I went to Santa’s Enchanted Forest for the first time at 40. No regrets.

This post was originally published on Jan. 4, 2017.

I went to Santa’s Enchanted Forest last week. This would probably be something completely not worth writing about, except for four things:

  • This was my first time going,
  • I am not originally from Miami,
  • I am 40 years old, and
  • My co-workers asked me to write about my experiences when they saw the Instagram photos.

Very well, then.

Needless to say, when I decided to see what the fuss was about, there wasn’t a single person who had grown up in Miami willing to go with me. Two friends laughed in my face. We’re not fifteen, and you’ll get classier people at a Chuck E. Cheese, they said. What is the word the kids these days use? Oh yeah, ratchet.

Listen, I get it. If I wanted to relive my adolescence I could stand under shitting birds wearing a flannel shirt and a bucket hat. But I wanted to have at least a baseline on whether or not Santa’s was as terrible as people said it is or if it was… wait for it… enchanting. Only my partner Kareem was open to going, and I’m pretty sure it was so I didn’t come off as “that” guy – you know, the 40-year-old guy who goes to Santa’s Enchanted Forest alone.

Also, I’d have to pay for his admission. Fair enough.

The forest is sectioned off of two parts, separated by a tree that plays EDM:

Christmas Land

Right after you pay your $35, you walk through the arch of Red and White and Green Christmas Cheer and Peace. Signs cheerfully inform in English and Spanish that your ticket includes all admission to rides and shows, and you’re greeted to what’s clearly the ode to Christmas: a boulevard of trees lit up in various holiday colors. (And, inexplicably, there’s a sandwich board drawing of a dreidel and the giant word KWANZAA. Like, just the word.)

There were about two tables of those miniature Victorian Christmas displays, the ones that have a working model railroad and the snow-tipped roofs and figurines singing Christmas carols. As a kid I would spend hours staring at them, kinda wishing I had the kind of Christmas those tiny white people were having.

My partner, on a jetski. Because of course, what else is he going to be on? It’s Christmas in Miami.

But I’m an adult now and honestly that took, like, 45 seconds to see. Most of the other Christmas displays were various Santa Clausii in extreme situations, the kind you would probably see in a department store window in a city where they have windows in department stores. Santa on Mars, with alien elves! A mannequin Santa on a surfboard you can pose with! Santa’s karaoke bar, with an actual working karaoke machine that only plays “Let it Go” from Frozen on repeat! A Nativity scene, so your abuelos don’t get upset!

Also, inexplicably, there was a mobile sports bar that plays ESPN from a television set and serves frozen margarita drinks in this area. Hey, it’s Miami. Who am I to judge?

You should know that of all the carnival food booths, the cafecito stand was the most popular.

I peered into the take-a-photo with Santa tent, which was obviously pretty dead because it was four days after Christmas. None the less, Santa was there, legit white beard and all. 10 points for that. He was also speaking rapid fire Cubano Spanish with his three buddies from the bar totally just hanging out with him, as if Santa’s Elves were from Hialeah, work as welders during the day, and generally give zero fucks.

“Is Pinche the name of a reindeer?” I ask Kareem. “Because I think I heard one of his elves say it under his breath.”

Kareem sighs. “First off, pinche is a bad word in Mexico, not in Cuba. Second, you’re an idiot.”

“My bad.”

The Techno Tree(tm)

The landmark that separates the “Christmas” section from the “I’m in high school and bored on Christmas break” section is a giant Christmas tree full of blinking lights. Since this is South Florida, I assume this tree is artificial, also because it’s thirty feet tall. It’s an obvious place to take that selfie and send to your cousin freezing her ass off in New Jersey on Facebook to say you were at Santa’s Enchanted Forest.

This being Miami, it was ALSO blaring samples of various techno and bachata songs and said lights were blinking to the music. (The lights, sadly, were NOT pulsating on beat to the music. Where the hell do you think you are, Ultra? That would cost another $3 million.)

The Carnival

Once you pass the Techno Tree however, you’re in the carnival section of Santa’s Enchanted Forest. While I personally haven’t been to the Youth Fair here in Miami yet, the fair portion of SEF is pretty similar to any of the other state fairs throughout the country. Without the prize-winning pigs or the terrible youth art contest where a seven-year-old wins a blue ribbon badge for drawing a photo of his family without urinating on himself.

All of this said, the sensory overload in the middle of a public park in the middle of Westchester – usually where the exact opposite of sensory overload happens –was kinda cool, and still uniquely Miami in a weird way.

There were carnies. Like, actual legit carnival workers, the ones from up north with the face tattoo you are very nice to because if you threw attitude, you KNEW they would rob you blind and you’d wake up without a kidney? Check!

Argentinean family yelling at an amusement ride attendant because he won’t let their three-year-old kid on the Gravitron alone? Check!  [Editor’s note: The Gravitron was replaced by the Starship 3000. Different name, same nauseating spinning.]

People throwing baseballs at a guy in a dunk tank making fun of 13-year girls without any recourse? Check!

Seeing a young woman probably NOT from the Seaquarium throwing hoops at three seals doing handstands at 10 p.m. on a relatively cold night? Check!

The smell of fried dough? Check. I would have even had a tempura-fried Oreo drizzled with Nutella at a food booth if it didn’t have the nerve to say it served “Oriental Desserts.” That’s like me making a ham, mustard and pickle sandwich for a friend and declaring myself a Cuban restaurant.

But it’s that kind of sensory overload – the rush of bright lights and sounds and familiar smells and the mix of things you grew up on with very, very new experiences – that can even soften the most cynical of hearts like mine. I’m genuinely glad I went to Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Good stories aside, there was no Chuck E. Cheese style brawl, not on the night I went anyway. I have absolutely no regrets, even with that one roller coaster clearly designed for literal Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.

I’ll probably skip at least a year or three before going again, though. I’m still pretty sure I won’t be able to get anyone to go with me, and I sure as hell don’t want to be that guy.