A wonderful, magical Christmas grotto, by far the best I've seen. We go every year and it is now part of our Christmas. The story displays are truly fantastic, with handmade and stitched characters, and such wonderful details. Also an abundance of beautifully lit christmas trees and sparkly lights really add to the magic.
A full story book is illustrated scene by scene in the various alcoves and areas of the caves, with the story written on large signs to read. Some scenes are huge and some are in miniature, all are impressive. I think each story runs for 2 years then changes. The story book is available to buy in the gift shop.
Don't be put off by your first impressions of the very industrial entrance, when you are in the caves it is wonderful.
The Santa is lovely, well dressed and looks and acts the part. If you are there when it is quieter (not weekends) he will spend a good amount of time talking to your child. The child gets to choose their own gift from a huge selection on Santa's stall and the gifts are really very nice quality toys (compared to what you usually get in a grotto). Proper branded toys that would retail between £4 - £8.
I love that you meet Santa first, it means you can enjoy the rest of the visit without the 'when will we see Santa? question and the child imposed hurry. I also like the fact the the kids can see him while waiting in line and that you can take your own photos with no official photographer at all, and hence no pressure to buy an overpriced photo.
You can have tea and cake also in the cave cafe, the cafe seating was much improved this year, but I do feel the selection of cake and particularly the appearance of the food (and food service area) could be drastically improved. Also the lady serving was so very miserable and grumpy it was comical, but felt so jarring and disappointing in such a magical setting.
Having said that it won't put me off going again, I'd just spend more while there if the cakes looked more appetizing and the service was with a smile.
There is also a mini Christmas market inside the cave, but this is really small, just 6 or 8 stalls which all sell very similar Christmas decorations. It would be nice to see something different here, maybe a hot mulled wine or spiced cider stall (or apple juice) or stalls from local crafts people.
It takes about 1 1/2 hours to visit on a quite day. Certainly wear wellies - it's not cold in the caves, but wet and really mucky on the floor and on the short walk to the caves from the car park. The cave paths are just about suitable for pushchairs, with a little help. We always go on a week day and have never queued at all, not even to see Santa, although I have heard that early morning on a weekend day nearest to Christmas the queues can be long.
Still five stars though, as the main grotto attraction is just beautiful.
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