We arrived at about 11am this morning only to be turned away before we reached the car park - it was full up and maybe we'd like to return a bit later and try our luck then. Not a great start to the day - maybe some form of online booking would be worth considering in future years?
If it weren't for the 3 expectant children sitting in the back of the car we'd have given up there and then - which in retrospect would have probably been for the best. But we did return after an early lunch and did manage to squeeze into the car park after a relatively short wait. Relative, that is, to the waiting that was to follow thereafter!
So we parked the car and set off across the horribly muddy car park towards the ticket office. Another queue followed - we waited the best part of half an hour to buy our entrance tickets from the one person available to serve the long line of increasingly impatient visitors. Surely on a busy Sunday they could have a few more staff allocated to this task?
Finally, tickets in hand we could actually go in to see the animals. At this point we noticed that there was a huge queue for Santa's Grotto, so decided we'd return to that a bit later. As for the animals - as somebody else has mentioned it's rather a bizarre mix - as well as the reindeer there are llamas, pigs, donkeys, meerkats, rabbits, wallabies, goats, guinea pigs, chickens and even a couple of emus. It all felt strangely unfestive. The animal pens weren't exactly spacious or interesting for the animals - left me feeling rather sorry for them to be honest, though apparently those aren't their permanent homes.
The enclosures were interspersed with play activity areas - a fake snow area, a large straw bale ball pit, a small bouncy castle and a smaller ball pit. All these were very busy, largely unsupervised, and dominated by out-of-control older kids, which made them unsuitable and even dangerous for the younger children for whom they were actually intended. Our 3-year-old would have been knocked over in no time flat if we'd let her loose in any of these play areas, but would have thoroughly enjoyed them under less hazardous conditions.
We then decided to have a break and get our 'free' mince pies and drink. Guess what? Yes - long queues even for this - about another 20 minutes. And they'd run out of hot chocolate. And the 'free' Christmas mugs mentioned on the website weren't free with tea or coffee option - which were £1.50!!! No thank you!
So back to Santa's grotto - the supposed highlight of the day for the kids - and the queue was even longer than before! Reluctantly we joined the end of the queue - which, incidentally, was outside in the freezing cold - and progress was painfully slow. We enquired how long the wait was likely to be - well over an hour was the reply. By this stage we had 3 cold, tired children who frankly couldn't bear to wait in that line a minute longer. When we finally gave up long, long before we were anywhere near Santa they were more relieved than disappointed - but it was still a gutting decision to have to make on their behalf. We asked a member of staff if we could just have the presents and go (without seeing the big man) and she helpfully sorted some out for us. The presents themselves were surprisingly good and rescued an extra rating point over and above the minimum our day actually deserved.
Not an experience we'll be repeating next year - or ever!
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