There are few journeys as magical as a experience on a steam prepare – and once you add within the man in crimson, the Santa Steam Specific is without doubt one of the most memorable experiences at Christmas in London with youngsters.
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Operating for just some days throughout December, it’s the one Santa steam prepare in London: launched in 2021, it happy its method again into the capital for 2022 after we hopped on board, and is predicted to return once more for 2023.
Certainly one of a rising variety of Santa steam prepare rides across the nation, promising treats, presents, a gathering with Father Christmas and festive music, our Santa Steam Specific assessment has all the things that you must know earlier than you e-book.
Santa Steam Specific assessment
We might odor the steam prepare earlier than we noticed it – with a steam prepare fanatic for a father, I’ve been on numerous rides through the years and there’s one thing immediately recognisable concerning the whiff of coal-fired steam.
We weren’t the one ones excited to identify the engine puffing merrily away at Victoria station both: together with all the opposite households lining as much as board, various individuals ready for their very own trains had been snapping pictures of the gleaming black and crimson Sherwood Forester.
Certainly one of a number of engines used for the Steam Desires Santa Steam Specific, together with different classic locomotives together with the Mayflower, the Sherwood Forester was inbuilt 1936 and after working everywhere in the nation for years, is now a agency favorite on heritage railways in England and Scotland.
Steam Desires itself was arrange simply over 20 years in the past for a day journey from London to Salisbury, and has now expanded to run greater than 50 journeys throughout the UK, with greater than 20,000 passengers boarding one of many categorical companies or longer holidays annually.
Welcomed and directed by a string of useful elves, we made our method down the platform to our firstclass carriage, adorned with baubles on the home windows, pine cones and festive cups on the white tablecloth, and different seasonal touches to rework the Nineteen Seventies carriages.
The primary treats awaited us as we sat down – gingerbread males and cartons of apple juice, plus a enjoyable festive exercise sheet for teenagers to do (adopted virtually instantly by the arrival of an additional little festive reward bag for teenagers with extra gingerbread, juice, raisins and a chocolate Santa).
We’d barely begun tucking in when the prepare began on its journey and Mrs Claus appeared, encouraging us to eat our gingerbread (which had been scrumptious) and posing for pictures.
Following shut behind was Mr Claus, and you can hear the ripple of pleasure by the carriage as the children obtained their first look of Santa.
Stopping to speak to every baby, he was very affected person with all of them – together with those that immediately turned shy and quiet for the event – checking in the event that they’d been good, asking what was on their Christmas checklist (at all times barely harmful 4 days earlier than Christmas) and posing for extra pictures earlier than transferring on.
With a trainload of children to see, there’s not a lot time to hold round, however it by no means felt rushed.
Every baby additionally will get a present, handed out by one of many elves accompanying Santa. There have been completely different choices and it did appear to be tailor-made by age – my 10-year-old obtained a set of multicoloured leather-based juggling balls, a close-by seven-year-old acquired a wood tower sport, whereas a number of the youthful youngsters close by got wood whistles (which sounded very very like a prepare whistle).
After the flurry of exercise to start out the journey, we then had probability to tuck into these gingerbread and make a begin on the exercise sheet, which was additionally designed to work for various ages with numerous issue ranges.
Within the background, there’s music enjoying all through too, which supplies the journey a pleasant festive really feel (though it did appear patchy at instances).
The journey additionally completed with a really temporary singalong when elves handed by singing Jingle Bells – out desk appeared to be lacking the tune sheet, however as everybody just about is aware of the phrases, it wasn’t an issue. It’s extra of a pleasant seasonal flourish than a serious a part of the expertise (though in case your youngsters hate becoming a member of in with issues like that, it’s additionally over fairly shortly!)
After being supplied a cup of tea on the very begin, and getting our giant stash of gingerbread, there was fairly a spot till virtually the tip of the journey – over an hour later – earlier than any of the opposite food and drinks turned up.
As we had been in First Class, the ticket included mulled wine (for adults) and a sausage roll, together with a mince pie – we’d all however determined they weren’t coming in spite of everything, when 75 minutes after departure, all the things turned up in a single go.
Provided that we had been filled with gingerbread, and had had lunch earlier than boarding, it wasn’t actually a difficulty however is price taking into account when you’re counting on it.
Which left us loads of time to gaze out of the window on the surroundings: ranging from Victoria, there’s clearly a restrict to how far you’ll be able to journey within the time, so don’t anticipate superb countryside.
There are a number of good moments, particularly as you cross the Thames, and an opportunity to identify Battersea Energy Station, however as you’re going by the suburbs of north-west, west and south London, it’s not that scenic and in elements positively city. Though the place else are you able to see the McVitie’s biscuit manufacturing unit out of your window?
And in my daughter’s eyes, she was journeying aboard the Hogwarts Specific relatively than searching over railway sidings in Willesden.
The decision? For a big serving to of nostalgia, a really laid-back Christmas expertise amongst all of the seasonal stress, and loads of festive magic, there’s no different day trip in London with youngsters that’s fairly like this one.
What age is the Santa Steam Specific for?
There was fairly a spread of ages on board for our prepare experience, from a child together with her preschooler brother to my 10-year-old, who’s most likely on the higher restrict of those that’ll benefit from the expertise – a final probability for a dose of Christmas magic.
In the meantime, the youthful youngsters cherished the prospect to see Santa, however at virtually two hours on board, it’s a very long time to take a seat nonetheless. There’s a lot occurring to maintain them entertained, however it’s undoubtedly price having some extras for the tip of the journey.
You additionally get a letter from Santa as a part of the reserving, which is nice to get youthful youngsters excited, revealing that ‘just a few fortunate youngsters will get to go to me on my particular steam prepare’ – and that they’ve been adequate.
Personally, I feel the candy spot might be round age 5-7, however it’s cleverly achieved in order that there’s one thing to enchantment to all ages, from the presents to the actions.
Is it price upgrading to First Class?
The primary class carriages had a extra conventional, classic really feel to them versus Customary Class – each date from the identical period, however Customary Class had a extra fashionable vibe.
There are additionally fewer individuals within the First Class carriages, and little additional touches just like the tablecloth on our desk. Each First and Customary Class carriages are dressed up with decorations although, so that you’ll get the festive environment wherever you sit.
First Class additionally has a few different added extras just like the mulled wine for adults and sausage rolls (though we didn’t find yourself ingesting/consuming ours), so when you fancy paying the additional, you do get some good bonuses. In the event you keep on with Customary Class, you gained’t be lacking out.
Is it price travelling to London for?
Is it price travelling to London only for the Santa Steam Specific? Virtually definitely not.
Not as a result of it’s not an excellent expertise: when you’re within the metropolis anyway, it’s a stunning possibility for a festive day trip, and the one Santa steam prepare in London.
There are additionally an enormous variety of different issues to do at Christmas in London with youngsters so you’ll be able to mix the journey with seeing the Christmas lights, the Christmas markets, Christmas theatre and ice skating too.
However the countryside is sort of definitely going to be prettier on different Santa Steam prepare rides elsewhere within the UK, plus many others have additional actions and experiences at the beginning, which you merely can’t do at Victoria station.
Whereas it’s not the most affordable Christmas day trip for households, the worth of the London prepare experience is on a par with related heritage rail experiences elsewhere.
Santa Steam Specific ideas
Be ready to queue if you wish to see contained in the engine – we had been advised there could be round half an hour after the journey for passengers to do that, however whereas that appears like lots, it does imply loads of hanging round if a lot of the prepare needs to do it too.
As we had been ultimately carriage, by the point we’d walked as much as the entrance, lots of people had been already ready so when you can look inside earlier than departure, it’s nicely price doing.
No matter you select, you too can pose with the steam prepare with out a lot ready.
Flip up early: we had been really helpful to get there at 1.20 for a 1.45 departure, and other than a couple of minutes ready to get onto the platform, it undoubtedly didn’t really feel like we had been hanging round, particularly with the stroll right down to our carriage.
Gown up – you don’t get given a Santa hat or something related as a part of the expertise, so it’s enjoyable to convey your individual (or get away the sequins and Christmas jumper).
Profit from Victoria’s services. There are bogs on board the prepare (though not child altering) however it’s price utilizing the bathroom services on the station earlier than you board.
They’re free to make use of, there’s much less probability of queueing, and it additionally signifies that – like one household I noticed – you gained’t be hanging across the prepare bogs simply as Santa will get to your carriage.
There are additionally a complete string of locations to purchase meals on the station when you’re searching for a fast lunch earlier than or after your journey (or shopping for extra meals/snacks to tackle board).
Santa Steam Specific: must know
There are restricted departures of the Santa Steam Specific in London, happening on 4 dates in 2022 – on December 14, 16, 19 and 21, with three departures every day.
2023 dates are tbc – verify the newest data from Steam Desires for particulars and to e-book.
The steam journey itself is described as lasting 1 hour quarter-hour, however timings are considerably versatile: our journey set off at 1.45pm and obtained again to Victoria at round 3.30pm – we had been additionally suggested to reach at round 1.20pm for the journey so enable not less than two hours, particularly when you plan to queue to go contained in the engine afterwards too.
Tickets are despatched round 5 days earlier than departure as soon as Steam Desires receives affirmation of ultimate timings from Community Rail.
There are bogs on board however no baby-changing services. Buggies have to be saved on the station, the place there’s a separate space put apart.
Tickets in 2022 price £40 per grownup and £30 per baby aged two to 16 in normal class, £50 for adults and £40 for youngsters in First Class. Underneath-twos are free in the event that they sit in your lap for the journey.
First Class tickets embody mulled wine for adults, with tea and occasional in Customary Class, plus mince pies, drinks and candy treats for teenagers. We had been additionally supplied sausage rolls.
There’s additionally the choice to take a seat at a two-person desk in First Class (for an extra price of £30) in addition to four-person tables in each First and Customary Class.
Present vouchers are additionally obtainable, costing a minimal of £50, legitimate for a yr from the date of buy.
Disclosure: Our journey on the Santa Steam Specific was free for the needs of assessment – all opinions are my very own. This put up comprises affiliate hyperlinks: any purchases you make are unaffected however I could obtain a small fee
Most important picture/Santa on platform courtesy of Steam Desires, all others copyright MummyTravels