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Trip Report: Christmas in Paris with 9- and 10-year-old kids


Jan 21st, 2016, 08:13 PM
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Trip Report: Christmas in Paris with 9- and 10-year-old kids

I have been writing this trip report in my head since....well, since we were in Paris. But time, opportunity, workload, etc. prevented me from putting the words in my head onto my keyboard (and thus onto this forum) since returning a little less than three weeks ago.

However, this morning...out of the blue, mind you...my 9-year-old said, "I had fun in Paris," and then asked, "When are we going back?"

Keep in mind, the 9-year-old (who I will call Nine from here on out) complained throughout much of the trip about the endless walking. He enjoyed himself very much when we were doing *something*--be it sitting in a park and eating bread, or shopping in a Christmas market, or riding the metro, or doing a scavenger hunt in the Louvre, or climbing up to see the gargoyles at the top of Notre Dame. But he thoroughly disliked the walking and was very vocal about it, especially toward the end of our trip.

My 10-year-old (Ten from this point on) was a fabulous traveler who did not notice the walking, tremendously enjoyed both the food and using his five or so words of French, and was on a week-long high after having his long-awaited goal of going up the Eiffel Tower fulfilled.

So before the details totally escape my memory, I thought I'd get to business and write this report. And I thought I should do it given my perspective traveling with kids that aren't young, but aren't teenagers either.

Background: I am a long-time lurker on Fodors and have used the advice here for numerous vacations (in the states, to Belgium, to Germany and Paris over 10 years ago). Given the great advice I've found here in the past, I used Fodors as a resource for this trip. However, while researching last year, I found that most "Paris with kids" trip reports focused on young children. So...I thought I'd find the time to put together a report about our experience this past Christmas in hopes that someone with similar aged children (especially boys) would find this useful.

Before I get started, a quick roundup of our family and our vacation details:

Travelers: TigerMcQueen (me), Mr. TigerMac (husband), Ten (first born male), and Nine (second born male).
Dates: December 23rd through December 30, 2015.
Accommodation: Apartment rental, through Paris Best Lodge.
Must sees decided upon before travel: Eiffel Tower (Ten's pick), 'somewhere where I can buy a stuffy' (Nine's pick), Anna Joliet (a music box shop in the Palais Royale arcade...my pick, with a very specific story behind it), 'Somewhere neat I haven't seen before' (Mr. TigerMac's pick).

So...onward to the trip report. Will post the first part soon!
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Jan 21st, 2016, 08:25 PM
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Looking forward to it! I've enjoyed travelling with our boys, and their likes/ dislikes/ interests sometimes surprise me.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 08:46 PM
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Can't wait to read more! We first took our kids when they were 8 and 10(boy and girl) so I am curious to read any similarities etc.
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Jan 21st, 2016, 09:40 PM
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This should be interesting.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 01:11 AM
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Looking forward to it thanks. Having just been told by my nine-year old that for their 10th birthday "everyone gets taken either to Paris or London" I may need your information for next year!
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 02:20 AM
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I'm also looking forward to this report. Our family lives in distant places, so one Christmas we spend with A, the next with B, then with C. Every fourth year we try to spend a Christmas in place that all of us would enjoy visiting. We've done New York, Cancun, and London, and Rome is so near to where I live that we can easily visit there when it's our turn to host Christmas. I was thinking of suggesting Paris for the next "fourth year", which should be in 2017. My granddaughter will be 12 at that time.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 11:11 AM
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A quick head's up, this post is most background...the next will start the actual report, so if too much detail annoys you, feel free to skip this!

And so...

I meant to post more early this morning, but we are in Maryland with a very heavy winter storm approaching. I thought most of our blizzard prep was done, but it turned out I had to make a last minute trip out to get cat food and D batteries (was lucky to find those!). I also took Ten and Nine to Dunkin Donuts (they got dressed a lot quicker when I suggested that), so we were out much of the morning.

It's funny that I'm writing this as a snow storm approaches, because this trip was three years in the making and wasn't originally planned for Paris.

See, three years ago, winter was so cold for so long that I insisted we were heading way south for a Christmas trip the next year. I researched Costa Rica (the boys' want to see a volcano), but ruled that out due to volcanic inactivity (they want at least a chance to see lava). I was looking very closely at Belize or the Mayan Peninsula (Mr. TigerMac wants to see Mayan ruins and the boys' wanted to snorkel).

As I was about to finalize bookings in Belize, a sister-in-law suggested a large scale family trip to an all inclusive in Mexico. She thought it would be a last opportunity for my FIL (who is in his 80s) to travel and actually enjoy a trip with all of his kids and grandkids. So I adjusted plans, thinking, "hey, we were almost going there anyway"...but that trip ended up being canceled months later due to the difficulty of getting six different families on board such a vacation. Everyone gathered in Toronto (where my FIL and one of my SILs live), and instead of a nice tropical Christmas, we spent Christmas in the cold frozen north...during an ice storm, which knocked out electricity for several days...

Actually, we had a great time that trip. But I was determined that we would get away the next year.

But the next year, due to Mr TigerMac's desire to spend as much time with his dad as possible, we spent Christmas in Toronto again (this time with electricity, though!). Over the course of that Christmas and another trip over the summer, it became obvious that my FIL handles short visits and smaller gatherings much better than larger ones; he's very kind about the larger stuff, but it really wears him out.

So leading up to this Christmas, my SILs agreed not to do another big event over the holiday; and Mr. TigerMac suggested a short trip to see his dad the weekend before Christmas instead. I decided to price flights from Toronto, just to see if maybe we could do both this year, visit my FIL AND get away... To my surprise, international flights from Canada to a variety of places were MUCH less than from our area in the Mid Atlantic, making it really easy to decide that YES, we could do both. We thought about Belize or Mexico, and I thought really hard about Turkey...but we settled on Paris for a few reasons.

1. The cost to fly from Toronto to Paris was relatively low for a family of four, and a variety of airlines had good sales (over the course of watching prices for several months).

2. Ten has always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower. ALWAYS. Nine loves to buy things, and I knew he'd love shopping in Paris.

3. Mr. TigerMac and I spent a week in Paris over Thanksgiving years ago, and we loved the city in the offseason.

4. For a variety of work- and school-related reasons, a trip that included Christmas was necessary. Research showed that Paris stays relatively lively during the holidays compared to some European cities that entirely shut down from Christmas Eve till after Boxing Day.

5. Mr TigerMac speaks French, and after much debate, we thought taking the boys' on their first international trip would be less stressful for all if communication wasn't a worry.

And so, after a few months watching airfare prices, I booked tickets from Toronto to Paris with KLM, and did lots of reading on Fodors about vacation apartment rentals, things to see and do at Christmas, etc.

Up next, getting there: Maryland to Toronto, and Toronto to Paris!
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 11:34 AM
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I love the back story, glad you started with that.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 12:53 PM
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Am awaiting more as we are taking kids to France this summer and will be in Paris for a week. DD is 14 and so excited and DS is 12 and not excited!
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 03:10 PM
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Will be in Paris for a few days this summer with my 10 year old granddaughter so looking forward to your report.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 07:02 PM
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TRIP REPORT DAYS 1-4 (or, traveling from Maryland to Toronto and departure to Paris).

Featuring: an unplanned but very sane hotel stay, the tale of the Too Large Christmas Tree, and...getting locked out of an empty house while in the middle of loading up the van to leave for the airport...

Our original plan was to drive all day on Saturday, the 19th and arrive in Toronto around dinner time or later, if we got a later start. However, what was a theoretical 'later start' turned into a 'much later afternoon start' because someone fell asleep before washing clothes and packing. *cough*

Mr TigerMac and I agreed as we set out that we would not push ourselves too hard. Now, this is an unusual position taken by Mr TM, as he's done the Maryland/Toronto drive many many many times since he moved here...and he likes to go and stay going on road trips (seriously, I have learned over the years to say "stop here for dinner NOW", because he will say "I'm hungry, we should stop soon" and drive for another hour and a half before stopping to eat). But, age or work or *something* worked its magic, and after slightly more than 4 hours, we made it to Corning, NY, and Mr TM said, "let's get dinner" and we *stopped and got dinner.*

We picked an exit at random and ended up at a Bob Evans that had a Fairfield Inn behind it (we could see the hotel from our table). Mr. TM was rubbing his eyes, so out comes the phone, I go onto a travel site to check out the Fairfield and it hits our major plus points: internet and breakfast included in the price of the room, indoor pool, not too expensive.I tell Mr TM that we're staying there for the night, he agrees, I book...and it's not even 8 pm. Usually, we'd push it a few more hours, would all be cranky when we finally got to the hotel, the kids would be wired and stay up watching cable, and would oversleep due to tiredness.

Instead, after a quick meal at Bob's, we took the short drive across the parking lot and checked in. The three males went to the pool so that the younger ones could burn off energy, while I took a minute to call my mom. Everyone got to bed at a decent hour. We woke up at a decent hour. We made it to my SIL's house at a decent hour. What a great start to our trip!

After a quick stop for lunch at a travel plaza that had a schwarma joint (Mr TM LOVES going to Canada for the quality schwarma), we made it to SIL's. Pulled up just as SIL and her three kids (two in college, one a senior) were heading out to buy a Christmas tree.

We unload and head to our usual room, in laws are back quickly with a tree.

Not just a tree, but a TREE.

It's the Sunday before Christmas, so the trees on the lot were discounted...and only the very smallest and very largest trees were left. SIL's kids talked her into getting a 12 ft one. They have a huge old house and figured their ceilings are about 10 ft...they got the guy at the lot to cut off some of the trunk and thought they'd cut off more at home, and that the tree would fit. No problem.

Except...even after cutting off another foot, the tree did not fit. Picture Christmas Vacation and *that* tree (minus the squirrel). The first time the large group of adult males tried to heave the tree up (after much cutting and debating and after finally getting the trunk into the stand), the tree top crashed into the ceiling and the stand broke. Loudly. (I have this on video.) Half the crew headed out to Canadian Tire to buy another stand while the other proceed to cut off another two or so ft off the tree (at this point, we realized the 12 ft tree was actually closer to 15 ft and the ceiling was closer to 9...). New stand arrived, enough was cut off to finally get the tree standing with a bit of room to spare, tree is ceremoniously decorated by all...

And it fell down around 10 pm, with the new stand bent horribly out of shape.

It was a BIG tree.

The crew un-decorated the fallen tree and eight of them ceremoniously carried it outside after an hour of failed attempts to get the thing back upright and secure.

Mr TigerMac took an early morning stroll to Canadian Tire to get wire, and with my SIL's drill and a few screws, had the tree up and secure by mid-morning. My SIL and one niece redecorated, and for the remainder of our time there, everyone was very careful when walking around said tree.

In the midst of all of that, we had a nice Sunday dinner at my SIL's house with my FIL attending. The next day, post-tree-uprighting, Mr TigerMac, the boys and I headed to see the new Star Wars movie (with a stop at a second schwarma place before). Post-movie, went to my FIL's home to see another SIL who had just made it into town and was crashing there. The lot of us walked to a nearby sushi restaurant for dinner. Ten and Nine love sushi and Asian food (actually food) in general, so we were happy and ready for Tuesday, our departure day.
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 07:42 PM
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TRIP REPORT DAYS 1-4 (or, traveling from Maryland to Toronto and departure to Paris). Part 2:

Departure day.

I am so excited at this point!

We've had two very nice visits with my FIL, who wasn't overly stressed with huge groups, so our plan (short and sweet) is working well. An aunt is arriving at noon, so we all chip in to make brunch. At noon, we have one last smallish gathering with my FIL. The SIL staying with him opted not to attend, so it's just SIL #1, FIL and his wife, Auntie, and us. Very nice, very calm, and not too stressful for either SIL or FIL.

FIL and company head out around 1:30 for home with promised to meet up on New Year's day after we get back from Paris. Niece and nephews head out to do things with their friends, SIL and Mr TM take the boys out for a long walk to tire them out before our long trip. I am tasked with packing our bags for our flight (thank you very very much SIL for the washing machine and dryer...we were able to pack relatively light knowing we could wash clothes throughout our trip).

But...I'm washing and drying and packing up with just my BIL at home. And BIL leaves while I'm in the midst of all of this. And he locks the door on his way out (we'd kept it unlocked deliberately all through the morning so that the small lot of us could go in and out without ringing the bell every 10 minutes).

So I head out to our van to load up our "these gifts and this stuff is staying in the van while we're gone" bags, and when I try to get back into the house, the door is locked. LOCKED.

I realize my BIL must have left (his car is out of the drive). Everyone else is gone. SIL and Mr TM and kids are out walking, and for the next 15 or so minutes, I try very desperately to tell myself that my SIL *must* have a key with her, and that we will NOT have to call a niece or nephew or my BIL to come let us in, which would take an hour that we do not have...because it's now almost 3, and our flight leaves at 6, and we really really really do need to leave for the airport soon.


Good news, SIL and the group arrive with a key(!!!), bags are finished packing, and we head off to Pierson in Toronto around 3:30. There's a ton of traffic, and it's stressful, and we go to a long term parking lot and have to wait a while for shuttle, which is more stressful, but we make it to our flight just as its boarding.

Here's where my first bit of advice for traveling with youngish kids comes in.

Ten and Nine are good travelers, but are often bored on flights longer than an hour or so. Electronics (iPad, 3DS, etc) are used often to mitigate boredom. While I made sure those electronics were charged up for our flight to Paris, I talked to the boys well ahead of time about how long the flight would be, and what would happen on the flight (entertainment, meals, lights turned off so that people could sleep). I also talked to them about the fact that we'd be staying up for close to 24 hours minus any nap time on the plane...and that while they might get tired and cranky, it was really important to stay awake as long as possible once we got into France and important to try to keep up a good attitude even when tired.

The flight: I shouldn't have worried about the boys getting bored. They LOVED it. Two hours into the flight, Ten (who is watching a movie and chowing down on the Saag KLM gave us for dinner) tells me that "this is better than first class" and that this is the best vacation he's ever been on.

It's TWO HOURS into our trip.

Nine, who doesn't like heights and was a bit worried about being so high for so long, keeps thanking me and hugging me.

The four of us were in the middle row (four across) of the plane, so Mr. TM and I were on each aisle, acting as bookends. We, the adults, are not the most comfy, as there's not a lot of legroom (Mr TM is very tall), and the guy in front of me has his seat reclined the entire trip (even when he was sitting up to eat). But the boys were prepared for the length of trip, which I think helped; and they really really REALLY loved the entertainment and the meals. KLM fed us a lot, and the boys, who aren't that picky, enjoyed the flow of food and snacks.

Needless to say, neither of them napped on the plane.

We landed on time in Amsterdam at about 6:30 am their time, and had a quick layover.

Side note: the Dutch customs officials are amazing. We had great experiences coming and going through Amsterdam. When we arrived and I handed over our passports, I mentioned to the boys that they'd get their first stamp in theirs (brand new passports for them!). The customs official immediately opened their books and let them stamp their own passports themselves. He joked with them and made it very fun. It was quite special.

Back to the report: We were getting tired at this point, but I think the discussion about what to expect helped a lot. The boys wanted to fight over who would get to play a certain game on the iPad first, but...they resolved it quickly, with Ten saying something along the lines of "we're fighting because we're tired. Let's just do it this way..." and Nine agreed.

We had a short flight into Paris, and Nine slept (against my arm) the entire flight. He was hard to wake up when we were at the gate. He kind of slept walked to baggage claim, where he leaned against our carryons and covered himself with our jackets and slept for another hour while we waited for luggage to arrive.

Luggage arrived, and we decided to take the RER into Paris instead of a cab (we figured we'd be forced to stay awake longer if we took the train). Stood in a long line for tickets in an over-headed room and watched lots of men and women wearing army uniforms (and carrying big guns) patrol the area.

We jumped on the train as soon as we got our tickets, and Mr TigerMac struck up a nice conversation with a local gentleman. Their convo was mix of French and English (both spoke both languages, but each sometimes had to break into a different language when they couldn't remember the specific word they wanted to use). Ten was fascinated and, I think, really impressed that his dad could do that. Even though we taught the boys words and phrases to use in France, seeing that kind of conversation in person made the fact that they were in a foreign country so much more real for them.

We made it to our apartment (details next update), and well all a good job staying awake so that we could adjust our body clocks. Ten and Nine impressed me with their patience and willingness to keep going even when they were hugely tired. I really do think our talks about what the trip over would be like helped them tremendously. They are not usually so patient when they are tired, and they were more tired than I've ever seen them! But they understood our unique circumstances and understood that we had to work together to make it through that first day.

Next up, day 5 of our trip, and day 1 in Paris.

Two batches of bread are baked, food for the weekend is prepped ahead of time, snow is falling...I'll post another update or two soon (so long as the blizzard doesn't knock out power...knock on wood!).
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Jan 22nd, 2016, 09:50 PM
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You are so right to have explained everything to the kids ahead of time.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 03:04 AM
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Your boys' enthusiasm on their flight made me smile. We have rather dreadful 24 hr journeys to Europe from Australia, but our boys love it... endless movies and seemingly endless food, boy teen heaven. Then, when they arrive they can sleep for 14 hours straight.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:07 AM
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This is such a fun read so far. Good suggestions for ahead of time talks with the young ones, something we will do for our future travel with boys 5, 7 and 10. No question, those mini iPads are lifesavers for parents, kids and fellow passengers. The food parade, too! Looking forward to the next installment.

Drat those clueless people that recline all the way. They must all live under the same rock.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:56 AM
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Looking forward to reading the rest. My kids are about that age and we'll be going in July.
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Jan 23rd, 2016, 07:03 PM
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I love your report! While my boys are all grown up, I remember the days of being a 'boy mom'. What a wonderful thing to be able to travel with your children. #MakingMemories

You have a great writing style and I can *see* what is happening in my mind's eye. . The Christmas Tree incident was hilarious! ��

Looking forward to more!
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Jan 24th, 2016, 08:56 AM
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on for the ride
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Jan 24th, 2016, 10:44 AM
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I am so enjoying your report. Fabulous! I'm along for the ride and will eagerly await each installment.
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Jan 24th, 2016, 11:58 AM
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Good story so far - I especially liked the part about how your kids were amazed at their father's ability to carry on a conversation in a foreign language. Hopefully, they'll catch the language bug soon!
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