Paddington Christmas grotto launches at Trafford Centre

It's the biggest Christmas grotto experience in Greater Manchester - and this year there's a special guest joining Santa at the Trafford Centre in the form of Paddington Bear. The Christmas with Paddington Experience has officially launched and hundreds of families will be heading along to explore the new attraction in the weeks ahead. It all based indoors this year in a huge unit opposite Boots in the shopping mall.

And it means there's loads of room to leave prams in the entrance foyer before we head into the experience itself. The first thing visitors can do after they've checked in with the elves at the front desk is have a picture in a quirky Paddington snowglobe. Families can pretend to have a cup of tea with Paddington, who naturally has his marmalade sandwiches with him, and you can take as many photos as you like here for free. Read more : Coca-Cola Christmas Truck tour confirmed for 2022 - what we know so far

Then it's on into a cobble-lined streets of Windsor Gardens to start the main festive attraction - heading to meet Paddington at his home that he shares with the Brown family. First up, you are greeted with a snowy scene, with a nodding reindeer on one side and a snowman on the other - who kids may note has a marmalade sandwich on his head.

An elf and magical doll's house in the Paddington experience

There's an interactive doll's house version of the Brown mansion - where you can wave your hand to see cute scenes inside. Then an elf guide will take you through to the rooftops of London, where kids can peek into chimney tops and even slide down a chimney into the main living room of the Brown home.

Inside the house itself, guests can take a peek inside the kitchen where Paddington has been hard at work making his favourite marmalade. There are mountains of oranges and pans bubbling over with the orange stuff. Inside the living room is where the magic will begin for young Paddington fans.

There are two different experiences this year at the attraction - if you have a pre-school aged child you can go during week days in the rest of November for a story-telling session (priced at GBP7.50 each). Here, kids will get to sit on the carpets and listen to an elf tell a story before getting to meet Paddington Bear for photos. Predictably, you're not allowed to take your own picture, instead a code is scanned so you can then purchase this for an extra price on the way out (from GBP8 for a magnet or key ring photo and GBP10 for photo in souvenir wallet).

Kids get to meet Paddington inside the Grotto Experience

If you're there for the Grotto Experience (priced GBP15 for kids and GBP5 for adults), Paddington will already be in the living room waiting to greet you - and how fabulous he is too.

Kids, young and old, were full of excitement to meet him on our visit, wearing his iconic blue parka and red hat. Again, you can pose for photos but aren't allowed to take your own. Although you are advised you can take photos in other areas of the kitchen and living room that don't include Paddington.

Then it's on through to meet the big man himself - Santa - with an elf to guide you through a maze of corridors. I took my seven-year-old and thre-year-old boys and they both loved meeting Santa this year which was a relief (having had past years of screams at the sight of the white-bearded fellow).

Meeting Santa in the grotto

Santa himself had great banter, and asked the kids what they would like for Christmas this year. There are decorative "presents" all over the room, and my three-year-old kept grabbing at them and trying to take the ribbons off.

So it was rather disappointing when the "Paddington gift" that you get as part of your ticket price was handed over to both boys without any wrapping paper on. The gifts were both the same on our visit - they were both Paddington movie books that, in fairness, both kids really loved and happily flicked through all the way home in the car. The price this year is GBP15 per child and GBP5 per adult which seemed fairly good value for the experience itself.

The walk through was lovely and festive and the added Paddington storyline had an added resonance given the bear's movie adventures and royal tea-time over recent years.

The Paddington gift shop is well-stocked

Naturally, they make you walk out through a very well-stocked gift shop though at the end of it. So be warned you will have kids moaning and crying that they want assorted expensive Paddington bear toys as you desperately try to ignore them on the way out. And of course you then have to pay for the photos your kids have taken with both Paddington AND Santa, so it can end up expensive with the add-ons, be warned.

I ended up succumbing and paying GBP18 for a souvenir photo and bauble with my kids' photo inside because it was a cute pic with Santa. But I think I got away lightly on the Paddington merchandise by managing to persuade the kids to go for one of the smaller items, a Paddington stamp for GBP3.50. Result!

Dates, times and ticket prices

Kids love meeting Paddington

The Christmas with Paddington Grotto experience is open daily from 4pm on mid-week November dates, and then will be open throughout the days from December 2 until December 24 2022.

Sessions are available to book from 4pm on weekdays until 7.35pm for the rest of November, and on weekends evening times are still available as late as 9.20pm but daytime sessions are looking to already be sold out. Story telling sessions run in the daytime on weekdays from 12noon to 3.30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday until December 2. For further information, ticket booking and updates, visit the Trafford Centre booking page here.

Christmas with Paddington Grotto Ticket Prices : GBP15.00 per child, GBP5.00 per adult. Story Telling Sessions Prices : GBP7.50 per person (adult and children must pay) For more of today's top stories, click here

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