WALKING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND
‘Tis the season to be jolly…fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. Now, before we go all gung-ho with the ‘spirit of Christmas’ festivities, allow me to give my own view on Christmas…I’m really not that keen on it! Don’t ask me why because as a child I (nearly) always got what I wanted on Christmas Day. Our family was working class, Mum worked really hard and somehow managed to put a few quid away so we didn’t have a rubbish Christmas. So, why am I not too keen on Christmas…in all honesty, I really don’t know! And…why did I let Mummy convince me to do a Christmas blog about Winter Wonderland? To get (myself) us in the mood for Westport House Winter Wonderland we all wore Christmas jumpers. Daddy; an ‘eclectic’ jumper, Mummy and Matilda; Rudolph Jumpers and Lily-Belle; a festive jumper with ‘Oh What Fun’ written in glitter.
As Winter draws near, and children across the country begin writing their letters to Santa, we’ve already ‘been there and done that’. Westport House, which is located in County Mayo; is one of Ireland’s best loved heritage attractions. Set in over 480 acres of lush grounds, this historic stately home is a charming venue to host a wonderful Winter Wonderland. Dignified and palatial by day and illuminated with colour by night, beautiful.
SHOW US YOUR TITSEL
Our accommodation for the Winter Wonderland weekend was at the 4* family-owned Hotel Westport, which is situated within the Westport Estate. Upon arrival at Hotel Westport the girls hastily grabbed their ‘trolley-cases’ out of the car and rushed inside to the reception. The reception area was warm and welcoming and the check-in process was swift and hassle free. In the reception foyer was a large Christmas Tree decorated with lights, ornaments, garlands but no tinsel…or as Matilda prefers to call it…’titsel’! Just off the reception is a cosy lounge and the fire was lit, perfect for warming tiny hands.
FEELING FESTIVE IN THE FAMILY ROOM
Our allocated room is on the 1st floor and Matilda became the ‘bellhop’ for our short ride in the elevator. Lily-Belle took control of locating and entering our family room with the electronic key-card. The room at Hotel Westport was very spacious, modern and more than adequate in size for our little family. Double bed for Mummy and Daddy, single bed for Lily-Belle and a camp-bed for Matilda…sorted. The girls took no time at all in opening their suitcases and digging out their swimming costumes. Sorry girls, not today! A decent size bathroom with double sinks, bath and shower; very opulent and finished to a high standard. As much as we want to stay put and enjoy our superior room, we can’t, as we have a cinema date…with a difference.
MOVIE NIGHT WITH A TWIST
Throughout December, as part of the Winter Wonderland experience; Westport House has open weekends where you can attend a Drive-In Movie. Lily-Belle was slightly confused and thought a Drive-in Movie was like a drive-through McDonalds. Pull up, pick a movie, grab a tub of popcorn and a drink…er no! Matilda wasn’t bothered at all as she has her own DVD player in the car. Our movie showing was at 5pm so we had enough time to stop off enroute to purchase popcorn and sweet treats. The Drive-In movie was being shown in the Courtyard within Westport House Estate. At the entrance a marshal greeted us and gave us all wireless headphones. The evening movie was a Christmas Classic and a firm favourite of Daddy’s…ELF. Will Ferrell plays Buddy; a human-sized Elf; who is in search of his true identity. Hilarious and the perfect movie to get your festive senses tingling.
Car parked in position, headphones on for the sound and the film began to play on the big screen. As the movie progressed both Lily-Belle and Matilda would burst into spontaneous laughter at Buddy’s antics. The popcorn and treats were quickly consumed as we sat for 97 minutes glued to the big screen. What a fantastic experience and thankfully the rain held off right until the end. Back to Hotel Westport for our evening meal which we had pre-booked for 7pm.
STRESSED SPELLED BACKWARDS IS DESSERTS
The restaurant wasn’t busy and food arrived quite quickly after placing our order with Joseph; our Hungarian waiter for the evening. Matilda refused to eat her food and was more interested in knowing what was for dessert. She soon settled down to pasta and meatballs with the promise of a Knickerbocker Glory. Lily-Belle chose the same main course and plump chocolate profiteroles for pudding. After dinner we retired to the bar for a nightcap. Sat with our drinks the conversation got around to Jingles and Bobbles and whether or not they would know we were staying at Hotel Westport. Jingles and Bobbles are magical Elves (Elf on the Shelf) who come to the Callaghan household every December 1st. Of course, Lily-Belle was one step ahead of Mummy and Daddy and informed us that she’d left a note at home which informed the Elves of our whereabouts…smart cookie.
MISCHIEF AND MAYHEM
Back at our room mischief had already been afoot. Jingles and Bobbles had indeed arrived at Hotel Westport and, as they do every year; had brought gifts for the girls. As usual the Elves began making mischief the moment they arrived by scattering Christmas confetti everywhere. Lily-Belle and Matilda were ecstatic to see their tiny little Elf friends. We always apply a ‘No Touching the Elf’ rule except for ‘arrival day’ and ‘leaving day’ so the girls couldn’t wait to get cuddles. So sweet! I wonder what high-spirited shenanigans they’ll get up to this year, the Elves…not the girls! Time for zzzzz’s in Hotel Westport’s comfy beds, we need to be full of energy for Winter Wonderland tomorrow.
POOPING OUT PANCAKES
Morning arrives and our day is already planned. Breakfast followed by a quick look around Westport House Estate, a dip in the swimming pool at Hotel Westport, ice skating in Castlebar followed then by the big event itself…a visit to see Santa Claus at Westport House. I never knew breakfast could make a child smile so much! Lily-Belle and Matilda were overjoyed to see a pancake making machine in the restaurant. Press the ‘ok’ button, watch blobs of pancake mix drop onto the conveyor belt and a few minutes later out ‘poops’ a perfect pancake. Amazing; and rather tasty with a drop of syrup on top. A hearty Irish fry for Mummy and Daddy (and pancakes) and we’re all set for Winter Wonderland.
ALL ABOARD THE POLAR EXPRESS
Outside the entrance of Hotel Westport was Mayo’s very own Polar Express in the form of the Westport Tour Train. Driver John welcomed us on board before pootling off on the short scenic journey to Winter Wonderland at Westport House. Such a magnificent Georgian structure set within well maintained grounds and with a beautiful silvery river flowing beside. One can just imagine the Lord and Lady of the Manor sat on the verdant lawns taking Afternoon Tea whilst overlooking the Estate. Peacefully idyllic and picturesque. Outside Westport House just a tiny hint of what was to come inside the Winter Wonderland; a snowman, a polar bear, a penguin and reindeer…ho-ho-ho. A large carousel immediately grabbed the girls attention and soon they were riding the colourful horses. The girls are going to have to wait until 3pm for their Santa Experience as we have Mayo On Ice in Castlebar first.
P-P-P-PICK UP A PENGUIN
Mayo On Ice is a great seasonal activity that is very popular with children of all ages. For those who look like bambi on ice and unable to skate freely, there’s the option of clinging on to a penguin as you glide around the rink. For the littlest of children Mayo On Ice has little blue ride-on seals. Matilda loved being pushed around the rink by Mummy and Lily-Belle. Christmas music is playing and laughter fills the air as boys and girls skate around the Christmas Tree in the centre of the rink. There’s a real lively buzz about the place.
THE ONLY WAY IS UP
Outside an extreme swing towers high above the ground and children can be heard screaming, it looks thrilling but we’ve no time to have a go. The heart of Fair Green, Castlebar also has stalls where the children are able to buy sweets and Mummy’s and Daddy’s can grab a cup of hot chocolate. Mayo On Ice is a great way to have fun and waste a few hours. If you’ve older children you could quite easily drop them off at Fair Green and go Christmas shopping in the bustling High Street.
BUBBLES WITHOUT BEANS
Back at Hotel Westport we all changed into our swimming clobber and made our way down to the swimming pool. Daddy was first out so I waited in the Jacuzzi…I love bubbles! The pool was really quiet and the girls availed of the floating noodles, Matilda even found a pair of arm-bands to use. Lily-Belle and Matilda absolutely love going to the pool and they loved that they were able to sit in the shallow Jacuzzi. We could quite easily have spent the day at the pool but we had a Winter Wonderland experience to attend.
The time was a little after 12 when we checked out of Hotel Westport and hopped in the car for the short drive to Winter Wonderland at Westport House. At the reception the Elf couldn’t locate our names on the computer nor could they locate us with the booking reference number. Confused! After a short while the Elf informed us we were indeed on the list. One can only assume the Elves had been up to mischief with the bookings. The girls wasted no time in exploring the Main Hall which was tastefully decorated with an array of Christmas ornaments and human-sized Toy Soldiers. Joy the Elf checked her list…twice. A Christmas tree stood towering toward the high ceiling; magnificently decorated and beautifully lit with large presents placed around the base.
STORY TIME WITH MRS CLAUS
Waiting in the foyer of Westport House we simply stood and admired this wonderful building. Our names were called and Joy the Elf gave us a very warm (should that be cold) welcome before ushering us in to see Mrs Claus. The room was dimly lit with cushions on the floor for the children and chairs for the adults. Just like the Main Hall, the room was beautifully decorated with a garland and wreath hanging above the fireplace. Mrs Claus engaged with the children and offered them a Christmas story…The Grinch. Children sat (fidgeting as children do) listening to the story of how the Grinch stole Christmas…mean old Grinch, a name that my own children often call me at Christmas! After the story a Christmas sing-song and a chance to take photos. Mrs Claus was lovely and we waved farewell as we were led into the Lego Room.
MAGIC OF WISHMAS
The Lego Room was long and narrow and the walls had portraits of (we can only assume) past Lord’s and Lady’s of Westport House. At the top end of the room was a ‘Wishmas Tree’. Tiny the Elf (who was well over 6ft tall) was on hand to assist children with Lego building. Joy the Elf assisted Lily-Belle and Matilda in writing their Christmas Wishes and with a sprinkling of her Elf Magic; their wishes were added to the Wishmas Tree. Matilda wished for a ginormous Christmas Tree and a Unicorn, and Lily-Belle wished for everybody to have an everlasting life. Deep! Wishes made (and hopefully granted) and a chance for the girls to get their faces painted by sELFie the Elf. Daddy got silver glitter added to his beard. Next stop on the Winter Wonderland tour; the Gingerbread Room.
LIFE IS SHORT, EAT GINGERBREAD
Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man. This little chap was going nowhere except into the belly’s of the little ones. After a short story children got to decorate their very own little Gingerbread biscuits. At one end of this elaborately decorated room was a table filled with lots of Gingerbread Houses and figures. A brilliant Christmas display and extremely well detailed; looked good enough to eat. One of the Elves caught a little boy trying to lick the gingerbread house and hurried him along with a threat of adding him to the ‘NAUGHTY’ list. Too funny! Time for the Winter Wonderland Main Event…exciting!
SHHHHH, IT’S SANTA SNORES
The Elves had pre-warned us that Santa liked to take a little nap in the afternoon, and should we find him asleep in his Grotto, we had to shout Ho-Ho-Ho really loud. It came as no surprise to the boys and girls to hear Santa Claus snoring as they entered the room. With a very loud Ho-Ho-Ho cheer from the children, Santa was rudely awakened. What a Jolly man Santa was. Puffy red face, long white beard and very softly spoken…indeed this Santa was the ‘Real Deal’. Santa Claus chatted with the children and opened up his book, however, he was very surprised to find not one of the boys or girls on the ‘NICE’ list. Tut-tut Santa, he was reading from the ‘NAUGHTY’ list. Of course the boys and girls wouldn’t be on that list…they’re all (ahem) little Angels!
READ ALL ABOUT OUR VISIT TO SEE SANTA IN HIS HOMETOWN OF LAPLAND
Santa addressed each child separately and spoke a little bit about each. Joking with the little ones Santa said that he didn’t much care for football, especially Liverpool FC…Lily-Belle nearly had a meltdown. Liverpool is our team! Might have to put Santa Claus on his own ‘NAUGHTY’ list. After a short time each child was called forward to collect a Christmas gift from Santa’s helpful Elf, then click…a photo was taken to capture the magical moment of meeting Santa Claus. The excitement was high as children eagerly ripped open their gifts. What a fantastic and memorable experience had by all. Wait, it isn’t over just yet, we still have to visit the Elves and make a Christmas ornament.
TIME TO ENJOY OURS’ELVES’
Down in the Winter Wonderland basement, just next to the wine cellar and the dungeons; was the Elf room. Presumably the Elf room was strategically placed beside the dungeon just in case any of the Elves needed to be imprisoned for bad behaviour. Children sat around a table and made their own Santa Claus Christmas decorations using wood and paint. Curly the Elf was a real character, very cheeky and definitely impish with his antics. Lily-Belle and Matilda convinced Curly to do the latest dance craze – The Floss. I reckon Curly the elf spent most of his time locked in the dungeon for minor misdemeanor’s.
AND NOW THE END IS HERE
Our visit to see Santa Claus at Winter Wonderland within Westport House had sadly come to an end. We had such fun and the day created lasting memories. More importantly than Santa Claus the presents, the stately home, the amazing Winter Wonderland experience and the magical memories made; Daddy left feeling the Spirit of Christmas and even made the statement that we could put up the Christmas tree and decorations as soon as we got home. Miracles do happen at Christmas. Ho-Ho-Ho!
Happy Christmas from The Callaghan Posse – wherever you are in the world, have a good one! But remember; Jesus is the reason for the season. Enjoy.
WOULD WE GO BACK
A definite yes from The Callaghan Posse. Hotel Westport is wonderfully welcoming and the rooms and facilities are excellent for a weekend (or longer) of relaxation. Winter Wonderland at Westport House was one of the best Santa experiences we have ever attended. The stately house was the perfect venue, and it’s Georgian character added to the whole magical experience. A very well organised event and we can’t wait to return in 2019.
With a very special THANK YOU to:
- Biddy Hughes – Sales and Marketing Manager at Westport House & Hotel Westport
- Santa Claus, Mrs Claus and with a special shout out to the following Elves: Joy, Curly, Tiny and Selfie
A heartfelt thank you to you all for making our visit to Hotel Westport and Westport House truly special! We look forward to seeing you all again in 2019.
LILY-BELLE (age 9) SAYS
My favourite part of the Winter Wonderland weekend was making the Santa ornament with Curly the Elf, he was really funny. Seeing Santa and getting a present was lots of fun, but I was so annoyed when Santa said he didn’t like Liverpool FC! Daddy looked really funny with sparkly glitter in his beard.
Daddy: I think the spirit of Christmas may have went to my head!
MATILDA (age 4) SAYS
I really loved going to the swimming pool. Ice skating was so much fun, I just love ice skating. Santa was my best part because I really love him and I love Mrs Claus, she let me stroke the reindeer. The train ride was really bouncy and lots of fun. I didn’t like the dungeon, I think there was a dead man on the wall!
Daddy: there was indeed a ‘person’ shackled to the wall. It may well have been an Elf being punished for being naughty. Well, that’s what I told Matilda!
Travel Dates: 30th November to 1st December 2018
Hotel Westport Overnight Stay: from €188 (bed and breakfast + Winter Wonderland tickets)
Winter Wonderland ticket price:
- Adults (age 16+): €14.00
- Children (age 3-15): €28.50
- Infants (age 1-2): €15:00
- Children under 1: free
- note: ALL children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a paying adult aged 18+
- BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL at www.westporthouse.ie/event/winter-wonderland-2/
Disclaimer: our overnight stay at Hotel Westport and our visit to Winter Wonderland at Westport House was gifted. Views, experiences and opinions are ultimately our own and completely unbiased and impartial.
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Information, currency and prices are correct at the time of publishing.
Views, opinions and experiences are that of The Callaghan Posse and are correct at the time of publication.
Photos, unless credited below, taken by The Callaghan Posse for use and distribution by Around The World In 18 Years.
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