Anyone that knows Mrs Lighty will tell you just how much I love Christmas. I love everything about it – the lights, the festive songs on the radio, the Christmas specials on the telly – but I’ll always say that I particularly love the build up to the big day itself, sometimes more than the main event. So when the Lighty family were lucky enough to be invited to the intu Lakeside VIP Bloggers’ Christmas Grotto event, I knew that this was the start of what was to be a very special build up to Baby Lighty’s first Christmas.
We were greeted yesterday in the central atrium of the intu Lakeside shopping centre by the Hamley’s Bear, cheerfully handing out bright red balloons to all of the children in attendance.
Hamley then led us through the centre – which was shimmering under the weight of its Christmas decorations – to Christmas Street. As soon as I saw Christmas Street the excitement kicked in. I do love a Christmas market, so to see a little replica German market leading the families into the Christmas grotto was lovely!
Pass through Christmas Street, and you’ll find Father Christmas’ grotto at the end. It reminded me of Hansel and Gretel’s house, with its candy canes supporting the entrance and snow dripping from the roof like icing. For anyone worrying about the grotto being situated outside this year and exposed to the elements of the British winter weather, fear not, for inside the main entrance there is an interactive queuing area; Father Christmas’ merry elves lead you into a space where the little ones can push buttons, see things light up and really be a part of the Christmas experience as they wait to see the main man himself. We particularly liked the Wish Whisperer – where children both big and small can whisper their Christmas wishes into a trumpet device to be sent directly to Father Christmas – and the naughty and nice button; just as we knew he would, Baby Lighty has been nice this year!
After a short wait, we were up! A friendly elf, who Baby Lighty was clearly taken with judging by his smile, led us through to see Father Christmas in his snug little living room. He wanted to know what Baby Lighty’s result was from the naughty and nice machine in the waiting area, and once he’d ascertained from that and Baby Lighty’s smile that he’d been a good boy this year, he asked him what he’d like for Christmas, suggesting that maybe he’d like a special teddy bear as it was his first Christmas (which weirdly was exactly the order that Mr and Mrs Lighty were going to put in with Father Christmas! He really is magic!).
A few lovely photos later, Father Christmas kindly gave Baby Lighty a present before we went to purchase our snaps (we had to have a bauble too – it’s only once that Baby Lighty will have a first Christmas, after all!) and then out into the cold night air to enjoy the market. I think you could sense Mr and Mrs Lighty’s excitement at that point as we commented that Christmas Street “smelt European” due to the delicious smells emanating from the food on offer and Mr Lighty pointed out the Christmas Kisses – or Schaumbecher for Mrs Lighty’s German speaking friends – on the confectionary stall. Baby Lighty was just enthralled by the lights of the carousel ride at this point!
It really feels like intu Lakeside have tried to make the Christmas shopping experience magical for both adults and children alike; I can just see us popping down to Christmas Street after a hard day’s shopping to have a bite to eat and for Baby Lighty to look on in wonder at all the lights, and I think this is the experience that the centre is aiming for. All in all we had a lovely evening, and as first visits to Christmas Grottos go, this was definitely an excellent place to start.
For more information on the intu Lakeside Christsmas Grotto, please visit the centre’s website: http://intu.co.uk/lakeside/events/christmas-grotto. We were kindly invited to the blogger’s event promoting the Grotto and Christmas Street, but all of the above opinions are my own.