After several years abroad and several summertime christmases, I long for the sort of festive season that Bing Crosby sings about. I'm talking chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells ringing, snowman building, winter wonderland sh*t in all it's finery.
That said, when I heard about the UK's "top day out for families" Lapland UK - I was all over it. I have a three year old so its socially acceptable to go on these sorts of things, although truth be told I would have hired a kid just for the chance to go if necessary. The website is wonderful and the anticipation begins from the moment of purchasing your (extortionate) tickets.
A week before we were due to go a letter arrived in the post addressed to my little boy, complete with oldie worldie wax seal, all the way from Santa's workshop. The big man himself urged us to make our way to Lapland UK and help build toys for the children of the world. Even if this was completely lost on my three year old, I was sold.
The place promises to be a fully immersive experience, where once entered, you are transported into another world - a million miles away from the A332 exit off the M3 towards Bracknell/Lightwater. At precisely 10.30am, having followed the animated hand gestures of a man in high-vis, we parked up in a forest clearing nauseatingly named "Badger", or was it "Field Vole" or "Swamp Rat"? (can't quite remember..) and were ready for the adventure to begin.
True to it's word, once we stepped inside the flat pack, log cabin style structure (which I'm told gets dismantled each year and lovingly re-assembled each September - about the same time that Tesco starts stocking its shelves with mince pies and decorations) it was like stepping foot into a well rehearsed Shakespeare in the Park performance.
Once beckoned from the waiting area into the inner sanctum, we were greeted by a collection of eccentric elves, who led us on our journey through santa's realm for the duration of our three hour experience. Dressed like extras from a Harry Potter movie, they each had whimsical names like Conker, Sage, Willow, and Eco. I felt like I had stumbled across a strange hippy commune and was about to be asked to de-robe and chant naked around a fire in honour of natures abundance...time would only tell.
It's like a well-oiled machine, where every step is timed to perfection and you are led from one room to the next - helping stuff a toy in Santas workshop, then onto Mrs Christmas' kitchen to ice gingerbread. To be fair to them, they were chipper throughout and stayed unfalteringly in character despite some sugar-crazed four year old loosing their sh*t having eaten all the jelly beans intended to decorate their gingerbread man in one bite.
All but one elf we encountered was full of the joys of the season. This particular disgruntled elf served us lunch in the elf restaurant without so much of a smile, and one can only assume she was coming down from a hard night on the pixie dust, or maybe she was stinging following a lusty encounter with Conker, only to be cast aside the very next day. Either way, she had a face like last week.
After the very staged activities in the toy shop and kitchen you are set free into the Elf Village to ice skate, frolic in spray-on-snow and generally spend enough elf jingles to justify re-mortgaging your house. Elf jingle I hear you ask...? I forgot to mention this, you cannot spend the bog-standard sterling in Lapland, oh no, all purchases are to made by elf jingle (current exchange rate £1 = 1J). You can exchange your money on arrival at Lapland UK and are handed a hearty red velvet sack of jingles before you begin your tour. This is my biggest criticism of the day, once in the Village, everything costs extra and you end up haemorrhaging jingles like no-bodies business. Whether it be at the post office, sending a post card to Father Christmas (why I ask, when you're about to go and meet him in the flesh) or in Pixie Mixie's sweet shop on overpriced confectionary - expect to dish out the cash.
Despite the expense, meeting the big fella at the very end of the tour was priceless. Hands down the best FC I've ever had the pleasure of encountering and an absolute joy to behold. My little one was mesmerised and the pictures we have are like something from a fairytale. You spend a good ten minutes in the hot seat with him and he shows your little one his/her name on the good list, before presenting them with a husky dog from his laden sack (behave).
My honest opinion - it is a great day out for the family yes, best in the UK...? questionable. The perfect sweet spot age wise, I believe, is 4-6 years. Any younger and the activities go by the way-side, any older and sadly the make-believe, whimsy required may be too far a stretch for the 7+.
It's a once in a lifetime experience. I don't think it's something you'd take on year after year as I hear nothing changes from one season to the next. So I encourage you to book your tickets for next year, and hope to Jesus, Mary and Conker that the post Brexit/Trump economy makes the jingle a little more palatable to spend.
Merry Christmas to all!