[Ad/press trip] We’ve now been invited to visit Father Christmas in Essex at the North Pole (otherwise known as Marsh Farm) for three years running, most recently in December 2019. Anybody who’s been will know that the Marsh Farm Christmas experience is very popular – but is it worth the expense?

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

Review of The Marsh Farm Christmas Experience

In the event, I dug deep to find that time, so this is my full review of the 2017 Marsh Farm Christmas tour, and now updated for 2019 and 2020.

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

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. 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.

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.

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?).

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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!)

The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm

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

Unfortunately there were a few issues which warrant a mention…

  • 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 and 2019, so perhaps not the marshes after all!)
  • 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. By 2019, the entire experience has 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.
  • 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 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. 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 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!
  • 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.
Full review of the Marsh Far, Christmas Experience in Essex. #christmas #grotto #essex

What I’m Unimpressed By…

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 £57.50 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.

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!

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Father Christmas in Essex at Marsh Farm: Our Verdict

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!

Decorating Gingerbread
Decorating gingerbread men.

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

Ticket prices for children aged 1+ are up to £57.50 (based on most expensive prices for 2020), dependent on the date you visit; so for a family of four (two adults and two children) you could be looking at £169 (that’s an increase of £37 in three years and £22 more than last year). (Check out current ticket prices here.)

My view is that the tour as it is, is fantastic for older children. 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!) 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.

Eating Gingerbread
Mmmmm!

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.

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Marsh Farm Christmas 2020

Sadly due to the pandemic we will not be invited back this year and we’re choosing to take the opportunity to visit elsewhere for a change. However, I did want to make a quick mention of a couple of points because these are obviously special circumstances, and Marsh Farm Christmas reviews may be sparse in terms of COVID and safety measures, yet that’s critical information to help you decide whether to book.

Marsh Farm Safety Measures

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 change 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 of next year.

Note there is no mention of refunds.

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 a parent with a hip flask and I thought it was a brilliant idea.)
  2. 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.
  3. Go when it’s dark. Visiting ‘Ho Ho’ (as my daughter calls him) should be illegal in daylight.
  4. 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.)

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

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Christmas, Review

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

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