And even then, the one time I was brave enough to breach the gate and slink past the "No Trespassing" signs, I got spooked by the lumbering business that was operating on the property—and I left before getting to fully explore it.
I'm glad I got to see, at least, the Bumblebee Monorail and Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass. I got to see The Good Witch Bakery when it was still pink.
That version of Santa's Village is gone forever now. But there's a brand new (and expanded) version—and I got to explore it on opening weekend.
I arrived about an hour before the crowds started lining up, so I pretty much had the place to myself...
...just like I did the first time I'd visited.
Part of me didn't want to like it because it was trying to be contemporary. From all of the promotions leading up to the opening (which wasn't exactly a reopening), it seemed like they were trying to take the Santa out of Santa's Village.
And while that may be true—and it may be necessary, in order to run a theme park all year round—they didn't take the whimsy out of Santa's Village.
A surprisingly high number of original buildings—18 in all—were actually retained from the original park, restored, and reopened.
So, whereas it may not necessarily feel like the North Pole, it does feel distinctly Alpine—which is exactly what people go to these mountain resort towns (like Lake Arrowhead next door and Idyllwild a few miles east) for.
Of course, Santa's Village has to have a train—but this one is trackless transit, meaning it's more of a rubber-wheeled trolley that looks like a train.
That actually turns out to be a good thing, because it can be driven up and down the pathways and the roads—rather than being limited to wherever the track has been built.
Riding it is a good way to see (more or less) the entirety of the park.
Unless it's out on a trip, you can find the train parked right in front of the Chapel of the Little Shepherd...
...one of the original rescued structures that dates all the way back to the park's opening in 1955.
Eventually, you'll be able to get married in there.
Although the new Santa's Village is scheduled to be open every day throughout the year (except, oddly, Christmas Day), it seemed appropriate to first visit it while it was decorated for the holidays...
...with a few remaining bits of real snow and ice still on the ground from whenever the area last got hit with a snowstorm.
It's funny to explore a place like this for which I have no personal nostalgia, and that I've only seen in photos and postcards.
I never got to visit Santa's Village while it was still open, before it closed in 1998.
I never got to ride the bee monorail, though I witnessed it in a state of arrested decay.
But I was excited to see that the monorail track was still there and appeared to have been restored. Though it hadn't been part of the park's opening in 1955, it has been around since the 1960s.
I stopped to ask an employee what the plans for it were, which he said was to reopen it as a monorail—but one that riders would pedal themselves along.
I knew they wouldn't be bringing back the bees, so somehow I thought they were gone forever. I gasped when I spotted one in the wild, through some trees.
And it wasn't the only one.
In all, I saw maybe a half-dozen black-and-yellow monorail cars, cast about the park—along the hiking and bike trails, by some construction equipment, near a storage area.
It's a good time to visit, because most of what you see at the new Santa's Village is actually some version of what used to be at the old Santa's Village. Though the park has rebranded itself as "Skypark at Santa's Village," promising all kinds of adventure activities like ziplining, bungee, and archery, most of that stuff isn't coming until next year.
I don't think anybody really thought that Santa's Village would ever reopen—or that we'd ever get to experience anything even somewhat similar to what once was there, in that forest in the sky.
Now that I've seen it for myself, I wanna meet Santa, the man with the bag, and see if reindeer really know how to fly.
I'm buying in to every Christmas fantasy there is... if only in my dreams.
Photo Essay: Santa's Village Theme Park, Abandoned
Photo Essay: Water Park, Thrice Abandoned (Circa 2009)