Our 'Press Evening' started with a few numbers from R&B star Hatty Keane, plus up and coming singers Chloe Rose and Amy Turner, as well as Manchester dance troop The Aim Sky High Company. Some people enjoy live music more than others.
At 7pm it was time to go through the immense white curtain and find out exactly what Winter Wonderland was about. Once inside all rides and shows are free, you only pay for food, drink and 'prize' stalls such as Hook-A-Duck. Under 3's are free, but there's still plenty for them to do.
Winter Wonderland uses the whole Event City space and is very big. So big that I didn't even see some of my friends all evening. It is however safe, with 3 sets of 'doorways' before the car park at the clear well-manned exit, and an obvious Lost Children area. Thankfully it was mainly my partner I managed to lose! Phone signal is shocking inside, so take note of what colours everyone is wearing and agree a meeting place should you become separated.
There are so many rides and inflatables that you'd really struggle to go on them all in one session, although we rarely queued more than 5 minutes, and my boys even went on a couple of rides twice before moving on.
As well as the rides and inflatables, there are tons of shows, with a circus show regularly throughout the sessions, as well as a main stage with Basil Brush, Jedi Training and other shows. There is a new Cinderella pantomine and our mates Pip Ahoy! were also there with a beach! And deckchairs for the parents with tired feet...
Great to see Basil Brush on stage - it took me back to many years of watching Bodger and Badger at Glastonbury, but with a lot less mashed potato and mud. The boys also enjoyed the Jedi Training, although my youngest was disappointed not to get picked. We didn't go to the Circus, we simply didn't have time.
There are of course some recognisable characters wandering around the giant hall too, including Ice Princesses, Fairies And Elves, and lots of clearly labelled staff. The map is also really clear and despite it's colossal size, the show is very easy to get around and to get to where you want to be.
Last year Winter Wonderland was winner of the Best Family Day Out at the Raring 2 Go Awards, and it's not hard to see why, with over 50 family rides and attractions all under one roof. This is in effect an indoor Fun Fair with Circus and other shows, and captures the real essence of a seaside pier at Christmas - but safe from the wind and rain! Not safe from my OH, who is practising taking surprise photos.
We didn't spend on any of the games and prize-winning stalls, and our boys had so much else to do that they didn't pester us. If that's your thing though there is every sideshow and stall you can think of, from Hook-A-Duck and Goal-Scoring to Cards and Darts.
Food was Theme Park and Christmas Market fare with burgers, chips, baguettes and noodles among cookies and German sausage, and prices were a fair average for events - around £5-£6 for a big hot dog and drink. Bottles of fizzy pop were a pleasant £1.50. There is a huge Pick And Mix near the entrance which we swiftly directed our youngest past, plus candy floss and other snacks in the circus, and a good-sized seating area towards the back middle of the hall.
There are plenty of toilets, and accessibility all round is very good, with wide aisles and one flat level, although obviously access to rides would be limited unfortunately.
Of course no afternoon at Winter Wonderland would be complete without visiting the big guy in the grotto, yet somehow we didn't. I guess at almost 7 and 8 1/2 my boys were more interested in spinning themselves silly than sitting on Santa's knee, and time ran out...
Putting my nostalgia to one side, this is a gorgeous 'log cabin' grotto, and Santa doesn't have to give your child a present, there's no obligation, but it's only £3.50 (in cash to his elves) if you wish to.
I honestly think my boys clearly had far more than £17.50 worth of fun, and our session was only 3 hours. We left at 10.15pm and they were both still buzzing when we got them into bed at 10.45pm (sorry to their teachers).
The boys couldn't believe they could just go on ride after ride and funhouse and inflatable, and tried as many as we had time for. For them definitely it was wonderland, and the whole evening was full of smiles and grins.
Winter Wonderland will be at Event City, next to the Trafford Centre in Manchester until January 1st 2017. Tickets to a 4 hour session cost £21 per person aged 3+ (OAP's £15.50/Under 3 FREE). A Family Ticket for 4 costs £70. Find out more and book tickets on the Winter Wonderland Manchester Website.
We were given free entry for review.