Santa once again will spend his summers in East Dundee.
After closing roughly six years ago, Santa’s Village has reopened as Santa’s Village AZoosment Park.
Much of the original amusement park remains, and has been renovated and combined with a petting zoo, pony rides, exotic animal shows and other attractions.
“This is going to be very nostalgic,” said Debra Anderson of Streamwood after she and her children greeted Santa, then entered the park on opening day.
Anderson went to Santa’s Village often as a child.
When she heard the park would reopen, she took the day off work to join her sister, a cousin and their kids for a family outing.
It was a similar story for many of those at the park.
Memories, along with a bit of curiosity, brought them there.
Most of the classic rides and buildings have been restored, while others have been added, including rides, such as the Midge ‘o Racer from the now defunct Kiddieland, which shut down in 2009 in Melrose Park.
Jason and Amy Sierpien purchased Santa’s Village, along with some of the classic Kiddieland rides, and were able to provide animal activities through their Marengo-based business, A Zoo to You. Their business brings educational animal experiences directly to consumers.
“It all kind of came together at the same time,” Jason Sierpien said.
He worked shoeing horses in a smaller petting zoo at Santa’s Village years ago, before the park closed because of to financial troubles.
Sierpien and his wife saw something more for the village and knew it could be revived.
“Everybody knows this place,” he said. “Nobody knows where East Dundee is, but they know
where Santa’s Village is.”
With the large Oak trees dotting the property and the buildings originally designed to look how children envision Santa’s home, there’s just something special about the park, visitors say.
“I think it’s just the feel you get in this place,” Sierpien said. “It’s the feel of fun.”
Santa, himself, was glad to be back as he greeted visitors with a “ho, ho, ho.”
When Santa’s Village originally opened in 1959, it was meant to serve as his year-round home, remembered Santa, who spent 25 years there.
It was the third in a chain of villages built by H. Glenn Holland. With two villages in California, the Dundee village was the largest and most prominent. During the park’s history, more than 20 million people passed through its front gates.
“It’s really kind of magical to see the park up and running like this again,” Santa said. “It’s like it was never closed. It’s a joy to see all the children, all the smiles again.”
The park has not been open during the winter season since 1963, something Sierpien would like to change. He imagines opening on a smaller scale this winter with some rides, reindeer, lighting and a few attractions.
For many, simply being able to walk through the gates once again was enough.
“I used to have a blast here,” said Dora Davenport of Rockford, who brought her 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old niece on opening day.
She especially remembered the Ferris wheel and the ice cream shop. Her step-father, Ricky Chappell, also of Rockford, used to camp nearby so he could spend his weekends at the park.
“It’s something you can do as a family,” Davenport said.
“We’ve only been here 10 minutes and look, they’re already off,” Chappell said of the kids.
WHAT: Santa’s Village AZoosment Park is geared toward children ages 2 to 12, offering rides, games, a petting zoo, exotic animal shows and other attractions.
WHERE: 601 Dundee Ave. in East Dundee.
TICKETS: $16.50. Children 2 and younger are free.
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekends.
INFORMATION: www.santasvillagedundee.com or 847-426-6751.
Original Santa’s Village rides that have returned
Balloon Race - Originally from 1989, the ride whisks kids and adults up to sail through the air on a hot air balloon.
Convoy - These semi-trucks have a jungle motif and will give children a safari-like experience.
Sleigh Ride - This 1959 ride features horse-drawn sleighs, allowing families to sit back, relax and take in the park’s sights.
Starjet - One of Santa’s Village’s original rides, the Starjet blasts children off for an out of this world experience.
Kiddieland Rides that have joined the park
Midge ‘o Racer - A fan favorite, it allows children to try to take a drive in an old-fashioned race car.
Kiddie Whip - Watch as your children spin around in this Kiddieland memory.
Dragon Coaster - Not for the timid; get a true roller coaster experience.
Kiddie Ferris Wheel - Offers a bird’s eye view of the park.
Kiddie Hand Trains - Kids can peddle the train around a guided course.
Swings - Children swing around and around.
Tilt-A-Whirl - A classic amusement park ride.