‘Even the reindeer were unhappy’: life inside Britain’s worst winter wonderlands

They are the festive fairgrounds where no one is a winner. Santas, elves and bouncers discuss the Christmas gigs that made them question their life choices

Polystyrene snow, MDF grottos, stomach-churning rides and Santas with scratchy fake beards: as Christmas nears, ’tis the season for winter wonderlands. At their best, these immersive Christmas markets and fairgrounds delight visitors of all ages, while providing a reliable source of income for their owners. Britain’s biggest winter wonderland, in Hyde Park, London, has pulled in more than 14 million people since it launched in 2005, with entry starting at £5 and attractions ranging from £5 to £15.

But visitors to lesser attractions often complain of poorly thought-out productions and inexperienced organisers. Well-documented holiday horrors include Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s Birmingham attraction, which in 2014 was forced to shut down after a day following hundreds of complaints about cheap toys and long queues, and a New Forest Lapland whose owners were sentenced to 13 months in jail for misleading the public in 2008. “You told consumers that it would light up those who most loved Christmas,” the judge told them in his summing up. “You said you would go through the magical tunnel of light coming out in a winter wonderland. What you actually provided was something that looked like an averagely managed summer car boot sale.”

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