Parents were left dismayed after paying £105 for Lapland UK tickets only to claim that they queued for hours in cold and cramped conditions to see Santa.
A shortage of actors meant there were not enough Father Christmases and caused a logjam, with children fast asleep by the time they made it to the front.
Concerns about social distancing were also raised, and one visitor claimed they were ‘herded like cattle’.
Lapland UK, in Ascot, Berkshire, is the biggest festive attraction of its kind in Europe and has drawn famous faces including Billie Faier and Rochelle and Marvin Humes.
Co-founder Mike Battle told MailOnline he was ‘devastated’ that a ‘human error’ had caused the unusually long queues and that some complainants had been given another visit.
He said: ‘Not enough cast members were brought in and that’s terrible. But it’s never happened before in 14 years and it’ll never happen again.’
Parents are up in arms after paying £105 for Lapland UK tickets only to be ‘herded like cattle’ in cramped conditions and queuing for hours in the cold to see Santa
A shortage of actors meant there were not enough Father Christmases and caused a huge logjam, with children fast asleep by the time they made it to the front
Lapland UK in Ascot, Berkshire, is the biggest festive attraction of its kind in Europe
One father said he had waited almost three hours in the chill with his eight-year-old child after his 8.45pm booking slot got pushed back to well past 11pm.
Royston tweeted: ‘The quality of the place holds up, but that 155 minutes in 2°C just beat the s*** out of our eight-year-old.’
Laura Jaramillo tweeted: ‘A 50-minute queue in a claustrophobic shop with hundreds of people just to get our Santa photo – a shambles.
‘No social distancing! Reported to the police for not meeting social distancing!! A sad end to our trip.’
A review on TripAdvisor by Racmun wrote: ‘Literally herded like cattle down pathways of Christmas trees to queue to get into the toy making room, then queue to ice a gingerbread, queue to ice skate and then queue to see Father Christmas.’
Mr Battle said that scheduling confusion saw some members of staff finish early and led to a ‘break-down’ of the slot times system.
He said that while the management was ‘heartbroken’, such hiccups sometimes happen in business, but ‘the question is what you do next’.
He has launched an investigation into what happened and vowed it will not happen again.
But he hit back at claims of social distance breaches and stressed that Lapland UK ‘exceeds all current Covid health and safety guidelines’ and has been working in partnership with Bracknell Forest Council and Public Health England.
He added: ‘There are only 40 families on each four hour tour of the experience, these are separated into two groups and each family is in their own bubble.’
Lapland UK is based on the original storybooks of founders Mike and Alison Battle and invites families to discover how an ‘elven civilisation’ celebrates Christmas
Concerns about social distancing were also raised about the queues
Many visitors at the attraction in Ascot, Berkshire, on Monday night were left feeling short-changed and let loose on the organisers
Exasperated father Ben Allard made his feelings known to the organisers while he was still in the queue at 11.30pm – almost three hours late.
He tweeted Lapland UK: ‘Still waiting to see Santa @laplanduk our slot was 2045-2100! Shocking experience for my three children.’
Joe College also weighed in: ‘A really awful experience at Lapland UK today. Forty five minute queues for ice skating (even though you book an allocated slot), 40 mins queues to see Santa (even though you book an allocated slot).
‘No social distancing measures enforced in the queuing system.’
Nicola Gray said: ‘We queued for over an hour with a five-year old in the freezing cold yesterday.
‘We have not been contacted today. By the time we got to see Santa my daughter was asleep.’
Paris Charles agreed, saying: ‘We left at just past midnight and never got to see Santa at all.
‘We still haven’t been contacted – I left my details with a member of management and was told I would receive a call today but I’m still waiting.’
TOWIE star Billie Faier visited Lapland UK were her family
Lapland UK has drawn famous faces including Rochelle and Marvin Humes
JW Kay said on Facebook: ‘We waited well over an hour in the queue to see Santa. Was such a shame as the kids just became too tired and groggy by the time we got into Santa’s cabin.’
Jennifer Nushi replied: ‘We must have been in the same queue for Santa on Monday night.
‘My patience was quite thin by the end of it trying to entertain a six and eight-year old in the cold! I’ve emailed and messaged them to complain.’
But despite the carnage, customers paid tribute to the patient staff who they said offered them refreshments, and Mr Battle said he was proud of his employees.
According to its website, Lapland UK charged customers £105 per person ticket on Monday night. But tickets on Saturdays are flogged for £135 each.
There is a toy factory, ice skating rink, a 90-minute immersive theatre experience, cafes, sweet shop, Mother Christmas’ kitchen, and of course Santa in his cabin.
Mr Battle justified the price: ‘We are the first company ever to put customers at the centre of a film set.’
He said he and wife Alison have poured £4million into attraction, which includes Hollywood-level props, and that goodies such as handmade toys and a family portrait are included in the price.
What do you get for up to £130 per ticket?
Lapland UK charges up to £130 per person for tickets.
According to its website, it includes:
- Personalised invitation to every child from Father Christmas by post
- Presentation box (One per booking)
- Elf Passport for every child
- A copy of the Lapland Times
- All activities and performances including ice skating
- Beautiful thank you gift from Father Christmas for every child (RRP £25)
- Parking at Whitmoor Forest
- Toy Factory Toy for Christmas Day complete with Thank You card from Father Christmas for every child (RRP £30).
Travel between tiers is currently not advised and Lapland UK was recently forced to offer refunds to those in Tier 3 areas.
It has led to a backlog of people waiting for refunds, with dozens still complaining on social media this week.
Mr Battle said thousands of people have been forced to cancel and that he was sifting through the enormous pile of refund requests – of which he would usually only get a handful each year.
Responding to the angry comments on social media, he told MailOnline: ‘They’re raging at Lapland when they should be raging at maybe the Government or Covid.’
He went on to defend his ‘plucky’ British businesses for opening in the pandemic.
Mr Battle said: ‘Early on when the pandemic first struck we took the decision to not give up on our purpose to help families honour and celebrate the magic of childhood at Christmastime, believing Father Christmas stands for children and wouldn’t let them down, so nor could we.
‘Uniquely the Lapland UK experience is not about socialising per se, but about celebrating the wonder of your own family.
‘As we build from scratch every year, we were able to redesign and produce a Covid safe show where families remain in their own bubbles throughout.
‘This has required a massive investment in all aspects to retain the magic while keeping everyone safe.’
Of the complaints from Monday, Mr Battle said: ‘On Monday evening we had a human error with regard to scheduling cast members which caused an extended wait time for a small number of families and resulted in a disappointing experience.
‘The whole LaplandUK team were heartbroken as we know the importance of what we do for our visitors.
‘The families affected on this tour have been refunded, with some popping back again so the children can have an in-depth chat with Father Christmas about how his elves have been misbehaving.’