The kids are back to school, the nights are getting shorter, and our beautiful, hot summer is coming to an end. Oh well. Let’s talk Christmas! If you are a first-time parent, you are probably thinking “They have lost their marbles over at NCT Reading HQ.” (Such a place doesn’t actually exist, it’s very much living room based!) or they’re just completely Christmas mad! For those veteran parents out there, you’ll be aware of just how quickly certain Christmas events get booked up! My daughter was born at the end of November 2015 so that Christmas was a bit of a blur. But the following year I was excited to take her to ride Thomas at Didcot and meet Santa. I remember going as a child and my husband was a big Thomas fan back in the day so it sounded fab. But sadly it wasn’t to be, I tried to book the first week of November but any suitable dates had already sold out.
I’d hate for you to be disappointed like I was. First Christmases and that first trip to meet Santa are so very special. Here is my list of some of the best Santa experiences out there (Yes, experiences – it’s upscaled since we were kids. No longer just a felt costume and a guy in a broom cupboard at the local school fete!).
Location: Didcot Railway Station
Event: A Festive Day Out With Thomas
Dates/times: Saturday and Sundays throughout December, time slots available 10am until 3am
Price: Children over 1 £16 (includes gift), Adult £16
Overview: As previously mentioned, this is a popular event so be sure to book in good time. It is on the pricey side but everyone I know that has been highly recommends it. The price does include entry to the full Didcot railway centre with lots to look around. Thomas will take you to meet Santa where you will receive your gift, then he will transport you back to the station. You will also get to meet the Fat Controller and ride a second line if you wish.
Location: Wyevale Garden Centre – Hare Hatch
Event: Breakfast or Tea with Santa
Dates/times: Breakfast - Saturday and Sundays throughout December, 8.30am or 9.30am (some dates already sold out) Afternoon Tea – Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 3pm from 27th November until 19th December
Price: Child £10.95 (includes breakfast or tea and gift), Adult £8.50 (includes breakfast or tea) or £5 (includes mini breakfast or tea)
Overview: I can personally recommend this experience. I have been for the last 2 years and I’m planning this year’s visit with friends already. My friends and I have found this an enjoyable event for both child and parent. Firstly there is a lovely sit-down meal with Christmas themed colouring and biscuit decorating for the kids. Then the children gather to sing Christmas songs and ring the bells so Santa will come out to say hi. The big man will then come and sit at each table for a chat. Once you’ve finished eating, drawing, decorating you can go sit with Santa for a photo and choose a gift.
Location: Legoland Windsor
Event: Legoland at Christmas
Dates/times: 2nd, 8th,9th, 15th-23rd December
Price: Children over 2 and adults £36
Overview: Full day at Legoland including a trip to meet Santa in his magic grotto and a free Lego gift. Discover a Christmas land with rides, characters and LEGO® builds.
Location: 4 Kingdoms
Event: Magical Christmas Family Experience
Dates/times: Released soon
Price: Released soon
Overview: A 2 hour Christmas experience featuring many Christmas characters along the way, build a polar bear to take home, decorate cookies with Mrs Claus, Christmas Carols in the Edwardian Market, ending at Santa’s grotto. This experience is more suited to slightly older children.
Location: Blenheim Palace
Event: Illuminated Christmas trail
Dates/times: 23rd November – 1st January, 4:40-10pm (last entry 8pm)
Price: Child £12.50, Adult £18 (under 5s go free)
Overview: I can personally recommend this event having been the previous 2 years. I would recommend for younger toddlers and babies as they will enjoy all the lights and colour and spot Santa from a distance popping out of his grotto to say hello. One to one encounters with the big man are often quite intimidating for younger children. I would recommend a carrier rather than a pushchair as it can be quite crowded at points and it will give baby better visibility, but the trail is pushchair-friendly.
There are lots of other Santa’s grottos in and around Reading but if you are looking for something a little bit more special and memorable any of the above will certainly deliver! But be sure to book early to avoid disappointment. Other recommended Santa experiences include those at Henry Street Garden Centre, IKEA and Bucklebury Farm.