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Is 'seeing the magic' worth the price?
The bottom line up front is that Santa's Magical Kingdom 2014 gives you great "bang for your buck", or should I say "bells for your jingle"?
They limit the number of tickets available for each three-hour session. The flow of people was very efficient; minimal to no lines for each of the six amusement rides, plus two outdoor attractions, the massive super-carpet-slide (the largest in Australia), and a large "ferris wheel" with semi-enclosed cabs.
Absolute value is, of course, difficult to measure, so I will have to give you relative value: $32.50 per person, if you're going on a family pass, includes unlimited access on all eight rides, winter-themed jumping castle with slide, a gingerbread man decorating station (take-and-eat), Lego station that we got a free Santa Lego keyring at, "real" snow tunnel (sort of foamy white spray, harmless and has an authentic, wet-snow-like feel to it), and an amazing 45-minute circus act by Silver Circus. Relative to the cost of, say, the SeaLife Aquarium, or Zoo, or even the Royal Show; I'd say you're getting pretty good value. The best age range would be five to ten years old, though younger and older children would definitely enjoy much of what is offered.
Extra costs included food of course, some carnival type games ($5 each), there was a Santa's Bookshop that you could buy books at, near Mrs Claus's interactive story time corner, lots of merchandise ranging from $5-$100 (LED lit light sabres and star-wands in the circus area are $10 each, cash only; note that the light sabres are quite long and looked awkward to carry around afterward), and photos with Santa ranging from $23/package. Don't tell the kids, but behind the curtains, there are actually four Santas, each in their own enclosed photo area, which makes the lines go super fast! You are permitted to request the same Santa for siblings and friends, so the kids won't figuring things out.
The management team at Santa's Magical Kingdom have a thing or two figured out, that's for sure.
We had a very pleasant three-hour visit with minimal to no lines (10:00 am on a Saturday session). I brought my seven-year-old and five-year-old, and we felt that we had time to do everything we wanted to do; we had a little down time in the Lego area, and we went on a few of the favourite rides twice.
A few hot tips for you:
1. Circus show: Watch for the tent-support-beams when you're choosing your seats. While the performers do move around the stage quite a bit, there is some "centre stage" acting by Santa and Cecil the naughty elf. Look for the wide black carpet in centre stage; if you have a clear view of that, you will be good to go.
2. If you're with another adult, find your seats in the circus tent, then one of you duck out to the concession to buy lunch. Lines are reduced, and you are permitted to bring food in to the circus tent. Depending on the age of your kids, this is a good time to eat and not take up time that could be had on rides when the show is over. The lady that served me at the concession also offered me empty cups at no additional charge, which I filled with water at the water fountain. Saves $3.50-$4 per drink.
3. Bring cash. There are automatic cash machines on site, but of course they have service fees, and may have lines.
4. Bring your own food and snacks. Food prices were pretty decent for the larger items (see image below) but pricey for popcorn and candy floss ($4.50 each, small serving). They do have water fountains on site (out near the toilets), and they sell un-advertised chips at $3.50 per decent-sized-cup; great to tide you over if needed.
5. If you didn't buy your lunch on site, or want to go early, there is a restaurant just outside the entry gates (gate 23), called Caulfield Glasshouse. They have a kids' meal special for $8 that includes main, dessert, drink, and Christmas activity bag (see image).
6. Bring your good camera. There are some very sweet roving "mascot" Santa friends (Rudolph, Frosty, Gingee, Polar Pete, and more) with lots of time and space for photos. The lighting is fairly dim to make the Christmas lights twinkle and the stars shine; not ideal for phone cameras.
7. Free gift from Santa: Not well advertised, but you can actually go in and visit Santa, and get a free gift, without buying a photo package.
8. Sold out? Call to book. The booking site indicates many, many sessions are sold-out; they do offer ticket sales on-site, and you can call to check in advance if there are still tickets available on the day. The staff there told me that there are "usually still tickets available".
If you're looking for a clutter-free Christmas gift from the Grandparents this year, or just a special Christmas season family-day-out, you can't go wrong at Santa's Magical Kingdom.