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I started mystery shopping about 6 months ago now and have loved every single "mission"!
I do assignments for 4 different companies - Retail Eyes, GFK, Gap Busters and Grass Roots.
All mystery shop companies work to the same premise. Basically you will be given a set of instructions that you will have to carry out. Maybe purchase something or ask a specific question, then complete a survey reporting you experience.
- Retail Eyes -
This is my favourite company as they always have a large selection of clients.
* Who *
With retails eyes I've done shops for Subway, Pumpkin cafes, Republic, Mortimers Bars and Pets @ Home to name a few!
* Example shop *
For my Republic (clothing shop) assignment I had to enter the store and browse the special offer sections and wait to be approached. If I wasn't approached within a certain amount of time I had to ask for help. You are normally given a set amount of time that you have to browse for before you approach a member of staff.
I then had to try on a couple of different items in the fitting room, and whilst in there I had to ask for a different size or style.
I then had to make a purchase.
For this shop, I didn't receive a fee, but I was reimbursed £10 towards the purchase, so got a £14.99 top for a bargain £4.99!
* Surveys *
The surveys for retail eyes are always quite long and involve alot of typing work rather than just yes or no answers. So you need to make sure you pay plenty of attention to what is going on in the environment around you, and get your timings correct!
* Fees *
The fees with retail eyes are pretty generous. For most you will get the reimbursement for the item you are buying and a fee of between £3 - £7 for doing the assignment.
You will have to upload a picture of your reciept to receive payment, and sometimes a picture of the shop you have visited.
You are paid twice a month on the 10th and 25th straight to your bank - although they are not always reliable with payment and I sometimes have to chase.
- GFK -
* Who *
I have mainly done banks - HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland although at the moment I'm doing a postal job where I have to make sure a letter arrives in time!
* Example shop *
Both of these have been a case of going in and asking a set question and making sure the place is clean and tidy and displaying the correct marketing material.
* Surveys *
Very much like retail eyes, with alot of detailed questions so make sure you pay attention!
* Fees *
GFK are pretty generous with there fees, £15 for wandering into a bank and asking a few questions! And the postal one is a small £1.50, but all I have to do is check my mail!
These are normally paid on the 25th of the month, but I have been paid early on a couple of occasions.
- Gap Busters -
Mainly fastfood such as Pizza Hut and McDonalds (KFC also, but I don't like KFC)!
* Example shop *
With a Pizza Hut shop you have a list of things you have to order. In the past I've been in with the hubby and we've had a large pizza of our choice, a side and two drinks. There are certain things you can't have, such as pineapple on your pizza - have no idea why!
With gap busters you have to pass an exam before you can shop for their clients, and this will show you things like a Pizza Hut picture guide, where they will show you examples of what they think is a genuine smile (as you have to rate this later on in the survey)! It also shows you the acceptable amount of sauce and "spreadage" on a pizza! All very technical but these are things you will have to take note of during your dinner.
With gap busters as well they are hot on timings! They will give you various timing points and they have to be exact! I use a stop watch application on my iPod, so it looks like I'm just texting someone!
* Surveys *
The surveys for gap buster are very straight forward. Normally multiple choice with a couple that you have to comment on. But there are normally quite a few questions and they will have involved you paying close attention to a number of things during you shop!
You will always get re-imbursed for you meal, but the fees for doing the shop are very small - pizza hut is nothing and McDonalds is only a few quid, but hey, you get a free meal!
- Grass Roots -
I've shopped New Look, First Choice and some banks.
One of my latest was First Choice travel agents. I had to enquire about a holiday with a set budget. This seems quite easy but I was in the travel agents for about 40 minutes, so you have to be prepared to answer alot of questions about your likes and dislike and be prepared in cases like this to make stuff up! Like I've got £2k to spend! I wish!
Most of grass roots surveys are a mixture of multiple choice and comments. But they are nice and short compared to the other companies!
Fees are pretty low for grass roots when it comes to clothes shops. I was reimbursed £8 for a new look shop before which doesn't buy you much, but the travel agents was £12!
So if you love shopping and giving your opinion then why not sign up to some mystery shopping companies.
You just have to make sure you have a good eye for detail, a good memory and have to be prepared to "act" sometimes! But if you're looking for a bit of easy cash, give it a go!
I recently switched from doing my shopping in Sainsburys and decided to give Tesco a whirl.
It was mainly because the Tesco Clubcard seemed a much better loyalty card compared to Nectar.
It always seemed to take ages to build up any type of reward on Nectar points and you could only use them as money off your shopping, but after using my clubcard for a couple of months I've got well over 1000 points! Woo!
- How it works -
With the clubcard you will get 2 points for every £1 you spend. This is because at the moment (Nov 2009) there are double clubcard points on. This is great as you can build up a decent amount of points pretty quickly!
- How you get the points -
The points will come in the form of clubcard vouchers. They are issued every quarter so it means that you can save them up and treat yourself every few months. I'm looking forward to getting my first vouchers in the next few weeks!
- What can they be spent on? -
The vouchers come in £2.50 increments, and they can either be used as money of on your shopping, or what I find amazing (compared to Nectar) is the amount of other stuff you can use the vouchers on.
I will be using my vouchers on a meal at strada!
So I have about 1000 points which will be turned into 4 £2.50 vouchers - but, this doesn't mean a £10 Strada vouchers, oh no! When you exchange you vouchers for some of the partner deals you get much more bang for buck!
So my £10 clubcard value (so 4 vouchers) equates into £40 worth of Strada vouchers!
There are all sorts of things you can exchange the vouchers for and have them doubles or quadrupled in value, like theme park tickets, days out, cinema tickets, holiday vouchers and much much more!
http://www.tesco.com/clubcard/deals/ you can find a whole list here! I was, and still am, amazed at how many things you can do with your points!
So this is why I've become a huge fan of Tesco and their loyalty club, they offer you so much more than just money off your shopping! You can actually treat yourself to something, that maybe in this credit crunch you'd normally move to the bottom of your priority list!
When we went to Vegas we stayed in part of the MGM, so one morning we decided to give the breakfast buffet a try. It had always looked quite appealing and welcoming from the outside.
We went in November, which isn't a peak traveling time to vegas so the line was pretty short. We joined the queue at about 9am. There were 3 tills open and each queue had about 15 people in it.
We only had to wait for about 10 minutes though before we were served. The breakfast buffet cost us around $18ish which is more expensive than some of the othere hotels on the strip. This price does include everything though (minus the tip!)
We were shown to our table and immediately offered a choice of tea or coffee. We gave our order and the waitress was very quick in bringing over a steaming jug of coffee.
Now the customer service wasn't the most impressive we've received, but this is very much a get you in and out quickly style of dining, so I guess they don't have much time to stop and have a chin wag!
We were then left to our own devices and could go and help ourselves to our "breakfast".
Ok, so being in Vegas this was no ordinary breakfast. Me and the hubby headed for the normal breakfast type food where we found pastries, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals and even traditional english fry up style food. Everything you'd expect to eat for breakfast all looking fresh and appetizing.
So then we came to the carvery section, salads, seafood, corned beef hash, roast potatos and fajitas! Oh yes! This was just crazy!
I came back on my first trip up to the buffett with a normal breakfast selection, yet the hubby came back with breakfast, plus a slab of roast pork, a bit of mexican oh and some donuts to finish!
His opinions was, we've paid for this, I'm trying everything! So up I went again and got some corned beef hash and pasta, erm, and maybe some ice cream and sprinkles to finish!
It was crazy! It was about 9.30am and we were sat there eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert all at once! I have to admit that we went up about 3 times to try different things!
The quality of the food was very impressive as well. It might have been because it was so early on in the day (would have been interesting to see the state in the evening), but everything was being kept fresh and re-plenished and there were always cleaners on hand to mop up any spills!
We waddled out of the buffet feeling a bit sick, and funnily enough didn't have to eat anything for the rest of the day until quite late into the evening! So what may seem like quite expensive start to the day turned out to be actually a bit of a bargain!
They also do a deal (I think around $30) where you can get an all day buffett pass, I'm not sure if that comes with a health warning though, as if you ate as much as we did in that one sitting, you would most definately pop by the end of the day!
If you're a fan of chocolate you need to be heading to M&Ms world!
We went to M&Ms World Las Vegas when we visited Vegas in November 2008. We were staying at the Signature MGM, which is part of the MGM Grand which is located almost right next door to M&Ms world - very dangerous when we were walking back to the hotel! A little snack would turn into a whole basket of M&Ms!
We went at the end of November and they had there Christmas decorations up in the store. Looking around I felt dissapointed as all I could see were M&M themed Christmas decorations...oh ok, so this is just the first floor!
There are 4 floors to this store, yes 4 floors! I know you are probably thinking how could they fill those 4 floors, well they manage!
Anything that you could possibly think of, bedding, tableware, toothbrushes, clothing, cuddly toys, pillows, the list is endless, and they have put the M&M theme to it!
My favourite part of the store is the wall of M&Ms. You can fill up a bag with a variety of different colours of these lovely little nuggets! Be careful though as you have to pull a lever and you sometimes get a lot more than you bargain for! Not a bad thing per say but this way of buying chocs was very expensive!
I really loved M&Ms World for the sheer - "oh my god" factor, with the size and the amount of merchandise.
The customer service was pretty poor though, no one was ever that friendly (apart from the guys dressed as huge M&Ms), and the place is very expensive, but this is definately a must see if you're on your way to Vegas!
I can never seem to find a decent mascara. I seem to have tried so many now, from some of the cheap collection 2000 versions to some more expensive Bourjois products.
I like quite natural make-up but one thing I go OTT on is my mascara, I love the look of long dark eye-lashes, and many of the mascaras that I have bought in the past have promised me great things!
However, they promise you the world, but they never quite deliver, and I've parted with much hard earned cash on my quest!
So, having recently run out of mascara (that I bought on the local market of all places!) I made my way to superdrug to hunt down a replacement.
I browsed the aisle for what seemed like eternity endlessly reading promises like, "endless lashes", well that's just downright impossible!
It does alway make me laugh when you see advertising for mascara and it says - false lashes used for this commercial, so even the suppliers don't have faith in their products!
I ended up picking the Maybelline Great Lash Mascara. For two reasons, it was only £4.88 (pretty reasonable in the mascara world, especially for a brand like Maybelline), and the 2nd, most important reason, the packaging was PINK! What can I say, I'm a girly girl!
Another reason though was actually because the branding said that it was the number one seller in the USA, so I thought that has to be a pretty good sign?!
So in the morning I came to put on my make-up, and with anticipation I ripped open the packaging and started to apply the mascara.
It did take about 3 applications to build up the amount I like, but it did work. It gave a lovely dark colour and went on easily and dried without clumping.
I could even put more on in the evening and it wouldn't go crusty like some would if you applied later on in the day.
I'm very impressed with how long it has lasted as well. For someone who likes to "cake it on" as they say, it has lasted just short of a month now which is much longer than most of the other brands I've tried.
So I've nearly run out now, but I have no hesitation that when I go down to superdrug I will be heading straight for this brand! Yay! No more wasting away my lunchbreaks on a wild mascara chase!
I needed some soft cheese for a recipe that I wanted to make. Now if you've read any of my other recent reviews you'll notice I'm on a bit of a money saving splurge.
I immediately headed for the well known philadelphia but step back in aghast when I saw the £1.33 price tag (bit dramatic I know)!
So I searched for an alternative. The normal Tesco brand was 79p (although this was for 250g, as apposed to the philadelphia and value one which is 200g).
I still thought I could do better than that, which is when I picked up the value tub at a bargain price of 43p.
As it was going to be mixed in a recipe I thought I'd give it a go. I was going to be using it to turn a tomato sauce into a creamy and tomato cheese sauce.
I was slightly worried as I thought it might curdle. Philadelphia is well known for using in recipes as it stands up to heat well, but I thought surely this version wouldn't. Well, how wrong was I!
With slight hesitation I scooped half the tub into the sauce and stired it round. Success! It was blending beautifully! I could let it bubble away for a further few minutes as well without it seperating or curdling!
Now, how would it taste?! It had given the sauce a lovely rich cheesy flavour, and you would never be able to tell that this was a cheaper alternative to philadelphia!
As I had half a tub left over, I thought I'd give it ago on it's own so I used some the next day on some toast. I thought it might not taste as nice on its own as it did in a recipe but it was lovely. A very creamy and light cheesey taste. It spread very easy on the toast, and it was a double success!
I've also used this as just a plain dip for carrots and celery etc, and it tastes just as good as the leading brands!
Being on a bit of a mega save at the moment, trying the Tesco value brand has begin one of my guilty pleasures!
I like to cook alot of my sauces from scratch and the tesco value plum toms are the perfect base to my sauces.
Coming in at 33p a tin, they beat the Tesco main brand of tomatoes by about 10p, and the top brand by about 60p (depending on special offers).
The packaging is the usual value range - even though Tesco have gone wild now and decided to put coloured pictures on some stuff, there is no fancy ring pull like the expensive toms so you'll need to get your good old tin opener out!
I've bought these for a few months now and the content is very consistant. I normally get 5 to 6 whole plum tomatoes, with lots of juice. This is a perfect amount for a nice pasta sauce, and the tomatoes once cooked a bit "smush" (technical term) down nicely!
They give the sauce plenty of flavour and I've used in a variety of recipes and have never been dissapointed, and I've never had a dissapointed dinner guest yet!
Having tried the sainsbury basic jaffa cakes, we thought we'd give the tesco equivalent.
The first box of Tesco jaffa cakes that I bought were, well, only ok. They looked like jaffa cakes, but the cakes at the bottom of the pack were all a bit crumbled and mashed together.
So the taste test. The first jaffa out of the box was fine. It had the soft cake base and a nice tangy orange flavour to the jelly. However when I came back to try another jaffa cake the next day the cake section had gone rock hard! This was despite keeping them in an air tight container!
I thought maybe I'd got a dodgy box so on my next shopping trip I decided to give these orangy treats another try!
Well, my box of 24 jaffa cakes only had 12 jaffa cakes in it! And probably 10 out of those 12 were smashed into little pieces! I'd obviously got the last box of the belt this time! I wasn't gonna take them back though because at only 38p I'd feel a bit silly! Suffice to say, they didn't taste great either!
To sum up, I would definately reccomend trying these for a party where you are likely to eat the whole box in the same day, but they don't last that long, and it's a bit of a chance whether you'll get the full 24!
My weekly shopping challenge is to try and get more products in my trolley than the amount of pounds I spend!
Because of this my trolley as I trundle round sainsburys is a filled to the brim with lovely orange and white packaging, Sainsbury basics Jaffa Cakes being among the lucky products in my trolley!
I love Jaffa Cakes, they are the perfect afternoon chocolatey snack and at only 42 calories per cake, you don't feel too naughty!
After trying the basic jaffa cakes, I would never go back to buying McVities.
With the basic back you get 24 jaffa cakes for 60p, instead of the higher brand 12 cakes for 98p!
In my opinion, they also taste so much better! The texture of the spongy biscuit/cake is just right. Not too soft, not too hard! Then the orange jelly tastes fresh and tangy, all topped off with a thin crisp shell of dark chocolate.
They stay fresh just as long as McVitties, they taste better, and they have less calories! So add all that to the fact the are a fraction of the cost, there isn't really a competition.
I guess the only question left to answer, which causes many an argument in my office.... is it a cake, or a biscuit!
The Top of the world restaurant is located at the top of the Stratosphere hotel in Las Vegas.
The Stratosphere hotel is located at the north end of the strip and it really dominates the Vegas skyline.
We were staying in the Signature MGM grand which is located at the other end of the Strip. It was about a 15 minute taxi ride to get from one hotel to another. We did consider getting the Vegas Monorail to the hotel but we were glad we didn't.
As we got closer to the Stratosphere the atmosphere did seem to change this end of the strip. We were getting closer to the older part of Vegas and it did feel a little seedier and not as safe as the other areas of Vegas. The cab driver even said to us when we got in the cab you must be going to the Top of the world restaurant as not many people dress up like you guys when they come down this end of the strip! Once we got to the entrance of the hotel, the atmosphere did change again and we felt much safer!
The Top of the world restaurant, like the name might suggests, is located at the top of the Stratosphere tower... 800ft above ground, maybe not suitable for someone with vertigo! The restaurant also rotates 360 degrees so you get an absolutely stunning view of Vegas!
* Our experience *
I'd picked this restaurant to celebrate my husbands 30th birthday as the website promises fine dining with a spectacular view. Well, the spectacular view was correct but I can't really say the dining (or service) was that fine.
When we first entered the Stratosphere we did actually spend about 20 minutes trying to work out how you made your way to the tower! There weren't many signs about, but then we did find this typical of Vegas. They want you to spend your money in the casino so trying to find anything can be a right pain! We eventually found our way to the base of the tower and there is a seperate area for the restaurant (you don't have to pay to get to the restaurant). When I'd booked I'd put that it was my husbands birthday and when we went over to say we had a reservation they must have made a note of this as they wished my husband a happy birthday! We thought this was a lovely little touch so we were sure we were in for a great evening!
We were walked around to the lift area and we made our way up 133 floors at quite a speed! There was a lady in the lift who gave a few interesting facts about the tower, but to be honest you're in the lift for such a short time you know the lift attendant has probably said the same line hundreds of times already that day and it was a bit of a monotone script!
The lift stops just outside the restaurant entrance and you go up a few stairs and then you see the spectacular views! You then go to another reception desk and say your reservation again! Our table wasn't quite ready so we were told we could wait in the bar. We weren't actually shown to the bar which would have been nice, as we wandered in thinking can we just sit anywhere, should we wait, what should we do?!
No one came over so we took a seat in a large booth as this was the only space available. The waitress came over and was very curt and said what do you want... um a drinks menu might be useful! She bought one over to us and then told us we were sat in an area meant for six people. We said we couldn't see anywhere else to sit, but luckily just as we said that a couple were leaving so we could move. She was very rude in the way she told us we were sat in the wrong area. As a paying customer I think that I should be able to sit wherever I like! If she had said it a bit more politely and there had been other seats available then that would have been fine, but at the time of her saying it there was no where else to go! We weren't impressed with this, and this is where the night began to go downhill.
We were collected and taken to our table which was right on the edge of the restaurant so we had an amazing view of Vegas.
Our menus were bought over along with a jug of water (which tasted a bit strange)!
* The Food *
There was a good choice of food on offer. We decided as it was a special occasion to go for al a carte but there were some set menus on offer.
The starters were the best part of the meal. We both had Kobe beef - I had it in carpaccio form and the hubby had meddalions. The meddalions were cooked just how my husband asked and my carpaccio was sliced nice and finely. They tasted just amazing and you can tell alot of care and thought went into all the combinations of flavours and presentation.
Well, the main course must have been cooked by someone different!
For my main course I had the Shrimp and Scallops. The accompaniements were fantastic - a champagne risotto cake with curry coulis but the scallops were over cooked and the shrimp was undercooked. It was a real dissapointement
The hubby had the filet steak. He asked for well done but it came medium rare. We asked for another one, but we're sure they just bought out exactly the same steak but now a bit crispy on the outside but still pretty rare in the middle! He was too hungry to ask again and ate it!
For dessert we had been tempted all night as there is a trolley that is rotated around the restaurant with models of all the desserts!
We shared the chocolate brownie trio as we were pretty full up but had to try it after seeing the huge brownies with ice cream and sauce tempting us on every rotation! When it appeared it looked like a dessert from TGI Fridays or the Harvester. 3 tiny brownie pieces, with a scoop of ice cream dolloped on top and hardly any sauce. It arrived and we both looked at each other with dissapointment! It did taste lovely, but looked nothing like they'd been promising on the dessert trolley!
There are some nice little touches with the food like lovely warm bread rolls and butter shaped like the tower. These little touches did perk us up a bit. Bit sad isn't it though when you get more excited about tower shaped butter over the main meal!!
* Service *
The service throughout the meal was dreadful. We came to the conclusion that the lady who served us did not have the words smile or humour in her vocabulary! She was so misserable. She basically took our order and that was it. She made no effort to try and make us feel comfortable, we really felt like we were offending her... how dare we ask for food!
* Cost *
The meal came in at just under £150, for 2 courses, 1 shared dessert, 1 bottle of wine, 2 cocktails and gratuity. I find this extremely overpriced for average food and terrible service. I've paid less than this in posh restaurants for more food, and amazing service.
* Overall experience*
We were so dissapointed with our meal at the Top of the World. The view is unquestionably stunning but you might as well just pay the tower entrance fee and use the observation deck, don't waste your money on average food and rubbish service! There are much nicer places to eat and spend your money!
My husband and I are currently on a quest to save as much money as possible for our big holiday at the end of the year.
There are just the two of us so we thought we'll set ourselves a £100 budget for our monthly shop. Well so far it's going pretty well. We manage to do weekly shops for around £26 so we'll be slightly over but not by much.
We used to spend about £70 a week, but in the current climate we just can't do that any more!
We went to Sainsburys at the weekend and our trolley was pretty much a white and orange affair full of Sainsburys Basics goodie (oh apart from the Ben and Jerry phish food that I spotted in the reduced section...score!)
I'm the only tea drinker in the house, and I'm not really too fussy about how my tea tastes, which I think with the basics tea bags you have to take this attitude.
- Cost -
A box of 80 tea bags cost 28p (correct as of 15th Feb 2009) , this works out at 0.003p per bag!
- Taste -
Well, what can I say... they taste like tea! I used to drink PG tips brewed for about 30 seconds in boiling water. So I do the same with these tea bags and I have to say, they taste almost as good. The taste is slightly weaker than the leading brands but it still has the taste you expect of tea.
- Quality -
The teabags come two joined together. This is where the basic bags fall down a bit. My hubby made the first cup of tea for me, and being the manly man that he is he ripped apart the teabags and the contents flew everywhere! The perforations are a bit sporadic so you have to take a bit of time seperating them, but then you have to remember that each tea bag didn't even cost you half a penny!
- Overal opinion -
If you are a fan of strong full bodied teas then it might be worth spending a few more pennies and getting somthing different. But if you're looking for a cheap and cheerful cup of tea then make sure you try this bargain.
Ever since I was a little girl I've always loved visiting the zoo. I've had the mis-fortune though of visiting some zoos where the animals are mis-treated and don't seem to be looked after at all. So when I visit a new zoo it can sometimes be a bitter-sweet experience.
The Central Park zoo in New York though is most definitely one of the gooduns! If you've seen the movie Hitch with Will Smith you might remember the scene where they try to set up Will Smiths Character - well this scene is set in centre of the zoo! I love watching films and being able to say "I've stood in that very spot"!
I love the fact that the zoo is hidden away in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. You completely forget that fact when you are wandering around the place and feel like you can totally chill out!
We did find it quite difficult to find the zoo as Central Park is so much bigger than we thought! It took us a good 20 minutes to find it and we've since learnt we started at the wrong end of the park! If you enter the Park from 5th Avenue 64th street you should be much closer!
The zoo is open every day of the year!! Tickets cost $8 for adults $3 for children and $4 for over 65 (under 3's are free) The cost of the ticket covers entry into the Children's zoo also (although we didn't venture in here as we ran out of time so can't give my opinion on this)! This is incredibly good value, the zoo is small and compact, but there are plenty of animals to see and things to do that you get quite a bargain!
The zoo has been designed extremely well so you can easily walk to each exhibit one after another. That is the thing I find with alot of zoo's is that even with the maps and signposts I get so lost and you sometimes have to go back on yourself to get somewhere - not here though!
There is a heart to the park and all the other exhbits lead off this. The middle of the park is home to the cutest sea lions who are fed at certain times during the day and it's worth making time to watch this as they are so funny scrambling for the fish. We were very lucky as it was so quiet that the keepers really took there time in telling us about the sea lions. Most places wouldn't bother if there were so few people around so you really know the keepers care so much.
Wandering away from the main centre square you will be greated by all the other exhibits which include the polar circle where you can see the most chilled out polar bears and some cute waddling penguins!
One of my favourite areas is the Tropic Zone. This is an indoor area where you can truly be one with the animals! Birds are flying over head and wandering around your feet! It is so much fun! There are other animals in here such as bats and different breeds of monkeys but they are enclosed so you need to worry about them pouncing on your head. They are through the rainforest area in a seperate section.
Make sure you pick up a map as this will tell you when each animal is being fed. It's always worth going along to these as the keepers do such a great job of telling you all about the animals.
The keepers here are brilliant. You can tell that they really love the animals and are so pasionate about there welfare whilst they are talking about them!
If you are feeling a bit peckish there is a cafe on site providing meals, snacks and drinks. All priced reasonably and all tasting pretty good!
And don't forget to stop by the gfit shop to pick up a souvenir to remind you of you trip!
I took my husband to Las Vegas in November 2008 as a surprise for his 30th Birthday. Well to be honest, it wasn't that much of a surprise as I let it slip the week before where I was just getting so excited!
Never the less he was still over the moon!
We were both a little unsure of what to expect. In our minds we just saw Vegas = gambling, drinking and the dessert.
As we flew into McLaren airport we both looked at each other with a confused expression! There were just so many houses as you came into Vegas - "people actually live here" we both said to each other! Now I know that sounds a bit stupid but when I think of Vegas I just think of the bright lights of the Strip and forget that people actually live there!
Once we'd gotten over that little fact we were then stunned by the Strip. One of the first hotels that we noticed was the Mandalay Bay. Id like to say that the huge golden walls were shimmering in the sun, but we actually arrived in one of the worst bouts of rain Vegas has seen for about 10 years! Typical! The Strip still looked amazing though and was dominated by the huge hotels you hear so much about. From the plane everything actually looked pretty small, but when you get amongst everything, oh how wrong you are!
We stayed in the Signature at MGM Grand. This is a private part of the MGM Grand Hotel where all the rooms are suites. I would definitely recommend staying here as this part of the hotel is non-gambling and is off the strip (accessible through the main MGM Grand Hotel which is on the strip) so it's lovely and relaxing after a day (and night!) on the town, but it is still easy to get to everything.
Vegas is unlike anything I've ever experienced. You completely lose track of time as most of the hotels have no windows, or are decorated so that it is daytime all day! Before you know it it's 4pm and you haven't had any lunch! Although if you've sampled a buffet breakfast then you can go for days without eating! I can recommend the MGM Grand breakfast buffet, Ice cream, donuts, corned beef hash for breakfast - no problem!!
We just loved wandering around all the different hotels. We used the Monorail to get around, but this takes you around the back of the hotels and it isn't sign posted very clearly when you come off the train. This makes it difficult to work out which way to go to get to which hotel and sometimes you end up walking back on yourself and not going the right way! It's still useful though for getting from one end of the strip to the other and does saves the legs but some of the hotels are easy to walk to and you don't need to use the monorail like it makes out!
You will be surprised at just how many things there are to do in Vegas. Each hotel has something different to offer. For example the MGM has it's own lion habitat on the Casino floor, the Mandalay has an Aquarium, there are also loads of shops on the strip like M&M World and a HUGE coca cola store.
If you are looking for shopping then some of the big hotels like Ceasers Palace and Planet Hollywood have huge Malls and are a shoppers paradise! But don't buy souvenirs in one of these malls! By them in the gift stores on the strip - same items, about 50% cheaper though!
The obvious thing to do when you are in Vegas is to gamble though! This was our first time in Vegas so we were new to all the gambling, but it's surprising (and a little scary!) how quickly you pick it all up! I did have to get dragged away from the roulette table a couple of times, but I did manage to turn $25 into $100 (then spent it in the Malls!). One of the great things about the casino's though are the "free" drinks. If you're on the tables or on the slots there are cocktail waitress' who will bring you "free" drinks - you don't have to tip them, but if you do they'll come back and bring you more! Now you are obviously gambling at this point and giving the casino money, but if you play the cheaper slots and win, you still end up better off - especially if you win!
In general Vegas is just an amazing place with so much more to do than what you might think!
It is tradition where I work to take cakes in on your birthday. Well as I'm trying to save money at the moment I thought I would bake some cakes instead!
I made quite a few different cakes (even though there are only 7 people on my team - it all went though!) but I discovered this recipe and thought that it was my moral duty to share it with the world!
The recipes is "The Ultmate Chocolate Cake" and it is from the BBC good food website - the recipe and instructions can be found at the bottom of the review, but I've also put the link so you can see the picture! Once you've seen that you'll be wanting to make the cake right away!!
This cake has alot of ingredients but is actually very straight forward to make. The prep takes about 40 minutes and it say it will take about 1hr 20/30 mins to cook (at 140deg) but I actually found that it took close to 2 hours.
This isn't a cake for someone counting calories! The cake produces 14 slices and they come it at a huge 541 calories per slice!! This does seem like alot but this is definitely a "treat" cake, not an every day cake. And once you've had one slice, even though you may want more, you won't be able to fit it in!!
The cake has 400g of chocolate in it (this includes the 200g in the icing) and 400g of sugar so you can see where the calories creep in!
As I was doing this on a budget I purchased Sainsburys basics ingredients wherever I could... at the end of the day it's going in a cake, who will know! And it most certainly did not effect the taste at all! This saved me a fortune.
I even used Sainsburys Basic dark chocolate. This was 28p for 100g as apposed to over £1 for the normal sainsburys stuff. I thought I'd mention this as the basics is only a minimum of 50% cocoa, and it is recommended to use at least 60% but this still tasted great and you would never know! So if you're on a budget you can still make this luxurious expensive looking cake with basic ingredients!
To make the cake you basically mix all the dry ingredients together, then add the 2 wet mixtures (melted choc, butter and coffee and buttermilk and eggs - don't worry if you don't like coffee, this does not over power the cake).
When you add the two wet mixtures it makes such a velvety mixture (which is meant to be quite runny). You feel like you should be in Willy Wonka's factory mixing this up and it is very hard not to dip a spoon in and eat all the mixture!
Poor the mixture into the cake tin then bake! Simple as that! The cake produced is a very dense, rich, gooey cake... full of moisture and bursting full of chocolaty flavour! (Oooh I need to make more, writing this is making me hungry!)
The ganache icing is also very straight forward to make! Just double cream the chocolate and sugar all melted together! When this dries on the cake it forms a lovely velvety smooth thick creamy topping! YUM!
It went down very well at work and every one loved it! Even though I had a selection of other cakes this was gone in about 5 minutes! I guess they liked it!!!
Here is the full ingredients list and method -
- For the cake -
200g good quality dark chocolate , about 60% cocoa solids
200g butter , cut in pieces
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g self-raising flour
85g plain flour
1⁄4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g light muscovado sugar
200g golden caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
3 medium eggs
75ml buttermilk (5 tbsp)
grated chocolate or curls, to decorate
200g good-quality dark chocolate , as above
284ml carton double cream (pouring type)
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
1) Butter a 20cm round cake tin (7.5cm deep) and line the base. Preheat the oven to fan 140C/conventional 160C/ gas 3. Break the chocolate in pieces into a medium, heavy-based pan. Tip in the butter, then mix the coffee granules into 125ml/4fl oz cold water and pour into the pan. Warm through over a low heat just until everything is melted - don't overheat. Or melt in the microwave on Medium for about 5 minutes, stirring half way through.
2) While the chocolate is melting, mix the two flours, bicarbonate of soda, sugars and cocoa in a big bowl, mixing with your hands to get rid of any lumps. Beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the buttermilk.
3) Now pour the melted chocolate mixture and the egg mixture into the flour mixture, stirring just until everything is well blended and you have a smooth, quite runny consistency. Pour this into the tin and bake for 1 hour 25- 1 hour 30 minutes - if you push a skewer in the centre it should come out clean and the top should feel firm (don't worry if it cracks a bit). Leave to cool in the tin (don't worry if it dips slightly), then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
4) When the cake is cold, cut it horizontally into three. Make the ganache: chop the chocolate into small pieces and tip into a bowl. Pour the cream into a pan, add the sugar, and heat until it is about to boil. Take off the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.
5) Sandwich the layers together with just a little of the ganache. Pour the rest over the cake letting it fall down the sides and smoothing to cover with a palette knife. Decorate with grated chocolate or a pile of chocolate curls. The cake keeps moist and gooey for 3-4 days.
I find it really difficult to find a good foundation as I have quite sensitive skin. Unfortunately this one wasn't for me as it still made me break out, but I thought I'd share my experience as it might be useful for some people!
- Coverage -
The foundation gives a very good matt coverage. The consistency is thick and smooth and it is very easy to apply to the skin. If you get the correct colour to match your skin it won't leave you with lines around the neck area as it does blend very nicely to the skin even with the thickness.
- Claims -
The claims are that the foundation will last for 16 hours. Well it definitely does last well for the first few hours but it does begin to fade after about 5 hours. So this is great for a working day but I definitely need to touch up the foundation if I was going out after work.
- Any good for sensitive skin? -
Where the consistency is quite thick it did clog my pores and if I didn't remove it thoroughly it would make be break out the next day. I guess the thickness of the foundation is to try and make it last the 16 hours but as someone with sensitive skin I won't be buying again.
- Packaging -
The foundation comes in a glass bottle with a pump applicator. I have found that the pump applicator sometimes gets air bubbles in it so I'll be pumping away and nothing will come out then... splurt... it will all come out all at once all over my duvet!
- Cost -
I bought the foundation in Boots for £10.49 (which is the full price). I have seen it online since ranging from £4.99 to £7.49 so a much better deal!
I do think that this is a good foundation providing good coverage but isn't great if you have sensitive skin prone to spots.