Thursday, 9 May 2019

Things to do in Malta

Over the Easter Weekend we visited Malta for a whirlwind Mediterranean city break, arriving on the island on Good Friday and heading back home on the bank holiday Monday. It wasn't my first visit as I'd stayed in St Julian's Bay back in 2014, but it was my first time staying in Sliema - one of Malta's popular harbour destinations. Sliema is a short taxi ride from the island's major cities: Valletta and Mdina, so we were well placed for a weekend of exploring. Despite being a relatively small island, there is lots to see in Malta and in today's post I'm going to share some ideas about how to spend your time on the island.

Views of the Maltese capital Valletta from Sliema Harbour, Malta

1. Visit Mdina: the walled city.

Mdina: Malta's walled city

Mdina is an elegant, old city on the Western side of the island. It is entirely surrounded by a wall and you need to cross a bridge to reach the entrance. Once you step inside you will be amazed by the pristine condition of the buildings. Mdina is extremely old, but the beautifully kept houses and walkways make you forget the city’s age. The city is quiet and it’s easy to get lost in the maze-like streets, but that’s part of the fun of exploring Mdina; you never really know where you’re going to end up! Game of Thrones was filmed there and it’s a popular tourist destination on the island so make sure you visit early in the morning.

2. Go on a boat tour of the Sliema and Valletta harbours.

Sliema and Valletta harbour boat cruise, Malta

 For under €20 per adult, you can explore the Sliema and Valletta harbours by boat. Boats depart hourly in peak season and you can join the harbour cruises for a 1-2h tour. The two main Maltese harbours are expansive and in my opinion the best way to appreciate the sheer size of them is to explore them by boat. The waves can get a bit choppy so if you suffer with sea sickness it might not be a great activity for you, but it’s certainly fun getting to sail on the Mediterranean Sea.

If you’re visiting in Summer you’ll really appreciate the sea breeze when temperatures soar and you get very little shade. When we visited in April it was the opposite and quite chilly. In order to prepare for all climates, make sure you pack some sun cream or a jumper for your time on the boat.

3. Have lunch at the oldest cafe in Valletta.

Caffe Cordina: the oldest cafe in Valletta, Malta

Valletta is a tiny capital, but that doesn’t prevent it from having a vibrant, exciting atmosphere. Take Caffe Cordina in the heart of the city centre, it’s always full to the brim and one of the busiest cafes in town. It’s considered to be the oldest cafe in Valletta and it is fantastically ornate inside, making it a unique place to visit for a bite to eat. Sandwiches are relatively affordable, so definitely stop at Caffe Cordina for a light lunch and a bit of Maltese history.

4. Have dinner in Sliema Harbour.

Sliema Harbour at night, Malta

Sliema is full of restaurants and there are plenty of traditional Maltese or Mediterranean eateries beside the water. Sliema is where you’ll find Maltese "cafe culture" at its best, so make sure you head to this area of the island for a hearty meal. We ate dinner in restaurants around Sliema Marina on all three nights of our trip and the food was excellent.

Malta is a relaxation destination that is absolutely full of history and culture. It doesn't have the hustle and bustle of France, Italy or Portugal, but that doesn't make it any less of a place to visit. You'll really enjoy spending your time city hopping, admiring the harbours and eating some of the island's wonderful cuisine.

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 2 May 2019

Visiting four Disney parks in one day

One of the latest trends at Walt Disney World is to visit 4 theme parks in one day. Given the size of Walt Disney World (40 miles across), it is not a simple challenge and it requires lots of planning to ensure that you make it to each of the Disney Parks before closing. In March 2019 we decided to take on the "4 park challenge" on our penultimate day in Florida and although it was an insanely busy day, we had lots of fun and were thrilled to bits that we managed to complete the challenge. From the itinerary to the attractions visited and the snacks to the characters met, here is my experience of the Walt Disney World 4 park challenge.

Our first park of the Walt Disney World 4 park challenge: Magic Kingdom

Itinerary and transport

1. Magic Kingdom
2. Epcot
3. Hollywood Studios
4. Animal Kingdom

Our second park of the Walt Disney World 4 park challenge: Epcot

We started at Magic Kingdom, which was the furthest park from our hotel. From the Magic Kingdom we took the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Centre, before swapping onto the Epcot line so that we could get to our second park of the day. Once we were finished at Epcot, we exited the park via the International Gateway (the World Showcase entrance to the park) and took a boat across to Hollywood Studios. The only transportation option from Hollywood Studios to Animal Kingdom was by bus so we took that over to our final park of the day. Animal Kingdom was the closest park to our resort so we only had a short journey back after the challenge and we were back by 7pm. This itinerary worked well for us as we completed most of the distance in the morning and were able to end up back near our hotel in the evening.


Our third park of the Walt Disney World 4 park challenge: Hollywood Studios

The attraction we went on at Magic Kingdom was Pirates of the Caribbean: a Disney World classic. As it was our first park of the day, there was very little queue and we were able to get on the ride very quickly. At Epcot we didn’t have many options as it was lunchtime when we arrived there, but we managed to get on the Three Caballeros boat ride which is located on the World Showcase. When we reached Hollywood Studios we decided to go and watch a show: “Muppet Vision 3D”, which always has next to no wait. It’s been running for a long time and the much bigger attractions take precedent over this show now. Our final attraction of the challenge was the interactive “It’s tough to be a bug” show at Animal Kingdom. We joined a showing at 5pm before having dinner at the park.


Meeting Princess Ariel at Disney's Magic Kingdom on our 4 park challenge day

We weren’t planning to meet any characters on challenge day, but we ended up meeting two at Magic Kingdom (Ariel and Alice), two at Epcot (Joy and Sadness) and one at Hollywood Studios (BB-8). It was a warm day and running around the parks was quite tiring, so it was nice to relax and wait for characters in the shade.


Eating a Mickey Mouse cookie at Disney's Magic Kingdom on our 4 park challenge day

When researching the 4 park challenge online, I learnt that having a snack in each park was an essential part of the challenge. Aside from Animal Kingdom where we ate a full meal, we enjoyed snacks at each of the parks we visited. I ate a Mickey Mouse cookie at Magic Kingdom, spring rolls for lunch at Epcot and drank frozen Minute Maid lemonade at Hollywood Studios. My dinner at Animal Kingdom was a veggie curry and it was delicious; I’d highly recommend the Yak & Yeti quick service restaurant.

Our final park of the Walt Disney World 4 park challenge: Animal Kingdom

Although the day was busy and tiring, we had a blast completing the 4 park challenge. It’s definitely something you should try completing if it’s not your first time in Florida.

Which of the 4 parks are your favourite?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Disney’s All-Star Music Resort review

The All-Star resorts are some of the most affordable on Disney property, but despite their low price tag, they are absolutely fantastic resorts. Split onto 3 sites, the All-Star hotels celebrate sports, music and movies and have been decorated appropriately to match these themes. The All-Star Music resort was home for our March trip and after staying very spoiler-free, I was absolutely thrilled with the resort on arrival. As soon as we got off the airport transfer bus I was blown away by the bright and colourful theming that pays tribute to some of the music industry’s greats. For a 2 week trip All-Star Music was ideal and in my opinion extremely worth every penny that we spent. From the facilities to the rooms and the food to the resort theming, I’m going to run you through the All-Star Music Resort in this week’s Florida article.

Jazz and Calypso buildings at Disney's All-Star Music resort


Mickey Mouse cupcake at Disney's All-Star Music resort

The All-Star Music resort has one food court restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Intermission Food Court is open from early in the morning until late at night and you can purchase grab 'n' go snacks or full meals throughout the day. Seeing as there is only one eatery on resort property, Intermission is always well stocked and there are plenty of different cuisines available at meal times. At breakfast time you'll find pancake stacks, waffles and full-cooked breakfasts and at dinner time you'll find seafood offerings,  Italian pasta dishes and family-sized pizzas to name a few options. We were very impressed by the food court and never felt that we ran out of choices.


Broadway building at Disney's All-Star Music resort

The fun larger-than-life decor at the resort pays tribute to 5 significant genres of music: calypso, broadway, jazz, country and rock 'n' roll. We stayed in the Calypso buildings and there were two-story sized Caribbean instruments attached to the outside of our building. Our room was footsteps from the pool and that was Calypso-themed too, with a Three Caballeros statue at the centre of the pool. Calypso is at the heart of the resort and the other 4 buildings circulate it. The Broadway building had the best theming in my opinion with tributes to Mary Poppins, Aladdin and other musical theatre productions by Disney.


Calypso building at Disney's All-Star Music resort

Our room was very spacious, so we didn’t feel claustrophobic at all during our 2 week trip. We had 2 double beds, a table and chairs, a TV, wardrobe, drawers, ironing board, sink area and bathroom. The safe was tiny so we couldn’t put anything of any size in there, but we managed to squeeze our passports and travel documents in. There were lots of music details around the room (including music note wallpaper) which made a nice touch, especially as we were staying in a music-themed hotel. Overall we were very impressed with the room and it suited us perfectly for our 2 week trip.

Our room at Disney's All-Star Music resort, Walt Disney World


The pool at Disney's All-Star Music resort, Florida

There is a pool, amusement arcade and building for washing machines and dryers. We didn’t use any of these facilities, but they’d have been handy if we’d have visited in Summer and needed more outfits.


DIY floral Minnie Mouse ears at Disney's All-Star Music resort

Resort staff organise daily activities for guests who are around the hotel during the day and evening. You receive an itinerary list on check-in and activities include poolside games, movies under the stars and crafting. I took advantage of this once and attended the “Make Your Own Minnie Ears” session. The price of the activity was $20 and I was able to take the pair home with me after the hour of crafting, which was very exciting. I even wore the ears when we completed the “4 park challenge”: visiting 4 Walt Disney World parks in 12 hours.


The bus stops at Disney's All-Star Music resort

With complementary buses to each of the Disney theme parks, ESPN and Disney Springs, we found that we could travel throughout Walt Disney World very easily. We never waited more than 25 minutes for a bus and sometimes we had no wait at all. When it came to visiting Universal, we used the Lyft & Uber apps and we were picked up from the resort front desk every time.

The All-Star Music Resort was fantastic value for money. It was fun, very Disney and a perfect base for our 2 week trip. Hopefully this review will help convince you to book the All-Star Music Resort. If you’re not hiring a car, staying in a Disney resort makes getting to the parks so much easier and the All-Star resorts are a great place to stay if you don’t want to spend too much money on a hotel.

Have you ever been to Florida? Where did you stay?

Thanks for reading my blog today.


Thursday, 18 April 2019

Top tips for the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Epcot theme park transforms into a floral wonderland during the Spring when it hosts its annual International Flower and Garden Festival. Over the course of 3 months the park celebrates all things nature, putting on lots of horticulture displays for its guests. The festival backdrop is Epcot's World Showcase and to sit alongside the Butterfly Garden, tea garden and other festival pop-ups, the organisers add lots of new "outdoor kitchen" stalls to the World Showcase. The stalls offer tasting-size portions of world cuisine at reasonable prices, making it possible to eat around the world whilst the festival is on and not be so stuffed that you can't enjoy strolling around the park. I loved visiting the festival on a couple of evenings whilst we were in Florida. The atmosphere was electric and it was so much fun to walk around when the sun started to go down. Epcot really comes alive at night when the festival is on! After three festival visits I managed to pick up a few pointers about how to make the most of the event, so without further ado, here are my top tips for visiting Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival.

Pluto topiary at the 2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

1. Pick up a festival guide at the entrance to the World Showcase.

2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival guide

There are so many extra attractions at Epcot whilst the Flower and Garden Festival is on, that they've created a festival program. In the guide you'll find activities to complete, stickers, lists of the topiaries, details about the temporary gardens and information about the Outdoor Kitchens. In order to not miss out on any of the topiaries or food stalls, pick up a guide at the entrance. We really enjoyed learning more about the Festival with the guide and it also made a great souvenir to take home.

2. Look out for the Disney character topiaries.

Elsa and Anna topiaries at the 2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

There are over 24 topiaries at the festival and you should make it your mission to try and see as many as possible. The topiaries represent the characters so well and it's lots of fun getting to hunt them down. Most of the character topiaries have been placed in the World Showcase pavilions relevant to their feature films: for example you'll find Winnie the Pooh in the United Kingdom and Snow White & Dopey in Germany. This makes walking around the World Showcase a lot of fun, especially when you stumble across some of your favourite characters in their appropriate locations.

3. Try the famous Violet Lemonade.

Violet Lemonade at the 2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Disney Parks are famous for their creative drinks and the Violet Lemonade is certainly one of these. Served with a little flower garnish, the purple frozen lemonade is the most popular drink of the festival and it's so adored by fans that they've started creating Violet Lemonade Flower and Garden merchandise. It's totally different to any of the other frozen drinks at Walt Disney World but absolutely delicious, so make sure that purchasing the drink is top of your Flower and Garden Festival bucket list.

5. Don't make any concrete plans for dinner when you're visiting the Festival.

Spring rolls in the China Pavillion, Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

The World Showcase features 11 pavilions and they represent 11 countries around the world. There are permanent restaurants in each of the pavilions, but during festival season I'd avoid the sit down restaurants and head straight for the open kitchen "street food". You can find spring rolls in China, scallops in Canada, "frushi" in Japan and many more bite-sized international snacks around the Showcase. The variety of cuisine is impressive and if you're a foodie, I'd recommend having a light breakfast before you arrive at Epcot and snacking your way around the world.

6. Purchase special event souvenirs as you see them.

Kat Last and Stuart at the 2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

There are additional stalls out on the World Showcase whilst the festival is on, stocking limited edition event merchandise. This merchandise can only be bought from the festival stores or Mouse Gear (the main store at Epcot), so if you don't purchase items as you see them, they might not be available later in your trip. There were lots of Minnie Mouse 2019 Flower and Garden souvenirs, so I ended up purchasing a few of them for my Disney Parks collection. I really recommend you visiting the festival stalls at the Flower and Garden Festival as the merchandise is so different to the usual year-round items.

There is so much to see at the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival and if you're visiting soon, I hope you'll keep these tips in mind. The flowers make Epcot the perfect theme park to visit in Spring and the festival runs throughout the entire season so you don't have to be too specific about the timing of your trip to be able to make it to the Festival.

Now we've experienced Epcot during Festival season and had a fantastic time, I think we'll aim to go back to Florida during the Spring or Autumn in the future so that we are around for either of Epcot's major festivals.  If we visit in Spring we'll be able to experience the International Flower and Garden Festival again or if we try Autumn instead, we'll be able to spend time at the Food and Wine Festival. Events make Epcot even more exciting than normal and if you're visiting Florida during festival season, make sure a trip to one of the festivals is on the cards. Disney certainly know how to put on a good show!

Thanks for reading my blog today.