This year, Santa has set up shop in Irvine. He has brought reindeer, snow, and plenty of elves to Santa's Wonderland, a new Christmas-themed attraction geared towards kids ages 8 and under. This converted office building takes guests on a room to room tour of the inner workings of Christmas, led by an elf tour guide.
My kids were amazed that our tour was going to be led by a genuine elf from the North Pole. When the elf reached out to shake their hand, my son hesitated. His Elf on the Shelf training told him that elves lose their magic when humans touch them. Luckily, this elf could receive handshakes, hugs, and even high fives without ill effect. The elf gave us the inside scoop into Santa's world of Christmas preparation as you took us into Santa's Control Room as well as Santa's Toy Workshop. The kids seemed unphased by the homemade atmosphere inside what was obviously an office building. They were just excited to be a part of Santa's world.
We went through a room set up to look like a cityscape decked out in holiday lights and wander through a small forest of artificial Christmas trees before reaching the mail room. Here, the kids were able to write their own letters to Santa, with spelling help from our friendly elf guide. They stuffed their Christmas wishes inside an envelope and stamped their letter with a special stamp notifying the postal service this message was destined to the North Pole.
From the mail room, we headed upstairs to meet the reindeer. While at first glance the reindeer looked like giant stuffed animals, we were assured that once they were sprinkled with magic reindeer dust on Christmas Eve, they would come to life. Magic! I was skeptical that they would buy it but my six-year-olds were thrilled to pet the magic reindeer and sit on one while posing for pictures. The reindeer fun continued in the next room where kids could make special reindeer food to sprinkle on their yards this Christmas Eve and enjoy some reindeer games in the form of mini golf, bowling, and a mini-obstacle course.
Snow isn't easy to come by in Orange County but Santa's Wonderland manages to bring snow to our flip flop wearing kids. The synthetic snow inside the snow room is lots of fun and perfect for making snow angels or tossing at one another. I had to drag my snow deprived kids out of there!
During Elf Academy the kids experienced firsthand what it took to become an elf. They sang Christmas songs, wrapped presents, and helped dress teddy bears. Their reward for getting the elf stamp of approval- a certificate of elf academy completion and a chance to decorate some gingerbread goodies to take home. Give any kid a cookie, a tub full of frosting, and a bunch of candy and you are sure to see smiles!
Of course no trip to Santa's Wonderland is complete without a visit to Santa himself. Time for the kids to tell Mr. Kringle what they want for Christmas a picture capturing the moment is included with the cost of admission.
If I were Santa Wonderland's target demographic, I would have been underwhelmed. The facility felt like a work in progress and the space's former office identity is still quite evident. Luckily, none of the aesthetics seemed detract from the fun and magic that all the visiting children were experiencing. On a scale of "sorta good" to "very good", my kids gave it a "very, very, very good". My hope is that Santa's Wonderland will up the ante next year and become a fixture in Irvine for years to come.
Good to know: If your GPS is like mine (cough, cough Siri), it will lead you in the wrong direction. Here are the correct directions to Santa's Wonderland: Take Interstate 405 and exit Jamboree, heading east. Make a left on Main St. Take another left on Cartwright Road. Cartwright will turn to the left and become White Road. Just before White Road dead ends, turn left into an office complex housing Santa's Wonderland . Santa's Wonderland is located at 2719 White Road.
For more information, check out the Santa's Workshop website.
Disclosure: My kids and I received complimentary entry into Santa's Workshop in order to highlight the business on Destination Irvine. All opinions are my own.