Sunset Boats Ibiza: The Ultimate Ibiza Weekender Chartered Boat Trip

Ever watched the Sunset at Mambo’s Ibiza? The magical colours of the sky changing as the sun sets upon a glistening sea as the hoards of holidaymakers clap and cheer. It really is a spectacle and if you have seen it then I’m guessing you’ll have the Ibiza bug like me. There are two places in the whole world that give me this childlike excitement. Ibiza and Vegas. Kind of similar, yet both very different.

So you’ll understand my excitement when I was given the green light to plan my best friend’s hen do to Ibiza this May Bank Holiday. It’s something I get so excited about planning where to go and what to do and what to see. Of course having previously been to Ibiza, staying in San Antonio Bay I have my bearings of the party scene.

The number one thing that I did want to make sure the 14 other hens on the bachelorette party would experience would be the sunset. After meticulously planning the trip an email dropped into my inbox. Sunset Boats.

I read the email and my eyes lit up, the geniuses behind Cafe Mambo who also own Mint Lounge and Savannah as well as a Wedding Concierge on the island have just added the boat tour element to their impressive list of businesses.

Ideal for the ultimate Ibiza Weekender for Hen and Stag parties these luxury charters were just what we were looking for to add a special touch to our 3-night stay on the white isle.

Sunset Boats offer two different cruise experiences. Day Cruises and Sunset Cruises.

Day Cruises

With four different day cruises to choose from, there’s an adventure on the open seas for everybody. The most magical of the four, in my opinion, is the Mambo Secrets tour. This 10 hours 30-minute cruise promises to treat you to some hidden gems. With the skipper in charge of the tour for the day Sunset Boats invite you on the best adventure of your life! With mermaids, goddesses and cosmic dance parties a plenty you’ll tour Ibiza & Formentera to see all the beautiful spots with the skipper’s intimate knowledge of this party island. With bottomless fizz, beer and soft drinks, sit back, enjoy the open waves and the beats of the onboard sound system before stopping for sunbathing and snorkelling.

Leaving at 11:00 this 10 person capacity tour plus the El Capitano includes all the snorkelling equipment you’ll need as well as inflatables for making all your friends back at home super jealous.

You’ll stay on board to watch the magical Sunset before heading back to the marina at 21:30 where Sunset Boats can book you a reservation for one of their restaurants.

This Mambos Paradise cruise is priced at 1,590 or 1,690 after 15th April

Next cruise in the collection of Day Cruises is the Formentera Paradise cruise. A six and a half hour cruise sees up to 10 people ride along the beautiful Ibizan coastline to the small island of Fomenter to swim in turquoise waters and walk along the most gorgeous sandy beaches where you’ll spend a few hours enjoying this private paradise. If you’re heading to Formentera make sure you plan ahead and find out where the natural mud baths are located for some serious skin detoxing.

At 15:15 you’ll head back on the one-hour fifteen-minute boat ride back to the Marina. Again just like the Mambo Secrets tour you’ll enjoy bottomless fizz, beer and soft drinks as well as inflatables and snorkelling equipment. So crank that dirty bass up, let your hair loose and get ready for a day in paradise.

The Formentera Paradise cruise is priced at 1,090 or 1,190 after 15th April

Heading on a Stag or Hen to the party island? Then this package is right up your street. Set sail at 10 am where you’ll head along the San Antonio coast to Cala Salada and Cala Conta where the water sports are the best here. At 11 am you’ll get the chance to relax with the rest of the party and swim, take the ultimate Instaworthy pictures with the inflatables and get your snorkel on for a few hours. Enjoy bubbly and beers before heading to the Savannah pontoon at 16:30 where you’ll be treated to an ice cold bottle of cava. This is the perfect location to book your dinner reservation through Sunset Boats for your evening meal at Savannah to watch the Sunset.

Hen & Stag cruises are priced at 910 or 990 if booked after 15th April

Looking for a tour which is the ultimate in relaxing luxury? The Mystical Tour is the one you want to opt for, for an unforgettable experience. The 10 am trip lasts 6 and a half hours and heads up to Cala Bassa and then on to Cala Conta where you’ll experience your first swim in crystal clear water before heading over to the mystical Es Vedra. It is here where the locals speak of an enigmatic magnetism. This majestic tour encourages you to get lost in Atlantis where you can enjoy the natural pools and Hippy Sanctuary. Of course when in Ibiza, it’s essential to be seen on an in vogue inflatable and this is the perfect opportunity. Again make sure you get some amazing photos for showing off your magical adventure.

Although not included Sunset Boats can arrange a delicious lunch at Es Vedra (I’d probably leave it to the experts here and have them arrange you some fine lunch dining!) then hop back on board for your bottomless drinks before arriving back at the Marina for 16:30 where you’ll have plenty time to get freshened up and head back out to experience the Ibiza nightlife.

This Mystical Tour costs 860 and 960 if booked after the 15th April

Sunset Cruises

If you’re looking specifically to watch the sunset over the white isle then there’s a choice of two amazing cruises.

Firstly the Mambo Cruise. This four-hour cruise welcomes you with a glass of fizz as you board before opening the onboard bar up for fizz, beers and soft drinks. As you sip on your drink and take in the beauty you’ll be taken by your skipper around the best spots in San Antonio Bay where you can sunbathe, play water sports, climb on the inflatables whilst enjoying the music and Cava. Enjoy cruising up and down the coastline with your closest friends onboard making memories before a thrilling speed back to moor in front of Cafe Mambo where you and your besties will get to watch the most beautiful Sunset together, on your boat. It really doesn’t get more sophisticated than that. You have the best seat in the whole of Ibiza for the Sunset.

A quick glance back to the shores where you’ll be able to snap a view of the beach front bars and restaurants that not many others will be able to say they’ve seen. To end your cruise enjoy a moonlit saunter back to the Marina and a final glass of fizz before you head off to enjoy the carnival of colours and flashing lights of the best Spanish nightlife.

Remember the email at the beginning where we discovered Sunset Boats? Well for our hens they’ll be stepping aboard the Sunset Cruise when we head to Ibiza at the end of the month, we’ll enjoy three hours of sheer bliss as we experience the best Sunset the world has to offer. With the music turned up loud on the party boat we’ll head out for a speedy jaunt up the Ibizan coastline where the wind will rip through our hair as we sip fizz, and enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine.

For those of us brave enough to snorkel we’ll head underwater to see what below sea level has to offer whilst the rest of the girls enjoy the giant inflatables before heading back to moor in front of Cafe Mambos as we all watch the Sunset together. We’ll see if we can see the ladies on shore who don’t have sea legs to give them a wave whilst we enjoy the magic of the waves lapping up the side of the boat, the chilled out sounds of the beginning of the Summer and of course that rich coloured rainbow sunset.

The girls and I can hardly contain our excitement as we know this is going to be an unforgettable boat trip.

The Sunset Cruises are priced at €610 (€690 after 15/4) and €490 (€590 if booked after 15/4) respectively.

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All cruises can be booked directly through Sunset Boats Ibiza’s website here where their team are incredibly helpful and really lovely and will help to make sure that your boat tour in Ibiza is super special.

If you’re booking a boat you won’t want to miss out a 5% saving off all trips. Simply use the code ELLEBLONDE on the site when booking or if you’re calling or emailing the team tell them you have this discount code!



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A subscription box you'll not want to miss out on - The Glossybox April Edition

We've talked about subscription boxes time and time again and today we're going to check out the phenomenon that is Glossybox.

Before we go any further though for April if you click here and enter the code GB50 you'll get your first box for only £5 - it's too good not to have!

Glossybox was launched in 2012 and since then has taken the world by storm with their carefully selected 5 product box which arrives to eager subscribers front door every month.

With globally known and up and coming brand's you're sure to discover a whole range of amazing products that quite possibly haven't made it into your beauty regime...just yet.

This month's Glossybox arrived in a sleek black branded box and I couldn't wait to get into it to see what was inside.

Ripping back and lifting the lid of the postal box, a soft pink box branded with the words Glossybox was inside. As I removed the box from the slightly larger outer box and lifted the pink lid I was greeted by the gorgeous, delicate pink tissue paper and a Tiffany's style tied ribbon.

Gently pulling on the ribbon to release and pulling back the tissue I discovered this month's five products.

Cleansing Conditioning Co-Wash, by Deliwash Haircare, Elgon

With a fragrant and clean scent, this 2-in-1 cleansing shampoo & hydrating conditioner is great for coloured hair and not only adds lustre but revitalises in a way that saves time and gets the job done. This 100ml size is perfect for throwing in your suitcase and treating your hair after the sunshine and chlorine have played war with your new do!

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Buffer & Powder Duo Brush by Sport FX

This soft touch makeup brush is a great addition to both professional makeup artists and those of us who try and wing it with badly winged liner. You can't have enough brushes now, can you? Especially when this dual-purpose brush is great for applying powder and then really making an impact to contour with the following product showcased.

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The Contour Stick by Model Co.

It's no secret, contouring is here to stay so we may as well have the best tools for the job to perfect that perfectly chiselled look. This contour stick is super simple to use just simply apply under the apple of the cheek and blend, et voila gorgeous.

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GlamoLash by Radial

You can never have lashes big enough or thick enough. I like my lashes as dark as my soul and that's black so with this XXL mascara you can have the best of both worlds. This handy compact is great for throwing in your handbag to top up on the go.

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Merci Handy

For those of us cleaning obsessives, the final Glossybox treat is cherry scented anti-bacterial hand wash. This small pocket-sized bottle is great for if you're out and about and have a serious case of needing to wash your hands! The cherry scent is fruity and fresh and has you craving delicious cold cherries

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All in all, for my first Glossybox experience I really loved the luxurious unboxing and the five different but useful products. At £5 this month you can't argue that it's a total steal. I'd recommend the Glossybox to those of you looking for an affordable monthly treat especially even at full price (£10-£8.50 depending upon subscription type) each item works out at £2 or less! You can't argue with that now can you?

Box Value: Deliwash £14.50 / Contour Stick £17 / Duo Brush £10.99 / Anti-bacterial Gel £2.90 / Glamolash Mascara £24 (travel price so say £12) = £57.39 of goodies for ONLY £5

Make sure you don't miss out on your £5 Glossybox for April only. You'll need to add the code GB50 at the checkout.

As a subscription lover I also recommend Scent From a monthly candle subscription service (£5 off with code ELLE5), Bloom Box Club if you're a fan of plants and the brand new Snackbox Subscription from myvitamins

A Geordie's Travel Guide to Newcastle: Dacia Magic Weekend Special

Over the past few years the North East and in particular Newcastle has played host to some fabulous sporting events including hosting qualifying matches for the 2012 Olympics, the spectacle that was the Rugby World Cup in 2014, and of course we can't forget Brendon Foster's greatest half marathon in the world, which sees over 50,000 professionals such as Mo Farrah and novices like myself descending on the city to take part in the Great North Run every single year.

With a summer of sport hurtling towards us there's no secret that 2017 is shaping up to be a great year already and this May sees the return of Rugby League's Dacia Magic Weekend to the hallowed ground of St James' Park.

With over 65,000 excited Rugby fans expected to descend on the City it'll be an experience to remember. Newcastle, famed for it's nightlife, Ant & Dec, Alan Shearer and girls not wearing coats, it is sure to capture your heart over this magic weekend.

With 12 teams, 6 matches, over 2 days. Are you in? If you've not already you can get your tickets for the weekend here.

For now though, the Magic Geordie guide to one truly Magic Weekend.

Where to Stay.

Malmaison

If you're looking for luxury settings in the city centre the first port of call is the iconic Malmaison. As you awaken and draw back the curtains let the views of the Tyne, the Baltic and the Millenium Bridge (known affectionately by locals as the Whey Eye) greet you with a big Geordie Good Morning. 

Head down to the restaurant situated in the hotel for a big hearty breakfast to set you up for the day before a 15 minute stroll will take you along the historic quayside, see Bessie Surtees' house and the Monument of Earl Great as you make your way up to the 52,000 capacity stadium which is home to the Magpies. 

Alternatively, hop on the Quaylink yellow bus which serves the Quayside and city centre and will have you at the ground in less than 5 minutes.

Upon your return back from a busy day cheering and winning, relax in Chez Mal with a cocktail or two made by the in-house mixologists.

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Sandman Signature Hotel  

Stay at the Sandman if you're wanting to be in amongst all of the action. The hotel is situated directly opposite the ground and is home to the Shark Bar, serving up American-style burgers and wings from their hostesses in little referee uniforms. Probably more a place for the men, rather than a family affair.

With simple and basic rooms, this mid-range hotel will serve you well as a great base for hopping between the stadium and the fan zone. A walk into the centre of the city will take you less than 5 minutes and with China Town in view from your hotel we recommend a trip to the all you can eat buffets and Chinese supermarket with their wonderful array of alternative products

Sleeperz

If you're looking for budget hotels in the city centre then Sleeperz is your hotel of choice. Situated next to Central Station and opposite a vodka lover's favourite Revolution, this budget hotel offers rooms from £46. 

Extremely basic, yet in a great location, you can be on Northumberland Street (the main shopping street and hub of the city) within minutes. Alternatively hop on the excellent metro system from Central Station and in 1 stop arrive at Monument Station, the bottom of Northumberland Street where there are bars and restaurants galore or in two stops arrive at Haymarket Station which is the top of the shopping street (ladies head to my favourite nail bar Levoi which is served by Haymarket).

If you're using the Metro system there's a stop at St James' which brings you out at the ground. Come up from under the city to be greeted by this impressive, towering stadium. 

The Metro allows you travel all across the North East on the easy to use, hop-on, hop-off system. If you get a chance we highly recommend a trip to Tynemouth, which was recently featured in The Times' best places to live. Enjoy food on front street and award winning blue flag beaches. A day saver will cost you £5 and from Central Newcastle stations you can be at the coast within 25 minutes.

Where to Eat

With the Stadium right in the centre of the city you don't have far to walk to come across some great food and drink. Luckily, every week Newcastle seems to have a new restaurant or bar opening, especially with the Greys Quarter redevelopment so you'll not be short of places to eat. Some of our recommendations include:

American

For fast food try Smashburger, American Diner Style burgers and fried chicken served on fabulous egg buns. The coke machine mixes up a combination of 250 different types of sodas and the Haagen-Dazs milkshakes are terrific.

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Step out of the back door of Grey's Quarter and you will find The Grind serving great burgers at No.28 located on Nelson Street, download the flok app and get a discount on your drinks. 

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Below No.28 is Billy Bootleggers a brilliant underground dive bar serving Snappy's Frankfurter Hot Dogs, Fries and Wings. Newly opened Billy Bootleggers on Nelson Street is a great place for live music. An eclectic mix of anything goes, no judgements made kind of feel. Ideal for people of all ages - we highly recommend that you try the Apple Pie Moonshine it's totally out of this world.

Looking for a TGI Fridays? The Greys Quarter is where you'll find this American favourite. Another smokehouse and American style food is Rub, you'll find this located in The Gate Complex where you'll also be able to enjoy 2-4-1 all day, every day on their cocktails.

British 

Close to the Fanzone on Pitt Street is a great pub The Earl of Pitt Street, booking is recommended. Serving up a selection of steaks, chicken, wild mushroom rigatoni to full Sunday Roasts (including nut roasts for the vegetarians)

Check out George's British Kitchen, situated in the heart of the city where you can listen to British classics whilst enjoying traditional British favourites from Fish & Chips, Chicken in a Basket to Steak & Red Wine Pie.  The eclectic decor but good food and friendly service will have you feeling very patriotic.

Chinese/Thai

Just below the Stadium, you will see the magnificent red and gold Chinese gate this takes you into Stowell Street,  home to several Chinese restaurants and buffets. If you head into 'The Gate' complex you will find a cinema, Aspers Casino and a number of bars and restaurant chains including Nando's. 

Looking for something more civilised then Chaophraya comes highly recommended. Serving wonderful Thai food with sensational views of the city and a rooftop bar this newly opened restaurant is great for a full meal or for cocktails overlooking the city.

If tapas is your thing then be sure to try Asian tapas at River Beat which is just over the Swing Bridge in Gateshead. An award winner at the most recent Made in Tyne & Wear Lifestyle Awards you won't be disappointed with a trip here, the food and views are fantastic.

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Italian

With Newcastle home to some of the biggest restaurant chains the likes of Carluccios and Jamie's Italian are always popular choices. Head down Grey's Street (you'll find the Theatre Royal here) and discover a succession of global cuisines. Pizza Express, and Zizzi are a couple of the chains located on this popular and bustling street. 

At the cross road which Mosley Street intersects you'll find Miller & Carter who serve up great steaks.

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Looking for a Pizza Hut? Head to The Gate Complex. You'll also find ZaZa Bazzar here if you're looking for buffet style food with global offerings. Ideal for if you're visiting with kids - look out for offers on City Guides as this place always has deals on. 

Seafood

Without a doubt the BEST seafood in the city can be found in Fenwick's Food Hall. A Terry Laybourne creation this fishmongers is home to the freshest dishes. With passionate chefs who cook to order it is simply the best place for a little bit of fruits de mer. With Lindesfarne Oysters available by the dozen, seared halibut and veg, the most delicious bowl of fresh mussels or my personal favourite the fish soup, which is to die for we really recommend a meal at the Saltwater Fish Company.

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If you're in Tynemouth, Rileys Fish Shack actually down on King Edwards' Bay Beach was recently a feature on a recent Michel Roux Jr. programme. With fresh fish brought off the boats on the Fish Quay less than a mile down the road, you're in for the tastiest fish treats the North Sea can offer. 

Spanish

No tournament is complete without a little Fiesta and who does it better than the Spanish? Vamos down to Tapas Revolution to share laughs, dishes and enjoy their fine traction alone offerings. Owned by celebrity chef and cook to the stars (and royalty) Omar Allibhoy, the octopus and potatoes, croquettes and tortilla all come with our approval if you're down for sharing tapas. With Omar making a global name for himself through his traditional paella it would be rude for you not to try it! We assure you, you won't be disappointed.

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Where to drink

Cocktails

Anywhere else in the world you go you'd get a funny look asking for a treble vodka and mixer. First thing to learn about us Geordies we like our drink, second thing, trebles are always cheaper than singles. Especially in Bijoux where you'll find their famous '3 trebles for £5.50' deal. Don't blame us for your hangover!

If you're looking for a sophisticated cocktail or two the Alchemist is all about the show, located in the Greys Quarter by Monument Metro Station this newly opened bar promises cocktails that smoke, pop and awe. Be prepared to wait a little while for your drink as it's all about the visuals.

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The Botanist across the road next to Jamie's Italian is also a great shout with watering cans for glasses and more botanics than a Harry Potter potions class you can really enjoy the beautiful rooftop bar where you can catch a view of the city.

If you are staying around the Quayside area then you can take in some great views of the Tyne and the fabulous Tyne Bridge. Take a stroll across the Millennium Bridge to the Gateshead Quays home of the Baltic Art Gallery and the armadillo-shaped Sage music hall. Grab a coffee or a glass of your favourite tipple and sit outside the Pitcher and Piano and watch the Bridge tilt open. Opening times can be found online

Another great cocktail bar to try is Tokyo situated nearby the station. If the weather is great this terrace bar serves up delicious cocktails outside, it's great in the sunshine but even more perfect under the stars!

If you know anything about Newcastle nightlife you'll have probably heard of Jalou, famed for their Cookie Monster you'll want to order one just for the photos! With creative cocktails the name of the game there's going to be something for everybody. Again find Jalou right next to the station.

Beers

Home of the greatest ale there is Newcastle Brown (or a bottle of dog to locals) will be found in every bar in the city. Think Brown Ale to Geordies what Irn Bru is to the Scots.

Brewdog is a Tyneside favourite and is your go to for beer lovers. They serve up beer flights for trying out your favourites. If you spot anything from the Wylam Brewery, it really is worth trying as it's brewed locally (about 10-15 miles up the road). You can find Brewdog past Miller & Carter heading down to the Quayside nearby Livello - a great bar/club which hosts great DJs on a weekend.

The Gate Complex

With three floors you are going to find something for everybody. The top floor hosts a 16 screen cinema, the the middles floor is home to restaurants and of course the casino (which does a great breakfast at 6am when you stumble out of the clubs....I mean or so I've heard?) and the bottom floor showcases restaurants and bars. 

Big Market

If you're looking for cheesy tunes, karaoke and cheap, cheap drinks the infamous Big Market is the place to go. Not the most sophisticated of bars, this Street which leads from The Gate Complex to Tup Tup Palace is always great for a laugh and good fun. A place where anything goes and no holds barred you're sure to create interesting memories down the Big Market. Pop World for your cheesy classics and Cosy Joes for karaoke. You have been warned!

Clubs

If you've ever watched Geordie Shore you'll know that Tup Tup Palace is the place to be seen. With famous faces like Drake, Rihanna, 50 Cent and Kanye partying at the Palace you'll want to add your name to that list too! Guest list is essential for Friday and Saturday nights (you can get your name down here) - think high octane rap, vodka with fireworks and a whole lot of Vegas style showmanship. If you like the high life you'll be in the right place. Situated just off The Big Market and Mosley Street ask any local and they'll direct you to the Palace.

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Looking for music to rival that of Ibiza? Head along to Digital which has been voted 35th top club in the world, where you'll catch world class DJs making an appearance in this techno, trance and house club. Catch world-famous DJ Patrick Topping every now and again returning to his roots and his home club for the legendary Motion event. 

For the colourful and wild Powerhouse is open until 6am. A short stumble from St James' Park this club welcomes everybody and anybody looking for a good time. Flying the rainbow flag for the city, this club is without a doubt one of the best nights out in Newcastle. Regardless if you're gay or straight, bisexual or transgender everybody will enjoy the show of Powerhouse.

Where to go

Newcastle is steeped in rich history and famous exports. There's lots to do and places to go when you're wanting a break from the Rugby. 

The Baltic Art Gallery is situated over the Millennium Bridge and has showcased exhibitions by Anthony Gormley and Yoko Ono to name a few. This impressive gallery is mostly free to attend (certain exhibitions cost) and has a fantastic restaurant, Six within the building. 

The Coast, as previously mentioned a trip to Tynemouth is a must, especially if you don't live nearby to the coast. These award winning beaches are a spectre and the ruins of the Priory will have you transported back to the Roman times. In the Metro station on both Saturdays and Sundays the Tynemouth Market is home to over 200 stalls from bric-a-brac to candle stalls, French macaroons to locally made sausages you can lose hours exploring. 

Intu Eldon Square, the central shopping centre of the city shop Fenwicks, John Lewis, Debenhams, Apple, Hollister and more under one roof. 

Newcastle is home to the Centre for Life, Discovery Museum and the Great NorthMuseum all which have totally different exhibitions and are worth viewing if you like rich history. The Centre for Life, however is a science museum and is great for families and those interested in how things work. You can find this next to Central Station.

The red hop on/hop off open top bus which you'll see all over the world is great here. Find out all about the history of the city whilst taking in the gorgeous sights of my favourite UK city.

The Tyneside cinema is the only cinema in the country with the original film reel, head to TTC at 11:30 everyday free of charge to enjoy a classic. Looking for a new release, back to The Gate to the Empire Cinema. If you're looking for a show the Theatre Royal has a great selection of different genres of show. Top tip: if you're back here between December and January you must go and see the Pantomime as it simply is the most hilarious and well-produced performance I've seen. Check out the Metro Radio Arena they have just hosted Ed Sheeran and we're heading to see Diversity perform at the weekend.

Whatever you do, remember you're in the land of the Gods, the city of those with the best accent in the world (actually a real accolade), the home of greats like Ant & Dec, Alan Shearer, George Stephenson and of course Wor Cheryl. I hope you enjoy the city I've been blessed to have been brought up in, the city I'm proud to call my home and the city I know that you're about to fall in love with this Dacia Magic Weekend.



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Mastering The Dog Walk: A Cheat Sheet For The Rest Of Us

Even owners with the laziest of dogs will need to take their pampered pooches out for a walk on a regular basis. Just like us, canines need plenty of exercise to maintain their physical fitness and stimulate their minds. If your dog doesn’t get out much each day, he or she will get bored and may even exhibit psychological problems.

The only thing is, some dogs don’t behave well when their owners take them out for a walk. Sure, you could watch experts like Cesar Millan (aka. The Dog Whisperer) and let them give you guidance and advice on how to handle your dog. But, it’s actually easier than you think to have hassle-free walks with your canine companion. So, what’s the secret? Read on to learn more in this useful cheat sheet for dog owners everywhere:

Use the right leash for your dog

First thing’s first; don’t even take your pooch out for a walk if you don’t have a good quality leash for him or her! You can’t just use any old rope you have around the house, it needs to be robust enough to keep control of them.

Extendable ones aren’t a good idea because a sudden jolt from an unlocked one could make you lose control of your dog. For some breeds, it makes sense to use a leash attached to a harness for extra grip and control.

Take a doggy back with you

A small backpack is something you should take with you on any long walks with your dog. Ideally, it should have things like:

  • Poop bags;
  • Treats;
  • Wet wipes;
  • Small bottle of water and a bowl;
  • Small towel.

Taking the above items with you will ensure you are prepared for almost anything on your adventures! Some people even carry flea and tick drops for dogs if they go in areas where there is a high likelihood of pets getting infected by them. As we all know, treating fleas and ticks is better if it gets done sooner rather than later.

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Reward your dog during your walks

There is nothing better for a dog than to receive delicious treats when they are out and about! Give your pooch some treats as rewards for being in a good state of mind and walking well next to you. They will realise that being a good dog means they can get rewards and are seldom likely to displease you!

Be a leader, not a follower

For some reason, many dog owners think it is okay for their pets to lead the way.

The thing is, you are the pack leader, so it’s important that YOU are the one to lead your dog! He or she should be behind or beside you at all times.

Don’t forget to take a break

Last, but not least, if you’re going for a long walk (i.e. more than one mile), it’s important that you and your dog take some time to rest in your journey. This is also a crucial thing to do on hot days where your dog might start to overheat and need to cool down!

Seven Health Complaints From Your Dog That You Should Never Ignore

Being a dog mum can be hard work, but keeping them happy and healthy is our raison d’etre. Watching out for unexplained symptoms is crucial, and if you’re ever worried, get them to the vet for a check up ASAP. Without the power of speech, your pup can’t tell you when they’re feeling under the weather or in pain, so we have to keep an eye out for these things instead. Here are a few symptoms that you should definitely react to.

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1. Unexplained weight loss

There are many things that can cause weight loss in your dog, from stress to parasites, to things which are far more sinister. Obviously, if you’ve put your pup on a low-calorie and high exercise diet to try to get their obesity under control, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But if you can’t explain their weight loss, get them to the vets to see what the underlying cause could be.

2. Incessant scratching

Dogs get itches regularly - you would too if you were covered by a thick coat all day. But if they start scratching more often than usual, it could be a sign of fleas or other parasites or even a skin complaint such as dermatitis. If you think your dog could have fleas, simply buy the best flea medicine for dogs you can find on the market and treat them from home. If there is no sign of fleas, take them to the vets to check for more problematic skin complaints.

3. Fever

Just like humans, dogs’ temperatures rise when they’re fighting off an infection. If your dog has a prolonged fever which is not in keeping with the ambient temperature, get them to the vets as they might need antibiotics to give the infection a shove.

4. Coughing

Sometimes dogs have to cough in order the clear their throat. However, if they develop a persistent cough that doesn’t seem to shift, this could be cause for concern. Pneumonia, bronchitis or something lodged in their airways is the usual causes of this. 

5. Trouble using the bathroom

If your pup is struggling to use the bathroom for more than a day, a trip to the vets is definitely in order. This could be caused by anything from an infection to dehydration, so it’s best to get it checked out before it becomes something more serious - it’s a great early warning system for your dog’s overall health.

6. Fatigue

If you have a dog who is usually full of energy and mischief, and one day they’re just not themselves, it could be a symptom of ageing, but if it’s accute this can be a cause for concern. Many people decide to monitor their condition to see if they improve over the coming hours, but with many illnesses the sooner they get treatment from the vets, the better their recovery will be. If they start fainting, they should be rushed to the vet as an emergency.

7. Difficulty breathing

If your pup is struggling to breathe, then there could be something lodged in their airways, or they could be suffering from an allergy or an infection. This should be treated very seriously, and you should seek out medical help for your pup immediately.

If you ever have any concerns about the health of your dog, see your vet as soon as possible. It’ll help to get them back to full health, but it’ll also help to put your mind at ease if there is nothing to worry about.

 

Sin City: Oh how I love you so. Essential Vegas Guide Part II

I may have mentioned once or twice how much I love Sin City, so this year when I head off to Las Vegas I am going to try out a few new places. In the meantime just to whet your appetite and allow me to reminisce here are a few of my all time favourites.

There are loads of great hotels and I've stayed in several on and off the strip. This year I am returning to The Flamingo, mainly due to its incredible central location and reasonably priced rooms. The hotel has been undergoing a bit of a renovation but has retained its retro feel. The Paradise Garden buffet looking across the wildlife habitat is great value for money and is really popular with those who are regular visitors to Vegas.

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If you manage to get a room overlooking the fabulous High Roller Wheel at the Linq you will absolutely love the view. I didn't close my curtains the entire time as I just wanted to see the changing lights of the wheel every time I looked out. It's also home to some great shows and Donny & Marie have the residency here. I always go to at least one show when I am in Vegas as the whole experience is fantastic no matter what your taste there is something for everyone.

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The Flamingo exits straight out to the new Linq plaza where you will find more restaurants, shops and bars, including Gordon Ramsey's Fish & Chip shop. The wheel is the centrepiece and you can ride the wheel day or night, with or without the bar package and there's even a chocolate tasting option. Make sure you pre-book your tickets. And of course, at The Flamingo there are real flamingoes so what's not to love?

My favourite bar is the Carnaval Court open air bar outside Harrahs. As soon as I arrive I head here and take a seat at the bar to enjoy a few cold beers and some great banter from the bartenders. They generally have live music and entertainment and it's also a brilliant spot for some people watching.

The Deuce bus runs up and down the strip and it's a great way to get around. A night time trip on the Deuce down to the Fremont Street Experience is an absolute must added to that you pass all the Wedding Chapels including the drive-thru. Get your FREE 24 hour Deuce Pass here.  Fremont Street is home to The Golden Nugget and The Four Queens, the original Vegas before it sprawled out. Each evening the Fremont Street sky is lit up in neon and the light show is accompanied by anthemic music, the atmosphere is terrific and everyone has a great night. You will also spot the iconic neon cowboy 'Vegas Vic' here.

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You can't go to Vegas without going to Caesars Palace and of course quote that inimitable line 'did the real Caesar live here?' You always have to play the Hangover slot machine and head into the store for some bad taste Hangover merchandise. There are a great choice of restaurants and the shopping is good here too. Celine Dion and Elton John are usually the headliners here.

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Try out one of the Minus 5 Ice Bars. As the name suggests everything is made from ice; seats, bar, walls, floor. Throw on a fur coat and gloves and head in for a drink or two depending upon how long you can stand the cold. As a Geordie lass it's no problem for me to stay until last orders! There are 2 bars, one in The Monte Carlo and one at Mandalay.

Of course you must visit the iconic Vegas sign for a great photo opportunity.

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On the way back call into Mandalay Bay and tour the Shark Reef. The Bayside buffet here is also good value. I play the 'My Vegas' slot machine app on my phone so that when I am on holiday I can cash in my rewards for complimentary food and drinks and usually use them at Mandalay Bay.

Although there is so much to see and do here because you've travelled all of that way, no trip would be complete without a tour of the Grand Canyon. It is one of the most spectacular places on the planet!

I've been a couple of times and absolutely love the thrill of stepping out onto the Glass Bridge at the West Rim. A phenomenal feat of engineering, the Bridge gives you the most exhilarating of views with eagles flying beneath you. It's an awesome experience and one I would thoroughly recommend. If you get the opportunity to see the cowboy at The Ranch doing card tricks he is brilliant.

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There's loads of great places to eat and all of the hotels have lots of restaurants to suit all types of tastes and budgets, from Denny's Diner to Michelin starred chefs. Champagne Sunday Brunch is my favourite and you will usually find me at The Wicked Spoon which is nestled in the Cosmopolitan.

The newer hotels are more sophisticated, boutique and chic although my preference is always the themed hotels as there is so much to see and do as you tour around. From the Egyptian themed pyramid of the Luxor, Medieval castle of Excalibur, New York with its outdoor roller coaster and Statue of Liberty to Paris with its replica Eiffel Tower, the Venetian with stunning Grand Canal and Gondolas all the way down to Circus Circus (I don't have to spell out the theme here) there is nowhere quite like Vegas.

For shopping I like the Premium Outlets at the North end of The Strip and the Fashion Show Mall which is more in the centre and which is a bit like the Tardis once you get inside. The Miracle Mile shopping is in Planet Hollywood and features a rain storm periodically throughout the day. The Forum at Caesar's also has great shops.

I almost forgot to mention that you could stand for hours watching the Bellagio fountains although they are best viewed at night when they are all lit up. Even better viewed from the outdoor patio of Helix with a drink, good food and a comfortable seat.

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And as for gambling, there's always time to chance your hand with Lady Luck playing a few slots and a couple of hands of blackjack. Don't worry if you do run out of time the airport is full of slot machines so you can even get your fill before departing.

I just can't wait to get back. ♥️♠️♦️♣️

For the best deals on tickets for attractions for heading to Vegas, we recommend visiting here or for amazing Groupon offers check here. For hotel savings....you guessed it, click here. Have you been to Vegas? We're heading back in November and would absolutely love to hear about your favourite places to go, things to see and where to eat.

Interested in our other guides to travelling the US check out our guides to Boston, Miami, New York and San Francisco here.

Bloom Box Club: What about this for a subscription?

Subscription boxes are huge right now and if you’ve not found your favourite yet then it might be because you’re looking for something a little different.

If you’re a beauty box fan though make sure you take advantage of the Glossybox 50% off your first-month special offer. Simply redeem the offer here and add the code GB50 at the checkout.

Back to today’s subscription box. This brand new brand has just launched their fantastic quarterly (or annually) subscription service of fabulous blooms.  Bloom Box Club offers three different subscriptions, Small Outdoor Plants (£59), Large Outdoor Plants (£79) or an Indoor Plants Box (£35).

Ahead of their launch, we were kindly sent the Indoor Plants Box from Bloom Box Club which we were thrilled to review.  Arriving by courier in undoubtedly the most well-packaged box I’ve ever received the four indoor plants took me a good ten minutes to get into which was a great starting point as this meant that all my new house plants were kept well secure on their journey to their new home.

When I had unpacked the four plants I carefully looked at them. All different, but extremely enchanting they all put a smile on my face. It’s amazing the difference gorgeous plants make to your mood. I headed straight to the Bloom Box Club website to check out the plant cards which give you information about the plants in the box and how to care for them.

Firstly I checked out the smallest plant, and a one I was extremely drawn to. Housed in a light purple pot this almost lily pad leaf type of plant turned out to be a Chinese Money plant. This plant, happy in shade requires watered only weekly so is low maintenance. Perfect for a houseplant novice like myself. 

Discovering plants was something that I had never thought I’d be interested in, however as I become more and more interested in interior and decor I found myself really excited to find out all about the origins of the plants, how to look after them and where they thrive the best.

The second plant in this quarter’s subscription box was a gorgeous pink oriental style flower. Named the Urn Plant (or Aechmea fasciata) this plant originates from Brazil. With a flower that lasts months this plant doesn’t grow too tall and again requires very little maintenance.

The third plant in this Bloom Box Club’s first indoor plant box was a leafy fern in a gorgeous grey pot. This leafy green was different to the other two plants and was headed straight for the shaded corner in our conservatory to flourish. A plant that enjoys the shade and has been around for millions of years. 

Each plant in the box has been specifically chosen and arrives in a gorgeous complimentary pot too. As a plant novice, the three plants that I had read about so far were low maintenance so it boded well for the chances of keeping these beautiful plants alive!

The final plant, and of course my most FAVOURITE of the four plants was the Pygmy Pineapple Plant (aka Ananas comosus) this 20cm plant with inedible pineapple was quirky and totally Instagram-worthy.

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With 4 plants arriving every three months for £35, this is a great gift idea that keeps on giving for a friend, family member or even for yourself. The plants are gorgeous and different and come in gorgeous plant pots to fit in with all decors. If you’re looking for a subscription box with a difference then you must check out Bloom Box Club.

New York: Tiffanys, Tantrums and Totally Awesome Times Square.

My first trip to New York was for my sixteenth birthday and I definitely was a spoilt brat, you will find out shortly why and how my mum got her revenge! 

Jetting off to New York with my grandparents and mum we were all excited for our Black Friday shopping trip and to celebrate my birthday in the Big Apple. Having a birthday at the end of November has its advantages when you belong to a family who loves celebrations and shopping in equal measures. We were staying at the Park Central Hotel on Seventh Avenue just opposite Carnegie Hall and with a view from our room down to Times Square, it was amazing. The whole city was hustle and bustle and full of the famous yellow NY cabs. It really is the city that never sleeps as no matter what time of day or night you look out on the city below it is always a hive of activity. 

As usual, we had taken advantage of pre-booking one of the hop on hop off bus tickets as we always find this is the best way to get your bearings and cram in as many of the sights that you can. Although expecting it to be really cold at the end of November we hit lucky with the weather so it made our sightseeing all the better. I totally love everything about New York and here are a few of my favourites and some of my travel memories.

Times Square is the first obvious stop for any tourist and how we laughed when we saw the naked cowboy. As it was the holiday season some of the balloons were still flying from the Thanksgiving Macy's Parade and all of the shops had their Christmas decorations. Spectacular!

We really laughed when we saw that Charmin of toilet roll fame, had sponsored the toilets in Times Square for the holiday season and couldn't resist the temptation to use the facilities. It was totally unreal. Going up the escalator to the restrooms the carpet was a deep and sumptuous blue the same as the Charmin branding and the walls were decorated with the Charmin bear. They had a jingle which played and although I can't remember the words it was all about going to the loo! You gave your name and where you were from and this appeared on the map of the world as you headed into your cubicle. The toilets were absolutely immaculate and there was an attendant who went in after each visitor and gave it a quick clean before the next visitor. We still talk about it to this day, how crazy but well done Charmin. 

Times Square is exactly as it is in the movies with neon lights everywhere, and full of people from all over the world all taking in the cosmopolitan atmosphere. New York is a city where you constantly have a stiff neck from staring up at all of the skyscrapers and everything that is happening around you. At one point I even passed a man with a boa constrictor wrapped around his neck! 

Times Square is at the junction of Broadway and you can grab some discount tickets for some of the top shows. We saw Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and it was brilliant. Donny Osmond was in the cast but on the day we went it was the understudy, which disappointed several in the audience who clearly had only come to see him as they got up and left when it was announced just before the start of the show. Their indignation gave us another memory we often laugh about. 

For great views of the city, you must take the trip up the Empire State Building, book your tickets before you go so you skip the queues. We also did the NY Skyride which is in the Empire State Building which is a simulated motion helicopter ride, it was thoroughly entertaining. Once at the top the views are breathtaking. The Rockefeller Centre also has a viewing platform 'Top of the Rock'. We only went to the Rockefeller to see the Christmas light switch on and watch the ice skaters. The lights are amazing and while the skating is good I liked the holiday season ice rink at Bryant Park much better, there's also skating in Central Park. I hadn't realised how vast Central Park is and it is absolutely beautiful, make sure you find time to just take a stroll or chill out especially if you are visiting in the warmer weather. 

I also learned one of the shortest words for a much longer sentence from Howie the bus tour guide from Brooklyn. 'D'Jeet' when translated means Did you eat? I still say it today. Brooklyn Bridge is pretty and the city is beautiful by night so if you can, try and get a tour that covers a night trip, you won't be disappointed.

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When in New York City, don't miss seeing the Flat Iron Building. If you don't know the one I mean as soon as you see it you will know exactly which one it is. The magnificent Art Deco Chrysler building also holds a prominent position on the landscape on the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. We also went to Wall Street and did this on a Sunday when it is really quiet which was great as we were able to get uninterrupted photos of the famous Wall Street Bull and the Wall Street street sign. While there we did also see a man in full head to toe royal blue fur coat complete with hat, very 70's pimp style! 

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For impressive and iconic buildings you must experience Grand Central Station and soak in the fabulous atmosphere. The architecture is magnificent. Pop over to Bryant Park where the fountain from the opening titles in Friends is located. The Park also hosts lots of events, including arts, crafts and fashion and in the winter there is a great family friendly ice rink. 

For shopping you must go to Macy's; it is like a rabbit warren with escalators taking you to all different floors and wings of this huge department store. Make sure you take your passport to Guest Services and get your discount card. 

Fifth Avenue is home to all the big name brands and some of the most luxury labels. You can do some fabulous people watching along with great shopping. All around the city you see people with American Girl Place carrier bags so I was desperate to find out what it was all about. You would have laughed at my face when I discovered it was a doll shop! Not just any doll shop though, there were girls bringing their dolls into the beauty bar to have the doll's hair washed and styled, there were clothes and accessories for the dolls and even matching clothes so you and your doll can dress the same. I couldn't believe how busy it was it was an amazing place And I was even compelled to get my 4-year-old cousin a t-shirt for her and one for her favourite build-a-bear. 

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Sadly the fabulous Fifth Avenue toy store FAO Schwarz is no longer open but it was home to the giant floor piano which was featured in the Tom Hanks film 'Big' I am embarrassed to say that when I was 16 I found the insistence of my travel companions to have a go on the piano so humiliating but now I am thrilled that I was forced to do it as it is a big tick off my list of things that I have done, especially as the store has now closed its doors. I still also have little miss mismatch socks which remain unworn in the bottom of one of my drawers that my mum bought me as they were a set of 3 different patterned socks that you alternated so never have a matching pair. Anyone who knows me and my OCD will know that this in-coordination drives me wild. I am sure she did this on purpose.

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For some really great bargains if you have time take a trip out to the Premium Outlet Mall Woodbury Common. You can usually book a trip with the hotel concierge or just grab a bus out of town from Penn Street. Sign up for coupons before you go and make sure you take an empty suitcase to bring home all your designer gear! 

On my actual birthday (this is when I turned into a total brat) we got up really early because of the time difference and went to an Irish bar for breakfast as my team Newcastle were playing Southampton. Dressed in my black and white strip I was an instant hit in the bar as we all cheered for the Toon. A great start to my sweet sixteenth. For my birthday mum had told me that I could choose something from Tiffany’s so I was looking forward to heading straight there but everyone else had other plans. Back to the hotel for a quick change before hopping on the bus and heading out for the day. It was a totally amazing day we went all around Central Park and saw the John Lennon Strawberry Fields memorial, we went to Ground Zero and saw the poignant flattened area of the twin towers, the constantly lit memorial in Battery Park. We hopped on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty which was awesome and saw Ellis Island, you wouldn't believe what an incredible day we had but was I happy? NO, I was the biggest brat ever, demanding to go to Tiffany’s! 

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At 16 you would think I would have learned that if you are somewhere for a whole week and you had been promised a gift from a specific shop you would receive it at some point, not necessarily on your actual birthday but surely being on such a fabulous holiday should be enough? But not me. Heading back to the hotel mum took a diversion towards Fifth Avenue home of Saks, American Girl, Louis Vuitton, Abercrombie & Fitch, Apple and of course Tiffany’s.

I was thrilled, however arriving at the most fabulous store in NY we were told the store was closing in five minutes. You thought I was a brat before, well you haven't seen the worst of me yet, I had this almighty tantrum like a 2-year-old saying I will never be able to choose something, while all of the time my poor mum kept telling me it doesn't matter we will just look and come back tomorrow. Anyone else would have given up dragged their daughter from the shop and swore never to return but not my mum, within the allotted five minute shopping time she had helped me choose both a bracelet and earrings and had them gift wrapped in the famous Tiffany boxes and ribbon and we were on our way back to the hotel, with me all smiles again. 

Fact, there is an actual Tiffany school for gift wrapping! Another fact, I love my jewellery from Tiffany’s and have amassed several additional pieces over the years but my first bracelet is my absolute favourite.

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The evening of my birthday appeared to be impromptu as we caught a cab down to Little Italy and chose one of the first restaurants we came to. Here is where my mother got her revenge, as she fully knows I hate being anywhere where there is any likelihood of strangers singing happy birthday to me, so did not for one minute suspect anything was amiss as the restaurant selection appeared to have been quite random. Little did I know it was all pre-arranged and yes you've guessed it a quartet of Italians gathered around me cake and candles in hand for the ritual birthday humiliation in a particularly packed out restaurant! 

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New York is great whether you are celebrating, shopping or just sightseeing there is always something to do and it should be on everyone's list of places to visit even just to confirm the craziness of it all. Everything is bigger and better than anywhere else and it's a wonderful place to create some lasting memories. Never mind I ♥️ NY, It should be, I ♥️my mum.

If you're heading to the US and looking for great places to visit why not also read our guides to Las Vegas, Miami, Boston or San Francisco. Have you been to the Big Apple? What are your recommendations we'd love to hear in the comments below. 



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Smashburger arrives in Newcastle and is an immediate smash hit

If you've been in and around Newcastle City Centre lately, chances are you'll have taken a stroll through the multi-million-pound investment, that has been opening up and revealing restaurant by restaurant, in the Grey's Quarter.

The redevelopment of a once tired and outdated market-style space has now been transformed into a modern, bustling destination for revellers in search of delicious global cuisines. Situated in the intu Eldon Square shopping mall conveniently located at the mouth of the stairs from the Monument Metro stop and the entrance by the Monument of Earl Grey himself it really is the central hub of the city.

We were invited to Smashburger last week to indulge in burgers and shakes and of course having previously seen the offerings of Tapas Revolution, Choaphraya and The Alchemist we knew we needed to check out this American Diner Burger Joint to see if they served up the best burgers in town.

And did they?

We arrived at around 6:30 pm on Wednesday evening, there was a bustle of people around as we walked into the Greys Quarter from the Blackett Street entrance. The first restaurant on the left when you enter Smashburger is located in a prime position at the bottom of the escalator. With plush red leather diner seating and exposed metal, the decor transports you across the pond to an all-American diner. It is comfortable and relaxing and doesn't feel like you are in the centre of a shopping mall.

Having experienced burger joints similar both here and of course, the authentic real I am in Miami I know a good burger bar when I see one.

We were shown to our seats by Jackie the manageress who through her fabulously thick Scottish accent told us she had just joined the company. You could instantly tell she is going to be popular with both customers and staff as she had such a great, friendly and helpful vibe about her. She was extremely proud of her new role, proud to serve up great quality food, and so proud of the choice and offering Smashburger brought.

She explained the menu and offered some of her own personal favourite recommendations, which is always a great sign of a great place to eat. What I loved about the menu was that there was, of course, their famous homemade, handmade quality beef Smashburgers but there was also the option of chicken both grilled and breaded too. Not only this but a gluten-free bun was also an option. Looking for fewer carbs? No problem, all of their burgers can be prepared bun-less or with a side salad. Not satisfied with the menu choices? you can create your own burger from a selection of ingredients. 

Having seen the Truffle Mushroom Swiss on Instagram I knew that I was going for this, my Mum decided to try the Buffalo & Blue Cheese. On Jackie's recommendation we chose the haystack onions, we also ordered the French fries.

Boasting over 370 restaurants across 9 countries, it's clear to see that Smashburger is a global favourite. In all honesty, we'd never heard of this chain until they launched right here in our home city.

With an extensive menu and wine, beers and ciders on offer they cater for all. If you're partial to a Coke though you must try out their famous freestyle coke station where you can create 100s of different combinations of drinks.

A speedy service is the name of the game here at Smash and within 5 minutes our burgers had been served on wire trays and quirky printed paper.

Have you ever eaten something that's transported you back to a great childhood memory? The Truffle Mushroom Swiss did just that. Within a few bites, my childhood memories of sitting eating mushroom and cheese garlic baguettes at Swanpool Beach in Cornwall flashed before my eyes. It was complete nostalgia. My burger contained truffle mayo which is made in-house, sautéed crimini mushrooms & aged Swiss with a signature Smashburger on an egg bun.

My burger was tasty, it was more of a patty than what us Brits would refer to as a burger, but when in Rome or Newcastle in an American Burger Bar you've just got to roll with it.

The Swiss cheese was paired perfectly with Smashburger's homemade truffle mayo which I think I need the recipe for as it was sensational.

Jackie's recommendation of the haystack onions was spot on, think onion rings, just smaller, thinner and more of them, they're a popular choice over in the states and we're so glad they've made their way over here to British soil they were fantastic!

My mum opted for the Buffalo & Blue Cheese which again was the signature Smash patty with a spicy Frank’s® RedHot® Buffalo Sauce, blue cheese crumbles, lettuce, tomato & mayo on an egg bun. She really enjoyed her Burger, however, she wishes she had the regular Burger as she decided that she preferred regular cheese on a burger to blue.

Overall the burgers were absolutely delicious and we both did agree that Smashburger is a great place to go for a lunch or pre-cinema food. The Gate complex is a 2-minute walk and is home to a sixteen screen cinema for all of you non-locals looking for tips where to head.

With the average burger costing you around £7.95 (we'd recommend going large) and sides from £2.95 this is a well-priced pit stop for those wanting fantastic service, freshly cooked, great quality food.

Whilst we were enjoying our food there were two gentlemen nearby eating with a small baby, she was crying and crying. Jackie, the manageress checked to see that their food was going down well when the father of the little baby asked a question, without hesitation she nodded her head and she headed down the strip of restaurants. Arriving back minutes later with baby milk and a bottle. With a smile on her face, she had gone above and beyond with top quality service to ensure her diners were enjoying their meal and the little baby had a bottle (clearly she was envious of her dad's awesome burger).

This service really made an impact on not only these two gentlemen but us too, to see just how much she cared.

Of course, gluttony struck and I couldn't leave Smashburger without trying one of their talked about milkshakes. These handspun creations are made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream, you can pick from a choice of 5 flavours. Of course, I opted for the chocolate Oreo flavour, not thinking about the bikini I've got to get into in a fortnight when I head to Ibiza!

Arriving with whipped cream and crushed Oreo I knew I was going to love it. Smooth and creamy and ice cold this milkshake was pretty epic. Served with the remainder in the shaker I got pretty much two shakes from this one mix which for £4.50 was great value. They're the kind of shakes that when you're passing you just know you have to have one!

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Overall we both thoroughly enjoyed Smashburger and have already made plans to head back to test out some more of their extensive menu, although this creature of habit probably will go for the Truffle Mushroom Swiss again as it was a dream. 

The burgers were great, fresh and flavoursome. We found all the staff to be naturally friendly and attentive without being too much, the ambience was relaxed yet fun. This is a great restaurant for going to with friends for a laugh and great food and they also have a great kids menu too. A pit stop when shopping for lunch, or somewhere to grab a bite before the cinema. It comes well recommended, even so much so I've already scouted the Smashburger we're going to head to when we're in Vegas later on this year. I still, however, await a challenger who can beat what I personally think are the best burgers in the whole of the City. Want to know where to find them? Why not reveal them here?



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You are Charming, Sweetie - 15 years of Sweetie from Links of London

There's not a lot more this girl loves other than jewellery, handbags and shoes. With collections which could rival the closets of the Sex and The City ladies and sprawling boxes of 925 stamped jewellery, you know that you're going to find me floating around my favourite brands such as Links of London when looking for a new signature piece to add to the collection.

For years I've been a fan of this strong iconic British brand, from the young 16-year-old with a Cord Friendship Bracelet to today ten years later proudly wearing The Skull Friendship Bracelet and the Effervescence Cord Bracelet, with the Signature Ring on a daily basis. Links are always on my list of jewellery when considering forever, timeless pieces.

Can you believe that this year marks their 15th anniversary of the iconic and sought after Sweetie bracelet? THE charm bracelet to have if you're the kind of girl (or guy) who has pretty much everything.

In line with the commemorations for 15 years as the nation's favourite customisable bracelet Links of London are bringing a new updated twist to the Sweetie collection and we took ourselves for a little jaunt to see if they've done it again. Created that must have piece.

Of course, they have.

With 270 pieces in the Sweetie collection, there are hundreds of thousands of different combinations to customise your Sweetie bracelet to match your unique style.

Now if you're anything like me, you'll buy pieces of iconic jewellery not for a statement but for sentimental value. Memories. That's what's so fantastic about the Sweetie collection is that each of their charms can have a different yet sentimental meaning to each and everyone who attaches the charms to those gorgeous loops.

Spending time looking at the charms the top five that would be firmly attached to my newly updated Sweetie would be:

The Wishbone - a daily reminder to me that no dream is too big and no obstacle is too wide. The wishbone to me signifies something magical, it makes me realise you are capable of doing anything you wish. 

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The Poker Chip - without a doubt and I've said it so many times my favourite place in the whole world is Las Vegas. Imagine staring down daily to a reminder of your four previous visits and your visit that's imminent? This charm, not one for everybody holds a special meaning to me, it reminds me of a place where I'm at my happiest.

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The Bourbon - undoubtedly my favourite biscuit there is. You know I am a total foodie and this funny yet totally cute charm wouldn't go soggy if accidentally dipped in your hot chocolate!

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The Zebra - although keeping it simple with the silver and gold theme, to match my personality a little bit of bright colour needs to be injected to give it a truly personal touch. Enter the coloured zebra. One of my favourite looking charms it brings an infectious smile to your face that you can't help when you look at it

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The Four Leaf Clover - the luck of the Irish. To remind me that you make your own luck and that nothing is impossible. Four leaf clovers are possible, right?

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Narrowing it down to just five was tough, I could spend hours looking and choosing which charms I'd put on a celebratory 15-year Sweetie bracelet.

You can checkout all of the charms and updated Sweetie bracelets right here.

Have you got a Sweetie bracelet? What's your favourite charm? We'd love to hear in the comments below.



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Struggling to Sleep: Tips to help you sleep

A couple of weeks ago I talked about bedroom styling and how it's not just aesthetics that we need to think about, it's practicality too.

If you read that post you'll have seen that on my bedroom wish list was two eve pillows and a mattress topper and you know what? Would you believe it but a little bit of positivity, the law of attraction, a whole lot of wishing and late last week the guys over at eve must have known my sleeping was getting really bad and they fulfilled my wish list and sent me over exactly what I had been wishing for, thanks guys you are the best! I mean if you're listening feel free to send a King Size duvet and covers over too....I joke. In all seriousness though I have genuinely never had a better night sleep.

For years I've slept with two pillows as one isn't high enough, just one eve pillow is just perfect and the mattress topper. I am blown away. I actually no longer have a bad back or a crick in my neck and the only thing that's changed has been the addition to my bed!

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I was so excited by the new arrival that I even text my best friend to tell her she had to come for a test of my cloud-like bed!

It got me thinking though, I bet there's plenty of you lying awake scrolling through social media and websites unable to sleep because your bedroom just isn't optimised for sleeping. So here we go, our very own top tips to getting to sleep as written by a self-certified insomniac.

Just for your information, counting sheep doesn't work!

Temperature

Research has shown that the optimum temperature for the perfect night sleep is 60-67F (15-19C), this is because your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep, which these proposed temperatures help to facilitate this.

That’s why it’s best to have a cooler room on an evening when you get into bed. Think of your bedroom as a cave it should be cool, calm and dark. These three factors help to fall into a deep sleep much easier.

On the flip side if it’s not warm enough for you to drift into a deep sleep, and you’re still struggling to head to the land of nod then warm your feet up by wearing socks or placing a hot water bottle at your feet and is if by magic those peepers of yours will start to become heavy.

Ambiance

The mood in the bedroom has to be just right. Too bright and you’ll find it impossible to get to sleep, too dark and you’ll never wake up feeling fresh. So, how can you achieve that perfect balance to create blissful bedroom ambience.

It has been shown in studies that blue is the most calming colour for a bedroom as it is reminiscent of the sky and also the sea and has also been scientifically proven to regulate your heartbeat meaning you'll fall asleep more peacefully.

You can style your room any colour it doesn't have to be blue but accentuating with blue accessories such as curtains and furniture will help you achieve the perfect sleeping space.

Ensuring you have soft lighting in your bedroom is important. If the light is too harsh you'll struggle to unwind. If you don't have space for lamps or wall lamps and have a single hanging light in the middle of your room use large light shades and mirrors to create soft shadows. The use of LED lights is also great when it comes to setting the perfect ambience for sleep as these create sensual ambient lighting.

Ever heard people telling you that lavender is great tip for helping you get to sleep? The use of aromatherapy oils, fragrances and scented candles can really help aid sleep. I especially like to rub a blend named Calm to my wrists and pillow on an evening to help soothe me. The mix of lavender, bergamot and frankincense really calm you ready for a great sleep. This aromatherapy oil has been proven great for children and those who suffer restless nights because of conditions such as fibromyalgia.

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If you don't want to have candles or diffusers in your home a top tip is to add a couple of drops into your washing detergent which will make all your sheets smell amazing and act the same way as the diffuser does.

No electronics

This is where it gets ‘techy’. Scientific data states that the role of light from photoreceptors such as phones and tablets promote alertness and wakefulness. Through using a device whilst in bed the light sends a message to the brain to convince your brain you're still alert as if it was natural daylight.

If you are a serial scroller, the best way to get to sleep is to turn all devices off 30 minutes before your bedtime. This way your brain has time to adjust and slowly start preparing for sleep. If you can't turn your device off, put them out of reach so that you're not adding temptation to those devices being near to you while you are trying to settle for sleep.

Drink herbal tea before bed

Every night without fail before bed the kettle is boiled and a cup of herbal tea is brewed. Personally, I think that it is calming and relaxing and the heat on my stomach is perfect for settling down before sleeping. Green tea contains L-theanine which not only helps repair muscle damage but it is also a relaxant which will help aid sleep.

Bedeck carried out research on us Brits to see if a cup of herbal or green tea before bed made a difference and the findings stated that a cup before bed is ideal for getting drinkers off to sleep. Jasmine green tea or a night time blend are my recommendations.

Enjoy a hot soak

Medical research suggests that both baths and foot baths have an impact on sleep, this research has even extended to women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer experiencing a greater level of sleep quality after a 40 minute footbath at 41C. A similar study of elderly insomniacs also proved increased sleep from a full body bath for 30 minutes at 40-41C.

You might question how a bath helps improve sleep, it all comes down to us as humans not having a constant body temperature due to a circulatory rhythm. At 1pm we feel a slight dip in body temperature and it decreases as the afternoon goes on with a significant drop at night. The heat of the bath increases our body temperature allowing our body to relax. Have a bath between 60 and 90 minutes before you get into bed for the best sleep assistance.

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Exercise

Again scientists have studied the affects exercise has on sleep patterns and research again suggests that aerobic exercise reduces the length of time in which it took somebody to get to sleep over an evening with no-exercise. Notably and interestingly high intensity exercise such as weights and cardio such as running has no effect on sleep.

The studies show that over a long term period people who exercise at least 3 times a week are more likely to have better deep sleep, less interrupted sleep and fall asleep faster than those who don't exercise. I can certainly vouch for this as my sleeping patterns are far better and regular when I am in a strong exercise routine.

Comfortable bed

Seriously I'm not just saying this because of the lovely lot over at eve but it's so important to invest in a good quality mattress or topper, think about it. You're lying in the same place for hours on end 7 nights a week, the better quality the mattress surely the better sleep you have too?

Don't forget pillows. I genuinely didn't think that there was a great deal of difference with pillows, however, after a couple of nights with my head firmly placed on the premium memory foam pillows, they seem to have had a great impact on not only my sleeping but my bad back that I constantly complain about. Being more supportive than feather and fibre these pillows have the added benefit for circulation and muscle alignment.

If you're serious about changing your sleeping pattern so you wake up refreshed then seriously invest in a great quality sleeping solution. Remember it pays to pay!

So there you have it, if you struggle to sleep on an evening and it's driving you insane then try out our 7 simple tips to getting a good night sleep.

Have you any other tips for getting yourself to sleep? We'd love to hear them!

Christian Aid: The end of Lent

We've done it! We've made it to the end of Lent!

You may remember at the beginning of March I told you how I was giving up negativity for lent in Aid of Christian Aid.

So for 40 days and 40 nights negativity has been eradicated from my life and you know what, I've never felt better!

Lots of exciting things have happened with the shift in my mindset, I've had a great first month since launch with ELLEfluence, I've been back to the gym and really worked hard. I've lost weight, I've eaten much healthier and I've attracted so many better opportunities to my life.

I have stopped using the word 'but' and consciously refuse to write it in any sense as according to studies that word has negative connotations and switches people off immediately!

Admittedly at first it was a struggle and I did have a few days where I nearly let negativity break me, you know what they say though, habits are broken after 28 days, so now we've hit 40 days that old habit has been well and truly kicked.

So from the girl who never gave up anything and had never really celebrated and challenged herself to a period of Lent, this year it's been a roaring success and I sincerely hope that my 6 weeks of negativity free thoughts continues for the rest of the year and by next Lent I'm willing to give up something new to make my life better.

Have you given up anything for Lent? I'd love to hear in the comments below! If you haven't then why not make a donation to Christian Aid to help the poorest of people.

You still have time to donate and you can make a difference by donating here

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Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, all views are my own. Read more about disclosure here.

San Francisco: Don't Miss Out On This When You're In The Golden City.

If you haven't been yet you must put San Francisco firmly on your list of must-see places. It's a great city with lots to keep you busy. Even if you've only got a couple of days you can still cram in lots of sightseeing. Here are a few of my favourites.

Ride the cable car. The streets of San Francisco are as hilly as they look in the movies so cable cars are a great way to get around the city. You get to see so much especially if you can sit on the outside. I was really impressed at the cable car museum. Although called a museum it is actually the hub of the workings of all the cable cars in the city. You see how it all works in this fully functioning workshop so if you have time make sure you give it a visit as you only need to pop in for ten minutes and you will be amazed at the weight and strength of the cables. It's not just for boys!

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We always pre-purchase our tickets for all excursions before leaving for sunnier climates, not only to be super organised but to also save some money. Check out our go-to site for all discounted tickets here.

Trams are also a great way to navigate the streets right along the bay front and through the city streets. The trams are all traditionally restored from all across the world and retained in their original coachline livery colours, living history.

Try sourdough bread filled with tasty clam chowder. Just standing outside the Boudin bakery window you will be thoroughly entertained with the magnificent bread sculptures, I kid you not. The bread shapes including four-foot alligators are all made in the open bakery and you can talk to the bakers about the dough through a speaker system in the window. Sample the bread or have your bread as a bowl for some of the finest chowder.

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Eat fish on Pier 39. With a fabulous selection of really great fish restaurants and shops, there's always something going on in and around the Pier. Forget fish fingers I had the best fish sandwich ever here. The Pier is also famous for the basking sea lions they are an absolute delight to watch and what a fabulous noise they all make. Wonderful free entertainment that will keep you smiling for ages.

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Drink Californian wine in California. Sample all of the new world wines you know and love and a few more that you have never heard of. There's a great wine bar on pier 39 where you can sample wine flights (or beer for that matter) and grab a bite to eat or if you've got more time take one of the organised tours to a vineyard. 

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Calling all chocolate lovers. Eat chocolate from world renowned Ghiradelli's chocolate shop or grab a delicious ice cream sundae, even better have both!

China town is an absolute must, day or night it is a hive of activity and has some really great restaurants, the Buddha Lounge is a really popular choice. 

Weave down Lombard Street. This world famous street has 8, yes 8, hairpin bends. It is a residential street and must be a nightmare living there as it's one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city with people navigating the steep steps down and drivers taking on the challenge of the bends all day every day. For those less energetic the tram stops at the top so you can take really great photos. I must say even if you don't walk down Lombard Street, you really should go and take a look as it is a great spectacle. 

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Alcatraz was a real surprise for me, for some reason I hadn't imagined it would be as visible as it is in the middle of the Bay. You can see it right along the Bayfront. If you want a tour of the famous prison, make sure you book in advance as the tours fill up quickly. 

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2640 Steiner Street is the address of the house from one of my all time favourite movies 'Mrs Doubtfire'. It no longer looks like it did in the film and is a little bit out of the way so unless you are on a guided bus tour you probably will give it a miss. 

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Go shopping in Union Square. If you need a bit of retail therapy you won't be disappointed with the fabulous selection of shops in and around Union Square. This wonderful public plaza is a great place to catch some street entertainment or do a bit of people watching. It also is home to a couple of the famous San Francisco heart sculptures which were commissioned in 2004. 

No trip to San Fran is complete without a visit to the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Often shrouded in a hazy mist even in the middle of Summer it's on everyone's list of top attractions and a great photo opportunity. The view across the Bay towards Bay Bridge with Alcatraz in the middle is spectacular. Keep going over the bridge and grab lunch in the pretty town of Sausalito then ride the ferry back passed Alcatraz to the pier. This is one of my absolutely favourite trips. 

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Heading to the USA and looking for some inspiration for other places to visit we highly recommend Boston, Miami or Las Vegas. You should check out where we recommend to go in these places too. Have you got any top travel tips for visiting San Fran? We’d love to hear them, drop us a comment below.



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10 Tips For The Perfect Hen Party

Love or hate them, hen parties are part of the process of getting married in many cultures around the world, and while hen party traditions can be very different depending on the country there are some common factors that make a hen party a success and a memorable day for all involved.

Organisation is key from day one, ensuring that everything and everyone’s wishes are taken into account, and the more you begin making plans the more you begin to realise what a huge task planning a hen do is, having a process to follow and knowing where to start will make the whole thing easier.

And that’s exactly how this new infographic compiled by Group Accommodation can help, offering 10 great tips, taking you through the entire planning process and the day itself:

What they didn’t tell you about Wedding Planning - by the Chief Bridesmaid

As a little girl, dressing your Barbie up in her wedding dress, making her walk down the aisle whilst singing your out of tune Wedding March at the top of your voice was probably how you started your wedding planning. Correct me if I’m wrong.

It’s every little girl’s dream to have a princess wedding, in a princess castle and marry her handsome prince. Some of these little girls grow up into big girls dreaming of princess weddings in princess castles where they walk down the aisle to marry their handsome prince and yes, I thought that would be me. Let me tell you one thing now, it’s not for me. Get me a flight to Vegas, a pair of white Louboutins and Elvis at the Little White Wedding Chapel singing Love Me Tender as you run off into the sunset. PLEASE. I BEG YOU! 

I hate wedding planning. 

Like I don’t just hate it. I detest it. With. A. Passion!

Let me tell you why. You see a couple of years ago I was asked to be chief bridesmaid (it’s chief bridesmaid and not maid of honour because I’m not married - what even is that all about all these stupid names for people depending upon relationship status), for a good friend at the time. I emphasise at the time. 

I’d known her and her husband to be for years, when they got engaged they asked me to be the chief bridesmaid. Great, nice, lovely. One day after returning back from the gym there was a knock at the door, in a small bag was a bridesmaid’s dress as it was thrust into my hands followed by the words “we were out shopping, saw this, try it on” - are you kidding me? I had just come in from the gym. This size 14 dress (I’m a size 12) hung off me like a sack, as I expressed my concern for this oversize I was immediately shut down with the words “you might put weight on” from the bride’s mother. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting anybody infected with the disease when planning a wedding known as ‘Bridezilla’ but let me tell you both mother and daughter had been infected. 

Transpired they had all planned a shopping trip to go try on wedding dresses and bridesmaid dresses that day and hadn’t invited me because I’m clearly just too honest and would hate for anybody to be lied to about looking fantastic in a dress that doesn’t suit them at all. I found all of this out later when a bridesmaid dropped herself in it. Strike one. Shortly after strike two happened, and then strike three. By strike three I was out, I handed my notice in and quite my job as ‘Chief Bridesmaid’ much to my pleasure. Weddings do the strangest things to people!

This was the start of my hatred of wedding planning, and then my best friend in the whole wide world goes and gets engaged. Here we go again!

I know she’ll be reading this with tears rolling down her face, her shoulders shaking, as she shows her husband-to-be this. They’ll both be in hysterics laughing. I sometimes feel like I’m the third wheel in their relationship, the other 99% of the time her husband-to-be Gary is the third wheel.

You see I couldn’t be happier for Katie and Gary, they are adorable when he’s writing soppy love notes on chalkboards around their house to when she’s shouting and screaming at him for something he’s not done. I am genuinely so excited for their wedding as it will be that princess wedding. They’re due to be married this August at Matfen Hall in Northumberland surrounded by all their loved ones and the day will be absolutely amazing but right now if you’re about to plan a wedding you need to know what all these flouncy, floral wedding magazines don’t tell you.

Every family argument from the whole entire history of your family and your partner’s family will be brought up. 

This will mostly be the topic of conversation when creating the seating plan. The whole aunt Barbara can’t sit next to your dad’s new wife because 39 years ago they both were dating the same man in high school, or your cousin Joe can’t sit with your grandad because they fell out over the last pig-in-a-blanket at Christmas. Then your partner’s family history comes up and it’s just as equally as difficult. You’ll spend hours, days and weeks talking about, drafting, re-drafting table plans. You’ll talk about them when you’re at your dining table, you’ll talk about them going to work, while you’re at work and then on the way home. You’ll even dream about table plans, just to avoid your crazy family and their 50 shades of awkwardness.

Chief Bridesmaid’s suggestion: Get them all so drunk by the time the evening meal comes around and appreciate that it’s going to probably, undoubtedly end up like the final tag-team event at a WWE event that by this point it won’t really matter, and your hours colour coding and moving people around on your plan will seem pointless. Just make sure you have some cameras set up so that when a fight does break out you can at least go viral on YouTube.

You will have to sacrifice everything you’ve ever enjoyed in life. I mean everything. 

At first, you’ll be full of excitement of buying a Vera Wang dress, Louboutin or Jimmy Choo wedding shoes, having an 8-course meal surrounded by a harpist and some ice sculptures whilst doves flutter silently overhead until you realise the cost of everything. I mean a four figure some for some fancy floral arrangement. OVER ONE THOUSAND POUNDS FOR FLOWERS. Flowers, they’ll be dead before you’ve headed on your honeymoon. Add the word wedding to anything and you can say goodbye to all the little luxuries in life, and then some. Even food is no longer a priority. 

“Honey, we’ll do a food shop after the wedding okay, all we can afford now is the bridesmaid dresses and the usher’s cufflinks”

It was only last week that Katie and I were talking about this, I asked her if she realised the commitment that I had already made to her in this union. She was fully aware, that since day one of this whole wedding planning began I have sacrificed it all. For the last 2 years, we have not ventured across her threshold in her home into the great unknown of outside for fear of not spending a penny on enjoying our life until ‘after the wedding’ because enjoying life doesn’t have a column in the wedding budget spreadsheet.

Chief Bridesmaid’s suggestion: Spend your money on eating, the bridesmaids don’t care if you make them wear a bin bag, whatever goes. I’m pretty sure nobody is going to know the difference between the evening meal that was £149 per head and £199. Run away to the middle of nowhere just you and your beau and spare yourself the hunger pains of scrimping and saving. Everybody will be happy for you regardless if you were married by a man dressed as Elvis or if you were married by Ron the family vicar. I mean get married naked, I heard it’s all the rage in some communities. 

You will say ‘after the wedding’ at least 500 times a day

Everything will come after the wedding, even I find myself saying after the wedding we can do this. After the wedding we can go here. Can we please do this after the wedding? My life is consumed by the wedding and the plans after the wedding that the only concept of time we have is pre and post wedding. I’m not even the one getting married here!

Chief Bridesmaid’s suggestion: Have a bottle of tequila handy, overtime the phrase after the wedding is used have a shot. Probably get a few cases of tequila in because you know what? You’re going to rattle through it up until the wedding and then guess what AFTER THE WEDDING you’ll never have to look at it again.

You will become Pinterest obsessed in your wedding frenzy

You’ll go from looking at cute pictures and quotes on Pinterest to being consumed at looking at ‘unique’ additions to suggest to add to the wedding. From those little plaques that say here comes your girl to the sparkling dance floor and the unobtainable 50,000 individually lit tea lights along the path to the stately home. You’ll have multiple boards (mostly secret - so you don’t look like Bridezilla) with ‘Wedding Hair’, ‘Wedding Ideas’, ‘Wedding Dress’, ‘Wedding Body Inspo’…you know exactly what I mean! You have become so obsessed that every day you search the same search again and again incase there are new pins.

Chief Bridesmaid’s suggestion: Have you ever tried to make a Pinterest cake? Or do Pinterest DIY? No matter how good you think it’ll look in your head it never looks like the image. Stop pinning your boards are going to pull down the internet they’re that heavy and just hand it to the professionals. Don’t try and make raffia jars and stencilled centre pieces because these are proper professionals. Stick to what you know so you don’t end up with a potato with glitter and feathers stuck in the middle of your tables. 

What happens post wedding? Can somebody help a girl out here? What’s the post-wedding protocol? Do we enter a state of mourning? Do we look back and constantly reflect on it? What are we doing here?

While all I can hear is the wedding this, the wedding that. Does this table runner look good with the groom’s button hole or does the bride’s lipstick match the save the date invites my only interest as the chief bridesmaid is the hen party which I’ve taken great pleasure in planning. Ibiza here we come

The Town House Durham: City centre relaxation at it's finest

Sometimes amongst the midst of high energy launches and events, it's always nice to receive an invitation to enjoy some serious relaxation, so what better way than to spend the evening at The Town House, Durham.

Set back just meters from the river and a only a couple of hundred yards from the cobbled pathways which are home to an eclectic mix of multinationals and independent shops The Town House has a modest exterior, however, the second you step inside you're greeted by opulent golds and purples, damask, tassels and busts. 

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With a beautiful restaurant serving up a delicious feast upon an evening and a cocktail bar which is perfect for pre-theatre drinks or a nightcap after a day of exploring. This 18th century Town House is home to 7 luxury rooms situated inside the Townhouse and the crown in their jewel, the three rooms in the garden area, each with their own hot tub.

All of the rooms are individually decorated, from black velvet to striking red flock each room has been lovingly created with the occupants in mind as well as the strong luxurious Durham heritage. 

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Luckily enough we stayed in Eden Lodge for the evening. Arriving at the townhouse we greeted with a warm welcome and then shown our rooms, with a full run down of the 67" flatscreen TV - I mean I have NEVER even seen a TV this size! Alongside this there were complimentary wine and water served in a gorgeous kitsch wicker picnic basket, teas and coffees (including herbal teas - they must have heard about our green tea addiction!)

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Then of course there was the most all important item of them all. The hot tub.

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The rooms followed suit of the opulent reception area and restaurant and were decorated beautifully. With golds and champagne colours it is easy to see why this is one of the favourite places to stay in Durham.

Every aspect of the townhouse has been taken into consideration and the additional extras such as the gowns and slippers, the wine in the picnic basket and the selection of local luxury magazines really make this a perfect getaway. With a Rolls Royce the focal point of the garden the little quirks really give it that long-lasting impression that makes you want to tell everybody you meet about it.

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Heading to the restaurant we enjoyed a glass of prosecco upon arrival where we all perused the menu. Opting for seared scallops, followed by of course a steak with chips which was served perfectly medium/rare how it was requested finished up with a personal favourite of Eton Mess.

After dinner and cocktails, it was straight to enjoy a glass of wine or two in the hot tub, after all, it's all about the relaxation! Feeling extremely chilled we all hopped in the spacious tubs which were already heated and ready to go with the press of a button. All that was missing was some outdoor speakers and it just confirmed to me, all I need in life is my very own hot tub.

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What's great about the three lodges is that the gardens are all linked so it's great for if you want an escape with friends which is centrally located to great shops, bars and restaurants. An ideal luxury stay for small hen parties or celebrating a special occasion with friends and family, it would also be the perfect place for a couples retreat.

With rooms from £85 a night including breakfast it really is one of the best places to stay in Durham. You can check out The Town House here.

If you're looking for a spa break close to Durham you may want to check out Ramside Hall Spa or if you're looking for a Newcastle escape we recommend Mineral House Spa.



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Billy Bootleggers: Newcastle, Underground Moonshine Dive Bar

Billy Bootleggers; what a sensational underground dive in the best possible sense. Elliot has given this deserted space a new lease of life. What an absolutely sensational bar this is. Nestled beneath NO 28 (which is home to The Grind) a wacky adventure which will no doubt pay off for all of those people looking for an alternative bar. You can come in with or without the hipster beard you can come in without the knowledge of craft beer kick back and soak in the moonshine. It's the Boston Cheers bar of Newcastle whoever you are there is a warm welcome. It's stripped back to reveal warts and all. Underground entertainment at it's finest, fantastic drinks and wonderful jazz. With live music every weekend it's the tonic that Newcastle needs. Move over pretentious there's a new kind of bar on the block. Toe tapping, side splitting, get down and enjoy every second of this tremendous new bar. Long live prohibition!

Heading downstairs into the bar the stairwell is emblazoned with graffitiesque Billy Bootlegger logos. Once through the door, you are in a stripped back bar of yesteryear. Don't be fooled by the basic decor it's all intentional and the quirky attention to detail stands out in a particularly subtle way. Eclectic styling.

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Check out the American phone box, fire hydrant, road signs and of course 'Billy' the cock. The washrooms don't look finished but again that's the intention, with clever use of reclaimed wood and the letter B stamped into the walls and flooring.

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If you are looking for bright lights, opulence and fine dining you are definitely in the wrong place, if you are looking for a great night out, with live entertainment, snack bar food and flowing drinks then you couldn't have a better night out than Billy Bootleggers.

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Kicking the first night off in truly memorable style were local five piece band The King Bees with their fabulous rhythm and blues. They are picking up quite a following and quite a few people had arrived for the band and unexpectedly discovered a great new watering hole right in the city centre not dedicated solely to the younger crowd but aimed at attracting cross generational crowds. A small stage but a big sound emanated from this popular band getting us all into that 'start of the weekend' feeling. The place was buzzing with everyone having a great night out.

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We had been invited as part of the launch party and were treated to sampling the homemade Apple Pie Moonshine, I can honestly say it was wonderful, so much so we ordered another round of moonshine delivered in jam jar glasses. The sweet cinnamon smell reminded me of Christmas and holidays in America and apple pie all at the same time. A bit of a Willy Wonka experience. Try it you will know exactly what I mean! 

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Bar service is swift there is little waiting about to be served even when the band finished and everyone headed for further refreshments. After moonshine and copious amounts of prosecco some of us decided to try out the pickleback. Billed as the drink of the future! a shot of Jameson with a pickle juice chaser, some of us also drank it in the wrong order! Ugh! Don't let our foolishness put you off, challenge yourself and your crowd to try the pickleback roulette and the pickle chaser. The drinks menu also contains some great Bourbon cocktails, classic cocktails along with bootlegger beer and bourbon brews.

Food arrived and it was good filling snack bar food, wonderful Snappy's Frankfurter hot dogs bursting the buns and crammed with onions, 3 flavours of wings; buffalo, Szechuan and blue cheese and of course no snack menu is complete without dripping fries. Posh fries are also available for the posh clientele. After the usual obligatory blogger photography of the food it was eventually handed around and everyone nodded approvingly. 

The band returned and the launch evening was in full swing and a great success. It's a small venue but will no doubt gather a big reputation with its uniqueness as one of the best alternative bars in the toon.  Ironically this anti-trendy bar will probably become THE place to be seen. A terrific night was had by all and I would thoroughly recommend that you get yourself along before everyone discovers this absolutely hidden gem.

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You’ll find Billy Bootleggers on Nelson Street where the door is always open, directly opposite the street entrance to Reds BBQ Smokehouse and The Alchemist, both which are part of the brand new Greys Quarter redevelopment.



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Super Snaps: The easy way to hold your photos

Have you ever taken photos on your phone and wished you could do more with it than it just staying on your phone? When uploading these memories to Facebook isn’t enough. Do you want to create cute Instagram-worthy collages or polaroid style images? Super Snaps is your ultimate go to for amazing high-quality hold in your hand photos.

With prints starting at just 20p each there’s absolutely no end to the crazy combination of your own images you can create. Super Snaps doesn’t just stop at small prints, they offer personalised stickers, magnets, cards and even the most fabulous block prints.

With Mother’s Day just passing, and a trip to Tenerife having been and gone in February where my two younger cousins and I flew out to spend a week with my Grandma & Granda, I knew that Super Snaps would be the perfect go to for a beautiful and personal gift for my Grandma this Mother’s day.

She’s extremely house proud and loves receiving photos of the three of us to show off proudly. She had previously mentioned how much she loved the photo of the five of us we took on our final evening of our holiday so I instantly knew that the framed print would be a perfect addition to her gorgeous Lake District home, and no doubt it’s new home will be in pride of place.

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Creating a Super Snap is super simple, you simply select from their range of 9 perfectly formed products, upload your image, crop it into position and add it to your basket. The team behind the scenes create their magic and have the finished piece shipped to you. Seriously, it is just that simple.

As I said, my favourite and most sentimental product for my Grandma is the framed print. Starting at just £19.99 you can choose from a black or a white frame. Selecting the white frame to fit in with her decor and offset the beautiful sun setting over the most popular Canary Island.

When the frame arrived it was extremely well packaged and the print is a high-quality image. The fantastic chunky frame with glass front is simply stunning and she absolutely adored this modern twist on a conventional frame. Of course, the gorgeous photo of her grandchildren and thoughtful gift will earn me extra brownie points, it might even put me back in the running as the favourite grandchild….even though she constantly tells us that she has no favourites. Admittedly, we’re all equally as wicked as each other and wind her up about which one of the three is her favourite!

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If you’re looking for a keepsake print then Super Snaps are the ideal for creating scrapbooks, leaving sentimental polaroid snaps around, creating greeting cards with your favourite holiday snaps or of course if you’re channelling your inner Kim Kardashian they’re perfect for showing off your latest selfies. Ultimately the framed print is their ideal gift and I highly recommend this as a gift to a loved one with a special photo.

You can shop Snap Savers here and check out what marvellous creations you can make with your memories



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Disclaimer: This item was provided complimentary, all views are my own. Read more about disclosure here.

A bloggers start up guide to Affiliate Marketing

Regardless of if you're new to blogging or if you're an old hand if you don't have an affiliate strategy implemented on your site you really need to ask yourself why?

You have a trusted and dedicated following who really value your opinion, you're driving traffic to the brand's site through recommendation which will inevitably lead to sales. So the question is why aren't you receiving a reward for making them money?

If you're serious about your blogging biz you need to start creating your affiliate marketing strategy immediately!

If you're not sure how affiliate marketing works then let us give you a quick overview. You are given a unique referral code for that website, when you send traffic to that site a 'cookie' is dropped, in most cases these cookies are valid for 30 days.

People click your link, buy a product and you are paid a commission for the sale. There are thousands of people who earn six and seven figures a year simply through implementing an affiliate strategy and although we're not going to guarantee that kind of figures we've studied these people closely and these are our top 5 tips to kick ass when it comes to affiliate marketing.

Find the best networks to join

There are many affiliate companies who run thousands of different brand's affiliate programmes, so with one central login, you can access thousands of brands to promote.

The other benefit of using affiliate programmes such as AWin which costs £5 to sign up, however, you receive the £5 back with your first payout, this separates the wheat from the chaff, those who are serious about getting started with affiliate marketing aren’t put off by this cost.

Skimlinks, which once installed automatically converts your links to those merchants they have on their platform, saving you a lot of time while earning you money.

Rakuten, which plays home to big brand names such as kate spade new york, Pandora and River Island are part of their platform.

Rakuten Affiliate Network Welcome Program

These three are the largest and easiest to use and it makes sense you stick to just a small number of programmes as all affiliate payments are centralised there's a single payout system meaning that you will exceed the payment threshold a lot faster than if you worked with these brands on individual programmes it would take longer to accrue the threshold. Once you start seeing the money, the more involved you get with affiliate marketing.

Promote, promote, promote

If you are posting content to your site and you have access to an affiliate programme then utilise this link, you could send them 10 people to their site, and if each of those ten make a purchase of £100 and your commission is 10% you make £100 for simply linking to their site through your 'reward' link. Imagine if those numbers were 1,000 or even 10,000 click through purchases?

Now you'll frantically be thinking how much money have you lost out in the past for not affiliate linking every site. Right? I know we are guilty!

If you're recommending products across social media, in newsletters, on your site then make sure you use your own dedicated affiliate links. If you get into a habit of constantly giving out affiliate links you'll see your commissions increasing, from people you don't even know!

Find your niche, push it well

If you specialise in a specific niche, take beauty, for example, build your audience, know your niche and use your links in the best way possible for example, new product launches or back in stock items that people are looking for.

If you know your niche and test out what works, when you find the purchase trigger you can push these links out more often, again increasing your commission. If you don’t know your niche, for example, this publication is classed as Lifestyle so it’s a little bit of everything, then what you need to do is test out what works, for posts like this recommendation to affiliate programmes works well, whereas Jet2 has been my best performing travel link and John Lewis my greatest shopping referral link.

You won’t make your millions overnight with affiliate marketing, however, if you really put the time and effort into implementing a strategy that works, through pushing what works then you’ll see an increase in commissions each month.

Work with the affiliate programmes that work well

We can all be guilty of wanting more of everything, and affiliate links can be one of them! If you have a collection of 20-50 brands that work well for you, keep them to this number, don't try and constantly be pushing new links, unless you are able to manage the brand's you are already generating commissions from, find which merchants work well for you and push their links.

If you obtain the details from the affiliate platform for the Affiliate manager you can drop them an email, explaining who you are and what you do and create almost an elevator pitch to work with them to create content, they may offer payment, gifting of items or they may increase your CPA rate. I’ve found recently that affiliate managers are actively looking for people creating content to push affiliate links if you put time and effort into contacting those brands you already love and champion your efforts will most likely be fruitful.

Persevere

This isn't an overnight money-making scheme, it's a long-term strategy that needs constant attention, planning and re-assessment. If you find something that works, do more of it, if you find something flops, do less of it. You'll find that you need to constantly be testing and adjusting until you find the winning formula, but when you do, enjoy those commissions!

Do you have any great affiliate tips that you're willing to share with our readers or even any burning questions? We’d love to hear in the comments section below.

If you want to keep up to speed with other blogging tips and opportunities from our sister site ELLEfluence then make sure you sign up to our mailing list



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The Alchemist: Newcastle - Believe the hype?

The Greys Quarter, located in intu Eldon Square is home to a plethora of brand new eateries from Spanish Tapas to Thai fine dining, there are lots of different cusines to choose from and it really is becoming a destination hub for the hungry revellers of Newcastle.

With The Alchemist being the newest restaurant to open after a huge press campaign including multiple launch nights I knew I had to go along to try it out.

In three simple words I'll sum my evening up to you. What a disappointment.

You see, from reading blog posts and seeing all these hyped up posts plastered all across social media I genuinely thought we'd be in for an amazing evening.

Smoke and mirrors, baby.

This is the thing, seeing all these posts from people I know raving about The Alchemist, a sister chain of The Botanist, I believed them, I believed the hype and now it's left me a little deflated and questioning their integrity (more about that later) as to have they posted a glowing review to keep in with the PR company who organised the launch to get invited to more of their events? I certainly think that's the case after my experience.

I always bring the cold, hard, honest truth and that's why I've been compelled to write this cold, hard, honest review about somewhere I wasn't even going to review, somewhere I was going to relax and get away from reviewing and writing.

Anyway, you came to read about The Alchemist in Newcastle didn't you? 

Arriving a little later than we had booked due to traffic (we did phone ahead) my Mum and I were warmly greeted by the lovely girl from the front of house team where we were then taken through the restaurant to our table. 

Soaking up the surroundings and the attention to detail we were suitably impressed. From the salt and pepper in small chemistry flasks to the tea light holders on the table which embodied the branding of this now nine bar chain.

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We began to peruse the cocktail menu, with a bounty of choice and a periodic table style menu I asked our server, Ethan for a cocktail that smoked and looked great. I wanted to take some fabulous photos of course! He recommended the Lightbulb Moment so I took up his recommendation. My mum opted for The Alchemist's take on a Zombie, the Dead Red Zombie.

We waited a while for our drinks, however, we were in no hurry, so sat back and chatted. When our drinks eventually arrived I must admit they were extremely impressive. You agree right?

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We ordered nachos to share, one of the easiest dishes to get right, but also the simple dish that seems to always be such a letdown.

What arrived was 8 CRISPS. I kid you not, 8 of them with the tiniest picking of cheese and a thimble of salsa and guacamole presented on wilted cheap iceberg lettuce. I HATE iceberg lettuce, at least there was a borrower-sized dish of soured cream to match my soured mood.

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8 nachos will set you back £4.95 and whilst reasonably priced for a city centre starter I genuinely don't think that this was value for money. In fact, it was exceptionally poor.

Whilst we were slowly eating our 4 nachos each we observed the diners around us, with fajitas the most popular choice and an impressive looking skillet which offered a choice of meats, (vegetarian option available) this looked like it would be a fantastic and flavoursome meal. With these diners looking pleased with their choice upon being presented with a tortilla warmer to discover only 2 tortillas smaller than tea saucers inside their faces quickly changed.

We were glad we had ordered burgers. Or were we?

We ordered another round of drinks, I opted for the Aviator, mum the Black Jack cocktail.

Shortly after our nacho plate had been cleared our main course arrived. The side plate in which our burgers were served on was symbolic of the whole restaurant, it was all an illusion. Serving food on small plates to make it look bigger is one of the most undesirable traits a restaurant can display.

I had opted for the burger with chilli extra, my mum opted to add cheese. As the burgers fly solo on this small plate we ordered a side of chips and coleslaw to share.

Well presented the burger was served on a brioche bun, with a gherkin 'flag' and a thimble sized amount of relish which in all fairness wouldn't be missed as it was neither here nor there.

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We dished up our chips between us, these and the coleslaw were the only things that arrived which were ample to share, although admittedly the chips were lukewarm. I don't know about you but I prefer my food hot?

Cutting my burger in half to attempt to pick it up it all just disintegrated into a sloppy mush so I resorted to using my knife and fork. As I began my first mouthful our second cocktails came.

Distracted momentarily by the syringe in the Black Jack and the hip flask that came with my Aviator - which I later found out was priced at £12.50!!!!! Whaaaaaaat?! I mean you get to keep the hip flask and when you return you get 50% off that specific cocktail. Great. Just what I've been wanting...

We began to eat our meals after checking out the cocktails. The Black Jack comes recommended if you do happen to visit and is extremely strong.

Tasting my burger I looked at my mum and she knew by my expression I wasn't best pleased.

The 'patties' were no thicker than a McDonald's burger and to be honest, brutally honest I think I'd have enjoyed a double cheeseburger for a fraction of the price better at McDonald's. 

My mum wasn't struck by her burger at all either and whilst we understand that this new restaurant, like all new restaurants, have their initial teething problems, sub-standard food shouldn't be one of them.

Whilst we were dining we saw some people we knew, they voiced similar opinions for their Alchemist experience too. Stating that whilst the showmanship at the bar is a great novelty for the first few minutes they thought it took far too long to be served drinks and they too thought the food was extremely disappointing.

Feeling disheartened by our experience we opted not to have pudding and make our way early along to the launch of Billy Bootleggers, the speakeasy across from the back doors of The Alchemist.

With our total bill coming to just under £70 for 4 cocktails, a nacho starter and two burgers with two sides we thought that this was expensive for substandard food and average drinks.

Whilst we see the initial novelty factor of the smoking dry ice, alchemy style props in drinks and little quirks we both feel that this new addition to Newcastle is extremely over hyped and our experience was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

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With hundreds of dining choices in Newcastle, unfortunately, The Alchemist you haven't made it on our recommendations list.

Have you been yet? We'd love to know your thoughts!



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