As a family we are sometimes are stuck in our ways. If we like something, we don’t see any need to change it, and then, well it sort of becomes a “thing” and then we can’t change it.
Take Santa visits for example. Last year (well, every year since 2010 in fact) we went to see Santa at Kia-Ora Farm, just a couple of miles outside of Gorey. We have loved it every year, and always think that it represents good value as you get the whole farm experience as well as the Santa visit. All good things come to an end though and our eldest, who is 8 going on 15 and things that most things are either “lame” or “babyish” mentioned that he’d love to go on the Santa Train in the Amber Springs Hotel as he’d heard good things about it.Eight is the age that they get, well, funny about going to see Santa so I jumped at the opportunity to have a positive Santa experience with my tween and booked tickets.
It was pretty booked out in the weeks leading up to Christmas for the weekends, so we opted for the first weekend that they opened, the last weekend in November.Friends had said that it was best to go in the evening to get the full effect of the Christmas lights so we booked tickets for 5.30pm. You’re asked to arrive about 45 minutes before your allotted time, but when we did the elves were still checking in the 5pm slot so asked us to come back about 5.10pm, so we got to have a chill out (as if) in the soft play area (at no charge).
The hotel is beautifully decorated for Christmas and puts you in the mood straight away. At our booked time we were brought to a room at the back of the hotel, the waiting room. There were elves painting our rosy cheeks (check mine 0ut in the photo) and a Christmas movie on the TVs. Laoise busied herself colouring.
The elves then led us outside and then through a white tunnel into the Christmas Dome. We were met by many more elves, and given candy canes yay! Some elves were on hand to help children who had not brought Santa letters to write them and I panicked when I saw Cathal who had already posted his dictating another! There was absolutely delicious (I’m fussy remember) mulled wine for the adults too.
To the back of the dome they’ve a sleigh set up and a reindeer character where you can get your photo taken (you can buy it later for €10 at the exit). Laoise flipped and refused to get in the sleigh until the reindeer left, so our photo is reindeerless. There was an Olaf character too, and despite absolutely loving Frozen the small girl again was not a bit impressed and hid from him.
After a few minutes the Snow Princess (who had been mingling in the crowd) gathered all the children together and told them a story about where they were going next. The kids were wrapt, although my middle boy made the room laugh on hearing of the candyland and hot chocolate when he piped up from the front “Are they free?”. Poor child is traumatised by his parents only ever saying no to everything he ever asks for. Ahem.
Having met Pappy Elf (the Snow Princess asked if we had seen him anywhere, lots of children said no, my six-year-old asked “well what does he look like?”) we were escorted to the Santa Train and we could see the Santa Village in the distance, lights glistening. Despite living locally I had never been on the train in the Amber Springs Hotel before (They run other trains at Easter, Halloween too) so I didn’t realise quite how far down the train would be bringing us, there’s a great sense of the journey.
When we got off the train we were in the North Of Gorey Pole Santa Village. An Elf checked our check in number to tell us what time we needed to be at Santa’s hut for our turn. This was great as it meant no queuing, and we could explore at our own pace. We wandered around the different huts meeting “The Wrapping Elf” – my eight-year-old challenged him to RAP and was disappointed that his type of rapping started with W. We met Mrs Claus in her hut and she gave us some brownies. The Candyland hut was the kids favourite, with chocolates and candy canes. There was hot chocolate and mulled wine aplenty too in the hot chocolate hut. The Accountant Elf was able to show us who was on the naughty and nice list. At the end there’s a large crib. The toymaking hut had lots of modern toys, including a Pokemon that my kids were very impressed to see. The Reindeer Food Hut was well thought out, children made their own reindeer food with the help of an elf using three components, one for energy, one for speed and some glitter for magic. The reindeer food came home in specially made bottles, nice touch. We went in to the Post Office and Cathal posted his newly written Santa letter.
Our favourite hut by far was Elfie-okie. Karaoke, hosted (and backing vocals) by elves. My children initially complained that all the choice of music was only Christmas music, and then the elf produced a “Hits of 2015” CD and we (tried to) sang along to Hozier and having abandoned that (when you see lyrics written down and read by children they can be quite disturbing!) we did a fantastic rendition of “Uptown Funk” before Laoise grabbed the mic for “Jingle Bells”. The elves in this hut, in fact all the elves we met, were incredibly friendly and cheery and really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The Santa element of the visit ended up being quite short.Our youngest was afraid to talk to him at all and didn’t want a photo, our middle man jumped up on his knee and asked for Lego and our eldest was much too cool for a photo. Santa was friendly, but there wasn’t a of small talk. Gifts were delivered through a hole in the roof, each one branded according to age and gender of child. Our three year old daughter was over the moon with her colourful tea-set, our six-year-old boy got a a magnetic dart set which provided lots of entertainment, and our eight-year-old boy got a water gun. The gifts were all deemed a success.
We spent about 2 hours from the initial waiting room through to the end of the visit to the village, before we boarded the train back up the hill, full of hot chocolate (we may have had more than our fair share of “THE BEST HOT CHOCOLATE I’VE EVER TASTED MAM”). I’m still finding candy canes in my coat pocket too.
The verdict? We loved it. There was so much to keep our interest and the older kids got a lot out of it. So, our favourite place to see Santa? The Santa Train at the Amber Springs for the big ones, and Kia Ora still holds a special place in our heart for the littles. Yet again Gorey has it all.
Tickets are available here and it costs €16 oer child and €14 per adult.*
*We paid for our visit to see Santa at the Amber Springs Hotel and weren’t asked to review it, as always all opinions are our own.