Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Light the way to a Christmas frame of mind

Light the way to a Christmas frame of mind

“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind.”

The words may belong to Valentine Davies, the award-winning writer of Miracle on 34th Street, but the sentiment rings true for all of us.

In that frame of mind we joined our grandchildren, Jackson and Khloe, and their parents, John and Amanda Barth, for a ride on the spectacular “Santa Cruise.” Departing from the Pier 290 docks at Williams Bay, the cruise is a magical experience of light and sound, and an antidote for the over-stimulation of holiday hustle.

While having little ones along is an added bonus for the heart, the cruise holds appeal for everyone. First, the ride on the beautiful lake in Lake Geneva Cruise Line’s comfortable enclosed, heated boats is delightful. The storyline is timeless, the narration is clever, the lights are lovely, and only a true Scrooge could resist the Christmas tune singalongs.

It started a few years ago when Bill Gage, owner of Gage Marine, visited Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a destination resort town that, like Lake Geneva, is located on a large beautiful lake. We have some familiarity with the area because the newspaper company – the Hagadone Corporation – Bill worked with for many years is based in that city. In addition to its media holdings, Hagadone is heavily into hospitality, most notably for the Coeur D’Alene Resort lakeside. That includes big tour boats, and a seasonal Christmas cruise experience that caught Bill Gage’s eye, leading him to bring the idea back to Lake Geneva.

The Santa Cruise was born in 2017, and operates from Thanksgiving through December 30. We took our first cruise not long after it started, and can tell readers it gets better every year.

“That first year was an adventure into the unknown,” Ellen Burling, general manager of the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, told us. “The event has evolved ever since. We have implemented a lot more things.”

They sure have. Here’s how it works.

There are two beautifully decorated boats in use, the Lady of the Lake and the Grand Belle. Each can accommodate 175 people. Over the course of the season about 8,000 passengers take a cruise – and that includes the period after Santa has made his global rounds.

“When Santa is just back from delivering his gifts he needs to rest up,” Ellen says.

Once your ship sets sail it will cruise past a couple dozen incredibly lighted displays built along the shoreline. The theme this year is “Candy Christmas,” and cruisers will find plenty of twinkling familiar scenes based on holiday traditions. Throughout the journey narrators tell the story and cue up Christmas tunes for a jolly singalong.

The boats make just one stop, at Santa’s house. It’s the highlight as Jackson, 3, could attest. The excitement of the little ones is electric as Santa emerges and, with the help of a wireless microphone, speaks to cruisers. Retrieving his long “Nice List,” he reads the names of children who have made it to his house. As we told Jackson to listen for his name, he shouted “J-A-C-K-S-O-N,” apparently to make sure Santa got it right. We’ll remember Jack’s “Whoop!” for years as Santa pronounced his name perfectly.

We cruised on a Sunday evening. The boat was packed but there was still room for a few more. Ellen said weekends, particularly Saturdays, are most in demand and urged cruisers to book early to get their preferred dates.

She loves the charitable part of the event, which is called the “Santa Cause.” When cruisers arrive they enter through a magnificent Christmas Tree Festival display, set up to benefit six charitable causes. This year those are Inspiration Ministries, Boys and Girls Club of Walworth County, Aurora Health Care Foundation, Smiles, Water Safety Patrol and the Norman B. Barr Camp.

Executive Director Kimberly Voller spoke to us about the charitable side. Kimberly is in her first year leading the benefit.

“The opportunity to make a bigger impact in our community” is what attracted her, she said. “That is my passion.”

Since its inception, Santa Cause has raised more than $700,000. She finds people coming to cruise are happy to help with worthy causes during the Christmas season.

“Because Christmas is magical. When you walk into the festival it is so happy. It’s contagious and fun,” she told us.

Givers also have a chance to win terrific prizes by participating in a raffle. Tickets can win anything this year from a trip to New York City, a Mexico Escape, a two-night stay at Lake Lawn Lodge and more.

Money raised goes to help the charities provide needed services to the local population.

“Some use it for operational purposes, and some use it for a specific purpose,” Kimberly said, adding charities apply to participate and list how the money would serve the cause.

She’s quick to add there are other fundraisers each year, like the recently completed Freezin’ for a Reason, and the upcoming Balloon Adventure in April, featuring displays with more than 100,000 balloons. The theme will be “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” so expect familiar Wizard of Oz decorations.

We wish everyone luck at the raffle – but not too much luck, because our tickets are already in. Win or lose, it goes to a good cause.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of time to get cruisin’.

Remember, “It’s a frame of mind.” Be sure to get yours straight.

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