Friday, 30 January 2015

Pinterest and Instagram... aren't they just for wedding planners and coffee lovers?

I recently wrote a blog post on using Pinterest and Instagram in your marketing strategies which has been published on the popular Comms2Point0 website for creative communicators. I'm very excited about this as it's my first ever professional published blog post. I'm passionate about using social media channels for business use and Pinterest and Instagram are particularly under rated in a professional context, possibly because of the generalisations floating around about the two platforms. You can read the original post here, but I thought I'd also feature it on my own blog!

Pinterest and Instagram are about so much more than these generalisations suggest… read on to find out why!

Remember the days when we used to laboriously take photographs on our disposable cameras, take them to the shop to develop, wait a few days, go back to collect them, sigh because half your auntie’s head has been cut off, put them in a box and never look at them again?

Now, with superior smartphone cameras and the ability to upload your images straight on to your chosen platform, there is an endless world of possibilities. I love sharing images on my personal social networking sites, and there are also countless opportunities for businesses to utilise this technology in their marketing plans to transform customer and stakeholder engagement.

Why are images so effective? Well, if I told you I ate a burger last night, you probably wouldn’t be particularly interested (while silently wishing that I’d talk about something else other than food). However, if I showed you a photo of the burger I ate last night, I’d get more of a reaction. If I tell you I’ve got a new dog, you’ll be more interested in seeing photos than hearing my ramblings. A photograph can transport you to a place or experience and helps you to identify with the topic discussed. I often look through my Florida photos when I need cheering up… it wouldn’t be quite the same if I sat down and read some enthralling text about Walt Disney World. It might be a cliché, but a photograph really is worth a thousand words.

My favourite visual social media sites are Pinterest and Instagram. Although Pinterest is a foodie, interior designer and wedding planner’s dream, it’s also useful for a multitude of different fields. Your Pinterest profile is made up of different ‘boards’, and each board has a topic chosen by you. You then ‘pin’ images to your boards, which link back to the website they’re hosted on. Wouldn’t it be useful if your local council used Pinterest to update you on schemes in your area? They could have a board for each village, or a board for each school with details on performances, parents’ evening and so on. And perhaps charities could use Pinterest to promote their past, present and future fundraising initiatives. Pinterest showcases your images and infographics as well as promoting your website, and you can arrange everything into categorised boards where people can quickly find out what they need to. Your business will grow when people ‘like’ and ‘re pin’ your images, and you’ll soon see a rewarding return on investment.

Instagram is another obsession of mine… a simple concept, but totally addictive. Take a photo, make it look pretty, add relevant hashtags, upload. Instagram has fantastic potential for businesses and the retail sector in particular has embraced these opportunities. Your business could run a monthly competition which involves asking customers to photograph themselves using one of your products or using one of your community hubs. Customers then upload this to Instagram, using a particular hashtag, and you’ll choose the best monthly photograph and offer a small prize. Or you could simply use Instagram to showcase a day in the office, to show off your latest development or to share snapshots from your events. Your most avid followers will ‘regram’ your photographs, building your followers and creating a buzz. Oh, and contrary to popular belief, it is not obligatory to post photos of your Starbucks takeaway coffee on Instagram every morning.

Photographs are the quickest, most visual and most effective way to communicate and they’ll get people talking about your brand. It only takes ten seconds to let customers know about your latest initiative, and a further two seconds for them to share with their networks. Why not give Pinterest and Instagram a try to see how they can revolutionise your customer and stakeholder engagement strategies? I promise you’ll soon be as addicted as I am!

You can follow me on Pinterest here:
And on Instagram here:

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Disneyland Paris... these are a few of my favourite things #2

I blogged about a few of my favourite things in Disneyland Paris last week, and this is the second instalment. So please read on with bated breath to find out what else I loved about Disneyland Paris...

Crush's Coaster

I have a disproportionately strong love for this ride. I screamed 'THIS IS AMAZING!' while we were hurtling around in our little turtle shell... it really was. I had no idea what to expect as this ride is exclusive to Disneyland Paris, just like the Ratatouille ride I described in my last post, so I just thought it would be a gentle teacup-type ride. It starts off gently enough until you've trundled to the top of a little incline. You then unexpectedly experience all manner of drops, twists and turns in total darkness, as well as going backwards for part of the ride. The queues for this ride were consistently massive but it was well worth it. I also loved hearing Crush speaking French in a vaguely Australian accent... that made our day!

Disneyland Park Hotel 

The beautiful Disneyland Park Hotel guards the entrance to Disneyland Park itself and I would absolutely love to stay here if we could ever afford it. You can literally hop out of bed and run down the stairs, straight in to the park. It's such an elegant hotel and the little details like the Mickey Mouse clock are key to its appeal. It's also pink which means it'll always seem extra appealing to me. Just imagine having a room in one of the little pink turrets with a perfect view of Main Street USA and Sleeping Beauty's Castle... I can dream! 

Landmarks in Walt Disney Studios

There are some iconic landmarks in Disneyland Paris' Walt Disney Studios which shouldn't be overlooked. The 'Earful Tower' is situated right at the entrance and, despite being much smaller than its Floridian counterpart, it's perfectly proportioned for this park. I also loved the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse (which was lit up beautifully at night), as well as the Sorcerer's Apprentice model and the 'hat' in the Toon Studio area. I'm gutted that they're taking down the hat in Florida's Hollywood Studios! There was also another Sorcerer's Apprentice landmark near the entrance... I think Mickey looks so cute in this little outfit and it's always how I picture him. As you can see, Walt Disney Studios definitely isn't just about the rides! 

Main Street USA

Unfortunately, I couldn't get many good photographs of the bustling Main Street USA due to the tricky combination of bad weather and big crowds. However, it's one of my favourite places in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. Sleeping Beauty's Castle lies at the end of the street, and Main Street USA runs from the entrance of the park to the castle itself. It's densely lined with merchandise shops, crystal shops, bakeries, ice cream parlours, toy shops... it's just a hive of activity and a Disney fan's dream. The Christmas decorations made it even more special and I just couldn't help breaking into a huge smile whenever I strolled down this street. 

Disney Princess Parade

This was another parade we stumbled upon by accident and I'm really glad we managed to catch it. I didn't used to be a big fan of the Disney princesses but they've definitely grown on me over the last few years after visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. Belle is my favourite Disney princess, closely followed by Rapunzel and Aurora. The princesses came out of the castle in all their finery then swanned past us one by one, waving to the crowds. Their dresses were beautiful and it certainly brightened up a rainy afternoon. 

What do you love about Disneyland Paris? Do you agree with my top ten? Let me know what you think! 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Disneyland Paris... these are a few of my favourite things #1

We went to Disneyland Paris at the beginning of December and I can't believe I haven't blogged about it yet! It was a lovely break just before Christmas and I really enjoyed the experience of going on holiday in December. Having been to Florida's Walt Disney World twice, it was interesting to compare the two locations and to have a different Disney holiday slightly closer to home.

I don't think we'll ever to go Florida's Walt Disney World so close to Christmas as we like going there when it's hot. Consequently, I'm so glad I got to experience all the Christmas parades, decorations and so on in Disneyland Paris. Disney and Christmas really is a magical combination and I'm pretty obsessed with both!

Here are a few of my favourite things about Disneyland Paris... I decided to split my list into two posts as I wanted to share so many photos. Enjoy the first instalment!

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Sleeping Beauty's castle is the majestic showpiece of Paris' Disneyland Park and it really is a beautiful spectacle. I mostly love the fact that it's pink! It's surrounded by lots of greenery which adds to its fairytale aura, and the different levels and turrets are so immacutely detailed. You can even climb an internal staircase to the first level of the castle which gives you a lovely view of the park and a closer view of the castle's beautiful turrets. The castle also looks amazing once it gets dark... you really have to be there to appreciate its full beauty at night as photographs can't do it justice!

Space Mountain 

I love this ride in Florida's Magic Kingdom, and this version is even better! I screamed with sheer joy throughout this entire ride and we went on as many times as the queue would allow. The vast majority of this ride is conducted in darkness, as the name suggests... I think that might be why I love it so much. You just never know what's coming! It's full of sharp turns and drops and you do feel quite bruised at the end of it as a result of being bumped around so much, but I just love it. You absolutely HAVE to try it if you ever visit either Disneyland Paris or Walt Disney World. 

Disney Village

The Disney Village is a mini version of Florida's Downtown Disney and we spent lots of time here. It's conveniently located in between both parks so it was a nice place to wander to for lunch or for a break from the long queues. It was also a good place to run to during the heavy rain on our second day! The Disney Village is full of restaurants, shops and bars, including a MASSIVE Earl of Sandwich restaurant, a Rainforest Cafe, and several huge Disney Stores. It also had little huts scattered along the walkways which sold coffee, mulled wine, pretzels, doughnuts, muffins and so on. These added to the Christmassy atmosphere, particularly the mulled wine! 

Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy

The Ratatouille ride is the newest attraction in Disneyland Paris and is hugely popular. We ran for this ride as soon as the park opened so only had to queue for half an hour or so, but the queue was already up to nearly two hours by the time we'd finished on the ride. This Parisian area of the park is so well designed and it's very authentic. Ratatouille is one of my favourite Pixar films so I really loved this simulator ride. It's very unique, as well as being amazingly and intricately designed (like most things in any Disney park). It's a family friendly ride but I still screamed quite a lot... I think I just like screaming on rides to convey my joy. This ride doesn't exist in Florida so it was great to experience something totally new and innovative. Another ride you definitely shouldn't miss!  

Christmas parade 

I love Christmas and I love a good parade. As you'd expect from any Disney parade, this one was beautifully orchestrated with perfect details. There was even some fake snow! The parade featured lots of my favourite characters (including Eeyore!) and the music made me want to dance and jump around...  not much makes me want to dance and jump around in public, believe me. We just happened to stumble upon lots of crowds lining the main street in Disneyland Park one afternoon and realised that the parade was starting in ten minutes. Impeccable timing, and we even managed to get a brilliant standing spot. Disney Christmas parades are definitely the best parades. 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about a few of my favourite things in Disneyland Paris... look out for my follow-up post in a few days on another five favourite things!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Restaurant review: The Captain's Wife

The Captain's Wife is more of a pub than a restaurant, but I didn't want to disrupt the title of my series! Just humour me...

We visited The Captain's Wife back in November to celebrate our three month wedding anniversary. I'd never been there before but I'd heard lots of good things (particularly about their portion sizes) so I was pretty excited. We decided a few hours before lunchtime that we'd like to give it a go, so we simply went online and booked a table there and then. Hassle-free!

The Captain's Wife is situated in a little village a mile or so from our house so I'm not sure why we've never thought to visit it before. It was a gloriously sunny day which really showed off the restaurant's beautiful surroundings, and I could have stood outside taking photos for hours. However, I love my food too much for this to be a realistic possibility. Ever.

I'd been yearning for a roast dinner for weeks so I opted for their Sunday roast with turkey. This was my first roast dinner since the wedding so my levels of anticipation were very high, and I was absolutely famished (as usual). We didn't have to wait too long for our food even though the restaurant was fairly busy, and the dinner was rather impressive when it arrived...

I was lovingly gazing at the parsnips and roast potatoes so I didn't even notice that there were no vegetables on my plate. They came along in a separate dish which I then added topsy-turvily to my plate, but I made sure I took the 'before' picture as my presentation skills aren't very good when it comes to food!

It was a proper mountain of food but I valiantly ate every morsel, as I'm sure you'd expect from me by now. The roast potatoes were particularly good, as well as the yorkshire pudding. Parsnips are my favourite vegetable in the world so I heartily enjoyed those too. You just can't beat a massive roast dinner!

You'd have thought we couldn't even consider ordering dessert after eating this lot... you thought wrong. I ordered the peanut butter and chocolate cheesecake without thinking twice as the description in the menu was simply salivating. 

Our desserts did take a while to appear from the kitchen but I didn't mind too much when I saw mine. Just look at that sugary chocolatey pile of goodness! I took a photo halfway through to show all the different layers... so tasty. There was a huge layer of cream on the top and a generous helping of chocolate sauce around the edges, as well as a beautiful chocolate base. I'm not even a huge fan of peanut butter when it comes out of a jar, but the layer of peanut butter on the top and the cheesecake mixture itself were just amazing. I (obviously) ate every bit of this course too. 

Needless to say, we'll definitely be back in The Captain's Wife soon. The location is perfect for us and the food was so reasonable considering the sheer volume of it. It was also exquisite! The atmosphere was very homely and family-friendly, and it was just a lovely experience all round with friendly staff and beautiful views from the rustic windows. It also has a seating area outside if you fancied a drink in the sun. This place is just perfect for anniversary meals, birthday occasions or just a normal sunny Sunday. Or a rainy Sunday, but your external photos won't look so nice!  

Have you ever been to The Captain's Wife? Did you also manage two courses...? Let me know what you thought! 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Fake Christmas 2015

Fake Christmas is an age-old tradition... ten years old, in fact.

My friends and I celebrated our first ever Fake Christmas in 2004, during our first year at university. The idea was born when we decided to have our own very Christmas Day before we went home for actual Christmas. This involved Christmas dinner, Christmas presents, Christmas music... you get the picture. Someone referred to the day as 'Fake Christmas', and the name has stuck ever since.

I'm so glad we carried on the tradition after we left university as it's the one occasion we all attend without fail. As we all scattered to different places after we finished university, Fake Christmas now involves travelling to different parts of the country every year to the host's house. We've toured to Cardiff, London, Minehead and Milton Keynes so far! We also now meet in January rather than in December as it's so difficult to find a date before Christmas to suit everyone. It's also nice to have something to look forward to during the inevitable bleakness and diet-fest of January.

We travelled to Milton Keynes for the 2015 edition of Fake Christmas as Fee and Dave had kindly offered to host. Our partners have been invited for the last two years, so there were 11 of us present for this year's spectacular. Ten years since our very first Fake Christmas!

Kirsty is the Head Chef for Fake Christmas dinner due to her rather immense cooking skills... I particularly love Kirsty's cauliflower cheese, gravy and roast potatoes. I generally stick to chopping duty as I haven't got the slightest bit of experience when it comes to cooking roast dinners. The girls worked on the dinner in the kitchen while the boys played Wii U games in the lounge. This gave us a chance to catch up and to discuss our hilarious and rather catastrophic catalogue of ex boyfriends... those anecdotes never get old.

Our Christmas dinner was ready at around 5pm and was spectacular as per usual...

Mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, broccoli, carrots, sprouts fried with bacon, normal sprouts, parsnips, pigs in blankets, bread sauce, chicken, gravy, stuffing... ACTUALLY AMAZING. As yon can imagine, I was pretty full after eating this lot. 

However, there's always room for dessert. Liz has made a Christmas cake for the last few Fake Christmasses and the tenth anniversary was no exception. This year's cake was beautifully decorated (and tasted pretty good too), and Liz even bought a special anniversary decoration!

After dinner, the boys took over the kitchen to clean and wash the dishes and we retired to the lounge to exchange gifts. We decided that we'd only buy for one person this year instead of buying for the whole group as there are so many of us these days. I had lots of lovely presents from Kirsty including a Disney notebook, nail varnish, weekly memo board and a Love Hearts mug. 

When the boys re-joined us (leaving a sparkling kitchen in their wake), we proceeded with our other Secret Santa ceremony. In a nutshell, everyone spends £5 on the most rubbish/random collection of items they can find then the lucky recipients are randomly drawn on the day. This year's gifts included obscure children's toys, a goldfish pencil sharpener, chocolates, edible eyes, Tango shower gel, an expandable flannel, a One Direction annual and rucksack, a Rhydian CD, 'BOOM' party glasses... you get the idea. 

After the excitement of opening the presents and having a little mini slump/nap after food, we proceeded to play games on the Wii U until it was time for bed. Who knew that jumping over ski slopes, drawing pictures and racing animals could be so much fun? I don't enjoy video games as a general rule but even I had to admit that the Wii U games were so much fun. 

Fake Boxing Day is always sad because it means we're all going back to our respective homes and won't see each other again for a while. However, we've got Fee's hen weekend and wedding to look forward to in the next few months so all is not lost. 

Do you have any similar Christmas traditions with your friends or family? I'd love to read your posts if you've blogged about similar rituals!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Walking in a (sunny) winter wonderland

Regular readers of my blog will already know that I'm lucky enough to live near Cosmeston Country Park. We had lovely weather in between Chrismas and New Year so we decided to go for a spontaneous walk around the lakes one sunny afternoon.

Believe it or not, we haven't had a chance to go for a long walk together since we got married over four months ago. Having a mortgage seems to take up an awful lot of time (and money)! We made the most of some rare free time, wrapped up warm and went for a leisurely stroll.

I could never go to Cosmeston without taking lots of photos. Here are the best of the bunch:

Have you been on any scenic walks over the Christmas break? I'd love to see your photos so please feel free to send me some links to your picturesque posts. 

Oh, as an aside, I gravely apologise for the unimaginative title of this post. For someone who works in marketing and communications, I don't seem to be very creative when it comes to titles! 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Outfit of the Day - Christmas sales!

I haven't written an 'Outfit of the Day' post since May 2014... I thought it was about time I rectified this!

Like everyone else in the UK, I've been scouring the Christmas sales for the last week or so and have snapped up some lovely bargains. I wore two of my favourite finds to the cinema last week...

Leather jacket - New Look
Skirt - Debenhams
Snood and gloves - Next (out of stock)
Boots - New Look
Bag - Venice!

I've had my eye on this leather jacket from New Look for months. However, it was previously £64.99 which I just couldn't justify. When I noticed that it had been reduced to £33, I just couldn't say no. In fact, I actually bought it on my phone at 5:30am as I was so eager to buy it before it sold out. It's real leather unlike most of New Look's other jackets, so it was an absolute bargain. I love the peplum detail and it's a very slimming jacket. Lovely fit!

As for the skirt, I bought it from the Debenhams half price sale. I've been looking for a tartan skirt for a while and thought this one was a lovely colour and a different style to any of the other skirts I own. I paid £14 for this skirt instead of £28... another bargain. 

I treated myself to the snood and gloves from Next a few months ago... I love winter purely because I get to wear all my scarves and gloves (and sneakily buy a few more). The black boots from New Look were also a post honeymoon purchase and they're ridiculously comfortable, as well as being a perfect match for the jacket.

As for the beautiful bag, I bought it from the Guess store in Venice while we were on honeymoon. I had to save very hard to gather enough spending money to take on honeymoon so I thought I'd treat myself while I was there. I'm a bit obsessed with big handbags at the moment and this one goes with absolutely everything. My favourite bag in the world!

What were your favourite sale purchases? Send me your links! 

Friday, 2 January 2015

300 posts!

Happy new year! I've somehow timed my latest blogging milestone to coincide with the new year... what a convenient coincidence.

I thought I'd continue with my milestone tradition by discovering which posts have been most popular since I started my blog. I changed my blog name and URL in the first half of 2014 which had a detrimental effect on my blog views, so a lot of the posts below also featured in my '200 posts' entry. However, there are a few newbies in there (specifically the restaurant reviews!) and I'm hoping there'll be a few more new posts in my '400 posts' entry, whenever that milestone comes around.

So without further waffle (I do love a good waffle), here are my ten most popular posts...

1. Hollister Addison... best perfume ever?
2. Film review: The Great Gatsby
3. Frantic about Florida #2
4. Duffy the Disney Bear
5. Costa, Nero or Starbucks?
6. Cineworld Unlimited card
7. There's no surprise quite like a McFly surprise 
8. New York #4 - Rockefeller Center
9. Restaurant review: Harvester
10. Restaurant review: Cedar Tree Farm 

The ten posts above are clearly a very eclectic mix... from beauty to film reviews to Disney to holidays to restaurant reviews! This proves that all kinds of unique people with different interests read my blog, and also that people seem to enjoy reading a wide variety of posts from contrasing categories on a lifestyle blog. I've never liked to pigeonhole myself into a particular category in any aspect of my life, and this philosophy applies to my blog too.

Have you read any of the posts featured above? What posts would you like to see more of in 2015? Let me know!