Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort was a wonderful experience. We walked in a winter wonderland, met Santa, Mrs Claus, the Ice Queen, Donner and Blitzen – and we even got a new family pet!
With Santa ‘Experiences’ popping up all over the country, it can be hard to know which one to choose. Since we visited Lapland a few years ago, I have tried to make sure that each year our visit to Santa is a special one. Last year we visited Santa at Aillwee Cave and that was great, but we were really disappointed with Airfield Farm the previous year. I like Santa experiences to last a little longer than a quick visit to Arnotts. I want it to be a Santa visit that my kids will remember, with hopefully a little magic thrown in! I asked people on my Facebook page what were their favourite Santa Experiences and visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort cropped up time and time again. It has also been voted best Santa Experience in Ireland by Primary Times readers and attracts over 50,000 people each year. I had to see if it lived up to the hype!
We had stayed in Fota Island Resort in the summer time and loved it, so I knew the kids would love to go back. The hotel is located only a few minutes drive from Fota Wildlife Park and has excellent family facilities, including a kids play room and an indoor swimming pool. Although technically a five star resort, the hotel has a family atmosphere where kids can play happily throughout the hotel, so it doesn’t feel like a typical five star hotel.
The hot chocolates in the bar are a big hit as they come with a large chocolate on a stick and hot milk, so kids could make their own. However the bar service and dining can be a bit hit and miss, as it is so busy. In fact, I would go so far as to say, I wouldn’t recommend you stay in December if you didn’t have kids!
Fota Island Resort is only a two and a half hour drive from Dublin, and is easily accessible from most parts of the country, making it an ideal option for a quick night away. We left Dublin at midday and arrived just in time for some lunch in the bar, before checking in at 3pm. The rooms are modern, spacious, can hold two adults and two children, and are perfect for a short stay.
If you are staying longer I would recommend you stay in the cottages. We stayed here in the summer time and loved them – you can read all about our visit here. When we arrived to our room we noticed two large teddy bears, both called ‘Bea’, a treat that is given to all children staying in Fota Island Resort. Bea was a big hit, especially with Alex, my daughter, Bea didn’t leave her side for the entire trip. In fact we are home three weeks now and she still sleeps with her each night. This set the tone for the trip, Christmas magic was beginning to unfold…
We booked the Santa Experience for 6.30pm, hoping to see the forest lit up at night time. We were not disappointed. We walked out of the hotel at 6.20pm and there were fairy lights and snowy trees everywhere. There was a carousel in the centre of the village and numerous Christmas stalls, selling hot chocolate, Christmas decorations and even pizza – we were in Winter wonderland!
After a quick wander around we checked in at the meeting point to see Santa. The whole experience ran like clockwork, there were no queues at any time. We were met by one of Santa’s elves and brought through the snowy elf village, straight to see the main man in Santa’s grotto.
Walking in a winter wonderland 🎶 Absolutely loved the #FotaBeyond #Santa experience 🎅🏻 It was so #christmassy with lots to do and a fab Santa! Lots more on my stories 👆 . . . . . . . . . #fota #santaexperience #visitsanta #santavisit #winterwonderland #magical #christmas #christmastime #luxurytravel #luxuryhotel #travelogger #familytravel #familytravelblogger #familytime #familytrip #staycation #visitcork @instacork #travelgram
Santa had a large physique and long white beard, he looked just as we had hoped. He greeted us all enthusiastically and knew all about Luke and Alex, and what they had on their Christmas lists. He commended Alex for doing well at camogie this year and Luke for getting on better in school. We got the obligatory family photo, some substantial presents and eventually said our goodbyes.
You have to pay an additional €10 if you want a family photo, but you are also welcome to take as many photos as you like with your own camera. When we left Santa we were able to choose the best photo from eight different shots that were taken and we were given a framed photograph, which I thought was excellent value for €10.
After our Santa visit, we popped in to say hello to the reindeers, Donner and Blitzen, who have taken up residency at Fota this year. We also had a chat with Mrs Claus, who kindly gave us some reindeer food to leave out on Christmas Eve. We then walked through the snowy forest, down Candy Cane Lane before going down two large slides which brought us to the Magic Mineshaft…
We stepped inside the mineshaft and were greeted by two elves who told us we were going underground to the Snow Kingdom. This was extremely well done and the kids were sure we were going down in an underground lift. We stepped outside and entered the Fairy tunnel which was lined with ice covered walls and moving icicles. Another friendly elf greeted us and guided us through the tunnel and into the Snow Kingdom, which was full of activities for all the family.
Alex learned to ride a sleigh and got her drivers license to prove it! We got photos with the Ice Queen at the Ice Palace, had fun playing in the elf tunnels and ball pits, while Luke loved the free ice cream! You can also post letters and spend as long as you like in the Snow Kingdom. We stayed about a half hour, making the whole Fota Beyond experience about 70 minutes, but you could easily spend longer. The way the experience was organised, seeing Santa first, meant that you could spend as long as you wanted in the village and Snow Kingdom.
When we left Fota Beyond, we strolled back to the hotel, just in time for dinner in the Fota Restaurant. The timing was perfect. We were able to chat all about the experience over a nice meal, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.
The next morning we went to Fota Wildlife Park and tried the VIP family experience. We got up close to lots of animals and learned all about the Wildlife Park’s conservation project. The highlight for my son was feeding the giraffes, penguins and monkeys! What a way to end a fabulous 24 hours!
That’s one happy boy feeding the #giraffes at @fotawildlife 🦒 🦒 . . . . . . . . . . #wildlife #wildlifepark #travelogger #familytravel #familytravelblogger #familytime #familytrip #staycation #visitcork @instacork #travelgram #giraffe #giraffelove #happyboy #fotawildlifepark #animalsofinstagram #giraffesofinstagram #familyphotos
The Fota Beyond experience is the best Santa experience we have been to in Ireland, and I would highly recommend staying over-night in the hotel to prolong the magic. The hotel is decorated beautifully at Christmas time and has a wonderful family atmosphere. The addition of Bea, our new family ‘pet’, will ensure that this experience is remembered for many years to come.
Each year the woods at Fota Island Resort are transformed into a Christmas village with a different Santa experience, so visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort is unique each year. Wonder is the Santa experience for 2019 and you can read all about that here.
Note: Fota Island Resort gave me a complimentary stay but all views, as always, are my own.