We’ve had two stabs at Winter Wonderland this year. The first time, we were meeting friends who’d come up from Reading for the evening to enjoy the wintery ambience. Due to going to another party in the afternoon (get us!), we got there around 6ish, queued for half an hour to get in and then had to go after an hour cause it was Roo’s bedtime. As flying visits go, it wasn’t unsuccessful – we sat in the bar overlooking the ice rink and my friend Martin taught Roo how to breathe on the window and then draw on it. It would have been a pleasant trip if it hadn’t been for half an hour in a crowd at the gate, with a toddler who was extremely restless and extremely anxious to prove that he could nip through those people’s legs and get in there first. And I’m sure you can, Reuben. Mummy, Daddy and buggy can’t.
And that’s the problem with Winter Wonderland – the crowds. When people describe something as having a “festival atmosphere”, they generally mean it’s happy and laid back and summery. This had a festival atmosphere for all the wrong reasons. This had the atmosphere of waiting at the arena gates at Reading while the bolshy security guards let people through one at a time. And you didn’t even get to see supergrass at the end.
I don’t know what they can do about it though. It’s free, it’s popular, you can’t let too many people in for fear of overcrowding. I understand why it’s like that, it’s just not fun. And once you get in, it’s a slow shuffle through the crowds and -again- the danger of letting the toddler walk when he can fit through those legs and you can’t. We lost him briefly, just the once, but it was enough. Golly gosh, it was enough.
So, having done the whole thing once, we decided to try again on a Sunday afternoon, to see if that was a bit quieter. Short answer – not so much. We didn’t have to queue to get in but it was still a slow shuffle about the place. It was full of other parents and buggys, so clearly a lot of people had also thought this was a reasonable place to go to with a toddler. Wherein lies the problem.
But enough complaining! Onto the positives! The second time we went, we were determined to do stuff for Roo as opposed to just sitting in the bar. And we did. Toddler-sized rollercoaster was a hit, especially as he could pull the reindeer’s reins and make the bells jangle. Nathan looked terrified though.
So, mission was accomplished. What else did he like? Well, anything with flashing lights that he could stare at (so pretty much everything), giant snowman and penguin figures he could hug and a shiny bauble he could see himself in. And he enjoyed dancing on the table in the bar to the sound of a German cover of “Cotton Eyed Joe”. No, really. It was possibly the worst music in the entire world, but that didn’t stop my boy from climbing onto the shiny red tablecoth, straightening himself up to his full height (small) and having a stomp about. I was tempted to leave him there.
VERDICT: As massive tourist attractions in Hyde Park go, it’s not toddler unfriendly, it’s just so soooo crowded. We didn’t have a bad time, just a bit of a frantic one (especially that ten seconds when we lost Roo). You can see how it might be nice and Christmassy for a wander round the quaint stalls, browsing things that no-one would ever buy (snoods? really?) and enjoying a mulled wine plus shot, but it’s so crowded it’s impossible to do that. Unlike my friend Ant, it’s not my idea of Hell. But it’s far from a wonderland.