We first took Callum when he was about 2 and knowingly too young to understand about Christmas but my reasons at the time were to kind of introduce him to Santa early enough to get used to him in the hope he wouldn't be scared of him later on. It was in our local garden centre in Godalming and was very awkward following Santa's opening line of "well think this visit is more about Mummy and Daddy rather than you" followed by some uncomfortable small talk!
My least favourite Santa was the following year where we payed £15 for Callum, followed by £5 each for Stuart and I, to go to see him at Loseley House nr Guildford. The actual event was ok, few animals in the yard in a kind of nativity scene, but the visit itself didn't stand out enough for me to remember it but what I do remember is the rubbish present Callum got. It looked like a dog toy, it was a soft toy monkey (I think) rattle squeaky toy thing. Something you would expect for a baby not a 3year old and it barely cost a fiver. It was not representative of where our £20 had gone. I saw other boys walking around with these kind of noise maker toys, the kind you used to get a football matches I think. They spun round and made a racket. Don't get me wrong, what parent would wish for one of them but it certainly would've been more age appropriate for Callum. But bless Callum, he loved that monkey dog toy because Santa gave it to him. Our expense didn't stop there either as we foolishly splashed out for a polystyrene cup of hot chocolate and a mince pie which set us back a small mortgage too. Think the whole disappointing event cost us £30.
Since then, I won't settle for a mediocre Father Christmas, and tend to go on recommendation or previous experience.
The first year we moved to Bournemouth we were told how great the Father Christmas was at Adventure Wonderland, the nearby low level theme park. The tickets were expensive but we got discounted tickets so couldn't complain. We went with much anticipation and excitement following my mum and sister's glowing reviews and an insistence from my elder sister that it really was the real Santa.
She informed me after the event that it wasn't the same Santa as usual and both my mum and sister agreed it wasn't as good as when they had been before. Again, Callum's present was a bit meh, but my nephew got a good gift.
(It hits me at this point how materialistic I sound but the bottom line is that I expect to get what we pay for, with a gift that represents the amount we've paid for tickets (or would've paid if we paid full price) and a Santa that looks the part and tries to engage with the kids - we still build it up and follow it through for Callum even if I do consider them substandard, and he has never complained though did look envious of his cousin's marble run that year).
Anyway, the next year we went to a different place I'd heard so much about. Stewarts Garden Centre in Christchurch. This time it didn't disappoint. Father Christmas was great, the elves were lovely and really took the time to speak to Callum at his level, there was a winter wonderland scene while we waited and he got a great present, a helicopter where the propeller rotated when you pulled the string. Perfect for 5 year old Callum. And the reindeer, how could I forget? They had real reindeer!
So thrilled was I to have found a fab Santa's Grotto, I couldn't wait to book it the next year. But every other Dorset parent appeared to have had the same idea and got there before me so we didn't visit Santa that year.
This year I was determined not to miss Santa again so, in the last week of November, I though I would see if the tickets were being advertised. They were and, incredibly, every weekend running up to Christmas and the few days before Christmas were already fully booked. I'd missed out again. Gutted!
Bit all was not lost because a twitter friend told me they had managed to get tickets for their other store 20 minutes away in Broomhill. I held my breath as I looked online. Success! I managed to get the last 2 weekend tickets. 12.30 and 12.45 the next Saturday coming.
Would it be just as good as we had experienced before in the Christchurch store?
We needn't have questioned it. It was great. The Father Christmas didn't look as perfect but he was very nice and sounded great (though Millie wasn't so sure). The gifts were excellent. They had real reindeer too and the elf was just as lovely.
Below are a few photos from today's visit and also a photo of the photo they took last time we went and one of the lovely elf from that same visit. We didn't purchase the photo this year because Millie was a little unsure and so I was trying a little too hard to get her to feel comfortable (I looked deranged). This post isn't in anyway sponsored and is just a post off my own back but I would definitely recommend either location of Stewart's Garden Centre for next years Santa's Grotto. Just don't book until I've got our tickets!!!