Friday, 15 November 2019

What's special about a Disney Halloween on the High Seas cruise?

We recently returned from a Halloween on the High Seas Disney cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy, and I thought I'd share a little bit about the extra events and activities that brought the magic of Halloween to life on board.

Disney Halloween on the High Seas trip report review

Decorations on the ship and in the corridors

The ship was beautifully decorated for Halloween, mainly in the Atrium which is where you enter as you board. The Atrium was dominated by the Pumpkin Tree, along with pumpkin themed decorations hung from the balcony and pumpkin stickers on the large portholes. When we boarded, the Pumpkin Tree already had pumpkins hanging from it and it didn't change in appearance at all throughout the cruise, as I've heard that it did in the past.

Disney Fantasy Halloween decorations in the atrium

The majority of the Halloween decorations on the ship however were provided by our fellow cruisers, and people really got into the spirit of Halloween when it came to decorating their stateroom doors. I gave out a lot of small gifts over the course of the cruise, and it was great fun to go delivering around the corridors and see how creative some people had been, it's definitely worth taking yourself off for a wander if you find yourself on a Disney cruise ship!

Disney Halloween cruise decorated stateroom doors

I forgot to take a photo of my absolute favourite door, which featured loads of Hama bead bat magnets, placed all over the surrounding walls and ceilings! You'll notice that many of the doors have a decorated hanger placed outside them - these are called Fish Extenders and are a part of an organised gift exchange between passengers. We took part for the first time and received some really lovely gifts, including many that had a Halloween theme.

Lots of cabins also had a treat holder outside which people had filled with lollipops, glow stickers or pencils. We even found one generous person that had filled their entire fish extender with candy, along with a note saying to help yourself!

Disney Cruise Halloween stateroom door decorations

For decorating the inside of your stateroom, Disney sell a range of themed decor packs, including a Halloween package, which you can purchase in advance so that it is set up in your room when you arrive. The packs vary year by year and I think it's only available to view and book if you already have a reservation, but it seems to include a blanket, trick or treat bag, a cushion, and various magnetic hanging decorations that are yours to keep and take home with you.

On the Halloween celebration day we also found several small plastic insects hidden around the ship, although it's very possible that they had been put there by a fellow passenger!

Halloween themed shows

Disney Fantasy Halloween pumpkin tree

Every day the ship publishes a daily Navigator, a sheet of paper which details all the shows and events taking part this day. This used to be delivered to your stateroom every evening, but is now only available to pick up at Guest Services as the information can be found in the app.

I still like to have the paper copy though, as it makes it easier to look through and I like to keep it, so we made sure to pick one up each day. All the Halloween events were highlighted in orange, and although the majority of them took place on the designated Halloween day there were a few other things spread out over the cruise.

On our first evening we went to the Pumpkin Tree show in the Atrium. There was only one show which took place between dinner seatings, and unfortunately as our early seating dinner took longer than we had expected (it was my birthday and they promised to bring out a cake and sing to me, but they took ages to get to me!) we weren't able to get a good position and couldn't really see what was going on. So if this is important to you make sure that you arrive early! There was some kind of spooky story about the tree, and it finished with the lights in the pumpkins being turned on and some Halloween confetti.

On the designated Halloween day, which for us was a port day, Mickey's Mouse-Querade Party took place in the Atrium. The show took place twice to fit around the two dinner seatings, with an early show and a later show. It was very busy again, and featured appearances by Mickey and friends in their Halloween outfits, along with singing and dancing.

On that day, the main evening entertainment was a special screening of The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing & Scream, again with two showings to fit around dinner. The film was shown in the large theatre, with subtitles for the songs so that you could sing along, together with special effects like smoke, lights and snow.

A few days later, late at night was a Haunted Stories of the Seas event on deck, but this was quite late for our little ones (10.15pm). My husband and oldest went along for a few minutes, but as far as I understood it, it was just a recorded video played on the large screen.

Disney Halloween show aboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship

Trick or treating and dressing up

People began to put on their Halloween costumes during the afternoon, especially as there were lots of chances to have photographs taken with characters while dressed up. Trick or treating took place around the Atrium twice, during the Mickey's Mouse-Querade party and timed to fit in with dinner seatings.

There were about six trick or treat stations, with bags provided at each one, and adults were welcome to take part too. Cast members hand out the candy, usually several pieces at a time. It was a little chaotic to be honest, the stations got very busy and sometimes it could be difficult to work out where the end of the line was - it would have been better to spread them out around the ship a bit. However we still managed to pick up a decent amount of good quality candy!

Disney cruise Halloween on the High Seas trick or treating

Taking part in the trick or treating did mean that we missed quite a lot of the live show, or at least we couldn't get a decent position to see it, so you need to make a choice as to which is more important to your family. And if you are early seating like us, try and get out early from dinner and you could even go trick or treating twice! It's a lot of fun to see all the different costumes. Later on in the evening was an adult costume contest, and many people had gone to a huge amount of effort with their costumes, mainly Disney themed but some more spooky.

Trick or treating on board Disney Fantasy cruise ship

Additional special Halloween activities

During the Halloween themed day there were lots of different Halloween activities taking place around the ship. Some of these were in the kids club so for children only, but there were also some family crafts, along with themed trivia and karaoke sessions.

Halloween character appearances

During the Halloween celebration, the main characters (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale, Donald, Pluto) appeared in their Halloween costumes, and there were several opportunities through the afternoon and evening to see them and take photographs. There was also the opportunity to meet Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas after the screening of the film. This wasn't advertised in the Navigator but it was very busy, unfortunately after the late show we weren't able to keep the children up long enough to wait in line for them. If you really want to see them, perhaps try and time your visit for the end of the first showing, before people have started to come out the theatre.

The photograph below was taken on our own phone and came out really well, so definitely make sure that you had your phone to a cast member if you want a photo. They are more than happy to take one for you, and it may save you some money on the photo package.

Family with Mickey Mouse in Halloween costumes

Along with the Halloween themed day, we still had Pirate Night and the fireworks on a different day, which as far as I know takes place on all Disney cruises except those in Alaska and Europe (where it's replaced with a Frozen themed night, without fireworks).

I hope that this information was helpful if you are planning a Halloween on the High Seas themed cruise! This was our first experience of a themed Disney cruise, and it really did add lots of fun to the cruise. Next time I would love to try a Christmas themed cruise, if only we could fit it in around the school holidays!

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Ad - Proteus presents Macbeth at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing

The Tragedy of Macbeth by Shakespeare is thought to have been first performed in 1606. It tells the tale of the Scottish General Macbeth, told by three witches that he will become King of Scotland. Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth kills the the king, in order to become the new king, and then driven by guilt and paranoia goes on to commit more and more murders to protect himself, until the play reaches a tragic end.

Macbeth by Proteus review

In this production, Proteus Theatre Company set the action of the play in October 1987, against the backdrop of the Great Storm and the stock market crash. The play has an ethnically diverse cast, and is a highly physical interpretation interwoven with a soundtrack of 80s hits alongside contemporary music, performed using a minimal and multi-purpose set.

Before watching the production, I made sure to familiarise myself with the events of play, as although the setting is modern, the play is performed in the original Shakespearean text which isn't always easy to understand. This was definitely a good move, as I found the action a little tricky to follow at times, especially as the small cast meant that most actors were required to portray several characters.

Despite the tragedy unfolding on stage, there were some lighter moments which brought a smile. I also enjoyed the ingenuity of the set, mainly composed of just three pieces that were moved and rotated by the cast between scenes to be used as, among other things, tables, windows and phone boxes.

I was glad to have the opportunity to see this production, and I enjoyed watching a different and unusual take on the play.

You can find a study guide to this production here - Macbeth Education Pack

Monday, 11 November 2019

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Miami

We received two complimentary adult tickets to the museum in exchange for a review

As part of our recent trip to Florida we enjoyed a few days in Miami, our first visit to the city. We really liked Miami, and one of the highlights of our trip was the day that we spent at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.

The Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, Miami

We were provided with two adult tickets to the museum, and we purchased two child tickets online before our visit. Buying tickets in advance means that you can select a Planetarium show in advance, and avoid a line if it's busy. We arrived when the museum opened at 9.30am, and although it was a quiet day we appreciated being ahead of the crowds. We travelled to the museum using the free Metromover, a brilliant Miami public transport service that took us from our hotel right to the museum. There are also other public transport options, and limited parking is available. 

Because we were among the first to arrive we decided to start our day in the newly opened special exhibition A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature. This exhibition is included in the admission price and runs until April 12th, 2020. The centrepiece of the exhibition is an elaborate mirror maze to explore, with mirrors and glass walls to hunt your way through. 

Mirror Maze at the Frost Museum, Miami

The exhibition is also filled with some fascinating and modern hands on exhibits, exploring the different patterns found in nature and learning about how these patterns find their way into our music and architecture.

Next we spent a fair amount of time in MeLaβ, an interactive area with five zones - eat, move, relax, connect and learn. As you enter you collect a card and use it to create your own digital character. As you complete activities in each area you can collect a stamp on your card, which gives you more options to customise your character. By answering questions about yourself, you can think about whether the daily choices that you make are healthy or not.

MeLab at the Frost Museum, Miami

If you are lucky enough to visit regularly, you can take your card home and bring it back on your next visit, and you can also check in with your character online when you are back home. There were some really fun activities to try here, including ones that the adults enjoyed as much as the children! For example, watching how your heart rate increases as you try to find your way through a tricky maze, or learning about exercise and healthy food choices.

Interactive science displays at Frost Museum, Miami

Almost before we knew it, it was time for the Planetarium show. At the time we visited there were four shows to choose from, with regular presentations throughout the day. We selected Hidden Wonders of our Solar System which is a live show. The presenter took us on a journey through the solar system, looking at all the different planets, moons, asteroids, comets and other celestial objects that make up our part of the universe. Then we were shown what would be visible in the night sky that night in South Florida, which was really interesting.

After that we headed up to the roof of the museum, and the Sun Spot. Parts of the museum are outside, so it's worth keeping an eye on the weather as there can be unpredictable rain storms, and the roof terrace isn't shaded so the heat is too intense to stay outside for long. Lots of sunshine does however mean plenty of opportunities to use the sun for experiments, like this sun dial and a look at how solar panels work.

Sundial on the sunny roof of science museum in Miami

Another area that we very much enjoyed was the River of Grass. The exhibit has two areas. Indoors is an interactive virtual environment which follows a day in the life of the Everglades, and is aimed at younger children. Outside, mine loved the water tables where they could experiment to see whether bridges or dams work best in this environment, and learn about the different animal residents of the area.

Everglades water play at Science Museum, Miami

Nearby they were able to meet some of these residents, as part of the three level Aquarium. On the top deck you can experience key South Florida ecosystems, including the huge Gulf Stream Aquarium, as well as the different worlds of coral reefs, mangroves, beaches and the Everglades.

Everglades wildlife display at Frost Museum, Miami

On the level below you can view the underwater world of the subtropical sea, and on the lowest level you descend deep into the Gulf Stream to find jellyfish, ending your journey with a 31-food oculus lens which is the bottom of the Gulf Stream Aquarium, and the tuna and sharks that you saw from above are now above your head.

Jellyfish in Aquarium at Frost Museum, Miami, Florida

Finally, we ended our day with a visit to the Feathers to the Stars exhibition which follows the journey of flight, from feathered dinosaurs to the future of space travel. The children's favourite area here was a paper plane launching pad where they could test out a selection of paper planes that they had made - great fun!

We had a brilliant day at the Philip and Patricia Frost Museum. We spent a whole day there and could have spent longer, with plenty to keep us all interested!

Friday, 8 November 2019

Our Disney Halloween on the High Seas cruise to the Caribbean

We have just returned from a wonderful half term holiday to Florida, encompassing a week long cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. This was our fourth Disney cruise and our second aboard the Disney Fantasy, although the first time was five years ago, so the children were much younger! 

At this time of year the Disney cruises have a Halloween on the High Seas theme, and this itinerary was a special 8 night cruise stopping at St. Kitts, Antigua, Puerto Rico and Castaway Cay, Disney's private island in the Bahamas.

Disney Fantasy Halloween on the High Seas cruise

With each Disney cruise we have entered into the spirit of it a little more. This time we increased the number of magnets on our door, updating the Olaf that we've used before with some Halloween accessories. I made a Fish Extender to take part in an organised gift exchange, we also took part in a postcard swap and an ornament exchange. On our door I hung a pin trading board and a treat holder filled with pencils which was very popular. We spent quite a lot of time walking around the corridors delivering gifts as I did them over several days, and it was really fun to see how creative people get when it comes to decorating their door. It's definitely worth having a look if you find yourself aboard a Disney cruise ship!

Disney stateroom door decorations

Castaway Cay is one of my favourite places in the whole world, so I was very excited to have the chance to visit again. This time I decided at the last minute to enter the Castaway Cay 5K run which takes place first thing on the island, even though I hadn't packed proper running clothes or shoes. It was so hot that most people were walking it anyway - I ran a fair portion of it but the heat was so intense it was very hard work! Then we purchased a package each which included snorkel equipment hire, bike rental and a rubber ring, so it turned into quite an exhausting day! The bike hire was really good as it meant that we could see a bit more of the island, and the snorkelling was amazing. You  could swim really far from the shore but not be too deep, and there were plenty of objects placed in the water to look at as well as the fantastic sea life including tropical fish and rays. 

Castaway Cay Disney's private island 5K run

The photo below was taken just as we were about to sail away from Castaway Cay, I must confess that I had tears in my eyes as the ship rotated through it's repertoire of different horn sounds!

Food aboard the Disney Fantasy docked at Castaway Cay

For this cruise, now that the children are aged 10 and 8, we felt comfortable giving them a little more freedom around the ship. They are both old enough to sign themselves in and out of the kids club, although unfortunately they don't like it so only spent about five minutes in there! They took themselves off to get ice cream from the self service machine on the pool deck and we even played hide and seek around the ship. Each room comes with two portable phones that you can use to call each other and the stateroom, so they took one and we had the other, and they gave us clues as to where to find them!

Eating icecream aboard the Disney Fantasy

I was very glad to find that Mia in particular was still excited to see the Princesses and other characters. As one of our Fish Extender gifts we received a blank photo frame which we could use to collect autographs, something that we've not done before. She loved seeing all the different signatures and it will make a great keepsake.

Meeting Princesses on a Disney cruise

Once again we had an amazing cruise with Disney! We didn't book the next one on board this time but we did pay a deposit for a placeholder which means that we can receive the same discount on our next cruise, so who knows, with a bit of luck maybe there will be another Disney cruise in my future!

We are lucky enough to have cruised three times with Disney in the past. You can read about our previous Disney cruises via the links below:

Our Caribbean cruise on the Disney Fantasy (2013)
Our cruise to Norway aboard the Disney Magic (2016)
A second cruise through the Norwegian Fjords on the Disney Magic (2018)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Gift guide - Pixel art style craft kits for adults

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links and a gifted review item.

I really enjoy working on crafts that give a pixel art style effect - where tiny coloured elements are placed together to form a larger picture. My favourite craft of this type is probably cross stitch, but that can be a very time consuming hobby - one of my cross stitch samplers took me seven years

There are however plenty of different crafts that give a similar look to cross stitch, and are much easier and quicker to complete. I thought that I'd round up a few craft kits that would make the perfect gift for someone that wants to create something beautiful, without it taking too much time or requiring too much skill.

Dot Art Sticker Books

Firstly, I was recently sent this Van Gogh Dot Art Sticker Book to review, one of two sticker art books which represent famous and popular paintings in London's National Gallery. You can choose from Van Gogh's "A Wheatfield, with Cypresses" and George Seurat's "Bathers at Asnières", and each book allows you to understand how the artists used colours to create vibrant and luminous scenes, by recreating the work of art in stickers.

Van Gogh Dot Art Sticker Book craft

The kit contains a large poster canvas formed of coloured outlines, along with thousands of coloured round stickers. You just need to match the stickers to the outlines on the poster to recreate the painting, and it doesn't matter if you don't get it exactly right as you'll still end up with a beautiful and unique work of art.

Dot art sticker book - Van Gogh

Dot Art Sticker books craft

Diamond painting

Diamond painting has become very popular over the last few years, and it's easy to see why. It's a very satisfying craft that can be completed quickly and easily, and you can buy a wide range of different kits which include everything that you need and are very reasonably priced. I bought my sugar skull diamond painting kit in the US, and we bought my daughter this Unicorn diamond painting kit which was a lovely project and looks brilliant when framed in her room.

Diamond Painting sugar skull picture

Mini Hama beads

Regular readers will know how much I love working with Hama beads, and while they are a little more fiddly than the crafts above I really like the intricate results that you can achieve. This Russian Doll mosaic picture was adapted from a design that I found online, and I also like the small kits that you can buy which have some lovely designs and plenty of spare beads to use for your own projects.

Mini Hama beads Russian Doll picture

I hope that I've given you some inspiration for gifts for that crafty person in your life, or maybe even for yourself!

Monday, 4 November 2019

How I decide what to blog about

I love blogging, and I love coming up with ideas for things to blog about. I like to blog regularly about lots of different things, and I hope that there are at least a few people out there reading what I write!

I realised that I get inspiration for the blog from lots of different places, so I thought that I'd share some of the ways that I come up with blog post ideas, and how I decide what I'm going to blog about.

* Most of my blog posts come from the long list of vague blog post ideas that I keep, both in a notebook and transferred over to my blogging Trello board. Some are sorted by season, for example when a craft that I'm working on over the summer sparks an idea for a Christmas variation. Or one craft idea will lend itself to other similar crafts that I can come back to at the same time next year. Every now and then I sort through my ideas and pick out the ones that I feel inspired to write up into full blog posts.

Related post - How I use Trello as a blogger

* If I'm really stuck for some seasonal content, I can often find some inspiration in lists of blog post ideas which have been created by other bloggers. I even refer back to the lists that I've written and shared myself, as I can often think of a new take on something!

Related post - An entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration

* Sometimes a post by another blogger will inspire me to write my own take on an idea (credited back of course, and shared with the original blogger if I feel brave enough). I like to keep up to date with reading other blogs, and follow them mainly via Feedly and on Twitter.

Coming up with blog post ideas - notebook and plant
Photo credit - Jen Theodore via Unsplash

* Similarly a news story or current event might make me think about something that I want to share.

* Lots of my blog posts are inspired by conversations with friends, particularly those about issues that I'm facing with my parenting. Sometimes writing it all out helps me to think about and decide how to manage a situation.

* I'm always working on one craft project or another, and so I enjoy sharing my progress. It also helps me to keep track of what I've been working on and inspires me to keep at something!

* I like to round up ideas from previous blog posts. I've been blogging for over 8 years now and I've covered a lot of ground, so it's nice to dust off some of those older posts and bring them back out for a new audience as part of a round up.

* Looking back through old blog posts also often gives me ideas for writing an updated post, or re-writing an old post with a new take on the idea.

* I enjoy sharing holidays that we've been on and places that we've visited, and it also makes a nice memory for me to look back on, especially if we visit the same place more than once and you can compare the photos.

I find that once I begin making a list of blog post ideas the ideas keep flowing, and even if many of them never end up as full blog posts, the very act of brainstorming helps to unleash my creativity and makes me feel full of possibilities. Blogging is definitely a creative outlet for me!

Friday, 1 November 2019

Books that inspired me to make a change

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links

Over the last few years I've read several books which have really encouraged me to make a change in my life, and so I thought I'd share them here in case any of my readers might also be interested in them!

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron covers a twelve week course that aims to help you unlock your latent creativity and make your dreams a reality by recovering your creative self. I can't remember how I first heard of this book, but I followed the course through back when I first read it, which was probably nearly 15 years ago. I was in a very different place in life back then, before children, and had plenty of time to dedicate to the tasks required. One of the main components of the course is the Morning Pages - taking the time every morning to write three pages in longhand. These are a stream of consciousness which no-one will ever read, and are intended to help you get past the things that are on your mind and blocking you. I did these pages every day and found them really helpful.

Every week you are also given exercises and tasks to do which are designed to help you work through any issues that you may have surrounding your creativity. My favourite part was a weekly 'Artist Date' where you take a block of time to nurture your inner artist and do something fun to indulge yourself.

I found the whole course really fun to do, and having picked up the book again it's making me feel inspired to give the course another go now that I am in a different phase of my life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo. I've written about the Marie Kondo method several times here on the blog, and although I will admit that I haven't completed the festival exactly, I've taken a great deal from this method which has helped me to keep my home in a fairly decluttered and organised state. I often pick up the book again and dip into it when I'm feeling the need for a little more order.

The Organised Mum Method by Gemma Bray. This was a very recent discovery (you can read my detailed review of the book here - The Organised Mum Method). Maybe it's still early days, but I've been following this cleaning plan for a couple of months now and I feel that it's made a massive difference to the tidiness and cleanliness of my house, and taken away a lot of the stress that I was feeling with regard to housework. The method is simple and relies on a little and often approach which really works, especially when followed over time.

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. I picked up this sweet little book on a whim, and was so pleased that I did. Although the concept of hygge can be applied year round, it's definitely something that is appreciated more as the winter draws in, and the book was a big help in helping me make my home feel more cosy last winter. I love the idea of keeping a Hygge Emergency Kit close by, filled with things like a favourite book, soft blankets and some good quality chocolates, and the book is filled with cosy little pictures and easy to read snippets that you can dip in and out of.

Have you read any books which have inspired you to make a change for the better? I'd love to hear about them!
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