We were super excited when we heard about the truck-load of activities on offer at Willows Activity Farm, as part of their Santa Spectacular, we could tell that this would be no ordinary visit to Santa, and boy were we right! There were so many wonderful all-inclusive activities that I decided to list the top 16, though there were more!
As Dermot O’Leary says every week on X-Factor…in no particular order:
1. Visiting Santa
Of course this is the backbone to any santa visit, although as an aside, in my day (yes I am old) a visit to Santa included a visit to santa, and sometimes you got a cheap toy, that you didn’t choose, so Santa visits have definitely come a long way, they certainly include a lot of bells and whistles now-a-days, but that are much more exciting!
We took a walk through the grotto and enjoyed the winter scenery, had a chat to the elves, answered some Christmas-related trivia questions and then we permitted to see the big man himself. Santa was very good with the kids and asked them a lot of questions, he was even able to name 2 transformers. The elf took professional pictures with Santa, which you could purchase if you wished (that was one of the very few things that were not included) and then the children were given the magic key that when they popped it into the letter box, made a magical sound and allowed entrance into the toy workshop.
2. Toy from Santa
And that brings me onto the next reason, the choice of toys was the best selection that I have ever seen, they actually had branded items, which I have never seen before (even at Frosts). I noticed a Transformers jigsaw puzzle, Play Doh (the real stuff), Finding Dory busy books etc. They also had some really large items like an electronic pin ball machine, a play horse and a large firehouse complete with fire trucks. My 4 year old son chose a light up, noisy UFO gun.
Also known as build-a-bear-workshop! I couldn’t believe this was included in the entry price. My son loves build-a-bear, though this time he actually got to do the hard-work himself, which was a nice change. I love that Mishka, the husky dog that they met earlier in the day, could be made and taken home. They were able to choose their own coloured heart to put inside, were given stuffing, Mishka and a certificate. Optional extra: outfits for Mishka (personally I think they look better without the outfits). My son loves his husky dog, and takes it to bed with him every night, he named his dog “Sleigh” which I thought was a great name! The only very tiny problem we had was that the back was not sticky enough and kept opening.
4. 3D Sleigh Ride Movie
The kids loved the little movie, it was on a big screen in a pop-up cinema type room. I thought the 3D effects were superb, so much so that all the children kept reaching out to grab the snow and flying sweets, ducking their heads and squealing with delight, it was brilliantly done.
I have never taken my 4 year old ice-skating before, so I was excited to see how he would get on with it. If you have a young child you don’t want to fork out £5-10 for an ice-skating session if you suspect that a) they won’t like it or b) they will not be able to stand up. Perhaps because it was synthetic ice, it was a little easier, and the fact that they had special ice-skates with two blades (for young children). My son didn’t actually fall down much at all, and he loved it! I cannot wait to try it again in the future.
6. Elf Workshop
Berry and Twig were delightful, happy elves who took the children through their elf-paces. They taught them how to tip-toe, how to see if children are sleeping, brought children up on stage, asked different questions so they would interact. It was lovely and the children really engaged. The room again was beautifully decorated, and as promised it looked like they had genuine elf noses – we got up close at one point and the noses are so realistic! Of course Berry and Twig took 150 years to become elves but our children still earned their Elf Diploma – or “Mummy I got my Dacona” as my 4 year old put it!
7. Meeting a real Husky dog
I say Husky because Mishka looks like a Husky to the untrained eye, but apparently Mishka is actually a Malamut, but the only different between them an Husky dogs is the eye colour so you could be forgiven for being mistaken! She was beautiful and friendly, though being so young they advised keeping our cuddly version of her away!
8. Meeting (and feeding) real Reindeer
My son got to meet Batman in the flesh, so to speak! Actually Batman is the name of the oldest reindeer and the most resplendent with antlers. Not only did we see the reindeer but we were able to feed them, as well as the other animals in the barn.
9. Soft play
Woolly Jumpers soft play had one of the main restaurants inside, so we chose to eat there so that the kids could run off and play. There were several big slides that even the oldest child in our party enjoyed, and it kept the children entertained for well over an hour, in fact we had to drag them away as there were so many activities, we didn’t want them to miss out.
10. Peter Rabbit’s playground
The outdoor play areas in general are varied and interesting, the Peter Rabbit section is the new addition, though the theme was lost on our children, they just wanted to play, and again this kept them entertained for a good while.
11. Nerf zone
This is situated on the second floor of Woolly Jumpers, and again the kids had to be dragged away. It is a room set up with apposing sides, each able to shoot soft balls at each other – what’s not to like? What I loved the most though was that next to our table (downstairs) where we ate lunch, was a TV screen showing this very room, so while our kids played we could still keep an eye on them without having to traipse upstairs – very clever idea!
12. Fairground rides
We actually ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to try them, but they looked quite dazzling after the sunset. There are three different rides and all are included in the price, I do dislike it when you go to a theme park/zoo etc and you pay a hefty entrance fee, but then they dot around little motorised rides for young children, which you have to pay for on top of your entrance fee.
13. Food outlets
There were two larger restaurants plus an assortment of huts dotted around that sold snacks. We ate at Woolly Jumpers but it did take us a short while to find a table as it was very busy, and people stay longer due to their kids playing. I do like that they had tables hidden in every nook and cranny – so a clever use of space.
My son loves sand, so I was not surprised that the children played in the sand-pit for as long as they did. A thoughtful touch was a chest full of buckets and spades.
15. Holding a guinea pig
My son had never held one before, he has stroked them but has always felt too nervous in the past. I was proud that he decided to be brave.
16. Elegant Decoration
This is probably not something that everyone would notice or even care about, but this is not the first farm that I have visited to see Santa, and at those farms you felt like you were on a farm. Well at Willows, the thoughtful details and delightful decoration elevated the surroundings to such a level that you felt more on par with Lapland, it was truly magical. They have obviously taken a lot of care and attention on the decoration, which I appreciated.
Overall we all agreed it was the best day out, and the best Santa visit, any of us had ever had. We stayed all day long and still didn’t see everything on offer, and I definitely intend to come back again next year. If you want a truly magical and all-inclusive Santa experience, in the UK, I would definitely recommend a visit. Child tickets start at £24.95 and they are open up to Christmas Eve. Willows Activity Farm is just outside of St Albans, and is like a stones throw from the M25 J22.