Santa experiences in Ireland

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

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Santa at Ailwee Cave

As many of you may know, we visited Lapland a few years ago and since then we have found it really difficult to find a Santa experience in Ireland to get excited about. Was Santa at Aillwee Cave going to be any different?


Last years experience in Dublin was pretty poor, I won’t name the place but suffice to say I came away promising myself we would do something better this year. I decided to ask my readers on Facebook for recommendations and to my surprise, ‘Santa at Aillwee Cave’ was mentioned numerous times. I didn’t even know they had a Santa Experience! I read some reviews and liked the cave idea and decided to give Santa at Aillwee Cave a try. We decided to make a weekend of it so we booked an over-night stay in the Connacht Hotel in Galway and booked the Santa Experience for 11.30am the following day. It was perfect. We arrived in Galway and enjoyed a few hours at the Christmas markets, had a swim in the hotel pool, a leisurely meal and set off for Aillwee the following morning. It is only a 50 minute drive from the Connacht Hotel and we arrived in plenty of time.

We were greeted by happy elves who gave the kids their own book on Santa at Aillwee Cave, while discretely placing a sticker on their coats with their name on it. Mums and Dads are not overlooked either and we received a Christmas Bauble embossed with ‘Christmas 2016 at Aillwee Cave’. There was complementary tea, coffee, hot punch and minced pies, a lovely touch. There were merry go rounds and waltzers for kids to play in before or after the visit, also free of charge.  Jack Frost and Mrs Claus were in constant view and ready for pictures and a chat. Everywhere they went it seemed the elves, Mrs Claus and Jack Frost knew their names – a simple sticker worked wonders! My daughter got her face painted and we had time to catch the puppet show too, so getting there early was a good idea!


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Twinkle the Head Elf called out the names of the kids who Santa wanted to see, and off we went. Each visit is divided into a small group and we set off deep into the cave in single file. The acoustics in the cave made for a great rendition of jingle bells and set the tone perfectly. We searched for some clues before arriving at Santa’s workshop, only to discover he was asleep. Luckily we had a group of children who were only too delighted to wake him up! The setting was magical. Santa’s Finnish accent and the rows of presents behind him added to the authenticity. The children were seated in two benches in front of Santa while the adults stood behind. Siblings were called up to stand beside Santa while he recounted their achievements throughout the year. My son. Luke, was a little nervous, but when Santa calls your name, you have to go! It was amazing to see Santa complimenting him on his sports achievements and when Santa’s farewell words were ‘ May the force be with you’ – I could see the magic in his eyes. How did Santa know he was a Star Wars fan? He also knew what my daughter Alex favourite toys were and told her that she needed to start cycling her bicycle! Santa then presented them with toys, and even these were a step up from the usual cheap ‘tat’ that we have been given on previous Santa visits.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Listening to Santa’s unique words to all the boys and girls was fantastic. No standard lines about how good they had been all year. The personal touch in Aillwee Cave was evident throughout, especially during the visit with Santa. We collected our souvenir photo, which incidentally was the only thing that you had to pay for. In fact you could take the picture yourself and not buy one at all. This was really refreshing. I have been to many Santa visits and you always end up spending a fortune on extras, in Aillwee everything is included in the price.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Once the visit was over, we decided to pay a quick visit to the Christmas shop and post our letters in Santa’s post box. We were just in time to catch the 1.00pm ‘Birds of Prey’ show, also included in the price! They have two shows per day so try to time your visit with one of them as they worth staying for. The kids loved seeing the hawk, vultures and falcon perform and there is a selection of birds available to view on site afterwards.

Santa at Aillwee Cave

Santa at Aillwee Cave is special with personal touches that the kids will not forget. Make a weekend of it, you may not have many left! Believe me it is worth the drive, even if you do have to listen to Christmas songs the whole way home 😉

Click here for more information on our visit to Santa at Aillwee Cave.


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The Travel Expert

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