Milton Keynes winter wonderland closes after complaints

Visitors to Christmas event at Campbell Park say Santas were too young, thin and shoddily dressed and the ice rink had no ice

A "winter wonderland" in Milton Keynes that promised "the magic of the holiday season" has been cancelled after Santa Claus was decried for being too young, thin and shoddily dressed and the ice rink was found to have no ice.

Winter Wonderland MK was closed after two days following outcry from members of the public who deemed the event a ripoff and criticised it on the event's Facebook page.

The free-to-enter attraction at Campbell Park included paid-for events such as ice skating, a Santa's grotto and a fairground, and promised visitors that they would "fall under a magical, festive spell".

But some suggested the magic was missing. One disgruntled visitor, who complained about the event on the Babynatal site, wrote: "The Santa was disappointing to say the least. Nothing like the photos in the adverts, these were men dressed in Santa outfits from Poundland.

"While we were in the Winter Wonderland, Santa briefly appeared from the grotto. Unfortunately, his beard was falling down and you could see his normal clothes underneath his costume … Not exactly 'magical' and our children asked where the real one was."

After paying a £6 entry fee for Santa's grotto, visitors complained on the event's Facebook page – which has since been taken down – that it was closed for much of the day on Saturday and when it did open the Santas were young, thin men in Santa suits of dubious quality.

Jolene Churchill, a commenter on the Babynatal site, said she had booked several weeks ago to take her two sons. "I booked to see the circus at 8pm so we arrived at 6pm as we thought we would spend some time looking round and letting the boys enjoy the rides etc … When we arrived tonight the whole place was in darkness!! No reindeers, no huskys, no rides, no live music, not even a single bloody light!!!! I'm so angry right now and extremely upset for my boys."

Another commenter, Kelly, wrote that she had taken her daughter for her 5th birthday. "We never found any reindeer and there was no Christmas market as advertised. The elves were taking a smoking break in full costume outside the grotto," she wrote. "This winter wonderland did nothing but distort and maybe even destroy my child's belief in the magic of Christmas"

Lesley Keys, from Bedford, took her seven-year-old grandson on Saturday, paying £65 in advance for various attractions. "When we arrived we were told Santa wouldn't be there until after 4pm. We were told we could walk through the woodland, which turned out to be a tent with some statues," she said. "We saw some husky dogs but there were no rides [on the dogs]. The fairground rides were poor and the ice rink was a few plastic sheets. My grandson was very disappointed."

It is not the first time a Christmas event has left visitors feeling short-changed. In 2011 two brothers were convicted after trying to convince thousands that a broken ice rink and a plastic polar bear was a Christmas wonderland. Their convictions were later quashed.

Visitors to the Santa's Lapland event in the New Forest were promised a "snow-covered village, a magical tunnel of light, beautiful snow-covered log cabins, a bustling Christmas market, wonderful ice rink and delicious hot and cold food", but instead found two food stalls selling German sausages and a choice of turkey or pork baguettes, a faulty ice rink and a set of fairy lights strung across trees. Three elves were reportedly involved in violent confrontations and Santa was punched on the nose by a visitor.

The Winter Wonderland organiser Lorenzo Franco said 200 people had been refunded. Speaking to the BBC on Saturday before the cancellation, he said there had been "teething problems" and said he was sorry if anyone was "disappointed in any way", adding that it was the firm's first event.

Despite the website promising "undercover ice rink large enough to accommodate up to 75 skaters and suitable for young and old alike", he told the BBC that he had never said the rink had real ice. Complaints would be dealt with in the "proper way", he added.

The charity partner of the event, the Papworth Trust, said: "As the benefiting charity associated with the Winter Wonderland MK event, we have been concerned to hear about the issues on the opening day. We are sorry to hear about people's experiences of the day. After consulting with our volunteers and listening to the public's feedback, we have sadly decided to withdraw our volunteers and our association with the event."

It added: "We were hoping that this event would raise money for our work helping older and disabled people with essential support and care."

• This article was amended on 16 December 2013 to make clear that the convictions of two brothers on charges relating to a Lapland attraction in the New Forest were later quashed.


Alexandra Topping

The GuardianTramp

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