We kicked off the festive season in a truly fabulous style this weekend starting with Seren’s Christmas ballet show, a Cinderella panto (more on that soon!) and then a trip to the Santa Spectacular at Willows Farm near St Albans on Sunday. We love Willows and always have a great day there, especially on their seasonal special event weeks when they really go all out to celebrate – we last went for their Halloween Pumpkin Festival.
The Christmas event was our best (and longest) day there yet! Despite the cold, biting winds we were there from 10am to 4pm – testament to what a great day (and lots of indoor activities!) there is to be had.
We started our visit by heading to Santa’s Grotto. Like anywhere, you do queue for this (and you can’t book a time-slot in advance). First thing on a very cold Sunday in November we queued for around 20 minutes to see Santa (well one of them, fortunately there is more than one…shhhhhh!). However, there are scene after scene of fabulous festive displays to marvel at whilst you wait, signs to read, an advent game to play at the end and elves to talk to too. There was one cheeky elf, “eating” lights that were “sweets” then pulling them out of his ear – I recognised him as the magician who had captivated my kids during the Pumpkin Festival!
This was all enough to keep Seren (aged 4) entertained whilst we waited and she enjoyed making friends with other children too. Imogen (aged 18 months) on the other hand … wasn’t as patient, though she did enjoy looking at the displays (and running off to find more). She also enjoyed practicing her new high pitched screaming and hearing it echo in the the tunnels, sorry everyone!
We were glad when it was our turn to be ushered in to see Santa. He was perched on his chair in a cosy, festive room, with a (pretend, fortunately as Imogen was fascinated with it) fire lit and a decorated Christmas tree. He played his part well and had a good chat with Seren about whether she had been good and about what she wanted for Christmas. She told him that she was going to leave him candy canes and chocolate this year and something for the reindeer too. And that we didn’t have a chimney but it was OK as mummy was going to let him in through the front door. He gave the girls their keys to Santa’s Toy Shop where they could pick out their gifts.
This is something unique to Willows – after meeting Father Christmas, you then go out into a toy store to pick from a huge range of pretty good quality gifts. You put your key in a lock as you enter. Seren ran round finding all the doll and horse type toys before settling on a set of ponies that reminded me of the old fashioned My Little Ponies. I chose a sensible farm puzzle for Imogen.
After restorative coffee, juice and biscuits, we headed to the craft tent which has been turned into a Build-A-Bear workshop for Christmas. Seren handed our bear tokens to the elf in exchange for our Bear-y Christmas Bear kits. This activity is also included in the price, though clothing for the bears (from around £8 a set for members and £13 a set for non-members) is an optional extra. The girls each got a partially stuffed bear, a heart to put inside (you choose the colour) and the stuffing to finish the bear. I stuffed Imogen’s bear (which Seren has named Robyn) but Seren refused any and proudly stuffed her bear (Sophie) herself.
Once completed we picked up certificates for the bears then went to the back of the workshop to the Elves House to write our letters to Father Christmas and do some crafts. All letters posted at Willows before the 16th December will receive a reply! We also got Seren’s “Elfie” photo (the one at the top of this post) for her Willows Elf Passport passport. There are 4 stamps to collect around the farm for the passport and a Reindeer Hunt too. Once you’ve collected the names and numbers of all of Santa’s reindeer, you can collect a free box of magic reindeer dust on your way out!
When we had finished crafting we went back to Curly Tail’s Cafe for lunch. Andy and Seren both had burgers (100% beef), fries and a drink and Imogen and I shared scampi and chips. The adult main meals are around £6 including a drink and the kids ones are just over £5. You can also get jacket potatoes, sandwiches and kids’ pick’n’mix style lunch boxes. There is also an area to eat your own food here too.
Once we had refuelled we went for a (very blustery) walk to see some animals and chanced upon a pop-up barn where the Nativity story was just about to start, complete with animals including a donkey! Every child who wanted to play a part was able to – Seren was the angel (doubling up as a King) complete in white tabard and tinsel crown! Jessie, one of the Willows team, narrated the short play. We all sung some songs too including Little Donkey. It was very sweet to watch and Seren was thrilled to take part in it.
Afterwards, we hunted out some more animals and was pleased that a couple of reindeer had been moved indoors into the The Farmyard barn. We arrived there just in time for the “Meet The Reindeer” event though Seren was more interested in petting a guinea pig (always one of her favourite activities at Willows). We remembered to stamp our passports too after saying hello to the reindeer!
We had some time to kill before the Festive Wood Ride (tractor) rides started up again so Seren enjoyed several goes on the carousel whilst Andy watched and I walked round with Imogen to try to get her to go to sleep (it was now well past her naptime). Having paid £2 per child per go at a fairground the day before, I really appreciated how the carousel rides are all included in the entrance price, no extra to pay!
Imogen refused to nod off so all four of us boarded the tractor for the ride through the festive scenery. Despite the bumps, by the end of the journey we had a sleeping toddler!
Making the most of the downtime whilst she was asleep and to defrost a bit, we popped into Woolly Jumpers soft play for coffees whilst Seren played. After milking Daisy the cow first, of course.
Lastly, we went to Woolly’s Showtime Theatre to catch a sing-a-long with Jessie and Ronnie the Reindeer which Seren loved. There is also a little Panto and Story Time with Mrs Christmas on at different times throughout the day.
Then it was time to go. The only festive activity we missed was skating on the (synthetic) ice rink. We had a truly magical day and the girls, though tired, adored playing with their bears and new toys when they got home.
Willows Activity Farm, Coursers Road, London Colney, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL4 0PF
Tel: 0870 129 9718
The Santa Spectacular runs from the 25th November to the 24th December 2015. Tickets are £25 for a child, £15 for a child under 2 (if they want to take part in visiting Santa, receive a toy and build-a-bear) and £10 for an adult. 25% discounts are available on some tickets if you book online. The ticket price includes all festive and usual farm activities.
We were invited to Willow’s Farm to review the Santa Spectacular experience. All words and photos are my own.
See also – 10 Things To Do In December, 21 Ways To Save Money At Christmas and 10 Christmas Books For Kids.