Mauritius; The star and key of the Indian Ocean

 

Mauritius is one of those once in a lifetime destinations. A honeymoon spot for many or just an extraordinarily luxurious holiday that creates memories to last a lifetime. We were lucky enough to win a trip to the star and key of the Indian Ocean through the #BeachLife photo competition with Stylist Magazine and Veranda Resorts. If this blog teaches you anything please let it be that yes, people really do win those incredible holiday competitions you see on the TV and in magazines, just give it a go!

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Flying with Air France we were not looking forward to the 12-hour flight that awaited us but it turned out to be one of our most comfortable flights ever with a whole row to ourselves… each! We were able to sleep the full journey and arrive in the country we had been dreaming about ever since we got THAT tweet from Stylist Magazine.

We had never been to Africa before and although this wasn’t mainland Africa, we still didn’t know what to expect. Arriving in September it was pleasantly warm and we set off on our journey to the very north of the island. With the island being a mere 2040km² we drove the full length of the island within an hour, picking up some insightful information from our driver with the usual taxi chat. Did you know Mauritius’ biggest export is Prince’s tuna? Neither did we but we were more interested in the local rum which was to come later!

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Veranda Pointe Aux Biches was absolutely incredible. We have had a number of discussions since returning whether this was our best holiday ever and the hotel was definitely a major factor. The reception immediately set the tone with a sand and wooden theme almost forcing you to relax. Upon arriving the first thing you are asked to do is take your shoes off and immerse your feet under three water spouts representing peace, love and happiness. This might be a bit cringe for some but what a fantastic change to arriving and being asked for your booking details and credit card before so much as a hello!

We were toured through the hotel which was the most wonderful and peaceful setting we have ever encountered on holiday. The hotel has two pools, bars, restaurants , a spa, plenty of activities to get involved in, a private beach and the most welcoming staff you will ever meet. Being based in the Privilege room, we were free to eat at either of the two restaurants which offered very different but equally delicious food and impeccable service. The Sandy Lane village bar, pool and restaurant were for adults only, all-inclusive customers but really, you would have the holiday of a lifetime in any room in. We were free to roam to any part of resort and that’s exactly what we did, spreading our time between the Sandy Lane and Foot-Loose areas.

Our room was filled with complementary coffee, tea, fruit, snacks, coke and beer which were all replenished everyday. The towels were shaped into different animals each time you went back to your room and the view of the balcony was so perfect you could have a good time without even leaving the room.

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Although it wasn’t the height of summer, we couldn’t resist swimming in the pools and sea. We also made the effort to take out some of the free to use water sport equipment laid on by the hotel such as windsurf boards and kayaks. The Pina Coladas flowed all day, everyday and we soon found the coconut rum to be our drink of choice. A few nights ended with us being slightly more flamboyant that usual thanks to a few too many cocktails but if you can’t get carried away on holiday you may as well stay at home!

The Senses restaurant was a buffet style setup with fresh grilled steak, fish and chicken with an everlasting spread of supplements to go with it. The vegetable gratin was one of the most heavenly things we have ever had and for us to pick out the vegetable as our favourite item you know it was good! The all-you-can-eat style meant you could spend hours eating and chatting as the night wore on with the the cocktails still flowing freely.

Although we loved the buffet area, the Sandy Lane restaurant was on another level. Michelin style service was matched by scenic views made for memorable moments. The restaurant continued with the sand theme as you felt your toes settle into the sand as your listen to the waves crashing beneath the stars of the sky.

The food was impeccable with a different five course meal served up each night. From succulent steak to freshly caught fish brought in from the sea just a few metres away, this was a real fine dining experience. Deserts ranged from coconut emblazoned crème brulee to hand made profiteroles fit for a king. The food at Veranda Resorts was something we are sure we will never experience again, and that is a very upsetting thought!

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Wanting to see more of the country, we did venture out of the resort as we visited the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden and L’ Aventure du Sucre. The botanical gardens were a beauty and we recommend taking a picnic with you as it is a great place to explore where you can spend hours losing yourself within the exotic plants and giant tortoises. The sugar cane factory is great if you are keen on finding out more about the heritage of this incredible little island. It is more than just a sugar factory and explanation of processes, it also tells you about the people of the country, their customs, values and their beliefs.

We visited Trou aux Biches on a few occasions and thoroughly enjoyed taking some time away from the resort to see the real Mauritian people as we walked through small villages and chatted with the locals. The beach itself was yet another breathtaking setting but the same could be said about most of Mauritius. We also took a Veranda catamaran cruise to Bernaches Islet where we enjoyed a BBQ to conquer all BBQ’s, and spent a few hours taking in the perfection of Mauritius.

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On our last day we rented out some bikes to ride out to the sugar cane fields. Cycling through the winding roads and listening to the roar of the waves beside us, we made it to the fields which were a bit further out the way than they had seemed in the car! The long ride was well worth it though as we settled down and explored the fields that could have lasted forever if we only had our eyes to judge it by.

Mauritius has become that holiday that will never be beaten. That luxury break that cannot be topped and that memory that will never be lost.

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The Asian Circle

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KHTravels are working with The Asian Circle on a mission to support vulnerable women in India and South Asia. We are honoured to be assisting with their social media campaign raising awareness of the fantastic work that they carry out daily. Please help spread the word and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!

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The Asian Circle is working together with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in North East India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Oxfam is helping the government, police and judiciary to apply the laws that protect women. This includes setting up support centres in police stations to provide shelter, legal advice, counselling and launching a state-wide campaign to raise awareness of and change attitudes towards violence against women.

Around the world, 35% of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day dedicated to raise public awareness about this and other appalling statistics and that is what we’re doing!

A weekend in Mysore

Mysore is one of those places in India where you just feel welcome. Let’s not forget that India isn’t for everyone but there is a slight chance that Mysore might just be. Being voted the cleanest Indian city for two years in a row definitely has something to do with that!

Where to stay:

We’ve stayed at Hotel Aditya a few times now and we’re never let down. The location is perfect as it is within walking distance of the Mysore Palace and Devaraja Market while also being opposite More. More is like finding a needle in a haystack in India as it’s a supermarket that sells beer! Hotel Aditya is a 10 minute tuctuc ride from the KSRTC bus station which makes coming and going very easy. The staff are helpful, the rooms are decent for a reasonable price and they have cable TV, wifi, and free breakfast! Just what you need if you’ve been backpacking in hostels.

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What to do:

If you want to see India in all of its glory then Devaraja Market is the place to be. From Holi paints and flowers to gem stones and exotic oils, you can find virtually anything at this market once you’ve shifted through the furore of people, cows, dogs and stalls outside, a great place to get those insta pics.

Chamundi Hill is a great spot to get a view of the whole city, especially at sunset or sunrise. The sunlight reflects across the whole city and it feels like you’re sitting on the edge of Pride Rock. Take the 201 bus to the peak and for a few extra rupees we suggest you wait it out for the air con bus which is a lot less busy and much more comfortable. Once reaching the top follow the steps to find yourself a secluded spot and the view will speak for itself.

If you have some spare time the Mysore sand museum is a good place to visit with some awesome sculptures for only 40 rupees per person. It’s located just a few minutes’ drive from the Mall of Mysore and features some amazing artworks based on religion, history and Disney!

The Mall of Mysore is a basic mall, but offers some tasty treats, a good supermarket and a cinema with English movies.

Finally, Mysore Palace is what you visit this city for, built in 1912 it is incredibly well maintained and attracts six million people a year. If you want to get the full experience make sure you explore the inside of the palace to experience life as a Maharaja in India. If you’re just there to get some snaps then avoid paying the full entrance fee and wander the grounds leisurely with a picnic but we wouldn’t recommend going in the middle of the day unless you want to remember your experience with some semi-permanent sunburn! Everyday except Sundays the Palace holds a sound and light programme between 7pm & 8pm where you can see the palace illuminated in all its glory.

Where to eat:

Having been in India for over three months were always on the lookout for our next western meal so hearing of a dominos, KFC and McDonald’s was music to our ears. We know this isn’t the most cultural thing to do but what says India more than a Maharaja Mac?!

There is also a great little pizza place by the name of Sadananda’s Wood Fired Pizza within walking distance of Hotel Aditya. It doesn’t look the busiest or the most appealing place to eat but looks can be deceiving and we can’t recommend this place highly enough.

Mysore is a wonderful Indian city with some much needed home comforts. If you just come along for the palace and a Maharaja Mac it will be a day well spent but as with the rest of India there’s something special about this city with plenty to see and do.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

A weekend in Kochi

Kochi is a welcome break for most travellers in India with its European feel and abundance of restaurants to choose from, it’s definitely more that just “that place with the Chinese fishing nets”.

Where to stay:

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This was our second time visiting Kochi but unfortunately could not return to the excellent Bastian Homestay as it was fully booked. Instead, we stayed at Maison Casero homestay which was just as brilliant and if anything better. The one thing we craved most was a western breakfast so being awoken to tea, toast and eggs made to measure immediately out a smile on our face!

The rooms were very clean, had the option of AC, offered free wifi and a hot shower. You can’t really ask for more than that for £16 a night!

What to do:

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The beach is not so great and really rather dirty but you should definitely head down to Fort Kochi to see the Chinese fishing nets in action. We recommend avoiding the heat of the day and head down at sunset to enjoy the view of the sun descending into the Arabian Sea whilst the locals are bringing in their catch of the day.

Santa Cruz Basilica Church is one of Kochi’s most famous landmarks and although nice to see especially at night when it is all lit up, it wouldn’t be our top reason for going to visit however, there is something else close by that is a must see…

Kathakali is one of the main forms of classical Indian dance. A story portrayed through art, we watched a rather large man turn the whites of his eyes blood red before depicting a story of rape and death. Not the most uplifting of tales but certainly one you’ll never forget. It’s a very strange experience, but one not to be missed!

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On the bright side, if you’re after a bit of western life then Lulu Mall is the place to be. Take the airport bus from Fort Kochi directly to the mall and you get to ride through this quaint town in the comfort of air conditioning without forking out for a private car. The mall itself offers an array of shops to explore, a great cinema with English and Indian movies and best of all it’s very own answer to Nando’s; Galitos! We also experienced the best milkshake we have ever had in Bloomsbury’s cafe, which was reason enough for us to return to the mall during our second visit!

Where to eat:

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There are an abundance of great restaurants to eat in Fort Kochi. On our previous visit we headed down to The Old Harbour and despite being a bit pricey, they serve one hell of a steak! For a cheaper but equally exceptional meal take a stroll from the fishing nets to The Killians Hotel. If you’re in a pair or more we highly recommend getting one of the seafood platters, Kochi offers some of the best seafood in India and this place might just be the pick of the bunch. Despite many recommendations online, we would advice you avoid eating at the many stalls lining the beach as we found they’re often over priced and take an age to prepare your meal!

Finally, the Upstairs Italian Restaurant was like a mirage in the sun when we first visited Kochi and it was just as fantastic this time around. Seated with an open window view of Santa Basilica Church, this might be the only place in India that serves real prosciutto Ham!

So there you have it; where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Kochi. Just remember you won’t be able to claim your free whole chicken on your Nando’s card in Galito’s… it’s still india after all!

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Backyard Cinema

Whilst travelling the world, would you believe one of the things we really enjoyed doing was checking out each country’s cinemas. Every single one we visited, from Oz to the Philippines and India, were SO much better than British cinemas. Tickets at less than a quarter of our price, a huge range of snacks all less than £1 and the quality of the  cinemas themselves were second to none.

When we returned home we were not looking forward to paying way over the odds at Vue, or sitting in a hot, stinky room at Premiere. So, when we discovered Backyard Cinema, we were overjoyed! With tickets starting from £16.50  you’re not only seeing a film, but you’re getting a fantastic experience too. The first time we visited we saw Jurassic World in an exclusive jungle themed set up, venturing deep through the jungle before taking our seats in comfy beanbags!

More recently we saw Home Alone in their Winter Night Garden extravaganza, and the set it self was like being in a movie; fairy lights, Christmas woodland, themed cocktails and blankets to snuggle with and get in the festive mood!

If you’re travelling in London we can’t recommend you visit this place enough. We’re super excited to see what ideas they come up with next! You can check out all of the packages and film screenings they offer here.

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Natural History Museum Ice Rink

It’s pretty hard to beat Christmas in London and with it being our home city we’re trying a range of different festive activities to recommend to you guys, starting with ice skating at the Natural History Museum venue.

5The outside entrance to the NHM has been transformed into a winter wonderland, sponsored by Swarovski you can imagine how beautiful and glistening it is. The actual ice rink has a great view of the museum and is of a good size, leaving you with plenty of space to skate together… or fall to the floor depending on your skills! The main thing is, it isn’t so packed that you can’t move – which is the problem with a lot of London rinks this time of year.

A cute bonus is the Swarovski skate cam, located on the rink you can pose for a Christmas photo in the stunning setting and collect a print out for free after or download it online. Perfect for H who is a sucker for souvenirs, and we’re sure many of you are too! After your skate relax in the upstairs café with a hot drink and snack whilst overlooking the magical view.

Our only negative comment is that it’s recommended you get there 40 mins prior to your booking time, so we rushed straight from work to arrive early and were given our skates pretty much immediately and were then left waiting around. However, we can expect the closer to Christmas it gets the busier the rink becomes – so take this as you will!

We would totally recommend this Christmas ice skating experience. Reasonably priced, fab atmosphere in truly iconic surroundings- the perfect Christmas date night!

Price: Adults from £12.95

Availability: Open until 8th December

Tickets: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/ice-rink.html

Pumpkin Pickin’

This year we decided to get all spooky and into Halloween and were looking for some exciting things to do in the London & Essex area. First thing on the agenda was pumpkin picking, and we found a great patch at Foxes Farm offering this for free in two locations, Basildon and Colchester.

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If you’re travelling in London this is a bit further afield (excuse the pun!) but definitely worth doing and great if you’re on a budget. You can also get direct trains from London to either destination.

We had picked the perfect day for it, beautifully sunny with that cold, crisp winter feeling, and surprisingly we had more fun than we expected! We spent a couple of hours picking our pumpkins, strolling through the corn fields and of course getting some fab photos! You can also grab a wizard burger or eerie sausage roll from the food stall.

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With the pumpkins starting from just £1 we would definitely recommend visiting Foxes Farm this week, it’s fab for families and  couples looking for something new to do! They’re open from 10am – 4pm all half term, and it’s definitely a better experience than selecting your pumpkin from a supermarket!

Happy Halloween Travellers!

Limitless Tuesdays at Sway Bar

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Living in London is expensive, so imagine backpacking here. We know that even as a backpacker you want, no hold on, NEED a few nights of luxury!

Sway Bar in Holborn offers the perfect excuse to get dressed up and have an evening of endless flowing prosecco and limitless pizza, all for only £22 per person every Tuesday in a chic, quirky setting.

We used the opportunity for a cheeky date night in London and were really impressed that it is actually unlimited for the 90 minutes during your table reservation. There are a selection of pizzas they bring out one at a time, until you’re fit to burst, and the prosecco comes by the bottle!

This offer is on until the middle of November, so take advantage and book your tickets here.

The best of the West

One of our favourite things to do in London is to see a West End theatre show, this NEVER gets old! It’s always an exciting evening out and a good excuse to dress up. We probably go to the theatre twice a year, and never regret it!

This is definitely a hot spot if you’re a tourist in London too. Tickets can be quite expensive but not if you know where to look. If you’re not fussed what you see and when you see it, you can get cheap tickets in Leicester Square at the ticket stalls starting from £15 and it’s definitely worth exploring around there anyway. If you would like to take a bit more time to plan your trip, or if you have something particular in mind then check out www.lastminute.com as they always offer some sort of bargain!


 The first show we ever saw together was in the summer of 2009, and it was ‘Thriller‘ the Michael Jackson tribute. It was one of our very first dates which made it extra special in itself, but the show was phenomenal and you couldn’t help but get up and have a little boogie! We would certainly recommend it, especially for a first date, we’re still together nearly 7 years on!

 The most recent show we saw was ‘Bend it like Beckham’ which we were inspired to see after our recent trip to India, and we loved it! Very much like the film, but even more hilarious! Unfortunately this is no longer showing, but definitely keep your eye out incase it makes a comeback, which wouldn’t surprise us as it was so fabulous!
Our other favourites include the classic ‘Billy Elliott’ which we have seen several times and gets better with every viewing. ‘Wicked’, a twisted version about the witches of the famous Wizard of Oz with some spectacular songs. ‘Stomp’, an incredible mix of sounds and dance which you will find hard to believe is completely live, and finally our ultimate favourite has to be ‘The Lion King’, an excellent live performance replicating the movie and it is so moving. With incredible animal costumes which are SO aesthetically pleasing and of course the famous sound track, we guarantee you will NOT be disappointed!

For a full list of the shows we have seen, and further tips on what we would recommend as a traveller in London please contact us!

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