We were twenty-five minutes late leaving the house. Not a good start. Dun Laoghaire to Malahide is long journey. But Sunday morning means light traffic. Or so we hoped, as we made our way towards the M50, promising the kids we’d definitely make it on time – that there was no way we’d miss their appointment with Santa.
We’d been to Malahide Castle during the summer, but despite the kids’ requests, we hadn’t taken the castle tour. So when I started googling Santa venues a few weeks ago, and found that the Malahide Castle Santa experience includes a tour of the castle, we decided to book it.
It’s our second year doing a “Santa experience” instead of going to the local shopping centre, and we know that the golden rule is to be on time. Every website stipulates this – if you don’t arrive on time, you miss your slot. So why we were twenty-five minutes late leaving the house is beyond explanation; I’ll put it down to being parents of small kids.
We made it on the dot of 11; the last family through the door. Two parents breathed sighs of relief while three kids, oblivious to the near miss, jumped up and down with excitement.
The tour started straight away; we were all taken to the Oak Room, a wood-panelled room that looked like a large study; we wandered around looking at the giant fireplace that was covered in bright green and red holly; the high ceilings; the narrow windows letting December sunshine in. Happily, there was nothing for the toddler to pick up or break. As 12th century castles go, it’s very child-friendly.
The kids were then invited to sit on the floor, while the parents stood behind. Into the room came Scrooge – looking for all the world like Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol – perhaps a younger version. He told the children the story of A Christmas Carol, asking questions as he went along, to make sure they were following, and judging by their answers, they were. It was lovely – the actor put everything into it, and the setting of the historic castle made it seem very real. Once Scrooge had finished his story, we went through to a sitting room, where the men of the castle used to retire for whiskey and cigars after dinner – with a lock to prevent the women entering, which as our tour guide said, seemed a little excessive.
We filed through then to a third room – a much bigger drawing room (trying to remember Pride and Prejudice references here), where we met “Lord Talbot”. He explained to the children that he was the one-time lord of the castle (“My name is Lord Talbot, but you can just called me Lord”) and pointed out his parents on some original portraits hanging behind him (“A beautiful woman my mother,” pointing to a particularly austere looking lady). He asked the children what they had written their letters to Santa, and improvised brilliantly depending on their answers – it was like being at a Dare O’Briain gig for kids.
Our final room in the tour was a huge dining room, where the children met the Snow Queen. She sat on the floor with the kids, chatting to them about the upcoming festivities and the impending appointment with the man in red, and then got them to sing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – very cute and very christmassy.
We were then led back downstairs to a waiting area, as we were called family by family to see Santa. The waiting area had easels set up for kids to draw with chalk or markers, and colouring pages. For the grown-ups, there was plenty of reading material on the walls – the history of the castle and the Talbot family, who lived there on and off since the twelfth century. There was mulled wine and mince pies for the grownups too, though I had to share all of mine with the kids (the pie, not the wine).
Finally we were called to meet Mrs. Claus – a lovely, jolly woman who my five-year-old said looked exactly like she thought Mrs. Claus would look, then Jingle the elf brought us through to meet Santa. I loved Santa. He had a grey beard and twinkly eyes, and really and truly, I believed in this Santa. He seemed like he wanted to be there and was genuinely enjoying chatting with the kids – think of Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa and then imagine the opposite. He spent time talking to the kids – we didn’t feel at all rushed – and then they each got a wrapped present with their own name on it. After photos, we wished Santa, Jingle and Mrs. Claus a merry Christmas, and made our way back upstairs to open the presents.
The gifts were good quality – two each! I don’t know how we’ll manage expectations if we go somewhere else next year. Maybe we’ll have to go back to Malahide…
After our visit, we had lunch in the gorgeous Avoca cafe in the castle, then went through to the Walled Garden (there’s normally a charge but it’s free with the Santa experience) so the kids could run around, and the parents could struggle under the weight of six presents.
So, here’s a summary of what we thought:
What was great?
- The setting – the ancient castle felt just perfect for meeting Scrooge and Santa
- The gifts – good quality, nicely wrapped presents
- The organisation – particularly friendly staff, very efficient
- The mulled wine – nice to have something for the grown-ups
- The characters – the actors were great and really engaged with the kids – lots of jokes for the grown-ups too
- Santa – he was a lovely, genuine, warm Santa – 10/10
What wasn’t great?
I found it very hard to think of any downsides but if I’m being very picky, there was confusion when the Snow Queen gave out golden tickets to all the children. There was big excitement over this and my kids wanted to know what they had won. It was actually a voucher for a 10% discount in the Avoca shop – I think that’s something that could be given to the adults on arrival or departure, so that the kids don’t think it’s entry to a chocolate factory or a lotto win (perhaps just my kids have such lofty expectations)
Admission includes: Castle tour, entrance to walled garden, mulled wine and mince pies, good quality gifts
I’d highly recommend Santa at Malahide Castle – it’s booked out for this year, but if you’re in the Dublin area, it’s a great option for next year. If you’d like to see more information on Santa venues around Ireland, try this article: 18 Places to Visit Santa in Ireland
And now I’m off to eat some more Celebrations – once you’ve visited Santa, it’s definitely Christmas right?
We paid for our tickets to Santa at Malahide and I didn’t receive anything for this review – all opinions very much my own!