This year was the first year that we decided to take Darcie to a grotto to see Santa Claus. She’s seen him in passing before and once at a Christmas party when she was 6 months old, but we’ve never done the whole ‘grotto thing’ before. At two and a half years old and with a perfect understanding of Christmas and Santa, we decided it was time. I say ‘we’, but Dan is basically Scrooge so really it was just me that made that decision. And I have to say, I was excited! Probably more excited than some of the children going to see him themselves. Because I actually can’t remember ever going to a grotto when I was younger. Santa wasn’t a big part of my childhood, and while I definitely don’t begrudge my parents for that, it does make me even more excited to experience it all with my own children.
The biggest question in my mind was where to go to see Santa. There are so many options and unless you know someone who has been to the place before, then you really have no idea if it will be worth the money you pay to go. And some places are so expensive. I’d heard that Keydell Nurseries was one of the best places near to us (and affordable too!), so after asking for recommendations on Instagram, my mind was made up. The promise of real reindeer sealed the deal. We would go to Keydell!
On the day we chose to go, the grotto was open from 2pm (definitely check this online before you go) so after some Christmas shopping in the morning we headed up there for opening time. Tickets can only be bought in person not online so bear that in mind when planning your trip. We arrived shortly after 2.15pm and bought a ticket for 3pm as it was the next available slot. This was perfect as it gave us a good amount of time to walk around the Woodland Walk and admire the festive displays before going in to see Santa. It cost us £13 which included two adults for free, a gift for Darcie and entrance for us all to the Woodland Walk. I think this is such a good price and by far one of the most reasonable places I have come across. The thought of spending a fortune on somewhere knowing that there is a good chance that my child will cry at Santa, just doesn’t appeal to me. Ernie was just tagging along for the ride so we didn’t have to pay for him, although we could have chosen to buy a ticket for him which would have entitled him to a gift too. (Predictably I’m now feeling ALL the mum guilt about not really thinking of him the whole time we were there and just focusing on Darcie. Next year will be amazing for them both though so I’m trying to console myself with that thought!)
I’d been told that the Woodland Walk was impressive, it was actually one of the main selling points for me, but when we arrived I was blown away by it. I’m a sucker for any kind of festive display and so going around admiring all the winter scenes really gave me all those Christmassy tingles. Darcie was in awe of it all too, running around excitedly, telling us what they all were and trying to stroke and rearrange any animals she could find – woops! There was every Christmas scene you could imagine, from carolling animals to Santa on his sleigh, huskies, and even festive unicorns and fairies. It was a Christmas lover’s dream! Darcie and I were in our element – and so was Dan once he found old Ebenezer Scrooge to hang out with!
Once we’d walked all the way through the displays we found the real reindeer which was just the icing on the top of this very wonderful Christmas cake. Darcie had never seen a reindeer up close before and, as they are her current favourite animal, she was so excited and told us ‘it’s so cute (pronounced ‘cwoot’)’. After quite a bit of time admiring the reindeer we headed off to the grotto. For reference, I think we spent about 25 minutes in the Woodland Walk but we definitely could have spent longer. Equally you could walk through it all very quickly if you wanted, it really is one of those places that can be whatever you decide to make of it. There are also benches along the way which is very handy if you have to sit down and feed a baby!
The great thing about having an allotted time to see Santa is that we hardly had to queue at all before going in. I’m sure that is different in busy times though and there was clearly space to allow for lots of queuing in those times, so choose when you go wisely! There were lovely Elves to talk to us while we waited and then to take us through to see the big man himself. They were all so good with Darcie and made us totally at ease.
When we entered the room to see Santa I could tell Darcie was a little uncertain of what was happening, but she’d been adamant about going to see him and ask him for an egg for Christmas all day, so I was confident we would have a successful visit. He chatted to her for a bit and while she preferred to stand a little distance away from him, she happily responded to most of his questions. A photographer came in and took our photo which was a lovely touch and then we were able to buy the print afterwards if we wanted. (We did, of course – £11 well spent on a family picture of two smiling parents, a happy baby and a gremlin in the corner!) Darcie does look very grumpy in the picture which is a shame as I don’t think it’s a true representation of our visit. She honestly really enjoyed it! The photograph was just taken early on into our time with Santa which meant she hadn’t quite warmed up to it all yet.
When our time with Santa was up, we headed through to the toy workshop where Darcie was able to choose any toy that she wanted. They arrange the toys in age order which makes it easy to steer your child in the right direction. After a little encouragement (influence) from us, Darcie settled on a train set and happily skipped out the door with it. We were pleased with her choice at the time but Dan regretted it later when he had to help her put it all together and nearly totally lost the plot.
We ~just about~ managed to resist spending all of our money in the shop, paid another visit to the donkeys outside the centre (I failed to mention these earlier! There were a few other animals, including goats, inside too!), and then it was time to head home. All in all, I was so pleased with out decision to go to Keydell Nurseries to see Santa Claus. There isn’t anything I could fault about out whole experience and I’m already excited to go back next year. I’m glad we went early on in the season to avoid the rush and I would definitely recommend going midweek if you can as I’m sure it could be a different experience when it is busy, but that will be the same anywhere!
Are you going to see Santa this year? If you’re local to Hampshire then definitely consider Keydell Nurseries!