Parents fume at Cherry Hill Mall's pricey Santa

The Adventure to Santa display at Cherry Hill Mall charges visitors $35 to $50 to see the jolly old elf.

You better not cry. You better not pout. And, if you want to see Santa at the Cherry Hill Mall, you better have at least $35.

I'm telling you why:

To enter the mall's Adventure to Santa holiday display, visitors must choose packages which range in price from $35 to $50 (marked down from $75), according to the mall's website, and include photos or, for the pricier option, video of the visit with Santa. But there's no sitting on Santa's lap without first paying the entrance fee.

That's left some parents and children surprised and disappointed. So much so that they've taken to Facebook to complain.

The elaborate North Pole headquarters built in a large atrium in the center of the mall features bright, cheery digital panels for walls - but no windows. Children can't even steal a peek at the legendary elf.

"He's locked up in his castle," complained Elsa Anzideo, a Voorhees mother of two daughters. "You can't even see Santa."

The exhibit is unique, the mall's management, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, wrote in a statement Sunday night. It's one of only 12 Adventure to Santa attractions in the country.

"Families who experienced this exciting amenity last year commented that it was nothing like any Santa visit they had ever had before, and parents were thrilled with not just the adventure but the quality of the photos as well," the PREIT statement said.

It was also free.

The Santa display in Cherry Hill features characters from Dreamworks' Shrek movies and offers kids a 15- to 20-minute range of experiences in addition to seeing Santa, including a simulated sleigh ride to the North Pole, a concert performed by "holiday elves" and games, like iPads for designing gingerbread houses.

The statement also noted, "we were mindful of all our customers' wishes and therefore host the more traditional Santa visits at our six other PREIT malls in the Philadelphia area."

Among other PREIT malls are the Moorestown Mall and the Plymouth Meeting Mall.

The Adventure to Santa attraction is presented by Noerr Programs, which manages other Santa displays in area malls. The company could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Anzideo had considered taking her children on an impromptu visit to Santa while at the mall Sunday. She balked when she learned the price of seeing the fat man in a red suit.

"I think it's outrageous," she said.

Another woman, Whanna Torres, of Camden, took pictures of her 8-month-old son Gustavo next to a Christmas tree outside Santa's house, but didn't try to visit Santa.

"I was amazed," she said when she saw the prices on the mall's website. "I was like, oh my God."

Complaints about the price are ballooning on Facebook, where a comment Friday lambasting the mall had drawn 56 responses, many of them agreeing the expense, which would seem likely to exclude children from poorer families, seems counter to the holiday spirit.

"I find it classist and it creates a divide between children during a holiday which is supposed to be about equality and giving and having everyone participate in the joy of Christmas," said Sulaiha Bitar, one of the Facebook commentators, in an interview Sunday.

The Voorhees woman brought her three daughters, ages 3 to 8, to the Cherry Hill Mall Santa last year. Her children enjoyed the Adventure to Santa attraction and she planned to bring them again, she said, until she realized what it would cost her.

"I probably would have paid that much for pictures this year," she said. "It's just the fact that they're charging me for something that was free last year, something that should be free."

Adventure to Santa's prices are comparable to Santa photo packages offered at several other area malls, but parents said typically children can at least sit on Santa's lap free of charge, even if parents aren't allowed to take their own photos. The Moorestown Mall, almost four miles away, has photo packages ranging from $19.99 to $50, but also allows children to see Santa at no charge.

PREIT said it is offering two days at Cherry Hill when kids can have snacks with Santa for free: Nov. 29 and Dec. 5, and a free day for special-needs kids on Dec. 6.

Despite the cost, there were plenty of children and parents going into Santa's house Sunday. Perhaps too many.

"There weren't enough iPads to make gingerbread houses, it was stuffy in there," said Joyce Poitivient, of Hainesport, as her two sons wriggled in a stroller. "We definitely won't be doing that again."

jlaughlin@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

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