Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Everyone loves a photo gift!

I love giving and receiving photo gifts. It's such a personalised and unique touch, and you can always guarantee that people won't be disappointed and won't already have a duplicate. You can never have too many photos!

I bought my parents and Neil's parents some lovely photo frames in Florida this year and filled them with our professional images from the Disney parks. I thought they'd be a nice memento as myself and Neil and I got engaged in Florida.

When I bought the frame for Neil's parents, I wanted to include a photo of Sian (Neil's sister) as well as myself and Neil, so I bought the frame below as it had space for three different photos. I even managed to include Winnie the Pooh and Tigger! I absolutely love this frame and will almost definitely be buying one for myself next time we go to Florida. I loved arranging the photos too and choosing which ones would look best in each slot then cutting them into the right shape... it was a bit therapeutic.

I know my parents' wall and shelf space is already pretty full with photographs of us as children, graduation photos, photos of  my little nephew and so on, so I bought them a smaller frame which could be put in a little gap on their fireplace. I love the little Mickeys in the corners! As my parents have never been to Florida, I thought it would be nice for them to have the photo of myself and Neil in front of the iconic fairy castle in the Magic Kingdom. It's definitely one of the most beautiful spectacles in Walt Disney World and Neil proposed to me near the castle, so it was very appropriate. 

While I was making photo gifts for everyone else, I obviously had to fill my own photo album so that I can look back at my own memories of the trip whenever I want to without needing to switch my computer on. I printed the photos through Tesco's website and was pretty pleased with the final results. Here's my completed 2013 photo album! I think I love Disney's branding more than any other company in the world.

I have a feeling that I'll be making lots of photo gifts for Christmas... I'm busy trying to find some inspiration! 

What's the best photo gift you've ever received?

Monday, 28 October 2013

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Weekend in London

Don't be too shocked, but I've decided to take a break from blogging about Florida and present you with a blog post on the weekend I spent in London recently. I went to visit my best friends from university - Liz, Fee, Kirsty and Jenna. We hadn't all been together since our Fake Christmas back in January so it was definitely an eagerly anticipated weekend. It was also the first time I'd seen everyone since getting engaged so we had lots to talk about!

I got the bus from Cardiff to London Victoria on Friday evening after work and arrived in London at 8:50pm. I managed to read for two hours on the bus... I'm totally engrossed in Cross and Burn by Val McDermid. After Liz met me at the coach station, we went to Subway while we waited for Kirsty to arrive. Any excuse! We both had the Spicy Italian, which has to be my favourite Subway option of all time. It's also the most calorific, but calories don't count when you're on holiday. Calories definitely don't count when the five of us get together... we love food.

On Saturday morning, we headed to the V&A Museum in Kensington to meet Fee and Jenna. I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I had a hot chocolate and a scone with clotted cream and jam before 10:30am in the museum cafe. The scones were just too tempting (and massive). After our rather large morning snack, we wandered around the museum for a few hours while catching up on each other's news. The V&A is chock full of pretty things... I especially liked the jewellery section as I'm a fan of anything that sparkles. And it's free!

We went to London Bridge in the afternoon as Kirsty had some vouchers for the London Dungeons so we thought we'd see what the queues were like. After half an hour or so of rain just after lunchtime, the rest of the afternoon was surprisingly sunny. We had a lovely walk along the river with some beautiful views of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye. There was also lots of wedding talk, obviously... I think I've now chosen my wedding colour after gathering opinions over the weekend. All will be revealed in a future post.

The queue for the London Dungeons was too long so we decided to stop for a coffee break instead. We went to the Eat coffee shop, and I had the most amazing 'Chocolate Chiller' drink. I know I'm easily pleased, but it really was that good. We also sang 'happy birthday' to Fee as it was her birthday in a few days and gave her all her birthday presents. All Fee's birthday presents from me were purchased from New York and Florida... well travelled gifts! 

After doing some more catching up in Eat (and setting a date for this year's Fake Christmas!), we headed across the bridge to Covent Garden. This resulted in more beautiful views...

I don't think I've ever been to Covent Garden before... I've been to London quite a few times and have been to the London Bridge area before, but I don't think I'd ever walked across to Covent Garden. It's a lovely area with a mixture of shops, restaurants and bars, and I think it must look absolutely beautiful when the Christmas decorations are up. It even had a Disney store! There were loads of people milling around, and it was generally a lovely atmosphere. 

After wandering around the shops, we met Liz's boyfriend and went to search for some food. We ended up in Nando's as everywhere else had a massive wait... Nando's never disappoints so it's always a good option when you're in a big group. I had my usual lemon and herb chicken wrap, chips and grilled halloumi. After eating ourselves silly, we went to the Punch and Judy for a few drinks then got the last train back to Liz's house. A lovely day was had by all! 

Sunday was always going to consist of lots of eating before going back home to the diet... I had a bacon roll in London Victoria's Wetherspoons in the morning, then we shared some nachos, then I had a Sunday roast at the Shakespeare pub. I probably didn't need to buy a big bag of Skittles for the bus home, but I still did. A bus journey isn't complete without some kind of sugary snack.

Even though I was looking forward to seeing Neil, I was quite sad when I left the pub to catch my bus back to Cardiff. The five of us aren't all together very often, so it's always a great weekend when we do all manage to meet up at the same time. We all live quite far away from each other (Cardiff, Minehead, Milton Keynes and London) so unfortunately we can't all meet up as often as we'd like. I love reminiscing about when we all used to live together, some of the strange acquaintances we had back then, the unforgettable nights out, some of the equally eventful nights in, and our questionable ex boyfriends. You can't beat a good catch up with brilliant friends.

Some photos from back in the day... I couldn't find a photo with all five of us!

After such a lovely weekend, I'm now even more excited about catching up with everyone at Fake Christmas in January!

What did everyone else get up to last weekend? Did you eat as much as I did?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Duffy goes to Florida

I thought it was time to take a break from writing about theme parks, so I decided to write a blog on Duffy's holiday to Florida. Regular readers of my blog will already know that I'm a bit obsessed with Duffy the Disney Bear. I bought him in the UK a few months ago, so I was very excited about taking him to Disney World for the first time.

Don't panic, I didn't actually take Duffy everywhere when we got to Florida. He stayed in the resort most of the time, but he did have little outings to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney. Duffy is much more well known in Florida than he is in this country, so I didn't have any strange looks while I carried him around. I'm afraid this isn't the case when I carry him around in the UK.

I did acquire quite a few new outfits for Duffy in Florida... in my defence, one was in the sale and I had three outfits from Neil and his parents as gifts. Buying outfits for Duffy is a bit addictive and is total marketing genius by Disney. Genius or exploitation... I'll let you decide.

So, without further ado, here are some photos of Duffy enjoying himself on  his first outing to Florida...

At the airport

On Disney's Magical Express!

Enjoying the view at Old Key West

Relaxing on a Disney bus

Sampling a Ghirardelli's sundae in Downtown Disney

Outside the biggest Disney store in the world!

Casually driving a car in Epcot

Chilling on a bench in Old Key West

Sulking at the Magic Kingdom as a result of the rain

Posing with a mad lady in a Minnie Mouse poncho... ahem

Meeting the actual Duffy in Epcot!

Going home :(

Have you taken your Duffy to Florida? Do you think I'm totally bonkers? All comments welcome!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hollywood Studios

I had no idea what to expect from Hollywood Studios when I went to Walt Disney World for the first time 18 months ago, so it wasn't on my list of top 5 things I was most excited about. I wasn't particularly interested in how films are made back then, and I thought that would be the main focus of the park. However, this year I knew exactly what to expect so I was very excited about going back. You can never fully grasp the scale of Hollywood Studios (or any of the Disney parks) until you've experienced it in person!

Hollywood Studios is home to two of my favourite rides in Walt Disney World - Rock'n'Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror. Both these rides usually have a substantial queue, but they're totally worth the wait. Rock'n'Roller Coaster isn't a very long ride, but it's brilliant while it lasts. It also has the bonus of blaring Aerosmith music the whole way around. The Tower of Terror is just a whole different sensation... I scream with genuine terror on this ride, but I absolutely love it. It also gives you a great view of the park...!

Pixar Place is one of my favourite areas in Hollywood Studios. The design of this area is phenomenal, but then I wouldn't expect anything less from the geniuses at Pixar. Toy Story Midway Mania is (obviously) situated in Pixar Place. Midway Mania is an interactive 3D ride based on classic carnival games. I'm not actually very good at these games, but the ride is great fun whether you get a high score or not. And everyone loves to wear 3D glasses once in a while! You can also meet Buzz and Woody in Pixar Place if you're prepared to queue for a very very long time...

I also love the landmarks at Hollywood Studios. I did think the Sorcerer's Apprentice hat could have done with a bit of a spring clean this year but it's still an impressive sight as you walk in to the park.

I went to see the Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage show in Sunset Boulevard for the first time this year. I was expecting great things, but I was genuinely blown away by the half hour production. Everything was spectacular, from the set to the costumes to the very enthusiastic singing and dancing. Belle and Gaston sing live throughout every show, and the Beast's characterisation is fantastic. I was humming my favourite songs from Beauty and the Beast all day after watching this show!

Fantasmic also takes place in Sunset Boulevard, in the open-air amphitheatre. Fantasmic is Hollywood Studios' night show and, although it's my least favourite of the three night shows at Walt Disney World, it's still pretty amazing. The show features fireworks, water effects, pyrotechnics, lasers, music and projections on to large mist screens featuring scenes from the Sorcerer's Apprentice and other classic Disney films. Fantasmic is actually quite scary at times as it depicts a battle between good and evil taking place in Mickey's dreams/nightmares, but Mickey Mouse obviously triumphs over evil in the end. You get to see loads of your favourite characters in this show and there's always a great atmosphere in and around the amphitheatre, so it's definitely worth a look.

Hollywood Studios went all out to promote Monsters University this year, and I especially loved the Monsters University display outside the main entrance. Just like everything else in Disney World, it was massively intricate and totally flawless!

Although I didn't get to meet Sulley and Mike Wazowski from Monsters University at Hollywood Studios as the queue was too long, I did get a hug from Pluto. Pluto is one of my favourite Disney characters so I was extremely excited about this. He's so cute!

Just like the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, I can't write about everything I love about Hollywood Studios or the blog post would take four days to write. So again, this has just been a flavour of the main things I love about Hollywood Studios.

What do other people think of Hollywood Studios? Is it your favourite Disney park?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Epcot... Just beautiful!

Epcot is my second favourite Disney park, very close behind the Magic Kingdom. I like to think of Epcot as the 'grown up' Disney park as its Disney elements are very subtle. It has some fancy restaurants, masses of shops and some of the most beautiful views you'll ever see. What's not to like?

The park is made up of two main areas: Future World and the World Showcase. It has a large lagoon in the middle of the park where you can actually get a boat to different areas of the World Showcase. You might think this sounds lazy, but Epcot is huge. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!

Spaceship Earth, Epcot's iconic landmark, is one of the most impressive things you'll see in the whole of Disney World. It is absolutely MASSIVE, and there's a ride inside it! The ride is a very slow and relaxing train which takes you right to the top of the ball while telling you the story of mankind from the very beginning to the present day. Test Track, Mission Space and Journey into Imagination with Figment are also great unique rides which you won't want to miss. All these rides are in Future World, which largely focuses on technological innovations.

After spending the morning in Future World, you definitely need to go for a wander around the World Showcase. Make sure you leave enough time as it's a big area to cover! The World Showcase, without any exaggeration, is one of the most fascinating places I've ever been to. Eleven countries are literally showcased around Epcot's lagoon with restaurants, shops and landmarks accurately reflecting each country's culture and lifestyle. People from each respective country are employed to work in the World Showcase which adds to its authenticity, and everything in the World Showcase is imported from the countries themselves.



The UK!




As you can see, a huge amount of effort has gone in to making sure the representations are as authentic as possible, and the countries themselves all have a big say in how their own little corner of the World Showcase is depicted. My favourite countries are China, Japan and Italy. I love the food in China and Italy, and China and Japan's gift shops are amazing! 

After spending all day in the park, Epcot's night show is a good chance to stop, take in your surroundings and marvel at the beauty of the park. You can watch the night show (Illuminations: Reflections of Earth) from anywhere in the World Showcase area. I'm not going to try to describe the show because I could never do it justice just by using mere words, but I can't think of anyone who wouldn't think it was spectacular. I can see why some people would positively hate the night show at the Magic Kingdom, but Epcot's night show is majestic and isn't cheesy in the slightest. It celebrates the diversity and multicultural nature of Epcot, along with its focus on innovation, and is just an amazing spectacle. They play some fantastic music throughout the show... the memories are actually giving me goosebumps! A firework show is incorporated in to the night show, and it's probably the most impressive firework show in Disney World. So to sum up, Epcot's night show is great and you should definitely witness it at least once!

I met some lovely characters in Epcot this year... Duffy the Disney Bear, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Donald Duck! Although the park isn't overtly Disney-esque, there are still plenty of opportunities to meet characters if you're in to that kind of thing. I didn't meet any characters when I went to Florida last year, but I wasn't quite so shy this year. Duffy was definitely my favourite character... he even gave my Duffy teddy bear a hug!

Although 'beautiful' is a very overused word, it does pretty much sum up my opinion of Epcot if I could only use one word to describe it. Just look at this view over the lagoon... it's hard to believe that this is in the middle of a Disney World theme park!

I haven't covered half of what I love about Epcot in this blog post as I could go on for ever, but hopefully it's given you a flavour of what Epcot is all about. Have you ever been to Epcot? What was your favourite part?