Disclosure: This Santa experience was sponsored by Santa HQ to review & share our experience in this blog post. However all opinions & thoughts are my own. Please see our disclosure policy for more details.
Santa HQ – Interactive Experience for Kids
Now that the Christmas season is here, one of the most popular events of the season is a visit to Santa with your kids. When our kids were much younger, we made the mistake of heading out on a popular weekend date right in the middle of the day to visit Santa at the mall. On that particular visit, we spent almost 2 hours in line with our toddler & preschooler (which meant mom & dad had to alternate standing in line to keep them running around nearby). That long wait for Santa made for grumpy kids by the time they saw Santa & exhausted parents! So, I was excited to learn about HGTV’s Santa HQ experiences, which now offer the ability to make online reservations so you don’t have to worry about the long wait! Little did I know, all of the other amazing features they offer for kids while you wait to visit Santa.
We headed down to Portland last weekend to take advantage of tax-free shopping for Black Friday weekend and enjoy some Christmas activities. Washington Square Mall is one of the best malls in the Portland area, with such a wide variety of popular stores, all in the one mall, so we were excited to head to this mall to do our shopping. The best bonus is that they had a Santa HQ experience at the mall, which meant we could visit Santa on Black Friday weekend & make a reservation instead of dealing with the likely crowds during this busy shopping weekend.
And what an experience HGTV’s Santa HQ was for our whole family! Not only will you get the special, traditional visit with Santa for your kids, but a complete interactive holiday experience that kids of all ages will enjoy. We have never experienced Santa photos like this, that’s for sure! While you wait, you work your way through the “Elf Academy” building, with interactive features such as a magic mirror to “elf” yourself and try different outfits on, “Elf Ray Vision” for an augmented reality experience with using the app on your smartphone or tablets they provide or the Naughty or Nice meter. I’ll share more about the specific activities below.
The “Elf Academy” experience kept our girls entertained & checking everything out until they were ready to move to the short line to visit Santa. After you move thru the Elf Academy , you’ll just wait in a short line – we had just 5-6 people ahead of us in line to see Santa. The other nice aspect is that when you arrive & work your way to the Elf Academy building, they limit the number of families who go in at once, so it’s just a few families, so it never felt crowded & we felt like our girls could spend enough time at each activity without feeling rushed. Then, when they were ready to move on, we got in line for Santa.
Not only was the setup so fun & interactive for the whole family (kids don’t have to be the only ones participating – mom or dad can jump in too), but the ease of using an online reservation took away the unknown of how long you would have to wait. They did offer another line if you didn’t make a reservation, but the line was significantly shorter if you chose to make an online reservation. When we arrived, you basically just walked right up to the first of the activities, the Naughty or Nice meter. I can’t tell you what a stress-reliever this was to know that we wouldn’t have to deal with crazy lines for Santa on such a busy weekend to visit!
There are 15 different HGTV Santa HQ locations around the country if you want to find one in your area. For those of you in the Northwest, the Santa HQ location is at the Washington Square Mall in Beaverton, OR , just a few minutes south of Portland. For those of you in the Seattle area, it is so fun to head down to Portland for a weekend or overnight trip to shop tax-free, but also take advantage of all the Christmas festivities going on around the area.
Activities for Kids at Santa HQ:
When you head to Santa HQ at the Washington Square Mall, before you even get in line, you will check in with an employee. I definitely recommend making reservations if you go on a popular date (& the closer we get to Christmas) as you will get to go to a much faster line. There are 2 different line options and the reservation line would be much shorter as they have limited spots for each time period. Also, the sooner you can reserve a time, the better as we did find that on a busy Black Friday weekend, the times were several hours away, so you can definitely wait till that day to make the reservation, but if you prefer a wider variety of times, just reserve a few days ahead of time.
Naughty or Nice Meter –
Naughty or Nice Meter
The first activity you will come to is outside of the Santa HQ headquarters. This is the Naughty or Nice Meter. Kids stand on the meter stand & then it calculates how naughty or nice they have been that year. Then you’ll see where they landed on the Naughty or Nice list. It was fun to find their name on the list (which of course, was always on the “nice” list! Ha!).
Elf Academy Room:
This room was a blast and had us all giggling as there were several opportunities for kids to “elf themselves”. The main feature was the new “Magic Mirror”, which gives the chance for kids to stand in front of the Magic Mirror video screen and virtually try on different elf styles & outfits. There were 4 elf styles of what their elf would look like & then they had several options of clothes that their elf would wear. When they finished, you could enter your email or mobile number to send the video of the three images to yourself.
Kids could also create customized Elf ID cards, which my girls had fun creating. Kids can do this on their own, where they take a picture of their face & then answer various questions about their likes to customize the ID card unique to them. Once finished, they could email the ID card to our email. This was fun & it will be a cute reminder of their interests when they look back on this several years from now, so I loved this feature!
One of the most popular aspects of the Santa HQ experience for our girls was the interactive features & activities part of the “Elf-Ray vision”. As you head into line, they have directions about downloading the free Elf-Ray Vision app using Apple App store or Google play.
While you wait outside the Santa HQ headquarters building, kids can use a smartphone for the interactive features they have on the outside of Santa’s Workshop building. Our girls had a blast with watching the elf with their “Elf-Ray Vision” moving around the building with animated scenes while we waited to enter the building. We missed it, but it sounds like there were also some interactive features at the Entrance Arch to the Santa HQ as well, so make sure to look out for those.
The other area with interactive features was the “Elf Ray Vision” room. In this room, they offered large tablets with kid-friendly cases that kids could use to walk around the room & play with the interactive Elf-Ray vision features while exploring Santa’s Observatory. You could also use your smartphone to play with the interactive features.
Fun Photo Opps:
I love having plenty of photo opps during the Christmas season. Those are just the pictures you treasure so much – seeing your kids enjoying all of the fun Christmas decor. And they work great for when we do photo calendars for the grandparents to add in Santa pictures & a few more fun photos with Christmas decorations. The Santa HQ headquarters definitely had plenty 0f fun photo opps! In addition to the Santa picture, a photographer will also take a picture of your kids in front of a fun, colorful holiday backdrop so you can choose from those photos for your Santa package.
Plus, there are plenty of great backgrounds & sets to take candid photos of your kids throughout the Santa headquarters, as well as with all the trees & decorations set up around the building. They used over 10,000 individual holiday lights synchronized to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” creating some beautiful light displays that lit up the mall as you walked by or rode the escalator on either side of Santa’s Workshop.
Visit with Santa:
Santa was such a great sport – he spotted me taking his picture while we were waiting in the short line and good-naturedly gave me a wave! My girls are older now, tweens, so it’s a bit harder to impress them, especially as my older daughter as my older daughter doesn’t believe in Santa anymore (& my younger girl is starting to doubt). But, this Santa really took quality time with them to talk with them & he even had my oldest giggling & smiling real smiles as she joked with him. She also asked him for a phone for Christmas & he was quick to tell her that was not a present that Santa handed out – only the parents could give those presents! Ha! You can purchase a variety of packages with the Santa pictures to take home the memories, too!
Holiday Giving Drive:
If you’d like to involve your kids in giving back this Christmas season, while also enjoying all the wonderful aspects of the holidays, you can participate in HGTV’s Help Through the Holiday Giving drive at the Santa HQ experience. They are collecting new, unwrapped toys to donate to kids in need locally. Their goal is to collect over 1000 toys per location. So, remember to bring some new toys with you or grab some toys while you’re at the mall (they have several toy stores like the Lego store) to donate!
Watch a sneak peek of the experience:
Video courtesy of Santa HQ
If you’re interested in visiting Santa at the Santa HQ experience & holiday workshop, definitely head to the website & make an online reservation so you can have a stress-free & fun family visit to see Santa! Your kids will have a blast, you’ll save time & less stress for everyone involved!
Have you been to the Santa HQ experience before? Let us know what you think of it!