James and Ellen Zimmerman and their three daughters: Jocelyn (18), Michaela (15) and Elise (13). All the girls attend Western Academy of Beijing (WAB).
The Zimmermans planned the trip themselves using Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet. The vacation was in honor of Jocelyn’s high school graduation; she had written a historical investigation on Marie Antoinette for school. The family flew with British Airways from Beijing to Paris via London. They booked an apartment in Paris for one week through Paris Perfect (www.parisperfect.com), then rented a car through Sixt (www.sixt.com) and drove to Riquewihr, a commune in Alsace close to the German-French border. They stayed at an inn called Les Remparts de Riquewihr (i-love-riquewihr.com) for six nights.
The flight to Paris cost about USD 1,300 per person for a one-way trip; the Zimmermans returned to the US for the summer after the trip. The apartment in Paris cost approximately EUR 2,850 for one week, while the one in Riquewihr totaled around EUR 1,370 for six nights. Taxes included, the car rental came up to just under EUR 600 for one week; however, the family had to pay a little extra for not returning the car to Paris.
The family didn’t do much shopping because of limited luggage space, but they did pick up a few souvenirs, such as perfume from Paris and kitchen textiles from Alsace. They ate out only one meal per day (usually lunch) and saved money by staying in apartments and shopping in local grocery stores.
The Best Part
Every meal in Paris was a delight, from mint tea on Île Saint-Louis to bread rolls at Café de Marly, pastries at Angelina’s, and almond croissants at Paul’s. The Zimmermans enjoyed baguettes, preserves, yogurt, seasonal vegetables, cheeses, and more. In addition, the waiter at Café de Marly was “simply fantastic.” When the family couldn’t understand the mostly French menu, he proceeded to translate it into English for them item by item.
The Worst Part
It was hard to find something to dislike about the trip. The most annoying incident was when the Zimmermans joined an afternoon boat tour in Strasbourg. By the time they arrived, there were already many people waiting in line, including a school group. The family asked if they could board before them so they could sit together, but the group refused. As a result, Ellen and Michaela had to sit among students who were clearly not interested in the boat tour for the duration of the 90-minute cruise.
The family almost didn’t go to Versailles after reading a recent review on Trip Advisor about how overcrowded the palace was. However, this was the one place that Jocelyn really wanted to visit, so they bit the bullet and went on a Wednesday, their last day in Paris. The Zimmermans arrived early and were pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as they thought it’d be. While visiting Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, Ellen and Jocelyn saw the door through which she escaped to the king’s bedroom when the peasants stormed the palace. Having read a book about Marie Antoinette before the trip, the scene made history “come alive” for Ellen in a way that a palace had never done before.
Paris is a very family-friendly city with lots of great places to visit: museums, palaces, pastry shops, shops, perfume boutiques, and more. For younger children, there are parks, natural history museums, and Disneyland Paris. Best of all, visitors under age 18 have free access to most of the city’s museums. (Just make sure to take student IDs as proof.) Communication was not a problem in Paris, but proved to be more difficult in Alsace. That being said, most restaurants had both English and French menus. The only real challenge is finding a rental apartment with elevators for families with younger children; many of the older buildings aren’t equipped with this modern convenience.
Book rental apartments months in advance, especially if you have special requirements. In the Zimmermans’ case, two bathrooms for their three teenaged daughters was a must.
Pre-book tickets online. When the family arrived at the Louvre 15 minutes before the museum opened, the queue for visitors without tickets was already very long. In addition, plan and prioritize your visit; it’s impossible to see the Louvre in one day. You can look online for more info and pick up maps at the information desk under the Pyramid.
Visit popular cafes like Café de Marly during off-hours, in the morning and after lunch. Otherwise, you’re looking at a long lineup.
Go to Versailles early in the day to avoid the crowds. To save time, the Zimmermans paid a small fee to skip two queues at the
entrance. Wear comfortable shoes, take your time, and grab a free audio guide for the tour. Strollers are not recommended. There’s not much food or drink available around the palace, but there’s a cafe called Angelina within Versailles.
The girls ended up packing too light. Paris in June can be cool and cloudy, so Ellen and James had to buy some additional clothes for them.
Enjoy yourself; Paris is not the city for penny-pinching. That being said, museums and public transit are very affordable.