Recently, you’ll remember, I shared my little Florida secret with you – a deliciously quirky and lovely little barrier island just off the coast of northern Florida called Amelia Island. The boys and I spent a wonderful week there making some treasured memories together, and I wanted to tell you a bit more about what we got up to. We sat down and had a little head to head and came up with our favourite five things to do when you’re out and about on Amelia Island. And guess what’s number one…?
If you’ve been following me on my social media channels over the last week, you’ll know that I’ve got a secret to share: an island so rich in history, so naturally lush and beautiful, so authentically old Floridian that everyone should visit. Situated just off the coast of the north eastern edge of Florida near the border with Georgia, what this quirky little barrier island lacks in size, it makes up for in character; with a chequered history and a beauty that will steal your heart. Say hello to Amelia Island.
We all absolutely adore Christmas, but the funniest thing is that while we were all sitting around the fire, Christmas Radio Times on hand to pick the best Christmas movies, sipping on a Baileys, talk actually turned to planning for the summer holidays. I was telling them that the fab villa holiday company, Villa Plus had asked me to talk about our holiday plans for next year, and, as a family with older children, it’s sometimes difficult to pick a holiday that suits everyone. As we were chatting, it was interesting to hear what the boys want from a family holiday. Whereas Jim and I really both want somewhere comfy to lounge and read a book and some sunshine, the boys have different ideas:
So I’ve had an absolutely MAD bout of travelling and can’t wait to update you on all the exciting things we’ve been up to. Firstly, we’ve just returned from a lovely two week family cruise on Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Cruises’ beautiful Solstice class cruise ship, where we sailed from Southampton and visited Gibraltar, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. It was our first time as a family on a Celebrity Cruise (Mr E and I did a wine cruise on Celebrity Infinity a while ago) and we did wonder what it would be like to spend two weeks in a relatively small stateroom as a family (as it turned out, we were treated to extra room, which was fab). Here’s how we got on:
My very first holiday as an adult, away from my family for the first time ever, was in Mallorja (or Majorca). My friend Clare and I went to Palma Nova. We chose it because it was it was supposed to be a bit quieter than its slightly noisy neighbour, Magaluf, and we had the most wonderful week of sunbathing, cocktails and lazing on the beautiful beach. One thing we didn’t do, though, was explore much, which is one of the reasons why Mallorca continues to rate quite highly on my holiday bucket list and why I was delighted with Booking Mallorca asked me to pick a few faves from their selection of lovely villas and apartments.
We’ve talked SO much about skiing it’s ridiculous. Mr E went once, with friends who could already ski. They lent him the basic bits of equipment and he just kind of hurled himself down the slopes after them. I went a couple of times in my teens – not much skiing was done, as I recall, but rather a lot of apres ski.
After our magical 24 hours in Walt Disney World, Florida, we woke early and grabbed a quick breakfast at the Cape May Café with Minnie Mouse (as you do), before waving her goodbye and jumping on a coach which took us to Port Canaveral. There we caught our very first glimpse of the Disney Dream. Here’s part two of our Disney stay and cruise photo diary: all about the Disney Dream.
I wonder if it’s just me, or if all mums of older teenagers approach every family holiday opportunity with a bit of a heavy heart, thinking: ‘this could be the last one EVER’? I mean, frankly, it’s ridiculous, because, as a friend in a similar situation rightly told me recently, ‘it doesn’t matter how old they get, they’ll always be up for a free holiday’. Especially one as heavenly as this one.
If you’ve ever thought of booking a holiday with a big group, either for a family get together, or with a group of friends, it can all seem a bit daunting. Villa holidays are ideal for larger groups – sharing the cost means that you can book something bigger and more special, and more importantly, unlike with a hotel, you can have the entire place to yourselves. Oliver’s Travels asked me for my top tips for choosing and booking a villa for a group holiday:
Every parent of teenagers knows that feeling when you start to wonder exactly how long your children will keep wanting to come on holiday with you. As they grow up, they naturally develop their own tastes, likes and dislikes (and even more naturally, these will tend to be the exact opposite to yours), so agreeing on a holiday destination (and indeed, persuading them to dump their mates and come on holiday with you) is never easy.
Enter, the Caribbean cruise. Here’s why:
We’re having such a wonderful time. Long, lazy lie-ins and then a trip to the local boulangerie for baguettes (there is no better smell on earth than a boulangerie first thing in the morning – it draws you in) and, our new ‘thing’ a different type of patisserie every day. Just to try. We’ve been SO lucky with the weather – cloudy mornings, but warm enough to stay on the beach, then in the afternoon the clouds seem to lift and it’s blue, blue, blue… a couple of days we’ve had ‘our’ beach to ourselves and we’ve snoozed and the boys have played football and I’ve read about four books already. I even swam! Well, paddled – the water’s a bit cold! In the evening we’ve tried a different restaurant every night – beautiful pink crevettes, garlicky scallops, moules et frites, and even the odd hamburger have been merrily scoffed. Then it’s back to our little villa for shouty games of cards, the odd movie and a few beers (or in my case, rosé).
Happy, happy days. Don’t make me come home!
Ah, La Belle France
We’re off on our travels!
I’m off to Brittany with my lovely family (and a new Honda CR-V that we’re test driving) for two weeks of sunshine, beaches and seafood (hopefully!). I’ve been a bit poorly, which unfortunately coincided with the Mr being on duty, but my big strapping boys, both now taller than me but still the givers of the best hugs, have stepped up, cooked dinner, made tea, mowed the lawn and generally looked after me. They’re looking forward to beach days, lie ins, moules et frites, no exams, no revision… I’m excited for cheese, French markets (napkins, tablecloths and tablewear on my list, as well as the food!), gentle walks into town for fresh baguettes and pains au chocolat, lazy restaurant dinners, discovering local wine, persuading someone to visit the odd Chateau with me, and yes, maybe a dip in the sea. I’m exhausted and happy and excited all at the same time. Also secretly hoping that this won’t be our last holiday together – just the four of us (when is it that they decide holidaying with the parentals is no longer the done thing?). Got my hair done too!
Talking of holidays, last week I had a great girly chat with lovely Jenni from NonStopMama who was interviewing me for a podcast. We got talking about all things travel related and I told her about my packing spreadsheet. I know, nerdy right? I have a spreadsheet, which I print out every time I’m about to go away and tick things off as they go into the suitcase. Okay, so it sounds a bit over the top but when you’re rushing to catch an early flight and your mind is all over the place, it’s nice to have a list so you don’t sail off down the M25 towards the airport with your toothbrush still sitting by the sink and your carefully chosen bikinis still lying on your bed. It happens, people.
Jenni was quite interested in my spreadsheet, so I thought you might be too. I’ve made it into a pdf so it’s now easy to download, then print out. I’ve left some room for extra stuff if you want to amend it, but I’d love it to be a work in progress, so if you think I’ve missed anything vitally important, do let me know, and we’ll keep updating it.
PS: Don’t forget your travel insurance. Find out more about family travel insurance from Debenhams here!
Anyway, you know me: I’m sure I’ll nab a bit of free wifi along the way and pop back and say hi. You can follow our travels on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, otherwise, enjoy the sunshine and I’ll see you very soon!
1 Meet Puck at Seaworld’s new Antarctica
Seaworld’s brand new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction is now open. Visit the frozen South Pole with Puck the baby Gentoo penguin, who is ready to tell you all about penguin life in this brand new area complete with icy winds, icebergs and hundreds of penguins in the largest artificial penguin habitat ever built. A new 8 seater trackless ride whooshes you through this frozen land.
2 Feed the giraffes on the Serengeti Safari at Busch Gardens
You might be in Florida, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a proper African adventure. Book the Serengeti Safari and you can travel in an open truck across the 65 acres of Serengeti Plain, spotting zebra, ostriches and all sorts of other wildlife. There’s also an opportunity to hand feed the giraffes – one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
3 Drink butter beer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
A visit to Florida isn’t complete without a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, one of two areas that make up Universal Orlando Resort. Stop and grab a butter beer at the cart before charging off to choose your dragon on the Dragon Challenge coaster, or wander through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the magical ‘Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey’ ride.
4 Watch the fireworks at Epcot
One of my favourite parts of any Florida trip is watching the beautiful IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show at Disney’s Epcot. The show is a 14-minute extravaganza of fireworks, lasers and water effects that melts even the hardest of hearts. The show takes place every night at the World Showcase area.
5 Spot gators at Myakka River State Park
Of course Florida is so much more than just theme parks. Sarasota boasts stylish shopping, fabulous white sandy beaches and the Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s oldest state parks, stretching across 57 square miles of woodland, wetland and prairie. The area is great for camping, fishing and cycling, but my top tip is to take one of the amazing boat trips where you can see alligators, eagles and all manner of wildlife. Entry to the park is just $6 a car.
6 Go circus crazy at the Ringling Museum
While you’re in Sarasota, don’t miss the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Don’t be fooled by the title, the Ringling is the most incredible place, with 20 acres of gorgeous Sarasota seafront, the most beautiful, breathtaking mansion, an interactive Circus Museum and a breathtaking model circus.
7 Segway around St Pete’s
St Petersburg is located on a peninsula curling out into the Gulf of Mexico and is attached to Tampa by a causeway. One of the best ways to see this beautiful area is to take a Segway tour. Tours are suitable for families (but children need to be minimum 75lb) and will take you both into the city and along the pier.
8 Visit historic John’s Pass Village
While you’re at St Pete’s take time to visit John’s Pass, a beautiful old fishing village where you can shop ‘til you drop, go on a boat tour or even hire jetskis. If you’re lucky enough to visit in October there’s a wonderful seafood festival (October 25/26/27, 2013), but at other times, get your seafood fix at the iconic Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
9 Encounter Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center
Over on the Space Coast there are more incredible beaches, plus the Kennedy Space Center. Take a guided tour, indulge in some astronaut training, watch an entire launch countdown re-enacted in an actual mission control centre, and from later this month you can visit Space Shuttle Atlantis which is going to be permanently exhibited at Kennedy, jam packed with interactive encounters, simulators and exhibits. A once in a lifetime experience.
10 Surfs up at Cocoa Beach
While you’re on the space coast, take time to spend a day at beautiful Cocoa Beach, visit the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop to kit yourself out, then hit the surf! Later on, take a wander along historic Cocoa Beach Pier for dinner and drinks as the sun goes down. Heaven.
For more information, click on Visit Florida.
As I sit here at my desk, slightly groggy with jetlag and with cankles the size of tree trunks, I can hardly believe that this time last week I was joining the cruise ship Liberty of the Seas with five friends to start the adventure of a lifetime.
I have so much to tell you! I surfed the Flow Rider, sunbathed on a private white sand beach in Haiti, rode horses in the sea and climbed Dunns River Falls In Jamaica. I saw incredible shows, including an ice skating spectacular (yes, there was an ice rink on the ship), a gasp-inducing modern dance production and bellowed along to Saturday Night Fever in a massive theatre. I got pampered in the spa, drank cocktails, sipped fine wines and dined out in restaurants that would give the Titanic’s chandeliers a run for their money. I even shook my booty in a nightclub!
I also stood alone on the top deck of a ship containing 3000 people and felt like I was the only person in the middle of a glittering turquoise ocean.
I cried tears of laughter (and some of sheer emotion) and came to realise that holidays aren’t just holidays. If you choose wisely, they allow you to really relax – I mean, deep down, fall-asleep-with-your-mouth-open – type relax, discover new things about yourself, discover the world (and bookmark a couple of places to come back to) and return full of enthusiasm and a new-found appreciation for everything around you.
Now until my head stops moving to the rhythm of the ocean (yes, even though I’m in Buckinghamshire), and these ankles return to their normal size, I’ll leave you with a few snapshots. Enjoy!
This week, I travelled into London to meet up with a few of my blogging buddies and the lovely chaps at Royal Caribbean cruises. We were there to hear more about the fabulous facilities that Royal Caribbean can offer families on board their fleet of cruise ships.
First, though, there was the matter of a rather delicious afternoon tea, complete with champers! There were plenty of ‘ooh, posh!’ type exclamations as the terribly polite (and spookily stealthy) waiters appeared with stacks of dainty finger sandwiches, savoury choux pastries, pretty macaroons and teeny tiny mini cupcakes. After that there were fresh scones with home made jam and Cornish clotted cream.
While we were scoffing, we heard more about the Royal Caribbean fleet, including the fact that one of the ships, the ridiculously huge Allure of the Seas can carry over 6000 people (6000!) and has a ‘central park’ area with over 12,000 live plants and trees. plus two ‘FlowRiders’, which are basically on-board wave-machines where you can body board and even surf! Oh, and did I mention the zipwire? Yup, really.
The ships travel around the Caribbean (the clue’s in the name), but we found out you can also travel to Canada, Alaska, Asia and even Australia and New Zealand. For families, Royal Caribbean have teamed up with DreamWorks so you can see plenty of Shrek (on a huge screen, in 3D) and Kung Fu Panda, with plenty of opportunities to meet the characters while on board too.
I’m really looking forward to learning more about Royal Caribbean (we’re launching a new #RoyalMums ambassador programme soon) and hopefully I’ll be heading out to sea shortly too (well, I need to know EXACTLY what it’s like so I can report back to you. Right?
If you want to follow us on our journey as Royal Caribbean ambassadors, check out #royalmums and @myroyalUK on Twitter.
What does Christmas mean to you? For me it’s the scent of pine, frosty walks, tinsel and glitter, cinnamon and spice, the odd present or two and food food food! It’s different for everyone: maybe you’re planning a big get together, musing about going away or maybe it’s just the two of you, planning a quiet day.
If you’re undecided, I think I’ve found the perfect Christmas break. Center Parcs open right through the festive season, so you can go for a weekend to build up a bit of excitement for the big day, meet friends and family, or stay over Christmas. They’ve got really lovely festive things going on across all the Parcs, including *gulp* real, live reindeer!
You can stay in a villa, a luxury lodge or even – and I’m seriously tempted by this – a treehouse! (at Sherwood Forest and Longleat Forest). All the different types of accommodation have well equipped kitchens, but if you don’t fancy cooking, the different restaurants, including Café Rouge, Bella Italia and the Grand Café, to name but a few (they differ depending on the parc) have special menus, including Christmas lunch and New Year’s Eve dinners.
Each parc is planning their own pantomime (Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a bit of ‘he’s BEHIND you!’), the kids can visit Santa in his very own Woodland Workshop, and there are spectacular fireworks to round off a magical stay.
Now who’s going to take me to Center Parcs for Christmas? Come on, hands up…
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