Paris: Le Plan et Le Pass

My Paris Museum Passes arrived this weekend via DHL.  This was yet another milestone in our Paris planning process.  I’m so excited to have them, along with our Eiffel Tower tickets.  It makes the trip feel so much more real!

I’m a planner, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  We only have three days in Paris, and I don’t want to spend time waiting in lines if I don’t have to.  During my research, I continually came across suggestions to buy a Paris Museum Pass.    If you go to the website (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/) you will find all of the locations for which the pass is valid.  Also, you can find the locations where you can purchase the pass in Paris (and other locations in Europe).  My primary focus was convenience, so I didn’t want to have to find a place to buy a pass.  I chose to pre-purchase the passes and have them sent to my home. Because of the overseas shipping, this was a pricier option, but they arrived safely (we had to sign for them) and very quickly (ordered and received within a week).  Now I have them, and I don’t have to waste time upon arrival!

Before purchasing the passes, I had to decide if they would be worth the price tag.  My research showed that I did NOT need to purchase the passes for my kids.  Anyone under the age of 18 can enter most Parisian museums for free (and all of the museums I was interested in).  EU citizens have an even broader age range.  There are a couple of locations (Les Invalides for example), where I will need to queue up to get a free ticket for my girls.

In true planning-addict form, I mapped out my three days in Paris and priced out the cost of purchasing the pass vs. purchasing individual tickets.  The Museum Pass website (above) actually helps you do this, which is, of course a marketing ploy (but quite effective).  The pass does not come in a 3-day option…just 2-day and 4-day options.  This presented a bit of a wrinkle.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I always try to avoid over-scheduling our days and ensure that I prioritize sightseeing and remain flexible in moving things around (or chopping them from the list).  Just based on my knowledge of Paris (I’ve been several times) and my family’s limited tolerance for museums (not inherited from me), here are our priorities:

  • The Louvre.  This is an obvious visit, but I plan to have us enter in the evening because I read that the crowds are less intense (a relative term).  You can check the hours on the website.  Given our schedule, we will go on Friday evening (open until 9:45pm).
  • Musee D’Orsay.  Another obvious choice.  I also read that it was best to go in the late afternoon, but the only day they have later hours is on Thursday.  This won’t work with our schedule.  So we will brave the daytime crowd.
  • Notre Dame.  Some portions supposedly require a free child’s ticket.  We want to visit the cathedral, climb the 400+ stairs to the top and visit the catacombs.  I need to do more research to see if all of that is one ticket or multiple tickets.
  • Sainte Chappelle.  It is very close to our hotel and to Notre Dame, so I plan to include it with our Ile de la Cite walk.
  • Arc de Triomphe.  Getting a good view is always on my list!
  • Centre Pompidou.  My family is not big into modern art.  This is close to our hotel and the exterior and elevators are fun.  We may not go into the actual museum (yes, such philistines, I know).
  • L’Orangerie.  This is near the Louvre and because we have passes we may “pop” in. They have a beautiful collection of famous Monets.
  • Les Invalides.  This is part of the military museum.  This was not originally on my list, but I think that my husband would like it, and I read that they have an excellent audio tour for kids with a scavenger hunt of different kinds of weapons.  Will this be too much of a “boy thing?”  I don’t know, but I will report back.  Also, seeing Napolean’s tomb is kind of cool.

All of these locations (and many more) accept Paris Museum Pass.  Once I organized all of these items in logical groups and considered our Eiffel Tower visit as well, I realized that I didn’t want to commit to a 2-day pass because the days have to be consecutive, and I could not imagine cramming all those museums into two days.  But when I priced out all of these visits vs. the 4-day pass, I determined that purchasing the pass was still a solid decision. Yippee!

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The guide that came with the passes.  This can be found online!

 

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Le Tour Eiffel

Things have been a little crazy around here with the end of the school year.  It’s enough to make me really grumpy (and in need of a getaway).  Summer cannot come soon enough!

It was such a refuge for me to spend the day thinking about Paris (yippee!).  What prompted the planning was my desire to secure my tickets to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Yes, I’m going in August and it’s only May.  However, I’ve been reading on travel websites (both French and U.S.-based) as well as on TripAdvisor that the lines are crazy in high season and pre-sold tickets will sell out.  Tickets go on sale 90 days in advance, and I was at the 90-day mark!

There are both advantages and disadvantages of pre-purchase.  On the plus side, while you still have a line for the elevator, the ticket line is much longer.  So if you have your tickets, it’s one less line.  We are not line people.  Patience is not our virtue.  Traveling in Europe in August when the rest of the world is on vacation is already going to test us.  The disadvantage of pre-purchase is the commitment.  The tickets are non-refundable.  So if it’s raining that day, someone is sick or you just aren’t in the mood, you are stuck with your tickets.

We are not commitment-phobes.  On a big vacation like this, I like having an outline of a plan to ensure that we see what we want to see.  If we don’t have the framework, we are aimless each day and our time gets away from us.  Everyone has expectations (including me) and nothing is worse than taking an epic trip and thinking, “I really wish I had…” Now, reality is that you cannot do everything.  There will be things that don’t get seen, eaten, ridden, explored, etc.  That is why we prioritize as a family, and we decide our “must haves” and “nice to haves” in advance.  And, if we go to a museum that I want to see, then we go to an amusement park my kids want to see.  Balance keeps us sane.  But every family is different, and some have the endurance to do it all.  We do not.

So, for OUR family, what I have learned along the way is:

  • Keep extra time in the plan for eating, wandering, flaking, etc.  Being over scheduled makes for very un-fun trips.
  • Keep the plan flexible.  Prioritize the absolute “must haves” each day and know which items you are willing to abandon if necessary.
  • Pre-research rest stops, kid-friendly food and fun.

So, clearly, the Eiffel Tower is a “must have.”  So, booking tickets in advance was important to us.  We purchased our tickets at http://www.toureiffel.paris/en/preparing-your-visit/buying-your-tickets.html.  I opted not to go with a “front of the line” tour group because of the price and inconvenience of being with a group.  Instead, we will do this on our own.  There is some great information on this website and it is fully in English (such as the featured image above).  I also found some great tips on TripAdvisor (as usual) and in a great series of articles on Conde Nast Traveler by author Wendy Perrin, who traveled to Paris with her two sons a few years back.  Here is the link to one of her articles:  http://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2012-06-18/family-travel-paris-museums-monuments-with-kids-photos-tips .  But, she has more than one article  on the site.

From my research, I plan for us to walk up to the second floor.  If we poop out at the first floor (that would be embarrassing), there is an elevator that will take us to the second floor from the first floor.  It may cost a small fee.  Regardless of how high we make it, we WILL climb some stairs because I understand the view is great from the stairs.  At the second floor, my understanding is that the queue for the elevator to the third floor (the top or sommet) is very manageable. As we will be exerting ourselves, I chose a 10am time slot for my ticket purchase.  Not too early (must enjoy breakfast at the hotel), but early enough that we are still fresh.  I read that others arrived 15 minutes early and were allowed in early.  I imagine we will be standing in line, so if we are early, it probably won’t hurt.

I plan to research places to eat nearby after visiting the tower.  We will need to eat after all that stair climbing!  The restaurant at the top of the tower is out of the question for my family (although I did research it).  It’s out mostly because my kids are so picky that they wouldn’t appreciate the expensive meal.  But also, I don’t want to be tied to a meal reservation when exploring the Tower.  It will be our top priority for the day, and I want to give it all the time it needs.

I purchased the tickets online and was able to print them immediately.  I have an account on that website where the pdf files are stored if I lose these copies.  It’s just like online ticketing for concerts, etc.  And voila!  We are set!

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We’ll see how it goes with GOES!

Don’t you hate it when you watch other people breeze through those TSA Pre-check lines when you are waiting (not so) patiently holding your shoes and bag of tiny shampoo bottles?  I always want to be one of the “chosen ones”…special enough to keep their shoes on.  For our next trip, I had wanted to apply for this pre-screening program, and so I started doing some research this Spring.  I actually read a recommendation that applying for the Global Entry program might be a better deal.

Global Entry is part of the Trusted Traveler Programs administered through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  It allows for expedited ENTRY into the United States whereby you can bypass normal customs lines, swipe your authorized card at a kiosk and be on your merry way. Samantha Brown, from Travel Channel fame, recommended this service on her blog because she said that it also provided TSA Pre-check benefits.  I was so grateful to read that because NOWHERE on the Global Entry enrollment site (see below) did it mention TSA Pre-check.  However, in the FAQs on the TSA website, it states that Global Entry provides a CBP PASSID that serves the same purpose as the TSA Pre-check “known traveler number” (KTN).  The KTN must be part of the airline reservation and printed on the boarding pass.  So, it seems, if this CBP PASSID is submitted in place of the KTN, then the holder would be allowed in the Pre-check line.  Confused yet?  We will be the guinea pigs on this and see how it works!  Here is the TSA site for your reference:  https://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/faq

GOES stands for Global Online Enrollment System and it’s where you can apply for Global Entry (https://goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes).  The website is HORRIBLE.  It provides very little information and everything is in nine-point font.  Hence my statement below that I learned more about Global Entry on the TSA site (GOES is run by CBP and TSA is run by Department of Homeland Security).  To start the process, you must fill out an application.  EACH person, including children, must have a separate application which includes a separate user ID and password.  I did not read/realize this, so now I actually need to fill out two more applications for my kids.  Do as I say, not as I do!  Once the application is submitted, then it sits in “Pending Review” which is where mine currently sits (I applied about 10 days ago).  They don’t notify you when you move from one status to another; you just have to keep checking back.  Again, it’s a terrible website.  For the second step, you are to schedule an on-site interview.  You can schedule an interview as a family, which is convenient and necessary if your kids are applying.   The locations are mostly at airports, which makes the entire experience that much more exciting and enjoyable (note sarcasm).   Stay tuned to see how we fare!