Braintree Express Christmas Experience at Freeport Braintree
I feel a little conflicted about our experience at the Braintree Express. Whilst the staff and actors were very good, the experience itself lacked a bit of polish and finesse.
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On Saturday we took a trip to try the Braintree Express Christmas Experience at Freeport Braintree. The event promises a magical train journey to the North Pole to see Santa. Was this an enchanting journey to a wonderful festive land? Or more ‘Grotty’, than ‘Grotto’? Read on to find out..
Where is the Braintree Express located?
The Braintree Express Christmas Experience is located at Freeport Braintree, it’s located on a small area of grass to the left of Bill’s and the right of Wildwood. It’s inside a temporary marquee with some ‘station’ theming to disguise the tent.
How much does the Braintree Express cost?
Children under 16 years are £8.50 each and Adults are £4.50 each. Each child receives an age-appropriate gift from Santa, and you can purchase a picture with Santa for £8.50 (there are other options for other photo products too!). You can buy tickets for the Braintree Express here. The experience lasts around 15 minutes in total. Freeport Braintree can be a nightmare to park at peak times, so they recommend arriving an hour before your time slot. You HAVE to be there on time as latecomers won’t be admitted, or refunded.
What does the Braintree Express Christmas Experience at Freeport Braintree involve?
Once inside the ‘building’ we let an elf know we’d arrived and waited at the ‘ticket window’ where someone asked James his name and handed him a ticket with his name on. We then walked down the ‘Victorian Street’ (which is about 5 steps) to the train platform. On the platform is a train carriage you’re asked to wait to board. In fairness, the carriage looks pretty good for a temporary attraction but as you’re waiting to board you can actually hear what’s happening further along in the attraction. One of the pitfalls of having little soundproofing in a marquee.
The tannoy fires into life and you’re invited to board the train off to the North Pole. It’s an old-fashioned carriage with windows looking out to the ‘station’ (they are TV screens), the train leaves the station, and you make your way across various scenes. On the way, an ‘elf’ appears on the screen, sorry window, asking you to keep an eye out for some missing reindeer. You’re told to shout ‘REINDEER’ when you see them. True enough, there are some Reindeer in the background of a few of the scenes. The train obviously doesn’t move, but with the movement on the screen, and some loud, rumbly, bass speakers it gives the illusion of movement. After about 5 minutes, the train arrives in the North Pole, and you’re introduced to Mrs Claus. She then reads a story (which is a little hard to hear in places because of the tannoy announcement from the previous scene).
Once the story is complete, it’s time for Santa to come out and meet the children. He chats to each one to find out their age, and gives them a present. One of the elves takes a few pictures, and you’re then led back through a ‘magic door’ back to Braintree, and where you started.
So, what did I think of the Braintree Express Christmas Experience
I must say, the staff and actors within the Braintree Express Christmas Experience were all fantastic and really took to their roles with aplomb. It was nice that Santa had a proper beard and was of a certain age, it wasn’t a teenager with a cotton-wool beard. Mrs Claus was very good too, she was good with the children and read the story well – even though it was largely lost on the other toddlers in our group.
The issue is with the temporary nature of the structure, there’s no sound-proofing of previous, or upcoming scenes. It makes it all very hard to be fully immersed in the experience when you can hear what’s happening further along. There is not masses that could be done to fix this, sadly. The ‘train’ is pretty clever though, and better than I expected. I also found the fact the exit and entrance are through the same door made the experience a little disjointed. Personally, I think they should be separate, as we came in we had to push past people leaving, and as we left, we were met by people coming in. The people selling pictures at the end were also meant to be checking guests in. It would work a lot better if there was someone greeting guests and checking them in separately.
I feel a little conflicted about our experience at the Braintree Express. Whilst the staff and actors were very good, the experience itself lacked a bit of polish and finesse. I’ve seen people complaining that adults have to pay for the experience. I completely understand I can imagine if adults were free then you’d get Grandma, Grandad, Aunties and Uncles piling in to see their favourite little relative meet Santa. I would say it’s JUST about good value for money, it’s not the longest Santa experience around, but it’s not the shortest. The photograph gifts aren’t hideously expensive, and there’s no gift shop you have to traipse through at the end. James got a ‘Space Blaster’ gun as a gift from Santa – I’m not sure how I feel about Santa dishing out guns (Even if it’s disguised slightly as something for blasting aliens).
If you fancy meeting Santa and are local to Freeport Braintree then I’d say give the Braintree Express a ‘ride’. Just keep in mind that it IS a temporary attraction, and despite the efforts, it DOES feel like one. Our excitable six-year-old though, he enjoyed it, as did the other little ones in our group. Is it the best festive experience I’ve been to? No. However, it’s certainly not the worst, and you don’t feel like you’re being robbed for little extras along the way. We did enjoy it, and it was a nice way to spend time together getting in the festive spirit.
This wasn’t a ‘review trip’ – we just went as a normal (paying!) family.
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