There are few journeys as magical as a experience on a steam prepare – and while you add within the man in purple, the Santa Steam Categorical is among the most memorable experiences at Christmas in London with children.
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Working for just some days throughout December, it’s the one Santa steam prepare in London: launched in 2021, it satisfied its manner again into the capital for 2022 once we hopped on board, and is predicted to return once more for 2023.
Considered 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 Categorical overview has every part that you must know earlier than you e book.
Santa Steam Categorical overview
We might scent 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 in regards to 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 purple Sherwood Forester.
Considered one of a number of engines used for the Steam Desires Santa Steam Categorical, together with different classic locomotives together with the Mayflower, the Sherwood Forester was inbuilt 1936 and after working all around 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 manner down the platform to our first-class carriage, adorned with baubles on the home windows, pine cones and festive cups on the white tablecloth, and different seasonal touches to remodel 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 present 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 would hear the ripple of pleasure by way of the carriage as the youngsters bought their first look of Santa.
Stopping to speak to every youngster, 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 listing (at all times barely harmful 4 days earlier than Christmas) and posing for extra pictures earlier than shifting on.
With a trainload of youngsters to see, there’s not a lot time to hold round, but it surely by no means felt rushed.
Every youngster additionally will get a present, handed out by one of many elves accompanying Santa. There have been totally different choices and it did appear to be tailor-made by age – my 10-year-old bought a set of multicoloured leather-based juggling balls, a close-by seven-year-old acquired a wood tower recreation, whereas among the youthful children close by got wood whistles (which sounded very very similar to a prepare whistle).
After the flurry of exercise to begin the journey, we then had likelihood 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 provides the journey a pleasant festive really feel (though it did appear patchy at instances).
The journey additionally completed with a really transient singalong when elves handed by way of singing Jingle Bells – out desk gave the impression to be lacking the music 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 significant a part of the expertise (though in case your children hate becoming a member of in with issues like that, it’s additionally over fairly rapidly!)
After being provided a cup of tea on the very begin, and getting our massive 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, every part turned up in a single go.
On condition that we had been stuffed with gingerbread, and had had lunch earlier than boarding, it wasn’t actually a problem however is value taking into consideration if you happen to’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 just a few good moments, particularly as you cross the Thames, and an opportunity to identify Battersea Energy Station, however as you’re going by way of the suburbs of north-west, west and south London, it’s not that scenic and in components 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 Categorical slightly 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 children that’s fairly like this one.
What age is the Santa Steam Categorical for?
There was fairly a spread of ages on board for our prepare experience, from a child along 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 likelihood for a dose of Christmas magic.
In the meantime, the youthful children cherished the possibility to see Santa, however at virtually two hours on board, it’s a very long time to sit down nonetheless. There’s loads occurring to maintain them entertained, but it surely’s undoubtedly value 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 children excited, revealing that ‘only some fortunate youngsters will get to go to me on my particular steam prepare’ – and that they’ve been ok.
Personally, I believe the candy spot might be round age 5-7, but it surely’s cleverly executed in order that there’s one thing to enchantment to all ages, from the items to the actions.
Is it value 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 consuming/consuming ours), so if you happen to fancy paying the additional, you do get some good bonuses. For those who keep on with Customary Class, you received’t be lacking out.
Is it value travelling to London for?
Is it value travelling to London only for the Santa Steam Categorical? Virtually actually not.
Not as a result of it’s not an ideal expertise: if you happen to’re within the metropolis anyway, it’s a beautiful 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 children 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 nearly actually going to be prettier on different Santa Steam prepare rides elsewhere within the UK, plus many others have additional actions and experiences initially, which you merely can’t do at Victoria station.
Whereas it’s not the most cost effective Christmas day trip for households, the value of the London prepare experience is on a par with comparable heritage rail experiences elsewhere.
Santa Steam Categorical suggestions
Be ready to queue if you wish to see contained in the engine – we had been instructed there can be round half an hour after the journey for passengers to do that, however whereas that seems like quite a bit, 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 if you happen to can look inside earlier than departure, it’s effectively value doing.
No matter you select, you can even pose with the steam prepare with out a lot ready.
Flip up early: we had been beneficial 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 all the way down to our carriage.
Gown up – you don’t get given a Santa hat or something comparable as a part of the expertise, so it’s enjoyable to carry your personal (or escape the sequins and Christmas jumper).
Take advantage of Victoria’s amenities. There are bathrooms on board the prepare (though not child altering) but it surely’s value utilizing the bathroom amenities on the station earlier than you board.
They’re free to make use of, there’s much less likelihood of queueing, and it additionally signifies that – like one household I noticed – you received’t be hanging across the prepare bathrooms simply as Santa will get to your carriage.
There are additionally a complete string of locations to purchase meals on the station if you happen to’re on the lookout for a fast lunch earlier than or after your journey (or shopping for extra meals/snacks to tackle board).
Santa Steam Categorical: have to know
There are restricted departures of the Santa Steam Categorical in London, happening on 4 dates in 2022 – on December 14, 16, 19 and 21, with three departures every day.
2023 dates are tbc – examine the most recent info 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 bought again to Victoria at round 3.30pm – we had been additionally suggested to reach at round 1.20pm for the journey so enable a minimum of two hours, particularly if you happen to 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 bathrooms on board however no baby-changing amenities. Buggies should be saved on the station, the place there’s a separate space put apart.
Tickets in 2022 price £40 per grownup and £30 per youngster aged two to 16 in commonplace class, £50 for adults and £40 for kids in First Class. Beneath-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 provided sausage rolls.
There’s additionally the choice to sit down at a two-person desk in First Class (for a further payment of £30) in addition to four-person tables in each First and Customary Class.
Reward 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 Categorical was free for the needs of overview – all opinions are my very own. This publish incorporates affiliate hyperlinks: any purchases you make are unaffected however I could obtain a small fee
Foremost picture/Santa on platform courtesy of Steam Desires, all others copyright MummyTravels