Celebrate the Holidays with a Southern Indiana Getaway

For many families, traveling around the holidays has become as much a tradition as gift giving. Schools close, and most workplaces slow down, so what better time of year to get away for some quality time? Southern Indiana offers a variety of holiday-season experiences for travelers.

Family Fun
One of the state’s newest attractions, Big Splash Adventure in French Lick, also is the nation’s only indoor water park with a retractable roof. The 40,000-square-foot park includes a 40-foot tower with four slides, a three-story play structure, a lazy river and plenty of pools, splash areas and activities for the whole family. While day passes are available, all overnight rooms include passes to the water park and breakfast. Many of the family-friendly rooms and suites feature bunk beds, and electronic wristbands double as room keys.

Nearby is the new French Lick West Baden Indoor Karting, which features go-carts on a 1,250-foot indoor road course. Junior carts reach 20 mph, while adult carts accelerate to 40 mph. Kids must be at least 48 inches tall to drive.

“The Polar Express” story comes to life on the French Lick Scenic Railroad. Children are encouraged to dress in their pajamas and take a roundtrip train ride to the North Pole, where they’ll meet Santa. The conductor will yell, “All aboard,” and passengers enjoy hot cocoa and caroling. Ticket and hotel packages are available at the Big Splash Adventure, Comfort Suites French Lick and the French Lick Resort.

Adventure seekers can ski, snowboard or snowtube down a hill on a tube at Paoli Peaks. Paoli’s 17 trails and three terrain parks are projected to open Dec. 18. Rental skis, poles, boots and snowboards are available, as are ski lessons. A snow tubing park offers a great alternative to trying to stay upright on skis. Slide down a 700-foot-long snow-covered hill on specially made inner tubes and ride back up on a surface lift. Check www.paolipeaks.com for the most up-to-date snow reports.

Down the road in Corydon is Golf Shores Fun Center. This indoor miniature golf course with black lights where you can play wearing 3D glasses is a new twist on an old favorite – and usually something you can only do in warm weather months. Black lights illuminate colorful creatures in underwater and jungle settings that include appropriate sounds as well. Golf Shores also features an arcade, snack bar and coffee shop.

Old World Christmas and Traditions
No holiday trip would be complete without a little shopping. And several Southern Indiana communities pay homage to their German heritage at stores and restaurants throughout town.

Just off Interstate 64, the charming village of Ferdinand features quaint shops – Tin Lizzie’s on Main Street is a visitor favorite for home furnishings and décor. Stroll through the downtown, then take a scenic drive just a couple miles north to Huntingburg. The Historic Fourth Street Shopping District is home to dozens of antique and specialty shops and unique eateries, including Fat & Sassy, where you’ll find such specialties as chunky chicken salad and bread pudding. Shops and homes in the downtown district are decked out for the holidays.

The tiny town known as Santa Claus was settled by German immigrants in the early 1840s. Today, thousands of visitors make the trip to the world’s only post office with the Santa Claus name to obtain its one-of-a-kind picture postmark cancelation stamp on holiday greeting cards and packages.

Visitors can learn more about the town’s holiday traditions at the Santa Claus Museum. Throughout the town you’ll discover 17 Santa statues. Browse through the shops at Kringle Place, where Santa’s Great Big LED Tree of Lights comes to life with a choreographed musical light show at the top of every hour. Pick up some candy canes at Santa’s Candy Castle, which has the world’s largest selection of gourmet candy canes and 25 flavors of hot chocolate. Watch Christmas wood carving demonstrations during the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration, the first three weekends in December. This holiday festival includes craft shows, a parade, holiday light tour through Christmas Lake Village and, of course, Santa himself. A traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and a visit with Santa takes place at Santa’s Lodge on Dec. 3, 10 and 17.

In Corydon, Indiana’s capitol from 1816 to 1825, you’ll find not only historic architecture such as the first state capitol, but also unique shops and restaurants all decked out for the holidays. At the 25th annual Light Up Corydon on Nov. 27, thousands of tiny white lights will be turned on at the beautifully decorated town square.

The French Lick Resort pulls out all the stops to create a festive atmosphere with wonderful holiday entertainment and great opportunities to create memories. The soaring atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel sparkles even more during the holidays. A 40-foot tree with nearly 50,000 lights pays homage to the angel murals found high above the dome in a secret room. Just a mile away, French Lick Springs Hotel features a huge outdoor tree with vintage toys, and 25 more trees throughout the hotel.

Holiday performances at the resort range from free Saturday afternoon entertainment by the Dickens Carolers at the West Baden Springs Hotel to a dinner and show with local favorite the Wright Brothers Dec. 26 through 29. The Holiday Twist Tour reunites four stars from the original cast of Broadway’s Jersey Boys on Dec. 18.

Santa makes a special trip to French Lick each weekend, allowing kids to meet the jolly elf for breakfast and hear stories told by Mrs. Claus. A special hangout called KidsFest features Bowling with the Elves, holiday cooking and holiday movies, in case mom and dad want some time on their own.

A Holiday Tour of Wines
Winzerwald Winery located in Perry County just off Interstate 64 celebrates the owners' German heritage and the German and Swiss heritage of Southern Indiana. The winery’s name, Winzerwald, means “vintners of the forest” in German. Everything from the handcrafted tasting counter, constructed with a variety of hardwoods from the forest of owners Dan and Donna Adams, to the handmade wine labels adorned with a nutcracker, gives visitors a chance to experience German wine culture in Indiana.

The winery will offer special holiday selections, including wines in Christmas-tree shaped bottles, Schweizer Spice (known as liquid pumpkin pie) and Gluhwein, a mulled spice with cinnamon and cloves, also called Christmas in a glass.

Winzerwald Winery is part of the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, which takes visitors from just north of Louisville through the back roads of Indiana to Bloomington, introducing travelers to a variety of Indiana wines in unexpected places.

The French Lick Winery, for example, is located in the former Kimball Piano Factory in West Baden, where you can stop for lunch at the Vintage Café, which has a selection of salads, pizzas and pastas, paired with wine, of course.

Other wineries on the trail include: Best Vineyard, Brown County, Butler, Carousel, Huber, Oliver and Turtle Run. Visit the nine wineries now through January 31 for “Winter in the Uplands.” Tickets permit wine lovers to receive eight pieces of stemware and a matching decanter. Visit www.indianauplands.com for details.

Wineries too new to be on the tour but still worth a visit are Blue Heron Vineyard Winery, home of spectacular 20-foot Celtic cross carved from stone natural to its location in Cannelton, and Scout Mountain Winery and Bed & Breakfast on 35 acres near Corydon.

Sacred Holiday Tours
Southern Indiana’s rich spiritual tradition is represented well by two monasteries and a collection of historic churches, which make for an inspirational weekend getaway.

The Archabbey Monastery in Saint Meinrad, founded in 1954 by monks of the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, is home to about 120 Benedictine monks. Ever hospitable, the monks invite you to tour their home, join them in prayer and stroll the grounds. A lovely Midnight Mass service is held on Christmas Eve at the Archabbey. Guided tours of the monastery and the nearby Monte Cassino Shrine are given each Saturday at 1:30 (CDT). Self-guided tours also are available, but be sure to pick up an audio player at the Archabbey Guest House

Known as the "Castle on the Hill," the Monastery Immaculate Conception, founded in 1867, is home to one of the nation’s largest communities of Benedictine women. The distinctive, recently restored Romanesque dome rises 87 feet to majestically overlook the town of Ferdinand. Eighty-nine angels adorn the church, 16 of which are depicted on the stained glass windows surrounding the dome. During the holidays, lights sparkle on the grotto. The nuns who live here invite visitors to join the monastic community for daily prayer and provide tours of the Monastery throughout the year. The Monastery gift shop offers handmade crafts from the sisters and other unique spiritual merchandise. The Kordes Center, also on the Monastery grounds, offers a peaceful and rejuvenating getaway.

St. Joseph Church in Jasper, also on the National Register of Historic Places, is an 1880 Romanesque Old World church that features German stained glass windows, Austrian designed mosaics and marble statues.

For more information on holiday getaways in Southern Indiana, visit www.ExploreSouthernIndiana.com.