Walt Disney World guests can choose between two cleverly themed miniature golf courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland. My family has really enjoyed hitting the links at Winter Summerland, which is located near the entrance to the Blizzard Beach water park. (Guests can take the Blizzard Beach bus to get there and also park in the water park's lot.)
Winter Summerland opened in 1999 and has two 18-hole courses: the Snow side, where Santa and his elves seem to be getting ready for Christmas, and the Sand side, which shows how they spend his off-season.
Guests who choose to play the Winter Course will see their golf balls travel up and down ski slopes, through a campfire, into an ice hockey game, past a squirty Snowman, and even up a peppermint twist. Along the way to the North Hole, some of your favorite Disney characters can be spotted saluting you. After sinking the last putt on Hole 18, you'll get a special greeting from Santa Claus, thanks to the WinterNet and a computer.
On the Summer Course, expect to see a beach theme for Santa and his elves. Make your golf ball slip past the camper and roasting turkey without disturbing its residents. Hop over a creek, past the opening clam shells, around the sand buckets and surfboards, through a loop, over a sleeping Santa's belly and into a gigantic sand castle.
You can't go wrong with either course. Take a break in between rounds at Santa's "Winterbago," a converted trailer that is home to the starter booth, gift shop and snack stand. There are lots of shaded picnic tables nearby, and cast members even have hula hoops for the young and young-at-heart.
If you're looking for a unusual photo for this year's Christmas cards, be sure to bring your camera. There are so many fun backdrops -- beginning with a big red sleigh that guests can sit inside and the icon Santa on a surf board holding his golf clubs.
Disney World used to organize kids' birthday parties at Winter Summerland, but they have since been discontinued. The "official" parties weren't elaborate -- just pizza, cake and goody bags, plus golf, of course.
A few years ago, we decided we could do the same, which cast members welcome. When I called to inquire, I was encouraged to use the facilities for a party, but it was emphasized that cast members wouldn't be able to organize or facilitate anything the group did. That may be strictly true, but I have to say I found the Disney employees working that day to be really helpful, especially when it began raining and we had to move everything.
We got to Winter Summerland early on a Saturday to set up snacks, cakes and a gathering activity. As the families arrived, kids were entertained with Mickey and Minnie coloring books that we brought, plus a hula hoop contest. By the time we teed off, we had about 25 kids playing and their parents caddying. (It was a joint party for my son and daughter, whose birthdays are two years and one day apart.)
Afterward, we sang "Happy Birthday" and cut into two cakes -- one for each child. My local grocery store decorated each cake to look like a golf course and I found Mickey and Minnie golf ornaments to use for the toppers.
Guests who decide to play both courses get a 50 percent discount on the second 18 holes played on the same or next day by showing their original receipts. Prices are $12 plus tax for adults and $10 plus tax for children ages 3 to 9 for 18 holes. Disney World passholders also can receive a 50 percent discount every time they play; the deal is good for the passholder and up to three guests. In addition, each guest will receive one souvenir golf ball for each round played.
Winter Summerland is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. For questions, call 407-560-3000.
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