WILLIAMS BAY — This year’s Santa Cruise holiday boat rides brought in more passengers, and the Santa Cause brought in more charitable dollars than last year, despite some disappointing weather.

An estimated 17,500 passengers bought tickets for the Santa Cruise this year, up from 14,500 last year.

The Santa Cruise and related charitable holiday efforts known as Santa Cause ran for about five weeks between Nov. 23 and Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, the Santa Cause, which raises money for participating Walworth County charities, raised about $115,000, surpassing its goal of $100,000 and last year’s total of $89,000.

Jack Lothian, general manager of Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which runs the holiday boat rides, said the Santa Cruise, which takes passengers on a tour to Santa’s secret workshop, added some new lighted attractions and sharpened some of the details to make the cruise more memorable.

“We added a different narration. We had an expert script writer write it for us,” he said. “We had a dedicated tour director give the tour, rather than having a crew member do it.”

Boarding passes were stamped with a special Santa Cruise stamp, so passengers had a souvenir of the experience.

The shoreline lighting displays added five new lighted attractions, including pink flamingos in Santa hats, and Santa jumping on a jet ski.

And the tour director led kids and parents on a Christmas carol sing-along during the cruise, Lothian said.

Lothian said area hotels report having higher occupancy rates during the holiday cruise season and local restaurants report being full.

“It’s helped the entire community,” he said.

Nancy Waspi, Santa Cause executive director, said the nonprofit charitable organization benefited from the tourists drawn to the holiday-themed boat rides.

The cruise starts at the Santa Cause’s Christmas Tree Festival in the Gage Marine Boat House, where tickets for the cruise are sold.

This year, 11 local charities put together 10 fancy Christmas trees with some shiny presents under their boughs. The presents were prizes raffled off to passengers and tree festival visitors.

“The charities did a great job this year,” she said.

The 11 charities will share in $115,000, but at different amounts. Charities this year were able to keep everything they raised through the raffles.

“The charities are allowed to sell outside the cruise,” said Waspi. And some were really aggressive, she said.

The top three fundraising charities this year were the Norman Barr Camp, Agape House and Dan Green Touch a Heart Heal a Life Foundation, which partnered with Open Arms Free Clinic.

Other charities that participated in the tree festival were Elkhorn Area Youth Center, Water Safety Patrol, Safe Families for Children, Tree House, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Central Wisconsin, Circle of Friends and Boys and Girls Club of Walworth County.

“It was a good turnout, especially at the restaurants,” Jim D’Alessandro, president of the Williams Bay Business Association, said of the flow of tourists.

“Overall, it was more successful than last year,” he said.

D’Alessandro said the Santa Cruise has meant good business for the local restaurants, because they have been able to keep staff through the winter, he said.

The turnout was even better than expected because of a snowstorm that hit on the first weekend after Thanksgiving.

The unexpected weather event allowed for just one cruise, Lothian said. Three other cruises were cancelled to keep people out of the bad weather.

The following weekend wasn’t all that good, either, because of constant rain, which put a damper on the Christmas spirit and kept the turnout low.

But the following weeks saw a steady stream of visitors waiting to see Santa’s secret workshop.

“After that, we ran every tour as scheduled,” Lothian said.

In fact, he said the cruise line added tours on the weekend because of the demand. Gage ran 25 tours a week with about 125 total tours for the holiday season, Gage said.

Last year, the boat tour company ran about 100 tours, he said.

“People seem to enjoy it,” Lothian said. “People are wanting to do this as a Christmas tradition. We don’t want to disappoint them.”

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.