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**What is The Melting Pot?** The Melting Pot is a chain of fondue restaurants primarily located in the USA, although new restaurants are due to open in Canada and Mexico in 2010. The first restaurant was opened in Florida in 1975 but has expanded to include 145 restaurants across 37 states of America. As evidenced by the name the restaurant specialises in fondue meals, with starters, main courses and desserts all being served in the form of a fondue. **Our experience of The Melting Pot** **Arrival and Seating** Our family visited The Melting Pot in San Diego in July 2010. It was a spontaneous decision to eat there so we didn't have a reservation. However, it was early evening so although the restaurant was reasonably busy, we only had to wait around ten minutes for a table to be available. Reservations can be made either online or by phone and I would recommend making a reservation if you wish to eat there on a weekend or between seven and eight o'clock. Our family comprised of myself, my husband, one teenager, one pre-teen and one toddler. Although the restaurant itself is fairly smart, children were made more than welcome. The restaurant itself was very attractive in an understated way. The clientele when we visited comprised of a variety of customers including families, groups of women, business people and celebratory parties. The staff were smartly dressed and polite. We were seated at a booth table with two hot plates in the centre. We were immediately offered drinks and given menus. It is worth mentioning that soft drinks were refilled when almost empty quickly and discreetly. The server took care to explain how dining at The Meting Pot worked and informed us about a special promotion that the restaurant were putting on. At this point he turned on the burners at the centre of the table and warned abut how hot they would get. A standard meal at The Melting Pot involves four courses. **Salad Course** The initial course served is a salad course and the menu provides a choice of a range of salads with different dressings. **Cheese Course** The second course is a cheese fondue course. The menu lists a variety of different cheese fondues for the second course. Our server was more than happy to provide advice on choosing a sauce and as our table had two burners he recommended choosing two different sauces. We opted for the traditional cheese sauce and also a spicier one involving peppers and chilli. Once we had chosen, our server came back with the ingredients and proceeded to make the cheese fondue sauce from scratch, right in front of us at the table. My husband was very interested in the recipe and the server was more than happy to talk about what was in the sauce and other items that could be added to change the flavour. We were served with nachos, different flavoured breads, vegetable sticks and apple pieces alongside long prongs to dip them into the fondue. The whole family enjoyed the experience of dipping the different items in and more bread was offered as we still had fondue left at the end. We declined as we didn't want to fill up on bread. **The Entrée** We were given a range of choices of a main meal from the menu and also a choice of cooking styles. Rather than having a meal as would normally be served in a restaurant, the server returned and made two bouillons on the burners. My husband chose a chicken based meal and myself and our two older children chose a Land and Sea which comprised of different pieces of meat and shrimp. We decided that our toddler would eat from all of our plates and the server was more than happy about this. The food is served raw, chopped into small pieces and the intention is that you cook it yourself in the bouillon. The server gives generalised cooking instructions, stating that if something is from the sea it should cook in a minute and a half and if something lives on land it should take two minutes. We were a little haphazard in our timings, but we tend to prefer our food well cooked anyway. It was quite fun putting the different items in and out of the pots; it did however mean that we were constantly on the go and my husband felt that he couldn't relax and eat his food. The rest of us thought it was great fun and very different to the meals that we normally eat. **The Dessert** Now onto the important part. Dessert at the Melting Pot is basically a chocolate fondue although there is the choice of various flavours that can be added. As our toddler had fallen asleep and my husband doesn't usually eat dessert we opted for the small shared dessert although we could have had the large one with the restaurant promotion. The fondue is served with various sweet items such as brownies, marshmallows, fruit (strawberries and banana) and cheesecake, although it was recommended that the cheesecake wasn't dipped and instead chocolate should be drizzled over it. Everything was delicious! ** Specials and Promotions** As I have already mentioned, the restaurant we ate in was doing a special promotion; this was entitled "Double Date Night" and basically meant that for $99 (around £64 at the exchange rate for August 2010) we got four salads, two cheese sauces and items to dip, four entrees and a shared dessert. Drinks were extra, as were the bouillons to cook the food in. It appears that as the restaurants are all franchised that they all have their own specials and promotions, such as Back to School night, Girls' Night Out or Theatre Nights Out. There are many varied promotions and it would be advisable to visit the website to check out the restaurant of your choice before a visit. Many franchises of the restaurant also offer party and celebration packages, such as a Pirate or Princess Birthday Party or a Sweet 16 party. Again this varies form restaurant to restaurant so if this were something you were interested in it would be advisable to check the website. Aditionally, there is a Melting Pot members' club whereby you can sign up online to receive a free chocolate fondue as part of your meal, although it appears that this is currently limited to citizens of USA and Canada. **The Price** As I have already mentioned we took advantage of a restaurant promotion. Our meal for four (and a half) people cost $156 (about £100) although it would have been $250 (or $161) at the regular price. Gratuity was included automatically on the bill. **Overall Opinion** Overall, we had a great time. The restaurant was quiet and attractive, the server courteous and attentive and despite the fact that we hadn't visited a restaurant like this before, we weren't made to feel silly. The children very much enjoyed cooking their own food and it was nice to have little bits of lots of items rather than one big meal. My husband however did comment that he felt a little bit out of his comfort zone as it wasn't the usual type of restaurant experience. The price, especially if we'd paid full price, was probably more than we would normally pay for a family meal but we were on holiday and it was also a birthday so we felt it was fine when we considered the whole package of food, service and experience. I would definitely return to a similar restaurant, possibly in another part of the country. **Website** For further information you could visit http://www.meltingpot.com
**Background** After we came back from our summer holidays this year, I was suffering from the post-holiday blues so we decided to book a night away as something to look forward to. Not having a huge budget, going very far was out of the question, so after a trawl through the internet, when we discovered that we could stay at The Grand Hotel in Scarborough for the night for the pricely sum of £67 for our family of five (two adults, two children, one infant), including dinner and breakfast, we jumped at the chance. Interestingly, this was booked through Superbreak and booking it direct with the hotel gave a much higher price. **Arrival and parking ** We arrived at the hotel yesterday afternoon, a cool Sunday afternoon in late October. Parking wasn't exactly easy, as the hotel doesn't have its own car park and the only parking is pay-and-display parking at the front of the hotel, which was really busy. We eventually managed to get a space and paid the parking for the evening. Parking is free between six pm and nine am but it wasn't that cheap outsdide of these hours. **Check in** Check in was really quick and easy and we were soon given our room keys for two adjacent rooms. These were actual keys as well, and not swipe cards like we always seem to get these days. The receptionist talked us through the meal voucher for our booking, told us where the restaurant was and gave us directions to our rooms. There were signs everywhere offering upgraded rooms and dining option for £10 per person, per night but we stick to the basic option. Getting to our room proved a slight challenge. We found our way to the lift and we were quite amused by the handwritten sign next to it, promising us we would get stuck in it if we tried to ride with more than three people in it at a time. The lift took forever to come and we decided not to risk entrapment so we travelled to our room in two separate parties. **The rooms** Both of our rooms were identical in every way. Each room contained two beds, a television and a selection of drawers and tables that were possibly older than I am. Not that I minded that, neccessarily as the room reminded me of my Gran's old house. Additionally, the room itself smelled very much like my gran's old house - not a dirty, old person smell in any way, but remniscent of old lady's bubble bath or face cream. I didn't mind the smell so much as I found it quite comforting but I appreciate that many people wouldn't want to sleep in a room that smells of my elderly dead Gran. The bathroom was small, but very clean, with a small selection of toiletries, piping hot water and a good supply of fresh, clean towels. Later in the evening, when we slept in the beds we found they were fantastically comfortable, with plump fluffy pillows and a light but cosy duvet. It was possibly one of the most comfortable hotel beds I've ever slept in. Also, there was no outside noise at all, possibly because we were right at the end of the corridor but we did get a super night's sleep. The only slight noise was the noise of seagulls the following morning but as we had a sea view this was to be expected. **Hotel facilities** The hotel itself has a large entrance hall with a sweeping staircase up to a snooker table. It has a couple of restaurants, the ordinary Harbour Lights restaurant where we ate and the Premier Restaurant where you can dine if you pay the upgrade fee. There are a couple of bars and my husband was very impressed with the prices. He paid £6.50 for a vodka and large coke, a pint of lager and two large glasses of coke and he'd expected to pay almost that just for the vodka and coke at hotel prices. The hotel also offers cabaret entertainment every evening. The evening we visited the entertainment was bingo, followed by a singer. We didn't stay for it so can't comment on whether it was any good or not. This takes place in the Cabaret Ballroom. The hotel also apparently has a second ballroom that can cater for conferences and functions. We noticed a huge board advertising weddings at the hotel, comprising an afternoon reception for 50 people with an evening reception for 100 people for £999. Not being in the market for a wedding I don't know if this is a good deal, but it sounds like it if you want to hold a wedding at The Grand Hotel. **The Restaurants** Our stay included dinner on the first evening and breakfast the following morning. The restaurant is a self-service buffet style eating establishment. The dinner choices included beef and Yorkshire pudding and salmon mornay. We had a very tasty soup and bread rolls to begin, followed by beef and Yorkshire pudding with vegetables. The beef was very nice but the Yorkshire pudding and vegetables showed very definite signs of being around for a while as the pudding was rock hard and the vegetables were soft to the point of being completely squished. Dessert was a choice of gateau, chocolate cake and custard or tinned peaches and cream. I wouldn't say that the catering was of greatly high quality but then again it wasn't completely inedible either. The following morning, breakfast consisted of a choice of tinned fruits, yoghurt, pastries, toast and traditional breakfast items such as sausage, bacon, beans, fried bread and suchlike. All were hot and tasted quite pleasant, though we did go for breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened so everything would have been fresh. The restaurant itself was clean and bright, dirty plates were cleared quickly and the highchairs provided for the baby were all clean. **The Surroundings** The hotel is built at the top of a cliff. Acccess to below is easy but it is quite a steep walk back up - especially with a pushchair. The shopping / eating establishments found close to the hotel are a strange mix of the tacky and the quite attractive with everything you would expect to find in a traditional seaside town. The hotel also has a small tourist information section, featuring leaflets for all the local attractions, such as a Sealife Centre, Model railway and Peasholm Park. **Hotel address and directions** (Taken from hotel website) St. Nicholas Cliff Scarborough North Yorkshire Follow A64 (York), turn right at Traffic Lights. Keep left and turn left at 2nd set of lights. Go straight over the roundabout and keep going straight. Look out for the hotel on your left. **Final Thoughts and Observations** As far as price goes, we thought that the price we paid really couldn't be beaten. The rooms themselves, though old fashioned were really fine for what we wanted and the location of the hotel is close to all facilities, including the shopping centre. The food wasn't fantastic but it was edible, and at breakfast it was actually quite nice. The hotel itself is showing its age in a couple of places, for example we saw wallpaper peeling in a couple of places and the lift really could do with upgrading, but apparently the hotel is undergoing a multi-million pound renovation project so I imagine this will be one of the things that are fixed. I think the hotel must be reasonably popular as there were people of all ages in the various areas of the hotel and we heard more than one person trying to book for Christmas to be told that the hotel was completely full. If yo're looking for somewhere cheap and comfortable and you don't mind if it's stylish or not, The Grand Hotel would be a definite option.
In May 2009 I stayed at the Hilton Metropole, Edgeware Road, London as part of a group celebrating a hen weekend. The "hen" in question, being a bit of a control freak, did all the booking herself, but as it only cost around £100 for a night in the hotel, a ticket for Mamma Mia and train fare from the north east, I didn't really expect the hotel to be up to much. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into the reception area. The hotel was spacious, clean and looked quite elegant, with lots of marble and clear cut lines to the decor. Despite the fact that we were several hours early for check-in, our rooms were ready and even better, as my Mum and I were only staying one night (when the rest of the party were staying two) we had been given an upgrade. Our party split up at this point; the people staying in twos disappeared upstairs to the Tower rooms, while my mum and I, and the people staying in threes went off to the West Wing, where the "hen" confessed that all of those staying as a three already had an upgraded room as it was the only way to accomodate three people. The rooms were very nice; very spacious, tastefully decorated, clean and with all of the conveniences you would expect from a decent hotel room. We had a bit of a giggle at the mini-bar which had a notice stating that it had a sensor on it that knew if items were moved and the customer would be charged automatically. We were a bit worried that there would be some kind of minor earthquake and that we would end up owning a fortune! The mini-bar was, as ever in most hotels, really expensive and we didn't touch it at all! the room had two double beds so we were able to stretch out in a bed each. Later in the day when we visited another room in our party, it was apparent that their rooms were a good deal smaller, but as we were only using them to sleep in that didn't really matter. The view from the room was less than exciting, lots of tower blocks and buildings. Other members of our party had an even more exciting view of lots of scaffolding, but then who stays in a hotel in London for the view from their room? Apart from the two restaurants and bar, the hotel also has an indoor pool but we didn't try this out. Taxis were easily available from just outside the hotel, it was close to a tube station and it wasn't too far to walk to Oxford Street (although be careful not to wear high heels as I did!) The bed was fairly comfortable, although it had had terrible pillows! There was very little noise during the night so we were able to get a fairly good night sleep. Breakfast was included in the price of the room and had a good selection of hot and cold buffet items, including a station where a chef was waiting to make omelettes. We went down for breakfast fairly late and there was still plenty of choice although my mum and I both thought the hot items weren't hot enough. Check out was easy enough as the hotel operates a quick check out system. We just dropped our room key into a box and off we went. All in all, the hotel was very good value for what we paid and I would definitely stay there again.
Before I start this review I should probably mention that I go through quite a lot of baby wipes. Not only do I have a 19 month old with sticky hands, a grubby face and you guessed it, more than his fair share of smelly nappies, I also use them for wiping high chairs, cleaning up spills and cleaning up grubby spots. So, I'm always on the look out for bargain baby wipes and when I saw Pampers Simply Clean wipes on sale at Tesco for £1.39 - around half the price of Pampers wipes as a rule, I had to give them a try. Fortunately for me, I only bought one pack. Sometimes it's true when people say, You buy cheap, you get cheap and that is definitely the case with these wipes. Upon taking the first one from the packet I wasn't impressed; it seemed quite small and felt thin to touch. When changing a nappy I prefer a thicker wipe; after all, who wants their finger to poke through at a crucial moment? Certainly not me! While working though the packet I found that, on average, it took more wipes per nappy change than I would use with a more superior wipe, therefore negating the saving of buying cheaper wipes as they don't last as long. I also found it impossible to pull just one wipe out of the pack at a time. usually it seemed as though three wipes were folded together and all of them came out of the pack at the same time with one little pull - another way to make you use the packet up more quickly, perhaps? My final bugbear with the wipes is that they dried up quite quickly and therefore weren't that effective on a really dirty nappy and I ended up using loads each time. I wish I could balance this review by writing the positives but sadly the only one I can think of is the price and as wipes are often on offer in various supermarkets bringing their price down to around the £1 mark anyway, then even the cheaper price isn't really an advantage. My advice? I'm disappointed with Pampers. Give this one a miss!
Well, the weather has turned cool so in an attempt to recapture the warmth of the previous weekend I decided to write about our recent trip to South Lakes Wild Animal Park. ** What it is ** As the name suggests, it is a Wild Animal Park, although it does have a bit of a difference from the usual animal parks and zoos that I have visited in that many of the animals are roaming around freely or with minimal walls and fencing (although obviously dangerous animals are well contained!) **Arriving at the park ** On the day that we visited there was some sort of diversion around the park and it was a little bit tricky to gain access through narrow congested streets. However, we arrived and were directed into the car-park where we were easily able to park the car. Parking was free and the car-park was filling at a rapid rate. The entrance to the park was located nearby and although there were queues, they moved fairly quickly. **Entry and Pricing** Pricing depends upon the time of year when the visit occurs. Summer prices are as follows: 4th April - 1st November Adult: £11.50 Child 3-15: £8.00 OAP: £8.00 Under 3's: FREE Prices include a £1 voluntary donation. The website says it is possible not to make this donation and pay £1 less per person but this wasn't mentioned at the gate. Once through the payment kiosk a member of staff takes details to be able to claim Gift Aid on your payment. Winter pricing: Adults £8.00 Children £5.00* OAPs £5.00 Under 3s FREE The park is quite happy to accept payment via Tesco Days Out vouchers. Pricing at both times for Friends of the Park is £1.50. It is possible to become a friend of the Park for £10, after admission has already been paid. Friends of the Park also receive 10% off food, drinks and gifts purchased in the park and invitations to special events and evenings. Park guides and maps are available to buy at the gate and I think the price was £2.50. **Animals ** There are a whole range of animals available to see and the design of the park makes it easy to get up-close to many of these. Many animals are freely roaming the park, including lemurs, peacocks and emus. My husband and son were very amused when I turned around from one exhibit to come face to beak with a rather large emu. They thought I would be rather amusing not to warn me and indeed it was amusing... for them! If you're not a big fan of birds this might not be the place for you! Among the animals that can be viewed are giraffes, bears, tortoises, rhinos, tigers, lemurs, penguins, vultures, apes, snakes and many types of apes and monkeys. Over the course of the day there are a number of sessions whereby keepers give talks and demonstrations which can be heard over loudspeakers and these include hand-feeding giraffes, feeding of apes, monkeys and tigers, hand-feeding penguins, apes and monkeys talk and "meet a snake". These sessions are quite interesting and add to the range of things to do there. Information boards are plentiful and provide a good ecological message and information about projects that the park is involved with all over the world. If you are interested in such a thing, it is possible to adopt the various animals and also, if the donation is high enough, to name them. If you donate £100 or more you can become a "Keeper for a Day" and learn about being a zookeeper. **What else can I do there?** There is a small train that runs around the park to give your feet a rest. Tickets cost 50p per person. There is also a small play area for under ten year olds. This tended to be quite busy while we were there and it was spoiled for our toddler by the fact that there were a number of boisterous, unattended, obviously older than ten-year olds running and jumping everywhere without looking where they were going. Obviously though the South Lakes Animal Park cannot be criticised for this! There is a café and places to buy ice cream, although we did not buy anything here. We did however eat our lunch in the indoor picnic area which was quiet, cool and clean - an excellent spot for lunch. **My opinion ** The scenery and layout of the park is lovely. Paths and wooden walkways meander around the park, in and out of each other making it a lovely relaxing walk with plenty to look at. The way the animals are kept means that often several species of animals are found altogether in one enclosure and often I wouldn't spot some species until I had been looking for a while, so it really is a place to relax, linger and take your time. There is plenty to do to spend a good few hours there and it has an educational value as well as a fun factor. The facilities we used (picnic area, toilets and baby change) were all clean and tidy. In fact, the only slight downside to the park is that the paths aren't always easy to push a pushchair along; some are narrow or steep, or both and I think it might be tricky with a wheelchair. **Where it is ** South Lakes Wild Animal Park is found in Dalton-in Furness, Cumbria. Directions to get there (Taken from the website) South Lakes Wild Animal Park is situated at the southern tip of the Lake District in the North West of England on the A590 trunk road. Take Junction 36 from the M6 and follow signs for Barrow in Furness, until the brown Elephant Tourist Signs take over. ** Opening Times** During the summer, the park is open from 10am - 5pm and during the winter months it opens 10am - 4.30pm. Last admissions are 45 minutes before closing time. If you wish to find out further information, see photos or find out about projects the park is involved in check out the website at http://www.wildanimalpark.co.uk/wildlifepark_home.asp
During the school half term in February my husband and I were looking for somewhere local to take the children for an afternoon. As we had several Tesco Days Out vouchers due to expire we looked on the website to find somewhere that would accept the deals and came up with Hartlepool's Maritime Experience. Despite the fact that we don't live too far away this was somewhere that we hadn't ever visited so we decided to change that and headed off to Hartlepool. ** What is the attraction? ** Hartlepool Maritime Experience is a recreation of a 18th Century seaport, with a range of activities to help visitors understand what life was like during that time. ** Arriving at the attraction ** Outside of the Maritime Experience is a good sized car-park. There is no charge for parking. As we arrived there were several young people wandering around the car-park dressed in period costumes which immediately siezed the interest of our ten year old. ** What is there to do ** After paying the entrance fee visitors pass though the entrance onto an old fashioned, quite attractive quayside with a ship docked in the centre. There are a range of interactive exhibits at the experience. ** SHOPS ** Shopaholics wouldn't get too excited by these shops as they are recreations of the type of shops that would have been found at an 18th Century seaport and they "stock" a range of seafaring necessities. The shops themselves are an interesting insight into naval life and the fact that visitors can wander in and out of them examining the merchandise makes them more interesting than seeing the objects in a museum display cabinet. **FIGHTING SHIPS** This is a walkthrough attraction whereby visitors see what life was like in a fighting frigate in the 1800s. Visitors move through corridors showing a series of scenes from ship-life, narrated by a recording said to be a young worker on the ship. The ending of the walkthrough is quite dramatic, although I won't reveal what happens to avoid spoiling he surprise. **PRESSGANGED** This is a film about two brothers who were pressganged into working on board a ship. It is shown in a tiny cell-like room at various times throughout the day. **CHILDREN'S MARITIME ADVENTURE CENTRE** This is an interactive centre for children where they can practise a range of maritime skills including knot-tying and rat-killing(!) - simulated only! This centre was closed during our visit as the area was host to a re-enactment society presentation. **MOORED SHIP** Visitors are able to go on board an actual ship to see what conditions would have been like. I wouldn't recommend this is you are at all claustrophobic as it has rather cramped conditions and has very steep staircases. **QUAYSIDE COFFEE SHOP** Here you can buy a range of snacks and meals and we thought the prices to be very reasonable. **EVENTS** Hartlepool Historic Quayside is home to a range of events such as Farmers' Markets and Brass Band Concerts. ** Where is it? ** Hartlepool is situated on the North East coast in the Tees Valley. Easily accessible by road, the town is only 1 hr 15 mins (67 miles) from Leeds and just 45 mins (32 miles) from Newcastle. ** Directions to reach the attraction (taken from visitor website) ** Directions - From the north Take A19 southbound and exit at the A179. Follow the brown signs to the Historic Quay. When you reach a roundabout with large spherical balls on it (public art - Heaven and Earth) you are not far away. 3rd exit at that roundabout. The next roundabout is at the top of Marina Way it has a large buoy in the middle. Focus DIY store is to your right. Go straight on, heading for the masts of HMS Trincomalee. Take the second left then the next left again which will bring you to the Maritime Experience car park. Parking is free. From the south From the south Take A1M northbound and exit at junction 49 (A168/A19) signposted Teesside. Exit A19 at the A689 and follow the brown signs to the Historic Quay. Keeping going straight on at each set of lights and each roundabout. When you come to the lights at the junction between Victoria Road and Stockton Street (Wilkinsons and The Hartlepool Mail on your left, Hartlepool Art Gallery (Christ Church) on your right. Straight head, past Asda and Boots and with Focus on your left, take the 4th exit at the roundabout. Head for the masts of HMS Trincomalee. Take the second left then the next left again which will bring you to the Maritime Experience car park. **PRICING** Adults £7.75 Children: £4.75 Unwaged: £4.75 Over £5.75 Family ticket (2 adults and up to 3 children): £20.00 Travel Trade Groups: £3.85 School Groups: £3.30 Other Groups (Adults): £7.00 Other Groups (Child): £4.00 Other Groups (Over 60's) £5.00 Quay Cards Adults £20.00 Over 60's £15.00 Family (2 adults and up to 3 children): £45.00 Tesco Days Out Vouchers are accepted here, as that is how we paid. **Overall Opinion** I think that this location would be an ideal place to spend an afternoon, especially if you have an interest in history or naval life. The quayside has been redeveloped to look very attractive and it is a pleasant place to visit. The attractions are reasonably interested and all of my family enjoyed it, apart from my 14 year old son who thought it was boring. I thought the pricing was reasonable, considering it would be possible to spend a good few hours there. Additionally, it is right next door to Hartlepool Maritime Museum which has free entry so an extra few hours could be spent there.
As a general rule I am usually a fan of Tresemme shampoo; however, I'm also a bit of a brand-tart and if I see a special offer I am usually tempted to take it up. Recently, while shopping I noticed that Dove shampoo was £2.38 a bottle or two bottles for £2. Cheaper to buy two bottles than just the one? As a major bargain hunter, how could I refuse? I quite like Dove products so I had high hopes for the shampoo. ** Fragrance ** The first time I used it I was slightly underwhelmed. The fragrance was ok, quite mild and if you've used Dove before you would recognise the gently scented smell. I usually prefer my shampoos to have a bit more fragrance and to smell fresher than Dove, but it wasn't the end of the world. **Using the product ** The shampoo itself is fairly creamy and thick. I poured my usual amount onto my hand and applied it to my scalp. It massaged in well and lathered up beautifully. However, when I came to rinse the shampoo the problems began. It took ages to rinse it out of my hair and it just felt really thick and gloopy, not nice at all. Once I had managed to rinse it entirely, in the interest of a fair test, I used my usual conditioner. Once I began to dry my hair I wasn't impressed at all. It felt dry and tangled, not like it usually feels at all. I have long, very thick hair and the amount of tangles from washing it was no joke at all. Once dry, even after using my usual hair products, my hair still felt dry and not as smooth and soft as normal. **Cleaning Power ** The shampoo did leave my hair clean, I can't complain about that, but sometimes that isn't the most important factor. ** Overall opinion ** I tried the shampoo again on a couple of occasions but didn't have any better results so eventually I gave up using it, although my husband is quite happy with it. I really did expect better from Dove as I usually regard it as a gentle product but the shampoo I felt was quite harsh on my hair. It's definitely not a shampoo I would buy again, not matter how good a deal.
On our first visit to Florida we spent 21 nights at the Comfort Inn hotel on Sand Lake Road, Orlando. To be honest, we were on a strict budget and the deciding factor in choosing the hotel was the price. Before flying, I read some of the reviews on various travel review sites and was horrified at some of the comments but by then it was too late to change - a lesson learned to read the reviews before you book or don't read them at all! However, as it turned out I needn't have worried. The hotel wasn't the most luxurious in the world, but then I wasn't expecting it to be. It was a clean, basic hotel room, nothing to get excited about, but then nothing to run away in terror from either! ** Location ** The hotel is located at 6101 Sand Lake Road , Orlando, FL, US, 32819, just off International Drive so conveniently located for many supermarkets, shops, restaurants and attractions. If driving, the hotel is approximately 20 minutes drive from Walt Disney World and 10 minutes from Universal resort. It is very close to Wet 'n' Wild; we were able to walk there in around 10 minutes. ** The Room ** The room we stayed in was basic but adequate. It contained two double beds, a small table and chairs, a small wardrobe, a TV, fridge, hairdryer, iron and ironing board, a chest of drawers, a small sink area and a small bathroom. Everywhere was clean and the room was cleaned daily. Towels were changed daily if you wanted, although the housekeeping services left cards that asked you to continue using the same towels if possible to "save the environment" (or save the hotel's laundry bills!). Our room was on the first floor (or the second floor to Americans) and was entered via an external corridor. It had much needed air conditioning that kept the room deliciously cool in the August Floridian heat. As I've already said, it was basic but as we were there to visit the theme parks, not to sit in our room, it suited us as a base to store our belongings and sleep! ** Services ** The hotel had a large check in desk, which we only really visited on checking in and out but the staff there were very polite. It also had an additional desk where you could book shuttle trips to Universal hotels, dinner shows and days out. This was only manned at certain times. The staff here were also polite but I think they found it hard to understand our accents; often we had to repeat ourselves several times and my husband was less than amused to receive tickets to one show calling him "Angel" when his name is Andrew. There was a small basic pool at the hotel which was well-maintained and towels were replaced regularly. We didn't spend a lot of time in the pool but had no complaints about it. One service the hotel provided which did go down well was the free continental breakfast, which was self-service buffet providing a range of cereals, breads, ham, cheese, juice, tea and coffee with the option to make toast or waffles which our children very much enjoyed. The small dining room was relatively empty early on a morning but it was very difficult to find a seat if you tried to eat after half eight. Also, a significant area of the room was dominated by a huge television that I didn't enjoy blasting out over breakfast but it allowed my husband to get his news fix each day. The hotel also provided 24 hour free tea and coffee which could be made using machines in the lobby. I'm not a coffee drinker as a rule, though I did drink it while we were there as the tea was terrible! One service that was another deciding factor in choosing this hotel was the fact that it provided a free shuttle service to all the Orlando theme parks and as we didn't hire a car for this holiday this was a big attraction. If you are car-less in Orlando it is perfectly easy to still visit the theme parks from this hotel although it makes for a lot less flexible holiday as you have to be up really early in order to catch the shuttle to the Disney parks for opening time. Also we missed many of the evening fireworks and parades as the shuttle returned to the hotel well before the parks closed. A final thought is that we sometimes had some frenzied journeys back to the shuttle as it only dropped off at Epcot and it was difficult to judge what time we needed to leave the other parks in order to get back there in plenty time. A further disadvantage was that when travelling at busy times the buses could be really full, visitors would just rush onto the bus regardless of whether there was a queue and it could be quite a crush, not to mention a difficult journey back to the hotel, having to stand up holding tired, small children without falling over! Also, the buses took a lot longer to get to the parks and back than a car would due to the fact that they picked up and dropped off at lots of other hotels. In other words, if you're choosing this hotel because of the free shuttle service, don't do it! Other services the hotel has, although we didn't use them, are a gym and a games room. There is also a small shop containing gifts and snacks although we found this rather expensive. The hotel has a small laundry which we found easy to use and meant we were able to wash our most confortable clothes mid-holiday. ** Price information ** We stayed as part of a package holiday so the hotel cost was included along with the flight. However, the hotel website indicates that room prices are between $69 - $94 dollars per day, depending upon time of year and how late the booking is. ** Overall Opinion ** If you are looking for a budget hotel to stay in Orlando then the Comfort Inn would be a definite choice as long as you have a car. If you don't drive then I would recommend staying closer to the action. We are returning to Florida later this year and we have chosen to stay on Disney property as that's where we spend the vast majority of our time though if you need somewhere cheap and fairly accessible to International Drive then the Comfort Inn might be the place for you.
We've had quite a busy morning today. At two o'clock we waved our ten year old daughter and twenty one of her school friends off on a residential trip to Kingswood Outdoor Activities Centre which was quite good timing as my suggestion to write a review on this place has just been accepted. I was a little bit envious as I waved them off as for the previous four trips I have gone along as party leader but with a very demanding 13 month old at home, I conceded the leadership to another teacher this year. ** What is Kingswood? ** Kingswood is a provider of residential educational activity holidays, primarily aimed at schools, but also providing for other groups such as Scouts, Guides or sports teams. There are a number of centres across the UK, including ones in Northumberland (where my daughter has gone), North Wales, Norfolk, Buckinghamshire, Cumbria, Isle of Wight, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire. They cater for children of all ages, from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4. The children that go from our school are all in Years 5 and 6, so aged 9-11 but I have seen both younger and older children visiting the centres. ** Activity Programmes ** At Kingswood children get to experience many activities that they wouldn't normally get to try at school. There are two main programmes, the Discovery programme and the Activity programme. Both involve a lot of physical activities but the Discovery programme also includes some ICT modules. The programme our school opts to do is the Discovery programme. ** General Activities ** Not all activities are available at all centres. Some centres have access to water and can provide swimming, snorkelling, raft building and canoeing activities but the centre I stayed (Dalston, in Cumbria) at doesn't provide this. Other centres, including the one in Northumberland where my daughter is staying, have high rope activities, including treetop trails, ziplines and the very scary sounding Leap of Faith where children (and their teachers if they wish) leap from a platform onto a small ledge high in the sky. My daughter is very much hoping they will be able to do this; I don't know if I would have the nerve myself! Some centres also do caving activities, but again this depends whether the centre has the facilities; I have done caving at Kingswood on several occasions and it is wet, cold and dark but the children mostly seem to enjoy it. All centres provide a wide variety of activities designed to promote team building. From having to "spot" their partner while travelling on low ropes, to carrying a ladder across an obstacle course (while each team member has to constantly keep a hand on the ladder - not easy!), to trying to create the highest stack of milk crates with someone standing on top of them, to Nightline, a blindfolded trek through a mini-obstacle course, where everything seems more scary because you can't see what's ahead, children learn over the trip to trust their classmates and how activities can be completed more successfully when children work together. It can also help with speech and language as often children have to discuss what they think they should do. No-one is pushed to do anything they don't want to do, but children are challenged to try and improve each time, for example children who are scared of climbing are asked to just put one foot on the wall. if they manage that they are asked if they think they can manage to put the other foot on, and so on. Sometimes children who have said they didn't dare climb can get quite far up the climbing wall with gentle encouragement and every effort is applauded, not just the most successful ones. The only downside to many of these activities is the mud. Lots of it! I generally advise parents to send really old clothes and to pack waterproofs as many of the activities involve mud, mud and even more mud. It doesn't seem to bother most children though! Most centres also offer a range of "fun" activities, the ones that the children look forward to the most before they travel, although often their favourite activity turns out to be something unexpected. These activities include quad-biking, laser tag, climbing and abseiling. Interspersed during the day are indoor pursuits, which can include the Sensory Room, an investigation into the senses, mini-beast investigations, fencing or parachute games, which for anyone who hasn't spent time in school over the last few years, is nothing to do with falling from the sky, but involves using a giant parachute for many uses including making a giant tent, trying to keep several balls bouncing without them jumping off, hiding underneath while the people around the outside flap the parachute to hide the person while someone else crawls around on top trying to find them or playing a particularly rowdy game called sharks and lifeguards where you have to avoid being pulled under by a shark. It's a lot of fun, but really you need to see it in action; I'm sure my descriptions don't do it justice! One surprisingly popular, and cost effective, activity is indoor initiatives, in which children sit in a circle and are challenged to solve a number of logic puzzles, such as "A cowboy rode into town on Friday, stayed three days and left on Friday. How is this possible?" It's amazing to see how the children begin to think more laterally as the session progresses. If groups want to add an even more educational aspect to their visit they can opt to do some sort of field study, such as a river study or weather study. Again this depends upon what is available at that particular centre. ** ICT modules ** The centre provides a range of ICT activities which are designed to complement the national curriculum for ICT. Each module is targeted at a specific age range and can include animation activities, multimedia presentations, modelling and controlling models, writing programmes and creating simulations. One session that always goes down well is CSI Kingswood, where children are informed that there has been a robbery at the centre. They are shown photos of the alleged crime scene and taken to visit the outside of the office where the robbery has taken place, where tiles are missing from the roof, footprints are evident in the soil below and police investigation tape flutters in the breeze. This is followed up by being told there are five suspects, all of whom are Kingswood staff. Children read statements by the suspects and have to decide who is telling the truth and who is lying. They also take casts of the footprints and investigate a mystery red substance smeared on the safe which has been robbed. Could the red substance be tomato sauce left there by the Kingswood chef? Or is it blood from the climbing instructor with the bandaged hand? Or maybe, red paint left by the maintenance man? This programme runs across the whole week, with the children sworn to secrecy about the investigation in case it "tips off the suspects". I truly think many of the children believe the investigation is real and the poor "suspects" have to put up with a lot of giggling and whispering if they are around. What I really liked about this is, at the end of the stay, just before the children go home, the "criminal" is unmasked by the centre leader and chased out of the dining room and arrested! ** Evening Activities ** Evening activities mostly take place indoors and can include a disco, circus skills, a movie, Hotspots (think giant Twister!), a campfire singsong, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire quiz or Scrapheap Challenge, where children have to build things out of a heap of junk! ** Arranging the activities ** Children are kept busy across the whole day. Before the visit, group leaders specify which activities they would especially like to do and Kingswood arrange this into a timetable for each group. Up to fifteen children can make up a group; any more than this and groups are split. Activity sessions take place all day, with breaks only for lunch and dinner. Between nine am and nine pm children are on activities. Each session lasts seventy minutes, ten minutes for a safety talk and sixty for the actual activity, with a ten minute break in between to move between sessions. It can be quite exhausting but means that no-one gets time to be homesick. ** Staying at the centre ** Although many groups can stay at the centre all at once, children will only be in activities with children from their own school. Once they are in a group, they stay in that group or the whole trip. Children are housed in dormitories and again they don't mix with groups they don't know. The children sleep in bunkbeds and the dormitories can contain four, six or ten children. Teachers' room are in the same buildings; usually children's rooms are interspersed with teachers' rooms so they are never unsupervised. Some centres have shower blocks in the dormitories but the centre my daughter has gone to has all en-suite rooms, which she is quite pleased about. Food is served throughout the day in the dining room and again different groups have timetabled slots. The food is very similar to school dinners, with a couple of choices including a vegetarian option. It isn't haute cuisine but it's more than edible. ** Safety ** At all times adults have to wear an ID badge and adults without them are challenged by staff. I know this is definitely true as I forgot mine one morning at breakfast. All activities are staffed by at least one Kingswood staff member and this rises to two on more dangerous activities, such as climbing or quad-biking. The school staff are also required to be at most activities. Each session starts with a safety talk and helmets and harnesses are all well-checked. Cars usually aren't allowed on-site and dormitories have outer locking doors. The centre provides risk assessment advice and encourages pre-visits by staff. ** Arranging a visit ** If you are a group leader and are considering arranging a visit, it is quite easy. Kingswood send a rather natty information pack, in a fetching green backpack, often with Kingswood memorabilia in it, such as pens, bookmarks, and on one occasion a stress-phone! All the necessary paperwork for arranging and booking a visit and informing parents is included. The pack contains a DVD to show at parents' meetings and a representative from Kingswood will come along to answer questions if required. The pack also contains savings cards so that the cost doesn't have to be paid all at once and packing lists and Good Conduct Codes to photocopy. ** Pricing ** Really this will depend upon how many children are travelling, at what time of year and for how long. My daughter is visiting Sunday until Wednesday and the cost was £120 but this includes travelling expenses and insurance. Prices are higher in the summer and lower in the winter. ** Would I recommend a visit? ** Absolutely! If you are a teacher or group leader I would heartily recommend Kingswood for a residential visit. It always seems effectively run (although activity leaders sometimes moan about management when you get to know them a little bit better!) and the children have a great time. The instructors are all young adults and are usually very enthusiastic and get on well with the children. The experiences offered are fantastic. It's a wonderful sight to see children who don't do well academically suddenly excel at something, or to see how children will learn from their experiences and become a team over the stay. Just don't offer to do the washing when they get back!
Recently it was the school half term holidays and by Wednesday my family had started to get a bit stir-crazy. The weather wasn't fantastic but it wasn't too bad either so we decided to go to a local farm, Hall Hill Farm for a day out. ** Where it is ** Hall Hill Farm is located on the B6296 near Satley, Co. Durham in north-east England. It is around 10 miles from Durham city and 18 miles from Newcastle. ** What it is ** Hall Hill Farm is a working farm that is open to the public. It has 290 hectares growing wheat, barley and oil seed rape and also has a substantial number of animals which is the area that is open to the public. ** Price information ** Adults £5.20 Over 60's £4.75 Children (3 - 15) £3.90 Under 3's Free Family Saver (2+2) £16.00 Family Saver (2+3) £18.50 Family Season Ticket £60.00 ** Our visit ** Before our visit I checked out the website to see if it was open and how much the entry fee was. The website itself is a bit cheap and nasty looking. It has obviously been designed on a budget or by the people who run the farm themselves and though it does include the necessary information, it could be a lot more appealing and could present the farm in a better manner. If you're thinking of visiting, please don't let the website put you off! The day we visited the farm was open for "pre-season visits" as it is not officially open during the week until Easter. They day itself was a bit drizzly on the morning and we considered calling off the visit but in the end we dressed in wellies and waterproofs and went ahead anyway. The farm has quite a large car park but it is basically a large field rather than a tarmac car park, so be wary of getting stuck in the mud if you visit during a wet period. We visited with a friend of mine and her three boys aged six, five and almost two and I took my ten year old daughter and twelve month old son. As there were five of us to pay for we decided to ask if we could have a family ticket for two adults and three children which should have cost £18.50. As we paid however, the cashier said they were running a special offer, which I didn't quite grasp the details of but we ended up paying £14 for all of us which I thought was very good value. I'm not sure if this is always the case but at the time of our visit the only way of entry (and the exit) was through the gift shop, which I'm sure is excellent marketing but it marred our trip slightly as my friend's six year old spent the entire afternoon asking for things he'd seen in the gift shop. Once through the gift shop we immediately veered to out left into the small petting area where we found a lot of pens containing various types and colours of rabbits and guinea pigs. There was a young teenager in attendance here and he laid towels on the children's knees (over three year old only) and gave them different animals to hold and stroke. He was quite knowledgeable about the animals and had a lot of patience when the children kept wanting to hold different pets. Once they grew bored, we washed our hands thoroughly in the sinks and moved on. The next stop was a more or less empty barn that had hay bales, a giant plastic cow and a selection of children's tractors and trikes. Despite the fact that the children have very similar toys at home, they had great fun riding around the barn. In fact, I think we'd have been there all day if the need for a toilet break hadn't arisen. The next place we stopped at was some animal pens containing a donkey, which my toddler was very excited by, several cross looking llamas and a couple of snoozing pigs that didn't wake up even with the amount of noise the donkey was making. The gift shop also sells animal feed and my friend's children spent a happy few minutes pushing food pellets down a drainpipe into the llamas' food trough. Moving on we went into one of the barns. During lambing season, this is where the lambs can be found and at set times the farm workers bring out bottles of milk and allow children to help feed them. I think our visit must have been a bit early for lambs as the pens held alpacas, goats and some very friendly miniature goats that kept jumping up at the fences. Further round we came to the donkey ride. This cost 50p extra per child and there is only one donkey so there's quite a wait if there's a queue. The children were helmeted up and waited fairly patiently for their rides which my daughter described as "bumpy but fun". Donkey rides are available for children aged 3-12, as long as they weigh under seven and a half stone. The next stop was the play area which has been substantially improved since my last visit with wooden obstacle courses, climbing walls, swings and slides. There are also a couple of baby swings where my toddler cackled hysterically on his first ever experience of a swing. However, before the children could really run off any energy it was announced that the free tractor trailer rode was about to begin. This takes place several times a day and is basically a ride on a trailer (with seats!) attached to the back of a tractor which was driven by the man who ran the donkey rides - he seemed to have a very busy day! I asked if my 12 month old was old enough to ride and the driver laughed and said he'd had a newborn on the trailer before. Who takes a newborn on a visit to the farm? The tractor drove through small country lanes and gave a good view of the sheep in the fields around the farm. Despite not being very thrilling, the ride was very much enjoyed by all of the children. Once back at the farm, we walked back through various pens containing birds. I'm not the biggest fan of birds so I didn't pay a lot of attention to this section but I did notice geese, chickens, ducks and peacocks. Once past the birds I was quite surprised to see a couple of wallabies, both apparently called Beckham (the Beckhams!) though it was quite difficult to see one of them as he was hiding behind some bushes. At the very edge of the farm was a huge field where a pair of very friendly horses lived and a notice informed us that the Jersey cows were currently on holiday but would be back soon. We spent the walk back to the main part of the farm debating where Jersey cows would go on holiday but couldn't think of any witty ideas - I'd be interested to hear if anyone else could think of somewhere! The final attraction, and possibly my favourite one, was new to me as it has been built since my previous visit. It is named The Ark and is a wooden construction built to look like, you guessed it, an ark. Inside are some budgies, which I didn't care much for but the star attraction was the very cute and very active chipmunks. Once we had seen this, the constant whinging for things from the gift shop was beginning to tell on my friend a little bit and we began to make our way back to the exit. On the way we visited a small room we'd missed on the way in where a number of tiny, fluffy chicks were in large plastic box under a heating lamp. Again towels could be placed on the children's laps for them to hold the chicks, and although I was a bit nervous, luckily the children managed not to squash or squeeze them! After another thorough handwashing it was time to leave. As already mentioned, it was impossible to get out of the farm without going through the gift shop which was filled with a variety of farm themed gifts such as pencils and notebooks with the farm name on and puppets and cuddly toys of animals. There was also a vast array of wellington boots and waterproof coats to buy, just in case you didn't come equipped. Once outside, it was back to the car park, where luckily we weren't stuck in the mud and away home after a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and a healthy dose of fresh air. I very much enjoyed the day, as did both my children, my friend and two of her children, showing that it is an attraction that will appeal to children across the age groups. ** Food and Snacks ** Hall Hill Farm does have a small café which we didn't try but a look at the chalkboard outside showed that it served simple, homecooked food, including sandwiches, baked potatoes, pie and suchlike at quite reasonable prices. The farm also has a number of picnic benches if you choose to take your own food. Remember not to leave litter lying around though as it is a hazard to the animals. ** Special days and activities ** Hall Hill farm has a number of events during the year including lambing time, sheep shearing, Father's Day (including free entry for Dads), teddy bears' picnic weekend, fairy tale weekend, including lots of people dressed as characters, Halloween week and Santa weekends. You can also book a birthday party at Hall Hill farm which would make an unusual party, but might depend upon when the birthday was. The cost is £9 per child and includes a party tea, party bag, animal feed and tractor ride. **Sponsorship ** As you move around the park it is possible to see that many of the animals have been sponsored by groups, individuals and schools. Yearly sponsorship costs from £20 for small animals to £30 for large animals and can be arranged through the website. For this sponsors receive a badge or keyring, photo, adoption certificate, information letter and quarterly newsletter. It also includes two free tickets to the farm so really I think it is excellent value! All in all, if you're in the area and you or your family like animals, this is an ideal place to go to be able to pet and stroke the different animals. If you need further information you could visit the website at http://www.hallhillfarm.co.uk/ but don't be discouraged by its tackiness!
On our first ever visit to Orlando we were advised not to overdo things by visiting a theme park everyday. Naturally, assuming people who had already been there knew better than we did, we planned our holiday to have several "rest days" on which we didn't visit any theme parks. The only problem was we began to be quite bored on these days; we're not really swimming pool people and needed somewhere to go to fill the time. This was how we came to visit Wonderworks in Orlando. The children had noticed Wonderworks several times during bus journeys through Orlando. It was difficult not to notice it. It looks as if the building has been built upside down and slightly lopsided. It's certainly a very striking sight and I'm sure it's appearance has attracted a lot of visitors that would otherwise have overlooked the attraction. The official "story" is that the building was once a top secret laboratory from the Bermuda Triangle that was uprooted by a giant tornado and carried to Florida where it was deposited upside down on International Drive. It's an inspired if somewhat bizarre idea but the children liked the idea and were desperate to visit. That's how a hot, humid day in August found us plodding along International Drive, sweating profusely in the Florida heat. We could have caught an I-trolley as there's a stop very close to Wonderworks but my husband likes to have a daily walk and being on holiday doesn't stop this. Interestingly, there were very few other people walking I-Drive and those we passed were all British. It's true what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen! After paying (pricing information included later!) we passed through an Inversion Tunnel, where supposedly visitors too turn upside down so they are the same way up as the building. In reality it's a clever optical illusion where you pass through a tunnel with seemingly spinning walls. Although the tunnel you walk along isn't moving, it's very difficult not to almost overbalance! Once inside the building it's very much an interactive science museum type of place. The exhibits are set out over several rooms and each room has something to discover. ** Room One ** This room is very much concerned with natural disasters. Included are two Earthquake Simulators, in which you can sit and experience an "earthquake" that measures 5.3 on the Richter scale. I realise I probably wouldn't enjoy a real earthquake but after riding several wild rides at various theme parks this actually felt quite tame! Another simulation is the Hurricane Hole, where you can hold onto a pole and experience 65 mile an hour winds. There is some information given on hurricanes but to be honest, our children just liked being blown about! Also in this area is a Famous Disasters quiz where you play a game similar to noughts and crosses against a computer. If you get a question right you get a square, if you get it wrong the computer does. This room also has a virtual reality video game called Global VR in which you're participating in a desert war but we didn't get to try this as the queues were a bit off-putting and our children preferred to move on to the next room... ** Room Two ** There didn't seem to be a theme to this room and there was several things all going on at once. In one corner was a bubble lab that kept our six year old entertained for quite a while despite being little more than various different bubble making equipment. The one she liked best was a giant ring in bubble solution where she could stand inside and we could lift the giant ring to leave her in a huge bubble tube - a great photo opportunity! Another good place for a photo was the Bed of Nails. If you've ever wanted to try your hand as an Indian fakir, this is the place for you. Basically you lie on a glass case and a handle is turned to make the bed of nails, all 3,500 of them, rise up until you are effectively lying on a bed of nails. It is important to lie on the glass case first to make sure your weight is evenly spread across the nails and my husband and children who tried the attraction assure me it didn't hurt! A further attraction in this room is the WonderWall, not the Oasis song, but a giant version of those executive toys where you press your face or hand into a load of pins to leave an imprint. This is a huge version in which you can press your entire body to leave your body outline which is lots of fun but gave me a shock as it looked plumper than I imagine myself to be (though maybe two solid weeks of burger and fries had something to do with that!). ** Room Three ** The third room has the theme of sound and includes a giant piano - perfect to re-enact the scene from Big if you feel so inclined. It also has a giant electronic game of Simon Says, if you remember that game from your youth and several sound booths. Also in this room are a lot of painting of optical illusions which my husband found very interesting but the children didn't have the patience for. ** Room Four ** The theme in the fourth room, if it has one, is probably space. It has a space exhibit, an astronaut suit that you can have your photograph taken in and a flight simulator where you can see what it would be like to land a space shuttle. There were a variety of other flight simulators which we skipped as the queues were huge and our younger child was too small to ride. This room also housed my ten year old son's favourite attraction, the Wonder Coaster which is basically a roller coaster simulator ride. Before entering the simulator you design the roller coaster you would like to ride and can make it as wild or tame as you like. My son put a lot of loops and big dips into ours; luckily I like coasters as I rode with him. It's not the same as going on a real roller coaster but it was fun nonetheless! ** Laser Tag ** Once through the fourth room at Wonderworks the next floor contains a Laser Tag arcade. If you are unfamiliar with laser tag you are given a laser gun and a vest that flashes if you are hit by another person's laser. In order to play the game you need to shoot at the other players without being shot at yourself. If you get shot your gun stops working for a few seconds which can be annoying! The game is played in the dark and there are several places to hide! Entrance to Laser tag isn't included in the Wonderworks price, though it can be added as an extra. Additionally you can also go to Wonderworks and just access the Laser Tag arcade without having to go through the museum. ** Magic and Dinner Show ** Each evening Wonderworks hosts a magic and dinner show entitled "The Outa Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show" which includes an evening of entertainment plus unlimited popcorn and pizza. We didn't try this show but I have heard that a LOT of audience participation is required. ** Café ** On the way out of Wonderworks you pass a small café. We stopped here for a snack as we had a long walk back to our hotel but I wish we hadn't bothered as the food was rather lacklustre and not worth the money. There are many other much nicer places to eat along International Drive. ** Gift Shop ** As with all Orlando attractions, in an effort to extract every dollar you have, you exit through the gift shop which includes lots of science and joke type toys. ** Pricing ** There are a variety of different prices, depending upon which parts of Wonderworks you would like to visit. Current pricing (2009) is as follows Wonderworks Museum only: Adults $19.95; Child / 65+ $14.95 Laser Tag only: $4.95 (Adult or child) Outer Control Dinner Show: Adult $24.95; Child $16.95 Wonderworks and Dinner Show: Adult $38.95; Child $28.95 Wonderworks and Laser Tag : Adult $22.95; Child $17.95 Wonderworks, Dinner Show and Laser Tag: Adult $39.95; Child $29.95 There are many discount coupons available on International Drive and in hotels. I think we had a coupon that gave free child entry which made a good saving. Additionally if you buy your tickets online before visiting they are a dollar or two cheaper, though you can't buy Dinner show or Laser Tag tickets online. ** How to get there ** Wonderworks is found at 9067 International Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32819. It is found at the Pointe Orlando Entertainment Complex. It is really easy to find as International Drive is a major tourist attraction in Orlando and Wonderwoks is the only upside down building there! The I-Trolley stops close by and parking is available behind the building. ** Recommendation ** Though there are masses of places to go in Florida and you might wonder why you would want to go there when there are so many theme parks to see, it is a good place to go if you fancy a little bit of education. Additionally, it is a place that can be toured in an afternoon or evening so could be either a "rest" from the parks or a place to go in bad weather. Although there are some dull attractions or ones that aren't worth queuing for, overall it was a fun afternoon and our children are asking to go back when we revisit Florida. I could have done without the walk back to the hotel though!
As anyone who hasn't been on another planet will know, Walker's are currently running a "Do Me A Flavour" campaign to find a new flavour of crisps. I have started to regard it as a personal challenge to try all of the flavours before five of them disappear from our shelves forever. Until recently I had only tried four of the flavours - and been decidedly unimpressed with each one - as I had found the Cajun Squirrel flavour very difficult to track down. However, browsing in my local Asda on Friday night I discovered a few multipacks on an end shelf and had one in my basket faster than a squirrel who's spied a particularly juicy nut. I also added a packet of Onion Bhaji flavour to qualify for the two for £2 deal. The packet features a goofy looking grey squirrel peering through a fence and also informs us that this flavour was created by Martyn from Hednesford, who I believe is the only man to have his flavour chosen. For people who are wary about eating squirrel, you can rest assured that the packet also states that "no squirrels were harmed in the making of this crisp" and squirrel is not to be found anywhere n the ingredients. So really, it's a bit of a gimmick, though one that has worked for Martyn of Hednesford - I wonder if he would have been chosen if he'd suggested Cajun Chicken? It could however backfire. How many people remember the hedgehog flavour crisps that were briefly around in my schooldays? They didn't last long, did they? Upon opening the pack I was greeted with a not-unpleasant spicy smell. I tentatively tasted a crisp, not expecting much after hearing from one source that she spat hers out, but I was pleasantly surprised. The first taste was slightly sweet but not in a bad way, and the taste was quickly replaced by one that was very spicy, which is not surprising as the ingredients are listed as salt, sugar, dried onion, dried garlic, dried lemon juice, cardamom, ginger, coriander, chilli, cumin, oregano, thyme, allspice and parsley - phew! As I continued through the bag I found myself liking them more and more and I was a bit disappointed when I came to the end of the packet. Since then I've read reviews which said the packet was too big and I wondered if I were a bit greedy, but I've since realised that the bags they were referring to were 46g and the multipack bags are only 25g! I can't comment on whether the crisps actually taste like Cajun Squirrel as, for obvious reasons, I don't know, but if you like spicy crisps that don't leave an unpleasant after-taste this could be the one for you. I probably don't like these enough to actually bother voting (although my 14 year old son did!) but I would definitely buy them again and out of an otherwise mediocre or unpleasant selection to choose from these are my favourite so far. My only gripe, and the reason I'm subtracting one star, is that they are a bit greasy and I had to give my hands a good wash when I was finished. For those who care about these things, the pack contains 131 calories, 0.9g sugar, 8.2g fat, 0.6g saturates and 0.32g of salt. They are suitable for vegetarians (no squirrel included) and coeliacs and contain no artificial colours or MSG.
Credit crunch is probably a phrase that's being woefully overused at the moment. Nevertheless there are probably a lot of people being watchful of what they spend at the moment and trying to make every penny count. Five years ago, or maybe even less, the current economic climate would have been almost devastating for our family. Today, despite my husband losing his job in November, it hasn't been as difficult a time as it might have been. No, we haven't won the lottery and we're not independently wealthy. The difference? Until very recently we were seriously in debt and today while we don't have lot of money, we don't owe anything either. So over the last few years we have learned to live within our means and save money wherever possible. In July 2006 it began to dawn on me that we owed a lot on credit cards and loans. Shockingly, and unbelievably to me now, I didn't even know how much that was. Through a combination of going to university, lending money to family members in trouble, going on holiday and doing up our house we had managed to accumulate debts on a variety of credit cards and a loan or two. Up until then I hadn't considered it a problem; we could meet the repayments easily and everyone borrows money to go on holiday or buy new kitchens... don't they? I probably wouldn't have done anything about it even then if I hadn't stumbled across a forum called "Debt Free Wannabe" on the Money Saving Expert website. I had glanced at the site a couple of times but it didn't really apply to me. I didn't have as much debt as some of the people on that site, I wasn't having trouble meeting repayments and I had a good credit history. I didn't need any advice from that website. But just out of interest, I decided to add up exactly how much we did owe. To say it was a shock was an understatement. Somehow, without realising, although looking back I don't know how it was possible, we owed a huge, overwhelming, staggering amount. I won't post how much here (although I have posted freely on MSE so if you're really curious you could find out!) but it was a LOT! I still had all my statements for the past few months, so I went back and worked out how much I had owed over the last few months and was appalled to realise that although we were paying several hundred pounds a month to credit companies, the debt was hardly reducing at all. The rate we were going we would never, ever be debt free. Suddenly, I realised that I was one of those people from the forum after all. Often this is referred to as a lightbulb moment - similar to a cartoon when a lightbulb pings into action above a character's head to show they've realised something and mine was burning brightly! I realised that we were never going to be in a position to move from our poky little house as we would never be able to get a new mortgage with our level of debt and I suddenly grasped the fact that if we didn't do something soon our whole lives would be spent lining the pockets of the bank. Something had to be done! I went back to MSE and I must have spent several hours reading through people's stories. It was heartening to read personal accounts of others in similar situations, not that I like to revel in other folks' misery but it was nice to know I wasn't the only one who had got into this mess. And really it was my mess; I was the one who lent money to family; I was the one who had reassured my husband that we could afford things; I was in charge of the family finances. Slowly but surely, I began to take in some of the advice on the website. I hate the modern phenomenon of calling every experience a "journey" but this truly felt like the beginning of a journey. I tentatively registered on the website and began my first posts. The regular posters on the site were welcoming and the overwhelming advice was to complete a SOA or Statement of Affairs - basically a complete list of all the incomings and outgoings into our account, but remembering to include less regular bills, such as car insurance or tax, haircuts, Christmas, dental bills and more, alongside the monthly direct debits. It took a while to compile a SOA, but the website very helpfully provided a format so nothing was forgotten, and a while later I posted my SOA and stood back and waited for the criticism, I mean, advice from others who knew better than I did. Now, we're not extravagant people. We don't smoke, rarely drink or go out, don't buy designer outfits, handbags or shoes. But we still did get several suggestions to save money. One piece of advice was to cancel Sky TV and maybe we should have, but all of the family do watch various channels and many of the channels the children watch are the type that can't be found on Freeview. My husband did however phone and explain that we couldn't afford it anymore and we did get six months half price rental, effectively saving £21 a month. At the end of this time we did end up cancelling Sky Sports and Movies, and guess what, we've never missed it! Another problem was that I'm a bit of a magazine junkie and had several subscriptions including a couple for magazines for my profession, which while interesting, I rarely used the ideas from them. They also had to go and again I've never missed them. I do still buy magazines but I've scaled down the quantity - a lot! Next thing to go was gym membership - £23 a month for one or two visits! I hated the gym anyway. Cancelling the membership was a good excuse not to have to go. I much prefer long walks with my family anyway and I don't have to witness lots of sweaty men while I'm doing it. I couldn't bear to completely cancel my charity donations, despite the number of people who advised charity begins at home, but a couple of the monthly donations had crept up to £5 or £10 a month. You know how you get those letters or calls saying "just add a pound or two more"? I'm a soft touch for those. I steeled myself and reduced all the monthly donations to £2 each. Next was food. No I didn't cancel eating. But I did do something completely alien to me. I began to meal plan and shopped according to what we needed rather than just throwing everything I fancied in the trolley, reducing the food bill by around £30 a week. Looking back I don't even know what we were buying - I certainly don't feel like we're missing out now and we eat a lot more home-cooked foods, home made bread and desserts. A happy side effect of poverty is I've learned to cook! Then I cancelled a number of savings plans we had. I realised it was pointless saving at a lower interest rate than we were paying in interest. The savings plans paid out a few thousand pounds, enough to reduce our debt to a slightly less scary, but still massive level. The number of helpful websites that I discovered was amazing too. It was recommended that I kept a spending diary to write down everything we spent over a month. I found this difficult to do with pen and paper but could manage no problem using www.spendingdiary.com where I could write down everything I spent and print a report at the end of the month to show where the money had gone. It was very worrying to see exactly how much I spent on chocolate! Another excellent website was www.whatsthecost.com, a snowballing website. Snowballing is the process of paying off your debts in order of highest interest. Rather than just paying minimum payments, decide how much you can afford to pay each month. Pay the minimum payments on all but the debt with the highest loan and throw all the remaining money at that. When that is paid off, transfer all that remaining payment to the next highest interest rate. Whatsthecost.com estimated that I could knock 18 months off my payments by snowballing and showed exactly which debts to pay first. I must admit, over the months I became a little bit obsessed by this website. If ever I got any extra money I would add it to the snowball calculator to see how much I would affect my debt free day and it was amazing how little bits of extra payments knocked months off how long it would take to get debt free. I began doing surveys on a variety of websites. They didn't pay a lot but they all added up to extra shopping vouchers to use for birthdays or Christmas, or sometimes I would receive cheques which I was very strict about paying straight off a credit card. If I received a cheque for £30, I would pay £30 off a card that same day. It became almost like a challenge! Another new website to me was Quidco, a cashback website that pays commission on purchases. Not that I was making any purchases but they also paid out on free trials and utility switches. In that first couple of weeks I switched bank accounts, credit cards (to a 0% interest card), gas and electricity suppliers and took out car insurance which was due anyway. Overall, I made about £300 and everything was changed to a better deal so I was winning in every way. Once I received the cashback it went straight off the debts. Once all the major changes were in place it was really a case of keeping chipping away. Luckily my debt-busting fire was shining brightly and if ever I flagged there was plenty of moral support from the other Debt Free Wannabes. Over the following months, into years I discovered ebay and sold almost anything that wasn't nailed down, clothes, books, CDs, toys, whatever I could lay my hands on really. Sometimes I didn't make much, sometimes I was surprised by how much an item sold for but I was really strict and used it for extra repayments. It was while ebaying that I realised how much of the stuff we owned was unnecessary, bought because we wanted it, then relegated to a corner or attic and never used, or even glanced at. It helped a lot as whenever I was out shopping I would look at something to buy and immediately imagine ebaying it in a couple of months. I kept up with the cashback and survey sites and kept a close eye on MSE for other money making ideas. It was a fine line between paying off debts and still having a life but we became more inventive! At one time I would have been too embarrassed to use a voucher but they became my friend in the supermarket. Plus I made full use of vouchers for free or reduced entry to theme parks. We visited museums and parks that were free to enter. If we visited the cinema in school holidays it was on a Wednesday to take advantage of Orange Wednesdays, and smuggling in a bag of snacks and drinks. We didn't go on holiday abroad as we normally would and took advantage of The Sun newspaper's £9.50 weekends instead. My husband and I dined out regularly as mystery shoppers - free meals and a small payment for doing it! Christmas presents and birthday presents were bought in the sales or using survey vouchers. We bought cheap hampers and made sweetie hampers, or pamper hampers for gifts using free samples or travel sized mini bottles. They were surprisingly well received; my Mum even hinted for another one this year. Slowly but surely, the debt whittled down. The passing of each thousand mark was a cause for celebration and by the time I fell pregnant in May 2007 I was confident of surviving maternity leave on a much reduced pay. Even our baby was provided for on a budget. I got a baby sling, baby bath and bouncy chair from Freecycle and my friend who had a baby a few months old passed on a moses basket and many, many clothes. Most of my maternity clothes came from eBay and I wore my old stretchy tracksuit bottoms almost until they fell to bits. I breastfed my baby exclusively until he was six months (and I'm still feeding now at 12 months old), which was actually a lifestyle choice but had the handy bonus of being free. Luckily for us, by the time baby was born in January 2008, our debts were no more. I won't even begin to pretend it was easy At times it was embarrassing, frustrating, annoying and depressing but we kept going with the support of the MSErs, many of who are also Dooyoo-ers, and the vision of life without having to pay creditors each month. I'm not sure what I expected from my debt-free-day, a lightning clap, heavenly music, a big medal, perhaps, but in the end it was a bit of an anti-climax but a huge relief. I think I thought we would be rich afterwards with all the extra money we would have. Well, life doesn't work like that, does it? After nine months maternity leave, we decided I would only go back to work three days a week, then two months later my husband was made redundant. He has found some work, but only on an ad hoc basis, usually three days a week, which has really worked for the best as we may have reduced our income by half but we have a lot more family time together and as we've learned to be more frugal we don't miss spending on anything. Luckily our children are fairly content with what they have and they don't nag for expensive clothes or toys. Despite only earning one salary between us we're still managing at the moment to pay the bills and save a little amount each month and I'm still doing the surveys, and now Dooyoo, to pay for the little extras. I realise that we have been lucky to have come to our lightbulb moment just at the right time and there may be people reading who are in just as bad or possibly worse situations than we were. If you're having serious problems and are unable to pay bills, don't hide from your problems as they won't go away. There are many sites that promise to help with your debts but many are just out to make money for themselves. I would recommend speaking to www.cccs.co.uk or www.payplan.com if you're struggling to pay. I don't have any personal experience of these companies but I understand they give help and advice for free. Additionally, the Citizen's Advice Bureau can also provide debt advice. It wouldn't hurt to take a peek at the Debt Free Wannabe board either, even if you don't have the confidence to post to begin with, it's heartening to know that you're not alone and I can practically guarantee no-one will judge you, no matter what the level of debt. Even now, I still post there and count several of the regular posters as friends. It can be a long walk, but every journey starts with that first step!
As most people are probably aware from the recent advertising campaign, Walker's crisps are currently running a competition to find a new flavour of crisps. Normally I'm not a big crisp eater but as the new flavours are only available for a little while I decided to see if I could try them all. Asda are currently selling the six pack multipacks at two for £2 which I think is good value as I have seen single packets in the shops for 50p each. I would have bought all six flavours except for the fact that my local Asda appear not to be selling the Cajun Squirrel flavour. So I only bought four flavours and set about tasting them. Having already tried Builder's Breakfast and Fish and Chips and being somewhat less then impressed by either I then decided to try the Chilli and Chocolate flavour created by Catherine from High Wycombe. As a big chocolate fan I was torn between having high hopes of this one and being repulsed by the idea of chocolate crisps. I remember back in my early days of secondary school there was a bit of a craze for sweet flavoured crisps, including orange flavour or pineapple flavour but I was never very keen on them. The fact that you don't see them in shops these days leads me to think no-one else was enthusiastic about them either! The packet shows a cute looking chilli reclining upon a bar of chocolate and is probably my favourite packet logo so far, but no-one is going to vote on the strength of the picture on the pack, are they? A new ritual when I eat crisps is to begin with a great big sniff of the packet and that's exactly what I did with these ones. They had a sweetish, chocolate-like smell which I wasn't overly impressed with but it didn't put me off. Upon pulling a crisp from the bag I noticed they were a darker brown than ordinary Walker's crisps which is probably to do with the cocoa powder that is used I their production. I placed one upon my tongue to be greeted with an immediate taste of something that is difficult to describe. It's probably the chocolate but not like any chocolate I eat and you'll be glad to hear it certainly didn't taste sweet at all. This taste was immediately overwhelmed by a spicy taste, presumably the chilli. After this mouthful I failed to notice any other flavour but the spicy taste which was nice but not sensational. In my opinion they are another flavour of crisps that are just fairly mediocre; they sound more exciting than they actually are. I wouldn't be appalled if these were the chosen flavour but I wouldn't be ecstatic either. After eating the crisps my tongue did tingle a little bit but they weren't so spicy or hot that they left my mouth aflame and there wasn't any particular aftertaste, which is a bonus. For people who are interested in such things, and who feel they may still like to try these crisps, they contain Calories 131 Sugar 0.5g Fat 8.3g Saturates 0.7g Salt 0.30g They are suitable for vegetarians and coeliacs and contain no MSG or artificial colours. In conclusion, these crisps are all right, I suppose, but not anything to shout from the rooftops about. They certainly wouldn't inspire me to waste any time voting for them. I'm beginning to wonder if there's actually a flavour that will!
One of my saddest confessions is that I love getting post. I mean really love it! If I'm not at work I keep out a constant watchful eye for the postman and moan when he's late. When I'm away on holiday one of the things I really look forward to is getting home to a huge pile of letters and it's a really bad day when I see the postman walking by without stopping at my door. I know, it's pathetic! But I do admit that the quality of the post received is just as important. It's quite depressing to be greeted by an interesting looking pile of mail to discover that it's all for The Occupier or is offering loans at extortionate interest rates. So I was quite excited this week to read a review of a site called graze.com. This is a website that offers to deliver a selection of healthy snacks to your doorstep or place of work, therefore combining two of my favourite things - food and mail - into one brilliant bundle. I just had to sign up! == SIGNING UP == Signing up was easy. Simply go to the website and fill in the usual details, name, address and suchlike. Then choose what day or days you would like the box delivered. It is possible to have a box delivered any day between Tuesday and Saturday. Monday deliveries aren't possible as graze.com need to post the day before to ensure that fruit is still fresh and Sunday deliveries aren't possible as there's no postal service on a Sunday. == WEBSITE == Going straight to the website showed an offer of half price for your first box. Pretty good, I thought and signed straight up. Wrong decision! Had I read more reviews before signing up I would have discovered that by going through Top Cashback I would get £2 for signing up and £3 for the first full price delivery plus the Top Cashback link takes you to a page that offers the first box for free and the second one half price. How annoyed was I when I realised I'd missed that? That'll teach me not to read all the reviews first! But anyway, I signed up for the first box half price which meant it would cost £1.49 instead of £2.99 - still not a bad price, I think. == THE CHOICES == Each box of healthy snacks consists of three sections - a portion of fresh fruit, a medium sized package of "special graze mix", which can be a variety of different nuts, seeds and dried fruits and a smaller package (25g) of nuts, seeds, savoury snacks, "natural treats" or olives (though it costs 50p extra if you choose the olive option.) It's not possible to exactly choose the snacks you want as graze choose your options for you but for me that's part of the fun. It's a little bit like Christmas waiting to see what you get. I did spoil the surprise a little bit by looking at the website once the package had been sent but next time I will just wait and see what arrives. Although you can't expressly choose what you want, you can rate the different options on the site. The site is set up with all of the items in different sections, including fresh fruit, 2 a day mixes, dried fruit, nut and seed mixes, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, savoury snacks, natural treats and olives. Once you click on a section you get to rate each item according to how much you like it. Each item is automatically set to "Try" which means it will be sent for you to try. You can choose to leave items on Try or change to Love (which means it will be sent regularly), Like (which means it will be sent occasionally or Bin (which means it won't be sent at all). I binned everything with coconut in as I don't like it and also a couple of the more boring options - I have plenty of apples that I can slice up if the mood takes me! Graze.com will send a combination of items so you won't get all items you love or all items to try; in fact I got one from each category. The items available to choose are quite wide ranging and really you need to look on the site to see the full options but I will try and give you an idea of what each category contains. === FRESH FRUIT === *Apples *Cherries *Grapefruit *Pineapple *Cherry oranges *Grapefruit and orange *Grapes (red, white or mixed) === FRUIT, NUT and SEED mixes === *Raisin, almond and cranberry *Apricots, strawberries and macadamias *Hot chilli almonds, cajun seeds and raisins *Dried apple, blackberry and hazelnut *Pumpkin seed, apricots and mango & many, many more! === DRIED FRUITS === *Papaya, cherry and raisin *Banana, coconut and mango *Cranberries, cherries and blueberries *Apricots, morelli cherries and goji berries *Strawberry, banana and cherry & many more! === NUTS === Include a variety of nuts, including almond, pecan, macadamia, hazelnut, pistachio and more and can be either one type on their own or two or three types mixed together. It can also include BBQ, honey, chilli or lemon salted versions, yum! === SEEDS === Includes several varieties of seeds including pumpkin, sunflower, inseed, flax, poppy, hemp and sesame, all mixed in different varieties. === SAVOURY SNACKS === *Japanese Rice Crackers *Korean Rice Crackers *Seaweed Peanut Crackers === NATURAL TREATS === Different nuts and seeds mixed in different varieties and often including chocolate or yoghurt covered fruits and nuts or chocolate buttons. === OLIVES === Variety of olives in different marinades. I'm not an olive fan so I didn't take much notice of this section. This is only a very small selection of what is included on the site and it all looks absolutely delicious. If I'd had to choose my own selection there's no way I would have been able to narrow it down to three items so I'm glad the decision was made for me. == THE ARRIVAL OF THE BOX == Saturday morning arrived and luckily for me it's the day the postman arrives early. On a weekday he doesn't deliver until almost lunchtime and I think I would have exploded with anticipation before then, but just before nine I saw him approach the door. He seemed to dither a bit about whether to put it through the letterbox or knock at the door or maybe that was just me being impatient. In the end he did put it through the letterbox, which is good because the whole idea is that it fits so the postal worker will never have to take it away again. In other words, you're guaranteed to get it fresh on the right day! The box itself was an attractive looking brown cardboard box, which can be recycled. Opening it was a bit of a task as it had two clear plastic strips around it to keep it closed. It would be easy to open with a pair of scissors but I valiantly battled to remove them without any. Upon opening the box you are greeted with three plastic trays, of differing sizes, similar to those you get pieces of fresh fruit in from supermarkets. The box also includes a small bamboo fork to eat the fresh fruit and a paper napkin - although I didn't find this until afterwards. Additionally there is a cardboard sheet that explains what your three snacks are and giving nutritional information. It also includes a code to pass onto three friends giving them their first box for a £1 and giving you £1 off your next box for each friend you recommend. My box contained fresh cut grapefruit and orange, which was very fresh and juicy. I quite like both orange and grapefruit, although I rarely eat them as I find them too messy to peel so it was a pleasant change. The medium sized containing had a mix called Johnny Come Lately which was a mixture of dried blackcurrants, whole almonds and apricots. It was quite delicious and held a good quantity of almonds which are my favourites. My one year old son especially liked the blackcurrants and kept going into the kitchen and pointing at the box. They made a nice change for him from raisins, although maybe he thought that's what they were. The small snack serving was black pepper cashew nuts, which were delicious but disappeared really quickly. They were more just a little taste than anything. The whole box was lovely, although I didn't get to graze as everyone wanted to have a try and with an unfillable 14 year old, a hungry ten year old and a blackcurrant-obsessed one year old competing for the snacks with me they didn't last long at all! However, they were very much enjoyed by the whole family with the children clamouring to ask when the next one was coming. Everything was very fresh and tasty and while there was nothing particularly different from what we would normally eat in this particular box, the website offers a wide variety of foods and I look forward to trying some of the other things that I wouldn't normally buy myself. It's also a good way of getting children to try different foods, not that I have that problem - keeping them off the food is more difficult! == ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES? == I think you can probably guess already that I love this whole idea! However, buying on a regular basis would work out quite expensive. Much as I would like one of these boxes to be delivered to work or home each day, that would work out at £15 which is an expense that I, and probably many others, can't really justify, although if you normally buy coffee, ready made sandwiches or suchlike everyday then this might be a better option. I would imagine that for the price of one box you could go to a supermarket and buy your own selection of fruits, nuts and seeds although it wouldn't be half as much fun. Also, I'm quite lazy so I probably wouldn't bother anyway to prepare it all and put it in little pots! Anyway, the cost is the only reason I couldn't give this product the full four stars although when you consider it also includes postage it's not THAT bad! == OVERALL OPINION == As a one off treat (I'm trying to decide whether I can justify once a week or not) or as a gift for someone this is a great idea. Also, if you normally spend money on ready made food for work each day then this would be a much healthier option. Graze suggest that you can either use the box for your lunch to lose weight or to snack on to avoid the mid-afternoon slump caused by low blood sugar. I love the idea that this can be delivered to your place of work - although I imagine where I work they would consider it to be highly decadent! If I come into money sometime in the near future then you can be assured I will be having daily deliveries from graze.com but in the meantime it will have to be a very much enjoyed, occasional treat.