Newest Review: ... somewhat higher than the ones at Lakeside, for example there is no Argos at all, which given Bluewater's emphasis on attracting people is... more
Member Name: T4imbo3107
Advantages: All in one place, everything catered for. Free parking.
Disadvantages: Busy at weekends and run up to Christmas.
Regeneration is a splendid thing if it's done correctly. A good example is Bluewater in Kent, situated just 1.5 miles from J2 of the M25 on the A2 towards Dover and less than 40 minutes from Central London by train, the shopping centre is more a celebration of retail than it is a shopping mall, yet its also a place that has a lot to offer any family or couple that go there, noting that its easily possible just to spend the day there and shop, eat and see a film without ever having to go back to your car.
Built on a site of an old disused quarry, Bluewater has built itself to be the ultimate shopping experience, and even with the nearby Lakeside that has rapidly fallen behind in recent years the whole feel of Bluewater has a buzz about it. With 13000 car park spaces available and free to park, as well as its own Bus Station and a regular shuttle service to nearby Greenhithe railway station with direct links to Cannon Street or London Bridge, its safe to sat that Bluewater is well connected and in the 12 years since its opened in 1999 it has become well established as a shopping centre in the South East. I was surprised to see a designated coach area as well and was even more surprised to see a whole plethora of coaches park there as well, not a few but well over 30 whose companies had organised shopping trips to Bluewater. This is a good example of how busy it gets and even though the mall itself is well covered with CCTV, the car parks being regularly patrolled and a host of security available it does seem strange to have a Police Station on-site as well. All in all you do feel safe when inside, that makes you feel comfortable and also means that you are more likely to return.
Its an amazing place to go to, the design of the place is good as it is triangular in nature with three separate malls meaning that unlike Lakeside or Westfield you cant really get lost, as you just keep walking round to you find what you want. Each mall has it own theme and its obvious on the plenitude of maps that are easily available to take in leaflet form or illuminated to seek whatever you want. My favourite out of the three being Thames Mall where the theme is the River Thames. Down the middle of the mall itself being a map of the Thames from source to estuary marking out towns such as Staines, Kingston and Putney as you walk along the silver line that has captured all the curves and bends of the river in it. While other features include poems carved in ten foot high letters in the spaces above shop entrances, seating areas that are made up of big leather chairs that swivel and are so comfortable that they hug you as you tend to await your other half to come out of a shop, especially useful as my other half seemed to take a trip to Narnia in one shop and left me outside waiting for just under 45 minutes - I believe these chairs are now called "The Widowers Row" as a lot of husbands wait here for their wives to return! It is light and airy as well, but can in the Summer get quite hot, yet you don't need a coat anyway as everything is indoors so its easier to relax and simply shop then having to worry about carrying a coat around with you.
The vast range of shops are absolutely excellent, from High Street names such as H&M, WH Smiths to John Lewis, House of Fraser, Zara and the more designer shops such as Timberland and Calvin Klein. Interestingly the range of shops are somewhat higher than the ones at Lakeside, for example there is no Argos at all, which given Bluewater's emphasis on attracting people is something that means a shop like Argos would never be seen in a place like this. Its also a place that business will hold there flagship stores, by this I mean that no expense has been spared in making the shops the highest possible level they can be, whether its flashy with the window displays or even having events such as book signings at the two floor Waterstone's means that there is always something to see as the shop fronts are never really boring or in some cases static to look at, All Saints has recently opened up and the whole shop front consists of Singer sewing machines. Even the HMV that is considered to be small in comparison to other sites is constantly busy and this is one shop that could do with expansion as could Game, there are two at Bluewater ion both the upper and lower levels and both the shops have long queues, especially at the weekends or running up to Christmas where arriving as early as 6am means that a car park space is guaranteed, I talk from experience!! This is the place where we do all our Christmas presents in one hit, it just fits the bill, and yet we don't go at the weekend as Bluewater tends to stay open till 10pm on the run up to the looney.. oh sorry festive period so its even possible to go after work in some cases!
It's more than shopping, there is a Cinema that comes into its own in the evening, with restaurants surrounding the entrance that means you can spend the whole day here. I suspect that was the ploy from the beginning anyway to grab your money, but the fact is that everything you'll ever need is under one roof. It even attracts people from around the area as well and Saturdays can see the TGI's or La Tasca get very busy with a pre-film meal and drink and it is a good atmosphere as well. In fact anything to do with food is catered for at Bluewater and the scope of variety is second to none when it comes to choice of food. A huge Food Court is located on the northern side of the mall itself, this has the obligatory McDonalds and KFC, but also caterers such as Battersea Pie that specialise in Pie and Mash as well as Shere Khan for Curry and Harry Ramsden's for Fish and Chips. Also a Pizza Hut restaurant as well, but I found the service here to be somewhat below standard in the past. As you walk around the chance to simply stop and get a Coffee is thrust upon you at numerous opportunities - Costa, Coffee Republic and Starbucks are usually situated at an entrance to the Car Park, convenient in some way as this means the Toilets are nearby as well and yet can be a pain as it becomes a social gathering point. On past visits I have seen the majority of these establishments simply run out of Coffee and food and having to close early whilst a run to the local cash and carry was performed, this was at 2pm!! I think lessons were learnt from this with the managers given the fact there estimations were blown out of the water entirely, although this was on the run up to Christmas so the expectation to stock up might not have been taken.
Toilets and baby changing facilities have been set up as regular intervals as well, handy to get to and are spacious and clean. I did notice there were regular checks being made and the attendants were polite and well presented. I know its silly but I rate the state of the loo's as a benchmark to the establishment as it is the one place that the majority of people will visit, not everyone will go into the same shop throughout the day, yet almost everyone will go to the loo.
If you just want to get away after you're shopped out then Bluewater does offer a number of ways to get fresh air. At the back of the Food Court there is a lake that recently has become a building site to have a castle and play area built next to it and while this is a great way for the kids to relive the boredom and burn of some energy there are also a number of trails that take in the area surrounding Bluewater and takes you away from the sheer business for a while, I have done a few of these and they can be nice and relaxing to walk along. Obviously you know that you're never too far away from the action, yet the tranquillity this offers is a nice balance to the hustle and bustle of the mall itself. There is a plenitude of wildlife here as you would expect and the moment you hear the birdsong simply takes you into another place, I recommend this entirely as the balance is off the scale that you are in the grounds of a shopping centre yet can sit on a bench and hear uninterrupted birdsong.
This was only due to be Phase 1, Phase 2 was going to be a new residential area opposite in the other quarry areas that was going to be regenerated as well, whether that will go ahead is open to question given the current climate. I much prefer Bluewater to Lakeside or any of the Westfield's as this is high level shopping but on a simple basis that its attractive to be within and isn't simply a catchment of shop fronts, in this case each has an identity that makes it stand out from the rest. One interesting point is that the only thing stopping people from going to Lakeside as well is the Dartford Tunnel. Lakeside is positioned in the same area but on the north side of the Thames as Bluewater is on the south and it would be safe to say that the two have a little rivalry, however it was reported that plans for an underground train between the two was put forward, this would mean that people could park in Lakeside and get the train to Bluewater, I thought the idea would have worked to relieve the pressure off the tunnel/ bridge, yet the idea was immediately rejected by Lakeside.
Overall, this delivers what I want from a place that I can go as "one-stop shop" as in all honesty I do get what I want whether its vouchers or even the designer shirt of my dreams, the whole place as different aspects such as a Christmas Market, and Ice rink that allows it to be flexible throughout the year whatever the occasion or event, and yet coming here you can see the impact that this can have on the local area, Dartford Town Centre being one victim that has had to raise its bar to compete as has Lakeside which has been totally refurbished.
Summary: A one stop shop of the highest calibre.