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The signature warm chocolate-banana torte at Citricos

Free dining with 2015 Walt Disney World holidays!

Our lovely visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando seems such a long time ago now.  I’m already pining for the sunshine, for Anna and Elsa, and, more importantly, all that amazing food.

Once upon a time (see what I did there?) I think most people thought that all you could probably eat while you were at Walt Disney World parks and resorts was junk food, or maybe Mickey-shaped ice creams.  Now, people are starting to realise that Walt Disney World features some of the best dining in the world, whether you’re after a snack, quick-service, grab and go option, or proper fine dining with table service.

So what can you expect?

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Frozen cupcake topper

How to make Disney Frozen cupcakes – a masterclass with Chef Jeff

One of my absolute favourite adventures while we were in Walt Disney World was a special, money can’t buy visit to Chef Jeff, Executive Chef at Disney’s beautiful Contemporary Resort, one of my top five Walt Disney World resort hotels.  Chef Jeff and his team are responsible for all the patisserie for the resort, from gorgeous special occasion cakes, to the wonderful cupcakes available in the café.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

The incredible Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

So as I mentioned recently, I’ve been in Orlando for a few days with my friend Laura, experiencing the fabulous food (plus the odd ride, parade, and other lovely things) available throughout Walt Disney World.

One of the highlights of Walt Disney World for me is Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I adore the showbiz theming – it feels like a real movie set, with all the main areas seamlessly blending into each other.

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Mine train

Hi ho! The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at New Fantasyland, Walt Disney World, Florida

New Fantasyland is fast becoming one of my favourite places at the Magic Kingdom.  Last time I was there it was for the official opening, and last week, I was over in Florida again for the official press event to celebrate the imminent opening of the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  We were lucky enough to get exclusive access to the ride during a fabulous party at Epcot (there’s NO party like a Disney party!) where we hung out with the likes of Elsa, Anna and Olaf!

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Disney's BoardWalk Bakery

Cupcakes at the BoardWalk Bakery, Walt Disney World, Florida

So if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (and frankly, why wouldn’t you? There’s cake, beaches, ships and the lunatic whippet of mass destruction makes the odd appearance too), you’ll know that I’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, Florida.  I have loads to tell you – there’s news of the opening of the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a review of the frankly beautiful Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort, and masses of food, fun and breaking Disney news (Avatar!!).

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The Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line’s amazing new ‘Frozen’ destinations for 2015

I’m a huge Disney Cruise Line fan, as you know.  We were on the Disney Magic last year cruising around the Mediterranean and it was just absolutely magical.  Of course, the Magic has now had an incredible revamp and is ready, all sparkly and new, to set sail along with the Fantasy and Wonder for new destinations in the summer of 2015.

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Disney's Boardwalk

My top five Walt Disney World Florida resort hotels

Some lovely friends of mine were in Florida recently, staying at the gorgeous Animal Kingdom Lodge and I happened to comment on one of their Facebook pictures ‘oh, that’s my FAVOURITE Walt Disney World resort!’.  I love the African styling, and the fact that you can see giraffes wandering outside your window.  But then I thought about the glorious Grand Floridian, and the quite incredible Contemporary Resort, and I realised, I can’t have just one.  I have to have at least five! Read more

The reimagineering of the Disney Magic Cruise Ship – a sneaky peak (with video!)

The beautiful Disney Magic in port at Villefranche, France – ENGLISH MUM

So as you know, August was a busy one for me.  First of all we whizzed around Britanny for two weeks in our lovely (borrowed) Honda CR-V, and then, with the most ridiculous timing known to man, we got home on the Friday night at 11pm and had to be at Heathrow at 5am the next morning to grab a flight to Barcelona to meet up with the Disney Magic, Disney’s wonderful cruise ship.

Our favourite sunbeds on the deck

Our favourite sunbeds on the deck

Are we mental? Yes, possibly, but this was a trip that I just couldn’t miss. Let me explain: the Disney Magic was Disney’s first cruise ship and is thought of especially fondly by everyone who loves Disney cruising (and Disney in general).  The boys and I were lucky to cruise around the Mediterranean, visiting Villefranche in France, La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Naples in Italy, before returning to Barcelona (more of all these amazing shore adventures later). Shortly after this, the Magic was heading to Cadiz to undergo a complete transformation under Disney’s incredibly talented team of ‘Imagineers’ (I love this name).

The Disney Magic is 15 years old.  FIFTEEN!  But obviously you’d never know it because nothing has ever been allowed to get old – there are no bits of bare carpet or faded curtains aboard a Disney ship – everything is monitored very carefully and has been kept pristine over the years, but still, fashions change, technology moves on, and Disney Cruise Line felt that the Magic deserved a flashy new makeover!

'Jazz hands!' Charlie meets Stitch

‘Jazz hands!’ Charlie meets Stitch

While we were on board, as well as getting the chance to visit Monaco, Rome and Pompeii, we had a once in a lifetime chance to spend time with lovely Frank De Heer, basically the  ‘Chief Imagineer’, but officially the Vice President of Disney Cruise Line Operations, and in charge of the Disney Magic’s incredible new look.  We wandered corridors, looked at public areas, staterooms, restaurants and kids’ clubs, all the time listening to Frank telling us his grand plans for each area, getting all the insider info about how the ship is going to look, including exclusive peeks at the new designs.  Here’s what I found out:

The Grand Atrium Lobby

This is the area where you first walk onto the ship (and where they introduce you and all the staff give you a round of applause, which always makes me cry).  It’s going to be completely transformed into an elegant Art Deco wonder, inspired by the sea, with a gorgeous new chandelier, and opened out by losing one of the staircases, but the much-loved ‘Helmsman Mickey’ bronze statue will stay, receiving a buff and polish to give him back his shine!

How the new atrium lobby will look pic: (c) Disney Cruise Line

How the new atrium lobby will look. Pic: (c) Disney Cruise Line

The pool areas and upper decks

We’ll be waving goodbye to the lovely Mickey pool (sniff), but the whole area is going to be reimagined, with a Huey, Dewey and Louie theme. There’ll be a fabulous new ”AquaDunk’ slide, which will take up three storeys of the deck and extend 20 feet out over the edge of the ship (and yup, you guessed it, it’s transparent!), and for the tiddlers, there’ll be an interactive water playground with jets, fountains and bubbly things galore, oh and a smaller slide called the ‘Twist’n’Spout’ so they don’t miss out!

Children's pool area

The current children’s pool area – we’ll be waving goodbye to Mickey! – ENGLISH MUM

Here’s a sneaky peak at the new look ‘Aqua Lab’ (with kind permission of Disney Cruise Line):

The new Aqua Lab water playground. Pic (c) Disney Cruise Line

The new Aqua Lab water playground. Pic (c) Disney Cruise Line

Restaurant areas

One of the things I loved about the whole project to reimagine the Disney Magic was that there was a sense of not fixing what isn’t broken.  The Animator’s Palate is one of my favourite places.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but the black and white line drawings in the restaurant REALLY come alive at night, and it’s a huge favourite with the guests (the food is amazing), and so the place will stay the same, but with a bit of sprucing up: state of the art new high-def flat screens, new animation, and updated characters too, including Disney-Pixar favourites.

One place that is going to change is Parrot Cay, the restaurant that provides buffet dining for breakfast and lunch, then a full service experience in the evening.  It’s going to be an AMAZING new, much bigger restaurant called Carioca’s (I’ve seen the pictures, oh my goodness), with a South American theme.  In the evening, it’ll be like dining al fresco in Rio. It’s gorgeous, with softly lit windows and amazing lanterns hanging from the ceiling.

Other bars and restaurants are being reimagined, and there’s a whole newly designed adult entertainment district called After Hours.  Ooh, and a new Irish pub and sports bar called O’Gills!  Lastly but not least, my favourite restaurant, Palo, will receive its own sprinkle of pixie dust, with new stone floors and glass artwork in keeping with its Venetian theme.

The Animator’s Palate – ENGLISH MUM

The Kids’ Clubs

When we were on the Disney Dream, I was really impressed by the kids’ club spaces.  The Disney Magic is going to take on a lot of those ideas, and more besides.  As you know, Marvel have now joined the Disney family and Marvel’s Avengers Academy, where the kids get to train to be a super hero through special missions, looks set to be fabulous, including Captain America’s shield and IRON MAN’S SUIT!!!:

DM-Avengers-Academy-640x288

The new Marvel’s Avengers Academy. Pic (c) Disney Cruise Line

My favourite new space by far, though, is going to be ‘Andy’s Room’, featuring a huge version of Andy’s bed, complete with a Slinky Dog slide and an enormous Mr Potato Head and everyone’s favourite piggy, Hamm.

Andy's Room. Pic (c) Disney Cruise Line

Andy’s Room. Pic (c) Disney Cruise Line

There will also be a new It’s a Small World Nursery for the youngest cruisers aged 3 months to 3 years, and Pixie Hollow for all the little fans of Tinker Bell (sadly, I’m too old) where there is a COSTUME CLOSET (be still my beating heart) shaped like Tinker Bell’s teapot house. The cuteness! It burns!

The Spa

The already-gorgeous spa with incredible ocean views is being expanded and redesigned and will offer a special new Chill Spa especially for teenagers aged 13 to 17.

The Staterooms

All the staterooms will be getting their own reimagineering too, with more space made available by clever imagineering like elevating the beds to provide storage underneath and obviously all-new soft furnishings and bathrooms.

The new staterooms. Pic: (c) Disney Cruise Line

The new staterooms. Pic: (c) Disney Cruise Line

All this work will be completed in Cadiz by October 10th and then in 2014 the Magic will be heading back to join the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy in Port Canaveral, Florida (the Disney Wonder home ports in Miami).

And what’s all this going to cost?  I hear you cry?

Just enough‘, says Frank, with a twinkle in his eye, ‘and not a dime more‘.

7-night Disney Magic Mediterranean Cruise from £949 per adult and £699 per child.  Virgin Holidays Cruises offers seven nights onboard Disney Magic from Barcelona, calling at Villefranche (for Nice, France), Pisa, Rome and Naples, including flights from London Gatwick and transfers. Prices are per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis. Based on a departure on 30 August 2014. Offer is subject to availability and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of our stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.

Palo seared tuna with potato risotto

Seared tuna with potato risotto

One of my favourite moments aboard the Disney Magic was when I had the amazing opportunity for a one to one masterclass with the Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant, Palo.  Here I am (below, with lovely Jamie the cameraman – he works on the X Factor you know) doing my piece to camera VERY BADLY.  Palo was my favourite restaurant aboard the Disney Dream, so I was really excited  to see how the Palo on the Magic stacked up.  Luckily the experience was just as incredible, and, with the film crew (film coming soon!), I got to see how Chef made his famous seared tuna with a potato risotto.

The Chef’s version was obviously much more complicated, with shaved truffles, artichokes and a beautiful veal reduction. However, he did tell me how to cook the creamy potato risotto and the wonderful seared tuna:

Potato Risotto (serves 4)

1kg waxy potatoes

Butter

1 fat clove garlic, grated

500ml stock (chicken or fish is fine)

Dash of double cream

So firstly, peel all the potatoes and chop them into about 2 cm cubes.  It’s a bit laborious but well worth the effort (as you can see, mine weren’t very uniform – I’m terribly sloppy in the kitchen – what would Chef say?).  As you chop them, pop them into a bowl of salted water so they don’t discolour.  Heat a large knob of butter in a large, heavy frying pan and fry the garlic for a minute or so, then add in the potatoes.  Stir well to cover them in the garlicky butter, then pour in the stock.

Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and allow the potatoes to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes until just tender.  Pour in a dash of double cream, stirring gently so you don’t break up the potatoes, and season to taste.  Keep warm while you quickly sear the tuna.

Seared Tuna

Bring four decent sized tuna steaks, trimmed of any sinewy bits, to room temperature.  Rub the tuna with a little oil and then season with salt and pepper.  Heat a frying pan until it’s really hot, then fry the tuna steaks so that they’re golden on the outside but still retaining some pinkness in the middle.

Serve immediately on the potato risotto.  Drizzle with a little truffle oil if liked.

Doing my 'piece to camera'

 

Giveaway: win a holiday in Walt Disney World Florida with park tickets! (COMPETITION ENDED)

Disney's Art of Animation Resort: ÒBig BlueÓ Pool

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: ‘Big Blue’ Pool

If you follow me on Facebook (if not, why not? We’re a lovely gang and have all sorts of waffly conversations), you’ll know that a while back, my chums at Disney offered me the most FABULOUS prize for you, my lovely readers: a 7 night holiday in a Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, complete with park tickets.  I, of course, bit their arms off (not literally – you don’t bite Mickey, it’s just not done), but then, disappointingly, we couldn’t persuade anyone to offer flights (it’s the end of the financial year, times are tough, blah blah) so I faltered.  I wondered if people would be disgruntled with a competition that wasn’t a WHOLE holiday as it didn’t include the flights.  But people commented, in their droves, to say that it didn’t matter, that they’d definitely enter a competition.  And hey, it’s a fabulous holiday, worth a ton of money.  So here it is, in all its glory.

The prize (squee!)

Disney will provide one winner with a vacation package for four people for seven nights and eight days at Disney’s wonderful Art of Animation resort consisting of accommodation (one standard room for four people for seven nights), PLUS four 8-day Magic Your Way tickets with Park Hopper® option (EXCLUDING flights).

How do I enter? I hear you cry!

My favourite attraction at Walt Disney World is Pirates of the Caribbean.  I’ve always loved it.  So just leave a comment and tell me: what’s the attraction you’ll be heading to first if you win this amazing prize?

(New commenters please note yours won’t show up until it’s been approved.)

For an extra chance to win, just comment and let me know that you’ve tweeted the phrase:

I’ve entered @EnglishMum’s Walt Disney World Florida holiday giveaway #visitMickeywithEnglishMum

Disney's Art of Animation Resort Entrance

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort entrance

The small print

There’s quite a lot of small print, I’ll admit, but hey, giving away a holiday is quite complicated, so I’d be really grateful if you have a read through and make sure you agree before entering. Ta muchly

  • Usual English Mum competition rules apply.  This competition is open to the residents of UK and Ireland.  You must be over 18 years of age.  The prizes offered are not transferable (and may not be sold, traded, transferred or refunded) or exchangeable for cash.  The winner will be chosen at random.
  • Items that are not included as part of the winning vacation package are: meals, hotel room service, laundry service, alcoholic beverages, merchandise/souvenirs etc, local and long distance telephone calls, tips, gratuities, service charges or taxes, all other charges and items not offered as the main prize, and the big one: FLIGHTS. Entrants must arrange their own air travel.
  • The winners are responsible for arranging visas, travel insurance, transfers, etc.
  • The competition ends at midnight on Saturday 6th April 2013. No entries received after this time will be considered.
  • Winners will be asked to provide 3 dates when they can travel, but departure date and accommodations are subject to availability; certain restrictions and block-out dates may apply.  Prize to be taken within a year, subject to availability.
  • Disney, its parent, related, affiliated and subsidiary companies and their respective officers, directors, agents, employees and assigns shall be released and discharged from any and all legal claims, losses, injuries, demands, damages, actions, and/or causes of actions that arise out of and/or in any way related to the prize, the receipt, use and/or enjoyment of the prize and/or the promotion.
  • Oh and lastly – don’t cheat!  One entry plus one bonus Twitter entry per person The system picks up on duplicate entries ;)

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER, CHOSEN BY AN ONLINE RANDOMISER, IS CAROLINE CAVANAGH – CONGRATULATIONS! THANKS FOR ALL YOUR ENTRIES – MORE COMPETITIONS VERY SOON XX

Travel roundup: what’s new in family travel?

USH Despicable Me Minion MayhemI do love a Minion.  And the cheeky Minions of Despicable Me are soon to have their own ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

Planned for 2014, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem will mix videos, special effects and digital animation and whizz guests around Gru’s house (and secret super-villain laboratory) , encountering loads of elements of the movie on their way – you even get a special pair of 3D Minion goggles!!

Lightning McQueen at Radiator Springs

If you’re lucky enough to be heading to Walt Disney World Resort, Florida before 19th May, check out the amazing floral art at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival where you’ll find Disney and DisneyPixar characters recreated as topiary displays as well as other themed flower and garden displays.

Donald Duck exploring AlaskaStaying with Disney news, the fabulous Disney Wonder cruise ship will be visiting Alaska from May this year through until September, departing from Vancouver.  This is next on my absolutely must-do list, stopping at capital city, Juneau, as well as ‘Salmon Capital of the World’ Ketchican, where you can, wait for it, go on a Bering Sea crab fishermen’s tour aboard the Aleutian Ballad, made famous on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch! (Mr English will faint when he reads this).  You can watch the fishermen haul crab pots and chat to them about their adventures.  This cruise is worth it JUST FOR THAT!

Adventurer Ben Fogle has recently returned home from a trip to Sarawak, part of Malaysian Borneo where he met some of the local wildlife and made eight short films about the area.  If you visit the Sarawak Tourism Board website you can find out more about this beautiful area.  Here’s Ben visiting Gunung Gading National Park and visitng the world-famous giant “Rafflesia” flower up close:

Lastly, lovely Monarch are giving three lucky schools (pupils yrs 7- 9) the chance to win  exclusive use of a Monarch aircraft on 24th April 2013, with a range of fun activities in the air and on the ground.  Here’s Pixie to tell you more:

A week of Walt, day four: a review of Disney’s new Art of Animation resort

A surprising amount of people planning a trip to Walt Disney World Resort, Florida, and the surrounding areas often miss out by thinking that they can’t afford to stay in in a ‘proper’ Disney hotel.  The luxury resort hotels are phenomenal – the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa springs instantly to mind, as does the eye-popping Animal Kingdom Lodge – but there’s a whole host of other Disney properties at all price ranges and to properly immerse yourself in the Disney experience, you can’t beat staying at a Disney resort hotel.

Disney have several ‘value’ options when it comes to accommodation, the newest of which is the Art of Animation Resort where I stayed at Christmas.  The resort is HUGE, with giant characters dotted everywhere.  It’s split into four main wings: there are three family suite wings: a Finding Nemo themed wing,  a Cars-themed wing where we stayed, and a Lion King wing, plus there is also a wing with standard rooms, with a  Little Mermaid theme.

The styling and attention to detail in all of these areas is frankly enough to take your breath away.  We were drawn to the ENORMOUS Crush (whom I love, with a passion – don’t miss Turtle Talk with Crush when you’re visiting Epcot – you can have a full-on chat with the cool surfer dude. It’s totally AWESOME, duuuuude!) and the Cars themed wing where we stayed had huge, lifesize Cars characters and a complete recreation of Radiator Springs.  Mindblowing!

The staff are, as you’d expect from Disney, absolutely wonderful and go above and beyond the call of duty, especially with the little guests.  We were late to meet up with the others on the trip one day as we were transfixed by one of the gardeners who was showing a group of children how to draw Disney characters with a brush and water on one of the baking hot sidewalks.

Inside the family suites, the incredible theming continues – there are two proper bathrooms, a kitchen area, a dining area that magically transforms into a pull-down double bed at night time, and another leather sofa, themed like the rear seat of a car, that also folds out into a double bed.  It’s all such good quality, you’d never believe they call this a ‘value’ resort.

The reception area is absolutely fabulous, with different lights as you go down the row of desks, and iconic framed artist sketches of the characters on the walls, and the pool area is frankly magical, where you can actually hear the Disney tunes being played UNDER THE WATER!

My only negative, if you can call this a negative, is that personally, I wasn’t massively keen on the dining area, which is huge and a bit complicated to negotiate. Still, if you’re staying in the suites it’s far easier – and cheaper- to self cater and just pop in occasionally to treat yourself to breakfast (with nice coffee)  before you head off to the parks.

There’s a fact box below with an example of pricing, but as always, if you’re planning a trip and need any help or advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch via my contact form.  I’ll be able to help (or if I can’t, I’ll know someone who can!).

 

Seven nights in Orlando from £935pp

Seven nights in Orlando with Virgin Holidays, including scheduled flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Gatwick direct to Orlando, accommodation at the 3V Disney’s Art of Animation Resort on a room only basis with car hire included. Price is based on 2 adults travelling and sharing a standard room, price includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change. Prices are based on departures in March 2013.

Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport… Adults £20, Kids £12

Virgin Holidays is a member of ABTA and is ATOL protected

To book: www.virginholidays.co.uk, 0844 557 3859 or visit one of our 100 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores nationwide.

New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

One of the things I love about Disney is that they never stop.  There’s always something new and exciting in the pipeline (more of this later in the week) – their teams of designers (or ‘Imagineers’), work tirelessly to keep Disney fresh, new and exciting.  At Christmas I was really lucky to be invited to the opening of New Fantasyland – a project that doubles the size of Fantasyland, an area of the Magic Kingdom beyond Cinderella Castle.  There’s no party like a Disney party, and stars like Ginnifer Goodwin and Jordin Sparks were on hand to make it go with a bang.

The party was AMAZING – the food was incredible (check out the cupcakes!) and there was an actual, flying DRAGON.  If you don’t believe me, check out the video here!

I adore the Magic Kingdom.  I sometimes think the perception is that it’s more for the younger guests, but there are some real classics there that every visitor should do: The Haunted Mansion is just fabulous, and Pirates of the Caribbean is probably my favourite ride of all time, it’s just so atmospheric.  And I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get off Big Thunder Mountain and want to go straight back on!

We also had the chance to check out the new attractions.  As you’ll see from yesterday’s video, I absolutely loved Enchanted Tales with Belle.  If you’re a fan of Beauty and the Beast, you’ll love it too.  It’s a really lovely experience where guests get to act out a story with Belle, the Wardrobe and Lumiere (an absolute triumph of animatronic technology).  The little girl that we saw was so entranced with Belle, her face was a picture.  Wonderful.  And yes, I cried again.

There’s also a lovely ride called Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid where guests get to ride in a clamshell and see lots of the characters from the Little Mermaid (including scary Ursula), and you can meet Ariel herself in Ariel’s Grotto too.

One of my very favourite rides, Dumbo, The Flying Elephant, has had a makeover and now there are DOUBLE DUMBOS: two rides, one going clockwise and one going anticlockwise, halving the waiting time!  There’s also a fabulous big top where you can hang out and get involved in lots of circus activities while you wait your turn.

The Great Goofini is a lovely family coaster ride, and you can pose for photos with the Disney gang at Pete’s Silly Sideshow too – get up close and personal with  Minnie Magnifique, The Great Goofini, Madame Daisy Fortuna (Daisy Duck) and The Astounding Donaldo too!

It’s not all about the rides, though, as one of the biggest parts of New Fantasyland is the fabulous Be Our Guest restaurant.   We were completely overwhelmed by this beautiful restaurant, themed to look like the ballroom of Beast’s Castle (and it really does – right down to the chandeliers!) – you can even see the enchanted rose, floating magically in its glass case.  During the day, this restaurant serves Disney’s trademark fast lunch service menu, but by night, it transforms into a full-service, reservations-required restaurant serving a French-themed menu and, unusually, as the Magic Kingdom is a ‘dry’ park, alcohol at dinner, bringing a much more grown-up feel to this beautiful setting.  You can look out of the windows and watch the ‘snow’ as well, which is really quite magical.

Gaston’s Tavern is a more casual experience, but nonetheless beautifully themed and finished, with a roaring fire and an amazing antler chandelier.  The food has been specially created for the tavern (it’s mostly snacky, but different – try the roasted pork shank – gnawed straight off the bone!) and there’s yummy LeFou’s brew to drink too.  I think it’s a nice place to pop into after you’ve spent the afternoon tramping the park, to sit down with a pastry and a lovely hot chocolate.

The magic doesn’t stop here, though – the Princess Fairytale Hall will be opening this year – a lovely place where you can meet all your favourite Disney Princesses – and then next year, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will finally open – an amazingly clever musical coaster ride through the mine where the Imagineers are attempting to recreate the swinging motion of the individual buckets – and there are rumours of interacting with the dwarfs (Disney don’t say ‘dwarves’) too!  I’ll just have to go back for another visit to find out, I guess!

A week of Walt on English Mum: Christmas at Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

I was having a conversation with my Disreputable Dad recently about crying.  ‘Oh I well up all the time’, he said.  ‘Watch out, it gets worse as you get older’.

This can’t be good, as I seem to cry plenty already.  Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to be invited to Florida for the grand opening of a brand new section of the Magic Kingdom: New Fantasyland.  I seem to have spent most of this trip either choking back tears (happy tears, I’ll explain later) or wiping away proper big fat ones (again, all happy – there’s just no room for sadness at Disney World).   But who can blame me – who WOULDN’T blub in a place where there are princesses (and a staff member who asks tiny princesses-for-a-day for their autographs), where you can get a hug off Mickey Mouse and there are fireworks with light shows and pyrotechnics that take your breath away.  Add whizzy rides, Mickey Mouse, Buzz Lightyear, a kiss from Woody the Cowboy and… if you go at Christmas there is snow – REAL SNOW! – on Main Street… it’s no surprise that I was a wreck.

In fact, there’s SO much fun, and SO much stuff to tell you that I’ve decided to take the whole week to tell you all about it.  Brace yourself.  There’ll be roller coasters, Belle and the Beast, scrummy food, waterslides, motor boats, wonderful new themed hotels and loads of news of fabulous new Walt Disney World rides and attractions – secrets that I’m going to share only with you (shhh!).

To give you a little taster of what’s to come, here’s a video of my amazing New Fantasyland week.  Make sure you keep popping back all week.  WARNING: I might say ‘gorgeous’ and ‘fabulous’ quite a lot!:

Video of our fabulous weekend at Disneyland Paris 20th birthday celebrations

So I’ve already told you about our marvellous trip to Disneyland Paris. I think one of the best things about it was spending a whole weekend just with one of my children (the other was rather happy to have some alone time with his Xbox AND without his little brother, don’t worry). The Death Wish Dude and I had an absolutely blast and really enjoyed each others’ company. And let’s face it, when they’re 14, the opportunities for ‘quality time’ are few and far between. We whizzed on rollercoasters, whooshed on rockets, oohed and ahhed at amazing sound and light shows and got all competitive zapping in Buzz’s Laser Blast, but more importantly we laughed. And laughed.

Here’s a gorgeous video that the lovely chaps at Disney made for us. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried buckets!

Birthday cake small

The ultimate chocolate cake with coconut ganache frosting for the Death Wish Dude’s birthday,

It’s been an odd weekend.  First of all we watched ourselves on the telly (it’s a very weird experience, I can tell you).  We took part in a Channel 5 programme being made about Disneyland Paris’ 20th birthday celebrations when were out there a couple of weeks ago – it aired yesterday.  I actually managed to take a picture of the Death Wish Dude being interviewed – here he is in all his widescreen glory!  Anyhoo, after all that excitement, it was straight on to the birthday cake challenge.  As you might already know, it is the tradition at English Towers for the birthday boy to pick his very own choice of birthday cake.  Usually they choose something hideously difficult to make (just to annoy me), but this time, the Birthday Death Wish Dude wanted nothing more than a big fat chocolate cake.

Easy peasy.  The only difference is that I had a little experiment and tried making the ganache with coconut milk instead of double cream. It came out deliciously light and whipped beautifully.  Highly recommended.

To make the Death Wish Dude’s Ultimate Coconut Ganache Chocolate Layer Cake, you’ll need:

175g butter (I use salted)

175g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

150g self raising flour

20g good quality cocoa powder

100g good quality dark chocolate

For the ganache:

400g tin coconut milk (I used the full fat stuff)

500g (yes, yes, I know… ) good quality dark chocolate

1 packet Maltesers

So firstly, melt the chocolate (you can do it all at the same time or in the two batches.  It’s quite easy to pour the melted chocolate into the mixer bowl when it’s sat on the scale) in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Don’t let the water touch the bowl (yeah you know the drill).

Beat the butter in the food processor until light, then add the sugar and whizz again until pale and fluffy.  Add in the eggs (I beat them, then add them a dribble at a time – helps with the odd bits of dropped shell too), then stir in the sifted flour and cocoa.  Finally, stir in the 100g melted chocolate.

Bake in two medium lined tins for about 20 minutes until just springy in the centre.  Allow to cool.

For the ganache:

Warm the coconut milk in a saucepan – don’t allow it to boil, it only needs to be warm enough to melt the chocolate.  Then just turn off the heat, plop all the chocolate in and stir occasionally until it’s all melted.


Transfer to a bowl and chill down completely in the fridge.

To assemble:

Carefully slice each cake into two.  Pick a nice flat one as your top layer and remember which one it is!

Take the ganache out of the fridge and whip until light and fluffy (or you can just spread it).

Layer the cake slices with a thick spreading of ganache then finish with a nice layer of ganache all over the cake.  If the thought of 500g of chocolate gives you a heart attack, you can halve the quantities and just layer the two cakes together.

Finish with Maltesers (beer can candles optional).

And here he is with his birthday cake of choice.  Happy birthday, Charlie! xx

 

A celebrity tea party at the Disneyland Paris 20th anniversary celebrations

Well, the celebrations continue at Disneyland Paris (even though I’ve now left – fancy partying without me!) for the park’s 20th birthday.  Yesterday, all sorts of famous faces (I spy Kym Marsh, super duper uber model Erin O’Conor and Lisa Maxwell) took part in a really lovely British celebrity tea party on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups ride in Fantasyland (one of my faves), complete with cute dainty sandwiches, cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries.  Mickey and Minnie Mouse also joined the party, bringing an amazing 20th Anniversary tiered cake, magically created (in Scotland!) especially for the tea party:

The celebs also got to watch the new Disney Dreams show and the amazing the new parade that we saw last week too.  Here they all are telling us all about it:

If you want more information about the 20th anniversary celebrations at Disneyland Paris, read all about my visit here.

The 20th anniversary celebrations at Disneyland Paris – our amazing weekend

The Death Wish Dude and I arrived at St Pancras (in sizzling sunshine – don’t you just love London when the sun’s out?) to board the Eurostar.  We’d been invited to join the great and good of the world’s media to celebrate Disneyland Paris’ 20th anniversary and to get a sneaky preview at some of the new parades and shows especially created to mark this incredible birthday.

Disneyland Paris opened on 12th April 1992, adding Walt Disney Studios Park in 2002.  It’s within easy walking distance of its very own Eurostar station and there are seven hotels located near the site too.  It’s a real ‘one stop shop’ as far as entertainment goes, and we love it.

The Eurostar journey is another favourite of mine.  I love being able to walk about, chat, eat and relax while being whizzed towards France.  It’s such a relaxed journey.  The Dude hadn’t experienced it as a foot passenger before and thoroughly enjoyed being fussed over by the Eurostar staff!

On arrival, we dumped our bags at the hotel (The Hotel New York, one of my favourites) and rushed straight to the park.  I decided to give the Dude the same introduction to rollercoasters as I’d received myself back at Walt Disney World, the amazing Rock’n’Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith – one of the fastest rides of all the Disney parks and, so I’m told, with acceleration akin to that of a Formula One car.  The dude was hooked and we headed straight back to the front for another go.  This ended up setting the scene for most of our weekend – a veritable orgy of thrill rides, maximum velocity and loop the loops, with a lot of Disney magic thrown in!

I wanted to head over to the the Toy Story Playland at the Walt Disney Studios Park as it was just being opened the last time I was there.  We weren’t disappointed.  The Toy Story themed area is packed full of amazing rides – we loved the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, and the AMAZING RC Racer (don’t go on this one if you like the feeling of being dangled in mid air before rocketing backwards and forwards at very high speed – we loved it!).  Carrying on the maximum velocity theme, we headed back over to the Disneyland Park (we weren’t very good at planning our route – too darn excited) for Discoveryland’s Space Mountain and Star Tours.  Both with puke-making potential, but loved equally by the Dude.

We headed back to our lovely hotel for a dip in the pool (the outside bit was completely deserted and we swam and sunbathed – blissful) before heading back out to the park to enjoy a private dinner in the (now closed) Walt Disney Studios, catching up with a few of our favourite characters too.  After a quick scream on the Tower of Terror with our favourite Disney Dave, we had several whizzes around Crush’s Coaster – another amazing indoor/outdoor thrill ride before retiring, somewhat giddily, for the night.

After a late start (another thing I love – breakfast served until 11am!) and mountains of pancakes and maple syrup later (you can’t visit a Disney resort without eating a pancake mountain or two), we headed straight for the Disneyland Park for a duel on one of my favourite Disney attractions, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (for some reason it really tickles me that his French name is ‘Buzz L’Eclair’).  I decided to share some of my favourite rides with the Dude: the wonderfully themed and bone-shakingly brilliant ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril’ coaster, and the beautiful, gentle and atmospheric classic, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

Disney Magic on Parade!

Next it was time for the first showing of the brand new ‘Disney Magic on Parade’, a riot of colourful characters on amazing floats (I’m still singing the fab new music!) celebrating Disneyland Paris’ 20th birthday.  I love Disney parades (I always have a little cry) and was ridiculously pleased to see that the Death Wish Dude was entranced as well.  Look out for the Toy Story float (one of my favourites) and the lovely Rapunzel too. Watch out for the fabulous bumblebees floating around Winnie the Pooh.

On Saturday evening we were invited to the 20th anniversary celebration gala dinner.  The venue was like nothing I’d ever seen before.  We were led along a path lit by glowing orbs into a massive marquee (the word ‘marquee’ doesn’t really do it, but it’s the best I can do), lit by chandeliers and sparkling with glitter and glass:

I’m going to have to do a separate piece about the food because it was SO fantastic I can’t possibly elaborate enough here!  We had our faces painted by amazingly talented artists, and were all given glow sticks while clouds of smoke billowed out into the venue from hidden smoke machines. The atmosphere was just incredible – here’s one for the family album:

After the gala dinner, we were led to the park (by a man in a suit with a giant balloon strapped to his back) past amazing street performers on stilts and in spectacular inflated and illuminated costumes, to the park, which was lit with a million lights and looked spectacular.

As we entered, all the cast members were lined up, waving huge glowing light sticks and calling out ‘bienvenues!’ and ‘bon anniversaire!’.  It was absolutely magical and strangely emotional too.  We listened to speeches by the CEO of Disneyland Paris and Zinedine Zidane before walking down Main Street USA with huge confetti cannons going off all around us, blasting little golden ’20’ letters into the sky which was awash with colour and sparkles.

Disney Dreams!

Next up was the new sound and light spectacular that will be performed at Disneyland Paris from now on in the evenings (always check the schedule for timings).  This show was SO amazing that we sat next to Jonathan Ross and didn’t look at him once.  Yup, THAT amazing.

I can’t even begin to describe the show, but with the aid of clever lighting, the castle was transformed into jungle scenes, Notre Dame and even a huge waterfall.  Images were somehow played on walls of water, and massive flame throwers whooshed into the sky.  Just.  Incredible.

After the amazing show, we were interviewed by Channel 5 (everything was so surreal this weekend, even THAT seemed normal).  Here’s the Dude who was, apparently, a ‘natural':

After a final day in the parks, whizzing around on Space Mountain, getting competitive on Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast and screaming our lungs out on the Tower of Terror, we headed, knackered, to the Eurostar station.  What a thoroughly amazing weekend – I have to say it’s probably my favourite ever Disney visit, and that takes some beating.

A MASSIVE thank you to the very lovely and incredibly hard-working Disney team and a huge HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to Disneyland Paris too.  For all the rest of the photos from this trip, go to my Facebook page: facebook.com/englishmumdotcom

During the 20th anniversary celebrations at Disneyland Park, prices for a two-night, three-day package including return travel with Eurostar in April 2012 start from £856 for a family of two adults and two children (aged 4-6 years).  Price includes return travel with Eurostar, two nights’ accommodation at the Hotel Santa Fe and three day hopper tickets with unlimited access to the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park and is based on two adults sharing.

For longer stays, Disneyland Paris is offering guests up to 40% off Disney Hotels and park tickets as well as kids under 7 visiting for free.  For more info call 08448 008 111 or visit www.disneylandparis.com.

 

Micky bickies (OFFICE WARNING: naughty biscuit photo alert)

Waaay before we were good buddies, on our first trip to Disneyworld Florida, my fellow bloggers, the Disney 7 (well, the other 6), were most perplexed by the fact that any time anyone from Disney mentioned the ‘hidden Mickeys’ placed all around the resorts and parks, I dissolved into snorty cackling.  It didn’t matter  how much I tried.  One mention of a mickey and that was it – my shoulders would shake… tears would spring into my eyes… It’s so much worse when nobody gets what you’re even laughing about.

The thing is, in Ireland a mickey is a… well, it’s a willy.

Hence, ‘searching for hidden mickeys’ brought a whole new mental picture to mind than gaily flouncing about trying to spot little mouse shapes.

Anyhoo, I digress.

Recently, I was the recipient of a very solemn phone call from school.  Apparently the Death Wish Dude had been caught defacing another pupil’s book.  Three of them were involved.  The others being George (of George’s brownies fame) and another of the Dude’s buddies, a girl.

Reader, I was shocked.

He’s a silly bugger, but he’s a good kid.  And I can’t imagine him doing anything malicious.  I told this to the teacher.  She agreed.

Apparently it wasn’t malicious at all:

The crime – this terrible crime that warranted a telephone call to his parents?  He’d drawn a willy.

A willy.

It was all I could do not to laugh.  However, I solemnly accepted that this behaviour was not to be encouraged, and promised to give him a stern talking to.

I did.

I said to him: ‘you tit’.

Anyhoo, this incident has set in motion a willy-themed madness in the Dude and his mates, culminating in his whipping up a little present for them in the kitchen last night.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…

The willy cookie.  Or ‘cockie’ as it became known on Twitter last night.  Or for you Irish people, the ‘mickey bickie’ (thanks to Aoife for that one).

His father took one look at it and said ‘blimey.  If that’s what he thinks they look like he’s not been paying enough attention in biology’.

 

 

Review: grown up Disney! The beautiful Imagination Winter range

 

So straight on with the Christmas Countdown, then… this time I’ve got some gorgeous, and distinctly grown-up gifts from Disney.  The Imagination Winter range is a scrummy set of products to scent your home.  And, even though I’m the biggest Disney fan EVER, there’s not a Mickey in sight.  The candles and spray contain festive cinnamon bark, nutmeg and clove and I love that they should ‘transport you to a winter wonderland of enchanted pine forests lying under a blanket of snow ‘.  Count me in!

And the verdict?  Gorgeous.  Even with the spices, the scent is not at all cloying or ‘Christmas puddingy’ – I’ve had the candle burning in the evenings for the last couple of nights and the fragrance is actually really light – almost herbal… I think the hint of orange helps here.  The packaging is beautiful and would make a really lovely pressie, not just for a Disney fan either!

The range consists of mini candles (£10), a large candle in a glass (£12) and a scented room spray (£8).  All are available from Disney Stores and via www.disneystore.co.uk

 

Review: Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides

First things first, when I’d promised to take de brevren out to see Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides, I’d forgotten that blimmin’ Kings of Leon were on at Slane.  Practically every route had some kind of diversion or was absolutely jammed with Dublin buses, coaches and cars all headed for the gig.  Arriving 5 minutes late, we actually headed into the 2D version instead of the 3D, so sadly I can’t tell you if the 3D photography was any good.

I’m a huge Disney fan, as you know, and a massive ‘Pirates’ fan to boot.  I was, however, a bit nervous about this one, mostly because with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom missing, I wondered if it was going to turn into the equivalent of Grease 2 or American Pie 3 – movies that just shouldn’t have been made.  Happily, this honestly wasn’t the case.

What I adore about the ‘Pirates’ franchise is the enormity of it all – nobody does epic scenery, massive ships rolling upon broiling seas and lush desert islands quite like Jerry Bruckheimer.  Johnny Depp brings his usual humour and quirkiness to the role of Jack Sparrow and Angelica, the ‘is she or isn’t she?’ daughter of Blackbeard played by Penelope Cruz, steps into the ‘love interest/feisty girly’ role really really well (although certain pronunciations did make us laugh a teeny bit).  There was tons of chemistry between Angelica and Jack, even if the actual story of their past was a little murky.

Best bits? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but all I’ll say is look out for the mermaids – absolutely incredible.  The French girl that plays Syrena, the mermaid they actually catch, is fabulous – the spark between her and missionary Philip Swift makes for a really nice bit of 0ff-plot interest.  The swordfight between Barbosa and Jack in the unstable shipwreck is really cleverly done too.  Ian McShane’s Blackbeard is a fabulously evil character (I’m always fascinated with their teeth – how do they get them so realistic-looking?  Disgusting!).

All in all I’d say it’s every bit as good as the previous movies.  Well worth battling through Slane traffic to go and see. The film is rated as 12A here in Ireland (presumably the same everywhere else but I know it’s not always the case).  For parents of younger ones, though, I’d warn you that there are some bloody scary bits in (you’ll never look at Ariel the Little Mermaid in quite the same light), and several people took younger kids out crying.  9/10.

Ten things I’m loving

Okay, so in the hassle of moving, sorting the house out, the Bloggers on Tour messy weekend, etc.  I totally forgot to do my end of month roundup.

Luckily, I’m my own boss and I decided not to fire myself.  Instead, I give you ten things that I think are blimmin’ marvellous:

1. Kidstart’s fabulous new Save a Million campaign

My lovely, scrumptious friend, Liz Jarvis from LivingwithKids has told me all about Kidstart’s fabulous ‘Save a Million for UK kids‘ campaign.  It’s such a great idea – anything that encourages us to think about ways we can save money to put aside for our kids’ futures gets my vote.  It’s got tons of fab supporters like Sophie Raworth, Barnardo’s and Kiddicare (and me!) so why wait…

Tell us your idea how to save a million for UK kids

2. My Blankie

These are just gorgeous.  They’re like little mini duvets – perfect for popping over your legs on a cold night, or as an extra layer on the bed.  Ninja Cat of Death rather likes mine, but happily even though they’re down and feather, they’re machine washable.  They come in fabulous colours too.  More info here: http://www.blankie.ie/

3. My Photobox canvas

When Photobox contacted me and offered me one of their lovely canvas prints, I knew exactly which photo I’d choose.  How lovely is this? Now I just need to decide where to put it (I can’t put my friends in the loo, now, can I?):

4. Samsung’s Christmas Range

Oopsy, rash use of the C word there, but seriously, I’d like the 3DTV, a Galaxy Wave, the robot vacuum cleaner, the gorgeous laptop and the microwave, please Santa!  Feast your eyes HERE.

5. Superdrug’s new ‘wonder’ Optimum Apple Serum

Lauded as beauty’s Next Big Thing, I’ve been trying it for the last month and I have to say I’m impressed.  Slathered on before bedtime (with moisturiser over the top if my skin’s extra dry), I really feel like my skin’s plumper, with less dry lines around my eyes.  It’s a snip at £9.99, and even though I got a free one (thanks Superdrug!), when it’s finished, I’ll carry on buying it.  It’s that good.

6. Simon’s Choice by Charlotte Castle

I was introduced to Charlotte Castle by my lovely friend Jane Alexander, who, as well as writing a fabulous blog: Diary of A Desperate Exmoor Woman, is an author who’s had a gazillion books published.  For her to recommend I read Charlotte’s book, then, meant it must be good.  A pre-production copy of Simon’s Choice was despatched to me, and I read it, start to finish in one bathtime, emerging, blue, freezing and somewhat tearful.  It’s a beautiful, beautiful read about parents struggling to come to terms with their daughter’s terminal illness.  It’s admittedly sad, but also uplifting.  Grab yourself a copy now.

7. My hamper from Irish Gourmet

…bought for me by my lovely friends before their weekend.  Sadly it’s nearly all gone now, but highlights included gorgeous cupcakes, fudge, beautiful Irish cheeses, chutneys and jams.

8. Disney’s Gorgeous Princess and the Frog on Blu-Ray

I know I’m 40, but seriously, it’s really really cute, and surprisingly funny.  It could well be a contender for #2 in my fave Disney movie of all time list (it’ll take a lot to knock Toy Story off the top spot though).

9. Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam on Nintendo DS

What? I love the styling bit – ooh, and the drumming!).

10. Bake with Compassion Week, 23rd – 31st October 2010.

Bake with Compassion is Compassion in World Farming’s national fundraiser to raise vital funds and spread awareness for higher farm animal welfare.

Factory hens are stuffed into battery cages up to 4 or 5 at a time, with less  space than an A4 piece of paper to live in.  Having had my own chickens (and planning to get some more next week!), I know that they love to flap and fuss and rootle around.  It breaks my heart to hear of them suffering like this.

Happily, and mostly due to Compassion’s hard hitting ‘ban the battery cage’ campaign, legislation comes into force to make the production of battery eggs illegal from January 2012.   Their Director of Food Business, Steve McIvor says:

“Our advice to consumers is to check the ingredients on shop bought cakes, biscuits and quiches, because without knowing, you could be buying products containing eggs from hens reared in cramped factory farm systems. Download our egg guide at bakewithcompassion.org to know what to look for.”