Ah yes, it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. My daughter is glued to the television. Every commercial she sees for a toy she says “I want that.” I respond with “put it on your list for Santa.” Poor St. Nick will be getting a long list from a hopefully nice, little girl. I’m reminded of the scene from A Christmas Story when Ralphie meets a gruff and snarly Santa. It’s no wonder why children would be scared and cry. Meeting Santa is supposed to be a special event in a child’s life. I’m here to tell you where the best and worst Santas are in northern Virginia.
Fair Oaks Mall
Lower Level – Grand Court
11750 Fair Oaks Mall
Fairfax, VA 22033
On a weekday in early November, my husband and I took our 5 1/2 year old to Fair Oaks Mall on the first day of Santa’s arrival. My daughter had seen the display last year and we decided to partake in the adventure this time around. The Ice Palace coincides with the release of the movie Ice Age: Continental Drift which debuts on DVD and Blu-ray on December 11. Upon entering, we saw a giant ice throne. It looked cool and you can sit on it, however no personal photography is allowed. However, before seeing Santa, you can take pictures throughout the rest of the Ice Palace. The movie’s main character, Scrat, is shown on giant screens and snow globes trying to gather his acorns. Photo ops include measuring your height against Sid and Diego, putting your handprint against a real block of ice, and helping Scrat find his acorns in the palace. The 30-foot “ice” dome was the highlight for my daughter. The room featured several screens showing movie clips of the Ice Age herd and falling fake snow. Even after visiting with Santa, she wanted to go back and throw snow in the air!
Then it was time to meet the big guy. Santa spent a short amount of time with my child, but I think she was fine with that because 1) she got to tug on his beard and 2) she gave Santa her ‘abbreviated’ wish list. You could tell Santa loved his job. He was cheerful, authentic and had a great rapport with the children. In keeping with the theme, the souvenir was an Ice Age note pad and pen.
- Pet Photos with Santa takes place on select Sundays. Check for times on the website.
- December 6, 2012 marks the first annual Signing Santa Day. The mall will have a signing Santa from 11am to 9:30pm. Professional interpreters will be present and children are invited to sign with Santa. This is the first time-signing of a feature film interpreted by deaf actors with sub title translations. This sounds like an amazing event for hard-of-hearing and deaf children.
- There was no pressure to buy photos with packages ranging from $21 to $55. We were disappointed that we couldn’t order more than one pose per package. Add-ons include a digital CD, picture frames and ornaments. If you buy a photo package, you get an activity booklet and free photo book courtesy of Snapfish, along with a coupon for a free meal from Chick-Fil-A at Fair Oaks Mall. View more information online.
- The walk through the palace and meet-and-greet with Santa is free. There is a separate entrance if you just want to purchase the new Ice Age movie. Santa is available during all mall hours except for two 45 minute breaks at 12:30 and 6:30pm. I found the easiest place to park at the JCPenney lot. The Ice Palace is a short walk from the store, just passed the Looney Tunes play area.
Dulles Town Center
Lower Level – Center Court
21000 Dulles Town Circle
Dulles, VA 20166
I was concerned about visiting the mall on a Saturday afternoon, especially during the busy shopping season. However, I was relieved that mid-day worked great when it came to visiting St. Nick. It helped to invest in Santa’s Fast Pass. By purchasing a Fast Pass online, you can pick out and pay for your photo package in advance. The best part is you can bypass the regular line and head to the VIP entrance.
Park near the holiday decorated entrance behind PF Chang’s and The Cheesecake Factory. A pair of lit Christmas trees and a reindeer guides you through the main area of the mall. We got a great view of Santa as we rode the glass elevator down to the lower level. The winter wonderland is surrounded by giant, lit trees, poinsettias and lights from the ceiling that resemble falling snow. You enter through a small tunnel which has a slow moving disco ball giving the idea of twinkling lights while the wall has a snowy landscape with reindeer.
A little girl ahead of us had a two page Christmas wish list. Santa was very patient and let the girl spend as much time as she wanted with him. As this was my child’s second Santa sighting, she spent only three minutes with him. She knew this Santa’s bead was also authentic and therefore, didn’t need to tug on it! He asked for a hug, which she happily obliged, and Santa sent her on her way with a peppermint lollipop.
- Before meeting the big guy, the elves asked if my child was having her photo taken or here for a visit only. Had we not already gotten a photo at Fair Oaks, I would have purchased one here. Photo packages were $21 to $45 with an additional fee for a black and white portrait and free gift from Shutterfly. They had a nice selection of illuminated cards, nutcrackers and snow globes to showcase the photos.
- Santa is here daily, but hours vary so it’s best to consult the website. Santa will be at Dulles Town Center until his departure on December 24 at 5 pm. Adjacent to Santa is the Dulles Express train, while the main level has a Jet Blue play area and upstairs is the carousel.
Potomac Mills Mall
Neighborhood 1 – Fashion District Court
2700 Potomac Mills Circle
Woodbridge, VA 22192
If you have a little one, this may be the Santa to visit. The former site of Santa’s North Pole hideaway is now home to the play area, not far from where the present home of Santa sits. We had a hard time finding parking as this outlet mall is always busy. The entrance next to Last Call Neiman Marcus is a stone’s throw from Santa.
I really liked this Santa because he was definitely authentic down to his plump stature and off-white, curly mustache and beard. He spent a long time with each child and waved to children passing by in the mall. However, the winter backdrop is so dull and small. Other than a few white lights and hung snowflakes, Santa sits in a lonely chair. There’s an odd gold present or two faintly scattered around the scene. There was no clear entrance or exit to see him. Photo packages range from $22.95 to $49.95 and have very basic add-ons of key chains and photo ornaments. Even though the photo pricing sheet clearly states that children can visit Santa free of charge and receive a special gift, we didn’t see anything. Children did not get anything from Santa; no candy cane, no coloring book, nothing! One boy was aimlessly searching for a parting gift and all he got was a smile and a handshake.
Visit Santa Monday to Saturday from 10am to 9pm with breaks from 1 to 2pm and 4:30 to 5:30pm. On Sunday, visit from 11am to 6pm except from 2:15 to 3pm when Santa takes a milk and cookies break. Christmas Eve has limited hours. While Santa himself was a lovely soul, the visit was such a disappointment.
Tysons Corner Center
Level 1 – Fashion Court
1961 Chain Bridge Rd.
McLean, VA 22102
The Santa at Tysons Corner Center holds a special place in my heart. This was the first Santa I took my daughter to when she was a toddler. I remember when corporate heads at the mall wanted to replace this genuine Santa with a commercialized version. Customers protested and luckily, Santa remains a fixture here. When I came back to see him, I said, I’m so glad you got to stay here. He replied with a huge grin, “thank you…so am I.” How can you not believe in the magic of Christmas? It’s that kind of warm-and-fuzzy feeling you get when meeting this particular Santa. Two giant nutcrackers stand guard as you approach the line. Santa sits on an oversized plaid chair in front of several adorned Christmas trees and wrapped presents.
Photo packages are the most expensive here with prices ranging from $24.99 to $65.99. You can prepay online to receive a discount if you order the Rudolph package which is valid until December 14. Bring something to distract your child from the long line which can tire the littlest believers.
Santa is available for photos and visits Monday to Friday from 10am to 8pm and Saturday from 9am to 9pm with a one hour break at 1 and 5 pm. On Sunday, Kris Kringle will be there from 12 to 7pm with an hour long break at 3 pm.
Being that Tysons is the largest mall in the area, parking is a challenge. The closest place to park is at Nordstrom, which leads to the main mall hallway. Tysons Corner Center has done a beautiful job bringing the spirit of the season with real poinsettia plants dotting the perimeters inside the mall along with garlands and lights hanging from the ceiling. Our family combined the trip by heading to the play area and train on the third floor.
- For a complete listing of Santa Sightings, visit Our Kids website.
- Visiting Santa is free. You do not have to buy a photo package. Be sure to bring your camera. Even though you aren’t allowed to take pictures beyond a certain point, the backgrounds and decorations surround Santa are photo worthy.
- To avoid long lines, head out early or on a weekday.
The Bottom Line
Every Santa we visited was happy and great with the children. My favorite Santa is at Tysons Corner, but the best experience can be found at Fair Oaks. Santa will magically be at all the above venues until Christmas Eve.
Photos by Kathleen Molloy