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. Father Christmas in the Crystal Grotto
Christmas at Painshill Park is magical. The experience begins with a 20 minute stroll through the picturesque parkland to the Christmas Wishing Tent on Grotto Island. Children are invited to have fun with an activity gift and everyone else can relax and get hold of refreshments if they fancy.
The Elves then guide families through the magical crystal Grotto where the children meet Father Christmas, talk about their Christmas wishes and receive their gift.
The most magical time to visit is at dusk, as the route is lit and adds to the enchanted atmosphere.
Buggy access: flat paths
Price: Child £8.50, Adult £7.00, Concession £6.00
All proceeds go to restoration of Painshill Park
Painshill Park, Cobham, KT11 1JE
(01932 584284, www.painshill.co.uk)
4th - 5th December and 11th - 24th December 2010
2. Santa in the Magical Hay Workshop
On arrival, children are picked up by the 'National Elf Service' for a short trailer ride to meet Santa in his magical hay workshop. They each get a chance meet Santa, have a chat and receive an exciting Christmas gift. They also get a small edible treat from the elves on their way out!
Bocketts Park Farm is open every day so children also get the chance to enjoy the farm and all its play areas if they visit Santa in December. There is animal handling, goat milking, pony rides, pig racing and two indoor play barns and trampolines.
Booking: not required; timed tickets available on the day from the farm kiosk
Buggy access: paths through the farm and buggy can be folded for trailer ride
Prices: Child £7.75, Adults £8.25 for farm entry plus extra £4.95 to meet Santa.
Bocketts Park Farm, Fetcham, KT22 9BS
(01372 363764, www.bockettsfarm.co.uk)
2 - 24 December
3. Santa in his underground Grotto
Children and their parents are invited to take the indoor train ride to the underground cellar at Denbies Wine Estate where they will find Santa’s Grotto decorated with fairy lights and tinsel galore! Having been serenaded by Christmassy music, been through a little snow storm and entered the little grotto, each visitor gets a private audience with the great man himself!
This is an ideal grotto for toddlers as it's small, cosy and relaxed. Each child is given a present and adults are invited to have a mince pie and glass of Denbies wine (additional charge).
Buggy access: lift to cellar
Price: £6 per child, accompanying adults free of charge
Denbies, Dorking RH5 6AA
(01306 876 616, www.denbies.co.uk)
weekends in December 2010
4.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
5. Santa in his Enchanted Tipee
How about a stroll through the Christmas tree forest and a visit to meet Santa in his Enchanted Tipee! At Crockford Bridge Farm children get to meet Santa in one of his lesser known residences: a tipee! The little ones are invited to whisper their Christmas wishes into Santa's ear and have a chat about what they want for Christmas. He then hands out a gift and bids you all a warm farewell and a hearty "Merry Christmas"!
This is an inspired way to meet Santa and the little walk adds to the suspense. Just remember to wrap up warm!
There's also a great Farm Shop on site and a garden centre next door that has a twinkling range Christmas decorations and accessories. And, take time to pop into the food department and savour some of the great foods on offer.
Booking: not necessary
Buggy access: paths and a bumpy pathway through the trees.
Price: Children £5
Crockford Bridge Farm, New Haw Road, Addlestone, near Weybridge, KT15 2BU (01932 852 630, www.crockfordbridgefarm.co.uk)
Weekends in December 2010
6. 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
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 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