Sick of winter blunderlands? Eight families rate the UK's best winter wonderlands

And for parents everywhere, that means the pressure is on to take the little ’uns to see Father Christmas.

But with so much choice up and down the country, how do you tell which are true winter wonderlands and which are just plain grotty?

We asked eight families to check out their local grotto and mark it out of five, for the big man himself, the gift he gave the kids and the general festive vibe (indicated by a tree).

Here they share their verdicts with Kate Jackson.


Santa’s Grotto at Bluewater ­Shopping Centre, Greenhithe, Kent DA9 9ST

Price: £10 per child.

Lynsey Hope took her children Jacob, four, and Olive, one, and says:

“ Jacob had always been too frightened to meet Santa in the past but he seemed immediately at ease.

The experience began with a 4D film showing a Christmas story. All the children were enthralled as they tried to grasp falling snowflakes.

We were then led into a room with Mrs Christmas where we made reindeer food to scatter in the garden.

Then we were ushered in to meet Santa, who gave the children a good-quality cuddly reindeer as a gift.

There were some hiccups with the camera, and the photos were not the best quality or price at £7 per print. But overall both kids loved it and it was a great first grotto experience.

Jacob says: “My favourite bit was meeting Father Christmas. He wasn’t scary at all!”


Winter Wonderland, The Mall, Cribbs Causeway, Kessels Road, Patchway, Bristol BS34 5DG

Price: £30 for 45-min family skate (two adults, two children). Santa’s grotto: £7.50 per child (adults free)

Georgina Newman-Pope and Tom Pope took children Ruben, five, and Eva, three. Georgina says:

“The atmosphere was great. There were loads of food stalls and a few rides, like a merry-go-round.

The grotto looked really impressive and quite magical – a tall, blue castle with everything lit up with fairy lights.

There was music that kept us in the festive spirit, even when queuing for the grotto. The gift was OK, a cuddly reindeer, but Ruben and Eva liked it.

The skating was really fun but they didn’t warn you beforehand that you would need to hire a seat for young children to be pulled around on.

The food was pricey but overall it was a lovely family night.

Ruben says: “My favourite part was meeting Santa in his castle.”


Winter Wonderland, Adventure Valley, Union Hall Farm, Brasside, Durham DH1 5SG

Prices: Adults: £12.95 Children: £21.95 Babies to one-year-olds: £11.95 (Dec 24, £2 extra per ticket).

Anna Alessandro took four-year-old Millie, and Isabella, one, and says:

“There was so much to do, I felt you really got your money’s worth and Millie was the perfect age to enjoy it.

She decorated a gingerbread man with Mrs Claus, made reindeer food, took part in elf training and visited Santa in his grotto.

There were elves all over the place, playing and interacting with the ­children. But I wasn’t allowed a pram, so I had to carry Isabella, which could be a problem for other families.

Overall it was a really good ­afternoon and I would definitely recommend it to other mums.

Millie says: “My favourite part was the toy I got. I picked a mermaid doll. Mrs Claus was nice and friendly and I got a photo with her.”


Carmarthen Winter Wonderland, Carmarthen Park, Wales SA31 3DF

Prices: Grotto: £6 per child including gift and photo. Ice skating: £6.50 per child, £7.50 per adult.

Hannah Jones took her children Ava, seven, and Ollie, ten, and says:

“We had to queue for quite a long time to see Father Christmas, though it was nice that the picture with Santa was included in the price and the kids got chocolate selection boxes, which they were happy with.

The layout was really handy and well thought out. There was lots to see and do but it didn’t feel too big.

There were stalls selling lovely stuff, like nice cheeses, so it was great for parents as well as the kids.

But each game and ride cost around £4, so it added up fast!

Ava says: “It was really fun and magical,” though Ollie adds: “Father Christmas seemed a bit grumpy and had dirty gloves on.”


Santa’s Sweet Adventure at York's Chocolate Story, King’s Square, York YO1 7LD

Price: Adults: £7.50 Children: £14.95 Under 3s: £5 Family ticket (4): £39.95.

Michelle Rawlins took her kids, Archie, nine, and Tilly, two and says:

“We found the whole experience totally magical. Children can search for missing chocolates and presents that have been hidden around the interactive exhibits.

They get a chat and a photo with Santa and are shown how to make and decorate their own snowman chocolate and reindeer food to put out for Rudolph and his pals.

You can also see chocolatiers create a few treats, which children can sample, and each child receives a lovely gift, a framed picture of ­themselves with Santa, along with the goodies they have made.

Archie says: “I loved the treasure hunt searching for the missing ­chocolates and making my own lolly to eat. It was really nice.”


Claus’ Christmas Cabin, Lowry Outlet, MediaCityUK, Salford, Gtr Manchester M50 3AH

Price: £8 per child, adults free.

Jenna Murphy took five-year-old Maeve, and Bethan, two, and says:

“Each family has a timed ticket which reduces queuing, and rather than waiting in line, guests are shown into a cosy living room with fake log fire, where Mrs Claus reads stories, sings Christmas songs and gives out stickers to the children.

The elves called us through to see Santa and my toddler squealed with excitement. We were the only family in the room so didn’t feel rushed and Santa chatted to the girls, posed for pictures, read my older daughter’s letter and gave each child a present.

We were led out to a postroom where we left the letter in a teddy’s arms. The girls really enjoyed it.

Maeve said: “My favourite bit was waiting to see Santa, as it was so exciting. And I got a sticker.” Bethan said: “Mummy, I love Santa.”


Winter Wonderland, Telford Town Park, Shrops TF3 4AY

Price: Adult: £9.50 Child: £15.95 Under-2: £7.50.

Dawn and Neil Williams went with children Hollie, eight, Harry, six and three-year-old Tommy. Dawn says:

“Even though the place was a little run down, overall we had a really nice time. When we arrived, we found the rides – my youngest enjoyed them but some weren’t really suitable for my older ones. But they did have some reindeer, and we were all able to feed them, which was nice.

Santa’s Grotto was the highlight. He was fantastic – he took his time and engaged with the children.

It didn’t feel rushed – we must have been with him ten to 15 minutes.

All three loved their gift, a reindeer cuddly toy – perfect for all ages and they’ve each taken theirs to bed every night since the visit.

Hollie says: “Seeing Santa was really good but the rides were a bit rubbish.”


Santa’s Grotto in Castle Street and funfair in East Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Price: Grotto: £8.50 per child, Santa Train: £4, Christmas Tree Maze: £4.

Jo and Scott Fraser took six-year-old Bonnie, and Charlie, four. Jo says:

“The atmosphere was incredible. There was a buzz of excitement and the lights were stunning.

We had to queue to get into Santa’s Grotto, even though we had pre-booked tickets, but the decorations were magical and Santa was brilliant with the children. Charlie got a Lego figure and Bonnie got a jewellery set.

They struggled with the cold, ­especially during the Tree Maze, and the Santa train was over too fast – I definitely could have gone round twice, but there was a smoke tunnel feature that made it a bit more special. Overall, a great day out.

Charlie, who celebrated his birthday on the same day, said: “I loved it. I got to spend my birthday with Santa – it was great.”

Source: Read Full Article