Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Planning our first trip to Walt Disney World, Florida

Girl dressed as Rey meeting Donald Duck at Disney


Planning a holiday is always exciting, but when it's a holiday of a lifetime it can be pretty overwhelming as well. This summer, we will be taking our children on their very first trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. Long term readers of this site will know that we are a family of huge Disney fans, so this really is the ultimate dream for us all. My husband has been three times before as a child but for myself and our two children, it will be not only our first visit to Disney World but also our first time in the United States!

We did take the children to Disneyland in Paris a few years ago and although they had a fabulous time and made some cherished memories, I found it a very stressful trip. Therefore I want to do as much forward planning as possible this time, to make sure I share the magic with them!

We have already booked our advanced dining reservations for the meals we will be having on site, booked our eight year old a princess makeover slot at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Magic Kingdom and of course linked up our tickets in the My Disney Experience App.

Top Tips for your first Disney World Trip from UK Family Travel Bloggers


Having just passed our double digit day I feel like I can really get into geeky planning mode now, we've started to buy bits and pieces ready to pack and we have our 30 day Fastpass+ day marked on the calendar! To help me get prepared I thought I would pick the brains of some fellow bloggers and WDW fans. I've pulled together some of the top tips that they have shared with me below:

Angela who writes a fabulous family travel blog filled with Disney themed content - Life of Spicers - says we should enjoy everything that you are doing and don't worry about what you're not doing, as it's impossible to do everything!

Amy from Livvy Bird Adventures advises her top tip is to get everyone in the travel party to choose one MUST for each park. Then treat everything else as extra. Whether you go for one or three weeks you still won’t get everything done. Do check out her Instagram for lots of Disney memories!

Karen from That Lancashire Lass took her family to WDW in 2017 and she tells me that fast passes are brilliant for minimising queuing time when you have young children.

Louise from A Strong Coffee to Go suggests that if you don’t get a fast pass for one of the really popular rides such as Flight of Passage, either go for rope drop on a day without early magic hours or get in the queue just before closing. Once the fast passes have stopped going in, the queue will go down much faster than the time that was shown. Thanks Louise, I shall remember that one!

Emma Read has written a great post sharing what she learnt from being first timers at Disney World, it's full of great advice and I would recommend popping over and reading it, but one tip I will definitely be taking on board is to take our own food and drinks into the park. As a vegetarian I am expecting that the choice will be limited and I know that eating on park will be expensive too. We have a couple of character meals booked but other than that we fully intend to take packed lunches and water bottles to refill with the free iced water available!

Steph from Steph's Two Girls wrote a great tongue in cheek post sharing her Top Ten Tips for a Florida Disney Holiday following her last visit in 2015. In this she says, 'Stress over planning your days out meticulously if you want to, but be prepared to scrap all those plans and go with the flow every day as soon as your first FastPass+ ride breaks down.'

I think that is the perfect piece of advice to leave this on, we really can plan everything down to the last detail but sometimes things don't go to as we expect, rides may break down, storms may happen or little ones may just get too tired. If you do plan, you also have to allow for things to change and be prepared to just go with the flow!

I'd love to hear your top tips!


Have you been on a holiday to Disney World in Florida? Do you have any tips to share with us as first timers? If so please do leave me a comment as I would love to read them!


Sunday, 5 May 2019

Monster Jam UK Arena Tour - Review

Monster Jam UK Arena Tour - Grave Digger Jump


Disclosure: We were invited to attend Monster Jam as guests this weekend in exchange for a review of the event. This post also contains affiliate links.

Yesterday, we spent a fun filled family day out at Manchester Arena attending Monster Jam, the must see live motorsport event tour that's perfect for families!

What happens at a Monster Jam Arena Tour?


I have to be honest here and admit that I didn't really know what to expect prior to the show, I was aware of Monster Trucks and I'd vaguely heard of Monster Jam but that was all, when I mentioned the show to my husband and children, they were all really keen on attending so I thought why not give it a go?

We had tickets to the pit party first, which was great fun and I would really recommend (read more below) and then we headed to the arena to find our seats as soon as the doors opened. I would advocate doing this as although it was an hour before the show started there was still things going on to entertain! The presenters were wandering around the seating areas, talking to families on the big screen and were also interviewing the drivers who were walking around the seating area too! The lovely Brianna Mahon, driver of Wonder Woman and the only female driver in the event, recognised my daughter from the pit party earlier and took her up to stand with her for her interview! As you can imagine this made my eight year old's day!

Once the event itself was ready to start, the presenters explained the format and told the audience how we had a part to play in the show too! After each contest (other than the first tournament which was scored on timings) we had 20 seconds to go to www.judgeszone.com enter the code displayed on the big screen and give a score to the truck that had just competed! My children loved this part and of course gave 10's to their favourites. So remember to bring along a fully charged smartphone to the show as you won't just be taking pictures with it!

There were six Monster Trucks competing in this Chicago Style Racing event: Wonder Woman, Grave Digger, Max D, El Toro Loco, Monster Energy and Earth Shaker (although sadly this truck suffered some mechanical damage early on so wasn't able to continue to compete).

The event lasted around two hours and started with the timed tournament, of which Todd Leduc driving Monster Energy took the podium, then a two wheel challenge that we got to vote for our favourites! Max - D was victorious in this one!

There was then an interval to get food and drinks before we returned to some supercross bikes who performed some awesome tricks that left us all open mouthed! My 11 year old especially enjoyed this segment.

Back to the Monster Trucks and the donut challenge came next, some of the trucks seemed to struggle with this in the confined space and the obstacles in the way but this was made up for by spectacular spinning performances by Max D and El Toro Loco!

The final contest of fuel injected fun was the freestyle where each athlete had 60 seconds to use all of the obstacles to showcase to us what their truck could do! This was my favourite event as each of the drivers had now had the chance to perform in the arena and seemed to have got the hang of the different lay out and how the ground differed to their usual tracks. We were treated to some fabulous displays but ultimately Max D was again named the winner and took the title of the event!


Monster Jam UK Arena Tour - Max D Monster Truck



What is a Monster Jam Pit Party?


A pit party is quite an American concept and I wasn't aware of it previously but we decided to check it out and arrived just as the doors opened at 10.30. For this part of the event we were down on the arena floor and each of the drivers were with their trucks waiting to greet fans, chat to them, sign autographs and of course pose for pictures!

This was a fantastic opportunity to get up close to the colossal trucks, check out the awesome paintjobs and designs, take pictures and of course ask the drivers questions.

My daughter immediately fell in love with the Wonder Woman truck, posed for endless photos and loved meeting the driver Brianna. 

The pit party requires an additional ticket and does have a small extra charge but if you or your kids have an interest in Monster Truck racing then I would highly recommend it, do go early on though as it started off really quiet but the queues did build up towards the end.






What Souvenirs can you buy at the Monster Jam Arena Tour?


As with any arena tour there is an abundance of merchandise available to purchase as a memento of your day, Flags representing your favourite truck competing were a popular choice and ideal for waving during the races or getting signed by the driver at the pit party! Other items available included t-shirts, baseball caps, popcorn, soft toys and novelty cups containing syrup flavoured ice drinks! The prices started at £10 and increased quite rapidly as I've come to expect from shows like this.

My top tip would be to order some Monster Jam (affiliate link) toys online at around half the price they are on sale there for, to give to your child at or following the show, they'll be just as happy and you will have saved yourself some pennies! 

At Manchester Arena you are unable to take any food or drink into the arena with you, I am not aware if this is the case at all of the other UK arenas, but if it is then be aware that you may have to budget for purchasing snacks and drinks while you're there (which at arena prices  aren't cheap) as the event lasts quite a while if you arrive for the start of the pit party!


Flavoured Ice filled Monster Jam Novelty Cups


Would we recommend the Monster Jam Arena Tour?


The answer to this is a resounding, yes! We would wholeheartedly recommend the Monster Jam arena tour to any families with children or (or grown ups!) who have any interest in Monster Trucks.

I would also recommend paying the extra fee (I believe it was around £12 for the Manchester dates) to get tickets for the pit party as this was a great part of the experience for us.

One thing to bear in mind is that this is two hours of trucks and bikes driving around in a relatively confined space so it is LOUD! If your children are small or have sensory issues I'd suggest bringing ear defenders to make the experience more enjoyable for them. They were on sale outside of the arena but again you will pay a premium for buying these at the event.

As well as noise, another thing to consider is the fumes from the vehicles, the arena was well ventilated but towards the end of the show these where quite noticeable even up in the seating areas.

We had a fantastic day overall, and the event completely blew my expectations out of the water. It was chilled out, family friendly and pleasingly interactive!

Yes, there were a few mechanical issues with some of the trucks but these were managed well and we still felt very entertained! It did seem that some of the trucks weren't used to the concrete floors and would have been more at home on a dirt track in an outdoor arena, but they were still amazing to see.

My eight year old daughter now has a new hero in the form of Brianna Mahon, driver of Wonder Woman and my eleven year old son has been unusually vocal and and hasn't stopped talking about the show since!


Monster Jam UK Arena Tour  - El Toro Loco Monster Truck


Although the final show in Manchester is today, the tour continues around the UK, visiting the Principality Stadium, Cardiff on the 18th May 2019 and then Coventry Ricoh Arena on the 8th June 2019 and tickets can be purchased from www.monsterjam.co.uk.

Don't forget to visit Facebook.com/MJOnline and follow @MonsterJam to keep up to date with all the Monster Jam news! 

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

On Your Marks... Monster Jam Returns to Manchester

Monster Jam Returns to Manchester  - yellow and orange monster truck

Disclosure: we have been invited to attend Monster Jam as guests this weekend and will be sharing our review after the event.


On your marks, get set, go… 

The thrilling experience that is Monster Jam®, returns to Manchester Arena this weekend for the first time in nine years to deliver an unexpected, unscripted and unforgettable Monster Truck show that is sure to entertain kids (and big kids) of all ages!

The world-famous colourful trucks that stand 12ft tall and 10ft wide, will deliver entertainment that promises to keep audiences on the edge of their seats and filled with adrenaline charged excitement throughout as they watch these 2000 horsepower vehicles perform!

It's not just driving a car! The Monster Jam drivers are world-class athletes who have mastered not just the physical strength and mental stamina required to compete but also the crucial dexterity to navigate these 12,000-pound machines to amaze audiences with wheelies, donuts, cross ups and head to head racing. 

My 11 year old is super excited for event on Saturday and can't wait to meet his favourite drivers, get up close to the Monster Jam trucks!

Monster Jam is at the Manchester Arena on 4th and 5th of May 2019 before moving on to the Principality Stadium, Cardiff on the 18th May 2019 and then Coventry Ricoh Arena on the 8th June 2019 and tickets can be purchased from www.monsterjam.co.uk.

Don't forget to visit Facebook.com/MJOnline and follow @MonsterJam to keep up to date with all the Monster Jam news! We'll be sharing our review of the show next week too so keep an eye out! Read it here: Monster Jam UK arena tour review.



Wednesday, 27 February 2019

When is the right time for your child's first mobile phone? #AD

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Carphone Warehouse and Nokia. All opinions are my own.

When is the best time for a child's first smartphone - Tween boy in hat



Choosing the right mobile phone is a big decision for anyone, this is a device that you will most likely use every day and you may be reliant on it for communication, for accessing news and for keeping up to date with your diary and activities, you may even pay for your shopping using it, or take advantage of electronic transport passes on your commute. Choosing the first mobile phone for your child is an even bigger commitment. When you hand your child a smartphone, you are providing them with the possibility of unlimited access to the Internet, and while this can be a great educational tool, it's also giving them a responsibility much beyond their years. You are trusting them to be sensible and set their own limits, yet how do you know if they are ready for such power?

When is the right age to have a first mobile phone?


Before you even start to consider which handset or tariff to opt for, you need to decide when the right age is for your child to have their first mobile phone. This is a question that doesn't have a 'one size fits all' answer. It will be different for every child and will depend on their own maturity level and circumstances. Can they exercise restraint? Can they be trusted not to use the phone during class or when they should be in bed? Do they have enough judgement to know what photographs are appropriate to post online? Do they 'need' a way to get in touch with you for emergencies?

We made the decision that our son would be given his first mobile phone for his eleventh birthday. This tied in well with him starting secondary school a week later as he would getting public transport independently for the first time and he would be able to utilise a smartphone to access apps and educational websites to help with his homework.

Tween boy looking at screen of Nokia 3.1 plus Andriod one smartphone


What should you consider when buying your child's first mobile phone?


One of the first things that I considered when we were browsing for Ben's first mobile phone was cost. I wanted to find a balance between a phone that had enough 'street-cred' to be 'acceptable' to a pre-teen and his friends, but also wasn't too high value and wouldn't, therefore, make him a target for theft. It also had to look good as my son can be rather fussy about what he wears and what he carries around with him would be no exception. Sturdiness was another huge factor, I have to admit that Ben takes after my side of the family when it comes to clumsiness and 'butterfingers' is a pretty apt nickname for us both! We certainly didn't want him to end up with a cracked screen after just a few days so we were in the market for a phone that would be fairly robust.

When it comes to the capabilities of the phone itself we were looking for an operating system that would last the test of time and features that would grow with Ben, we also wanted him to have a camera that he could have some fun with on our travels, taking pictures and videos to capture memories of all our family adventures.

Once we knew what we were looking for and had agreed on a budget, we took Ben to our local Carphone Warehouse to have a look at what they had on offer, Ben was immediately drawn to the Android One  range from Nokia and they really did seem like the perfect phone, a no-nonsense version of Android that has all the essentials in a sleek, easy to use handset a million miles away from the Nokia 8210 I had as a teen (Although I did love the polyphonic ringtones!)

How do you protect your child when they have their first mobile phone?


Just like any parents, once we had made the decision to purchase our child's first mobile phone, we wanted reassurance that he would be safe online and that we can keep in touch at any time.  We wanted to give our 11-year-old freedom and independence but equally be able to protect him from inappropriate content.

Thanks to Carphone Warehouse and Nokia, I was introduced to the Family Link app from Google. An app that offers that much needed reassurance to parents but also allows children to have the freedom to explore the capabilities of their technology within protected boundaries.

App Authorisation


For children who are excited about having the independence of their first smartphone, the first thing they want to do is download ALL of the apps they've ever heard their friends mention or seen advertised on TV or even the bus stop! Once we had the Family Link app set up, Ben was free to access Google Play Store and select apps to download, but each time he chose an app he had to request permission from me to continue, he could do this by either sending the request through to the parental app on my phone where I could either approve or decline or if I was in the room with him, he could hand me his phone to log in with my credentials and approve it instantly. There is the facility to vary the amount of control, so if I wanted I could change it so that he only needed my permission for paid apps or those with in-app purchases.

Using Family Link app from google to restrict screen time


Screen Time Limits


One of my big worries was the amount of screen time Ben would have when he had his own device, he had always wanted five more minutes on the PlayStation or one more episode of whatever he was watching on TV and I was concerned about how we would be able to limit this with his phone. Family Link accounts for this and allows you to set up daily limits for screen time as well as set a bedtime period between which times the phone cannot be accessed. It also has a parental override so even if daily limits haven't been reached but you know that history homework is still sat on the desk waiting to be done, you can manually lock the phone so that your child is unable to unlock or use the phone, other than to make preset 'emergency' phone calls.

As well as limits, the app allows you to view reports of your child's activity on the device with a breakdown of the apps he has been using so you know if he really was researching for his science homework or just chatting to his friends online.

Location Monitoring


Another useful feature of the app is the ability to see where your child is located. When this feature is enabled, you can check at a glance if he is at that friend's house or almost home from school. It's also handy if the phone is left somewhere or even lost in the house.

Tween boy with Nokia 3.1 plus Andriod one smartphone - blue

Can you allow your child independence on the Internet?


The Family Link app took around 15 minutes to fully set up on my phone using my existing Google Account, including setting up a Google Account for Ben. 

For me, this app lets me set digital ground rules and gives me peace of mind that I can allow my pre-teen more independence to explore the online world without worrying that he is going to put himself at risk, run up credit card bills or even sit up all night watching Rollercoaster POV videos. He knows that he has a set time limit for screen time and he has to take responsibility for how he uses it.

Right now I still feel that he is too young for social media accounts, but many of his friends already have them, so if we do decide to relax this in the future I know that the Family Link app will allow me the confidence that I will be able to monitor his screen time.

With the help of the Family Link app I feel reassured that we made the right choice in the timing of our son's first mobile phone. He has the security of a way of contacting us if needed, the independence to explore and learn using technology and the approval of his peers and at the same time, I have the peace of mind that he is using technology in a responsible way.