How NJ malls are improving, or eliminating, that long line for Santa
Standing on line for a photo with Santa Claus can be torturous if you've got a child or two waiting along with you.
But malls throughout the Garden State have been working hard to make sure your wait — if you don't make a reservation — is a pleasant experience, rather than one that makes you want to turn around and just go home.
"Santa HQ is a whole experience," Debra Panzarella, senior manager of marketing for Freehold Raceway Mall, said of the mall's setup on the lower level near Nordstrom and JCPenney.
New for this year, the line headed toward the big man in red offers a "magic mirror" with which "kids can turn themselves into elves."
"They can also make trading cards of themselves as an elf and send them via email or put it on their social media," Panzarella said.
Also along the way, today's tech-hungry kids can search for trigger points that come alive when scanned by a kid's phone or tablet — similar to the once-popular app Pokemon Go. The HQ also provides Snapchat filters for youngins who need to immediately share their location.
"Having things to do on the way — I think it makes it easier for parents because they can refocus their (kids') attention on something else besides waiting," Panzarella said.
Waiting for Santa can be avoided at the overwhelming majority of malls, thanks to online reservation systems that let families choose a specific time and perhaps complete the whole process in a matter of minutes.
Demand for St. Nick has been steady since Nov. 2, when Menlo Park Mall launched its Santa hub on the lower level in center court.
The mall's "FastPass" allows families to avoid the line. And special events give families the chance to access Santa outside normal mall hours.
Caring Santa events, for example, provide a sensory-friendly experience for children with special needs. The final two sessions are scheduled for Dec. 2 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and Dec. 9 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
"We host the event before the mall opens," said Maria Gregorius, the mall's director of marketing and business development. "We turn the music down and we provide some activities and some dedicated time for these children to spend with Santa."
Like other malls, Menlo Park mall is also offering time slots for customers who want their pets included in a photo.