Viva Las Vegas

What happens in Vegas, goes on my blog! That’s how the saying goes, right?

Back in May 2019 8 of us girls boarded a plane to Las Vegas, Nevada. Whilst I know the city doesn’t appeal to some, I was excited for a few days in the sun with my friends. There are also some really great things to see if gambling and drinking aren’t your type of thing. My photos aren’t the best from this trip (due to the aforementioned activities) but hopefully they give you an idea of some fun things to do in Las Vegas!

We booked a trip to the Grand Canyon ahead of time – it was a must-see for me. We went with Maverick Helicopters on the Grand Canyon Explorer tour. It’s a small airplane that takes you to the South Rim on a short shuttle bus tour (our tour guide was the cutest guy who made us a packed lunch) where you can get off and explore the views and hiking trails yourself. The views were nothing short of spectacular – it’s impossible to describe the vastness of it.

A tour of the hotels is a worthy activity in Vegas. They’re so enormous and unique, and you could spend a couple of days seeing all of them.

The Venetian was definitely my favourite; the theming is incredible, it’s even got its own canal and gondolas. You forget you’re in a busy American city. The Bellagio is another beautiful hotel I’d recommend visiting – the Botanical Gardens change display every season.

There are 3 amazing rides at the top of The STRAT Hotel. Non-guests can go straight up and buy tickets for the rides overlooking the incredible Las Vegas Valley.

There are so many restaurants to try in Las Vegas, from fast food to fine dining. Two of my top places were STK and Catch – both slightly pricey but worth it with incredible food and amazing service.

The Neon Museum is also really worth the trip. They look after old hotel and casino signage in their main collection, the “Neon Boneyard”, hosting more than 200 unrestored signs, including the old Hard Rock guitar.

Have you ever been to Las Vegas? Let me know your recommendations in the comments – I am fully planning to go back one day and see what I missed!

New Year’s Eve Magic at Disneyland Paris

Spending New Year’s Eve at Disneyland Paris was pretty special, as you can imagine. It was such a different experience for the occasion, with so many memorable things to do. I was ecstatic before I even walked into the park (photo evidence below)!

In this post I’ll share some of my top tips for making the most out of the evening. I’m sure there are many more guides out there, but this is just some of my advice from my trip in 2019. Undoubtedly there will be changes for the next few years but hopefully this helps you plan a little better! You can visit my previous blog post here for more on a trip to Disneyland Paris in December.

Getting in
The New Year’s Eve tickets don’t let you in officially until 5pm. We had a big lunch at a restaurant in nearby Montévrain so we didn’t have to worry about finding dinner later. You can book a special New Year’s Eve dinner at one of the restaurants in Disneyland Paris, but they are pretty expensive. The Christmas market in Disney Village is also worth a wander if you have some spare time!

Whilst the tickets said 5pm, we got in around 4.30pm and the queue was quite big in front of us, so you could potentially get in a while ahead of the stated time.

Quick plan stop
As you arrive, cast members give out guides to the evening with all of the timings. Check what time the smaller shows and activities are on, and plan around the two parades and midnight fireworks. Grab any fast passes you want for the big rides, and make sure they fit your schedule so you don’t miss anything! We swapped some of our fast pass tickets with another group once we realised they clashed with one of the parades. Disneyland Park was open until 2am, excluding Fantasyland, which shut earlier prepare for the fireworks.

When we went, the parades were around 8.30pm and 10.30pm. Unfortunately we didn’t have a great view of one of the parades as people start getting their spots from very early, but it was so fun all the same.

Activities
Some of the aforementioned activities you could check out include free face painting, smaller shows like The Royal Sparkling Winter Waltz with the Disney princesses, and a festive sing-along with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy. There are also many character meets with lesser-spotted Disney characters, but these queues can become huge so make sure you factor that in when deciding what to do.

Getting around
Around 5-6pm, the cast members start setting up barriers around the lands to stop non-NYE ticket holders from sticking around. They draw everyone towards Main Street U.S.A. to watch the Illuminations fireworks. It wasn’t very clear at first to us NYE first-timers, but if you showed your wrist band to the cast members monitoring these barriers, you were allowed through to continue going on the rides.

They put the wait times of the rides up to 100 minutes to dissuade non-NYE guests on queueing, but once again if you show your wristband they’ll let you know the real time, which was usually 5 minutes or less! We went on Big Thunder Mountain as Illuminations was going on, and the view was spectacular!

Have you been to Disneyland Paris at New Year’s Eve? Let me know if you have any tips or questions in the comments!

London Christmas Delights

London has the best Christmas lights, there’s no doubt about it. Not only are the streets always colourfully lit up, but restaurants and shops go all out to spruce up their fronts for the festive season.

Trying to decide where to go can be slightly overwhelming – there’s just so much to see! I recently used The Curious Pixie’s walking tour as a base to see some of the highlights in Central London this year. It was a great opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit and snap some festive shots.

I ventured ever so slightly off the tour’s recommendation, so my route is below. They’re all within easy walking distance of each other, so it’s not a problem if you discover your own route. The tour can take around 40 minutes, but ours was much longer as we took so many photographs and ventured into some of the shops.

We started with Oxford Street and Regent Street, which have beautiful lights hanging above to enjoy as you shop. Just past H&M on Regent Street, head left down Foubert’s Place until you reach Carnaby Street, which has partnered with charity Choose Love for their light display. Further down Carnaby Street you can find Kingly Court, one of my favourite places in London. It has a fantastic range of restaurants and is under shelter – perfect for winter in the city.

Back onto Regent Street, follow the road round and cross on the right to Piccadilly. Turning right onto Piccadilly, you’ll spot department store Fortnum & Mason – you can’t miss its red façade. We also popped inside to see the incredible Christmas decorations they sell (and to shelter from the rain, of course – it’s London)!

On the other side of the road is the historic Burlington Arcade, the world’s first shopping arcade! Their luxurious Christmas decorations are picture-perfect. Walk all the way through to enjoy some window shopping, and you’ll reach New Bond Street on the other side, home to Cartier’s dazzling Christmas décor. Most of the designer shops down this road have impressive Christmas designs.

Back round onto Piccadilly and head back towards Piccadilly Circus, turning right once you get there towards Waterloo Place. Sofitel London St James has a brilliant tree on the square – we even saw Santa Claus!

From here it’s about a 15 minute walk through Leicester Square towards Covent Garden, which is the perfect place to stop for a hot chocolate or mulled wine and admire their bright decorations.

I also went to Chelsea at the weekend, which is another great spot to get in the festive spirit in London. King’s Road has its own lights, and the stores and restaurants have gone all out – even some homes are dressed up!

Have you got anywhere else in London you’d recommend for a festive walk? Share it in the comments!

Christmastime at Disneyland Paris

Last July, I received a text from my cousin: “So Paris. When?” Within about 3 hours, we’d booked Disneyland Paris for a few days after Christmas, including New Year’s Eve (thank goodness for book now, pay later). It was undoubtedly the most magical way to spend New Year’s Eve, full of classic Disney moments and surprises.

This will be quite a photo heavy post, as I just have so many to share. The Disney Parks at Christmastime are just the most photogenic! I’ll write about New Year’s Eve below but I’ll also be working on a post about my top tips for NYE at Disneyland Paris, so let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions!

Looking back at these pictures almost a year on makes my heart melt. I’m so grateful we got to go before the chaos that has been 2020. We stayed at the Dream Castle Hotel, just a short free shuttle ride to the parks. Our room for the 3 of us was huge, and included a great view and hearty breakfast (much-needed for those long Disney days). We also took advantage of the relaxing spa and pool to rest our feet!

The daily Disney Stars on Parade

We stayed from the 28th December until 1st January with a 3-day ticket to both parks, Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, as well as our separate New Year’s Eve ticket. The first couple of days we used to ride as many of the rides as possible, buy all the Christmas decorations we could fit in our bags, and eat many Mickey shaped treats. The Disney Stars parade and night time spectacular, Disney Illuminations, were as joyful as ever!

We also visited the Disneyland Hotel, which you can enter even if you’re not a guest. At Christmastime they have an incredible Gingerbread House and Christmas tree display, which is perfect for photos. The smell is just so nostalgic and Christmassy, I can’t recommend taking some time in your schedule to visit the hotel enough!

There were 2 parades on New Year’s Eve. The first was the Disney New Year’s Eve Parade at 8.30pm, with some special character appearances as well as the usual daily Stars on Parade crew! The second was the Countdown to Fun Street Party at 10.30pm, with tons of characters in their special cars, including the Incredibles and Mushu (two of my highlights)! Most of the rides had really short queues (they lead all non-NYE ticket holders out around 6pm), and there are also smaller special events on throughout the park including free face painting, shows with the Princesses and Mickey and the gang, and meet and greets (the queues for these were gigantic).

Of course, the fireworks at the countdown to midnight were beautiful. They lasted for about 10 minutes, and focused on 2019 releases such as Aladdin, Star Wars and Marvel’s Avengers, as well as some old favourites, with a big finale. Afrojack came out afterwards to DJ until 2am! The rides (except for Fantasyland) were also open until this time, and with the younger kids heading home by then, the rides were practically all walk-on.

Some quick iPhone snaps of the fireworks and Afrojack DJ set – I was too excited!

I’d highly recommend Disneyland Paris for New Year’s Eve – there’s nothing quite like a bit of Disney magic at any time of the year, but especially Christmastime. Look out for my top tips for New Year’s Eve at the Disneyland Park, coming soon, and comment below if you have any questions!

Summer in Seville

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I’ve been taking the time over lockdown (thank you, coronavirus) to sort out all of my travel photographs and organise some blog posts. First up is the beautiful Seville! Admittedly, this post was prepared a long time ago but I guess you could say I lost confidence with my little blog and it took a backseat – let’s get back on the horse, shall we?

If I’m completely honest, a trip to Seville had never crossed my mind before but the sunny city proved to be the perfect September getaway. Easily done in a long weekend, the traditional Spanish streets were perfect for wandering, lined with boutiques and sweet bars to hide away from the sun (and play a good card game). What else are holidays for?

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We stayed in a lovely Airbnb by the river which was a short walk to Alameda De Hercules, a fun square with bars and restaurants. The city is full of photogenic spots, including the beautiful Plaza de España (pictured above) and Parque de Maria Luisa. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was even filmed at the Plaza de España.

It’s very much a walking city; everything is within a short distance and it’s easy to while away the time as you wander the streets. You can find charming boutiques and cafés in the Jewish Quarter, just behind the Royal Alcázar of Seville – a magnificent palace with a mix of Christian and Mudéjar architecture. The palace has also been a screen star, appearing on the famous series Game of Thrones. Book in advance for a €4 student ticket and skip the huge queues. Be warned – you’ll spend hours in there!

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The weather was glorious in September but in the afternoon it reached up to 36 degrees – the perfect time to hide in those bars I mentioned!

Hot spots

  • Museum of Flamenco – only €15 for a student ticket (€22 for full adult) for a fantastic show and cheap sangria!
  • H2go! paddle boarding and kayaking – this was such a lovely way to spend our final evening, paddling along the beautiful river as the sun set!
  • Las Setas De Sevilla – the famous wooden structure in the old quarter, with great views across the city.
  • La Azotea – a very chic restaurant, with delicious seafood dishes. They also cater for dairy-free and gluten-free diets.
  • Ice Wave – very instagrammable ice cream, frozen in front of you (picture at the end of this post)!

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Venice

If there’s been one place I’ve visited that has exceeded my expectations, it’s Venice. It is even more beautiful in real life than in pictures, so I really hope this blog post does it justice!

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There aren’t many words to describe how beautiful it is, so I’ll let the photos do (most of) the talking. We stayed in the elegant Hotel Palazzo Giovanelli, located by the San Stae vaporetto stop which was a slightly quieter area of Venice that was still only a short walk to St Mark’s Square. A long weekend in May was a great time to go as it was around 25℃ every day – perfect to walk around and explore without getting too hot.

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On our first day, we strolled over to St Mark’s Square for a tour of the Doge’s Palace with Turive Tours. It was a great morning and we learnt so much about Venice’s history. After lunch, we couldn’t resist a gondola ride! When in Venice…

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Murano, Burano and Torcello

My favourite day of our holiday had to be our day trip to the Lagoon Islands. We took the water taxi to Murano first, the island famous for glass blowing. It was so pretty and peaceful, but we were mainly looking forward to the colourful island of Burano, also known for lace-making. A tip: when we got off the water taxi, we went left into the village instead of straight ahead to the centre of the island and it was so quiet! After hours spent wandering the vibrant streets, we headed to Torcello before taking the water taxi back to Venice and having dinner down the widest street in the city.

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My favourite spots

San Giorgio Maggiore
The perfect place to enjoy an amazing view of Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century church filled with magnificent religious paintings, sitting on an island of the same name that’s just a short vaporetto ride away from St Mark’s. Get the elevator (phew!) to the top of the bell tower for a beautiful view that’s much quieter than elsewhere.

Gelateria Il Doge, Dorsoduro
The best ice cream we found in Venice! I couldn’t get enough of the Stracciatella flavour – it’s a ‘milk-based gelato’ with chocolate chips and was created in Italy, so you know you’re getting the best.

Muro San Stae
This restaurant was recommended to me by a friend and it was fantastic. The service was great and the food was epic – pasta in a PARMESAN SHELL, anyone?! Another must-try is the homemade tiramisu!

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy Guggenheim herself lived in the unfinished 18th century Grand Canal palace which is now a museum of her impressive art collection. Including works by Picasso and Salvador Dalí, it was an inspiring, calming escape from the busy streets.

 

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Ciao for now, Venice, I’ll definitely be back soon!

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My top tips for Walt Disney World

A trip to Disney is a pretty big holiday to plan. So much goes into it – where to stay, where to eat, fast passes, restaurant bookings, using the app, and so much more. With four theme parks and two water parks, you want to make sure you plan your time well so you get the most out of your trip.

On our two week trip last year we visited all of the Disney parks as well as the two Universal parks; Universal and Islands of Adventure. Our plan made sure we visited every place we wanted to, as well as having a few rest days to enjoy the Florida sun (and fit in a skydive)! Don’t think that all this planning ruins the trip, it ensures you use your time effectively and it makes you more excited for Disney!

I’m writing this post to hopefully help other visitors, first-time or not, get the most out of their Disney experience. However, I’m no expert and there are so many in-depth guides out there, which I’ll be linking to! You can check out more of my highlights on my previous post.

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Booking your tickets
We used Attractions Tickets Direct for our Disney tickets. It’s nice to book with a trusted company, as they can help you if anything goes wrong. It also means your tickets usually have a special added extra – we had tickets to the Cirque de Soleil show at Disney Springs! Our two-week tickets got us into all of the Disney parks as well as the 3 Universal parks, and included the My Memory Maker for Disney (usually an extra 169USD).

My Disney Experience 
The app is a dream (screenshot above). With your advance tickets, you can book your fast passes, character meetings and restaurants, see live queue times, save all of your Memory Maker photos and more. All of the parks have free WiFi to use the app. Add your ticket code to it and invite the rest of your party so you can coordinate your days. There’s a great guide here with a lot more information.

Pick your top rides
If you’ve visited Disney before, you know your favourite places. The first thing each of us did was write a list of our top rides or locations so nobody missed out on their favourites.

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Get guided
Lots of guide books and online sources share the best days for each of the parks. We used the Brit Guide Orlando 2017, and we found that it was right the majority of the time. Magic Kingdom on a Monday meant we got 13 rides in one day! Which leads me onto my next point…

FastPass + time
FastPass + is when you book an hour time slot for your favourite or most popular rides on the My Disney Experience app. You can choose your FastPass+ ride selection up to 30 days before your first day, and if you’re in a Disney hotel, it’s 60 days. As soon as that date hits you want to be on the app booking them, especially newer rides such as Avatar’s Flight of Passage! You get 3 FastPasses a day and once you’ve used them up you can hop on the app and book more as you go.

Eat, love, Disney
As well as booking your FastPasses, you can also make your dining reservations for the parks on My Disney Experience up to 180 days in advance. The restaurant bookings are insane. When I tell you that I was booking some of our dinners almost 6 months in advance and evenings were fully booked, I’m not exaggerating!

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Be camera ready
For those of you with Memory Maker, take advantage of it! There are so many photographers around to get great pictures of you, and it means nobody is left out as the cameraman. From views of the castle to character meetings to rides, there are so many photo-ops. Just scan your ticket or MagicBand and the pictures save to your app where you can easily download them to your phone. There’s an in-depth guide on MickeyBlog.com.

Getting around
We used our rental cars to get to and from the parks as we stayed very close in the Windsor Hills Resort, but there are plenty of hotels and resorts that have shuttle buses to get you to Walt Disney World. There are also plenty of shuttle buses to get around the various parks and resorts. The parking is $20 a day, even if you leave and come back.

The countdown is on!
Get an app, a little whiteboard, use your calendar – anything to get excited for visiting the happiest place in the world!

Disney Diary

This time last year I was walking into Animal Kingdom with my family for the first time in 8 years. Walt Disney World Orlando has always held a special place in my heart – I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times with family and those trips are some of my favourite memories of my childhood.

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There’s something so magical about walking down Main Street for the first time and seeing the castle sneak into view. It may sound odd to some, but there’s a sense of escapism at Disney that you just don’t feel on other holidays. Where else can you jump off a 50mph rollercoaster and grab a Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwich before bumping into Olaf for a warm hug? Not forgetting the magic of the Universal parks.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my trip, but here are some of my highlights with a mix of iPhone and camera photos! We spent the first few days of our trip to Florida in Clearwater Beach, which was stunning. Perhaps we should’ve saved this part for the end of our trip, though, as it was so relaxing and peaceful. The calm before the Disney storm!

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We stayed in a Windsor Hills villa and it was perfect – a 10 minute drive from the parks with comfy beds and a lovely pool! The blue circle in the app picture above is how close we were to the parks. There is a shuttle bus, but it wasn’t as frequent as we thought so we mainly used our rental cars.

Animal Kingdom was as beautiful as ever, and the new addition of Pandora takes it up a level. My top ride (probably of the whole trip) has to be the Avatar Flight of Passage – the technology is epic! Pandora is great to wander around – make sure to try the refreshing, super-sweet Night Blossom drink. A few of my other top spots are Expedition Everest (of course), the wonderful Lion King Show and the Kali River Rapids to cool off in the Florida heat!

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Magic Kingdom has always been my favourite of the parks. On our first day back there we managed to fit in 13 rides (thank you FastPass)! This trip to Disney was our first time dining inside the park restaurants, and the first we visited was Be Our Guest at the Beauty and the Beast Castle where I got to try the ‘grey stuff’ – yes, it’s delicious!

More of my favourite moments in Magic Kingdom were the three mountains (Space, Splash and Thunder), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland and the classic Peter Pan ride. The point before the big drop on Splash Mountain, with the great view of the castle, is my favourite MK moment, as well as the Festival of Fantasy parade.

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While we were in Florida, it was my cousin Amy’s 23rd birthday and we celebrated in Epcot. We had a great experience at the Nine Dragons Chinese, where they treated Amy to a slice of cake and cocktails! Epcot is a great place to wander in the sun, especially around the Epcot World Showcase. Soarin’ and Test Track are our old family favourites, too!

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Hollywood Studios has another two of the best rides – the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. We got chatting to the loveliest cast member, Edward, who gave us Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster fast passes after hearing that we didn’t have enough time to wait in the queue! The fireworks show Fantasmic was as magnificent as I remembered.

I can’t forget about the Disney waterparks and Disney Springs. Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are great to cool off in the sun in the mornings and there are so many fun rides – the 6ft tidal wave is such a rush! Disney Springs is the new ‘Downtown Disney’, with restaurants, shows and shops, including the World of Disney, the biggest Disney store!

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Another highlight of my trip which was surprisingly non-theme park related was my skydive! Amy wanted to do one for her birthday and, honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I’d highly recommend Florida Skydiving Lake Wales!

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I hope you enjoyed my Disney Diary. Look out for more Florida posts coming soon!

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Falling in love with Lisbon

Portugal’s capital made the perfect September city break (I know I’m running a bit late, let’s just call this post a throwback). The city is made for those who like to explore on foot – the quiet streets climbing up the hills are great for wandering, but bring good shoes!

The views are wonderful, the September sun is just right, and the famously colourful tiles and gorgeous light make for great pictures. Our 3-day trip was short and sweet, and left me wanting more! We strolled through the cobbled streets and ate our way through ice cream and pastries – the best way to spend a long weekend, right?

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Hot spots

H10 Duque de Loulé
A beautiful hotel with a great rooftop bar which is open to visitors. We visited on a Saturday night and it wasn’t busy at all. Cosy up in the cool evening breeze and take in the spectacular view of the city.

Open Brasserie Mediterrânica
Some of our party had food allergies so we were eager to find a restaurant that could accommodate all of us. The Open Brasserie Mediterrânica had knowledgable, friendly staff and a great choice of meals for everybody, including vegan and gluten free. I recommend the pumpkin gnocchi!

Belém
Belém, a charming district just a tram ride away from the centre, fast became my favourite part of the city. There was a photogenic door or wall at every turn through the peaceful, colourful streets and the Tropical Botanical Garden was perfect for chilling out in the sun.

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Brief is life but love is long

That quote, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was spotted on the table settings of Bethany and Michael’s wedding in September 2017. Bethany is my best friend’s sister, and I couldn’t have asked for a lovelier couple to work with as I captured my first full wedding. From getting ready to the ceremony to the first dance, this wedding was full of love. You’ll see what I mean when you scroll down and see the way he looks at her (oh, my heart…). Enjoy!

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All photos copyright Alannah Lucy Messett. Do not repost without permission.