Thursday 31 December 2015

Reflections and Moving Forward

So as is customary at this time of year I thought I would take a look back at 2015 and see what's on the horizon for 2016.

So 2015 has been rather a tough year to be honest. As those who read my blog will know early on in the year my mum very suddenly passed away and this left rather a big hole in my life and had a big impact on this year. It has been hard going at times but with amazing support from Simon and friends I am 'getting there'.

We did manage a short trip to Disneyland Paris back in February and I've wrote a number of blog posts that cover the trip as well as general overviews on eating at Disneyland Paris and Disney's Sequoia Lodge resort. Being able to visit a Disney park was great fun although it did make me miss Walt Disney World even more!

I have continued to record the Disney Dream Girls podcast with my very good friend Michelle and have enjoyed watching and listening to Michelle's trips to Disneyland this past year - she is even there now as I type this...the lucky thing!!

Simon and I have continued with our cosplay creations as we get ready for Star Wars Celebration in London next year. I have discovered that I am a very good assistant when it comes to moulding things with a heat gun and using a hot glue gun is quite good fun too. I've even used a sewing machine for the first time in my life!  I will endeavour to do a blog post in the New Year cataloguing our achievements so far.

So looking forward what does 2016 have in store...well the main thing at the moment will be our trip to Star Wars Celebration in London in July. We have tickets for all three days of all things Star Wars which also means we get a great short break away in London...without the kids ;)

I will also be getting some new Disney ink completed this year; in fact only yesterday I was talking to my amazing tattooist Rachael Huntingdon (Rampant Ink) about making a start on what will be a full sleeve!

Will we make it to a Disney park this year? Who knows? It will be 25 years this year since I visited Walt Disney World for the first time so it would be lovely to think we could re-visit 25 years on but as I write this it is looking highly unlikely....but never say never!!

I hope that 2015 has been kind to you and yours and that 2016 will see you happy, healthy and having a ton of fun.

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Season Greetings

Well...Happy Holidays to one and all and a big fat apology for the length of time in between posts of late! I think my New Years resolution should be to put finger to keyboard more often!

So what has kept me away from the keyboard since early November...well it all comes down to not having enough hours in the day. I have been busy with work; it's a busy old  time working in education during the run-up to Christmas what with parents evenings, concerts, parties and fairs. There have been numerous recording sessions for the Disney Dream Girls podcast (including one with Michelle and I singing Show has to be heard to be believed!). Simon and I have been busy with making our very own cosplay for next years Star Wars Celebration in London...well Simon has been the busy one while I take on more of a 'support' role ;)

And then there has been the usual run-up to Christmas happenings; decorating the house, making cakes and puddings, buying presents, wrapping presents and that last minute shopping that always seems to happen. Plus December brings along two birthdays in this household, first it's mine and then it's my eldest who turned 18 this year - where has that time gone! We also enjoyed a couple of burlesque evenings and then there was of course the much anticipated event of the year...Star Wars The Force Awakens.

We have now seen the new Star Wars film twice, the first time was the standard 2D version (on the day of release here in the UK) and then just today we saw the 3D version. Now I have to say (with no spoilers) that I loved the film it made me smile, gasp, cry and laugh. I though it was put together brilliantly and evoked all that the original movies were about, but see it in 2D, how it was intended to be seen, the 3D isn't worth the extra cash to see it and while it doesn't spoil the film it doesn't make it any better either.

My birthday and Christmas brought about additions to my Disney wardrobe from t-shirts to jewellery to a pair of classic Vans. I did manage to get a new addition to my Disney Christmas ornament collection;
On display with some of my other Disney Christmas ornaments
I have to confess that although my collection has a certain festive vibe about it I love it so much that most of them stay out on display all year round!!

I even managed to find myself a Christmas Disney pin in my local Asda (Walmart for my American friends);

So we find ourselves in between Christmas and New Year. We are very fortunate in our house that we are all 'off' for the holidays which means we all get time to chill, relax and perhaps indulge in some 'me' time that can be so difficult to find the rest of the year. We have spent time with family and friends, we have had birthday meals out, shopping trips, visits to the cinema and time just spent at home. I have even found time to start a Christmas jigsaw...I wonder if it will be finished by the time I go back to work?

I hope everyone out there is having a fabulous Christmas no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing. Enjoy the season, enjoy the time with those you hold dear and be happy!

Sunday 8 November 2015

Halloween 2015

We have always celebrated Halloween, and usually done so with a party and this year was no exception.

Some of our Halloween decorations

Although due to lots of reasons it was a much quieter affair than in previous years!

So we decided that as we are busy preparing for next years Star Wars Celebration in London by making our own Mandalorian armour that this years party would be Star Wars themed...
Boba Fett style!
So not a full set of armour just yet...Boba Fett dress but helmet and blasters all made by my fantastic hubby, Simon, with a little assistance by yours truly!

Sunday 1 November 2015

A Bit of Baking!

Now readers of my blog will know that well over a year ago I embarked on a new healthy eating lifestyle and therefore a post about baking may seem a little strange.

I have always enjoyed baking, when I got the chance, but nowadays my baking skills tend to be reserved for charity bake sales at my pre-school!

Most recent endeavours for pre-school cake sale

While I was making these I remembered an old recipe that me and my mum used to make when I was a child for an apple and oat cake; I searched high and low but just couldn't find it anywhere. I was convinced that I had a copy of the recipe somewhere but when I couldn't find it I decided that it must be at my parents house. Now as some of you will know my mum sadly passed away earlier this year so I couldn't ask her about it. Mum was great at 'throwing' ingredients together and making some fantastic bakes whereas I like to follow recipes, so even though I had a rough idea of what was in the recipe there was no way I'd attempt to make it without the recipe in front of me! So me and my dad had a good hunt through my mum's old recipe books but alas it was no where to be found.

I even searched the internet as I was convinced it was a recipe that we had gotten off a children's TV program called Blue Peter back in the late 1970's/early 1980's...but even the internet couldn't help me :(

Fast forward to last weekend and my thoughts turned towards a bit of Christmas baking! My mum always made the Christmas cakes and puddings for the whole family (and even friends some years!) and in the days before having children I followed the family tradition, and family recipe, and made my own cakes and puddings. But in the last few years I had relied on my mum providing me with a cake that I would then decorate....Disney style of course!
Mickey snowmen he he he!
So now the mantle has passed to me and it was time to go hunting for the family recipes. Now I like to think I'm quite an organised person and on my kitchen bookshelves I have all my Christmas cook books together and I had an inkling that the recipes would be inside one of these books. Sure enough inside a book from Marks & Spencer, bought a lot of years ago...
Dated 1990!!
...I found my recipes for Christmas cake and pudding...
Handwritten recipes, passed through our family.
But guess what else I found, hiding amongst the handwritten recipes? The apple and oat cake recipe I'd been looking for a few weeks earlier!

 A well used piece of paper with recipes 'typed' up on a proper typewriter...just shows how old this recipe is; I have distant memories of typing this as a young girl!

Well as I'd found it there seemed only one logical thing to do...get baking!
Ready to go in the oven
All done...and yummy too!
So with a week off work (our half term break!) I decided to use my time wisely and make my own Christmas cake and puddings following our family recipes leaving the house with a lovely smell of Christmas and me a feeling of accomplishment. I even ended the week with a spot more baking making rocky road muffins and cappuccino muffins ready for our Halloween party. And then Molly got in on the act by making cookies; chocolate marshmallow and snickerdoodles - yummy!!

I think that'll be all the baking for a while now....ok a few weeks as I have a Christmas Fair coming up for pre-school which might just require a few more cakes...

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Food In DLP

Many apologies for the delay between posts on my blog but finding the time of late has been tricky; busy at work, busy at home but now I'm able to grab a few minutes to put finger to keyboard!

One of the things that we like to talk about on the podcast I co-host (Disney Dream Girls) is food, and the range of options that can be available in Disney parks.

So I thought how about writing a piece all about the food I experienced at Disneyland Paris?! So here goes...

I think I should mention at the very beginning that when I visited Disneyland Paris it was back in February this year; it was very cold and it was what would be classified as 'low season' and I think both these factors had quite an impact on our food experience.

Also we were visiting as a family of four, but remember our two children are teenagers and so there were no children options to be had; we were in fact feeding four adults. Also we had picked this time of year to visit predominately from a cost point of view and so our budget for food was also limited. We knew that we were unlikely to be eating at any table service restaurants and that we would be relying on counter/quick service eateries.

Now each day we had breakfast as part of our hotel package and so we made sure that we took advantage of this and had plenty to eat! I've spoken about the breakfast options in a previous post - Disneys Sequoia Lodge Hotel Review Part 2 - so please check this out for more information and photos.

I think the main thing we became aware of very quickly was that the counter/quick service menus were pretty much the same no matter which part of the parks you were in. The menus were filled with the standard range of burgers, chicken nuggets and fries with occasionally (very occasionally!) something themed to the restaurant. For example Toad Hall Restaurant had fish & chips; and Restaurant Hakuna Matata had kebabs and Hakuna fries. I have to say that we all really enjoyed the food that we had at Restaurant Hakuna Matata especially the fries it was just unfortunate that we weren't able to eat here more often. Healthy options were also few and far between and were basically limited to salads - chicken, three cheese and vegetarian (whatever that means!).

Because of the time of year we were visiting not all of the restaurants were open all of the time. Having done my forward planning I was very aware of this and had made a note on my park map which days each restaurant was open. Luckily Disney had been very sensible and made sure that there was always at least one restaurant in each land that was open each day. So although this limited the choice available we found that over the 5 days we were there we would have been able to visit all restaurants (had we wanted to) as over those 5 days each restaurant was open at least once.
My park map with notations of which restaurants were closed/open
At Disneyland Paris they also have a number of restaurants that offer 'Buffet' service. Most adult options were priced around 27euros or £20/$30 which included one drink. Which for us as a family of four adults would have meant paying £80 ($120) minimum per meal which our budget simply wouldn't stretch to. We were therefore quite content to stick to the counter service options on offer.

The trouble with this plan however was two fold; firstly the choice of food as I've already mentioned was rather 'samey' and the second being the operating hours of the restaurants within the parks.

Now as I mentioned it was low season and restaurants had limited days they were open; this wasn't a problem because in theory there would still be enough restaurants open spread around the park. However one problem that we encountered, and on more than one day, was finding an open restaurant towards the end of the day. And by end of the day I am talking around 5.30pm/6pm in the evening which is what I would consider a prime eating time and was still 2 hours before the park closed at 8pm. In fact one evening we walked through three lands and tried numerous restaurants before finding one that was open. We even experienced restaurants that had unlocked doors and lights on but when we entered found there was no food being served and were asked, rather rudely, to leave by the cast members there! It all seemed very strange and very un-Disney!

Perhaps because of our experience of the US parks and their wide variety of counter service options our expectations were maybe set too high but we were really quite disappointed in what Disneyland Paris had to offer. In fact so much so that we decided on more than one occasion to leave the parks in search of food and ultimately ended up at Earl of Sandwich in the Disney Village.

The infamous 'gold brick' - yum yum!!
The choice at Earl of Sandwich was great (as always), really good value (hate to say it but much better value for money than in the parks!) plus they had free wi-fi (not yet available in the parks). We ate here more times than I can remember and had great food every time; we loved the soups on offer which were very welcome with the intense cold! I would definitely recommend eating here...just wish we had them over here in the UK!

Another downside of the time of year (and it being very cold!) was that those restaurants that had lots of outdoor seating weren't really where we wanted to be eating! Stopping for food or a drink was a chance to go inside and get warm. On one occasion the only place we could find open was Casey's Corner and with limited seating inside we had no choice but to sit outside to enjoy our hotdogs! On the plus side we did have prime viewing for the parade while we ate our dogs!

The lack of indoor seating also meant that quick stops like the Cable Car Bake Shop for a coffee and a muffin resulted in being unable to sit inside and having to wander out and about to find somewhere to sit down. On one occasion we found another restaurant with it's doors open but no food being served so we, along with other guests, took advantage of finding seats indoors. But we then had a cast member suddenly appear and although nothing was said it was very evident her task was to clear up after everyone as quickly as possible and encourage everyone to finish up and leave!

Now I am very aware that I have painted quite a poor picture of food available at Disneyland Paris but I have explained some of the reasons that I think led to this poor review. I do know friends that have eaten at the table service restaurants and have nothing but good things to say and I am sure during peak season with more restaurants being open the options available become much better. But let this review be a warning that food options in Paris are not the same as the US Disney parks so please don't go with high expectations if, like us, you will be relying on counter service restaurants.

Sunday 6 September 2015

Disney's Sequoia Lodge Hotel Review - Part 2

The first part of my review talked about the general theming of the hotel as well as the room we stayed in; what shall we look at next?

So what facilities does the hotel have to offer? Well there are two restaurants, one bar, one shop, a swimming pool and a gym.

On this trip we didn't have chance to use the swimming pool or the gym; we had a quick look in and both looked nice enough. The pool and gym are located within another lodge type building away from the main hotel and although predominately an indoor pool there is a small section of the pool that ventures outside. Suffice to say as this was the middle of February and rather chilly the outside pool area was not open. Whether you make use of these type of facilities or not is purely a personal one but I think it's one worth thinking about when considering which hotel to book. As most stays to Disneyland Paris are likely to be only a few days will you have the time, or the inclination, to use these type of facilities or would you rather be spending your time in the parks? I know for us time in the parks was much higher up on our list of things to do than spending a few hours in the pool. And whilst having a pool and gym at the hotel was an added benefit of choosing the Sequoia Lodge it wasn't a deciding factor for us; we were more interested in it's location, size of rooms and restaurant facilities.

Talking of restaurants the hotel has two; Hunters Grill and Beaver Creek Tavern. Well I say two restaurants, and once upon a time these did operate as two restaurants; one a buffet and the other your more traditional table service. However, from my research prior to travelling, and since, it would appear that both locations kind of operate as one. I shall try and explain...both restaurants are located in the same area of the hotel opposite each other across a small foyer area and appear to operate more as one restaurant that has two separate dining rooms. Although we never used them for dinner we did use them for breakfast most mornings of our stay.

So let's explain how breakfast works. Breakfast is included as part of your stay so when you check in you are asked what time you would like breakfast for each day of your stay. Each time slot has a limited number of places and so the time you want may not always be available. For each day of your stay you are given a different coloured card with a time slot on. On the designated day at the specified time you present your card at the podium located between the two restaurants. A cast member then directs you to one of the two restaurants where you then join the queue for that restaurant and wait for a cast member to seat you. This was a relatively short process and sounds more time consuming than it actually was.
Grizzly Bear standing guard outside the restaurants
Entry to 'Hunters Grill'
You are then shown to a table and the cast member writes on the paper tablecloth to indicate that the table has been allocated; they usually draw a tri-circle 'Mickey' and the number of people dining. We ate in both restaurants during our stay and both operated in exactly the same way, buffet style, and offered the same food options for breakfast.

Central food station which housed majority of the food options available
Breakfast options included; hot drinks (coffee, tea, hot chocolate, hot milk), fruit juices, cereals, toast with various spreads (jams, marmalade, butter, chocolate spread), croissants, pain au chocolate, fruit salad, deli meats, olives, cheeses and bread. There were signs for hot breakfast options that were an additional cost but we were unable to fathom out how to get this should we have wanted it as there were no cast members operating a hot food station, nor were we offered it by any of the cast members we had contact with - very strange! We did take breakfast in Disneyland Park one morning at Plaza Gardens and the food options were basically the same; perhaps a few different deli meats and a couple of variations on the bread choices but otherwise the same.
Traditional French pastries

Healthy fruit salad option

View from Hunters Creek restaurant
We found the breakfast to be of a decent quality and well stocked. The cast members worked very hard to keep everything flowing as the restaurants were continually busy; after all everyone staying at the hotel would be taking advantage of the included breakfast. On previous trips (quite a few years ago admittedly so things may have changed) we had stayed at the Hotel Cheyenne and here it was more of a cafeteria style serving; having to queue to fill your tray with your choice of breakfast and then finding a table in a very busy dining hall. For us personally this was very chaotic and not a pleasant way to start the day and was one of the reasons for choosing the Sequoia Lodge over the cheaper hotels.

Because the breakfast was self-serve buffet style a lot of guests took advantage of this by stocking up on bread rolls, meats and cheeses and making sandwiches to take with them for later in the day!

As far as I could make out the restaurants then open again for dinner as an all-you-can-eat-buffet style offering. The hotel also has one bar; the Redwood Bar and Lounge. This is quite expansive and beautifully decorated and with an open fire, making it a very cosy environment. We took advantage of it one evening and whilst we enjoyed sitting and relaxing with a drink it was extremely busy (we had to wait for a table to come free) and also relatively expensive.

One thing to note when comparing to Disney resort hotels at Walt Disney World is the lack of a 'food court' type offering. Walt Disney World hotels will have a food court in the moderate and budget hotels and a cafe type offering in the delux resorts where food of varying descriptions can be bought at any time during the day. Whereas in Paris hotel food options are restricted to specific meal times or the bar areas.

Located just across from the bar area and is the hotel shop; Northwest Passage. The shop is not overly big, stocks the usual array of merchandise and has enough to keep you meandering around for five or ten minutes. The merchandise wasn't anything special with very little that appeared unique to the hotel. We also found that the type of items stocked was not as expansive as what we were used to seeing in Disney resort hotels in the states. There were a few essentials (e.g. toothpaste etc) but these were all located behind the cashiers desk and were very limited. Food items were limited to 'Disney' themed cookies and candies, with a small selection of branded candies/chocolates and potato chips. There was a fridge with mainly soft drinks and a couple of choices of lagers/beers. Wine was only available by request from the cashier and was very expensive. We had expected/hoped to be able to visit the shop and come away with some nibbles and treats to take back to the room (as we would have done in the US) but we really struggled to find anything worth bothering with.

One of the best things about this hotel is it's location; located on the shore of Lake Disney it looks out towards the Disney Village and is only a few minutes walk from the Village itself. It then takes about a 10 minute walk through the Village to get to the parks; the hotel does lay on a free shuttle service but for us the walk was so short it really didn't seem worth while taking the shuttle, in fact we never even thought about using it! The walk is really rather pleasant and quite scenic, even when it's freezing cold!

Walking through the hotel grounds.

On the promenade, outside the rear entrance to the hotel.
Looking towards Hotel New York
Looking towards Newport Bay Club
Walking over the river looking away from the Disney Village and towards Hotel Cheyenne area
Close up on detail on the fencing around Lake Disney
Various shots walking around in front of Hotel New York, looking out over Lake Disney towards PanoraMagique (tethered hot air balloon ride like Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World) and the Disney Village.

The Sequoia Lodge is a beautifully themed hotel, set in some great landscaping all adding to the vibe of an American National Park. Personally I would have liked to have seen a few more 'Disney' references within the theming as in some areas whilst it embodied the National Park feel it was hard to see the connection to Disney.

But I suppose the question to end with is would we stay at Sequoia Lodge again? Well, yes I think we would; this was our second time staying here and we really liked the resort. It was within our budget range, it was a good distance to the parks and Disney Village, the inclusion of a well organised breakfast was great and there were enough amenities at the resort for our length of stay.

Well that about concludes my thoughts on Disney's Sequoia Lodge, next time I shall be looking back once again to more details about my visit to Disneyland Paris. Thanks for reading :)

Monday 31 August 2015

Disney's Sequoia Lodge Hotel Review - Part One

It's been a little while since I wrote a blog post and with no Disney trip happening, or planned, I have been debating what to write about. So I thought I would look back to my last Disney trip which was to Disneyland Paris in February and give you an overview of our hotel experience.

For this trip we stayed at Disney's Sequoia Lodge hotel, which Disney give a rating of 'three keys'; or what I would call a moderate resort. So for those of you with experience of staying at Walt Disney World I would compare this resort to the likes of Port Orleans, Coronado Springs and similar.

When we arrived we approached the hotel from the Disney Village as we had travelled by Eurostar and the train station is located next to the Disney Village. This meant that we effectively entered the hotel by the 'back door' and had to find our way to the Reception area.
Sign post to let you know you're in the right place!
Approaching the entrance at the rear of the hotel

The rear of the main building which is the main access point when going to and from Disney Village and  parks
When we first arrived we had to make our way upstairs to find the Reception area. Thankfully our luggage had already made it's way to the hotel by way of the 'Magical Express' service. Checking-in was very straight forward and we were greeted by probably one of the best cast members that we encountered on our visit. We were given our room keys (plastic credit card type) along with our Resort ID card (paper) and a card for charging purposes (paper) plus a map of our hotel (in French!). To be honest I hadn't realised the map was in French until we got home...most of the map is very self explanatory, my basic level french was obviously enough for me to be able to translate without realising I was doing it and the use of traditional symbols on the map also helped. Although I would guess that as the back of the map has 'Mickey ears' with the french flag colours that maps in other languages were not the best service giving an English speaking guest a French version of the map!!
Hotel map
Resort ID, charging card and park ticket - a lot of pieces of paper!
Before we could make our way to our room we had to visit the Left Luggage Office to retrieve our luggage which had been sent over from the train station. Our room was away from the main building in one of five 'lodges'; ours was called 'Big Sur' and was less than a five minute walk from the main building.

Let's talk about theming! So as the name would suggest the Sequoia Lodge is styled along the lines of a 'mountain lodge retreat'.  So lots of natural wood, earthy colours, fantastic landscaping with an abundance of trees, natural materials and the feel of an American National Park.

Some of the walkways between the main building and our 'lodge'.
Our 'lodge'
Entry into our 'lodge' - 'Big Sur'
Once entering into the lodge you walk into an entry hall which has no real signage and looks a bit strange; basically a blank room with stairs off to the right and a pair of very plain, unattractive doors straight in front of you with no guidance on where to go. But suffice to stay if you have a ground floor room (which we had) then you go through these doors and enter a typical hotel corridor, as seen below.

From the photos you can see the palette of colours that has been adopted for the resort; natural colours, reds, oranges, yellows, browns etc. As well as wall coverings and carpets that incorporate images of trees and leaves.
 The theming is then continued inside the hotel rooms.

Just arrived!!

When you enter the room there is a small entry way with the bathroom off to your left, before entering the main room which has two double beds, TV and a small desk and chairs.

The above photo shows the space as you enter the room; this view is looking towards the hotel room door and shows the entry to the bathroom/vanity area on the right of the photo. You can also see a full length mirror which was very handy - after all it's important that you look good!!
In the vanity area there was space for hanging coats and storing luggage plus a very handy safe that worked on a combination lock where you were able to set the code yourself.
Opposite the safe was a sink area with hairdryer.
The bathroom had all the usual facilities including a shower over the bath, and as you can see the natural earth colours and decorating theme were continued into the bathroom.

The wall coverings and pictures in the room all depicted characters from Bambi...not sure if this is the same for all rooms as we obviously only experienced this one room!

Light features also continued the animal vibe;

Now whilst the rooms looked well maintained I was not overly impressed by the level of cleanliness that we experienced over our four nights there. Initially everything looked fine but on day two I noticed that there was a french fry on the floor next to the edge of a unit!! As we had not brought any food back to the room by that point I knew that the offending article had to have been there for some time. I deliberately left it to see if it would get cleaned away during our stay - unfortunately it did not :( Now the trouble is once you notice something like this you start to look for, or perhaps just notice, other inconsistencies and having been used to the very high standards in Disney property in the US our expectations were perhaps set too high?!

So whilst our beds were made each day I do not think the bed linen was changed during our stay. Pillows that we had removed off the beds while sleeping were left where we had placed them on the floor. Glasses that had been used were left where we had left them (some with water in) and not replaced. There were no towel animals and no little notes from 'mousekeeping'. The toiletries were only replenished once during our stay and when I purposefully removed all the toiletries to give the appearance of them all having been used (just to see what would happen) no replacements were left for us.

The room was of a decent size, a good layout and with good basic facilities but was let down by the poor cleanliness. One point to note is that the rooms do not have tea/coffee making facilities; these are however available but you have to ask for them at reception (they are not offered) we on this occasion did not bother asking. On a positive note all the hotel rooms have access to free Wi-Fi which we found worked pretty well for all four of us, and which we took great advantage of as free Wi-Fi has not yet reached the parks or Disney Village. However, we found that the Wi-Fi did not work in the hotel's restaurants. If you're looking for free Wi-Fi outside of the hotels then try the Earl of Sandwich in Disney Village!

The view from our room was lovely and completely within keeping of the layout and theming of the resort;

 And here to finish part one off are a few more shots of the beautiful outside areas of the hotel;

Covered walk ways linking the lodges, the indoor pool, gym and main building.

A lovely bright and sunny day (if rather cold) to catch a few more shots of the landscaping around our lodge;

The walk away from our lodge getting ready to embark on a day in the parks.