What if I told you that you can take care of your annual Christmas family picture during the year without having to stand in line? You can even wear shorts and flip flops. Well, Americans wear flip flops all year long, but let’s just say you can dress lightly and get to chat with Santa himself in his own living room.
You’re in Santa’s Land in North Carolina. Located in Cherokee – the headquarters for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and home of the well known Harrah’s Casino. Santa’s Land is a small but very charming theme park at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and at the southern end of the Blueridge Parkway. It’s a great place for kids at ages 2–7 with a good variety of attractions. Best of all, the lines for the rides are usually very short, if there’s even a line and it’s a great place to hang out a few hours with your family. You even get to visit Santa in his own house! After two back to back visits in 2012 & 2013, I’ve seen enough to write this little review for you.
Park Hours and Admission
Even though it’s Santa’s Land with a very wintery theme, the park closes its doors every year in early November, because it can’t operate in the snow. And being in the mountains there will be quite some of it. Have your kids ever wondered what Santa does during the off season? This is where you’ll find him! The park usually opens back up in mid-May.
Admission (as of 2013):
Adults: $21.16 plus tax
Children 2+ years: $21.16 plus tax
Children under 2 years: FREE
Hours vary throughout the season (mid-May to early November)
Mo-Su: 10am–5pm (mid-May to Memorial Day, and Labor Day to early November)
Mo-Su: 9am–6pm (Memorial Day to Labor Day)
This small rollercoaster is the the main attraction of Santa’s Land and a lot of fun for kids all ages and adults. Toddlers may ride with an adult, kids can ride on their own.
Santa’s Express Train
You can take round trips of the 25 acre park in its own little train. Just hop on at one of the two stops at each end of the park, if you’re tired of walking.
Enjoy a nice mountain view from the top of Santa’s own ferris wheel.
There’s a good variety of good old kiddie rides like carousels, cars, boats, helicopters and more that kids can’t get enough of.
Part of the zoo is a little lake where you and the family can take a ride on a paddle boat and feed lots of koi carp, ducks and monkeys.
See and feed dozens of domestic and exotic animals in Zoo Land. Of course, reindeers are part of the attractions as well as bears, tigers, monkeys, goats and more. Not counting the squirrels in the park.
One of the highlights is a visit to Santa’s House, where he’s already expecting your early order for Christmas. Kids get a diploma and their picture taken, that is only a few bucks instead of $20, which is what you would pay at your shopping mall in December.
Jingle Bell Theatre
Enjoy various 30 minutes magic shows at the Jingle Bell Theatre. Some kids even get to join the magician on stage to assist in one of his tricks.
Like every American attraction there has to be some sort of arcade, so Santa’s Land is no exception. To keep the older kids busy, they can play various games in a little arcade area or throw some baskets. Coins needed. There’s a picknic area, where you can either eat food that you brought in or purchased on site. Frosty’s Gift Shop has a good amount of souvenirs, Christmas ornaments and decorations.
Throughout the park there are lots of opportunities to play for kids with igloos, animals to sit or climb on and playgrounds throughout the park.
My personal review
Even though Santa’s Land is a little dated, my daughter (4 years old) is having a blast every time we go there and we love that there are no lines for the rides. Young kids aren’t that spoiled yet and they don’t mind if the place isn’t shiny new like some parks in Orlando, FL. The little ones can ride again and again and again, without having to wait in line for longer than 5 minutes. That’s what is important at this age and you can either join them if you fit into the ride or just take pictures or watch their excited faces. The admission is okay, I just wish it would be discounted for kids older than 2 years. The fact that you can meet Santa and get your annual Christmas picture taken gives you a nice headstart to get Christmas cards done on time. If you’re used to North Carolina weather you will enjoy the cool and less humid air in the mountains. Many families that we met there keep coming back every year, some even several times a year, because they like what the park has to offer for their kids. The park’s staff are mainly senior citizens, who are very nice and helpful and clearly enjoying all the little happy faces.
Check out their website at www.santaslandnc.com, which is even more dated than the park itself, but the site doesn’t do the park any justice. Just look at my pictures and give it a shot. Your kids will love it! And you finally get to see Cherokee, NC.