So, Grandad English has a biiiiig birthday coming up. I won’t mention it otherwise I might get one of his customary ALL IN CAPITALS emails (he’s a regular reader). Thoughts have naturally turned to an epic pressie to celebrate the big day – maybe a joint one between us all. And of course, being me, the first thing I thought of was that old thing about life experiences and not things – snapshots, not stuff.
If you’re planning a family holiday this year, you can’t go very far wrong with the Canary Islands. The climate is beautiful year-round, and around this little archipelago just off the south west coast of Morocco, there’s a holiday, and a hotel, to suit you. Whether you’re looking for peace and quiet, or for a bustling party destination, there really is something for everyone. Here are my top five Canary Island experiences:
So if you pop in occasionally, you’ll know that Mr English and I recently spent a while in Florida, visiting the Macy’s stores in both Orlando and Sarasota. We particularly loved Sarasota – it’s a beautiful area and there’s bags of stuff to do as well as a really cool foodie scene. We whittled our favourite experiences down to five really fab experiences:
There’s nowhere guaranteed to make me feel more Christmassy than a Disney park. Disney do Christmas so well, with twinkly lights, garlands and a 24m high Christmas tree (decorated with over 1000 decorations and 500 light bulbs) and, my favourite touch, snow fall on Main Street, USA (which always makes me cry). As an added bonus, this year, Disneyland Paris will be celebrating with the cast of their blockbuster movie, Frozen.
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?
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.
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I’m pretty sure that you’ve noticed we’ve been cruising on the Allure of the Seas around the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean challenged the boys to have a really active high-adrenaline cruise and I think we managed it, what with zip-lining, surfing on the Flow-Rider, snorkelling, power rafting and much more. And while the boys were doing all this, it left us lots of lovely free time for lazing, eating out, sunbathing and a few cocktails too! Here’s how we got on:
So you know that one of my biggest obsessions is about creating snapshots: when we’re old and grey, we should all be able to look back on our lives and have lots of memories stores away, snapshots of people and places that meant a lot to us. My boys already love to travel and I really hope they both strike out into the world and have loads of magical experiences, the memories of which they can cherish forever.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a moan about mobile data roaming when travelling abroad. Obviously, being online and staying in contact is really important when, like me, it’s your business, but just generally, most people want to be able to stay in touch when they’re abroad (although obviously tweeting when you’re on the beach is generally only the preserve of nutters like me).
So as you’ll probably remember, Mr English and I had a wonderful few days in Guernsey earlier this year. Recently, the lovely chaps at Visit Guernsey asked if I would be interested in contributing to their 2014 brochure and of course I was delighted. They’ve just sent me my page and I’m so delighted with it, I asked if I could share it with you. Isn’t it amazing? The styling is fabulous and I’m so proud and pleased to have been asked. Do try and get over to Guernsey very soon, it really is a beautiful place.
One of my favourite days on the Disney Magic was, unbelievably, the day we got off. We were dreading it as we had to disembark pretty early and our flight from Barcelona back to the UK wasn’t until 7pm. I had no idea what to do or where to go.
Happily, it turned out that our lovely friends Drew and David are huge Barcelona fans and have been to the area loads of times. They offered to show us around for the day, avoiding the tourist traps and it turned out to be such an incredible day, we just can’t wait to go back and spend longer in this amazing city.
We were dropped off by our coach right by the enormous ‘El Peix’ fish sculpture just at the Port Olimpic, and took a leisurely walk along Barceloneta Beach. It was ridiculously scorchio and although we were dressed in jeans, we rolled them up and had a paddle (well, you just have to). Our bimble along the beach led us to the rather awe inspiring Port Cable Car, or to give it its full title: the Transbordador Aeri del Port, which was slightly intimidating, but took us waaaay up above Barcelona. The views are incredible – we could even see the little tiny Disney Magic docked in the port to our left!
The cable car takes you up to the most beautiful gardens, with dancing fountains and more amazing views of the city. The hotel here is called the Miramar and we’d absolutely love to come back and stay here, it looks stunning. Here we are, standing outside the hotel:
After that, Dave and Drew had promised us a special treat. We took a gentle walk from the Miramar Gardens and couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw this, through a little gap in a fence:
Two perfect squares of shimmering Listerine water, with barely a soul about. You might recognise these pools, officially the Piscines Municipals de Montjuïc, from Kylie’s ‘Slow’ video. They really are stunning and apart from a few locals they were practically empty. We hadn’t brought any swimming stuff but the boys stripped off and swam in their boxers – I have to say, I was mighty jealous as it was really steaming hot. What a beautiful experience, though, even if I could only dip my toes in the water! The pools are only open for a short time during the summer, but at €6 for entry, they’re a total bargain and again have a stunning view over the city. Just gorgeous and one of my favourite memories from the day.
After a couple of hours swimming and lazing, we decided to head back into the city for a well deserved G&T. We walked through the beautiful Joan Maragall Gardens – an absolutely lush oasis – you just wouldn’t believe they were so near a bustling city – they were completely empty too. The Albéniz Palace is in the gardens and there are amazing waterfalls and features dotted all around it:
The meandering walk eventually took us around to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, from which steps (and some escalators) lead right back down to the city centre. The waterfalls on the way down are spectacular:
Following Dave and Drew, we headed into the city to the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and into the huge Arenas shopping centre, which used to be the bullring in the centre of Barcelona. The old facade hides a new, glossy shopping centre, and trying not to look at several floors of shops, we whizzed up in a glass lift right to the top of the building, which is encircled by the most amazing terrace packed full of restaurants, bars and cafés. We ended our day with goldfish bowl sized glasses of gin and tonic, made perfect with the addition of a scoop of lemon sorbet.
Heaven. I can’t wait to go back.
And so we’re back: relaxed, revived and probably half pickled by now. On the bright side, we’ll probably never go mouldy as we’re about 99% alcohol. I’m keeping away from open flames for a few days, just in case.
Ah we had a fabulous time. We sailed from Harwich to Le Havre, La Rochelle and Bilbao in utter luxury and feel that we’ve learned so much about wine. The wine tour was hosted by the lovely Oz Clarke (who, I believe, is actually 100% alcohol) and the equally knowledgeable and fabulous Tom Forrest from the famous Vinopolis in London.
Luckily for you, I took notes during all the wine Masterclasses and I have some incredible wines to introduce you to, as well as some wonderful wine and food matches. Tom and Oz have a marvellous rapport (making it bloody impossible to take notes as they frequently finish each others’ sentences) and their wine masterclasses were hilarious, informative and, as you can imagine, a bit boozy. They weren’t at all snooty or snobby and spent a lot of time talking to us about wine, both during the masterclasses and also rather late into the night in the martini bar!
The Celebrity Infinity is a seriously luxurious Millennium Class ship (although it’s somewhat knocking on in cruise world terms, being the grand old age of 12 and a bit), holding over 2000 guests, with several speciality restaurants, including Qsine (where a cover charge of $45 applies), a quite incredible modern dining experience. At Qsine, you order an array of small plates (although they shouldn’t be called plates as the food arrives on everything but plates!) and then dive in and share, chat and scoff away while the waiters bring more and more delicious food to try. Highlights for me were the lobster escargot and an amazing Moroccan banquet served on a kind of culinary ‘block of flats’ type arrrangement – quite incredible. Plus, having two wine experts choosing wine to match your food choices made it all the more special!
People come back year after year for the Immersive Wine Cruises and we met some truly lovely people on board: Carol and David, Sharon and Bill, and new cruisers, Tony and Carla (who I managed to call ‘Sharon’ for a whole evening by mistake, and who was still nice to me). It was great to share experiences with the group as they were from really diverse backgrounds and varied from seasonal cruisers to cruise ‘virgins’. They all had a love of wine in common and it was a real treat to sample incredible wines, visit vineyards and enjoy food-matching dinners together. Lots of people on these cruises strike up friendships and return to meet up again next time.
Our one gripe (if you can call it a gripe) was with the drinks packages which were a bit confusing. The ‘classic’ package, for example, costs about £35 a day (costs vary) and entitles the cruiser to drinks, including coke, juice, tea, coffee, bottled water, beer, etc, up to $5.75. It also entitles you to wine by the glass, cocktails etc up to $9.25.
This can be confusing as, for example, if you fancy a glass of wine that costs $10 you can’t have it unless you pay the whole $10 for it. You can’t just pay the difference and add on £0.75 to your bill. It can be embarrassing if you order something over your package price by mistake (or on purpose if you’re prepared to pay the extra) and have the waiter say ‘I’m sorry, madam, that’s not on your package so you’ll be billed for that’, and it’s a pain to trawl through a wine list finding things you can ‘afford’.
Still, you don’t have to buy a package (my maths isn’t up to whether it’s better value than just buying your drinks as you go along – depends how much you drink, presumably), and we were incredibly lucky on the Immersive Wine Cruise to be treated to all sorts of fabulous wines from all around the globe, and had the added thrill of being guided through the tastings by Oz and Tom.
Being on a cruise brings a whole new meaning to the words ‘all inclusive’ though. Most nights we ate in the Trellis restaurant, where the food was superb. Highlights included a delicious slow-roasted dish of short ribs that just fell apart, a deliciously delicate sea bass, and a surf and turf dish with a steak so enormous that it beat even Mr English. Desserts were another highlight, and we felt it was lovely to dine at the table with proper waiter service. It made the experience seem really special. If you’d rather just eat buffet style, though, there’s the Ocean View Café up on deck ten where we ate breakfast (everything and anything you could possibly imagine, including eggs benedict made to order – yum).
We rather fell in love with a little place called ‘Bistro on 5′ ($5 cover charge) where they did lovely crepes, soups, salads and paninis. we popped in most days and got to know the staff who led us straight to our favourite corner. The decor is gorgeous, with muted gold leather sofas and dark wood. We also spent rather a lot of time at the Martini Bar where the bar is made of real ice and the bar staff make amazing drinks and entertain with all sorts of theatrical shenanigans, including pouring several martinis at once.
Away from the food and drink, there is a beautiful pool area with lots of different pools, whirlpools, etc, plus an indoor thalassotherapy pool which is gorgeously warm, even when the weather’s not up to much. There’s a wonderful AquaSpa, where I had my favourite Elemis tri-enzyme facial, but you can have anything from Keratin hair straightening to teeth whitening and botox if you so desire! Mr English chose to pound the treadmill in the gym a few times. I preferred a gentle walk around the deck or a coffee and a slice of cake in Café Al Bacio. Each to their own, I say!
Next up, then, it’s wine, wine and more wine. Brace yourself!
Join Celebrity Cruises’ (www.celebritycruises.co.uk; 0845 456 0523) Celebrity Infinityon a 12-night France and Iberian Discovery cruise-only from £736 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).
Price includes a 12-night cruise departing from Harwich (England) and calling at Paris (Le Havre, France), Bordeaux (La Rochelle, France), Bilbao (Spain), Vigo (Spain) and Porto (Leixoes, Portugal) before returning to Harwich; meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Price based on 19 September 2014 departure.
For more information or to book call 0845 456 0523 or visitwww.celebritycruises.co.uk
So as you know, I’m a huge Disney fan. I adore Minnie Mouse, regularly weep over my ancient Beauty and the Beast DVD and could walk you around Walt Disney World blindfolded telling you all about my favourite rides. I love the films, the characters, the parks, the food (Disney dining is second to none, but cupcakes are my speciality – ask me anything). The boys have grown up with Hercules, Toy Story, Stitch and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney has been a part of all our lives for as long as we can all remember.
This summer we were ridiculously excited to be invited for an amazing trip aboard the Disney Magic as it cruised around the Mediterranean for one of the last times before heading to dry dock for a spectacular new makeover and with an 18 year old and a 15 year old in tow, I was interested to see how we’d get on.
Let’s be clear: there are as many different types of teens as there are holidays. You’ve got your adventurous ones, your quiet ones, your sociable ones, your ‘not talk to anyone at all’ ones… So what’s the best way to choose a holiday that will suit your teenagers AND the rest of you?
1. Involve them in the choice of holiday
As I write about travel, we tend to go on holiday a lot. My teenagers have been on all sorts of trips but the ones that are the best received are always the ones where they’ve had some choice in the matter. Make it a treat: head out for a burger (this is our standard meeting place as it guarantees at least a few minutes of silence where I can get my point across) and flump a big pile of brochures on the table (obviously you can tip the odds in your favour by adding in your favourites). Arguing will no doubt ensue, but you’ll also be able to gather who wants what from a holiday.
2. Teenagers need freedom
Cruises are perfect for families. Think about it: there’s buckets of fun for the little ones, plus the teenagers can’t really wander off and there are a gazillion activities for them to do. You can stay by the pool, head to the beach or sightsee on shore days, watch the latest Disney films (either on the amazing ‘Tunnel Vision’, an outdoor screen, or in a proper cinema), catch a show (the shows are INCREDIBLE – I always cry), play a game of basketball or table tennis… a Disney cruise is like 10 holidays in one and their kids’ clubs are amazing.
3. Which brings me to a word about kids’ clubs
Teen Clubs are really hard to get right. It helps if the age groups are well thought out (young teens and old teens is the best split: no 17 year old wants their style cramped by a 13 year old) and the leadership needs to be friendly and non-patronising. ‘Teen disco’ tends to strike fear into the heart of any teenager, but generally by day four or five they’ll be there, hanging about looking like they don’t really want to be there, but actually enjoying themselves. By day seven, they’ll be cruising around in a huge pack, annoying everyone. Teen clubs also allow them more access to the facilities: Charlie wanted to go into the gym, but it’s over 18s only. Turns out the teen club organise group visits to the gym. Result: happy Charlie.
4. Think outside the box
Our Disney Magic cruise took us to Spain, Italy and France, but maybe you fancy going further afield, or you’ve ‘done’ Rome already? No problem. Disney Cruises go to the most amazing places: cruise the Caribbean, or swoosh along the California coastline. Next on my list? Alaska!
5. Compromise compromise and compromise a bit more
Want to schlep around Pompeii on your shore day but have kids who want to lie by the pool plugged in to their iPhones? It’s all about the compromise. There are some absolutely amazing shore excursions – you don’t have to spend hours in a coach or traipsing round cathedrals. Let them choose what they want to do – I wanted to see Monaco, so we chose a trip with a visit to the Top Car Museum in Monte Carlo, which suited all of us. Also, maybe consider splitting up. We find this works well: I might head off on a trip with one, leaving Dad slobbing on the deck with the other.
6. City breaks can be really cool
We weren’t looking forward to our last day in Barcelona. We were disembarking at 9am and had all day to kill before our evening flight. We were lucky to team up with friends we’d made who knew it inside out and showed us around some really cool places. It turned out to be one of our favourite days.
7. Disney is part of everyone’s past
Some of our favourite moments were really unexpected. We bumped into Stitch – a huge favourite from their childhood, and one evening we sat and watched Hercules up on the deck, singing along to our favourite songs from the film and reminiscing about when it was their favourite film (‘nice catch, jerkules!’). Lovely moments to share.
8. Consider doubling up
Know another family with kids a similar age? Think about holidaying together. Not only is it fun to have a Disney adventure with friends, but it’s a lot easier walking into that kids’ club on the first day if they’re doing it with someone they know. It also means that you have more adults to mingle with too!
9. Everybody loves the pirate party
Trust me: nobody is ever too old for pirate night. Everyone on the ship dresses up as pirates (whole families bring their costumes with them), there are pirate themed dinners and then a massive party on the deck afterwards, with the best firework display ever and then a DJ until the early hours. There is nothing better than dancing to amazing tunes out on the deck at ridiculous o’clock in the morning under the biggest sky full of stars you ever saw.
10. Disney’s for everyone
Think Disney’s just for young ones? Think again. One of my happiest moments after we came back from the cruise was overhearing Sam talking to a friend describing the cruise: ‘I’m going every year if I can, mate, you can’t beat Disney’. Nothing makes me happier than to know I’ve passed my love of everything Disney onto my children.
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.
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!
I think one of the worst things about flying is actually getting yourself to the airport. From where we live there are few options that aren’t a massive pain. You can get a coach, but you have to drive to the bus station, so where do you park your car for two weeks? You can train it, but after struggling up stairs with a massive suitcase at Clapham Junction when the lift was out of order, I vowed never to do it again. So basically this leaves me with driving, which is my preferred option.
When we’ve used airport parking before, we’ve always used the system where you park in a car park a way away from the airport, then hop on a bus to the terminal. Sometimes this works really well, but on the return journey, when you’re freezing cold, haven’t slept after a night flight, and you’re the 57th stop on a packed bus, it can be a bit of a pain.
Let’s hear it for Stress Free Airport Parking, then. The clue’s in the title, but basically they offer a service (at every major UK airport) where you drive to the airport, they meet you right by the terminal, you hand over your car to them, they store it, and then pick you up when you land.
I was keen to try it out, but had a few worries. Firstly, at Luton (my local airport and the biggest pain in the bum to drop anyone off or pick them up) they charge you £2 JUST TO DROP SOMEONE OFF. I’ve never encountered this charge at any other airport, but yep, you have to pay. And if you don’t pay, the camera vans regularly on patrol will spy you dropping passengers off on the approach road and charge you. I know this because I’ve been caught. Not worth the £80 fine. So how would Stress Free Airport Parking get round that? Also, where do they take your car? Do they look after it? Who drives it? What if I’m delayed?
So I tried it out. And I have to say, I was mightily impressed. You ring when you’re 20 minutes away from the airport, drive into the short stay car park and take a ticket, then a very nice driver meets you in a specially allocated bay. You do a walk round of the car with him (so there’s no disputes afterwards about whether a certain mark or scratch was there before) and they mark down the mileage. They guarantee they’ll do less than x amount of miles on your car (I think at Luton it was 20, but can’t remember exactly). The driver (who is fully insured – I double checked this) then takes your car away to secure storage while you tootle off on your holiday. When you return, you give them a ring as you collect your baggage and when you step out of the terminal, your car is magically waiting for you – car park ticket paid, ready for you to drive home.
The drivers were uniformed, polite and efficient, my car was immaculate, and had less than ten miles added to the mileage, and the whole experience was completely stress-free. I asked my driver what happens if you’re delayed, and because they’ve got your flight number, they keep a track of flights so they know if you’re going to be in late and expect you at the right time. No expensive calls and text from foreign airports, then.
Our verdict: brilliant. I’ve used it twice since our test and I’ll be booking again when I fly from Heathrow next month. It really is the only way to travel!
Many thanks to Stress Free Airport Parking for inviting me to try out their service.
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- My top tips for planning a family villa holiday April 7, 2015
- Moroccan spiced slow roasted leg of lamb April 5, 2015
- Researching beautiful new technology in the kitchen April 3, 2015