MANATEE -- With barely a moment to spare, Santa Claus fit in a few visits with children at the DeSoto Square mall on Christmas Eve, snapping photos and taking last minute Christmas gift requests.
Five-year-old Areillya Mack was hoping Santa would bring a Barbie and a bike to her on Christmas, since she's been a good girl all year. As she hopped off Santa's lap on Christmas Eve, she and Santa exchanged a high five. She was planning to leave cookies out for Santa on Wednesday -- chocolate chip cookies, his favorite.
"I'm excited," she said, wearing a bright red, sparkly skirt for her photoshoot with Santa.
A steady line of families and children waited for Santa in the center court of the mall on Christmas Eve. With children waiting, Santa quickly accepted a pizza delivery for him and three of his elves to share, then headed back to his chair, nestled between two Christmas trees, to see the next child.
Although the Hollett family had already opened their Christmas gifts this year, the family paid a visit to Santa for a photo keepsake, said Staci Hollett. It's the family's first Christmas in Florida and the first Christmas ever for nine-month-old Palmer, who was so distracted looking at Santa's face, it was difficult to get a nice photo.
"At least she didn't cry," Staci said.
For 11-year-old Brooklyn and 8-year-old Mia, the first Christmas in Florida has been a strange experience, compared to Kansas City, where they moved from.
"It feels like we're on vacation," Mia said.
Brooklyn didn't ask Santa for anything on Christmas Eve, since she already received clothes and a watch for Christmas, but Mia asked Santa if he could bring her a pair of earrings and a gift card to Justice, her favorite store for clothes.
The girls also got a gift for Mom, who loves coffee.
"I got her a Starbucks gift card," said Brooklyn.
"Which was my idea," Mia piped in.
The family was having a dinner together on Christmas Eve and planned to get in the hot tub on Christmas Day, Mia said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.