Just like so many other aspects of 2020, Santa Claus encounters are going to be a little different this year. Gone is sitting on the Big Guy’s lap or cozying up to him on a festively decorated chesterfield. Instead, this year kids will get to share their wish list via physically distanced encounters, drive-through events and even virtual experiences.
Here are a few different options available to Toronto and area kids that will let get that Santa photo while also staying safe. If any of these events catch your family’s interest, we recommend securing your spot ASAP. Several Santa experiences have already sold out.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the evolving situation with COVID-19, some of the events listed below may be altered, postponed or cancelled.
In-person (But Physically Distanced)
Enchanted Christmas Village at Black Creek Pioneer Village
Travel back to a time when COVID-19 didn’t exist: The 1860s, the time period that Black Creek Pioneer Village re-creates. Enjoy authentically decorated holiday streets, live performances and in-person tin lantern and candle making demonstrations. You’ll also be able to use your own camera to take a physically distanced photo of the kids with Santa. Please note that while Black Creek Pioneer Village is also offering a special storytime with Santa experience, it is already sold out. Enchanted Christmas Village is included with your regular Pioneer Village ticket, which starts at $24.
Dates: Weekends starting Saturday, December 5 until Sunday, December 20, plus December 22 and 23
Address: 1000 Murray Ross Parkway, Toronto
The Holly Jolly Sleigh at Upper Canada Mall
Having to physically distance from Santa is causing some malls to get crafty. Upper Canada is using a custom sleigh that is built in two, six-foot pieces. Your family sits in the front while Santa sits in the elevated back part, behind a sheet of plexiglass. “This height difference creates the perspective in the photo that Santa and his guests are closer together than they are,” explains Upper Canada’s website. Despite the actual distance, kids will still be able to share their wish list with Santa. Advance reservations for this experience are required, as are masks for kids two and up.
Dates: November 14-December 25
Address: 17600 Yonge Street, Newmarket
Magical Christmas Forest at the Kortright Centre for Conservation
This popular outdoor event is back for another year. It features a walk through seasonally decorated woods, games, music and even a warm beverage. There will also be the opportunity to take photos with Santa with your own camera. This year, Magical Christmas Forest takes place completely outside and while there will be campfires and warming stations, attendees are encouraged to dress warmly, especially since the experience lasts roughly two hours. Tickets start at $24.
Dates: November 27-December 23
Address: 9550 Pine Valley Drive, Woodbridge
Santa at Erin Mills Town Centre
Physically distanced photos with Santa will also be available at Erin Mills Town Centre’s Centre Court, which will be decorated with all of the traditional Christmas touches. Advanced registration is required, and full COVID-19 protocols will be closely followed. A variety of photo packages, including digital options, will be available for purchase.
Dates: November 14-December 24
Address: 5100 Erin Mills Parkway, Mississauga
On social media, we’ve noticed more than a few local photographers offering physically distanced Santa photo shoots. In some cases, you go to the photographer and Santa while in other cases, they come to your home for a session set on your lawn, porch or driveway. Pricing and timing for these events vary but since they do involve Santa, expect to pay a bit more than your usual mini-shoot. To find a photographer who is offering one of these sessions, take a look in your local parenting Facebook group.
From A Vehicle
Bluffs Winter Wonderland Drive-Thru Experience
Bluffer’s Park is beautiful any time of the year but this winter its west parking lot transforms into a winter wonderland that includes Reindeer Way, Snowman City and the Enchanted Forest. The one-kilometre long route ends at Santa’s House, where your family will be able to take socially distanced photos and videos with Santa himself. Kids will also have the opportunity to leave their letter to Santa in his mailbox (and yes, they will get a reply). Ticket prices are $25 per car and funds go towards supporting Feed Scarborough.
Dates: Friday-Sunday, November 27-December 20
Address: 1 Brimley Road South, Toronto
Glow Gardens in Niagara
This event is a little further away than we’d usually recommend but we suspect that the spectacular show Glow Gardens has planned is worth the drive out to Safari Niagara. The approximately 45-minute long experience will feature giant light displays, a holiday soundtrack that you’ll be able to hear through your car’s radio system and a photo scavenger hunt that could see your child win a gift from Santa. Tickets start at $30 per car.
Dates: November 18-January 2
Address: Safari Niagara, 2821 Stevensville Road, Stevensville
Things have been a little quiet over at Pearson Airport lately, so it makes sense that it’s turning some of its underused parking space into, “Canada’s first multi-level drive-through holiday experience.” The roughly 30-minute long drive includes a LED light tunnel, a crystal cave and even a live Santa, who you can snap a picture with (from the car). With daytime slots available, it’s also a great fit for little kids who struggle to stay up late enough to see other light-up events. Ticket prices start at $45 per car.
Dates: November 27-January 3
Address: 6145 Viscount Rd, Pearson Airport, Mississauga
Holiday Magic Live VIP Zoom Call
We know that in COVID times, leaving home to see Santa isn’t an option for every family. If that includes your household, consider having the Big Guy come to your home—virtually of course—with this new option. Each package includes a five-to-eight-minute long live video visit with Santa, that will be personalized to your children. The experience is enhanced with a “premium holiday traditions gift box,” which includes a book, decorations and activities kits. This VIP package runs $100 but other, cheaper (and simpler) packages are also available.
Live Calls with Santa
Another at-home option is this live video service that uses to Zoom to let your child chat with Santa (and maybe hear a story) for up to five minutes. Three different packages are available, starting at around $20.
Santa’s Magic Mirror at Scarborough Town Centre, Square One and Yorkdale
Three GTA malls, all run by Oxford, are offering a virtual Santa experience through a special, magic mirror. This touchless experience will let you family have a photo taken with Santa—who we assume will be at the North Pole—as well as receive personalized messages. Each magic mirror will be surrounded by festival holiday décor and will feature other fun elements. For example, at Scarborough Town Centre, there will be a 30-foot Christmas tree while at Yorkdale, will have elves overseeing the process. The experience is free, but you will have the opportunity to make a charitable donation.
Dates: November 23-December 24
Addresses: Scarborough Town Centre at Centre Court, 300 Borough Drive, Toronto; Square One at 100 City Centre Drive, Mississauga; Yorkdale at 3401 Dufferin Street, Toronto
Story Time Live with Santa & Virtual Visits
In addition to its in-mall events, Cadillac Fairview is also offering a couple of virtual Santa experiences. The first is a live, three-part storytime, which will take place over Facebook and Instagram Live on November 28, December 12 and December 20 in English and in French. No registration is required, and kids will get to interact with Santa once the story is over.
Cadillac Fairview is also sponsoring personal video calls from Santa to local kids. These calls will take place between November 28 to December 20 and need to be booked in advance. More details on both of these virtual experiences will be posted at cfshops.com