It was billed as a festive fun day out for all the family, with the chance to meet Father Christmas, his reindeer, huskies and the promise of a top-notch ice-skating rink. But parents who visited the Milton Keynes Winter Wonderland soon realised that their expectations of an enchanted festive day-out were not going to be met. And many of their children were left in tears, with some asking where the real Santa Claus was.
Visitors who had attended the event soon began to deluge the event’s Facebook page with complaints, and started posting up pictures of the rather young looking Father Christmas, who was dressed in what many parents were calling an ‘outfit from Poundland’ that barely hid his own clothes, and a beard that kept falling off.
Add to this that Santa’s Grotto was closed due to ‘technical’ faults in the morning, but it transpired that this was not the reason for the closure; the Grotto was actually closed because of the enormous amount of complaints regarding the quality of the gifts Santa had been handing out, namely – paper bags with 4 colouring pieces of paper in them and 4 crayons. Apparently someone arrived later on in the day with toys ready to be wrapped in an effort to make amends for the shoddy gifts, but by this time, many parents had already left with their children.
Promotional advertising had promised that Campbell Park in Milton Keynes would “fall under a captivating spell and come alive, to be transformed into an enchanting Winter Wonderland”, but the ice rink had no ice in it, and the “fabulous, enchanted woodland” with “magical creatures” actually featured two huskies and a couple of reindeer in a pen.
One mother wrote on the event’s Facebook page: “This was definitely no Wonderland. It felt like an opportunity to rip off parents who had hoped to have a magical day out with their children.” Another mother, called Kelly spent £35 on tickets for her daughter’s fifth birthday, said: “The elves were taking a smoking break in full costume outside the grotto. We had to explain to two very disappointed children why Santa wasn’t there after building their hopes up since November and we had to think of an explanation for the smoke coming from the elves’ mouths.”
Lauren Smith had to placate her tearful daughter: “We would have had more fun on a frozen puddle. My daughter isn’t spoilt or bratty, but she spent 3 hours after visiting ‘winter wonderland’ crying.”
The organiser of the event, Lorenzo Franco, told the BBC he was sorry if visitors had been “disappointed in any way”, adding that it was the firm’s “first event” and tickets would be refunded. In a statement he said: “I am very sorry to disappoint people. It was not my intention. It was meant to be family fun event.” Mr Franco has cancelled the event claiming adverse weather conditions and said those who had bought tickets would have their money refunded. The event’s Facebook page has now been removed.
The event’s charity partner, the Papworth Trust, has severed all links with the event, and issued this statement: “As the benefiting charity associated with the Winter Wonderland MK event, we have been concerned to hear about the issues on the opening day. We are sorry to hear about people’s experiences of the day. After consulting with our volunteers and listening to the public’s feedback, we have sadly decided to withdraw our volunteers and our association with the event.
“We were hoping that this event would raise money for our work helping older and disabled people with essential support and care.”
And a statement from the Parks Trust, which looks after Campbell Park, said: “We are very sorry to hear that some people have had such a disappointing experience at Winter Wonderland MK. We have been in touch with the organisers Winter Wonderland MK who have advised us that regrettably they have now cancelled this event. Winter Wonderland MK have told us that they will be contacting all the customers on their database to arrange refunds.”
Meanwhile, the MP for Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart, who was due to attend the event, in support of the Papworth Trust, said he hoped refunds would be swiftly provided and would help any constituents get redress from the organisers: “I am always happy to support the charity (the Papworth Trust) and it is very disappointing that this event has ended up like this.”