Tulley’s Farm Christmas Experience – best places for seeing Santa

It’s one of the warmest days of the year so far… and I’m writing about Christmas. But there is (of course) a reason for that – other than that I’m really behind in my blogging! These days you have to book really early to see Santa, and I mean early. I booked my ticket for Tulley’s Farm Christnas Experience in April, and actually missed the first early release of tickets which would have gotten me a bigger discount – which was actually in February. So the reason for this post today is that general tickets now go on sale – and if you’re in this part of the world (we are nearly an hour away) I highly recommend the Christmas experience and seeing Santa at Tulley’s Farm.

We went last year with our daughter who was then four and three quarters – I think if she had been much younger she wouldn’t have benefited so much, though the activities are on the whole suitable for younger children as well I think this was a really good age for something like this.

It’s not cheap – and in fact prices have gone up quite a bit this year which I’m not thrilled about, but it’s a full or nearly full day out, so works out good value for money when you include the fact that you get a decent gift from Santa as well. If you are put off by the prices of Lapland UK as we were, I would suggest this as a very good alternative (though I can’t compare directly as we haven’t been to Lapland UK).

On arrival we were given a fold-out map with a few sections to stamp when we had done certain activities and then how you spend your time is up to you – when you book, you are asked to select a time to visit Santa but it’s recommended to allow five hours for all the activities. There’s a full list of activities on the website, and an indication of how long to allow for each activity, which is helpful though not completely accurate.

We did:

Reindeer food making – a short queue to get in, then you are allocated a table with containers full of different ingredients that you scoop into a bag to make your personal mix of Reindeer food. The bags are then tied with a ribbon and you get to take it home.

Elves magical forest – you are given a pair of 3D glasses and walk around a path (inside a marquee) with Christmas trees on each side. The glasses make it look as if the trees have little snowmen or Christmas trees on them – some pairs of glasses showed one and some the other which was a bit confusing until we realised that (me exclaiming ‘look at the snowmen’ and my husband not having a clue what I was talking about!). It doesn’t take very long to walk through but was quite busy so we went fairly slowly.

Post house – here you can write a letter to Father Christmas, look around the old-fashioned post house and post your letter. Parents are given a letter (I think on arrival, if I recall) to take home in secret for your child to receive later – a thank you from Santa for coming to visit him at Tulley’s Farm.

3D cinema – a decent sized venue with quite a bit of proper seating (not just a few benches) and a Christmas-themed 3D film to watch. It’s a cute little film, quite short, and my daughter was transfixed as this was the first 3D movie she had seen. It was funny watching some of the smaller children reaching out towards the screen to catch the presents that appear to come flying out!

Gingerbread decorating – this was a little disappointing as we were on a table at the back of a large room, with Mother Christmas at the front, and some basic gingerbread decorating equipment on the table – a tub of white icing, a tube of red icing and some sweets. My daughter got started straight away and was almost finished before Mother Christmas actually did her introductory speech. These little tubes of icing can be a bit hard for smaller children to manage and while they aren’t messy, you don’t get a lot of icing out of them, which means more of the sweets got eaten than actually stuck onto the gingerbread man. You can queue for a photo with Mother Christmas at the end, which we didn’t do due to the length of the line, so overall this activity was over a lot quicker than I anticipated.

The shows: I think the shows at Tulley’s Farm Christmas change every year, but we shall see. They start at specific times and we found that due to when our sleigh ride was booked, we missed several shows – we came out from seeing Santa just after one show had started and too late to join the queue for another (we did join the queue, but when we got to the front and were next in line, were told it was full and to wait half an hour to the next show, so we gave up and exited the queue – at which point the people behind us pleaded and were let in anyway, grrr).

We thought the circus was excellent – lots of acrobatics, very colourful and thrilling for young children, and helped add to the overall sense that the day was really worth the entry price.

The Cinderelfa show was good too – about two elves called Jingle and Jangle who are reading and acting out the story of Cinderella. My daughter found it very funny and really enjoyed it.

Elf Academy show – this was listed on the website and sounded quite good but we didn’t see it, I think because some of the shows started at the same time and we couldn’t fit everything in due to the timing of our Santa visit.

Reindeer facts – we also didn’t manage to see this show but arrived just as it finished so managed to get a photo with the reindeer which made my daughter very happy.

Discover your inner elf – we thought this was a show but it’s actually a pretty short walk-through with things to look at and a rubber stamp to stamp your card at several points within the walk through, and you get a badge with your ‘elf personality’ on it at the end.

There was also an elf hunt you can do as you walk around, looking for pictures of elves; at the end you can collect a prize where there were a couple of options and my daughter chose a miniature rubber duck.

Food and drink – there are lots of places to get food, hot chocolate, sweet treats – and not particularly cheap as you might imagine. There’s also the normal café/tea room, where we ate lunch as it was getting a bit cold and we managed to find a table indoors. We had paninis and hot chocolate which went down very well.

Fairground – there were a couple of fairground rides and my daughter went on a little car ride which cost £2 a go

Ice skating – we didn’t try this as we thought our daughter was too young. It is something you have to pay extra for and we might do it this year -though I’ve just realised you need an extra ticket for it, and part of the problem is fitting everything in when you want to watch various shows as well.

And seeing Santa himself… Tulley’s Farm does really take advantage of the space. You go to the sleigh ride boarding station at your allocated time and get on sleighs – tractor rides essentially. Each group is accompanied by an elf who keeps the children entertained, then you arrive at Santa’s cabin in the woods. Everyone goes in and sits down and listens to Santa talk, then each child goes up to get a special cardboard tree decoration from Santa which is the point when you can get your photo taken. You can’t take your own photos inside, and this is a group meet with Santa, not individual. That is a quite different to everywhere else we have seen Santa and can be helpful for children who would be a bit overwhelmed and nervous around the big man in red – but I did miss the personalised experience a bit.

Then it’s back onto the sleigh and to the main area – where you can then go and claim your present from Santa. What we didn’t realise was how long the queue would be at this point! Luckily it was worth it, as you have a choice between a toy from the elves’ workshop and making your own – essentially, Build-A-Bear (though not that brand). That seemed by far the most popular option so we had to queue a bit more, then saw the biggest mountain of soft toys I’ve ever seen, just waiting to be stuffed. My daughter was able to deliberate over which one she wanted, and opted for a snowman that looked a lot like Olaf. We went over to a table and filled him with stuffing, added a plastic heart and sealed him up. You can also buy clothes for the soft toys which luckily my daughter wasn’t interested in (snowmen don’t tend to wear clothes, after all) as the prices were on a par with Build-A-Bear clothes. We also purchased our photo with Santa at the desk here.

The whole area is designed to look like a winter wonderland, with traditional wooden huts, decorations and a giant Christmas tree. There’s also a Christmas market with stalls selling handcrafted gifts and decorations. The finishing touch came as it started snowing not long before we left – turning into a fair amount of snow that made driving off the farm a little hairy! Overall it was a lovely day out – lots to do and see, and I would say worth the money and the journey time from home (just under an hour). What was a little disappointing was the number of things to pay extra for once you are there, given the ticket price – obviously food and drink, gifts, fairground rides, photos with Santa, clothes for your stuffed animal – and the central part of the wonderland felt more like shops than activities.

But the ‘sleigh’ ride to see Santa in his woodland cabin was magical, we really enjoyed the shows and the other entertainment (though having an idea of timings when you are booking your Santa slot, and staggering the show start times a bit would have been helpful) and my daughter really liked the toy that she got from Santa. We liked it so much that we have booked to go again this year!

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