The weekend before Christmas day was our big visit to see Father Christmas. I did a lot of research as I wanted to go somewhere that was magical, but offered great value for money. With Alfie being quite young still, he doesn’t really understand what is going on. There are so many options in and around Essex that it makes the choice really difficult! Eventually we made our decision, so here is my Colchester Zoo review.
Colchester Zoo put on special Magic of Christmas events throughout December to celebrate the Christmas season. They even do extra special late night openings which include what is described as a spectacular light show! We decided to go on a weekend when one of these light shows was being held. Originally we were going to arrive after lunch, but because there were so many activites to do, we couldn’t fit them all in so we got there first thing in the morning to maximise our time there. There was a timetable of events online so we could decide what we were doing before we got there and work out timings.
We arrived at 9.30am and headed straight over to see Father Christmas. Craig and I have gold passes, so all we had to pay was £7 for Alfie to see Father Christmas. If you were buying a child’s day ticket though, the Father Christmas visit is included in the price.
We waited a few minutes to start the decent into the walkway leading to the grotto, but as we were there early, we didn’t have to wait too long. The walkway was beautifully decorated, with little animal figures in a snowy woodland – Alfie was mesmerised! We then walked through and met Mrs Clause, who gave Alfie a cookie for being a good boy! Next up was a mini sleigh ride which was great fun. We all got in a big sleigh and a video was played in front of us and the sleigh moved as of we were going over snowy hills!
We carried on walking round and saw some huskies and an Eskimo! Then we were met by Father Christmas’ elf. We had a wait a few minutes then Father Christmas was ready for us.
I was carrying Alfie so we walked in and he immediately got a little bit shy. Father Christmas said hello to him and Alfie hid in my shoulder! I encouraged him to wave and say hello and then Father Christmas gave Alfie his gift. Then he told me to sit next to him with Alfie on my lap so we could have a photo. I asked the Elf if she could also take a photo of us all as a family. We then said goodbye and Alfie gave Father Christmas a wave and a high five as we left.
The lead up to the visit was fantastic and there was lots of Alfie to see and get excited about. However, I must admit I was quite disappointed with the actual Father Christmas visit. He didn’t attempt to speak to Alfie, didn’t ask any questions like has he been a good boy or what would he like for Christmas. It was quite awkward and I was trying to find things to say! I understand that Alfie can’t speak but this hasn’t stopped us before. The visit was probably only a minute long so Craig and I both felt a bit flat when we left. In a way I’m glad Alfie is too young to really understand it all so he wasn’t disappointed!
When we got outside, Alfie opened his gift. He was given a beautiful white teddy bear. Alfie loves a soft teddy so he was really pleased! We had finished the visit by about 10.20 so we had the rest of the day to enjoy. We set off to go and see the pantomime in the theatre. We were first in the queue when we arrived and had to wait about 30 minutes for the doors to open.
I have to say the organisation was excellent. There was an Elf who showed us in and made sure as many people as possible got into the show. All the children were encouraged to sit at the front of the theatre and the show started on time.
The zoo had put on a production of Puss in Boots and it was fabulous. The actors were great at engaging with the audience, and the kids clearly all enjoyed it! Alfie was getting a bit tired but he watched most of it and sat on my lap quietly throughout. He perked up a bit towards the end and was clapping his hands and singing along in his own way. It was a really great show.
After this we went and had some lunch. We decided to bring a packed lunch to keep costs down. I would say one downside to the zoo is there is no indoor eating area so in the winter you have to just eat outdoors which is very cold!
We then did a quick nappy change but unfortunately Alfie tripped over coming out of the toilet so we had to do a quick stop at first aid to clean up the graze on his eye! Seems to be a reoccurring theme for our visits to the zoo recently!
As we came out of the first aid area, we came across Father Christmas’ reindeer! Alfie went and said hello although we didn’t stay for long as it was very busy! We popped into the soft play area so Alfie could have a run around and wear himself out (I was hoping he’d have a nap – he didn’t!)
After exploring the soft play area, we headed over to the Elves Workshop to do some crafting. We queued up and paid our £1 donation and was given a little stocking shaped card. There were a few tables dotted about with craft items, so we sat down and Alfie set about doing his colouring. The only suggestion I would make for next year – perhaps offer crayons as well as felt tips. I know older children would prefer the felt tips, but as the mother of a child who puts everything in his mouth, and doesn’t have a brilliant aim when it comes to putting pen to paper, we both left covered in pen! Crayons would have been a bit more managable. Daddy left to go and get us a hot drink each, which is of course when Alfie decided to kick off (to be fair, it’s because I took his felt tip away as he was trying to suck it!) So I then had to battle to get Alfie into his stroller on my own, which wasn’t easy! A couple sitting nearby started talking to him which actually really helped as he quietened down. Then Daddy came through the door and Alfie stopped crying immediately! He must have been beaming as a lady commented on how lovely it was when his face lit up as soon as he saw Daddy come through the door!
We went outside where Alfie began to moan again, so we decided to go for a walk around the zoo and see some animals. I hoped Alfie would fall asleep, but he wasn’t giving in. In the end, I put him in the Connecta and within 5 minutes he was fast asleep – the magic of babywearing strikes again!!
Considering we were at the zoo, we didn’t actually see that many animals! We saw the elephants, who are my favourite, but I think everyone else was hiding because it was so cold. It was the first time we’d been to the zoo in the winter, so we weren’t sure if any animals actually wanted to come out and play. It was starting to get dark, so we headed back to the front of the zoo to find somewhere for dinner. On our way, we passed the Jolly Winter Wonderland attraction. We didn’t know what it was so popped in. Alfie was still asleep in the Connecta, but we stood and waited to see what would happen. We were standing in front of a screen and there was winter wonderland around us – then we popped up on the screen and it looked like we were on a sleigh riding over the snowy hills! Then all of sudden it started snowing on us! It was very funny because Alfie woke up just at that second and was so confused as to why he had all this snowy foam on his head! He looked around and took in his surroundings, then went back to sleep. The experience only lasted a few minutes, but it was a cute little addition.
We then went to the Italian restaurant Penguini’s. We got there at about 4.30 so it was still pretty quiet. We found a table in the corner and were given a highchair whilst Craig went and ordered the food. We both ordered chicken arribata and olives and Alfie had tomato and herb pasta. It was delicious! Big portions, piping hot and very filling. We paid just under £25 for three meals and 2 drinks which I thought was very reasonable.
We finished eating at about 5.15 and it seemed we timed it perfectly as it was getting very busy as we left. As we had come specifically for the light show, I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it! We hung around outside in the general area where the show was taking place so we didn’t miss it. Alfie had a bit of a wander round and Daddy decided to buy him a massive light up stick (in hindsight, a bit of a mistake!)
Alfie then get extremely grouchy when we took his toy away (as you would!) so I put him his carrier again. He fought a little bit but then calmed down and we had a lovely cuddle, before he fell asleep 5 minutes before the light show started!
The light show was fantastic! It was basically a number of lasers projected into the sky which ‘danced’ to music. The giant Giraffe next to us also lit up! Unfortunately it was so foggy, I don’t think the effect was as dazzling as it should have been but it was still very good. It was meant to last 15 minutes but went on for much longer.
When it finished we walked over to take a ride on the Christmas train. However, when we arrived the queue was huge, and as Alfie was already asleep we decided not to wait, so after a quick stop off in the gift shop, we headed home.
It was a very long and exhausting day, but so worth it. Colchester Zoo put on an amazing timetable of events and there was definitely too much to do – we couldn’t fit it all in!
Although the Father Christmas visit itself was a little disappointing, the rest of the day more than made up for it. Special shout out to the pantomime actors, especially Jack and Dolly, who were brilliant and had us in stitches!
We would highly recommend this for a Christmas day out and will definitely be returning next year.
Disclosure: This is not a paid post, we paid for everything regarding the visit ourselves. All opinions and comments are as ever my own.
Special mention to my husband for taking these fabulous photographs – he always complains that I don’t credit him, so here’s your credit husband!