The opening night of The Magical Journey and based upon the hype I have to admit to expectations being pretty high! The tickets for the event are sold out for every weekend up to Christmas as well as all of Christmas week. The advertising and website did indeed look as though we were in for a very special treat and with ticket prices on the expensive side for a Santa experience (£65 for a family of 4) we were fully of eager anticipation!
The experience takes place at the Belfry Hotel near Tamworth which also has a huge golf complex and stacks of woodland and open space.
The boys are now 5 and 7 and we have been to Lapland and met the real deal – the one and only big man in red himself – Father Christmas – so particularly the 7yo is wise to “the fakes” as he calls them. I have tried to keep the magic alive by telling him sometimes the real FC is visiting children and occasionally around, so he is always on the look out.
The experience starts in the Christmas market, which is a handful of stores selling teddies, sweets and Christmas decorations as well as food. The mulled wine and hot chocolate with marshmallows on sale was yummy! However unfortunately they had run out of mince pies and generally the food looked overpriced and unappealing. There are elves on hand, in super cute outfits, to ask advice and they are all helpful and responsive.
At the given time slot you are ushered into a kind of museuem where you can see Santa’s spare robe and read about reindeers and the magic of Christmas before being taken through to meet Mary Christmas, Father Christmas’ wife. Here you are introduced to the dilemma that a baby reindeer has gone missing and you are asked to look out for Rudie as everyone is very worried. The next room you are ushered into is a kind of “Present Idol” where you have to decide which presents will go on the sleigh. Noah was chosen as one of the judges but it is difficult to see how this fits in with the hunt for Rudie and you can hear lots of background noise from other rooms so is a bit distracting. However the event doesn’t feel overly busy so you don’t feel too rushed and herded.
Next is a short road-train ride through the forest (we waved at people walking from the car park over the fence here!). We visited in the dark and the forest is lit up beautifully and although I did expect a little more of a Lapland feeling (the only snow is a light sprinkling of foam on the Christmas trees) it does set a magical feeling with the lighting.
What was disappointing however is that there is no evidence of a baby reindeer along the route. I was under the impression that clues were given as to where the reindeer was and it would be a bit of a treasure hunt to find him but this unfortunately failed to materialise. I mentioned to one of the elves that we had been looking for hoof prints to do a bit of tracking but had no luck and she looked at another elf and said “that’s a good idea”!
After alighting the train we were led through a series of sparse teepees. There was so much more that could have been done here to improve things – decorations, activities and festive music would have made hanging around a bit more interesting and build the mood. This section of the experience also backs onto the main road and so traffic noise does spoil the mood a little. The kids did enjoy the “key tree” which has magic keys enabling Father Christmas to get into all the houses.
The final part, and possibly most anticipated section is meeting Father Christmas himself. You are led by an elf through the forest to his little cosy cottage. He was pleasant and had lots of time for the children. They both received the same gift (a wooden noughts and crosses game) which they were happy with but I thought was a little disappointing especially as it was unwrapped. The mystery of Rudie’s disappearance is soon solved and you are led through to chose any photos you may have prebooked (or can buy if you haven’t prebooked).
This experience did feel a bit like like a work in progress and although you can see some thought has been given to aspects of the event, other parts were really lacking particularly based on the promises made on the website of “a snow covered winter wonderland”. It should really have been road tested by local families first to avoid the barrage of criticism and upset that has been caused. I would suggest going with fairly low expectations, not thinking too much about the extortionate price you have paid and just enjoying the experience for what it is.
Last year we went to the Nativity at Chatsworth House on the first weekend in December and all of us said this really set us in the mood for Christmas. I have to say though that the Magical Journey didn’t really do it for us and I really hope that based upon the feedback they have been given improvements are put in place so that others have a great time.
Disclosure: we received complimentary tickets for this event but all opinions and view are our own unbiased.