for my granddaughter. Its limbs fell off at the slightest provocation and it ended up in the trash quicker than you can say zombie Barbie. But they do have some solid, quality, educational toys mixed in with the junk, so if you look carefully and can successfully pitch the idea to your child, you might come away with a keeper.
Some of the fun and entertaining things to do at Santa’s Village include a visit to Mrs. Claus’s Bake Shop and watching the live entertainment at the Village Stage. If your kids haven’t hit their sugar limit, at Mrs. Claus’s Bake Shop, kids can decorate their own gingerbread cookie. They also have coffee that tastes acceptable (it’s not Kona coffee from Hawaii, but it’s not swill), in case parents need a hit of caffeine.
The Village Stage has entertainment by well-known children’s entertainers. Many of the shows are interactive, and kids get to join the performers on stage for singing, dancing, and fun. These gifted, talented people know how to entertain kids and adults. Even the shyest child will enjoy the show.
No theme park is complete without games and prizes, and there are a number of those at Santa’s Village. They have taken into account that most of the game-players will be preschoolers who would be bitterly disappointed not to come away with a prize. They make it easy for each child to win something.
Come and Go as You Please or Stay the Night
Buying a ticket to Santa’s Village gives you in-and-out privileges for that day. You receive a stamp on your hand that allows you to come and go throughout the day. This is convenient if you have brought a picnic lunch with you, as you are not allowed to bring your own food into the park, but can certainly go back to your car or campsite to eat what you brought and then return to the park for more fun and games. We left the park to have lunch at a restaurant in Bracebridge, as we didn’t want to eat the high-fat fast food they have available.
Santa’s Village offers campsites and cabins for those not living in the area or staying at one of the local hotels. This allows you to stay and play, taking advantage not only of Santa’s Village but of the other parks and playgrounds that are around it. Young children love Santa’s Village and those between the ages of two and seven appreciate it the most.
However, children older than six may prefer Sportsland, where you can find mini golf, go-carts, batting cages, and the Sportsland Activity Centre, with laser tag, video games, and gift boutique. Eaglecrest Aerial Adventures provides up-in-the-air fun with zip lining and above the treetops climbing for those not afflicted with vertigo or a fear of heights.
Reasonable entrance rates make Santa’s Village a moderately priced family outing for families with young kids. However, if you plan to visit the other facilities, such as Sportsland and Eaglecrest, the dollars can add up. If you subscribe to the newsletter and like them on Facebook, then you will be able to take advantage of any discounts and draws offered by the park, as these can provide substantial savings, particularly for a family of four.
Image: Santa’s Summer House — Courtesy of Bob Tobin
Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to substitute advice from your physician or health-care professional. Before beginning any health or diet program, consult your physician.