London & Paris... in a family way!

Last month my husband and I brought our three children, aged 13, 12, and 4, on our first European vacation. It was a simply fantastic trip. Thanks for reading!

london landscpae 1Our first day in London was a little rough. The flight over was great - very smooth, comfortable ride, Will slept most of the time. Everyone around him on the plane thought he was so cute when we were taking off and he said, "We're goin' up! We're goin' UP!" Funny, though, they were not as impressed upon landing, when he shouted, "We're goin' down! We're goin' DOWN!!" But anyway, we landed at Heathrow at 6:10am London time, which for us translated into 1:10 in the morning, our time. Of course we could not check-in to our hotel until 3pm, but they did store our bags for us so we could do some exploring. We call it, Extremely Tired Zombie Americans Take On London. We did a lot, though, including the National Gallery, where we saw several famous works of art - including DaVinci's Virgin of the Rocks, Van Eyck's The Arnolfini Marriage, and Van Gogh's Sunflowers. We found an outdoor cafe in Victoria Embankment Park, where for our first English meal, Jack ordered the "American Breakfast." This was basically just eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast, and, for some reason, baked beans, which I have honestly never been given with breakfast in an American restaurant. Our room still not ready, we wandered across the Jubilee Bridge to the southbank of the Thames. There we boarded the London Eye, a rather big ferris wheel type observation ride. We really enjoyed the ride, and when our pod reached the top, we were able to see a beautiful panoramic view of the city. For dinner, we wandered into a quaint little English market (imagine, if you will, a 7-11), grabbed a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and yes, because we are on vacation and all, some jelly. All-in-all, a great first day.

what's the costa coffee?Today was a gorgeous day - plenty of sunshine, temps in the 70s. We are having a little trouble getting rolling in the morning, although I am not surprised - it takes me a good five days to get used to DST, which is only an hour different than what we are used to! We found a little Italian coffee shop called Costa right around the corner, which is exactly next door to a little American coffee shop called Starbucks, which is twenty yards away from another little American coffee shop called Starbucks, which is next to another... well, you get the picture. We tulips in st. james parkfueled up on blueberry muffins and massimo (not grande, massimo!) mocha lattes and headed for Waterloo Pier on the Thames. Here we caught our double-decker boat for a tour of the Thames and the city of London. It was the perfect day for it. Our first stop was Greenwich and the Royal Observatory. We walked through a beautiful park and up a hill to the Observatory, where we walked on the Prime Meridian and stood in both the Western and Eastern hemispheres, and sychronized our watches to the Greenwich Mean Time clock. After lunch (at a Mexican restaurant, of course) we headed back to the boat for the trip back. We disembarked at Westminster Pier and walked around Parliment, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey before heading for St. James Park and Buckingham Palace. All in all it was a good little explore of the city and helped us get our bearings a bit.


imgp0999.jpgWe are getting a little better with this morning thing. We hit Costa again for breakfast then made our way down to the Tube. We seemed to navigate things pretty well, people were asking us for help, poor souls... we rode the tube to Tower Hill where we found the infamous Tower of London. William the Conqueror built the White Tower in 1077, and his successors expanded it. It served most famously as a prison and execution site - this is where Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey (among others) met the chopping block. It's most recent prisoner was Rudolf Hess, one of Hitler's henchmen in WWII. Today the Crown Jewels are housed here. We took a tour led by a Yeoman Warder, aka Beefeater, then explored a bit on our own - seeing the Crown Jewels, Traitors Gate, Tower Green, and the towers that imprisoned Princess Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the two young princes kidnapped during the War of Roses in 1483. img_2870.jpg

After exploring the Tower, we headed back to our tube stop and decided to explore a different area of the city. We walked from our hotel in Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square, which can best be described as the Theater District, and on to Piccadilly Circus, which is pretty much Times Square without the really tall skyscrapers. We tried to avoid it, but we somehow ended up in the Trocadero, a huge, garish mall-slash-arcade place. The kids eyes lit up just as John's and mine started to glaze over. They of course went right for those "claw" games, where you try to manuever the claw to pick up some prize and drop it in the hole so you can get it. And this claw machine had iPODS in it! Now, any of you who have been to Gators with us know that we tell the kids EVERY TIME that they would do better flushing their money down the toilet, they can't win those games. And you also know that EVERY TIME Jack comes back a winner. Well, he wasn't as lucky this time. Leah, on the other hand... hello, little purple ipod shuffle!

Today we decided to go total tourist and get tickets for the double-decker tour bus. We are so img_2967.jpg glad we did - we saw all of London, and were able to "hop-on, hop-off" at any stop.
Our first hop-off was to St. Paul's Cathedral, an amazingly beautiful church in the city. The cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Christopher Wren. It's dome stands 365 feet high. After St. Paul's we rode through West London, past 10 Downing Street, Kensington Gardens & Palace, the Marble Arch, Hyde Park, and so many other sights. Our next stop was Harrod's, the immense department store where rumor has it, you can buy anything you want. Ronald Reagan once asked if he could buy an elephant. The Harrod's employee did not miss a beat and replied, "Asian or African, sir?" We decided against purchasing any wild animals this time, but we did spend some time in the toy department and bought some fudge on the way out! We got back on the bus, and then we saw a celebrity, so we jumped off to have our picture taken with... Justin Timberlake! He was pretty cool, but seemed a little, distant. Stiff. Waxy. We also saw some of his waxy friends at Madame Tussaud's.
After hitting the Beatles Shop (across the street from the Rolling Stones Shop), and searching for Abbey Road (we didn't find it), we finished the evening at a true English pub, The Sherlock Holmes, where we (well, some of us) ate fish & chips and mushy peas. And tea.

img_3106.jpgOur last day in London. Buckingham Palace does the Changing of the Guard ceremony on odd days this month, and as luck would have it, today is April 29! We made our way down the Mall to the Palace, every now and then dodging raindrops. We waited outside the wrought iron gates, along with what may have been every other tourist in London. Gotta do it, though! Right on time, the Guards, accompanied by the Horse Guards and the band, march down the street and through the Palace gates. After much pomp, circumstance, and rifle-twirling, they were on their way out again. We walked from the Palace gates through the beautiful St. James Park and on to Westminster Abbey.

If all I did on this entire trip was walk through Westminster Abbey, it would have absolutely been worth every minute and every penny. It is literally the most staggeringly beautiful place I have ever seen. I cannot even begin to describe it. Photography is not allowed inside, and believe it or not I am grateful for that because no photo that I could have taken would do justice to what I remember it to be. I am very drawn to English history and to walk through the halls of this place and actually touch the tomb of Queen Elizabeth was indescribable. We also beheld the final resting places of many others, including Mary, Queen of Scots; Anne of Cleves; Henry V; Henry VII and Elizabeth of York; Edward the Confessor; Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens; Rudyard Kipling; George Handel; Sir Laurence Olivier; Charles Darwin and Sir Issac Newton.
And that was how I wanted to remember London, so we walked across Westminster Bridge to the South Bank and had a great lunch at Giraffe, a funky restaurant with a motto I can believe in. Then we headed back to the hotel to do laundry and pack up. Early morning wake-up call tomorrow, when we board the Eurostar and head to the Chunnel for Paris!

Today was another adventure - we boarded the Eurostar at St. Pancras Station in London and headed for Paris! It was an excellent way to go. Fast, smooth ride, breakfast served at our seats... we just sat back, relaxed, and watched the French countryside roll by. We disembarked at Marne La Vallee-Chessy, the station serving Disneyland Paris, and made our way to the hotel. After checking in, we walked around Disney Village, ate dinner at Rainforest Cafe, and hit the hotel pool, complete with water slides and screaming children. Mon Dieu, are we back in Orlando?

Cheers, London! You surpassed my expectations - we shall meet again.

Bonjour, Paris!

Happy May Day to all!

May Day (May 1) is a holiday celebrated in many parts of the world, including France. There is no school, no work, and lots of places are closed. Guess what lots and lots of people decided to do today, on their day off? Yes. They came to Disneyland Paris.

We had fun, though, despite the crowds and intermittent rain. We visited one of the two parks today - Disneyland. It is set up a lot like Magic Kingdom, with several "lands" spoking out from the castle in the middle. Here we saw Sleeping Beauty's castle rather than Cinderella's, complete with a fire-breathing dragon in the basement. We saw some familiar sights: Big Thunder Railroad, the Carousel, Buzz Lightyear, Space Mountain; and some new ones: Pinnochio's Voyage ride, and an Indiana Jones roller coaster.

It was a nice, relaxing day - tomorrow we hit the City of Lights!

After a pleasant French breakfast at our hotel, we ventured to the RER station to catch the train into the city. Everything went smoothly and we disembarked at Charles de Gaulle Etoille. The very first thing we saw as we walked up the stairs from the underground was the amazingly immense Arc de Triomphe.
This became our starting point as we made our way down the Champs-Elysees, which is the grandest boulevard in Paris - the beautiful tree-lined street is littered with high-end shopping and outdoor cafes. Perfect for high-heeled women in mini-skirts walking with their little poodles! We wandered down to the Seine, where we boarded a batobus - a hop-on, hop-off glass walled & ceilinged tour boat.
eiffel flowers
We cruised down the river and back again, fi paris skylinenally hopping off at Tour Eiffel. We walked around it, enjoying the many different views. I always kind of thought it was just a really big erector set, but it really is beautiful. The whole area surrounding the Tower is a park, with lots of green grass, gorgeous flowers and blooming trees. The only disappointing thing was the line to get in. It was as if every line at every Disney ride had converged to make one Super Line and take over the world. So we took some pictures and got on with our lives.

We walked around a bit searching for lunch, and found a cafe back on the Champs-Elysees. We ate some sandwiches on baguettes (Leah had a croissant and a pain du chocolat). We strolled through Nike Paris and then found the hugest Hagen-Daas shop ever, and got some ice cream. We then decided to call it a day and head back to our hotel. We will be back tomorrow for more sightseeing! Hope all is well with all you yanks over in the New World.

Today we made our way back into Paris. First on our list to visit today was Notre Dame. notre dame gardensWe walked through the beautiful cathedral and around the outside. We did not get up into the tower, though (see yesterday's post regarding the lines).

We then took a stroll through the city, over the river and past the Sorbonne to Luxembourg Gardens. We found a little shop that made baguette sandwiches, paninis and crepes - so we got some lunch and notre dame gargoyleshad a little picnic in the park. Then a French policewoman yelled at everyone to get off the grass so we moved the picnic to a bench.

After lunch we headed back to the river where we got back on the batobus and cruised around the river to the Louvre. The museum is amazing. We saw the Venus di Milo and The Mona Lisa, but the most impressive art was the building's architecture! outside the louvre

After the Louvre we headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we plan to get in to the city a little later, so we can be there in the evening and see why they call Paris the City of Lights!

We covered a lot of ground today. And I have the blisters on my feet to prove it! We got in to the hotel after midnight, so I'm afraid this will be a short post... I will try to add to it later on.

We had a relatively late breakfast and headed for the city around

img_3500.jpg11:30am. We took the train to PereLaChaise Cemetery, wandered around, got a fantastic real French lunch in Place d'Gambetta, hopped on the Metro and visited the Centre Pompidou (where I finally got up high enough to see an awesome panoramic view of Paris), got some nutella crepes and glace, then walked about 100 miles through the city, along the river, and finally crashed on the Champ du Mars in front of the Tour Eiffel in time for sunset (which, strangely enough, is not until 9:15pm here) and to see the tower light up - which is every bit as magical as they say. It was a great last day in Paris. Tomorrow we do the last Disney park and then Tuesday it is back stateside! family in front of eiffel tower


Back to Disneyland! Today we visited the other Disney park, Walt Disney Studios. A lot like MGM in Orlando, but much smaller. We (some of us) did Rockin' Roller Coaster, the Backlot Tour, will and bullseye Flying Carpets over Agrabah (like Dumbo), Cars Rally (like teacups, but in cars from the movie), and the Cinamagique and Animagique shows. We also rode on Crush's Coaster, a roller coaster ride based on the turtles from Finding Nemo. Disneyland Paris is the only WDW park that has this ride, so it was new to us! The guys went first and convinced Leah and I to try it, they said it was so much fun. They lie. Actually, Leah loved it, and I agree it was very well done. That's all I will say about that.

Will got to meet a lot of characters, he got a kick out of them and enjoyed posing.

Today we head home. We have had an outstanding 12 days in Europe, and I think we are all ready to return to reality for awhile. At least until our next adventure!


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  • It seems to be very informative post. if you are in london and looking for very secure and reliable place for car parking than go for <a href="">Stansted airport parking</a>,Save money every time by pr-booking and comparing Stansted airport parking prices.

    Chris Fryer

    ukairportcarparks, 2 years ago | Flag
  • This is a great description about all the great things to do on a london paris vacation.


    Don't miss out on the "NO WAIT" side door to the Louvre  


    littlemstravel, 2 years ago | Flag
  • This is a great description about all the great things to do on a london paris vacation.


    Don't miss out on the "NO WAIT" side door to the Louvre  


    littlemstravel, 2 years ago | Flag
  • great one .. if you want some historical tour here is my guide
    chiranjit7, 6 years ago | Flag
  • Thanks for the comments! The trip was indeed a blast. To Charlotte - I didn't use a travel agent. I did book flights on expedia and the london hotel through Otherwise I just spent months devouring books, articles, and online sites. Although for me, the planning is half the fun!
    amyem, 6 years ago | Flag

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