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Family of four - First Time Trip - Tour Company or No Tour Company?

Family of four - First Time Trip - Tour Company or No Tour Company?

Old Feb 17th, 2015, 08:46 AM
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A couple of notes:

Tours typically will not cover the places and times you want- they are set up to visit many different places via long days on a bus (awful for a kid with ADHD having to just sit for 3 or 4 hours before the next stop) that start with breakfast at 7 am or so. So you would get 1 or 1,5 days each in London and Paris and then the rest of the time on lots of places in between

Tweens and teens are not going to be happy spending most of their time on a bus with older adults

Not sure what is doable with your son with ADHD - only you are - but think even a HoHo bus might be a challenge.

You can easily plan this trip yourself with the help of people here.

It's vital to get the kids involved early. Out first trip with DDs - 11 and 14 - was great because they spend a lot of time picking out the sights they wanted to see and some restaurants - and even a couple of day trips.

As for speaking French - as long as you learn the basic greetings and polite phrases - which will take about 2 hours - you will be fine. There will always be someone who can understand a little English.

Suggest you start with some guide books - esp with pix - and maps of the cities and the tube and metro systems (the second best way of getting around - after feet).
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 09:07 AM
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Russ good to see that one again

"10 items or fewer" ;-)

cmetilt, you are just going to love London English accents, they vary from Russia to Jamaican with just a hint of Hugh Grant along the way.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 10:33 AM
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Don't waste time or money on a tour. Not only will the tweens/teens hate it, but you probably would, too. Why be dragged around in a bus from place to place when the best part of seeing these beautiful cities is to get out and explore? And with a child with ADHD, you're going to need the flexibility to just go at your own speed. You can absolutely do it yourself. Have you ever traveled at home with the kids? Have you ever been to Europe, or is this a first time for the entire family?

Also, you say 10-12 days, but that includes your flight days, which means essentially 10 days? (And jetlag usually sets in on day 2-3.) I'd say for sure cut your trip to 2 cities, and the most obvious combination is London and Paris because it's easy to travel between the two. And if it's only 10 nights, I'd almost go so far as to say pick one (London OR Paris) and spend the entire time there. But I understand the appeal of trying to see two cities.

Apartments are going to be the way to go... you'll have laundry and room to spread out, and room for the kids to have some down time. And a chance to prepare your own meals, which might be important if diet is involved in your ADHD management. Both cities can be over stimulating, if that's a trigger for the ADHD. (Heck, traveling in general will be more disruptive than staying at home, even though it'll be wonderful.)

Keep in mind, most apartments will require 1 full week. There are occasionally places that will take 5 days in London. Paris, in high season, rentals less than a week might be harder to find. Have you considered taking 2 full weeks, 14 days? (Or 15, to account for the arrival day.) This way you could have 7 nights in London and 7 nights in Paris?

You won't need to know French to travel to Paris, but knowing the basics of what the french consider "polite"... i.e. speak in quiet voices when out in public, don't be overly friendly and familiar and smile at everyone, *always* say Bonjour Madame/Bonjour Monsieur when entering a shop. Teach your kids how to ask for something at the patisserie "Je voudrais un _____, s'il vous plait." (I believe one of the posters here said she told her kids they could eat anything they wanted as long as they asked for it in French.)

Have your kids look through some books on London and Paris, and contribute to the list of "must see's". Are they boy/girl? Do they like art, museums, etc? I'd go grab a few books on London and Paris at the Library, let the kids thumb through them, or talk about them as a family... ask them what appeals to them.

We travelled to Europe a bunch of times before having kids, and we finally took the kids there 2 years ago for their first trip. They were 7 and 10 at the time, both girls. We took it easy and spent 10 days in Paris and 7 days in the Loire Valley. It was a family vacation as well, much needed relaxation for my DH, so we chose to add a "quiet" destination to the trip instead of trying to do London & Paris in one trip. Your kids are older, so you will probably need less down time than we did, but don't forget to plan for enough down time and breaks from the "touristy" stuff. We rented bikes a couple of times in the Loire Valley, and once on a day trip from Paris, we rode bikes from the train station to Giverny. (Actually, the bike ride there and back was better than Giverny itself, which was overcrowded with tour buses.)

We are going back to France this summer, now that we know the kids enjoy international travel. We have added a week in London to our itinerary (it still won't be enough to see it all). My 12 year old is learning amazing things in school right now about Ancient Civilizations, so she has a list of things she wants to see in the British Museum. My kids (girls, 9 and 12) are also huge Harry Potter fans, and we are going to surprise them with a trip to the Harry Potter studios. They also insisted we go back to Paris for "at least 4 days, Mom"... so just to give you an idea of the amount of things you can do there... you could easily spend 2 weeks there and have a lovely family vacation. The same could be said for London, if you're more into England than France.

As far as your budget of 20K, that's a very comfortable budget and I doubt you'll spend it all unless you're staying in 5 star hotels each night. It will certainly help you with picking great apartments, which can make your stay more memorable. But since you're talking about July (I assume 2015), places are going to start filling up. So if I were you I'd start looking at your accommodations options and see how it fits into your itinerary... then book your flights after your accommodations are confirmed. Unless you have to fly on specific days.

Once you have your destinations narrowed down and can tell us more about your family's interests, etc... post again and you'll get plenty of recommendations for what do see, where to stay, etc.

Good luck. You'll have a great time!
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 10:51 AM
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Yes, you can plan this yourself.
No, you can't do that many cities.
Is your ADHD son on medication to help his focus? Even without that, all that time on a bus is not fun for anyone.

You say your kids have never been--but maybe you haven't either?
As someone else said, it is very much like planning a trip in the US--you choose the destination and then start searching for what is there to see and enjoy.
We took our 3 when they were 18,16,and 14. Our mantra was--we'll do things YOU want to do and we'll do things WE want to do. We saw about every sporting goods store and we saw a LOT of cathedrals. it worked out.
They can use the internet--let them find things.
Versailles will take a full day--on a tight schedule, like yours is, I'd do something else to satisfy the castle need.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 11:50 AM
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If your kids like castles, here's a great day trip idea for France. (My husband and I did this trip fron Paris a few years ago.)

You take the train to Blois, where you can visit your first castle, and then catch the navette that will make stops at three other castles. You can get off at any of them and catch a later bus.


(Some of the brochure is translated into English, I hope enough to help you understand it.)

This is last year's brochure, so the price may go up this year. The service operated only from April through the end of August. The price of the shuttle was only €6, and it gives reduced entry to the chateaux. (One of them had never heard of the reduced entry, though, and we didn't insist.) You wouldn't have time to visit all four in a single day, unless you race through them. You might want to choose two, in order not to have to leave Paris at an ungodly hour.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 12:05 PM
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cmeltit - this bit of your first post leapt out at me:

The idea of having my 12 year old son who is ADHD on a bus for long periods of time each day is also not appealing to me. >>

we too have a [now grown-up] son with ADHD and spending hours in a bus with him would be torture, for him and everyone else. An independent trip would be much better, for you and him.

i agree that you should aim for 2 cities [at most] - London and Paris make a great pairing as they are so easy to get between and you have the fun of the train journey on the Eurostar - but London and Rome would be good too - few kids can resist the Colosseum, and our son loved it.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 12:08 PM
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Enjoy your planning - and get the kids involved in it. It is part of teh excitement of a holiday
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 12:09 PM
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I'll just add that the Tower of London would possibly be the most satisfying castle for your kids. It's not just a tower! The tours are great, and there are all the things a child expects a castle to have, including a museum of armaments, with lances, chain mail, and full knightly armor.

Although two cities would give you a more relaxed vacation, and a chance for some nice day trips, visiting London, Paris, and Rome wouldn't be an outrageous idea for a holiday that includes 11 nights on the ground in Europe. You could split the nights between 4 in London, 3 in Paris, and 4 in Rome, or you could rob a day from London or Rome to give it to Paris. People often visit Rome, Florence, and Venice in that many days, and the fact that they're all in the same country doesn't really make it much easier.

However, with so few days in each city, day trips wouldn't really be possible, and all of those cities have great day trip possibilities.

In London:

A day trip on a boat down the river to Greenwich, with a visit to the Cutty Sark, and the Royal Observatory.

A trip to Hampton Court (maybe by boat on the return trip), with it's beautiful gardens, its great palace (whose kitchens were a big hit with my kids, long ago when they were small)and its maze.

A trip to Stonehenge. Actually, when my kids were little, we did a trip by train and bus to both Stonehenge and Avebury, and they really liked Avebury better.


In addition to the Loire Valley, mentioned above, a visit to Chartres is very nice.

I've never been to Versailles, and probably never will go, because I really have a low tolerance for crowds.


The medieval hill town of Orvieto

Ostia Antica, the ancient Roman port city, where they can see shops, apartment buildings, a theater (still used in the summer), and where they can stand at the counter of an ancient Roman bar, and see an ancient Roman public toilet (with side-by-side seats).

Tivoli, with its fantastic water garden at the Villa d'Este; and Hadrian's Villa, the ancient Roman summer getaway of the Emperor Hadrian.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 12:27 PM
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The planning, for me, is almost as good as the trip. You will learn so much. Come back here often and folks will help you. Have fun!!
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 06:00 PM
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We have been to England three times now with our ADHD son and each time we ventured on our own. First time London and Paris. Second Oxford, York and Edinburgh. Third time we toured the South of England and back to London. We still never made it to Greenwich after all those times.

The first time he was 10 and we spent 10 days in London and 4 in Paris. He absolutely loved Hampton Court Palace. There is so much to do there--try to time your visit with the live kitchen demonstrations which they do in July--he was turning the spigot with goat meat and lighting the tinder box. The gardens are spectacular in the summer. They do live skits with Henry and company dressed in costume. Don't forget the maze too.

He also enjoyed climbing the top of St Paul Cathedral. The Tower of London should not be missed either.

I agree stick to two cities. There is plenty to do to fill up the time.

We went to Versailles and did not enjoy it as much as I thought we would. It was ridiculously crowded. We loved the grounds and the fountains in the gardens but did not enjoy the chateau which was wall to wall people.

See St Chappelle in Paris and climb the second level to see the jewel box of stained glass. Then go next door to see the jail cells where they kept Marie and Louis. Take a cruise along the Seine. Get lost in the Louvre and visit Musee de Orsay great for its architecture outside as much as its impressionist paintings inside. Musee de Orsay was an old train station--the clock is still there.

Enjoy your trip and please write a trip report when you return.
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Old Feb 17th, 2015, 06:14 PM
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Oh yeah--forgot to mention son also loved the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. Even at the V&A (which was for me) he found a computer kiosk where he could create his own coat of arms.

I loved the British Museum and the National Gallery. He liked the Ben Franklin museum which DH took him to while I explored the National Gallery nearby. We met up at St Martin in the Field for him to do brass rubbing. The National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Ben Franklin museum and St Martin the Field are all nearby Trafalgar Square.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 01:55 AM
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on travelling with kids..... my boys disliked
1. crowds
2. long train journeys (one of my 'mistakes' was a nearly 11 hr train ride in Vietnam)
3. less than 4 night stays
4. busy afternoons
5. early rises
so, we allowed for sleep ins (they are teens!), planned morning outings and quiet pms (they were old enough to leave in apartment/ hotel while we continued exploring), longer stays.
You definitely can plan this yourself. Given you have enough computer skills to ask a question on a forum, you can use sites like booking.com, tripadvisor, etc to find accommodation. At first it is a bit stressful, but then it gets fun.
Tours are so restrictive. You will need quiet times, nice to make decisions on what you do or not do, as you feel. So making lists of what everyone wants to see, then mapping their locations, helps grow an itinerary, but being flexible is key. It is nice to just wander, and enjoy the unexpected. Enjoy being a family. Some of our most special moments have been the shared experiences we were not expecting.
Practical things.. I assume your son might dislike crowds/ queuing and you say the Louvre is a must, there seem to be quieter times to visit (I think I read Wed evenings ??)

Enjoy the planning. Don't stress too much. Keep it simple. Lots of people here willing to help.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 05:30 AM
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This summer will be our third trip to Europe with the kids (now 7, 9 and 12). Our first trip I was really scared but I took planning one bite at a time. Go to the library, look for some guidebooks for each city. Book hotels first and then start planning your time.

I agree with everyone above re two cities only. It will be easier to plan and will actually give you enough time in each place to enjoy it. I do disagree with the comments that you should rent an apartment. You're uncertain as it is. I'm sure there would be comfort in having a main desk to ask questions. Someone above said there are no hotels for a family of five but that is incorrect. They are fewer, for sure, but we've stayed in a hotel or aparthotel in each city we've visited (aside from Switzerland where we did rent an apartment as we were there for 5 wks) There are many more hotel rooms that can accommodate a family of four. In London we stayed at the Citadines Trafalgar Square. It was less than 400pounds a night and had two bedrooms. The location was perfect. We could also cook our own meals if we wished. There were also other locations available for a family of four. In Paris we stayed in Villa d'estrees. It was a very nice boutique hotel and in a fantastic location. There are many others in Paris that will hold five for a lower budget as well.

We hired a guide from ToursbyLocals in Paris for the Louvre and Versailles. Besides being able to skip lines, we were able to see everything we wanted without getting lost. She was great with the kids. I would skip the Loire Valley on your first trip. For one, you only have five days. For two, if you don't plan to drive, planning transportation is a bit difficult (at least I found it was)

In London the kids enjoyed the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace (only open a few weeks a year). We really wanted to visit Hampton Court Palace but we ran out of time.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 06:59 AM
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Wow. You guys are amazing. Seriously. I can't believe all the great information and advice you have shared. I am so grateful. Thank you.

- Yes, my son is on ADHD medication and while he normally does not take it during the summer, we will definitely use it during the trip.

-My husband has traveled to several places in Europe for business. He is not much help though as all his travel plans were taken care of for him and most of his time was spent in meetings, etc.

-I lived in London (Surrey-Cobham) from age 8-12. We traveled all over the place. However, I have a hard time remembering what I did last week let alone 30 thirty years. and unfortunately, I have not returned since we moved back to the States. I will say that one of my most special memories in my life was watching the Royal Wedding procession of Charles and Diana. It was amazing.

-Our fifteen year old is a girl and our 12 year old is a boy. They have very different interests and tend to fall in line with typical gender preferences so I am assuming there will be days that my husband and son do things while my daughter and I go elsewhere.

-Yes, the Louvre is a must. I know it is a beating and I know the Monet Lisa is tiny and behind glass but for some reason I just feel that everyone should see it in their lifetime. I know that as a child many parts of the Louvre left an impression on me and helped inspire a lifetime love of art. And my daughter is an avid artist so I know she will want to go.

-I can live without going to Versailles and it sounds like it might be an unpleasant stop for all of us. I really like the idea of a day trip to Chenonceau and Chambord that BigRuss(Loved your post, thank you!) mentioned, sounds nice and I plan to look into that.

-I think I am leaning towards doing just London and Paris at this point. I really don't want to be rushed and I don't want unhappy kids either. Perhaps we can save-up again and visit Italy in 3-4 years.

-I am also leaning towards using a hotel. Mostly because we are first-timers and getting an apartment sounds a lot more difficult. I do plan to look into it today.

-We have reserved (not purchased) airline tickets at $1500 per person. Whew. There goes a lot of the 20k. Ugh. Travel Dates are July 16th-July 27.

Ok, here's my BIGGEST question at the moment. My husband is throwing a wrench in my planning. He says the tourist alerts in Paris are very high and he is not sure we should go there. Thoughts?
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 07:28 AM
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Ok, good question, sometimes the debates about "terror" get a bit nasty on this website, let's all aim for civility.

Firstly, the western world is under attack and it looks different from where you are sitting, to many Europeans the USA looks terrifying to visit, but you live there, and I'm assuming you are happy.

What I would look at is the numbers, ask you husband to look at the number of murders in different states and countries and he will soon realise Paris is very safe (very). No idea where he gets the term "very high" from but as a Brit I have absolutely no (zero) fear of travelling to Paris.

Ditto London. Yes the police are generally not armed (but you will see them with guns at major terminii) and yes, just like in the US, there are a bunch of guys keeping their eyes open.

But at the end of the day, up to you.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 07:29 AM
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Where are you flying from (your picture looks vaguely East Coast)? There are lots of fares on BA into London return Paris from New York for less than $1050 for your dates.

I haven't stayed at this London hotel, but the location is good and it has many rooms (not just 1 or 2) that can accommodate a family of 4 http://www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotel...cy/hoteldetail

I wouldn't think twice about going to Paris for safety reasons.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 07:51 AM
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as usual, i agree with Bilbo. for Europe it is business and travel as usual. I just spent a week in Venice and there were no alarms, no worries. if anything it's safer now due to the extra security measures being taken, both visible and covert.

you don't tell us where in the US you live, but if you look at the murder rates for wherever that is and compare to Paris, I suspect that you would be pleasantly surprised [and have a good argument for moving to France].

nice memory of the Royal wedding BTW - shame it didn't last!
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 06:11 PM
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We actually stayed at Crowne Plaza on Cromwell Road on our last visit to London. It had two double beds was spacious enough and is very convenient. It was a great location right next to the Gloucester Road Station which is on both the Piccadilly and District lines. When we were there the Piccadilly line was closed at that station for track work but I am sure it must be open again by now.

The Crowne Plaza is within walking distance of the V&A and the science and natural history museums. There is a Boots (drug store) and Waitrose (food market) right across the street of the hotel near the tube station. Plus one of our favorite little restaurants Orsini is near the V&A museum. We ate there a few times during our last stay. Good food at reasonable prices.

I recommend you and your daughter can visit the V&A while husband and son can explore the science museum across the street if that is of any interest to them. Lots of hands on stuff at the science museum. The natural history museum was crowded and had a flooded entrance when we visited (remnants of hurricane Bertha was passing through when we visited London). We were disappointed in the natural history museum and I don't recommend it for a first time visitor. The Imperial War Museum, Churchill War Rooms, British Museum, Museum of London, V&A and National Gallery rank much higher on my list. Not to mention unique places such as the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace which are fantastic places to visit.
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Old Feb 18th, 2015, 07:37 PM
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You can do it, no problem. I agree, fly into London, train to Paris, fly home from Paris. I used some places I or my family have stayed in just to get some numbers.

First of all - although we have rented apartments several times, as you are expressing some concerns - get a hotel. You can ask for advice, print out your tickets, etc. Make it easier on yourself and reduce your stress.

That said, since your children are aged 15 & 12 and of the opposite sex, you’d probably want a twin bedded room for them and another room for you.

With your budget of $20,000, it could work like this:
Airfare: $6,000
Eurostar tickets for 2 adults, 2 youths: $525.00
Meals, 10 days, what, $250-300/day? = $3,000
London, 4 nights July 18-21, Lime Tree Hotel including breakfast, 2 rooms = $3,075.00
Paris, 5 nights, July 22-26, Residence Hotel Henri IV, including breakfast, 2 rooms = $2,300

Total so far, $14,900.00. Wow, you could go to a better hotel. And eat better.

How about the Hotel Brighton, right next to the Louvre? Rates there for five nights, breakfast included, $1450 x 2 rooms = $2,900.00. That takes it up to $15,600.00

You’ll be fine!!! Go and have a great time!
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Old Feb 19th, 2015, 11:37 AM
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Which city are arriving at and departing from, and from which airport here in the States? It seems you should be able to do better than $1500 per person. Are you looking at economy, or economy-plus?

Agree with the others--don't worry about any tourist alerts.
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