Fota Island's Believe brings Christmas to life

Santa and his elves with the Big Bad Wolf arriving at Believe at Fota Island Resort,  Cork. Peter Kelly, aka Franc,  has worked his magic to make for a  great visit. Pic: Des Barry

A snow-coveredforest, magic fairydust — and real life husky puppies. Welcome to Santa’s grotto, Franc-style.

Peter Kelly, the event planner who made his name with weddings, has worked his magic on Fota Island Resort. And true to form, this is no ordinary visit to Father Christmas.

It begins with a train ride through the five-star hotel grounds — last stop, the gates to Franc’s Winter Wonderland. Mulled wine, hot chocolate, and carols set the scene, until the children are invited to knock on the wooden doors. They open to reveal a snow-covered forest that’s every bit as breathtaking for the adults as it is for the kids.

Elves greet the children on the white winding path, one to take letters for Santa, another looks for help picking up his basket of chopped wood. Fairy dust is sprinkled on tiny palms to make Christmas wishes, bells are rung to announce a child’s arrival.

And then, finally, it’s time to meet Santa in his wooden cabin.

Believe opened to the public at the weekend — and it’s the hottest ticket in town. It was a complete sell-out within a week of tickets going on sale (€20 for children over one, €12.50 for adults, €10 extra for a photo).

Kelly was approached by Fota Island Resort just two months ago — shortly after the hotel was taken over by the Beijing-based Kang family — with the notion of bringing his vision of Santa’s world to Fota Island.

“We had this idea and the new owners were very supportive of it,” says marketing director Seamus Leahy. “But I knew I needed Peter Kelly to make it work.”

No stranger to festive wonderlands, Kelly was the first to bring Christmas to Cork’s Bishop Lucey Park.

For Believe, his renowned attention to detail saw him source 19th century sleighs from auction houses and have bells specially commissioned from the forge responsible for the bells used at the London Olympics. He designed Santa’s cabin and chose every piece of music.

He knew just one word would sum up his creation. “It had to be Believe,” he says. “Well, if you don’t believe, there’s no Christmas.”

The hotel expected the Santa experience to be a success — this is no run-of-the-mill grotto, after all — but even they were amazed at the speed of ticket sales.

“We ran a Believe teaser campaign which got people talking,” says Leahy, “and as soon as people heard Franc was involved, it sold out in days.”

The good news is tickets for new time slots are due to be released on the hotel’s Facebook page. And if you miss out on them, there’s always next year — Peter Kelly has already committed to Believe 2014.


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