Ahh the yearly visit to see Father Christmas, one of the most anticipated moments of parenthood. I know I get excited about taking the children every year. I can’t wait to see their faces light up, hear what they chose to say to the big man in red, see their hands clenched tightly around the first little gift of the festive season, it is such an exciting time and to be honest I’m not sure who loves it more, me or them! Marwell Zoo is well known around these parts as being one of the best places to go and see Father Christmas and get the full magical experience, so I was delighted when they kindly invited us down to kick off the festive season with them and experience Christmas at Marwell. In the spirit of squeezing as much magic and excitement out of the situation as possible (and because I only had to keep my mouth shut for a couple of days), we decided to keep the whole trip as a complete surprise for the girls.
As well pulled into the car park at Marwell, all Mabel and Greta knew was that we were going somewhere special for the day, so when they started spotting the animal pictures on the signs they got more and more excited until they finally realised – ‘We’re at the zoo!’. All three chidren are real animal lovers, so they were so happy to be at the zoo. Carl and I did have a little giggle that they were so thrilled with this surprise, and they still had no idea that they most exciting part was still to be revealed!
Since the Christmas at Marwell ticket gave us entry to the zoo for the whole day, we arrived at 12pm ish so that we could have some lunch in the café and see as many animals as we could as well without getting too cold.
The penguins and giraffes were definite favourites with the girls, and I loved watching the two little tiger cubs play fighting together, maybe it’s because it looked strangely familiar for some reason, I can’t think why! Ernie loved the animals too, and pointed at them all from his buggy, making excited little noises bless him. They all loved the zoo so much, I made a mental note to definitely, definitely come back next year when the weather is a bit warmer and Ernie can be free from the buggy and roam around to his heart’s content.
We had lunch in Cafe Graze and it was a welcome break from the cold. I was tempted with one of their traditional Christmas dinners but we opted for sandwiches in the end, along with hot chocolates, topped with marshmallows, the most squirty cream on a drink I have ever seen and a flake! They went down very well with the girls, so well in fact that the carefully chosen jumper dresses I had put them in for the occasion were now splattered with brown drips. Oh well, at least they still co-ordinated, I’m sure Santa won’t mind.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to Marwell House for our Christmas at Marwell experience. We decided to take the land train there for extra excitement, and when the driver announced that the next stop was ‘Santa’s Grotto’, Mabel’s face was a picture! We arrived at the house, which had a beautiful Christmas tree outside and parked the buggy in Santa’s shed. After a few photos outside, we headed straight for the front door where we were greeted by Jingles the Elf who by some Christmas magic knew all of the children’s names! We walked into the most festive looking rooms I have ever seen and were offered some refreshments by another two Elves. By this point the girls were practically hopping from foot to foot with excitement, and happily chatted to the Elves about their Christmas wishes while they munched on mince pies and Carl and I sipped delicious mulled wine. The whole atmosphere was so friendly and festive that you couldn’t help but get in the Christmas spirit. There was even a big screen on the wall where you check if you were on the naughty or nice list. Luckily Mabel, Greta and Ernie were all on the nice list, not the naughty list like Kylo Ren and Draco Malfoy! Phew!
Before long, Jingles stepped up to welcome us with a poem about what was in store for our hour and a half at Marwell Hall, and then Mrs Christmas appeared to lead us through to the next room for a story. Greta was a little bit resistant to following the stranger into a dark room bless her (Mabel saw absolutely no problem with this and almost ran off without us), so I picked her up for a bit of reassurance and she was quite happy with that. On the way through we passed buckets of reindeer food piled in the hallway and then we entered a magical room full of twinkly lights, a gorgeous festive fireplace, another Christmas tree and lots of tree stump cushions for the children to sit on in front of Mrs Christmas as she told a lovely tale about how the animals saved Christmas. I must say Mrs Christmas is an excellent story teller! All the children sat enthralled as she half spoke, half sung the story and encouraged lots of audience participation from the children and the adults too.
After the lovely story, a Christmas fairy appeared at the door on the opposite side of the room and took us all through to the next part of the experience. This room was set us for the children to make a Christmas Cone Tree and decorate with sweets. Each chair had an apron and a chef hat on, which looked so cute on the girls, and everything they needed was right in front of them on the table. There were lots more friendly elves in this room who came over to have a chat and help the children with their creations and they did a great job of keeping everyone entertained and occupied while we waited for our turn to see Father Christmas (not that we had to wait very long).
Soon it was our turn to go through the big door and have our special meeting with Father Christmas. Mabel and Greta held hands and crept in through the curtains and walked straight up to Santa. He said hello and asked them what they wanted for Christmas. Mabel took the opportunity to be very specific and went into great detail about the exact kind of cot that she wanted for her dolly… ‘It’s got a high chair on the right and a changing table on the left’. While Greta had lost any of her earlier nerves and didn’t even wait to be asked before she blurted out ‘An Elsa Doll’. Side note: she has never before mentioned that she wanted an Elsa doll, we already have several Elsa dolls, up until this point we had been going with a Cinderella doll. At least this is the advantage of going early, still plenty of time before the big day to hunt down whatever random thing they suddenly blurt out to Santa!
It is very dark in Santa’s room, but there is an Elf there to take your photo with the big man and he has a flash. We decided not to purchase the photo because I was filming it on my phone so we have the video, but the photos looked like lovely mementos. After seeing Santa, we came out into another decorated room and were greeted by Pedro the Penguin! Pedro was very friendly, a bit cheeky and the girls found him very funny. Although of course poor Pedro never stood a chance of holding their attention for long, not when they had special presents from Father Christmas in their hands just asking to be opened!
Mabel and Greta both got a ribbon wand and a colouring set, and Ernie had a boat bath toy that all three of them were quite taken with.
Before long Jingles was back with our coats and it was time to board the land train again and make our journey back up to the front gates. By the time we came out it was dark, the zoo was shut and everything was lit up, we travelled through the quiet park in our festive train, girls clutching their ribbon wands tightly and grinning from ear to ear, it really was the perfect way to end our day.
Mabel, Greta and Ernest absolutely loved their visit to Christmas at Marwell and it really kick started our Christmas in amazing festive style. From a parent’s point of view I was so impressed by the organisation, the staff, the costumes, the decoration, every little detail helped to make the magic more real and it all came together to make a wonderful experience that I know we will all be talking about for a long time. I made a little video of our day at Marwell and I’ve love you to have a watch if you’d like. I think it shows better than I can explain what a lovely time we had celebrating Christmas at Marwell.
Christmas at Marwell is running until 24th December and tickets are available from the website (but be quick, they are selling out fast).
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