We’d not done the whole Santa’s Grotto thing with the kids before this weekend. Not properly, anyway – the closest we’d been was a makeshift Santa at playgroup who looked a lot like my friend’s dad wearing a beard made out of cotton wool.
At the grand old ages of 3 and 1, the kids haven’t really been old enough before now. Plus, I’ve been spoilt somewhat – I met Santa in Lapland for work when The Boy was tiny (and at home), and part of me has always wanted to go back and take the rest of the family with me.
This year though, the eldest is quite taken with the whole Father Christmas thing, so I booked a trip to Santa’s Grotto at Frosts Garden Centre in Willington back in September. Friends with kids have highly recommended it in the past, and it’s always a sell-out, so for once I got in early.
Santa’s Grotto at Frosts – £34.95 for a family of 4
The price was a bit of a shock for someone who’s fairly stingy. Children under 15 are £9.99 each, including little ones unless they’re babes in arms (who go free, providing you’re bringing an older child who is paying, and as long as you don’t want them to receive a gift from Santa). That meant paying for both kids, despite the fact that The Girl couldn’t care less about the whole thing yet. Adults are £4.49 each, too, and each child has to be accompanied by an adult, which pushed the price up further still.
Seeing as we were paying a fortune anyway, I decided to push the boat out and pay the additional £5.99 for a 6×8″ photo. That said, I drew the line at the £10.99 version that comes in a glittery frame, because – well – I had to stop somewhere.
Making reindeer food
The tickets advised us to get to Frosts in Willington 10 minutes ahead of our 4pm slot, so we wandered to the back of the shop and outside towards the grotto. Unfortunately only then did we realise we couldn’t take the buggy any further. Cue a mad dash back to the car to get the baby carrier, and a grumpy kid who spent the next 45 minutes trying to get out of it.
Once we’d shown our tickets, a couple of elves ushered us towards another queue, and we waited another 5 minutes. Fortunately there were a couple of reindeer behind a fence to keep the kids entertained at this point. Next we were ushered into a room with lots of little tables set up with what looked like buckets of rabbit food. The elves explained we were making food for Santa’s reindeer, and the kids all had fun filling a little bag with dry food and some
glitter stars magic fairy dust.
Reindeer food sorted, we sang a few rounds of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and I thanked my lucky stars I’d stood towards the back of the room when one unlucky mum was singled out to be chief triangle player.
The important bit – meeting Santa
Vocal cords warmed up, we were ushered through to another funny little room – this time to meet Santa, who was sitting down at the front next to an elf we hadn’t met yet. The kids all crashed on a row of beanbags in front of him, and the parents sat on a little row of benches just behind. Santa and the elf read the kids a story, while yet another elf handed out mince pies for the grown-ups.
Once the story was over and done with, it was time for each family to have their moment with Santa. The elf explained that everyone would get a turn but that families with babies and younger kids could go first. So, we waited a few minutes while The Girl tried to escape/eat stuff off the floor/bite people, until someone noticed and it was our turn to meet the big man.
I’m clearly a bit behind the times, because I didn’t know that sitting on Santa’s knee is a big no-no these days (according to The Husband this has been the case for absolutely ages). As such, there were a couple of little stools positioned to one side of him, so we awkwardly perched on them with the kids on our laps while another elf took our picture (which is so gormless it shall forever remain for our eyes only).
The Boy was a little in awe and turned mute at this point, so Santa gave him a nice little book before we dashed off to let the next family have their turn. On our way out, another elf handed The Boy a mini candy cane and told us we could choose one present per child from a room full of stocking filler-type toys. We settled on a Frozen game and a Superman-themed colouring set before picking up our photo and making a dash for the carpark (with it being pre-tea time The Girl had gone feral at this point).
The verdict – would we go back?
Back in the car on the way home, The Husband and I agreed there were a couple of pretty big let-downs – the fact there was no time alone with Santa being our biggest. Because there was a room full of families watching us and waiting for their turn, we felt really rushed and there was no time to interact – it had the feel of a production line. And the fact Santa didn’t give the kids a wrapped present, but instead they chose it themselves from what was essentially a big shop, just added to the impersonality of the whole thing.
Of course, we’re looking at it from a was-it-worth-the-money point of view, to which I’d say not for a 1-year-old. But I’m pretty sure that if you asked the 3-year-old for his opinion he’d have a very different view. He’s been talking about the trip – not to mention the candy cane and the Frozen game – ever since. And I guess that’s all that really matters.
That and the hideous family photo, of course.
Thinking of booking? Here are a couple of things you need to know…
- Photography throughout the whole thing is fine, but you’re not allowed to film
- If you want a photo with Santa, you have to pay for it – there’s a little booth to pick your photo up on your way out of the grotto
- You can’t take buggies in, and although there’s space to leave them there’s nowhere to lock them up
- It’s fine to show your ticket on your phone, rather than printing it
- The whole thing takes about 40 minutes, and I’d guess there were about 50 in our group (parents and kids combined)
- You can read the FAQs for Santa’s Grotto at Frosts Garden Centres here, and book tickets here.