To us, nothing says a fairy-tale Europe like exploring historic stunning castles. We’ve visited several stunning castles in Europe and we’re always on the lookout for more. We’ve listed all of the castles, chateaux, palaces, fortresses, and citadels we’ve mentioned on Tapped Out Travellers.…
France Travel Blog
Paris is incredibly kid-friendly. Here are our top 10 tips for having an amazing family-friendly vacation in the City of Light.…
So, You’ve decided on the Disney Dining Plan
We have discussed the Disney Dining Plan a few times already; first Tips for Meal Plans and Reservations, then in Secrets to Free Disney Dining Plan. These are an overview of what they are and what to look for in making the decision to buy or not. Once you have looked over the menus of the various restaurants that you want to visit and decided how many sit down vs quick service meals you plan on having during the course of your stay (because you can use more than 1 in a day, you will just be short that many at the end of the vacation), how do you make the purchase? I had an encounter with the half board plus today that I feel the need to share my new found wisdom.
Lack of useful information
I booked my 3rd visit to Disney Land Paris (first with the Disney Dining Plan) this morning. I did so, naively, with the two kids watching TV in the background, full of distractions in the house, while my Facebook was still pinging with suggestions about getting the best deal out there. The one thing that I didn’t want to do was call them to make the reservation; not only is it difficult to make a long distance call via my house phone ( I was out of Skype credits on my cell) but to call France with a UK local number, from Germany, was the kind of logistics I wasn’t prepared for. Either way, I did it. I purchased online…and I had to pay for all of it, in full, 3 days before my trip to Italy. WTF was I thinking.
Anyways, I book the hotel, with 25% off the hotel room and tickets, with free half board plus. This meant I didn’t need to book room only and use my military discount to purchase the entrance tickets. Yay for time-saving, at least. Because I am an avid researcher, I checked into the upgrade for the Disney Dining Plan. It said I can only upgrade from Half board plus to Full Board plus. Essentially goes from one meal a day to two meals a day, but the restaurant choices are still the same. No character dinners are included, like the Premium packages.
I still want Buffalo Bill but I know I need to call for that because I want an extra seat for Baby Girl. Last time we went, Munchkin sat on my lap and I did not want that to happen again. I called, asked if I can just book a seat, no meal. They said no. Balls! So I bit it and book her a seat and meal; Hubby really wants to do this show again! Since the Half Board plus does not cover Buffalo Bill in full, I call the number on the Disney website. Wrong! Don’t do that! This is the direct line to the Buffalo Bill people only. They make you pay in full, again! If I had called the general Disney reservation desk or my hotel, I could have added it to my reservation and paid when I checked out in 2 months. Better yet; they would have told me to use one of my vouchers to get the face value taken off the entrance price for Buffalo Bill and just paid the difference. But no, the direct line didn’t feel the need to volunteer information so I paid it all. No discount or reduction.
Next, I finally read all my Facebook messages and realize the irony. I, the travel blogger, and Disney fanatic made a boo-boo. It’s not like this situation came up a lot in the travel forums so how was I supposed to know. Well, not really a booboo. I still have 2 vouchers each and there are plenty of restaurant options at the parks, and I did get what I wanted, just not necessarily the way I wanted it.
I finally found an international number; it was for booking packages for Canadians. I call them, they patch me through to Suites (for a research on my December visit… I’m hopeless, I know), then they tell me that yes, I did booboo, gave me the number for the international sales department ( +0033160306053) and they were able to hook me up with EVERYTHING!
The lowdown on Half Board Plus
First – The new Disney Dining Plan (DDP), effective late March 2017, means hotels are no longer serving breakfast included in the price of the room. My DDP category (free with package) gave us a voucher to use at the Café Hyperion in Discoveryland. Only guests that have paid for their Disney Dining Plan with Breakfast are able to have breakfast in the hotel. The guides on their website have yet to be updated. Good thing I asked.
Second- I could use my breakfast voucher to reduce the cost of a character breakfast. Since the remodelling of Cafe Mickey, they have moved the characters to Plaza Gardens, permanently. But the first reservation isn’t until 8:15 am. That is at the start of EMH. I don’t know if you remember, but last time we had EMH, we finished Fantasyland and had a snack before EMH was over. I am not wasting more touring time for a meal. Just FYI, the difference would have been 29 euro total for all 3 of us (Baby Girl being free under 3).
Third – Quick-service restaurants are not including in the voucher program. I get to pay out of pocket to eat a burger and fries, or sit and have a steak dinner for free. While this sounds like a no-brainer, if the kid is asleep or really just wants burgers and fries, what then. I don’t like wasting perfectly good touring time for a sit-down lunch, so dinner it is. I don’t mind sit down dinners, we are all pretty tired by then and we need a break. But wait; I just booked a nonrefundable dinner on our first night.
Fourth – Just because I only get 2 meals (we are staying two nights = 1 meal per night staying), doesn’t mean I need to use them on my two full days. We still have valid tickets on check out day. Edit – by meals, I mean lunch or dinner, as worded in the Disney guides (Breakfast plus X meals per night staying)
Fifth – The dates that I booked were chosen for a very specific reason; they are blue on the crowd calendar. They are rarely blue; this is the time of year that they are at the lowest crowd level. Add that to the meal plan, discounted tickets and discounted room, I wanted these dates…but because they were expecting lower crowds, restaurants were compensating by moving around their open/close hours. That week, Bistrot Chez Remy is not offering dinners and Auberge de Cendrillon never offers character breakfast. Well, that just sucks, considering what I just said about lunchtime sit-downs. But I did ask, “When are the lunch times for Remy”…” oh well, 12:30 until 5 pm”. What? 5 pm is lunch? Done! I booked Remy for 5 pm on our second night, and this is covered by the voucher. One down, one to go. Cinderella has lunch starting at 12:30 pm with characters, so I booked that for our leaving day. Tour in the morning, try to keep the kids awake, have lunch, then leave right after. Sleep in the car the whole way home ( they will nap at 9 am and talk loudly the whole drive, just watch). The second voucher, done! Now, Cinderella uses up more than the value of the voucher – 75 euro per adult and 45 euro per child (Baby Girl is free), so I will have to pay the difference of the face value of the voucher.
Edit: When the park closes earlier, Bistrot Chez Rémy does adjust it’s schedule accordingly. Later reservations are available during different times of the year.
Today I learned that just because the website says a restaurant serves all 3 meals, they may not be when I actually get there.
I learned that I should really just call to make all reservations that include more than just a hotel and tickets. This Dining Plan add-on was a little too much for me to handle, considering I can’t view the time slots or voucher worth like I would at Walt Disney World through My Experience. I needed to call to book the restaurants, why not have them book the hotel too.
I also learned that I should never assume the agent on the phone knows everything. I used to work retail and one can’t know everything or read all the emails. Educate yourself about what you want out of your vacation and tell them what the plan is. If you disagree with them, respectfully ask that they look it up (to prove one of you wrong/right). I can’t remember how many times someone told me they don’t offer military discount tickets – “umm, I used it last week, so I’m going to need you to transfer me to someone else, thank you”.
do contain affiliate links that we earn a small commission for,
they come at no extra cost to you!
Please share your thoughts in the comments or reach out on social media...We would love to hear from you.
You May Also Like…
Best European Museums for Kids
All museums are not created equally; some are artistic, some are historical, and some are just odd. It’s hard to tell if the kids will enjoy them, and it’s frustrating when they don’t. As Family Travel Bloggers, we have tried many museums with the kids and we know which ones worked, and which ones just did not make the cut. These are the Best European Museums for kids based on real kids’ experiences.
In Edinburgh at age 9 my daughter loved the National Museum of Scotland and the Camera Obscura. The former is their Smithsonian squeezed into 1 museum. She loved the science and technology room. We didn’t get to the Natural History room (we almost didn’t get to see anything else because she wouldn’t leave the science room), but kids would like that as well as the kids’ areas in the history section. The Camera Obscura is a small museum but we spent 2 hours there because it is so full of cool hands-on activities involving light, shadows, optics and electricity.
My kids will behave for weeks with the promise of a Dinosaur Museum. We took them to the SaurierMuseum, just outside of Zurich, Switzerland and it was incredible. There are 10 fully mounted dinosaurs on display at the SaurierMuseum and all but one have been discovered by Kirby (the owner) and his team. The building itself used to be an old cotton spinning factory, hence the unusual layout and overall feeling. It is currently the largest and most important Dinosaur Museum in Europe.
See more at Saurier Museum
The Neanderthal Museum in Mettman, Germany was a delight. They had excellent audio guides and presentations throughout. It had statues and scenes to paint a perfect picture of Neanderthal life as we know it. It even showed evolution in several media formats and had several hands on sections that both children and adults could enjoy. The basement level has a rotating exhibit; the photo here is from the Duckomenta exhibit, where famous art works were recreated with ducks, and we went a second time when they historical periods recreated using Playmobil. Truly a child-friendly museum.
See more at Neanderthal Museum
Venture out of London and discover the location of one of Britain’s most important archaeological finds and a fascinating museum that is brilliant for kids. Sutton Hoo in Suffolk is the site of several royal Anglo-Saxon burial mounds and an exhibition hall that houses the treasures found inside.
The museum at Sutton Hoo showcases the excavation of the site and the historical significance of the items found there. Through a series of videos and interactive displays, you learn about the lives of the noble Anglo-Saxon people who lived in the area over 1,000 years ago. The highlight of the museum is a recreation of one of the wooden burial ships that you can climb inside and a replica of the famous helmet now housed at the British Museum.
We enjoyed the broad range of family activities including dress ups, discovery trails, and crafts suitable for both younger and older children. Throughout the year, outdoor displays and reenactments bring the site to life. Our kids were impressed with the “King” who strode through the fields with his knights and the blacksmith making armour.
The “Dino Museum” of Brussels, Belgium was very exciting for both children and adults alike. Between the Dinosaurs, Evolution Hall, and Gem stones on the lower level, and biodiversity exhibits on the upper levels, there is a little (or a lot) for everyone. This will take you a few hours to explore fully, even with racing children pulling you along.
See more at Natural Science Museum
The Swiss Museum of Transport in Lucerne, Switzerland, is every child’s dream. There is a separate hanger for each mode of transportation; Trains, Cars, Boats, Airplane, and an open wide section in the centre with a pedalo pond and construction site. I could easily see us spending a whole day here, considering this museum is also attached to the Lindt Swiss Chocolate Factory Tour and a Planetarium Tour.
See more at Swiss Museum of Transport
The Monaco Oceanographic Museum (Musée Océanographique de Monaco) is a fabulously child-friendly oceanography museum exploring all aspects of the marine world, spectacularly located on the cliff face looking out to sea on the rock of Monaco.
It consists roughly of three sections: the main area with historical displays, an aquarium and a turtle enclosure. The highlight of the museum for children is undoubtedly the excellent aquarium – not big but perfectly sized for young kids – with a touch pool, shark lagoon and times to observe the fish being fed.
The main part of the museum is stuffed full of marine world curiosities, displayed in a charmingly old-fashioned way, full of oddities to capture the imagination. Among many other things you’ll find a whale skeleton and an enormous polar bear alongside 200 year old diving gear and all sorts of pickled sea monsters!
Finally “Turtle Island” is to be found on the roof terrace with 360° panoramic views of Monaco, the mountains, across to Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. Up here you’ll also find a restaurant and fun marine-themed play area for children to climb on and run around while parents sit back with a coffee and enjoy the setting.
The museum hosts temporary exhibitions as well as activities for children during school holidays. It is open every day of the year except the weekend of the Grand Prix in May and Christmas Day.
The London Transport Museum in London, England was exactly was this little guy needed to end his busy day. A scavenger hunt booklet was provided at the beginning of the tour and he was tasked with finding all the numbered stations and punching his booklet. He was able to get in the vehicles, touch everything, and play around in the various centres throughout the museum. Not as amazing as the Swiss Museum of Transport, but a very close second place.
See more at London with Kids
You can’t visit London with your kids and not take them to the Natural History Museum. Arrive before the doors open and still be prepared to wait in line, we were greeted by a giant Dinosaur fossil in the centre of the lobby. We went to the Dinosaur section first, since we had first that it would be the busiest section in the museum later in the day (they weren’t kidding, it was crazy busy by the time we left). Evolution upstairs, Biodiversity on the main floor, and everything else in between, munchkin needed a nap by the time he was done touring.
See more at London with Kids
The Medieval Museum in the heart of the Viking Triangle of Waterford, Ireland is a fantastic venue to teach children about Ireland’s medieval history. From seeing a real ancient monk’s dining hall to actual artifacts being studied by historians, this is the place to see history come alive. Wandering all around the museum you will find costumed “locals” that will teach you all about medieval times and how people lived, worked ate and dressed. There are many interactive stations for children to color and learn with their hands as well as videos teaching the history of medieval Ireland and the phases of rule that happened in this country. Kids will love the life sized mannequins wearing medieval clothing and armor along with all the weapons displayed as well as some for them to “practice” with
The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde just outside of Copenhagen, Denmark is one of my all time favourite museums. Not only can you learn about the Vikings, the ways they conquered lands and navigated seas without any help, you get to see their wonderful boats. The timbers of these ships, set out like big creaking bones across the museum, are just fascinating to walk around and imagine them bobbing up and down across the ocean. As part of the museum you can try on different outfits, sit in a reconstructed ship and in the summer even take to the seas in a model Viking ship. It’s a wonderful place.
The Darwin Museum in Moscow, Russia tells the story of evolution through the medium of 400,000 stuffed animals. It sounds like an odd sort of thing to inflict on anyone, let alone children, but then kids are usually sold on the word ‘taxidermy’, and hearing that there are three large buildings full of it. There’s everything from full sized giraffes, walruses and elephants through wolves, horses and every type of bird ever to take wing to the smallest of tree shrews. The fact that they are artfully arranged to very successfully and visually get across various points regarding one of the most important scientific theories of the modern world is just a bonus. It’s not single minded propaganda though, with areas showcasing the biodiversity of marine habitats, tropical rain-forests, the savannah, seashores and mountains. If that’s not enough, the museum has a wealth of interactive elements to spice up the displays calculated to appeal to those who like to get hands on with their educational experience. And there are giant live cockroaches in the annex next door, which also contains a number of natural history-themed multimedia experiences. All in all, it’s an extremely child-friendly cut above your average natural history museum.
Having been a few times, and failed more than once, here is a list of essentials for the beach with kids.…
Normandy road trip in the Fall
Munchkin had a mid-term break ( I know, I fell like he just started the other day but hey, vacation is vacation) and hubby had some leftover vacation days so we finally got to take the Normandy road trip that I have been planning for months.…
Nantes, heart of Brittany
We decided our second to last stop, Nantes, was going to be all about the kids. Having done the hiking thing, and the castle thing, even the museum thing, their time was now here. Driving 2 hours from Mont St Michel to Nantes, we parked the car and walked to the Island. No one was sure what to expect; Nantes was recommended from a traveling friend of mine when she toured Normandy with her family last year. Her kids, similar ages and likes, had a great time, so I figured, why not, it looks cool enough.
Mont St Michel
It’s no secret that the historic and famous island of Mont St Michel is all stairs. There were a handful of inclines but for the most part, just stairs, stairs and more stairs, until you reached the Abbey at the very top. So before we even arrived at the site, there were a few things I needed to do in order to be properly prepared.
Preparing for Mont St Michel with Kids
The first thing I did was make sure I had a functioning system to carry the baby. She is 18 months, roughly 25 lbs (13 kg) and stubborn as her mother. The baby bijorn was mailed to my sister shortly after Munich in September, she is way too heavy to be on my chest for that long and refuses to sit so low on my back. A friend gave me her hiking toddler backpack. We used it with the munchkin on a long walk once and it was great. We threw that into the car, made sure to bring the canopy and packed a few snacks, juice pack and a diaper into the little compartment and forget they existed… they will come in handy one day.
Secondly, what were we going to wear on our feet? The weather network said it was only a 20% chance of rain but I wanted nothing to do with chances, not this far from home, not on this terrain. Everyone wore waterproof footwear with great ankle support. We also all had waterproof jackets with hoods, scarves, gloves, and hats in the diaper bag and wore pants we could actually move in – no skinny-jeans today. Today was not a fashion show, today was functionality over aesthetics.
A little history
Starting as a small church in the 11th century, Mont St Michel had been in the minds of church and state since 709 ad when they say the Archangel Michel requested its commission. During the French Revolution, the Abbey was temporarily turned into a prison; according to Walt Disney, this was the site where Mickey from “the Three musketeers” was imprisoned.
Back in 1879, the tidal causeway was converted into a dry causeway. This had the unpredictable effect of building up silt by the bay. Pasture land was also created at this time. In 2006 the French Prime Minister signed a 164 million euro project to create a hydraulic dam to remove the built up silt and make Mont St Michel an island again. Construction began in 2009; the dry causeway was removed and the parking lot was moved 2.2 km away from the island in April 2012.
We drove the whole 4 km from our hotel to the parking lot, made our way over to the bus stop and tried to find the horse and buggy line. The Horse and Buggy didn’t start until 1030 am… it was 930 am. Nope. We will try again on the way back.
The bus was packed. The parking lot is the first stop on the line, which was great, but everyone kept pushing and cramming into the bus. No one left their seats to allow my young children to sit so munchkin got to stand and I had to hold baby girl while trying not to take anyone’s eyes out with my carrier. Definitely not safe.
A few also felt the need to push my son around while they were exiting the bus on the second or third stop. There was no need for this. Eventually, the hubby found a seat and yelled at the guy trying to sit down while my son was headed for it. Not cool guys, not cool.
Related Article: Best Baby Travel Gear
Because the bus was so full, it had to stop at the other stations along the way anyways. Many tried to get on, and many were pushed right back off the bus. Like I said, a few got out along the way, I guess there was something to see and do there, but we were not interested. Word of warning; if you are going to get out here, might be best to walk back to the parking lot or just finish the journey to the mount by foot, because it looked nearly impossible to catch the bus from these locations.
As the bus was pulling up to the island, I noticed another bus pulling away and it was full of passengers. I was thinking, ‘it is only 945 am. Why are you leaving already? Surely you all didn’t stay at the hotels on the island?’
Sure enough, they were leaving because the causeway was flooded. According to the website, the tide comes up twice a day, and lowers twice a day. OK, common knowledge. What I failed to read was the height of these tides. 3 days per year the tides overtake the causeway and makes it impassable for roughly 1 hour at a time. Crowds were forming on the bridge, and on the island side as hotel guests wanted to leave or just take in the view. One brave family took off their shoes, hiked up their pants and walked across. Poor guys still got their knees wet; the waves are stronger the closer you get to the island.
Related Article: Road tripping with kids
We waited 10 minutes, and made the walk ourselves. Hubby carried the munchkin, I’m already wearing the baby and we walked quickly and carefully to the other side. I took a pinch too long and got a good splash near the end but I quickly dried. A few others tried their luck but it was a long 15 minutes before the others were able to cross dryly.
I have to say though, some of the footwear I saw these people wearing made me cringe. I can’t imagine the pain and blisters they are going to care for when they get back home.
The climb up to the Abbey, the icon at the top of Mont St Michel, was definitely a hike. Pretty sure it was harder than climbing Etretat a few days before. I knew I was practicing for something. There were gift shops everywhere, which I refused to enter for a number of reasons; I am not carrying souvenirs up the hill, then back down, there was a cheaper option across from my hotel that I found the night before, and the baby carrier would be akin to bull in a china shop.
As you can see from my photos below, the streets are not super narrow but they do make for close quarters. Keeps the kiddos close and keep an eye out for hidden stair ways. We found a few, the boys went exploring and I took a rest. Those alleys are rarely wider than one person and most do not have hand railings. Hiking Boots! Always wear Hiking boots!
There were many restaurants and hotels along our walk, though several of the hotels entrances were along these smaller alleys. I spied a few of the price charts near the doors and they were definitely pricier than the one we stayed at; 250 euro per night. Maybe if it was just the two of us, but with the kids, I prefer the cheap and close-enough hotels.
The cost to get into the Abbey differs based on employment status and citizenship but for us, it was 9 euro each and the kids were free. We choose not to get the audio-guide since they cost extra and we probably wouldn’t hear half of what they were saying anyways. Thanks kids!
Related Article: Quick Guide to Normandy with kids
Again, there was a wicked climb to get to the main lobby, but also a few wrap around walk ways with a spectacular view of the town and causeway. At the end of the walk, there are stairs leading down. We quickly turned around and made our way back to the Abbey – no sense going in the wrong direction.
So we paid, munchkin had a little freak out over snacks and potty breaks. Which in turn got the little lady all worked up. Once we climbed even more stairs – God help us walk back down – we made it to the main Abbey area where we let the both walk around and have a snack. Pretty sure no food was allowed but we did it outside (where the birds can eat any crumbs) and made sure to discourage crumb-making. The whole tour took about an hour, there was a lot of stopping, looking and sitting. Munchkin was getting tired. Baby girl walked as much as she could. I carried her in the smaller stairways, and finally put her back into the carrier when it was time for the big stairs down to the lobby again.
Lunch and home time
It didn’t take long for baby girl to fall asleep. We made our way out of the abbey, walked around a little and started the giant climb down the hill. The stairs weren’t hard to climb, per say, but my centre of gravity was all off so I took my sweet time. Munchkin, on the other hand, wanted to fly down the stairs. Not sure where he wanted to go exactly but he was in a rush to get there. Another beauty of my hiking carrier; it has independent legs so I could just take her off and place her on the floor while we ate.
Parking; 11,70 euro
Not stroller friendly at all – found a few people try to bring their umbrella stroller. Fail. Others carried the kids free in their arms – too heavy for me. No thank you.
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet Normandy Guide
For more information on the gear, we wear during cold-weather vacations, check out a recent post on the Proper Gear to wear in a European Winter.
Do you have any Tapped Out Tips?
Questions or Comments? Join the conversation below.