Monday, 9 July 2018

Disney World Trip Planning

So, I booked a trip to Disney World on a whim last week... Why not, ey?!

I've been to Disneyland Paris a few times as an adult but I've not visited the parks in Orlando since 1999 when I was still in High School. I was 14 during my last visit so my mum planned the whole thing and I just took it all in, one day at a time and didn't have to organise a thing. This time the planning will be all down to me and I want to make the most of every minute of our trip as it's not something my husband Martyn is likely to do with me again (he's not the biggest Disney fan.)

My brother has been to Orlando recently and I've got a former cast member colleague so I'll be asking them for lots of Disney World advice but I have started to put my own little plan together and I'm slightly overwhelmed, there's so much to think about! The adverts make it look like you will be skipping around the parks hand in hand with Mikey and waltzing up to attractions and walking straight on but previous experience tells me otherwise. To make sure I have plenty of fun and enjoy both the build-up and the holiday I've broken my planning down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Itinerary 

I would like to have a rough idea of which park we are heading to each day so I can make some dining reservations and book our FastPasses (more on this later.) I don't want to have every minute accounted for and plan on having plenty of downtime. We will be in Orlando for just under two weeks so a few days at the water parks, relaxing in the hotel pool and a few cocktails in DisneySprings will be a welcome break after walking 30k+ steps in the parks. 

I've got a notebook and a folder for all my tickets, this girl is organised! There are some great tools out there to help plan like this spreadsheet and you can find my day planner below.

This is a picture of my disney world day planner chart


FastPass+


FastPass+ is a digital ticketing system that allows Disney World ticket holders the opportunity to skip the line on three attractions per day. These are completely free and if you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel like we are, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in for the duration of your stay. I'll be looking to get some passes for the attractions that weren't there on my last visit or in Disneyland Paris so I have a unique experience this time. The attractions at the top of my FastPass+ list are Avatar: Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Kilimanjaro Safari, all the mountains (Space, Thunder and Splash), Test Track, Slinky Dog Dash in the new Toy Story Land and the classic Tower of Terror. 

Dining Plan

We have a free Disney Dining Plan as part of our booking, this entitles us to two snacks per day and two counter service meals with a drink of our choice (you can have alcohol, shakes, hot drinks etc). You can upgrade and get table service meals but booking reservations for so many sit down meals would put restrictions on our time and whilst this would be nice it is an extra expense and after looking at the menus for confer service food I know we will be more than happy with the variety.

I will make a couple of reservations - I would love to have breakfast at Be Our Guest in the grand ballroom. I also fancy watching the fireworks from our table during a meal in 'Ohana which offers Hawaiian-style grilled food. 

There are some counter service restaurants which have great reviews so I've made a note of those so I can plan where we eat around the attractions we have a FastPass for and so I don't miss any of those classic snacks like dole whip floats and ice cream cookie sandwiches. 

Supplies

I've shared some tips for packing for Disney on the blog before and a bit of planning ahead can save you money when you're in the park and make the day even more enjoyable so I like to put a together list to make sure I've got everything I need. Who wants to pay $8 for paracetamol or $10 for a poncho if it rains? Not me! 

Between myself and Martyn we will have the following items in our bags when we are exploring the parks:

I will also make a list for my big suitcase and plan on taking comfy shoes, light layers and some snacks for the hotel room. I will also be packing some cute Disney themed outfits. Yes, I'm 30 but I'm totally ok with being basic. I'm not going full-on Disney princess but I do have this Haunted Mansion t-shirt and fancy getting something with a tropical vibe for my days in Animal Kindom  - maybe some dresses with animal or palm print like these ones from the Plus size occasion wear section at Quiz.


I've already made a big start on planning and the next stages will be making dining reservations 180 days before we go and booking those fast passes 60 days before our trip. If anyone reading this is a Disney veteran and has some tips for me please leave a comment below. I would love to know what your favourite Disney attractions are, any top tips for what see that's underrated and snack recommendations. 

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Gemma
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Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Long Weekend in Cheddar - with the Camping and Caravanning Club

Since getting our caravan last year we've only been away for one short break in it. Our first trip was just a few miles away from our home to test everything out and get used to towing. Our trip to Cheddar was our first proper mini break in Florrie (our Freedom Caravan) and it was the perfect location to continue to get used to caravanning and wasn't too far to tow from our home in South Wales. 

I've become a member of the Camping and Caravanning Club which comes with lots of benefits. Firstly you get a discount on club campsites and access to Certified sites which are small, privately run sites which operate under the Club's jurisdiction and can only accommodate a handful of caravans and tents. They can be secluded hideaways and because of their small size, they are often able to operate in areas close to beaches or in National Parks where bigger, more commercial sites aren't allowed. 

Our campsite was situated on the outskirts of the village of Priddy, the highest in the Mendips. Cheddar Camping and Caravanning Club Site is an ideal base to explore all the area has to offer and would be perfect for walkers, climbers and families with kids who don't need a clubhouse to be entertained. The site has beautiful views, charming stone walls and was very tranquil. 

This is a picture of a sheep in a field

This is a picture of cheddar camping and caravan club site

The site offers pitches for touring caravans, motorhomes, trailer tents and tents including grass pitches and hardstandings with electric hookup. There are 90 pitches in total open to club members and non-members too. 

Upon arrival were received a warm welcome from staff in the reception which also serves as a shop. The shop is open all season and sells locally produced meat, cheese, groceries, gas and anything you might have forgotten to pack. Fresh bread and pastries are baked each morning and available to pre-order. There's also a farm shop a short walk from the site where you can pick up produce and get a hot meal if you're not in the mood to cook. 

Dogs are welcome on-site but can't be exercised there. Luckily there are plenty of public footpaths nearby where we could walk Coco. Coco can be a tad anxious if people are coming and going past the caravan and is very curious. Even though the site was fully booked for the Bank Holiday whilst we were there it was still very quiet and Coco behaved very well and was relaxed. 

This is a picture of my freedom caravan

This is a picture of the english countryside

The site had spotless facilities including hot showers, washbasins and toilets, a laundry and dishwashing area. There is a chemical disposal point and the site has Wi-Fi (fees apply) and BBQs to hire. The site was perfect for our needs and I would love to return for a longer trip in the future. 

This is a picture of cheddar camping and caravan club site



This is a picture of coco my shah tzu

The site is in an ideal location for exploring all that Somerset has to offer.  Popular tourist attractions such as Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole, Wells, Glastonbury are all just short drive away. Bath and Bristol are also within easy reach too. The site is about 40 minutes from Somerset’s sandy beaches including Brean, Burnham on Sea and Weston-super-Mare. 

We only had a long weekend in the area so we had to narrow down the list of towns and attractions we wanted to visit. We managed to cram in a trip to Wells, Glastonbury and Bream and a drive through Cheddar Gorge. 

This is a picture of vicar's close wells

We used the day we arrived on site to pitch up, relax and enjoy the facilities on offer and only ventured off site to walk the dog. On day two we headed out to explore the area and visited  Wells, England's smallest cathedral city.


I adored Wells with its impressive cathedral and moated Bishop's Palace. It was a lovely place to wander around for a few hours and highlights included the picturesque Vicars’ Close, which is believed to be Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited street. It is tucked away to the side of the Cathedral, just past the Music School so don't miss it if you are in Wells. The market was also fantastic and is held each Wednesday and Saturday. Taylors of Bruton had some tasty baked goods and Nutts Scotch Eggs were delicious, I recommend the salmon ones or the black pudding. There are over 15 stalls offering tasty treats, perfect for a picnic on the green or to take back to the caravan like we did.

This is a picture of vicar's close wells

This is a picture of bishops palace in wells

This is a picture of wells cathedral


This is a picture of cheddar gorge

We left Wells and ventured back to the site via the impressive Cheddar Gorge to spend the evening reading, relaxing and scoffing our market goodies. We decided to head to Glastonbury on day three and visited the romantic and historic ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. 

The entrance fee is £8.25 at the gate with gift aid (£7.50 without) and is discounted if you purchase in advance online at £7.43 (£6.67 without gift aid). The abbey is thought to be the resting place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere and it is believed that the Holy Thorn tree located in the abbey's grounds sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea's staff, who is reported to have visited the site just a few decades after the death of Christ. The abbey was ransacked during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII  and now lies in ruins set in 36 acres of parkland.

The abbey is a very dog-friendly site and Coco loved playing in the grounds. I highly recommend taking a picnic and making a day of it.


This is a picture of glastonbury abbey

This is a picture of glastonbury abbey

This is a picture of glastonbury abbey garden and grounds

We throguhly enjoyed our time in Cheddar and thought the caravan site was the ideal spot to relax and take a break from our hectic day jobs. To plan your own camping or caravan trip in the South West head over to the Camping and Caravanning Club site for full listings of sites in the area.

We are currently planning our next trip in the caravan and will be visiting North Wales in July. If you have any tips for dog-friendly things to see and do in North Wales please leave a comment below. 

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Gemma
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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Exploring Euston - The Lost Tunnels & Riding on Mail Rail

This is a picture of 60s posters on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour

I love a railway-themed attraction or museum and have visited lots of them all over the UK and Europe. (You can read all my train posts here) I'm particularly interested in the history of the London Underground and have been on a few tours that explore the hidden history of this extraordinary network now. I've always fancied an abandoned station or tunnel tour after previously visiting the Acton depot and the London Underground's former HQ which is a gem of art deco architecture. 

You have to be quick to get tickets for the Hidden London tours organised by the London Transport Museum and my husband and I have missed out on them before as they are released whilst we are in work. We were lucky enough to get tickets for the Euston Station Lost Tunnels tour when the museum last released a batch of tickets and were so excited for a glimpse behind the scenes. 

This is a picture of 60s posters on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour

The tour explored a century of the station’s history, from its beginnings on the corner of Melton and Drummond Street to its future as part of an evolving and growing national railway network. I'm pleased that we were able to explore the lost tunnels before the site is transformed for HS2 and repurposed to delivery a more future-proof railway. The Underground is always evolving.

Euston has two station types, one a mainline station and the other, an underground station. Euston was the first mainline station to connect London to Birmingham in 1838.

The two branches of the Northern line were constructed by two competing companies and they had two separate entrances at Euston. Later the companies agreed to join the two stations with a passageway. The tour takes you through this now-closed passageway, the ticket hall and still has posters hanging from the 1960’s.

We really enjoyed exploring parts of the underground that are closed off to the public, the tunnels felt like a time capsule with British Rail posters and advertisements for Pyscho and West Side Story adorning the walls. The tours aren't cheap but are really immersive and well worth the ticket price. 

This is a picture of booking office on the Lost Tunnels tour


This is a picture of abandoned underground tunnels on the Euston - The Lost Tunnels tour



Mail Rail

Not content with visiting one transport themed attraction in one day we also made time to visit Mail Rail during our trip to London. We purchased a combined ticket which gave us access to both the Postal Museum and a ride on Mail Rail - another chance to explore subterranean London.


Inside the museum, there’s a whole host of items tracing the history of the postal service from its beginnings in Tudor times up to the present day. The museum is split into chronological zones and houses the first post box, various post vans and carriages and the only sheet of Penny Black stamps still in existence. 



The part of the museum I was most excited to explore was the Mail Rail - a 15-minute journey under the streets of London just opposite the Postal Museum. 


For just under a century, (and unknown to many Londoners), a railway network operated under the city streets transporting the country’s correspondence. Mail Rail was introduced to ease the congestion on the roads of London and speed up the transportation of post. At its peak, it ran between Paddington and Whitechapel.

The network remains pretty unchanged since it was decommissioned in 2003 and sits deep below the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office. Mail Rail was closed as the cost to operate the system was far greater than transporting post via road but we have been left with a fantastic experience and chance to explore more of London's hidden history. 

The journey starts when you board tiny carriages in the exhibition space. These trains were never intended for passengers and hefty me and my tall husband found them quite a squeeze. If you don't know the person who you are travelling with before the Mail Rail ride you will by the time you emerge at the other end! The tunnels are now home to dynamic video guides and testimonials from staff who used to work in the tunnels. The history of Mail Rail is far more interesting than you might expect!

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

This is a picture of Mail Rail at the Postal Museum


Combined tickets for the museum and Mail Rail are currently £17 and the Euston  - The Lost Tunnels tour costs £41.50.  Both get a big thumbs up from me and Martyn. 

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This is a picture of abandoned tunnels at Euston station - The Lost Tunnels tour




Gemma
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Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Cocktail Hour - 3 Spring Gin Cocktails

It's been a while since I've posted about my love of gin or even indulged in a glass of gin. My drinks trolley has been untouched since the festive period so I thought I would dust off some of my old favourites and make the most of the lighter evenings and have a gin in the garden.

Whether you’re looking to mix up something to impress your best mates or just fancy a midweek treat these cocktails I rustled up on the weekend are perfect and so simple to make. They don't contain anything too tricky to source and won't take hours to master.

The Rhubarb Rhubarb looks so fancy and tastes amazing.  I’ve been a super fan of Edinburgh Gin for a couple of years now, particularly their liqueurs – which is one of the ingredients in this cocktail. The Rhubarb & Ginger liqueur has a lovely sweetness and a hint of warmth and spice. If you can't get a hold of this or want something budget friendly Lidl makes their own version which is available during Spring/Summer. I impressed myself with my cocktail making skills when I made this one as I'm not typically the most dexterous.


Rhubarb Rhubarb


Ingredients 
50ml Edinburgh Gin's Rhubarb & Ginger Liqueur
10ml Aperol (I used the Lidl version which is only about £6)
25ml fresh lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
1 egg white

Method 
Dry shake all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
Add ice to the shaker and shake again for 15 seconds.
Strain into a Martini or coupe glass.


Elder Zest

This refreshing tall drink is a great mix of delicate elderflower and zingy lemon. Perfect for a BBQ!

Ingredients
25ml Gin
25ml Edinburgh Gin's Elderflower Liqueur (I'm sure a dash of cordial will do)
15ml fresh lemon juice
Lemonade
Garnish - lemon twist and mint leaves

Method
Half fill a tall glass with crushed ice.
Stir the gin, liqueur and lemon juice together in a mixing glass.
Pour into the glass.
Top up the glass with crushed ice.
Top up with lemonade.
Garnish with a lemon twist and a sprig of fresh mint.


Gin Daisy

Another sunny day drink, perfect for a sharing pitcher and quick to mix.

Ingredients 
50ml Gin
25ml fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grenadine
Soda water
Mint and lemon zest

Method 
Shake the gin, lemon juice and grenadine with ice. Pour over crushed ice and fill the glass with soda water. garnish with mint and lemon zest. Ideally, you would make lemon zest swirls but I'm not particularly crafty with a knife and ended up with lemon zest lumps... For a more vivid pink colour add a little more grenadine. 


Feeling inspired? Check out my other gin posts or visit Emma's blog for some more ginspiration. 

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Gemma
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