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Review of the Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm, Updated for 2023

Marsh Farm Christmas review, updated for 2023 to reflect new prices, with procedures and performances based on previous years when press were invited.

Marsh Farm Christmas Review: It’s Pricey – But is It Worth It?

Marsh Farm Christmas Experience

[Ad/press trip] We’ve visited Father Christmas in Essex at the North Pole (otherwise known as Marsh Farm) on four separate occasions now. We went three years running, starting in 2017, and then again in 2021 (it was inevitability rained off in 2020).

Anybody who’s been will know that the (roughly) two hour Marsh Farm Christmas experience is very popular – but is it worth the expense?

Unfortunately press have not been invited for the last two years, and so I’ve not attended, which may already give you an idea of what my ultimate opinion is.

However, if you’re looking for an in-depth review of the experience, this post should hopefully still give you a reasonable idea of what to expect, even if it’s a little outdated at this point.

I’m leaving in the information about COVID (it helps this post rank and be seen when you search for reviews on Google), so feel free to skip past that section to the tips to get the most from your experience!

Our Review of The Marsh Farm Christmas Experience

A child wearing pink gloves holds the Marsh Farm Christmas Experience programme open.

Back in 2017, despite warning the PR that I was mega busy with blog work and couldn’t commit to a full feature in return, they were keen for us to attend nonetheless – which I think shows their pride in what they’ve put together.

There was nothing like that around when I was a kid!

In the event, I dug deep to find that time, so this is my full review of the 2017 Marsh Farm Christmas tour, also updated for subsequent years.

What We Love About the Marsh Farm Father Christmas Experience, Essex

Here are all the reasons we adore Marsh Farm at Christmas…

  • Captivating festive scenes

I don’t want to spoil it for anybody who goes along – and I bet there will be a lot of you. So I won’t give too much away – but suffice to say some of the winter scenes were magical in 2017.

Put it this way – there was nothing like that around when I was a kid!

The scale and level of detail of some of the settings were just incredible. I was completely enchanted – and I’m not an impressionable child! (To be fair, I am an impressionable adult – Lapland is my bucket list holiday.)

Marsh Farm Christmas Polar Bear
Animatronics polar bear at the Marsh Farm Christmas Experience in 2019.

While the magic is still very much alive in 2019, the beauty of the sets was not quite so apparent.

It’s extremely well done.

For example, where previously there have been stunning wintry walkways between buildings, this time one of them was not lit (there were lights, but they weren’t on!), the ground was boggy, and the wow factor was missing.

Likewise, the snowy scene in the featured image (top of this page) is from 2017, but that same window looked fairly bare in 2019.

That’s not to suggest it’s not still very good – it is. But whereas previously I’ve been completely blown away, this year it was not quite so mesmerising.

Marsh Farm Christmas Experience
Snowy walkway at the Marsh Farm Christmas Experience in 2017.

Having returned again in 2021, I have to say the beauty of the winter scenes from 2017 have sadly not returned to their former glory, but nonetheless, it’s still very festive.

The image above shows the snowy scene of 2017, and below is from 2021, which is still lovely, if not quite so snowy.

A festive scene of Christmas trees and wooden reindeer covered in faux snow.
A winter scene from 2021.

I also wish there was some music playing along the walkways between the buildings though to add atmosphere. I can’t remember if that existed in previous years, but it definitely seemed an oversight this year so I wouldn’t be surprised.

  • The magic!

On the other hand, the wizardry has been stepped up for 2019. Illusions that we adults were unable to explain make Marsh Farm’s Christmas experience second to none. I don’t want to give away the secrets, but it’s extremely well done.

(I have to mention that while still very good, this element was less apparent in 2021, replaced with other entertainment, which I’ll talk about more later.)

  • The fantastic actors

One aspect in particular that really emphasised the fantasy of it all was the dedication the actors had to their art – they stayed in character and were totally committed to it, even when interacting with the adults.

Mother Christmas singing with the children.
Mother Christmas singing with the children.

They were very impressive, particularly if they’re not actually actors (I don’t know either way, but some looked familiar so may work there year round?).

  • Entertainment and activities

There are also lots of bits and pieces handed out during the tour, including magic wands, treats and gifts – there’s even a little something for the parents at the end. Although it contains dairy, sob… (Thankfully no longer an issue for me in 2019!)

If you happen to be a regular reader then you’ll be aware that my youngest remains dairy free, and therefore this is something I continue to be mindful of. For those interested, the gift for parents in 2021 is very lovely (and if I’m not mistaken supports our local garden centre which is fab), however it does contain milk.

The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm
  • Gifts

In addition to magic wands and gingerbread, every year the children get a gift at the end of the tour as well as a stuffed toy. For 2021 they also received an apron to take home too.

  • Father Christmas

Mr C at Marsh Farm is one of the very best. This year (2021) my husband came away saying he believed he was the real one (ha), and our girls definitely did.

What We Didn’t Love About the Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm

Unfortunately there were a few issues which warrant a mention…

  • A smell

During our 2017 visit, there was a ‘smell’ (sulphur) in an area where the children were decorating biscuits. I can’t be sure what it was, but I presume it was related to the marshes.

Naturally we can’t hold a business responsible for that, but it’s not nice when handling food. (This was resolved in our subsequent visits in 2018, 2019, and 2021, so perhaps not the marshes after all!)

  • Layout

In 2017 the different areas of the experience were located on opposite ends of the farm. This won’t pose a problem for everyone, but it’s not ideal for small children, particularly in cold weather.

But, my hubby disagrees and says it adds to the adventure.

The back of a truck with letters to Santa spilling out of it.

By 2019, the entire experience had been moved to the same area, which is a trek across the farm, but at least once you’re there, you’re there. They also now have hot drinks and refreshments available at the beginning, though they’re not complementary, despite the cost of the experience.

In 2021, they’ve introduced a free hot chocolate for each adult. This is a lovely gesture, however it’s unfortunately not available until the very end of the tour.

We cut and ran without getting our drinks as it was late, but I can envisage this potentially posing an issue for cold/expectant children!

  • Temperature

Most of the rooms appear to be unheated and when it’s cold outside, it can get blimmin’ freezing. If you’re looking for a positive spin, I suppose it adds something to the authenticity… Still true in 2019.

In 2021, the weather was a little milder, or they have invested in heating, hard to say but I certainly stayed warmed this year!

  • Younger children

In 2017 I gave feedback to the farm that though their tiny elf entrance to Mrs Claus’ kitchen was very cute for the kids, if not handled extremely sensitively, it could upset younger children.

A festive Christmas kitchen.

My eldest was just three at the time and was ushered away from us and through a separate entry. She became very distressed (as did we as while we were unable to reach her!) and it did spoil things a little bit unfortunately.

The team were grateful for my feedback and this has not happened again when we’ve returned – in 2019 Dan crawled through with her! In 2021 the option was very much available to the children (and grown ups!) to use the small entrance if they wished, but there was no encouragement either way.

Mother Christmas sits in a chair smiling. Behind her is a faux fireplace and a wooden door with a red heart painted on it.
  • Access to toilets

At one point (2019 tour) I asked where a loo was for my two year old and was told it would be at the next stop, which was good enough for me since I thought we were about to move on.

Alas, there was no sense of urgency and my daughter had to wait probably 15 more minutes.

Thankfully she didn’t wet herself, but honestly, if a small child did have an accident in that situation it could quite feasibly ruin the experience for the family.

In 2021, a man commented to me in the (shared) loos that they were extremely unpleasant, and sadly I can’t disagree. It really wouldn’t take much to greatly improve the facilities.

Full review of the Marsh Far, Christmas Experience in Essex. #christmas #grotto #essex

What I’m Unimpressed By…

This has always been the case, every year we’ve attended.

It’s pretty disappointing that photos with the Marsh Farm Santa are not allowed – because they’re an additional cost. When you’re paying up to £69 per child, I think having a piccie chucked in as part of the ticket price should be a given.

I’d like to see a basic photo included, perhaps with keyrings/snow globes/frames etc as an optional extra. This has always been the case, every year we’ve attended.

However, for 2021 it occurred to me that I’m in a unique position and so I requested permission to take a photo for the purposes of this review. Here’s what the grotto looks like, and isn’t it gorgeous?!

Father Christmas sits with two children. He has a a Christmas tree to his left and a chest of presents beside him.

But probably the worst aspect in my opinion is the waving of items under children’s noses, and then handing a price list for said items to the parents.

It’s mentioned in small print on the tickets that there’s a Make-a-Bear activity and accessories are available at an additional cost, which is fair enough.

What’s not really reasonable in my opinion is that those are clearly hanging up to entice your little ones – and in our case our older daughter was directly asked if she’d like one, before we were presented with a bill. #notimpressed

That was back in 2017 and not much has changed since, although we did make clear we would not be purchasing this time (2019) before there was an opportunity to direct the question to our children!

In 2021, while the clothes still remain very conspicuous, the staff member who was helping our girls with their bears covertly asked us if it was allowed and was totally respectful when we declined which we really appreciated.

What’s New in 2021?

In 2021 a few things had changed since we last visited in 2019. Note that height restriction apply for some of the following.

  1. Train Ride

There’s the addition of a small train, and the guy running it was lovely. It doesn’t go very far and it doesn’t have any particularly Christmassy views, but what kid doesn’t love a train?! And it did take us past the new fun fair which the girls were excited about (until we told them we’d have to come back later!)

A green and red, miniature festive train on a track.
  1. Fun Fair

Again, we ran out of time to enjoy the rides unfortunately, but they are there! The girls excitedly pointed them out and we did feel it was a mistake not to make more time for them. (I had to move the date we visited at the very last moment thanks to a stomach bug.)

  1. Ice Skating Rink

Our eldest has been asking to go skating so I was really pleased to find out there’s now a rink at Marsh Farm!

Unfortunately I didn’t realise until too late that it closes at 6pm and by the end of our tour, it was considerably past that time, so I don’t have photos and I can’t comment on it.

  1. Festive Sleigh

We loved the new oversized sleigh which creates a lovely photo opportunity.

An oversized Christmas sleigh with two children sitting in it holding cuddly toys.
  1. Free Hot Chocolate

As mentioned previously, Marsh Farm have introduced free hot chocolates for the grown ups which is a nice touch.

  1. Entertainment

I mentioned earlier that some of the magic was missing this year. That’s no to say it’s gone; it’s not. It’s just that the animatronic polar bear and some of the magic tricks have been replaced with different entertainment.

This year there was much more singing and silliness instead, and the sets were stunning. Check out these beautiful lights!

A stage with actors performing; behind them is a curtain of fairy lights.

Clearly, there are a lot of new aspects to enjoy in 2021, but the big question is…

Marsh Farm Christmas Prices – Is It Worth the Hefty Cost?

It comes down to value. And that’s subjective.

Ticket prices for children aged 1+ are up to £75 for non-members, and up to £51.50 for members (based on most expensive prices for 2023), dependent on the date you visit.

Note: the experience is free for children younger than 1.

For a family of four (two adults and two children) you could be looking at £300 (that’s an increase of £168 in six years and £70 more than 2020). (Check out current ticket prices here.)

Children decorating gingerbread men.
Decorating gingerbread men.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that £75 for children between the ages of one and three is outrageous.

There’s no way they are getting the same out of the experience as those who are able to take part in some of the activities more geared towards older children (gingerbread decorating, for example).

Likewise, charging each adult the same as a child seems an odd way of doing things.

A festive scene comprising a sleigh and a garland with a wooden sign declaring 'I Believe', covered in faux snow.

Can you see where the ticket cost has been spent? Yes. Is it magical? Yes. Is it a wonderful Christmassy experience for all the family? Absolutely!

But it comes down to value. And that’s subjective.

For youngsters under about four or five the entire event could be scaled waaaaay back.

My personal feeling is that the experience is undeniably excellent – but the way prices have been hiked up over the last few years seems crazy and unsustainable.

I wonder what their pricing will look like next year, because it’s already double what I can justify paying to visit. Which is a real shame. And, gun to my head – I actually preferred 2019 to 2021.

A small red train with Christmas trees behind it.

Anecdotally, looking online in our local Facebook group, I see two schools of thought: those who say you get what you pay for, and those who agree that it’s far too pricey now.

And while I understand that the last few years have been very difficult for businesses, they have for families too.

Father Christmas in Essex at Marsh Farm: Our Verdict

Ultimately, my view is that as it is, the tour is fantastic for older children, and perhaps worth the ticket price for them.

However for youngsters under about four or five the entire event could be scaled waaaaay back without losing anything:

Keeping everything more contained in a smaller, warmer area would definitely improve the experience for toddlers (and cold parents) and alleviate possible boredom – our two year old began to get fidgety after five or ten minutes in each area of the experience. The only place that completely held her attention was where food was concerned!

Eating Gingerbread

(Again, my husband thinks I have an unfairly negative opinion of anything below 20 degrees, so if you’re not a perpetual cold bod like myself, this may not bother you at all.)

Perhaps the ticket prices should be altered to reflect this, or maybe it could even be changed to two separate experiences, aimed at different age groups.

I also strongly feel that given the price of the tickets, it’s wrong to be offering optional extras. At the very least, a basic photo should be included.

Marsh Farm COVID Safety Measures

I wanted to mention a couple of points regarding COVID safety measures.

These are obviously special circumstances, and Marsh Farm Christmas reviews may be sparse in this respect, yet that’s critical information to help you decide whether to book.

At the time of our visit masks have become mandatory once again. Actors were not wearing them which seems necessary for the tour, so this is something to be aware of if this is a concern for you.

Should guidelines change, tickets will be transferable to a different date next year. Note there is no mention of refunds.

The venue has implemented safety measures to ensure they can remain safely open in line with government guidelines. You can read about the rules they’ve put in place here.

There’s mention of the fact that while current guidelines allow the popular experience taking place, of course this remains subject to change.

Should guidelines be revised in such a way that it compromises the safety of the Marsh Farm xmas experience going ahead, then tickets will be transferable to a different date next year.

Note there is no mention of refunds.

A family standing under an archway of fairy lights.

Tips to Make the Most the Marsh Farm Christmas Experience

If you do decide to go along, I have a few pieces of advice to make it an awesome adventure.

  1. Wrap up. Take lots of layers. And a flask of tea if you really feel the cold. (Or something stronger perhaps? #jokes – although I did see one parent with a hip flask and I thought it was a brilliant idea.)
  1. Wear wellies with good grip. It wasn’t bad at all when we went in 2017, but in wet or icy weather you’ll be grateful for them, as we were in the boggy areas in 2019.
  1. Go when it’s dark. Visiting ‘Ho Ho’ (as my daughter calls him) should be illegal in daylight.
  1. To avoid the most expensive tickets book before December: the sooner you go, the cheaper it is. (You also save on ticket prices if you have annual membership.)
  1. Take a bottle of water. We left ours in the car and very much regretted it. Once you begin the tour there’s nowhere to get a drink until afterwards.

Are you going / have you been to the Marsh Farm Santa experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts!