Why visit Santa in a mall when you can see him in the middle of Geneva Lake? Hop aboard this unique cruise and take an exciting journey to Santa’s hideaway.
You can easily rub elbows with Santa Claus at a restaurant or the mall, but how much more fun would it be to visit Saint Nick in the middle of a lake?
It sounds like a dream, even this time of year. But, with a ride on Lake Geneva Cruise Line’s Santa Cruise, you can do just that.
This winter, Lake Geneva Cruise Line – long famous for its summertime boat tours around Geneva Lake – continues its growing tradition by inviting riders along the Santa cruise. Now running through Jan. 4, the 40-minute cruise takes you past shining light displays along the shore of Geneva Lake, with plenty of Christmas cheer and holiday joy thrown in.
“We want people to enjoy the lake this time of year and find a new way to enjoy the holiday season,” says Jack Lothian, general manager of Lake Geneva Cruise Line. “We want to give people that experience so they can enjoy a boat ride and see Santa.”
Tours embark daily (except Dec. 24 and Dec. 25), and depart every hour beginning at 4:30 p.m. All boats leave from Gage Marine, in Williams Bay, Wis., near the Pier 290 restaurant.
Before boarding begins, you’ll walk through the Charities of Christmas Tree Festival, which includes decorated trees and immerses boat riders in the festive atmosphere. Snowflakes hanging from the rafters, colorful candy canes and bright Christmas trees will put you in the holiday spirit.
“That’s the place to be before the cruise begins,” Lothian says. “People can also sign up to win prizes while they’re waiting to board the boat.”
Leading up to the pier, you’ll walk through a polar vortex – no, not that streak of brutal winter cold. This one is simply a swirling fog near the end of the pier. As you pass through, it begins to magically transport you into a new land where you can see Santa.
The boat is hard to miss, as it’s decked out in bright lights and Christmas decorations. And despite the winter cold, these boats provide a comfortable, climate-controlled ride.
“While people are walking to the boat, we try to keep them as warm as possible, as opposed to standing on a pier and getting cold,” Lothian says. “The boat is comfortable, so people can come on and take off their jackets.”
Along your journey, you’ll be glued to the windows as 25 shimmering displays light up the night, from the edge of the lake. A friendly narrator speaks periodically throughout the boat ride as they explain more about each display and the properties hosting them.
“The homeowners are great, and we give them free trips on the boat and gift cards to Pier 290,” says Lothian. “We try taking care of them because they’re helping us out as well.”
The displays are owned by Santa Cause, a nonprofit organization that supports charities in Walworth County.
“They take care of the displays, and they pay for the installation and removal of the displays,” Lothian says. “We work hand-in-hand with them.”
Displays change each year, and this season they’ll appear brighter and slightly different.
“We have a display of a snowman and his family, and this year, it has snowflakes coming down,” Lothian says.
The highlight of the Santa Cruise is the much-anticipated stop at North Pole Pier, where kids and adults alike can see Santa Claus from the boat as it stops about 100 feet from the shore. Riders get a good view of Santa and children stand in awe as he emerges from his hideaway on the lake. Santa waves to everyone onboard, and children who make his nice list have their names announced.
“Santa is mic’d up, so the kids and adults are able to hear him clearly while they’re on the boat,” says Lothian. “The kids light up, and they’re amazed when Santa calls their name – which is pretty cool. That’s one of the best parts of the whole experience.”
Before they get on the boat each child receives a boarding pass, and after Santa calls their name, their pass is stamped to prove they’ve made Santa’s nice list.
“We double and triple-check everything,” says Lothian. “Just like Santa, we’re making the list and checking it twice, because we want to make sure we get every name.”
After they leave Santa’s hideout, families will see a few more displays before heading back to the pier. On the ride back, everyone comes together to sing some unforgettable Christmas carols.
Mixed drinks, beer, wine, soft drinks and hot chocolate are available for purchase on the boat.
“Once we get back on the dock, people can go right into Pier 290 and have a meal,” Lothian says. “They can make a full evening out if it.”
Parking is limited at Gage Marine, so plan ahead. On busier nights – especially weekends and Black Friday – overflow parking is available at nearby Williams Bay High School. There’s a free, five-minute shuttle that travels between the school and Gage Marine.
The Santa Cruise continues to grow each year, from about 6,500 riders in its 2016 debut to 18,000 riders last year.
“Many have made Santa Cruise a tradition and come back year after year,” Lothian says. “Instead of going up to the North Pole, families can see Santa’s hideaway on the lake.”
For tickets, visit santacruiselakegeneva.com or call (262) 248-6206. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Santa Cause.