I freely admit that I’m a huge fan of Adventures by Disney. Maybe that’s because I had never traveled outside the US prior to my first ABD ‘adventure’ Discovery Down Under (Australia). From that first trip I was hooked. Since then, I’ve experienced dog sledding on a glacier in Alaska, lunch overlooking the ocean in Monte Carlo, walked the halls of Walt Disney Imagineering, watched the stars from Uluru in the center of Australia, made pizza in Sorrento, gone off-roading in Sedona, AZ and even had a private party after hours at Disneyland Paris. And I’ve done all of it under the Disney umbrella, accompanied on each trip by two ‘adventure guides’ that represent the cream of the crop among Disney cast members.
Adventures by Disney trips span the globe and while I’ve done many, there are many I’d still like to do. Of all the trips I’ve experienced with them, the Cities of Knights and Lights trip remains one of my all time favorites (so much so, I’ve done it twice).
Two of the most historic cities in Europe take center stage for this month’s “Adventure of the Month” – Adventures by Disney’s Cities of Knights and Lights. Your tour begins in London – a city where modern architecture sits side by side with buildings that are more than 500 years old. Any street you venture down in London feels like a walk through living history.
Your 2 day tour of London will take you to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace as well as a chance to ride the London Eye. (Travelers Note: a few pre-nights in London at the start of the trip is a good idea. In fact, pre-nights on any international trip is something I highly recommend. Getting adjusted to jet lag takes a few days, and you don’t want that ‘feeling’ on the start of your ABD adventure. )
As with all ABD trips, you have two ‘guides’ who remain with you from start to finish, but in each location you also have a local guide (also referred to as ‘step-on’ guides – meaning they step on the bus, not that you should step on the guides). For both my experiences on this trip, our local guide in London (and Foxhills) was Stephen – an amazing man with knowledge of British history that will astound you. Wherever we went, Stephen drew a crowd when he would stop to explain something to our group. At the Tower of London, our group of 25 became a group of 100 when Stephen started talking about the history of the place. He’s mesmerizing and the best local guide I’ve experienced on any ABD. That being said, I’ve found that all the local guides ABD uses add so much to the experience.
From London, you head to the Foxhills, a 400-acre resort and country club in Surrey. You can just feel the history of this elegant English manor as you stroll the grounds. You’re also painfully aware that you’re probably not as elegant or refined as the surroundings – at least I was. Being from New Jersey, my proclamation of “Geez, this place is nice” upon entering was probably not in good form.
While in Foxhills you will visit Stonehenge as well as Windsor Castle. Here’s a little known fact that even your guide probably won’t know. The estate currently owned by Elton John is located not far from Windsor Castle and was previously owned by the physician to the Prince of Wales. There is a secret tunnel that runs between Windsor Castle and Elton John’s house; although I’m sure I would love to tell you what the experience was like, but I was too busy being sick with a stomach virus that day. Oh, and a note on getting sick in England. Apparently, if you don’t have a doctor in England and it’s not a real emergency (like a stomach virus), they won’t prescribe anything for you. However, if you are going to get sick on a trip abroad, best to do it with Disney. One of our guides stayed back the day our group toured Stonehenge to take me to the Dr. and make sure I was all right. If you want to experience Disney service at its finest, you can’t do better than Adventures by Disney. (Travelers Note: Always a good idea to travel with a little ‘pharmacy’ for emergencies. Also remember, if you bring anything prescription when you travel (especially internationally) make sure it’s in the original prescription bottle WITH YOUR NAME ON IT. If you’re stopped at customs and are in possession of controlled substances that are not prescribed for you, they will confiscate them.)
From Foxhills, you make your way to Paris via the Chunnel. St. Pancras station is also where platform 9 ¾ can be found if you’re a fan of Harry Potter. The guides always give folks the option of heading over there if you’re interested. Your trip to Paris is a little more than 2 hours, and if you have a stomach virus during the trip, I feel your pain. Note to the wise – use the bathroom at St. Pancras before you board. If it’s your first time to Paris, be prepared to be blown away by the beauty of this city.
I had a bad attitude going to Paris for the first time. We hear all about how rude the French are, and I grew up with a father who fought in Europe during WWII and was in Paris the day the war ended. He never had nice things to say about the French. Imagine my surprise when pretty much everyone I encountered was polite and friendly. What they don’t like is when you walk into their store/shop/place of business, don’t say hello (bonjour) or make the slightest effort to speak their language (like asking in French if they speak English). Learn some phrases in French before you go. There are a TON of apps for both the iPhone and Android devices that will do a better than decent job at translating. Make the effort, the French are proud of their language, culture and country. Just show some respect, and the respect will be returned. No one likes ugly Americans.
The sites you’ll see in Paris are amazing. From the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame you really get a good look at the highlights in this stunning city. The tour of the Louvre Museum is something everyone should experience at least once – especially the chance to see the Mona Lisa – just don’t be surprised when you say “I had no idea it was so small.” Also, when you visit the Mona Lisa be prepared to be crushed by 10,000 tourists all trying to get close enough to see it. Even still, it was worth it to lay eyes on a masterpiece.
You also have the option of visiting Versailles on this trip – which looks like it was decorated by the love child of Liberace and Donald Trump. On my first Knights and Lights trip, I did this excursion and was disappointed. The second time, we took the day to explore Paris on our own, which was (for me) a much better way to spend that day.
Your farewell dinner for the trip is held at Laduree – a small restaurant and bakery that is opened after hours exclusively for ABD. The food here is amazing, and so are the macarons – said to be the best in Paris, and while I haven’t tried all the macarons in Paris, I’m inclined to agree that these are hard to beat. You can also buy some of the amazing Laduree candles here – but be warned, these are not Yankee Candles and the price reflects that. The average price is 50 euros (or about $70 US depending on the exchange rate). That being said, they are the best candles you’ll ever burn, so if you’re a candle freak like me, pick up a few.
Many Disney fans take the opportunity of hitting Disneyland Paris after their adventure concludes. This is something I highly recommend, but I should also offer a word of caution – DLP is EXPENSIVE. If you choose to stay at the Disneyland Paris hotel, for example (which I would recommend as the others are not very good). Even in the slowest season, expect three nights (with tickets) to set you back $3k – roughly $1,000 per night for two adults. Those packages include breakfast (which was a staggering $70US per person if you were paying a la carte). DLP is expensive, but if you can do it, I HIGHLY recommend it. You can see why this park cost so much money – visually stunning with details like nothing we have here in the states. Without question, this is one of the more popular ABD trips offered and for good reason. It’s an amazing experience, and one I’ve done twice and would gladly do again. If you’d like more information on this experience, talk to Kevin Klose at Dreams Unlimited Travel.
**Disclosure – Pete Werner is the owner of the DIS and co-owner of Dreams Unlimited Travel.
Category: Adventures by Disney