While we were in London we took a day trip to Bath and Stonehenge. It was about 8 hours round trip but worth the time. Stonehenge is a must and doesn’t really demand too much of your vacation but we recommend visiting because of the beauty, history and mystery surrounding this amazing site. While Stonehenge was everything that we thought it would be an a must when visiting this part of England, Bath was the surprise.
Bath is an old town that has Roman roots and tons of old English charm it became a world Heritage Site in 1987. The Bath Abby is at the center of the city’s fame and rise to prominence in history, including the crowing of an English King in the late 900s. The Abby has changed hands and been renovated a few times since then but it is beautiful and worth a stop. Not to be outdone the Roman Baths are almost 2000 years old. We love history and have always been entranced by the Romans especially when the remnants are found on the outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire, like here in Bath. The Roman Temple and Bath were built on top of a hot spring and can be visited for a fee. In addition to the the Abby and the Baths there are many beautify houses and streets that were built from the 1600s to the 1800s and have shops and restaurants. The Avon river of Shakespeare’s fame runs through Bath and Stratford-upon-Avon is just down the road.
Let’s start by saying Galaries Lafayette is not a secret nor is it hidden but there is more to this monster department store than an amazing stain-glass skylight. Near the Opera Garnier (think Phantom of the Opera) the home to the French National Opera, Galeries Lafayette operates 3 huge stores on Rue du Lafayette. It is always mentioned in the shopping sections of guide books as ‘the’ department store in Paris, and really in all of France. That being said it can be much more than a basement full of women’s shoes, and we mean the entire basement floor is stall after stall of brands of women’s shoes. It is near the Paris Metro stops of Opera and Chausse d’Antin de Lafayette.
Near the roof of the store there are multiple cafeteria style cafes. You won’t find high cuisine here but what you will find is a reasonable place to eat a meal or grab a snack, and that place has amazing views of the heart of Paris. Venture up to the roof you will find lounge chairs set up on AstroTurf and 360 degree view of the City of Light. This is a free view of the city where as most other view points are ticketed and have huge lines. We visited on a rainy day in March and the views were a little obscured by clouds but because most of Paris was built 5 stories or less you can still see all the sites that you would want to see.
Across the street from the main store which is geared toward Women you will find the men’s (Homme) store and kiddie corner from the main store is the home store. These are fun places to wander on a rainy day. The main store has a pretty fun toy and souvenir section as well. While we wouldn’t say that it is a must do we have always enjoyed the spectacle of the store and it is a great place to rest from the elements for a while.
60 days before your trip you can book your fast passes on the My Disney Experience site or Ap. This is where you make sure you get to ride the most popular rides. In the Magic Kingdom the new king of all rides is a Princess and her 7 buddies. The Seven Dwarf Mine Train is a family roller coaster that consistently has 80 minute wait times (must be 40” tall). Others that have long lines are Splash and Space Mountains and believe it or not Peter Pan’s Flight (one of our favorites). If you want to ride these rides without giving up a few hours I recommend a fast pass. Or if you want to ride the ride twice, wait in the standby line and get a fast pass. When planning FastPasses one thing to consider is the Experiences vs the Rides. In the Magic Kingdom for example one of your FastPasses can be to Meet Anna and Elsa, this can be a huge time saver for families with children that want to do this. Other experiences are reserved seats at Fireworks or Parades. For our trip this October we have 2 experience FastPasses and the rest are rides.
30 Days before you leave you can Order your meal at Be Our Guest. If you are going to eat here you can enter your food order on the My Disney Experience App or site. The rumor is the try the “Grey Stuff” for dessert, ‘…it’s delicious!’ we will be trying the ‘Grey Stuff’ in October.
Around 30 days before your trip luggage tags arrive at your house. Shortly after that then Magic Bands will be delivered. They will appear like an unexpected present hidden far beneath your Christmas tree. Make sure to customize your bands before it is too late. You are now only a few weeks away from your trip, start packing your bags.
Next up traveling to Walt Disney World……
Sometimes long vacations land us in unexciting but necessary places. Most extended trips find us at a laundry facility because we like to pack light and bring home lots of souvenirs in the form of clothes, chocolate and fun things for our kids. One morning in Rome found us at a laundry mat that was just north of our hotel, near Piazza Navona tucked down a street just wide enough for a Vespa. For those not familiar with laundry it takes some time and on vacation it seems to take twice as long. We usually try to plan it around a meal, usually the last breakfast before we travel to the next city.
After we started our wash we wandered the tight streets in the neighborhood. We seemed to be the only non-Romans around, which for us is always a good sign. Then we saw a café serving pastries. As we walked in again we were the only non-Romans is the house. In Rome at breakfast your drink choices are usually fresh orange juice, coffee or espresso. This particular place was serving fresh Blood Orange Juice. So we ordered what looked and tasted like croissants with orange crème and 2 glasses of orange juice. This was by far my favorite breakfast of the trip and probably any trip as the Blood Orange Juice was amazing. So if you find yourself in Italy, especially in the spring make sure to have some fresh orange juice it will make your morning.
Dining Reservations. 180 days before your first day at Walt Disney World you can book Dining Reservations. Depending on how busy it is when you go, reservations go from highly recommended to a must. Be Our Guest, in the new Fantasyland is one of those restaurants that you need a reservation for even in the lowest of the low season. Le Cellier the French Canadian Steakhouse is another I would book if you wanted to go there. What I will say is if you want to eat somewhere specific get a reservation and if you have a dining plan with sit down service you should get reservations. You should plan out what parks you want to visit and on what days and then look at the restaurants and book a reservation. Some of the best restaurants on property happen to be at hotels.
So, where should you eat? Here are some of our favorites and a few key points on each of them:
Sit Down Restaurants
Akershus ($$$): Norway. Go for breakfast, there’s a great buffet and a whole bunch of princesses (it’s even fun for the boys).
Le Cellier ($$$): Canada. This is a great steak dinner for two adults. We made a deal with family members to allow each couple to have a date night while the others took all the kids. This date night dinner is highly recommended. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.
Chefs de France ($$): France. If you truly love French food as we do this is the best of Paris bought to the US. The dining is French Bistro style so the tables are smaller and closer together.
Rose and Crown ($$): United Kingdom. If you love a good British Pub the Rose and Crown will exceed your expectations, we love to eat here on the patio after a long day of walking.
Coral Reef ($$): Future World. An EPCOT Classic, dining under the sea.
Quick Service and Snacks
Liberty Inn ($): America. Do you need a hot dog for a child? This is your place. The burgers have always looked good but we can eat in America all year round.
La Cantina de San Angel ($): Mexico. Right on the lagoon this is a great place to grab lunch before your trek around the World Showcase. La Cantina provides an elevated form of street tacos. Our kids loved the churros with caramel sauce.
Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe ($): Norway. Home to the Troll Horn. It is Cloudberry Jam mixed with whipped cream in a crispy pastry-sugar coated shell.
Karamel-Kuche and Sommerfest ($): Germany. Pretzels, Bratwurst, Strudel, Black Forest Cake, and Caramel. Enough said.
Funnel Cake ($): America. This one is self-explanatory.
Club Cool ($): Future World. Sample beverages from all over the world.
Sit Down Restaurants
The Hollywood Brown Derby ($$): Still to this day one of the best meals we have ever eaten. The Grapefruit Cake and Chop Salad are a must for at least one member of your party. But don’t plan on wanting to share. You can get reservations here that will get you a saved seats at Fantasmic. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.
Hollywood and Vine ($$): This is an old school buffet but they do character meals here, we went to the Disney Junior one our kids loved it.
Quick Service and Snacks
Pizza Planet ($): Modeled after “THE” Pizza Planet from Toy Story. It is a fun place to grab a quick meal. There is shaded seating outside.
Sit Down Restaurants
Be Our Guest ($-$$): Fantasyland. Since opening along with the new Fantasyland it is hard to get a seat here. Disney has added a quick service lunch to try and meet the demand but if you want to eat here and we recommend it you will need to get a reservation. 30 days before your trip you can pre-order your food. This is cool because your food appears almost as soon as you sit down. A huge win for parents of hungry children and a win for Disney since this allows more people to enjoy the Beast’s Castle.
Crystal Palace ($$): Main Street USA. Another buffet to meet characters. We tend to eat breakfast here on our first day in the park. It helps to keep stomachs full past the busy lunch hours.
Tony’s Town Square ($$): Main Street USA. Think Lady and Tramp but for people and really good.
Plaza Restaurant ($$): Main Street USA. Classic American food in a great location where you can watch parades and fireworks from your table.
Cinderella’s Royal Table ($$$): Fantasyland. Who doesn’t want to dine in a castle? Especially a Disney Castle. The food here was exceptional and while it took a while to get through all the courses it was a welcome respite after a long day in the Florida heat. Try the pretzel rolls. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.
Quick Service and Snacks
Gaston’s Tavern ($): Fantasyland. Billed as the manliest of manly places, this is a great place to refuel. The food is great but it is known for its Cinnamon Rolls and LeFou’s Brew, a non-alcoholic beverage, which consists of Frozen Apple Juice with a hint of Toasted Marshmallow and topped with All-Natural Passion Fruit-Mango Foam. Dining Plants are NOT accepted here.
Columbia Harbor House ($): Liberty Square. Located at a crossroads between Fantasyland, Liberty Square and near Adventureland this nautical themed restaurant is a great place to mix things up. While they have the usual kids fare adults can switch it up with fried fish, shrimp or lobster rolls.
The Launching Pad ($): Tomorrowland. Crème-cheese filled pretzels and frozen carbonated beverages in flavors like: Coke, Cherry, Fanta and Minute Maid.
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café ($): Frontierland. Located on the edge of Fronteirland right by Adventureland. If you are craving a chili cheese fries or western style quick service this is a good place to get some vittles.
Sit Down Restaurants
Restaurantosaurus ($): DinoLand USA. American quick service near the DinoLand part of the park, if your kids play in the play area they will be ready to eat when they get out.
Rainforest Café ($$): Main Entrance. If you have never been it is worth sticking your head in to see the spectacle that is the Rainforest Café. Their food does not disappoint, but if you are looking for a quiet place to eat this might not be it.
Quick Service and Snacks
Yak and Yeti ($): Asia. At a crossroads in-between Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids this is a great place to grab some excellent quick Asian food. There is also a sit down restaurant here with some amazing Thai food.
Sit Down Restaurants
Dinosaur Café & Rainforest Café ($$): The Dinosaur Café is louder than the Rainforest Café but the food is great and the kids thought it was awesome.
Quick Service and Snacks
There are lots of options here but the food trucks seem to be the best option.
Hotels & Resorts
Sit Down Restaurants
Kona Grill ($) & ‘Ohana ($$): Polynesian Resort. The Kona Grill offers an American/Asian fusion meal while ‘Ohana will take you to the setting of a Polynesian long house and a character meal that is served family style.
California Grill ($$$): Contemporary Resort. You will need a reservation for this signature restaurant, as it is one of the hottest places to eat at Disney World.
Artist Point ($$$): Wilderness Lodge. A fun family style BBQ joint, the food is reminiscent of Big Thunder Ranch in Disneyland.
Victoria & Albert’s ($$$$): Grand Floridian. This AAA Five Diamond Award winner (Since 2000) is the fanciest place to eat on property, and possibly in Central Florida. Make Reservations and bring your wallet as a seven-course meal can cost more than a night in most hotel rooms at Walt Disney World.
Coming up FastPass+, Magic Bands and Luggage Tags …….
For our 10th anniversary we left our kids home with both sets of grandparents and checked off a few items on our bucket list. Italy was on our list and Rome as part of it, but a place we went back to almost everyday and most nights while there was the Piazza della Rotonda and all the pedestrian shopping streets around it. This is the Piazza right in front of the Pantheon. One of the nights we were there eating dinner and it felt as if the world walked by our table as we shared pasta and a 4-cheese risotto.
By itself it is an amazing building built over 2,000 years ago it evokes an idea of how amazing Rome must have looked during its heyday. With solid columns quarried and built in Egypt, Italian Marble and a dome made from one of Rome’s greatest inventions cement. To get a better sense of the History of the Pantheon (and many other locations in Europe) we like to use the Rick Steve’s Europe Ap, we download and listen to the History Podcasts in our hotel and we download the Audio Tour podcast to listen to while on location. You can listen to the actual podcast here: Rick Steve’s Pantheon
The Pantheon Is on every ‘night-walk’ list we found. Besides being a close walk from the Trevi Fountain (a must at night) the Piazza comes to life at night and suffice it to say it is no ghost town during the day.
We ate 2 meals right by the Pantheon and one on the end of a shopping street heading towards the Trevi Fountain. As mentioned above one night we sat in a restaurant shared pasta and risotto and watched the piazza come alive. There were at least 3 other restaurants where your view could be similarly amazing. One day at lunch we stopped by a family run pan pizza shop, Super Pizza. It was within earshot of piazza. Here we got in line behind touring students and Father who ran the shop with his 20-something son was artfully and quickly cutting, weighing and plating food all while running the till. His son waited on the 12 or so tables they had for people who were not on tour or in a rush. We did not know this was separate at the time. We ordered and then sat down. They almost seemed embarrassed that we would have had to wait in line and then sit down. The son and father playfully jabbed back and forth at each other about who knows what the whole time we were there. Even though the food was not as good as the risotto this was my favorite meal.
For dessert we would opt to not order of the menu of where we were eating but to go to one of the many gelattaria’s and order gelato or a hot waffle with Nuttella on it. There are few things better than eating gelato and window-shopping this is especially true here.
One of our favorite things to do on vacations is go to the grocery store. This may sound a little lame but it is true. It is even truer when traveling outside the country. Right next to Super Pizza was a grocery store. The first thing we found here was Loacker Wafers. http://www.loacker.com/usa/eng_2297d969.html We carried a pack or 2 of these with us for the rest of our trip, it was a sad day when they were gone. We found fun Kinder chocolates to take home for our kids Easter Baskets. When we find a store we usually buy bottled water, other drinks and any snack that sounds good as they are much cheaper here and nice to have back in the hotel.
From the piazza there are at least 6 pedestrian shopping streets leading in all directions. While all directions will have what will be deemed ‘tourist trap’ stores there are many other stores that are worth walking by, even if you are just window shopping. Our favorite was a store that sold pottery from all over Italy. The funny thing is the shop was the part that stole the show; all the shelves were adjustable but appeared to have been built by a skilled carpenter a long time ago.
Whatever you do near or at the Pantheon you won’t be wrong because you are in Rome and in the moment…
During our last trip to Paris we were standing near Notre Dame wanting a treat. Having already eaten crepes for breakfast and lunch we decided it was time for a change, at least until right before bed. In every travel book we have read Berthillion is always listed as a place to get ice cream in Paris, ALWAYS. Even though we tend to follow these books as if Napoléon himself wrote them, in the past when it came to the best ice cream in Paris we were skeptic. But this day we weren’t, so we wandered from Isle de la cite to Isle de Saint Louis, a short walk but worlds apart. Soon we were in narrow streets and there were very few tourists or really people. The only place one could see a crowd was in front of 29-31 rue saint Louis en l’ile, which is the location of Berthillion. We were not in the mood to wait in line for any treat but good news is that any purveyor of ice cream on the island carries Berthillion and it all made in the same place by the masters at Berthillion.
So for our first foray we shared a scoop of Salted Caramel and Pink Grapefruit. Not to oversell it but it was the best ice cream ever. Better than any ice cream we had had from the Tillamook factory in Oregon, to Bassetts in Philadelphia to any thing we had ever had in Europe. If we add Gellato to the mix there are some places that will give it a run for its money. But if we have to go across Europe seeing where the best ice cream is to settle a spat we are in!
So the next day we went back, luckily it was less busy. We sat in the salon and did not share this time. We ordered Vine Peach and Pink Grapefruit and Salted Carmel and Pink Grapefruit. The salon at the Berthillion was fun, it would be a great place to take kids as a reward for not damaging the Venus de Milo. When you look at the many reviews on Trip Advisor the most common thing people say it is a little pricey for the portion, but in our opinion worth it.
Long story short Berthillion is a must do.
Booking your trip.
When doing this we always call the Cast Members at 407-WDISNEY. They can quickly toggle in-between all the different options quite quickly. Before you call, have the following information on hand:
First you will tell them the days you are staying and they will check hotel options, like I mentioned before there are a lot of options and prices vary quite a bit so this is why I call. You can use their website but the Disney Travel employees are pros and they can help fill in any potential gaps.
Second, they want the names, ages (including birthdays for younger guests) of guests?
Third, you’ll need to know flights if you know (you may need to call back and add this to your reservation)
If you have a Disney Account they will want to link your reservation to it so that you can later log into the My Disney Experience Ap and Website.
Fourth, you will want to know if you want the ‘Memory Maker’ this is the update on the Photo Pass. What this is a package that will let you download all pictures taken at Walt Disney World, this includes rides, character meals and around the parks. It is about $30 cheaper to pre-purchase the plan instead of buying it at the park. There are Disney Photographers all over, we love this because it eliminates the need to ask someone you don’t know to take your picture and the Disney photographers are set up in the best spots for great pictures.
If you don’t have an account with Disney now is the time to set it up. The My Disney Experience App will help you manage your trip, especially while at the parks. From the App or the website you can book restaurant reservations, personalize your Magic Band, get fast passes for rides and even order your meal at Be Our Guest. Additionally you can add notes for things you wanted to do before hand so when you log into make diner reservations or book FastPasses the notes will be there to guide you.
What is a Magic Band you ask?
It is a wristband the size of a watch that has an RFID chip in it that can power you whole trip. It is your room key, your park tickets, your FastPass+, and has the ability to pay with an associated Credit Card/PIN so you can tap to pay for something, enter your PIN and be on your way. The Magic band means no need for a wallet or purse.
Next step book your Disney Dining reservations 180 days before you arrive…
Before you make the call:
Where do you want to stay?
Many people choose to stay off property when going to Disney World. This is a great option if you are going to other Orlando area attractions such as Cocoa Beach, Lego Land, or Universal Studios. For this post we are going to talk about staying on Disney property. While staying on property you won’t need at rental car as Disney has transportation from all of its hotels and campgrounds to all 4 amusement parks, 2 water parks and Downtown Disney. Staying at a Disney hotel will also give you access to extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic hours are when you can enter the parks early or stay later in the parks because you are staying at a Disney Hotel.
There are four tiers of accommodations at Disney World:
Consider choosing a hotel that is closest to the parks your group wants to visit. Your transportation from hotel to park can be up to 30 min each way. For instance, the Wilderness Lodge is about a 5-minute ride to the Magic Kingdom, which was important to us, but it can take 30 minutes to get to the Animal Kingdom.
How long will you stay?
There are 4 amusement parks and 2 water parks. This decision will be what really makes the mark on your wallet. We like at least 2 days in EPCOT, 2 days in the Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Animal Kingdom and 1 day at Hollywood Studios. Just like that we are at 6 days. If you are going to spend 5 or more days in the parks I highly recommend a rest day in the middle. We do this at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. There are entry fees for these parks as well, so if you are trying to save a little money have a pool day at your hotel or rent a car and go to Cocoa Beach which is just under an hour from here. Either way, make sure you plan a rest day or by the end of your trip you will be spending more time on a bench than on your favorite ride.
Should you get park hopper ticket or not?
This is about a $50 per person decision. We chose to do it because we can break up an EPCOT or Animal Kingdom day if the little kids are getting bored. We can get dinner in EPCOT; sneak over to the Magic Kingdom on the monorail and get in a few more laps on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or my favorite Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On our last trip we had a day start and end in Hollywood Studios and we took the boat to EPCOT and back for lunch and snacks during the Food and Wine Festival. I think the park hopper is more of a luxury than a must do but still a decision to be made.
Should you get the dining plan?
As with all the questions in this post, this will add more money per day but can get you dining experiences at Disney that you might not normally choose to do if you were just paying for each meal as you go.
Disney has 3 Dining Plan options:
Platinum provides 3 meals a day plus 2 snacks. We chose the Magic Your Way Premium because we can still get character meal experiences without spending all our time in a sit down restaurant. Premium allows for 1 quick service meal, 1 sit down meal and 1 snack a day. The Quick Service plan allows for 2 meals a day both quick service and a snack every day you are staying at Disney.
Whether you get a meal plan or not you are paying for food but there are benefits to the dining plan. You can budget and prepay for your meals. Here is why I like the Dining plan, it allows me to budget better for the trip and it opens up restaurants that I probably wouldn’t have eaten at had I not had the plan. Our favorite highlights: (see our post on Reservations for our restaurant recommendations)
Step 3 Booking your Trip…
But let’s start at the beginning:
When are you going?
This decision will affect so many things about your trip.
If you choose to go during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Frozen Summer, or Star Wars Weekends it will affect the number of park tickets you buy. Some of these events have special tickets that allow you to visit the park with a limited number of guests during special hours. We have found this is the best time to ride some of the busy rides because there aren’t so many people in the park. We have been to both the Halloween and Christmas Parties and they are by far our favorite times to be in the Magic Kingdom. Fewer people are in the parks, there are 2 parades and fireworks so ride lines disappear. We rode Splash Mountain with our oldest son 3 times in a row without getting out of our log. We finally bailed on the fourth ride because we were so wet. If there is a party, we recommend getting a ticket but take one day off your park pass and enjoy Downtown Disney or the pool at your hotel the morning of your party ticket. The Frozen and Star Wars events are included in your park ticket but can affect the number of Anna’s, Elsa’s and Chewbacca’s in those parks.
How are you getting to central Florida?
Domestic Airlines that fly to MCO Orlando International Airport (and allow you to take Disney’s Magical Express):
You can return a rental car on Disney property. Alamo and National Rental Cars have a shared location at the Car Care Center. If you are planning a day trip and only need a car for the day, a car can be rented here.
You can even take Amtrak from all over the United States to Orlando. But the cheapest seats tend to cost twice a much as flying and it takes almost 4 days to get from the west coast to Orlando.
Step 2 Where to stay and what kind of Vacation Package to purchase……