We were invited to take the whole family to LaplandUK on Saturday. It’s a 3hr drive each way for us, but it looked so special, we thought it would be worth the drive + 4 children (well, okay, ‘I’ thought it would be, Mr Laura was dubious but not unwilling). The review is coming on the main site later today, but here’s some pics from the visit. Was it worth the money (£405)? Well. Tough question, and depends which of the six of us you ask…
Okay, this is actually a really hard review for me to write… I have such mixed emotions following our visit yesterday to LaplandUK. So I’m going to review at length – sit comfortable, you may be here some time.
I was really excited about going, and felt sure that my three younger children would be entranced by it – and was seriously hoping that a slightly jaded almost-11-yr-old would recapture some lost magic. The husband was a bit concerned though – he was worried that if it wasn’t done really REALLY well we risked destroying the magic that the younger children already believe in (*wobbly great shudder*).
So we arrived VERY early (it’s a 3hr drive, knowing what the M25 is like we allowed an extra hour, and arrived in 2 . Of course), and after a big play on the Bewl Water excellent playgrounds, we duly went to the entrance at our allotted time, and joined the queue. As we waited to be let in, an ‘elf’ came along the line and chatted to us – the 8yr old turned to me and whispered “it’s an actor Mummy, I can see her shoes”… I sighed – the elf in question had green curly overshoes, – which had slipped; we could see her own black shoes underneath. She was very clearly a grown up dressed as an elf, was fooling not a single child over the age of 3, and I crossed my fingers that things would improve…
Finally we were let in, and we queued for our passports – the elves were fun, efficient, and knew the children’s names after one glance. We followed a path into a glade, where we began meeting the elves and ‘feeling the magic’. I was watching the younger children like a hawk, but they seemed content to go along with things, and by the time we were singing the elf song to get the door open they were at the front and joining in enthusiastically (the two super-bright trainee elves were so infectiously bouncy and cheesy none of us could resist them).
Once we had walked the magic forest path to Lapland we were met by a Sami. He entertained us all, had us split into our two groups (Huskies and Reindeer) and suitably embarrassed non-joining parents enough to make sure all ‘Tall Folk’ took part with enthusiasm for the rest of the visit!
Then onwards to the Toy Shop. Now the entire premise of the children being allowed into Lapland was to help Father Christmas as he is SO busy, and worried he’ll not get all the toys made in time. We were expecting to visit his workshop, to help out. Now what is your brain envisioning? Probably the same as mine. A large, busy, noisy workshop; filled with soft toys and bricks, and balls, and hammering and singing and probably a train running around and choo-choo-ing, yes? Maybe we’re spoilt by too many toy departments and too many Hollywood films, but from a child this has been my vision of Father Christmas’ workshop. So we entered the outwardly atmospheric and authentic log cabin, expecting to be wowed… we weren’t.
I do fully understand that LaplandUK is about the authentic Scandinavian experience… but the room felt bare. Empty. Atmospherically blank. Benches around the edge with horses heads on, and ‘logs’ in the middle for the children to sit on. Why have a painting of a 9’ toy soldier on the wall, when you could have a real one standing there, for example? After a fun chat with the elves, the activity was to ‘help build the horses heads’. This then was the reason we were here – to help Father Christmas make toys. So the children got to slot in the ears and mane parts, and do up the bridle. Don’t get me wrong, the horses are beautifully crafted, and the children without exception loved it – but as we were leaving, the 8yr old said “that was really fun! When do we get to go to the workshop and help actually build the toys?”
Next was Mother Christmas in her kitchen, to help with the baking. I didn’t expect too much this time – another log cabin, another room with the same layout; logs in the middle, and work benches around the edge. The children chatted to the elves, were worked up a little (“do you want to meet Mother Christmas? Do you? I can’t hear you! Do you REALLY want to meet her?” etc.), had to cover their eyes (“NO peeking!”)… and then Mother Christmas walked in – and stood still, smiling, and the elf said “oh, you can uncover your eyes now…”. After such a build up, a rather flat and fizzly entrance. Now, call me Christmas-ist, but I want my Mother Christmas to be a fat and jolly Blyton-esque grandmother-type. The lady before us was trim and neatly built, with a rather schoolmarm-ish air and not a jolly laugh to be seen.
We all enjoyed decorating the gingerbread very much, and once again the elves were magnificent in interacting with the children – the chefs hats in various types were a nice touch too. The storytime was nicely done (the story itself wasn’t universally adored, only the 6yr old enjoyed it, but it was gingerbread related and it’s difficult to aim at such a wide range of children), and the children were very happy as they left. Fussy parents? Once again we were disappointed by the bare nature of the room – there was kitchen paraphernalia on the back wall, but nothing to give the warm and homely atmosphere of any family kitchen – let alone Mother Christmas’. And having the elves cleaning the tables with modern kitchen spray WHILST the story is going on seems just thoughtless.
Leaving here we were lead by our Sami for something to eat – and given just over an hour to explore the ‘village’. The restaurant was practical – large bench tables, with jugs of squash, and practical sized trays to allow parents to carry a family of food in one go – and the food was excellent; a good choice, in practical pots, and not a chip in sight. However I would have preferred to not have an elf attempt to clean up our half empty pots/trays whilst we were still eating. Three times.
Then we went to explore – the Post Office was popular to create a letter for Father Christmas – though we visited during a quiet late afternoon and it was very small and crowded, goodness knows how children manage to actually get in there during a busy session. But the boys loved making their cards, each wrote a very thoughtful and sweet note, had it stamped (by a far more jolly and Mother-Christmas-like postmistress), and posted it. We watched the ice skating for a while, wandered down to see the reindeer, and stroked the two huskies walking amongst the crowd (One handler was lovely and very friendly, but ‘Maverick’ the husky’s handler was consistently aloof and unapproachable by the children, looking into the middle distance as his dog was petted and he was asked excited questions).
I took the opportunity to chat to the boys about their expectations of the impending visit; they already know that Father Christmas is very busy, so he asks people to help out with meeting children for him in the run up the Big Day. But just sometimes he does them himself; and you simply never know if it’s the real one you’re talking too. It became apparent that so far the boys were not convinced by any but the two trainee elves, and they didn’t really expect it to be the real Father Christmas either. But they’d know for absolute sure if he was real if he asked them their names and what they wanted, as the actual Father Chrsitmas should already KNOW these things. Smugly confident that he would be primed with various ‘unknowable’ details, I was excited that they would believe this visit was with the Real Thing.
Finally, 6.15 came, and the Time Was Here. We gathered with the rest of our group outside the Post Office, and waited – and eventually were asked to follow a path to another log cabin structure. On entering we felt like we’d reached a packed doctors waiting room – noise was high as the place was stacked with families all waiting their turn. I was informed by the booking-in elf that the wait was around half an hour. Sigh. The children were by now exhausted and at fever pitch, and now we had to wait… The play centre in the middle of the room is for very young children, and the 8 and 10 yr old very quickly retreated to our sides to patiently sit. The 6yr old soon joined them, tired and overwhelmed and bored; only the 2yr old was still contentedly playing. Just when boredom started to overwhelm the whole family, a few elves arrived, including our very own trainee elf – the total star of our day. Immediately the mood lightened as she entertained and danced and laughed and kept the children happy and excited. She must have been exhausted, but never once stepped out of character or let that show to the children bouncing around her. Top Marks.
Finally, after a 40 minute wait, our names appeared on the board and we went through the curtained door… to another waiting room. A further 10 minutes and finally we were up – the children’s names were called, and an elf told us Father Christmas was ready for us. We left the building and walked through a network of beautifully lit forest paths to magically stumble across a cabin deep in the woods. The children were wide-eyed and enchanted – I, on the other hand, could see the high metal fencing and various construction paraphernalia sited at the back of the cottage.
As we walked to the door I heard a booming “Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!” from somewhere to my right; clearly there was more than one Father Christmas at work in these woods (again, thankfully the children didn’t notice, but that would have been interesting to explain). We reached the door… and had to wait. Father Christmas was busy with a family already, so we waited on the porch, the children breathlessly excited, and oh-so-slightly nervous. We heard the family have their photograph taken, and waved goodbye. And then quite clearly heard Father Christmas start to check the names and details of our own children with his elf – cue much frantic loud talking by parents to cover this HUGE blunder.
Finally, we were welcomed in – the cabin itself was lovely, Father Christmas friendly (but no ‘jolly old elf’, and not a belly laugh or a booming ‘ho ho ho’ in sight – and apparently not as fat as the boys expected…), and even exhausted toddler was happy to talk to him. He looked for no.1 sons name in his ‘Good Children’ list… and he wasn’t there (as we had only had tickets confirmed the day before, I let him off that), so amid a little consternation from the boys he turned to his Very Good List at the back of his book… and ran his finger down it twice… and then carefully not allowing eagle-eyed 8yr old a peek he exclaimed quickly “ah yes, there you are!” and snapped the book shut. Clearly, they were not where they should have been.
Next we moved on to presents – give him his due, he straight away said “don’t tell me what you want actually for Christmas, of course I know that already, but right now, how would you like a present?” The gifts were beautiful husky puppies, and four children were suitably wide-eyed and happy at such a lavish and perfect gift. With my fussy parent hat on, I was sad there wasn’t a single mention of any of the personal details we had so carefully provided. I understand there were four of them, so time was limited – but a quick “Oh, you’re the one who loves to build Lego!” or “I hear you’d like a puppy for Christmas” would have been all that was necessary. Nevertheless, as we left 8yr old looked up at me with shining eyes, slipped his hand in mine and whispered “that was the real Father Christmas, Mummy, I just KNOW it.” Six year old simply couldn’t speak, and merely hugged his new puppy tightly to his chest. Mission accomplished, then.
The ‘professional photograph’ (which being married to a photographer I was singularly unfooled by – it is actually a wall-mounted preset camera which the elf presses a button on, and we didn’t appreciate the persuasion to get Mum & Dad in the second picture) being charged at £10 each with an efficient ‘package’ upsell is a blatant money-making ploy, and bringing you back through the shop is a bit of a sneaky tactic too.
Back into the village for some ice skating, which proved hugely popular, and then it was time to leave. After all the build up when we started off, how we were extra-specially invited, and how the Elf paths are magical, transporting elves across the world in a flash, we wondered how we would be leaving the LaplandUK experience. So we followed the snow-covered brush fenced path through the reindeer enclosure (we never saw the tepee storytelling, or understood when we were supposed to visit, as it was all in darkness both times we came past), out the other side… and onto a dark muddy path that lead back to the car park. So. No effort at rounding off the adventure at all then.
There; a very long review, with a very mixed bag. At the end of the day, there are six of us, and we all have different responses:
The 2yr old happily thinks she met Father Christmas.
The 6yr old believes with all his heart he has visited Father Christmas’ home, and met him for real, and a slow shy smile spreads across his face when he tells people so.
The 8yr old thinks we stayed in Kent, visited a lovely fun place – but that we really did get to meet the real Father Christmas.
The 10 year old had a fun day out, and I think totally Felt The Magic in that secret log cabin in the woods.
For us cynical old parents? For the money that is charged (cheap early November rates of £67.50 each – that’s £405 for us to visit, and it goes up the closer you get to Christmas) it failed in so many disappointingly small, careless ways. The money charged is high, and for the price I would have expected the photograph to be included too. Once we had entered the ‘village’ itself, we felt we had entered a tourist venue, and the magic began to slip away; a little more thought could have helped enormously. Clearly much has been spent on constructing the village – but throughout the finishing details have occasionally been skipped, and there is simple carelessness where small touches could have helped so much in creating the most perfect experience:
- Entering the drive, with excited heads trying to gain a peek, we could see scaffold/construction type background mess (which is blatantly NOT a part of a Lapland visit) – double the height of the fence and that would be invisible.
- Place a piece of Gingham on the back of the ‘reception desk’ and we wouldn’t have been able to see the modern paraphernalia it contained once we walked past.
- Invest in proper shoes for the elves, and we wouldn’t have been able to see ‘real’ shoes peeking out from under everyone’s costume.
- Use authentic lights in the post office instead of nasty modern glaring spotlights.
- Hide the construction baggage behind Father Christmas’ cabin – and HAVE HIM TALK IN WHISPERS BETWEEN FAMILIES.
- Check ALL the staff are selected with care – some were utterly brilliant, some were really not.
- Spending money on branded wooden trays for the restaurant is lovely – but adds not one jot to the children’s experience, whereas a small elf choir or ‘street entertainer’ elves in the square would have.
I feel like I have been very negative about the experience, and I’m really not – it resulted in four children being happy and feeling the Magic of Christmas, which is all we ever hoped for. But I guess we feel that actually we were just lucky with the older two. A child on the cusp of not believing could so easily fall the other way when visiting here, and if as an adult you love the whole magic of a traditional Christmas and suspend your disbelief in the hopes of a magical experience for yourself too, then seeing through so much of this (maybe foolishly) is a little disappointing.