The closest you got to a Santa Experience back in the 80s was going to Brownies to find the school jannie, with a pillow stuck up his dukes, wearing a tight-fitting Santa suit, wonky beard and surly expression, handing out badly wrapped books to 20 excited shiny faces.
It’s a different story today. Santa Experiences are big business, but are they worth it? I asked a group of local parents to relay their knowledge of nearby venues and events. Here is a rundown of four of the best Santa Experiences nearby. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below. (And yes, I know, it’s only October and we’ve not even had Halloween. An elf made me do it!)
- Woodland Santa Experience – Near Balfron/Killearn, Stirlingshire
Set in woodland just outside the pretty Stirlingshire villages of Balfron and Killearn. A tractor trailer ride takes you to Santa’s cabin – great fun! Keep your eyes peeled as you go as you might spot some of Santa’s little helpers. The wooden cabin in the woods is decked out in lots of pretty lights; it looks magical and authentic. After being welcomed inside by Santa and receiving your gift it’s back on the trailer to another shed where hot drinks, food and decorations can be purchased.
Cost: Adults £8, children £16 (You can also hire the whole trailer, which costs £210)
Pros: Beautiful setting, good gifts. Cons: It’s a bit of a drive from around here, quite pricey.
- Mrs Claus at Pollock House – Glasgow, South Side
If you have younger kids who might be a wee bit terrified of a huge bearded man in a red suit but you want to get into the Christmas mood with your tots, then Mrs Claus at Pollock House is just the thing. Kids get to complete a quiz by exploring around the house and spend time with Mrs Claus and receive a book gift. This is a good one if the weather looks iffy as there’s plenty to do inside and out. I was going to comment on the wonderful collection of Spanish art… but you’re there with your kids, so quite frankly there’s no chance!
Cost: Adults: £7.50, adult concession £5.50, children: £7 (Peak – weekends) £5 (off peak excluding 21st and 24th)
Pros: Gentle introduction to the Santa Experience, nice to explore Pollock House. Cons: Gift is a little underwhelming for the price.
- Dine with Santa… in the Snow – Braehead, Glasgow
If you’ve very active kids who LOVE sledging, then this is the one for you. It is quite expensive but then you get breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, a story with Santa, a gift AND you get to play and sledge in REAL snow! This one books up quick as it is quite unique.
Cost: £29 per person (I adult and 1 junior)
Pros: Sledging on REAL snow and food included. Cons: A little expensive and it may already be actually snowing!
- Santa’s Grotto – Finlaystone Country Estate, Inverclyde
The trail through the woods at Finlaystone to Santa’s Grotto is exciting and feels really magical, also each child gets an allotted time slot so there is no queuing. There is much to do at Finlaystone. If you get good weather, then you can spend a day here exploring the trails and playing in the fab play areas. When booking the ticket office asks for each child’s name and age, so gifts are personalised and age appropriate – a lovely personal touch.
Cost: £17.50 per child
Pros: Great outdoors experience with lots to do for kids, good gifts. Cons: Not quite as good in bad weather.
Look out for the Winter Issue of INSIGHT Magazine (Due for delivery at the end of November) where we discuss more Santa Experience options nearby where booking is less necessary – especially for those of you who see nothing wrong in keeping your Santa Experiences it a wee bit more ‘retro’!