Santa visits switch to contactless in-person, virtual at Valley Mall in Union Gap

UNION GAP, Wash. — This year, the Valley Mall in Union Gap is doing its annual Santa visits a little differently due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead of waiting in a long line to see Santa inside the mall, people must make reservations for one of two visiting options: contactless in-person or virtual.

For contactless in-person visits, Santa will be sitting at the desk in his workshop, right outside of the interior entrance to Kohls, and visitors will sit on a bench across from him to get their pictures taken.

“We’ve re-arranged Santa’s workshop so parents and children will have no physical contact,” said Jacob Butler, Marketing Manager for the Valley Mall. “But rest assured, St. Nick will be in the photos and will be able to chat with his visitors and hear their wishes.”

The Valley Mall’s website suggests parents talk to their children beforehand so they know what to expect. Everyone over the age of 2 must wear a face mask for the visit, but may choose to remove it for the photos, as long as they put it back on once the photo has been taken.

“This year, we will schedule two families every five minutes,” the Valley Mall website reads. “This allows each family double the time of the average Santa visit in other locations and allows us to distance families in the set to keep everyone safe.

The set will be cleaned twice a day — including all common areas and restrooms — and high-touch points like door handles and counters will be cleaned after each guest. Hand sanitizer will be provided.

“Santa will undergo daily temperature checks and symptom-screening protocols,” the Valley Mall website reads. “Families will be properly distanced from Santa during the photo experience.”

No cash will be accepted and guests will be required to use a debit or credit card to make their payment. For anyone not wanting to do an in-person visit, there’s also an entirely virtual option that allows families to video chat with Santa from the comfort of their own home.

“You’re actually going to spend a dedicated 5 minutes with Santa on a zoom call and as soon as the call is over, you actually get the full recording of the call,” Butler said.

Butler said appointments for both types of visits are filling up fast, with options available from Nov. 27 to Dec. 24. Virtual visits are available in five-minute increments from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The fee for a virtual visit is $24.95.

Contactless in-person visits — two to three minutes long — are available from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday through Saturday, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve. When guests make their reservation for an in-person visit, they will be charged $15, which covers the visit and will also be applied toward any photo purchases.

Reservations can be made online here.