Clare Brown

Instagrammable Venice: the best pictures of Venice you won’t want to miss

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Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and what better way to spend the most romantic day of the year, than by visiting the beautiful city of Venice. A city like no other, Venice is made up of 118 islands, 150 canals and with over 400 gondoliers; there’s so many amazing places where you can pop the question, it won’t be long before you’re down on one knee.

And once you’ve captured those magical moments, you’ll be dying to upload and share the best pictures of Venice with everyone back home. Here are just a few suggestions of where I think the most instagrammable places in Venice are.

The Grand Canal

Put The Grand Canal at the top of your to do list as there’s no better place to get a feel for what Venice is all about. You’ll see it all as you travel down the city’s amazing waterway: hundreds of gondolas, stunning piazzas and magnificent churches. By far the cheapest way to get around Venice is by water bus, buy a ticket or travel card for the duration of your stay, and you’ll be able to hop on and hop off the vaporetti as you please.

St. Mark’s Square

There’s plenty of reasons to visit St Mark’s Square, whether it’s to climb the famous Campanile for outstanding views of the city, marvel at the golden domes inside the cathedral or visit the works of art housed in the Doges’ Palace. When I visited last year,  I found it to be very busy during the day, but if you head there in the evening, the cafes are still open and you’ll be able to soak up the surroundings without the rush.

The Rialto

The famous Rialto bridge is the centrepiece of the area and you could definitely spend a full day here. It’s a busy and bustling area of the city both day and night, and is one of my personal favourite places. Less touristy than the main piazza, you can mingle with the locals going about their business and shop ‘til your hearts content at the many stalls and boutiques lining the narrow alleyways. So, why not book a romantic meal at one of the waterside restaurants, take a stroll over the bridge and ask that special question.

Take a gondola ride

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Совсем я пропал с радаров, друзья. 2018й для меня был не простым, и проверил на прочность, как ничто другое. Много неприятных потерь, много откровений, много новых смыслов и очень много свежих мыслей. Не бывает у меня ничего умеренного, живу каждый день, как последний, рискую всем, на кон ставлю самое важное, что ставить никогда не нужно. Но иначе мне скучно, иначе все тонет в безмерной плавности и текучести. Сейчас я учусь расставлять приоритеты, не ныряя в омут с головой. Я так люблю все планировать до миллиметра и в последний момент осознанно эти планы крушить пудовой кувалдой. Какое-то безумное развлечение, не находите? Хоть книгу начинай писать «100 способов выйти из зоны комфорта». Через несколько дней мне будет 29, а я все также учусь жить и, как ребёнок, эту жизнь понимать, чтобы потерь было меньше, а нужных приобретений больше. Спасибо родным и близким, вы – лучшие, с вами в огонь, с вами на дно, с вами за облака!

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An absolute must when you visit this gorgeous city, a gondola is a great way to see those parts of Venice you can’t reach on foot. It’s worth finding a gondola station away from the main tourist areas as they can be quite pricey. Alternatively, to save money, but still have this unique experience, you can share a gondola ride with a group of other like-minded visitors.

Venetian Islands of Murano and Burano

To escape the buzz of the city, it’s worth taking a ride across the lagoon to the small islands of Murano and Burano. I loved Murano, with its multi-coloured buildings and quaint bridges; it’s a great opportunity to get away from the crowds and find a nice, quiet spot to appreciate the beautiful surroundings. While you’re there, make sure you take time to watch the glass-blowing that Murano’s famous for.

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Have you been to Venice? What are your favourite things to see and do? Let me know in the comments below.

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Make your holiday budget go further at Universal Orlando Resort

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If, like me, you’ve always wanted to take the kids to Universal Orlando Resort, but want to make the most of your money, then read on. You’d be right in thinking that Universal Orlando Resort is the ultimate family holiday destination. There are three amazing theme parks to choose from: Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal’s Volcano Bay.

So, whether this is an adventure for your little ones or you’re a big kid at heart, having your next holiday here is guaranteed to be fun. To help you get the most out of your trip, I’ve pulled together some handy tips and advice, so you can keep an eye on those pennies.

Universal 7 Night HolidaysPlan ahead

The key to making your money go further is planning. At this time of year, there are some great deals to take advantage of. But, what you might not know is there are lots of ways to split the cost of your holiday or simply secure your trip of a lifetime with a low deposit. If your break for this year is sorted, get ahead of the game and start planning for 2020.

When’s the best time to go?

Summer is a popular time to visit Orlando. If you’re travelling with your family, we offer getaways to Florida all year round, so consider half terms, Easter and Christmas to bring the total cost down.

Are you worried about the weather? Even in the winter, temperatures average out at around 18 degrees in Florida.

Universal Weather

Before you set off to Universal Orlando Resort, find out what events are happening in the coming year. Do you love Christmas or Halloween? Then plan your trip around the Christmas celebrations or Halloween Horror Nights.

If you’re a massive thrill-seeker like me, plan your holiday around experiencing the new roller coaster coming to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, later this year.

Where to stay

Where to stay at UniversalBeyond the Universal Orlando theme parks, there are a whole host of immersive hotels to make your time away from the parks a real treat. There’s one for every style and budget, and no matter which one you choose, you’ll receive the same exclusive benefits in all the Universal theme parks.

Here are two hotels to look out for:

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn & Suites (opening in August 2019)

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort Surfside Inn & Suites

  • Universal’s most affordable hotel yet
  • Cool coastal theme
  • Two Bedroom Suites available that sleep up to six
  • Exclusive theme park benefits, including early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay
 Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites (A sister hotel, opening May 2020)

 Universal’s Endless Summer Resort Dockside Inn & Suites

  • Great value rooms and suites
  • Warmer feel and a slightly different theme to Surfside Inn & Suites
  • Exclusive theme park benefits, including early entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay

Park tickets

Once you’ve decided on your hotel, you can save money by booking your park tickets at the same time. The current price of park tickets will be locked in and included under the same overall deposit, so you can even spread the cost.

There are various ticket combinations available, but by far the most popular is the Universal Orlando 3 Park Explorer Ticket, which is currently on sale for the same price as the 2 Park Explorer Ticket** meaning you’ll get entry to Volcano Bay at no extra cost! Tickets won’t be cheaper when you get there as they’re only available to buy before you go.

Universal Park TicketsGetting around

Parking at Universal hotels is charged per night starting at around $12 for the cheaper hotels. Unless you plan on exploring the wider Orlando area, it may be worth avoiding the hire car altogether. There’s fast, fun and free transportation throughout Universal Orlando Resort to whisk you between the theme parks and hotels.

The airport is just a 20-30 minute drive from Universal Orlando Resort, so it’ll be easy to grab a cab at the airport, or if you prefer, you can organise a private transfer before you leave.

So there you have it, these are my tips on great ways to save money and make your dream holiday become a reality in 2019. So what are you waiting for? Best get planning!

Have you been to Universal Orlando Resorts before? Do you have any handy tips or advice for anyone about to go? Let me know in the comments below.

* From price per person is an average for 2 adults and 2 children (up to 17 years old) sharing a standard room for 7 nights at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando, Florida departing on selected dates between 01 May and 30 June 2019 & 01 Sept to 30 Sept 2019, from Manchester or London Gatwick flying with Thomas Cook Airlines. Price is subject to change without notice and holidays are subject to limited availability.  Price applies to new bookings only, and cannot be combined with any other offer/discount. Price includes 23kgs luggage allowance. Booking conditions apply. Holidays are operated by Thomas Cook Tour Operations Ltd.  ATOL protected 1179 and ABTA V6896.

**Valid for admission before 31 December 2019.

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A Guide to Sightseeing in Portugal

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With almost 500 miles of coastline, Portugal is well known for its sun-bleached beaches and Mediterranean climate. However, if you can bear to tear yourself away from the powder-soft sands and warm seas, you’ll find plenty of things to see and do in Portugal.

There are so many things worth a visit, you could spend your entire holiday out and about, so we’ve made it a bit easier for you and put together our list of the top 10 must-sees in Portugal.


For real charm, the historic town of Cascais is one of the top sights in Portugal, especially if you’re on a romantic getaway. Originally a fishing village, it offers beautiful, tumbledown houses, authentic Portuguese cuisine, and fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean.


To see Portuguese architecture at its most impressive, make sure you set some time aside to visit the city of Braga. Sandwiched between Amarante and Porto, it’s home to the 18th Century sanctuary, the Bom Jesus do Monte. While it’s one of the best places to see in Portugal, there are a significant number of steps to tackle before you get to the top, but the view is so worth it!


To immerse yourself in the Portuguese café culture, Amarante is a superb place to go. The city itself looks like something out of a fairy tale, with the sweeping arches of the Ponte São Gonçalo bridge. The river it spans is lined with pretty cafés and some excellent restaurants.


Porto is Portugal’s national tipple and there’s no better place to try it than where it’s made. While the city of Porto might be one of the country’s largest, it has a very village-y feel to it, with quaint cobbled streets, and restaurants serving outstanding seafood. If you really want to push the boat out, the Ode Porto Wine House offers a pairing menu, which will leave you feeling full and quite possibly a little tipsy, too.


The medieval village of Sortelha is one of the top sights in Portugal, particularly for those travelling with older children. Once you’ve explored the alleys and passages, be sure to pay a visit to the castle.


While very unusual, Monsanto is one of the best places to see in Portugal. The village houses around 1,000 people, but what sets it apart is that it was built around a gigantic boulder. Nearby rustic restaurants serving authentic Portuguese specialities make this unusual spot well worth a visit.


If you’re visiting Lisbon on your holidays to Portugal, be sure to make the half an hour trip to the Sintra region. Boasting some of the most beautiful castles in the whole of Europe, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, it’s easy to spend a couple of days exploring the area.


Of all the country’s cities, Lisbon is definitely one of the top 10 must see in Portugal. An eclectic jigsaw of colourful communities, it’s packed with things to see and do. The Bélém Tower ought to be at the top of your list of sightseeing attractions, while the central district of Bairro Alto comes a very close second.

Chapel of Bones

While it might be slightly ghoulish, the Chapel of Bones in Évora is one of the most famous attractions in Portugal. Set in a Roman city, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the chapel is exactly what you think it is: decorated with dozens of skulls and skeletons.

National Parks

The top sites in Portugal aren’t always the towns and cities. To soak up the beauty of the Portuguese countryside, be sure to pay a visit to the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, one of the country’s most spectacular national parks.

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10 best theme parks in Portugal

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When it comes to fun in the sun, you can’t beat a visit to a theme park. Typically, Portugal theme parks tend to revolve around getting wet, as quickly as possible, and then hitting the ice-cream stalls, rinse, and repeat. However, it’s not all about nerve-shredding waterslides and heart-stopping flumes; there’s plenty for younger visitors too, making Portugal theme parks perfect for a family day out. Trying to figure out which ones to go to can be daunting, as there’s so many great theme parks on offer. So we’ve made it a bit easier for you, and put together our list of the top 10 Portugal theme parks.

Slide and Splash Waterpark

Located in the Lagoa district, the Slide and Splash Waterpark is the perfect way to cool off in the hot summer sunshine. With 17 acres’ worth of rides and slides such as the Black Hole and the Kamikaze, and almost 10 acres of parkland in which to relax, it’s definitely one of the top 10 Portugal theme parks.

Aquashow Aquatic Park

Thrill-seekers looking for theme parks that really pack a punch should make their way to Qarteria, home of the Aquashow Aquatic Park. In addition to pools, slopes and flumes, the park also houses Europe’s biggest, water-based rollercoaster. Not for the faint-hearted.

Waterpark Scorpio

If you’re travelling with children then you’ll find that the Waterpark Scorpio, in Guimaraes, ticks all the right boxes. The park is divided into two sections. For youngsters, Fantasyland keeps everything on the right side of exciting and fun. For adults and older kids, the Waterslide section is where the action is.

Amarante Waterpark

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While the Amarante Waterpark, situated near Porto, might be one of the smaller of the country’s theme parks, it still provides kids of all ages a great day out. Offering pools for both youngsters and adults, with three exciting waterslides, it’s an easy way to spend an afternoon.

Norpark Waterpark

To spend a full day out, the Norpark Waterpark in Nazaré, has everything you could possibly need. In addition to several swimming pools for both grown-ups and kids, slides and rides, the Norpark also offers a terrace bar, a football pitch, and an onsite entertainment team who are experts at keeping the little ones amused.

Wood Aquapark

The Wood Aquapark, set in sun-splashed Santa Cruz, is one of the bigger water parks in Portugal. With the capacity for 1,000 visitors, it has all the usual waterpark attractions, such as the Lazy River, Black Hole and waterslides. However, in addition, it boasts four racetracks for those who fancy trying their hand at go-karting.

Madeira Thematic Park

Not all the top 10 Portugal theme parks are water-based. Head to the Madeira Thematic Park and you can learn about the history and culture of the island of Madeira while having some fun at the same time. With a replica of the original train between Monte and Funchal, ox and carts, stunning flowers, a lake and a wining maze, it’s a fascinating experience for visitors of all ages.


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Zoomarine is one of the few theme parks that combines conservation with education and entertainment. Effectively a gigantic rescue centre that’s open to the public, it acts as home to huge selection of birds, animals, and marine creatures, allowing you to see them close up.

Fratelli Aquapark

Fratelli Aquapark is for the more adventurous. Located just off the coast of Fafe, the park is a giant, inflatable obstacle course, floating out at sea. Struggle up slopes, slip own slides and even test your luck on the trampolines. Great fun for older kids and adults.

Dino Parque Lourinha

To take a trip back in time, head to Lourinha and visit the Dino Parque Lourinha. Offering expansive forest, packed with concealed sculptures of dinosaurs, this Portugal theme park is ideal for any budding palaeontologists.

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Famous Sightseeing Spots in the Algarve

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While the Algarve might be best known for its stunning, sun-splashed beaches, delicious food, and fabulous golfing, there’s a lot more to see for even the most adventurous holidaymakers. If you can bear to tear yourself away from the powder-soft sands, there’s plenty to be said for sightseeing in the Algarve. Theme parks and waterparks might be good for the kids but if you’d like to enjoy something of the local history and natural wonders, you’ll find some outstanding attractions that even the most cynical of teenagers will enjoy.


SilvesAt the top of your Algarve sightseeing list ought to be a trip to Silves. Once the region’s capital, Silves is a fortified medieval town, set among sweeping orange groves and overlooked by the sandstone castle that dominates its skyline. With bus services running from Lagos, Albufeira and Portimão, it’s also easy to get to.

While the 12th Century castle is the obvious attraction for sightseeing in the Algarve, there are other sites to explore, such as the Ponte Romana Bridge, the ancient Se Cathedral, and the city’s original gates. With some authentic Portuguese cafés tucked away in Silves’ cobbled streets, you can sip on a strong coffee and watch the world go by.

Benagil Caves

Benagil CavesA prime example of Mother Nature’s architectural abilities, the Benagil Caves make ideal Algarve sightseeing. Only accessible by boat, the caves are famed for their beauty. However, don’t expect dark and dingy chambers, populated by bats. The Benagil Caves are illuminated by the sun, creating an almost hypnotic effect as the rays are reflected onto the walls and ceilings by the clear water. You can charter a cave cruise from Carvoeiro, which is a small fishing village, close to Benagil Beach. Be sure to pack your camera, as you’ll come away with some spectacular photographs.


SagresIf you’d like the chance of seeing the area’s majestic marine life in the wild, you’ll want to put Sagres on your list of Algarve sightseeing destinations. Sagres is home to Mar Ilimitado, an ecotourism company run by marine scientists. Hop in a Rigid Inflatable Boat with your guide and you’ll be whisked across the ocean to areas where you can spot everything from dolphins and porpoises to elusive sea turtles. The marine life surrounding the Algarve is quite astonishing and having the opportunity to see it in its natural environment is well worth the price of the trip.

While you’re in Sagres, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the lighthouse at Cape St Vincent. A historic and iconic landmark, it’s one of the brightest lighthouses in Europe, with a beam that can be seen as far as 60 miles away.


LouléTo get a taste of Algarve at its most authentic make your way to Loulé, towards the centre of the region. You’ll find some superb shopping, quiet, palm-fringed plazas, and artisan craftsmen working out of workshops on the cobbled streets of the Old Town.

However, to make your day even more memorable, plan to visit Loulé on a Saturday, when the gypsy market rolls into town. You’ll find it next to the Moorish covered market, which houses farmers and fishermen selling their wares.

Gypsy markets give you the chance to buy intriguing, handmade items that you won’t find anywhere else, as well as the opportunity to sample delicious, home-cooked delicacies. Be prepared to get your haggling head on and bag yourself a bargain.

Faro Old Town

Faro Old TownIf you’re sightseeing in the Algarve, take a trip back in time with a visit to Faro’s Old Town. A labyrinth of dusty, cobbled back-streets, mosaic-strewn walls, and quirky shops, bars and cafés, it’s retained much of its medieval character and is a superb place to explore. Grab an al fresco coffee and watch the locals playing dominoes or take a wander at night and catch some authentic Portuguese music in an atmospheric bar.

Not too far from the Old Town, you’ll find plenty of other attractions, such as the grisly Bone Chapel and the unspoilt splendour of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa. If you want to avoid the crowds on the beaches or at the usual resorts, and live like a local for a day, the Old Town is the place to go.

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4 Reasons Why Christmas at Universal Orlando Resort™ Makes for the Ultimate Festive Escape

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Christmas time can be a stressful one; a house overflowing with visitors, overcooked turkey and overexcited children! If you fancy something different next Christmas then there’s no better place to experience the festive season than at Universal Orlando Resort, Florida. Below are just a few of the reasons why you should start planning now to make your 2019 Christmas, one to remember.

 Look out in the coming weeks for some unmissable offers to Universal Orlando Resort.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Christmas

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at ChristmasUniversal Orlando is the only place where you can visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in two separate parks, connected by the Hogwarts Express. But as if that wasn’t magical enough, when the festive period begins, the narrow cobbled streets of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade come alive with sparkling lights and intricate decorations. Hot Butterbeer makes for the perfect treat after some last minute Christmas shopping, and don’t miss The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle – a dazzling projection show in Hogsmeade village which makes for the ultimate end to the day.


Grinchmas at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Grinchmas at Universal’s Islands of AdventureInspired by the popular Dr Seuss books and film adaptations, Grinchmas returns in spectacular fashion. Explore Seuss Landing in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, filled with the Christmas charm and cheer of Who-ville. Watch The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, a live retelling of the classic holiday tale starring The Grinch. If that isn’t enough Grinch for you, then reserve your spot and have breakfast with the maven of mischief himself.


Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s

Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s

This is the perfect opportunity to see all your favourite characters in one place, get down on the streets of Universal Studios Florida early and watch as Shrek, King Julien, the Penguins of Madagascar and of course, everyone’s favourites, the Minions parade by. Watch as 15 huge, detailed floats and impressive balloons pass by – you might even see Santa himself. With well over 100 performers, this really is a celebration of Christmas and all things Universal coming together and is not to be missed.


All the incredible Christmas eats

All the incredible Christmas eatsSome people would argue that the best thing about Christmas is the opportunity to indulge in their favourite food and drink; and Christmas at Universal Orlando is no exception. The festive season begins at the end of November and runs right through till early January every year, so the parks are full of the smells of hot apple strudels, tasty reindeer cupcakes and red velvet yule logs to name but a few.

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If you’ve been to Universal Orlando Resort at Christmas, why not send us your tips for making the most of your holiday?

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