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Knowing that my son has an obsession with all things building and tools related, my brother bought these diggers for his second birthday.
- What do you get?
As described on the box, this item contains a large JCB digger and a large JCB dumper truck, each measuring approximately 22cm wide x 37cm long and 20cm tall. They are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Despite being relatively large, they're not designed as ride-on toys.
They are made from plastic and are very distinctive in the JCB yellow brand colour with large black wheels, and in the case of the digger, a large black scoop on the front.
They are exclusive to the Early Learning Centre and are currently selling for £12.50 as part of their sale (RRP £35). I have seen them for sale both in store and online.
They are not suitable for children under 3 years of age due to small parts, although I cannot actually see any small parts and I'm happy for my son to play with them at the age of 2.
- Are they any good?
When he had opened enough of his present to see what it was, he gleefully declared "DIGGERS!!!" in a very loud voice and unsurprisingly wanted to play with them that very second. In common with most other children's toys, getting them out of the box wasn't entirely painless as there were a few of the obligatory cable ties standing in the way of my eager 2 year old and his new favourite toys. Luckily they weren't tied in excessively and, as they are manual toys, he was playing with them within a couple of minutes of ripping off the paper.
My first impressions of the trucks is that they're quite large, and they appeared very sturdy. Despite being too big to fit in our toybox, I think that they're actually a really good size as the scoop of the digger and the container part of the dumper truck are actually big enough to put things in. and wheel them around the room. My son particularly likes scooping up his Duplo and depositing it in the dumper truck before tipping them back over the floor, and makes him feel like he's a real builder. Now that he's at an age where he really enjoys role play, loves playing with these toys and while he doesn't play for them for any great length of time at once, he keeps coming back to them to do some more transferring of the blocks, or to take them for a sping on his roadway playmat.
Although they're not ride-on toys, at first he was regularly tipping back the container on the dumper truck and riding along on it. This confirms that, although they're quite light, they are actually quite robust as he was probably weighing in at around 15kg at the time of his birthday! While I wouldn't recommend this, it does at least help to demonstrate that the toys aren't flimsy.
The Early Learning Centre website mentions that they're ideal to play with both inside and outdoors, but as my son's birthday was in November so they haven't ventured outside yet. I think that he will enjoy playing with them in his sandpit when it comes out of hibernation in the spring.
My son owns a large variety of diggers of various different shapes and sizes and these are definitely 2 of the best. Their size makes them great for actually "building" with, and their distinctive branding means that he can identify between these toy trucks and the real thing that he sees when we're out in the car.
- Would I recommend them?
In a word, yes. Although, as popular as they are in this house, I don't feel that the RRP of £35 doesn't offer very good value for money as ultimately they are just 2 plastic vehicles. I believe that they were half price when my brother purchased them which I think is much better value, and I think that the current sale price of £12.50 is a bargain.
I've given them 4 out of 5 as I think they're a great addition to every mini builder's collection, but they do seem to take up a lot of room. While I stated above that I think that's a good thing as it makes them more functional, if space is at a premium then you may not want them cluttering up your room.
When my old vacuum cleaner started leaving more dirt on the carpet than it was collecting I knew it was time to get a new one.
Now, I don't find buying vacuum cleaners the most exciting of purchases, so I actually didn't spend all that much time looking for a new one and so I headed straight for the John Lewis website. My only real criteria were that it was an upright and cost around the £100 mark.
I chose this particular one because it fit into my price range and at the time had a 5 year guarantee and a £35 cashback offer (October 2011). It also had a good rating on the John Lewis website.
- The Technical Details
The Panasonic MC-UL594SP47 is a bagless upright vacuum cleaner that has 2 modes, one for carpets and the other for hard floors.
It measures 110cm x 37cm x 39.1cm, weighs 8.8kg and the capacity of the dust collector is 2.5 litres. The cable length is 7.5m.
For those who know more about vacuum cleaners that I do, it has a 1500W motor with 350W suction power and features a "highly efficient Eco-Max motor" and a HEPA air filter. Although I'm not actually sure what "Eco-Max" means as I can't find a description anywhere even on the Panasonic website!
Like other upright vacuum cleaners it comes with other attachments, specifically a turbo brush, hard floor nozzle, crevice nozzle and dusting brush.
While I didn't know it at the time of purchase, it was also awarded a Which? Best Buy Award in July 2010.
It's currently retailing through John Lewis at £135 with a free 6 year guarantee (via redemption) although the cashback offer that I received is no longer available. You can also buy it from a variety of other stores including Amazon, Currys and Tesco Direct.
- So is it any good?
My first impression of this vacuum cleaner was that it looked really smart with it's predominantly black and silver finish.
My second impression was that it was very heavy. I knew that it wasn't exactly lightweight from the product description, but I wasn't aware how heavy it would feel! I actually don't find it too much of a problem, but if you have difficulty carrying heavy items, or live in a house that's on more than 2 floors I don't think it would be very practical at all. It does feel quite heavy to push around when on, but again this doesn't really bother me.
The cable length is adequate for me to do the whole of my open plan lounge/kitchen/diner, although at 7.5m it's at the shorter end of some of the others I looked at (from looking at other cleaners it seems to range from about 6m - 10m). Personally a longer cable would probably cause me more inconvenience as it would increase the likelihood of me tripping over it.
The one thing I've always found frustrating with bagless vacuum cleaners is that emptying the dust collector often results in some of the dust flying up around the bin rather than going into it. The Panasonic is much better in this regard as you just remove the collector from the cleaner (really easy to do) and then there's a clip on the bottom which flips down so the dust goes downwards into the bin. This seems to be because there is no separation of the filter from the rest of the collector so more of the dust makes it into the bin. It's then really easy to replace the collector back onto the main unit.
One part of the collector that I really like is that there is a rotating dial at the top which you turn to dislodge the dust from the filter. I've only had the cleaner for a few months, so it's too soon to say if it really helps, but as I've suffered from very clogged filters in the past I like the idea that this should help with that problem.
The vacuum cleaner reclines flat so it's easy to get under furniture, although this is only relevant to me to clean under my dining table so flat isn't a necessity. I use the cleaner for my lounge/diner which has carpeted floors and then I move onto my kitchen which has a laminate floor. The power switch slides between the 2 different surface types very easily.
The product description highlights how good this cleaner is for dealing with pet hair, and although I don't have any pets I have long hair which seems to get everywhere in my house. This vacuum cleaner has great suction and picks this up really well and I think it's particularly good at collecting other dust and dirt. Our carpets look significantly cleaner after using it than they did with my previous Hoover, even when it was brand new.
The attachments that it comes with are useful, although I don't have the need to use all of them. I use the hard floor nozzle for the top of skirting boards and the dusting brush to do the stairs. Both of these are just as good as using the main cleaner itself. My only gripe is that one of the attachments, the turbo brush, doesn't seem to slot in/clip onto any part of the vacuum cleaner. This isn't too much of a problem as I just leave it in the cupboard and don't use it, but if you were to use it regularly then I expect this would be more irritating.
- Would I buy it again?
This is a definite yes. I'm so pleased with how clean the carpets look once they've been vacuumed than the minor issues of the weight and the attachment not having a home pale into insignificance. A family member has also bought the same vacuum cleaner and is also pleased with it. I've given it 4 out of 5 as I think that the weight may cause problems for some with bigger houses, and for those who have problems with lifting heavy items.
We bought this highchair while I was still pregnant. A little bit premature you may think, but we thought it was best to be prepared! So, needless to say, with no experience of actually what functional requirements you would like in a highchair our main thoughts were getting something that was aesthetically pleasing with the practical requirements at the back of our mind.
- The Highchair
This highchair is very well described by it's name, as simply it's a folding wooden highchair. It's made of rubberwood and has a smooth, natural wood finish and a 5-point harness. I've seen that they now do a white version, but I don't recall that being an option when I bought mine (summer 2009).
The dimensions of the chair when in use are H90 x W50x D68cm.The size wasn't a consideration when I bought it, but I would say that it's probably comparable to other highchairs. It's quite a heavy chair, weighing in at 11.8kg so not a good option if you're looking for something that's easy to move around.
It has one upright seating position and is suitable for children from 6 months old.
We paid £59.97 from kiddicare.com which offered the best price at the time. Looking at it now, it would appear that the prices are still fairly similar, with Amazon offering it for sale at £54.99 and John Lewis selling it at £69.
- So, is it any good?
I was very pleased with the highchair when it arrived. I don't recall having to do anything else other than get it out of the box and get going (well, for those that bought it at a more appropriate time in parenthood) and I was pleased that I didn't have to assemble anything to be able to use it and it looked great.
It was only around 7 months later when I actually came to use it that I realised we should have been more practical in our approach to highchair buying.
Firstly, we found it really hard to know where the shoulder straps of the harness should go. There's nowhere obvious for them to sit over the top of the chair and I have to confess that we've never actually used them in the 20 months since it's been in use. I've since learned that they're meant to go up the back of the chair on the outside and sit in the top corners of the seat nearest the baby's shoulders.
While I'm on the subject of the straps, another thing we'd overlooked is that you're not able to remove them. Without having had any children I wouldn't have considered this an issue, but the straps get really dirty and stained and no amount of scrubbing of them will make them look clean again. Other highchairs are better as you can remove the straps and put them through the washing machine.
Again, that leads me onto my next bugbear. Despite being made from lacquered wood, and boasts to the contrary on the product information, I find it really difficult to clean the highchair properly. I find that remnants of meals end up stuck in places, particularly around the knobs that are used to move the tray.
Unfortunately, another negative point is that you cannot completely remove the tray. You can pull out a knob at either side and the tray can be lifted over the back of the seat and then be out of the way down the back of the chair, but unfortunately this cannot be done with a child sitting in it at the time. I've found this quite frustrating as there have been many times where I would have liked to be able to remove the tray and it would help make it easier to get a bigger child in and out of the seat.
Another feature that I didn't consider when buying the highchair was the fact that it only had one seating position. This meant that it wasn't suitable for me to use when I started weaning my son, but I was lucky that he could sit upright by himself from around 5 months so we started using it then (he was fed in his bumbo for the first few weeks as it gave him much more support). In hindsight I think it would have been good to get a highchair that reclined so we could have used it immediately we began weaning, and actually there were plenty of times when my son would have preferred to be up at the table with us while we ate rather than in his bouncy chair on the floor, so I think that a reclining highchair would have been ideal even pre-weaning.
As the highchair is made of wood the seat is very hard so we bought a padded insert at the same time as the highchair which cost £13. Personally, I would say that this is a necessity to make it more comfortable, but also to slightly boost the baby's sitting position and bring them marginally closer to the tray as there is a large gap on this chair. All the inserts that I saw available had a wipe clean surface which I would say is imperative to get as I've found that mealtimes are very messy.
On the positive side, the highchair looks really nice, it's what I would consider to be a reasonable price, it's relatively compact once folded, and it's rather more attractive to look at that some of the other plastic varieties. Probably the biggest positive for me at the moment is that it's a nice height for my 26 month old son to sit at the table with us (with the table flipped over the back), so he has his own appropriate chair, but is still included at meal times.
- Would I buy it again?
Simply put, no. There are too many things about it that I find negative to recommend it to other people, but I've never felt the need to replace it with another one. For that reason I've given it 3 out of 5.
-- Our holiday
In May 2011 we planned to go to Orlando in September the same year as a party of 3, 2 adults and a child of 22 months. We've been to Orlando many times in recent years and so we felt confident to book our holiday independently, booking flights, villa and car hire separately.
The first thing that we researched was the flights. There are a lot of airlines that fly to Orlando from Gatwick which is our local airport, so I spent a lot of time looking at all the options available to us.
-- Why Thomson Airways?
After looking at ever conceivable option to get us to Orlando we chose Thomson as they offered the cheapest prices for our chosen dates. We initially were planning to fly in economy with whichever airline we selected but ultimately ended up booking premium as it had the following benefits:
~ Priority check-in
~ Priority boarding
~ Priority baggage collection
~ More legroom
~ Free drinks
~ Increased baggage allowance (23kg per person rather than 20kg each in economy)
~ Lounge access on the return journey
We were travelling with a 22 month old toddler so the extra space and the fact that we would be off the plane first was the thing that clinched it for us to upgrade. We also chose to book our son a seat rather than have him on our laps for 8ish hours which added to the cost, but again we felt that the benefits would outweigh the cost for us. We paid £2402 for the flights for all 3 of us.
We couldn't book our flights online because of this so had to call them, but they did still offer us the web discount on our booking. The booking process was easy and the person I spoke to very helpful. The only thing that didn't impress me about this was the fact that it was an 0871 number costing 10p per minute to call.
-- Day before check-in
As part of the service at Gatwick you can check your bags in the day before departure, meaning that you then only have to go straight through security on the day of departure. We decided to do this as we are very local to the airport. However, this was not the right decision as they were severely understaffed and we queued for over an hour to check our bags in. There is no distinction between economy and premium at the day before check-in so the benefit of priority check-in was completed lost for us. I've done day before check-in for other airlines previously and never had such a bad experience and I was very concerned that it didn't bode well for the rest of the trip. This wasn't helped by the fact that we didn't get our boarding passes that day as we were travelling to the USA. We had to go back on the day of departure to collect these before we could proceed through to the departure lounge.
-- At the airport on the day of departure
As we knew we had to pick up the boarding passes we went back to the check-in area expecting to just pick them up and be on our way. Unfortunately we had to queue in the premium queue in order to get them, meaning that other than not having any luggage with us, there was no point in us going to the airport the previous day and our stress levels were quite high at this point! Once we had these though everything went smoothly and we were on our way. At security we were directed to a lane dedicated to families and others that may need special assistance. This was an easy process and before we knew it we were in the departure lounge and beginning to relax.
-- The flight to Orlando
As we had priority boarding we were among the first onto the plane. We were able to take the pushchair to the gate with us and we left it right near the plane door.
Once aboard the plane (a Boeing 767 for any of you aviation geeks out there) we found our seats in the central section of row 3. The plane still had the old First Choice branding on the outside and the seating configuration was 2-3-2. My husband and I sat on either aisle with our son in the middle. As our son was under 2 he needed to sit on my lap for take-off and landing, but other than that was pretty much free to sit in his seat.
We were very pleased with the room on board. The seats were leather, felt fairly wide and, although I'm only short, the legroom was really comfortable (the seat pitch was 36"). The only thing I didn't like about the seat itself is that the armrests were fixed in position. We knew this prior to booking though so this wasn't a surprise. In hindsight it may have been easier for our son to lie down and sleep in economy where we would have been able to put the armrests up.
Once on board we were offered a drink before take-off which made a nice start to the flight. Once in the air the cabin crew came round often offering drinks and if you needed anything you could always press the call button and they were happy to help.
We had ordered a kids meal for our son and this came out before our food. While this was good in some ways as we could help with with anything (mainly blowing on it as it was very hot!), it wasn't so good as he was then all over us while we were trying to eat ours a little bit later. From memory the meal wasn't anything special compared to other airline food I've had in the past, nor was it inedible either. My favourite parts are usually the cheese and crackers and the dessert and these didn't disappoint. We were offered a further meal of sandwiches towards the end of the flight and I felt that we were adequately fed and watered throughout the journey.
The flight itself was pretty smooth and the pilot gave us updates about how long it would take, where we were flying over etc. The seatbelt signs came on once while my son was asleep (strapped into his seat) and the cabin crew kindly let him stay there rather than come back onto my lap.
I didn't get to use the inflight entertainment system much as I spent most of my time occupying my boy, but it was an on-demand system with tv shows, films, music and a sky map showing where you are in the world as you travel. That's always my favourite part of the entertainment anyway so I was happy just having that on.
The flight seemed to go really quickly and before we knew it we were coming into land at Sanford just outside of Orlando. Once we had landed we were off the plane quite quickly at there was no queue at immigration so we didn't have to wait at all. At this point we were very thankful for the premium seats as we could see the queues mounting up while we were being admitted into the US.
Our luggage was all out very quickly as well (including a car seat and pushchair) and from getting off the plane to walking out into the arrivals hall to find the car hire desk took around 30 minutes.
-- The flight home
Compared to the previous journey the check-in procedure at Sanford was amazing. The priority check-in meant that we were at the desks within a matter of minutes despite there being quite a long queue. The check-in agent was very pleasant to deal with and she checked that we were aware of the lounge access that was included for us. She gave us directions, took our bags from us and we were on our way.
Security was a little busier than we had found at Gatwick, but it's only a small airport so it was no real bother. Once we were through we made our way to the lounge (which was a really great place to spend some time before the flight with complimentary soft drinks and snacks).
As with the outbound journey boarding was easy and once again we were in the central 3 seats, but this time in row 6. The journey home was almost a carbon copy of the flight out there, although we were all quite tired after our fortnight in Orlando. The only real comment I have to make about the flight is that it took a long time to do the meal service and then clear up again afterwards which caused us a few issues as our son didn't want to go to sleep while there was so much activity going on in the cabin. I'm not sure that anyone else would have felt like that though, or whether we were just particularly conscious of it because of having a small child in our party.
The flight home was incredibly long as we were sent on a very long route over Canada and Greenland. While there was nothing really wrong with that, I don't sleep well on planes so I just wanted to get home to my bed!
Before landing we were offered breakfast, but we were all so tired that we didn't have the appetite for it.
The longer flight time meant that we landed about an hour late and we had to wait a while for another plane to leave the stand that we were going onto. Once at the stand we were off the plane quickly, although it took approximately an hour to get through passport control and then get our bags. Not so good when you're tired after a long flight.
I am rating our experience with Thomson at 3 out of 5. This would have been a 4, but for the experience of check-in at Gatwick to begin with. That really spoilt the holiday mood at the beginning. The flights were all fine, nothing special, but I don't have any other real negatives about them.
We found it a benefit that they flew into Sanford rather than Orlando International as, although it's further from the tourist areas, we were on the road considerably quicker than previous trips with other airlines.
The actual on board experience was good and I would fly with them again if they were offering a competitive price, although I wouldn't pay a premium to choose them.
I remember seeing these cute cars throughout my childhood so I was really pleased when, on Christmas day, my brother walked into my parents' lounge with a huge box containing this car for my son. That was my first thought, my second was "where on earth are we going to put all these things?"!
Luckily the Cozy Coupe is made almost completely of tough plastic so it can be left outside without the fear of it rusting - phew!
That problem solved, let's get onto more information about this product...
The Cozy Coupe has been around for the last 30 years and I would describe it as Little Tikes' flagship product. The basic design hasn't changed all that much since the original car and it's suitable for a toddler of around 18 months and up. They can climb inside the car, shut the door behind them and use their feet to propel themselves along (think The Flintstones). There is a key that they can turn to "start the engine" and there's a steering wheel complete with horn in the middle of it. The car itself is very sturdy and of good quality. The front wheels turn right round making this car very easy to steer.
Over the years various things have been added to this basic design and the Anniversary version could probably be described as the top of the range. It now comes complete with petrol cap and two large eyes on the front.
There are 2 features of this edition that make it substantially better than its predecessors in my opinion:
1. There is a hole in the roof which makes it really easy to push your toddler around the house or the garden without having to hold onto the car on either side of the roof.
2. There is a plate that sits in the "footwell" of the car which stops your toddler's feet dragging along the floor when you push them along.
Both these features make the car great for younger toddlers. My son was 13 months old at Christmas and he loved being pushed around my parents' house by his uncle (well, as he bought it for him it was only right that it was him taking him for a spin). While the plate is great, it doesn't take too long before you want to abandon it as your child starts to enjoy motoring themselves around. Mainly backwards I've found. My son is now 18 months and he reverses around the garden better than I can manoeuvre my "proper" car.
I think that this is a fantastic toy, and I can definitely see why it's been around for as long as it has, however I've found a couple of drawbacks:
1. It's a bit of a pain to put together initially. I didn't do it myself, choosing to go out for a Christmas Day walk with some of my family, but my husband was still struggling with it when I got back 20 minutes later. However, once you've put it together once that's it so it's not a big problem that the initial set up was a bit painful.
2. I never realised exactly how many arguments a toy car could cause. It would appear that road rage starts from an early age, as if you get a group of toddlers together they all fight over who will be going in the car. This is quite amusing at first, however once they're practically running each other over to have a go it starts to become a bit tedious. I've listed this as a drawback as it's quite a big toy to hide when a group of friends are coming round!
Both the negatives I've listed really are incredibly minor in comparison to all the benefits that this toy car offers. There's a handy little shelf in the back that my son likes to put his water cup or some toys in and take them for a quick spin. We have also been known to install a "sound system" in this shelf by putting our iPhones in there and turning it into a real boy racer car - very amusing.
My son has the "classic" style red and yellow car, although there are other options available, including a pink and lilac car more suitable for little girls, and also a Police car version. They are pretty much the same, although the Police car has a siren and flashing lights.
I'm not sure how much my brother paid for this, although I've recently seen it on offer for around £45. It's worth every penny and I expect it will get a lot of use over the next couple of years if friends' children are anything to go by.
At the end of last year my parents decided that they would get my son a garden toy as his Christmas present in preparation for the summer.
They went to Toys R Us to pick up a different product, but saw that the Climb & Slide Castle was on special offer and decided to get that instead as it looked like a good buy as it had lots of features as well as being a slide.
Described as a castle, but really more of a turret, this toy has a small climbing wall for your toddler to get to the top of the tower when they can then choose whether to play with the steering wheel (a bit of a bizarre feature I feel!), or then go down the slide the other side. There are also large holes on the side of the toy which are there for children to crawl through.
The toy is made from a sturdy plastic and comes in 5 large pieces and it is very easy to assemble. When assembled it stands at 104cm tall, 127cm long and 60cm wide. It's compact size means that it's suitable for even small gardens and the slide is easily removed and re-attached if you want to move it out of the way. Currently the Climb & Slide Castle hasn't actually made it into our garden as it's been winter, but we plan on putting it out there over the next few weeks. As it's only been kept inside I cannot comment on how well it withstands the elements over time, but there is nothing on the toy that could rust and I suspect that the most damage it would suffer would be some bleaching of the colours from the sun. As it's made of plastic then I would think that it's easy to clean, which is good if it's being kept outside all the time.
Little Tikes state that it's suitable from the age of 12 months, although I think that this is slightly on the young side. My son was 13 months at Christmas and enjoyed going down the slide, although he couldn't climb the climbing wall to get up to it so we had to lift him onto it. He's now 17 months and can easily climb the climbing wall and send himself head-first down the slide. As it's not very high and the slide isn't very steep then I let him do this, although obviously I make sure that he's always supervised while playing on it.
- What I like about the Climb & Slide Castle
My son really likes playing on this toy and I think that the climbing wall is better for him than a ladder would be at his age.
He also likes "steering" his castle and so I think that the wheel is a good feature of the toy, but I still think it's a little strange for a castle to have a steering wheel!
It looks really good. I like the fact that it doesn't take up very much space. This is very good while it's in our house and we don't have a very big garden, so it won't dominate the whole space once it's been put outside.
- What I don't like about the Climb & Slide Castle
My main concern with this product is that it doesn't seem very sturdy. My son weighs around 12kg and can easily make the whole castle shake when he stands up on top and decides to rock back and forward while holding onto the top of the toy. We stop him from doing this and he's constantly supervised while using it, but I think that he would be to tip the whole toy over if he carried on and it also makes me wonder how much longer it will be suitable for him.
As well as the instability, this product is very small and I think that my son will get bored of it quite quickly as it really is very low and therefore is very easy to climb and the slide isn't very long.
He's also never used the crawling tunnel underneath, so for us hasn't been a great feature. In fact, if it would make the toy more stable then I would remove this aspect of it.
- Would I recommend the Climb & Slide Castle?
No. This is due to the problem with the stability and my concern that it wouldn't take much to tip it over. While my son enjoys playing with it, I think that he will outgrow it quite quickly and I think that my parents wish that they had gone with their original choice of a slide for his Christmas present.
To start with, I think I should make it clear that although I now work in the travel industry, I did not when I used this tour operator to plan and book my honeymoon and I've never been employed by them... This review is purely based on my experiences of booking and taking that trip.
- The honeymoon
Just under 4 years ago, my then fiance and I were planning our wedding and an important part of that was the honeymoon. We both love our holidays and so we both wanted to plan a "trip of a lifetime" that we would remember forever. So we arranged to take a month off work and started to think about what to do. The one thing that we were sure about was that we wanted to go to Australia, so we started off looking for holiday companies that could help us plan an itinerary.
We didn't want to go to a travel agent, preferring to book it ourselves, so we spoke to Kuoni initially but found that although they were pleasant on the phone, they didn't really help inspire us with an itinerary.
- How we found Tropical Sky
We were recommended to speak to Tropical Sky by some friends. I'd never actually heard of them, but they had been on a Tropical Sky holiday to Vietnam the previous year and had nothing but good words to say about them.
So, we looked at their website to try and find out a little bit more about them. Their website, tropicalsky.co.uk is nicely set out and the design is very clean and modern. Despite never hearing about them before I was reassured by the ABTA and ATOL symbols at the bottom of each page, highlighting that any holiday booked with them would be protected. I then read the "About Us" page and read about the history of the company. This told me that they were founded by the same people who initially set up the "Tropical Places" tour operator that was later sold to the Thomson Group. I liked the fact that they were very clear about their ATOL bonding and show details of their staff members on the page.
- The Planning
I called Tropical Sky and was put through to a member of staff called Andy. I mentioned that we had 4 weeks booked off for a honeymoon and that we wanted to go to Australia, but were quite open about what else we did as part of the trip. He suggested that we do a "round the world" trip! I initially baulked at this suggestion as sadly we did have a budget and I was a little bit worried that this would be a little ambitious to achieve with the money available.
However, Andy managed to recommend an itinerary for the following places, all of which came in under our budget of around £6k (I can't remember exactly what we spent as it was a while ago!)
- Hong Kong
- Cairns & Port Douglas
- San Francisco
He recommended a couple of hotels in each place that he thought were good in terms of location and value for money and he then gave us time to do our own research to help us choose between them. If he hadn't been to a particular destination then he spoke to colleagues who had, to ask them their opinions. As you can imagine this took some time to sort out, but we always dealt with Andy either through the phone or via email.
I particularly liked the continuity in terms of dealing with one person, and also the fact that I felt he was proactively trying to offer us the most suitable options in terms of both the itinerary and accommodation options available to us. He also arranged airport transfers upon arrival in each destination, although we chose to make our own way back to the airport in each location. I really liked the fact that they were really flexible with what they could book for us.
The level of service we received was the main reason that we chose to book with Tropical Sky.
- The honeymoon itself
We departed from London the day after the wedding and arrived in Hong Kong completely exhausted. Unfortunately the hotel in Hong Kong didn't seem to realise it was our honeymoon as they tried to put us in a smoking, twin room. This was soon rectified though when I explained the situation and I think the fact that I was nearly in tears through exhaustion helped! This, however, was the only hiccup of the whole trip.
When we arrived in Cairns they made a point of congratulating us on our marriage, and had upgraded us to a one bedroom apartment rather than a studio. In Hawaii we received champagne and chocolate covered strawberries in our room, so I am confident that Tropical Sky made it clear to the hotels that we were on honeymoon and I think that the Hong Kong experience was just unfortunate.
Although there was no rep for the company, we were provided with contact details of their agents in every destination, and this was clearly marked on our travel documents along with details of our airline references and accommodation vouchers. We also received these well in advance of travel via email. I liked this as it meant that if we lost our printed copies we would be able to access the information while we were away.
We had an absolutely fantastic honeymoon and were so pleased with the help offered by Tropical Sky. I don't think that we would have come up with such a good itinerary ourselves (I never would have thought I could go to Australia and Hawaii all in one trip!). Every hotel that we stayed at was of a good standard and everything met my expectations.
- What I would improve
The only negative thing I can say is that the telephone number is non-geographic, which means that it can be quite expensive to call. This wasn't actually too much of a problem for us as we were happy to communicate with them via email after our initial discussions, but if you prefer to use the phone then this might be more of an issue. This also does seem to be the case for every travel company that I've dealt with though.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Tropical Sky to my family and friends. In fact, my parents have since booked a couple of holidays with them as well and have also had good experiences. The fact that I now work in the travel industry does mean that I'm less likely to use them in the future, but that's because there are various industry offers that are unbeatable by any tour operator so I am much more likely to book these.
We returned from a 3 night break staying at the Newport Bay Club earlier this week. There were 6 of us travelling, myself, husband and 16 month old son and our friends who have a 3.5 year old daughter.
- Why this hotel?
To put it simply, it was the only one available for our dates! Our first choice was the Sequoia Lodge as our friends had stayed there recently, but when I called to book we could only get the last 2 rooms at the Newport Bay Club. At this point I should mention that I currently work in the travel industry and they offer fantastic rates including park entry for anyone employed in the industry. For this reason I'm not going to focus on the price in this review as it was significantly cheaper than we would have paid "normally". We were booked rooms on the Admiral's Floor which, from what I could gather at the time of booking this meant that we had a separate check-in desk and were provided with towels at the swimming pool, but other than that there was nothing else special included without paying extra. They do offer the use of a lounge and wi-fi, but both those facilities require an additional fee. When we arrived at the hotel the other "extra" became apparent, and this was having our baggage taken to our room for us.
- Arriving at the hotel
We arrived on Sunday afternoon at about 2:30pm. I thought that the separate check-in desk would be great as we would avoid the queue at the main desk, however as it turned out there wasn't much of a queue there either. We were called towards the desk and dealt with promptly. The lady checking us in highlighted the facilities of the hotel (shop, swimming pool and health club hours and breakfast details). We were given cards for breakfast every morning and she also gave us our vouchers for the character breakfast that we'd pre-booked without me having to ask. When I asked how we would make a reservation for character dining in the evening she offered to book it for us which was a better service than I was expecting. When I booked the hotel I had requested inter-connecting rooms, and she made a point of telling me that this request had been fulfilled. Finally she asked how many keys we would like for each room and then gave us directions of how to get there (nothing very complicated, as the Newport Bay Club is all in one building).
- Our rooms
We were on the 6th floor (there are 8 floors altogether in the hotel) and our room was well signposted from the lift. There was a slightly unpleasant odour in the corridor outside our room, but this wasn't present in the room. Our room had a kingsize bed and was quite small compared to our friends' room which had 2 double beds in the room. This wasn't a problem for us though as I much preferred a kingsize bed to a double. When we arrived the cot wasn't in the room, but someone came to put it up within 15 minutes of us arriving. This was a travel cot, and they provided sheets for it. I was glad that I had brought my son's duvet with me as there was no other bedding provided for my son. Despite the room being quite small, the cot wasn't in the way.
The room also had an ensuite bathroom with toilet and bath with a shower over it. The sink was outside the bathroom in an area that also had a hanging rail and contained the safe. The safe was free to use and was electronic. There were 12 coat hangers provided (I know that as my husband unpacked before me and I made a point of checking that he didn't take more than his fair share!). There is also a mini bar in this area and you need to leave your card details with reception to be able to use this. I was a little annoyed at this point, as, although the member of staff at check-in was really useful with everything else, she never asked for credit card details or highlighted that the use of the mini bar would require them. So I trekked back off downstairs to leave my card details to activate the mini bar. They ask you not to put anything in the mini bar, and there are sensors so if you remove anything it's charged straight to your account. However, I put the milk that I'd brought with me in there and it wasn't a problem. I was pleased that I'd bought really small 250ml bottles of milk though as a normal carton wouldn't have fit in the space.
The room also had a kettle, coffee maker and TV but we didn't use any of these.
Other than being slightly bigger, and having the 2 beds, our friends room was the same as ours.
The only negatives that I have to say about the room are that it was that the decoration was a little bit "tired" and a lightbulb wasn't working, but it didn't have a big impact on our enjoyment of our time there.
- The hotel
This is a big hotel, with 8 floors in 3 areas, two wings and the main building. All are connected, but you need to get in different lifts to be able to access the different wings. The design is based on a New England seaside resort and Disney describe it as "a beautiful homage to the golden-age of yachting and seaside ambience." As a result of this, the restaurants and common areas of the hotel have all got nautical-themed names (e.g. Cape Cod restaurant).
There are 3 restaurants at the hotel, and one separate bar. Other than the continental breakfast that was included we didn't eat in the hotel, so I can't comment on the restaurant prices or quality of food, but we did have a few drinks in the bar. With all the aspects of our trip we found the drinks to be expensive. From memory a beer was around 7 euros (I think I've blanked the exact figures out of my head!). The bar was pleasant and they offered table service. It was fine for us to take the children there and they had highchairs there which was handy for our son who likes to wander off at the first opportunity. The bar also serves snacks, but these are pretty expensive for what looked like quite small portions. If you fancy a snack then the shop in the hotel sells sweets, crisps and drinks which you can take up to your room. This was very handy for us as we put the children to sleep in one room while we sat in the other for the evening.
The shop also sells a vast array of Disney paraphenalia (they never miss a trick when it comes to selling things...)
We didn't use the pool or health club facilities, but I had a look through the window and the pool looked a reasonable size. There is also an outdoor pool that's only in use during the summer.
The hotel is about a 15 minute walk to the Disney Parks, although you can use a free shuttle bus service. We chose to walk as it's a hassle folding pushchairs and sorting out small children to get on the bus, so I don't know how frequently the buses run. There is also a "train" that you can get to the Disney Village (home to the shops, bars and restaurants next to the parks), but this costs 2 euros per person. The walk was fine, although I think that the Newport Bay is the furthest hotel from the parks, so you might want to choose one of the others if you want less of a walk. The closest hotels are the Disneyland Hotel (literally at the entrance to the Disneyland Park), and the New York Hotel that is located right next to the Disney Village.
The walk to the Disney Village and Parks is a pleasant one as there is a big man-made lake immediately outside the back of the hotel. On the way back to the hotel in the evening it looks particularly pretty as the hotel is covered in lights.
Breakfast at the hotel was good, although you did have to queue for it (despite having dedicated sittings). The queues looked worse than they turned out to be though and we didn't have to wait for more than a few minutes. A continental breakfast is on offer and you can pay a supplement for a cooked option. They have hot drinks, juices, cereal, croissants, rolls, toast, yogurts and fruit on offer which was fine for us, our 16 month old included.
For the kids going to the hotel there is an "animation" area where little children can go and colour in pictures and watch Playhouse Disney. This was good to keep our son occupied for about 10 minutes (he has a very short attention span), and I can imagine it would be better for slightly older children.
Also, a visit to a Disney hotel wouldn't be complete without a visit from some of the characters. There is a board up in reception showing what characters are going to be visiting the hotel and at what times. You can then join a queue to meet the character and get your photo taken. We only attempted to queue for this once and I wasn't impressed and ended up dropping out halfway to the front. Lots of people were pushing in, and as the character was only there for 30 mins the might have gone by the time you got to the front. This wasn't a problem for us with a small toddler who wasn't really aware about who was there, but for older children could be quite disappointing. Our friends queued a couple of times and were lucky enough to see the characters that they wanted to. Other than that we didn't feel like we missed out as we did character dining and our son met lots of characters there.
- Leaving to come home
We came home on Wednesday and we learned that the other benefit of the Admiral's Floor is that you can checkout and just leave your bags in your hotel room. They will then be collected and stored until your departure (our train back home was at 7:30pm). We also saw that they offer a service for taking your bags to the train station for 11 euros per room. This probably represented the best value for money of anything we spent our money on whilst over there and I would highly recommend it. You go to a window right near the Eurostar check-in and pick up your bags before travelling home, allowing you to maximise your time in the parks on your last day.
I enjoyed our stay at the Newport Bay Club. The deal we got was so good that it couldn't have failed to offer good value for money, however I'm not sure how I would feel if I had paid their regular prices. The hotel itself is looking slightly "worn", but generally it's fine for a few days.
One of the things that I think it could benefit from a little bit more for small children. A playground with a slide and swings would have been perfect for our son who didn't want to be in his pushchair all the time, but yet gets tired very quickly when walking. It would give him a chance to stretch his legs, and also do something fun without having to join a queue.
I've given the hotel 4 stars based on our experience. I wasn't impressed at having to faff around sorting out the mini bar, and also the hotel was quite busy, so in my opinion this let it down a little bit. If I went back again I would like to try and stay at another hotel, but wouldn't have any qualms about returning to the Newport Bay Club
I get bored easily. This is true of many things in my life, and I've learned that pushchairs are no exception.
About 6 months after I bought my Obaby Atlas, the Quinny Zapp Xtra was launched. Now, I always really wanted a Quinny Zapp, but was put off by the fact that it didn't recline and this wasn't going to be suitable for my son who was under 6 months at the time of looking for a lightweight stroller.
- The Orginal Quinny Zapp
Quinny bill the original Zapp as the smallest buggy in the world when it's folded. It really is tiny. Plus it only weighs 8kg and they claim that you can even take it as hand luggage on a plane! I have friends who have this pushchair and absolutely rave about it.
- What's new about the Zapp Xtra?
As I said at the beginning, the original buggy only has one seating position. The new Xtra version has a seat that can not only recline to completely flat (making it suitable from birth), but can also be used parent facing. This was the thing that appealed to me most. As I work full time I don't get to spend as much time with my little boy as I would like, so I was looking forward to being able to have him facing me. However, like the Quinny Buzz, in parent facing mode there are only 2 positions available; completely flat and reclined. While this might be good for a smaller child, my now 16 month old probably couldn't imagine anything worse that not being able to see around him without fighting against the straps, so the parent-facing mode was very short-lived with us and he now faces away every time we use this pushchair. When facing forwards, there are 3 positions; upright, reclined and completely flat.
Along with being able to recline, the seat unit for this buggy is now separate from the frame. This means that it is no longer as compact and is a bit of a pain to put down as you always need to remove the seat. However, this is easily done by using a mechanism on the top of the seat unit and then detaching it from the chassis. The second implication of this is that the travel bag for the original Zapp doesn't fit this newer version in either.
To be honest, this was one of the most disappointing things for me. I bought the pushchair online almost as soon as it was launched so I didn't see it "in the flesh" beforehand. I don't think that the fact it was a separate seat was made clear enough, so I bought it thinking that it would be more similar to the original pushchair, but that it also had the reclining feature (perhaps I was too caught up in the excitement to read the description properly!).
Another change from the original pushchair is the hood. The hood on the newer version is much bigger and extends further forward than that on the original which is great if it's very sunny.
You can use both the original Zapp and the Xtra pushchairs as a travel system by attaching a Maxi Cosi infant carrier, and they include the adapters for this. As my son was 10 months old when I bought this pushchair I've not made use of this function, although I can imagine that it will be very useful if we have a second child as the chassis folds up really small and is much easier to fit in the car than our first pushchair (the Quinny Buzz).
- What I love about the Zapp Xtra
The best thing for me is that this is a lightweight stroller that can be used in a parent-facing position although I think that this could be improved by having another, more upright position in this mode as I think that this is only really suitable for babies of up to about 13/14 months old.
I find this lightweight pushchair very easy to push and steer. I've read reports from people who find it quite unstable, but I've not experienced it myself. I don't tend to load it up with much other than my son though, and if I do have any shopping on the handles then his 12kg weight definitely keeps it in the right position!
The large hood is brilliant. Especially if you think it might rain and you're not going far. I can pull the hood out far enough that I am confident my son would not get very wet if I was caught unexpectedly in the rain without time to get the rain cover on. It also means that I don't feel the need to wrestle with the raincover if I don't have far to get back home or to the car.
It's very easy to recline. The same mechanism at the top of the seat unit that is used to remove the seat is also used to recline (don't worry - it's not possible to remove the seat when you intend to recline it!). This is really unobtrusive to a sleeping child in the pushchair, so I think this is great.
It's very easy to put up and collapse again in 3 steps. I found that the instructions that came with the pushchair weren't great as far as "step 3" was concerned, but I worked it out for myself and actually wasn't very difficult at all! It's slightly annoying that the seat unit is separate, but it's pretty easy to slot into the chassis in both forward-facing and parent-facing modes. As I said before, the seat is easy to remove from the chassis as well, but I find that it does require 2 hands to do so.
I like the fact that the handles aren't very high at 102cm. This might bother some people, but at only 5'3" this is perfect for me. (I've just read on a website that they are, in fact, adjustable, but I'm not convinced by this so I will check when I'm at home later!)
UPDATED TO ADD: Well, I've examined the pushchair and I really can't see how I would change the handle height. So I don't believe them. If anyone knows otherwise please can they tell me how as the low handles bug my husband!
I like the fact that the footmuff I have for the Buzz also fits the Zapp Xtra. This saved me some money as I didn't have to get a new one.
- What I would change about the Zapp Xtra
I should have learnt after owning a Buzz, but Quinny don't do big shopping baskets. It is actually really small and would probably bug me more if I had to do much shopping with it. You can, however put bags over the handles easily which helps with this problem, although after hearing some reports about it tipping over then I would be careful of this if you have a small child.
They don't provide anywhere to store the raincover. This annoys me as it takes up almost all of the (small) shopping basket! It would be much better if they added a pocket to the back of the seat unit to store the raincover in.
I would definitely add another position when in parent-facing mode so that my child could sit upright and face me. I find the 2 positions on offer unsuitable for older babies who want to be able to sit up and look around more easily.
There currently is no travel bag for this buggy. This is annoying as the separate seat unit makes it harder to take on a plane, and also it means that it doesn't fit in the travel bag designed for the original Zapp. As the seat unit fits over the collapsed chassis without being incredibly bulky, with a decent bag to carry it in I wouldn't be put off from taking this abroad with me.
The price. This is an expensive pushchair. I paid £201.99 for it as soon as it came out, and I spent a lot of time looking for the cheapest price I could find.
My next point doesn't entirely fit in this section, but when I bought it there were only 2 colours available; red and black. I would have said that increasing the colour range would be good, but the research I've done while writing this review has taught me that they've already done this and it's now also available in brown, pink, blue and "natural mavis" (?!). The last colour looks like a light green from the photos... I chose red as I already had the Buzz in red which had a matching footmuff that I could also use on the Zapp.
- The Specs
Dimensions: H102 x W50 x D81cm
Dimensions when folded: H95 x W42 x D29cm (plus the seat unit)
The only accessory advertised on the Quinny website is a parasol, however I've not felt the need to buy one of these. Plus, the hood on it is so good that I'm not sure it would be necessary anyway.
It's not mentioned on the website, but the footmuff for the Buzz or the original Zapp is also suitable for use with the new version.
- If you have the original Zapp is it worth getting the new one?
Probably not as you can just buy the Xtra seat unit separately, so you don't have to go to the expense of buying a whole new buggy! The seat unit currently retails for around £100.
- Would I recommend it?
In general, yes. I think that there are still some improvements that could be made and so I am awarding the Quinny Zapp Xtra 3 stars. The biggest two for me would be the upright parent-facing position and a suitable travel bag which would be enough for me to give it 4 stars. A bigger shopping basket would be a good addition too.
Although it says it's suitable from birth I'm not sure I would use it for a baby so young with the seat unit, preferring instead to opt for a completely lie flat option like I have with my Quinny Buzz. However, using the chassis with the infant carrier would be much more convenient than using the Buzz frame for the same purpose. Generally though, as babies shouldn't spend an extended time in a car seat then I would opt to take out my original pram if I was going out for a long time.
I've never been sure about what is the best way to take money abroad. Taking all cash away with you is obviously very insecure, and I've always found travellers cheques a bit of a hassle (although great from the protection point of view).
I used to use a Nationwide FlexAccount and credit card as they didn't charge for foreign currency transactions, but then they introduced a charge so I stopped using them.
- Why Fairfx?
I was on a cashback website one day when I saw that there was an offer with Fairfx for a free foreign currency card and also cashback if you applied for one. Not being one who likes to turn down free things I thought I'd investigate it as a possibility for taking our money on an upcoming holiday to Florida.
I found the website to be very informative, and found out that they offer 2 options for foreign currency cards; US Dollars and Euros. The exchange rates were the best that I could find at the time, so I decided to apply and also take advantage of the cashback deal.
- How does it work?
When you go to fairfx.com you choose which card to apply for. I just applied for the US Dollar card as we were going on holiday in the US, but you can also apply for a separate Euro card as well.
Within a week of applying for the card I received it in the post and also received a PIN in a separate mailing. Once I received the card I had to login to the website and activate the card - this gave me peace of mind that this was a secure process and that it wouldn't be easy for someone to spend the money that I had initially loaded on the card.
It is a prepaid Mastercard that you "load up" via the website. They state the rate of exchange very clearly on the website at the time of purchase and show you a summary of how many $ you are getting for your £ before you complete the transaction.
This method of loading the card also makes it easy to top up the card in small amounts prior to going on holiday. You get the exchange rate that's advertised at the time of making each transation. So, if you are topping up the card multiple times then it's likely that you will get a different rate of exchange on each occasion.
You can login to you account online at any time to see how much money you have available on your card, and also to see a statement of all the times it's been used in the past. It shows the amount of every transaction and where you spent the money, just like a regular credit card.
- What I love about the Fairfx card
It's a Mastercard and so is very widely accepted at retail outlets, restaurants etc. In the USA they're quite used to people making even the smallest purchases with their cards and so we have never had any problems using it. We do, however, always take a small amount in cash for tolls, tips, etc.
It's very easy to top up on the website and I've always found that the transactions take place pretty much instantly.
It lasts for multiple trips. Since we first got the card we've used it a further 4 times on holidays to the USA. If we come home and there's still money on it then it just stays there until we go away again. It's often a nice surprise to discover that we've actually come home without spending every penny (or should I say cent?) on it.
The exchange rate has always been the best I've been able to find anywhere.
- What I would change about the Fairfx card
You need to be very aware about how much you're spending on it. The only way to check the balance is by logging onto the website, so it's quite easy to lose track of how much you've spent. To get round this I keep all my receipts and add them up at the end of the day. On our most recent trips we have had internet access at our accommodation so, although having to login to the website is a little inconvenient, it wasn't a big problem.
They charge you for cash withdrawals at the ATM. It's only $2 per transaction, so it makes sense to get larger amounts of cash out at a time because of this. I rarely get cash off my card because of this fee.
It's a card in a single name, so if you're taking this as your only form of payment then whoever's name is on the card needs to be there to use it! You can obviously get around this by having a card for each adult member of your party.
There's no formal financial protection for any money that you have on this card. Any money held on the card is not covered under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and it's important to realise this when you decide to get this card. However, Fairfx do tell you that the funds are held in a ringfenced account with Newcastle Building Society and so this was enough of an assurance for me that it would be suitable for us as we don't take a huge amount of money away with us.
- Would I recommend it to other people?
Yes. Definitely, although I would explain to friends and family that they would need to make their own risk assessment over the protection of their funds.
One thing that previously would have fallen into my "could be improved" category is that if you lost your card while away there would be nothing you could do about it. However, they've now brought in a system where friends or family can get cards that are linked to yours and so if you lose one, you can transfer any balance to the other card(s).
I'm giving it 4 stars out of 5 as I think it's great overall, but you do need to be really organised about knowing how much you've spent on the card, especially if you don't have internet access readily available.
I love swimming, and when my boy came along I was determined that I was going to take him on a regular basis. So much so that I booked him into baby swimming lessons with Waterbabies from when he was 16 weeks old.
- Why did I get the Splash About Baby Wrap?
Well, I actually didn't get a choice in the matter, my mum came round one day very excited as she'd bought her grandson his first wetsuit.
I wasn't overly keen on her choice of colour, she had opted for lime green with blue trimming, but other than that it looked pretty good to me.
She'd bought the small size, which said it would fit a baby from 0-6 months. They also sell it in a medium (6-18 months) and large (18 - 30 months).
The retail price is around £20.
- How does it work?
The suit is made from neoprene and the baby wears it around their body and over their shoulders, leaving their legs free.
The baby wrap is secured around the baby using velcro and it's easy to put on. You lay it out flat, lie your child on it and then literally wrap it round them. The shoulder straps then go over their shoulders from front to back, also securing with velcro.
It's suitable for such a wide age range as the velcro covers a large part of the shoulder straps, making it easily height adjustable for your baby.
Like all wetsuits the neoprene keeps the wearer warm, making it a very useful garment for babies as they get cold very quickly.
When you have been swimming, you just rinse out the baby wrap with cold water and leave to dry. I always found that this was adequate and the baby wrap dried quickly without it smelling of chlorine.
- What I love about the Baby Wrap
The main benefit to me was making it easier to hold my son in the swimming pool. Until I had a baby I had no idea how slippery they are when wet, so it was good that the baby wrap gave me a firm grip on him.
It kept my baby nice and warm and was easy to put on and take off again.
- What I would change about the Baby Wrap
Nothing other than the sizing. My son has always been a fairly average size and I found that this only fit him until he was about 5 months old.
- Would I recommend it to others?
Yes. Especially if you're going to be swimming in a cool pool.
As it turned out, we didn't get all that much use out of it as the Waterbabies lessons in our area are in a hydrotherapy pool, and so it's very warm. We only used it for the first lesson, and I think the poor thing actually got a bit too warm!
We did however use it a few times in cooler pools when we took him swimming outside of lessons, although this was only a handful of times, so had I bought the garment I probably wouldn't feel like I had value for money from it.
If you are going to be doing baby swimming lessons then it's worth trying to find out if they provide these suits for times when the pool is cooler. Our teacher provides them for the lesson if necessary, making it unnecessary to buy one unless we were planning on swimming outside of the lessons on a regular basis.
This time last year we were planning a family holiday and the thought of trying to take our bulky Quinny Buzz abroad was too much to bear.
So, we started to look at lighter weight "umbrella" style strollers that would be easier to travel with.
- Our requirements
The 3 most important things to me were that it reclined as flat as possible as my son was going to be 5 months old at the time of going away and we knew that he'd be likely to sleep in it alot during the day and if we went out for the evening.
Secondly, it needed to be fairly sturdy as I didn't want to arrive in Florida with a broken pushchair and a tired baby with nowhere to put him.
Finally, I didn't want to spend too much money. We'd set our budget at £100 maximum, but I was keen to keep this as low as possible in order to have more spending money while I was away!
- Why the Obaby Atlas?
I was very pleased when I found £80 of John Lewis vouchers tucked away in a drawer, so I went straight to their website to see if they had anything that would fit the bill.
They offered 3 possibilities that were around our price range (slightly extended in light of the vouchers), the Maclaren Quest, Silver Cross Pop and the Obaby Atlas.
We quickly discounted the Maclaren as it stated it was only suitable from 6 months.
Ultimately, the decision came down to cost as it seemed that the 2 strollers were fairly similar in most ways, but the Silver Cross was £130 and the Obaby just £69.95.
- What do you get with the Obaby Atlas
The stroller comes in a choice of many colour options, however John Lewis only stocked it in Black with white circles or Navy with blue circles. We chose the navy one as we decided that the white circles would probably look dirty quite quickly.
The Obaby Atlas comes with a shopping basket, rain cover and detachable hood, and multiple recline positions, making it suitable from birth.
When it's folded it also has a handle which makes it easy to carry. It's not the lightest stroller on the market, weighing in at 7.2kg, but bearing in mind the price I don't think this is too bad (especially as the more expensive Silver Cross is slightly heavier).
- Using the stroller
When the Obaby Atlas arrived it was easy to assemble (you have to put the 2 front wheels on, as well as attaching the hood) and I was giving it a test push round the living room within minutes.
I found it very easy to put it up, and the 5 point harness is easy to adjust. To recline the seat there are two sliding mechanisms attached to the chassis and the seat and you just push them down and pull them towards you to recline, and push forwards to return to a seated position. I find that these have a tendancy to get a bit stuck, making it a little awkward at times to recline the seat, although this is more of a minor annoyance than a problem.
I find that the handles are quite high. This suits my husband, but isn't as good for me as I'm only 5'3". Again though, this is a very minor point really as it's something that I got used to. The handles are covered in foam, making them comfortable to hold.
The shopping basket is an adequate size, although I disagree with John Lewis who describe it as "large". It's also very easy to put bags over the handles, so it's very easy to cart your shopping back with you on this pushchair. I'd read other reviews saying that it has a tendancy to tip over backwards if you put too much on the handles, but in my experience the Obaby has remained upright. I would suggest that you're mindful of this though with any umbrella stroller, and my friend's more expensive Maclaren actually tips backwards far more easily than the Obaby.
The pushchair has a brake "pedal" on the right hand side which when you push it down engages the brake and prevents the pushchair from moving anywhere. To take it off you just push the pedal up again and you're on your way.
My son seems to like this pushchair. My initial thoughts were that the seat feels quite hard, but he was quite happy to nap in it, so I assume that this didn't bother him! He rarely sleeps when we are out now, so I don't know how well he would sleep in it now that he's bigger.
- Things I love about the Obaby Atlas
It's an inexpensive, yet sturdy pushchair. It survived being thrown around an airport with no problems.
It reclines to flat, so is suitable from birth and it's fairly compact so it doesn't take up much room in the car. Our main car is a Golf and it fits in the boot fine, although it's more of a tight squeeze in our other car, a Seat Ibiza. That said though, it's possible to get the pushchair plus shopping bags in the boot of the Ibiza.
- Things I would change about the Obaby Atlas
It's quite tricky to fold. There's definitely a knack to it, and once you've got that it's not a problem, but there have been many family members who have struggled with it and resorted to putting it in the car unfolded!
There's nowhere to keep the raincover. It will fit in the shopping basket, but it doesn't fold up that small so takes up most of the room. I find this quite annoying.
The "sliders" used to recline the seat get a bit stiff and it's not always easy to recline. This is less of a problem now that my son is 15 months old and doesn't want to lie down anyway!
This isn't strictly related to the pushchair itself, but I also bought the parasol as I thought it would be a benefit in the hot Floridian sun, however it was useless and wouldn't stay upright! We resorted to using a hair clip to attach the parasol to the hood to help keep our son out of the son.
Over time the wheels have gone quite stiff making it hard to steer. I've fixed this by drowning the front wheels in WD40 which has done the trick at least for now.
- Would I buy it again?
Although it has various things I would change, I still think that this pushchair offers good value for money if you're after a stroller for holidays and occasional use. I'm back at work now, so it's only really used once or twice a week. If you were going to buy something for heavier use then I probably wouldn't recommend it, although it's worth bearing in mind that for just £10 more than the cost of 1 Silver Cross Pop you could buy 2 of these pushchairs!
My son never liked sleeping. He was at his worst at around 4 months and it got to the point where he kept waking in the night wanting his dummy and I was seriously suffering from the lack of sleep and became quite obsessed with trying to find something that would help him to sleep.
I stumbled across the sleepytot.com website through a random Google search looking for solutions to sleep problems. This directed me to the product and I was completely taken in by the rave reviews for it on their website.
- What is it?
The Sleepytot comforter is a square shaped, soft toy rabbit with four "paws" which are loops made out of the same soft material as the rest of the rabbit which hold a dummy, teether, rattle or any other item you choose and close using velcro. These "paws" can also be used to attach the comforter to the bars of a cot or the strap on a pushchair to stop it getting lost.
It comes in two sizes: the large rabbit is approximately 22cm x 25cm and costs £12.99, while the smaller one is cheaper at £9.99 and measures 19cm x 19cm.
There is also a choice of two colours: grey or cream.
You can buy them from sleepytot.com or amazon.co.uk
- My experience
After finding the sleepytot website, I dithered for a while before I decided to buy one. I thought that all the testimonials were too good to be true, and at £12.99 it seemed hard to justify spending the money from my meagre maternity pay. Another month of sleepless nights ensued and I finally decided to bite the bullet and order one.
I chose the larger rabbit as I hoped that my son would be able to find it in his cot more easily, and I opted for the grey version as I thought that the cream one may look grubby quite quickly.
I added a dummy to each paw and gave it to my son (who by this point was nearly 6 months old). He took it straight away and popped a dummy into his mouth. I was relieved that he had got the idea of it so quickly and I was looking forward to seeing whether he would sleep better that night.
Introducing the Sleepytot wasn't an instant fix to his sleeping problems - but it wasn't far off. For the first couple of weeks he would "lose" the comforter in his cot and couldn't find it easily when he was disturbed in the night so I would have to go to him and give it back to him. However, the frequency of his night time wakings declined immediately and we went from getting up to him around 5 times a night to only having to go into him a couple of times. It only took a fortnight for him to learn to find it himself and from that point on he's rarely been disturbed in the night, with the exception of illness, teething etc.
I then bought another 2 rabbits so that it would be easy to wash them and I wouldn't have to worry about them being dry in time for nap or bedtime. I have also heard from friends that it can be hard to prise a grubby comforter out of a toddler's hands to wash, so thought that having a couple of spares would be a good move.
The instructions say that the Sleepytot should be washed at 30c, although ours have gone in at 40c as well and have come out fine the other side. One rabbit accidentally ended up in the tumble dryer, but it came out absolutely fine, so if I have other items going in the dryer then I just put the Sleepytot in with the rest of the clothes now.
- My son's thoughts
He loves his Sleepytot or "Bunny" as we call it. He would carry it around with him all day if he could, but we just let him have it for his naps and at night. He will often walk into his bedroom and will come back out again cuddling "Bunny" which he has reached through the bars of his cot to get.
I'm hoping that his attachment to the comforter itself will make it easier to get rid of the dummies at some point, although I've not tried to remove them yet so we'll have to wait and see whether that works...
- My thoughts
This rabbit changed my life. It sounds dramatic, but it really did live up to the hype for us. My only regret is that I didn't buy one when I first found the website.
The Sleepytot can be used straight from birth. I'm not sure that I would give it to such a young baby as I would be a little bit concerned about having something in the crib with them when they're so little. Also, a newborn baby would not be able to replace their own dummy in the night so I think it's really more suitable for a baby from around four months onwards.
From the product photos it looks like a baby may end up with the comforter covering their face when they're using it, although we've not found this to be the case as the paws are actually longer than they appear. You can also attach the comforter to the bars of the cot or crib which should make it less likely that the rabbit would end up over their face.
I stayed in this hotel for 3 nights in January 2011.
I booked it through hotelopia.com on a deal where you don't know the name of the hotel before you book it. They give you enough details to be able to work out where you will be staying, so I knew in advance that it was the Radisson Lexington on Lexington Avenue and 48th Street. Even if you can't work it out before booking, I would still recommend booking one of these "blind" deals as Hotelopia have a really good cancellation policy and you can cancel free of charge for a period after booking (although please do check this on their website incase their policy has changed since the time of writing).
The Radisson Lexingon is situated around 4 blocks from Grand Central Station, in an area of Manhattan called "Midtown East". It's a good location to stay in if you want to see the main sights of the city and do some shopping. It's around 10 blocks away from Bloomingdales (which is also on Lexington Avenue) and the Rockefeller Center and the shops on 5th Avenue are an easy walk away (around 10 minutes to the Rockefeller Center). We mainly walked everywhere from the hotel, although it's in a very convenient location for the Subway, local buses and taxis are easy to come by outside the hotel. Times Square is approximately a 25 minute walk.
Its location on the East Side of town makes it convenient for getting to New York's JFK airport, and the transfer from the airport to the hotel cost approximately $60 for a taxi including tolls and a tip. There are also other methods of getting into Manhattan from the airport including the Subway and coach services.
Our room was very small with a small double bed. I was a little surprised by the size of the bed as I've travelled to the USA regularly and never had a bed smaller than a king size in any other hotels I've stayed in. I also found the bed to be quite uncomfortable, although the size of it may have had a bearing on this too. That was the only disappoint thing about the room though, and as we got a deal that worked out at about £70 a night we weren't too disappointed. The room and bathroom were both clean and were cleaned every day of our stay.
We stayed in a room on the 21st floor, and I would request a high floor again as they tend to be quieter than the lower floors - especially good in "the city that never sleeps"
We chose to pay $9.95 a day for wireless internet access in the room, but I wouldn't choose to do this again as the service was very slow. There is a McDonalds 2 blocks away which offers free wifi and the connection is significantly quicker.
The hotel has a Starbucks coffee shop on the ground floor and also has 3 restaurants. We didn't eat at any of these restaurants though as they seemed quite pricey and we were in very easy reach of many other restaurants in the city.
Most of the flights to the UK depart New York in the evening and so it is likely that you will have to check out of your room a few hours before leaving for the airport - hotel checkout time is 12 noon. The hotel offers a "left luggage" service which costs $2 per bag. This makes it very convenient for enjoying your last day in the city, although I've stayed at other comparable hotels in New York that don't make a charge for this service.
Other than checking in and out we didn't need to speak to the hotel staff about anything during our stay, but they were very helpful when we arrived and departed, giving us good instructions about how to get to our room, and also letting us know about the "left luggage" facility.
We didn't spend a lot of time in the hotel, so I feel that we got good value for money from the deal that we booked. However, I don't think that I would choose to stay here again as I did find the bed small and uncomfortable.
I had my heart set on the Quinny Buzz pretty much from the moment I found out I was pregnant, so I think it was definitely my heart rather than my head that made the decision to buy it.
I bought the pushchair, the Dreami carrycot and the Maxi Cosi Cabriofix car seat that fits onto it. I didn't know whether I was having a boy or a girl so I chose to buy it in Strawberry (or red to most people...)
Let's start with the things I love:
It's very easy to put up. You literally just pull back a piece of plastic and the whole thing pops up automatically.
The handlebar is adjustable which is great as it means that both myself and my husband can use it without it being too high/low for either of us.
It's parent-facing. This was an essential for me as I wanted to be able to see my little one as we wandered around town. There has also been research to suggest that it's highly beneficial for a baby's speech development to be forward facing for the first 18 months.
The carrycot is fab. We used it for the first 4 months or so and it was nice and cosy for my son who was a winter baby. He slept really well in it and we used to use the carrycot on its own for him to nap in downstairs when he was small.
Being able to put the car seat onto the chassis is very useful if you're just popping into the shops quickly, although it shouldn't be used like that on a regular basis as being in a car seat for too long can cause problems with a baby's spine.
The handlebar is a bar that goes across the whole pushchair - this makes it very easy to "drive" one-handed which is great if you need to carry something at the same time as pushing it.
It looks good.
That pretty much sums up all my positive thoughts about it.
Now for the things that I hate:
As easy as it is to put up, it can be a real pain in the backside to put back down again. You push in 2 buttons on either side of the frame while standing in front of it and then pull it towards you and down. If you don't push the buttons correctly then it doesn't collapse and I've lost count of the number of times that I've had to attempt it 3 times or more before actually collapsing it.
Also, to collapse the pushchair in parent-facing mode you have to take the seat off to do so. This is relatively easy, although I always seem to have some problems getting the seat back on. There are 2 vertical bars attached to the seat that slot into the chassis and I struggle to line it all up properly to get in place.
The shopping basket is minuscule. Ridiculously small. You can barely fit anything in it. This is where the single handlebar comes into its own though as you need to be able to push it one-handed in order to be able to carry your shopping home!
When parent-facing you can't choose an "upright" position. There's 2 positions that you can choose - lying flat, or slightly reclined. This was fine when my son was smaller, but now he's 15 months he wants to look around more and so having him parent-facing doesn't work any more as he just strains to try and sit upright.
I find that the front wheel regularly gets turned sideways and it's annoying to get it back into a forward facing position. This happens in a lot of shops with a smooth floor (I find that supermarkets are the worst) and is incredibly frustrating. I don't know whether the Buzz 4 would have been better in this regard - perhaps so as there are 2 wheels at the front rather than just the one.
The wheels puncture easily. Although this is overcome by filling them with "slime" that you can get from somewhere like Halfords. You put this into the tyres and it forms a protective coating on the inside that automatically repairs any punctures.
The rain cover is a really tight fit (for both the pushchair and the carrycot). I have spent a lot of time in shop doorways wrestling with it to try and get it on. Very annoying.
The chassis seems a bit wobbly and squeaks as I push it.
It's quite heavy.
On balance I find the Buzz just "ok". I don't hate it so much that I never use it, but equally I don't love it either. If I could go back in time 2 years I would probably go with something else, but even now I'm not sure quite what! I plan on keeping it for baby number 2 (if I have one), especially as I found that the carrycot was really good and it's so easy to attach the infant carrier to. When I was on maternity leave we had quite a lot of snow and it was hard to go out with the pushchair because the front wheel struggled with it. I know that they now do an "all-terrain" front wheel, so it would be interesting to see how this improves its performance.
One thing I've not done yet is attempt to fit the larger "toddler" seat. Looking at it I suspect that this might be quite difficult and might be another addition to my list of "hates". My son is swiftly getting too big for the smaller seat so I think I may have to brave it soon... Also, I've not had the need to wash the seat. Apparently you can do it, but I can't vouch for how it cleans up.