To be fair, you get a lot for your money. With the breakfast and tea deals you obviously get food, activities and a present and if you go somewhere like World's End Garden Centre you have to walk through a magical land before you get to Santa before choosing a gift from a whole room of toys.
At the other end of the scale you have various Santas to visit at craft fairs, events and school fetes. Experiences vary - from fantastic, friendly and believable Santas to an enthusiastic but disappointing 20 year old in an old white t-shirt and polyester beard. These options may be cheaper but you can leave feeling like you've been robbed for the privilege of destroying your child's dreams... sorry, that's a bit harsh but you know what I mean!
So imagine how delighted I was to discover that Eden Shopping Centre had re-vamped their lovely 'Elf School' attraction and it even included a visit to Santa - for free!
This year, Elf School is based near House of Fraser. On Saturday they had a brass band from the Salvation Army playing beautiful Christmas carols and throughout December they also have German-style Christmas Market which is well worth a visit.
On entering there is a useful space for parking up your buggy before you meet the elves. Lily was recognised from last year (and previous visits to their holiday activities) and was told by the most Senior Elf that she must be back to complete her Masters this time round.
First up is the chance to write a postcard to Santa, pop your name on it and post it in the post box before moving on to the Elf transformation station to don your hat and rosy cheeks! The hats are even yours to keep (I'm wearing Ollie's as I type, imagine that). You're also given your very own Elf Name.
The children then have the chance to decorate little Christmas trees with colouring and stickers. We took ours home with us and added even more stickers for extra bling!
Next, each Elf is awarded their certificate confirming their graduation from Eden's Elf School and there's the chance to collect some very special reindeer food for sprinkling on Christmas Eve.
The Elf School venue this year feels bigger than last year and the process runs smoothly. I love all the decorations and themed touches around the room - lots of Christmas trees, fairy lights and even posters for Elf School timetables and meal time menus. There were more elves around and they were all sweet and kept in character throughout which just adds to the magic.
Once you've graduated and collected your reindeer food it is time to meet Santa himself. Despite it being a very busy Saturday, there was only one family in front of us and very little time to queue. Santa was wonderful and believable and there was no rush which I really liked. Lily was able to have a proper chat, tell Santa that she wanted a 'chocolate bear' and some 'princess toys' and that sometimes her 'little brother Ollie is a cheeky monkey'.
A friendly elf will capture photos for you on a smartphone or camera before you leave.
And I can pretty much guarantee that you'll leave happy! With a hat, certificate, bag of reindeer food and even a candy cane for good girls and boys it's hard to believe that Eden off all of this free of charge. There was a collection bucket for charity and I would urge any visitors to donate even a little small change for a good cause but it isn't forced on you.
You can find out more about Elf School and opening times at the Eden website here.
*I have not been asked by anyone to write this review, all opinions are my own*