We are big fans of Conkers and love all their activities throughout the year, with so much to explore and learn from in the National Forest.
We’d heard good things about their Winter Wonderland, so decided to book this as one of our 2020 Christmas family days out.
We know there would be changes in 2020 to what you would expect on a normal year, so we were very thankful we could still visit as the experience is largely outside.
Your ticket includes a visit to Santa, a lights trail through the trees, rides on the little train, a voucher for a hot drink and treat for adults, a treat for the kids, as well as a voucher for balloon modelling and a voucher for the elf village to get a gift after meeting Santa.
Due to being in tier 3, the indoor Christmas show was closed, but everything else could still run, which was lovely news.
You’re given an arrival time to enter the elf village, to start the light walk to Santa, but you can still arrive at any time to enjoy the rest of the activities at Conkers.
Our timeslot was 3.20pm as we wanted to see the lights as it was getting darker, but we arrived at 1pm to enjoy the other activities on offer.
You’re given a map when you arrived at the Discovery Centre to check in, as well as an envelope with all your vouchers in – don’t lose this (or get it wet!), as this has everything you need for your Santa gift, treats and balloon too!
You can also pick up a reindeer trail and see some dancing snowmen in the entrance. This is also where toilets, first aid, and takeaway food/drinks are available too.
It still took us a while to work out from the maps and details what we needed to do and where we needed to go, but everything you need is down by the Waterside area, so that’s where we headed.
We took the little train down to the main area down by the Waterside.
You can take the train or the walk takes less than 5 minutes. There are a few lights along the way and through the tunnel, but take a torch for the walk if it is dark 🙂 Lily wanted to take the train – there was a bit of a queue when we first arrived, but it is a nice little journey with lights along the way and through the tunnel too.
As you get off the train, you can find the big outdoor play area, the balloon modelling, a kiosk where you can collect your treats from, and then the entrance to the light trail.
When we turned up off the train, it was then about 1.30 after we’d visited the toilets, worked out where to go and waiting for the train. The little ones wanted to do the balloon modelling, but the queue was so big that we said we’d wait, so they visited the play area, which they absolutely love.
There are huge slides, an obstacle course, zip wire, and areas for smaller kids too.
We regularly looked at the balloon modelling queue, but it seemed to be taking people about half an hour who were queuing, so at about 2.20pm, we decided to get the snacks and drinks from the shack.
Treats and snacks vouchers
The adult treats were a chocolate brownie, with a choice of mulled wine, tea or coffee. For an extra 60p you could get a hot chocolate. The kids were given a shortbread biscuit in the shape of a Christmas tree with their vouchers.
By the time we queued and then had the treats (they were good and much needed), it was around 2:45, so would not have been time to join the balloon queue, so we said we’d do it after Santa, as it closed at 4.30, so we’d have time then.
Towards the elf village
The entrance to the elf village let you pass through an area where they blow fake snow over you. This was fun for the kids, but it was a strange place to have it as it was in the entrance to a doorway and a through-passageway, meaning people were trying to get through or gathered around there.
We used the toilets again here before heading through, which was good as they were warm and clean, and we wouldn’t be passing toilets again for a while.
When we reached the amphitheater area, there were families hanging around. Mrs Claus was there speaking to each family individually. It was 3 o’clock, and she said we could see Santa early if we just waited there for a few minutes as there was a bit of a delay here. We were happy with that, although we’d been asked to arrive at 3, so we were happy to wait there anyway.
At about 3.20pm, we were allowed through and were instantly wowed by the lights at the entrance. We were the only ones there and with the towering trees surrounded by lights and the displays along the way, it looked fantastic.
We made it as far as the singing reindeer and there was another family there too. An elf was dancing and interacting, so the children were happy dancing and pressing the button to start them again for a few minutes.
We kept on walking past further lights, up towards the tunnel before meeting Santa, and then were met by an incredibly long queue. The whole walk so far had taken about 5 minutes, and then we were stopped!
We were stood there for a long time, maybe about another half an hour in the cold. We had layered up with fleeces and snow jackets, but when you’re standing in the same spot and the kids are bored and getting colder, it doesn’t make it a fun experience!
Once we had got past this area, there were then further lights that were pretty, but by then the kids just all wanted to see Santa as they were restless from standing in the cold. The lights distracted them a bit, but it wasn’t until around 4.10pm that we managed to see Santa, a long time since we’d been at the start for 3pm when we had been told to arrive.
After a professional photo on a sled if you wanted it, you queued a bit longer (about 3 more families in front) before the elves told you it was time to meet Santa. Santa was friendly and Lily was excited to see him. He was in a little shed with a rope across the entrance, while we stood outside and talked to him from the door for a couple of minutes.
It felt safe and they’d done well to still have this experience while keeping it outdoors.
The Elf Village
Once we’d seen Santa, we took the walk down further platforms towards the elf village. Here you exchanged your ticket for a present from the elves, and could make reindeer food with glitter and oats (Just a note: I’d not advise leaving the glitter outside for the reindeer if you make it as glitter is plastic and isn’t good for any other wildlife who may be swinging by on Christmas – this is something I’ve emailed and messaged Conkers about as it really does worry me there were no warnings. Find out more from the RSPB here.)
There were some little toadstools, model houses and a few more lights, which we walked past on the way back to the main entrance again.
The little ones saw other kids with balloons and remembered they had the voucher for this too and that we’d said we could get it after we saw Santa. However, not only was the queue still massive, but they’d also closed the queue so noone else could join.
We aren’t usually bothered about balloons, but when kids see others with them and know they could have had them too, it does cause disappointment.
We were lucky the train had pulled up and there was no queue for that, so we went straight on there to get back to the Discovery Centre, quickly distracting her from the lack of balloons – although there were clearly some very disappointed children around. I’m also not sure we had it in us to queue any longer, having spent most of the visit already in queues.
Food and Drink
Back at the Discovery Centre we were able to get some food and drink to warm up. As the Tier restrictions mean we can’t eat inside, this is takeaway only, but they had a whole range of hot and cold food on the menu for children and adults as well as hot and cold drinks.
We had a vegan sausage roll, hot chocolate and some chips between us – which came out as huge portions, plus it was nice not to have to queue for it too!
Conclusion & Covid safety
So the experience was nice, the lights were lovely and the staff were great, I’m just not sure we would visit at Christmas again. We are used to being outdoors, so had plenty of layers and walking boots on, however standing around in the cold for long periods with kids isn’t the greatest fun, and ruined the beauty of the lights along the way.
Maybe a weekday or quieter session could be better, however it could also be because they may have rebooked people for events/dates that had been cancelled. Either way, I’d not queued since Aldi in April, so seeing so many people in one place did make me nervous, despite it all being quite spread out and outdoors.
Families did generally keep away from each other in queues which was good so we did feel safe, and adults had to wear masks in indoor areas. There were clear one-way systems indoors and around the food areas indoors, but I do think we spent a great deal of time working out where we needed to go for things when we were at the Waterside area.
We did have a nice time and the lights were lovely, but if the queues are a normal thing, then it did ruin the experience a bit (not to mention disappointed kids without balloons), so I’m not sure we would rebook after losing a bit of the magic from queuing. If it was without the queues and flowed better with less waiting and better directions, so the magic wasn’t lost, then it would definitely be great to visit.
We are glad we have done it, and we will be back to enjoy all the normal Conkers activities soon as we do enjoy visiting for a day of outdoor exploring.
However, I do want to say thank you to all the staff for working so hard and adapting the event to make sure we can still visit in 2020.
What to bring & tips for visiting
- Layer up: we had long sleeve thermals, vests, hats, fleece snoods, fleece tops, winter socks, gloves, hat and snow jackets on, which were great for running around the play area but not so much after nearly an hour of standing in the same spot in 0 degrees!
- Wellies or walking boots: It is muddy in areas, so wear waterproof footwear
- Pack snacks: prepare for queuing with kids, with some handy snacks or a flask of hot chocolate!
- Visit the toilets before heading to Santa: there is no way to get to a toilet once you head towards the lights and Santa, which is where all the queues are, so I’d use them in the Waterside Centre before visiting
- Accessibility: Wheelchairs and pushchair access is available and all areas are accessible via a ramp. If you have reduced mobility, there is quite a distance to walk between areas, such as Santa to the Elf Village, but they are all accessible. Some areas may be uneven as you are in woodland. The train is also accessible, however there is limited space for buggies. There are accessible toilets in both the Discovery Centre and Waterside
- Food and drink: You can get takeaway hot and cold food and drink from the Discovery Centre, Waterside Centre or one of the two kiosks. We do recommend the hot chocolate!
- Parking: is at the Discovery Centre where you collect your tickets and vouchers – just don’t lose these!
- Plan your visit: check out the maps below
Conkers Winter Wonderland map
Address and postcode of Conkers
Rawdon Road (B586)