Group Travel World gets into the Christmas spirit and takes a look at some festive offers and events

Summer may finally be putting in an appearance outside, but here at GTW we know that GTOs and tour operators plan ahead. So put your ice-cream aside for one moment and take a look at some excellent options for guiding your group to Christmas goose and garlands

FESTIVE FARE

Groups looking to enjoy a Christmas feast together will have an unforgettable time at The Medieval Banquet, located at the historic St Katharine Docks which trace their roots back to the 10th century and King Edgar. The banquet hall itself is in the incredible vaulted cellars of Ivory House, where original architecture, colours and lights transport guests back in time to a Christmas straight out of a book of fantasy. Inside, they can join King Henry VIII as a royal guest, shout for their wenches, Wassail with knights and bang the table in appreciation.

The show has been designed to pull on the guests’ emotions and encourage groups to have a great time together, improving group connections and making them feel like special guests. With live music, sword fighting and acrobatics right by the tables, The Medieval Banquet concentrates on the experience as well as the food, and everyone can join in the show.

Food is cooked freshly in-house and the five course Christmas menus are memorable and satisfying. The Medieval Banquet offers planning support to GTOs and ensures the evening is delivered exactly as groups desire. Centrally located alongside the River Thames, it is just a short walk from Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Groups can arrive by bus or even sail in style and land at their very own port.

GTOs should call 020 7480 5353 or visit www.medievalbanquet.com.

The Medieval Banquet is offering pairs of tickets to organisers that want to experience one of their nights before booking for the group. Simply get in touch on the above number quoting ’Group Travel World’.

Christmas at the Rainforest Café in London is a magical time. There is something for groups of all ages to enjoy, from a three course festive lunch or dinner to the enchanting Santa’s Grotto. All are available starting in November 2013 and running throughout December, with trade rates available.

Located in the heart of the West End, Rainforest Café brings to life the Amazon rainforest through a combination of jungle theme, indoor waterfalls, tropical fish tanks and a famous cast of lifelike animatronics and thunder storm sound effects. They are offering a special festive menu for the Christmas season, with an additional evening Christmas disco from 9pm onwards on certain dates, playing the best in Christmas, club and dance floor classics.

The Rainforest Café can seat 355 guests in the restaurant and they also have private and semiprivate spaces to hire. Due to great feedback from customers, Rainforest Cafe is also bringing its amazing grotto experience back for a fourth year; among all the trees, animals and foliage hides a doorway to a magical Christmas grotto. Younger customers are mesmerized by the experience of meeting Santa. This year’s grotto experience runs from the 23rd November, and the grotto package includes a personalised invitation, a welcome from the elves, meeting Santa in his magical grotto, a lovely present and a two course meal in the restaurant. Parents are asked to fill out a questionnaire about their little ones so that Santa is able to find out about his young visitors and give an experience that children love at Christmas, ‘remembering’ facts about them for that authentic Santa experience.

Rainforest Café is offering a 15% discount to those who book in advance. Anyone interested should contact the Head Elf on fatherchristmas@therainforestcafe.co.uk or call 020 7297 5110.

JOLLY JOURNEYS

The Santa Special offers enchanting steam journeys through stunning Lancastrian countryside.

One of the UK’s most popular ‘Santa Specials’ takes place at the East Lancashire Railway. Located in the heart of Bury and easily accessible from the M60 and M66, a visit here is a perfect way to get into the festive spirit. Twinkling lights all over the station and a walkthrough grotto created with over 200 Christmas trees are just the start. The atmosphere is filled with seasonal spirit as visitors are entertained with live brass bands, traditional carol singing and costumed characters. Once ready to board, the beautifully decorated carriages welcome passengers for a ride back in time that is bound to capture imaginations and bring back childhood memories. The Santa Special runs through lovely Lancastrian countryside on a one hour and twenty minute steam journey from Bury to Rawtenstall and back again. Santa and his helpers will be making their way through each carriage to hand out mince pies, festive drinks for the adults, and to join in the carol singing.

A perfect Christmas outing for GTOs and their groups, East Lancashire is offering a range of tempting incentives and offers, including 10% ticket discount for groups of 20 people or more. There are generous discounts for trains in November and early December and a refreshment voucher is on offer for coach drivers and organisers who bring a group of 20 or more. Groups will get free mince pies and sherry and there are convenient coach drop-off points outside Bury station and coach parking close by.

GTOs or anyone interested should call 0161 764 7790 or visit www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk.

For other options to make the visit into a full day out, Manchester city centre is just a 30 minute drive away and the famous Bury Market is located within a short walking distance from the railway. As part of the Santa Special incentives available for groups, free admission to Bury Transport Museum is also available.

Bateaux London is hosting a number of shared parties onboard ‘Harmony’ as part of its range of festive cruises and experiences

For groups who would prefer to take to the water than the tracks, Bateaux London festive cruises are a lovely way to celebrate in style. These trips include freshly-prepared festive fare, live entertainment and unparalleled views from the river Thames, and are a unique way to celebrate the festive season with friends, family or colleagues.

In addition to their regular dining cruise experiences, Bateaux London is hosting a number of shared parties onboard ‘Harmony’ where groups can relax and enjoy most memorable end-of-year celebrations. The festive season and New Year’s Eve in London is guaranteed to be something special and with a range of packages to suit all types of group, now is the perfect time to book seats.

A Christmas lunch cruise includes a two and a half hour cruise along Thames taking in some spectacular sights, with a three course set festive menu including half a bottle of wine, mineral water and tea or coffee. Night owls will enjoy the Christmas dinner cruise, an opportunity to see London all lit up. This comprises a three hour cruise, including selected wines, spirits and soft drinks throughout. All the cruises feature a live band playing Christmas classics.

Call 020 7695 1809 or visit www.bateauxlondon.com.

SEASONAL SHOPPING

Christmas markets are a key part of the festive season for many people and the beautiful cathedral city of Exeter is hosting its second Christmas market from 21 November 2013. For 29 days, Exeter’s picturesque Cathedral Green in the very heart of the city will be transformed into a Christmas shopper’s haven, comprising up to 70 festive wooden chalets selling everything needed for a perfect Christmas celebration.

The Exeter Christmas Market offers shoppers a huge array of quality products and unique gift ideas from the south west and international traders, giving visitors a global shopping experience. From fantastic local food and drink, decorations and handmade crafts, to traditional toys, clothes and bespoke jewellery, alongside traditional continental festive fare, all stall-holders are hand-picked for their interesting, high quality and unusual products, many of which can’t be bought on the high street. The atmosphere, the smells, the products and the friendly traders all help to create a Christmas shopping treat.

Exeter’s picturesque Cathedral Green plays host to the Exeter Christmas Market, which comprises festive wooden chalets selling seasonal products

The opening of the market will take place on the evening of 21 November with a beautiful light parade led by the Cathedral Choristers. The parade will culminate at Exeter Cathedral, heralding the opening of the market and the switching on of Exeter’s Christmas lights. Two of Exeter’s most important visitor attractions, Exeter Cathedral and Exeter’s Underground Passages will be offering special admission rates for groups of ten or more throughout the duration of the Christmas Market. Tickets will need to be pre-booked in advance; please call Exeter Cathedral on 01392 285983 or Exeter’s Underground Passages on 01392 665887.

For information on the market, please visit www.ExeterChristmasMarket.co.uk. Coaches can drop off passengers at Exeter Bus and Coach Station in nearby South Street and on the Historic Quayside. Coach parking is available at Exeter Bus and Coach Station and Haven Banks Coach Park on the Historic Quayside.

Another option for Christmas shopping is a visit to Boundary Mill Stores, the UK’s largest quality mill store, where they welcome groups with open arms. They offer famous name fashion and home brands at up to 75% off the recommended retail price. Whether groups are regular visitors or new to Boundary Mill Stores, they will find some great quality, affordable Christmas gifts.

Boundary Mill Stores have a fantastic selection of events and offers for groups throughout the remainder of 2013, culminating in late night Christmas shopping from the end of November and through December, after which stores commence their Boxing Day and January sales.

All stores have a Coach Coordinator and offer a ‘meet and greet’ service on arrival. The Coach Co-ordinator is on hand to provide information regarding the facilities in-store and to ensure that visits runs smoothly. They will also direct groups and coaches to the free parking available at all stores. GTOs should contact the Coach Coordinator at the relevant store prior to visiting. As an incentive, if GTOs arrange for a group to visit for a minimum of two hours with over 20 passengers, Boundary Mill Stores will offer the driver £10 in cash and the Group Organiser a £10 Boundary Mill Stores gift voucher.

The Boundary Mill flagship store is situated at the end of the M65 at Colne. They opened their fifth store in Sheffield last year, which is conveniently located just off the M1. The other stores are located in Grantham, Newcastle and Walsall and are all easily accessible from major road networks. All stores feature a B.B.’s Coffee Shop, which provides a great selection of freshly prepared savouries and sweets, and can comfortably accommodate groups. All group visits can be adapted and tailor-made to accommodate requirements, and this extends to the inclusive tours that Boundary Mill Stores offer.

Contact details can be found on the website www.boundarymill.co.uk.

MERRY MUSEUMS

Not your standard museum, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in London is an intriguing option for a festive visit. The attraction is home to over 700 awe-inspiring, amazing and fun exhibits including the Peel 50, which is one of the world’s smallest road-legal cars, the impressive jaw of a pre-historic Megalodon shark and the world’s largest collection of Olympic torches, including one signed by gold-medal-winning Olympian Laura Trott. Visitors young and old can marvel at the scale models of the Titanic and Tower Bridge made out of matchsticks, a real piece of the Berlin Wall and Queen Victoria’s appointment letter. Children will have fun measuring up to Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man, who stood at a staggering 2.7 metres, and see how many of the group it takes to equal the weight of the world’s heaviest man who tipped the scales at 485kg. For fun problem-solving exercises, groups can navigate around the Mirror Maze and beat the clock in London’s largest LaseRace.

Ripley’s really brings history to life by providing the opportunity to come face-to-face with a 4,000-yearold real mummified hand and a collection of authentic Ecuadorian shrunken heads. Visitors can also get up close to real fossilised dinosaur eggs and wonders from across the globe include a replica Chinese pagoda carved from solid jade and a Rajasthani headdress from India. This festive season, Ripley’s will be hosting additional seasonal entertainment inside the attraction, building on the popularity of last year’s Mini- Santa, real life reindeers and a giant snow globe. What’s more, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! London is offering very special festive lunch and dinner packages for groups of 10+ with local restaurants such as Café Rouge, Strada, Bella Italia and Planet Hollywood.

GTOs will receive free entry plus a free hot drink voucher for Ripley’s Remarkable Café.

For full details of all this festive fun and entertainment and for group rates, please visit www.ripleyslondon.com/groups or call 0207 494 6818.

Cadbury World hosts a magical themed Christmas grotto from November 23

Cadbury World in Birmingham is another museum that is definitely in a different league to the museum norm. Chocolate undoubtedly forms a significant part of Christmas celebrations for most people, so a festive visit here is ideal for groups to get in the mood. No matter what the type or age range of the group, everyone will love experiencing the wonder of Cadbury World’s 14 amazing zones, uncovering a world of chocolate delights and learning about the history of the Cadbury brand.

Cadbury World hosts seasonal activities throughout the year including its popular Christmas Celebration Weekends. Starting on 23rd November 2013 and taking place every weekend in the run up to the big day, visitors to the attraction will be invited to celebrate the Christmas season with a programme of fabulous festivities. Jolly children’s entertainers will be on hand to keep younger ones in the Christmas spirit and a special yuletide menu full of tasty treats will be available at the Cadbury Café. Handmade Christmas chocolate treats created by Cadbury World’s on-site chocolatiers will be available to buy in the world’s biggest Cadbury shop.

Cadbury World will also be putting on a special pantomime production of Jack and the Cocoa Beanstalk, complete with original script and plenty of laughs. Elsewhere in the attraction, Santa Claus will be handing out free gifts to children visiting his magical themed Christmas grotto.

In addition to all these seasonal activities, groups can explore the attraction’s 14 amazing zones where they are able to write their name in liquid chocolate and explore chocolate’s ancient Aztec origins. They have the chance to walk through a full scale replica of Bull Street where John Cadbury opened his first shop in 1824 before finding out how the Cadbury business began. Visitors can play with virtual chocolate balls in the Purple Planet zone and climb on board the magical Cadabra ride for a gentle journey through a chocolate wonderland.

GTOs should visit www.cadburyworld.co.uk or call 0844 880 7667 for information about group rates, details and incentives, including special discounted entry rates for groups of 15 people or more. There is free coach parking, free admission and a complimentary meal for the driver, and groups of 20 or more will get free admission for the group organiser.

GOODWILL GATHERINGS

Tatton Park’s mansion will be welcoming groups for a celebration of a ‘White Christmas’ this year, with glittering decorations reminiscent of Alpine scenes enjoyed by the mansion’s Egerton family in their 19th century travels. Snowy landscapes will be reflected in the decorative themes of the staterooms which will be dressed with fresh flowers and foliage from Tatton’s estate, and there will be classical music to entertain visitors as they stroll through. In the servants’ quarters, festive decoration demonstrations will offer ideas to take home while the kitchen maids will be busy preparing festive delicacies. The stables and gardener’s cottage offer a variety of dishes using local and estate produce and there will be festive lunch and afternoon tea menus available. Tatton’s speciality shops offer ideas for the most discerning group members and there is a Gift Fair running from 29th November to 1st December which is free to enter.

Group visits must be pre-booked; please call 01625 374416 or email Tatton@cheshireeast.gov.uk.

Greatdays, the Cheshire based tour operator has just added a further 1,000 places for this year’s ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ Christmas party event in Chester. Sales had already topped 3,000 for this annual music and lunch show, and most dates over the four week Christmas period were already sold out. The event will now be moving to a larger venue in Chester which will allow bookings for 250 guests per day.

The South East 2013 Christmas event in Colchester sold out in April, and Greatdays are now looking to book a larger venue in the London region with more dates for next year’s event.

This level of popularity is thanks to the great time that groups have at the event year after year. A decorated venue, Christmas market stalls, a warm mince pie and coffee welcome gets the party off to a fantastic festive start. The talented entertainer will be regaling the room with timeless classic songs from film and stage, with singing along definitely encouraged! A ‘Mini Bloomingdales’ Christmas market will offer a great selection of Christmas presents, stocking fillers and festive items.

GTOs should contact Jennie Reynolds on 0161 928 2001 or visit the website www.greatdays.co.uk.

For groups who love music, John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration on Thursday 12th December 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall will be a magical event to remember. The maestro of Christmas music, Rutter’s choral works are well-known throughout the world and mark the festive season for many people. Groups of just ten people or more can save money off tickets by booking in advance, receive a free pair of tickets and free programmes, and no payment is needed until eight weeks before the concert.

GTOs with interested groups should visit www.rpo.co.uk/groups, call 020 7608 8840 or email groups@rpo.co.uk.

No matter where you decide to take your group this Christmas, there are so many options for groups that you will be guaranteed to have a great time together. For many places, Christmas is the busiest season of the year and bookings fill up very early, so if you haven’t done it already, now is the time to make those seasonal plans. If you have any festive recommendations you’d like to make to other GTOs, do get in touch with GTW. And may I be the very VERY first to wish you a Merry Christmas!