No Miracle on Fourth Avenue: Santa's Enchanted Forest Hits a Snag at Hialeah Park

Santa's Enchanted Forest, formerly located at Tropical Park, now has a new home in Hialeah Park on E. Fourth Avenue. Not everyone is saying, "Ho, ho, ho," though.
Photo by Joshua Ceballos
Santa's Enchanted Forest, formerly located at Tropical Park, now has a new home in Hialeah Park on E. Fourth Avenue. Not everyone is saying, "Ho, ho, ho," though.
Claudia Cuevas is hoping for a Christmas miracle in November: to gain admission to Santa's Enchanted Forest.

After standing in line for nearly two hours outside the theme park gates on Saturday night, she just wanted her kids to be able to hop on a ride or two before they had to make the 30-minute bus trip back to the car and then home.

Cuevas, her children, her elderly mother, and friends who brought their own families — a group of 20 in total — arrived at Santa's new Hialeah digs at 7:45. By 9:30, standing in a mass of people still several yards from the ticket booth, the moms have reached the third stage of grief: bargaining.

"Who wants to leave? We can go earlier another day. Even if we get in now, you'll only get to ride one ride," Cuevas says to her pack.

"I don't care, Mom!" pleads Cuevas' son, unperturbed by the sea of people standing still in front of them in no discernible order, inspired to soldier on by the promise of glittering Christmas lights, Ferris wheels, and meeting the big man in red himself.

This is the second weekend since Santa's Enchanted Forest opened in Hialeah Park on E. Fourth Avenue, after Miami-Dade County declined to renew the theme park's lease at Tropical Park, and things haven't exactly been merry and bright.

Would-be patrons have complained about languishing in long and disorganized "lines" — if you can call them that — as parents, children, and teens cram together and push through to reach the ticket booth while a single security guard watches from a raised trailer to maintain peace, if not order.

Parking has also been an issue.

At 8:45, parkgoers who'd already braved 30 minutes in traffic to drive just two blocks up E. Fourth Avenue to reach the park's main entrance were waved off by a worker with a light-up wand who said they had to go in through the other entrance, as a school bus wove around traffic and scooted past the worker and through the main gate.

Another wand-toting worker then directed drivers to drop off their cars in a Metrorail station parking lot attached to Hialeah Park and then board one of a series of school buses that ferried guests to the self-styled wonderland.

One preteen girl in a group of 100 people waiting for the bus remarked, "I don't want to go to school! It's a Saturday!"

Santa’s Enchanted Forest spokesperson Maritza Gutierrez tells New Times the theme park rented the school buses to ferry people into the event space from Hialeah Park-owned lots adjacent to the park itself.

In the move from Tropical Park to Hialeah Park, Santa's lost fewer than 200 spaces, according to Gutierrez, though she declined to provide the exact number.

She says parking is available via the main entrance at 3100 E. Fourth Ave., and that when that lot fills up, overflow is directed to 2200 E. Fourth Ave.

(Though Gutierrez did not say so, last Saturday evening, at least, overflow was directed to a parking lot adjacent to the Hialeah Metrorail station at E. 21st Street and E. Second Avenue, where shuttles were also observed in operation.)

Asked about the overcrowding at the entrance, Gutierrez says long lines are customary at theme parks and attractions.

"When I've gone, all I've seen is lines. To get to anywhere, even to Disney World, there's lines to get in," she asserts.

Some patrons who managed to enter the property made the mistake of parking at the Hialeah Park Casino to walk to Santa's, only to find that their cars had been towed when they returned, according to one Facebook post from opening weekend.
click to enlarge Crowds and disorganized lines drove some would-be Santa's Enchanted Forest patrons to give up and head home after waiting for over an hour. - PHOTO BY JOSHUA CEBALLOS
Crowds and disorganized lines drove some would-be Santa's Enchanted Forest patrons to give up and head home after waiting for over an hour.
Photo by Joshua Ceballos
Gutierrez says Santa's Enchanted Forest guests are not allowed to park in the casino parking lot, because they're two separate enterprises.

Sons and daughters sit atop their parents' shoulders, gazing misty-eyed at the soap bubble snow shooting out from Santa's armpit. They stare in wonder at the multicolored lights inside the park and audibly "wow" as their adult counterparts consider walking up to the young man wearing a flag that says, "Line too long? Santa's express pass sold here."

Karen Herrero managed to make it inside, but as she makes her way toward the bus that will take her back to the parking lot, she advises not to waste one's time trying to enter.

"You wait an hour in the car to park, then wait an hour for the bus. When you get inside, you can't even walk around, and it takes 20 minutes in line just to get water," Herrero complains. "Inside is horrible. Hundreds of people are walking on top of you. Tropical Park was much better."

Herrero's daughter Elena is more forgiving, having enjoyed herself despite not getting on any rides.

"I had so much fun! I saw a gingerbread man," the elementary schooler reports.

At ten minutes to ten, after two hours trying to breach the pearly gates into the subtropical North Pole, Cuevas calls it quits.

From the speakers, Andy Williams croons "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" to the hundreds still waiting to fork over $37.38 for a ticket.

"Vámonos," Cuevas says, prompting groans and questions from the young ones who were willing to wait longer to see the games, food, shows, and nativities. "The line is really bad."

Clarification published 7 p.m.: As originally published, this story implied that the move from Tropical Park to Hialeah Park reduced available parking owing to the former’s significantly greater total acreage. After publication, Santa’s Enchanted Forest spokesperson Maritza Gutierrez contacted New Times to clarify the discrepancy. The above version has been edited to reflect that clarification and to remove the comparison between the acreages of the two locations.