Our third stop on our great American Adventure was the amazing Grand Canyon – another totally incredible place that is a must see! This was my second trip to the Grand Canyon and it is still as awe inspiring the second time around as the first.
After a very long drive from Anaheim (7 and three quarter hours!) we arrived at our hotel in Tusayan at around 5.30 in the afternoon. The drive from Anaheim was an easy one (although it is easy for me to say that as I was not driving – but it was straight forward) that pretty much took you straight out through the dessert. We had a brief stop for petrol and to use the bathroom at a pretty small town called Needles during the afternoon but we didn’t stop anywhere for food as we had purchased snacks and things to eat in the car before we left Anaheim. The temperature at our pit stop was 45 degrees so our refuelling was a quick one! The town of Tusayan is just outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park but so close that within 15 minutes we were on the south rim!
I was really keen to see sunset at the Canyon so after checking in to our hotel (more details on our hotel are below) we had a very quick dinner in their restaurant and made it into the park by 7.30pm to watch a beautiful sunset around 8pm. Entry into the park is US$30 per car for a 7 day permit. As you can see from the few photos of the family below the colours over the grand canyon at sunset are spectacular and so different to how it looks in the heat of the day. I am so pleased we headed in to the park for sunset to watch the colours change over the canyon and also get a small taste of our day ahead.
After a good nights sleep we grabbed a quick breakfast at a small local coffee shop in Tusayan called RP’s – their coffee was “ok” and they had breakfast options that suited the kids – always a bonus! We then took the 15 minute drive back to the south rim where we parked in the visitors centre car park. There was loads of parking in the park so we were pleased that we drove in and didn’t take the shuttle that the signs outside the park recommend! It meant we were free to come and go as we needed and could take our mini esky full of bottled water.
Once in the park we then did a really big walk along the rim. We started at Mather Point just near the visitors centre and walked to Bright Angel Lodge at Village. There was a great geology museum to visit along the way where we could learn about the history of the canyon and of course the view changed as we walked! It was not at all a difficult walk as it was flat and along a path but the weather was warm (we were there at the end of June) and into the 30’s so we were pleased we had loads of water to keep us hydrated. The distance we walked was about 3.5km which is not far but with kids, hot weather, the geology centre and a nice view to keep stopping to check out it took us a few hours.
After our walk we then caught the shuttle bus back to the main car park at the Visitors Centre – this was a quick 10 minute bus trip that stopped at various places to get us back to where we started. Once back at our starting point we decided to take a drive to Dessert View which was 35 km in the other direction. The drive was great – easy and of course picturesque with the canyon to one side and the dessert to the other. You could stop all along this drive at the numerous viewing spots that were not overcrowded. At Dessert View we visited the watch tower and found a different perspective of the canyon that was just as amazing!
Our drive from Dessert View back to Tusayan was approximately an hour heading back on the same road we had arrived on – easy and picturesque (you can see some of it in the video below). We had a fantastic trip to the Canyon – I know there is a lot more you can do like go hiking into the canyon or ride a donkey or even fly over in a helicopter but a simple walk and a drive was perfect for us travelling with kids!
We stayed at the Grand Hotel in Tusayan and it was great. We were in a standard room which included two queen beds and a rollaway. Rooms like this are always tight when travelling with 5 but we weren’t in the room that often so for this part of our trip it was fine! The hotel had a good restaurant and an indoor pool (which we didn’t use). We just stayed the two nights which is not long after a big trip to get here but we didn’t feel like we needed any more time at the Grand Canyon. On our last evening we had Mexican dinner at Sophie’s in Tusayan – it was delicious and I would definitely recommend it. Tusayan is not big and pretty much just has 8 or so hotels, a few restaurants, petrol stations and tourist shops – you can’t get lost and it is so close to the canyon that it is the perfect place to stay being a little cheaper than the hotels on the rim!
As always please let me know if you want any more information about visiting the Grand Canyon.
A very big highlight of our recent trip to the US was our time at Disneyland. We all know it is the happiest place on earth and honestly you can’t help but just be consumed by the Disney atmosphere while you are there – we went into the bubble and didn’t reappear for a few days. Every person who has asked the kids what was the best part of our trip has had the same response! DISNEYLAND!
In my previous post I talked about our time in LA and Santa Monica (you can read about it here) so our trip to Disneyland begins after we had been in the US for 4 nights. The drive to Anaheim took an hour but that was mainly because there is so much traffic on those freeways! With our trusty GPS (who we named Monica seeing as she began our journey for us in Santa Monica) the drive was simple and easy and we arrived at our hotel at 4pm in the afternoon. The hotel we stayed at was the Paradise Pier which is one of the three Disney hotels. We decided on this one mainly because we just wanted to save a little on accomodation and it was the cheapest of the three. We definitely were not disappointed that we went this way as our room was big enough and close enough so we had no complaints. We parked our car in the on site parking area and that was the last we saw of her until we left Disneyland – we definitely just immersed ourself in Disneyland which I had not predicted us doing. I did expect we might try and find a supermarket close by and get some snacks or go elsewhere to eat but we didn’t. We ate all our meals within the Disney precinct and to my surprise we were able to find a few decent things to eat.
Our room at the hotel was called a Standard room so it had 2 queen beds and a day bed which converted to a single bed. The room was the biggest of our standards rooms during our entire trip with there being plenty of room between all the beds so we didn’t not feel at all cramped – I suspect from looking at the photos on the hotel website that we may have lucked out and received one of the bigger standard rooms. The hotel is a little older than the Grand Californian which is next door but it was clean and comfortable which was all we needed seeing as most of our time we were in the Park. We didn’t even go to the pool as we were so busy in the park and when we came back for a rest we didn’t want to go anywhere else.
After check in we decided to head straight into the park. We had a 4 day hopper pass and we didn’t want to wait any time. Originally I had only planned on getting a 3 day pass and not heading into the park on the day we arrived but I am really glad we went with 4 days as it allowed us to take a little more time each day. I was also really pleased that we opted for the hopper pass over the standard pass that only allows you entry into one park per day. The last time I was in Disneyland was 27 years ago and there was only the original “Disneyland Park” back then so I couldn’t imagine why you would want to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure land in one day but we did. The closest entrance to our hotel was also through California Adventure Land so it made it very convenient to be able to walk through there when we needed to. It really gave us a lot of flexibility with where we wanted to eat and which shows to watch so if you can I would go with a park hopper pass.
We had a wonderful first evening at Disneyland that really helped us to get our bearings and to get on loads of rides without too many queues. It had been an incredibly hot day with temperatures around 40 degrees so we think this meant a lot of people left earlier to escape the heat as on day 2 the crowds seemed bigger. We decided to head into the Disneyland park first and knocked over a few of the big well known rides like HyperSpace Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Buzz Lightyear, Indiana Jones Adventure, the Haunted Mansion. Queues for rides also dropped down once the parades started so our strategy for continuing on the rides really meant we got to do these rides much quicker than usual!
Day two was an early start with us being at the gates to Disneyland at 6.40am (yes I know!!) ready to hit the rides. By staying at a Disney resort you get early entry into the park at 7am (everyone else can enter at 8am) and from everything I had read you want to make the most of it! The early arrival still didn’t save us from the queues as the crowd was ready and waiting when we arrived but it was great to be able to get in and get going early before the heat of the day. We spent the morning and some of the afternoon in the park before heading back to our room for a little rest before hitting the pavement again for the evening. Each evening there is an amazing parade in the park followed by fireworks and if you want to get a front row seat you need to have your spot saved well before the event. It was around 7pm when we noticed people starting to sit along the parade route and the parade doesn’t start until 8.45pm! We followed suit and found a spot and made friends with our neighbours which was fun. During the almost 2 hour wait I would take one of the girls and find a ride with a short line so that we kept them amused which worked well. It was a long night though as the parade finished at 9.30pm and then the fireworks started finishing at 9.50pm. Both the parade and the fireworks were amazing – I would have to say the fireworks combined with the soundtrack and the setting was the best I have ever seen – truly amazing and something I will remember for ever!
Day three was similar to day two but this time we were in California Adventure Land for the majority of the day. Again it was an early start by me (the others slept in a little longer but I was determined to be hard core!!). We went to the World of Colour night time performance on day three and once again it was spectacular. Yes we needed to get our spot early – for a 9pm show we had to start lining up for our spot at 7pm but so worth it.
On our final day at Disneyland we started by going to have breakfast with Mickey and his friends in our hotel. We booked this before we went away and while I was a little reluctant before the event (it cost us approx AUD$300 for the breakfast) it was a huge highlight for the girls. We were celebrating Indi’s birthday while away so they really did make a big deal of it with badges, a special cake and a sing along. The three girls loved having cuddles and photos with all of the characters and while the food was nothing to write home about the experience itself was wonderful.
After breakfast we headed back to the park splitting our day between both Disneyland and DCA. We attempted to go on the rides we had not yet made it to and go back to our favourites one last time. The ride that we went on most was California Scream in DCA – it was Sofia and Indi’s favourite and the queues were never more than 15 minutes. My other favourite was Soaring Around the World which was also in DCA- huge queues if you didn’t make the most of the fast pass system (more about that soon!)
So a few other tips – learn about and make the most of the fast pass system! The fast pass system allows you to jump the queue on a number of the really popular rides within both parks. Sounds simple but some planning is required if you want to get the most out of it! My first tip is get a fast pass for the busiest ride the minute you enter the park. The system does not allow you to get another fast pass for a different ride until you have used your first fast pass so you need to work out what is most popular and get that pass early! If you wait too long to get your fast pass you may find that your return time to use your pass is well into the afternoon or even the evening so you cannot even attempt to get another fast pass for another ride until after this – that could potentially waste you 4-5 hours where you have to join the regular queue on every other ride. Some of the rides are so popular that they run out of fast passes – this seemed to happen a lot on the rides in DCA like Soarin and Radiator Springs Racers so grab them early! It doesn’t take long to work the system out once you are there but it is definitely worth having a plan. Our plan worked well and it also meant I did a lot more walking than hubby and the kids as I was the fast pass runner! The minute we used one fast pass I would take everyones park ticket and go straight to get a fast pass for another popular ride while the others went to queue for something different that had a short wait time. There are 8 rides in each park that use the fast pass system and they cut our wait times from 2 hours to 10 minutes – so worth it!!
There are two shows that require a fast pass for entry and you need to get your fast pass early – before 10am – they only have a certain number of fast pass tickets they allocate and once they are gone that is it for the day. The shows are both in DCA – World of Colour and Frozen. We didn’t get to see Frozen but World of Colour is a must.
Another tip when fast pass hunting is to make sure that everyone in your party has entered the park for the day – I made the mistake on day 3 of taking everyones ticket and heading into the park at 7am to grab a fast pass for all us. Sadly as my ticket was the only one that had scanned through at the gate it meant that I could only get a fast pass for me! Bonus for me – annoying for the others (that will teach them for wanting extra sleep!)
Favourite food in the park! Our favourite place to eat was in DCA at Pacific Wharf. We found a great asian option in Lucky Fortune Cookery – highly recommend the teriyaki chicken which was a great size serving and delicious. Chicken, veggies and rice – ticked all the boxes for all of us! If you are looking for a nice sit down table service restaurant our pick was Naples Ristorante which was in Downtown Disney. Two other great options were both in DCA – Smokejumpers Grill and Fidler Fifer and Practical Cafe for coffee. Starbucks coffee was located in both parks and downtown Disney but warning if you want coffee before entering the park you need to go early as the queues were out the door!
Photo’s – as you can see by my photos in this pass I am appearing in them! This is because we decided to do a Disney Photo Pass. As I am always the photographer I tend to not be in many shots so I decided that I was not going to take my big heavy camera with me to the park but leave it up to the many photographers they have available to capture our time! So pleased I did as not only do we have lots of great family photos around the park but there is also a picture of us on a number of the rides – those fun pictures where you are screaming on a rollercoaster pictures! Great memories to have! I used my iPhone to capture quick shots here and there and of course to film snippets of our 4 days so I could create the mini movie below!
So there you have our time in Disneyland – the best and most exhausting 4 days! I collapsed into bed at around 8pm on day 4 – my step counter told me I had done 75,000 steps over our few days – I certainly felt it as well! Please feel free to ask any more questions in the comments if you want more info and I will add more info over time if I remember important tidbits!
We have just returned from the most amazing 3 and a half weeks travelling in the USA with the family! So many fabulous memories for our family to treasure and as always so many photos of all the places we visited!! We stayed on the west coast of America for this trip and hired a car which was perfect for a few weeks away with kids! Today I will share with you the first leg of our trip which was LA and Santa Monica – the perfect place to start with beautiful beaches, loads of sunshine and so much to see!
Our hotel above and the view from our room below. More details on this great hotel below!
After our 14 hour flight we landed in LA early on a Thursday morning We had a car booked from day one so we headed straight to our car hire location and once loaded up we headed to Santa Monica for our first 4 nights. We stayed at the Shore Hotel which was right across the road from the Santa Monica Pier. Great location with so much action happening out the front. We were able to watch everything from our room and felt we were right in the middle of all the action. There was also a fantastic Mexican Restaurant downstairs call Blue Plate Taco (you can see it in the picture of the hotel above) – highly recommend it for lunch or dinner! The room type we booked at the Shore Hotel was a King Ocean View Suite with an angled ocean view. Traveling with 5 is always just that little bit trickier as most rooms easily accomodate 4. We didn’t want to get two rooms as we knew that we would be out and about most of the time so it was really just a place to sleep and leave our belongings and honestly accomodation is expensive when you want something nice. There is also the drama in that nobody can guarantee interconnecting rooms so we were pretty determined that we wanted one room if this was going to be the case. The suite we had was perfect and it was like having two bedrooms joined together. I was pleased we had the extra space as we were here for four nights so glad we went with the suite over the standard room. The suite came with a king bed in the bedroom part of the room and a pullout couch in a separate area – the pullout slept two of my girls and then we also had a rollaway which fitted comfortably next to the couch. There was one huge bathroom but we had two TV’s and two balconies which was lovely. I would definitely recommend the Shore Hotel to anyone staying in Santa Monica.
On our first day we stayed close the hotel and went for walks on the beach and swam in the pool in an attempt to keep ourselves awake. The kids did fall asleep at various points in the afternoon but we didn’t let them sleep for too long for fear of the dreaded jet lag setting in! My top tip from my Chiropractor before we left was to get outside in the sunshine and get the sun on the backs of your knees – the best way to combat jet lag she says – it seemed to work!!
On day two we headed to Universal Studios for the day – Harry Potter World has only opened a few months ago and the kids were really excited to check it out! Universal has changed a lot since I last visited (27 years ago!!) – I don’t remember too much more than a backlot tour and a few shows but it was a full and busy day filled with exciting rides, shows and tours! It was unbearably hot the day we were there also – the many cooling stations they had around the park were very much appreciated. Definitely our favourite part of Universal was Harry Potter World – the rides were great and the amazing setting made you really think you were part of the magic! Driving to Universal was easy on the freeways and there was plenty of parking available on site. There are a few different price options available for the parking and we took the cheaper option which meant we needed to walk a little further to the gates – to be honest the extra walk was so minimal (maybe a few minutes) so save your dollars and take the cheaper option.
For our third day we had an easy morning in Santa Monica attempting to find good coffee! This proved harder than expected so we ended up at Starbucks – we knew that finding good coffee would be hard in the US so we soon realised that at least Starbucks was predictable and we could kind of get what we wanted we stuck with it – I think we know where every Starbucks is in California now!
After an easy morning we jumped in the car and headed up to Hollywood to show the girls the walk of fame. Parking was easy and cheap at the Hollywood and Highland Centre right next to the Chinese Theatre (enter the car park on Nth Highland Ave) and we were also able to get a great Japanese meal here at a restaurant called Cho Oishi on the very top level of the centre. You also had great views of the surrounding area up here. After checking out the stars on the sidewalk and visiting the Chinese Theatre to get our compulsory photos we headed off in search of the Hollywood Sign. We captured brief glimpses from the residential area below but that was about it! Hiking was not on agenda for the day so we were satisfied with at least seeing it! Next we took a drive up to Griffith Park so we could get some great views of LA, however the parking was terrible and there was just so much traffic that we were directed back out of the area as soon as we arrived. It was a nice drive but probably would have been better for a week day and not a Saturday afternoon. We the headed back down to Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive and Sunset Blvd completed to complete our afternoon of sightseeing. Apart from the stars on the sidewalk and the Hollywood Sign I have to admit most other things were lost on the kids – they didn’t know of many of the movies that make the local landmarks famous.
Day four was Sunday so we decided to head down to Venice for brunch and a walk along the shops at Abbot Kinney Blvd. Again we drove down and found it easy to find parking in the street. We had been recommended by a number of friends to visit Gjelina for brunch or lunch so this is where we headed – food and service was great and we actually found a decent coffee here! We had a nice and relaxing day which wasn’t too rushed and involved spending time by the pool in the afternoon. Late afternoon we then walked from Santa Monica to Venice to have dinner. The walk was quite a long one with kids that were hungry and tired after a few busy days but once we found food and then bribed them with Henna tattoos and ice cream the walk back was loads of fun!
On our final morning in Santa Monica I headed down the Pier before the crowds arrived to grab a few photos of a quite Santa Monica Beach! It was lovely and peaceful before the madness began! For our final morning in LA before heading to Disneyland we had two stops! First was to the Abby Lee Dance Company – Sienna is obsessed with Dance Moms so it was the number one thing on her list to do! She was very excited to be able to visit and see the LA studio’s and make a purchase of dance gear in the shop! They weren’t filming the day we were there but it was still exciting for her to be able to see the studios. After our quick visit to ALDC we then headed to the Farmers Markets for an early lunch. It was a scorching hot day with temps in the high 30’s and with the markets being un-airconditioned it felt like a furness. To be honest it wasn’t what I was expecting (which was more of market stalls set up selling fruit and veg like here in Sydney) but we had fun and lunch was yummy! Whole food markets was across the road so we also made a stop here to pick up snacks and fruit for our next few days!
So there you have our first few days of our trip. I also played a lot with movie making on this trip and while not as professional as I would like them to be it was great to put together a little clip of our time in each location. Here is our LA movie which was all filmed and edited on my iPhone using the iMovie app. It was fast and easy to do it this way – if I had have left it until we came home I never would have got it done! This LA one was mostly filmed by me and edited by Sienna.
I will be back in a few days with all the details of our time in Disneyland!