Marsh Farm’s Father Christmas Experience is a family day-out with festive surprises around every corner. Voted by our Essex Mums community as their favourite Christmas event last year, I was really intrigued to see what delights they had in store for us! Once again, they have gone that little bit further (well, quite a lot further actually) than everyone else and have created an experience that is amazing, magical and honestly unlike anything I have ever experienced. We have three kids, aged 7, 5 and 20 months so have been to our fair share of grottos, but this was so far beyond that. In fact it does it a disservice to refer to it as a grotto because that is only a small part of the day, albeit an important one. The kids came away totally brimming with Christmas spirit, and to be honest, we did too!
The experience starts with you heading over to get your elf passport from the Big Top, this was one of only a few moments where there was any waiting around and it really wasn’t bad at all – every part of the day where there was any waiting was dealt with in a way that made it enjoyable. No queues, no pushing and shoving, and lots of entertainment whilst waiting for the next things. We were only in there for 15 minutes while the rest of our party arrived, then were introduced to our elf guides, Buddy and Sparkle (who the kids haven’t stopped talking about since!). I was really impressed with their enthusiasm and ability to stay in character the whole way round – they appeared to be enjoying the experience themselves so were either good actors, or perhaps real, actual elves (so says Iris). We were with a group of around 25 other kids, which might sound like a lot but it didn’t affect the enjoyment at all, in fact I think it allowed for a lot to be going on at the same time, rather that people having to queue. The whole thing was organised with military-like precision with groups setting off on their adventures every 30 minutes or so (at a guess). Occasionally there would be a glimpse of the group in front or behind but this was never to the detriment of the good time the kids were having.
Our next stop was the Elf Theatre where we were introduced to the funny elf Biggle who performed a bit of elf magic. Iris was called up onto the stage to help him out which was a lovely extra touch and she thoroughly enjoyed. Despite his cheeky nature, he was really excellent with Iris and seemed to pick up that she was a little shy so was quite gentle with her whilst still managing to keep everyone amused. She helped him with a few tricks which the kids loved, and got to do a bow at the end.
After this we went to see Professor Wigglepop with his reindeer. Having been to Marsh Farm before I recognised the professor as their excellent bird of prey handler. While he perhaps didn’t have the effortless humour of the other elves, this was a really nice bit of the experience – one of my favourite bits in fact, as it was quite magical. The reindeer were calm and clearly well-treated and he had a beautiful owl watching over everyone. The absolute highlight of it though was him calling over his kestrel assistant to drop off some pieces of paper with children’s names who were on the ‘good list’ – the bird swooped in from the back of the room which was quite a surprise! One of the children mentioned was Felix which was lovely, especially as he is at an age where he’s starting to question the whole Father Christmas thing, so to hear Professor Wigglepop saying that ‘Felix, aged 7’ was on the good list and that he enjoyed Pokemon, was enough to keep that magic going for a little while longer!
Next on the tour was Mother Christmas’s Kitchen where the kids got to decorate gingerbread men and have their picture taken with Mother Christmas, who was great! The kitchen was lovely looking, and I was struck by the attention to detail. Having been to grottos where a piece of tinsel is seen as good enough, the level of attention paid to getting everything perfect at Marsh Farm was evident the whole way round: no half-measures, everything was beautifully crafted and designed to be as magically festive as
possible. In fact I found myself rather coveting some of the decorations in the kitchen myself as they were so cozy and Christmassy! The kids enjoyed decorating the biscuits, though Dexter spent most of his time scoffing smarties. By this point we had already had well over an hour’s fun, with one fantastic experience following the next, each one something that you would probably pay for individually! But there was still more to come.
We now entered the winter wonderland area, with REAL ACTUAL SNOW. Ahem. It was actually pretty convincing, and the kids loved it, especially Dexter who hasn’t experience snow yet so doesn’t know any better. The kids got to post their letters in Father Christmas’s post box and there was a beautiful sleigh loaded up with presents which they thought was brilliant. Here was the only minor glitch of the day – the elves asked the kids if they wanted it to snow but then turned on the snow machine and it didn’t work! It’s really only worth mentioning though because of how well they dealt with it – they were apologetic but good humored and it was clear that everyone was having such a good time they didn’t really mind at all. I’m sure it would have been great to see the snow but it was such a minor thing it paled in significance compared to the rest of the day.
Then it was time to meet the big man himself. We all gathered in a room and were entertained by the elves while the kids waited their turn. Again, what was great was that there was no standing in queues or jostling for position, it was all very civilised – the kids sat on benches and sang songs with the elves and every few minutes an elf came out of Santa’s house to call the next group in. We were only waiting for five minutes or so, which is especially good if you have very small children. The children were called, then told to knock on the door, then when we went in we were guided to a room to meet Santa. I have a feeling that there might have been a few Santas on the go at the same time to speed up the process but this was very discreetly done and the kids were none the wiser. Our Santa was very sweet and the kids really liked him, though he did think Dexter was a girl (he’s not the first person to do this!). I always find the actual Santa bit a little cringey as the kids tend to clam up a bit as if they don’t really know what’s expected of them, and you sort of feel like you have to guide them along, but I think that’s my issue rather than Father Christmas’s! One thing I did really like is that I didn’t feel like he was rushing us at all, in fact it was us who made moves to leave rather than him bringing the meeting to an end. Once again that was part of what made it all so lovely – at no time did you feel like you were being rushed or that you were part of the well-oiled machine it must have been! Oh, and the kids were convinced he was the real Santa, which is good enough for me!
After this the kids got to stuff their own teddy bears to take home, which they all really enjoyed and once again was done very smoothly. At this point we were ready to go home but thought we’d stop off in the toy shop just to have a look, not realising that it was actually part of the experience and that the kids were allowed to choose a toy from there! Saying to your children ‘choose anything you want’ is a lovely thing to be able to say – their faces lit up at the amazing opportunity! There was a really decent selection of toys too so they all came away happy with their spoils.
The Christmas Experience isn’t a cheap day out – for a family of five you are looking at £90 BUT it is worth every penny – the kids had such an amazing time, and it was even enjoyable for us parents too as it was so well-organised and just plain magical. We were there for a good three hours, and that’s without all the usual farm fun you can have too. I’ll say it again, I really have never experienced anything like it – well done Marsh Farm, you came up trumps again!