Last week I highlighted 12 great Santa experiences happening around the country and this week I'm sharing my families experience of visiting Santa at the destination that suits us, and our GAA loving kids, the best.

Here are three of the 12 Top Santa experiences taking place around the country:

1. Santa’s Grotto at Dublin Zoo

Wander through the traditional and enchanting grotto and be greeted by Santa’s elves in the animated winter wonderland. Kids will receive a gift and photo to keep as a special memento of their time with Santa. The whole family can also enjoy a variety of festive fun including Christmas arts and crafts, face-painting and warm treats.  After sharing their list with Santa, children can then explore the wonder of Dublin Zoo

2. Christmas Island, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow

Christmas Island is in Hidden Valley Holiday Park in Rathdrum and your experience will include an exciting journey on The North Pole Express, a trip to Christmas Island where you’ll meet Mrs. Claus, make a Christmas decoration, and you’ll have fun with the Elves.

You will then depart Christmas Island on Santa’s giant sleigh boat headed to see the big man himself in Santa’s Grotto.

3. The Santa Express, Waterford

If rail travel is your thing then the Santa Express will be of interest to you. You and your family will board the Santa Express at Kilmeadan Station and set off on an exciting 20min train journey along the banks of the River Suir while listening to festive music. When you return your little ones get to meet Santa in his railway cottage to have a chat, make their Christmas wish and get their much-anticipated present.

Read the full article: Digital Dad: 12 Places to Visit Santa in Ireland here.

The Santa Experience at Croke Park
Now in its third year, The Santa Experience at Croke Park had been on our radar last year but between one thing and another we never made it. On Saturday however, having planned a visit to my aunt in Drumcondra (hi Pam), we decided to kill two birds with one stone and pay Santa a visit. We were not disappointed.

We’ve been to numerous Santas over the past few years and it’s always interesting (for me anyway) to see the setup of each and how buildings are transformed into a Santa wonderland.

Thing 1 & Thing 2 being five and three respectively wouldn’t give two hoots about this as the climax for any kid visiting Santa is to receive a present. For me, though, I was particularly interested in seeing how Croke Park – the HQ of our beloved GAA – could be decked out and setup to house Mr Claus. 

Arriving 20 minutes early, we announced ourselves with Thing 3, our four-month-old burrito, screaming for a bottle and a nappy change. I quickly snuck off and checked in with Thing 1 & Thing 2 who both received name badges from the very friendly staff. With time on our hands we walked around the GAA museum – included in the ticket price – where the boys marvelled at all the flags, photos and medals not to mention big Sam Maguire of course. 

At 1.30 The Santa Experience started and with circa 10 other families also in the group, the excitement on all the little faces was lovely to see. First off, our excellent Santa guide sat all the kids down in a circle and asked them questions about Croke Park and Santa, and why Santa chose same. This got the kids really excited about what the next 60 mins would entail. We then headed off to the Toy Factory where the kids were given the opportunity to post their Santa letters and to see where the elves make the toys.

Next up was a visit to the Elf Quarters aka the player changing rooms, which were decked out with Christmas paraphernalia and multiple elf bunk beds each of which the children were welcome to lie down on or sit on. Numerous elf costumes were also draped around the room adding to the atmosphere. For the adults, it was hard to get away from the fact that you’re in the player changing rooms but the kids seemed oblivious to this which is all the matters I suppose.  

From here we met Twinkle the Elf who brought us through various hallways and walkways – all lit up with lights and enhanced where possible with Christmas decorations – to meet Santa, who was purposely asleep in his grotto. As the kids took their seats they were encouraged to shout as loud as they could to wake up Santa which he dually obliged after three attempts. This again added to the fun and excitement, and Santa himself was very friendly, very chatty and funny and I particularly liked the accent that he put on. It was a nice touch. After a group rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and a few jokes it was time to meet the man himself.

Although it was a group visit, each family were given a few minutes to meet with and chat with Santa individually, pose for photos and of course receive the much-anticipated gifts. Needless to say, the kids loved the whole thing.

On exiting the grotto and wishing Santa well, we were brought out for a sneak peak of the famous Croke Park pitch where all of Santa’s reindeer ‘live’. We were then guided back to the GAA Museum where we were free to roam the various rooms and enjoy the interactive games room. Again, the kids loved this.

All in all I thought the experience was very good. Compared to other Santa experiences it’s at a good price point, there’s free parking, the presents are quite good and its buggy friendly.

Yes at times it can be hard to get away from the fact that you’re in a big concrete structure but the Croke Park team did a good job in dressing up the rooms as best they could. This was always going to be a different experience to a ‘magical forest walk’ and if the latter is what you’re looking for then Croke Park will not be your thing. At times the high ceilings and certain bare walls did take the magic away from it slightly but listen I’m a cynical 35+ adult (ahem) so it was never about me. The kids loved it and that’s all that matters.

I thought our Santa tour guide was very good, very friendly and very knowledgeable but it would have been nice to see the guides dressed up as elves just to add to the experience. It would also have been nice to have had a mince pie and/or hot chocolate waiting for us at the cafe after visiting the pitch but that’s my Dad bod talking. These are minor points however and they certainly didn’t take away from the overall experience.

Would we go back? Definitely. Would we recommend it? Definitely. Did the kids enjoy it? Ho Ho Hoooo Yes!

Click here for more information on the Santa Experience at Croke Park:

DD

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