Monday, 16 October 2017

The Ride, NYC

After visiting NYC in Christmas 2016 and standing in Times Square at night waiting to cross one of their manic crossings, something caught my eye. It was a bus, but not just any bus, it had floor to ceiling windows and the people in that bus were sat in tiered rows like that of a cinema, facing outwards. There was music and flashing lights, and you could hear what was being said inside this magical bus. But what really caught my eye was how everyone on that bus looked like they were having the times of their lives. It was then that I knew I needed to be on that bus. I remembered the huge logo on the side of the bus as it whizzed by, jotted it down on my phone and that was that.

source - google images
Fast forward a few months and we were back in England booking yet another trip to NYC. I 100% knew that 'The Ride NYC' was going to be on my itinerary. As the trip drew closer I ordered an attraction pass that enabled us to choose 5 'activities' from the list. Low and behold, the magical bus was included in that list. Win.

I deliberately left this 'activity' till our last night in NY (save the best till last 'n all that...). We were advised to get to the meeting point 15 minutes before the scheduled departure, which we did, however when we arrived, we were already at the back of the queue. There was only one other couple that joined after us. I immediately thought this was going to scupper our chances of getting a 'good seat', however I was glad that it actually worked in our favour, and we were sat on the top row.

As we were passing through Times Square

The ballerina Duet
There are 2 entertainers on the bus, one at either side. They interact with the audience via microphones and are telling jokes throughout the 90 minutes of your journey. As the bus rides through Times Square and famous NY streets, it stops at random points and gives the illusion that random passer-bys outside are extremely talented and we 'just by chance' found them. Obviously these are actors positioned in certain points throughout the streets that work in conjunction with 'The Ride' - you get to witness live music performances, break dancing, etc. Everyone outside can hear what is being said in the microphone inside the bus, so occasionally the entertainers would try and wind strangers up as they were minding their own business, probably trying to get home for the night! Some would be cooperative and interact back, and do what the entertainers were asking, whereas others looked mortified and continued walking. This added a lot of humour to the tour!

Yes, we celebrated New Year in the middle of September.. When in New York...

As the bus approached The Pulitzer fountain (situated near the famous Plaza Hotel from Home Alone), a ballet dancer appears with her tutu all lit up. She performs a duet with a suave looking guy and this looks truly magical with the fountains as a back-drop.

The 90 minutes flew by and I was actually sad that it was over so quickly. I was glad we left it till the last night because that combined with a late night trip to the Empire State (which we did after departing the bus!) really helped us to end NYC on a high.


I think this song will now always bring back memories of our time in NYC... such a goose bump moment!

This is definitely an experience that I would completely recommend to others!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Hotel Review - Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Orlando, Florida.

For those that follow me on social media will know I've been away for 2 weeks in both New York and Florida (Yes, again!).

After staying in a range of accommodation in Orlando we thought we'd give one of the Universal Studio's hotels a try, so to stay within budget, we settled on Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Cabana Bay is vibrant and definitely 'there' with its vintage retro theme, taking you back to the 50's. With it's vintage cars that are permanently parked near the lobby, to its 50's style diner and bowling alley, and it's complimentary 50's style bathroom products, they definitley deserve top marks for theming. As you strolled round the resort you'd catch a snippet of a 50's song. Elvis eat your heart out!

After doing some research, I politely asked to be placed in the 'New Tower' which had only been built a few months prior, however the disadvantage to staying in this tower was that we were the furthest from the lobby, however it was nothing a good 5 minute walk wouldn't fix!

The rooms in the new tower were extremely spacious, with lots of floor space. With huge floor to ceiling windows, these rooms were lovely and bright. We were situated on the 11th floor (the very top of the tower) and had a partial view of Volcano Bay, Universal's new water park. This gave great opportunity to people watch from the comfort of your own bed - amazing! Both double beds were super comfy. I usually suffer from lower back pain upon waking, however during our stay at Cabana Bay, this pain was non-existent.

Storage wise there was ample for 2 people, with 2 spacious drawers and a wardrobe. The vanity area of the bathroom provided further space for your lotions and potions and although the floor space in the bathroom was a little on the small side, the shower itself looked like it could fit 2 people in.

Unfortunately we didn't use that many of the hotels' amenities, however we did have a wander round when we had a spare 10 minutes one day. The pools looked great, especially for kids, and the lazy river was something I really wanted to go in but just never got round to it - we were too busy having fun elsewhere! There were a few sandpits were you could play volleyball or table tennis too.

The food options seemed endless, and there was even an onsite Starbucks, which we managed to make use of (of course!). Everywhere was spotlessly clean and although this looked a very family orientated resort, it did have some luxurious touches to it.

For those wanting to go to the Universal parks, this hotel provided a free shuttle bus which run very frequently. In fact that frequently that we never once had to wait for a bus to arrive! Its great for those that don't want to drive, or want to have a drink in the parks. Additionally, Cabana Bay offers early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, 1hr before park opening - perfect for those HP fans! This is the same for Volcano Bay (Universal's newest water park) which is a great way to pack in a few extra rides before the crowds start to arrive! Another way to travel to the parks for free is by boat. Just hop over to Sapphire Falls hotel which is across the road - This is one of Universal's more luxurious hotels that provides this service from the hotel to City Walk (the section in between both Universal parks). I used to love getting the boat, especially on a night, just to mix it up a little from travelling by shuttle bus!

The resort is in the heart of Orlando, and only a stones throw away from the Disney Parks as well (should I really mention Disney and Universal in the same post?!). International Drive is a very short drive away which gives you access to further shops and restaurants so this is definitely the place to be if you want to be in the centre of the action.

Cabana Bay is the cheapest of all Universal hotels, but still doesn't come cheap at approximately £100 per night. However I definitely wouldn't hesitate in staying here again should our holiday focus around the Universal Parks.

Have you stayed at Cabana Bay before?


Thursday, 10 August 2017

My NYC Bucket List

For those that read my blog regularly will know I went to NYC back in December last year. Shortly after we returned, we booked a very similar trip (NYC and Florida) however this time for 2 weeks, as opposed to 3! (If only!)
On our last trip to NYC, for one reason or another, we didn't manage to tick everything off my our bucket list, so in true Kate fashion, used this as an excuse to revisit. Why the hell not? Not only will I get to explore the unvisited, but I will get to see NY in a different season, which will open up different activities that cannot be done in the winter. Without further ado, here's my bucket list that I hope to complete in this upcoming trip.

1. Hire a boat in Central Park. Ok, so the last time Mike and I canoed/kayaked, we had a 'heated discussion' on the water because I wasn't helping him row. That's what men are for, right?! I'll try put more effort in this time! But on a serious note, this wasn't even an option when we were there last time, purely because it was winter, so its a definite 'to do' on our next trip!

source - google images
2. Visit the Empire State Building. I saw this from afar last time, but like many tourists, you either do one or the other, Empire State or Rockefeller, and after doing research, we settled on Rockefeller in the day. This time we'll do Empire State, at night. I can't wait!

View from Empire State - source - google images
3. Have a cocktail on a rooftop bar. Omg, there are SO many beautiful rooftop bars to choose from, all with ridiculously eye popping prices, so I'm going to choose wisely!

Source - google images
4. Visit 9/11 memorial. We had this on our itinerary last time, however the heavens decided to open (like you wouldn't believe) so we made a swift detour in a Starbucks, and didn't come out for hours. We're there over 9/11 this time, so I think it'll be even more special (and probably more emotional!)

source - google images
5. Try some Dim Sum in China Town. I know you can do this pretty much anywhere in the world that has decent Chinese Food, but not only have I heard so much about dim sum that the intrigued barometer inside me is in the red, but we only had a fleeting visit to China Town last time whilst we were looking for somewhere else, so we need to revisit!

source - google images
6. Experience 'The Ride: NYC' - this entertainment bus looks SO much fun. We saw one last time and everyone looked so happy, and its got great reviews, so this is a definite must!

source - google images
7. Take a walk on Brooklyn Bridge - Again, something that we never managed to do on our last trip. I can't wait to leave Manhattan and see the skyline from Brooklyn. Hoping to do this near sunset one night...

source - google images
8. Hire bikes and cycle round Central Park. Again, because of how vast Central Park is, I think a bike would be really useful. You'd need a few full days to properly explore this park, which unfortunately we don't have, so a bike is the next best option! This will enable us to visit points in the park which we never had time to see last year.

source - google images

If you've got any more recommendations then please do let me know!


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Disney: Top 5 things to do outside of the theme parks

For those that have been to Florida before will know that spending a full 2 weeks in the parks can be extremely exhausting to the point where you make yourself ill. I couldn't recommend enough pencilling in a few days to chill out. I know what you're all thinking 'I didn't pay X amount of money to do nothing!' Chill out days don't have to necessarily be doing 'just nothing' (although I think by the end of the holiday you'd be begging for that!), but more of a 'lets take it easy' day, to give those poor old feet a rest!

I've been to Florida enough times now to know how to make the most out of your chill out days away from the theme parks.

1. Visit a beach! Florida has SO many gorgeous beaches, and because of the theme parks, they're so overlooked by tourists because they get sucked in by Disney that they forget that there really is more to Orlando than just the parks! I've visited several over the years and they're all perfect in their own little way, and you can find a beach to suit your needs. You're still chilling out, but seeing Florida at the same time!

St Petes Beach, FL
2. Designer Outlets/Malls. Orlando is home to some fantastic shopping, and some jaw-dropping discounts. The malls have lots of restaurants to eat at too (The Cheesecake Factory, I'm looking at you!) so you can easily make a nice slow afternoon from shopping, picking up souveniers, as well as some treats for yourself. Retail therapy is the way forward on holiday - you don't have to worry about seeing people in the same item of clothing when you return home, always a bonus!

ice skating rink in Clearwater Mall
3. Disney's Mini Golf - If you have Disney tickets, then you can access this for free, and the theming of both courses are brilliant! I feel like these are also overlooked, but can provide an hour or 2's entertainment, and its great fun for all the family. I've been to both courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter Wonderland, and the design on both is great, although I did prefer Winter Wonderland more. If you like Christmas, you'll love this!

Winter Wonderland Golf Course
4. Boggy Creek Boat Rides  - I personally haven't done this one yet but it often crops up on my itinerary to do, we just never get round to it! These rides are fairly close to Orlando and aren't too expensive. They're great for nature lovers and will enable you to see Orlando from a slightly different perspective, as well as giving you an adrenalin rush from the speed!

source: google images
5. Hire a boat on the Severn Seas Lagoon - For those that have travelled to Magic Kingdom by Ferryboat from the car park would have travelled across the Severn Seas Lagoon. You can hire boats out (that are self-driven), fetch your own music, food etc and just have a few hours out on the lagoon all by yourself! We're definitely going to look into it this year!


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Hotel Review: The Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater, Florida


In December last year, as the third and final stop of our NYC and Disney trip, we spent the final 4 nights at The Sandpearl Resort, a 5* beach-front hotel in Clearwater, Florida.

From the moment we checked in and were handed complimentary ice-cold mimosas, I knew we'd be very well looked after. The reception was beautiful, with shiny marble-esque tiles, luxury sofas to chill out on, a self-playing grand piano, and a huge Christmas tree that twinkled in the sun.

Sand Sculptures in reception

Whilst we were waiting for the bellhop to deliver our luggage to our room (complimentary but do require a tip!) it gave us time to explore what our bedroom had to offer...

The room was gorgeous and so spacious, a huge queen size bed with luxury white sheets and pillows that were definitely made for dreaming on! Lots of different seating areas, and desk space to do work if necessary. The mini bar selection was out of this world however I did do a small gulp when I saw the prices. Yikes!

The bathroom was definitely one of my favourite areas to spend time in. It had lots of floor space (which always bizarrely makes me want to spend longer in there!). It had intricate details which really reflected the beach location of this hotel. Soaps were placed in a shell which was of the finest quality. Lots of fluffy towels, and the most gorgeous bath robe was provided which was made from materials I didn't even know dressing gowns could be made from! It was so comfy to wear and felt really luxurious on. With a $90 price tag though, unfortunately I had to turn it down. Each room had a turn-down service, and if you're in or out, curtains will get closed and lights are dimmed, duvets are turned back ready for bed, and complimentary chocolates/sleeping oils are placed on your pillow for winding down with when you return. They also provide you with a little card which will give you a heads-up on tomorrow's weather. Such a great little addition!

All rooms also come with a balcony, which is definitely something we utilised during our stay. I enjoyed watching the sun set on here, as well as playing the odd game of dolphin spotting! The chairs and table enabled us to fetch drinks and snacks out here too. It was a nice little space, to be in the comfort of our own room, but still benefit from being outdoors.

The pool was really spacious, and was never crowded with people (although the time of year probably helped with this, with it being only a few weeks away from Christmas). It had a walk in shallow end, which I personally prefer, instead of those awkward steps into pools. There was ample sunbeds, some more luxurious than others, some with padding on them, as well as small shades/hoods on others to keep the sun at bay. There were 2 Jacuzzi's which were both open till 10pm. We managed to get one to ourselves one night and the hot bubbles were so relaxing! There was always a waiter on tap which meant you didn't have to leave your sunbed, which was great if you were feeling really lazy!

The surrounding grounds were impeccable, with cascading waterfalls and beautiful seating areas dotted all around the hotel, you were spoilt for choice on where to relax next!

view from balcony
The yellow and white sun loungers that you may be able to spot on the beach in the photo above is Sandpearls Private beach. Only guests of this hotel are allowed to utilize these sun loungers, as well as having fast access to the beach through a private gate. Behind the central palm tree on the beach was a fire pit that also belonged to The Sandpearl. Guests were able to buy marshmallows etc and roast them over the fire to eat. This had lots of seating surrounding the pit, so on our last night we grabbed a beer (or coke in my case!) from Tate Island Grill (the hotels onsite casual restaurant) and sat round the fire enjoying the sunset (which is definitely not to be missed!). With the sand in our toes, the gentle lapping of the nearby waves and the relaxed atmosphere really made us not want to go home the next day!

 The hotel also offers Caretta's, a more fine-dining experience in Clearwater, although unfortunately we didn't get chance to sample this whilst we were here.
Image result for caretta on the gulf
Caretta's - source: google images

Obviously this rating of hotel wouldn't be complete without a luxury spa to offer its guests, and The Sandpearl doesn't disappoint with its award winning spa that offers 'ocean inspired treatments', warm stone massages, deluxe couples treatments, steam rooms and therapeutic whirlpools to name just a few.

Location wise, apart from being evidently central to the beach, The Sandpearl is close to lots of amenities, with shops and restaurants being on your doorstep. The Pier is just a short stroll away, and a bit further down the beach is a huge inflatable water park in the ocean which looks great for kids! There's a lovely harbour to explore and indulge in some fresh fish delicacies. A short drive away is Clearwater Mall and Westfield shopping centre which has an array of shops and the ever-famous Macys, where I bought the dreamiest of dresses!

We had a truly relaxing and fun few days at The Sandpearl Resort. Prices are definitely a little on the steeper side (starting from approx. £200 per night) but as a one-off treat and a serious recharge, your purse will (hopefully) thank you! Rated one of Clearwater's best hotels, the location couldn't be better...


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Clearwater, Florida

Following on from my Disney Diaries, my last stop of my holiday was Clearwater, which lies on the West coast of Florida, an hours drive from Orlando. We booked this because we knew we'd need a few days to wind down from the chaos that we'd just experienced in NYC and Disney. It was definitely a 'recharge your batteries' kind of stop!

As a kid my dad always used to take us to St Petes to stay, which was a little further down the coast, so although I'd had loads of beach holidays in Florida, I'd never actually been to Clearwater. This place is known for its pure white sands, and that definitely didn't disappoint. We stayed in a luxury 5* hotel right on the beach front which was amazing in so many different ways, although the price to stay here isn't for the faint-hearted - definitely a one-off for us! (review coming soon!).

Because of our early mornings and fun-filled days in NYC & Disney, we agreed to take it easy in Clearwater, and that we definitely did.

Our days were filled with lazy mornings on the balcony, with a lovely sea-breeze cooling us from the Florida heat. Several trips to Ihop were had and several pancakes consumed, along with a few trips to the local mall (where I purchased a dreamy dress from Macy's!). We watched a handful of sunsets sat on the white sands, and even spotted a dolphin or two leaping through the air. We had a few swims in the hotel pool, and a few late night dips in the Jacuzzi. We also sat round a fire pit one night on the beach, watching the sunset into the pink sky. It was lovely not having the pressure of feeling like you were missing out, and 'had to make the most of your time in Florida', because we'd already done that. It was then that we agreed we needed more holidays like this. To just chill, and feel content with that.


And just like that, our 3 week stint in the US was over. I know they've been few and far between but I hope you've enjoyed them. For those that have missed out on my Disney Diaries, please find them here.

I'm so lucky to be returning to both NYC & Florida again in just a few months, so keep your eyes peeled for more fun-filled adventures!
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