howdy partner lights on santa's wonderland trail of lights

Santa’s Wonderland: A Complete Guide

If visions of sugar plums are dancing in your head look no further than Santa’s Wonderland in College Station, Texas. A holiday staple in the region for over 20 years, this destination for Christmas lights is the largest in Texas. Located on Highway 6, roughly 90 minutes from Houston hundreds of thousands of people visit annually from Texas and beyond. Be prepared before you go with our tips to maximize your Santa’s Wonderland experience.

Santa’s Wonderland is a magical way to kick off your Christmas season. Photo Credit: Nasreen Stump

So, you’re considering a trip to Santa’s Wonderland in Bryan-College Station. Fantastic. My family has taken many trips. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have been given tickets by Santa’s Wonderland for the purpose of reviewing it in the past. I have also purchased tickets and attended on my own. I enjoyed both types of trips.

While we enjoyed all of our visits, some were better than others. Knowing a little bit about Santa’s Wonderland does wonders in planning your visit. I’m going to share some of my top tips with you and answer some of the most commonly asked questions that I’ve gotten. Please let me know if you have any additional questions I can help with!

Before You Go To Santa’s Wonderland

A top Santa’s Wonderland question? How do I get the best price on tickets? Are there Santa’s Wonderland coupons? The answer: Buy your tickets online early and yes!

While there won’t be any coupons during the regular season, you can find early bird tickets on both Santa’s Wonderland own website and on social sale sites like Groupon and Living Social. As silly as it sounds, the best time to start thinking about your Santa’s Wonderland trip is right around back to school! One way to make sure you don’t miss any deals is to embrace social media and head over to their Facebook page. They frequently do giveaways throughout the season. Ain’t no ticket cheaper than one you won!

Early Bird Santa’s Wonderland tickets are cheapest.

Early bird tickets are going to be some of the cheapest options for Santa’s Wonderland. These tickets go on sale on September 1st and you can register for an email reminder on their website. Early bird tickets will be $28.95 for adults and $23.95 for tickets. Kids 2 and under are free. Regular online pricing goes into effect after September 4th which makes adult tickets $41.95 and kids tickets $38.95. Groupon sales in the past have been right in line with early bird Santa’s Wonderland ticket pricing. I recommend you purchase tickets directly from Santa’s Wonderland and don’t wait. You may not get that bigger better deal.

Be sure to grab your Early Bird ticket by September 4th for the best price. If you miss that date still buy online. It’s cheaper than the gate and you won’t have to wait in line.
Photo: Nasreen Stump

What are the best times to visit Santa’s Wonderland?

This answer can be subjective. It depends on your family and your goals. Bang for your buck wise the weekends have longer hours. They also are going to be the most crowded, especially in the immediate Christmas season when folks are on school break. A good rule of thumb? Check the crowd calendar. If you don’t love crowds I highly recommend visiting on a weeknight in November or early December or on a November weekend before Thanksgiving. Wait times for things like Santa visits and hayrides are going to be longer on weekends.

I see a lot of add-ons. Are they worth it?

There are many options to add on to your tickets and they are successful to varying degrees. In my opinion, it all depends on when you’ll be visiting. Santa’s Wonderland opens in early November and is open throughout the holiday season. Weeknights are going to be slower than weekends (until school vacation time!). If you’re going to go in early November or on a weeknight in early December then you can likely skip the passes that allow you to visit the Express Line for some attractions. Now, if you’re heading in on a weekend in December or closer to the Christmas season and you have the extra cash? It might be something you consider. You can still have a great time without the extra fee if you plan properly.

Parking options are one of the most common questions. If you plan on arriving early, the free parking lot is absolutely adequate. If you are handicapped or are going to be coming in later, you might want to spring for the upgraded parking. While there are free handicapped spots near the front they can fill up.

Hint: If you’re parking in the free lot DO NOT get in the right lane on the access road alongside State Highway 6 until after you pass Santa’s Wonderland. You’ll sit in a line of cars waiting to turn into the paid lots.

Early Admission- A New Option

One new add on option that could be worth it in 2019-2020 is for Carriage Ride tickets only. It’s an Early Admission option that will get you in a full two hours before everyone else. At $14.95 extra (online price) on top of a Carriage Ticket ($41.95 for early birds) you’re spending about $57 a person. I reached out to Santa’s Wonderland and they verified that all attractions except the Trail of Lights will be open during the early hours. Select rotating food options will be open.

If you have young kids with early bed times and getting pictures with Santa is important to you I’d recommend looking at this option. You could go visit Santa without waiting in line, ride the train, go down the toboggan hill, get some pictures and some shopping in and then line up for the first carriage ride. I still recommend waiting to do the snow until the very end of your visit (see below for more on why).

Your ticket includes hayrides through the Trail of Lights, music, tobogganing, real snow and more! Photo: Nasreen Stump

What does a Santa’s Wonderland ticket include? Is Santa’s Wonderland worth it?

You may be throwing your hands in the air, shaking your head and yelling “what the heck does a $42 ticket to see lights include”. I was right there with you. I am frugal to a fault and I had sticker shock for a few minutes when I first looked. There are two types of tickets- Carriage Ride (more expensive horse and carriage option) and Hayride. Both go through the Trail of Lights- the difference is just your transportation. We have always done the Hayride option.

What may not be obvious at first is how much more there is to do. At the risk of sounding Grinch-y, I don’t LOVE Christmas with the same burning passion as the rest of my family. Every year my main goal is to keep it in check. I want the magic but do we really need to set up 10 different Christmas villages on every surface? I gleefully undecorate the tree when it’s all over. But Santa’s Wonderland? It makes my heart swell a few sizes like the Grinch. It is a Christmas tradition in our family. The spirit of it, the millions of lights, the opportunity to see SNOW in Texas? Worth every penny to see the delight on my kiddos faces.

Santa’s Wonderland isn’t just light displays. Your ticket to Santa’s Wonderland includes- hayrides, live music, toboggan rides, snow play, mechanical bull fun, train rides, Christmas movies, the chance to visit Santa and a ton of great photo opportunities. Not included are some photo add-ons like Santa photos, snow globe photos, petting zoo, pony rides and food options.

What to Bring to Santa’s Wonderland

Your Christmas spirit. Seriously, come prepared to have the glee of a small child and you’ll have a great time. Really though, your visit will be better if you have a few items with you.

A blanket or two- The hayride is a decent length of time. While Texas isn’t “cold”, check the weather forecast and bring a fleece blanket or two. The hayrides start at dusk and it can get a little chilly. Plus there’s nothing like cuddling up on the hayride with your kiddos.

Wagon or stroller- If you have younger kiddos I strongly suggest a stroller with jogging style wheels. The walk up to the hayride has gotten significantly longer in recent years. You trek back pretty far. The good news is it helps the line immensely. The bad news? Your toddler is not going to be traveling at the speed you want them to. Bringing a stroller also gives you a great spot to stash those blankets, snow wear items and of course any purchase you make.

Mittens/Gloves/Snow Gear- 50% of my kiddos were born in Vermont (50% are native born Texans). With the addition of REAL SNOW (yay!!) our game plan at Santa’s Wonderland has changed. It’s not super cold but it is wet! For this reason we do the snow area last. The added bonus to this is that it’s usually not as busy then. Kids run over here first, get wet and then the amount of time they want to spend in the park goes drastically downhill (not unlike the tubing).

Pajamas. Veteran mom here. Best tip for pretty much anywhere you go that is going to wear kids out close to bedtime? Put them in pj’s before the ride home. We live about 45 minutes from Santa’s Wonderland and even the most obstinate child is asleep by the time we pull into our driveway. Plus, they’re wet from the snow. Hold up that fleece blanket for them to change behind at the car and let them get into warm pj’s. Less whining. I promise.

What you need to know before you go to Santa's Wonderland- family in front of Texas flag
Heading to Santa’s Wonderland in College Station Texas? Here’s what you need to know! Photo: Greg Stump

How to Plan Your Time at Santa’s Wonderland

Plan to see Santa? Get there early or plan to stay late. Arrive well before opening time. A line forms along the entire front of Santa’s Wonderland extending all the way back towards the VIP parking lot.

Once Santa’s Wonderland opens, you’ll walk into the theme park between the Trading Post and Santa’s Cottage. If a Santa visit is on your list hop in line. It can get LONG. It’s a main reason to line up early well ahead of opening time.

One thing to plan out before you go? Pictures. Let’s face it these amazing holiday light memories will be tomorrow’s nostalgic photos. I left the first year we went upset with myself because I didn’t get the photos I had hoped for. The next year, I concentrated on photos but then felt like I missed some of the moments. For this reason I put together a photo list for Santa’s Wonderland. Click on over to this post to see a list of must take pictures, photo tips, and a free printable including favorites spots like the Texas flag and Marshall Frostbite.

Food Options at Santa’s Wonderland

Wine is food, right? Let’s just start there. The Wonderland Winery has multiple locations within Santa’s Wonderland and is a fun thing for adults visiting the North Pole. You can grab a flight, buy bottles for home or just browse.

As far as other food goes there is an entire village of food with a dining hall. Options range from pizza to burgers to nachos. It can be a little bit pricey. You’re definitely getting theme park pricing here. But, for the most part everything was good. The nachos and pizza were better than the burger. We tend to be snackers in recent years. There’s a shop that sells candy, cookies and cinnamon sugar nuts and that is where we usually land. Nuts are protein right?

Heads Up: Pay cash or keep your receipts and know what you spent. Some of the stands/shops are run by individual vendors and don’t show up as Santa’s Wonderland so it can be a little confusing to have a random name on your credit card bill a month later. Save yourself the thought process and detective work.

Real Snow in Texas? YES!

One of the biggest draws for us to Santa’s Wonderland? The snow. Both our girls were born in Vermont but we left when they were young so getting snow pictures is high on our list of priorities. It’s real snow. There is tubing as well. Heads up, the tubes have to be carried by the kids/parents up a stairway. I’m not sure if they’ll make changes to that for the 2019-2020 season but maybe practice on the Stairmaster. I felt like I had run 100 flights by the time the kids were done but I was worried about them banging into other kids with the tubes and knocking them over. The staff was really cool about letting you take pictures (quickly) at the top or videoing their ride down.

As I mentioned in the What to Bring section try to do this section last- especially if they play in the snow area. They won’t get that cold and wet tubing but they will in the play area. Do it last and then change into pj’s for the ride home. Trust me, it minimizes whining.

What else do you want to know?

Have any questions? Drop them in the comments and I will do my very best to answer them!

3 Comments

  1. You….are….AWESOME!!! This article is going to save our LIVES!!! I swear..we would have been in for the RUDEST of awakenings if I hadn’t stumbled upon this! Thank you so much for your insight!! Traveling with 3 littles (9, 6 and 2) would have been CRAZY had I . not seen all of your little tips!! Now,I know how to plan and we will have a fabulous, stress free time!! YAY!

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