The big Christmas shopping spree

Retailers across Britain are already putting their plans in place for this year’s Christmas festivities, often trying to ‘top’ last year’s events with bigger Christmas trees, more lights and even more extravagant displays. Brenda Watkinson takes a sneak preview at some of their plans for 2011.

The decorated entrance to John Lewis at The Trafford Centre.

The decorated entrance to John Lewis at The Trafford Centre.


SHOPPING MALLS

With a wide range of stores under one roof, a shopping mall makes an excellent group destination. Not only can your members ‘shop till they drop’, but prior to Christmas, the addition of festive activities also add to the enjoyment.
Just south of Manchester on the M60, The Trafford Centre’s major stores include Selfridges, an extended Debenhams, an enlarged Marks & Spencer and John Lewis. This year, festivities begin on 27th October with the big Christmas Switch On, closely followed by the arrival of Father Christmas’ reindeer sleigh and the opening of the Palace Grotto on 11th November. Pre-booked groups benefit from a meet and greet service, discount voucher booklets, and a meal and cinema voucher for the organiser.

The arrival of Santa at thecentre:mk.

The arrival of Santa at thecentre:mk.

At the centre:mk in Milton Keynes, groups can take their pick from 240 stores with big names such as John Lewis and Debenhams. The mall’s festive celebrations kick off on 18th November with an opening parade, which snakes down the shopping centre from Marks & Spencer to Middleton Hall, with Santa in his sleigh and local school children singing carols. There will also be an ice rink and the much anticipated Christmas light switch on. The centre:mk is easily accessible from major routes such as the A5 and M1 and a free designated coach park is available. On request and by prior arrangement only, groups can be met on arrival and given a short introduction as well as a map of the centre.

In the south of the country, Bluewater will be starting its festive season on 18th November with its Christmas light switch on. As well as over 330 UK and international fashion and lifestyle brands, 50 bars and restaurants and plenty of complimentary parking for coaches, there is also a free Santa’s grotto. Major stores include John Lewis, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer.

The Mall at Cribbs Causeway will have the region’s largest skating rink.

The Mall at Cribbs Causeway will have the region’s largest skating rink.

Located in the north of Bristol at Junction 17 of the M5, The Mall at Cribbs Causeway has everything you need to make the festive season special. With 135 stores including Next, Pandora, Molton Brown, Paperchase and Apple, the Mall is laid out over two floors. Opening for its eighth season in November, The Mall’s Winter Wonderland will feature the region’s largest ice skating rink, Santa’s magical castle and traditional Christmas market stalls. In December, The Mall is open until 10pm every weekday evening so groups can combine their Christmas shopping with skating and a bite to eat at one of the cafés and restaurants. There is a free designated coach park.


DESIGNER OUTLETS AND MILL STORES

Away from traditional shopping malls, the concept of the designer outlet and mill store is proving highly successful. Selling goods at a fraction of their recommended retail price, these outlets are extremely popular with groups shopping for their favourite brands at bargain prices.

An Alpine wonderland will take centre stage at Lowry Outlet Mall.

An Alpine wonderland will take centre stage at Lowry Outlet Mall.

Situated on the waterfront at Salford Quays, the Lowry Outlet Mall offers discount shopping with up to 60% off recommended retail prices all year round. The mall features over 80 stores including Marks & Spencer, Molton Brown, Whittard of Chelsea, Windsmoor, Whistles, Austin Reed, Gap Outlet and latest additions, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Ponden Home, together with numerous cafes and restaurants. Groups visiting at Christmas-time will think they have stepped into an Alpine wonderland with its 40-foot Christmas tree, Santa’s grotto and Bjorn the Polar Bear, a life-sized, fully animated bear who arrives on his very own iceberg. Christmas craft fairs will also be held here from 9th to 11th and 16th to 18th December. Throughout the year, the Lowry Outlet Mall offers special group days that combine a tea dance with a classic film and a buffet lunch. On 14th December, the scheduled film is ‘A Christmas Carol’, which can be combined with some gift shopping. There is a 20% discount for booking more than two weeks in advance. As well as free secure coach parking, GTOs receive a gift card and each group member is presented with a discount voucher booklet.

Festive wares at Broadstone Mill Shopping Outlet.

Festive wares at Broadstone Mill Shopping Outlet.

Located just off the M60 in the Houldsworth Village area of Reddish in Stockport, Broadstone Mill Shopping Outlet is hidden behind the beautiful red brick walls of this 19th century textile mill. Open seven days a week, shopping is all on one floor and there is plenty of free parking too. Inside, there are many big-name labels for women including Klass, Roman Originals, Femme, Bassini and Tigi Wear covering everything from casual wear to evening attire, all with up to 70% off normal high street prices. The footwear and accessories department sells shoes, handbags and jewellery, while the homeware department features bed linen, towels, soft furnishings and accessories including curtains, cushions, throws and bedding. The Christmas Shop opens in mid-October with a wide range of inspired gifts, as well as decorations and ornaments for the home, while Massarella Coffee Shop offers a festive menu prior to Christmas. For pre-booked groups of 12 or more, GTOs benefit from a £10 gift voucher to spend in-store, while all passengers receive an additional 10% off purchases and a free tea or coffee at Massarella Coffee Shop. Late night shopping starts on 10th November with the store open until 7pm every Thursday.

Ice skating at York Designer Outlet, managed by McArthurGlen.

Ice skating at York Designer Outlet, managed by McArthurGlen.

Elsewhere in the UK, McArthurGlen operates seven designer outlets at Cheshire Oaks, Ashford, Bridgend, East Midlands, Livingston, Swindon and York, all offering a range of designer and high street fashion, beauty and homewares at up to 60 per cent less. Festive events this year include the Christmas tree light switch on at Cheshire Oaks Outlet on Friday 11th November, the arrival of Father Christmas at the Christmas light switch on at Ashford Designer Outlet on Thursday 17th November and a Winter Festival with ice rink from 25th November to 8th January at York Designer Outlet. McArthurGlen offers groups an exclusive 10% discount card for each passenger, entitling them to further discounts in selected stores on the day of their visit.

Festive lights at Dalton Park.

Festive lights at Dalton Park.

Meanwhile, in the north east of England, Dalton Park is home to over 60 brands offering goods at up to 50% off normal high street prices. Stores here include Marks & Spencer, Next Clearance, Radley and Chapelle. On 12th November, the brand new lights will be switched on followed by a firework display in the surrounding parkland. As well as a programme of festive events, visitors can enjoy late night openings during December. Pre-booked groups benefit from a welcome service complete with free tea and coffee, exclusive offers and extra discounts at selected retailers, along with free coach parking and a dedicated drop off point.


CITY AND TOWN CENTRES

Across the country, you will also find numerous cities and town centres gearing up for this year’s Christmas celebrations.

London really comes to life at this time of the year and shortly dates will be released for the switch-on of Christmas lights across the city. Traditionally Oxford Street and Regent Street are the first to light up followed by Bond Street and Carnaby Street. Christmas in Covent Garden is a magical event too with launch night seeing musical performances as well as the unveiling of the massive Covent Garden Christmas tree. Every year, Marylebone Village also hosts a Christmas Light event to switch on its festive decorations. For keen shoppers, Harrods has already opened its Christmas World, housing over 8,000 square feet of merchandise. There are a number of coach bays, coach parks and on-street coach metres across the city.

Santa and his helpers at the Galleries in Bristol

Santa and his helpers at the Galleries in Bristol

Moving to the west country, Bristol boasts a vast Christmas shopping experience with nearly 500 stores across the city. At the Galleries, home to over 100 stores such as Boots, WHSmith and TK Maxx, a Peter Pan-themed Santa’s Grotto from 12th November until 24th December will complement Bristol Hippodrome’s production of Peter Pan starring David Hasselhoff as Captain Hook. Also in the city, from 11th November there will be a skating rink and new Christmas lights at Cabot Circus, which has 120 stores including a flagship Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser. There is free coach parking available during December for groups visiting the city centre.

Over in Wales, Cardiff offers designer brands, high street names and independent shops, all within easy walking distance of one another. This year, the city’s Christmas Lights Switch On will take place on 10th November with live entertainment and a fireworks spectacular. The popular Winter Wonderland will also return between 17th November and 2nd January, featuring the Admiral Open Air Ice Rink, Ice Café Bar and John Lewis Wheel, adding an extra element to the shopping experience. There are coach set-down and pick-up points near most city centre attractions with longerterm parking available close to the centre. On-street coach parking bays are located at various sites throughout the city.

The Waterfront Winterland at Swansea Bay.

The Waterfront Winterland at Swansea Bay.

Close by, Swansea Bay will be transformed into a Waterfront Winterland between 18th November and 8th January, offering an ideal festive break opportunity for groups. Set in the heart of the city centre, your members can take some time to shop in the Quadrant shopping centre or sample the seasonal food and drink on offer at the Christmas markets. There will also be ice rinks, a festive funfair and plenty of other seasonal entertainment to keep your spirits high.


CHRISTMAS FAIRS

Selling an eclectic mix of gifts and festive decorations, Christmas craft fairs are usually held in a purpose-built exhibition hall ensuring a weather-proof outing for your group.

In the heart of the country, at The NEC in Birmingham, the Festive Gift Fair will take place from 17th to 20th November. With over 300 booths selling unusual and affordable gifts, visitors will be able to browse for Christmas presents while soaking up the festive atmosphere, enhanced with carol singers and live bands. Gift ideas include jewellery, handbags, glassware, books and candles with plenty of Christmas decorations on offer too to brighten up your home. New stallholders this year include the Natural Body Company, the Happy Puzzle Company, the Gourmet Chocolate Pizza Company and the Punch Brew Company. Coaches can drop off passengers at the show entrance before parking and discounts on tickets are available for groups. GTOs can book tickets directly with the organisers and pay no booking fee, and you do not need to confirm your actual numbers or pay for tickets until November, with free posters and leaflets also available to promote the event to your memers.

Shopping for Christmas greetings cards at the Festive Gift Fair.

Shopping for Christmas greetings cards at the Festive Gift Fair.

Also held at The NEC in Birmingham, Crafts for Christmas, Hobbycrafts and Art Materials Live will take place from 3rd to 6th November. Crafts for Christmas offers a huge selection of fine handmade crafts with over 200 craftspeople at the show including the British Toymakers Guild with beautiful handcrafted dolls and many other traditional toys. The Prima Magazine Craft Theatre will stage daily demonstrations where you can learn how to personalise Christmas cards and tree decorations, while the festive food and drink aisle will offer a great selection of goodies including handmade chocolates, marmalades, cheeses and wines. Hobbycrafts is the UK’s largest creative crafts show and with over 200 exhibitors, daily stand demonstrations and mini workshops, your group will find plenty of inspiration for their creative craft projects. Arts Materials Live, meanwhile, features the very latest in art supplies and ideas as well as free demonstrations and pre-bookable hands-on workshops.

Meanwhile, in Oxfordshire, Living Crafts for Christmas will take place from 18th to 20th November at Blenheim Palace. Featuring around 100 British craftspeople, your group will have no problem finding all their Christmas gifts from the array of jewellery, ceramics, fashion, toys, soaps, candles and paintings on sale here. Admission also includes entrance to the palace grounds and gardens or, for an additional fee, tours of the palace can be arranged. Discounts apply to groups of 15 or more.

The annual German market will return to Manchester this Christmas

The annual German market will return to Manchester this Christmas


CHRISTMAS MARKETS

With the aroma of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts in the air, a visit to a Christmas market is the perfect way to start the festive season.

Manchester’s famous Christmas Markets will return to the city from 17th November to 21st December, offering gifts and crafts from Europe and the UK as well as festive food and drink. The original German market from Frankfurt can be found in St Ann’s Square while King Street is home to the French market.

In the east of England, Lincoln’s Christmas Market has developed dramatically since its beginnings as the UK’s first German-style traditional market with just 11 stalls. Visitors to the market this year will be able to browse over 250 stalls within the medieval square and surrounding area, between 1st and 4th December. Coaches must book in advance and there is a new online system this year.

The annual German market will return to Manchester this Christmas

The annual German market will return to Manchester this Christmas

Moving to Birmingham, the Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German market outside Germany and Austria, and continues to celebrate the city’s link with Frankfurt as one of its twinned cities. Now in its 11th year, the market stretches across Victoria Square, Chamberlain Square and New Street, with over 180 stalls packed with handcrafted gifts and traditional festive treats including mulled wine, beers, sausages, sweets, breads and pastries. Dates for this year’s celebration are 18th November to 23rd December. Further details are listed at the end of this feature in the FOCUS ON.

In London, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland will be open from 19th November to 3rd January. As well as featuring London’s biggest outdoor ice rink, a giant observation wheel, Zippos Christmas Circus and The Winter Cirque, Angel’s Christmas Market will present more that 100 stalls selling handicrafts and gifts from around the world together with gourmet food.

Bath Christmas Market.

Bath Christmas Market.

Located in Bath’s historic centre, next to Bath Abbey and the worldfamous Roman Baths, Bath Christmas Market will run from 24th November to 11th December. With over 120 traditional wooden chalets, this year will see the addition of new stalls selling locally-made chilli products, T-shirts designed by local artists, children’s puzzles, sweets and handmade toiletries alongside traditional Christmas crafts such as decorations and woodcrafts.

Nearby, Bristol’s Christmas Markets will run from 10th November to 22nd December. Located in Broadmead East and Merchant Street South, the traditional wooden chalets will sell lots of handmade crafts, gifts and festive German food and drink, as well as a selection of locally-sourced products.

Bristol’s German market.

Bristol’s German market.

Located beneath the imposing castle, Edinburgh’s German Market will take place between 24th November and 24th December, offering lots of Christmas gifts from hand-blown baubles to colourful wooden toys. Don’t miss the market’s delicious food and mulled wine served in ceramic mugs. Visitors can also enjoy the city’s big wheel with panoramic views across the capital or the outdoor ice rink in Princes Street Gardens, open from 24th November to 4th January.


VICTORIAN CHRISTMAS FESTIVALS

As well as markets and fairs selling festive goods, there are a number of Christmas festivals and fayres based around the Victorian era. These are usually held over a weekend and include plenty of entertainment such as bands, carol singers and a host of colourful costumed characters.

Groups can step back in time at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Victorian Festival, taking place from 25th to 27th November. Here, they will be transported into a Dickensian-style bygone era of snowy white streets with seasonal carols and festive fayre, complete with a visit from Father Christmas. The atmosphere of the dockyard will be further enhanced by characters including a town crier, suffragettes, chimney sweeps, flower sellers, strumpets and cheeky scamps. The undercover Christmas Market offers lots of gift ideas and also showcases local food and drink. Tickets to the Festival of Christmas include entry to HMS Warrior 1860, HMS Victory, the Mary Rose Museum, National Museum of the Royal Navy, Action Stations and a boat tour round Portsmouth Harbour. Groups of 15 or more benefit from a 15% discount.

Crafts for sale at the Worcester Victorian Christmas Fayre.

Crafts for sale at the Worcester Victorian Christmas Fayre.

Now in its 19th year, the Worcester Victorian Christmas Fayre will take place from 1st to 4th December. This popular event offers hundreds of stalls selling all manner of festive products and gifts, from jewellery and Christmas decorations to traditional roast chestnuts and warming mulled wine. There will also be entertainment in the form of choir and instrumental performances, dance displays and juggling stilt walkers, and an opportunity to step aboard the Victorian carousel and be whirled around to the strains of barrel organ music. For those planning to travel to the fayre by coach or minibus, a 10% discount on parking can be secured for any new booking made by 30th September quoting the offer code CFGT011. It is also worth noting that all coach and minibus parties must pre-book their parking arrangements by 28th October.

In the north of England, Durham’s Victorian Christmas Festival, set in and around the World Heritage Site of the city’s cathedral and castle, is scheduled for 2nd to 4th December, when visitors will be able to browse over 200 stalls as they prepare for Christmas. In addition, the craft and gift marquee on Palace Green will present over 160 stalls across all three days. In the cathedral cloisters, a local food producers market will take place on the Friday and Saturday, while in the cathedral, Carols for All is confirmed for both the Saturday and Sunday. Other entertainment includes a live nativity tableau, sleigh rides, cookery demonstrations and tours of the castle and World Heritage Site.

Each year, the first weekend of December brings Victorian festivities to Rochester in the form of the Dickensian Christmas Festival, where you can enjoy parades, street entertainment, readings, song and dance. The festival has been held annually since 1988 and, last year, the Dickens Christmas Market at Rochester Castle was launched to coincide with the event. Set in the castle grounds overlooking the River Medway, it is open for business between 30th November and 18th December, although the market is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The traditional German-style huts will be laden with a range of Christmas gifts, hand-crafted goods and festive fayre, with bands and carol singers on hand to entertain visitors. Coach parking in Rochester is free of charge, however must be pre-booked.


SIMPLY THE BEST

With over 30 locations across the UK, Edinburgh Woollen Mill’s Simply the Best stores offer a pleasurable Christmas shopping experience for groups. From Inverness to Cornwall, Simply the Best sites are found in some of the most picturesque locations, often in historic buildings and some even have an added visitor attraction element, from animals to craft demonstrations and exhibitions. Groups are welcome and there is always plenty of parking.

Each store offers an excellent retail mix with quality fashions (including luxury cashmere and woollen goods) as well as traditional Scottish goods such as shortbread, tartan and whisky. In fact, most of your Christmas shopping can be done in just one store. Nineteen sites (13 in Scotland and 6 in England) also have devoted Whisky & Beer Shops with a large selection of single malts and blended whiskies as well as beers and real ales. Plus these stores offer another great benefit, the opportunity to book in groups for a free tasting experience, which must be the perfect way to add a little ‘festive spirit’ to the visit. The stores are also well known for their selection of Christmas hampers, which offer good value for money. Visitors can choose one of a range of hampers or even create their own. There will be lots of excitement in the run-up to Christmas this year with the arrival of Santa, complete with real reindeer, at Alexandria Shopping Village near Loch Lomond and Mackinnon Mills at Coatbridge on 5th November, and Moffat Mill in Dumfrieshire on 19th November. Indeed, throughout November and December most stores will have grottoes.

If your members need a break from shopping, there are also refreshments available in every store, ranging from Costa Coffee shops to re-charge the batteries to restaurants serving a festive menu with full traditional Christmas dinners from 1st November.

Some stores offer additional services to groups too. For instance, the Edinburgh Woollen Mill at Trentham Shopping Village, just five minutes from Junction 5 of the M6, has organised instore fashion shows for groups like the Women’s Institute.

Simply the Best are happy to assist GTOs when planning itineraries.


FOCUS ON – FRANKFURT CHRISTMAS MARKET

Frankfurt Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market

For those groups travelling to Germany over the festive period, why not consider a trip to the Frankfurt Christmas Market, to be held from 23rd November to 22nd December. It will feature traditional arts and crafts, a range of culinary specialities, a honey shop plus everything else you would expect from a European Christmas market. Stretching from the Liebfrauenberg across St. Paul’s Square and the Romerberg Old Town to the banks of the River Main, among the array of traditional goods will be Christmas ornaments, local pottery and stoneware products.

Your group will undoubtedly find the setting of the market magical with its lavishly decorated fir tree, thousands of fairy lights and snow covered streets, all with a backdrop of the old town hall, half timbered houses, St. Paul’s Church and the modern Frankfurt skyline. The history of the market dates back as far as 1393 and it still sells many ancient specialities. Don’t miss the ‘gingerbread’, a delicious almond and marzipan biscuit, which is sure to be a hit with your group. To get in the festive spirit, Frankfurt apple wine is served piping hot at most of the market’s food and beverage stalls and can be enjoyed with two more local specialities – smoked sausages and bratwurst. A variety of musical events will also be staged during this period including international Christmas carols every Saturday and Sunday.

To find out more about the history of Frankfurt’s Christmas Market, a guided tour can be arranged entitled ‘Stories, Sweets and Savouries. Enjoy the Frankfurt Christmas Market with all your senses’. Available seven days a week, the tour is full of interesting tales and anecdotes and also includes some sampling of the Frankfurt specialities. Tours can be booked via the Frankfurt tourist board.