A big part of our Christmas, and so many other people’s, are visiting Christmas light trails and beautiful decorated houses. Throughout the holiday season, there’s so much to see and do, and it’s a good excuse to get outside rather than staying inside in the warm. We were invited to visit the Blenheim Palace Christmas event to see their Cinderella experience in the palace, and walk the illuminated light trail around the grounds.
We’ve done the outside trails for a couple of years now, since they started them. But in the past the palace has been a bit disappointing – pretty with some trees up, but not much else different to normal. This year though, Blenheim Palace has gone to town, and we were so pleased to experience it. We visited with a couple of other Oxfordshire Bloggers so it was lovely to see the children get together.
The courtyard has the usual hot dog and drinks stand, and the 4 fairground rides. They always look lovely against the buildings, and N had to go on the swingboats. You need to buy tokens for the rides so agree how many rides the kids will get beforehand, otherwise it can get expensive.
We were early for our palace time slot, so we headed through to the Christmas market. This was new for this year, and had the usual craft and food stalls you see at the Christmas markets. I spotted some pretty crafted boxes that would be great for presents or photo props, but the best was the Santa and reindeer sculpture made from fruit and natural items.
N was desperate for some food so hotdogs it was. The food is priced high as always for such events – my hotdog was disappointing, I should have had a cheese toastie but N was happy with his. Quantity over quality in his eyes. There was no hot chocolate stand in the courtyard this time, so we decided we’d get those on the trail instead.
The Palace – Cinderella Experience
The palace was looking spectacular lit up with the pillars swirled in lights. The Christmas trees in the archways always look beautiful too. We didn’t have to wait long to go inside. Just a brief stop for the man on the door to take everyone’s photo. Top tip: take someone who’s good at photos who doesn’t want to be in them.
As soon as you walk in, the splendour hits you. With the Cinderella theme, children get to look out for the little mice around the rooms and there’s plenty of pretty fabric pumpkins hidden in corners and shelves. If you’re after something spectacular, the decorations don’t disappoint. I’ve seen a few pretty amazing displays over the years, but this one at Blenheim Palace is now my favourite I’ve seen.
You walk through the palace through rooms themed around different characters. The evil Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters, the Prince and Cinderella. Everyone is as sumptuous as the last. There’s also a Fairy Godmother room with a beautiful fireplace, a screen where the Fairy Godmother peeks into shot before arriving in the scene. It’s a really clever touch. The carriage is beautiful, although it was really crowded in the room, so we nearly missed it walking past.
The trail ended in the ballroom, and it was so stunning. Cinderella’s dresses all lit up in different colours. The glass slipper in its case, with a footman nearby. Then you see the clock strike midnight and the lights change again in the room. Very cleverly done with it seeming to be so quiet as everyone walked through enjoying it.
There were a few interactive things for the children and plenty of photo opportunities, if you could get out of the crowds. This was the only thing I think they need to work out, is the numbers of people going through on a time slot. Admittedly we joined an earlier slot but joining the back we could see so many ahead of us, and there were a lot of bottlenecks as people stopped for photos, or hung back from previous slots to try and get a quieter stage. Either longer slots, or fewer people are needed to give you time to actually see everything and savour the magic even more.
N of course, said he was bored. Sigh. When we’re at National Trust they quite often do a sticker trail for when they spot things and that keeps him more amused. We got separated from the others, so I think if he’d been with other children he’d have been more amused too – or maybe he’s just boring and doesn’t enjoy these displays. Such a shame, as I’d recommend it for children who have more interest in fairy tales than N!
The light trail
As we were ready we decided to head down to the start of the light trail. We joined at the end of a slot, so there was no queue and we were hopeful we’d get plenty of space to enjoy the trail. When we’ve been before, I’ve always booked the first slot of the day, so we’ve had fewer people at the same time. That’s definitely what I’d do in future as well. It was a shame the weather was so miserable, because my photos don’t do the lights justice this year.
Obviously the first time you visit the illuminated lights trail is when you’ll get the biggest wow factor. Each year they change and add a handful of different lights sections. The favourites are still there although the cascades were more basic this year. As you walk around the trail – about 1.5 miles long – music is played. Several places you need to stand and watch for a while to see the whole of the display in that area to make sure you’ve seen it all.
The crown display on the lake, to Frozen music, was pretty, and I love the light display down the hill as much as usual. Blenheim Palace Christmas also has the light tunnel that is so popular this year in light trails. As you walk round it really does feel magical.
We stopped for hot chocolate and marshmallows at the cascades – I was disappointed the gingerbread marshmallows were sold out. They recommended the Christmas pudding flavour, but I tried the chocolate one instead. Delicious.
The Father Christmas interactive display was lovely to see. It’s always lovely to see how the children are still believers. And the trail ended with the beautiful light and music displays on the back of the palace.
N finished off the evening with a last go on the helter skelter.
Despite the rain, we had a lovely time. I’d like the light trail to have a few more different things in future, but the Cinderella experience in the palace was so beautiful. I’d love to go back again to see it when it’s quieter to spend more time going round.
Tips for visiting:
There’s plenty of parking, although it is paid for. This year you could park onsite for free in the mornings, but there is a cost in the afternoons. So if you only want to see the palace, you could do that in the morning and park onsite free. If you’re doing the light trail, there’s tiered parking costs depending whether you’re onsite in standard parking, or on one of the 2 park and ride options. My theory is, if you’re paying for the palace and trail, another tenner isn’t going to add too much more onto the cost, and it’s much easier than getting a shuttle bus out to the airport.
If you’re eating from the market or in the courtyard from the stands, there’s no real seating (maybe a couple of chairs), so be prepared to stand and eat. Otherwise, eat in the Orchard Pantry café which stays open later during the holiday season. It’s quite small so leave enough time to have food, find a seat and get to your slot.
There’s plenty of stalls along the light trail – chestnuts, mulled wine and cider, hot drinks, marshmallows, chips – but not many places to actually sit down.
3, Wear boots with a sturdy sole
The trail does get muddy and slippy, so decent soled boots are a definite. Rain doesn’t stop play, so light layers and waterproofs are sensible.
4, Take your own food and drink
If you want a bit of seasonal cheer but don’t have a big budget for your trip, take a flask of mulled wine or hot chocolate with you and some plastic cups
5, Make it part of your family tradition
Christmas events like Blenheim Palace Christmas can cost quite a bit once all the costs add up. They are worth the money in my opinion. For a once a year special treat or tradition, it’s chance to get all the family out together.
Are you going to any light trails or Christmas events this year?
Disclosure: We had press pass access to the event for the purpose of review. All words and opinions are my own.