Sunday, 31 December 2017

Dates for your Diary - Shrek the Musical is coming to Manchester in January!

Most families enjoy a good film night together and ours is no exception, cuddling up on the sofa when the dark winter nights settle in, is absolute bliss. One of our firm favourite films to enjoy is Shrek which always guarantees to get us all giggling, no matter how many times we have watched it together before. We were therefore delighted to find out that Shrek the Musical, which is based on the story and characters from the Oscar® winning DreamWorks Animation film, will be heading to Manchester in January 2018!

Promising an entertaining mix of adventure, laughter and romance, this magnificent production is sure to delight audiences of all ages, as the smash hit blockbuster comes to the stage of the Palace Theatre, Manchester from Tuesday 16th to Sunday 28th January.

The family show tells the story of the lovable ogre Shrek, who along with his loyal steed Donkey, embarks on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from her Dragon guarded tower. Featuring a whole host of fairytales misfits, a biscuit with an attitude and the pint-sized Lord Farquaar, you can be sure of an entertaining and dazzling experience with this all-singing, all-dancing comedy spectacular.

Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
Shrek the Musical welcomes a wonderful cast, with Steffan Harri starring in the main role of Shrek, having previously appeared in the original UK tour as a cover for Lord Farquaad. His other theatre credits include Les Miserables, Spamalot and Children of Eden. In addition to these theatre productions, he also starred as Lyn in the welsh language soap opera Rownd a Rownd.

Princess Fiona shall be played by Call the Midwife star Laura Main, who is very excited to be starring in this marvellous show. Laura commented "I've been waiting a long time for an adventure like this to come along and now that it has I am ready to swap the surgery for the swamp in one of my favourite musicals. Shrek has made a Believer out of me and I can't wait for this fairytale to take me across the country". 

They will be joined by Marcus Ayton as Shrek's sidekick Donkey, whose recent credits include Sammy Davis Jr in The Rat Pack Live and Ray Charles in A Tribute to the Brothers Live. The vertically challenged Lord Farquaad will be played by Samuel Holmes who has recently appeared as George in the UK Tour of The Wedding Singer, as well as other stage credits that include Mrs Henderson Presents, Kiss Me Kate and Crazy for You.

Nigel Harman, who appeared in the original West End production as Lord Farquaad and also won the Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, will be returning as Director. He previously made is directorial debut on the first ever tour and has since gone on to direct Lunch & The Bow of Ulysses (Trafalgar Studios) and will also direct Kelsey Grammar in Big Fish the Musical (The Other Palace) this Autumn. 

Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
My family and I are very excited to be heading into Manchester this coming January to watch Shrek the Musical and if you would like to obtain further information on the show, then you can find the listing details and link to the booking website below. With a running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, this production is the perfect family treat to enjoy together in the wonderful city of Manchester at the beautiful Palace Theatre.

Listing Details

Show - Shrek the Musical
Venue - Palace Theatre Manchester, 97 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 6FT
Dates - Tuesday 16th January to Sunday 28th January
Times - Show times vary, so please visit the website for the most up to date information.
Ticket Prices - Ticket prices range from £18.00 - £56.00 (plus £4.00 booking fee)
Box Office - 0844 871 3019 (calls cost 7p per minute, plus phone company's access charge).
Website - www.atgtickets.com/shows/shrek/palace-theatre-manchester/

Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks
Disclaimer: This post contains an affiliate link.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Shopping for Christmas Decorations at B&M

B&M has been one of my favourite high street stores for Christmas decorations for the last couple of years. I always find that they have a great range of products at really reasonable prices, which makes decorating our home much more affordable each December. My children like to select some new items each year to build on our collection and this year was no exception.

Firstly, we are very lucky to have a large B&M store literally just down the road from us, so this makes visiting the store really easy and convenient. There is also an even larger store in Chester on the retail park, which at only ten minutes drive away, gives us another option for our Christmas decoration shopping.

Our living room is currently decorated in monochrome colours and I always like our decorations to coordinate with our existing colours, so I was determined to purchase some lovely items in black, white and silver. I don't like to spend too much each year on decorations, so we set ourselves a challenge, to see how much we could get for only £20. We ended up being quite suprised!


The first thing we were on the look out for was a brand new star for the top of our tree. We have had our previous one for a few years, but it no longer fitted well to the top of the tree and I remembered saying to my husband last year that we would definitely have to replace it. B&M had a few different stars available, but my children all really liked the look of the Colour Changing LED Snowflake Tree Topper instead. It had a try me button on the bottom left hand corner, so my children all took turns to make sure it worked properly and that they were happy with. We were all very pleased with our new chosen tree topper and at £4.99 we felt that this was great value for money.


Next on my list were some baubles, due to the fact that apart from our personalised baubles that we have added each year, our main selection were relatively old and some were also damaged. We began looking at the wide range available and Ben spotted a large plastic tub that we filled with 40 baubles in black, silver and silver glitter. Perfect! This large bundle of baubles was only £5.99 which is a bargain.


With baubles and a tree topper now chosen, we decided we wanted something a little different to add to the tree, so I gave my youngest son Riley, the task of choosing something that he really liked to go on the tree along with the baubles. It didn't take him long to select a lovely tub of shatterproof Icicle Baubles which contained 18 individual glitter coated icicles for only £1.99. These were perfect for what I had in mind and Riley was very pleased that he was able to choose something different to what we have had before.


Of course a Christmas tree needs some tinsel and although we seem to have accumulated a fair amount over the years, we couldn't resist this 2M 3D Deluxe Tinsel which was only £1.29. It stood out to us because of the added stars and we felt this would help to add even more detail to our tree. Riley also absolutely loves stars so he was adamant that this tinsel could go around the top of the tree and lead up to the LED snowflake.


With the tree decorations all chosen, I told my daughter Emma that I would also like something to go on our bookcase or sideboard. We had a look at a few things as there was plenty of choice, but eventually we settled on these lovely glitter stags. The box contained two of them at a price of £3.99.


With a small amount of money left in our £20 budget, Ben found this sign to go in our window for only £1.49. I loved the silver glitter design, which not only compliments our interior, but also looks lovely in the window to welcome visitors to our home.


Overall we were really pleased with the decorations we purchased, as well as being extremely impressed with the wide range of choice available in store. Decorations were available in all shapes and sizes, in colours to suit all tastes. The prices were really reasonable and I couldn't believe how much we were able to buy with only £20. B&M also stock a large selection of homeware and toys, so it also gave us the opportunity to get some Christmas gift ideas for family and friends. We would definitely recommend a visit to B&M when looking to purchase Christmas decorations or other household goods. They also have a website where you can view some of the other decorations available in store and their Christmas range can be found here: Christmas Decorations

There is also a handy store finder tool to help find your nearest B&M here: Store Finder


Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post and we received a £20 B&M voucher to cover the cost of our purchases. Opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Dick Whittington at the Manchester Opera House - A Review

I don't think there has ever been a year throughout my life, where I haven't been to see a pantomime. As a child my parents would take me every year and this is a tradition that continued when I had my own children. We were therefore very excited to attend the press night of Dick Whittington on Tuesday 12th December to see John Barrowman, The Krankies and a wonderful support cast, present their fabulous pantomime that has been produced by QDOS Entertainment.

The show is laden with fantastic special effects from the outset, when John Barrowman (Dick) is lowered down onto the stage by a jet pack. Whilst this of course, may not be in keeping with the traditional story of Dick Whittington, it was certainly visually spectacular. As the show continued, we found that the whole pantomime differed somewhat to the old folklore tale, but this didn't matter at all, as the stars of the show provided an outstanding and laughter filled story from the very start.

The opening song and dance sequence had all the audience clapping and singing along and we were gradually introduced to all the characters. These included the villainous King Rat (played by Phil Corbitt), the beautiful Spirit of Bow Bells (played by Jaqueline Hughes), Alice the Councillor's daughter (played by Lauren Hampton), Tommy the Cat (played by Ryan Kayode), The Councillor & Jimmy (played by Ian & Janette Tough) and of course the marvellous Dick Whittington (played by John Barrowman).

 Photo Credit: Phil Tragen
The sets were magnificent, adorned with sparkling and dazzling colours and lights, with bright and cheery costumes to match. Of course references to the lead characters name were made, along with the use of double entendres, which have always been part and parcel of any pantomime. There was a huge cheer when The Krankies made their way onto the stage, which only proved to show their immediate popularity with the audience. Considering their age, I was shocked at just how active and enthusiastic they remained throughout the whole two hour show and watched in disbelief as Wee Jimmy Krankie was flung & spun around the stage by both Dick Whittington and The Councillor in various scenes.

Wee Jimmy Krankies rendition of "Picking on Me" had both my son and I crying with laughter, to the point where I was struggling to breathe. My daughter liked the bedroom scene, in particular the parts that seemed to go wrong along with the set issues, though it was hard to tell whether these were scripted or actual errors. Either way it was extremely funny and John Barrowman's improvisation skills teamed up with the quick-witted Krankies, made for the perfect pairing. I believe the trio have worked together in panto for many years now, but whoever had the original idea to team them up, is quite literally a genius. The first half closed with some fantastic special effects, that saw Dick Whittington riding through the sky on a sleigh. A lot of thought and effort has clearly been made with this production and that was visible throughout.

The first half of the show flew by and it was the interval before we knew it. We had been handed some 3D glasses when we first entered the theatre and my children were becoming excited knowing that they would soon be able to use them. Sure enough as we headed into the second half, we were treated to a spectacular 3D scene that took us on an underwater exploration. Some parts were a little scary as it involved some frightening fish and an angry shark which were most probably not suitable for the much younger members of the audience, and there seemed to be an equal mix of screams and laughter throughout the mini adventure. If you are planning on taking young children, then I would recommend that they watch this scene without the glasses, so that they do not experience the full effect.

Photo Credit: Phil Tragen
The second half featured another highlight for us and this was when the cast performed their own version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" which was just extremely comical. My children's only complaint being that as we were seated upstairs, we didn't get wet from the super soakers! This coupled with the appearance of MacDonna singing 'Miniature Girl' made sure that the hilarity continued throughout the panto. The dancers in the production are definitely under used though and I did feel that the ensemble could have been included in a lot more of the scenes. This was especially apparent in the second half where I was slightly disappointed that there was not one big final sing song before the show closed.

We did also find that the pantomime was lacking in some audience participation, with the usual 'It's behind you' and 'Oh no it isn't' lines failing to appear. Admittedly though, I didn't actually notice during the show and only realised this on the train home, when I was getting feedback from the kids on what they thought. We also tried to pick our favourite scenes from the show on our journey home and soon found that there were simply too many to choose from, as we loved them all.

Now I do know that there has recently been a lot of debate regarding this pantomime and its 'lewd' content. I am not about to totally weigh into that, as I respect the fact that people may have different views on this, however I did want to share my opinion. Personally I found this to be the best Christmas panto I have been to. Yes there is adult humour, indeed a lot of it, however this goes over the children's heads and simply provides a good laugh for the parents. After all we deserve a good giggle too don't we? There are plenty of family friendly jokes packed in there too and in my opinion this only makes it a show that provides entertainment for all. We had an absolutely fantastic evening, so much so, that my children have asked to see it again during the Christmas holidays. A request that I am more than happy to go along with. In the words of my nine year old son "It was EPIC!".

Listing Details

Show - Dick Whittington with John Barrowman and The Krankies
Dates - Saturday 9th December 2017 to Sunday 7th January 2018
Times - Performance times vary, so please visit the ATG Tickets website for the most up to date information.
Ticket prices - From £12 (booking/transaction fee will also apply)
Address - Opera House Manchester, 3 Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3HP
Box Office - 0844 871 3018 or for group bookings 0333 009 5390
Website - www.atgtickets.com/Manchester


Disclaimer: We were invited to the press night, for the purpose of providing an honest review of our experience. Opinions are my own unless otherwise stated. This post contains an affiliate link.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Our Visit to Winter Wonderland at EventCity, Manchester

On Monday, we spent the evening at Winter Wonderland, which is taking place at EventCity in Manchester until the 1st January 2018. We have visited Winter Wonderland for the past three years and it has become one of our favourite events to look forward to throughout the year, as it guarantees us some great family fun together.

EventCity is well signposted, so it is very easy to find and is only a short distance from the motorway. Apart from a few short queues on the way, we had a pleasant journey there and arrived with enough time to enjoy a meal together in the Trafford Centre. We then made our way over to EventCity approximately half an hour before the start time of 7pm and had no issues with parking. The security was excellent and although a sad reflection of current times, it was very reassuring to know that you were in safe hands and that a good security protocol was being followed. In addition to being well staffed at the entrance, there was a visible security presence throughout the event, which was excellent.

Once inside all guests stayed in a large 'holding area' where everyone could gather prior to the curtains to the event opening. We were treated to live entertainment by the fabulous Chloe Rose and the Aim Sky High Dance Group, who were both well received by the audience. In this area there was access to the toilets, cloak room and also a quiet room for anyone that may have found the noise, crowd or lights a bit too much. Just after 7pm the curtains were drawn and families began to make their way through the falling snow, ready to enjoy all the attractions inside.

This is the fifth consecutive year of the event, which sees the 22,000sqm exhibition space transformed into a spectacular wonderland extravaganza, that features over 50 family rides and attractions all under one roof. In addition to the rides, there are also a great selection of shows to enjoy, including Daisy & Ollie and Zippy & George from Rainbow, who add lots of magic, mayhem and comedy capers. You can also be marvelled and amazed by the daily performances of the Christmas Circus. There really is so much choice so I would recommend making a note of the time of the shows, so that you know what time to return and don't miss out.

Riley's favourite ride last year was the Flying Elephants, so he had already asked if we could go and find it first. He knows that I don't like heights so he always finds it hilarious to press the pedal which makes the elephants rise really high towards the ceiling. It's also a great place to get a good view of everything else that is on offer. The queues for most rides were literally only a couple of minutes at the most, and we were even able to walk straight on to some. All the rides are included in the price you pay for entry, which means that the ticket price actually offers fantastic value for money.


It was great that I didn't have to worry about ride prices once inside, so instead of limiting how many rides they could go on, they could literally just pick and choose as much as they wanted. There was something for everyone, ranging from slow paced toddler rides, to fast and exciting rides for thrill seekers. My older children aged 9 & 11 enjoyed being able to go on their favourites over and over again and also liked being able to go on the smaller rides with their younger brother who is 4.

Winter Wonderland operates on a session basis, that offers families four hours of fun and entertainment. I personally think this is a great idea as it prevents overcrowding and ensures that families are able to make the most of their session without the queues being too lengthy for the rides. We had a shorter session of three hours on the launch night and didn't manage to fit everything in, so I would recommend having a look on the Winter Wonderland website so you can get an idea of what rides and shows are available, in order to help you plan your visit.


Another firm favourite from last year was the Pip Ahoy beach. Riley could literally sit and play in the sand for hours and often does when we go on beach holidays, however he obviously doesn't get the chance to do this much in the winter. It was therefore lovely for him to be able to build some sandcastles with his siblings, whilst Mr F and I took advantage of the deck chairs for a sit down, around the sand pit. There were plenty of buckets and spades for all the children to play with and it also provides a somewhat quieter zone for little ones, away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger rides.


Both Ben and Emma really enjoyed the huge inflatable assault course that was on offer and went on this several times. Adjacent to this was a crazy fun house, which also provided lots of laughs and challenges as you made your way around. Ben's absolute favourite though was the rodeo bulls, where there are a row of bulls that can each seat three people. You then have to try and stay on as long as possible, whilst the bulls move and twist in an attempt to throw you off. This looked so much fun and again Ben went on this quite a few times.


Santa is also available to meet and greet children over in his grotto, along with a couple of his reindeer, which helps to make the visit even more magical. There is no gift included, but this didn't bother us at all. We also met numerous elves and fairies throughout the night, who were busy giving a friendly wave and a smile to all the children. The whole place was just full of happy families which made it a really nice atmosphere to be in.


In addition to the rides, there are plenty of food stalls and games stands. These are NOT included in the entry price and the costs vary, but of course you don't have to play on the games if you don't want to, or if you would simply like to keep your expenditure low. We tried our luck on the ball throwing game, which only cost a £1 a go. Unfortunately we didn't win, but for £1, I certainly didn't mind letting the kids have a go each.

There is a wide range of food and refreshments available for purchase, that cater for all tastes (including the very popular Yorkshire Pudding Wrap)! Alternatively, you could grab a bite to eat at the Trafford Centre like we did, if you would rather enjoy a sit down meal.


Overall we had an absolutely fantastic time. It was great to be able to have a fabulous evening together as a family and have so much fun. I feel that the entry price offers excellent value for money, which if you consider the average cost of a fairground ride now is around £3 each, you can certainly get your money's worth. There is plenty to see and do for all ages, offering lots of enjoyment for both young and old. Would we go again? Absolutely!


Listing Details

Event - Winter Wonderland Manchester
Venue - EventCity (next to Intu Trafford Centre), Phoenix Way, Off Barton Dock Road, Urmston, Manchester, M41 7TB. Free Parking Available.

Ticket Prices - 
Adult £20.50 (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee)
Child (3-16) £20.50 (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee)
Family of 4 (2 ad + 2 ch or 1 ad + 3ch) £70 (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee per person so total fee of £6)
OAP £15.00 (plus £1.50 Quaytickets booking fee)
Under 3's are Free (Ticket not required).
Groups 10% discount (when booking 15+ tickets)
School rate: £9.50 per child (under 12's) with some teachers free from Tuesday 13th to Friday 16th December (morning session only).

All rides and attractions are included in the ticket price (excluding games and food stalls) and each session lasts for 4 hours.

Session Times - 

December   
Tue 12th, Wed 13th & Thurs 14th: 10:30am-2:30pm
Fri 15th: 10:30am-2:30pm and 5pm-9pm
Sat 16th & Sun 17th: 11am-3pm and 4:30pm-8:30pm
Mon 18th & Tue 19th: 10:30am-2:30pm
Wed 20th: 10:30am-2:30pm and 4:30pm-8:30pm
Thurs 21st, Fri 22nd & Sat 23rd: 11am-3pm and 4:30pm-8:30pm
Tue 26th: 1pm-5pm
Wed 27th, Thurs 28th, Fri 29th & Sat 30th: 11am-3pm and 4:30pm-8:30pm
Sun 31st: 11am-3pm

January
Mon 1st: 1pm-5pm

To book please visit www.winterwonderlandmanchester.com or alternatively you can make a booking by telephone on 0843 208 1842. For group bookings please call 0843 208 6003.

Disclaimer: Details can be subject to change, so I would always recommend visiting the events own website to obtain the most up to date information. We attended Winter Wonderland as guests for the purpose of writing a review of our experience.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Our Theatre Visit to see The Bear at Waterside, Sale - A Review

I have been so excited these past couple of weeks to take Riley to see The Bear, which is taking place at Waterside in Sale until the 6th January 2018. This was a new venue for us all to visit, having never ventured there before, so it was a nice opportunity to enjoy such a lovely production in this beautiful arts centre.

This was to be Riley's first real drama experience and I was a little nervous about how he would take to it, especially with it featuring "The Bear" in large puppetry form. I was a little anxious that he would be scared and demand to leave, however from start to finish, he was absolutely captivated by the whole performance.


On arrival we received a warm welcome from the friendly staff on reception and we made our way over to the cafe area to purchase a couple of cappuccino's and collect Riley's slumber pack. Evening performances are classed as slumber shows, where children can bring along a teddy, enjoy a slumber pack and even wear their pyjamas or onesie! The slumber pack is a really nice idea for younger guests and for a small charge of £2, children can collect a little brown paper bag, containing a carton of milk and a large cookie. Admittedly Riley did eat half of his cookie before the show even began, but it was nice for him to have an evening snack and drink whilst watching the show, which made him feel more relaxed and comfortable.

The entrance area was beautifully decorated with hues of blue and white, which were accompanied by paw prints decorating the floor. Once the doors to the auditorium opened, we followed the paw prints and found our seats, where we made ourselves comfortable for the show. The seating was nicely tiered which made it easy for little ones to see the main stage area without any complaints of not being able to see. The main character of Tilly walked amongst the seating with her teddy bear, taking the time to speak to the children and chat to their teddies too.

The Bear is based on the much loved story by Raymond Briggs and the theatrical adaptation has been brought to life by Pins & Needles productions. Although my older children had heard the story before, it was one that both Riley & I were less familiar with. We both looked excitedly at the set which was visible on the stage and wondered what would happen. After a short while, the show began and Riley immediately began to laugh at the opening performance of Tilly's band.

Photo credit: Jason Lock
The show features three cast members, Tilly, Mum & Dad, with all of them providing an entertaining and enthusiastic performance. Mum and Dad are also the puppeteers of the stunning Bear who comes to visit Tilly one night for lots of fun and frolics. Riley clung on tightly to his own teddy bear when The Bear first appeared on the stage, a little wary of his size and growl, however he soon settled back into the show giggling his way through the various antics that Tilly and her new best friend were getting up to.

We followed Tilly as she and The Bear explored the various rooms of her home, whilst playing hide and seek, enjoying a bath and dressing up. The set was very cleverly designed in that the same objects could be changed or turned to create new scenery. For example Tilly's bed also became the bath and sofa in other parts of the show. This also brought an element of magic to the performance, with Riley questioning just how they did it!

The Bear features the perfect mix of drama and comedic moments, that are subtly supported with enough emotion to bring a tear to your eye in the closing parts of the show. The production had suitable accompanying music, that matched the scenes being portrayed perfectly. From jovial catchy melodies, to eerie and gentle tunes, which were ideal for both the bears arrival and departure.

Riley was mesmorised from start to finish, just waiting to see what Tilly and The Bear would get up to next. It was great to see his reaction to certain moments in the show, as well as being able to hear all the other children in the audience enjoying the production too. There were parts where the children could call out, as well as a very funny scene that saw everyone laugh out loud, when Tilly ran into the audience with a very large......(well I will leave this as a suprise)!

Overall, we had a lovely experience watching The Bear, and found this to be the perfect introduction to theatre for Riley who is 4. I felt that it was just the right length of time to hold his attention and although he was a little nervous of The Bear to begin with, he thoroughly enjoyed the show and the fun and adventure that took place. He couldn't wait to tell his brother and sister about it this morning, which also shows that it has left a good impression with him, that he is keen to share with others. A lovely evening in a nice venue watching a beautiful wintry tale of fun and friendship. Perfect!

Photo credit: Jason Lock

The Bear will be at Waterside until Saturday 6th January 2018. There are both schools and public performances available and show times vary. For further information please visit thebearlive.com

Listing Details

Show - The Bear
Venue - Waterside, 1 Waterside Plaza, Sale, Trafford, M33 7ZF
Dates - 5th December 2017 to 6th January 2018, with preview, relaxed and BSL performances also available on selected dates. 
Times - Show times vary, so please see thebearlive.com for the most up to date information.
Box Office - 0161 912 5616
Ticket prices - £16.50/ £14.50/ £12.50
School tickets - £10 - 1 teacher goes free with every 9 students booked.
Running time - Approximately 60 minutes with no interval.


Disclaimer: We attended the show as guests for the purpose of providing a review. Opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Morse Toad Personalised Chocolate Cards - Review and Competition

It is always lovely to receive a card through the post, whether it be for your birthday, Christmas or even a get well soon card, it is nice to know that someone is thinking of you and making the effort to send a card to put a smile on your face. How fantastic would it be though, to receive a chocolate card, a greeting through the post that you could actually eat? Well this is where Morse Toad's Marvellous Messaging Service comes in, a company who believe that "Some things are better said in chocolate" and they're not wrong there!

Morse Toad specialise in the production of chocolate cards and gifts, with a huge range of choice available on their website, that are suitable for all occasions. Their Christmas selection is fantastic with a great assortment to choose from. The gifts can be personalised to your requirements, even including a photograph for the recipient to keep, long after the chocolates have been eaten. If you aren't feeling too creative though, then you can also opt for a pre-designed chocolate card, which vary from loving messages to humourous phrases. In addition, there are some lovely little stocking fillers which start from as little as £2.75!


The website is really user friendly and easy to navigate. It is a lovely site to have a good browse through and look at all the pictures of designs that have been created to give you some inspiration. When you are ready to create your own personalised chocolate message, then this is a really simple process, that also has an easy to understand pricing structure, which is as follows:

1 Row = £11
2 Rows = £14
3 Rows = £17
4 Rows = £19.50

There is then an additional £1 charge to use your own photograph on the card, but this is optional and if you don't want to do this, then you can choose one of the existing Morse Toad images instead.

The first step to get creating is to write your chosen message, using the four boxes which are provided. Each box represents a new row and you can have up to 11 characters in each one. Once you are happy with your message, then you can add a personalised note, which is printed on the card insert. This message can be up to 180 characters in length. In this step you also have the choice of uploading your own photograph or choosing one of the pre-existing images. The last step is to simply check over all the details and place your order.

The prices vary slightly for in stock items, that have been pre-designed by Morse Toad. Again the pricing structure is very simple and the costs are:

1 Row = £9.50
2 Rows = £12.50
3 Rows = £15.50
4 Rows = £17.50

Postage is free of charge for orders over £7.50 and delivery usually takes 1-2 days. Morse Toad also offer a really quick service with orders placed before 1pm being sent out the same day. Next day delivery and international delivery are also available for an additional charge.

Once we had finished creating our design, we completed our purchase and waited for the order confirmation to come through via email. This arrived within a few minutes, however on checking all the details, I noticed that I must have knocked caps lock off at some point whilst entering the letters and so my message was displayed in a mixture of upper and lower case. I therefore wanted to check that they would all be in capitals like the images on the website. It said that in the event of any query then to email support, so I did just that. I was extremely surprised to receive a response back to my question in less than 2 minutes! Amazing customer service.

A few hours later I also received a dispatch notification to inform me that my order was on it's way. The kids and I couldn't wait to see our personalised chocolate card and we decided that they were going to give it to their dad as a pre-Christmas treat.

On Saturday morning, we returned home from shopping, to find a small parcel on the doormat. I love the fact that the packages fit through the letterbox, so there is no waiting in or worrying about missing the delivery. The front of the box featured the Morse Toad logo, along with a large FRAGILE message on the side.


Riley was very excited to open up the parcel and inside found our chocolate card box, which had been carefully wrapped in tissue paper, along with a discount voucher for future orders. We couldn't wait to see our message and printed photo, so I set about doing the big reveal to the kids and showed them the lovely chocolate treat enclosed.


The product itself comes beautifully presented in a Morse Toad gift box, with a top opening lid. The chocolate is then covered by a clear protective plastic covering, so you can open the box and see the message inside, without actually having to remove any of the chocolates. This is great if you want to check inside before giving it as a gift, to make sure everything is correct.


The kids had created a Merry Christmas card for their dad and had also added a selection of hearts and stars. They had chosen their favourite photograph of them together and used this as the image for the card insert. On the reverse of the photo, was a message written especially for Mr F, wishing him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I was very impressed with both the presentation of the product and also the quality of the photograph we had used on the card. It was really clear and also the perfect size for Mr F to keep in his wallet. This actually made our Morse Toad chocolate card, two gifts in one!

The reverse of the packaging featured a full ingredient listing, product weight and best before date. The bottom also featured the companies contact address, telephone number and email address. The top line also features a clever slogan which is "Eat Your Words With Morse Toad", which is exactly what we did when Mr F got home and was proudly presented with his gift.


The chocolates are really nice and chunky bite size pieces and the fact that they are made with belgian milk chocolate, made them all the more delicious. Each mini solid block of chocolate tasted absolutely divine and we all enjoyed sharing the chocolates out between us on Saturday evening.

Overall we have been really impressed with Morse Toad and have found the service and quality of the product to be absolutely fantastic. The design process was not only easy, but also great fun too and I love the fact that you can add a photograph to give it that extra personalised touch. The combination of tasty chocolate and beautiful presentation makes it a lovely unique gift and I would definitely recommend to others. 

If you would like the chance to create your own Morse Toad chocolate card or gift, then we have a fantastic competition to give you the chance to win £15 to spend on the Morse Toad website. Please read the terms and conditions and enter using the gleam form below. Good Luck!

Win £15 credit to spend online at MorseToad.com

Terms & Conditions
  • Entry is open to UK residents aged 18 years or older
  • No bulk or third party entries
  • There is 1 (one) prize of £15 online credit to spend on the Morse Toad website. 
  • There is no cash alternative
  • Winner is responsible for any additional spend over the £15 credit provided
  • Competition closes on the 11th December and the winner shall be drawn at random from all eligible entrants.
  • The winner shall be notified by email within 2 working days of the draw date.
  • The winner will have 5 days to reply to the winning email to confirm their acceptance of the prize, before an alternative winner is drawn from the remaining eligible entrants.

Disclaimer: We were received our Morse Toad personalised chocolate card on a complimentary basis for the purpose of writing an honest review of the product. Opinions are my own unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Christmas at Dunham Massey - A Review

Last night we had the absolute pleasure of attending the opening night of Christmas at Dunham Massey and what a spectacular evening it was. Leading events producers Raymond Gubbay have teamed up with the National Trust to transform Dunham Massey into a beautiful winter wonderland, with a magical, after-dark illuminated trail.

Our evening began with a short introduction into why the Christmas event had been created and how hard the two teams had worked together, in order to help their vision become a reality over the last six months. Dunham Massey is such a beautiful venue, but it is a location that is normally closed to guests in the evening, so what better way to welcome families to a night of festive fun, than with a beautiful display of lights, that lead you through the stunning grounds.


The trail has been specially designed to appeal to visitors of all ages and there is definitely something for everyone along the sparkling one mile path. Accompanied by the sights and sounds of Christmas, you can follow the winding path through the woodland whilst adoring the marvellous illuminated canopies, trees and oversized snowflakes, reindeer and baubles.

Although it was very cold outside, our family wrapped up warm in our hats, gloves and scarves and made our way out to the trail. As we entered the main courtyard, we were welcomed by a selection of food and drink stalls, as well as some traditional fairground rides including swings and a carousel. Riley absolutely loves carousels, so we purchased a token for him to have a ride at a cost of £2.


Once Riley had finished his carousel ride, we enjoyed a bite to eat, before continuing on the trail. Our adventure began by being welcomed by Father Christmas himself, who saw us on our way through the sparkling hedgerows. There were also plenty of staff on standby to help guests and provide a friendly hello. The huge building looked absolutely magnificent, lit up with stunning snowflakes.


We spent a short while simply admiring the amazing mansion, which looked extremely impressive, before embarking on our journey through the festive twinkling trail. We were fortunate that the last couple of days had been dry and so the path was very clear without a hint of mud in sight. However, we had come prepared with wellies in the car just in case, as I can imagine that with a bit of rain and a lot of footfall, it could get quite muddy throughout December.


Riley was immediately captivated by the tress and branches adorned with sparkling lights. It would be extremely hard to not be impressed by the beauty of seeing the woodland lit up so spectacularly and even as an adult, I could not help but say 'Wow' numerous times whilst walking down the path. Staff members continued to be a visible presence throughout the walk, always happy to help and guide you in the right direction. Several of the staff also interacted with the kids, engaging in conversation and asking them about what they had seen so far.


In addition to the lights, there were numerous benches and wooden huts, selling a selection of mulled wine and cider. These were placed at regular intervals along the path, so that you could treat yourself to a nice warm tipple whilst taking in the sights.


The giant baubles and Christmas decorations were stunning to see, but my children's personal favourite was the fascinating giant reindeer, who I believe has been named Cranberry Sparklesnaps, through a competition held by Dunham Massey on their facebook page. A wonderful name to go with what is truly a remarkable reindeer.


Mid way into our walk, we came across a fire lit wonder, which looked fantastic. This led us to the fire pit, where you could purchase a wide range of weird and wonderful flavoured marshmallows and toast them over the pit.  The marshmallows cost £1.50 and were extremely popular amongst guests with a short queue to purchase these delightful treats. This really added to the experience and it was lovely to see so many families enjoying themselves together.


The finale of the Christmas trail, was an astonishing water spectacular, that saw brightly coloured water jets, dancing in time to some music classics. There were benches placed along the walkway here and it was a delightful place to have a sit down and watch the display. My photo of this really doesn't do it justice and is something that really needs to be seen, in order to appreciate it's enchanting performance.


Overall, we had an absolutely amazing time and we are even hoping to return again before Christmas with other members of our family as we loved it so much. Whilst we enjoyed our walk as a family, I feel that this event is also very suitable for both individuals and couples too. I would definitely return here for a lovely Christmas evening just my husband and I, to spend a couple of hours taking our time around the trail and enjoying the offerings available in the courtyard. All of the staff we came across were extremely courteous and we were made to feel welcome by everyone. We would like to say a huge thank you and also well done, to everyone at Dunham Massey & Raymond Gubbay for putting on such a wonderful event, that left us all feeling magical and ready for the festive season ahead.

For further information on Christmas at Dunham Massey, please visit their website or social media channels which can be found here:

Website - National Trust - Dunham Massey
Facebook - DunhamMasseyNT - Facebook
Twitter - @DunhamMasseyNT

Event Details

Attraction - Christmas at Dunham Massey, the magical after-dark illuminated trail.
Location - Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 4SJ
Dates - 1st December to 30th December (the event is not open on all dates so please check for availability).

Admission

Advance - Adult £16.00, Child (5-16) £10.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £48.00
On the day - Adult £18.00, Child (5-16) £12.00, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £56.00
National Trust Member - Adults £14.50, Child (5-16) £8.50, Family (2 adults, 2 children) £42.00

Disclaimer - We attended the opening night of Christmas at Dunham Massey as guests for the purpose of providing an honest review of the experience. Details are subject to change, so I would always recommend obtaining the most up to date information from the attractions own website.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Letterbox Cakes by bakerdays - A Review & Competition!

For the next 12 days we will be bringing you some fantastic competitions! Each giveaway will run for 7 days and you have a great chance to win some lovely prizes this December.

The first competition we are bringing to you, is thanks to the lovely people over at bakerdays, who have kindly offered my readers the chance to win one of their personalised letterbox cakes. If you haven't heard of bakerdays before, then read on and take a look at the beautiful cake that my children chose for our family.


The wonderful cake company bakerdays, create delicious and personalised cakes for all occasions. Their cakes are available in a range of sizes and not only do they look fantastic, but they are extremely tasty too! Our favourite product that they offer is the innovative letterbox cake, which is a fantastic and unique gift idea for friends, family or even work colleagues that you may want to surprise. Measuring at approximately 5 inches in diameter (12cm x 2.5cm), they fit nicely through your letterbox and can provide 3-4 nice sized portions.


The bakerdays website is really easy to use and features a huge selection of different cake designs to choose from. Everything is clearly displayed and you can navigate through the website, simply by selecting one of the categories at the top of the page. Once you have found a design that you like, then you simply select the size you want, decide on the flavour and then add a special message of your choice. Some cakes can even feature one of your very own photographs, for that added personalised touch!


Due to the process being so simple, I decided to let Emma and Ben choose which cake they would like. After much deliberation they chose a fun festive reindeer design and wrote a personalised message to their little brother Riley. My children thought that the reindeer was really funny with its big wooly socks and they knew that Riley would love it! For the flavour they chose rich chocolate chip, which sounded delicious.


We completed our order and Emma and Ben were very excited to wait for it to arrive in the post. Fortunately they didn't need to wait for too long, as our cake came in the post the very next day, which I thought was extremely efficient.


The website offers a range of delivery options and bakerdays assures customers that your cake will arrive fresh and in perfect condition. They have created special packaging to protect the cake which makes the product suitable for both national and even international delivery. Our cake arrived in a sturdy box, along with a lovely card and mini cracker. It was carefully wrapped and enclosed within a mini cake tin, which made the product look really presentable, which is exactly what you want when purchasing as a gift for someone.


There was a sticker on the inside of the lid which provided a full list of the ingredients, so you know exactly what has gone into your cake and I also really liked the fact that I would be able to re-use the tin again in the future. Even though we had seen a preview of the cake when ordering on the website, we were surprised by just how fantastic it looked when it arrived and the kids couldn't wait to get tucked in.

The image on the cake was very clear, as was the text and the whole presentation of the product was lovely. The cake tasted just as good as it looked too and despite the guide being for 3-4 portions, we managed to have a nice slice each between the five of us. The cake was excellent quality, with delicious chocolate chip sponge and icing.

Overall, we were thoroughly impressed with the bakerdays service. The ordering process was extremely simple and I loved the wide range of designs on offer. There really is something to suit everyone and I saw so many designs that I know my family members would love, so I will definitely be purchasing more in the future.

To find out more about the great range of cakes that bakerdays offer, then you can visit their website or social media channels on the links below:

Website - www.bakerdays.com/
Facebook - facebook.com/bakerdays/
Twitter -  @bakerdays
Instagram - @bakerdays

If you would like the chance to win your very own Letterbox Cake from bakerdays, then please read the terms and conditions and enter our competition using the gleam form below. Good Luck!

Win a Letterbox Cake from bakerdays
Terms and Conditions
  • There is 1 (one) prize of a bakerdays Letterbox Cake
  • The approximate prize value is £14.99 & no cash alternative is available.
  • Whilst every effort will be made to have your prize with you before Christmas, this cannot be guaranteed, so please allow up to 28 days for delivery.
  • Competition is open to UK entrants aged 18 or over.
  • No bulk or third party entries.
  • Competition closes 8th December 2017 & the winner shall be drawn at random and contacted within 2 working days.
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond to the winning email to confirm their acceptance of the prize, before an alternative winner is drawn from the remaining eligible entrants.
  • The winners details will be shared with bakerdays, for the purpose of prize fulfilment.
Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary letterbox cake for the purpose of providing an honest review of our experience. All opinions and photographs are my own, unless stated otherwise.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Visiting Santa's Grotto at Bridgemere Garden Centre, Nantwich - A Review

When we woke last Saturday morning, we were shocked to find a thin layer of snow that had settled on the ground, which made the perfect start for our day out to see Santa. Riley became convinced that we were travelling to the North Pole as we ventured further into the Cheshire countryside and the snow, hail and sleet began to fall at regular intervals.

We stopped for breakfast along the way and Riley sat fascinated as he watched the snow fall outside, excited to continue his trip to the 'North Pole' to see Santa. There really is nothing more magical than a child who believes he is about to meet the real Santa and his elves.

Once we had continued on our journey, we noticed that there were regular signs for Bridgemere from the main road once we had passed through Crewe. Our sat nav has a habit of sending us down little lanes, so it is always more reassuring to see signs that show you are going the right way! A short while later we arrived and made our way into the huge car park. Having never visited Bridgemere before, we were a little unsure as to what to expect, but seeing how large the car park was, gave me the initial impression that this is certainly a very popular place.

It was bitterly cold so before we left the car, I made sure that the children all had their gloves and hats on to keep them warm. We then made our way into the centre, to have a look around prior to our 11:15am time slot.

I could have literally spent thousands of pounds there, as beautiful items lay displayed absolutely everywhere you turned. There were hundreds of wonderful gift ideas, as well as stunning collections of Christmas decorations, flowers and plants. We arrived about half an hour before our entry time, so we had a quick browse around, whilst the children excitedly looked at all the different kinds of baubles that were available.




As our time slot approached, we made our way over to the beautiful grotto, where we were greeted by a lovely friendly elf, who brought some chocolates over to the children and made conversation with them all. Riley was so excited to be talking to a 'real' elf and he told her what he was hoping for from Santa on Christmas Day. I was already very impressed by the set up and the welcome we received and right from the beginning all the children were made to feel special and welcome.


Once all the guests for our time slot had arrived, we were invited into the cottage where we were told about the magic that could take place. We had not been expecting this and simply thought we would go straight through to Santa so this was a lovely surprise and made the experience much more interesting. The elf told the children that they could each plant a magic seed by collecting a pot, planting the seed and then enclosing it in sparkly paper. Whilst the children did this, the adults wrote each child's name on a stick, which was then placed into the pot.



Once all the children in our group had planted their magic seeds, another elf appeared at the door, who told us that Santa had fallen asleep and needed to be woken up. He encouraged the children to shout 'Wake up Santa' and after a couple of attempts, Riley was delighted to hear a very merry "Ho, Ho, Ho", from the other side of the door. We were all then invited in, where Santa gave us a lovely welcome.


The children were then all invited to place their magic seeds and pots, into the magic cupboard, where some mystifying trickery would take place. Once all the pots had been placed in the cupboard, everyone was encouraged to take a good look around the Grotto, spend some time with Santa himself, or go and select a special Christmas gift from the huge range that was available.



It was clear that a lot of effort had been put into the decorating of the grotto, with Christmas ornaments galore in beautiful and carefully created displays. It really was a lovely setting and we all enjoyed having a good look around Santa's home.

My children were also very excited by the gifts that were on offer. Children were welcome to pick something of their choosing from the large display and I was very impressed by the choice and quality of gifts that were available. There was something for all ages and I felt that this was a nice way of doing things so that children can pick something that they really like.


Once everyone had spent some time with Santa, one of the elves called us back over to the magic cupboard. To our surprise, the magic seeds had turned into real miniature Christmas trees. This was such a lovely touch and my children were delighted to be handed their own special tree. We thought that this was the end of the experience, so we were very surprised to then be led into another room, where the kids then had the chance to decorate their trees.

There was a nice selection of streamers and craft supplies and I made stars out of sparkly pipe cleaners to go on the tops of the trees.



The Santa's Grotto at Bridgemere Garden Centre costs £10 per child, which I think is excellent value for money given the experience the children get and the gifts that they get to take away with them. My children were delighted with their mini Christmas trees and couldn't wait to show their grandparents when they got home. If you would like to visit the Santa's Grotto, then Bridgemere recommend that you book online to secure your slot, which can be done via their website here: Wyevale Garden Centres

The Little Diggers Santa's Grotto Experience is also available at the following Wyevale Garden Centres: Andover, Bicester, Birchencliffe, Bridgemere, Cadbury, Carr Gate, Endsleigh, Huntingdon, Pennine, Podington, World's End.

Attraction details

Attraction - Bridgemere Garden Centre Santa's Grotto
Address - Bridgemere Garden World, Bridgemere, Nantwich, CW5 7QB
Cost - £10 per child
Dates - Daily from 1st December to 24th December
Times - Opening times vary, so please check their booking page for availability here: Tickets
Website - Wyevale Garden Centres
Twitter - @WyevaleGC
Facebook - Bridgemere - A Wyevale Garden Centre


Disclaimer: We were invited as guests to experience Bridgemere's Santa's Grotto for the purpose of providing an honest review of our experience. Opinions and photographs are my own unless otherwise stated.