Why Mickey’s Halloween Party is a must do!

Mention the words “family holiday” and visions of theme parks and roller-coaster rides spring to mind. And as theme parks go, Disneyland is the grand-daddy of them all, even after all these years. So when we started considering our next holiday with a 9 year old who has recently discovered the joys of theme parks, it seemed like the obvious choice.

Going during the NZ school holidays in October proved to be a serendipitous choice. In the lead up to Halloween, Disneyland has special night-time Halloween themed “Mickey’s Halloween Parties” that feature the park, rides and characters dressed in ‘Halloween’ costumes, there are special parades and fireworks, and to our surprised delight, lots of free candy! For an extra $65 for a few hours (in addition to the usual 3 day pass), it turned out to be the best few hours we had at Disneyland. And because we don’t really have it in New Zealand, this was a great way to get a glimpse into the culture (and mania) of Halloween celebrations.

For us, this was an unforgettable experience for many reasons…..

You’ll see Disneyland like never before

Walking around the park after dark, taking in the spooky characters and atmospheric lighting around the grounds was a wondrous experience. Sleeping Beauty’s Enchanted Castle is covered in spiderweb and other scary lighting, a number of rides and attractions are beautifully lit, and there are carved pumpkins and displays all around. And the Halloween Parade as well as the Fireworks at the end were simply spectacular!

There are no queues for the rides

As first timers, we went on most of the ‘popular’ rides as part of the evening, and we encountered no queues whatsoever. We only realized how lucky we had been on the coming days when we visited the park during daylight hours. The sharpest contrast was walking on to the Indiana Jones ride, and then seeing the humongous queues for it over the next three days. Even if you only visit Disneyland for the rides, this is the easiest way to get more thrills in.

Halloween Costumes everywhere

As you might expect, park employees and Disney Characters, and of course the kids are dressed in special Halloween costumes. But this is the only time when adults are allowed to wear costumes as well. The number of well thought out, elaborate costumes we saw everywhere was incredible. The people watching was as much fun as the ‘organised’ entertainment, and most people made at least some attempt to dress up.

Free Chocolate and Candy!

Our nine year old son had never been trick or treating before, so seeing Trick or Treat candy stations and ‘Candy Trails’ everywhere made his eyes light up! The park thoughtfully provided bags for storage for us, and we had a blast grabbing chocolate between rides and events. Most of these were American chocolates that are uncommon in New Zealand, so we enjoyed trying all the different types and flavours over the next few weeks, and we even brought loads back home.


Final Thoughts

While Disneyland is fun just about anytime of the year, the buzz and excitement at this event were really special. If I had to do it again, I’d seriously consider just going to a couple of these instead of the all-day visits. Because doors open at 3, you get a decent amount of time in the park in the daytime as well, and the night-time temperatures are so much better in the hot LA region. With all the extra entertainment, lack of crowds and free candy factored in, this event is an absolute MUST DO if you have the opportunity – with or without kids!

LA is awesome – the overview edition

Out of the blue!

A couple of months ago, we were in LA. I’m not sure how we ended up in LA, we were saving hard and planning a 6 week trip to India. Cue Indian elections, the odd riot and suddenly, Mummy Paranoia Mode kicked in – we could go to India another time. Next thing you know, Virgin Airlines is having a sale, and even though we can’t get sale fares for our dates, hey, LA sounds like a great idea. Now we’d never even CONSIDERED the idea of going to the USA – I’d always thought I’d want to go back to Malaysia or perhaps Vietnam. But before I could stop to think, I’d booked the family onto a flight to LA staying 2 weeks!

Anyway, once the booking was done, I was super excited. I LOVE the anticipation of planning a trip, and here was a part of the world I knew absolutely nothing about. I was in absolute trip planning heaven for the next few weeks.


Here’s a quick overview of what we did.

Week 1 – LA and it’s ‘cities’

I was determined not to do the usual Star Homes and Madame Tussaud’s type touristy stuff. Of course we did touristy stuff, but not THOSE particular ones. And we were all astonished at how much fun we had in LA – hubby was expecting tackiness and crime perhaps, but he was blown away.

We went to museums, discovered some amazing food and shopping, saw our favourite band (ok, MY favourite band) at the Hollywood bowl, went to the beach, discovered downtown LA and had a close encounter with the Walking Dead, our second favourite TV show. We also managed to fit in Hollywood (and the Walk of Fame), Rodeo Drive and Universal Studios – wouldn’t want to miss out on the classics!

LA Trip 280

Week 2 – Disneyland

The entire reason that this trip was planned in the school holidays was so that our favourite little person could enjoy it too, and we thought perhaps he might enjoy Disneyland. Unexpectedly, the adults (ok, at least in age if not maturity) loved it too, and we managed to pick a really great time to visit.

We not only enjoyed 3 whole days in Disneyland, we also managed to fit in Mickey’s Halloween Party (so so amazing. Just Do It). We also came away with a massive respect for the time, effort, quality and detail put into every aspect of the Disney experience. The shops are amazing. Not the shopping – the SHOPS.

We were also pleasantly surprised by Anaheim – away from the Disneyfied madness, we found a lovely town centre with great coffee and cafes, a great time at the Packing District and some excellent Outlet shopping.

So if you are wondering if you should go to LA, especially while the prices are low and the kids are young… Go! Now. Just vaccinate your kids first.

LA Trip 575

A very foodie Christmas

Christmas and the extended holidays – a time for catching up with family and friends, and enjoying humongous amounts of food and drink. In New Zealand, we are so fortunate to have summer in December, and Christmas to us means bright sunny days, chilled G&Ts or white wine, and barbecues with lots of fresh salads.

We don’t always dispense with the roasts and the hams though, as tradition is a powerful thing, and more food is always welcome. 

Dad does the honours
BBQ all fired up
Drinks while we wait




Come and get it
Last but certainly not least

Hmm, I think I might have just indulged in Gluttony and Sloth as well as Peace and Joy.. oops!

Travelling to Oxford – New Zealand, not England

For the last three years, we have traveled to my In-laws little life-style block for Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Almost everyone in the extended family comes and spends the day there, and having the clan there is a fantastic excuse to spend the days grazing on delicious leftovers, drinking copious quantities of whatever comes to hand, and catching up on gossip.

Panorama of Oxford farmlet

The Senior Goulds had been eyeing up rural plots all over the NZ South Island for a few years, and they finally chanced upon this chunk of land that was perfect for them. The picture above has been taken from the house, which is at the top end of the property, and their land extends until the treeline in the distance. It is large enough to accommodate their dreams and ambitions for a self-sustained rural lifestyle, but not so large as to feel unmanageable. 

Farmer Dad enjoying the sheep

In the last three years, they have built a little house with a large deck, installed lots of fencing and driveways, planted trees, gardens and flowers and built a little separate studio. Most recently, Dad built a shed so he could get some sheep and lambs.

Clouds rolling in at the foothills of the Southern Alps

Oxford has it’s own micro-climate being at the foothills of the Southern Alps, and it can have quite different weather to the nearby city of Christchurch. And with a location as lovely as this, even a couple of days feels like a complete disconnect from normal life. When we’re out there, the kids are outside playing, and we stay away from the wifi. Days are about enjoying the countryside, views, and a good glass of wine with some fabulous company no matter what the weather or the time of the day.


Streams around the Waimakariri

There is a stream not far away that the dogs and kids love, a little Farmer’s market on Sundays and a surprising variety of great shops in the main town. There are also a couple of very good cafes for those who need their regular caffeine fixes (Mr. Rock Star!).

Sunset on a summer’s evening

We consider ourselves non-outdoorsy city people, but spending time at Oxford has made us realise that there is a good chance we could be semi-rural in the future ourselves. The sense of wide open space, unending skies and green everywhere is incredibly calming and therapeutic, and might be worth battling an hour of traffic for. But for now, we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to tap into this mini-break whenever we can – thanks to our always welcoming family.

Auckland for the solo traveller

Over the years, I’ve done a fair bit of travel to Auckland, NZ for both business and pleasure, and we have been lucky enough to see many parts of the city over the years.

Tip: Auckland is such a spread out city, that I find a rental car very handy. A day’s rental is almost always cheaper than the cab fare to the airport from town, and you can get some good deals, so it can be a very cost-effective and convenient option for visitors.

I was in Auckland last week for a few days for work, and managed to fit a little sight-seeing in between meetings – that’s what occasional travel is all about. It is fun to travel with companions, but there is equally a distinct pleasure in travelling alone. You set your own schedule and pace, and don’t need to consider anyone else’s needs or interests: you can do whatever your own heart desires (although you do still feel guilty!).

These are some of the things I’ve enjoyed doing in Auckland when travelling on my own, and hopefully you’ll consider doing these if you ever visit too. Most of these are free to do too – Bonus!

1. View the City from a vantage point


Because of the number of hills around Auckland, there will usually be a vantage point not far from your current location. I like Mount Eden and Bastion Point at twilight, when you can see the city lights coming on. The transition from day to night makes for some amazing pictures too. Mount Victoria behind Devonport is another great vantage point, especially during the day when the green hills frame the blue Pacific Ocean, with the iconic volcano Rangitoto and the Auckland cityscape in the background.

These visits can be a quick 15 minutes, but if you have a couple of hours in hand, take a drink and find yourself one of the walking tracks nearby. You will be rewarded with some lovely vistas, birdsong, the murmur of the wind and the peace of solitude.

2. Spend some time by the water


Auckland has a water view for every weather, mood and budget.

On a sunny day nothing beats a stroll through the long beach at St Heliers, with kids frolicking in the water, seagulls chasing morsels of food and the windsurfers and boats sailing past Rangitoto set against a glorious blue sky. Grab an ice-cream for twice the fun, and offer to take pictures of families enjoying themselves for an extra-warm glow on the inside. Warm evenings are made for people watching at Wynard Quarter or the Viaduct with a glass of local wine in hand.

On a wet windy day, drive out to wild Piha or Karikari beaches on the west coast and feel the rain on your face and wind whipping your hair. Or if you’d prefer to stay warm and dry, get a coffee in the ferry terminal at Devonport and enjoy the storm through the glass.

  • 3. A stroll through Parnell Village


I have spent a few pleasant hours strolling through Parnell, looking through stores with gorgeous clothes, lovely products, and splendid antiques and enjoying the atmosphere. Some of Auckland’s best restaurants are at the top of the street, and if you stop for a libation, do get a table on the deck out back. Each café or restaurant has a deck and they are all connected and look out over a little green oasis of calm – a perfect spot for some liquid refreshment. At the very top is the road through the green domain to the Auckland museum. Be sure to stroll through the winter gardens which are small but perfectly formed, and watch the ducks fussing in the pond outside.

You may not find these recommendations in the must-dos in the guide-books, but when you don’t have much time or just need a quick break, they can be great. Strolling the streets and hanging out where the locals do can often give you a wonderfully different perspective to the stuff you’d generally do as a tourist. And this way, I can save the ‘must-do’ items for the trip with the family.

What about you – do you get the chance to break away from work even when you travel on work? What do you look forward when you travel without family or friends?

The Christmas Tree is up!

The Advent Calendar has been started, the shopping is nearly complete and time off work has been booked.  Now for the final touch that says Christmas is coming:  put up the Christmas Tree.

Christmas Tree 2013
Now with bonus presents!

Still on the to-do list:
– Plan the menu for Christmas and Boxing day
– Write out and send Christmas cards
– Decorate the office
– Pay for our accommodation in Queenstown for New Year’s Eve (hooray)

How are your Christmas preparations going?

I took a cruise, I didn’t like it (apologies to Ms Perry)


This was meant to be the perfect vacation, and the best way to introduce our little dude to travel overseas.  We had been looking for a relaxing holiday to get away from thinking about our increasingly busy & stressful jobs. We wanted to avoid long flights as the li’l dude suffers from travel sickness. The idea of a holiday with lots of food (and drinks!), entertainment and activities (and kids clubs!) with minimal effort, whilst being transported painlessly from port to port overnight seemed perfect. The price was right, and several family members who had been on a cruise were enthusiastic converts.  Every article and review on the internet enthused about the joys of cruising whilst the dissenting views seemed few and far between. There was no way we could NOT have gone on this holiday!

I know you’re itching to hear what happened next  (OK, I know you aren’t). And sadly for us, (Spoiler Alert)  yes, we hated it  (so not a Spoiler, it’s in the title of this post).  And hopefully, you’ll read my reasons below and go ‘Pfft, you big girl’s blouse’ and they won’t matter to you and you’ll have a great time on your cruise. But just in case you wanted to read a dissenting opinion (or tell me in the comments how wrong I am), here it is.

But hey, this was a vacation after all, and it’s not all rainclouds and stink-bombs. There were some pretty good things about our cruise too.

  1. Ports of Call: We visited 5 islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu as part of the cruise itinerary, and each one was better than the last. The beaches were picture perfect, the people were friendly and the weather was wonderful. We enjoyed snorkeling at Lifou, poking around tiny Mystery Island, and wines on the powder-soft beach at Ille de Pines. We adored Noumea’s gelatos and coffees, and even a hiccup with a disorganized tour operator at Port Vila turned into an opportunity to play with the local kids for our son. It was a great way to check out a number of places and figure out which ones were worth coming back for a longer stay. Yes, I’m aware this sounds smug and like I’m rubbing it in, because I am.  :)


2. Onboard space and service: Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, and the stewards were efficient, friendly and unfailingly helpful. Rooms were serviced twice a day, treats were handed out to grubby little hands (not to me! to the 8 year old) and cute towel animals were created for the pampered little dude. Restaurants were large and light, service was prompt and courteous and our needs anticipated surprisingly often (or maybe we are that predictable!).

3. Food, glorious food: Anyone who knows me will cheerfully, and quite truthfully, tell you what a chow-hound I am. The only thing I like better than pigging out on a delicious meal is drunkenly exclaiming how much I am enjoying this amazing wine. The rock star is an absolute foodie (post-gig band-bonding McDonalds sessions notwithstanding) and the little dude is a picky foodie in training (and bloody hard to cook for). Let me just say that every meal onboard, at every restaurant had something for everyone. The rock star doesn’t do buffets, but even he didn’t have too much to complain about on the occasions we had to. And the food at the Chef’s Table degustation and Salt Grill were to die for!

Okay I can see you’re getting set to sign up already. So let me just provide a run-down of the things we didn’t rave about.

  1. Sea-sickness: You knew this was on the list the minute I mentioned that little dude gets travel-sick. But everything we’d read and heard (and we talked to a pharmacist) made us believe that sea-sickness tablets would be literally a magic pill. Sadly this was not the case not just for little dude but for me as well. Although actual throw-up incidents were limited to 1 (not me!), the first 2 days of unease continued in mild form throughout our trip. For example, the night we ate at the Chef’s table unfortunately coincided with slightly choppy seas, leaving me unable to fully enjoy my amazing meal. And little dude was unable to stomach the Kid’s Club (on the higher decks) for long periods of time, leaving him nauseous, bored and restless, and one us was always confined to the cabin with him.

So if you or any children in your party are in any way travel-sickness inclined, please proceed cautiously. I guess you could always tough it out and enjoy yourself in spite of your sea-sickness (we met some of these hardy souls on board), I’m just too much of a wimp to achieve this myself.

2. Time Limits suck:  Ok, so this is what I feel at the end of every vacation. But I’m actually talking about the limited time you get at each port. Mystery island is tiny, and a few hours there is plenty. But each of the other ports had so much to see and do that there was no way to do it all. When you’re docking at 8.30 and leaving at 5.00, that isn’t much time at all, and long disembarkation times cut into it even further. Worse, we were so anxious about not getting back in time that we’d make sure we were back a couple of hours before the ship was due to leave. The one time we didn’t (in Noumea), we (Ok, me) were sick with worry about whether we would make it. I don’t need that shit on holiday.

3. Cabin Fever: It is a massive ship. It will take you ages for the first day or 2 to get your head around what is where. But once that is done, it is like being trapped in a hotel with the same layouts and carpets and upholstery no matter where you go. What makes it worse is that wherever you go, the people are the same too. I’m a city girl who hates exercise and loves the great outdoors only when there are glass windows between us. I can veg out in bed all morning and not leave the house all day (unless it is to get another bottle of wine from the beer fridge in the garage). If I couldn’t cope, you sporty, outdoorsy types are DOOMED!

4. Same same but different: One of the things that makes a holiday interesting to us (a belated realization, thank you cruise!) is the opportunity to do something completely different. In Thailand, it’s night markets and hanging out at temples and just all the things that make it so different from New Zealand. In Auckland and Melbourne, it is walking around the quirky bylanes and alleys, discovering cool places to eat, drink and shop. It is the ability to stay up late watching the locals from a table at a café while li’l dude stays up way past his bedtime and has a massive dessert. Unfortunately the time limits at port force you into an on-board routine pretty quickly, and we were getting bored and going to bed early. And when your seasick child is in bed by 8 pm, you feel like a bad parent for sneaking away even for a quick drink. Added to this, the much anticipated entertainment was sub-par, the jokes too clean and the boozing around us just exhausting. I stopped feeling silly going to bed at 10 about halfway through the trip.

5. Demographics: In spite of cruise industry advertising to the contrary, I just think we were a bad fit for this kind of holiday.  We didn’t have many other couples or families in a similar age group, and it was hard to connect with people with quite different interests and concerns. There were loads of people under 25s and over 50s, and not many in our 30’s age group.  We weren’t interested in partying until late, or in Bingo or Line dancing, although we did enjoy Trivia and a few other activities. The little dude wasn’t particularly well catered for outside of the kid’s club and we aren’t fans of leaving our child there all day, so his participation in child-friendly events was limited as well. Ultimately, we were looking for a bit more culture and excitement from our holiday than the cruise was able to provide.

Obviously, these observations and opinions are ultimately very specific to the kind of people we are, and our particular ages, interests and expectations of a holiday. But given that we are not particularly unique in these things, I do hope that someone else in a similar position at least thinks about and prepares themselves for these challenges before they pay out that deposit. And I’m really unsure how much more we could have done to mitigate these things. I researched ships, ports, tours, sea sickness remedies – you name it – as much as humanly possible. But it was one of those things that you need to try to realize if it is for you or not, and it was not for us.

Still, we’re the type of people that never say never. Rock Star and I have agreed to give it another whirl – this time when we’re 60, and without the li’l dude cramping our style. Until then, we’ll just stick to our land based holidays.

What about you – have you had similar experiences on a cruise? Or have you been in exactly the same circumstances and still enjoyed yourself tremendously, and think we could have done something different?

Seeing the world in mini-breaks