Category Archives: Holidays

Super-size, American style!

Anyone who knows me is familiar with my love affair with America – it’s the holiday destination of choice for Other Half and I (every year if finances allow!) One of the reasons we love going is to sample the different foods on offer but, one thing never fails to amaze us – the portion sizes are out of this world, but not in a good way!

Whilst in Florida, we visited Olive Garden – a popular Italian style restaurant chain. We went in for lunch and ordered a pizza for me and a pasta dish for Other Half. The waitress asked whether I wanted soup or salad and I politely declined either. She looked at me wide-eyed in shock and said, “But it’s free?!?” To keep the peace, I agreed to a salad and Other Half chose one of the 4 soups on offer. We had delicious warm, fluffy garlic breadsticks left on the table to occupy us while we waited.

Less than 10 minutes later, my super-sized salad arrived…
  Olive Garden Salad

I’m not sure if the photo conveys how big this 1 person salad is, but it’s no exaggeration to say I could have worn the bowl as a hat! We also heard from the customer behind us that the soup and salad can be replenished at no extra cost, as many times as you like. This is all before the main course has even arrived…

This is the norm in America. I often wonder what the Yanks think when they visit Britain – are they astounded that you have to order and pay for a separate starter? When the main course arrives, are they startled by the average sized portion?

I love America and its wonderfully hospitable people, but they are literally killing themselves with kindness…

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Service with a smile… American style!

I’ve been lucky enough to holiday in the wonderful USA and was reminded once again, that somethings are just done best American stylie! The Yanks are well-known for their friendly and welcoming attitude and, while we British may laugh at some of their OTT mannerisms, they have a lot to teach us about great customer service.

I was putting my credit card limit to the test in a Florida outlet shopping mall and wandered into a shop called ‘Dressbarn’. There were a myriad of dresses that I just had to try on and within 10 minutes, I had 6 different styles in my arms, and had only looked round half the shop. The Assistant came over and asked, “Can I set a dressing room up for you Ma’am?” She then unloaded the dresses from me and whisked them into a changing cubicle while I picked up another couple of styles.

As I entered my dressing room, the Assistant noticed my current t-shirt / shorts / trainer combo, and offered to bring me shoes to try on with the dresses. It was service like I have never experienced before and this wasn’t an isolated case. It seems to be the norm that Shop Assistants ask if anyone helped you while you shopped and, if you found everything you were looking for.

American Shop Assistants are on basic wage, the same as many of their British counterparts, yet their attitude is so different. They seem to care that you have a good shopping experience and are always offering to help. Shopping in Blighty often makes you feel like you are a ‘nusiance customer’ when you interrupt the staff in mid-conversation to ask for another size or, enquire about a particular style and get the blanket answer “If it’s not out, we haven’t got anymore”. 

As work takes up so much of our life, surely a friendly smile and a dose of American can-do attitude would make all of our lives just that little bit sunnier..?

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

So, as the countdown to my holidays is getting ever closer, hitting my weight loss target looms further away…

I’m at that really rubbish stage where I only have 4lbs left to meet my goal, and it has stubbornly eluded me for the past few weeks. I decided to go bikini shopping to celebrate the weight loss I’ve achieved up until now, and feel I must make a complaint on behalf of all ladies out there:

Lighting and mirrors in shops are NOT flattering!

Despite being a fairly slim size 10/12, the harsh lighting and mirrors made me look as though I hadn’t even bothered to give up muffins, orange kitkats and the odd piece of cheesecake for the past 2 months! Every bump and dimple I own (plus many more I didn’t know I had) were highlighted under the vicious strip lighting in the tiny changing room.

This was in a huge department store (who you would assume had money and consumer flattering sense at their disposal), and I felt like diving straight into a Starbuck’s skinny latte and a full fat cinnamon swirl!

Fortunately, after 1 hour 20 minutes of intense trying on (because bikini shopping is a serious business!), I settled on two lovely bikinis and a matching bag. Doing a quick fashion show back at home for Other Half in   
softer lighting, made me look and feel a million times better in my new purchases.

If Mary Portas needs a new cause, changing rooms and strip lighting is top of my list – JUSTICE FOR NORMAL WOMEN’S THIGHS!!!

The Cheescake Factory is the door to heaven

The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory

The Cheesecake Factory is another miracle of American cuisine. We went for dessert last year, only to discover it was a full-blown restaurant that served the full monty of courses and so we intended to make the most of it this visit. We walked through enormous doors into a large, high ceilinged room and were led past a glass cabinet full of mouth-watering cheesecakes and into our booth. The waiter asked the usual question about where we were from but instead of the usual “your accent is so cute” reply, he told us he was from Surrey himself. We exchanged a bit of chatter as he gave us the menus and horror of horrors, a

The Cheesecake Factory Calorie Menu

The Cheesecake Factory Calorie Menu!

booklet dedicated to the calorie content of the food we were about to eat – total madness! Apparently, the government is so worried about the obesity problem in America, any restaurant chain of 10 or more must provide nutritional information about the food it serves. “Very sensible” I say as a gym going, healthy eating pre-holiday person in the UK. “Yeah, whatever, I’m not ruining my appetite by discovering my recommended calories for the day are sitting in this piece of cheesecake!” is what I actually say as a sunbathing, eating out everyday on holiday person.

Orange Chicken and Burger with Fries

Orange Chicken and Burger with Fries

The menu is huge and included starters that can feed a family, running alongside burgers, fish, chicken, mexican and pasta main dishes that would suit even the fussiest of eaters (yes, that means me!) I plump for orange chicken with rice and vegetables, Other Half goes with the burger and fries. The waiter brings back a diet coke and a freshly squeezed glass of real orange juice (you never have to say “fresh orange juice” to them as they don’t consider there is any other kind) and some of the worlds most amazing tasting bread.

Heavenly Bread

Heavenly Bread

 If you were to look at it in all innocence, you could mistakenly presume it is made from chocolate looking at its gorgeous dark brown crusty exterior and matching soft innards. However, it tastes like a sweet, spongy piece of heaven that could make you cancel your mains so you could just feast on its loveliness. I asked the waiter what kind of bread it was and he simply shrugged and told me it was some kind of rye bread – he has obviously lived here too long and become blind to the amazing bread! Back at the hotel, Judy thought it sounded like pumpernickel so I will have my eyes open once I get back home!

Most Delicious Vanilla Bean Cheesecake on Earth

Most Delicious Vanilla Bean Cheesecake on Earth

The chicken and burger were delicious although we only managed part of the huge plateful given to us. We gazed at the list of cheesecakes available and decided to go simple and order the vanilla bean – it was a heavenly layer of crunchy biscuit base, vanilla cheese, vanilla mousse, vanilla cream plus extra fresh cream added for good measure. Every bite was a party in my mouth, so rich and creamy and delicious and well worth all those hours in the gym. By the time I got to the last four forkfuls, I had slipped into slow motion and wondered if I would ever be hungry again. At home, I wouldn’t think twice about leaving food on my plate when I felt full but here, my stomach refused to give into my brain and I ate the cheesecake but left the cream. Other Half was more sensible, leaving a little bit of both so that he didn’t explode. All in all, it was a fabulous meal which we repeated a week later only this time, we ordered cheesecake to takeaway with us which meant we tried a few… I can also recommend carrot cake cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake and banana cream cheesecake! 😮

A Mesmorising Choice of Cheesecakes

A Mesmorising Choice of Cheesecakes

Have you tasted these Cheesecake Factory delights yourself or, do you think you have tasted better at home or on holiday? (I don’t know if I believe that you have!) Let me know as I am open to cheesecake recommendations throughout the world!

Food never tasted so good…!

Eating is one of our favourite things about being in America and this year was no exception: Ruby’s, a traditional old-fashioned American diner in town, El Mirasol the authentic Mexican a couple of blocks walk from the hotel and Manhattan in the Desert with its amazing bakery and 50% off all prices for the whole of September, all ranked in our ‘must visit’ list.

Davey's Hideaway

Davey's Hideaway

We also tried a few new places including Davey’s Hideaway, a 10 minute walk from our room. From the outside it never held much kerb appeal for us, the conservatory always looked like it was a bit lacking in atmosphere and was often empty early evening as we went out for dinner. We had heard rumours of fabulous steaks so decided to give it a try and we were in for a shock! We walked through the doors into a warm, candlelit and snug interior with a real pianist playing softly in the background, providing wonderful ambience. It was not at all what we had expected and I could see Other Half was immediately worried about the dress code in his smart yet casual polo top and shorts. The fact they didn’t turn us away at the door obviously meant a jacket and tie was not required to eat here, so we relaxed into our booths and perused the menu in search of the fabled steaks.

Whilst reading, I heard a little squeak from an unknown source and looked up but nothing caught my eye. Moments later another squeak and this time I realised it was Other Half specific. I looked at him and then my menu before the squeak was revealed… I had simply started reading about each dish on the menu – Other Half, as wallet holder had checked out the prices first! As my eyes fell onto the $32.95 filet steak I fancied, I understood the squeak! In my most reassuring tone, I reasoned we don’t eat out much (at those prices anyway) and so could afford a one off although I nervously checked he had brought enough funds (note to self: always carry some emergency money myself!) He had about $100 so didn’t need to wash up or do a runner at the end of the night.

The waitress came over to ask if we were ready to order and if we had read the special menu. We hadn’t and suddenly discovered that Monday to Thursday you could get a three course meal including the filet steak for only $23.95! What a turnaround! We both took advantage and I went especially wild ordering a glass of non-alcoholic wine. For once in my 34 year old life, I felt like a proper grown up at the dinner table and certainly must have looked like one without my ever-present orange juice or diet coke. The beef broth and Caesar salad starters arrived and my salad was huge. I had totally forgotten that entre means starter, not side dish, as I never like to waste valuable tummy space or calories on two savoury meals when a dessert is in the offing. The trouble is in America, wait staff look at you like you are a nutcase if you ask to miss out a course, the chef ends up getting confused and upset at our funny foreign ways so I to prevent this, I ordered Caesar salad without ever dreaming I would have to eat it. For a start, I don’t like parmesan and those leaves are covered in the stuff. My dinner plate sized pile of greens was put in front of me and so I ate the crutons and some leaves from underneath the main pile that had not be tainted by the smelly cheese. It was a token effort to get onto the steak.

Once our filets had arrived (medium rare for Other Half and well done for

Superb Filet Steak

Superb Filet Steak

me, yes, I’m sure the chef was weeping into his hat when he heard that), I sneaked a quick photo before tucking in. Although I don’t eat much meat, it was deliciously cooked along with the vegetable accompaniments. The dessert menu was short and sweet and I jumped in and ordered my first piece of Keylime Pie. Other Half, ever the gentleman, ordered Mud Pie so we could swap if I didn’t like mine, he knows the importance of good dessert in my life! A teeny, tiny square of pie arrived which was very limey and perhaps slightly disappointing after the lovely main course but when the bill only came to $69 including tip (originally the cost of just two filet steaks), it was a great end to a lovely night.

Welcome to Trip Advisors top hotel in America

The Desert Riviera Hotel

The Desert Riviera Hotel

After we collected our luggage (first off the aircraft – what are the chances?!?) and picked up our hire car, it was a 10 minute journey that took us to the Desert Riviera Hotel. By this time, we had been up and about for a whole 24 hours and so must have looked pretty rough. We were hugged and greeted like family by owners Larry and Patty who escorted us

Larry and Patty

Larry and Patty

straight to our room, accompanied by a beer, diet coke and two huge slices of pizza in case we were hungry and just left to collapse. A huge bottle of champagne in a cold ice bucket greeted us along with a handwritten note to let us know how pleased they were to see us. I’m sure you can see already why we love this place so much, there are so many personal touches dotted throughout your stay that it really feels like a second home in a parallel sun-shining-no-work-worry-free kind of world!

Hotel Pool and Sun Loungers

The gorgeous poolside

With 10 sun soaked days ahead of us, we alternated between lazy days by the pool and trips out to sights we didn’t see during last years holiday. Being outside in weather over 100 degrees most days, my hours spent sunbathing were in and out of the shade in order to last the whole day. I punctuated the day with a light smattering of chick lit reading as well as random thoughts that popped into my head. I wondered if all those people who live in the houses we flew over, used their pool everyday? Do they get time in the real working world to take advantage of it or, is it like that old exercise bike or multi-gym back home – we used it a couple of times and then lost interest?

Scenic Mountain Roads

Scenic mountain roads

Driving round Palm Springs is so easy. No traffic jams, no Boy Racers, just people going about their business in a steady fashion, ready to gently toot you if you don’t turn right on a red light when the coast is clear. This is one of the weird driving differences between our countries that means at present, Other Half is the only one with confidence to drive us around on the wrong side of the road…!

Judy and Stephen

Judy and Stephen

After a couple of days, Desert Riviera Manager Judy and her husband Stephan were back on duty and it was time for another round of hugs and handshakes. Judy is a complete Weight Watchers inspiration, She has lost over 10 stone in weight in the last year. She not only looked amazing on the outside but the lovely, bubbly (urgh, such a fat persons word cliche I know but she is just sooooo bubbly!) woman we met last year has found an inner glow that can blind you if you stare at her in amazement for too long. She radiates happiness and oozes with new found joy of water aerobics and gym sessions. Having been a very unhappy size 18 myself in the past, I could identify with the pleasures her changing body is bringing her. I broadened my book reading to some inspiring non-fiction Judy was keen to lend me and gobbled up ‘The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl‘, ‘Ruby’s Diary‘ and ‘Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir‘. Each of these women’s stories detailed their real life struggles to lose weight and, whilst pound for pound I lost a lot less than them six years ago, essentially, we all share the same feelings of depression and elation along the way. Judy has created her own website called ‘TooMuchGirls‘ to which she constantly adds loads of yummy healthy recipes and keeps you up-to-date with her new fun fitness finds, why not take a peek?

Anyone who has lost weight knows how difficult it is to keep it off, what’s your secret? The only way I have managed to stay a size 12 for the past six years has been to eat right 80% of the time, not feel guilty about treating myself 20% of the time and finding different kinds of exercise I enjoy. What helps you stay on track?

People, please turn off your phones!

Having landed in Dallas after a very long flight, we rechecked our luggage and went through security. I wonder if all British people look as comedic as us in the process – we smiled inanely at everyone in uniform (with or without a gun), in the hope of persuading them that we are a normal couple from Hertfordshire, there for a holiday while posing absolutely no threat to Homeland Security (every time I see that on a sign I think of Jack Bauer in 24!) As the guard (with a gun) at security asked us the purpose of our visit, I said “holiday” then immediately think I should have said “vacation” so as to appear as Americanized as possible. We have our fingerprints scanned and photos taken, Other Half is first and I can see him twitching at the camera wondering whether a smile is appropriate or not – he decided to plump for his serious-in-a-non-threatening-way face. My turn and I opted for the half-smile-no-teeth pose that I managed to get away with on my passport photo – the woman at the Post Office said it might not get accepted but someone must have been in a good mood that day and approved me. Coincidentally, I had also spent 2 hours and £75 getting my hair cut and coloured for that picture, as I was determined to look half decent on my passport for the next 10 years and, my efforts were rewarded!

It was 8.20 pm and we still had four hours to kill before we left for Palm Springs, so we roamed like nomads through shops in our terminal before discovering there was a skylink train which led to a whole world of other terminals. We headed for Terminal A, which was our departure point, and to our delight, discovered a huge array of shops and eating places that were previously unavailable in the last building. After walking miles we settled for a quick meal in Taco Bell followed by a cinnamon / sugar Auntie Anne’s warm, soft pretzel… this is always my favourite first real taste of America. I have a loyalty card from last year’s holiday that I got stamped, and great news, I only need to buy four more pretzels before I get one free! My heart screams “what a bargain” whilst my head reminds me that the scales would rather I pick up my reward within the next two years. Oh well, despite my love for forward planning, I will leave this one to fate!

Aeroplane

Waiting to board in Dallas...

At 12.20 am we get on our second flight and I am tired and potentially cranky. Although we have been asked to buckle up and turn off all electronic devices, the woman opposite me is merrily playing away on her phone. This is not some rebellious teenager messing about, but a lady who looks to be in her 70’s and is flaunting the rules without a second thought. Now I don’t know if the pilot tells us to do these things simply as a precautionary measure or if it’s to stop the plane falling out of the sky, but I don’t want to find out by becoming a tragic news story! I am getting more and more agitated as we sit on the runway, and although I sit and stare at her in a disapproving manner, she never looks up to notice. I promise myself that as soon as we move an inch, I am going to lean over for a quiet yet firm word but hallelujah, she finally sees sense and turns it off. Relieved, I settle back and look out at the night’s sky only to notice sheet lightening in the distance and emergency vehicles, lights blazing, hurrying to the other end of the runway. The pilot announces that there will be a short delay with take off but just to sit tight and keep all electronic devices turned off. The woman then leans over to me and says, “should I sneak my phone on to tell people I will be late?” Is she kidding me? “NO YOU CRAZY OLD BAT, WE DON’T WANT TO DIE!” I shriek inside my head, but outwardly, I quietly tell her there is no need as it seems to be only a short delay. A minute later the Captain announces that adverse weather conditions in the East have caused planes to be diverted to this airfield and we are now in a very long queue for a take off time slot. BING! Woman’s phone is turned straight back on…

Palm Springs Concourse

Palm Springs Sonny Bono open air concourse

One hour late, we finally take off for the 3-hour journey to Palm Springs. We are both really tired at this point, but Other Half is always the gentleman – as my head keeps tipping forward off his shoulder, he sticks his finger in the middle of my forehead to keep me upright – now that’s love! Due to the crazy nature of time differences, it is 4.30 am our time yet somehow only 8.30 pm local time. As we step off the plane into the part open air Sonny Bono concourse, Palm Springs welcomes us with its warm open arms…

So, have you ever been on a plane with someone really annoying you? Have you ever witnessed any strange behaviour? (I once saw a man brushing his eyebrows and hair with a plastic knife!) Let me know what winds you up when you are on your travels! 😮