After parking up near the animal area we wandered around trying to find where to pay, there were a few signs but a couple more would have been nice. After a short walk we found the train station and were told the train runs hourly so we did a little Christmas shopping before returning for the 2pm train.
After queuing a short while we were told there may not be enough seats and that we wouldn't be able to fit our prams on the train (we had presumed we would have to leave them at the station anyway) but luckily we managed to squeeze, and I really do mean squeeze into a carriage, with another lady and her 10 month old. Knees touching, babies on laps and three changing bags in a pile we headed off on our journey.
Along the way there were a few sparsely spaced decorations but mainly uninspiring views of the woodland. After a short journey we pulled up in a tunnel full of Christmas lights and decorations (some complete with price tags!) and we climbed out (with relief) of our tiny carriage and into a small room off the tunnel where we were greeted by a very friendly and welcoming Santa.
Children were asked to come to the front to chat to Santa. We stayed towards the back and our boys enjoyed watching a little toy train going around a track. Being at the back we couldn't really see much of what was happening but when everyone started making their way back onto the train we were able to move forward and our boys were greeted by the big man who gave them a wrapped gift each, which turned out to be a lovely little Christmas stories book. I'll enjoy reading him that one this Christmas.
Back onto the sardine train and within minutes we were at the end stop and disembarking. We had to walk back to the starting station to collect our prams, which seemed a bit silly. We did think it was unfair some people were able to take their prams on the train taking up valuable space, when others had to leave theirs at the station and walk back to collect them. A round trip where everyone leaves their pram at the station would seem a more obvious option to free up some space and make things a bit fairer.
All in all I wasn't overly inspired by the trip, the decorations lacked imagination and they appeared to have missed a trick in not doing more with decorating the outside areas. We didn't get to take any pictures at all as there wasn't any space to take them (the ones I've used here have been given with permission from other Nice Mums members) and Santas costume was looking a little tired. Music would have been a simple but great addition both on the train and in the grotto to add to the atmosphere.
I do think the idea of a train ride to the North Pole to see Santa is a great one and perhaps slightly older children could really get into the "trip" with the help of enthusiastic family members. I know other members of Nice Mums Devon have been impressed by the trip so perhaps in another years time I will feel our boys would get more out of it, but for us today it seemed to lack the magic a little.
The trip did represent good value with children at £3 (including the gift) and adults £2. This also includes a free cup of tea, entrance to see their model railway and entrance to their animated Elves Toy Workshop which sadly we did not know about until I got home, that'll teach me to not read leaflets we're given until getting home! Perhaps some more signs would have informed us better.
Nice Mum Stars *** 3/5