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Review 2018: BasingstokeCanal Santa Cruise
Helping out with NHM articles that past couple of years I have gained quite a lot of knowledge about local Santa and Christmas experiences and this year I finally got to experience the stuff of local Christmas legend, the Basingstoke Canal Santa Cruise.
Each year, in late September/early October the Basingstoke Canal visitor centre opens up early to take bookings for their Santa Cruises.
Tickets go fast and bookings can only be made in person or by phone so be prepared to spend a lot of time pressing redial.
One friend did decide to drive there one year to guarantee her spot by booking it in person, but I persevered with the phone and finally got through at around 11am on the first day of booking.
Their advice is to have a few dates in mind, especially if you want an evening or weekend, and also have the names and ages of children attending ready.
In 2018 the evening experiences cost £15.50 per person, weekend day times were £15 and weekday day time were £12. In December 2018 they ran six cruises a day and all but two cruises were sold out.
Fast forward to a very cold night in mid-December when I arrived at the centre in Mychett, with my four year old and almost eight year old and waited outside for our boat.
The area outside the centre had been dressed with Christmas lights and we were greeted by a giant inflatable Santa.
Facilities whilst waiting were basic, access to toilets and a bench to sit on inside an area normally used for changing, so dress for the weather and don’t leave your car too early.
We boarded the last boat of the day at 7pm. There are twelve people per cruise, including adults, our cruise had five children on board. After boarding the boat our guide asked the children to look out for Christmas lights and let her know when they saw them.
We cruised up the canal for about 10 mins, when we arrived at our jetty and got off the boat everyone was given a torch.
The guide then asked the children to look out for the red tinsel which would guide them to Santa, we followed the red tinsel through the dark woods until we found Santa’s grotto.
Santa’s grotto was a yurt, beautifully decorated for Christmas.
Inside we all sat on hay bales as we waited for Santa to wake up, once he did he chatted with us all as a group first before looking up names in his book and chatting individually to each child for a few minutes.
He adjusted his chat accordingly to the age and personality of the child and afterwards we sang a few songs, he then gave out gifts to each child, which already had their names on.
We were in the yurt for about 20 minutes. After we said goodbye to Santa we used our torches to find the silver tinsel that would guide us back out of the woods and back on to our boat where we opened our gifts, good quality, age appropriate books.
We then cruised back to the centre where we did some colouring whilst enjoying mince pies or chocolate bars and hot drinks, all included in the price. We left the centre at around 8.20pm.
Rating out of 5
We do a few Santa and Christmas experiences each year and this was a really lovely event, unlike anything we had done before and perfect for restoring the magic for my doubting older son.
The boat and the canal centre are practical rather than luxury but the uniqueness of the occasion and the enthusiasm of the guides and Santa, really made this feel special. None of the children became bored, with each activity taking the right amount of time.
All the food was branded with allergy information easily available but it would be fine to take your own if you needed to.
The experience was really good value for money and suitable for all ages, although I think older children would really prefer the after dark cruises.
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