Once Upon a Time: A Christmas Tale, Brentwood

Lucy writes: 

With such an overwhelming choice of Father Christmas experiences available in Essex, there seems so much pressure to get it right. It seems we can’t just go to see Santa these days and our quest to give our little ones a magical experience is fuelled by such a fantastic choice. So much choice in fact that I failed to book anything up for my three boys aged 5, 7 and 9 and was left feeling rather guilty for being so unorganised.

My parenting fail was eased though when the opportunity popped up to review “Once Upon A Time” experience over in Brentwood. Thankfully, the venue had transformed from the House of Horrors it was over Halloween and promises of an interactive festive challenge awaited us.

We arrived 10 minutes early for our time slot and eagerly waited in a marquee along with the rest of our small group. Our short wait was soon over with thanks to a magician who kept the boys entertained with his routine. His tricks even managed to make the 9 year olds jaw drop who on the way had questioned where we were going and if he would be “too old for it all”!

Our journey soon began with a briefing from a very enthusiastic member of the team who engaged with the boys from the moment she arrived. Mother Christmas then invited us into her front room where a discreet message about being kind to your siblings was enforced (quite a key message in a house of 3 noisy boys!). Some chirpy elves helped to magically transport us to the North Pole where Jack Frost and some cheeky snowmen challenged us to some snowball action. It appears Daddy has quite a hidden talent for “pin the carrot on the snowman” game!

It was then time to enter the Elves sorting office where another simple task awaited for all the children to join in.  Last and by no means least, was perhaps the boys favourite area which, surprise surprise involved food. The loveable Sugar Plum Fairy welcomed us all into her kitchen to decorate gingerbread men which went down well as we were all starting to get a bit peckish by this stage.

After an hour and a half we had completed the challenge and we’d put the magic back into Christmas. Boys and girls across the world could thank us for saving the day (phew!) and It was then time to meet the big man himself. A room with only a few seats awaited us where we had to stand wondering if we were all going to end up playing musical chairs with the other parents whilst secretly hoping their children would survive the wait ahead.  As it was opening day I’m sure this matter will be addressed but the boys patiently waited and kicked balloons about until it was their turn. Basic refreshments were available at this point and you could pre-order a photo with Santa for £5 although we opted to take one ourselves. Just as their energy levels were beginning to fade our number was thankfully announced.

Father Christmas was very jolly and he chatted to the boys for a few minutes before dishing out the much anticipated gift. He was very patient as the 5 year old interrogated/fired questions at him and the older two clarified what they’d like for Christmas and pointed out how well they have behaved throughout the year (Oscar’s could have been awarded!). For fear of sounding like an ungrateful child, the presents weren’t as good quality as we’ve previously had but to be honest the boys loved the experience so much that the present was just a bonus and they ended up swapping gifts with each other.

Despite the hiccup at the end, the performers throughout were fantastic (even when their script was interrupted by inquisitive children questioning their story!) and a lot of thought had gone into the setting.  It is not a buggy friendly venue and I’d say best suited to those over 4 as the children need to pay attention to understand the story.

We all left feeling very festive having enjoyed such an interactive experience. It certainly was very different to anything we have done before and kept all the boys engaged throughout which is quite a task in itself. The 5 year old gave it 20 out of 10, the 9 year old said it was “absolutely fantastic” and the 7 year old couldn’t get a word in. If I had of paid I would have been disappointed with the wait but I’m sure Father Christmas will sprinkle his magic dust on this to ensure it doesn’t happen again.