The other weekend, we were invited along to celebrate all things Christmas at LaplandUK. Set in a forest near Ascot, it’s an award winning Christmas family theatrical experience which recreates Santa’s arctic homeland. With elves, reindeer, festive activities, a snowy village and a meeting the big man himself, it certainly sounded like a magical experience.
I remember looking on the website last year and baulking at the ticket price which ranged from £65 to £130 each. Despite being endorsed by the likes of Elton John, the Beckhams and Sir Paul McCartney, surely no festive experience was worth that much? Or was it?
Luckily, we’d been asked to come along and review our experience at LaplandUK so I didn’t need to worry about selling a kidney to find the cash. I purposely avoided reading too much about it online beforehand as I wanted us to go along and experience it as it was intended. I did know though that the ticket price included a personalised invite from Santa, parking, entry, an Elf Passport, all activities, a gift from Santa, a souvenir photo with the big man, a thank you card on Christmas morning and booking fees.
My full and detailed review is below, but as a quick summary, LaplandUK was incredible. It takes a lot to impress me, but everything about the experience was fab. The actual set and production was like some kind of Hollywood film, the actors were friendly and talented, the activities (Toy Workshop / Mother Christmas’ kitchen) really added to the hands-on nature of the experience, the Elf Village was great and the meeting with Santa was top drawer.
At 2 years and 3 months, Toddler L was on the young side but she still enjoyed it. She obviously didn’t grasp the concept or story of what was happening, but she got involved in all of the activities and enjoyed meeting Father Christmas. As such, I’d probably say that 3 years upwards would be a better age. It’s also saying that the majority of it is set outside, so warm clothes are a must and I’d avoid using a pushchair if you can.
Our experience wasn’t 100% perfect though. We had a few issues before – the date was changed and we didn’t receive Toddler L’s invite until after we’d been – which tarnished things a little. Similarly, when we were there, we experienced one or two annoyances such as certain food not being available and it taking a long time to get served in the restaurant. These are relatively minor considering everything that goes into it though.
There’s no getting away from from the fact that it’s pricey, but there really isn’t anything to compare it to. This isn’t a Garden Centre or Shopping Centre festive experience – this really is the best of the best. Nothing will compare to LaplandUK – well apart from actual Lapland – as a Christmas experience for the family. I really don’t have enough superlatives to describe what an incredible Christmas experience it is – for kids and adults. You can read about our LaplandUK experience below:
Prior To The Visit
I received an email with our booking confirmation and was asked to login to the website to provide our details. This included answering a number of questions about Toddler L – for instance, who’s her favourite person (our dog, Dax) and something she enjoys doing (dancing). Father Christmas could then use this info when he met her at LaplandUK as a way of providing a more tailored, magical experience. I thought that this was a great idea.
The experience didn’t get off to the greatest of starts though. We were booked in to visit on Wednesday 23rd November, however the week before, I received an email to say that it was now closed for “operational reasons” – presumably Santa was on annual leave or needed to go to the dentist or something. We were offered an upgrade to the opening weekend instead – luckily, we didn’t have plans on Sunday 20th November so could go then.
Prior to the visit, the experience starts when your kid receives a personalised letter from Santa. This invites your child to LaplandUK to help out Santa in the run up to Christmas. Unfortunatley, Toddler L’s letter didn’t arrive in time. Something went wrong at some point as our invite arrived on Tuesday 29th November. This wasn’t the worst thing in the world as Toddler L is only two, but I’d imagine some difficult conversations with your kids if they were older.
On The Day
Arrival, Check-In and Setting The Scene
On the Sunday, we began our journey to Ascot – about an hour from our house. On arrival at Whitmoor Forest, we were shown to a parking spot, then walked through the woods to the entrance – otherwise known as The Enchanted Forest. Even though we hadn’t gone in yet, it already looked awesome. I’m happy to admit that the child in me was a little excited at what was in store.
We went inside the cabin and were checked in by a friendly elf – I think she was an actress but can’t be 100% sure. Here, we were given stickers for our tour group (Reindeer), Toddler L received her Elf Passport and we were asked to wait in the area until our allocated time (12.30pm). The inside of the cabin was nicely decorated with lights, there were a few benches to sit at, plus a place to buy food and drink.
We’d arrived a few minutes before our allotted slot, so we didn’t have to wait long before the experience started. It’s best to arrive well in advance though as you don’t want to miss your slot. A fella with a green beard and a wacky outfit kicked things off by setting the scene. If I understood things correctly, we were to be transported from our world to the elf world to help out Santa, hence Toddler L needing her Elf Passport.
We went through a tunnel lit by fairy lights and into another area known as The Enchanted Glade where we sat down on wooden benches. The place looked awesome with wooden huts, trees, lanterns and various other things adding to the magical atmosphere.
Here, we met two elves – Sage and Eeko – who performed a little interactive play to set the scene. As I looked around, all of the kids looked captivated by what was happening in front of them. To be fair, most of the adults did too. It was difficult to estimate, but there were probably 200 or so people in the room which was more than I expected. However, we were split into two groups straight away which eased any fears about overcrowding.
After the elves had done their thing, the magic door opened and we were guided through to Lapland. We made our way to the toy factory via an outside path which had been decorated to look like Santa’s homeland. It really did look incredible – it felt like we were on a Hollywood set.
The Toy Factory
Inside the Toy Factory, we parked ourselves on benches – the kids near the front as the parents sat around the sides. We were greeted by a few more elves who entertained the kids as they explained what was going to happen. Basically, they needed help with building the toys, so had roped in all of the kids as cheap labour.
Toddler L got to help build two toys during the 30 mins or so in the Factory. The first was a cuddly toy reindeer who needed stuffing and then his red nose adding. The second toy was a wooden teddy bear which needed to be constructed kind of like a 3D puzzle. Once assembled, she took both of these to the elves at the front and received a stamp in her Elf Passport.
I was a little worried that she might be a bit young for this activity, however there was no reason to be. She got involved and helped to assemble both toys. She maybe didn’t understand why she was doing it, but she certainly had a lot of fun assisting the missus. If I’m honest, I think the missus was struggling a bit, so it’s a good job Toddler L was there to help…
The Toy Factory looked incredible. The attention to detail was spot on. There were toys, tools and even a conveyor belt above our heads – it really felt like we were in Santa’s workshop. The elves were great too and really helped to bring the entire thing to life.
Mother Christmas’ Kitchen
We left the Toy Factory and made our way through an other outdoor path. This was lined with snowy Christmas trees, elf houses and other bits and bobs. The thing I liked was that it didn’t feel like we were killing time walking from one place to another – it was all part of the overall experience.
We arrived at the next building and Toddler L made her way in through an elf sized door. Inside, it transpired that we were in Mother Christmas’ kitchen. Again, the kids sat at the front with the adults watching on from the touchlines. Mother Christmas and her helpers interacted with the kids, told a story and explained that they were going to decorate gingerbread.
There were rows of tables which had everything needed to decorate the gingerbread – aprons, hats, icing, sweets and a gingerbread man. Toddler L cracked on with lashing the icing onto the gingerbread man with a paintbrush, before sticking sweets onto it to form eyes, buttons and other random lumps. She had a lot of fun doing this and we enjoyed watching her. Again, we were probably in there for half an hour and we got to take her newly decorated gingerbread man with us to eat later.
The Elf Village
The next stop was the Elf Village – which was a short walk through more festive scenery – where we had around 1.5 hours of ‘free time’. When we checked in at the start, we’d been given a time of 3.30pm to meet Santa. Therefore, we were free to do whatever we wanted – well, within the law – in the Elf Village until then.
We had a quick wander around to get our bearings. It had come to be expected, but the place was incredible. There were things like wooden huts, snowy trees and elves which made you feel like you’d been transported to another land. It’s difficult to describe, so I’ll let a few badly taken photos do the talking.
We were hungry, so our first stop was to get some grub. We found a little cafe that served toasties and cakes, a hut which did bratwurst in a roll and a larger canteen-style restaurant. We were told by an elf that we had to pay with ‘Jingles’ – the mythical elvish currency – so we got some exchanged at the Elf Post Office. It turned out though that we didn’t actually need to as most places accepted real cash. For reference, 1 Jingle equalled £1.
The missus had a salt beef bagel from the cafe and I fancied a bratwurst, however wasn’t prepared to wait the 10 minutes for the new batch to cook. Instead, Toddler L and I had a fish finger sandwich with chips from the restaurant. The restaurant wasn’t busy, but it probably took 15 minutes of queuing to get served and pay because the tills kept breaking. Along with three drinks, all of the food came to £23 which was cheaper than we expected. The food wasn’t exceptional, but it did the job.
After eating, we visited some of the various themed buildings in the Elf Village. This included a sweet shop which had loads of different varieties of sweets, the Elf Emporium which was a shop with toys, decorations etc and the Post Office. You could write a letter to Santa in the latter, but we didn’t as Toddler L can’t write – I was also surprised to find that you had to pay to do this which felt a bit cheeky on top of the high ticket price.
We made our way over to the toilets – which were surprisingly clean considering the footfall. We then met a husky dog who Toddler L became friends with – I think it made a change for her to stroke a dog that she didn’t have to bend down to reach.
The final part was the ice rink. This took centre stage within the Village and was a great added bonus. I didn’t realise we’d have the chance to ice skate, so it was a great experience to take Toddler L onto the ice for the first time. It felt a little bit like disorganised chaos to get the skates with people pushing to get to the front, but we managed to get our ice skates after some strategic moves. I had proper ice skates whilst Toddler L had ones which clipped on to the bottom of her wellies.
The ice rink was reasonably busy, but there was still plenty of space for us to get our Torvill and Dean on. To my amazement, Toddler L started walking across the ice with no issue as I fell over as soon as I stood on it. We found a penguin skating aid thing which Toddler L could stand on as I pushed – I probably needed it more than her!
We were one the ice for 15 minutes or so – Toddler L decided to be a typical toddler and not know what she wanted. One minute she wanted to skate, the next she wanted to be off. Either way, it had been really cool to get on the ice with her for the first time ever, thus making the day more memorable.
With an eye on the clock, we made our way over to the pathway that would lead to our 3.30pm date with Santa. Again, this was an experience – it wasn’t simply a means to get from A to B. It also helped to build the anticipation and excitement – hell, I was pretty excited myself by the end of the walk, so I can only imagine what a kid would be feeling like.
Along this walk, we ventured through snowy woods, over a bridge, met some reindeer and found Santa’s sleigh. The place looked fantastic. We could have been in Narnia. Strangely, we didn’t encounter anyone else along the walk which made it feel like we’d stumbled upon some kind of hidden path.
As we followed the path, we eventually came to another wooden cabin. In here, we were guided to a front desk where we checked in to see Santa. Toddler L’s details were confirmed and we were asked to take a seat in Santa’s waiting room. As we did, another elf scurried around interacting with parents and kids as he checked to see whether they’d been naughty or nice. Again, some really good touches to make the experience feel more real and authentic for all concerned.
After maybe a five minute wait, a friendly elf came over to us and said that Santa was ready to see Toddler L. She chatted to her – well as much as you can with a two year old – as we made our way outside along more winding paths. Along the way, we stumbled across a few other families and elves going to see Santa.
We then arrived at a small wooden hut where we were asked to wait outside. The elf went inside and told Santa that we were here to see him. After a couple of minutes, we were invited inside and found the jolly, old fella sat in his chair waiting for us. He greeted us and we plonked Toddler L on the bench next to him. She was a little unsure, but soon came around.
Father Christmas chatted to her about her day, then checked his book to see whether she’d been a good girl. He said she had, although I’d probably disagree with that. As part of this conversation, he touched on the info we’d submitted online – so, for instance, asked where Dax was and mentioned that she likes dancing. This was a brilliant touch. Toddler L was obviously a little young to fully get this, but I’d imagine this would blow your kid’s mind if they were a bit older. “How did he know that stuff about me, Mum? He must be real!”
Santa then said that he had a special present for Toddler L as a thanks for helping out in the Toy Factory. He gave her a white husky dog like the one that she’d met earlier in the day. She was so chuffed with her present and instantly started making the dog bark as he jumped around on the floor. A number of photos were taken of their meeting by an elf who was in the room with us, then we joined her to pose for a proper Christmassy family photo. I was hugely impressed with the Santa – without question, the best Santa we’ve ever seen and a far cry from the Garden Centre variety.
We were given a piece of paper with a number which corresponded to our photos, said our goodbyes and then made our way through a tunnel of trees with fairy lights. We went through a big, wooden door then arrived in a room to collect our photos. We were seen by one of the elves who showed us the four photos which had been taken and asked which one we wanted – you get a free souvenir photo included as part of the entrance ticket. You can buy more photos if you want, but we didn’t bother, so we settled on the family photo. All the ones taken were great though.
We walked through the shop, changed our existing Jingles back to proper money (remember to do that!), then made the walk back to the car. It had been a truly awesome experience. Everything about the production was spot on and it really was a magical experience. Yes, a few logistical issues occurred, e.g. not getting the invite in time and waiting too long in the restaurant, but I’m happy to overlook things like this considering the scale this festive experience is based on.
As mentioned at the start, it’s obviously expensive – £250ish for two adults and a toddler. That is ridiculous money in my opinion and probably out of reach for many families. However, if you can afford it – or have a blog and can review it (!) – then you aren’t going to be disappointed. Although I don’t want to part with that much money for a 3.5 hours experience, the truth is that we’ll probably go back next year – review or not. Toddler L will be older and understand it more, plus let’s be honest, nothing else we’re ever going to go to will compare to LaplandUK!
N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion. We were provided with complimentary tickets to LaplandUK with the purpose of writing an honest review in exchange for the Christmas experience.