I know I’ve been exceptionally quiet for the last three weeks on our Blog but the truth is, we’ve just been enjoying spending some QT together with our little lady & family in the run up to Christmas. Now that term has ended I’m hoping to catch up on some of the posts I’ve not written but, if I don’t, I’ve been doing things far more important 🙂
This post is a quick round up of three of our Christmas visits this December – there are a few days left before the Big Guy visits so there might be time to squeeze one of them in yourselves!
Visit One: Thomas Land at Drayton Manor
Thomas Land is one of our absolute favourite places to visit and we travel up to Tamworth at least twice a year to enjoy the brilliant Thomas-themed rides and attractions but our favourite time is undoubtedly the spectacular display they put on at Christmas and it didn’t disappoint again this year. For the first time, we went up to Drayton Manor with all the ‘Todd’ grandchildren in tow. It doesn’t matter about age (we ranged from 17 months to 30 something!) or gender, or whether or not anyone is ‘into’ Thomas the Tank, it’s so exciting to see the trains decked up – Thomas sports a red nose and antlers and is bejewelled in sparkling fairy lights, as is the whole park, which looks spectacular as night starts to fall! On top of that, you might want to watch the Fat Controller dancing on top of the station and wait until the snow starts to fall all over the park! Absolute magic!The children were so brilliant – they went into the Castle of Dreams to meet Father Christmas (which has an extra cost attached) and each received some lovely gifts including a free pass to visit in 2016 and we were able to buy the photograph that was taken inside the grotto. A firm favourite with us that won’t fail to bring a little magic into even the Grinchiest of hearts!
Visit Two: Longleat Safari Park
We have annual passes to Longleat but, for whatever reason, we’d never gotten round to booking onto the Santa Express and seeing Father Christmas, so this year we decided we definitely would. We had to book quite a few months in advance – it sells out fast, and obviously it carries an additional fee. We had a lovely morning on the Safari. Darcey loves the early parts of the safari with the zebra and giraffe but gets a little bored in the Big Cats enclosures (they can be quite slow moving and obviously the lions and tigers don’t necessarily perform for the cameras!). We moved down to the main bit of Longleat Estate by lunchtime, ready to board the Santa Express. When we arrived to Santa’s Grotto, the ground and trees were covered in snow, there was a roaring open fire and Santa’s elves were happily hopping around. It was quite spectacular. We joined the queue to visit Santa.
Unfortunately, for us, that’s where the magic ended. You queue to a log cabin where elves usher children through a permanently open door and you can see Father Christmas sat inside the cabin. This takes the magic and awe away somewhat as there is no ‘reveal’ when you go in to see him because you’ve watched three or four other groups go in first. We were in with him for no more than 60 seconds. In that time the children (my two nephews and Darcey) were given their gifts and then ushered out of the other door. The children weren’t asked what they wanted for Christmas or even what their names were (the elves had asked at the door) and we were incredibly disappointed. When we went to the photo booth we were told no photo had been taken (perhaps, we were advised, we’d stood in the way of the elf taking the picture?!) either way – gutted. This one comes with a hefty price tag and was entirely disappointing.
Fortunately, to save their bacon, Longleat’s Festival of Light is spectacular and made up, somewhat, for such a poor experience with Father Christmas. We went twice last year and will go again before New Year as it’s even bigger and better than before. Darcey, Oliver and Harry adored the lights and were completely hypnotised by the stunning displays. We enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate watching the ice rink and slowly watched the Estate burst into colour as dusk fell. That was absolutely incredible.You can’t take pictures which do it justice but I would absolutely recommend the Festival of Light to anyone – genuinely spellbinding! (So, well-worth the park fee but not the Santa add-on!)
Visit Three: Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas
Ultimate sensory experience. Honestly, this was pretty much faultless! Nath and I took Oliver and Darcey to Westonbirt this past Friday. As we have annual passes we got half price entry, with the children free, which meant it cost us just £5 each. An absolute bargain, when you account for everything that was involved. We followed a stunning trail of light around the Old Aboretum, watching fairies fly, moons shine and a plethora of stunning tricks of light which had the children (and us!) absolutely in raptures! Lots of the trail is interactive – Oliver had great fun drumming in order to light up a little copse of trees and at the end we enjoyed singing to light up the Christmas tree (it felt a little bit reminiscent of Elf!)
It was, obviously, incredibly busy so we had to queue to reach some of the more popular bits like the famous Gruffalo who both Darcey and Oliver adore! After we’d completed the trail we arrived in a gorgeous Christmassy workshop where the children made brilliant reindeer tree ornaments made of felled trees and conifer leaves! We had been running late and didn’t have tea before we left so we popped down to the cafe (which is always amazing) and had a great turkey and cranberry baguette from the barbeque. Whilst we were eating, Oliver and Darcey sat and listened to Mrs Christmas reading wintery stories in the cafe – I literally could not peel Oliver away! They loved it!
Afterwards, we joined the (rather long!) queue to see Father Christmas who was superb. He asked Oliver about his school play and watched him do his snowflake dance. Darcey and Oliver both got a badge and a Christmas pencil and rubber from Santa and we were allowed to take our own pictures. All of this was free (or included within the entry of the trail) and it was probably the best ‘Santa Experience’ we’ve had so far. Their actors should really be enormously credited because from the elves, to the fairy on stilts, they completely had the children hooked and entertained in a very long line whilst waiting for Santa. We didn’t mind the wait, especially as it was free, but it was easier because the children really weren’t bored.
We are off to Avon Valley on Christmas Eve to meet Santa and we’ve heard brilliant things so I’m looking forward to Nath’s first Christmas day off there but I really would wholeheartedly recommend the Christmas experience at both Drayton Manor and Westonbirt, and also the Festival of Light at Longleat.
We hope you are all getting in the festive spirit! (I’m sitting here typing with a snowball in hand, so very much in the festive ‘spirit’ in the Reed household!).