I recently was invited to attend and review ‘Wishmas’ the Christmas immersive experience at the Old Bauble Factory in Waterloo, and I, along with my daughter were hoping for a truly enchanting experience that would leave me and my daughters feeling full of Christmas holiday cheer. Having been involved in education and journalism for many a year I struggled with how the dialogue from the actors was delivered. It was often wordy and a lot was confusing for the children in attendance.
As you walk in the main entrance and collect your tickets, you are encouraged to have your photo taken by a ‘Wishmas’ poster, but not sure why. (You will later – read on).
You then have to queue up for 10 minutes, which I feel could be a lot longer at peak times and then an Elf fires up your excitement to get going on the ‘Wishmas’ Adventure. Eventually we were off. We entered a room which has an helter-skelter in the middle of it with a surrounding desk and lots of Robin bird boxes on the walls and flashing lights. You are greeted by a ‘Wishkeeper’ Elf.
Having spent many an ‘inset day’ learning how children learn and their attention spans and engagement requirements, once the Elf had passed the 5 minute mark of what was to be her long and padded speech, half the children were having to be encouraged to keep engaged by their parents.
It was far too long a speech and increasingly becoming very warm inside. Robins would pass over your head on wires that were clearly visible. Considering the technology available today, this could have been so much better.
The ‘Wishkeeper’ Elf then produced a lit ball, which represented a wish from someone around the world. It would have been so nice to hear different volume levels of wishes being said and heard. Again, getting to understand what this was for took far too long to explain. Then an oversized mechanical robin which looked more like a pigeon was produced and was being held and controlled by it’s legs, proceeded to try and re-engage the children. What would have been a little more magical would be to have the wishes rolling down the helter-skelter in the middle of the room. And projected walls, with the occasional voice of Santa Claus being heard around the event. But alas not.
I knew that half the children in the room were struggling to understand the sometimes-grown-up wordy dialogue the actors were saying. This immersive Christmas event managed in places to capture the essence of the festive season, but I could see the children were switching off and eager to move on. I and my party were still waiting to be transported into a world of wonder and magic. Perhaps beyond the next door, our wishes would come true.
The next section we stood outside a wooden framed train. The windows were replaced with LCD Monitors, these added to the heat of the train. Again, the train soon filled up and we were once again greeted by another hard-working Elf.
Once more we given to a long and sometimes ‘over the heads’ of the young children in its dialogue. Six more minutes passed and then a rumble and the LCD screens burst into life. We finally took off and the screen showed us moving up into the nights sky and that’s where we stayed looking at clouds from the TV screen windows. Again, with today’s technology, this could have been so much better. VR could have worked wonders here.
There was a slight involvement in audience participation, but this was slight and pointless. The train could have had more mechanical involvement, perhaps some tilts in the train, rather than some rumbling movement. Very weak underwhelming part of the experience.
Eventually we moved on to the next room. Again, no vocal cues or noises from Santa Claus encouraging us to move ever closer to where he would be or even hearing some lost wishes. Limited audio stimulation.
In the next room we were again greeted by another rather excited Elf and various pods that represented the reindeers, there were screens and children were encouraged to press a button not a combination of them. Just the one. The screen eventually showed a picture. A shape that needed to be collected and brought to the middle table. Once again very limited. The LCD screen did not even look like a reindeer’s face. Soon we were out of that room and heading towards Santa. Again, no auditory stimulation.
There was another room with round screen and foam spinning rings that each child had to spin fast to make the lights glow, but for what reason? They did not show much apart from a faint outline of a present or festive object. It would have been so much engaging if there were audio sounds which got clearer the faster as the outer disks were spun. But alas once again not.
Eventually we are taken to a room with globes hanging from the ceiling, a sleigh in the middle and fragments of snow on the floor. Could we now be meeting the Mr Christmas, Santa Claus himself? Yes. In came Santa Claus. He looked the part, dressed the part, but his voice let him down, he wasn’t sounding larger than life, but more like a school teacher from the 1960s. Limp, quiet, hard to hear and not very engaging. An actor going through his lines. Such a shame. He should have had some echo on his voice occasionally that spun around the room. That’s immersive. So, to help Santa we all had to sing a song and do some movements and eventually snow fell and the wish was re-animated. But again, very quiet to hear and some of the children were struggling to keep up with the choreography and the singing.
The main attraction of Wishmas should have been he storytelling performances. But and here is a big but. It was too wordy and too long. So, the young children lost their ability to stay engaged and this was sad to see. But As I have said before. The talented actors brought the story to life the best they could their engaging performances, were good trying to transport us the audience into a world of imagination. It was not their fault their speeches were far too long. The narrative was heartwarming in places but I felt, the message about the importance of kindness and the power of wishes. Got lost with both children and adults alike drifting off with the long narrative.
Once we left this room, we passed a few Christmas trees, which I have to say I have seen better in a Garden centre. Very limited. Then a tunnel with running lights and then were divided up depending on what colour armband you had and into our corresponding rooms. This was one of the highlights of the event. An the interactive workshop. We had the opportunity to create our very own personalized bauble, which added a personal touch to the experience. The workshop was well-organised, and the staff provided clear instructions and assistance, ensuring that everyone had a bauble completed to hang on their tree when they got home. You could see that the children were enjoying this exercise while the parents were wondering what they had just paid for.
It gave me a time to talk to some of the parents about their thoughts. Some had enjoyed the experience, but quite a few thought it was limited, basic in its design and very hot. They also said how hot it could get if really busy. Once this was over you were then guided out through another set of doors and into the SHOP!
I always struggle having to pass through a shop with lots of goodies for kids which were not cheap. I always feel this puts a lot of pressure on the parents to add more spending to the admission price with additional costs for a meet and greet with Santa.
This is where the photo at the beginning comes into play. Yes, there is a shop where you can buy your family photo. More money to spend.
There were festive treats available Fortman and Mason had a pop-up shop. Another had an £80.00 interactive story telling device for kids to play depending on what characters they purchased at £15.00 each and there were lots of those.
Another had the usual yuletide drinks and festive mince pies for sale.
Then it was all over and you were back where you started. But by this time, there were no smiling faces, just security guards and cloakroom attendance. Even the Wishkeeper Elf’s passed by you but this time dressed in jeans and T shirts carrying their costumes in full view of the public.
For me observing and chatting to staff the downsides were
- The occasional overcrowding and queuing, particularly I was told during peak hours. The long-winded speeches which seemed to be lost on the children.
- The train ride with its limited TV screens for windows showing clouds and more clouds and generating more heat on what was already a warm environment.
- The animated robins were rather tacky and could have been better if they had spent more money.
- The lack of wishes rolling down the helter-skelter was a missed opportunity,
- The lack of auditory stimulation. It felt the event had been written by business people instead of people who understand children’s psychology and furthermore appreciating their attention span.
- The staff did their best with what they had been given. They did their best to engage with everyone so we all had a chance to fully enjoy the experience.
Overall, my thoughts and further feedback from the parents I spoke to were: If the speeches were shortened and more in tune with younger Children, more auditory cues, sounds of wishes being played Santa’s Voice echoing around as the children got nearer to him. Better interaction for the kids to do, considering what technology is available nowadays. Perhaps some VR and the use fishing line instead of wire to fly the Robins. A more animated train one that rocked and moved up and down in sync with the window animation. A more dynamic Father Christmas. A little more snow and a cheaper ticket price would help to make it a better Christmas immersive experience. This would then make it a truly ‘magical immersive experience’. An evening spent there would then help to ensure kids young and old leave with lasting memories.
I would suggest look at other reviews and see what the general consensus is. Read the thoughts of those who have gone with a family or as a couple about their whole experience. Magical? For me and those I spoke to ‘Could have been better’. I so wanted my wish to be heard, that it would be a great experience.
But if you have done your research and feel it would be a good 60 minutes spent then please do visit ‘Wishmas’ at the old bauble factory Waterloo.