We are all hoping that Christmas 2020 will have at least some resemblance of normality but it certainly won’t be the same as last year. Santa has been officially given the go-ahead to travel so children will get to visit him this year even if it has to be in a socially distanced way. And it looks like Santa’s Grotto will be open for business.
Last year we went to the grotto at Woodcote Green Garden Centre in Wallington. While the experience will be slightly different due to social distancing measures, I don’t know whether they actually change the visual displays every year or not. So I thought I’d share a bit about what we saw last year and whether I would recommend it!
The grotto has a covered entrance with a little desk (that looks like a nice festive ticket booth) in the middle of the garden centre. It doesn’t look like it could possibly have that much behind it but when you go through the door you find yourself in a long corridor with a series of scenes like an old fashioned sweet shop, a cobbler’s, a seamstress, a traditional toy shop and so on. They were all behind bars and behind a metal railing which gave the feel of walking down a street having turned back time. Each scene is very detailed with lots of things to spot, and there were Christmas trees and pretty coloured lights along the way.
My daughter was just under two when we visited and I think she was a bit young for this specific grotto as a lot of the charm of the scenes was in the detail and the nostalgia, and we would have been better off going somewhere with large attention grabbing characters to enjoy, such as Chessington Garden Centre. I’m also not that much of a traditionalist that I’m afraid to say that while I admire the skill that went into these scenes, I wasn’t entirely captivated.
When we got to the end of the corridor we came upon the door to see Santa. What we hadn’t realised was that even though there were only six families allowed into the grotto at one time, because we had hung back to get a better view of each scene without everyone else in our daughter’s way, we were now last, and we waited for about 15 minutes before we could go through the door to see Santa, because each family went in separately. This meant that having already spent quite a lot of time looking at the Christmas scenes, we then had 15 minutes with nothing to do but look at the scenes again – not ideal with an under 2 who didn’t want to wait!
When we did finally go in to see Santa, we were welcomed into his room by an elf, and our daughter was offered a place on a stool in front of Santa but was a little nervous and preferred to sit with us a little further back. We had the usual conversation about whether she had been a good girl and what she wanted for Christmas, which was obviously a little one sided because of her age! We said that Sophie wanted a kitchen (we were getting her a big wooden play kitchen) so the elf chose a toy that she said would normally go to a slightly older child but it would be a nice additon to her kitchen. It turned out to be a plastic shopping basket full of plastic food which I thought was definitely a decent gift – considering we paid £12.50 for Sophie to see Santa and an additional £4 for each adult I would hope so!
You can have your photo taken with Santa and are able to purchase it at the end – I always think it’s a bit cheeky this isn’t included in the price but that seems to be standard everywhere, and since it was our first proper visit to Santa we decided to get one.
While the decorations in Santa’s grotto didn’t appeal to me (or I think my daughter) as much as I would have hoped, the rest of the Christmas decorations at Woodcote Green Garden Centre are brilliant – and free to view – and people come from a long way around to see them.
There are scenes dotted around the garden centre each with a different scene like ice skating, each with large animatronic animals like bears that turn their heads from side to side and wave – they are really fun to watch and my daughter loved waving back!
What’s more, there’s a trail to find them all – you can pick up a sheet and each scene has a large rubber stamp that you use to stamp your sheet when you have found it. Don’t forget to look in the Aquatics centre – a separate building behind the sheds and fences for sale – as the ginormous polar bear in there was my personal favourite!
There is also a Christmas ride next to Santa’s grotto which my daughter really enjoyed – it moves slow enough that with us standing each side of her she was able to have a go.
Given the number of activities that are cancelled due to the pandemic I expect it will be even busier this year, so if you want to visit Santa at Woodcote Green garden centre and haven’t yet booked I would do so now – and otherwise the decorations around the store will be well worth a look!