Advantages Everything in one place. Caters for all budgets and tastes.
Disadvantages You can spend the whole day there.....
|Is it worth visiting?|
No doubt about it, I love to shop and whilst Oxford Street is brilliant with its range of shops it's also very crowded, you need to get the Underground there which can be a bit hit or miss at the best of times, and if its raining shuffling along Oxford Street against the tidal flow of tourists with massive rucksacks just isn't my idea of a Great Day Out.I was never brave enough to drive to Bluewater in my old Amazing Vibrating Micra. It rattled at 30mph and got a right old shake on at 60mph so much so that I had a fear that the door / exhaust / bumpers might fall off en route (although I always arrived at my destination with a smile on my face). Added to the fact it was so darn noisy you had to shout at your passenger it was never going to be an option. After buying myself a new shiny car I booked the day off work and drove myself and my Mum down to Bluewater as part of her Birthday treat. Trust me, for her a confined space, over 300 shops and a credit card is a treat. Just to prove how much she loves to shop we got there at 10am and left at 8pm, even I, a seasoned shopper, was losing the will to live after a while!
Located in Greenhithe Bluewater is a large indoor shopping complex containing the majority of the Big Named stores as well as a few one-off weird and wonderful places. It contains restaurants, a cinema, 3 large department stores, houseware stores and numerous fashion stores.
~ What is Bluewater? ~
Bluewater opened in 1999 and was built in a disused quarry. The build took three years to build at a cost of £300m and covers 240 acres of land and attracts over 27m visitors a year.The shops are split over two levels and the layout is triangular so it is very easy to find your way around. Each part of the triangle has a different name and purpose - Guildhall is for your stores such as Jaeger, Habitat and The Pier, the Rose Gallery has more family orientated shops , toy shops and so on and finally Thames Walk contains the shops you would expect to find down Oxford Street such as Zarah, River Island, HMV and so on. Outside the Thames Walk area is the Water Gardens - a large area with a huge water fountain, in the summer you can sit outside and catch a breather before hitting the shops again.
Bluewater is laid out in what I would call a soft triangle shape and every so often there will be a large gap between shops and in this gap you can find essentials such as toilets, baby changing facilities, cashpoints and lifts.
~ How to get there ~1) By Car
You can visit the Bluewater website and type in your starting address and it'll give you directions although be warned, they are seriously confusing and tend to take you the long way round.2) By Bus
3) By Train
There is a 15 minute service arrange by Connex rail from Central London or the Medway Towns. You need to catch the train marked "Greenhithe for Bluewater". Greenhithe Station has stairs and may not be suitable to people who have difficulty walking or wheelchair users. Once at Greenhithe you need to catch the Number 100 Shuttle Bus, this will take you around 5 minutes and runs every 15. Make sure that when you buy your train ticket you specify Greenhithe for Bluewater as this will then include your shuttle bus fare.
Monday - Friday = 10am - 9pm
~ Opening Times ~
Although in the run-up to Christmas the opening hours are extended - the website currently has the following extended opening hours:-Monday - Friday = 10am - 10pm
Please be aware that Bluewater is closed on Christmas Day but open on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New years Eve and New Years Day although opening hours are reduced slightly.If you need to call Bluewater for further information, their number is 0870 777 0252.
There is 13,000 parking spaces and these are free of charge. Bays are fairly wide so you shouldn't experience any difficulties getting in to them and there are a number of parking bays designated for those with a disabled badge. These spaces are located near the store entrances so you don't have far to travel to get to the shops.
~ Parking ~
I do suggest that in the run-up to Christmas and other big events (when loads of people appear and panic buy), aim to get to Bluewater shortly before it opens so you can secure a parking space.
Depending on where you have parked you can gain access to the Bluewater Complex either through the store you have parked outside or through the entrance doors.
Each area of parking is coded (eg Level 2, red, oak leaf) so you should be able to find your car after your shopathon although I do tend to jot down where I've left my car as I am in the habit of galloping around the car park in a panicky fashion thinking my car has been stolen before I realise I was parked on a different level…. I used to joke that I should tie a big, bright red balloon to my car aerial as its mission impossible to find a silver car in a sea of silver cars.Security isn't a problem, I have never heard of anyone having anything stolen from their car but of course there is always a first time for everything so use common sense, detach that CD player and take it with you, hide any change laying around and lock anything 'tempting' in the boot. But you knew all that anyway.
Dotted around the car park are big silver rockets - these either have adverts stuck on them or are canned drinks machines. For some reason children are absolutely fascinated by these and there's always a child or two running round the things in a slightly hysterical giggly manner.
Bluewater is very wheelchair friendly and if you have someone with you who doesn't have a wheelchair but can only walk for short distances, you can hire wheelchairs from the ShopMobility area. A manual chair is £5 and an electric is £8, however, if you are a seasoned shopper it is worth paying £15 annual membership fee for free manual chair hire for each visit or for an extra £2 per visit, an upgrade to an electric one.
You will not go hungry in Bluewater. There is a designated Food Mall on the ground floor, however, throughout your walk round you will see Starbucks, Mc Donalds, Burger King, Pret a Manger, Krispy Kreme Donuts** where you can sit down and eat or Millies Cookies, Ben and Jerry's, Thornton's, Godiva, Mr Pretzel and several little newsagents / sweet shops where you can buy a drink and some goodies. You can eat when walking round in Bluewater but you cannot smoke, if you do try and chance a cigarette if you are seen (and you will be) you'll be approached and asked to either extinguish your cigarette or finish it outside.** Incase you were wondering about the double star, this is something that me and a friend discovered by accident on a recent visit. Krispy Kreme make their donuts at this store, you can actually see them being made through the huge windows providing they aren't too steamed up from children breathing excitedly on the glass. Me and my friend fancied a donut and cappuccino so we joined the massive (but quick moving) queue. Suddenly we had a KK employee hand us one Original Glazed donut - free of charge. Apparently at certain and I think random times each day a small red light will go on somewhere out the front of the store and this means "We've just made a batch of donuts, step this way for your freebie". You don't even have to be wanting to buy something there to get your free donut. A word of warning though, although the donut is on a napkin it is ^&*(%$£ hot and you will be juggling with it until you get served.
The main food area is on the ground floor and has Amoy, Ed's Easy Diner, Nandos - a few other places I cannot remember the names of - and my absolute favourite - Tootsies. Tootsies is an 'American' diner famous for their burgers, each burger is handmade, not pre-packed yuck, each burger bun contains huge slices of tomato and loads of lettuce and comes with fries and a chrome stand containing ketchup, sweetcorn relish and a gherkin relish. Prices are higher than you'd see in McD's or Burger King and waiting time is around 15minutes from placing your order if they are very busy but the food is well worth it. You even get asked how you'd like your burger cooked - rare, medium rare and so on which makes a nice change. All the burgers have been flame grilled and they are all deliciously juicy. I think I paid about £4 for a regular 'Tootsies Classic' burger which believe me is seriously filling!
Oh where shall I start. As I mentioned earlier Bluewater is laid out in a 'soft' triangle and it each 'point' is a major store, we have Marks and Spencers (and they have some really nice things in this store), John Lewis and House of Fraser. Both John Lewis and House of Fraser are very large department stores and contain concessions meaning that they stock other stores items - e.g. Oasis, Ted Baker, Diesel, Warehouse, Coast, etc.I'm not going to list every single store as you can easily find that information out for yourself by visiting Bluewater's website but suffice to say whatever your budget you will find a shop to suit. Clothes shops start from what I would call the budget end which is New Look, Bay Trading, Top Shop and Miss Selfridge (how ancient do I feel when I go in there?!) to the more pricey stores such as Karen Millen, Choice Designerwear, Hobbs, French Connection and Jigsaw to name but a few. Don't worry guys, there are plenty of shops for you to spend your hard earned cash in too - Gap, Ted Baker and Diesel to name but three. You also have the Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse and O2 mobile phone stores although for some mad reason these stores seem to have 10 customers to every single member of staff and I never have the patience to wait around to be served aswell as HMV and Virgin Megastores and several electrical retailers. At the last count there were 26 shoe shops (yes, that's right girls - 26!!) and the largest number of jewellers I have ever seen in one place - again, ranging from H. Samuels to the gorgeous but remortgage-your-home-and-sell-the-kids SWAG.
Bluewater also contains the Apple store where you can purchase every conceivable gadget for your iPod and every conceivable gadget that I wouldn't have a clue what they are and what you do with them. A word of warning though, this store is jam packed, you cannot walk instead you drift along in a tidal flow of people. The cash tills are at the rear of the store and can be quite slow moving as whatever you purchase if you pay by credit card you will be asked your post code (maybe this is to prevent card fraud?).Other big named stores include Elle, The Pier, Habitat, Laura Ashley, The Bear Factory, L'Occitane, Whittard and The White Company aswell as the infamous LakeLand Limited - stockists of handy homewares, card making tools, sweets, goodies and cleaning products, Lush plus a very large Waterstones and WH Smith who sometimes have the odd celebrity holed up doing book signings.
Bluewater also has a large Showcase Cinema located upstairs between M&S and House of Fraser. To find out cinema opening times or what's on you can phone them on 0871 220 1000 or visit their website which is www.showcasecinemas.co.uk and select Bluewater.
I've just found out a number of other things that Bluewater does which I never even knew about. Not only do they have 6 boating lakes where you can hire pedalos (call 01732-360630), they also have a putting course, fishing lake (although you will need a valid permit), cycle and tandem hire for peddling around outside in the designated areas, The Timberland Discovery Trail so you can have a bit of a ramble, the Blue Rock Climbing Wall - a 36ft purpose built wall with nooks, crannies and bumps to enable those aged 6yrs and upwards to clamber up and finally something to annoy you all - Nestle have got in on the game and have a Nestle All Stars Active Zone with games and puzzles designed around sweets such as milky bar, fruit pastilles and so on.If you find at the end of the day you are all shopped out, you can visit the Molton Brown Day Spa for a relaxing pummelling. You will need to book and their number is 01322 383322.
Oh yes. Bluewater has so many shops and is such a nice environment I could happily go there every weekend but naturally I don't or I'd be the best dressed homeless person you'd ever seen.
~ Would I go back? ~
The best part of Bluewater are the smells that they pump in. I know this sounds really bizarre but… you will walk past a sweet shop and be hit with the most delicious smell of sweets so that you really want to go in there - this is Bluewater's equivalent of putting on a pot of coffee when showing your house to a prospective purchaser. Throughout your walkabout you will be hit by gorgeous smells wafting around, it really is a pleasant experience!I much prefer Bluewater to Lakeside which is located a short drive away, I find that Lakeside has far too many shops and you end up with what I call Shop Fatigue after a short while. The last time I went to Lakeside was a good few years ago and I saw numerous groups of teenagers simply hanging around which can be quite off-putting, yes, you still get teens in Bluewater but normally only in small groups, plus Bluewater has ruled that 'Hoodies' and baseball caps are banned as teens and some adults wearing these are considered to be seen as intimidating to other shoppers and stores. Be warned that if your children - or you yourself - go to Bluewater wearing a hooded top or baseball cap you may very well be asked to remove it although I am guessing that the staff would use their discretion and not ask someone 5years old or over the age of 30 to remove their sweater!
Go there, shop, eat, drink and then round off the evening by seeing a film or having a proper meal in one of the many restaurants. And then hide the credit card bill.www.bluewater.co.uk
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