The traffic was heavier than we were expecting, but we arrived in plenty of time to find a space in what seemed a packed parking lot. As we made our way up the hill we noticed there was a train up to the hotel. Nice, I was expecting a lovely old style train with carriages affair (like I’d seen in the shopping centre, more fool me), instead we got a big old standard bus. Oh well, it’ll get better, I mean for fifteen quid, it had to get better right?
We took apart the pram and carried Siôn, our now excited one year old, into the bus which went up to the hotel in about five minutes. We assembled the pram again, settling the baby in there before we followed everyone (and the signs) up to Santa’s Grotto. To my dismay a large stumbling block loomed up ahead. Steps! Lots of steps. I groaned. I’m too big, heavy and unfit for steps at the moment. They rose from the ground like an impossible invitation to Mount Olympus.Santa was calling and I had to suck it up. Grumbling under my breath I took the bottom half of the pram while my husband took the other end and we climbed.
First impressions of the first level was wow it was busy. On the right a restaurant, which was then a swimming pool as we walked, in the main building and to the left the winter wonderland.
Passing the skating rink we realised we had fifteen minutes to go, so we cased Santa’s Grotto to find out where it was and then spent some time watching the skaters.
Eventually, ok ten minutes, we tried the double doors and we were in. This looked promising. There were fake icicles coming off the ceiling, a television playing Elf in front and a reception to the right.
We ambled over to the right and proffered our ticket to the ‘elves’. They entered the information into their computer system and our son was given a sticker with his name handwritten on it stating he’d gone to see Santa. A bit premature you might think.
Anyway, we’d checked in so we went to look at the reindeer that Siôn seemed singularly unimpressed with. He preferred to play with the sign. There is no accounting for taste with babies. The reindeer seemed well cared for but starting at animals was never my thing so we had a look around the small area to see what else was on offer.
Not much is the answer. As mentioned before, there was the film, which you would only get a brief look at, I mean it wasn’t a film visit after all. There was some tiny tables and chairs where the little ones went to draw and colour-in I imagine.
The room began to fill up and I started to get worried about having to scramble into a queue but I needn’t have worried, checking in at the beginning meant that they called us in the order we came in. I just wish they had told us that when we arrived.
We hung around the entrance and was impressed with the speed that we were called but unfortunately this was delayed by a gentlemen complaining that his child didn’t have an age-appropriate gift. Whoops, this was looking more and more like a waste of money. Still, we just had to wait and see. The man left disappointed and we followed the ‘elf’ down the long white corridor to the room where Santa was waiting. Ooh exciting, I’d never done this before. Really this whole trip was for me as well as my son.
The room was decked-out like a typical living room with Santa on the sofa. It was actually quite nice. My husband was holding Siôn, so I hung back with the pram. Santa was lovely, he didn’t say much but then he didn’t have to. Siôn lasted about 1 minute before his eyes widened and big blobs of water fell down his cheeks. Yep, he cried. The ‘elf’ hurriedly brought a present and we distracted Siôn with the photo.
It was really quick and we then went to the photo kiosk where we bought the photo for a fiver. Siôn didn’t look very happy in it but hey it was the first time and I wanted something to remember it by.
Then there was the toy. The neatly wrapped soft package was gently unwrapped with the help of my son and the trip was made worthwhile by the sheer joy on his face when he saw the little dog in the winter outfit.
So all in all I would say it was a disappointing visit. I was expecting more from the Celtic Manor and indeed from fifteen pounds (twenty if you include the photo), I won’t be going there again as I’m sure there are better options. I don’t mind paying if the experience is worth it. Value is everything, sadly, I think this time I did not choose as wisely as I could have done.