I have boys that have really never asked to go to Disney, as someone who has been there both as a child and as adult (for business trips...back in the day when they did those week long ventures) I am impressed with the quality, cleanliness and efficiency as well as the wonder of it all. Yet my boys seem mildly interested only - can't say same for many of my friends. Their kids, especially their girl children (I see a princess theme here), have asked for and gotten Disney. This year for the first time ever they mentioned that during spring break they may be interested in going (though most of the rides they mentioned are at Universal..I see a superhero theme here). I looked it up and imagine my shock...morph into dismay...morph into Queens tinged WTF language directed at my computer when I priced it out. How do people afford these vacations? At 5 days in Florida to pay around the multiple thousand $$ price with airfare to stay on premise .. well that seemed CRAZY!!!!! Anyway since one of the oft asked for rides was about Harry Potter - I decided on a lark to see what the package deals for London were ... I mean really you might as well go to the source rather than a copy no?? Imagine my surprise when it was less -- a lot less.
This all lead to my discussion with a good friend who mentioned that she and her husband were taking their daughters (same ages - younger ones were in same class even - as my boys) to London and Paris. We talked about it ... we planned it ... and we bought it. People had mixed reactions when we told them.. really can you travel with another family ? (I am sure we had some ?s of that kind of our own - well I did- but then I thought of the family we were going with and our temperaments and thought -- yeah no prob). It took forever to get to the date - the date came in flash. So there we were 8 people on the plane, seating arranged together, pre-planned tours and some trepidation. I have kids whose palates are odd (like pesto don't like steak), who are used to getting the US "yes we can put the sauce on the side" response. I have kids who don't walk that much ...and here we were heading toward walking cities. The large spaces in the US are non-existent in most places in Europe ... it is smaller even for restaurants so how was this going to work????
Deep breath - 4 kids flew like they had been doing it all their lives. We arrived in London - parted ways - decided on text updates and planned to meet later. We had the loveliest hotel, all charm on the outside, clean, a bit of a maze of hallways - room.. oh yeah not ready since we arrived early. So we did what any rock star would do (to say anything less would be unlike me) .. we crashed for a bit in the side lobby. Rejuvenated I walked while they slept for a bit and loved our area. Few blocks each way to restaurants, public transport, museums and those famous double decker buses. Came back to a family checked in .. nice room.. what's up with 1/2 glass partitions (improvement from my first forays into Europe where it was water, water everywhere when you showered) in Europe - shower curtain shop would make millions!!!! Smaller than US standards but plenty for us. We texted our friends (preferred method if I could suggest one) met up -- and let's just say for the next 10 days seemed to only part to sleep at our different hotel accommodations.
We were the walking Big Love family. We became Underground experts - adapted Britishisms (Mind the Gap)... broke all the stereotypes and ate well always in London. The kids found a way to eat pasta with butter in London, and pizza, and the occasional chicken and chips. The kids were flexible - the Brits accommodating - the parents thrilled. We saw all the major sights and they even remembered facts from there. Most of all they were having a great time. We took them to see "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" - theater in London, they got to meet the main actor (accidentally after the show) and wound up on a documentary about theater.... first leg of the trip - splendid and brilliant. Take a trip on Thames, you will see and learn a lot and be able to hop on and off. Loved the London Eye.
On to Paris - more walking as their metro system no where near as good as the Tube. Lots of walking.. so much walking that they were beginning to plot against us in French I think. I bumbled in French - the Parisians replied in English. They loved the city as much as we did. The kids had no anxiety about being in a place that was so different from theirs -- or maybe because they live in a diverse area it doesn't phase them to be in a place that people speak many languages, look different. They went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and through the bottom of the Louvre. They went to a carnival in Paris in the beautiful Jardin Tuilliers -- they made comments about having to pay for the use of a public toilet "they make you freakin pay to pee here" according to my 6 year old. The Parisians were great and helpful - still thinking of the nice man who used his metrocard to let our family get on at a station that had no way to buy tickets. The food in Paris - everywhere - was amazing. The bread, the food, did I mention the food... ohhh so good and the wine - inexpensive doesn't mean anything there - that too was really excellent. The Seine with it's little cafes on the side, the Seine river tour... can go on and on because with all that we did and saw there is so much more we could have added.
Through it all we were thrilled to be with our friends - we had jokes that made us laugh just thinking about them - we had a few mishaps that we learned to work around together - we had each other and so did the kids. We learned that you should get an international plan at home, worth the $$, cause the wi-fi all over these major cities is not good (myth buster here for all of us who hear how great it is in Europe - nope less than NY in any case). We spent a lot of time together and yet at the end of 10 days there were murmurs of how to extend.. how to make the vacation last ... where we were going to next year.
A few tips for travelling abroad with kids ... book ahead, get guided tours when you can (the scavenger hunt at the Louvre is by far a highlight for all the kids and they saw enough to understand the treasure that place is), book ahead and relax. You will eat late - you may get some stares for being American (you are different after all than the natives - any other stares are in my opinion based on what I would say here - racist ignorance - do not judge or be judged by your ethnicity) - you will have to be flexible and you will need good walking shoes and a just a bit further attitude. You will need to play in parks (by the way mothers in both cities were exactly like the mothers I know here -- watching their kids, yelling when danger, hovering - thought as much - thought that the motherhood tribe had more in common than not so there annoying writers who say different). You will need to know when to stop and get a glass of wine, beer, water, and let the kids run around. They work on a much more "relaxed - read slow" pace than us New Yorkers are used to - so what you are on vacation not running back to any place. You will need to curb that soda habit -- at $8 and up a glass you may want to try wine or water (both are cheaper). Change some money before you leave and be prepared with a few different types of cards - they don't take Discover, sometimes they take Amex and sometimes they don't. You will need to remember that tip is included but a little bit extra appreciated. Make a bit of an effort with the language of the place you are in- they will more than make an effort too if you just try. After all I get annoyed when someone assumes I speak something other than English when I am in the States.
This trip was amazing in every way -- and to me well worth it if you can do it. It was not Disney and that may have to come, they have not asked since that spring break, but it was an exposure to the wonders of travel. They will remember bits and pieces but mostly they will remember that they enjoyed the time if you learn to relax and enjoy it with them. It is easy to forget the world has so much to offer and if we could all share our cultures rather than watch them on CNN we may remember that our histories and love of life cross all borders. I am grateful for being able to do this with my kids but even going to another state or driving like I did as a kid, because money was tight, to Florida in the summer (hot, at times brutally so) still pulled me into the lifestyles of others and to the incredibly terrific idea of vacations.
Now on to looking at what other country our Big Love family of 8 can take on next year... Au Revoir - Cheers - See ya !!!
London - Get all day pass for adults (Underground) well worth it you will use it , kids ride free; Radisson Blu Edwardian (great location, easy access on foot/bus/underground), Thames River Cruise, London Eye, Tower of London (guided tour - kids go up front and the guides are so good at getting their interest)
Paris - DO not get all day pass for Metro (get tickets for each ride - not great you will walk more than use), Seine cruise, Paris Novotel Les Halles (great access to Metro, Louvre, Seine, Notre Dame, busy area) Paris Muse (great tours for kids and/or adults for Louvre), Musee D'Orsay, Rodin Gardens, Luxembourg Gardens (bring or buy there a bottle of wine, let kids play, bring small change for bathrooms as they are paid), Notre Dame, walk as much as you can .. you will find that is a treasure in itself.