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Tex Mex, Creole or All-American? Comparing the flavour of three Southern cities…

 

Over 12 months ago, when I embarked on my trip of a lifetime across the US of A, I was set to visit 23 states in 28 days; a mean feat for someone who had never left Europe before! Aptly named The Grand Southern Adventure, I knew most of my escapade would be spent discovering some of the best cities that the south had to offer, and knew that it’d be an adrenalin fuelled few weeks, and a real foodie haven too. Three of the cities on the trip really stole my heart, and not just because of their lively atmospheres and their colourful history. Spending two nights each in Orlando, Dallas and New Orleans gave me a chance to delve a little deeper into their charm, although I’m pretty sure I barely scratched the surface of these cities during my short time there. I enjoyed my few days in those places so much that, when the wonderful team at Trip.com asked me to take a look at the foodie history behind each city, I jumped at the chance to do a little more digging… Here’s how the three of them compare…

 

Dallas, Texas

 

The sun shining down on Dallas

 

The Texan powerhouse and one of America’s most famous cities, Dallas should be at the top of everyone’s bucket lists, and for good reason. Home to an enormous aquarium, along with a zoo, museums and memorials, Dallas is one of the liveliest cities in the deep South. Sadly, it’s also perhaps best known for being the site of President John F Kennedy’s assassination and has a memorial and museum dedicated to his untimely death. Whilst you’ll find large chunks of America’s history down in Dallas, you’ll also find it’s a complete foodie haven and a fantastic place for indulging in that iconic Tex-Mex cuisine.

A mouth-watering mix of Anglo and Mexican-Indian infusions, invented by Mexican immigrants in the late 1800s, Tex-Mex fast became one of the most popular dishes in the state of Texas, and across the rest of America and the world too. Although the main ingredients of the cuisine remain the same; think nachos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos, chilli and tacos, the dishes have largely evolved over the years. It wouldn’t be right to devour some good ole Tex-Mex food in Dallas without a frozen margarita in hand though – it’s where it was first created back in 1974, and is still a hit with locals and tourists alike today. If you’re looking for the perfect hotel from which to base yourself on your next visit to this Texan city check out Trip.com’s best hotel deals in Dallas.

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

The fairy-tale that is Jackson Square

 

Positioned right on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is a Louisiana city packing a big punch. Nicknamed the “Big Easy,” New Orleans is famous for its crazy nightlife, fantastic live-music jazz scene and its eclectic cuisine. At the heart of the city you’ll find it’s French Quarter, the oldest part of the city and perhaps its most interesting. Jackson Square is the focal point of the district, complete with a pretty Church, manicured courtyard gardens and horse drawn carriages, making it look like something out of a fairy-tale. The biggest event on the calendar is of course the Mardi Gras parade, a winter carnival with show-stopping costumes, live music and fun filled street parties. New Orleans, and indeed the rest of Louisiana, is however best known for its delicious Creole cuisine; a spicy style of cooking which brings together a mixture of flavours from a whole host of different cultures including Spanish, Indian, Caribbean, West African and Latin American.

Invented in NOLA back in the 18th century, classic Creole dishes include fish and meat soups, shrimps in sauce, rice in gravy, baked chicken, red beans and smothered pork chops. The most popular dishes are gumbo (shrimp, chicken and sausage stew served with rice) and jambalaya (meat and vegetables mixed with rice). For dessert, Creole cuisine offers something for everyone, but NOLA’s most iconic sweet treat is the classic beignet – deep fried choux pastry served with powdered sugar on top and a café au lait (coffee with milk). Visit the world famous Café du Monde down in the French Quarter for the ultimate beignet experience. The café is open 24 hours all day every day and only has four items on the menu: dark-roasted coffee, white and chocolate milk, hot chocolate, freshly squeezed orange juice and, of course, the classic beignets. Whatever your foodie preferences, NOLA caters for all tastes and you’ll be sure to want to take a taste of Creole home with you when you leave the city! If you’re in need of a place to rest your head for a few hours after spending all night ‘dancing in the streets’ check out Trip.com’s best hotel deals in New Orleans.

 

Orlando, Florida

 

The happiest place on earth…

 

Nestled between the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the sunshine state of Florida is one of the most visited areas in the whole of the USA. With hundreds of miles of coastline and a population of over 20 million, Florida is a tropical paradise with gorgeous turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. In particular, Orlando is famed for its designer shopping malls, vibrant seaside resorts and of course it’s enormous theme parks. Nicknamed the ‘Theme Park Capital of the World’, Orlando is home to the Universal resorts, Sea World, Discovery Cove, Legoland, Gatorland, Epcot and the most famous resort on earth, Walt Disney World. Cuisine is Florida is just as famous, with their iconic oranges – you’ll find them everywhere you go – as well as their Cuban inspired mojito’s and of course their very own key lime pie.

Cuisine found in Orlando is typical of All-American dishes and, whilst it mainly consists of fried chicken, French fries and just about any kind of fried food you can find, there are dozens of signature dishes too. Frozen yogurt, or Fro-Yo as Floridians affectionately call it, is super popular over in Orlando, and is much needed during the exhausting heat and tropical temperatures that remain in place all year round. Alligator tail is also a popular dish in the city, deep fried and served with hot sauce and a heap of ranch dressing on the side. Perhaps the most famous piece of Floridian cuisine though is the mouth-watering key lime pie. Invented by ship salvager William Curry in the sunshine state back in the 1800s, Curry became Key West’s first millionaire and his legendary dish is still a hit today. Need somewhere to stay during your holiday with Mickey and Co? Take a look at Trip.com’s top hotel deals in Orlando.

 

NB. This post is brought to you as part of Trip.com’s Underdog Cities campaign but all words and photos are of course my own.

 

So food is pretty BIG in Dallas

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Travel Guide Review: Disneyland 2016 by Independent Guides

Hi everyone,

So this is something new for me- how exciting! Recently I was lucky enough to be asked by Independent Guides ,in conjunction with Amazon and via Bloggers Required, to review their brand new 2016 guidebook for Disneyland Resort in California, and what a read it was!

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I published two reviews on this book, one on the Amazon UK site and the other on the Amazon US site, and they are now LIVE. You can read them here and here.

Independent Guides are Disney and city experts and are known for putting together the most accurate and up to date guidebooks for a range of destinations from Disneyland Paris to New York City. My reviews highlight the depth of information that is put into each and every guide making them all a fantastic read.

In short, this book is brilliant and I would highly recommend it if you are planning a trip to the world famous resort anytime soon, or if (like me) you’re just a massive Disney fan looking for an excuse to read all things Disney!

Love Jess X

NB. This is a sponsored blog post and I received compensation from Independent Guides for these reviews.

PS. Go Like Independent Guides on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter!

PPS. Remember you can keep VOTING for me to win best TRAVEL blog in UK Blog Awards 2016 – voting closes 25th January!

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A Magical Disney Christmas

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MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!🎄🎁🎊

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful break! So if you’re an avid follower of my  Instagram account you’ll know that I’ve not long returned from an AMAZING trip to the beautiful Disneyland Resort Paris with two of my best friends, Lauren and Tiffany, where I had the most magical time! Here’s some of the highlights from our Disney trip, as well as a lo-down on the parks, hotel, restaurants and attractions.. get ready to be mesmerised!

 

The Journey

We chose to travel the most convenient way possible to Paris and hopped on the fantastic Eurostar from St Pancras in the heart of London direct to the Marne-La-Vallee station at the entrance of Disneyland itself. The journey couldn’t have been easier! All it took was a quick check in at St Pancras, a smooth 2 and a half hour train ride between England and France and before we knew it we were on Disney soil! Don’t forget to check out the GIANT Christmas tree at the station made up of hundreds of Disney toys- so beautiful!

Our booking included the Disney Express option which was fantastic and well worth adding on if you’re travelling as a family. The option enabled us to check in to our hotel on board the Eurostar; Disney cast members registered our bags and handed out our park tickets and accommodation vouchers before we arrived at Marne-La-Vallee station. We then made our way up to the Disney Express stop to drop off our luggage, safe in the knowledge they would be waiting for us at our hotel later, and were then able to head straight to the parks for our first taste of Disney magic!

The Hotel

We stayed at the cosy 3* Sequoia Lodge Disney Hotel which was perfectly located right on Lake Disney just to the rear of the fantastic Disney Village. The hotel was impressive on arrival and, after a brief check in, we were taken to the outdoor luggage store to retrieve our bags and take them straight up to our room. As we had already ‘checked in’ on the Eurostar this usually painful process was nice and easy and super speedy!

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As there were three of us we had two comfortable double beds in a good size room which was clean and tidy and boasted a fantastic view across to Lake Disney. The bathroom was spotless and there was plenty of hanging safe along with a fully working safe to store our valuables.

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The cosy bar and onsite boutique store at the Sequoia made for excellent facilities onsite and we heard great things about the swimming pool – unfortunately it was closed during our visit but we would have loved to go!

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Breakfast was included with each day of our stay and we were treated to an unlimited continental feast of cereals, croissants, breads, meats and cheeses. We were seated in the Hunters Grill or Beaver Creek areas which doubled up as buffet restaurants in the evening- both looked lovely but sadly we didnt have chance to eat in the hotel!

Top Tip! Take some rolls and fillings and make your own lunch to take with you to the parks- this will save you a fortune on daytime meals throughout your stay!

Click here to read my Trip Advisor review of the Sequoia Lodge Hotel.

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Disneyland Park

The Park is split into 5 lands all filled with fun and adventure offering something different for Disney’s guests….

Main Street USA is where most of the action happens, including the many daily parades and character appearances. The star of the show is the beautiful Sleeping Beauty’s Castle which looks even more magical lit up for Christmas!

Fantasyland best for little ones, fly with Dumbo and Peter Pan or lose yourself wandering around Alice’s maze in Wonderland. There’s also plenty of opportunity for Meet n Greets and a chance to spot Royalty outside the Princess Pavilion!

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Adventureland best for boys who’ll adore the Pirates of the Caribbean theme and the rides/attractions that are in this section. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafe’s to choose from.

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Frontierland the Wild West theme runs prominently throughout this land and is reflected in the fantastic Cowboy shops, restaurants and attractions. Yee-hah!

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Discoveryland explore the sci-fi element of Disney and find your inner geek. The scariest ride in the park is also found in this land – Space Mountain Mission 2 is not for the faint hearted!

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Walt Disney Studios

Split into two parts, Front Lot and Back Lot, the Studios offer a wealth of fun and discovery and are a fantastic way to spend the day! There’s a whole host of top rides including Crush’s Coaster (scarier than it looks!), Aerosmith Rock n Roller Coaster and the terrifying Tower of Terror.

There’s a Toy Story village for kids (yeah we definitely didn’t go on those rides… ;)) as well as animation shows and Stitch Live over on the Disney Junior stage. Although the Studios no longer hosts a daily parade, there are plenty of Meet n Greets throughout as well as restaurants, kiosks and Disney stores.

Disney Village

The Village is an additional bonus and a great way of extending the Disney magic way into the evening after a long day of exploring at the parks. The Village is home to a number of popular restaurants, bars and cafe’s as well as a large range of Disney Stores for hours of endless shopping!

We chose to go on the fantastic Panoramagique, a hot air balloon ride, which took us 100ft up in the air for the most magnificent views across the parks and the rest of Marne-La-Vallee. The cost was just 12 euros per adult and this was a great way to end our last day at Disney!

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Disney Attractions

If the parks and studios aren’t enough to keep you entertained and you’re still wanting MORE you’ll be pleased to know that Disney runs tonnes of extra shows and programs throughout the year and Christmas is no exception! We were truly mesmerised by the incredible lights show, Disney Dreams of Christmas, an illuminated musical extravaganza bringing the magic of Disney (and Christmas) to life with water fountains, glittering lasers and spectacular fireworks!

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During our stay there was also a host of other shows on offer throughout the week, including a Frozen Sing-a-long show at the brilliant Chapparel Theatre (kids will love it!), a special Frozen parade, and a Royal Christmas Wishes show on the Castle Stage featuring all your favourite Disney Princes and Princesses. We caught this show twice throughout our stay and it was beautiful. The Disney Magic On Parade runs daily through the park and is not to be missed!

We also bumped into the Princes and Princesses walking through the parks just after the shows had finished, and we caught them at the start as well just before they went on stage! Little finds like that just add to the magic and we were so pleased to have seen the shows. At the end of each day there’s also a Magical Tree Lighting Ceremony with Mickey & Friends where the giant Disney tree is spectacularly illuminated- don’t miss it!

Eating Out

Our stay was offered with a free Half Board Meal Plan which I had never used before, I’ve previously only stayed Bed and Breakfast but the Meal Plan worked surprisingly well! Our standard option entitled us to breakfast and dinner as well as an afternoon Tea Time Treat (soft drink and sweet snack) on each night of our stay. The Meal Plan limits the restaurants you can eat out in for dinner, so booking ahead is strongly recommended. Don’t do what we did and leave it til the day otherwise you’ll miss out!

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We ate in the Silver Steakhouse in the Disney Park, the Empire State Lounge in Hotel New York and the superb Cafe Mickey in the Disney Village. For lunches/afternoon snacks we ate in the parks outlets including Bella Notte, Toad Hall and Casey’s Corner as well as Annette’s Diner in the village. The food was expensive when we weren’t using our vouchers so money wise it’s a great option to have the meal vouchers included!

Disney Characters

We were on the lookout for plenty of characters throughout our stay and we certainly weren’t disappointed- we saw LOADS! Christmas was a great time to see extra characters in additional parades and there were lots of Meet n Greet locations set up between the two parks. My friend Lauren brought an autograph book and we were like little children running around chasing all the characters for their signatures!

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We queued for over an hour to meet Winnie the Pooh, Marie from Aristocats and, the stars of the show, Mickey & Minnie themselves. We also met Pluto, Goofy, Chip n Dale, Gepetto from Pinocchio and Rafiki & Timon from The Lion King as well as glimpsing the Princes and Princesses and lots of other characters in the fantastic parades.

For us, character interaction was a massive part of our trip and the highlight was the incredible Cafe Mickey, an amazing dining experience for adults and children alike. Located in the Disney Village, the menu is pricey but it is worth it to have the interaction with the characters!

The likes of Mickey, Minnie, Tigger, Eeyore, Goofy, Pluto and many more come round to each table to spend time and have photos with each guest making you feel truly special whilst enjoying your meal. I’ve been three times throughout my life at different ages and I have just ADORED every single visit, I’ve had wonderful experiences which will always stay with me!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my amazing Disney trip.. I can’t wait to go back to my happy place in the not too distant future! Have you been to Disneyland before? Or have you been to Walt Disney World in Florida? How do the two compare? I’d love to find out!

Hope you’ve had a magical Christmas!

Love Jess x

'Twas the night before Disney..

‘Twas the night before Disney, and all through the house, not a thing was stirring, not even a Mickey mouse…

OHMYGOSHIMSOEXCITED!!!!!

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Putting Tinks on top of our beautiful Disney tree!

Hey everyone,

So as you can tell I’m just a TAD excited about going to my happy place tomorrow.. I’m travelling to Disneyland Paris for my third visit, and my fourth and final trip of 2015, and I can’t wait to return to the most magical place on earth to see everything all lit up and Christmassy!

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On my most recent trip to DLP in 2013…

 

As many of you lovely readers will now know, I am a huuuuuge Disney fan- I love it all! Ever since I was a baby I’ve just loved it so much, Bambi was the first ever Disney film that I watched.. don’t believe me? The proof is below…

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Watching my first ever Disney movie…

 

I’m all packed and ready to board the Disney Express Eurostar from St Pancras direct to Marne La Vallee station tomorrow morning with my Minnie Mouse ears firmly attached to my head!

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A set of ears for each of my friends!

 

I’ll also be taking loads of Disney tops and my Disney pj’s to keep in line with the evident theme! I’m hoping to meet lots of princesses and popular characters just like I’ve done for my last two visits!

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Meeting Sleeping Beauty in 2013…

 

I can’t wait to check out the giant Disney Christmas tree at St Pancras station and will of course write up my magical adventure when I return from my trip at the end of next week.

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Photo courtesy of Google Images

 

To keep up to date with all the Disney magic don’t forget to follow me over on Instagram!

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See you when I get back.. With faith, trust and pixie dust!

Love Jess x

Birmingham weekend: Shopping and Disney on Ice!

Hey everyone!

So I’ve not long returned from a brilliant weekend away in the popular city of Birmingham for a shopping and theatre trip with one of my closest friends. We headed to the Copthorne Hotel in central Birmingham which was excellent value for money at just £54 for the night! The hotel was positioned perfectly for exploring everything that the city has to offer, and we loved being able to walk everywhere rather than having to get a taxi!

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On arrival we left the car in the hotel parking lot (£12 for 24 hours) and checked straight in. We were a bit early and unfortunately our room wasn’t quite ready so we left our bags with the reception staff who were super friendly and nothing felt like too much trouble.

We headed for a day of shopping at the well known Bull Ring centre which was home to hundreds of big store names including Debenhams, John Lewis, New Look, Forever 21, The Disney Store, Hollister and many more. We took a particular liking to The Disney Store (obviously!) and were also pleasantly surprised to see a large cuddly Olaf from Frozen waiting to greet customers outside Build a Bear!

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The Bull Ring was great and I’d love to return to do some serious Christmas shopping as you can buy pretty much anything from the diverse range of shops on offer. If however you prefer strolling up and down the traditional high street rather than staying in one mall then Birmingham City centre can give you that too. There are plenty of well known stores from Primark and H&M to Armani & Lipsy so there’s definitely something for everyone. Both offer lots of restaurants and eateries so you can easily stop to recharge your batteries and take some time out from your shopping!

After a good few hours of exploring we headed back to our hotel (5 min walk away) and got changed and ready for the main event, and the reason for our trip, which was the wonderful Disney on Ice show at the NIA arena. We’d had the show booked since the summer and couldn’t wait to get there and watch it; being immersed in the world of Disney sounded like heaven to us! Anyone that knows me will know that I’m a complete Disney fanatic which is why I was so excited about this trip!

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We had bought some Minnie ears outside the arena for just a fiver from market stall sellers as we knew the official merchandise inside the arena would be super expensive! We did however buy a programme (£9) and there was lots of choice for Disney fans inside we just couldn’t afford to buy anything else!

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The show was incredible with the story telling, famous music and the lighting all making it truly stunning and we thoroughly enjoyed the hour and a half long performance. There was something for everyone; from a Disney Princess showcase to scenes from Aladdin, Pinnocchio, The Incredibles  and of course The Lion King with repeat appearances by Mickey and Minnie throughout.

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There was also an amazing finale with all the characters coming back out to a final performance of The Circle of Life and parading round the rink posing for photos- we were so jealous of people with the rink side seats! It was so magical we didn’t want it to end! Starting at 6.30pm, with a 15 min interval, the show finished around 8.30pm and everyone slowly filtered out of the arena and back to reality – shame!

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We wanted to eat out somewhere for dinner and found lots of lovely restaurants dotted around the pretty canal and bridges near the arena. We did however decide to eat at a brilliant Chinese restaurant at the hotel which was amazing, but if I were to return I’d eat near the canal and go for drinks afterwards on the main strip which was just round the corner.

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Overall we had a fantastic weekend in Birmingham and are already planning our next trip back up there in the Spring time when there’s another Disney show on!

This week I’ll be busy packing for my upcoming holiday to Reykjavik which I am so excited about! I’ll be posting details about this trip when I am home on 7th November, but for now I’ll concentrate on getting everything ready and making sure I don’t go over my allocated baggage limit.. wish me luck!

Love Jess x