Disneyland Paris

After living almost three years in Germany, we had done our fair amount of traveling. I think we hit something like 13 countries, not too shabby! Our last big trip before returning to the U.S. was Disneyland Paris. This wasn’t on our original “European Bucket List” and the well-seasoned traveler in me is a little embarrassed to admit how much fun we had. The idea was brought up by one of our friends, and we looked into it, found a great deal and said, “What the heck?!”

We got a package deal staying at the Davy Crockett Ranch, a Disneyland Hotel near the park. We shared a cabin (read: single wide trailer) with one of the families we went with. Our lodging and tickets were bundled together, and were actually very affordable. The cabins weren’t far from the park, we drove each morning. Parking was also included in our rate.

We went in October, so the park was all decorated for Halloween and had special parades for the season.

First thing was first, we stopped in for a quick breakfast while we waited for the other families to arrive. We all drove in from Germany that first morning. Made for a long day for the adults, but saved us one night of lodging expenses. It was about a four hour drive for us.

Once everyone was together, we stopped in front of the beautiful castle for some pictures. You want to know what draws a crowd? Three one-year olds dressed up like princesses and their moms flailing around trying to get them to all look and smile.

After that racket, we finally started riding some rides. Dumbo with the Dads, the carousel, Snow White, and Peter Pan. Babies can actually ride quite a bit in Disneyland.

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Be careful of the so called “dark rides” like Snow White, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan. Sometimes they can be scary for little ones! I was surprised that our little girl didn’t seemed bothered by any of these. She even rode on the Pirates of the Caribbean without any tears!

We went back to our cabins for dinner. We brought food in coolers and were able to cook for ourselves. It was nice to be able to save some money and to have a little break where the girls could either lay down or just run around in a contained area. Once we ate and recharged, we went back to the park to see the nighttime show. I can’t remember what it was called, maybe Disney Dreams? It was an awesome show. There were projections on the castle and on curtains of water next to the castle. They sold light up Mickey ears that all synchronized to the music and were matched the colors of the projections as well. It was very fun, and did not disappoint!

The next morning, the moms all hit a weakness. We fell for the princess trap. We all said we weren’t going to do it and then we all caved. We just couldn’t resist the chance to see our little princesses with the “real” princesses! So we beelined for the Princess Pavilion first thing in the morning. We thought surely if we went straight there, the line wouldn’t be that long. Well when we got there it didn’t appear that the line was very long, so we were encouraged. There was a sign that said 30 minutes and we thought that wasn’t too bad. What we didn’t realize is that was 30 minutes outside waiting before getting inside where we waited another hour and a half! I kid you not, it took us two hours to see ONE princess! Let me tell you how much fun it is to wait in a crowded line with three one-year olds…not fun at all. And once you’re in the building, there’s no turning back, no sign of how much longer it will be. So you’re just hoping it goes fast and keep telling yourself that you’re almost there. After all the waiting, it was finally our turn! One look at Sleeping Beauty sent my little princess into a terrified panic. She did not want to stand next to Sleeping Beauty for a picture and clung to me the entire time…FAIL!

The dads were horrified when we finally emerged from the Princess pit. They couldn’t believe we had just spent that amount of time for something our little girls didn’t even enjoy. And I have to agree with them! Oh well, it definitely made some memories!

Everyone was happy to be out and about again, and able to run around.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at what it’s like to try to wrangle little ones for a photo:

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But it makes for an oh-so-cute result if you are patient!

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One of our favorite things about this Disneyland visit was the parades! Our little girls loved the music and watching the characters. The fall parade had especially catchy music. We found ourselves watching this parade more than once!

We spent our final morning at the Hollywood Studios park that is right next to the Magic Kingdom. This was the most crowded day of our visit. We had hoped to ride the Ratatouille ride but by the time we got there the Fast Passes were for very late in the day and we were all planning to drive home in the afternoon. We walked around a bit, and went back to the Magic Kingdom briefly. The weather took a turn and started to rain and that’s when everyone decided to call it and head home.

We loved our quick trip to Disneyland Paris. Honestly we had heard a lot of Americans complain about it. They seemed to say it was not as fun, not as big, not as good as Disney in the states. I don’t know, maybe those people are die-hard Disney folks or had bigger children that weren’t as entertained. We had a blast! We found plenty to do with our babies, and enjoyed watching them have fun together.

Here’s a couple things that made our trip more enjoyable:

*Bringing food into the park-each day we packed snacks, water bottles, sandwiches, pasta salad, and fruit. We didn’t bring a huge cooler, just something small enough to fit in the bottom of the stroller. Not only was it a money saver, it was a time saver. Instead of waiting in line to order and waiting for food to be ready, we could just find a place to sit and eat right away.

*Sharing accommodations with another family-this brought our costs way down, and made it fun for our girls. I’m sure this isn’t always possible, especially when family size starts to grow. But if it is an option, I would recommend it!

*Being flexible-there was no real agenda, and no real panic about packing in rides. Flexibility was key when traveling with babies.

*Buying our princess dresses and t-shirts in advance-everything is more expensive in the parks. Princess dresses were 50-60 euro! I borrowed my daughter’s Belle dress from a friend, and my mom found her Elsa dress at JC Penny for around $30.

What we should’ve done better:

*Researched more-had we researched more, we would’ve found out how popular the new Ratatouille ride was and could’ve tried harder to get there early for Fast Passes.

*Prepared more for weather-we had an umbrella, but that didn’t cut it for two adults. We should’ve brought ponchos and rain boots. It would’ve let us enjoy the park longer and let us take advantage of lower crowds as many people leave when it rains!

Chamonix

We spent a long weekend in the French Alps in 2014.  Along with two other couples, we stayed in a little chalet in a small town just outside Chamonix, France.  The drive down took around 6 hours.  Our route took us down through Switzerland and around Lake Geneva (which was beautiful).  The nighttime drive up the mountain was a little scary but luckily, there wasn’t much snow on the road.

During the day most of the group hit the slopes, but my good friend K and I took the babies into town instead.  We had fun wandering through the streets, stopping in shops and cafes.

Our yummy lunch of fondue and pizza!

One afternoon we went up to an Alpine luge.  It was similar to the one Hubby rode in Switzerland, but this one was on a metal track-like a roller coaster.  It had twists and turns and was built up high off the ground.  We took turns with R and K watching the babies so that both parents could have a ride.  Then Hubby decided to take Baby Girl outside the lodge for a bit.  She thought it was really fun to put her face and tongue all over the window-yuck!

The two cutest little pink bears I’ve ever seen!

Admittedly, I’m not much of a skier. I didn’t have a great first experience and don’t have a desire to try again yet. I know this is a world class skiing destination, and I’m sorry I can’t say more about that. But I can say that the town and area are very enjoyable even for us non-snow athletes! We enjoyed playing in the snow and wandering the town. It was a relaxing weekend for us. Lake Geneva really made us all stop and stare when we drove by, at some point I’m hoping to go back and enjoy that area more. What’s your favorite ski town to visit?

Chateau Villandry

These pictures were actually from our stay in Caen, but I forgot to post them in that entry…oops!  I had to share though because I’ve never seen anything like this.  We went to eat at an Italian restaurant, and Hubby ordered a pasta dish with some sort of cheese sauce.  When they brought the food out, they brought a whole butler’s cart with the pasta in a pan and a giant wheel of Parmesan cheese.  The chef put some sauce and the pasta right onto the block of cheese and stirred it around on there for 5 minutes or so.  While he was making it the cheese was melting right into the pasta.  It was amazing!

OK, back to our last chateau.  We decided to visit Villandry because it was known for its gardens.  The gardens were my favorite part about Versailles so I thought it would be fun to see this place.  The gardens were pretty impressive, though after you see Versailles, not much can compare to that.  But we had a nice afternoon at Villandry walking around and enjoying the grounds.

That was it for our trip to France!  We had a wonderful time, and our little girl has been such a good traveler so far.  She’s made it very easy on us.  We love being able to bring her with us wherever we go!

Chateau Chenoceau

The next morning, we set out in the rain again to see the 3rd most visited chateau in France after Versailles and Fontainebleau.  This chateau is so unique because it spans across a river.  Chateau Chenoceau was given by King Henry II to his mistress.  Upon his death his wife Catherine de Medici (of the famous Florentine family) took it back from her.

The beautiful hall that spans the river.

The whole time we were down in the kitchen and the servants’ quarters, I would hear a bunch of foreign mumblings then a “Mr. Bates” or “Mrs. Patmore” dropped every once in a while.  I guess they were all thinking what I was thinking, that it reminded me of Downton Abbey!  If you haven’t watched the show yet, you need to start…so good.

Our girl was such a good little baby, she slept the whole time we were touring the chateau.  It was a bummer that the weather wasn’t cooperating.  There are some really beautiful pictures of this chateau online, but unfortunately our pictures have the brown muddy looking river instead of the gorgeous blue river.  Oh well, can’t win ’em all.  We had time for one more chateau to visit, so it was back in the car and on the road again for us!

Chateau Chevreny

The weather turned south on us by the time we got to the next chateau.  But, we couldn’t let a little rain stop us!  This chateau is actually still a residence for a French viscount and his family.  Not too shabby!

What makes this chateau special is that it is also home to over 100 hunting hounds.  Everyday there is a bit of a spectacle when the dogs are fed.  The dog trainer enters the pen where all the dogs are barking and milling around and shouts a couple commands.  Within seconds the dogs are trampling over each other to go up onto a balcony that overlooks the main pen.  The trainer locks the door and starts to clean the pen.

Dogs “patiently” waiting to be fed.

 Once it’s all clean, the trainer lays out a line of chickens, then pours dog food on top.  Some of the dogs are so anxious for the food, they are gnawing on the metal bars.  The sound was like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Chickens and kibble-yum.

Then the trainer opens the gate and all the dogs come down, but they aren’t allowed to eat just yet.  The trainer cracks a whip if any of the dogs get too close to the food or get out of line.  Once he finally shouts the right command, the dogs descend on the food and they go crazy.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

After we saw the dogs eat, we toured the rest of the chateau.  Again, it’s so surreal that a family actually lives here.  Can you imagine living in a place that’s open for the public to tour?

Someone was exhausted after all the touring.

More chateaus to come…

Chateau Chambord

We left the beaches of Normandy for the chateaus of the Loire Valley.  We drove several hours and through lots of tolls, until we finally arrived at Chateau Chambord.  It’s the largest in the Loire Valley with over 400 rooms, almost 300 fireplaces, and 80 staircases.  It was a “hunting lodge” originally for King Francios I.

Famous double spiral staircase, rumored to have been designed by Leonardo DaVinci.
Fancy-pants bedroom.

Dangerous tripod set up…anything for a family photo.

We enjoyed our time exploring the chateau.  This would’ve been a great place to bring a picnic lunch and hang out on the grass. Next up, we headed up the road to another chateau with some famous furry residents.

Caen & Mt. St. Michel

Our last day in Normandy we spent between 2 places, the Caen Memorial and Mont St. Michel.  The Caen Memorial is a museum detailing World War II.  It is an encapsulating museum, we could’ve easily spent all day in there.  There were informative films, and expansive exhibits about almost every part of the war you could think of.

Sculpture outside the memorial.

 In the afternoon, we drove out to Mont St. Michel.  A small island with an impressive abbey built upon it.  Unfortunately there was a strike going on while we were there and the abbey was closed early, so we weren’t able to go in.  There’s really not much else to the island except a narrow street packed with tourist shops and restaurants.  It was disappointing to not be able to go in, but still quite impressive to see from the outside.

 

We came, we saw (from the outside).

This was baby girl’s first time in her Ergo, you can see her little arms and legs poking out.  She’s become a big fan of it, and I have to say I am too!  It’s super comfortable and she usually goes right to sleep.  Happy baby=happy parents 🙂