Articles tagged with: Reviews

The Weekend Just Gone...

on Thursday, 21 August 2014.

Last weekend we had one of those 'bits and bobs' weekends- you know the ones where you don't have any set plans but you end up being quite busy doing different things.  It was quite welcome after being away so much over the Summer.  As usual either my DSLR or my phone came along for the ride too.

Here is a glimpse of the weekend just gone...

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On Saturday we went over to see my Dad for a BBQ cause my grandparents were visiting from Wales.  I became like an undercover detective trying to snap candid moments without them seeing.  I love this one taken of Mads and my Nana from outside.  I truly treasure experiencing these moments.

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Isn't it funny how children instinctively know the good ones?  I know they are family but even when they haven't seen them for a while, my little ladies just fall straight back into place with their Great Nana and Grandpa. 

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My 93 year old Grandpa and my 3 year old little girl sharing a moment.

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My happy girl.

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Reading a story with Nana.  My Nana is an ex headteacher and she partly helped influence my love of reading and words.  Everytime we visited them she would spend hours reading, doing puzzles or playing Scrabble with me.  I loved watching them from a distance reading together.

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I couldn't love this photo anymore.

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I love this photo for it's innocence and the fact it captures a childhood favourite- playing hide and seek.


On Sunday I took part in my first ever half marathon.  Considering I have only been running since January and I hadn't really trained properly for it, I was absolutely terrified.  To top it all off, it actually chucked it down with rain most of the time, with the sun finally coming out towards the end. This photo was before- I can see the fear in my face!


It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, especially as I was ill the next day so obviously had a bug and felt so awful at the end, but I am so proud of myself for doing it. I finished in a time of 1 hour 58 which I am so pleased with considering it was a hilly course.  I didn't enjoy it at all, but would I do another one?  Definitely!

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To celebrate my half marathon, we decided to go to Zizzi's Cambridge for a meal as we had been invited to try it out as a family.  We went to the Bene't Street branch which is just gorgeous, it's in an old converted bank and the decor is stunning.  

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To start we shared a garlic bread and a bread bucket between the four of us, the girls had starter's with their kids meals but couldn't get enough of the different breads, which to be fair were very yummy.

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As a family we could eat pizza constantly, even my fussy little ladies will wolf it down.  For mains Mr E had a delicious Rustica Piccante pizza which we all had a little bit of because it was huge.  I had the Skinny Pollo Piccante pizza which was on smaller wholemeal dough and came with a side salad.  It normally would have been the perfect size for me but I was so hungry from my race!  The girls had Margherita's which got the definite seal of approval with an empty plate from both.

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For pudding I had the Panna Cotta which was just delicious, Mads had the ice cream cones and popping candy which she thought was the best thing ever, and LL and Mr E had sorbet. 

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LL finished her dessert and the proceeded to eat half her sister's!  All in all we couldn't fault Zizzi's, the food was fantastic, the venue gorgeous and we had a great time.  A special mention had to go to our waiter who really was so lovely with the girls- something which just makes the experience of dining with children that little bit easier and nicer.  We have eaten at Zizzi's a fair few times and will continue to do so- what's not to love? 



NB: We were invited to try out Zizzi's as a family- all words, photos, and half marathon accomplishments are entirely my own. ;) 


Our Holiday With Mark Warner- The Nitty Gritty.

on Friday, 18 July 2014.

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For the past week or so I have been posting photos from our recent holiday to Levante Beach in Rhodes.  Sadly this is the last post so from now on it will be back to normality, but I wanted to spend a bit of time giving my opinion on the holiday itself. I have split it into categories so hopefully it will help anyone planning on booking a trip with Mark Warner.


Getting There.


Mark Warner fly to Rhodes via two destinations- Manchester with Jet2 and Heathrow with British Airways.  We flew from Heathrow and were pleasantly surprised with the whole process.  Mark Warner charter the BA flight, meaning that nearly everyone on the plane was going to Levante Beach.  This was quite nice actually as it meant that we got chatting to a few families on the flight and also there were lots of children on board so we were all in the same position of keeping them entertained.  The flight to Rhodes is four hours long, a funny time really as not long enough to be classed as long haul but also a bit longer than your average short haul flight to Spain or Portugal.  Still we had the iPad babysitter and the girls were so tired that they fell asleep for a while too.  

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Flying BA meant your usual free drinks and food, which was nice to pass the time a little.  On arrival at the airport, we were incredibly impressed with the efficiency of the transfers.  There were friendly Mark Warner staff there to greet you and we were all split into different coaches so that it would be quicker check in at the hotel.  You sign the check in forms on the coach meaning that it takes less time at the hotel, this was a great idea. On arrival at Levante Beach, which took half an hour, we were greeted with some sliced watermelon and a nice cold drink which was very much needed!  We left our bags on the bus and they were taken up to our rooms within minutes, which again we thought was efficient.


First Impressions.


Our first impressions of Levante Beach were just how clean it was.  Everything was shiny and spotless and you could really tell that the resort was only a couple of years old.  We were shown to our room, a deluxe suite and were delighted to find that it opened out on to the main pool.  Being a family of four, we were worried about space and whether we would keep each other awake at night, but we need not have worried, our room was large and split into two separate rooms for us and the girls, with a big sliding door that we could choose whether to keep open or shut.  The bed was ridiculously comfy and the bathrooms nice and modern with double sinks and a separate bath and shower.   


There was a welcome meeting on the first evening where we got to learn all about the different facilities and activities, and I would definitely recommend going to this, especially if you are only there for a week as you really want to know how to get the best from your holiday.

We had a quick walk around the resort on our first evening and found that even though it is quite large, it didn't feel like anything was too far away.  We were a 30 second walk from the main area and restaurant, and the beach and other pools were less than five minute walk away.  The gardens are beautiful and it was interesting to see that there were ancient ruins on site as well.  On one side of the hotel there is open shrub land, and the other side there is a hotel but also some building work.  This wasn't our side, but none of the other rooms seemed to look out on to it and it wasn't noisy at all. 

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The facilities at Levante Beach are fantastic.  Mark Warner are known for their active holidays and they certainly didn't disappoint.  There were a number of well lit tennis courts, a fantastic beach front full of watersports equipment including kayaks, sailing boats, windsurfers and waterskis, as well as a place you could hire bikes.  There were four different pools, and they were always spotless with lots of sun beds (so no fighting for a good spot!) - there was the main pool with kids pool, an adult only pool, a pool with comfier sunbeds and a pool bar, and the indoor pool as well. For the little ones there is the incredible childcare centre (more about that later), as well as a large, clean playground which Mads and LL loved to play in.  

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There are three restaurants (again more on those a bit later too!) and a cocktail bar which were all modern and clean.  The hotel is large and although it wasn't completely full while we there as it was just the start of the season, even if it was at capacity I don't think you would feel like it was too busy.  There are lots of areas to sit and relax, including a large reception and a big outside bar area.  There is a spa, which I didn't have time to experience but by all accounts it looked lovely, and a gym which had just enough of what you needed for a week- some weights, a couple of treadmills and the usual cardio equipment.  There was also an on site supermarket as well, which although small had everything you may need, including nappies.



Mark Warner is known for it's activities, with the main ones being watersports and tennis. We tried most of the activities available, bar the tennis, although Mr E went down and joined in and watched the Tipsy Tennis one evening (literally playing tennis while having a few drinks!) and said it was good fun.  The beach front has many different water sports, including sailling, diving, wind surfing, water skiing and kayaking, with all of these bar water skiing being included in the price.  Obviously you have to pay extra for diving but there are free taster sessions in the pool.  

Mr E did a three hour wind surfing session which he loved, and he learnt a lot from the instructors.  We both tried kayaking, which was great fun, and I was really impressed with the safety procedures they have in place.  There are speed boats out circling around constantly and they operate a flag and tag system, meaning you have to sign in and out so they know you have come back safely.  There are water sports on every day and so many different sessions to suit all levels.

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Bikes are included in the price as well, and there are mountain bikes and road bikes available, so it is a great way of getting out and seeing a bit of the island.  There are daily organised bike rides, ranging from a 10k jaunt to get a drink in a nearby bar to a full 60k bike up a mountain.  We did the 10k ride down the coast which was lovely and Mr E also did the tougher ride, which he said was good fun.  There are exercise classes and things like water polo going on, as well as a couple of organised group runs going on as well.  There are so many activities that you could be busy all day every day if you wanted too, but we also love to relax by the pool and read books in the sunshine too. 

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Food and Drink.


We were on a half board basis, meaning that breakfast and dinner was included in the price of our holiday.  You could upgrade to full board but we liked having the flexibility of choosing where to eat lunch.  The main restaurant Almalthia serves a buffet style breakfast and dinner.  Having had many buffets in hotels in the past ranging in a variety of different budgets of holiday, I can honestly say that this was some of the best buffet food I have eaten.  

The breakfasts were delicious, with a huge choice.  Lots of continental pastries, cold meats, a large number of cereals, every fruit you can imagine, fruit salad and yoghurts.  There was lots of different hot choices, with made while you wait omlettes with a number of different fillings, lots of potatoes, hash browns, beans and the other usual cooked breakfast options.  Our favourite little indulgence was the pancake and waffle bar, with a really happy cheery Greek man cooking fresh, warm pancakes and waffles, with a choice of nutella, honey, vanilla cream or cinnamon to go on top.  Our girls loved these and got excited every morning.  Fresh fruit juice was a nice touch as well.

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Dinner was just as good, with a different theme every night including Greek, Italian and Fish, although these were very loose themes.  There was a huge amount of choice, and I was really impressed especially with the salads, of which there were about ten different kinds each night.  There was a variety of different dishes each night, and a nice mix of fish, meat and veg.  Sometimes I find that you get bored of eating buffet food after a while on holiday, but this wasn't the case, we looked forward to seeing what there was each night.  The desserts were divine, but they were definitely 'my sort of pudding' with a lot of mousses, creme brulee's and creamy desserts.  There was the odd cake and a different variety of ice creams each evening, as well as lots of fruit as well.

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There are two other restaurants as well, but you have to pay a little extra for these - the poolside Greek Taverna and the Pan Asian restaurant.  We ate at the poolside restaurant for lunch a fair bit and the food was really reasonably priced and tasty, serving the usual things like pizza and sandwiches.  We had stuffed pepper one lunch time and it was absolutely delicious.  We also had lunch on our terrace a few times, getting snacky bits from the supermarket on site.  They sell things like yoghurts, bread, ham, cheese and crisps.

Each evening from 5.15 to 6.15 there is a children's dinner (main dinner starts at 7.30), although if you would prefer they can eat with you later in the evening.  There are a huge number of highchairs, all absolutely spotless with plastic clingfilm over the trays between each use.  There are also a large number of plastic cutlery, plates and bowls, which is a nice touch.  I think that the children's food was the only area which we thought wasn't up to as excellent a standard as everything else.  It was fine, with a variety of different dishes, but some nights it wasn't as good as others, with some of the food looking a little bland, especially compared to what you got in the buffet a little later.  That said, there was something for everyone, and my children are so fussy and managed to find things to eat.  They loved the puddings, which was ice cream and similar things to the adults later in the evening, as well as lots of fresh fruit, LL got fixated on juicy slices of watermelon.

Drinks weren't included, bar juice for the children, and juice and water at breakfast, but there was a wide choice available.  There was a great cocktail menu, some nice beers and a good sized wine menu.  The drinks were pretty reasonable in price, with a beer costing about four euros and a cocktail costing about seven.  This is similar to English prices really, and I was pleased to see that they hadn't over priced them just because they effectively could.  

There is local beer in the mini supermarket for around 80 cents and Mr E actually thought it tasted really nice, so he enjoyed these on the balcony in the evenings.  Soft drinks like diet coke were about two euros at the bar and a euro in the shop, so again pretty standard.  There was a large range of ice creams at the pool bar, including Ben and Jerry's, which was a nice (but lethal!) surprise.

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Overall we were incredibly impressed with the food- it was delicious, the hygiene standards were impeccable and the local Greek waiting staff were very friendly and polite.  We all left about two pounds heavier!




Before we arrived, I knew that Mark Warner were famous for their childcare facilities, but I wasn't sure how I felt about putting my girl's into a Kids Club.  Morning childcare and evening were included in the price of the holiday so we thought we may as well try it and if Mads and LL didn't like it we would no longer use it.  I was a little nervous about the idea of leaving them in an unfamilar environment with people they didn't know.

 We were invited to a meeting at the childcare building on the first afternoon, where we could check out the facilities, meet the staff and ask any questions that we may have.  On arrival at the childcare block, I was incredibly impressed- it's an air conditioned, spotless purpose built building, with a large number of toys of a really high standard.  They were all pristine, it was genuinely nicer than the equipment at the girl's nursery at home and that has an outstanding OFSTED rating.

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There a number of different clubs depending on your child's age group, LL was in Toddler club for 0-2 and Mads was in Mini club from 3-5.  The staff were all incredible- so friendly and good with the children and they operate a key worker system so you drop them off to a familiar face each morning.  It wasn't at full capacity when we went, but there was a ratio of about one staff member to two children which was fantastic.  The staff were all so friendly and we got to know them all over the course of the week. 

The activities and events were absolutely brilliant.  Mads had the most amazing time, despite a couple of grumbles when we dropped her off on the first couple of days, she soon made friends and came home each lunch time with stories to tell.  There is a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities, including singing, dancing and arts and crafts, as well as tennis, swimming, windsurfing and sailing.  Seeing my little girl doing these watersports was a highlight of the holiday to me, as was looking up from my sunbed to see them all walking along holding a rope and singing songs.  

One small thing that I found really reassuring and impressive was seeing that whenever they went in the kids pool, the lifeguard came and sat with them and played with them all too.  They also were always wearing Konfidence float jackets when they were in the pool too, and I never saw them without a hat on either.

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LL obviously is smaller, but she still went paddling, on walks down to the beach and lots of indoor play too.  The security was amazing, you signed your child in and out, and had to give a password at the start of the holiday in which you were asked when you picked them up- I didn't once not get asked the password.  I thought I would feel a little uneasy about leaving them in a strange environment but I couldn't have felt more reassured or have trusted the staff anymore, and that is an absolute testament to them and the Mark Warner ethos.

In the evening they offer a evening creche service from 7.30pm till 11pm where you take your child along in their PJ's.  They all then snuggle and watch a film, before getting into little beds and snuggling and watching another film with the lights out.  They get the same bed each evening with a name tag on it, which helps get them excited about their own little space, Mads and LL shared one at my request and I loved seeing them snuggled up together when we went to collect them.  Before we went on holiday, I had already said to Mr E that I didn't think we would even dream of using this facility as I am so strict about routine, but we ended up using it every night.  

The girl's absolutely loved it, and for us, who can probably count on two hands the amount of nights out we have had together in three years, this was absolutely priceless and made our holiday.  We never left them all night, the latest being about 10pm on one occasion, but even having an hour or so to enjoy dinner was so nice.  On arrival to pick them up, they had a sheet to tell you what time they fell asleep, which I thought was brilliant too.  Mads didn't sleep but LL fell asleep once, and it was actually really easy to pick her up and pop her in her cot back at the hotel room.

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I could talk about the childcare aspect of Mark Warner all day, but I really couldn't fault it at all, it exceeded our expectations by far and definitely helped make our holiday amazing.  As anyone with young toddlers will know, on holiday you literally have to watch their every single move and more often than not it can be less relaxing than at home.  But just by having a couple of hours in the morning to ourselves, then having the rest of the day to enjoy as a family, really did make all the difference.

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Having been on many different types of holiday over the years, from budget travelling with a backpack round Thailand to staying in one of the most luxury hotels in Dubai, (before children!) I didn't think that I was a typical 'package holiday' kind of person.  However our week in Rhodes has changed my mind.  We had such a special week as a family, and it was the perfect mix of fun activities, relaxing, quality time as a couple and non stop fun.  Obviously it helps that everything ran smoothly and we didn't encounter any problems, but Levante Beach really is fantastic and I really can't fault much at all.

Both the British Mark Warner staff, and the local Greek restaurant/hotel staff were incredibly friendly, polite and knowledgeable, and the facilities, activities and food were all a high standard as well.  It's testament to the resort that we didn't leave the hotel once, other than to go on a bike ride, we didn't feel the need to explore as we had everything we needed all in one place.  I normally get a little bored and want to explore on holiday, but I was just quite happy staying put.  The one main thing that we observed was the cleanliness of the resort- everywhere was literally spotless, I didn't see a speck of dirt anywhere the whole time.  Obviously it helps that the hotel is only a couple of years old, but hopefully it will stay this way in the future.

The childcare made the holiday for us, and I never dreamt that I would feel comfortable leaving them for a couple of hours in a strange place, especially in the evenings, but I couldn't have felt they were in better hands, and I am so thankful for that aspect of our holiday.  The girl's had such a great time, making new friends and having new experiences, and we had chance to reconnect as a couple- it really was priceless.

I wanted this to be a thorough, unbiased review but it's really hard because I really just couldn't fault Levante Beach in any way from our experiences over the course of our week away, the only thing I personally think they could have improved on was the children's dinner time food, but even that was pretty good, especially in regards to the facilities. I can genuinely say that we have fallen in love with the Mark Warner ethos and it has changed the way we look at holiday's abroad with children.  

We all get a little post holiday blues, but I did feel a little emotional to leave, more so than normal holidays we have been on in the past.  I have no doubt that we will go back, and that we will be loyal fan's of Mark Warner for many years to come.

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 You can check out the rest of our holiday posts here-

 Holiday Spam

Our Holiday to Rhodes- Part One.

Our Holiday to Rhodes- Part Two.

Our Holiday to Rhodes- Part Three.

Our Holiday to Rhodes- Part Four.




A New Stationery Obsession- And a Sticker Stack Giveaway...

on Thursday, 22 May 2014.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a *teeny* obsession with stationery.  For as long as I can remember I have been what you may call a stationery geek, and our house is overrun with pretty pens, notebooks and folders I genuinely have no use for.  At school I used to get excited every term to buy a new pencil case (I was one of those children) and vividly remember going on 'extremely important' shopping trips with my Mum to buy new pens and pencils every Summer.

Although I am actually pretty unorganised I like to pretend that I am not and therefore I have a notebook for every occasion.  However since my freelance work has stepped up a gear, I decided I needed a monthly planner to sort my life out.  A quick browse around the wonderful world of instagram via Hayley led me to Sticker Stack.

Sticker Stack is a site full of gorgeous East Asian stationery and I wasted pretty much an hour browsing all their gorgeous things.  I have had an obsession for Korean and Japanese stationary ever since one of my childhood friends went to live over there and used to send me back amazing sticker albums.  

I bought the Apple Simplanner, a large, colourful monthly planner with no start date and a huge note section, which was a bargain at £6.00 and a really very cute set of memo stickers that Mads has her eye on.  I am a sucker for a post it note.  With a team based in the UK and a team based in Korea, my goodies arrived beautifully packaged a couple of days later.








I was so impressed with the service and the quality of the products I just had to email and say thank you and I soon found myself chatting to Ben the owner of Sticker Stack.  He is really lovely and although originally from England, he moved over to Korea a few years ago where he met his wife and had his children.  After a few emails back and forth and with me mentioning I would love to support his company on my blog, he very kindly asked if I would like to give away some bits in a competition.

I only review a few products on this blog, but I really was so impressed with my purchases and wanted to shout about them as I know that there are lots of people who are also stationary lovers like myself.  I love it when small business owners are so passionate and this definitely came across when I was chatting to Ben.


If you want to be in with a chance of winning the goodies below then all you need to do is leave a comment below with your favourite item from the Sticker Stack site.  

You could win...


This gorgeous 100 Stories journal/notebook which I very very nearly bought myself, I love the idea of capturing tiny little snippets of our story.


This super stylish A4 briefcase wallet, perfect for storing receipts, artwork, photographs or your endless supplies of scrap paper, if you are anything like me!


It's wonderful to receive a handwritten note, I love to get happy post, so brighten up someone's day with these super cute letter writing sets.


Coral is one of my favourite colours, perfect for summer, and so I would love this corner wallet to store my cards, coins and other bits and bobs.


These two way Deco pens look stylish (they remind me of the Pantone colours brand for some reason) and they will make your notebooks look positively pretty!




If you wanted to support this fabulous small business on social media too then then you can follow them on facebook, instagram and twitter- I am sure they would appreciate it!  

(Competition ends on 12th June at midnight...)


NB.  I paid for my Sticker Stack goodies and have received no payment for this post but I wanted to shout about them because I really do think they are fab.  


Two Very Special Friends.

on Tuesday, 15 April 2014.

There are many very special things about being a parent.  But one of them is seeing the magic on your children's faces when they experience something new and exciting for the first time.  Those twinkly eyes dancing around, the happy smiles and the sheer wonder etched across their faces.  

Blogging has brought me a great many things but last week I did something with my girls which truly was so simple yet so special.  We went to make two very special new friends.

I have known about Build a Bear Workshop for a long time, in fact Mads has 'Rosie Rabbit', who one of our dear friends bought for her on the day LL was born.  However we hadn't been before, mainly due to the fact that I wanted to wait until they were old enough to understand.  I was really excited to take them, and Mads was excited to go and 'make a special friend' too. 


We arrived and were greeted by the two lovely members of staff who were helping us make our new friends.


There were lots of different animals to choose from but after careful consideration Mads decided she wanted a lamb and she wanted LL to have a bunny.


First up we were told to cuddle each animal to make sure that the cuddles were good.  Mads thought the lamb was very cuddly!


It was then over to the sound machine to pick a sound for our new chums.  Mads decided that her lamb would say 'I love you' and LL had to have One Direction 'What makes you beautiful' because she gets so excited and dances every time the song comes on.  


The Build a Bear experience is so hands on for children, Mads was absolutely transfixed with everything that was going on and her smile was honestly so wide.  


The next thing to do was give our friends some stuffing.  Mads get to help do hers and LL's by pressing on the foot pump.  This was 'the best thing ever.'


LL was in awe of everything and the staff were so lovely with her, telling us that she had made their day with her happy smiles.  Auntie Annie doesn't look so impressed!


Cuddling to make sure the stuffing was perfect.


Next we needed to give our friends a heart.  We had to kiss it, shake it and rub it on our knees as our new friends would always '(k)need us.'  The staff were so great at making it an amazing experience.


His heart went in so he was ready to be stitched up.


LL loved to crawl round the shop and stand up to try all the things for herself.


Next up our new friends needed a bath and their fur brushing.  


We then had to decide on outfits for the as yet named Lamb and Bunny.  Mads decided the lamb was a boy and the bunny was a girl so we set about sorting out their new wardrobes.


As Mads is obsessed with Toy Story, it was entirely necessary to go for a Woody outfit.  LL's bunny was dressed in a pretty summer dress.  We also bought them a pair of pj's each as well.


Finally we needed to make our new friends a birth certificate.  It was decided then that lamb would be 'Woody' (we are nothing but original) and bunny would be 'Blossom'.


And that was it!  We were given boxes to carry Blossom and Woody and sent home to enjoy our new friendships.


I can honestly say that since we brought them home, Mads hasn't been too far away from her new friend Woody.  She absolutely loves him, and the fact that she got to experience seeing him made has meant it is all the more special for her.  She asks to put his PJ's on every night, although this means bedtime takes twice as long.  And LL loves to snuggle in close to her new bunny Blossom too.

The Build a Bear concept is simple, but we truly had such a special time there.  The staff were amazing with the girls, and the whole experience is so special for children.  Mads was at the perfect age to enjoy it and find it so magical, and LL just smiled and giggled non stop.  I found it so wonderful watching them having such a great time, and I will remember it for a long time.  There is something so lovely about watching your children's innocence and child like wonder.  

We can't recommend Build a Bear highly enough, and I know that Woody and Blossom will be special for a very long time.  In fact as I write this there are two little girls snuggled up in bed asleep with their arms tucked around their lovingly created new friends.


NB. We were invited to try out the Build a Bear experience and given two bears and some accessories (plus buying some too!) but all thoughts and opinions are my own, and we would have written about it anyway.  It's the most fun my girls have had in ages!


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