Visiting Santa is part of many familys Christmas traditions in the build up to the big day. With Louie and his autism it has always been a tricky activity as visits to Santa usually involve an agonising lengthy queue. Once at the front of the queue you are left bedraggled from an hour of tantrums and whinging and greeted by an overly cheerful elf who then leads you in to see Father Christmas.
This year I was adamant it was going to be a better experience as I didn’t want Alice and Boss Baby (my 20 month old) missing out. Therefore we decided to book Bressingham Steam in Norfolk. Having previously visited in Spring last year we knew what to expect which is always an advantage with Louie. We spent the last week showing Louie the Christmas advert on the Bressingham website and photos of the last time we went. With Polar Express being his favourite Christmas film and his love of trains, he was very excited about the visit.
Bressingham is a small site which features various steam trains and rides. It has a museum with a collection of engines and vehicles as well as a museum showcasing British memorobillia. There is a stunning carousel which you can ride 3 times. There are gardens and a little play area located at the entrance which were beautiful in the spring when we visited.
On arrival the children immediately wanted to ride the carousel so we all jumped aboard. The elder two on horses, the Irishman and Boss Baby on the sleigh and myself left balanced precariously on a frightening looking ostrich – turkey like creature, which Alice sulked about not being able to ride. It was great fun and gave us a real festive feel as the steam calliope (steam organ) played out Christmas tunes in that distinctly, enchanting charm that encompasses a vintage fair.
After we had a wander around the surrounding tracks and sheds to allow Louie to have a feel for the surroundings with its various noises, sights and smells. Various unused engines sat awaiting investigation from my 3 inquisitive explorers as well as a large static steam engine which was an impressive sight although extremely loud and continually made us jump throughout the day!
When booking the day we were asked to book a 2 hour slot in which to visit Santa’s Grotto. I chose 12 till 2 but was still concerned about the waiting in queues in regards to Louie. I asked at reception if there was any assistance available for autistic children but there was not. However I was advised by management that the closer to the end of the slot the less likely the waiting time. Also for anyone booking if you let Bressingham know in advance of an additional needs they will cater to them. We arrived at quarter to 2 and had a short wait but still long enough to cause Louie distress in usual circumstances. Thankfully there were little activities and attractions along the queue for the children to occupy themselves with including a sleigh to sit in and a fishing game with magnets.
The Elf on duty led us through to the Grotto entrance where the children could peer through the window at a cosy, twinkling, front room and empty armchair. Once Santa had entered the children could then go through. They stood star struck for a while before realising they could enter and speak to the big man himself! Louie was a little overwhelmed at this point and spent the remainder of the visit behind the Irishmans legs but did hastily shout out he would like a “big walking dinosaur.” Alice chatted away casually letting him know exactly what her and both brothers would like. The Boss Baby eyed the bearded stranger suspiciously and then took the present and ran for the door.
The whole experience was relaxed and personal to us. In the past I have felt overwhelmed with the whole experience myself. Some seem to be so much focused on the photograph at the end and the money from it that the whole experience is about perfecting the perfect pose. I have felt pressurised to try ensemble all the family into the picture creating an awkward, uncomfortable result. However today there wasnt any photographer barking orders and arranging family members, instead we were given a fair amount of time to speak to Santa and look around and take our own photos on phones if we wanted (Alice was the only one to comply) This was the first year that Louie actually entered the room with Santa and I was very proud of how he handled the situation. I believe the calmness and relaxed environment of Bressingham aided our positive experience also.
Afterwards we went to a little play room full of train tables and games for primary school aged children. All the children seemed to love being able to play and the Irishman and I enjoyed a well deserved sit down and catch up (as well as the husband checking football scores)
Finally it was time to board the Santa Express. When we visited in April there were 3 trains running however today there was just one with a longer route. The trains approximately ran every half hour. We climbed aboard the carriage and the children sat in awe watching the smoke billowing into the crisp winters air as the vintage steam engine chuffed gently through woodland and fields. Louie sat entranced at the window taking in all of the sensory experiences of the journey whilst Alice chatted merrily spotting as many of the hidden Christmas decorations she could along the trail. Boss Baby did as the majority of 20 month old babies do and kicked the seats, head butted the window and created as much chaos as only a toddler in a confined carriage will create.
After one last go on the “gallopers” we were ready to head home. The children all successfully fell asleep enroute home, after a stop at that wholesome, nutritious, five star restaurant we sometimes frequent (OK it was McDonalds) Now after a wonderfully festive day I am sitting with my Irishman with a glass of wine surrounded by fairy lights unwinding. I often preach about the “picture perfect” illusions across social media especially around Christmas time and the pressure they can have on parents. Our family days out are far from “Instagram picture perfect” I have no photo of my children together with Santa today or even any of us as a whole family but I do have cherished memories of a little boy with his eyes lit up seeing a huge train he reffered to as “Polar Express,” a little girl who had some individual time to sit and speak to Santa in peace and a toddler experiencing those first sparks of recognition of a time of year that is full of magic. Those memories will always be perfect and enough for me.
I would love to hear your Christmas experiences and visits over the holiday period. Please feel free to leave me a comment and I wish you all a Merry Christmas!
PS voting is still on for the UK Blog awards and I am still bugging those who love my work and feel I deserve a well earned night out an awards ceremony to vote for me here on this link! Many thanks as always.