– Ciara Leahy
“Is that Molly Leahy?”
A jolly voice rings out from behind the opulent curtain in the living room of Airfield House. My nearly two-year-old clings to me with trepidation but, as the curtain folds back, the smile of the man himself in red eases her anxiety.
Santa at Airfield Estate is warm and entertaining, making my daughter laugh as he asks for a cup of tea on Christmas Eve and a carrot for Rudolph. A present in a beautiful tote cloth bag is handed over, revealing a lovely cuddly cow and a hardback book (keeping in line with the theme of the working farm that is Airfield Estate).
The whole experience really was magical, cementing it as the place we plan to visit Santa for years to come. After we waved goodbye to the main man, we walked into a winter wonderland. First, we all got either a complimentary mulled wine or a hot chocolate and we sat down in a well-ventilated café.
After that, my little girl ran to the pièce de résistance: an old-fashioned carousel – and there were actual tears when we had to take her off the colourful horses. You then progress to activities for all the family: a cute kitchen where kids can decorate Christmas cookies, a little post room where you can write your letter to Santa, as well as a room with a full-sized Santa’s sleigh where you can gather for a family picture.
It was a memorable morning and we have a beautiful video of my little girl dancing around to Christmas music.
It is worth noting that, to keep Santa safe for Christmas Eve, there is no professional photographer in the room. You can take as many pictures as you want with your camera phone so it might be a good idea to plan your trip with friends or family so someone can take a picture for you (or consider bringing a selfie stick).
Masks are worn throughout your visit with Santa, except for the picture where, when Santa is standing behind you, in that instance you can remove your mask. A family picture of everyone can be taken on Santa’s sleigh, which costs €10.
Although the experience is currently booked out, one of the elves did whisper that slots do occasionally come available – so keep an eye on their website.
Tickets are: €22.50 per child, €5 for under two years and €13.50 for adults. www.airfield.ie
– Katherine O’Leary
“What does Santa say, Ricky?”
My little grandson answered “Ho ho ho!”
“What will Santa be wearing?”
“Ho ho hat!”
“What will he give Ricky?”
“PRESENT,” shouted Ricky from his car seat. He grinned in delight.
Diarmuid, Ricky and I were on our way to visit Santa in Dunnes Stores in Patrick Street, Cork. We parked up, crossed the Christy Ring Bridge, and walked up the street to the back door of Dunnes.
We took the lift to the third floor. We checked in at the appointed time. There was no queue. Two elves chatted with Ricky.
Red doors signalled the entrance to Santa’s cave. The doors opened and there was a green and white passageway. Santa, in all his glory, was at the end. Ricky stood - riveted – to the spot.
What to do now? His chin quivered as if he might cry. He looked back at Diarmuid, who encouraged him forward. Diarmuid caught his hand. Then Santa said: “Ricky, I hear you bring in the cows every evening with Tim!” The arms went up and the little boy relaxed at the mention of his favourite job.
“I hear you love tractors, loaders and cows,” continued Santa.
Ricky was now confident to take the seat by Santa. It was a golden moment and the beginning of his magical journey for many Christmases to come.
The whole process was efficient; from booking to getting the pictures. It was safe and as magical as it could be in the current climate. The two-year-old got a teddy that he named Paddy! That was one big job done for Christmas.
Tickets €6 per adult, €12 per child, €35 for USB memory stick with photos and printed photo | santaexperience.ie
– Janine Kennedy
“Are we there yet?” My five-year-old asks for the 11 billionth time on the 1.5-hour car trip from our house to the Rathwood Santa Experience. Located just outside of Tullow, Co Carlow, (but just over the Wicklow border), no one needs to let her know when we finally do arrive – the bright lights set amongst the deep country setting make it festively obvious.
The children catch glimpses of Rathwood’s Christmas fun fair from the car park, which only increases their excitement. As we wait in line for the “Santa train”, it’s hard to keep a hold on them. Luckily, besides a few other socially distanced families on the 5pm train, the crowds are at a minimum for the duration of our 1.5-hour stay.
We are met at reception and put into our “pod” (which is just the members of our family) and, once we board the Rathwood Express, the kids all break out into song. We make our way to a big top-style circus tent where we are treated to a musical performance by some comical elves and Mrs Claus before the big man himself makes his appearance.
While there is no direct visit with Santa this year, the girls were delighted with the singing, dancing and the gift they received after the show. At four, five and eight years of age, they were the perfect age for this Santa experience. If they were younger – or had sensory processing issues – this mightn’t have been the experience for them.
Now, it was a little bit disappointing that the kids didn’t actually “meet” Santa – he appears toward the end of the musical show and there is no direct engagement with any children – but this is due to their COVID-19 measures to keep Santa, and everyone else, as safe as possible. We still made some wonderful memories and my three little elves slept soundly the entire drive home.
Tickets are €23.95-26.95 per child; €14.95-17.95 per adult, €12.95-16.95 per baby (under 12 months)
– Amii McKeever
Creating a magical Christmas atmosphere takes some imagination, but it is fair to say that the elves at Westport House have achieved it in spades. For our visit to Santa, the McKeever family stayed in Hotel Westport, which is just a short woodland walk from the estate. As it was evening time, we were greeted with festive lighting across the bridge and on the beautiful 18th century house.
On entry to Tinsel Town – a snow-covered courtyard brimming with holiday cheer, an elf (ours was called Ringo) escorts families around the various activities.
Before seeing Santa, kids can toast marshmallows, get their faces painted, visit the live animal crib and make a yule log to take home. Santa himself was a real character; full of chat with the kids with some sardonic humour thrown in for the adults. The visit is individual to each family and Santa is well versed on the activities of the children. A photographer takes some pictures and the resulting images, thanks to Santa, will make any Grinch smile. Children pick their own gift and there are lots to choose from.
Although you can choose what way to complete your visit, we went to Westport House after visiting Santa. Mrs Clause meets you at the door beside the giant Christmas tree, open fires warm each room and there is hot chocolate and mulled wine to warm you after Tinsel Town. For fear that Santa didn’t get their letters, the McKeever children used the Wish Tree to copper fasten their gift requests.
Babies under one are free, €28.50 per child, €15 per adult. Range of options for photographs at an extra charge.
– Darren Carty
A visit to Donegal’s Lapland is a magical experience for all ages. Nestled in a picturesque setting on the Inishowen Peninsula, the visitor centre which operates as the popular Doagh Famine Village for several months of the year is transformed to a winter wonderland offering a unique visit to Santa’s village.
The fun-filled family experience is broken in two parts – a live indoor show followed by a visit to Santa’s village. The live show starts with Santa’s head elf explaining the Christmas story to children before the entertainment turns to Jack Frost’s juggling theatrics and Santa’s introduction which includes getting stuck in the chimney. Following lots of laughter, each child gets a face-to-face meeting with the main man where they are reminded of the importance of staying on the “nice list”.
This experience on its own would be impressive but a magnificent spectacle awaits. Visitors take the short walk from the indoor venue to Santa’s village. The lighting display on the thatch roofs and cottages bring the village to life and each cottage has a story to tell.
First up is the Christmas nativity scene and a display of polar bears, snow leopards and penguins followed by a visit to Santa’s house. Follow the igloo tunnel through the elves’ house and emerge at Donegal’s Lapland post office where children can write their letters to Santa and bring a copy to remind them they have committed to being good.
Santa’s toy workshop is working at maximum activity to get toys ready for Christmas and the sleigh filled while the presence of a deer, a pygmy goat and a pony add a nice twist. Of course no visit to Santa would be complete without receiving a present and there is a great selection suitable to all ages.
Ticket priced €15.50 per adult and children over two years of age (plus a €1.50 booking fee) €5 for children under two. Early booking for 2022 is advised | donegalslapland.ie