As I write these words it is a week before a trip to experience the holiday offerings at Disneyland, something I’m sure many of you have done. Big and splashy, it is to holidays as New York is to cities. But first, as year 110 for the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk winds down, I wanted to make one more trek over to see their new Holiday Ice Rink and the Holiday Train operated by Roaring Camp RR. So less like New York, and more like Mayberry, or maybe Mt Pilot, but there’s nothing wrong with a small town Christmas, so let’s take a look.
Outside of the immediate area surrounding the rink by the new entrance, most everything at the Boardwalk is closed during what’s known as offseason in beach burgs, including the location of their signature hand-dipped corn dogs. This was the perfect excuse to check out one of the savory options at the new Cruzin’ Crepes eatery. Having now tried both sweet and savory variations (and son Colin has combined the two by having bacon added to a smores crepe), I can heartily recommend this addition to the options here (and they’re not even deep fried). The wait can stretch if even a few people are there, but watching the artistry behind the glass is entertaining in its own way.
Fully satiated, I wandered the area to see what was going on. An hour on the ice, skates included, will set one back $12. Though considerably smaller than Snowflake Lake at California’s Great America, the Boardwalk ups the novelty ante from skating among palm trees to skating beside the beach. Forgive the natives if they seem awkward on the ice, they are more comfortable on surfboards. The adjacent new Typhoon twirl and hurl ride was one of the few operating (others were the Speed Bumps bumper cars and Historic Looff Carousel), and the ever-popular fire pits were available for those wanting a non-frozen experience.
Neptune’s Kingdom arcade and Buccaneer Bay mini golf were available for the more indoorsy types, and even rascals and scalawags were in the spirit of the season. And Mr C was hanging out at the North Pole Craft Cottage.
A few miles inland from Monterey Bay, tucked among the redwoods along the San Lorenz River is Roaring Camp.
The main attraction here are their train excursions that include forest tours and rail passage to and from the Boardwalk. For 19 years they have been running Holiday Lights Trains through the city of Santa Cruz with old-fashioned family fun like hot cider and sing a longs. The good folks at Roaring Camp allowed your humble narrator to join all aboard a recent trip, and shortly before departure, I entered one of the boarding queues. Although not an island, I guess Santa Cruz is on island time, mon. Ours was the second trip of the night, and we were past departure time before everything was prepared, but directly all was ready for the stream of people to pull themselves up from the pavement to decide whether to sit inside or in one of the open cars with many opting for the latter, prepared with thick sweaters and soft blankets.
A friendly gent in a Top Hat was the voice of our jaunt, and a pair of musicians kept the music going, all of which was broadcast throughout the train. Most were content to relax and enjoy the ride. Santa’s main squeeze passed through followed by the bearded one himself along with jolly elves ready to take photos, distribute cookies and keep things running smoothly. With banter ranging from the places we would see to acknowledging the near multitude of birthday boys and girls present, many of the kids were drawn to the man with the mic, especially at the two points on the journey where all are welcome to sing at maximum intensity into said mic; rhythmic or melodic ability are not a requirement to participate, I know that for a fact.
Ultimately we slowed to a stop in, uh
OK, so since this is a short little odyssey of about an hour, 30 minutes in the train stops in a dark grove solely illuminated by decorative lights. We then, proceeded? Receded? Regardless, we went the way that we had come, backwards. Even beyond the tourist zone it remains true that the people must wave to the train, and being beyond the Boardwalk means passing through the like of vacation rentals, parks, commercial ventures, unfortunate realities like someone sleeping in the shadows of a bridge and the scent of, well, probably incense or something, plus, a few times, there was railway snow in Santa Cruz.
On December 14 one can see the holidays from a different point of view on the Chanukah Train.
Holiday Ice at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk continues on select nights through January 7, 2018. More information can be found here: Boardwalk Holiday Ice. Specific information regarding the Holiday Lights Train can be found here. I’m going to take the chill off at a fire pit, and be back on the next Day by The Bay.