It was the first time both my children had met Father Christmas, Blake is two and a half and this year is the first year that he is really into Christmas (Maegan is nearly 6 months).
We booked the tickets online the night before, it cost £13 for all of us (£8.99 for Blake, £2 each for me and Rich, and it was free for Meg (children under 2 without a gift are free)
I wasn't sure what to select for Blake - There were two categories, Under Two's and Over Two's - Obviously at Two and a half, he's the over two's category but at the next step, the booking system asked for details (name, age, interests) and the youngest age you could select was 3. I tried choosing under two with a gift instead (£5.99) but the system didn't ask for Blake's details and I wanted the experience to be as full as possible, the booking system didn't ask for Maegan's details at all.
We almost didn't make our time slot - we got stuck in awful traffic and one of the children had done a big poo - the nappy change and toilets are at the other side of the garden centre so we had to do some running and finger crossing (There's only one nappy change and it's in the disabled loo)
But luckily the time slot before was running a little late so we were OK!
There were real reindeer outside the grotto too for everyone to see - totally free of charge and beautiful!
Before we go any further, I just want to say, the experience was worth every penny and lasted nearly an hour, and you can take your own camera, so stop reading if you want to be surprised or keep reading if you want to know what to expect!
You're greeted by a very happy elf who takes a register and issues all the children with a passport where they collect stamps as they go through the journey. Inside the entrance hall every one recites a magical poem to encourage the elves to open the door to the workshop.
Everyone has a wonder through the working mechanical workshop full of busy little elves creating gifts and working hard for Christmas and the journey continues to the North Pole wilderness, complete with snowy Christmas trees, a giant penguin band and a sleigh full of presents...and you earn your first passport stamp. There are elves on hand to help if you want any photos taking with your own camera.
Next we went into a lovely little wooden cabin with lots of tables and benches and pots of crayons so you can write or draw a picture for Father Christmas, post it in the post box and earn another passport stamp. Blake drew a scribble which represents a robot.
And then we wondered through to a cosy little elf kitchen to make special reindeer feed following the secret recipe, we sat in front of the log cabin and enjoyed counting out the scoops of different mixes of seeds, oats, fairy dust and ingredients into a little bag. You get to take your bag of reindeer food home with you to sprinkle on Christmas eve, and we rounded this section up with a lovely rendition of jingle bells (we all had a bell to shake too) and earning yet another stamp in the passport.
It's off to meet Father Christmas next! - Everyone goes through to the big guy's cozy snug living room which has a wonderful fireplace and festive decorations. Father Christmas has a chat with everyone, Blake was very enthusiastic and not at all shy like I had expected! He really enjoyed chatting to Father Christmas. All the children gather in front of the fireplace and we all make some magic happen - a present appears from the magical chimney labeled and ready each child so Father Christmas can call them by name to come forward and receive their gift and earn the final stamp in your passport. There's also a special gift for the parents who came too!
After this, if you want to, each child can sit on Santa's knee and tell him what they would like for Christmas, you can also have a professional photo taken by an elf at this point too - we decided to buy a photo and 3 key rings afterwards for £7 but you don't have to - there's no pressure at all and the elves are happy to help if you want to take your own photos. Blake and Maegan enjoyed meeting him, Meg had been asleep for most of it but woke at the right moment!
It was an amazing experience and much more than we were expecting which is why I wanted to go into so much detail!
Ruxley Manor garden centre also has a great little cafe and a small farmers market stall outside the gate, there was a lovely Christmas room and amazing garden furniture - well worth a little explore! Theres a pet area with fish, tortoises, lizards and hens to name a few too and a great toy gift area - lots of wooden toys!
My first experience of Father Christmas as a parent and I loved it!
Emma in Bromley xx