Disneyland Paris – our first ever visit.

Disneyland – the most magical place in earth; and it really is.

IMG_6228.jpgLike most 90’s kids, I grew up dreaming of a visit to Disneyland, to hug Mickey and Minnie, share a laugh with Donald and get dizzy on all the rides, before indulging in the pinkest of candy floss.

This year, due to circumstances out of our control, my hubby and I found ourselves with a vacation budget to use and our plans to go to Canada for the summer thwarted, so he had the most amazing idea – to go to Disneyland Paris!!! ❤ I was ecstatic!

In a nutshell, it really is the happiest place on earth. Even at 27 years old, it was so easy to suspend disbelief and just get swept up in the magic. The cast members, as they call their staff, are incredibly well trained, especially those playing the characters; it was surprising how swept up we got in everything.

The parks work like clockwork (what else would you expect), they are incredibly clean, fabulously efficient (with excellent systems, if you suss out how to use them) and there is something wonderful to discover, literally hiding around every corner.

IMG_6241My only regret is that I went while pregnant; the original documentation we looked through, made it look like there weren’t that many restrictions for pregnant women, however it turns out that even some of the most basic and slow rides are forbidden due to their use of a “lap bar” instead of a fabric seat belt. And while pregnant ladies were forbidden to enter rides for health and safety reasons, there was nowhere safe for us to enjoy events like the parade or illumination show, without getting jostled and bumped into by a whole bunch of people, even though that struck me as more dangerous than “Aladdin’s Carpet”… alas, I will endeavour to write a separate post about those particular experiences, and my thoughts, at another time. Suffice it to say for now, that if you are pregnant and planning on travelling far (i.e. from outside of France) especially for the trip to Disney, I would just not recommend doing so while pregnant. If you still really want to, be super careful in your research, so you don’t end up disappointed like I was.

Once I got over the shock, we had an all around really enchanting time. We got loads of character photos, and enjoyed almost all of the “walk through” experiences, such as Robinson Crusoe’s Tree House, Adventure Island’s Skull Rock and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, which were all astoundingly detailed and fabulous to explore.

We stayed in a hotel on the complex, and were very surprised with how much we enjoyed the “full board” food package that they offered. Normally buffet style packages can turn out to be quite sad on these types of vacations, but these guys clearly know what they’re doing. The themed restaurants were not only fun to explore and visit, but the food was delicious at all of them.

As far as amenities and the overall experience was concerned, the only disappointing part was the Hotel Cheyenne that we stayed in. The bed was hard as wooden planks, and the room, while immaculately clean, lacked any sort of helpful amenities (no coffee maker or kettle to get going in the morning), and the housekeeping service was lacklustre in comparison to what we’ve experienced in other places, which is weird, because you would expect more from a place that prides itself in making everything magical. *sad face*

I would give the experience a 3.5 out of 5 stars; the parks, rides (that I was allowed on), live shows and surroundings were fabulous. Regrettably the quality of the hotel and the lacklustre welcome and helpfulness toward pregnant visitors, put a significant enough damper on the experience, for me to want to a) never recommend Disneyland to a pregnant lady and b) whenever we do go back, we might have to stay on a hotel outside of the complex.

But all in all, most certainly worth the visit, especially if you’re a fan of letting your inner child run loose, to bathe in nostalgia and soak in glee. (Just make sure to budget before you go. 😉 )

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#TravelTuesday – Review Edition – Virgin Atlantic Airlines

Finding flights to Mexico from Northern Ireland seemed like it would be quite a challenge, but, SkyScanner came to the rescue and suggested a great deal with an Airline we had never travelled with before – Virgin Atlantic.

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All in all, it was an excellent experience. The price was great, booking was easy and the flights themselves were wicked. What I only knew as “first class” luxuries, such as complimentary headphones, blankets, pillows, “comfort kits” (including toothbrush/paste, eye mask, socks and ear plugs) as well as an open Bar (!), were all included in the economy price.

The flight attendants were friendly and quick, in-flight entertainment was almost exhaustive and even the pre-flight safety video was not only informative but hilarious!

You can find the video review that I created for this flight, on my YouTube Channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQacWKMEj3E 

There were, however, a few not so great points, that in all fairness for a good review, I need to bring your attention to also.

Connection in London – Outbound 

Because we had to get from Belfast to Cancun, and Virgin only fly from London, our ticket included a transfer from Dublin to London, operated by British Airways. (Which turned out to be an AerLingus plane… very confusing…) However, once we got to London Gatwick (at T1) there were signs by British Airways (who technically provided our first flight) saying that passengers heading to Cancun, Mexico should please proceed to T2. Once we got to T2 however, we were told that this was wrong, since our connecting flight was Virgin Atlantic and that we needed to get back to T1. #HeartAttack

By the time we finally got back to T1 and through the second batch of security, we were run ragged and I was in quite a huff by the time we finally reached our plane.

Security Embarrassment 

Long story short, on the flight home, the gentleman in the seat in front of me appeared to be smoking an electric cigarette. I kept seeing puffs of smoke appear above his head, it smelt like the fruity e-cig filling, and so I was in a pickle. Would I tell the flight crew? Smoking e-cigs was prohibited, but more so for me, it’s punishable (if discovered) if you do not report an infraction. So, on my way back from the bathroom I decided to pop into the galley (which was in front of where we sat) to mention my suspicion to the crew. The lady whom I spoke with, was very reactive however, and rather than waiting to let me return to my seat, waiting a couple of minutes (and maybe even watching the Gent for a while to see if he really was using an e-cig) she just marched toward him, right ahead of me. She asked him to raise his hands as she searched his seat and belongings for the device. I was mortified! I specifically told her that I didn’t want to say anything to her because I hadn’t seen the device as such, just the smoke, and didn’t want to make false accusations… but she basically just charged at him! I slithered back into my seat, put on my eye mask and earplugs and tried not to listen to anything, because I was afraid that the man in front of me would know it had been me who said something and would get angry with me.  That was definitely the number 1 way to make sure that people like me are uncomfortable ever reporting anything.

Connection in London – inbound 

On the way home, we ended up with a 6 hour layover in London Gatwick, this wasn’t tragic since we found the Yotel Airport Hotel Service, which was an excellent way to rest and spend time at the airport, but it was just a shame, given that with all the flights going from London to Ireland daily, there was no better way for the combination ticket to get us home; especially considering that we had an additional 2 hour bus ride back to Belfast on the other end.

Conclusion

All in all though, it was an excellent experience, and we would be very happy, not only fly with Virgin Atlantic again in future, but to also wholeheartedly recommend them to others.

5 Board Games to jump right into!

We always say that we would love to do more with our families, do something that doesn’t involve screens and electronics. We say we should sit and chat, or maybe even play board games. Oh yeah! It’s been AGES since any of us played a board game, let’s set that up for this weekend. Great. But what game?

And right at that point the age old argument ensues, usually ending the ill-fated evening before it even begun. Common suggestions will include “Game of Life”, “Scrabble” and “Monopoly”. Some ambitious soul might even recommend “Risk” or some never before heard of German game with 20,000 pieces and a handbook thicker than the last Harry Potter!!!

However, while being drastically different (yet classic) games (with the exception of that obscure German title), the one thing all those games seem to have in common is that while everyone knows “of” them, no one seems to have really mastered any of them (except your geezer of a brother, who wins at Monopoly every single god damned time and would have been better named Ebenezer…), and thus one of two things happens: either, no one can agree on a game to play in the first place or the choice leaves experienced board game players bored and newbies lost, which is never a good way to spend a family evening.

My husband and I had exactly such a lofty thought about a year ago. Wouldn’t it be nice, to play some more board games? As avid gamers (usually of the electronic variety) we both wanted to spend some real quality time together, being present with one another as well as family and friends without screens and plug ins, so we started our very own quest in search of the most awesome board games to share.

On our adventure, we came across some real duds (as was to be expected), but also some genuine gems and we now have a collection that caters to all levels; from weathered-by-adventure board game experts to green-eared-never-rolled-a-dice-newbies.

The trick, is to find games to start everyone off with; games that will allow new players to pick up on the rules easily and play confidently, while being challenging and/or entertaining enough so that gaming veterans don’t get bored.

We think we’ve found at least 5 of these and I would like to introduce you to them now. They are pretty straight forward, and mostly “pick up and play”. If you’re looking for something that your geezer of a brother won’t instantly beat you at, but is also easy enough to introduce to that reclusive, eclectic family member, I hope this will be the list for you.

Just to be clear, I am not recommending blindly; I have played each and every one of these multiple times myself, with a variety of friends and family members. Very importantly there are no endorsements at play here, this is my personal list of recommended “beginner friendly” titles. Clear? Good. 🙂

Let’s get tucked in!

1) Labyrinth

An easy to set up and even easier to follow game, first released in 1986. The simple objective is to be the first player to find all their treasures in a treasure hunt; each player gets a deck of cards, where each card depicts a treasure which has a corresponding tile in the maze. To obtain the treasure, players have to manoeuvre their character pieces through the moving labyrinth.

Players locate their treasure on the board (without letting the others know what they’re looking for) and then plot the path their character piece must take to get to it. There are no dice and no maximum spaces one is allowed to move, however, players will most certainly find their path blocked by walls!

Why? Because the board moves! At the beginning of each player’s turn, they must “move the labyrinth”. In doing this, they will start freeing up the path to their own treasure while inadvertently (or maybe deliberately) blocking the paths of other players. 😉 To claim the treasure, players must simply reveal their treasure card once their token stands upon the corresponding tile.

The first to reach all their treasures wins!

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Statistics:

2-4 players  Ages: 7+  Average Time: 20-40 minutes

2) Greedy Greedy Goblins

Another “pick up and play” game, the 2016 title Greedy Greedy Goblins pitches players against each other as members of their own Goblin mining guilds. Each guild has a preferred gem for bonuses, but what’s most important (and exciting) about this game is that there are no turns!

Cards depicting the Mines (and the guild hall) are laid out in a circle on the table, and in the middle are all the face down “mining tiles”. On the count of three, each player rushes to pick up and inspect one tile at a time. As soon as they have seen what the tile contains (a gem, a minion, a torch, a monster or a stick of dynamite) they must place the tile (face down) on any one of the mines. At any point players may then place their own coloured tokens on a mine to “claim it as their own” and once that has happened, no one else may place any more tiles on that mine.

Once all  the mines have been claimed, players take informal turns revealing what their mines include. This is the risky part, since while players will know what they placed in the mine themselves, they have no idea what other players may have placed there!!! Gems give points, minions are helpers who get even more points (or mitigate damage), monsters rob you of your points and while single/double sticks of dynamite double your yield, too many (more than three) collapse the whole thing and that player pays a penalty.

It’s fast paced, laugh out loud adventure, where players have to choose whether to risk it all with an over-tiled mine or play it safe, with a mine that only contains 2 gems that they placed there themselves.

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Statistics:

2-4 players, Ages: 14+ (that’s what the box says but I don’t see any reason why anyone 10+ couldn’t play this on their own, and I would even go as far as saying that 4+ could have an amazing time playing this with their family, as long as everyone plays with the understanding that the little kids are in teams with adults and the game is slowed down to allow them to make choices too!) Average time: 25-35 minutes

3) Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan, which was first released in 1995, is more in the vein of “classic board games” than the previous two, but it’s beautifully designed, easy to pick up and a lovely challenge!

As the name suggests, players play settlers in the fictional country of Catan. Each player starts with a pre-determined number of natural and refined resources, and as the game progresses they need to acquire and trade for even more resources, as these are needed to literally settle their areas. They need to grow wheat in fields, get lumber from forests and hay from grasslands, for example, to build cities and roads and eventually even connect to water based trade routes. Each settlement, road and structure is worth a certain number of points, and the first player to reach (typically) 10 points, wins.

This game is about strategic placements, trades and moves, while also making moral choices. You could send the robber to plunder other player’s settlements to get you ahead temporarily, but is it worth the possible retribution?

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Statistics:

3-4 players (standard) (2,5 or 6 players with expansion packs), ages 8+ Average time: 1 – 4 hours. (Personally, we have averaged out at 1.5 hours per session).

There are also some fun variations and expansions on the classic game, such as Catan Junior, Catan: Cities & Knights, Catan: Traders & Barbarians.

4) Scotland Yard or NY Chase

The 1983 title Scotland Yard, pitches a team of up to 5 players (the detectives) against a single common enemy: Mr. X, played by a single player. The detectives of the London Metropolitan Police work together to track down Mr. X as he escapes across London.

The catch? Mr. X only appears on the board every couple of rounds and the player playing him has to write down his progress on a secret board for verification later. Mr. X and the police must use tickets for the Taxi, Bus and Underground routes to get around London and the detectives work cooperatively to do this with as much strategy as they can. Their only clue? What tickets Mr. X has been using. Taxis only move from one point to the next, bus stops might be several “spaces” apart, whereas the Underground can take him the furthest, along the predetermined routes.

Mr. X gets to also use a limited number of “secret tickets” which allows him to use any mode of transport he wants, or even take a boat along the river Thames. If the detectives manage to catch Mr. X before the turns run out, they win the game, but if he makes it through all of his turns without getting caught, he “gets away” and he wins.

NY Chase, is a variation on this game, which I am personally very fond of. It moved the chase to New York City, where the FBI are trying to catch Mr. X. The difference other than the location? The police get (limited but helpful) use of a helicopter and they have road blocks as well! I love this version, because I love playing Mr. X, and it makes it more challenging to escape!

NY Chase

Statistics: 

3-6 players (but I’ve also played it with 2 players, where one person was playing all the detectives at once!), Ages: 10+ , Average Time: 1 hour

5) Cranium

Last, but definitely not least, is the brain teaser Cranium. Designed to “challenge your whole brain” and including a variety of activities, this family fun favourite pitches teams of at least 2 against one another in a combination of challenges revolving around “creative activities”, “knowledge of data and facts”, “performing arts” and “spelling/word recognition”.

It’s an all around crowd pleaser, combining aspects of classic party games such as Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Charades, Name that Tune and more. It’s the perfect activity for a group of people who can’t decide what to play, since there’s a little something for everyone!

Cranium

Statistis:

4+ players, Age: 8+, Average time: >35 minutes.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my little list, and really hope you’ve found something that caught your eye. Maybe one of these will liven up your next dinner evening. 😉

Have you played any of these? Or are you planning to? I would love to know what you think! Please let me know, in the comments below.

Bye bye for now! x

First Time at a Resort – #TravelTuesday

In February of this year I had the distinct pleasure of being invited on a family holiday with my husband’s family, to their favourite resort in Mexico. 🙂
This encompassed several firsts for me, and so I was quite excited at the prospect. It was my first time:
– flying to central America
– going to Mexico specifically
– being in a Spanish speaking country (after having studied/maintained (my) Spanish for almost 9 years)
– going on a “resort vacation”
Growing up in Germany, with an Irish Mammy, our family vacations were almost exclusively to Ireland, so see our family. Now don’t get me wrong, growing up spending your summers travelling to and being in Ireland was EPIC. I loved the ferry rides, and the long drives being my dad’s “co-pilot” and of course there’s nothing like playing with your cousins whom you only get to see once or twice a year while getting spoiled rotten by your Grandparents. #FondChildhoodMemories
It just meant that we never went on the “traditional” family vacations, such as to resorts, beaches or what ever other people did, so I reached the age of 25 not having any idea what it means to go to a resort (or how to behave in one 😉 ).
IMG_6643I was nervous… it was to be “all inclusive”, but what if I didn’t like the food? What’s the protocol on tipping? Are the drinks really “limitless” or is there an unspoken rule of cut-off? What about clothes? Do I have to go back to the room to change before every meal? And most importantly, how do you entertain yourself when you’re in a new country for 7 days but aren’t planning on “exploring” anything? (All Derek and my joint vacations since we got together have been “adventures”; backpacking around Europe, getting to know the inner workings of London, crazy weekend bursts to Scotland… and now I’m supposed to “relax” for seven whole days? How does one do that exactly?)
Well, let’s just say I learned relatively quickly how to cope. 😀
We had an amazing time! There was so much food, and so many drinks; there was lots of lying in the sun, lots of swimming and loads of laughter (especially after a rather unsuccessful attempt on my part to partake in a sail-boat ride… *>_<* )
On one of the days, Derek and I left the resort to go on a day trip to get to know the area better. We got to swim in an underground Cenote, try some different flavours of Tequila at a Tequila Museum, got our wedding date written out in the Mayan Calendar and then got to explore the amazing sites around Chichen Itza!! ❤
Apart from that awesome day out though, and the amaing quality time that we got to spend with our family one of my favourite parts of the whole experience was the unparalleled service. Everyone at this resort was nothing but helpful, forthcoming, attentive and mindful of your preferences. I felt like they really got to know us, by day three they knew our coffee orders and general drink preferences, from the breakfast buffet to the pool. Everyone smiled and was very happy to accommodate us.

Here’s an excerpt from my Trip Advisor Review of this amazing place:

“Service: The service was easily the best bit. The staff were always smiling, friendly and ready for a joke. Rosa, who took care of us by the pool, was an absolute star! The staff in the buffets, and the themed restaurants were also always fast, wonderful and even offered to take several family photos of us at the tables.”

You can find my full review, of the the Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe.

That being said, I did emotionally and intellectually struggle with the idea of an all inclusive, fully staffed resort. Now, I am accustomed to staff in restaurants, bars and even on board flights, bringing food and drinks, but lying by the pool side, enjoying the sun while these friendly, hard working people sweat buckets to bring me and other guests, cocktails, beers, peanuts, towels and what ever else was asked for, was just so alien to me. In the beginning I wanted to go to the bar myself, because I felt so guilty, but of course I then realised that if everyone did that, the staff around the pool wouldn’t have a job to begin with, which was again counter intuitive. That was surprisingly tough for me.

I also noticed, that a lot of the other guests in the resort, from all around the world, took this friendliness for granted and seemed to have an attitude of “it’s their job to do this”. I witnessed a lot of people just barking their orders at staff members, not bothering to say please or thank you, never mind engage in the small talk “how are you today” and even just waving them away!!

On top of that, the amount of food that got wasted almost made me sick. Mexico is not a rich country, not by a long stretch of the imagination, and to watch how a ludicrous amount of people from almost every table, stacked their plates mountainously high with food, just to then decide they didn’t actually want it and leave, made me indescribably angry! Especially when the staff, who were working very hard all day long, had to take that food, including luxuries like steak, lobster, fresh fruit and home baked bread, and had to then, of course, throw it away. I got angry at the wastefulness of people, and I can only imagine that that anger or disappointment must have been even worse for the staff members, who probably couldn’t afford  to bring such foods home and now had to throw them away. I genuinely wish that resorts like this one, had a no waste policy, in the sense of “you’re welcome to the buffet as often and for as much food as you would like, however, if you take it please eat it. There will be surcharge for excessive wastage.” which I have seen many local buffets do around the world.

All in all, it was an amazing experience, which I would be very very keen to repeat. The resort was luxurious and adventurous, had many more attractions and activities than I even knew about, so I would love to go back and try them all out and of course, I would love to book another day trip, to get to know even more about beautiful Mexico.

Thanks again to my husband’s wonderful family for the amazing experience. ❤

London Pass Review

Hello and welcome to 2016 everyone! After a well needed mental break, I am back and very excited to start off the new year with a string of reviews from our recents (pre-Christmas) break to London! 🙂

IMG_5297Let’s start off with the London Pass, since most of the places we visited, we ended up going to specifically because they were included in this pass.

Now, we bought the 6 Day London Pass + Oyster Card and we got ours on sale, so for £145.85 pp, rather than the usual £164. (Tip: I thought I had missed the sale at the end of November, but it came right back 3 weeks later, so if you’re not in a rush to buy it right away, wait for a bit and the sale should come back.)

All in all, I give the card a solid 7/10. It’s very convenient and can, if used correctly, save you a heap of money – definitely check it out for your next London Trip, to see if the included sites are what you want to see.

Here is the full breakdown of what we would have paid, if we had bought all our tickets at the gates:

Shakespeare’s Globe Tour £15.00
Tower of London £24.50
Tower Bridge £9.00
City Cruises (Westminster to Greenwich) £18.00
Royal Observatory Greenwich £9.50
HMS Belfast £16.00
Wellington Arch £4.00
Churchill War Rooms £16.35
London Transport Museum £17.00
Cartoon Museum £7.00
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising £7.50
Total: £144.15

In conclusion, we paid £145.85 for our 6 Day London Pass + Oyster Card, bearing in mind that £40 of that was on the Oyster Card, s0 you can look at it one of two ways:

Either we spent £145.85 and visited £144.15 worth of sites withe the added bonus of a free £40 Oyster Card…

Or we spent £145.85 – £40 (Oyster Card) = £105.85 on our London Pass and got to see £144.15 worth of sites, amounting in £38.3 savings.

Some pointers: 

  • You can have your pass shipped to your house, no matter where you live, or you can collect the pass in London. To get it shipped allow several weeks before your trip, just to be safe. If you choose to collect it in London city centre, the tourist island where they sell/provide them is near Covent Garden Station.
  • Once you’ve bought the London Pass, I recommend that you immediately create yourself an itinerary. We thought that we could just meander through London entering into included sites as we found them, but it turns out, that many of the sites take a lot longer to explore than you would expect, and some of them are a little tricky to reach, so if you really want to get your money’s worth (the guide book recommends 3 sites per day if you have a 6 day pass) then you really need to have a proper itinerary put in place so that you can have the most fun while being most efficient. (We could have probably fit in [and thus saved] a lot more, if we had planned a little better.)

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  • The Oyster Card add on – it’s definitely worth getting but bear in mind that the London Underground pricing system works by zones with a daily maximum. The £40 pre-loaded Oyster Card that you get with the 6 Day London pass, is enough to cover you for 6 days of travel in Zones 1 & 2 ONLY (daily maximum there is £6.50 and after that you ride “free” as long as you keep swiping your valid pass.)  This is one of the things that makes the pass lose points from me, since the London Pass itself covers sites that are well outside of zones 1 & 2, but if you travel there (as we did) you will need to manually top up your Oyster card with more money. (We ended up adding £16 each to our cards, to cover travel to other zones, and back to Heathrow Airport.)

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  • The Dining Guide – for an additional £10 you can buy the London Dining Guide. It promises discounts at 120 of London’s restaurants, such as “20% off the a la carte menu”, “2 for the price of 1” or “complimentary drinks when you order full 3 course meal”. This was the only aspect of the card that I thought was a waste of money. Most of the restaurants had this little clause on their page in the guide book saying that they don’t accept the card in certain months of the year, or on Weekends, or at peak times… which makes me wonder when exactly one is supposed to use it? We only managed to actually find three of the mythical 120 restaurants where we could try to use the card and the attempts went like this: Restaurant 1) Don’t serve meals before 5 pm (not noted in the book). Restaurant 2) Had a better deal for preset menus than the discount using the card – so we didn’t use the card. Restaurant 3) Refused to take the card because it was December (even though that wasn’t noted in the book) and they only honoured the discount, once we had to send a bad dish back to the kitchen, and they thought it would be a good means of apology to honour the discount (that we had paid for by buying the card). So, let’s just say the Dining Card? No good.

 

All in all, the pass is most certainly worth checking out if you are looking to really get into the nitty gritty of sightseeing in London, just make sure that you know what’s included, so that you’re not disappointed.

Thanks for reading, Happy 2016 and I’ll be back very soon with my first individual reviews of the places up in that list, and more! 😀

 

Taste of Titanic – A Review 

Tonight, the famous Titanic Belfast visitor centre hosted it’s first ever “Taste of Titanic” event. They promised a “guided journey through the Titanic Galleries; learn about the fascinating story of the world’s most famous ship and sample culinary delights from the era.” And it delivered on that promise, even though not to the degree I was expecting.

For those who want the raw data; it was interesting, competently presented, and the 2 costumed guides made an excellent addition, but for £20 more than the usual ticket price, it was way too fast, skipped too many interesting parts of the gallery and offered very little actual tasting. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. (And I think that’s just because of how much I liked the costumed guides.)

“I am very glad that we tried this because I can say with confidence that costumed guides make all the difference to the overall Titanic experience and I would be happy to pay a little extra for that; however…”

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Now, for more detail.

I have been to Titanic 3 times before and am an avid fan of the exhibition.

We were greeted with glasses of Prosecco, had a souvenir picture taken and were given handy portable radios that we could use throughout the tour to better hear the guides; we were off to an amazing start. My husband I commented to each other on how beautifully the foyer had been decorated with standing tables, a bar and drinks being set up and we got really excited to mingle with the others guests over some more (presumably paid extra, but that’s okay) drinks at the end of the tour, and were well impressed by the effort Titanic Belfast had clearly put into this.

IMG_2221The first gallery boasted the event’s new addition of a Belfast born and raised local from the era who told us all about the linen industry, his uncle who works at the yard, the arl gantries and the local food. He was also available to answer questions and make funny jokes about not knowing what a phone is, so he was wonderful!

The first sampling we got was milk in a tiny bottle with a paper white and red striped straw. We weren’t told the significance of this, but it was quaint and cold, so I liked it.

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Then we got the first bite which was a nod to the famous Ulster Fry. A Cold Potato Farl, topped with bacon and some black pudding. The black pudding was tasty, but for those of us who know an Ulster fry, hardly impressive, unfortunately.

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We then moved up the gantry, completely skipped my favourite part of the whole exhibition (the ride) and on to the next snack a “Belfast Clanger” served with brown (more manly) lemonade (which was actually quite nice) and Belfast Ale. I didn’t really understand the significance here either… I didn’t feel like anything but the brown lemonade was explained in a way to suit he history.

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At this point we were almost immediately beckoned into the newly decorated viewing room for the slipways without any time to explore the charming interactive exhibits that highlight Titanic’s construction (or the newly decorated room for that matter.)

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We were then offered champagne, but they ran out of glasses half way through serving, so while the next costumed guide (a second class English lady) was waiting for us and chatting away in the next room, people were left waiting for a drink and wondering whether to just move on without one.

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The second guide was lovely and, while gossiping about the ship’s elite passengers, she lead us to afternoon tea, which consisted of several delectable looking treats. There was just about enough for everyone to try one; which would of course be fine if there weren’t five to choose from and you’re left wondering what the other four tasted like. A strange choice for a taster evening… (I was cheeky, I must admit, and took a second one once everyone else was gone, because the first one I tried, a “French Fancy” was just too ghastly sweet.)

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IMG_2257Finally I was awstruck as we entered the section that used to describe the passengers and cargo and at which harbour they joined/were loaded, because it had been completely reimagined from the last time I was there. Snow white walls covered in photographs from each harbour looked incredibly interesting and inviting, but alas, even these were skipped.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but once the (very funny) guide told us her story we were moved on to yet another new addition to the exhibition, a recreation of the promenade deck. (OMG this was easily the most impressed I had been all night!) Here they served small samples of dinner (prawn cocktail & a chicken dish of some sort).

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Following this, we briskly made our way through the (sombre and respectful) gallery dedicated to the tragedy and the victims, accompanied by a very well spoken and modernly dressed young guide who clearly knows her Titanic history. We were offered hot chocolate (as the survivors would have been offered aboard Carpathia) and walked through the history of both the legal inquiries and the movies dedicated to Titanic.

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Regrettably here even more of the exhibition was skipped, completely missing Dr. Ballard’s story of finding the wreck and the discovery theatre movie. We were shown the glass floor (under which you can see the whole wreck in a fascinating constructed image) and were then lead out, completely skipping the final marine science gallery.

In conclusion, I am very glad that we tried this because I can say with confidence that the costumed guides make all the difference to the overall Titanic experience and I would be happy to pay a little extra for that pleasure any day; however, the food samplings felt uncreative and like there simply weren’t enough; it felt incredibly rushed at key points of the gallery, while we were left standing and waiting awkwardly in relatively empty spaces at other times.

I am devastated for any tourists who came to Titanic for the first time today, because there is no way they got to enjoy even half of what the amazing galleries actually have to offer, missed out on key points such as the ride, interactive galleries, the audio files that come with the projected characters, the 3D tour of the ship, Dr. Ballard’s discovery and the discover theatre. We all payed £20 more than the usual price and I am afraid that those people will go home, not having enjoyed half of what I can see on any other day for £15 (or even £10 if I get the early bird special).

As a final stinger to all of this, the included “souvenir photo” felt like an afterthought as they were handed out at the end, and it turns out that the beautiful decorations and bars we were admiring when we arrive were for a completely separate (and private) event that going on in the foyer as we left. It smelled of succulent BBQ, with mingling guests happily sipping at sparkling glasses of wine, beer and water, playing games and chatting away as we (strangers) awkwardly apologized our way through their midst to reach the doors. Very soon my husband and I ended up back at home on our sofa, cooking a dinner because we were exhausted and starving.

Like I said, fascinating, interesting, a great idea – but not fully thought through and in my humble opinion, not worth £35 per person.

(Even though I am happy to have made the experience and I had fun with my hubby… but I enjoy almost everything we do together, so I guess that doesn’t count. 😉 )

Thank you for reading and take care. xoxo

Belfast Bikes – 4 out of 5

There is something awesome to be said about a shared bike scheme, and this month saw the launch of Belfast’s very own Belfast Bikes, operated by NextBike.

IMG_0009Imagine, being able to cycle to work, the market, or just around town for fun, without having the fuss of actually owning the bike.

You don’t have to: find a place to lock it, be afraid of someone stealing it, go back to fetch it, have a place to store it at home (especially if you live in an apartment) and worry about not being able to take someone up on an offer for a lift home, since you won’t have to worry about leaving your bike.

It has larger scale effects as well: it makes city access easier than ever, hopefully decreasing traffic congestion in the long run, making the city fun to explore for tourists (boosting that industry) and generally getting people who hate walking 30 minutes to work and would rather take the bus, consider the more active and healthy route of cycling for 10 minutes instead.

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I think that all in all, it’s a brilliant system.

Belfast introduced 30 docking stations throughout the downtown area and the system itself is fairly simple; you can choose between two types of subscriptions 3-day (at a price point of £5) or one year for a mere £20.

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Belfast Bikes official Website

Once you have selected and payed for your subscription you go to any docking station and enter your phone and pin number. At this point the screen provides you with a unique bike number (as written on the bikes themselves) and you simply have to get the bike and cycle on.

IMG_0008The first half hour of use is free and every subsequent half hour is charged with an exponential increase in price, starting at £0.50/half hour. You can however return the bike before the 30 minutes are up and simply select a new one, restarting the whole cycle and never paying an additional penny.

The “insurance” for the bike, in case of theft or damage, is that NextBike is authorized to take £120 from the bank account with which you signed up, if you neglect to return the bike after 72 hours or it is reported to be damaged after your last use.

Now, I did have a concern about where to park the bike if the docking stations are full, given that I didn’t fancy cycling to the next station in search of a spot. This problem has a unique solution. The bikes are all equipped with standard numeric bike locks, each with a unique code. When you rent a bike, you receive a text message to the phone number associated to the account, verifying not only the bike number but providing you with the lock pin as well. You can use this lock, to lock the bike at the nearest standard bike station, then all you do is call the toll free number, tell them where you have locked which number bike and you move on with you day. A designated crew will come around to collect the bike later in the day.

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The bikes themselves are standard city bikes, with comfortable adjustable seats & handles, easy steering, front & rear lights, as well as a convenient front basket attachment, with flexible stretch ropes for larger items. Both my husband and I, who are built very differently, find the bikes pleasant to ride.

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The system has a few glitches, but I am going to put them down to early system hiccups, such as 3 of the docking stations not actually allowing me to pay for my subscription (forcing me to do it online), the docking stations having faulty pins that occasionally block you from returning a bike and the toll free number taking ages to get through to a person.

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See the little pins sticking out in the lock mechanism?

Other than that, I am very very happy with my annual subscription and enjoy the freedom of travelling by bike without any of the tedious responsibilities that come with owning one.

As an additional bonus, the partnership with NextBike allows members to use their subscription in any of their participating cities, meaning I can also use this subscription to access city bikes in all of these places:

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Pretty freaking sweet if you ask me!

I am giving the Belfast Bikes a solid 4 out of 5 starts, deducting one for the annoying glitches.

So if you’re in the Belfast Area (or are just curious) head on over to Belfast Bikes.

Thanks for reading and take care. xoxox