Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Couple Notes on Thank-you's

Now that I've told you all about the Castle honeymoon, I guess it's time to get back to wedding related things. I have plenty to share about before getting into official recaps but there is something that seems to be keeping me from finishing any of those posts... You see, I'm still working on finishing our thank you notes.

The first step was ordering them. We used a wedding photo for the front and a couple pictures from our honeymoon on the inside. We ordered them from shutterfly and I think they turned out really nice!
Personal Photo/ Front
Personal Photo/Inside
Next it was time to start writing! I've learned I'm actually pretty good at writing thank you notes. That is, until my hand starts cramping up after I write about ten. I'm not just being a sissy, it really hurts! It's probably because I write too fast and I'm a little out of practice in this paperless age. If I was writing thank you notes on my iPhone they would all be done by now. But alas they're not and I've got to get them done before I can move on to anything else!

I've come up with a sort of outline that I find helpful when writing our thank you cards. It helps speed up the process a bit. Sometimes I have a hard time coming up with what to say and I know I can't spend ten minutes contemplating each and every thank you note. So I searched some threads here on the boards, got some ideas and came up with a general outline for our thank-yous. Here's the opener I came up with:

"Thank you so much for being a part of our special day. We were so happy to have you there to celebrate with us."

Then I move onto something more personal and thank them for their gift.

"Thank you so much for the waffle maker! Mr. Castle has already made many waffle breakfasts for us. It's the perfect addition to our kitchen."

Then I come up with a closer. Depending on the relationship it's either really mushy or just very gracious.

"Thank you again so much!" or "Thanks again so much! We love you and miss you!"

Mr. Castle and I had a debate/argument on how to handle monetary gifts. We finally compromised and came up with this wording:

"Thank you so much for your generous gift. It will be a great help to us as we start our married life together."

Thank you cards can be stressful and cause stupid arguments... When it came to thanking people for honeyfund gifts there was no debate. They were the easiest to write! It was great to be able to tell them a little about our experience with the gift they gave us.

"Thank you so much for your contribution to our honeyfund. We had the most amazing dinner in Venice at our hotel's restaurant. We ate in the garden, which was beautiful, and the food was fantastic! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful gift!"

It makes it easier to have a little bit of a format in your head. Of course some thank you notes will be different depending on the relationship. I haven't even started on my bridesmaids because I know writing those will involve tears... and with certain guests I added something more specific like, "I loved dancing with you," or "I will always remember you saying, 'When did your wedding turn into a rave?' That made me laugh so hard!" (And yes someone did say that to me!) Thank you notes can be daunting but it's best to just bite the bullet, finish them and move on. In fact I better go finish some now!

But before I go finish, I do have one question for the hive: Do you think you should to send a thank you to people who didn't bring a gift? I know there have been many threads on this subject but I wanted a fresh opinion. Some people think the wedding favor, in our case a bottle of wine, was thank you enough. Others say etiquette requires you to send a thank you to everyone who attended. I'm still not sure how I feel about it. What do you think?

Poll: Should you send a thank you note to someone who did not give a gift?
option a) Yes, always!
option b) No, the favor was enough.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Castles abroad: Disneyland Paris!

Yes I had to dedicate a whole post to Disneyland Paris. What can I say? The Castles love Disney! Mr. Castle and I hope to visit all the Disney parks in our lifetime so we were happy to cross one off the list on our honeymoon! First off let me tell you about where we stayed!

Staying in one of the Disneyland Paris hotels was not an option for us. The prices per night are quite pricey, even by Castle honeymoon standards. Mr. Castle found us a close hotel that offered a free shuttle to the park. This hotel was sooo nice, probably the best hotel we stayed in on our honeymoon. The Hotel L'Elysee is right across the street from a Metro RER stop. It was very easy to get from central Paris. We couldn't have been happier with the area around the hotel, tons of restaurants and cafes. I had the best cappuccino of the whole trip right across the street from our hotel!
Our first picture in the park. I apologize now for all my iPhone pictures. We didn't want to carry around our nice camera...

I will start by saying that Disneyland Paris is just as magical and enjoyable as Disneyland/World. There are some striking cultural differences though between Disneyland Paris and its domestic counterparts. One thing that we took note of right away when visiting the park was that we were joined mostly by families with children. It's not like in the states where Disneyland and World are visited by "children of all ages." This park definitely catered to young children. There are lots of rides and walk throughs for children to experience. There were also multiple play grounds in the park, something that I have never seen at an amusement park. After around 4pm not only did the park clear out, because all the kids were going home, but all the restaurants closed! There was not one place to get dinner inside the park, Frontierland became a true ghost town! We had to leave the park and go over to the Disney Village, their equivalent to Downtown Disney, to have dinner. The advantage to the park being geared towards kids and everyone clearing out around 4pm, is that we basically walked onto every ride. The big "E ticket" rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain and Phantom Manor (AKA Haunted Mansion) were not very popular with the children so we never waited more than five minutes.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Park. We found ourselves at times just walking around taking everything in. Mr. Castle told me before we visited that it is considered the most beautiful of the Disney Parks and I can see why. It seemed everywhere we turned was a picturesque scene. You really could just walk around and enjoy the beauty of everything around you.
A beautiful view of Big Thunder Mountain. I have to say Disneyland Paris wins for the best Big Thunder Mountain. It's much more thrilling than it's American Cousins.

One of my favorite things at Disneyland Paris was the Castle. Surprise, surprise, Mrs. Castle likes Castles. Mr. Castle informed me that since there are actual medieval castles in Europe they decided to make this Disneyland Castle more "fairy tale" like.
Sleeping Beauty's Castle 
We were so excited to be there! 

The best part about the Disneyland Paris Castle? There is a dragon underneath it!

Shout out to Miss Dragon! Let's face it, dragons are pretty cool and this animatronic Dragon was amazing. I took a video on my iPhone so I could share with everyone the awesomeness of this dragon.
Hope you like Mr. Castles cameo at the end there.
If you are a huge fan of Disneyland in California or the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, you might be interested to know some of the major differences at Disneyland Paris. For one, the area that we know as Tomorrowland is called Discoveryland.
Mr. Castle thinking about a Discovery yet to be made
What we know as "The Haunted Mansion," is called "Phantom Manor." It's very different.
The story of this ride is centered around a bride. :)
Space Mountain is completely different in Paris. From the outside decor to the roller coaster itself. The roller coaster features a loop and it is much more intense than the others.
Something you would NEVER see in California or Orlando. Five minute wait for Space Mountain!!! 
Walking right onto Pirates of the Caribbean. Mr. Castle thinks he might enjoy the Paris version over the original at Disneyland. It's a close call, but for me I vote for the original.

My only complaint about our visit would have to be the weather. It was freezing! Our first day it rained. Our second was day was dry but just as cold.
Freezing and trying to keep as warm as possible. I had to buy extra socks for my poor frozen toes.
Even with the cold we had a great time. We got to be kids on our honeymoon and experience one of our favorite places in a different country!  

Would you make a special trip to an amusement park on your honeymoon? Any other Disney nerds? Tokyo Disney is next on our list!

Just in case you didn't catch it the first time!

All Photos (and video) are personal!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Castles Abroad: Paris!

We decided to fly from Venice to Paris. It was surprisingly cheaper than taking the train. Italy really wore us out so we decided to take it a little easier in Paris. We did a lot of the touristy things, we went to the top of the Eiffel tower, visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Opera Garnier and the Arc du Triomphe. We also took a tour of the Palace of Versailles.
 A beautiful day in Paris
 I wore special socks
 The Castles in front of the Eiffel Tower
 The Palace of Versailles
 We made sure to go when all the fountains were on in the gardens at Versailles. 
 Visiting the Opera Garnier. Mr. Castles rule was no singing anything from Phantom of the Opera. 

One highlight during our time in Paris was meeting up with friends! A friend of ours was visiting Paris with her best friend and they offered to take Mr. Castle and I to their favorite tea house, Mariage Freres. It was quite an experience. The tea, the food, and the company were all fabulous but the most memorable part was the dessert. It was a chocolate mouse wrapped in, wait for it... edible gold! Yeah, we ate gold on our honeymoon.
Enjoying our tea and ready to dig into our dessert! 
Best dessert ever
Later that same evening we met up with our friends once again to have a picnic on the river Seine. We had some wine and watched the sun go down with Paris as our backdrop. We saw a lot of people enjoying wine outdoors in parks all around Paris and we were happy to partake! We had so much fun. There was definitely some tipsy, OK more than tipsy, tap dancing in the streets of Paris. It was a night to be remembered!
Our picnic spot in Paris. The tip of the Île de la Cité (The Island where Notre Dame is located)
Later that evening... Mr. Castle eager to carry his bride
My final Paris highlight took place on the last evening of our honeymoon. As a wedding gift we were given a dinner cruise with Bateaux Parisiens. We had to "dress smart" for this dinner so we carted Mr. Castle's suit around during our whole trip just for this one night! But it was worth it, he looked very handsome.
My handsome husband, waiting for the Metro
This dinner cruise was amazing. The food, the view, the wine, everything was incredible. It was the best possible way to end our honeymoon.
Our food was to die for!
The Castles "dressing smart" 
The view of the Eiffel tower during desert!

Well I took you through to the last night of our honeymoon, but I still have one more location to recap! In the middle of our stay in Paris we left the city for two days to visit Disneyland Paris! Coming up next!

If you missed the first half of the Castles Abroad check it out!
The Castles Abroad: Italy!

The Castles abroad: Italy!

As I said in my previous post we did A LOT on our honeymoon. To give you the play by play would take awhile and probably be a bit boring. So I'm just going to give you some highlights from our trip instead. If anyone is interested in specific details or advice send me a message and I'd be happy to give you more information about our trip!

Personal Photos ahead!
First stop, Rome!
The Castles in front of the Colosseum on our ancient Rome tour
We arrived in Rome after an 8 hour over night flight from NYC. We got to our hotel too early to check in so we walked around a bit. We were so exhausted and only one thing could perk us up... gelato! I don't know what it is about Italian gelato but I want some everyday of my life. We went back to the same gelato place everyday we were in Rome. I need to find a good gelato place in NYC because I want some... like right now. I asked Mr. Castle why we didn't take any pictures of our gelato and he responded, "Because we had full hands." True. No time for photos we were eating gelato!

Other than the gelato, the biggest highlight in Rome for me was our tour of the Vatican.
The Castles in St. Peter's Basilica
As a born and raised Catholic this was an especially thrilling experience for me. I cried in St. Peter's Basilica and was awestruck in the Sistine chapel. All the art and history were amazing enough but one of the most memorable moments during our visit to the Vatican was climbing St. Peter's dome. It was 551 steps to the top! It's quite a hike but the views from the top and the experience is totally worth it.
Starting the climb...
Halfway there! Inside the top of the dome.
Towards the top things get a little narrow and the walls are slanted.
The view from the top.
On the way back down, letting that Italian wind blow through my hair.

We spent four days in Rome. We saw all the major sites, the Colosseum, the roman forum, Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. We also visited this awesome excavation site tour called the Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini. Check it out if your planning a trip to Rome anytime soon! I could go on and on about Rome. But I'd like to move on and talk about my new favorite city, Florence.
 The Duomo in Florence

I fell in love with Florence. It's such a special place full of art and beauty. One highlight from this part of our trip was our Florence sunset bike tour. We biked all over the city while learning about the different buildings, the history, and culture of Florence.
Ready for our bike tour. Our guide told us we got to wear "sexy vests" for the ride.
Rocking my orange vest while bike riding. Way to go Mr. Castle for getting an action shot.

After our bike tour we had our favorite meal of the whole honeymoon! It was at the restaurant Sasso Di Dante. It's right next to the Duomo so you would think it would be full of tourists but it totally wasn't! The food was amazing. Mr. Castle had gnocchi with truffles and I had some sort of beef pasta dish. I don't even remember what it was called but it was soo good!
Having some wine with the Duomo as our backdrop
Best Meal Ever
Our last night in Florence we walked up to the piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset. It was very romantic. If you go, you have to go at sunset.
Our view
So Romantic....
...especially with some Duff beer! The Simpson's and Duff beer were strangely very popular in Italy!

Our last stop in Italy was Venice. We spent our first day exploring the city and ended the evening with dinner at our hotel. Our hotel was on top of a fabulous restaurant the Locanda Montin. The food was excellent, and it was nice knowing we didn't have to walk far to get to our hotel! In fact we could see our hotel room balcony from our table!
 Mr. Castle paying with his food. You can barely see it, but our hotel balcony is right above Mr. Castle's head in this picture.
Enjoying some wine after a full day in Venice
For our final day we booked a  Venice in one day tour.  The tour was great and included a Grand Canal boat cruise for later that same evening. In between the walking tour and the boat cruise we killed time by doing some shopping. Mr. Castle joked that Venice is sort of like a big shopping mall... there are alleys of little cute shops everywhere! I couldn't help but go into most of them... Finally the time came for our Grand Canal boat cruise. It was a great way to end our Italian adventure.
A shot from our tour. 
Side note: Most of our tours included a headphone so we could actually hear what our guide was saying. It was very helpful in the more crowded areas. :)
Boat tour with the Rialto Bridge behind us. I'm wearing some new earnings I had just bought. :)

I loved Italy and could have stayed forever, but it was time to move on. Next up, we jetted off to Paris! Anyone else visit Italy? What was your favorite "highlight?"

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Castles Abroad

We had an amazing honeymoon. It probably wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, but it was perfect for us. We didn't stay in fancy hotels, we didn't splurge on honeymoon massages or breakfast in bed. We had a strict budget, we stuck to it, and we did A LOT. My favorite quote from our honeymoon comes from Mr. Castle. At the end of a full day of museums and sight seeing Mr. Castle turned to me and said, "My brain is full." Perfect description of our honeymoon. We saw so much, learned so much and took in so much from the different places we visited. We were basically exhausted by the end of our trip. We now totally understand the allure of relaxing on the beach for your honeymoon. Our next trip will be just that! But we wanted a European adventure for our honeymoon and boy did we get it!
Personal Photo / Showing off our rings while checking the map in Rome

Before I go into the details of our honeymoon, I wanted to share how we made our plans. I never got a chance to blog about it pre-wedding because I was too occupied with wedding posts!

First off, we did not use a travel agent for our trip. We booked our airfare, train tickets, and all six of our hotels ourselves. That's right six! One for Rome, Florence, Venice, two in Paris and one near Disneyland Paris. We tried to stick to a budget of $100 a night for our hotels. We were a little over on some and a little under on others but for the most part we did pretty well. Most of our hotels were pretty decent, some were very nice and only one was disappointing. But we didn't spend much time in our hotel rooms, we were out exploring! So as long as it was clean and had a decent bed we were happy.

We found all our hotels by scouring reviews on tripadvisor.com. Once we found a hotel that looked OK we would check the rates and compare with others. We also found a lot of great restaurants using tripadvisor. I downloaded their free app on my iPhone which has guides for specific cities that works offline. I used it in Florence and Paris (They have one for Rome too but I forgot to download it.) It was a huge help when we would be somewhere and have no idea where to eat! Seriously, trip advisor fan here. It's such a great site to use when planning trips.

We decided to book tours of some of the "must see" spots on our trip. We booked tours for the Vatican, Ancient Rome, a Florence Sunset Bike Tour, Venice in a day, Paris ghost and mysteries tour, and finally a Palace of Versailles tour. We booked all these tours through a site called Viator.com. This site has so many tours for a lot of different locations. All our tours were great, very informative and well worth booking. Our bike tour of Florence was our favorite. The only thing I have to say, that isn't necessarily negative but worth noting, is that we were almost always the youngest people on these tours... I guess going on a guided tour isn't really the cool hip thing to do... but we're nerds and learning the history of these sites was important to us. :)

Last thing I want to add before jumping into details is that our honeyfund registry paid for most of our honeymoon. I know there are a great deal of people that frown upon honeymoon registries because they feel like it's asking for money. I've also heard people say you shouldn't plan a honeymoon you can't afford and make your guests pay for it. Well in our case we budgeted for our honeymoon and decided to use our honeyfund registry for experiences, like the tours. Shortly after our invites went out all the tours were purchased, so we added more... and they all got purchased as well. So we started adding dinners, desert, wine, hotels, train tickets, pizza, gelato, etc. People bought every dang thing on there! Our normal Bed Bath and Beyond registry was not as popular. I think mostly because people didn't want us to have to bring gifts back to New York with us. Our guests were so excited to give us something for our honeymoon. I had so many people tell me how cool it was and how they couldn't wait to hear about the experience they bought us. So with the popularity of our honeyfund we got to save the money we budgeted to go towards our honeymoon. And now we'll be spending it on things we want from Bed Bath and Beyond. So really it all came full circle :) Point is if you are thinking about doing a honeymoon registry I say go for it!

Alright enough about all that! Next up, The Castles abroad: Italy!
Personal Photo / Silly American

I'm curious, how do you plan your trips? Do you have a site like tripadvisor that you use for ideas? Anyone else create/creating a honeymoon registry?