Posts Tagged family travel

Too Young for Disneyland? No way!

We recently had the opportunity to join family in Southern California and take our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter to Disneyland.  We considered this trip a while back and decided it would be best to wait until she was over the age of four so that she would hopefully remember most of the trip.  However, we decided “why not” when the opportunity presented itself again and it also meant that our daughter would get the chance to spend some quality time with cousins and relatives she doesn’t get to see often.  So we went….and had the BEST time!

I have to admit, I was a little worried how our daughter would respond to all the excitement of the park.  Was it going to be too overwhelming with all the characters, rides, noise, crowds, and was she even going to appreciate meeting any of the characters?  I couldn’t have been more wrong about this judgement.  She LOVED every minute of it!  I was even surprised to find out she actually knows all the characters and was thrilled to meet the Disney Princesses.  It melted my heart to see her smile with excitement whenever we had an opportunity to meet a princess.

Standing at only 38″ tall, there were definitely limitations to what rides she could participate in.  However, there were plenty of activities to keep her entertained in a two day experience.  The Nemo submarine, Winnie the Pooh,  Buzz Lightyear, Autopia, the Tea Cups, the Carousal, and the Jungle Cruise were among a few of the favorites!

Although, we know at her age she probably won’t remember much about the overall experience, we have absolutely no regrets in taking her this young.  To see the joy and happiness the park brought to her face was worth every penny spent.  Personally, I have been to Disneyland a handful of times and had a different experience every time considering my age and who I was traveling with.  This visit to the park, was by far the best experience I’ve ever had.  It’s not about the rides I partook in or the shows I witnessed, it was about the joy in my daughters eyes.

It’s true what they say about Disneyland, “It IS the happiest place on Earth!”  It’s magical, it’s unforgettable and it’s for ALL ages, young and old.  If you are like us and contemplate when the best time to take your kids to Disneyland is, I hope this post helps your decision.  Good luck and happy travels!

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An Iceland Gem

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Iceland Air recently joined Alaska Airlines family of partners and we decided to travel with them to Europe.  They were a fantastic airline with exceptional on board service.  One of the benefits of flying to Europe with them was the opportunity to ‘take a break’ in Iceland, as they make a scheduled stop in Reykjavik, Iceland in route to Paris and other European destinations.  We decided upon our return from Germany, we would stop in Iceland for a couple of nights and relax at The Blue Lagoon.  It was the BEST decision!  The Blue Lagoon was amazing!

The lagoon is world renown for its amazing therapeutic capabilities and aside from providing the ultimate relaxation for the common visitor, they do provide medically proven treatments to patients in need. Hot springs in general are good for the mind, body and soul, but this lagoon is well-known for its unique geothermal seawater and the healing powers it offers.  We stayed one night at the “clinic” which is what they refer to their hotel as.  The room was clean and modern.  We had access to a private bath (pool) at the clinic (the hot springs was a short 10 minute walk next door) and a wonderful breakfast was provided in the morning.

My husband and I decided we would gift a massage or spa treatment at the Blue Lagoon to one another for our April birthdays.  We made prior arrangements for these treatments; I was to have a body wrap, scrub and full body massage (about 2 hours total), while he was to have an hour-long body massage.  Well I had a rude awakening when the front desk receptionist at the spa that morning informed me that she didn’t have us in ‘the book.’  And then proceeded to tell me that there are actually two Blue Lagoon’s in Iceland.  One is the famous hot spring location and the other is strictly a spa located in downtown Reykjavik (about 45 minutes from the hot springs).  It turns out that both are the same company and both can be accessed through the same website with little, very little, indication that there are two locations.  Be aware if you decide to book a spa treatment online.  Apparently, this happens often.  So, needless to say, we had to take what was available at the spa that day…Jeremy had a 20 minute massage and I had an hour (body scrub and massage).  They were very nice and apologetic towards us regarding the mistake and to compensate us they provided us access to the Exclusive Lounge and private changing room all day.  This is an area they normally sell in 3-hour increments for $120USD.  It was amazing.  We had a private changing room and shower, a delicious fruit plate, an endless supply of coffee, tea and chocolate, and private access to a room with a fireplace and indoor hot spring pool (which by the way, you could swim into from the outside).  In the afternoon, Jeremy and I took turns having our massages and that was an experience we won’t forget.  The massages at the lagoon are all done in the lagoon.  They have you lay on a floating mat and use your body weight to do your massage.  It literally felt like I was floating in the air.  Weird at first, but then…so relaxing!  The day was amazing!

We were a little worried prior to arriving, that our daughter wouldn’t be able to swim much in the hot water, but that was never an issue.  The water temperature was probably right around 100 degrees, so with several snack and drink breaks she had just as much fun as her mom and dad.  We were only in Iceland for two nights (one at the lagoon and one in Reykjavik) and we would love to go back.  It’s such a unique place.  The terrain is covered in tundra, but yet under the tundra is lava rock.  The food, the culture, the people, everything about it was unique and made us want to explore more.

Even if you are traveling to Europe from the United States, this a great place to break up the trip.  We met so many people at the Blue Lagoon who were just in route to Europe or the U.S.  This was a great stop for us, as we had spent the previous two weeks walking, driving and taking trains through Europe.  It provided us with the relaxing day we needed, but also the motivation we needed to complete that remaining 12 hours of traveling before we were home.

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Our Family Journey Through Europe, Part Two – Southwest Germany

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Thank you for tuning in for part two of our family journey through Europe.  It was an amazing trip and one worth talking about, so I can’t resist the urge to share our experience with you.  In part one of this post, I left off sharing our Paris journey with you.  Well, after four amazing days in Paris (and several blisters later), we were on to our next portion of the trip…Germany!

We departed Paris en route to Frankfurt via a bullet train.  This is when we learned the meaning behind those infamous words of advise you get before you take a trip to Europe, “pack light.”  With my 70lb bag, my husband’s 40lb bag, the stroller and car seat, embarking on the train was not an easy feat.  However, once we were on and our luggage had a safe home, it was an enjoyable three-hour ride to Frankfurt.  The train traveled at up to 200kph speeds and you would think it would be hard to enjoy the scenery at this speed, but it was quite enjoyable.  A nice meal was included and our daughter was entertained by the other kids in our section.  It was a very nice way to travel across France.

Since we didn’t spend any time in Frankfurt, I can’t say much about it other than my first impression was…it’s a big city.  Once we got to the airport from the train, we picked up our rental car and drove straight to Wurzburg (about one hour away).  My family and I lived in Wurzburg when I was about four years old.  This is also where my sister was born.  Our hotel was located in the center of downtown and much of it seemed familiar while walking downtown and around the river.  I think my only clear memory from my previous time in Wurzburg was taking strolls along the river with my parents and feeding the ducks.  It was a short one night stay in Wurzburg and it poured rain the whole time we were there so we were unable to explore too much.

The next day we met some childhood friends of mine in Rothenburg to do some sightseeing and visit.  Rothenburg is a beautiful little town full of history and culture.  In many ways it was like jumping back into the middle ages.  They have done a great job of retaining much of its original architecture and historical structures throughout the town, while conforming with today’s modern lifestyle.  We visited a world-famous Christmas store, had an amazing lunch, followed by delicious ice cream, only to then be forced to leave by the incredible down pour from above.  We literally had to sprint back to the car because the rain was coming down so hard and it wasn’t stopping any time soon.  By the time we made it back to the vehicle, we looked like we all just jumped in a swimming pool with our clothes on.

We followed our friends into Leutershausen and stayed a couple of nights at their home.  This was a unique experience for me, as my family and I also lived just behind their home for a couple of years.  In fact, I could look out the bedroom window that we were staying in and see my old home.  Upon arriving, there was the most amazing traditional German dinner waiting for us on the table.  It was complete with stomach/blood sausage (which sounds gross, but actually tasted pretty good), along with a variety of other sausages and meats, fresh-baked rolls, and a selection of cheeses.  Following dinner, we were offered a selection of their homemade liquors, beers and wines made from fruits in their garden.  Wow!  Let’s just say it was a late night of tasting and sharing great company.  Experiencing life in Germany with the locals is irreplaceable.

The following couple of days, we visited the garden I played in as a little girl and sites around the area, including dinner that evening at the Colmberg Castle nearby.  If you’re looking for a unique dining experience in Germany, I highly recommend dining in a historic castle.  The photo opportunities from this castle were amazing, the food was delicious and the ambiance was like no other I’ve experienced.  The Colmberg Castle even offers overnight accommodations if you were interested.  It was cool (for lack of a better word)!

A couple of days later, we headed south towards Fussen, Germany where we planned a tour of the famous Neuschwanstein Castle.  We drove part of the journey on the autobahn and the remainder on the Romantic Road where we saw some beautiful countryside.  Many people would recognize this castle, as it was the one that Disney’s fairytale castle was based on.  We took a tour inside upon arriving that afternoon and the view from the castle was indescribable.  It was like you were standing in a painting and surrounded by fictional forms.

The following day was a scenic driving day.  We drove West on the Southern border of Germany and crossed into Austria for only about an hour or so and drove then drove through the mountains towards Lake Constance.  We saw some amazing countryside and hit a few road closures along the way, but it was a beautiful drive.  We stopped in a couple of towns surrounding Lake Constance before landing at our hotel in Konstanz, Germany.  We had to cross the border into Switzerland for a brief moment to arrive at our hotel too.  Konstanz was right on Lake Constance and surrounded by beautiful scenery.  This area struck us as a popular local vacation destination.  We were here for two nights and on the one full day we had there we decided to visit Mainau Island, a privately owned little island in the middle of the lake that is known for their amazing flower displays.  My parents took me there as a kid and from their description, it sounds like it has changed drastically since then.  They used to only have flowers all over the island, whereas now, in addition to flowers, there is a petting zoo, duck pond, pony rides, a couple of places to eat, butterfly house, a much more!  Our daughter thoroughly enjoyed herself.

The last few days of the trip, we worked our way West to the France/Germany border and North towards Koblenz, where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet.  We drove through some beautiful country in the Black Forest area and saw some amazing sights along the Rhine River.  Once we reached the France/Germany border, we crossed into France and spent two nights in Strasbourg.  Strasbourg was a very nice city with plenty to do and see.  It was a unique destination because although it was in France, there was a heavy German influence there due its geographic location.  You could almost say you have the best of both worlds there, with the option to have German or French food.  Furthermore, most residents of Strasbourg speak fluent German and French.  Upon leaving Strasbourg, we took our time driving North along the Rhine River to Koblenz.  The drive along the river was amazing!  We probably saw 20 castles that day and even more vineyards.  It was magical.

Koblenz was our last stop before saying goodbye to Germany and it was one of our favorites.  It’s situated right where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet and is a popular destination for everyone.  There is so much to do in this area such as river cruises, hiking, biking, wine tasting, historical sites and points of interests, and the list goes on.  We had one full day here and we happened to be there during their big flower festival.  We paid one price and had access to several parks, churches, a gondola ride to a castle across the river, historical sites, and of course the most beautiful flower gardens you can imagine.  It was a great day in Koblenz and I would love to go back anytime!

Germany is charming.  I absolutely can’t wait to get back and explore other areas.  We spent nine days in Germany and only explored the Southwestern area.  So much history, great food, affordable, friendly, family friendly, simply charming.  Loved every minute.

Our journey through France and Germany had come to an end and now we could look forward to a 24 hour journey home…but wait, we still had a stopover in Iceland, complete with a massage and a day at the Blue Lagoon!  This was the PERFECT stop to break up the long ride home.  Stay tuned for the last portion of this post…Iceland Gem.

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Our Family Journey Through Europe, Part One – The Unforgettable Paris

Do you remember what it felt like when your wedding night had come to end and that overwhelming feeling of relief hit you and you said to your new spouse, “That was the best time of my life, but I’m so glad it’s over.”  Upon arriving home after a 2.5 week vacation in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Iceland, there was an enormous sigh of relief when we walked through the front door of our home.  After planning this trip for the past year through online research, reading books, and studying the German language, it’s hard to believe the trip is behind us now.  We saw so many amazing sights, tasted some of the best food, and shared some unforgettable experiences.  It was by far, the busiest vacation we had ever been on together and yet, the most exciting.  Planning a trip half-way around the world is a lot of work, but when you add a toddler to the picture, it changes the whole dynamic!

We put much thought and preparation into this trip, as you should when traveling abroad.  However, there is plenty to think about for two adults, but as I mentioned before about the dynamic of your travels changing with a toddler on board, there was much more to consider for her.  Were we going to pack the car seat along or trust the rental car company would have a decent one on hand?  How many diapers should we pack?  What type of clothing should we pack for her?  Did we make arrangements at all the hotels for her?  How will we manage the luggage, car seat, the stroller and our daughter in the airport?  Can we manage if there are no carts at the train station?  The list went on and on and on.  So much to think about!  All that thinking (some of it, unnecessary), and everything always worked out to our benefit.  I will add that one of the best purchases we made before we left was buying a Combi umbrella stroller.  It was FANTASTIC for quickly collapsing and carrying over the shoulder on the subways, up stairs, through tiny doors, etc.  Great purchase!  I own a B.O.B. jogger stroller and there were MANY occasions in which we said to each other, “There is no possible way we could have taken our big stroller here.”  The Combi umbrella stroller is light, great for long walks (I can vouch for that), stands alone when folded up, and has a shoulder strap for easy carrying.

Our first destination was Paris, France and as everyone knows, this is considered one of, if not, the culinary capital of the world.  With our 21-month old daughter traveling with us, we knew there was a great possibility we wouldn’t get to experience the fine dining in Paris.  We were always on the lookout for ‘family friendly’ places to eat that also offered a variety of traditional French cuisine.  While we thoroughly enjoyed every single meal in Paris, there was one evening that was simply unforgettable.  We stumbled upon La Petit Fine Restaurant and immediately took note of the exquisite menu items, including the children’s menu.  Keep in mind that the locals don’t usually eat dinner until after 7p.m.  So when we are used to eating and feeding our daughter around 5:30 – 6:00p.m., none of the restaurants were open for dinner yet.  We were a little hesitant to walk in after 7p.m. and expect Kelly to sit still and eat that late at night, but she did wonderful.  The staff barely spoke English, but right away catered to her.  This was a white linen, 5-star service restaurant with a children’s menu.  Kelly enjoyed a fresh filet of salmon with seasoned french fries and Gelato for dessert (mind you, this was from the children’s menu), while I enjoyed the BEST pork chop I have ever put in my mouth!  And my husband also had an amazing dish.  They were so helpful with keeping Kelly entertained and everyone around us was more interested in visiting with her, than worried about her disturbing their dinner.  It was the best ‘culinary experience’ we could’ve asked for in Paris.

La Petit Fine Restaurant

TripAdvisor.com became our best friend before and during the trip.  I can honestly say that there was not a sight, hotel, restaurant, or activity with great reviews on TripAdvisor.com that we didn’t enjoy.  Everywhere we stayed was based on online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations and none of them failed us.  Prior to leaving home I downloaded the Trip Advisor application onto my Ipad and whenever we had WiFi access, we would use the app as a guide for the area.

I could go on and on about Paris.  It was probably our favorite destination throughout the whole trip.  Full of culture, history, great food, beautiful scenery, and very nice people.  We enjoyed our stay very much.  Some of the highlights were definitely visiting the historical sights such as the Arc de Triomphe, Napoléon’s Tomb, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, and of course, the amazing Eiffel Tower.  Many people don’t think of Paris as being a ‘kid-friendly’ place to visit, but it’s as kid-friendly as you allow it to be.  For us, we were obviously always on the lookout for kid-friendly places to visit in between the historical sights that fulfilled our pleasure for the day.  Paris is full of beautiful parks and playgrounds and many that offer daily petting zoos or pony rides.  One of our favorite parks was the Garden De Luxembourg.  It was never a problem to find a place to park the stroller, sit in the grass and let Kelly run around for a while.  Paris was delightful.  Loved every minute.  The worst part about our stay there was probably the blisters that I managed to develop from all the walking.  But that was no problem either, as there are pharmacies on every corner.  Beautiful, historical, kid-friendly, unforgettable Paris.

To be continued…

Napoleon's Tomb

Notre Dame Cathedral

Garden De Luxembourg

Arc De Triomphe

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