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We visited the Bury Santa Experience in Bury St Edmunds and this is what we thought



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The former Topshop, in Bury St Edmunds' arc shopping centre, has been transformed into a magical festive grotto, which opened this weekend.

More than 2,000 £10 tickets have been bought for the sold-out event – although more tickets could be released soon – with £2 from each being donated to Suffolk Mind.

We sent three families from the Suffolk News team along to the Bury Santa Experience to give their honest opinions on the grotto.

Reporter Kevin Hurst visited on Saturday with his children Ellie, five, and Theo, one. Picture by Mark Westley
Reporter Kevin Hurst visited on Saturday with his children Ellie, five, and Theo, one. Picture by Mark Westley

Reporter Kevin Hurst visited on Saturday with his children Ellie, five, and Theo, one.

Having already had a sneak peek on Thursday of what my children were going to see at the Santa experience I knew it would – especially for my eldest – blow their minds.

Though the weather outside was frightful as we queued, it really was quite delightful when we stepped inside the snowy entrance of the experience.

Tinsel, the welcoming elf, was so attentive of Ellie as she looked around with her mouth wide open trying to take it all in.

Showing her a booklet of animals, the elf explained all of them could be found in the Narnia-inspired first section. With that my daughter was already sold – hook, line and Christmassy sinker.

After spotting deer, rabbits and a few more woodland creatures (which Theo wanted to grab at every turn), we found ourselves in the next section, Santa's workshop.

Here Ellie, with another elf on hand, wrote a letter to the man himself as Theo played with some blocks. Again, all the attention (which she loved) was on our daughter.

After this and a short queue, a red curtain was opened and Ellie ran into the final part.

But before she got a few short steps in she stopped dead because before her was . . . Father Christmas.

Her face at this point definitely made the experience special for me.

She had plenty of time to talk to Father Christmas and hand him a picture she had made at about 7am that morning in excitement.

After photographs we waved him goodbye and made our way out back into the cold.

Whatever people's views are on the experience, it set us as a family into the festive spirit as we put up our decorations and got a tree that afternoon.

People have spoken about the near £83,000 spent and £10 a ticket but, for me, the attention in making it special for Ellie, her reaction to meeting Santa and memories it has made are things no money can buy. That is what the experience, I believe, is all about.

Sports editor Russell Claydon and family at the Bury Santa Experience
Sports editor Russell Claydon and family at the Bury Santa Experience

Russell Claydon, sports editor, took his children Layla, six, and Jasmine, four to the Bury Santa Experience on Sunday.

Jasmine, my four-year-old, had two questions when I told her we were off to see Father Christmas: Is he real? Are we going to the North Pole?

Despite being my youngest by 22 months, she was the one that would be giving the sternest examination of whether this ‘Bury Santa Experience’ deserved to be given the comical literal translation.

There is nothing very impressive about the outside, the former Topshop. But inside, as we were immediately greeted by a very enthusiastic and convincing elf, it very soon became a magical experience.

Transforming a queue into an enchanted forest with nine animals to find was a great idea.

Snow-covered trees, a lampost and white curtains created the right atmosphere, as did the giant toy soldiers as we entered the toy shop to meet another bubbly elf.

If the build-up was good the main event didn’t disappoint. Santa certainly looked real, along with another elf who was great with the kids and delivered not one but two passable presents each before our professional family photo (£10 to purchase).

So was it all worth the entrance fee? Layla described it as ‘good, amazing’ while Jasmine just went for ‘good’ which, from her, was certainly good enough.

Bury Free Press senior reporter Camille Berriman accompanied her daughter Clara, five, to the grotto on Saturday. Picture by Mark Westley
Bury Free Press senior reporter Camille Berriman accompanied her daughter Clara, five, to the grotto on Saturday. Picture by Mark Westley

Senior reporter Camille Berriman accompanied her daughter Clara, five, to the grotto on Saturday.

Family visits to see Santa Claus have been hit and miss in previous years. Some experiences have seen Clara afraid to go near the big man, while others have seen us visit little more than a shed in a garden centre.

Our trip to the Bury Santa Experience is definitely one I would chalk up under the 'success' category.

While I feared a rather chilly wait outside might dampen Clara's mood, our very warm welcome to the grotto from Tinsel the Elf set us up for a merry and magical visit.

Clara immediately set about finding all the animals in the enchanted forest before writing and posting a letter to Santa reading a book with another elf at the toyshop.

Then, it was time to meet the man himself.

"I remember you from last year," exclaimed Father Christmas as Clara strode over. "You had more teeth then," he added.

Clara then proceeded to tell him her (long) wishlist before climbing on his lap for a photograph and to receive a small gift and selection box. She was thrilled.

We paid the extra to buy the photos (£10 each or two for £15) as I have seldom seen her little face so made up.

I'm not sure how many years we have of Clara remaining a believer, but she was still talking about Santa's words to her two nights later. And she is still promising to 'be a good girl'. Thanks Santa!