Santa's Steam Train Had Me Steaming!

The Christmas countdown has started and families with young children will probably be visiting a Santa attraction this year. So when the National Railway Museum (NRM) asked me if I'd like to take my family to see their new Santa's Steam Adventure, I said "Try keeping me away!"

We have never visited Santa in November before. Like many parents, we decide sometime during December that we should find time to do a Santa visit and we go, but this attraction at the museum in York opened last weekend for the first ride and it runs every weekend from now until Christmas plus the train will be running every day from 17th - 23rd December as well. Having been invited, I saw this as a fab opportunity to fulfil one of our Christmas traditions - without all the crowds!

People who know me well know that I don't like crowds. I get a little claustrophobic and like to know where my exits are. I like space all around me and can't stand being 'hemmed in', so usually when we see Santa in December and there are loads of crowds and queues and people rushing, it makes for a more stressful day for me, although I just breathe deeply and get on with it. I was looking forward to a calmer, less crowded Santa experience this year as it is the start of the Santa experience at NRM.

We started our journey in the museum's Station Hall where we walked through a special 'magical depot' with large steam trains filled with wrapped gifts and the odd furry toy cat to make the place seem 'homely'. They had made the area look very Christmassy with trees, lights and even a display of the museum's old toy collection from years ago which was presented in a rather nice style. Each old toy was tagged with a child's name then you read the accompanying sign to see what the toy was and what year. So we saw Peter's train from 1960, William's book from 1946 or Grace's toy train set from the 1980's etc. It was really nice to show our children what kids in past years used to get for Christmas- and is a massive change from now where they get Xboxes or mobile phones!

At the end of the magical depot, we were greeted by a helper who chatted to us whilst the train was getting ready. We were the first in the queue and were let onto the train first. I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the train. I'd kind of expected your 'run of the mill' train with 'airline' style seats facing front and back, where we would sit and Santa would walk through the aisle. This was not the case! The carriage where we were ushered to was clear of all fixed seating and had a red carpet on the floor, pillows and blankets for the children to sit on in front of Santa's big wooden throne, and six high back chairs at the back of the carriage for the parents to sit on.

The effect, if everyone sat where they were supposed to, was that of Santa or a helper telling a story to all the children who sat on the floor whilst the parents sat at the back! I wish this had happened but unfortunately it didn't.

The staff who looked after the train were brilliant and the train looked really festive and pleasant, but there wasn't enough room for all the adults to sit down at the back, so after the first three families got on, sat their kids at the front then took a seat at the back, the remaining families kind of shuffled on and sat down in the middle, some parents blocking smaller children's views as they sat in front of them. I really wish that the train staff had organised everyone. Maybe announcing as people enter, "Can we have all the children to the front and parents can sit towards the back" but with an absence of direction, everyone did the only thing they could do and sat where there was space, but this meant that people were sat on the floor, some standing and some perched on the little ledge that ran around the wall of the carriage. So rather than being a kind of 'we're all in it together' style family outing, it became a bit of a free for all and a scramble for space.

After the train set off it stopped again, and this was to let on a latecomer and her two sons. This was nice of the driver to do that (you don't normally get trains stopping just because someone is late!) but it wasn't as nice for me as the lady's boys sat on top of my feet - there wasn't really the room to take them. Again, I wished for some instruction from the train staff to show the lady to a safe spot to sit, and encourage her boys towards the front with the other children, but they all came to the parents seating at the back.

Nonetheless the train set off and the two helpers at the front started telling a story about the train and Santa. They were quite theatrical and interactive - passing out toy tools to get the kids to help 'fix' the trains broken wheel by hammering on the floor! The kids loved this bit- being part of the story and it was entertaining for the adults too. The story continued and after the kids fixed the wheel, they had to help create some magic to get the train moving again by shaking the bells and singing Jingle Bells. The adults were asked to sing too! I really liked the storytelling and the acting done by the helpers, my experience at this point was only spoiled by the fact that I had no leg room where I was sat as there were too many people around me. So I just tried to ignore what was around my feet and focus on the kids and Santa.

Santa came out halfway through the ride. He sat in the wooden throne, and everything that happened after this I couldn't see, as the helpers had asked everyone to stand to welcome Santa. If the helper's had asked the CHILDREN ONLY to stand, we would all have been able to see what happened at the front of the train, but as everyone stood, I could only see this guys black wool coat and his backpack.

I heard Santa asking my daughter her name and what she wanted for Christmas, and I sent my husband to the front with his camera to get a photo of her with Santa, but due to the number of people in the carriage and the fact that they were adults, standing up, we couldn't get a proper shot.

My kids enjoyed it which is all that matters at the end of the day. They saw Santa and they had a nice ride on a train in a festive carriage, but I felt that I had missed out as I couldn't see my children's faces as they spoke to Santa. I couldn't get a nice photo of them to remember the day by as there were too many people, and with everyone standing up, it made the small carriage feel very claustrophobic. All I wanted to do when the train arrived back to base was get off.

As it is so early on in the season, I really hope that the NRM staff put some structure in place for the passage of people whilst on the train. If people are shown where to sit when they get into the carriage, or at least given some general instruction, then the whole experience would really be very pleasant. The train was lovely, the staff were friendly and very entertaining whilst doing the story time part, and the children got a gift from Santa which was nice. The only thing that went wrong for me was too many other people in my personal space which could have been avoided with some clear direction. If the NRM staff add more seating for the parents at the back this would help - or take the chairs out all together if some adults will get them and some not. Maybe it's fairer for no-one to have a seat. My train was crowded and there were about 8 or 9 families on there, and as we get nearer to Christmas, this attraction will get even more busy.

The prices for the Santa Steam Adventure are very reasonable at £7.50 per child (which includes a gift) and £5 per adult (which includes a mince pie and hot drink in the restaurant afterwards). Tickets can be booked on the website or by calling 0844 8153 139.

Thank you to the NRM who allowed my family of four a complimentary ride on the Santa train for this review.

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