Going to Florida Without Visiting the Parks….. Are you Mad?!

Well, yes, I may be a little mad. But it is entirely possible to visit the State of Florida, and stay in the Orlando area, and NOT visit any theme parks.

Not everyone has the budget or the inclination to visit theme parks. Think of the millions of people who live there who don’t visit the parks. I personally love the place, and even though I would love to go to Disney World and Universal Studios on every trip, it’s just not practical from a time and money perspective. Plus there is SO MUCH to do when you’re there, it would be silly not to venture away from the parks and see what else is around.

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What you choose to do will be purely down to what interests you. My personal choice is to try to get a little bit of Disney and Universal in my trip, without forking out on the park tickets.

To do this, I usually check whether there are any event tickets I can buy (if the budget will stretch to it) for one evening in a park. I tend to visit during the Halloween period, so there’s Halloween Horror Nights if you can stomach it, at Universal Studios (I tried it and hated it, despite being a huge horror fan. Let’s keep the peril on the screen and not in my face, thank you very much), and there’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom (much more my style). Both offer you entry and the run of the parks for a dedicated number of hours on one evening.

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You also have the option of the park’s leisure areas, so City Walk for Universal and Disney Springs for Disney. You don’t need a park ticket for either of these. City Walk has restaurants, bars, shopping and I believe there’s a cinema there too. Disney Springs is bigger and offers shopping (both Disney Parks merchandise and other branded stores) restaurants, bars, bowling, cinema, and other activities.

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I personally LOVE Disney Springs, because there’s so much to do. The shopping is great, the restaurants are excellent and there’s a lot to do and see. Plus parking is free there, unlike at City Walk.

From Disney Springs you can also take a free bus to any of the Disney resorts so you can have a nosey around the hotels, partake in their activities and eat in their restaurants. I love visiting the resorts even if I’m not staying in one.

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But if you’re not at all interested in exploring Disney or Universal property, you can still have tons of fun. The little all-American towns in the Orlando area are well worth an explore. Places like Celebration and Kissimmee are lovely and one of my favourites is Winter Park with it’s shopping, restaurants and little train track that runs right through it.

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It’s also home to the head office and flagship store of one of my favourite brands Rifle Paper Co.

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As you’re probably aware, I’m back off to Florida in a few weeks, and we had loads of things planned. As well as going back to pretty much all of the places above, we intend to pack in a lot more. Our trip is double the length we stayed last year and I still feel like we won’t have enough time to fit everything in!

Included in our trip is an NFL game at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium, a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre (a bucket list item!), Wonderworks (a hands-on science exhibit) and possibly a visit to adventure golf and an epic looking escape room!

Of course I plan on visiting the shops, and the list I have is getting as long as my arm! Have you been to Orlando and had a non-park holiday? I’d love to hear about the places you’ve visited and the activities you’ve done! Maybe something you suggest will make my list for this year’s trip!

This Week I Have Been Mostly….

this week i have been mostly

Last week Gary and I took our first week off together since last October when we went to America. Somehow all our plans to take time off together before now have fallen flat. We weren’t going away anywhere, but we wanted to keep ourselves occupied, and we definitely did that!

My holiday started on the Friday night, after work, having dinner at my Mum’s with my sister to celebrate my Mum’s birthday.

I made her a card, using my new calligraphy skills, and I had a bookmark made for her, with some of the lyrics from When I’m 64 on them, since she was turning 64 and she loves the Beatles!

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The next day Gary and I headed to London, for brunch at one of our favourite places, Balthazar in Covent Garden.

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I love the decor and atmosphere inside. The weather was hotting up so I chose poached eggs on avocado toast and an orange Julius (non-alcoholic).

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All delicious! We then headed off for some shopping and by the end of the day we were shattered!

We headed to Thorpe Park on Monday, with some family, for a very fun but very hot and tiring day. It was really busy considering it was a Monday and the schools hadn’t broken up yet, but there were a ton of school trips there. We ended up getting unlimited fast track bands so we could ride the rides without having to wait too long and it was SO worth it!

Tuesday I had a friend visit for lunch and then Gary and I headed to the cinema to see Hereditary. It was very relaxed going in the middle of the day and in the week! The film wasn’t worth the ticket price though, unfortunately!

Wednesday we headed out for lunch to a new BBQ place called Craft and Cleaver. I’ll post a proper review of our experience shortly.

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And then we headed to a new crazy golf place, not to far from there. It’s called Mr Mulligan’s Lost World, and we got a great deal and ended up playing 3 courses with drinks in the middle.

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We had great fun!

Thursday and Friday were fairly low-key. On Thursday morning we both woke feeling a little shattered, and wondering if we were coming down with something. So much doing stuff combined with the heat and random relaxing periods was knackering us out! We needed to pop to Bicester Village to their Samsonite store, as we need a couple of extra cases for an upcoming trip.

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We managed to pick some cases up at a great price, had a little mooch around the other shops and then headed home for naps and films.

On Friday evening I visited a friend. There were a few of us, we got the chance to catch up and I met some new kitties!

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I know how you feel kitty cat!

We had been so lucky with the weather. I even managed to get some of my Florida tan back!

It really was a lovely week off, filled with a great mixture of busy and relaxing. Now I need another holiday to recover…..

 

 

 

A Romantic Getaway to Chicheley Hall

I love my new home. Having been in it less than a year, there’s nothing I like more than to soak in the air and atmosphere I’ve created. But from time to time, I feel it’s important to get away, even if it’s to somewhere pretty close to home, so you can relax and enjoy a slower pace.

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Enter Chicheley Hall. When I was asked whether I’d like to spend a night away at Chichely Hall, I’ll be honest, I’d no idea where it was. It’s actually incredibly close to the office I work in, and located in 80 acres of stunning Buckinghamshire countryside close to Milton Keynes and the M1.

Offering 48 individually furnished bedrooms, this Grade I listed Georgian mansion oozes British history, but also offers comfort and beauty.

We arrived just after 3pm, eager to start our relaxing, romantic night away. Having watched the Royal Wedding only hours before, we were reminiscing about our own wedding almost twelve years prior, at a manor house in Hatfield (which sadly no longer hosts weddings). The feel of Chicheley Hall only helped to bring these memories back. As an amazing wedding location, Chicheley Hall would have definitely been on the wishlist of locations, had I been planning a wedding now.

Nevertheless, we felt incredibly lucky to be told we would be staying in the Bridal Suite during our stay.

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The Blackett room, named after Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett who won the Nobel prize for physics in 1948 (all of the rooms are named after notable scientists) was found on the top floor, down a corridor, through another private door and across from its own spiral staircase.

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A huge super-king bed, comfy chairs and beautiful windows welcomed us. The views from this corner room of the Hall grounds were breathtaking.

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There were so many touches in this room, which screamed history; the wardrobe door:

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Inside there was a tea-making tray, teas, coffees, biscuits, iron and ironing board, hairdryer, safe, bathroom and slippers (everything you need)

The carvings above the bed:

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and other touches like stunning mirrors and a huge fireplace.

The bathroom was in keeping with the room but lovely and modern

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And offered another lovely view

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Once we’d unpacked, we were eager to get outside, enjoy the weather and have a look over the grounds.

Chicheley Hall is steeped in history. Built between 1720 and 1724 for Sir John Chester, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of early 18th Century architecture in the country. It’s now home to the Royal Society, which has been at the heart of scientific discovery for over 300 years, and whose fellows include Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking. During World War II the house was requisitioned and used by the Special Operations Executive. A small-scale version of the bouncing Bomb was tested on the lake. With this much history coming from one small space, we wanted to soak it all in!

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On the first floor, after descending our spiral staircase, we saw a tea and coffee bench, where I assume you can help yourself to refreshments as you enjoy the Hall and grounds. The large staircase to the ground floor screams out for a bride and a long train to swish all the way down. A stunning tear-drop chandelier hung from ceiling to floor and pillar candles lined the stairs.

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Out the backdoor and we were greeted by a stunning path and topiaries, with a lovely sundial at the end.

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Lakes, complete with swan and geese, a couple of amazing old trees, so tall and old no photo could do them justice and some amazing colours from the various flowering plants – put together with the stunning weather – we were in our element.

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The grounds were kept immaculately. Guests were having afternoon tea on the lawn, and we occasionally heard the cry of George the resident peacock, though I didn’t get a glimpse of him during our visit.

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We worked out our room was the four corner windows on the top floor.

And then it was time for dinner.

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The small, and wonderfully furnished dining room was light and airy. A lovely and traditionally British menu was offered.

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I started with a warm Mediterranean vegetable and feta tart, served with a basil vinaigrette and rocket salad. This was lovely, and the flavours complemented each other perfectly. It was also just the right size.

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Next I had beer-battered haddock, with chips and mushy peas. The fish was lovely and the batter light, but the star of the dish was the chips. They were epic, cooked wonderfully and seasoned just right. I could have eaten another plate of them!

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For dessert I chose the tarte au citron, which was lovely, but very rich so I couldn’t eat the whole thing! I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I’m glad I gave this a try.

The dinner service was excellent, attentive and brisk. Our waitress was really lovely and made sure we had everything we needed.

After dinner we decided to take in more of the room, have a relaxing bath and watch some Netflix on our iPad.

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The next morning we awoke bright and early. That’s the only downside of having a corner room – so much window and so much light as a result. The gardens were stunning in the hazy morning light, promising another beautiful day. And what a way to bring in the morning than seeing those views!

Breakfast was a self-service affair, and I have to say it was one of the most impressive breakfast buffet turn outs I’ve experienced. The cooked breakfast options were great and plentiful. All well-cooked and very delicious. As well as cooked breakfast options were pastries, bread for toast, cereals, cheese and cold meat. Juices were available too, coffee (damn fine) and tea was made to order and brought to your table.

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I’m a full-English kind of girl so I chose my fill from the chafing dishes.

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Before we checked out of our room, we had a little peek into the library, adjacent to the dining room. All the books we spotted on our visit were about science, so if you were that way inclined you could get your brain cells ticking over with a quiet spot of reading in this room. So tranquil!

Our visit to Chicheley Hall was so relaxing. The staff were welcoming and friendly, and every guest we encountered was relaxed, slow-paced, and seemingly enjoying their time away from the hustle and bustle. Being so close to Milton Keynes, this is a perfect location to lay your head if you’re visiting the area for a concert, event, or convention. Its surroundings offer the perfect home away from home, and it reminded me how lucky I am to live in Bucks so close to both urban and rural life.

I can aslo see how it would also make an amazing and welcoming location for your small wedding, whether it be the whole ceremony and reception, or just the reception. The sweeping staircase, decor and grounds would make for stunning photos too! Maybe I’ll think about a vow renewal!

I was honoured to be welcomed to Chicheley Hall to experience such a relaxing and comfortable break away from it all. Both Gary and I felt tremendously refreshed after our night away, and so glad we know this treasure is there!

For more information on Chicheley Hall, its history, accommodation and weddings, visit their website.

Thank you to Chicheley Hall, who invited us to stay with them for a complimentary stay in exchange for an honest review. 

Are Disney Parks for You?; Unlocking the Disney Mythos

Unless you’ve been living in a media-free world for the whole of your life (in which case how are you reading this) you’ll have heard of Disney.

From their animated movies, their real-life films and Pixar masterpieces, there’s something for everyone. Not to mention their purchase of Marvel and rolling in the world of Star Wars for good measure.

But they’re not for everyone. A common preconception of Disney is that it’s for girls, pretty in pink, all glitter and so many princesses. And it’s a fair assumption since that’s what I always thought, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. As a child I adored The Little Mermaid and was devastated when my VHS copy got chewed up by the video player. I had to wait until its 10th anniversary to repurchase it on DVD because you couldn’t get the video any more.

When I was younger I never visited theme parks – they were too far away from home and just too expensive. My first park experience wasn’t until 2012, when my husband surprised me with a trip to Disneyland Paris. Until then I hadn’t considered the Disney parks. I knew they existed, of course, but it wasn’t something I’d ever take part in. I’d never been on a rollercoaster at that point, and I had no idea what I was in for.

By the end of that trip I was converted – to it all. The parks, the atmosphere, the theming and the rollercoasters. I never wanted to leave. I’d found my happy place!

As a child I liked Disney films but during the 90’s with the release of films like Tarzan, The Lion King and Pocahontas, which hadn’t interested me in the slightest, I moved away and grew up from them. (Don’t grow up, it’s a trap!)

But back on that trip to Disneyland Paris, I fell head over heels back in love with the Disney world. I still feel the same way about the movies I wasn’t fond of back then. But that doesn’t matter – and if you’re not a Disney film fan, it doesn’t matter to you either.

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After having many conversations over the years I have discovered that people just don’t know about the Disney Parks, and they’re in the same boat I was in back in 2012 before I made my first trip. So, I thought I’d demystify the parks for your reading pleasure. I’m going to give you a little education in the Disney parks and maybe help you understand how taking a magical trip to one of these places might be the best decision you could ever make.

The Locations

Let’s start with WHERE the parks are. There’s a bunch of Disneyland parks and only one Disney World – get that straight. If you’re speaking to a Disney park fanatic and you refer to the parks in Florida as Disneyland, you’re going to get a glare.

  • Disneyland California – the original Disney Park, opened in 1955
  • Walt Disney World Florida – next to open, in 1971
  • Tokyo Disneyland – opened 1983
  • Disneyland Paris (used to be called Euro Disney) – opened 1992
  • Hong Kong Disneyland – opened 2005
  • Shanghai Disneyland – opened 2011

I’ve only been to two of these locations, so my experience will obviously be focussed to those – Paris and Walt Disney World (WDW)

Disneyland Paris (DLP) and WDW are similar and very different. DLP consists of two parks – Disneyland (the one with the castle) and Hollywood Studios (focussed on the creation of film and animation), each with rides and attractions as well as shows, parades and fireworks. WDW has 4 parks and two water parks. It’s so vast that it’s basically a city of its own, with its own transport system. The parks here are

  • Magic Kingdom
  • Hollywood Studios
  • Epcot
  • Animal Kingdom

To give you an idea of the size of the place, the carpark for Magic Kingdom alone would fit the whole of Disneyland California inside it (125 acres – for a carpark!)

I know what you’re thinking – great, here’s some dull facts about a park I have no interest in going to…. So, I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of each park. You have the world of the internet at your fingertips for that and once you’ve read this, you can go and look up the answers to any burning questions you might have.

But let’s get started on what’s in the parks for you:

They’re not just for kids or girls

I don’t have children. I’ve never been to a Disney Park with a child. In fact, I feel like going with a child might dampen my experience. But that’s just my personal experience.

There’s a lot of walking involved – and some of the rides are just too big for kids. So, I’d rather go without, thank you very much!

The whole theming of the parks, the food, the drink, the speed in which I like to take it all in, just works for me. There are so many aspects of nature, water, fire, looking out over the lakes, the rides, waiting for parades, watching parades – all seem fairly adult to me, BUT you will feel like a child again. I swear the Disney parks are made for adults so they could feel and act like a child again and not have any kind of guilty feeling.

Rides

Each of the parks has rides – and they vary from location to location.

  • You’ve got dark rides (the ones where you sit in a little car and a track takes you around diorama-type scenes with music and special effects) These are usually suitable for kids and, at Disney, most often will take you around the storyline of a Disney film.
  • There are only a handful of extreme coasters at Disney parks. The majority are fast and quick, and sometimes themed to a Disney story but mostly just themed – for example Big Thunder Mountain is gold mine themed.
  • Thrill rides – these tend to be unique alternatives to rollercoasters. For example, The Tower of Terror, which is an amazing Twilight Zone themed ride, based inside an elevator.

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Parks

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  • Castle parks – the ones with the castle in them – tend to be princess and knight themed. They will also have wild west, futuristic, pirate, Arabian, and adventure theme in different areas. Music plays as you walk the streets, characters wander amongst guests (what they call the visitors) and smells are pumped into the walk ways.
  • Hollywood Studios – these parks bring in the creation of film, but also tend to include the Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel aspects of Disney. In Disneyland California, their second park is called DCA (Disney California Adventure) and this has an abundant Pixar area, with more being built as we speak.
  • Animal Kingdom in WDW – this is for all the animal lovers. A plush green expanse of a park which has real animals in its skies and plains. You can go on a real safari and see an abundance of animals roaming free, see monkeys swinging above you whilst wandering the park, and also ride some pretty gnarly rides (Everest is my favourite!) Theming leans towards African. Since I was last there they opened Pandora, based on the film Avatar. I haven’t seen the film, but I’m interested to immerse myself in the theming when I next visit.
  • Epcot in WDW (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) – This park is mostly known for Spaceship Earth (aka as the Golf Ball) and was historically known as the ‘boring’ park since it’s all about science and feels a little learny. But it also hosts some great festivals, most notably the Food and Wine festival. Epcot is home to the World Showcase with pavilions (areas) and food locations representing 11 countries from around the world.

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Each of these parks has rides, fireworks and most of them have parades. There’s something for every kind of person. You can get alcoholic beverages in all the parks, there are food locations of every type of palette. For the kids, characters roam the parks (perfect for those autograph books and fun pics!) and the theming is enough for those who recognise them from the Disney films but not too much for those not really into the Disney entertainment side of things.

Experience

The staff at the parks are there to make your visit magical – no matter what. They know all the answers to your questions and will accommodate you to the max.

Food

Oh, the food. Not only are there signature foods that you can pretty much only get in the parks (hello, Dole Whip and Citrus Swirl) but this isn’t all just typical theme park food. Yes, you can get your hotdog and fries on Main Street, but you can also get your chicken fried rice, funnel cake and all you can eat buffets. For more on the food at the Disney parks, I can’t recommend the Disney Food Blog enough. Plus, if you manage to book your WDW trip during the free Disney Dining Plan offer, all your food is basically free! And if you time that with the Epcot Food & Wine festival (I usually do!) then you’re laughing!

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Try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious!

Fireworks

If you’re a fan of fireworks, like me, then staying for the castle fireworks at your chosen park is a must. They seem to go on forever – and did you know that Disney is the single largest purchaser of fireworks in the US? They’re only second to the US Department of Defence on purchase of explosive devices – mind blown (geddit).

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Hotels

Assuming you’re staying on property (by that I mean in an officially licensed Disney hotel) you’re in for a treat. OP (on property) hotels are themed in so many ways, so you can choose which one which will suit you and your style. They go from all-out Disney castle theming, to wild west, to camping, to New Orleans, Hawaiian, plush Colonial-feel, cartoonish, artistic, golfy – you want it, you got it. And each of these hotels are vast. And you can visit them even if you’re not staying there. They have activities, and show films ‘under the stars’, and have shopping and sports courts. At Animal Kingdom Lodge in WDW you can even go on a safari around the hotel grounds.

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The Polynesian Hotel lobby at WDW is particularly special.

Shopping

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to shopping. Each of the Disney locations has a shopping ‘park’ which is separate from the actual park locations. In Disneyland Paris and California these are called Downtown Disney, and in WDW it’s called Disney Springs. These are basically leisure complexes, which you don’t need a park ticket to go to. There’s food, shopping (officially licensed Disney Parks merchandise can be bought here too, without the need for a Disney park ticket!), music, entertainment. There’s usually a bowling alley, a cinema and more often than not, these locations home a Rainforest Café. These areas are usually open later than the parks which means once they chuck you out, you can keep on going!

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So, have I convinced you yet?

The long and short of it is: if you like fun, you like being entertained, you don’t mind rides (I mean you can always go on It’s a Small World and the Teacups), you like to eat, you don’t mind shopping and you miss the feeling of being a child, then Disney Parks are for you. Plus, there’s the planning (oh my, the planning!) If you decide to visit Walt Disney World, the planning is a long-term effort and half the fun of going…. When you enter a Disney park, the rest of the world falls away. You feel lighter, you lose all of everything outside and you become a child again. It’s fully immersive – and EVERYONE feels the same. It really is the happiest place on Earth.

You can’t tell me I haven’t convinced you….. go on, do a little research into your chosen park and tell me I haven’t convinced you….

Dinner at ENEKO Basque Kitchen & Bar

I consider myself something of a foodie. I have fairly high standards, and though I have some dietary stipulations with regards to what my body can and can’t tolerate, when I eat I want to eat great quality and interesting food.

I watch Masterchef every year. As a kid I would watch the Lloyd Grossman format of Masterchef and my whole family was convinced I would apply for the children’s version but never actually did. They still always thought I’d be a chef when I grew up.

Clearly that never happened. I think the kitchens are too hot and stressful, and I don’t enjoy being told what to do. Nevertheless, I still cook and I love to watch cooking shows to pick up tips and inspiration. And I LOVE to eat.

This year one of the first professional kitchen challenges was at ENEKO in Covent Garden. A Basque kitchen and grill that brought the flavours of traditional Spanish cooking to London and in a unique and original way. Bringing in the elements of fine dining, but still offering an accessible menu, I was totally impressed when I visited their website.

Down to some freakish fluke, our Sky box recorded that episode of Masterchef from BBC Wales HD an hour earlier than it was being shown to the rest of the country and so when we tuned in 10 minutes after the start and saw the restaurant, we were able to view the site and book a table before the site was bombarded with hits from the rest of the country. It must have been fate since an hour later we couldn’t get onto the site any more!

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We arrived at the location, positioned just opposite the Lyceum Theatre which is currently showing the Lion King. The weather that day had been glorious so people were on the streets outside the pubs and bars soaking in the last of the day’s sunshine before heading into the theatre.

We entered the restaurant and were greeted by the lovely maître d’ who took us to our table. Down the stairs and into a small but not too small dining area, with some cosy booths and floor tables all with candles. The lighting was dim but not too dark and it created a cosy but airy atmosphere. It was light enough to see your food and menu but dark enough to feel intimate.

From our table you could see into the kitchen and view the pass, which Gary and I both find fascinating.

Our waiter was really friendly, and explained the new menu, which had a ‘tapas’ feel based on small and larger plates. The idea is to order little bits to share, and go for differing sizes plates dependent on how hungry you are.

He took our drinks order. Having noticed only wines on the menu, and since I don’t really drink, I asked him what non-alcoholic beverages they had. I was told they could make any cocktail I wished to a non-alcoholic recipe and he asked what I wanted. I asked for something with an elderflower base and was told he would ask the bar to make me something up. The resulting drink was elderflower with soda and I think a hint of lemon. So refreshing and just what I wanted.

To eat, Gary decided he wanted two of the smaller plates and a side, and I went for one larger plate and a side.

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In the picture above you can see left at the back is Gary’s beetroot tartare, with soufflé potato and barbecue sauce. And on the right is his Traditional Talo. This was crispy corn talo (like tortilla chips), heritage tomatoes and basil emulsion. This also had other sauces and caviar type beads on with edible greens and flowers. I wish I knew exactly what was on it but the overall flavour was incredible. At the front is my tempura hake with red pepper sauce and a parsley emulsion.

We also ordered mashed potato which came with an apple compote, and grilled tenderstem broccoli which was topped with toasted hazelnuts.

So, what did we think of our mains?

The beetroot tartare was so unique. I only tasted a little and a little of the sauce. Being tartare it was cold, and the beetroot was finely chopped. The flavour was fresh and not overpowering. The sauce was powerful and also fresh – not too sweet but packed a punch.

The Talo was incredible. The fresh flavours of the tomato was brought out by the various sauces and vinegars.

My hake was incredible. The fish was light but meaty and so flavourful and the tempura was light and crisp. The pepper sauce was almost like a gravy underneath and I wish I knew how they made it! I detest parsley but actually liked it on this!

Gary was in love with the mash – it was so smooth and buttery, and though I would never usually consider paring apple compote with mash, when you did, it really cut through the creaminess and added another dimension.

My broccoli was lovely, but didn’t need the nuts on top. Still the whole thing was well-rounded, and I think we chose our menu rather well!

Then onto dessert.

We both decided to go for Apple Cake which came with cider sorbet.

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Less of a cake, and more what I’d describe as the fruit from a tarte tatin but without the pastry, this ‘cake’ was really delicious. Fine layers of apple were topped with a creme brulee type layer of sugar that had been torched to a cracking, sticky, burnt sugar lid. Topped with an incredible cider sorbet and then some very very thin caramel apple crisps. Along side was a cream inside fine green apple twists and around the edge was an INCREDIBLE green apple sauce. I could have eaten a whole bowl of that green apple goo.

Such an amazing end to the meal. This dish wasn’t too heavy, or sweet. It was very balanced and wonderful to eat!

Throughout the meal, the staff were aware of everything going on, attentive but not overbearing. Checking everyone had water, being aware of when people had finished eating, holding the door open for the bathroom when people enquired where it was (the bathrooms had the most incredible waterfall taps in the sinks!)

We were both beyond impressed. It was clear these people know how to invent dishes, cook them and host an amazing restaurant. I’m going to be keeping an eye on their menu as they tweak and add things, because I’m very interested in returning and tasting more.

If you want to see whether their food is something you’ll enjoy, visit their website and take a look at their menu. I found Eneko to be accessible both for food and atmosphere, and had a truly lovely evening there. We’ll be back!

What to Do in and Around Orlando: When Not at The Parks

My recent trip to Florida felt like a bolt-on to my trip last year. If you’re new to Musings of A So Called Shutterbug, you may not be aware that last year, for my 10 year wedding anniversary, me and my Husband planned a dream two weeks in Orlando staying at Walt Disney World. We visited all the parks and also Universal Studios. It was a jam-packed holiday, but there were things in and around Orlando that we didn’t do because we wanted to make use of our park tickets 100% of the time.

So when we got the opportunity to go back to Florida and stay with friends for a week, this year, we snapped it up. As part of this trip we wanted to do all of the things we hadn’t had the chance to do last time. And I’m pleased to say we managed to tick everything the list.

Now, as much as this is a post about what to do OUTSIDE the parks, we DID visit the Magic Kingdom for one evening, for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. I haven’t planned a post about this event, but if you’d like to see one then please leave a comment.

Snow White Disneybound at Magic Kingdom

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We also managed to fit in both Universal Parks in one day, but again, that’s not why I’m here.

If you haven’t got the time or resources to visit the parks, or if that’s just not your thing, there’s LOTS to do (for basically no money) in and around Orlando. And I wanted to share with you, what we did!

EAT

You could spend a whole month in this area, and eat in a different and good place every meal time and never eat the same place twice. Whilst in Florida, we ate at Chick-Fil-A 3 times. You might not consider it good food, but we certainly did and I’ve been craving it ever since we got back.

Other places we ate were Smokey Bones, Egg City, Cracker Barrel (which is a big breakfast favourite of ours – you can even sit outside on the porch chairs and play checkers whilst you wait for your table!)

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Blaze Pizza at Disney Springs (and I’ll come back to Disney Springs in a bit) is epic

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And restaurant style food is also aplenty. We ate in some great ones but the best was Homecomin’, also in Disney Springs

The food here is amazing. I was able to try fried green tomatoes for the first time and oh my were they good.

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NBC Sports Grill at Universal’s City Walk (again, more about there in a bit) is great. We went there for Sunday football and not only is the atmosphere awesome, but the food is amazing too. We tried Wisconsin cheese curds there for the first time and I’ve been dreaming about them ever since!

Wisconsin Cheese Curds

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SHOPPING

So, other than getting fat, we like to go shopping when we’re away. One of our favourite past-times is going to local supermarkets and seeing what things they have that we don’t. We visited Target, Walmart and Publix as well as Walgreens and CVS. We spent a good hour and a half in the first Target we went to. I just love slowly browsing EVERYTHING (sorry to Sarah and Nick who we were with!)

This is aside from visiting the shopping malls, industrial parks like The Loop and one of the many outlet malls (Premium Outlet Mall is our choice) to have a good look.

One thing to remember is that even if you don’t have a part ticket you can still visit the bar and restaurant areas of the parks.

At Disney it’s Disney Springs, and has just been completely overhauled. It’s free to park here, and has shopping, restaurants, bars and entertainment. It also features the world’s largest Disney store which contains lots of the official Disney World parks merchandise, so even if you can’t visit the parks, you can get your merch on!

Disney Springs in Fall

The Universal Studios equivalent is called City Walk. The parking here isn’t free so you need to know you’re going to make a trip of it, but City Walk is open until the early hours so you can definitely make a whole night excursion if you wish. There’s a cinema, bars, restaurants and I think a bowling alley too. You can also visit the new Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium, Blue Man Group theatre and Hard Rock Cafe from here, all without park entry.

Let’s also not forget the 192 and its tacky gift shops. I LOVE visiting these and this time around went to Orange World, and the Wizard Gift shop.

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The shop-fronts are tourist attractions themselves, and that’s even before you go inside to see what interesting things they’re stocking. Orange World also just happens to be direstly opposite my favourite Cracker Barrel for breakfast.

RESORT HOPPING

One of the things I was eager to do, was ride the monorail and see some of the resorts on the line, whilst we were staying off property this time. You can visit any of the Disney World resorts without having a room there, but just remember you cannot park there or use the pools. We parked up at the Ticket and Transportation Centre (this isn’t free but you pay once for the day and can park at any of the Disney car parks using your ticket), and hopped on the resort monorail to the Polynesian and the Grand Floridan hotels.

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This meant I could get myself a wonderful Dole Whip at Pineapple Lanai at the Polynesian (they taste the best here anyway!)

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It was my first time seeing the Grand Floridan, and though it’s a little stuffy, I’m glad I went and had a look around.

The other thing we did was park up at Disney Springs and get on a resort bus (again, this is free and you don’t have to be staying at a resort to use these buses) You can get the bus to any resort of your choice. We wanted to visit the Boardwalk as we hadn’t before.

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We’re so glad we did, and we got there a few hours before sunset, so we were able to see it in both daylight and then at night after we’d eaten. The Boardwalk area is a lot quieter than other Disney restaurant areas. It has a few shops, restaurants and bars but comes to life at night with night clubs and lights aplenty.

WINTER PARK

Last time I was in Florida I wanted to visit Winter Park, but we just didn’t have the time. It’s north of Orlando and we wanted to know the trip would be worth it. I love the Rifle Paper Company, and new they had their flagship store and head office there, but didn’t know what else there was. I’m so glad we visited this time, because we managed to have breakfast, do some shopping, and have a good look around.

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Winter Park has a lovely ‘sleepy town’ feel but also feels like a hub of business. It’s rather trendy and I’d even go as far as to say it’s a little ‘hipster’.

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There are loads of restaurants and coffee shops. One coffee place I knew I wanted to visit was Foxtail Coffee, and try their nitro cold brew. I’d been following them for a while on instagram and really wanted to visit.

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BEACHES

And last but not least, you can’t visit Florida without going to one of their white sand beaches. We’re not beach day people, so we made a short visit to Clearwater on the morning of our flight out from Tampa airport.

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An absolutely stunning place. We visited on a chilly, and windy, morning but it would be nice to spend a little more time there next time we’re in Florida. It looked exactly like a postcard!

As you can see, as long as you have a car, you don’t have to spend a huge amount of money filling your time in Orlando and the surrounding areas. We’ve discovered loads of places this time around, and next time we visit I know we’ll be making a trip to these places again.

Orlando, you have my heart!

 

 

Beauty: What I Bought In Florida

It used to be when I visited another country I got very excited to go around the malls, but there are so many American brands that have come over to the UK now, that the pull isn’t the same. I can’t say the same, however, for makeup.

There are a whole heap of brands you can’t get in the UK, not to mention Sephora doesn’t sell here any more. So, needless to say I had a list (some of which was added to by my American friend Beckie!) and I got almost all of the things I wanted. The one thing I didn’t get was from the brand Ciate London (ironically I cannot find this brand here, easily, even in London). I wanted one of their Glitter Flip lipsticks, and the colour I wanted wasn’t in the Sephora I went to. Doh! So my search continues….

Anyhow, here’s what I picked up on my travels. This is purely cosmetics, but I did buy other things. They’ll be popping up on my instagram no doubt, over the next couple of months, so keep an eye over there.

Bath & Body Works Beach Range

We made a trip to Bath and Body Works, of course. I bought I couple of gifts for family and some car air fresheners, but aside from those I picked up some lovely skin care products. The At The Beach range does what it says on the tin. The website describes the scent as a refreshing, vacation-ready blend of white frangipani, toasted coconut & bergamot waters essenced with a cool, saltwater breeze. And I’d agree with that. I picked up a mini body cream, shower gel and perfume spray. All perfect travel sizes, and big enough for me to get sick of the scent but have long enough to use it!

lotions and sprays

I also picked up a body cream from their autumn range called A Latte Love, which is marshmallow pumpkin latte scented and made with pure honey. This smells INCREDIBLE and I’ve been using it daily. It’s super moisturising and the scent is so long-lasting. As it warms up on your skin it just smells like Main Street at Disney World and all good things to do with autumn. I’m so glad I bought it!. Then from their Christmas range, which was just launching (I’ve just realised I managed to buy something from their Summer, Autumn and Christmas ranges! Go me!) I bought a body spray called Snowflakes and Cashmere. Last time I was in Florida I bought two body sprays I ended up throwing away, mainly because the liquid was coloured (I hadn’t realised it wasn’t the bottle that was coloured when I bought them) so every time I sprayed them I was worried about staining my clothing. It looks as though they’ve stopped that funny business now, so I was pleased to pick one of their sprays up. This one is a warm blend of cashmere cream, shimmering vanilla & frosted clementine. I’ve worn it every day since I’ve been back and it’s really a lovely wintery but cosy smell. As it warms up throughout the day I just wafts of the lovely smell and it’s perfectly reminiscent of this time of year. I’m in love!

I also made sure I picked up some of the things I use on a regular basis, that I can’t easily get in the UK, to stock up! I bought another of my favourite Coconut Passion body spray (a vanilla coconut musk which isn’t too sweet or heavy) from Victoria’s Secret. VS is so so much cheaper in the states and they always have deals on so I picked this up for half the normal price, which is handy as I’m almost out of the one I currently use!

chapstick and face cream

I also bought 2 of the ELF Daily Hydration Moisturiser. I’m just about finishing the last of the 2 I bought a year ago, so these should sort me through to the end of next year, with any luck! And, weirdly, you can never buy cherry chapstick in the UK. I end up buying a bulk of them on Amazon when I need them, but as they’re aplenty in the states, I bought 2 multi packs. So if you’re from America and you think of sending me a care package, chuck in a couple of these would you please? 😀

Clump Crusher by CoverGirl & E.l.f Primer

I bought a backup of my backup of the CoverGirl Clump Crusher mascara. I already have one in my backup drawer but as I was there, it made sense to get another one. You can’t get this for love nor money in the UK, so there you go! I also intended to buy another of my green primer from ELF but accidentally bought the blemish control primer instead (I was jet lagged and didn’t read the box properly). But I used it anyway and it wasn’t too bad. It says it’s got oil-controlling properties and I’m all for that, so ho hum!

From Physician’s Formula I picked up one of their Butter Blushes in the shade Natural Glow. I already have their plum shade and love it so wanted to try this. I’ve used this once, and it didn’t really show up, so I think I need to try it again. I’m wondering if it works more as a highlight or blush topper on my skin tone. And then I picked up a Wet N Wild bronzer in Reserve Your Cabana. This was recommended to me as a good all over face ‘lit from within’ bronzer. It’s honestly the lightest bronzer I’ve ever seen, and it’s got spf in it which I found really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m eager to give it a go!

3 lipsticks

Also drugstore purchases, I picked up some lip products. For the Halloween party I was attending as Snow White, I knew I wanted red lips so I brought about 5 different lipsticks away with me, but when I arrived I knew I wanted something light and not too bold. It’s too hot in Florida to worry about my lipstick! So I saw NYX had a range called Plump It Up and shade number 5 was this lovely jelly red. It was perfect. It wasn’t long-lasting, but long enough, and gave a cooling tingly feel to the lips.

Next I picked up a Wet N Wild Liquid Catsuit, again recommended to me. I picked up the shade Pink Really Hard, which is actually a little too pink for me, but it was the closest to something I would wear from the selection at the time. I did see, in another store, a better and warmer pink shade, but I’m sure I’ll still get use out of this. It’s quite comfortable and I’m interested to see how long it lasts when I do get around to wearing it.

Last from the drugstore products, I saw Flower Beauty in Walmart (Drew Barrymore’s cosmetic line) and I wanted to try one product from the range. So after browsing for a little bit, I settled on this Hydrasilk Ultimate Lip Butter in Rose Petal. It’s a lovely pink nude shade and I’ve worn it a lot since coming home (and I’ve been harping on about it on instagram too!). It’s incredibly comfortable, long-lasting and pigmented. I’m very impressed!

So now we come to my Sephora purchases. As mentioned, I was only unable to pick up the Ciate item I wanted, and the rest of these were on my list.

I’ll start with the items I picked up from Too Faced’s new peach range.

Too Faced Primed & Peachy Primer

As someone who is constantly battling a shiny oily t-zone, I was excited to pick this cooling matte primer up. Primed & Peachy comes in a tube with a pump, and the product is peach toned. I’ve used this a lot since I bought it and can confirm it’s both cooling and matte. I wouldn’t say it’s skin perfecting. It’s a sticky primer so it definitely works best if you press it onto the face. The times in which I’ve smoothed it over my skin, I’m oily again later in the day, but when I press it on, it adheres my foundation a lot better and I stay relatively matte throughout the whole day. My face also smells like peaches for some time afterwards, which is pleasant.

Too Faced Just Peachy Mattes Palette

As a matte eyeshadow fan, I knew I wanted this Just Peachy palette. I already have the Sweet Peach Too Faced palette, but this one was all mattes. As you’ll already know, these shadows don’t have the same peach scent as it’s earlier counterpart, but they still smell peachy. I’ve used this once, and found the shadows a little hard to blend but I persevered, and they blended enough in the end. I’m excited to use this more as we go through Autumn and Winter, since I don’t really wear eye shadow in the Summer.

Sephora Nude Lipstick Set

My last purchase from Sephora was this Sephora Favorites ‘Give Me Some Nude Lip’ lip kit. I’m going to post a full first impressions on this kit with swatches, so look out for that in the next few posts, but basically it includes 6 nude shades from Sephora brands and one of them is full-sized.

I love the Sephora Favorites boxes because you get to try out brands without paying the full price, and they sometimes come with vouchers inside to exchange for one full-sized product once you’ve tried them (I know the perfume boxes usually do). I’m excited to try these lippies out. The colours look amazing, and there’s a good range of finishes and shades.

Since I bought some bits at Sephora and already had some points on my card, I was able to exchange my points for a sample sized product.

Sunday Riley C.E.O

I chose this sample sized C.E.O moisuriser by Sunday Riley. Everyone harps on about this brand, and even though I have no idea what this does, I decided this was my chance to see what the fuss was about! If you’ve tried this, please let me know what you think!

So those are the beauty products I picked up on my recent trip to Florida. It’s amazing just how inexpensive the drugstore products are, which mean I was able to splurge a little when Sephora came around!

If you’ve tried any of these products I’d love to hear what you think of them, and how you used them!

This Week I Have Been Mostly….

this week i have been mostly

I’m back! And this week I have been mostly recovering from much delayed jet lag!

We had an AMAZING time in Florida, so good that we’re already trying to work out how we can go back next year. (I accidentally wrote ‘next week’… wouldn’t that be grand?!)

I was back to work last week, and it’s Christmas in full swing for my job-role, so it was nice to get stuck back into it.

As you know, I don’t go for full blow-by-blow posts when I return from a trip, but I will be posting some Florida related posts in the coming weeks. A few hints and tips for things to do when you’re not visiting the parks every day, and also a post on some of the beauty products I picked up whilst I was away.

If you want to catch up on photos from the trip, head over to my instagram. I also did quite a bit of insta-live whilst I was away. If you missed those, make sure you’re following me, because I enjoyed it so much I might just do it again.

I’ve gotta say I didn’t do any filming for YouTube whilst I was away, because I’d much rather enjoy my holiday than feel like I’m ‘working’ it. In fact I didn’t touch my camera the whole trip – my iPhone was my camera and did the trick 100% of the time.

So, a little bit about the trip. We stayed with some friends whilst we were there, and had a list of things we wanted to do – and we did EVERYTHING on the list.

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I was very pleased that we managed to do everything we wanted to do, and still felt like we had down-time during the trip.

We ate some amazing food

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We got to go to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Snow White Disneybound at Magic Kingdom

We went SHOPPING!

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Florida is a wonderful state, and I really do feel like Orlando is like a second home. It’s got a little bit of everything you’d want.

Anyhow, now I’m back, and Halloween is over. It’s Guy Fawkes night tonight, and that means tomorrow begins full-blown Christmas. It’s one of my favourite times of year, so bring on the glitter, lights, food and music. Bring on the festive films and festivities!

What’s In My Flight Bag?

A few weeks back I posted a poll on twitter to see whether people would be interested in a blog article about what I’m taking in my flight bag, ahead of my trip to Orlando. The result was a majority yes, with one person saying no and the rest telling me they wanted McNuggets….

So here it is (and everyone else needs to get their own darn nuggets)

flight bag flatlay

I’ve travelled long haul more often than not when flying, and so I’m pretty set in my ways. I don’t tend to take a whole lot because I don’t see a 9 hour flight as particularly long. I seem to be able to get myself into a good mind-set and don’t have many problems (probably the many years of long shifts in retail. You’ve gotta get through it somehow!).

This year I’m taking our fantastic Walt Disney World backpack as my hand luggage. It’s strong, covered in Mickeys and fits so much in it. It’s also go tonnes of pockets so I can separate everything and I know I’ll be able to find it at a moment’s notice.

Now, I’m the kind of person who goes for ease so I don’t take any liquids or gels with me. This means I can go through security without any hassles. I do take a Chapstick but that’s never caused any problems.

UK passport and longline wallet

Important stuff first, I’ll be taking my passport, duh, along with my travel wallet which will have cards, cash and driving licence in it (and my Sephora and Ulta loyalty cards, of course!) I’ll also have any other important vouchers or documents pertaining to the trip.

I’m be wearing layers on the flight so won’t need a change of clothes, but I am packing my flip flops so I can change into those once we’re in the hire car, and leave my converse and socks in my bag.

I’ll be taking my Sony a5000 in a little case, you can see in the top picture. I don’t intend to use it on the flight, but I prefer to have it in my hand luggage so it doesn’t get chucked about. Inside this case is also an e-cloth.

I can’t go on a long-haul flight without a neck pillow and eye mask. I never know whether the eye mask they provide will work for me (the bridge of my nose always causes problems!) so I take my own. This one is actually from a past flight, but I use it regularly because it works on my face!

mickey mouse lock screen on iphone 7 plus in case

Of course I’ll have my phone, but when I travel I pop it into a case, since I can then chuck it into any bag without worrying about it getting lost or scratched. This particular case is by Tortoise and is leather. I have had a couple of these in the past (different phone sizes) but I always go back to them because they are robust, easy to take the phone in and out, and this one also acts as a phone stand.

iphone 7 plus in stand case

Please ignore the amount of finger prints on my screen…. but as you can see the case acts as a stand so I can watch YouTube or tv on the phone at any point and not have to hold it.

I also will be taking my Beats headphones, but of course I forget to photograph them. DOH! The little red pouch in the top picture contains my sunglasses. I doubt I’ll need them for when we land, but it’s holiday so sunglasses!

tic tacs and a Disney book

Bottom right on the photo, that tiny blue square is a Juice pack for my phone. My battery on my iPhone 7+ is really good, but who knows how much I’ll be using it, so better to be safe than sorry.

I will take a book with me (it might not be this one) but I have a habit of taking books on holiday and never reading them, so who knows! And of course I’ll be taking some sweeties!

I’ll no doubt add things like plasters and pain killers, last-minute because they always come in handy.

So even though it looks like a fair bit, that backpack will still feel empty! I’ll probably end up shoving my jumper in there at some point and trying to fill the space, as we do! But these are my essentials.

I can’t wait to get on the flight now!!

 

I’m Going on my Hollibobs!

You’ll all know by now, that in a week I fly off to my second home, Orlando!

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I’m crazy excited, and I’ll be posting a lot of stuff on my instagram, so make sure you’re following me over there.

I’ve scheduled a bunch of posts ahead of time, so keep checking back here for new articles. Halloween season hasn’t passed me by so there’s quite a bit of horror film chat about to occur (if you hadn’t already noticed on twitter!)

So whilst I’m away, please still comment on my blog posts and stuff and send me the love. I’ll reply to you when I can 🙂

Ahead of my flying off, I have a post coming up about what’s in my hand luggage, which was asked for by my followers on twitter, so keep an eye out for that.

See you on the other side!