This is a sponsored blog post; while the views expressed here were genuinely mine, consideration was paid to me to share my experience with HGTV Santa HQ at Freehold Raceway Mall.
Make your Santa photos an experience with HGTV Santa HQ at Freehold Raceway Mall!
I can remember visiting Santa at my local mall as a child. We would be there shopping and in an area outside one of the anchor stores was Santa. He sat on a platform with no fanfare, and was visible to all passing by. I imagine there had to be a photographer available, since we have photographic evidence of those visits but it certainly wasn’t a picturesque or particularly fun setting!
Today – visiting Santa at a New Jersey mall is an experience! Part tech playground, part Christmas wonderland, full magical experience, the HGTV Santa HQ at our local New Jersey mall is one of my kids’ favorite places to visit for Santa photos.
The HGTV Santa HQ has 15 locations across the US, and lucky for us one there are two participating locations in New Jersey, the Depford Mall and the Freehold Raceway Mall. This year we knew early on we were going to head to the Santa HQ experience. The only thing that we weren’t sure of is whether we would take our pictures with Santa at the Deptford Mall or Freehold Mall. We settled on a location when HGTV hired us to promote Santa photos at the Freehold Raceway Mall.
I had every intention of getting up to Freehold as early in the season as possible. My plan was I’d head up during one of the kids’ November half days and beat the crowds. I figured I’d get there before most students were even getting out of school. Unfortunately, my youngest son had other plans.
The day before we were set to go, 3 days before Thanksgiving, he got a nasty stomach bug that took him out all week. No going to school. No Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family and no pictures with Santa.
Thankfully, he was better by the weekend. I was left with the decision do I attempt mall photos with Santa on the weekend or make the drive to Freehold during the school week? I knew, to truly be helpful to all of you, I had to get to the Freehold Mall for our pictures with Santa sooner than later. But on the weekend? I wasn’t so sure about it. It didn’t help that bad weather was predicted for Sunday.
My husband and I made the decision we would go last Saturday night for our Santa photos at the Freehold Raceway Mall Santa HQ. We understood the risk, we understood we may have to wait being a Saturday night and all.
Would you believe it wasn’t that busy at all? Turns out the weekend after Thankgiving is busy for shopping in the malls, but not so busy for pictures with Santa. I have to admit I was thrilled. No crowds meant I could take all the pictures and videos I wanted in order to give you ALL the information about what to expect at HGTV Santa HQ. While we visited the Freehold Raceway Mall all participating malls offer the same experience.
You may be asking yourself is the HGTV Santa HQ experience worth it? Should I keep reading? Allow my video to answer that question.
Now, let me offer you my tips on when the best time to visit Santa for photos is.
When is the best time to go for Santa photos at the mall?
Surprised by the lack of a crowd, I talked with one of Santa’s elves about the best time for Santa photos. Here were her tips.
- Black Friday and the weekend after Christmas aren’t that busy because shoppers are taking advantage of sales and not interested in pictures.
- Early November, before Thanksgiving, is a good time because most people are not ready to think about Christmas.
- Sunday mornings are the busiest times to go. If you can avoid going then you can avoid long wait times.
- During the school day is an idea time as most kids will be in school. Take advantage of half-days or school holidays and try to get in then for pictures.
- If you can’t go during the school day then try afterschool or an evening during the week.
- If you’re availability is limited or you want to guarantee yourself Santa photos at a particular time, reserve a fast pass with Santa HQ. Guests can selet the date, a 30-minute window of time for their Santa photos, and prepay for their pictures with Santa.
Find yourself at the mall and can’t resist Santa? You can certainly just walk in to HGTV Santa HQ at Freehold Raceway Mall and see Santa like we did. With a quick check in with an elf helper and some information given to my kids we were on our way in! There are plenty of experiences and things kids can do as they wait for their turn with Santa. Take a look.
10 Things to Do at HGTV Santa HQ at Participating Malls & Shopping Centers
As you enter Santa HQ you become a part of Santa’s Elf Academy. There will be stops along the way that offer experiences and photo ops. Between check in and Santa the Elf Academy offers multiple interactive digital technology features that will amaze your kids,. It’s a fun trip through a world of elves that will delight your little ones. Get ready for some jolly fun.
Collect your Santa HQ Elf Academy Activity Book
When you first check in, children should receive a Santa HQ Elf Academy activity book. Save this for a fun activity in the car on the ride home or use it to keep busy if you get stuck waiting. It’s filled with connect the dots, spot the differences, and other activities. The pages are black and white so kids can color them.
Make an Elf ID
One of the first Santa HQ activities we did was for each of my boys to create their own Elf-ID. Even my two teenagers got in on this action. In just 3 steps, their new Elf-Ids were being emailed to me. Step one, take a selfie. Step 2, pick an elf character to model yourself after. Step 3, guests answer questions about their likes. That’s it then a cute personalized “card” is generated that can be sent to any email address.
Take an Elf Selfie at the Magic Mirror
Stand in front of a screen on the elf portal. Looking into the mirror kids will see themselves transformed into one of four Santa’s elves: Hazel, Ruby, Jack and Strawberry. They can rotate pretending to wear each of the elves’ outfits before choosing their favorite. When your child is done he/she can email or text their “elfies” to you.
Donate a toy
After you exit the first building of the Elf Academy there is an outer area with two activities. Your first stop is a collection box for Toys for Tots as part of HGTV’s Help Through Holiday Giving program that encourages visitors to donate toys for underserved children during the holiday season. You are welcome to donate a toy, but it’s not required.
Are you on Santa’s nice list?
The moment of truth. Using the Naughty or Nice O’ Meter your kids can take turns being scanned to see if which of Santa’s lists they are on and how good or bad they’ve been. It starts by answering a few questions. Next the machine lights up, makes some sounds, scans the child, and then reveals the verdict on the big board.
Santa’s Observatory and Control Center
Santa’s Observatory is almost your last stop before Santa. It is the last building of the Elf Academy. In here you can help Santa monitor the skies and check on his equipment before his big trip around the world.
Virtually open doors and gifts
With iPads next to Santa’s Control Center kids can have a virtual experience with Elf-Ray vision in 2D and 3D seeing the Control Center in a whole new way. Scan doors or images on the wall, then open presents, or watch the moving Christmas decor.
Take a family photo
As you make your way to Santa and come out of the observatory, there is an area for family photos. I love that the background had enough elements of Christmas without being too much. There were props we could use to make our pictures extra special. If you opt for the digital download you can add extra embellishments to your pictures before downloading them.
What I especially loved is the patience and skill the photographer took with our family. It can be so hard to get a picture of 5 people with everyone smiling and looking in the same direction at the same time, but she managed to pull it off. This is going to be one of my favorite family photos.
Enjoy the Christmas decor at HGTV Santa HQ
I love love love looking at Christmas trees, twinkling lights, toy soldiers and all kinds of Christmas decor. This experience does not disappoint. A Santa experience from the creators of HGTV, I would expect nothing less than the best when it comes to decorating Santa’s home away from home. As you pass through the Elf Academy make sure you take the time to appreciate it and point out the details to your kids.
Pose with Santa
Your last stop is the main event. Your family photo with Santa will take place on Santa’s sleigh!
One of the HQ elves will guide you to a bench to take some photos with Santa (these were included in our digital download). The photographer will snap away while Santa intently listens to your kids hopes and wishes. Sometimes Santa may even ask the parents to weigh in on their kids behavior. It didn’t happen on our visit, but it has happenned on Melanie’s.
After your photo session with Santa you’ll be able to review your pictures on a tablet-style station. Keep in mind the package you want and how many poses you want and whether or not you need digital downloads. Not all portrait packages include the download or the additional family photo. You can add on those options though.
5 Tips to preparing for Santa photos at HGTV Santa HQ
- Easy fast pass access to Santa! Want to visit Santa at a peak time? Make your reservation in advance here! It’s so easy to do and could prevent some major meltdowns if the lines are long. Select your date and time online, and select and pre-pay your preferred photo package.
- Consider when you’ll visit for Santa photos at the Freehold Raceway Mall or your local mall. Can you go at an offpeak time? One of Santa’s elves shared that Sunday morning is the busiest time for Santa. The best time to visit is during the week, when most kids are in school. If that’s not possible, go one afternoon afterschool or a weeknight when the crowds are smaller and your children will have more time for the Elf Academy experiences.
- Know when you can and can’t take your own photos and have your phone fully charged for when you can. You can take photos at each of the experiences and anywhere there is not a professional photographer taking photos. You can not use a camera to take your own photos with Santa.
- Consider which cell number and email address you will use. Along the way through your Santa HQ experience you’ll be asked for a phone number or email address to have elf-id cards and other items sent to you. The number and email address also link all parts of your experience together.
- Who needs pictures? How many pictures will you need? Make a list ahead of time of who will want copies of your family photo with Santa and regular family photo. This way you’ll know which portrait package is right for you.
One more tip, bring some pencils or crayons. This way if you find that you do need to wait your child can work on their activity book to pass the time.
Are they any questions about Santa photos at the Freehold Raceway Mall or any of the other HGTV Santa HQ locations we didn’t answer for you? Let us know in the comments below.
For more information about HGTV’s Santa HQ at Freehold Raceway Mall, and to make your reservations, visit the Santa HQ website.