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This has been one huge year for me. A year of change and uncertainty, bringing with it equal parts anxiety and excitement. There have been many firsts, and an abundance of love as friendships were constantly rekindled as I flitted back and forth from coast to coast.
On the flipside, there has been tragedy that, although not immediately personal, have hit close enough to home to fill me with deep sadness and an even greater resolve to live life to the fullest.
Each year, I become more and more intentional about that proverbial bucket list. If success in life is measured by the number of ticks on this list, then surely 2016 has been a very good year. Here’s a rundown of some of the year’s highlights, some of which you might like to add to your own bucket list.
1. DISNEY PRINCESS HALF MARATHON
The year’s travels kicked off in the happiest place on earth. Well, technically, they commenced in Miami. But who am I kidding? This trip was all about 1 thing only – the 13.1 mile (21.1km) run from Epcot to Magic Kingdom and back in Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida. If I must be honest, the course itself was pretty boring apart from the 4km or so portion through Magic Kingdom, as you’re running on a straight highway for most of it. But the atmosphere more than makes up for the lack of scenery along the way. Most racers dress up as Disney characters, and there are Disney cast members all along the course to cheer you on and take photos with. This is one happening party that I’m glad I took the effort to train for!
Make it happen: The next Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend runs from 23-26 February 2017. Unfortunately, the event tends to get sold out the very day registration opens, typically around July of the preceding year. If you’re keen to make it happen for 2018 and have never run a half marathon before, do as I did – start training in 2017 and run a local half marathon in order to get your time so that you can register to run in one of the earlier starts rather than at the very end with all the other untimed and typically untrained participants. This will give you more time after the race to enjoy one of the Disney theme parks…if your legs allow you another full day of walking! In the meantime, make sure you keep an eye on the official Run Disney website so you can hop on as soon as registration opens.
2. DISNEY 24/7
It may seem like I’m cheating by including Disney twice on this list, but I had such an amazing time at Disney’s Beach Club Resort that I simply had to give it a big shout out. From the beautifully themed and immaculately maintained grounds, the ease with which you can travel between the resort to any of the Disney theme parks, to the incredibly friendly and helpful staff, it is clear from the get-go that their mission is to make you feel welcome and at home. In fact, “Welcome home” is exactly how you’re greeted whenever you step through the doors. Every. Single. Time. It may sound corny, but it totally put a smile on my face that lasted the entire duration of my stay. If you’ve never done so before, make it your mission to stay on-site at a Disney hotel. Even if you’re an Orlando native, book yourself a little stay-cation. Having already been to Disneyland in California as a day trip previously, I have to say that staying on-site and living and breathing everything Disney for a few days adds a whole other level of fun that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime. They’re certainly on the pricier side of hotels in Orlando, but the Beach Club ranks up there as one of my favourite hotels I’ve ever checked into, and is well worth it, in my opinion.
Make it happen: Find out more about Disney’s Beach Club Resort at the official Walt Disney World website. I, personally, found the best price through Hotels.com, but regardless of where you make your booking, be sure to hop back onto the Walt Disney World website in order to plan the most efficient stress-free use of your time by checking out the individual parks’ opening hours including which park is offering Extra Magic Hours for resort guests each day, keeping an eye on the typical wait times for each ride, and most importantly, booking your FastPasses for each day that you are there. If possible, confirm your trip and book your hotel at least 2 months before you go, as resort guests can book their FastPasses 60 days in advance!
3. THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
While in Orlando, Florida, don’t forget to check out Universal Studios as well. In fact, I highly recommend that you check out of Disney altogether and into one of the hotels that offers an Express Pass and, more importantly, early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter a whole hour before everyone else! This is a fantastic perk, as it means you can quickly tick off the 2 biggest attractions (for which your Express Pass is not valid), and really soak in the atmosphere of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade before the masses of Muggles arrive. I had an amazing time teasing a goblin at the Bank of Gringotts, chatting to Stan the bus driver, calling the Ministry of Magic, and watching little witches and wizards practising their wand skills. In short, it was simply magical!
Make it happen: I stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was great – just a short walk or, if you’re feeling especially lazy, a boat ride away from Universal Studios. Or maybe skip the boat ride and attempt the Hard Rock Kitchen Sink Challenge at dinner time…
4. MARINA BAY SANDS, SINGAPORE
It’s been on my bucket list for some time to stay at this iconic hotel just so I can swim in their iconic rooftop infinity pool with its amazing views over Singapore. You know the one – the very same view is on every 2nd blogger’s Instagram account. So much so that I decided to post a photo from the much less crowded and therefore more peaceful jacuzzi on the other side of the rooftop instead, facing the even more picturesque (in my opinion) Supertree Grove. Truth be told, I thought this hotel was highly over-rated. But I’m glad nonetheless to have satisfied my curiosity.
Make it happen: If, like me, you’re keen to see just what the fuss is all about, I’d say 1 or 2 nights at the Marina Bay Sands is plenty. While you’re there, make sure you pop over to the Gardens by the Bay, and don’t miss the nightly light show at the Supertree Grove, at 7.45pm and 8.45pm.
A couple of months after my trip to the USA, I found myself in Paradise on earth. Cliche? Sure. But picture this – the bluest of blue skies and crystal clear water, an overwater villa with a glass bottomed bathtub so you can admire the marine life even while you’re enjoying a relaxing soak, a huge bed with fluffy pillows facing floor to ceiling glass windows, a personal Guest Experience Manager to ensure your stay is just perfect, and nothing to do for 4 days except to decide which spa treatment to go for and what ice-cream flavour to indulge in from the complimentary ice-cream bar featuring 42 different flavours. I can think of no better description for the Six Senses Laamu.
Make it happen: Hop over to the official Six Senses Laamu website and start drooling. Then, if you need to, start saving now because if you think those photos are amazing, let me tell you, it’s even better in real life!
6. DINNER FOR ONE
I’ve been travelling solo for several years now, and not only am I perfectly comfortable doing so, I actually enjoy it. One thing I have never been keen on, though, is solo fine dining. Meals on my own at the hotel or in a little cafe, fine. However, there is just something off-putting about sitting through an entire 3 hour or so degustation all on my own. When I heard that the 3 Michelin starred Danish chef Rasmus Kofoed was preparing an exclusive dinner for 4 nights only at exactly the time that I was heading to the Six Senses Laamu in Maldives, I knew this was finally the time for me to tackle the bull by the horn. In the end, my worries were completely unfounded. The chef and other staff were attentive to the extreme, making for an enjoyable evening entirely devoid of any awkwardness.
Make it happen: I did ask, but chef Rasmus is uncertain if he will be returning to the Six Senses for future dinners. For a taste of his beautifully presented dishes that are light and delicate at first taste yet explode with exquisitely balanced flavours in your mouth, book a flight to Copenhagen, Denmark and secure a reservation at his restaurant there, Geranium. Reservations are taken online 90 days in advance.
7. PALAZZO VERSACE, GOLD COAST
In case you couldn’t tell, I love checking into swanky hotels and seeing what the fuss is all about, so when I found myself headed to the Gold Coast for a work conference, I didn’t hesitate to book myself a room at this hotel which has also been on my radar for some time. Although I didn’t really get the full experience as I was only there for 1 night and didn’t have any meals there, it certainly lived up to expectations. The check-in process was seamless and came with complimentary champagne – always a nice touch, in my books.The decor was subtler than I had anticipated, and exactly on point, I thought. And the room and bedding were very comfortable. Definitely a stay-cation I could indulge in again!
Make it happen: Find out more at the official Palazzo Versace website, but I managed to secure a Hotels.com members’ secret sale offer for 1 night in a Superior Suite for $357, which I thought was quite reasonable.
8. BREAKFAST DEGUSTATION AT 85 MISKIN ST, TOOWONG
For so long after my move to Brisbane, I had bemoaned the lack of good coffee and a cafe culture like the one that I had grown to love in Perth. To my delight, I stumbled one morning upon what I can only describe as the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten. Every course was perfectly balanced and like no other breakfast menu I’ve ever come across. Do yourself a favour – book a table there ASAP!
Make it happen: Check out the menu and reserve your table here, and don’t forget to bring your Entertainment card too. Priced at just $40 per person, plus 25% off the total bill with your Entertainment card, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value meal around anywhere!
I had put off exploring the Red Centre year after year because, quite frankly, travelling within Australia is expensive. When I heard about the Field of Lights, I knew this was the year to finally tick this off my list. As it turns out, this is no once-in-a-lifetime destination to simply cross off. Uluru, the Olgas and King’s Canyon are more beautiful than I could ever have imagined – I would be more than happy to return!
Make it happen: Everything you need to know is on the Ayer’s Rock Resort website, where you can find out more about the Field of Lights, then book your hotel and tours.
10. SUNSET HELICOPTER RIDE OVER ULURU AND THE OLGAS
This was a first for me, and I’m glad I splurged, especially on the longer flight that also included flying over the Olgas. I was a little nervous at first as I sometimes get a little motion sick on small planes, but to my surprise, helicopter rides (or at least this one) are actually smoother than small planes.
Make it happen: This was a last minute splurge that I booked at my hotel reception once I arrived at the resort, but can be booked online. I highly recommend the 36 minute Grand View flight at sunset with Professional Helicopter Services.
11. MAKING A DRIP CAKE FOR MY NIECES’ BIRTHDAY
Proving that bucket lists don’t have to revolve entirely around travel, but can also include experiences closer to home including learning new skills, languages, or the like. I was surrounded by incredibly talented (and generous!) cooks and bakers in Perth, and therefore never had the need to make much of an effort in home cooking. When my sister-in-law decided she would like to host my nieces’ first ever birthday party, I realised it would be the perfect opportunity for me to finally learn how to properly ice a cake. The fondant Ariel and Cinderella figurines in the picture above were made by my teacher, but I’m quite happy with how the icing and the crazy cornucopia of candy turned out in my 3rd attempt at making a drip cake.
Make it happen: Book yourself into a baking/cake decorating class, or if you’re lucky like me, get some recipes and tips from friends who excel in this area. Then, you’ll just have to practise, practise, practise until you’re happy with the finished product. I recommend throwing a few tea or dinner parties in the lead up to the main event so you can share the calories of those trial cakes you’ll be making.
12. GOING TO CHURCH WITH MY FAMILY
I never imagined that, just a few months after I moved here, I would get to be a part of one of the most important milestones in the life of someone near and dear to me. The trust in sharing this news with me, and the invitation for me to join in this journey signifies how much our relationship has grown in just a short time, and I feel immensely honoured to be able to support her. These, more than anything, have been the most meaningful and worthwhile moments, epitomising what 2016 has been all about for me – a year for obedience, spiritual growth, and enjoying all the little moments with my family.
Make it happen: Continue to enjoy your travels, but remember to make time for your loved ones back home. Plan meals at home or special dinners out, day trips, weekends away – whatever it takes to reconnect. And, I know it’s difficult, but remember to put away those phones and other devices now and then so you can have a real conversation instead, looking each other in the eyes.
Your turn now. What have been your highlights for 2016? What’s on your bucket list that I can add to mine for the coming year?
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