Review: The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm (AD - Press Tickets)

Update: A review of our 2021 visit to Marsh Farm's Father Christmas Experience is now live with tips on what to do when visiting and if it's worth the money. 

With many Christmas events cancelled at the last minute in 2020 finding that special Christmas experience is going to be popular in 2021. Marsh Farm are taking bookings for this year now and we are hoping to go again after a great visit it 2019. This is a review of our last visit to Father Christmas at Marsh Farm. 

2 children holding booklets saying Passport to Christmas 2019 on from waiting at Passport Control at Marsh Farm
Visiting The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm, Essex

Review of The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm

What happens on The Father Christmas Experience?

Saying we saw Father Christmas doesn’t really do it justice. We were invited to the press day for the Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm (South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford) but this isn’t just a grotto visit, it is a full on experience lasting 2 hours or so. Watch my video to get a better idea of the visit, but if you prefer words or want some tips on how to get the most out of the visit then read on…

From the moment you enter Passport Control until you leave Elf-Ville after visiting the toy shop you are inside the magical world. You walk through a number of different venues (which you will recognise if you have been to Marsh Farm events before) but the walkways between them have been sectioned off so you are separate from the rest of Marsh Farm. Don't worry you can go in the soft play or see the animals before and afterwards if you want.

At the entrance to the Farm children receive their special bag, a candy cane and are directed to Passport Control.

A christmas foliage display, a sign saying passport control and 2 children with special backpacks saying "I believe in Father christmas"
Waiting to check in to The Father Christmas Experience

Once everyone has been checked in at Passport Control the elves in charge of your tour group do a quick introduction before you head into Elf Academy. The elves check to make sure everyone is a believer, including all the adults, spoiler alert: one member of the audience wont be one. Some magic is required to make everyone believe, but fortunately they have enough magic wands for all the children to help (and keep).

Children of all ages waving magic wands and looking intently forwards at Elf Academy
Making Magic at Elf Academy

A 3 year old on stage posing for a photograph with 2 elves at Marsh Farm Father Christmas Experience while visiting for a review

Next it’s down a secret walkway to the Enchanted Forest, Shiver the Eskimo Elf and her special friend where some more magic makes it snow. 

Two elves and a baby polar bear model
In The Enchanted Forest

Then there is a visit to Mother Christmas to mend Father Christmas’s favourite scarf and to decorate gingerbread men.

Mother Christmas sitting in a chair in front of children
Mother Christmas talking to children

A 3 year old girl eating a gingerbread man she has just decorated on the Father Christmas Experience in essex
Eating the gingerbread man straight after decorating it

Finally it’s time to meet Father Christmas, but that’s not the end of the journey. Father Christmas hands over a heart for the Make A Bear factory which comes next. There are a few animals to choose from and children can either stuff them themselves or the elves will help. 

3 snowies which are sheets of paper saying "the bank of elf-ville 1 snowie at Marsh Farm"
Snowie's can be exchanged for a gift in the toy shop after seeing Father Christmas

Once complete each child is handed a “snowie” to spend at the toy shop and you head to Elf-Ville. 

There are about 20 different toys to choose from in the Toy Shop and you can write a letter to Father Christmas there too. Next door there is the chance to buy your photograph which was taken while visiting Father Christmas. The digital print costs £10, a print out £7 I think and there are various other options and packages including a bauble which looked quite fun.

Leaving an area lit up with pretty lights, with Christmas trees and woodchip on the floor
Leaving Elf-Ville to go home with all our gifts

The experience then finishes, but you can spend time in the rest of Marsh Farm before you leave (unless you are in the last time slot like us when the farm will be closing).

Tips To Get The Most Out Of Visiting The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm

Prebooking online is essential

The prices become more expensive the closer you get to Christmas eg the first weekend (16th/ 17th November) it costs: £12.95 per adult and £25.50 per child and the peak price in Christmas week is £21.50 for adults and £52 for children.
Under 1s are free, but they will not get a present or bear to take away so if you feel they need these (there aren’t any baby suitable toys) you would need to pay for them.

Come Prepared

On the day we visited it was about 12 degrees Celsius and sunny so outside my daughters were fine in their Christmas jumpers, but some of the indoor venues were very cold. Bring warm clothes. It is mostly inside, but you will need rainwear if it’s wet.

Arrive in Plenty of Time

Passport Control is on the far side of Marsh Farm (near the carousel) so you need to leave enough time to get from the entrance. The rest of the farm is open (from 10am) so you can arrive in plenty of time and enjoy the indoor and outdoor play areas and animals. 

Toilet Breaks and Food

There is an area selling snacks in Passport Control plus the candy cane and gingerbread man to keep little tummies from rumbling. I don’t think there are toilets anywhere in the experience so it’s worth going before you check in. Of course if someone needs a wee then an elf will help direct you to the best place to go and then help you rejoin the group.

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

We were on the last booking of the day and we didn’t leave Passport Control until nearly half an hour after we were due to start. Obviously it was their first day so not surprising they were running late, although feedback from some friends who have been in the past is that’s not uncommon. In other words be prepared that there will be some waiting around.

We also had a long wait (33 minutes) for Father Christmas. We were the last to go in on a fully booked session so this is likely to be roughly the longest anyone would wait. My daughters were well entertained by the elves and the wait didn’t feel as long as it was. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel they were rushed through their time with Father Christmas so I think this is reasonable.

Chargeable Extras

The cost of everything once you are in is included except if you want extras for your furry friend (eg clothes or sound box) and to buy you photograph from seeing Father Christmas. The Make A Bear accessories cost £10 for a standard costume, £15 for an elf costume and £3 for a sound box. There is also a package available.

Pushchairs and Accessibility

We took our pushchair into the experience and had no major problems. There is space in all the rooms for a small number of pushchairs however you would probably need to take children out of them to ensure they have a reasonable view. The floor in a lot of the area is covered in wood chip which at times we saw wheels struggle with, but ours were fine. There were also wheelchairs on our visit so if they had problems I'm sure they will have fed back and changes made.

What age is The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm Suitable For?

I went with my 10 month old, nearly 4 year old and just turned 8 year old. Baby Boy was interested at times (he cried when Father Christmas suggested holding him though )and my daughters had a great time. My 8 year old was just as engaged in the magic as my 3 year old. I would expect that a 1 year old and maybe some 2 year olds might get bored at times because there are 3 sit down shows during the experience. While there is audience participation in them and they aren't very long I can appreciate that this wont appeal to all young children. The only complaint from my children was of boredom while waiting for it all to get started.

If you want a magical Christmas experience that is more than just seeing Father Christmas then Marsh Farm is well worth a visit.

There are lots of other great places to see Father Christmas in Essex such as Audley End Miniature Railway or Epping Ongar Railway, and if you love the idea of Santa Train rides there are plenty to choose from around the country.

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