Saturday, 27 March 2010

I Saw A Mouse...

Disneyland Paris March 2010

I booked our holiday online via the Disneyland Paris Website back in January. After much searching, I basically booked the cheapest break I could find, and managed to get five nights within our budget. Yippee! After booking the Disney Package, I found a cheap room at Premier Inn in Dover and a bargain crossing with SeaFrance to complete our holiday itinerary. Also fitting with our "holiday on a budget" theme, I dug out the Euros that we had left from our previous trip to Disneyland Paris, which this holiday was basically to make up for. (Last year we went for three nights and everyone was ill either just before, during or just after it. Anyway, that's another story.) It turned out we had enough Euros left for incidental purchases on this trip so that was a bonus.

We went back to Disney's Hotel Cheyenne, which we stayed in last year. It is one of the cheaper Disney hotels but we were not intending to sit around in the room, and we wanted to make up for last year with the buffet. Let's just say it's the buffet to end all buffets, and on the first night last year I could only face some mash and a boiled egg. We made up for that this time. Twice over and then some.

The rooms at the Cheyenne are small, but clean and functional. It's set in a Western theme with a main building including the restaurant, bar, check in and info desk, shop etc, and other "out buildings" forming the accommodation. I have seen it described on Trip Advisor as a "motel" style hotel and I guess that is what it is. However, the quality of the food ramps this up a few notches.

We booked half board, and I highly recommend that anyone who goes to a Disney resort in the future does too. Buying food at Disneyland Paris is an expensive pass-time. As well as booking half board, I also loaded the car up with bottles of water, cartons of juice, cans of diet coke, and snacks, so that we could minimise expenditure on food during the day.

Once there we basically spent the whole time walking around and going on ride after ride after ride. As you do! A great time was had by all.

My personal recommendations in the Disneyland Paris Parks:
Stitch Live is aimed at children but we actually really enjoyed this show. It's on at regular intervals in different languages and is interactive, clever and very funny. Definitely worth a try.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a great ride, which my son described as a boat-a-coaster. It has a great mixture of atmosphere, music, climbs and dips, and is suitable for any age.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith does what it says on the tin. Perfect for anyone over 120cm who likes a bit of an adrenaline rush, this indoor coaster blasts rock music at you as you are spun through 360 degree loops at high speed. Also boasts surprisingly short queues. Not for the faint hearted.

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast is one of my all time favourite rides. Suitable for the whole family it is great fun and also good if you have a competitive nature.

Cowboy Cookout Barbecue is a nice place to eat. I can highly recommend the salmon here! The rest of the family enjoyed the chicken too.

The Parade happens every evening and is well worth a view if you want to see all of the characters easily.

The Highs:
I Saw A Mouse: On day three it was raining. Making a quick detour down a side (covered) passage, we found Mickey Mouse standing there with the smallest group of people around him. I may have this wrong but I think in Florida you have to pay to get a photo with Mickey. Usually in Disneyland Paris you have to queue for a long time. We have never bothered, but spotting him like this, we seized the opportunity and the boys had a photo with Mickey. Mickey Mouse then beckoned Eldest over, and she had a cuddly photo with him too. Mickey, I will be forever in your debt for that. She would have been so upset later on if he had not realised that she was feeling nervous. Hurray for The Mouse. Mum had tears in her eyes.

Youngest (2.5yrs) reacts to his souvenir: Eldest wanted mouse ears. Middle child wanted a Mickey cushion. I couldn't leave Youngest out so I bought him a Disneyland Paris 2010 T-Shirt which even I thought was a bit lame in comparison to the other two purchases. When I showed it to him that evening, he said, "Oh, I love it," and took it to bed with him. He then insisted on wearing it the next day. And that night.

General Holiday Mode: The parents among you will know what I mean. Simply not having to cook, wash-up, clean or think about how to entertain the children for 6 days was enough for me. Bliss!

The Lows:
I Saw A Mouse: Yes, unfortunately, this one was not a friendly costumed one. One evening during dinner there was a small grey mouse on the floor in the hotel restaurant. It was moving in a way that suggested that it had either been poisoned or hit, and it was taken away pronto, but it did put me off my dinner slightly that evening. Luckily we'd almost finished eating by then. No other evidence of rodents was spotted before or after this... and believe me I kept my eyes open.

Ride Closures: The Backlot Tour was closed!!! This is one of the highlights of a Disney Studios park and I was disappointed that it was shut. I felt really sorry for other people who had possibly booked a once in a lifetime holiday and would not have a chance to experience this attraction.

Smoking: I'm not being militant about this because I know that smoking is a personal choice and if people want to smoke, it's up to them. However, at a Disney park where all the Guides say, "We have designated smoking areas," I found it really frustrating that the whole place stank of cigarette smoke and there were hundreds of people walking around, oblivious to the smoking areas, holding lit cigarettes at the exact level of my children's eyes and dragging away as if their lives depended on it. This is not something that I have seen happening in Florida.

Queue, what queue? I think the word 'queue' does not exist in some areas of continental Europe. Certainly the way to deal with a queue is not a part of the growing up process in such areas anyway. Doors open, people run, push and shove. No matter that there are small children, or elderly people around.

The Weather: We were lucky in that we had three days of sunshine and no rain. But then we had one and a half days of rain and cold. Not so much fun.

Geography: When you are lucky enough to have been to Walt Disney World in Florida, well, Disneyland Paris is always going to seem ever so slightly disappointing.

Things to know if you are planning a trip to a Disney resort:
Park tickets are included in the price of a Disney Hotel package. You get a two park ticket which allows you to go between both parks as much as you like. You also get early access to Disneyland Park in the morning before the park opens and the masses are allowed in. Something to note is that if you arrive before your hotel check-in time you are also able to go straight to the parks before your room is even ready.

There are shuttle buses from most hotels to the park. These are quick, journeys but the buses get very crowded, and walking only takes 15 minutes or so.

Fastpass is a great way to get on all of the most popular rides without hanging around for too long. You swipe your park ticket and get a Fastpass with a time to return to the ride printed on it. You then get to join a faster queue.

Baby Swap is another very useful service which enables parents or adults to go on rides that the children are not so keen on. Basically you are given a pass so that one person can ride and then the second goes straight on without queueing again.

Half board enables you to have breakfast and lunch in your own hotel, or to use your dinner voucher for lunch or dinner at selected restaurants in the parks. It will also save you a lot of money as the food is very expensive.

The best time to go for dinner (in a hotel) is as soon as the restaurants open. This seems to be the quietest time, as most people want to make the most of their day in the parks.

Strollers are available for hire at a reasonable price per day. These are more like chairs on wheels and suitable for older children than baby prams.

For Disneyland Paris, if you wish to travel by ferry and take a car, then SeaFrance are fantastic. Our return fare was £40! You just have to select the crossings carefully and not travel at peak times during the day. They also have a childrens play area on each boat, which I feel is a very helpful thing to have when you have young children. It helps for them to have an hour of fun on the boat instead of sitting around moaning about being bored!

In summary:
All in all, we had a fun week. The children had a blast. But I don't think we will go to Disneyland Paris again. If we ever do go to a Disney resort again, it's going to have to be Florida when the children are much older. Time to start saving!

Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside...

A week ago we bundled the children into the car for a trip to the seaside. We drove for a couple of hours, until we finally saw the white cliffs of Dover, and sighed in relief that we had arrived without incident. No one cried, no one moaned or got outraged that we had been in the car for so long, and no-one was travel sick. Result!

We got out and looked around for a while. After a quick walk on a pebbly and very windy beach, we walked around a rather smart looking Quay area which was full of modern shops, and then up the high street. Looking for somewhere to eat with three small children when it is raining is not as easy as it could be. Unfortunately that meant we ended up in McDonalds, but at least the children were happy.

I forgot to mention that it was late afternoon by the time we got down there. All the best plans, as they say; we had car issues to deal with before we set off, but children being children they did not question why we were going for a day out at such a late hour.

After they had finished their food, we bundled them all back into the car. They were all excited as we had said we could stay in the area overnight. We found a room in a Premier Inn nearby. Cheap, and much more cheerful than I had expected.

I was impressed with the way the children slept. Usually in a hotel room, there is a lot of excitement and not much sleep, but this time they were out like little lights.

Up early in the morning, we suggested going on a boat trip. At this point, eldest started moaning that she didn't want to go on a boat trip. Whispered discussions in the bathroom led to a slight change of plan as we made the announcement there and then. Three little faces lit up when they heard that we were actually catching a ferry to France and going to Disneyland Paris for a week. "What about school?" was the first question. Luckily, school were in on the secret.

Please click here for my detailed review of our trip to Disneyland Paris, including highs, lows, and tips for future travellers.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Making Mother's Day

This Sunday is Mother's Day in the UK & Ireland. Some may think of it as yet another over-commercialised occasion. Some may think of it with sadness or longing for someone who is no longer with them or who is not a part of their life. Others among us will be thinking, hang on, I'm a Mother... why is it not *my* day today?

Whatever your take on a day such as this, it happens every year and we all go through our different ways of celebrating/coping/ignoring it. There seem to be a lot of occasions like this in a year nowadays.

However, as a Mum of three young children, I have to say I never appreciated my Mother as much as I do now. It is only recently, since I have been in the situation myself that I realised how much my Mum had done for us as a family. The sleepless nights, the constant learning curves, the battles with boundary tests. All in the name of parenting. Not to mention the day to day tasks; constant preparing and clearing up of food, the driving around, the managing of social lives that are fit for a celebrity, not to mention the mountains of tiny clothes that constantly need cleaning and the total lack of a spare minute to do *anything* for yourself.

Today I am having family round for tea at my house. My sister and I will be preparing all the food and my Mum will be the guest of honour. It would have been nice to have a lay in and been brought a cup of tea in bed, but I somehow knew that was not going to happen. My seven year old daughter is demanding her breakfast even as I type, after crying last night at the thought of me not getting it for her. I know my five year old middle child has something "hidden" in his wardrobe that he has lovingly made for me at school. When asked why he woke me up the night before last purely for a cuddle, his indignant answer was, "it's because I love you". As for the two year old, well he's simply doing his best to help me to get fit by making me charge around all over the place after him so that he doesn't wreck everything in his path.

Mother's Day may not be a pampering, relaxing event as the Mother of small children, but the love you get from the children is so powerful it's enough to make my day every day.

I hope that everyone in the UK and Ireland has a wonderful Mothers Day and at least spends a moment to think of their Mother. Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

A Night Out With The Girls

Last night I went out with 13 other ladies, to celebrate a friend's 44th birthday, and the fact that she has fought Cancer and won. She had booked a lovely venue, and I had been looking forward to it for weeks.

Typically, I ended up with a migraine on the day. There was no way I was going to miss this event though, as it meant a lot to me to be there and share in the celebrations. I decided to drive, so that I could leave when my head had had enough.

Off I went, and gave a couple of ladies from our village a lift. I was glad as I get quite nervous going to places I don't know. I've always been more of a listener than a talker, and last night was no exception. As the evening progressed, I learnt a lot about a several people, some of whom I knew before the evening and some new to me. I think I was the only one who was not drinking, but I still enjoyed the evening greatly, despite my throbbing head.

I had not realised quite how my thought processes were working during the evening, but as I excused myself at about 11pm, and drove home alone, my brain started whirring and thoughts were clicking into place. Having thought of a new idea for a novel on Thursday, it seemed that the bare bones were being populated by characters at an alarming rate. I had spotted several different personalities during the evening, and these had fuelled my ideas for the story. I felt wide awake at 3.30 this morning and I had to fight the urge to get up and start writing. I would have given in, if we had not had so much to do today, and if my migraine was not continuing to saw backwards and forwards over my nerves.

I'm still sticking to my self-imposed ban on writing for March. I will be generous and allow myself the odd blog post, but I am really looking forward to getting these ideas down once March and the subsequent school holidays have passed. It's the first time that I have been truly glad that I am a born listener. I wonder if some of the ladies that I spent the evening with will recognise themselves in some of my characters.

Monday, 1 March 2010

When Real Life Takes Over

I spend a lot of time wanting to write, and feeling frustrated that I just don't have the time to do so, what with the children, the house (and a husband) to look after. Then suddenly things become *really* hectic in the 'real world', and I know I have to just give in to reality and put everything on hold. Now is one of those times. I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say that time on my own, with nothing else pressing for attention, is currently zero.

I have had to accept the fact that March will be a month for things other than writing. There is no alternative but to give in to this fact.

Having said that, mentally accepting that, and taking the pressure off, has had one good result. Whilst tidying up the kitchen last night, a new plot idea for one of my WIP's jumped into my head. A good one. I think if I can use some time to form more ideas in my head, then April may be one of my best writing months ever.