Thanks to Fair Oaks Mall for inviting us to Santa’s Flight Academy!
By Patricia Hall, Fairfax Family Fun
Ready to visit Santa? And to get a jump start on Christmas photos and holiday cards? Santa has arrived at Fair Oaks Mall and will be there now through Saturday, December 24, 2016! The first-of-its-kind “Santa’s Flight Academy” debuts exclusively at Fair Oaks Mall this holiday season. The immersive holiday experience in the Grand Court West is a larger-than-life re-imagination of the North Pole with the focus on getting Santa ready for his annual, magical flight.
The fun exhibit features a giant sleigh paired with state-of-the-art technology that lets children partner with Santa’s Elves to prepare his sleigh for its journey around the world. This means that the experience is more than just a photo shoot: while you are waiting in line for your turn at photos, kids go through multiple fun, interactive stations. Working with an elf (Sleigh Mechanic George, Flight Director Sparkle, or Reindeer Caretaker Flash) each child becomes one of “Santa’s heroes” or part of the flight crew to help jolly ol’ Santa get ready to deliver presents to children around the world.
“The holidays are a time for creating special memories and we’re confident children will be delighted with this new adventure that will surely become a tradition for years to come,” says Robert Stark, the mall’s general manager.
Here is what kids can look forward to: upon arriving at Santa’s Flight Academy, each child, using an interactive screen, signs up to become a “cadet.” This process results in a keepsake badge they will insert at the multiple stations. The badge has the child’s name, photo, and code name, and it’s a solid-plastic piece on a lanyard, so it looks like a real work identification (ID) card and makes for a cute keepsake item.
Kids then swipe their IDs at each station to be fitted for a virtual flight suit, help inspect and power Santa’s sleigh before takeoff, and perform other tasks to ensure that every present will be carefully delivered. There is a big power station and a large navigation station, and other points with touch screens and buttons before kids (and their adults) step inside the giant, 22-foot-tall sleigh, which has lights and a “snowfall.” Next stop: the visit and photos with Santa.
Santa’s Flight Academy will be available daily through December 24; times vary by date. Because of the unique layout and anticipated high demand, Fair Oaks Mall encourages visitors to pre-register children for a Santa’s Flight Academy entrance badge online or through the mobile app available for both Android and iPhone platforms. Registration also is available onsite at Santa’s Flight Academy kiosks. And once again, Fair Oaks Mall is hosting pet photos with Santa (see below) so you can make this truly a family experience for all! The “Santa Paws” photos take place on select Saturdays and Sundays now through December 11.
We were invited to visit Santa’s Flight Academy on opening weekend and to share our experience with readers. The first thing I can tell you is that this exhibit is very impressive, not only because of the sheer size of the sleigh — it’s huge! — but because the interactive exhibits help pass the time in a fun way.
As to the photos, these are always very well done (we have taken Santa photos at Fair Oaks Mall for years) and the photographers will let you preview the photo to make sure it is okay before printing: they are happy to re-take the photo if it’s not to your liking or something is “off.”
The photo packages vary from $23 to $56, and all include a $15 credit to Lovepop.com, which makes beautiful, intricate 3D “pop-up” cards. Our package was the “middle of the road” C package ($39), which includes one 5 X 7, two 4 X 6. Two 3 X 5, and six wallet photos, with an additional two photos in two keychains, plus the Lovepop credit and a sample card. We also got a digital download package; these provide you with a code to get your photo online plus four extra wallet photos. We also got a little rubber “Santa’s hero” zipper pull (that will come in handy soon for winter coats!).
Santa’s Flight Academy also has a little shop where you can buy special frames, perfect for gift-giving or for your own beautiful display. In addition to the keychain photos included in our package (these are a good size, by the way) we are sending the grandparents larger photos in very nice frames. We opted for the “aqua shake” frame (think of a vertical box frame that doubles as a snow globe of sorts, with a little Santa and gifts bobbing up and down at the bottom!) and the fiber-0ptic portfolio, which has a place for the photo on the left and a beautiful illustration of Santa in flight on the right, with twinkling lights (stars, sleigh lights, city lights below) that illuminate for 90 seconds every time you open the card. The shop also has other beautiful frames (marquee, chalkboard, wooden, magnet, and more) plus music globes, books, and reindeer plush (prices for all items are $7.99-$24.99).
Ready to visit Santa’s Flight Academy? See our tips below to make the most of your visit, and be sure to print the coupon (also below) to save $3 off a photo package (options A-D) by December 10.
Tips for visiting Santa’s Flight Academy from our recent visit:
- Register online, since lines can get long
- Consider going mid-day or at least avoiding the earliest and latest sessions each day, which seemed to be more packed; better yet, go on a weekday, as weekends will get busier
- Note that Santa takes breaks (to feed his reindeer!) each day between 12:30-1:15 pm and again 6:30-7:15 pm so no photo seesions take place then
- Look at the photo packages online before your visit, to save you time at check-out
- Bring a comb! …Or at least don’t let kids get too wild in the “snowfall” area, since the fluffy artificial snow does not just shake off that easily. A little snow on an outfit can add some holiday whimsy, but you don’t want your kid to look like he or she has a bad case of dandruff, either 😉 (Bonus tip: don’t let this get on your kid’s hair if they have hair gel on!)
- Watch your place in line: once the kids start playing in the open space of the snowfall, it’s not always easy to remember exactly who was ahead of or behind you
- Pets must be up-to-date on their vaccinations and must either be on a leash or carried in a lightweight, portable pet carrier with a harness
- Since most pets who attend are dogs, if you have a cat who would be spooked, they normally will let you go to to the front of the line to avoid spooking the cat or exciting the dogs
- Your pet photos can include your children or your family
- These sessions take place before or after regular mall hours to make it easier on all guests; owners with pets must only use the mall entrance between Sushi On and The Spice Route
- Photo package prices are the same, but for every “A” package purchased a $10 donation will be made to Fairfax County Animal Shelter
- The next pet photo sessions are on: Sat, Nov. 26 (8-9 am); Sun., Nov. 27 (6:30-8 pm); Sun., Dec. 4 (6:30-8 pm); Sat., Dec. 10 (7:30-8:30 am); and Sun., Dec. 11 (6:30-8 pm)
Disclosure: I received a photo package and other compensation to help get the word out about Santa’s Flight Academy. We have been customers of Santa photos at Fair Oaks Mall in previous years and the writing and opinion expressed here are my own.
Photos (c) P. Hall