The big read

Ciara Mc­Don­nell rounds up the best Santa ad­ven­tures this Christ­mas

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - News -

WIN­TER­VAL 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 down- stairs 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. win­ter­val.ie -VICKIE MAYE

SEEK AT FOTA IS­LAND

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. www.fo­taseek.ie

CORK NORTH POLE OUT­POST

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. north­polecork.com

WEST­PORT HOUSE

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. www.hotel­west­port.ie

THE FARM AT GRENAGH

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. visit­the­farm.ie

SANTA’S VIL­LAGE AT LEAHYS OPEN FARM

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.

leahysopen­farm.ie

THE SANTA EX­PE­RI­ENCE

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. www.san­ta­ex­pe­ri­ence.ie

MAG­I­CAL CHRIST­MAS AT CASTLE­COMER

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.

www.dis­cov­ery­park.ie

THE SANTA EX­PRESS

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.

WIN­TER WON­DER­LAND AT RUMLEYS

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. rum­leys­farm.ie

CHRIST­MAS AT BUNRATTY

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

CHRIST­MAS IN KIL­LAR­NEY

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

Seek (and right) at Fota Is­land Re­sort pro­vides 90 min­utes of Christ­mas magic for fam­i­lies .

Clock­wise from top left: Win­ter­val in Water­ford, Win­ter Won­der­land at West­port house, and North Pole Ex­pe­ri­ence at Cuskinny.

The Santa ex­pe­ri­ence at Castle­comer Dis­cov­ery Park is as en­chant­ing as ever be­gin­ning with a train ride through the for­est.

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