If there’s one item at the top of any parents to do list in December, it has to be sorting out a visit to see the big guy himself. St Nick, Santa, Father Christmas…whatever you want to call him, he is a busy guy getting around every department store, garden centre, shopping precinct, school, nursery, kids party and hospital. Yet, the slots to go sit on his knee (well, actually I’m not sure that’s the done thing anymore?), particularly on an annual-leave-free- weekend, are like GOLDDUST.
We learnt this the hard way on our very first Christmas as parents. The good places and the best time slots require some military organisation – I’m talking pre-halloween planning here. Having realised we had omitted this rite of passage on Christmas Eve Eve, it took some scraping of the barrel to find a dude in a suit to get the all important overpriced picture to file in the bottom of the Christmas decorations box.
We have come a long way since then, and have worked the Kent circuit seeking Santa experiences in various shapes and forms. We’ve had some great ones, some total disasters and got this thing sussed. A tenner or so usually gets you a queue, a rushed session of making Reindeer food, a bit of a singsong from a lackluster elf, 30 seconds with the Big FC and a fast track to the digital photo counter, to part with another tenner for the must have 10×8 digital print.
Our local Garden Centre does a pretty fair effort, but once you’ve done it three times, you’ve really done it. It’s therefore nice to find something new each year – so when we were invited Elm Court, a local(ish) garden centre for tea with Santa we were all over it (No cooking? You didn’t need to ask twice)…
As a family, we are quite partial to a garden centre or two. The kids love a poor-man’s trip to the zoo, Daddy is in his element rummaging for a new house plant to add to our own Kew Gardens, and I’m all for a nice coffee and cake and a wander round the homewares. Happy days.
We arrived at Elm court after a short drive and the girls were running around with a level of excitement suitable for a surprise visit to Lapland (so easily pleased).
Navigating our way through the forest of Christmas trees, the magic started to unfold. Cue screams of “WOW!”…”CHRISTMAS!”…”LOOK!”…To give them their due, it was only the second of December so we were still way into the novelty zone.
Being characteristically early, we
caused some havoc perused the garden centre until the elves were ready to get the party started. With so much festive loveliness it’s a wonder how we left with only a tube of christmas tree scent sticks. The girls had other ideas and it took some major distraction techniques to get them to step away from the chocolate to join the others waiting to be seated. Chatting to some other parents, we gathered that this is a event held in high esteem locally – and several families had been back for 5 years running. Everyone was kitted out in Christmas clobber and the atmosphere was incredibly warm and friendly.
Perfectly on time, we were shown to our table by the chief elf and were able to help ourselves to tea or coffee at the counter while the children got down to business with the crackers.
Considering the large groups and fairly high attendance, our afternoon tea and children’s meal was served promptly, and went down a storm. The girls had a chance to look around at some of the Christmas scenes and it was a really relaxed setting – which is all important if, like us, you have a toddler who isn’t one for long drawn out table sittings.
Soon after the meal, the elves announced Santa’s arrival, and as he made his grand entrance, the crowd went wild. Well, actually, truth be told, the mouse burst into tears. But, as Santa worked the room chatting with his fans, she had a chance to acclimatise and actually relaxed into it just in time.
The elves rounded up all the kids for some games – running around the closed garden centre looking for lost keys to the grotto, which they loved. Colouring in sheets and crayons were dispatched to each child for a quick bit of Christmas craft, then, decorate your own biscuits were delivered as a perfect activity / desert to distract the wait until each table was called to collect their gift from Santa.
The girls excitedly received their gifts and posed for a family picture, taken on my iPhone by the elf. As the girls thanked the ‘Real Father Christmas’ they scuttled off to rip open the presents. Chuffed to bits with their haul, they started to crash perfectly in sync with the end of the event.
The session ran from 4.30 – 6.00 and cost £9.99 per child, £7.99 per adult. The gifts (a soft toy & a craft set) were good quality, as was the food; so in terms of value for money, this is a pretty good deal. What I loved about the event was it’s charm and nostalgia. It was a little bit like going back in time to the days when less was more – if crackers, paper hats, a Christmas soundtrack and highly enthusiastic elves is your thing – you’ll love it.
What you can also guarantee with this set up is avoidance of Christmas chaos. A full 90 minutes of christmas cheer, whilst some other grottos may have you queueing for 90 minutes. The atmosphere was fun, felt totally un-rushed, and allowed space to breathe and move around whilst making a whole evening of the children’s Santa experience. No expensive add ons, and no over the top extras – this Christmas experience does exactly what it says on the tin.
We said goodbye to Elm court with two happy and sleepy little girls. It was the perfect start to Christmas 2016 and we’ll definitely be back next year…
Disclosure: We were invited along as complimentary guests for the Tea with Santa at Elm Court. All opinions are our own.