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Trip Report: Week in London April 2018

I tagged along to London with my sister and her family and our parents for a spring break trip (April 2018) from upstate NY to London. I got a lot of information from this site and thought I’d write a trip report to share what worked for us and what didn't. This was a 6-night stay to fit into the spring break time frame. I went into this trip with the expectation that I would be back someday with my husband so wasn’t trying to cram in everything. Also, as a tag-along, this was not my trip so I did not do quite as much research as I otherwise would have.

Background: We are a family of 7 - My sister, her husband, and me (all mid-40s), two kids (12 and 14), and our somewhat mobility impaired parents (early 70s). I have traveled quite a bit including to Europe and Asia, but never to England. My sister’s family has traveled quite a bit domestically but this was the kids’ first trip to Europe. This was my parents’ first trip to Europe as well.

Day 1: I flew over solo on United out of our small regional airport. The rest drove to NYC and flew British Airways. We met up on the Heathrow Express platform. I know people say it is expensive, but with tickets purchased ahead of time and it being a weekend, we thought it was good value. It was a quick, easy ride to Paddington. We stayed at the Stylotel just a few blocks from Paddington Station. This turned out to be a convenient location for us.

After dropping the luggage, the plan was to go to Greenwich. Unfortunately, I did not research this part of the trip and it seemed like we did a lot of wandering without knowing exactly what we were doing. We did have lunch in town and walked up to the observatory. We got back to the hotel, checked in, had an early dinner and called it a night.

Day 2: I started the morning with a run in Hyde Park and really enjoyed that! Our first family stop was at Paddington Station to get one-day London Passes. Remember the part about this not being my trip? This probably did not make financial sense but the convenience factor was worth something.

Our first sightseeing destination was the Churchhill War Rooms. We did not buy timed entry tickets but I would highly recommend that others get a timed entry. Our London Pass got us in, but did not allow us to skip the line. We were there by probably 10am and waited close to 45 minutes. Everyone really enjoyed this.

After we left the War Rooms, we split up with my parents and I going off on our own and my sister and her family heading for the Tower of London. We walked down to the Horse Parade and saw the Horse Guard. We used our London Passes to get on the HOHO bus (Big Bus) near there. We ended up staying on for most of the loop. It was little chilly on top of the bus but it was a good way for my parents to see a lot of the sights and the live commentators were both very good. We got off the HOHO at the Tower of London.

After a quick snack, we went into the Tower site. We didn’t have a lot of time til it closed but it ended up being a perfect amount of time for us. We did not go in the White Tower because I knew it would be too many stairs for my parents. I had my RS book so we mostly followed his tour including the Crown Jewels (not at all crowded in the late afternoon). Next, we walked along the Thames toward the Tower Bridge hoping to meet up with my sister’s family. We finally got in touch with them and met up for dinner at a German place.

After dinner, we put my mother and niece in a cab back to the hotel and the rest of us went on the London Walks’ Jack the Ripper Walk. The guide (Oliver) was really good and we got to see some parts of London that we never would have seen otherwise.

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Day 3: My sister’s family day tripped to Scotland so I had planned this day around what my parents wanted to do. I let them have a more leisurely breakfast and then took them out to Wimbledon. My parents (especially my mother) are big tennis fans. I had researched this ahead of time so I had no trouble getting us there. (District line to Southfields station and then a short bus ride right to the site). We did the museum and the tour. The tour was really neat even for non-tennis fans. Fun fact – they have electric fences around the courts in the off season to keep sunbathing foxes out from under the heat lamps! After the tour we had lunch in the café there on site.

For the evening, I had gotten us tickets to Wicked. Beforehand, we had dinner at the Victoria Pub & Restaurant near our hotel. It was quite good. We grabbed a cab to the theatre from there. I had carefully researched our seat choice and had gotten what were OK seats for their price point up in the Dress Circle. They weren’t too bad until the people next to me showed up. They were drunk and talked NONSTOP through the entire first act. At intermission my father complained and we got reassigned to seats in the 5th row of the Stalls. Now those were awesome seats and a whole different perspective!

Today was one of the reasons why I tagged along. I was able to help my parents enjoy their trip and see things that were important to them.

Day 4: My sister’s gang was tired after their Scotland trip so we went our separate ways for the morning with the plan to meet back up for our 2pm Warner Brothers Studio Tour. I took my parents to the British Museum. We didn’t have a lot of time, but again I had my RS book so we followed his tour and hit the highlights (Rosetta Stone, a bunch of mummies, the Elgin Marbles, etc.). We had lunch at the café at the museum and then took a cab to Euston station. Traffic was terrible but the cabbie did a U-turn and got us to a side entrance. Worked out perfectly. I asked at the info desk and the man pointed us in the right direction. Oyster cards are still valid for the trip from here to Watford Junction.

And then the fun began… Forewarning to all going to the Studio Tours, make sure you have your tickets or your confirmation in hand (or on your electronic device) at Watford Junction as those guys where you pick up the shuttle to the studio will NOT let you on said shuttle without proof of tickets. Remember I said that my parents and I had split from my sister’s family? I’m not sure what happened but they left from a station other than Euston so were on a local train not an express one. It took them much longer than they were anticipating so they weren’t there when we got there. Meanwhile, we got off the train and followed the signs to the shuttle. At that point, the attendant asks to see our tickets. My brother-in-law had all 7 (paper) tickets! We didn’t know if they were already at the studio or what. The attendant could not believe that I just couldn’t call my brother-in-law (we had Skype on our phones, but that only works if we were both on wifi). The attendant’s boss generated a hotspot with his phone and somehow by dumb luck I had the confirmation in my work email that my brother-in-law had forwarded to me. That worked and he let us in line. Just as the bus was coming, my sister and her family showed up. Conveniently the attendants let them in line with us

The Studio Tour was great! My niece and I took forever going through because we looked at everything and took a lot of pictures. Even my muggle parents who I don’t think have even seen any one complete movie and I know haven’t read the books enjoyed the tour.

We had a dinner at a Greek place near the hotel and called it an early night before our big adventure to Paris tomorrow.

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Day 5: We had tickets for the Eurostar to Paris for the day. I have been to Paris multiple times before so I was by default the tour guide (and I speak a little French and can read much more). I knew we had limited time so I started us with a HOHO tour so we could see all the main sites. L’Open had the best route for what I wanted us to do, so we chose that one. We rode the red line from Gare du Nord back to its starting point (not far) and switched to the blue line. Note, I was not that impressed with the commentary on the bus. We took that past the Louvre, up the Champs-Élysées, and around to the Eiffel Tower. We got off there and wandered to find a place for lunch. I knew enough to wander away from the tower and ended up at a place called Les Presles. It was pretty good and we had a nice relaxing lunch.

After lunch we got back on the HOHO bus and rode it around to the Louvre. I took my parents and the kids to the Louvre while my sister and her husband did their own thing. The line for tickets was essentially non-existent, but the restroom line was very long. I was intending to follow the RS tour but ended up going to see the Mona Lisa first. I think I did pretty well hitting the highlights in a short visit (Mona Lisa, Wedding at Cana, Coronation of Napolean, Raft of the Medusa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo). My mother wanted to stop at the gift shop on the way out and somehow we got turned around and went out an exit with no elevator and came out across the street (in the Tuileries). We met back up with my sister and her husband and were going to take a quick swing through Notre Dame.

And here’s where things took a scary turn… The plan was to put my parents and my nephew (the only other one who knew any French) in a cab to Notre Dame and the rest of us would walk. Well my father went to hail a cab and was looking at the cab not his feet and fell off the high curb right into the street there in the sort of rounded out part (pyramid on one side and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel on the other). It was like slow motion and I was sure we were about to take a trip to a French hospital. Luckily, he bounced right back up and was OK other than a few scrapes and later bruises. We continued with the plan and did a quick zip into Notre Dame. Mass was going on so we could only go down one side. After that we got a cab back to Gare du Nord.

Conveniently there was a crepe stand across the street so we grabbed crepes for the train ride back to London. My niece and I had waited for the crepes while the others went ahead. We followed the signs up to the Eurostar security area but couldn’t find the others. I was a little nervous then because I had my ticket/passport but nothing for my niece and I also had my parents’ tickets. Luckily, they had just missed the sign and were right downstairs where I could yell to them.

We did this day trip because my sister wanted the kids to experience Paris (my nephew is taking French in school) and because this might be my parents only trip to Europe. I would not recommend this. I love Paris and enjoyed going, but it was much more stressful than it should have been because I was worried about the time constantly as well as if everyone else was having fun or not.

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Day 6: I started the day with a run through Hyde and Green Parks over to Buckingham Palace. That was pretty cool and I got some good pictures. We split up again today. My brother-in-law and I went to St. Paul’s and everyone else went to the London Eye. That worked out great because if and when I get back to London, I highly doubt I will be able to get my husband to climb the dome especially all the way to the top. I really enjoyed St. Paul’s and could’ve spent more time there. We had arranged to meet everyone back at a café near a specific tube exit.

We had lunch and then went to the Museum of London. The musuem was interesting and I like that we did it later in the trip because we were familiar with the neighborhood and tube stop names that were mentioned in the exhibits. Afterward, we put my parents back on the tube to the hotel while we wandered around. We went down on the riverbank and picked around a little bit and also went in All Hallows by the Tower. We grabbed a quick dinner and then went on the London Walks’ Haunted London tour. It was interesting because there was a lot of history entertwined with the ghost stories.

That night we cashed in the value on our Oyster cards (and deposit) since we were done riding the Tube for this trip.

Day 7: Departure – We left plenty early and got right on the Heathrow Express. I was flying United so I got off at the Terminal 2 stop while the others continued on to Terminal 5.

All and all it was a great trip but a departure from my usual traveling style. If I did again, I would research Greenwich more thoroughly (and maybe use a boat to get there/back). I would also probably skip that day trip to Paris. Also I would have skipped the London Pass and definitely prebooked tickets to the Churchhill War Rooms. Based on our experience, I would also recommend any of the London Walks tours.

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3342 posts

Thanks for posting. I appreciate it when people mention the things they would have done differently.

We also once took a trip to Greenwich after dropping off our luggage. I know we walked through a ship and a toured a museum only because I've seen the pictures. I was so tired that I have no memory of that day at all.

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3961 posts

I loved your trip report! Minor "hiccups" along the way, but you all persevered and had wonderful memories. Thanks for also posting on "Most memorable travel experience in 2018!"

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2252 posts

So enjoyed reading this trip report! Like traylaparks I also appreciate knowing what you would have done differently. Just from what you have posted, it sounds like it was a very successful family trip in spite of the tiny glitches along the way. Personally, I think you did an awesome job of making everything "just right" for your parents and I'm happy to read your Dad wasn't too badly hurt from his fall. It could have ended so differently! Thank you for posting, cms.

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33336 posts

my wife had trouble with that edge of the road in Paris. Tricky aren't they. Glad your Dad bounced back better than my wife....

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6670 posts

Thanks for this report, all the things that went right and wrong. Shows the value of large groups splitting up to do their own things when priorities differ. I can't imagine what your sister's "day trip to Scotland" was like -- did they fly? Where did they go? I hope they enjoyed it but I can't imagine doing something like that. Likewise the day trip to Paris, though it seems like you made the best of your limited time there. Your father's accident provides a good example of resilience and positive thinking, glad he wasn't hurt worse. Your niece and nephew will have wonderful memories of this family trip and better preparation for their own travels to come.

You also make a useful contribution to the ongoing forum debate about HOHO buses. They can help first-time visitors with limited time and mobility get oriented to a city, but don't work well for basic transportation. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us!

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681 posts

Thanks for the trip report. It sounded like overall a good time was had by all. With 3 generations traveling together you never know how it will all turn out.

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6379 posts

Thanks for this great report - love the details! I'm hoping my friend Kim sees it; she's looking for ideas for London next spring.

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14285 posts

I'm with the others - thanks SO much for your trip report! You did a great job on a trip that wasn't "your" trip. I'm so happy you were able to shepherd your parents around and yes, very thankful Dad popped back up after his fall.

The thing that really struck me was what wonderful memories you all made across the 3 generations. Priceless.

I also like that you put what you'd do differently. Just because you "can" do a day trip doesn't mean you should, lol!

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Thanks for all the encouraging responses! I'm glad I finally summoned the courage to post it and I hope it helps someone.

After all I had read here, I had made my parents get trip insurance. I wasn't really expecting them to have to use it but when my dad fell I was sure we were going to test it out. Glad we didn't have to use it.

My sister's day trip to Scotland was also not something I would recommend. I think they took the train to Edinburgh. Not sure that they had time to do anything other than wander around a little bit and have lunch. The day I spent with my parents was much more relaxing!

Happy travels to all of you in 2019!

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5428 posts

A day trip to Scotland from London! The mind boggles. Surely by the time they arrived it was time to turn round and head back down again? Sounds like a classic example of going somewhere simply to say you've been there. You were wise not to join them.

Glad you enjoyed your trip.

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2633 posts

My first ever trip abroad was to London, and I decided it would make me very happy to spend my birthday in Edinburgh, so I took the train there. Arrived at 11 am, right onto a HoHo bus and went straight to the Castle for a tour, then walked down the Royal Mile for a bit of shopping and lunch at a pub, toured the Writer's Museum, back on the bus to Holyrood, then back to Waverly where I explored that area before catching the train back around 6 pm. Needless to say I plan to return and will spend a few days, but it did give me a little taste of this lovely city.

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1019 posts

Thanks for a wonderful trip report. I may pm you with some questions this weekend. Have to work tomorrow. Glad dad is ok !