Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Special Needs Tip: Reasons to Visit Holiday World

Nestled in a quiet, little town of Santa Claus, Indiana is the friendly and impressive theme park, Holiday World. With summer vacations on the horizon, this is a place you need to try to take your family, especially if you have a member with special needs.

I live roughly two hours away from Holiday World, so I had a few visits there during my childhood. I have fond memories of riding roller coasters and eating snacks. (You always do them in that order.)  Even though I had good experiences there, I was reluctant to take my children to Holiday World. My daughter, Jaycee, has Down syndrome, is minimally verbal, is not very tolerant of the heat, and has a complex medical history (two heart ablations, two open heart surgeries, multiple bouts of pneumonia requiring time in the Intensive Care Unit, etc.). I knew Jaycee's Intellectual Disability would make it difficult for her to understand how lines for the different rides work. Her stamina isn't the best either, and theme parks are usually exhausting even if a wheelchair is used. Frankly, it's hard to know how my child will respond in any new environment.

In 2015, my daughter was blessed to have been granted a wish through Make-A-Wish. During her wish trip in Florida, she was given a special pass that allowed free entry into other participating theme parks. Holiday World offered an unlimited number of free visits to our family for an entire year. They were beyond generous to me (and so many other families). Since we had nothing to lose, my husband and I took our children to the park. To our surprise, we absolutely loved it! They had many features that were a good fit for our family. We went several times during our free entry period. We loved it so much that we ended up becoming season pass members in 2016 and 2017. Last year, Jaycee's health kept us at home a bit more but we managed to make a trip over.

If you have a loved one with special or medical needs, I would like to share with you why visiting Holiday World may be good for your family too.

Disability Boarding Pass 

The boarding pass allows a person with a disability and up to 3 other guests wait in line without actually waiting in line. Their pass works similar to other theme parks, if you have ever used them. To use the pass at Holiday World, you typically enter the ride's accessible entrance, which is usually the ride exit. The ride attendant will write down a time for you to come back on pass in order to board the ride. The time given is based upon the current wait time. You can only be "waiting in line" for one ride at a time, but you can use the restroom, grab a snack, or sit in the shade while waiting. This is how the pass works in order to ride the popular attractions such as the Mammoth, Crow's Nest, and all the coasters.

For some of the rides that tend to have shorter lines in general, the pass allows you to wait at the handicap entrance and board at an appropriate time depending on the line length (usually a few cycles) rather than getting a time and returning.

This pass has been helpful for my daughter because she can stay seated in her wheelchair while waiting. Generally, the wheelchair will not fit through the railed waiting line that everyone else uses, and standing for 20 minutes in the heat can wear her out. We try to go to Holiday World during the week when crowds are smaller, so waits are typically short. However, the boarding pass helps Jaycee do more than she would otherwise be able to do.

The Calming Room 

Like many other venues, Holiday World has a calming room for individuals who may need a quiet and relaxing break from all the fun activity at the park. We have not used the room, but it may be a benefit for other families.

Air conditioned Restaurants

Because my daughter doesn't do well in the heat for hours, we try to dine at restaurants with air conditioning to allow her time to cool down. Plymouth Rock Café and Santa's Merry Marketplace are two places that have a large amount of seating indoors.

Accessible Water Rides

Holiday World has a superb water park called Splashin' Safari. Splashin' Safari is quite large, so we have to use Jaycee's wheelchair when walking to our desired attractions. Fortunately, Jaycee's wheelchair has material that dries quickly, so this is an option for us.

Water slides and water parks generally mean long lines and lots of stairs. The fun, long slides have flights and flights of stairs. Jaycee can maybe do one of these before tiring out. The fewer the steps, the better for her. There are some slides that have a short flight of steps, so this is a better option for her. There are two different wave pools, which of course has no steps and is accessed easily. There are a couple of areas with small water slides meant for younger children that are accessed by a ramp as opposed to stairs. These are easier for Jaycee too.

The biggest selling point for us about Splashin' Safari is that the two best water rides are accessible! The Mammoth water coaster and the Wildebeest are both accessed by ramps, not steps. These are both popular rides, so the boarding pass is needed for these. We usually "wait" at the wave pool until her ride time occurs. Then, we are able to push her up to the ride entrance in her wheelchair. Jaycee loves these rides! She laughs and laughs while I tend to scream and scream on them. We love that these are accessible for her because her ability to access most of the other ones in the water park is limited by stairs.

Accessible Tree House 

Holiday World has an amazing Holidog's Tree House playground for children. The best part is that it is wheelchair accessible!

Other Stuff

Parking is free. Hooray!! There are plenty of handicapped spaces in both of their parking lots too.

If your child loves characters, you can find Santa in the Christmas area several times a day. There are a few different characters to meet at the park as well.

If your child likes mild rides, there are plenty of choices available for that need. Of course, there are plenty of thrill rides.

If you are looking for something to do with your child with special or medical needs, then I would suggest giving Holiday World a try. It's been a hit with our family!


  1. This sounds like a lot of fun! We took our son with Autism to an amusement park recently and unfortunately he ended up spending the day sick and in the RV instead.

    1. Oh no! I hate when fun outings don't turn out, but nothing you can do about it. I'm sure you have learned to roll with it like we have.

  2. I wasn't aware of all these things!


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