The air is crisp, the stars are shining bright, and the howl of huskies echo in the distance. An elf leads us through an enchanted, snow-covered forest, past a herd of reindeer and a Sami herdswoman. As we enter Santa’s grotto, my two-year-old son is in awe at his first meeting with Father Christmas, whilst we parents are whisked back to the wonderment of childhood.
No, this isn’t an adventure north of the Arctic Circle, but a lost corner of southeast England that has been transformed into Santa’s very own winter wonderland thanks to a Nordic makeover by the team behind the Harry Potter movies.
Now in its third winter, LaplandUK is the country’s leading winter theme park, and the best attempt around to bring the magic of Santa’s homeland to Blighty.
The concept was conceived in 2006 by Mike and Alison Battle, a husband and wife team that wanted to recreate Father Christmas’ mythical Arctic homeland here in the UK.
Occupying a ten-acre area of woodland south of Tunbridge Wells, LaplandUK is more of a journey than a visit to a theme park – elves greet you at the entrance then take you to their toy factory where the kids help to make gifts for Santa. Then it’s off to decorate gingerbread in Mother Christmas’ kitchen, send a postcard from the North Pole Post Office, followed by skate around the ice rink.
You can also visit the mystical Sami people for traditional Nordic storytelling at their woodland encampment and leave with a toy husky dog.
With tickets ranging between £57.50 and £87.50, the park has come under criticism for its pricing. That said, making the littleuns’ yuletide fantasies come true works out somewhat cheaper that flying to real Lapland for the day, as well as leaving a far smaller carbon footprint.
The park is also a million miles from Lapland New Forest (a.k.a Blunderland), a copycat version that was forced to close in its first year after youngsters were left in tears and parents sorely out of pocket.
Visitors to Lapland New Forest were promised an entrancing nativity scene, a magical tunnel of light and a spectacular ice rink but instead turned up to an unfinished site with a broken ice rink, muddy nativity scene, chained-up huskies and Santa seen puffing away on a cigarette.
In stark contrast, LaplandUK prides itself on offering a five-star Santa experience. Included in the price is a hearty, organic supper (dishes include Norfolk Gold Turkey, Leek & Ham Pie; Scottish Smoked Haddock, Salmon & Hake Pie), and generous gifts for both adults and children.
The park buzzes with the excitement and expectation of children as they are about to meet Father Christmas, yet it never feels overcrowded. There are elves always on hand to tend to your every need.
And, most importantly, Santa is amazing. He exudes an otherworldliness, spends time with your child, and makes them feel the most important being in the world. And that feeling is priceless.
Bewl Water Estate, Lamberhurst, near Tunbridge Wells. Open until Christmas Eve. Bookings must be completed in advance and can be made on-line at www.laplanduk.co.uk, t: 0871 221 9627