23 November to 24 December 2016
Reviewed by Amanda Hayes
There is only one word to describe Willows Farm Santa Spectacular and that’s Magical! Running from the 23 November right up to Christmas Eve it’s an event you won’t want to miss if you have children. I would say it’s aimed at younger children but there is plenty to do for older siblings so the whole family will have a fabulous festive time. There is a full programme of events running from 10am to 5.30pm and when we arrived at just before 10am we found the car park already half full showing just how popular it is.
The first thing we did on arrival was go to watch the Sleigh Ride 3D film as it was still pretty chilly outside. It was brilliant and we all thoroughly enjoyed it, it was long enough to be entertaining but short enough to keep even the youngest audience member interested. We collected our 3D glasses on the way in which got my son, Ethan, all excited as at 3 years old he hadn’t seen a 3D film before. He was totally enthralled when he saw the toys and presents shooting out of the screen, it really did seem like they were going to hit you!
We then moved onto the barn which housed the Create-a-cuddle workshop and the post office to write a letter to Santa. The soft toy was a gorgeously soft Husky which came with stuffing for your child to fill up his tummy. It was big too, much more generous than I was expecting, for some reason my son has named him ET, really not sure where that name came from. You could buy an outfit for your Husky if you wanted but that was entirely optional. We then went onto write a letter to Santa, this comes with a free reply, so it will be great to see our sons face when it arrives in the post. There plenty of little toadstool tables and chairs, writing paper, and pens and glitter etc. in any colour you liked so there were lots of children concentrating on doing their very best letter for Father Christmas. We did ours and then posted it in the post box, fingers crossed for a reply.
Next on our list was to visit Santa in his grotto, as expected we did have to queue for a while but it was inside with beautiful Christmas displays to look at, penguins and polar bears, reindeer and snowy scenes which made the time pass quicker. When it was our turn the elf took us to Santa’s door and we knocked and went into a lovely log cabin style room with Father Christmas sitting in a big chair smiling at us. He took his time chatting with my son and making him feel comfortable before we were asked to pose for photographs, you can’t take your own photos inside the grotto. He then gave Ethan a golden key which unlocks the toy shop door. Unusually children can choose their own present from a massive choice in Santa’s Toy shop, to be honest there was probably too much choice and we were in there a very long time. There is a great choice of gifts from toys to books, puzzles and games, something for every child, the only thing you miss is the excitement of unwrapping the gift from Santa. On the way out you can pick up your photos, but as they were fairly expensive, and none of us were looking our best so we decided against buying any.
By then my son was desperate to get outside so we decided on the Festive Wood Tractor ride next, via the large indoor animal barn which also housed the reindeer. The barn is spotless and all pens from the horses to the rabbits are full of clean straw and fresh drinking water. There are also plenty of hand washing basins, soap and towels together with signage to remind you to wash your hands after touching the animals.
A short walk from the animal barn takes you down to the tractor ride and everyone was given bells to ring whilst on the tractor. Whilst the ride itself wasn’t particularly festive everyone got into the sprit ringing their bells and there were lots of smiling faces as we chugged through the woods. On return we dropped into one of the shows, Sing- Along with Ronnie the Reindeer which runs twice a day. The show was good for engaging little ones and there were plenty up front doing the actions with Ronnie but Ethan was more interested in his tummy by then. There are several places to eat at Willows Farm but we chose Peter Rabbit’s Barn as it has a lovely real fire, a perfect retreat from the cold. The food all comes with a drink included and at a price of £5-6.50 per meal it was very reasonable and filled us up ready to hit the adventure playground. We spent an hour or so playing outside including riding on the festive funfair rides before it started getting cold and we headed indoors for the ice skating and soft play.
The ice skating is on synthetic ice so is far easier than real ice, brilliant for young children and uncoordinated adults alike. It was my son’s first try at skating and it was perfect for him, not too fast and also not too busy. By then I was ready for a cup of tea so we headed to the very large soft play area which has a restaurant at the base. There are separate areas for toddlers and older children and they were all having a blast. Amazingly it was now 4pm and having been there since 10am our 3 year old was getting tired so we decided to call it a day having not found time for Elf School or the Nativity Story. There is just so much to see and do here you could still be going at 5.30pm.
What we really liked about the day was that everything is included apart from photographs, food and drink. All activities, the visit to Santa, Create a cuddle workshop, 3D film, it’s all included so you are not constantly putting your hand in your pocket for extras like some places. We also liked the Elf passport where you could collect stamps as you went round the farm and complete a reindeer hunt to claim a box of magic Reindeer dust.
On the way to the exit there is a large gift shop stocking everything from teddies to toy trains. Easy access from M25 Junction 22 and plenty of parking makes Willows Activity Farm Santa Spectacular a fabulous festive day out for all families with children. We had an amazing time and would love to return soon.
We would have to rate it a resounding 5 out of 5!
Tickets cost from £12 to £33 (book online in advance to save up to 25%).
For more information or to book tickets visit www.willowsactivityfarm.com.
Willows Activity Farm, Coursers Road, London Colney, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL4 0PF