Winter wonderland train ride scrapped after parents’ fury

The Santa train
The Santa train

Furious parents sparked the closure of a ‘magical’ Christmas train ride after turning on organisers over the quality of the event.

Furious parents forced the closure of a ‘magical’ Christmas train ride after turning on organisers over the quality of the event.

santa's enchanted forest promotional pictures depicted the event at Formby in Liverpool. Some guests at the St Annes event believed they had been misled.

santa's enchanted forest promotional pictures depicted the event at Formby in Liverpool. Some guests at the St Annes event believed they had been misled.

Seasonal company Santa’s Enchanted Forest promised ‘a theatrical journey to Neverland’ that would ‘pass through delights such as giant candy fields, magically growing out of the ground’, ‘enchanting lights’, and ‘the chimes of Christmas bells’ at its Santa’s Magical Train event on South Promenade in St Annes on Tuesday.

But disappointed families were greeted with a ‘pathetically-decorated’ tunnel and ‘poorly-dressed elves kissing’ outside the ride.

Santa’s Enchanted Train owner Steve Howard said people should have been ‘realistic’ about what to expect from the ride, which cost £5 per head – and blasted some parents who he says shouted and swore at staff in front of children.

The event was being staged on the miniature railway on St Annes Promenade, which normally runs at Easter and in the summer season.

Angry mum Drea Knight, from South Shore, attended the event with her five children.

She said: “When we arrived at the location we witnessed two poorly-dressed elves kissing. There was no Christmas theme whatsoever – no music, not even one piece of tinsel anywhere. The miniature train was exactly the same as it is during the summer.

“The children were very upset indeed.

“It broke my heart seeing the faces of so many upset children, not just mine. Their whole expectations and dreams of Santa were totally dashed.

“Comments have been made regarding people’s expectations but people expect what they are told to expect.

“These events are a huge part of the build up and excitement of Christmas and a pre-treat for many.”

But Mr Howard said: “The event is what you make of it. I have not promised anything that wasn’t there on the night except the giant candy props which didn’t arrive in time.

“If you go on a Ghost Train the ride would cost you £5 for five minutes and nobody would say anything about it. This was a 20-minute ride with a snow machine and lights and the children did get to meet Santa. People talking about it being a scam is just slander.”

He added that it was unruly guests, not staff, who were responsible for the attraction’s unexpected demise.

He said: “The people on the first train kicked off and caused a massive scene. They were shouting and swearing and scaring people off. It was really inappropriate especially at a family event.”

Facebook poster Helen Grimshaw agreed with Mr Howard, stating: “I was appalled and shocked at the behaviour. My daughter loved the ride. We had a lovely ride on the train driven by Santa, helped by his cheerful elves.”

But Chris Hambly, environmental health manager at Fylde Council, said the event was closed following further investigation into the contract the miniature railway operates under.

He said: “We can confirm the lease with the train operator does not permit them to trade between October 31 and April 1 (apart from Easter). The operator was therefore advised accordingly and closed the ride.”

Many guests posting on Facebook said they felt misled by pictures posted on the company’s Santa’s Enchanted Forest website, featuring images from Mr Howard’s successful ‘Meet Santa’ event which takes place in Formby. The pictures showed awe-struck children being handed presents by Santa.

Sam Vercher posted: “For those saying it was spoilt by people complaining it’s because children were really upset about their terrible experience. They didn’t enjoy it, things weren’t working and it was pathetically decorated. It was a massive let down and nothing like it was advertised.”

A Santa’s Enchanted Forest spokesman later posted on the company’s Facebook account: “Due to last night’s events, people swearing, staff being threatened, people talking about hate mobs turning up and telling Santa and his elves what they think, we are left with no choice but to cancel this event.”

Disappointed dad Lee Good, from St Annes, told The Gazette he spent £40 on tickets for his daughters Olivia, six, and Millie, four, to ride on Santa’s Magical Train alongside family friends.

He said: “It’s been cancelled just a week before Christmas and now to book another visit to Santa at such short notice is nigh-on impossible. It’s not the end of the world but now I’m £40 out of pocket and I’m not going to get the money back until January.

“It did look a bit grotty in the pictures but it’s hard to judge. We had seen the bad reviews online but we were still going to go because we had paid for it and if we didn’t like it we would have made our feelings known. But for £5 each we weren’t expecting masses.

“They still could have quite easily dressed the tunnel with cotton wool and made it look all Christmassy for next to nothing.”

A Santa’s Enchanted Forest spokesman posted on Facebook that £6,000 had been put into the company’s Paypal account to refund hundreds of tickets for the cancelled event.

Mr Howard confirmed: “Everyone who had booked from the second night onwards will receive a full refund.” He added that people who were unhappy with the event on the opening night would not have their money refunded as he believed their complaints were ‘unfounded’.

Mr Howard said of the doomed St Annes venture: “It’s not a scam and it’s not a con.

“I run a very successful business but unfortunately you can’t please everyone.”