Christmas is a time of magic, a time of wonder, especially for little ones. This is really the first year that Eliott is getting into it – he is very excited about the idea of Santa coming, and has been singing songs about Rudolph for weeks. With that in mind, we’ve been hoping that a Santa experience will give all of us, not just him, that Christmassy feeling we’re seeking in the dark December days. We were lucky enough to be invited to check out the wonder of Christmas at Cork’s Fota Beyond experience this year.
Fota Beyond takes place in the grounds of Fota Island Resort, Cork. Like years before it, in wonderlands called things like Believe, Wish, Imagine and Discover, the world of Fota is transformed into a winter paradise, complete with elves, Christmas markets and of course a visit to the big man himself.
Fota Beyond is set up on the grounds of the prestigious Fota Resort Hotel and Golf Club. We chose to drive out there, as there isn’t any direct public transport to the hotel. While you can get the train from Cork City to Glounthaune, it does require a car to get from the train station to the hotel, which is about a five-ten minute drive. Keeping in mind that our slot was at 6.40pm, and the sunset at 4.30, we expected it to be a dark road there. I think for a future visit I would schedule it for earlier in the day, as to avoid the driving conditions, but I definitely think that’s more down to my confidence with new roads in the dark than anything that Fota Island Resort can fix! However, we did have some issues with signage misdirecting us towards the parking, and found the lighting on the way to the car park to be lacking, which didn’t give us a great first impression.
The man himself – the raison d’etre, as it were, was our almost-first stop in the magical Fota Beyond. Despite some initial confusion regarding our booking, we were led by a lovely elf towards a waiting area, which had magical gnomes (not elves!) playing games and dancing with the kids. I thought this was a brilliant touch, as it ensured that nobody tired of waiting around and it made it feel a whole lot more efficient. Within a few minutes, we were called up to the desk and met with our own personal Elf, Holly, who brought us through a snow-covered forest of Christmas trees and lights towards Santa’s cottage.
Santa managed to bring out the shy side in Eliott, which happens VERY rarely, he seemed awestruck and basically nodded and said “yeah” to anything Santa asked him – which thankfully meant that Santa heard nothing about the rapidly growing list of toys making it onto his Santa letter! Santa was super friendly and chatty to the adults as well as Eliott, which is always nice. I did find that despite giving information on Eliott, like his age and his favourite things that Santa didn’t mention any of them, and asked him how old he was. We had our photo taken inside Santa’s cottage, which we collected from a separate cottage a little later on. They took a few and gave us the choice of which was the best, which was great, given that we have slight smiling-at-camera issues here.
Santa gave a gift of a wind up blue soldier called Alexander, which Eliott took a real shine to once we got home. It’s age appropriate and it looks like a traditional Christmas nutcracker-type soldier, which adds to the festive feel. It also looks a whole lot more durable than a lot of gifts that hail from Santa’s grottos around the country.
THE REINDEER RANCH
Not only does Fota Beyond give a visit to the man himself, but also lets you visit two of Santa’s reindeer! Donner and Blitzen have taken up residence in Fota this December, which was a thrill for our little man. There were some questions as to what the reindeer were really doing (there seemed to be a lot of scratching around each other) but overall it added to the sense of magic. They also made sure to put any questions at ease with signs that assured the visitors that all reindeer were kept with very high standards in accordance with Santa’s wishes!
The Reindeer Ranch was also home to magical reindeer food dispensers, which we were given to bring home to prepare for Christmas Eve. There were MANY signs up to ensure kids didn’t try to feed the reindeer this food on site (the mixture of oats and glitter is clearly just for nights where reindeer fly, and where staff don’t have to clean up glitter poop). It is now taking pride of place on our mantlepiece, waiting to be put out with Santa’s treats and Rudolph’s carrot.
THE MAGIC MINESHAFT
In Beyond, we learned that the elves might get all of the credit for Christmas related things, but gnomes do a serious amount of the leg work! In this instance, not only had they been mining for Christmas magic, but also digging a massive tunnel from Cork to the Magical Snow Kingdom, so the boys and girls of Cork could experience it.
Our visit through the Magic Mineshaft began with a fun ride down a slide – as Eliott is only little, he had to go down with his Daddy, but it was a fun experience for both. We were then led down to the mineshaft itself, where we were greeted by Bugsy, a very friendly gnome who was big into group participation. He told us all about the hard work being done by gnomes to dig down to the Snow Kingdom, and then called Dug, a very enthusiastic and giggly gnome who was powering the lift down the mineshaft. Both were full of enthusiasm and really added to the experience.
Once we got to the bottom of the mineshaft, we were greeted by Mary Christmas who was our first guide through the magical tunnels. We went through the Hall of Reflection where by looking into the mirrors we could tell if we were on the Naughty or Nice list – thankfully we could all see ourselves in the mirror meaning we’ve been Good! There was even a section where we spotted the special Elf-On-a-Shelfs watching CCTV footage of the people of Cork – they really are keeping an eye on us!
Aunty Freeze brought us through the Fairy Tunnel towards her magical de-icing machine which ensured we were all ready to go through to the Snow Kingdom without freezing. Eliott was first through the magical machine – a very important element! For the kids unsure of the big whooshing noise, there was a bypass option but that wasn’t needed for our fella!
THE SNOW KINGDOM
The end of the visit culminated in a trip to the Snow Kingdom, a world we had travelled to from the Magic Mineshaft and through a variety of mystical tunnels. This was a really special part of the trip – not only because there was ice-cream involved, but also because of the variety of activities available to keep kids occupied and in the Christmassy zone.
The Snow Kingdom is home to the Top Deer Driving School, where children were able to obtain driving licenses for sleighs in The Snow Kingdom. Much laughter (at my expense) was had at the fact that Eliott managed to get his license before me. It was a really interactive process, but I’m not all that sure how confident I’d be with my three-year-old behind the wheel just yet. He absolutely loved it and was in his element.
Next up, after a driving lesson, was a trip to the Post Office, where Santa letters are composed and posted in the presence of a magical gnome! This seemed to be where Eliott remembered the large list of potential gifts he had forgotten to mention in the presence of the man himself, and he scribbled down his letter (legible to only Santa, obviously) and posted it there and then.
The Snow Palace was a brilliant photo opportunity, with two thrones for Snow Kings and Queens to pose on. We all bundled in, meaning we have some rather funny pictures of my 21 year old brother sitting on Dillen’s knee.
By far, Eliott’s favorite parts of the Snow Kingdom were the ball pit and Elf Tunnels – some very basic play elements but ones that definitely appealed to the smaller kids. We had a hard time getting him out of both of them – which is always a good sign.
HOW LONG DID IT ALL TAKE
All information on the website advised us that the Fota Beyond experience took between an hour and an hour and a half. It took us 55 minutes in total.
Santa is at the start of the experience (we saw him within 5 minutes of the whole thing starting, there was no queuing, no fuss), which is brilliant as previously this was the part which killed the lead-up. Three-year-olds aren’t known for their patience! It also meant that we were able to journey through the rest of the experience at our own pace, which was nice. A lot of these experiences can seem rather regimented, and Fota Beyond removes that by putting the only time-critical element at the very beginning. It also means that if you’ve got fussy kids, or need to get out of there fast for whatever reason, the main component is all done!
Tickets for Fota Beyond are priced by a four-tier-peak system, ranging from Jolly Downtime (super off-peak) to Holiday Rush (on-peak, weekends, times most families will be able to attend). Prices are as follows:
Jolly Downtime price: Little One €15.00 / Grown up €10.00
Merry Meander price: Little One €20.00 / Grown up €13.00
Festive Flow price: Little One €23.00 / Grown up €15.00
Holiday Rush price: Little One €26.00 / Grown up €16.00
To be honest, the grownup price initially irked me, as it does with any of these Santa experiences where the focus is more on kids activities and the adult has to be there. For both of us to attend with Eliott would have cost us at least €20 on top of his fee, and at the time we went would have been €32, before even paying for his ticket. As it happened, we wound up bringing his uncle Brendan along for the journey and overall, for three adults and one child at 6.40pm on a Saturday before Christmas, it would have cost us €74.
However, for what we got, I think that while the pricing is in no way cheap, it certainly lives up to it. It’s a properly immersive experience with a brilliant cast of characters who lead you through the magical world. Eliott was completely taken in by the festive wonder of it all, and I think it really did get us all into the spirit of the season. Compared to the prices of similar experiences around the country, it is a little more expensive, Having discussed it on the way home, we think it’s definitely worth the festive splurge, but think that the increase in the adult price between the different price brackets may leave a sour taste in the mouth.
Do keep in mind that the carnival area next to the booking office, which contains carousels, food stalls and gift stalls IS cash only, and if you’ve got a doe-eyed-guilt-tripping-3-foot-tall companion, it may be best to bring some change. We did find that the carousel pricing was a bit all over the place – before we went into Santa, we were quoted 7 euro for one child, whereas when we came out and went back up he was let on for three euros – and the child ahead of us paid €5. Little inconsistencies may not seem like much but do be prepared that not everything is included in the fee you’ve already paid.
We really enjoyed our trip to Fota Beyond and found it a brilliant festive treat. While there did seem to be some organizational issues at the beginning (we had some issues with our booking being located which caused confusion), after those initial issues the visit was efficiently run and full of magic for both parents and adults. We did have some tiny niggles – more down to incorrectly faced signage, and one screw which we spotted jutting out of the wall at child-level, but aside from that, we were impressed. The experience has been mostly booked out for this Christmas season but there are still some tickets available, so if you’re interested having read up on our experience, make sure to book them fast!
We received a complimentary visit to Fota Beyond for the purposes of an honest review. We have not received any further payment in exchange for this blog post, and all opinions are our own honest interpretations of our time at Fota Beyond.