Old-school theme parks hold a special place in our hearts. Especially one as wild and wacky as Santa’s Village Azoosment Park in East Dundee. Part nostalgic theme park (hello, Tilt-a-Whirl) and part petting zoo (aww, look, it’s a baby deer), this is a charming summer destination for little ones up to about age 8 — and especially adventuresome preschoolers. It even garnered a spot on the list of top ten family friendly amusement parks. Read on about this day trip destination and why it deserves a visit.


The Ho-Ho-Ho Overview
Santa’s Village first opened in 1959 as a year-round family attraction with a North Pole theme (there was even an ice rink in a huge dome at one point!). It closed in 2006 and reopened in 2010 as an “Azoosment Park” — meaning, you’ll see animals that are as wild as the carnival rides.

As soon as you enter the park, make a beeline to Santa’s cozy little cottage. Did you know Santa lives here during his off season? In his home away from the North Pole he’ll give your kids a gentle reminder to stay on track with good behavior, while also highlighting the stops he makes during his wild Christmas sleigh ride on his map of the world. The Santa here is the real deal, so plan on dreaming up your wish list before you visit with him.

At $24.99/person (free for ages 2 & under), you get unlimited access to rides, shows and attractions — and that’s a great deal. The whole park is best suited for ages 3-8, and it’s never as crazily overcrowded as other area amusement parks, making for a more relaxed and enjoyable day of fun. Try to arrive when the park opens or plan a post-nap visit: while there is plenty to see and do for a day-long adventure, this park is so affordable and easy to navigate that if you plan your day out you can hit all of your kid’s fave rides and attractions in a half day.


Oh, the Nostalgia!
Most of the rides looked ripped from a retro movie. And the scenery does, too. Unlike Great America, the focus here is on old-school fun, not who can zoom the fastest or scream the loudest. There’s a Tilt-A-Whirl, mini Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, truck track, and tame roller coaster that even kindergartners can tackle. It might remind you of Melrose Park’s now-shuttered Kiddieland amusement park, where the rides were worn but loved. And, funnily enough, a piece of that park exists at Santa’s Village; the Space Invasion carousel (a circular, slow-moving spaceship ride) was a fixture of Kiddieland and is now being enjoyed at Santa’s Village.


Critters & Creatures Galore
Little animal lovers will be in paradise. At the barnyard style petting zoo, kids can feed the goats and sheep with pellets. A choo-choo train zips around a reindeer sanctuary. While there are designated animal exhibits, roving employees bring critters and creatures to you, just about anywhere you are. Standing in line outside for ice cream? A wallaby (relative of the kangaroo) might be carried over to you. Waiting for the bumper cars? You just might get approached by a lizard and its caretaker. Touch, pet and say “hello” to the animals — this place is as interactive as it gets.


Did We Mention the Firetruck Ride?
The end-all-be-all attraction of Santa’s Village is a journey on a big red firetruck. Your destination? A small house that’s actually on fire! While this has nothing to do with Christmas, animals or retro fun, this kind of hands-on experience feels right at home here in kiddie wonderland. Just climb aboard the two-tiered huge wagon hitched to a faux firetruck and position yourself in front of a water spout. The truck’s siren sounds and you’re off, rounding a bend only to discover a small metal house that’s ablaze (there’s actually a well-controlled blowtorch inside). The spouts shoot water and can be moved by kids as they fight the fire. After a few heated minutes, everyone saves the day and the blaze extinguishes. It’s an experience no kid can forget.

Eat onsite or pack a lunch?
Affordable food options are available onsite: an in-park Subway offers sandwiches and you’ll find the legendary kitchen sink at Colonial Cafe for ice cream lovers. You’ll also find cafes that offer amusement park fare (think chicken nuggets, hot dogs and burgers) and you’re also welcome to bring snacks of your own (though coolers, alcoholic beverages and commercially prepared foods are not welcome). Ample, shaded picnic tables are perfect for taking a lunch break.


Plan Your Trip
Santa’s Village is located about one hour from downtown Chicago in the northwest suburbs, near Elgin. Weekdays are less crowded than weekends, and you can buy tickets in advance by clicking here. Tickets are $24.95 for kids (ages 2 and up) and adults; those under 2 years are free. Discounted season passes are available, as well as birthday party packages. Park hours vary, depending on the day of the week so check out the online schedule before you go.

Dates: May 4-October 27
Santa’s Village Azoosment Park
601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee
Online: santasvillagedundee.com


— Kelly Aiglon, updated by Amy Bizzarri & Maria Chambers