WE had a toddler enthralled by Mickey Mouse — and an eight year old starting to lose the Disney gloss. When we decided on a driving holiday to France, we knew Disneyland was a must.
Flights to Portugal and guaranteed sun had been our holidays of choice up to now, so we decided to play it safe with the weather and spend a few extra hours in the car to make it south to the Vendee.
It was a gamble that paid off. We arrived in a rain-sodden Roscoff — and five hours later we were in sun-soaked St Jean de Monts.
That’s not to say the driving was a breeze. Travelling long, weary distances with an eight-year-old, two-year-old and six-month-old in the back seat will never be plain sailing. But the French motorways are nothing like their Irish counterparts. Their service areas aren’t just about filling the tank with petrol and picking up a coffee. They have microwaves (a necessity for feeding a baby), picnic tables — and some even had play areas. (A word of warning, though — make sure you check the requirements for driving in France before you travel and watch their tolls, they are very pricey.)
Our plan was to spend nine nights at Le Clarys Plage resort in St Jean de Monts in the Vendee with Keycamp (now operating as Eurocamp), and then drive another five hours to La Croix du Vieux Pont in Berny Rivere, just an hour outside Paris.
Our Eurocamp operator was hesitant — did we realise it would be another eight-hour drive back to ferry from Paris? She feared we would spend most of our holiday in the car.
But no, we were determined. We wanted the Vendee for guaranteed sun. And Paris for Disney.
In a way, she and I were both right. Yes, there was a lot of driving — over 3,000km in two weeks — but would we change anything about our holiday? Not for a second.
The eight-year-old is still yearning to return to Le Clarys Plage with its five-slide swimming pool and the friends she made in the adjoining cabins. They played every evening until dusk on the leafy roadside just outside our door. We watched from our deck and soaked up the cosy, neighbourly feel.
To her credit, again our Eurocamp operator, who held our hands through the whole booking (road maps and a personalised itinerary were all part of the service), had given us a few words of warning about this resort. It would be busy and noisy because it was August she told us, and she was right. It was full, mainly of English tourists, with queues for the pool every morning (towels on deck chairs were the order of the day) and theme parties at night in the resort bar that could be heard from our cabin until midnight.
None of that bothered us really — we didn’t want to spend the day by the pool with young children in searing temperatures. Quick visits and swims were all we needed. And once the kids slept through the night time noise (they did) we didn’t mind.
What we did miss were nice, nearby restaurants to stroll to in the evenings. The beach was a five minute walk — but there were few appealing eateries and ice cream parlours en route. And even if they did look enticing, we probably wouldn’t have tried them — not when my daughter was charged €20 for a hairbraid around the corner from Le Clarys Plage.
Again, none of it mattered. We were happy to base ourselves at our chalet. Our BBQ was used every night as we sat out on the deck. Our family dinners were by far the nicest part of our holiday.
The woods were nearby for walks. The kids clubs were an option to keep the children entertained. Puy du Foy — a historical theme park complete with full reenactments and shows — was an interesting day trip. And the little town of St Gilles Croix de Vie, with its quirky little tourist shops, old-style carousel and gorgeous ice cream, was ideal for summertime evening strolls. It was nine days of bliss.
Then it was back in the car for the five-hour drive to Paris. Disney was calling.
We arrived at La Croix du Vieux Pont and fast realised we could have spent our entire two weeks here. Just an hour from Paris, there’s no beach or sea breeze — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any sand. Around the corner from our cabin the camping site had its very own man-made beach.
Again, we had our own deck and BBQ (the decking gate was worth the extra charge to keep the two-year-old with us, safe and sound), there were the same leafy streets, identical kids clubs and a pool that, while not quite on a par with the Vendee, still had a slide big enough to thrill the kids.
Not that there was much time for them to splash around in it. Day one was spent in Disney.
We arrived at opening time at 10am — and stayed right through until closing time at 11pm with its spectacular fireworks display. It was a different, and very affordable way to experience the House of Mouse.
We picked up 25th anniversary tickets which saw all of us pay just €150 for day passes. Compare that to two and three-day deals with hotel accommodation and it was a bargain.
We paced ourselves for the long day ahead by making good use of the Fastpass option. Lunch was at Café Mickey in Disney Village — it’s a good way to meet the characters and get autographs and saves you queuing later in the hot sun to meet the characters (booking recommended). Watching our two year old’s enchanted reaction to a real-life Minnie Mouse is a memory we will never forget.
Including the three-hour return journey from the resort, it was a 16-hour day trip. Incredibly, even with three kids in tow (including a baby), it was remarkably stress-free.
The next day we set off to Paris to give a very curious eight year old her first introduction to the Eiffel Tower. And we were left with more precious moments we will treasure forever.
The next day we said goodbye to the Eurocamp cabin that had been a home from home for us. The drive to the ferry was undeniably long (there was, of course, a stop en route for wine) — but Paris and Disney made it worth every minute.
Brittany Ferries have great sailing times with children in tow — both journeys see you travel by night and the cabins cosily slept the five of us, with four bunk beds and cot in the centre of the floor (again, this needs to be booked in advance). Magic shows, discos and even a cinema and swimming pool kept the children entertained until bedtime.
Portugal and a three hour direct flight from Cork might be the more straightforward option — but our ambitious 3,000km roadtrip through France was an adventure we’ll be embarking on again.
A seven-night stay at Le Clarys Plage in North Vendee on June 6 is €400, rising to €606 on June 25 and €966 on July 15.
(Prices are based on Esprit range 2 bedrooms 1 bathroom with decking.)
A seven-night stay at La Croix du Vieux Pont on June 6 is €400, rising to €606 on June 25 and €930 on July 15.
See www.eurocamp.ie or call 021 4252300.
¦ A family of four can travel with Brittany Ferries with their car in a 4 berth cabin from €66 per person each way.
Book by Feb 3 for a 15% discount.
The new sailing season is due to commence on Saturday, March 15 2014 until November 1.