The wanderlust wishlist for 2017!

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A couple of years ago, me and the mister decided to have a rethink on holidays. Sick to the back teeth of splashing the cash on overpriced holidays to Spain with the children we decided we needed to start ticking things off the bucket list and the only way we were going to do that, was to start planning and saving.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with two weeks in the Canaries – I’ve done it loads of times and enjoyed it but that was when it was cheaper. Now, to get somewhere decent is £££ and I’ve realised that by foregoing a holiday every other year we can have a much much better experience the next year.

As it’s that time of year, where we all making bucket lists and plans for the future I thought I’d start making a new list of places for our travel bucket list. In 2o17 we’re lucky enough to be ticking off a few bucket list items with our Florida trip. No Disney for us this year, or any theme parks at all – we’re off to the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast. Bucket list places include Miami, Key West, the Everglades, Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers….to name but a few!

I haven’t even had this holiday and I’m already thinking about our future trips! So today I thought I’d get it out of my system and share these with you! These are the places that are at the very top of my list and probably where I will plan to go next.

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Alaska, Vancouver, Nashville, Banff National Park, Charleston

Yes I am VERY much focused on the US right now, there are SO any places I want to go to and I’ve not even started with Boston, Cape Cod, Salem, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, San Francisco, Las Vegas…so many places so little time and so little money!

The biggest dream right now is Alaska and Canada. I’d love to do Banff, Rocky Mountains, Vancouver and a cruise to Alaska all in one trip but it depends whether funds will allow. The cruise to Alaska is big bucks so this might have to stay a dream, or we could save it until the children are older and we no longer have to pay for them…but I do want to take them with us.

Then I’d love to do Nashville (especially when the Country Music Festival is on) as well as a trip through the Great Smoky Mountains and also take in Charleston and Savannah and maybe a beach trip to Hilton Head or Myrtle Beach area.

Either one of these options are the most likely for our next trip.

And then of course in 2019 I will be celebrating a special birthday, that happens to fall in the school holidays.  We’ve discussed a trip away for that and I have decided a want a week of luxury and lounging around, we rarely do that – we’re always on the go! Possible destinations are Lake Garda (been before, but LOVE it) or Santorini or Sardinia. Choices, choices!

How are about you? Do you have a wishlist of places you want to go to? or have you been to any of the places mentioned above? I’d love your input!

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My camping essentials!

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As the weather is warming up (well okay, it’s at least sunny today which is a vast improvement) I’m starting to get excited as camping season once again approaches. We’ve got our first trip booked for three weeks time which means that the checklists are getting printed off and all the gear will be getting dusted down next weekend.

I love camping but I have to say, I’m not really a back-to-basics kind of girl. I’m not saying that means I am too high maintenance – I mean I do prefer to have electric hook-up but it’s more to charge my mobile phone or boil a kettle rather than plug my hair straighteners in – but I do like to have a few ‘luxuries’ with me and I am a serious over-packer (aren’t we all?).

So aside from taking everything – including a camping kitchen sink – there are a few things that get packed which I consider absolute essentials.  Of course, I am not going to include things like snuggly warm sleeping backs and comfy chairs, those go without saying, this is just about the little extras that make my life a little more pleasant when braving the great outdoors during the glorious British summertime.

Hair ties

I have them in every bag and every pocket. For some reason when camping hair in my face just gets really annoying, especially when you’re all hot and flustered and having a row with your husband about pitching the tent. Also, camping hair does tend to take on a life of it’s own.

Cleansing facial wipes

I avoid taking a myriad of potions and lotions – some cleansing facial wipes are perfect for a quick freshen up.

Extra blankets

I hate to be cold, have I ever mentioned that? I’m sure I have. I fear the cold. That is the reason I make sure we all have a woolly blanket each plus some to spare.

Ear plugs

The other thing I hate is other people’s noise and it’s never more magnified than when you are on a campsite in school holidays. Ear plugs are a necessity – don’t get those foam ones though, they’re rubbish. You need those clear moldable ones. I’m sure they have a fancy name.

Top Trumps

Never underestimate the power of a Top Trump when it’s raining outside and you’re stuck in your tent – especially without the luxury of EHU.

Dry shampoo

Showers are campsites aren’t often all that.  Dry shampoo is a must.

Torches – plenty of them!

I know taking a torch camping is common sense and probably doesn’t need to be listed here but believe me when I say you can never have too many. Ever. Because guaranteed when you get there one won’t work, the other will have flat batteries and they’ll no doubt be some ultra-rare type.  When it’s dark, you’ll thank me that you have a torch within at all times. A head torch is a great investment.

Warm socks

This harks back to not liking the cold. Especially essential if you’re a nighttime pee-er.

Glowsticks

Not only useful for settling my nervy children in the dark sleeping compartment of our Vango but also useful for attaching to your guy ropes so you don’t trip over when going for your nighttime pee.

Wine

Duh.

That’s my brief list of essentials – what do you consider your camping must-haves?

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Holiday Moan 2016

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Firstly before I start with the whinging – just where on earth did TV holiday programmes disappear to?

As a child, we never travelled abroad so the closest thing I got to it was watching Holiday and Wish You Were Here sat in front of the TV in our brown lounge.   Somehow, it feels like people travel now more than they ever did so I find it really quite odd that there is seemingly no place for these shows in our modern TV schedules. I really do miss them! So much I feel like starting a campaign to bring them back…

I did hear a rumour last year that one of them was being revived, not sure if that is true or not but no doubt if it does make it back onto our screens it will be a complete Z-list celebfest or have some super tacky reality angle that will make me want to throw the remote at the screen.

Sure there are programmes on the telly about travel to far flung destinations but I really don’t want to see a documentary about trekking in Peru or gorilla watching in Borneo. I want to see the best of closer-to-home destinations that are achievable for the majority. Like the Balearics that have a lot to offer, or programmes that show there’s more to Spain than the Costa Del Sol and that perhaps feature hotels that, with a little saving, we could all afford to stay at. That’s what those programmes were about.

Rant over.

Really I started this post to rant about the cost of holidays once again. I did it last year and I am doing it again, so humour me.

Booking a holiday must be one of the largest amounts of money that anybody spends out of their annual family budget but the prices have just gone crazy – I mean, I spend more time pondering over holiday choices and trying to justify costs than I would ever do about a car that I would use every day!

We initially decided not to have a holiday abroad this year – for numerous reasons – we’ve done quite ‘busy’ holidays the past few years, the rising costs, the uncertainty in the world at the moment and so on but now I am madly craving a week in the sun, with a pool and my Kindle and the children haven’t had a week in the sun doing nothing for years. The problem is, I don’t want to pay £4k for the privilege – am I out of touch or is that extortionate in comparison to living costs and wages – and that’s me being mighty conservative.

Okay, so to be honest, I am not looking at the bottom-end of the market but I am not looking at uber luxury either. I’ve stayed bottom-end in Tenerife before and believe me, it’s no picnic, so 4* is the lowest I am willing to go. It’s not even that I am finding that the accommodation is that badly priced. I can find some decent holidays, half-board or all-inclusive for under £2k but when you add in the cost of the flights, and then the luggage, oh and the seat reservations…well the flights for two adults and two children to practically anywhere in Europe in August were coming back at £1,500. That feels ridiculous to me? Two years ago, I got flights for all four of us for £600 to Italy. All the add-on costs that used to be included in your fare really make the bill mount up.

Some of the hotels were coming back at an eye-watering £6k (without flights) bed and breakfast. Who pays that?! Clearly someone does but it’s not me! My husband and I both have good jobs and yes, we could probably afford it and I know this is a First World Problem, but for me my grievance it’s not so much about the cost but the value. Where is the VALUE in these holidays?

So, here I am, back full circle getting the hump with the holiday industry, the airlines and not booking anywhere. I really wish I didn’t even look to start with because all that happens is  I end up feeling frustrated and grumpy!

Would love to hear your thoughts – what are your plans this year? Do you think that prices have gone astronomical? Am I being unreasonably tetchy about this?

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On top of the world and totally off-grid!

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Over Easter we decided to give ourselves a much-deserved week off with the children. We’ve never been away at that time of the year before but we thought we’d take advantage of the Bank Holidays. The trouble is with Easter is it flipping cold, it’s normally very wet and that obviously limits your choices somewhat. We knew we didn’t want to go abroad so we plumped for somewhere that we would never ever go camping – Wales.

When I was a young child we used to go camping in Wales a lot, normally to Barmouth. It pretty much always rained, that is my everlasting memory. As a teenager I went camping in Aberystwyth with my youth club. It was April – I barely felt my legs for the entire time we were there. So yes, Wales, not really that high on my list of camping destinations.

With this in mind I long ago decided that Wales should be done by staying in a hotel or cottage, and I recently discovered a company called Sugar and Loaf whose properties looked rather lush so I snapped one up in the back of beyond. I won’t lie, I was totally won over by the hot tub – I am that fickle.  Now, when we originally booked this cottage back in August 2015, we did so under the belief that wi-fi would be installed. A couple of weeks out from Easter and we were contacted to be informed that this was not the case. What did I do?

Panic of course.

Our whole lives run online and we already knew there was no mobile signal to speak of in the area. The kids reaction was different “You’ll have to pay more attention to us then”. That’s sad isn’t it?

After my initial fear about being totally offline and the general annoyance at being let down subsided, I did actually start to warm to the idea. Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad? I got myself organised, made sure I had maps, knew all the details of the things we wanted to do and places to go as Google would no longer be my friend and off we went.

How was it?

Bloody marvellous.

It was SUCH a relaxing week. Yes, of course Wales didn’t disappoint and there was oodles of rain – including a very well-timed thunderstorm during a 5 mile hike through Waterfall Country but there were also plenty of sunny moments and we were even treated to a complete whiteout blizzard which the children loved, what with the mild winter we’ve had. We walked, soaked in the hot tub, talked, played games, read, watched TV in our downtime (me and my 10 year old got proper sucked into Come Dine With Me re-runs most days) and it was totally chilled. There was no getting het up about what anyone had said on Facebook or Twitter, no checking of emails, no work intruding on our personal time and no news! Seriously, we didn’t buy a newspaper or watch the news so we knew nothing of what was going on in the outside world. As the news has been pretty horrible recently, this was a blessed relief.

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Going off-grid really wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, it was quite a tonic. 

I don’t normally buy into the idea of a digital detox – I don’t think it’s necessary at all. Digital is so ingrained in our daily lives, it’s never going to go away, and I would never try and give it up when living my usual life but on holiday? I think I am a total convert!

I think my new theme for our camping holidays this year will be “OFFLINE”.

Have you ever been totally off-grid for a holiday? Leave me a comment below!

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#BlackpoolsBack – Oh yes it is!

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Last month I received a surprise parcel in the post. Surprise parcels are near one of my favourite things in life. I was very intrigued to open it and find it was full of goodies from Blackpool! I was sent the box as part of a marketing campaign between Visit Blackpool and Merlin Entertainments – #BlackpoolsBack. (I’ve since learned that this marketing campaign has won awards and it doesn’t surprise me in the least, this was perfectly executed, bravo).  In the box was a draft itinerary inviting me on an all-expenses paid trip to see what Blackpool has to offer.

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Now, I am not going to lie, Blackpool has never really been on the top of my “places I must go” list and I’ll admit I probably have negative associations with it in my mind but my last visit there was as a sullen teenager in 1995 when I had a go on The Pepsi Max Big One for the first time at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I’m not sure it’s called that anymore so I am definitely highlighting my advancing years. As it had been so long since I had frequented Blackpool I decided there really was nothing to lose and started to plan our trip up North.

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My first impression of Blackpool? There’s a LOT of regeneration work going on which is great to see. (Actually, that’s a lie, my first impression of Blackpool was “Crikey, Blackpool is a LOT further away from home than I thought…). It’s always good to see investment into areas that have been in such decline. Of course like anywhere, there’s still masses of room for improvement and I’d say that there is a long road ahead for Blackpool but they are definitely making moves in the right direction.

We were there from Friday to Sunday and I was provided with a full itinerary which I am going to break down for you.

Friday

We arrived late Friday evening and received an extremely warm welcome at our hotel, the Hilton Blackpool. Our room was pleasant and had a sea view. We had reservations at Tiger Bills which we knew was next to The Pleasure Beach and had rather amusingly thought we were going to walk 5 minutes and be there. If you’ve never been to Blackpool what you need to know is that it has a 7mile sandy beach. Seven miles. What might be ‘just down the seafront’ could quite easily be over two miles away. Not feeling like we wanted to negotiate the tram system, we hopped in the car and drove down.  Tiger Bills was great, the staff were fantastic and the food was delicious. I had steak fajitas and I won’t like, they were probably the best steak fajitas I’ve ever had, not one sign of gristle in there. The kids menu at Tiger Bills is great too, lots of variety away from  just the normal chicken/fish and chips. Blackpool did seem eerily quiet but it’s hard to tell if it was the weather, the early season or a combination of both.

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Children’s meal at Tiger Bills

Saturday

After a lovely hot breakfast at the Hilton we were ready to go and get our passes at Madame Tussauds. We also had plans to go up the famous Blackpool Tower but the weather was a bit dodgy and therefore we didn’t see the point…

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British Summertime…the Tower is there somewhere.

So. Madame Tussauds. We all know what it is right? Waxwork models of famous people. I wasn’t too excited about this really, I’ve never thought it was my bag (last seen in a Madame Tussauds circa 1987) but oh my gosh, we all loved it, loads of fun for all the family and we spent a lot longer in there than we thought we would.  I’ll be doing a full review of this venue shortly so watch this space.

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Then followed the Sea Life Centre. My son is a SUCKER for a fish so this was probably the highlight of his trip and he really enjoyed going around collecting his stamps in his dive log book.  The shark tunnel was probably his favourite part, though the giant crab was also a firm family favourite.

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Meet my friend…Ray

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This looks tiny. It’s bigger than me. FOR REALZ.

We had lunch at Captain Jack’s at Coral Island and were met by a Jack Sparrow-a-like on the door who was oodles of fun and gave us chocolate dubloons. Winner. Food was great, I had a lovely burger and the place was really busy. Coral Island itself is an amusement arcade type facility and one of the cleanest and tidiest I have every been in. You might not be a fan of this places or introducing your children but we’re all suckers for a 2p coin dozer and we easily lost an hour (and about a fiver) trying to win little prizes our of the dozer – we came away with quiet a haul. I tell you, those things are hypnotic.

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The afternoons excitement was a trip to the Blackpool Tower Circus. I’ve been in the Tower before but never seen the circus and I was really impressed with the room, stunning location. The circus itself? It was awesome. My children have clown issues so were nervous but Mooky and Mr Boo were not in any way frightening – they were amazing. I’ve never seen circus acts before, there were a few times I hid behind my coat, honestly. I couldn’t watch. If you’re in Blackpool and only have time to do one thing – DO THIS. Probably my favourite thing over the entire weekend. (Sadly, they don’t allow photos so I can’t show you much but again I will be doing a full review of this).

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Would you believe it was time for more food? We went to Harry Ramsden’s. Not entirely sure what I was expecting but this was a classy joint. I think I was thinking it would all be a fast food style place but the restaurant was lovely, very clean and tidy, beautifully presented and with a lovely view across the seafront. Service was excellent and food was delicious. Though I think the staff were a little perturbed as to why we didn’t want bread and butter with our meal, they asked us three times. Is that a Northern thing?

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After that we were bushed and went back to the hotel.  We thought we’d rest and go to the bar for a drink but what actually occurred was something I don’t want to dwell on to much. All I’m going to say is this;

8 year old boy
baked beans x 3
sickness bug
carpet and bed
emergency call to housekeeping

You get the picture right?

Sunday

After a long night with the aforementioned sicknote child, it was time to get on with the next days activities. In our original plan we were meant to go to Blackpool Zoo but as we had a poorly child (who was gutted – a zoo, after the Sea Life Centre is about his favourite thing in life) my husband and daughter decided to exploit the fact that you could actually see the Blackpool Tower again and go up it. I wasn’t there, I can’t tell you how it was but they both thought it was great and my daughter loved the see-through floor. They both said there was a great view and my husband was impressed at how well positioned the Comedy Carpet was.

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Incidentally, the Comedy Carpet was one of my favourite things EVER in Blackpool. I absolutely loved this street art installation and this its a fabulous addition to the seafront. So much work has gone into it, it’s incredible. I wasn’t aware of it before but I was really impressed. If you’re in Blackpool, take a look.

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We had tickets for the Sandcastle Waterpark in the afternoon which we had all been super excited for but for which now only two of us were going to get to experience. Gutted! It looked amazing, husband and daughter went and tried it out and all reports were overwhelmingly positive. There are 18 rides and slides and definitely something for everyone there, with ample places to get food and drink – you can even just get out of the pool and grab yourself a burger before getting straight back in. Loved it. The staff were all fab, and very sympathetic to my ailing child, and the place was clean and tidy. I was totally impressed with this venue, it definitely felt more like something you’d experience abroad rather than in England and we’d love to go back another time and all get a go this time… By this point my son was starting to pick up a bit but I really couldn’t risk a vomit-in-the-pool situation.

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The last thing we were due to do was nip to Notarriani’s for ice-cream but given the fact my son was on hunger strike we decided to call it a day and start the long journey home. I wish we had managed it though because it sounded really lovely. Next time!

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Verdict

We had an amazing time in Blackpool, despite some rotten weather and despite dodgy tummies. Who knew there were so many quality things to do in Blackpool? Would we go back? Yes we probably would, especially as we know there are so many great undercover attractions which means you’re not reliant on the weather. Handy, given our track record of British summertimes. Sure Blackpool is still a bit rough around the edges but they’re working on it and trying hard, what it needs now is more people to go with their families, this will only drive regeneration further. Blackpool has a lot to offer and has a truly beautiful seafront.

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We had the Blackpool BIG Ticket which gets you one visit into seven great attractions but there is also the Blackpool Resort Pass which gets you in to a different combination of attractions. Both are excellent value.

Coming soon…full reviews of The Blackpool Tower Circus and Madame Tussauds.

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