Blogging Tools I Can’t Live Without

Since I’ve been blogging for quite some time now, I thought I’d share some of the tools that have come to be invaluable to me.

Technically, you just need your brain and a platform and you’re all set, but there are a few things I’ve come to appreciate as tools I just can’t live without when blogging.

First of all, my laptops. I have a Microsoft HP and a MacBook Pro. I don’t have a word processing package on my Mac so tend to do most of my writing on the HP laptop, unless I’m writing straight into my blogging platform.

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WordPress is my platform of choice, having used a few different ones over the years. I like that even on a free package you can produce a customisable and professional looking blog. It’s flexible and you rarely see two blogs looking the same. It has its glitches, but what website don’t? I feel like at some point in the future I’ll need to move to self-hosted or a paid account, but until then it works just fine, thank you very much. As well as the web-based platform, I have the WordPress app. It’s not without its limitations, but is handy for replying to comments, checking stats and uploading images on the go. You can write posts on there too but I prefer to do that on a computer, mainly because I’m rubbish and slow at word processing on my phone!

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For cameras, I switch between my Canon EOS 400D, Sony a5000 and my iPhone 7 Plus. I’ve been using my SLR less of late for the reasons you’ll read in a moment, but even though it’s kind of old now I love the quality of photos I get from it. My Sony a5000 has earned its cost times over. I love how small it is, the quality of photo and video and it’s light. But other than that, the Wifi function comes in so so handy. I can take a photo, send it to my phone and then edit it, upload and publish it, all within 5 minutes of capturing the shot. The iPhone 7 Plus is pretty awesome for taking photos too, and though I haven’t had it long, I can already see the difference in lens quality with the shots I’ve taken.

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As well as using my iPhone for images, I have a tonne of apps I use for blogging. Here are a few of them.

I’ve mentioned the WordPress app so I won’t go into that again. I use Buffer to scheduling tweets, which I don’t do all that much, but it’s good to have an easy app to do it when I want to. Twitter (of course), Facebook and Instagram – I don’t really have to tell you what those do, right?

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Lightroom app for iOS is awesome for photo editing. The auto presets are a great place to start, and then you can tweak until your heart’s content.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve been uploading to Flickr for over 10 years now, so it’s almost as though I have my own iStock of photos on there. It’s awesome because I pretty much have a photo already taken for a lot of posts I might want to write. So, if I ever don’t have the time to take photos, I can usually pull from there. The Flickr app allows me to save my own photos and then I can upload them to WordPress. Job done!

As I begin to venture into the world of YouTube, the YouTube app has come in very handy, as has the YouTube Creator Studio app. It shows me views, stats, trends and comments all from one place. It also allows me to push videos live, share and copy links right from the app.

For planning I like to use the notes section on my phone, when out at about, and for proper planning I’ll use my Ultimate Blog Planner from Dot Creates. This planner allows me to make in depth notes, or even start writing the blog there and then. There are sections where I can write prompts for photo ideas I’ve had too. It’s really invaluable.

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Photo lighting comes in the form of either the Earth’s sun or, because this is England, I have a pair of softbox lights which I use for both photography and video. They’re pretty new to me so I’m still getting the hang of them, but I love the natural light they throw out. You can find the set I bought from Amazon here!

Other than on my phone, for photo editing on my laptop I use a really old version of Paint Shop Pro. I could upgrade but I know this software like the back of my hand, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I also use this software to make any graphics I need for my blog or elsewhere.

So, those are my ‘can’t do without’ blogging tools. I hope this helps you with your blog planning and editing, and please let me know if you use something you love that I haven’t mentioned!

Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World: part 3

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Whoo hoo! You’re at Walt Disney World. All your planning has paid off and you’re finally doing it!

If you’ve missed parts one and two of this planning series, then feel free to head back. But if you’re ready to enjoy your holiday, why not see what I consider to be awesome tips for when you’re there.

What’s Important to you?:

If seeing characters and getting autographs is important to you, then make sure you don’t just walk past photo ops when you see them. You don’t know when you’ll see that character again so spend the time waiting for your chance to meet them.

Don’t Miss Out:

If you see a piece of merchandise that you must have, don’t let it go. If you’re staying on Disney property it can be delivered to your room so you don’t have to worry about lugging it about, and some merchandise can only be bought in one or two stores. You might forget where you saw it, or even just never make it back to that part of the park.

This can be said for food too – if you don’t pick up that Dole Whip when you see it, you might never get to have it!

Rest:

It’s really important that you plan in rest when you can. The afternoons get HOT and if you’ve been up early and plan to be awake late then you’ll need a mid-afternoon rest. Take a nap in the hotel or even just chill out with a drink somewhere air conditioned. This is a great way to avoid arguments, feeling unwell or just plain exhaustion.

Really Work Your Fastpass:

There were a couple of occasions when we arrived for our fastpass and the wait for the ride was only short anyway. You have an hour period to use your fast pass in, so on these occasions we stood in line for the short wait (10-20 minutes), rode the ride in the standard line and then once we were done we walked right back and used our fast pass. By this time the wait was often longer the second time around, and so we managed to skip the line. This meant we got to ride twice within half an hour!

Be Flexible:

Even if you have a plan like we did, be prepared to change things dependent on weather or just how you’re feeling. We had a hurricane on the way when we were there which meant we had to skip our trip to the beach, reschedule a visit to Epcot and hide out in a mall when the rain set in!

Take Advantage of Freebies:

On our arrival, we were asked if we were celebrating. We told them it was our wedding anniversary so we got given badges each. It was my first visit too, so I got a 1st visit badge. If it’s your birthday they have badges for that also! Whilst out and around the parks and resorts, the cast members take note of your badges and acknowledge that you’re celebrating. We also got given a free cake on one of our quick service visits!

Take Advantage of Your Package:

On our last full day, we knew we had lots of Dining Plan quick service meal credits left – I mean A LOT so we headed to Goofy’s sweet shop in Disney Springs. Here they allow you to split your quick service meal credit for three snack credits and this meant we could get anything in the store that was snack credit eligible for FREE (most of the store was eligible). We had around 80 credits left at this point which meant we filled our basket full of sweets for back home and gifts and got them all for free. We felt quite guilty about taking advantage in this way, but the cast member who served us actually encouraged us to buy more and more and told us to come back the next day if we still had credits left. We had planned to, but the hurricane meant we couldn’t.

We also took advantage of the photo pass we had received in our package and whenever we saw a photographer with no or a short line we got our photos taken. This was a great way to keep a memento of our time in the parks and meant we were never waiting around for a photo op. The only photo line we stood in for a while was during our Halloween party night, but we knew we wanted a keepsake of that!

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We also each received a refillable mug as part of our package. If you have this, do take advantage of it. The mugs are plastic refillable cups that retail for $18. They are activated at the counter and then for the duration of your stay you can have free Coke Freestyle drinks as often as you like (one every 5 minutes, if you wish) at all the Disney resorts. This also includes coffee, tea and water. We used these every day and found them to be a real treat.

Go Off Site:

We rented a car which meant that we were able to go off-site to the stores and pick up cases of bottled water, iced coffee and snacks for our room. Our room had a mini fridge and so we were able to take cold bottled water with us whenever we left the room, and save money on buying water in the parks.

Check Your Receipt:

A lot of the receipts in the parks have money off codes or coupons at the bottom. These can save you money on future purchases in and around the parks and resort stores. So make sure you inspect your receipt and don’t just throw it away!

Stay Hydrated:

It’s essential that no matter how much fun you’re having you keep drinking water. It’s so easy to get distracted and forget to drink so keep an eye on how you’re feeling. There are water fountains everywhere and places selling water. But we took our own bottles and the backpack we carried had water bottle holders in it meaning we didn’t have to worry about carrying freezing wet bottles in our hands.

And on that note: Make sure you wear sunscreen – hats, sunglasses and sunscreen – and don’t forget the top of your ears. You don’t want to ruin your trip with sunburn and heat exhaustion. Look after yourself!

So, those are my hints and tips for an epic trip to Disney World. There’s so much more, but I could go on and on – and you should probably learn them for yourself! So, go ahead, have an amazing time, and enjoy yourselves. And don’t forget to come back and tell me all about your trip to the happiest place on earth J

Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World: part 2

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Welcome to part two of how to plan your perfect Disney World trip. If you missed part one, then head back because that’s all about booking.

Now you’ve booked the fun stuff happens. You need to begin thinking about what you’re actually going to do whilst you’re there.

You need to think about the time of year you’re going and what’s important to you. We visited at the end of September and start of October. This meant it was Halloween-time and also the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.

This was so exciting for us, because we knew there would be special events and lots going on.

Once you’re booked you’re told you can book certain things ahead of time. Do these things – you don’t want to find something you want to do is fully booked and you miss out.

Let’s talk specifics:

Where to start

We built an Excel spreadsheet of the two weeks we were away. This had a column for each day, and rows stating the different parks’ opening hours. We reviewed the crowd calendars on the DIBB and Touring Plans and were able to see which days to go and which days to avoid certain parks.

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On here we also noted the fireworks and events and the opening times of each park. From here we were able to start building up a picture of where we would be at what times. We also made sure we blanked out enough afternoons or days where we wanted down time. It’s so important to remember the days will be long and it’s HOT so we wanted to make sure if we needed to cool down or rest, we’d planned it in.

Build your Magic Band:

If you’re staying on site, you get the pleasure of your own Magic Band. These things are truly wonderful. A magic band is a waterproof bracelet that you wear throughout your time at Disney World resorts and parks. It’s your room key, park tickets, parking permit, locker key, cash, holds your fast passes and ADRs, links your memory maker and photo pass, and holds all your dining plan credits. You can choose the colour of band and they print your name (or nickname) on the inside so that you know which is which if there are more than one of you.

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Whilst you’re on property you can also buy little clip on accessories to jazz them up. If you’re UK based you pick your band up when you check in, and if you’re in the US they deliver your band a few weeks ahead of your stay.

Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR):

You can book your ADRs from 180 days ahead of your trip. If there’s somewhere you really want to eat you should try and book as soon as you can. Using the sheet we’d built we could see which parks we would be on which days and what time of day. This meant we had a good idea of when we could book in our ADRs and it worked really well. Ahead of booking, I’d been avidly reading the Disney Food Blog and checking out menus on the Disney World website. Full menus can be viewed, so you have an idea of what sort of food to expect. Restaurants like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Table are too popular to allow walk-ins so you really need to be prepared. ADRs are linked to your magic band and you are sent reminders via email so don’t worry about forgetting your booking. Be aware that if you don’t show for your ADR your account is charged for a no show, so make sure you’re certain when you book, and if you need to skip your booking make sure you cancel ahead of time.

Fast Passes:

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We spent a while looking up the different rides for the parks, and finding out how popular these were. Rides like Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Frozen Ever After are fairly new so we knew we had to book fast passes for these. Using the spreadsheet we knew where we were likely to be and when so at 60 days ahead of our trip we were able to book our rides in. (If you’re staying off site it’s 30 days ahead.) It’s essential that if you have your heart on riding something, you book ahead. Trying to get a walk-on for Frozen or Test Track is pretty much impossible. Once we’d booked our essential fast passes, we went back and saw what was left in the places we knew we’d be – this meant that if we found ourselves in a park and didn’t have anything better do, we had rides planned in.

Special Events:

Knowing we would be in Orlando for Halloween-time we knew we had to book a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party, and we also booked for Halloween Horror Nights at Universal. Knowing that I’m the kind of person who likes to do things a couple of times to really enjoy them, we planned in two nights at Epcot Food and Wine Festival. We also knew this would aid us should the weather be bad, and this was fortuitous since the first night we planned there was a total wash out.

Be Flexible:

We knew our plan looked very strict but we also knew we were fairly flexible with it. If we needed to change a plan, didn’t want to do something again, or the weather changed, we were able to alter things on a whim – but we had also planned a lot of things more than once so the important things were covered should we need to miss one at some point.

Book Your Car:

Disney World has a Car Care Centre on property. We hired a car from Alamo, and knew that we could get picked up from the park (they also pick up from your resort), taken to get our car and then drive off into the sunset. Door to door pick up and drop off service, effectively. Having a car was so important to us because it meant we didn’t have to rely on waiting for buses, we had free parking at the parks, and we could nip off-site whenever we wanted.

Plan Your Must Dos:

I knew there were certain sights, resorts and foods I wanted to experience over my time away. I made sure I had a list of them all and it meant that when we had down time I was able to suggest a visit to a certain resort, or trip off-site for breakfast at a spot I’d heard about. It was so important to me that I tick certain things off my list, and didn’t come home and realise I’d missed something. It’s not like you’re in Orlando every day!

Buy Essentials Ahead of Time:

We picked up things like granola bars and ponchos (though these never arrived from the amazon seller!) ahead of time. You can save money by doing this and means you’re never caught ratty and hungry or soaked from a sudden downpour. Saying that, I did enjoy my Disney poncho and it was thick and good quality – worth the price in my opinion!

And now you’re all planned, all that’s left to do is wait for the big day when you can leave for your trip. Head straight to part 3 which is tips for when you’re in the parks!