Thursday, 10 August 2017

My NYC Bucket List

For those that read my blog regularly will know I went to NYC back in December last year. Shortly after we returned, we booked a very similar trip (NYC and Florida) however this time for 2 weeks, as opposed to 3! (If only!)
On our last trip to NYC, for one reason or another, we didn't manage to tick everything off my our bucket list, so in true Kate fashion, used this as an excuse to revisit. Why the hell not? Not only will I get to explore the unvisited, but I will get to see NY in a different season, which will open up different activities that cannot be done in the winter. Without further ado, here's my bucket list that I hope to complete in this upcoming trip.

1. Hire a boat in Central Park. Ok, so the last time Mike and I canoed/kayaked, we had a 'heated discussion' on the water because I wasn't helping him row. That's what men are for, right?! I'll try put more effort in this time! But on a serious note, this wasn't even an option when we were there last time, purely because it was winter, so its a definite 'to do' on our next trip!

source - google images
2. Visit the Empire State Building. I saw this from afar last time, but like many tourists, you either do one or the other, Empire State or Rockefeller, and after doing research, we settled on Rockefeller in the day. This time we'll do Empire State, at night. I can't wait!

View from Empire State - source - google images
3. Have a cocktail on a rooftop bar. Omg, there are SO many beautiful rooftop bars to choose from, all with ridiculously eye popping prices, so I'm going to choose wisely!

Source - google images
4. Visit 9/11 memorial. We had this on our itinerary last time, however the heavens decided to open (like you wouldn't believe) so we made a swift detour in a Starbucks, and didn't come out for hours. We're there over 9/11 this time, so I think it'll be even more special (and probably more emotional!)

source - google images
5. Try some Dim Sum in China Town. I know you can do this pretty much anywhere in the world that has decent Chinese Food, but not only have I heard so much about dim sum that the intrigued barometer inside me is in the red, but we only had a fleeting visit to China Town last time whilst we were looking for somewhere else, so we need to revisit!

source - google images
6. Experience 'The Ride: NYC' - this entertainment bus looks SO much fun. We saw one last time and everyone looked so happy, and its got great reviews, so this is a definite must!

source - google images
7. Take a walk on Brooklyn Bridge - Again, something that we never managed to do on our last trip. I can't wait to leave Manhattan and see the skyline from Brooklyn. Hoping to do this near sunset one night...

source - google images
8. Hire bikes and cycle round Central Park. Again, because of how vast Central Park is, I think a bike would be really useful. You'd need a few full days to properly explore this park, which unfortunately we don't have, so a bike is the next best option! This will enable us to visit points in the park which we never had time to see last year.

source - google images

If you've got any more recommendations then please do let me know!

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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Disney: Top 5 things to do outside of the theme parks

For those that have been to Florida before will know that spending a full 2 weeks in the parks can be extremely exhausting to the point where you make yourself ill. I couldn't recommend enough pencilling in a few days to chill out. I know what you're all thinking 'I didn't pay X amount of money to do nothing!' Chill out days don't have to necessarily be doing 'just nothing' (although I think by the end of the holiday you'd be begging for that!), but more of a 'lets take it easy' day, to give those poor old feet a rest!

I've been to Florida enough times now to know how to make the most out of your chill out days away from the theme parks.

1. Visit a beach! Florida has SO many gorgeous beaches, and because of the theme parks, they're so overlooked by tourists because they get sucked in by Disney that they forget that there really is more to Orlando than just the parks! I've visited several over the years and they're all perfect in their own little way, and you can find a beach to suit your needs. You're still chilling out, but seeing Florida at the same time!

St Petes Beach, FL
2. Designer Outlets/Malls. Orlando is home to some fantastic shopping, and some jaw-dropping discounts. The malls have lots of restaurants to eat at too (The Cheesecake Factory, I'm looking at you!) so you can easily make a nice slow afternoon from shopping, picking up souveniers, as well as some treats for yourself. Retail therapy is the way forward on holiday - you don't have to worry about seeing people in the same item of clothing when you return home, always a bonus!

ice skating rink in Clearwater Mall
3. Disney's Mini Golf - If you have Disney tickets, then you can access this for free, and the theming of both courses are brilliant! I feel like these are also overlooked, but can provide an hour or 2's entertainment, and its great fun for all the family. I've been to both courses, Fantasia Gardens and Winter Wonderland, and the design on both is great, although I did prefer Winter Wonderland more. If you like Christmas, you'll love this!

Winter Wonderland Golf Course
4. Boggy Creek Boat Rides  - I personally haven't done this one yet but it often crops up on my itinerary to do, we just never get round to it! These rides are fairly close to Orlando and aren't too expensive. They're great for nature lovers and will enable you to see Orlando from a slightly different perspective, as well as giving you an adrenalin rush from the speed!

source: google images
5. Hire a boat on the Severn Seas Lagoon - For those that have travelled to Magic Kingdom by Ferryboat from the car park would have travelled across the Severn Seas Lagoon. You can hire boats out (that are self-driven), fetch your own music, food etc and just have a few hours out on the lagoon all by yourself! We're definitely going to look into it this year!

 
 
 
 
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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Hotel Review: The Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater, Florida

                     


In December last year, as the third and final stop of our NYC and Disney trip, we spent the final 4 nights at The Sandpearl Resort, a 5* beach-front hotel in Clearwater, Florida.

From the moment we checked in and were handed complimentary ice-cold mimosas, I knew we'd be very well looked after. The reception was beautiful, with shiny marble-esque tiles, luxury sofas to chill out on, a self-playing grand piano, and a huge Christmas tree that twinkled in the sun.

Sand Sculptures in reception

Whilst we were waiting for the bellhop to deliver our luggage to our room (complimentary but do require a tip!) it gave us time to explore what our bedroom had to offer...


The room was gorgeous and so spacious, a huge queen size bed with luxury white sheets and pillows that were definitely made for dreaming on! Lots of different seating areas, and desk space to do work if necessary. The mini bar selection was out of this world however I did do a small gulp when I saw the prices. Yikes!


The bathroom was definitely one of my favourite areas to spend time in. It had lots of floor space (which always bizarrely makes me want to spend longer in there!). It had intricate details which really reflected the beach location of this hotel. Soaps were placed in a shell which was of the finest quality. Lots of fluffy towels, and the most gorgeous bath robe was provided which was made from materials I didn't even know dressing gowns could be made from! It was so comfy to wear and felt really luxurious on. With a $90 price tag though, unfortunately I had to turn it down. Each room had a turn-down service, and if you're in or out, curtains will get closed and lights are dimmed, duvets are turned back ready for bed, and complimentary chocolates/sleeping oils are placed on your pillow for winding down with when you return. They also provide you with a little card which will give you a heads-up on tomorrow's weather. Such a great little addition!





All rooms also come with a balcony, which is definitely something we utilised during our stay. I enjoyed watching the sun set on here, as well as playing the odd game of dolphin spotting! The chairs and table enabled us to fetch drinks and snacks out here too. It was a nice little space, to be in the comfort of our own room, but still benefit from being outdoors.



The pool was really spacious, and was never crowded with people (although the time of year probably helped with this, with it being only a few weeks away from Christmas). It had a walk in shallow end, which I personally prefer, instead of those awkward steps into pools. There was ample sunbeds, some more luxurious than others, some with padding on them, as well as small shades/hoods on others to keep the sun at bay. There were 2 Jacuzzi's which were both open till 10pm. We managed to get one to ourselves one night and the hot bubbles were so relaxing! There was always a waiter on tap which meant you didn't have to leave your sunbed, which was great if you were feeling really lazy!

The surrounding grounds were impeccable, with cascading waterfalls and beautiful seating areas dotted all around the hotel, you were spoilt for choice on where to relax next!


view from balcony
The yellow and white sun loungers that you may be able to spot on the beach in the photo above is Sandpearls Private beach. Only guests of this hotel are allowed to utilize these sun loungers, as well as having fast access to the beach through a private gate. Behind the central palm tree on the beach was a fire pit that also belonged to The Sandpearl. Guests were able to buy marshmallows etc and roast them over the fire to eat. This had lots of seating surrounding the pit, so on our last night we grabbed a beer (or coke in my case!) from Tate Island Grill (the hotels onsite casual restaurant) and sat round the fire enjoying the sunset (which is definitely not to be missed!). With the sand in our toes, the gentle lapping of the nearby waves and the relaxed atmosphere really made us not want to go home the next day!







 The hotel also offers Caretta's, a more fine-dining experience in Clearwater, although unfortunately we didn't get chance to sample this whilst we were here.
Image result for caretta on the gulf
Caretta's - source: google images


Obviously this rating of hotel wouldn't be complete without a luxury spa to offer its guests, and The Sandpearl doesn't disappoint with its award winning spa that offers 'ocean inspired treatments', warm stone massages, deluxe couples treatments, steam rooms and therapeutic whirlpools to name just a few.

Location wise, apart from being evidently central to the beach, The Sandpearl is close to lots of amenities, with shops and restaurants being on your doorstep. The Pier is just a short stroll away, and a bit further down the beach is a huge inflatable water park in the ocean which looks great for kids! There's a lovely harbour to explore and indulge in some fresh fish delicacies. A short drive away is Clearwater Mall and Westfield shopping centre which has an array of shops and the ever-famous Macys, where I bought the dreamiest of dresses!


We had a truly relaxing and fun few days at The Sandpearl Resort. Prices are definitely a little on the steeper side (starting from approx. £200 per night) but as a one-off treat and a serious recharge, your purse will (hopefully) thank you! Rated one of Clearwater's best hotels, the location couldn't be better...



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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Clearwater, Florida

Following on from my Disney Diaries, my last stop of my holiday was Clearwater, which lies on the West coast of Florida, an hours drive from Orlando. We booked this because we knew we'd need a few days to wind down from the chaos that we'd just experienced in NYC and Disney. It was definitely a 'recharge your batteries' kind of stop!

As a kid my dad always used to take us to St Petes to stay, which was a little further down the coast, so although I'd had loads of beach holidays in Florida, I'd never actually been to Clearwater. This place is known for its pure white sands, and that definitely didn't disappoint. We stayed in a luxury 5* hotel right on the beach front which was amazing in so many different ways, although the price to stay here isn't for the faint-hearted - definitely a one-off for us! (review coming soon!).

Because of our early mornings and fun-filled days in NYC & Disney, we agreed to take it easy in Clearwater, and that we definitely did.


Our days were filled with lazy mornings on the balcony, with a lovely sea-breeze cooling us from the Florida heat. Several trips to Ihop were had and several pancakes consumed, along with a few trips to the local mall (where I purchased a dreamy dress from Macy's!). We watched a handful of sunsets sat on the white sands, and even spotted a dolphin or two leaping through the air. We had a few swims in the hotel pool, and a few late night dips in the Jacuzzi. We also sat round a fire pit one night on the beach, watching the sunset into the pink sky. It was lovely not having the pressure of feeling like you were missing out, and 'had to make the most of your time in Florida', because we'd already done that. It was then that we agreed we needed more holidays like this. To just chill, and feel content with that.

 


And just like that, our 3 week stint in the US was over. I know they've been few and far between but I hope you've enjoyed them. For those that have missed out on my Disney Diaries, please find them here.

I'm so lucky to be returning to both NYC & Florida again in just a few months, so keep your eyes peeled for more fun-filled adventures!
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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Top 3 Things to Do in Skiathos, Greece

I have recently returned from my very first trip to the island of Skiathos in Greece. It was beautiful, narrow cobbled streets with quirky shops and restaurant tables that lined the edge. Brightly coloured flowers at every turn which made this island one of the prettiest yet.

Today I thought I'd share with you my top 3 things to do when visiting Skiathos.

1. Take a boat trip to Lalaria. There are a huge handful of boat tours to choose from which are all lined up on the harbour. Because we were slightly out of season, we managed to pick up a 5hr boat tour for only 10 euros. One of these stops was to a beautiful beach called Lalaria, which was approx. a 45 min boat ride from Skiathos harbour. The colour of the sea was mesmerising, and the transparency was like nothing I'd seen before. The beach itself is made from huge white smooth pebbles, which can get quite uncomfortable on bare feet, but as long as you've got sturdy shoes, you'll be fine. Rumour has it that if you swim through the famous archway (Tripia Petra) 3 times, you'll be granted eternal youth forever. The whiteness of the pebbles and sun bleached limestone cliffs against the aqua blue Aegean sea really does make it a beautiful photo opportunity.

Lalaria
2. Take a trek to Mandraki Beach. This isn't for the faint hearted, it entails heights, and lots of walking, majority being uphill, but by God the views are so worth it. If you're visiting Skiathos, you need to take the bus to stop 25 and walk alongside the left hand side of the Golden Hotel (right outside the bus stop). Eventually the dirt track comes to a fork, you need to take the right hand side and keep walking, getting higher up the mountains. You will have plenty of opportunity to appreciate the views of the shoreline and the hidden beach of Kriffi Ammos, and the best bit? You will barely pass a sole up here. So peaceful and definitely a good place if your head needs clearing! You'll briefly pass through a small forest area before entering onto Mandraki Beach, which is one of 67 beaches in Skiathos. Although there were a handful of people here, it was so stull that all you could hear was the gentle lapping of the sea. I got my book out and enjoyed a few hours here in the sunshine. Definitely a lovely end to the holiday Perfect.




3. Visit Bourtzi, a tapas restaurant that has views to die for. This restaurant is on a hill near the harbour and has panoramic views over the ocean. There are plenty of tables near to the edge of the restaurant/ocean so you're not fighting for views of the sea. Although a little more expensive than your average Greek taverna, the food here is so good. We ordered 5 tapas dishes and they were divine, better than I've ever tasted in UK! If the quality of the food and the views isn't good enough, take a trip to the bathroom.. the sinks also overlook the ocean. I never knew hand washing could be so mesmerising! It would definitely make the perfect wedding reception location!
 
 
View from bathroom


This is my 5th Greek island that I have visited and I think it definitely gets number 1 spot.  
 
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Thursday, 25 May 2017

My first Airbnb Experience

Being someone that is always looking where I can get my next travel fix from, I am always looking for new hotels to experience.

When our recent holiday to Skiathos was approaching, I began looking at accommodation near Manchester Airport were I didn't have the pay the earth. I'd been scrawling through the Airbnb app on my phone for a few months previous, creating albums full of pretty places all over the country for places I'd love to stay. Accommodation for Manchester was coming up pretty pricey, especially for mid-week, prices that I definitely didn't want to pay when we were leaving at 1.30am to head to the airport!

I then came across 'The Pad' in Didsbury, Manchester. It was a 15 minute drive from the airport, it looked beautiful from the photos, it had the diamond icon next to it, which meant it was a 'rare find', and with discount I found, it only came to £63 for the night, and had a dozen more facilities than any hotel could offer me... perfect!

I went on to book this hotel through the app. It prompted me to write a message to the owner of the property, to 'tell her a bit about myself and my stay'. I initially found this idea a little invasive and strange, and I couldn't bypass this message (I tried!). So in a few words, I told the owner it was my first time using Airbnb, and that it was my birthday on the day of arrival, and we were also using it as a base to travel to the airport the next morning. The message was sent and I immediately got a prompt from the app telling me my booking was waiting approval. This left me feeling a little uncertain, with only days to go until we left, and I was still unsure if I was able to have the room. I needn't have worried - within half an hour my booking was approved and I received a lovely message from the owner welcoming me. She gave me a few snippets of information on the area etc and said she'd look forward to meeting us.

Fast forward a few days, a few hours before we were due to arrive, I sent a quick message as requested, stating our estimated time of arrival. Within a matter of minutes I received a message back stating that she wouldn't be greeting us, however explained everything we needed to know, from parking, to gaining access to the property.

We arrived and it was such a cute set-up. A room that consisted of a comfy bed, desk area and the most beautiful kitchen, complete with everything you would possibly need for an overnight stay (plus more!). The accessories were of fantastic quality, even down to the tea-towels which were branded!

 

There was a huge binder full of local restaurant menus, timetables on the nearby metro/bus routes etc. Every bit of information you need to make your stay enjoyable. There was also a large complimentary chocolate key (which I struggled to share with Mike... it was my birthday after all!)




 



The bathroom was a little on the small side, but it was definitely manageable due to the little amount of time we stayed there. Again, just like a hotel, all products and towels were included, it really was like a home from home.

 


I love the fact that instead of entering a universal hotel room, knowing that every room is the same, you are being welcomed into somewhere unique, with character and charm. Somewhere that includes more facilities than you would ever receive in a bog-standard hotel. Not to mention the price, you can 'house' more people for less, and if you filter your search correctly, you can get parking thrown in there for free, when usually you would pay £10-£15 for city parking.

I had such a pleasant first experience and I'm already hunting down my next!
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