A real life Christmas case of expectations vs reality

Promoted as “an enchanting festive spectacular on a scale never seen before” and a completely “immersive Christmas experience”, it turns out that Trafford Palazzo’s Unreal Xmas is far from all it was cracked up to be thanks to a leaky ice trail, empty trestle tables, and a whole load of disappointed local traders.

Approaching another vendor to ask how everything was going at their first Christmas event, I was met with a frustrated one-word response: 'Shit'

Set over two floors within this recently re-branded Trafford spot, visitors were promised a magical atmosphere and “something truly spectacular” to kick off their Christmas countdown. Confidentials and other publications were sent exciting-looking press images. However, upon visiting this “magical winter wonderland” for ourselves, we were met with wet floor signs, inflatable flowers, and a sorry state of affairs. It's quite clear there is nowt enchanting or festive about it.

Loosely resembling an abandoned Lapland disaster zone, the only thing that was “breathtaking” about our Unreal Xmas experience was the sprint from the tram stop to the entrance in the lashing down rain. With local vendors and traders telling us they felt “lured” into a botched deal as “the majority of traders haven’t even made their money back” and “the footfall is non-existent”, the event serves as a sad example of Christmas crap.

Unreal Xmas At Trafford Palazzo Expectations Picture
Expectation vs Reality Case #1 - The enchanted forest ice rink Image: OOBE Group
Unreal Xmas Ice Rink Trafford Palazzo Reality
Expectation vs reality case #1 - The leaking slippery slush hazard Image: Confidentials

Walking in a slushy wonderland

Tickets start at £13 for a 45-minute “ice skating experience” but the leaking slush trail that greets visitors is far from the Narnia-esque wonderland portrayed in the images used on the Unreal Xmas website. Surrounded by bin-bag slush shields, cautionary tape, and a load of wet floor signs to stop shoppers from slipping, the enchanted forest ice rink is definitely an “experience” to say the least.

With a family ice-skating ticket coming in at £40, and the promise of “an incredible multi-dimensional experience” filled with “lighting, visuals and stunning scenography”, this ice rink looked set to give Mancs a proper dose of Christmas cheer. However, this semi-melted affair is about as “immersive” as watching Dancing on Ice on the telly. The skate-up bar also promised on their site has been abandoned for health and safety reasons (no-one likes a scoop with a slip-hazard). 

Unreal Xmas At The Trafford Palazzo Entrance
Expectation vs reality case #2 - The Unreal Xmas Christmas Village entrance Image: OOBE Group
Unreal Xmas Trafford Palazzo Reality
Expectation vs reality case #2 - A sad little sleigh of affairs Image: Confidentials

Indies far from impressed

Also mentioned in the promotional material for Unreal Xmas is the Christmas village and markets, a site expected to feature a selection of artisan crafts, delicious food and drink offerings, and a load of local indie businesses courtesy of Manchester Makers Market.

When entering said village, it became quite clear that many of these local makers had decided that driving home for Christmas was a more tempting offer. Leaving their stalls and packing up their sleighs, many of these disappointed locals have angrily abandoned their pop-ups and the Palazzo site altogether, leaving a small handful of determined owners to fend for themselves in their remaining stalls.

Unreal Xmas Trafford Palazzo Stalls Expectations
Expectation vs reality case #3 - stalls filled with artisan crafts and local indie goods Image: Unreal Xmas
Unreal Xmas Trafford Palazzo Empty Stalls
Expectation vs reality case #3 - the stalls aren't even worth saving at this point Image: Confidentials

For all the wrong reasons, Unreal Xmas has kept the promise in being an “unforgettable experience” as one trader who wished to remain anonymous explained to us that “in reality the event is atrocious”. Approaching another vendor to ask how everything was going at their first Christmas event, I was met with a frustrated one-word response: "Shit"

Explaining that half of the Unreal Xmas spaces were occupied by Makers Market traders, whilst the other half were recruited by Unreal themselves, a trader we spoke to also explained that this resulted in "things like people selling duvet covers from China or bulk purchased wind jackets next to artisan crafters”. The stalls are costing local indies £60 a day with little to no profit or custom.

Unreal Xmas At Trafford Palazzo
A load of local traders have already packed-up their troubles and left the Palazzo Image: Confidentials

Where do we go now?

A recent statement from the Christmas Makers Market on Facebook explained that "following some unexpected issues from the launch weekend, we have decided that it is in the best interests of our stall holders and the makers market not to showcase for the final four weekend days at this event". 

Due to the lack of Wi-Fi available in the Palazzo, and the minimal footfall of the whole ordeal, it's not surprising that these makers have decided to relocate back to their local Makers Markets as they "thank everyone for visiting and supporting our incredible stall holders" so far. 

Unreal Xmas False Adveritising
Unreal Xmas even had the cheek to use a quick pic from a recent large-scale Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors exhibition Image: Unreal Xmas
Unreal Xmas Trafford Palazzo Empty Stalls
The only infinity illusion here is the gap left by abandoned stalls and disappointed businesses Image: Confidentials

Always look on the bright side of shite

Trying to stay positive, the remaining traders and food and drink stalls at Unreal Xmas are desperately trying to come together and create some Christmas magic. 

Despite declaring that organisers "have not fulfilled their obligations, which has had a massive knock-on effect on the small businesses here", they are attempting to stick it out and trade throughout the festive season in the hope that they gain a few more customers and some more local support. 

As Confidentials are always quick to emphasise, these corporate Christmas endeavours often rid indies of their cred and loyal custom, and it seems Trafford Palazzo's Christmas endeavours have further contributed to this. If you know of a local trader, pop-up shop, or fantastic festive biz, show them some love in our comments and help give them a proper local yuletide. 

Confidentials has contacted both OOBE Global and Entertainment 51 who are behind the project for comments. 

Entertainment 51 have since responded, stating that "Entertainment 51 were contracted by OOBE Global Group Ltd to source vendors and a venue for their Unreal Xmas event and offer some elements of promotional support". They further added that they "have never had control over the day-to-day running and management of the event, and are bitterly disappointed that the event bears little resemblance, to what [they] were assured it would be. [They] have been on-site to support the vendors and, as a family business, understand the disappointment and frustration of visitors and vendors alike".

We are still awaiting a response from OOBE Global.

8 Dec - slight amendment after speaking to Entertainment 51 

Read next: A round-up of Manchester’s Christmas markets 2021

Read again: Top things to do in Manchester for December, Xmas and New Year 2021

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