Parents are demanding refunds after queuing for hours to get into a drive-through Santa’s grotto – which had grotty attractions and creepy characters that were “more like Halloween”.
Visitors to the event at Taverham Hall near Norwich were promised “huge amounts of festive magic” with 700 lighting effects and 3km of fairy lights.
But some parents have branded it a “shambolic disappointment” after it failed to live up to expectations and left some children in tears.
Kids were handed cheap cookies and driven through an unlit scaffolding tunnel – a far cry from the advertised “most magical drive-thru event in the country”.
Some children were forced to urinate outside their cars after waiting to long to get into the ‘Drive-Thru Santa’s Grotto’, it is claimed.
Mum-of-one, Louise Purdy, 39, paid £62 for a 6pm slot on Friday [December 18] and queued with her family for almost two hours before they got into the grotto.
Louise, who had gone with her nephews, aged five and two, and her son, aged three, said: “The whole experience was like going to a restaurant, paying for a steak and getting a meatball.
“A shambolic disappointment. It was lacklustre, disorganised, and nothing close to the spectacle we had all envisaged in the imagery or description used in the Facebook page.
“Our youngest nephew came face to face with Scrooge but just looked frightened at which point we put him in the back of the car and gave him a phone to play with.
“My son, who is pretty laid back actually, asked if we could go home. I don’t even think he was scared, just disillusioned.
“I felt sorry for the entertainers because most were trying but they were dealing with so many angry and grumpy people – the organisers should never have put them in that position.”
Jenny Yaxley waited over an hour to get into the grotto with her four excited children, aged two, five, nine and 11 years old, and was left sorely disappointed.
She said: “It was awful. We have four children and they had been counting down the days as were so excited. Such a big let down!
“The characters in the pics were very scary – much more suited to Halloween than Christmas.
“There was one freaky character who came very close to the windows and really wasn’t following any Covid guidelines.
“He really scared my five year old daughter. She has mentioned him several times as it really frightened her.
“Not what you expect at a children’s event to see Father Christmas! The whole thing was dreadful. They had the potential to do something amazing and failed miserably.
“I’m just hoping I can get some money back. Not looking likely though as the company aren’t responding to anyone and are just deleting negative comments on Facebook.
“It was meant to be a special treat for the children after this odd year.”
Louise and Jenny are just two of many angry parents who took to the Facebook page for the event to complain about the grotto and demand money back.
Laura Jayne Calver wrote: “Absolutely horrendous. Poor organisation. Queue was so bloody long that the kids were fed up.
“My 3 year old needed a wee so had to go outside. Some lights weren’t even switched on. Actors tried their best but clearly didn’t want to engage in any conversation.
“First elf was brilliant and the band were fab but the rest, including Santa himself, were diabolical. Waste of money and will be trying to get a refund.”
Dad Nathan Moore wrote: “Even if we wanted to abandon, there was no way. Once you were in, you were in – any emergency would have been a logistical nightmare.
“Eventually made it to the opening light structure which wasn’t on. Two lanes to Santa’s Grotto where, if you stopped in the right (or wrong) place, you’ll have to explain to your young believers why they are seeing two Santas.
“Some of the costumes were poor, dirty, looked second-hand in some cases.
“‘Hot chocolate was scolding hot. Thankfully we didn’t pass these to our children right away, my wife had to spit hers out after burning her mouth.
“I’ll be contacting my bank for a refund as the thought of someone profiting from this event makes my blood boil.”
Mum Catrina Rogers wrote: “Don’t waste your time or sanity!
“We were greeted by a scaffolding tunnel with no lights? Very magical… We then get to Mrs Claus who gives our kids some Tesco bakery cookies.
“Very disappointing event for a very disappointing year.”
Ollie George, producer of Santa’s Drive-Thru Grotto for Norfolk-based We Make Events said:
“We have taken on board the complaints and concerns that we have received since launching the event at Taverham Hall.
“The road entry system was altered after the first night to address congestion concerns and unfortunately a broken-down car in the entrance during our second evening caused additional traffic problems.
“We are working hard to address this to ensure passage into the Grotto can be smoother.
“There was also a large amount of feedback around the Scrooge character being too frightening for very young children.
“Working with the creative team, we have adjusted the route and removed the Scrooge-style character after the first evening.
“Anyone who is unhappy with their visit can contact our box office via [email protected] and we are currently working through those emails.
“We are doing our best to improve the event. There has been some positive feedback but we are aware of the concerns about traffic delays, particularly during the busiest periods, and we are working to address those.”