With an unkempt, bushy, white beard covering most of his face; a gruff voice booming "Ho, Ho, Ho!" and a frame that obscures most doorways, meeting Santa is not always a dreamy experience for little children, despite wearing their best outfit and a co-ordinating smile! Having waited ages in a hot, tiring queue, children are thrust into a dimly lit room filled with flashing fairy lights and told to share secrets and wishes with this man, who is, after all, a stranger!
But, it doesn't have to be like this... we have consorted with the Elves and chatted with Mrs Christmas regarding where Santa can be found this season. Sarah Peters (with mince pie in one hand and pressie in the other) reports on some of the most charming places to meet the Big Man himself.
1.Meet Santa at Marwell
At Marwell Wildlife they have everything for a traditional Christmas experience. Starting with a trip into an enchanted wardrobe through to the letter writing room where they’ll help your little one compose their letter to Santa. Children are then taken into Mrs Claus' library for storytelling and entertainment before their name is called to meet Santa. Here they’ll share a few moments with the big man himself and receive a special gift before soaking up the atmosphere of their Christmas tavern in the Tudor Rose Hall, with some festive food and blackcurrant – wine available for parents.
Buggy access: dedicated buggy park outside Marwell Hall
Price: £5.00 - £19.50
(infants 0-12 months are £5)
Colden Common, Nr Winchester, SO21 1JH
Selected dates in November and December 10:30 am – 17:30 pm
2. Meet Santa on his steam train
This Santa experience is particularly special if the children enjoy the puff and chug of the great and majestic steam trains that trundle through the picturesque Hampshire countryside.
Families join the trains at either Alton and Alresford stations and enjoy an hour long journey during which Santa will work his way down the train and chat to everyone along the way. He also hands out a gift in a special souvenir Santa sack to each child. The price includes a soft drink for the children and a glass of wine and a mince pie for the adults.
Buggy access: Buggies not allowed on train. Buggy park at the stations.
Price: Adults £13; Child (1-16 years) £13; Baby (under 1 year) £6
Santa Specials on the Watercress Line, Station Road, Alresford, SO24 9JG
(01962 733810, www.watercressline.co.uk)
December weekends, plus 20 - 24 December 2010
3. Meet Santa aboard his canal boat
Climb aboard the canal boat Rosebud and take a gentle cruise to the start of the tinsel trail in the woods. Little ones lead the way and follow the trail to find Father Christmas in his woodland grotto. Each family gets an audience with Santa and all children receive a special gift. Then, back through the woods to the canal boat and cruise back to the Canal Centre for warm drinks & mince pies for all!
The play park is available to explore at the Canal Centre too.
Buggy access: buggies that fold can go on board, woodland terrain to grotto
Price: £12 per person; off Peak £10 per person; Babies under the age of 1 can either go free of charge or £4 for a present.
Basingstoke Canal, Mytchett Place Road, Mytchett, GU16 6DD
01252 370073, www.basingstoke-canal.co.uk
Day and evening appointments throughout December 2010
4. Meet Santa’s in his Magical Farmyard Grotto
This is a charming family run activity farm and here, among the donkeys and ducks you'll find Santa is a really friendly, jolly chap, wearing wellies for a good reason!
Children are invited to meet Santa in the straw den where animals are grazing and generally having a nice time. Little ones can pet the animals and tell Father Christmas exactly what they would like to receive on Christmas Day and have pictures with him and his flock. Every child receives a gift.
Families are welcome to stay on for the rest of the day and enjoy all the usual farm activities, including bottle-feeding kid goats and calves and handling small animals. There are also great play areas indoors and outdoors and a lovely farm shop full of edible goodies!
Buggy access: paths through the farm
Booking: not required, ticket system to hold your place in the queue
Price: There is no charge to meet Santa! Farm entrance under 3 free; child (3-14) £6.25; adult £7.25, Family £25.00, under 3's wishing to meet Santa are charged just £2.50.
Longdown Activity Farm, Longdown, Ashurst, Near Southampton, SO40 7EH
(023 8029 2837, www.longdownfarm.co.uk)
4-5 December and 11-24th December 2010
5. Santa is his Victorian Parlour
Santa sits in a huge, upholstered chair, beside a fire place, and waits for the children to come in. With a lovely, happy smile, he welcomes them to his parlour and invites everyone to sit down and get comfortable. Meeting Santa is a very relaxed and calm event here. No one is rushed, there is no blaring Christmas music and the overall experience is rather peaceful. There is plenty of space to spread out in the parlour and the Santa is particularly gentle with little ones. As the meeting is in a homely setting, it does seem rather less intimidating (and less commercial!) than some Santa experiences might be. This is ideal for toddlers or those a little nervous of meeting the man in person.
There are also a series of Christmas workshops for children that the museum offer (£6 for non-members).
Buggy access: access to all floors
Booking: not required
Price: £5 non-members
Haslemere Educational Museum, 78, High Street, Haslemere, GU27 2LA
(01428 642112, www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk)
18, 22, 23, 24 December 2010
6. Meet a green Father Christmas on board HMS Warrior
A Dickensian-style Christmas event will be taking place at Portsmouth's Historic Dockyard, complete with snowy white streets, traditional carols, the aroma of roasted chestnuts and sweet mulled wine. There will be parlour games, the sounds of the rowdy Music Hall plus the Town Crier, chimney sweeps scamping around the place and even Fagin and his gang! Stalls will be selling festive gifts and food.
On board HMS Warrior Father Christmas waits in his grotto, sporting a traditional green and not the more familiar red, suit. Children can come along and see him on his throne, guided by his Victorian helpers.
Ticket prices include entry to the Festival of Christmas, Dockyard attractions namely HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy and Action Stations.
Booking: not required; timed tickets purchased on the jetty (included in the event ticket price)
Buggy access: buggy park at the bottom of the gangway
Price: Adults £12.50; Seniors £10.50; Children £10.50, Family £37.50.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3LJ
26 - 28 November 2010
7. Meet Santa at Lapland UK
From the moment your little one receives their personalised invitation in the post from Father Christmas their special mission to help his team of elves begins. Your child receives a special elf passport, allowing them to enter the enchanted world of elves, where they can journey along special elf pathways.
Once in the snowy magical world of Lapland UK your child will get the chance to help the elves get ready for Christmas by making toys in the toy factory, before meeting Mother Christmas in her kitchen to decorate some tasty gingerbread. Children can then get friendly with beautiful husky dogs and see the reindeer, whilst also learning about the indigenous people of Lapland, the Sami People. There is time to visit the post office and write a letter to Father Christmas making this day out a traditional Lapland experience.
Ice-skating is also included in the ticket price on the Lapland UK village square ice rink. The highlight of the day has to be meeting father Christmas in his snowy woodland home, where your child will be amazed by all the details Father Christmas knows about them in this personalised experience. And every child will take home a beautiful soft toy husky dog called "Joki" which means river in Finnish, the latest in the annual series of husky dogs unique to LaplandUK.
Buggy access: access to all floors
Price: £44.50 - £62.50
Bewl Water Estate, Lamberhurst, Kent, TN3 8JH
4th to 24th December 2010, 9am - 10pm
8. Meet Santa in his Winter Wonderland
Paultons creates a spectacular Christmas experience that is sparkly and happy from the very start! Walk through the twinkling tunnel into the magical, faraway wonderland inside. There are huge singing snowmen, cute wintery animals snuggling in the trees, and happy, dancing gnomes wending their way to Father Christmas.
Then, have a look at the toy workshop before heading in to see Father Christmas himself and watch the toy train whiz around the room brimming with toys for the children. For little ones it's amazing to see all the creatures and characters having so much fun and for adults it's just as exciting... a place to celebrate the wonder of Christmas as the children's faces light up.
Children receive a really good, age appropriate present and adults get a cup of hot fruit punch and a mince pie. And, entrance includes access to the whole theme park and all its attractions too, so you can enjoy the rest of the day on all the rides.
Buggy access: full access
Price: Adult £18.50; Children (3-12) £18.50; Children (1-3) £14.50; under 1's £6 or free if there's no gift.
Paultons Park, Ower, nr. Romsey, SO51 6AL
(023 8081 4442, www.paultonspark.co.uk)
20 November - 12 December (weekends)
18 - 23 December (daily)
9.Meet Santa at Exbury
Exbury Gardens have done everything to ensure the whole family is kept entertained this Christmas. Starting with a musical train ride through the wintery gardens, where you and your children will love looking out for the special reindeer and snowmen along the way. Then to make sure you’re kept toasty and refreshed there’s hot punch for adults and a festive chocolate for children. And to finish off the day all children visit Santa’s Magical Grotto for a personal family meeting with Santa, where they will receive a quality gift-wrapped present. Exbury also allow lots of free photo opportunities with Santa, Mrs Christmas, snowmen and reindeer, to take away lasting memories. There’s Christmas shopping in Exbury’s Gift Shop and Plant Centre. Plus, if you fancy a walk around the gardens you can follow the Christmas Trail and enjoy a warming meal in Mr Eddy’s Restaurant.
Buggy access: all around the park.
Price: £6.00 - £12.00
(infants 0-3 months are £6)
Exbury Gardens, Southampton, SO45 1AZ
11th, 12th, 18th, 19th, 20th,21st December