On Christmas Eve Eve we spent the day trying to be festive and jolly, visiting friends and family and of course meeting Father Christmas at Finkley Down Farm Park which is situated close to the Walworth industrial estate in Andover. It’s quite easy to find and very well signposted. There is a small car park at the park for those that drive and for those, like us, visiting by public transport you can get the Wheelers 13 bus which will drop you fairly close to the farm. It’s been a part of my town for years and a big part of my childhood so taking my own child there has been a real privilege. I was lucky enough to be able to use a season pass during my time in the hostel I lived in with my daughter a few years ago but hadn’t been back since.
My boyfriend had heard that the Magical Christmas they did was really good and we thought we would make the most of it before Christmas as I share custody with my daughter so time to do things together as a family is very limited for us. I did a bit of online research and it sounded like it would be a great experience. I did find out the price before we went so we knew it was going to be expensive but what I didn’t expect was to be completely let down and find it actually far too expensive for what turned out to be a three hour visit.
From what I remember as a child Finkley used to be a good value for money day out to visit the goats, rabbits, chickens and ponies with a lovely huge outside play area. It’s now expanded to include a café and huge indoor soft play area suitable for very young children and bigger kids with an area for lunch and for mums and dads to sit with a warm drink. It’s around £10 per adult and £9 per child over two for entry. You can get a season pass which apparently is worth it just to give the kids somewhere to play both in the summer and winter as the park is open all year long except for a few days. My daughter does enjoy going but mainly to play in the soft play area which has slides, slopes and swings. That’s all very well but I can’t spend all day sitting down at soft play waiting for her to finish. It is advisable to take a picnic or your own snacks, a thermos and water as everything is expensive. You can get a kids lunch box for just under £5 which includes five items. I understand these places are always pricy because of the staff and the fact most things are home made but we’d already paid a small fortune to get in to the park.
The Magical Christmas is described as a truly wonderful event with decorating cookies, meeting Father Christmas and making reindeer food as well as getting a gift and then being able to take part in the usual activities such as holding a rabbit, grooming a pony and meeting the reptiles. There is also an elf hunt which can get the child a little gift from the gift shop by collecting all the elves names and stickers and stamps to collect for taking part in all the other activities. When you arrive you are given a timeslot to start your Christmas experience which takes around 45 minutes but other than that you have the day to roam around, see and feed the animals and do what you want really.
You start at Mrs Klaus’ kitchen to decorate a Gingerbread man with a small pot of very runny white icing and a few sprinkles and chocolate drops. You can then walk over with the elves to see Santa in his magical Christmas barn. The benches are very, very low to the floor and you are surrounded by the younger animals. We saw a very cute Micro Pig wagging his tail and running about, some baby guinea pigs and young goats. That was quite sweet. The elves tried to get the kids enthusiasm up however we were in a group with mainly young children who didn’t speak much so it was very quiet. Santa came around to each child to say if they were on the good list and asked what they would like for Christmas after a conversation with the Elves that didn’t really make a lot of sense and wasn’t really very funny which I got the impression they were trying to be. After that there was an opportunity to get a photo with Santa which was incredibly rushed and to be honest having an elf shout ‘hurry up another group needs to come in’ ruined the magic a little bit. I know they need to get things moving a bit but they could have saved time by not “waking Santa because he ate too many gingerbread” man and just letting each child go into the house he was sat in and have a chat with him there and get a photo rather than sitting on low benches and waiting for him to speak to your child after a few awkward silences. After that we were lead through a snow machine to see the Reindeer and make Reindeer food for the children to sprinkle in the garden and on the doorstep so the Reindeers know where to land (Even though we are always told Santa stops on the rooftop and comes down the Chimney). After this you are lead back to the main play area barn to exchange your gold star for a gift. The choice of gifts was shocking to be honest. Whilst I don’t believe in gender stereotyping toys my daughters dad feels otherwise and she is constantly told what is right for girls to have and so my daughter only likes things that are pink, fluffy or role play based. The choice of toys that she would choose included a teddy or a rainbow glitter baton. Everything else was from the farm gift shop like hats and cups or cars, trucks, tractors, swords, bow and arrows and other bits that just didn’t appeal to her in anyway. She ended up choosing the Rainbow Baton which looked like something you could pick up easily from Poundland.
We paid £34 for two adults, a child and a Santa passport which was apparently worth £7 on top of the child entrance fee. We were treated to one free tea or filter coffee which was available until 24th December and paid for my partner to get a drink which was £2.85. A bottle of water or a fizzy drink ranged from £1.50-£1.80 in the café which is just far too expensive. Sandwiches were around £3.50 and a hot meal was priced up to about £8-£10 and the portions were fairly small.
The good points were seeing the animals enjoying the day and interacting with them as well as the soft play area which is really good and the large outside play area. We love the goats there as they can be very funny especially if you have a bag of feed for them and the chickens like to roam around too which is nice to see. However the interaction with Santa was poor and badly managed, the elves tried too hard and ended up making it a bit strange and awkward and the choice of toys for the money you paid was just very poor. I would have valued the day out and Santa experience at £12 for a child and I don’t think it should charge so much for adults either as it’s a park catered to Children. For places like this I think it’s unnecessary to charge more than about £8 per adult, £6 per child considering the prices of snacks and drinks.
Sadly everything is becoming more and ore expensive these days and with the growing demand for housing in our town and the fact that the next spring of houses is being built around the farm I can’t see it staying open in the next three years which is sad because we really don’t have that much for children and families here and it’s been a part of my childhood too. Because of the price and our poor experience here we probably won’t be returning to visit and would instead opt for a visit to our local Garden Centre next year which has a fantastic grotto full of family games and a large selection of toys for children to choose from. You also only pay for the child to experience it and get their gift.