by Jim Winslett

Holiday World and Splashin' Safari is a family-owned and run theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana. Santa Claus used to be known mainly for its post office, as thousands of people send their Christmas cards from there in order to get the "Santa Claus" postmark on the envelope. The amusement park, called "Santa Claus Land" for many years, was mostly a local pastime while the huge Kings Island park near Cincinnati, only a couple hours away, was more known to vacationers. 

Not any more.

It all started with a brainstorm by park president Will Koch, who wanted a coaster for the park. Being a small park, there wasn't a huge budget to work with, so the coaster would be small. It would need to use the terrain as much as possible to reduce the amount of structure, thereby reducing the cost. Luckily, Will Koch was a coaster enthusiast and he understood that using the natural terrain wasn't a handicap, it was an asset. Plans were set in motion.

Quoth the Raven, "here we go!"

Raven opened in 1995, but being in such an out-of-the-way park kept a lot of folks from discovering it right away. The internet coaster enthusiast community wasn't yet a thing and so it took awhile for word-of-mouth to spread. Spread, it did, though... and Raven earned the Golden Ticket Award (the amusement industry's "Oscars") for Best Wood Coaster in 2000. Suddenly, Holiday World was on everyone's radar. The more folks that came down to ride, the more buzz this little coaster created. It got the Golden Ticket again in 2001. And 2002. And 2003. Not bad for a little coaster in a little park in the middle of nowhere!

The shortish lift leads to a slight turn at the edge of the park.

Hmm... kinda small!

The view is of the parking lot, but as you ease over the precipice, you see that the drop goes deeper than that, thanks to a natural dip in the land. A tunnel at the bottom hides the base of the drop from view as well. 

Off to a good start

Rocketing up out of the tunnel, riders near the front of the train are treated to some floaty airtime as the train jogs right just a bit again and navigates a small dip. Here it dives back down to ground level and into a 180° turn over Lake Rudolph.

One of the few parts of the ride you can see from outside

From here, it scoots back up to run parallel to the second drop, just slightly above parking lot level. Another smallish dip with a lefthand turn positions you for Fifth Drop. Yes, I capitalized that on purpose. The Fifth Drop is worthy of admiration and respect, not only because it is a damn fine drop, not only because it makes the back seat riders fear being launched to the moon, but because it is the reason that Holiday World is what it is today. Fifth Drop and the track that follows it put this little park on the map. Of course, Holiday World's legendary cleanliness, friendly staff, beautiful grounds, and impeccable hospitality kept folks coming back, but the last half of Raven got them in the door.

Wait, what?

You see, after the first drop, everything else had been speedy but shallow. The drops were merely dips, and even the run down to the Lake Rudolph turn wasn't angled very steeply. Coming back up top, that little dip with the left turn just served to make you believe that it was pretty much over with. Then the track just disappears into a deep drop (thanks again to the terrain), the second-longest drop on the ride, here in the middle of the layout. It's unexpected and fantastic and just a bit nerve-wracking. It also kicks the ride into overdrive, boosting the speed well beyond what you'd expect from a small ride like this. It's probably a good idea to hang on from here on out.

First you zig, then you zag. I think. It's all a blur, really.

Speed is the thing now. The track sits low to the ground and the terrain rushing by and the trees all around only serve to make it seem even faster. At some point after the ride is over, you'll wonder to yourself how the hell this thing managed to haul ass like this when it's such a small coaster. That comes later, though. Right now everything is a blur of speed and intensity.

Heading home

It's over all too soon. After a big turnaround and a few more hops, Raven hits the brake run and leaves you breathless and wanting more. It's a tribute to the brilliantly designed realization of Will Koch's dream that this coaster was voted Best Wood Coaster in the world four years in a row (2000-2003), in spite of the rest of the amusement industry concentrating on "bigger, taller, longer, faster" at the time. Raven is the Little Coaster That Could.... and it still can.