Planning for Florida: The Food

Hi again!

It is almost the end of January which means that it’s time to talk about dining. Last week I reached the 180 day Disney milestone. Why is it a milestone? Because it means that advanced reservations for Disney World’s more popular restaurants have opened up for me. Now so far I have only made two – I’ll be going to Mama Melrose’ on my first park day and Yak and Yeti in Animal Kingdom on my second. I’ve chosen these days according to the park hour calendar which tells you which parks have extra magic hours on which days. I was unfortunately too late to get a Be Our Guest dinner reservation and World Showcase in EPCOT has so many good counter service places that I won’t be booking anything for there, so I’m holding out on choosing which days I’ll be visiting those two.

 

So aside from those two reservations, where will I be eating on my trip? Like any good Disney/food fan I’ve been perusing the menus and reviews of the different places to eat in both Universal and Disney and have so far come up with this list:

 

Universal/Islands/Citywalk

The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: specifically for the monster burger “The Cowfish has Officially Left the Building”. This beast is described on the menu as “Full-pound beef burger, creamy peanut butter, fried bananas, Applewood bacon, brioche bun (make it a SINGLE HUNKA LOVE, half-pound beef burger for 15)”. Now I love peanut butter and banana as a combination and have heard great things about this monstrosity, so will definitely be trying it out.

 

Panda Express: This Chinese restaurant has become a favourite of my family on our trips, mainly because of the huge portions and orange chicken, which you can’t seem to get here in England. At least I’ve never been able to find it. I’m thinking this will be a good meal for my first night.

 

Cletus’s Chicken Shack: This is one of the many options inside the Springfield area of Universal Studios and my reason for wanting to eat there is that they serve a chicken and waffle sandwich with maple mayo. I love food that combines sweet and salty, so chicken and waffles is a great combination for me.

 

Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour: If you know your Potter you’ll remember that in Diagon Alley there is an ice cream parlour which serves mouth-watering sundaes which Harry chows down on whilst writing his History of Magic essays. Well, they have recreated this place in Universal Studios and with flavours like Granny Smith apple, Salted Caramel Blondie and Clotted Cream, who would want to miss it?

 

Mythos Restaurant: This is a more expensive, table service restaurant in Islands of Adventure but it looks like it serves less traditional theme park fare, so may be a refreshing change. I’m particularly interested in the Pad Thai.

 

Disney

Yak and Yeti: This is in the Asia land of Animal Kingdom and has a table service restaurant and café. I will be going to the table service restaurant for dinner and already have my eye on the Honey Chicken and Fried Wontons.

 

Satu’li Canteen: This is a new restaurant in the Pandora: World of Avatar land area of Animal Kingdom, which serves healthier dishes than your usual theme park fare. They have a variety of protein bowls, all of which come with a main meat (or tofu for you veggies) and a variety of sauces and bases to choose from. There are also cheeseburger or vegetable curry steamed pods which look interesting too. Personally I’m very interested in the Wood-Grilled chicken bowl.

 

Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano: This is one of the table service meals available in Hollywood Studios and I booked it because I haven’t been too impressed with the quick/counter service options. However this restaurant looks like it has a variety of delicious Italian fare so I am very much looking forward to it.

 

Be Our Guest: This restaurant is in the New Fantasyland area of Magic Kingdom and is styled to look like the Beast’s castle. You have the option of eating in the West Wing, Ballroom or Castle Gallery (Belle’s private library). Now ideally, I would like to get a dinner reservation for this restaurant, but so far they have remained elusive. However, during the day this also serves as a quick service so if I cannot get in for dinner, I will definitely go for lunch, more for the experience and ambience than the food.

 

Blaze Pizza: This is a create your own pizza place at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and I’ve heard nothing but good things from everyone who has been.

 

Wolfgang Puck Express: This is somewhere that I tried on my 2013 solo trip and absolutely loved. This one has been on my list since I booked this trip and I am really looking forward to going back.

 

So that’s it so far folks, this list is extremely subject to change, but at the moment these are the places where I will be filling my belly. Until next time!

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Planning for Florida

Hello and a Happy New Year to you all!

Now that it is January 2018 I can finally say that I am going to Orlando Florida THIS YEAR! That’s right, in under 200 days I will be flying solo to one of my favourite places on earth to spend 10 days theme park hopping. Seriously, what is this life?!

You might be thinking, “but Nina, you only went there the summer before last!” and you would be right, so let me tell you my main reasons for going (not that I usually need any extra motivation).

Reason 1: Pandora: World of Avatar is open in Animal Kingdom and by all accounts blowing minds. Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey and the Satu’li Canteen are all on my high priority list of things to see.

 

Reason 2: Universal’s Volcano Bay water park opened last May and it looks absolutely fantastic. I cannot wait to ride the rides and see it all in person.

Reason 3: Toy Story Land could very well be open when I’m there. At the moment there is no official date, it is just ‘summer 2018’. But July is in the summer right? Even if its not quite open yet, it’ll be cool to see how far the construction has come.

Aside from those, I just love Florida. Sometimes I get little pangs of homesickness when I think about our past trips. Having said that, this may well be my last trip there for a while because there are also lots of other places in the world I would like to see. So for that reason I am going all out and staying on both Universal and Disney property! Yep, my first three nights are going to be spent at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort and for the remaining seven I will be at Disney’s All Star Music Resort. What is the reason for this extravagance I hear you cry? Well, convenience mostly. It’s quite tricky to go between Universal and Disney without paying a king’s ransom in taxi/uber fares, as obviously the two companies would prefer that you visit them exclusively, so I went for comfort over everything else. I love the thought that at the end of a day of walking around in the heat, I will only be a short distance away from my room. Cabana Bay is walking distance from the parks (and shuttles do run for those days when you can’t walk any further) and Disney runs frequent shuttles between its hotels and theme parks.

So my itinerary at the moment goes as follows:

Day before my flight: travel to Gatwick airport and stay at Bloc Hotel (thank you Krispy Smore for the reviews).

Day 1: 11:20am non-stop flight to MCO, arriving at 3:25 Florida time.

Day 2: Universal/ Islands of Aventure

Day 3: Universal/Islands of Adventure

Day 4: Volcano Bay/tie up any loose ends in the other parks/ be picked up at 8pm and travel to All Star Music.

Days 5-9: Disney! I haven’t decided which day to do what as the park times and EMH haven’t been confirmed for those days yet.

Day 10: I’ll probably try and get to extra magic hours and then my flight home is at 5:35pm. I’ll land back in blighty the next morning.

Even though this trip is still 6 months away, I am so excited. I’ve been counting down to the 180 day mark so I can make my Disney dining reservations and then the next milestone will be 60 days when I can book my fastpasses. Have you got holidays planned for this year? Let me know all about them in the comments and we can be excited together!

Til next time!

Nina xxx

The Way Back to Auckland

Let’s see if I can actually get this trip report done! I’m actually going to combine the two travel days into one because I didn’t take that many pictures and I honestly can’t remember it that well. 

29th April 

So on this day we were catching the evening ferry from Picton to Wellington meaning that we had a whole day to kill. One of our stops was in Havelock where, as usual, the scenery was amazing. 


Another place was Momorangi Bay where Burto said that you can sometimes find Stingrays. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any today, but it was still a nice, peaceful place to stop.


We went for a little walk in the hills surrounding Picton.


Then we still had some time until our ferry, so had a wander around Picton itself and got some dinner at a pub. 

The crossing itself was a bit rougher than on the way over, but it didn’t feel too bad to me. A few of the others were really feeling the effect though. I passed the time by watching Fantastic Beasts on my tablet. This was also when Burto came around with our final bill for the trip which included groceries and any additional activities booked during it. 

We got into Wellington at about 9 o clock and some of the group went out on the town. I however stayed cosy in the YHA. 

30th April

The next day started reasonably early as we had a looooong drive ahead of us. I don’t remember much of this day, except that we stopped every 2-3 hours for toilet/leg stretching breaks. 

I do remember stopping somewhere nice for lunch (as always) and that we had a quick break here:


There was also somewhere with a playground made up of loads of vegetables where we all posed with a giant carrot. 

I think it took us 10 hours to get back to Auckland. Once we had checked back in at the good old YHA we all met back up again and went to Ponsonby food court for dinner. I definitely recommend this place if you want a reasonably priced, tasty meal. 

There were some sad goodbyes after that as Burto was going home and Ashleigh was staying at Haka Lodge. The next day I would be flying to California to have 3 days in Disneyland before going home. 

Last thoughts: if anyone is thinking about going to New Zealand, my advice to you is: just go! And use Haka Tours. They’re perfect for solo travellers, first timers and just anyone who would like someone else to organise their trip for them. It takes away any worries about accommodation, public transport and how to get the best value excursions. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it. Until next time! 

Abel Tasman 

Sorry for the delay in posts – I went to Disneyland on the way home and was just having too much fun to post  here. But without further ado – here is Abel Tasman. 

As had been forecasted we woke up to rain. Nothing torrential, just a steady downpour. Because of this part of the group decided not to participate in the hike, however thb rest of us waterproofed up and headed out. 

A bus took us down the road where we boarded a boat which would take us across to the national park. It was such a fun ride! The water was a bit choppy, but that just made it better in my opinion. We were taken out to see Split Apple Rock and a seal colony on the way too.



The last part of the trip was the best – the mad mile! The boat was going up waves and then dropping straight down. The rest of the passengers were looking at me like I was mad as I was laughing while they were white knuckling it.


The tide wasn’t as far out as usual when we got to the beach, so we had to wait for the right moment and then jump to avoid being ankle deep in the sea. Surprisingly I just about made it; I’m usually the one who would trip over and land face first. 

The hike was really good. It started with quite a big hill, but this was worth it for the views. That’s the great thing about New Zealand – you really feel like you’re in a different place. 


I was glad that I had brought proper trainers with me as the trail was muddy and slippery in places. There were so many waterfalls! 


During the descent we found some Wekas! Two parents and their babies! 

After we got out of the rainforest it was an easy walk back to the camp where leftover risotto and hot showers were calling our names. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and then it was yummy food from The Fat Tui. The next two days would be spent making our way back to Auckland. 

Punakaiki to Abel Tasman

Sadly we had to leave our little slice of paradise, but we were going to the Abel Tasman, another beautiful part of New Zealand.

On the way we stopped at Cape Foulwind and had another little hike. 


On the way we passed one of those great signposts that tell you how far you are from everywhere else.


But our main reason for visiting Foulwind was the Fur Seal colony. There were so many pups flumping about! 


Sadly I cannot remember if/where else we stopped after and I don’t have any pictures to help either. I do know we stopped at a supermarket. 

For the next two nights we were staying at The Barn campground in Marahau, which is right outside the Abel Tasman national park. They offer inside accommodation as well as camping. 

That night we made chicken risotto with our roast leftovers from the day before and it was yummy. Burto warned us that it was supposed to be raining the next day (which was great considering we were all going on a 12k hike through the national park!) but we had been so lucky with the South Island weather that we didn’t mind too much.

Punakaiki 

We had a nice late breakfast of French toast with banana and bacon before going to see the main attractions of Punakaiki:


You can only really see the blowholes at high tide and they were pretty cool. 


Then five of us went on a hike and the others were kayaking and relaxing. We ended up adding a bit extra onto our walk, because we missed a turning and ended up going for a while in the wrong direction. We only realised when we got to a bit of a chasm, the deep muddy puddles should have been an indication too. Still the scenery was nice.

We were lucky enough to see this little guy! Wide awake and staring at us too.


When we got towards the end of the trail we met Burto coming to find us. He was quite perturbed as to how we got lost! Back at the house we had shepherds pie cooked by Burto and it was just what we needed. The rest of the day was spent chilling out and then seeing a better sunset.


Dinner was a massive roast, followed by an earlyish night as we were driving to Abel Tasman the next day.

Franz Josef to Punakaiki

Sorry for the lack of posts guys, we were in an area of poor wifi and service. 

Our first stop on the way to Punakaiki was Lake Mapourika which is absolutely beautiful. 


Then we were on to Hokitita, where we went to Mountain Jade – a factory and shop. This was also our lunch stop and as it was Armistice Day we got to see the parade. 

Unfortunately our next stop was to drop off a large portion of our group at the train station. They would be getting the alpine express back to Christchurch. 

Whilst in the area we also did a big shop as Punakaiki doesn’t really have anything nearby. Then it was the last leg of our drive. We were staying at the Te Nikau Retreat in our own house, deep in the rainforest.


Two people had their own rooms and the rest of us were up on the top floor. It was lovely to have our own space and kitchen and the beach was only a few minutes walk away. We tried to catch the sunset, but it was a bit too overcast to see anything.


Still impressive though. The waves were massive! That night we had a big spag bol and played a game together. 

Franz Josef

The first activity in Franz was stone carving at Te Koha gallery with Panda. This was more in depth than the bone carving on the North Island as we were starting from the very beginning, choosing a stone and going from there, but we still had a LOT of help. We could either carve pounamu (greenstone) or Aotea (bluestone). You choose the design you want to carve and then the stone which appeals to you. I chose Aotea and the Ruru or Morepork owl.


This stone is rare as you can only find it in one area of New Zealand. It’s a unique mix of Kyanite and Fuchsite and is a healing stone supposedly good for stomach and sleep problems. The Ruru is a native New Zealand bird that the Maori say is a night guardian. If one crosses your path it is a warning to turn back. 

Panda used a saw to cut my stone to a better size and then I drew my design on.


He then cut ‘the guts’ of the shape for me and then I had to use a sanding machine with diamond paper to work all of the rough edges down. Then the proper hard work began. We had to use four different pieces of sandpaper to work on the shape, rubbing as hard as we could to get the shine. Then once that was done, Panda carved the features on for me. 


I love it so much and have been wearing it every day alongside my fish hook.

After carving me and Gwen had to run for the shuttle that would take us to the glacier walk. This is and hour and a half round trip that took us as close as possible. 

It was a nice walk, though it got quite hot, ironically, the closer we got to the glacier. 

*no picture here because WordPress is playing up and not letting me upload any more* 

We then took the shuttle back into town and visited the Kiwi Wildlife Centre. There were two 9 week old Kiwis in there who were going to be released into the wild when old enough. They are nocturnal so they had low red lights so we could see them as they can’t see red lights. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in there but they were adorable, 

After that we hung out back at the hostel until 7, when it was time for dinner. Burto had only gone and hired a limo to take us! The funny thing was it was only 5 minutes down the road but we still appreciated it! We went to the Blue Ice Bar and ate delicious food, played on the wii and sung kareoke. Well the others did, people pay me not to sing so I decided it was best I sat that one out. It was a great evening. 

Wanaka to Franz Josef

Sunday had a leisurely start as most of us were going cycling at 10. Burto had made the ride sound like an easy trip around the lake, however it soon became apparent that it was going to be very tough. On account of the fact that I haven’t been on a bike for years I decided to turn back with Burto’s mum who has a bad knee and go for a more gentle ride. So we went back down to the waterfront, had a coffee and then took the easy, but scenic route around the lake. 


When we got back to the hire place Burto was already back and the rest were coming in. We ate some lunch and then hit the road. It’s about a 5 hour drive to Franz Josef and we would be having a few stops along the way. 


This stop was a place called The Neck. Beautiful blue water and sky. We drove through Mount Aspiring National Park and had a brief stop here too. 


The foliage was turning to rainforest as we got closer to the west coast. We drove over a bridge with this gorgeous reflection that I managed to catch out of the bus window. 


Our next stop was a beach, but the sand flies were terrible because it’s mild so we didn’t stay long. The sun was starting to set, giving the road a very Jurassic Park style look.


We stopped at Bruce Bay for the sunset. This is where you can sometimes find Pounami (greenstone) and Aotea (bluestone) but we weren’t lucky enough. It was beautiful though.


There were some cool stones too.


After that it was an hour long drive to Franz Josef where we’re staying in another YHA. It was already late when we got there so a group of us went out for dinner almost straight away. Monday is a full day in Franz Josef and the last night for the people on the 17 and 7 day tours.