My friends and I recently had the opportunity to take part in Trafalgar’s Magic & Make Believe Family Experience this past summer, which is a 9 day program focusing on London and Paris. This tour is ideal for families who want to experience the main sights these two royal cities have to offer with their young ones during a short time frame.
My friends and I were met by a Trafalgar representative at the London Heathrow Airport and transferred to our centrally located hotel, the Thistle Marble Arch. If first impressions mean anything nowadays, I can tell you that this hotel property had all the qualities of a distinguished regal hotel accommodation. Located right off the main shopping strip of Oxford Street, the Thistle Marble Arch Hotel was within a few minutes’ walk to Hyde Park where we visited Speaker’s Corner and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial fountain. A great benefit of this hotel was its proximity to the Marble Arch tube station which we took to get just about anywhere we wanted to be within London.
After getting settled and calming my two god daughters down a bit we decided to take the tube to the Tower of London as an excursion we booked apart from the main tour. It was an easy subway ride with just one connection. When we had exited the tube station we were informed that the Tour de France was actually going to be passing by the Tower that day so that was a very unexpected yet pleasant surprise. Visiting the Tower of London was a highlight that day. No trip to London would be complete without taking a Yeoman Warders tour to get a full experience of how life must have been back in the times of medieval London. While I could see the history coming alive in my god daughters eyes it was a visit to the Crown Jewels that really impressed them the most. To see so many jewels and items of royal signifance really made an impact on them. After our visit we headed back to the hotel via the tube to meet our fellow travelers on this magical journey. We had a special dinner at Richoux in Knightsbridge (across the street from the world famous Harrods Department Store). It was a great first day and evening for my friends and I and only the beginning of more to come.
Our second day started with a large breakfast in the hotel restaurant called Delicacy at Thistle Marble Arch. Breakfast consisted of made to order eggs, ham, bacon, croissants and other pastries with various juices and coffee. After breakfast we took the included sightseeing tour of London which took us to Trafalgar Square, the West End & the Royal Albert Concert Hall among other sites. We had a chance to visit the museum at the Royal Mews where we had the opportunity to see some of The Queen’s horses, coaches and carriages. After our visit it was onward to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony. This is a beautiful pageant of music, color and tradition which gives London that special “something” that you just can’t find in another major city. The crowds were a bit overwhelming so we spent no more than half an hour before we decided to walk to Westminster Abbey on our own. The tour of Westminster Abbey was not included in our travel program which was fine. One benefit of taking a planed Independent Tour is that you have the best of both worlds available to you. First class centrally located hotels booked on your behalf with breakfast daily, half day guided sightseeing and the services of a tour director. Then you can do what you want ever you wish to do during the down time. Westminster Abbey is an impressive site without a doubt. Centuries and centuries of history right in front of your eyes. As I explained to my god daughters the relative small amount of British history that I know, their eyes lit up when they got to visit the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I and her half sister the notorious Mary I aka “Bloody Mary”. We past the tombs of William and Mary, Anne of Cleves and Mary, Queen of Scots. As well as those of Charles Darwin, Neville Chamberlain and Sir Isaac Newton.
Trafalgar took us on an excursion to the historic town of Windsor and the castle the following day. This was one of the children’s most favorite sites due in no small part to Queen Mary’s Doll’s House. But we also had ample time to visit the State Apartments which was so massive and impressive you never would’ve known a fire had damaged / destroyed over 100 rooms back in November 1992. It was actually due to the fire that The Queen decided to open up the castle to paying tourists to help fund the cost of the refurbishment. This was so successful that the Royal Family decided to allow public access to Buckingham Palace as well as other royal palaces throughout the years. No visit to Windsor Castle is complete without paying your respects to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and King George VI who never wanted to become King but we all know how that story went. Princess Margaret is also interred with her parents. Another tomb of significance is that of King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour. We also had the opportunity to view the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the castle as well. While there were a lot of people the number was still much less than that those at Buckingham Palace. When we returned back to London proper we had free time to spend on our own. We visited Kensington Palace (former home to Princess Diana and current home to her children Prince William his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and his brother Prince Henry (aka Prince Harry). The palace had 3 exhibitions running. One was called the Glorious Georges to commemorate the reigns of King George I, George II, George III and George IV 300 years ago. This exhibit was also running in other palaces throughout London. The second exhibit featured the fashions from HM Queen Elizabeth II to Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales. The following day was a free day for the group so we decided to visit Hampton Court where we once again had the opportunity to experience the Glorious Georges experience. This was yet another highlight on this trip to London because the children had a chance to interact with costumed interpreters posing as King Henry VIII, Catherine Howard and Thomas Culpeper which focused on the Tudor age. And they also had the opportunity to interact with King George I, George II and George III as well (that family had major issues). Anyways to see the history come to life and the way the children interacted with it all was priceless. This was our last night in London so we decided it would be the perfect time to visit the London Eye for a bird’s eye view of this historical, magical city. Feeling a little bit like Peter Pan, being able to see London from above the clouds was a great way to end our stay to this magical and historical city which offers so much to see and do for any visitor.
Day number 7 was just as exciting for us all. This was the day that we were going to take the Eurostar from London to Paris. The transfer from the hotel to London St. Pancras was very on point however the downside of this day was the rain and having to day good bye to our London guides who told us that the skies were crying seeing use leave the city. The guides made sure our luggage was transferred to the proper train and walked with us inside to ensure that we made it through security without any issues. The train ride was so slick, smooth and fast (less than 2 1/2 hours) I unfortunately fell asleep and missed the entire journey. When I woke up we were in the City of Lights Paris , with all the glamour and seduction that only this city can offer. We met our new Trafalgar guides who greeted us with freshly backed croissants on the train platform. Once our luggage was accounted for we were taken to your new home for the next 3 nights, the Holiday Inn Opera Grand Boulevard. This hotel was smaller than the Thistle Marble Arch however it was quaint and had a special charm of its own with the sidewalk cafes all around us, the Grand Boulevard metro stop right in front of the main entrance and within walking distance to the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier for those Phantom of the Opera lovers) and the Galeries Lafayette (my credit cards are still recovering). We were given an orientation upon arrival at the hotel and offered the opportunity to purchase optional excursions if we wanted. I should note that more optional excursions were offered in Paris than in London due to the language barrier most travelers find intimating here. That night was a leisure night for my friends and I as we just took in the vibe of this city from a sidewalk cafe while watching the World Cup game.
The following morning after breakfast we had a sightseeing tour which included the Champs Elysees, Arc de Triomphe, a guided visit to Notre Dame Cathedral and admission to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. Being that we booked a tour we had VIP admission to the Eiffel Tower and bypassed the hours long line. The view from the top level was extremely majestic and we were all grateful to have such an experience together as a family. In the late afternoon we took a ride along the River Seine onboard a glasstopped boat which offered us a view of Paris like no other. That evening we had a very special dinner with the rest of our tour group in the shadows of the Basilica of SacreCoeur located on the summit of Montmartre which is a very bohemian district in Paris famous for artists of all walks of life. Our dinner was held at the very famous and historic La Bonne Franquette restaurant which entertained the likes of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and Paul Cezanne to name a few. It was my first introduction to Escargots (which I gladly passed on) and other French delicacies. After dinner we went back to the hotel to rest and relax after a fun packed day.
Day 9 was our last day in Paris and a busy one as well since it was Bastille Day. We said our goodbyes to new friends however the magic of Paris was proved to be too powerful for us to leave on their national holiday. We spent an additional 2 post nights in Paris to enjoy the parade along the Champ Elysees and the evening concert & fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. The following day took us to the Palace of Versailles which no one should miss when visiting Paris. Consider visiting for the full day if you want to experience it all. While the Hall of Mirrors is jaw dropping the palace gardens and fountains will leave such a lasting impression you’ll wish you were in the court of King Louis XIV.
Trafalgar’s Magic & Make Believe tour lives up to its name. So much magic we all believe we’ll take another Trafalgar tour in our near future.