Santa Park, Finland

Just down the road from Santa Claus Village is Santa Park.

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Santa Park is kind of like a Christmas amusement park that is tucked into an underground cave. Not even kidding.

Santa Park is only 1.25 miles (2 km) down the road from Santa Claus Village but it is the bus stop right before Santa Claus Village. So if you take the bus from Santa Claus Village to Santa Park you have to ride all around town before getting back there. The reason I tell you this is to explain why we decided to walk, 1.25 miles (2 km), with 2 young children……in the arctic cold.

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Now 1.25 miles is not bad, except it was absolutely freezing. This is what it looks like after you arrive to Santa Park from this walk in nature.

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(Suggestion: Take a taxi)

However, it was worth the effort. This place was lovely. It was also nice that everything was indoors and we could check our jackets at the door.

As you enter the cave, you walk down a long tunnel and there is the noise of elves working with their tools preparing everything for Christmas. I got so excited just walking through the entrance!

Some things to see inside the Park:

Ice Bar

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It was absolutely freezing in here. We had a quick drink and got out of there. Then as we were walking out we realized they have free coats for you to borrow. They are just located across from the entrance to the bar and are easy to miss. We felt so silly. Ha!

Sleigh ride

There is a cute little sleigh ride that takes you around the elves workshop and a winter wonderland. It had a very “It’s a Small World” ride feel.

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Crafts

There were several craft areas around the park. In one location you could make your own Santa/Elf out of wood, felt and cotton. Next to this area was a play dough design area. There was also cookie decorating available.

Elf School

This was the absolute highlight for O. It was a super adorable program that ran for about 20-30 minutes preparing children to become elves. It was done by 2 elves with one speaking English and one speaking Finnish throughout.

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It was highly entertaining and in the end each kiddo got an elf hat and a certificate. The certificate is in Finnish, which makes it a great little souvenir. The hat also says “Santa believes in me”. I mean, come on. You can’t get any sweeter than that.

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Entertainment

We happened to swing by the main stage just in time to catch a performance. We had no idea the theme and just happened to snag a seat as it was starting. Then this amazing acrobat/gymnastic performance began. The actors were elves making a present for Santa but they performed amazing flips and jumps all over the stage. It was completely unexpected. After the “story” was over, one of the performers did a handstand on 2 poles. Then she took a bow and arrow with HER FEET and shot down a balloon on a target on the other side of the stage. I wish I had a picture of our faces. We sat there just completely stunned. The kids were also enthralled by the performance and didn’t move an inch when watching it. It was incredible!

The admission fee for Santa Park includes 2 days at the park. So we made sure to swing by the next day as well to catch all the fun. Side Note: The tacky Christmas sweater game is strong here. Bring your best!

 

Santa Claus Village and Santa Park took up the majority of our trip to Finland. We did visit the Arktikum museum, which has some kid friendly exhibits and a northern lights simulation.

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After all our fun around the Arctic Circle, we hopped back on the train (read about that adventure here:   Overnight Train to the Arctic) and headed back to Helsinki to catch our flight home.

Helsinki Harbor greeted us with this view on our last day in Finland.

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Finland is a beautiful place. Go visit them!

Santa Claus Village, Finland

We started our Christmas season a little early last year and headed up to Finland over the Thanksgiving break. Rovaniemi is the “official” hometown of Santa Claus (though I know some people in Alaska who may disagree with this comment). If you love Christmas, this is the place for you!

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We stayed in a cabin at Santa Claus Village so we could be as close to the Man in Red as possible.

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There were also lots of fun attractions nearby so we didn’t have to travel far.

Arctic Circle

Right off the bat we had to cross off one bucket list item. We stood on the Arctic Circle.

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Random fact, the Arctic Circle actually moves every year. So there is a nice little permanent marker in the picture, but we walked all over the village to make sure we actually crossed the line.

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Plus you get a fancy certificate to prove that you were, in fact, crazy enough to bring your family up to the Arctic Circle.

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Reindeer Sleigh Rides

The one thing I wanted to do more than anything else on this trip was to go on a reindeer sleigh ride. There is something about the idea of sitting on a sleigh and gliding through the snow being pulled by a reindeer. If that doesn’t scream “Christmas” I don’t know what does.

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Mother nature decided not to provide us snow for this trip, so we were not able to take a longer ride through the woods. However, they did set up a small track with snow to allow for shorter rides. It didn’t matter. I was so beyond happy to just even sit there. Gavin made a wonderful Go Pro video of this adventure, yet I have no idea how to share it. So instead here is us before we took off on our ride.

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It makes me smile just thinking about it now. Love it!

The Big Event

If you are going to Santa Claus’ hometown, you better pay him a visit. You also must get a family photo with the Man in Red after traveling all this way. However, having 2 small children look toward a camera while meeting the official Santa Claus, is no small feat. In order to get that one in a million photo, we actually went and visited Santa multiple times. The final result is this.

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We look like an absolute hot mess, but everybody is looking forward. I am going to take that as a win.

Santa’s Salmon Place

After all of this running around in the cold, we needed to refuel. Now most eating establishments around the Village are more tourist oriented, fast food type places. An exception to this rule is Santa’s Salmon Place.

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Inside this small little Teepee, fresh salmon is cooked to order.

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You have to get there early to get a seat, as the place is tiny. There is also a bit of a wait due to the whole “being cooked in front of you on an open flame in a Teepee” thing. It is absolutely worth all the hassle.

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(I’ll take one please)

Extra Info

There is also a Husky park at the Village. Again, because there was not much snow, there really wasn’t much to see here at the time we went. They do provide husky sleigh rides, which sounds like great fun.

There is a small petting zoo tucked in the back of the village. The family that runs this “zoo” (more like small farm) were unbelievably nice. We were one of the only families there when we visited and they pretty much gave us a private tour of everything. We got to feed the sheep, try out cross-country skiing and hug trees (Halipuu). Hugging trees is supposed to be healing and bring you closer to nature. I totally hugged a tree. Randomly, the only picture I have of this place is this one.

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There were lots of different excursions that you could book from the hotel and other companies. Some of the most popular ones were Northern Lights expeditions and snowmobiling. We did NOT get to see the northern lights. Bummer! Gavin went on an Ice Floating adventure. More on that experience in a future post.

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We had a great time at Santa Claus Village and in Finland. Next post will be about Santa Park. See you then.

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Overnight Train to the Arctic

Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my overnight train tonight….

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Getting to the Arctic Circle is surprisingly not that easy (that may be written in sarcasm font). On our trip to visit Santa up north, we had to decide between spending our entire day in an airport with a minimum of a 5 hour layover in Helsinki or taking the overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi (12 hour train ride). Neither option is the greatest when you are hauling around 2 kids and all their gear but we opted for the overnight train.

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(O not impressed with waiting)

We booked a room with an en suite bathroom. That may sound fancy but it was a little tight. O didn’t mind. He was super excited to be sleeping on a train.

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Gavin may not have shared the same excitement as O. In the picture, Gavin’s knee is touching the bathroom door. Not a lot of room for dancing….or turning while getting dressed. There was also a small seat with a table. Based on how well E fit into it, I am guessing it is not for all sizes.

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There were some pros to taking the train. The room itself was really clean. They also put up these nice net things so that the kiddos wouldn’t roll out of bed or in my case E wouldn’t shove me out of the bed.

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The beds were comfortable. The room was set up strategically to allow the most efficient use. The kids could actually stand and move about the room without disturbing other passengers. Also there was amazing Wi-Fi, like really high speed internet for a train speeding through frozen Finland in the middle of the night.

The train left later in the evening so we basically boarded the train, did our nighttime routine and then slept for the majority of the trip. The kiddos and I found the rocking of the train soothing and it put us to sleep quickly. Gavin felt like each movement of the train was like someone shaking him to wake him up. Not the greatest way to start a vacation.

In the end, we made it to see Ol’ St. Nick and O in particular was very pleased to have gotten there by train.

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Would we do the night train again? Yeah…..NO. However, I do think it was a unique experience and we will be sharing that story for years to come.

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Budapest

Budapest is one of those cities where you can just wander around and find beauty at every corner. The river, the buildings, and even the food make you stop and admire for a moment. We spent a weekend there this October and tried to experience as much as possible.

Hungarian Parliament Building

After settling into our Airbnb, we took our first walk around the neighborhood and found ourselves standing in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building at dusk.

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We arrived in time to see the lowering of the flag. O loved to see the marching soldiers.

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Not far from the Parliament building is a park where we ran into this gentleman.

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Apparently Hungarians credit Ronald Reagan with helping bring down Communism in their country.

Budapest Zoo

We did pop into the zoo because….children.

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The Budapest Zoo is like most other zoos but it is known for its amazing architecture. The elephant house is the most famous building.

Castle Hill and the Funicular train

Of course, we had to visit Castle Hill with Buda Castle sitting on top. O remains a big train fan so we opted to take the short funicular train up.

The views from the top were pretty spectacular.

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Chain Bridge

We decided to walk across the Chain Bridge for the full experience.

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There were beautiful views along the way, including this view of Buda Castle from the bridge.

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Shoes on the Danube 

Located on the Danube riverbank, not far from the Parliament Building, is the Memorial called the “Shoes on the Danube” . It is 60 pair of iron cast shoes from the World War II era placed here in honor of the Jewish people who were murdered during the war. The people were brought to the riverbank and told to take off their shoes and valuables. They were then shot with their bodies falling into the water.

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Yummy Food

Budapest has so many fun and yummy food stops. We were able to swing by Mr. Funk’s Donuts.

Gelarto Rosa can’t be missed either. Can you believe this is gelato?

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Children approved.

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Langos are also a local favorite. It is fried bread with sour cream and cheese as the typical toppings.

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We also enjoyed Kürtőskalács, which are also known as chimney cakes. They are sort of similar to a donut. I have no pictures of them because they are served to you warm and we devoured them so quickly that there was no photographic evidence. Ha!

Beer Spa

We also had a fun time at the Thermal Beer Spa that is tucked into the famous Szechenyi Thermal Bath. You can read about that here: Budapest Beer Spa

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We were so happy to have Nana traveling with us on this trip. It is always nice when the adults outnumber the children.

And the sun sets on another great trip.

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Budapest Beer Spa

What’s better than celebrating your birthday in beautiful Budapest? How about celebrating your birthday at a beer spa in Budapest! That’s exactly what we did on our last adventure.

We had heard rumors about some amazing beer spas around Europe. This inspired me to look at what was available in Budapest and we found the Thermal Beer Spa. This spa is located in the famous Szechenyi thermal baths complex, which is one of the top attractions in Budapest.IMG_4146

We weren’t sure what to expect. We booked a tub for 2 and off we went. When we arrived the friendly staff led us to our room.

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The tub was filled with warm mineral water and the staff added malt, beer yeast, hops, and beer salt while explaining the benefits of each. I heard something about helping with relaxation and better skin. To be honest though, I was distracted by the beer tap that was located right next to the tub.

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We spent 45 minutes enjoying the warm water, the cold beer and the peace and quiet. Special thank you to my mother-in-law for watching the kiddos while we had our little outing.

I mentioned that it was hubby’s birthday and the staff added this sign to our appetizer (read: white bread with paprika spread) and played a Hungarian pop version of Happy Birthday over the speakers.

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It was a quirky way to spend a birthday but we enjoyed the experience. Cheers to another year!

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Our Royal Knight

If you are a Disney fan or have ever visited the Parks, you may have heard of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB). It is a little boutique where little girls can get all dressed up like princesses, with their hair and makeup done by Fairy Godmothers-in-training. It is extremely popular. However, did you know that: 1) BBB is on the Disney Cruise Line Ships too and 2) BBB is also for boys!

I noticed the BBB was available on our cruise as I was signing us up for onboard activities. They had a package called the Royal Knight package and I couldn’t resist signing O up. He was very excited but wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

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They started off with the usual adding of hair gel with some flare.

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O seemed to be enjoying it. The Fairy Godmother-in-training then asked O for his favorite colors and added some Mickey bling to his hair using “Dragon Snot”.

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It finished off with a sprinkle of fairy dust of course!

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O was spun around for the big reveal.

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That face says it all. I love how excited he is but also how happy the Fairy Godmother appears. The final results were amazing.

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Before we left, O was given a sword and shield and deemed a Royal Knight.

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O was over the moon.

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We then marched around the ship looking for dragons for about an hour. O let his little sister help on the hunt.

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If you have ever had the chance to meet our spunky little girl, you will know that the above picture embodies her personality.

Overall, we had a fantastic experience at the BBB. It was very reasonably priced and the thick foam sword and shield not only lasted through our trip, but they are still in one piece at our house almost 3 months later. That is our sneak peek into the Royal Knight Package.

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Our Disney Cruise- Italy

Our final stops on our Disney Cruise were all in the beautiful country of Italy. We LOVE Italy. We love the people, the food, the wine, the scenery, the history, basically everything. If we could pick anywhere in Europe to live it would be…… Switzerland, because it is basically Colorado with better chocolate, but Italy would be a close 2nd.

Genoa

We stopped in the port city of Genoa. The views in the morning were very welcoming.

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We decided to head down to the harbor and spend the day at the aquarium. The aquarium is only a 20 min walk from the cruise port. When we got off the ship it was a bit warm (cue toddler meltdown). The friendly ladies from Treecycle Genoa were waiting for riders at the exit. They typically do a full Genoa tour but they were more than happy to give us a short ride over to the aquarium in their rickshaws.

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O loved it.

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During the ride over, they pointed out important landmarks in Genoa and gave some history. This was a nice bonus for us, as we didn’t know too much about this northern city of Italy.

We spent the morning at the Aquarium, which was rather large and well maintained.

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The Biosphere is also a popular attraction. It sits right next to the Aquarium.

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Genoa was a bit of a gritty city. There were some pick-pockets and swindlers along the harbor. However, I think it is a city with a lot of potential and I know several people who pick Genoa as one of their favorite cities in Italy. Though I think knowing it is the home of pesto may sway people a bit.

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Livorno 

Livorno is typically the big cruise stop where people can access Florence and the Tuscany region. We spent a week in the Tuscany area last year and absolutely loved it. You can see the posts about those trips here:  Tuscany Part 1 , Tuscany Part 2

We spent the day shopping in Livorno. We picked up some favorite Italian treats and had a lovely leisurely day.

Naples

Naples is probably best known for pizza and the ruins of Pompeii that sit outside the city. Seeing Pompeii has been a big bucket list item for me. Gavin volunteered to stay on the boat with the kiddos so I could truly see Pompeii and not just chase children around Pompeii while dishing out snacks. I did an adults only excursion through Disney.

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We had a fantastic tour guide. She was able to get our group around the site with ease and gave us excellent details about each area. Pompeii is actually a rather large site so I was grateful to have the tour guide to help navigate the city.

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Of course I took a picture in the brothel. It is like a required picture for all tourists.

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Overall I really enjoyed my visit to Pompeii. Thank you Gavin for letting me have my own little adventure for the day.

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Rome

The final stop on our cruise and where we disembarked the ship was Civitavecchia, Italy. Cruise lines like to call this stop Civitavecchia (Rome) but the port itself is about 90 minutes from the big tourist sights of Rome.

We used a lovely tour company called Tours around Tuscany during our week in the Tuscany area last year. The owner Gianni is just a fantastic person and he helped set up a private transfer from Civitavecchia with a half-day tour of Rome for us to finish our cruise. This was icing on the cake. Our guide was absolutely fantastic and he got us around to all the major sights.

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These pictures are Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill, and the Orange Garden

Somehow our guide was able to maneuver an 8-passenger van around the streets of Rome and find parking within feet of most of these sights. He knew the city extremely well and negotiated through the notoriously crazy traffic with such ease. It was amazing to watch. He also drove us by the Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Parliament building and (just as we were leaving town) the Pyramid of Cestius.

The tour gave us a great overview of all of the iconic sights and it helped us get a better understanding of the city. This is exactly what we were looking for as we plan to (hopefully) travel to Rome again for a more in-depth visit.

Until we meet again Italy! Ciao!

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Our Disney Cruise- Spain & France

Traveling with children is always an adventure. This trip was no exception. We booked our Disney cruise 18 months in advance. I know that sounds crazy but the cheapest price is on the first day the itinerary is available. Everything was going smoothly. We had all our excursions, transportation, hotels, etc. booked and we were ready to go. Our cruise was to leave on a Saturday out of Barcelona. We were going to fly in early Friday morning, explore Barcelona, stay overnight and then board the cruise ship on Saturday. Notice how I said “we WERE going”. Thursday rolls around and as E is taking a morning nap I check us in for our flights. Then E wakes up from her nap with a fever! We are able to see the doctor that afternoon and they find an ear infection. Her first ear infection ever. EVER! The doctor recommends that we postpone our flight as much as possible due to the fever and the swelling and to give the antibiotics some time to work. We spend Thursday evening making phones calls and trying to rearrange everything. When changing our flights we were not able to get on the early flight to Barcelona because it was already full. Instead, we had to book a flight that got into Barcelona at 11:30am. I call up Disney and they reschedule our transportation for us. They say it will be fine as long as we land before 1pm.

E was fever free by Friday and, after a follow up visit with the doctor, we got official approval to fly Saturday morning. On Saturday, we headed to the airport with our fingers crossed that everything was going to go smoothly. When we got to our gate, our flight was on time but it had been overbooked (probably from that family of four who got tickets late Thursday). Long story short, our flight was delayed by 30 minutes as they tried to convince people to take a later flight. I was getting crazy nervous.

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We finally take off and arrive in Barcelona about 12 (1 hour to spare so far). E did great on the flight. No problems with her ears. We get our luggage, add our cruise tags, and head out to find our transportation. There was a lovely group from Disney holding Mickey hands right where you exit with your luggage. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt like this is it. We made it. I walk up to them and they ask if we are the “So and so” family. Umm… no. They look at their list and we are not on it. I start to get nervous. There is only one family left on the list whose names haven’t been marked off. We explained our crazy situation and in true Disney fashion (I personally feel Disney has AMAZING customer service) they just said “That’s fine. Wait here for a few minutes and we will take you to the ship.” After maybe 10-15 minutes, that last family on the list arrived and we were able to get on the bus to the cruise ship.

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After chatting with the family, we found out that their flight had actually been delayed repeatedly on their journey from the US to Barcelona. I would like to take a moment to send a shout out to this lovely family of 3 from Oklahoma. If their flight had not been delayed, the Disney shuttle would not have been at the airport waiting for us. Thanks guys! You were a lifesaver and you didn’t even know it!

When we arrived at the cruise terminal, there were just a few people still going through the check-in process. We were able to get through security and all the lines quickly. The final thing before you get on the ship is they take a picture of you as a family.

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Look at us. That is the definition of hot mess. We had been running around like crazy for the last couple days just trying to get to this point. The looks on our face are a mixture of fatigue, happiness and relief. We made it!

Moral of this story is….always get travel insurance. It is worth it. Particularly if you are traveling with kids.

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Marseille, France

The first stop on our cruise was Marseille, France. Our original plan for this stop was to take a ferry to Chateau D’If and the other islands in the Frioul archipelago. Chateau D’If is the prison setting for the book The Count of Monte Cristo. The other islands in the archipelago are mainly wildlife preserves with some quiet beaches. Unfortunately, it was very windy the day that we were in port and we didn’t feel comfortable having the kiddos on a small boat in rougher water. Our back up plan was to take the little tourist train up to the Cathedral on the hill. It is supposed to have a stunning view of the city and harbor.

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There is the cathedral way up there.

However, when we arrived at the tourist train the line was extremely long and it hadn’t even opened for business yet. I guess everyone else had the same idea as us. So instead we walked along the harbor and had some snacks that we picked up at the local farmers market.

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We did get to see some nice architecture and scenery on the shuttle bus ride back.

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Not the most exciting way to start a cruise but it was nice to have a calm day to recover.

 

Villefranche-sur-Mer, France

Most cruise ships usually dock in port in Nice, France. However, since we were on the Disney Magic, which is Disney’s smallest ship, we were able to have the pleasure of dropping anchor in Villefranche-sur-Mer.

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This little harbor is just stunning. The views from the ship in the morning were breath-taking.

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We weren’t able to dock directly in town but instead we dropped anchor in the entrance to the bay and took tender boats into town.

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We didn’t realize how beautiful Villefranche was going to be. We thought it was just going to be a port that would be easy to hop on a train and get to A) the beaches of Nice or B) Monaco, with Monaco being our original plan. We could see a beach from the ship and we decide that was going to be our destination for the day.

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The beach is a bit of a walk from where the tender boats dock, maybe half a mile. You get to walk along the water and there are cafes along the way if you just want to sit and watch the water. When we got to the beach, there were maybe 20-30 people, who all appeared to be locals having a morning swim. The beach is sandy but there is a fair amount of rock. It wasn’t huge but it was perfect for us and the littles.

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This was E’s first time with her feet in the sea. We had visited a beach in the Netherlands during the tulip season but it was much too cold to get in the water (or in bathing suits for that matter). So we are considering this her first true beach experience.

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She absolutely loved it. The water was a bit cold.

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It didn’t seem to bother the kiddos.

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Plus look at the view.

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On the way back to the boat, we decided to stop and grab the kiddos an ice cream. We saw a black and orange food stand with an ice cream sign and decided to stop there. As we are waiting in line, we notice that they serve sandwiches. Gavin and I start debating if we should get some sandwiches as well. The guy in front of us turns around and says “do you guys like anchovies?”. For Gavin, the answer is a firm yes. For me, the answer is more of a not really but I’ll try new things. So we said yes and this really nice gentleman recommended the seafood sandwich. He was also visiting France and said this was his third time that week visiting the stand to get this particular sandwich. I have to be very honest here. This is a black and orange food stand that isn’t looking the nicest or even that well refrigerated but here is this guy highly recommending this seafood sandwich. Despite our initial hesitation, we ordered 2 seafood sandwiches with anchovies. The sandwiches were absolutely amazing. My mouth is watering right now as I write about them. This is one of the things I absolutely love about travel. Here we are in some town far from home when a nice stranger recommends we try something and it becomes a wonderful experience. Ok now I am hungry.

Villefranche also has a lovely little town center (though it is all up hill with lots of stairs). There are cute shops and cafes tucked in every corner. We had a nice look around before heading back to the ship

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I just cannot get over the beauty of this place.

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This last picture was taken on my iPhone from the back of the tender boat right before we departed for the cruise ship. Seriously, every angle of this town is stunning.

That is the start of our journey. Next up is Italy!

 

Our Disney Cruise- The Ship

I have been debating how to break down writing about our amazing Disney cruise. There is so much to tell you guys about! I think I will start by just talking about the ship and everything that goes with it.

We did a 7 night Mediterranean Cruise on the ship the Disney Magic. We left Barcelona, Spain and finished in Rome, Italy with stops in Marseille, Villefranche-sur-mer, Genoa, Livorno and Naples.

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Our Room

We opted to stay in a room with a porthole window. We were debating about getting a balcony and then we remembered we have 2 small children who love to climb. Soooo….we’ll take a room with a window only please. Plus look at the fun pictures.

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The rooms are pretty much like a typical hotel room except that the couch becomes a single bed and a second bed can drop down from the ceiling. The room hostess does this for you before bedtime each night so you don’t have to worry about managing any of this alone. The nice thing about this is that you have access to a “living room” during the day and then it converts just for sleeping at night. We needed the extra space for activities.

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Another nice feature of the room is that the bathroom is split. In one side is a toilet and sink with mirror and in the other side is the tub/shower combo and a sink with mirror. First, having a tub is so nice with the little ones. Second, it makes getting ready easier when there are 2 sink and mirror options.

There is a ton of storage in the room with dressers, closets and drawers everywhere. Our large suitcases were able to fit under the bed and E’s car seat fit in the closet.

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Overall, we felt very comfortable in the room as a family of four. We stayed on Deck 7, which was only 2 floors down from the pool deck (where lots of food and drink options were available) and only 2 floors up from the Kids club area. This made everything easy and convenient for us to reach and we could take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevators.

Dining Options

There were 3 main dining rooms on our ship: Animator’s Palate, Rapunzel’s Royal Table and Lumiere’s. On the Disney ships, you have an assigned table number and dinner-time but where you have dinner changes every night (there is an assigned rotation you get at check-in). You have the same servers every night (they rotate with you) but the scenery changes.

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Spoiler Alert!

At Animator’s Palate during one night of the cruise, you will start your dinner by drawing a character onto a provided piece of paper (with instructions). Then by the end of the meal they make your characters come to life and the characters dance and do different things while placed in iconic Disney movie scenes. Super fun! Though O didn’t make it to see his character come alive.

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At Rapunzel’s Royal Table, this is like a dinner with a show. We are all preparing for Rapunzel’s birthday party. The Snuggly Duckling characters are there and Rapunzel arrives. After they do their performance, Rapunzel comes around to each table to greet the guests. O was very shy when the Snuggly Duckling characters came around but they were so nice to him and he absolutely loved it!

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Lumiere’s is a great dining room with excellent food. The theme is based off of Beauty and the Beast, though this is the only dining room that could easily be on any ship. The Disney stuff is kept to a minimum and this dining room is more focused on the food (in my opinion).

Beyond the main dining rooms, there are lots of food options available. You will never go hungry. Disney is unique in that room service is included (though you do need to tip the person who delivers and some food items are extra, like alcohol, etc.). The buffet is Cabana’s at the back of the ship. They always had excellent options there, but we ate most of our dinners in the main dining rooms. There was also Daisy’s De-lites, which was a little food area next to the kids’ splash pad area. This was our go to place. They had quick and easy to grab breakfast items in the morning. They also always had fresh cut fruit, salads and sandwiches. We had watermelon every day after swimming.

Of course there was free ice cream

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Basically, there were a million options for food. There is a reason you gain weight on a cruise.

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Don’t worry it is only milk!

Entertainment

There was always some activity going on throughout the day on the ship. Every night you would get a “navigator” placed on your bed. It was a piece of paper that laid out the next day events. Everything was listed from kids’ club activities to movies to dance parties to the theater shows. Disney Cruise Line also has an app now that provides all of this information. We used the app but I also loved having that piece of paper in hand to highlight things and figure out what we wanted to do. I also thought it helped me visualize better how things would overlap.

Movies:

The Disney Magic does have a movie theater as most ships do these days. We were lucky in that The Incredibles 2 movie had just come out to theaters the day before our cruise departed. O loves the original Incredibles movie so it was an extra special treat that he got to go to his first move theater on “Mickey’s ship” (as he preferred to call it) and see Incredibles 2 only a few days after it came to theaters (and at no additional cost!)

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Gavin and I took turns with the kids (and with the assistance of the kids club and nursery) so that we could sneak in a couple of movies as well. In addition to the movie theater, the TV in the room had access to the “Disney Vault”, meaning you had access to watch any Disney movie you desired.

Character Meetings:

This is a Disney ship so of course there was plenty of opportunities to meet with some of our favorite characters.

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O was so excited to see the characters but didn’t know what to think about them once they got a little closer.

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Notice Gavin’s arm. Ha!

But by the end of the cruise, O was actively seeking out characters to make sure he could get a picture with them.

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E was more than happy to meet everyone

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The one exception to all of this was the Princess Gathering. All of the Princesses get together at one time and you get a chance to meet all of them in one go. Perfect! I signed us up and got our tickets (they are free) with our designated time. I get E all dressed up in her Snow White outfit. We get there and everything is going smooth. It is our turn to meet the Princesses. O becomes super shy and hides behind me and E starts screaming. Like top of her lungs, cannot be calmed, SCREAMING. We exited stage left and didn’t even attempt a photo with those poor startled Princesses. Ah the joys of littles!

Dance Parties!

Dance parties are our thing. Well Gav and I have no dance skills. I look something like Elaine from Seinfeld attempting to get my groove on. But for some unknown reason, our children LOVE to dance and we support this passion. So we hit up ALL the dance parties. It started with the Sail Away party.

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Through Pirate Night and including the Princess and Pirates Dance Party

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And even randomly dancing on the decks. They love to dance and the cruise ship was more than happy to give them plenty of opportunities.

Kids Club

Obviously, Disney Cruise Lines is very focused on families and particularly on kids. They do not disappoint with their kids club and nursery. The Kids Club is for kids 3 and older who are potty-trained. O was able to hang out here and he had a fantastic time. I think the fact that there was a Toy Story room with a slinky the dog slide helped. Kids Club was included free of charge. E stayed in the nursery but only during our dinner time. The meals took 1.5-2 hours due to the shows and it wasn’t possible for E to sit that long at a table. She seemed happy with the nursery. If we do another Disney cruise, we plan to wait until E is old enough to be in the Kids Club with O just for convenience and I think they will both be happier to be together.

Pools

There were several pools and splash areas on the ship. Children in swim diapers could only play in the small splash area and were not allowed in any of the pools (due to some health regulation). So E and I hung out in the little splash area while the boys enjoyed the rest of the pools.

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There was a small very shallow pool with a larger splash pad area. This is where O spent the majority of his time until he discovered that they play Disney Movies on the big screen over the other pool. Ha!! The ship provided swim vests/ flotation devices in all different sizes and that was very convenient for us. The pools were rather small but the only day they felt crowded was the day at sea.

There is also an adults only pool (in the adults only area). This pool looked very nice. It seemed larger than the other pools with 2 hot tubs, beautiful blue tile and nice lounge chairs surrounding it. At least that is what I could tell as I looked longingly at the pool while I quickly ushered my 2 kiddos through the area after realizing we had stumbled into the kid free zone with ours. There is a full bar at the pool and the Cove Café is tucked in this area as well.

Random Details

We didn’t bring our stroller with us and instead we brought the backpack carrier. However, we didn’t have a plan to get E asleep for her nap. So we ended up renting a stroller from the front desk at no extra cost. We used it to push E around Deck 4, which is the shuffle board/running track deck where it is quiet and usually no one around. It worked well.

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We did have to get the stroller right away on the first day as it is first come first serve. We also had to keep it in our room but it fit under the bed with our 2 suitcases just fine.

Ok that is it for the ship. Coming up next will be where we stopped and what we saw!!

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Berlin Part 2

On to part 2. We are going to start out with a tourist trap but it will get better!

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap. I’m sorry but there is no other way to describe it.

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If you get a little closer there is a booth with some old looking sand bags around it and you can get your picture taken with folks dressed up in WWII era uniforms. I honestly would say just skip this stop. However, if you don’t go toward Checkpoint Charlie then you won’t be able to hit our next stop.

Currywurst Museum

Only 2 blocks from Checkpoint Charlie is this adorable gem of a museum.

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We are big fans of currywurst, which is sliced sausage with this amazing sauce that is also sprinkled with curry powder and served with fries. It is served absolutely everywhere.

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Here’s your order now.

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The museum was small but very interactive. There were video games, gigantic pillow fries (to go with the ketchup dripping off the ceiling), and even a currywurst cart where you can pretend to serve up some sausages.

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At the end of the tour you can also get different currywurst samples at the food stand (different ticket options give you 1-3 samples at the end of your visit).

I don’t think this museum is for everyone but we absolutely had a blast during our visit. We even had to get a little currywurst souvenir.

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Ritter Sport

Once you leave the Currywurst Museum, I would recommend heading over to the Ritter Sport Café. It is about 6 blocks from the museum. You can hop on the U-bahn (underground train) and take it one stop down or you can just walk. I recommend the walk because you will get to walk right past the Deutscher Dome and the French Cathedral.

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When we got to Ritter Sport (popular German chocolate brand) the store and café were actually not very busy. This place is usually packed as it has become famous for the place to make your own chocolate bar. The kids were getting tired though so we opted to buy some prepackaged chocolate and head out. I did get in line to make my own bar but the wait was 30-45 minutes and that was with only 1 family (of 4) in line in front of me. I am assuming the wait is much longer on busy days so be prepared. I think the majority of the wait is for allowing the chocolate to set properly. In case you are wondering, I was going to order a dark chocolate bar with cornflakes and marshmallows.

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Computerspielemuseum (Computer Video Game Museum)

While looking up some fun spots to visit while in Berlin, I came across this not so well known museum. The moment I saw video game museum I knew we would have to go for my techie husband. It seriously did not disappoint. It had all the old school video games you could imagine (which you are allowed to play!!). They also had the games set up in little display areas that resembled 80s bedrooms or a 90s dorm room (you get the idea).

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The museum is not huge so easily managed in under a couple hours (unless you really get into a game). It is also only a block away from the U-bahn stop so getting there is a breeze.

Weberweise Station

After leaving the Computerspielemuseum, we headed back to the U-bahn station that is just a block away. That station is Weberweise. As we were standing on the platform we noticed a sign posted on the wall.

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The sign reads “On February 26, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, this U-Bahn station was hit by three bombs during a heavy air bombardment. Of the hundreds of people seeking shelter here on the platform or in the two stationary trains here, many more perished than the 108 victims who could later be identified.”

It was chilling to read. And here we stood with our little family in that very same spot.

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It just amazes me how much history there is all around us and we would have never noticed if we didn’t take the time to stop and read the sign.

Museum of Technology

We hadn’t originally planned to visit the Museum of Technology. However, E started feeling sick during our trip. The hard part when traveling is that if one kiddo is sick that means that other one has double the energy and that there is no where to escape in a hotel room. So the boys headed to the Museum of Technology, which was just a few blocks away from our hotel, and E and I stayed in the hotel room to give her some rest.

From the boys’ account of the museum, it was a really fun, interactive museum. It is absolutely massive in size and the boys spent 3.5 hours there, which might be a new 3 year-old attention span record.

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There is also a playground and beer garden (biergarten) at the Museum (German standard). Unfortunately for Gavin the biergarten was closed as it was Sunday. This for sure is a museum that you could spend a whole day enjoying.

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Overall we really enjoyed our time in Berlin. It was a fun, active and vibrant city. The public transportation was insanely easy even with a baby and a toddler in tow. Despite the long list of stuff we were able to visit during our trip, we feel like we have just scratched the surface of what this city has to offer. Berlin would be worth another trip.

Random Trip Info

If you are thinking about heading to Berlin here is some detail about how we stayed and traveled with 2 kids. First, we stayed at the Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz hotel. This hotel is very kid/family-friendly and has multiple room options that are accommodating to families (such as rooms with bunk-beds). This hotel is also 1 block away from a U-bahn stop.

Getting around Berlin is extremely easy. Their public transportation is excellent. We did purchase the Berlin Welcome Card, which allowed us unlimited public transportation and discounts at certain museum and tourist hotspots. We bought 2 adult tickets but the kids were free. For us we didn’t really save by using the card but we didn’t have to bother getting tickets every time we got on a bus or train. With the discounts to the museums we just broke even, which was fine with us. The convenience of the Welcome Card made it worth it to us. If you are going to be able to enjoy more of the museums then the Welcome Card is the way to go for sure (particularly if your kids are older). If you are just using it for public transport then there are better options.

English is very commonly spoken in Berlin. Everywhere you go things are posted in German and English. You will have absolutely no problem managing even if you don’t speak a word of German.

The whole city and public transport are stroller-friendly. Sometimes you have to do a little bit of searching for the elevators but they are there somewhere.

There is usually a grocery store in the shopping malls if you are looking for one. Staying close to an Aldi or Lidl (discount grocery store) is always a bonus. Remember that pharmacies are not usually open on Sundays but there is usually one open at the main train stations. You have to go to a pharmacy to get any kind of medicine like Tylenol, Advil, etc. We may have had to use this on our trip. Typically in Germany everything closes down on Sunday but I didn’t feel this way in Berlin. Lots of stores were closed but most museums and tourist attractions were open. Restaurants were probably 50/50 on being open.

Have fun and safe travels!

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