Sunday, 23 November 2014

Going on The Magical Journey

Last year, we took Ethan to meet Father Christmas. It was his first Christmas and although he was just shy of eight months old, it was something hubs and I still very much wanted to do. It was a memory to make and to show Ethan when he's older and I'm really glad we did it as Ethan was fascinated by it all and we have a wonderful family photo to display every Christmas now.

This year, we are even more excited as Ethan is obviously older and more interested in or understanding of things around him. Sure, he doesn't know what Christmas is about yet, but he knows that something exciting must be going on.

As you may have seen, I've been doing my research into where to see Santa in the Midlands and lots of different places are hosting Santa, his elves and, in some instances, his reindeer, to delight all the girls and boys.

To really get our Christmas season started, we booked tickets for the opening day of The Magical Journey - a Santa experience at The Belfry designed by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and promising to offer more than just your usual grotto.

There's really been a lot of buzz about this, with everyone I know talking about it and snapping up tickets. I can see why - The Magical Journey is about telling a story, more than just giving a gift from Santa's sack.




When we arrived, we had a look around the craft fair and food and drink stalls in the main tent. We were booked to start our journey at 5.20pm (groups are spread out 10 minutes apart, although each slot still has quite a few people signed up) and a friendly elf asked us all to line up before we were led through to a waiting area which was designed as a Father Christmas museum, complete with interesting artefacts in glass cabinets.

We were then taken through to meet Mrs Claus, Mary Christmas, who set the scene for the journey we were about to take, telling us that Father Christmas had lost his baby reindeer, Rudy, and asking us to help find him. The kids all seemed to enjoy meeting Mary and she had some sly jokes to tell that perhaps only the adults would understand...!

We then went to see Simon Cowell in elf form and I couldn't really hear much of what was happening but the children seemed to be joining in. Hubs could hear more than me and didn't thinks that he seemed particularly enthusiastic about his job, unfortunately.




We were then led to board the land train. The elves were very helpful and lent us a hand to put our pushchair on board. Ethan really woke up at this point, having been a bit unsure to begin with, and enjoyed the 'choo choo' a lot, although the journey was much shorter than we perhaps thought it would be. 

We were then greeted by some more elves and had a chat in a tipi tent before walking through the woods, which had been lit up nicely and sprinkled with fake snow. We met various elves on the way and they told us another part of the tale, where Rudy had last been seen and so on. They took photos for us and then we arrived at another tipi where we waited our turn to be guided by another elf to one of a few Santa cabins, discretely set out so as to not confuse the children. 

We were led through Christmas trees to our cabin and met a friendly Father Christmas who was warm and kind. Ethan wasn't sure at first but once we posed for a family photo, and he was given a gift, he perked up considerably! 

We were then told that Rudy had been found and we left the cabin to find Rudy and some other real reindeer outside - undoubtedly a highlight.




On our return through the tent, there was the chance to look at your photos and choose if you wanted to buy one. I took a snap of ours but we decided not to buy it as Ethan was doing his usually dodging the camera act.

The whole experience took us just over an hour and Ethan was happy, although still none the wiser as to what we were doing. 18 month olds, eh?!

So, how was The Magical Journey for us? Well, for any Santa visit, there's a few key criteria and for each of these, I have given a rating of candy canes out of five..

Authenticity

There's fake snow, good quality costumes, a lovely woodland setting and real reindeer... pretty Christmassy but something seemed lacking. Whether it was the lack of festive music or decorations, strangely I didn't think it felt that festive. The Magical Journey is well designed but there were still areas inside which felt a little incomplete, with exposed paneling or wiring and I guess having worked with LLB in the past myself, I expected it to be more over the top and extravagant, but in reality I don't think you would have been able to tell he'd had a hand in the design.







Helpfulness of the elves
There's a big team working at The Magical Journey and the elves looked the part and were friendly. They were also keen to help us with the pushchair and they very much kept things moving along, although some lacked enthusiasm.






Santa
Our Santa was friendly, had a hearty 'ho, ho, ho!' and we had a nice chat with him, that didn't feel rushed.








Gift
Ethan's ticket would cost £7.50 more than ours (£20 for the date and time we selected) so we were expecting a really good gift to reflect this. Father Christmas selected a gift from the sack, which wasn't wrapped, and Ethan received a wooden frog puzzle. Ethan's face lit up and I know it's something he will play with but it was a disappointment for me and couldn't have cost very much at all.






Value for money 
This experience has to be at the top end in terms of ticket prices and I think that elevates your expectations. The Belfry has built an 'experience' rather than a simple grotto and the detail given on the website is true to what you experience during your visit. That being said, the fair/market is smaller than expected and still seemed to be a 'work in progress' on the first day, the train journey was quite short and as mentioned, the gift wasn't representative of the extra money a child ticket costs compared to an adult ticket. I was invited to attend for the purposes of this review but our tickets would have cost £45 altogether (£12.50 each for hubs and I and £20 for Ethan, although some tickets can be higher depending on dates) and if I had paid that, I think I would have been disappointed. Essentially what you're  getting is an interactive queue whilst you're waiting for Santa, much like those you experience for the big rides at theme parks to make you forget you're standing in a very long line.






Overall experience
The Magical Journey has been promoted extremely well and so many people I know have been talking about it and clambering for tickets. I think it's because it's a new concept for the Midlands and perhaps a few things will be adapted as time goes on, bearing in mind we were there on the first night, but it didn't feel overtly magical in any way. The trouble about things like this is they can get over-hyped and people can perhaps expect too much. I would say that the price of admission commanded such expectations but overall, we enjoyed the experience, as did the children we saw during our visit, and that's the whole point really isn't it?










Note: As of 23rd November, following the response from visitors on the first day, the organisers of The Magical Journey decided to close the attraction until Wednesday 26th to rectify the issues raised. I think that this is encouraging to see and in my opinion, some things can be easily fixed - the main issue for us was the value of the gift and the lack of 'magical' feeling to the experience after all the excitement in the lead up to the opening.

You can read about this decision here and anyone who went on the first day is entitled to a refund or a return visit. Best check the Facebook page for further updates.


* I was kindly given complementary passes to visit The Magical Journey during its opening weekend. As ever, I have been honest in my review and feel that this fairly reflects the experience we had.
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4 comments

  1. Thanks for an honest review - the story sounds incredibly cute but I think you do want the experience and it sounds like the workers and the displays didn't offer that fully.

    Lizzie's Daily Blog

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  2. We visited last night, too, and I quite agree with you. We enjoyed it, but I've shared a few tips for improvements - http://wp.me/p3IDMM-27N

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  3. I'm astounded at the cost. We went to Millets Farm in Abingdon last year, it cost around £10 for N and under a fiver for me. His gift was of similar value to yours - although the children could choose their own gift from the 'toy workshop', we saw reindeer, made reindeer food and learnt songs with the elves, before Santa, the elves and Mrs Christmas told a story, then a photo, and choose the toy. Brilliant value, and apart from the train, sounds better than the value you had. Let's hope it improves in the time it's been closed.

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  4. Thanks for pointing me in the direction of your review, and for being so thorough. I am glad it had improved by the time you went back.x

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