France: Disneyland Paris

I love traveling and experiencing new foods, places and cultures, but these are fun activities from a grown up perspective. So when Isabella dramatically died of boredom on her tour de chateaux, we knew it was time to change up our itinerary. Luckily, we had planned for our threenager to be in full force and had booked a special detour just for her and Olivia.

DISNEYLAND PARIS!

We live in the United States, but this was our first trip to any Disney resort. We did internet research from Dedicated to DLP, Disney promotional videos and listened to input from friends who Disney often in the States. We knew that on-site guests have access to early entry to the park and that we would benefit from purchasing a dining plan. We purchased our tickets directly from Disneyland Paris but we used the French speaking site because it’s literally more expensive to get the same package when you book in English. We also reserved character dinners two months in advance, which is the limit for Disneyland Paris (DLP). We had better luck calling Customer Service directly (yes, we called France directly from the U.S.) than trying to reserve online. They did speak English and were very pleasant over the phone.

Lodging: We stayed on-site at the Sequoia Lodge. It was close enough to walk to the parks and far enough to remove ourselves from the parade crowds at the end of the day. It is themed in a rustic “American style, Western-pioneer” motif. If your kids like playing cowboy or out in the woods, this is a pretty cool place to stay. The hotel common areas were gorgeous. They also had an on-location Disney Store with exclusive DLP pins, clothing and suitcases.

Mom notes: The room met our needs with two double beds and en-suite bathroom. I would compare the room to a Howard Johnson or Holiday Inn. They provide a cute Mickey Mouse Shower gel and shampoo, but they do not provide conditioner. We opted for breakfast with our accommodation. It was a light buffet with assorted breads, cereals, cold cut meats and cheese. If you want to take advantage of the early “magic hour” then I suggest booking breakfast at 7:00 or 7:30AM. By 8:00AM, the line was extremely long with lots of hungry little princesses and Avengers waiting for an open seat.

The walk from the Sequoia to Disneyland Park was great. It took us past a beautiful pond with a hot air balloon and straight through Disney Village. There were very kitschy, cute restaurants and lots of various shops to visit. I loved that we could hit the shops outside of the park on our way back to the hotel and not carry everything through the park all day.

You actually have to travel under the Disneyland hotel, a beautiful pink chateau in its own right, to get to the park. This is, as they say, where the magic happens.

What to do with a 3 year old and 6 year old in Disneyland Park? Well, we visited during the 25th Anniversary which includes special costumes, parades and attractions in the park. We definitely bought new costumes and they wore them the whole time we were there.

We spent most of our time in Fantasy land because that’s where the girls’ favorite rides were: Tea cups, Flying Dumbo and the Alice in Wonderland labyrinth. We did each a few times and you  know what? It was ok. They had a blast and we had a good time being with them. And we did take them through the 20,000 leagues under the sea ride and driving the motorized cars in Discoveryland. There was something fun for everyone.

In the end, vacations are about getting away from the everyday grind and spending time with the people you love most.  Whether it’s grabbing the special blue donuts with star sprinkles or just watching a little blue fairy dancing joyously in her new costume, the magic of Disney is making those memories together.

Maui: a lesson in time management

The best travel advice I’ve ever given is that you have to be open to trying new experiences whenever they present themselves. It’s not always planned or well-timed, but the experience always outweighs the inconvenience in my opinion.

When Olivia was a baby, Mike told me that he was going to extend his time in Hawaii by a couple of weeks for a job he was doing in Maui. The problem was that time conflicted with Olivia’s first Father’s day. As usual, Mike came up with a perfect solution.

The inconvenient part is that I has actually just started a new job a few months previously. How was I going to let my boss know that I was taking a week’s vacation with one week’s notice? Brain-storm: I was going to work the whole week. REMOTELY.

Now for those of you who have never worked from home, or had flexible work schedules, this probably seems mind blowing. I had never worked remotely either. But when I worked through it, I would be able to do my job on local hours if I started my day at 4AM in the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone.  I could work until 5PM Central time and still have half a day left in Hawaii for a whole week.  I had to try.

We stayed at the Wailea Beach Resort in Maui for the week because it was closest to Mike’s job site.  Our days went like this: I woke up at 4AM and worked from my laptop with my team on-line. I took conference calls and managed until 7AM local time (noon in Chicago) when Olivia and I went down to breakfast and my husband went to work.

Then after breakfast, we came back to our room and Olivia played with her books, toys and iPad in the morning until it was time for me to sign off for the day. around noon local time. Then we packed up our stroller and went to the pool, took walks along the shore until she fell asleep at nap time and played on the beach in the afternoons. In the evening we would meet Mike for dinner or he would come back to the hotel and swim with us.

Vacationing in Paradise isn’t difficult. If you have a small child, you don’t have to leave your hotel. You don’t have to do anything more than hang out at the beach with your SPF50 and your little ones. We shopped at the local ABC store and just hung out.

It was 100% worth the extra effort on my part. I just didn’t acclimate to local time during the week. I fell asleep really early, but that worked for us and was factored into our plan.

So if someone asks if you could make a trip to Maui work, say yes! You absolutely won’t regret it.

Papeete, French Polynesia

“We could go to London?” said my husband.  “How about Mexico?” I countered.
“How about Tahiti?”

“Yes, I think I could go to Tahiti.”

And with that we packed up our infant, sunscreen and sarongs and flew to Tahiti.
It was a long flight: ORD to LAX, grab bags at LAX and walk outside to the international terminal and then catch a long flight via Air Tahiti Nui to Papeete. (Pronounced pa-peh-yet-eh)  

 Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and the last real “town” that you will encounter on the islands. They have a thriving Municipal Market to purchase your scented coconut oils in jasmine, gardenia or plumeria. They refer to coconut oil as Manoi and it’s produced on island and protected by an appellation d’origin, similar to Champagne.  They also sell insect repellant that is the only potion strong enough to deter the native mosquitos. Buy the large bottle.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort near the airport and it was divine. It was  near enough to paradise without having to endure a long ride after being on a plane for half a day.  The hotel was clean, the pool was nice…but the VIEW. Well, have a look:img_1784

This is what you wake up to every morning in paradise.

We hit the market but also stopped to see the Museum of Tahiti and her Islands. It’s my inner nerd talking, but I think the best part of travel is discovering new places and learning about the people inhabiting that place. Tahiti met the same fate of colonization that affected the rest of the South Pacific, but they do have their own story and it was fascinating to learn about it.

And finally we hit the local waterfall and hiked some light trails before retiring back to our beautiful hotel to enjoy some local cuisine.

We recommend the fish and don’t forget to tip the in-house band. 😉

Until next time, bon voyages!

Baby’s first vacation: Florence, Italy

My husband and I are great believers in traveling with babies while they’re young. There are several upsides: Free airplane seat! (well, mostly. You still pay landing taxes and fees), no need to worry about whether they’ll eat the food! And they nap long enough for you to enjoy the Uffizi gallery. All in all, those are great reasons to take your baby to Italy!

We stayed at the Westin Excelsior which was gorgeous with inlaid marble floors, beautiful finishes and the luxe, upscale style that you hope for when dreaming about your first trip to Florence. The Westin is also close to all the main streets, museums and shops that we wanted to visit.

Prior to our visit, I read “The Agony & the Ecstasy” by Irving Stone. While it’s a work of fiction, it brought great context to the magnificent cathedrals and artwork of Florence. I knew who created each masterpiece and in a way, what that meant to the artist and the town itself. We visited the Duomo, which is a famous Cathedral built by Brunelleschi. With its inlaid white and green marble exterior, it’s truly unique and worth experiencing in person.

Of course we stopped by the Uffizi, which was an invention of Cosimo d’Medici. He wanted offices for the magistrates of the city near the Palazzo Vecchio. However, being Medici, he couldn’t have a plain edifice built. The black and white tiled floors and beautifully detailed rooms are an apt house for the Renaissance masterpieces that now reside there. My favorite piece was a painted tabletop by Michaelangelo. You can clearly see how sculpture influenced his painting style. It was everything I had imagined as I was reading his “biography.”

And finally, although Florence was everything I had hoped, it was still a family trip. We all got to play dress up at the Medici palazzo. There was a carousel in the main square that lit up at night. We went to the Disney Store when we discovered it on the Vei deCalzaiuoli and bought a Minnie Mouse doll(a consistent favorite). We ate a lot of gelato and discovered Isabella’s love for an aromatic Italian stew. And we bought shiny red shoes for Olivia, because her daddy said Italy makes the finest shoes in the world. As always, a little something for everyone.

Ciao!

Roadtripping: Oxford MS

This week, eyes are on America as we conduct another Presidential Inauguration.

But how much of the United States have you really seen? Most people haven’t visited all 50 states and even if they do travel regularly, they bypass some of the neat college towns and small cities that make America the diverse, wonderful place that it is today.

We sought to remedy this issue last year when we decided to road trip from Chicago down through Houston, TX. Highlighted here is our first southern college towns: Oxford, MS.

I went to a small college and Mike went to University of Michigan. We never really got the whole tailgating, weekend football experience in the way that fans of Southern Superstars like Alabama, Florida State or Tennessee experience it. So last Thanksgiving, we packed everyone in a minivan from Enterprise Rent-a-car and set out for BBQ, football and family bonding time.

Two days in, we arrived at Oxford, MS (with a pitstop in Nashville, TN) in time for a huge football game and tailgating experience. We stayed at the Graduate Hotel in Oxford. In all honesty, we chose The Graduate because of its amazing pink interiors. Pink carpeting, pink lobby, Pink stained wood floors. It was a Travel Kids paradise. It was also within walking distance of the campus, downtown Oxford and a really neat, kitchy place.

The fans of Ole’ Miss are amazing. The families were friendly and happy to chat about the college, their football team and Mississippi in general. The food on the square is a Southern Delight – try eating at Ajax or City Grocery for a good meal with children. The tables are nicely set, but they will remove glassware and are very family friendly.

Beyond football, the town square is delightful. Holiday decorations were already up in late November and the shops on the square were full of cute outfits, fun trinkets and Ole Miss paraphenalia.

If your current football affiliation doesn’t prevent you from visiting Oxford, you should swing by. I just found out that a college friend is moving there and I will unabashedly stop by at the first opportunity!