You have to book a time slot (the experience takes approx. 30 mins) which you can either do in person at the Grotto or online (there is a £1.25 booking fee per person if you book it online, but at least you are guaranteed a slot rather than turning up and none available). If you book directly at the grotto there's no charge at all.
So we arrive, we wait in the cold until they check us in. Not ideal, but they do warn you on their website it's outdoors so wrap up warm we did. The elves check you in (my 5yr old said "they're not real, they're only dressed up elves." Very observant that one), then they take a picture of your children's faces with their iPads (very hi-tech these particular elves) to be featured in the film. We're led into a little waiting area with Liquorice Allsorts soft toy cushions everywhere which the children enjoyed stacking, wibbly wobbly snowmen for the them to push over (or punch in my boy's case) and a Santa's sleigh for a perfect pic opportunity. Plenty to occupy them for the 10 minutes or so whilst the elves sign people in. I think they take up to 50 people per tour.
|The Grotto tent was really well decorated.|
|2yr old on mission to pile up the liquorice allsorts|
We were told past the sweetie tunnel no photos allowed. So in the cinema room, lots of bean bags for the kids and the film began, oh 3D glasses provided too. The animation told a story of elves and the like, don't ask me details as I zoned out a bit but the kids enjoyed it and the best bit of course was all the kids faces flashing up and featuring in the film. I couldn't take photos in this bit but it was very effective, the kids were very excited to see their faces and names on the screen. Nice touch.
Santa next. A little room set up in a cosy home-y style was where we headed next and the Santa was actually brilliant. He looked good and was brilliant with the kids, not too cheesy, just great.
Every child/family got a turn to sit with Santa, get their pic taken, and receive a gift from him (Ben 10 or Star Wars activity book for boys as far as I could see and pop up Christmas book for girls). There was no rush, the Santa and 'Magic' the elf were very polite and took our photo 3 times to try and get a smile!
The whole thing was pretty well organised I thought despite a little wait out in the cold. My only little bugbear was the photo we picked up. Slightly annoying that our photo when printed, chopped off my son's arm from the edge of the picture but not in the photo we were shown. Not the girl's fault who served us as they were only able to give us what the computer printed but a better cropping device would have been helpful so that families could get the photo they thought they were paying for.
Anyway, at this point I would love to post the lovely picture we purchased (£6 each or £15 for 3 prints) however my computer is not letting me post it the right way up! So I feel you probably do not want to look at it upside down, so watch this space.
I think it's really worth the visit though especially if you're local, if the least you spend is £6 on a photo then I think it's a pretty good deal and good fun for the kids. With a gift too, you can't really beat that.
You can find out all the info you need for the 5D Santa's Grotto at Westfield Stratford here