When thinking about fun things to do with our littlest friends while visiting the Whiteface Region, Santa's Workshop always comes to mind. Check out this blog from our archives (originally published 8/8/14) and then start planning your family-friendly vacation. Time flies, make sure to hit this treasure before the littles hit 48" and stop believing!
I don’t know who is more excited, the kids or the adults. I’d like to think it was the kids, but honestly, I love Santa’s Workshop. I have awesome memories from my childhood; the annual pilgrimage to the North Pole was one of the highlights of our time spent camping in Schroon Lake. My favorite part: the actual icy North Pole, I mean c’mon nothing is cooler on a hot summer day than hugging a giant icicle, right?
Our cousins from China and Florida, as well as friends from downstate NY (that happen to be camping nearby) are visiting. We are a lively party of 11 - and when I say lively, I mean loud (although Oliver, my boisterous almost-5-year-old, probably accounts for most of the noise).
So, joining us for this week’s adventures are:
Cousins - Crystal and Lili, Lili’s daughter, Julia, and niece, Jade.
Friends - Michelle and Michael, and their 3 daughters, Raelynn, Gabby, and Julia.
We meet in the parking lot; the excitement is palpable. Cousin Oliver and Cousin Julia (that’s how they refer to each other — it’s ridiculously cute) are ready to show everyone the ropes, they vividly remember their visit from last year. For a couple of 4-year-old kids, their recall of events is amazing, and slightly scary.
The welcoming elf greets us cheerfully and then sends us through the gate with a ‘Merry Christmas.’ We are off. First stop: rides! The kids are loading up at the Bobsled before I even make it to the gate, they are seasoned veterans, obviously.
And, from here it is a marathon. A three-hour tour de North.
Immediately from the Bobsled they head to the Ferris Wheel. Now, here is where I should take a moment to tell you how awesome Santa’s Workshop really is. Everything is elf-sized. Whereas in a bigger amusement park, the kids would never be able to ride a ferris wheel by themselves, here there is no room for adult-sized folks. It is great - the independence of the kids shines through as they wave at the parents watching from the sidelines.
Next, Santa’s Sleigh Coaster goes whizzing by, and waving excitedly from the middle car are Rae, Gabby, Julia, and Michael - a token adult is allowed on this ride, and luckily I wasn’t it! This coaster is actually pretty fast in the grand scheme of kiddie rides, and I’ll admit I was probably holding on tighter than Oliver last year. I don’t mind at all that Oliver has chosen to bypass this - he has Play Land in his sights and the pull of the Ball Crawl is too much for him to resist.
After we thoroughly explore Play Land and unbury the kids from the ball pit, we head to our last two rides before moving further into the Village: the Christmas Tree and the Carousel. While Rae (5th grade) is a bit too tall to hit all of the rides, these two she can accompany her little sisters on, and I have to say, she is a great sport!
The Reindeer Barn is our next stop. Today the barn is home to several young reindeer-in-training. Our host elf is ready to answer every question the kids throw at him - from the simple, ‘Will he bite me?’, to the more complicated, ‘How do Reindeer Fly?’ Once it’s established that these reindeer will not bite - and would actually love to have a treat - the elf doles out leaves to each child and they contentedly feed the hoofed creatures until we drag them away (honestly they probably would have stayed for an hour). We visit Christmas Creek Farm where we are greeted by a huge turkey as well as several other animals and get a little lesson about milking from the farm elf.
Next, it’s a visit to Santa’s Blacksmith. Each of the girls has a ring made for them (a funky horseshoe nail heated and then personally sized to fit their finger); Oliver chooses a miniature painted horseshoe as a keepsake.
While the kids are waiting for their blacksmith jewelry, I take a side trip to Santa’s Bake Shop and gather enough homemade donuts to satisfy the troops. I know what is coming next, and I want everyone in good spirits and on best behavior - I mean, if they don’t make a good impression now, they may be subjected to coal in their stockings in a few short months. I don’t want that hanging over my head.
It’s time!!! We huddle, we make a plan: we will go in quietly, wait our turn calmly in Santa’s living room, tell Santa our heart’s desire, smile for the camera. We go in quietly, the little ones quickly peek around the curtain, glimpse Santa and giggle and squeal in anticipation.
Plan aborted. We are invited in and chaos ensues. Santa has obviously had a great deal of experience dealing with kids - we know this - he quickly has the 5 small ones under a magical spell, he asks them questions, makes jokes, and manages to have them successfully pose for pictures. This should definitely be his day job, forget making toys, Santa rocks as a child wrangler. We leave with our token photos picked out, ideas of what the kids want for presents, and the knowledge that Santa's beard is actually real. Oh, and a reminder to behave, he's watching and you no longer get coal if you’re naughty - it’s too valuable - you get dirty socks and underwear (ewwwwww).
A Doll for Susie, A Car for Jimmy…
Santa’s Toy Maker, aka Woody, is creating little cars today. The kids are invited to join him to decorate their very own wooden 4-wheel treasure. Julia and Gabby, Rae and Cousin Julia work meticulously on their creations for quite some time. These are, after all, gifts directly from one of Santa’s elves. Oliver is not quite so focused on the artistic part, he prefers to race his new acquisition on the train tracks that are set up in the adjoining room, and then down the built-in slide that is a cool feature of the Toy Maker’s house.
Another great little stop is the Jack Jingle Theater, where the kids are center stage. The little actors have free reign to let their imaginations run wild as they choose hand puppets and make their very-own fairy tales come alive.
While we didn’t have a chance to meet the Candle Maker, and I thought it best to keep Oliver away from the Candy Maker (after 2 sugary donuts - he wasn't deprived, I assure you), we did visit the Hat Maker. And, when I say visit, I mean a fashion show ensued. The fun hats were a hit with the kids, and of course, you can watch your traditional Santa Hat be personalized right before your eyes. Of course, not everyone wants to be an elf, so personalized wands are available as well. And, of course, there are plenty of shops with ornaments, keepsakes and treasures for Santa enthusiasts of all ages.
The North Pole is still one of my favorite features. Global Warming has not affected this icicle that marks the center of Santa’s Village.The kids are loving the cool feel of it, and we have to keep vigilant as dares of, ‘lick it’ are overheard. I am not quite quick enough, and you can guess who was the only one to actually take on the challenge. (I still don’t want to think about the amount of germs ingested - hopefully it really is magic ice!)
Luckily, there is a diversion. A baby reindeer is out for a stroll, and his friendly guide elf allows the kids to get up close and personal. This is a pretty special treat. If you visit the Workshop closer to the holidays, Santa’s Reindeer, full-sized and ready to guide the sleigh, are on-site. We have never encountered toddler-reindeer before.
Throughout the day we have managed to catch parts of the shows that take place at Sam & Sandy’s Showplace. The North Pole Jamboree - a cute original show that incorporates audience participation, singing and fun - is just ending as we head toward our final destination. We have saved our trip on Santa’s Train until the end of the day - a great way to relax and regroup with a tired group of pre-schoolers. The Train takes a lazy loop around the Village, and then upon departure Sam & Sandy are in full swing with their Party Time show - the perfect jolly ending to our adventure.
It's 4pm, the Village is closing down for the evening - presumably to put the elves back on toy-making duty. As we prepare to leave this magical little Village, we have the chance to pass through the North Pole Post Office, where you can arrange to have Santa send a personalized letter come Christmastime. But, it's still summer here in the Adirondacks. Before we make our way back here in the winter months for the Festival of Lights, we are going to enjoy a few more attractions in Wilmington. Right now is the perfect time to hit the Wilmington Town Beach for a little cool down dip, followed by dinner at one of the family-friendly restaurants in town. Over the next few days we will probably hit a few other area attractions - maybe even a re-visit to Whiteface Mountain - check out this fun adventure we had at their family-friendly park: Adventure Zone!
All in all, Santa’s Workshop is the same as I remember it from the 70s when I first visited as a child (yes, I just dated myself). That’s a big part of the charm: it’s a nostalgic step back into a special place and a simpler time. And, it’s the perfect afternoon outing for the little people in your life. It’s a place made for those who still believe, and those who believe in keeping the magic alive.
Remember, Santa is watching - and I’m sure you don’t want dirty socks in your stocking this year, I know I don’t!
This week in related news: ADK BFFs