The Santa Experience at Marwell Zoo

What do you look for when you take your children to see Santa? With the myriad of opportunities available these days, I like to think it’s getting easier to find one that speaks to all your child’s needs, whatever they are.

For us, it’s important that there’s no pointless hanging around and even less that there’s any queuing. Oscar’s Autism isn’t massively sensorially based, but he does need to be able to move as much as possible and queuing just makes no sense to him (I often wonder if he’s really British at all ūüėČ Joke!), to the point it can make him anxious. He also struggles to concentrate for long periods of time on one thing, preferring lots of small activities to one big one.

So when we were invited to come and meet Santa at Marwell Zoo the description they gave to us ticked lots of our boxes straight off. No queuing, no pointless hanging around and plenty of activity. It sounded too good an opportunity to pass up.

Meeting Santa at Marwell Zoo is a real event. We’re not talking just chatting to a big man in a red suit and white beard, it’s a whole experience. We were well prepped as to what to expect and couldn’t have had a better time. We arrived at the zoo before our allotted time, which gave us time to go round beforehand. I think Oscar would have been heartbroken if we’d gone all the way to the zoo and not seen the animals, Santa or no Santa, so we were really grateful that our ticket included entrance to the zoo. However, it doesn’t have to be, if you’d rather just visit for the Christmas experience.

But first, giraffe

But first, giraffe

We made our way round the park in a loop, ending up at Marwell Hall and ready to start our Santa Experience. The visit was broken into sections, which while very clear, flowed brilliantly:

Join the elves in Magical Marwell Hall and warm yourself with a glass of mulled wine or blackcurrant and a festive treat.

We were welcomed to the perfectly beautiful Marwell Hall, by a team of elves, all dressed to the nines and all who seemed to have been thoroughly briefed on Oscar’s Autism and his needs, which was a wonderfully thoughtful touch. We got our drinks and Oscar had a mince pie before taking a real shine to one of the elves’ outfits. Mistletoe really earned her Nice badge that day by removing her shoes, apron and hat and letting Oscar try them on. Baring in mind this is the boy that doesn’t really do dressing up, he had a whale of a time! He was so happy, it bought a tear to my eye and we hadn’t even seen Santa yet!

Oscar takes a shine to Mistletoe the Elf's uniform. So she gives it to him to wear!

Oscar takes a shine to Mistletoe the Elf’s uniform. So she gives it to him to wear!

My little Elf

My little Elf

To amuse the children while we waited for everyone to arrive there was a touch screen Naughty and Nice list for the children to check, which I though was a really clever touch, especially as the children could find their own names on the Nice list and their favourite super villain on the Naughty list!

Be charmed by Mrs Claus whilst she reads the enchanting tale of ‚ÄėThe animals that saved Christmas‚Äô

I had explained to the staff beforehand, that Oscar was unlikely to sit and listen to a story. They¬†couldn’t have been more understanding and suggested that we skip that part of the experience if we wanted to. However, on the day we decided to give it a go. The staff¬†were prepared for him to leave at any point, which was very reassuring.

Mrs Claus was waiting for us in a gorgeous ‘woodland grotto’ complete with trees, snow, toadstools and tree stump cushions. She proceeded to read a beautiful Christmas story, set at the zoo and based around the animals, which was a clever touch. And blow me if Oscar didn’t sit with the other children and listen to part of the story. OK, he didn’t make it the whole way through, but by allowing him to move around as and when he needed he lasted for at least 3/4 of the story. It blew my mind!

You're not seeing things. Thats Oscar. Sat on a carpet. with other children. Listening to a story. Regardless of how long that lasted it happened and I couldn't have been prouder. The fact that Mrs Claus was wonderful and read such a cute story may have helped!

You’re not seeing things. That’s Oscar, right in the middle. Sat on a carpet. with other children. Listening to a story. Regardless of how long it¬†lasted, it happened and I couldn’t have been more proud. The fact that Mrs Claus was wonderful and read such a lovely¬†story may have helped!

Create your own Christmas cone tree

If Oscar had surprised me in the previous two sections, how he reacted in the craft based activity amazed me. We were lead into yet another beautifully decorated room, laid out with everything needed to make ice cream cone Christmas Trees. I expected him to just choff the sweets and ignore the craft, but I need to stop underestimating my boy. He sat and happily made a beautiful tree. As did mummy! The elves then wrapped them in cellophane and ribbons and when we were ready lead us to the main event!

Every family was assigned a table to make Cone Christmas Trees. Such concentration!

Every family was assigned a table to make Cone Christmas Trees. Such concentration!

Family Savage. A rare photo indeed!

Family Savage. A rare photo indeed!

Meet Santa in his sparkling grotto and receive a special gift

We had agreed with the park beforehand that Oscar would be the first child to go and see Santa, to avoid any prolonged waiting and they were as good as their word. The whole team knew Oscar was to go first and again their communication was much appreciated. We were lead¬†into another room, where Oscar was shown a curtain to pull back to reveal Santa’s grotto. It really was magical! After a quick peek he ran into the room and whilst he didn’t seem blown away by the fact that the big FC was sat there on a throne, he did go and chat with him, after having a look around the room.

Who's through there?

Who’s through there?

I really feel the ‘Santa’ can make or break an experience like this and Marwell’s Santa was fab. He¬†spoke to Oscar like you would expect, but I got the feeling he’d also been briefed on Oscar’s needs as he didn’t seem phased by Oscar’s apparent lack of interest. He didn’t ask for a hug or for Oscar to sit with him (although at one point Oscar chose to go and sit next to him) and he didn’t seem upset when Oscar’s most pressing question was “Where’s the presents?”. Love him. He didn’t mean “wheres my present?” (well not completely), it’s just you very rarely see Santa without presents in books and films do you? And he’s a literal thinker my boy. Santa happily handed over a gift, which we let Oscar¬†open immediately. And when Santa asked for high five, Oscar happily obliged. It was fantastic!

Oscar chose to go and sit with Santa. Even if he didn't want to look at him!

Oscar chose to go and sit with Santa. Even if he didn’t want to look at him!

Hey dude! Oscar meets Santa

Hey dude! Oscar meets Santa

The only thing I wished I’d done differently was taken the boy camera. Much of the experience was dimly lit and my iPhone photos just don’t do the day justice. We did however purchase two of the official photos of Oscar meeting Santa, which I thought were great value. Both were printed and framed in a carboard sleeve as you would expected, but we were also given hi res digital copies. All for ¬£10.

Oscar opens his first Christmas present of the year (a light sabre and a Star Wars sticker activity book!)

Oscar opens his first Christmas present of the year (a light sabre and a Star Wars sticker activity book!)

My boy is too cool for school. Who wants to hug Santa when you can High Five!

My boy is too cool for school. Who wants to hug Santa when you can High Five!

Thoughts

Would I go back? Totally. If the staff were as understanding and well briefed as this time, I’d be there in a shot. Oscar loves Marwell and has done for years. Who wouldn’t want their child to meet a real childhood icon in their favourite place in the world?

We had such a lovely day and we really did make a whole day of it. Although I do fear it’s kind of ruined shopping centre Santa’s for us for life ūüėČ

A day well spent!

A day well spent!

 

 

 

Thank you so much to Marwell for the invitation to meet Santa.

I was not paid to write this review and as always all opinions are my own.

Our Favourite Five – July 2016

There just seems to be so much negativity all over social media at the moment. So here’s Our Favourite Five for July to try and redress the balance!

1. Dyson Cordless Vacuum

We love Dyson in our house. We’ve never owned any other brand of vacuum in 18 years of adulting together! Despite our last purchase (an Dyson Animal D23 we bought in 2010) still going strong, our lives have changed significantly in the 6 years since we got it. We’ve gone from a professional couple in a one floor apartment to a young family in a three story period cottage. Think steep stairs. Lots of ’em. Anyway I’ve been lusting after a cordless Dyson for a few years now. They just made so much sense to me. However Ben wasn’t convinced they’d be good enough for cleaning a whole house, or to be fair, that the whopping price tag was worth it, especially when we already had a machine that worked well enough. However, things they are a changing round Casa del Savage at the moment. With Oscar starting school in September I decided that a cleaner was no longer going to be a weekly expense I could justify, meaning I was going to have to go back to cleaning myself. Meaning I needed a decent machine, fit for purpose. And not one I was afraid would fall on my head every time I vacuumed the stairs.

Ben finally capitulated in July and we got a Dyson Cordless Absolute V8. And it’s already changed the way we clean the house. It’s just so easy to grab at the end of every day when we put Oscar’s toys away and give the tiny downstairs a once over before we sit down to our evening. Or should Oscar (or myself to be honest) make a mess in the day, it’s just so quick to grab and sort out. The battery is fabulous and I’ve done the entire three floor house on one charge (the battery only drains while you pull the trigger, so in between rooms it’s saving all the energy it can – clever!) It makes me sad that we didn’t have something like this sooner. It would have been a boon when Oscar was weaning!

And Ben is also completely sold. He’s just as happy to grab it and spend ¬†the two minutes it takes to clean the downstairs as I am. Thank you Dyson for giving all your cleaners the look and feel of military hardware (at least in my husbands eyes!)

The Dyson V8 Absolute is kept in its charging bay in the conservatory. Always ready to tackle any job!

The Dyson V8 Absolute is kept in its charging bay in the conservatory. Always ready to tackle any job!

Dyson cordless vacuum

The new love of my life

2.Thaikhun

You may have read my previous post about the Thai Street Food restaurant Thaikhun earlier this week. I took Oscar and you can read about my thoughts on the eatery from a parent’s perspective in my review. However at the end of July, I decided to do a really nice thing for some of my mummy blogger friends who have helped and supported me recently. So I arranged an End of Term celebration at Thaikhun Guildford for us all. I wanted us to breathe a sigh of relief that we’d made it to the end of term and take a steeling breath to prepare us for the holidays! And what better way to do that than get the ladies together and have cocktails and wonderful food in a really fun location? Thaikhun were kind enough to host and we can’t thank them enough!

We started the evening with spicy crackers and cocktails! Elfa from Californian Mum in London and I began with a Thai Takeaway Рnot dinner but a cocktail in a box! Then the non drivers among us moved on to drinks in a bag! Seriously, a bag!

Woman drinking cocktail

A Thai Takeaway. A cocktail in a box? Yes please!

A 'Street Sipper' literally came in a plastic bag!

A ‘Street Sipper’ literally came in a plastic bag!

I wasn't so sure. I mean it's not the most elegant of drinking vessels. But it was actually delicious!

I wasn’t so sure. I mean it’s not the most elegant of drinking vessels. But it was actually delicious!

The four of us then had starters. Maria from¬†Suburban Mum won that round with the most gorgeous looking Tempura Prawns! And I would have to say I won the mains round with my beloved Moo Prik King – Pork Belly in Red Curry Sauce, but then I am a bit biased! We talked and laughed and talked some more.¬†When I told the girls about the worms they’d given Oscar and I, Elfa insisted we get our own to try!¬†We had such a great night and we would like to thank Thaikhun Guildford for being such wonderful and accommodating hosts. I’d also like to say thank you to the girls for coming from all over Surrey to join me and especially to Alice from Three Men, a Little Lady and Me for giving me a lift. Thaikhun is the best kind of place for a girlie night out with your chums, we had a super night!

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Thank you ladies. Photo courtesy of Californian Mum in London

3.Trains

Oscar’s been a die hard fan of Thomas the Tank Engine for a long time now, but has only just recently started to look at modern trains with an understanding that they are also trains. Until recently we’d avoided taking him on a train ride as A) we weren’t sure he’d enjoy it or B) that he’d be able to¬†sit for any length of time. However, he’s recently become much better at following instructions and using public transport without the buggy (we’ve been walking and getting the bus for preschool every day in July). So a couple of weeks ago we finally decided to give it a go. And he LOVES it. I mean LOVES it. From buying the ticket, to the waiting on the platform to riding on the actual train, he gets so much out of it. It’s also opened up doors for days out that we just didn’t have before.

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We also love the one of the ticket staff in Haslemere Station. She very kindly made Oscar his own special ticket, when she saw how excited he was at going on a rail journey. She didn’t need to do that and it really touched me! Thank you South West Trains ticket lady!

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4.Pick Your Own

I love berries and there really is no better or fresher way of getting them than picking your own.¬†We’ve not gone for a few years, as Oscar has struggled to cope with new places and not running off, however this year we thought it was time to try again. So a few weeks ago we took him to Secretts Pick Your Own in Milford. And what can I say; he amazed us! Awesome at picking the best looking strawberries, he enjoyed it so much we ended up with an enormous bucket full! Although no need to worry, Strawberries are Oscar’s favourite and they all got eaten! We came back with Raspberries and Strawberries and Rhubarb and even Sunflowers. Such a fun day out and such good value too! No way could you buy as many berries for the price of pick your own in the supermarkets. And the taste? I swear it’ll catapult you back to childhood.

Strawberries

All of the Strawberries!

raspberries

It was so relaxing picking this many raspberries, especially when I found some canes away from where the noisy family (not mine) were

Sunflowers

How gorgeous are these Sunflowers? I just love them against the brickwork of our fireplace!

5.Marwell Zoo

We’ve been to Marwell Zoo a few times now. Oscar likes it there, but for the most part I haven’t enjoyed our trips. I think its primarily because I have found it so hard to deal with the fact that Oscar is accessing the park in a completely different way to how one would expect a child to access a Zoo. He hasn’t ever really showed much interest in the animals and has always just run from one thing to the next. It’s been exhausting and also made me feel like we could be anywhere, a park near the house would be giving him as much as a Zoo an hour away. However, this time we went I was more prepared to let him go where he wanted and do what he found¬†interesting. And yes much of that was the play parks around the Zoo, but he also LOVED the train that went round the park and he did actually start to pay attention to the animals (He loved the giraffes). The best bit was that this was the first visit where we didn’t leave with him in mid melt down!

 the Marwell Zoo train

He loved the Marwell Zoo train, Well it was a train afterall!

Boy and giraffe at Marwell Zoo

He was fascinated by the giraffe. Who wouldn’t be?

It wont always be a great day out, I get that, but this time really was. And I think that was largely down to me managing my expectations and coming to terms with who he is.

PLyground at Marwell Zoo

His favourite was still the playground. Ahh well!

What were your favourites last month I’d love to know!

 

I would like to thank Thaikhun for their hospitality and hosting our Mummy Bloggers End of Term Celebration.

I paid for my Dyson myself. Well Ben did. But you know what I mean! As always all opinions are my own.