Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower – Guest Review

Team Butler at Blackpool Tower

Regular readers will be familiar with the Butlers – they often feature in my blog posts, videos or on my social media as Mich and I take the kids on regular days out during the school holidays.  When I realised we weren’t going to be able to attend the Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower last weekend, I offered Mich the opportunity to take the tickets and do the review for me so . . . 

Team Butler at Blackpool Tower

On Sunday we were really pleased to be asked by Colette to go to the Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower, in place of the Burgess Family.  Being in Blackpool it also meant that we could take Neil’s mum as she lives locally and hadn’t been to a pantomime for years.  Panto is one of our favourite Christmas traditions and the kids were a bit disappointed that we hadn’t managed to book one this year.  So, when they realised that we weren’t going to Blackpool just to visit grandma but to take her to a pantomime too they were excited to say the least.   We have seen the Tower Circus a few years ago and all loved the resident clown, Mookie.  We were therefore intrigued to see how they would incorporate this famous circus character into a more traditional pantomime show.  (I’m quite a traditionalist when it comes to shows like this so I was hoping that it wouldn’t disappoint.)

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

When we arrived at the venue and collected our tickets we were surprised to see that there were no allocated seat numbers.  When we entered the theatre it was a bit of a free for all and even though we were there more than 30 minutes before the start of the show we couldn’t find 5 seats together.  After a bit of a moan to a member of staff they released 2 more rows which were previously reserved and we got seated ready for the show.  The layout of the seats is great and no matter where you are sat you have a great view of the stage which is set into the floor in the centre.

Before the show there was lots of opportunity to buy flashing lights, flags and posters however we were quite pleased that our two didn’t really ask for anything.

Finley & Erin at Blackpool Tower

The first half of the show was quite traditional with lots of boos, cheers, dancers and the traditional Aladdin story line.  Erin loved the dancers and was impressed with some of the younger members of the troop who were probably not much older than her.  Just before the interval they also made use of the amazing moving floor in the circus which slowly drops and allows the centre circle to fill with water.  Aladdin and Princess Jasmine then floated on the water in a scene which replicated them flying on a magic carpet!

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

During the interval there were more opportunities to purchase souvenirs, sweets, drinks and ice creams and to also have them signed by Mookie and his best friend Mr Boo.

The second half of the show was much more circus themed and was incorporated into the pantomime by pretending that the acts were there to entertain the Emperor and Princess Jasmine.  These acts were mainly the same as the ones which we saw a few years ago at the circus, but both Finn and Erin were still amazed by the acrobatics, dances and circus skills on show.

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

At one point Erin did ask when the pantomime was going to carry on so I think the link was a bit lost on her and she would have preferred a heavier weighting on the Aladdin story rather than the circus.  The show ended with a twist on a traditional song, The 12 days of Christmas.  This is always one of my favourite parts of a pantomime and they didn’t disappoint!  There were ‘rude’ lines (which Finley thought were hilarious), water guns and hysteria and the cast fell over trying to get faster with the song and routines.  All in all a perfect way to end the show and send you off with a smile on your face.

After the show I was interested to see what Finn and Erin thought and if they had preferred it to our more usual Christmas pantomime.  They were quite unanimous in their opinion that it was really good and made a nice change to the shows we have seen in recent years.  Finn also commented that he’d love to come back with his cousins who he would usually spend panto day with.

For me I think I’m still more of a traditional pantomime goer but if you have never been to Blackpool Tower Circus then the Circus Pantomime is definitely worth a visit and it means you kind of get 2 shows for the price of one.

*We were invited to attend the Blackpool Tower Circus Pantomime free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own – or those of the Butlers in this case!*

*Read more reviews here*

*Read about more of our adventures here*

Visiting Leeds Christmas Markets

Leeds German Market with kids

*This is a commissioned post for Aviva*

It’s many years since my first visit to the Leeds Christmas Markets in Millennium Square Leeds, in fact I’d hazard a guess that it would have been around Christmas 2014 when I was living in a swish city centre apartment with one of my best friends.  I’d never been to a Christmas Market before but the lure of alfresco festive fun with delicious food and mulled wine (or hot chocolate in my case) was enough to tempt me into making a visit.

In recent years I’ve tended to visit the Manchester Christmas Markets – both with friends and with the children – as they’re only just down the road.  However, this year I decided to venture further afield and make a return to the Leeds Christmas Markets, popping down during the day in the hope that it would be a little quieter (though missing out on the cosy twinkly festiveness that comes with it being dark!)

kids at Leeds Christmas Markets

Mother and daughter near carousel at Leeds Christmas Market

Leeds city centre is less than an hour away on a good run, though anyone who traverses the M62 regularly will know that a “good run” is a not exactly the norm and lorries over taking each other going up hills are especially painful.  It has to be said that after many years of daily commuting, the M62 is rarely my favourite place to be – it’s a busy road, prone to serious traffic incidents and bad weather – I’ve spent many a miserable hour at a standstill on the top of that motorway.  It’s certainly the last place you want to break down and be stuck (and let me tell you, I tested that one out at about 30 weeks pregnant and was so grateful for breakdown cover (and if you’re going to be travelling further afield for Christmas Markets this year then European Breakdown Cover and appropriate car insurance for driving abroad is a must).  But really a quick hop across the M62 is nothing compared to what some people do to get to Christmas Markets!

Leeds Christmas Markets 2018

Children on carousel at Christmas Market

There are lots of places to park in Leeds but as I was also planning on fitting in some Christmas shopping, I parked in my usual car park at Leeds Trinity – it’s not the cheapest by any stretch but it’s definitely one of the most convenient for the city centre.  If you’re aiming specifically for the Christmas Markets then I think The Light car park would probably be the closest – again it’s not exactly cheap but city centre parking rarely is these days!

The Leeds Christmas Markets are much smaller than the Manchester ones and don’t seem to have seen much expansion over the last decade – but I love this.  The Manchester Christmas Markets are huge and sprawling but a lot of the product on the stalls seems to be repeated several times over whereas in Leeds, everything is more compact making it easier to visit with children.

Leeds German Market with kids

Little girl at Leeds Christmas Market

Buying Christmas decorations at Leeds German Market

I love to look at all the trinkets and toys on offer, the Christmas decorations and stalls selling beautiful jewellery but I rarely buy anything – it’s more about the experience and topping up the festive feelings!

Tree decorations on Leeds Christmas Markets

Tree decorations on Leeds Christmas Markets

I don’t know about you, but the main focus of visiting the Christmas Markets for me is food and drink – hot chocolate with amaretto and whipped cream, mulled wine, German sausage or hot sandwiches stuffed with pork and apple sauce, and then there’s all the sweet treats – fruit and marshmallow kebabs covered in chocolate, sweets and chocolates galore.

Crepe stall at Leeds Christmas Market

hot chocolate on Leeds Christmas Market

Leeds German Market mugs

Buying sweets at Leeds Christmas Market

Eating sweets at Leeds German Market

Have you visited any Christmas Markets this year?  I’d love to know if you have a favourite – or indeed any recommendations for European Christmas Markets to visit?

Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas at Waterside – Review

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Waterside

Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas is an absolute festive classic and one I have fond memories of from my own childhood so when I saw that the amazing Pins and Needles Productions would be performing their adaption of the story on stage at Waterside this Christmas, I just knew we had to pop along.

We had seen the Pins and Needles Productions performance of The Bear at Waterside last Christmas so we had high hopes for our Thursday evening jaunt to the theatre and I’ll tell you now, we weren’t disappointed!  In fact, at the end of the show Dave said to me “That was just brilliant, I think I could happily come and watch it without the kids!”  There are plenty of times I’ve taken the children on adventures and the majority of the pleasure for us as parents comes from watching them enjoy themselves, but when it comes to watching a Pins and Needles Productions performance, we find ourselves just as enthralled as the children.

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Waterside

If you’re not familiar with the story of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas (have you been living under a rock?) then essentially it tells a tale of a rather grumpy but entirely lovable Father Christmas preparing for the busiest day of his year – from the moment his alarm clock goes off on Christmas Eve morning to him delivering presents around the world and back home again, to his pets Cat and Dog, to enjoy his own Christmas dinner.

The story of Father Christmas has been adapted for stage beautifully with every memorable detail of the book incorporated into the performance so you really do feel as if the book has come to life before your very eyes.  Waterside is a really intimate venue, which allows you to really absorb yourself in a performance – the compact stage focuses your attention.  The performance of Mike Aherne as Father Christmas was spot on, aided and abetted by the incredible puppetry skills of Richard Booth – who made it so easy to watch those puppets and believe they were real and yet it was equally as fascinating to watch him handling them  – I flipped between the two!  An unexpected highlight for us was musician Katy Sobey who really added another layer of magic to the story telling – sitting in full view, and adding every possible sound effect to the performance with incredible skill and precision.  Her performance was captivating – from the vast array of instruments she played, to the clever sound effects made with her voice, and all sorts of objects – she was an absolute joy.

Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas on stage

Father Christmas runs for around 50 minutes with no interval making it an ideal length of first time theatre goers.  Children are welcome to come to evening performances dressed in their pyjamas (and many do).  And just to add to the glorious bedtime story feel, you can pre-book a milk and cookie pack for £2 each (so much better at bedtime than the usual sweets and popcorn my three tend to much during a show!)

* See what Jenny from The Brick Castle thought of the show here

*We were invited to watch Father Christmas free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

*Read more reviews here*

*Read about more of our adventures here*

Beauty and the Beast at St Helen’s Theatre Royal

On Sunday tea time I took Chloe and Amy along with Chloe’s best friend Willow and her mum over to St Helen’s to watch their October half term panto; Beauty and the Beast.  Ben had decided he wasn’t that bothered about coming but my girls love the story of Beauty and the Beast so I knew they’d really enjoy it.  Amy was a little apprehensive as she remembers seeing Beauty and the Beast at The Epstein a few years ago and being quite scared of the Beast.  I reminded her that she’s much bigger now and that she knows the story has a happy ending!

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Disney on Ice presents Dream Big – Review

Disney on Ice Dream Big, little boy mesmerised by Moana

Last Friday night, I took Ben, Chloe and Amy along with Uncle Will and Cass to see Disney on Ice presents Dream Big at Manchester Arena.  We’ve seen quite a few Disney on Ice performances over the last few years but I think this might actually be my favourite yet!

We're going on an adventure to Disney on Ice presents Dream Big

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A weekend in Manchester with Roomzzz

Siblings October 2018

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that we live in Manchester – in fact less than 5 miles from the city centre. So you might find it a little strange that we decided to spend last Saturday night at the Roomzzz Aparthotel Manchester City Corn Exchange but after an intentionally quiet September we were all ready for a little adventure and some quality time together that didn’t involve getting jobs done around the house, watching too much TV or generally not paying each other much attention!

Despite Manchester city centre being on our doorstep, we don’t actually go into town with the children all that often unless it’s for something specific like the Bee in the City tour or a trip to the theatre.  There are so many place we’d never explored before so when Roomzzz offered us a night’s stay we decided to take them up on it and make the most of doing something a bit different in our home town.

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A day out with TraffordCity

Trafford City SEA LIFE centre - finding nemo

TraffordCity, Manchester is  a “city within a city” – a shopping and entertainment destination built up around the Trafford Centre (which incidentally is currently celebrating it’s 20th birthday . . . I couldn’t quite believe it when I read that recently but then realised that it’s over 15 years since I stopped working there myself!)  There’s so much to do at TraffordCity – from retail therapy and a whole host of dining options in the Trafford Centre itself to a variety of sports opportunities.  When it comes to entertaining the kids there’s something for everyone – from snow fun at Chill Factore to Legoland Discovery Centre or SEA LIFE.

This week, I set off up to Trafford City with the kids for a day out.  It was a fairly grey and miserable day in the summer holidays so I knew that TraffordCity had the potential to be quite busy.  I decided it was best to just get up and out meaning that we were at our first destination by 9.30am!

Dinofalls Adventure Golf

Dinofalls Adventure Golf is situated just off the M60 and is part of the Trafford Golf Centre.  Featuring 18 holes of dinosaur themed crazy golf, and costing £24 for a family ticket (2 adults, 2 childen) – Dinofalls Adventure Golf is good fun for all ages and my little gang were super excited to be able to finally go to “the dinosaur place” they had seen from the motorway every time we went to the Trafford Centre!

We arrived at Dinofallls Adventure Golf at 9.30am, knowing that it had been busy during the holidays and hoping that being there first thing would combat this.  (Now when I say first thing, Dinofalls golf is actually open from 7.30am . . . I’m not sure I would ever feel the need to play crazy golf before breakfast but you never know).  As it turned out, we timed it really well – we arrived at the first hole at the same time as another family but they were clearly much quicker than us as after the first hole we never really caught them up again meaning we were free to play at our own pace without waiting around.  By the time we had finished the course there was quite a queue behind us – I’d like to think this was more because Dinofalls was getting much busier as the day went on rather than that we were so rubbish that we were holding everyone up . . .

Trafford City - Dinofalls Adventure golf

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The Big Feastival 2018 – Sort of!

The Big Feastival 2018 - We're going on an adventure

Right about now I should be dancing in the rain with Dave at The Big Feastival, enjoying a bit of old school hip hop from Sugarhill Gang (which Dave would have rapped incessantly throughout) and wondering what to eat for tea.  What I’m actually doing is sitting in my pyjamas catching up on Coronation Street after spending the day cleaning and tidying . . .

Friday lunch time we packed the car up and set off down to Alex James’ Farm in The Cotswolds for The Big Feastival (which is considerably further away than I had realised and thanks to some heavy traffic took over 4 hours to get to!)  We managed to get the tent pitched just before the heavens opened – it has to be said it’s considerably easier when it’s just the two of us!  Once we’d got ourselves set up we were able to take shelter from the worst of the rain before sticking on our raincoats heading into the festival for the evening.

We spent much of the evening pottering around and perusing the different food and drink vendors – picking out ones we’d like to re-visit over the weekend, Dave might have got a bit excited about some peanut butter brownies!  I was too cold to want to drink gin (I know, I know but ice . . . ) and decided to save that one for Saturday, preferring a steaming cup of hot chocolate from Neigh Coffee whilst Dave was all about the Birra Moretti (which wasn’t exactly cheap at £6.50 a pint but it’s his favourite so who am I to deny him!)

The Big Feastival 2018 - We're going on an adventure

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Just So Festival 2018 – Our Highlights

Last weekend saw our third trip to Just So Festival – which I guess makes us regulars (though there are certainly people who have been plenty more times than we have!)  Each year we have done things slightly differently.  The first time we just visited for the day, the second time we camped for the full weekend and this time we made a last minute decision not to camp due to the weather forecast and just drove over each day. (We live just under an hour away from the festival site of Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire.)  Although we are fully set up for camping in the rain and wouldn’t let the weather spoil our fun, in this instance the forecast was bad for Sunday and the idea of putting the tent down in the rain when we didn’t really have the time or space to get it back up again to dry it out at home ahead of camping again the following two weekends was the deciding factor.

One of the things I love most about returning to Just So Festival each year is the mix of familiar favourites with the new.  There were things we were familiar with from previous Just So Festival adventures, others we saw at Timber Festival earlier in the year and yet more still which we’d never seen before at all.  Even just the fact that some things had moved around the site keeps things feeling fresh.

For us the highlights of Just So Festival 2018 were:

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