Friday, 20 April 2018

My holiday shopping wishlist

There are just 13 days to go until we're back in Walt Disney World... where has this year gone?!

As a general rule, I don't particularly enjoy shopping. However, shopping while on a Disney holiday is a completely different ball game and adds an extra element of pre-holiday excitement. I've got quite a few things on my shopping wish list for Florida next month.

I wrote a blog post about my holiday shopping wishlist last year, and it actually helped me to (mostly) stick to my must-have items rather than buying anything and everything. Consequently, I've decided to go the same thing this year!

Firstly, I've been coveting lots of things from the amazing stores situated in Disney Springs and at the parks...




Thanks to Instagram, I really want to bring home
some kind of pink/rose gold spirit jersey.


I'm hoping to treat myself to a small Dooney & Bourke bag
to use in the parks.


We'll be buying a few Disney-themed dog toys for Jessie on our travels. 



THEY'RE NOW SELLING DUFFY AND SHELLIE MAY PANDORA CHARMS. 
Capitals were completely necessary there. 




How cute is this beautiful Minnie Mouse plush from
the Flower and Garden Festival?



I'm on a mission to collect all the Disney dogs.
I might add Nana to my collection this year!


We want to get a cute Ratatouille-themed print for our
kitchen (just not one that costs as much as this one).





I always add to my fridge magnet collection whenever we go on holiday. 




I need to wear a lanyard every day in my new job...
perfect opportunity to buy a Disney pin!



Although lots of the items I bring home from Florida tend to be from Walt Disney World itself, we also enjoy visiting the many shopping outlets nearby. '60% off' signs are very common in these outlets and I love a good bargain. With this in mind, I've got a few non-Disney items on my list.




I'm on the hunt for a little black bag, so I'll be scouring the Kate Spade outlets. 






I'm in desperate need of new gym/running clothes, and Under Armour
is much cheaper in the US than in the UK.




I shouldn't really buy any new Ugg boots, but... 



I might blog about my holiday purchases when I get back... do you think I'll stick to this wishlist? 


Friday, 13 April 2018

Our Advance Dining Reservations for 2018

The holiday countdown is well and truly on... there are just 20 days to go until we're back in Walt Disney World.

As I've said many times before, one of the best things about Disney holidays is that they can be planned to absolute perfection. You can book all your restaurants in advance, as well as up to three rides, attractions and experiences per day.

The Disney Dining Plan has been included with our booking again this year which means we need to be fairly strategic about where we're eating and when. This adds an extra planning element which is entirely focused on food, so obviously this means I'm in my element! If you're interested in finding out more about the Disney Dining Plan, I've blogged about all its different elements on the links below: 


It's worth noting that an alcoholic drink is now included with your table service credits which has never been the case on our previous visits. This is a pretty exciting upgrade as alcoholic drinks are expensive, particularly at the signature restaurants. I'm sure I'll sample a few different cocktails over the course of the holiday just to make the most of it!

Although we haven't quite booked all our restaurants yet as we like to leave a few days free for spontaneity's sake, we have done loads of planning which has included setting up a dedicated Trello board (please don't laugh at me).

I thought I'd blog about the new restaurants we've booked for this year's holiday as it's getting closer and closer, as well as a little look at some old favourites which I'm very excited about re-visiting.



California Grill 

We've wanted to try California Grill for a few years but we've never managed to get a booking at a suitable time. We made sure we made it our very first reservation this year to get the best possible slot, and I can't wait to be seated at the top of the Contemporary in a few weeks' time! 





Frontera Cocina 

This restaurant is situated in Disney Springs, and it's one which I don't know very much about. However, the menu and the photos on TripAdvisor look fantastic so I'm very happy to give it a try.



Planet Hollywood Observatory 

I've been to the Disneyland Paris version of Planet Hollywood, but I've never been to the one in Walt Disney World. This restaurant has recently had a big makeover and I've heard amazing things about its massive burgers and desserts. 





Sanaa

Sanaa is one of the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge. I've never been to this particular resort so I'm excited about exploring the surroundings as well as having lunch at Sanaa. Again, we've heard good things about this African-themed restaurant and it's nice to fit in a different cuisine amongst all the burgers and steaks. 



Be our Guest

We went to Be our Guest for dinner a few years ago but we've never been there for breakfast, so I'm taking the liberty of including it on my 'new restaurants' list. Breakfast is actually a quick service option rather than table service, and it's excellent value if you're on the Disney Dining Plan. We've booked this breakfast on a Magic Kingdom Extra Magic Hours morning. We're planning to blitz all our favourite rides then relax at the restaurant for an hour! 






Although we always love trying new restaurants whenever we visit Walt Disney World, there are a few places we absolutely have to book every time.

These three are my absolute favourites... 



The Plaza Restaurant

We didn't eat at The Plaza last year and I really missed it, so this year we've booked it for lunch on our first full day. We always spend our first day at the Magic Kingdom and I love winding down for an hour over lunch at The Plaza. 





Via Napoli 

I've said it before and I'll say it again... Via Napoli serves the best pizza I've ever eaten outside of Italy. 





The Yachtsman Steakhouse

I first ate at the Yachtsman a couple of years ago and I don't think I'll ever want to give it a miss. I love the location and the atmosphere, and the food is pretty spectacular too. 





What do you think of our restaurant choices? Do you have any last-minute recommendations for us? 

Friday, 6 April 2018

Jessie's first birthday

This week marked a very important family milestone... Jessie's 1st birthday! I can't believe my little bundle of fur is a year old already, particularly as the first blog post I wrote about her back in July still seems so recent.

She was spoilt rotten on her special day, and rightly so!




We bought a little doggy cake/biscuit from Pets at Home for Jessie to mark the occasion. She also had a few bags of treats and snacks which are being rationed accordingly, although she'd eat them all at once if she had any say in the matter. Perfecting this photo with her cake and 'it's my 1st birthday' card from KesseyCrafts proved to be very challenging... I had to bribe her with quite a few doggy chocolate drops while attempting to get her to sit still.

We bought three new toys for Jessie for her birthday, and she also had a toy from both sets of grandparents. She's destroyed lots of her existing toys in the last few weeks so her birthday was very well-timed. After she'd eaten some cake, she spent a happy couple of hours sniffing and chewing her way from one to the next. Her favourite toy seems to be the purple pig which sounds like a whoopee cushion... an interesting soundtrack to our evenings this week! 




My parents also bought a birthday card for her, but she isn't allowed anywhere near that or it'll end up being unceremoniously shredded within ten seconds. 

Jessie has brought us so much joy over the last eight months and I really can't imagine life without her. She's a little whirlwind at times who often occasionally tries my patience, particularly when she eats things she's definitely not supposed to, but one look at her beautiful face makes everything OK again. Our lovely puppy is a huge part of our family with her own unique personality and Jessie-isms, and she's got us both wound very tightly around her little paw. 




Has anyone else blogged about their puppy's first birthday, or am I alone in this? Send me your links! 

Friday, 30 March 2018

Planning my Disney outfits #3

With just under five weeks to go until our holiday to Walt Disney World, I've almost got my entire packing list confirmed. My excitement levels are rising rapidly so I thought it was about time I wrote another outfit post!




Although this outfit is a complete mish-mash of Disney themes and characters, I love the way all the different elements combine to make a surprisingly coordinated ensemble. 

My idea for a black and white outfit was born when I bought a pair of Cruella de Vil ears from Closet Geek Site. The red detail in the middle conveniently meant I could combine these with my beautiful bag from the Disney Store, so the outfit was already off to an excellent start!




Next up, I was browsing Etsy for more Disney apparel and came across this Minnie-themed vest on xHandmadeByAmyx's store. I was originally looking for a white dress with black polka dots as a continuation of the dalmatian theme, but this turned out to be too difficult to find in an adult size at a reasonable price! I love this vest and it'll be perfect for one of our many days at the Magic Kingdom. 




Lastly, I found these pretty black and white polka dot shorts on ASOS a few weeks ago. They're a lovely floaty material with a lace insert at the bottom, and I bought them on Double Points Day which made them an extra exciting purchase. 

I'm planning to wear either my white Skechers or my red flip flops with this outfit, depending on how much my feet are aching by the time I wear it. The phrase I utter most while we're in Florida is 'my feet hurt so much.'

I might manage to fit in one more outfit post before we go on holiday... keep a look out for it! 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Restaurant Review: Mint and Mustard

*This is really more of a 'look what I ate on Saturday night' post rather than a detailed review, but that title wasn't as catchy and didn't alliterate.*

We went to Penarth's Mint and Mustard restaurant last Saturday evening in advance of me starting my new job on Monday. As I've said before, I will happily use any excuse to go out for a nice meal.

We'd been to Mint and Mustard a couple of times in 2015 but hadn't been back since, so I was excited about giving it another go. It's quite fancy for a curry house which means it's a lovely place to go for a special occasion, so I decided to get dressed up for the event.




We went for poppadums, starters and mains on this occasion. The poppadums are all broken up in a basket when they're served, and they come with three different chutneys. My only complaint is that the little dishes are too small which means the contents run out too quickly! I'm not a fan of lime pickle and always avoid it, but the other two choices were amazing.




I ordered the Onion Palak Pakora for my starter as I had this dish back in 2015 and hadn't forgotten how much I loved it. Mint and Mustard's pakora is basically a fritter of shredded spinach, onion and water chestnuts. They taste just like onion bhajis (in my opinion) which is probably why I love them so much, and the accompanying sauce is delicious too. A little spicy, but just the right level of spice to complement the pakora. 




After sampling the delicious chutneys and my starter, I was extremely excited about the arrival of my main course. I wanted to try something a bit different on this visit so I ordered the Five Spiced Paneer Masala. As I've become a little obsessed with paneer after my recent visit to Vegetarian Food Studio and prefer vegetarian curries to meaty ones, it seemed like the perfect choice. 




This was SO GOOD. Although it was a little more spicy than the masala sauce I've had in other restaurants, I didn't mind as it was beautifully tasty and chock full of flavour. It was also a realistic portion size which meant I managed to eat nearly all of it rather than having to leave half a bowl of curry behind. I ordered a side of pilau rice to go with it, and we also shared a garlic naan. 

Our meal came to £59 in total. This included poppadums and chutneys, two starters, two mains, two sides of rice, a naan bread, a large diet Coke and a medium glass of wine. This is obviously much more than we'd usually pay for a curry! However, Mint and Mustard is quite an upmarket place and we were happy to pay more as it was a special occasion. 

Have you ever been to Mint and Mustard? Let me know what you thought! 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Fastpass+ Day!

There are so many exciting milestones to look forward to after you've booked a holiday to Walt Disney World. Firstly, there's ADR day 180 days in advance when you can start booking your restaurants (read more about the ADRs for our last holiday here). Then, 60 days in advance, you have Fastpass+ Day which marks the date when you can start booking your rides and/or experiences.

We don't book restaurants and fastpasses for every single day in advance as even I don't like to plan our trip THAT rigidly. It's nice to have some flexibility factored in if there's a bit of bad weather or you just fancy having a slower day outside of the parks on a particular day. However, when it comes to fastpass reservations, we always make sure we book our favourite rides for our first visit to each of the four parks at the 60-day mark.

I thought I'd blog about the eight fastpasses we absolutely can't do without... I'M SO EXCITED!



Magic Kingdom 


Space Mountain is one of my favourite rides in all of Walt Disney World. Although it isn't a huge thrill ride, it's got lots of dips and bumps and it runs in the dark and I love it! 





Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a fairly new ride which means it's almost impossible to get on it quickly without a fastpass.  It's not a particularly long ride but it's visually spectacular with some very impressive technology behind it. 






Epcot 


Frozen Ever After isn't one of my favourite rides in Epcot, let along in Walt Disney World, but it's impossible to get on this ride without a fastpass unless you want to queue for two hours. It also breaks down quite regularly in our experience, so it's safest to book at least two fastpasses if you want a guaranteed spot. It's visually and audibly impressive so it's well worth using a fastpass for it.





Soarin' Around the World is another hugely popular ride in Epcot, and I do absolutely love this one. You can't book a fastpass for Frozen and Soarin' on the same day which means we usually plan our days in Epcot well in advance to make sure we secure all the fastpasses we need. I have no idea why I haven't got a photo of the Soarin' entrance... here's a nice photo of Epcot itself instead! 






Animal Kingdom 


Expedition Everest might be my favourite ride in the whole of Walt Disney World. It makes me SO HAPPY. We've prioritised fastpasses for rides at the recently-opened World of Avatar for our upcoming trip, but we've also planned an extra visit to Animal Kingdom to make sure we've got a fastpass for Expedition Everest. 





Kilimanjaro Safaris is the perfect early morning attraction, and we've always had our best safaris when we've made this our very first fastpass of the day.






Hollywood Studios 


The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is probably one of the shortest rides on this list, but it's still the one I find most scary yet exhilarating. 





Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is such a fun ride! I end up doing exactly the same pose for the ride photo every single time, even though I know exactly when it's coming. The beginning of this ride literally takes my breath away... you'll know what I mean if you've ever been on it. 





Which fastpasses do you rush to book on Fastpass+ Day? Let me know if you've got any more recommendations! 

Friday, 9 March 2018

Planning my Disney outfits #2

My regular readers and Instagram followers will already know that I blogged about my first planned Disney outfit a few weeks ago. As it's been a busy week and I'm running low on inspiration for new content, I thought I'd share another one! 




The idea for this outfit started when I found this much-coveted Mickey ice cream cone tshirt on eBay a few months ago. I kept spotting it all over Instagram after it had long disappeared from Primark, and I somehow found it on eBay at an even cheaper price. 

I knew lots of the accessories I already had would go perfectly with the tshirt as I own a LOT of pink things. However, I wasn't too sure what I should wear on the bottom half. I thought something pink or white might make me look like a marshmallow, and I didn't want to go for anything too dark as I thought it might clash. 

Enter these denim shorts from New Look! 




As is usually the case with all my clothes, these were discounted in the sale and just happened to be available in my size at the right time. Denim shorts are always handy because they go with anything and, as a bonus, the baby pink detail on these shorts means they're ideal for this outfit. 




I already had the perfect pair of Mickey ears from Luby and Lola which meant I wasn't tempted to buy yet another pair for this trip. I bought the baby pink bag when we were on honeymoon in Rome back in 2014, and the pink sandals were a Venetian gift from my in-laws a few years ago. And, just like that, another outfit was sorted! 

Keep a look-out for more outfit posts in the next few weeks as our holiday gets closer and closer...



Friday, 2 March 2018

Learning to appreciate the present moment

I used to think mindfulness was a load of mumbo-jumbo. It was one of those things I thought might be a nice concept for other people but would never work for me. However, now that I've got a better understanding of what mindfulness is and what it's trying to achieve, I feel as if it could make a huge difference if I give it enough of a chance.

I started seeing a counsellor from Macmillan last summer during a very low point. It was the one year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis and I was struggling. I was dreading the sessions because I didn't feel strong enough to talk about and delve into all my feelings, but these sessions were very different to the previous counselling I'd experienced and were based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

The counsellor focused on finding ways to help me to live life after cancer in a meaningful way and to enjoy what matters to me, rather than dredging up the past. As part of these sessions, she encouraged me to look at mindfulness in a completely different light. She also referred me to a few group sessions run by Macmillan on 'Living with Uncertainty' which further helped to quash my skepticism about the topic.

Let's start by talking about what mindfulness ISN'T (and what I used to think it was).

- Mindfulness isn't about trying to stop, block or change your thoughts.
- Mindfulness isn't about trying to control your thoughts and feelings.
- Mindfulness doesn't have to take up loads of your time.
- Mindfulness is nothing to do with relaxation.

Mindfulness is all about anchoring yourself in the present moment. If you're anything like me, your brain spends an awful lot of time in the past and even more time in the future. There have been times when I've got to work and can't remember anything about my drive to the office, or when I've eaten a chocolate bar and haven't got a clue what it tasted like. I hardly ever focus on the present moment because my brain is always frantically flitting between the past and the future. I'd never thought about it in that way before, but it means I'm missing out on all the pleasurable things the present moment might have to offer.




Crucially, mindfulness isn't about stopping those thoughts about the past, the future and everything in between. If it was, no one would be able to do it. As much as we'd all love to, we can't control our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is about acknowledging that your thoughts have drifted, noticing where you've drifted off to, and bringing yourself back to the present moment (if you want to).

Different things work for different people when it comes to mindfulness. I find that focusing on my breathing helps to bring me back to the present moment, but others find that focusing on sound,  smell or taste is more effective. Whenever I feel myself spiralling off into an anxiety chasm which won't end well for me or for anyone else, I'm trying really hard to take a few deep breaths and focus on my breathing. How it feels, how it sounds, how my lungs expand and contract.

I'm getting a little better at realising when I'm about to spiral, rather than only noticing when I've wasted half an hour and thought about every possible worst case scenario for the next twenty years. However, I've got a long way to go and I need to make sure I persevere with it and try to bring myself back to the present moment more and more often.

On that note, the great thing about this simple 'grounding' method is that you can do it anytime and anywhere. You can do it at your desk in work, on the sofa while you're drinking your hot chocolate, on your daily commute, while you're eating out, or while you're in bed trying to get to sleep. It only needs to take twenty seconds, and the more you do it the more it'll become second nature.

Along with trying to be more 'mindful', I'm finding that writing everything down helps me to process my thoughts and to get to grips with why I'm experiencing such strong feelings. To help with this, I've got a 'thought journal' where I write down why I'm anxious, angry, sad etc when it all gets too much. I find that writing down my thoughts takes some of the power out of them, and I also feel as if I've got a lot out of my system when I sit and pour my brain out on paper for half an hour.




I also bought this daily journal from Next a few weeks ago and it's helping me to reflect on each day, rather than only reflecting when I remember to do so or when I'm in the right headspace. It's very easy to go to bed thinking that you've had a terrible day and everything is awful and you're rubbish at everything, when actually there will most likely have been a positive glimmer in there somewhere.

Even if the only good thing you can think of is the nice baguette you had for lunch or a smile from a random passer-by, make sure you write it down! I also love the 'three things I'm grateful for today' section as I don't think any of us are ever appreciative enough about what we've actually got. My 'good things' and 'things I'm grateful for' entries are often very simple, and it's making me realise how important it is to appreciate those little things in life and to fill your time with what matters most to you.




This journal is helping me to think about why I might have felt a particular way on a particular day, rather than just accepting it. I'm starting to recognise triggers for certain moods which might eventually mean I can avoid them happening so often if I work hard on changing my mindset. I do try to put the 'what I'll do differently tomorrow' pledges into practice, and if I completely forget about them I move them over to the next day's entry to give myself another chance.

Although I tend to frantically say 'I haven't got time!' when it comes to any kind of self help or self improvement, I'm learning that self reflection is important and can teach you a lot about yourself. And believe it or not (and I'd never have believed this myself six months ago), it can help to make a bad day very very slightly better. I've never said 'I haven't got time' when it comes to worrying about anything and everything, so why should making time for self reflection and/or improvement be so difficult? If I can easily waste half an hour of my energy wading through nightmare scenarios that might never happen, it makes sense to try to put that time to better use.

Have you tried any of these techniques to try to appreciate the 'present moment'? Have you got any more tips for me? Let me know!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Planning my Disney outfits #1

We're off to Florida in just under ten weeks and I've been busy planning every possible aspect of our trip. At the risk of sounding a little TOO organised, I've been planning since approximately August last year.

One of the holiday planning tasks I really enjoy, particularly for our holidays to Walt Disney World, is deciding which outfits to take for the two weeks. I love making sure I'm colour coordinated, from my clothes to my shoes to my bags. As a happy coincidence, since becoming slightly obsessed with Mickey ears over the last couple of years, I've now got even more things to coordinate!

The idea for my first outfit started when I impulsively bought this beautiful Beauty and the Beast themed Danielle Nicole bag from the Disney Store (now available on ASOS here). I'd wanted this bag for years and couldn't resist it when it suddenly became available on the UK's Disney Store website.




Although I was a little worried that the bag would be too small, I found that I could easily fit my phone and purse into it which is all I need for park days and evenings. So step one of the outfit was complete! 

As I love both Beauty and the Beast and floral patterns, I thought I'd hunt for a few more themed items to go with this bag. I had my eye on a floral playsuit from New Look, but it was constantly out of stock in my size. However, when I was browsing the sales just after Christmas, my size popped up and the item was drastically reduced. I made sure I put it straight in my basket as it was the ideal match for my new bag. 




I had the perfect playsuit and the perfect bag, so I obviously needed some ears to finish off the ensemble. I love Luby and Lola's Mickey ears and had spotted a beautiful red rose pair on their website, so I eagerly waited for their Etsy shop to re-open and placed my order for this beautiful pair. 




A photograph could never capture the beauty of these ears! I love the deep red colour of the satin bow, and the black background is slightly glitzy which adds that extra bit of Disney sparkle. 

Lastly, I realised I didn't own any red flip flops even though my collection seemed to feature every other colour under the sun. I bought a red pair from New Look which, again, happened to be reduced. I think you'll all agree that they finish the outfit off beautifully! 




I never feel as if my outfit coordination is completely 100% on point (ugh, can't believe I just used that phrase), but on this occasion I think it's perfect! I can't wait to wear this outfit in May, and I'm looking forward to pairing this bag and the ears with a few other outfits too. 

I don't think any of my other outfits will live up to this one, but I might still blog about another couple of holiday clothing ensembles in the next few months. Watch this space! 

Friday, 16 February 2018

Sunday lunch at the Vale Resort

My parents-in-law bought us a voucher for Sunday lunch at the Vale Resort for our third wedding anniversary, and we finally booked to go last Sunday. We decided it would be good to double it up as a belated anniversary celebration and a Valentine's lunch!

It was a very cold day so I got wrapped up in my coat, hat and scarf. I only had to walk for about 20 seconds to get from the car park to the hotel, but I love any excuse to put on all my winter layers. However, I must admit that I didn't realise just how black my outfit was until I looked at this photo after we got home.




We were given the menu to have a look at as soon as we were seated in the Vale Grill. As we had a specific Sunday Lunch voucher, the menu was nice and simple with five options for each course. Our voucher was for a 2 course dinner, but we could also add a third course for £3 each if we wanted to. We knew the portions would be very generous and nothing grabbed our attention on the starter menu, so we decided we'd go for mains and desserts rather than going for the full three courses. 




For our mains, we both ordered the Roasted Sirloin of Welsh Beef. I tend to choose chicken whenever we eat out and I'm not a big fan of pork loin, so the beef was the obvious option for me. The main was made up of a few slices of beef (obviously), roast potatoes, a big Yorkshire pudding, green beans, mangetout, broccoli, roasted carrots and parsnips, cauliflower cheese, and gravy. 




Just look at the size of this! The green vegetables, roasted vegetables and cauliflower cheese were served in separate dishes so that we could help ourselves, and it's fair to say that we had a very generous helping of everything. Neil doesn't like cauliflower cheese and I love it, so that was an excellent plus for me as it was one of my favourite parts of the meal! The beef was cooked just right, and the roasted root vegetables and the roast potatoes in particular were excellent. I'm not ashamed to admit that I completely cleared my plate... in fact, I'd have been very ashamed if I hadn't. 

We'd already decided what we wanted for dessert before taking another look at the menu - pistachio panna cotta! I love panna cotta, whatever the flavour, and it's always a nice light option after such a big main meal. 




This dessert was exquisite, and I'm not just talking about the pretty presentation. Every aspect of this dish was absolutely delicious, even the little accompanying wafer. The toasted marshmallows were a stroke of genius and perfectly complemented the pistachios. Chocolate would never make it into my top five choices when it comes to ice cream flavours so I thought that might let the dish down for me, but this particular chocolate ice cream was lovely. 

At the end of the meal, we had a bill of £4.30 for our two pints of diet Coke. I was expecting them to be at least £3 each, so that was a pleasant surprise! If we'd have paid for our meal, it would have been £17.95 each. I think this is pretty good value when you take the quality and quantity of the food, and the quality of the resort itself, into account. 

I can definitely confirm that we'd be happy to visit the Vale Resort for Sunday lunch again. Have you ever been to the Vale for a meal? What did you think?