First out of the starting gate this year is “Bolton’s Winter Weekend”, held in a sports arena, and which “looked more like car boot sale”, according to visitors.
Furious customers who had spent £5 each on tickets for the two-day event complained about the fake ice-skating rink made out of “dirty plastic”. They also said they were surprised to find items such as car registration plates and acne cream for sale.
Organisers defended the event, saying it is “so cheap for what you are getting”.
But wretched pictures show the grey-carpeted sports hall had not been decorated, and was lit with striplights. Meanwhile ticket holders had to purchase separate tickets for the Santa’s grotto, the “ice rink”, rides and some stalls.
Guests also reported queues of over two hours long to take their children to meet Father Christmas.
At one point, an inflatable snow globe deflated while it was full of children who were trapped under the transparent plastic.
The plastic ice rink was kept slippery by an attendant putting down soap on the plastic tiles.
Tickets for the event cost £3 for the day or £5 for the full weekend.
But organisers Cree8ive Events say families received “value for money” and that critics are “jumping on the bandwagon”.
Ian Jagger, from Blackburn, attended the event on Sunday with his partner Natalie and four-year-old daughter Annie.
The family had pre-purchased tickets for a number of activities but said they had decided not to use them due to the length of the queues.
Mr Jagger said: “It is like a car boot sale.
“The queues are too long and there is nothing on offer for the kids.
“We have been to the Winter Wonderland in Manchester and it looks like an actual Santa’s grotto.
“This is just a lit hall with people selling stuff on tables.”
Harry Houghton, who went to the event with his children, called it a “disaster”, saying they waited for more than two hours in a queue to see Father Christmas.
Mr Houghton said he couldn’t even find any staff to complain to.
On Twitter, one guest wrote: “We went to Bolton Winter Wonderland yesterday and it was a complete joke!”
A woman who didn’t want to be named, said her family spent £60 on tickets and that the stalls were “more like a car boot”.
She said her young children left the event feeling “disappointed”.
Claire Simm, who bought a full weekend ticket, described it as “the least festive event ever”.
She said: “I went at 10.10am and was home for 1.30pm, I wouldn’t have been there that long but was stuck in the Santa queue.
“I haven’t been back today as there just wasn’t a single thing to entice me back, so wasted money on both days.”
Many visitors have called for Cree8ive Events to issue refunds.
Event manager Martin Robinson acknowledged there had been issues with queueing on the Saturday.
He claimed measures were introduced on day two to improve matters.
He said: “This event is fantastic for Bolton. It is great for the town to be associated with such an event.
“We are trying to bring the local community and businesses together, and it is so cheap for what you are getting.
“The response at the event has actually been really positive. People are just jumping on the bandwagon when they have left.
“If it was that bad, the stall holders would not still be here.
He added: “We have not advertised this as a Christmas event. It is a Winter Weekend with a festive feel.”
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He said that responses would be issued to those that have complained to organisers “in due course”.
Additional reporting by SWNS
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