Saturday saw us drive towards one of our favourite places of all times to see what they had in store for Christmas: Willows Activity Farm. We had a truly magical day there, experiencing Santa Spectacular for the first time.. and let me tell you: “Wow, just wow…” Christmas at Willows really is something else! My friend Cé and I also happened to find our inner elves there, which is always a bonus!
I have said it before and I will say it again: we love Willows Activity Farm. It is one of the best days out a family could have in North London. We tend to go all through the year and we have been five times in 2016. Because of the size of the farm and the range of activities available, it is impossible to do everything in a day, but we always give it a good go. The farm metamorphoses with the seasons, so every visit gives us a familiar environment with brand new features every single time.
We have enjoyed Willows Farm in the sunshine, in the rain, when there were special events like sheep shearing in the spring or the Pumpkin Festival last month, but we had never been around Christmas time. For the next month (23 November to 24 December), families will get the chance to experience a fun-packed Santa Spectacular programme at Willows Farm. We all had the best day you could imagine, and although we arrived before the farm opened, we were amongst the last ones in the car park when the farm closed at 5.30 p.m.
Upon arrival, the children were given an elf passport. Every time they took part in one of the elf-themed activities, they could collect stamps and complete their very own elf passport. My little man loved this as it gave him a sense of direction and a purpose for leading us from one activity to the next. He would gather everyone’s passports and stamp them before handing them back.
3D Film Sleigh Ride
After Farmer Andrew greeted us, we went for a 3D film Sleigh Ride. The amphitheatre where we sat was comfortable and really warm. It was the first time Wriggly had seen a 3D film and she absolutely loved the enchanting scenes and vibrant images flying in her direction. A couple of times, she tried grabbing the colourful shapes coming towards her, shouting, “Get sweeties, Mummy!” How cute does she look with those glasses on?
Outdoor Fun & Birds
After a quick look at the hens and turkeys, the children were eager to spend a bit longer outside so we went for monkey bars and swings.
The nativity was a big highlight for me, with its live animals, fantastic narrator and entertainer. Children who volunteered were given a part in the live rendition of the Christmas story as well as a costume. It was not a ‘sit and watch’ nativity. People in the audience were involved, had to pay attention, follow instructions and answer questions.
It was not just interactive, it was also informative, answering questions like “What do cows give us?” “Why did Mary and Joseph have to travel a long way?” “How did they end up sleeping in a stable?” The story was meaningful and the storytelling child-friendly.
The play ended with those words: “On Christmas Day, stop and have a little think. Why do we celebrate Xmas? Because a very very long time ago, a little baby was born and Christians believe he was the son of God.”
After a good chat with the friendly and talented Rosie who had just narrated the Nativity, we headed towards the theatre where the ‘Elf Academy’ was about to start.
As we got in, Beanie exclaimed: “This doesn’t look like elf school!”
Me: “What does it look like?”
Beanie: “It looks like Santa’s house!”
Me: “Maybe the elf academy IS in Father Christmas’ house!”
Elves Berry and Twig explained to us that they had come all the way from the North Pole: to teach us how to become elves. They promised to teach us as much as they could but also warned us it would take 150 years to be fully trained as elves.
These two cheerful elves were brilliant and their accents sounded authentic (not that I have heard any elves speak before). They stayed in character all through the show and when we met them outdoors.
We learnt how to…
… smile like an elf.
… do the elf shake.
… peep through windows.
… tiptoe like an elf not to wake sleeping children.
… magic happy thoughts.
… make golden keys for the grotto.
Although we loved the new show aimed at Junior Elves, it was definitely too long for toddlers, but our older children enjoyed every minute of it.
As we were leaving, the children were given an elf diploma each, to which we added their names later. Although I love the idea, I think it could be made even better by placing an elf on a desk by the entrance, who would fill in the diploma with each child’s name and then stamp it, just to make it that little bit more special.
Meeting Father Christmas & The Grotto
Elf passports were required to get into Santa’s grotto. Once again, I was pleased to see these passports really had a purpose. Too often, we get handed some workbooks that gather dust at the bottom of my handbag and never get used. As a mum, although I am enthusiastic, if I am not made to take those workbooks out, they will stay in my bag.
The fact the children were given responsibility for their passports really helped, and gave them an incentive to fill everything in. They even had their own pencils and filling in the passports gave my older two a sense of achievement.
As the children’s passports were scanned at the entrance of the grotto, the elves checked the children had been nice this year before they could gain entrance.
As there is no option to book a time slot for your grotto visit, you are likely to be queuing. The waiting time to meet Father Christmas in the grotto was eased through a few factors: the cheeky elves, a wide range of enchanting scenes and boredom busters like a humongous advent calendar full of jokes and quizzes. Oh, and the fact there were two different rooms in which you could meet Santa really helped too (shush!).
Father Christmas was brilliant, but a couple of things I would change would be to go for an older Santa and give him a good-quality beard rather than the shiny synthetic one he was wearing.
I was gifted a couple of photos and our friends bought some too. We also took our own photos and felt no pressure whatsoever to purchase the professional photos taken by Photographic Synergy, although have to say they looked pretty good!
Photo Credit: Photographic Synergy
The Elves’ Workshop
Now this is something I had never seen before… After Father Christmas gave each child a golden key, they could be used to gain entrance to the elves’ workshop and get a gift of their choice.
The toy shop was a magical place which got all our children mesmerised. The lights were dimmed, the shelves were wooden and authentic-looking and some other toys were in rattan baskets. The workshop was huge and the amount of choice the children had was impressive.
When this was mentioned, I could already picture my children leaving with a £1 piece of plastic rubbish. How wrong was I? There were books, wooden puzzles, dolls, Play Doh sets, dinosaurs, trains…
One of the things I love most at Willows is they do not try to force you to buy their food or ‘put it in your face’ like so many places do. If you are hungry, you will find something to eat and it will taste good, but if you choose to bring your own food, you will not feel awkward about it either. There are plenty of tables where you can sit and eat, both indoors and out, and that is the option we have always gone for.
It was our first time having food from the café, since we normally bring our own, but we were pretty impressed with the quality of the meals served there, and prices were reasonable. I had a falafel and houmous wrap with chips and our friends opted for burgers and chips.
I loved the wide variety in the children’s menu options and the fact you could actually ‘build’ a healthy meal for them. We had some food for the children with us so all they needed was a bit of a top up. We opted for cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, cocktail sausages, raisins, grapes and apple juice.
Coincidentally, the lady who served us was Coeliac and completely on the ball with allergy-friendly food available so she helped a lot choosing the snacks we could or could not get for Wriggly.
The children love the traditional rides at Willows and on Saturday, all three old-fashioned rides were next to each other. They spent a good half hour going round and round, giggling and waving.
Since it was synthetic ice, I was happy to let the children go on their own and watch from the side. They all liked wearing Bob Skates over their shoes and they had a great time.
Festive Tractor Ride
We always enjoy a bumpy tractor ride, and this time, it was made even better with festive music and bells for the children to shake.
Meet a Real Sledding Dog & Build a Cuddle
We only saw Mischka from a distance, but the children all loved going to the Create-a-Cuddle workshop (same principle as Build-a-Bear) straight after seeing her, and getting their own teddy version of the the Alaskan Malamute dog, ready to be stuffed by hand.
They also chose a heart for their own fluffy versions of Mischka, and stuffed them before zipping the stuffing safely in (closes but does not open) and closing the back of their teddies with velcro. We completely forgot to collect the birth certificates for our stuffed dogs, oops!
Crafts & Letters to Father Christmas
The children wrote their letters to Santa, who will send a reply to all children who send their letters on site before the 14th of December.
As always, we went for soft play to finish the day, with coffee and biscuits for the adults. Just before we left, we went on the slides with the children, much to their delight!
Magic Reindeer Dust
In the ‘Elf Passport,’ the children were encouraged to look out for Santa’s reindeer throughout the farm and write down their names. Once they had found them all they could claim a free box of magic reindeer dust on their way out. I found that pretty special and my little ones are very much looking forward to sprinkling our front door with the reindeer dust before they go to bed on Christmas Eve. Apparently, the magic reindeer dust will guide Santa’s reindeer to our home. Love, love, love!
If you were thinking of booking to see Father Christmas somewhere around London between now and the big C-Day, Willows Farm is the place you want to go to. You should definitely book your tickets online as they are cheaper than if you were buying them at the ticket office on the day.
The beauty of the farm is once you have paid for your tickets, there is nothing else you need to spend money on, unless you want to get food there and professional photos of the children with Father Christmas. Ice skating, the rides, arts & crafts, writing a letter to Father Christmas, 3D film, tractor ride, sing-along, meet a reindeer, meet Mischka the husky dog, hold and pet a guinea pig, Elf Academy, visiting Father Christmas in the grotto, children choosing their own toy in the elf workshop, stuffing their teddy, the nativity… it is all included in the price, so although it sounds like a hefty price to pay to visit a farm, it is actually the only stop you will need to make this Christmas.
Information about Christmas at Willows if you fancy a visit:
Address: Willows Activity Farm, Colney Heath, St Albans
Postcode for SatNav: AL4 0PF
Dates: Now until Christmas Eve
Times: 10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Prices: From £24.75 (children) £10.20 (adults) / Discounts for disabled children & children under 2.
Click here for online booking.
Here are a few snippets of what our friends thought:
“We all had a fantastic day out at Willows Activity Farm yesterday, thanks to Mel. It’s not often we arrive before opening and leave at closing time but there’s so much to do there!
Our little girl got to meet Father Christmas in a beautiful winter wonderland, experienced the nativity with real animals, made her very own Mischka cuddly toy & even tried ice skating for the first time.
If you’re looking for a fun day out in the build up to Christmas, then it’s well worth a trip.”
“Willows is always a favourite of mine. Easy to get to, plenty of outside space for the kids to run around but some great indoors activities too. But Willows for Christmas is something new to us and wow they delivered.. From the 3D film to the Nativity play with real animals and even a close encounter with a husky dog! The grotto was the best I’ve seen and our little ones’ faces were beaming with joy. My little girl’s highlight was having a key to the elf workshop where she could choose whatever she wanted…. Almost an overwhelming experience… like a kid in a toyshop if I may say!
I was a bit apprehensive of going there on a Saturday before Christmas but it was so well organised that it never seemed overcrowded. We once again enjoyed it to the full … So much so that we were the last ones to leave again!
Willows Farm, you excelled at making Christmas truly magical!”
Disclosure: We were invited to experience Santa Spectacular with a select group of bloggers and given vouchers for our lunch. I was not asked to write about the experience, but as with every visit to Willows, we had an amazing day and I honestly think this is the best Christmas-themed day out you could possibly have in London, so I decided to share my thoughts. All thoughts and photos are my own, apart from the photo of all the children with Father Christmas (credited above).
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