Friday, 30 October 2015

Photo Diary | Florida 2015 | Day 12 - 14

My last Disney run down! For those that have missed my previous ones, day 1 - 3, day 4 - 7, and day 8 - 11.

Day 12 was a day I had been looking forward to for sometime. We took the 1.5hr drive to St Petesburg, a place that is close to my heart and has a lot of nostalgic memories from when I was a child (this is where we used to stay whenever we visited Florida). I just love the place and I can't begin to tell you the atmosphere that this place has, but its one that makes you feel at ease. No one seems to care what you look like, no one is into fashion, this place definitely lacks that cosmopolitan feel to it, but its great. So much so, that I went in the sea. My body hasn't touched water in public for almost 7 years (no swimming pools, no spa's, no oceans, nothing), simply because I'm conscious of my weight. However I went in, and it felt SO liberating. The beaches are so vast they are derelict, because everyone is not crowded into one little spot. We were in the sea almost 1hr, and only 2 people walked passed us the whole time we were in there (I was sat mostly in the bay so I knew!). We had lunch in a restaurant that we visited 2 years ago - it sits right on the beach so it has ocean views and as you walk off the decking your feet hit the sand. Ahh... I think I've just taken myself back!
 


 
Day 13 we had yet another laid back chill out day. We ventured in and out of souvenir shops down International Drive, trying to grab some last minute presents. I found a $20 note on the floor which was a nice little addition to my spending! We caught a boat from The Boardwalk and ventured into Hollywood Studios to finally watch Fantasmic. This show ended with all the Disney characters on a boat, waving as they disappeared into the night air. Quite symbolic considering it was our last night, and such a great way to end our stay.  
 




Day 14 we spent the morning packing the last remnants of our case. We popped to see my mum (they weren't leaving till the following day). We had lunch with them then off to the airport it was!


 

I hope you've enjoyed my holiday diary! I'm hoping to get some holiday footage up soon so stay tuned for that! 

I've also just been on a mini weekend break, so I'll have some more travel diaries coming soon!
 
Are you going anywhere soon? Let me know in the comments! I love a bit of travel talk!
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Saturday, 24 October 2015

Photo Diary | Florida 2015 | Day 8 - 11

I hope you're all enjoying the run-down of my Disney holiday so far! For those that have missed it, here are days 1-3, and day 4 - 7.
 
Day 8 saw us venturing around some of the Disney hotels. Last time I went to Florida we just didn't have time to do this, however after much research, I realised how much these needed to be seen, so I penciled some time in our itinerary to ensure this was done! We had a walk round Disney's Grand Floridian (one of the deluxe resorts). This was absolutely stunning with huge chandeliers draping down in the reception/lounge of the hotel. Everywhere just oozed luxury! We mooched around some of their Disney art gallery shops within the hotel - they had some gorgeous pieces but way out of our price range! We then headed to Downtown Disney and sampled a meal in The Boathouse, which is a new restaurant. I had THE best burger whilst I was here. Totally recommend! The restaurant also had a great concept - An Amphicar - a car that turns into a boat that you can take a ride in in Lake Buena Vista. Mighty pricey though, may I add, but still, such a unique experience nonetheless! After this we visited Disney's golf course and had a go at mini golf on an interactive golf course. I really wanted to do this last time but time was against us, so I was glad to play it this time - It was "free" with our park tickets that we had purchased, so it was a great little time killer. We then visited Disney's Boardwalk for the first time ever, and both me and Mike fell in love. The atmosphere here was just perfect. So relaxing with a little bit of quirkiness added in. So glad that we went (and proceeded to visit a further 3 times in the evenings!). 
 
Part of Disney's Grand Floridian Hotel

The Grand Floridian

Burger in The Boathouse, Downtown Disney

The Amphicar at DTD

Crazy Golf!

Disney's Boardwalk

The Boardwalk
 
Day 9 we ventured to IHOP for breakfast pancakes then headed to Islands of Adventure. We re-rode some of the rides that we did on the first day, and had a meal in a swanky hotel on The Boardwalk in the evening. 
 
Blueberry Lemonade to start the day.. Yum!

Islands of Adventure. Sadly the Marvel section is being replaced :-(

THE best water ride!

Salad for starters...
 
Day 10 saw us heading to Hollywood Studios. I had my first proper Disney dining table service experience in The Sci-Fi restaurant - imagine an old skool American drive-in cinema where you all sit in your cars and watch a film - yep, that was us but eating. Such a bizarre yet unique experience. We saw a stunt show and rode yet more rides. 
 
Hollywood Studios

Sci-Fi Diner in HS

Motor, Camera, Action! Stunt show
 
Day 11 we visited a mall (yes, another mall!). Here I finally managed to pick up a few souveniers for my niece. I sampled my first ever Five Guys (nice, but not as good as Shake Shack!) and had a late visit to Universal Studios were we saw their evening entertainment. Lots of lasers, coloured water displays and fireworks! We then rounded the day off with a late night trip to the cinema (I'm talking an 11.30pm entrance!). I buried my head in popcorn that was bigger than my head and drank coke till it was coming out my ears. True American style. As for the cinema experience and the crowd. Wow. Just wow. 
 
Laser/Water show on the river (Universals Cinematic Experience)
 
Stay tuned for days 12 - 14!
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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Photo Diary | Florida 2015 | Day 4 - 7

As promised, here is Day 4 - 7 of what I did in Disney! If you haven't yet read days 1-3, then catch them here.
 
Day 4 we headed to Animal Kingdom. Now I'm not a massive animal lover like some, so this park doesn't wow me like some. We went on safari (which is great, even for those non-animal lovers!), we saw The Lion King show, which some described as emotional and a bit of a tear jerker, so I was bracing myself, however I'm sure I was in the wrong show because I didn't feel a thing! (or maybe just heartless, who knows?!). We sampled the same ice-cream from Anandapur Ice Cream truck that we purchased from 2 years ago (it's becoming a Disney tradition!) and rode Expedition Everest, my favourite ride out of the whole park. It was a rather slow-paced day compared to some, but well needed as it was a scorcher of a day in terms of the heat!
 



 

Day 5 we headed to the daddy of them all, Magic Kingdom. I got to wear my sparkly ears for the first time and we rode every ride on our wishlist (and then a whole lot more!). We did the 3 mountains (splash mountain is my all time fave!), caught a glimpse of 'Celebrate the Magic' parade, saw the firework spectacular 'Wishes' in the evening, which always raises those goosebumps. I could watch that display every night of the week. No firework display will ever beat that.


 
 
 
Day 6 was a chill out day (these rest days are much loved now we're getting older!). We enjoyed a nice lay-in and then didn't venture too far, checking out Wonderworks on International Drive, and popping to yet another mall. 
 

 
Day 7 was Epcot day! I tried sombreros on in Mexico, learnt about the history of China and Canada, and sampled Italian ice cream in, you guessed it, Italy! We were hoping to catch the Epcot fireworks this day, but unfortunately we got rained off mid afternoon and the rain certainly wasn't shifting, so after hanging around in a shop for almost an hour till it had calmed, we gave in and headed back to our hotel. 
 





Stay tuned for days 8 - 11!
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Thursday, 15 October 2015

Photo Diary | Florida 2015 | Day 1 - 3

I've been back from Florida over 4 weeks now, so I thought it was about time I gave you the run-down on my holiday. I've been trying to put the holiday footage together on the Gopro software, however I'm having real issues with it (don't remind me of the 9hrs I wasted a few weekends ago after it decided to present the ol' 'close program' error on me). Let's not go there!

After having a wonderful night at the Radisson Blu (our chosen airport hotel, which you can read about here), we arrived at the airport all raring to go. We flew on Thomson's new dreamliner, but apart from the (very) cool window lighting contraption, and the in flight transition mood lighting, I didn't honestly see much difference (don't know what all the fuss is about!).

We arrived in a very rainy Orlando mid afternoon (hurricane Erica hadn't quite got the hint that it wasn't wanted any more). We collected our hire car and proceeded to waste over an hour driving around aimlessly because we didn't know how to work the sat nav. Jet lag had got the best of us and a lack of sleep meant a few fine words were exchanged between me and Mike! What should have taken us 45 minutes to reach the hotel took us 2.5hrs. We got there though, we got there!

After me being fussy with hotel rooms and a quick change, we were settled in and unpacked. We took a stroll down International Drive and sampled our first Shake Shack. Oh.my.god. Lets just say I think I'd be one big lump if I lived there! For those that are clueless with Shake Shack, imagine McDonalds style food, but oh, so much better. The burgers just melted in the mouth. The cheesy chips... ahh.. take me back.

Food coma well and truly in full force, we took a slow stroll back in the humid heat and called it a night at 9.30pm. Hardcore.

Day 1 - We headed to Islands of Adventure and revisited all of our favourites that we did 2 years prior. We had ha-uge turkey legs for lunch (over-rated!), rode a few water rides (my faves!) and got caught in a massive rainstorm that ended up ankle deep within 10 minutes! Its weird how everyone in the parks congregate in shops when it pours. People sit on the floors, just killing time till it passes. Imagine doing that in England? Anyway, we realised this rainstorm wasn't shifting any time soon, so called it a day, legged it to the car park and drove back to the hotel.




 

Day 2 - My mum, her partner and my brother had arrived the day prior, so it was their first full day here, so we thought we'd show them the ropes. The first park we had planned with them was Universal. We got to sample the new Hogwarts Express (which takes you from Universal to Islands), we posed with Jaws, and rode so many 3D rides they were coming out of our ears. 3D rides in Florida are great!




Day 3 - We planned a chill out day today, which consisted of visiting the mall, taking a trip to IHOP and Downtown Disney. We had a failed encounter at Beaches & Cream Soda Shop (one of the Disney hotels restaurants). I had a reservation here for tea, however when we arrived, the menu was very limited (it was great for desserts and icecreams etc), however probably only 5 things to choose from for a main meal. However by the time we decided this restaurant wasn't for us, we'd already ordered drinks. Mike pulled a sicky, the waitress gave us the drinks on the house and we left. Win. We found a gorgeous italian place down International Drive called The Olive Garden. It looks pretty expensive but the food is surprisingly affordable. This was THE best meal I had all holiday. Definitely recommend if you ever visit! (Best bit was, just to 'keep us going', they provided us with this massive bowl of the most delicious salad and bread rolls, all for free!) Would you get that in England? I think not.






Stay tuned for Days 4 - 7!








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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Top 10 things to NOT do at Disneyworld for first-timers

As many of you may know, I have just come back from a trip to Florida. I went 2 years ago, so this trip I was able to do at a slower pace because that need to feel like I needed to cram everything in wasn't there as much. This allowed me to cover parts of the parks that I just didn't have the time to do previously. Now I feel like I have some good solid knowledge and experience of all of the Disney parks (and Universal) to enable me to advise any first-timers what NOT to waste your time doing. This is obviously personal preference and family situations. I do not have children, however most of the tips are universal to all families and situations.

Side note - If you prefer to watch me in action speaking about the below then feel free to watch the video instead.



1. The Tiki Rooms. This is somewhere to go for a breather and a sit down, however there are much better shows to see if you want a bit of time out from the sun and off your feet, but still not want to waste time. SPOILER - The Tiki Rooms is based around (fake) birds, very colourful birds for that matter. You're sat in semi-darkness and the birds put a show on and tell a story. They're hanging from the ceiling and there's lots of them. Admittedly there's lots of detail to these birds and their cages. The show has a very addictive song that will stick in your head for days afterwards. This show is great for young children due to the colours, movements and songs, however if you're holiday-ing as adults, give it a miss. 

2. Don't leave getting a spot for the 'wishes' firework display till the last minute. The firework display itself isn't an issue if you arrive late (for obvious reasons), but the electrical parade is. We've been in a similar spot for 2 holidays running now, and I know how much effort and detail goes into this parade, however because the parade is based on the path, and not at great heights, if you're in a bad spot, you can only see the tops of the floats. The Disney characters also reappear on all the floats, so its a shame if you miss this. It's really unusual and different from any other parade I've seen before. 

3. If you're visiting either Hollywood Studios or Epcot purely for the evening fireworks or to watch Fantasmic, and you're driving, don't waste your money on parking if you're arriving later in the day. Yes, thats right, if you turn up at 8am or 8pm, Disney will still charge you $18 for the full day. Cheat and park in either Downtown Disney or The Boardwalk. DTD offer free Disney buses to the parks, and The Boardwalk offer a free boat. I don't think many tourists think of doing this but its well worth it to save $18! It also enables you to see parts of Disney that you may not have visited otherwise, and you also get to travel by a more interesting mode of transport! The boat across the water at night is pretty relaxing and almost romantic, seeing all the lights twinkling as the sun goes down..

4. Wherever you go in Florida they seem to offer free drink re-fills (on non-alcoholic drinks) whether this is in the restaurants, in McDonalds down International Drive or on the coast! This is great for people who drink a lot, but for people like me who get a little tired of fizzy drinks after a few days it gets a little tedious. Don't feel obliged to keep asking for coke etc.. try asking for iced water. It quenches your thirst so much more on hot days, and its free too, so its a win-win situation! If you do like your sugary drinks and there's a few of you, try just buying one and sharing it between 2. Because they offer free re-fills its not a big issue to share. We started to do this towards the end of the holiday and probably saved quite a few $$$.

5. This year was the first time we got to trial the new fast pass+ system out. It has its pros and cons, however the cons are rather frustrating ones. Because we visited when most children started back at school, we noticed the queue times were massively reduced compared to our last visit in June 2013, which was obviously great for us. However at times we felt like our fast passes were wasted because people without fast passes joined the fast track queue a little too soon (for my liking). I noticed this moreso with shows, so my advice is do not waste your fast passes on shows, because the majority of them have a large seating area, with sometimes over 200 people fitting in, and having a fast pass does not get you priority seating in shows (apart from the firework displays) so it's basically like a free-for all once you enter the room. We had fast passes for fantasmic, however once we'd got into the 'arena' (lets just call it), we were directed towards the back, and no priority seating was provided. 

6. Do not buy one of Disney's rain poncho's whilst at the parks. Be prepared and buy a poncho either before you go (or bring your own light weight rain mac). Disney make an absolute fortune for people getting caught out in the rain. When it rains there, it really does rain - We got caught in a rainstorm in Universal were the water was up to our ankles, covering our whole feet, it really did just look like I'd jumped in a swimming pool! Moral of the story, buy a poncho at a supermarket or bring your own and save $$$.

7. Similar to above, if you're wanting to buy Disney souvenirs for family/friends back home (or even yourself!), although the Disney shops have a great range of items to choose from, depending on what you're after, you can find some really good stuff in Walmart (supermarket) or gift shops down International Drive or in Kissimmee (or anywhere for that matter that isn't on Disney property!). They're half the price and are identical. I found a huge selection of Disney pens for only 99c, whereas in the parks they were charging $4+. So, don't waste that precious spending money if you can get it 50% cheaper elsewhere!

8. Do not try and blag manoeuvring around a park without a map. You WILL get lost. Some of the parks have good focal points (i.e. Magic Kingdom and the castle), however parks like Animal Kingdom are an absolute pain, so a map is a must. These are free at the entrance to all parks. However, I have just heard that Disney are hoping to phase maps out gradually (and apparently have already started doing so!). They want everyone to use their Disney Apps to navigate around the parks. Hmm.
 
9. Do not try and spend a full day at Downtown Disney. Not doing my research properly 2 years ago, we did this. We got dropped off at 10am and were collected at 5pm. The last few hours of our day were wasted trying to kill time. There really isn't much to do - There's a handful of really good Disney shops and some amazing (and themed!) restaurants, however there's only so much eating and shopping you can do! There is Disneyquest which is an indoor arcade. This has 4-5 floors of madness, but is aimed more at older children/young teens. Entrance is usually free if you have the Disney ticket so its worth a quick wonder but I'd definitely visit DTD on an evening for a meal and some cocktails.. its a little more lively, with live entertainment etc.
 
10. In the China area of Epcot there is a 'show' called Reflections of China, and there's pretty much an identical show in Canada, named 'O'Canada' (but obviously with different content). They both last between 15-20 minutes long, however they're standing shows, so if you're visiting this area towards the end of the day, this isn't an ideal place for those feet! Also, if you're not interested in history, or the culture of different countries, then again, you won't enjoy this, and there are much better places to spend 20 minutes at! Although the whole 360 degree cinema is good, it's not an ideal environment for younger children either.
 
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