Santa Land well received
As organizers and city officials prepared Wednesday for the final night of Cape Coral’s first-ever Santa Land, they called the six-day event a success.
Held from 5-11 p.m. starting Friday at Sun Splash Family Waterpark, the holiday treat featured a mini-carnival, train rides around the park, visits with Santa Claus and a children’s craft area. A local favorite, the Waltzing Waters liquid fireworks display, was also set up.
“We decided to do this because we have children and understand that Cape Coral lacked something for the kids,” said Nichole Collmer, a partner at The Meatball Factory with her husband, Ryan, and her family.
The Meatball Factory and Cape Coral’s Parks and Recreation Department teamed up to host Santa Land. While the city provided the venue and staff and marketing support, The Meatball Factory came up with the idea for the event and ran the budget through sponsors and its own money.
Collmer explained that Fort Myers and other areas host holiday events that are aimed at younger children, but the Cape did not offer anything like that.
“We wanted it to be something for the young children,” she said. “Something festive in our area that brought together our community, and something that wasn’t going to cost a fortune for families.”
Admission was $2 per person, with an additional fee for the rides and take-home crafts. Unlimited carnival ride bands were available for $8, and “Magic Passes,” which included unlimited carnival rides, a train ride, a visit with Santa and the craft project, were $10.
“We are very happy with the turnout,” Collmer said. “And because it’s only a $2 entry, we’ve had people come out multiple times.”
Madeleime Leiva stopped by the event Tuesday with her 7-year-old son, David. A first-grader at Hector A. Cafferata Junior Elementary, David has autism. Off work for the day, Leiva said she planned the trip for some quality, family fun.
“To spend some time with him doing something different,” she said. “There’s not too many options here for his age and his disability.”
As for their itinerary that night, Leiva said it was up to David.
“Whatever he feels like, whatever he wants to do,” she said.
Jason and Allison McCarrahger’s night was filled with rides and a visit with Santa as they trekked through the park with their 3-year-old son, Dutch, and his grandmother, Kathy Davenport.
“Just for holiday family fun, especially because it’s cool out. It’s festive,” Allison McCarrahger said of why the family came out. “And, of course, because of Santa.”
City officials are projecting about 6,000 visitors total over the six days.
“We’re pretty confident it was pretty successful based on our early estimates,” said Todd King, special events coordinator for the city’s Park and Recreation Department. “We know it’s going to be one of those events that builds in popularity. This was the initial go-around.”
The Wednesday night finale promised each child a free cup of cocoa and a cookie with their paid entry, along with a book reading and a showing of the movie “Polar Express” on the big screen.
“‘Polar Express’ was a children’s favorite a couple of years ago,” King said. “This was a first attempt to do a special event within a special event.”
A portion of the proceeds from Santa Land will benefit The Sunshine Kids, a non-profit organization that supports children with cancer and their families.
“We wanted to support a charity that involved children,” Collmer said, adding that the organization helps families locally. “It’s a great, great organization.”
Officials plan on holding Santa Land next year because it works with other city-involved activities, like the annual Holiday Festival of Lights.
“It gives an opportunity for families to come out and enjoy another holiday event,” King said. “This kind of fits with the motif that this is a great activity for the kids who are out of school.
“I see it have a lasting life with the city,” he added.
Plans for next year could include more decorations, a walk-through lighted scenery area, a Christmas tree lighting and local vendors selling arts and crafts.
“We want to do more decorations, for sure,” Collmer said.
“We just want to keep adding and making it magical and fun for the kids,” she said. “We’re definitely looking forward to this being a long-term event.”
According to The Sunshine Kids’ Web site, the organization was established in 1982 and is “committed to providing positive group activities and emotional support for young cancer patients” through free programs and events.