Can't make it to Lapland this year? You can visit the UK version, which has been lovingly recreated to inspire the imagination - with lots of magic and exciting treats along the way. But is it worth the cost?
1 - Wynter, 4, mum Kate and Wren, 2 were excited from the start
Lapland, home of Father Christmas, is a dream destination for many families. The thrill of seeing piles of snow, visiting elves in their toy workshops and meeting the man himself, is a magical experience. But, if you can't make it, staying in the UK for the festive season can be just as exciting, if you know where to go...
LaplandUK has been dreamt up by a British family who couldn't find the traditional type of Christmas experience they wanted their children to have. Disappointed by technology packed offerings and 'festive' fairground rides, Mike and Alison Battle decided to rebuild the best bits of Lapland, right here in the UK.
Located just outside of Ascot, a large area of Whitmoor Forest is decorated every year (open from 21st November-24th December, 2015) with faux 'snow', filled with wooden lodges, a toy factory, and an ice rink, and is a temporary home to Father Christmas, Mother Christmas, the reindeer, numerous elves and a few husky dogs, too.
I was unsure exactly 'what', LaplandUK was. I knew for certain it would be a beautiful and luxury experience, partly because the website is beautifully designed and there is a magical video to watch, and partly because the tickets are a little costly (now from £59.50 per ticket, adult or child, excluding fees). But I couldn't pin down what we would actually be doing... It is, in fact, an immersive theatrical experience, which lasts around three and a half hours. You arrive at a glen in the forest (above), and 'check in' with the elves, are taken on a tour, participate in activities and then spend some free time in a winter village.
2 - The perfect fit for elves
From the moment we arrived, the girls were both very excited. We took Wynter, who is 4 and Wren, who is 2. They were both dressed in matching Rudolph jumpers, and Wynter arrived waving a cut out Father Christmas which she had decorated and coloured in to give to the man himself upon meeting him.
The elves behind the desk were friendly and fun and full of Christmas cheer, which set the tone of the whole day. The characters kept the act up, evn when the children weren't around, and we found ourselves (the 'big folk', as elves refer to adults) singing along with their songs and wishing we could join in with the games.
You enter LaplandUK on a timed ticket. Each 'experience', which lasts the 3.5 hours, is in a group of around 50 and the groups depart in 30 minute intervals. Don't be late! If you are, a friendly elf will catch you up, but the tour group won't wait...
3 - Enjoy the 'snow'
After a short theatre performance, you enter LaplandUK through a large wooden door, into the 'snow'. Queues are an inevitable part of any family day out, and these ones move fairly smoothly.
4 - A traditional wooden workshop
Your first stop is the elves toy workshop. Presents hanging from the roof move around the ceiling, children sit at the worktops while a group of elves sing songs. This is a perfect opportunity to sit back and watch your children's faces...
5 - Enraputured
6 - The perfect opportunity to don a Christmas jumper
7 - Making toy reindeer
Each child is given an 'elf passport' on arrival, which is stamped as they work their way through the day's activities. First up is making a stuffed reindeer. The children are given a basket of soft toy reindeer pieces to put together. There was a bit of confusion, as we thought they could keep the reindeer, but once they are made, they are then collected up, as the task at hand is to 'help Father Christmas fulfill his quota of presents'. Try telling that to a two-year-old with an attachment to their Rudolph...
Next, another 'fix it' project and the children can put together a wooden horse. The atmosphere is upbeat and fun, and the children aged four and up got really into it, singing and working away. The younger children seemed a little bemused at times.
8- Everyone gets a good view
9 - This is how excited they were to be at Lapland UK!
10 - Mrs Christmas' house
Next up was a visit to Mrs Christmas' kitchen, where the children perched on rugs on logs and listened, wide-eyed, while Mrs Christmas told them the story of the Gingerbread Man.
Wren, only aged 2, took the chance to wander around the worktables and in and out of the children, which no one seemed to mind.
11 - Making gingerbread
Every child has a workspace, with hat, tools and gingerbread house. They can then decorate the houses with sugar icing and small sweets, which are all provided.
12 - Cosy kitchen at Mother Christmas' house
13 - Mother Christmas spreads some cheer
14 - Ice skating
After leaving mother Christmas' house, you head to the 'village', where there is an ice rink, complete with penguins to help smaller children skate and free skate hire, a food hall, post office where children can send a letter to Father Christmas, a Christmas decorations and toys shop, a sweet shop and lots more.
You have 90 minutes to explore the village, and an allotted time for your visit to Father Christmas, which signals the end of your visit. It is a shame you can't go back into the village, although the 3.5 hour visit of ours turned into 4.5 hours after we were delayed seeing Father Christmas and a fair amount of time in the shop, afterwards.
15 - Post a letter to Father Christmas
I would say the food sold in the village restaurant is worth spending money on as it is fresh, tasty and filling - and warm. Everything is priced in 'jingles', which is just the equivalent of pounds. However, for all the magical atmosphere it provides, the opportunity to spend money is around every corner, and you best brush up on saying 'no' before your visit if you are looking to save money.
In the post office, it costs £1 to send a letter home, personalised sacks cost £10, stuffed toy reindeers (similar to the ones the children made in the toy factory) cost £25, and pick and mix sweets, Christmas decorations and 'lucky charm' reindeer shoes, are all additional costs. When you visit Father Christmas, you have photos taken, and you can buy one for £15, or three for £30. Every child receives a soft toy on their visit, but when you exit, there is an array of 'outfits' and accessories for that toy which you can purchase - at an additional cost... A strange concept for a company whose founders claim to be "dismayed at retail outlets whose motivation in offering ‘Santa’ visits [is] to attract more shoppers." But, nevertheless, if you can say 'no', then the magic will only cost you the price of your entrance tickets!
16 - A beautiful winter scene
17 - Meet Father Christmas' reindeers!
18 - A new found friend!
19 - Siblings and friends will love exploring Lapland UK together!
20 - Meeting Father Christmas himself!
You can really feel the magic in the room when you visit Father Christmas - a perfect end to a very magical day. I won't say too much, so as not to ruin the surprise if you do decide to visit yourself. But you do have the chance to enter personal details on the website when you buy your tickets, so that Father Christmas can amaze your child by knowing facts about them.
I think the cost is what can put a lot of visitors off, since the price of an adult and a child ticket (0-16 years) is the same, now from £59.50 each, excluding fees. This can jump up to £94 per ticket, including fees, at peak times. So, is it worth it? I, and Kate, Wynter and Wren's mum, would say, yes, it is. The price is comparable to a day out at a major attraction or theatre, and does truly create lasting magical memories. It has also left a particularly lasting impression on Wynter, who raced to tell her dad all about her adventures in baking, making toys, ice skating and meeting FC. She is now so very excited for Christmas - and isn't that what this is all about? So enjoy the day, take lots of your own photos, and say 'no' to the added extras.
As you might be able to tell from the photo above, a visit to LaplandUK is as much fun for the adults as well as the children... And after that rush of adrenaline, you will all have a great night's sleep post-visit, guaranteed.
Book your visit to Lapland UK online, now, open from 21st November-24th December, 2015
Premium visits include a 2015 limited edition, hand made bauble (rrp £15), one per booking, presented by Father Christmas. Premium visits are tickets costing £89.50 per person (before booking fee).
LaplandUK is a 3.5 hour immersive theatrical experience for the whole family. Price includes: a personalised invitation to every child from Father Christmas by post, child elf passport, all activities, ice skating, a personalised meeting with Father Christmas and a luxury soft toy per child over 12 months.
Please note - to ensure a personalised meeting with Father Christmas, each family should book separately and not combine with other families.
Child ticket over 12 months - 16 years inclusive.
Babies - children under 12 months (babes in arms) visit free on Observer status (i.e. they do not receive the invitation, husky gift or take part in the Toy Factory and Mother Christmas activities).
LaplandUK is strictly ticketed. It is not possible to purchase tickets on the day at the venue. For late availability, please contact SEE Tickets on 0871 620 7063 (calls cost 10p per minute plus network charges).