Sent by Deborah Cowie
Based in Heald Green
Hi, I’m Claire, your local personal travel counsellor. I live in Heald Green, Cheshire, with my partner Paul, and two daughter, Daisy and Darcy
I’m independent travel expert with over 27 years’ experience in the travel industry.
Whatever your holiday plans are, it’s important to make sure that you have a real human connection in there. Someone who will take ownership to ensure you get everything you need, not just from travelling to your hotspot destination, but also making sure that all the planning and preparation that goes on beforehand is seamless.
That person is me!
I take care of everything from navigating the latest advice to helping you plan your perfect trip – preparing all your travel documents to make sure your journey runs smoothly.
Leaving you with the only thing left to do – pack! I’ll also be available for you 24/7 whilst you are in resort.
I have been lucky enough to have travelled extensively and have first-hand experience of most of Europe, Asia, in particular Thailand, South Africa, The Caribbean and the USA. I have experienced luxury resorts, family friendly accommodation, as well as various styles of UK staycations from lodges, caravans, and boating holidays.
I specialise in Honeymoons, Destination Weddings & Group travel for any event – sports, school, team building, hen & stag parties and celebration trips.
There are no trade secrets to what I do, I am simply there for you when you need me 100% of the time. And everything you book with me is 100% financially protected.
Let’s have an informal chat about how I can enhance the way you travel with a stress free approach to planning, booking and delivering your perfect trip. Best of all I don't keep 9-5 hours so I am around when it suits you best.
All you need to do is give me a call. Or if you want to see us face-to-face and chat things over with a cuppa? Then why not book an appointment to come in to our office in Heald Green; https://bit.ly/3kQmgLb
You can also use our booking system to book an appointment for a video call or a phone call - whatever suits you best.
I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.
29 September 2023
So you want to know more about Thailand? Whether its for you honeymoon or that bucket list adventure you have been thinking about – this is one place that will not disappoint. First in the spirit of honesty I have to say I am biased. Thailand holds a special place in my heart and is up there with my favourite places to be. When researching for this blog, on the back of the TV show Married At First Sight UK, I tried to pin point the hotel and resort that the couple stayed in. Whilst I couldn’t get 100% confirmation, it looked very much like Hua Hin to me and the property was almost familiar, so if I had to guess I would say that they had stayed in Centara Grand Resort & Villas Hua Hin – but don’t quote me. Vast and diverse, Thailand has everything from sun soaked days on the beach to immersing yourself in the culture and history of the country and it’s fascinating people. There is also something for those of you who want to get your teeth into a bit if adventure. One of the biggest draws are the culinary experiences on offer. Thai philosophy is ‘eat when you’re hungry’ and why not when you are surrounded by the country’s world-famous cuisine at every turn. From 5-star hotel restaurants and bars, to the street food available in hawker centres and street stalls. Traditional dishes like pad Thai and tom yum soup. And if you’re not a foodie , you can usually find an option of western dishes in hotel and resort restaurants. But before I tell you a bit more about my recommended honeymoon options, here’s some of the things you will want to know first. *When to go* Thailand’s climate is affected by two monsoons, the southwest and the northeast. In most of Thailand, the rainy season takes place May-Oct, making Nov-Mar the better time to be there. Although there are some exceptions to this rule so its always best to have a chat in order to make sure your locations meet your weather expectations. *Where to stay* Cities – Most people will start their adventure in Bangkok. Made up of high rise hotels, markets – the most popular being Patpong night market in the Bang Rak area of the city. This is a loud city with a definitive buzz about it. Tuk-tuks, cars and other vehicles fill the streets, and the Chao Phraya snakes its way through the city having passed through the country from the Gulf of Thailand, it passes north of the city and up to the old capital of Ayutthaya. A must see if you are staying in Bangkok. In Northern Thailand you also have the twin cities of Chang Mai and Chang Rai, with plenty more temples and local culture for you to soak up. Beaches – If lazing your days away are more your style than exploring then fear not, you will already have seen the best of Thailand’s beaches as they adorn the cover of most travel literature. Displaying the pretty coloured long-tail boats. And trust me when I say they have to be seen to be believed. Open any travel brochure and you will find the popular tourist resorts of Phuket and Krabi, but with miles and miles of coast, as well as the idyllic Phi Phi, Andaman, Surin, Similan Islands to name but a few, I can take you way out of the usual tourist traps for a real authentic experience. Back to nature – Elephant hills is Thailand’s first tented luxury camp, bringing you the feel of an African safari in the Thai Jungle. This is one experience that I always recommend to anyone visiting Thailand and is the perfect for a multi-centre stay. *My top 3 honeymoon recommendations* Perfect Thai Honeymoon – 11 days/10 nights Spend your post wedding time together in beautiful Koh Samui. Famed for its fabulous white beaches and lavish lifestyles. With more than 300 luxury resorts, Koh Samui has celebrity -like status from 5-star hotels, mind blowing private luxury villas, world class golf courses, as well as being renowned for its exclusive parties. Your 10 night stay is your time to reconnect, relax and recharge. • Choose from an array of 5-star properties and resorts to suit your tastes • Explore the local area at leisure, days as easy or as exciting as you make them • why not enjoy a private dinner on the beach at sunset to end your honeymoon Thai Adventure-Moon 14 days/13 night Starting your honeymoon in Krabi, one of southern Thailand’s most picturesque provinces with perfect beaches and stunning scenery – you then move on to the stunning Elephant Hills, and after interacting with the Asian elephants that call this camp home, you then transfer to lovely and laid back Khao Lak. Ending your stay in the genteel atmosphere of this coastal town. • Experience the Phi Phi Islands – Take your speedboat to this collection of six stunning limestone islands. Incredible natural scenery including turquoise tropical waters, -dappled sands and sheer limestone cliffs that rise from the sea. • Luxury jungle experience – Elephant Hills is one of the highest rated ethical elephant experiences in Thailand, not to mention the perfect spot for both to reconnect with each other and nature. • Just the two of you – End your Thai adventure with some down time for the two of you. Dipping in and out of your own private pool, or wandering around the local area eating, drinking and making the most of the sunsets. Luxury Thai Honeymoon 14 days/13 nights Enjoy activities lined up for this 14-day tour which includes a stroll through Bangkok’s Chinatown, a Lanna style wedding ceremony, bathing of elephants, visiting monks at temples and much, much more. Every experience on this trip is a wonderful memory that will be cherished for the years to come. • Partake in a Traditional Thai Wedding - Get married again the traditional Thai way and partake in a Lanna style wedding complete with wedding outfits and rituals • Five Days of Alone Time Together - Take a break from all the flights and transfers by spending 5 days of undisturbed quality time at a luxurious hotel & spa in Lanta Island • A Close Moment with Thailand’s Sacred Animal - Spend a day with elephants in a camp in Chiang Mai and learn about their history, habits and lifestyle There is something to suit all tastes and budgets in Thailand, and its not something you can simply pick from a brochure page. So make sure you get in touch so we can chat over your honeymoon style in detail and make sure we get your dream honeymoon just right. Claire.xx
02 May 2023
No, not the Dominican Republic - Dominica (pronounced DOM-IN-EEKA) is an untouched island dotted in the Caribbean Sea between Guadeloupe to the North and Martinique to the South. The history of Dominica is varied and they have a unique culture on the island. Having changed hands between the British and the French on several occasions. And now it is known as 'The Nature Isle' with plenty to do if you like a bit of adventure. From canyoning to Waterfalls, the Rainforests and the indigenous people who you can spend time with on the island and immerse yourself in their culture. It's also a mere 45 minute flight from St Lucia where our Born To Rum trip had started. We flew out from Castries Airport which was a totally unique experience. Starting at check in where a casual pace is taken to getting you checked and boarding passes issued. At which point the young lady who as assisting us told us that we could nip over the road to grab ourselves a snack and a pre flight drink. Glancing over we noted the various rum shacks and food huts that lined the elevated boardwalk - all with magnificent views out over the ocean. Had to be the best ever pre departure lounge I have been in! And as you can see Paul enjoyed his pre-flight rum. A short while later we were boarded and on our way to Dominica Marigot. Flying into the island we were amazed at the beauty of it. Lush green vegetation and as out small Embraer aircraft came in to land we flew right down low in between the mountainous landscape. Arrivals was quick and easy and before we knew it we were in our car with Clem where he took us to our next port of call The Fort Young Hotel in Rosseau. On arrival we were met by the friendly staff who took our luggage, checked us in and directed us to the bar so we could get a drink and relax. And we had to have a local rum punch! We opted for a late lunch too and the food was amazing too. Afterwards we made our way up to our room to get settled and ready for the evening ahead. All I can say is that this view - is something you have to see to believe and the photo's do not do it justice at all. The hotel is situated in a fabulous location right on the sea front in the islands capital and is a haven for divers who can access diving in the Caribbean Sea directly from the hotels own jetty. They have a fully equipped dive shop and the staff are knowledgeable and friendly. And whilst Paul and I were not there to dive it was great listening to the other guests and the adventures that they had whilst they were out at sea. From the hotel you can walk out into the main town area where we found a really lovely casual dining place that served local dishes and views out over the port and into the sunset. We also took ourselves off up to Morne Bruce, walking through the botanical gardens and up the trail we had a steep climb before we reached the top, but the view was more than worth it. Looking down over the whole of rosseau with views as far out to ocean as you could want, its no surprise that the british troops decided to make this their main garrison on the island. Three nights was not nearly enough for us to see the things we wanted or to fully experience the island in all its splendour - so we have a bucket list for when we return. Dominica twins perfectly with many other Carribean Islands, but is also a the perfect place to base yourself for a much longer stay if you are looking for the perfect mix of adventure and unspoilt sunsets. Give me a call to chat over our experience and how I can help you curate your perfect stay in Dominica. Claire.xx
19 January 2023
Island hopping doesn’t usually conjure up the image of the Caribbean, it’s usually reserved for the likes of the Greek Islands. However, this trip provided us with the opportunity to stay on two Caribbean islands, in four resorts, all unique in their own way. So much so – it was hard to fit it all into one standard blog. This is our overview, of the entire trip, with a few pictures & we've written in depth blogs with more imagery for each property we stayed in so you can get a real feel for them. Like most of my client base I live a mere ten minutes’ walk to the runway at Manchester Airport – so flying from anywhere else always seems like a huge effort. But with a choice between a direct flight from Gatwick Airport taking 8.5hours, or a 35-hour flight with 2 stops from Manchester – it was a no brainer. Our trip started at the Holiday Inn Worth, where we had an overnight stay & 12 days parking booked. We were up early & on our way to the airport in the cab arranged by reception for us, dropping us at South Terminal we made our way into departures. Bag drop was quick & easy, with staff around to assist with any issues. Before we knew it, we were through security & we set about starting our holiday the right with, a prosecco & a pint! Not much later the screens flashed with our gate & we were off, boarded within moments & in our seats the flight began. Arriving at Hewanorra airport we were most definitely starting to feel the tiredness kick in after losing five hours with time difference. We knew we had to push through, once we cleared customs & exited the airport, our contact Willett was there waiting for us. He took our bags, loaded us into the car & as we left the airport began to tell us all about the villages & townships we were passing through. As we drove, he leant over, lifted the lid of a cooler & popped open 2 bottles of Piton, the local lager, named for the 2 mountainous peaks that are the icon of this Caribbean paradise. He explained that he was taking us to see the island before he dropped us at our resort, our first stop was the lookout point at Dennery. With views over the bay & the town of the same name, Willett explained this was a fishing village, the church we could see was over 100 years old & he explained the area has had a resurgence of late with a growing music scene that is its own genre called ‘Dennery Segment Music’ As we looked about Willet returned to the car & came back with 2 fresh coconuts, tops cut off, popped straws in, handed them over, while taking some pictures of us with the scenery in the background. Leaving Dennery, we drove out over the island & explaining there were more villages also doing some unique things, he pulled the car over & took us inside what seemed like a roadside shack. Inside there was a wood fired oven hollowed into the natural rocks of the roadside. It was amazing to see, but the best bit – warm fresh bread & cheese! Snack in hand we climbed back into the car & Willett continued the drive, talking to us about the rainforest area we were driving through as well as more details on the local people, the upcoming celebrations for Creole month & before we knew it, we were there, Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa in Rodney Bay. Home for the next three days, armed with lots of tips about places to see in Rodney Bay & where to eat for some traditional creole experiences, we headed to check in. After the sights & sounds of Rodney Bay we checked out & Willet was there as planned to collect us & take us to the airport. This time we were headed to the little domestic airport of Castries. By far the most impressive check in I have ever had, in all my years of travelling. Bags dropped, boarding passes collected we left the small outdoor check in area, crossed the road to the departure lounge, which also happens to be a decked area, next to the beach & the Caribbean Sea. From the selection of rum shacks we chose Petra’s, the service was excellent, not to mention the Rum & Cokes – which was considerably more rum than it was coke! The light aircraft with approximately 20 seats was now ready & once boarded we took off. 45-minutes later, we landed in Marigot airport, Dominica. The flight into the island was amazing with views of lush vegetation, groves & waterfalls as we approached landing. Arrivals was easy to navigate & once outside we were met by Clem, knowledgeable & friendly he gave us lots of insight into the island, the people, history & culture on the 60-minute drive. Arriving in Roseau, we were handed over to the porter at Fort Young Hotel, for check in. Fort Young Hotel was to be our base for the next 3 days. After our stay was over, it was time to return to St Lucia to complete our trip. We had a schedule change to our return flights, which was disappointing but luckily there was a catamaran sailing that left Roseau on the Saturday & would take us right into Castries harbour. Once booked, we made our way to the ferry terminal which was a four-minute walk out the front of the hotel. Arriving at 8.30am to clear port customs, the sailing was just over 4 hours. The journey was smooth & stopped in Fort-de-France, Martinique to collect & drop off passengers, the ferry operates a little like a water taxi service between the West Indies so that people can move about inter-Caribbean. Arriving in Castries, the port was busy & it took a while to get through the immigration process. But once we had fulfilled all the necessary requirements, we were out the doors & there with his cold Pitons & trusty car was Willett. Waiting to speed us onwards to our next stay at the beautiful East Winds. Again, we only had three days here, before we moved on, but this stay was the opportunity we had been waiting for, sea, sun, sand, & a self-service swim up bar! When the three nights had ended, again Willet arrived to transport us over his island home, driving us down to the south coast through Marigot Bay, filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean, into Anse la Raye & up to views over the bay with the Caribbean Sea framed by the village on the shore & the magnificent Pitons, making sure we had lunch with a view at a family friends’ restaurant before finishing the drive to our final stay for two nights Rabot Hotel from Hotel Chocolat It's safe to say that this was a whirlwind tour of these two very unique & diverse Caribbean Islands, but it won’t be our last. Want your own slice of the Caribbean - get in touch!
02 May 2023
When we booked our Caribbean twin-centre trip we decided that, logistically, it would make more sense to travel on a direct flight out of London Gatwick. It didn't fill me with excitement - conjuring up images of a tired & run-down airport hotel where you might, if you are lucky get a poor white wine & a sleepless night, I was more than pleasantly surprised on arrival. After a 4-hour drive from Manchester, on which we had been reasonably lucky with the traffic, we arrived at the Holiday Inn Worth near Gatwick. Walking through those front doors the lobby was spacious & bright. Reception desks to the left & the bar/restaurant area to the right. It was evening & there were some families already mulling around, some of whom it was clear were trying to tire out the kids before their morning flights. I always love a place where families & kids can feel at home, as a mum who has travelled with my 2 girls a fair bit, this is always an important factor. So far - so good! Check in was smooth, & we were soon in our room. With 2 large doubles this place would comfortably sleep a family of 4. Loads of floor space, tea/coffee making facilities, Large TV & the bathroom was great too! We popped in our bags, unpacked a few things we would need in the morning & then headed down to see what the options were for some food & a tipple to start our holiday the right way. The restaurant was still bust & reasonably priced, so we placed our order for food & drinks. Clinking our glassed we tucked in & whilst this wasn’t a gourmet restaurant it was way better than I had expected. The service was second to none too. After a bite to eat we headed to the room where we had a bottle of wine waiting & had a few glasses while we relaxed. In the morning the hotel took our car key & ordered us a cab to Gatwick South Terminal where we checked in for our flight to St Lucia. Even with all my industry experience, like many people I find departure day stressful & this time we didn’t just have departure day at the airport but a whole other evening pre-departure too. I still check if I have my passport a thousand times, panic that I am down a bag, have I packed everything – all the usual stuff! This time though, our stay at Holiday Inn Worth had me completely relaxed & our departure from Gatwick went as smooth as the evening before had! We had booked 1-night hotel with 14 days parking so when we got back, we simply took a cab back to the hotel & collected our car for the drive home. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to stay another night, but I would recommend that you factor this in as it helps to have that rest time before the drive home. This isn’t the first time I have departed from a London departure airport, having flown from here in a work capacity. But this was my first leisure holiday in this context & I have to say I would hands-down do it again, no question. Direct long haul routes from Manchester are limited. I think we all hope this expands as the industry; airports & airlines move into 2024 and beyond. But why give up the opportunity to experience so many unique & amazing destinations are easily accessible from London airports. Claire.xx
02 May 2023
If you were to ask me a month or so ago, what the biggest sticking point of booking a Caribbean holiday is – it would be that we are a family of 6, which includes 4 hard to please teenagers who would need ample space as a family as well as great facilities for the kids – which, I would have added is hard to come by in the Caribbean. I couldn’t have been more wrong. We arrived at Bay Gardens Beach Resort & Spa on a balmy Sunday in the late afternoon. Within moments we were checked in by the friendly staff and taken to our one bedroom suite with pool view which will comfortably sleep four people. A spacious entrance hall that had a small bathroom with toilet and sink, leading into a spacious open plan lounge area with double sofa bed, to the back of this space was the spacious and well-equipped kitchen area. Complimented by double patio doors opening to pool view with terrace. Off the lounge area was the bedroom, which was beautifully decorated. The bed had been adorned with fresh flowers and our towels made up to resemble two swans. We had a large king size bed, with an en suite bathroom, bath over shower, toilet and two sink vanity complete with toiletries and fixed hairdryer. In addition, the room could also be interconnected with next door, meaning this would then sleep up to 8 people. We were staying on a bed & breakfast basis and despite having a big list of places to try for food & drink we were by now exhausted so we headed out of the room and over to the bar area by the pool. Even this late in the evening you could feel the sea air breezing through the open restaurant area just to the side of the bar, and after a few cocktails we headed off to bed. Waking in the morning we were keen to explore some more, and we headed out of the gate by the pool onto Reduit Beach. Starting at the outcrop at the side of Bay Gardens Beach Resort, on the water away from the shore is the adventure challenge splash-park. Stretching from here, all the way around the bay to Maries Fish Shack at the far end the sand is blissful and was the perfect way to start our day with a walk up the beach. We headed back to the hotel for breakfast which was buffet style, with fresh fruits, cheese and breads, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, fried plantain, pancakes, jams, muffins and to every kids delight – breaded chicken pieces. Complimented by freshly squeezed fruit juices, coffee and the national favourite cocoa tea – which is a funny sort of hot chocolate tea. I wasn’t keen at first as it felt like hot chocolate with my breakfast but after a small taster of Pauls I was convinced. After breakfast we decided that we were going to have some time on the beach, and we went back to the room to grab a few things. It’s worth noting that all beaches in St Lucia are public, so you have a mix of families who are there for a beach day as well as the local beach hawkers who are selling their wares. In the first few minutes of your arrival, they make a fuss of you and are wanting to sell their hand made crafts and services. But a gentle conversation and a polite no thank you sends them on their way. They are all regulated and licenced to be on the beach, so its not worth their while to upset the security guards who keep a watchful eye – and in all honesty – they are just trying to make a living. Like all of us it’s been a long two years with no income for these locals who rely on tourism to ply their trade. Once we were settled on our sun loungers we relaxed and whilst I caught some rays, Paul headed for a dip. The calm waters allowing him to swim out and bask in the warm Caribbean Sea. A few hours in and we decided we best make the most of the hitlist that Willett had given us for the best things to see and do in Rodney Bay. We started with short walk out to the main area and a trip to Chef Robby’s which was amazing. Paul had a whole red snapper grilled and I had a local creole dish with rice. A few bottles of piton and a cocktail later we were ready to head back, but what we hadn’t really considered was the searing temperatures at this time of day. Lucky Bay Gardens Beach Resort has three other hotels in Rodney Bay, and a shuttle that runs between them all. So, a short walk up the road to Marina Haven and we were in a lovely cool vehicle making our way back. We had lots more planned for that day, but with the previous days travel still weighing on us we settled for a short walk out onto the road where the resort is and a couple of cocktails in a local bar. After another hearty breakfast the morning was spent soaking up the atmosphere at the pool. The following morning was an early start as we were up, packed and off for breakfast before we were due to check out and make our way to the airport for our flight to Dominica. Our stay in Rodney Bay wasn’t long enough for us to acclimatise and enjoy all the resort had to offer, but we cannot recommend Bay Gardens Beach Resort enough. From the facilities to the friendly staff, with the lovely Waltrude at the helm as general manager our stay was perfect from start to finish. It’s left us with a definite thirst to get back with the family Top Tips * Don’t miss…. Gros islet Friday Night Street Party or Pigeon Island National Park * Must do… Try the local cuisine out in Rodney Bay – we recommend Chef Robby’s out by Rodney Bay Marina * Money… everywhere takes cash in local East Caribbean Dollar or US Dollar, if you are paying by card then make sure you pay in East Caribbean Dollar which is the local currency and usually means a better rate of exchange - check with your card issuer before you travel about foreign transaction charges. Want to use my expertise garnered on this trip to plan your own Caribbean adventure? Get in touch for an informal chat. Claire.xx
22 December 2020
My trip started with a flight via London to Bangkok, on arrival I was transferred to my hotel The Shangri-La Bangkok. Situated right on the Chao Phraya River with its own river dock the hotel is perfectly placed for your stay in this vibrant city. My room was immediately overlooking the river and the views were amazing. The next few days were whirlwind of amazing Thai food in the city’s hawker centres, Thai Massages at Wat Pho (reclining Buddah) as well as dinner at one of the city’s most famous venues. Cabbages & Condoms. Travelling around this city was an amazing feast for the senses where you look to your left and see a tuk-tuk, to your right – an elephant, in the middle of the street** I was lucky enough to experience the hospitality of several of the city’s amazing hotels such as The Montien and The Landmark & the Century Park Hotel. Which although much changed from when I was there are still timeless in their quality and service. I was also lucky enough to take part in a cooking class at The Salathip – the award winning riverside Asian restaurant at the Shangri-La Bangkok. But before we could get out cook on, we had to actually shop our ingredients. Heading on the sky-train to Chatuchak Market was quick and easy, and the market was amazing. There was every delicacy you could imagine, and the sheer hustle and bustle created an atmosphere that made my skin tingle. After making sure that we had everything we needed we headed back to the hotel and got started on our menu’s. Yam Som-O to start, Kaeng Kiew Warn Gai for main dish and an amazing Foy Thong for dessert. Would you believe, I still have all my menu and recipe guides as well as my certificate for passing this amazing cooking class. But the day still had plenty to offer visiting the Grand Palace and getting to get that bit closer to Thai life wandering the night market for a bargain and having a drink in the local bars whilst watching life go by. Pat Pong night market has everything you could want for locally produced gifts and the bartering with the stall holders is all part of the fun. The Grand Palace with its gold adorned temples and the Summer Palace, where if you have seen 'The king & I' you can treat yourself to a walk around the teaching house and rooms of Anna Leonowens. Being a culture vulture the highlight of my time in Bangkok was the 2-hour cruise down the Chao Phraya that allows you to really delve into the history of Thailand back to the time the country was known as Siam. The trip takes you to Ayutthaya, the ‘golden city’ which holds five centuries of history. The former capital of the Kingdom of Siam, this ancient city wears the battle scars of long-ago wars. The Burmese invaded and decapitated the buddha statues adorning the city. After multiple invasions they finally raised the city in flames, burning it to the ground. Take in Bang Pa Palace a popular summer retreat for the Thai kings. Wat Yai Chaimongkol, the ancient monastery built during the reign of King U-Thong. Wat Phra Si Sanphet – the largest temple complex in Ayutthaya here you can marvel at the sheer magnitude of this once great city and Wat Chai Watanaram another striking monastery now abandoned the sheer grandeur can still be seen and felt. Bangkok stole my heart but there was more to come as we set off for Hua Lamphong Railway Station in the heart of the city to board The Eastern Oriental Express. I’ll be taking you on an amazing journey through the jungles of Thailand, Malaysia and beyond in part 2. Claire.x ** you probably won’t get to see an elephant walking around the streets of Bangkok today, the treatment and use of animals in cities like Bangkok has improved massively over the last 20 years, but if you do want to get up close and personal with one of these amazing beasts then Elephant Hills is the place to do it. Thailand’s first luxury tented camp you will be guaranteed a stay to remember and experience the elephants up close and personal whilst making sure they are protected and cared for in the best possible way. **Photo Disclaimer - these images are over 20 years old and have been taken from a traditional photo album, they may not be of the same digital quality we are used to today - but they are original.
22 December 2020
Checking in at Bangkok station I can feel the excitement building, Welcomed on board we are then left with a glass of champagne whilst the train pulls out of the station. Wandering down through the gleaming carriages I settle into my compartment where Brunch is served by my cabin steward. Outside the window the city turns into countryside with rice fields villages and water buffalo. By early afternoon, the train has stopped, and we are at the River Kwai, where we are disembarking. The first version of the bridge, built in 1943, was all wood and was located 200m up stream. Later the same year, in April 1943, a steel bridge was built. During 1945 the bridge was bombed many times and was rebuilt only after the end of the war. The curved portions you see today are the only original remaining pieces. If it were not for Pierre Boulle’s novel and the film of the same name, this bridge would not have the international awareness it does today. One of my favourite photos of the train was taken here as the it proceeds over the bridge and returns 5 or so minutes later. The large floating barge was waiting for us to board to take us along the Kwai Yoi and Kwai Noi rivers. This hour-long sailing gives you the opportunity to see the traditional teakwood houses amidst the peaceful scenery. Reaching the Chung Kai cemetery, the sun is shining and its warm on my face, but there is a sombre feeling as I take in the Frangipani trees that dot this landscape of memorial plaques. A special addition given that Thai people only plant them at temples and cemeteries and do not allow them in their homes. Today is my 21st birthday. I am struck by the names and ages on the plaques of the soldiers that lie here, far away from home. More than most of them are in fact younger than I am at that very moment. Whilst sad, this place is peaceful and a place that I would hope my children would learn from when they have the chance to see it for themselves. Onwards by coach past the sugar cane fields, stopping at the North Temple, Vietnamese Temple, Chinese cemetery, and Don Rak war cemetery before re-joining the train at Kanchanaburi main station. After relaxing in my compartment and reflecting on the sight s of today, it’s down to the Bar Car for a beautiful meal and a few drinks. Retiring back to the compartment I can hardly believe the transformation after my cabin steward as transformed it into a cosy bedroom. Waking in the morning my breakfast is served to me, in bed, where I eat my toast and marmalade and sip tea that was poured from a silver teapot, watching the countryside teeter by the window. After getting dressed I spent the rest of the morning in the observation car chatting to other passengers on board. It’s not long until I am disembarking in Butterworth to make the journey by ferry to Georgetown in Penang. Taking in sights such as Fort Wallis and Weld Quay where you can see the traditional houses built over the water on stilts. The labyrinth of streets through Chinatown reveal colonial architecture and lively local markets. After visiting a Chinese Clan house, I then board a rickshaw where the ride back through the colourful narrow streets passes a Chinese temple before returning to the ferry terminal – returning to Butterworth and the E&O Express. Relaxed and dressed for dinner this evenings entertainment is in the Bar Car with a resident pianist, who to my surprise is dressed as Elvis and doing his best Thai impersonation of ‘the king’ When I boarded the train as a 21-year-old from Manchester who had never been anywhere so luxurious, I was daunted by the grandeur of this train, and it’s something I have heard off clients many times. ‘It’s not for us, we are not that posh!’ The staff, the other guests and the overall atmosphere was one of comfort and understated luxury, that never once made me feel like I shouldn’t be on board or was not welcome. Waking up again to breakfast in bed, I relaxed until I watched the train head into Singapore via the causeway of the Straits of Johor. I’ll be walking you through my adventure in the cultural melting pot of Singapore in part 3. Claire.x **Photo Disclaimer - these images are over 20 years old and have been taken from a traditional photo album, they may not be of the same digital quality we are used to today - but they are original.
22 December 2020
This city has changed so much since I was there, once again checking into a Shangri-La hotel, the difference between Singapore and where my trip started in Bangkok is stark. This city is uber-clean. No litter, no smoking, no pollution. But still just as cultural, Singapore has a wide settling of all Asian cultures and is known as the Lion City or Garden City, the latter because of its many parks and tree lined streets. Once a British colonial trading post, there is one instantly recognisable drink synonymous with this vibrant city – The Singapore Sling. Invented in 1915 by bar tender Ngiam Tong Boon, it is widely regarded as the national drink. The Long bar was once located at Cads Alley, in turn of the century Singapore, Raffles was the place to be and The Long bar was the place you would find gentleman nursing glasses of gin or whiskey, at a gathering of tables placed facing Bras Basah Road. Since women were not allowed to drink in public there was also a wide variety of fruit juices and teas on offer, but this clever barman realised there was a gap in the market and revolutionised the options for women when he created what was to look like a plain old fruit juice, using clear alcohol leading people to believe it was a socially acceptable drink for women. Well done Ngiam – I thoroughly enjoyed mine when I was there. When I wasn’t propping up the bar, I was making the most of the sights, taking in a half day tour around the city. In the colonial heart of the city, you will find views of Padang and the Cricket Club, onwards to Supreme court and City Hall, passing through Chinatown. I then went up to Mount Taber for an amazing panoramic view of the city. Coming back to a local handicraft centre before visiting the National Orchid Garden located in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. My final stop was Little India before heading over to Sentosa Island and stopping at the amazing Rasa Sentosa Resort. Here there was just enough time to relax on the beach and use the facilities before watching an amazing laser light show in the fountains. But, as I mentioned at the start things have changed massively over 20 years, because Singapore is a city that is constantly re-inventing itself. Now you can find 12 colourful neighbourhoods some old and some newly re-imagined, Sentosa – the state of fun and home to Universal studios, Civic District – A walk through the past, Joo Chiat – Home of the Perenakans, Harbour Front, Chinatown, Holland Village – where East meets West, Orchard Road – an absolute shoppers paradise, Marina Bay – modern luxury living, Dempsey Hill – Nostalgia reigns here, Kampong Gelam – modern meets tradition, Geyland Serai – full of markets and eateries and lastly Little India, this buzzing ethnic district is well worth the stop. With a myriad of things to find and treasure such as Universal Studios, Marina Bay in the gardens and SEA Aquarium, Quayside Isle on Sentosa and even night safari’s, Singapore is not just for aging couples who have time on their hands and far-flung destinations on their to do list. There is something for everyone here from fun and adventure to heritage, history, and culture. Oh, and did I mention the food?? My top tip – enjoy a Michelin star meal because you should – but then hunt out the hawker centres and sample the delicacies of the new generation of Singaporean Hawkers, who are fusing the modern and the traditional into a feast your taste buds will relish. I really hope you have enjoyed reliving my trip with me and I hope it’s given you a taste of what you can experience on your very own Far East adventure. Head over to my recreated itinerary and my offers page for more inspiration or better still, give me a call Claire.x **Photo Disclaimer - unfortunately there is only 1 image that has survived the last 20 years and countless house moves, I hope my tale of Singapore is enough to give you a taste of what you can see and experience in this cultural melting pot of the Far East.
18 December 2020
I was recently asked to deliver a talk to the Travel & tourism students at The Manchester College. When I was putting the talk together, I wanted to highlight my favourite trip. And whilst I have had many amazing holidays with my own family there is a trip that captured my heart so much, that 20 years later I can still close my eyes and feel the sights, sounds and smells that I experienced back then. But there is so much to share with you that I have broken the trip down over several instalments for each part. I wanted to share my experience with you in the hope that, after reading this, you too will want to take in the wonderful Land of Smiles. So especially for you, I’ve also replicated my most memorable trip as closely as I could for you and included a separate blog with the full itinerary, and links to the specific offers available for 2021 and 2022. I'd love to hear from you to know what you thought of the instalments, so please do get in touch. Claire.x
24 February 2021
On Friday 31st July we packed up the car, duck taped the kid’s mouths shut* then popped them into the 7-seater Land Rover Paul had secured from work to use for the trip, turned up the radio & headed off on our 2-hour car journey to Sherwood Castle Holiday Forrest in Rufford, Nottinghamshire. *disclaimer – no children were harmed in the making of this holiday* After all the hard work of the previous few months taking care of my clients, home schooling the kids since March, & 12 weeks of my other half on furlough, I love him dearly but ladies you know where I am coming from. I was now staring at the 6 long weeks that come with the ‘official’ school summer holidays. Compounded by the fact that I have reverted to working from home daily – I knew I’d crack if we didn’t do something with the kids to entertain them at some point. I can’t lie, I don’t have much time to strategically plan my own holidays like I do for my clients so I literally ran through the UK suppliers I deal with frequently, found the first 3 bed lodge that looked like there was some fresh air, noticed there was no WiFi & thought this could work. Then I noted not a lot of 4G either which gave me a wry smile - I love to watch them squirm with discomfort when they have to have a conversation with a human being that’s in front of them & not virtually connected! Booked it Packed it – Peter Kay style!! After mentioning it to one of my clients, Nic, who was looking for a UK break, she asked me could I book that for her too. If, of course, I didn’t mind her being on holiday there at the same week as me – who am I to refuse, after all there are 40 acres of parkland on the site of the lodges alone so more than enough space for us to both enjoy our week away. I told her that I had plucked it out of think air, suggested she do some recon & check it out, she came back & booked it. I digress – the road trip wasn’t too bad & we decided to drive over the peak district route which would allow us to stop for lunch at Eyam, affectionately known as the plague village – apt for our current climate wouldn’t you agree!! It was a sweltering 32degrees & just walking from the car to the top of the village was a serious chore. I love this village, the history of it, the stories of the families who lived in the pretty cottages during the time of the black death, it sounds morbid but it’s actually a really poignant place to visit. I think it’s a really big teaching lesson for the kids – but with Daisy & James at 14, Alfie at 11 & Darcy turning 11 while we were away, all they wanted to do was get a butty, can of pop, bag of crisps & get back in the air conditioned car – job done, we hit the road again. As we neared our final stop, we rounded onto Rufford Lane, we were faced with a beautiful forge in the road – the river on either side & the bridge was lined with children, a look of anticipation on their faces – excitement at what this beast of a Land Rover was going to do, how much water would splash them?? The echo of the booing when Paul drove through at a mere 3 miles an hour will haunt me & the kids forever. We pulled into the driveway of the park, as we approached reception it was clear that this was a beautiful location. We could see the forest off to the left & the reception on the right. I hopped out & approached reception We arrived at 5.30pm on Friday 31st July, we followed the guidance at reception & within 10 mins we had paid our deposit for the gas/electric, got our loge location/keys. We were in lodge 41 at the top of the lake, so we drove round the little road, dropped our luggage on the deck & opened up the lodge. True, the smell wasn't the greatest, but this was a log cabin that had been cleaned top to bottom, then left shut up in the sweltering temps of this hot summer Friday. After 15 mins of all the windows & the door open it was fine. There was more than enough space in the Forrester 3 we were staying in 3 beds, 1 double with en suite (double shower, toilet, sink), second double, twin, family bath with shower over, toilet & sink. Each bedroom had more than enough space for clothing with rails & shelving. Beds were comfortable & the bedding was clean. The kitchen area was extremely well equipped with all the essentials, under counter fridge-freezer & microwave. More than enough storage with crockery, pots, pans as well as kettle toaster, teapots, & mugs. The dining area was in the kitchen space backed by the lounge, all open plan. Table big enough for family of 6 & the lounge had a blue ray DVD with 43" LCD TV a corner leather sofa & additional 2-seater leather sofa The deck outside was ample with picnic table, as well as a boot rack which was handy & at the front of the cabin was a concrete BBQ stand great for using our disposable BBQs. The lake area was safe for the kids to play on their skateboards & roller skates, they soon found their way around the woodland area. They loved the freedom they don’t get at home to wander off, explore, play & just be children. We chased Robin hood through Sherwood Forrest, enjoyed BBQ’s at our lodge, Picnics at Rufford Abbey & Newstead Abbey Country Parks, pitched ourselves up in some of the most beautiful parks for rounders, boules, aero-bee, games of man hunt, watched our children spend time together with no mobile phones required, cards on the decking & when our guests had left, the kids were all tucked up tired from their adventures that day – Paul & I got some much needed grown up time together to really decompress and enjoy a glass of vino on the decking of an evening. This week away cost us around £1300 as a family of 6 for 7 nights in the summer holidays. Which we are really happy with given this cost considers the following expenses: Lodge for 7 Nights Utilities at the lodge (paid £10 deposit, got £4.97back at check out) Diesel, 1 really decent week’s food shop at ALDI, 1 meal out, 1 take away, loads of snacks & treats like Ice Cream & coffees on days out, parking costs & entry to attractions with fair rides A whopping £30 for 6 ham barms, 3 packs of crisps and 6 cans of pop in Eyam en-route– my advice, pack a picnic If you want to chat about how you can make the most of our wonderful country and coastal areas, get in touch, we love staycations - so I am happy to make some personal recommendations or tailor something just for you and your family.
16 September 2019
School holidays are always a tricky time and it’s not always possible to get away if you have the kids and work to juggle. So, I was made up this year when we were given the opportunity to visit the Harry Potter Studios Tour in London. Arriving at the studios, even parking the car gave us Goosebumps. On the approach, as well as the large banners adorning the walls on the outside of the building are the oversized chess pieces that stand outside the main entrance, these are the actual chess pieces used in the first film. Walking into the main entrance you are greeted by more overhead dynamic banners of the cast as well as a huge replica of the Ukranian IronBelly Dragon so memorable from that scene in Diagon Alley. Whilst the dragon for the film was totally digital in creation, this homage to the skill of the artists is an entrance piece you won’t soon forget. We then spotted an extra edition to this lobby area. 7 of the costumes worn by the cast from Fantastic Beasts. Could these costumes be hiding the next big thing to happen at Harry Potter Studio Tour in Early 2021? We had some time to spare, so we wandered around the souvenir shop. You can find absolutely everything you want in here from a notebook to quills, as well as wands for every style of wanna-be wizard. When the time came, we joined the queue to enter the tour itself. Rounding the corner, we were greeted with replicas of the scripts adorning the walls. Making our way at our own pace we were then treated to a display of other artwork from the movies as well as large cut outs of the cast as their alter egos. Past the family photos on the wall of the Dursleys and past that famous Cupboard Under the Stairs. I could see the excitement on the girls faces! As we made our way further in we were then ushered to a room where the most secret of secret things happen, as well as instructions on what to expect next. No phones/cameras allowed for the next couple of bits and I’m not going to spill the beans here either – so if you want to know what we know – you’ll have to go! When we left this most secret of secret meeting, we walked through those large, heavy doors into the great hall itself. Its strange thinking that once upon a time, the cast was walking these stone floor tiles with the cameras in action. Once you have explored, you then head out into the main tour which takes you through all the sound stages and lets you see more of the costumes, props and sets that we used for the filming. From floating candles & prop food, to make up areas. Floating staircases, talking paintings, the boy’s and girls dorm’s, the Gryffindor Common Room & the Giant Pendulum Clock. The TriWizard Cup, Dumbledore's Office complete with Pensieve. You can even prove just how much of a wizard you truly are and lift a broom by magic. Have your photo taken for a newspaper clip or riding a broom over some of the most iconic landscapes from the films. If the darker side of Harry Potters world is where your allegiances lie, like my 13-year-old daughter, Daisy. Then you can also see the grave of Tom Riddle and his parents, see the scene (complete with replica cast) of the meeting at Malfoy Manor, Dementors, huge hairy spiders and much more from the baddies that we love to hate. Before you know it you have burst onto the platform at 9&¾. Push your luggage trolley through the wall, see inside the Hogwarts Express, or the set which they used to film the in-carriage scenes – what will you see through the window? At this point I was a little confused as to whether we were finished with the tour. Surely the Hogwarts Express was the big finale – but no, there was plenty more to come. The Back-Lot café area which had a great café & bar area where you can enjoy some real food (walking makes me hungry) was a comforting sight. You can even have a flagon of Butter Beer, or even a Butter Beer ice cream. If you don’t want the added expense of meals on the day you can take your own picnic & eat it around the outside picnic area. Whilst you are outside here you will also notice that you are not done with the sets from the movies. Here you will find the Night Bus, The Hogwarts Bridge & 4 Privet Drive as well as vehicles used in the scenes from the films. There is plenty to see at this part, but I don’t want to spoil it all for you. The second part of the tour shows you the animatronics, artwork, make up work & more costumes. You can also see all the architectural samples from when they were designing the sets. The attention to detail & the work that went into them is unbelievable. Next is the newly opened Gringotts Wizarding Bank. The set itself is lined with marble walls & pillars as well as all the cashier desks & replica Goblins. Moving through this gilded chamber with its glass chandeliers you enter a darker part of the set where you are surrounded all the mounds of Bellatrix’s gold in the Lestrange Vault, not to mention the Sword of Gryffendor & Helga Hufflepuff’s Cup. But the piece de resistance is what you wander into next. Tumbled down pillars & collapsed walls, can you hear something at the back? You’ll have to wait and see! After all the excitement of that last ground shaking experience, you will be in awe as you walk into a cavernous chamber that houses the actual prop for Hogwarts Castle. At this point I stood with Daisy & Darcy, just staring. I could feel myself welling up. It really was quite an emotional sight. You can see the entire building and spot locations for scenes that you will know so well as a Potter fan. When you have had your fill, wander back out into the shop area before back into the lobby and it’s time to leave. The whole tour is about 3 hours long, but you don’t need to rush any of it. Once in, you can stay for as long as you like. Make sure you don’t miss a thing. Even then, I guarantee you there is so much to see & do that you will want to return. The whole tour is complemented by interactive screens, displays, videos & lots of plaques that tell you all about each attraction. If you want to you can have an audio guide but we loved finding our way through & chatting to one another as we did. If you would like to know more about the Harry Potter Studios Tour & the best way to book your tickets, get in touch today. Claire P.s If you want to see the whole album of photo's visit my Facebook and Instagram pages
02 June 2019
My daughter asked me today what I remember most about the summer holidays when I was little, I was surprised how quickly it all flooded back as I recounted tales of being in awe of the ‘Air Hostess’ (you were allowed to call them that way back then) when we used to travel overseas on our family holidays. I remember my mum had bought me a doll that had looked just like her on the plane. It got me thinking about those summers, and wondering will my children remember like I do? Family holidays have changed so much over time with the inception of the all-inclusive holiday resorts that have everything under the sun, the kind of hotels that you never have to leave the grounds once you have checked in. I’m not knocking these hotels and they are popular with a lot of my clients looking for their family holidays, but when I was a child on holiday, we were either catering ourselves, or we were at most half board. When I was younger, I loved returning to school after the long summer break. But I was lucky, during this break I got to spend my time in Italy. Always with mum and sometimes with my aunt and grandparents. Strutting through the door in September, I was always keen to share my stories and vividly remember completing a painting in art which, in my 9-year-old view, perfectly encapsulated Venice and the glass blowing factory, complete with a canal and a gondola. It also featured with a Gondolier in his blue and white striped top and straw hat. I remember it so well, because Mr Taylor, my primary school teacher at the time said that it was so good he would put it up in the corridor for display – I helped him. And I remember the smell of the spray glue that we used to back it to the paper and mount it to the wall outside my classroom. I also remember the excitement, in anticipation of being allowed to eat Spaghetti Bolognese every mealtime at the hotel, only to be told at the age of 9 – it doesn’t exist in Italy! The explanation as to the reason for this would be a whole other blog in its own right -suffice to say the numbness was short when I discovered that there were all sorts of alternative pasta dishes that you could try, with various concoctions of sauces. When I returned home to tell everyone of my findings I felt like Columbus after he got home from the new world, although not many of my peers believed me! Of course most grownups these days (and possibly some children) who have travelled to Italy probably already know this fact about one our most loved pasta dishes – I wager you there are lots of you that did not know that, and are now opening google to ask am I right! I also remember the feeling of the sand in my toes, of paddling in the sea and of watching my mum lie on her sun lounger, of the walks that we would take up the sea front till we reached Piazza Mazzini, the heart of Lido Di Jesolo. Here there was a funfair and entertainment for us to watch while mum had a glass of wine and we could watch the fountains. I think I remember these details so well because I can recount the sounds, the sights, the smells of the street vendors in Venice. How hot it was in the glass blowing factory, and how I wanted so much to wear a mask like the ones they sold on the stalls in the streets. The ones that have been decorated so perfectly with glitter and ribbon and remind me of a masquerade. I remember the colour of the water in the canals as the gondola sailed up them. And, how the gondolier would point out to show us all the things he wanted us to know about his beloved city. I remember all this because I was there… what will your children remember when they are asked about their summer holidays as a child? Want to know more about family holidays to Lido di Jesolo? Or how you can get your family out of the usual All-Inclusive style holiday and experience more on your next holiday? Give me a call, what have you got to lose? Claire
14 March 2019
In addition to my main blog about my stay on board the MSC Bellissima in early March, I wanted to give you some more detail on the cabins that were available and the tech that is on board to compliment your cruise. In terms of cabin space, I was really impressed with the cabin options. You have cabins to suit those who want something smaller and won’t spend much time in there, like the studio inside. You then have your standard inside, and whilst yes - these were 2 of the smaller cabin options - what really impressed me was that the bathrooms were still the same as the one in my spacious balcony cabin. I personally think a bit more space in the bathroom is better than more floor space. The cabin I stayed in was a balcony cabin and was very roomy indeed. More than enough space for a couple and I would go so far as to say that these would also suit a family with younger children. The bathroom suite housed a quarter moon shower, toilet & sink with vanity mirror. The lighting was fabulous ladies, so this is where I would suggest make up application on those dress up nights. The cabin itself had plenty of wardrobe storage with a safe, 2 small bedside units, bedside lamps (each with a USB port) a vanity mirror with plugs, USB and the TV facing the bed. To the side next to the large picture balcony doors was a double sofa bed. The balcony itself was not huge but for the time you would spend on here – it was more than sufficient, and the balcony furniture was great. A great spot for a morning cup of tea on those at sea days, before you make use of the onboard facilities. On the bed as a large MSC spread, what looked like the most amazing bed sheets and the pillows were the plumpest I have ever seen. Other cabins that I saw whilst on my self-guided mini tour of the ship were Duplex Suites which had a double sofa bed and bathroom on the lower ground floor, along with a double bed and bathroom on the upper floor. 2 entrances on both ground and upper level with a balcony - housing a sun deck area and also a private hot tub. We then visited an Aurea Suite which, similar to the Duplex, had a separate sleeping area and a sofa bed in a lounge area with only one bathroom. The balcony in this cabin was angular which with access from both the lounge and bedroom areas made the deck area feel spacious. Ocean View cabins again came in a similar size to my balcony cabin and I have to say the larger style picture window was welcoming if you don't want the facility of the balcony but do like some natural light while in your cabin. Having 2 daughters and 2 stepsons, finding a general bucket and spade summer holiday is a complete chore - but hurrah! for MSC Bellissima. The family cabins I saw on board rendered me speechless. Featuring the same great bathroom space only this time with a bath! The same double bed and sofa bed set up, they also feature a further 2 bunk beds. This makes it ideal for a larger family like mine. You can have these cabins as an outside with large picture window or a balcony. In addition – you can interconnect with another cabin next door which also has a double bed and double sofa bed meaning you can supersize your cabin to sleeping 10! And, as we all know with families - 2 bathrooms always help. Accessibility is also in abundance with the adapted cabins featuring spacious bathrooms, wider doors, easy access double beds and an additional 3rd fold down bunk from the ceiling in case you have a carer/family member who you don't want to hop in and cuddle up with. There are ramps to the balcony doors and low level safe/wardrobe rails and even a low-level spy glass in the door. You can really tell that thought was put into the design of these cabins. Onto the tech, Bellissima has so many staff you will never feel like you are missing out on that personal service but sometimes you just want to service yourself, and for those of you who love a bit of tech spec - here is a rundown of what you can find on board; 3302 onboard navigation sensors / 94 Interactive Screen / 57 Video Wall Monitors / 195 Information Screens / 704 Access Points / 2217 with cabins with smart lock system, Smart TV's and ZOE devices / The information screens around the ship ensure that you can make the most of your cruise experience. Catering to over 170 languages you can find everything you need on these screens posted conveniently around the decks. The MSCforMe app which you can download from the moment you have booked your cruise is informative and offers tailor made experiences so you can get the most out of your cruise, before, during and after. You can even locate friends and family with app on board and chat with them to make sure that you don't miss meeting for lunch. You can make seat reservations for shows or the best table at dinner both prior to and after embarkation. If you have bought a photo package you can even download all your images here. And last but by no means least ZOE - your virtual personal cruise assistant on board. Whenever you say 'OK Zoe' she's ready and on hand to help. 400 different people trained Zoe in 7 languages. 2.2 million questions were asked, and 30 different accents were analysed to make sure you get the best experience. You can switch the device off if it’s not your kind of thing and she is only active to listen to your conversations/questions when she is activated by her 'wake up' phrase. Which means your privacy is protected. You can also connect up to 8 mobile devices at any time. Ask Zoe for the weather forecast and she automatically activates your in-cabin TV to display all the info you need. I have lots of imagery, some of which is included with my blog, but much more on file, so if you want to see more about the cabins and the ship itself. In addition to this blog I will also be popping another together with a few details about the on-board drinks plans, different experiences such as Bella, Fantastica and Aurea, as well as the MCS Yacht Club and how the MSC Bellissima is protecting the environment and the oceans by pushing the boundaries of environmental performance.
13 March 2019
It’s taken me a week to digest everything and put into words my experience on board the MSC Bellissima. When I did, there was so much of it I had to snip it down. Yes, that’s right, this is the snipped down version. Eager to share thought there is a second blog to follow covering my review of my actual cabin, family cabins and accessible cabins, as well as ZOE, your own virtual personal cruise assistant, all the other amazing tech onboard and the MSCforMe app! This amazing new ship, which was part of a star-studded naming ceremony the first weekend of March was an amazing sight to behold. On my approach to the docks from Southampton train station, the Bellissima sat towering over the security and embarkation check in points. Staff lined up waiting to greet me. The day itself was a wet and windy one, so I was extremely glad to be welcomed on board by lots of smiling faces and helpful pointers as to where I was headed. I rounded the corner, rushed, windswept and tired after a 4.5-hour train journey from Manchester. The sight was one of amazement. Greeted by the Infinity Atrium, dazzling staircases adorned in Swarovski crystals. Whilst I could also see the Infinity Bar to the side of the Atrium, my first stop was the cabin. For this overnight stay I was in cabin number 9051 which was to the fore of the ship and on the port side. I entered the cabin and was amazed at the space. Resisting the urge to lie down for an hour right there on what looked like an amazingly made bed, I dropped my bag, had a freshen up and headed back out to explore this amazing ship. Headed down to Deck 7 to meet friends at the amazing Champagne Bar, we grabbed a glass each and then headed off to see if we could find our feet or sea legs should I say. I don’t honestly think food was the first thing on my mind, but we quickly came across one of the speciality restaurants, The Butchers Cut. Realising we had the option to try the steak, sides, deserts and amazing red wine on offer we headed in. Well worth a visit on one night of your stay. The food was delicious. After our pit stop a-la-carte tasting we headed out towards the other speciality restaurants, to see what they had to offer. Noticing on the way that we were underneath the Galleria Bellissima. This amazing gallery ceiling changes the image that you are under from the Sistine Chapel to stars at night, amazing art deco imagery and tropical flowers. This promenade gives you access to some of the 20 bars and 10 restaurants. I could talk to you about them forever in this blog, but I’d rather tell you about them in person. We headed up to have a look at some of the other facilities and have to say I was impressed by all the other cabins I looked at, from the duplex suites, balcony cabins, inside cabins and inside studios, all of which had amazing facilities and only differed in the space available. The MSC Yacht Club Suites of which there are 2 Royal Suites, 78 Deluxe Suites and 15 Interior Suites. What amazed me most were the family suites and again you can read more about this in my next blog which goes into detail, suffice to say being a mum to 2 girls and having 2 stepsons (making a family of 6) I was overjoyed at what I was seeing in terms of family space. The entertainment available on board is another showstopper with the amazing Cirque du Soleil at Sea performing in the Carousel Lounge on Deck 7 – they have 2 unique shows exclusive to the MSC Bellissima. Not your sort of thing? Then you can relax in the Bellissima Bar and Lounge, the Attic Club, the London Theatre with 6 different Broadway style shows twice per evening. The pools are amazing with an indoor Grand Canyon pool, the Atmosphere pool which is the location for the White Party and the Sail Away Party, the Horizon pool which at night becomes a stunning outdoor venue for guests to dance under the stars. Last but not certainly not least is the Aquapark – this is the place to be if you are a big kid at heart. 4 twisting slides and the Himalayan Bridge for those who like some high wire adventure. Leading me on nicely to the kids (that’s kids of all ages) entertainment areas. Whether you want something for your little poppet who can’t yet get about on their own or something for those hormonal teens who just want to face time their mates – here’s a rundown on what you can utilise to keep the little legged humans you have with you busy – so you can be a grown up. Baby Chico Club for -3yrs Mini Club 3-6 yrs Junior Club 7-11 yrs Young Club 12-14 yrs Teen Club 15-17yrs All these options are somewhere your children can play securely – if you want them to. But, if like me you want this time to detach them from their IPad and mobile phone then why not go with them to explore the Doremi Lab where you can create 2d magical wall Lego creation, or really get their creative surges going & utilise the 3d printer that is here too. Or the Doremi Studio, TV family studio, where you can enjoy specially created activities together. Not enough? There is the F1 simulator, Bowling, Virtual Reality mini cinema, a 208 square meter arena to play volleyball, basketball, tennis. After exploring all this I was ready to get back, take a shower and see what the evening had in store. It was more great food, lots of great wine and cocktails, some celeb spotting and a very special performance from Craig David. Before I made my way back to my cabin, clambered into bed for what is one of the best night’s sleep, I have had in a long time. The morning was amazing again and disembarkation was a breeze. I can honestly say that if the MSC Bellissima staff can take on over 4000 travel trade staff, providing amazing service and facilities, in their first weekend before they have even welcomed a guest! Well they are all set to cope with the families that will flood in this summer to take advantage of this wonderful ship, as well as the amazing rates available with child prices starting from £159. If you’re not one for family themed holidays there are lots of grown up things to do too and I can suggest some itineraries and options which will suit you, such as 7 nights in Dubai, Abu Dhabi & India from £499p. I can’t wait to get back on board with my family. Fancy it? Give me a call to have a chat about why MSC Bellissima & the other members of the fleet could be the cruise you are looking for in 2019/2020
03 April 2018
Easter for me is a school holiday I dread. Very rarely finding the time to get an overseas holiday, my week tends to be made up of giddy kids who have eaten too much chocolate and very expensive half days out at bowling/cinema/play area style establishments. After moving in with my better half last summer my family grew from three of us, myself, Daisy (11) and Darcy (8) to six including Paul, James (12) and Alfie (9). With six months between the older and younger ones, it’s very much like having two sets of twins. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to please them all. I had heard of Kidzania before and knew they had opened in London a couple of years ago. The kids also knew about Kidzania thanks to the magic of YouTube. One Sunday in late February, Mum (that would be me) had cooked a marvellous Sunday lunch and during said afternoon drank a few glasses of her favourite vino, coupled with consistent badgering through said lunch and vino escapade – voila! We were booked in for a lovely Easter day out at Kidzania. We left Manchester Airport at 8.30am travelling by train into Euston where we then hopped on the Victoria Line changing at Oxford Circus onto the Central Line into Shepherds Bush underground. A short walk into Westfield Shopping Centre and we were at the entrance to Kidzania. You can’t miss it, there is a rather large replica BA Boeing 757 sticking out of the entrance where we collected our tickets which are in the style of a boarding pass (the kids LOVED this!) We then headed off to level 3 where we checked in. We were all supplied with an electronic wrist tag, this makes sure if you give your children the freedom to do their own thing inside the attraction you can be sure they can’t get out without you knowing about it. The kids are also given their 50 KidZos each to use inside. When we entered the main area, it was set out like a little village, the first stop you come to is the Job Information Centre. It’s an adult free world here where kids rule, so it’s the children who are told the do’s & don’t for Kidzania. Once they have had the info they are free to get stuck in. We found a bench and had a sort out taking their coats and making sure they knew where meeting points and toilets were. They couldn’t wait to get started. Walking round each store/building there is a clear information sign on the walls that tells you how long the activity lasts, how many kids can take part in the activity and most importantly there is either a charge or salary amount. If there is a salary, this is how much they are going to earn by completing the job tasks involved and if there is a charge, this is what they must pay to complete the task. For example, to go to University – you pay them. If you become an Air Conditioning Engineer, they pay you. There's lots to choose from and the areas are set up well. After having read reviews of the attraction I have to hold my hands up and say we were nervous that the four-hour slot we had would be taken up by mostly queues for each activity. This wasn’t the case at all and it was within an amiable wait for each job the kids picked. They even had a few where they walked right in, even considering this was the bank holiday weekend for Easter. After realising the kids were all in their element we headed over the ‘The Garden Shed’, an adult only hideaway which has a few tables, a selection of magazines and a couple of PC’s. There are also plug sockets where you can, if needed, charge your phones/tablets. After sitting, having a chat we were curious as to what they were all up to next so went back for a wander to find them all cleaning the shop store front windows with window cleaner trucks and applicable overalls, rather excited since the salary for this exercise was lucrative in the world of KidZos. Since the focus for our four was making sure they got in for the highest paying jobs to maximise their KidZo collection this went down well. We had packed a picnic and had an early lunch at about 11 before we got into London on the train but if you don’t want to pack and carry your own food there are plenty of places you can eat in there and the option for tea/coffee/light snacks. If your children want to be in the catering industry, then you can buy (with actual money) a ticket for the food outlets where the kids then make and prepare their own snack and even get to eat it after too! Talk about working for your supper! We were all done for 4.30, back on the tube and the train with four very content but tired children. The entire day considering our train tickets, tube tickets and entrance to the attraction came in at £233.00 (£58.25 each for the six of us). OMG I hear you exclaim, but consider that if we had gone to the cinema this weekend to watch a film, purchased snacks and then went for a meal afterwards we would have easily spent £100 on the meal and drinks, £30 on snacks and then £65.20 on movie plus, let’s say two Easter eggs each at £4 a pop and we’re pretty much at £227. I think we absolutely made the right decision to invest in a day out at KidZania. We made so many memories and the kids can’t wait to get back to school to tell all their mates about it too! For more information on day trips or weekend breaks in London to see KidZania for yourself, give me a call on 0161 437 1301. Claire
05 January 2018
Having already visited in Summer 2016, we decided to return to La Pineda in August 2017, taking my friend and her family along. You would think a party made up of two 60 year olds, three in our late 30's, two aged 11, an 8 year old and an 18 month old, you wouldn't be able to please everyone - but you'd be wrong. Only 1hr 50m flight and a short 30-minute transfer by coach from Reus airport, with great day flights made the trip with a baby really easy. We left Manchester at 7am and were at Estival Park Hotel & Apts by 11am. Hotels in the region rarely complete check in before 1pm but we had popped some swimwear into the hand luggage so when we arrived we left the cases with the friendly staff at reception, paid 10Euro each by the pool for pool towel (refundable on return of towel) then let the kids hop in the pool so they were entertained while we waited for our room. Reception called us on our mobile at 12.15 and we left the kids in the pool with Grandad whilst we went to unpack. Having been before I emailed ahead to ask if we could have the same rooms as last year - that's what we got. We loved the view of the beautiful parkland and golf course facing the hotel, so this was a great start to our second stay. The complex itself is made up of three main hotel blocks and several apartment blocks in the grounds of the complex. If you are staying on all-inclusive you have use of all three restaurants in any block. For other board basis’ the options are a bit more limited. We usually stay on all-inclusive and I have to say as a family with mixed tastes and ages we never struggled to find something we wanted to eat. That said kids will be kids and as a mother I spend most of my days forcing vegetables and salad into my children, so when we are on holiday anything goes. They loved the all-inclusive snack bar where they feasted on chips, chicken breast pieces, burgers, hot dogs or ham and cheese toasties plus the odd smattering of lettuce. The main bar was great. All the staff were brilliant especially Pepe who makes sure it all runs smoothly. There is a supplement for branded spirits and some beers. My dad loved the self-service bar area where he could help himself to Sangria, there was also beer, soft drinks, milkshakes and ice cream. But the best part for me was the large fridges filled to the brim with bottled water which you could help yourself to all day. Small drink size bottles and large bottles for when you were heading out. The hotel also allows you to use any of the three pools at the main hotel blocks and facilities in each. The grounds of the complex are beautiful and there is also a sheltered play area with swings and slides next to the hotel run kids club. The animation staff are the heart and soul of Estival, with their own mascot Estivi who comes out to see the children at various times of the day. There is aqua-aerobics, games, water volleyball throughout the day as well as an amazing evening entertainment either by the hotels own animation team or acts who come in from outside. Strolling out of the hotels and down to the sea front you pass the hotels Aquum Spa. Can you believe you can have a spa treatment which is a bath in chocolate! Once you get down to the front you will find La Pineda is a beautiful alternative to Salou and Cambrils. In the town of Vila-Seca which is divided into two, between Pineda and the pretty old city centre of Tarragona. It has everything a family needs for a great summer getaway. Platja de La Pineda is a large curved bay with lovely shallow waters for families with younger children. The pretty sea front is lined with shops and restaurants to cater to every taste. Traditional Catalan restaurants serve all manner of local dishes including fresh sea food, if that isn't what you're looking for there is a selection of other restaurants to choose from. Denise, Paul, Dan and Liss can thoroughly recommend the Italian option! In the evenings you can stroll down the front and watch the lights of the cruise ships sailing past into Tarragona harbour. It's all flat too, so it's great if you have a pushchair or those travelling with a wheelchair. When we were not spending days round the pool or on the beach, it’s a 10-minute walk to Aquopolis Water Park, I never thought I would see my dad Colin (69), Daisy (11) and Daniel (11) race each other down the Kamikaze slide. Darcy (8) loved the play area for younger kids and Alyssia was well away in the baby area. Just 15 minutes by bus the old city centre Tarragona, the City of the Human Towers (festival for this can be seen between 24 June-24 September), is simply beautiful. We spent a full day here just wandering down the Rambla Nova (a mini Las Ramblas) and into small squares where we watched the locals go about their day. The view from the top of the Rambla Nova is amazing. We visited the Roman Ruins, following the Roman route of the town and walked the winding streets up to Tarragona Cathedral. On certain days you can watch an actual re-enactment of Roman Gladiators in the Coliseum too. Our pictures don’t do it justice. The same journey in the opposite direction by bus took us to a compete contrast to the quiet of La Pined, Salou is busy and full of shops, bars, eateries including a few fast food options. Salou is beautiful in the evenings when the musical light show appears in the fountains along the promenade. Which again is flat making it easy access. The highlight for us this year was the Sant Magi Festival. We watched the procession of the Festival followed by amazing fireworks. Whilst it was busy and eventually the kids were tired I don't think I will ever forget standing with my family and my very best friend sharing the moment with our children. We didn’t visit Port Aventura but it’s a short walk from the centre of Salou. Well worth a visit. A bit further on from Salou is Cambrils, again easily accessible by bus. The more upmarket area has a yacht marina. The beach is great again here too with not only wooden play areas built under the shady trees that line the front but also lovely boutiques and eateries. From Cambrils Station you can catch the train into Barcelona, it takes approximately an hour and is well worth the visit. Because I could talk about this city for ever I decided to pop that on a separate blog for you. If you want to know any more about the Estival Park Hotel and Apartments or see any more of our holiday snaps/videos get in touch.
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Welling, Kent 12/04/2019
Timperley, Altrincham 12/04/2019
Timperley, Altrincham 12/04/2019
Wythenshawe, Manchester 02/10/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 03/09/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 03/09/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 03/09/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 18/05/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 18/05/2018
Baguley, Manchester 03/04/2018
Wythenshawe, Manchster 07/03/2018
Hyde, Manchester 07/03/2018
Northern Moor, Manchester 01/02/2018