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!

Our Last day in Paris

After two marathon days of sightseeing, we were ready to slow down for our last day.  Our first stop was a short metro ride over to the Arc de Triomphe.  It sits at one end of the famous Champs Elysees.  Right when we got off the metro we saw something both really scary and interesting.  A group of older people were huddled around a young girl and there was a lot of commotion going on.  We watched and noticed one man had the girl by the wrist and was shouting for police.  She was desperately trying to get away and eventually did.  She had tried to pickpocket him, and he caught her (for a minute anyway).  Startling reminder to always be aware of your belongings and travel safe!

Anyway, we stopped for some pictures in front of the famous Parisian landmark.  It was commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate French military victories.

Arc de Triomphe
Wandering down the Champs Elysees.
Guess what we found…another Starbucks!

 We continued our stroll around the city and found the “Flame of Liberty” monument.  It is a full size replica of the flame on top of the Statue of Liberty.  It has also become an unofficial memorial for Princess Diana, who was killed in a car crash in the tunnel right below the flame.

Then to give our feet a little break, we took a cruise down the Seine River.  It was a nice relaxing way to see some of the sights of Paris.

Not a bad way to spend your Sunday!

Our trip was made a little less relaxing by these fellow boat-mates.  This group (only maybe half shown in this picture) stood in front of us the whole boat ride frantically taking pictures of each other.  They were in  a panic trying to make sure they got pictures of themselves in front of ever single place.  So much for getting those front row seats for the view-it was obstructed with crazy tourists the whole time!

Oh well, we still had fun on our cruise.

Just cruising the Seine.

 After that we headed back into our own neighborhood, Montmarte, to do a little shopping.  This is an artistic district and we stumbled upon a whole square of artists selling their work and creating it on the spot.  It’s a very fun, and lively atmosphere with a lot of character.  We had a wonderful time exploring the neighborhood (but be warned, it takes quite a bit of stairs to get there).

 Our time in Paris was through.  Clearly there was so much to see and do, and it really is a very beautiful city.  We are lucky because Paris isn’t too far away so I’m sure we will get the chance to go back again.  We dropped my mom and sister off at the airport the next day.  We loved having them here and getting to see new places together.  Hopefully another visit from family isn’t too far away!

Versailles-Day Trip from Paris

Our morning started out fairly early to get out to Versailles, which is just about a 30 minute train ride outside of Paris.  I never really knew what Versailles was before moving here, so for those of you like me, it’s a massive palace and grounds that was home to Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette up until the French Revolution forced them out.  When you arrive at the train station you just start following the hoards of people speed walking.  You round the corner and then you’re greeted with your first glimpse of the palace and it’s sprawling line.  It looked like the crowds you would see in front of Disneyland.

A statue of Louis XIV greets you upon arrival.
First views of the palace.

So we thought that because we had so smartly purchased and printed out our tickets that we would get to walk right in.  Haha, nope.  This giant line is for security.  Apparently when Rick Steves says be there at 9:00 when it opens, he means 9:00 sharp, not get off the train at 9:15 and leisurely stroll over to the palace.  Oops, lesson learned.

Huge snaking line you have to stand in, the little gray structure in the back left is the gate to get in.
Patiently waiting.

Finally up to the beautiful golden palace gate.

We decided to go ahead and do the palace tour first to get it out of the way.  It was a little bit of a nightmare because of how crowded it was.  In some rooms you could barely move, not my fave.  The palace itself was beautiful, extremely ornate, and huge!  It blows my mind that people actually lived here.

King’s bed in the King’s room.
Bad shot through the crowds of the queen’s bed in a separate bedroom.
The size and grandeur of the rooms was impressive.
Hall of Mirrors.
Catching a glimpse of the gardens.

We made it out of the madhouse and into the gardens.  The gardens are enormous.  There is so much to see, that it’s hard to see it all.  In the small lake behind us you can rent rowboats.  You can also rent bikes to ride between the main gardens and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, the Grand Trianon (mini palace), and Petit Trianon.

There are fountains all over the gardens.  They only run at certain times of day, but when they do there’s also classical music playing to really give you a royal feeling.

One of many fountains on the property.
Swans in the fountain.

So we rented bikes, and rode over to Marie Antoinette’s hamlet.  Bikes was a great idea because it cut out a ton of walking, and gave us much more time to see the different areas.  So, “what’s a hamlet?” you might ask.  Apparently to keep herself entertained, Marie Antoinette had a farm and a few English cottages built on part of the property.  She would dress up as a peasant and go to the hamlet to get away from her life in the French court.  It had a fully functioning farm and vegetable gardens.  Pretty interesting that she wanted this built and that she would come to it to basically pretend she was someone else.

Goats in the shade.
Bravely feeding a donkey.
I’m considering petting the donkey, but scared he will bite me at the same time.
Cows on the farm.
The main cottage.
Pretty roses growing near the cottage.
Fish fighting for food, and the duck who just sits right on top of them.

We also rode over to the Grand Trianon, which as I said before was like a mini-palace with it’s own gardens.  It is so hard to put into words just how big the whole area is.  After exploring those areas, we rode back to the main gardens to check out the fountains and music in action.

At 5:00 the gates close, and everyone has to leave.  We were STARVING by this time.  My hubby had looked up a restaurant nearby that had great reviews, so we started walking over there.  By this time we were tired and hungry, not a good combo.  When we made it to the place, it was closed and I thought my mom might cry.  So we wandered until we found a nice little square with lots of restaurants, and we happily stuffed our faces with pasta and gelato.  This was just a little break for us, because we were headed back to the gardens for the night show.  In the summer on the weekends, the gardens are lit up, and each fountain has something special happening in it, and the  night ends with fireworks over the lake.  The experience was amazing, we loved it!  I would say it’s a must if you have the opportunity.

Even more beautiful at sunset.

Sun setting over the gardens.
There was a “fire show” choreographed to music on the main lawn.

Pictures can’t tell the full story, but you can see some of what was happening at the different fountains in the gardens.

Green lasers projected onto the mist from the fountains.
Color and music coordinated fountains, like at the Bellagio in Vegas.
This one was like a circle of waterfalls that were all lit up.
And some fireworks to end the night!

This was a jam-packed and exhausting day, but definitely one of my favorite things we’ve done in Europe so far.  If you go to Paris, you have to make the trip out to see Versailles.  It’s really beautiful and has plenty to see to keep you entertained all day long.

Paris (and another bike tour)

That’s right everybody, it’s time for another episode of “see Europe by bike.”  But seriously, it’s a fun, fast way to see all the highlights.  We went with Fat Tire Bike Tours this time, and they are no small operation.  We met under the Eiffel Tower and there were close to 40 people there for a tour.  Luckily the group got split in half into 2 groups.  Our first stop was the French Military School.  Napoleon himself studied there, and people still study there.

French Military School- Ecole Militarie
Directly behind the Academy is another wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower.

Next stop, Napoleon’s burial place.  I believe it was originally a church built for Louis the XIV, XV, or XVI (they seemed to be the ones we kept hearing about).

So our tour guide was a very nice young man, but his personality just didn’t quite jive with Hubby’s.  Let me just paint you a little picture: every time we rounded a corner, crossed a street, or hit a stop light our guide insisted on screaming “dominate!” which is code for “stay close together as a group.”  He also expected the rest of us to scream it back to him, which most of our group did happily.  However, it wasn’t exactly our cup of tea…

This is Hubby’s level of enthusiasm for our tour guide-not impressed.

 On the other side of that is the French Army Museum or Les Invalides.  It used to be a military hospital and was raided for weapons before the storming of the Bastille (beginning of the French Revolution).

Next was a quick stop for lunch in the Tuileries Gardens.

More of the Tuileries Gardens.
Faux Arc du Triomphe across from the Lourve.

So another fun fact we learned is that the Lourve was actually a palace of one of the Louies before it was an art museum.  The royals decided they were sick of being too close to the common folk and moved out to Versailles (stay tuned).  The building is huge and it’s hard to imagine it was a place of residence for someone.

The Lourve Art Museum.

That pretty much concluded our bike tour.  Even though we weren’t crazy about our guide, we still loved it and were able to learn a lot about french history and important sites and events.  On our way to our next destination we found a Starbucks!  Any time I see one now, I have to go in, because I’m never sure when my next chance will be!

Happy Seattlites.

We then found our way over to the famed love lock bridge.  If you haven’t heard of it, couples write their names on a lock, fasten it to the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine to symbolize their eternal love.

Cheaters-we didn’t actually put a lock on the bridge.
The true romantic.

A little further down the way, we found Notre Dame!  It is an incredible cathedral.  Again one of my favorites.  There’s something about French cathedrals that is just striking.

Beautifully lit by chandeliers.
altar
vaulted ceilings
rose window
donations to the church

Last stop of the night was the Lourve.  We waited until the evening because we heard the crowds die down, and on Fridays it’s open late and tickets are cheaper.  It just so happened that while we were in line to buy tickets, some people leaving the museum offered us their 2 tickets for free.  Then when we were at the kiosk another person offered us their 2 tickets for 5 Euro, so we took them.  All four of us visited for 5 Euro!  Our lucky day!

Some of the highlights…

Venus de Milo
Winged Victory
Crown jewels of France

Here she is, the most popular girl at the Lourve…

Through the crowds (which aren’t even that bad compared to other pictures I’ve seen) sits the Mona Lisa.
Up close with Mona Lisa.

The Lourve is massive, and has so much to see, you really can’t see it all in one visit.  We thought though that the pieces were better presented than in the Vatican museum.  It seemed much less overwhelming-which could have been due to the amount of people there too.  It was a great idea to go later after the masses died down a bit.  It makes it much easier to enjoy when you’re not fighting hoards of people to move through the corridors.

Looking up through the glass pyramid.

Busy day in Paris!  We went off to bed as early as we could to prepare for our next marathon day at the Palace of Versailles.

Eiffel Tower & Sacre Coeur

Going to Paris in August was fabulous.  There is one major perk to driving there this time of year…street parking is free on most streets!  This is normally unheard-of in Paris.  Parking in the city is typically very expensive, so we were very happy that we were able to park near our hotel on the street and not have to pay a dime!  We stayed in Montmartre, so our first stop was the Sacre Coeur or “sacred heart” basilica.  While the exterior is gorgeous, I thought the interior was even more lovely.  I have to say I was blown away by the interior of this church.  I thought it was stunning, and possibly my favorite thus far.  It is covered in beautiful mosaics.  None of the pictures I found online (you can’t take pictures inside) do it any justice, but in person it’s beautiful!

Sacre Coeur

lots of visitors, vendors, and scam artists hanging out up here

Mom, Me, and Sister

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower or “Tour Eiffel” in French.  We took the metro, which is a great and easy way to get around Paris.  We got off at the Trocadero stop (at the recommendation of my favorite travel guide) and were met with a stunning view of the tower.  You know it’s going to be big, but it was surprising how massive the structure really is.

We had tickets reserved (always make a reservation) so we were able to skip the long and winding line for tickets, and we got to go right up!  We only went up to the second level.  Even from there the view is impressive.

View of the Sacre Coeur from the Eiffel Tower.
Checking out the sights.
Napoleon’s burial site.

 We went at the perfect time, around sunset.  You get to see the tower with daylight and then you can come down grab a bite to eat and see it sparkling in the dark.  Thanks again Rick for a great suggestion!

One more view of the tower at night.