So you’ve decided to scrap the toy gifts and gift an experience ... but now, where do you start?
There’s really not a right or wrong to what to get, but you have to make sure that the gift is genuine and coming from YOU! Make sure that the gift of choice is something you’re willing to carve out the time to do, and that its the perfect gift for the child receiving.
Consider these points when making a gift choice -
1. Make it reasonable. Shopping for a toddler is very different than for an older kid, so make sure the experience is appropriate for the child of choice. There are places some kids can't enjoy because they don’t meet the age or height requirements, or it’s just no longer a right fit. Make sure whatever you’re planning on doing, it something the receiver would enjoy doing too!
2. Cost doesn’t matter! And by this, we don’t mean you have to splurge to make it special. The gift could easily be FREE! Bottom line, there isn’t a minimum or maximum to spend to make it the best gift ever! It’s the experience, not the price – DO NOT break the bank trying to get the right gift. Make it right for them and you!
There’s also an unspoken pact that you’re also picking up the child’s gift only. So if your child still needs parent accompaniment, don’t worry about picking up the parent or other siblings’ cost (unless you feel called to). There’s an understanding that sometimes we just need to be there but it’s not for us, it’s for them.
3. Make it memorable. Most of all, make sure that it’s something that will last forever. There should be no burden in the gift, only happy memories! And memories that fit the children at play.
Here are some of our favorite ideas that have either been given or received that we can recommend as a great starting point when shopping! I’ve outlined activities by price categories and at prices (current as of May 2019). The cost is for a single pass for the gift receiver (or a promo deal when noted), so remember the cost of your own and your child’s ticket too. And that all these can change - visit each particular companies website for current pricing.
Never underestimate the benefits you’re already paying for! Most annual passes have some kind of complimentary pass program, where a few will be handed out for use throughout the year. Use those perks to gift a priceless experience, especially for a child that doesn’t get to experience it!
And these are just a handful of what there is out there! Orlando has a lot more to offer that is popping up and can make an amazing experience gift (for adults too). We've only been able to get so far, but plan to keep searching for more one-of-a-kind dates!
Any big ideas we missed? Let us know so we can add to our list of gifts to give someone that wonderful experience!
Be Our Guest at Disneyland Paris
When you're some of the biggest Disney fans, you've seen 2 of their 6 international locations, and you're an hour away, what do you do? You go,of course!
But how does Disneyland Paris stack up to the stateside parks? And how do you make the most of your time visiting a place that has to compete with the majestic history you're surrounded with in Europe.
Here's our take on getting the most of your Disneyland Paris visit!
Where to stay?
We chose to stay at a Disney hotel to capitalize on the on-site perks - proximity and Extra Magic Time. Disney has a plethora of properties, including 6 Disney hotels within walking distance of the parks and 2 Disney Nature hotels which are set further out and require a car to access. Disney also has a variety of Partner Hotels in the area that provide shuttle buses to the parks and may offer a little lower price per night of your stay.
We wanted some place that we could maximize our time at the resort and at the same time feel like we were getting an experience worth the price. We chose to stay at Disney's Newport Bay Club, a hotel right onsite and walking distance to Disney Village. Anyone familiar with the Walt Disney World set of hotels, Newport Bay is the equivalent of Yacht & Beach or Boardwalk, taking you back to a time of living on the water and enjoying the luxuries of full scale seaside resorts. The hotel is beautiful, just as her sister properties here in Orlando; and massive - we stayed on a wing that was quite a hike to get to, but that was located directly next to the indoor pool.
Deciding what you want out of a hotel is what works for your family. All Disneyland Paris hotels offer all-you-can-eat buffets and adult lounges on property, but not all have a quick service option for dining. We would have loved to have some of those conveniences, like an on-site restaurant for snacks on-the-go and a fridge in the room to store leftovers (or in our case, milk). Closest proximity to the park is the Disneyland Hotel, which would allow easiest access to the two parks and Disney Village. If you rather skip on big meals and have a fast option for food, then Disney's Hotel Cheyenne and Disney's Hotel Santa Fe both offer Starbucks on property, but are a little further out from the parks. Hotels with moderate pricing but with proximity to entertainment, Disney Sequoia Lodge & Disney's Hotel New York (currently rebranding to the Art of Marvel) should be considered. And if neither of those are in your price range, there are a host of offsite options, but you lose the perks that Disney gives you, like Extra Magic Time to enjoy attractions before the general public.
Disneyland Paris has also already started to implement extra security measures like scanning all bags (and people) before entering the hotel, which I applaud. It was our first touch of reality with the world we live in today; but it was welcome to see a proactive approach to make sure the magic isn't compromised.
Amount of Time?
This is all up to how much you want to do. We wanted the experience so we chose to end our trip here and wind down with some fun Disney days. We booked two nights because we wanted to enjoy two full days in the park. We arrived early enough to enjoy one park, leaving our bags with the porter and able to get settled in to our room after we finished our day.
The parks are located a walk away from the hotel, passing through Disney Village complex and then with a fork in the road to decide which way to go. The set up is very similar to Disneyland California and very convenient for anyone wanting to experience everything in one day. They have some of the big name restaurants they do stateside, like Rainforest Cafe, Planet Hollywood and McDonald's, but also have unique concepts like Annette's Diner (ode to the original Mouseketeer) and a character filled Wild West stage show at Buffalo's Bills.
If you want to spend any time checking out the night-time entertainment, there warrants an extra night just to enjoy a dinner show - and use that extra day to book an excursion to the surrounding area. Disney offers tours to chateaus and small countryside villages to get a taste of the beautiful region outside Paris that hosts their parks.
Disneyland Paris also offers great package deals that may also be worth skipping a stay in Paris and opting to make the commute to the city instead. We had considered this option when we found a package that would allow us to stay on property for 5 nights for the price of 3. The package also included tickets and granted children free admission - so ultimately we'd be getting a 5-day ticket & 5-night hotel stay for the whole family for the price of two adults on a 3-day package. One rate also included club level room, which would give you exclusive check-in and access to the club lounge, with refreshments and light appetizers served all day. In hindsight, the offer was too incredible to pass up - but we did, because we also knew we wanted to indulge in our first time in Paris. But someone wanting to shop savvy, it is every bit worth searching for a package like this!
Which Ticket to Get?
Absolutely buy tickets ahead of time and snag them on a deal, as they'll also be cheaper online than at the park. We had pre-purchased tickets off the Disneyland Paris site as they were running a deal that got Adults in for the price of Children tickets and we couldn't pass that up!
There are two parks to choose from, Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios. We opted to purchase a 1 Day Ticket for each park and completely immerse ourselves in that park. And personally, we felt like a day in each park was more than enough time!
The tickets are sold on an attendance calendar so depending on when you visit, the cheaper it is (weekdays early in summer run cheaper than weekends or late summer). The parks also operate on hours depending on season, with Walt Disney Studios Park closing earlier than the original. During our stay, Walt Disney Studios closed at 8pm on weekends and 6pm on weekdays, so we opted to do the newer park first to maximize our weekend day at the park. Disneyland Park remained open until midnight either day. Since we had one park tickets and we wanted to capitalize on our energy and the late hours, we opted to save Disneyland for last.
Walt Disney Studios Park
Walt Disney Studios is the newer park, and reminiscent of Hollywood Studios in Orlando. It houses two of the newer attractions, Crush's Coaster and Ratatouille, which were our main objectives to see. Just like Disneyland, Paris still has the old FastPass distribution system - you don't have a limit to how many you get in a day and you can get your next one after the distribution window on your ticket opens up (which is usually at the ride time). So if you're lucky and get a FastPass for the exact hour you're in (which is possible), you can also get another pass within a few minutes and ride back to back line-free rides.
We made our way in and went directly for Ratatouille since we wanted to all get on a ride together and this one was it. We got our FP and proceeded to ride other attractions in Pixar Place, an ode to Disney-Pixar films like Cars and Toy Story. There we spun on Luigi, had a Slinky Dog Dash and then made it back over to experience Ratatouille. The ride took us on a 3-D adventure in a mouse's point-of-view through the restaurant featured in the movie and the streets of Paris - it was adorable and left the kids squealing!
We caught a few other attractions we didn't have back home, including Disney Junior Live which had different cartoons featured than they do in Orlando, which was exciting for the kids to see! We also rode the underwhelming attractions of Armageddon and the Backstage Tour. The one thing we had high on our list to see before we left for the day was the coveted Mickey and Magician show, which was fantastic! Housed in a theater, this is a production including live singing and stage effects - it was amazing to see the caliber of show that Europe delivers and really can speak to the level of performance this culture relishes in.
The park itself is overshadowed by the Disneyland Hotel, so upon approaching it, you see the beautiful grounds of their flagship property, but no sign of the iconic castle. You pass under the hotel into the ticket turnstiles and only after crossing the official entry of the railroad station do you see Sleeping Beauty's castle.
The park is very reminiscent of Disneyland California, in its simplicity, attention to detail and accessiblity of attractions. It goes back to a simpler time when things weren't as rushed and the experience was greater than the exposure. It had all the classic rides you expect at any of the flagship parks, with enhancements like HyperSpace Mountain (which was unfortunately closed for maintenance during our visit). The park had also just celebrated its 25th anniversary, so it had a sense of grandeur still in the air to celebrate such an event.
The details are so clean and crisp, but it did lack a little of the magic you find back home. We tried to pinpoint what, and couldn't place our fingers on it until after we left - atmosphere music. We're so used to having music ushering us along and making the pace for our walk, that we failed to notice that the parks didn't have much. You heard the faint music from the attractions as you passed by, but as you walk between lands, taking in the park and existing in the moment, there's no soundtrack to live by. Us spoiled Disney kids really fail to see how wonderful something so simple as this is.
The parks also operate on the classic FastPass distribution system, much like Disneyland California. They do have limited attractions offering passes so waiting in lines may be inevitable. But the parks do not nearly have the waits that the stateside parks do, outside the more popular attractions which beckon visitors. It's absolutely worth waiting in line for those, and even more so for waiting for the shows. The performances here are all live and it is incredible to see the magic of that experience come to life. It is also worth noting that all shows are done in a mix of English and French dialogue, so it makes for a truly memorable experience to get a bit of each culture combined.
I could go on for days about our trip there, but I will let the pictures do the talking instead. If you ever have the opportunity and are even a bit of a Disney fan, take the day trip out here. You can take a metro from central Paris which will drop you off at the end of Disney Village and within a two minute walk to either park.
Any other tips?
Any Disney fan will agree, it is definitely worth the experience to see how cultures influence each of their parks worldwide. The parks are very similar but yet so unique in their own way. It brought us so much perspective to ride the Small World an ocean away and listen to the words with true relativity to our time here.
If visiting Disney is on your bucket list, make a stop here, its worth it. It's incredible to see what one man with a vision was able to create, all with one little mouse - that has changed the way the world experiences happiness.
So when you're taking a whirlwind European vacation and you're already 11 days in, what do you do?
Stay another 5 days in Paris.
Paris has been a dream of mine to visit. There's something about the city of love that just seems so appealing, and I jumped in to all the hype. And reality is that traveling within Europe is cheap! For the 4 of us to board a one way to Paris on a reputable airline with no strings attached (Air France) cost us $200 dollars (not Euros) TOTAL. We looked at possibly taking the Eurorail but the cost would've been relatively the same and the trip 4x as long. So we pulled out our passports and made our way to Fiumincio and prepared for another half day of travel.
Rome to Paris
Traveling out of the airport in Rome was one of the easiest experiences I've had in my entire life. We got dropped off at the part of the airport for "domestic" travelers - going in and abound Europe. We found the neatly lined desk with the Air France branding and promptly hopped in line for our Delta Medallion perks. Finding an airline that has partnerships and shared benefits is ... amazing! Our section already didn't have a long line, but in true European fashion no one was in a rush. It's not a horrible mindset to live by but we had two little ones in tow that had not had breakfast and standing in line to drop off our luggage was not how we wanted to spend more time. So our nice Medallion line had us seen right away, got our luggage priority boarded, and even got us special access to a security line that was minimally evasive and very quick. Ultimately, from the moment we arrived to the airport through security was no more than 20 minutes. Ah-ma-zing.
We had plenty of down time though, because we always planned with more time to spare just in case. And I'll say this, FCO is not a horrible airport to spend extra time in. It is absolutely immaculate and very kept up with! We found a bistro upstairs and grabbed ourselves a brunch with a mini bottle of wine each as relaxed & discussed all the possibilities in France. This leg of the trip we not planned to a tee, yet. We wanted the flexibility to change our plans, but we also knew there were certain things we wanted to do - like a champagne river cruise of Paris at sunset the night we arrived. Otherwise, we didn't have anything else set in stone (except our final stop)!
Our arrival to Charles De Gaulle was uneventful and very efficient. We were picked up by our driver, slightly late, but quickly escorted to the car. We were on the outskirts of the city so for the most part, the drive was relatively bland - we felt we could be anywhere else. But approaching the Paris proper and seeing the buildings age and become more detailed and ornate was ... breathtaking. We anxiously awaited spotting *the tower* for the first time, which we knew was going to be a sight in itself. But unfortunately, we didn't spot it and knew we'd have to wait until that night.
Our home in Paris was an adorable boutique hotel off Champs Elysees, Hotel Balmoral. We were two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe, so we always had prime view of its towering glory. But best of all, we were only a block from a metro stop. Once again, based off the size of our group, we got a suite on the top floor. But even by hotel room sizes, it was generous. We walked into living space with a flat screen TV, espresso maker, bistro table and with a loveseat that was turned into a bed every night. The substantial sized bathroom was right off the front door and had enough room for a family to utilize; so we could shower and get ready at the double sink all at the same time. Then to the left of the living room was a bedroom with closet space and another flat screen TV. Both main rooms had a little terrace to overlook the neighborhood, and it was as perfectly Parisian as you'd imagine.
We left the hotel to grab and early dinner/very late lunch and start some of our exploring. We ate at Le Vin Cœur, a bar/bistro right near our hotel and ordered anything traditionally French off the menu. Who would've known that steak sandwich (aka hamburger) was a French staple? But sure enough, the kids wanted to try and that's what they got ... with appropriately enough french fries (steak frites)! Chris and I decided on sharing escargot and a cheese platter. And of course have a glass of French wine to accompany all our delacies. The bistro was as French as it came. The waiters vaguely paid attention to us, patrons dined on their own and read the paper, and very often wines paired perfectly with cigarettes. It was so unlike anything American and I was loving it. Paris was so far off to a great start.
After our meal, we made it to the metro after a short walk down Champs Elysses to take the train to Port de l'Arsenal, where we would board our Seine River Cruise. With time to spare, there was a playground near by where we let the kids frolic for a bit before we did a little walk of the area to get our barings. The port is pretty standard with boat docks, many of them private and not much to see. But there was a lively bar/restaurant next to our dock where you could grab drinks as you waited, and though we would were inclined to partake, there were no other kids in the outdoor crowd, so we weren't going to invite ours.
We boarded our champagne cruise with drink in hand and opted to sit outside with prime views of left, right, straight ahead and up above. We learned that the water levels throughout the water ways in Paris vary, so we'd have to go through a lock system to start our tour. It definitely took a little time to go through, but what a fascinating process to teach the kids about, watching water levels officially change before making your way out to the main river.
Paris by boat is stunning, consuming and something I'd absolutely recommend doing to anyone. Especially at sunset. We didn't bank for night falling closer to 11PM though, despite summer hours. Our cruise boarded at 9, so we were in it for the long haul - but when 9 looked more like 5 we started doubting how soon we'd see the City of Lights shine. I won't divulge too much about the sights we took in, as words cannot explain how glorious it really is.
I mean, take a look for yourself -
But there are two things you have to note and the rest experience yourself:
1. Capturing that first view of the Eiffel Tower, regardless of how or where you are, is breathtaking! There's no way to explain the mix of joy, astonishment and true appreciation for where you are until you see such a monument firsthand.
2. Paris looks like it was hand-painted and you're walking through it, like a scene straight out of Mary Poppins. There's no way a city can be this beautiful. And I hope every single Parisian wakes up and appreciates the true beauty their city possesses and cares for it like a new toy for many years to come.
Our first night ended in a perfect way just by hap and circumstance. We left our river cruise with two sleeping babes in our arms. We knew we wouldn't make it with a walk back to the hotel, so we stood in line for a taxi. We were in line no longer than 5 minutes when a cab appeared and the family in front of us proceeded to enter. The driver called our attention in French, yelling "bébé" and motioning for them to leave and for us to come. We were by no means needing a cab based of our short time there, but his gesture warmed our hearts - taking care of our young kids to make sure they got home in the witching hour - there was not a more beautiful way for love to transcend language barriers. As slightly embarrassed as we felt to take someone else's cab, the ride was perfect - we rode with windows down with a slight chill in the air, gently playing classical music as we drove the immaculate streets of Paris. Nothing felt more Parisian than taking in the city of lights than with my two little loves in my arm being taken straight back to our abode by the sweetest Parisian we'd meet all trip.
Paris Day 2
After a good night's sleep, we were up to do more exploring, this time headed to Montmarte, the highest point in the city to take a bird's eye view of Paris. We decided to walk there, since we were only a short two miles from our peak, and we wanted to feel like locals and take in the sights up close. It was an experience to see the city slightly change as we changed neighborhoods but still continue to have the charm and appeal that beckons its visitors. We passed dated metro signs that you see in the Paris of old; we encountered street musicians playing the sounds that we will remember our trip by; we walked by street cafes in full Parisian style - drink in one hand, cigarette in the other; we walked quickly past patisserie that beckoned us in, but after a breakfast full of croissants, hazelnuts, and sugar we had to pass (for now); we basked in front of iconic Moulin Rouge in all its former glory (be warned though its neighbors aren't as glorisous); we hiked (literally) up stairs as we rose the elevation to get to the highest peak. We finally made it Montmarte where we were welcomed by Basilique du Sacré-Cœur and turned around to find a full view of Paris. It was exactly what we hoped for after the 3 mile walking tour we took ourselves on. If walking isn't for you, there's a Metro gondola right at the bottom of the hill that takes you all the way up; and your Paris Metro pass get you with a swipe!
From there, we decided to delight the kids, since they had yet to encounter an operating carousel and take them on a "train" ride through Montmarte. The trip would take us back down to the main strip near Moulin Rouge for an opportunity to get to learn about this region and all it had to offer. It was truly a cute way for us to delight in Paris and get to do something a little different and very relaxing; traveling with kids is about this. Compromise. You have to know when to cut your losses and do what can keep them engaged as well. After finishing our tour it was time for lunch, a late one at that - and we decided to head towards Jardin des Tuileries to delight them a little more.
We took the metro to the Madeleine district, where we decided on Café Madeleine for lunch before the park. It looked like an American diner met a Parisian cafe and its animated atmosphere called us in. We were quickly and tightly seated in a booth made for two (but that's everywhere in Europe) and had the liveliest of servers. He kept the kids entertained with his antics and broken English questions to them, and we ordered a fantastic meal of more steak sandwiches & frites, French onion soup and I got the tastiest raspberry meets strawberry adult drink you could ask for!
With a quick walk to Jardin des Tuileries, we passed the Opera and the glorious sites that this side of town hosts. This definitely an area of elite and it was beautiful. If you need a recommendation of where to consider staying, the 1st or 8th arrondissement are both in locations prime for sightseeing; and especially with kids, you are in the proximity of lovely parks, full of delights to allow them to run off any energy. That's what Tuileries brought to us on arrival, a chance to let them run around a play. The gardens line up to the Louvre (but not the iconic pyramid that sits in front of it), so we got a look at the museum in all its glory. It wasn't on our list of things to do, because frankly, with kids we couldn't. But I have no regrets, especially after our experience at the Vatican and how crowded it was, it was a welcome blessing to be able to say we were okay without it.
Jardin des Tuileries has carousels and playgrounds for climbing, along with being dotted with cafes and full of people strolling. While they burned their energy, we decided we were going to have a picnic on Champ de Mars for dinner and make it a point to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night. Nothing sounded more enticing than to pack our own bag, bring our own wine, and enjoy a quiet night sprawled on the grass as the tower lit up. So we hurried the kids up and headed back to the hotel for some down time and quick naps, because tonight we were going to stay up until midnight. We had to - the night before it only lit up, and we missed it twinkle. And tonight the tower would sparkle every hour on the hour starting at 11 and we needed to see it!
Timing couldn't have been better - a quick trip to the corner grocery store and we packed up meats, cheese, bread, and bottles of very good (& very inexpensive) wine for us! Then at around 8pm we hopped back on the Metro with the Eiffel Tower as our final destination so we could enjoy play time in the park and have a relaxed evening while we waited for her to glow. And that we did have. We stumbled on a playground right next to Champ de Mars where E made a friend, who spoke zero English, while she spoke no French. But they played together nicely and you wouldn't know that language was even a barrier. We easily lost track of time around 9 because the night just throws you off with its showing off. When out of nowhere we hear the roar of the crowd because the tower lit up! And to our surprise, it was sparkling! The night before we were told it wouldn't do so until nightfall, and here we were at 10pm sitting on the Champ and watching this magnificent tower glitter with the most magical sunset to paint the sky. This was breathtaking. And more than anything we could've dreamt of.
Paris Day 3
We used the next morning to sleep in a little and have "breakfast in bed" to wind down from the late night. Today we were off to see Notre Dame and spend the day exploring Luxembourg Gardens. The day started off cold, cloudy and rainy, but it didn't stop us. We had dealt with this and we had more exploring we wanted to do. So we walked to see Our Lady where we did our own guided tour of the cathedral and relished in all its beauty. It was overcrowded as anything else we experienced, but it didn't make it any less of an honor to be there, standing inside of history in all its glory.
After touring Notre Dame, we headed over to get the one coveted meal I wanted on this trip - crepes! We found a place in Quartier Latin, Le Creperie which was perfect more than just by its name. I got as I wished - a Nutella crepe with strawberries accompanied by a mimosa; Chris ordered a savory ham & cheese crepe to balance out our meal, and if I could, I would have ordered more! We decided to burn those much needed calories with a walk to Luxembourg Gardens, followed by some play time.
Luxembourg Gardens is similar to Tuileries in that its an immaculate garden with public access but a lot more family friendly. Upon entering the gardens, we found boat racing going on in the Grand Bassin duck pond - we needed to join in! So for about 5 Euros your kids can rent toy boats for 30 minutes and enjoy sailing them against each other. After racing, we ventured around and stumbled on to a playground, but unlike Tuileries, this one was not free. A cover charge of 1 Euro per person (adults included), got you access to a gated playground - the Mecca of all playgrounds! This place was massive; from sand pits to swings and slides, every corner there was a different set of playground equipment to be devoured by kids. Ours were in heaven!
And quite honestly, this became the best way to end the trip. We decided to call it an early evening, have another picnic dinner at the hotel and prepare for an early wake up call for the last leg and probably the most anticipated by the kids - Disneyland Paris!