Review: Santa's Grotto @ Rainforest Cafe

This year we headed to Rainforest Café in London for their snowy woodland Christmas grotto to get a glimpse of Santa ahead of the big day. The venue itself is super easy to find – being a few minutes away from both Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus underground stations. If you have some time on your hands its worth checking out the Leicester Square Christmas Market. The top floor boasts a rainforest themed gift shopfilled with toys, teddies, tableware and more (3D hand impressions were also being done on the day too) and a wishing well home to a friendly croc and. The bottom floor is where the restaurant and bar are situated (as well as the toilets). 

The Check in

The check-in experience was chaotic to say the least! Although we were advised to arrive at least 15 minutes early we were told on arrival that the venue was full because of all the walk ins and that we should come back closer to the time (we’d arrived at 1.50 for our 2.15 booking). We chose to just wait it out in the gift shop which was full to the brim with agitated customers due to the overall disorganisation of the staff (people were cutting in line left, right and centre).

I took the opportunity to disappear to the toilet and change my son into his elf get up. This was where the experience was almost ruined for me. I understand that the restaurant were trying to cater to everyone but the sheer volume of people being allowed in was ridiculous! Everyone was packed in like sardines. Either there was a mistake during the pre-booking process and it was overbooked or they’d let too many walk ins in – there was no crowd control in place at all. I almost got into an argument with two women because I was accused of ‘cutting in’ when I was just taking my son to the toilet. I kindly explained that either I take him to the toilet or he p*sses on your head! *shrugs*. The toilets were clean (but they struggled to flush tissue) and the baby changing facilities were so small that it was impossible to cram into the booth and close the door, eliminating any privacy!

By the time we came out it seemed the dust had settled and the crowd had dispersed a bit giving us enough room to shimmy back upstairs without having to bob and weave through the smallest of gaps and to the rest of our party. When we finally made it back downstairs to the restaurant area we were squeezed into a small corner and had to wait about 10 minutes or so before a friendly elf came to collect us. Frankly, I was thankful to get out of that tiny area as the face painter we were stood next to was somewhat rude – urging us to move away when we were doing the best we could to give her enough room to do her job and didn’t even bump into her.

The Grotto

Before we went in we were given a quick questionnaire (including your child’s name, age, when and where they last saw Santa, any yearly achievements, about their pets and, of course, what they want for Christmas. Santa then memorises all of the details to give the experience that much more of a personalised feel. My sons eyes lit up when Santa mentioned his Nanny’s dogs, Sammy and Pongo. I must say that Santa and his Elf helper were amazing with my son – who was in so much shock that he was meeting Santa that he couldn’t even look him in the eye or string together a sentence. The grotto was beautifully decorated and we didn’t feel at all rushed. After four snaps my son was given a rucksack filled with goodies (these turned out to be one of those animal teddies with the big eyes and a Disney storybook collection with a read-along DVD, a certificate signed by a misinformed Santa stating my boy had been good throughout the year and a sticker).

They have a great offer on at the moment – buy two photos, get one free. The package also includes the digital download copies too. All for £20. The images are very clear (I hand an issue with previous grottos I’ve been to where the images look like they were taken on an old Motorola flip phone – you know the one, the RAZR!). The images are usually available to download within 24 hours, mine were on the system within a few hours, and disappear after 30 days. You also have the option of having your photos in a snow globe, bauble, a 3D plastic rectangle frame and other items.

The Meal

This is where the whole Santa experience ends and we were thrown back into the lions den. We were escorted back to the waiting area which had quickly filled up with agitated people waiting to be seated. The queuing system was disorderly and chaotic, even one of the staff members was complaining about another mixing up the order of the seating cards. Rainforest Café if you’re reading this – YOU NEED TO FIND A QUEUEING/WAITING SYSTEM THAT WORKS! In all fairness I think the staff were doing the best that they could given the circumstances, it just wasn’t working. 

After about what seemed like an eternity (although it was probably about 10 minutes) we were seated opposite the large fish tank. My sons meal was included in the ticket price so he had a small orange juice, mac and cheese and jelly with ice cream for dessert. You can find the full menu here. The food was average – I neither loved it or hated it. The scenery was exciting and my boy loved getting up and exploring, pointing out all of the animals on his way. Thunderstorm sounds take place every half an hour or so and paired with the animal animatronics and jungle scenery were a pleasant change from the restaurant norm.

The grotto itself was the best one we’ve visited so far. The magic was in the little details – like slipping in little tit-bits of information to make it seem like Santa was real and had been watching my son. On previous occasions at different grottos we’ve received little cheap gifts (like one thin book that had blatantly been nicked from a multipack) but these ones were ones that seemed worth the money. If you’re not one for crowds like me then I’d recommend going early and during a weekday if you can to avoid them.

The grotto experience was £25 per Infant ticket and £40 per child, including a gift bag. A meal is included in the children’s tickets but not the infant ones. You can book your tickets here. Santa’s enchanting snowy woodland grotto is available every weekend from Saturday 10th November and then every day from the Monday 3rd Dec until 24th December.

20 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 7EU

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