Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Tag: Hotel

Fireworks from Disney's Sequoia Lodge at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris – Sequoia Lodge

This is important to know about me: I am a huge Disney nerd. My family visited Disney World frequently when I was a kid, I worked there for almost two years during and after college and grad school, and I’ve gone back multiple times as an adult. I’ve always dreamed of going to all of the Disney parks worldwide, and one of the reasons I chose to go to France alone in November was because I knew none of the friends I’ve traveled with before would want to spend time at Disneyland Parc. Then my mom and sister and brother jumped on the bandwagon and it turned into a 2/3 family vacation.

We wanted to stay on site to make the most of what we figured was a once-in-a-lifetime trip there, so we chose the Sequoia Lodge. I’m a huge fan of the Wilderness Lodge at WDW, as well as the real National Park lodges out west that it’s based off of, so I was pretty excited since this seemed to be a close approximation of those. The lobby was pretty and well-themed, but lacked some of the grandeur that the Wilderness Lodge has. The Christmas decorations in the lobby added a warm, homey touch for the holidays though.

Family photo by Christmas decorations at Disney's Sequoia Lodge

We took some family pictures in the lobby thanks to the magic of self-timers on cameras.

As WDW veterans, we were not surprised to have to check in with security when driving onto the property. We were unprepared to have to show proof of our reservation though and it took me several minutes to dig through my phone in search of the confirmation. (I was saved by Google’s new-ish Trip app, but that’s a story for another post.) They also required us to pop our trunk for a quick peek before we were let into the parking area.

I dropped my mom off so she could check in while the rest of us parked the car. When the rest of us came in we were surprised to find more security there. My sister and I had to put our purses through an x-ray machine and we were all wanded with a metal detector before being allowed to enter the building. The security was a little off-and-on, so when we came back in hauling our large suitcases, no one was manning the checkpoint and we just walked in. The whole thing felt like security theater., which I hate. The whole thing just felt silly since none of the other doors even had key card locks to limit access to registered guests.

Other than the security show making me roll my eyes a little, we were thrilled with the hotel. One evening, we wandered through the Hotel New York and Hotel Cheyenne and were even more happy with our decision. The interior theming at the New York hotel was almost non-existent (although I thought the outdoor ice skating rink a la Rockefeller Center was a nice touch for Christmas) aside from some large apples decorating the check in counter. I liked the theming at Cheyenne a lot, but it’s very spread out and would’ve been a long walk to/from breakfast and the parks.

Snow flurries from Disney's Sequoia Lodge at Disneyland Paris

We woke up to snow flurries the first morning.

Golden Forest Perks

We had had to make some modifications to our reservation to add my brother who decided to come at the last minute, and somehow while calling the reservation line my mom got us upgraded to a Golden Forest room at no extra cost. This entitled us to a special check-in area (basically there was a desk and chairs you could sit down at and a bowl of Disney chocolate coins that I may or may not have taken a whole pocketful of), guaranteed room in the main lodge, an upgraded breakfast, access to a lounge with free pop, water, and hot beverages in the evening, and an extra Fastpass per person for each day of our stay.

Having the room in the main lodge was by far the best aspect of it. We didn’t realize until the second night that there were separate buildings that had exterior walkways. This wouldn’t be an issue in the summer, but it was cold when we were there.

I also enjoyed the upgraded breakfast. I don’t really have a frame of reference for what it compares to, but the scrambled eggs were way better than the usual breakfast buffet ones, and I had about three helpings of perfectly cooked bacon each morning. We didn’t get much of a chance to use the lounge in the evening, but I did discover on the second night that they would give you cans of pop and bottles of water to take back to your room, so I walked out with an armful of drinks to share with the family.

Our room had a perfect view of the parks and getting to see the landmarks when we first checked in was incredibly exciting. On our second night, after the parks closed, there was some kind of special fireworks and “bonfire” presentation on the lagoon outside of the hotel. Instead of standing outside in the cold for another hour, we just went up to our room and watched from the window in our nice, toasty room.

Fireworks from Disney's Sequoia Lodge in Disneyland Paris

The room was large by European standards and had plenty of room for the four of us. Our only complaint was the lack of outlets. There were only three places to plug things in in the room, and one of the outlets was controlled by the master light switch so it couldn’t be used when the lights were off at night. If you’re planning on traveling with a larger group, bring power strips or splitters because plugging in all of our phones, cameras, Fitbits, and other assorted electronics was a challenge.

We never hit up the bar in the lobby, but it had a roaring fire and was packed with people who looked like they were having a fantastic time. Instead, we spent our only real evening there attempting to use the pool. The Sequoia Lodge is the only place I’ve stayed at in Europe that actually has an indoor pool. We had to walk (run, actually) outside to get to the pool building. The map of the hotel we’d gotten when we checked in made it look like it was an enclosed walkway to get there, but it was not. And it was very cold. You entered the pool area through a locker room that had showers and a sauna, and for some unexplained reason a bunch of men were wandering through all of the changing areas.

I thought the pool area was very pretty and I liked the fake rock formation that housed the waterslide. My mom and sister were not pleased that you had to swim through the pool to get to the hot tub though. I found it a bit perplexing, but I went for a quick swim anyway. The hot tub ended up not being as hot as I’m used to and having to jump in the cool pool to get out of it kind of negated the effect, but I would’ve spent some more time there if the others hadn’t been waiting for me to leave. I settled for a couple runs down the waterslide and we headed back to the room. I had brought my waterproof camera on the trip just for this pool, but I sadly discovered that it does not work well indoors at all. I’ve gotten some gorgeous shots with it at several different beaches, but this was the first time I had used it inside. I didn’t end up with a single usable picture, sadly.

The hotel also has a great luggage storage area outside of the lobby and they took our crazy amount of luggage with no problem. We found out as we were rushing to leave that there was a quick shuttle from the hotel entrance to the train station, which saved us from having to powerwalk all the way there and try to figure out how to put our giant suitcases through the tiny bag scanners at the entrance to Disney Village.

I would definitely recommend the Sequoia Lodge if you’re planning on staying on-site at Disneyland Paris. It seems to have the best combination of theming and location, and was pretty reasonably priced compared to the higher-end resorts at the American Disney parks.

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Sunrise over Gold Beach in Arromanches-les-Bains

Why Any History Buff Needs to Visit Arromanches-les-Bains

I absolutely fell in love with the little town called Arromanches-les-Bains, near what was code named Gold Beach. It’s an incredible combination of natural beauty and history. You can walk on the same beach that Allied troops stormed on D-Day and marvel at the remnants of the war that still line the shore more than 70 years later.

Dawn on the beach

The next morning was when the excitement really kicked in. I got to watch the sky light up over the beach with the remnants of the mulberry harbor while the rest of the family got ready. It was fascinating thinking about the fact that men were storming the beaches at dawn in almost this exact spot on the morning of D-Day. Our room was located directly in front of one of the largest remaining pieces and it was very cool to get to see the breakwaters further out appear along the horizon as day broke.

Sunrise over Gold Beach in Arromanches-les-Bains

Daybreak from our hotel room

We wanted to hit the ruins at low tide so we could really explore them, so we headed straight out to the beach without eating breakfast. I was very glad we did because within a few hours, a lot of the ruins were submerged and the rest had enough water around them that we wouldn’t have been able to see them up close had we waited.

Even though I was in AP History and have read extensively about WWII, I had somehow never heard of the Mulberries until I began planning this trip. Now I’m thoroughly fascinated with the ingenuity that sparked them. The D-Day landing sites were chosen for surprise – the Allies wanted locations that the Germans wouldn’t expect them. Since ports and harbors were the most valuable, the Germans had those heavily fortified with mines and men.

The Allied leaders knew that they would have to find a way to supply the troops that landed on the beaches until they could capture one of the harbors on the French coast. In order to do this, they devised the ingenious mulberry harbors – artificial ports that could be used to offload reinforcements and supplies. Giant concrete breakwaters were towed across the English Channel and sunk along with some decommissioned ships to protect the harbor, and floating docks and bridges that were designed to rise and fall with the tide were installed and used to offload thousands of men and supplies for the growing Allied landing force. They were supposed to be built at Omaha and Gold beaches, but a bad storm blew through before they could be finished, and the one at Omaha was so thoroughly destroyed that the Allies abandoned it only the Gold Beach mulberry was used. The idea of “hey, we need a harbor here, so let’s just build one and tow it across the Channel” is mind-blowing to me.

Gold Beach in Arromanches-les-Bains, France

Looking east toward Gold Beach

We think these were pieces of one of the floating bridges that were used to offload cargo and people. They’ve been sort of stacked on top of each other like fallen dominoes over the last 72 years. As we wandered around them, some half-buried in sand, I was struck by the idea that visitors another 72 years from now might not even see any traces left behind.
Mulberry harbor pieces on Gold Beach in Arromanches-les-Bains
A little further west on the beach was the enormous piece that we had seen from our hotel window. We think this was a piece of one of the floating docks. The sand nearby was dotted with seashells and I am in love with this picture of nature’s beauty contrasted with the hulking remains of a war that destroyed so much. 72 years earlier, artillery shells were exploding over this beach and here we were picking up seashells on a cold, wintery morning.
 
Mulberry harbor pieces on Gold Beach in Arromanches-les-Bains

From artillery shells to sea shells

We strolled back along the sea wall, enjoying the view and posing for pictures. We were pretty cold by that point thanks to the wind and were in need of some hot beverages and a breakfast that ideally involved a lot of pastries.

Seawall in Arromanches-les-Bains, France
After grabbing breakfast at a nearby hotel’s restaurant, we checked out and visited the Musee du Debarquement, which is almost entirely devoted to the mulberry harbor here. Looking at dioramas really gave a sense of the scale of the operation. My favorite part was the moving model that showed how the bridges and piers were designed to move up and down with the waves and tide. The museum was fairly small, but very crowded even though it was early morning in the off-season. Several busloads of people arrived close together and swarmed the whole place making it hard to walk through the exhibits.

Musee du Debarquement

Around the back of the museum, we found a piece of one of the mulberry bridges that had been moved to replace a damaged bridge over a nearby river for over 50 years. After that bridge was decommissioned in 2004, the span was returned to Arromanches-les-Bains to be displayed.

Mulberry harbor bridge segment in Arromanches-les-Bains, France

After a few minutes of souvenir shopping and some more sea wall pictures, we hit the road to continue our tour of Normandy.

Mulberry harbor pieces at Gold Beach

By the time we left, the ruins were almost submerged.

Where to stay

We had some trouble finding our hotel – Hotel de la Marine – because it turned out to be off of a pedestrian only zone which greatly confused our GPS. We ended up dropping my brother off nearby and he went in search of the hotel. Their website says they don’t offer parking, but they actually have a few hidden spots that you have to drive through the pedestrian zone and along the sea wall to get to. We were lucky that it was an off-season, and I wouldn’t count on getting one during the busier summers. The parking area was tiny and pulling in and out of the spaces required quite a few back and forth passes. Getting to drive along the sea wall was kind of neat though, even if it was only for a couple hundred feet.

We were absolutely thrilled with the location of the hotel. It would be the perfect spot for a summer visit with its location right along the sea wall. We almost didn’t find it because we were doing all of our bookings through Expedia and it’s not listed on there. It wasn’t until I tried a search on Booking.com that I located it. I would strongly recommend doing searches on multiple websites to make sure you find everything available because no search engine is comprehensive. We had to have two separate rooms because they could only accommodate two people in each room, but the staff made sure we were right next to each other. We even lucked out with a killer view of the beach.

The hotel had a nice restaurant that we chose for dinner, largely because there didn’t appear to be much else open in town. It seemed expensive, but that was because we hadn’t had any other meals in France yet. (I’m not counting lunch at McDonald’s.) In hindsight, it was pretty much on par with the prices we paid elsewhere in France, and I’ve come to the conclusion that food just costs a fortune there. I ordered a creamy pasta dish that I didn’t particularly care for, but everyone else seemed quite pleased with their food. We split a bottle of wine and toasted to the start of another grand adventure.

Hotel de la Marine in Arromanches-les-Bains

Cheers!

The rooms themselves were decent – tiny by American standards, but on par with most places I’ve stayed at in Europe. There was some trouble with the glass around the shower in the room I stayed in that resulted in water leaking all over the bathroom floor, but my brother and sister in the room next door reported no issues with theirs. My only real complaint was the fact that the long curtains covered the radiator so we had to choose between having the room warm, having it dark, or having it both warm and dark until the curtains caught fire. We chose warmth sans fire.

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