Monday, 16 April 2018

Looking to keep your 15 - 17 year old entertained this Summer?? The National Citizen Service (NCS) can help!

I don't know if you've heard of the National Citizen Service (NCS) but they are a brilliant organisation who do great things with 15-17 year olds. I'm very lucky to have been involved (from the sidelines) right since their inception in 2011 when in my day job we recruited some amazing Leaders  to help set up this fantastic service. 

So what is NCS? 

NCS believe that if you give young people the right tools, opportunities and respect they will change the world around them.  The aim of NCS is to bring together young people from different backgrounds to help build a more cohesive and engaged society. This year more than 100,000 teenagers will come together to develop their skills and build community projects together. This summer your teen could be having fun while building their confidence, making new friends and learning life skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. O is desperately awaiting her move to year 11 so that she too can take part.

So what is the programme all about? NCS is open to 15 to 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland. There are four phases to the programme starting with a 5 day residential with activities like abseiling and canoeing:

The second phase of programme puts your teen through a series of challenging activities to take them out of their comfort zone and develop strength of character - although I'm not sure O needs this developing if I'm honest ;) It also develops the leadership skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and, as a HR Advisor, I can tell you that this will set them apart in the workplace. They can also use this time to develop a CV or update your UCAS statement. This time is also residential and is usually spent away in university dorms or similar.

Phase 3 is the social action phase where your teen puts everything they have learned into action by helping out in the local community with a project of their choice and then on to phase 4 time for a celebration celebration. Time to get together with their group and celebrate everything they've learnt and achieved over a fantastic Summer:

What a bonding experience it would be and invaluable to mix with others from a variety of backgrounds. The whole experience including food, accommodation and travel costs just £50 and bursaries are available on a case by case basis which is amazing value for such a fabulous experience.  Support is also provided for young people with additional needs.

There are still places available for Year 11s to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity and don't worry if you have already made plans for the Summer, NCS will endeavour to find a programme that suits your family plans. For more information or to sign up now visit the NCS website.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

A night out with Meridian Leisure, Leicester

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I wanted to go on a blogging night out with some other Leicestershire bloggers to Meridian. My first response was "Ooooooo, Meridian, I would never think of going there for a night out" which is interesting as it's only about 20 minutes away from me. So I duly said yes and went to investigate what was on offer.....

You are spoilt for choice for places to eat with Bella Italia, Five Guys, Burger King, Chiquito, Frankie & Benny’s, Harvester, Nandos, Pizza Hut and Tastes Restaurant so there’s something to cater for everyone's taste - even fussy ones like me! For mums and dads who want some time together, there’s 360 Play and Busy Bees nursery to entertain and look after the kids and Hollywood Bowl and Vue are fun for all the family! Unfortunately I was late getting there so missed the shenanigans at the Harvester and Nandos (booooo!) but arrived just in time for a round of bowling:

Now, I haven't been bowling for years so this was a true novelty for me and to my great excitement I discovered that you no longer have to wear the terrible bowling shoes that 1500 other people have worn before you - you can keep your own shoes on, hurrah!! I'm normally a very competitive person but there's no point with bowling as I'm truly, truly terrible at it therefore I just make up the numbers and enjoy the food and drink - as you can see from the scores :(

Again, I did indeed lose miserably! I was also interested to note that they had several offers on for not only the bowling but the food and drink too. Can't wait to go back with the kids but thinking we'll book in advance as we were there at 7pm on a Monday night and it was packed!

Next up on our whistle stop tour was Five Guys. Now I've noticed these in Leicester city centre before but have never had the chance to go and had no idea they had a branch out at Meridian. Oh my goodness guys - it was flipping amazing!!!! You choose your burger and then there are an immense number of toppings that you can add. 

This sign was the first thing that caught my eye when we entered:

It's so bright and cheerful in there and they sell beer! What more could a gal want:

Chick would absolutely love the variety of milkshakes:

You also get the most ridiculous amount of fries and in my naivety I ordered a large which would've served all 3 of my kids - this picture only shows about a third of them!!

My burger was just immense and had mushrooms, bacon, cheese and BBQ sauce! My mouth is watering right now as I type this:

We were also supposed to get a behind the scenes tour of the Vue cinema which I was really looking forward to but unfortunately they couldn't make it work in the end although we had a choice of current movies to go and see:

Parking is free at Meridian and there is loads of it which is always a bonus in my eyes. They also have some pop up events on so it's worth checking out their website here for more details, for instance today there was a Spooky Laboratory pop up. There is a great offer section too so check it out before you go to see what discounts you can find!

Thank you guys for a fun evening and giving me a good excuse to get out on a school night :)

*Thanks to Meridian for hosting this event and for inviting me along. I have not been paid for this review although I did bowl for free and receive free food at Five Guys. All views and opinions are my own!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Blog Camp on Board - An Introduction to Cruising (Part 2)

Thank you to those of that read part 1 and that have come back for more. Ok, so when I left you last time we had just finished lunch and were moving on (very slowly after lots of dessert and wine). As it was blog camp we had the choice of a podcast session, a food photography session or a wander around on our own. After much debating and drinking water I asked a couple of other bloggers if I could tag along with them and get a proper look at this gorgeous ship especially the pools and hot tubs which are always going to be a winner for a water baby like me:

This is one of the main outside pools and one of four. A feature that I thought was really cool was pool number two next to the spa area:

What was so cool about it was the it has a retractable roof so no matter what the weather you can still swim!! Amazing! However as an outdoor swimmer the infinity pool at the rear of the ship was definitely my favourite and was by far the most secluded. I cannot tell you how tempted I was to get in and have a quick swim:

Plus more hot tubs than you can shake a stick at:

In part one, I spoke a little bit about the facilities that were on board for children. Well let's start with the Vertigo water slide:

I'm not entirely sure how long it was but it wound around both sides of at least half of the ship! For younger kids, there's also the Doremi Castle kids aqua park:

There are several different clubs for kids which are sorted into age ranges although these are a guide not a strict instruction, from babies to 17 year olds. They are all under the Doremi logo and the staff are super enthusiastic:

Children are given a security band when they board so that you're able to keep track of them and need to be signed in and out of clubs. When the clubs are at the pool above adults are not allowed in as it's for kids only.

 They have 4D cinemas, gaming consoles, kids menus and even lego rooms. What a brilliant idea for a European cruise ship where they may be language barriers where you have 35 nationalities of children. Who doesn't love Lego?? Also, a bowling alley:

The clubs have a schedule for the day and if the kids aren't interested in shore excursions then you can leave them on board with the Doremi staff. It all seems to be quite flexible so I imagine for our family that would work quite well as they could all dip in and out as they choose as clubs are open from 9am - 11pm. I'm not sure that we would want to be without the kids all day or that I would want to leave them on board whilst we were off on shore excursions but I guess whatever works for each family.

The schedule sounds amazzing and includes things like workshops on 3D printing, Dj-ing, STEm subjects, video making including starring in their Kelly and Khloe series, cookery lesson and hair and beauty treatments. Not sure we'd ever see Chick if she wanted to come on board with us!! Unfortunately I didn't get to see any of the kids areas but the other bloggers assured me they looked fab! However, all facilities aside, one of the things that I was most impressed with is the work that MSC do with Unicef so all kids can become a Junior Ambassador for Unicef and they teach the kids about social responsibility, what Unicef does and each Junior Ambassador gets  a certificate. What a brilliant idea!!

There is also plenty of style to be had if you are child free including private spa decks. The ships decor was as opulent and fab as you would imagine:

The Safari Lounge was my favourite bar as it reminded me of the Jungle Room at Graceland. It was also the scene of a brilliant metrics session with Sally and where we had cocktails and champagne. Some other highlights for me:

I hope that I've given you a good flavour of what life looks like aboard the MSC Preziosa. It was a really interesting visit and if I'm honest the only thing that has put me off previously is the cost. There appear to be some costs that I had assumed were included that are actually added on as extras including gratuities, drinks and having to pay extra to eat at a couple of the restaurants. However, if you factor these in then there are some great prices to be had. 

I was however really impressed with the family orientated nature of MSC and the passion of their staff and if ever I got the chance to spend longer on board then I would jump at it. They have a range of other ships including the Seaside which is a new ship launching in December.  The fleet also houses the MSC Magnificia which from March 2018 will be based out of Southampton and kids prices start from only £99 and free upgrades. Wondering if I could persuade hubby..........

Are you a cruiser? If you are, what do you love about it If not currently then what is it that puts you off?

Blog camp on board was hosted by Trips 100 and the lovely guys at MSC Cruises. I have not been paid or recompensed for this review in any way other than wine, lots of free wine with lunch ;)

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Blog Camp on Board - An Introduction to Cruising (Part 1)

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend Blog Camp on Board which was held on the MSC Preziosa part of the MSC Cruises fleet. Now, I'm a relative newbie to cruising, apart from a short look around the QE2 many, many years ago so I was excited to see what was on offer and whether we may be interested in cruising as a family.

I headed down the night before and stayed in a very cheap and cheerful B&B (you do get what you pay for......) which as I hadn't done my research beforehand, I hadn't realised was smack in the middle of university hell on what appeared to be student night...... Let's just say they didn't quieten down until 5am and this girl needs her beauty sleep.....

Bleary eyed but very excited about getting to the Port, I figured (very naively) that once I'd parked the car that I would be able to have a walk along the docks and look at all of these amazing boats and cargo.! It's pretty much the same level as security as an airport and you aren't getting near to anything especially not the sea:

Anyways, this was my first view of the MSC Preziosa:

As I've already mentioned security was very similar to the airport but pretty painless and then we were through and I started to wish I was actually sailing away somewhere:

I'm not sure if it's possible to tell from these pictures the sheer size of the boat. It holds around 4,300 passengers and 1,370 crew. I also really liked that there was a real European flavour to the ship both in crew and passengers although everyone did speak English very well. Conversely the passengers on this ship tend to be younger than traditional cruises and MSC apparently have a much more family ethos than some traditional cruise ships.

MSC are also introducing a new UK schedule to their offerings and the MSC Magnifica will be based in Southampton. This is aimed more at British clients and includes things like kettles in bedrooms, good old yorkshire tea, scones and high tea all run by a British hotel manager and Director.

Once on board this is your first view:

Look at the steps..... made of Swarovski crystals at a cost of 8,000 - £10,000 euros for each step... Now that's some decadence right there:

Obviously it's at this point that you realise what an amateur blogger you are for wearing scruffy boots and not some nice photogenic shoes!!

Unfortunately we didn't have too much time to stop and stare and drink it all in because we were on a tight schedule and had to board in small groups. I understand that there were some frustrations on the day and that as this was the first time MSC had hosted bloggers they had maybe underestimated quite how nosey we are and how often we want to stop and take pictures. So from here we met the rest of the group in the Platinum Theatre. Genuinely, this place is massive and seats 1600 guests but unfortunately my pictures are all a bit naff and don't really show the grandeur.......

We then had an introduction by Matteo who runs the kids clubs but there's quite a lot to talk about in terms of families and facilities for kids so I'll save that for part 2. Next up was a (very) quick tour of the ship which at the time I was a bit disappointed in as it was a real whistle stop tour of one deck and was mainly bars and restaurants. Whilst I was happy to see those, I was also desperate for a drink and loo break which did get sorted out eventually. It was super warm on board but I'm reliably informed by more experienced cruisers that this is not normally the case and that the air con is blasting. I guess as they were in the UK they didn't want their guests freezing to death!!

For lunch we were hosted in the Golden Lobster which was a really lovely space and I thought was luxurious:

Lunch was really interesting as were the people that I was sitting with. We could either choose from the menu or there was a buffet too:

Now, those of you that know me know that I'm honestly super fussy when it comes to food and as lovely as I'm sure this wasn't my kind of food so I went for the buffet option. I didn't get a picture of the mains as I was too busy stuffing my face but there was a choice of hot food, a huge meat and salad buffet and unlimited puddings and wine:

Interestingly, all of the other bloggers I sat with at lunch had food restrictions of some kind either gluten free, dairy free or vegetarian. They did get special menus to choose from and some of the waiters seemed knowledgeable about the choices available however the ladies did have to wait a  long time for their food to arrive. Our head waiter reassured us that it was because all of the food was purposely being cooked and prepared separately. During the Q&A session and afterwards the MSC team have assured us that guests travelling with the company give detailed information regarding dietary requirements when booking and their assigned waiter is aware of any these needs so it shouldn't be a problem if you are cruising with them.

I think we'll leave part 1 there for now but part 2 will be all about the other facilities, the kids clubs (amazing) and my favourite part without a shadow of a doubt - all of the gorgeous things for water babies like me including Vertigo which is the longest single water slide on the seas:

If you have any questions about cruising or about the day then please let me know and I'll include them in part 2!!!

Blog camp on board was hosted by Trips 100 and the lovely guys at MSC on board. I have not been paid or recompensed for this review in any way other than wine, lots of free wine with lunch ;)