"Yes, Drake and Olivia there is a Santa Clause…and he does live at the North Pole!" I said.
As the holidays were approaching, a colleague told me about the North Pole Experience in Flagstaff. So, my wife and I made a reservation and took the kids for a one day adventure to the North Pole…the week before Thanksgiving.
We dug out the winter clothes and loaded up the family truckster. Two hours later we were in snowy Flagstaff. After a quick lunch, we arrived at the North Pole Experience staging area, the lobby of the Little America Hotel. The lobby was bustling with families quest-bound for the same adventure that we had planned. Once checked in with two delightful elves, we boarded the Time Travel Trolley that would take us to the North Pole. A jovial elf narrated the 15-minute drive entertaining the guests with holiday carols and North Pole trivia. He then explained that we were about to travel through a time portal which would take us to the North Pole. Multi-colored lights began flashing inside the trolley while our elf had the group repeat magic words, all-the-time keeping our eyes closed per his instruction.
When we opened our eyes, we had arrived! Several quaint, white farm-like buildings illuminated with holiday lights and frosting - just like a made-for-Hollywood North Pole scene. Our tour guide elf explained that all the kids had to knock on the ornate workshop door. Once they enthusiastically pounded several times, another elf opened the massive door and welcomed us into Santa’s Toy Museum. The elf explained that this room was a tribute to some of Santa’s most popular toys over the years, G.I. Joe’s, Easy Bake Ovens, Barbie Dolls, Red Rider BB Guns and other toy classics.
From the Museum Room we were greeted by the Elf Manager, Alabaster Snowflake, a jolly soul who explained how our North Pole Tour would go. As we continued, elves greeted us in every room during the tour. We saw the toy making room where we helped make toys, the mail room where we wrote letters to Santa, the package wrapping room, the bakery where we sampled the elf-made cookies, we then attended Elf University (EU) to learn the skills needed to be a successful Elf (yes, they gave diplomas) and following EU graduation we had a story-time visit with Mrs. Clause. The next stop was to see Santa’s Sleigh “hanger” with all the impressive sleigh launching and mapping/tracking equipment, all leading up to meeting the head honcho himself…Santa!
Every family had a private meeting and photo opportunity with St. Nick. He answered our questions and gladly accepted the letters we had drafted earlier on the tour. Most importantly, Santa confirmed that we were all on the “nice” list, which brought great relief as; some of us were clearly borderline.
The staging was really remarkable and the elves were at their best as we spent about two (very quick) hours touring Santa’s headquarters. As we prepared to take the Time Trolley back to the Little America, my 5-year old son Drake said “Dad, this is the real deal…we are at the North Pole!” His 3-year-old sister Olivia kept talking about her new friend, a lovely elf named Snicker Doodle who helped her “draw” a letter for Santa!
The North Pole Experience was fantastic and the visit was a real treat to kick-off the holiday season. Sometimes we can lose a little of the holiday magic as we get older, but mine is renewed with the magic of The North Pole Experience!
Mark Stanton is the Deputy Director at The Arizona Office of Tourism. His passion is for his family, Arizona and the desert's very own North Pole.