Opening May 11, Santa's Village Azoosment Park in East Dundee will feature more animals and rides this season. (Photo provided)

It might not be the same park it was 55 years ago, but the nostalgic feel of Santa’s Village – now Santa’s Village Azoosment Park – remains.

Having reopened and rejuvenated the park in 2011, after it sat dormant for roughly six years, the park’s owner, Jason Sierpien, has worked to gain momentum ever since.

This year marks 55 years since the park opened in 1959 in East Dundee as Santa’s year-round home. At the time, it was the third in a chain of villages built by H. Glenn Holland. With two villages in California, the Dundee village was the largest and most prominent.

With much of the original amusement park remaining, including the North Pole, the original Santa’s Tree House Slide, Santa’s Village Fire Truck and the antique Country Carousel, more rides have been added and an emphasis has been put on animals.

“When the park opened in 1959, there was only three different rides and some goats and a few animals,” said Sierpien, who owns the park with his wife, Amy. The couple also own A Zoo To You, a Marengo-based business that brings petting zoos, exotic animal shows and pony rides to events.

The park will become home to 500 animals this year, including more exotic animals that will walk around with handlers, allowing visitors to ask questions and gain a more hands-on experience with the animals, Sierpien said.

Along with adding multiple animal exhibits as well as live entertainment from bands, dancers and more, Sierpien said, “We’re really trying to get the ride numbers up. This year, we’ll have 18 or 19 rides.”

New rides will be more family focused as opposed to kiddie rides, in which only children can ride, he said.

Geared toward children ages 2 to 12, the park opens for the season May 11 on Mother’s Day and, continuing with a long-held tradition, will admit mothers free when accompanied by one full paid admission.

In celebration of 55 years, the first 255 guests on Memorial Day (May 26) will be given 55-cent admission.

Both memories and curiosity attract many to the park, which features the three themed areas of Santa’s Village, Old MacDonald’s Farm & Petting Zoo and the Country Grove.

“I get emails about the nostalgia: ‘Oh, I was there as a kid and now I can bring my kids and grandkids and great grandkids.’ So many generations are still able to enjoy the park,” Sierpien said.

“It’s a little bit different than it was, but it’s kind of the same idea,” he said. “It’s more the animals we’re really trying to build upon, that are taking the forefront of the entertainment.”