Monday, 9 April 2018

Disneyland Paris 2018 - My Family Trip

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle

I've really enjoyed putting this post together because I've been able to look back at all of the photos I took of the beautiful Disneyland Paris park. I have visited Disney parks in Orlando as a child but only visited Paris for the first time as an adult. I was disappointed by Disneyland Paris during my trip five years ago as it was a little shabby and run down but the Walt Disney Company now has full control of the park and is making a lot of improvements. A lot has changed since my last visit and the renovations and attraction updates really impressed me and I'm already planning my next trip!

As previously mentioned the trip to Disneyland was my first family trip since I was a teenager. You might think Disneyland is an odd holiday destination for four adults but there's more to Disney than spinning tea cups. There was plenty to see, do and eat to keep us all entertained for a few days. 

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Alladdin and Jasmine character meet

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Adventureland

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris parade

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris parade

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Gaston meet and greet

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris carousel

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris main street floral display

This is a picture of Disneyland Paris ride photos

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris main street

This is a picture of the Disneyland Hotel Paris

This is a picture of Disneyland Paris cupcakes

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris Discoveryland

This is a picture of the Disneyland Paris castle with fireworks


We stayed at the Newport Bay Club Hotel during our trip to Disney. My brother is an annual pass holder so we were entitled to a 50% discount off our stay, without this we probably would have stayed at the Sequoia Lodge or Hotel Cheyenne which are a bit more budget friendly. Staying at the hotel means you are within walking distance to the parks, Disney Village and the local train station for easy access to the city of Paris or the airport. Staying at the resort hotels also mean that you get extra magic hours in the parks and can beat the crowds and queues by getting in at 8.30am rather than 9.30/10am. 

The hotel has a 1920's New England coastal theme and has everything you could need including restaurants, a bar, swimming pool, a fitness room and free shuttle bus to the parks if you don't fancy walking. Our room had two comfy double beds and was the perfect retreat after a busy day in the parks. Little tip  - There are no hot drink facilities in the rooms but there are hot drink machines on each floor and you just pop your key card in to get a free coffee or hot chocolate.

See & Do 

Day 1

We spent our first morning in Disney in the Walk Disney Studios Park. We arrived in the park just after it opened for the Extra Magic Hours and were able to walk straight on to Crush's Coaster (there is usually a nig queue) board a turtle shell and dive into the ocean. We absolutely loved this ride and were surprised by the speed you were swirled around the East Australian Current in the dark.

We were also able to walk straight onto Ratatouille by using the single rider queue. If you don't mind sitting by a stranger you can seriously cut park queuing times by riding alone. This attraction was charming and had 3D visuals and an impressive track system. You are shrunk down to the size of a rat cooking up a storm with Remy and friends before you are discovered by Chef Skinner, who chases you through the sights, sounds and smells of Gusteau's Parisian restaurant.

We managed to tick of lots of other rides with only minimal queue times including the terrifying Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and smaller attractions in Toontown. This park is pretty small and you can get a lot done in just one morning and afternoon.

We spent the evening in the main Disneyland Park and the whole of the second day. There are five incredibly detailed and distinct lands in this park filled with classic attractions and street parades. You can encounter swashbuckling pirates on Pirates of the Caribbean, zoom through outer space on Hyperspace Mountain and enjoy fireworks and light displays over Sleeping Beauty Castle.

We were treated to glorious weather for the first evening in the park which meant we could explore all the different lands, take some photos and hang out with Aladdin and Jasmine in Agrabah. We decided to watch the illumination show on our second day and get on all the rides whilst the other visitors were watching the show. We were able to walk straight on to Pirates of the Caribbean (which looked great after a renovation) and Big Thunder Mountain only has a 20 minute queue.

Day 2

The weather on day two was utterly miserable all day with torrential downpours for long periods of time. We didn't want this to spoil our fun so we got our umbrellas out and plastic ponchos on and did all the rides in the pouring rain with the wind blowing in our faces and made the most of our time in the park. Once again we made use of the Extra Magic Hours and headed into the park at 08:30. We headed straight for the rides with long wait times like Peter Pan's Flight, Hyperspace Mountain and StarTours. This meant we could take the rest of the day at a leisurely pace and dry off whilst having a hot drink and enjoying some of the tame indoor rides where we could stay dry.

Mid March is a fantastic time to visit - the park wasn't too crowded as there were no school holidays and there were lots of attractions you could walk straight on to. We went on the Indiana Jones ride three times in a row and by keeping an eye on the queue times on the Disneyland app we could wait for queue times to shorten and never waited longer than 20/25 minutes for any attraction.

One thing not to miss is Disney Stars on Parade which takes place at 5pm everyday. The parade features colourful floats and costumes an even a fire breathing dragon. The parade lasts for about half an hour and I recommend heading to It's a Small World for a great viewing spot.

Another visual spectacular to enjoy is the Illuminations show which takes place at park closing time.
This light show blends fireworks, water, lights and fire whilst Mickey guides you on a journey through impressive projections of famous Disney tales, old and new. I loved the show but there was a bit too much live action Beauty and the Beast and Pirates of the Caribbean in it for me - some Hunchback of Notre Dame or Ratatouille would have been a natural fit for Disneyland Paris.

Eat & Drink

If you're visiting Disneyland Paris and want the best dining experience I recommend planning your meals like we did. Reservations open up to 60 days before your trip and character dining and the most popular restaurants get booked up quickly. If you wait until you arrive to figure out what you fancy you may be left disappointed. This guide by DLP Guide is the best for reviews and up to date menus.

One of the highlights of our trip was a character breakfast at Plaza Gardens. I'm not too old to enjoy a pastry and coffee with Scrooge McDuck! There was a huge choice of continental breakfast, British favorites and sweet treats like waffles and pancakes. We were so full after breakfast we didn't eat again until 6pm that evening!

Cafe Fantasia is a wonderful place to relax after a busy day in the park. It's located in the fancy Disneyland Hotel and is softly lit bar with a live pianist. Drinks here aren't cheap but the service was impeccable and staff kept us topped up with a supply of snacks and Glowtinis.

If you're looking for something lighter than the typical pizza, burgers and chips on offer in the park I highly recommend the Cable Car Bake Shop and Market House Deli. They offer sandwiches and salads for around 7 euro and have some tasty 25th Anniversary cakes (photos above) The Bake shop has a really cute interior and are a great spot to look over Main Street and get shelter if there is rain.

We loved the atmosphere in Captain Jack's where you can watch the boats go by from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and they had a good wine and cocktail selection. Staff in here were lovely and really attentive and efficient.

That turned in to a mammoth blog post but I hope anyone planning a trip finds it useful. Don't let being an adult put you off visiting Disneyland, my family all had a blast and we want to return next year!

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Sunday, 25 March 2018

Meet Florrie - Our Freedom caravan

This is a picture of a freedom micro caravan

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you may have already seen a few snaps of the caravan that Martyn and I purchased at the end of last year but here she is in all her glory with lots of interior photos. 

We've been thinking about campervan and caravan ownership for a long time. Martyn and I watch so many Van Life and caravan YouTubers, have visited caravan dealers and The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show to get a clearer idea of the type of van that would suit us the best. We spent our honeymoon touring the North Coast 500 in a campervan which we hired. Whilst we loved this experience and the campervan was great it was just way too small for us(and too expensive). Campervans are ideal for short breaks and trips to the beach but didn't suit our little family and can feel a little cramped if you're stuck inside when it rains.

We came across our little microvan on a Facebook caravan sale group and we fell in love straight away. It is small enough to be stored in our garden, is a perfect weight to be towed by our car and offers a bit more room than a campervan and a lot more storage. We went to view Florrie and after a couple of days contemplation we took the plunge and bought her using a mixture of savings and money that we were given generously as a gift at our wedding

Florrie may be small but she has everything we need including a fridge, hob and grill and hot water. The seats fold out to create a double bed and we have loads of extra room if we put our awning up outside. The microvan doesn't have a bathroom like some bigger caravans do but we have a toilet that we can take with us if we want to and we only really intend on pitching up at sites with full facilities. 

This is a picture of a shah tzu in a caravan

Coco really loves the caravan and gets to snuggle up in-between me and Martyn at night. 

This is a hanging home is where you park it caravan sign

Compared to the campervan we hired Florrie has loads of storage. There is a long wardrobe unit, plenty of storage in the kitchen area for all our cooking equipment, some slim overhead units in the seating area perfect for books and board games and storage under the seats for our bedding. 

This is a picture of a freedom caravan interior

We recently took the caravan on a trip to a local site to make sure everything is in working order before we embark on a bigger trip this summer. We are planning some long weekends in West Wales and I would love to return to the Lake District in the autumn. It won't be all grey skies and trips in the UK though. Martyn will have the chance to get his Speedo 's out and Coco can have an ice cream on the beach as we are planning on taking the caravan to France in the summer and a return trip to Austria is on the cards at some point. 

So there you have it, our lovely Florrie. We have little bits we want to tinker with inside, have already added some extra insulation under the seats and I'm going to tone down the nautical theme a little so we can put our own stamp on the interior. 

I'm conscious that most 25-30 something readers of this blog are probably not that into caravanning. Do you want to read more about our caravan travels? I can share some lessons we learn along the way? (Hitching up to the car for the first time was interesting...) Let me know if the comment section below. 

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Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Packing for Disneyland Paris

I’m so incredibly excited for my Disneyland Paris trip this weekend. I’m a big kid and can’t wait to ride rollercoasters, eat at Remy’s restaurant and top it all off with a firework, light and music extravaganza at the end of the night. 

I’ve not been on a holiday with my family since the age of 15 and I’m looking forward to visiting Paris with my mum, brother and brother’s boyfriend (Coco and Martyn are staying at home). I started to think I was too cool to go on holiday as a family and opted to forfeit holidays to stay at home, listen to music loudly and have a house party with all of my friends. I have really missed going away as a family and have such fond memories of our trips to Disney in Florida in the 90s. It will be lovely to share this Disney experience with my family again and make new memories. 

I have gone slightly overboard with Disney themed accessories for my trip but my brother and I are huge Disney fans and if you can’t be a Disney super fan when you’re in Disney then when can you?

This is a picture of a red cath kids ton pack pack with disney characters printed on it

I picked up a backpack for my trip from the Cath Kidston Disney collection in the sale. It's got plenty of space for my camera and flask to take into the park and has a splashproof/waterproof coating which will keep my things dry when it inevitably rains whilst I'm on a outdoor ride.

I've not been to Paris since 2013 (blog post here) and my mum has never been at all so we will be spending some time in the city and not just on site and in our Disney hotel. I'm planning a whistle stop tour of all the top sights for my mum and have some museums lined up if the weather isn't the best on the day we visit. I don't like to rely on Google Maps so I always pack a guide with a fold out map tucked away in the back. 

This is a picture of a eyewitness paris guide book

I'll be taking my instax camera along with my digital camera because the little instant photos are great for scrapbooking and my mum who isn't a social media fan can look back at the photos and take some home with her. My cute Disney camera enamel pin is from Grape Soda Club. I didn't really need this pin as I have a huge collection but it was too cute to resist and the photo slides up and down. 

This is a picture of a fujifiilm instal mini camera

I don't really have a Disney princess outlook on life, I'm more of a angry villain so I'll be channelling the Evil Queen from Snow White with my accessories on my trip. Etsy have a great selection of handmade Minnie ears available and they are far more interesting (and some are cheaper) than the ones you can purchase in the park.  

Disney resorts can be pretty expensive places so I've packed a few things which I hope will save me money on my trip. Food is going to be a big expense and we have booked into some great restaurants whilst we are there but but I've packed some tracker bars and nuts to snack on and I'm taking a refillable water bottle as you can fill these up at water fountains across the park. Water is 3/4 euros for a bottle in the park so I'll make a big saving each time I refill. I'm also taking some plastic ponchos to stay dry if it rains during the fireworks or parade, you can get these in Poundland and I'm pretty sure these would be 8 euros if not more in the park.

I've recycled an old work lanyard to keep my park tickets and fast pass tickets safe and dry whilst I'm in the park. It's a rather boring one but this gives me a chance to wear some of my pin collection which I mainly purchase on eBay. Lots of Disney fans collect pins and pin trading is a popular past time in the park. 

This is a picture of a lanyard with disney pins attached

The weather is due to be a bit grey and cold this weekend so I'll be wrapping up and packing lots of layers. The jumper below is from the Dinsey store Minnie Rocks the Dots range and will be lovely and cosy on chilly evenings in the park. We are staying in the rather lovely Newport Bay Club Hotel which has a 1920's New England feel with nautical touches. The hotel has a pool so I'll be packing some swimsuits including my polka dot one which has a Minnie Mouse feel. The pool will be a great way to unwind in the evening after a long day in the park. 

I'll also be packing my comfy, battered old Converse because you can walk around 30k steps each day in the park and a waterproof coat.

Orlando (I guess I'm about 7 here)

I just need to get my boarding pass and passport ready and I'll be all set to go, 4 days until I go on holiday!! 

If you have any recommendations or tips for visiting Disneyland Paris please leave a comment below. 

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Sunday, 18 March 2018

North Coast 500 honeymoon road trip - Eilean Donan Castle & the road home via the Lake District

I've really enjoyed sharing this series of posts about my North Coast 500 honeymoon adventure, they have been a great way to reflect on a trip of a lifetime and the first one Martyn and I had as a married couple. This post will be the last in the series and I think I've saved the best until last. What can beat the sight of a Scottish castle in a loch and an industrial engineering marvel?!

As our Scottish honeymoon drew to a close we started to make our way back south after reaching some of the most remote locations on the Scottish north coast. We broke our journey up with pit stops at Kyle of Lochalsh, Fort William and the Lake District before heading back home to Wales.

After a long drive from Thurso to Kyle of Lochalsh we spent the night at
Reraig Caravan Site. We loved this small site and the facilities were completely spotless and had everything we needed. This was very welcome after more basic facilities on the north coast. The campsite is perfect for those planning on heading to the Isle of Skye the next day and is just a five minute drive from the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle. I first spotted this castle on our way to Gairloch earlier in the trip and I'm so glad we were able to stop there on the return journey. You can easily see why is is one of the most photographed locations in Scotland. 

This is a picture of Eilean Donan Castle

The first incarnation of the castle was built in the 13th century during the reign of the Scottish King Alexander II. Initially, nearly the whole island was contained by a wall and houses a substantial main keep and towers to keep an eye out for any invading Vikings. The waters around the castle are shallow and potential attackers would have to wade over to the island leaving their armour weighed down with water. 

During the medieval period the Highlands and Islands of Scotland were rife with clan feuds and the  strategic position Eilean Donan meant it was a constant target and during the 17th century, the castle was briefly held by a Parliamentarian garrison before passing back into Royalist hands. 

When the the British Government learned that the castle was occupied by Jacobite leaders and Spanish soldiers, three Royal Navy boats were sent to deal with the uprising. The tried to bombard the castle with cannons but the thick walls meant this had little impact. The government forces took the castle by force and once inside discovered barrels of gunpowder and blew the castle up. Eilean Donan then lay in ruin for nearly two hundred years. The castle was not rebuilt until 1932. 

Eilean Donan Castle

Simply stunning! I don't think I've ever seen such a picturesque sight. I recommend heading to the castle easily because it can become completely overrun by tourists. When we were there an American tourist was dressed as a princess and having a full on Disney style photoshoot outside the castle...  

This is a picture of Eilean Donan Castle, scotland

After ten days of driving on single track roads for hours each day we decided to take it easy and spend the night at the Glen Nevis Caravan park near Fort William which we had previously stayed at when we visited Glen Coe earlier in the trip. We had a quiet evening with fish and chips and reading in the campervan. The large supermarkets in Fort William meant we could stock up on supplies and get some cheap diesel for the long drive back home. 

The journey south was broken up by an overnight stop just outside Keswick at the Scotgate Holiday Park. The site is ideal for camping all year round with it's tea rooms and facilities with underfloor heating. The majority of touring pitches have a shared tap between 2 pitches, electric hook-up, grey waste water disposal, tv aerial socket and hardstanding. We only had time to briefly stroll around Keswick but we loved how dog friendly everything is there. It made a nice change to be able to take Coco in a shop rather than one of us waiting outside. 

Two railway workers like myself and Martyn couldn't visit the Cumbria/North Yorkshire area without visiting the Ribblehead Viaduct. 

Ribblehead viaduct is the most impressive structure on the Settle-Carlisle Railway. The viaduct has 24 massive stone arches 104 feet above the moor. The viaduct is mighty but came at a cost. Hundreds of navvies lost their lives building the line due to poor working conditions and outbreaks of disease in the camps they lived in. Passenger and freight services still go over the viaduct. Taking in the beautiful scenery and gazing up at the viaduct was a wonderful way to end our honeymoon adventure. 

This is a picture of the ribblehead viaduct on a sunny day

We really did have the best time in Scotland and I would love to return because there is so much we simply didn't have time to see. I would recommend giving yourself at two weeks to fully experience the North Coast 500 like we did, especially if you have to travel up to Scotland from the South West.

As previously mentioned we toured this route in a VW campervan which we hired from Morning VW Camper Hire in Newport. This was an ideal way to get about and saved a lot of time compared to pitching up in a tent but it did come with a hefty price tag. Lots of campsites had glamping pods and there are plenty of B&Bs along the route so touring with a campervan or tent aren't the only options.  To find out more about the route head over to the VisitScotland site. 

If you want your own North Coast 500 adventure you can follow our itinerary here.

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