Sunday, 6 October 2019

My favourite foods at Walt Disney World - Quick Service Dining Plan

My holiday to Florida back in February feels like a lifetime ago now. I’ve had blog posts in my drafts for months but I’ve been taking a little blogging hiatus. You might have thought I had disappeared forever or not even noticed my absence but I’m back and ready to bombard you with all my travel tips and photos!

Since I’ve returned from my Disneyworld vacation I’ve had friends and family ask me for holiday planning tips, itineraries and food recommendations. Going to Disneyworld can be overwhelming so I thought I would write a series of blog posts sharing my highlights of what to see, where to stay and what to eat. The next time anyone asks for tips I can send them the links ;)

I got quite a good deal when booking my trip to Disneyworld resort in Florida. I got a very reasonable rate for the hotel as some construction work was going on elsewhere on the site. I also got free dining, a $100 Disney gift card and Memory Maker for unlimited ride photos. There was also an offer where I got a 14-Day Ultimate Ticket for the price of a 7-Day Ticket for entry to all Disneyworld parks including the water parks.

I booked through Virgin and these types of deals tend to come around once a year and are available at the moment until 22nd October. This was a good deal for myself and my husband but you can stay off-site, takes snacks into the park and get hotel discounts at other times of the year so I recommend working out which deal works best for you and your family. 

The Quick Service plan I had looked a little like this:

• 2 Self Service meals, with 1 alcoholic or soft drink per meal
• 2 Snacks
• 1 Refillable Resort Mug per stay

You get this every day you stay at the resort and it was more than enough as Disneyworld portions are far from small. Enough of the details, let's get to the food!

The Polite Pig

This is a picture of brisket from The Polite Pig in Disney Springs

I love a chicken tender or a burger as much as the next person but this isn't all Disney has to offer. There are a number of independent restaurants in the Disney Springs area and one of the foodie highlights of the trip for me was our stop at The Polite Pig, run by a local husband and wife duo. 

I opted for the tasty Coffee Rub USDA Prime Brisket served with Jalapeño Cornbread, Signature Polite Slaw and sweet potato tots. The brisket was tender and the coffee rub was very subtle. This was included in our meal plan - no cash needed and I simply had to scan my MagicBand at the till and the appropriate number of credits were be deducted from your account. Don't forget to visit the sauce bar if you eat here and try out all the amazing BBQ and ranch sauces. 

Refreshment Port - Poutine


This is a picture of classic poutne in epcot

The Traditional Poutine served up at the Refreshment Port in Epcot was a great use of a snack credit and filling enough to have for lunch. This is the Disney version of a Canadian favourite French Fries, Beef Gravy and Cheese Curds. This little stand also has seasonal specials and is serving up Duck Confit Poutine at the moment. 

Storybook Treats - Peter Pan Float


This Peter Pan Float at the Magic Kingdom was ideal on a roasting hot and humid day in the park. It's Sprite topped with lime Soft-serve and a Chocolate Feather. It comes in at $5.99 and is snack credit eligible. So refreshing! 

Karamell-Küche - Mickey Krispie treat with Werther's caramel

This is a picture of a rice krispie treat from Disneyworld


The Karamelle-Kuche shop in the Germany Pavilion in Epcot is a caramel lovers heaven. It features freshly made caramel popcorn, caramel apples, strawberries, marshmallows along with gourmet caramels, cookies, brownies, fudge, and cupcakes. I couldn't chose just one item from caramel counter of dreams so I picked up this Mickey shaped krispie treat and a huge bag of popcorn.




Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie - Macaron 


Epcot really is the park filled with foodie treats and the macaroon with raspberry and lime cream that I got there didn't disappoint. The fresh fruit and sharp lime cream was the perfect filling for a sweet macaron. 
The deli–bakery counter is stocked with goodies such as salads, quiches, soups, and delicate pastries. Breads and pastries are made in the bakery above Chefs de France and offers a pretty authentic Parisian experience.

The Trolley Car Café - Carrot Cake Cookie


You can pick up this humongous carrot cake at the Starbucks in Disney's Hollywood Studios. This store has all your typical Starbucks offerings plus some Disney bakery treats and things unique to this location. If you're in Hollywood Studios I would say this is a must try item and would easily service two people. It isn't over spiced and has the perfect cake to frosting ratio. 

Top tip - the Starbucks stores across Disney all have free iced water which you can help yourself to instead of buying bottles water and save some serious $$$. (The water from the drinking fountains tastes gross) 

Mickey Pretzel - Available at stands all over the resort


A giant pretzel, shaped like Mickey which comes with plastic cheese. Dreamy! These are a classic and available all over the parks. I grabbed one of these as a substantial snack to eat whilst watching the nighttime show Fantasmic. Some of my other favourite Mickey shaped snacks I tried during the trip were the colossal cinnamon swirls available at Starbucks in Animal Kingdom and the Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Sandwich - cookies and cream ice cream sandwiched between chocolate cookies. 


Contempo Café Breakfast



D-Luxe Burger - Disney Springs 


D-Luxe burger was high up on my to-eat list before heading to Florida - I had heard some great things about it from Disney Vloggers. I opted for the barbecue burger - a signature blend beef patty topped with a fried onion ring, smoked gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce, grilled onion and lettuce. De-lish! As I was on holiday and living my best life I washed this down with a artisanal gelato shake  - I highly recommend the chocolate one. 
The fresh cut fries are a must because of the sauce bar where you can stock up on three-mustard and honey, garlic ranch, curry ketchup, chipotle mayo and buffalo sauce. I'm a little bit obsessed with ranch sauce so I loved the help yourself sauce station. 

This place get very busy and we had to wait a while for our food to come so I recommend ordering your food via the Disney Experience mobile app before heading in. There are also some secret menu items on the mobile app so worth checking out. 

Big Top Treats



Big Top Treats is a feast for the eyes and filled with counters of treats made on site - lots are inspired by Dumbo and the circus. Some of the treats you can find there are cotton candy, house-made popcorn, candy coated apples, chocolate dipped strawberries, chocolate dipped marshmallow wands or pretzels, character inspired cake pops, assorted Disney themed cupcakes, and crispy treats.  It’s fun to watch the sweet treat creators dipping and designing these special treats right in front of you. 

The candy apples and cupcakes look and taste amazing but can be enormous or a little tricky to eat. My top pick from big top treats is the chocolate dipped rice krispie treat covered in M&Ms. These freshly made ones are so much nicer than the pre-packed ones you can pick up all over the parks. 



Joffrey's Coffee strawberry ice tea & doughnut 



A big shout out also goes to Tangierine Cafe in Epcot. where I had a relatively healthy Shawarma Chicken and Lamb Platter which came served with a side of Hummus, Tabouleh, and Tangierine Couscous Salad with fresh Moroccan Bread. This was a welcome bread from all things fried or sweet. The peanut better and chocolate cupcakes at the Coronado Springs Resort cafe were also magnifique and worth checking out if you stay at that resort like we did. 

This post barely scratches the surface of all the food on offer at DisneyWorld as this is just a selection of things I tried during my 10 day trip. I didn't even have time to try the famous Dole Whip whilst I was there. 


Any fellow Disney enthusiasts have a favourite park treat? 

Gemma
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Friday, 11 January 2019

My 2019 Goals - Manage my finances, travel + more


1. Reflect

I'm not really one for waking up on the 1st of January and deciding I'm going to do Couch to 5k or make drastic life changes and giving up my job to go backpacking.

I think past year reviews are really valuable and more actionable than half-blindly looking forward with unrealistic resolutions. This year I want to commemorate the good moments and learn from mistakes. I plan on jotting a few notes down in my diary each week outlining people or activities that triggered happiness or anger. I'm hoping this will give me a big list of things to focus on in 2020.  

I'll be able to reflect on the good and book things with friends and prepay for activities that I know will bring me joy and have things to look forward to. Step two is to then do the same with the negative events from 2019 and where possible, exclude them from my life or take steps to improve the things that don't make happy. 

I used to be a keen scrapbooker (in the days before I wasted hours on Netflix and YouTube) and find it a great way to relax and focus on all the wonderful places I've been with family and friends. I've got a couple of empty scrapbooks that I plan on filling this year so I can look back on special moments for years to come. 


2. Make more time for friends

My job can be stressful and mean dealing with difficult situations and people, being challenged constantly and I'm always switched on. Hooked on checking my emails and worrying about things I can't change.  By the time I get home from work I'm too drained to do much other than hang out with my husband and dog and listen to music.  

Modern working life does lead to me feeling lonely and isolated, I see friends much less frequently now I'm in my 30s and I do sometimes like I've lost a sense of who I am. My friends now have commitments too - family, shift work or live far away but I wan't 2019 to be the year that I'm there for all of my friends. I want to make more time for small gestures like taking a cake in for a colleagues birthday, preparing a meal for family and spending weekends visiting friends or committing to a long phone conversation or Skype catch up with friends who are spread out all over the UK and the world.  

I've got my first proper catch up with the girls on Friday and I can't wait! We can plan our annual weekend away over a glass of wine. 


3. Manage my finances

Martyn and I moved into our first home nearly three years ago but the house still isn't really finished. All the rooms have been painted and I revamped the kitchen by adding new doors and handles but there are still hardly any photos or artwork on the walls and I would like to replace some of the previous owners fixtures and fittings. Getting married and buying a house wiped out all of my savings so all major works on our home need to be planned in advance. 

Converting the attic room is the big item on my to-do list along with painting the front of my house which requires scaffolding (super expensive). I can only really afford a lick of emulsion inside and a pot plant at the moment so this will take planning, saving and careful management of money coming in.

I plan on taking a few simple steps to save money. I've committed to spending more time researching better offers and interest rates. I paid for a holiday I booked on a credit card but I could have got a better deal by using a payday loan for the deposit then paying the rest of the balance off each month from my wages.

I'm usually lazy and let my insurance renew each year but this laziness and loyalty to one company real doesn't pay. I'm sure there will be a couple of hundred pounds worth of savings to be found by switching insurance and energy providers. I rarely use cash back sites or review my outgoings. I know that keeping a money diary or creating a simple budget will really help me to get to grips with my finances and approach my 30s in a less frivolous way.




4. Make my way through my huge to-read list


You really wouldn't guess that I was a former library assistant because I barely read a handful of books last year. 2018 was the year I discovered K-pop and vloggers and lost hours of my life online. It is a fun way to spend my time but my dusty piles of books are just sat there making me feel guilty. 

I plan on taking books to work with me to read on my lunch break and packing lots when Martyn and I head away in the caravan. Time away from electronic devices can only be a good thing and might help me stop checking my work emails and fretting over trivial things. 

5. Travel



I've travelled to some stunning places since meeting my husband. We hired a camper van and drove through the Scottish highlands for our honeymoon, bought a caravan for adventures all over the UK and have visited our favourite destination Austria a handful of times. This year we have trips to Orlando, Cornwall and Switzerland planned but I also want to enjoy destinations closer to home and explore my home city more taking my dog Coco for long walks. 


I hope 2019 brings you everything you hope for. I'll be muting 'Brexit' on twitter, bopping along to K-pop (My love for BTS and BLACKPINK is strong) and trying to live a simple and happy life!

Gemma
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Monday, 31 December 2018

Innsbruck - My Winter 2018 adventure

This is a view of the city of Innsbruck with the Nordkette in the background

Austria is one of my husbands favourite places to visit and I've fallen in love with the beautiful country too. We last visited in 2016 and spent two weeks in the Zell am See area but we did have a few day trips in the surrounding areas including Innsbruck. It was beautiful in the Summer during our last trip but a few hours wasn't nearly enough time to fully explore what the city had to offer. You can read all about my brief summer 2016 visit here for an idea of what to do if you're passing through this city in the Alps.
I was excited to return to the city in winter to explore it dusted with snow and to wander around the Christmas markets sampling some Austrian treats.

The city was the perfect spot to spend five nights, enough to see and do to keep us busy in the day and have time to relax at the apartment in the evening. It was by far the most relaxing city break I've ever been on - the city isn't too busy and you don't feel the need to cram in loads of visits to museums and attractions. I returned home feeling relaxed and revitalised after what has been a very busy few months at work. (the reason for my absence from the world of blogging) 

This picture if a portrait in front of the Inn river in Innsbruck


This is a picture of the colorful houses along the Inn River

This is a picture of the nordkette cable car

This is a picture of the Austrian Alps


This is a picture of views over Innsbruck taken from Seegrube

This is a picture of apple strudel

This is a picture of Hofburg Innsbruck with the Nordkette in the background



This is a picture of HOFKIRCHE (COURT CHURCH) in Innsbruck



This is the picture of The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) is a landmark structure located in the Old Town (Altstadt) section of Innsbruck


Stay

We were lucky enough to find a spacious apartment with a balcony overlooking Innsbruck. The views were stunning and it was just a short bus ride from the city centre. The apartment was equipped with everything we needed for our short break and was perfect for a couple or small family.

Our first stop, once we arrived in Innsbruck, was to head to the Touristinformation Innsbruck where you can buy the Innsbruck Card, which offers free entry to most of the city's key attractions as well as unlimited public transport. Martyn and I picked up a 72-hour card for € 59. This was super handy to help us get around by bus as our apartment was part way up the steep Nordkette mountain.

See and Do

Besides being an ideal spot for winter sports Innsbruck is known for both its Imperial and modern architecture. The Nordkette funicular, with stylish stations designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, climbs up to 2,256m from the city centre for skiing in winter and hiking or mountaineering in warmer months. If you're less adventurous you can head up the mountain for some great views and to admire the glacier like funicular stations like we did. 
The funicular takes you to Hungerburg where you change to the cable car which will take you up to 1,900 metres to the Seegrube and another short cable car up to Hafelekar, around 2,300 metres above sea level.


In contrast to the natural beauty of Innsbruck, I also loved wandering around Hofburg, the imperial palace. After very extensive restoration work, the Imperial Palace can now be enjoyed in all of its 18th-century splendour. It's a great place to explore to get a feel for the lavish lifestyle of the Habsburg Dynasty. 

The Hofkirche, just opposite the imperial palace is a memorial for emperor Maximilian I. The remains of Andreas Hofer, a Tirolean hero from the Napoleonic wars, are buried in this church. The church is also home to 28 imposing bronze statues. 

The historic city centre is home to the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), an ornate balcony with a roof covered with more than 2,600 gilded tiles as well as lots of shops, Christmas markets and cafes. It was lovely to stroll around this area at night when it was all lit up with fairy lights and choirs singing festive hymns. 

We caught the Sightseer bus, from the city centre to Bergisel in the south of the city. At the top of the hill, we were greeted by Andreas Hofer, this time in the form of an imposing statue. Opposite the statue is the Tirol Panorama which definitely worth a visit. It is a 1,000 square meter oil painting depicting a 360-degree view of the Bergisel battle and helps to tell the story of Andreas Hofer and the Tyrolean fight for freedom.
Innsbruck’s ski jumping arena is a short walk from the Panorama. It was the centrepiece of the 1964 and 1976 Olympic winter games and was completely refurbished in 2003. An impressive sight!

If you're looking for day trips near Innsbruck you can head over the border to Munich with the train journey only taking 1hr 45 but we stayed fairly local and took a trip on the Mittenwald Railway. This route has many tunnels along the edge of the rock face, including the almost 2-kilometre long Martinswand Tunnel and is over 100 years old. If you want to take a insta pic of the spectacular view down into the Inntal Valley, you better be quick as there are just seconds before you'll be back in a tunnel again. 

Eat

Martyn and I aren't really ones for formal dining and spent the cold evenings relaxing in our apartment so I'm not able to recommend any fancy eateries but we did visit during the Christmas market season and had plenty of tasty treats at those and a few glasses of Glühwein. If you're in Austria and stocking up on supplies at a grocery shop I recommend Almdudler (herbal lemonade) and Gugelhupf bundt cakes. 

We enjoyed our strudel and hot chocolate at the Seegrube Restaurant which 
is located high above the rooftops of Innsbruck close to the cable car station. The restaurant is open all year round and serves classic Tyrolean cuisine. Dining at 1,905 m was a really a unique experience!

The next time you visit the Alps for a skiing holiday or are heading to Italy or Germany for a city break I highly recommend making a detour and heading to Innsbruck - the capital of Tyrol and host city of two Olympic Winter Games. It's often overlooked in favour of Vienna and Salzburg but the stunning alpine setting and a charming city centre make Innsbruck a great destination in its own right. 

Gemma
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Thursday, 6 September 2018

My Pet Story





My Pet Story with Petplan - How A Dog Changed My Life

There are many reasons why dogs are known as man's best friend. The moment you welcome a fur baby into your life your world is turned upside down and you grow and change as a person. Even if you don't have a dog yourself I bet some of you are delighted when you meet a dog when you're out walking or when watching a cute dog video online. 
Petplan Pet Insurance have asked me to share my pet story with you so I thought I would share the many benefits my dog Coco has brought to my life. Coco has lived with myself and Martyn for over a year now and I could not imagine life without him. He attended our wedding last year, came on honeymoon with us and is always the focus of our attention. 

I think my dog is the best dog in the world 

Marnie the dog, Boo and Tuna used to be my favourite internet famous dogs but now Coco is undisputed champion of the dog world and I have 20,000 photos of him on my phone which prove this. He can do no wrong and his crooked smile and big expressive eyes melt my heart. 

I'm no longer house proud

I was adamant that Coco would be well trained, sleep in his own bed and all of his things would be stored away neatly. This fell apart after about 2 hours of getting Coco into our home. His toys are strewn all over the living room, I'm always standing on his chew sticks and he is allowed to come into bed for a cuddle. I find it really hard to say no to Coco and he has taken over the house. 

I smile more

When he does something cute, I smile. When he learned how to wait until walkies to go to the toilet I smiled and even when he does something naughty I have to laugh it off and smile. Coco is a fantastic companion and I'm no longer lonely when my husband is on the late shifts and he encourages me to be positive. I do find it hard to smile when I'm scrubbing his wee and sick out of the carpet though, why is Coco never sick on the wooden floor?!

I stay in more 

Martyn and I went out far more frequently before we got Coco. We ate out, went shopping together and had the freedom to go anywhere we liked. Our life has had to change dramatically since we got Coco. We have fewer holidays abroad and have bought a caravan so we can now take him with us wherever we go. We will be going to a dog friendly pub for our anniversary meal later in the month and many historic attractions are off the cards if we want to do things as a group. 

I'm really not a fan of leaving Coco in a crate and I'm more than happy to find alternative attractions where he can come with us and we now make more of beaches and the great outdoors rather than more formal settings like museums. Is he worth it? 100% yes. 

I move more 
Owning a dog can motivate you to exercise every day. In the winter I go to work, come home and put my PJs on but now I have Coco bringing his lead to me or barking at me to go for a walk and I can't say no, even if it's raining or I've had a bad day. Taking your dog for a 30 minute walk every day can greatly improve your health and it really helps me to de-stress. I love to see how happy Coco is when we go for a walk, he looks back at me with a huge grin on his face. 

I fell in love 

Dogs show the most unconditional love and I made a best friend the day we brought Coco home. He's my little shadow and follows me everywhere and I wouldn't have it any other way. 





Petplan want to hear your Pet Stories too, so whether it is a recovery from illness or just their day to day mischief share your story on Petplan’s Facebook or Instagram using #PethoodStories


This post is in conjunction with Petplan but all thoughts are my own.

Gemma
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