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The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

Feb 10th, 2011, 09:03 AM
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The Trip to London and Paris with Three Kids

wow, now that's an exciting title!

Background: We are a family of 5, Me, Mr. Surf, Thing 1 (10 yrs.), Thing 2 (8 yrs.), and Thing 3 (6 yrs.). Things 1 and 2 were in Paris 3 years ago, but Thing 3 couldn’t wait to go!

Warning: long! I assume you want to know the minutia, so I’m including it.

Day 0: departure: This trip was the tail end of April and immediately after the volcano travel nightmares. We were scheduled for 2 days after the end of the re-booking window and were extremely concerned about the possibility of a disruption. In advance, we had talked about a myriad of changes, but since the airline wouldn’t do anything without a penalty, we decided to stick with the original plan. (side note: these were ff tickets – yes five (5) !, so flexibility was limited).

PHL – LHR – We had originally booked seats A,B (window, aisle) and C, D, F (aisle, middle, aisle) hoping that E (middle) wouldn’t get booked. When we printed out boarding passes, we had been re-assigned to D, E, and F (middle, middle, and aisle). We hoped that the person in C (aisle adjacent to the “2”) would switch for the other aisle (F), so I just sat in C. When she arrived, she refused to switch even though it was an aisle for an aisle (just the right side of the 4 middle instead of the left side of the 4 middle).

Her rationale, “What happens if we crash ? They need to know where certain passengers are.” My immediate thought, “if we crash, we won’t care”. We tried to be respectful and not pass too many things across her, but backpacks and carryons were packed such that one had books, one had ipods, one had snacks, so it was inevitable that the other adult had the required thing for the child next to them! Although we tried to minimize passing, I’m sure by the end of the flight, she wished that she had switched.

One thing that worked out well was traveling in hooded sweatshirts. We explained to the kids the need to sleep on the plane – we had warned them that we weren’t getting any entertainment items out – no books, no ipods, no games. After boarding and getting settled, everyone put their hoods up and attempted to sleep – Thing 3 was actually asleep before we took off! The hooded sweatshirts were great for minimizing distractions and encouraging them to focus in and go to sleep. They all awoke about 90 minutes before we landed, so we dug out the cereal from the bags and had breakfast and landed. We didn’t even bother to attempt the breakfast served on the plane – one look at it and I knew the packed cereal was a better option. (Kids think the little individual sized cereal bowls are a treat, so we had a variety of those).

After the seating drama and the concerned that a volcano would erupt again, we were happy the flight was on time! We had warned the kids that when we got off the flight we were walking straight to passport control without stopping or dawdling (and hopefully no bathroom break). We encouraged them to just try and keep moving because being at the front of the plane makes a huge difference! We did get through the line relatively quickly and were happy to be out of passport control.

next: All About Dahl.
surfmom is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 02:52 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 03:09 PM
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Great start. I can't imagine why the woman wouldn't accommodate your request. Swapping aisle for aisle seems fair, and who wants to sit in the middle of a family? Good idea with the hooded sweatshirts.
cw is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 03:53 PM
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Surfmom, looking forward to reading more. Your earlier trip was fun to read about and full of helpful hints for my '09 trip to Paris with my then 6 yr old granddaughter, and we, plus her 5 year old brother, will be returning this April.
grandmere is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 05:22 PM
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I really look forward to hearing the rest of the Surf Family Adventures! Great beginning!
irishface is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 05:41 PM
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@elendi, @irishface, thanks for the good thoughts!

@cw, it was a weird thing. The only thing I could figure out is that I know she was displaced from earlier flights and wondered if she was afraid to move and lose her seat ?

@grandmere, of course I remember you taking your gd. You'll have a great time! Paris will be coming after the London part.
surfmom is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 05:56 PM
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Day 1: Thursday – All About Dahl.

We had rented a car for the first day, so we headed to the rental agency. Initially, they told us they didn’t have any automatic transmissions (which we had reserved at a higher rate) or booster seats (needed for 2 kids according to UK law), but as we settled in to sit and wait, they magically appeared. I almost felt like they were calling our bluff if we would take something else, but we got what we wanted pretty quickly.

We headed to our hotel in Windsor – Oakley Court - while they hadn’t guaranteed early arrival, they hoped to be able to accommodate us. Unfortunately, our room wasn’t ready, so we opted to keep going. (this was a really cool hotel… more on that later).

Our first destination was the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden. This is the town where he lived and wrote most of his books – the museum is not huge, but very well done. By this time, we were hungry, so we stopped in the “Twits Café” for some lunch - a very cute little café. They specially made a pot of penne with butter which made little people bellies very happy! Thing 2 is the difficult eater, but she discovered scones and was very happy with that! The cafe was very kid-friendly, and while not large, was perfect for sustenance. The man working who offered to make a pot of pasta was very nice and clearly has dealt with difficult eaters before. We would eat there again if at the museum - if nothing else, for the east of it.

The first room is devoted to Roald Dahl’s life and history – not terribly exciting for the kids. The other rooms are more intended to get kids to think, and to write, and to be creative. In fact, it is also called a “Literacy Center”. There are story bags where there are props from Roald Dahl books, and a station to make a little story and videotape stop motion, and magnetic poetry and words. If you have a Roald Dahl fan, it is a worthy adventure. The Things enjoyed just playing with the props and stories - Thing 2 has a very active imagination and could have spent longer here.


Next, we headed to the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery in Aylesbury. This is a separate building in a larger county museum, but is very well done – it was designed with the direct input of Quentin Blake (the illustrator of Dahl books), which is obvious! It isn’t large, but the kids had fun playing here. On the ground floor, there is a “giant peach” that you can go in and play; there is a “Fantastic Mr. Fox” tunnel with various holes to look in, you can then go up the “glass Elevator” to the 2nd floor, with more fun things from his books.


If you have kids who have good imaginations and like to invent pretend games on the fly, this is a very fun place. If you have kids who are older and more into the idea of writing creative fiction, the one in Great Missenden is probably better. Other than a school group at the one in Great Missenden, we were the only ones in both museums. My youngest Thing still talks about playing in the giant peach and fox tunnel!

After all this, we headed back to our hotel in Windsor. We had decided to stay outside central London since we wanted to do the Roald Dahl things and this looked like a neat hotel outside the town of Windsor. It is on gorgeous grounds and has been restored recently. We were lucky to get a “family” room that could accommodate all five of us – the only downside being that we all went to sleep at the same time. (no space for adults to hang while children fell asleep). The upside is that adults went to bed at the same time!

We sat in the bar and had snacks and then decided we would just extend that to dinner since no one was motivated to get back in the car to go into Windsor for dinner. Dinner wasn't anything special - bar food, basically. After dinner, we enjoyed walking around the grounds – there are tennis courts (in need of rehab), a little par 3 golf course, and large lawns on the Thames. We watched a crew boat go by while we were walking around. (the kids also found a large tree stump that they stood on top of and quoted "The Lorax"... I told you they have good imaginations!) There is also a large outdoor patio with tables to eat at. They seem to have a conference center and there seemed to be groups of people there, but overall, this was a neat hotel. For our purposes, it was perfect. It might even be a nice place to have lunch if you are killing time on a long layover at Heathrow - sit outside, watch the boats, enjoy the grounds.


next: A cool dollhouse! How do we get out when they lock the Tower of London ?
surfmom is offline  
Feb 10th, 2011, 07:35 PM
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Oh - this is soooo great! I remember your planning threads and how to manage the car rental etc etc.

REALLY looking forward to the rest.
janisj is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 04:51 AM
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Well done--great details and readable, with the "voice" of your family sounding through. Keep posting and we'll all keep reading!
texasbookworm is offline  
Feb 11th, 2011, 06:07 AM
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Another fan here, surfmom. Your report is fun to read, and useful, too. I have an son who's 8, and I'm always willing to learn more about traveling better with him. Thanks.
pavot is offline  
Feb 12th, 2011, 03:27 AM
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Great start - cant wait to read more!
jamikins is offline  
Feb 13th, 2011, 09:19 PM
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The more details the better!
kerouac is online now  
Feb 14th, 2011, 08:57 AM
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@janisj, we ended up just dropped at the airport - decided that was the least stressful thing. good memory!

@bookworm, jamikins, kerouac, thanks for the encouragement. I tend to get lazy in getting these done, but I know I learn much from others, so I try to do it.

@pavot, what a great age to start traveling! I find my kids love to hear stories of what it was like years ago and stories about kings and queens and chopping heads off. I'm not sure how much they actually remember, but they seem to soak it all in.
surfmom is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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Day 2: Friday - A Cool Dollhouse! How do we get out when they lock the Tower of London ?

After a VERY good night’s sleep (the entire room didn’t awake until 9am!), we quickly motivated and headed to Windsor Castle. We had planned on having breakfast at the hotel, but since we all slept in, we decided we were better off just getting on with the day. We debated whether or not to visit Windsor Castle, but decided since we were right there, it would be worth it. We were getting tickets and going through security at 9:58am and quickly rushed down to see the Changing of the Guard. Unfortunately, since we were late, we were somewhat in the back, but with the actual changing occurring downhill from where you stand, you can still see. Honestly, the kids got bored with the pomp and circumstance (or maybe they felt there was a lack of it?), so we bailed and didn’t watch the entire ceremony.

They had given us different brochures with kids’ activities – we had three different ones. We ended up answering questions in about 1 ½ of them, but they are very well done. The high point of this excursion was the Queen Mary’s Dollhouse – I wondered why people kept talking about a dollhouse? It was really cool and totally greater and more amazing than I expected. Downside: It was hard for the kids to look at it behind glass, they totally would have had a ball playing with it! (and could have spent hours with it). We were all amazed and impressed with the details and it was fun to see what different people pointed out (clothes vs. architecture, etc.). We also enjoyed the scavenger hunt in the kids' activity booklets where it told you to go to a specific room and find something in that room. It also had the benefit of asking the guards questions… and they would tell the kids stories.

(side note: throughout this trip, I found that people who listened to the headsets tended to wander around with a glazed look on their face. The kids had fun throughout our entire trip interacting with and asking questions of guards/tour guides in each room.)

One interesting question that I recall – in the large room with all the family crests, there are some that are pure white. The guard explained that those were families that were ‘disgraced’ in some way and while the plaque was left there, the crest was eliminated. What the kids found interesting was the definition of “disgraced” – many times it was someone who just fell out of favor with the king – could be over something major, or something minor. But the price of a difference of opinion with the one who mattered (king) was being whitewashed!

We all hit a wall about lunchtime and quickly exited. Our travel style is such that I’d rather leave on a good note and maybe miss a few things than push it too far and it turns into a miserable experience. Walking down High Street, we were stuck in the “what can we eat” lethargy with nothing that looked good to everyone. Mr. Surf finally made an executive decision and we stopped in Pizza Hut. Horrible, huh? At that point, we needed to feed them quickly before meltdowns (probably mine!) occurred. They had an all you can eat pizza and salad bar that was able to solve the problem and everyone was happy. (And I'm happy to report that was our only "American fast food" eating on the trip).

We went back to the airport to drop off the car and took a taxi into central London. We had chosen to stay at Marriott County Hall for a few different reasons. We were using Marriott points, so limited to Marriott properties. We thought the kids would enjoy the Thames view, being close to Big Ben, etc. We loved this hotel and location! For our needs, it was great. We enjoyed walking along the Thames on the “way home” and seeing how different Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament looked as the light changed. The walkway along the Thames also had a lot going on, with lots of different “acts” to see. It was a nice place to go for a small walk at the end of each day. The only downside is that it feels less like a neighborhood than other areas… but it is convenient for many things. We were able to check into our rooms (we had connecting rooms since we were 5 people) and get settled.

(sidenote: We would stay in this property again for a few reasons. One, it is neat to see Big Ben dominating the skyline! Two, we liked that there were lots of food options around - just a quick walk to Southbank Centre. Three, tube stations were easy - either Westminister, or Embankment, or Waterloo. Four, the staff was extremely nice and very accommodating. I had been concerned about getting connecting rooms, but they were great and we had a view of the Thames!)

After we had arrived, we headed to the Tower of London. Thing 1 had done a presentation on the Tower, so she was anxious to see it. While it was getting late in the day, we were able to spend almost 2 hours before we got kicked out. We went into the armor exhibit – as it approaches closing, they close the top floors first and work down, so if if is near closing time, start from the top. The kids enjoyed seeing the different types of armor (especially the child sized ones). We hoped to come back here and spend more time, but it didn’t work out.

Note on admissions: we had purchased annual passes to HRP (Historic Royal Palaces) which included the Tower of London. When I was here in February, I figured out an annual pass was the best way to proceed knowing the family would be back in May. This also gave us flexibility to break the visit into different days and visit the Tower of London in smaller, more manageable chunks rather than a monster visit (which becomes overwhelming). I would definitely do this again.

As the Tower closed, we ended up along the path next to the Thames, where they miraculously had ice cream! On vacation, you can NEVER have enough ice cream, so of course, we *needed* to taste test this. It was yummy and made little legs happy.

Back to the hotel for a break – getting organized for bedtime, since it would be late when we returned. We also were happy to check out the options at the Executive Lounge. We had tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys this evening, so we knew it was going to be a late one.

We had decided to eat at the Dickens Inn at St. Katherine’s Dock, so we took the tube back to Tower Bridge, and walked there. By this time, it was spitting rain, so walking into a warm, lit restaurant was comforting. We were a little concerned because we realized when we sat down that I hadn’t planned well and timing was going to be tight. Since we just ordered penne and pizzas, they came out extremely quickly! The kids even had time for (another) bowl of ice cream! All in all, while the food may not be at the gourmet end of the scale, it was good, fast, and everyone was satisfied!

Back into the spitting rain, and headed to the Tower for the Ceremony of the Keys. There were a few people hanging around, trying to find out if they could get in, and were disappointed when they found out we had gotten tickets in advance. Since I had done this in February, I knew exactly which side to stand so that the kids were on the curb directly in front of Traitor’s Gate to watch the procession down the hill. That is probably the “best” location to be able to see everything that goes on. I must say I was surprised how many adults disregard instructions though - in particular, we were clearly told to stay on the curb and adults stepped off it to get a better view of the keys coming from the door. Since I wouldn’t allow our family off the curb, we did get a lovely view of the backs of the other adults! (The kids asked, 'how come they can do it?' I explained those adults weren't listening very well.) However, since we were in front of Traitor’s Gate, we were right in front of the sentry who goes through the questions and were able to “lead” the pack when we walked up the hill. The kids did wonder how exactly we would get out when the door was locked, but we explained the tourist “magic”. : ) They were interested, however, that we were escorted to the exit.

All in all, the Ceremony of the Keys is short. However, it gives you a glimpse of what it must have been like to live there hundreds of years ago. The thick walls muffle the outside sound and city lights and since it was spitting rain, it felt dark, damp, and dank. If you have really young ones, it probably isn’t worth it, since it is late and relatively short, but it is very neat to have your name called and you get to do something ‘special’. I really think it also helps kids (and us!) visualize what it was like hundreds of years ago.

We quickly headed back and got the bed after a successful day!

Coming up next: a Princess playground, and a maze for a king.
surfmom is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 10:08 AM
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Very nice surfmom!I have kids the same age so I'm definitely taking notes. Can't wait for the next installment. Thanks for taking time to do a trip report!
Martinan is offline  
Feb 14th, 2011, 01:33 PM
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Thanks. Great report so far. Looking forward to taking our granddaughters (now 2 and have done Disney twice so they're cutting their travel teeth, so to speak) to Paris as soon as we can. Thinking 6 would be good. I remember Grandmere's report. Will look for the next one this year.
JulieVikmanis is online now  
Feb 14th, 2011, 02:00 PM
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I have a friend who wouldn't have been able to switch either. She always books an aisle so her right leg is by the aisle. She has a knee problem and it is more comfortbale for her to cross the left leg over the right when when can. Perhaps this woman had something like that or sometimes when people are nervous fliers they like to sit in certain spots.
Lynnaustin is offline  
Feb 15th, 2011, 05:15 PM
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Enjoying your trip report!

We loved the Tower of London and son really enjoyed the armour exhibit. It is a very extensive collection and very impressive.

Funny mention about the headsets. In both Paris and London we also had no patience to walk around with a headset so we did not use them at Versailles or Windsor (the only exception for us was the cabinet war rooms where we used them and enjoyed the narration). We also rather enjoyed talking to the guards and asking them questions. At Windsor they were very engaging with my son's questions about the crests too. We loved that room.
europeannovice is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 06:26 AM
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@Martinan, Julie, thanks for the good thoughts. It really can be fun to go with kids! Paris is a couple days away, but I'm getting there : )

@Lynn, interesting - I never thought of that.

@europeannovice, too funny that you had a similar experience! That room in Windsor was really gorgeous and it was fun to learn some little trivia.
surfmom is offline  
Feb 16th, 2011, 06:31 AM
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Day 3, Saturday: A Princess playground, and a maze for a king.

The kids awoke a little later than normal, but still in good time. We had been watching the weather and had 2 different days planned – a set of rainy day activities and a set of not-rainy day activities. Since the weather looked nice (there was actually sunshine!), we decided to do the “outside” day today. First, we headed to the Princess Diana playground in Kensington Park. While we were there, the kids were shedding layers – it felt good to be in the sun!

Their favorite part of this was climbing the ship and specifically, the crow’s nest. That is the type of thing that is too “risky” for an American playground, but even the younger kids seemed fine. However, we were surprised how quickly they were ready to leave – I guess they really are growing up! I had tried to explain that I thought they were getting too old and would be bored, but they really wanted to go see it. Unfortunately, this was a case of me being right. However, I think had we not done it, they would have felt like they missed something.

We headed to Waterloo Station to catch the train to Hampton Court. Unfortunately, we planned poorly and after running through the station to get to the train, we saw it pull out of the station. We knew the next one was 30 minutes later, so decided to use this time as a chance to refill both activities and bellies, so we got bagels to munch on from a nearby stand and spent some time in a bookstore. (Mr. Surf was required to check out the pub). Everyone found a book, got a snack, and it was easy to kill the time between trains. The new books were a great hit (of course!), so the train ride seemed fast. Once you arrive, the train station is a 5 minute walk from Hampton Court – you walk out, cross the bridge and it is *right there*!

Since we had the Historic Royal Palaces annual pass (which included Hampton Court), we didn’t need additional tickets, so we stopped, got a map and timetable, and walked right into the grounds. We decided that a tour might not be a good idea, so we decided to walk through some of the apartments and rooms. They did have the 'wedding of' (Henry VIII and one of the wives) actors and activities, but the kids weren’t really interested. We moved quickly through the apartments and only pointed out things we thought they would be interested in. One thing they really had fun with was a banquet table set with plates and cups with big chairs – they played king and servants with everyone taking their share of turns! Again, we’re of the “we’d rather it be short and everyone leave happy than beat ourselves up with all the details and everyone is miserable” style of travel. We did enjoy going to the working kitchens and seeing volunteers testing recipes and trying to make food. It was interesting – they were using tools and techniques from the period trying to make various recipes work. Some of them were definite failures, but the process they used was also interesting (at least to the 10yo!). They had thermometers and were measuring the heat to see how hot they could get it and whether they could sustain that heat to make cookies or pancakes, for example.

At this point, we thought a walk in the garden was needed, so we found the maze. The kids had seen pictures and were very excited about this. We first did it as a family and they had fun trying to get lost! They decided to do it again, so Mr. Surf and I found a bench to wait while they giggled their way through it. This was another bonus of the annual membership – they could go multiple times. Otherwise, the ticket is only good for one trip through the maze.

We decided we were ready to head back to central London, so we worked our way back to the train station and caught the train. When we arrived, we made the executive decision to go to the Cabinet War Rooms. We walked through Trafalgar Square and while initially, the kids were excited to climb the lions, there were too many people (lots of teenagers especially) milling about for it to be meaningful. As parents, we were also a little concerned since they are high and a wee bit slippery, so we decided to view rather than climb.

The kids didn’t “get” the Cabinet War Rooms at all and while we tried to explain the historical importance, they kept saying, “but it’s dark and it stinks.” We tried to explain how that was the point! And that some of the most important decisions in WWII were made there, but it was a bit over their heads. Unfortunately, when we came out, the rain had started. We decided to put on our coats, and start walking as quickly as their little legs could take. From where we were, it was easier and faster just to walk directly back to County Hall rather than deal with the tube (which wouldn’t have saved any time). They did great even though they were cold and wet by the time we got back to the hotel! Once we got back to the hotel, no one was motivated to go back out for dinner, so I became in charge. I walked over to the Southbank Centre and got Strada to go for everyone. While it wasn’t gourmet food, it was convenient, warm, it filled bellies and no one else had to get wet to get it!

Coming up: One activity was a bust, one activity was the best!
surfmom is offline  

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