If you can't afford Lapland then you may be wanting to make Christmas that little bit more magical closer to home, and we've just spent a busy weekend petting reindeer, visiting Santa and chatting to elves at two different Christmas attractions in the Midlands. (if you still fancy visiting Lapland though you really need to read Kate's Lapland holiday reviews).
Blithbury Reindeer Lodge, nr Rugeley (WS15 3HY)
The first we went to was Blithbury Reindeer Lodge for a pre-opening evening.
The weather on the evening was awful, with torrential rain and flooding on the roads leading to the lodge, which unfortunately caused some loss of power. This meant that for parts of the evening some areas were only dimly lit as the generator came into use. It kind of added to the intimate feel of the evening, and a warm glow from the roaring open fire made the large barn feel cosy.
We had a tour of the reindeer, from shy baby ones that had only recently arrived, past the famous ones soon to be seen in the 'Get Santa' movie, and lastly to 11 year old Tide, the oldest reindeer on the lodge.
During the evening we had our photograph taken in the Frozen inspired sleigh with 'Sven' the Reindeer, went to Elf school to make reindeer food and learn about how the reindeer fly, decorated cakes and enjoyed storytime with Mrs Claus, and of course we met the big man himself in his grotto where Jack handed him a letter and was allowed to choose a gift to take home.
Following all the fun we then had a browse around the lovely gift shop where I picked up some very reasonably priced Christmas decorations, before heading home.
We will be going back to Blithbury again soon to take a sleigh ride as we weren't able to have one on the evening due to the awful weather. I would definitely recommend a visit to Blithbury if you're in the area, but make sure you wrap up warm and take umbrellas & waterproofs if the weather is wet, as much of the experience is outdoors.
Booking is recommended and can be done so online here, including breakfast with Santa.
A family ticket (2 adults & 2 children) is £49.95 and includes the following
- Admission to the lodge
- Gifts from Santa for the children
- Sleigh Rides
- Frozen family photograph
The Magical Journey, nr Sutton Coldfield (B76 9PR)
On Saturday we visited The Magical Journey, the 'Ultimate Christmas Experience' at The Belfry. I had extremely high hopes for this evening out, as firstly The Belfry is England's top golf hotel, and secondly interior designer Laurence Llewelyn Bowen had created the experience. There has been a lot of hype about the attraction, and certain dates have been sold out for ages. With the claims of promising to be 'the theatrical production of the year for your entire family' I was expecting something truly magnificent.
We decided to arrive earlier than our 8pm reservation to have a look around the Christmas market inside the big top entrance. Parking was easy, with plenty of spaces just a short walk from the entrance. Our first impressions were that it wasn't very spectacular looking and could have done with the trees around the entrance being lit up. Once inside the big top it soon became apparent that the 'Christmas market' wasn't going to take more than 5 minutes to look around, and was a bit of a let down to say the least. We made the decision to go and find somewhere else to eat and come back at our time slot, and I left feeling a little deflated.
We arrived back around 7.45pm, checked in at one of the vacant tables, and then headed to the cafe where the kids ate cookies and muffins whilst I enjoyed my first mulled wine of the season.
We were called at 8pm for our journey to begin and joined a queue where elves chatted away to us while we waited. The friendly elves were the best part for Jack, and he loved chatting to them throughout the evening.
The first room that we entered was a museum with Christmas artefacts such as Santa's babygrow, his cloak, articles from his wedding to Mrs Claus, reindeer antlers and sledges. People were using this room more as a waiting room & were mostly stood over to one side which meant that we had to wait until they had gone into the next room before being able to look at everything on that side. We also noticed that the ceiling looked unfinished and definitely lacked the attention to detail that I was expecting. It was also possible to hear the group before ours cheering & singing in the next rooms.
The next room was where Mrs Claus was doing some baking, and she did well attempting to entertain and interact with everyone. She explained that Rudi, the baby reindeer had gone missing and it was our mission to help find him along our journey.
The elf in the next room (Simon Cowelf's Academy) asked everyone to vote on their favourite Christmas toy, but unfortunately this didn't go down too well as the children who were asked to help out refused to hold all the toys apart from Olaf!
Next up was our train ride to the forest, and for me this was the best part. It was a road train and as the terrain was quite bumpy there was lots of screams and laughter as he carriages rocked from side to side as we sped through the forest singing Christmas songs. Jack thought it was great too but Hanna thought it was scarier than rides at Alton Towers!
We entered 'Uncle Holly's Hut' (an empty tipi) where more elves explained that we needed to keep our eyes open for Rudi before ringing a bell to allow us entry into the forest (the website mentions ringing a large cowbell, however it was actually a desk bell!). Walking through the forest was lovely, and the trees were covered in snow and music played. There were elves all around to say hello to and take photos with, which Jack loved. By the time we reached the next tipi we had caught up with the group in front of us and weren't really sure what to do then, but found a pen of reindeer and assumed that we had at last found Rudi. Considering that the whole journey was about the search for Rudi it was a bit of a let down when we eventually did. We didn't really know where to go from there and followed a small group through the trees and realised that we were just about to enter Santa's lodge. The inside of the lodge was decorated beautifully, with lots of attention to detail that I would've expected more of throughout the experience. Santa was friendly enough and chatted to the children about what they would like for Christmas, whilst they sat on little benches. Photos were taken and presents were handed out to the children before we left the lodge and were once again left wandering around not knowing where to go next. We wandered towards another lodge but backed away quickly before Jack could see, as it appeared to be another Santa lodge. We then headed to the exit where photos were being viewed on screens, however we were told that we were too soon to see ours and were asked to come back in ten minutes. At this point we decided to leave as it was getting late so didn't get to see the quality of the photographs.
Whilst Jack really enjoyed his adventure, I did feel that it was a bit of a let down, considering that it was to be 'the Ultimate Christmas Experience' and 'the theatrical production of the year', which it was far from.
Improvements that could be made
- Lights on the trees at the entrance
- More of a Christmas feel to the market & no empty units
- Finish off the buildings and soundproof the rooms
- More theatrical shows, especially in the Simon Cowelf Academy
- More excitement around finding Rudi
- Either wrapped, age appropriate gifts from Santa or allow children to choose their own gift
- Hide the unopened bags of fake snow and clear away the empty plastic packaging
- Bury the cables in the forest and tipis as they were a trip hazard
- Have the cables in the big top under the floorboards rather than across the floor with tape over them - it makes the place look unfinished
The friendly elves definitely made the evening and there were plenty around to chat to.
Tickets for a family of 4 would cost from £55.00 - £75.00 (depending on day of visit) + £10 for a family photograph (optional).
Following our visit it would appear that we weren't the only ones left disappointed and The Magical Journey have been inundated with complaints from unhappy customers. They then made the decision to close the attraction on 23rd, 24th & 25th November to make improvements before reopening on 26th November.
I would be interested to see how different the experience is after the improvements, and in my experience there will have to be much improvement to make it The Magical Journey that I had hoped for.
We were invited to the pre-opening event at Blithbury but were not asked to write about our experience
We received free tickets to the Magical Journey in exchange for an honest review