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How great is your grotto?

ASEVERY child kno ws this is Santa's busiest month of the year. His evenings are spent making lists and checking them twice for every little boy and girl. And by day, the jolly man's schedule is even more hectic as he puts in personal appearances at Christmas grottos around the world.

Toy crazes come and go, yet the magic of the Christmas grotto is as strong for sophisticated,computer-literate 21st century kids as ever it was.

Harassed parents still have to take time out from their shopping to stand in line with their offspring as they wait impatiently to give their personal Yuletide orders to the fat man in the beard and red suit.

Like the tooth fairy or the Easter bunn y, youngsters simply love the magic of Father Christmas, whatever his guise.

Some used to say he entered houses through open doors, trimmed trees and brought ging erbreadbut modern-day believers embrace the tradi- ti on by visiting him in a department store grotto.

But where is the best place to take your children for a private audience with Father Christmas? The Daily Post sent its own team of Santa's little helpers out to find out.

DAV ID Charters took his seven-year-old son Cameron to see the Father Christmas at ThePyramids shopping centre in Birkenhead.

Opening: Closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thursday 10 am -7pm,Friday and Saturday 10am-5pm.

Sunday 11 am -5pm.

Cost: pounds 2.50 for a photograph of your child with Father Christmas. pounds 2.50 for agift. You can do either or both. Santa: He was bespectacled and wearing a jolly crimson suit of decent quality with a fluffy white beard and looked quite con vincing. Although it was a brief visit,he asked the expected questions and had a pleasant manner.

Grotto: This is hardly a grotto at all. Father Christmas is found near the cafe in the main part of the centre and can be seen on his throne from the shopping aisle. However he is surrounded by largemechanicalanimals of agenerall y Yuletide style,but not a developed theme.

There is a gigantic artificial tree dressed with animatedbaubles. In the background we could hear the SalvationArmy band playing carols which addedafestive touch .Santa's helpers: None .Gift: A pocket calculator and pen. Cameron was very pleased with the present which was nicely wrapped. Extras: A photograph for apounds 2.50 charge. Queues: Six families in front of us,but there was a speedy turnaround.

Marks: 6/10

JULIE Yates,of Waterloo,Liverpool, took her children Erin, four,and Lewis,18months, to TGHughes inLiverpool. Opening: Monday to Wednesday and Friday, 10 am -5.15pm; Thursday, 10am-7.30pm; Saturday,9.30am to 5.45pm; Sunday,11am to 4.45pm Cost: pounds 2 per child.Santa: Very good appearance and he was nice with the children.

Grotto: Traditional. The long tunnel leading to Father Christmas is like a snow-filled winter wonderland with plenty of Christmas scenes at either side. At the end of the tunnel is Santaon a large red and gold chair.

Santa's helpers: None . Gift: Erin got a toy cooking set and Lewis received a set of toy cars.

Extras: Photograph with Santa pounds 3.Queues: None .Marks: 8/10

LEWISand Jamie Malone, of Formby, Merseyside, visited the grotto of Sefton Meadows Garden and Home Centre in nearby Maghull.

Opening: Monday-Fridaynoon-5pm; Saturday,10am5.30pm; Sunday,10.30am4.30pm.

Cost: pounds 4 per child with adults and older children paying 50p each which includes a donation to Liverpool Alder Hey Children's HospitalRocking Horse Appeal.

Santa: UsualFather Christ-mas uniform which looked spruce and Santa wore glasses. He seemed friendly enough but a little distracted and not as chatty as others we have visited. Grotto: The garden centre has madeabigeffort with its fully-animated grotto. Lots of cute animals ranging from huskies and reindeer to Disney characters Tigger and Winnie the Pooh,as well as Thomas the Tank Engine.

Plenty of snow-decked Christmas trees with robins nesting. Santa's helpers: One or two to put the rope across so the right number of children get to see Santa.

Gift: Not bad. Lewis,aged10, received juggling balls and Jamie,agedfour,got mini-racing cars. Girls were given a skipping rope.

Extras: The children could have their photo taken with Santafor pounds 3.50 and while walking around the grotto they could sit down, write down their Christmas wish list and then post it.

Queues: There were no queues to get in to pay for the grotto but there was a small one to see Santa.

2 /10 Marks: /

JANE Gallagher,of Formby,and son, Ben, three, went to the FairytaleForrest Grotto in Lewis'sin Liverpool.

Opening: Variable, so phone ahead. Cost: pounds 3 to see Sant a an d get a present. However, you can walk though the grotto and see him for free if you don't want a present.

Santa: The outfit was a typicalhire,nothing out of the ordinary but Father Christmas was a jolly ScouseSanta. Obviously experienced with young children, he calmedBen down when he got a bit scared.

Grotto: Excellent. The grotto seemed to go on forever down along and winding road, which featured different fairyland tales from Rapunzel to Goldilocks and the Sno wWhite and the ice caves. Lots to look at if the queues are long. Closer to Father Christmas there is a table with colouring pencils and paper and cushions in front of a television which plays Disney videos on aloop.

Santa's helpers: None . Gift: A lovely col ourful book which Ben has spent a lot of time reading. The price on the back of the book was pounds 9.99 and would have been worth it at that price.

Extras: There is a Christmas post box and photographer inside .

Photographs range from from pounds 3.50 to pounds 10.50.

Queues: Quietmidweek when we went. Expect long er queues at weekend.

Marks: 8/10

CHRISTOPHERand CharlieAllen, aged three and 19 months, of Southport, visited Santa's Home Farm Grotto in Croxteth Park,Liverpool, with cousin John Patrick Brennan, three ,of Allerton, Liverpool.

Opening: 10.30am to 4pm. Cost: pounds 3.5 0. Admission for adults is pounds 1. Santa: A friendl y, relaxedfellow.

Grotto: Simplebut nice with wood burning stove. Santa sat on a comfortable settee, with plenty of room for the children.

Santa's helpers: A very nice elf. Gifts: Musical sets and a toy motorbike.

Extras: Photographs cost pounds 1.50. Therewas also a room filled with colouring books and masks. The grotto is in the farm which you can also visit. Not your average 15 -min ute grotto trip.

Queues: None .Marks: 8/10

PETERElson set off with his eight-year-old son, Alexander, to find Father Christmas in Brown's of Chester department store,in EastgateStreet,Chester. Opening: 11-3pm. Cost: pounds 2.5 0 to meet and talk to Father Christmas and receive one of three gifts. Santa: Quite one of the nicestFather Christmases I have come across. Absolutely delightful demeanour with Alexander. A distinctly Welsh lilt came through his beard and he told us how quickly his own three daughters had grown up , which alerted my son to the fact that he might not be the original Greenland article. With typical candour my son later said: ``That was nerve-wracking -I almost told him he wasn't the realSanta.''

Grotto: Not so much a grotto as more of a sort of Christmassy short hedge aven ue with various toys for sale along its length -optional whether you want to traverse it as Father Christmas sits at the entrance . After buying your ticket and pr e-selecting one of three gifts, you gambolafew yards across the shop floor to sit on a plush foot stool to discuss the material focus of Christmas with His Santaship, who is sat upon his throne . Santa's helpers: None . Gift: A set of coloured felt tips and drawings to fill.

Extras: No.Queues: None . In fact,Santacamelooking for us. Marks: 5/10. Modern and minimalist. This is very much the streamlined, sound bite Santa experience for overburdened busy parents and children.

Although the experience is rather lacking compared to elsewhere, this Father Christmas made up for other shortcomings.

CONTACT Giles Turnbull at gilest. org Features,Daily Post,PO Box 48,Old Hall Street,Liverpool,L69 3EB.


Daily Post, Monday, December 8, 2003 WR
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2003
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