Kids write him letters and leave him cookies by the fireplace. We wait in line so our children can whisper their wish lists in his ear. Santa is a part of the Christmas tradition for many families and now Toronto Eaton Centre’s Story Time with Santa gives kids a new interactive experience to get ready for Christmas.
Unlike most mall Santa experiences, Story Time with Santa takes you away from the hustle and bustle of Christmas shoppers and lines and transports you to the magical world of the North Pole, by express elevator.
After stepping off the elevator on the 27th floor of 250 Yonge Street (right next to the Roots on the third floor of Toronto Eaton Centre), guests check-in and are invited to step into the lounge where they’ll find Christmas cookies and drinks and carols playing overhead. Sure beats standing in line with little ones who lack patience. Kids can look out the window at the cityscape, walk around, or sit on benches (or the floor). They can even check out Mrs. Claus’s grand chair with her collection of cards and letters and knitting.
In no time at all we’re invited to visit the North Pole and that’s where the magic begins. As you enter the hall, covered in sparkly silver curtains, you round the corner and enter a vast ocean of floating sea life. Okay, maybe it’s not really the arctic but the display does a great job mimicking it. The floor is blue with sprays of white and the sparkling curtains surround the whole space. Santa’s chair sits at the front, carved out of an iceberg but the best part is the seating for you, the guest. You won’t find chairs or benches or even pillows to sit on to listen to Santa’s story. Instead you’ll find ice floats, polar bears, walruses and other arctic creatures, all created out of super-sized beanbag chairs. The gasps from kids (and parents) are clearly audible as we all enter the room.
Many kids rushed to sit at the front, near Santa’s iceberg chair, but my two were content to hang-out on their polar bears near the back. They loved sitting on these body-forming seats; my youngest even named her walrus and started making up stories about her while we waited for Santa.
It wasn’t long before one of Santa’s elves came into the room to prepare us for Santa’s visit. And when the jolly man arrived the kids all cheered and waved. He had a little chat with the audience and then settled in to read his story, Santa is Coming to Toronto from Raincoast Books. My kids were thrilled since we just read that story at home. The pages of the story were displayed on two monitors within the room for the benefit of those not sitting near the front but they didn’t really matter since all eyes were on Santa.
At the end of the story, kids were invited up for a one-on-one visit with Santa. Each family was given a number when they checked-in and it was this number that determined the order of their Santa visit. So no lining-up required. While other kids waited their turn, they could go back to the lounge to get another cookie, visit the washroom or just sit and watch Christmas cartoons playing on the two monitors. Although my kids are older, it was nice to see a nursing or quiet room for families with infants.
When it was our turn, the kids rushed to sit with Santa. I loved how Santa started talking to them about how much they had grown since last year or asking if they were still getting along with their siblings. It was a nice way to extend the magic of Santa beyond just this visit, that he knew them. I had two of my kids with me and Santa did a great job giving each of them equal time and not just asking what they wanted but actually talking to them and seeming interested. He really was a great Santa, in both appearance and character.
Unlike the mall Santa visits, you take your own photos (if you want photos). I was able to grab some posed shots but also some casual shots of them talking. My photos may not be photography quality but I love the naturalness of them over staged shots.
After saying goodbye to Santa and wishing him a Merry Christmas, Santa’s elf gave each of the kids a present, which was a nice surprise. Plus before leaving, one of the Story Time with Santa helpers gave the kids stickers and a large candy cane.
I must admit, the idea of Santa not being in the mall had me doubting that the experience would still contain the magic expected from a Santa visit but I think the Story Time with Santa experience was so much better:
- No line-up. Each guest is given a number at check-in so you know your order and can relax until it’s your turn.
- Freedom to move. You can take the kids to the bathroom or the lounge for a cookie or just walk around if they get cranky. You’re not stuck waiting in one spot until it’s your turn.
- No jacket. It’s winter, which means the kids will be bundled up but you can use the coat check after you check-in so you are not burdened with carrying everyone’s jackets around.
- Christmas Snacks. I loved the idea of offering Christmas cookies and they were so cute (and popular). There was water, juice, and pop to drink too but it would have been nice to see milk or hot cocoa for a more Christmasy feel.
- Gift from Santa. Receiving a small gift from Santa is always special. Some parents had their kids save these but we opened ours right away. My kids loved their little gift but if your child has no interest, remember there is the Toy Mountain box near the fountain in Toronto Eaton Centre where the gift can be donated.
- Free. This surprised me too but the whole 1-hour Story Time with Santa experience is free.
Although it is nice to not be in the middle of the mall visiting Santa, the mall just doesn’t feel the same not having him there. I love walking by and seeing Santa with the kids, hearing his voice, and seeing the excited faces of the little kids. Santa in the mall is all part of the Christmas experience to me. Our very first Santa photo was done at Toronto Eaton Centre. So although I love the new experience with Santa I will miss Santa being in the mall.
If you can’t make it down to the Story Time with Santa or you have a child who feels she is too big to sit on Santa’s lap (like my oldest daughter), you can reserve a Skype session with Santa. Yes, even Santa is going hi-tech. How cool would you be setting up a one-on-one Skype session with Santa? And it’s completely free.
With Story Time with Santa and Skype with Santa, Toronto Eaton Centre adds a whole new level of interactivity between your kids and the jolly man in red; a great way to get on your child’s good list. Checkout Toronto Eaton Centre on Facebook for all their holiday updates, including events, special deals, and more.
This post is sponsored by Toronto Eaton Centre.