Where can you find the best Santa’s grotto?

Santa at the St James Centre
Santa at the St James Centre
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THE telltale signs are
everywhere. There’s a faint tinkle of reindeer bells on the wind, a ho-ho-ho in the air, and a glimpse of red trouser and hessian sacking around every corner.

Yes, it’s Christmas, and Santa Claus has already come to town.

Santa at the Gyle

Santa at the Gyle

If ever there was an exercise in parental stress it’s the
annual trip to a tinsel-
festooned grotto – until that is you see the faces you love light up with the true meaning of Christmas: a plastic toy from a man in a worn Santa suit.

Well, that’s the miserly attitude of course – one which has been taken even further by that bastion of Edinburgh festive traditions, Jenners, which this year has abandoned the whole thing altogether.

However, grottos have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, including live reindeer at Dobbies Garden Centres, giving children and parents a real memento of Christmas magic. Or so they say.

To put that to the test, we sent two intrepid families to some of the most popular grottos and mark them out of five to let you know if they’re naughty or nice.

Santa at Cameron Toll

Santa at Cameron Toll

Christina Macmillan, 32, from Slateford, took her daughters, Imogen, aged five, and four-month-old Phoebe to Ocean Terminal, the St James Centre and Cameron Toll, while Bernadette Wright from Uphall took her two boys,
Fraser, aged six, and Euan, eight, to grottos at the Gyle shopping centre and Gorgie City Farm.

St James Centre

WE were able to book, but we almost missed it altogether. We were expecting a stand-alone grotto, but instead it was inside a shop so we actually went past it before realising our mistake – and only then because an elf came out.

Once inside there was a kind of reception area for people to wait and two elves – one male, one female. They were great, very chatty and enthusiastic and kept asking Imogen all sorts of questions, such as her age, and what she’d really like from Santa. As the elf leads you through an archway to meet Santa it gets quite dark and it’s like being in maze, so it might be a bit scary for the very young.

Santa at Ocean Terminal

Santa at Ocean Terminal

Phoebe slept through the whole thing! Imogen was a bit worried because it was so dark.

Santa said: “Imogen, I have not seen you for a year, look how much you’ve grown!” It was very impressive.

She was given a present, a soft toy leopard, and then the girl elf took a photo of her with Santa.

Fee: £4.50.

Gorgie Farm

NOT being in a shopping centre was, we were hoping, going to give this visit to Santa Claus a really different feel.

It’s all a bit closer to the nativity, with all the animals, so we were hoping for Santa in a stable.

However, he was in a corner of the farm’s cafe.

It was pretty quiet, and the boys definitely didn’t feel it was as good as the Gyle and overall it was a little disappointing.

The boys were given colouring books and crayons as their gift, which were quite good quality, but the Santa was maybe having a bit of an off-day as, although he was polite, the boys didn’t think he was up to scratch. Must be hard, though, having to be jolly all the time.

Fee: £3.

The Gyle

THE grotto is right in the middle of the centre, beside the lift – so you can’t miss Santa.

I’ve taken the boys to grottos in the past and, to be honest, they are always a lot of fun.

Even as they’ve got older they still really enjoy the experience and, at a £3 donation to charity, I thought this was pretty cheap as I’ve paid up to £5 a head in the past.

There was a bit of a queue when we arrived but it wasn’t too bad.

It’s a proper little Santa’s cave, and the boys went in to talk to the man himself. Euan thought that Santa was very interested in them, asking them lots of questions.

He seemed quite pleased with him, which is saying something.

Santa was really good, though, he very much looked the part and was very jolly.

It felt like he spent quite a bit of time with them. They both got a hand-held electronic game which Fraser was delighted with; Euan less so.

Overall, it was a really nice experience.

Cameron Toll

IT was 11am when we got there, which is when the grotto opens, so there was a bit of a queue.

It wasn’t really a grotto either, just a Christmassy area where there was a throne for Santa to sit on.

It would be quite a good one for young children – much less daunting than others and so more approachable.

Imogen got a packet of jelly sweets, and the Santa was good, very friendly, asking all the usual questions. The only thing was that, given as it was a free grotto, I would have thought there would be a charity box for donations.

You do expect to pay for something which is a nice experience, so that would have been good.

Imogen was sure that this wasn’t the real Santa, but one of his helpers.

Ocean Terminal

WE got there towards the end of the day and there was no queue – though there was a small one when we came out.

This is a more traditional grotto in that it was a large cone-shaped Christmas tree with a hollow in the bottom, which was the grotto.

There were no elves here, just Santa on his own, but the decorations around the tree and inside were lovely. It felt quite magical.

He was on a chair, surrounded by sacks of presents, and Imogen thought he was a very realistic Santa, and I thought he was the best we saw – he was older and did seem to be a jolly person, though Imogen said his beard felt like a wig, so she wasn’t sure it was real.

He asked her what she would like for Christmas and promised he would try and do his best. He gave her a selection box, and she was very happy when she came out. It was a really nice experience. Fee: £3.