Help me go on vacation this fall!
February 25, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

In November, I will be flying to Paris, then going to Barcelona and taking a cruise from there to New Orleans with my husband and our 12 month old girl and possibly two other adults. What are your tips for a successful vacation with a young child?

Should i bring her car seat and stroller? If so, should i buy a plane ticket for her or hold her during the flight? How do i keep her happy on the plane?

We are planning to visit Disneyland Paris, but what else should we see in or near Paris to Barcelona?

How should we get from Paris to Barcelona?

How do we pack and prepare for a two week cruise?

Any other advice you have is welcomed!
posted by Night_owl to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
For the cruise, I would definitely check-in with the gang at Cruise Critic. They know all the tricks. You might even find some folks going on the same cruise!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:37 PM on February 25, 2013

How long do you have between arriving in Paris and cruising out of Barcelona?

To get between them: you can catch a direct train from Paris to Barcelona - it's more expensive than flying (probably), but I think is more relaxing and enjoyable than a flight and you get to see a little scenery (random site to start looking for info: rail europe, many others around) - it's about 7 hours end to end, or you can take an overnight trip of 12 hours.

I suspect the train trip would be even more enticing with the kid, with more opportunity to walk into a different carriage/up to the restaurant/etc and more distracting scenery for her than on a plane.
posted by jacalata at 4:57 PM on February 25, 2013

I've been traveling with my 3 kids since they were a few months old, I can tell you a few things I've learned:

First and foremost, the safest way for a baby to travel on a plane is in their strapped-in car seat. You can buy an airplane-only harness (really easy to pack), but if you're going to be car travelling, then you're better off bringing a car seat as well as a stroller. So yes, buy her a ticket.

Easiest of all would be the combo car seat-stroller. Then you have the car seat and stroller all together. I was hesitant to get one (ugh...another baby item) but over the years it turned out to be invaluable.

If possible, try to arrange for a flight during her typical sleeping time. If you can't manage that, be prepared to do a lot of walking up and down the aisle and snacks.

Since she'll be about one year old, I would do whatever I wanted to do while traveling. And bear in mind that she won't be allowed on a LOT of rides at Disneyland.

Personally, I'd fly from Paris to Barcelona just because the train ride is a little over 13 hours, and that could be rough with a baby who's to young to care about the scenery.

As far as packing goes, I'd pack clothes that can be handwashed and dry quickly and wear them over and over. One bag each.

And have a separate carry on bag for the baby filled with more diapers, snacks, toys, wipes, plastic bags, and clothes than you think you'll need. You'll be glad you did.

And have fun!
posted by kinetic at 5:02 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree about flying to Barcelona instead of taking the train. Such a young child will quickly get bored with "scenery" and walking up and down the aisles. Have you taken any lengthy trips with your child before? I suggest doing a practice run.
posted by Dansaman at 7:55 PM on February 25, 2013

Yeah, at that age, they aren't getting much out of the sights, per se -- think more about what they enjoy at home and then tend in those directions rather than official tourist destiations. A new walker might just love to toddle around in a big plaza. A less mobile kid might get a thrill out of the same thing with a push toy for balance (our kid pushed her push toy through more sidewalks and plazas than you can imagine). Otherwise, the usual mix of toys to handle, things to look at, passive wandering in stroller and carrier. Maybe ask at hotels for playgrounds, so you can build in a little swing time or slide clamber between coffee shops and museums. And be sure to honor whatever nap schedule she's used to, as that will make everything easier.

As for a cruise, in some ways it's easier because everything is mostly contained, and the cruise itself, if designed for families, will have some entertainments appropriate for a little kid. But otherwise, again, imagine how you would pass two weeks stuck inside your house (big heap of books, favorite toys, a few new things as surprises) and then leaven that image with some swim time. That's about it, you dont' actually get any down time from parenting on vacations like this.

I don't know that I'd bother to fly from Paris to Barcelona -- being able to move around on a train is worth a lot, as well as not being strapped in, and you can have toys on the tables, etc. European trains are good.

The flight over is usually the scariest part to imagine, but at least you don't also need new surprises for the return trip. Try to do a lot with a little -- that is, make the barf bag into a puppet, get all the fun possible from putting the shade up and down, etc. We had the pitcher from a plastic teaset (with lid) and filled it with some rubbery monkey finger puppets, and the combination of games (Dad makes a puppet show! kid puts monkeys in and out of pitcher, kid makes a game of walking monkeys around tray, in and out more, etc.) stretched for a big part of the trip (at 14 months, I think). Also be sure that you have several books and toys that have never been seen (hidden under other stuff in your diaper bag), as those will perk up flagging enthusiasm every few hours. If you're lucky, they'll sleep some; if not, it's an epic marathon of parental entertaining (Take shifts!) but at least they're likely to sleep when night (or New Nap Time) arrives!

I applaud your ambitions. Have fun!
posted by acm at 7:43 AM on February 26, 2013

Oh, and also, pack a full change of clothes for the plane. Nothing worse than a diaper blow-out and you're stuck with paper towels to sit on after that...
posted by acm at 7:44 AM on February 26, 2013

I can help!

First of all, there is a Marriott Vacation Club outside of Paris. I would recommend all of you get a Townhouse and make that your home base. It has a kitchen, living area, separate bedrooms and laundry. They have a shuttle to Paris Disneyland AND the RER to get into Paris.

Bring your stroller and car seat. Buy the baby a seat on the plane. You may even want to discuss Dramamine Jr, to help her with nausea and to help her sleep. Trying to sleep with a squirmy toddler/baby is my idea of a nightmare! Bring lots of snacks for her, since she may get hungry between food service. Also a change or three of clothes, lots and lots of diapers, wipes etc.

One thing you can do is to get 8 little toys for her to unwrap and play with (or one per hour of flight time). This will keep her occupied with new things, and give her something to look forward to.

Now might be the time to invest in a tablet, for movies, angry birds and whatever other baby entertaining properties it may have.

You can fly from Paris to Barcelona. RyanAir is a low cost European Airline. They have a one way flight for €57.48 for adults and €28.74 for the baby. It's also smaller airports, so that might be much better than a train!

As for the cruise. Pack one week's worth of clothing. They have deals where they'll wash all the clothes you can cram into a paper bag for X, about half way through the week. Just plan on this. If you can do laundry throughout your vacation, you'll be so much ahead of the game it isn't even funny.

Also, bring a little inflatable pool for your little one. I'm assuming she's still in diapers and you can't bring her into the pool. You can bring her little pool with you on the cruise, and fill it up with pool water. She'll get to play, everyone's happy.

There are lots of children's parks in Paris, so check them out. There are tons of museums that can be fun for kids, I think she may like the Centre Georges Pompideau, modern art appeals to kids. Check out the City Pass Paris for deals and ideas.

In Barcelona take the Gaudi tour, there's a fun park at the end of it where she can run around with other kids.

Don't stress, have a wonderful time and remember, nearly everything washes!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on February 26, 2013

I say leave the carseat at home. Our experience has been that at this age children are most easily comforted on a plane if in one of the parents' lap. But you know your kid best – each one is different!

I would also leave your regular stroller at home. North American strollers tend to be really huge and will hamper your ability to get around Paris and Barcelona IMO. Your child should be old enough for a small, sturdy, and light umbrella stroller. It will make airline travel much easier as well. Another good option can be a kid carrier backpack, if your little one is still light enough. They get to see a lot more from high up.

I would only take the train from Paris to Barcelona if you're doing it in an overnight sleeper. The trip is probably about 10–12 hrs, so during the day your kid would probably get squirly.

In Barcelona, you can check out the beautiful Parque de la Ciudadela and the Barcelona Zoo, which is right next door.
posted by Kabanos at 3:36 PM on February 26, 2013

I just wanted to pop back in because that's two people now who've said that the train trip from Paris to Barcelona is 12 hours long. When I said it is 7 hours, that's because I went and looked up booking tickets on a random date, and the train leaves Paris Gare de Lyon at 7.15am and arrives in Barcelona Sants Estacion at 2pm with a train change at 1pm at the border (or depart Paris at 2pm and arrive Barcelona at 9pm). There certainly are longer/slower trips, such as the 12 hour overnight train (10pm to 10am), but 10 hours is not the minimum trip.
posted by jacalata at 4:19 PM on February 26, 2013

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