Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Lapland UK: Tips For Visiting

Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, and like most parents, I am always in search of ways to make it magical for my children.

Pre-2020, I had stalked Lapland UK's social media pages a fair few times and read over the reviews from their invited influencers, but the price of visiting always put me off.

I just couldn't justify spending hundreds of pounds on what seemed to be essentially just a high end Christmas Grotto experience.

But then 2020 happened, and as Christmas got closer and closer - I realised that all of our usual festive activities were not going to go ahead.
The more I looked into it, the more it became apparent that none of the Santa's Grottos around us here in Devon were planning to open and I hated the thought of having Christmas without visiting Santa - so I made the decision to take the plunge and book a visit to Lapland UK, in the hopes that it may go ahead.

Although they were forced to close for certain dates, we were one of the lucky families whose visit went ahead and although the experience was modified due to the pandemic - it was still a magical experience, and one which the children spoke about for months afterwards.

For that reason, I booked again for 2021 and we enjoyed it so much that, despite promising myself it wouldn't become an annual thing, we've just returned for a 2022 visit!

So I thought I'd share some of my thoughts and tips for visiting (and securing those difficult to find tickets!) as someone who has paid for the experience out of my own pocket.

Getting Tickets

The trickiest part of a visit to Lapland UK is actually managing to secure the tickets in the first place, and there does unfortunately seem to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding online about the booking system and how it all works.

Usually, Lapland UK run two ticket releases each year....with a first release of tickets in March and then a second in September...unfortunately this year it seems as though there will not be any further ticket releases for 2022, which came as a bit of a surprise to most. I almost waited for the expected second release in September myself, so for future years its worth being ready to book in March as that seems to be the only way to ensure that you get tickets.

Lapland UK use a queuing system through their website on the day that booking opens - the website will randomly allocate a place in the queue to everybody who is waiting online when the booking page goes live.

The number that you are allocated is completely random, so it doesn't matter whether you've been waiting online for 4 hours pre-opening or whether you start waiting with 30 seconds to spare - it is random! So don't waste your time waiting any longer than necessary. If booking opens at noon, log on at 11:59! 

Once booking opens, you will see your position in the queue - this number could be into the 80,000s! DO NOT PANIC AND GIVE UP.

The queue moves very quickly - the website is user friendly so booking takes very little time, people have the page open on multiple browsers to increase their chances so the number does not reflect the actual number of people wanting tickets, and you don't even have to wait on the website for your turn - you can enter your email address and you will receive a notification when your booking window has opened.

I logged on at 11.59 ready for booking to open at noon, I was allocated position 1200 in the queue and by 12:07 I had checked out my tickets for my chosen date.

When Is Best To Visit

Lapland UK usually publish a list of available dates and prices on their social media pages prior to releasing tickets - this enables you to choose your preferred dates. It's worth choosing some back up dates so that you're prepared when your booking window opens.

The attraction usually opens the second week of November, and runs through to Christmas Eve. The dates vary in price - with weekends and dates closer to Christmas being the most expensive at around £179 per person, and the November and weekday slots being cheapest at around £59 per person.

Although I'm sure a visit closer to Christmas is magical, I can't justify the additional spend and so we choose to visit in early November on a week day (Home Ed lifestyle perks!).

The slots are spread throughout each day, and so you will need to decide whether to visit in the daytime or the evening.

Although the daytime does make for better photo opportunities, I have always chosen the evening as we love to see the fairy lights and the beautiful big Christmas tree in the Elven village all lit up in the dark. I also think that the cover of night time is better for those with older and more inquisitive children too!

The Experience

I feel that the magic begins from the moment you arrive at Lapland UK, when you drive into the carpark and are handed at a Lapland Times newspaper. This Newspaper serves a functional purpose in that it contains some handy information like the menus for the Elf village but it also makes a lovely souvenir and really ups the authenticity factor for the children as it includes some lovely news stories about Lapland Life and what's been happening with the elves!

Once you've parked your vehicle, you walk through the forest clearing to the front desk and are then shown inside a large tent to await the start of your tour.
Last year my daughter was gifted an elf pin badge at this point, but the boys weren't given anything - I'm not sure why this was and it hadn't happened in the previous year, so may have just been a fluke!

There's a wooden elevated stage in the centre of the room, and some elves will appear here and do a little show of sorts with some audience participation - they're good at getting everybody in the mood and clapping along!

Next you're taken through to a woodland themed area, and seated on little tree trunks and benches to watch the forest elves - Sage & Eeko - tell the story of how Lapland came to be. Watch out for the adorable baby elf! 
This part of the experience lasts for about 20 minutes or so - then its time to open the magical portal to Lapland!

Last year, my eldest son (who was 8 at the time) turned to me and said "I think I'm going to cry!" - that's how magical a moment this is, so have your camera ready. I always shed a little tear myself!

After a short walk through the snowy pathways, you will then go to either Mother Christmas' Kitchen or The Toy Factory. (You will experience both of these things, but some groups will do the toy factory and then Mother Christmas Kitchen while others will do them the other way around.)

In Mother Christmas Kitchen, Mother Christmas and her Elven helpers talk you through the process of decorating some delicious Gingerbread people and Mother Christmas then reads a story. This part of the experience lasts for about 20 minutes.

In the Toy Factory, there are 3 elves who are tasked by Father Christmas with making some new toys for children but one of the elves - Conker - has got himself into a bit of a muddle, and needs some help to get all of the toys made on time. Your children will be asked to help make the toys which will then be given to the elves for Santa to deliver to the children of the world on Christmas eve. The elves in this part of the experience are really fun, and the Northern Lights are a highlight to watch out for!

Its worth noting that children do have to hand the toy they create over to the elves, and don't get to keep it - I worried my children might get upset about this but they were happy to be helping the elves and never mentioned keeping them. (However, my favourite Magical Lapland twist is that the toys they create are actually given to you in secret at the end of your visit! They are discreetly handed to you in a fabric bag when you collect your Father Christmas photo, and the idea is that you place the toys with their gifts on Christmas Eve as a thank you from Father Christmas for their help in Lapland...sob!)

After this, its time to head to the Elven Village. This part of the experience takes place outdoors - you are given a time slot to visit Father Christmas on the back of your Lapland Passport, and generally have around 90 minutes of free time in the village.

The village itself is really beautiful - snowy and full of twinkling lights! There is lots to see and do here.
There's a post office where you can write a letter to Father Christmas and post it, there's a lovely ice skating rink if you fancy going for a spin on the ice, there are real huskies out and about for you to stroke and there are Elves everywhere singing Christmas songs and having chats with all of the children.

All of the above is included in the price of your visit, but there are also some gift shops and food outlets here too for an extra charge.

There's Pixie Mixie's sweet shop, Bauble's Christmas Ornament Shop and a traditional gift shop which is full of all sorts of lovely bits and pieces from story books and pyjamas, to cuddly toys and light up wishing jars. You can even buy costumes for your children to dress like the Lapland elves - something my children were very keen to do!

The prices in the gift shop can be on the high side, with full dress up costumes costing around £60 - but there are some reasonably priced things too. Cuddly toys tend to cost around £20 each, and there are some smaller ones for around the £10 price mark.

If you want to avoid these shops though, you can - you don't need to walk through them as part of the experience and there is plenty to do without going inside.

The food outlets include a restaurant with family friendly food options such as mac and cheese, or chicken goujons but if you don't want to use your 90 minutes on a sit-down meal there are also some snack outlets too such as a hot dog and bratwurst kiosk, and a stall selling hot chocolates and waffles. 

Your time in the elf village is yours to do with as you wish, and whatever you choose to do - you certainly won't be bored! It's our favourite part of the Lapland UK experience.

Visiting Father Christmas

When it's your time to head on in to see Father Christmas, you simply follow the signs out of the elf village and an elf will direct you on toward Father Christmas' house.

There's a short walk of around 5 minutes to reach your destination, and this is a lovely scenic route that takes you past the reindeer enclosure where real reindeer are walking around - be sure to keep an eye out for Rudolph sleeping in the barn, you can spot his red nose lighting up!

You will pass a stall on the way where the children can make a bag of reindeer food to sprinkle on Christmas eve - this is an additional charge. You'll also pass by Father Christmas' sleigh on your walk too so be ready to stop and snap plenty of photos!

Once you arrive at the waiting room, you'll be asked to take a seat and one adult from your party will go to the check in desk - this is where some of the finer details of your visit will be confirmed, so make sure that small folk don't go to the desk with you.

After a short wait, an elf will come to collect you and walk you through the snowy pathways to Father Christmas' house!

Our experience with Father Christmas has been really impressive on both occasions - the theming and atmosphere in the room is really something else, and Father Christmas has always been really good at getting the children to chat with him. 

They are always blown away at just how much Father Christmas knows about them! (Check your online booking portal to find out more about this!)

Last year, Father Christmas chatted for a good 10 minutes with my children - asking my eldest son for tips on playing Fortnite as he knew that he was good at it, and chatting with my younger two about their Disney cruise holiday and their pets, who he knew by name of course!

After a chat, the children were gifted a cuddly husky each and a magical Christmas bell - the elves then take a photo for you.

After your visit with Father Christmas, it's time to say goodbye to Lapland UK - but not before collecting your photograph (and your special toys!) from the desk in the gift shop on the way out!

Is It Worth The Price Tag?

This year, we have paid £69 per person for our visit. As I mentioned above, prices can go up to £179 per person depending on date. The price is the same for adults and children alike. So is it worth it?

My personal opinion is that based on the length of time spent at Lapland UK, and the amount of things included in the price - yes, it is worth it...certainly for the lower price tags at least. Would I pay £179 per person? Probably not. I think my cut off point would be about £79 per person.

Included in the price of your visit is:

*A short, interactive show before entering
*A Mother Christmas kitchen experience and Gingerbread cookie for each child
*A toy making experience
*A passport souvenir
*A bell from Father Christmas for each child
*A high quality cuddly Husky for each child
*Ice skating 
*A very good quality Father Christmas visit
*A large printed photo with Father Christmas
*A cuddly toy given in secret for each child, to gift from Father Christmas on Christmas Eve

I think when you break the price down, I'd expect to pay around £12 per child for a decent grotto visit anyway, Ice skating would cost an extra £6 each and then there's the additional toy, photo and Gingerbread biscuit - so at £69 it's not really hugely overpriced for what's included.

However I do think the deal could be made a bit sweeter for the adults by including a Gingerbread cookie for them and perhaps a souvenir bauble (edit: Perhaps Lapland listened as adults did get a gingerbread biscuit this year!)

My Top Tips

* Be sure to wear layers as the elf village is outdoors and the temperature can really drop of an evening. It's worth taking an umbrella and wellies if the weather looks iffy too as the elven village is outdoors

* Take a spare pair of socks each, as you're going to get soggy feet when changing into ice skates!

* Try to introduce the Lapland elf characters to your children before your visit, as they play quite a big part in the story and experience - you can order books from the Lapland website which introduce the characters. This isn't a must-do but it does add to the experience if you're familiar with who they are. You can also read the stories and "meet" the characters via the Lapland UK app.

* If your child wants to buy an elf costume, let them change into it while you're there - I didn't do this when my son bought a Conker costume but wish I had as it would have made for the cutest photos!

* Size up in the costumes - chances are you'll want to go back next year!!! I'm hoping we can get a third year out of my daughters Wish costume!

* You can buy elf hats and accessories in the shop at the entrance before your experience starts if you wish, but these are quite pricey at £10 - £15 per hat

*Don't let your small folk go up to the desk with you to collect your photograph if possible, as this is where you collect your secret toys from the toy shop for Christmas eve...they will be given to you in cloth sacks to help conceal them but it's easier if you go to the desk on your own.

*Take lots of photos and don't be afraid to ask the elves to jump in the photos with you, they are happy to oblige. You can also hang back at the end of the toy factory and mother Christmas' kitchen if you'd like a quick photo with the elves.

* If you get a hot chocolate, go for the luxury one if you want a more indulgent and Instagrammable option - it comes with a giant marshmallow with Lapland logo! (You can get a Baileys shot in it too, although they are also on the pricey side at £8.50 for a small cup!)

* The currency used at Lapland is Jingles but pounds are accepted, too! If you want to purchase Jingles to use, you can pre-order through the Lapland website or buy on the day. We've never done this but I might this year as it might help to limit the gift shop spending!

* Be sure to personalise your experience in the online portal before your visit - this is where you can arm Father Christmas with lots of info to impress your child!

* Save your Lapland Times newspaper for a cute souvenir of your visit

* Take some wet wipes with you - the icing is sticky when they're decorating the Gingerbread men!

* Be prepared to exit through the gift shop! Although you CAN avoid the shops in the elf village, there is one final gift shop when you leave which can't be avoided...It's all themed around the huskies the children are gifted by Father Christmas - they sell accessories such as beds, leads and clothes for them. 

* Some of the Elves in the village can communicate in sign language, we saw three of them perform a Christmas song in sign for a little girl last year 

* Get involved! The more you chat to the elves, and do the Elf Wave to them - the more immersive and fun the experience is for everyone!

* If you want to get dinner somewhere local before or after your visit, The Royal Forresters pub is very close to Lapland UK or there's a Beefeater not far away where we had great service

*For older or more inquisitive children, have an explanation ready about why the Lapland snow isn't very cold to touch....and a reason why they shouldn't try to eat it like mine did! 

* If you want to see the huskies, look for them as soon as you get to the village...particularly if you're on an evening slot. They were the highlight of the trip for my son last year, but they retired for the evening about 10 minutes after we arrived to the village so we could have easily missed them! They're usually in the bandstand

If you are visiting Lapland UK, I hope you and your family have a magical visit. I'm really glad that we finally decided to go for it after lots of deliberating - it really has brought a lot of magic to our Christmases!

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