It is now October and time to start thinking about booking tickets for Santa’s Grotto. Yes really, some grottos have already sold out.
For 12 years from 2006 to 2017 we visited Harrods grotto, bringing out the Harrods photos was one of my favourite parts of Christmas seeing how the children had grown. Unfortunately, last year (2018) Harrods decided that unless you spent over £2,000 in store in the 12 months prior to booking you were no longer eligible for grotto tickets.
I was devastated not only at the loss of a family tradition but at the lack of a suitable alternative. Harrods was a fantastic experience for us, two of our three children have Autism so planning a grotto visit isn’t easy. We loved Harrods as it was easy to get to after school, we could do the walk through grotto or skip it and go straight to Father Christmas if it became overwhelming and we could leave straight afterwards.
The majority of grottos now have turned into an all day experience and all singing all dancing activities. These are lovely, but expensive and not great if you are looking for a very simple low key experience.
When looking for a grotto I don’t even look at the grotto itself, too many grottos now are concentrating on the experience, the extras, the décor and moving displays The main point of the visit, meeting Father Christmas, often feels like an afterthought with a cheap suit and obvious fake beard. I look at photos online in advance to try and find a believable, magical Father Christmas.
Last year was the first year we had not visited Harrods Grotto. Having looked around we booked tickets for Crockford Bridge Farm in Weybridge, Surrey.
Unfortunately, on the day we visited it was raining all day so our experience was not as magical as it could have been as everything takes place outdoors.
We arrived early and had something to eat in the attached garden centre and had a look at all the decorations on sale.
When our allotted time slot arrived we were taken as part of a group into the magical “Wonder Woods.” Along the way we met elves, animals and characters telling a story as we moved through the forest, props and decorations lined the paths so there was plenty to look at.
Around half way through the forest the children were asked to write a wish on a tag and attach it to the large wish tree.
As we approached Father Christmas’ log cabin we all sat down and were taught a song by the woodland characters. The group was then divided into two and our half of the group was taken through to the cabin whilst the other half remained singing with the characters.
We were taken in to see Father Christmas as a group and after speaking to everyone Father Christmas invited the children to go up to receive their gift and have a photograph with Father Christmas. There was no official photographer but, we were free to take our own photographs.
We had a good afternoon despite the unfortunate rain, the gifts the children received were perfect for their ages and they were all very pleased with them. Even my eldest had a suitably aged book.
My only criticism is seeing Father Christmas as part of a group was slightly awkward and made the children feel uncomfortable, they were disappointed they didn’t get to tell him their Christmas wish as that is usually why we visit Father Christmas. I would prefer the grotto part to be a little more private and personal. The clothing Father Christmas was wearing was very different and the younger children were a little confused by it, it did not match the photos we had seen before booking or any of the usual Father Christmas suits we are used to seeing. This is probably not an issue for most families but as we have two children with Autism part of the planning for a visit is to print out photographs of where we are going to familiarise them and prepare them. This year I will be better prepared and will contact the grotto for up to date photos in advance.
Overall it was worth a visit and on a dry day the theatrical Wonder Woods would be an even more magical experience.
For information on booking Crockford Bridge Farm for 2019 please see their website, booking opens in November. If you are looking for Halloween fun with younger children they are also doing a theatrical woodland walkthrough with a James and the Giant Pumpkin theme.