The last stop on our trip was Amarillo. We just stopped to sleep before driving the final leg, but while there we caught the local fireworks show. The show used smaller fireworks than the Tulsa one, but we got to sit right up front, so it was still quite good and stress free. The next day we stopped by the Cadillac Ranch to leave our mark before heading home. We didn’t trust the girls with spray paint and opted for Sharpies instead. All-in-all it was a great trip.
We were very happy to be leaving Vegas and heading to the Grand Canyon. We stopped at the Hoover Dam along the way, which was kind of neat, but Jeanette and I both kind of expected more. It looked like a slightly bigger version of every other dam to us. The dam tour took 2 1/2 hours, so we skipped it and just went on.
We arrived in Flagstaff around 5pm and figured we’d eat some dinner and have plenty of time to see the Grand Canyon, but failed to account for two things. #1 Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings so the sun sets an hour earlier than we were thinking and #2 I takes nearly 2 hours to drive to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff. Our hotel has some nerve putting “Grand Canyon” in it’s name. We figured it was a 10 minute drive.
We skipped dinner and went straight to the canyon and arrived about an hour before sunset. We really had to rush to see what we could, but feel like we covered a good chunk of it considering. It would have been nice to spend an extra hour or two there. We finally ate dinner a little after 9 at what I assume is the only restaurant in the park. Took nearly 45 minutes for us all to get our food so it was pitch black out by the time we left. We pulled over on a turnout at one point to get out and look at the stars which was real nice. We had to leave the hazards on so our eyes couldn’t fully adjust but it was still pretty impressive. The drive out wasn’t much fun in the dark, but thankfully we made it back safely.
Our next stop was Vegas and in the words of Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather, “Hated it“. Jeanette and I visited 10 years ago, and I took a work trip here about two years ago and both times it was quite nice. We thought the girls would be blown away by all the themed hotels and free shows on the strip and it was on the way back, but man the place has gone downhill in the past few years.
We stayed at Excalibur because we thought the girls would get a kick out of staying in a castle and it was one of the cheaper options. During check in we were pulled out of line by the hotel staff (we assumed they were opening a new line) only to be given a pitch to come check out a timeshare for show tickets. Told them no and then had to start over in a 20 minute line to check in while parked in a space with a 15 minute limit. I had to take the girls to move the car while Jeanette finished waiting to check in. During our 2 day stay in Vegas we were stopped at least 20 more times for a timeshare pitch. The other MGM owned hotels were doing the same thing. They also called and left ads on the voicemail in our room every night that we couldn’t delete without listening to the whole thing, and couldn’t ignore because there’s a big red flashing light on the phone right next to the bed. They have no laundromat on site (or any of the big strip hotels). The only option they provide is to have them wash your laundry at $1.50 per pair of socks, $7 per shirt, etc. We could re-buy all of our clothes for less. I had to go to a Travellodge slightly off the strip to do laundry instead. We will never stay here or any of the hotels owned by MGM again (Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York-New York, MGM Grand, Bellagio, CityCenter, Mirage Monte Carlo or Circus Circus).
Really though the whole strip was much worse than previous trips. Everything that use to be free was now excessively expensive:
Mandalay Bay didn’t have a free preview of the aquarium any more.
The free tram is now a paid monorail.
The people movers have been removed.
The free white tiger exhibit is now expensive.
The Mirage volcano goes off hourly instead of every 15 minutes.
The Treasure Island show is every hour and a half now and has switched from a battle with the British Navy to pole dancing on a boat with fireworks.
The awesome FOA Schwartz closed.
The 4 story Coca Cola store is now 2 stories to make room for an Outback Steakhouse in the top of the coke bottle.
We still tried to make the best of things and it had it’s moments of fun. Mostly because it seemed so big and amazing to the girls. I don’t think we’ll be back for a long time though.
The main attraction in the LA area was, of course, Disneyland. We waiting to tell the kids about it until the night before we left on our trip so we wouldn’t have to hear about it for weeks. Katrina was real excited because some kids at school had told her about it. Aly was real excited because Katrina was.
It wasn’t until about a day before we left I remembered hearing horror stories about people waiting in line all day and only going on 3 rides and I started to panic. Did some quick research and found we were going during the busiest two week period of the year. I didn’t have time to really plan things out like I’ve heard you should, but I did download a few iPhone apps that were suppose to help.
The only tip I knew was to go left when you first enter the park and go clockwise to avoid the crowds, which makes a surprisingly big difference. We’ve been doing this everywhere for years. I guess people are genetically mispositioned to go right. Otherwise we had no plan other than being opportunist and going with whatever wasn’t busy at the time. It worked out well, we did pretty much everything in both parks and with one exception didn’t really have to wait long. I think if we had a plan we would have felt obligated to stick to it and wouldn’t have worked out as well. I’m sure it would have also sucked all the fun out of it.
We all had a really good time and the girls got to meet all their favorite characters. The weather was real nice too. Much better than Disney World I’m sure.
We spent 3 1/2 days in the L.A. area, two of those at Disneyland and took a ton of pics so I’m going to separate out the Disneyland stuff in another post. We arrived in LA mid-afternoon on Saturday, checked into our hotel and headed down to the beach. I left the camera behind so it didn’t get stolen or sand in it, so no pics. It was mid 60′s outside and cloudy which made kind of cold to swim plus the waves were way to big for the girls so we didn’t do much besides wade out a few times and build sand castles. The girls were happy though.
That night we headed down to Santa Monica to check out the pier and 3rd street promenade. It was pretty and made for some good people watching. We didn’t stay out too late because we wanted to make it to Disney first thing in the morning.
On Monday we went to Hollywood. Ate lunch at a place called uWink where you order and pay on computer kiosks at the table rather than dealing with a waiter (totally my idea from 5 years ago, though I’m told Ma Bell’s was similar but with phones). It was fun and the food was quite good. We played trivia games with all the other people at the restaurant while we waited. Afterward we checked out the Kodak and Chinese theaters and the walk of fame then cheesed it up at the wax museum.
Next we went to the Griffith Observatory which took way longer than it should have to get to. TomTom insisted it was at the top of a nearby hilltop neighborhood. After driving around an extremely tight twisting road for 20 minutes we finally asked a guy walking his dog who pointed us the right way. He said we were the 3rd car to ask him on this walk. It was a nice view from up there, but unfortunately the observatory itself is closed on Mondays so we didn’t get to go in. We could barely make out the Hollywood sign from there through the smog. We headed over to the Universal Citywalk for dinner which was a great place to end the night.
After Phoenix we headed to San Diego. There wasn’t much to see along the way other than the occasional dust tornado. We had to stop at two border patrol check points along the way even though we never crossed the border. I could have sworn the 4th amendment specifically prohibits the government from detaining me (even momentarily) or searching my vehicle without cause, but thankfully they seem to be using the honor system here. “Is everyone in the car a US citizen?” “Yeah..” “OK, carry on.”
We arrived around dinner time, and after scoring some free Sea World passes for the kids ($140 off) at McDonald’s we decided to go swimming, which turned out to be a bad idea considering it was 66° and the sun was setting.
The next day we went to Sea World which was AWESOME! The weather was perfect, the shows were great, the crowds weren’t too bad, they had souvenir cups that you could get $1 refills with all day and we had time to see everything. Definitely one of the better parts of the trip. The only down side is the spray on sunscreen we had didn’t work at all so we all got burned pretty bad. We bought some lotion the next day.
The last day in San Diego we went to the zoo which is overhyped IMO. It was big and they had panda bears, but otherwise just your average zoo but with more hills and five times the price. After the awesome shows the Albuquerque zoo put on we decided to check out the cat acrobats show here, which turned out to be two guys and two girls jumping on a trampoline in cat suites rather than tigers doing some tricks. It was quite disturbing. The rest of the shows were similar. At one point they took a wolf by me on a walk through the zoo. They yelled at me “Sir, we’re coming through with our Alaskan wolf.” to which I replied “Ok.. So should I take a picture with it or run for my life?”. Turns out they just wanted me to take a few steps out of the way.
It was 109° when we visited Phoenix and it felt like it, so don’t give me that dry heat nonsense. We visited the science center and Chase Field while we were there which were across the street from each other downtown. We figured parking would be an issue as well as traffic after the game, so we parked near our hotel and road the commuter train in to town. Worked great for the trip in, but the ride back felt like a NYC subway at rush hour.
The science center itself was pretty neat, but there seemed to be one adult for every 6-10 kids and they tended to shove themselves in front of us at every exhibit which really sucked the fun out of it. The baseball game was great! I found a tip on foursquare that if you stand by the organ during the 7th inning stretch they’ll put you on the jumbotron. Sure enough it worked, Katrina and I made it on there, but unfortunately we didn’t get any pics of it.
Here are the pics and videos. Sorry about the blurry/shaky videos, I’m still getting the hang of using the zoom and focus rings at the same time while holding the camera steady.
We had a great time on our trip. We took nearly 2,000 pictures, so I figured I would do a couple of posts showing some of the highlights of each location rather than posting them all at once.
The first leg of our trip was Albuquerque, NM. We only stayed one day there and visited the zoo, aquarium, botanical garden and Sandia Peak. Dinner on top of the peak was the girls Father’s Day present to me. Here are the photos and videos from that day. There are two pages of photos so click next. Double click the videos to watch full screen.