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Santa’s Grotto at Lakeside Shopping Centre, Thurrock, Essex – Free

Jenny writes:

Lakeside shopping centre is celebrating 21 years this year and promised that this year’s brand new grotto was going to be better than ever before.  They did not disappoint.   Both my 4 year old and 9 month were very excited when they saw the grotto.  We approached it from the upper level and spent time wandering around the balcony looking down and taking it all in.  We then went down the lift and saw the giant teddy waving at us and continued to walk around the area looking at the toy characters and snow covered characters.

The whole Grotto is well designed.  There is a queuing system on one side and has a reasonable sized buggy park.  When you get to the front of the queue, there are puzzles and wall toys to amuse you child as they wait.  We had pre-booked our tickets and so entered via the ‘Fast-track’ entrance which was round the back.  This was good as in the past when the fast track queue was next to the queue, I had sometimes been made to feel like I was ‘pushing-in’ the queue.

We entered the grotto experience a few minutes after arriving.  We were given a pair of 3D cinema glasses and entered a room with a large screen on one wall and seating opposite.  William sat on a small seat at the front and we sat behind him.  There were about 5 ‘family units’ in the cinema and we were shown a 3D cartoon about some presents traveling through the North Pole workshops to Santa’s sleigh.  It was a very good 3D cartoon.  It had lots of objects coming out of the screen and the children were encouraged to grab the snowflakes, the sweets and stroke the reindeer.  It was clear that the children enjoyed this as there were many squeals of laughter and excitement.  My 9 month was obviously not interested in the cartoon and wanted to stand and look at the Christmas tree.  The ‘elf’ in the room was very nice to him and waved and smiled at him which in turn made us feel relaxed.

After the cartoon, we were all shown into two different rooms in order to queue for ‘our’ Santa.  In this room, there were also little games and puzzles for the children to play with.  We then went into to see Santa.  The room was adequate for its need.  Santa was sitting on a bench and gave both the boys a wrapped present, William was asked what he would like for Christmas.  William is not the most talkative and was a little shy and so the conversation ended there.  A photo was taken of the boys,  William sat next to Santa and James was held by Santa.  I must admit that Santa must have been having an ‘off day’ as he did not look the most comfortable whilst holding James.  We were shown the photo on a screen and then we left the grotto via the photo sales shop.  We did not like our photo and therefore we didn’t buy it and did not feel pressured into buying it, there was no obligation.

Both boys were very pleased with their gifts and the whole experience.  William even asked to go back later in the day!  We are glad we took the boys and we all enjoyed it and thought it was very good.  We are planning to go next year too!

To find out more about Lakeside’s Biggest Christmas Ever, check out their website.

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