Visitors to Westfarms, located on the West Hartford/Farmington town line, are still able to visit with Santa Claus this year, with COVID-safe modifications in place.
By Ronni Newton
While children have faced many changes to their regular routines since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the region in March, at Westfarms they can still enjoy a visit with Santa Claus and share their Christmas wishes.
Santa arrived at Westfarms a bit later this year (the day after Thanksgiving rather than in early November) and Mrs. Claus stayed home to minimize risk, but Santa Claus himself couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing the children, many of whom have had a difficult year adjusting to changes in their lives caused by the pandemic.
“We had to be creative this year. Westfarms has always had a very dynamic Santa experience,” said Amanda Sirica, spokesperson for the shopping center.
The interactive Santa’s Flight Academy exhibit has filled center court at Westfarms each holiday season for the past several years, offering high-touch activities for children. The set itself has been essentially cut in half this year, Sirica said. It doesn’t “snow” inside the sleigh this year, and while the experience is now completely touch-less, several elements, most importantly the main attraction, remain.
Santa, seated in front of his sleigh, is sporting a special “white beard” mask. He maintains proper physical distancing from visitors, but that doesn’t detract from his ability to hear the children’s Christmas wishes.
Julia Oliveira, 3½, of West Hartford, visited Santa Wednesday with her mom, Andrea Luis. She was all smiles behind her mask as she shared her Christmas wishes and posed for a photo.
“It keeps the traditions alive, the memories alive for the children,” said Sirica. Not being able to visit Santa at Christmas would have been very so sad for many children.
Appointments with Santa must be made in advance, and are scheduled at 15-minute increments, which Sirica said allows for a good flow of families but avoids a crowd. A pre-paid photo package, with prices starting at $19.99, is required to reserve an appointment. Reservations can be made by clicking here: Santa’s Flight Academy | Westfarms | W. Hartford (shopwestfarms.com).
Visits with Santa are available daily from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sunday from noon-6 p.m., through Dec. 24. Santa will be returning to the North Pole on Christmas Eve at 5 p.m.
Overall, business has been steady at Westfarms, Sirica said. “Curbside pick-up is being widely used,” she said, and is accessible for all retailers.
The retailers are doing a great job complying with social distancing and mask mandates, as well as occupancy limits, Sirica said, and many have decals outside the door where customers line up to avoid too many people in a store at the same time.
All are keeping occupancy below 50%, Sirica said. “Many are well under that, for a more comfortable shopping experience.
“People seem happy it’s the holidays,” said Sirica. After the difficulties of the past year, “people are in such a giving sprit,” she said.
Westfarms management is hopeful that things will be back to normal in 2021.
“We are looking forward to bringing back the full Santa’s Flight Academy next year,” Sirica said.
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