Santa’s Wonderland is a behemoth of the Texas Christmas light scene. In fact it is the BIGGEST Christmas attraction in Texas. It began as a drive thru Texas Christmas light attraction and grew into the type of theme park that would make Clark Griswold proud. It draws Texans from far and wide to its delightful explosion of Christmas Cheer. The idea of a visit can be overwhelming so I’ll run through the Don’t Do’s but first let me give you some Christmas background on my family so you know what we’re dealing with.
Christmas in the Stump household can be a complicated affair. We are a multi-generational household with ages from 2 and 72 years. We have equally diverse opinions on exactly when it is appropriate for the Christmas decorations to be displayed, and what degree of Christmas “splendor” can tastefully be contained within the confines of our home.
Some of us believe Christmas should begin promptly after the conclusion of Thanksgiving festivities, with all the exuberance one can possibly muster on a full belly. This means the neon joy that is our main Christmas tree (yes, the main Christmas tree, we often have more than one…) can light our house with its wonderful glow for as long as possible—well into the new year, if we are lucky.
Then there is my wife. After 10 years of marriage, I have found only one shortcoming- a lack of “Christmas pizazz” that would make even the Grinch appear festive. (My wife has asked me to note that in past years decorating may have started in October or early November and that is the cause of her Grinch-ness.)
After spending the first years of our marriage in Vermont, we moved to Texas. Texans LOVE Christmas. And they do so in that classic “everything is bigger in Texas” kind of way. So, it is only fitting that the biggest Christmas lights display south of the Mason Dixon line would be Santa’s Wonderland in College Station.
However, Santa’s Wonderland can be a little overwhelming. The lines can be long. Small spaces can be jam packed with highly “enthusiastic” children. Areas with live music can be loud. And the whole experience can be expensive.
Still, if you love Christmas or are responsible for kids who love Christmas (I am looking at you, grandparents), Santa’s Wonderland is worth the trip.
Before you go, read this list of things to never do at Santa’s Wonderland. They will make your trip to Santa’s Wonderland a little less overwhelming, a little less expensive and a little more fun for everyone, including Dad.
1.) Don’t pay for the VIP parking:
The “VIP” parking costs more money ($14.95+$1.95 service fee + 6.75% tax) and the line waiting to get in is usually extremely long so it doesn’t save a whole lot of time. Bypass this parking lot by staying to the left and following the access road to the Blitzen parking lot. From there you can hop on a shuttle which will bring you right back to the entrance of the park. Also, it is a heck of a lot easier to get out of the general parking lot and back to the highway at the end of the night when everybody and their brother is trying to leave.
2.) Don’t wait to buy tickets.
Most of us don’t think about Christmas activities until November. My wife, while she may not be into the whole “extravaganza” of the season is into saving money. You should NEVER buy tickets at the gate or a few days before. Tickets are roughly $20 cheaper in September and sometimes into October. Buy them online early. You can keep an eye on local bargain sites like Groupon and LivingSocial for deals in October. One other hint? Watch the Santa’s Wonderland Facebook page for giveaways.
3.) Don’t expect to see Santa:
Santa makes a variety of appearances at other venues all across Texas where it would be FAR easier to catch a little “knee time” than at Santa’s Wonderland. I know this sounds a little counter intuitive, but the line for Santa can be several HOURS long and could easily eat up most of your visit to Santa’s Wonderland. Granted, there are several activities and some refreshments available along the way, but I have honestly never felt it was worth waiting for Santa there when there are so many other things to see and do. However, if you must see Santa in Santa’s Wonderland (as opposed to your local shopping mall, library, fire department, town square, or any of the hundreds of other places he will make a scheduled appearance), plan on arriving to Santa’s Wonderland well before it opens, pay for the preferred parking lot, and head straight for Santa as soon as the gates open. If you do those three things, you stand a pretty good chance of getting in and out pretty fast.
4.) Don’t skip shopping:
When you first walk through the gates into Santa’s Wonderland, you walk right smack dab into the middle of a gift shop that is actually pretty darn cool. There are a ton of neat little things in this shop that are sure to make you chuckle, and that I can almost guarantee you haven’t seen anywhere before. In fact, there are a bunch of really neat little shops all over the place inside the park. Take the time to look around and explore them. For the record I am NOT someone who enjoys the “shopping” experience, but I even enjoyed perusing around to see what I could see. (My wife would like me to note that there is a winery on site- check out her report on that and her tips for Santa’s Wonderland here.) Just keep track of what looks good to you by making a list or taking a photo on your phone and grab it on your way out of the park so you don’t have to carry it.
5.) Don’t rush.
Santa’s Wonderland is big, but it isn’t huge, so take your time. You can easily see everything at Santa’s Wonderland in one outing, so don’t feel the need to rush from one spot to another. You will have plenty of time see everything. Take it easy, relax, and look around. If you see something you want to watch for a little bit (such as the live music, which was EXCELLENT and perhaps my favorite part of Santa’s Wonderland) or watch a Christmas classic playing on the outdoor big screen, go ahead. You have the time and you will still get to everything.
6.) Don’t risk a dead phone.
As an Australian that I recently had the pleasure of meeting said to me “Ahhh, waiting in line, the great sport of the Americans.” Before waiting in line for things like the hay ride (which I have to admit was very fun), grab a snack and a drink (nothing beats hot apple cider) to make the wait a little easier. I also realize that due to cellular phones most of us have the attention span of a meth smoking squirrel, checking our instagooglefacetweet incessantly. In short, charge your phone before you go- especially if you plan to take pictures and video. Carrying a rechargeable battery pack is also a good idea.
7.) Don’t eat the pizza.
The food at Santa’s Wonderland is certainly good, but some items are better deals than others. I was least impressed with the pizza purely from a cost to food ratio (it seemed awfully pricey for what I got). In my opinion the burger and fries were the best deal, and were actually pretty darn good. The nachos (pile it high with everything) were also a fairly good deal. There are also places to get hot chocolate, hot cider, spiced nuts, chocolate, cotton candy, and all manner of other goodies.
8.) Don’t lose your mind.
Most of the time I really don’t like crowds. Sometimes I downright cannot stand to be in one (yet I absolutely freakin LOVE Disney World so go figure… I am an enigma wrapped in a riddle, I know…). If you (or a loved one) occasionally get the urge to freak out and run off in a Braveheart style charge to escape the masses then don’t be afraid to take a minute or two to collect yourself before the situation gets out of hand. If you move to the edges of the park you can pretty easily find a quiet corner to sit and take a few breaths to regain your composure.
There is a great spot towards the back where the pony and sled rides are. If you see a bald guy with a goatee back there who looks a little “cagey,” that’s me. Come on over and say Hi. Remember that this is supposed to be fun. If the crowd is getting to you just pull away and enjoy the Christmas lights display from a distance for a bit. Your family will appreciate you more if you do.
9.) Don’t wait for the weekend.
Weekdays may not be the most convenient time for you and your family to go out for the evening. That is exactly why it is the best time to go see the Christmas lights at Santa’s Wonderland. It is inconvenient for most people so fewer people will go. Weekdays are certainly less crowded, making the entire experience that much more enjoyable.
10.) Don’t wait for a warm spell.
I realize that this in Texas, where it tends to be warm, but if the opportunity presents itself, strike while the iron is… well, cold. We have gone to Santa’s Wonderland to see the light displays on a few occasions, and my favorite time was when it was cold enough to see your breath and a coat, gloves, and winter hat were more than just festive apparel. The cold crisp air makes hot drinks taste better, the music more enjoyable, and the whole experience better. I don’t know why, but Christmas lights always look better on a cold, still, night. I know many Texas are saying “what the hell is this idiot talking about?”. Any Vermonters that may have found their way to this article are saying “yup… they do.”
Trust me, I am a Yankee by birth and winter is my favorite season. The colder it gets, the better Christmas lights look.
11.) Don’t Scrooge out.
If after reading this you are saying “Crowds, lines, do I really want to bring the kids?”. Yes. You do. Our kids look forward to this every year. It is magical and it will put even the most coal-hearted among you in the Christmas spirit. You may be hesitant but after going once you’ll see why Santa’s Wonderland is a Texas tradition for many Texan families (as well as folks from Louisiana and Oklahoma who make the trek!).
One last thing to note, which isn’t really a “tip” per say but more of a “heads-up”: While many things inside Santa’s Wonderland are included with the cost of admission, there are more than a few things that are not (like the above mentioned Pony rides a petting zoo and some photo ops like the one where you are in a “snow globe”), so be sure to bring extra cash to spend.