Elf tells all – Secrets of Bass Pro’s Santa’s Wonderland

This blog post is not endorsed in any way whatsoever by Cabela’s or Bass Pro.  It is my personal experience-opinion and should be taken that way.  All photographs, images copyright Bass Pro.

Sometime early in November of 2019 I received one of the regular email promotions from Bass Pro.  The email had the regular merchandise sales and an announcement for seasonal help in Santa’s Wonderland.  I had no idea what Santa’s Wonderland was about but thought it would be a chance to see what working at Bass Pro would be like knowing the gig would stop at the end of December.

I liked the idea of not having to quit a job I didn’t like if it turned out that way.  Bass Pro was expecting to let me go already with no expectations.  I applied for and got the job.  Official title, Elf.  We were issued red polos, a green apron and a Bass Pro embroidered elf’s stocking cap.  Next on the agenda was setting up part of the Wonderland experience.

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All the elfs set up artificial pine trees complete with lights and artificial snow as well as merchandise displays and play areas.  All said it took about three days to complete.  Once complete Santa’s Wonderland looked very much like it was set outdoors in a snowy forest.  It looked very realistic.  Parents should note that the display is for looking at and not a place for children to play or pose for photographs.

After a day of training on various topics we were ready to open.  Before I share some of my experiences and secrets that future visitors will find useful I should explain what Santa’s Wonderland is.

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Santa’s Wonderland(S.W.) can be found in many Cabela’s and Bass Pro stores during the holidays.  S.W. is a place where families, children or individuals can have a free photograph taken with Santa Claus.  There are free activities such as crafts at designated times of the day to a coloring area where children can color Christmas themed pictures with crayons or write a letter to Santa which can be placed in a mailbox feet away from the area.  Note to parents, the seating is for children to sit in while they write letter and color pictures, not for parents to take a break.

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There are also play areas where children can shoot duck targets with a bow and arrow, play in a sand-dirt toy area, shoot targets with a laser “BB” gun, tables with remote control trucks, Lincoln Logs and puzzle blocks and a Nintendo video game area with a hunting and fishing theme.  Plenty of activities to keep children busy while waiting to get a photograph with Santa.

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New this year was the digital Bass Pass system.  In the past years laminated tickets were handed out creating long lines everyone had to wait in for hours at times.  This years system involved registering for a time slot so that there were no long lines to stand in.  To obtain a digital pass an individual has to come to the store of choice, enter a name, phone number and number of people in a particular group.

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To use the pass system the phone number used must be able to receive text messages.  Once registered there will be a confirmation message, the next message will be a reminder with an estimated wait time and a final message that says “…it’s time…” prompting the individual or group to the red carpet.  Remember to charge the phone registered and bring it with you as there will be no other way to receive notifications.

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The digital Bass Pass does not mean there won’t be long wait times.  The later in the day or season you wait to register the longer the wait time will be.  If you register early in the season you will have very short to no wait.  As the season progresses wait time for minutes turns into hours.  Get there early if you wait until Christmas eve to get your photo you will be in line a long time and may not be able to get one at all!  “The early bird gets the worm”

The whole purpose of the digital pass system is so that there aren’t long lines of people standing in one place for hours.  The digital pass allows one to roam the store, eat at the store restaurant or visit other businesses close by until you are notified its your turn.

The Bass Pass allows the individual or group to obtain one (1) free photograph with Santa.  Participants will not be allowed to split a group up for multiple photographs for only one registration.  If a group wants more that one photo it would be wise to register multiple times for the same day using different phone numbers.  That way the group will be allowed to go through the line again.

With the hundreds and hundreds of people wanting a photo the elves will be moving the line at a rate of about  1 1/2 to 2 minutes per registration.  Due the notification system there should be plenty of time for wardrobe changes, hair and makeup.  Do not get on the red carpet and expect to hold the line up while others wait.  Be ready!

Mothers with infants must have a realistic understanding that a baby whose head must be supported will not pose to look at the camera while the photo is taken.  Mothers with this expectation will be disappointed.  Same thing for young children.  Once the first photo is taken children will anticipate the flash and attempt to look away or avoid the camera altogether.  After taking hundreds of photos I noticed this with all children.

Due to the time constraints one must understand that the free photo is not a photo shoot at a studio.  Elves take three photos quickly, choose the best of the three and print that one photo.  Participants do not get to choose as this would create chaos and increase the wait times by hours.  Another reason why getting there early in the season is important.  Don’t like your photo, register again for another one.

I’m sure that my readers aren’t like this, I post this information so others will understand the elf experience.  The following will put anyone behaving in the described manner on the lead elf’s naughty list and will get individual nowhere, possibly ejected from the store.  Free does not mean one is entitled to a photograph, craft or giveaway item.  Attempting to use any reason to cut line or pay the elves to allow it will only offend them.  Standing at the registration-check in area will not get one in sooner and creates a safety hazard.  People doing this will be asked to leave the area.

Disparaging or nasty racist remarks to or about others waiting to see Santa most likely will have one ejected from the store.  It will really piss off the elves and they will call one out on it.

As a lead elf I was able to see the best and worst of human behavior.  I had a fantastic experience.  One of my favorite parts of the experience was hearing the reasons why others should be allowed to cut line.  Don’t know how I kept a straight face.  Oddly the only people who didn’t like the digital pass system are those who didn’t register soon enough or understand it.  Long time attendees liked it very much.

I’ve mentioned some very useful tips for those paying attention.  Would I do it again?  Yes I would.  I enjoyed the people I worked with and the management supported us well.  That’s all for Santa’s Wonderland hope you found this useful.  -13

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