Last year, I published a post all about the Winter Wonderland created at Hayes Garden World, based here in Cumbria. It had been many years since we had visited, and it made such a lasting impression that we vowed to return this year. We decided to go the whole hog this time though and booked the well-renowned Santa Experience to allow us to have a full day of festive fun.
Hayes Garden World is situated a stone’s throw from Lake Windermere in the small town of Ambleside, Cumbria and like many garden centres, it transforms in the run up to Christmas, boasting stunning displays and selling everything you could possibly need for the season. Last year we were treated to a host of fabulous Alice In Wonderland themed displays and whilst this year they didn’t have a clearly defined theme, it didn’t make them any less eye-catching. We spent ages walking around each area admiring the displays and checking out the wonderful decorations, gifts and local produce, but could have easily spent much longer!
Having heard so many good things about the grotto at Hayes and how quickly the tickets sell out I made sure to snap up some as soon as they were released back in October, pitching for the first weekend in December. It was the perfect weekend putting the tree up on the Saturday and then having our festive Santa visit on the Sunday.
This year’s grotto is The Santa Express, their take on the Polar Express and when I read the description it sounded magical. The last couple of years we have been somewhat disappointed with the grotto we always visit and last years was a real low point having waited ages for a rushed visit in a freezing cold garden shed with a lack lustre Santa. We therefore had high hopes for our visit to Hayes and hoped it provided the magic that was missing last year – we weren’t disappointed!
I can honestly say after many years of Santa visits it was the best yet. Our experience started as we followed the train tracks to find Santa’s missing train which led us into a fun-filled, snow covered wonderland. Inside there were different areas for the children to explore including snowball basketball with the snowmen, fishing with the penguins in the icy pools and sliding with the polar bears! There was also a life size train the kids (& grown-ups) could climb aboard for a photo opp.
We were given an activity sheet to complete as we searched for golden tickets along the way, each printed with a different letter to reveal a word – Believe! We could spend as much time as we liked enjoying this area and playing the games before waiting outside Santa’s workshop when we were ready. We didn’t wait long at the door before one of Santa’s helpers called us in and Leo was able to make reindeer food for Christmas Eve as well as his very own tree decoration. The ‘Elves’ were wonderful, and it was so unlike our previous experience of being rushed through. They took time to ask Leo questions and listen to what he had to say which was amazing and really helped build the magic and excitement before we went in to see Santa.
Then came the finale and the Santa was just incredible! Like the ‘Elves’ he was in no rush and asked Leo lots of questions even asking him to sing Baby Shark, which of course he happily belted out! Leo received a wrapped gift which was a digger vehicle set – I think deliberately chosen as Leo had said he likes cars and vehicles – plus he also received a special book about visiting Santa at Hayes! As if that wasn’t enough, we had a family photo taken with Santa which was printed and given to us in a festive card frame all included in the price – such great value for money.
Outside the grotto there were three singing reindeer which we watched many times. There was also an ‘Ice Castle’ children’s play area which contained a ‘throw the snowball’ game and ice building blocks inside which both added to our experience – the throwing game was difficult and being competitive we spent ages trying to get one in!
We came away from our visit with our expectations well and truly exceeded. It was so magical I can’t even put it into words. The hard work and attention to detail Hayes put into the whole experience was evident and we will most certainly be returning next year, eager to see what they have in store.