See how NJ malls are turning the Santa visit into an interactive ‘experience’
As they wait to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what they want for Christmas this year, kids at the Freehold Raceway Mall may be wishing the line never ends.
On their way to the big man in red, children and their families are sent on a trip through Santa HQ.
In the first room, visitors are treated to an "elfie selfie" that's featured as the star of an animated Christmas jig. Later on, they step on the HQ's Naughty-or-Nice 'O Meter and see how well they've behaved all year. The younger tots get a chance to run Santa's Command Center, leading up to a station that offers family portraits before the big St. Nick reveal.
All the while, "trigger points" throughout the set are waiting to be scanned by a kid's phone or mall-provided tablets. Similar to the app Pokemon Go, the trigger points come alive when scanned by a device.
And every 20 minutes, a light show launches for folks in line and passersby.
"I think it adds to the wonder of the holidays," said Debra Panzarella, the mall's senior marketing manager. "Children get antsy waiting for Santa, so keeping them occupied also helps the parents."
Freehold Raceway is just one of the many New Jersey malls giving a makeover to the traditional visit with Santa Claus. It has become an interactive experience that recognizes today's kids' dependence on, and love for, technology.
The Mall at Short Hills gives every child, even ones who aren't interested in a Santa visit, the opportunity to join Santa's Flight Academy. Each "flight cadet" is equipped with a virtual flight suit and badge, and they're sent on an important mission to prepare Santa's sleigh.
As a bonus before the photo, kids get a taste of winter as they step inside a 22-foot active snow globe.
"Holidays are all about creating memories for the children, for the families," said Janet Cesario, the mall's marketing and sponsorship director. "On the weekends, we also have a balloon artist that goes down the line, and we have our elves that go down the line."
Through their websites, a handful of malls are also offering a big perk for parents: reservations. Some spots have reserved special times for Santa photos with pets as well.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.