CANAL boats, museums and swimming baths - Santa’s helpers are everywhere this Christmas. Family Matters takes a tour of several Santa’s grottos in Sheffield.
THE ARRAY of canal boats parked up at Victoria Quays don’t look particularly Christmassy.
But appearances can be deceptive.
There is one particularly special barge moored up at this rather quaint marina.
And it’s a lot more festive than you’d think.
Welcome to the Santa Cruise - Santa’s own canal boat.
Here, throughout the lead-up to Christmas, mums and dads can take their children to the Santa Cruise and enjoy a trip down the canal with a very special visit from a very special guest.
Yes, you guessed it, Santa.
Santa - a well-known canal network enthusiast, apparently - will join the boat after parking up his reindeers in a nearby patch of land.
“Santa is very busy at this time of year so we have one of his representatives come and visit the children on the boat,” says Santa’s canal boat helper Dorrie Grey. “He hand-picks all the presents and each one even has the child’s name on it.”
“Santa also wants to make sure the mums and dads are happy so we give them tea, coffee, mince pies and mulled wine and while children are waiting their turn they get to do a spot of colouring or take part in a quiz.”
This is one of Santa’s most popular grottos in Sheffield, so parents must book in advance, but it is a real family treat.
“The whole thing takes about an hour,” says Dorrie, “Just enough time for all the children to say hello to Santa and get their presents. I give everyone a safety talk before we set off too,” she says.
The Santa Cruise costs £11.50 per person and the tour talks one hour. It is tremendous fun.
“We want families to feel they’re having a proper trip out,” says Dorrie, “there’s even a surprise for the parents too.”
The Santa Cruise Father Christmas trips run on Saturday, December 10 from 2.30pm and 4pm; Sunday, December 11 from 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm; Saturday, December 17 from 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm; Sunday, December 18 from 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm and finally Christmas Eve, leaving at 11.30pm, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm.
Advance reservations are required to join the Santa Cruise because it is very popular.
And just a 10 to 15 minute walk from the Santa Cruise HQ at Victoria Quays is one of Santa’s other grottos on Fargate. But this grotto’s a lot more traditional than Santa’s canal boat grotto. Here, in a wooden cabin imported especially from Lapland, Santa has employed a Father Christmas representative and helper to give presents out to Sheffield children.
His representative said: “Santa’s having a tough year this year - he’s having to be very frugal with presents, But we’ve had a lot of interesting requests. Some children want Nintendo DS computers, others have asked for a scooter and one young lad asked for a cement mixer.”
The Fargate Santa’s Grotto runs until Christmas Eve.
But there are dozens of grottos dotted across Sheffield.
Weston Park Museum runs its own glacier grotto. The museum has turned its Arctic World gallery in a Christmas haven, so that visitors get a feel for what it’s like for Santa living on the North Pole. One of Santa’s representatives will be there giving out quality presents.
The Arctic World grotto costs £5 per child and runs on December 10, 11, 17, 18 and 19, from 10am - 5pm on weekdays and Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 5pm.
But visiting Santa isn’t always easy - sometimes he wants children to work extra hard for their presents.
On December 11, the British Heart Foundation Santa Jog takes place in Sheffield city centre. Children and parents are invited to run, walk or jog one mile to raise money for BHF and all participants are given a Santa suit. The Christmas Santa jog starts at 11am on December 11 but at £10 per person (including children over 14), it’s not cheap.
And then, of course, there’s the Meadowhall grotto, which runs until Christmas Eve. Meadowhall has created its own magical Christmas kingdom, with cobbled streets and Medieval towers, creating a real-life fairy tale. A visit to the grotto costs £4 and is open to parents and children turning up on the day or booking advance online.
For more scientifically-minded children, the Magical 3D grotto at Crystal Peaks has created an illusion world which features Rocket the Reindeer and the North Pole. The 3D grotto runs until Christmas Eve and costs £3.
Family website Raring2Go is a great source for families looking for quirky Christmas days out with lots of vouchers and latest offers. Among the Christmas activities on the site is Breakfast with Father Christmas, from December 11 to Christmas Eve at Sheffield Millennium Hotels. Brekkie with Santa costs £10 and booking is essential.
Hillsborough Leisure Centre are also doing Christmas breakfasts with Santa, only at Hillsborough Leisure Centre they’ve thrown a swim as well. The swims start at 9am and breakfast with Santa starts at 11am. Booking is advisable and places cost £8.50 per child.
And while all these grottos provide a real pre-Christmas treat, they only an appetiser for the real thing, when Father Christmas comes into our own grotto - our home.
But that is, of course, only if we’re good.