Christmas at Dobbies, Milton Keynes

a mother and a child posing for a picture
I know – another day, another grotto. We had a fun-filled weekend at the end of November with back-to-back grotto visits. We started early, but I wanted to do a few new ones and of course, spaces throughout December were limited at the time I booked.

We do love our local Dobbies Garden Centre but had never done the grotto experience… in fact, I didn’t even know they had this Christmas event. We’d visited a few times recently prior to our visit (for the soft play and the Christmas shop) and I don’t recall seeing it advertised, but I’m glad I looked into it and booked a place. We have a fair few garden centres in and around Milton Keynes, but Dobbies is one of my favourites.

The grotto was priced at £11.99 per child, but I loved that you could select your child’s age when booking, to ensure they received an age-appropriate toy. I have to say we generally prefer the grottos where children can pick their own gift, rather than receive something pre-wrapped that they might not like or be suitable. Each age range had a suggested gift, but a caveat to say this was not guaranteed. As there was a slight overlap on the age ranges, I chose 6-8, rather than 4-6 for Alfie – and actually the gift he received was the one on the website, and very much to his liking! He got a box of different fidget toys. Santa said he could have it early, so of course, he opened it as soon as he was home and played with it immediately.

a child sitting on a bench in front of a reindeer statue

The experience lasted for about 20 minutes but would vary depending on how quick you complete the trail and other activities. An elf at the entrance gave us a map, some stickers and a crayon – and we had to follow the trail to find the hidden letters, unscramble them and find the secret password so that Santa could unlock his tablet and confirm where we were on the naughty or nice list this year!

The map showed where each letter was and we went through the Little Seedlings forest and the tunnel of light, seeing woodland animals as well as penguin and reindeer en route. Before we went through to see Santa, we got to make a bird feeder, using a pine cone and some bird seed mixed with butter. Despite a metal spoon, it was a messy activity and we had to use our hands to cram the mixture into the pine cone. I say our hands – Alfie didn’t enjoy the greasy feel and getting his hands messy, so I had to take over (and risk getting it all in my nails) but luckily, there were baby wipes on the side to clean up after. Once we were done, we popped it in a paper bag and the elf took us through to see Santa.

a child spooning birdseed and butter in a pine cone

There was the usual chat – Alfie explained he wanted a blue Pogo stick for Christmas – and the elf took our photo. I actually requested two, so that Alfie could have one on his own and then a second of us both together. I bought a photo booklet, which was full of activities – but the photo wasn’t printed in the best quality and certainly not worth the £8 I paid. The website actually said we could take our own photos, but once we were at this point, we were told we couldn’t – which is a shame, because I would have got much nicer ones.

We then had a mooch around the garden centre and Christmas shop. We always see the koi carp and head to the fish tanks, so did that first, before a quick look around all the toys and games (was hoping to get some Christmas present inspo for friends). I love the food and drink shop, particularly at this time of year and could have bought so much. I ended up just getting Alfie a candy cane for his stocking. Instead, I got some gorgeous glass baubles for the tree. There were only four left, so I snapped them up – reduced from £4.99. It wasn’t until I got to the check out that I realised there was also 30% for the Black Friday sale and I think I paid about £1.20 each… I wish there had been more in stock!

Would we do the grotto again next year? I’m not sure. I’d say it was geared to younger children and it wasn’t worth the money – especially with the photo on top – as well as the length of time we were there. I think we spent more time going around the garden centre than we did at the grotto! I love that it is local, and it didn’t get as quickly booked up as some of the other more popular ones, so maybe if we couldn’t get in elsewhere, I’d consider it again.

Love, Lucy xx

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