Back from France for about 2 weeks now, and just getting around to post. Thank you to all who provided information about the area, what a gem! And since I didn't find too many trip reports on the area, I wanted to provide some info on our trip for others to use in their planning.
We spent four full days in Chamonix, and could have stayed for a week more and still not seen everything we wanted to. Arrive on June 16 to Geneva, picked up our car, and drove to Chamonix. We didn't have time to use the car to explore the area, so spending money on the additional drive was a waste. But did feel better about having the GPS - bring your own if you have one, but worth the rental. The drive is short and breathtaking. You will need money for the tolls, under 10 euros. Both sides take Swiss/Euros. I won't go into the details about the problems we had with our ATM card, but suffice it to say, make sure you have a back up credit card, and at least some cash in your own currency to change a bit if you are in a pinch. There is an AMEX change both in the arrivals hall.
We rented our apartment from JK Chamonix, small 1 bedroom with sofabed. Good for 2 adults and 1-2 children, but not a lot of storage space. We had our 8 yo daughter with us, so she didn't take up too much room! A quick 5-10 minute walk into town you will find groceries, pharmacy and plenty of restaurants, shops and bakeries to keep you busy. We traveled in mid June, so it was not crowded at all, and only found one restaurant closed until July.
We hiked most days - first stopped by the Office du Tourisme and they gave us some nice maps to use. Did the Gailland walk the first day, took the free bus back to Chamonix, although it wasn't that far. Day two was the Aiguille du Midi, which took most of the day. We bought the Mont Blanc multipass, which is available at all of the major lift locations. The views were breathtaking, highly recommended, and I am not a lover of heights! We also did the Lac Bleu hike at the Plan du Aiguille which was wonderful. Bring your picnic to eat here, lovely views and nice spots to sit and just look around. We also hiked down to the Mer de Glace, but it was closed at the time so we couldn't go into the Ice Cave. And then took the lift to Planpraz and le Brevent, unfortunately it was cloudy so we couldn't see much, but wanted to make the most of our multipass.
We tried to get to Le Planards where they have the summer luge - but it didn't open until July, which was our only major disappointment of our time in Chamonix. The rest of Le Planards is good for the under 8 crowd. This park is located across the street from the Montenvers train station that brings you to the Mer de Glace.
Food - our favorites were Valentino's in town and Le Boccalatte just outside of town near our apartment. Everyone had a kids menu available, which was mostly chicken nuggets, fries, and ice cream for dessert. Some places had pasta or steak as choices, but my daughter sure got her fill of ice cream! 90% of locals spoke some English, but if you tried to speak French, we found they appreciated it and our minimal high school French came back very quickly! Many wonderful cheese, bread, chocolate shops around.
-If you have kids with you be sure to carry some extra snacks/croissant with you during your hikes, they can be more strenuous than you think. We brought our Nintendo DS with us, but you'll need a European Nintendo charging adapter to charge it - it doesn't accept the 220v. Also, there is a McDonald's in town, just in case!
-We brought our hydration pack with us, and filled it the night before to make it really cold. Went through the entire bag during our hikes, esp with the altitude. And it also had enough room in it to hold other items as a day pack. We also brought empty water bottles, but mostly used the hydration pack.
-We also brought the Rick Steves picnic set, but only ended up using it once. You could pack a few plastic forks, etc. if you think you'll picnic a lot, otherwise don't bother.
-Pack light, but smart. It was warmer than usual while we were there, so I was glad we took a few tank tops with us. Layering is great, and bring a rainjacket and umbrella, it rained one full day we were there.
-There is a full service laundery in Chamonix Sud called Cham Laverie. We dropped off our stuff, came back several hours later, and everything was neatly folded for us, for about 11euro. Well worth it!
I'm sure there is much more, but feel free to email me with any questions. Loved Chamonix and hope to get back someday!