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Holiday World

Redefining family entertainment
01 November, 2006
The Voyage provides the most airtime of any wooden coaster in the world: 24.2 seconds

'Thrills' and 'families' can go hand in hand. discovered Gary Kyriazi on a visit earlier this season to Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, Santa Claus, Indiana.

“Families like thrills too,” stated Will Koch (pronounced “Cook”), the park’s president and CEO. I was stunned. “Say again?” Just to the right of Will’s desk is a large, framed poster of a young Walt Disney. I thought I saw Walt wince at Will’s bold pronouncement.

“Families like thrills too,” he repeated simply. “That’s a very...,” I stumbled, “...well, I’ve never heard that before. It’s pretty bold. Different.” And almost sacrilegious, in an industry that has historically divided itself between mild family entertainment and teenage thrills. “Families like thrills” almost sounds like “Adult rap music.” “Oh, I firmly believe it,” asserted the 45-year-old manager of what is currently the US Midwest’s most explosive amusement park. “All I have to do is stand at the exit of our coasters to see that. The whole family is riding our coasters.”

That’s true enough. I’d just taken two round trips of the sparkling clean, beautifully themed Holiday World, and what few teenagers I saw were tagging along with mom and dad. And with rare exception, the entire family was boarding the park’s three major wooden coasters: Raven, Legend and the brand new Voyage, all 6442 breathless feet of it.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Koch added earnestly. “I spent a few sleepless nights wondering if we overdid it with The Voyage. I mean, this is one of the biggest wood coasters ever built, and I found myself putting my ‘Families Like Thrills Too’ belief to the test.”

Koch has always chosen his rides carefully. Holiday World has no “teen” rides. No high-tech spinners that people over 25 – who’ll ride any rollercoaster or water or drop ride – would ever set foot on. No madly spinning upchuckers that the kids ride while their parents watch. Instead, there’s a brief roll call of the classic, easy (by today’s standards) flat rides: The Round Up, Scrambler, Spider, Flying Scooters and Chair Swing. And that’s it. Then there’s the necessary water flume, raging river raft ride and a double-shot drop ride. And mom and dad were on all three.

And now, the Voyage, the new wooden coaster by the Gravity Group. It’s intense, it’s relentless ...and it’s wonderful. I rode it twice, and found it to be probably the most satisfying rollercoaster I’ve ever ridden. It’s long, fast, exciting, unpredictable, and satisfying. Admittedly, I did see an occasional mom or dad sit it out, but more significantly, I saw several grandmas and grandpas on the ride.

“I’m relieved,” Koch sighed. “We took a chance, and it worked.” Everything seems to be working for Holiday World, and the future looks bright. The park is living up to its claim of “#1 for Family Fun!” As I sat at the entrance near closing, families were leaving happy, most of them holding their last cup of “Free Unlimited Soft Drinks.”

“That’s worked well too,” Koch said. “Our sponsorship with Pepsi’s been real good for us.”

So too, it seems, has the Indiana Department of Transportation. There’s an expansion underway of US Route 231, which crosses the Ohio River north from Kentucky.The old two-lane road is metamorphosing into a north-south freeway, and eventually will be a major interchange with east-west Interstate Route 64.

“We’ll have great freeway access,” Koch said, “from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois.” In short, Holiday World/Splashin’ Safari is well on its way to becoming a super-regional park.

Exciting as the future of Holiday World is, its humble tradition and history are maintained. There is a plaque commemorating the original entrance to the original Santa Claus Land of 1946, the original train ride still circles the Fun Town kiddie land.

“And mom [his mother Pat] is still out there,” Koch smiles proudly, “greeting visitors as they come in. Holiday World is my family, like any member of my own family. And our goal is to keep it a park that any family would love to come to.”

If the 2006 season is any indication (see panel), Will Koch and Holiday World have reached their goal.

The Magic Million

For the first time in its 60-year history, Holiday World, Santa Claus, Indiana, exceeded one million visitors in a single season. “It took us till the final day of the season, but we did it!” says Will Koch. “This is quite a milestone. We’re very grateful to all the families who came to visit this season.”

The final count was 1,005,000 guests. Koch credits the season’s 15 per cent growth to the addition of The Voyage rollercoaster along with continued concentration on cleanliness and friendliness.

The president and CEO reckons the strong growth pattern should continue next year with the addition of Bakuli family water slide from ProSlide Technologies and Turkey Whirl, a new themed Sellner Tilt-A-Whirl. This $4.5 million expansion is expected to increase attendance by another five per cent and create an additional 50 seasonal jobs.