So Santa visits Braehead…

Posted by Craig on Monday Dec 10, 2012 Under Being a dad, Dear Daughter..., Reviews

It’s that time of year when – as well as far too many adults making drunken trips to the panto (seriously, what is that about?) – Santa comes to many a toy shop and shopping centre and children line up to visit him.

But here’s a hook for you: how about seeing Santa in real snow? (Note, this is quite a long post but the Darling Daughter has a shorter take on the day out in her little blog.)

Xscape in Braehead has taken the usual Santa grotto and added a little twist. As they have the fantastic Snow Factor area with skiing, sledging and snow surfing, why not have the grotto there too? Brilliant. There’s also a bunch of other winter-themed events.

Now the Xscape management and their PR team were very kind to invite us down to spend some time at Xscape before seeing Santa. That’s hardly a hardship as Xscape is one of our favourite places – the crazy golf, laser shooting and climbing area mean you can get a cracking day out at it (if a bit pricey), so off we went but was it a Winter Wonderland or “I’m a Blogger, get me out of here”?


An artist at work…

First stop was a great little play area just outside the restaurants where you can design your own free bobbles for the Xmas tree. Great idea and great placing (gives kids something to do while the parents eat or while waiting for food.) so off went Cuggles and DD to make artistic treasured items for the family tree.

The wife thought it was a bit iffy letting the kids use permanent ink markers, especially as the children are all drawing away with abandon and some nice coats/tops were within inches of scribbles.

I didn’t see the problem – indeed they’re probably essential for good lasting baubles and it’s always nice to have something like this hanging on the tree.

But this was cracking and well done to Xscape for constantly using this part for kids to be amused instead of selling the spot off to a car dealership or something. It works well as they do seasonal stuff in it.

So this was a win and a cracking way to start the day. Off we went for some food at Bar Varia, which is next to the Snow Factor area so away from the main restaurant food court.



Bar Varia – great beer, shame about the food

As you walk up to it, Bar Varia looks the part…

  • nice and spacious seating so not mobbed even when it has a lot of patrons
  • easy to park a pram,
  • nice views onto the fake ski slope (and a part of Santa’s hut)

So we went in and stood at the entrance/front of house part. That was empty so we eventually walk over to the bar and wait for a member of staff, we get seated. Five mins later, the girl comes over with menus and asks what we want to drink, then leaves with the menus. We think she’ll bring them back with the drinks but after waiting 10 mins, gave up waiting and went for menus – just as the girl turned up with the drinks.

This showed  a few flaws:

  • front of house should have been directing people to seats, letting (very stressed looking) service staff get on with service
  • not handing menus in at the start is a bit daft

The biggest flaw though was not having anything for the kids to do except look out the window. Other restaurants like Frankie and Benny’s or Chiquito’s all have little kid play packs with pencils, crayons, games and so on – and these are the restaurants downstairs that are the competition for Bar Varia.

We place our order – as time is tight (we were booked in for noon, Santa was at 1pm) we skip the (gorgeously described) starters and go straight to mains. And we wait.

We’re in about 25 mins before the food comes. When it does, the chicken burgers are lukewarm (to be polite) and the kid’s pizza looks like a defrosted effort from Iceland but having said that, Cuggles munched away and enjoyed it. Also, in fairness the one year old loved the smoked sausage (though, judging by the reaction of the waitress, it was a major effort to swap mash for chips).

This was not the barmaid and that was not my beer

Now, while we thought it a bit bizzare the adults were served before kids (serve the kids first and eating keeps them distracted/quiet) but that was nothing compared to the fact that the eight year old’s dish of fish fingers and beans just didn’t appear.

We waited a bit and the waitress came over and said “Sorry, it’s a new dish, it keeps not going through on the order system” to which the wife pointed out “if they know that happens with it, why wouldn’t they double check when placing the order?”

In fairness, they got food out within about another five minutes or so, but it didn’t help endear the place to us – especially as we’re now at 20 minutes before Santa visit and wolfing food.

In my case I shouldn’t have worried – four bites and the burger was gone. What wasn’t gone was my hunger. The burger (with a wee tub of chips) is not the most filling. It’s OK tasting but nothing special. Wife said her burger was OK but that I was a fat lad for still being hungry.



One thing that was really good was their beer choice – not just local WEST beers but quite a good selection from elsewhere. I had a cracking pint of Red Munich which was very fruity, non gassy and relaxing.

Couldn’t tell you what the desserts were like as we had to scoot quickly to go see Santa, settling the bill (just under £40) on the way – only to get to Santa and be told that there was quite a delay in viewing times.

This showed the last flaw in the setup: you access Santa via the restaurant but there’s nothing – no screen or tannoy system – to say how long you might wait in the queue. So we could have had puffings if we had known there would be a delay.

In fairness to all of the above, we might have just been unlucky but if you do go give yourself plenty of time (and order starters).

To me though, Bar Varia is on to a loser unless it changes a lot of things. The food is very average, there’s little for kids, there’s no pricing incentive for parents to take kids there, service is slow. Compare this to downstairs where there’s a bunch of restaurants better priced with more things for kids to do and in many of them kids eat free at certain times of the day/week.

Bar Varia could be a belter of a place but it needs an overhaul. And someone send the staff some Radox to help them unwind. They were polite to customers but the minute their backs were turned they just looked so stressed out.

Two of the other festive reviews on TripAdvisor hardly sing praises either but Little Mummy thought it was OK.

Anyway, onto the main attraction…

Santa has elves, elves have ewes

While standing in the queue (and yes, do wrap up as it gets cold and wet if you fall on the snow), we had a member of staff come up and ask “Hiv ewes gave us yer ticket?” and they proceeded to do the same up and down the queue. Now, I’m not being a snob here – far from it as my grammer and language can be loose at times – but when you’re in a public facing job (especially a public facing job with children – who will be getting taught how to speak properly by parents and schools) you should not be walking about asking abruptly “hiv ah taken yur tickut?”.

The queue was a bit annoying – especially as it was minus 4 degrees – but I could live with it. And we could take some pics of the kids while waiting and have a fake snowball fight…









It was a bit of a wait but then learned the reason why things were running a bit slowly – Santa was magic with kids.

Great Santa

The £15 you pay per head is going to be judged on one thing: how good is Santa. On that point, no hesitations. He was great. He was happy to hold kids, sit with kids, talk and spend some time getting them to relax and calm down. One of the best appearances I’ve seen by Santa in all my years of visiting him at many places. You tell me where this Santa will be doing his Grotto next year and I’m there.

The open box on the left hand side? That’s Santa’s sack…


But I would tell him to bring a sack instead of giving kids presents out of a plain cardboard box. It’s a shame to go the expense of getting so much right and losing a bit of magic with handing out pressies from a plain box.






There are flashers less exposed than this…



For an extra £5 we were able to get a picture with Santa. In fairness to those who think paying £15 a child is plenty – you can take your own pics.

Now I’ve already mentioned that the snow setting was authentic and this carried through to the picture – have you ever seen a more over-exposed shot? It’s like it was shot at noon in the Alps.





On the upside, the kids do get a wee sledge ride (nice idea that because if the kids like it, they’ll come back to the snow area. )

A few more flaws in the whole process here:

  • no-one seemed really sure how to get the best out the camera
  • when getting the picture processed no one seemed to know how to get the pics to print – causing a lengthy queue – until a customer pointed out that they might need to drag pictures off the memory card and onto the actual PC
  • and no option to have a digital copy of the picture sent to you – something that the SkyPark Climbzone part of Xscape lets you do

But the main thing is the kids enjoyed it. If you’re taking a few children or only have very young children, it might not be worth it though.

Soft play but hard on your wallet

Post-Santa, it was time to scoot over to Gambado, the soft-play area. The wife has been here before and thought it wasn’t up to much – especially as they charge adults for entry as well as children. I have to risk being made to sleep on the blogger couch and saying that she’s wrong – yes, charging adults is taking the mickey but it’s a cracking venue and your kids could play for hours in here – different areas for different ages, climbing walls, racing cards, free wifi. Fantastic place. We lost hours in it and could happily have stayed for longer.

One thing that was surprising though – especially as it’s not the cheapest compared to the likes of the brilliant Adventure Planet – is that the play areas are all unsupervised. There’s no staff sitting/standing at the entrances to all the small play areas (so kids can sneak out) and the big slides. It also means that kids of an inappropriate age can run amok in the toddlers unless some parents intervene.

That niggle aside though, cracking place. Just don’t try to leave in a hurry as their exit system is totally absurd and you’ll see M8 style tailbacks (right next to escalators too so hold on to your kids) if there’s only one member of staff on the gate.

Good way to get into the festive spirit…

Restaurant and a few niggles aside, the kids had a great day and if the kids are happy, we’re happy. Cuggles wanted to go and see Santa again – always a good sign. We’ll be back at Braehead at least a dozen times over the coming months as the kids enjoy everything that’s there – we just know to stick to the downstair restaurants. If you’re looking for a Santa, this one is well worth the visit but if your wee one is under two it might not be best value for money as it can be a pricey day out.

(Disclaimer: the whole trip except for the Santa pic were freebies kindly provided by Xscape Braehead and their Glasgow PR firm SMARTS Scotland, so thank you kindly. No children or Dads were harmed in the making of this review, though I may have a bruised ego from being hit with a fake snowball.)

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