Year after year, more than 200,000 visitors flock to Santa’s Wonderland in College Station Texas. They come from hundreds of miles away to see this Texas-sized light display. But this is oh so much more than just a holiday lights display. It is a destination to embrace the Christmas Spirit for all ages!
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Ready to Visit Santa’s Wonderland Texas?
Santa’s Wonderland Texas is more than twinkling lights. It’s a full Texas Christmas Experience. There is a reason that folks come back annually with their families. Just enough changes each year to make it fresh. But the old favorites, such as Texas Santa, Marshall Frostbite (the 7-foot-tall snowman mascot), and the hayride are still there.
Silly me, coming from the Northeast and never having been before, I assumed that it was lights and a few activities. I was wrong. Very wrong. There are bands, shopping, food, activities, movies, and plenty of places to sit down. We could have spent far longer there watching the movies and I would have planned more time for Christmas shopping.
So here are tips from a Santa’s Wonderland Texas newbie to make your visit go smoothly.
1. It takes a REALLY long time to see Santa if you don’t plan your arrival time right.
Since we didn’t know about all the offerings, we came later. We didn’t want to hang out for too long before it got dark enough for the lights to show up in pictures. Big mistake. Santa “opens” the park each night, which we never got to see. In retrospect, we should have gotten there at the 3 p.m. opening. Here’s why:
Santa is a hot commodity. We should have arrived at 3 p.m. and gone straight to the Santa line. The addition of the kiddie train behind Santa’s Cottage helps with entertaining those waiting in queue but for little kids, it is still a long wait which gets longer as the day goes on.
Going right when it opens would cut the wait time and knock it out right at the beginning. Next year we will remember this.
As it should be at a place called Santa’s Wonderland, the Santa is really impressive. I heard amazing feedback about the kids’ interactions with him, so the long wait is worth it! (My husband wrote a piece over at TravelingDad.com and thinks that folks should skip Santa. We’ll see who wins that showdown this year.)
2. Consider paying for parking. (It’s changed for 2019/2020.)
Yes, this goes against what I said last year, but things change and you have to adjust. In the past, free parking was located in the parking lot of the Museum of the American G.I.. Not the case for the 2019-2020 season. There are now three paid parking lots on the side of the highway where Santa’s Wonderland is located. The FREE lot is now across the highway from Santa’s Wonderland, between the Millican Exit and the Flea Market. They will be running shuttles but space is limited in the free lot.
My advice would be to factor in the cost of parking so you don’t leave anything to chance if you are visiting on a weekend or in December. I’ll be checking it out this season and will update this if I feel like the lot has a ton of space. For now though? Don’t chance the free lot being full. It will just cost you time and aggravation.
If you do NOT buy VIP parking when you get off the exit for Santa’s Wonderland, get in the left lane! The right lane of cars that isn’t moving? They’re waiting to turn into the VIP parking lot.
3. If you can go to Santa’s Wonderland on a weeknight, DO IT!
Weeknights are far less crowded than weekends, and I highly recommend aiming for a weeknight for your trip. Tickets are $5 less on many weeknights. There is also VIP parking available for an extra cost. We had no issues parking but we went early in the season.
4. Purchase tickets online!
This will save a lot of time when you arrive. I always search Santa’s Wonderland on Groupon to see if there are any Groupon deals. Snag one and you’ll save you a ton. You can also check Living Social.
Tickets may give you sticker shock if you’ve never been. With adult tickets at $29.95 and kids at $24.95 the first thought is “for lights?” The other activities round out the full experience and make it worth it and, as you saw in Tip #3, weeknight tickets cost $5 less. If you are looking for an upgraded experience, they do have carriage rides that are more intimate than the hayride ticket.
5. Consider turning a Santa’s Wonderland trip into a long weekend.
The College Station/Bryan area has a ton to offer families. If you’re coming from out of town, plan to stay a few days if possible. There are museums, libraries and of course Texas A&M to see in the area. In addition, many hotels offer partner packages with Santa’s Wonderland. Planning to stay in town? Analyze these “special” rates carefully. Not all of them are created equal and further examination showed many were higher than the hotel’s regular pricing with few added amenities. We compared hotel “deals” for a family of 4 using the dates of November 8-10th as an example.
Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center-
With no shuttle offered as part of this package, I’d think long and hard about this one. The Santa’s Wonderland package includes milk and cookies, a surprise welcome amenity, parking and breakfast for four. The rate for two nights was $648 before taxes. Looking at room availability without the special? Prepaid rates were available for $396 before tax and a special being offered rang in at $422.40 pre-tax. An AAA-rate including self-parking was 475.20 before tax. Even factoring in the included parking ($48 value) and the continental breakfast ($75.80 per day for a total of 151.60), it would have to be one heck of a “surprise” welcome amenity to make up the extra 52.40 over the prepaid rate. Plus, that 151.60 breakfast value could be used towards some of the great restaurants located in the area instead.
The rates here are very family friendly and the Santa’s Wonderland rate is the same as their prepaid rate (except the SW rate allows you to cancel up to 48 hours in advance with no charge). For a family of 4 on our test dates, the cost would be 219.30 before tax, which includes free buffet breakfast and parking.
Hallelujah! The Santa’s Wonderland rate here is actually a deal! A one king/sleeper sofa room will run you 190.40 before tax on our test nights. Going to a 2 queen will bring you to 210.40 pretax. This is a savings of $9 over the prepaid Hyatt member price and $23 over their standard rate. Free parking is available. Breakfast is free to World of Hyatt members booking directly through Hyatt websites.
Best Western Plus College Station Inn and Suites-
Rates are lower when you use the Santa’s Wonderland Corporate Code 01733310. A room with the promotional code was 230.40 for two nights before tax saving 29.20 over the next best rate. The rate includes free parking and complimentary breakfast.
St. Nick’s Green R.V. Campground-
This spot is located directly across from Santa’s Wonderland and is the perfect spot if you have an RV. With an Irish pub on site, you can have fun at the camp and at Santa’s Wonderland. Two nights will run you roughly $108 for a pull-in spot and includes transportation over to Santa’s Wonderland. Don’t own an RV? You can always rent one and make a trip out of it!
This year with only the R.V. Campground offering a shuttle, we recommend using a service like TripAdvisor to get the lowest price available for a hotel that fits your family’s needs. There are hotels that are closer to Santa’s Wonderland than those listed on their site. Personally, I’m a Hilton brand fan. There’s a Hilton Garden Inn and Hilton on University Drive that you can routinely snag for less than $120 a night. They’re convenient to Santa’s Wonderland and other attractions.
6. Plan to Christmas shop (bring your wallet) and save time for other activities like movies and music.
There were some really cute shops with a lot of merchandise that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the area. Next time, I’ll plan in time to shop and check some people off my Christmas list.
While most attractions at Santa’s Wonderland are included, there are some that cost extra, like the petting zoo, pony rides, and picture packages. And, of course, there is food to be had. We found the food to be fairly reasonable (unless you’re having pizza, which was $6 a small slice). My husband had a large burger that we felt was fairly priced. Those on special diets may want to plan ahead, as lines can be long to wait in just to ask about allergy info. I’d recommend emailing ahead of time to identify what you can eat.
Plan time to sit down. There are movies playing and the live music was one of our favorite parts. The girls loved the music. They danced nonstop through the whole set. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and some cinnamon spiced pecans and let them go to town!
7. Overwhelmed by Christmas?
There’s a winery for that. Wonderland Winery is on site, offering local wines to drink and to buy for home. That takes care of half of my Christmas list! There are two locations at Santa’s Wonderland. The first is the “full winery” experience that is located in the main entry gift shop. There is also a satellite wine tasting location over near the dining area.
8. Dress warmly for the NEW Frostbite’s Mountain snow tubing and to play on the Snow Playground!
While Texas is still fairly warm this time of year, it gets colder at night and we do have cold snaps. We happened to visit during a rare cold snap and were in coats and gloves. Many families bring a fleece blanket for the hayride.
Introduced in 2019, Frostbite’s Mountain, gives you one more reason to dress warm. This eight-lane snow tubing experience with it’s adjacent Snow Playground allows Texas kids the rare chance to play in the snow. Both are included in the price of admission. Be sure to bring your camera to capture those snow pictures.
9. Contain the littles.
Whether you use a stroller or you baby wear, bring a way to keep the kiddos close while waiting in line for the hayride. There were also some smart families with folding wagons that the kids sat in. The strollers can be a little tricky in the gravel of the hayride line, but they’ll work everywhere else.
10. Get your picture taken in front of the giant Texas flag of lights.
It’s a tradition!
If you haven’t been in a few years, you may notice that it looks different. Not only have they restrung the lights (it looks spectacular) but they added a proper queue so that the wait is orderly. You may notice the professional photographer taking images and think it’s a pay only opportunity, but that isn’t true. Just wait in the line and have a friend take the picture when you get up to the front.
11. Enjoy the lights!
Above all else, enjoy the lights displays. They are unique and varied works of art!
Can’t make it this year? Watch our Facebook Live of the hayride!
BONUS TIP for Santa’s Wonderland Texas:
The first year we went with just our young daughters. On our second visit, we brought our then 12-year-old. I was skeptical as to whether he would enjoy himself or not. He was a huge fan of the hayride, the mechanical bull ride (FYI a parent has to sign a release, so don’t go far while they’re in line), and his favorite discovery? SO MANY POKEMON. He was in his glory wandering around catching them all. Apparently, the concentration of people ups the amount you see and his only regret was that he didn’t stockpile more pokeballs ahead of time.
Overall, Santa’s Wonderland was great fun and something we’ll be repeating annually as a family. As not the most Christmas-y person around (my husband says the Grinch is more festive), I was on board the second I saw snow flying in Texas. Plan extra time to just hang out with your family, listen to the fabulous bands and make Santa’s Wonderland your family tradition.
Have you been to Santa’s Wonderland? Share your tips in the comment section below.