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Thread: 2016 Adventures - Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore

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    2016 Adventures - Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore

    THREE WEEKS WITH A BULLET (TRAIN)
    JAPAN, HONG KONG, SINGAPORE - 2016


    Cast : Carolyn - trip planner obsessive
    DH - grateful not to have to do any planning!

    Experience : Carolyn - 15 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 8 to Disneyland Resort Paris
    DH - 8 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 4 to Disneyland Resort Paris

    Resorts : Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay
    Sunroute Plaza, Shinjuku, Japan
    Hotel Granvia, Hiroshima
    Disney's Hollywood Hotel, Hong Kong
    Sheraton Towers, Hong Kong
    Sheraton Towers, Singapore

    Transportation : Many, many planes And several trains

    Dates : Saturday 05 November to Friday 25 November 2016

    PLANNING

    In November 2014, we were in Walt Disney World in Florida, watching the Festival of Fantasy parade with our friends Robin and Larry (from Scotland), who live in Texas. Robin and Larry were leaving after the parade, as they had to pack for their very early departure the next day, and just before they left us, Larry said that we should visit Tokyo Disneyland together in a couple of years they had been before and really loved the resort, and they thought it would be a fun thing to do together. We laughed at this, thinking that he couldnt be serious. They waved to us and walked away, leaving DH and I to then look thoughtfully at each other, and say actually .. And then DH suggested that if we WERE to go all the way to Japan, we might as well also include a few days in Hong Kong and visit Disneyland there, and while we were over that way, how about stopping off in Singapore to catch up with friends there too?

    A few weeks later, we began talking seriously about the possibility of this trip, and decided we wanted to do it. I contacted Robin and they talked it over, and decided they too could make it happen! We mutually decided on the best date to go, and thereby began two years of planning, saving, and drawing up multiple spreadsheets! It ultimately turned into an exciting but incredibly complicated plan, involving a total of 6 flights, 9 hotels (8 of them different to each other), and visits to countries that were very foreign to us. DH used to live and work in Singapore before I knew him, and we have visited there a couple of times together since, but neither of us had been to Japan or Hong Kong before, and the prospect was a little daunting Hong Kong is, we believe, quite Westernised and therefore should be fairly easy to deal with; however, Japan was somewhere that really worried us as it would all be very new to us and, well, very Japanese! But at least we would have Robin and Larry to guide us round Japan, and we knew we could rely on them to take care of us.

    I priced up the flights directly with the airlines first, but they were coming in at a much higher price than I had expected. We visited a travel agent to see what they could offer, and they came in at about a third of the price I had been able to find, so we booked with them. They also managed to get us flights from our local airport in Birmingham, rather than having to travel to London to fly, which was good news. The flights to Japan and back from Singapore both were non-direct flights, with a short layover in Doha, but we felt that was okay it would give us an opportunity to stretch our legs halfway through what were very long flights!

    The itinerary eventually looked like this :-

    Travel to Japan (with the time difference, this would take us from the Saturday morning to the Sunday evening to achieve, with a short layover in Doha) 15 hours of flying
    4 days in Tokyo Disneyland (2 parks, 2 days per park)
    Move to Shinjuku for one full day of sightseeing
    Travel to Hiroshima on the bullet train, overnight stay there
    Back to Shinjuku for one more night
    Fly to Hong Kong 4 hour flight
    2 days in Hong Kong Disneyland (1 park)
    Train to Kowloon, stay there for 4 days of sightseeing
    Fly to Singapore 4 hour flight
    Stay in Singapore for 6 days, visit Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, catch up with friends
    Fly back to the UK (via Doha again) 15 hours of flying

    I then began to look at hotels, and decided to sign up with a free loyalty programme for Starwood Preferred Hotels, as this would give us free Wi-Fi everywhere we stayed, occasional room upgrades, and points towards a free stay in one of the partner hotels at some point in the future. This narrowed my choices down to mostly Sheraton hotels, which was fine, as we like them. The cost of staying on property at a Disney resort in Tokyo was shockingly high, so I booked us into one of their 'good neighbour' hotels, the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay. On the recommendation of Robin, we next went for the Sunroute Plaza in Shinjuku, as this was very close to the train station, was less expensive than staying in Tokyo city itself, and was a good central point to explore from. Next was a 2 day package of bullet train tickets to and from Hiroshima, to include a night at the Hotel Granvia, and then back to the Sunroute Plaza for another night. I then looked at Hong Kong, and prices for the Disney hotels were a lot more reasonable there, so I booked us 3 nights at Disney's Hollywood Hotel, to include 2-day park tickets. Moving to somewhere in Kowloon was our next plan, so I got us 3 nights at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel & Towers. The final stop would be at the Sheraton Towers Singapore, for 5 nights, as we would be leaving Singapore very late on the Friday and therefore wouldn't need a hotel room for that night. Additionally, I booked us one-day tickets for Universal Singapore, and also tickets for the Night Safari and River Safari in Singapore (part of Singapore Zoo).

    The tickets for Tokyo Disneyland can't be bought more than 60 days in advance, and although Robin and Larry were planning to get theirs at the hotel concierge when they arrived, I was a bit panicky about not being able to get them for whatever reason and therefore bought them online from the Tokyo Disneyland website at the 60-day mark, being able to print them out myself. They were incredibly colourful and very cute! There were instructions on how to fold them so that the QR code could be easily scanned to enable entrance to the parks. These tickets differed from other Disney park tickets in that you can still buy park hoppers, but if you are buying longer than 2 day tickets, you have to choose which parks to visit on the first 2 days and stick with those, then you are allowed to park hop for the next days. After consultation with Robin, we decided to go with some familiarity on the first day and visit the equivalent of the Magic Kingdom, with Tokyo Disneysea being our choice for the second day.

    About 4 weeks before the holiday, I logged into the airline website, (we were flying with Qatar for the international flights, and their partner airline, Cathay Pacific, for the shorter flights), to see when I could choose our seats. Immediately, I spotted something wrong with the booking the flights from Birmingham to Doha seemed to have changed dramatically. Originally, we were booked to fly out of Birmingham at 14:05, landing in Doha after an 8 hour flight, then after just over a 2 hour layover we would be taking off for Japan, arriving there around 17:00 hrs on the Sunday (Japan is 9 hours ahead of the UK). The last direct Disney transfer bus goes from Narita airport just after 18:00 hrs, so we had hoped to just make this bus, providing there were no delays. However, I noticed that our flight from Birmingham was now showing as leaving at 08:05, 6 hours early, and the second flight was an hour later than originally planned, meaning that our layover time in Doha was now showing as being 9 hours! I immediately called the Flight Centre (our travel agent), only to find the person we had originally made the booking with had left the company; never mind, they would get someone to call me straight back. Two days later I rang them again, asking first of all why no-one had called me as promised. Again, I was told I would receive a call back from someone, with answers to my questions. The next day I called them again, and asked to speak to someone there and then, never mind a promise to call me back this had gone on for too long and I wanted answers.

    I finally got so speak to a young lady, who was most apologetic and explained that because Qatar were in fierce competition with another airline at our departure airport, they had cancelled some of their flight times outright, and we now were indeed on an earlier flight. I asked them two questions why had no-one told us, and what were we supposed to do for 9 hours in an airport in Doha? She mumbled some apologetic excuse as to why we hadn't been told about this, and promised she would get us booked into a hotel at the airport in Doha in order for us to get some rest and freshen up before the next leg of the flight.

    Nothing happened for another couple of days, and I dropped them a reminder email. A few hours later I received a response from them, confirming that a hotel room would be provided by the airline in Doha at no cost to ourselves, and attaching the new and updated flight schedule. We grumbled a bit about the earlier start to the journey, but as there was nothing we could do about it, we just accepted it. However, we also decided to stay overnight at an airport hotel the night before our big adventure, to save having to get up too early on departure day, so I booked us a room at the Novotel Birmingham Airport.

    I printed off the flight schedule and gave a copy to my sister, who was taking us to the airport on the day she lives very close to Birmingham airport and could drop us off there, saving us parking fees for the 3 weeks we would be away. She rang me a few hours later, to query our return date, saying she thought we had said that we were starting back on the Friday and arriving on the Saturday, but according to the flight schedule, we appeared to be arriving back on the Sunday? I checked the schedule, and to my horror discovered that the return flight times had changed for the connecting flight in Doha by 24 hours! So, return flight from Singapore to Doha this was originally scheduled to leave at 00:30 hrs on the Saturday morning, landing in Doha 7 hours later, 2 hour layover, then further 7 hour flight to Birmingham, arriving at 08:30 on the Saturday morning. (Singapore is 8 hours ahead of the UK, so we would have regained the hours we lost on the way out).

    Now, we were leaving Singapore at the same time, but instead of departing Doha at 07:30 hrs on the Saturday, we would be leaving there at the same time but on the Sunday a whole 24 hours later.

    I had checked the updated schedule, but hadn't even noticed this! I promptly rang the Flight Centre AGAIN and insisted on talking to someone. Even she hadn't noticed this change, and she was quite shocked by this! She said she would call the airline and get straight back to me yep, Qatar had cancelled another flight time outright. She managed to get us booked onto an earlier flight from Singapore, one that left at 20:30 on the Friday, which put us in Doha in time to get their only flight out in the early hours of Saturday morning, thus arriving back in Birmingham at approximately 06:30 hrs on Saturday. Phew! And I managed to get the seats booked for the international flights at this point, too. Plus the Flight Centre emailed us a voucher to print off and take to a desk in Doha airport, which would get us a hotel room for the long layover period at the start of the holiday. I had checked with the Flight Centre several times that we would not need to collect our luggage between flights to Japan and from Singapore, the cases would be checked in to the final destinations. The final thing I managed to do was to book bland meals for myself on all flights I have IBS, and find that some airlines, (I'm looking at you, Virgin Atlantic!), have a tendency to offer things that are very spicy or some kind of curry, so I normally have to get a sandwich to take with me on the flight, but not Qatar oh no, they had a huge number of meal options to choose from! I picked 'bland' as it said it was for people with digestive issues and would not include onions, peppers, garlic, or anything fried (all of which give me problems). I was incredibly impressed with this option!

    During all this time, I had been in touch with Robin and we had been discussing plans, things we wanted to do, places to go etc. She told me she had put together a rough itinerary for our week together, based on what we had said we wanted to do that week, as they were staying in Japan for a second week when we jetted off to Hong Kong. She had booked the same hotels as us, and had also booked the Hiroshima package too. We discussed arrival times in Tokyo, she and Larry would be arriving mid-afternoon and were going to head to Ikspiari for dinner, (similar to Downtown Disney). As we would now be arriving later than originally planned, it also transpired that we would miss the last direct Disney transfer bus from the airport; however, we could get a later bus that would take us to Disney Celebration (the newest Disney resort hotel), and then either get a cab from there or a regular bus we decided to grab a cab. A taxi all the way there from the airport costs around 150, so that wasn't an option we considered! Both Robin and Larry were super-excited at the idea of being back in Japan, visiting the Disney parks there again, and, of course, meeting up with us for a week!

    I researched travel options thoroughly for Japan, so that when we arrived at the airport we would know exactly which bus would take us to Disney Celebration, and then as a back-up plan in case one or other of the flights were delayed, I also worked out how to get to Celebration by train, (this involved 3 trains and was again extremely complicated!). The bus we were intending to take to Celebration would be the last one of the day, so there was a chance we could miss this one if we had a delay anywhere.

    The only other thing I did, again on Robin's recommendation, was to pre-book a portable Wi-Fi unit from a company based in Japan. This was quite cheap, around 34 for 6 days, and would give us the ability to keep in touch with family at home for the first week of our trip, but also give us the ability to use Google maps etc while out and about. It would also mean that if we split up from Robin and Larry for any reason, we would be able to contact them via a free messaging service. This was a really good idea, the company post it to any address you want, and then include a pre-paid envelope for you to return the unit, free of charge, either by putting it in a post-box, or even just asking your hotel reception to post it for you. I arranged for it to be delivered to the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay the day after our arrival.

    I didn't bother making any other travel plans, as we wouldn't be alone in Japan but would be with seasoned travellers who knew exactly what to do and where to go.

    About a week and a half before we were due to leave, however

    I got up one morning and checked Facebook before leaving for work, and saw I had a private message alert. As I opened it, I happened to catch the words, "we will check with our travel insurance company " and thought, "uh-oh, this doesnt look good!" It turned out that Robin's mother had a health issue, and they were not going to be able to go to Japan after all. They were really sorry, and I felt awful for them, (and worried for Robin's mum as well), they had been so looking forward to this trip, and it just seemed that every time they had a trip planned over the last few years, something had happened to either delay it or cancel it altogether! Such rotten luck. My next emotion, selfishly, was one of total panic how on earth would we manage in Japan on our own, with having done so little research into the country, the transportation systems, the food, the language and culture eek!

    I spent the next few days worrying about the whole thing, despite my DH's assurances that we would be fine. I obsessed about how we would manage on our own, how we would understand the signage and find our way around. Robin kept messaging me saying how bad she felt about the whole thing, and Larry also messaged to say the same thing but it wasn't anyone's fault, accidents happen, so I tried to reassure them we would be fine. Robin did send me the itinerary she had put together for us all, and that helped a lot as there was a lot of helpful info on there about the Disney parks, on and offsite restaurants, etc.

    There was nothing for it but to gulp down our terror and get on with it!

    We had a bit of a suitcase issue. We have two enormous cases that we bought in WalMart in Florida a few years ago, but we rarely use these on flights as they are so large that we always seem to feel we have to fill them right up, which always takes them over our luggage allowance with our usual airline for Florida (Virgin Atlantic). Therefore, we looked to use our slightly smaller (and quite new) orange-coloured case from Walgreens, and our only other similar-sized but quite a bit older case; except when we got the older one down out of the loft, we discovered it had a broken zip! We debated buying another case to replace it, but decided in the end to use the two huge cases as we had a considerably higher luggage allowance with Qatar. So we finished the packing, bearing in mind we were only allowed one case each, albeit with a weight limit of 50 kg each, which was quite a lot. We wouldn't have access to laundry facilities for 3 weeks so had to ensure we had enough underwear and socks to last, with a little extra just in case. But we also wanted to leave plenty of room for stuff to bring back with us! I didn't bother packing any basic toiletries, as we were staying in hotels we figured we would just use what was in the hotel rooms each day. However, we would still need toothbrushes etc., plus suntan lotion and various medications. In the end we did really well, with each case coming in at less than 25 kg each.

    Something else we had to consider was ensuring we had sufficient medication, toiletries, clean clothing etc. in our hand luggage cases, as it would be effectively 2 days before we had access to our main cases and were settled into a hotel room. I carefully worked out exactly what we would need, including travel sizes of toiletries, headache and travel sickness tablets, daily medication, etc.

    I double checked we would not need Visas or inoculations for any of the countries we were visiting, then set about trying to work out how much money to take to each country. I don't really trust pre-paid cards in case something goes wrong and they are refused, so decided to just take cash in the correct currency for each country, being very careful and secure about where I kept it all. After much advice-seeking online, I finally opted to take 900 to Japan, 800 to Hong Kong, and 500 to Singapore. These values were based on how many days we would be in each country, and what I thought we would have to buy for example, I suspected we would spend more in Japan as there are two Disney parks there, but only one in Hong Kong. DH also wanted to take some cash of his own as well (normally, our holiday spending money is joint), as he wanted to pick up some Christmas presents while away. I changed my GBP for Japanese Yen, Hong Kong Dollars, and Singaporean Dollars, and also picked up 25 worth of Doha Qatari Riyals, thinking that if we were in Doha airport twice, we may need some cash for a hot drink or something. I then split up the cash into different envelopes, and marked our approximate daily allowance on each one just as a general guideline. I also ensured we had a couple of 'emergency' credit cards with us, a multi-plug charger, and a couple of guidebooks for Japan and Hong Kong.

    I think we are now ready to go!

    DAY MINUS ONE Friday 04 November

    Plan : Work, drive to Birmingham Airport

    Actual : I had a busy day at work, trying to ensure everything was completed before I broke up for a 3 week holiday! I finally got everything done, including checking in online for our flight, and left work at 5 p.m. We drove to my sister's home, where we swapped our luggage over into her car, and she drove us the short journey to the airport hotel.

    We checked in to the Novotel around 7 p.m., the room was quite nice, better than I was expecting for the price! We had our 'hotel picnic' of sandwiches and crisps that I had bought earlier, watched a bit of TV, and attempted to sleep around 10 p.m. DH was straight off to sleep, but I had a thousand things to think and worry about, and as per usual when we are off on holiday, I just could not settle at all. I took solace in the thought that at least I was in bed and resting, even if I wasn't actually sleeping much! I think I had around 3 hours sleep in total, before the alarm went off at 5 a.m.

    DAY ONE Saturday 05 November

    Plan : Fly to Doha, 2 hour layover, onward to Narita airport in Japan

    Actual : We reluctantly got up with the alarm, freshened up and got dressed, and repacked the bits and pieces from our overnight stay. We decided to put on our flight socks before we left the hotel, rather than try and struggle to put them on at the boarding gate, which is what we normally do.

    Around 6 a.m., we checked out of the Novotel and walked over the road to the departure terminal. The check-in area seemed quite crowded, and we realised (from the clothing they were wearing) that the Leicester City Youth Football Team were also checking into our flight! They were a well-behaved bunch of lads, and they had a dedicated check-in desk, so didn't interfere with anyone else checking in though.

    Having done online check-in yesterday, we knew we could bypass the regular (and massive!) check-in queue and head straight for bag drop, so this is what we did. There were only a couple of other families in front of us, and we were seen really quickly. The nice young lady printed off our boarding cards for us, and we revelled in the weight of our suitcases they were both very underweight! We waved goodbye to our luggage for the foreseeable future, and headed for security. We like to get into the airside part of the airport as soon as we have dropped off our luggage, so that we can do any necessary shopping, pick up some breakfast, and browse duty-free.

    Security clearance was quick and easy, and we then walked through the duty-free shop, only pausing briefly to look at a couple of things as I always forget about the overwhelming smell of assorted, clashing perfumes in there, until we are trying to walk into the departure lounge! We were looking for the Meriden restaurant to have breakfast in. We've eaten in there before and really like it, plus a work colleague of mine had mentioned to me a few days previously that her son works there, and would be on duty at the time we would be visiting she told me to stop and say hello to him! We found the restaurant and DH went to find a seat, while I went up to order. I ordered a full English breakfast for DH, and just buttered toast for me, with a large coffee to share. I asked after my colleague's son, but he had gone on a break, unfortunately, so we wouldn't be seeing him this day.

    I left DH waiting for our breakfast, and popped next door to the restrooms, and then to W H Smiths for mints and to try and find some kind of magazine to take on the plane with me that wasn't full of either celebrity gossip (yawn), or ads for make-up, or clothes to fit a 6 foot beanpole. I got a couple of bottles of water, some Extra Strong mints, and settled for a copy of Cosmopolitan. (The magazine had a lovely holiday, it went all over the Far East without even being opened, and is now sitting at the side of my bed hoping to be read one day .)

    When I got back to DH, breakfast was just arriving and we really enjoyed it, it was tasty and fresh. As we were finishing off the coffee, the gate information board near our table, which we had been keeping an eye on all through breakfast, updated to show we would be leaving from gate 45, so we gathered up our hand luggage and headed out.

    Gate 45 was a very long walk away! But we got there in the end, and sat down for a few minutes to await our section to be called to board. We could see our plane through the windows, it was a lovely 787 Dreamliner, which were a brand new type of plane. We boarded when called, and found our seats which for some bizarre reason are almost always over the wings! (I think when I choose our seats, I have a tendency to go for the middle section, for some strange reason, but always fairly near to the toilets.)

    We noticed there were no window blinds, which seemed a bit odd, but then when everyone was settled and just before takeoff, the window glass all suddenly turned blue! We thought this was amazing, and then we discovered that the glass was tinted, and that they were automatically controlled, but we could also change the hue of the colour by pressing a small button underneath the window wow! We spent a good few minutes after takeoff playing with the colours of the glass.

    The flight itself was extremely smooth, and I was really impressed that when serving the meals, the air stewards would check a list and ask if it was me that had ordered the bland meal. I confirmed it was, and first of all we were served a breakfast. DH had croissant, orange juice, yoghurt, and some kind of omelette thing that he said was really nice. I had croissant, water, a small dish of fresh fruit (melon and grapes, mostly), and a very odd dish that was more like lunch than breakfast plain chicken breast, mushrooms, green veg, and a piece of tomato. Anyway, it was delicious and I knew it would in no way upset my stomach, which was a bonus! Towards the end of the flight, DH got a package of finger sandwiches, and I got a dry bread roll spread with hummus and grated carrot yeurgh! I hate hummus, and Im not a fan of carrots. I tried to eat it anyway, as we weren't sure when we would next get something to eat.

    We watched Disney's Finding Dory together, which was very good but a tiny bit predictable. I really liked Hank the Septopus, and the bits where Dory and Destiny were speaking whale! As is usual lately with Disney films, there seemed to be a bit too much peril/safety/peril going on though, which detracts from the main storyline I feel. I then watched a couple of old episodes of Friends, while DH napped and played a bit of Bejewelled, and then I caught a few zeds myself.

    We landed after 7 hours, bang on time, deplaned, and went off in search of the hotel transfer desk. I gave the lady my voucher, and was told a room had been assigned to us at the offsite Concorde Hotel. I was a bit grumpy about this, as we had been led to believe we would have a room at the airport hotel, but DH just said it was part of the adventure and basically to stop moaning! We were told we would be fast-tracked through immigration as it meant we would have to leave the airport, so we queued up with everyone else, (what was the fast-track bit?? It was incredibly busy, but thankfully only took about 20 minutes), and were granted temporary visas for our 9 hour stay, (which were merely small slips of paper which had to be kept with our passports, and which I was TERRIFIED of losing!). From there, we had no idea where to go we followed everyone else out, walked past the luggage carousels, and out into the arrivals hall. There seemed to be greeters there holding cards for everywhere except the Concorde Hotel, and I began to panic a bit. DH eventually asked a passing airport worker where to find a representative from the Concorde, and he pointed us in the direction of someone, but we weren't completely sure which person he meant and the worker had gone by the time we turned back to ask him again. Finally, we were approached by a very sweet young lady who asked us which hotel we had been assigned to. We told her, and she smilingly led us over to wait at some seats while she called the transport for us.

    DH popped outside for a cigarette, and I waited with our hand luggage, relieved that we knew what was going on, but still a bit secretly grumpy about the fact that we had to lose time by being roomed away from the airport. DH returned and we took it in turns to visit a restroom. After about 20 minutes, the young lady came back to us and led us outside to a man with a mini-van, who checked us off his list and opened the doors for us to take a seat. We settled ourselves in, and waiting a few moments while another 3 or 4 people joined us in the van. Then we set off, interestedly looking around at the scenery, although it was dark by this point and therefore we couldnt see much!

    After another 20 minutes, we pulled up outside the most gorgeous, sumptuous, gloriously gold and cream hotel we had ever seen so typical of the exotic country we were in, it was beautiful! Sadly though, we only had about 4 hours to spend there, as the taxi driver said he would be back at about 12:30 a.m. to collect us again.

    We checked in with reception, who told us they would give us an alarm call at midnight, and gave us a room key. We got the lift up to our room, which was HUGE! All cream and tan coloured, with extremely luxurious fittings and fixtures. We freshened up, and shared a couple of satsumas and had a packed of Belvita breakfast biscuits each, plus some bottled water that was in the room for us. I began to update my trip report notes and watched some TV, while DH got into the lovely big bed and was asleep in a nanosecond. I didn't think I would sleep, but eventually began to feel really tired, so got undressed and got into bed. The next think I knew, it was two hours later and the phone was ringing with our wake-up call!

    We had a quick wash and brush up, and reluctantly left the room, waiting downstairs for the taxi. He appeared after about 10 minutes, and we drove sleepily back to the airport. It was by now Sunday .

    DAY TWO Sunday 06 November

    Plan : Arrive in Japan

    Actual : The next flight was very long around 10 hours in total, but was very smooth with minimal turbulence. We had an assortment of drinks water, orange Fanta, coffee, and I had my second weird bland meal of the trip. I thought it was some kind of fish crumble with mash, but what I thought was mashed potato turned out to be (actually rather nice!) fish, and the crumble bit turned out to be some kind of brown, tasteless grain. It was odd, but I was hungry and I knew that at least it wasn't going to affect my IBS. Dessert was, unsurprisingly, melon and grapes.

    We were too tired and listless to watch another film, and the choice was nowhere near as extensive as the first leg of the flight, where we could have chosen from 3 or 4 films we wanted to see. I tried listening to some music to see if it would help me sleep, but just spent most of the flight staring into the darkness! DH managed to sleep a bit, but felt as restless as I did.

    Anyway, eventually the long flight was over, and we were able to disembark very quickly. Immigration was also very quick and painless, and our luggage arrived promptly, (much to our relief I know we had been told that we didn't need to collect it between flights, but there is always that little niggle that says it won't arrive!).

    We were very excited to be in Japan! And I was EXTREMELY pleased that we had made such good time, as it meant we were easily in time to catch the last (non-direct) shuttle bus to the Disney Celebration hotel. All my backup plans of having to get 3 trains thankfully wouldn't be needed phew! I made DH stand to one side with the cases, as I knew exactly where to go to get tickets for the shuttle bus I had carefully studied the online map of Narita International Airport a few weeks prior to our arrival, so I knew where I was going! I easily got the tickets, explaining to the very helpful sales lady that we weren't actually staying at Celebration but were intending to get a taxi from there, and she told me that once we arrived at the hotel, the concierge there would call a taxi for us.

    We went outside and waited at the bus stop, which helpfully had an electronic display sign showing the bus number, time, route, and destinations. It felt very surreal to be in Japan! We noticed bus attendants walking around purposefully, wearing immaculate uniforms and white gloves, who ushered people into orderly queues and generally ensured everything ran efficiently and on time. At exactly 2 minutes prior to bus departure time, our bus pulled in and we approached it with our luggage. The driver and an attendant loaded the cases into the bus storage area underneath it, we showed him our tickets and hopped on, taking the very front seats. Exactly on time, the bus left the stop this was something we noticed throughout our time in Japan, their public transport system was incredibly timely and efficient.

    The bus journey took around 40 minutes and was very interesting, we loved watching the scenery go past, knowing we were in a completely new-to-us country! Disney's Celebration Hotel has two buildings, Wish and Discover, and each is themed differently. We knew that we would be dropped off in Discover, and we were. Two concierge Cast Members pounced on us as we got off the bus, and helped us to get our luggage off, but we had to explain that we weren't staying there but just needed to get a taxi. They were lovely, really helpful, and insisted that we wait inside the foyer for the taxi to turn up, which they had called for us. We told them our destination, and they relayed this information to the taxi driver when he arrived. (The foyer was gorgeous, so pretty, and we thought we could happily have stayed there, it was incredibly intensely themed).

    After about 10 minutes, the taxi arrived and we waved goodbye to the Cast Members and the hotel, and set off for the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay. We seemed to be driving for ages, and I think this was because it was late and we were tired, but we still really appreciated the scenery as we drove. Without realising it, we had driven all the way around Tokyo Disneyland in the dark! (We drove past a huge boat behind a wall at one point, which we were then surprised to see the next day, in the Disney park!)

    Finally, we arrived at our hotel. The very nice taxi driver unloaded all our cases for us, and I paid him what I think was the equivalent of around 35 (the price I expected), along with a tip. The hotel was really lovely, it was a Disney "good-neighbour" hotel and was very nicely themed, with lots of Disney dcor and touches but in quite a discreet way.

    The reception staff were very friendly and sweet, and quite quickly we had our room keys. As we travelled up to the 8th floor where our room was, we were astonished to see a Disney castle from behind us, through the glass elevator walls! Our room was also lovely, quite big and very well furnished. We were too tired to bother finding anything to eat at this point, just wanting to have a shower and go to bed, so that's what we did. It was around 10.00 p.m. by now, and we were exhausted from all the travelling, although excited about what the next day would bring!

    DAY THREE Monday 07 November

    Plan : Tokyo Disneyland

    Actual : We slept really well, but were wide awake at 6.00 a.m., not able to sleep any later. We made some coffee and got ready for the day, leaving our room at around 8.00 a.m. I had received a phone call from reception to say they had a parcel for me, and apologising as it had arrived yesterday but they hadn't told me when we checked in. To be fair, I wasn't expecting it till today anyway! It was the Wi-Fi hub I had ordered from Japan Wireless, so while DH popped outside for a cigarette, I went down to collect the parcel, (being surprised by the addition of a lovely Christmas tree in the reception area that had appeared overnight!), and activated the hub, taking the spare battery and paperwork back up to the room. I now had portable Wi-Fi so would be able to send photos and messages to my family and friends back home, in a gloating kind of way!

    We were now ready for our first Disney park this trip! We walked out of our hotel and quite literally across the road was a monorail station. There were also some Disney buses parked there, which were very cute in design in fact, DH loved them so much I had to buy him a model of one for Christmas! The buses didn't seem to go to Disney, they seemed to be a shuttle bus to our hotel, which was weird as it was just a few yards away, albeit up a very steep hill. Anyway, we went up the escalator to the monorail station interior, and found the automated ticket machines. After some careful consideration of our options, and a little help from a nearby Cast Member, we bought 4-day tickets. In Japan, Disney are not allowed to run a monorail on property, it has to be a public transportation system, which is why you have to buy tickets for it. However, it is relatively cheap, and just like all public transport we encountered in Japan, reliable and frequent. They are also fully automated and don't have a driver.

    We waited a couple of minutes behind the barrier, before a monorail came humming towards us. Wow! It was so pretty! The windows were all in a classic Mickey shape, and when it slid to a halt and we boarded, we could see that the hanging straps were also Mickey shaped! We hadn't seen much in the way of holiday decorations anywhere so far, (although this was to change over the next week or so when we watched Christmas trees appear suddenly in our hotel, etc), but the hanging straps all had really cute little Mickey-shaped Santa hats on them!

    The Disneyland Park was the 3rd stop on the monorail, and we excitedly got off there. The weather today was gloriously sunny, but a little cooler than we were expecting, particularly in the shade, and we wished we had thought to bring light jackets with us. We walked hand-in-hand towards the park entrance, and joined one of several very long queues at the turnstiles, ready and waiting to enter. There were lots of young girls wearing very cute outfits in the queues, they looked really pretty. Children numbers were quite low, which was nice for us too!

    Rope drop happened, and the crowds surged forward. We entered a glass-covered walkway over a very short Main Street, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas, including a huge Christmas tree in the centre. Everyone else hared off to get FastPasses for things, but we had already agreed between us that today would be an orientation day, where we took it easy and drank everything in. Therefore, we let all the rushing folk run past us, while we slowly walked up Main Street and enjoyed the decorations, the general theming, and the prettiness of the park.

    We needed some breakfast, and also wanted to have a look at a park map, (which we no longer need in Florida or Paris!), so we picked up a map, and checked Refreshment Corner, (which is where Casey's is in Florida), to see whether they had any breakfast options. They didn't. Therefore, we decided it is never too early for hot dogs, (even though it was only 8.15 a.m. by this point!), so I picked up a couple of cheese dogs with fries and coffee, while DH found us a table to sit at. It was all very tasty and fuelled us up ready for the day. In particular, the coffee was really good!

    After breakfast we began to explore. We walked to Tomorrowland and picked up FastPasses for the Monsters Inc ride, (which was showing an 80 minute standby at this point, but our friends had recommended that we do this ride), with a return time of 14:50 hrs. We then looked around the rest of Tomorrowland, before moving on to Toon Town. Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin had a 15 min standby, and we had loved this ride in Disneyland California, so decided to ride. It was fun! As we exited the ride, Clarabelle the Cow was meeting guests with almost no queue, so we popped over to say hello and have our photo taken with her she was cute!

    I was on the lookout for some new Mickey Ears at this point, having decided to get some new ones from Japan rather than bring my American ones with me. We found a stand selling all things Ears, and I picked out a really pretty pink, furry pair of Ears, with snowflakes and "Tokyo Disneyland 2016" embroidered on them. They had a very large, sparkly, bright pink bow on them, and I thought they were lovely! The Cast Member I took them to at the register asked if I wanted to wear them now, and when I said yes, she cut off the tags for me.

    We were also keeping an eye out for a smoking area for DH, (he doesn't smoke very much, only a handful of cigarettes a day), as we hadn't seen any so far. We checked the park map, to find that there was a smoking 'room' in Tomorrowland, near to Monsters Inc. And it turned out to be an actual room, with doors, rather than a smoking area. It was quite funny to watch DH disappear into this room where smoke wafted out of the doors as soon as they were opened I thought it would be horrible in there, but he said it wasn't too bad, I think it was air-conditioned.

    Anyway, I hung around outside for him for a few minutes, and he soon reappeared. We walked towards the Castle, and noticed that a parade was due to start soon. The way people line up for a parade is really odd there are no barriers or tape on the ground to mark the parade route, just a slight change in the colour of the concrete. At least 2 hours before a parade is due to start, people sit on little blankets on the ground to mark out their space, and NO-ONE sits or stands in front of them it is all incredibly polite. There are no iPads stuck in front of your nose, no kids or pushchairs being shoved in front of you at the last minute, and certainly no kids on their dad's shoulders, it was wonderful! Although we hadn't planned on watching the parade today, we thought as we were there and the park wasn't too crowded, (no idea where all the hoards had gone!), we would stand where we were and watch it. To our amazement, it was the Christmas parade, which according to the Times Guide was not due to start until the next day! It was a really lovely parade, and we waved at Mickey and Santa as they went past. (DH claims that Ariel waved back at him hmph). The last float was a Frozen one, and it stopped by us as the parade seemed to be a bit backed up at this point. The characters were singing away, and then the float began to spout 'snow'! We were really glad we had seen this special parade today.

    Once the last float had passed by, we continued behind the Castle and into Fantasyland. It's a Small World was showing a 5 min standby, so we did that. The ride was very colourful and pretty, although I thought the entrance room was a bit plain there was nothing in there except painted walls.

    When we exited, we checked the time and yes, it was indeed ice-cream time. I picked us up a couple of tiramisu ice-cream sandwiches, which were absolutely yummy! We ate them whilst walking round to Haunted Mansion, which was unfortunately closed at that point due to technical difficulties, so I passed my ice-cream to DH to hold for a second (I'm so trusting!) while I picked up a couple of FastPasses for later.

    We continued our exploration, walking round past Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, both of which had really long queues. After a quick restroom break, we decided a bit of a sit down was in order so went into the Country Bear Jamboree show, which had bearly any wait time! We really like this little show, and it had the Christmas overlay, which was lovely. The show was bi-lingual, and switched between English and Japanese without any explanation or warning, which was a bit weird. The three animatronic heads on the wall only spoke in Japanese, too. However, the songs were the ones we know and love, so we still really enjoyed the show. The bears fur was extremely soft-looking and luxurious.

    Once the show was over, we walked through the hub and back to the little caf on Main Street for coffee and pastries. We got Mickey-shaped pastries, one cherry and one orange, plus some lemonade as I was quite thirsty by then. The pastries were delicious; very flaky and buttery pastry, with lots of fruit filling.

    Our Haunted Mansion FastPasses were now in time, so we headed back there and were soon seated in our Doom Buggy. The ride seemed the same as the one in Walt Disney World in Florida, and we really enjoyed it.

    Pirates of the Caribbean was next, and this was an excellent time to ride this as the Parade was taking place again, meaning that we only had a 5 minute wait for the ride. Again, the narration was a mixture of English and Japanese, but we know the ride so well that this didnt present us with a problem at all. The ride itself seemed to be an amalgamation of the ones in Disneyland California, and Walt Disney World, in that the boat trip started off in the swamplands of Louisiana, and ended in the burning structures of a city that had been attacked by pirates. Great fun!

    After this, we walked through New Orleans Square, which was a really pretty area similar to the one in California, with tiny shops and restaurants. We decided to give the Enchanted Tiki Room with Stitch a go, and it seemed to be quite a funny show although we didnt understand the vast majority of it! For a start, at that point we hadnt actually seen the film Lilo and Stitch, so we didnt really know much about the character, and secondly, the whole thing (apart from some of the singing) was performed in Japanese! Still, we had a good sit down and the show seemed quite popular.

    We went back to the hub and browsed the homeware shop, but didnt find anything we needed to buy. Our FastPasses were open for Monsters Inc Hide & Go Seek, and even with the FastPasses we still queued for about 20 minutes, but were soon wedged quite tightly into the cars. The lapbars were a bit tight, too, with not much legroom at all. The game was cute and fun, we had to shine torches onto hats and other objects, which then causes different characters and objects to come to life. We felt the ride could have been improved a little by having some kind of counter for scores, possibly, and although we had enjoyed the ride, the ride vehicles were a bit too small for our comfort.

    When we exited the ride, we were feeling a bit hungry, so went to the Tomorrowland Terrace for Mickey burgers and fries, coffee and Fanta. This was all quite tasty, and we really liked the Mickey-shaped bread rolls! As we sat and enjoyed our food, the Parade passed by again and we were able to watch it quite easily from our seats outside.

    Once we were done there, we crossed into Fantasyland to check out Poohs Hunny Hunt again, this one had been highly recommended by our friends, but as today was our first day in this park we had spent most of the day getting to know the layout and hadnt followed their advice to get FastPasses for this ride yet. Consequently, the standby time was listed as 70 minutes at this point! We decided to leave this for today, and instead went to Mickeys Philharmagic. We only had to wait a few minutes before being let into the theatre, and again, we were glad that we knew the storyline to this one because it was entirely in Japanese! It was fun as usual, if a little weird due to the language it didnt quite sync in with the lip movements.

    We were starting to run out of steam after this, all the travelling over the last couple of days plus the inherent jet-lag was starting to take its toll. We had a quick look at Big Thunder Mountain but that was also showing 70 minutes standby, so at this point we gave up and decided to leave. It was 6.00 p.m. by now, and the firework/projection show was still a couple of hours away but we just didnt have the energy to stay any longer. We browsed the shops as we left, being very surprised by the lack of pins and t-shirts for sale DH managed to pick up one Christmas pin, but there were very few others to choose from. Merchandise in general was a bit weird, and definitely not what we were expected it was so different from USA merchandise. It all seemed to be rows and rows of character-themed washcloths, a few fridge magnets and mugs, some soft toys, generic Disney toys, and very little else really. There was not one adult t-shirt in the shops that we saw!

    Anyway, exhausted but happy with our day, we meandered out to the monorail station and within a few minutes were back at our hotel. Once we got back to the room, I wondered whether there were any small shops locally where I could pick up a few snacks for the room, so I Googled the hotel and learned that there was a tiny shopping mall actually within the hotel, on the first floor near the check-in desks. I left DH slumped in exhaustion on the bed, and went off to investigate. There were about half a dozen tiny shops, including a craft shop, an art shop, a slighter larger official Disney merchandise shop, and one that was a bit like a newsagents that sold snacks, soft drinks etc. I picked up some large bags of crisps and a couple of packets of Ritz Bitz, had a quick browse in the Disney store, and then went back to the room, via the quick-service restaurant to check out their offerings. DH was asleep by 9.30, and I followed by 10.00!

    DAY FOUR Tuesday 08 November

    Plan : Tokyo DisneySea

    Actual : We slept really well, and got up with the alarm at 6.30 a.m. By 7.30 a.m. we were out of the door and walking across the road to the monorail. It was a cloudy and slightly cooler day, and we were really looking forward to seeing DisneySea for the first time.

    We arrived just as folk were being let into the park, and immediately fell in love with it it was very steampunk themed, all Victorian-style clockwork brass and cogs, we really loved it! We picked up a park map and stopped at Mama Biscottis Bakery for coffee and breakfast, and to study the map. I left DH to find us a table outside, while I went into the Bakery and got custard bread and a Mickey-shaped, orange muffin for me, and a cheese & sesame bread and a sausage pastry for DH. Everything was really delicious! We sipped our coffee and checked out the map.

    The crowds all seemed to be congregating in front of the lake for a show, so after breakfast we headed away from there, deciding to explore this gorgeous park anti-clockwise. We walked up a slope through some Italian gardens, they were so pretty and we began to get an elevated view of the utter incredibleness that is Tokyo DisneySea! We passed a popcorn stand that was selling cappuccino-flavoured popcorn, and I made a mental note of where it was as I was intending to get a popcorn bucket while we were here, and anything coffee-flavoured gets my vote. I was looking round at all the popcorn buckets that guests were wearing, they were everywhere, I really liked the Duffy in a Honey Pot one, and was keen to get my Star Wars-fan son a BB8 one too, if possble.

    Leaving the gardens, we walked through an entranceway to the centre of the huge, Disney-made volcano in the centre of the park (which houses a ride, and is in the area called Mysterious Island), and had to just stand inside the open-air area inside the volcano to look around and appreciate the amazing theming. We noticed that 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was showing a 5 min wait time, so we went to ride that. It was really good, and very different to previous versions I have seen, but as we had to sit sideways and it was quite bumpy, it left me feeling slightly travelsick afterwards! DH really enjoyed it, though.

    We exited the volcano and found an Electric Train, which is a one-way trip round to the American Waterfront, and runs very frequently so there wasnt much of a queue. It was a lovely trip, being quite high up, and therefore again gave us a fantastic overview of the park from an elevated track. We explored the American Waterfront, (which is themed to 1950s America), spotting the quite big Duffy shop that I was intending to check out properly later, and also finding the 15th Anniversary Wish Stations. These were large electronic statues that were set throughout the park, and if you put your hands on them in a specific spot, they played music and lit up with twinkly lights. There were different ones all over the park, and you could also buy interactive wish wands that made them react differently too. It was the 15th Anniversary of Tokyo DisneySea, but despite this, there wasnt actually that much anniversary merchandise around.

    Toy Story Mania looked quite busy, and it is apparently identical to the ones in the USA, so we didnt bother with that; we also saw the Tower of Terror, but chickened out of the ride, which is quite regrettable really as I had read that it has an amazing backstory and is quite different to others we have ridden; however, I still dont like the falling bit so we pretended it didnt exist and ignored it as we walked past ..

    We decided to stop for ice-cream, and so we got a couple of the lovely tiramisu ice-cream sandwiches and sat on a nearby bench, by the waterfront, to rest and enjoy them. We were fascinated by the very different fashions and outfits that the local guests were wearing, they were so colourful and incredibly detailed. Duffy the Disney Bear is a really big deal in Japan, and we saw many adults carrying bears around all day, but also wearing Duffy bags, ears, and assorted clothing. This included men as well as women! There was one young couple who had Duffy bears almost as big as they were just imagine carrying those around all day!

    Once we were ready to move on, we crossed over the bridge and I spotted a meet & greet location for Duffy, but it wasnt due to open for a couple of hours, so we made a mental note of the timings and decided wed come back later. (Typically, we completely forgot about this almost immediately and never did go back to it!) We carried on into Port Discovery, which continued the steampunk theming. We stood and watched a ride called Aquatopia for a few minutes, to ascertain whether the hovercraft-type vehicles spun very much, before deciding that they didnt, and therefore we joined the short queue to ride. The rafts in which we were seated side-by-side and hold 2 people follow an underwater track around a bay, but there seems to be some randomness to the track programming as no two rafts seemed to go the same way. It was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed the ride! There were a couple of points where we seemed to be speeding towards a jet of water, but then turned at the last minute so we thought we were going to get soaked, but luckily we didnt.

    We left that area and walked to the next one, via some building works that promised a new Finding Dory ride coming soon and had some very cute maquettes from the film embedded into rockwork (including Hank the Septopus, which I patted affectionately!). We wandered into the Lost River Delta, which was very jungle themed, and played with some monkeys from Jungle Book for a few minutes they were walking up a pathway and interacting with guests, being naughty and were loads of fun! There was a roller coaster there called Raging Spirits, but it looked really busy and had a long wait time, (as well as looking a bit scary!), so we carried on past it.

    The Arabian Coast was next, where we rode the (ever-popular with us!) Jasmines Flying Carpet ride with a minimal wait, before discovering the absolute and utter delight that is Sinbads Storybook Voyage. Our friends had recommend that we check this out, warning us that it is a bit addictive and has the best ear-worm theme tune outside of Its a Small World! There was a 5 minute standby for this ride, and the queue area was really nice. But the ride itself WE LOVED IT! It is quite long, you sit in boats like Small World, but the story is about the adventures of Sinbad and his desperately cute, pet baby tiger called Chandu. The theme tune was written by Alan Menken and is called Compass of Your Heart, which despite being sung in Japanese on the ride, has stuck in our heads and we have been forced to look it up on YouTube since we got home!

    After that we were amazed to find a two-storey carousel, still all themed to Arabia, so we climbed the stairs to ride on the top level it was great fun, and so pretty as well.

    The next area to be explored would prove to be DHs favourite Mermaid Lagoon. There didnt seem to be much to see there, one small ride and lots of under the sea type theming; however, we noticed people going into a cave entrance so we followed them in, and walked down a long, sloping corridor painted blue and looking like carved rock. This led to a massive underground cavern, and was just like being under the sea! There were quite a few small rides down here, as well as a meet & greet area for Ariel. We had a look around, and decided to ride the Jumpin Jellyfish ride, as it only had a 10 minute wait. We climbed into a pastel-coloured jellyfish, lowered the lapbar, and sat there while the jellyfish shot upwards into the air before gently dropping back down again. It was fun, if a bit startling!

    We were getting a bit hungry by now, and decided to check out Sebastians Calypso Kitchen to see what they had. As usual, DH went off to find a table, while I ordered us coffee, fries, and something that looked delicious and turned out to be as lovely as it looked! It was called a creamy scallop croquette sandwich, and was a scallop-shaped, very soft and light bread roll, with a creamy sauce containing pieces of some sort of seafood in it. It was tastier than Ive made it sound! We really enjoyed it.

    After lunch, we explored the shop, and I picked up a small, Pluto-themed model bus for my son (he loves Pluto, and has done since he was very little). The undersea cave was incredible, but was by now very crowded, so we left and walked back to Mysterious Island. Just as we got there, we had a shock as the volcano began to smoke, rumble, and then blew up! It was a brilliant effect, with fire and bits of what looked like molten rock spraying around, it was excellent! We explored this area a bit more, and then as we were walking towards the American Waterfront we realised that there was some activity on the lake, which is in the very middle of the park. We stood at the railing and watched some really lovely boats sailing into the harbour, all Christmas themed, then watched the whole Christmas show from the back! There were Disney characters, and Santa also had his own boat. One funny moment was when they played I wish it could be Christmas everyday by Wizzard, and all sang along enthusiastically, despite the rest of the show being in Japanese!

    It was coming towards the end of the day now, and we still wanted to have a look round the shops, so we walked back to the entrance to the park to explore the stores. DH bought me some Duffy and Shellie-May socks and mittens, and he picked up a couple of pins. We then popped to the bakery to pick up some pastries for later, and also sat there for coffee while we waited for Fantasmic. This is DHs absolute favourite Disney show, and we have seen it in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland in California, so we were really looking forward to the DisneySea version. Again, we were amazed at the way people waited for the show; once we had finished our coffee, we approached the harbour and found somewhere to stand and wait. But no-one pushed in front of us, most people were sitting on the floor and stayed that way all through the show, (we were only allowed to stand as we were at the back), and there were no dads with kids on their shoulders that suddenly appeared and blocked everyones view, it was brilliant. So polite and well mannered. The show itself was really fabulous, very different to the others we had seen as it was mostly boat-based, but we loved it.

    At the end, we left. I think the park was open for another hour or so, but we were shattered by this point, it had got increasingly colder as it had got dark, and so we caught the monorail a couple of stops to Ikspiari. We were expecting somewhere very like Downtown Disney, and our friends had said it was like that, but when we arrived we found it to be more like an upmarket shopping mall. Unfortunately, we were so tired by this point that we didnt really explore it very much, and I didnt realise there was a Disney Store there either. We managed to find a newsagent type shop just outside, where we got sandwiches, crisps, cheesy biscuits etc., before catching the monorail back to our hotel. Despite the monorail station being about 3 minutes walk from our hotel, DH was so taken with the tiny buses that he insisted on catching one back to the hotel tonight, so we boarded the waiting bus and sat there for slightly longer than it would have taken us to walk back, until the bus finally drove over the road, up a ramp, and stopped by the front door of the hotel

    Back in our room, we had our light dinner, and then DH was asleep by 8.30! I had a shower, caught up on the news etc., and was asleep by 10.

    DAY FIVE Wednesday 09 November

    Plan : Tokyo Disneyland

    Actual : I slept really well until about 5 a.m., but made myself stay in bed and relax. I then napped on and off, and got up at 8.45 a.m. DH had slept right through till I got up! I think the time difference and exhaustion had just knocked him out. Anyway, we had coffee and the pastries I bought last night for breakfast, in our room. It looked cloudy out again, and was a bit cooler today.

    We set out for Disneyland around an hour later, and walked straight to Westernland to get FastPasses for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, before joining the 20 min standby queue for our first ride of the day. This version of Big Thunder was loads of fun, there are no big drops but lots of turns, and the theming was excellent. The seats are easily big enough to seat 2 persons in a row without the lap bar cutting off circulation in your outer leg!

    The Western River Railroad was next, as this only runs round Adventureland. There was a minimal wait and the train arrived really quickly. The ride was lovely, and took us through a dinosaur diorama at one point.

    When we got off the train, it was time to use our Big Thunder FastPasses, and this time we were directed to the opposite track to the one we had ridden earlier, although there didnt seem to be any noticeable difference in the ride itself. We couldnt get over how comfortable the seats in the trains were, compared to Walt Disney World Big Thunder seats their lapbars cut into the sides of DHs (very long) legs and we usually have to ask for one row each.

    Anyway, we had great fun on Big Thunder, and were then ready for a quick bite to eat. I consulted the information sheet that Robin had sent me, and realised we were quite close to a snack cart that she had recommended, which was at the side of Pecos Bills. It was a meat & nut pastry, was shaped like a large peanut, and served in a cute Chip & Dale wrapper. It was with some trepidation that we bit into this treat, but it was surprisingly tasty! The pastry was light and flaky, the meat end of the peanut shape was very savoury and delicious, and the nut bit was an almost savoury walnut mixture. Again, it tasted much better than Ive made it sound! There were some small tables and chairs near the cart, so we sat there to eat, and also enjoyed some coffee there too.

    Robin had raved about Poohs Hunny Hunt, saying it was trackless technology and much better than its Florida counter-part, so after our pastry and coffee we walked round to the ride. However, it was showing a 45 min standby line, so we decided to get FastPasses for it and come back later. The FastPass time was a couple of hours later, which suited us.

    We walked round into Tomorrowland, and randomly decided to go and watch a live show called One Mans Dream 2, which was just loading into the theatre. We went in, sat down, and really enjoyed the show! It was very colourful and showbizzy, and we understood most of it as some bits were in English.

    Star Tours was next, it was showing a 5 minute standby time but was actually just the time it took us to walk the length of the queue line. We got the Darth Vader opening, followed by the Wookie world, and BB8 at the end. We love this ride!

    We were in need of more coffee, so went to the nearby Sweetheart Caf where I got coffee, a Mickey-shaped chocolate muffin for DH, and a Mikes Melon Bun, which was shaped like Mike Wazowskis eyeball! It was melon flavour, and although quite sweet, was lovely!

    After our break, we went to ride Pirates of the Caribbean again, which had a 10 minute standby queue, and was just as much fun as usual. Then we decided to pick up some shopping and take it back to the hotel room, so we could change into warmer clothing for the evening as well.

    We went back to Main Street, I was on the lookout for Tokyo Disneyland Pandora charms but there didnt seem to be any at all. DH spotted a really lovely Oswald the Lucky Rabbit watch with a striped strap, which he bought. I picked up some mini Lego-type kits for my (grown-up) kids I got a Pluto kit for my son, and a Disney Castle and Monorail kits for my daughter; I also treated myself to a huge, pink furry macaroon cushion, shaped like Mickey ears! It is really cute! I also found some Tokyo Disneyland Christmas decorations, and picked up 4 for various family members.

    We caught the monorail back to our hotel, dumped the shopping, changed into warmer clothing, and relaxed for an hour with coffee and crisps.

    When we felt a bit more refreshed, we headed back out again and went looking for dinner. Time for Refreshment Corner again. I got us a couple of cheese dogs, fries, and coffee, and we sat outside to enjoy these.

    After dinner, we walked through Adventureland and found a spot to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade from, which was a Christmas version and was really lovely. The floats all seemed to be really brightly coloured. When this was over, the park emptied out a lot, and we decided this would be a good time to hit some rides. We went to the Jungle Cruise, and there was very little queue so we hopped onto a boat. Unfortunately, it was very cold throughout the Cruise, and also the narration was entirely in Japanese, so we didnt actually enjoy this as much as we could have done.

    Next up was Pirates of the Caribbean, where we had a boat to ourselves! This was a lot more enjoyable, as we were sitting down, it was relatively warm, and we understood what was going on! Afterwards, we headed over to ride Big Thunder Mountain, which had a 5 min standby but in reality took us just a couple of minutes to walk through the queue. We asked for the back row, and waited till the next train. We do love this ride at night, it is so much more exciting in the dark! The back row proved to be a little startling, but great fun.

    After this, we checked out Peter Pan as we quite like this ride but can never understand why it has such long queues, and as we suspected it was showing a 10 min standby, so off to Neverland we went. The off to the Haunted Mansion we went, along with all of about 6 other people!

    It was now time for our Poohs Hunny Hunt FastPasses, so we headed there, and were quite surprised by the length of the standby queue! I didnt see the wait time posted, though, and then we were in the FastPass queue anyway. This was an absolutely brilliant ride, loads better than the one in Florida, the trackless technology makes for a very smooth and fun ride. We LOVED the bouncing with Tigger bit, it was lots of fun.

    When we left the ride, we thought we would be in time to watch the fireworks; however, there was an announcement that they had been cancelled due to high winds! This was a disappointment, as it meant we wouldnt get to see them this trip. NOW we regretted leaving early the other night! Ah well, Sky High Wishes was not to be for this trip, sadly. Swallowing our disappointment, and now the park was closing, and we took a slow walk out. We did a little shopping down Main Street as we left, and finally got back to the hotel absolutely shattered. We were in bed and asleep by 11.00!

    DAY SIX Thursday 10 November

    Plan : Tokyo DisneySea

    Actual : We woke up, (at 9.00 a.m. we must have been really tired!), to the slightly surprising news that the USA had a new and somewhat unexpected president in Donald Trump.

    We showered and packed up, having a breakfast of leftover pastries, and coffee. We checked out of the hotel and left our bags with Bell Services for the day, discovering that the hotel offered a free shuttle bus to Tokyo Train Station several times a day; unfortunately, the last bus is at 3.00 p.m., and we knew we would be leaving 2 to 3 hours after this time. Never mind, back to Plan A.

    We left our lovely hotel for the last time, and walked across the road to the monorail station. Within a couple of minutes, a monorail turned up to whisk us off to Tokyo DisneySea!

    When we arrived there, we decided we needed a second (and slightly fresher!) breakfast, so I got us coffee and pastries from Mama Biscottis, while DH found a table. DH had a cheese focaccia, and another cheese & sesame bread (he loved these!), and I picked us up an order of Little Green Alien Mochi to share. These are cream-filled dumplings, covered in Mochi, which is a paste made from pounded rice and tastes slightly sweet, with a jelly-like consistency. We had absolutely no idea what they were at the time, but Robin had recommended we try them, so we decided to give them a go, The coating was okay but a bit odd, but the filling was lovely chocolate hazelnut cream, strawberry cream, and custard cream. DH wasnt sure about the texture, but quite enjoyed the flavours, (we shared each tiny bun).

    Suitably refreshed, we made our way through the Italian gardens again towards the volcano, stopping along the way to pick up a popcorn bucket for me, filled with cappuccino-flavoured popcorn. I hadnt had any luck in tracking down the two buckets I was interested in, as the only ones available at that time were the 15th Anniversary ones, but this one was cute enough. (Considering DH always says he doesnt like popcorn, I could hardly keep his hands out of my bucket!) There was also a show of some kind doing on in the central lagoon, which distracted us for a few minutes.

    Eventually, we arrived at Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and picked up FastPasses for this for later. Robin had highly recommended this ride, but we were a bit wary, as we could see the ride did a huge drop down the side of the volcano and it made me a bit nervous! Aquatopia was next, and we got the opposite side of the ride to the one we had ridden previously, which was interesting and different. There was no wait for this, the park didnt seem too crowded today.

    DH was keen to check out the Indiana Jones ride, which we had missed yesterday, in case the queue was low, but when we got there the standby wait time was 45 mins and he wasnt prepared to wait that long. We carried on round to the riverboats, thinking we could do a round trip on them, but it turns out they only do a one-way trip to the American Waterfront, and we werent ready to return that far back just yet.

    So there was only one thing for it Sinbad! No queue, and we had loads of fun on there again, even managing to der, der, der along with the song, despite it being in Japanese. We particularly like the bit towards the end when you go into a HUGE room full of monkeys and bananas, and you can actually smell the bananas good old Disney scentimatronics!

    Weirdly, as we exited the ride, I was pounced upon by a young Japanese woman who said she loved me and could she take our photo together? Um, well, yes, if you like. How odd. She kept telling me I looked so pretty! As I am middle-aged and somewhat fluffy, I wasnt sure we were seeing the same person when she looked at me, but I just smiled and let her get on with it.

    Snack time we went to a small kiosk called the Sultans Oasis, and got coffee and something called Chandus Tails. These were described as a chicken cream bun, and were absolutely delicious! It was a steamed, light bread bun in the shape of a tiger tail, orange and brown striped, and filled with a savoury creamed chicken and sweetcorn filling. We really enjoyed these!

    After our break, we strolled around to the Mermaid Lagoon and into the undersea cave again. We decided to watch the Little Mermaid show, despite not really knowing what it was, so we joined a 20 min standby queue. However, after about 15 mins a Cast Member came down the queue and told everyone the show was broken and wouldnt be running again today. All the other rides in there had quite substantial queues, so we just left, via the shop, where we bought a couple of gifts.

    We walked to the nearby Electric Railway station, and caught the next train to the American Waterfront. DH found a bench to sit on while I braved the horrendous crowds in McDucks Department Store, which is crammed with Duffy, Shellie-May, and Gelato merchandise. There were lots of nice things in there, but all I got was a small key-ring with Shellie-May wearing a pretty blue dress, for my daughter-in-law for Christmas.

    When I got out, I collected DH and we walked round towards the entrance. We explored a tiny side area that had a Venetian boat ride, and some pretty Italian shops and restaurants, before heading into the main shops and finding a cute Winne the Pooh spoon and fork set in its own little box/carrier, which we bought for our Granddaughter. DH finally managed to find a Tokyo DisneySea t-shirt to fit him, too, which he was pleased about. I also picked up an Ariel postcard without him seeing it, which I put away for Christmas for him.

    It was now time for our final ride in Tokyo, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, so we made our way back to it, a bit nervously. The standby line was 60 mins, so we were glad we had FastPasses! The queue was amazing, deeply themed in a way that is like the Jules Verne story. We climbed aboard our ride car, which looked like a steampunk mining vehicle with a roof, pulled down the lapbar, and waited .. WE LOVED THIS RIDE! It uses similar technology to Test Track in Epcot, in that the vehicles follow a track a bit like a slot car, but the whole thing is quite quick and incredibly immersive. We actually felt like we were on a journey to the centre of the earth, and along the way there was steam, heat, bubbling lava, fire, an earthquake, a tunnel cave-in, and an enormous, centipede-like monster that suddenly thrust upwards next to our car and made us both shriek! The vehicle then shoots off down a side tunnel and we are nearly struck by lightning, before the car is launched out of the mountain into a steep drop, and then circles around the inner caldera of the mountain. Wow. Now we wished we had ridden this two days ago as well as today!

    We had to leave the park now, so with sighs of regret, we took a slow walk out and back to the monorail. When we arrived at the hotel, we collected our luggage, thanked the lovely reception staff for being, well, lovely, I took off my Mickey ears and put on my jacket (as it was getting cool out now), and then instead of walking across to the station, we boarded one of the little buses (these shuttle buses were free of charge). At Bayside Monorail station, we caught the next monorail to Miahama Station (at Ikspiari), where we bought train tickets to Shinjuku station. This went via Tokyo station, and the first train was quite easy to find. However, once we got to Tokyo station, we panicked and felt quite overwhelmed the station is HUGE, there are no signs in English, it was horribly busy, and we had no idea where to go. I had read that we would need to find the Chou line, but we were tired and not really thinking logically, and I only remembered this when we had walked aimlessly around the station for about 10 minutes! We finally found the right line, (it would eventually dawn on us that they were all colour-coded in the signage), and asked someone which side of the tracks we needed to be for Shinjuku, as that station wasnt showing anywhere on the route map signs. The helpful young man waves us to the left hand side. A train arrived, it was rammed but we managed to get on with our huge cases. We were both looking at the illuminated route map inside the carriage, but again Shinjuku wasnt showing on the map. After 3 or 4 stops we panicked again and got off, and I asked someone standing on the platform if this was the right train for Shinjuku he confirmed it was, and we had to shove our way back onto the train again! By this point, DH was at one end of the train and I was at the other, so we had to communicate by peering over peoples heads and doing exaggerated mimes. Finally, our stop started to appear on the route map, and we stopped being quite so panicky! We got off the train at our stop, and exited the station. We were on a busy road, with lots of brightly-lit shops on it, everywhere was really vibrant and buzzing.

    Phew. Now, however, we had to find the hotel! The printed-off map we had from Google didnt seem to make much sense, so we just turned right and hoped for the best. After a few minutes of walking though it felt like we were going the wrong way, so we about-faced and retraced our steps, past the train station and down the road instead of up. Now the map made a bit more sense, and as we were waiting at the kerbside to cross a road, DH happened to glance down the side-road and spotted a big sign showing the name of our hotel!

    Mightily relieved, we turned down the road and trudged the couple of hundred yards to the Sunroute Plaza. We went in, and were warmly greeted by a receptionist, who allocated us room 830 and also gave us the package that had been delivered for us. This was the Hiroshima tour package, with our train tickets and hotel details in.

    We went up to our room, which was a bit tiny but was clean and comfortable, dropped off the cases, and went back out in search of food. We had spotted a 7-11 round the corner earlier, so we went there and stocked up on crisps, boxes of Pocky biscuits, cans of iced coffee, and some pastries for tomorrows breakfast. We then went outside the shop and had a discussion about dinner whilst we really wanted to try local food, we were in agreement that we had had a very long day, were absolutely shattered, and really didnt have the energy to walk around trying to find somewhere to go for dinner. So, we went to a nearby KFC instead, grabbed chicken, fries, coleslaw and drinks, and headed back to the hotel for takeout dinner. DH was in bed and fast asleep about an hour later! I surfed the internet for a little while, and lights were out by 10.30.

    DAY SEVEN Friday 11 November

    Plan : Explore Shinjuku

    Actual : We slept really well, I woke up a couple of times to the sound of heavy rain outside, but soon went back off to sleep again. We woke up around 8.00 a.m., and lounged about in the room for a while, watching CNN on the TV, surfing the internet, and enjoying a breakfast of strawberry and chocolate puff pastries, and Pocky biscuits. Our hotel room was clean and nice, but a bit budget the room was really tiny and the hot drinks supplies were a bit sparse there was only 2 sachets of instant coffee, for example.

    Eventually, at around 11.00 a.m, we ventured out to explore a bit, the weather was a bit drizzly and damp but it wasnt too cold. We started off by going to the train station to see if we could get some kind of day ticket, but we had no idea what we were doing. All the automated ticket machines only seemed to be in Japanese, we couldnt find a ticket office or any staff to assist us, and in the end we just gave up and went to a little Starbucks to regroup, stop panicking, and drink coffee!

    DH had been talking to me for several days about getting something called a Suica card, which is a travelcard that works like an Oyster card, in that you pay a deposit for the card and then just keep topping it up. You can also use it on buses and in places like McDonalds, weirdly! I hadnt really been listening to him though, thinking that we would just buy train tickets as and when we needed them, which was a bit stupid. We managed to find a tourist information office at the station, and then managed to find a lady who spoke English. She also recommended the Suica card and told us which machine to use to get one. We found the right machine, and also then realised that it gave us the option to give us instructions in English! So we got a Suica card each, which costs 500 yen per card, and then we loaded 1,500 yen onto each one. (There was about 138 yen to the GBP, at that time).

    Robin had recommended some ideas for what to do today, so following her instructions, we found the train line to take us to Harajuku, which was only 2 stops away. This was the point at which we also discovered that the train lines are a bit like the London Underground, all the lines have their own colour codes in the station, and so for example the Chou line, which we needed yesterday, was red to get to the right platform, you just follow the red line!

    Anyway, the train soon arrived and we disembarked, walking out of the tiny station and just around the corner to a beautiful public park and gardens. This was an iris garden where the shrine to Emperor Meiji had been built in the 1920s, (the Emperor is not buried there, though). We walked down gorgeous, tree-lined wide pathways, through various Torii gates, past lots of taped-off, shelved displays of flowers and bonsai trees (we think this was some kind of competition that had taken place), looked reverentially at the inner sanctum, and left a written prayer on the prayer stand for DHs late mum you bought a small, wooden plaque, and using pens supplied by them, you inscribed your own message on the plaque before hanging it up on a big stand. There was an impressive display of Sake barrels, donated by various people over the years, and we also explored the treasure museum. The whole place was really lovely, so peaceful. What looked like a wedding party started to arrive, there were little girls dressed up as Geishas, and adults in very elegant attire. We were walking back towards the entranceway at this point, and decided to stop at the small food court there to pick up some late lunch. (Also known as linner late lunch/early dinner). The choices were a bit limited, but I started with a base of minced meat fried in breadcrumbs, (sort of like a breadcrumbed burger), then I had rice with mine and DH had beef curry and rice with his. This was all really delicious! We also got coffee, and the whole thing was really quite cheaply priced, but was very fresh and tasty.

    After a quick restroom visit, we left the shrine and crossed over the road, to a narrow, but surprisingly long, street of little independent shops a bit like Carnaby Street in London, all bright colours and kooky stores. There were shops selling everything from crepes, shoes, clothing, souvenirs, etc., right through to a very small Disney Store upstairs from the worlds smallest department store! We saw some truly amazing shoes, platform soles but with ribbons instead of laces, and covered in fake fur or pom-poms! It was very busy down this street, and there was a great atmosphere very safe, but also very vibrant. We went into a store called Daiso, which is the equivalent of a 1 shop, as everything cost 100 yen. I picked up a package of origami paper and an instruction book (in English!) for my bosses kids, and DH got some craft paper for a work colleague. We also got bottles of soda, as we were a bit thirsty at this point. At the end of the street, we turned right and strolled back towards the train station, pausing as I spotted a branch of Lush on the way (my favourite shop in the UK!). We then caught a train back to Shinjuku, and went back to our hotel for a rest for an hour or so.

    Eventually, we ventured back out again to a local small supermarket called Family Mart, where we got some sandwiches to have for dinner, and also bottled water and bags of bite-sized doughnuts and chocolate biscuits for tomorrows breakfast. Back in the hotel, we packed up the cases again, and put overnight things into our small hand-luggage cases, then ate dinner. DH wasnt very well, he had a bad coughing fit which worried us both; however, it turned out that the cigarettes he had bought earlier were just a bit too strong for him, (he started smoking a bit again in 2016, having given up previously for 7 years). We managed to get to sleep in the end, and both slept really well.

    DAY EIGHT Saturday 12 November

    Plan : Trip to Hiroshima

    Actual : We got up with the alarm at 5.00 a.m.! Ugh. After freshening up and forcing some coffee down ourselves, we packed up the toiletries and prepared to leave the room. DH began humming the theme song to the Sinbad ride, which then lodged itself in my head!

    Just before 6, we checked out of the hotel, and dropped our main cases off with Bell services they were being kind enough to look after them until we returned tomorrow night and checked back in with them again.

    We walked round the corner to the train station, and got a local train on the Chou line to Tokyo, about a 20 minute journye. When we arrived, we found the route to follow to catch the Shinkansen Bullet Train, but we couldnt get the barrier to open for us. Eventually, a station assistant nearby showed us how to use the barrier properly we had to insert our Shinkansen tickets, and then also tap our Suica card as well we hadnt known we had to do that. By the time we finally got to the right platform, we only had 8 minutes to spare before the train left! We had started out really early too, in order to give ourselves plenty of time to get there. Like all other transport we had encountered in Japan, the Bullet Train ran perfectly on time, and was immaculately clean and tidy inside. We found our numbered seats, and settled in for the journey. The seats were airplane style, but comfy, and very spacious with lots of leg room, which was a good job really as this would be a 4-hour train journey!

    Bang on time, the train departed. We spent the next 4 hours enjoying mini doughnuts and chocolate biscuits for breakfast, including buying coffee from a trolley when it came round, and watching the amazing scenery going past. We passed Mount Fuji at one point, and it looked like a childs drawing of a volcano, with snow on the top. We may also have napped a bit, but overall we just really enjoyed watching Japan going past the windows, such a beautiful country. There were various train staff members who walked through the carriage several times, and each time they exited our carriage, they would turn and bow to the entire carriage before leaving, which was so lovely and respectful.

    We pulled into Hiroshima station eventually, having thoroughly enjoyed our journey. I had printed off directions to our hotel here, but it was literally around the back of the station, so we found it really easily! Check-in wasnt open for another couple of hours, at 2.00 p.m., so we left our hand luggage with Bell Services and set out to explore. Robins itinerary for this weekend was for us to visit the Hiroshima museum one day, and get a ferry to a small nearby island on the other day, (called Miyajima Island), so we decided to go to the island today. We walked round to the ticket offices, but struggled to find the right one to get a tram pass from. Eventually, and with a little help from the small tourist information booth, we found the right one and bought 2 x 1-day tram passes including the ferry journey. The tram system was quite easy to understand, and we found the right stand for the tram to the ferry. The tram itself arrived quite quickly, we found seats, but the journey took nearly an hour! It was much further than we thought it would be, plus the traffic was quite heavy. Anyway, we enjoyed looking at the sights as we travelled.

    We finally reached the terminal, and went to find the right ferry. Some of them belonged to one travel line, some to another, and we werent really sure which one to catch! We followed a big group of people and got the blue ferry, which took 10 minutes to cross to the island. As we approached the island, we could see a beautiful, huge Torii gate on the beach, which apparently is the one that the Torii gate in Japan in Epcot is based upon. The island looked really pretty as we docked, all green and lush. Unfortunately, as we disembarked the boat, we showed our ticket to an official, who told us off in Japanese and tried to force us to go to the ticket office oops, I think we caught the wrong companys boat! We waved our arms a bit, apologised in English, and finally just walked away when he got distracted. He kept shouting at us, wrong boat! but we just slipped away into the crowds.

    Anyway, we walked down the main road, which runs parallel to the beach, petting the tame deer as we walked. You have to watch them, they are really cute but they will try to eat anything, such as handbags, coats, fingers .. We were getting a bit peckish, so I bought DH a deep-fried cheese pastry from a street vendor. He said it was tasty, if very chewy! They are called Momiju Manju, and come with a variety of fillings, although they are usually sweet.

    We carried on walking down the street, and found a small caf, which looked nice. We went in and they seated us straightaway. We asked for coffee, but they said their machine was broken and they could only give us water! I had a vegetable fried rice with chicken, and DH had curry and rice with a breaded pork cutlet. The food was all delicious! It was hot and fresh, and relatively inexpensive. Before we left, I went to the restroom which was outside the back of the caf. I had to pass through a tiny courtyard, which was very cluttered, and contained a small and grubby tank with a turtle in it (this was also the smoking area!). The ladies restroom was a traditional one, i.e. a porcelain hole in the ground! Fortunately, I had experienced this in France years ago, and knew how to properly balance myself to avoid unexpected damp patches anywhere!

    We left after paying, and continued our walk down to the Torii gate on the beach. Luckily, the tide was out, so we were able to walk right up to the gate. It is very beautiful, and is made of camphor wood. It isnt held up by anything or driven into the ground, but is held in place by its own weight. We walked around it and took lots of photos, it was really lovely.

    Eventually, we began to walk back towards the ferry dock, but by a slightly different route, down a narrow shopping lane. We browsed some of the shops, all of which seemed to be selling the same souvenirs, and picked up a camphor wood, carved wall decoration, showing the Torii gate and some deer, and a box of fruit-flavoured Momiju Manju for my family, before finally getting to the ferry dock.

    We made sure we got the right ferry back to the mainland! We then caught the tram back to the Hotel Granvia, and this seemed like a very long journey we were really tired by the time we got back there. Our room was now ready, and we were assigned a room on the 8th floor, which offered some beautiful views out of the window. The room itself was really pretty, but we didnt linger long we dropped off our cases, and they went back to the train station as we were quite hungry by now. We found quite a large store, and stocked up with sandwiches, crisps, pound cake, Sprite, and Grape Fanta, which we took back to the hotel. Our dinner picnic was lovely, just what we needed! After showers and a bit of relaxing, we were both asleep by 9 pm!

    DAY NINE Sunday 13 November

    Plan : Hiroshima exploration

    Actual : We both slept really well last night. I woke up at about 6 am, but after a quick bathroom visit, went back to sleep until 8 clearly we had worn ourselves out yesterday.

    We had pound cake and peanut butter crackers for breakfast, showered, packed up, and after checking emails etc., were out of the room by 11 am. We checked out of the hotel but again left our cases with them, and picked up one-day hop on/hop off tourist bus tickets from the hotel reception. We found the bus stop we needed just outside, and caught the next bus, which arrived after about 5 mins of waiting. Our first stop was the A-Bomb Dome, a preserved memorial site which was the building underneath the first atom bomb to explode over Hiroshima. The damage caused to this building was quite shocking, (although there was worse to come). As we were looking round the site, a young female student asked if we would mind taking a quick survey about the memorial site, which we agreed to, and she gave me a cute notepad for taking part. We then walked down through the Peace Garden, which was beautiful and very moving, but had to avoid another 3 or 4 students asking us to take a survey again, (we presume it was the same survey). We then went into the museum, which has a small entrance fee, and spent about 4 hours exploring this. During the war, rumours had been circulating that the as-yet unattacked Hiroshima would be next to be bombed, so a lot of 12-14 year old schoolchildren were drafted in to help pull down any wooden buildings that could potentially suffer bombings and spread fire; when the atomic bomb was dropped, a lot of the casualties were these children, hence the museum is full of remnants of school uniforms, lunch boxes, tiny shoes, etc. it is absolutely heartbreaking. The one display I had heard about in advance was the one I found most disturbing the bomb blasted any dirt off stone buildings it didnt destroy, and there was a man sitting outside the bank waiting for it to open, when the bomb exploded. It evaporated the man on the steps, leaving a dark shadow outline of him on the stonework. The bank have donated this part of the building to the museum, and it is harrowing to look at.

    At the end of our tour of the museum, we went to a talk by a Japanese guide, who told us stories of and by survivors, (we timed this so we got the talk in English). She told some of the stories from the point of view of survivors, this was very well done and made the event so much more chilling and real she was a very effective storyteller.

    We left after this, and began a slow walk back through the gardens towards the bus stop. Every few yards though, we were approached about the survey again; this really began to wind DH up, we were trying to relax and appreciate our surroundings but we just kept being interrupted, it was so tedious! He began to get a bit stroppy with them, and I was glad when we got to the bus stop.

    After a short wait, we got the bus back to the hotel, collected our bags, and went back to the food shop to pick up something for dinner we hadnt eaten since breakfast! We got sandwiches, crisps and drinks, then found platform number 13 to catch the return Shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo. As soon as the train arrived and we boarded, we tucked into our food as we were starving by that point!

    We chatted and napped on the 4-hour train journey back to Tokyo station, (it was dark outside and so we couldnt watch the views!), and then easily found the Chou line train back to Shinjuku. When we arrived there, it was about 9.30 pm, and all the ticket offices were closed. Luckily, DH managed to work out which ticket machine to use to get our tickets back to the airport in the morning we hadnt wanted to risk leaving this until the morning, as we had a really early flight out of Tokyo airport.

    We then walked to the nearby 7-11 to pick up some boxes of Pocky biscuits to take home with us, and also got bags of bite-size chocolate biscuits for breakfast tomorrow. We went back to the Sunroute Plaza hotel, collected our luggage from them, and checked in for one final nights stay. We repacked our cases from our overnight bags, and finally went to bed for a few hours.

    DAY TEN Monday 14 November

    Plan : Fly to Hong Kong

    Actual : We got up with the alarm at 5 a.m., freshened up, and put the last few things in the cases before checking out. We were able to leave the portable Wi-Fi unit with the reception desk to post, as we had a pre-paid return envelope, and they were kind enough to agree to post this back for us.

    We walked around the corner to the train station, but to our horror, found it all shuttered up! We tried several different entrances, round the front, side, and back, but they were all closed we had thought the station was open 24 hours a day, and we knew there was a train back to Tokyo station at 6.30 am, which was the one we were intending to catch, but where from? Finally, we found a group of other folk waiting at a shutter to get in, and a passing station worker told us all that the entrance on the other side of the road was open, so we all trouped in there. Phew! We found the Narita Express train, loaded our cases into the luggage rack, and found our pre-assigned seats. One and a half hours and a bag of chocolate biscuits later, we arrived at the airport easy! Id checked us in for the flights online when we were in Hiroshima on Saturday, so we went straight to the bag drop desk and picked up our boarding passes. We then went straight to our departure gate, no. 72, as we would be boarding soon. We were a little late boarding and taking off, due to flight control holding up planes as there was lots of air traffic today, apparently. We waved goodbye to Japan, and looked forward to the next part of our adventure!

    There was a brilliant camera view from under the plane, we watched the plane take off on our TV screens and it was fascinating! The flight was no-where near full, indeed the seat next to mine was empty for most of the flight. Some random woman came and sat next to me for a short time, the air steward said her TV wasnt working so she watched a programme sitting by me, but then she left after a while. We watched the Steve Jobs film and really enjoyed it, it was brilliant, so interesting and entertaining. We had brunch, mine was a pre-ordered bland meal and was actually really nice chicken, rice, a tomato sauce (which I scraped off), carrots, and some kind of clear, crunchy vegetable sticks I have no idea what they were, but they were quite tasty. I also got a fruit pot (mostly melon and grapes), a banana, and a soft bread roll (but no butter). DH had omelette, ham, hash browns, and yoghurt. He said it was all really nice.

    We had a couple of quite turbulent moments, but other than that, the flight was smooth and quite quick. There were absolutely fantastic views of Hong Kong island as we approached the airport, and the landing was very smooth.

    We disembarked the plane, and went to wait for the luggage. This seemed to take ages to come out, not just ours but everyones, but eventually the belt began to move and out came the cases. Once we had ours, we found a desk to buy a couple of MTR Octopus cards, which is a top-up travel card, and just like in Japan, can also be used in places like McDonalds!

    Luckily, I had researched which trains we needed to get next, but they were also well signposted, and, unlike Japan, signs everywhere were in English, which helped! We had to catch a total of 3 trains to get to Disneyland station (actually called Sunny Bay station), and then we had to catch a free resort shuttlebus to our hotel, Disneys Hollywood Hotel. It was very odd arriving at Hong Kong Disneyland, seeing the big sign for the entrance, and then walking away from it to get to the hotel shuttle!

    We were very pleasantly surprised at the temperature in Hong Kong, it was a LOT warmer than Japan had been.

    We put our cases into the luggage space under the coach, and settled ourselves in at the front. The journey only took about 10 minutes, and we could immediately tell we were on Disney property from the landscaping! Unfortunately, when we arrived at the hotel and unloaded our luggage, someone had dumped big bags and a pushchair on top of our cases, and the zip on DHs case had split open! We managed to fix it again, but he was understandably a bit grumpy at this point. When the Cast Members tried to help us with our luggage, he irritably waved them off.

    We walked to the hotel lobby and our jaws hit the floor it was absolutely incredible! Very 1950s- Hollywood in style, and it was very stylised and detailed, it was gorgeous! DH waited with the luggage near the huge Christmas tree in the lobby, while I went to check us in. The Cast Member tried to give me a room with 2 double beds, but I had specifically booked a King room, and insisted that this was what I wanted. He checked on the computer, and eventually agreed I could have a King room, thankfully. He gave me our park tickets and room keys, and then we hauled our luggage through the lobby, past the gorgeous shop and restaurant, and to the lifts.

    Our room was amazing! Huge, and so gorgeous! We dropped off the cases, freshened up, and went in search of dinner. Hollywood & Dine in the lobby was open and fairly quiet, so we decided to eat there. Its a quick-service restaurant, so we ordered at the till and went to sit down. We both got coffee, orange Fanta, and then a dish called Baked Porkchop & rice. This was almost like a lasagne, in that the rice was fried, and layered with a light tomato sauce, a sliced, breaded pork chop, and cheese, and then baked. It was very hot as they are cooked to order, but utterly delicious, we really enjoyed it. As we were eating, we noticed that there appeared to be a Mary Kay conference going on some of the young girls we had seen on the shuttle bus were forming a huge queue, and checking in at a desk next to the restaurant. They were very heavily made-up, dressed to perfection, and OBSESSED with taking selfies, from every imaginable angle. It was quite funny to watch them!

    After dinner, we walked outside and explored the resort gardens, which were really pretty. We also checked out the pool, as we intended to make use of that over the next couple of days it looked lovely, and there was a hot tub as well. The gardens extended down almost to the bay, and had a small themed area with a couple of 1950s styled American cars along the walkways unfortunately, it was difficult to get a photo of these as they were covered in conference attendees, sprawled all over them and taking photos obsessively. (We could tell they were conference attendees, as not only did they have a certain look of immaculate clothing and tons of make-up, but they all also had a pink, studded Mary Kay backpack). Apart from being self-obsessed and everywhere, they were quite well behaved though, we thought.

    Anyway, we left the girls to drape themselves around, and headed back into the hotel. We went to the shop for a look around, and were really pleased with the range of merchandise not only did they have loads of different pins to choose from, but they had an extensive range of Pandora charms, including a castle charm! There just seemed to be lots of really cool stuff to buy, including a key-ring shaped like the Mickey-ears monorail handle! We didnt buy anything, just mentally made notes of things we wanted.

    We were quite tired by this point, but thought a swim might be a good way to end the day, so we went back up to our room, changed into swimwear, and headed down to the pool. It was really quiet down there, we were the only people in the pool for quite a while, although a handful of other people arrived and left at different times. Overall, we spent about an hour and a half just lazily floating around, basking in the hot tub, and then back to the pool again. It was really good, relaxing yet invigorating.

    Eventually, we wrapped ourselves in towels, and went back to our room. After showers and a bit more relaxing, we were asleep by 10 p.m. What a lovely day.

    DAY ELEVEN Tuesday 15 November

    Plan : Hong Kong Disneyland

    Actual : Another gloriously sunny day dawned bright and early, and we were awake at a reasonable time, having slept really well. We had coffee and chocolate biscuits in the room for breakfast, and relaxed online for a little while as the park didnt open until 10.30 am.

    Around 10.15 am, we left the room and headed out to the shuttle bus stop, with a bus arriving within a couple of minutes. It was very hot out there! There were a small number of Mary Kay girls waiting for the bus with us, surprisingly maybe they were only required to attend parts of the conference? Anyway, 10 minutes later we were arriving at the park entrance. The bus stops behind the train station, so it is a matter of just a few minutes walk to go under the beautiful entrance archway, and down the long driveway. We approached a lovely fountain, with Mickey balancing on top of a huge stone whales blowhole, and moving up and down with the water!

    Turning right at the fountain, we approached the turnstiles. Just before going through, DH was taking a photo of the gates, and an Indian couple approached us. We had no idea what they wanted, they were asking something and pointing at their camera we thought they wanted us to take a picture of them together, with their camera, but eventually DH realised that the woman wanted her photo taken with me. How weird! Maybe she thought I was someone famous? Anyway, I duly smiled, posed, tried not to flinch as this complete stranger flung her arm round my shoulders and hugged me to her, and waited while her husband took our picture. Very odd! They smiled a lot and nodded their thanks, before moving on.

    Our first impressions of Hong Kong Disneyland were that this is such a pretty park, very verdant and green, and all decorated up for Christmas it was just gorgeous! We scanned our paper tickets, and entered the park. Wow this has to be the prettiest Disney park we have seen so far! Our first stop, after picking up a map, was City Hall I had quite a lot of Japanese Yen left over, and I had read that there was a currency exchange in City Hall. I managed to easily change 56,000 Yen into Hong Kong dollars, as we had spent a lot less in Japan than I thought we would, mostly due to the lack of Disney merchandise in the parks there. I was really pleased with this exchange though, as I had thought I would have to bring the Yen back home with me to exchange after the holiday.

    We then slowly walked up Main Street, just taking in the park and the atmosphere. There didnt seem to be many guests around, it was very uncrowded, which was great. We looked at the really tiny, very pink castle, and also at the beautiful mountains surrounding the park, before strolling round to Grizzly Gulch. We watched the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars for a few minutes, ascertained it appeared to be like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on steroids, and then walked round the side of the ride and into the entrance. There was no wait for the ride, and we were soon loaded into our mine cars, after tucking our bags (and ears, in my case!) into the net holder in front of our knees. The ride starts off fairly slow, and there are cute bears everywhere however, the bears are very mischievous, and papa bear is scratching his back on a lever which switches our track and shoots us up a hill, where we grind to a halt near the top before heading backwards into a dark tunnel! In the tunnel and above us, is mama bear and fluffy little baby bear, with a bow in her hair, who push a dynamite plunger and blow up the tunnel! This results in our shooting forwards very quickly, (and a bit startlingly!), and then we followed a track that was similar to the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train in Florida. The ride was very smooth, and really good fun we loved it! When we got off, there was still no real queue, so we went all the way around again and rode for a second time.

    After this, we explored the Grizzly Gulch area, which was really well themed. The Lucky Nugget saloon restaurant was closed, but we had a play in the Geyser Gulch area. This area is very interactive, there are buttons to press to set off geysers, and to tip up wagons full of water to try and drench people, it is a great area to explore. We found the worlds largest gold nugget!, and there were also photo opportunity cut-outs of wanted characters in the jail.

    Once we had had as much fun in there as we could, we walked to the next land, which is Mystic Point. There is only one ride here, Mystic Manor, and from the outside this looked like the Haunted Mansion ride. However, this is a trackless ride, and is brilliant you follow the story of Lord Henry Mystic, an eccentric adventurer, explorer and collector of artand his faithful monkey friend, Albert. The ride cars pass through Lord Henrys collection of art and artifacts, including his latest acquisition, a magical music box. Alberts inability to keep his sticky paws off this music box lead to an exciting adventure tour, where the artifacts magically come to life! Interestingly, Lord Henry is documented as being the founder member of the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (S.E.A.), a storyline that is picked up in other Disney parks around the world. Anyway, we really loved this ride, it was tons of fun!

    By now it was midday, and we were a bit hungry. Nearby was the Explorers Club Restaurant, and outside was a glass display case containing plastic models of the offerings on the menu. We found this all over this park, and it was very helpful, as a lot of the time the food was local cuisine and we had no idea from the menu what it consisted of! The restaurant was really quiet, and the ordering system was the usual one we are used to a series of cash registers/order points, then walk behind these to collect your food. DH went off in search of a table, while I went and ordered. We got Sprite and lemon Fanta, and then a meal that consisted of a chicken leg, breaded chicken steak, vegetable rice, and a mild curry sauce. It was all really tasty! The dining rooms here are all themed to Lord Henrys explorations around the world, we ate in the Chinese room and it was very richly decorated and themed.

    After lunch, we walked through Toy Story Land. DH wanted to go on the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, which had about a 10 minute wait. However, the ride wasnt working properly, and after doing a couple of random drops, the ride stopped before the final big drop. The riders were high up in the air for ages, and then they were lowered slowly to the ground, so they missed the big drop. DH was disappointed, but couldnt be bothered to wait and go on it again.

    We walked into Fantasyland next, and explored the Fairy Tale Forest. This is an interactive walk-around attraction, with little areas themed to different fairy tales. You look at models of the characters and buildings, then wind a wheel and things happen for example, in the Beauty & the Beast story, the ballroom spins slowly around and Belle and the Beast are dancing in there. It was all really cute!

    The weather was incredibly hot and sunny today, and we were in need of some air conditioning, so we went into Mickeys PhilharMagic for a sit down! This was a 10 minute wait, literally until the next show, and was exactly the same as the one in Florida.

    We then walked under the railway bridge to Its a Small World, again 10 minutes wait, and the outside gave us cause for concern as it was all under a scrim we thought it was going to be closed for refurb. However, it turned out to be open, and we were soon happily singing along! The ride was lovely, quite different to other Small Worlds we have been on. There were Disney characters in it, and little signs showing the name of each country, which we liked a lot.

    We were in need of a quick break after this, so we grabbed a Sprite and an iced tea, and found a bench to sit on. While we were there, the Flights of Fantasy parade started, so we watched it. It was lovely, and we had a great view as the park was so quiet today. When it was over, we joined the standby queue for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, (15 mins), and enjoyed this little ride it was the same as the one in Florida, but was still cute!

    After this, we walked through the castle and into the hub. We decided to go into Corner Caf for ice-cream, not realising it was quite an upmarket caf. However, we had a look at the menu outside and decided to treat ourselves. We went in, and were quickly seated. We both ordered coffee, which came in a tall glass with a tiny Mickey head biscuit, and was just superb coffee. Then I ordered a trio of ice-creams lime sorbet, strawberry ice-cream, and crme brulee ice-cream, which was served with diced mango and freeze-dried raspberries, and a tiny macaroon. DH got a waffle basket filled with lime sorbet, passion fruit sorbet, strawberries, melon, mango and blueberries. It was all really gorgeous! While we were enjoying all this, a small child a couple of tables away dropped a glass, which shattered and bits went flying everywhere. DH helped the waiters to spot bits of broken glass that they missed, pointing out bits under tables that he could see but they couldnt. When we had finished our ice-cream, our waiter brought him a plate of Mickey biscuits and marshmallows! He said it was to say thank you for his help earlier. We struggled to finish these as we were quite full, but we managed!

    We paid the bill, thanked the lovely staff again for the complimentary biscuits, and walked round to Tomorrowland. The Oribitron ride is at ground level here, rather than on top of a high building like in Florida, so we decided to ride it. We got a pink flying saucer! This ride was great fun, we really enjoyed it.

    Buzz Lightyears Astro Blasters was a 5 min wait, really a straight walk-on, so we rode that twice in a row, and DH soundly beat me both times!

    DH wanted to ride Hyperspace Mountain, and I didnt, so we compromised and I found a nice bench to sit on while he rode. I watched a troop of Stormtroopers troupe past me while I waited. The standby line for the ride was very short, and it wasnt long before DH was back he had LOVED the ride, he said it was Star Wars themed and very immersive, extremely well done. The Stormtroopers went past us in the opposite direction, and stopped near Hyperspace Mountain. We wandered over to them, and stood watching them with a bunch of other people. Suddenly, the tall silver-coloured Stormtrooper, who we think was the leader, beckoned me over to him and then stood next to me in a pose for a photo! He was so funny, really clever at miming what he wanted us to do. As we walked away, an ordinary Stormtrooper told me to have a pleasant day. So funny.

    We walked round to Snow Whites Grotto, which I had for some reason thought was a ride, but it turned out to be just a themed area beside the castle. It was pretty though, and we took some photos.

    We decided to give Dumbo a try as it had been a bit busy earlier, so back to Fantasyland we went. The wait time was now down to 5 mins allegedly, but we joined the queue and didnt move for ages, the whole thing was taking so long to load and unload that we got fed-up, and left the queue. We really wanted to see the Paint the Night parade, which wasnt too far off from starting, so we abandoned the elephants and went and sat on a bench near the start of the parade route. There was no rope or tape marking out the parade route, and no Cast Members urging people off the route, it was merely a matter of basically stay out of the way or get run over! Our bench afforded us a perfect waiting place, and as we heard the parade music start, we stood up and took a couple of steps forward, putting us right at the front of the viewing area, (although to be fair, the park was still really quiet and the viewing line was only 1 person deep all down that stretch of the park!).

    The parade was utterly stunning! Breathtaking! Amazing! We loved it. I had heard that this parade was really good, but it just blew us away, and was miles better than the Main Street Electrical parade, and, in our opinion, even Spectromagic! Wow.

    Once the last float had passed us by, we returned to our bench and sat down for about 15 mins to rest. We then moved towards the front of the castle in order to watch Disney in the Stars fireworks and projection show, which was also really good.

    The park was now closing, so we walked slowly down Main Street, stopping in the Bakery to pick up something for dinner. I got warm cheese submarines, which were a brown sub roll filled with cheesy mashed potato and topped with grated cheese, and a milk chocolate (for DH) and white chocolate (for me) topped brioche ring.

    We left the park, caught a bus, and when we got back to the hotel we changed into swimwear and headed down to the pool for an hour. Other than it being surrounded by posing Mary Kay girls, it was a pleasant hour, although irritatingly the hot tub was full of small, splashing kids, despite the notices saying that no-one under the age of 10 should be in there. The parents were no-where to be seen, so we only stayed in there for about 15 minutes, tutting the whole time in a very British manner. We got out when the kids decided that they wanted to walk round and round the tub on the top ledge, pushing past us as we tried to recline. We gave up and went back to the main pool.

    After about an hour, we wrapped ourselves in towels again, and went back to the room. We took showers and settled down to eat dinner, which surprisingly was still warm! A bread roll filled with mashed potato may not sound very good, but it was extremely delicious, and very cheesy. Nom, nom, nom. We were in bed and lights out by 11 pm.

    DAY TWELVE Wednesday 16 November

    Plan : Hong Kong Disneyland

    Actual : After another good nights sleep, we repeated yesterdays actions of getting up, having coffee and relaxing online, before heading out at 10.15 am to get the bus and be in the park for rope drop. It was another glorious, sunny and hot day.

    The first thing we wanted to do today was ride the train around the park, so we joined a short queue and waited for the first train of the day. It is a lovely journey, but only takes 10 mins to encircle the whole park, as there is only one other stop, in Fantasyland.

    We disembarked back at the park entrance, and walked up Main Street to the Bakery in search of breakfast. I got DH a cheese lava croissant (filled with a kind of cheese custard, and a chocolate lava croissant (chocolate cream with unidentified green bits on the top) he said both were really good. I had pineapple custard bread, which was yummy. To drink, we decided to try something new, and DH had iced ginger and honey tea, while I ordered a citrus honey iced drink. This was absolutely incredible the best thing I have ever drunk, EVER! I think the citrus part was yuzu it was faintly floral, almost perfumed, but in a delicious way. It tasted of delicate orange and lemon, with a hint of grapefruit. The honey had settled at the bottom, and when I swirled it around to mix it up, it added another layer of taste which was amazing. Oh, and DH said his drink was nice, too. But only to shut me up after I raved about mine for about 15 minutes, telling him it was the most delicious thing Id ever put in my mouth!

    After we felt suitably refreshed, we walked up to the hub, intending to head round to Adventureland, but we got stopped by a random Chinese woman and asked for a photo with her again. We smiled and nodded, and were soon on our way to the Festival of the Lion King show. We joined the queue for the midday show, and as we waited, DH watched a woman in front of us take a selfie and angle her phone so that I was also in the shot I was busy writing notes for the trip report at the time and didnt notice. The show was absolutely brilliant, really quite different to the version in Florida in that it concentrated much more on following the film storyline, with less circus-type effects. (Dont get me wrong, we love the Walt Disney World version, but this one was just very different). There were no acrobatics, and no trampolining monkeys, but the beautiful ballerina bird still flew, and there were two fire jugglers. We thought it was a fantastic show, and really enjoyed it. (We were giraffes, by the way).

    We then walked round to Grizzly Gulch and rode the Mine Train twice in a row with no wait, we loved this ride! A quick play with the water features, and then we went to Mystic Manor for another adventure with Lord Henry and Albert. We had the same ride experience as yesterday, and realised that if we wanted to experience the ride on the opposite side of the trackless track, we needed to queue towards the back of the cars, rather than the front. This would not be easy though, the park was so quiet that everywhere we went we were just led straight to the front! One to remember for next time, though.

    We were in need of some lunch now, so rather than repeat yesterdays meal, much as we had enjoyed it, I was keen to try Clopins Festival of Food. I love the Hunchback of Notre Dame film, it is one of my Disney favourites, and this circus tent-themed food court looked lovely. We had a look at the plastic display food, and decided to try a meal that included barbeque duck, Char Sui pork, barbeque sauce, fried rice, and some kind of long, green veg. We also got coffee. The food was all very tasty, this was the first time Id had Char Sui pork for many years, as the last time Id had it, it had affected my IBS and had made me quite ill this was a bit of a risk having it today, but it was all fine. I am also not a fan of barbeque flavour, but I do love a bit of duck, so I was willing to give it a try! We had a bit of cloud cover while we ate, and as most of the seating is outside, this was nice.

    After lunch, the clouds cleared away and we headed to Tomorrowland, where DH resoundedly beat me on Buzz Lightyears Astro Blasters again. We rode the Orbitron again, this time getting an orange flying saucer, and then DH went off to ride Hyperspace Mountain while I sat on a handy, nearby concrete bench and updated my notes. All of the rides here were straight walk-ons.

    We wanted to go on the Jungle Cruise as we hadnt done this yet, so we walked round to Adventureland and discovered that they have 2 separate queues, one for Chinese speaking Skippers and one for English. There was a 10 minute wait for the English speaking Skipper, so we joined that queue and were soon on our boat. This was great fun! The dialogue was a little hard to follow sometimes, as the Skipper spoke very quickly and quietly, and ran his words together somewhat, but we thought the dioramas were really good there were more animals than we are used to, and they were also more realistic than in Florida. There was a really exciting bit with firey, volcanic rocks, and then a magnificent waterfall.

    After this we wanted to pick up some shopping, so we headed back to Main Street and the Emporium. We picked up some gingerbread popcorn for my sister, a Hong Kong Disneyland Minnie Mouse for our granddaughter, a pack of 4 Christmas decoration tins of gummies, a couple of pins and a lovely, black and gold HKD t-shirt for DH, and I bought a total of 6 Pandora charms, including a HKD castle, a 10-year celebration charm, a pink castle Spring/Summer 2016 charm, a pink Mickey 2016 charm, and one that is silver swirls and matches a bracelet I bought in Florida a couple of years ago. The CMs in there loved my Tigger tattoo, and one of them asked me if it was real and could she touch it! (It is on my back, along with a Simba tattoo). We then went over to Fantasyland and explored the shop there, where we picked up a HKD fridge magnet, a few more pins, and I bought a pair of matching Mickey and Minnie clip Pandora charms with Swarovski crystals. There was a lovely CM in there who also loved my tattoos, and in particular she liked the one on my arm, which is DHs name in Mandarin Chinese. She asked if he had my name on him anywhere, and when he admitted that he didnt, she proceeded to write my name in the same style on his arm with a sharpie! It is a lovely design, and we asked her to draw it on a piece of paper in case he ever decides to get a real tattoo.

    We walked back to Mystic Manor and asked for the back rows, so we then got a slightly different experience, which was great fun. It was dark by now, so we walked to Grizzly Gulch and rode the Mine Train another twice, with no wait time, and it was AWESOME in the dark! This was definitely our favourite ride in this park.

    We were shattered by now, so took a slow walk out of the park, taking lots of night-time photos on the way as everywhere looked so pretty all lit up. We decided that this park was one of our favourite Disney parks in the world, (so far!), purely because it was such a pretty, lush, green place to be, with real mountains as a backdrop to the castle.

    On our way out, we popped into the Main Street Bakery, and I spend our last few dollars on 2 cheese subs again, and one chocolate ring cake to share. By the time we got to the end of Main Street, the fireworks were about to start, so we decided to stay and watch them, standing by the Christmas tree. Afterwards, we caught a bus back to our hotel, popped up to the room to collect some more money, and the went to the shop to pick up a couple of things. We got a pink food bowl shaped like Mickey ears for our granddaughter, and 2 of the monorail handle key rings, for myself and my sister.

    We were intending to go for a swim again, but were so tired by this point that we just went back to our room, ate the cheese subs and cake, and relaxed. Lights out and we were asleep by 10.30 pm.

    DAY THIRTEEN Thursday 17 November

    Plan : Leave Disney, move to Kowloon

    Actual : After another good nights sleep, we were up by around 8 am, made some coffee and relaxed online for a little while. Eventually, we made ourselves get going, and got the cases repacked, sadly checking out and reluctantly leaving this really lovely hotel. We got the transfer bus back to Sunny Bay train station, and then caught the next MTR to Kowloon station, from where we caught a bus to East Tsim Sha Tsui station. We then walked for about 10 minutes to the Sheraton Towers hotel. The whole journey took around 1.5 hours in total, and was fairly easy, although we were a little confused when we got off the bus and werent sure which direction to take, but found our way in the end.

    We thought the hotel was gorgeous, very upmarket and trendy. Our room was not quite ready, so we checked in, left our luggage with Bell Services, and went to the bar for coffee. (I was quite shocked at the price of two coffees in the bar, but I suppose it was normal for a hotel bar!). We relaxed in a lovely, comfy chair, and enjoyed our very nice coffee. We had a quick restroom break, checked out the very posh cigar shop, and made our way back to the check-in desk at about the time we had been told to return. Housekeeping had fast-cleaned a king-sized room for us, which was very nice of them! We collected our cases again and headed up to the room ooh! It was lovely, very big, gorgeous dcor, and the bathroom had a glass sink in it. We took some pictures before messing it up with luggage, changed out of travel clothes and into summer wear, (the weather was hot if a little cloudy), and went out in search of food as it was mid-afternoon by now and we hadnt eaten all day.

    We began to explore the area. It was very busy, and there were lots of tiny shops, with numerous food outlets, but it all looked very confusing! Every couple of feet, we were accosted by shady-looking men asking us if we wanted to buy fake watches, handbags, or have tailoring done. DH began by being quite polite, but then the sheer number of these shysters began to irritate us. I think we were just hungry by this point, so we spotted a McDonalds and headed in there. We both had a quarter pound cheeseburger, fries and coffee, and felt much better for eating.

    On the walk back towards the hotel, we decided to have a little fun with the guys trying to sell us things, (one of whom was offering fake Rolexes RIGHT OUTSIDE the Rolex shop!), so every time one approached us, we began to count out loud. Within a space of 200 yards, we had 16 offers of watches/handbags/tailoring! We found a 7-11 shop and went in to get room supplies, including some sandwiches for dinner later, crisps, bottled water and soda, and then took these back to our hotel room.

    We changed into swimwear, and then went to the rooftop pool and hot tub for a couple of hours. It was amazing up there, we were the only people there for quite a while, one or two other guests dipped in and out of the pool and one of the (4 in total) hot tubs, but it was so quiet up there! We lazed around in the water, appreciating the incredible views, and watching the sunset. All the buildings began to light up in pastel colours, it was all so pretty.

    Eventually, we wrapped ourselves in towels and headed back to the room for dinner, and bed, having thoroughly enjoyed our relaxing day today.

    DAY FOURTEEN Friday 18 November

    Plan : Explore Kowloon

    Actual : We got up late to another bright and sunny day, had snacks and coffee in the room, and finally set out around 11.30 am. We walked down to the waterfront, which was really busy it was very pongy at Victoria Harbour, but was also very picturesque! There was also a bit of smog today, and the skyline over the water on the Hong Kong island side looked EXACTLY like all the photos we had seen of the place previously.

    We found an outdoor observation deck nearby, so went up there for a look round. We could see quite a way up and down the bay, it was really interesting. We watched a helicopter land on the Hong Kong side, and then walked across a bridge and into some public gardens with lots of sculpture and public artworks. It was a bit of a battle to get the kids to stop climbing on the sculptures so we could take photos, despite lots of signs asking people to stay off the sculptures! Eventually a security officer came over and cleared all the kids off, pointing out the signs to the parents.

    After this, we walked round to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, where it turns out DH had (unsuccessfully) applied for a job many years ago he hadnt told me this before! It looked really nice, so we went in for a look around, stopping in the tiny Starbucks in there first for an iced coffee for me and a gingerbread latte for DH. We were a bit peckish so we also got a sausage, baked in bread and sprinkled with sage, snack, which was really tasty! We had a look around the shop, but didnt buy anything.

    From there we went next door to the Space Museum I had been really looking forward to visiting here, but we discovered that all the exhibition halls had closed for refurbishment! That was a real disappointment, but there was nothing we could do about it.

    We decided to try and find the Hong Kong History Museum, which was a bit of a walk away. Admission was free, thanks to the Government trying to encourage museum visits by tourists and locals. It was a fascinating place, we really loved it we explored until the museum closed at 6 pm, seeing suits of armour, war rooms, lots of historical artefacts, and cultural heritage. We particularly liked the rooms dedicated to the history of Chinese Opera, which had life-size dioramas set up with displays of costumes and props, and lots of Chinese Festival dragon costumes. It was a really lovely place, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in there.

    When the museum closed, we walked slowly back towards our hotel, going to the nearby KFC for dinner. (We did feel a bit guilty for not choosing to eat local food, but there was too much choice and everywhere was very Chinese with no translations!). We had chicken, waffle fries, rice with mushroom gravy, (very peppery but delicious!), and a honey biscuit, plus coffee and orange Fanta. The food was all very good, and just what we needed.

    We were worrying about DHs suitcase zip, which had broken again once or twice since the original breakage a couple of days ago, and DH had had a brilliant idea of how to temporarily fix it till we got home, but this involved a sewing kit, which we didnt have with us. We found a very small pharmacy after dinner, and I went in and asked if they had any travel accessories, not holding out much hope. The lovely assistant immediately pointed us in the direction of a small display, and by some miracle they did indeed have a travel sewing kit! We were amazed and delighted! We bought that, plus some shaving foam and razors for DH who had decided his beard had to go as his face was permanently hot and itchy in the hot weather. From there, we went back to the 7-11 to get some tins of iced Nescafe coffee, and some cake for tomorrows breakfast. I asked them if they had any superglue, as this was part of the suitcase fix plan, but they didnt. However, the assistant suggested we visit the shop next door which was called The Japan Shop. We did, and it turned out to be a small hardware store, (not what we expected from the shop name, at all!), where we easily got some superglue. Back to the hotel we went, with a total of 16 offers again of watches/handbags/suits, (the man we shouted number 3! at was incensed, and shouted back, Me not number 3, me number one!). We were too tired to go swimming that night, but DH did set about his suitcase zip with the sewing kit and the glue, before we turned in at around 11 pm.

    DAY FIFTEEN Saturday 19 November

    Plan : Explore Hong Kong island

    Actual : We slept really well again, and got up quite late. While DH was showering, I checked us in online for our flight tomorrow. We had coffee and cake, and left the room around midday.

    I checked at the front desk for our options to get to the airport in the morning, and they offered to book a taxi for us, telling us exactly how much it would cost, and we agreed a time for him to collect us. We were flying out quite early, so we thought this would be easier than using buses and trains.

    We then walked back to Victoria Harbour, and caught the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong island. We were able to use our Octopus cards to board, and it was really cheap HK$2.5 each for the journey there. The boat was called the Northern Star, and had a plaque inside telling you the history of these boats they are a very old transport system, started in the 1870s, and there are 12 boats in the fleet. The journey only takes 7 minutes, and is really fun although somewhat choppy luckily, I had taken some travel medication that morning, anticipating a rough crossing!

    The journey across the bay was lovely, and when we disembarked we decided to have a look around the IFC One Mall, which was full of tiny, exquisite designer stores. We stopped at a caf called LGB (Le Gouter Bernardaud), for tea (DH) and peppermint tea (me). We also got some cold drinks, a Belvoir Mint & Cucumber for me, and a Dragonfruit & Raspberry for DH. We looked at the menu as we were ready for lunch, and really liked the look of the High Tea. However, when we asked the waiter about it, he said they only offer this after 2.00 pm, and it was only 1.30 pm at this point. We decided to wait, and sipped our tea whilst watching the perfectly dressed and coiffed clientele of this upmarket shopping mall!

    At 2.00 pm the waiter returned, and we ordered our High Tea. This arrived just a few minutes later, and was so worth the wait it was beautifully presented, on a multi-level platter, and everything was in tiny, bite-sized portions. There were finger sandwiches, which consisted of prawns on chopped tomato with salt & pepper, served on tiny slices of bread; smoked salmon sandwiches; and ham & egg sandwiches. There were also tiny scones with cream and jam, coffee cake slices, fruit cake, madelines, a tiny stewed pear and a tiny stewed apple. We just about managed to eat all of this, but were really full at that point, so we asked for a box for the last items 4 small and 1 large macarons. The whole thing was quite expensive, but just amazing, and nice to treat ourselves to.

    We paid, and then walked around the mall a little, but we found the stores to be very intimidating so didnt really browse anywhere. I popped into a teeny little store selling Louboutin shoes, just to look at them. The two store assistants peered snootily down their noses at me, but I ignored them and covetously picked up a couple of shoes to examine them a bit more closely, (like my fat little feet would ever squeeze into them anyway!). Unsurprisingly, nothing was priced up I think its a case of if you have to ask the price, you cant afford it! After leaving fingerprints all over the expensive and polished shoes, I nodded at the assistants and left the store DH was hovering around outside, he had been too frightened to go in!

    We left the mall and found a really pretty public garden to walk around, with lots of beautiful trees and flowers, all with little signs on telling you what they were. The gardens were really quiet, there was only us and a squirrel in there at one point! It was also excruciatingly hot, with no cloud cover at all, and we were trying to walk in the shadows of trees. We followed some signs and found our way to a little English church called St Johns Cathedral, just to admire the architecture, and went inside for a break from the sun. It was very pretty, all cream stone and coolness. After a quick look round the obligatory gift shop, and managing to avoid buying any souvenir wooden crosses, we made our way back to the ferry terminal, tired and hot but having enjoyed our day out.

    This time we got a boat called the Silver Star, encountered a total of 5 watch sellers as we exited the terminal, plus one more as we walked to 7-11 to get some sandwiches for dinner later. Bit of a low count today!

    We finally went back to the hotel as dusk was setting in, and went up to the pool for a couple of hours, for the last time. It was so lovely up there, watching the sun set and the lights on all the hotels come on, lazing about in the hot tub and then floating about in the main pool. There were only one or two other guests up there, it was so quiet, and a lovely end to our time in Hong Kong.

    Eventually, we got out of the pool and went back to our room for showers, sandwiches, and bed.

    DAY SIXTEEN Sunday 20 November

    Plan : Fly to Singapore

    Actual : We were up at 5 a.m! Washed, dressed, packed up, and down to reception to check out. We had really enjoyed this taste of Kowloon and Hong Kong, but it was now time to move on.

    The taxi that the concierge had ordered for us yesterday turned up on time, and he drove us to Kowloon train station, dropping us off at the Airport Express entrance. I ended up tipping him more than I expected to, as I gave him HK$50 for a HK$34 fare (I didnt have the right change). I waited for my change, and was going to give him around HK$5 tip, but he just smiled, said thank you, and hopped out of the taxi to get our cases out of the boot! Being British, I didnt say anything to him, just seethed internally and then moaned non-stop to DH for the next hour!

    We walked into the station, and to our surprise and delight saw that there was an airline check-in desk there for Cathay Pacific! This was brilliant, we were able to check in, drop off our cases, and get our boarding passes before getting the express train to the airport. The journey took around 25 minutes, and was quite interesting as we passed lots of different suburban areas. When we got to the airport, we went through security quickly and easily, and then had time for a quick look around the airport shops. There was a Disney Store there, and I wanted to check if they had any new Pandora charms, as a Cast Member had told us a few days before that a whole new set was due out at anytime soon. I didnt see any new ones, but I did pick up a 4-pack of flavoured popcorn in the sale, to give out as Christmas gifts, and a Minnie mouse keyring for a work colleague.

    We paid a quick restroom visit, then made our way to gate 47 and quite quickly were boarding our next flight, bound for Singapore and the next leg of our adventure!

    We were a bit late taking off, but it was a very easy 3.5 hour flight. The breakfast they served to us was quite nice, DH had scrambled egg with bacon, mushrooms, hash brown, etc. My bland meal was really lovely salmon and mashed potato, quite a lot of veg which I only picked at really, a bread roll, melon and grapes (again! Ive had a lot of melon so far!), and a strawberry yoghurt. We watched an Ice Age film thinking it was the new one, but bits of it seemed familiar and eventually we realised it was one wed already seen. We watched it to the end anyway, though. DH napped a bit, while I did some arrow-words puzzles.

    We landed smoothly, and once we deplaned, the luggage was out very quickly. We went outside and waited in the queue for a taxi, which then took us to our next hotel the Sheraton Towers Singapore. The hotel was lovely, and located very near to an MRT station, which was handy!

    We checked in, took the cases up to our room, and then promptly went out again, walking towards the station at Dhobi Ghaut, which is quite a large interchange station. However, we were slightly distracted by a Dunkin Donuts, so had to pop in for coffee and a very delicious doughnut each. We eventually made it to Dhobi Ghaut, and from there we picked up our MRT cards, which are travel cards that can be topped up anywhere. Exhausted by our ventures, (and the heat and humidity!), we had to go into Starbucks for yet more coffee in Plaza Singapura! There were a lot of beautiful sculptures and dcor around, all themed to summer and beaches, which was lovely to look at.

    We then caught an MRT subway train to City Hall, and walked through the Esplanade to the Merlion Park. We had been in Singapore in 2002 when the Esplanade first opened, and had seen a lot of the events surrounding the opening, so it was lovely to see how the place had developed and grown over the years. The Merlion Park had changed a bit since we were last here, in 2008, but it was still really pretty and it was also very busy there, as it is quite a popular public space. We watched the sun set over Marina Bay, before following part of the Formula 1 racetrack past the Pedang and back to City Hall MRT station, catching a subway train to Somerset. We walked onto Orchard Road, looking for the restaurant called Papa Joes where we have eaten both times we have visited Singapore together, and whilst the restaurant is still there, it is now called Odd One Out! The menu was still the same though, and there was no wait for a table, so we were soon seated and placing our order. A big Tiger beer for DH, an apple and watermelon cocktail for me, and Nasi Goreng for us both to eat, (a fried rice, vegetable and chicken dish, which is utterly yummy!).

    After dinner we took a slow stroll back to the MRT station, and finally got back to our hotel after realising that we were literally 3 minutes walk from Newton station perfect location. We had intended to go for a swim tonight but were too tired, and were actually in bed by 9.30 pm! What a wonderful day.

    DAY SEVENTEEN Monday 21 November

    Plan : Universal Studios, Singapore

    Actual : We got up to a slightly damp day, with a bit of rain, at 7.45 am. I had booked Universal Studios tickets for today through a travel agent called City Tours not only were the tickets slightly cheaper than booking directly with Universal, but they also offered a free shuttle bus service and our hotel was one of the pick-up points. (Although we had reckoned that we didnt have to travel back on the shuttle bus, we could always get an MRT train back if we finished in the park a bit later). Our mini-bus transport arrived a few minutes late, but that was okay. It took us to the Singapore Flyer where the travel agents office was based, and we collected our park tickets before boarding a coach for the 40 minute journey to Universal Studios. The trip was really lovely, we saw lots of lovely scenery, and we also went up to the top of a mountain, where the cable car runs from into Sentosa Island (some people chose to get off there as they had bought tickets for the cable car). We were finally dropped off in a bus garage underneath Universal, (where we made a note of the bus stop for our return later), and we made our way up an escalator and into a central area with lots of small shops, which we intended to explore later.

    We went into the park, picked up maps, and decided to go to Mels Diner for brunch while we studied the maps. I got a chicken burger, fries and a Sprite, DH had a double-decker burger, fries, and a revolting-smelling grape Fanta, which he said was lovely but I thought smelt like hospitals.

    After we had finished, we began to explore. The park seemed incredibly quiet today, there were very few queues. And the rain had stopped, which was a bonus! We walked clockwise around the park, starting with Madagascar, where we rode A Crate Adventure. There were lots of warnings about the ride being intense, with potential for problems if anyone had back issues or suffered from motion sickness. I was a bit apprehensive as we boarded our boat and a huge, double lap-bar was pulled down, but then the ride was really a bit disappointing! We just sailed gently round a river with animatronic characters and film projections, it was such a let-down! We were at the very least expecting some sudden drops or something a bit more thrilling.

    We piled off at the end, and went into Far, Far Away Land which was straight out of the Shrek films, but was a blatant rip-off of a Disney park, right down to the lovely castle in the centre! It was still a lovely area, very deeply themed, we really liked it here. We went into the Shrek 4D show, which we thought was excellent, apart from the very realistic spiders! We explored the rest of the Land but didnt find anything else we wanted to go on, although the shop was lovely.

    We headed into the Jurassic Park area, just in time to do something I had REALLY wanted to do we met an amazing velociraptor audiomatronic in a cage on the back of a truck! Id seen this in the park guide and was really interested, but we hadnt noticed the time and I didnt realise she would be there right as we walked in! Her name was Doris, she was 4 years old, and she was a bit feisty. There was a Cast Member with her, who was brilliant she acted like the velociraptor was real, and told us lots of cool and interesting facts about her. She kept telling kids to not get too close, as Doris was a bit hungry and was looking for something snack-sized! We queued up to get a photo taken with her, you had to be careful not to stand too close to the back of the truck as if you were tall, she would be able to reach your head! DH is over 6 tall and was a bit worried, we stood by her and she stopped roaring and throwing her head around, and smilingly posed for a photo, it was so funny. We bid her goodbye and she roared at us like she was saying goodbye!, before we moved off to explore the rest of Jurassic Park. Such a cool interaction, we loved it!

    We went into a small shop and picked up some pins for DH. We thought this area was fantastically well themed, although we didnt want to get too wet so we passed on the River Rapids ride for today.

    We then wandered into Egypt, where DH rode Revenge of the Mummy, an indoor roller-coaster, twice in a row with barely any wait, (5 mins single rider queue). He raved about the theming and the technical aspects of the ride, he really loved it (and this from a man who used to be terrified of coasters!). I sat in the sun and updated the trip report while I waited for him.

    Sci-Fi City was next, where we saw Optimus Prime posing for photos! I waited until he was between kids and snapped a quick picture for my son, who was mad on Transformers when he was little. DH then rode the Transformers 3D simulator ride, which he said was just okay. I got us some frozen vanilla soft-serve yoghurt when he came out, and we sat nearby to eat this. It was quite sharp in flavour, very yoghurty, but was really lovely. We did a bit more shopping (more pins!), and then went back to the Jurassic Park area to watch the WaterWorld stunt show. This was absolutely brilliant! It was based on the Kevin Costner film, which I have always loved, and featured water stunts, jetskis, explosions, excitement, it was just fantastic! By the time we got there, the theatre was almost full and we only managed to get seats in the splash zone, although there were still a few seats left in the soak zone, which we didnt fancy! But one of the jetski stunts resulted in a massive wall of water heading our way, I just sat and watched it and laughed, thinking it was going to land on the people in the soak zone. But it missed them and hit us full on! DH took a photo of my face just after we got hit because apparently I looked both horrified and shocked, with water dripping off my hair and nose! He thought it was really funny, I wasnt quite so amused, but we were both soaked to the skin!

    After the show we squelched our way back to Egypt so DH could ride the Mummy coaster again, and as per earlier, the single rider queue was a straight walk on so he rode it twice in a row. In the meantime, I went into the small Mummy shop and picked him up a ride pin, and also got a really pretty silver and pink crystal flower necklace and earring set for myself.

    Once DH was done, we walked round to the Sesame Street area. Elmos Spaghetti Space Chase looked fun, and only had a 5 minute queue, but the warnings outside said it tilted and could be a problem for those with back issues etc. etc., so I made DH go on on his own to see what it was like! He came off a few minutes later, grabbed hold of me without a word, and marched me into the ride. It turned out to be very similar to the Peter Pan ride in Walt Disney World, only super-cute and with Sesame Street characters! It was really sweet, I loved it, although DH wasnt thrilled at having to ride it twice in a row! We discovered the little girl puppet is called Abby Cadabby, and our granddaughter is called Abby, (well, shes called Abbygail but we all shorten it to Abby!), so when we came out of the ride and went into the obligatory shop, we got an Abby Cadabby fridge magnet for our daughter in law and a cuddly Abby Cadabby for Abby! We also got her a cute little pink t-shirt, too.

    The weather today had been very hot and sunny, and we were starting to flag a bit, having criss-crossed the park several times already, and so we reluctantly decided to call it a day at this point, as we had explored the whole park anyway. We left the park, and went into the shopping area, where we had a good look around the Hersheys & Reeces store. I picked up a box of strawberry-flavoured Whoppers, and some bags of Hersheys Kisses and Hugs to use for the Secret Santa event we were planning at work.

    We didnt have much more time left before we would need to go back down to the Coach Station, so didnt bother looking round any more stores but just sat in the shade for 10 minutes. Our original idea of staying until the park closed at 7.00 p.m. had gone out of the window, as we were shattered! Around 15 minutes before the bus was due, we got the escalators down to the Coach Station, found our bus stop, and sat down to wait. Half an hour later, we were still waiting and decidedly worried! DH went off to see if he could find someone to ask about the late bus, and returned after a few minutes having found a helpful assistant, who said it was on its way and should be with us shortly. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later our bus pulled into the stop. There was another couple of families waiting for the bus with us, and we all boarded, with us managing to get the front seats again!

    On our drive back to the Singapore Flyer, (the shuttle bus picked you up from the hotel, but only took you back as far as the Tour company office, which we were fine with), we passed the Formula 1 pits and garages, and the final corner of the racetrack we had visited Singapore in 2008 for the first Formula 1 night race from there, and we were very excited to see the pits and garages!

    We got off the coach and walked round the corner to the MRT station, where we got a train to Newton. Our destination was the Newton Hawker Food Market, which we have visited several times over the years, although when we first started going there the market was huge, bustling, and exciting. Last time we were here, we were shocked to see that the market had shrunk to less than a quarter of the size it used to be, and now only occupies a small square of land, with around 20-25 stalls. Most of them sell the same food, as well, so there is less choice now. We both had Hainanese Chicken Rice (boiled, very soft and tender chicken, chicken broth, simple boiled rice), which was really, really delicious very tender, flavourful, and incredibly cheap too. We shared a large Tiger beer, which we got from a different stall to the food. The seating is just lots of tables and benches in the middle of the market, and the plates and cutlery are all plastic. The whole thing is cheap but so popular, particularly with the locals, and the food stalls are all regulated by the local authorities, which means the food is good, safe to eat, and the area is very family-friendly. The market was quite busy, but had a lovely alive and buzzing atmosphere, with big groups of youngsters enjoying a night out together, as well as families, couples, and people eating alone. We really had a good time there.

    Once we had finished dinner, we took a slow stroll back to our hotel, (which was about 2 minutes away!), but had problems with our room key one worked, one didnt, so we had to go back down to reception to have it reprogrammed. Once that was done, we relaxed in the room, had showers, and finally went to bed quite late, exhausted but having had a brilliant day.

    DAY EIGHTEEN Tuesday 22 November

    Plan : River Safari and Night Safari @ Singapore Zoo

    Actual : We slept in until 9.00 a.m., having had a long day yesterday! I had also deliberately not set an alarm for us, as I knew we would have another long day today followed by quite a late night. Eventually, we managed to finally get going and by 10.45 a.m. we were walking to Newton MRT station, where we got a train to Ang Mo Kio station. From there, we caught the number 138 bus to Singapore Zoo. The bus station was so easy to negotiate, and so well signposted. There was even a proper queueing system with barriers, which I was very impressed with! There was about a 10 minute wait for the next bus, and we were soon on our way. Singaporean public transport is incredibly clean, efficient, and reliable.

    About 40 minutes later, we were pulling up at the stop outside the zoo. We have visited the main part of the zoo a couple of times previously, so this time we were going to try a new section of the zoo called the River Safari, and then follow that with a trip around the Night Safari later today. All three sections of the zoo are next to each other, but all require separate entrance tickets as they are effectively 3 separate attractions.

    I had pre-bought our tickets online, and we were soon joining the short queue for the River Safari. This is described as a river-themed zoo and aquarium, and we really loved it it was so pretty, all covered walkways and lush foliage. The weather was a bit cloudy and damp today, so we really appreciated the covered walkways! We saw loads of animals, including capybara, red kites, alligators, lots of different fish, manatees, giant river otters, anteaters, tapirs, turtles, and snakes. What we love about the way Singapore Zoo exhibits their animals is that there are no cages or enclosures, each animal area is very natural and large, and they use natural barriers to keep the animals away from each other and the public safe too.

    The attraction originally for us this year was the panda barn, and when we got to it, we were pleasantly surprised at how cool it was in there! We walked in and saw a gorgeous and fluffy red panda called Hong, just running around and trotting up and down tree branches, he was so cute! Then we walked around the corner from him and there, lolling sprawled out in a tree and at eye level with me, was A GIANT PANDA! I have waited all my life to see a giant panda in the fluffy flesh, and there was Kai Kai, fast asleep in a tree in front of me! He was so beautiful, we watched him for ages as he snored away, oblivious to the people taking pictures of him and cooing over how cute he was! I was so excited to finally see a giant panda for the first time. We finally dragged ourselves away, walked round another corner, and there was the female panda, Jai Jai, in a separate enclosure. She was sat in the middle of her enclosure, eating bamboo. The enclosure was set up so well, offering lots of places for her to hide but also offering visitors some lovely viewing areas of her. We watched her for quite a while, and I even managed to take a short video of her enjoying her bamboo lunch! Eventually, when she was all nicely full of bamboo, she loped up to her hide door and sat there, waiting to be let in, so we left her to it and walked through the obligatory panda merchandise shop, picking up a lovely t-shirt for our granddaughter with both pandas on the front, and also a storybook for her that tells the story of how the pandas came to Singapore Zoo. The cashier I took my purchases to asked me if wed seen the pandas, and told us that the female is very shy and quite often she cant be seen at all, so we felt very lucky to have been able to see her for as long as we did.

    It wasnt until we left the barn that we realised how cold it had been in there, as the damp weather had cleared up and it was now very sunny and hot outside, with the usual humidity you get this close to the equator. We could see the back of Inuka the polar bears pool as we exited, which was in the main part of the Zoo, and we stood and watched him swimming about in there for a few minutes.

    We hadnt eaten anything yet today, so decided to stop for lunch at this point, as we were near Mama Pandas Restaurant. There wasnt a huge amount of choice in there, certainly no sandwiches or fries, so we ended up with a portion of salt & pepper chicken each, which was a plate of battered chicken tenders, and was delicious but we could have done with some rice or something else with it. DH didnt want a drink, (we had bottled water with us), and I had something called a Pandaccino coffee, which was basically a large cappuccino with a Panda shape in the froth! Very cute, and very good coffee too.

    After lunch we saw that we were near the River Cruise boat ride, so we boarded the waiting boat and thoroughly enjoyed a leisurely, 15 minute cruise around the large lake there. We didnt see many animals, which was a shame, the guide kept pointing out areas where we might see something but all we saw was a couple of rhinos and one giraffe, and they were in the Zoo next door so we only saw the back end of them! But we still enjoyed the relaxing boat ride, it was lovely.

    The next section we came to was the Amazon Cruise; this is more of a ride as such, and was something we had had to pay separately for, although it was only 3 dollars each. Id bought us tickets in advance for this. We got into a boat that had several rows, like in Its a Small World, and this was then automatically moved forward into a sort of lift which went up about 20 feet, shoved forward, and propelled along a guided channel, which we can only assume ran slightly downhill the whole way as there were no drops or anything. We travelled through some lovely animal enclosures on both sides of us that are not visible from anywhere else in the zoo. There was a butterfly area, some very verdant and green areas, and then a jaguar enclosure and some monkeys. It was really beautiful, but very quiet we were the only people in our boat! When we got to the end, the staff asked if we wanted to ride again because there was no-one waiting to board, so we did, although we had only paid for one ride! We nearly had a bit of an incident on the boat though, DH was changing his camera battery and gave me the old one to hold for a moment while he put the new one in. I took it off him and promptly dropped it! It hit the floor of the boat and skidded all the way to the front, (we were at the very back), totally out of reach! Because these boats are automated, we knew we would only have a very short time at the end to get out of the boat and get to the front of it to rescue the battery luckily, DH was out of that boat like a ninja, and got the battery phew!

    We spent the next couple of hours slowly walking through the last bits of the Safari, and then finally at about 4.30 p.m. we left, having seen everything we wanted to. We had really enjoyed our day, but it wasnt over yet!

    There is a central court area between the Zoo, Night Safari, and River Safari, so we headed there to get some coffee and have a bit of a rest before the evening event. We got some cold drinks, coffee and a Danish pastry each, and just rested up a bit.

    Around 5.15 p.m., we walked over to the Night Safari entrance. This Safari is smaller than the main Zoo, so in order to stagger the number of guests entering, you have to pick a particular timeslot to enter. I had chosen for us to enter at 7.15 p.m., (the time the Safari opened), and we could then stay as long as we wanted to I think closing time was midnight that night.

    We were quite hungry, so got some food from Bongos Burgers. DH had a bacon burger, fries, and coffee, and I got a kids chicken nuggets and fries meal. The fries were huge! It was all really good, and we enjoyed having some down time to prepare for an evening of walking, after our day of walking! We have done this Safari before and really love it; the enclosures are set up exactly like the animals would encounter in nature, the walkways are very dark and narrow, more like trails than paths. Each enclosure is lit up very cleverly in pools of moonlight, which looks really dramatic, and because a lot of the animals are nocturnal, you get to see them at their best.

    Around 7 p.m., we joined the queue for the 7.15 entry tickets. A couple of friendly and knowledgeable staff members were walking up and down the queue with some animals for people to stroke. There was a really cute pygmy hedgehog, who wasnt as prickly as we expected, and a gorgeous ball python. We stroked the snake and got chatting to his handler, who was from the USA. He absolutely loved snakes, and had given up his regular job in America to come and work with snakes at the Zoo, although hed been bitten over 200 times, he told us! This all really helped to make the time pass more quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to go in.

    Everyone headed for the tram tour, and the queue was quickly huge, so we decided to do that later and set off on foot to explore on our own. There are four different trails to follow, and we did all of them! We had a really lovely time, saw loads of different animals, but by 10.30 p.m. we were seriously shattered. We had seen everything there, and only had the tram tour left to do now, so we boarded a much quieter tram and thoroughly enjoyed the 40 minute tour, again following a path that was only accessible by tram. This was exactly the right thing to do, as we appreciated being able to sit down at this point, plus the crowds had disappeared by then and there were very few people in our tram.

    We finally left the Zoo at 11:20 p.m., managed to catch the 11.30 bus, and via the MRT got back to our hotel at 1.00 a.m.! We were really tired, but had had a fabulous day.

    DAY NINETEEN Wednesday 23 November

    Plan : Relaxing day, dinner with friends

    Actual : We slept until 11:00 a.m.! We lounged around in bed, eating peanut butter Snickers bars and strawberry and chocolate Pocky biscuits, plus cups of coffee. After a couple of hours, we freshened up, picked up some bottled water, and went up to the hotel swimming pool. There was no-one else up there, and the pool was beautiful one depth all round, quite big, and surrounded by trees. We pottered about in there until around 3:00 pm, then went back to our room and showered, before popping out at about 4:00 pm to the 7-11 store in Newton MRT station. We got some cheese Ruffles, some white cheddar Lays, peanut butter Snickers, and a couple of cans of iced coffee, which we took back to the room and snacked on. I also organised the gift bags we had bought for the children of one set of DHs friends, they have two young boys and we had got them some football-themed merchandise from our local Premier League team.

    At 7:00 pm we left the hotel, and asked Concierge to order a taxi for us, which arrived within about 10 minutes. We were heading out to a seafood restaurant called Hua Yu Wee, on the Upper East Coast, to meet the two sets of friends of DH for dinner. We had a fantastic 3 hours, chatting away and laughing, the time seemed to go really quickly! We shared a huge table full of food, there was cereal-coated, deep-fried prawns, vegetable fried rice, crab claws, deep-fried baby squid, boiled rice, battered squid, chilli crab stew, battered tiny crabs with edible shells, and beautiful, soft bread rolls. It was all really fresh and delicious! We drank Tiger beer, water, and orange Fanta. What a fabulous evening. We gave the one couple with children the gift bags, and they insisted on paying for dinner, which we hadnt expected. At the end of a wonderful night, we reluctantly parted company, sharing a taxi back to our hotel with one couple who had to pass our hotel to get to their home.

    We arrived back at our hotel around 11:30 pm, tired but happy!

    DAY TWENTY Thursday 24 November

    Plan : Relaxing morning, Marina Bay Gardens in afternoon

    Actual : We slept in again, and lazed around till about midday, when we got the MRT from Newton station to Marina Bay. A new public gardens attraction had opened there since we last visited, called Gardens by the Bay, so we bought entrance tickets for both conservatories, (which cost $28 each, plus another $3 each for the tram), and began to explore. The outside gardens are free to walk around, but it was so hot and humid that very quickly we opted just to catch the tram to the conservatories, which takes you through the outdoor gardens anyway. However, when we arrived at the domes, we realised we were starving, so opted to start our visit with lunch! We found a lovely little restaurant, where DH had a BLT and fries, and I had a delicious chicken in herb mayo sandwich on cranberry and almond bread, also with fries. We also got coffee.

    After lunch, we started off with the Cloud Forest dome, (these are a bit like the Eden Project inside), which was gorgeous lots of tropical plants and trees, and you wind your way upwards on a gently sloping path, to a magnificent series of bridges and outlooks at the top, complete with huge waterfall. There is a lot of sculpture in there too, plus restrooms and benches to sit on at strategic points. At the very bottom when you arrive back down, there was an exhibition of stalactites and stalagmites that had been found locally, and was really interesting, although there wasnt much information on display with them really. There was also a very moving short film, running continuously on a loop, about how humans are damaging the environment and how to take steps to lessen this, which we sat and watched.

    The second dome was called the Flower dome, and was a tiny bit disappointing, actually. We felt it was a bit spoilt by all the tacky Christmas decorations, trees, and fake snow everywhere. Had it just been the flowers in there, we would have liked this one a bit more, I think. It had the same design as the Cloud Forest dome, in that you walked around a spiralling walkway to the top, but the impact was lessened by the Christmas theme (which was temporary), and there was no big reveal at the top either, unlike the top of the waterfall we had seen in the other dome. There was a lovely cactus garden at the top, but with hindsight, maybe we should have done this dome first .

    Anyway, we still enjoyed ourselves, and when we came out we found an ice-cream kiosk, so I picked us up two scoops of delicious ice-cream each peanut butter and Mars ice-cream for me, and peanut butter and honeycomb crunch for DH. We found a nearby stone bench to eat this, while admiring the beautiful and numerous lion statues arranged up steps on a high wall in front of us.

    We were very hot and exhausted by now, this type of weather can really sap you of energy, so again we didnt walk round the outdoor gardens but just caught the tram back to the entrance of the Gardens. We had had a really lovely afternoon there, though, and didnt feel like we really missed out on anything.

    We took advantage of the shade from nearby buildings, and walked to the nearby Merlion park to take some photos, and then went to Boat Quay for dinner. We do love Boat Quay, it is a long walkway beside the water, completely lined with tiny food outlets, all with their own waterside tables and chairs. They do pester you a bit to eat at their establishment, but we just kept smiling and shaking our heads until we found one that we liked the look of. DH had sweet & sour chicken and vegetables with boiled rice, and I had the most beautiful chicken in lemon sauce that I have ever eaten, with Jasmine boiled rice, it was amazing! The food is slightly more expensive there than at the regular hawker stalls, but the atmosphere is nice as it is also a bit quieter and has more of an adult feel to it than the family stalls. DH had a Tiger beer and I got a Sprite with ice.

    After dinner, we caught the MRT back to Newton station, and had a slow walk back to the hotel before collapsing into bed! Another fabulous day.

    DAY TWENTY-ONE Friday 25 November

    Plan : Final exploring, leave for home

    Actual : Our last day dawned hot and sunny again. I had checked us into our flight online last night, so we knew we had plenty of time to do some last minute exploring today as we werent flying out until later tonight. We both slept really well, and got up around 09:30 am, pottering about having showers and packing. By 11:45 we were checking out of the hotel, sad to be leaving, and leaving our luggage with Bell Services for the day.

    We caught the MRT to Orchard Road, where we visited the Starbucks that we used to frequent on our previous two visits to Singapore. I had a ham, cheese and gherkin sandwich and a peppermint mocha, DH had a chicken pie with sour cream and cranberry, and a gingerbread latte. We also picked up a couple of Starbucks You Are Here Singapore mugs for our collection at home. As we spent over $30, we were given a free Starbucks umbrella! It is full sized, not folding, and a lovely, soft grey colour, (although on the downside, we then had to lug it round with us all day!).

    After brunch, we walked down Orchard Road, shopping for things to take back home with us strips of candied pork, biscuits, chocolate etc. We wanted to get gifts for people back home, as well as some stuff for ourselves. We visited a small department store, where I found the absolute perfect gift for our Secret Santa at work forget the Hersheys Hugs & Kisses, (I ended up giving those to DH!), I found a small, Lego-style set that built up into Santa sat on the toilet, complete with loo roll and trousers round his knees, while he reads a newspaper it was tacky, cheap, and perfect! I got that, and a grey plastic base, for less than 10. (The eventual recipient loved it, and guessed it was from me as it was in a plastic bag marked up in Singaporean!)

    Finally, we stopped in Odd One Out (formerly Papa Joes!) for one last drink. DH had a Tiger beer, and I had a mango smoothie, which was really cool and refreshing.

    Much as we hated to admit it, it was finally time to start making our way to the airport. We got the MRT from Orchard Road station back to Newton, and went to the hotel to collect our luggage. The whole week we had been there, we had been particularly enamoured with one of the doormen, a concierge whose name we never actually got, but who had been so lovely all week really funny, a delight to meet every day, he looked almost like an old English explorer from the 1930s. We asked if we could have a photo taken with him, and I slipped him a $30 tip for being lovely all week! We reluctantly got into our taxi, and sulked in silence on the drive back to the airport. We both hate leaving day!

    When we got to the airport, we were concerned that DHs suitcase was still not as secure as we would have liked, despite the sewing and the glue, the zip still kept trying to come apart. We still had a good couple of hours before we needed to drop the bags off for our flight, so on the advice of a very helpful check-in lady at the Qatar desk, we caught the monorail over to the other terminal, where there was a suitcase shrink-wrapping service. We joined the short queue for this service, and a few minutes later watched as a little man very efficiently wrapped DHs entire case in cling-film, leaving just the wheels and the handle free! This only cost $20 and was well worth it, in our opinion, to make sure the case didnt burst open during transportation back to the UK. (In fact, I think the actual cost is around $16, but I gave him a $20 note and said to keep the change!)

    We then caught the monorail back to our terminal, and popped into the newsagent there. I wanted to get a copy of Elle magazine, as one of DHs friends that we met up with the other night is a beauty editor for them, and I wanted to see her name in print! We dropped our luggage off at the check-in desk, (both cases were underweight thankfully), and kind of hung around the area for a while, eating leftover sesame breadsticks and drinking bottles of water as we knew we couldnt take that through customs. DH had a last couple of cigarettes, and we finally went through customs and security, to our departure gate, with no issues.

    On our way to the gate, we meandered through a couple of shops I had seen a poster at one of the airports we had been in on this holiday, (couldnt remember which one, though!), for Clinique Happy body butter Clinique Happy is my absolute favourite perfume, and they have never done a body butter before, so I was really keen to find some. No-one had it though, and didnt seem to know what I was talking about. In one small shop I used a bit of hand cream as my hands were really dry, and got yelled at by the assistant as apparently the tube I had picked up, despite looking like a tester to me, wasnt actually a tester but by this time it was too late as I was already happily rubbing LOccitane Shea Butter hand cream into my hands oops! Anyway, once we got home I managed to get the body butter, (or Gelato Cream, as they called it!), from Debenhams, so I was pleased about that.

    It was an awfully long walk to gate number 33 it seemed to take us forever to get there! We had a restroom stop on the way, and DH stopped at a smoking room at one point, but we eventually arrived and found a couple of seats, where we seemed to sit for quite a while. Then we had to join a massive queue to board, but surprisingly the flight wasnt full at all, in fact the seat next to me was empty, which was nice as we were able to spread out a bit. It was an uneventful 7 hour flight to Doha, but as we were both quite tired by now (the flight took off at 8:30 pm), we couldnt settle into watching a film as there wasnt anything we were interested in, so I watched some old episodes of Friends while DH dozed off a bit. I had a weird, bland meal again some kind of tasteless, unidentifiable mush, and more flaming melon most of these bland meals came with melon and grapes as dessert, and I was thoroughly fed up with melon by now! I had to keep telling myself that these meals were good for me, and wouldnt aggravate my IBS, but I would really have appreciated some kind of guide as to what I was eating most of the time! Anyway, the flight went quite quickly really, and at Doha airport we had just over an hour before our next flight, so we only had time for a quick restroom/smoking room break before having to find our next departure gate, which thankfully wasnt that far away.

    The next flight also wasnt full, and the seat next to me was empty again. In front of us, a young couple were seated who had been backpacking round Thailand. The girl was crying and groaning, and the stewards were trying to get her to agree to get off the plane and see a doctor, catching the next flight if he agreed she could go. She said she had been fine until an hour ago, but had started being sick, and still felt really ill; however, she really didnt want to leave the plane, she kept saying she wanted to go home and then she was saying she wanted her mum, poor thing. Eventually, the stewards and her boyfriend persuaded her to deplane, but they had to have their luggage unloaded too, so this delayed our take-off by about half an hour. We did feel really sorry for her, she was so upset at causing trouble for others on the plane by delaying them, but she clearly wasnt well enough to fly at that point.

    We settled down to sleep for a while, but about 1 hours out of Birmingham airport, all the lights suddenly came on in the cabin and woke us up. The pilot made an announcement that due to a medical issue, we were making an emergency stop in Vienna! Before we knew what was going on, the seatbelt lights came on, and the plane was descending very steeply and quickly, it was all a bit disconcerting. We landed, and were told to stay in our seats. It was dark outside, and we couldnt see anything at all, but we didnt appear to be at a gate. The doors in the centre of the plane opened, and paramedics and armed police got on, rushing past us all and into first class. We had to sit and wait for about an hour, not knowing what was happening, but the airline stewards were incredibly good they were very calm and unflustered, and immediately began bringing us hot and cold drinks, and packets of biscuits. They wouldnt tell us anything, but just kept smiling and trying to keep people reassured. They did say that the police had only boarded because we had made an unscheduled landing, and by law they had to board the plane. Anyway, eventually we saw an ambulance suddenly speed away from the plane, and the pilot told us that a passenger in first class had had an angina attack but couldnt be stabilised, so the paramedics had taken him to hospital. (We did wonder if one of us could have the poor mans first class seat for the last bit of the journey, seeing as he wouldnt need it!) We would be there for a little longer while they unloaded his luggage, and we would also have to refuel and the pilot would have to complete some paperwork due to the unscheduled landing. The stewards came round and checked that all the luggage in the overhead lockers belonged to nearby passengers, and we finally took off again. Just after this, we were served breakfast yay, more melon and grapes for me! And a dry croissant. DH got some kind of omelette thing.

    We finally landed about 1 hours late, and the pilot made an announcement that the unloaded passenger was fine now he was in hospital, which was nice. We deplaned and trekked to the baggage carousel, but the cases seemed to take an age to come out, worrying us that they hadnt been transferred in Doha; they finally appeared! I rang my lovely sister, who came and collected us from the airport, then drove us back to hers to drink tea, update the family on our trip, and then tiredly pick up some groceries before finally driving home.

    FINAL THOUGHTS

    This was an absolutely amazing holiday, one of those once in a lifetime trips that you yearn to repeat! After our initial panic at having to explore Japan on our own, we realised that we had been relying on our friends far too much and we should have done more research ourselves. In the end, we had managed and coped quite admirably under the circumstances, and would definitely feel more confident going back again. We LOVED Tokyo Disneyland, but Tokyo DisneySea was just breath-taking and we would love to return some day. We also really enjoyed seeing some Japanese culture, and ended up feeling quite proud of ourselves for visiting the Emperors shrine, and also Hiroshima.

    Hong Kong was also fabulous, and I think that out of the two Disneyland parks we visited this trip, Hong Kong was my favourite purely because it was really quite unique and lushly surrounded by mountains and greenery. We also loved the intense theming of the Hollywood Hotel.

    Singapore still remains one of our favourite countries in the world, every time we go there it is like returning home, and there is always something new to explore!

    We enjoyed all the new food we tried, places we saw, and people we met (well, maybe except the Mary Kay trainees!), and even the jet-lag didnt seem too bad this time, despite the fact that we changed several time-zones. We coped with it by just immediately putting our watches onto local time, and making ourselves work to whatever time it was right then, rather than keep trying to work out what time it would have been in the UK or wherever we were last.

    I was mightily impressed with being able to pre-order bland meals on all the flights; however, I was slightly less impressed when these turned out to be unidentifiable most of the time, (a descriptive leaflet or even sticker on them might have been nice!), and melon and grapes the rest of the time. On the plus side, I never once had an IBS attack from the airline food, and it was, on the whole, edible enough to stop me from starving to death, so I think overall it was a good idea. DH had an amazing selection of food on every flight, his meals always looked really appetising, and I was tempted more than once to distract him by pointing out aliens out of the window and swipe his food! But other than the horrendous, (and, more to the point, unannounced!), changes to our flight times, we were impressed by both Qatar and Cathay Pacific.

    So whats next? Florida 2017, thats what!

    Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed this huge tale of our Far East adventures.

    Silvercat

    (Enjoy reading trip reports? Why not try my books, "Tiggerific Travels Parts 1, 2 & 3" - available now as e-books)

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