review of fota island resort

Family HolidaysHolidays in Ireland

Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

Santa Fota

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!

visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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.

Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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.

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.

Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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.

Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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.

Visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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!

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.

visiting Santa at Fota Island Resort

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.


The Travel Expert




Note: Fota Island Resort gave me a complimentary stay but all views, as always, are my own.

Holidays in Ireland

My Review of Fota Island Resort


I’m a firm believer that the ultimate family staycation is one that combines a touch of luxury, with activities for children. Fota Island Resort has both in abundance.


When I was offered a trip to Fota Island Resort, a five star hotel with a wildlife park next door,  I jumped at the chance! We have enjoyed a Dublin Zoo family pass for many years; we are animal lovers who also happen to be fond of nice hotels, this seemed like the perfect staycation! After a short two and a half hour drive from Dublin we arrived at ‘the island’. I had never really paid much attention to the name before but when we drove into the lavish grounds and arrived at Fota Island Resort, the penny suddenly dropped,  we were in fact on an island! The gardens are superb (more on that later) and first impressions were really good. I couldn’t help but notice the pretty bronzed sculptures throughout the gardens and my daughter Alex was quick to notice them too 😍

We stayed at one of the new Fuchsia lodges, which were outstanding. Just check out my video below and you will see what I mean! The three bedroom lodge (house being more accurate) has a ‘good room’, a massive living area with modern kitchen, and a perfect back garden for the kids to roam around. Upstairs all three bedrooms are ensuite and two have walk in wardrobes! There is also a balcony off the master bedroom with views across the grounds. Rabbits were constantly bouncing around the garden so when the kids weren’t outside chasing them, the balcony was a great viewing point!

I was conscious that there are only six of these available for rent so I made a point of looking at the Courtyard Lodges too. I was really impressed with these also and they also have the advantage of are also beside a great outdoor playground. I was thinking how handy it would be to relax in your lodge while the kids played happily beside you.

fota island resort

The Fota Island Resort hotel  has a warm cosy feel, with dark bog oak furniture in large lounge areas. Personally I preferred the bright modern décor of the lodges, but I couldn’t help but think that it would be fantastic at winter time, especially with the log fire blazing ❤. I also investigated the hotel rooms and found them bright and spacious with modern decor. Fota Island Resort offers great facilities for children including a kids club and an indoor swimming pool. My kids loved the pool, however we didn’t have time to try the kids club on this occasion. During school holidays the Fota Camp operates daily for children aged 4-12 and there is also an adrenaline adventure centre for children aged 8 and over. Children will love the obstacle course and can try kayaking, learn about bush craft and lots more. Budding golfers will love their golf camp – suffice to say there are camps to cater for all children. We enjoyed tasty meals in the bar and Fota Restaurant, although perhaps not five star standard, but they offered an excellent kids menu. I noticed many groups of girls enjoying afternoon tea so I asked how they were getting on. They had booked a spa package which came with this incredible array of food. It seems Fota Island Resort is not just ideal for families!

fota island resort

I mentioned the lavish grounds earlier and thankfully on our last morning I look the opportunity to walk around them. There are numerous walking trails from 2.5km to 7km, each one was better than the next. You can walk through woods, along the golf course (did I mention there is a championship golf course here?) and along the waters edge. I spotted wildlife at every turn, red squirrels, rabbits and exotic birds; along with, I was told, the finest collections of rare trees and shrubs to be found in Ireland. Children will love the new Fota fairy trail, that has over 20 magical Fairy Doors hidden throughout the woods.  You can also choose to walk the 1.7km to the wildlife park, but with two young kids in tow, we decided to drive. After a few short minutes we were at Fota Wildlife Park.

fota island resort

We were only in the park a few minutes when my son spotted a peacock roaming around. This set the tone for the entire day. Everywhere we looked there were animals roaming free, it was so refreshing to see. My son was re christened ‘the spotter’ because he constantly spotted animals hiding in nearby hedges. There were wallabies hopping through the parkland and lemurs scampering up trees. We planned our visit around the Cheetah’s feeding time and seeing them run at an incredible speed was quite special. My son, Luke (9) was mesmerised. After the cheetah ‘show’ we strolled pass the numerous giraffe and bison and arrived at the Asian sanctuary ,where lions and tigers were happy to meet us.

The 100 acre park is very easy to navigate and it wasn’t long before we were at the lakeshore. This was our highlight. We got up close and personal with kangaroos and lemurs as well as the hundreds of friendly birds, ducks and geese. They even have a food dispenser (50cent). The kids loved feeding the birds and geese, the odd peck added to the excitement. The kangaroos are so used to visitors you can easily stand right beside them and get some amazing photographs. After a three hour visit we decided to hop on the train back to the entrance. It only costs a €1 so if you have tired children, this is a Godsend. We all loved the wildlife park, in fact I have already been asked when we are going back.

Fota Island Resort also has the luxury of being only minutes from the pretty Cork town of Cobh. Famous for being the Titanic’s last port of call in 1912, you can’t help but fall in love with this historic town. Take a the Titanic experience tour or have lunch in the Titanic bar. There is also a heritage centre and museum. If you fancy a boat trip, take a trip to Spike Island and explore the fortress that held 2300 prisoners. The town itself is pretty with lots of shops, bars and restaurants and the colourful streets are an instagram favourite.

I would highly recommend Fota Island Resort for a family break away. The proximity to Cobh and the Fota Wildlife park combined with a luxurious family friendly hotel and excellent lodges, make for a truly memorable holiday.


For more information visit

Check out Ireland Before You Die for more information on things to do with kids in Cork


Like holidays in Ireland? Read more here.



The Travel Expert

Pin It on Pinterest