For our guests, Winter Wonderland lasts for seven weeks of the year, not just for Christmas. But for the team and I who bring it to life, it lasts for the entire year. After Winter Wonderland has finished for the year, we have a meeting with various managers in late January where we all discuss what worked and what didn’t perhaps work. We all bring ideas and opinions that have to be set against things such as budget or resource. Then I’ll take them away and propose what will happen for the next Winter Wonderland.
Planning in earnest begins in March and preparation really starts to pick up from July. It really is an all year-round operation and it’s a fantastic example of the team work that happens across our Villages. When it’s time to get the decorations up, we have employees from all departments who get together for about 7-10 days. There’s a chap, Jason, who works in the Cycle Centre, for example, who is an expert in laying down synthetic snow. He just has this gift to make fake snow look fantastically realistic!
This year we actually started putting up the decorations in September. We can get some areas of the Village ready ahead of time, such as Santa’s Woodland Workshop and the Carriage Ride bays because it’s all behind fences. We do the things that are discreet and out of the way, trying not to make too much of it. We understand people are at Center Parcs for a different reason; if you’re here for Halloween you don’t want to be surrounded by Christmas decorations. Because of that we have a very short window of opportunity: we try to put the bulk of our decorations up straight after Bonfire Night.
But it’s getting harder and harder each year because we have such a short turnaround. It’s a huge logistical mission that takes a lot of considered planning: there were two big Guy Fawkes events at Huck’s and The Pancake House which took place on Wednesday 5th November. All of our decorations needed to be up and ready for Friday morning – we can’t do both places in one night, they’re just too big. So the decorations team worked through the night to make it happen. In fact, as we get closer and closer to Winter Wonderland, the team, led by Graham, start to work nights for about 10 days.
Then you’ve got to think about the logistics of having people working through the night: you’ll need the decorations team, plus at least one technician with them and if we have problems with the electrics or if we need to use the scissor lift to get up high. Then you need to get the keys from security and make them aware that people will be entering the units late at night. Before you know it, it’s just snowballed into a huge operation.
“As we get closer and closer to Winter Wonderland, the team, led by Graham, start to work nights for about 10 days”
And once the decorations are up and Winter Wonderland has begun, the work doesn’t stop there. We’re constantly monitoring them: for the few days after the decorations go up, I’ll have a quick walk around on my way into work to see how they look. After that, we have a formal walk around every single unit and see whether we need to make any adjustments, any additions or recommendations for next year.
All of our Villages work with Springfields, a decorations company, who supply almost everything we have internally and help us to create the more bespoke items. If the decorations are looking tatty in one area, or have been up for a while and need a refresh, we’ll work together and have a walk around the Village to come up with a solution. They’re the professionals and I know what will work for the Village so it’s a collaboration.
When coming up with ideas we have to take a few things into consideration, but I think the key is making sure the decorations are appropriate for the location. For instance, in the Pottery Painting Studio there’s already lots going on with their colourful displays and so on, so we’ve chosen a very simple and traditional garland to go around the perimeter of the ceiling. It does enough to say: ‘It’s Christmas!’ without being garish and distracting. Rajinda Pradesh on the other hand is a contemporary Indian restaurant so a traditional festive look just wouldn’t work, which is why instead we have more modern and minimalistic Christmas trees to blend in with the surroundings.
Winter Wonderland as you see it today is certainly an evolution, we’re constantly looking at how we can improve the Village and what we can bring in to make our guests happy. It’s not always possible – the budget isn’t unlimited – but we do our absolute best.
“It’s a constant battle between the weather and the squirrels”
Once all the decorations are finally up and Winter Wonderland is running, it’s a constant battle between the weather and the squirrels. Squirrels love the nibble through wires and decorations, but the biggest challenge throughout the entire year of planning and implementing has to be the elements. We just have no control over it – the Village isn’t covered in a huge dome like some people think! For example, if there are high winds and we can’t put the decorations or lights up in the trees, it throws the whole planning programme off. If the technical team are busy – don’t forget there are 4,000 guests on the Village seven days a week – then it gets rescheduled and delayed even further. Rob fits it all in somehow and keeps us lit up!
We have areas across the Village sprayed with synthetic snow – paper-based and biodegradable – and it takes five days to complete, which we start on a Monday. Winter Wonderland opened on Friday and it looked fantastic, then we had the most horrendous thunderstorm over the weekend and much of the snow has been washed into the ground. Luckily we’re getting it snowed over again in a couple of weeks, but it costs thousands of pounds each time. You just learn to deal with the frustration. For a few days of the year you turn into Scrooge but then you see children gathering around Santa’s Woodland Workshop or giddily clapping to the Singing Reindeer – you see the joy on their faces and it makes it all so worthwhile.