Monday, December 5, 2016

The Return of Santa's... SkyPark!!

Yes! It's true! That lost fairyland once known as Santa's Village is back! Well, that is, the former Santa's Village location near Lake Arrowhead is now the site once again of a pleasantly functioning attraction. They call it SkyPark Santa's Village and it's drawing crowds of wistful Southern Californians who still remember the charm of the old park. They come looking to rekindle the memory of a childhood long ago, and to share with their own children a bit of their nostalgia. Now, by golly, they certainly can do that to some degree! But before getting the cart before the horse, there are a few caveats to keep in mind...

Don't come looking for reindeer, sleigh rides or petting zoos at SkyPark. That's all gone. The plastic deer tethered to the candy cane out front are all you'll be seeing these days at this new, outdoor adventure themed park.

And that whimsical Candy Cane out front that once was covered with brightly colored signage and enticing, kooky directionals is now sporting the rather simple, tasteful, refined design that children today must prefer. The owners have set course to take this park in a more adventurous direction. The aim is to have year round activities; bike trails, fly fishing, hiking and rock climbing. Once you understand this profound, fundamental change, you'll be better equipped to enjoy what you find inside SkyPark- or not.

The first 'experience' the guest will find upon entering the park is 'Arrow's Adventure', a peddle car ride that requires some easy leg power to navigate the course through a meadow like setting. It should be made clear at this point that 'Arrow' is the magnificent Husky cross breed dog that belongs to the owner of the park (or, to more correctly follow the PR of the place, Santa Claus!) He's promoted widely and is quite friendly with each visitor that approaches him. Clearly, he's the mascot of the park and deserves to be so. He's a pretty wonderful dog! Alas, we never snapped his picture!

Once you helmet up (a legal requirement, apparently, that significantly slows the movement of the line), you journey out across the site of the former Santa's Village antique auto ride. Along the way you see flowers and various old remnants from the former village. Some still in need of paint, plaster or freshening up.

Before long, you find yourself entering a tunnel - an important part of Arrow's adventure, apparently - where you encounter strange, sparkling cave walls and singing spiders. If there's a cohesive story here we missed it in all the sound and indecipherable speaking. Oh well, before long you exit the cave and head back to the point of origination to return your unwieldy helmet.

Singing cave walls and other odd distractions that Arrow wants you to see.

Say, here's a familiar old friend! The little castle that once stood in the middle of the old park.

Walking back out to the main entry promenade, one of the first things to strike the visitor is just how much concrete has been poured to comply with legal requirements and regulations. Gone are the simple foot paths and grassy open areas that once gave Santa'sVillage it's open, parklike feel.  It's still pretty wonderful, but egads, look at all that concrete.

Hand rails are commonplace. Where's the bubble wrap?

Let's continue up the trail towards Santa Claus' house! Yes, he's home. The long line in front proves it. Did we mention the long line? It seems this is the principal destination everyone's been looking for. From what was overheard, the wait can run ninety minutes or more on the weekend. We never did get to see Santa, thinking it was wiser to allow the little tykes anxiously waiting to see the man without us ahead of them, too. But there was something else... if you look to the right of the image below you'll see it. It's the North Pole! Sure, it's lacking the charm of the old one, what with the little elf that once sat proudly atop holding his banner, and all. Remember him? This new incarnation is a... well, it's a big, cold ice pillar. No charm allowed. But the kids are still licking it like old times!

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. While the new Skypark Santa's Village offers a remarkable amount of fun and adventure, it seems to have misplaced (or forgotten) most of the over-the-top, colorful charm and whimsy the old park held dear. The explosion of childhood fantasy the little ones could experience back in the day is missing. There aren't any colorful tin soldiers, the giant jack-in-the-box with his towering, google eyed head has left us. Children won't be picking Lolly Pops off trees anymore. Alice in Wonderland and her maze are long gone, along with nearly all the rides you remember. The Christmas Tree tea cup spinner, the kiddie coaster and pumpkin coach - all gone.

But there remains one heck of a nice bakery! The Gingerbread House. Though painted in far more subdued colors, the bakery delivers some of the best cookies we've had in a long time.

The Bumblebee Monorail! Oops, it's gone, as well. The new owners promise a self peddled monorail ride adventure in the near future. Sound exhausting? Hey, maybe that's the adventure. Muscle your way back after being suspended fifty feet in the air for half a mile. No one's coming to get you!

Over at the original location for a mirror maze that once featured Alice in Wonderland,  you'll find a boulder climbing room. The kids inside seemed to be having some fun with it.

Here's Arrow! This is the walk around mascot character - not the real Arrow that barks and greets you at the park entrance. Seemed to be a pretty popular character to pose with. Nice design, too!

There are a number of really wonderful walk around characters throughout SkyPark. Their costumes are finely made and expertly tailored. Genuine effort went into each and every one. 

All of the park employees were exceptional in their roles. They were happy, friendly, helpful and seemed to be sincere in their interactions with every guest. Nothing was forced or rehearsed. No canned spiels or company correctness. It was quite refreshing and remarkable. Below, you'll find the character 'Tall Tale' performing some rope tricks.

And this happy, little elf ran wildly around the grounds the whole time. Sometimes gleefully chased by the little ones. It was fun to watch.

At the Kandy Shoppe things were a little tight. Patrons stood elbow to elbow with little regard to any line or order. The candy selection inside was pretty sparse, too.

The former location of the old Merry-Go-Round (sadly, it's gone, too) is now a loading area for the train ride. This is an off the shelf shopping center variety railroad that winds its way across the concrete pathways and then returns to the Pavilion. Wait time on Saturday? Forty five minutes.

Luckily for the waiting guests, the pavilion also serves as a venue for many of the park's performers. These are the Mistletones, a really funny foursome that deserved better attention than they received from the guests. They had taken some pop culture songs and altered the lyrics wildly like Weird Al might have done had he been in a Christmas mood. Funny stuff! Michael Jackson classics, Lady GaGa stuff - 'My, my, my, my, my, my - my, my fireplace' - 'He can fly through the sky, but he can't fit in my fireplace...' -- Go buy their CD!

The little chapel structure is still there. All freshened up and ready for those guests looking for some quiet reflection. It's very nice.

Santa's Village Mining Company offers children the chance to 'mine' gemstones from a bag of previously spiked pay dirt. Get those little hands in that frigid water, kiddo! Brrrrr!

Inside the structure beside the mine, there was this little mine display. It was unclear if it was meant to be functional or not. Maybe at some point in the future it will deliver your bag of pay dirt to you before you start the panning process. Hard to tell.

Inside the ice cream shop (a side entrance to the Kandy Shoppe) there was little demand for the cold stuff. The menu board will give you some idea of what is offered.

At Santa's Workshop the little ones are given the chance to make a craft or send a letter to Santa. It's an awfully tight space with two tables for crafting. It seemed that most folks just kind of shuffled through the tight room before heading back out the door again.

Wonderful Christmas displays and Christmas trees were positioned strategically within the various buildings, shops and restaurants. All of them were top notch and delightful.

SkyPark offers a 'fine dining' location called 'Gatherings'. The decor was nice and the interior was warm and inviting. The price on the menu, not so much.

What strikes today's visitor, when comparing this park to the original Santa's Village, is just how much money surely must have been spent to rehab the existing structures. The interiors are really nice and the exteriors are newly cleaned, painted and welcoming. There's nothing shabby about this place. It's all pretty top notch and it shows. Millions must have been spent in bringing it all back to us. Which is very much appreciated. We're grateful. The new owners deserve wild kudos and acclaim for the ambitious attempt. But here's the thing; too many of the new structures feel like really nice vacation cabins or shopping villas. Most of the previous childlike wonder, design, color and kitschy fun has been removed. The park feels more like an upscale Christmas shopping village than a wide eyed, five year old's magical wonderland. That's too bad.

Well stocked store shelves meet you in every retail establishment - and there's plenty of 'Arrow' plush to be found, too! Heck, we bought one!

All in all, SkyPark is a noble attempt to bring back something good and wholesome to the mountain community. Goodness knows, the area needs something to generate more jobs. Is SkyPark the return of the classic Santa's Village we so fondly remember and wish to see again? No, not really. But it IS something new and different. They will be exploring outdoor adventure through biking and nature trails. Maybe a zip line or two in the future. Can they succeed? We certainly hope so, but it will be a gargantuan challenge. Maybe it's like the expression says; you can't go back to your childhood. So, it's onward and up for SkyPark. We shall optimistically see what the future holds.

Oh, and yes, just in case you were wondering... there are indeed a few mushrooms still around!

Those of you with warm memories please feel free to share your thoughts and comments. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Walt Disney Studios

The newly released book The Walt Disney Studios - A Lot To Remember offers armchair historians a fascinating backstage look at the history of Walt Disney's Burbank studio. Authored by archivists Steven Clark and Rebecca Cline, this much anticipated book takes the reader on an up close journey through the fabled lot and includes a wonderful sojourn into the formative years of Disneyland and Imagineering, too. While not overly detailed on individual subject matter, the book more than makes up for its brief historic outlines with pages of remarkable, rarely seen photos, maps and conceptual art. The text of the book may be a swift, easy read, but the captivating images inside will keep one spellbound for hours! No doubt, it will make a welcome addition to your Disney library.

                   Conceptual art for Walt Disney's formal office