Coalhouse Fort's Christmas grotto event was held with not just a visit to see Santa in store but a theatrical experience as well. It was quite a unique and delightful twist to the more familiar grotto formula.
As you arrive at the fort you notice that you aren't shown straight in, but instead allowed to cluster outside to form a small party. You're then joined by a group of children who promptly, and beautifully, serenade you to three Christmas carols. This, it turns out, is performed by the young children from the local performing arts academy "Creative Blast" and offered some hint that this will not be your standard Christmas grotto experience.
Next you are marshaled into Coalhouse Fort's underground tunnels.
Here the experience breaks-down into a succession of short theatrical experiences based on C.S Lewis's "The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe". This was done with performers, again provided by Creative Blast, and all in full costume of Aslan, the evil White Witch, Lucy, Mr Tumnus, and other familiar characters from the book.
After these performances you are shown out of the tunnels to the brighter and less dramatic setting of an on-site cafe ready to lavish you with refreshments. It's essentially the waiting room for seeing Santa. Whats so cool is that even here the organisers sought to add value as they positioned the singers of "Thurrock's Golden Voices" performing Christmas carols in an agreeable way that was a joy to be around. Here they also provided further creative activities for the children to keep them happy while they waited.
After 10 minutes of reclining in the cafe your name gets called by the Elfs and things start to get more familiar as Santa's grotto experiences go. The winter wonderland they created looked splendid. Santa Claus managed to be sweet, charming but also rather cheekily funny as well, which was great for the mums and dads, and by the time you leave you find yourself beaming a smile about as big as your kid's.
There are few Christmas experience you will have that will match this, and we've started to notice with Coalhouse Fort that they show a certain knack for carrying out events, that other venues do as well, but they do it with a certain style and panache that makes it a venue worth checking out when it comes to these sorts of occasions.