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Santa's Enchanted Forest Opens at Its New Home in Hialeah Park

Santa's Enchanted Forest opens Thursday, November 4 in a new location at Hialeah Park.
Santa's Enchanted Forest opens Thursday, November 4 in a new location at Hialeah Park. Photo by Karli Evans
It may not have been good enough for Miami-Dade County Mayor-turned-U.S. Rep Carlos A. Gimenez, but Santa’s Enchanted Forest was good enough for the countless Miamians who made the imperfect amusement park an annual holiday tradition during its 37-year run at Tropical Park. And on Thursday, November 4, that tradition resumes after a year off for COVID — only now at a new location in Hialeah Park.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest was forced to find a new home after Miami-Dade County opted not to re-up the seasonal amusement park's lease, which expired in March of last year. Attempts to extend the lease at county-owned Tropical Park were unsuccessful, despite an online petition that garnered over 16,000 signatures.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest spokesperson Maritza Gutierrez tells New Times that Hialeah Park — home to a casino and the flamingo-filled lake seen in the Miami Vice series intro — was chosen as the new site after Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez and assured owners Brian and Steven Shectman they'd be welcome in his city. Gutierrez declined to specify the length of the Hialeah Park lease.

The invitation from Hernandez was far different from the response Santa’s Enchanted Forest received from Gimenez. According to the Political Cortadito blog, when Santa’s Enchanted Forest came up during a county commission meeting last year, Gimenez said, “I've been there. I've taken my grandchildren there. I think we can do better.”

He went on the record saying there were “numerous reported concerns to the Miami-Dade Police Department about the management” — a claim Gutierrez disputes — and he pointed out that the $304,331 Santa's Enchanted Forest paid in rent and the $425,000 it offered to pay to extend the lease fall far short of the $620,000 a 2019 appraisal determined the property was worth.

Gimenez acknowledged that Santa's Enchanted Forest set out to provide free admission for 50,000 underserved families, but he called the park’s ticket prices and additional fees “prohibitively high” for most.
click to enlarge Santa's Enchanted Forest's Christmas tree stands 90 feet tall. - PHOTO BY KARLI EVANS
Santa's Enchanted Forest's Christmas tree stands 90 feet tall.
Photo by Karli Evans
Say what you want about "the Big Lie" backer, but he wasn't wrong about a night at Santa's Enchanted Forest being pricey. And those prices have increased even since then, with adult admission now $37.38 and child and senior admission $28.04 before fees and taxes. Ticket prices include rides, shows, light displays, and parking — but not food, carnival games, and some special attractions.

Gimenez said he wanted to see a free holiday event replace Santa's Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park, but no such event occurred last year, and none is planned for 2021. A rep for Miami-Dade County Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces tells New Times the property will "remain a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site for the foreseeable future."

For now, Santa's Enchanted Forest will continue to be the undisputed king of holiday-themed amusement parks in Miami, even in its new home 13 miles from Tropical Park. The lyrics of the famed Santa's Enchanted Forest jingle have changed slightly — no more "At Tropical Park on Palmetto and Bird Road" — but the rides and attractions are likely to be just as you remember.

You can expect the tunnel of lights and animated displays that have been popular with photo-happy guests in past years. Also back again: thrill rides such as Crazy Mouse and Avalanche, the Dale Scott Magic Show, standard amusement-park fare such as turkey legs, fried Oreos, and not-so-standard chicharrones (for what it's worth, documentary director Billy Corben tweeted that some of the "most delicious" fajitas he's ever eaten were consumed at the park), and what Santa's Enchanted Forest says is the biggest traveling Ferris wheel in the nation. You know — the one from that 2019 gender reveal video.

Santa's Enchanted Forest also claims its 90-foot artificial Christmas tree is "South Florida's tallest Christmas tree," but that honor appears to belong to the 100-foot aluminum-framed Christmas tree in Delray Beach. New Times will let that slide: Santa's Enchanted Forest has been through enough the past year. And besides, it's not the first time someone in Miami has exaggerated about theirs being the biggest.

Santa's Enchanted Forest. Thursday, November 4 through Sunday, January 2, 2022, at Hialeah Park, 3100 E. Fourth Ave., Hialeah; 305-892-997; Tickets cost $37.38 for adults and $28.04 for children and seniors.
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Luis Gomez left his life in Chicago to backpack around the world and has since dedicated himself to freelance writing, with Miami now his home base. You can read about his global adventures on his travel blog, Extra Underwear.