I’m not sure how it has happened but it’s December next week . . . and we all know what that means! I flipping love Christmas – but in December, so as soon as the 1st of the month hits I’m ready to go full throttle festive and for us this usually means a trip to Stockeld Park to see Father Christmas. We’ve been visiting Father Christmas at Stockeld Park since Chloe was born and only missed one year since! Amy was tiny and I couldn’t drive after my section so we went to Tatton Park instead – it was “fine” but we were keen to get back to the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park the following year!
Before the school day became an issue for us we used to go on a Friday afternoon right at the start of December meaning that it was a little quieter (and also meant it was still counted as off-peak so slightly cheaper too!). Now that we have Ben and Chloe in full time school we are more restricted so tend to pick the first weekend in December – of course this counts as “peak” and as such is more expensive but I still think it’s a great value day out. Going at the start of December makes it a really lovely way to kick off the festive period and also means we’ve got time to sort out any surprise requests when they see Father Christmas!!
11 things we love about the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park
1. There’s so much to do that you don’t have to pay for (and a range of options for those that you do!)
This is a really important factor as it would be easy to spend an absolute fortune on visiting the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park – Once you’ve paid for your tickets for Santa’s Grotto, things like ice skating or the Enchanted Forest are an additional cost (although you can buy Adventure Day passes which cover all the Adventure Zones at a discount). Over the years we’ve tried out different combinations of Stockeld Park activities and tickets but it’s perfectly possible to spend several hours at Stockeld Park without spending much over the cost of your Grotto ticket price (£11 per child) – in fact I think that’s probably what we will aim to do this year.
There’s two play areas which are free to use – one indoor (which I must admit we’ve tended to avoid, preferring to stay outside if we can) and one outdoor play. One of my favourite things about the outdoor play area (also known as Farmer Foster’s Barnyard) is the well thought out artificial grass in places meaning it’s possible to enjoy a spot of hill rolling even on a cold, damp day – trust me, my children have tried this.
2. Allotted times to see Father Christmas to minimise queuing
Anyone who has tried to queue for any length of time with a small child will know how much of a big deal this is! We have been to the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park before when a less effective queuing system was in place and we stood outside in the cold for SO long – it really took the shine off the experience. Last year they had it absolutely spot on, you were given a number on arrival (reminiscent of going to the butcher’s counter in the supermarket) and you basically just had to keep an eye on the signs around the park letting you know which number was next, once your number was displayed you could head down to the grotto for your turn. Any queuing after this happens indoors where it’s warm and it all becomes part of the magic so you don’t mind half as much!
3. Incredible hot chocolate
Of course if you’re visiting the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park, you have to expect that it’s going to get pretty cold. It doesn’t matter how well wrapped up you are, at some point the need for a hot chocolate is going to hit you and the guys at Stockeld Park have got you covered. As well as The Woodland Cafe which is indoors (and I must admit we’ve never found a seat in) there’s also the Lake View Cafe which is essentially a large marquee and Hansel’s Cabin in the main forecourt. I know in the past there’s been quite a big queue at Hansel’s Cabin but it was well worth it for the delicious hot chocolate!
4. The gorgeous gift shop
Now I do love a good gift shop and Stockeld Park doesn’t disappoint – at this time of year the gift shop is packed to the rafters with gorgeous Christmas decorations and toys – I’m sure it get’s bigger every year. (It’s also worth mentioning that it’s perfectly possible to avoid going into – there’s nothing worse than an attraction which exits through the gift shop when you’ve got three small children with you!)
5. A real ice skating rink
I do think there’s something gloriously festive about ice skating so it seems like the perfect activity to have at Stockeld Park during the winter months. Skate hire is included in the ticket price and the penguin skate aids are free to use on a first come, first serve basis. Ice skating at Christmas with the Butlers has become something of a tradition for us now (and one which we’re really looking forward to again this year). We haven’t braved taking all three children on our own as when we had the chance to at Stockeld Park last year, Dave had a broken elbow and getting on the ice with the kids on my own really wasn’t going to happen!
6. The Enchanted Forest
The Enchanted Forest has been a key part of our visits to Stockeld Park at Christmas over the years – we try to time it for late afternoon so it’s starting to get dark as we go into the forest, by the time we come out the other end it’s properly dark and you can really feel the full effect of all the magical twinkly lights. The downside of going into the forest at this time is that you can’t take full advantage of the additional play areas which have been added in recent years. (I keep promising the kids we’ll go back for the Summer Adventure again but have yet to manage it!) I love that there is a clearly defined route around the forest and the kids really enjoy finding the things they remember from previous trips (like the trolls under the bride) or new things that have been added.
7. A range of play areas to suit different ages
As I’ve already mentioned – there’s an indoor play area in the Woodland Cafe and a Farmer Foster’s Barnyard which are free to use and are situated centrally. As you walk through the Enchanted Forest you will come across four large adventure playgrounds which are spread out along the route. What I love about these is that there’s something to suit each of my children – Ben loves all the ropes and climbing of the Spider’s Lair whereas Amy prefers Woodsand’s Cove. The only downside is trying to get them to move onto the next space – I usually manage it with an as yet unfulfilled promise of returning when the weather is warmer!
8. Plenty of free parking
Something which really annoys me is turning up to a large attraction where I’m already going to spend quite a bit of money, and then being expected to pay for parking too. Thankfully that’s not the case at Stockeld Park – the parking is free and plentiful (albeit on grass so maybe don’t take your fancy sports car!)
9. Friendly, helpful staff
Clearly at an attraction like this, the staff can really make or break the experience and it’s safe to say that in our experience, the staff at Stockeld Park really do make it. Everyone is super friendly and helpful and keen to add to the magic of your day out.
10. Gorgeous gifts
One of the things I love most about visiting Father Christmas at Stockeld Park is the gifts – there’s no rubbish plastic tat here. Every child gets the same gift – and every year it is a different cuddly toy. We now have a collection of them – a reindeer, a penguin, husky dog and a seal I think from memory and each year they get packed away with the Christmas decorations. It has become part of our Christmas traditions, to keep these cuddly toys just for the festive season. The kids love getting them out at the start of December and adding a new one to their team!
11. The REAL Father Christmas
And finally, the most important point of all. The Father Christmas at Stockeld Park is the REAL one! We all know he has lots of helpers who work in the various grottos around the country making sure that everyone gets a chance to ask for whatever present they would like but the one at Stockeld Park? It’s really him. I just know it.