Tuesday, 29 November 2016

SkyPark Secure Airport Parking ǀ Review

The internet is a wonderful thing; it's so easy to find information at the click of a button or the swipe of a finger these days and pretty straightforward most of the time.  But, like anything, it does have its downsides and it is this which partly saw me staring blankly at my computer screen back in October trying to decide which of the many airport parking services we were going to use.

There was such a mixed set of reviews for each service on offer.  Some people raved about one and I would make up my mind and then, there, nestled in amongst the 5 star reviews would be one or two complaining that their car had been scratched or they'd had to wait for hours after arriving back home for their car to turn up...

Couple that with the fact that we had an extremely early start for our trip to Malaga and I was drawing a total blank on which airport parking service would be the best and I was pretty tired of hunting through all the various websites to find them.


Imagine my delight, when I was contacted by a member of staff from SkyPark Secure and offered the chance to roadtest their website in exchange for some airport parking?  It was so straightforward and simple.

SkyPark Secure is basically a comparison website; you enter the airport you are leaving from (they cover 28 of the UK's airports), your travel times and dates and they compare the different options available to you.


All your options are then displayed on the following screen, along with the cost, what is included in the price, and reviews of the service as well.  This part was still my nemesis but at least I could look at all the information on one page and determine which would be the best one for us.

Due to the fact that our flight was so horribly early in the morning we decided to book the terminal Meet & Greet through SkyPark.  We immediately had all our confirmation details emailed through and the whole process couldn't have been more straightforward.  



On the day we pulled up at the barrier, gave our names and were directed to a parking bay.  We just left our car and were practically on the doorstep of the terminal which was perfect as the kids were more than a little bit grumpy with it being 4am!  So was I, come to think of it.



I was a little nervous as we were arriving back at a different terminal and although we had made this clear on our booking, I was dubious about whether our car would be there or whether we'd have to stand around and wait; again, not what you want after a long flight journey home.  But like the outgoing journey, we got to the Meet & Greet which was right outside the terminal, and there was our car, waiting for us.


The Manchester Airport Meet & Greet was priced at around £80 which was a little more expensive than some of the other options but for sheer convenience I couldn't fault it.  There was no waiting around for a shuttle bus to take us to and from the airport, so no real faffing around with suitcases and the kids, we just dropped our keys off at reception and walked across into the terminal.  If you are travelling with a lot of luggage or young children then I would almost certainly recommend paying the extra for the Meet & Greet service.

The entire process from start to finish could not have been easier and I would almost certainly head to SkyPark Secure the next time we need to book airport parking and I'm really pleased they got in touch with me to offer their assistance; it saved me a whole heap of stress!  They also offer other comparison services including airport hotels with parking, airport lounges and car hire too.


We were offered parking through SkyPark Secure in exchange for an honest review of their service.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Monday, 28 November 2016

The Rules of Santa... ǀ When Kids Ask Questions!!

Three years ago I wrote a post about Meg's seeming disbelief in Santa being real.  I absolutely adore Christmas and all the magic that goes with it and I was beyond perplexed that at 4 years old, Meg had already cottoned onto the fact that Santa wasn't real.

However, since that year, she has seemed to 'regain' her belief and has begun engaging once again in the joy that is this time of year.  Until now.  


At 7 and 5, Meg and Eli are quite inquisitive little cookies and they like to ask questions about absolutely EVERYTHING.  It's a pretty nonstop stream of question after question after question and since we got back from holiday the focus of those questions has been Christmas and Santa Claus.  I have to add in here, that it has never been our want to deceive the kids or lie to the kids about the existence of Santa but, at the same time, we have wanted to bring the magic of Christmas alive for them.

So when they started asking questions based around why Santa doesn't always bring everything on your list and why some of their friends have been given the latest console for Christmas and they haven't, it got me thinking.  We all do Christmas differently, we all have different traditions and we all have different explanations for who Santa is and what role he plays in the spirit of Christmas.

In our house we have always said that Santa brings the stocking presents and one present under the tree (usually a board game for the kids to share) but how do you explain why, in some houses, Santa brings all the presents under the tree or none at all?!  Even worse was the announcement Meg made last year when she went back to school, after I inadvertently bought her some socks from a supermarket to pop in her stocking, that she knew Santa did all his shopping at Tesco!


I was curious about the different ways that parents approach the topic of Santa, and so I reached out to some other Parent Bloggers to find out what they had to say on the topic.  Perhaps this will help you if you are facing lots of questions about Santa in your house.  I certainly found it insightful:-

'I tell my 8 year old that if lots of kids ask for the same thing, Santa can only give out so many so if she's already got something similar then he'll give it to the child that doesn't have anything like it.  I also tell her that he only does age appropriate stuff; she asks for a phone all the time, and that his Elves listen to parents wishes too.  So if they've said no phone (or xbox) then  he won't go against their wishes.'  Diary of a Fat Bottomed Girl

'I tell them that we send Father Christmas the money and he chooses what to buy with it.  I explain that some people have more money than others and that it isn't about what you receive but how lucky you are to be in a family who loves you.  My children ARE very lucky in that they have never been disappointed at Christmas but I also make sure that they appreciate how lucky they are in that way.' Five Little Doves

'I always try to flip the question so I'm not actually lying.  So it's more "well what do you think?" And I always say I believe in Christmas magic...which is taking the avoidance route as opposed to lying as I still think at 7 he can have a few more years!' Twinderelmo

'I've told my two that Santa can only get every child one or two presents as there are so many and it's up to the mummies/dads/aunts/uncles etc to get everything else...they know they only have me and my sister who get them anything so this way they understand why other children seem to get so much compared to them and they've never questioned it.' Two Little Paines

'In our house, Santa just brings a stocking full of little things.  So the big things are from Mummy and Daddy.  It was my family tradition so I just carried it on.  I also think it's easier for explaining about costs of large items to help mine understand money a bit better.' Each Peach Pear Plum

'We told our 6 year old this year that Santa is asking every parent to pop something into his Santa bank account to help pay along with the big presents because he has so many children to buy toys for.' The German Wife

'The one time my kids cornered me I said that believing in Santa and the magic of Christmas is about faith.  You have no proof but you can see the effects of the belief in the magic all around if you pay attention.  Also, you are 10 and every year you have believed and every year you got gifts.  Do you really want to rock that boat?' Mummy and Moose

'Last year was the first year they did letters with what they'd like and I just kept reminding them that Santa couldn't bring them everything.  It was more a list of ideas for what they'd like.  That way they're not disappointed if they don't get everything on their lists.' Hollybobbs

'Ours have always been told (as my parents did with my brothers and me) that mommy and daddy and nanny and grandad etc choose and pay for the presents and Santa delivers them (basically, he is the courier!) but Santa has the authority not to bring things if he sees anything naughty from his Santa-cam!  We don't do stockings or stocking filler gifts.' Coffee Cake Kids

'We don't really 'do' Santa - although that hasn't stopped my almost 8 year old.  He gets a stocking that he thinks comes from Santa which we haven't actively denied but we've never made a big thing of it.  If he asks questions I just say "I don't know, what do you think?" - I don't recall ever believing in Santa as a child and I don't think that made Christmas any less magical or amazing.' Bammboo

'I explain to my boys that we have to share gifts with all the children.  The reason you don't get everything on your list is because it would be unfair.  They seem to understand that.  I want to instill a compassionate and giving nature in my children, all while keeping the magic alive.  They are children for such a short time.  What's wrong with believing in magic and that anything is possible?' To Aufinity and Beyond

'I don't like peddling the Santa myth to my daughter, but I also like to encourage a bit of mystery in the world.  For instance, if she asks me if dragons are real, I'll usually answer "Well, I've never seen them".  I'll take a similar approach to Santa, feigning innocence when questioned about what he does.  We will still leave a cookie and a whiskey out for him - gives me an excuse to have a bite and a dram.' Man Vs Pink

'My teen (17 next month) has always believed...and still does.  I invariably answer questions with questions, "what do you think?" etc.  In our house Father Christmas has only ever brought stocking presents so the whole "why didn't he bring a bike?" has never been an issue.  She knew that 'store Santas' weren't real too, as they ask for money, and the real one would be free.  She knows some parents help Santa too, as he's so busy these days.  I've always told her that Father Christmas only brings presents while we believe...so that might have helped.  Even now, I continue to say "I spoke to Father Christmas about that lipstick you liked" so I can carry on the magic when it's in her stocking.  So I don't really know the answer I guess, except...it's magic.' Tattooed Mummy

Some very interesting and varied thoughts to be getting on with!  And it has certainly aided me in knowing what to say the next time Eli asks for a machine to make people freeze and then gives me daggers when he doesn't get one!!



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Belle's Musical Tea Party Cart ǀ Review

We were recently invited to review one of the latest Disney products on the market; Belle's Musical Tea Party Cart.  Beauty and the Beast is a firm Disney favourite in this house (probably because it's one of my all time favourite Disney movies!) and I thought that the kids would have a lot of fun testing out this new toy.


The retail price for the Musical Tea Party Cart is quite high, currently it's on sale for around £49.99 although the RRP is a fair bit more.  With such a high price tag we were keen to test it out properly and share our thoughts with you.

You have to construct the tea cart yourself and although the plastic feels a little on the thin side, once it has all been properly clipped together it seems fairly stable.  Both Meg and Eli were leaning on the thinner sides during play and it didn't appear to bend under their weight.


As you can see from the photos, the cart comes with Mrs Potts, two tea cups (including the much loved Chip), a couple of tea spoons and one invitation to attend the tea party.  The 'lazy Susan' part of the tea cart spins and sings 'Be Our Guest' when you press the rose on the side of the cart which absolutely delighted Meg and we have heard it time and again.


There are lots of different ways that children can engage with this toy.  The first is, obviously, through holding their own little tea parties and each member of the family has had to duly attend one or more (including poor old Pepper!).  Both Meg and Eli love to dress up and this gave them the excuse to have all sorts of characters round for a party.



Cinderella and Captain America make excellent tea party buddies!

The cart itself is fairly light and the wheels turn well making it easy for children to navigate and push around, even on carpeted floors.



I thought all the little detailing was brilliant, from the roses on the wheels to the heart design on the side of the cart and they really make the whole thing very authentic.

Of course all toys have their downsides and I would say that the tea cart's main one is the price.  The RRP for this is £60 which I think is a lot for what you actually get.  The cart is also quite bulky and doesn't fold down so you'll need somewhere to keep it when it's not in use as well.


However, we certainly enjoyed playing with the cart and I think for any child who is a fan of Beauty and the Beast then they would absolutely adore adding the tea cart to their toy collection.  I can well imagine hours of fun will be had.


We were sent the Belle Musical Tea Party Cart for the purpose of this review.  However, all thoughts and opinions are our own.




Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Disney Star Darlings ǀ Review


'Let your inner star shine with the Star Darlings Starland Dolls'



Suitable for ages 4+ the Star Darling dolls are a new offering from JAKKS Pacific and are based on the Disney Star Darlings animation.  There are five different dolls to collect: Sage, Leona, Scarlet, Libby and Vega.  Each 11-inch doll comes with an instrument, brightly coloured galatic inspired oufit and a unique crystal power ring.

They retail at around £20 each.

We were sent three of the dolls to review; Sage, Scarlet and Libby.

The first thing I noticed and appreciated was the packaging.  Each character has different attributes and personality traits and these are marked on the box.  The idea is that each of the characters have the right traits for saving planet earth but I just liked that they would appeal to a variety of children and also, inspire girls to be just the way that they are.


I also liked that each of the dolls is vastly different in style.  You really feel like you are collecting different dolls and not just paying out for five dolls which are basically the same but a different colour.


Once you've collected all five you also have your very own space girl band.  I was fairly sure that Meg would love this aspect, and she does.

She plays the flute and is also very keen to play the guitar so the musical aspect of the dolls really appealed to her.  We have heard enthusiastic performances filtering down from her room on a number of days since we unboxed the dolls!


The outfits are also pretty 'out there'; apparently these have been inspired by their galactic surroundings and the dolls also have shimmery skin and sparkly eyes.  But the best thing (in my opinion!) is that they are fully poseable.  I cannot tell you how much more interesting this makes playing with them.  Countless dolls on the market come with accessories which are just impossible for them to hold because they aren't flexible and I thought that it was going to be the same with the Star Darlings but this is absolutely not the case.  It makes such a difference to the world of play that the dolls can actually be moved around and can use the instruments which they come with.

Meg has really enjoyed playing with these dolls and I think the price is a fair reflection of similar products.  I think it is a testament of how much she has enjoyed them that she has added Leona and Vega onto her Christmas list and we do think she will really love having the whole set.


The only downside that we have been able to find is that the necklaces and accessories that some of the dolls come with just don't stay put.  For example, Sage's star necklace has nearly fallen victim to the vacuum cleaner a number of times so if you have children towards the younger end of the age recommendation, I would probably remove these loose accessories before giving them free rein.  They just seem to constantly slip off the dolls so I have just put these to one side for the moment to prevent them becoming lost.

However, I still think these would make a great gift for any child aged 4+ who has an interest in the Star Darlings and I'm sure with Christmas just around the corner, that Sage, Leona, Scarlet, Libby and Vega will be making their way under many a festive tree!


We were sent the Star Darling Dolls for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Family Holiday to Malaga, Spain ǀ with Clickstay {Part Two}

If you want to read part one of this trip then you can find the post here.  It covers the villa we stayed in through Clickstay and our first day trip out to the nearby Mijas Pueblo.  



We went back to Mijas Pueblo a couple of days later; Meg and Eli had euros burning a hole in their pockets and they wanted to buy a couple of souvenirs to take home.  I don't know whether it was the slightly cloudier weather, or the lack of coaches from the cruises which dock in Malaga, but it was a lot quieter the second time around and we managed to wander around the town square and enjoy some crepes with only minimum disruption.



If you just want a quick day trip out then I would definitely recommend Mijas; the prices were a little higher than in Malaga but there's plenty to see and lots of little shops and cafes to enjoy and the views are pretty spectacular too.


The main purpose of this holiday was to relax and we did that by the bucket load.  The great thing about having our own pool was that the kids could spend hours swimming and we could just relax poolside without having to worry about them bouncing with energy by the evening.


It was amazing watching how far their confidence in the water came as well; they both go to swimming lessons back home but there was just something about spending all day in the pool which really pushed them forward.  We had them diving in from the side trying to find coins at the bottom of the pool by the end of the ten days, something we would never have persuaded them to do at home.



We don't really celebrate Halloween at home but the kids were aware that it was happening and that they would be missing their school's end of term disco so we decided to surprise them with a little treasure hunt around the villa.  Halloween is done well in Spain and when we popped down to the supermarket to pick up some supplies they had really gone all out with staff dressed up and all kinds of spooky treats available.


One of my favourite day trips we took was when we headed into Malaga itself.  I wanted to explore the Old Town; the architecture here is very much influenced by the city's past with Roman ruins, a 10th century Moorish castle and a Baroque basilica.  I particualrly wanted to visit the Alcazaba (palace) and the Castillo de Gibralfaro.



The architecture here is absolutely stunning; I love everything about it from the Moorish rooftops to the sandy coloured stone.  I could happily have wandered the streets of the Old Town for hours but the kids can only take so much sightseeing.




We also headed up into the newer part of the city and looked around some of the shops; naturally I managed to find a bookshop to peek into and Eli managed to find the only toy shop in the whole place!  We found a lovely little Italian restaurant tucked away in a square to the right of the Cathedral which was also nice.  It would have been so easy to miss as we were heading away from the Old Town towards the shopping district but it worked out well.



And then really we were just very boring, and spent our final days in the villa soaking up as much of the sun as we could get.  There was a definite change in the weather about halfway through our trip with the clouds hanging around just that little bit longer in the mornings and only a few hours in the afternoon when you would consider it sunbathing weather.

I would definitely take 10 days of 'not quite so warm' in Spain however to the icy blast which met us when we landed back in England!  I still don't think we've quite adjusted.


Saturday, 19 November 2016

Find A Present UK ǀ Review

I was recently contacted by the lovely folk over at Find A Present to see whether I would be interested in helping them promote their UK website, which they have only just launched.  Based out in the Netherlands, they wanted help sharing the word about their site which offers over 74,000 different gift ideas.

I absolutely adore presents whether it is giving or receiving them so the idea of having a website which pulled suggestions from all over the world of the internet and offered them up in one place sounded very appealing.


The products are selected from over 100 UK shops and there is a unique present finder which allows you to filter suggestions from price range to gender to the occasion you are buying for.  As the kids get older I have found it increasingly difficult to surprise them on birthdays and Christmas; last year I bought a lot of their stocking fillers from a main supermarket, prompting Meg to announce on her return to school that she knew Santa's secret...he did all of his shopping at Tesco!

Obviously that doesn't really add any magic into Christmas and so having a present finder which would assist me in hunting down cute, quirky and interesting stocking fillers for them both has proven really useful.


Once you have your filtered list of suggestions, if you hover over the item it tells you who the seller is or how many potential sellers there are.  You can obviously click on each item for more information and to go through to the correct site in order to make a purchase.  It also gives you suggestions for other items you might like which can be incredibly helpful when trying to buy for one person.

Really it's hard to say much more than this.  Find A Present UK is extremely straightforward to use, I thought there was a good selection of item offered once I used the present finder, I liked that they had dedicated tabs for Birthdays and Christmas and I definitely think it is a site I will make use of in future if I am struggling to find inspiration for a gift.


I received vouchers in exchange for testing out Find A Present UK.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Education Quizzes ǀ Review


I was recently invited to review a website which features Education quizzes, designed to help children from Key Stage One right up the GCSE level.  The quizzes which are featured on the site have all been developed by teachers and the idea is that the extra learning is seen as 'fun' by the children and not as extra work.

Both Meg and Eli get on okay at school and each have areas where they excel, and some areas where they struggle, so I was interested to see how they would fare with the quizzes on the site, and whether they would be interested in completing them (Eli especially!)


The site covers a range of topics from English to Computing Studies, Art & Design to History and each test has about 10 questions with a small explanation at the start covering exactly what the test will focus on.

Meg took to the tests like a duck to water but she loves playing schools at home so I had no doubt that she would.  It was Eli who would be the real test!

He was hesitant at first; other than the fact that he got to sit at my computer which was a huge bonus, he didn't like the idea of doing 'work' but he soon got into the swing of it and was clicking his way through a number of tests.

I like that you can print the tests out, so you don't need to be sat at the computer the whole time, and you can repeat the tests as well so that you can revisit any errors which have been made.  For a parent wanting to use the Education Quizzes site it would cost £9.95 per month for a subscription.  However, Education Quizzes are aware that not every parent can afford this monthly cost and so they have recently introduced a school subscription package; the school pay on behalf of the students and receive the package at a significantly reduced rate, as little as £2 per student in some cases.


I think this is certainly a service which would be valuable for children who perhaps need a little extra support at home, in a way which isn't necessarily seen as 'extra' work for them.  What child doesn't like sitting at the computer and playing?  I would be interested to see whether they would add any additional services in future, perhaps to create some more animated quizzes for the younger age group perhaps.  

I like that they offer a range of topics, not just the standard Maths, English and Science and that they cover a wide range of ages too so that if you have a child in Key Stage One and Key Stage Two, then you get access to all the relevant materials for the two different stages.

They also have a rather interesting nature blog page which is regularly updated with topics such as the recent Supermoon, animals and the world of nature around us.

I also completely agree with the sentiment that almost £10 a month could be seen as a lot for parents, especially if you are only doing a couple of quizzes a month and I like the idea of promoting this service in schools instead.  It certainly seems like a worthwhile addition and I'm sure I will be bringing it up as part of our next school PTA suggestions meeting.


This post was written in collaboration with Education Quizzes.