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School trip destinations

I am looking at a trip in June 2020 and planning to stop in Paris, Chamonix, and Cote d'Azur. I have been to Paris and Nice (twelve years ago), but not Chamonix, so I would like some advice for there. I will include my rough itinerary. Please give advice in all areas. I will be taking a group of high-schoolers who have never traveled far. I am using ACIS travel company who are very knowledgeable, but I want to make sure we are getting the best. We will have a tour guide with us the whole time.

Paris (4 nights)- I want kids to have enough time to explore, purchase souvenirs, pick a lunch spot. We could do these in any order. These are all walking-intensive, so is there anything we could do via boat/bus/or in a way that will let us rest a bit? I don't want the kids to be miserable starting out!
-city tour (see Eiffel Tower, at a distance or close up. I don't
think it is worth the time and effort to go to the top)

-Louvre (Personally, I could spend a week here, but how long do kids want? half-day?)
-Versailles (They offer a bike ride to explore the area, which sounds fun. I remember the walking on cobblestones from the bus is hot and miserable.)
-Montmarte
-Champs Elysees

Chamonix (2 nights)- what should we add or skip? Do we really need to spend 2 nights here? We could add one back in Paris or in Nice. Or maybe this is more like do Paris during the day, arrive in the evening for dinner, explore 1 day, then leave next morning? I think this is a three-hour trip, so it will be good rest time.
- Paris to Geneva on TGV
- Lake Geneva boat ride
- Ride a lift/ gondola (maybe see the glacier?)
- Free time in a little town?

Cote d'Azur- 2 nights
- Jardin Exotique
- Tour of the perfume factory (Is this the place where you can personalize your own perfume? Will we ladies have time to do that?)
- Beach time/Explore time

Thanks so much in advance! I want to make it a wonderful trip. I am a huge fan of Rick Steves!

Posted by
129 posts

One quick comment, I think the one thing these kids are really going to want to do is to go up in the Eiffel Tower.
You can schedule for a group visit.

Posted by
8889 posts

Just a comment on your plan for Chamonix. If you want to go from Paris to Geneva by train, the route does not go though Geneva. If you look up train times from Paris to Chamonix on the DB website ( https://www.bahn.com/en/view/index.shtml ) you will see this.
You could go via Geneva, but it would require a bus for 1½ to 2 hours from Geneva to Chamonix.
There are public buses that do this run, or Is your group big enough to justify hiring a bus specifically to do this leg?

"Ride a lift/ gondola (maybe see the glacier?)", "Free time in a little town?" - both possible in Chamonix.

Posted by
27349 posts

This sounds as if you're organizing and chaperoning a group of children not all your own. If so, I 'd like to warn you about comments posted (on a non-travel-related board) by a high-school teacher who does that. Many of her travelers' parents have given the kids pre-loaded cash cards rather than standard credit cards. They have proven to be a real problem. Often they flat out do not work in Europe, which leaves the already-busy chaperone scrambling for a solution. A second problem (though not an issue for the chaperone) is that many of those things have horrendous fees: a fee for adding money to the card, a fee every time you use the card. There may also be some funny business with the exchange rate.

It's possible that ACIS can provide current, accurate information about this issue if it specializes in putting together trips for young people unacompanied by their parents.

One change I believe you will see in the areas you've previously visited is the greatly increased crowds at the most popular sites, definitely including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. Your trip is very short; you don't want the kids' main memories to be of standing in line outside sights and mobs inside that made it impossible to see the paintings they've heard of. (That asumes they are interested in art at all, about which I have my doubts.)

With just eight nights (and you know that first day is pretty worthless, right?), I would limit the trip to Paris and one other destination. Assuming you aren't from somewhere like the Rockies, Chamonix sounds like a good idea. I know kids like beaches, but I'm not convinced about the Riviera. You'd be committing yourself to another significant train or bus ride and another hotel changeover. I think it's too far to go in the very limited time you have, and the ratio of travel time (and cost) to actual sightseeing time is not going to be good.

Posted by
408 posts

First, I agree with you about the Eiffel Tower. Go to the top of l'Arc de Triomphe instead. It's a better view and much less hassle. Other alternatives are the Montparnasse tower (which I have not visited) and the terrace at Galeries Lafayette (a department store with good views of Paris and a cool glass dome inside).

As for Chamonix, I would recommend reading up on the Alps and alpine glaciers ahead of time so you know what to look for and point out when you're there. And then, if the weather is agreeable, take the téléphériques to l'Aiguille du Midi and on to Helbronner in Italy. It's an exciting experience that I suspect children would long remember. You could then take a short train ride to Mer de Glace, a retreating Alpine glacier, which offers several learning opportunities, among which are a very real and memorable demonstration about global warming and glacial retreat; the ability to see a glacier up close and touch ancient glacial ice with your hand; and a visual indication of how fast an Alpine glacier moves, by seeing past years' "caves" excavated to the left of this years'.

The Côte d'Azur -- I'm not so much a fan. I believe most beaches are stony rather than sandy, but I'm sure others have more direct experience. If I'm not mistaken, one can find parfumeries in many French cities that would allow one to personalize a perfume to their liking, so if that's your focus, you needn't necessarily go that far south.

Posted by
8504 posts

I don't know if you have traveled with high schoolers to Europe before, but here is an issue to consider in trip planning- alcohol policy. You will need clear communication about what your school district's policy is in advance. Your students may be of legal age to drink alcohol in Europe, but it will still be an issue if you are a teacher leading this tour vs. a parent. It is important that everyone is on the same page before you go.

Posted by
598 posts

Judging from their website, ACIS puts together the whole trip for you. Are you thinking of customizing it it match the interests of your students (e.g. if it's a science or history class)? Or are you seeking suggestions for the free time? There are reviews on their website as well as in Yelp and Trip Advisor if you are worried about the quality of the guide, accommodations, etc.

The trip you described includes half a day at the Louvre, which is probably about right unless these are art students.

Personally I would like to take their Language Immersion Tour (Nice and Paris) but the one you've picked has a good mix of activities that would appeal to teenagers.

Write back afterwards and let us know how it went!

Posted by
12172 posts

Yes, at least two nights in Chamonix. That gives you one full day to see the top of the mountain. Even then it doesn't give you any leeway if the weather is bad the day you're there.

I can't see two nights in Cote d'Azur. It's a fairly long trip from Chamonix to essentially spend one quick day. There isn't enough time to explore, enjoy the beach and visit the perfume factory. I'd personally save it for another time and consider adding another night in Chamonix (more time for hikes and a bigger window for clear weather on top) a brief day stop in Annecy and at least a night in Lyon. To me that would be a more workable trip.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all for the comments so far!

It sounds like Chamonix is going to be more fun than I thought. What if the weather doesn't cooperate the the lift is closed? Do you go hiking or what? Keep those comments coming!

I wonder if Nice is included because it has an international airport to fly out of at the end of the trip. I adore Nice, but I can understand that it isn't really quintessential France and high interest for kids.

I am going to talk to the consultant today, so hopefully she will have answers and suggestions, too. According to ACIS, they will customize it however you want. Does anyone have a must-see in Paris that I am missing? They offer a French cooking lesson that might be fun!

Posted by
3 posts

This sounds as if you're organizing and chaperoning a group of children not all your own. If so, I 'd like to warn you about comments posted (on a non-travel-related board) by a high-school teacher who does that. Many of her travelers' parents have given the kids pre-loaded cash cards rather than standard credit cards. They have proven to be a real problem. Often they flat out do not work in Europe, which leaves the already-busy chaperone scrambling for a solution. A second problem (though not an issue for the chaperone) is that many of those things have horrendous fees: a fee for adding money to the card, a fee every time you use the card. There may also be some funny business with the exchange rate.

What form of money should they use when we travel? Cash seems like the best option, as long as they have a way to get more cash from an ATM if they need it. Would they be able to use a standard Visa bank card as well as a Visa credit card to get cash and to pay at stores?

I am doing research into credit cards, but they all seem to have foreign transaction fees. They would only need to buy their lunch and souvenirs (and bottled water or snacks, as needed).

Posted by
8293 posts

If you have 3 days in Paris it would take a full day from your time there to go to Versailles. Perhaps think about Chateau Malmaison instead. It was supposedly the favourite abode of Empress Josephine and can be reached by metro to La Defense and then by bus in about 15 minutes to the Chateau. A half a day would suffice for a visit. Maybe the kids would like to go to the top of the Grande Arche at La Defense, too.

As far as the Champs Elysees is concerned, you could rethink that. It is a boring stretch of car dealerships and stores. Not at all beautiful but the kids may want to be able to say they had seen it.

Posted by
27349 posts

Rick has a good summary of money issues on this website. Click on Travel Tips in the left pamel, then choose Money.

Basically: The same ATM card used in the US should work in Europe if the bank is notified ahead of time that the card holder is going to be in France. Card goes into ATM, PIN is entered, traveler indicates how many euros he wants and money is dispensed. All ATMs allow you to choose English as the language displayed. Some US banks are better than others about fees charged when a foreign ATM is used. On a mostly-prepaid trip, your students probably will not be withdrawing enough money for this to be a concern, but you could task them with calling the financial institution and asking about fees for using a French ATM, then determining whether it will be more expensive to make a bunch of small withdrawals rather then a single larger one. (They'll lose quite a lot if they over-withdraw and have to reconvert to dollars, though.)

A few European ATMs are starting to charge fees. This will be disclosed early in the transaction, allowing the user to cancel, retrieve the ATM card, and go to another ATM.

strong textImportant:strong text Many ATMs allow the user to have the withdrawal recorded in dollars rather than euros. No one should do that, because that allows the ATM owner to use an exchange rate that is a very bad deal for the traveler. You always want the amount withdrawn recorded in euros.

US Visa cards and Mastercards normally work fine in Europe. Again, some cards require notification of travel plans. Discover and American Express are less widely accepted. Just as with ATM cards, some credit cards have more overseas fees than others. The kids should contact their card issuers (using the toll-free number on the back of the card) to ask about overseas usage fees. Some may find they have a low-fee ATM card but a high-fee credit card, or vice versa. In that case they may wish to use the favorable card (paying with cash or credit card, as appropriate) as much as possible. However, as noted previously, they probably won't be spending enough for the difference to be significant.

It's easy to get confused when traveling--especislly on Day 1 when you're jetlagged--and stick a credit card in an ATM. That is a costly error, because withdrawals via credit card are cash advances and come with high fees and interest charges.

When paying by credit card one is sometimes encouraged to have the charge go through in dollars. Just as at an ATM, that's a very bad idea. The bad conversion rate produces extra profit for the shop or restaurant that comes out of the traveler's pocket. You always want to pay in euros. Unfortunately, some restaurants (and possibly some shops) don't ask the traveler how he wants to pay; they just quickly press a button or two and the receipt comes out in dollars, and you have now paid an extra 3.5%, 5%, 7%, or conceivably even more for whatever you just bought. When that happens to me, I don't sign the receipt and I insist that the transaction be canceled. But that takes time your students may not have. This is an issue that is avoided by paying cash rather than using a credit card.

Paris is one of the pickpocket capitals of the world. Be sure your students know that carrying electronics, wallets, cash or other valuables in a back pocket or unlocked backpack is an open invitation to the professional thieves looking for pigeons.

Posted by
1829 posts

I don't think you are allowing enough time overall for the 3 spread out locations you plan on visiting.
When you say 2 nights if traveling to that town takes a few hours 2 nights is really 1 full day of doing things in that area not 2.

How are you getting your group from Chamonix to Cote D'Azur for example?
There is no direct train to my knowledge for that route and would be a full day train journey (probably 10 hours) or a long car ride (6+ hours through Italy)

I think your plan is rushed for a couple but add in 20 teenagers and sounds too much of a rush and going to be really hard to organize this.

What you want to do in Chamonix ; you could not do in 1 night. The attractions close up early in that town in June so just doing the main lift and the Mer De Glace train is a 2 night stay to see both alone plus you want to start in Geneva and take a boat tour beforehand.
If weather is bad and the lifts are closed hiking on at altitude with a large group sounds like a really bad idea to me!

Then Cote D'Azur you need more than 2 nights.
Your 2 top things listed are both in the small town hilltop town of Eze but for education or kid purposes may not be the best spot compared to Nice with a day trip to Monaco for them.
Skip the beach day ; you don't have the time.

I know the kids will restless and most of these school age trips move at a fast paced trip but this is too fast.
Skipping Chamonix and going from Paris to Nice on the high speed train ; fly out of Nice can make your plan work well and forget completely about Geneva, Chamonix, Alps, etc...
Or skip Cote D'Azur and do Paris, Chamonix and some other town like Annecy in that general area before making it back to Paris to fly back home.

Posted by
5919 posts

I've heard that if you want to enjoy time on the Mediterranean, you are better off in Catalunya or Italy. If a beach experience is desired, you might look to Brittany or Normandy which I think is closer. I saw beautiful beaches in both areas.

Posted by
27349 posts

There is no guarantee of beach weather in Nnormandy or Brittany even in mid-summer, so I would not head in that direction for just a day or two if beach time was a primary goal. There are many wonerful destinations in that area, but the weather is unpredictable.

Posted by
2976 posts

Our high school is doing a European tour in a few days. If there is an alcohol related incident the person involved takes the next flight back to the states. The kids are well aware of the rules and consequences.

Posted by
8889 posts

If there is an alcohol related incident the person involved takes the next flight back to the states.

Mike, that statement I find strange. What do you mean by an "incident"? Is drinking any alcohol an "incident"?
Are you saying if they indulge in a legal activity you are going to send them back home?
Are any of your party over 18? If so they are legally adults and you have no authority to stop them doing something legal.
Who pays for this extra flight back?
What about smoking (which is illegal under 18), are you going to send anybody caught smoking home as well?

Posted by
2976 posts

Chris I don't have all the details but I know the kids (or parents) sign a contract before the trip and alcohol is forbidden. We have 15 to 18 year olds. Nobody is forced to go on the trip. The no alcohol rule does not apply to chaperones. We have had zero complaints. The person violating the contract pays for the flight. We have only a couple 18 year olds.

Posted by
8889 posts

Mike, its a cultural thing. Drinking at 18, and having wine with your parents at home when you are 16 is the norm. 18th Birthday parties held in a pub are normal.
But letting children drive cars at 16 - no way. Much too dangerous!