A FAMILY trip to visit Santa Claus and his elves at Christmas is a truly magical experience for your little ones.
However with possible queues, unpredictable tots and the anxiety inducing prospect of the presents running out, if you don't plan it meticulously it could end up being quite stressful for you.
Thankfully, 'Henley Santa' Michael Facherty is here to ensure you have a smooth and hassle-free trip to the grotto.
He's been a professional Santa for nearly 35 years, after initially playing Father Christmas for his children’s school.
He says: “I became a working Santa after I retired from my office job.
"I had a white beard and a big belly, so it would have been a waste not to do it!”
Here, he reveals how to ensure the best possible grotto trip for your kids this Christmas….
Check out the grotto’s reputation
You want a magical experience for your children rather than a military style “push them through” operation.
If your child didn’t like the grotto experience last year, consider alternatives.
There are train rides and boat trips with Santa, or breakfast with Santa or home visits and even Zoom calls.
If the grotto offers a formal photo with Santa, check that you can still take your own photos too as these will be more personal.
Book early and go early
Bookings are probably open now, and filling up [so book] as early as you can.
Calling the grotto late in December and asking for a slot on Christmas Eve pretty much guarantees disappointment!
Early booking gives you the widest choice of dates and (possibly) specific Santas.
Going early, both early in the season and early in the day, makes sure you meet Santa and his elves when they are fresh.
All children visiting our grotto get a really lovely soft toy. Year after year, families come who can list the toys that I gave in previous years, so there is no best time for best present.
If you have more than one phone in the group, have one taking video.
You will often miss the “perfect moment” for a photo but may be able take it as a screen capture from the video
If you have a baby, be ready to snap a picture when he or she first looks up at Santa’s face. This makes a wonderful shot.
How to keep kids calm
If you have nervous children, let them play in the grotto before trying for a formal photo.
Also, take some shots of them playing.
We can create chances for a “sneak shot” with Santa – if we know.
If you have a child with special needs, let the grotto know beforehand – we can dim the lights and keep our welcome quiet and more low key.
In my own grotto, I have a rocking reindeer and picture books and I have puppets in the Christmas tree.
The children don’t have to come straight to me, so they have time to get used to the grotto.
On one visit to the grotto, my elf advised that the little girl probably wouldn’t acknowledge or talk to me and would avoid eye contact.
That’s just how it went. As the family was leaving, the little girl ran back and grabbed me and said, “I love you Santa!”.
Her grown-ups teared up and I seemed to get something in my eye too!
Don't spoil the magic
And finally, what's Michael's number one tip?
"Never tell Santa that he is the best (or worst) Santa you have ever seen in front of a child.
"There is only one Santa and your child is meeting him!"
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