Ciara McDonnell rounds up the best Santa adventures this Christmas
The children analyse the photo; everything is discussed: The glasses; the polished black boots; the definitely real beard — but it was the ruddy red cheeks that sealed the deal.
They had most certainly seen the Santa Claus.
Kids — especially ones of a slightly older age — make for tough audiences. Especially when it comes to Santa. Eyebrows raised, they scrutinise him, judging whether or not the man talking to them really has come direct from the North Pole — or if he’s just a helper.
There were no doubts in the kids’ minds as they left Santa in Waterford. They had met the main man.
Walking away from Santa’s grotto, through the fairy lights and wooden market stalls, the scent of hot chocolate wafting through the air, even the adults were caught up in the magic of Winterval.
It’s the seventh year of the festive event, this time round dubbed Ireland’s Christmas Capital.
The city is transformed into one giant winter wonderland: horse-drawn sleigh rides; a festive train through the illuminated streets; the Christmas markets selling hot chocolate and crepes.
For the kids, it can give Lapland a run for its money, and for adults the market stalls are right up there with the atmosphere at Berlin’s famed European markets.
Waterford Illuminates is a light show beamed every half hour after dark that sees a beautiful period house transformed into classic Christmas scenes — the market huts line the little lane so you can sip hot chocolate and marshmallows as you enjoy the show. This year though, they’ve really pulled out all the stops. It’s not just the pitch perfect graphics and accompanying music — the finale features ‘real’ snow. OK, so it’s just foam that resembles the white stuff, but it’s as close as we can get to a white Christmas in Ireland. Watching kids’ faces as it falls? It’s a magic moment.
The festival really works because of the intimacy of the city. It’s a village feeling wrapped up in a beautiful city. You stroll from vintage carousels, to a Ferris wheel, market stalls lining the way. And then, around the corner, you come upon the ice rink, or the Waterford Eye with its bird’s eye view of the city.
The programme is one other festivals should use as a template, it’s well laid out, clear and informative, prices and opening times included for every event.
But back to the main event — Santa, and his rosy red cheeks. A Christmas experience definitely designed by someone who understands kids, who knows just what will make them tick, visitors even get to choose their own gift from under Santa’s tree.
But what else could we expect from the real Santa Claus.
Insider tip: Travelling with small kids? Take a break at Carters Chocolate Cafe and No 9 restaurant next door, voted Ireland’s most family friendly restaurant. There’s hot chocolate and candy canes downstairs in the cafe by the fire, while up in the restaurant there’s a separate room for kids to play or watch TV. Don’t miss the special appearance by Santa and his elves in an upstairs window — catch the view from outside. It’s magical.
- VICKIE MAYE
It’s the centrepiece of Cork’s Christmas calendar. The Santa experience at Fota Island Resort raises the bar every year. This time around it’s bigger and better again.
Seek sets kids clues to solve to find the code that guarantees them a seat on the train to Christmasland. Pitched perfectly at children — this event is created by people who truly get little people — this is 90 minutes of magic for families.
It oozes professionalism — the team at Fota think of it as a “panto over 10 acres” — the name and story change every year just as a panto does.
Meanwhile the location is referred to as a set — Seek is given the respect of a theatrical production — and as for the elves, they are never, called by their human names; each one is given scripts to adhere to, songs to sing, to keep visiting children on their merry way as they venture through snow covered trees, reindeer stables and candy cane land.
We won’t spoil the surprise of Christmasland — just get ready for supercharged festive surprises. This immersive experience is just as five-star as the resort that houses it.
Seek runs until December 23 and tickets cost from €10.50 per adult and from €15.50 per child, depending on dates and times, with children under one going free. The experience lasts between an hour and an hour-and-a-half.
As enjoyable for parents as it is for the kids, the Cork North Pole Outpost will slam you with festive cheer from the moment you arrive up its avenue to meet the elf train that will transport you to Santa’s house.
There is no dilly dallying here, families are moved at speed through Elf School, Elf crafting lessons, a whip round Santa’s sleigh and a quick stop off at Missus Claus’ kitchen for a cup of tea and a swift Christmas cookie before meeting the man himself. The gifts are great, the elves are fantastic and the big man is utterly charming.
The Cork North Pole Outpost Experience runs until December 23. Visits take around an hour and tickets are €22 per child and €14 per adult.
Enjoy a magical family Christmas experience at Winter Wonderland at Westport House, Mayo. Escape the wintery weather and head for the warmth of open fires, twinkling lights, the aroma of pine and cinnamon and all the tinsel trimmings in the historic Estate House. With story-telling, face painting, crafting, treats, a visit with Santa Claus and the Santa Express Train across the Estate, Winter Wonderland at Westport House is an authentic, old fashioned Christmas experience for all the family.
For little Christmas fans with autism and sensory disorders, December 6 sees a special Sensory Santa Visit from 3pm to 8pm. The Christmas hustle and bustle is toned down, and families can enjoy individual visits with Santa Claus and all the other Winter Wonderland events, just at a slower pace. Complimentary adult carer ticket available. For bookings contact 098-27766, Sensory Santa is not available to book online.
Stay at Westport house where prices start at €139 for a one-night B&B break for a family of four including Winter Wonderland tickets. Check out their website for more details.
If you need assuredly accessible experience, then look no further than The Christmas Wonderland at Grenagh. The experience is mostly indoor and fully wheelchair accessible, making it ideal for families with disabilities.
The Elf train departs every 10 minutes, making off for a secret location where children will learn the much-admired Elf Dance before meandering by the farm’s live crib and meeting Mrs Claus. Santa is waiting at the end of the adventure with a gift and a welcome smile.
Christmas Wonderland runs until December 23. Visits take 45 minutes and tickets are €10 for adults; €19 for children over two; babies go free.
First timers are well looked after at Santa’s Village at Leahys Open Farm, where a gentle and extremely warm welcome is given to all families. You’ll meet elves and fairies as well as Mrs Claus and you might even see Santa taking a run on his very own sleigh.
Elf School is the first port of call, where families will be put through their paces, learning all about what it takes to be a really good helper, and every child will have a chance to make a Christmas wish with the Christmas Forest Fairy before an audience with Santa himself.
Santa’s Village runs until December 23. Visits take 45 minutes and tickets are €22 per child and €10 per child under two; teenagers and adults are €14.
It’s been voted the best Santa Experience in Ireland, and while there are definite contenders to the throne, if you are looking for a city centre experience, then look no further. Each tour has a maximum of six children and takes you through the Elf Post Office, Santa’s Reindeer Stable and Sleigh Station followed by a journey through the Arctic before arriving at Santa’s front door.
This Santa is well informed, thanks to a form filled out at booking, which adds to the magic of it all.
The Santa Experience runs until December 23 at The Jetland Shopping Centre on Ennis Road in Limerick and on the top floor of Dunnes Stores on Patrick Street in Cork. Tickets cost €10 per child and €5 per adult.
Visits last around half an hour.
Castlecomer Discovery Park has amped up its Christmas offering this year with the addition of spectacular light installations throughout the park.
Their Santa experience is as enchanting as ever, starting with a train ride through the forest to Christmas Village. Here you’ll have a chance to have something warm to drink while the children play in the elf and fairy playground before meeting Santa himself, and getting a chance to whisper their wish list into his ear.
The experience runs until December 23 and takes around 90 minutes.
Ticket prices are €20 per child and €14 per adult and babies under one go free.
The Santa Express, run by Waterford & Suir Valley Railway each year, will enthrall trainspotters. Boarding at Kilmeaden Station, families will take their seats on the train before being tucked in with red blankets to keep you cosy on your journey. Once all aboard, the train sets through the countryside and into the Magic Wood, where you will meet Mrs Claus and some friends. When you return to the station, you will head to Santa’s Cottage where he’ll be waiting to hear all about your adventure, and of course your Christmas list.
The Santa Express runs until December 23. The experience takes around 40 minutes in total and costs €16 per child and €8 per adult.
Animal lovers must make haste to the Winter Wonderland at Rumleys Farm this Christmas. Not only does it have Christmas puppies that love to be petted and minded, it also has real life reindeers who are eating lots in preparation for their journey on Christmas Eve.
Santa’s Tractor is the transport of the day, which will take you on a journey through the farm to check out the seasonal houses that have been created for some of the animals before arriving to Santa’s grotto and your very own audience. Best of all, while the kids are running off festive steam at the indoor play area, Mums and Dads get a free glass of mulled wine, tea or coffee.
The Winter Wonderland lasts around 45 minutes and runs until December 23. Children cost €20, children under 2 €10 and adults are €12.
Bunratty Folk Park have gone full scale Christmas this year with Santa visits, an opportunity to book breakfast with Santa, where you will dine in the main hall while elves dance around and the man himself holds court.
For details on how to book or to find out more, log onto www.shannonheritage.com
Killarney runs amazing magical Christmas parades through the town every Saturday in December at 6pm. If you want to start your day off with a bang, book a Christmas Sleigh ride for the afternoon — the sleighs take up to four people.
For more details check out http://www.christmasinkillarney.com