CHRISTMAS came early for competition winners who got the chance to experience a true winter wonderland – at long last.

Helping elves in their toy factory, decorating gingerbread in Mother Christmas’ kitchen and sending postcards from the North Pole post office were just some of the activities 50 Hampshire families did yesterday after winning a radio competition.

At Lapland UK in Kent they ice-skated, shook hands with Father Christmas, and met his husky dogs and reindeer – poles apart from last year’s shambles in the New Forest.

The venue teamed up with Heart radio station to give a Christmas treat to the children who were left in tears last year by separate company Lapland New Forest. Instead of experiencing a festive theme park, families were faced with a muddy Santa’s grotto, three-hour queues, a sprinkling of fake snow and a Santa who was caught smoking.

Heart presenters Jules and Bunker took the winners and their families on a coach to the multi-million-pound wonderland spread over ten acres on the Bewl Water Estate.

The visitors went to see the mystical Sami people for storytelling at a woodland encampment, and all the children left with a present of a toy husky dog after eating a winter warmer two-course meal.

Mum-of-five Adele Richards had booked Lapland New Forest and not only failed to get a refund but also found that the firm had taken two payments from her account. She said: “The children absolutely loved it.

They couldn’t believe how wonderful every corner was and the smiles on their faces are amazing.” Mike Battle, managing director of Lapland UK, said: “Father Christmas asked me to bring some Christmas magic back to the children of the New Forest so how could I say no?”