Here Comes Santa Claus!
Why settle for the routine mall Santa when you can visit with ol’ St. Nick in a cave, on a train and even underwater.
Santa, Rudolph and an elf rappel down the side of a downtown Cincinnati building.
Courtesy of Downtown Cincinnati, Inc.
Sure, the author of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” set the perfect scene for Santa’s arrival, provided he’s traveling via sleigh, landing on your roof and descending your chimney.
But what if the jolly old elf comes by way of carriage? Or train? Or sets up shop in a cave? What if he’s surrounded by sharks rather than reindeer? And what if he’s traded the traditional chimney entrance for the way-more-extreme option of rappelling down the side of a building?
What would Ma in her kerchief and Pa in his cap think of all that?
Hard to say, but since you can see Santa Claus doing all of the aforementioned things around Ohio this month, you might want to wait until after Christmas to settle down for that long winter’s nap.
A Little Downtown Dazzle
If you like your Christmas celebrations with a dash of “The Amazing Race” and a pinch of Indiana Jones, you’ll want to guide your family sleigh to Fountain Square in Cincinnati for Macy’s Downtown Dazzle. Chimneys are a thing of the past for this event’s St. Nick, who rappels down the side of the 525 Vine Building office tower to the Macy’s rooftop at Fountain Square, where he’ll kick off a festive holiday fireworks display. The 20-minute, family-friendly program is free and includes live music on Fountain Square sung by local choirs. After the fireworks, plan to head to Macy’s Fountain Place for cookies, crafts and story time with Mrs. Claus, and bring your own camera for free pictures with Santa.
Macy’s Downtown Dazzle is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, 10 and 17, with choirs beginning at 5:45 p.m. Activities at Macy’s Fountain Place run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 23, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 18 and from Dec. 19 to Dec. 24. Macy’s Fountain Place, 505 Vine St., Cincinnati 45202, 513/421-4440. downtowncincinnati.com
Scuba gear is undoubtedly a scarce and unnecessary commodity at the North Pole, but when Santa visits the Newport Aquarium, he makes sure to pack his wet suit. Now in his ninth year at the aquarium, Scuba Santa arrives as part of the 385,000-gallon Surrounded by Sharks exhibit. Perched atop an underwater sleigh that’s pulled by bigger-than-life-sized sea horses, Scuba Santa magically talks to the crowds and even reads an updated version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” that contains a few aquatic twists.
Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland runs through Jan. 1 at the aquarium and features other holiday-themed activities, including Scuba Santa’s Post Office, where kids can write their own letters to Scuba Santa and place them in a special mailbox for delivery; and the Reindeer Roundup game, where kids are asked to help Scuba Santa track down all of the reindeer hidden throughout the aquarium.
Admission to Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland is free with a Newport Aquarium ticket, and the aquarium will have extended hours Dec. 26–31. Newport Aquarium, One Aquarium Way, Newport, KY 41071, 859/261-7444. newportaquarium.com
Arriving by Carriage
Santa trades his sleigh for a carriage in order to take part in the annual Historic Christmas Festival and Horse Drawn Carriage Parade in downtown Lebanon.
The 23rd annual festival is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 3. It starts at 10 a.m. with parades at 1 and 7 p.m. The festival, which takes place on Mulberry Street and Broadway, includes street vendors, costumed characters, live entertainment and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Free carriage rides are available from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The 1 p.m. parade is the perfect prelude to an afternoon of shopping in Lebanon’s antique and specialty stores, while the city’s candlelit streets make a festive backdrop for the 7 p.m. parade, when dozens of horse-drawn antique carriages travel the route. Santa’s appearance officially launches the holiday season in style. Historic downtown Lebanon 45036, 513/932-1100. lebanonchamber.org
Ohio offers a variety of holiday-themed train rides that mix the natural beauty of the state’s railways with the fun and excitement of Christmas on wheels.
At the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, (400 Center St., Dennison 44621, 740/922-6776. dennisondepot.org) guests can travel “to the North Pole and back” via the Polar Express, a trip formatted after the popular holiday movie and book of the same name. Elves serve hot chocolate and cookies while the train’s storyteller reads The Polar Express to passengers. The trip also includes games, songs and visits with Santa. The Polar Express departs on Dec. 9–11 and Dec. 16–18. Departure times are 6 and 8 p.m. on Fridays and 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations can be made by phone; tickets are $36 each, or $50 apiece for first-class seating, which includes a separate waiting room and goodie bags for kids. Tickets are first-come, first-serve and are said to go quickly.
A 30-minute train ride on the Lebanon Mason & Monroe’s North Pole Express (127 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon 45036, 513/933-8022. lebanonrr.com) will bring you face to face with Santa at the festively decorated LM&M Junction. Pay a visit to the Holiday Post Express to color pictures and put your Christmas list on paper before sharing it with Santa and Mrs. Claus. A holiday cookie and hot chocolate will be served upon arrival, Santa’s elves will provide entertainment and young visitors will get a gift from Santa himself before they depart. The North Pole Express leaves the station at 10 a.m. and 12:15, 2:30 and 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 3–4, 10–11 and 17–18. (A 7 p.m. departure time has been added on Dec. 10 and 17). Boarding begins 10 minutes before departure. Tickets are $20.50 for adults, $15.50 for seniors 62 and up and kids 5–16, and $8.50 for children 2–4. Infants under 2 ride free.
The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway’s Santa Trains (33 W. Canal St., Nelsonville 45764, 740/753-9531. hvsry.org) feature individual visits with Santa for each child on board. The elves have a special candy treat for young passengers, and the train is decked out in its holiday best. Each ride lasts approximately two hours and trains depart each day at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The Santa trains run for three weekends this month — Dec. 3–4, 10–11 and 17–18. Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for those 60 and older and $12 for kids ages 3–12. Kids under 3 ride free but must sit on a parent’s or guardian’s lap.
Santa will also make an appearance on the Ashtabula, Carson and Jefferson Scenic Railway (122 E. Walnut St., Jefferson 44047, 440/576-6346. acjrscenic.net/santa.htm). The “Santa on the Train” event will leave the depot at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 and at 1 and 3 p.m. on Dec. 4 and Dec. 11. The one-hour trip includes a stop to pick up Santa and Mrs. Claus, who will visit all on board. Santa will have a small gift and candy canes for passengers, and both Santa and Mrs. Claus will be available for photos. Tickets are $15 and $10 for children ages 1–12. (Those less than a year old ride free but must sit on an adult’s lap.) Prepaid reservations are required.
You can’t get much farther from the hustle and bustle of the season than the Hocking Hills. Enjoy the peace of the surrounding wilderness as you take a lighted stroll to Ash Cave (the largest recess cave in Ohio), where you’ll find holiday music and refreshments by an open fire, not to mention the waterfall that cascades over the rim of the cave. You’ll also be able to decorate a Christmas tree for the area’s wildlife and visit with an old-fashioned Santa. The Christmas in Ash Cave event is free, but is one day only, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 10. Ash Cave, St. Rte. 56, Logan 43138. 740/385-6842. 1800hocking.com/whattodo/christmas_in_ash_cave
Clearly, there are plenty of opportunities to get your Christmas lists to Santa before he returns on Christmas Eve. Staying on your best behavior between now and then is up to you.