This year I had trouble finding a grotto to visit. I wanted to keep it simple with a Father Christmas that looked like he hadn’t hired a budget fancy dress costume. Having looked at photos online I decided I would try the Santa’s grotto at winter wonderland.
One of the advantages of the Winter Wonderland grotto is it is free so the money we would have spend on a grotto elsewhere we could put towards doing other activities at Winter Wonderland instead.
The Grotto is very near the Santa Land Gate nearest to Marble Arch so it would be possible to go straight to the grotto and avoid the rest of the site if you wanted to.
We were advised to do the grotto as early as possible when it was quieter as you cannot book a time slot. We arrived before the main gates opened at 10am and headed straight to the grotto. We barely had any wait at all which was fantastic.
The grotto is open so you can see in from the outside, it is a simple cabin but looks lovely in the photos. We were able to chat with Father Christmas and the children were able to tell him their christmas wishes. There was an official photographer but one of the elves also offered to take photos for us on our phones if we would like.
Even though the grotto is free there was a small gift for the children (a polystyrene paper aeroplane) which they were pleased with.
It was a very basic experience and didn’t have the wow factor of other grottos with moving scenes or extra activities but it was perfect for us as two of our children have Autism so simple is always best.
We had some free time before our time slot for the Paddington on ice show, we wandered around the stalls and the children convinced us to allow them on one ride each. This was before I saw the prices for the rides and in future will stick to the original plan of looking at the market and going to the shows only. The ride the boys chose to go on cost £9 each!
Paddington on Ice was next and we arrived early as seats are not allocated. We were very lucky and got seats in the front row so had a fantastic view and the children were able to interact with the characters. The show lasted for 45 minutes and told the story of Paddington’s journey to London. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute and were left wanting more, it was definitely a highlight.
We had brought lunch with us but decided to grab some hot chips to go with our sandwiches. whilst not cheap there was a huge variety of food available and in lots of locations around the park catering to various dietary needs. The only issue we had was the lack of seating anywhere other than very limited seats near some of the food outlets. This definitely caused a few problems during the day with sore legs and backs and nowhere to rest for five minutes.
After our lunch we headed to the magical ice Kingdom. despite timed tickets there was still a 30 minute queue. The temperature inside is -10 degrees celsius so you do need to be prepared. Having been to the ice kingdom several times in previous years we had hats, thick gloves and hand warmers. It takes around 30 minutes to walk through and the sculptures are breath taking. This year’s theme was A Christmas Carol and my personal favourite, I particularly loved the model Fizzwig Street with ice shop fronts. At the end of the ice kingdom there is a slide made out of ice you can slide down and a photo opportunity with frozen thrones to sit on. Again there is a professional photographer but you are free to take your own photographs if you prefer.
Up until lunchtime the park was very quiet with no crowds. By the time we had finished the ice Kingdom it was very busy and congested so visiting early is definitely a better experience.
We usually avoid the rides and fair ground stalls and in future will stick to this policy as they are extremely over priced and it was very difficult to manage the expectations of 3 children when the majority of stalls cost around £10 a time.
We had promised the children at hot chocolate so reluctantly parted with £4 each to warm up before we left.
When leaving the stations closest to the site are exit only so we had a very long walk to victoria Station.
Overall winter Wonderland is worth a visit but only if you plan well, book shows in advance and either budget for the high prices of the fairground attractions or avoid that aspect of the park. I would definitely go back to visit Father Christmas there and we have never been disappointed by any of the shows we’ve seen.