Waves of sadness filled us all as we drove away from our yurt. It just stood there, pretending like we had never been there, but we knew that we had ... we had the bug bites and layers of dirt to prove it! Our trip to Algonquin felt so short. It was too short, but as much as we would have like stay longer, we had booked the only available time there was at the Mew Lake, Algonquin site. Our sadness was all the more greatly lessoned after our stop at Henrietta's Pine Bakery in Dwight. The kids all added a layer of chocolate to their existing layer of camp dirt.
It was with a great sense of relief and delight that I looked upon the beautiful Holiday Inn Express in Huntsville. It stood there a beacon of civilization with the flush toilets and oh the glorious hot shower! Christopher and I both felt more than a little self conscious about our filth (by self-conscious what I really mean is face burning with embarrassment) as we checked into our spotless room. While the kids were jumping on the hotel bed (our hotel tradition, don't tell the manager) I was ignoring tradition and luxuriating in the hot shower, while the pounds of dirt rolled off. When I had finished I felt like a million dollars and the floor of the shower looked like a sand pit. I then showered all of the kids, and I am pretty sure that we took all of the dirt in Algonquin Park with us.
The next morning after an exceptionally good sleep (and feeling like a princess after camping). We braved the heat wave and drove down the road to Bracebridge's Santa's Village. The kids were super excited. We had not been to Santa's Village since the twins were tiny. This was Elly's very first visit. Originally this visit was to be a surprise for my Mom's 65th birthday. I had planned it for months, but apparently my plans fell the wayside. I had arranged for the birthday party package (which is so extremely reasonable). Honestly the birthday party rate is the best way to go for larger groups. The only drawback was that we had to pay for 10 people, even though there were only 6 of us. In the end it still worked out to save us bundles of money. (I stole the below information to share with you from http://santasvillage.ca/)
A Santa’s Village Party
The other amazing offer that I took advantage of is "Explorer's Edge".
This great website lists all of the amazing things that you can do in the Algonquin / Muskoka area. In addition to educating about all the amazing things that there are to do in "The Explorer's Edge", it also offers $50.00 worth of vouchers that are accepted at participating retailers, which lucky for me included Santa's Village!
Santa's Village is for me a special place. I came to Santa's Village as a teen on our first real family vacation. Although my sister Mandy and I were technically too old to enjoy Santa's Village, we didn't realize it. We loved every single second of it, and it became ingrained as a beautiful childhood memory. When Gabe was three, Christopher and I took him to Santa's Village. Gabe LOVED it. His little face just glowed with excitement. Santa's Village really does hold a special place in my heart, a place that I was really excited to share with the rest of the kids.
We were greeted like family by the woman at the gate, it was really nice. I came to find out that Santa's Village, unlike most summer attractions does not exclusively hire high school / college kids. Most summer attractions that you visit are employed almost exclusively by kids. I have nothing against the hiring of high school / college kids, heaven knows I needed employment during my summers when I was that age. The problem is that it is a "summer job". They may or may not be coming back next year, they owe no loyalty to their company, a lot of times they just don't care. I was surprised and delighted to notice that at least half of the employees appeared to be seniors... seniors who LOVED kids! Their love of children permeated the entire park. There was extra attention to the kids, which is really what it's all about. They were there not because they had to be, they wanted to be there, and were happy to be there.
Throughout the park there are lots of fun wooden cutouts for the kids to stick their heads though, and Moms and Dad's can snap pictures. My kids LOVE the cut outs, I'll be honest I have yet to meet a child that did not race to put their face through cut outs. I was surprised at how uncrowded the park was. Granted we did come on the hottest day of the heat wave, but it was gloriously uncrowded.
The kids seemed to be oblivious to the heat, they were excited and raring to go! They could not wait to race to the rides. They loved the airplanes. Each time they would make their circuit around I would catch sight of their little beautiful faces, full of joy. They were so proud of themselves as they made their little red planes dip and drop, then fly right back up. It was one of those rare opportunities where I was able to observe the kids, really "see" them. It was truly beautiful.
Hands down the most unanimously favourite ride was "Jumping Stars". I was honestly unsure how Elly and Rowan would do on this ride. I loved their surprised looks as the ride suddenly dropped them. They were unsure if they should be afraid or delighted, in the end... delighted won out.
After riding the airplanes, the Jumping Stars and the carousels we headed toward the boat ride (we had to stop a few times at bouncy reindeers along the way). The boat is Christopher and my favourite thing about Santa's Village (other than Santa). Every time I have ever been there I saw Captain Ricky. Captain Ricky has driven that boat for the last 32 years. This year Captain Ricky is retiring, that makes me sad. As we boarded the boat, there was Captain Ricky's big smile and an individual greeting for every single passenger, both big and small. The water was glorious and offered a little reprieve from the oppressive heat. We traveled along the Muskoka River. Christopher and I played a very mature game called "oh there's my cottage". The kids soon joined in. We looked enviously at the beautiful cottages along the river, and we would select the perfect cottage for us, often changing our picks the further we traveled along. As we reluctantly left the sleigh/ ship, Christopher walked up to Captain Ricky and gave him a pat on the shoulder "Thanks, enjoy your retirement, we'll miss you". I am pretty sure that I caught a little tear in the corner of that big guy I call husband's eye.
After our boat ride we enjoyed a new addition to the attractions, it was a little 3D theatre. The kids sat on colourful beanbag chairs while we adults enjoyed the air-conditioning from the bright red benches. The kids put on their fancy 3D glasses end enjoyed the show. I wanted to stay and watch several shows, but that was more for the air-conditioning.
As we headed to see Santa, Riley took me aside "Mom, is this the real Santa?" I looked her in the eye "I don't know Riley. Your heart will tell you. It may just be a really nice man pretending to be Santa, or it could be the real deal. Santa and Mrs. Clause do spend their summers here". She was satisfied with that answer.
There was only a small line up to see Santa. The little girl in front of us was there with her mother. She really had a bone to pick with her brother, and had barely said hello to Santa before she began her list of complaints against her brother, and an arm length list of all of the bad things that he had done. Santa looked at the Mom "Where is her brother today?" The Mom explained that he was at home with his Dad because he had misbehaved. Santa then took the little girl and embraced her, "We all make mistakes, and we don't always do what we should. It's important that when we make our mistakes that we apologize to our Moms and Dads for them." The little girl looked disappointed that Santa hadn't told her that her brother was going on the lifetime naughty list. As they were leaving Santa called them back. "Could you please tell your brother that I love him". It was beautiful. It was exactly what Santa should say. Santa for me is about love, not toys. I had a little tear in my eye.
When it was our turn to see Santa, he looked at my kids with love. "I know it's early, but do you know what you might like for Christmas?' Riley piped right up "I want two wrestling tickets". That's my girl. Santa took a little taken back, he then asked Riley who her favourite wrestler was. He then told her who his favourite wrestler was. "Santa, you watch wrestling?" It was now Riley's turn to be taken aback. "I never miss it" he told her. Riley was all smiles. As we left Riley looked like she had seen real magic "I can't believe that Santa likes wrestling. I did not expect that!" A few steps farther she stopped "Mom, that was the real Santa... my heart told me so." Her hand was clutched to her heart, a smile on her face.
The oppressive heat was getting to us, and we decided that it was finally time to go to the splash pad. The kids ran in with all of their clothes on. The kids ran in, and so did Christopher and I. I didn't care by that point how stupid I looked, I was hot. The splash pad cooled us almost immediately. Thank you Santa for thinking of a splash pad!
We saved the roller coaster for last. Christopher and Riley went first. Rowan was desperate to go, but unsure. Riley and Christopher came back with a buzz. "How was it?" I asked "GREAT". Our turn. Rowan and I climbed the huge hill. I hate heights, and the fact that I was doing this should attest to my great love of my son. The guy brought down the metal bar that locked us in. "I can't do this" I uttered, but he was gone, and the roller coaster was starting. Oh God, what had I agreed to? We plunged and dove. I looked over at Rowan who looked like he might cry. I myself kept imagining the roller coaster flying off of the impossibly small track. Oh no. By the time we were nearing the end of the ride Rowan had conquered his fear and won. He was ecstatic. He jumped and was like a little live wire as he made his way down that big hill. He kept uttering little screams of delight. He was hooked, that made a roller coaster lover of Rowan. In the end I guess it was worth pooping my pants.
It was a long drive home, and so we had to leave. The kids were not happy about that. We wedged them into the car with their newly won inflated animals. They were exhausted but happy. They were chirping in the back about their favourite part of the day. It was decided that we need to come back.
Santa's Village is an amazing family destination. It is affordable and lovely. It harkens back to times gone by when attractions were not just about how much money they could make, but about families. Although it feels old school, it does not lack for fun, and meticulously clean. For me the old school feel brings more. I want to be with my children, to really imprint beautiful memories onto them. Santa's Village is the perfect place to do that! If you haven't been, you owe it to yourself and your kids to make a trip!