Monday, 21 November 2016

Tips for visiting Disneyland Paris

As part of my celebrating-because-I've-now-got-a-permanent-consultant-post D and I went to Eurodisney for 4 days in mid September. We had an awesome time and D was the perfect age to understand the magic and excitement - I think Iz would have been too little and would've got annoyed by the queues and might have been scared by the characters etc but D (nearly 4) loved it.

We went on the Eurostar from St Pancras direct to the Disney village and it was so easy. I would definitely recommend it as a "short break" destination with preschoolers upwards :)

(Note - obviously there were lots of things D couldn't do because of his age/size and so you may well get even more out of it with a 6 or 9 year old for example. But there was more than enough to keep us busy for 4 days and at D's age he properly believed in the magic - he was sooooo excited when he got to meet Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty for those of you not up to scratch with your fairytales!). 

Anyway if you are thinking about going here are my top tips... 

Make the most of "magic hours"

If you stay in one of the Disney hotels you can enter the park 2 hours early (ie 8am rather than 10). The park is soooo much quieter then and this is the perfect time for character meets - in 30 minutes on our second day we met Chip and Dale, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto... if you tried to do that after 10 you would wait at least 30 minutes per character! It is also a really good time to go on some of the busier rides (eg the Buzz Lightyear laser shooting game - zero queue so we went on it 3 times in a row - came back at 11am another day and the queue was crazy!). So get to the park for 8 and enjoy the quieter time.

His favourite superhero!

Disney cafe / princess lunch

If your little one is excited to meet the Disney characters then this is the easiest way to do it. Not the cheapest but then you're already paying to go on holiday to Disney... 

We had lunch at Cafe Mickey and met Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy, Eeyore, Pinocchio's father and the chipmunks. It cost about £40 in total and we both had a 3 course meal with delicious food. The characters took time to chat properly to each child and D was so excited by the whole thing.

If Disney princesses are your thing though then I'd recommend having lunch at the Auberge. Again not very cheap (our lunch cost about £90) but really good food - proper high quality restaurant food, not what I expected to find in Disney! There you get to meet several princesses - they come round the tables and do a few dances. We met Aurora, Ariel, Cinderella, Prince Charming and the mice from Cinderella (Suzy and Perla - who knew they were called that?!). D was just awestruck. He totally loves all the princesses and for him I think this was the most exciting bit. He still talks about it most days! My advice would be book early though - I booked a week before we went (it was a very last minute holiday) and the only slot left was 3pm - not ideal timing. 


Don't worry if they like "boring" things!

Some of D's favourite things were not the most exciting! He kept asking to visit the animatronic crocodile outside the Rainforest Cafe (!), totally loved the Alice in Wonderland maze and we must've visited the Monsters Inc area (where you can shout into the screaming canisters) about 10 times in 3 days!

See a show (in parade time)

There are amazing shows throughout the day which are all free but can get really busy and fill up long before the start time. Most of them have a showing during the afternoon parade time though and this is the best time to go as those performances are much quieter (eg only have to get there 15 minutes before start time rather than 45 minutes before!). We saw the Mickey Magician's APprentice one - with guest appearances by Elsa, Belle and the Beast, the Lion King cast and loads more it was an awesome show and D loved it.

Take healthy food from home 

I guess it's like any theme park (have you tried to eat anything healthy at Legoland?!) but because we were there for several days I noticed it much more. There are very few healthy options. I hardly saw any fruit or vegetables anywhere. I'd brought a lot of snacks from home and was very glad I had - it meant I had enough raisins, fruit pouches, Organix crisps, rice cakes etc that firstly I didn't have to buy expensive snacks there and also that D was getting something nutritious...

Make the most of breakfast

Similar to above, if you're staying in a Disney hotel with buffet breakfast make the most of it!! We also took a couple of brioche buns each day wrapped in a napkin for lunch - might sound skanky but you'll do the same once you see the prices and queues for the fast food inside the park :)

Choose your days carefully

I assumed weekends would be busiest and weekdays quietest. But actually the Sunday afternoon when we arrived was really quiet - if I'd realised how quiet it was then I would've made the most of it! Monday was much busier...

Buy the Digipass if you are planning to do character meets

I think ours cost about 40 euros for the whole trip and for that price you get digital files of every photo the professional people take when you meet characters. They typically took at least 5-8 photos at each meet-n-greet and the quality was way better than what I took on my own camera (see below example - mine on the left, theirs on the right!!). Definitely worth it if you're planning to meet a few different characters during your trip.


Don't bother with buses if in Disney hotel

There is a free shuttle bus that goes from the park to each Disney hotel. Honestly don't bother with it. It only takes about 10 mins to walk to all the hotels (and it's pretty around the lake) and you will wait much longer for the bus to come!

Do use the Disney Express service

Pay £16 and you can drop your suitcase in the Eurostar terminal and they'll deliver straight to your hotel. Means you can go straight into the park and not waste any time. And ditto on your last day - they'll drop your luggage back at the terminal from your hotel so you can enjoy the park up til the last moment :)

All the hotels are pretty similar - choose cheapest! 

I spent ages looking at all the different Disney hotels and trying to decide which was nicest. In real terms all the ones grouped around the lake (eg Newport Bay, Sequoia Lodge) are pretty much the same. They all have pools, a small shop, buffet breakfast etc. 

Go up in the hot air balloon

We did this on our last day and D had been looking forward to it all holiday as we walked past the balloon every day. It was a fun way to see the park from a completely different perspective and D was mesmerised :)

Buy a portable potty...

My husband completely laughed at me when I bought this (cost £5 on Amazon) but OMG it is the best invention ever! Why anyone ever bothers with a portapotty etc I have no idea... Basically it is a leakproof flask with a funnel for him to pee into. Then you screw on the lid and wait til you can dispose of it later. Amazing!

Anyone who has stood in a queue for half an hour can imagine the pain when you've finally reached the front and your toddler suddenly says they need a wee... This was very easy to use, very discrete (the funnel hides everything) and small (just larger than a 500ml bottle of water). It was leakproof so I could just stash it under the buggy until we got back to our bathroom. Definitely a good buy! And in case you're interested - there is also a girl version. Which I have already bought Iz for when we are out and about after potty training starts :)


So there are my tips - if I think of more I'll add them above. And if you have any of your own feel free to add them below!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Making a Spiderman minifigure cake

If you've ever read my blog around either of the kids' birthdays then you'll probably know I like making cakes for them. I don't cook all the time but do like to try something a bit different to celebrate their birthdays. 

D is really into Spiderman. He's never watched it, I have no idea where he's ever seen him... But along with most preschoolers, he seems to be numero uno. So this year I decided to make a Spiderman Lego mini figure cake :)

Disclaimer: I have zero experience in using icing/fondant in this way - this was my first try. I even had my husband on standby to drive to 24 hour Tesco in case it all went wrong and a replacement cake was needed... But it was actually pretty easy and the end result was really cool (or so I thought anyway!!).

How to...

1. Make the cake mix (I cheated and used a Betty Crocker box recipe. Easy and delicious!)

2. Liberally spray the mould with lots of cake release spray - make sure you get every nook and cranny. Then pour the cake mix into the mould - I used a piping bag with the tip cut off which was an easy way to make sure every area was fully caked-up.

3. Depending on the size of your baking tray, use some cookie cutters to "wedge up" your cake mould so the man doesn't get distorted during cooking

4. Cook the cake for way longer than packet says! I started testing mine with a skewer after 25 minutes (time stated on cake mix packet) but actually had to cook it for 45 in the end! 

5. Once cooked, remove from oven and leave in the mould for about 30 minutes. Then trim off any excess you need to and flip it over onto a cooling rack. If you sprayed it enough in step 2 then it should slide out very easily.

6. At this stage you can freeze the cake if you've made it in advance. Wait until it's fully cooled and then carefully wrap fully in clingfilm before freezing. You can then decorate from frozen at a later date.

7. Roll out some blue fondant. I used a silicone mat with a sprinkling of cornflour on top to stop it sticking. Then just drape it over the body and legs of your man. Smooth down carefully and trim around the neck. 

8. Next roll on red fondant and drape over the head, smoothing it down and trimming it around the neck where it meets the blue.

9. Push the fondant under the edge of the cake and trim all round the edge.

10. Cut out a red breastplate (I used a kitchen roll template to help me get the right size), the belt and gloves. Also use some white fondant or gum paste to make the eyes. Paint the underside of each item with a little water so it sticks to the base fondant.

11. Colour some gum paste with black food colouring (watch out for your hands!!) and mould a spider. Leave to dry - overnight if possible so the legs are nice and secure!

12. Paint on the web lines. For the torso I used a bottle of black icing and just cut the tip off to make a fine nozzle. On the face I painted using food colouring so I had slightly more control.

13. Add any extra decorations you want - I added D's name on the feet and piped chocolate icing around the outside.

14. Add some candles, show to your impressed husband/child and enjoy :)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Apple flowers

You know the random posts that sometimes appear on your facebook timeline and you think "wow, that would be so cool to make" but you think it will probably be way too much effort and not work out... well here is a success story!

Apple pastry flowers

Iz and I made these last weekend. Surprisingly quick, most steps were toddler-able and the end result was delicious!

Apples (we used braeburns)
Apricot jam
Ready-made puff pastry (pre-rolled)
Lemon juice


1. Core and finely slice the apples

2. Put slices in microwaveable bowl, fill halfway with water, add a generous squirt of lemon juice and microwave for a few minutes until slices are pliable/bendy

3. Roll out pastry and cut into long slices

4. Make apricot jam paste (mix equal parts apricot jam and water, mix well)
 and spread onto pastry slices

5. Arrange apple slices on top half of pastry long edge (see picture below for orientation)

6. Roll up gently

7. Place "flower" in cupcake case (optional but we did it as much easier to get them out of the pan afterwards and also the kids love unwrapping cupcake cases!)

8. Cook for 20-30 minutes at 180 degrees - watch for the pastry turning golden

9. Enjoy either on their own or serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt - delicious!