The weekend before last we were lucky enough to be invited to check out Santa’s local base, aka LaplandUK. My sister-in-law took my nieces last year and they raved about it, so we were all (with the possible exception of Harry) excited to check it out. It’s based in Berkshire, so wasn’t too tricky a journey from Brighton and the car parking is easy and well-organised. The children had received invites in the post from Father Christmas, asking them to help make more toys as there are so many good children this year. You check in and receive your elf passports and change your normal money for elf jingles (which come in a cute red velvet bag) on arrival, then join your team (Husky or Reindeer) to venture into a rather sweet, fairy lit woodland setting where two elves give a little performance to teach you about elf hellos (hand on nose, fingers waggling) and explain what’s going to happen.
Next stop was the toy factory where Alfie and Kitty made a stuffed Rudolph and a wooden horse under the direction of the elves. We all had to sing a song (adults spotted not joining in were threatened with having to sing alone at the front). The actors, sorry, elves, were really good at creating excitement and the children genuinely believed they were working for Father Christmas.
After half an hour our guide took us to Mother Christmas where the children decorated gingerbread houses, then listened to her reading The Gingerbread Man. They both loved this bit – there were paintbrushes to apply the icing to the gingerbread, which Kitty found hilarious and they appreciated the chef’s hats and aprons.
The majority of our time (an hour and half) was spent in the Elf Village. We were there at teatime, so the children ate fish finger sandwiches, which were pretty good value – there was plenty of choice to satisfy the fussiest eaters. Alfie and Kitty wrote letters to FC and posted them through one of the many letterboxes in the elf post office and Alf also sent postcards to his cousins and his class. Kitty and Harry went ice skating, we all rode on rocking horses, met huskies and bought a key for Santa from the blacksmith. To be honest, we could have spent longer there – we didn’t make it to Pixie Mixie’s Sweet Shop (my two are more about toys than sweets) and by the time we went to the gift shop we had to dash for our appointment with the big man.
On the way to meet him, through a snowy (Alfie: ‘It’s looks real, but it’s a bit like polystyrene when you touch it’) forest, we pass the reindeer and the sleigh before reaching a holding area where the grown-ups check all the details about their child with the elf on duty, then you’re called in at your designated time and taken to his house by an elf. Father Christmas was suitably jolly and, apart from a brief worrying moment where they couldn’t find Kitty’s name on the good list (Harry: ‘Maybe he is real!’) it was an authentic experience. The children definitely liked that he knew the name of their dog and what they liked doing as well as what they wanted for Christmas. He then gave them each a beautiful soft toy husky – they have been played with and taken everywhere every day since. You can’t take photos in there, but the elf obliges and you can choose and pay for your favourite shot on exiting. This was my least favourite part – as well as the photo upselling, there’s a cornucopia of husky outfits to battle through (top tip: the collar and leads are only £3 each) before you leave. To be fair though, this is the only overtly commercial aspect of the day.
Prices start from £45 per person, which seems steep initially, but if you think of it as a 3.5 hour show with all activities (including the skating) and a rather lovely soft toy (as opposed to the usual plastic tat) thrown in it starts to seem more reasonable. Also, I don’t think it’s something you could go to more than once – the stories wouldn’t add up. There is an option to tell them if you’re a return visitor though – would love to hear what’s different if any of you have been twice. Alfie and Kitty had an amazing time and even an initially reluctant Harry had to admit it was a brilliant day out. Alf particularly enjoyed getting stamps in his elf passport and Kitty was full of talk about meeting Father Christmas. If it appeals, book soon as lots of dates are already sold out.