Category Archives: Year Three

Essex Santa Vs Essex Santa: Marsh Farm against Adventure Island

The annual trip to see Santa, it’s almost a rite of passage for younger members of the family and some of my earliest memories include waiting to see Father Christmas, but such choice. Which is the one you should spend your money on, the one that you should spent time queuing for in Essex?

Obviously I’ve not been to see them all in one night (who do you think I am, the man himself?) so I can only comment on the ones we have seen.

I’m focusing on comparing and contrasting two experiences, one from 2013 at Marsh Farm and the other from Adventure Island in 2014. Other Santa experiences in Essex are of course available.

First up then, Adventure Island…


When you are little it doesn’t get more exciting than visiting Santa, it’s like a massive adventure so what better place to head to this year than Adventure Island.

DSC_1433He’s normally found residing in the North Pole but we found him closer to home on Southend seafront, although judging by Sarah’s coat you’d have thought we were Arctic bound with huskies and all.

Of course, being winter the main Adventure Island is deserted and looks like something you’d find in an episode of Scooby-Doo, if it wasn’t for the glorious sunshine and blue sky for the middle of December. We did get showered with fake snow though, which was quite nice.

Instead we found ourselves entering through the entrance to Feelgoods to be greeted by a giant sleigh and reindeer before we heads under a festive archway and downstairs to sign in with some elves.

Sticker stuck and wristband attached Iz was ready to begin on her journey to find Father Christmas.

Our first step was Southend’s answer to the Polar Express, although thankfully it was less like Westworld with multiple Tom Hanks’. Iz loved it at the front of the train with Sarah so it was my turn to step up to the mark on the following ride, Santa’s Sleigh, which must have hit some turbulence as it didn’t half throw you around.

DSC_1466Iz loved it though – as you can see in the video – and even eagerly fastened her own safety belt, my knees were wedged against the carriage which meant I really was going nowhere. Iz even had fun punching the sleigh’s super pursuit mode, well The Hoff is in town after all.

Post rides we stepped into the entrance of Santa’s grotto, its blinking and flashing lights an trees as we worked our way down the first corridor was almost like the stargate scene from 2001 Christmas special.

Twists and turns took us on a winding sparkly journey that included  the  sights and sounds of a toy  factory, Nar…I mean Wardrobia and a post office.

But this was no ordinary post office, it was one run by Santa’s elves and you also had the opportunity to write a letter to Santa and pin it to his wall.  Isabelle certainly didn’t need asking twice and thoughtfully penned him a letter with her name and covered it with crayon kisses.

It was only then a short wait to be ushered through a door by a helpful elf. Iz then knocked hard and loud on a wooden door before a warm voice ushered her to come in.

As she entered Father Christmas was sat in the corner, he was surrounded by piles upon piles of presents. Chatty all the way round this is where naturally went all sheepish, although she did get to mention a double buggy, Buster’s Bones and Doggie Doo – thankfully I didn’t have to explain the concept to jolly St Nick.

After a not totally successful photo with Santa – Iz didn’t really want to play ball – she was handed a large present from the pile and we waved our goodbyes but not before promising Santa that we’d leave him out a mince pie and a little tipple come Christmas Eve.

Before heading home there was time for one more trip on Santa’s Sleigh, by this time the Polar-ish Express was being pushed round, something about the wrong sort of fake snow on the line apparently.

We bought our Santa snap – normal photo not snow globe or key ring format  – and then us grown ups claimed our free mulled wine which certainly warmed us up on the walk back to the car in the fading daylight across the now chilly seafront.

DSC_1512And of course no seasonal visit to Southend seafront would be complete without an ice-cream. This Christmas lark, you could say that Isabelle has it licked.

At £17 for three of us it wasn’t a bad shout and certainly wasn’t as wallet or distance busting as say Marsh Farm – which we did last year when it was cheaper and in the week as Iz was at nursery.

The rides were a nice touch – you could have gone on them as many times as you wanted to – and all the elves we met were jolly and friendly. They even helpfully warned us of the 30 minute wait to see Santa as we slowly snaked through the different rooms, but then it was a Saturday and there was only a little bit I standing around and plenty of visuals to take in.

The only thing that could have improved that would have been times slots, which we’ve had at a previous grotto visit, or multiple Santa’s, which we had at Marsh Farm which kept the queue coasting through.

All in all though it was a fun experience, at less half price of Marsh Farm, which we might have looked at again were it not exactly the same as last year.

We were there for a total of two hours and felt it represented good value for money, we got a free hot drink and Iz’s gift was like a playdoh set.

The only additional costs were paying for parking on the seafront and buying our picture, which was £10.

There was no obligation to buy but you weren’t allowed to take pics in Santa’s room. You had the option of both at Marsh Farm last year.

And so to Marsh Farm…

Farmer Christmas

The Goat of Christmas Past

For Christmas 2013 we headed down to see Father Christmas at Marsh Farm, besides seeing Santa there was a full day of activity – both Christmas and farm yard related – to welcome us and keep us busy.

You’d think that explaining to a jolly fat bloke what presents you would like would be easy, well it is, it is just deciding where to do it is the oh so fiddly part. London, when taking into account the train was too costly and the end of Southend Pier (the longest pier in the world at 1.33 miles just so you know) wasn’t enticing enough for the price.

So, after much deliberation we decided to go and visit him and his elves at Marsh Farm as its package included not just meeting the bearded chap, but decorating a gingerbread man with Mrs Christmas, painting a tree decoration, getting to choose and stuff your own make a bear  (after being given a token by Santa), travelling to meet him on a ‘train’ and visiting the farm and its menagerie of animals.

IMG_5764And my wife, daughter and I got to do all this for £30, which took the best part of the day and we thought it was all rather good value for money. In that you also got access to the whole of Marsh Farm as well, so we pretty much made a whole day of it!

The other great thing is that Marsh Farm actually has its own reindeer, so even they were drafted in for supporting roles, minus funny ears and silly costumes of course. Unfortunately the last time I was at Marsh Farm it was synonymous with rain dear rather than reindeer as we held Isabelle’s third birthday on the day back in August when we had that torrential rain. We had a wet but fun party but it was certainly a marked contrast to our return visit with Iz mostly walking round with her sunglasses on…not something I thought I would be writing with less than two weeks until Christmas Day (which is when we went).

Thirty quid sounds steepish, but then all things considered that includes entry to the whole of Marsh Farm – we went midweek and it was a lovely day and was a whole day affair, a marked difference from the two hours we spent at Adventure Island.

The cuddly toy was great, think like build a bear but not, clothes and accessories were of course optional extras as were photos, in key rings and snowglobes (we went with the latter as you’ll see) but you were able to take your own pics when meeting Santa as well, another one up on Adventure Island.


IMG_5774Looking back at the video a year later and comparing it against this year’s attraction, although it is further to get to I think we’ll be making a return visit to Santa at Marsh Farm next year as there is just much more to do and to experience.

Marsh Farm’s Santa experience really is the full ticket and the only reason we didn’t do it again this year was because it didn’t look like it had changed so we wanted to try another experience.

Adventure Island may have been much cheaper and closer – parking was a further £3 mind and you couldn’t take your own pics of meeting Santa and they were an extra £10 or three for £20 – but the experience just wasn’t as immersive or as long.

Previously on Christmas Day…

Such a lot can happen in a year, it doesn’t really seem five minutes since last Christmas, that’s Christmas 2013 and not the Wham song you understand.

They’ve remained under a tarpaulin for a year to the day almost, but here are Isabelle’s  first really rather excited moments from Christmas 2013 with a really rather successful hoodwink of how Father Christmas made it in despite no fireplace.

Clearly Saturday evenings watching Beadle’s About weren’t a complete waste of time.

Rock chick

Shades. Check. Springsteen-esque Hello Kitty t-shirt. Check. Thumping tune. Check.

Isabelle released her not so inner rock chick when Crazy Nights by Kiss was cranked up to 11 (obviously) in grandma and grandads’s car on the way to see ‘How To Train Your Dragon 2’.

After the screening I’m sure Iz will book into the nearest hotel just to throw a TV through a window, just to complete the ensemble.

West end girl

IMG_9167Isabelle made her West End debut a week ago today at the Novello Theatre, current home of Mamma Mia.

It’s an iconic theatre and we were flanked by famous name shows – The Lion King and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – and famous names, Iz was performing across the street from Jessica Rabbit and Emperor Palpatine AKA Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid.

Iz was on stage to help celebrate ten years of Make Believe, the theatre school that she is part of on a Saturday morning in Southend. And she loved it, and she was a proper little star.

After we got up to London we had to leave her at the stage door, complete with snazzy blue t-shirt exclusive to the Southend school, along with the rest of her classmates, or should that be castmates? With the number of phones and cameras going off you’d have thought that they were all famous, and they all took it completely in their stride. If Iz had a sharpie I’m sure she’d have been signing her name as well!

And so we settled down for the show, awaiting Isabelle’s three appearances, for the songs Blame it on the Boogie, Truly Scrumptious and A Whole New World, all from West End shows or from Disney.

When she remembered, or wasn’t just gawping at the singers on stage, Iz was the consummate professional and performed with gusto, especially the bum wiggles and arm movements. I must admit that during her second performance I even had a proud Dad tear in my eye, thankfully it was dark, but it really was special to see her up there on that stage – as it was for Sarah, Grandma and Rosemary – in front of all of those people, especially as she had only ever set foot on it just an hour earlier.

IMG_9216And of course, her leading man throughout the show was Thomas, who seemed quite the item prior to the show. Perhaps these darlings are the new Burton and Taylor or Ken and Em? They’ll have a spread in Hello next!

Like most things with Iz, she just took the whole day in her stride and just had lots of fun. So, if this turns out to be Isabelle’s debut and curtain call in the West End she’ll always be able to say that she has done it, and after all, to paraphrase Will Shakespeare, all the world’s a stage.

IMG_9235To congratulate Iz on her triumph, post show we all celebrated with coffee and cake, next stop the Olivier awards (perhaps).

The Newman Files

The_Rockford_Files_(title_screen)Sarah and Iz were away for the week recently and I came back into the living room to find the nice surprise of an answer machine message from Isabelle the night before they were coming home.

Listening back to it, for some reason it just reminded me of the opening of The Rockford Files, so I decided to create a mini homage to it, all the more fitting now obviously since the death of Jim Rockford himself, James Garner.

I even created the card order as closely as I could, although something tells me the original wasn’t done with Ben & Jerry’s playing cards – complete with cows as Kings, Queens and Jacks – which I had to use to fill in the blanks.

As far as title sequences go The Rockford Files is as cool as they come, I’ve only recreated the beginning phone sequence, but the photo stills montage is a classic, cue harmonica.

And here’s the original…

Iz brings me sunshine

IMG_6529It’s been a day of changeable weather today and on the way to (a soon to be aborted) a trip to the park Iz came across a poster of the forthcoming stage show, Morecambe, based on the life of Eric Morecambe.

Iz took an instant delight to the ‘silly man’ and proceeded to emulate him of sorts. It is, after all, a family tradition of sorts as my dad always used to try and get me with the catching nothing in a paper bag trick and I used to do the whole glasses up and down move when I was in junior school.

I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before she is copying Harry Worth’s shop window stunt or hanging off a clock face Harold Lloyd-style.

Of course, the most pressing question is that does this mean that I am the one with the short, fat, hairy legs? That makes this the blog what I wrote then.

Thankfully we didn’t have to emulate Morecambe and Wise’s Singin’ in the Rain skit as we headed back home just as the heavens opened, the rainy weather theme continued though, of sorts, as in the warmth we slapped on Mary Poppins. We could have certainly done with her brolly.

Stars in Their Iz: Guinness ad homage is pure genius

How it came about, I’m not really sure, but somehow Isabelle ended up jumping over both Sarah and I laying on the bed. She loved it in some crazy Evel Knievel style way, thankfully stopping short of jumping over the pair of us on fire for the added danger (us on fire not Iz).

Iz certainly floated through the air with the greatest of ease…with a rather spectacular landing, which she managed to carry off again and again, hitting her mark each and everytime.

Her prepping and getting ready for the perfect moment to leap reminded me of the classic Guinness advert with the surfers and the horses in the waves from 1998, which has to be one of the best adverts ever. With that in mind I decided to pay homage to that very advert, right down to the moody black and white.

Okay, so instead of the pint of Guinness glass I used an empty drinks cup with the lid acting as the head and black paper representing the pint. Does that make Sarah and I the horses? Here is the classic original that still packs an adrenaline punch today.

Raid-Iz of the Lost Superm-Ark-et

raidersShe may not have been wearing the brown leather jacket or the fedora but Iz certainly had a bullwhip cracking good time on a short jaunt to the supermarket.

She rode on the front of our trolley just like the intrepid Indiana Jones hanging on the front of the Mercedes truck in Raiders of the Lost Ark (minus the being thrown through the windscreen bit that saw him get there in the first place of course).

She was continuing a long-standing family tradition (sort of) as my brother and I had hung off one of the actual trucks at some war film vehicle display attraction when we were younger – and yes, I do have photos somewhere. Knowing me we probably ‘threw’ each other out of the window as well.

imagesCAXXRIKKBack to the supermarket trolley, I unfortunately just wasn’t quick enough to snap Iz produce her skipping rope and perform the Yakima Canutt Stagecoach-inspired stunt, where Iz climbs down the front of a moving trolley, slides to the back end of the moving trolley dragged along by her rope, and climbs onto the back of the trolley. Cue Raid-Iz March.

untitledAsking Iz whether she’d planned such an elaborate stunt all along, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “I’m making this up as I go along.”

Coming soon: Isabelle Newman and the Tesco of Doom?

Easter…the time of miracles

izdressThe miracle in question was getting Isabelle in a dress!

I don’t think we’ve seen Iz in a dress since we went on the cruise last year but she was quite happy striking a pose on the runway (read that as the travelator at Sainsburys) as if she were about to board a plane to some sunny clime (we wish).

She’d spotted the girls next door wearing pretty dresses so wanted to do the same and was keen to don her pretty flower dress, which she also wore to hospital to brighten up Grandma’s day when we went to go and see her.

Naturally, she accessorized it with her Anxious the Elephant and a pair of matching blue sunglasses. Not sure what Joan Rivers would have made of it but it got the thumbs up from us.

The slipper and the rose

photoI asked Isabelle if she could fetch my slippers from the living room and this is how they – well one of them at least – were presented.

She bounded down the hallway Rhubarb and Custard style with single slipper dangling from her mouth, I can confirm that there were no teeth marks in it though.

Looking at the picture though Iz is more Fred Bassett meets the girl crawling out of the TV in The Ring.

Iz was soon tucked up in her bed, no doubt dreaming of chasing rabbits or something, whilst I hobbled round Verbal Kint-like looking for my missing slipper.

The greatest trick my daughter ever pulled was convincing the world that my right foot slipper never existed.