The shows are here! That was a cry that always echoed great excitement among youngsters. Candy floss, loud pop music, flashing lights as darkness fell, thrilling whirling rides that induced screams and yells of delight were all part of the heady mix.
That was in the summer. The idea of outdoor shows in the winter was not yet in the Scottish psyche. As Christmas time approached though, there was always the excitement of going to the annual indoor carnival where the same excitement was contained within walls where the lights were brighter, the music louder and the temperature warmer.
In this 21st century, the gears have moved up several notches. Not only have some rides gone in to another stratosphere of thrill and danger but amusement parks have themes.
Edinburgh’s Christmas 2016 is such a theme. It’s not a permanent theme park, but for the weeks leading up to December the 25th, it really goes to town in turning central points in the Capital in to a real festive hub of excitement with 60,000 colourful Christmas light bulbs shining out the anticipation of being transported briefly to another colourful and exciting world.
There is a wealth of entertainment on show for all ages across Edinburgh’s city centre leading up to and beyond this year’s festive season, but we are focussing on Santa Land in East Princes Street Garden. Put on these rosy glasses and enter with this a child’s eyes and I challenge you not to be enchanted.
Imagination is the name of the game all the way. Wander through the mini twinkling forest that is the Christmas Tree Maze where the incentive is to gather a series of letters hidden within the small spruces that together will make a Christmassy word. Putting these together means a wee prize at the end.
Next door is Santa’s Grotto. Inside the wooden hut that is, in the current parlance, hygge – a Danish word meaning ‘creation of a cosy pleasant atmosphere’ - wooden toys are strewn and hung everywhere, parcels are scattered around and elf helpers take written wishes from children to hang on a tree for Santa’s information.
Santa, resembling a non-grumpy version of the Raymond Briggs’ character, chats warmly and amiably to all and providing an extra treat of a Santa story after individual chats and presents. Sporting a real beard and confirming an excellent memory going back, well, let’s say umpteen years of some former children in the room, this Santa proves to be brilliant!
Then comes the real excitement. Which ride to choose first? The Balloon Ride is a real thrill that makes for plenty of happy yells as it spins and flies up and down at a fair old lick. Then there’s Race-o-Rama where oxymoronic fixed racing cars go round a track taking the corners pretty sharply, making this another exciting experience for wee ones.
Milder but with the enticing name of Crazy Cars, this ride lets tots go round on a string of cars on a gently dipping track, as does Reindeer Ride where you can pretend to be prancing magically through the snow as you pull the reins and jingle bells round the big reindeer head that fronts each carriage.
Rollercoaster takes the form of a blue dragon snarling its way through the frozen north under the watchful eye of some polar bears. Hold tight as this is a bit of a boneshaker, but it induces plenty of shrieks of delight. The temperature may be low, but the dragon takes the track’s mini dips at what feels like high speed.
Old favourites like the Carousel and the Helter Skelter are de rigeur and no wonder as they truly have stood the test of time and as inviting as ever. Shiny galloping horses, gaudy lights and loud pop music – what’s not to like? The steep climb up the wooden stairs then the quick twisting descent on a mat brought the breathless verdict from my small companion “Again!”
This year there is the more serious fun to be had at the Ice Wall (no real ice unless there happens to be some real ice that day!) where potential mountaineers can be harnessed and test their skills on a climbing wall with the help of especially encouraging staff to the young novices.
Providing a glittering backdrop to this field of dreams is the now iconic Big Wheel on Princes Street and more recently the glorious Star Flyer, that gives a unique soaring view of the city as if you are a passing circling bird or even on a good day, an angel.
Further in to town at St Andrew Square is another seasonal favourite, the Ice Rink where brave souls can find their feet by circling Henry Dundas on his giant plinth (the circular ice track replaces the Princes Street gardens Winter Wonderland rink of previous years). This popular destination is brilliant for individuals and groups alike and the verdict from some young girls celebrating a birthday at the rink was that it was “spectacularly slippery and SO special!”
This year, Edinburgh’s Christmas’s new partner, Standard Life, has gifted 10,000 free tickets for the Ice Rink to school children in Edinburgh and a promotional code has been distributed to all City of Edinburgh schools to share with parents. Details on booking for the Ice Rink is at Edinburgh’s Christmas’ ice skating booking page.
Edinburgh’s Christmas 2016 has the big wow factor and is helping to lay down happy memories of visits to the shows for new generations. Guid Yule!
Tickets for Santa Land attractions start from £2 and full details are available at www.edinburghschristmas.com.
Friday 18 November – Saturday 7 January 2017