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”.
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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.
I originally planned to take this trip solo when he was away a few months ago. Munchkin had another mid-term break and I didn’t want to stay home for 10 days. A friend was going to join me while her older kids were away for a residency trip with school, but one got sick and the other cancelled so she couldn’t make it. It was too last minute for the family to fly up and join so it was postponed. Turns out, that was the week that parts of France and Germany flooded from intense rain so I am glad it didn’t work out. The last thing I need is travelling solo with two little ones and buckets full of rain in my shoes.
The following is a quick review of our 1-week road trip through Normandy. Please visit the attached links for more details on each city. Some are complete and some are still in the works; please bare with me, I want to get this right.
Day 1 | Drive day
We took it slow Saturday morning. It was a 6-hour drive, and I knew I could get at least 2.5 hours of naps out of the baby at 11 am so we timed it just right. We drove 1.5 hours to a shopping centre with a playground. We bought a few cheap snacks (instead of emptying the house of snacks) and let them burn some energy. Half an hour later we were in the car and, surprise surprise, they were both sleeping within minutes.
Also see; Quick Guide to Normandy with kids
By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was nearly dinner. We emptied the car of essential items and headed out for dinner. The small town of Les Loges didn’t have much to offer in terms of restaurants, the one that our host suggested was on vacation for all of October, so we headed a little further down the road until we reached Fécamp.
If you haven’t dinned in France recently, this is a surprise for the whole family. Nothing is open until 7 pm. Sorry, I should say no one is serving dinner until 7 pm. You can sit and have a beer or a coffee anytime, but they will not feed you.
Since we were in a rush to get to dinner, we didn’t explore our accommodations as well as we should have. We didn’t want to drive up single-lane dirt roads on the edge of a cliff long after dark. Once back to our room, we let the kids break free and tour the area. Click the link to check out more images and booking details; Yourte and Tipis.
Poor monsters didn’t want to leave. Honestly, at the price we paid, I didn’t want to leave either. While I have never WANTED to sleep in a tipi, now that I have, it was pretty cool. For our family we should have booked the Yourte but someone was already renting it; they had one baby and probably a baby bed. You can see from the pics that those are the only two beds and there wasn’t enough room for another one. Basically, hubby slept with the munchkin on the big bed and I slept with the baby on the single bed. It was cosy, though she likes to kick. I hear I got the better deal though; munchkin likes to throw a few punches.
Day 2 am | Etretat
The kids were awake before the sun came up, just too excited from sleeping in a tipi to sleep anymore. We packed up, skipped the optional breakfast and made our merry way to Etretat. It was Sunday and still in France so I already knew we weren’t going to eat anytime soon. The cliffs were barely 10 minutes away so we had snacks in the car, got everyone properly dressed and made our way up the cliff.
Hiking up the cliffs took 2 hours, roughly, before they grew too hungry to cooperate. I have to say though, at this time of day, I was appreciative to have that much of their attention. We played in the water for a few minutes then made our way back to the car. It was starting to rain and the crowds were starting to come in so I am also grateful that we left when we did. I dislike crowds. Next stop, bakery breakfast and moving on to the next town on our list.
Find out more about that trip here.
Day 2 pm | Honfleur
During our Normandy Road trip, Honfleur was peaceful. After their bellies were full, the kids napped in the back seat the whole time. We managed to find our apartment, Apartement Moderne and park the car. Walking around the city was peaceful. We walked around the harbour, found some good food for lunch, and carried on walking through the town. We walked by St Catherine’s Church, the oldest timber-built church in France, with a separate bell tower. As we were walking by and attempted to make our way inside the church, we noticed a large number of dogs in the area. We soon discovered that the church was doing it’s annual Pet Blessing that day. It was neat to see, but this also meant we couldn’t go inside to look around properly.
Also see; Road tripping with kids
Further along the way, we walked through the old city and found ourselves at la Vieux Phare de Honfleur – Old Lighthouse. Naturospace was just down the street and it was kinda neat too. It was a butterfly enclosure, as well as housing new Amazonian birds. The kids seemed to really enjoy it and it was nice to get out of the cold.
Day 3 am | Juno Beach
Juno Beach left us all with many emotions. My family has been serving in the military for generations, as well as my hubby’s family. It was hard to explain to the oldest why these two sites were significant to us, but more importantly, explaining to him why he needs to behave himself so well while here and actually have him do it.
Also see; Toddler Travel Bag
The memorial was only an hour away and it was a very scenic one hour drive. We stopped at the memorial, took a little walk along the beach and tried to explain the significance of the site to our 4 year old. Canada, America and England were fighting the bad guys and this is where they started the big fight. Poor little guy, asked why Germany wasn’t helping Canada. I was not about to tell him the full truth considering he likes to take things out of context and shout them at inappropriate times, or at school (75% German population).
Just down the road was the Juno Beach centre. Another lovely conversation about behavioural expectations and we took a nice walk around the grounds. Once we were inside the Centre, we watched a short video and entered the Canadian war museum. This was much different than the War Museum in Ottawa. The artefacts were much more child-friendly, as in they were not as shocking for the younger ones to see or experience.
The kids speed through the exhibit like they usually do, so we toured the gift shop while we waited for the hubby to finish in the museum. Munchkin was ecstatic to see so many souvenirs with the flag or something Canadian on them. We did manage to find a children’s book about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounties; even I learned something from this book, it was cute.
Day 3 pm |Bayeux
A quick 1-hour drive while the children napped in the back seat, and we reached the beautiful Bayeux in time for lunch. Parking just behind the museum itself is free for a few hours so we waited patiently for a spot to clear up. From the parking spot, we had easy access to the handicap door that would have led us straight into the museum, but we didn’t see it. We ended up taking the scenic, non-stairs way around the museum and found our selves face to face with this amazing Cathedral, built in the 13th century. We took a few minutes to walk around the outside court yard, visit inside the cathedral and explore the down town streets before finding a nice place for lunch.
As was a common theme in our French road trip, many places were closed for the season or just not open for lunch. We did manage to find a nice little hotel restaurant with a glorious view of the cathedral, and even better menu; Hôtel Reine Mathilde.
Shortly afterwards we finally made our way to the Bayeux Museum. We had no idea what to expect but we reminded the munchkin of museum rules and proper behaviour, as well as made sure we had plenty of snacks and water for the baby in case she got antsy in the stroller. At 7,50 euro per person, including the audio guide, I was looking forward to a proper museum. It took us a solid 30 minutes to walk through the Tapestry. No flash photography allowed but I did manage to grab this one with my mobile phone. Upstairs was a museum with artefacts from the time period and events discussed throughout the tapestry. There was a field trip that day and some of the kids were less than well behaved so we didn’t stick around too long.
Day 4 | Mont St Michel
We drove another 117 km along quiet farmlands to reach our next hotel, Le Beauvoir, just before dark. Unloaded the car, took a quick walk down the street and spotted the beautiful Mont St Michel in the distance. It was a cool 4 km away, so we had a great view, even from our hotel room window. The hotel had a restaurant, didn’t open until 7 pm, so we stay out a little longer. The convenience store across the street had a great souvenir section. Keeping a close eye on the price, I decided I would buy my souvenirs here before we left town instead of on the Mont itself. Finding its equivalent was not hard and the price reaffirmed my choice; it’s always cheaper off-site.
In the morning, we drove to the parking fairly early. We already knew that crowds increase later on in the day so we wanted to avoid that as much as possible. Climbing to the abbey was slow at best, keeping an eye for the munchkin’s little legs, and having 30 plus pounds strapped to my back while climbing endless stairs is no walk in the park.
We spent 2 hours looking around, had lunch and left just as the skies were opening up for an afternoon of rain and wind. Read more about our time at Mont St Michel here.
Day 5 | Nantes
It took roughly 2.5 hours to reach Nantes from Mont St Michel so we made sure to time it right with nap time. I did want to accomplish a lot that day but I also needed them awake for it. We arrived shortly after noon, parked the car and made our way to the Machines de L’Ile exhibit. The Island was 1 km away from our hotel, Best Western, and the hotel was 1 km away from the castle in the middle of town. I couldn’t have asked for a better location.
The Island took about 3 hours to explore, including lunch, then we made our way to the castle for a quick look before calling it a night. We were spent and we had a long drive ahead of us in the morning. Or hotel room needed to be rearranged anyways, so that was going to take about an hour or so to sort the kids out.
Read more about our day in Nantes, including more photos from the island and the castle.
Day 6 | Normandy road trip (Disneyland Paris)
Oh my goodness, nothing prepared us for this epic Normandy road trip. The kids were just done, they wanted to go home and just veg. We told them what we were doing next but I don’t think they actually understood what was going on, or they really didn’t want to go. Either way, they napped in the car for part of the journey, and they watched more TV than I care to admit – this happens a lot on Road trips, unfortunately – until their tablet decided to crash 2 hours away from our hotel, in the middle of Paris traffic, with all our pre-programmed content. We were forced to stream it from the hubby’s tablet – good thing we had lots of international data.
I say lots of TV, they played and slept, and we listened to music and they stared out the window quietly for most of it, there is only so much Mickey Mouse Club House and Diego one can watch in a single sitting before even the kids want to chuck it out of the car window.
We booked the Explorers Hotel, a pirate-themed off-site budget hotel. It offered free breakfast, access to the pool and free shuttle service so we were definitely winning on the budget side of things. I didn’t like that I needed to go through security just to enter Disney Village, and the line for the bus after dinner was crazy long. This was our first time staying off site so we weren’t sure what to expect.
Dinner at the hotel didn’t open until 7 pm, but the Village was always open, so we decided to go there for food. The Rainforest cafe queue wasn’t horrible, as the line moved fairly quickly and we were served promptly, but we still didn’t sit down until 7 pm anyway. At least we had a great atmosphere and weren’t limited to only pizza and nuggets like the hotel.
Check out my Tips on how to prepare for Disney post, based on comparing this adventure with our previous experience 2 years ago.
Day 7| Disneyland Park
Without Early Magic Hours, we were not in a rush to make it to the park that morning. We had our free breakfast, nothing special, just toast and cereal, and jumped on the bus to Disney.
Our hotel was a great location, I have to say. We were the first ones on the bus from the terminal so we didn’t have to fight for space getting to the park. This also meant we were the first ones out of the bus come home time. If the bus was jam-packed, we didn’t have to suffer for long. We did, however, have to tell other guests to let us off the bus and remind them they can just get back on once we have left.
Anyways, we bought our tickets at the gate since hubby is military and they offer 50% off up to 6 tickets for 2 or more day tickets. Guests can only receive this discount when purchasing at the gate so our hotel wasn’t able to honour this price. There were 6 kiosks open and 2 had no lines so this was fairly quick. I am told that on-site guests purchase the same tickets but show their proof of hotel stay, like a room key or something, and they are allowed into the park during EMH. Since we were off-site, we waited patiently at the gate until 930 am.
Once allowed into the park, we took our pictures, walked around some of the Halloween decorations and found our way to the castle entrance. Without access to EMH, we were denied entrance into Fantasyland, today’s EMH location. We waited and waited and waited until 10 am when the staff removed the barrier and we all rushed the land.
It was cold and raining and a Friday morning so the park wasn’t as busy as we have previously experienced. We managed to finish Fantasyland (minus the Labyrinth, since it is under renovations) before breaking for lunch. Baby girl needed a nap and we found Mickey Mouse only had a 45 minute wait time. Munchkin really wanted to see Mickey Mouse since he has been watching Club House for a few months now and finally has his fears under control. I walked around the park, grabbed some Fast Pass tickets and met them in time to see him walk out of the tent with a giant smile. He was a big brave boy and said hello to Mickey without being scared.
After lunch was Adventure Land and Frontier Land. A fair number of things were under renovations so we mainly visited Skull Rock, Pirates of the Caribbean and Swiss Family Tree House. Aladdin was next before finding something for dinner.
Discovery Land was last. Hubby did Space Mountain through the single riders line and I took the kids to Captain Nemo’s submarine. We stopped at Autopia, and that line was LONG. Baby girl had a little nap before they walked out the other end. Buzz Lightyear only had a 15-minute wait line by this point so as soon as hubby and munchkin came out, we ran for Buzz. I parked the stroller and we were off. They both wanted another turn and we were going to do it again but the reason the line was so short was because everyone was waiting for the fireworks… needed to grab our popcorn and find a decent spot before it was too late.
Day 8| Walt Disney Studio
Do you think after staying up until 10 pm to watch fireworks, after walking for 12 hours, and only getting into bed around 11:30 pm for a 4.5-year-old and an 18-month-old meant they would sleep in the next morning? Not even close. They were both up by 7:30 am, which I suppose is sleeping in since they usually wake around 6:45 am at home (with a strict 7 pm bedtime).
This time was Walt Disney Studios. We walked in at 930 am with everyone else and went straight for Ratatouille. The line was passed the queue barrier so the staff were unable to estimate the wait time passed 90 minutes, but the ride had yet to board anyone yet so it was tricky to gauge. I decided it would be best to wait 10 minutes in the Fast Pass queue and get tickets for later. Our time was 11;15 am, which was a little rough considering Baby Girl usually naps around 1030/11. We just needed to make sure we kept her busy and out of the stroller around that time.
Also see; Best Toddler Travel Gear
Aladdin, Slinky Dog, Cars and a few other short rides later, we returned to Ratatouille. The kids had a blast. Even Baby Girl didn’t mind sitting on the bench, usually, she demands to sit on my lap or tries to stand. They loved it so much, Munchkin insisted we eat lunch at the restaurant. Since I had forgotten to make reservations, I went to the desk and asked what they had left. 5:30 pm. Perfect, that’s when we like to eat anyways.
We managed to fit in Disney Junior before it was time for dinner. Several conversations were had regarding expected behaviour in the restaurant. Despite its location, I had a feeling this was going to be a fancy, slightly expensive restaurant, and I was not entirely wrong. While this is a family restaurant, this is not the kind of place you take children that are prone to acting out or yelling in public. I found there were more adults (child-less couples) than children during our meal.
A quick ride on the Disney Express, lots of shopping and another showing of the Fireworks before bedtime. Not a bad way to end a vacation.
Day 9 | Long Drive home
With the tablet still kaput and no way of fixing it until I can sync it to my iTunes account, we streamed a little more after everyone was done sleeping, eating, singing and staring. This drive felt slightly less-long than the drive from Nantes to Disney, only because we stopped so often. Little man needed to pee so often, that we stopped 4 times at a public restroom, restaurant for lunch or corner store for snacks, plus two more times on the side of the road for a pee break… I didn’t realize I had given him that much to drink. Maybe he was stealing his sisters’ bottles; she has a tendency of throwing them across the backseat when she is done with them, empty or not.
Overall, this vacation only cost us 3000 euro, including gas, food, hotels and tickets. We packed lots of food and stopped at grocery stores to restock instead of buying snacks at the attractions themselves.
We arrived home just in time to make dinner, shower the kids and ship them off to bed, and they were not complaining. He had school the next day, picture day on top of that, and she needed to follow me around on my many errands; after all, the fridge was empty and needed filling. On the walk to school, Munchkin asked if he could have some pictures printed to show his friends. He has never asked us this before, so he must have had a great time.
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet Normandy Guide
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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.
Memorial before the bridge
Between the parking garage and the island, we stumbled upon a Memorial site. This was a “Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery”. All along the path, on both sides of the solar panels pictured below, were memorial plaques embedded into the pavement. They each had the name of a slave ship, originating from the Port of Nantes, the year it sailed, and which port in Africa is pillaged for persons to turn into slaves in America.
I wish I had more time to walk around the memorial and study the plaques, and see if I could find any other information pieces, but munchkin knew what we were going to visit and didn’t want to stop for anything.
Not many people know this, but I majored in History; African Studies in University. My minor was Anthropology, specializing in colonization. I choose this field because I enjoy studying anthropology, I enjoy learning about other cultures and there is something about studying slavery, colonization and abolition that stuck with me.
Clearly, I knew there were a lot of cities, countries and ships involved in the slave trade. It killed me to see all these memorial plaques, reading the informational statues and see the shear numbers thrown in my face this way. I really did want to stay longer, but you know kids…
Les Machines de l’île
Trying to explain “Steampunk” to a 4 year old is like pulling teeth. No, there are no punk kids causing trouble, there is no steam trying to burn your skin like hot tea. No, they aren’t alive. I finally just gave up and showed him a photo of what we were going to visit on our vacation next month.
Mommy! It’s a Robot Elephant! Why didn’t you just say that?”
“Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.”
Once we crossed the bridge, attempted to explain what we had just walked through to no avail – one day buddy, we will have this conversation again, but for now, be 4 years old and let’s talk robots.
Directly off the bridge there is a hanger and a small carousel. If the elephant is missing or covered up, you wouldn’t think much of the hanger. He was missing, and we walked right passed it. Eventually, we saw some signs and doubled back. Next to the hanger is another hanger – this time the doors were wide open, still no Elephant, and a restaurant. We walked into the open hanger and headed for the reception desk.
Strollers are not allowed into the Gallery, but baby carriers are provided free of charge. They only ask for a piece of photo ID to hold “hostage” while using the carrier. I saw at least 10 hanging on the wall and the area didn’t look all that busy with little ones so I wouldn’t worry too much about them running out. We paid for our Gallery admission, also purchased our walk on the Elephant – reserving a time for 2 hours from now – and decided not to go on the larger carousel down the road (at the end of the Elephant ride). We didn’t feel 8 euro per person was worth it when 2,50 per person on the smaller carousel was available.
Passing the gates at the reception desk, we ran into this guy.
The kids weren’t too bothered by him… until he started to move. They say that the Gallery takes about 1 hour to tour, but the area is rather small. I saw 3 large creatures like the spider, pictured above, and the tour guide discusses and activates each one. This is why it takes an hour to complete. Munchkin decided he didn’t want to be near the spider once we all gathered around it, so hubby waited with him in the other side of the gallery. This, however, meant that hubby missed his opportunity to volunteer to ride on the back of the giant walking spider. Baby girl had no problem with it. There were painted lines on the ground that we could not cross during a demonstration; she wanted nothing to do with rules; get as close as possible and pitch a fit when we say “safety”.
Outside of the gallery was a staircase to a lookout where we could see into the closed hanger. They were in the process of building another giant mechanical animal and had videos of building the giant Elephant. Due to copyright laws, I was not allowed to photograph any of this. I took the elevator down with the baby, and the boys took the “Branches” down. Munchkin had a little issue with the heights when it was time to step out of the hanger to the branches themselves. Once he was out in the open and could see me, he shouted that he was being a “brave boy” and walked the length without issue. Pretty sure he just called me a woosy but I’ll let it pass.
Also see; Road tripping with kids
We still had an hour before our elephant ride so we stopped for lunch. The dinner was really the only place to eat on the island within a reasonable distance so it wasn’t surprising that it was so busy. They only had 3 options on the menu and no real kids menu available, but they were able to put a little something together for the kids at a reduced price.
Also see; Quick Guide to Normandy with kids
Potty break, rent a baby carrier, check on the stroller, then make our way back up the stairs to the Elephant Entrance. The signs are not marked very well if you don’t know what you are looking for and the receptionist instructions were a little odd. Across the hall from the reception desk is the stairs to get to the 3rd floor look out that I mentioned earlier. The 2nd floor is where you catch the elephant. Down the hall, and wait for the guy to open the gates, check your ticket and let you in. Even though Baby Girl was free, she needed a ticket. Only 50 bodies are allowed on the elephant so she needed to be counted.
There are only a few rules; don’t hang off the edges, don’t jump off the edges, don’t throw things off the elephant, and don’t take photos of the inside of the cabin. Every once in a while, they would trumpet the elephant and he would spray water on the bystanders in the streets. The noise can be fairly loud for those in the cabin, as opposed to those on the elephants back who can’t hear anything, so the driver signals before doing it, do give parents a chance to cover any little ears.
The ride ends at the large carousel, where we get out and another group gets on. We thought it was a full circle ride, so we told the munchkin he could walk the branches again. Felt bad for the little guy that we were wrong but he got to ride the carousel so he was fine.
The little carousel was still a little fast for Baby girls likings. We had bought two tickets, one for each kid, but she needed a change and I needed to return the carrier. Munchkin took his turn but hubby decided it was too jerky and rose too high for her. The kids all have seat belts, but she is still only 18 months, I think we forget that sometimes.
3 hours after parking the car, we were heading back to grab our gear and check into our hotel. The kids were just finished and had a great time. Munchkin was already asking if I could print a photo of him with the “Robot Elephant” to show his friends at school. I guess that means he had a great time.
Check out this incredible video of the whole experience.
Where to eat in Nantes
We checked into the hotel, found the castle and took a nice walk around the grounds and moat, but it was getting dinner time. We decided not to pay to tour the castle and only took a look around the outside for free.
As seen on;Best Castles in Europe
Everywhere we looked, it was either too expensive for what we were craving – something food like because we are way too tired to care about nutritional value at this moment – or it didn’t open until 7 pm. We forgot that we were in France. I did the unspeakable and suggested the McDonald’s that we had seen 30 minutes prior. Hubby finally caved and as we were heading in that direction, we ran into a Pita Pit. Oh, thank the heavens for a Pita Pit.
If you don’t know what a Pita Pit is, first you are seriously missing out, and second I don’t blame you, they are a Canadian company that is being overshadowed by its American competitor. They have a handful of locations outside of Canada – see my pregnant cravings in London. They have amazing Pita’s, created fresh in front of you, for a fairly inexpensive price.
Where to stay in Nantes
Anyways, we headed back to our room and all passed out…. not before completely destroying the room. It’s a shame too because it was such a beautiful room. We stayed at a Best Western this time.
We had asked for a room with a double bed, a single bed and a baby bed. This is exactly what we received. The only problem is that munchkin rolls around so much that he falls off the bed if he doesn’t have a bed-rail. Remember, he is only 4 years old. We can do this one of two ways.
- He sleeps in the double bed with one parent, push his side against the wall, and the other parent gets a single bed all to themselves
- We keep our bed, and we put his mattress on the floor.
Related Article; Hotel Bedtime Routine
We decided option #2 was a good idea. But what to do with the bed frame. We moved the base to the wall with the window, along my side of the bed, on its side, and he slept on the mattress, on the floor.
Lights were out by 830 pm and we were all DONE. Tomorrow is a big day and neither knew what was going on……….. 4 hour drive to DISNEYLAND!!
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet Normandy Guide
Do you have any Tapped Out Tips?
Questions or Comments? Join the conversation below.
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.