Monday, 1 October 2018

Tea Travels - Afternoon Tea at Pennyhill Park

Long time no see! I seem to have neglected my blog recently and I’m not sure why. Well, I am in a way – my health has been pretty rubbish, we had a family holiday to Disneyland Paris and a lot of my time has been taken up with medical appointments. But I also think I just seemed to lose my way a bit when it came to writing. I’ve loved creating videos for my YouTube channel but my brain just hasn’t been able to get itself in the right place for putting words together to make something coherent. Perhaps I just needed a bit of a break after university finishing – life has definitely been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last few months! But I think I’ll talk about that more in a separate post. Because today, I’m here to introduce you to a brand new series on my blog, which I’ve decided to call ‘Tea Travels.’ 



Calling it a new series is possibly a little misleading, as I’ve shared a few posts over the years from afternoon teas I’ve tried. But I’ve decided to actually give the posts a name now, perhaps in the hope it will encourage me to try more afternoon teas to tell you about! For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved going out for afternoon tea. It’s not always easy when you have chronic illnesses that affect your digestive system, but it’s become a bit of a ‘thing’ that my Mum and I can do together, and I just love the whole experience. Arriving at some place fancy (or not so fancy!), the excitement when the tea stand is brought to your table and the fun of trying all the different sandwiches, scones and yummy cakes. For something that is so ‘typical’ (i.e. sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea) it’s great to see how many different ways places manage to find to present it. I’ve tried a lot of afternoon teas over the years, but no two have ever been the same.

Last month, my Mum and I headed down the road (quite literally – we don’t live far from there!) to Pennyhill Park to check out their take on afternoon tea. I’d bought my Mum a voucher for her birthday back in February, but we had decided to wait until the summer to enjoy it. I’ve actually had afternoon tea at Pennyhill Park once before – a number of years ago with a friend, and had really enjoyed it then, so I knew my Mum would love it. Plus we didn’t have the stress of having to travel up to London and back, which is always a plus! 




It was a lovely warm sunny day as we made our way over to Bagshot, Surrey. Driving up the winding driveway towards the hotel, you get that excitement and anticipation of what you’re going to see, even as someone who has been there once before. I can imagine it would be a beautiful setting for a wedding. We followed the signs for disabled parking, which took us to the front of the hotel. Unfortunately, they only seemed to have one disabled space (which was taken), so we ended up having to drive over to the main car park. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but the only way to get to the hotel was down an extremely steep slope – too dangerous for attempting in my wheelchair (I could see myself slipping and being tipped out – not a good start to a relaxing afternoon!) So I ended up having to walk, which was far from ideal. Thankfully there were several benches placed along the way, so I had to keep stopping to have a rest, but it’s a shame there didn’t appear to be a bit more space for those with disabilities. 





Despite the initial difficult start, the rest of our afternoon was fantastic. As we arrived in reception, we were directed down a beautiful corridor towards the restaurant where afternoon tea is served. A huge chandelier hung by a grand staircase, and as light from the window streamed through and bounced off the glass, it created a scattering of rainbows across the stone floor. It truly was magical and I’d love to explore more of the hotel one day. We were seated by a window overlooking the outdoor swimming pool by a friendly waitress and given our tea menus to peruse and decide on the tea we wanted to try first.







After a lot of deliberation, I chose a Flowering Osmanthus tea and my Mum went for the Pennyhill Park blend. When my tea was brought out, I was advised to leave it for a few minutes but to watch the pot carefully. Intrigued, my Mum and I kept an eye on the green plant-like object in the bottom of the teapot as it began to fall open, revealing an orange flower in the centre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it! Once it had fully opened, I poured myself a cup and gave it a try. It had an incredibly delicate, but beautifully floral and slightly fruity taste – a perfect accompaniment to the more rich flavours of afternoon tea.




Then came the excitement, as our lovely waitress brought out our tea stand, minus the scones. We started with the sandwiches:
·     Roast chicken, sweetcorn and bacon mayonnaise on White bread
·     Oak smoked salmon with dill cream cheese on Beetroot bread
·     Cave aged gruyere cheese with homemade red onion chutney on Onion bread
·     Egg mayonnaise with watercress on Multi Grain bread

I’m not normally a sandwich person, but there’s something about finger sandwiches that just makes them so darn tasty! My favourite type of sandwich tends to be smoked salmon, but actually, both my Mum and I really loved the cheese with onion chutney – the cheese was so smooth and the chutney so sweet – we ended up having another round of sandwiches because we couldn’t stop at just one! 

As well as the standard afternoon tea sandwiches, I found out that Pennyhill Park could also cater for a whole range of dietary requirement. They have specially made sandwiches for diets including gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and pescatarian, so there really is something for everyone. 






As we finished our sandwiches, our waitress brought out a plate of warm freshly baked scones, clotted cream and strawberry preserve. There were two scones each – one plain and one fruit. Scones can sometimes be quite stodgy, large and filling, but these were the perfect size, light and fluffy. And the strawberry preserve was like nothing I’ve ever tasted before – I’m sure it was homemade but if not, I might have to ask them where they buy it! 



We were given a small shot glass containing a lemon parfait with elderflower sorbet to cleanse our palette between courses, which I don’t think I’ve ever been offered at an afternoon tea before. It was so fresh and zingy – I particularly loved the sorbet, especially with it being a warm day.










At this point, we were asked if we would like some more tea, so I decided to try a different one. This time I went for a berry tea, which had more of a strong flavour, so I’m glad I went for the more delicate one to begin with. The patisserie chef also came to our table to talk us through the cake selection, which I think was a really nice touch. She was able to talk in detail about each individual cake and answer any of our questions. The cakes looked beautiful on the top tier of our cake stand and it was difficult to decide which one to try first! They included:
·     Raspberry Tonka Chocolate Opera Cake
·     Red Fruit Ruby Chocolate Tart
·     Roasted Peach, Milk Chocolate and Almond Whipped Ganache Choux Pastry with gold leaf on top
·     Apricot and Pistachio Macaron



As we were there celebrating my Mum’s (belated) birthday, they even put a little chocolate candle in one of the choux buns, which I thought was such a lovely thoughtful touch. The cakes were all amazing, but my favourite had to be the macaron (I’m slightly obsessed with macarons in general!) I love pistachio flavour and the apricot complemented it so well – I could easily have eaten more! The Opera cake was also delicious and it was quite interesting to try the Fruit tart, as it had been made using ruby chocolate, which has only been around since last year. It was developed and created by Barry Callebaut, who first had the idea in 2004, but didn’t create it until September 2017. Apparently it is made from a naturally occurring ruby cocoa bean, but the way it’s made is being kept top secret at the moment. Still, you can’t go wrong with pink chocolate!









After our waitress had boxed up the remaining cakes that we couldn’t eat to take home and finish later, my Mum and I headed outside to explore the grounds a bit. Pennyhill Park hotel and spa is set in 123 acres of Surrey countryside with tended flower bed, mature trees (one Cedar tree is 600 years old!), topiary, decorative ponds and a waterfall. It really is a beautiful place to spend time relaxing. When I last went for afternoon tea, we were able to sit outside by one of the ponds, but I’m not sure if they’re still doing this. You can see for miles across the treetops of Surrey and on a sunny day it is really nice to just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. Can you imagine the wedding photos you could take here?! 



The spa also looks insane – we could only see the outdoor part, but the deep blue of the pool contrasted with the white parasols and loungers just reminded me of being on holiday. There was even a little bar by the pool serving cocktails and other refreshments – I can only imagine how luxurious it is inside. I said to my Mum that one day, I would treat myself to a spa weekend there so I can explore more of the hotel, see what the spa has to offer and sample some more delicious meals in the restaurant!


All too soon it was time for us to burst the relaxing bubble we were in and head back home. As we passed a couple of fancy sports cars by the entrance (couldn’t these spaces be for disabled guests?!) and headed back up the steep slope, with plenty of rest breaks along the way, we vowed to go back again soon. The afternoon tea menu is changed seasonally, so you could visit several times across a year and enjoy a different selection of foods every time. And based on how delicious our afternoon tea was this time, I think we will definitely be making a return visit in the not too distant future.

You can read about some of the other afternoon teas I’ve tried too:
·     Peggy Porschen
·     The Ritz

Are you an afternoon tea lover? Where are your favourite places to go? Perhaps I can add them to my list!


Thursday, 23 August 2018

Disneyland Paris Planning Tips


I may have mentioned once or twice (OK, who am I kidding…I haven’t stopped talking about it for the last year!) that we are going on a family holiday to Disneyland Paris in September. We’ve been once before, but it was ten years ago, so I feel like we’re approaching it as first timers again. This time round, I’ve done a lot of planning to help make sure we have the best time possible and experience everything we want to experience. To do all this planning, I’ve spent literally months researching everything you could possibly need to research, so I thought I would share some of the advice and tips with you that I’ve discovered. I can only speak from the point of view of a prospective holidaymaker, as we haven’t had a chance to actually put all this research and planning into action yet. But perhaps once I’m back, I can do another post about what I learnt on my Disney holiday and what we would do differently/the same next time. I’ve split my planning into smaller sections, so hopefully it will be a little less overwhelming!

General Planning:

One of the best ways I have found to plan for our Disney trip was by watching YouTube videos and reading blog posts. There’s so much Disney content out there that pops up with a quick search – you can pretty much find information on anything you could possibly think of. I will say that I found it easier to find content about DisneyWorld Florida though, which is why I wanted to create some content about Disneyland Paris. 



I’ve got a few favourite YouTubers/Bloggers who make fantastic Disney content, so I thought I would share them with you. Even if you’re not planning a trip to Disney any time soon, I can guarantee you will still enjoy their Disney videos and blog posts! They are:
·     Brogan Tate
·     Sarah Louise Porter
·     Brummy Mummy of 2
·     Louise Pentland
·     Alex Gladwin and blog
·     Lara Joanna Jarvis and blog



Another invaluable resource has been the Facebook group ‘Disneyland Paris for Brits’. It was recommended to me by a friend and has been so incredibly helpful with all my planning for our trip. There are thousands of members who discuss every possible detail you can think of including hotels, travel, disabled access, food, photos and so much more. I’ve asked quite a few questions over the last few months, and you always get a really helpful reply from someone that has already been to the park. 

Booking:

When booking your Disneyland Paris holiday, my biggest recommendation would be to look out for deals! Whenever I’ve looked at holidays to Disney (yes, I do sometimes just like to pretend I’m going to Disney and dream about holidays!), I have always found there’s a good deal to be had. Whether that’s getting a meal plan free or a couple of extra nights added on to your package, it’s always worth looking around to make sure you get the best deal you can possibly get.



We booked our holiday with the Walt Disney Travel Company, paying for two nights and getting another two nights for free. We probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay for a whole week if we hadn’t used that deal, so it’s definitely worth doing a little research and perhaps holding out a week or two if you can’t find a deal first time. 

Travel:

As you plan your holiday, you’re going to need to think about how you want to travel there. There are all sorts of different options from the Eurostar or Eurotunnel to taking a ferry or flying. The one you choose will depend on a number of things – where you’re travelling from, what you can afford, whether you want to take your own car and your own personal preferences. We decided to travel by Eurostar, as we don’t live too far from London so a taxi to St Pancreas is going to be relatively easy. The train also goes straight into Disney, so as soon as you get out of the station you are right in the middle of the action without having to worry about transfers. When we rang to book our holiday, the Disney cast member actually advised us to book the Eurostar tickets separately, as it would work out cheaper, so it’s worth considering that before you book the whole thing together.


With the Eurostar, you can also add something called Disney Express Luggage and Advance Check-in Service, which basically means you can go directly to the parks without having to check-in to your hotel first and your bags will be waiting for you at your hotel. We did this when we went ten years ago and it was really handy, but back then it was included in the price. Now, you have to pay extra for the service and we decided that it would be better for us to just sort out our own bags and check-in. But it’s something to consider if you want a completely hassle free start to your holiday.



Accommodation:

Another part of your trip to think about is where you’re going to stay. Again, there are a lot of different options depending on your budget, how close you want to be to the magic and the type of place you want to base yourself in. There are eight different Disney Hotels, which vary in price from the most expensive (the Disneyland Hotel) to the slightly more basic (Davy Crockett Ranch). If you stay in a Disney Hotel, you get Extra Magic Hours, which means you can get into the parks an hour before the general public. Great for if you want to beat some of the queues and ride the most popular rides or meet characters without too many people around. There is also a free shuttle bus, which will take you from your hotel to the parks and back again (apart from for the Davy Crockett Ranch). Each hotel offers something slightly different, so it’s worth having a read about each one to find one that suits what you’re looking for. We’ve opted to stay in Disney’s Hotel New York, which will soon be closing down to be refurbished, so it will be nice to have a chance to stay before it changes completely. 




To stay in a Disney Hotel is probably the most expensive option, so if you’re not so bothered about the benefits staying in one brings, it might be worth looking at the Partner Hotels. These are slightly further away from the parks and don’t come with the bus and extra hours facilities, but still do have a lot to offer. Again, they have varying rankings and offer different facilities, so there should be something to suit every budget.




If neither of these options appeals, there are plenty of other places to stay nearby. There will be other hotels that aren’t connected to Disney at all, or there are plenty of Air B’n’B options if you’d prefer to be in a self-contained place. 

Dining:

Possibly the most important part of any holiday is the food! Disneyland Paris offers plenty of places to grab a bite to eat, but it’s worth thinking about how you want to approach your dining. Disney offers Meal Plans, which you pay for in advance and will cover some or all of your meals. You can choose between Breakfast, Half-Board or Full-Board, then each type also has different levels depending on the type of restaurants you want to eat in. At first we didn’t think paying for a meal plan would be worth it, but after looking at the menus and working out how much we were likely to pay if we paid as we went along, we realised getting a plan would actually save us a lot of money. So we have gone for the Half-Board Plus Meal Plan, which means we get breakfast in our hotel, and then either lunch or dinner in a choice of more than 15 different restaurants. 




I would also highly recommend booking your meals in advance, especially if you’re looking to go to the most popular restaurants, as they fill up exceptionally quickly. You can ring 60 days before your holiday, which is what we did and the cast member was so helpful with getting everything we wanted booked in. If you book your holiday with the Walt Disney Travel Company, there will be a UK number on your paperwork. Otherwise, there is a French number on the main Disneyland website – I’d suggest either ringing early in the morning or late in the evening so you’re not on hold too long and therefore not having to pay too much for the call. 



I thought you might be interested to hear what our plan is for eating while we’re away. Most mornings we will be having breakfast in our hotel, so I haven’t added that to the plan. We also haven’t booked our lunches/lighter meals, so these may change once we’re there, but we thought it was a good idea to have a plan to aim for. This is our idea so far:

·     Monday lunch – Bistrot Chez Remy (We’ve booked a late lunch for 3pm, as they don’t serve dinner here)
·     Monday dinner –Planet Hollywood/Rainforest CafĂ© 
·     Tuesday lunch –Earl of Sandwich
·     Tuesday dinner –Cape Cod – 7pm
·     Wednesday lunch –Casey’s Corner
·     Wednesday dinner –Hunter’s Grill – 7pm
·     Thursday breakfast –Plaza Gardens – 9.45am (This is a character breakfast, so we will need to pay a top up, as it’s not included in the meal plan)
·     Thursday lunch –Colonel Hathi’s Pizza
·     Thursday dinner –Inventions – 7pm (Again, this is a character meal, so we will need to pay a top up)
·     Friday lunch –Vapiano

Disability:

Travelling anywhere when you have a disability can be anxiety provoking because there seems to be so much more planning needed than for able-bodied people. Obviously this advice will depend on what your disability is (or whether you have one at all), but I’ll try and cover everything that is likely to help me. If you don’t know, I’m chronically ill and use a wheelchair, so travelling and going abroad isn’t the easiest of things to do! The first thing I want to address is disability access on the Eurostar. When we rang up to book our tickets (months in advance) we were told there were no wheelchair spaces on the train we wanted to go on. So we asked about other trains on the same day/other days and again, were told there were no wheelchair spaces. It turns out that each Eurostar train going directly to Disney only has space for two wheelchair passengers, which I personally think is crazy considering how huge the trains are. It’s putting disabled people who want to travel at a massive disadvantage. We had to decide whether to cancel our holiday or try and work around it, so we rang back and they said we could bring my manual wheelchair (I had really wanted the independence of having my electric wheelchair) and fold it up, but that we would probably need to upgrade out of standard class so there would be room to store it. So we ended up doing this, and paying for the privilege. I’m personally pretty hacked off about having to pay a higher price to travel just because I need a wheelchair – I think it’s downright wrong. So, if you need to travel by Eurostar in your wheelchair, I would recommend signing up to their newsletter and booking tickets as soon as they come out to try and make sure you get one of the two wheelchair spaces. 




Once you actually get to Disney, there are certain things you can do to make your holiday a bit more relaxed and enjoyable. If you have a disability, you an get something called an Access Card by either going to Donald Desk, City Hall or Studio Services when you arrive. You will need to provide evidence of your disability (so something like a Blue Badge, PIP/DLA letter, Medical Certificate etc.) but it’s best to check what evidence is accepted for your specific disability before you go. There are two types of Access Card:

·     Priority Card – for anyone officially registered as disabled
·     Easy Access Card – for guests with a temporary illness and for pregnant women

The cards have a number of benefits, although these do vary depending on the type of card you have. But they can include:

·     Not having to queue for rides
·     Accessing rides through specially adapted entrances
·     Access to specially designated areas for parades and shows (so you can actually see if you’re in a wheelchair!)
·     You can take up to four helpers with you as well



If you have a registered disability, you can also claim back the cost of the Disney Parks admission for one helper, as long as you have your official disability documents. I know this will be a massive help for us, as I wouldn’t be able to travel and access the parks without a carer. There are also accessible rooms in the hotels, which you can ask for when you ring up to book your accommodation. And Disney also produce Accessibility Maps, which contain information about accessibility on all rides, restaurants and attractions within the parks. 

In the Park:

To round this post off, I thought I would also share a couple of tips to help you when you’re out and about in the parks themselves. Firstly, there are a couple of apps, which I would really recommend downloading (they’re both free!) The first is the MagiPark App which allows you to keep a track on waiting times for rides, rather than having to go to the actual ride to find out. This means you can be enjoying other things around the park whilst keeping an eye on the waiting time for your favourite ride. As soon as the time goes down, you can head on over and join the (hopefully shorter!) queue. The app will also tell you which attractions are experiencing momentary service interruptions or closures, where restaurants are and where the nearest toilets are too. 



Another app that will be good to have while you’re in Disney is the official Disneyland Paris App. This app also allows you to check wait times for attractions in both parks and makes exploring easy with GPS-enabled maps that show your location and the attractions, restaurants, shops and more near you. It contains information about timings for parades and entertainment, as well as park hours, accessibility information and descriptions of attractions to help you plan your days to be as fun-packed as possible. 

The final thing you may want to consider is whether buying a PhotoPass+ would be a good investment for you and your family. There are official photographers at all Disney Character Meet & Greet Attractions, as well as a few dotted around the parks, who will be more than happy to take great-quality photos of the whole family. Buying the PhotoPass means you get all of these photos, plus your ride photos as high quality digital image files. It is valid for 10 days from first use and the photos will be available for one year after that, so it’s worth transferring them to somewhere more permanent once you’re home from your holiday. You can buy the pass either at the beginning or end of your holiday (I believe there’s a slight difference in price if you buy in advance). We’re considering splitting the cost between the five of us, as I’ve seen other people’s photos and they really are lovely.




And that’s everything – phew! I really hope that if you are planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, these tips will help you on your way. Hopefully when I get back, I can do a round up of things we learnt on the holiday to give you some tried and tested advice too. If there are any other blog posts related to Disneyland Paris that you would be interested to see, please do let me know. You can also watch the video I made in conjunction with this post over on my YouTube channel.

Are you planning to go to Disney any time soon? Or are you just a massive Disney fan like me?!