Disclosure: we were given free tickets to the attraction for the purpose of this review, however we did pay for all extras & food ourselves.
A couple of weekends ago we visited the Blithbury Reindeer Lodge to try out their ‘Christmas Lapland Experience’ with the children. The girls were really excited to see and feed the “real live reindeer” and that was definitely the highlight of our visit.
The website promises that you can “meet and feed our beautiful herd of reindeer, visit Father Christmas in his traditional Scandinavian style Grotto, explore our soft play area and be entertained by our singing reindeer!” Bookings are limited to a maximum of 5 people, and you can purchase sleigh rides and souvenir photos on the day. The experience costs £17 per adult and £23 per child, and is on every day between now & 23rd December.
We arrived and started out by purchasing the children a cup of moss each for £1.50 per cup so that they could feed the reindeer as we walked around. They were gorgeous and very friendly! Both Georgiana and Lydia loved feeding them and stroking their noses gently, and they were lovely to look at and interact with.
It was a very cold day so we soon headed inside to wait for our grotto time slot, and see some of the baby reindeer that were indoors. The girls found a special Santa post box and some letter templates so amused themselves for a while by writing a letter each to Santa & posting it, and then enjoyed watching the singing reindeer display full of animatronic animals and playing on a sleigh and saddle (with a stuffed Sven from Frozen attached!) that were set up for the children to try out.
When the time came for us to go see Santa we queued up at the allotted time by the entrance to the grotto – unfortunately they must have been running a bit behind as we had to wait well over 20 minutes for an elf to come fetch us. It would have been nice if someone had popped out and told us though, as there were quite a few families waiting with us for the slot.
Once an elf did come and fetch us, she took everyone waiting for that time slot to a lovely waiting room with benches for adults and logs for the children to sit on, and then entertained the children with games involving soft toy elves. There was also a video screen showing Christmassy scenes for the children to enjoy in this area. Another elf came to fetch families one at a time, and take them through to see Santa.
They don’t allow you to take your own video or photos with Santa and even though I was there to review neither the elf or Santa were sure that it was OK so I just have one quick snap and no footage of the actual Grotto experience, but the girls did enjoy their chat with Santa. He was very friendly with them and asked them both what they wanted for Christmas and spoke to them about the reindeer – all in all, he was a lovely Father Christmas.
One annoying point is that they emailed us to fill in a form to tell them the girls basic info & interests but that information was clearly not given to Santa so seemed a bit pointless.
The experience was a tiny bit rushed and we were soon led out into the toy ‘workshop’ where the children could choose their own gift from a selection of what is lovingly called ‘plastic tat’ in this house. They were the sort of toys you could find in bargain shops, which delighted the kids if not the adults. They were selling photos with Santa for £10 in this area as well – definitely overpriced but also not the most expensive we’ve seen this winter.
Georgie chose a make your own snowglobe craft kit where she’ll even to get to make and paint the figures inside the globes, and Lydia chose a “princess beauty set” with plastic jewellery and tiny high heels – they were both absolutely delighted with their gifts!
Both the waiting area and the grotto were really nicely decorated in a scandinavian style, with lots of reindeer bridles and other equipment hung up in the waiting area – complete with the names of the reindeer on plaques and so on. There were lovely Christmas decorations up in the grotto and Santa’s outfit was lovely.
We decided to have a hot lunch in the cafe before we went for a sleigh ride, but in retrospect this was a bad idea. It was busy but not absolutely packed – we got a table with no problems, and James was soon in the queue to buy drinks and order the food. The girls were happy to relax for a bit but it was soon apparent that there were some staffing issues and food orders were taking longer than the 20 minutes James was told when he ordered.
The cafe area does have a soft play area but it is for toddlers & preschool age children only, really. The main webpage for the Christmas Lapland Experience doesn’t make this clear, but once you go to the FAQ and find the relevant bit you can find out before you go that it is max 100cm. So, the kids couldn’t even enjoy the soft play while we waited – not that the height limit stopped all the children over 100cm playing in there, but we are careful to make sure the kids follow these sorts of rules so wouldn’t let them in. The girls entertained themselves playing on the sleigh and Sven saddle, as well as playing sudoku on my phone.
It was 2 hours and 20 minutes(!!!) before we got our hot food order, and by then they had run out of chips so we didn’t even get everything we had ordered. When it did arrive, the hot dogs and burgers were tasty enough but not worth such a long wait! We’d had to chase and ask after our order multiple times and were offered a refund at one point around the one & a half hour mark – if we cancelled the order – but as they said at the time that we were the order after next we decided to wait as the children were very hungry.
To give credit to the staff, they were polite and did give us an extra drink each, and a couple of chocolate treats for the girls, when the situation became utterly ridiculous at one point and they came over with a tray full of food that wasn’t our order, after two hours of waiting. We ended up with a refund for the missing chips plus a little extra to make up for the wait, but nowhere near what we had paid. I was really cold by the time the food arrived, and it was getting dark outside.
After our rather late lunch, we headed outside to enjoy our Sleigh Rides – we’d purchased tokens for these on entry for £7.50 per sleigh. The girls really enjoyed the rides – they were short but sweet and there was something very special about being pulled along in a traditional sleigh by an actual reindeer, albeit one with wheels attached to the bottom. I think it was a smidgen overpriced especially when you take into account the price of entry.
Our last stop was a look around the shops they have – a traditional style sweet shop is full of all sorts of yummy treats including a special festive selection, and we bought some lovely souvenirs from the gift shop including a reindeer snowglobe for Georgie’s collection, a reindeer tree ornament for the family Christmas tree, and a reindeer scarf for me.
Overall we did enjoy our day out although the fiasco with lunch did detract from our outing, and I think it is very overpriced. The girls really enjoyed the whole Grotto experience, and spending time with the dozens of reindeer was absolutely lovely. The staff were friendly & helpful, on the whole, and the whole place looked very festive and cheerful.
Edited to add: I have seen the latest reviews for this event on Google and TripAdvisor and I think it is clear that the understaffing issues have only gotten worse, plus they seem to have overbooked the event. We went on a relatively early weekend and it wasn’t very busy, yet we still had issues with delayed Santa time slot and waiting for lunch, so I can’t say how much better or worse it has been since.