Review: The Santa Claus Experience at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park in Waltham Abbey

(PR Invite) We were invited to visit The Santa Claus Experience at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park in Waltham Abbey recently. We have been to The Father Christmas Experience at Marsh Farm a few times, which is also part of the Partyman Company and one of the best Grotto experiences around, but although I knew that the Lee Valley experience is smaller scale so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. While I have been to the farm countless times I hadn't been for a few years so it was both a little familiar and completely new.

Elves on stage at Santa's house at Lee Valley's Santa Claus Experience
Getting ready to meet Santa at the Santa Claus Experience

Santa Claus Experience At Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park Review

What is The Santa Claus Experience?

The Santa Claus Experience is a group interactive event where you will travel to the North Pole to meet cheeky elves, Mrs Claus and of course Santa. You will see magic, singing and join in dancing. As well as the memories children will each leave with a magic wand, gingerbread man and a cuddly teddy. 

The event takes place at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park. You arrive at your booked time and have about 15 minutes to walk to the check in desk at the North Pole. This gives you enough time to grab a warm drink or go to the toilet as well as to briefly see the meerkats and wallabies en route. 

Passport control before the santa claus experience
First stop is to check in at the North Pole

Passport Control and Meeting The Elves

At check in children get a passport, stickers, a letter to complete for Santa and a pencil. While waiting for everyone in your time slot to arrive children can write a letter to Santa (and post it in the letter box), put the first sticker in their passport and complete activities including a word search and dot to dot.

When everyone has been booked in the elf guides introduce themselves and ask for help to find Sparkles jacket.

Two elves dancing on a small stage surrounded by Christmas trees
Holly and Jolly the cheeky elves

Sparkle, The Snow Sprite 

The elves lead everyone from the welcome tent through a tree lined path to a marquee. After some magic to make Sparkle appear they explain that they need snow to make Santa's sleigh move. Of course to make it snow they will need everyone’s help. Children are asked to shake, sing, dance and jingle to make it snow. Adults are encouraged to join in as well, but most seemed boringly more reluctant on our visit. 

Holly, Jolly and Sparkle the elves help everyone to make it snow
Helping Sparkle to make snow to free Santa's snow

Mother Christmas and her Kitchen

Next the group go to Mrs Claus’ Kitchen, but where is Mother Christmas? After she magically appears everyone helps her make special Christmas gingerbread and the children get the chance to decorate their own gingerbread.

Out through the gingerbread village and another tree lined path takes you to the old bundle barn which has been turned into Santa’s Grotto.

A stage saying Mrs Claus' Kitchen with presents and an elf
Join in cooking up some magic in Mrs Claus' Kitchen

Santa’s Grotto

The elves take to the stage, but where is Santa? Crash, bang, clatter and he appears. Or at least Santa’s legs appear as the rest of him is stuck in the chimney! Of course the children are needed to help get him out. 

Once he is free the elves say goodbye and Mrs Claus appears to have a song and dance with her husband before another elf comes to help out and call families up on stage one by one to meet Santa and take a photo. Santa gives each child a fabric heart to take away and put in a cuddly animal. 

Holly and Jolly the elves ask for help to free Santa from the chimney
When Santa got stuck in the chimney...

Teddy Tastic Make A Bear

You take the heart to the Make A Bear station and children can choose which animal they want. Available options will vary, but included a snowman, reindeer and various bears. Elves help them put the heart inside, stuff the animal and seal it up before giving them a birth certificate and bag to take it away in. There is also the option to buy clothes for your animal. 

This is the end of the experience. Before you leave you might want to see some of the animals, go in the playground or the cafe and don’t forget to check out your photo with Santa to see if you want to buy it.  

The Make A Bear station at Lee Valley where you can stuff your own animal
Make A Bear (or Snowman or Reindeer)

What We Thought Of The Santa Claus Experience

This grotto experience will get everyone feeling Christmassy. I love that once you get to passport control you remain within the experience with tree lined paths taking you from one location to another. 

While they have taken some of the highlights of the Marsh Farm Christmas Experience (like the snow, decorating gingerbread men and getting a heart from Santa to go in a cuddly animal) this is a completely different experience. It’s shorter and all the adventures are different.  

I don’t think the temporary structures or decor is as special as the permanent structures and layout at Marsh Farm, but they still manage to create Christmas magic. Christmas Eve at Marsh Farm costs £75 per person versus £35 per person at Lee Valley, although there is less of a difference in price off peak. The price is the same for children over 1 and adults, although adults don't get anything included. 

The grotto experience is a group one at Lee Valley and you don’t get a private audience with Santa so the chat will be shorter than in a normal grotto. It’s also worth noting that the cuddly animal is the child's gift unlike at some other similar experiences where you get a gift and a teddy. 

Overall this a fun extended grotto experience that children will love.

Mrs Claus and Santa on stage singing and dancing
Santa and Mrs Claus singing a song

Useful to Know Before Visiting

What To Wear

Most of the visit is in temporary structures or outside so it’s pretty chilly. At one point my son had very cold toes so really do wrap up warm with double socks if necessary. There is some cold weather forecast before Christmas so ensure you have plenty of layers to allow children to enjoy the experience.

The ground is uneven and can be muddy so welly boots are recommended. 

Pushchairs aren't advised due to the ground and space so if you have a small one a baby carrier would be useful. This will help keep you both warm too. 

Is There Anything Else At Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park?

After your experience there are animals you can see, the playground and the bouncy pillow as well as the cafe and shop. On the day we visited it was about 5 degrees and my children were pretty cold after the experience finished. The only place to warm up is in the cafe but as we didn’t want food we went home rather than checked out anything else. 

Spending Money

Tickets for the experience need to be booked online in advance, but there are also a few things to tempt further spending while you are there. You might want to buy clothes for your cuddly animal, photo items, food or drink in the cafe or toys in the shop. Lee Valley is cashless so bring cards or contactless.

They take a photo when you meet Santa which you can buy afterwards. I think these started at £11 for a photo. We paid £17 for a photo and digital print. I only discovered afterwards that it can take up to 2 days to get the digital print. My print hadn't come through after 3 days, but a day after emailing about it they sent it over. Given that at most places digital prints are available instantly to download (eg at Odds Farm Park where the digital print is free with purchase) the 2 day delay is unusual. If you do buy a digital print make sure you have the reference number in case you need to follow up. The elves hadn't given mine back but luckily I could remember it. They might want to review the system for future years as there are lots of better software programmes available and it's a shame as I love to have the digital memory, but maybe I'm alone in this?


Toilets and baby changing facilities are at the entrance of the park and a bit of a trek from the North Pole so definitely worth encouraging little bladders to go before you head off to Passport Control.

How Long Does The Santa Claus Experience Last?

It was just over an hour from the elves appearing to us leaving with our cuddly animal, but we were first up to see Santa. It was nearly half an hour from our arrival time at the entrance to the elf guides appearing to welcome us, this gave people time to refresh themselves, walk to passport control and all be checked in. This means we spent 90 minutes at Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park, but we could have spent time looking at the animals or playing if we wanted.

Getting There

The best way to get to Lee Valley is to drive as it's some distance from the nearest public transport. There is free parking.

Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park is on the border of Essex & Hertfordshire just off Holyfield Road at Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF.

Booking The Santa Claus Experience

The Santa Claus Experience runs on 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th and 21st to 24th December. At the time of publishing there is availability on all days, although some sessions have sold out. 

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