Our Family Adventure In Waterford's Winter Wonderland 6 years ago

Our Family Adventure In Waterford's Winter Wonderland

You may find this hard to believe but my six-year-old son recently declared that "Waterford was better than Disneyland Paris." And I have to concede, after spending an absolutely magical family weekend at Winterval, we certainly had just as good a time as we did in the French capital!

In 2012 a small group of volunteers got together with a shared dream to make Ireland's first (and oldest) city the capital of Christmas. Within four short years, the Winterval festival has attracted over half a million visitors from all over the country, and the festival is now the biggest event in the Déise every year.

My brood (aged seven, six and three) and I arrived late last Friday evening, minus a helpful luggage-lugging husband who was stuck in work and due to join us the next day. I needn't have worried about bringing the kids down on my own; the Majestic Hotel in Tramore was the epitome of a 'family friendly' stay. Although that term is often over-used but under-demonstrated, it really is accurate when it comes to the Majestic. The sixty-room hotel is part of Failte Ireland’s Family Friendly Charter for the South East, and the team are committed to welcoming families with children. The free car parking right outside made it easy to rock up and unload the plethora of necessities that a family of five require.

Alison Bough

Family Friendly Food

Children are welcome in both the restaurant and the lounge bar at all times, and there is a top-notch healthy options children’s menu on offer in addition to adult half-size portions. Breakfast time in the festively adorned Garden Room Restaurant proved a particular hit; Mummy's full Irish breakfast went down a treat as did the kids' Nutella pancakes. The restaurant, with its panoramic views of Tramore Bay and Brownstown Head, has received the Taste of Ireland award twice and was recommended by acclaimed Michelin star chef, food critic, and writer, Paolo Tullio. My three were certainly given the five-star treatment by the friendly and helpful staff, allowing the grownups to enjoy a stress-free start to the day. Himself even got to read an entire (complimentary) newspaper - quite the achievement.

Retro Rules

The Vikings first established a settlement near Waterford in the year 853 and the atmospheric lanes of this ancient city, with its light-bedecked trees, will make you feel more festive than you thought possible. On Saturday morning we headed straight for the action which is largely centred around The Mall, outside the eponymous Waterford Crystal. Determined not to miss a thing, we started with a family slide down the Instagram-gold retro Helter Skelter, followed by an enthusiastic go on the vintage Ferris wheel. The gentle trip towards the rooftops provided us with an inspiring view of Waterford's historic landmarks and of the many events that make up the magical Winterval experience.

Next up, was a visit to the Toy Museum in City Hall where we nabbed Elmo and Cookie Monster for a selfie and my boys got to experience what gaming once meant for their parents. Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 almost ended in competitive tantrums and that was just amongst the grown-ups. Outside, our three-year-old stood mesmerised by the Christmas tree made entirely of cuddly toys, amidst her brothers' shouts of excitement about the approaching majestic Shire horses pulling a magnificent antique sleigh. Hopping on, we enjoyed a clip-clop tour of the city sights including the Viking Triangle and festivities at John Robert’s Square.

Alison Bough

Snacks n' Santa

Upon disembarking (and following more oohs and ahhs at the gentle-giant draught horses) we made our way to the Christmas market with lunch in mind. The wooden cabin-style stalls dotted around Cathedral Square, Bishop’s Palace, and Arundel Square are piled high with gingerbread, wooden toys, and handcrafted items from local crafters. Perusing the food stalls serving delicious hot treats we decided on an eclectic mix of German Brätwurst, French crêpes, and cream-topped hot chocolate.

Feeling as Christmassy as an 80s Wham! video, it was time to visit the main man, so we made our way to Santa's grotto at the award-winning Medieval Museum. At the North Pole experience we played, coloured and even scooted around the enchanted garden, ably assisted by some jolly elves, before we popped in to see the man himself. We were super-impressed by our visit with Santa, who didn't even flinch when my little boy decided to tug his (very real) beard. Luckily, the cheeky manoeuvre didn't get our names moved to the naughty list and the kids received very generous, quality gifts and had their photo taken with St. Nick.

Festive Wonderland

Emerging into the dusky night with our gifts, pictures, and Winterval jigsaw, we found that we had perfectly timed a prime spot in Cathedral Square for the Winterval Illuminates. The stunning light show runs nightly every thirty minutes from 5pm until 8pm. The show, which is free of charge and an absolute must-see, uses 3D animation to transform Waterford's grand old buildings into a festive wonderland.

Alison Bough

After a brief sojourn back at the hotel to defrost, we decided to get a taxi back into the city so that Mum and Dad could end the hugely successful day with a festive pint (or two) over dinner. The lovely Pat dropped us off at The Reg, a charming gastro bar built around a 900-year-old wall, adjacent to Reginald’s Tower. The adults thoroughly enjoyed our respective dindins of fish and chips and seafood chowder, while the kids chowed down on smaller but equally delicious portions. Helpful staff provided colouring books that allowed the parents to have a rare interruption-free conversation after dinner.

Sunday Funday

Needless to say, everyone slept well, and by Sunday we were raring to go again, albeit at a slightly more leisurely pace. After a morning stroll along the Tramore pier, we brought some very excited children to Splashworld (handily located straight across the road from the Majestic Hotel). The south east's biggest indoor water park's wave machine, three water Slides, bubble pool, paddle pool, water cannons, roaring rapids, steam room, sauna and 25m pool proved so popular that the entire family was most reluctant to leave.

But leave we did, as we had more Winterval sights and sounds to cram in before waving goodbye to Waterford. Our last afternoon in the city saw us enjoy the beautiful vintage musical carousel in John Robert’s Square, meeting Frozen's Elsa, the Grinch and Disney's finest at the Grinch UV Vortex in Blackfriars before finishing up at the Waterford On Ice skating rink. Since I am the only family member who can remain upright in ice-skates, it was a relief to find that skating aids were available for the smaller members of our party. Shame they weren't made for husbands of a certain vintage who abandoned the Torvill and Dean moves in favour of some coffee and a good laugh from the sidelines.

Alison Bough

On Sunday evening we packed three worn-out, happy kids into the car, and spent the drive home planning our return trip. Two trips in fact; one to learn to surf in warmer months and next year's Winterval. After all, who needs Paris when you have magic right on your doorstep!

Email info@winterval.ie or call the office on 051-856516 for more information about Winterval