One of the amazing attractions that invited us to review their Christmas experiences this year was the Isle Of Wight Steam Railway. Of course with restrictions, we had concerns that this wouldn’t be able to take place but thankfully travel for work was allowed and the IOW Steam Railway was able to be open.
We have been to the railway a few times now and although it’s definitely an attraction that my husband understands more, as a family we love going there! It’s full of incredible Isle Of Wight history and the staff are just so passionate that it’s always a brilliant experience. I was excited to see how they were coping with the pandemic and of course pretty excited to see it all festive.
I was thrilled to see a significant festive atmosphere as we arrived for our morning, there was music playing and a Christmas tree with giant baubles.
We were there for their first ride of the Santa Specials 2020. Tickets for this includes hopping onboard one of the historic steam trains, a visit to see Santa, a present for the children, mince pies and a fruit punch for the grown-ups.
Ticket prices were £18.75 per adult, £14.75 per child and £12.75 per infant. After experiencing this day out, I do think it was worth every penny and I’ll take you through why.
Our train time was 10:15 am and it is recommended that you arrive at least 20 minutes prior to that. This gives you time to park in the car park, get the many layers of clothing on (it was really cold when we visited), collect your tickets at the ticket office and then any last-minute visits to the toilet.
One thing that I always comment on when visiting the steam railway is the enthusiasm of all members of staff. They are always well dressed in suits and hats, they have so much knowledge on the trains and are always smiley. It’s just a wonderful thing to be greeted by lovely people, it makes all the difference!
One of the reasons we decided not to visit the railway in the summer was our fear of being in an enclosed environment. We didn’t need to have that fear as each family/household is given their own carriage to ride in. We were shown to our carriage and able to get comfy as we waited for other passengers to arrive.
Although you aren’t required to, we decided to wear our face masks throughout our day out except when we were in the carriages. The Steam Railway allow you to take your face coverings off as it is only your household inside them.
It was lovely and warm inside the carriage and it had been decorated with Christmas garland too. You could hear the station playing Christmas tunes which soon switches to the sound of the steam train for the 10-mile round trip.
The seats were super squidgy and comfy so it made it cosy ride along the tracks. I love seeing the steam coming from the train and when it makes it stop to turn around, it’s so much fun to watch the engine come past.
The 10-mile trip takes just under an hour I’d say before heading back to Havenstreet (where you start). It’s lots of fun to travel in the countryside and have a nosy in the fields. We spotted some horses running around cheerfully.
On arrival back at Havenstreet, we all decided to use the toilets before heading to see Santa. Although I remember the toilets being clean on previous visits, they seemed extra clean with a staff member nearby ready to clean frequently. Throughout the day there was always a staff member cleaning the toilets and venue. I was extremely impressed by this level of cleanliness.
We had a time slot arranged to see Santa. This is up in the Train Story Discovery Centre. A face mask is required whilst being inside this building, a staff member at the door also kindly asked us to sanitise. The Isle Of Wight Steam Railway had secured sanitisers nearly throughout the station and buildings.
Santa’s North Pole station (aka Train Story) had been totally transformed. There were Christmas lights and decorations everywhere it was so beautiful. They had added little scenes too and some of the carriages had presents too. We also found a cute magic show on our way through too.
There was a socially distanced queue to see Santa himself. It moved much quicker than I expected but Elsa, in particular, did get a little antsy waiting, as children do and I could hear other kids getting upset a bit too. At the top of the ramp, Santa’s little helpers were there to welcome us.
We found Santa inside a victorian carriage complete with a sparkly Christmas tree. It was absolutely stunning and the perfect festive atmosphere.
All three of our girls enjoyed their time with Santa. It wasn’t rushed and he was engaging with them beautifully. Of course, it was socially distanced with a marker to show where we should sit without getting too close. It was quite relaxed though, you wouldn’t have realised it was a grotto during a pandemic, this was quite important and precious to me.
Santa had left the girls gifts on a table outside the Victorian Carriage to avoid contact. They were wrapped so the girls were unaware of what they’d received but had lots of excitement to find out.
We took a slow walk back round to the events barn. This is a newly built area that only opened this year in July 2020! It took us by surprise actually. We definitely felt this was a much-needed addition to the railway.
This barn was huge and offers a large 360 square metre area, giving extra capacity and flexibility. The building also has extra undercover seating on wet days, plus much needed extra toilets. This will be the perfect place for them to host special events.
We headed into the barn purely because they were offering free mince pies for grown-ups with a Santa Special ticket. I will never say no to a mince pie! What I didn’t realise was that the children also got a festive railway chocolate bar and juice drink. Also with the adults mince pie came a fruit and berry punch.
As always, the staff members serving were an absolute delight and they allowed my husband and me to get a fruit juice instead of the punch. We sat inside the barn to warm up, enjoy our festive treats and also open the presents that Santa had given the girls.
I don’t think we’ve ever been so impressed by a grotto gift! The girls had been gifted a Trolls Make Your Own Snow Globe set each and Freya received a Glow Rock Painting Kit. They were so excited! It was a big change to have something fun to do rather than a cheap gift that would usually get forgotten about.
After warming our bones up for a while, we realised that the Haven Falconry was having a flying display in a few moments time. So we headed across the field to find a table to sit at.
I’m not a big fan of flying creatures, especially after witnessing a bird attack a handler at one of this kind of displays but I also find them fascinating. Haven Falconry is situated inside the Steam Railway grounds, they usually fly two displays weather and season permitting I believe.
What I didn’t realise until this visit is that they have a Bird of Prey Centre that you can pay to enter. It’s open every day 10 am until 3.30 pm. Entry prices are £5 per adult, £3.50 children 5-16yrs, under 5’s free. We headed over to the centre after watching the incredible display and having a vulture fly onto our table.
There are over 50 birds and 21 species from around the world, there’s a Pets corner, Insect Hotel, Ferret Skywalk, gift shop and picnic area. I literally had no idea it was there.
The girls really wanted to go in, so Hubby got ready to pay but their card machine wasn’t working and we rarely carry cash on us. This incredibly generous family behind us stepped in and offered to pay the money for us. Nobody has ever done that before and it felt slightly embarrassing but absolutely wonderful that there is still such raw kindness in this world.
I’m so thankful for that lady and her family because we had a brilliant time in the Haven Falconry. The owls and birds of prey had hilarious little characters, we giggled together and enjoyed an extra bit of time wandering around.
We spent much longer at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway than we expected to, having the best family day out. It felt like they had kept us safe the entire day with their safety measures and guest numbers being limited.
I’d highly recommend the Santa Special for next year too and do keep an eye out for any future events. We had a great time at one of their Easter days too a few years ago. I filmed our day out which I hope you’ll enjoy watching!