Last winter, Santa’s Fantastical, an “immersive” holiday-themed experience set up in a former Babies-R-Us in Sandy Springs, took Atlantans—and their Instagram accounts—by storm. The homegrown endeavor from Walt Geer and Sarah Blackman features its own cast of animated characters (and their real-life mascot counterparts who are ready to pose in photos), plenty of picture-perfect photo backdrops, a few games and, new this year, a 21-and-up speakeasy.
Kids will likely get the most out of the cartoony characters and Santa meet-and-greets, but adults will enjoy pairing their silliest poses in the dozen or so photo backdrops. Here’s what to know before you go.
1. Don’t sleep on the snowball game.
Called Snowpalooza, this giant digital game lets up to 12 people toss snowballs at a screen of animated snowmen. The objective wasn’t super clear at the media preview I attended—hit the snowmen and knock them down, occasionally hit some presents and ornaments that pop-up, and there didn’t appear to be a points system or a way to “win”—but it was ridiculously fun to crank my arm and try to throw those little plastic “snowballs” as far as I could.
2. The speakeasy is worth entering, even if you don’t order a drink.
Hidden behind a door in the same area as the “kiss me” mistletoe photo opp, you’ll have to know the secret code word (and show ID) to enter “Santa’s Secret Stash.” (Tip: check Santa Fantastical’s Instagram account daily for the password.) Once inside, you’ll be treated with a much more mature, art deco-esque space, complete with several lounge spaces; blue, white, and pink Christmas trees; and, perhaps somewhat inexplicably, a giant statue of Uncle Sam painted in pop art. Order a cocktail such as the Mistletoe Mule or Sugar Plum Sangria from the bar and hang out for a bit if you need a break from the holiday madness on the other side of the door.
3. Many of last year’s backdrops have been remixed.
If you went last year and want to show off a backdrop to an out-of-town guest this year, you won’t end up with the exact same photos. The famous Candy Cane Vortex has been upgraded with a candy cane “tornado” of sorts in the background. (It’s still hard to perfectly nail a photo of you falling into the vortex—just have fun with it.) The Infinite Ornaments are now surrounded by a farm of artificial, LED-clad Christmas trees that change colors. (Wait until the lights shift into bright primary colors—it’s pretty lovely.) The carousel unicorn is back too, but with a swirly painted rainbow backdrop rather than last year’s balloons. There are also new additions—you can stand as the angel tree topper or pose in a gingerbread house-themed backdrop, where a tree covered in sweets is perched next to an ice cream sandwich-shaped coffee table.
4. Leave time for the kid-friendly activities.
Particularly, a room that resembles Santa’s workshop, where kids can color pages of various toys—dinosaurs, dolls, etc—and watch them animate on a large screen, and a slide with an animated floor that lights up behind you as you ride down. There’s face-painting tucked into the exhibition’s main drag, North Pole Village. Look for it in its own walled area between the movie theater facade and stage. And of course, there’s also the opportunity to meet Santa (which is included with the ticket price, but be sure to select the “Santa Visit” option while buying your ticket online.)
5. But know that it really is about the photo opps.
If you go into Santa’s Fantastical expecting to come home with some really cute, fun photographs of your friends or family, you’ll probably get that. If you go expecting a million activities to do, you may be disappointed. The photo opps are Santa’s Fantastical strength, and while there are kid-friendly activities to break that up (as well as snacks for purchase, the bar, and the occasional dance performances on the North Pole Village stage), taking cute photos really is the main draw here. Compare it to similar Instagram-oriented events such as Candytopia and 29Rooms.
Overall, it’s a cute experience that’s good for anyone seeking a fun holiday card photo or just some silly snapshots with friends before sipping a few cocktails. Take advantage of the value days, when tickets are only $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids, as opposed to the peak days of December 14–24, when tickets are $34.95 for adults and $29.95 for kids. Tickets are only available online, and like most of these other pop-up experiences, you’ll purchase a time-slot that marks when you’ll need to arrive. (You have as much time as you’d like to go through experiences—I’d expect an hour, but it depends on your pace.)