European travel made a huge comeback this summer, and my family was one of literally millions to venture across the pond. While we had bounced around LOTS of different destinations to explore, we all agreed that the Disney Cruise Line adventure to Spain, Portugal, France, and England was the sailing for us! The toughest part of cruising is finding the perfect itinerary that also fits into your busy schedule (that’s where a travel advisor can become very helpful).
While we were on an amazing ship, the ship was not the focus of our vacation this time (plus we have sailed on Disney Dream three times now)! We really used the ship to give us a home port, and to give our son with Down syndrome a bit of consistency (and a kids club)to go home to after our adventures! The other kids also enjoyed meeting with kids their ages from all over the world while onboard.
Today I have the honor of telling you a bit about this amazing vacation, what made it fabulous, and why I think cruising is a great way to give your family their first taste of Europe.
After an overnight flight from Atlanta, we arrived in Barcelona and hit the ground running. We initially stopped at the hotel to drop our luggage, and then our private tour guide picked us up! There is no better way to push through jet lag than forcing yourself on the current time zone. By working with a private tour guide, we were able to control the pace of our tour a bit as well, which is very helpful when traveling with a family member that may go a different speed. We were also able to spend some time at a playground to give Blake something just for him! Our tour was really focused on the highlights of the city, so we were able to get a lay of the land and ensure we were able to visit Sagrada Familia, which is a must do each time you visit since it’s still being built! My oldest has been studying Spanish for a few years, so it was really fun for her to see and feel the Catalan culture here that she has studied. Since we used our two days in Barcelona as a way to adjust to the time, we definitely found ourselves eating dinner much earlier than the locals, so even though we had dinner reservations, I’m not sure we really needed them.
Barcelona also operates as the busiest port in the Mediterranean, so the port was very efficient. It was easy to get in and out, and we will absolutely sail from here again! Once we boarded the ship, we had a day and a half at sea, which was an amazing way to relax after the hectic travel days. Who knew you could tour hard and relax all in the same vacation!
After our time at sea, we found ourselves docking in Cadiz, Spain. This is a really neat city in the South of Spain. The locals were so excited to have a Disney Ship in port. In fact, this was a theme throughout our travels. Many of the cities/guides were used to adult sailings, so having so many families pour into their cities was really fun for a lot of them. Although we would have loved some time in Cadiz, we instead booked another private tour that took us into Seville, Spain.
The driver and the guide picked us up from the port and drove us an hour or so to the city of Seville. Honestly, it may be my favorite city I have ever toured. The history and the architecture were fabulous! So much exploration came from the landlocked city of Seville due to the river. The influence in the architecture from Romans and the Muslims is so beautifully integrated. My favorite part of the day was the prearranged birthday celebration for my oldest! She turned 15 on this day and our guide had a small café ready with candles to sign her “feliz cumpleaños” in Castilian Spanish. It’s definitely a memory that will stick with all of us!
Straight of Gibraltar
I am just going to let pictures speak for this, but traveling from the Mediterranean Sea with Africa on one side and Europe on the other, was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The opportunity to do this during sunset was the icing on the cake. I can honestly say it was the most gorgeous sunset I have ever experienced.
After a full day tour in Seville, we decided to take it a bit easier in Lisbon and gave ourselves a bit more down time to explore on our own. I did have a two hour tuk tuk tour scheduled though just to give us some additional information on the layout of the city and some history. On our own, we adventured through the streets, ate, and visited the oldest operating bookstore in the world, which was a highlight for the book lovers in my family. We also managed to purchase some book in English and one in Portuguese because why not?!?
Comparing Vigo to the other cities we visited in Spain is similar to comparing Charleston to Michigan. The natural beauty is completely different as is the architecture. Vigo is a fisherman and car manufacturing city, so the port was surrounded by vehicle transport ships and fishing boats. Today we ventured to the Minho River to see Spain and Portugal on either side. We got to see part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, so that is really neat as well! Overall, we all loved exploring the Galician countryside!
LaHavre, France (Disneyland Paris)
We once again had a day at sea, which was perfectly timed again! We were able to get packed, rested, and organized before we headed out for our day in France! In all transparency, I do NOT recommend what we did here as we spent as much time in the bus as we did in Disneyland Paris. My family was happy to check the European Disney box though, so it wasn’t all bad. If you look at where LeHavre is located on a map though, please note that it is NOT close to Paris. If you are to book this sailing with me, I will highly recommend an excursion to Normandy instead, or possibly just enjoy the town of LeHavre.
This was not my first time to Disneyland Paris, but it has been a VERY long time, so it all felt new again! Since our day was short, and we had a laundry list of what we wanted to see and do, we did purchase the Premier Access Pass in order to not have to wait in lines (this was necessary to do both parks in our short time frame). We were able to see and do all we wanted (except It’s a Small World because it wasn’t running when we needed it to be). As everyone will tell you, Big Thunder Mountain is superior in Paris…and Space Mountain is quite frightening!
The next day we disembarked in Southampton, England. Instead of just taking a transfer to our hotel, I opted to book us an adventure instead (of course I did). We visited the cathedral in Canterbury, and saw the most beautiful English countryside. We visited Stonehenge on the busiest day of the year in the pouring rain, and we got to see Windsor Castle. While none of these experiences were super in-depth, it was so much better than just sitting in a bus going to a hotel.
We also spent a day or so in London to end our adventure in one of my favorite cities! We did this on our own schedule and only booked a hop on hop off. I assumed we would be “toured out”, and I was right. We were able to spend a lot of time just hanging out and playing in Hyde Park, which felt amazing! Of course we were able to eat some fish and chips, and we got in some shopping as well!
Traveling to Europe in the summer definitely leaves for some busy sites and crowded streets, but when raising a family, it’s the time when many of us are able to travel together. By splitting up the types of tours we did with down time on the ship, it truly was a wonderful way to vacation and spend time together. It was also very rewarding for us as parents to watch lightbulbs go off as we traveled through places the kids have learned about in school, and as they started to piece together history. I truly believe that you can learn so very much through travel, and giving our children these opportunities is one of the highlights of my adventure through this parenthood thing :)