For our big, post-deployment, “hey, we made it through another one!” trip, we picked Paris, France. Our choices for vacations are pretty fantastic here! I started planning this trip about four months ago, although I feel like we were talking about it the entire deployment. We saved our money, and I did a ton of research, booked hotels, flights, and tickets. The day of our departure finally arrived, and off we went for our short flight from Venice to Paris.
We stayed at a hotel around the Disneyland Paris parks, which was outside the city but also very kid-friendly and close to the parks. We stayed at the Thomas Cook Explorer’s hotel, a partner hotel of Disney. Our “crew room” had bunk beds for the kids, a double bed, and two twin beds! The luxuries were sparse, but we spent most of our time out of the rooms anyway. The big draws were the kids attractions here – an indoor pool with a pirate ship and two slides, an indoor playground, and arcade games. We all had fun swimming and could let the kids run their energy out in the playground. We had a buffet breakfast every morning, included with the price. The hotel was crawling with kids, from all over Europe, and it’s always fun for me to watch the girls interacting with other kids.
We spent our first full day at Disneyland Paris. The park is smaller than what you would see in the Florida or California parks, but you could still feel that magic and wonder as you walked into the gates and glimpsed the iconic castle. Andy and the girls have never been to a Disney park, so they were all excited. We rode the train, ate overpriced but delicious food, and did as many rides as we could (Anya was a just a hair too short for the roller coasters 😦 ). The highlight for all of us was watching the girls meet a real princess. We waited in line for an hour, often impatiently, but it was so worth the wait when the girls saw Snow White. They talked to her, hugged and kissed her, and took a few pictures. Andy and I could not stop beaming!
Our second and third days were spent in Paris. We took the train into the city from our hotel, about a 45 minute ride each way. Once there, we took the metro or a tourist bus to all the sights. We knew that we could only see so many with the girls – it was A LOT of walking – so we prioritized. The first day, we went to Notre-Dame cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, Avenue de Champs Elysses, and the Eiffel Tower. We rode the tourist bus that day as well, so we could see a lot of the other sights as we rode along and listened on our headsets. I think our favorite was the Arc de Triomphe – there is so much history in the entire city, but that arch is iconic. We only waited about 20 minutes for our tickets, and an attendant there took mercy on us and let us use the elevator with the girls. There are over 280 stairs to the top, but you can see the entire city from the top of the arch. It was beautiful! The Eiffel Tower is really crowded and a must-see, but we were not as impressed with it as others. Andy loved all the history of the city that day though and noticed the architecture and the different monuments around the city.
Our second day was spent mostly at Museé Louvre. There was not enough time nor memory space on my camera to show how amazing that museum is. The paintings, the sculptures, the architecture of the building itself, the atmosphere…it was wonderful. Again, we prioritized which things we really had to see and did those first, thinking the girls would burn out fast. Anya was so interested in everything, and even Lorelei was pointing out paintings she really liked. Addie thankfully took and stroller and slept the entire time we were there (bliss!). Of all the places we went in Paris, the Louvre was the most kid-friendly. They rent strollers out for free, there are benches and chairs everywhere throughout the museum to take a rest, and there are so many people there that you do not have to worry about your children being too loud! We were there for over three hours, and we didn’t even cover a third of the entire museum – it’s massive. We ate lunch there, then walked to the Jardin des Tuileries to feed the birds and walk in the gardens. We also visited an aquarium and snacked on crepes de nutella in the park by the Eiffel Tower. We did not see everything there is to see in Paris, but we thought we did a pretty fair job with three small children in tow. 🙂
For being so young, I thought the girls did fantastic. We shuffled them not only all over the city but through so many crowded, smelly, dirty forms of public transportation, and they hardly ever complained. They walked, and I think Addie might have finally learned that a stroller is not the worst thing in the entire world. I love that my children are being exposed to so much during our time in Europe, even if they do not fully appreciate it now. How cool is it that they can say they had not only lived in another country but had visited multiple others? In Paris, the girls learned that speaking French is a lot harder than Italian (at least for us), that some of the best and most famous art is actually teeny tiny, and you should always try different food because you may actually enjoy it.
Our last day almost ruined the entire trip though. Our flight did not leave until 6:15 pm, so we killed a few hours at Disney Village, which was basically a shopping/food court/movie theater area that is free to enter – paying for everything inside is another story though. We decided to take the train to the airport this time instead of a bus, since this was the more economical choice. We bought our tickets and gave ourselves 2 hours to get to the airport. Unfortunately, the train line that we needed to get to Charles de Gaulle airport was being worked on that day, unbeknownst to us. A very nice French man spoke to us in English and helped us figure out where we needed to go, but we had to wait almost a half hour for our train. By this time, a ton of people had gathered to get on the same train. Andy told me that he would hold on to Anya and Lorelei and our suitcase, and I would carry a sleeping Addie and my own bags. The train arrives, and the girls and half of Andy get on – that’s right, the doors shut on him! They forced the doors back open, he and I climbed on, then a whole mess of people squeezed in behind me. I have never fully appreciated the term “squished like sardines” until now.
A short ride on this train led us to another station, where we raced to get the right train. We finally found it, thanks to the help of the man before, and get seats. Then we waited…for another 15 minutes…for the train to start moving. It took forever! By the time we arrived at the airport, we had about 25 minutes to check into our flight. We ran to the ticket validators, but they were not working. No one could get through to the terminals, and of course there was no attendant working or answering the pages for help. It’s like everything was working against us! Andy managed to get through when someone else was going out, and the girls could squeeze through the door openings, but I was stuck. We were not the only people waiting, frustrated and angry. Finally, a couple of Belgian boys forced the doors open and let everyone through. At this point, we had less than 10 minutes. We ran with the kids, luggage and all, to the counter, racing to catch our flight. But alas, we missed the boarding time by only a few minutes. If we had not had luggage to check, they would have let us on. So frustrating!
I left Andy with the girls while I went to see about another flight. Of course, the counter I needed was in another terminal, and when I got down there, there was a fee to change the flights. It was a large fee, after some confusion between myself and the attendant, but our only alternative was to wait until tomorrow night to see if they could get us on the same flight then (and they wouldn’t tell me if there were seats available for the next day). The Tour de France was coming into Paris the next day, and I had a difficult time finding a hotel for 5 people anyways; I knew it was either sleep in the airport or pay the fee. It actually hurt me to pay it, but what can you do with 3 kids, a dog in a kennel, and little other options? We were able to get on another flight that night and made it home very late. I have never been so happy to see Italy and hear Italian in my entire life. 🙂
While the last day was challenging – Andy kept muttering, “We are never coming back to France again” in the airport, I refuse to let it ruin our whole trip. We were able to take our kids to Disney, which makes me happier than I can begin to explain. I saw Paris – PARIS! Another destination to check off my list. My favorite moments were so small – helping another American boy push his way up to the front of the crowd to see the Mona Lisa, watching the girls go down the slide at the pool, eating in the parks there (all of which are gorgeous), walking down the streets and just watching Parisian life. While it is not my favorite place I’ve visited, it is one I am glad to have seen and experienced.
We’re thinking London for our next big trip – London calling?