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.

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! 😀

 

Travel Review: Belfast City Hall

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The free city hall tour took 45 minutes and is most certainly worth the time. It leads through the wonderful architecture, art and history of Belfast City Hall, while also explaining a lot of their modern, every day business.

Treats to look froward to: getting to sit in the Lord Mayor’s chair, seeing some wonderful pieces of art, exquisite stained glass windows and a cabinet that was meant to be on Titanic but wasn’t delivered in time.

The guide spoke slowly and clearly so that everyone could understand him and was very kind and open to questions.

The building is also equipped with elevators to allow excess for anyone with mobility problems.

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Excellent afternoon out. (Follow up with a visit to the Titanic memorial garden in the northern part of the city hall grounds.)

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Travel Review: Dunluce Castle

IMG_3896I have visited this spectacular little castle three times, and I absolutely love it. Not only is it an excellent example of a medieval Irish ruin, but it is also an active archeological dig site. There was a 2 year gap between my first and second visit and the differences were fascinating. The signposts had all been updated as more information about the castle was discovered, and I felt like I learned something new every time I went.

The set up is very family friendly, with an interesting little visitor centre at the beginning, where one can watch a video telling the history of the castle (in multiple languages) and children can dress up as noble knights and maidens fair. There is a room dedicated to the artifacts that have been found, where children (and adults who feel like it) can pick up a scavenger hunt book and pencils to add an even greater sense of exploration to the visit.

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IMG_8980Most certainly worth a visit, and most certainly good value for money. Allow approx 2 hours for a comprehensive look around, including a walk down to the lower view point. (The stairs leading down to that particular view point are very long and winding though, so it’s not wheelchair friendly and anyone who isn’t good on their feet or has joint problems might want to avoid this as well.)

In general the castle is great for families with children, is wheelchair accessible (with exception of one turret and the lower viewing point), and offers bathroom facilities.

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Visited September 2012, August 2014, February 2015 

Travel Review: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

IMG_3870After having visited once before and not being able to cross due to weather (August 2014), it was exciting to finally get to cross the famous little bridge. We were told that once upon a time it was a lot more precarious, but now it is perfectly sound, well supervised and safe, and yet still I got wobbly knees and held my breath as I took my first steps across the open water. The bridge is free to see, but you have to pay to cross it (£5 is very reasonable for the staffing and ongoing maintenance, and National Trust Members go free if they present their cards).

IMG_3864Important Notes: There’s about a 1 km walk each way to and from the parking lot which is very important to note, and this is not wheelchair, walker, walking sticks, buggy or small child friendly. The latter is the most important, since when you cross the bridge to the little island there are NO FENCES so small children and people who are unsteady on their feet could easily fall. (If your children are hyper or tend to run off, you also mightn’t want to bring them across the bridge for safety.)

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It’s a spectacular view from the other side and an amazing experience, just be prepared, bring good shoes and expect wind.

Visited September 2015