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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Friday, 19 May 2017

Row NYC, New York City.


 
I was lucky enough to visit NYC at Christmas time, and had the pleasure of staying at Row NYC.

Hotel Interior

My first thoughts when entering this hotel was how dark it was. It definitely had an edgy contemporary vibe to it, with lighting to match. The hallways near to the rooms were adorned with funky, almost eclectic art work, which added to the contemporary vibe of this hotel.

Lobby
Hallways (source:google)
The lift (elevator) system was definitely different to anything I'd experienced, and I only knew how to work this because I'd done my research. There were many tourists that were left in a state of confusion when trying to access them. Basically there were approximately 6 lifts to choose from (each numbered 1-6). You typed in the floor of your hotel room, and it would give you a number. That number correlated with the lift number that you needed to access. It definitely reduced a build up of people and was certainly a clever way to do it, however instructions next to the lifts would have been helpful for others.
Service
 
Admittedly, we didn't come into contact with many staff from the hotel. The gentleman that served us during check-in was polite and friendly, and even upgraded us (no reason/request to). The older gentleman in the small on-site shop was pleasant enough too.
 
Hotel Room
 
We didn't have the best view (being on the 4th floor) but the extra space that the upgrade provided us was more beneficial to us than a pretty view. It was a disabled room, so lots of floor space and a large bathroom which I was really thankful for. New York appears to be renown for its small hotel rooms and steep prices so I was grateful for the free upgrade. The disadvantage of being on the 4th floor (apart from the poorer view) was the sound. This is the first time I'd visited NY and I didn't realise how crazy the traffic was. Constant sirens and cars beeping. You could hear all this quite clearly from the room, however most times the A/C drowned the noise out, or we just got used to it. It did occasionally wake me up in the morning though (New Yorkers seem to honk their horns at all hours of the night and not give a monkeys... something that us English aren't used to!).

The bed was slightly smaller than anticipated (I have always experienced large beds in the US) but the comfort definitely made up for this. The bedside cabinets provided plenty of storage and charging points integrated into the lamp base meant I could charge my phone beside me whilst I slept, winner!
 
The only downfall to this room (and its a strange, but annoying one!) was the wardrobe. There were 2 hanging rails inside the wardrobe which were positioned facing outwards instead of across (like most wardrobes). The hanging space between the top rail and bottom rail, then the bottom rail to the bottom of the wardrobe was ridiculous. You could probably just fit a babies outfit in there for it to hang freely. Adults clothes? Forget it. Half of the clothes would have draped onto the bottom of the wardrobe or the other rail. Such a bizarre set up, and so frustrating that we couldn't use it.

The bathroom offered a powerful shower as well as a bath tub that enabled me to rest my aching feet after miles of walking each day.
Spacious bathroom (source:google)
Minus the few hang-ups, the room was clean and spacious, and they were the things that mattered. It was also nice to have access to a bath to rest those aching feet after a long day walking - I'm not sure if all rooms had this or if it was because this was purely a disabled room.
 
Hotel Amenities
 
Although we never used it (although I had good intentions to start off with!) the hotel offers guests the use of a well-equipped gym, as well as a café/restaurant (City Kitchen) which we never unfortunately had the time to access, but offers a huge range of foods at all hours of the day.
 
City Kitchen (source:google)
 
 
Location

Area wise, this was perfect. The hotel is located on 8th Avenue and was surrounded by restaurants, gift shops, tour bus stops, and only a 5 min walk from Times Square.
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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Afternoon Tea at The Principal, York.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I treat my mum to a weekend in York for her 60th birthday. Read here to see what I got up to.

We cracked the weekend off with afternoon tea at The Principal Hotel, which is a 5* luxury hotel in the heart of York (right next to the Train Station, to be exact!).

I believe the majority of afternoon tea's take place in The Garden Room, which has lovely views of 'manicured lawns, all the way to the minster'. We were lucky enough to get a window seat too, which is always a bonus with such an outlook!



We were first provided with a tea menu, with a large handful to pick from. I'm not overly adventurous with my tea, so played it safe with an Earl Grey, my mum opting for a latte. We were then served our first 'savoury dish' which accompanied the afternoon tea stand which was yet to come. I've never experienced a separate savoury dish before so this was a real treat for us! The food consisted of sweet potato, chorizo and sherry vinegar veloute, smoked mackerel mousse, Yorkshire Rarebit, and a cheese flavoured soup. I didn't know what I was eating half the time, but it was lovely nonetheless!

Savoury Dish
After we had devoured the savoury plate, out came the afternoon stand. The sandwiches were egg mayonnaise, and Yorkshire ham and pickle. Although nice, I would have preferred 1 more sandwich and sacrificed a sweet for this (I always do feel that the sweet items outweigh the savoury massively no matter where you have afternoon tea). The sandwiches themselves though were fresh and the fillings were generous. 


Next up were 3 different flavours of scones; plain, fruit, cherry & almond. Accompanying this was clotted cream and jam. These scones were bite size, so were manageable in terms of quantity (and how much our stomach would take!).



The last tier consisted of a large array of sweet items; salted caramel chocolate pot, passion fruit macaroon, and a white chocolate √©clair, to name a few. Unfortunately I only got to sample the chocolate pot because by this stage I was bursting at the seams! (They did kindly box the remaining food up for us, but we never did get round to eating it later on). My only criticism with this tier was that there was only 1 of each variety, therefore you had to decide amongst yourselves who is eating what. This can put pressure on people, so usually I prefer the sweet items to come in pairs so its equal!





The service was on point. I couldn't fault it - pleasant, helpful and friendly.

The interior of the hotel was beautiful, in all areas from The Garden Room, to the hallways, even to the toilets! It oozed grandeur and detail, it was only a shame I wasn't staying there overnight too!


The Garden Room

Toilets



 

 
I definitely wouldn't hesitate in returning to The Principal and my mum was more than happy with her experience here.
 
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Saturday, 6 May 2017

One Night in York - Afternoon Tea, Motown and River Cruises

So mid March, my mum hit the big 6-0. Because it was a special birthday, I decided to go all out and treat her to a birthday she'd remember. She loves Motown music so I managed to bag 2 tickets to see The Magic of Motown who were in York for just 1 night.

Fast forward to last weekend, and the day finally arrived. We got off to a rocky start, hitting the Humber Bridge to find someone threatening to commit suicide - We were stuck on the bridge for 1.5hrs to eventually have to make a U turn on the bridge (instructed by the Police!) to then find another route. My sat nav wasn't playing ball and would insist on de-routing me back to the bridge. I finally had to follow any sign that I could find that wasn't go back home before I could get out of the area. We finally arrived in York, almost 2 hours later than anticipated.

We began our day by having afternoon tea at The Principal Hotel. The interior of this hotel is beautiful. We had a great view with the cathedral in the background, I could have sat and chatted all afternoon, but we needed to make the most of our time, so off we went wandering around all the shops, without forgetting a trip to The Shambles. I love that street, it's so quaint and full of character. I'd go in and out of every shop down there if I had time!


We headed back to the hotel at tea time and freshened up. The hotel was kind enough to give us a free drinks voucher and chocolates for my mums birthday, so we were sure to make use of this! We had a glass of wine and mum insisted that I took photos of her (which she secretly posed to whilst no-one was looking!). The wine went straight to my head (such a lightweight!) and before I knew it we were jumping in a taxi to the theatre.


Obviously Motown was more my mums era, however I knew a fair few of the songs. We clapped and bopped in our chairs to Jackson 5 and Diana Ross, it was good.

After a rough nights sleep (first night in hotels always kills me) we headed back out for breakfast, settling on a place called Baileys Tea room. We both had a traditional English breakfast before hitting The Shambles again and getting some perfect (people-free) shots - the joys of early morning starts! We then took a quick trip to get the obligatory Cathedral shot..




We then went on a river cruise, which I thought was over-priced and not as informative as I'd have hoped, but what the hell, we tried it and will know for next time! We shopped some more, then at lunch time left York centre and headed to York Designer Outlets, somewhere were I've never been before but was so glad I did. I love a good bargain as well as the next person and this place didn't fail. I managed to pick up a few clothing items, although had to restrain myself with an upcoming holiday looming.. booo! After doing a full circle of the outlets, I had plans on going out that night for drinks back home, so it was time to leave.


I love York, I've only been a handful of times, but every time I do go, I find yet another area to explore. There are so many nooks and crannies, contemporary and quaint, that keep me coming back for more!

Have you ever been to York?
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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Disney Day 11: Eating around the World & California Grill

Today was our last full day in Orlando *sob* We had a huge chunk of Disney dining snack credits to use up, so I did something I've always wanted to do.. go snacking around the world in Epcot's showcase.

To make our snack credits go further, we shared every snack we got (some were bigger than others)! It was a great way to experience different cuisines, so is great for any foodies out there!
We had chicken pockets in China and Wethers Orignal cookies in Germany to name a few..

Funnel cake in 'America'
 
Cookie in 'Germany'
 
Chicken Pockets in China
We tried to get as many photos we could with the memory maker before making our way back to the hotel. We chilled out (and probably had a nap somewhere in between!) before putting on our best clobber and making our way back out for our final night at the beautiful California Grill - I purposely saved the best till last.

Fine dining to the extreme, if it wasn't for the Disney Dining plan, our budget definitely wouldn't have stretched to meet the prices on this menu. It was eye watering, but oh my god, the quality definitely reflected this, and then some. I had the best steak I had ever tasted, and probably will ever taste. We were on the 15th floor, with floor to ceiling glass windows which overlooked the resort, Cinderellas castle glowing in the distance, it really was magical. We attempted to go out onto the bridge after our meal in the dark to watch the fireworks from high up, but the wind was too strong and I was too cold so we went back in.

Best.Steak.Ever.

View from restaurant window



California Grill's Christmas tree
It's so hard to get a booking in this restaurant so if I never have the pleasure of dining here again, I'm happy to say I've done it once and will definitely remember the experience.

That's it for our Disney adventure! Stay tuned as we're now heading to the coast and staying in Clearwater!
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Monday, 1 May 2017

Disney Day 10: Touring Disney's Moderate Hotels & Coral Reef in Epcot

After a late night at MVMCP, I pencilled in a slow day today. We had a lie-in, then visited the majority of the moderate hotels, just for future reference ;-) My personal favourite was Port Orleans Riverside, the scenery was lovely and it seemed really chilled and relaxing.

Port Orleans Riverside
We had another afternoon swim in our pool before the sun set. I was still loving the fact that we always had this pool to ourselves!

Pool time
In the evening we made our way to Epcot for a dining reservation at Coral Reef. Unfortunately we weren't sat next to the shark tanks as I'd have liked, but one can't have everything! Although the food was nice here, I felt it was a little overrated, and I definitely do think the tanks are the selling point for this restaurant.


Dessert at Coral Reef
We made use of more fast passes. We rode Soarin' (love that one!) and Nemo & Friends (we've done this so many times but its a nice chill-out ride so I don't mind) and watched more of the illumiNations firework display.

Stay tuned to see what we get up to on day 11!
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