Browsed by
Author: Kirsty

I'm Kirsty, my family and I spent 2013 on a gap year travelling round Europe in our camper van and 2014 house sitting and travelling in Italy and the USA. We're now back in the UK but still having short adventures to appease our wanderlust!
DFDS mini cruise to Amsterdam – our review!

DFDS mini cruise to Amsterdam – our review!

We’ve just recently returned from a nice little break on a DFDS mini cruise to Amsterdam and wanted to give a bit of a review of it since we struggled to find out much about it before we went.

What is the mini cruise?

dfds-mini-cruise-to-amsterdamDFDS do a couple of different mini cruises – you can do one like we did from Newcastle to Amsterdam (and vice versa) or there’s also one that goes from Denmark to Norway (one to try at another date when we’re off around Europe again!). They used to do one from the UK to Norway but I don’t think that one is currently running.

Basically they are 2 night ‘cruises’ where you sail late on the first day, sleeping overnight on the boat and arriving at the destination in the morning. You then get transferred to Amsterdam for a short day trip before returning to the ship and having a night on the boat returning. You arrive back on the third day in the morning.

Is it expensive?

There are often deals to be had when booking the mini cruise with DFDS. We managed to find a 2 for 1 offer which made our whole trip with the most basic cabin come in at £120 if I remember rightly). This gives you a super basic cabin (more on that below) for two nights and coach transfers for us all to Amsterdam. You can upgrade to better cabins should you want.

On board, as probably expected, it’s a little more expensive than your average restaurant or shop. As is also probably expected, we are way too tight to be spending our cash on board so I can’t comment on the quality of the restaurants. I did see that breakfast was around €15 per adult which nearly made me choke on our Pop tarts that we brought along 😉

What’s it like on board?

As I said before, we didn’t eat in the restaurant and we also didn’t partake in any bar entertainment either. There was a cinema on board which was about €8 each, so not too dissimilar to on land and we did consider that if Suicide Squad would have been showing on the way back but unfortunately it wasn’t so we didn’t.

The cabins were very basic but did have all you need with a small en suite shower and toilet. You also get towels too so no need to bring those either. The cabins are a little bit small with four people in them, especially when the upper bunks are down, but it wasn’t too bad really.

One issue that we had with the cabins were that they were incredibly hot. We did wonder at one point whether they maybe didn’t want you too comfy in the cabins and wanted you to be out spending in the bars! It was like that both ways and just spoiled what would have been a quite enjoyable time otherwise.

One thing we wondered about and were a little worried about was whether we could leave our belongings on the ship while on the day trip – if you’re also worried, don’t be.  You keep the same cabin and can leave whatever you need to on board.

What about the ‘day trip’?

kids-at-amsterdam-signYou arrive in the Netherlands at about 9am at a place called IJmuiden which is around a 45 minute drive from the centre of Amsterdam.

After waiting for the car passengers to depart it’s the foot passengers turn to go through passport control. It was fine and fairly quick on the Amsterdam side but returning to Newcastle took forever so something to think about if you’re doing the opposite journey.

The coaches are waiting to take you in to the city and once full they head off, dropping you outside a hotel just opposite the train station so perfect for seeing the old town or getting on a canal cruise.

We probably arrived in Amsterdam at around 10.30am – 11am ish which gave us about 4 and a half hours at least before we got picked up. It definitely didn’t seem enough to enjoy all there is, unsurprisingly, but for us, as it was our first trip to the city it was nice enough to get a feel for it and wander round.

I really want to do some of the museums in Amsterdam and it’s really not enough time for that – but perhaps next time we’ll be able to stay longer!

We were lucky and had a dry day to wander around – it would have been pretty miserable if it was raining!



Is it worth it?

So the main question would be, is it worth it overall? We all really enjoyed our time away and for what we paid I think it was definitely worth it. Would I do it again? Probably not! Perhaps if it was a different city on offer we would, but when we go back to Amsterdam I want to properly explore! Of course you can use the trip as just a ferry in order to get you to mainland Europe as well and I would definitely consider doing that. I’d probably look to upgrade from the basic cabin if we could though.

If you want to see any of the current deals check out the DFDS website.

Last days in NY and the end of our adventure

Last days in NY and the end of our adventure

As promised, I wanted to just share some more of our pictures from the last days in New York which also happened to be the end of our adventure.  Afterwards we flew back to the UK, James got a job and we rented a house back in Sheffield – all back to normal.  I prefer to think of it as us having a holiday from our nomadic life though and I’m sure we’ll get back on the road soon.  It’s hard travelling long term with teenagers, they want friends and normality – it doesn’t work at the moment for us to take off again.  We’ll have to just enjoy our nomadic holiday and have some sporadic trips within it.


Every other day or so we’d make the trip on the Staten Island ferry over in to Manhattan and see some more places we hadn’t done before.  One of the downsides of it being winter was that it was so cold you could only really do a couple of things each day before having enough!

One day we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge – I think this was one of my favourite things to see.


We also explored around Times Square again and found The Cake Boss Cafe to have some nice cake (we watched a lot of Cake Boss when we stayed with my parents before our big trip in 2013 so we had to find it and sample the cakes!)



It snowed!  We didn’t get masses of snow and it wasn’t on Christmas day, but we did get a little bit!


And finally we hopped in to another state, New Jersey, to see the original Carlo’s Bakery from Cake Boss.  We gave the kids the choice of going up the Rockefeller Centre or going to New Jersey and food won out!  It was so cold that day and we were really lucky as we met one of the ‘celebrities’ from the show – Mauro!  The cannoli were pretty good too 😉




And that is, I’m afraid, the end of our 2014 adventure!  I wonder when the next big one will be?

Housesitting in New York and our first Xmas away from home

Housesitting in New York and our first Xmas away from home

After our introduction to New York in Brooklyn, we had one night in Manhattan before we headed to our housesitting assignment over in Staten Island.

Our night in Manhattan was so different to Brooklyn (which in turn was so different to Staten Island) and I’m really glad we saw a couple of different faces of New York City.

Some highlights for us as we wandered round fifth avenue and up to Central Park were:

  • seeing the Empire State Building up close.  We didn’t climb it (no money!) but seeing it lit up was pretty fab.
  • Eating amazing cheap pizza near the Chrysler building.  I’ve no idea how we managed to find the best pizza in the world but we did.  And it was $1 a slice!!!  We still talk about that pizza now!
  • Seeing Grand Central Station
  • Watching the light show at Saks 5th Avenue
  • Seeing the huge tree at Rockefeller Centre – was so busy there though
  • Finding a small bit of peace among the busyness at St Patricks Cathedral – James always likes to light a candle for his mum at Xmas.
  • Walking out of the Cathedral, continuing on up 5th Avenue and the snow just suddenly starting to fall.  Magical!


Our House Sit in Staten Island

We had almost a month in our house sit and we were looking after some wonderful pets – a lovely dog called Honey, a very tubby cat called Roxy and a jazz loving parrot called Thea.  They were all a delight and apart from the dog taking a little bit of time to get used to us, we all had a great time together.



Money problems at Christmas

Christmas had it’s ups and downs, mostly due to the fact that I was having real trouble accessing some funds in my bank account.  It kept saying it was there and waiting to clear, so at first I didn’t worry and we just spent what little money we had, knowing that it would be all ok when it clears and surely that would be tomorrow?  Except each day would come and it still wouldn’t clear.  Our money was rapidly dwindling!  Christmas Eve came and I knew I had to phone the bank to see what was up – they said it would clear on Xmas day, so I checked my purse and we had just $70.  We needed to buy the kids *something* for them to open and we needed to buy enough food for us all too.  I had no idea how hard to stretch $70 would be!

Christmas Eve saw us leave the kids with the animals and James and I walked to the local shopping area to do what we could.  I have to say that I found food in the US really expensive compared to back in the UK.  Back home if we were really struggling there would be non branded food we could get really cheaply and it might not be fantastic, but it would get us through.  In the US there isn’t so much like that.

There were some dollar stores and some cheap gift type shops so we did manage, just, to get the kids some good gifts to open that even were what they were interested in – superheroes for Alex and Halo for Marcus, there was NO wrapping paper to be found, except plain blue Hannukah paper.  We got a nice big bit of beef for our dinner (was much cheaper than a turkey or chicken) and we managed to get most of the trimmings for our Xmas lunch at Dollar Tree!  Ah, how I laugh at it all now!  I do remember being utterly miserable and feeling that I had totally messed up as we walked back in pouring rain and getting splashed by cars.  Not my finest hour!

Christmas Day itself felt weird.  It was our first ever where we weren’t at home and being in a different time zone really compounded that, especially as the day before I’d see friends on Facebook get excited at watching the Norad Santa page and it was the wrong time for us!  Waking up on Christmas and it having almost been over for family already was just weird!

We did have a lovely time though, the kids loved their small amount of gifts and our money cleared!!  Woot, we could eat again!  One thing I missed though was having tv to watch.  We don’t watch much, but we do like to watch Xmas movies and tv specials.  The house we were sitting at had no tv except Netflix in the attic so it was something I felt was a bit too different.

New Years in New York

Of course, not long after Xmas is New Years and what a fab place in the world to experience it – right?  Well probably if you don’t mind crowds and want to spend the day in the freezing cold at Times Square.  It wasn’t high on our lists of places to go.  Mind you we did want to do something, we’d planned to go to Brooklyn Bridge but it was so cold we were worried it wouldn’t be as much fun.  We thought about Central Park and then worried ourselves about the safety, so in the end we decided we’d try to get the ferry to Manhattan and time it right to be on it when midnight struck and see if we could see fireworks.

We headed out late at night and it was soooo cold!  I was very glad we weren’t at Times Square!  When we arrived in Manhattan I couldn’t decide which ferry to get back on.  The timings just weren’t right for an optimal position at the stroke of Midnight and we ended up deciding quickly to get on one that would arrive back on Staten Island just at midnight.  I don’t know why I decided that one, I think I was convinced as there were lots of party people getting excited to go on!  Anyway, as soon as we arrived it was about a couple of minutes to go so our plan was to rush outside to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty at the turn of the year.  It worked, we all, the kids, james, I and all the other party goers, ran as fast as we could outside and made it just in time.

Made it just in time!


The problem was that it was so far away the fireworks just looked teeny tiny!  I think if we ever did it again, we’d stay Manhattan side!  It was fun though and something we’ll never forget, but I kinda felt like we failed at New Years Eve in NYC!!

Bad picture but we did see some fireworks!


New Years Day

We even got a trip to the beach for New Years Day which is fast becoming my new tradition that I must do.  It was probably about a 45 minute walk or so from our house to the beach and it was a beautiful day to do it.  That was one thing I noticed about New York winter – mainly it was cold, but also it was generally normally really clear and beautiful days.



I have a few more pictures to share of our trip to New York, which I’ll probably do next week as a photo post.  Not sure I’m ready to stop writing about this trip but of course New York was our last stop!  Sob.

Our favourite children’s books about New York City

Our favourite children’s books about New York City

Every time we go somewhere new we strive to learn about the destination through books.  It’s one of our favourite ways of world schooling!  These are some of our favourite books about New York City for kids.  (See here my other book guides for kids)

Picture books about NYC

Most of theses picture books are way more than just basic stories and pictures – they’d be suitable for all ages of young children, not just toddlers!  They are a mix between fun stories, books that show the area and others that tell stories about the history and past of NYC.

This is New York

The classic series of books seems to turn up in all my collections!  This was in our apartment on our first night in New York and even as an adult I loved reading through it and seeing the famous streets illustrated.  Of course things change and there is always an addendum at the end of the book to update it slightly.  Perfect for all ages!

Click to see on here or Amazon UK


A walk in New York

Again this is part of a series and I featured it in my London guide.  It’s a perfect book to show some of the sights to little ones before you get there so that they’ll have some idea of what to look for.

See this book on or Amazon UK here.



This is a classic children’s book set in NYC and it’s loved equally by adults!  Eloise lives in the Plaza hotel which is just at the corner of Central Park and is quite a character!

See more about this book on or Amazon UK.


Balloons over broadway

This is a picture book based on the true story of the person behind the famous Macy’s Parade in New York at Thanksgiving.  If you’ve ever wondered how the event got started and who was behind it, this book is for you.  It’s nicely illustrated and I’d say for slightly older children as it has lots of details in it.

See more about it on or Amazon UK


The man who walked between the towers

Even the cover of this book makes me feel all funny!  I can’t imagine how it must have felt to do it!

This is the story of a frenchman named Philippe Petit who one day set up a high wire between the twin towers in NYC as they were finishing being built and proceeded to walk across performing tricks as he went!  Sounds crazy but was actually a true story!

You can see more about this book on or Amazon UK


Twenty One Elephants and Still Standing

This is a wonderful story and one I didn’t know was true!  When the Brookyn Bridge was built there was some concern about ow strong it was and how long it would last.  So a show was put on and 21 elephants went across to show its strength!  Told in a lovely way this is a great book for learning the history of the bridge.

See this book on or Amazon UK


The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge

I remember reading this with my kids and it was a definite favourite of ours.  We really wished we could have gone to see it in real life on our recent trip but afraid it wasn’t to be.  Next time perhaps!

This book tells the story of a little lighthouse who thinks he’ll not be needed once the big bridge is built over him until one day when he gets his chance to shine!

See this book on or Amazon UK


The Story of the Statue of Liberty

This is a beautifully illustrated book about the Statue of Liberty and the story behind it.  It would be a perfect accompaniment to a trip to see the statue up close and to learn more about it.  It’s suitable for young kids and older.

See this book on or Amazon UK


Non Fiction children’s books about New York City

Not for Parents New York

This is a great book for older kids who thrive on learning snippets of information and facts about a place.  Told in a fun way this talks about lots of different aspects of the city from the stock market to the transport options.

You can see more about this book on or Amazon UK


New York City Children’s map

This is a great map just for kids covering mostly Manhattan.  It’s a great way to get kids involved in planning routes, where you’re going and how to get there.

You can see it on or Amazon UK here.


Kids chapter books set in New York City

I feel there should definitely be a few more books in this category so I shall get looking to see what else comes up.  Here’s two that we’ve enjoyed:

Stuart Little

Stuart Little is the tale of a small mouse who lives with his human family in New York City.  If you’re familiar with the movie that was based on the books you’ll know all about it.

We found it a little hard to read sometimes as it’s quite an old fashioned tale, but ultimately enjoyed it.  It’s suitable from about ages 9+

Buy this book on or Amazon UK


Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief

My daughter absolutely loved this set of books and read them when she was about 11.  The first book has many of the main scenes set all around the US and Mount Olympus was actually the Empire State building in NYC and was one of the things my daughter was most excited about seeing when we got there.

Highly recommended series and can inspire a love of greek myths too!

Check out the book on or Amazon UK

Things to do in New York with kids

Things to do in New York with kids

New York City is an amazing place to visit and even more so with kids.  It’s such an iconic place, somewhere that we’ve all seen at some point on the tv or in movies and to be there in real life is something else!  There are many things to do in New York with kids and contrary to what you might think not all of them will break the bank!  As you know I do like my free activities so I’m kicking off this list with some free attractions you can take advantage of with kids from toddlers to teens!

8 free things to do in New York with kids

Staten Island ferry

The first on my list was one of my favourite things to do on our family trip to New York and it’s great for kids of all ages.  It’s simply the passenger ferry that goes from Battery Park on Manhattan to Staten Island.  It’s not fancy, it’s not plush, it’s like a bus on the water!view from staten island ferry

But, it’s free and it runs constantly through the day, so whenever you manage to get there you’ll be able to take advantage of it.

Why go on it?  Well it’s a free way to see the Statue of Liberty up close.  Not quite as close as other tours or visiting the statue itself of course, but it’s pretty good.  If you’re on a budget it might be all you need.

It’s also awesome to see the skyline of lower Manhattan ahead of you as you ride away.  The first time we did it was at night time and it was a spectacular sight!

Walk the High Line

The High Line is a public park that was built on an old elevated railway line and that has now grown over and become a beautiful addition to Manhattan.  It’s a lovely place to take a walk and get al alternative view of the city.

See Times Square

times square nyc with kidsTimes Square is bustling, but you really shouldn’t miss it.  As a spectacle it’s one of a kind and there’s really nowhere that’s quite like it.

Aside from taking lots of photos there and enjoying the atmosphere, there’s lots of flagship stores around to wander through.  We liked the M&M shop there (especially as we’d also been to on in Las Vegas and London).

Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Another of my favourite things to do was to walk across Brooklyn Bridge.  It’s free to do so and as you walk along you get some fantastic views of the skyline.

You’ll also be able to learn a little of how it was built through some of the information boards dotted along the walkway.

Walk around Central Park

Central Park is huge and really is a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the streets.  There’s lots to see for free with plenty of nature around.  It’s just a really nice place to be able to run and let of steam which you can’t really do on the streets of Manhattan!

FAO Schwarz toy store

Ok, a toy store might not seem a logical free thing to do, but bear with me!  If you’ve ever seen the film Big then you’ll want to go here and show your kids the giant piano that you can play.  It’s all free and a really fun thing to do.

There’s also plenty to see in the toy store if you have deep pockets or an iron will to say no!  😉

Grand Central Station

One of the main train stations in New York is a feature of many films and so we had to visit.  It’s obviously free to get in, it’s a working train station after all and it’s a really nice building to look round.

Visit China Town and Little Italy

I love wandering around different neighbourhoods of the city and how they change fairly abruptly as you get there.  China Town and Little Italy are quite close to each other and gives another perspective about New York that’s a little different from the rest of it.  Yummy food too!


Other kids attractions on NYC

Central Park Zoo

Within Central Park is a zoo which sounds crazy, but yes it’s there.  If you’ve ever seen the film Madagascar then you’ll know that it’s the zoo that the animals were part of.  Unfortunately no Alex the lion here though!  It’s a really reasonable price as well at $12 for an adult and $7 for a child.

Empire State Building

empire state building at nightEverybody has seen it – what was for a long time the tallest building in the world!  Of course not any more, but still a huge feat of engineering.  You can go to the top, for a cost, and get an amazing view of the city.

Rockefeller Centre

For an alternative skyline view you could always go up to the top of the Rockefeller Centre.  The advantage of doing this rather than the Empire State building is that it’s cheaper.  You’ll also get a view of the Empire State Building itself which you won’t get if you’re stood on top of it!

Visit the Statue of Liberty

If you’re not content with just a free look at Lady Liberty from the Staten Island ferry you could go on a trip to Liberty Island and see her up close.

With the ferry ticket you can get a self guided audio tour to make the most of your visit.

Travel in a yellow taxi

Self explanatory really – hailing a taxi and having a ride is quite a fun thing to do!

Rent a boat to sail at Conservancy water

A large expanse of water is in Central Park and you can either bring your own remote control boat or rent one.  It would be a lovely way to spend a few hours there if the weather is good.

Go on the carousel in Central Park

While you’re in Central Park why not seek out the Carousel as well and have a ride on that!

Check out the museums for kids below too…


New York with toddlers

While many of the ideas in the kids section are great for toddlers, here’s a few more ideas just for them.

Go on a horse and carriage ride at Central Park

horse drawn carriage central parkOne way to create a lovely memory is to take a horse drawn carriage ride around Central Park.  Perfect idea for toddlers and kids.

Bryant Park

Behind the New York Public library is a great park and playground that will be fab for letting of steam and running around a bit.  Bring a picnic and make a day of it!

A trip to the zoo – Bronx or Central Park

As well as the zoo at Central Park there’s also a zoo in the Bronx which is worth a visit.  Wednesdays are a really popular day to go as it’s a ‘suggested donation’ day so could be a nice free or cheap day out with your toddler!



What to do in New York with teens

New York is great for teens.  Even if they’re not in to shopping like mine, they’ll still have an excellent time!

Take in a Broadway show

A broadway show is an excellent thing to do in New York with teens, although can be a little on the pricy side!  Choose cheaper times of the day to go for a more budget option.  Good shows for teens would be Wicked or maybe the Lion King.

Eat the best pizza around

We still talk about the pizza in NYC.  Yes, it’s that good!  I can’t recommend a place, because it was just a small pizza joint, but our favourite was near the Chrysler building and it was $1 a slice.  You can’t beat that!

Find movie locations

Whatever your favourite genre of movies, there’s likely been something set in NYC.  A fun thing to do is to visit some of the locations that films were set in.  We loved finding the Ghostbusters buildings and also the hotel from Home Alone 2.

You might even be lucky and stumble across some new films being made!

Visit the iconic 5th Avenue Apple store

Next to Central Park is an amazing building that looks really state of the art, slightly out of place and yet fits in perfectly!  It’s the 5th Avenue Apple store and is worth going in just to say you’ve been there!

Visit ground zero

The place where the world trade centre once stood is a sobering place, but one that is good for teens to see especially as for most of them they’ll only know a life post 9/11.  There is a museum to visit as well, although we didn’t do that.

Visit Coney Island

If your teens like rollercoasters then a visit to Coney Island is a must.  It’s a classic rollercoaster park with some amazing rides and apparently is the birthplace of hot dogs!

Visit Ellis Island

Ellis island is the place where immigrants would have landed when they arrived in New York and now there is a museum there that would be a great place for learning about the immigrant heritage of the United States.

Museums in New York for kids


Natural History Museum

natural history museum of new york with kidsWe were excited to go here as the kids had seen it in Night of the Museum.  Unfortunately it’s not anything like it inside (well we knew that things wouldn’t move!) although Alex loved finding Dum Dum, one of the Easter Island heads (although it’s not a real one – go to the British Museum in London to see one there!).

It’s a suggested donation museum so can be free, but you still need to queue up for tickets and that did take quite a while when we were there so just a heads up.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan

If you’re looking for fun hands on exhibitions then this small museum is a great place to come.  There’s water play and many more really fun exhibits that are suitable from a very young age.  Find out more here.

If you’re there at the right time, there’s free entry on the first Friday of every month (I think in the evening but best to check with them).

New York Transit Museum

The New York Transit museum is in Brooklyn and is an excellent place for any kids who love their vehicles!  It focuses on the subway cars and has many vintage exhibits.

Children’s museum of the Arts

This is an art museum dedicated solely to children.  They have classes and drop in activities going on – check out their website for more info here.

They have a ‘pay as you wish’ day every Thursday from 4-6pm.