UPDATE: This post was written in 2018. Santa is currently at Cabela’s for the 2019 season and will be there until Christmas Eve. While some activities and details may have changed regarding Santa’s Wonderland and the experience at Cabela’s in East Hartford, this review will give you a general idea of what to expect!
We’re heading into the final days of Christmas. And if you have yet to get those photos with Santa, then I have the place for you!
Last week, we checked out Cabela’s in East Hartford. You may hear Cabela’s and wonder what does a hunting and outing store have to do with Santa? Well, let me tell you, they have everything to do with the big man in red. Because they have mastered the Santa visit with their Santa’s Wonderland experience.
Cabela’s has been in East Hartford since 2007. Yet somehow, I had never set foot in the store. I am quite frankly not your outdoorsy type and I really have no business being in there. So when it came time to drive to the store, I had no idea where I was going. I knew it was next to Rentschler Field. However, I also did not know where Rentschler Field was. I had to break out the GPS. It was actually quite easy to get to once I had someone telling me where to go.
The trickiest part for me was getting around UTC (without entering a restricted lot). I did a few turnarounds. Honestly though, it is a pretty straight shot when you come in from Silver Lane.
And once you make it, it’s hard to miss the giant store.
Or it’s giant sign.
We visited on a Friday afternoon (just around lunchtime). The parking lot was busy enough and I was little worried we would be hitting a big crowd for Santa. Turns out there are a lot of hunting enthusiasts shopping at Cabela’s on Friday during lunch.
We headed to the main entrance to start our adventure!
Having never stepped inside a Cabela’s, I was unprepared for the inside. It’s incredible!! Look at their conservation mountain!
But it’s also not for the faint of heart.
We explored as much of the store as we could! There is a lot to do inside of a Cabela’s! They have an aquarium under the massive mountain in the center of the store.
Towards the back of the store on the first floor, you’ll find the Connecticut River Valley Wildlife Museum.
For the second floor, you can head up by elevator or stairs. We took the elevator so we could continue to check out the mountain.
On the second floor, you’ll find their shooting range and a gun gallery, two places I would not be taking my four year old to check out. However, it’s there if you are interested! They also have more animal displays upstairs.
We explored a few of their shopping areas including the tent displays. He loved the idea of outdoor living!
Also upstairs you will find the Candlewood Grill, which is a great restaurant offering sandwiches and grilled foods made to order, snacks, drinks, and much more. They also have a kids menu.
During the time Santa is at Cabela’s, they are offering free kid’s meals with the purchase of an adult meal! We ended up having lunch here and it was pretty good I have to say!
Of course, this is a retail store, so you will find plenty of shopping inside Cabela’s. They have everything you can imagine for the outdoors, hunting, fishing and camping. They also have many things for those that love to bring the outdoors inside, including bedding, clothes, shoes, and even kids toys.
They also have an old-fashioned country store with their own homemade fudge and other yummy food for sale. We may or may not have taken home some fudge…
Despite spending well over an hour having lunch and exploring the store, we were there for a reason. Santa! And there was no trouble finding him, because they had signs everywhere! But in case you do get lost, take a left from the main entrance!
Santa’s Wonderland at Cabela’s was incredible!
And they had a pretty authentic looking Santa! With a real beard! I was impressed!
Before meeting with the big guy, the kids are invited to have a little fun! They had two tables set up with building logs and this amazing “dirt” that wasn’t really dirt. It’s hard to explain but if you’ve ever played with kinetic sand, it’s basically the same, except it’s dirt.
They also had a shooting game- which my child was not grasping the hang of. He’s honestly never played with toy guns, so that came as no surprise.
However, he shocked the heck out of me when he picked up a bow, lined up the arrow, and perfectly shot down a duck! Apparently we will be looking into archery in a few years!
They also had craft stations including coloring, letters to Santa, and if you wanted to pay a little extra, you could buy fudge and decorate it with frosting and candy. During the weekends and evenings, they have additional activities and crafts for the kids.
We made sure to drop our letter to Santa in the mailbox!
The big culmination of our visit was a visit with Santa. You are welcome to take as many of your own photos as you would like (for free). In addition, Cabela’s has a photographer that will take a photo for you and you get to keep that photo FOR FREE! Of course, they invite you to buy a package but there is no pressure at all. The packages are super reasonable too.
Honestly, when I saw how amazing their picture came out, I had no problem buying a package. These actually became our annual Santa photos!
We spent close to two hours at Cabela’s that day. We had an awesome time. Even without the Santa visit, this store is super fun even for kids. And it’s even more fun for the parents who are into hunting, fishing and camping. Like I said, I’m not even an outdoorsy type and Cabela’s made me want to buy a tent.
But if you have no interest in camping or hunting, Cabela’s is still a definite must for their Santa experience. There’s a reason why all the parents talk about the Cabela’s Santa! You won’t find many places that offer all of these incredible things at no cost, especially one that includes the free photograph!
So if you still need that photo with Santa, head over to Cabela’s this weekend!
This about sums it up…
475 East Hartford Blvd. North – East Hartford, Connecticut
Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday: 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Santa’s Wonderland is open for the 2019 season from November 16 to December 24. Pictures with Santa are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Crafts are during certain hours, and the games & activities are open during store hours.
- Free Parking
- Outdoors store including hunting, fishing and camping
- Stroller friendly
- Bathroom on both floors
- Food available at Candlewood Grill on second floor
- Cash and credit accepted for purchases
- Some of the animal exhibits may frighten young children and those who are not a fan of taxidermy
- Santa’s Wonderland experience is completely free (except if you want to do any extra crafts or buy a photo package). All guests receive a free picture with Santa.