See that man on the left there? Yeah, him. Father Christmas. Well, I met him yesterday. I did…… I know that’s what I thought too – but it turns out he is real and lives on an industrial estate in Kent. Well, that’s underplaying it somewhat. His home is Lapland UK – a multi-million pound, snow-strewn Santa’s Grotto, about half an hour south of Tunbridge Wells (the place where all the outraged letters come from). It opens for a month every year before Christmas and costs about £60 a person (no kiddy discounts here) and although my tickets were free through my husband’s work, I will try to be objective about whether a four hour experience is worth potentially blowing the whole Christmas budget on.
My children are three and five and very much believe in Father Christmas in such a cute, earnest way, that it makes me went to press pause forever. The day they stop believing, will be the day that frankly they can find a new mum. Not being able to use Santa as a threat against bad behaviour from September onwards would kill me.
The Lapland UK experience (I know, I hate that word too. These days everything has to be an experience. Suggestions for a less irritating noun are welcome) begins with a personalised invite through the post for each child. My 5yo slept with hers under her pillow for a week. She couldn’t believe her “luck” at being asked. It was like she had won a Willy Wonka golden ticket.
It took about 90 minutes to drive to Lapland UK from West London and once parked, you pretty much go straight through to a gatehouse manned by a couple of elves/out of work actors. At this point there are about 50-odd of you and all the children are given passports with stamps to collect through the day for various activities. After an elfin performance worthy of panto, the group split and half go to Santa’s workshop to make toys and the others to Mother Christmas’s kitchen to decorate gingerbread. Then you swap over. It is very slickly organised. The kids loved it and there was none of that tawdriness or forced jollity you some times get with group events. However, this is no place for cynicism and if any grown-ups try to opt out of the communal singalongs, they will be singled out for a solo. As a man called Nick in my group, can testify.
That takes up about an hour and a half and then you go outside into a winter wonderland for 90 minutes free time. There is a big European-kind of square with snow-clad trees (from the same special effects team that do the Bond films), a small-ish ice rink, a mulled wine stand, and a really delicious sausage stall courtesy of Banger Bros. We all had hot dogs with crispy onions, twice-fried chips and oodles of mayonnaise. It was also – at £3-4 a sausage – not a mega rip-off. In fact once inside, I didn’t feel mega-fleeced, although I begrudged paying £2 for parking and £10 for a photo with Santa – surely those should have been included in the entrance fee? It is Christmas after all.
Luckily for us it was one of those crisp winter, blue-sky kind of days and we happily mooched around outside from stall to stall. Had it been raining, I think it would have been pretty miserable. There were even real huskies to pet and a little post office, where you could write a letter to Santa. But by far the best bit was obviously meeting the man himself. Each family is taken by an elf through a maze of snow-covered Christmas trees to Father Christmas’s log cabin. There are ice skates and snow shoes hung outside and inside sits possibly the finest looking Santa I have ever seen. His robes are rich red, his beard cumulus-luxuriant and there is not a whiff of stale sherry on his breath. He knows my children’s names and what their pets are called. He even knows that one of our cats has seven toes (Well 28 all in. This is actually quite common – the official name is polydactyl). Obviously, this all came via me, but the children are blown away and wonder if he perhaps chatted to the cats when he came down the chimney last year. Like I say, indescribably sweet. Then you are given a very good quality (and frankly, it’d have to be given the entrance fee) furry husky to take home. A toy one that is.
So all in all, a pretty special day for the girls, which made it a pretty special day for us too. I don’t think I gritted my teeth once which on a family day out is pretty rare for me.
So the billion dollar question, well the £240 one, would I pay to do it again? We had a great day and I am sure my children will cherish the memories until they are old enough to know better. But it is an awful lot of money, so if you’re loaded and won’t really notice it, then you’ll have a ball. But if it would make the difference between a good January and a bad one, I’d do yourself a favour and just visit your local Santa and ice rink instead. The children won’t miss something they don’t know exists. - Lucy
Claire (Lucy’s sister) says: “It sounds amazing. I think if I ever go it will be when the children are older (they’re 2 and 4) because I want them to appreciate and remember every second, because it really will be a once in a life time opportunity. Also, if I wait a bit I may be considerably richer than I am now…well, here’s hoping!”