I mentioned just last week that I’ve made failing to book Santa somewhat of a Christmas tradition in our household. Never quite managing to take that thought of ‘must book early’ and make it a reality.
Nonetheless, it somehow, much like Christmas in general, seems to come together somehow on a wing and a prayer.
This year, I was well into November when the reality kicked in that we were Grotto-less and in the left it too late category (again) when I was contacted by Dobbies Garden Centre and invited to join them, with the Muddling Throughs, to meet the big man himself over tea.
Now, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about Santa and his digs, having been employed at a Santas Grotto for two seasons running, before landing my current role in more permanent employment.
So I know the ropes; the ins and outs and the pro’s and cons of what makes a visit to Santa practical, cost effective and above all else, magical.
The first and perhaps most obvious benefit of dining with Santa is that along with your festive meet and greet, the kids and indeed their accompanying adult, can be fed and watered too. That’s a kitchen free mealtime in December which in my book is a definite win.
It made sense for us to opt for Tea with Santa, as opposed to Breakfast on this occasion, and we opted for the afternoon tea for both girls and adults. Prices are £13.99 per child and £12.50 per adult. Alternatively a hot chips and sausage / chicken / fish fingers option is available for the children; all of which comes including the Santa experience and gift per child.
Starting at 3.30 on a Sunday, we finished off a festive weekend in and around Kent with a visit to the Ashford branch of Dobbies, just inside the Eureka Leisure park.
No trip to a garden centre at Christmas (or any time come to think of it) is complete without a mooch around the store, a bit of shopping and a visit to the poor mans zoo (aka the aquatics centre in this case).
Plus Dad Muddling Through couldn’t leave without checking out the plants… whilst the girls played Narnia amongst the beautiful rows of real Christmas trees waiting to fulfill their Christmas destiny.
As we joined the fellow diners for our sitting, we were greeted by Santas elves, and shown to our table which was laid with trinkets to keep the children busy whilst we waited for our tea to arrive.
The food and constant supply of tea however was moments away and as we tucked in to the festive sandwiches and clotted cream and jam scones, the girls were delighted with their children’s version of a high tea.
As we polished off the food, more arrived in the form of tree shaped brownies for the girls to decorate, and on request, a take home box so we could enjoy them later.
With the finishing touches to the girls colouring and tree decorations rang the sound of bells, announcing the arrival of the star guest. He high fived all the children and reassured any unsure little ones with a friendly hello and settled into his chair, where he invited all the children to join him for stories, games and gifts.
For the next 30 minutes or so, the children were entertained by the cheeky elves, charmed by Santa Claus with a Christmas story, and patiently awaited a gift each from FC whilst the parents snapped away for the perfect photo moment.
Note there is no professional photo opportunity at Tea with Santa; something which will either disappoint or please – but there is no issue in taking your own photos and they are accommodated accordingly.
As the session wrapped up, Santa invited anyone to take additional photos, and we said our thank you and goodbyes, over a quick chat about what Christmas Eve has in store.
In my humble opinion, aside from the variety in Grotto logistics, format, price and duration, the single most important thing in a Santa experience lies in the quality of the main character himself. And on that, Dobbies did not disappoint. Loud and firm whilst gentle and reassuring, this guy was the real deal and captured the imagination of every child, who he had in the palm of his hand.
As we headed home we carried not just Lego (nice gift btw), we took home another Christmas of magical memories, to treasure from these special moments of our daughters childhood.
So from us to Dobbies, thank you. For a marvelous experience, and for getting me out of this years Santa catastrophe.