Santa Claus returned to center court at Westfarms on Friday, and is ready to greet visitors of all ages through Dec. 24, 2022.
By Ronni Newton
Santa Claus is back in his place of honor at Westfarms this holiday season, ready to hear Christmas wishes and make memories, with a choice of experiences being offered to families. Santa will be resident in center court daily through Dec. 24, when he will return to the North Pole.
When Santa arrived at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, there was already a full line of people who had made reservations for their visit – many dressed in holiday attire prepared to get that perfect Christmas card photo, Westfarms spokesperson Amanda Sirica said. “There was lots of excitement, people wearing reindeer ears,” she said, lots of plaid and girls wearing big bows in their hair.
Cherry Hill Programs has partnered with Westfarms for an experiential photo experience.
“Santa’s Flight Academy has returned for the season with all of the magic and wonder of the holidays,” Sirica said. While walk-ins are welcome for those who spontaneously decide to visit while at the mall, reservations are strongly encouraged, she said, and may be purchased online in advance. Making reservations comes with an added perk that will delight children – an advance call from Santa before the visit, powered by Portable North Pole.
Last year’s hybrid arrangement has returned, allowing families to choose whether or not their children sit on Santa’s lap, or pose for a photo and interact with him while sitting on cubes that are a bit farther away.
Families can choose also from two different visitor routes again this year: the full Santa’s Flight Academy experience, or just meeting with Santa to pose for a keepsake photo. Those who choose the express route will exit near Starbucks, while others will follow a path to the rest of the holiday experience after sharing their Christmas wishes.
“We look forward to welcoming back families to Santa’s Flight Academy to bring smiles and laughter to all who visit this season,” said Alberto Arebalo, general manager of Westfarms. “Our holiday experience has become a tradition for our shoppers many look forward to each year.”
The reservations offer convenience, but the traditional walk-up line remains an option, he added.
Santa’s Flight Academy, a 3,000-square-foot holiday season fixture in Westfarms’ center court since 2016, is back in full operation with its immersive experience, allowing children to “join” Santa’s flight crew, choose and be fitted for their virtual flight suit, check the weather, power the sleigh, and help Santa deliver presents.
Snow is once again be falling inside the 22-foot enchanted sleigh, where children can dance among the flakes. The faux snow, made of muddled rice, is soft but not cold, and is safe if ingested. Westfarms goes through 500 pounds of it every season, Sirica said.
Westfarms, which spans the towns of West Hartford and Farmington, offers the only experience of this type in New England. “It’s interactive. All those buttons kids are usually told not to touch, they get to touch,” Sirica said. There are about 280 pieces of technology that go into the exhibit, which takes more than a week to build.
For children and families with special needs that might be overwhelmed by the immersive experience, an inclusive “Santa Cares” sensory-friendly option is available, planned in collaboration with Autism Speaks. “We’re really excited, this is new to Westfarms this year,” Sirica said.
The sensory-friendly opportunity will take place on Sunday, Dec. 4, from 9 until 10:30 a.m. – before the mall opens for the day. The music will be lower, and the lights will be dimmed. Reservations are required for the Santa Cares experience.
On Nov. 17 and 18, one of Santa’s special helpers will also be in residence and available to pose for photos. More details can be found on the Westfarms website.
“Santa’s arrival marks the beginning of the holiday season at Westfarms,” Sirica said. The retailers have decorated their windows with gift ideas for those shopping for others, and also feature displays of decor, hostess gifts, and holiday attire.
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