It’s still only September but bookings are already filling up for seeing Santa. Last year (2021) with all the uncertainty still around COVID-19 for a second Christmas in a row, we were a little cautious about booking to see Santa somewhere expensive and then having to cancel. As our daughter was only three we felt she was a bit young for some of the bigger experiences which involve craft workshops with the elves and story time and so on (i.e. Tulley’s Farm – which we have booked this year), so we decided to keep it simple – and local, in case there ended up being any restrictions.
We went to see Santa at Woodcote Green garden centre# a couple of years ago and thought it was good but the Christmas scenes where we were waiting to see Santa were a little underwhelming, a bit too complicated (e.g. a traditional Victorian sweet shop) and not especially attention grabbing for a small child. We were also stuck standing in the same section for about twenty minutes due to the queue so my daughter was quite bored in the end.
Since then, the garden centre has been taken over by the Dobbies chain. It no longer has the large moving anamatronic displays dotted around the store featuring animals and winter scenes, which is a shame. But the walkthrough to visit Santa was noticeably better. Here’s what you need to know about seeing Santa at Dobbies Garden Centre in Wallington Woodcote Green (and book via this link).
It was outside but under cover – good for the Covid situation – and only a few families were let through at any one time, so there was plenty of space, but also not much waiting around.
The displays were fun, with some moving elements, and of a scale and type that my daughter really enjoyed. We were given a checklist of things to look out for around the displays, which I thought was a nice touch. When we got to the end we waited at a door and were shown through a moment later by an elf who took us in to see Santa.
Santa was wearing a mask but as it was white it blended in with his beard and I hardly noticed at first, which was nice. He engaged my daughter in conversation and was able to coax out of her what she wanted for Christmas (an Elsa costume and some Lego) and ask her a few more questions. I was quite pleased that Sophie didn’t seem overly shy and was happy to sit on a little chair next to Santa; the last time we visited she hid behind my legs when it came to seeing the man in red!
She was handed a present – we had specified her age in advance – which turned out to be a drawing set with a roll of paper that you turn to colour in and once you’ve done that part, you turn the roll a bit more to show the next part of the picture. I thought it was a decent gift though for some reason Sophie wasn’t particularly interested in it and hasn’t ever really used it since.
There was also a little train outside which is separate to Santa’s grotto, and you don’t have to book for – you do have to pay but it wasn’t expensive; it was fun to ride around the track and Sophie really enjoyed it, and I liked that it added an extra element to our day out.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the Santa’s grotto at Woodcote garden centre; it’s not as impressive as Chessington garden centre but good for younger children and the train ride was good fun. I’m looking forward to our bigger, longer – and frankly considerably more expensive – experience at Tulley’s Farm this year though now Sophie is a bit older!