Tuesday, 31 December 2019

My Walt Disney World 2019 Trip Photo Diary

I’ve travelled to all sorts of exciting places with my husband, Martyn. We've been to the top of the Austrian Alps, travelled on the most scenic railway in the world and toured the remote Scottish Highlands on our honeymoon. We've shared our love of adventure and railways but this trip to Florida allowed me to share my cherished childhood holiday memories with him and I attempted to bring him into the cult of Disney (my brother and I are already fully-fledged members).

Martyn is used to me watching Mulan and Tangled on repeat and I think he agreed to join me on this holiday because he knew I really wanted to visit Disneyworld again but I don't think he expected to actually enjoy it himself. (He really did)

The first evening of our trip was spent at the hotel after two exhausting days of travelling. We chose to stay at the Coronado Springs Hotel which is part of the Disney resort. It has a Mexican and American South West feel and is set alongside a pretty lake and had an impressive Aztec themed pool. It isn't as ostentatiously Disney themed or aimed at children as some of the hotels in the resort as it has some conference facilities but it suited us perfectly. The rooms had been recently renovated to a very high standard and had all the amenities we needed. 

I wanted Martyn to get a traditional Disney experience on the first day of our 9-day trip so we headed to the Magic Kingdom park on our first full day. You're struck by how beautiful the park is before you even enter when you're greeted by colourful floral displays and a steam train.

When I entered the Magic Kingdom for the first time since I was 14 and saw the castle at the end of Main Street I got a little emotional. The quote above the entrance reads "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy." which is 100% true. The theming of each distinct land in the park is so detailed and immersive you are transported to another world. 

We both adored the classic attractions like Peter Pan's Flight, "it's a small world' and Tiki Room which you don't really find in UK theme parks where thrill rides are the main draw. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was a great addition to the park which wasn't there on my last visit. This new coaster was super smooth and the mine carts swayed and tilted with the track. 

The 20-minute long firework, music and projection extravaganza Happily Ever After is the perfect way to end a day in this park. The show is a feast for the eyes, using Cinderella Castle as a backdrop and contains two of my favourite Disney songs - Out There and Go the Distance from the often-overlooked films Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules.

The Magic Kingdom is really iconic with its castle but Disneyworld is made up of a number of parks, all of which have a different theme and feel. The Animal Kingdom lets you explore the wonder of amazing rainforests, African savannas and Asian jungles in an immersive wildlife experience. 

The highlights for me were the Kilimanjaro safari where you can see up to 34 different species including giraffes, hippopotamus and lions and Expedition Everest, a thrilling roller coaster that travels backwards as you are being chased by a yeti. Fun fact - Expedition Everest is the most expensive roller coaster in the world. It was reported to cost $100 million to build.

During our time in Orlando, the Epcot park was hosting Festival of the Arts and there were lots of booths with artists, performers and food inspired by art. I particularly enjoyed the Disney on Broadway performance in the park where I was able to enjoy songs from favourites like Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Frozen and High School Musical performed by Broadway stars. The park is also home to the World Showcase where you can learn about cultures from 11 countries and sample their food and traditions. 

The park I most enjoyed spending time in and soaking up the atmosphere was Hollywood Studios. Most of my childhood memories come from this park - the Beauty and the Beast live show, Fantasmic and the thrills of Tower of Terror. I love the feel of Old Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard all lit up with neon lights.

My last visit to this park was in 1999 so I was excited to return and see the new Toy Story Land. I thought the Slinky Dog Dash coaster would be an attraction aimed at children but it was ideal for all ages. It twists and turns past giant toys in Andy’s oversized backyard! It's even more impressive at night when it is all lit up. I recommend trying to get a place in the queue when the fireworks are going off just before park close as wait times can be very long early in the morning. 

A few aquaintances scoffed when I, a 32 year old woman, said I was going to Disneyworld. I know some people travel to seek out a type of authenticity or cultural discovery but there's nothing wrong with a simple, fun holiday. Is Dinsey a man-made construct? Yes. Does that make it any less fun or valid? Not really. I had an absolute blast on my holiday but also equally enjoyed my rail trip to Switzerland. 

An aspect if the trip that I loved but haven't touched on in this post is all the Disney dining and treats. You can read all about my favourite Disney eats in an older post and what I packed for my trip here

Roll on Disney 2021!! (trip planning in progress) 

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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? 

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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!

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