One of the most magical parts of the Christmas celebrations is taking your little ones to see Santa. Freddy is six and is so caught up in all the excitement of the season. He is old enough to question the whole Santa Claus thing, asking why there are so many grottos with Father Christmases in them all at the same time, but totally accepts my explanation that Old St Nick has a cloning machine and makes replicas of himself to keep on top of everything. So visiting numerous Santas throughout December does not detract from his unswerving belief in the wonders of Christmas and the knowledge that on Christmas Eve it will be the original one that pops down our chimney.
We were really excited to be invited along to the Santa's Secret Workshop Grotto at the Trafford Centre in Manchester at the weekend. The specially built attraction is located in Barton Square, right near to SeaLife and the Legoland Discovery Centre and next to a mini Christmas market with food and gift stalls. So you can really make a whole festive family day of it.
The experience lets families discover the secrets of Santa's workshop, inviting in children to help Santa prepare for the big day. Santa's special helpers get to take part in a range of activities, each one earning them a stamp in their special Christmas passport. Once they have all the stamps, it's time to meet Santa himself in his special cosy room, for a friendly chat and to receive a present.
On entering the experience, you walk through a mirrored maze to discover the secret entrance to Santa's workshop. Here, you are greeted by an elf and let loose inside an area where you can make Christmas cards, do crayon rubbings of Santa and make paper lanterns. Other activities include helping Santa to sort out and weigh the huge pile of presents in the sorting office; making buckets of food for Santa's reindeer by finding the right combination of healthy food and treats and preparing a special portion of magic reindeer food to take home and leave out for Rudolph on Christmas Eve. Stamps are collected in the passport for each activity.
Each passport is numbered and when your number is called by the head elf, it's time to go through to visit Santa. Santa was awesome! He was engaging, funny and convincing. He was lovely to Freddy taking the time to chat to him, but was equally lovely to my two older girls. He spoke to them about being the generation who can make a difference in the world to make it a better place. We never felt rushed and he took his time to make sure the experience was a memorable one. In one magical moment, Santa even said that he recognised Ian from when he was a child and remembered that he had wanted a guitar as a present when he was thirteen...spookily accurate! This Santa was the real deal.
We had our photos taken with Santa, one serious and one silly, pulling funny faces! I was impressed that Santa didn't take himself too seriously and the resulting photo is a great memento of a lovely visit.
The experience lasts about half an hour and you have a timed slot for your visit. Children's tickets are £6 each and adults cost £3 each. Kids get a small gift from Santa (Freddy got a stationery set and Kezia got a puzzle book) plus they can take home the reindeer food and the arts and crafts bits they make. You can book in advance online (£2.50 transaction fee applies) or pay on the day (but if it's busy it may get fully booked).
Photos cost extra, but there is no hard sell to purchase them. We bought a snow globe frame for £10, which we thought was a reasonable price. Photos cost £6, fridge magnets and Christmas tree decorations cost £5 each. There is a 25% discount if you buy three items.
The grotto is open everyday until December 24th.
Visit intu.co.uk/traffordcentre/events for more details and to book tickets.