Last winter we decided to enrol Ita into a 6 week ice skating course at Planet Ice. Unfortunately we went back into another national lockdown and so her lessons were postponed until May time! It felt a little odd going to an ice rink in the Spring/ Summer, but hey! The pandemic has thrown everything off and we didn’t want to cancel because we know how much support places like Planet Ice need financially.
Prior to booking, we looked into a few different places but decided that we really liked the sound of the Skate Excellence course offered by Planet Ice.
‘Skate Excellence Learn to Skate’ lessons teach the fundamentals of ice skating and have been designed for beginners of all ages, abilities, and learning styles. We were a bit concerned that Ita was too young (she started just before her fifth birthday) but this course is suitable for those aged 4 years upwards.
The lessons run on a regular basis, either over a 6 week period or over 3 & 5 days during the school holidays. We decided to go with the 6 week lessons which include 30 minute of group tuition, skate hire, training aids and coach support. This was at a cost of £66. In hindsight, I think the 3 or 5 day course would be better as each week it took a while for Ita to gain her confidence again.
The group that Ita was in was nice and small and her instructor was always really kind and patient with her. There were a few occasions where she fell over and I did worry about how that would affect her confidence, but she always got back up. We also found that some weeks Ita wanted to use a training aid and other weeks she was happy to be on her skates, but she was never forced either way. Encouraged yes, but ultimately it was Ita decision. This made such a difference.
There are lots of courses at Planet Ice. What really surprised me was that there was even a course for toddlers! They offer skating classes to children as young as 24 months of age to 5 years. These classes are specially structured classes created by the Skate Excellence team using penguins. The young skater will quickly become familiar with the Skate Excellence lesson format, and once they have completed the 5 levels of the Ice Penguin Syllabus, they can progress with ease onto the Skate Excellence learn to skate level 1 lesson. The young skaters are rewarded with an Learn to Skate Ice Penguin certificate to celebrate their success.
This is a fantastic way to introduce young children to the ice. This 6 week course starts at £56.
As already mentioned, there are lots of different courses including Hockey and Show & Skate.
There are also a number of Planet Ice arenas – Altrincham, Basingstoke, Blackburn, Cannock, Coventry, Gillingham, Gosport, Hemel Hempstead, Leeds, Milton Keyes, Peterborough, Solihull, Uttoxeter and Widnes.
During the end of the summer holidays we visited Bristol Zoo which is one of the oldest zoos in the world.
The zoo opened to the public on Monday 11th July 1836 and there is no denying that the historic decor of the zoo is evident. It is possibly the most beautiful zoo we have ever visited. The landscaping in itself was gorgeous to see! The paths are lined with huge concrete urns on plinths filled with exotic plants. It really was stunning. What we liked about this zoo especially is that it was very easy to navigate, with no hills which meant it is perfect for those with buggies or physical disabilities.
The zoo itself is quite small but is home to some of the most amazing creatures from red pandas, gorillas to sea lions. We actually felt that the sea lion enclosure was the best we have visited – the layout is brilliant for you to see them well and it felt like they had a lot of space too. Unfortunately the butterfly enclosure was not open during our visit which was a shame.
There is a play area here which Ita really liked as well as a small splash pad area. There is also a high rope area called ZooRopia and this is at an additional cost.
There are quite a number of experiences that this zoo offers including Keeper for the Day, Meeting Penguins, Lemurs and Giant Tortoises. There is even a Gardener Experience too.
Bristol Zoo Gardens has helped save over 175 species from extinction in human care and in the wild. They have lots of conservation projects which I feel is really important to know about when you visit zoos. It was therefore really sad news to learn that this zoo is closing in late 2022. If you’re hoping to visit, then now is the time!
Bristol Zoo Gardens will continue to welcome visitors into 2022, and Wild Place Project will remain open throughout the development phase until it becomes the new Bristol Zoo in 2024. (Taken from Bristol Zoo Gardens website).
Children under 2 years are free and those aged 2-14 years cost £11. Adult tickets are £16.22. As goes prices, these are some of the most reasonable we have come across for zoos!
Although I had heard of this little farm before, only last month did I think it was about time we visited. I therefore went on to their website and booked two events; the Fairy and Mermaid ones, because I knew Ita would enjoy these most.
Each ticket was only £10 and although their photos on Instagram looked really beautiful, I reminded myself that £10 does not go very far these days so I shouldn’t get my (nor Ita’s) expectations up too much. The fee was for the themed event but also for the farm too which included animals as you would expect, and the play areas and sandpit also. I had to check a few times because I was certain I wasn’t ordering correctly. £10 is so budget friendly but I was assured that I had booked properly so off we went.
Last week we visited for the Fairy event. I had scheduled out a morning for this, thinking it would probably be a swift visit. I was wrong!
The event starts in the arts barn where Ita made a wand, decorated a fairy door and a unicorn mask and done some colouring in too. This took about 30 – 40 minutes but you weren’t rushed.
Afterwards, we walked across the field, led by a member of staff, to the little forest where we followed a trail. The trail is decorated with fairy doors, dragons and colourful threads. At the end there were two beautiful fairies blowing bubbles and larking around. The fairies looked absolutely incredible! Ita was mesmerised by them and they engaged so well.
We were right at the front for this trail and we did feel a bit rushed by the other parents behind us, although I don’t think this was deliberate. Everyone was really excited! I would suggest taking your time here and soaking in all of the decorations they have put out. I also think the fairies looked so good that it is worth generating a conversation with your child before meeting the fairies. Ita just kept staring at them – afterwards she said they were the most beautiful fairies she’s ever seen and had a whole range of questions she wanted to ask them!
After the trail we decided to go for a walk to see the pigs, goats and horses. I kept checking the time though as I had only factored in an hour or so – Ita was disappointed to be leaving so soon but I reminded her we were due back for the Mermaid event too… luckily!
This morning we headed back and after our visit last week I just knew the Mermaid one would not disappoint. Again the event starts off in the Arts and Crafts Barn where Ita made a paper jelly fish and decorated an under the sea themed magnet, as well as colouring in a star fish.
We were then escorted to meet the Mermaid who was in water! Actual water! The children were encouraged to remove the plastic from the water she was in which I thought was a brilliant idea. All around there were decorations such as a turtle with crisp packets in its tummy. A fantastic way for children to learn about sea pollution!
Again, Ita was in awe. She couldn’t believe there was a real mermaid in water with bubbles everywhere! The set up was really very impressive. Shes asked could we go back this week and for £12pp I am really considering it.
A little tip here… Stay behind to make sure you get a proper meet and a lovely photo. It was a tad chaotic here as the staff are just so polite. Parents were standing in front of children – probably because it really was all quite stunning, but it was annoying to be honest. We left pretty quickly because of it and I kind of regret doing that!
We then headed outside to the electric carts. Ita wanted to go on these when we initially visited by I didn’t have the £1 coin. This time I came prepared! We then spent some time looking at the animals again and Ita played in the outdoor play area which is just by the miniature railway (it is very cute and Thomas themed!).
There is also a daily schedule which includes;
Pig feeding- 10:45
Meet the Donkeys- 11:00
Tractor Rides- 11:15 until 12:00 (weather permitting)
KuneKune Pig Feeding- 11:30
Meet the Pony- 12:00
Milking Demonstration- 14.30
Pig Feeding- 15:15
Tractor Rides- 15:15 until 16:00 (weather permitting)
Meet the Pony– 16:00
There is also a little café on site which has a decent range of cold and warm food and drinks. The prices feel reasonable too. Given it is so cheap to attend, we have on both occasions eaten here.
Although I don’t feel you could spend an entire day here, you could happily spend around 4-5hours here, especially so when the events are running. If you are travelling specifically for an event, I would suggest incorporating in a few things which are close by too such as Hitchin Lavender.
The events here seem to change each week so it is worth checking frequently so you don’t miss out. Just before the fairy one, there was a dinosaur one on. We have decided to purchase the annual pass which for a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 children) is only £82.
Another little tip – dress up! We had such a lovely morning getting ready for the mermaid event and Ita had lots of compliments.
Overall we really enjoyed the events and I think they are perfect for purse friendly days out. I feel like Standalone Farm is a real gem and we will definitely be returning when they have other events on.
To look at their website and to book tickets to an event see the link below.
A few weeks ago, Everyone Active contacted us and asked us to try one of their family programmes which has been designed to keep you active, especially during the summer holidays.
We have always been a family who get out and about loads but lockdown slowed us down completely so we couldn’t wait to try out some of the activities on offer. One of the best things about Everyone Active is that you can book ‘taster’ lessons. These might be things that you are intrigued to give a go, but do not want to commit to a full term of classes for example. We love exposing Ita to a range of different adventures so this was perfect for us.
We decided that we would try a few different things that we do not do so frequently.
Day 1 – Tennis at Paddington Rec in West London.
Day 2 – Family Swimming at Westminster Lodge in St Albans.
Day 3 – Play in the park. We took inspiration from the app and played tennis again too!
Day 4 – Wall climbing with Steve Hart at Westminster Lodge.
Day 5 – Cooking at home with the help of Jonny Marsh.
We found that using Everyone Active encouraged us to book things such as swimming which I feel we have taken for granted. Ita has been taking swimming lessons since she was 3, and since the last 18 months has been dictated by covid and its rules, we have not been able to watch her in lessons. This was the first time we went swimming as a family since the beginning of 2020. We couldn’t believe how well she could swim! Family swimming will become a permanent fixture for us now.
We also tried our hand at Wall Climbing, which is not something we may have tried out if it were not for Everyone Active. Ita especially enjoyed this and it turns out Dominic isn’t too bad at climbing! The instructor, Steve, was brilliant. He was incredibly well informed and was very patient since we have never been wall climbing before.
By signing up to Everyone Active, you can book various activities at a huge number of different centres across England. There are so many centres, each with different lessons and classes such as tennis, ice skating, table tennis, badminton and gym and spa. There is even gymnastics classes and skiing too! We found that the ability to visit multiple venues, was really useful. Especially handy if you are planning a staycation!
Many of the centres also have creche facilities which is such a welcome addition to the accessibility, especially for mums and dads alike.
You can download the Everyone Active app and from there you can set up your own family activity plan – completely free! There are some brilliant activities to try. You never know where you might find a talent!
For further information, head to the website (linked below).
I’ve been working on this blog post now since we returned from our Disney Magic at Sea UK Staycation Cruise. This was something that was requested and I have tried to factor in quite a few of the questions we were asked, but also things we think may be helpful to know too.
Its quite obvious we are huge Disney fans! We often visit Disneyland Paris about 3 times per year and our big holiday to Disney World Florida had to be moved numerous times thanks to covid. We’ve really been missing the excitement and buzz of our Disney trips. So when we heard that there would be a staycation style cruise we were so excited! However with the details being rescinded and then the confusion that came with the re-release of the information… we were slightly apprehensive about booking. Even on the day the reservations opened, we weren’t sure whether to book but eventually did because we just weren’t sure when we would make it back to a Disney park. Weighting up our concerns, we decided to book for 2 nights from Southampton.
Our trip was quite close to the beginning of the cruises starting so we were closely following those who embarked from Liverpool in order to have a feel of what to expect. One thing I have to say is… Disney folk don’t like to criticise Disney. Therefore many of the reviews we read and vlogs we watched were overly complimentary. We even watched one very popular Disney YouTubers vlogs and despite it being incredibly obvious that she was bored stiff less, she didn’t dare say it. I honestly don’t think it is right or fair and we always pride ourselves on giving honest reviews. Therefore, here is our completely honest opinion!
Boarding/ Testing / Embarkation
When we arrived at the port we were quite early so we were told we needed to come back only 15 minutes before our port time so we headed to the local McDonalds along with quite a few other families. Once it was time to head back we parked up, our luggage was swiftly taken from us and were told we need to immediately make our way to the terminal to begin our check in process.
This entire process was swift and quick and the staff here were really patient and helpful. I felt quite anxious thinking it would be sods law for one of us to test positive and the staff were just to relaxed that it really helped calm me too!
Once we had our test results we headed through the building to await at the terminal. Here was very chaotic and despite our boarding time being at 12.30, we didn’t actually board the ship until after 2pm. Bring snacks! Lots of snacks and plenty of water.
Usually there would be a photo op here with Mickey and Minnie in their special outfits but of course that was off the cards on this occasion. I do feel that not having that special photo op is a big loss and I think Disney Cruise Line (DCL) could do better to have some sort of photo op even if it wasn’t with characters.
Boarding is really quite special! You are welcomed on board and announced by your family name to the entire ship! This is quite standard for Disney cruises but we thought it was such a lovely way to welcome us on board.
Once you are onboard, there is a small welcome and dance by Mickey and Minnie and then you are escorted to learn about the health and safety.
If you are doing a 2 or even 3 day cruise, the late embarkation and the health and safety part really eats into your day. As mentioned, we had one of the earliest PATs and yet we weren’t fully ready to explore the ship until around 3. Your luggage is left by your door from around 4pm. My biggest tip here would be to bring swimming items in your handbag and head straight to the pool and grab some food at Cabanas.
Documents to have on you – details of your booking including reservation number, your prenetics personal account with the varication of vaccination status, your port arrival form, NHS Passport.
Day Time Activities
This was by far one of our main concerns prior to booking. When we looking on the DCL website or asked people who had cruised before, the information was really lacking in any great detail. Usually, you would of course stop at ports and leave the ship during the day but the staycation cruises meant you were on the ship for the entire time.
So what is on offer? Well in short… not much. We did a drawing class which was really good fun, spent time in the pool and tried to meet some characters. One morning Ita had an appointment at the Bippidy Boppidy Boutique (which I will share further info on) and she also attended the kids club too. However, there just was not enough to keep you excited or entertained, we felt. There are things you could book at an extra cost such as cocktail classes or the spa, but given the fact that this was a staycation, DCL absolutely should have considered more things to keep guests busy.
You can of course visit the cinema and it was decided on our cruise that you could also visit the theatre for a live show during the day too. I would really recommend seeing a live show during the day. The shows are INCREDIBLE!
Shows and Theatre
We were really fortunate in that we got to see Dreams and a new show called Tangled. I cried the entire way through Dreams – it was utterly fantastic and just as good, if not better, than any show we have seen in the West End. Tangled was really good too and I feel like the shows really stand out from our trip.
Since you can now see a show during the day, I would recommend doing this! I wish we had seen Dreams twice!
It was not our intention to watch any movies even though there are various shown throughout the day. Jungle Cruise was just out and was show onboard but we decided against spending our time watching a movie. In hindsight, I wish we had let go of any hope in seeing any characters and just visited the cinema instead!! Which brings me on to…
Oh gosh. Where do I even start with this one? For us, characters are a big deal. Ita absolutely loves the likes of Stitch and Minnie so when we visit the parks, we do make a big effort to get in as many character meets as possible. Given the circumstances, we knew that the typical character meets wouldn’t go ahead, but there was no way that we could have expected what we encountered. It was dire. I have nothing positive to share about the character meets and I am here typing and deleting my words in case I seem too negative!
Essentially, the mascot characters were so far away that any interaction or engagement was near impossible. Much of the time it felt as if the characters were running away from you. It was something that upset many of the smaller children because they couldn’t understand why they were so far away. By contrast, the princesses – who obviously have no costume or mask covering their faces – were allowed closer. It really made no sense at all. The princess meets did make for the better meets though and you could take a photo without it looking ridiculous.
Another issue is that the planned character meets were often in the theatre which was not the prettiest of backdrops. It would have been brilliant to have been able to get some photos outside on the deck, even if socially distanced.
Day 2 is known as Marvel day on the staycations and all of the characters are dressed up in these outfits. There were a few marvel characters in the foyer (again too far away) and in the theatre you can meet Donald, Daisy and Minnie in their costumes.
Ita met Stitch in the kids club and that was a real highlight for her! During the open house at the kids club we also got to meet Woody and Jessie – this was really good and I would highly recommend popping in during the opening house (the morning on the 2nd day) to take a look around and grab a picture!
Dining was BRILLIANT!
This was something we really enjoyed and felt the ship came to life in the evenings!
We were allocated Lumiere’s and Animators Palate for our dinners but I knew that I wanted Ita to experience Rapunzel’s Royal Table. We asked at Guest Services and they were able to find us a table in Rapunzel’s with no problem. The menu was really good and the show was brilliant. As expected, Ita loved it! I would highly suggest that you dine at Rapunzels – the show is only on for dinner.
On our second night we enjoyed Animators Palate. I have only ever heard good things about this restaurant and it was definitely the highlight of our staycation. Once we were seated we were asked to do a little drawing of ourselves. Later on during our meal, the restaurant turned into colour and all of our creations were brought to life!
Ita absolutely loved this and both myself and my husband were wowed!
We also ate at Lumiere’s for lunch which was a bit bland by comparison. Although the setting was quite obviously Beauty and the Beast, there was not any additional elements apart from a painted wall.
Each morning we headed to Cabanas for breakfast. We saw a few people complain about the breakfast but we felt there was plenty of options – cooked, cereals and fresh fruits. We really enjoyed it! One disappointing fact was that there were no Mickey waffles! Almost a crime you might say! Afterwards we learnt that they were only in Lumieres and Rapunzels at breakfast time. So if you do really want Mickey waffles then make sure you head there.
Health and Safety
This was something that was stressed before reservations opened and equally, something that put many of sailing.
I want to be very clear here, I acknowledge covid is real and we were doubled jabbed before this was a requirement. However, the precautions taken as addition are really disproportionate and in my opinion they made a huge difference to enjoying this cruise.
Onboard, everything was spotless and everyone was socially distanced and wearing masks. (Please don’t get me started on the masks…). The issue is that you couldn’t so much as get a photo without wearing a mask and this was really off putting. It is also the single reason we did not purchase a photo package. Why on earth would I want a book of us wearing masks?!
Children under a certain age did not have to wear masks in general however, only after booking the Bippidy Boppidy Boutique were we informed that Ita would be expected to. Frustratingly, I had already told Ita about this and she was really excited….
Bippidy Boppidy Boutique
One of the activities that I really wanted to book for Ita was the Bippidy Boppidy Boutique. She has done this in Disneyland Paris and was so excited at the prospect of doing it in Florida, so I really wanted to make sure that I was able to get a booking for her. When I did get a reservation, I was so happy!
However, one thing that was not clear to us was that she would be required to wear a mask. The whole experience was really ruined by the requirement to wear a mask, one I consider to be draconian and insanely unnecessary given the precautions we took to get on board. As a result of the need to wear a mask, children cannot have their make up done… exactly. So we paid for her to sit in a seat and have her hair done… Bippidy Boppidy BOOOOOO. We were given a make up pallet to take away but it just isn’t the same. I can’t recommend this experience sadly and I know others who feel the same way too.
What I will say though is that the prices are well reflected. We brought a specially made dress with us so opted for the 99dollars package. Ita received a little bag, a BBB T-shirt, make-up pallet, nail polish and a sash. She also of course had her hair styled. What is unfortunate is that because she had to wear a mask the whole way through, I wasn’t too keen on capturing it and therefore I don’t really have any photos of this experience. It’s such a shame and I hope this is reviewed.
As the cruise was all inclusive, you might be surprised to learn that you cant actually get drinks everywhere without paying. Every single time we wanted a soft drink (without paying) we had to make our way to deck 9. We had thought perhaps room service would be different however it wasn’t. So do bear this in mind!
Food is included however and as is milk, but we were charged for our sprite and cola. Definitely order a Mickey ice cream just for the sake of it.. although it’s a fancy choc ice, it’s still quite cute!
Tips and Tax
It is really important to consider that whatever you purchase in the shops is subject to an additional 20% tax and that for every night on the ship, each member of your party incurs tips which need to be paid upon check out. You can actually pay this in advance of sailing and I would recommend doing this!
On the first day we didn’t really experience any issues with motion sickness but the second day hit us hard! And not just us, it hit plenty of people hard! We took some tablets which did help but they also made us really tired! I think if you are prone to motion sickness then cruises probably aren’t for you.
This was a bit of a let down to be honest. I don’t know what we were expecting but by comparison to the huge welcome, leaving the ship felt a bit like we were being kicked off! We actually laughed that when you board your luggage is taken away to be brought to your room and you get that fancy shout out, but when you leave your expected to bring your own luggage off and there is no special bye!
Highlights – the live shows and the evening dining at Rapunzels and Animators Palate. These were just incredible. Honestly the evenings just came to life and felt really magical. We have the best memories from the evenings.
Poor parts – without a doubt the lack of character interaction and boredom during the day. I would recommend forgetting about the characters and enjoying a live show and the theatre during the day instead. Swimming is also an option too!
Ita absolutely loved the cruise which was by far the most important thing for us.
She has even asked to go again!
Although I am glad that we went – and there definitely were some really lovely highlights and memories made – but overall it felt lacking in the Disney magic that we are so used to.
I really hope that DCL review the staycation for those who are yet to attend and I hope they take on board the need for magic!
Would we do another Disney Cruise? Absolutely! I think the pandemic stole some special experiences and we really believe that when things are better, this would be such a brilliant family break!
Yesterday we visited The Goring Hotel for their Afternoon Tea with Teddy, the Shetland pony. Having put stories up on social media of our visit, I received quite a few questions and as such I thought a blog post would be the best place to share our experience.
We booked this tea quite a number of months back because I knew it would sell out immediately. It is only on from the 16 – 31 August, so in excitement we booked to attend on the very first day. When we booked we were asked to decided whether to have our tea in the main room, a table in the garden or as a picnic on blankets, also in the garden. I just knew it would rain so I opted for us to be seated inside. (I will come back to this…).
When we arrived we were greeted and asked to wait in the bar until afternoon tea started. It was a bit disheartening that we were totally forgotten about and it wasn’t the most welcoming start. Once we were seated, we were introduced to our server and Ita was presented with a little rosette. Our server was really friendly and was really patient with Ita when she asked for plain ham sandwiches. Although we had booked for 3 afternoon teas, when we were there I felt that the menu was not something Ita would enjoy so we requested only 2 instead.
The food. Now this was of course something that most wanted to know about. It was very beige as you will see in the photos and reel on Instagram. The only themed element appeared to be the pony shaped biscuit. Although it was nice, I did feel it could have been more visually themed. My understanding of this experience, was that it was an afternoon tea with a pony however, it is really just in honour of Teddys 2 week residence at the hotel. This only makes sense when you realise that Teddys owner is in fact a Goring… ahhh.
Before our tea we walked around the garden and had a very brief encounter with Teddy, maybe 2 or 3 minutes only. Given our expectations, I told Ita that we would pop back after our tea and that she could spend more time with the pony and I would take some photos too. However when we went outside afterwards, Teddy was inside his stable area and his owner was in conversation with another family and we felt a bit awkward waiting around. (This is not a criticism, his owner really is lovely). We decided to leave but on the way out the hotel manager asked me for my opinion on our experience. I really don’t know what came over me as I am usually a smile and nod kind of person, even when I am really dissatisfied… but for some reason I told him the truth, in that I felt the interaction with the pony was really limited and not what we expected. He was so kind and walked us right back out to spend some more time with Teddy and allow me to take photos!
Aside from the rosette, Ita was also given a really beautiful art set with special pencils and a print of Teddy to take home and colour in. It really is such a gorgeous set and such a thoughtful gift too. I believe younger guests are gifted a pony soft toy.
In respect to the hotel, it is absolutely beautiful. It is where Kate Middleton stayed the night before her wedding, so you can just imagine. However the tea room just does not fit in with the rest of the hotel. It isn’t as ornate and it feels really modern by comparison to other parts. In saying that, it is still a pleasant setting. My only gripe was that all of the windows were open in anticipation of summer sun, but actually it was such a cold day that it was uncomfortable in the room. The weather forecast doesn’t look to good over the next week or so and therefore I think the tea outside will be a real issue.
Teddy is such a beautiful and placid little pony. You can see how much his owner loves him and she is so patient. The staff were really friendly which always makes a real difference for me.
Did we enjoy the tea? We did. It was a really nice experience, I just wish my expectations were a bit less than they were.
Was it worth the £50pp price? Yes, I think so! This is within the normal realms of prices as goes afternoon teas in London and I think it was priced really fairly.
The afternoon tea is booked out completely but if you do want to go, I would recommend ringing the hotel to ask about any cancellations. You call contact the reservations team on +44 (0)20 7396 9000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a special overnight package which includes;
Full English breakfast
A guaranteed upgrade
The Teddy-themed Afternoon Tea for Two
A special Teddy memento
Complimentary mineral water
An online daily newspaper
24 hour access to the gym
This is at a starting price of £635.
If you are going soon, here are my tips.
Ask to be seated inside now! Do not wait until the day. Although you may think sitting outside will give you more of an experience with Teddy, I honestly do not think it will and frankly the forecast looks cold and miserable.
Make a point of seeing the pony both before and after to make sure you do get the experience you want.
Consider the menu before going and deciding whether it is something your child will enjoy.
We took the trip on a Saturday, the weather was nice and we set off pretty early in the morning to get to the Zoo at opening time, there was ample parking and the entrance for the Zoo was so clean and so nice and professional. We knew we would be in for a great day!
I guess the first thing to make you aware of are the COVID Restrictions:
When we booked our ticket, you had to choose a timeslot as they were still doing staggered entrance and visitors must have a pre-booked ticket before entering the Zoo.
Face coverings are recommended in enclosed areas.
Social Distancing is encouraged.
Washing your hands is essential after coming into contact with the animals.
There are markers for areas which will have high traffic.
Tickets are available for the website and the prices can be found here:
The Zoo offers discounts for Midweek, Weekend and School Holiday Visitors too.
As soon as we entered the Zoo, Dominic downloaded the Zoo App which gives you access to the map of the zoo (which is really essential, as it is really big and you can easily miss out on some truly incredible animals).
Colchester Zoo house over 200 species of animal, some of which are particular favourites in our household (i.e. Giraffes, Elephants, Komodo Dragon, Sloths and Red Pandas).
The Zoo is split into different sections to make it easier to find where you are in the zoo and they have some really unique and unusual animals like Cheetahs, Hyena (they were amazing to watch and nothing like The Lion King), Malayan Sun Bears, Eurasian Grey Wolf, Leopards, a Koi fish section, Sealions, Meddelin Monkeys, Hippos, Sloths and Rainbow Lorikeets.
Our absolute favourite animals to see were the red pandas (of course), giraffes, the hippo, sloths, otters, the sealions, and the Fennec Fox.
The experience we would recommend the most would be to go to the Rainbow Lorikeet enclosure and purchase a £1 shot glass of nectar and feed them, it’s an interactive experience and suitable for all ages. It was incredible and Ita enjoyed it so much!
I cannot compliment the Zoo more when it comes to the number of things the kids can do on their visit.
There are so many play areas with slides, climbing frames, etc that are dotted around the zoo.
A Discover Centre is available to handle and view some different friendly bugs, and an Interactive Area with an interactive sandpit and screens so kids can play as they discover and learn.
Along with these, there is a Face Painting area and a Top Trump trail which can provide a lot of information for the kids!
The zoo offers an Elephant and Giraffe feeding experience, which for an extra £20 donation per group you can get some amazing photo opportunities and learn more about these amazing animals.
There are so many places to pick up some food, snacks, drinks, ice cream, etc – the zoo really does offer a lot of options and for pretty much every budget and taste.
Another random thing we noticed was the number of toilets located around the zoo, seems like they made a conscience effort to provide this for the visitors!
Overall Colchester Zoo is one of the best Zoos we have visited and will 100% be making another trip to Essex! The amount of amazing and unique animals and activities available for us adults and the kids are unrivalled.
I have eagerly awaited this day because it meant that we could reserve our seats for the big show onboard The Magic and pick our embarkation time too. Getting an early slot to board the ship was possibly more important to me than the show, since the cruises are so short. I wanted to make sure that we had a decent enough of time on the ship to see everything. On the first day, Disney allow you to visit everywhere and see everything (spa, kids club, Palo etc). This is specific to only the first day. Therefore as Ita had asked us repeatedly whether we could come to the kids club with her, it was important that we could do on the first day. After that she would need to go on her own.
The check-in line opens from 5am UK time, so I set my alarm for 4.30am and set both my laptop and my phone up ready to begin. My husband also had his laptop ready too because one mum advised that her phone wouldn’t load anything so she had to get her husband to help, which in turn took them hours to finalise their check-in. Those who set sail before us have already been through this process and so did warn me in advance that it was quite a lengthy and stressful one.
As soon as it hit 5am I was able to book the show for the first night and then reserve a slot for the kids club, just in case Ita really wanted to go. This was so easy and I felt really optimistic that the check-in would be too! However the whole system seemed to slow down entirely and refused to accept Ita’s photo.. Of all of us it had to be hers! She was still upstairs fast asleep at this point so retaking a quick snap wasn’t really an option. Eventually at around 6.45am we completed the check-in and secured our embarkation time! I was so happy to get a slot before 1pm.
Some tips others shared with me:
Get up early!! Everyone I have spoken to has indicated that they started check in early. This is mostly to secure a good embarkation time. It is essentially first come, first served.
Have both your phone and your computer or laptop ready to check-in and have both photos and pictures of your ID on each device, just in case one is loading better than the other.
Focus on booking the show first. I was pretty annoyed to learn that the show is not a given and that in fact it was limited capacity which meant not everyone will get to see it. Therefore if you want to see the show, you need to prioritise this.
Instead of entering your card details, opt for cash. It will speed up your check-in process!
If you have been following the details of the Disney Magic at Sea, UK cruise, then you’ll be aware of the difficulties we fans have faced already. From announcing dates, to retracting them and then seemingly cancelling them (it wasn’t exactly the case!!) – it has been a bit of a nightmare. At this point, all we knew is that covid was still playing a huge role in dictating how the cruise would pan out. Although not clarified, it seemed that there would be many changes to the usual cruises and I wondered as such what would we be able to do on a ship?
Initially because of all of the indecisive information leaked, we decided we would forgo the cruise and opt for Disneyland Paris instead. However, we discussed the possibility that we might not be able to travel over the summer and even now it seems like a trip to France is pretty unlikely. We ‘ummed and ahhed’ for a few hours on the day the staycation was released, but in the end we decided to book because we knew (prayed) Disney would come though.
The next stress having booked the cruise, was learning that the activities could not be booked until our total balance was paid. This was quite a big deal to be honest. Truth is even at this point, I wasn’t sure if we were 100% on going. The activities were important for us and having no information on what would be available for us to enjoy was making us anxious that we could be wasting a great deal of money. We knew there would be no Sail-a-Wave party nor any fireworks. We also knew that social distancing would remain in place and that this would affect character meets.
When I called Disney, the people at the other end of the phone seemed so lovely but they didn’t seem to know much either. Myself and others I have spoken to were constantly told that no one will know what Disney can offer until closer to sailing – I do get that, honestly I do. However it was really quite annoying and I couldn’t shake the worry that we might have spent a lot of money to essentially be quarantined on a fancy ship.
At this point the person I spoke to kindly let me know that I could cancel the reservation at anypoint and still receive a full refund.. this twisted my arm and so off we went and paid the full balance. We gleefully thought that this meant we could book activities and get a feel of what to expect! Well not quite, it turns out that everything had been booked out. As we had not sailed before, we were considered a general customer and there were a number of people with privileges above us. I cant even tell you how disheartened I felt because we had already cancelled a number of various Disney trips and Ita really wanted to experience the Bippidy Boppidy Boutique. I noticed also that we were unable to book the show and that this was also not a guaranteed activity.
We had so many conversations at this point whether it was worth holding on or whether cancelling would be the better option. Every step seemed so disappointing and totally un-Disney-like!
A few weeks later after checking the Navigation App daily, I saw that the BBB had availability! Securing this really helped change my anticipation because at least it meant we had something to look forward to. I really recommend checking the app daily (if not more) because when people cancel of move around their plans, activities come up but also get booked out almost immediately.
So far we have been lucky to have booked the BBB, a massage and reserve a mixology class – that one depends on how I feel about leaving Ita in the kids club and I’m just not sure I am there for that yet!
The next stress will be check-in. I have already heard some horror stories about the process and been warned to set my alarm to start the process at 5am. Once we check in we can reserve the show and kids activities too. So its quite a big day! Please Disney, no more stress?
I had quite a few messages and questions from my Instagram post after we had the most wonderful Cruella afternoon tea and so felt it was most appropriate to do a blog post to tie everything together.
The tea is at The Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park Corner and is called It’s a Little Bit Mad and is inspired by the new Cruella movie by Disney. It is only on until the 4 August 2021 and so it really is quite exclusive. Therefore if you are planning on going I would book asap. It is on 7 days a week but there are also limited sittings. Monday through to Thursday the tea is only available from 2.30-4pm.
We ordered 2 adults afternoon teas and then some plain sandwiches for Ita, since she is so small and rarely finishes an entire tea. We were so surprised when the staff put together a mini version for her, complete with sandwiches and treats too – it is truly impressive when hotels make such an effort. Surprisingly she demolished the lot! The staff too were all so friendly and engaging with Ita which made us feel really welcomed. If you are visiting with a few small children, I would recommend considering whether they need their own or whether sharing would be a better option. Hotels such as this tend to listen to their customers requirements and we have always found them to be very responsive.
The food is impressive. The creativity is so unique and the tastes are so different to any other tea we have had. My favourite was the lobster and prawn tartlet and both Ita and Dominic thought the Runway Diva was incredible.
Ita’s only little comment was that there should have been “something dalmatian” and she does have a fair point. The tea is very specific to the new movie which is edgier and darker, since it is set in 1970s London and has a punk feel to it. I would recommend watching the new Cruella movie beforehand so you know what to expect but also, if you are taking your children it will add to the fun.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the tea and to be honest I think this will be a really memorable one.
I also went for the speciality cocktail, the Scene Stealer, and it was completely that. Not only aesthetically beautifully but the dry ice that followed made everyone look! The cocktail is Bombay Bramble, freshly squeezed lemon juice, raspberry purée, Maraschino cherry juice, simple syrup, topped with white apricot air foam and dry freeze blackberry dust served on a tray of dry ice – yum!
The hotel itself is stunning. The tea room is by far my favourite (completely up there with The Ritz in my opinion) and is the perfect setting. It is also in a brilliant spot should you wish to explore afterwards. Of course it is right by Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, but it is also within walking distance to Piccadilly and also to Mayfair.