Memorable vacations don’t have to be expensive. The vacations that we think of fondly don’t involve extravagant hotels or fancy meals; we get down to the grit of the experience and culture we’re trying to immerse ourselves in. When I quizzed my 6 year old about her favorite vacation, I should have known the answer: Paris. For us, Paris has it all: museums, Disneyland, and fashion! But, being cheap, I don’t spend much and plan ahead (VERY far ahead).
Disneyland Paris: Luckily, Disneyland Paris offers 2-day, 2-park ticket discounts to active duty military and civilians. Ticket Prices are deeply discounted, costing less than a 1-day, 1-park pass. There are tricks to getting discounted tickets in packages via www.disneylandparis.com or free tickets via one of the resorts Disney owns. The Sequoia is located within walking distance of Disneyland and offers an indoor pool, a restaurant, an indoor playground, a spa, and shuttle over to the park. The Sequoia offers packages and sales, watch the Disneyland Paris website carefully. Check pricing with a local travel agent, you can sometimes find deeply discounted last-minute *or* very advance packages with the Disney Resorts in Paris. HINT: disney is CRAZY during weekends, many local employers give annual passes as employee gifts, we've found Tuesdays to be the least busy--as long as it's not a holiday!
Paris, what to see with the littles: Taking the train into Paris is super easy. A short thirty minute ride takes you to Gare de Lyon or Nation, in the heart of it all. Both stations offer transfers to the metro. Buying a book of 10 tickets at the counter, kids are 50%, will save you a bundle. First stop for us is always the Eiffel Tower. Rather than take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower, we walk the stairs at a 75% discount. It’s 709 steps to the first platform, where stunning views await. For the explorers, the Catacombs offers a low-cost alternative to expensive museums at €11 per person (hint, you can no longer prepurchase tickets online for the catacombs & their website estimates wait times now!). The lines can be 2-3 hours long in the summer, so arrive early and grab breakfast at one of the 3 bakeries across from the entrance. On Sunday mornings Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is open, the largest flea market in France. There’s numerous cheap eats here, tons of goods browse, and shop owners love giving history lessons to the kids. Another favorite and free Sunday haunt for us is the Modern Art Museum in Paris. They offer free kids activities and tours designed for children! Parks are also free in Paris, one of our favorites is Luxembourg Gardens, conveniently located near the Latin Quarter. After a stroll through the Gardens, we always wind up in the Latin quarter at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Saturday mornings, there’s a small market in the Latin Quarter where you can buy baked goods, handmade cheese and fresh fruit. Wandering into Galleries Layfayette, the world’s oldest department store, is a fun and free event (barring you don’t buy, I can’t help myself in the perfume section!).
What to eat: Parisian food is flavorful, interesting, and can be terribly expensive. We have some favorite haunts in Paris that are total splurges, Brasserie Julien and Le Café Pure for breakfast. One of our tricks is to avoid tourist areas at all costs. Wander in the St. Denis-Strausbourg area for phenomenal Croque Monseiur or even along the Seine there’s a fabulous Pizzaria called the Pink Flamingo, perfect for the kids. Brasserie Julien offers a set menu, with tons of options (wine included!) including Chateaubriand and snails for every palate. They offer kids meals, and often will let the kids light the Crème Brûlée on fire (psst, this is where celebs take their kids, so keep your eyes peeled!). Finally, Le Pure Café offers a french breakfast (think English or irish, with a French twist!) every morning that is to DIE for. The movie “Before Sunset” was filmed here, so it was a must-see for us (rather me, my husband just ate!).
Stay: We loved staying at Hotel Pavillion Opera near brasserie Julien. However, there’s lots of great airbnb.com, roomorama.com and homeaway.com stays to be had for less. The Westin Paris offers slight military discounts (it's running 300 euro/night, best price), as does the Best Western. Call their stateside 800 number and ask for the rates, compare with booking.com. If you’re a booking.com genius, you’re probably already getting a cheaper rate than military discounted rates though.
- Shelby Van Voris