For years, Miami families flocked to Tropical Park at Christmas to celebrate at Santa’s Enchanted Forest. Tens of thousands rode the Ferris wheel, ate the turkey legs, and wore silly red Santa hats while having their photos taken.
But then it was ordered to close down in 2020 by the county park department when its lease expired.
Now, the site is reopening thanks to Tony Albelo, an entrepreneur and CEO of Engage Live!, a subsidiary of Loud and Live, an entertainment company. Albelo played a role in creating the new Wynwood, and now he hopes to do the same at Tropical Park. Despite a lawsuit by the former tenants, he plans to press on.
“It was time for Miami to have a world-class holiday destination, and Christmas Wonderland is the pinnacle of holiday experiences, all in one place,” said Albelo.
Tropical Park was the home of Santa’s Enchanted Forest for 37 years until 2020. Starting in 1992, Santa’s held a lease in the park, becoming the ultimate Christmas destination for all Miami families. Besides being a holiday theme park, it became a tradition in Miami that brought joy and Christmas spirit during the holiday season in a city with zero snow.
Santa’s Enchanted Forest was established in 1983; at the beginning, it was nothing like today; it was only a tree and lights, without the rides and the food stands. By 1984, the park started to add rides, and with its success, more rides were added. By 1992, the popularity began to increase, and its size doubled when they signed a lease with Tropical Park.
Then in 2020, the county decided to renew its lease, and the operation was moved to Hialeah Park in 2021. Since last year it has been taking place in the Medley/Doral area.
“It’s not about a comparison or competition,” said Albelo. “Christmas Wonderland is a brand-new holiday destination with family-focused holiday festivities, cutting-edge and immersive experiences.”
From creating your own gingerbread to listening to a cozy storytime with Mrs. Claus, Christmas Wonderland is a spectacle filled with family-focused activities, attractions, cultural delights, live shows, and high-tech lighting displays.
Albelo shares that the idea for Christmas Wonderland was to bring what other cities throughout the U.S. had in the holidays, and Miami didn’t.
“We traveled the U.S. and other global cities to see how Christmas was celebrated,” said Albelo. “This served as inspiration, but so did our hometown.”
The centerpiece of the holiday experience is “Tinsel Trail,” a half-mile of holiday displays and light shows divided into six immersive worlds. Each zone has its own theme and activities. The first zone is called “HoliDade,” which features the diversity in Miami-Dade County with Instagram-worthy exhibits; one of these is SweetStreet, where the guests experience an explosion of candy, color, and cookies while walking by Mrs. Claus’ bake shop. They can even grab a cookie or bake one at Ginny’s Gingerbread Lab.
ToyTown offers the public a trip back to their childhood with the Elf brigade and kid-sized rides for the little ones. Nearby, Arctic Delight brings the winter feel to the Magic City with snowy ice bars and activities that transport the public to the North Pole.
Town Square includes the classic Christmas experiences with Tony’s Tree lot and storytime with Mrs. Claus; Santa’s Village offers reindeer and the classic picture with Santa so the kids can share their list with him.
“There is really nothing else like it,” said Albelo. “ We believe our guests will be wowed.”
The entire trail goes dark every hour. It lights up the night with a synchronized lights spectacle that fills the park, uniting visitors in an immersive experience. Then there’s the holiday park, the IG’loo 360-Dome, in a 3D-mapped high-tech activity.
“Christmas Wonderland highlights the diversity of Miami-Dade County in a dynamic and remarkable way,” Albelo said.
Rides are part of the experience, too, for those who like to be touching the sky; over 40 carnival rides in the Magnificent Midway offer the finest attractions and carnival food and treats. The Holiday Hijinx is a daily show at 6:30 p.m. that thrills the audience with themed antics and aerial feats. Later, at 8:30 p.m., the Wonder Cirque shows incredible skills with hoops and balance boards, and for those who like to feel the adrenaline, the Christmas Ball of Thrills features fearless motorcycle riders until 9:30 p.m.
Prices start at $39 for adults and $29 for children between ages 3-10. Also, it offers bundles for two people on Tuesdays for $49 and on Wednesdays for a party of 4, starting at $99.Tickets are valid for one day of admission, and the hours of operation are daily between 5 p.m. through 12 a.m.
The park will be open until January 7, 2024.
“Don’t be surprised if you cannot see it all and do it all in one visit,” said Albelo. “There is a world to explore.”