Oh, Corona…

I know, I know. You must be so very sick of hearing about the damn Corona Virus strain, Covid-19, by now.

Did you know that coronaviruses have been around for decades? Approximately 30% of common colds are caused by a strain of coronavirus. It is not new – SARS was also a separate strain. This strain is Covid-19, and, so far, it’s turning out to be a little bit more severe than people originally thought.

As I’m sure you’ve realised, we’re still stuck in the U.K. With CV19 causing countries, including South Africa, to close their borders, we’re fully expecting to still be here until at least May. Part of the worry about schooling has been taken away, as there are no longer schools in operation anywhere we want to be, but that now leaves us wondering how, exactly, to keep two kids entertained for the next few weeks without museums or soft play centres!

Thankfully, we’ve become almost dab hands at the homeschooling game. I’ll write a whole different post on our favourite activities for children. We’ve found quite a few things we enjoy doing. This post is just about one.

We have fallen in love with country walks. I know, that sounds weird – we’ve always been big walkers. Our dogs get walked daily, when we’re home, and I take them on at least one big trek per week.

Since we’ve been here, however, Stevie has decided her favourite place is out in nature. This is fantastic for all of us – well, apart from Elia, who is decidedly more of an indoor type of person. And we are incredibly lucky: short of being home, my in-laws’ house is definitely the best place to be quarantined. We are surrounded by vast acres of Yorkshire countryside and national park glory. I’m sure it’ll get stifling, eventually, but for now we’re fully enjoying our surroundings. Stay safe, everyone!

We’re Home!

So, after an amazing (but long and busy) two-and-half weeks in the States, we are finally home!

But the fun doesn’t stop here – this weekend is my sister’s bachelorette (and the fiancé’s bachelor) and next week our extended family descend from the U.K. for their wedding next weekend. I’m tired even thinking about it!

But first of all, I’m going to concentrate on our holiday. For those who don’t already know, there were two main purposes to our mega trek – one of our best friends got married in Ann Arbor, and Pete was one of his best men. The other reason was that Pete turned 30! I know, my hubby has reached the mega-grown-up-milestone.

Ann Arbor has regularly been voted as one of the best places to live in the US, and it’s pretty obvious why. It’s a university town, and downtown is full of cute little boutiques and cafes, while the houses are clapboard behind picket fences and the typical giant Michigan trees.

Without going into too much detail about the wedding (which would take an entire blog post itself), I’ll just say it was beautiful. The location is called the Gladwin Center, but they unfortunately don’t have a website – only a number on Google. We had a lovely day – Stevie and I got ready with the bridal party whilst Pete and the groom’s party (is that a phrase?) had beers and cigars. It was record high temperatures, so we enjoyed a hot, sticky, fun wedding until Stevie actually fell asleep in my arms, on the dance floor, to the dulcet sounds of Jay Z. No joke.

Fast forward to the day after the day after the wedding, and we all flew down to Orlando, FL – bride and groom included! I’ve already told everyone all about our trip to the beach, but did you also know that we went to Disney World? I’ll cover it in a post partnered with this one. And that it was Stevie’s first time? And that I cried like a baby when she saw Minnie Mouse? We also visited Universal’s new water park, which I’ll get on to in another separate post! You’ll have to read the next one, if only just to see the cute pics on the teacups…

The Most Magical Place in the World

I’ve been to both DisneyLand and DisneyWorld, but nothing can prepare you to seeing Disney through the eyes of a child.

Disney in Florida is separated into multiple parks, but the ‘main’ park, the one we all think of a DisneyWorld, is the Magic Kingdom. Called ‘the Most Magical Place on Earth,’ it’s where a giant Sleeping Beauty castle sits centre stage, surrounded by leaping water fountains, performing dancers and rides – all the rides, for all ages (but sadly not many for pregnant women).

Yes, they have badges

There was a small faff on entry, so Stevie and I were waved through on our own. She gazed around in wonderment as she took it all in – the music pipes non-stop and there are people everywhere. Then she spotted Pluto. Her little face beamed and we decided to get in line, autograph in hand, to see the ‘Woo Woo,’ as she calls him. My little heart broke – she was so excited. But then she saw the end of the parade while we were waiting in line, and there were Mickey and Minnie Mouse. For two whole weeks leading up to this holiday, all Stevie had wanted to do was see Minnie Mouse. And here she was. Well, my hormonal, pregnant self couldn’t take it. I burst into tears as she shouted ‘MINNIE MOUSE!’ I was finished. Then Pete wandered over and burst out laughing, as I had tears of sheer happiness streaming down my face. I’m not usually one to gush, but it was pretty magical. Disney through the eyes of a child is AMAZING!

We spent the rest of the day running in and out of water displays and going on rides – well I didn’t go on rides, but Stevie certainly did. She definitely takes after Mummy and Daddy, enjoying the Rocky Mountain Railroad (a mini rollercoaster) so much that she asked for a second go. Yes, Disney is expensive and there tend to be massive queues (we were lucky, though, in that we went just out of peak season). Then we actually met Stevie’s idol – Minnie herself. She was made up, and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. She also got to watch a show with Anna and Elsa, her second favourites, and met Buzz Lightyear.

I trudged around like a good little tourist Mummy, having an absolute ball – BUT I would not recommend doing Disney at 7 months pregnant. There’s a lot of walking around and it’s very hot – I definitely don’t regret it, but I was exhausted for days.

To round off the day, we went for an amazing dinner at the California Grill, an amazing fine dining restaurant at the top of the Contemporary Resort, one of Disney’s flagship hotels. Eating dinner whilst watching the sun set over the lake was lovely! Our meals were beautiful, and my word were we ready for them, but the highlight was the children’s menu. For context, when eating out we usually order Stevie the smallest fillet steak, medium rare, and we finish what she doesn’t. Therefore, no wastage – and there are always doggy bags! But here, Stevie had a wedge salad starter (two lettuce quarters – perfect for our leaf-lover!) and then a kiddy fillet steak which was a perfect, mini version of Daddy’s. The pictures don’t do it justice.

If, unlike us, you don’t have a small child who needs sleep by latest 9 o’clock, then guests are permitted on the balconies to watch the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT fireworks after dark.

Magic Kingdom entry prices are $113 per adult for one day entry into this park only, and $108 for a child. However, for a ‘park hopper’ pass (including all parks in one day) it’s $173 for adults and $167 per child.

A special thank you to our friends at The Crown and Crest in EPCoT, who helped with our entry into Magic Kingdom. They do family crests on a plaque while you wait! Always worth a visit – ask for Pete or Bev and tell them where you heard about them!

Toddler on the Beach

I love the beach. I always have done – I’m not saying for a second that I’ll turn down a day relaxing by the pool, but I will JUMP at the chance to go to the beach.

When we were planning this trip to Florida, Pete and I spoke about trying to cram in a day on Clearwater beach. Stevie could run around and go crazy in the sand, Mummy would get to relax for a bit and Daddy could be ‘cool dad’ in the sea. However, since we’re with family, they decided that the two-hour drive was too long for a day, and FIL very kindly booked us all in for a night at our regular hotel, the Sheraton. Pete and I had our ‘babymoon’ here (when I was pregnant with Monks, funnily enough) and we love it.

So off we trotted. For anyone who doesn’t know, Clearwater is a barrier island with 4km (told you the beach was big) of white, sandy beach. They’ve regularly been voted as one of the top beaches in the US, and with good reason. The waters are warm and clear, and dolphins and stingrays are common (we even saw a couple of fins on our first day – not shark fins, but dolphins coming up for air!).

We unpacked and had the entire afternoon, from 11.30am until about 3pm, relaxing in the sand. The usual Florida wind and rain picked up then, so we retreated to the pool area and spent the next hour and a half there. The Sheraton is amazing for kids – they have private beach rental and wifi on the beach for hotel guests, a golf cart to take people the 300m to and from the sea, and the pool is directly on the beach itself. There is one huge main pool, with pool floats and noodles, a kids pool 30cm deep, and a hot tub. There’s also a naughty little tiki bar – of course this time I only had the mocktails, but I can speak from past experience that the piña coladas are out of this world.

For dinner, we trekked across to the mainland (Clearwater, as opposed to Clearwater Beach) to the Island Way Grill. Pete and I have eaten here every time we’ve visited, and I have never had a bad meal. They have a full kiddies’ menu and bring pencils and colouring paper to the table, which is always a bonus! Stevie had what was probably her fourth fillet steak (medium rare) in a row and was satisfied.

We had a beach morning again the next morning, then headed back to Orlando. I wish our beach trip could’ve been longer – but then I always do! But for anyone wondering or worrying about a decent holiday with a toddler – try not to overthink it, and book a simple room or Airbnb on a nice, wide beach (we have lots in SA) and let the beach entertain the family.

The Clearwater Tourist Board has lots of information about the best places to stay and be entertained in the area.

We always stay at the Sheraton Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, where a standard room is available from $267 per night at current rates.

D-Day is Almost Here…

For those of you who don’t know, tomorrow, Thursday, in the evening, just over 24 hours away, we will be boarding one of the world’s longest direct flights. I’m 6 months pregnant. We have a 2 year old. And we will be flying Economy.

Now you’ve caught your breath on just how stupendously daft this idea is, let me make it even worse.

Upon arrival in Atlanta, we have an 8 hour layover. We have to collect our bags, as we’re on a different airline, and then sit for 8 WHOLE HOURS in the airport. Then we board another plane (2 hours this time) to Detroit. Then, finally, we have arrived.

Now, contrary to popular belief (and the above photo) we have done long flights, in economy, with Stevie. She’s very much the seasoned traveller. She sleeps well on planes, she’s very used to the noises and the goings on, and the normal 11-hour flights we do are a doddle. But this one is seventeen – yes, seventeen – hours in one go.

I don’t want to give her any drugs or herbal remedies to make her sleep longer, as sleep isn’t the problem. It’s the 5 hours or so of awake time that we’re going to struggle with. There are only so many movies she can watch on a little, tiny screen, and only so many trips to the loo we can take, before she starts to go stir crazy. I’ve done this flight a few times before, and, hell, even I go stir crazy.

So we’re going to stock up on stickers, prepare her favourite books, and load up on bolting, popcorn, cheese and any other snacks we know will keep her even slightly occupied. I can’t promise the same for us!

Wish us luck!