By Andrew Hind
Santa’s elves have been busy. Not only have they been tirelessly crafting toys at their North Pole workshop for good little girls and boys but they’ve also pulled double shifts the last two years building new attractions at St. Nick’s summer home in Bracebridge, Santa’s Village.
The resulting additions to the cottage-country theme park had made it more immersive, more exciting, and more welcoming for visitors—children and their parents alike.
For more than 60 years, Santa has been welcoming guests to his summer cottage. Bracebridge was the ideal location, not merely because of the refreshing lakes and peaceful forests, but because the community sits on the 45th Parallel, exactly midway between the equator and the North Pole. It has entertained millions since elves in curly-toes hoes first greeted the public in 1955. While the good cheer has remained consistent over the years, Santa’s Village has evolved greatly with the times, altering attractions to keep pace with technology and children’s changing interests. New attractions added over the past two years are a continuation of this trend, ensuring Santa’s Village remains as vibrant and appealing today as it was six decades ago.
We came across one of the elves’ most impressive projects almost as soon as we entered the park: a breathtakingly beautiful, heritage-style carousel. The wooden horses call out to children, begging to be ridden. Little ones can’t resist; my little Claire insisted on riding over-and-over again. Sheltered by a wooden structure with seating for foot-sore parents, the carousel has become something of a focal point for visits.
Blitzen’s Balloons opened with great fanfare in 2018. A colourful, enchanting ride—passengers ride it in Ferris wheel-like cars that rise high above the ground and then circles around the central pole—offers an element of youthful exhilaration. The views from atop offer a panoramic view of the park and its adjacent river; it’s not to be missed.
Not far away, in the lagoon, there are new sights as well. For decades, children have hopped into swan paddle boats to leisurely steer around the little bay. I recall happily doing so as a child. But the fowl have grown old with the passage of time, and needed to be retired in favour of something newer. In came pirate ship paddle boats, allowing young scallywags to sail in search of booty and adventure. It’s the stuff of imagination.
Another water attraction was launched this spring: Jolly Bumper bumper boats. Kids will giggle gleefully as they good-naturedly bounce their cars off one another.
Also new for 2019 is Santa’s Farm Tractors. A petting farm has been an attraction at Santa’s Village since its opening day, for many years known as Old McDonald’s Farm after the children’s song. This attraction was given a welcome jolt of energy this year with the addition of Santa’s Farm Yard Tractor Tour, where children take the wheel and drive along a 270m track that journeys among farm animals and whimsical displays.
With these rides added to perennial favourites like Rudolph’s Roller Coaster and the Candy Cane Express, Santa’s Village now boasts more than a dozen rides.
A number of new interactive games have been added as well. On Elves Island, young and old alike get swept up with gold fever and mine for precious gems at a mining sluice attraction. Elsewhere, at the teen-centric Sportsland facility, we find new bowling and soccer games alongside popular existing attractions like go-carts, batting cages, and mini-golf.
In addition, all of the food establishments have updated menus and have been redesigned for speedier queuing and delivery. This year the park has opened a new, full-service rotisserie restaurant. Enjoy great food while admiring the Muskoka River from the waterside patio. In another first for the park, this restaurant serves alcohol.
On hot days, the beach front and waterpark—with slides and red-striped candy cane fountains to frolic under— are hives of activity. Just in time for summer, the beach has been upgraded with more space, new chairs and large umbrellas. Now, there’s more space and comfort.
The motto of the park has long been “be an elf for the day.” But why does it have to be just for a single day? Why not a weekend or full week? You can, by staying at Whispering Pines Campground, located directly across the road from Santa’s Village. Accommodations include 50 campsites, a couple of yurts and now newly-built full-service cottages with kitchenette, sleeping for four, a barbecue and deck beneath towering pines. In addition, the campground has been updated with new washroom and shower facilities
The new additions added over the past two years are great additions to Santa’s Village. Like a cup of hot cocoa on a frosty winter’s day, Santa’s Village is warm and inviting, a treat for the young and young-at-heart.