We never thought we’d feel nostalgic for the lengthy lines and crying children that are a non-negotiable part of any mall Santa photo experience, but—courtesy of 2020—here we are. So, what’s the pandemic-proof pivot on the real deal? Virtual Santa meet and greets. After all, your kid still needs to tell Santa that they’ll be absolutely gutted if they don’t see a prank camera (or, better yet, a wireless karaoke microphone) under the tree. But which virtual Santa visits are the closest to the real thing…and which are the most fun? We rounded up our top five picks.
1. JingleRing Virtual Santa Visits (Now Through January 7)
For $25, JingleRing will patch your kids (up to 5 total per call!) through to the North Pole for a five-minute catch-up with Santa Claus himself. But that’s not all: Mrs. Claus is available, too, in addition to the option to choose your Santa preference when it comes to ethnicity, language and faith. At the end of your chat, your kids will receive a recording of the call as well as a photo. (This video gives a sneak peek of what to expect.)
2. Kringle Mingle Virtual North Pole Visits (November 27 to December 22)
Want more than just a photo booth moment with Santa? Kringle Mingle has it all, including a personalized video message or an interactive video call (with prices ranging from $3 to $30). Additional perks: Commemorative screenshots, but also a “nice list” certificate. “I’ve got Santa on speed dial,” you can honestly remind your kids this year as you tack this reminder-turned-warning to the fridge.
3. Santa: The Experience (December 1 to 24)
With this virtual visit, you don’t just get access to Santa; a reservation lands your kids time with the elves, Mrs. Claus and a tour of the North Pole, too. But at the end of at all, you’ll find Santa himself, ready for a live video chat about all things Christmas. For five minutes, tops. There’s more: The coolest part of this experience is the option to invite other relatives—think Grandma and Aunt Brenda—to join in on the fun. Just give them plenty of warning about the time limit.
4. Airbnb Santa Claus Virtual Visits (Dates Vary)
If your kids are crushed that you had to cancel your annual holiday vacation plans, this one’s for you. Airbnb connects kids with Santa Claus representatives from all over the world. In other words, 2020 is the year that your child can chat live (and enjoy story time) with an LA-based Santa, but also talk to St. Nick as he makes the virtual rounds as far away as Finland. There’s even an option to Zoom with a Georgia-based Santa, proficient in sign language.
5. Macy’s Santaland at Home Experience (November 27 to December 24)
In normal times, the Macy’s flagship in New York City offers the most iconic Santa experience of all time. But thanks to COVID-19, Santaland has gone virtual this year. This free meet and greet includes a chance to chat with the elves, play fun holiday games and encounter St. Nick via a pre-recorded video that culminates with a photo opp. The best part? Chaotic crowds are not included.