This Week I Have Been Mostly….

this week i have been mostly

I didn’t really want to follow my last post with another post about moving house, but let’s be real – when you move house it pretty much takes over your life. It IS your life.

We’re in, we’re feeling settled and we’re almost unpacked. Which is amazing, and more than I could have hoped.

The actual moving weekend was mega stressful and I’m not going to lie – I never want to move again. Which is what I said the last time, but something tells me this house is more of a keeper.

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Over on instagram I’ve been sharing elements of the house. Once it’s more finished I’ll share some more but until now, head over there to see tidbits going forward.

But the house is amazing, I’m very much revelling in the fact that I have a dishwasher once more. And even though by square foot this house is smaller than the last, it feels so much bigger. The space is useable and well-planned out. The kitchen is the star of the house and since it’s such a social space, I’m really looking forward to having people over once we’ve got our dining table in. I’m in love!

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Other than moving I’ve been doing a lot of catching up on tv I missed when we were packed up, which is great because I’m having to force myself to STOP UNPACKING every waking second. So we’ve watched all of Twin Peaks (omg) and have started re-watching The Wire again. I think I might dedicate a whole post to Twin Peaks – not that there’s really a huge amount of coherent writing to be had on that subject, but we’ll see. Great British Bake Off is back, as is Dr Foster and American Horror Story (though I’m not too keen on the first episode I saw of this…. I’m not a fan of clowns.)

So my posts will start to feel a little more normal going forward. I’ve got some exciting stuff coming up and some exciting projects I’m working on, so keep your eyes peeled for those. If you’re a fan of Halloween and scary movies I have some posts, I’m really looking forward to writing, in the pipeline and of course there’s my trip to Orlando to look forward to!

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If you don’t already follow me on other social platforms, you can find me on twitter as @Shutterbug_Blog on instagram as groggits and on YouTube at the Musings of a So-Called Shutterbug channel. So follow me over there too, for stuff as and when it happens!

Until next time 🙂

When Fear of Missing Out, Turns to Burn Out

It’s safe to say I’m on the older end of the age spectrum compared with most of the bloggers I come across. I’m still shocked when I hear bloggers I follow talk about taking their GCSEs.

I guess it’s only a shock because way back when I was doing my exams, it was really really geeky to own a computer, let alone admit that you used the internet.

These days everyone appears to have a background in marketing. Kids know how to brand themselves from 16, so as soon as they’re allowed an instagram account, they’ve got their ‘thang’ going and they’re hitting all the likes, follows and they just *know* how to maximise hashtags.

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But one of the things I’m noticing on twitter more and more, is young bloggers asking how people manage to blog, maintain their social accounts AND work either full-time or complete a degree, without burning out or one of these aspects suffering.

I work full-time, I run a blog full-time, instagram and YouTube, as well as managing two twitter accounts. And it’s not easy. But I realise where things need to give in order for me to maintain a balance.

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And I put that insight into knowing how to manage these things, down the different kind of world I grew up. When I was growing up FOMO (or Fear of Missing Out) didn’t really exist for me. The world wasn’t so accessible. You couldn’t find out anything and everything just by picking up a device. As a result you missed out on things. Most of the time I didn’t find out about the thing I’d missed out on until after the fact – I just didn’t know they were happening.

And so now, with knowledge at our finger tips, it’s easy to be tempted into things. Notifications on Facebook telling us that people we know are off to events nearby. Twitter telling us about fun Blogging meet-ups and events. Twitter chats every night – sometimes so many, I’ve been known to participate in multiple chats at once.

But it’s knowing where and when to step back.

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My full-time job is more important that my hobby. It’s how I pay for a lifestyle that allows me to blog, buy fun things and attend awesome events. For a while I was trying to do it all; twitter chats 4 times a week after a full day looking at screens at my job, blogging every weekend (including photos), posting a YouTube video weekly. It all got too much and too tiring, and the schedule that I’d set for myself became a chore. I could feel the first inklings of resentment creeping in.

So I took a step back. I decided to schedule multiple blog posts ahead of time, so I would be able to have weekends off. I decided it was time to reduce time spent on my older twitter account and just focus on one. I stopped YouTube altogether, and decided to take a break until things at home settled a bit. I stopped taking part in ALL the Twitter chats, and only did the ones with subjects that really interested me, or when I was at a loose end.

The result was a more relaxed, less tired Erin. I was also able to spend more time with my husband, who is TOTALLY supportive of my blogging hobby btw. But I realised on nights I was taking part in twitter chats, I was totally ignoring him. I missed him, and we’d been sat right next to each other.

Taking this step back meant that when I was writing articles, I was enjoying it more. I was able to take more time in what I was writing, and I wasn’t just doing it for the sake of hitting a schedule.

It’s so important to remember you don’t have to do it all, in order to feel part of something. If you’re at University and you’re not able to post according to a schedule you’ve set, then change your schedule. If your IRL social life interferes with taking part in a twitter chat, so what? We’ll still be there next week – go live your life. No one worth following you is going to mind if you miss a normal posting day. Plus you’ll have fun stuff to write about next time!

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So, if you’re one of those people who sits down at their laptop and wonders how you’re going to stay awake or motivated enough to write AND live your life – go live it. You’re not going to be missing out if you’re taking YOU-time. Sit and smell the roses, and then come back when you’re ready.

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You’ll feel amazing for it, and you’ll realise that life carries on without you – in the best possible way!

2016: My Year in Blogging

I think this year has to have been one of my most consistent blogging years, the last one being during my year of half marathon training.

And I know exactly what changed it; the blogging community on social media and actually being actively social.

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Blogging has changed a huge amount since I started. I’ve been writing a blog for around 15 years and this particular blog for 7 and a half now. I’m so proud that Musings of a So-Called Shutterbug is the way that it is and that people seem to like it!

I started the year with around 300 email subscribers and ended it with over 600. After having started dabbling with makeup I started to see my reader stats increasing and people seemed to be interested in that kind of content. I’m not going to lie, as much as my blog posts are written for me, no one will deny the draw to being popular. Especially in such a competitive environment. And it’s SO competitive.

When I started blogging it wasn’t popular. It was something emo kids and poets did. For the record, and though there’s nothing wrong with being either of those things, I’m neither. I was just putting thoughts to ‘paper’ and then releasing them into the great ocean of the internet. I think that’s why I get on with twitter so much. You have a thought, you release it, and then it’s gone (for the most part!).

When I began putting in that extra 10% effort this year, I could see it made all the difference. But I also saw that the world of blogging, this expansive Blogosphere, was totally different from how it was when I started. EVERYONE has a blog. The content is rarely original, but when it is, it’s so good. And people can really make money from blogging. People are jacking in their 9-5 jobs to work for themselves and become influencers full-time.

And not only that, the popularity contest is so fierce that people actually pay for followers. Things I didn’t know even existed were brought to the forefront – people spend hours scheduling tweets to go out on a weekly basis. They will plan posts months ahead, spending hours perfecting their Media Kit and profile pages to be PR friendly. I have, for the time being, decided that a media kit and PR related type stuff is not for me. The other day someone had to explain to me what an Insta Pod was – I’m still not 100% sure…

A few years ago I dabbled, and worked with companies reviewing their stuff. I worked with Vita Coco, Chobani and a few tea companies. I had chocolate and yogurt coming out of my ears and finding the time to review everything was hard. I found my content was becoming watered down this ad content and I decided to let it go.

I also found it’s so hard to get noticed in the seas of ‘young’ ‘hip’ bloggers who understand social media and branding way more than I can at my mid 30’s. It’s frustrating to think that the 40th review someone has read about the latest Zoella perfume can get so much more engagement than a post I write about travel or a favourite charity….. But still.

So since I considered myself pretty good at twitter I set up a second twitter account dedicated to Musings and let it loose on the world. I got a few followers but they were mainly people who I already knew. And nothing seemed to happen….. Then I realised that I was being totally dumb and in order for people to engage with me I needed to engage with them. It’s been to the detriment of my personal twitter account, I must admit, but even so, I have really enjoyed it.

Things really started to fly when I discovered The Bloggers Hub (or I think they might have found me!), a network of like-minded bloggers who chat, help each other and are really fun. The guys who run the network are great, welcoming, and really help to boost your exposure all at the same time. They seem like the kind of people I’d really get on with IRL and there’s zero bitchiness from anyone, which is the one thing that had put me off being involved in any other twitter blogger network. Their twitter chat was also the first one I ever participated in (and since I’ve never felt the urge to join in with any others, if I’m honest). Through them I’ve found some amazing, friendly and really down to earth bloggers. I’ve also had my eyes opened to some of the pitfalls of blogging, some of the drama and plenty of the scams.

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Through twitter I got the balls to start my YouTube channel too, which is still very much in its infant stage. But it’s great to know there’s an outlet I can push my videos through, when I really want people to know what I’ve been creating.

Something I’ve always had an issue getting over, so not just this year, is the fear of putting what I really think onto the screen. And by that I mean, I sometimes have the strong urge to write a response to something that might be going on in the press or something in my life, but I’m afraid of the responses I might get. Sometimes it’s a social or political issue that I don’t feel like I know everything about but I still have a strong opinion on. I might know enough to write a post about it, but someone who knows more about it than me might comment and I won’t be able to stand my ground. This is something I hope, in time, I’ll get over. But the more exposure my blog gets, the higher the chance that someone might respond negatively to what I’ve written. I mean let’s face it, beauty bloggers get flack for using too much product in their swatches so what hope do I have if I start to comment on politics?

I also had the chance, towards the end of the year, to attend a couple of Blogger events. One was too far from home, but one was right where I live, and I chickened out. Apart from it being too much money for what you got, I didn’t feel ready to take that scary leap and be social with people I’d never met. The fear was too great. But maybe this year I’ll take the leap. There’s one blogger I’ve been friendly with for the past year, who I would consider a friend even though we’ve never met. Maybe meeting her this year will be the first step to conquering this fear. I think I need my hand held!

So what does 2017 and blogging hold for me? This year I upgraded my Peanuts Moleskine notebook, where I usually write in long hand, a full blog, if I have the idea in my head and I need to get it out. I bought a Dot Creates Blogger Planner. Inside it’s got loads of space for planning upcoming blogs. Up until now I’d either use my Peanuts Moleskine or more often just open a new page on my iPhone Notes app. This can be a little clumsy and when it comes to things like this, I appreciate putting pencil to paper more. This blog planner will also be great for planning YouTube video ideas and it makes my brain feel a little more organised!

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So planning will be important in 2017, though I don’t feel like I’ll ever be the kind of person who can sit, plan and write out posts months in advance. I’m far too much of a spur of the moment, type out whatever’s in my brain right now, kind of blogger.

I know I’ll continue with twitter because it’s been so much fun, socialising with everyone and learning too. I considered dabbling with scheduling tweets, but I enjoy actually engaging in real-time too much. Even scheduling blog posts too far ahead of time makes me feel distant from my content, so for the time being I won’t be scheduling tweets.

I’m going to work on my brand, but I want to keep it real. I don’t want to find myself moving back to where I was when I was doing PR and collaborations. That’s not me – if I talk about a product it’s because I love it and I’m just doing the same as if I told my friends about something amazing that I’d tried. And I want my readers to know that too. If I’m telling you about it, it’s because it’s worth talking about!

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I can honestly say that 2016 was my most enjoyable year in blogging, and I hope 2017 follows suit. I now know that putting that little bit of extra effort in, finding your tribe and being social makes a whole heap of difference. There’s a reason it’s called social media but for someone who isn’t incredibly outgoing or social I was just a little slow on the uptake.

But it’s okay now, because I got there eventually. And I love it!

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!

Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World: part 1

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So you’ve decided to go to Disney World! Good choice 😀

But before you can go and have all the fun, you need to make some decisions. You want this to be the trip of a lifetime, and for that to happen you need to have made all the right choices at booking stage.

Here’s what me and my husband did to plan and book our trip, based on a two-week stay for two adults.

There’s so much information to take in and so many factors to consider, so the first thing you need to do is:

Research!

Gary became a member of thedibb.co.uk – a forum and user based website for Brits planning Disney vacations. It’s got so much information including a vacation planner, tips, calendars on peak times, which parks to go on which days, special events…. And that’s not mentioning the wealth of information provided on the forums by the members.

Budget

You’ll already know this isn’t going to be a cheap holiday, but you’ll still be able to make some choices based on what you’re able to afford or save up for. Keep an eye out for the UK Disney Dining Plan offers which usually come out in April. We managed to get a great deal by doing this (but more of that later)

Hotel

Based on your budget you’ll need to decide whether you want to stay on property or off. There are schools of thought for both options and benefits to both, but we decided we wanted to stay on property and the option of the dining plan helped cement this for us.

Let me tell you a little about the dining plan offer. It’s basically offers you meals for free based on the type of hotel you choose, and means you won’t likely need to pay for much (or any) food when on Disney property. For two weeks in the parks this can make a massive impact on the amount of cash you need to budget for once you’re actually there.

There are 3 types of resort at Disney World – basic, moderate and deluxe. If you choose a basic hotel, you don’t get the option of the dining plan. However, if you choose a moderate hotel you get the option of a Quick Service dining plan, and if you choose Deluxe you get the option of the Table Service dining plan. These mean that for each day, and each person, in your party you receive 2 meals (either quick service or table depending on your plan) and 1 snack each. You can upgrade to the Table Service plan if you’re staying at the moderate resorts, however ideally we would have wanted to stay at a Deluxe resort and get the Quick Service plan – this wasn’t an option though.

Quick service dining locations are places where you go to the counter and order, then take a tray to the table yourself and sit. Table Service are exactly what you think; you’re waited on. But these kinds of restaurants require bookings more often than not, and serve heavier food. Gary and I knew we didn’t want to be restricted to eating times, or heavy food when we were hot and bothered, so knew that we wanted the quick service option.

For one Quick Service credit, you receive an Entrée (main course), desert and a drink – all for free!

We ended up choosing Port Orleans French Quarter (a New Orleans mardis gras themed hotel resort) for our stay, and were over the moon with our choice.

By staying on-site, we also received a free refillable mug each. This was a plastic cup with a chip in the bottom which allows free drinks refills at all Disney World resorts, from Coke Freestyle machines (also included Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate and Milk)

The offer we booked under also gave us a free $200 gift card which could be spent in most of the shops and resorts on site, and a free Memory Maker (worth $160) which meant all ride photos, videos and official photos taken in the parks and resorts were free and linked to our account for download. Awesome!

Another major pro of staying on-site is the free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport via the Disney Magical Express. Car parking at the parks is also free of charge for guests staying at Disney resorts but are otherwise charged at $20 a day for those staying off-site.

If we had decided to stay off-site we wouldn’t have gotten any of these offers.

Once you’ve chosen your hotel, you need to decide:

When to go

Again, The Dibb is brilliant for choosing what time of year to go. Obviously, I don’t have children so don’t have to consider holidays. We decided to go at the end of September because the temperatures usually cool down a little, it was Halloween season and also Epcot Food and Wine Festival time – all things we wanted to experience. It was also coming off-peak season so we knew it would be less crowded for the most part.

With all these things considered, you can now either go to a travel agent or book it yourself. We decided to book it ourselves without flights, and hold on a little while to see if we could get a better price on flights nearer the time. It really depends on what you’re comfy with – it worked out well for us doing it ourselves.

So now all you need to do is book (when the time and offers are right of course!)

But you might think that’s all the planning done…. You’re wrong! It’s just beginning! Head straight part two on how to plan the perfect Disney World holiday!

Ding Dong The Bells Are Gonna Chime!

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Sarah, one of the members of our ‘Book Club’ got engaged! The rest of us girls were all so excited we arranged to meet up a week later to hear all about the proposal and see the ring. She’s the first one in the group to get engaged (two of us are already married) which makes two major life events in the group this year – one of the group is expecting her first baby in November.

We met up at a local pub, ordered drinks and food and chatted about the proposal, plans for the wedding and generally got very excited about the upcoming event. I think we probably overwhelmed Sarah with our questions. Having already gotten engaged and being married for almost 8 years, I have been to a few weddings and planned my own so know all the things you have to think about. Much to my annoyance, when I was planning my wedding Pinterest didn’t exist. At a young 23 years old, I didn’t really put a huge deal of thought into it, and that was probably for the best as we were on a tight budget. But if I could do it all again I would. There are so many details I’d love to change and add. It’s so exciting that Sarah has all of this ahead of her.

All of us were über excited and after we’d eaten we went outside, minus one of the group who’d had to leave for a late shift at her job, and took a some photos of Sarah and the beautiful ring she now has on her hand.

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The coming months are going to be tremendously exciting with a baby and a wedding. Growing up is amazing and I’m so pleased I get to do it with this lovely bunch of ladies!

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This Week I Have Been Mostly…

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  • Massively enjoying the sun. It’s wonderful that the warm weather and sunshine has stayed with us this long. I must say I’m hoping that it continues this way. I’m getting rather a nice tan too for the first time EVER!

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  • Missing my parents. They’re away in Canada and come back on Tuesday. It’s going to be good to have them back. It sounds like they’re having an amazing time!
  • Watching Veronica Mars. Having only ever watched 3 episodes, randomly and out of sync when they used to air it around 11am on E4 I knew it would be something I would enjoy. I’d never expected it to be so adult though. It’s wonderful, I love the characters, the story lines and the music. I’m now on season 3 (the last season) and I don’t know why they’ve changed the opening credits music, but I’m starting to feel a bit sad because I know it’s going to be over soon. I’ve been watching it on my laptop with headphones in while Gary has been watching the World Cup and apparently I’ve been gasping with surprise a lot. It’s that kinda show, folks. I can’t wait to see what happens – no spoilers now please!

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  • Prepping my hair for some changes. I bought a highlighting kit recently and it’s going to hopefully bring back my old gingery slices, so I’ve died my hair in preparation for testing it and working out how long I want to leave the goo on it for the right shade. Exciting! It should hopefully end up much like it is in this photo:

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  • Planning the week ahead since I’m now on holiday until the 2nd of July. I have some really fun things planned and I can’t wait to get on it!

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December 22nd

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This Christmas has been unlike any other for one reason – I’ve been very very lazy. I was thinking back over my lifetime of Christmases and I think that ever since I was old enough to write my own cards or buy my own presents to hand out I’d been planning Christmas since about October.

When I was at school I would do my Christmas shopping in the October half term because who has the time to do it at the weekends or evenings? School always ran right up to a few days before the big day and you needed to have your gifts to give to friends by then anyhow. Then once I’d left school I went into jobs that had retail hours, so I again had to plan ahead in order to get everything done. Years later I usually had a meal planned for Gary and I on Christmas Eve if I wasn’t working, so then there was food shopping to factor in.

This year I’m not working retail hours for the first time in 11 years and I have all the time in the world to shop, buy, wrap, plan and write cards. As a result I left it until yesterday 😀 It’s been amazing not having to be über prepared and have everything prepared early. I’ve really enjoyed a stress-less nonchalant approach to christmas this year. I could never understand how people could leave things so late, but now I realise that if there’s no rush then there’s no stress. Bootiful! And it’s giving me time to enjoy everything else!

On a fairly unrelated note, I saw this recipe on The Vegan Cookie Fairy‘s blog and thought I’d share it – it looks amazing!

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What’s a Traditional Christmas?

This time of the year everyone is looking for a simple shortcut to make the Christmas planning a little easier. But this year I have found it to be so easy it’s almost unreal! We had all of our Christmas presents planned and bought by the end of November. The tree went up a few days ago, and the house is decorated.

Every year I go to my Mum’s for Christmas dinner, and to help out I provide an alternative dessert for those of us who don’t like Christmas pudding. It’s a tricky job because it has to cater for various diets, allergies, tastes and be child friendly. That cuts most of the traditional options out – no booze, whipped cream, artificial colourings, dried fruit, cheesecake, spices…. the list goes on. But this year I have asked a good friend to make a cake for us. She’s starting up a business making bespoke cakes and cupcakes and having sampled her cakes before we know they’re amazing! So dessert is sorted! Gifts are sorted. Wrap and cards have been bought.

The only thing I need to work out now is what Gary and I will have for Christmas Eve dinner. Reading over my old blog entries which mention Christmas this morning, I discovered that our usual tradition was for Gary to pick me up from work on Christmas Eve, where I would have been setting up the Boxing Day sale in my shop, and for us to hot step it to McDonald’s for a festive Big Mac! This changed when I started working for my previous employers and I was off on Christmas Eve. Gary had planned for both of those years to have Christmas dinner at his parent’s house and so I wanted for us to have at least one Christmas dinner together. So I planned and cooked our very own Christmas dinner for two, which we ate on Christmas Eve. I enjoyed doing it, but this year I don’t think I’ll have the energy because now I’m back working Christmas Eve! I really don’t want to go back to a tradition of McDonald’s….. So I need a festive, comforting, quick and tasty meal which I can cobble together for us both when I get in from work. Any suggestions (crock pot is on hiatus until the new year!)?

Christmas Day, I have found since growing up, was different in my family home compared with most other families. I have discovered that the norm for families in my generation (and probably still now) is for the children to wake up early to find all of their presents stuffed into a giant sack or pillowcase at the end of their beds. They would rip open all their gifts and then start their day. The men of the house would often go down to the pub while the dinner was being cooked, arrive home for dinner (often late) and then everyone would sleep or watch tv for the rest of the day. No offence to those who do it this way, but this seems like such a waste of a long-planned day. All that preparation spoiled in just a few hours. In my family we would wake up (normally I would wake up really early and have to lie in bed until the time agreed by my Mum) then my sister and I would take our stockings into our parent’s room and when we were small enough we’d all get into their bed. Then we’d open our stockings. Right at the bottom would always be a satsuma and shiny £1 coin. We would then go downstairs and eat hot buttered croissants.

The rest of the morning was always agony for me when I was a kid, because I would sit in the living room staring at all the presents under the tree and knowing I couldn’t open any until after lunch. I would help Mum with the dinner. I even cooked the Christmas dinner one year – I must have been about 12 or 13 – because my Mum had flu.

When my sister and I were young we would put on a little Christmas show after dinner, and then as she became a teenager I would put on a show by myself and we’d sing carols. My Dad would usually take this opportunity to take a loud snoring nap….. Then we would watch the Top Of The Pops Christmas special. By this time I was usually foaming at the mouth to open presents – I mean it would have been about 4pm and I have no doubt that my little shows were concocted as a way to kill time while my Dad slept.

So by the time we had woken my Dad up and got him downstairs again it was well into the afternoon and it was up to me to be Santa. I would hand out the presents to people one by one and we’d take a really long time about it – and this time I didn’t mind. I just wanted to see everyone’s reactions to the presents I would have spent months planning and wrapping so carefully. That’s the best part.

By about 6 or 7 we  were usually all hungry again so we would set up a buffet in the dining room and we’d watch Christmas specials on the TV with plates of finger food on our laps. A perfect day.

Things have changed a little since I was a kid. Obviously me and my Sister don’t live at home any more, so there’s no stockings or climbing into Mum and Dad’s bed! Gary still has to set an acceptable time for me to wake him up…. but once we’re awake we put on our dressing gowns and go downstairs to open our presents for each other whilst sitting down by the Christmas tree. Then we have hot croissants – I like that tradition!

This year Gary is going to have Christmas dinner with me at my parent’s house so we’re going to visit his family in the morning and then go back there in the evening after dinner, presents and buffet. My sister has children now so there’s more people around the table and my paternal Grandfather comes and stays for Christmas too. It’s really good having so much family around and having children there means I’m not the only hyper Christmas freak around. We still watch Christmas Top Of The Pops (- no matter how hard they try to cancel it!) and when it comes to Christmas specials we always seem to end up watching Dr Who on Christmas evening. I’m not the biggest fan, but everyone else loves it!

So that’s my Christmas and what’s expected. I love the way we do it, the tradition, the things that have evolved and changed and the things that have stayed the same. One day when I have my own family I’m definitely going to keep these traditions. I can’t wait to make up Christmas stockings with a satsuma and a shiny coin at the toe.

For those struggling with their Christmas shopping, here’s a guide I wrote back in 2010 which might give you some ideas! Happy Christmas planning!