Go Back   theDIBB > DIBB Members Trip Reports > Disneyland California and West Coast Trip Reports > Indexes
Forgotten Password?
Notices
Ocean Florida
Reply
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes
Unread 20 Sep 19, 02:08 PM  
Link to this Post
#1
Silvercat
Apprentice Imagineer
 
Silvercat's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 08
Disneyland & West Coast Road trip June 2019

TRIP REPORT : The West Coast Road Trip!
California 2019

Cast : Carolyn – happiest when trip planning
DH - grateful not to have to do any planning!
Robin & Larry – friends from Texas
Paula & Wes – Robin’s sister & brother in law, also from Texas
Assorted other family & friends of Robin & Larry

Experience : Carolyn – 17 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 9 to Disneyland Resort Paris, 1 to Hong Kong Disneyland, 1 to Tokyo Disneyland, 1 Disney Cruise (The Disney Dream)
DH - 10 trips to Walt Disney World, 1 to Disneyland, 5 to Disneyland Resort Paris, 1 to Hong Kong Disneyland, 1 to Tokyo Disneyland, 1 Disney Cruise

Transportation : Personal car, aeroplane, hire car

Accommodation:Raddison Blu, Manchester
Golden Nugget, Las Vegas
Best Western Plus Inn, Anaheim (two visits)
Grand Californian Grand Villa, Disneyland
The Redondo Beach Hotel
The Queen Mary, Long Beach
Holiday Inn Express, Indio
Holiday Inn Express, Prescott
Arizona Mountain Inn & Cabins, Flagstaff
The Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel, Williams
Hoover Dam Lodge & Casino

Dates : Saturday 08 June to Sunday 30 June 2019

PLANNING

This is yet another trip that was started by a throwaway comment made by our friend Larry. We met up with Larry and his wife Robin in Walt Disney World in 2017, and at some point during that week Larry happened to mention that as his 60th birthday coincides with the 60th birthday of the Matterhorn, the Monorail, and the Submarine ride in Disneyland, California, he would like to spend his birthday there and invite all his Disney friends to join him. We thought about it overnight, discussed it, and decided that it sounded like a splendid idea to us!

As per usual with us, over the next few months this trip expanded and grew into a bit of a potential road trip. Robin and I were in almost constant email contact for the first few months, and we agreed that it would be great to start the trip in Las Vegas, (somewhere none of us have been before), before driving down to Anaheim. We agreed on dates, as we knew we had to be in Disneyland by the date of Larry’s birthday. Robin and Larry were going to drive to Las Vegas from Texas, and they planned out places to stop off and visit along the way. Larry also wrote a carefully worded email to the President of Disneyland, informing her that it would be his 60th birthday on the same day as 3 of their attractions, in the hope that Disney might help him to celebrate alongside the attractions!

Meanwhile, DH and I looked online at the rest of the West Coast area and made a list of all the wonderful places we would love to visit. Unfortunately, this list was huge and we reluctantly agreed that it would be impossible to cover all these places in just one visit, so we got the big World Map book off our bookshelf and began to make a more realistic plan! We decided on a 3-week trip, and with our more realistic list of places to visit, DH ordered a couple of folding maps from Amazon for California and Arizona that showed travel times between towns. After some discussion with and advice from my son’s in-laws, who had recently been to the USA, I bought a second-hand, reasonably priced Satnav through a UK-based Disney fan website, loaded with maps of the USA, as this is something we would need for a road trip. We already have one of these, I bought a new one from Walmart a few years ago, but it is currently lounging in our locker box in Florida!

We had a rough idea of places we wanted to visit, and were able to cross Phoenix off the list fairly early on. Our original plan had been to visit there to go to Alice Cooper’s restaurant, but due to the area being redeveloped, the restaurant had closed unexpectedly a few months ago. Also, Phoenix was a bit too far East for us anyway, we were attempting to do a circular route and only had 21 days to do this in. I was also very keen on keeping driving times between places we would be visiting/staying to a maximum of 4 hours at a time where possible, because I wasn’t going to be doing any of the driving and I didn’t think it was fair on DH for him to be driving for hours on end and not see any of the amazing scenery I think we will be driving through, so this meant lots of planned stops along the way, which we are both more than happy with. Ultimately, after much poring over maps and plenty of discussions, we agreed that we would spend a few days in Las Vegas followed by Disneyland with our friends, and then when they departed for home, we would spend one day on our own in Disneyland before starting our road trip. This would take in Redondo Beach, Long Beach, (at DH’s request – he wanted to visit the Queen Mary and I booked us a surprise one-night stay there), the Joshua Tree National Park, Prescott, Sedona, Flagstaff, Williams including the Grand Canyon, and finishing with a day at the Hoover Dam, before returning to Vegas for our return flight. It was so hard to decide how many days and nights to spend in each location, and I’m not sure even now that we have made the right decisions, but I had to get on and book hotels so we’ll just have to make the best of it now!

Robin had researched hotels in Vegas and suggested the Golden Nugget on Fremont Street to me, as she said it has 4 towers in varying levels of status, and the deluxe Rush Tower had just been refurbished. It is ideally placed for exploring and sightseeing, but is slightly off the strip so is more affordable. On her advice, I bought a Landry’s Select Club membership, as that will give us discounts in lots of hotels and restaurants over there. The card costs $25 but you immediately get that put onto your card as a credit, so I thought this was be a good thing to do. We then both made separate reservations at the Golden Nugget, although for some reason I wasn’t able to do the reservation using my Landry’s card, so I just made the booking and I’ll raise this with them when we check in.

Robin then had this brilliant idea to try and reserve a Grand Villa at the Grand Californian hotel. She said that on their own, the price was extortionate, but that if we would like to share the villa and the cost, and her sister Paula would too, then it would be more affordable. We loved the idea, and once I had checked out the layout of the Villa, we were definitely in! We would be spending the night of the day we arrive in Anaheim offsite at a Best Western, and then would move to the Grand Californian Grand Villa for 3 nights. Robin is trying to keep this as a birthday surprise for Larry, he thinks they are booked into a standard room there. There are 3 bedrooms with attached bathrooms in the Villa, so each couple staying there get their own bedroom and bathroom, plus there are a couple of sofa beds and one general bathroom. There are only 2 of these Villas available and they are DVC, but Robin was able to negotiate booking someone’s points there for 3 nights for us all. We are all very excited to be staying there, but how long we can keep this from Larry we don’t know! The list of people staying in the Villa increased, then decreased, then increased again, until neither Robin nor myself were quite sure who was staying where at one point!

As our 7th wedding anniversary is the day after we arrive in Vegas, I suggested that the daftest way I could think of to celebrate our anniversary would be with an Elvis Vow Renewal ceremony! DH thought that sounded like great fun, so I researched available venues near our hotel on Fremont Street, and found The Graceland Chapel. For just under $200, (plus a $60 minister’s fee for Elvis!), we could have a basic vow renewal package, which looked perfect for us! I had to put down a $100 deposit, but we can have up to 30 guests so I told Robin that as many of her friends and family who wanted to attend, could do so – it sounds like it will be a lot of fun. I already have a lovely, peach-coloured 1950’s style dress with lots of net petticoats, and I picked up a very pale green Rockabilly-style shirt for DH online, which he can wear with a plain white t-shirt underneath and his dark green Chino shorts. I also got myself some pale gold eyeshadow, and a peach, shimmery lipstick, along with a pair of white, platform Croc flip-flops with a rose-gold coloured metal trim, as I can’t wear closed-in shoes. We got married 7 years ago near a music festival so that we could hold our wedding reception there, and we still visit this festival every few years or so, so when we attended this year, I browsed the stalls there until I found a halo of peach and pink artificial flowers to wear in my hair for our ceremony, too.

Disney suddenly announced that they were about to increase the price of their admission tickets, so Robin and I got onto a website called Undercover Tourist, who were selling tickets at the 2018 prices until stock ran out. I got us a 5-day Park Hopper ticket each, as we were intending to stay in Anaheim for an extra day after everyone else left, before we started our road trip. Disney also then announced the opening date for their new Star Wars-themed land, Galaxy’s Edge. It was due to open to the general public at the end of June, but from 31 May to 23 June, folk would be allowed to visit for a 4-hour period only, if they made a (free) online reservation. Numbers of places were strictly limited, in order to hopefully control over-crowding issues. However, anyone who was staying onsite in one of the Disney hotels would automatically be allocated a 4-hour visiting time. Robin contacted Guest Relations and told them we would need access for 13 people! They were a bit taken aback, but allocated us from 08:00 to 12:00 hrs on Saturday 15 June, which we were happy with. The only problem was, Larry became quite worried about this as he thought that he and Robin were the only ones staying onsite, and he felt guilty that they would be able to visit Galaxy’s Edge when the rest of us probably wouldn’t be able to! He messaged me to ask where we were staying, and I told him the Best Western just over the road, which wasn’t an actual lie as I already had a booking there for 2 separate nights, one before and one after our Grand Villa stay.

I booked flights with Virgin Atlantic, leaving from Manchester airport, booking and paying extra for exit row seats too as DH is very tall and always seems to sit behind someone who reclines their seat very suddenly, smacking hard into his knees, and then staying there for the duration of the flight! I also booked an overnight stay at the Radisson Blu airport hotel for the night before our flight, with meet & greet parking for our car, as the flight departed just after 9.00 a.m. on the Saturday and we would rather stay overnight at the airport than have to drive up on the morning of our flight – we live near Birmingham, and it takes us about 1.5 hours to drive to Manchester, but we didn’t want to risk getting caught in traffic. Finally, I booked us a rental car through the broker I have used for many years, getting us an SUV (from Thrifty), as we would be spending a lot of time in the vehicle during the 3 weeks.

I knew our ESTA visas would be valid until the end of 2019, so I didn’t need to check those, and at the beginning of the year I renewed DH’s passport, as this expired in August 2019 but most countries prefer you to have at least 6 months validity on your passport.

Travel insurance is taken care of through my bank account, so that was one less thing to think about. We also still had just over $650 left in spending money from last year’s sadly short-lived trip, so I picked up another chunk of dollars from the local Post Office, who were doing the best exchange rate at the time.

I bought us both a new cross-body bag each to carry daily, which had a water bottle carrier attached to the side of it. They are dark coloured fabric, and quite utilitarian in design, so DH wouldn’t look like he was carrying a handbag! They have lots of internal, zipped pockets, but aren’t too large, and the straps are quite wide so they will be comfortable. I also purchased a couple of neoprene bottle covers, which will not only keep bottled water cool while we are out and about, but will also absorb condensation drips from the bottles.

We planned to pack two suitcases with clothing and toiletries, but also to take another 2 empty cases with us, one inside the other, to hold any goodies we wanted to bring back with us! This is also where the packing cubes I bought a couple of years ago came in handy, as I was able to pack those very efficiently to keep things together, such as medicines, socks and undies, toiletries, different types of clothing, electronics’ charging cables, etc. We wanted to pack as light as we could, but equally had to remember that we wouldn’t have access to laundry facilities this year, due to all the travelling about we were planning to do. This meant we had to take enough clothing to last the full 3 weeks.

I printed off all the hotel confirmations, including the full address of each hotel booked, plus the Disney tickets, rental car confirmation, a shopping list for if we managed to find a large supermarket, and the spreadsheet with our itinerary on it. All of this went into a plastic wallet folder in my hand luggage bag. We were ready to go!

DAY MINUS 1 – Friday 07 June

Plan : Work from home, drive to Manchester airport

Actual : I had quite a busy day today, trying to get everything finalised before I left. I work as a PA to the CEO of a large law firm, and also support the Chief Financial officer and the Chief Operations officer, so there was certainly enough to keep me busy that day! Around mid-afternoon, DH took our pet bearded dragon, Zelda, to the reptile boarders, while I did the usual stuff that has to be done last minute. DH returned, we loaded up the car and set out at about 4.30 p.m.

However, we encountered the most awful weather as we attempted to get to Manchester. The rain poured down, slowing traffic on the motorways right down, plus there were quite a few accidents and a lot of roadworks going on. The journey that usually takes 1.5 hours ended up taking us 3.5 hours! We had to stop at Knutsford services for a restroom and coffee break, something we would not normally need to do on such a short journey. We were really glad now that we had opted to drive up the night before, rather than travelling on the day we had a flight to catch!

We finally pulled into the Meet & Greet car park at 8.00 p.m. The location of this had changed since we last used it, a couple of years ago, and is now on the top floor of a multi-storey car park. Anyway, the staff were helpful and friendly, as they usually are, and we happily left DH’s Dodge Caliber in their care. We walked over the skyway bridge to the Radisson Blu hotel, and checked in for the night. When we got up to our room, we had been upgraded to a Superior room – it was lovely! Really large, King sized bed, and plenty of space for our luggage. The bed was huge, with very fluffy pillows, and we looked forward to a good night’s sleep.

We turned on the massive TV and had our hotel picnic for dinner – cheese & tomato baguette for me, cheese & ham for DH, packets of crisps, soft drinks, and a bag of tiny, bite-sized cakes. I also made some coffee using the machine in the room. After dinner, I called my son to have a chat with him, as I hadn’t had chance to call him earlier in the day and wanted to say goodbye before we went away. DH reminded me that I hadn’t done online check-in for our flight yet, something I had been meaning to do all day, so I then began that. DH was checked in easily, but when I went to do this for myself, I received a message to say that I had been randomly selected for extra security checks and would not be able to complete online check-in, but would have to do this at the airline desk the next day. However, the next screen I encountered in the process said that our ESTA Visas had expired. I thought this was a bit odd, and also that it must be incorrect, as I knew they had until the end of 2019 before they expired. I fished the printed copies out of my paperwork folder just to double check this, and was utterly horrified to discover that they had expired in the middle of May 2019!

WHAT?

How on earth could this have happened? I couldn’t believe it. Only once in the last 18 years have we gone to America in May, all the other times we have travelled in October or November, so I was absolutely astounded by this. The only explanation I could think of was that I had been so excited to go away in 2017 that I must have applied for the ESTAs early. I told DH what I had discovered and he went very quiet, then nodded and said he was going outside for a cigarette. (I later found out that he had been really saddened and upset by this, but didn’t want to make me feel any worse than I already did, so just went outside while he tried to come to terms with what had happened). I frantically went onto the ESTA website, and applied for new Visas for both of us, but the website stated that the applications could take up to 72 hours to be approved. I called the Virgin Atlantic 24-hour helpline and spoke to a customer services advisor, explaining that our Visas had expired without my realising, but that I had applied for new ones online. He was adamant we wouldn’t be able to get into the USA without a Visa, but told me to check again as soon as we got up in the morning, and if they hadn’t been approved by an hour before our flight, to call them again and the flights would have to be rescheduled. But he also reminded me that as DH had had a new passport, his ESTA would have been invalid anyway, as it is tied to a current passport number – I hadn’t even thought of this! I was devastated, I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid as to not check the expiry date or realise that DH would have needed a new ESTA anyway.

DH came back and I told him I had reapplied, and what the Virgin Atlantic advisor had said. He tried to comfort me, but I was just so upset, and felt so guilty. We settled down to try and get some sleep, and I was also cross because the bed was so soft and comfortable, but I just couldn’t settle! I must have dozed on and off, and at 5.00 a.m. I gave up trying to sleep and checked the ESTA website again. First of all, I checked DH’s application – it had been approved. Then I checked mine – also approved. I wanted to cry with relief! All sorts of things had been going through my head all night, thinking we would have to wait for days before approval – we would have to try and stay at the airport hotel for extra nights, or we would have to drive home and then all the way back again once we had rescheduled the flights, it was going to cost a fortune to change the flights and we would lose days of the holiday, we would also lose out on days of accommodation and potentially the vow renewal ceremony, etc. etc. etc. What a horrible situation!

DAY 1 – Saturday 08 June

Plan : Fly to Las Vegas

Actual : After I had sat in disbelief for 10 minutes, I checked both applications again just to be sure, and then began to quietly get washed and dressed as I didn’t want to disturb DH until the alarm was due to go off at 5.30 a.m.

The alarm went off, DH grunted and turned over, opening his eyes to find me nose to nose with him. He stared at me for a second while his brain caught up with what he was seeing – me, grinning from ear to ear. “We’re going!”, I said to him. His eyes widened, and he made me repeat what I’d said, although he still didn’t quite believe it so I had to show him the website pages. We felt so happy!

DH got ready for the trip while I packed up our toiletries and refastened the suitcases, then we trundled them down to reception and checked out. We were still in shock at the near-miss we had had, but were now determined to put this hiccup behind us and get on with our adventure!

We made our way over the bridge again, and into Terminal 2. The Virgin Atlantic check-in desk was quite close to the entrance, and we joined what at first looked like a large queue, but turned out to be about 3 large families, so we didn’t have too long to wait. I was watching the luggage belt while we waited, and it didn’t appear to be working. When we were called across to be checked in, the attendant confirmed that the belt was indeed broken, and after she had checked us in, weighed and labelled our luggage and given us our boarding passes, she asked us to take our cases to a man standing with a large cage on wheels, off to one side. This poor man was having to lug huge cases into the cage, before hauling it off somewhere – hopefully to our aircraft for loading!

Now happily case-free, we made our way to security for departures. This all seemed very rushed, as usual, and I had barely had time to remove my Kindle, tablet, and mobile phone from my bags before I was being directed to a security line. After I had gone through the body scanner, I was “randomly” picked for an extra pat-down and going over with an electronic wand.

We collected our bits and bobs again, before heading for Duty Free. DH went into the “Room of Shame” to get some cigarettes, and I persuaded him that, even though he only smokes around 8-10 cigarettes a day, it would probably be a good idea to get two packs of 200 each, as we would be away for 3 weeks in total. From there, he made his way out to wait for me at the other side, as he hates the overpowering smell of the perfume department, but I wanted to visit the Jo Malone stand. I wanted to get some Grapefruit body wash, but was really disappointed to find that it is no longer made. The lovely young man who served me seemed quite upset at my disappointment, but helped me to select a bottle of body wash in my second favourite scent, Pomegranate Noir. I also got a small bottle of the Grapefruit scent, as the one I have at home is quite large and not really handbag sized! So, upset young man then helpfully pointed out the newest range of summer flower scents, and sprayed each one onto a slip of paper for me to test. I really liked the one called Star Magnolia, which has top notes of jasmine (which I love), so I got a small bottle of that, too – easy sale for him. Upset young man then gave me a £5 discount on my purchases, to make up for the fact that they didn’t have my first choice of body wash! Result!

We needed to get some breakfast, but were running out of time to have a sit-down meal, so decided to grab something from Burger King. I left DH with the bags in some nearby seats, and went into Burger King. They have ordering screens now, just like McDonalds do, so I got us both a bacon roll, and one serving of hash browns for DH. I didn’t get drinks as I wouldn’t have been able to carry them as well. The total cost was just over £10, which is shocking for 2 bacon rolls and a hash brown! We ate these in view of a ‘departures’ screen so we could keep an eye out for our gate announcement. After breakfast, I took a quick restroom break, then swapped places with DH so he could go. Just as he was coming back towards me, our gate number appeared on the screen, so we headed off to park ourselves there. We weren’t sitting there for long before our seat row number was called, so we went to go through for boarding, but once again I was “randomly” selected for extra security screening – for the third time this trip! I was taken to one side, patted down again, and then swabbed for drugs on my feet, shoes, the waistband of my trousers, and the front and back of my hands. The inside of my hand luggage case was also swabbed. None of this took long, and I was soon rejoining DH for our boarding.

I had selected excellent seats for us, row 36, seats A & C (there were only 2 seats), and we had loads of leg room. The only slight downside was that there was limited hand luggage space in the lockers above the seats, as the crew bags had lockers directly above our seats, so we had to put our bags a bit further back behind us. That wasn’t really a big deal though, as we knew that if we needed anything out of them during the flight, they weren’t far away. We settled ourselves down and got comfy, for the long 10.5 hour flight ahead of us. Due to my weight loss last year, for the first time I had room between my leg and the side of the seat, where the earphones normally plugged in; however, ironically, for the first time the earphone socket was at the side of the TV screen!

We took off on time, and the flight went very smoothly. We watched the new Laurel & Hardy film, Stan & Ollie, which we loved, and then one called Small Foot, an animated movie about yetis who lived with the legend of humans, which was really funny and cute. In between watching films, we napped a few times. Having spent many years moaning that the games on Virgin Atlantic flights hadn’t been updated for about 20 years, this year the games had all been changed, for the worse! I used to be able to amuse myself for hours playing Bejewelled, but now the only choices were a version of the old Nokia ‘Snake’ game, a couple of boring card games, chess, trivia, and a rather entertaining but very limited Hidden Objects game. I played the Hidden Objects game twice through, then gave up on that and listened to David Bowie’s Blackstar for a while.

The food also surprised me this time. The choices were the usual curry, something with garlic, or the one I opted for – chicken & mushroom, mashed potato, and peas. This was really tasty, quite salty and savoury, and I really enjoyed it! Good job really, as I’d forgotten to pick up a meal deal sandwich thing before we boarded, which I normally do. Dessert was a delicious Gu pot of chocolate mousse with yuzu caramel, and the yuzu flavour was quite pronounced, yum. We had lots of coffee and apple juice throughout the flight, and then about halfway through, we were offered a choice of steak or cheese & tomato pasty (I had steak, DH had cheese). This was warm and also very tasty. An hour or so before landing, we were given a cheese and pesto roll, which I gave to DH on account of the garlic, and a scone with jam and clotted cream. Overall, I was impressed with the food, for the first time in years.

There was a small amount of turbulence every now and again, but not too much, and I think I was napping when the Fab ice-lollies were brought round as we didn’t get offered them. Shame. When we were almost in Las Vegas, we reset our watches, as the West coast of America is 8 hours behind the UK.

We had an easy, if somewhat steeply dropped, landing, and deplaned quite quickly, but then stepped into the immigration hall to see the world’s longest queue! I have no idea what happened to the self-serve kiosks from last year, but they were nowhere in sight. Instead, we shuffled along in the windiest queue ever for just over 2 hours! We were tired and hot, and just wanted to get on with it, but had to put up with passing the same handful of people first one way, then the other, then back again – you get the picture. Anyway, EVENTUALLY it was our turn, and we chatted to a really nice, friendly customs lady, she was lovely and it was nice to finally be on our way. DH breathed a sigh of relief as we were waved through, as he still hadn’t been able to quite believe that our Visas had been approved!

Our luggage was going round and round the carousel in a resigned manner, like it had been for the last hour and a half. We hauled it off and out of the door, where DH desperately smoked 2 cigarettes, before we found the shuttle bus stop to take us to the offsite rental car centre. We waited about 10 minutes for a bus, and were soon on the journey to collect our car, about 20 minutes away.

After an easy shuttle bus journey, we made our way into a huge rental car hall, with desks for all the rental companies arrayed around the outer edge. I was pleasantly surprised that the Thrifty sales guy didn’t try to upsell us anything, but was polite and friendly, and told us which way to go to find our row of cars, once we had completed the paperwork. There was a slight moment of confusion when he asked me whether I wanted to return the car empty or full of fuel, or whether I wanted to buy a full tank of fuel from them. I said that I believed I had pre-paid for a full tank, and that I assumed this meant we could return the car empty, if we wished to. He seemed to agree with this, and we left it at that.

We walked outside and there were only 3 cars in our section to choose from, so we selected a silver GMC Acadia, which was really lovely. We folded down the back set of seats (there were 3 rows, and as per usual in these larger cars, there was very little boot space!) in order to be able to fit in all our luggage, and clutching the map I had printed out from Google, set out for our hotel.

It was a really easy, 10 minute drive to The Golden Nugget on Fremont Street, and after a bit of driving round to find the parking garage, which wasn’t very easy as the hotel was HUGE, we parked up and walked back to the hotel. It was very hot at this point! As we walked into the hotel and followed the signs for reception, who should be walking towards us, towing suitcases, but Larry! We were really pleased to see him, as we weren’t sure what time they would be arriving. He told us that Robin was just sorting out scooter hire with the concierge, so we said we’d see him later and made our way round to the reception area. DH stood off to one side with the luggage, and I got into the queue to check in. Robin spotted us and whizzed over on her newly hired scooter! It was lovely to see her again, we hugged and she told us her room number, which I wrote down as I was likely to forget it.

(In my notepad of trip report notes, Larry stole it at some point here and wrote on this page, “Larry, nicest guy I’ve ever met” LOL).

We agreed to meet up later, and I continued onto check-in. We were given room 17220, in the Rush Tower, which was a King bedroom. Walking back to the elevators we were amazed at the hotel – I guess we weren’t quite prepared for the ‘casino’ bit, and were astonished at the sheer number of slot machines, games tables, bars, etc. People were smoking whilst sitting at the slot machines and game tables, which was a surprise to us, as smoking is pretty much banned everywhere in the UK, and particularly inside public buildings. To be honest, we were a bit overwhelmed by the choice of machines – before we saw this for ourselves, we had intended to drop a few quarters in the slot machines, but the number of them made me panic a bit – we had no idea where to start.

Up we went, in the elevator, and found our room – it was gorgeous! Really big, although the view was of the car park! DH does what he always does when we get to a new hotel room – grabbed the TV remote control and ‘tested’ the comfort of the bed. He does this to stay out of my way while I fuss around, unpacking what we will need over the next day or two, and checking out the bathroom. However, I couldn’t get my suitcase open – it has a built-in lock on one side, which the zipper tabs fit into. I usually pop the tabs in, but don’t activate the number-controlled lock. However, it looked like the lock had been crushed and therefore damaged slightly, either by being dropped or having another case dropped onto it, and the tabs were jammed in place. I rang reception, who promised to send an engineer up as soon as they could. He arrived within a few minutes, and using a huge pair of pliers, managed to extract the tabs without causing any damage to the zip, thank goodness. I was going to give him a tip, but he fixed the case and then disappeared so quickly, I never got chance to!

Anyway, I unpacked a little and then we relaxed in the room for an hour or so. We noticed there was no coffee machine in the room, which was a bit irritating, as we always make good use of those. I rang Robin and Larry’s room, and said that we would meet them in one of the hotel restaurants later, although DH and I were feeling very hot, tired, and jetlagged, and agreed we probably wouldn’t want anything to eat. But we did want to spend some time with our friends, and also we wanted to meet Karen and Clive, some long-time friends of Larry’s, who were spending the first few days of our adventure with us all. Robin and Larry were going to have a quick meal before leaving for the airport, to collect Larry’s son Greg and Greg’s 4-year old daughter, Eilidh, (mum and baby son had to stay at home due to other commitments).

At 7.00 p.m., we went downstairs to Vic & Anthony’s Restaurant, meeting Larry and Robin outside. We were introduced to Karen and Clive, who seemed really nice. We had to wait a few minutes before being seated, and then we explained we wouldn’t be eating, but would stay to be sociable for a little while. DH ordered a beer, and I stuck with a glass of iced water. We had been awake for around 24 hours now, and were starting to feel a bit woozy!

Everyone else ordered food, and we sat and chatted. We thought Karen and Clive were a lovely couple, so friendly and relaxed, and a lot of fun. Clive was trying to explain to me that he thought the bedclothes in their room seemed a bit heavy, but the way he did this was to ask me if I was hot in bed? This caused much general hilarity, and became something we referred to many times during our time spent with them! Larry also, completely out of the blue, asked me whether I had managed to get reservations for a visit to Disney’s Galaxy’s Edge, which caught me off guard. I managed to waffle on about how my brain was fried due to extreme jet-lag, and that I couldn’t remember, but would check my spreadsheet and let him know. Phew, crisis averted! Luckily, in true Frozen fashion, Larry ‘let it go’ and didn’t ask me again.

We had a lovely time, catching up with Larry and Robin, and getting to know Karen and Clive, but before too long, DH began to feel a bit too tired, so we made arrangements to meet everyone in the morning, bade goodnight to all, and got up to leave. However, DH had one of his ‘funny turns’ and I had to discretely help him out of the room. (DH has been having ‘funny turns’ for about a year now, where he goes a bit lightheaded and struggles to support his weight on his one side, leading to him staggering when he stands up or tries to walk. We had tests done at our local hospital, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him, so they just dismissed the issue. It happens so infrequently that we keep forgetting about it, but then when it does happen, it is very worrying, he almost collapses and it lasts for a good few minutes).

We got back to our room, and after checking that DH was okay, I left him watching TV and went for a shower. He was asleep by 9.00 p.m., and I followed soon after.

DAY 2 – Sunday 09 June

Plan : Trip to Lake Mead, Elvis Vow Renewal

Actual : To my absolute amazement, we both slept really well, not waking up until the alarm went off at 6.00 a.m.! Normally, on our first day in the USA, we are both wide awake at about 3 or 4.00 a.m., so we were both pleased to have slept through. I think the unsettling events of our night before we flew out must have left us both exhausted.

We wished each other Happy Wedding Anniversary, and then got ready for our day. We had arranged to meet everyone at the Rush Tower front desk (which was unmanned), at 7.30 a.m. today. That desk ultimately became our usual meeting place. Robin had very kindly planned a full day of activities for us today, but had assured us we would be back in Vegas in time for our vow renewal ceremony!

We got down to our meeting place a few minutes early, and everyone began to arrive – Robin and Larry, Karen and Clive, Greg and Eilidh, and Robin’s sister and brother in law, Paula and Wes (they had been on a mini-road trip before they got to us). We had met Paula and Wes before, in Walt Disney World a few years ago, and it was lovely to see them again. We said hello to Greg and Eilidh, who was understandably a little shy, but was very sweet.

We collected our car from the car park, and the 3 vehicles now began our trip to Boulder City for breakfast. It wasn’t far, about 20 minutes away. Boulder City was originally set up as a town for the men who built the Hoover Dam, and their families. We were heading for a restaurant called “The Coffee Cup Café”, which has featured on an American TV Show called “Drive-ins, Diners & Dives”, and which is quite well known in the area. We really liked the look of this town, it was quaint and interesting, with lots of tiny, bohemian shops. We all parked up, and headed over the road to the café. Paula went in and requested a table for 10, but we were told we would have to wait for about 15 minutes, which was fine with everyone. We sat around outside and chatted, taking it in turns to have a quick look around the nearest stores, and take photos. Eilidh was telling us about her nursery teddy, (which was actually Arlo the dinosaur from the Disney film, “The Good Dinosaur”). Apparently, she had to take lots of photos of him on his holidays to show to everyone at nursery when she got back!

In the end, we had to wait about half an hour, but apart from everyone being starving by then, we were all still quite happy. We went in and sat ourselves around a long table, to peruse the menu. The waitress brought coffee, which was very welcome and very delicious – we both had 2 cups and then got another one to go, at the end of the meal! I ordered 2 pancakes with crunchy peanut butter, (actually IN the pancakes, giving them an amazing texture and flavour!), and a side order of bacon. DH got something called a Big Texan Omelette with home fries, which was loaded with ham, bacon, sausage and onion, topped with red chili, Cholula Sour Cream sauce, and cheddar cheese. Total cost for us was $30, and it was all really, really delicious.

After breakfast, we all got back into our cars and drove to the nearby Nevada State Railroad Museum. This is a very small, free museum, with an assortment of railway trains and carriages in various states of repair. It was really interesting, we looked around the trains and chatted to the volunteers who work there, restoring them. There was one set of carriages in particular that we loved, they were very old and all decked out in a dark wood, which is in the process of being stripped of all the old varnish and dirt, to bring it back to its glorious natural colour. In between touring trains, we took turns in sitting around on some benches and chatting to whoever from our group was there, which I really enjoyed.

We had a lovely time there, but all too soon it was time to set off for Lake Mead. When Robin had planned this River Cruise for us all, she had offered to pay for our tickets as a pre-wedding present from her and Larry – she is such a sweetheart! It was only a short drive to the Lake, and we paid our entrance fee and parked up. Then we went into the Visitor Centre, and I picked up some fridge magnets, a pin for DH, and a couple of bottles of water, before we all sat around and relaxed whilst waiting for our boat cruise time.

The crew were about 10 minutes late actually boarding our boat, but eventually we all started to file through. We posed for a group photo before boarding, (which we could purchase at the end of the cruise), and then once we were on the boat, we all went off in different directions. Robin went inside to the seating area so she could keep Eilidh entertained, and we went out to the front of the boat on the second floor, as most people seemed to be heading for the seating on the top floor. We stood at the deck railing and watched the scenery, which was breathtaking. As we had flown into Las Vegas airport, we had seen huge areas of what looked like red sand, and now the pre-recorded boat commentary told us this was called Fire Valley, with the red sand being remains of ancient sand dunes. We sailed through Black Canyon, so called because of the old lava flows which caused a lot of black mountains to be formed. We saw a mountain called Fortification Hill, which is an extinct volcano, and the Arizona Paint Pots, which are beautifully coloured mountains. The Hoover Dam came into view as we sailed around a bend, and it really was magnificent to see. We loved the recorded commentary that was piped throughout the boat, it was really interesting and helped us get a handle on what we were seeing. The scenery really was incredible, and with the sun shining down on us, and the temperature being a very comfortable 85 degrees, we both felt ourselves begin to relax. Our attempted trip to Florida in October 2018 had been cut tragically short due to the unexpected death of my mother, and neither of us had really come to terms with losing her yet, but during this boat trip we both began to relax and start to feel ‘normal’ again, albeit in a different way to before. The stresses of the last 8 months began to drain away, leaving us both feeling happier than we had in ages, and I could have hugged Robin for suggesting this River Cruise, as it turned out to be the perfect way to start our holiday.

When we got off the boat, I was looking for the photographer to see if we could purchase a copy of the group photo she had taken, but it turned out that she had come round the boat with them during the cruise. She hadn’t come outside, so we didn’t know she had been round. Fortunately, Greg had purchased the photo package and said he only wanted the small copies of the picture, so he gave us the larger, framed picture and then wouldn’t let me pay him for it, he said it was a wedding gift! That was so kind of him, and it really is a lovely photo of us all.

Returning to Boulder City was next, for lunch. Robin had found a place called Chilly Jillyz, which was a really quirky, fast-food restaurant that apparently served pineapple Dole Whip. It was only a few minutes’ drive from Lake Mead, so we all headed there. We parked up and went inside, dragging 3 tables together so we could all sit as a group. There was a whole line of dispensers of yummy, iced goodness on the wall next to us – frozen custard, dole whip in different flavours, frozen yoghurt, and a small number of ice-cream flavours too. DH wanted a burger, but I was invoking a rule from an online friend, who substitutes one meal per holiday with ice-cream – known as The Russo Rule, (named after its inventor!). Therefore, DH had a Black & Blue Burger with fries and coffee, and I picked up a medium-sized cardboard tub and headed determinedly for the dispensers ……. I had a swirl each of cheesecake frozen yogurt, pineapple dole whip, orange dole whip, and chocolate & vanilla frozen custard. This was sold by weight and the total cost was only $6, which I thought was good! I also ordered an iced coffee. DH said his lunch was really nice, but mine was just amazing – everything I thought it would be, and more!

After lunch we began the drive back to the Golden Nugget. We weren’t really sure of the direction we were going in, and Robin, who drives it like she stole it, soon disappeared. So we carried on following Paula and Wes, but at a very busy traffic junction, we spotted Robin and Larry up ahead, and they turned left. Paula and Wes turned right, and we dithered! We finally ended up following Paula and Wes, but then after a couple of minutes we realised they would probably be heading back to their Air B&B, as they weren’t staying with us at the Golden Nugget. We totally forgot they had Karen and Clive in their car, who WERE staying with us! So we executed a quick u-turn and tried to find our way back on our own. We got the general direction right, and could actually see our hotel, but couldn’t find out how to drive to it, all the roads we followed seemed to go elsewhere. I imagined Robin and Larry would be in the hotel foyer, panicking, worrying about where we had got to. Well, we finally managed to find the Golden Nugget multi-storey car park, and after parking, went into the foyer, expecting to see our friends worrying about us. They were nowhere to be seen! I rang Robin, and it turned out that they were completely unaware of their little lost chicks, and were busy shopping in a 7-11 somewhere – she seemed very bemused by my panicky phone call! Charming.

We headed up to our room, and DH promptly lay down for a nap. I spent some time getting ready, I put my dress and net petticoats on, added make-up and my halo of artificial flowers, and woke DH up after an hour. In typical man style, he threw on his clothes and was ready in about 3 minutes flat!

At 6 ‘clock we met everyone at the front desk. Everyone looked lovely! Larry and Greg were wearing kilts and looked amazing, Clive had a cream-coloured suit and trilby on and looked so dapper, and all the ladies looked gorgeous. I felt so honoured that everyone had made such an effort, just for us! We set out for what we thought was about a 10 minute walk to the Graceland Chapel, but it turned out to be a lot further than we had realised, and it actually took us closer to half an hour to get there. I felt guilty about this, as we had turned down the offer from the Chapel of a free limo to take us there, (you just have to tip the driver), thinking it wasn’t worth it was it was only a short walk away.

Anyway, we got there in the end, and while everyone took photos of each other outside, I went inside to register and complete the paperwork. I had paid a deposit of $100, so had to pay a further $99 plus taxes, and sign a form. I was given a hand-tied posy of real flowers, which was really pretty – there was a pink rosebud, bits of fern, and a sprig of Baby’s Breath, all tied up with pink ribbon. I also received a pink rosebud buttonhole for DH. This wasn’t what I was expecting at all, I had expected a bunch of artificial flowers, but everything was really pretty and fresh. I went back outside and pinned DH’s buttonhole to his shirt.

(There was what looked like a real wedding going on before ours, the bride was very tall and willowy in a long, elegant white dress, and her groom and guests all looked like gangsters - gulp!)

Next, we were shown into a waiting room, and were extremely surprised to hear traditional wedding music being played for the bride before us – surely if you are going to somewhere called “The Graceland Chapel”, you would want the Elvis wedding, not a traditional one. We had passed 3 or 4 wedding chapels on our way here, all of which looked like they were traditional, so we wondered why this family had opted for what they had? Ah well, I guess it was their choice.

So we had been sitting around this waiting room for about 15 minutes, when there was a knock on the door leading to outside. Wes, who was nearest the door, stood up and opened the door. A very tall and handsome Elvis walked in, turned to him and said, “Thank you very much”, in a perfect Elvis voice – we all fell about laughing! It just added to the surrealness of the event, and was so much fun – he joined in our laughter, before excusing himself and disappearing off somewhere. Not long after this, the wedding party before us left the chapel, and a very nice young lady escorted us all inside. I was asked to stand at the back of the chapel, DH was directed to the front, and then everyone else was told to just take seats in the pews. She then ran through what was going to happen, just so everyone was clear.

She left, and the next person we met was Diago, our photographer. The vow renewal package we had bought included the photographer, although we had to tip him, but didn’t include any photos. These could then be viewed online after the event and any purchases made.

Suddenly, Elvis walked in. He looked amazing, wearing a black and gold jumpsuit, lots of gold jewellery, and high-heeled black boots. He was a lot taller than I was expecting, DH is 6’4” and Elvis was even taller than him! He introduced himself to me, which was quite amusing, and then asked me which song out of two I would like him to sing, as he walked me down the aisle. I selected, “Love me Tender”, as I prefer that to the other choice, “Can’t help falling in love”. He tucked my hand inside his crooked arm, and we slowly walked down the aisle as he crooned to me. It was actually very lovely, and nowhere near as tacky as I was expecting!

Elvis asked us to repeat our renewal vows after him, and they were beautiful, and surprisingly tender and apt words. Then he said we had to repeat the “Elvis Vows”, which were all made up of lines from his hit songs and were very funny. DH is an incredible mimic, and managed to say his in EXACTLY the same voice as Elvis, which kept making Elvis laugh! (Out of the corner of my eye, I could see little Eilidh fast asleep on the pew, she was having a bit of trouble adjusting to the vastly different time zone, poor little flower.) Everyone then joined in with singing, “Viva Las Vegas”, with enthusiasm and much laughter. I can honestly say this was one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life! Everyone seemed to be having a great time, there was a lot of laughter and fun, and equally the vows were surprisingly sweet and very moving. Afterwards, everyone in the group kept telling us how much fun they had had! Elvis insisted on having a photo taken of himself with Larry and Greg, as I think he was impressed with their kilts. Everyone then cleared out to the waiting room while Diago took a few more photos with just us and Elvis, then Elvis shook our hands and left, and Diago took a few more photos before telling us he had to unfortunately deal with the financial side now! We paid him the $60 Minister’s Fee for Elvis, plus his own tip of $20, and he gave us a business card with details and the password to view our photos online. We have 6 months to view and make our purchases, and we have already decided to make up a photobook with some of them, as we did this for our actual wedding 7 years ago.

Eventually, we rejoined our friends in the waiting room, and went outside to take more photos with our phones, before making our way back towards Fremont Street. (Paula and Wes had driven there, so got back in their car to drive to the Golden Nugget parking garage). We were all talking about the lovely day we had had, and trying to decide where to go to eat. With that many people involved, it was difficult to find somewhere that we all agreed on! Plus it had been a long and eventful day, and we were all a bit tired by then. Clive suggested we go to Hennesey’s Irish Bar, which was at the end of Fremont Street and which we were approaching by that point, and we all agreed with him that it looked a good place to go. We all trouped inside and found a table that would seat us all. Larry popped back to the Golden Nugget, and we ordered some drinks as we wanted to wait before ordering food until we were all there. I ordered a bottle of Bud, and DH got a pint of IPA with a Jamieson’s whisky chaser, which was Clive’s fault as he was urging DH to celebrate our vow renewal! The waitress began to take our food orders as Wes and Paula, and Larry, reappeared to join us all. DH and I were not very hungry, so decided to share a grilled chicken club sandwich with fries, which was delicious, and exactly what we needed. DH had a second pint and chaser! We had a lovely couple of hours, everyone chatting away, with Eilidh still fast asleep across her dad’s lap! She didn’t wake up once, not even to drink her milk in a souvenir cup.

After we had all finished dinner, we started to walk up Fremont Street back to our hotel. The street was absolutely heaving with people! There were loads of very scantily dressed young ladies, (and some not so young!), wanting people to pose with them for photos and then to pay them, youngsters doing magic tricks for cash, and stalls of touristy items for sale. The atmosphere was amazing, it was so electric! We didn’t feel unsafe, although obviously we were alert for possible pickpockets etc. It was hard not to gawp at the alleged “firemen” wearing just a pair of tight trousers and a fireman’s helmet, and we noticed the nipple covers on the women got smaller and smaller the further we got down Fremont Street! There were quite a few ‘showgirls’, wearing a tiny pair of sequinned knickers with a huge plume of feathers attached behind, high feathered headdresses, and it looked like they were topless until you saw the front of them and they had bits of sparkly tape across their nipples! They looked amazing. There was one woman who we only saw from the back at first, she was wearing tiny, black leather shorts and a matching, strappy bra. She had a lovely bum, then she turned round and we saw her face – she looked like she was about 75! Two young ladies wearing nothing but three strips of strategically placed leather called over to me, and told me I looked beautiful! (I still had flowers in my hair and my 1950s dress with net petticoats on). It seemed okay to glance and admire, but we had to try and avoid eye contact with anyone in case they thought that was encouragement, although we never felt pressurised or hassled by anyone to pose for photos.

As the street was so busy, we lost sight of everyone else before we got to the Golden Nugget, but Robin had asked us to go up to their room on the 20th floor, as she said there was a surprise there for us. We got into the lift at the hotel, but as it is operated by scanning your room key as a security measure, we couldn’t get up beyond the 17th floor. At this point, we had forgotten they were on the 20th floor, and thought they were on the 22nd. DH suggested we take the stairs from there, as it was only another 5 floors. I grumbled, but we hunted around and found the stairwell, and began to climb. The sets of stairs were quite long, and there were 10 sets before we saw the door for the 22nd floor. But – again, due to security measures, the doors would only open from the other side! I pulled out my phone to call Robin and see if someone could come and let us in, but there was no internet signal in the stairwell! We had no choice but to tramp down 44 sets of stairs to try and get out. At the door for each floor, DH tried the door but none of them opened, until we got to the 4th floor. There was a sign on the door that said, “Employees only”, and the door opened when he tried it, but it only led to some kitchen area, so we carried on down. The 3rd and 2nd floor also had Employee only exits, and when we got to the ground floor, the door stated “Emergency Exit only”! Regardless of whether this would set off an alarm, we had no choice but to exit through this door, as otherwise we were trapped. The exit spat us out next to the car parking garage, no idea how this happened. We were hot, exhausted, and thirsty by this point, I was understandably quite ratty, and DH just kept laughing at my moaning, which didn’t help! I suppose with hindsight, it was quite a funny situation. Anyway, once outside I was able to contact Robin and she sent Larry to meet us at the elevator on the 17th floor, so he could take us up to their room on the 20th floor (not the 22nd!).

We finally got there, discovered everyone else was there too, (apart from Greg who had had to put Eilidh to bed, bless her), and I was able to slump on a sofa and tell the story, which by that point was indeed quite amusing. Robin poured us glasses of cold Coke, and we saw the beautiful cake she had ordered for us from a bakery near Boulder City! It was gorgeous, a vanilla layer cake with strawberries and cream filling, and a white chocolate “Married in Vegas!” sign on top of it, along with plastic dice, white chocolate poker chips, and King & Queen of Hearts playing cards. The buttercream frosting was white, red, and black, it just looked spectacular! We couldn’t believe they had got this cake for us, and there was also paper plates and napkins themed to the King & Queen of Hearts, red plastic forks, and matching plastic glasses. We all had a huge piece of this delicious cake, which helped me get over the ordeal of “stair-gate”! Robin and Larry really are lovely people, and such good friends to us. Eventually, everyone started to leave, and Robin asked if we could leave the cake there until tomorrow, so that Greg and Eilidh could have some, which we agreed to.

We finally got back to our room after 11.00 p.m., thoroughly exhausted but having had an amazing, surreal, incredible day! Bed.

DAY 3 – Monday 10 June

Plan : Las Vegas Neon Museum

Actual : After yesterday’s action-packed day, we were up slightly later this morning. We got washed and dressed, and went down to the Starbucks that was at the back of our hotel, fronting onto Fremont Street. I got DS an Americano, and I had a Java Chip Frappuccino, which was delicious! We met everyone at our regular meeting place in the lobby, and then all grabbed our cars and drove a short way to the Las Vegas Neon Museum. This is the place where all Vegas neon signs go to die! Robin had a Groupon offer that gave $2 off the entrance fee, so we took advantage of this and it only cost us $18 each then. We walked through the gift shop, intending to visit that afterwards, and went outside to the exhibition.

Basically, this place takes in donated, old neon signs from hotels, restaurants, nightclubs etc., then renovates them and displays them. It was amazing! Quite small, and easy to get around, which was a bit of a bonus as the weather was incredibly hot today, approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and there isn’t anywhere to shelter from the sunshine as you walk around the exhibits. We had a lovely time looking around, and were delighted to find an old Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino sign, from when the hotel had first opened in 1946. There were a few tour guides hanging around, and they told us interesting information about some of the exhibits. The original Las Vegas Hard Rock Café guitar was there, it was absolutely huge, towering over all the other exhibits!

We had a really lovely time, wandering around and taking photos, interspersed with sitting in a shaded seating area for a drink of water and a chat with whichever of our friends happened to be there at the time. At one point, I suddenly turned to Larry and told him that I had checked my spreadsheet, and realised that we did indeed have reservation passes to visit Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland. I said I had forgotten that I’d managed to grab some when Disney had released the second wave of reservations, and that I’d got some for the same date and time as they already had them for. He looked a bit doubtful, but said he was happy about that.

Eventually, we went back into the gift shop and picked up a few things, including the usual pin for DH.

Once everyone had finished looking round, we all went back to the cars and drove back towards the Golden Nugget to find somewhere for lunch. We found a place to park, on the road, and walked around a bit to try and find somewhere to eat. As no-one had had any breakfast, we were all starving! We found a row of small restaurants near the courthouse, but they were all a bit too small to seat all of us together, so it was decided that each couple would just go into wherever they fancied. We went into Anthony’s NY Pizza and Deli, as did everyone else in the end! I sent DH to find us a seat, and stood behind Clive in the queue. The lady who served him thought we were together, as we’d been chatting and laughing in the queue! The staff there were lovely, lots of fun and really friendly. Anyway, I ordered chicken fingers & fries for me, and a turkey sub and fries for DH, along with coffee for him and a soft drink for me (self-serve machine, I went straight for the Minute Maid Lemonade, yum!). It wasn’t long before we had our food, and it was delicious, we really enjoyed it. During lunch, Wes popped out and kindly topped up our car parking ticket, as we hadn’t been able to get more than 1 hour at a time.

After lunch we went back to the hotel, which was just around the corner. Larry, Greg and Eilidh went swimming, we quite fancied doing this until we saw how crowded the pool was, and that it was in direct sunshine, with no shade. Karen and Clive went to visit the Mob Museum, which we also really fancied doing but it was a good 10 minute walk away and we were very hot and tired, so we opted for some downtime in our room. We ended up falling asleep for 2 hours!

We had arranged to all meet up at the Claims Jumper Restaurant in the hotel, for dinner later, where Robin had booked a table for us all. However, when we got there, we were told that that particular restaurant didn’t accept reservations and we would have a to wait for an available table for 10 of us! Very bizarre, but eventually we all got seated. We both ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, DH with ham, and mine just with cheese. Mine arrived with added bacon though, which I was happy with – it was really good! DH had a side of onion rings, and I got a bowl of fresh fruit, which turned out to be mostly melon, and 2 grapes. We also had coffee. Karen was telling us all about the Mob Museum, and I really wished we hadn’t been too tired to go there, as it sounded great!

After a great evening with our friends, we headed to Starbucks to pick up a couple of “You are Here” Las Vegas mugs, as we collect these from our travels around the world. Then we went to the small hotel store and got a Golden Nugget t-shirt each, (which were on offer, $16 each or two for $25). Bed.

DAY 4 – Tuesday 11 June

Plan : Explore the Las Vegas strip

Actual : We all met downstairs in the lobby at 7.45 a.m., to head out to breakfast together. Wes and Paula were heading out of Vegas for a small road trip of their own, so we shared a last meal with them before they departed. Our destination today was Hash House A-Go-Go, which we’d decided on following a discussion last night. It was about a 2 minute walk further down Fremont Street, and seemed quite quiet that morning. Fremont Street looks so different during the daytime!

All seated, we perused the menu and decided on pancakes. I ordered a Red Velvet pancake, with a side order of bacon. When it arrived, the pancake was bigger than my head! It was drizzled with cream cheese frosting, and was just superb, but I had to get a ‘to-go’ box as I only managed about half of it! DH got something called the Tractor Driver Combo – eggs, sausage patty, home fries, and a chocolate chip pancake. He managed to eat most of it, but had to put about a quarter of his pancake in the box with mine. We also got coffee, and it was all really good. (A tad expensive though, at $45 for breakfast.) When we left, Paula and Wes waved everyone goodbye for a couple of days, (at her insistence, I had given Paula a shopping list and some money to pick up some bottled water and a few other bits for us, as they would be passing a large supermarket and I had been thinking of things we would need for our road trip later in the holiday. We could collect these things from them when we all got to Disneyland), and they set off on their road trip.

Yesterday, we’d spotted a notice up in one of the casino areas of our hotel, stating that Complimentary Craps Lessons would be taking place today at 10:45, so we’d all agreed to give that a go. So after breakfast we headed for our craps lesson. Robin had played before, albeit online, so had an idea of what was going on, but we just stood and stared – it went completely over our heads! I don’t have a mathematical brain, which didn’t help, but also the guy who was giving the lesson wasn’t the best teacher. He went through everything really quickly, and didn’t give me chance to ask why particular numbers were ‘high’ or what on earth the ‘pass line’ meant. Plus, rather than giving us some ‘test’ chips to play with and experience it for ourselves, he just showed us everything and expected us to follow along. After about 15 minutes of this, DH and I got somewhat confused and bored, agreeing quietly between ourselves that we would have been able to learn better had we been allowed to pretend-play ourselves. I think others in our group enjoyed it, and we were glad we had given it a go, but we came away more baffled than when we arrived!

Eilidh was very tired, she and Greg and been up since 3.00 a.m., so they went back to their room for a nap. The rest of us went to Starbucks, got drinks, and sat outside on Fremont Street to relax and chat. DH got his usual Americano and I had another Java Chip Frappuccino. After an hour, we agreed to meet up at 2 at our usual spot to go and explore the Las Vegas Strip, and everyone went back to their rooms for a bit of rest and relaxation. We followed Larry and Robin up to their room to collect a couple of things we had ordered a couple of months ago and had delivered to them, although stupidly we forgot to pick up the rest of our cake from them at that point.

(Walt Disney World had announced that they were retiring the “Walk Around the World” commemorative bricks from their property, due to various areas of redevelopment, and had offered replicas for sale for anyone that wanted one. Anyone who had originally bought one, like myself and my sister, could buy a replica at a deeply discounted price. Unfortunately, they neglected to tell us, until we got to the checkout point on the Disney Shop website, that they wouldn’t post these replicas outside the USA! We were both quite upset about this, my sister wanted a copy of her brick for herself, and I wanted to get both my kids one each as Christmas gifts. Robin to the rescue – she allowed us to have them all delivered to her in Lubbock, and then brought them all the way to Vegas with her, for me to collect. She also let me have a Haunted Mansion print tablecloth delivered to her, too! The bricks are beautiful, I got exact replicas of my original, right down to the location number printed on it, and they are actually made of brick, rather than the resin replica I was expecting!)

We freshened up in our room and then relaxed a little, with DH taking a short nap, before heading downstairs again. Not everyone opted for the Strip tour, Robin was staying back to rest, and Clive had already headed out to the Main Street Casino for a spot of Las Vegas-style gambling. Karen was very much in charge of this section of the trip, she knew exactly what to do! We walked a few minutes down Fremont Street to a big junction, turned left and found the bus stop, where we pre-purchased a kind of day-saver bus ticket for $8 each. Before we got to Vegas, I had naively thought we would be able to stroll all the way down the Strip; in reality, it is huge, 6 miles long and very wide, making it impossible to stroll gently down!

We didn’t have to wait long before our bus arrived, and we all boarded. About 20 minutes later, we all got off at the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. We were really surprised at how small this sign is, we had thought it was going to be massive, but it seemed really tiny! There was a queue of people waiting to take their photos with the sign behind them, but we weren’t bothered about the sign being central in a photo, so just walked to one side of it to take pictures. We crossed over to the other side of the road, and waited for a bus back, as we were going to explore some of the hotels. The Luxor looks a lot smaller than I thought it would! The sun was blazing down and the temperature was around 112 degrees today, so the amount of exploring we were going to be able to do was somewhat limited. Karen had a think about the best hotel to take us around, and we got off the bus near to the Bellagio so we could watch the dancing fountains. From there, we walked into Caesar’s Palace. This place was enormous!

We spent the next couple of hours just exploring this one hotel, walking through all the different areas. There was a massive, multi-level shopping mall inside it, full of high-end stores and an astonishing, curved escalator, which we were all amazed at as we couldn’t work out how this worked. We sat for a few minutes in the shopping mall, which had a very high ceiling, covered in blue sky and clouds which moved, (I presume this was a projection of some kind). We browsed one or two shops, looked at the amazing fountains and statues, it was just an incredible place.

When we left there, we could see the Venetian, Parisian, and MGM hotels, but they were all so big and we were all hot and tired by then, so we decided to call it a day and make our way back. Back onto a bus we all piled, just glad for a bit of air conditioning.

We got back to the Golden Nugget and all went to our rooms, agreeing to meet up for dinner later. I had a shower, DH took another nap. At 6 p.m. we met everyone downstairs, Karen and Clive were just having a cocktail but we declined to join them, as we were tired enough without adding alcohol to the mix! We all walked out onto Fremont Street to find somewhere for dinner. We walked past the Heart Attack Grill, pausing to peer inside at the diners all dressed in hospital gowns and with drinks at their sides served in IV bags on stands. No-one particularly fancied being spanked by a waitress for not finishing their dinner, so we walked on.

Robin was busy Googling dinner places, and she found a place called Eureka nearby, which had a menu we all quite fancied, so we headed there. It looked lovely, all bare brick walls and industrial lighting, very hipster. DH ordered a beer, and the Eureka burger with fries. I got corn-dog lollipops, fries, and stuck with iced water. The food was expensive but all really good, and we enjoyed our last dinner together, as Karen and Clive would be departing tomorrow morning.

After dinner, we struggled against the crowds making Fremont Street mad and loud, and finally got back to the Golden Nugget with our sanity mostly intact. We said a sad goodbye to Karen, but Clive had popped off somewhere to do a bit of last-minute gambling, so we never did get to say farewell to him. We had had a really fab day, and we thanked Karen for her time earlier on, in showing us around Caesar’s Palace.

The temperature today had been 107 degrees C, with a bit of cloud.

We made our way up to our room, and DH relaxed while I took a shower, then we packed up as much as we could as our adventure in Vegas would be over tomorrow! Bed.

DAY 5 – Wednesday 12 June

Plan : Drive to Anaheim

Actual : We both slept really well, and got up at 9.00 a.m. We did the last bits of packing, and then finished off our leftover pancakes from yesterday. DH went to get the car, while I checked out, and then we loaded up the cases and drove back into the parking garage to set up the Satnav. We had a couple of problems with it, as not only was the bracket for fixing it to the windscreen extremely fiddly to get right, but also we couldn’t seem to get any sound on the thing, so I had to keep watching it and directing DH where to go.

Anyway, we waved goodbye to the Golden Nugget, and set off for the I15, which was really easy to find. We drove along this freeway for about 1.5 hours, before stopping at a Rest Stop. We were 4,000 feet above sea level, according to a sign we saw there! The Rest Stop was lovely, really clean and with spotless restrooms. We read the information boards, they were really interesting, and they informed us we were now on the edge of the Mojave desert. The views around us were absolutely stunning – mountains, desert, very desolate but so colourful.

We got back in the car and drove on for another hour, before stopping in a place called Baker for lunch. We spotted a Denny’s, so headed there. We both got coffee, then DH had an All-American Slam, and I got another Build-Your-Own Slam, with bacon, scrambled egg with cheese, biscuit, and hash browns. It was all really good, and we got some coffee to go.

Back on the road again, at one point we drove past a sign that pointed to a road called, “ZZYZX Road” – no idea how that would be pronounced! We got a little lost between the I15 and the 215, but then managed to find the next freeway we needed. We also got a bit lost again when we tried to find our hotel in Anaheim – it finally dawned on me that I had been reading the coloured arrows on the Satnav incorrectly and had been directing DH to follow the wrong ones! It didn’t help that I hadn’t used this make of Satnav before, (TomTom), and we didn’t have an instruction manual, plus she still wasn’t speaking to us! Oh, and the minor detail that I am totally rubbish at road navigation, you can pretty much guarantee I will get us lost at some point if I’m in charge of directions …..

We finally pulled up in front of the Best Western Plus Suites, parked the car, and went into reception. To be told there were two Best Western Plus Suites, and we were at the wrong one! Sigh. We got back into the car, drove about 200 yards down the road, and finally found the right one. DH parked and I went into reception, to be allocated room 105, which was very close to reception. The lady who checked us in told me where to go for breakfast, but didn’t tell me that it was included in the room price, which I didn’t know about. I went to find DH and he had parked next to Larry and Robin’s car! Apparently, they had got here about an hour before us; after dropping Karen and Clive off at the airport, they had stopped at the same Rest Stop as us, but had gone somewhere else for lunch, albeit in the same town as we had stopped in. Larry spotted us parking and came out to help us with the cases. They were going to Downtown Disney to get some food, so rather than freshen up a bit first, we just dropped everything in our room and went with them. This hotel is almost directly over the road from the drive that takes you to both Disney parks, and Downtown Disney, so we didn’t have far to walk. Greg and Eilidh were with them as well, plus Larry’s other son, Ed, who we hadn’t met yet. Wes and Paula would be joining us tomorrow, too. Ed seemed really nice!

We wandered through Downtown Disney, happy to be there and enjoying the atmosphere. We managed to find Robin and Larry’s commemorative brick in the walkway around the Disneyland entrance, so took some photos of them standing near it.

After a brief discussion, we all agreed on The Earl of Sandwich for dinner. DH and I had what we usually have from EOS, an Original 1762 for me, and an Hawaiian Barbeque for DH. I got him a bag of chips and some coffee, and got Sprite for myself. Dinner was lovely, we were all excited to finally be at Disney, plus we all really love Earl of Sandwich!

After we had all finished, we took a slow stroll through Downtown, and into the World of Disney, where we all went off in different directions. I had told everyone I needed to get some Minnie ears, and was on the lookout for a pair of Potion Purple ears, which are fairly new. However, I couldn’t find any and a Cast Member said they had sold out, so I settled for a pair of Briar Rose Gold ears instead, although they are pretty much the same colour as my Rose Gold ears, just a different fabric. I also picked up three Sprit Jerseys – I am a bit obsessed with these, but they are so comfortable and stylish. I got a Potion Purple one for me, and a Heavenly Blue one for DH, but then I spotted one I had wanted for months but thought was no longer being made – the Cotton Candy jersey! They have recently been re-released but with Stitch on the front, and I’m not really a fan of Stitch, so didn’t think I’d be able to get one, but there were loads of the original style in World of Disney, and I managed to get one!

We all met up again outside the store, and Larry was still fretting about Galaxy’s Edge on Saturday morning – every time he had asked me where we were staying, I had just had to keep saying, “The Best Western over the road from Disneyland”. Now Robin was muttering to me that she really wasn’t sure how long she could keep this up for, as he kept asking her again who was staying where, and in the end I just quietly said to her, “tell him now”. So she did, telling him that whereas he had thought that they were just staying in a standard room at the Grand Californian, in actual fact they would be staying in a Grand Villa, and that all his family and friends would be joining them there! He stared at Robin for a few seconds, before the true Scot/Yorkshire in him burst out asking how much that had cost! I think it was just shock, as he soon seemed to warm to the idea and agreed that it was indeed a nice surprise. I was quick to reassure him that I had paid for both DH and myself, and Robin said that Paula and Wes had also paid, so he seemed a bit happier after that!

We then made arrangements for the next morning, before returning to our respective rooms at the Best Western. Ours really was a lovely room, with a King-sized bed and lots of space, and it seemed a shame to be only staying for one night! The coffee machine was a pod one, so I made us a cup of coffee each and then popped the spare pods into the food bag, in case we encountered this type of machine again anywhere on our travels. We got our clothes ready for the next day as we would be having a very early start, and finally fell into bed, glad to be starting the next leg of the adventure.

DAY 6 – Thursday 13 June

Plan : Move to Grand Californian Grand Villa, explore Disneyland

Actual : We were very excited to be back at Disneyland, and thus it took us ages to get to sleep last night! We still managed to get up at 7.00 a.m. though, and packed up the car. We discussed whether to have breakfast at the Best Western, or whether to just get on with our day and eat later, and decided on the latter, (not realising that breakfast was included in the hotel package; however, I’m not sure even that would have kept us from Disneyland this morning!). We drove round to the Grand Californian hotel, not quite able to believe we would really be staying there, and pulled up at the front of the hotel. We opted to valet park, it would be $10 more than self-parking, but we thought it would be worth it to save time. After unloading the cases and handing over the car, we took our luggage to bell services for storage, then we took a seat in the lobby of the Grand Californian hotel, where we had sat in 2014 in awe, and had a brief moment of disbelief that this was going to be our home for the next 4 days. I called Robin to see what the plan of action was for later, and we agreed to meet up at the Carthay Circle restaurant in Californian Adventure for our World of Colour Dining Package lunch at 2.15, (those guys were already in the park, busily riding things!).

After we had been sitting down for about 5 minutes, a Cast Member came over to chat, but we had experienced this last time we were here in 2014, and knew that she was going to try and talk us into attending a DVC presentation, so we gathered ourselves together, politely bade her goodbye, and purposefully set off for Californian Adventure. We were able to walk through the lobby to the back entrance to the park, and followed the signs until we saw the way in.

We passed through the security scanners, and approached the turnstiles. I handed over the printed-off tickets I had bought, and the Cast Member there took a photo of us each, which then scanned onto paper, printed Disneyland park tickets, which also had our name on. We were good to go!

The Grand Californian entrance brings you into the park by Grizzly Peak. We headed round to start our day with a trip on Soarin’, which had become Soarin’ Over California for the month of June, for some reason. We were a bit torn about this – we were excited to see the original version of the film, which we love, but equally we were a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t see the Californian version of the new Soarin’ film, which we assume had a different ending to the one in Epcot, in Florida. Anyway, standby was showing as 20 minutes, but I noticed the FastPass return time was at the exact time we were there, so I dashed off to pick up a couple of FastPasses, before we joined the standby queue. Within 10 minutes we were boarding – and it was amazing. The film had been digitally cleaned up and was really crisp and sharp, and despite being in row 2 with feet dangling above us, we absolutely loved it! All the scents were really strong, too. We raced back round to board with our FastPasses straight away, and within 5 minutes we were seated in my favourite row, number 1!

We were a bit hungry by now, so we decided pie from Flo’s V8 Café would be good. We headed over to Cars Land, one of our favourite areas of this park, and really enjoyed walking through it. We got to Flo’s and went inside, only to find they no longer do pie! The pumpkin spice apple & cheddar pies we so loved in 2014 were gone, and they had no pies at all! We had to settle for standard breakfast, so DH had the American Breakfast – scrambled egg, bacon, potatoes, biscuit, coffee. I had the kid’s Waffle breakfast – waffle, melon and strawberry, bacon, and a small chocolate milk. It was delicious, if not quite what we had had in mind. Ah well, at least I have the recipe for the apple & cheddar pies at home, I can still make them there.

We watched Radiator Springs Racers as we ate, knowing that that was our next destination! The FastPass machines had moved since we were last here, but we found them eventually (after having had to ask a Cast Member!), and picked up some for the Racers, with a return time of 1.35 p.m. The standby wait time was up to 70 minutes, so we happily went into the single rider line, which is never very long here, and within 5 minutes we were boarding, just a couple of cars apart. The ride was as fab as we remembered! We both got the new paint job side, but DH’s car won their race and ours came second in our race. We had so much fun!

We wandered around a bit more, deciding we really didn’t want to do the two other rides there. Mator’s Junkyard Jamboree swizzles you around a lot, (ugh!), and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters hadn’t worked properly the last time we had tried them, so they didn’t really appeal to us now.

I asked DH if he fancied doing Ariel, which is always a question he is happy to hear, so we went over to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, which was a walk on, and is always fun to experience. We sang happily along with all the fishes and sea creatures, and I delighted in pointing out Ariel and Eric’s wedding at the end to a slightly besotted and sulky DH.

Then we took a stroll around Pixar Pier, which has been remodelled and re-themed since we were last here. It was really lovely! I asked DH if he wanted to ride the Incredi-Coaster, but he said he would think about it. He goes on rollercoasters now that he wouldn’t have dreamt of doing years ago, but sometimes he still needs a bit of thinking time before he will tackle a new one. Along the way we picked up a couple of pins for DH, and then we stopped at Corn Dog Castle for some coffee, sitting on the side of a flower planter for a relaxing drink. We enjoyed looking at all the attractions and décor here, but didn’t ride anything else as wait times were too long. We did see the new Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind ride, which was still a couple of weeks away from opening and surrounded by hoardings, undertaking some test whirls. Toy Story Midway Mania was something we would have ridden, but it was really busy, and as we weren’t in any rush and just wanted to just enjoy being at the park, we carried on round until we were at Grizzly Peak again, at which point I sat on a bench while DH went outside the park and back through the Grand Californian to a smoking area.

When DH returned, we went to Hollywoodland, and rode Mike & Sully to the Rescue (20 mins standby), before going back over to Radiator Springs Racers to use our FastPasses. We spotted Larry in the single rider queue as we exited, and reckoned that would mean that Robin would be waiting for him near the exit. We were right, as we found her quite easily, and stood and chatted to her for a few minutes until Larry reappeared. We all walked to Carthay Circle together for our lunch.

It was fun to meet up with everyone now, we met Megan and Michael, and John and Stephanie for the first time, who are family and friends of Robin and Larry’s. Paula and Wes were back with us now too, making our group 13 people in total! We learnt that Michael is a big fan of churros, having managed to set his own record for eating numbers of them on each visit to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, and every time he visited a Disney park he was on a mission to beat his previous record!

This was our first visit to Carthay Circle, and it reminded us of Walt’s American Diner in Disneyland Paris. It was a lovely place, and was quite quiet, so we were seated straightaway. This was a 3-course lunch, which would also get us FastPass tickets for World of Colour later tonight. We ordered glasses of orange soda, and perused the menu. For starters, DH ordered Tortilla Chicken soup, and I had strawberry and jicama salad, although I had to ask what jicama was, and it turned out to be a fairly tasteless but very crunchy root vegetable, and overall the salad was delicious. DH said his soup was a bit spicy, but was very nice and he enjoyed it. My main course was a really fresh and tasty chicken salad, and DH went with chicken meatballs with pasta. To finish, DH had a delicious chocolate mousse – I tried a bit and it was yummy! I had a strawberry popsicle, which had tiny bits of meringue and marshmallow fluff on it. The popsicle was strawberry ice-cream with a white chocolate coating, and I wasn’t quite sure whether to eat it with a spoon, knife and fork, or just pick it up by the stick, but in the end I used a mixture of both spoon and fingers. It was gorgeous! Really creamy and not too sweet. We really enjoyed this meal, the company was so much fun and the food was all delicious. At the end, we were all given our World of Colour FastPasses for later.

After lunch, some of the youngsters went off to do more exploring, whilst we went with Robin and Larry to see if our villa was ready yet. Robin had already checked in earlier, and had been given the room number, but we knew the room wouldn’t be ready for us until around mid-afternoon, so we took a slow stroll over to the Grand Californian. Our villa was indeed ready, and so we all headed up to the 4th floor.

Our villa number was 4522, and Robin handed our room cards to us. In we all went. Wow – this place was breathtaking. It was on two floors, with a door to the corridor on each floor, and had 3 large bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a full-sized kitchen with dining room, a lounge with the biggest TV I have ever seen on the wall, full-length windows in the lounge that looked out over the theme park, a pool table on the upstairs indoors balcony, and outside balconies in the dining room, and each of the 2 upstairs bedrooms. There were TVs everywhere! The master bedroom, which was downstairs and had an accessible bathroom, was enormous! There was just so much space everywhere, and it was a good job that Robin knew who was sleeping where as it was just so overwhelming. We had our own (double queen beds) bedroom and en-suite bathroom upstairs, John and Stephanie were on a double sofa-bed on the top landing, next to the pool table, then Megan and Michael, and Wes and Paula, shared the other upstairs bedroom, which had 2 queen beds in it. (I felt a bit guilty that we had a spare queen sized bed in our room and people were having to sleep on sofa beds, but we didn’t really know anyone well enough at this point to share a bedroom with them.) Robin and Larry got the master bedroom downstairs, and then Ed was sleeping on one sofa in the lounge, with Greg and Eilidh on the other sofa bed in the lounge.

We all ran around like kids, exploring all the rooms, and then Robin and I called down to bell services to get our luggage. Robin also requested the grocery delivery that she had pre-ordered, and very soon everything started to arrive. We had our luggage delivered to the 5th floor rather than the 4th, so we could get it all in and straight into our bedroom. I unpacked a small amount, mainly just the toiletries, and we checked out the view from our bedroom balcony – straight across to Mickey’s Fun Wheel in California Adventure! We could also see a small backstage area behind the outdoor Lion King show from where we were, too. DH then did his usual thing and lay down for a nap.

I helped Robin to put the groceries away, she had got bread, butter, breakfast cereal, soda, bottled water, bacon, eggs, cheese, crackers, crisps, tiny, bite-sized bars of candy, ground coffee, milk, juice, assorted nuts, trail mix, yoghurt, just loads of stuff! She also got paper cups, plates and bowls, just so everyone could use what they needed without having to wash up. She wouldn’t accept any money for any of this stuff, but just told everyone to help themselves to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. We put out some bowls of snacks and I put the water and soda into the fridge. Paula also gave me my shopping at this point, that she had picked up for us before they left the Vegas area. I had 24 bottles of Dasani water, 2 boxes of drinks flavouring powders, a huge bag of (essential) Cheetos, and one of Lays salted chips. I stashed these away in our bedroom for future use.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Robin went to answer it, and a Cast Member wheeled in a trolley with a HUGE birthday cake on it! It was round, two layers, and iced like the Matterhorn ride with buttercream rather than frosting, (I was pleased, I find frosting too heavy!), complete with a massive chocolate Yeti on the side of it! On the top was a large ‘mountain’, which we later found out was made of rice krispie treat and covered in chocolate. The Cast Member said it was a present from Disney, for Larry’s birthday! Robin had been looking at birthday cakes for him, and she reckoned this one would have cost at least $300! Despite it not being Larry’s birthday until tomorrow, we all had a slice, and it was an extremely moist chocolate cake, not too rich, and was absolutely delicious. I woke DH up so he could have a piece too! Robin pulled me to one side and said she had also received an email from someone called Amanda, in some Disney department or other, asking us all to be in the reception area of the Grand Californian tomorrow morning at 9.30 a.m., and not to let Larry know.

We made some coffee and discovered that the coffee machine was very, very, very slow to brew – we waited about 20 minutes for 2 cups of coffee to filter through! Other people were leaving at that point, so we swigged our coffee down and headed back out into the park, with instructions to meet at the World of Colour viewing area 30 minutes before the start of the show.

We headed back into Grizzly Peak, agreeing that we wanted to ride the Grizzly River Raft ride at some point, and that the ideal time to do it would be whilst we were staying at the Grand Californian, so that we could ride it and then go straight back to our villa to change our wet clothing. We had a look at Soarin’, and the wait time said it was 20 minutes, but the line looked much longer than that to us, so I checked with a Cast Member. She said it would be more like 35 minutes, and my face fell. So she asked if it was just the two of us, and when I said yes, she told us to go into the FastPass queue! That was so kind of her, and we were really excited. Within 10 minutes, we were boarding in row 1, and thoroughly enjoying our trip over California again. We do love this ride!

We took a slow walk round to the World of Colour viewing area, which was near the Ariel ride, and entered with our dining FastPasses. To my surprise, there were a few benches there, but as we approached one, a Cast Member told us that they were only for people who couldn’t stand for long, so I explained we both have issues with sore backs, and he let us both sit down. This was nice, and unexpected. We could see some of the others in our party a bit closer to the front, and waved at them. Larry came over and chatted to us for a little while, before going back to Robin when the lights started to dim for the show.

World of Colour was absolutely wonderful, we really enjoyed it. I think it has recently been refurbished, as all the lights were crystal clear and so bright. There also appeared to be tiny bits of glitter in the water fountains, which we hadn’t seen before, but I think they must have been light filters or something, as we didn’t think Disney would have added actual glitter to the water!

After the show, we all gathered together and took a slow walk back to our villa, happy and exhausted. We had all had a really wonderful day. Back at the villa, we relaxed in our room for a little while, before turning off the TV and going to bed. (During the night, we were woken up by flashing lights, and when we looked out of the patio doors, we could see the World of Colour lights and water screens being run – maybe for maintenance? At one point in the early hours, I also woke up to the smell of bacon cooking. I thought I had imagined this, until we spoke to the guys the next morning and it turned out that Michael had had Robin cooking him bacon and eggs when they returned from the parks as he was hungry!)

DAY 7 – Friday 14 June

Plan : Larry’s birthday, Disneyland Park

Actual : We were up bright and early with our alarm at 7.45 a.m., having slept really well. We showered and got ready for the day. Upon stepping out onto our balcony to welcome the day with the view across California Adventure, we could see what looked like islands just under the top surface of the lagoon where World of Colour is screened from. After a lot of hard staring and a fair bit of squinting, we came to the conclusion that these were the mechanisms for the water screens and fountains, which must be on platforms that can be raised up for maintenance. When we checked again later in the day, they had disappeared back under the water.

Downstairs, we both had a can of soda (pink lemonade and Fanta Pineapple) and a bowl of Reece’s Puffs for breakfast, forgoing the coffee as it took too long to brew I gave Larry his birthday card, which I had had made for him and featured the Little Green Aliens from Toy Story, his favourite Disney characters. He really liked it, and we also gave him the colour-changing Little Green Alien mug we had got for him as a birthday gift. Eilidh had made him a birthday card, which was really cute!

We all gathered in the lobby of our hotel for 9.30 a.m, as instructed, and suddenly two official Disney tour guides came over to us. They introduced themselves as Rebecca and Chip, wished Larry ‘happy birthday’, and told us they were going to take us on a tour this morning. (Wow! These type of tour guides are normally really expensive to hire, and we got two of them to ourselves at no cost!) They then handed us “I’m Celebrating” badges, and they all had Larry’s name written on them, as we were all obviously celebrating Larry! Rebecca and Chip then led us through to Downtown Disney, and into the Disneyland Park, then down Main Street, and we turned right into Tomorrowland. People kept staring at us as if we were celebrities! As we walked, the tour guides were telling us lots of really interesting facts about the places we were walking past.

Our guides took us to the Submarine Voyage, one of the 3 rides celebrating their 60th birthday today. Waiting there for us was a Disney employee, who said to DH as we approached, “Hello! You must be Larry!” DH quickly corrected her and pointed to the real Larry, who was walking a little way behind us. She apologised, and then introduced herself as Amanda, the lady who had written to Robin. There was a Cast Member near the Submarine Voyage with a huge, rectangular sign that said, “Submarine Voyage – 60 today!”, and he kept dancing with it behind Larry and pointing at him, which was very funny. Then he got Larry to pose for photos with the sign, and then Amanda gave Larry a huge gift bag, and wished him “happy birthday from everyone at Disney”. Amanda admitted that the Matterhorn birthday cake was from her, too. A man then came over to us, and Robin got really excited at the sight of him – it turned out he was a guy called Justin, the ‘face’ of Disney on YouTube; he does all the promo videos for different parts of Disney parks all over the world, and Robin recognised him! He was chatting away to everyone, and I took the opportunity to thank Amanda for what she had arranged for Larry, as I said to her that they must get so many letters and emails from fans asking for things at Disney. She told me that Larry “wrote the right words, to the right person”, and that her boss (gulp – the President of Disney Parks!) had forwarded the email to her, saying “Sweet guest email. Make some Magic happen”. I would have loved her job, what an amazing thing to be able to do!

A couple of other random Cast Members joined us at various points over the next few minutes, to chat with us and again wish Larry ‘happy birthday’, and then Justin and Amanda said they had to go, but that we were to follow the tour guides and they would take care of us. We all thanked Amanda profusely, much hugging went on, and Larry made a speech about how he had been going to Disney parks for years but still didn’t expect that anyone would take this event seriously today. Coming from Larry, who is an extremely good friend and completely adorable, but also one of the most jokey, sarcastic, and cutting people I know, it was a very moving speech and even made me well up a bit!

Our tour guides then led us past the queue and to the loading deck of the Submarine Voyage, where they proceeded to board us all onto a Submarine for our own, private ride. It was brilliant, we really enjoyed this, despite feeling slightly guilty that we had bypassed the massive queue, who were all probably glaring daggers at us as we boarded. (Robin sat this out, and waited for us in a little waiting room).

After this, we were led up to the Monorail station where we boarded a train, again for a private ride. Larry got to ride up front with the driver, and he took Greg, Eilidh and Ed with him. We mostly got into one car, despite having the whole train available for us, so we could chat as we rode. One of the tour guides, Chip, was sat near to us, and she told us loads of interesting stories as we rode. She has a friend who is a lighting designer, and when Fantasmic was recently re-imagined and upgraded, he designed the new lighting sector of the show. He showed it to Chip, who suggested one or two changes, which he incorporated – how cool is that? She also told us she used to do some movie work as an extra, and actually appeared in the original Soarin’ film. We made her tell us what role she took, and when she told us, we agreed that we would make sure we looked out for her the next time we rode!

When the Monorail stopped at the next station, several people were allowed to board, but no-one was allowed in ‘our’ carriage! We had a really great time, and felt very honoured not only to have got our own private train, but also to have been told so many fascinating Disney facts by Chip.

We disembarked the train at the same station we had boarded at, collected Larry and the kids from the front carriage, Robin from a waiting room nearby, and followed Rebecca and Chip to our next destination with them, the Matterhorn ride. We were greeted by a lady called Hayley, who introduced herself as the manager of the ride. She said she had something for us, and handed out plain, black lanyards, with a laminated card clipped to the end. She explained these were “Larry Passes”, and would get us on the Matterhorn as many times as we wanted, for the rest of the day, without having to use the standby queue! We all LOVED our Larry Passes, and wore them proudly for the rest of the day! She then led us past all the queues and to the boarding area, where we were loaded onto a row of waiting sleds. The ride was faster than I remember it being, but it was still loads of fun, and we could see and hear our friends in front of and behind us laughing and shrieking!

There was a Photopass photographer set up nearby with lots of signs celebrating the 60th birthday of all 3 rides today, and Rebecca and Chip ushered us over to her. Rebecca said something to the photographer quietly, and scanned an ID card of some kind, then we were all asked to pose in various groups with the signs. Finally, we got one big group shot with everyone in it, all of us laughing, and holding the largest of the signs.

It was nearly time for our lunch reservation, Rebecca and Chip had done a wonderful job of keeping everyone moving between rides so we weren’t late, as they knew we had a lunch booking. Therefore, they accompanied us across the park to the Blue Bayou Restaurant, at the side of Pirates of the Caribbean, before hugging everyone and wishing us all a magical day. We had asked them if they had any more tours for the day today, but they told us that they only did one per day – I guess each tour is a bit full-on and hard work for them, with a lot of walking involved.

Robin had booked our lunch reservation today, and they had paid for lunch for everyone. We all opted for the Fantasmic Dining Package, which would give us FastPasses for Fantasmic later tonight. We ordered drinks, (DH had coffee, I got my beloved Minute Maid Lemonade), and then we ordered our food. While we were waiting for food to arrive, Larry unpacked his gift bag that Amanda had given to him. He got a large, cuddly Yeti (which was super-cute, and when he caught Eilidh eyeing it up, he told her she couldn’t have it!), a birthday card signed by lots of Disney people, a 60th birthday certificate, a baseball cap which celebrated the Matterhorn’s 60th birthday, and a gorgeous, hand-drawn sketch of the Yeti and the Matterhorn mounted in a card frame, and drawn by an Imagineer. He was very pleased with his gifts!

DH ordered Gumbo for starters, Roasted Chicken Maison for entrée, and 8-Layer Chocolate Hazelnut Cake for dessert. I got Calamari to start, followed by steak and mashed potatoes, and then an amazing dessert called Sorcerer Mickey, which was so pretty to look at, and completely delicious to eat! It consisted of pound cake, covered in chocolate mousse, with a bananas foster centre, and a very shiny chocolate glaze, and was a round ball-shape with chocolate Mickey ears on top! DH’s dessert also looked wonderful, it was presented very attractively. As we ate, we were all randomly waving to people in the Pirates of the Caribbean boats sailing behind us. All the food was excellent, (several people had the Monte Cristo sandwich, which looked really good, but was a HUGE serving and most of it had to be taken back in a box!), and at the end of the meal we were given our Fantasmic FastPasses, and something I hadn’t expected – a purple foam seat-mat each, with images from Fantasmic printed on it! I had forgotten that Fantasmic here is all standing, with no seats unless you do the Fantasmic Dessert Party.

After lunch, our group split up again for a while. We headed round to see what the Haunted Mansion standby queue was like, and it was showing as 25 minutes, which was slightly over our usual time limit, but we were really keen to see the Mansion without the Christmas overlay, so we joined the fast-moving queue and were on the ride in 10 minutes. The ride was really fun and enjoyable.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was next, again the wait time was 30 minutes but we love this ride so much that we joined the line, and as it was constantly moving, the time went by really quickly. Yay, the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness!

We walked into Fantasyland as there were a few dark rides there that we wanted to do. Pinocchio was a walk on, and we enjoyed it very much. Then we visited Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, (20 minutes, but was more like 10), and It’s a Small World, (20 minutes), which is quite different to Walt Disney World’s version in that it has Disney characters in it. I was really pleased we had ridden this, it’s one of the originals and had been closed for refurb the last time we had visited here so I had been nagging DH that we needed to ride it this time!

From there, we walked down Main Street and into the Emporium to see if we could find a 60th birthday pin for the Matterhorn. We didn’t find anything, and when I asked a Cast Member about it, he said we should be able to find something in the pin store, on the opposite side of the road. We went over the road, and found a teeny little store there, next door to a shop selling puppets and magic tricks. They had lots of pins, and when I enquired about something for the Matterhorn’s birthday, the Cast Member asked me if we were passholders. I told her no, I was just looking for something on general sale. She showed me a lovely pin that celebrated the 60th birthday of all 3 of the rides, which was perfect, so we got that for DH.

We were quite tired by now, so decided to leave the park and go back to our villa for a rest. On our way out of the park, we stopped at a kiosk near the entrance/exit archway, which had lots and lots of Potion Purple Minnie mouse ears for sale! DH sat on a nearby bench, and I went over and got 2 pairs of Purple ears (one for me, and one for my sister), plus some gorgeous red, white & blue Stars & Stripes sequinned Minnie ears, and I also spotted a Galaxy’s Edge opening day pin for sale, so picked that up for DH. We walked back to the Grand Californian, stopping at White Water Snacks to pick up some coffee on the way, and relaxed in our room for about an hour. I spent a little while on our balcony, watching Cast Members scurrying about in the backstage area, but not really sure what they were actually doing.

At 6.00 p.m., we went downstairs to join the birthday party for Larry! The management of the Resort had sent us a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries for his birthday, and then Robin had put out loads of nibbles for us all. Cheese, crackers, deli meat, fruit, that kind of thing. Plus, she had got him a lovely, 2-tier birthday cake, although the general agreement was that we save that for her sister Paula’s birthday on Sunday, given that we still had a literal ‘mountain’ of Yeti cake left to tackle! (On the subject of cake, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t seen the wedding cake that Robin had got for us in Vegas. I mentioned it to her, and she said that after Greg and Eilidh had had some, but then it was too big to fit in their room fridge and it began to go soggy, as there was a lot of buttercream and strawberries in and on it. Due to the heat, eventually it sort of collapsed and they had to throw it away. I felt REALLY bad about this, as they had gone to all the trouble and expense of getting it for us, and I kept meaning to pop up to their room to collect it so we could eat some more of it, but I kept forgetting!) We had some cans of soda with our nibbles, and then finished off with another slice of Yeti cake. By now, Larry had discovered that the mountain on the top was made of rice krispie treat, and kept swiping lumps of it – we had to keep reminding him that he is diabetic!

We all had a fun time this evening, and everyone was chatting about the brilliant morning we had had, thanks to the magic of Disney. We were amazed at what they had done for Larry and all of us, when they must get so many requests for things like this. Larry was saying that he thought they had done some research on him before deciding to make the magic happen, as he said that Amanda was talking to him about things she seemed to know about him, that he hadn’t told them about. It’s possible they had found and read some of his old trip reports, and saw how dedicated to Disney he is!

We headed back out to Disneyland park eventually, and again, everyone split up to go and do a ride or two before the show. Larry came with us on Pirates of the Caribbean, (20 minute standby), and we had lots of fun! We had remembered to bring our foam cushions with us, although they were a bit of a nuisance to carry, so we put them into a carrier bag. After the ride, we walked a little way to the Fantasmic Dining Package viewing area entrance, and handed our FastPasses over to the Cast Member, who directed us to an area directly in front of the centre of the show island. What’s great is that everyone in this area has to remain seated, so everyone gets a good view. We were very glad indeed of the foam cushions now, although Larry had neglected to bring his, so was a bit uncomfortable sat on the concrete floor! We managed to position ourselves in front of a couple of trash bins, so we had something to lean against. Robin parked her scooter next to the bins, and there was still a bit of room in front of us, so that when various other members of our group appeared, they were able to sit with us.

The show itself was absolutely amazing. (It is DH’s favourite Disney show). It had recently been upgraded, and now the water fans that spray screens of water for projections actually move slightly in the wind, meaning they are always have a flat surface. This means that the projections don’t waver and fade if the wind blows. Then the projections themselves have been digitised, and are very sharp and clear, and they have been updated so there were also very recent Disney film clips in there, too. What we love about this version of Fantasmic is the pirate ship that sails past at one point, it is really huge and there are sword fights going on on-board, between Captain Hook and Peter Pan, and also Captain Jack Sparrow and various Pirates of the Caribbean pirates – very exciting with the music and fireworks going on too.

We had been told that once Fantasmic was finished, we were welcome to stay in the area for the Disneyland Forever fireworks show, that takes place along with projections onto the castle, so we all stayed around for that. However, what we didn’t realise was that the projections are also screened on the new water screens at the Fantasmic theatre, so we didn’t miss anything by not being in front of the castle! The fireworks show was really wonderful, and during the section from Frozen, we were suddenly showered with Disney ‘snow’ from overhead nozzles, which was a surprise, and was so beautiful! Most of us ladies had the odd tear in our eyes as we all sang along loudly and enthusiastically, whilst swirling ‘snowflakes’ drifted past us. It was such a lovely moment.

Afterwards, we all split up again. DH and I grabbed an orange Fanta from a nearby snack cart as we were thirsty and hadn’t brought any water out with us. We had a quick restroom break, then decided to try out our Larry Passes and headed over to the Matterhorn. We saw Ed, Megan and Michael, and John and Stephanie in the queue in front of us, and we all made a big fuss and lots of noise about being able to use our Larry Passes! (We just went through the FastPass queue, and when we showed the pass, we were allowed to continue – I guess all Cast Members on shift that day had been briefed!) We had never ridden this ride in the dark before, and it was so much better when it was dark, we LOVED it! So much so, that we all ran round to ride it a second time! We were done at that point, but the others carried on riding and I believe they did 4 or 5 rides! We had loads of fun with the guys, but we were bushed so we left them to it and went back to the villa then. Before long, we were tucked up in bed, reliving the most amazing day we had ever had at a Disney park!
__________________
Silvercat
Disney fanatic and trip report e-book writer!
Silvercat is offline Girl Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans
KSC & WDW here we come again!
Reply With Quote
Unread 20 Sep 19, 02:09 PM  
Link to this Post
#2
Silvercat
Thread Starter
Apprentice Imagineer
 
Silvercat's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 08
Continued ...

DAY 8 – Saturday 15 June

Plan : Disneyland park, Galaxy’s Edge

Actual : After another good night’s sleep, we were up super-early as today was the day we would experience Star Wars land for the first time. The alarm went off at 5.45 a.m., and by 6.45 we were all ready to go. We walked through Downtown Disney to Disneyland park together, as all members of your party have to be present to check in for your reservation to visit Galaxy’s Edge. It was weird being up and about at that time of the morning, everywhere was pretty deserted!

We arrived at the Star Wars Launch Bay in Tomorrowland, which was the check-in point, and joined a fairly short queue. We all had to follow Robin, and then show the Cast Member who was checking us in our passports or other photo ID, before we were given a silver-coloured, paper wristband each. We then all split up, as our entrance time began at 8.00 a.m. and everyone wanted to do different things before we explored Galaxy’s Edge; we didn’t have any dining reservations or anything else to do together today, so everyone had different plans. Much as we loved spending time with everyone, it was also fun to find out what others had been doing when we were all apart too, so we looked forward to catching up with everyone later..

We mooched around the Star Wars store just round the corner from the check-in desks, and I picked up a few things. It is my son’s birthday in July and he is a massive Star Wars fan, so I got him an opening day pin, a light-up lanyard with a model of the Millennium Falcon attached to it, and an opening day t-shirt, also picking one of those up for DH as they were really nice. I had all this sent back to our hotel so we didn’t have to carry it round with us all day.

We then exited the Launch Bay and found a nearby coffee cart, where I got us a cup of coffee each, and a cinnamon bun for DH. We sat at some nearby tables and relaxed for 10 minutes, and then just after 8.00 a.m., we made our way round to the Black Spire Outpost. (There are about 3 entrances to Galaxy’s Edge, but only one was open and in use for these preview days). There was a solid line of Cast Members standing across the entranceway, making sure that only people with the correct colour of wristband got in there!

Our first impressions were extremely positive. The whole land is so immersive, and is well hidden from the rest of the park, so once you are in there, you don’t feel like you are in a theme park, you feel like you are on another planet! There are sounds of spacecraft zooming around above you, humorous announcements to listen out for, phone calls going on, etc. It was just incredible! Right down to the trash cans and the pavements you are walking on, everything is themed to within an inch of its life, there is no sign of planet Earth, or Disneyland, anywhere! We were so impressed, and think that anyone who is a die-hard Star Wars fan will have the time of their life there.

We wandered around, just admiring and exploring, and were very pleasantly surprised at the low numbers of people around us. I think Disney did a superb job of keeping admissions quite low for these preview days, so we didn’t feel over-crowded at any time. There were fairly extensive queues for building droids or lightsabres, but they were extremely well managed queues and didn’t intrude on any of the walking areas. We found ourselves near to the only ride that is open at the moment, Smuggler’s Run, and after admiring the Millennium Falcon parked up outside it, we joined the queue to ride. There was a 30 minute standby time for this, but not only were we constantly moving, we were very glad of the wait time because it gave us the opportunity to see and experience everything in the ride queue. The tannoy announcements are really funny! And it was amazing to see the level of detail in the theming of the queue area, particularly as you go up a level (via a sloping metal walkway) and can see out of windows placed over the top of the Millennium Falcon outside – wow!

We were ushered into a large room, where the most believable animatronic I have ever seen in my life gave us a lecture about flying the Millennium Falcon without crashing or damaging it, and told us how we would be able to earn ‘credits’ if our mission was successful. There was one final room just before boarding, and we really wanted to pose for some photos in there, it was just incredible, with a bench seat around a table, and droids in the walls, but there wasn’t time for photos as we were called forward to be assigned our positions on the team. Teams are in sets of 6, so we were placed with a family of parents and 2 kids, who unfortunately didn’t interact with us one bit, they didn’t even acknowledge our presence, which was a shame.

We were assigned the posts of Engineers, and directed to walk down a long corridor, round a corner, and then through a doorway into the flight room. The ride itself is a sort of cross between Mission Space at Walt Disney World, and Star Tours. However, the big difference is that each flight pod only seats 6 people, (although it is quite big and spacious, it doesn’t feel at all claustrophobic), and the pathway you follow to get there takes you straight into a room without you seeing anywhere else, so you feel like you are the only ones going in to pilot the Millennium Falcon, it is very cleverly done. We were seated behind the pilots and gunners, and thought the ride was AWESOME! We loved it! The only downside was that we thought it would be a lot more fun if everyone in the team worked together and interacted with each other. The family we were placed with were rubbish, they didn’t push buttons or flick switches when they should have done, (causing both myself and DH to have to lean forward and push buttons for them, we didn’t want to be held responsible for crashing such an iconic spaceship and risk being shouted at by a droid afterwards!), didn’t laugh or talk to each other, and the kids, who were both pilots, couldn’t have steered their way out of a paper bag! I’m amazed that the mission was a success and we didn’t crash, to be honest!

We came out of the ride having had a huge amount of fun, though, and would definitely do this one again. We found a really good angle for a photo outside, and asked a passing guest if he would mind taking a picture with DH’s camera for us, which he kindly did. The ride wait time had gone up considerably by now, and we wanted to explore the rest of the land, otherwise we would have ridden again.

We had a look around the Marketplace, this was a great area, lots of very small stores set out like a real marketplace, with some very cool merchandise. DH tried on a Jedi robe, ($120, which wasn’t bad for the quality), and it really suited him as he is very tall, but we didn’t buy it as we had no idea when he would wear it at home! We also briefly looked at the dining options there, but didn’t really fancy anything on offer at the time. The whole place is very photogenic, there are lots of really cool things to take pictures of, and some of the abandoned old droids talk to you as well. I think the land is also a lot more interactive than we found it to be, but as we didn’t have our phones turned on at that point, we didn’t take advantage of this at the time.

We bumped into one or two of our friends, at a couple of points, but I was surprised not to see more of them, more often, as we didn’t think the land was that large. We knew that Larry was going to spend some of his birthday money building a droid, but didn’t actually see him doing this.

After just over 2.5 hours, we had explored everywhere we wanted to, so the last thing on my list for today was to pick up some bottles of soda and water from within Galaxy’s Edge. These bottles are specifically produced for this land, and are Star Wars themed, although they contain regular soda and water. Disney have put a limit of only 3 bottles per person, per purchase – I guess this is to stop people from buying up loads of stock in order to sell them on eBay or something. So I gave DH some money and got him to pick up a bottle of water and a bottle of Sprite, while I got the Coke and the Diet Coke, all of which have different bottles. These cost $5.50 each. We knew we would have to drink the contents and just bring back the empty bottles due to weight limits on our luggage, but I was really keen on getting a full set of bottles for my son, which we duly did.

As we had to now carry these, we decided to pick up some shopping from the Emporium, and then take the lot back to our hotel. This included some more spirit jerseys for both of us, and more pins for DH.

We hauled this lot back to the Grand Californian, then DH took all the bags and went to the smoking area, while I picked up some coffee from White Water Snacks. We arranged to meet in the lobby, and when we met up, I left DH with the bags and went for a quick look around the small hotel store. I found another spirit jersey that I loved, it is themed to the American flag, so I bought it. When I got back to DH and showed it to him, he loved it too, so I had to go back and get him one as well! We went up to the villa after this, and DH went for a nap while I grabbed some breakfast. I had a small bowl of Reece’s Puffs, (yum!), and a couple of slices of toast. Then I also had a small bag of Cheetos, I hadn’t realised how hungry I was.

DH got up again after about an hour’s nap, drank his (now cold) coffee, and we headed back out to the Disneyland Park again. We decided to ride the railroad train all the way round the park, so after about a 20 minute wait we boarded the train and set off. It is a lovely way to see the perimeter of Disneyland! We really like the little scenes you pass through along the way.

We disembarked back on Main Street, and then walked to Adventureland. The Jungle Cruise was next, which I enjoyed more than usual today as our tour guide was very easy to understand – sometimes, they talk so quickly that you can’t follow what they are saying. DH said he was a bit Jungle Cruise-d out by that point though.

DH was hungry by now as he had only had a cinnamon bun so far today, and that had been hours ago, so we went to the nearby Stage Door Café and I got him a chicken fried steak sandwich with fries. I wasn’t going to have anything myself, having had cereal and toast a couple of hours before, but spotted the corn dog on the menu, so took the opportunity to have corn dog and fries! I also got us both some coffee.

After lunch, we walked just around the corner to Pirates of the Caribbean, and had lots of fun sailing the seven seas. We quite liked the new version without the auction of the women, but did feel that scene was now lacking in something a bit, we weren’t sure what this was, but it just seemed a bit random without the auction.

We carried on round the park and checked out the wait time for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but as this was at 40 minutes we carried on walking! The park was very crowded today. We went and explored Toontown, as we hadn’t done that yet, and as Roger Rabbit had a short wait time (15 mins) we did that, which was fun.

We were quite tired by now, so decided we had had enough for the day. We had wanted to explore Tomorrowland, but everywhere had very long queues and we were a bit fed up with the crowds today. We had to fight our way out past the parade and associated crowds, so it wasn’t exactly a slow stroll back to the hotel! When we got back to our villa, everyone else was still out. We found a heap of photos on the dining table that yesterday’s tour guides had arranged to have printed out for us and mounted in card frames, from the ones that the Photopass photographer had taken of us all by the Matterhorn, so I picked one up for us to keep. The same photo was also mounted in a beautiful glass frame for Larry and Robin to keep, plus they both had a replica Cast Member badge with their names on, and a tiny picture of the Yeti printed on them!

We helped ourselves to a slice of Matterhorn cake, and sat and watched TV for half an hour. After a while, Greg arrived with a sleeping Eilidh in his arms, so we moved upstairs so he could set up the sofa bed for her. He said we were welcome to come back in a little while when she was settled, but we thanked him and opted to stay in our room, as we wanted to watch World of Colour from our balcony. We could see the whole show quite clearly, it was lovely! Bed, for the final time in this wonderful, wonderful villa.

DAY 9 – Sunday 16 June

Plan : Move to Best Western

Actual : Today was Paula’s birthday, but it was also moving day. We were sad to be leaving, but without Robin we would never have been able to experience this amazing villa, and so we were just happy to have had a few days there. We got up with the alarm at 7.30 a.m., got dressed, then because it was Father’s Day in the UK, I WhatsApped my Dad for half an hour, which was fun – I panned the camera around from our balcony and showed him Mickey’s Fun Wheel! All was good at home, which was reassuring (Dad is in his early 80’s and has had a few health issues recently).

(While I was on the balcony, I noticed a huge group of Cast Members having what looked like an early morning briefing in the Lion King backstage area, before they all dispersed off in different directions – interesting to watch!)

We then packed up our room, not that I had unpacked much apart from toiletries, and went downstairs to see if we could help with packing up anything in the kitchen. Robin had taken the things that she wanted to take home with her, and said that anything that was left in the fridge or cupboard, we were welcome to take. I had to be careful what I selected, as I knew we would be on the road a lot over the next 2 weeks and so anything I took would have to be able to withstand being left in the car for hours in the heat. We ended up with a case of 24 bottles of water, two thirds of a box of Reece’s Puffs cereal, cans of pink lemonade and Fanta Pineapple, a loaf of Wonderloaf bread, and a tub of spreadable butter, (I wasn’t sure how long this would survive, but thought we’d give it a go). Robin seemed pleased that at least these things wouldn’t be going to waste, but no-one else had room in their luggage or cars for them, and I thought we would find them useful during our upcoming road trip. I packed the water and the cans of soda into our empty case-within-a-case, for ease of transporting everything around.

I rang Bell Services to come and collect our bags, then we gave Paula her birthday card and the gifts I had made for her – I had knitted her a Christmas-themed snood, and a sparkly, pull-on hat. (I had also knitted Robin a snood, in lovely soft grey and lilac coloured wool, so I gave that to her). Everyone else had had a piece of Paula’s birthday cake last night, but we didn’t know that at the time, so we just sadly regarded the huge cake in the fridge that we knew we couldn’t take with us, and wished we could have eaten a slice.

Everyone else left to go to the Plaza Gardens in Disneyland, as we all had a reservation there for Paula’s birthday breakfast, but we were still waiting for Bell Services to collect our luggage, so we said we’d catch them up. Thirty minutes later we were still waiting, so I called them again as we were in danger of missing our breakfast reservation, only to be told that they thought it had been a duplicate order so they had cancelled the call! I was livid, and told them that there were multiple families staying in the villa and they all had their own luggage, so they should not have just assumed anything! They were a little apologetic, although not as sorry as I thought they should be, given the inconvenience to us. DH told me to set off and he would wait with the luggage and catch up when he could. Robin had left $20 and a note for housekeeping, so I added another $5 to that from us and then set out for the Disneyland park.

When I arrived at the Plaza Gardens, huffing and puffing as I had rushed to get there, the guys were all siting outside waiting for us. I felt terrible, although technically it hadn’t been my fault - Robin said she had kept telling the Cast Members that they were still waiting for members of their party. We went to check in, and were seated straight away, given that we were now 30 minutes late for our reservation. I felt really guilty!

Everyone else began going up to get food, (this was a character buffet), but I wanted to wait for DH to get there before I got anything. He arrived about 10 minutes after me, and said that he was beginning to think that Bell Services were never going to get there, he had had to wait another 30 minutes after I rang them! Anyway, we got coffee and orange juice, then I got a plate of “loaded” scrambled eggs with bits of bacon, sausage, and cheese in, lots of lovely crispy bacon, and a biscuit. DH got the same as me, but added some country gravy to his biscuit, and also got some sausage. He was developing a real liking for country gravy! I also picked up a plate of Mickey waffles and a couple of pastries, which DH and I shared, although we were too full for the last waffle so I just wrapped it in a napkin and popped it into my bag for later.

It was all really good, and as we ate we were visited by Minnie Mouse, the Fairy Godmother, Perla the mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Chip, and Tigger. It seemed like a fairly random assortment of characters to us, but we had fun with them all. I interacted with Tigger the most, as he is my favourite character, and he was quite excited when I pointed out my tattoo of him on my back! He was miming to indicate he should get one of me on his back, which was quite funny! He gave me a huge hug, and I had my photo taken with him, although his handler was indicating it was time for him to leave at that point. Then Rafiki arrived, and Robin was singing Lion King songs to him, which he was laughing at and loving. As he went to walk away from us, DH, who wasn’t really paying much attention to what was going on, began to quietly sing the opening words from the Circle of Life to himself, (although he does tend to sing “Arsene Wenger!”, who is a French football manager, but the name seems to fit the opening line!), and Rafiki stopped dead, looked around above his head to see if he could see where the music was coming from in a really comical way, and then thrust his arms upwards as if he was holding up Simba on Pride Rock – it was really funny, especially when DH realised what was happening and laughingly apologised to Rafiki! We had so much fun with the characters.

After this, we all began to slowly leave, and I asked Robin how we were going to pay for our meal. She told me she had paid when she checked us all in, which I hadn’t even noticed, and then wouldn’t let me give her any money for our breakfast, which was very kind of her. We had had a lovely time with everyone, and it was a bit sad now to say goodbye. Some people were leaving straightaway, and others were going to spend a little more time in the parks before they left, but basically this was the end of our happy little group. Greg and Eilidh had already left, but we hugged everyone else and bade them all safe journeys. It would be so lovely to meet up with everyone again at some point in the future.

All alone, we headed round to Tomorrowland to check out Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. Buzz had a 25 minute standby time, but I looked at the FastPass times and it was showing as being for now, so I picked up a couple of FastPasses and we immediately went down that queue line and were straight in! We passed John and Stephanie in the standby queue, and told them what we were doing – they felt a bit daft for not checking that out first, before standing in line! Anyway, we had a great ride, and DH beat me again (he always wins on this ride!).

We walked round to Hyper-Space Mountain, but couldn’t see a single rider queue, although I was sure there was one somewhere. In the end, I asked a Cast Member (the standby line was showing 40 mins), and he told us to go into the exit. I took DH’s bag from him, found a bench to sit on, and sent him into the exit, where he did indeed find the single rider queue. He had loads of fun, and almost came out skipping! So I told him to go and ride it again, as the single rider queue was very short indeed and he was basically straight onto the ride. Off he skipped!

We then went to Frontierland so we could pick up FastPasses for Big Thunder Mountain. On the way, we bumped into Robin, Larry, Greg & Eilidh, and Ed, so we got to say goodbye to them again! The FastPass time for Big Thunder was 30 minutes away, so we picked up FastPasses, rode using the standby line (20 mins), and then rode again with our FastPasses. Great fun!

We needed a break from the heat and crowds now, so went into the Red Rose Taverne for a break. DH had coffee and I got a Minute Maid Lemonade. It was cool and quiet in there, and we were able to rest for about 15 minutes.

After some discussion, we decided to do a couple of the dark rides in Fantasyland, so Snow White’s Scary Adventures was next. This is a very odd ride, it is extremely scary in places, and made us wonder how small children coped with it. Towards the end of the ride it gets very sinister, with dark and frightening scenery and the horrible hag leering towards Snow White, then suddenly you are out of the darkness and there is Snow White on a horse, with her Prince, and a big sign saying, “And they lived happily ever after” – it didn’t make sense, or flow at all. Very odd.

Anyway, we walked round to the Alice in Wonderland ride, as I really wanted to ride this. I had heard that it is a lovely ride, and last time we were here, (in 2014), I just kept forgetting about it. However, the ride was down at this time, so we decided to go on the Story Book Canal Boats ride instead. The park was very crowded and everywhere had long wait times, which I guess was to be expected on a Sunday, and this ride was showing a 30 minute wait time. We walked slowly through the ride queue for about 20 minutes, but wished we hadn’t bothered in the end – the Cast Member doing the narration on the boat was rubbish! We were sat side by side, but she kept pointing out things behind us, so no-one on our side of the boat could see anything as it was too far and we were too closely packed in to be able to turn around. Plus she garbled her words, she had obviously said them a thousand times before and was just speaking them on automatic mode, without thinking about what she was saying, so nobody could understand a word she said! The boat also rocked a lot, and the bench seating is very low down, making the whole thing really uncomfortable. We genuinely regretted the decision to ride this, it wasn’t worth the wait at all. A complete contrast to the exact same ride in Disneyland Paris, which has automated narration and is a fun little ride.

We wandered back over to Alice in Wonderland, which was now running. It was showing a 30 minute standby, which due to the fact that everywhere was showing long wait times, plus my absolute desire to try this ride, meant that we ditched our usual “nothing longer than 20 minutes” rule when at a Disney park, and joined the queue. In all fairness, we were aboard our own cute little caterpillar in 20 minutes! We loved this ride, it was really sweet and actually quite a lengthy ride, and we were glad we had finally got to experience it.

People were starting to stand around in waiting for the parade, but we managed to escape from the hoards lining the walkways and got over to Adventureland. I wanted DH to ride the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, which for some reason I thought was similar to the small rollercoaster in Disneyland Paris. Standby was 45 mins, but he was able to go in the single rider line. I wanted for him on a bench opposite the ride, and observed lots of pairs of Cast Members in training wandering around together. It was quite amusing to watch, they were clearly on “interaction with guests” training, as they would spot a guest, head for them with determination, and make the same observation each time about them, such as “that’s a nice dress!”, or “ooh, cute child, what’s his/her name?” I had 3 different pairs approach me on my bench, and each pair told me how nicely dressed I was! So sweet to watch them learning how to interact. Anyway, DH returned to me after about 20 minutes and said he had enjoyed the ride, but it wasn’t a rollercoaster, it was more like the jeep ride of Dinosaur in Walt Disney World. I would have given it a go with him had the queue not been so long today!

In need of another break and some refreshments, we headed for Tropical Hideaway, where I knew we could get Dole whips. DH isn’t a massive fan of the pineapple flavour, but I had read online that there is a raspberry flavoured whip available here, so I talked him into taking a break here, sent him to find a seat, and surprised him with a cup of raspberry Dole whip – he loved it! I knew he would. I had a pineapple and orange swirl Dole whip, which was really delicious.

We felt quite refreshed after this, but were still tired, plus we knew we had to move to our other hotel for the next 2 nights, so we took a slow walk out of the park, stopping in the Emporium to get a lovely Belle baby doll we had seen and wanted to get for our granddaughter, a new t-shirt each, and yet more pins for DH. We walked out of the park entrance and towards Downtown Disney, and spotted a magnificent sparrow-hawk swooping about nearby. Uh-oh, I don’t think this is going to end well …… And right there, on Disney property, we watched in horror as Mother Nature did what she does best and the Circle of Life unfolded before our very eyes. Small cute sparrow, hopping about on Disney property, SWOOP! GULP! Cue us staring at small, damp patch left on concrete and trying hard not to cry.

We made our way back to the Grand Californian, and in an effort to delay our departure from there, I left DH in the foyer with the shopping and popped back to White Water Snacks for one last coffee each, which we sat in the foyer and drank.
Eventually, we knew we had to make a move, so we went to Bell Services and collected the luggage, before heading outside and asking for our car from the valet parking guy. While we were waiting for our car, we watched a huge limo drive in, and a bunch of what looked like aging rock stars got out of it, to be welcomed noisily and enthusiastically by Cast Members. We didn’t recognise any of them, though!

Once our car arrived, I waited to be asked to pay for valet parking, but the Cast Member just handed our car over and walked away, so I wasn’t sure how we were supposed to pay for this. Anyway, we loaded up our luggage and left the hotel, turning left several times until we found our way back to the Best Western Plus Suites again, parked up, and went into Reception to check in. We were given room 165, on the ground floor, but around the other side of the building, so we drove round there, parked up, and unloaded the two cases and our hand luggage. We were starting to gather quite a collection of bags of stuff now, but just left them in the car alongside the two (almost) empty cases. The car windows were quite dark and everything was well hidden, so we figured everything there would be safe. I also grabbed the bags of food we had so I could put the butter and some water in the fridge. (We got into the habit of just taking 4 bottles of water into each hotel, leaving the rest in the car each day).

We settled in, unpacked toiletries and other bits, and then discussed options for dinner. I remembered there being a McDonalds not far from where we had stayed in 2014, which was a few minutes away from the Best Western, so we agreed to go and look for it. We set out, and only walked for about 3 or 4 minutes before finding it. I got some chicken nuggets, fries, and an iced mocha, while DH got a Big Bacon Burger, fries, and coffee. We took our feast back to our room, where we ate, relaxed, watched TV, and then finally fell into our lovely, King-sized bed.

DAY 10 – Monday 17 June

Plan : Disneyland

Actual : After a great night’s sleep, we were up at 8.00 a.m. After dressing, we went next door to a restaurant called Pirate Cove which was where complimentary breakfast was served for Best Western guests. We had to go upstairs there, and it was all very budget – Styrofoam plates and plastic cutlery! The food was basic, but was okay. I had a waffle, scrambled eggs, ham, (no bacon though), and a turkey sausage, although one bite made me realise this was too spicy for me, and I gave it to DH. He had fried eggs, ham, sausage, and breakfast potatoes. I was watching the pastry counter; the waitress would put out some doughnuts and they would be gone within a matter of minutes, so I managed to swipe the last chocolate one for DH and got myself a cinnamon doughnut. We also had coffee and orange juice. The hot food was a bit cold, but it was free breakfast, so we weren’t complaining!

From there, we walked over the road and to Disney’s Californian Adventure. The weather was a bit cooler today, and was quite cloudy. It was only 70 degrees, plus there were a couple of spots of rain as we walked, but that didn’t really amount to anything and then disappeared for the rest of the day.

DH was quite keen to ride the Tower of Terror, which had been overlaid with a Guardians of the Galaxy theme, so that was our first destination today. I looked after his bag and sat on a wall, while he went into the single rider queue. 20 minutes later he was back, and he said it was fab! Really good fun, and the theming was brilliantly done.

From there we walked to Mickey’s Philharmagic, which had only been open for about 7 weeks. However, there was barely anyone in the queue or in the theatre once we got in there, (about 20 people in total), which is a shame as we think this is a great little show. We really enjoyed it, and made sure to look round at Donald Duck’s rear end as he was shot out of the tuba at the end, in a very exaggerated fashion just in case anyone else in the theatre missed it! The film is digital, and is very crisp and clear with no spots on the screen.

We wandered round to Ghirardelli’s but didn’t buy anything, as we knew that if we bought chocolate we had no way of keeping it cool during the road trip. However, we did have a good look around and happily accepted a free fudge caramel square each.

We walked to Pixar Pier as I was keen to try a “lemon” snow-cone from the Adorable Snowman Treats stand. DH agreed to have one too, which surprised me as he isn’t normally a fan of anything lemon flavoured, but I duly bought us both one, although nine was topped with white chocolate “snow”, (a complete waste of the extra few dollars it cost for that though, as it was completely tasteless and a very small, thin layer of chocolate). The lemon Dole whip is absolutely delicious, really sharp and lemony, not too sweet at all. DH seemed to enjoy it, too. We stood on the nearby bridge and watched the Incredicoaster while we ate our snow-cones.

Once we had finished our treats, we carried on around Pixar Pier. I asked DH if he wanted to ride the Incredicoaster as it has a single rider option, but he decided not to today. We checked out Toy Story Midway Mania, but there was a 55 minute standby line, so we backtracked slightly and picked up some FastPasses for it, with a 2 hour return time. We continued around the park, just enjoying being there, until we were back near the Grizzly Peak area, where it dawned on us that we hadn’t followed our original plan, which had been to ride the white water rafts there while we were still staying in the Grand Californian, so we could then go back to our room and dry off. Neither of us particularly wanted to get soaking wet today either, so I guess that is a ride that will have to go on the list for ‘next tine’.

DH was in need of a smoking break, so we exited the park into the Grand Californian, and he went outside while I picked us up some coffee from White Water Snacks. We sat in the hotel lobby for a bit of a rest and to enjoy our coffee, and managed to sit there without being pounced on by DVC Cast Members, which was nice!

After this, we headed back into California Adventure. We had a look at Soarin’, but the standby was 50 minutes and FastPasses were still blocked on our tickets for another 30 minutes, so we walked round to Cars Land and rode Radiator Springs Racers twice using the single rider line. We were only a few cars apart each time, and both times we got the same ending – new tyres, then new paint. The rides were great fun, we do love this one.

After a bit of a planning discussion, DH then walked back to Soarin’ as we were now able to get more FastPasses, so he went and picked some up for us while I went into Flo’s V8 Café to get us some lunch. I got DH a Ka-Cheeseburger with fries and coffee, and I had Chicken Fenders with fries and chocolate milk. Lunch was delicious, and we found that by going into the room right at the back of the restaurant, it was much quieter with more choice of seating.

It was then time for our FastPasses for Toy Story Midway Mania, so we walked back round there after lunch, and had a blast trying to beat each other! I won – yay! I scored just over 120k vs DH’s 109k, oh how I bragged!

Once again we carried on all the way round Pixar Pier, hesitated at the Lion King outdoor stage show, but remembered that Larry had told us he had seen it and it was a bit pants, so carried on and rode Ariel’s Undersea Adventure with no wait at all. Under the sea, under the sea …..

Earlier in the day I had spotted a hat I really liked, in the small hat store in Hollywoodland, so we went back there now so I could buy it. After a quick restroom break, I left DH on a bench and headed into the hat store, picking up a gorgeous pink baseball cap-style hat, with rose gold spots and pale pink, fluffy Minnie ears on it!

I collected DH again, and we walked round to Soarin’ as it was time for our FastPasses, although it took an absolute age to get through the queue, for some reason. However, we got row 1, so it was worth the wait! We do love this ride, in all its incarnations.

DH then exited the park to go to the smoking area, and I went into a Starbucks near Soarin’ that I hadn’t spotted before, to see if I could get some Disney’s California Adventure “you are here” mugs. They did indeed have the mugs, so I got two. DH came back and we went into Clarabelle’s for 3 scoops of mocha almond fudge ice-cream in a Minnie Mouse-themed kitchen sink – we had bought the Mickey Mouse one in 2014 and were delighted to see that a matching Minnie Mouse sink was now available! The ice-cream was yummy, and we discovered that the sink had a hard-shell plastic liner, meaning that we could just throw that away afterwards and we weren’t left with a sticky sink to carry round with us!

We left California Adventure after this, and walked across to the Disneyland park. We were starting to get weighed down with shopping, but I had a cunning plan. I went into Starbucks at the top of Main Street, which was absolutely heaving with people, and joined the huge queue. About 20 minutes later, I was the proud owner of another pair of “you are here” mugs, this time for Disneyland park. Then we went to an area behind Starbucks and rented a locker – this was my cunning plan, and it meant we didn’t have to carry everything around with us any more, but also we wouldn’t have to take everything back to our hotel and then walk back to the park again. Genius! It cost me $7 to rent a medium sized locker, and everything fitted into it really easily. DH decided to leave his bag in there as well, and just carry his camera around. We got locker number 1787 and had to select a PIN number for it, so I picked one we tend to use for situations like this and is easy for us to remember.

Free of bags, we headed over to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, which had a 20 minute standby, but was extremely quick to get through the line and to load. Lots of fun, as usual. Haunted Mansion was next, 35 mins but only took us 25, and that went quickly as we got chatting to a group of young grad students in front of us. They were taking lots of selfies, and as we were bored, we amused ourselves by trying to sneakily photobomb them. Eventually, they spotted us and laughed, and then we got talking to them, they were really sweet! The ride was brilliant, again.

It was getting dark by now, and I really wanted to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as I love this ride anyway, but particularly in the dark. Round we went, but the ride was closed as Fantasmic was starting soon, which was a really big disappointment to me. Instead, we walked through the hub and into Tomorrowland, collected FastPasses for Buzz Lightyear, (although standby was only 35 mins at this point), and then DH went on Hyper-Space Mountain as a single rider. We discussed walking back across to Big Thunder once Fantasmic was over, but decided we were just too tired, as we had been on the go all day, and we were pretty wiped out. Our FastPass for Buzz was now ready, so we happily shot everything in sight that had a Z on it, and DH won by a very small margin. Very small. Miniscule. Okay, he won by a huge amount again. Once we had been spat out into the obligatory merchandise store, DH picked up a couple of pins and I bought a lovely Pixar ball for our granddaughter.

Before we had flown out to the States, I had seen a report on a Disney food website showing a new item available at the Jolly Holiday Bakery, and I really wanted to try this, so we battled our way past the HUGE crowds getting ready for the fireworks, (not an easy or un-stressful task!), and I left DH hovering outside while I went into the Bakery. I joined quite a big queue, and when it was my turn to be served, was really annoyed, (in that way that you are when you have just fought your way past a large and determined crowd only to be thwarted in your task!), to find that they had sold out of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Hand Bar – grrr! It was a shortbread bar with a layer of peanut butter and then the whole thing covered in chocolate, and I was so desperate to try one! I had to settle for 2 Matterhorn Macaroons instead.

I got back to DH who was dodging about, trying to avoid Cast Members who were determined to either keep people moving out of the park, or join the crowds waiting to see the fireworks – there was no room for “just waiting for the wife to come out of the bakery” in their eyes! We were dreading trying to fight out way down Main Street, but were pleasantly surprised at how effectively the walkways were rope-controlled by Cast Members, and it was quite a clear walk down. However, despite our best intentions, just as we got level with the area where the lockers were located, the lights dimmed for the fireworks, and DH and I just looked at each other, and gave in to temptation. Luckily, as we were about halfway down Main Street by this time, there was still space to stand and watch the fireworks, and a friendly Cast Member, watching our resolve crumble like a stomped-on digestive biscuit, helpfully held up a rope so we could duck under it off the walkway and into the viewing area, right in the middle of the street. So we watched the fireworks. I was really surprised that all the buildings on Main Street had projections onto them as part of the show, and also they had big inflatable things on the roofs that inflated when relevant. And it snowed during the Frozen section! It was a beautiful show, we really loved it, and were glad we had seen it from that location.

When the show was over, we turned around and went back to our locker to retrieve the bags we had left there earlier, before saying a sad goodbye to Disneyland, and making our way slowly back to our hotel. We suddenly realised at this point that we hadn’t seen the parade in full, we had seen bits of it several times but hadn’t made the effort to stand and watch it at all. Ah well, it wasn’t one that we were really keen to see, anyway.

Back in our hotel room I made some coffee, (slipping the spare pods into the food bag), and we had a look at the maps ready for our next destination tomorrow, finally falling into bed utterly exhausted.

DAY 11 – Tuesday 18 June

Plan : Redondo Beach

Actual : So, ROAD TRIP day! We were up at 8.30 a.m., and this morning the breakfast options were a lot better than yesterday. There were pancakes and bacon, for a start! Plus I had a strawberry yoghurt, a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a powdered sugar doughnut, and a tiny apricot pastry, although I was too full to actually eat the doughnut and pastry, so I wrapped them in napkins and took them with me.

We went back to our room, packed up, and were checking out of there within about 20 minutes. We finally managed to get the Satnav working properly, with a voice and everything, and programmed in our next destination – the Redondo Beach Hotel. In honour of Patti Smith, we named the Satnav “Patti”.

A very easy 35 mile journey later, and we were pulling up at our hotel – it looked really nice, but when we got inside, we thought it was REALLY nice! Very light and airy, a sort of modern Art Deco style. I checked us in, and the very friendly receptionist told us that there would be complimentary drinks and snacks in the lounge at 6.00 p.m. Our room was really large! We hauled the cases inside, (leaving the cases of shopping in the car, which was where they stayed until the end of the trip), made some coffee, and DH napped while I relaxed catching up with emails etc. I was pleased to see that the coffee machine used coffee pods, the same as we had had at the Best Western, so that meant we could have extra cups of coffee!

At 2.30 p.m. DH woke up, and we decided to go out for a walk to the beach. The hotel was quite literally just over the road from the coastline. We strolled along the boardwalk, it was so beautiful. We felt really relaxed and happy, the sun was shining, we were comfortably warm but not too hot, and all was well with the world. We sat on a bench overlooking the sea, and DH spotted a large pelican stretching out his wings and sunbathing, so we watched him for a while. Then we carried on round the walkway, aiming for a sandy beach we could see not too far away. As we approached the beach area, the boardwalk became a sort of pier that curved out a little, and lots of people were fishing from this pier. We heard a strange noise, and DH asked me what it was – I could tell it was a sea-lion, from the distinctive barking sound, but had no idea where he was. Then we saw a group of people looking over the side of the pier, so we joined them, and just below us in the sea was indeed a sea-lion! He was making a tremendous racket, and looked like he was trying to steal the fish from the fishing lines around him! We watched him for quite a while, and were saddened to see that he looked like he had a fishing hook caught in his upper lip – maybe this was the cause of the amount of noise he was making. We would have loved to have been able to help him, but this not being the UK, we couldn’t exactly call for the coastguard or the RSPCA, so in the end we had to leave him be.

We walked round to the beach, which turned out to be a bit gritty and not the soft sand we were expecting, but I was still keen to have a paddle. That was a bit of a mistake, the water was FREEZING! Plus the waves were bigger and faster than I was expecting, and the bottom of my skirt, which I was trying to hold up out of the water, ended up getting a bit wet! It was lovely to be there, though, and we enjoyed about an hour on the beach.

Eventually, we sat on the low sea wall to let the sun dry our feet off. We watched a couple of very large helicopters fly quite low over the coastline, they looked like they were maybe mapping it. When we felt dry enough, we put our shoes back on and took a slow stroll back to our hotel, taking a slightly different route back. We got back to the hotel just in time for free refreshments! We had a glass of Tiki Bar IPA beer each, which was really refreshing and delicious, and then a couple of bowls of assorted nuts, cheese, crackers, triangles of warm, toasted pitta bread, and trail mix. DH added some hummus (yuck!) and some salami. It was really nice, a lovely way to end the day, and ended up being our dinner as we weren’t very hungry so didn’t feel the need to go out and dine after that. We thought this was such a lovely thing for the hotel to offer, and there were quite a few people there, just relaxing and enjoying themselves, it was a lovely atmosphere. There was red and white wine, tea and coffee, hot chocolate, and lots of different nibbles to choose from.

We went back to our room, I made some coffee and we shared some Lays chips and a few Cheetos, before showers, relaxing, and bed. What a lovely day!

DAY 3 – Wednesday 12 June

Plan : Drive to Long Beach, Queen Mary

Actual : We slept well again, and were up early. Breakfast was included in our package, so we went to the dining room and had a delicious breakfast of omelette, crispy bacon, toast, coffee, and orange juice. We went back to our room, packed up, and were checking out within 10 minutes! Bye-bye, Redondo Beach.

We then drove to Long Beach, which was an easy 30 minute drive. We found the Queen Mary ship/hotel, it was breathtakingly beautiful! So big and majestic. We were surprised to see a Russian submarine alongside the ship, which looked so tiny next to her!

The interior décor of the Queen Mary has been kept as true to the original fittings and décor as possible, and we were amazed at how lovely it all was inside. We checked in, and to our surprise, our room was ready. I had purchased a bed & breakfast package, but the receptionist told me that the restaurant would probably try to charge us for breakfast, so we were to pay for this but then it would be automatically refunded 7-10 days after our stay. I wasn’t overly happy with this, but trusted it would work like this. (Spoiler alert – it didn’t, we were not automatically refunded, and after 3 emails to customer services to chase the refund were completely ignored over an 8 week period, I eventually had to contact the Better Business Bureau, which is sort of like a Chamber of Commerce for companies in the USA. They contacted someone for me, who immediately emailed me to apologise and offer me a partial refund of the breakfast cost. I responded that we had not been told there would be a limit on what we could order for breakfast, and insisted on a full breakfast cost refund, which I eventually received. We were told that we had been given the wrong information at check-in, and should have been told to charge breakfast to our room, at which point it would have been refunded.)

We went to find our room, which was quite near reception, and was room number A113. It was amazing inside, all old wood and glorious. Art Deco-style fittings. We had a porthole which looked out across the sea, to the curving shore of the bay further round Long Beach. Looking at the size of the room and the King sized bed, we reckoned this would have been classed as a First Class stateroom. We went back to the car and collected our cases, bringing them back to the room. I unpacked the toiletries, and then we began to explore the ship.

According to the research I had done beforehand, there are a lot of allegedly haunted rooms and areas on the ship. I knew that one of the most haunted staterooms was on deck B, room number B340, so we set off to find it. However, the room had no number plaque on the door, we only found it by checking the door numbers either side of it! We both gently touched the door to see if we could feel anything, and we both got an icy-cold feeling up our arms. We tested this by touching the surrounding walls, and the door next door, and didn’t get this feeling anywhere else. I tried to open my mind up to see if I could sense anything, and immediately began to feel very light-headed and weird, so we decided to leave!

We went up to the promenade deck, which was really beautiful. There were huge, framed photos all around of famous people who had stayed on the ship in her hey-day, one of which was Walt Disney! There didn’t seem to be many people around today, I don’t know whether the hotel was particularly quiet at this time. We found a small Starbucks, or so we thought, but it turned out to be just a coffee shop that also sold Starbucks coffee, so they didn’t have any of the ‘you are here’ mugs. I got DH a coffee and I had a mocha Frappuccino, which we sat out on the promenade deck to drink.

We went out onto the Sun Deck, and found some tables and chairs near the deck railing, so sat and enjoyed the sunshine for a little while. Then we explored some more, finding the various exhibitions and photos that were around. We found ourselves near the infirmary, which was a really fascinating place, with lists of names of travellers who had fallen ill and died, along with their causes of death. The whole place felt haunted to me, although I was trying not to be influenced by the knowledge of where we were or what had previously taken place there. I began to feel quite sick in one area, and dizzy in another, it was really odd. Despite this, we found the infirmary and morgue to be fascinating places, and we were very interested to read the list of stowaways over the years. Lots of people had died on the ship, both passengers and crew members.

We went to the centre of the deck where there were several stores, and picked up some souvenirs. We got the obligatory pins for DH, plus a tiny trinket plate that I am going to use as a spoon rest in my kitchen. We looked at the t-shirts, but couldn’t find any we liked, so went to the very small shop near the reception desk, as I had spotted a couple of nice t-shirts in there was we checked in earlier. We were able to find both long and short-sleeved t-shirts that we liked there, so we got them.

We were a bit peckish, but there didn’t seem to be many dining options on the ship or around it, so we went back to our room and I made us some honey sandwiches, using the bread and butter from the Grand Californian villa, plus some packets of honey I had appropriated from the Redondo Beach Hotel at breakfast there, (and using a plastic knife I had also, um, ‘borrowed’ from there!). There wasn’t a coffee maker in the room, which to us was the only downside of this beautiful ship!

After our makeshift dinner, we went out again to do some more exploring – there was so much to see on the ship. However, it turns out that all the exhibits and historical areas close at 6.00 p.m., so we sat out on the Sun Deck for a little while, and then went back to our room to rest and wait for sunset. We watched some TV and relaxed. The complimentary Wi-Fi was a bit rubbish, it kept dropping out, but we reckoned that was probably due to the thickness of the steel hull of the ship, and there probably wasn’t much that could be done about it.

Once the sun started to set, we went back out and to the rear of the ship to watch the sun go down and look at all the lights on shore. It was absolutely beautiful out there, so peaceful and pretty. When we got back to our stateroom, I took a photo with the porthole framing the lights of the city across the bay, which was really lovely. We finally settled down to sleep at 11.30 p.m., happy and relaxed.

DAY 13 – Thursday 20 June

Plan : Drive to Indio

Actual : We got up quite early, as before we left today there was still quite a lot of the Queen Mary we wanted to explore! We had slept really well, the bed was extremely comfortable, but we dragged ourselves out and off to breakfast. The restaurant was very posh, and the crockery on the tables was beautiful. A very upmarket waiter approached us, and asked us which breakfast option we would like. After perusing the menu, whilst he brought us the most amazing coffee, we decided to go with the breakfast buffet which was $25 per person. We had bacon, scrambled eggs, a toasted bagel, and breakfast pastries, plus orange juice. It was all very delicious, and very high quality food. As requested at check-in, I paid for this using my credit card, and then left the waiter a cash tip. (Luckily, I also kept my receipt, which turned out to be most useful in the struggle to get this money back!) There had been a letter pushed under our door overnight staying that we had been given express check-out and could therefore just leave our room key card in a box near reception.

After breakfast we went back to our room, and packed up, taking the cases out to the car and then walking down the outside of the ship to have a proper look at the old Russian submarine. It looked like you used to be able to explore the submarine, but the doors were all locked up and it didn’t look like they had been opened for quite a while, so after taking a few photos, we went back onto the Queen Mary.

We were very keen to have a look at the old swimming pool, and as all the exhibits opened at 10.00 a.m. this morning, we went there next, as it was at the opposite end of the ship to all the other exhibits we still needed to see. However, at 10:15 a.m. it was still closed, with no signs of anyone being around to open it. We were really disappointed, having read lots of interesting facts around the entrance to the pool, we had been really looking forward to seeing it. We didn’t have time to hang around for long, and also wouldn’t have time to come back again, so we reluctantly left and went to the back of the ship.

We explored the engine room, which was absolutely fascinating, (and extremely haunted!). There were walkways on different levels, and lots of signage giving really interesting information about the engines and the people who used to operate and maintain them. We also saw an exhibition telling us the history of the ship and her operators, the Cunard Line, and also her connection to other ships in their fleet. We went into the propeller exhibit, where there is an actual hole cut in the side of the ship that you can walk through, into a temperature-controlled viewing room where you can see one of the huge propellers still attached to the ship inside a special box that was built around it, and there is also lots of information there about the anchors, too.

Then we walked around the Winston Churchill film set exhibition, from the recent film. This was really good, there were rooms set up as they had been recreated for the film, and it was fascinating to see so much detail in close-up. We watched a short film about this exhibition, and then we saw the last remaining lifeboat from Cunard’s White Star Line, which was in a very delicate but perfectly preserved state.

We would have loved to have had time to watch the 4D film about the history of the Queen Mary, (although there was an £8 charge per person for this), but we were now running out of time. It was 1.30 p.m. and we still had quite a long drive ahead of us, so we reluctantly left. We really felt as though we could have done with about 3 full days to explore everything that this beautiful and historic ship had to offer.

We got back to our car and set up the Satnav for the next part of our adventure. We were driving to a town called Indio, which was the closest town I could find to the Joshua Tree National Park, our next port of call. The Satnav said this was a journey of 138 miles, and would take us approximately 2 hours. We set off and the journey looked like it was going to be really easy, it was basically only 3 long roads. However, whilst it was indeed an easy and straightforward route, there was masses of traffic, which did the annoying thing of slowing right down until we were all at a standstill, and then speeding up again for no apparent reason, with no accidents or roadworks that we could see which could have caused this. We did have a very interesting section of road where we drove past hundreds of wind turbines, far more than we have ever seen in the UK in any one place. In the end, the journey took us 3 hours due to the slow traffic. About 30 miles from our destination we needed to make a stop to get some gas and some iced coffee. When we were almost in sight of our hotel, I spotted a small Walmart just off the freeway, and made a note of its location as we hadn’t been able to find a supermarket yet and really needed to, (I was rapidly running out of deodorant!).

Eventually, the Satnav told us we had reached our destination, and we were really surprised to see the Holiday Inn Express that was to be our home for the next couple of nights, in the middle of nowhere! It was just off the freeway, but there was quite literally nothing around it – no homes, shops, other roads, nothing! It looked like a fairly new hotel, too.

We pulled into the car park, and hopped out. The first thing we noticed was the heat – it was way warmer here than it had been at the coast, (107 degrees), and there was also a vague hazy sandstorm going on around us; we assumed this was due to a strong wind. As we knew we had 2 nights in this location, we decided to fetch all of the luggage and shopping into our hotel room so we could properly pack, so first of all we just took our hand luggage bags and checked in, being given a lovely, large room just down the corridor from reception. We went back outside for the rest of the bags, and were surprised to see a small patch of burning ground over the road from us, at the nearside of the freeway – there was a fair bit of smoke and we could see actual flames! This was very odd, as it wasn’t there a few moments before. Suddenly, a fire engine came screaming down the freeway, pulled off at the exit, and hurtled round to the site of the fire. It came to a halt and about 8 firemen leapt out and began to hose the fire down. Within minutes they had it controlled and out, so we gathered up the rest of our luggage and all the shopping bags, and left them to it.

We were a bit peckish so I made DH a couple of crisp sandwiches using the leftover bread and butter, and I had about half a large tube of salt & vinegar Pringles. I was pleased to see that the coffee machine was the same brand as we had previously encountered, so I was able to use the coffee pods I had brought with us from Redondo Beach. After coffee and snacks, we decided to go swimming so got changed and hunted around for the swimming pool. DH went outside for a smoke, whilst I asked the guy at reception for some extra towels for the pool. As I walked towards reception, I could see the guy lounging back on two legs of a chair, industriously picking his nose! When he spotted me, he shot off that chair like it had just been plugged in, and hastened to assist me – I just had to hope he didn’t transfer anything from his fingers onto the towels he handed me!

When we got out to the pool area, the wind kept trying to blow away our towels, t-shirts etc. In the end, we resorted to dumping our stuff into the empty used-towel bin, which was quite deep and sturdy. We were the only people in the pool, which was lovely! It was a really nice pool area, quite private at the back of the hotel with a high fence around it. The water was quite warm, but was cooling rapidly as the sun only shone on it for part of the day. We pottered about for around an hour, just relaxing and enjoying being there, it was great and a really good way to end the day.

Eventually, we realised we were quite tired, so left the pool and went back to our room for showers, TV, hot drinks (coffee, hot chocolate), and bed.

DAY 14 – Friday 21 June

Plan : Explore Joshua Tree National Park

Actual : We got up at 7.45 a.m., dressed, and went to the small breakfast area near the pool. I was a bit surprised at the rather poor quality and choice of the breakfast items, I had expected better from this particular hotel chain. We had scrambled eggs, and a biscuit. There was no bacon or ham, but DH had sausages, and sausage gravy. There was a fresh pancake making machine, so I decided to make us both some pancakes, but they tasted awful – as though a cleaner had wiped the machine down with a cloth covered in some kind of cleaning fluid. They were also quite chewy. DH finished his, but I only ate half a pancake. We had coffee, and orange juice (DH) and cranberry juice (me). I also picked up a strawberry yoghurt to take back to the room with me, for later.

After breakfast, we collected our bags and some bottled water, and set off to find the Joshua Tree National Park, which was about 30 miles further down the freeway. We arrived at the East entrance, and stopped to take some photos. DH offered to take pictures for a very nice extended family in an RV who had stopped for the same reason as us, and so then the father took some pictures for us, too. Then we drove to the Cottonwood Visitor Centre, stopping to explore there and also to use the restrooms. It was a lovely place, spotlessly clean and with lots of interesting information boards around. We learnt that we would see some places called Washes as we travelled, and they were a natural sand ‘river’ running through the mountains. They are called a Wash because if it rains, all the rainwater gathers in these ‘rivers’ and kind of washes through the valleys.

In the Visitor Centre we paid our $30 entrance fee to the park, collected a map of the park, and bought a few gifts, too – a lovely messenger bag each, pins for DH, and a cuddly mountain goat for our granddaughter!

Back in the car, we drove on a bit further, but then did something we should have done earlier in the day – we looked at the fuel gauge of the car and realised we were down to a quarter of a tank of fuel. We felt really stupid, the National Park is huge and we knew we would be driving round it for most of the day, so we should really have stopped and got fuel as we left our hotel. After a bit of debate, we decided that the idea of running out of fuel in the middle of this massive National Park, and without working mobile phones on us, was a really scary thought, so we turned the car around and drove back towards Indio as we were convinced we had passed a gas station not too far back. However, we had to go almost all the way back to Indio to find a gas station! Anyway, we fuelled up the car, and I also picked up some bags of Cheezits, Cheetos and Lays so we had snacks in the car.

We drove back to Joshua Tree, and began to drive North towards the top of the park. We followed the map so we could see where the points of interest would be, but in a very helpful manner there were also lots of signposts showing different things to stop and look at along the way. We did indeed pass several Washes, all of which had different names, although we hoped it wouldn’t rain today as we drove past Porcupine Wash – gulp!

We stopped at a Cholla cactus garden for a look around. There was a little pathway you could take through the garden, with lots of warning signs saying not to get too close to the cacti as they have a habit of hurling very sharp, painful spikes at anyone who gets too close. We were about a third of the way round the pathway, with very few other people around us, when DH picks this moment to have another funny turn! I was frantically trying to support him on one side, whilst trying to keep us both away from the Cholla! I managed to guide him and we slowly walked back down the pathway and back to the car, where after taking some deep breaths, drinking some water, and resting for a few moments, he was soon back to normal. His timing couldn’t have been worse though, I had visions of him ending up looking like a porcupine as the cacti gleefully stabbed him to their heart’s content!

Anyway, he convinced me he was okay to carry on, so we took a leisurely drive further through the park, marvelling at the changing landscape and rock formations as we went. It was so lovely there. DH saw a lizard run across the road at one point, and then a bit later I saw a small Sidewinder snake slither across the road in front of us. We saw some beautiful Joshua trees, and stopped a couple of times to get some photos of them. They weren’t all over the park, just near the very top of it. We stopped at the Oasis Visitor Centre at the North end, but were disappointed to find that the coffee shop there had closed about 15 minutes earlier than they advertised, so on the advice of the rangers in the visitor centre, we drove out of the park and over to the far side of the road, finding a café called “Pies for the People”, which was an independent pizza and salad place. We ordered a slice of margarita pizza for DH, and I had a lemon slice, which was like lemon meringue but without the meringue topping, and was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately though, they only sold beer and soft drinks, no coffee, but they directed us to a tiny coffee bar behind their place called The Joshua Tree Coffee Bar, so once we had finished eating, we went out the back and round to the coffee bar. We ordered a couple of cups of Americanos to go, and were astonished at the quality of this coffee – it was full-bodied but in no way bitter, with a beautiful roast to it. It was without a doubt the best cup of coffee we had had in the USA! The coffee shop was another independent, and they roast and grind their own coffee blends. We loved the store and the coffee, and the lady who served us was super-friendly, too.

Back in the car, we turned around and re-entered the National Park, taking a slow drive through some of the most beautiful scenery we have ever seen. The wildlife was lovely, we had already seen a lizard and a snake, and now we saw a bunny run across the road too, although we hadn’t seen any of the infamous mountain goats that we were hoping to see. We stopped at a place called Skull Rock, so called because of the shape of a huge rock at the side of the road, and explored a bit, climbing over some beautiful and massive pieces of rock with sand inbetween them. We chatted briefly to a family with young children who were also having fun there.

We had had the most amazing day at the Park, the weather had been VERY hot and with a glorious, deep blue sky, and we had really enjoyed our time there, but it was late afternoon by now and we were aware that the Park closed at 5 p.m., so we eventually made our way out. My plan was to try and find the Walmart that we had driven past just outside Indio, so we headed back towards our hotel, drove past it, and about 2 miles further on I spotted the supermarket. Excellent! We parked up, and went in. I was delighted to find my favourite deodorant in stock, I had already run out of this at home, and was also on the verge of finishing off the stick I had brought with me on holiday, so I stocked up! We got Dove deodorant, Secret deodorant, some cinnamon toothpaste for my sister, a loaf of bread, a big box of assorted doughnut holes, several boxes of drinks powders in different flavours, and a couple of the infamous Walmart fruit pies – only 50c each and they are delicious! We got cherry, lemon, and apple. Yum. DH spotted some very nice, extendible walking sticks, and we discussed getting one for him as this would be useful in case of funny turns again. We chose a lovely dark red stick, it was just under $20 and extended enough for him to use comfortably. I then headed for the baking aisle as I wanted to get some shredded coconut – I like to make Mickey’s Magic Bars which are super-sweet and sticky but delicious, but in the UK we can only get desiccated coconut, and the recipe, which is American, calls for shredded coconut. I picked up a couple of bags of this, and also got a couple of tubs of pumpkin spice, some peanut butter-flavoured baking chips, carrot cake and red velvet Oreos, and 2 bags of the new M&Ms that we had seen advertised on TV – hazelnut spread! Some of the food was to take home with us, and some of it was in preparation for the Flagstaff leg of the holiday where we would be in a location with no food outlets.

Back to the hotel we went, and hauled this lot inside. We decided to go swimming for an hour, but the water felt a bit cold and we were very tired, so we only lasted about half an hour in the end. There was a large extended family in the pool area, which was fine, but there were about 8 or 9 kids ranging in age from very small to teenagers, and they took up the whole of the hot tub, despite there being signs around saying that under-14s weren’t allowed in there. They just splashed around and had fun, but this meant that no-one else could use it, unfortunately. Their parents were either sitting around the pool on the loungers or in the hot tub themselves, and clearly weren’t bothered about any other people being able to use the hot tub. So we pottered about in the main pool till we felt cold and hungry, and then went back to our room for warm showers and snacks. After this, we completely repacked the orange suitcases with everything we had bought so far, so they were ready to go home and wouldn’t have to be packed again. Feeling very happy with how the day had gone, we retired to bed.

DAY 15 – Saturday 22 June

Plan : Drive to Prescott

Actual : After a good night’s sleep, we were up fairly early and headed out for breakfast. This was much better today, there was bacon! We filled up on bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and DH had sausage with sausage gravy again. All was really good, much better than yesterday, and we topped this off with coffee and fruit juices.

Back in our room, we packed up (which didn’t take long), and checked out of the hotel. Car loaded up, we started the next leg of the adventure! We had a 4-hour drive ahead of us, which we intended to split into 2 halves, so on we went for 2 hours. At one point we passed a sign to the state prison that stated, “Do not pick up hitchhikers” – as if anyone would! We drove past lots of very tall, straight cacti, and mountains that had very strange-looking, flat tops, as though they had been sliced off. At one point, we drive through a town called “Hope” that consisted of nothing except a very small, white church. Then we saw a sign that said, “You are now beyond Hope”, which we thought was very funny.

After a couple of hours we stopped, in a tiny town called Salome, as I had spotted a sign for the Cactus Barn Café. It looked very run down, but inside it was surprisingly nice! We used the restrooms, and then went to the bar to order coffee. There were a handful of customers in there, and the lady who served us was really nice. She brought us our coffee, and some iced water as she said we looked like we needed it! We relaxed and stretched our legs for a while, and the lovely lady topped up our coffee without us asking for it. The bill came to just over £3 in total, so I gave her $5 and we left. We saw a bunny hopping around as we got back into the car!

Nearby there was a sign for a 9-11 memorial for the firefighters, so we drove round till we found it. It turned out to be a piece of steel beam mounted on a plinth, and was placed here as apparently the steel used in construction of the towers had been mined around Arizona. It was a very moving tribute, so lovely, so we respectfully took some photos before moving on.

We drove on for another 2 hours, along very long, straight, cactus-lined roads. We loved the desolation and gorgeous scenery, we would drive for miles and miles without seeing a town or any buildings at all. The last 10 miles of the journey was up and around very steep, twisty mountain roads, almost like a mountain pass. DH kept saying to me, “look at the view!”, but the view on my side of the car was of a humungous, sheer drop down the mountain, so I sort of whimpered, “ooh, yes, lovely!” whilst trying not to look.

We finally got to Prescott, and easily found our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, and checked in. Our room had recently been refurbished, and it was gorgeous! The shower area was huge, and I looked forward to using that later. We unpacked a little, and relaxed.

The reason for this stop in Prescott was that DH’s Uncle used to live here for many years before he died, and DH wanted to try and find his house just to see it from the outside, as he had never visited his Uncle here. We had asked the hotel receptionist about directions to Copper Creek Road, and she had given us a small map, so we found the road quite easily. It was about a 10 minute drive from where we were now, so we agreed to go there tomorrow morning on our way out of Prescott.

We realised that we hadn’t really eaten much since breakfast this morning, and it was now late afternoon, so I left DH relaxing on the bed and watching TV, and I walked back up to the main road where I had seen a few small stores as we drove in. There was a 5 Guys there, and we do love a 5 Guys burger, so I went there. I got us both a bacon cheeseburger, although, (and this is what I love about 5 Guys), I was able to have a small one, whilst getting DH the regular size, plus a couple of portions of fries. With hindsight, I should have just got us one portion to share, there were masses and masses of fries! I took this back to the hotel and we had a room picnic. The coffee machine was the same as we were encountering everywhere now, so we had spare coffee pods again!

After dinner, DH had a nap, and I went back over the road to the stores, as I had spotted a small supermarket there earlier – I do so love American supermarkets and I wanted to see what they had; also, I wanted to stock up a bit as our next destination would be based in the middle of nowhere. However, it turned out to be an independent, organic store called Trader Joe’s. I still went in for a look around, and was pleasantly surprised by what they had. I picked up a couple of boxes of Key Lime cookies for us and my dad, some fig biscuits for DH, and a box of tiny, cheese-filled crackers.

I returned to our hotel and was going to suggest that we went for a swim, but as I walked past the pool, which was indoors here, I could see it was full of kids splashing about and neither of us fancied this, so we just relaxed in the room before having a shower in that huge bathroom, (not at the same time!), and then bed.

DAY 16 – Sunday 23 June

Plan : Drive to Flagstaff via Sedona

Actual : We commented to each other this morning how nice everyone that we have spoken to so far this holiday, has been! Every area we have visited has had such nice, friendly people in. DH has encountered some lovely folk during his smoking breaks, and anyone we have asked for directions or information has just been so friendly.

Anyway, we had a superb breakfast this morning, there was a much better selection at this particular Holiday Inn Express than the one in Indio. We did the usual bacon, eggs etc., but I noticed something here I’d never seen before – little pots of strawberry cream cheese! I had one spread on a bagel, and it was really delicious! It doesn’t look like we can get this in the UK, sadly, as I really liked it. I gave DH a small taste and he hated it, but he isn’t really a fan of strawberry-flavoured items.

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and then loaded up the car, before putting DH’s late Uncle’s address into the Satnav. About 10 minutes later we were pulling up on Copper Creek Road, but try as we might, we couldn’t find his Uncle’s house number. We tried several side streets, but were unsuccessful, unfortunately.

Eventually, we had to give up on this, and so we drove to the downtown area of Prescott to have a look around. It’s a fairly small area, one large square of parkland as a hub with four crossroads that meet in the middle. We found a parking space on the road, and began to explore the stores. Whisky Row had been recommended to us by a couple of people, so we looked around several small, independent stores, mostly selling upmarket gifts or souvenirs. It was a lovely place! We browsed a store that sold metal signs, and had to laugh at the one with a picture of Confucius on saying, “I didn’t say half of that!” There was a slightly larger store called the Trading Company that we looked around, and we bought DH a t-shirt and some pins, some cactus-printed socks for my daughter, and a really cute little cactus Christmas tree decoration!

There was a bluegrass festival going on in the park, with lots of stalls around and a small stage for bands to play on. The atmosphere was so lovely, really relaxed and friendly, and lots of people were smiling at us or nodding acknowledgement as we walked past them, it was so nice. We found some restrooms so used those, then took lots of photos of the town square and stores.

After a couple of hours we had seen everything we wanted to, so walked back to the car. We really enjoyed our visit to Prescott, but were a bit sad that we couldn’t find DH’s Uncle’s house.

Back on the road again, we began the next drive, about a 2.5 hr journey to Flagstaff. We had originally intended to stop off at a town called Sedona on the way, but had spent more time in Prescott than we had thought we would, so decided to visit Sedona another day and just headed for Flagstaff. About 60 miles from there, we spotted a Denny’s just off the highway, so pulled over for coffee. I was quite keen on a piece of pie from there, I remember years ago that Denny’s used to have the best pies and cakes! We parked up, and were just about to walk over to the entrance, when the people in the next car to us, (two couples), asked DH how long we had had our Acadia for. DH explained that it was a rental car, and then we got chatting to them about the Acadia – they had owned theirs for a while and really loved it. We talked to them for a good few minutes, as they asked where we were from, and where we were going, etc. They were really nice, and told us that if we wanted to live in America, (I think we mentioned that we would love to live there one day), that they thought we ought to explore ways to make it happen!

Anyway, eventually we bade our goodbyes and headed into Denny’s. We ordered coffee, and I was horrified to discover they don’t have pie or cakes any longer! To be fair, the more I thought about it, the more I realised it had been a very long time since I had seen either pie or cake in Denny’s, apart from hush puppies. So I ordered a strawberry sundae, and DH had a caramel apple pie crisp with ice-cream. Both were very delicious and exactly what we needed.

Quick restroom visit, and back on the road, we passed Sedona and made a mental note of where the turn-off was so we could visit at some point over the next few days. Less than an hour later, and a mile before we actually got to Flagstaff, I suddenly spotted a sign for the Arizona Mountain Inn & Cabins, our next destination. The satnav was trying to take us further on down the road, but we turned her off, turned around and went back to the Cabins sign, turning off the road and following a trail that took us into the middle of the woods. Wow! These looked amazing! There is an inn that has bed & breakfast, and 17 cabins, all tucked away on 13 secluded acres of ponderosa pines (according to the brochure!). The cabins sleep from 2 to 16 people, depending on size of cabin, and are fully furnished complete with towels and bed linen, and fully stocked kitchens (apart from food, obviously!). I had picked cabin number 19 for us, which sleeps 2.

We drove round to reception, which is based at the small inn, and I checked us in. We were given a site map and a key to the cabin. There is a laundry room at the inn, and a small selection of vending machines that sell snacks and drinks, although we were well prepared and had our own snacks and plenty of bottles of water. Then we drove a short distance to our cabin, which we had spotted on our way to reception. It looked really beautiful! There was an outside porch with a small table and a couple of chairs, raised off the ground and fenced in.

We opened the door and went inside. It was lovely! Very small, but perfect for us, and we could get settled a little as we would be there for 3 nights, with only a few plans for exploring. There was a lovely bathroom, and the kitchen, although tiny, was stocked with crockery, cutlery, a toaster, and a coffee machine. There was a cooker, and a large fridge/freezer, although no dishwasher. However, there was washing up liquid, a sponge, and tea-towels. My only concern was the bed – the bedroom wasn’t so much a room, as a mezzanine floor above the bathroom, accessed via a loft ladder in the lounge area. This ladder was almost vertical, and then once up there, you had to crawl to the mattress in the middle of a small floor area, as you could only stand up right in the middle of the floor – the A-frame roof came down either side of the floor. I ventured up the ladder and managed that okay, and the mattress felt very comfortable. There was a quilt and pillows, and the bed was made up with bedding, plus there was a tiny window at the head of the mattress – it all looked really cosy and comfy! Then I tried to get down the ladder again. You have to approach it backwards, on your knees, as there is no way of going down it forwards. I was kneeling on the top rung, waving one leg blindly and frantically around trying to find the next step down, and gripping onto the tiny bits of wood (about a foot high) at the top of the ladder with a Vulcan death-grip, terrified out of my wits. DH, meanwhile, was at the foot of the ladder trying to coax me down without actually laughing out loud at the sight of me. In the end, after I began to really panic and said I couldn’t get down, he grabbed my foot and guided it to the next rung down, and I was able to descend. Oh my, I was really looking forward to having to go back up there to sleep later! I even privately debated with myself as to whether I should ask for a different cabin, one that only had one storey, but I loved this one so much that I just had to hope I could learn to cope with the ladder. I didn’t mention any of this to DH, though.

DH relaxed for a little bit, discovering that even though we had been told there was no TV and no Wi-Fi in the cabin, there WAS actually Wi-Fi, while I unpacked the food we had and put some bottled water in the fridge. The various hotels we had stayed in had either had packets of coffee bags, or the coffee pods, and I had diligently collected up what we hadn’t used along the way, so we had an adequate supply of coffee bags to use in the filter coffee machine here, (there was a supply of filter papers in the cupboard above the sink). We also had a supply of packets of coffee creamer, plus in a couple of the hotels I had swiped some tiny tubs of honey at breakfast. The butter we had brought with us from the Grand Californian was lasting really well, considering the heat of the car that it was travelling in frequently! Anyway, I was able to keep it refrigerated here, thankfully.

I made us some coffee, and we sat out on the porch for a while, just enjoying the view. It was so lovely there, so peaceful, and we just chatted quietly whilst DH surfed the internet and I did some arrow-word puzzles. Eventually, we felt a bit hungry and discussed going out in the car to find somewhere to eat, but decided we couldn’t be bothered going out again, so I made us some honey sandwiches and we also had some Lays potato chips, and Cheezits.

We waited for dusk to fall as I had taken my electronic bat detector with me, reckoning that being in the woods we would be bound to find some bats around, but I was very disappointed to find that the brand new pack of batteries I had taken with me were all flat! That will teach me to get a cheap, generic pack, rather than branded batteries, although they normally work fine at home. I hadn’t checked them in advance as I’ve never had a brand new pack of batteries fail before! We tried looking around in case we could actually see bats, but failed to see any at all, so gave up and went back into the cabin for a little while, until it was completely dark outside. Then we went back out to do some stargazing, and saw some amazing views – because there wasn’t any residual street or town lighting, we could see lots of visible stars and galaxies, and we were also able to see Jupiter quite clearly, too. We spent about half an hour picking out different clusters of stars, it was great fun. Eventually though, we realised we were very tired, so had a relatively early night and retired to our loft bed. Gulp.

DAY 17 – Monday 24 June

Plan : No fixed plan for today

Actual : Well, that was an interesting night! The mattress was indeed very comfortable, and we were really cosy up there, it was lovely. However, I was so terrified I would need to get up during the night for a restroom break, that I barely slept! DH had said that if I needed help getting down, to wake him up, but I didn’t like to disturb him. I talked myself into having to get up at about 3.00 a.m., and shuffled backwards to the edge, but was so scared that with no-one downstairs to help me down I was going to fall down the ladder, that I just went back to bed and tried to sleep. I hadn’t really needed to get up that badly, but had psychologically talked myself into it. Anyway, when the sun was well and truly up at 8.00 a.m., I realised I really DID need to go, so made myself get up. I gave myself a good, stern talking to, and then managed to find a way to minimise the fear by working out what felt like a safer way to descend. By not shuffling right up to the edge of the platform but kneeling slightly more inwards towards the mattress, then wrapping one arm tightly around each of the post supports of the ladder, I was able to then lean backwards a bit with one leg straightened downwards until my foot touched the 3rd step down of the ladder, (a comfortable reach for my leg). At this point, I was still secured by my arms around the posts and with one foot firmly on this step, that gave me the confidence to lower my other foot to the next step down, then I could let go of the post supports one at a time and wrap each arm tightly around the sides of the ladder, thus allowing me to descend one step at a time. It sounds more complicated than it was, but it worked for me! I was able to make quite a rapid descent whilst feeling completely safely secured to the ladder.

Bathroom break attended to, I felt confident enough that I could get back down again to actually go back to bed for another couple of hours! We were both quite tired, having spent the last 17 days almost constantly on the go. That plus all the travelling we had been doing had left us both a bit wiped out. Eventually we got up around 10.00 a.m., and I explained to DH my newly formulated technique for getting down the ladder! Bless him, he didn’t laugh (to my face).

I made us some coffee and toast, and we discussed what we wanted to do today. We juggled our plans around for the next few days, and decided that today we would do absolutely nothing – it was a blissful idea that we could afford to spend an entire day just relaxing and enjoying our holiday! So DH alternated between sitting out on the porch reading a book, and then lying on the sofa inside and napping. I dragged one of the porch chairs out into the trail in front of our cabin to where there was uninterrupted sunshine, dressed in a short sundress, and sat out there all day reading books on my Kindle. (I didn’t notice DH take a surreptitious photo of me at one point when I was star-fishing my arms and legs out to get maximum rays possible, but actually looked like a dead body, until I noticed it on Facebook later that night! ) I read one complete novel, and 2 short stories by the time the sun went behind the trees, so I transferred me and my chair to the porch, to get a third of the way through a second novel before it got too dark and I had to go inside. I made us the odd jug of coffee, and we nibbled on crisps and biscuits all day, but were never really hungry enough to want a proper meal. I didn’t become aware that I was subconsciously restricting my liquid intake though, still slightly concerned about the ladder situation, until a few days later.

After more star-gazing, we finally turned in at 11.00 p.m., completely relaxed and happy.

DAY 18 – Tuesday 25 June

Plan : Meteor Crater, Sedona

Actual : Today’s plan was only organised yesterday. DH had read about a massive meteor crater about 40 miles away from where we were staying, which is a tourist attraction, and only told me about it yesterday! Being a bit of a space nut, I was really keen to visit this, so we got up quite early, I gleefully negotiated the ladder, and we had toast and coffee before setting out.

We drove to the crater, with the help of our trusty satnav, and it turned out to be 38 miles away. We parked up and approached the visitor centre. There is a charge to get into the site, but it is run like a charity so a lot of the fees are used for the maintenance of the centre and the site itself. There are free walking tours out to the crater (about ¼ of a mile) every hour, and in the visitor centre there are a couple of films, a restaurant, and the usual gift shop. Apparently, this is the largest best preserved meteor crater in the world!

We were very impressed by the attraction entrance, after you exit the fee payment area you walk past an Apollo mission capsule (it was built for one of the missions but never actually used), through a very attractive garden area with gravel paths, before entering the visitor centre building. We were conned into buying extra tickets to watch an “awesome 4D film” which turned out to be a bit rubbish really, very much aimed at small children and about 10 minutes long – a complete waste of money in our opinion. It was about blasting off into space in a spaceship piloted by the world’s most irritating cartoon rabbit, in order to divert a meteor heading for our planet. Truly dreadful stuff.

Anyway, after this we went into another theatre to watch a 10 minute film about the meteor crater, which was really interesting and very informative. There were large pieces of the meteor on display in a couple of places outside the theatre, which you could touch – this was really cool! The tour guide gathered up everyone for the midday tour, which included us, and checked that everyone would be okay walking for about a quarter of a mile out to the rim, which we all were, and we set off. The tour guide was really good, he told us lots of really interesting information as we walked. The walk was slightly uphill and we were puffing a bit by the time we got to the top!

We learnt that bits of rock from the meteor were found 7 miles away from the impact crater, such was the strength of the impact. The guide touched the ground randomly near the crater rim with a magnet on a pole, and collected bits of iron ore dust from the meteorite, and bear in mind that this crater is about 50,000 years old - wow! Fascinating.

We all posed for photos, which the tour guide took with our own cameras, on a flat spot near the edge of the crater rim, and there was a family who posed after us whose mother lost her hat – she was wearing a rather nice, navy blue, floppy-brimmed hat, and the wind caught it and blew it over the edge! We could see it about 10 feet down, but no-one volunteered to get it back for her and she was happy to leave it there, given the depth of the crater and the slidey nature of the crater walls! After a really interesting 20 minute talk, we began to make our way back to the visitor centre, and a really cute little chipmunk ran across our path in front of us – aw!

Back in the visitor centre, we had a look around the museum, before climbing up a very steep slope to the observatory space, which had telescopes set up so you could look at the bottom of the crater. After this, we went into the little café for a cup of coffee, and then finally we explored the gift shop, where we picked up pins and a t-shirt for DH (no surprise there!), some socks for my daughter, and a couple of really lovely, polished pieces of gemstone to put in our Bearded Dragon’s vivarium.

After a quick restroom break, we finally left the crater, having had a really fun few hours, and drove back to Sedona. As we wound down on the narrow mountain road from 6k to 4k elevation, we drove through some stunning mountain views, with lush forests all around us, the views were just amazing. We found a small car park behind some stores just off the main road, and walked up and down a really beautiful street, filled with tiny arts & crafts shops. We managed to find a store selling tourist gifts, which wasn’t easy, and got a pin for DH and a really cute little teddy bear for our granddaughter. DH had been told that there was a McDonald’s somewhere here that was a bit unusual, (a work colleague had visited here and told him about it), so I popped into the tourist information office to ask them how to get there. They were really helpful, and gave me a very detailed map of the town, directing me to carry on further down the road for about 5 miles. We picked up the car again and drove to the only McDonald’s in the world without “golden arches” – they are turquoise! The story goes that the colour of the golden arches was felt by the town council to be too garish for the area, and it would have clashed with the natural beauty and wonder of the surroundings, so it was agreed to make them turquoise instead! It was quite quiet in there, and DH went off to secure a table while I ordered. DH had a bacon double quarter-pounder and fries, with coffee, and I had some chicken tenders, fries, and an iced coffee. The server asked which sauce I wanted with my tenders, and when she listed the choices, she said “honey”. I assumed she meant honey mustard sauce, and asked for that. However, she gave me two tubs of actual honey, so I thought, “why not?” and tried dipping my tenders in it. Oh wow, it was amazing! So delicious! I’m definitely putting honey on fried chicken next time I have it, yum! While I was waiting to be served, an elderly couple sitting nearby asked what part of California I was from. I looked at them in a puzzled way, and politely replied I was from England! They were confused by the California plate on our car, apparently!

After dinner, we took a leisurely drive back to our cabin, very tired but also very happy, having had a thoroughly splendid day of exploration. Relaxed, coffee, bed.

DAY 19 – Wednesday 26 June

Plan : Drive to Williams

Actual : We were up quite early this morning, had toast and coffee, packed up and said goodbye to our lovely cabin, checked out, and drove to Flagstaff for a look around Downtown. It was quite hard to find a car park here, all the street parking was full, but we finally found a tiny car park (that was shockingly expensive to park in!), parked up, and paid. I was a bit hassled by the experience as the ticket machine only took credit or debit cards, and not having a credit card with a registered USA address I was worried that the machine wouldn’t accept my card; luckily, I only had to put in the car reg no. and not a zip code.

Anyway, we found a bistro nearby called Market and called in there for coffee, before exploring the fabulous, “arty” stores around. There were some lovely shops, one in particular caught our eye – it appeared to sell a lot of locally made crafts, and the Christmas section was amazing! Had we not been flying home, I would have bought the biggest Christmas wreath I’d ever seen, it was so beautiful but was about 5’ across! I did get myself a tiny, rose-gold coloured cactus necklace, and a pin for DH.

We left there after a couple of hours, and drove for about 5 minutes to Lowell Observatory. This was a place I didn’t even know existed, but DH had found it in our guidebook and planned a visit there, as a surprise for me. We parked up, paid $17 each to get in, and walked through the tiny visitor centre to the buildings at the back. A guide had set up a telescope with a special filter on it, and we were able to look directly at the sun through it – absolutely amazing! I could see a solar flare at one point, I loved doing this, it was a brilliant experience! DH got a great photo through the telescope, it was awesome.

Next we had a look around the Putnam Collection Centre, where there was a display of lots of moon landing preparation memorabilia. The Lowell centre was responsible for mapping the moon before the Apollo landings in 1969, so the astronauts would be able to make a safe landing, and the exhibition had lots of original copies of the maps, signing-in books, etc. After this we made our way back into a small room in the visitor centre where we listened to a presentation of the history of the Observatory, then went on a brief tour of the site. The next presentation we saw was a history of the discovery of Pluto, which was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory. It was all absolutely fascinating, plus we were able to go into the observatory dome and see the original telescope that he had used during the discovery. Finally, we browsed the obligatory museum shop and got pins, t-shirts, and DH bought me a cuddly Mars – it is really cute, has eyes and a smiley face, and has a tuft of white hair on the top to represent the polar ice-cap! They had a cuddly toy of each of the planets, but as Mars is my favourite planet, I picked that one.

We had been fascinated by the story of Percy Lowell, the founder of the observatory, and the fact that on his death, his unhappy wife, who had been left very little money by her husband as he left the vast majority of his wealth to the observatory for its upkeep and maintenance, had insisted that the observatory trust build (and pay for!) a vast, imported stone memorial tomb for Percy. This was something that would have horrified him during his lifetime, due to the extensive waste of money, but she was insistent and it is said that this was her final act of revenge against him! We saw the tomb, it was breathtakingly ostentatious, although beautifully maintained.

We had had a great time there, but eventually had to leave to get to our next destination. We drove a short way down Route 66, promising ourselves to do the route properly one day, and stopped at a Jack in the Box for some food as we had barely eaten all day. DH had a bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger, fries & coffee, and I got 4 crispy chicken strips, fries, and an iced coffee. As we sat enjoying our late lunch/early dinner, we got to talking about something that one of the tour guides had casually mentioned when we were at the Observatory, about to walk uphill to the Pluto discovery building. He had said that it was only a couple of hundred yards’ walk, but that it would probably feel further due to the fact that we were at almost 7,000 miles above sea level. We had a ‘ping’ moment of realisation – although neither of us are super-fit, we are not such lazy slobs that we can’t walk around for a few hours without feeling exhausted. However, over the last few days, we had really struggled to walk any distance or up hills without being very breathless and feeling shattered. It only just dawned on us that this was most likely due to the higher elevation we had been at for the last week and a half! I had also had a vague, niggling headache for about the last week, which could also have been due to the constant increased elevation, a sort of altitude sickness.

Anyway, once we had finished our food, we got back into the car and drove 35 miles to a small town called Williams, easily finding our next hotel – The Grand Canyon Railway Hotel. It looked lovely from the outside, so we parked up and went in. We were given room number 2134, and we took our cases up to the room. It was beautiful, really spacious and so well themed to an old 1800’s railway. I unpacked a bit, and then left DH in his usual position – on the bed, clutching the TV remote – whilst I went back down to reception to book us some train tickets for the next day. We were planning on visiting the Grand Canyon by train, which was exciting! I had looked through the leaflet we were given on checking in, and decided to splash out a bit and get us 1st class tickets. This would mean no small children running about, (only over-14s were allowed in this carriage), but would also get us some light refreshments on the journey there and back, as we didn’t have breakfast included in our hotel package. I booked and paid for the tickets, ($159 each), but was given a receipt to use to collect them from the ticket office near the train station in the morning.

I went back to the room, made coffee (coffee pods again!), and we relaxed before bed. I was asleep within seconds of getting into bed, but DH stayed awake and watched Jurassic World on TV, a film we had already seen once but he swore he couldn’t remember watching before!

DAY 20 – Thursday 27 June

Plan : Visit the Grand Canyon

Actual : I was up early and left DH to snooze while I popped out to the ticket office, which was located in the gift shop behind the hotel, to collect our train tickets for today’s journey to the Grand Canyon. The gift shop looked awesome, I had to stop myself from browsing it and get back to the room as we had a Wild West show to get to!

I dragged DH out of bed, and while he got ready, I made us some coffee. By just after 9.00 a.m. we were heading out to a small stage arena near the train tracks, where we found spaces on the tiered bleachers and watched a really funny and entertaining Old Wild West gunfight show. It was so much fun. Carousing and horse stealing had got their ma locked up in prison last night, and when the gunslingers had first realised their ma was in prison, they wanted to go to McDonald’s for breakfast, but they realised they didn’t have any money, so they began to look around the audience to see if they could spot someone rich! When that failed, they picked some tourist at random and made him play Cowboy poker with them – rules are, there are no rules. Then they caught one of their own gang cheating at the game, so they shot him and then blamed the tourist, telling the Sheriff he had held them all up with a HUGE gun, and insisted it was hidden in his tiny backpack! It was a brilliant show, so funny, it lasted about 10 minutes, and then afterwards we could take photos with the actors and their horses. We were really glad we had got up in time to catch this show today.

After this, we found our train carriage, the name of which was printed on our tickets – her name was Bright Angel. We boarded and sat in our designated seats, although the carriage was only about half full. A very sweet and funny gentleman called Tom was our Carriage Conductor for the day, he was retired and had only been doing the job for a few months, but he was very good at it! He prepped the breakfast items and set everything out for us to help ourselves, and as the train journey went on, he kept us very entertained with some really interesting history of the areas we were passing through, as well as some fascinating facts about the Grand Canyon, throughout the 2.5 hour journey.

The train set off, we waved to some people on the station who were waving us off, and then I went up to get us some coffee, Sprite, pastries, and tiny doughnuts, all of which was very fresh and tasty. .A travelling musician came through the coach at one point, just a lone cowboy with his guitar, and he sang a few country songs, encouraging everyone to join in with the choruses. People were giving him a few dollars as a tip, as he passed through.

The journey was lovely, we saw some beautiful countryside, and the carriage was really comfortable – we had very comfy seats with little, fold-down tables in front of us. All the drinks and snacks were included in our ticket price, and we could help ourselves or ask Tom to fetch things for us. There were also hand-made cocktails for sale too, as well as beer, all of which was $7 a drink, but we were happy to settle for soft drinks and coffee.

The time went really quickly, and before long we were pulling up in the Grand Canyon station. We left some bits and pieces on the coach, as it would be locked up when we left and we would be returning to the same seats for the return journey. After a quick restroom stop in the station, we then climbed up some steps and there in front of us was one of the Seven Wonders of the World – the Grand Canyon. It was breathtaking, and we had 3.5 hours to explore here.

We wandered along the rim trail for a while, taking lots of photos and admiring the way that the view of the Canyon changed with the changes in the light of the day. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, it was just so beautiful. We went into a couple of different visitor centres, and also watched a Navajo Indian doing a traditional dance, before having our photo taken with him. His traditional costume was absolutely amazing, (although he did smell a bit sweaty, urgh, but it was a very hot and sunny day, to be fair!). We must have walked for about a mile along the rim towards the East, and were just standing staring at the Canyon, when we heard a funny noise in one of the trees behind us. We tracked it down to a HUGE cricket or locust type creature, high up in the branches. Because it was so high, I was standing in front of DH and staring upwards at it, whilst he put his hands on my shoulders to stop me from falling over. As we started to walk away, a woman stopped us and said that she had thought we made such a sweet couple, that she had had to take a photo of us! She showed us the picture, and it did indeed look lovely, so we explained what we had been looking at in the tree. She offered to email the photo to me, so I gave her my email address, and a few hours later she did indeed send us the picture! What a lovely lady.

We wandered around a couple of lovely arty shops, and as to be expected, got a couple of t-shirts and some pins for DH. We were a bit hungry, but didn’t really want to waste sight-seeing time by going into a sit-down restaurant, so I joined a HUGE queue (that, thankfully, moved quickly) in a tiny sandwich bar and got DH a cheese & ham sandwich, and grabbed a corn dog for myself, plus coffees. We sat on a low wall to eat these, watching an interesting array of tourists around us.

After a bit more looking out at the Canyon from the rim trail, it was finally time for us to return to our train, so we took a slow stroll back, making one last restroom visit before we boarded. We found our carriage and saw Tom, the Carriage Conductor, waiting at the door to welcome everyone back, so we paused to get some photos taken with him and to thank him for a lovely journey out there, before boarding and finding our seats again.

We left the Grand Canyon bang on time, and settled down for the return journey. Tom announced the buffet was open, so we had some hummus (DH only, I loathe the stuff!), cubes of cheese, crackers, sliced tomato and cucumber. Like this morning, this was all very fresh and delicious. Tom had also made his “famous” cherry lemonade, which was absolutely gorgeous! I had two glasses, it was so full of flavour and refreshing. DH had one glass, then had some more coffee. After a little while, a different strolling guitarist came through the train and played a couple of songs for us, and then Tom announced that he wouldn’t be surprised if the train got involved in a little incident, as we were passing through cowboy country – shortly after this, the train slowed to a stop and the same cowboys that we had seen that morning came galloping past us on their horses, before boarding the train to hold up all the tourists! (We were told that participation in the holdup was optional, though). I folded up a dollar bill and stuck it in the shoulder strap of my dress, before looking around innocently and pretending to be horrified and scared when we were held up at gunpoint, it was so much fun! The robbers ran off into the next carriage once they had “robbed” us all, and the Sheriff appeared. He asked how many gunmen had come through, and I told him ten – he frowned at me and said he didn’t believe me! (There were 4, in fact). It was really fun to take part in this.

The train carried on back to the hotel station, and we disembarked, having had a thoroughly wonderful day. We had a good look around the hotel store, picking up some socks for my daughter and the usual pins for DH.

Back to our room, snacks, showers, bed. What a fabulous day.

DAY 21 – Friday 28 June

Plan : Drive to the Hoover Dam

Actual : We had a good night’s sleep, and were up, packed, and out of our room by 9.00 a.m. We checked out of the hotel, and got back on the road for the final part of this wonderful adventure. Our destination was the Hoover Dam, which wasn’t too far away, about a 3 hour drive.

At around 10.30 a.m., we stopped at a small town called Kingman for breakfast, finding a Denny’s. DH got a Lumberjack Slam and I opted for the Build Your Own Slam – bacon x 2, hash browns, scrambled eggs with cheese, and two biscuits. Plus coffee. It was all very yummy! We got some coffee to go, and visited the restroom, although with hindsight, (a wonderful thing!), I should have spent a little more time in there than I did, shall we say. My Irritable Bowel Syndrome had been rumbling for the last couple of days, I think because we weren’t eating very much but then we were having the odd large meal, which doesn’t suit my digestive system. We set off again but after about half an hour I realised I really should have spent more time in the restroom, and I also realised I wasn’t going to be able to hang on until we reached our destination! We were driving along a very long, straight freeway, and didn’t seem to be passing through many towns. I seriously began to consider asking DH to just pull over at the side of the road and I would take my chances behind a cactus! Suddenly, I saw a road-sign that pointed to a town called Chloride, 4 miles away to the right, so I asked DH to take this turnoff as I said I was going to have to stop there for a restroom break– it was fast turning into an emergency situation!

That was the longest 4 miles of my life. I was squirming in my seat as we arrived in this tiny, one-horse town, and I frantically looked for a restaurant or hotel or something. I spotted a sign for “Tourist Information” and told DH to park up in front of it, which he did, before I shot out of the car like a scalded cat, and into the store. The place was deserted, not a soul in sight. I began a panicky search for either someone to ask, or for a restroom, and very soon spotted a restroom round a corner. As I approached it, a lady came out and said, “ooh, sorry honey, can I help you?” I muttered something about using the restroom and dashed in there.

Phew. The relief at finally managing to find a restroom was unbelievable. I tried to slink out of the store afterwards, hoping not to bump into the lady that worked there again, as I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t wanted to buy anything from her, just use her facilities. I had almost got out of the door when, from behind the counter, her head suddenly popped up and she said, “thank you for visiting!” I gave a small shriek, mumbled an apology and left as fast as I could!

Anyway, back on the road again, we were soon heading (much more comfortably!) towards the Hoover Dam. Once we got within a couple of miles of the dam, the views were amazing, and we followed the signs for the car park. We were charged $10 to park, and then were surprised to find that we would be charged a further $10 each to enter the visitor centre, although I felt a bit better about this when I realised the building also contained a museum.

We parked up, grabbed some bottled water from the boot, and set off to explore. The weather was glorious, hot and sunny, without a cloud in the sky! But the heat had increased a lot since we had moved back out towards the coast, and the temperature was back up to over 100 degrees F again today.

We looked around the museum, which was small but interesting, and then the visitor centre. I began to feel quite unwell during this, I felt a bit sick and lightheaded, and my legs felt shaky. I took the opportunity to sit down where I could, on random benches, but by the time we went outside to look at the Winged Figures of the Republic statuary, I was feeling worse. I sat behind the sculpture on a shady bench, and drank two bottles of water, as I think I was suffering from dehydration and heatstroke. Discussing the situation with DH, we realised that since we had stayed in the cabins in the woods, I had been drinking very little – in an effort not to have to get up during the night to use the loo, and thereby having to climb down that ladder, I had deliberately reduced my fluid intake, but then had never really increased the fluids after that. Anyway, after a little rest in the shade and the water I drank, I began to feel a lot better. We went into a small building that contained a 3D model of the dam, which was constructed before the actual dam was, and watched a video about the planning process for construction. We had a look around a souvenir store, which was all a bit “Vegas” in feel, with a lot of overpriced tat for sale, to be honest. We got DH a pin but didn’t buy anything else. Then we walked across the dam on one side, looking over towards Lake Mead, and back on the other side of the road, to look out at the scenery that side.

We were very hot and also quite tired by now, and we had seen everything at the dam that we wanted to. Despite my feeling a bit ill, we had really enjoyed our visit to the Hoover Dam, but now felt ready to go and find our hotel and rest up a bit.

We retrieved the car, and followed the Satnav directions to find our hotel, the Hoover Dam Lodge & Casino. It turned out to be a 5 minute drive from the dam! We spotted it quite easily from the road as it was HUGE! The only building on the road, it was a massive, tower building with a matching massive sign for it. But it did look gorgeous, and so we parked up and went inside to check in. DH was outside in the smoking area, and I got chatting to the receptionist, who was lovely and really friendly. She commented on my suntan, and I told her about our adventures over the last 3 weeks. It always pays to be nice to receptionists, as she ended up upgrading our room from a standard King bed room, to a deluxe King bed room with a preferred view. We went up to the room, which was on the top floor (11th), and it was enormous! It had two King-sized beds, a view of the pool and Lake Mead, complimentary bottled water and snacks, it was gorgeous! We could see the boat dock where we had begun our holiday, almost 3 weeks ago, from our bedroom window.

We went back out to the car and collected all the luggage on a trolley, bringing it back up to the room so we could reorganise and do a final pack before leaving tomorrow. However, for now, our priority was some relaxation and also some cooling down, so we decided to go to the pool for an hour. Once again, there was an extended family, including about 7 kids, in the hot tub and taking up the entire tub, so we couldn’t go in there. So we just stayed in the main pool, pottering about and relaxing, it was really lovely and exactly what we needed.

After an hour, we decided we were a bit hungry, as we hadn’t eaten since Denny’s that morning, so we went back up to our room and showered. Directly opposite the windows of our room was a helicopter landing pad, and we watched a small, red helicopter taking off and landing there. We think it was doing tours of the dam and maybe the Grand Canyon too, as we watched people parking in the lower car park, getting into a limo that drove up a steep and winding hill to the helipad, boarding the helicopter, and then disappearing off for about an hour at a time. It was really interesting to watch it take off and land, DH got some great photos of this.

We finished off the bread, butter and honey that we had, (the butter was on its last legs and was a bit separated, but still tasted okay!), plus some Lays and Cheetos, then we demolished the complimentary basket of fun-sized candy bars and peanuts! I made some coffee and put the bottles of water in the fridge, and we repacked the cases completely, just leaving out our clothes for tomorrow. We watched some TV before turning in, (I also checked us in online for our flight tomorrow), and decided to have one bed each, just because we could! What a fabulous last day of our holiday.

DAY 22 – Saturday 29 June

Plan : Drive to Las Vegas, fly home

Actual : We got up at 8.00 a.m., had some coffee and finished off the box of doughnut holes that we had bought a few days ago. I realised that I hadn’t had to get up during the night to visit the bathroom, and that this morning my liquid output had been fairly minimal, despite the amount of water I had drunk yesterday. This further strengthened my belief that I had been suffering from dehydration, but I certainly felt loads better today.

We checked out of the hotel, having a quick look around the foyer of the hotel, which was a casino – we hadn’t had the time or the inclination to do this the evening before! I gave our last 12 or so bottles of water to the receptionist, telling her to put them in their break room, but she told me that they give donated items to a local homeless charity, which I thought was a wonderful idea.

We loaded up the car, and began the drive back to the car rental return place, which was only about 30 miles away and very easy to find. The car was returned with no problems at all, although the guy that checked the car in told us that we would probably be charged for not returning the car full of fuel. I tried to explain that we had agreed when we collected the car that we could return it empty if needed, but he just shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say anything else.

We went outside with our luggage and found the bus stop for the bus to our terminal, waiting for about 10 minutes for a bus as we had just missed one. All too soon we were back at Las Vegas airport, where we found the Virgin Atlantic desk and dropped off our luggage, collected our boarding passes, and then made our sorry-to-be-leaving way through border control. DH had visited the smoking area outside the airport doors before we went in, but then he spotted a smoking room just before we got to our gate so he went in there, leaving me on my own near a small, duty-free kiosk! I browsed there to pass the time, and soon spotted some bottles of flavoured Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur that I hadn’t seen before, plus there was an offer on if you bought two bottles, so I picked up a bottle of coffee cream flavour for myself, and one of vanilla cinnamon flavour for my sister as a Christmas gift. This would be delivered to the gate for me to collect when we boarded.

We walked a bit further round the terminal, looking for somewhere to pick up some lunch from. There was a small burger place called Carl’s Jr, which looked okay, but it had a huge queue as it was now lunchtime. I sent DH to find a table and I joined the queue, which took about 40 minutes to get through. I ordered a Western Bacon Cheeseburger and fries for DH, with coffee, and I just got a side of fries. I also got us both a box of Fruit Loop mini doughnuts, which were lurid colours but looked delicious, to take on the plane with us.

After lunch, we headed for Gate E and we soon seated comfortably, waiting to board. We put our flight socks on and passed the time online. We were a little late boarding, and luckily I remembered to collect my duty-free Baileys on the way to the plane!

We took off about half an hour late, and the flight was looooooong and uneventful. It was one of those flights where we weren’t awake enough to watch a film together, but couldn’t really sleep much. I think we managed a couple of hours at one point, and I couldn’t even be bothered to get my Kindle out and read, or do some knitting. Anyway, the time eventually passed and the next morning dawned damp and cold, despite it being June! We collected our luggage, picked up the car, and commenced the drive home.

DAY 23 – Sunday 30 June

Plan : Arrive home

Actual : So the drive home only took just under two hours, including a stop along the way to fuel up with coffee. When we had collected our car, there was a note attached to the keys to say we had had a flat tyre, but obviously it had been blown back up for us as it looked okay.

We got home to half a ton of junk mail, but everything at home was fine. We spent the day trying to stay awake and catch up with recorded TV programmes, whilst climbing over suitcases as we couldn’t be bothered to unpack that day!

FINAL THOUGHTS

This holiday had been much needed, after our failed 2018 trip to Florida, (cut very short due to an unexpected family bereavement), we were desperate for a break, and this was so perfect – lots of sunshine, no rain whatsoever, an adventure to new places, a meet up with old friends and new, and even a bit of Disney, not to mention Elvis! An amazing time was had, this was our first proper road trip in the USA but it will definitely not be our last!

The cross-body bags I had bought us for this trip were perfect, very comfortable with lots of room for essentials in them, and the neoprene water bottle covers were fantastic – even after a full day out, the water in them was still cool enough to be pleasant to drink. I couldn’t believe how good they were, considering I paid less than £1 each for them.

About 2 weeks after we returned, I found a charge on my credit card in the sum of £35 to Thrifty Car Rentals, so I guess the rental guy had managed to scam me after all, as this was the fuel charge he had glossed over at the time. Another lesson learnt.

So, what’s next? A couple of days at Kennedy Space Centre followed by two weeks at Walt Disney World of course – coming soon!

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed travelling with Tiggerific Travels in 2019!
__________________
Silvercat
Disney fanatic and trip report e-book writer!
Silvercat is offline Girl Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans
KSC & WDW here we come again!
Reply With Quote
Unread 26 Sep 19, 12:31 PM  
Link to this Post
#3
FLA88
Trying for More Ears
 
Join Date: Apr 08
I enjoyed reading your report. Thanks for sharing.
FLA88 is offline Girl Mouse Click to view Members Gallery Click to view Members Trip Plans Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Forum Jump


All times are GMT +1. The time now is 06:23 PM.


Powered by vBulletin - Copyright © 2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

theDIBB Menu


US Dollar Rates
ASDA  $1.2543
CaxtonFX  $1.2556
Covent Garden FX  $1.2685
FAIRFX  $1.2530
John Lewis  $1.2589
M&S  $1.2293
Post Office  $1.2320
Sainsburys  $1.2548
TESCO  $1.2569
Travelex  $1.2461
Updated: 18:03 16/10/2019

theDIBB Charities
Cancer Research UK
DIBB Members have Donated: £10,130
£


Macmillan Cancer Support
DIBB Members have Donated: £1,085
£

Euro Rates
ASDA  €1.1346
CaxtonFX  €1.1334
Covent Garden FX  €1.1437
FAIRFX  €1.1340
John Lewis  €1.1387
M&S  €1.1162
Post Office  €1.1143
Sainsburys  €1.1348
TESCO  €1.1369
Travelex  €1.1274
Updated: 18:03 16/10/2019

Orlando Weather
Florida Time
Wed 16th Oct 1:23pm
Now: 31°C/88°F
Broken Clouds
Broken Clouds
Cloud Cover: 75%
Wind: 13mph - WSW Arrow points to where the wind is coming from.
Gusting To: 23 mph
Pressure: 1013mb
Humidity: 55%
Illuminations Smoke
Updated: 17:20 16/10/2019