Northern European Cruise on Royal Caribbean

Northern European Cruise on Royal Caribbean

Our visit to London this summer was the starting point for a longer vacation in northern Europe, something we had wanted to do with our children for awhile. After researching options, we decided on a cruise so that we could easily explore multiple destinations without a lot of effort traveling from one city to the next.

Our cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Sea started in Southampton, England and included stops in Bruges (Belgium), Oslo (Norway), Hamburg (Germany) and Le Havre (France). Although we did a lot of planning in advance to research the cities and cruise excursions, we didn’t necessarily plan activities for each of the stops. Some cities we left pretty open-ended, while others we had a full 12-hour itinerary packed into our day. I think this kept things pretty balanced and allowed for wandering around and exploring, while also ensuring that we hit the destinations on our must-see list.

Here are a few favorite photos (among the hundreds I snapped) along with a rundown of some of our favorite sights in each city.

Bruges, Belgium

cruise-bruges-2

Bruges was one of our less planned cities. I think ‘eat chocolate’ was our primary objective in Bruges, and we were definitely successful in accomplishing our mission. We spent our day wandering around the cobblestone streets of the city square, visited several chocolate shops and the Chocolate Museum, and ate Belgian waffles for lunch. The highlight was an outdoor city market, where we found local craftspeople selling art, vintage items and handmade wooden toys.

Oslo, Norway

cruise-oslo-2

Visiting Oslo was a big factor in the decision to choose this particular cruise, since I had never traveled that far north and I was eager to see the landscapes surrounding the fjords. It was also one of our more ‘planned’ destinations. We had a list of sights we wanted to see in our 1-day stop, and we ended up purchasing an Oslo Pass which gave us access to museums and public transportation. The ship docks right in the center of the city (the dock is shown in the top photo above), so it was easy to walk and jump on local trams and buses. Our day included The Viking Ship Museum, The Fram Museum, The Kon Tiki Museum and The Oslo Opera House.

The Fram and Kon Tiki were both great museums for kids. The Fram Museum houses a large polar ship that children can explore and see what it was like for the early explorers who went on expeditions to the Arctic circle.  We also planned a visit to either the National Gallery or the Edvard Munch museum (to see the famous painting, The Scream), but the National Gallery was closed on the day of our stop and rain late in the day caused us to return to the ship early.

Hamburg, Germany

Hamburg, Germany

It rained during most of our visit to Hamburg, making it difficult to explore the city. Our first stop was The Miniature Museum, but we didn’t purchase advance tickets and arrived to find the first available entry was too late in the day. We moved on to visit St. Michael’s, and then decided to head for cover in a tour bus since the rain was getting worse. Once the rain died down, we walked along the dock and stopped at the U-Boat Museum, which was definitely the highlight of our visit to Hamburg. Despite weather conditions, we enjoyed Hamburg quite a bit, probably because we spent more in time in restaurants (eating wonderful food) than any other city on our tour. If we had more time, I would have definitely visited the Philharmonic to see the architecture and exterior light/video display, but hopefully it won’t be our last trip to Hamburg.

Le Havre, France

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Le Havre was the last stop on our cruise before returning to Southampton, and though we were only in France for a day, this portion of our vacation likely warrants its own post. When we booked the cruise, we planned to take a train to Paris for the day. But violence in Paris caused us to change plans, and we opted for the Royal Caribbean excursion to the D-Day beaches of Normandy instead. This ended up being an amazing part of the trip. The day included stops at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach (one of several beaches invaded by Allied forces on D-Day during WWII), the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, and the Caen D-Day Memorial Museum. Each location made a big impression on Jason and Jenna, from standing in giant bomb craters to walking through the mass of gravestones to eating their first authentic French meal to traveling over present-day Omaha beach via virtual reality headsets. In fact, our visit to Normandy left a pretty permanent imprint on Jason’s mind, as he is now completely fascinated by all things related to WWII.

That’s the rundown of our amazing summer vacation. I can’t imagine we will ever top this trip, but I’d certainly like to try!

 

Trip Report: London

london-report

We recently returned from our summer vacation, and I’ll be sharing a couple of posts about traveling in Europe with children. First up: London.

Our London itinerary included a mix of visiting major sights, wandering around the city, and partaking in iconic British experiences – like riding backwards in taxis, eating fish and chips, and posing for pictures in red phone booths (which can still be found all over the city).

London is a great city to visit with children. The biggest surprise was that many of the major landmarks have playgrounds in close proximity. This offered the perfect way to burn off energy after standing in lines and being well-behaved in churches, museums and other crowded spaces. The playgrounds can be seen in more detail in our trip report video.

Here are the favs from our 48-hours in London:

The British Museum

British Museum with Google Street View

We visited the British Museum on the day we arrived in London, so we were jet lagged and exhausted but determined to make use of our limited time. We had explored the museum in advance using Google Street View, which allows you to move through the galleries and explore the installations via virtual imagery. This helped Jason and Jenna get familiar with some of the major pieces in the museum (like the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon sculptures) before we arrived.

St. James Park

map-stJamesPark2We nested St. James Park in-between touring Westminster Abbey and visiting Buckingham Palace. Walking (and, for Jason, running, and, for Jenna, cartwheeling) through the park was a welcome break from the crowded spaces of Westminster. The playground in the park is really nice, has an outdoor cafe with ice cream nearby, and is right on the path toward the palace. We arrived at the palace too late to see the changing of the guards, but we also missed the crowds and still managed to watch the guards pace back and forth in front of the palace.

Afternoon Tea and Other British Fare

London Food TourWe played up the local cuisine of each of our destinations well before travel time, so eating was a big part of our vacation. Afternoon tea was the highlight of our tour of British foods. We chose the St. Ermin’s hotel for afternoon tea, as they have a menu specifically for children. Other must-try items were Fish and Chips and Traditional English Breakfast, which features black pudding and baked beans. I even found a British pub that offers a vegetarian version of this meal.

The London Eye

View of Big Ben and Westminster from London Eye

The London Eye was on our ‘maybe’ list when we arrived. We ended up purchasing fast passes on the day of our visit, which allowed us to skip most of the line. The view is incredible and allowed us to spot another great park and playground and what looked to be an outdoor theatre just steps from the Eye. After a brief stay in the playground area, rain caused us to take cover, otherwise we would have definitely explored more.

London was a highlight of our visit to northern Europe and definitely a city we would like to visit again. I couldn’t post pics of our London trip without remembering our first attempt at a family selfie. Before we left, our neighbors convinced us we needed a selfie stick so that we could shoot family photos without handing phones and cameras to strangers. As it turns out, capturing selfies is not so easy. We diligently attempted to use it once during our entire 2-week stay in Europe. Here are a few of the outtakes:

London family selfies

Other cities on our summer vacation were: Bruges, Belgium; Oslo, Norway; Hamburg, Germany; Normandy beaches in France; and Windsor, England. So many great adventures to share!

Designing with Kids: Prototyping

slides in keynote presentation

This year’s career day at my children’s school marked the 3rd time I spoke in their classrooms about User Experience Design. Children love devices, games and apps, so getting them engaged is as easy as asking them about their favorite apps and websites, what they like about them and what they dislike or find frustrating. From there, making a connection to the field of UX Design – designing experiences that people find easy to use and love coming back to – is an easy transition. Since my husband and I both work in UX, we decided to co-present this time around. (more…)

Largest Nerf Battle. Ever.

Jason at the Nerf Battle

Last night we attended Jared’s Epic Nerf Battle 2 at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The previous year’s event set the world record for the largest Nerf battle ever, and this year saw an even larger attendance, with approximately 3000 warriors battling on the field. Jason learned about the event via one of his current youtube heroes (Coop772), and since the stadium is in Arlington, just south of our hometown, we immediately decided to go. Coop was there, as were several other “famous nerf youtubers.” (more…)

Merry Christmas 2016

Christmas Outtake - Jenna Jumping

Happy April Fool’s Day! What better day to begin posting to a blog that hasn’t seen an entry since May of last year. And what prompted me to come out of a nearly 11-month hiatus? Christmas.

I was recently going through my camera storage card to delete old photos, and I came across the outtakes from our 2016 Christmas cards. Christmas outtakes are a bit of a thing around here (2013 and 2012), and last year’s was extra full of personality. So in the spirit of Christmas (with a little spirit of April Fools baked in), I’m sharing a few of my favorites. Maybe they’ll inspire a theme for your next holiday cards.  (more…)

Building a Treehouse

Treehouse In-Progress with custom build plans

The treehouse in our backyard is almost complete. The only remaining step is to paint the house to match our house and backyard shed. We started the treehouse as a gift for Jenna’s birthday, but over the past few weeks, I think we’ve all grown equally excited about the little hideaway we’ve created. (more…)

Fabric Heart Pocket Valentines

Fabric Heart Pocket Valentine's

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The above sew adorable valentine’s are Jenna’s classroom Valentine’s this year. Her love of sewing is still going strong, as is her love of little pockets. They are making appearances on everything she makes, from pencil bags to pillows to little stuffed animals. So much awesome.

Hope you’re having a great day!

KidTech: Think Exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum

Think exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum.This week we visited Think, an exhibit originally appearing in the Innoventions exhibit hall at Disneyworld’s Epcot and currently on display at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The exhibit highlights the top 100 icons of progress over the past century – the science, technology and inventions that have resulted in advancements in our world. Organized around themes such as Seeing, Mapping and Understanding, the exhibit features a giant gesture wall (shown above), an immersive film and a series of touchscreen displays. (more…)

Sewing With Children: Getting Started

Sewing with kids: Getting Started. Great post for anyone considering a sewing machine as a gift for a child.Jenna received a sewing machine for Christmas this year, and she’s been stitching and stitching ever since. I had no idea how well this gift would be received. She’s already made a pillow, a coin purse and a small pouch for taking her Shopkins on the go. For anyone else considering a similar gift, here are some recommendations for a child’s starter sewing kit that is likely to inspire confidence and creativity. (more…)

DIY Holiday Teacher Gift

Easy diy for kids: personalized mugs as gifts for teachers during the holidays

We aren’t the most original when it comes to gift-giving to teachers during the holidays. I think I’ve given a coffee mug and Starbucks gift card to my children’s teachers for both Christmas and Valentine’s day every year since they started school. This year isn’t entirely different; however, I did deviate from my night-before-the-classroom-party run to Starbucks by planning a week in advance AND organizing a mug decorating craft so that my children could create a personalized cup for each of their teachers. (more…)

Gingerbread Houses: Shopkins Edition

This year's gingerbread house decorating took on a Shopkins theme.

This weekend marked our annual gingerbread decorating day. It’s become a Christmas tradition, and I’m surprised by how much J + J continue to love this activity, even as they get older and the latest wave of popular obsessions (Star Wars, Minecraft, etc.) seem to dominate their time. This year’s gingerbread decorating, however, didn’t exactly escape the hold of popular culture. In fact, Jenna’s Shopkins toys were the focus of her gingerbread endeavor this year. (more…)

Five Favorite Holiday Finds at Magnolia Market

Five favorite holiday finds from Magnolia Farms, the home decor shop of HGTV's Fixer Upper stars.

This weekend we visited Magnolia Market, the home decor shop owned by the stars of the HGTV series, Fixer Upper. We’ve been fans of the show for nearly a year now, and with Waco less than 2 hours away, we decided to take a road trip. I had visited their smaller shop over the summer, but was blown away by the significantly larger new location. With two giant silos, a garden, large lawn for children to play and two warehouse-sized showrooms, it was definitely worth the drive. In addition to the gorgeous holiday scenery, the market featured tons of products and ideas for decorating during the Christmas season. (more…)

Living Room Art

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Our formal living room has remained void of any art on the walls since we moved in over two years ago. Something about the super high ceilings needing a certain scale of art left me feeling too intimidated to even begin. It was over a year ago that I started thinking about adding one or two large photos above our couch, and I even explored a few options in this post but never had the photographs printed. After returning from our northern California trip this summer, however, I finally decided to take the leap. (more…)