Arrive in LA at 6:30 AM Flight QF107
Transfer to Holiday Inn LAX ( Ph: 1800 669 562 fax 1310 670 3619 ) via shuttle every 15 mins ( Ph: 1800 007 697 )
Buy Disposable Phone and investigate GPS.
Went to Westfield in Century City, we were looking for shoes thinking there would be bargains stores, as well we needed Coffee and some food stuffs etc. Most shops were shut.
Santa Monica Pier 4-8m (15m Drive) by Limo.
Santa Monica is awesome, you arrive via crowded LA streets to a corner on top of a hill overlooking the pier and surrounding beaches.
It is very
crowded but not cars as they get stopped just before the pier. But there are
There is a theme park here called Pacific Fair and lots of side show attractions, each begging a slightly different payment, whether it be a dollar or a donation nothing is free. We bought Lilia a beautiful cream hat, it is so trendy and she looks so cool in it. The man who sold the hat needed to take his wireless EFTPOS machine away and off he walked, I through he was a goner but he did stop to process the payment and gave our card back. Jack and I bought a Santa Monica cap also.
We saw our first penny machine where they crush a penny with an imprint of a selected souvenir picture, we got 3, the kids and I picked one each. We walked down to the Pacific Fair park, Jack and I went on the roller coaster twice, we all went on the Ferris wheel which was great, despite having very open carriages and making me so nervous that the kids would stand up to look over and they would rock and roll over and out they would go.
We finished having some fun here and grabbed a coffee and hot chocolate at a coffee shop called Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the coffee was excellent, Wendy, Jack and Lilia had a hot chocolate.
Back to Holiday Inn by 9pm. Macca's for Dinner
We went to Tijuana for the day, what a bloody disaster.
We hired a car, a little Kia Soul and drove down to the border; it took about 2 hours to get there.
On the way we stopped at a rest stop where the kids were able to feed some squirrels, which was excellent.
We arrived at the border around 11am, walked across the border and entered Mexico without any hassles.
However the state of Tijuana is very different to what i remember 20 years ago, it is like a ghost town, no tourists at all, in fact we were pretty much the only ones anywhere.
It was a little scary to be honest, we felt like walking targets for every Mexican trying to peddle their goods. We bought lots of things and after about 2 hours walking around what Jack called an "Intellectual Wasteland".
On the way we happened to notice a line of people that extended for about 2 km, they were waiting to cross the border back to the US, we were fortunate enough to be told that we could catch a bus for $5 and cross the border to avoid lining up for what was going to take 4 hours.
Well the bus turned out to be just as bad and we sat waiting for the bus to move for over an hour, finally we got to customs but stood waiting for another 45 minutes, why we still don't know why it was such a long wait, no one could explain, no wonder there are no tourists, the border control is so disorganized and just shameful.
When we got across we drove back only to get lost twice, this turned out to be a very long drive back to the hotel. We got back 9pm. We are all stuffed.
We did have an experience though, and I'm glad the kids get to appreciate what we take for granted. Well see the photos for proof of total poverty. I was asked not to take photos, but of course I had to, so most photos were taken without looking through the camera, but holding waste high and hoping for the best, so the photos might be a little skew if.
Fly to New York City Flight QF107 8:45am
5 Hour flight
Transfer to hotel by private Taxi
Check in to Edison Hotel at 5:45pm ( Time difference )
Empire State Building (20m walk) Open till 1am
family ride to top. 6pm
Sunset and Full Moon 7pm
Arrived in NY at 4:30pm, got picked up by pre-arranged shuttle at 5:30 due to driver waiting at wrong terminal, we were the only ones left standing in the terminal, so at least he was able to see us easily - funnily though he was walking towards us with the sign held high in the air for nobody but us to see, it was pretty obvious we were the waiting party.
Left my phone on the shuttle, which we are having returned to us tonight.
We walked around Time Square and went to look at Rockefeller Centre and then up to the top of the Empire State Building, we got an express pass and bypassed about 200 people waiting, we got to go straight up without lining up.
The temperature was in the minus and was so cold it was almost impossible to hold the camera to take photos, but i did. We quickly walked around the outside of level 86 with full night views across NY - pretty spectacular, not surprising though I don't remember any of this from when we came here in 1980.
Was a very late night getting back from night shopping, about 11pm, needed a late night Mac Attack but took 30 minutes to line up at the Time Square Macc's, the crowds are just phenomenal, everywhere you go there is a massive line.
Finding it very difficult to get a nice cup of coffee though.
And of all things I have the bloody flu - hoping not to contract the New Work flu which is apparently at epidemic levels, fingers crossed.
Everyone is having a great time and we absolutely love New York - the atmosphere in Times Square is incredible, and just wait to see some of the photos.
Photos to follow shortly.
Shopping in morning:
Toys R Us Times Square 9am
Other toy shops 10am
See 3D IMAX Oz Movie Lincoln Square 2pm
Statue of Liberty
Central Park Bike Tours
Central Park Boat Hire
Check in Delta Airways 24 hours prior to departure
Had a big sleep in today as the kids were very sleep deprived, so a late start at 10am.
Went to the Nintendo store, Lego store and the largest toy store in the world and then went looking for the One Direction store for Lilia but unfortunately it had closed.
Jack got lots of Pokemon, he has also bought gifts for all of his school mates. Lilia got some Lego friend sets and lots of clothes.
We also saw the ice skating rink last night and today but no skaters, both times they were cleaning and preparing the surface, but still quite amazing, I do remember this from when i was a kid.
Went on the subway a few times now, so getting used to their metro - it's actually very good - kids travel free also.
Went down to the Statue of Liberty - no tour as we were content in seeing it from afar.
We also walked down the the World Trade Memorial, very sad and humbling, huge crowds to see the official remembrance memorial but we didn't line up as we felt it was more for those who had lost loved ones.
It's 4pm now and were having a quick break before heading out again in an hour or so, we'll try to make the Imax 3d movie of the Oz movie.
Going to try and catch up with my mate Julz tomorrow - he lives in New Jersey but the timing might make it difficult as he is overseas until this evening, so will play by ear. Julz is a Yello collector and I have known him for over 10 years now so would be great to catch up.
Also plan to get to Central Park. More to follow later tonight.
Photos coming soon - over 300 photos in less than 24 hours, I am struggling to edit and select appropriate photos so I might just upload them all for sorting at a later date, so excuse dodgy shots.
Late night update:
Saw The Great and Powerful Oz at 3D Imax, awesome film and interesting take on the original, well worth seeing.
Last night in NY, leave tomorrow for Orlando and will visit Epcot.
Happy Easter everyone!
NY shopping until 1:45pm
Phone Ramada Gateway Ph: 1407 396 4400 (Confirm late check-in 9pm)
Phone RV to confirm Ph: 1877 778 1752
Leave for NY Airport for 3hr check-in 1:15pm
Fly to Orlando Florida Flight DELTA 1585 5:15pm
Arrive Orlando 8:45pm (30m drive to hotel) 8:30pm
Check in Ramada Gateway Hotel 9:15pm
Last day in New York - Went to Central Park and to another special one of a kind toy shop.
Love New York.
Left New York and arrived on time in Orlando.
Checked into Ramada - but within 10 minutes the experience wasn't good.
None of the taxi drivers have spoken a single word, quite rude in fact.
The Ramada staff are appalling and lack any common courtesy at all.
We we left lining up to check in for 30 minutes whilst the 2 counter staff let other people just cut in front. They then gave us a room at the furthest room from reception - by this time it's 10pm and the kids were way over tired and to know we had to lug 6 bags without any ported help wasn't something we were overly happy about. The girl suggested she would find a trolley but actually didn't bother so it was up to us to find one, which we did but when we finally got to our room the door would not open, after going all the way back to reception they said you had to lift the door to enter, when in actual fact the door handle worked in reverse and needed tilting up to open, yet from the inside it was normal. After getting settled we went to get some food at the restaurant, only to be told that a cheese burger will take an hour to cook as they were under staffed, well needless to say we didn't wait and walked over to Macca's again
The room was pretty poor as well.
Anyway we only needed to stay 1 night so we just bit our lip and waited for the next morning when we would leave bright and early to pick up the RV, well that was the plan...read on to find out what happened next.
Get taxi to pick-up RV PH: 407 465 1100 (20m drive) 7:30am
Check Out of Ramada Gateway
Phone to book Cave Tour Ph: 850 573 0390 for 9am
Pick-Up RV 8:30am
Kennedy Space Center 10am - Didn't make it!
Food shopping for Easter Eggs, Walmart (Skylander Exclusive) 2pm - Couldn't get any!
Get Disney Day Programs, Campsite Camfire Night, Horse Riding
Check in at Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
(Preferred position is Racoon lanequail trail inside circle 2 back) 5:30pm
Check for AVALIBILITY Fort Wilderness Archery Experience Friday, April 05, 2013 2:45pm to 4:15pm
Disney's Port Orleans Resort – Riverside Check for booking Disney's Port Orleans Resort - Riverside Pirate Adventure Cruises Bayou Pirate Adventure Sailing down the Sassagoula River, young scallywags listen to the legends surrounding Captain Jean Lafitte—one of the most infamous pirates ever to haunt the waters of New Orleans. Departs from the Fishin' Hole on Ol' Man Island at Disney's Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.
Main Street Electrical Parade 9pm for 20m
Wishes Nightime Spectactular 10pm for 15m or 9:45
Electrical Pass for Fort Wilderness
Checked out of the crappy Ramada as soon as possible and caught a taxi to the RV pickup.
The RV is only months old and has all the bells and whistles we could want, it's a big rig though and only just fits on the road, I keep getting told i am too close to the left - most likely has something to do with driving on the other side of the road. Anyway we got the RV and decided that it was just too rushed now to get to the Kennedy Centre so we will do that on day 7.
Only took 45 minutes to get to Disney World Fort Wilderness, drove up and our RV was pretty much the smallest, there were some huge RV's with cars being towed behind, i wouldn't like to be driving them.
Got checked in and all went nicely - first time there were no hiccups. We are staying in an area of the park called "Jack Rabbit Run", getting the RV hooked up was interesting, there is so much to consider, but we got there.
The kids had some fun at the pool play area before we decided to head over to Magic Kingdom for the evening. It bought back so many memories and was such an awesome moment when we arrived at the gates by boat. Yep that right, the place we are staying is a Disney Resort and as such they have direct access to the parks, to get to the Magic Kingdom you need to catch a boat and it was so awesome seeing the kids faces light up when we arrived at the entrance.
Low and behold it turned out that the reception did make a booboo and gave us someone else's entry card to Disneyworld, so off to customer relations to sort it out, oh well nothing is meant to be that easy anyway is it?
We got inside after a short while and headed straight for Cinderella's castle, Lilia was in her element and had to have a Cinderella costume, so she did, she spent some of her money and bought the dress and gloves to match but unfortunately the shoes were not in her size. Jack got a Mickey mouse shirt also.
We went to the haunted castle, it was so good and i think i actually remember some of it, but crikey it's hard taking photos in such darkness whilst you are moving, so not too many pictures of this ride.
We tried to watch the magical parade but the crowds were just overwhelming and it wasn't really possible, to top it off I got separated from Wendy and the kids and had to wait until after the parade to try to find them, it was 30 minutes of anxiousness. After the parade we finally found each other and headed over to some more shops, upon exiting the last shop they announced the fireworks at the castle were going to start, so we enjoyed them and headed back home on the boat.
The best wildlife spotting was when Jack spotted what we think is an Amridillo - in fact it has since been confirmed, pretty cool. You can see the pictures i got, as well there are heaps of little squirrels around which are just lovely to look at.
Well tomorrow we are off to Epcot at 7am as we have a couple of hours to get into the park before it opens, this is a benefit of staying at a Disney resort, called early hours, they also have them at night up until 3am sometimes - not that we would stay out that late.
Tonight i was finally able to call home - got to speak to Mum and Ross just briefly but it was nice to touch base.
Over and Out.
Disney World Day 2
Epcot Center Extra Hours 8-9am Fast Pass Mission Space, Soar'n, Test Track, Maelstrom Meet Chip 'n' Dale near Epcot Character Spot 9:30am to 1:15pm
Meet Aladdin & Jasmine in Morocco 11:45am 12:45pm 1:45pm 3:35pm 4:35pm 5:35pm
Meet Belle in France 11:00am
Meet Alice in Wonderland at the Tea Caddy 11:30am
Lunch at Rainforrest Cafe Amimal Kingdom 1.15pm tip 3-5%of bill
Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro Safaris fastpass 20 min ride 2:30pm
Mickeys Jammin Jungle Parade 15min 3:45pm
Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial show last show not on any other day 12:25pm 2:15pm 3:20pm 4:25pm
Movies Under The Stars or Campfire 7pm
NO EXTRA HOURS
Up at 6am and caught bus at 7am to Epcot.
We arrived before opening for Magic Hours but unfortunately we got there and everything we had earmarked was closed so we wasted our magic hours - not too happy about that as we had been expecting the whole park to be open like the other 3, but no Epcot has half the place shut until 10 or 11, so we didn't get to take advantage of any fast passes but will plan on returning.We did a few things whilst we were there including a ride called Space Mission to Mars - this is a virtual ride where we are 4 crew aboard a spaceship heading for Mars, we each had a part to play which involved pushing buttons at the right time in order to complete the mission, it was quite a hair raising experience and this unfortunately made Wendy feel sick for the remainder of the day - so much so she couldn't go on any more rides for fear of more motion sickness. Jack and I loved it though.
Just prior to this we got 4 fast passes for a ride called test track, so Jack and I went on it twice in a row, it was great. Again a simulated ride where we got to design a fast car and compete with other riders, at the end of the race the results were posted on screen for all to see, we then sent the whole video of our race back home by email for us to enjoy when we return. It was excellent fun.
We also made time for some character greetings, specifically Mickey, Pluto and Minnie Mouse and got really nice close up photos of the kids.
We had reservations at Animal Kingdom in a restaurant called Rainforest Cafe, this place simulates different tropical weather conditions which made for a different experience, the layout and design was quite amazing and there was always something happening and made for a great atmosphere. The lunches were amazing too.
This took a couple of hours and we didn't actually enter the Animal Kingdom park as we'll be doing that on Wednesday 4th.
We caught the bus home and had had a swim in the pool and relaxed for a while before heading back over to Magic Kingdom to see the nighttime Electrical Parade and fireworks.
This was just incredible and well worth a late night. We did catch a little the night before but this was when i got lost so we really didn't experience it like we did tonight.
Back home for bed at about 11:30pm, kids and both Wendy and I are stuffed and ready for a good sleep.
Disney World Day 3
Easter Monday extra hours magic space mountain fast pass ride splash mountain fast pass ride? 7am
Magic hours Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom8am-9am , rock n roll coaster fast pass , tower of terror fast pass 8am
Star Tours the Adventure Continues fast pass 8:30am
Voyage of The Little Mermaid 9:15am,9:40am,10:05am,10:50am,11:15am,11:40am 15mins 9am
Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show 11.15am,2:45pm,5:30pm 38 mins long 11:15am
Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage 25min show 11:45am,1:00pm 1pm
Chip and Dale Campfire Sing Along , movie night. 6pm
Watch Parade go down river 9.45pm? 9pm
NO EXTRA HOURS
Up at 9am ( missed out on Early extra hours as we were all just so exhausted ) but arrived there about 10:30 and as usual the crowds were just ridiculous.
The first stop was to watch Star Wars Padawan Training, Jacks wants to do this so badly but the booking are all taken before the pack opens so god only knows how people manage it, but we certainly will be trying again for Jack. We got some fast pass tickets to the Star Wars Tours show which is basically a virtual ride, we couldn't go back to this ride for another hour or so, so it's off to see something else whilst we wait.
We went to see the Action Stunt Show called Light's Camera Action, this was absolutely thrilling and involves a movie set in a small French town where there is a bit of a gun fight with cars and motor bikes doing crazy stunts with explosions etc, it was worth it, we managed to get given fast passes from a lady at the front, otherwise the line up was over an hour.
The stadium where it is holds about 500 people and by the time the show started there were still people walking in who had been waiting without fast passes, they likley didn't even get a seat. The show was excellent and very exciting, we all loved it.
After this myself and Jack went to the Star Wars Tour, whilst Wendy and Lilia went shopping, the ride is a virtual ride where we all sit in a bid room with seat belts to hold you in and then the big screen in front is 3D and propels you through space avoiding meteors and other space ships from the star wars movies, all of which Jack knew very well so ofcourse he loved it very much, the ride was fast and would have made Wendy and Lilia feel sick from the motion and sudden turns and drops but Jack and I love it.
After this we went to see the exhibition called Honey I Shrunk My Kids, it an interactive play aear for kids ( and some adults too ) where the kids wander through an area with giant sized ants and bees and dogs noses, tunnels, spider webs to crawl through, the kids loved it and had some good play time.
We stopped by the writers guild shop and i bought this beautiful book on Disney world, fat to nice to open here so I must wait until I get home to see it, one of those big heavey books so this will no doubt add a little to our excess baggage charges.
We then had some lunch and went onto to see the Disney Movie Back lot Tour, this is a tour of the actual Disney Movie Studios and Set building areas, costume designs and Props area, very interesting and well worth it, despite have a technical breakdown and having to wait an extra 20 minutes in line.
We tried to see the Indiana Jones Stunt show but each time we tried it was standing room only, the kids were so tired it just wouldn't have been any fun for them or us so we have put it off until another day when we will return for extra magic hours and get some of these rides and shows done early or at least get fast passes.
The designs of the Hollywood Studios is excellent with areas painted to look like real City's such as San Fran and New York all painted onto flat boards but very realistic.
We then decided to head back home for some diner as we had plans to see a night show at Fort Wilderness. The bus ride home took about an hour which meant we were home an hour or so before the show started. We all hired two canoes and went canoeing down the Disney rivers for about 45 minutes, it was very hard work as we were going against a small tide for most of the time, i had never canoed before so it took me some time to get used to it, yes i crashed into the side of the river bank a couple of times which the kids thought was very funny. Wendy and the kids had previously done canoeing in Vanuatu so they had some experience.
When we finished we headed back to the RV for a quick shower and dinner before tonight’s show and movie.
Jack and I went and got some take away at the closest resort restaurant and by the time we got back ( yes there are crowds even at Fort Wilderness waiting to eat - you just can't avoid the wait everywhere you go ) we had missed the start of the Campfire Marshmallow cooking, sing-a-long and seeing Chip and Dale, but fortunately we hadn't missed much and arrived to see the area pretty packed out with resort guests The atmosphere was excellent, everyone was singing along to a man singing US country favourites, Wendy even managed to put her hand up when the singer asked the crowd where other people were from, she said Australia, at this time Jack, Lilia and myself had gone up the back to get a photo with Chip-n-Dale and we heard the crowd acknowledge Australia, but at the time we didn't know it was because of Wendy.
The kids got to toast some marshmallow, had a sing along, but we passed on the nights movie and headed off to bed hoping to enable an early start.
Up at 8am.
Arrived by boat to see Disneyworld at crowd capacity, the crowds are quite incredible.
We have learnt that nothing happens quickly here and you need to allow hours for just a single attraction, so we took advantage of our fast pass and got a ticket for the Jungle Cruise, whilst waiting for that we lined up for the Rocky Mountain Railroad ( One that Mum you will remember because you went on it at least twice when we were here many years ago), the wait was about 45 minutes but there are many little things to keep the crowds entertained whilst waiting, most of which are interactive and certainly makes the wait more enjoyable. The ride was just as much fun as i remember, Wendy was able to enjoy this as well Lilia loved it, no need to mention the fact that Jack and I loved it so much too. After this we went and got a fast pass ticket to Splash Mountain but we couldn't return for two hours, so we had some lunch and walked through some shops. By 1pm when we returned for our ride the line was up to 180 minutes wait, before entering Wendy went and got fat passes for Peter Pans ride ( another one of the most popular rides which the wait was over 2 hours for and the earliest fat pass time to return was at 7pm.
We proceeded through and shortly we had boarded ready for Splash Mountain (we expected to get quite wet as this was the mentioned before you boarded) so I had my camera covered up and used Wendy's little one. Funnily enough the ride had technical difficulties and we were stuck at the very top just peering over the big drop, we were stuck for about 15 minutes whilst they figured the problem, finally we dropped over the ledged for a fast dive into water and yes there was a big splash but it was nice. The best past was that we were given 4 free fast passes to use at any attraction due to the wait we had endured, so all in all it was well worth it. Upon exiting the ride the wait time was now over 3 hours.
We decided to try and get another ride in as it is so difficult with the crowds to see and do everything so we had to pick what we could do in the time we had taking into account the waits. We headed over to Space Mountain and Jack and I went through with our free passes and avoided a 2 hour line up, this ride was super-fast in pitch blackness but it was so much fun, we will do this again tonight when we return for the 2nd lot of rides that we have planned. After Space Mountain we went and got 2 more lots of fast passes to coincide with tonight’s return trip, so we now have planned for tonight to see Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and Ariel under Sea adventure, we need to return by 6:30pm to fit everything in, it will most likely be another late night.
It's now 4pm and we have a couple of hours to relax before heading back tonight, the kids and over swimming whilst i try to catch up on our travel logs, after 3 days it's not easy remembering all the things we do as we fit so much into each day.
The squirrels are everywhere and Jack and I have secret planned to bring home at least 5 each, they are just so lovely and cute little critters, just like little kittens, so very playful running around and doing little somersaults. There are also some of the most beautiful little bright red birds which kind of look like woodpeckers but I’m not exactly sure.
We caught the boat back over at 6:30 as planned and this time we had fast passes for everything we wanted to do, it would be tight to fit them all in but this is the only way we get to see the things we had planned on, otherwise you just miss too much.We first went and saw Winnie the Pooh, it a short ride with loads of color and was very well done, this was mostly for Lilia as she had missed out on a few rides that Jack and I got to do so it was only fair she got a few special rides too. Lilia really enjoyed it too which was nice to see.
After this we had to 30 minutes to wait until the next rides time was due so we decided to squeeze in a couple of extra activities. The first was the Swiss Family Robinson Tree house - this was a huge tree about 5 stories high and had lots of props from the movie, climbing roped stair and crossing swinging bridges the kids and both Wendy and I enjoyed it thoroughly.There was still time before the next ride so we really wanted to see the Pirates of the Caribbean. Although we couldn't get a fast pass the wait was only 30 minutes so we took a punt and went for it hoping we wouldn't run short of time to get to the net attraction, we just made it through and it was fantastic, although very hard to take photos as it was so dark and there is no flash photography allowed, but i still managed to get quite a few pictures anyway ( without flash ) , i seem to remember some of this but perhaps i am mistaken not sure if it was here when we came or not.When it finished we had to hurry to get to the next ride which again was mostly for Lilia and it was called Ariel Undersea Adventure, this was a beautifully decorated ride where Lilia practically told the whole story as we went through the ride, she loved it.
We were now ready to enter the most popular attraction in Disneyworld, this is Peter Pans Flying Adventure - this was a slow paced ride flying over the most beautiful painted scenes and animated characters, again this was excellent but in my opinion it wouldn't be worthy of a 3 hour wait and i feel it was a bit overrated, Wendy tended to disagree and thought it was well worth it, I know Lilia thought the same, Jack was probably impartial but enjoyed it still.
Well it was about 8pm by now and we had covered off more than we had planned, so far this was the most successful part of our Disney trip but we still had time for one more ride - this was for Jack and I to go back to Space Mountain for the 2nd time and use up the free fast passes we got earlier in the day, so we went straight past the crowds who had been waiting for over 2 hours to ride, we were very lucky. It was just amazing and even better the 2nd time.
it's time to get home, and the parade on main street is just starting so the task of exiting the park is a huge task as the crowd are crazy and there are so many rude people with these huge double prams who just block the whole pathway. We got turned back to a different exit after walking for 10 minutes only to have to back track the way we came, anyway we finally got out and managed to get back to line up for the boat ride home, we were also lucky to retrieve Jack LA hat that he had lost on the way home earlier today, the boat captain kept it for us, that was another bit of luck.
Back home and straight to bed for the kids as I need to wake then at 6am tomorrow as we plan to get to the Animal Kingdom Park for Magic Hours tomorrow.
I have taken over 1400 photos in the last 3 days so I just cannot upload them all, the other night I uploaded 2 days’ worth and it took me until 2am, i was up at 6am the next day and have been getting very little sleep so I will wait for some more time to upload the photos. The other thing is that keeping the batteries charged is a bit of a challenge as all cameras and laptop is getting a huge workout. You'll be pleased to know I haven't looked at work email since leaving LA, which feels really nice like a proper break away; I do get a little worried for my team members though.
We have the whole day at Animal Kingdom today. Arrived nice and early for Magic Hours at 8am on the dot, only to be told that Magic Hours had already finished and the park was now open to the public - so yet again we didn't get to take advantage of Magic Hours. Magic Hours are intended to give resort guests early and late access to the parks before opening and after closing, well the night time hours go until 3am which is too late for us so we have aimed for the early sessions, so far not much luck though.
Anyway the crowds were fortunately nothing like Epcot the other day and was manageable. We went straight to the ride called Kali Rapids and got a fast pass to return in an hour or so, the wait was only 10 minutes but it's a very wet ride so we preferred to wait until the sun was out and was a little warmer. We went for a wander and popped in to see a 4D movie - this involves 3D movies but with movement in seats and smells being sprayed at the audience, being the first 4D experience it was quite amazing, we all enjoyed it and it was only about 10 minutes in duration so didn't take up a huge amount of time. We can only get 1 fast pass every 2 hours so careful planning is required to get through all things.
There was another hugely popular attraction called Kilimanjaro Jungle Safari which by now was already sitting at an 80 minute wait, and yes there were hundreds of people lined up for that long to go on it, Wendy suggested we wait but i was opposed to lining up for so long and felt we could do other things instead and return later to get a fast pass to avoid lining up.
Jack and I grabbed a little breakfast snack to eat whilst we walked around.We went looking at the various animal exhibits and got some great photos of different animal species. It was now time for the rapids ride, the sign upon entering warns the participants that it is likely you will get wet, or even soaked, so i was prepared as i still had on a windcheater jacket which kept me mostly dry, but for Wendy, Jack and Lilia that had removed their jackets so as to have something warm to put on after the ride, and yes they got absolutely drenched, pretty funny actually. The first turn involved a big geyser which spouted water over everyone in the raft, the raft held 8 people and i was warned by 2 girls that i should put my camera away as it will be too wet, well needless to say i kept my camera out and ready for action, it got a little wet but nothing which caused a problem. The ride was great similar to a real white water rapid ride and heaps of fun.
When we had finished it was time for a few more souvenirs and then off to get fast passes for the jungle safari, which would now be for around 11am. In the meantime we headed over to an area called Dinoland USA; this is very similar to the royal Easter show, a bit like side show alley with some roller coaster and games etc. There was an area called the Boneyard which was a play area for kids, so Jack and Lilia spent some time mucking around and had a great time.
We did a little more looking around and walked over the Bridge over the river Kwai, which on looked the biggest and scariest ride called Expedition Everest, a huge fast paced roller coaster, Jack had previously seen it on you tube so he knew what it involved but for me I had no idea what i was about to get myself into. Jack is up for any and all rides no matter how scary looking, so naturally I go with him. We were within time to get 2 lots of fast passes for Everest, Wendy and Lilia's tickets get used by Jack and I for the 2nd go at rides. This was scheduled for 1pm and it was hugely popular and the wait at 11am was around 2.5 hours.
We headed back to the Safari and bypassed 50 thousand people in line; we still had to line up but only for 5 minutes. We then boarded a 4 wheel jeep type bus and went through the safari park where we saw animals such as the White Rhino, Giraffes, Elephants and heaps of others, unfortunately the driver pulled up early as he was pointing out the animals so it was a bit of pot luck to actually see the animals he was referring to, Jack couldn't see much at all which wasn't very pleasing, but he still saw the main things. As well i got heaps of photos to show him later any animals he may have missed. Wendy and Lilia seemed to be on the better side and had a good view of most things.
The trip involved going over a rickety old bridge which half collapsed as the vehicle went across - all part of the ride but it was a little unnerving as it felt really like the bridge was going to collapse.
This was worth the 5 minute line up but i really couldn't imagine waiting for 2 hours to do it.
After this Wendy went and raced over to another attraction back at the Dinoland for the rollercoaster Jack wanted to do, there was still an hour or so before we could get onto the Everest ride so we got the fast passes for later and went through a Jungle walk where we got to see such animals as the silver back gorilla, they are just such a magnificent animal and i got some good photos of the Gorillas and many other animals, all were naturally a long way away from the fences so the viewing was from such a distance that you needed a big telephoto lens to get any decent photos, i fortunately had mine with me.
When we had finished this we went to Everest finally and the anticipation made it all the more exhilarating, an crikey it was a crazy ride - just as well Wendy didn't go on it or she would have been very ill. The ride starts fast straight away and you enter the bottom of Everest, the cars are now pointing pretty much straight up to get up the massive incline, this was a tell-tale sign of what was to come, besides you could hear the screaming from other cars already going around, so we both knew it was going to be a little hair raising, Jack said "Dad if we don't make it I just want you to know I love you", we held hand tight and went over the top and started plummeting towards to ground at breakneck speed, only to come up to what looked like a broken track ahead, well Jack knew that this was all part of it but I was thinking that we were literally going to crash, needless to say it was all part of the ride experience, the cars came to a stop just before hitting the broken tracks and then started to go backwards back along the same track, but this time we hurtled towards the ground backwards and the cars went onto the sides making everyone feel like we were going to fall out, back up to the top again and then back down. What a rush, it was very scary so much so that we decided once was enough and kept the other 2 fast passes as souvenirs instead of using them.
After we survived this we went to Dinoland USA to go on yet again another roller coaster, this one involved a lot of spinning and sudden turns and drops, it was fun but boy did i feel the need for solid ground after. Despite standing on solid ground it still felt like the ground was moving for some time afterwards.
We then went and got some more fast passes for an interactive dinosaur ride, both Wendy and Lilia were coming on this one too which would be fun, the time wouldn't allow us to enter for another 30 minutes or so, so we wandered through some shops.
The kids have discovered "Pins", they are basically little collectable pins you pin through a neck lanyard, they are available everywhere and there are literally hundreds to choose from, including every possible kind you could imagine, 1 for each ride in each park, all characters in many different forms, star wars characters etc. In fact in the US it has been very popular for quite some years so much so that here that they have collectable pin conventions where tens of thousands of people travel from all corners to come to the conventions to trade pins, it is a huge craze here, none of which us Aussie would know about as they have never hit our shores, fortunately as it would cost a small fortune, each pi costing around $10.
We also got a few more novelty flattened penny’s, this is where you place a penny into a machine and it flattened and imprinted with a scene or character from Disneyworld, they are everywhere but a good cheap souvenir, so far we have over 20 from LA, NY and here, no doubt we'll get more along our travels too.
It was now around 2:30 and we were nearing the end of our Animal Kingdom day, so far this has been the first park where we actually got to do everything we had planned within a single day.
We had 1 more attraction to see and this was for the ride called dinosaur, this involved sitting in a car and traveling through an ancient desolate location searing for elusive Dinosaurs, it was very shaky and the whole time i had to hold onto Lilia with both hands so as she wasn't thrown all over the place, it was fun but pretty uncomfortable when stretched across another seat holding onto her, Lilia didn't enjoy it very much, i can understand why too, poor little bugger. Since Lilia was unable to go on so may ride due to height restrictions or due to fear we allowed her to get a few extra little pins etc. which made up for the lack of rides, so she was quite content, she very rarely complains about missing out anyway.
Well this is the end of Animal Kingdom and we made our way back to the front gate, on the way was got to see some beautiful birds, such as the big Macaws and some other fancy bird for which i forget the name but the colors were incredible, let’s hope the photos i took do them justice.
on the way out I stopped by guest relations to purchase some Disney Currency - this is actual legal tender notes that Disney Mint print for either souvenirs or to be spent within their parks, we decided to keep some for our albums, they are quite amazing with such colors and details well worth buying.
We got back to camp at around 5pm, I stopped by guest relations to purchase some more currency as I had been told you could get different ones at different parks, well they were different and worth getting.
We had some time in the RV to relax before I took the kids for a swim and Wendy caught up on some washing and drying.
It looked like it was going to rain so we decided to stay in the night - we were going to try and go to Epcot for a fireworks display.
We went to get some dinner but there was nowhere to eat as the single resort restaurant was booked out and other adjoining resorts restaurants would have taken 30 minutes to get to and we couldn't get a reservation for another hour or so, so off the little shops to get some wieners and hot dog rolls, we went back and had dinner in the RV and watched Tome Sawyer movie, and yes it has started to rain so it was a good decision to stay in.
We are just hoping that it doesn't rain tomorrow and Friday as we really want to get a couple of important things done, some of which include outdoor activities which we have missed out on in the last few days due to demand, but we'll just have to wait and see.
It's still raining so we'll just have to see what we can get done today without being impacted on by the rain, I’m sure it won't be too big a problem though.
We arrived at Epcot at 10:00am only to see yet again incredible lines - not sure what it is about Epcot but the lines have been at least 3 times that of the other parks both times. We went straight to the ride called Soarin - which is hugely popular - we were lucky to get fast pass tickets as at 12:00pm they were sold out, the ride wasn't until 11:45am so we had plenty of time to get some other attractions done.
There was another attraction called Living of the Land which only had 2 people waiting so we decided to give it a go, it was more so an educational boat ride showing the history of food production in the US and then the new methods of crop raising, it was interesting.
We went to have some breaky and after this we went through some really nice garden setting which were setup based on the theme of the recent movie "The Great and Powerful Oz - this movie we happened to see in New York and it was excellent, so we got lots of photos and the kids then had a play in a playground with all sorts of fun playground equipment.
We then went down to another ride called the Nordstrom which was a Viking Ship ride based on Norway, it was OK but very short, it only lasted about 5 minutes, funnily this was one ride that we were sure we didn't want to miss as there was a lot of hype about it, but it was way overrated, but still worth doing, the wait was only 5 minutes as we got there right on opening at 11:00am. After this we went through a Mexican village setting and went on a Ride called the 3 Amigo's - or something like that anyway - it was really well done with loads of classic cartoon characters being displayed throughout the ride and very bright and colorful, yet again there was no flash photos allowed but I was able to set my camera accordingly to get photos without flash.
We were now set for the most hyped up ride at Epcot called Soarin, this is a ride where we were sitting in a row of seats which then lifted into the air and flew straight into a massive projector screen which covered the entire front wall, it basically was a birds eye view flying over famous US landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite, Arizona etc., I thought it was just amazing as did Jack, Wendy and Lilia had to focus carefully of a particular spot so as not to get sick, but they survived without too much trouble. There were so many people who were now prepared to line up for near 3 hours to get a ride as the fast passes had all been allocated for the remainder of the day, there were a lot of people who just missed out.
We tried to get some more special Disney Dollars - there were supposed to be some printed based on the theme of the Pirates of the Caribbean but unfortunately despite trying at 4 different places they were not available, later on we found out that they had in fact been sold out for a long time and it would not be possible to get any as they were very collectable, no big deal though as I already had quite a few really nice notes based on the 50th anniversary - which i was told are also now quite collectable.
Well we had to make a bee hive home as we had dinner reservations at 4:45pm at Hollywood Studios.
We had a quick rest and left the RV at 3:00pm, but everything takes so long it took 1 1/2 hours to get there, no one seems to go beyond slow pace and despite trying to catch connecting busses our bus drive seemed to just dawdle along which caused us to miss the awaiting but, so we had no choice but to sit for another 30 minutes waiting for the next bus, finally it arrived and we got to Hollywood studios at 4:30pm, just enough time to race over to the Tower of Terror and get a fast pass - this was scheduled for 8:00pm. In the next couple of hours we were going to have to fit in 3 attractions which were near impossible.
We arrived at the restaurant with reservations right on time, only to be told that we had to wait, which again put a spanner in the works as it would now mean we would miss out on 1 attraction.
We enjoyed the dinner which was a buffet style and the food was excellent, but we races through our meal to ensure that we had enough time to get to see a couple of important shows. Wendy and Lilia raced over to see a show called Beauty and the Beast, this took 20 minutes during which Jack and I walked around the shops.
When this finished we had to now race over to another show we really wanted to see which was the Indiana Jones stunt Spectacular - this was just incredible and very entertaining. once this finished we went to buy Jack a custom Star wars lightsaber which he was able to build and customise exactly the way he wanted, it was well worth it and he was just stoked.
We were now ready for the Tower of Terror - I must say I wasn't overly excited as i knew what i was in for, Jack was a little hesitant also but we both went through with it, jack loved it I thought it was a bit too stomach dropping for my liking but I’m glad i did it, the best thing was the layout and display within the tower, it was just incredible, if only i took my camera.
We finished that and Wendy was waiting to urge us to hurry as the last thing to do was to see a night-time show with fireworks and water displays where the water was sprayed into a fan and the various Disney movies were projected into the water streams, along with all the characters and spectacular light shows, it was really worth seeing, we also have special seating due to having eaten at one of their restaurants, which was lucky as the stadium was full to capacity with only standing room left.
We had to head straight home as we need to return to Hollywood studios in the morning before 7:00am to try our best to get a spot in the Star Wars Padowan Training - this has been booked out for days and Jack wants to do it so badly we just have to try again. So we have plans to get there and when the gates open at 7:00 we will really have to run to the location to try and reserve a spot for him, despite the training show running over a 12 hours period it is just so popular and very hard to secure a place.
We will drive the RV tomorrow and try to get to the Kennedy Space Centre also tomorrow, so we need to make time for parking and we are allocating an extra hour due to all the little delays we have been encountering along the way.
Being our last day at Disney world tomorrow there were still so many things we just couldn't do due to crowds and unavailability, but we are more than happy with what we have accomplished.
Up at 4:30am again, need to unplug the RV and leave by 6:00am - I’m getting pretty used to about 5 hours sleep now and seem to manage quite well, the kids are still getting good night’s sleep although today might be a bit of a struggle, let’s hope Jack has enough energy to strike his lightsaber at Darth Vader.
Arrived at Hollywood Studios at 7:00am, needed to wait until 7:45am to get through the gates but we were first in line - reason being that the demand for Jedi Training is so popular - whilst we were waiting we got talking to the staff and they let us scan in before the gates opened so we could get a head start on the 1000 people who had since arrived, they were here for either Jedi Training or Toy Story Mania ( another attraction we have been unable to do due to demand ).
When they said open the race was on, Wendy and Jack ran (despite the staff saying to everyone not to run) and were first to register for Jedi Training, scheduled for 9:20, now the only pending problem was the weather as they have no hesitation in cancelling if the rain comes, but we told Jack to be positive and it would be all ok.
Surprisingly we had time to go to Toy Story Mania and didn't even need fast passes as it had just opened and the wait was a mere 1o minutes, this attraction was just awesome. It was basically a slow moving ride which went through a neon lit toy story landscape and within each car both riders had virtual guns to shoot at targets on huge screens in front of our cars, it was just so much fun and we were all so glad we got to do it, it was on our planes from the beginning but we had truly underestimated the crowds.
Mind you the crowds were significantly worse due to spring break which goes for up to 6 weeks, so there was no getting away from the crowds no matter what time we tried to get there.
We then got some more character photos of Minnie Mouse with Lilia, bought some more- yes more Disney Pins ( these are so popular here that there is a book for collectors which contain over 15000 pins) after which the time had arrived for Jedi Training- Jack has been wanting this so badly and we were so happy for him.
We lines up for initiation and watched him line up with his Jedi gown ( the same brown ones that Obi Wan Kenobi wore in Star Wars ) and then finally the boys and girls were called up on stage to face Darth Vader with 2 Storm Troopers. He was excited despite his shyness. Anyway things just didn't work out for the poor bugger as just after 2 little boys had done their face off with Darth Vader it started to rain, ever so slightly, but quicker than you could say "It's Raining" Darth Vader just walked off and left all the kids just standing there, then shortly after an announcement came over that the show had been cancelled, he was 2 boys away from getting to fight Darth Vader.
I just felt so angry that we had tried so hard to get this for him and yet despite all our efforts he couldn't get the one thing he was so desperate to do.
I could see in his face he just wanted to burst out crying but he held it together and was so brave.
We questions why they had cancelled when it was hardly what you would call rain, but they just said they will organise for a photo shoot opportunity with Darth Vader and the Storm Troopers inside the Star Wars Tours ride, well that was something, and fortunately Jack had his custom built lightsaber which he was able to hold up for photos - I was fully prepared with my big flash gun so the photo was excellent and he will be proud of it. He also got a certificate but hasn't actually looked at it.
Well after such a huge disappointment we yet again asked if there was anything they could do considering the effort we had put in to make it, but they basically didn't give a toss and said that's the luck of the draw and you could walk back to line up and try to schedule a later timeslot, no surprise all time slots had since been booked out.
To make todays experience even worse we went back to a particular shop to buy a special Disney pin for Lilia but just like last time this kiosk was closed and wouldn't open until midday, we had tried twice to buy it as this was the only place that sold this particular pin, and it was considered very collectable. We were told to find the area manager and told to go to this certain place, we did and it was the wrong place so we asked another person who also sent us to the wrong place, we then asked another only to get sent the wrong way again, we finally asked a man cleaning the paths and he actually sent us to the right spot. We got there and waited 15 minutes to see the manager who was a very nice lady and walked us over to the kiosk and opened it up for us to make our purchase, well at least this worked out ok in the end.
It was now nearing 12:00pm and we had done 1 ride and bought 1 pin since 7:00am, pretty typical of how long things take.
Anyway we needed to hurry back to the RV and drive an hour to the Kennedy Space Centre - I was really excited to come back here not that i remembered anything other than my medallion and space shuttle model i got when we came here as a family when i was just 10 in 1981, just around the time Space Shuttle Columbia was launched for the first time - you may recall that in 2003 the Columbia exploded upon re-entry and all crew were lost.
We arrived at the KSC at about 2:00pm - the drive took longer than expected.
The crowds were nothing like Disney world though so that in itself was a nice change. It is very well laid out with a rocket garden displaying past launched rockets and satellites, some of which you could get into for photos.
We walked around and I naturally took far too many pictures. We then went and saw an IMAX 3D movie called Hubble 3D, it was just amazing so much so that I want both Lilia and Jack to become astronaut - there not interested as it's far too scary knowing how intricate the work they do, they are absolutely just amazing people.
We wandered around the gift shop and bought some souvenirs and I bought a book called the 30 Years of Space Shuttle History, starting from Columbia right up to the current Space Shuttle Atlantis, I haven't opened it yet as it sealed and look too good to open.
We finished off a successful afternoon and headed back to the Camp Wilderness just for the night, we would need an early night as we had to leave early in the morning to stay on schedule for our big day at Universal Studios tomorrow.
Universal Studios in Orlando has 2 theme parks - Universal Studios as well as Island of Adventure, we only had the time and money to go to the 1 park but it was the better of the two, a single days entry cost over $500, and to be honest I was pretty much over theme parks and crowds and was so looking forward to our road trip so 1 park was more than enough.
We arrived 1 minute before opening at 8:59am, it was a fluke we got there in time as we had intended to get there at 8:00am but our GPS kept sending us in a loop and just didn't know where to go so we wasted an hour trying to find parking. We were the only RV in the parking lot and we though perhaps it was going to be fairly quiet, well I must have been delusional because the crowds were nearly as large as DW. Anyway we had Express Passes which like Disney world needed to bought in advance to get then otherwise you just have to line up for hours for all attractions, so that was lucky that Wendy had done such an amazing job in planning this holiday to absolute perfection, she researched everything and was fully prepared. We got through the gates after the standard bag search (this happens everywhere now - all due to 911) and then scanned our barcoded tickets and scanned our fingerprint which is then associated to our tickets, again the scanning of fingers happens at all major theme parks to stop someone else using your ticket in case it gets lost - so you can be assured that you can always get another ticket just in case.
In we went and straight away we headed over to Harry Potter World which is the most popular attraction, they say if you don't get in the line by 10:00am you will miss out, and there was no express line for this ride so we lines up with another 1000 people for 75 minutes. But i tell you what the setup and design was absolutely mind blowing, walking through this massive old castle and the inside was just incredible, mind you this was all just the lead up for a ride of your lifetime. Wendy and Lilia chose not to go on the ride due to the potential for motion sickness, but Jack and I were eager to get going and it was most definitely the best ride so far, the ride took us on a virtual rollercoaster where we were flying a broomstick following closely behind Harry Potter, we went through the castle, had fights with dragons, just escaped falling towers and so much more i just cannot begin to explain it like it happened, I was only able to take my camera so far and had to give it to Wendy just before we started the ride.
It was really so amazing. After this we had some brunch, hamburgers and chips - pretty much the most commonly available food anywhere, i had another cup of the most awful coffee too which was really nice - NOT - god knows how they can drink the stuff, very few places sell good coffee of Cappuccino’s.
When we finished eating we went to a ride called Jurassic Park, which was another ride where were going to get Possible definitely soaks as the attendant pointed out, there was no chance of staying dry, Lilia didn't want to go but we convinced her it would be OK, she didn't want to get wet, even though she can spend 3 weeks in a pool in the middle of winter - go figure?
We went to try and go on more rides we had earmarked but there were limitations such as height restrictions and ridiculous waiting times so we just had to pass, but finally after walking around and enjoying the shops and watching others ride the attractions we couldn't do we saw the mother of all rollercoasters, I just had to go on this. It was called the Hulk and it was just incredible - just wait until you see the photos; it's enough to scare the crap out of you just by looking. Well Jack wasn't keen on this at all and I was prepared to go it alone, but after some gentle persuasion i convinced him he would be ok, luckily his hair was sticking up and he was able to pass the height limit. I did feel terrible as I could see the fear in the poor buggers face but kept reassuring him that it would be so fat that when it go around the 4 upside down loops that he wouldn't fall out due to the G-force pulling you in to the seat - i was right. I was supposed to take my glasses off but forgot, i was also holding on to Jack with one hand as i was so worried about him. The ride was the fastest and most exhilarating ride i have ever experienced and was just amazing, Jack did enjoy it as he was screaming (good screams) the whole time, despite saying he wanted to cry when he had finished but he was actually all good and I think it was just the unknown and all the anticipation and anxiety he built up when lining up.
It was now about 12:00pm and we had actually done enough which meant we could exit the park after a few more souvenirs and get started on our road trip - whohoo!
We had a 5 hour drive ahead of us and had planned to get to Florida State Caverns National Park at 5pm, there was a time difference of an hour were hadn't accounted for and as such arrived at 9:00pm. We knew we were going to be late as within 30minutes of getting onto the Interstate Highway 10 West there was the most incredible traffic jam which took us well over an hour to pass, it turns out there was an accident on both side of the highway, although we did only see the accident on the other side of the rode and sadly it was an RV very similar to what we had, it had run of the rode and was on its side completely squashed, it looks awful and we took this as notice to take it easy and drive as safely as possible. Regardless of how safely i drove the Americans are shocking drivers, they speed well over 20 miles per hour above the speed limit, they seem to had absolutely no courtesy on the roads, so much so that 1 driver just decided to slam on his breaks after deciding to turn, no indicator nothing, this was when we got to test the brakes, and i was able to pull up just in time despite things going everywhere in the cabin, yet again another reminder to take it easy even if it means getting to our destination late.
The speed limits on the I10 are 70 miles per hour which is the same as 100K, so were certainly moving and trying to keep such a large RV in the middle of a road that extends about 10 inches either side of our mirrors was hard enough, there is the constant need to correct form wind etc. and each time fatigue plays a major part as the rods are just so long and straight, massive concentration is needed and you need to be so alert as people will cut in front of you causing you to have to break constantly.
We had a few stops along the way as we needed to just to stay alert and we were not going to drive recklessly no matter how late we arrived. We finally had to pull over for some dinner and chose one of the hundreds of take away places to choose from, this time we stopped at Wendy’s for, guess what, Hamburgers you guessed it, but they were so nice we have to stop there again, unless i get to stop at a dunkin doughnuts that is, or Denny's or Top 50 ok you get the idea we could eat take out for ever here, perhaps that why there is such an obesity problem here? The most amazing thing was to see the most gorgeous black cats - they were stray but looked to be very well looked after, it turned out there were 9 black cats in this little family and then two Tabby's joined in, so we shared a little chicken and meat patties with them and the 11 of them guts it up no worries, we got some photos but they were a little too timid to be approached, but it was quite an amazing site to see 9 black cats sitting around our RV with us having dinner, the kids were thrilled.
it was now about 6:00pm and we had another few hours to go until we arrived at our campsite, we finally got there at around 9pm, by which time the front gate had closed hours ago but Wendy in all her wisdom had pre-arranged for a PIN number to allow us to gain entry to the park, we then drove through the most beautiful forest for about 5 minutes to get to the hook-up location. After a few minutes the kids were already asleep - even though they had a few hours’ sleep in the RV whilst driving they were obviously just work out as it had been pretty full on up till now.
I couldn't get to sleep and went outside at 2:00am, but something made me feel really nervous like there was a big grizzly bear about to eat me so i headed straight back inside - it was getting pretty cool now too.
It was to be an early start tomorrow as we were going to go on a Cave Tour which we were told you need to book by 7:30 to get spots, this meant another early morning.
We arrived at the Cave Tour entry point at about 8:30am, we had since discovered it was an 8:30am start and not 7:30am, but to our surprise after seeing no one at the building and seeing that the doors were all unlocked, we went in to have a look at the little museum that they had setup whilst we waited for someone to arrive so as we could secure some tickets, well surprise surprise someone finally arrived and said we were in the right spot for the tour but you needed to get your tickets way down at the front entry gates, so off we headed trying to hurry and get our tickets early enough, when we got there, there was a very nice ranger who had told us of the time difference and we had gained an hour sometime yesterday, even though we were still in the state of Orlando, so it was actually just after 7:30am and they were not going to open for another hour.
We sat in the RV and had some breakfast and waited. The man then yelled out to us that he was just going to raise the flags and he would then take care of us, which was nice, plus an opportunity to get some photos, they raise a US flag, and flag for the fallen heroes from the Vietnam War as well as the Florida Flag, and I got some nice photos.
As well whilst waiting the scenery was just beautiful and I could have snapped pictures all day.
We headed back up to the Caves and went on a trail walk, which took us through swamps and marshes, again the photo opportunities were amazing if only I had purchased this nice wide angle lens i saw in NY - it was over $1000 and although Wendy was happy for me to buy it i just couldn't bring myself to spend that much - but if I had boy would I have had some incredible photo's.
The little gift shop opened up just before the Cave tours started which allowed us to buy some souvenirs, a few little gifts for jack and Lilia's school mates as well.
The Cave tour started about 9:30am, and we wandered down, only for Jack to tell the tour guide that "My Dad took us down to the caves earlier whilst we were waiting" - well what i did was a no no - so I was trying to hush him up before they actually listened, luckily I was able to add to what he said and mentioned that we had actually only gone down some of the track not into the caves, phew.
The caves are actually tiny when compared to something like Jenolan or Wombean Caves, both of which we as a family had enjoyed back home so we had higher expectations, but nonetheless the tour was enjoyable and interesting, lots of history in the area dating back some 400 years to a very early Indian settlement.
As we wandered through the tour I kept getting stuck behind the tour as I was just so engrossed in taking photos (all very low light and no flash - no tripod so each one took a little longer than those using their dodgy IPhone’s as cameras, anyway they patiently waited for me to catch up only for me to get left behind pretty much straight away, Jack stayed with me though as they know I can get lost very easily.
We finished the tour after about 45 minutes and were about to see the first wildlife for the day, it was a tiny little bat about 2 inches long happily tucked away inside a small cave pocket, I saw everyone looking but you couldn't see the bat until you were right up close.
All in all it was a nice tour and a good start to the day.
It was time to head on the road again as today we would pass through 4 states, Orlando, Alabama, Mississippi and finally our destination of Louisiana - being New Orleans.
We had another 5 hours’ drive ahead of us and to start things of we got lost trying to find petrol and a Wal-Mart to stock up on some food.
An hour later we were back onto the I10 heading west. A very similar trip to yesterday where fatigue play a big part and you need to be so aware of whats going on. To make things a little worse today I was taking precautions and went to check the air, but all tyres were able to be checked except for the drivers front side where the nozzle just wouldn't fit, after trying 3 times i gave up in frustration as all that was happening was the air was coming out, I had to stop or we would have had a flat and according to locals there was no adapter, so we would have been in all sorts of strife.
We made it to Alabama border and then next to Mississippi and it was now nearing 4pm, we also didn't know if it we were gaining more time as we went, but finally made it in about 6 hours to New Orleans, the time was about 7:30pm but there was still sufficient time to get some touring done and to get to the Cafe Du Monde - I had been waiting so long for this. The Cafe is 150 years old now and was the original stop for Coffee and French Doughnuts - called Beignets, so naturally the first place we had to go was here.
We were told not to say out after dark as it's just too dangerous, so that wasn't overly reassuring to know, but we went out for a couple of hours and made sure we would catch a taxi back to the RV Park.
We stopped by Cafe Du Monde and had Beignets and Coffee, Hot Chocolate for Wendy and Lilia whilst Jack just had coke, but the doughnuts were just as I remembered. I took lots of photos of the cafe and we bought Beignet mixes, and more souvenirs.
We continued walking the streets on New Orleans, mainly Bourbon Street and adjoining streets, the photo opportunities are amazing although i couldn't help feel nervous like i was going to get my camera stolen, as there are just so many homeless people.
We finished up at about 9:00pm and got a taxi back to the RV Park which is surrounded by huge walls with razor sharp spikes all over, massive security gates which are only accessible with a pin number. We made it back and the kids and Wendy pretty much it the hay straight away.
This was my chance however to update the travel blog as I was worried I would start to forget certain things, and every little detail is worth remembering, perhaps I'm putting in too much detail but at least we will have a good record of our memories.
It’s now 10:30pm and I am back up to date which is a huge relief.
There are so many sirens going off around us, we know the city turns rough and dangerous with lots of crime after dark, hence the reason they say to stay inside and not to go wandering around, plus there are certain things which go on here in New Orleans that we don't want the kids seeing, such as all the prostitution etc.
Well tomorrow I have 6 hours of driving to do, so I need to hit the hay to get a good night's sleep. We have to check out at 11:00am and if we have finished touring New Orleans by then we will head off otherwise we'll go and find a secure parking area for the RV. We'll be heading through to Texas tomorrow which is the biggest state in the US so it should be quite a drive.
We were all up nice and early about and whilst Wendy went and did some washing and drying at the parks facilities the kids went for a swim, there was a nice hot spa bath that they enjoyed which was no doubter much nicer than the freezing cold pool which they went from one to the other like typical crazy kids who seem to be immune to the cold water.
We had this morning to do some more wandering of the streets of New Orleans and bought some souvenirs and I bought another book - that makes 5 now, this time it's a book about the aftermath of Katrina. You will remember Katrina hit in 2005 and it took about 5 years for New Orleans to recover. The French Quarters was left pretty much untouched but the surrounding areas were flattened and there were over 100 lives lost. The book is called "1 Dead in the Attic" which was used as a reference to signage that were placed in in front of houses to indicate the status of human toll within each house. There was an old retired wharfie who was stuck in his 3rd floor attic, left with just a can of juice and a bedspread and unfortunately the floods got him, hence there was a sign on the front of his house saying 1 dead in the attic, it such a compelling read which you all should read when i get home.
There are lots of old cemeteries - one near where we stayed called St Louis Cemetery which is over 300 years old, it is in pretty much total ruin apart from recent attempts to restore certain parts, many of the haunted New Orleans tours take place here - I went for a quick walk and took some pictures and overheads a tour guide talking about a lady who struggled to win a legal battle only to pass away before her settlement of 36 million dollars - this money went to the state.
The houses are just amazing and the use of wrought iron is most noticeable, everywhere from gutter plates, bins, and downpipes and of course balconies. Most of the houses or rather building in and around the French Quarters are 3 stories high and have so much charm; you could quite literally take photos all day.
The shops are also very nice, especially the book shop we went to, it was only 45 years old but looked much older, and I could have spent hours inside just looking. I also went into a Record store, Jack and I wandered around 2 levels of vinyl and did find some Yello records - all of which I already had but it had been a long time since i had an opportunity to wander through and flick through vinyl records.
We wanted to get back by 10:30am to checkout - we could then either do some more walking around of get an early start on our pending 6 hour drive to Texas. So we returned via Cable Car which was a nice treat and something a little different for the kids - even though the kids and Wendy had been to Melbourne as a port stop on one of their many cruises and been on a Melbourne Cable Car the kids didn't remember so it was like a new experience.
It felt far safer walking the streets in day time too, all though there were remnants of the prior nights, many of whom had found somewhere to sleep like in the middle of the side walk or someone’s driveway, and yes there was a bit of a stench to the area which from my understanding is just part of the parcel.
We were back before the 11:00am checkout time and were on track for our next part of the road trip. We hit the road and were onto the I10 west at 11:00 and passed over the massive bridge crossing the Mississippi River - the same bridge we were looking at when wandering the river last night wondering what it was, we were not even aware at the time last night that beside the French quarters where the paddle steamers were was in fact the Mississippi River so we got confirmation of that, and it sure is a big river although travelling on the way here we crossed much bigger river systems.
The state of Louisiana is massive and we were not expecting to cross the border until near the end of the day.
The roads were pretty poor and made of concrete, at each section there was a change in the level of road which meant the RV was just bouncing all over the place, the speed limit had also now increased to 75 mph, which was just too fast in my mind so i reduced the speed to make the drive a little safer.
There are bridges that go for about 10 miles, they just seem to go on forever over swampy areas, and it just seems incredible how much swamp land there is.
The other thing we noticed were all the roller coaster type over passes which just seem to rise above way too high and have an element of danger to each one, the lanes are narrow and one accidental misjudgement would call for a massive drop over the bridge to certain death, these appear out of nowhere and sometime you wonder why they did it and there was solid ground that could have easily supported the road, but not here they rise like 5 stories high and seem to just balance on these little skinny poles just dangling in the sky.
For 5 hours there were no rest stops - this was the single most disappointing thing as the fatigue plays a huge part in having a safe drive and with nowhere to pull over to freshen up and stretch your legs it became quite tedious. We filled up with fuel before leaving but within a couple of hours needed more fuel to ensure we had enough to get us to our destination, luckily we filled up at the next available exit next door to a Popeye's food outlet, it was lucky as this was the last petrol stop I saw for the entire remainder of the trip. Although the roads improved they were just so long and straight and the country side is very nice it doesn't change all that much.
Within the whole state of Louisiana there was just a single road side rest stop which had been closed, we kind of got the idea and as such needed to take a break and pulled of down a random exit hoping to find somewhere else to park, we end up driving for miles through some nice country side on this very small country road - probably not designed for RV's, but it didn't stop other drivers from overtaking or pulling out in front.
We had one lady pull onto the road from a T intersection only to just stop dead in the middle of the road, her truck was stopped across the road so she took up both lanes, she just stopped, god only knows why, but she beckoned us to go around her - there was hardly any room to do so but we got passed only to see that she then turned around and started to follow us, why she didn't just make a normal left hand turn and drive like a normal person is beyond me. Another time we crossed a very narrow bridge with a warning sign as to how narrow it was, despite having arrived to cross the bridge well before another huge ute, the ute thought there would be enough room for both of us and just screamed straight at us with no consideration to slow down or perhaps to wait for us to pass, as such I was within centimetres of hitting to side rails, this was a reminder of the Disney world’s rides we had been on but just a little too real to want to experience again, this seems to be the normal for these people, when they are in their cars they are like Jeckle and Hyde and Wendy had righty pointed out, very considerate outside but in the car it seems there is no one else for them to even see. Anyway we arrived at the first available road to turn around as we were obviously not going to find somewhere to pull over to rest, low and behold it was a dump station - not the nicest of places to want to have a rest, but nonetheless my back was killing me and my fingers were starting to clamp up from holding onto the steering wheel that i just had to stop, so we asked the man at the dump station if we could stop outside, he was very nice and assured us we could stay as long as we wanted - well that was only going to be minutes, there wasn't any likelihood we were planning on spending the night although I think he perhaps though that may have been our intention. Well after a very quick stretch we went back via the same route we came in on and got back onto the highway - it would be another hour before another exit where we could stop and get some food and have a proper rest.
We succumbed to McDonalds as Lilia was begging us for days to have some, I wasn't really keen for Maccas as there are just so many options but what the heck.
By this time it was about 6:pm and we were within an hour or so from making it to the Texan border which seemed to take forever to reach, so we got back on the highway and went for the last leg of today’s drive and made it to our RV place at about 7:30pm.
Once we found our spot called Shallow Creek RV Resort we discovered that the reception area had closed at 6:00pm, there were many available spot but you can’t just take any old spot as it was likely people had reserved spots just like what we had expected to be the case for us, how wrong we were.
Wendy went down to see what information they had left - there were 3 pieces of paper stating that there were only 3 available spots for late arrivals, Wendy chose the top one as it shouldn't have made a difference, there was room to fill out your name and let them know which site you had taken so as to eliminate confusion for other guests who may also be arriving late. The first spot we were allowed to choose was taken by someone who obviously didn't comprehend that the space was not there for them unless they had just failed to fill the form and decided to take the spot, so we went back and got the next number allocated, yet again it had been taken. We had one last chance to get the last space which should have been reserved for us, only to see that someone had decided to park their car there, so we drove around wondering what to do only to realise I would need to ask them to move their car. These people were ok and acknowledged that they had been watching us drive around for 30 minutes trying to get a spot and though perhaps they needed to move their car dumb arses didn't even have right to be there as they already had their car parked in their allocated car spot beside their massive trailer, but they had a visitor park in our spot. Anyway they moved it without too much concern and we finally were able to plug in and get set for a night’s sleep. Sometimes the lack of consideration is just incredible, how much space do they think they have the right too?
Anyway that all done now and we are over it and just want to get some rest. We are in a place called Gladewater but there isn't much to see other than heaps of bug RV's and busses so it's pretty much stay inside tonight. The weather in nice and comfortable so it should be a nice easy night.
The kids hit the hay straight away whilst Wendy does some banking and stuff and I start reading my Katrina book, I stayed up far too late reading though and didn't get to bed until around 11:00pm, although if I had gone to bed earlier i would be up earlier. As it stands I usually get up around 5:00 to check the blog if possible or to take photos so I really don't mind.
Well it's now Tuesday morning on the 9th April - we have just over a week to go. it's still pretty dark at 5:00am so I'm update the travel log and will probably have a few coffees before the others wake up. I was going to take some photos of the sky and last night it was the a very clear night and there were so many stars, but this morning there is a little cloud so no photos, just a quick update and a little reading.
We should have some time this morning for the kids to have another swim before we head off to Fort Worth and finally to Childress where we have opted for a night in a Holiday Inn....
We left Gladewater about 10:00am and went to get some fuel - the service station floor was littered with these big bugs like rhino beetles, there would have been thousands - mostly squashed by vehicles driving in and out but the floor outside had a certain color to it, when you looked a little closer you could see many of them moving, it was quite eerie. We got fuel and some snack for the big drive ahead.
The roads were not so much straight this time which eliminated much of the boredom we had when driving through Louisiana. After a few hours we were about to pass through Dallas which you could see well before in the distance, behind Dallas though there were the darkest clouds which looked ominous. I would have liked to go into Dallas but it wasn't part of the trip but it just so happens that due to massive road works we got lost (surprise surprise) and where did we end up, Dallas city. We stopped to get our bearings and whilst our navigator checked the maps via the GPS Jack and I went for the quickest sightseeing yet, 5 minutes around the closest 2 blocks to see if i could get a sew on patch - we found stores with 40 million cowboy hats and boots but no patches, they just don't seem to do them anymore. So that tour of Dallas was over. But it is quite a beautiful city much the size of Sydney city with perhaps less tall skyscrapers though.
Wendy had sussed out the correct way to bypass Dallas and head for Fort Worth witch was really bordering on the outskirts of the city anyway so it was just another 40 minutes or so.
When we arrived you could see the difference straight away - no city here - just ranches and land, but really this was the Texas we had been imagining all along so it was really good. The main street of Forth Worth is where they do a cattle run down the main street twice a day for the benefit of tourists, there were so few tourists though so crowds were not a problem. We got parking nice and easily and got out to see the sites, now this area covered perhaps 3 blocks by 3 blocks so it certainly wasn't huge, there were a nice selections of shops, bars ( saloons i mean ) and other little shops nothing for the locals though this was there little slice of tourism.
The first thing we did was to let Jack have a go on a mechanical bull, yep it sounded scary as i had seen them before and know they are usually extremely hard, but the operator sussed out Jacks age and skill level and made it appropriate for him, he stayed on the hole time and was thrilled, for just 5 bucks it was money well spent.
We then walked up and down the main street buying souvenirs and got a little food, and had some photos with Wild Bill Hickok and another cowboy and his prized bull before the cattle run which was scheduled for 4:00pm. The cattle run started and there was a herd of about 20 big bulls herded down the main drag with the full cowboy setup, horses etc., it was something none of us had ever experienced and this was a prize part of the day.
After this we had time for a couple more shops to yet again try to get a patch - so hard to find. We didn't get one but as usual the locals love to ask us where we are from and where we are going, then they proceed to talk for 35 minutes, this time though the lady advised us of some oncoming weather which would be worth avoiding, so we took notice. This was now the time to start the drive to Childress which was about 3 hours away.
We drove through absolutely terrifying weather tonight for over 3 hours, the most difficult driving i have ever done, the RV was getting pulled and pushed by massive winds and the steering wheel was mostly at 45 degree angle just to compensate, it was quite scary but we are all OK and arrived safely if not a little shaken from the experience. My hands were so tensed trying to hold the steering wheel but there wasn't much we could do, getting stuck in the oncoming storm was not an option. Anyway we arrived at Childress Texas at 9:30pm it is now nearly midnight, we got here just as the rain started hammering, fortunately i guess we only had to put up with 60 mph winds - we listened to a radio broadcast suggesting everyone take cover - not the news you want when driving in a strange place on the open interstate highways with big semi-trailers overtaking you and knowing that the RV was swerving all over, i tried my best to keep straight and i think i did really well considering,
I'd like to go and get my asthma spray but the weather doesn't permit so I am just sitting quietly for a little while until it passes, the snow, wind and hail that is.
The rain is pretty much horizontal. There is snow all over the ground, something we really didn't expect to see. We pulled in to a truck stop on the way as we needed petrol, we asked some truckies if it was safe to continue as we were having great difficulty in maintaining a straight line whilst driving as the RV is quite light and has the top which just gets pushed around like a toy, they said it will hail but not at Childress, so we decided to continue as we had booked accommodation in a hotel last night, thank god for that decision as sleeping in the RV tonight through a severe thunderstorm would have been frightening.
What an experience. The kids so badly wanted to see snow and here it is but they are fast asleep, I ducked out a short while ago to get some photos so as they could see it in case it melts by morning, i asked the lady at the front counter and she said that it was expected to snow and it certainly was doing that.
Anyway I'll update the rest of today as soon as possible but it's been a huge long day and i need to relieve the stress in my body as it is so tense from the worry of getting my family to safety.
Not that you would hear about this on the news but it was a pretty big night and wanted to give you a quick update. Night Night
We woke to find snow covering lots of the ground and roof tops and it was so cold, apparently it had gone from 83 down to 16 and it sure felt like it. Needless to say that the kids were just in awe of the snow as this was the first time they saw it, let alone playing in it. We were a little concerned though as the road in, which was within view was covered with flashing police lights, i though the roads must have been blocked but it turned out a semi had gone on its side in the ice and it was just police to alert oncoming traffic - yes the traffic kept going. There were a lot of semi's and RV's who had pulled onto the side roads to avoid the treacherous road conditions so we could tell it wasn't really safe yet to drive off, well it was only 6:00am anyway so we went to have breaky in the restaurant - well it was actually a casual room with large TV. There were quite a few council truckies who gave us some advice regarding the weather etc., most had suggested this weather was extremely unusual and quite unexpected.
It was expected to clear by 10:00am, well it didn't, the snow covering the RV didn't budge until 2:00pm when we were well within desert regions and the sun was belting down.
We end up going across to Wal-Mart to get some supplies and the walk over was just horrible, only 2 minutes walk but the wind just cut straight through and it was freezing. Time for beanie’s and double jackets now.
We left at about 11:00 and had another 6 hours to get to Albuquerque in New Mexico.
The drive was slow which felt like we would never make it, it wasn't until about half way when i finally were able to pull to the die of the road as there was not a single truck stop along the way but we had this terrible noise coming from under the truck which need to be looked at - turns out it was a mudflap which started hitting the undercarriage when we got to 65 mph, the speed limit was 75 mph so we couldn't maximise our time for this whole part of the trip. A short time later we filled up with gas and got straight back onto the road as we were soon approaching Amarillo Texas which was well regarded as a big tourist destination, we pulled into to a tourist centre and spoke to a man who gave us some good advice on what to see and do in the local area. There were some freebies for the kids also. Lilia noticed the signs warning of rattlesnakes so she was now looking all around in fear of rattlesnakes, i reassured her it was meant as a warning when stoping on the side of the road and going for a wander but i really didn't know the extent of the warning myself.
The first stop was a mistake and most likely we followed the map wrong but we felt we had been given a bum steer either way we wasted an hour getting lost in Amarillo city for no reason whatsoever, only to head back out and on to an area which was the towns slice of Route 66, we found somewhere to eat and had some burgers and nachos, all of which was lovely except for a few hairs we found which suddenly killed our appetite. We wandered through a game store and bought a few little Pokémon things for Jack and a game for their Nintendo DS - a US copy as i had a feeling they would work in our Aussie units despite all the warning against doing so - I was correct so we landed a game for just $6 and this sets us up to get a few more cheapies along the way rather than pay the crazy prices in AU like $59. We then went into an antique shop and it was the most incredible store - if only we lived here we would have bought so much more as they are so cheap - i was seeing all these things we could buy for next to nothing and resell them on eBay for a motza but we just couldn't. We did find some original star wars toys and an antique set of spectacle that we bought plus a few other bits and pieces.
Now it was time to get back on the road and try to make Albuquerque before nightfall. One the way well after 3 hours i needed to stop as i was getting very weary, we noticed it was starting to snow, we pulled into the first available truck stop surrounded by the nicest rocky mountains and boulders you had ever seen and yes the snow was falling, the kids were so excited and it was really nice, the wind had settled a little which made the drive good and fast at 75mph, but to see the snow fall just topped of a good day. We took some photos and Wendy filmed us getting covered in snow - there weren’t huge amounts but enough. Funnily though within 2 minutes of leaving the snow stopped, it was like it fell just for our benefit.
All the way we have been just one step ahead of bad weather; it was almost like it was following us just far enough behind for it not to be a problem, but the clouds were enough to tell the story.
We had another hour or so to get to our destination, which we really wanted to get to before night - well we did get there before night at 7:00pm.
So we went though and got our little package which was left out for us, pulled into to sopt 62, plugged in and quickly went for a walk to get some KFC as this was pretty much all there was, funnily though KFC looked like it was shut as all the chairs were stacked on the tables and the place looked like it was actually closed for business full stop as there were no staff nor patrons, luckily though were tried the door and they were open. After eating inside we walked back in the freezing cold to settle in for the night knowing we had another big drive tomorrow, we need to make Monument Value by 4:30pm for a booked tour, so the plan is to leave by 7:30am. We have gained another hour also which means we will get a good night’s sleep, hoping it won't be too cold in the RV. It did get very cold down to about 3 degrees.
We left Albuquerque at 7:30am to get a good head start also so as we had a little more time to do some stops along the way. We were due at Goulding’s Campground at 4:30 for a full moon sunset tour of Monument Valley - this was going to be very good.
The drive was nice and easy and we kept good time the whole way with a few stops along the way. First stop was Laguna in New Mexico, we filled up on fuel and got some souvenirs - Lilia bought a little Indian doll and Jack got an Indian Arrow, both were really nice unique gifts.
A few hours later we stopped on the way to the Arizona border at a very old trading post store, they had the most amazing traditional gifts so naturally we bought some things, Wendy got some beautiful opal and silver earrings - 2 lots as they were so cheap, Jack got a really nice set of small arrows which will go with a little crossbow he bought in Fort Worth, Lilia got a little dream catcher and I got a couple of little books on the areas we were visiting, as well a few snack and other bit.
This was the best stop for souvenirs so far, just excellent and the lady was just so helpful. We were much happier spending money here as opposed to a government run tourism store so we felt good despite spending quite a bit.
It was now about 3:00pm and only about 30 more minutes to get to our destination - I was in a hurry as my camera battery was very low and i needed it charged for the tour later so there was no messing about, full speed ahead. We arrived at 3:30pm which had been the plan since we left so we did very well despite some pretty poor roads which caused us to reduce speed.
Driving through and onto the Monument Valley was just mind blowing, none of us had ever seen anything like the changing landscapes, the colors of nature and the awesomeness of the various stone monuments around us, we took lots of photos on the way only to be totally awestruck when we saw where we were staying. It is just the most amazing place and it has to be on everyone’s bucket list. The surrounding landscape has so much to offer and i was so keen to get the tour underway, but when we had checked in and parked the RV Wendy read up on the tour to ensure we could pay by credit as we didn't have enough cash to cover it, we noticed that they were expecting a phone call the day before which we obviously just couldn't do due to not have a mobile not access to public phones ( there are no public phones in the US anymore as they have either been broken or just do not exist. We got a little worried and emailed them straight away hoping we would still get the tour. Luckily they did see the email and arrived at 5:00pm to pick us up.
Our guides name was Bobby and was of Navaho decent so was authorised to take us on this special tour which only allows a Navaho guide to access the areas of the tour, otherwise you cannot enter the park - this is purely to preserve the traditions of the land owners. The tour was to be 2.5 hours long and we were all very excited. He was driving a big 4 wheel drive and later we learnt why you needed it.
The entry to the Navaho reserve was about 10 minutes drive and no sooner were we on our way the questions i had been thinking of started pouring out, but to no surprise Bobby had all the answers. He had some good experience so knew which positions were optimum for taking photos and advised me as such when preparing to take shots.
The first monuments we saw were called Sentinel Mesa ( Mesa means table top or flats ) and this was a huge rock formation which basically was totally flat on top, you could see the timeline in the various layers of rock and sediment which was pretty amazing, all of the area goes back some 160 million years when the area was covered in water, the water subsided over the millennia and acids in the water carved out certain distinct features. But to be able to see the layers and the colors just shows how incredible nature is. The next stop was to see 2 famous monuments called the Mittens; they truly look like a pair of mittens referred to east and west mittens. The day was a little cloudy so we didn't get any sunlight which would have highlighted the colors even more and allowed some shadows paly as well but the benefit was having neutral light cover which was good for exposure.
Next was Camel Butte - 3 large spires which did look like camels humps. Then we saw the three sisters, the totem pole and then we went to an amazing area with holes in the rocks, not little holes but massive holes, all around the holes were natural rock with the most amazing colors.
Bobby asked if we would like to see and hear some traditional entertainment, we accepted his offer and he hooked up with another guide who would sing a couple of traditional Navajo songs and Bobby would play the wooden flute, directly under a huge arch which had the most incredible acoustics. The singing was just incredible and the young man told us that he and most Navajo children are raised by their grandparents, they have such faith in their traditional beliefs and upbringing he chose to sing about his grandparents, he was just amazing and we found out he has a CD to buy which we plan to do. After this short performance which was done just for us whilst we lay back looking up to the ceiling of the archway we headed off for some more amazing sights. So far we had been gone about 1.5 hours and seen a lot of sights, gone over some really rough sand dunes, hence the 4WD, incidentally whilst we were taking photos, he got a call from another guide who had gotten himself bogged - so Bobby asked if we would mind taking a quick detour to help out - naturally we were happy to help him.
We saw some more amazing areas where there were again holes in the ceiling of the massive structures, and then saw some original petroglyphs dating back to about 1200AD as well the remains of some pottery and a small structure which would have been a residence for the people of the time.
We were planning to head back just as the sun started to peek through the clouds and shone onto many of the monuments, so there was time for one last stop to capture the lighting, the colors were just amazing, I just cannot imagine that my photos will do it justice, despite taking about 600 photos just on this tour.
Well the time was up as it was nearly 7:30pm and Bobby drove us back to our campground, we gave him a nice decent tip and said we would give a good review on Trip Advisor which i will do at the earliest chance.
I also bought this beautiful Indian Wooden flute - there were $260 at the campsite but as a small trading post we found one for $100, it's still a lot of money but the instrument sounds so nice and I’m sure i can belt out a tune after some practise.
This was the most spectacular afternoon and i felt a strange connection to the place.
Back to the RV for some dinner.
We are off to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. It's a 3.5 hour drive this time which is good as I have done some very big drives and it will be nice not to spend so much time driving.
I woke up at 4:00am to go and take some night photos of some monument rocks etc., there would be long exposure to capture some late night details otherwise not seen, I took about 35 photos and with a minimum 45 second exposure - they look pretty nice too.
Well back in the RV at 5:30am, will have some coffee and wake the other about 7:30am and get ready to leave for the Grand Canyon.
Well the drive to the Grand Canyon was pretty good all round, we were able to stop at a few road side Indian store which i had been so looking forward to, but unfortunately the bracelets i bought here many years ago were not available, so we just got a few dream catchers and arrow heads.
We arrived at the Grand Canyon at about 1:00pm and went to a lookout called the watch tower, this was built in 1932 by a lady who had far too much money as it's quite a fort, from my limited understanding it was not there to server any other purpose other than to give an advantageous view point, 360 degree view of the south rim and down to the Colorado river. There were heaps of tourists, mostly French who you could hear a mile away. We all enjoyed this opportunity and went through the gift shops - I got a couple of sew on patches for my collection and then we went back to the RV for some corn dogs and hot dogs for lunch.
The next viewpoint to stop at was called Moran’s Point, however as we had experienced in the past the RV parking was taken up by regular cars which meant we could actually stop - this annoys the crap out of me as it just illustrates how rude and inconsiderate some people can be.
We continued onto the next stop called Kiki Point but you were not allowed to park here as it was reserved for tour buses only, this meant that yet again people chose to park either side of the entry practically blocking the roadways, so all we could do was to get to the camp ground unpack, plug in and go for our own walk.
After settling in we wandered over to the nearest tourist centre and bought a few things, I got a book called "Death in the Grand Canyon" - this is about all the fatalities which have occurred in The Grand Canyon over the last hundred years or so up to and including last year - it is just mind blowing how stupid some people are and this book clearly tells the story. Funnily enough when we went to walk to the south rim trail the maps were all wrong so we ended up just roughing it through the bush, we finally came across the trail close to where we wanted to be and proceeded along a paved path to the Moran’s Point which we had tried to view on the drive in. There are so many people who totally ignore the rules and step right to the edge of a 1000 ft. drop with no regard for the fact that they could lose balance, slip or the fact that these million year old limestone rocks could give way at any time, kids and adults alike seem to have to regard for safety. I was pushing on the kids not to stand on or even near the rails as there was too much risk in my mind and it’s just not worth taking that extra step up on to a railing to get a slightly better view when you can see just as well standing back and well within safe areas. The rail guards only cover small portions of the rim as from what i read it would take enough steel to make railing to cover the entire rim to go around the entire earth, there are over 4000 miles of rim walks and apparently it is just not feasible, this is perhaps why so many people fall to their death as they can walk right up to the edge and pear over extreme drops. It was making me cranky how many people continued to be right at the edge despite so many signs encouraging them to stay well back. Anyway we continued down the path but to be honest I really couldn't see the point in walking to every single lookout as the view was the same, unless the time of day has changed significantly then the light is the same and the picture people take are very average due to the amount of haze, it's very difficult to get beautiful picture unless you prepare yourself either in the early morning sunlight or the late afternoon sun when the lighting is at its optimum, so based on his i was more inclined to suggest we walk through the bush and enjoy what nature had to offer, sounds funny for someone who likes taking photos so much but no point if they are going to be substandard.
So upon walking the path we noticed people crowded around a very large moose like animal, turns out it was a female "Elk", I happened to be positions perfectly for some very nice photos, when the elk decided to do what many stupid people do and walk around the railing very close to the edge, i got some close up photos of the elk with the canyon behind it, which i was very happy with. Along the way we saw quite a few more elk's and a couple of little "Deer", unfortunately people once again had no respect for wildlife nor the rules set out by the park and were touching and feeding the elks, it is mentioned on numerous occasions not to go within 6 feet of any wildlife and under no circumstances feed them, common sense should have prevailed but not here.
We went back to camp and noticed that our neighbours were collecting fire wood, to start a fire which was strictly prohibited, I could tell they were going to do it and I started talking to the kids about why you are not allowed to do so, it looked like for a while that they had heard me and were going to refrain from lighting it, that was only short lived as around dusk they lit the fire with no regard for the fact that they were in a national park and there were large trees with overhanging branches right near us and them, anyway it got the better of me and i went and said something to them, I wasn't rude but also not overly friendly and i was cross, shortly afterwards they did put out the fire.
Well tomorrow we need an early start to get on the road to make another long drive to Las Vegas; I plan to wake everyone at 7:00am to enable us to leave by 7:30am.
The weather is very comfortable so were not expecting any cold nights like we have had over the last couple of days.
We left at what i thought was 7:00am but it turns out i had forgotten to adjust my clock and it was actually only 6:00am, bugger because I had now been up since 3:30am and knew i would later pay the price, no matter it meant that we could take the drive a little easier without rushing to get to our destination.
The roads were terrible and so bad that it wasn't possible to sit anywhere near the speed limit, due to rough surfaces etc., this didn't stop truckies screaming past us and these guys had a lot of trouble staying in a straight line whilst doing 130 kph. There were also no rest stops for the entire 6 hours so it made for a very long and tiring drive. We finally stopped after two and a half hours for the first time and finally got to stop in at a "Dunkin Doughnuts" which I had been longing for since arriving, we got a selection of doughnuts and I bought the biggest coffee mug you have ever seen for about $6. After a short rest we continued on for the rest of the trip knowing that we most likely won't have anywhere to stop until we reach Las Vegas, however we made really good time so much so that we had time to stop at Hoover Dam. It had changed an awful lot since i was last here, there is a massive big arched bridge that was only built in the last few years which you need to drive over whilst travelling the highway, not something i remember doing, you can also park and walk across the bridge looking down to the dam itself. So we did the walk across and then went down and parked to go and walk across the dam and to the visitor centre, we bought Lilia a little stuffed cat in basket, Jack got a stuffed Jackalope ( yep this is a real animal - highly elusive and quite rare these animals are a cross breed between a jack rabbit and an antelope, bred in the 1880's a few escaped their enclosures and bred in the wild), and i bought another little book on the history and construction of Hoover Dam. It bought back lots of memories and it was really worth going.
It was not only 30 minutes until we would arrive at Las Vegas so much so that you could see it in the distance - it's not like the last time I arrived at night-time though and you couldn't really tell it was Las Vegas as there were no lights, but Wendy could tell it was due to the shape of a few buildings, I wasn't sure to be honest but Wendy was right and we finally made it by about 3:00pm.
We had to go straight to MGM Grand to pick up tickets for tonight’s Cirque Du Soleil show called "KA" which was on at 7:00pm. Getting there in the RV was difficult as the lanes were very narrow and we had some very close calls within mm of hitting other buses and cars due to our extended side mirrors. We got there in time and were then keen to go back to the other end of the Las Vegas strip to "Circus Circus" where we were staying. All up the little trip took well over an hour due to all the traffic and pedestrians.
After checking in we had a couple of hours to go walking the strip and to get some dinner, but first we went via the "Adventure Dome" this is an inside adventure park with 25 rides inside Circus Circus, myself and the kids got passes for unlimited rides as the place didn't shut until midnight - Jack and I went on the world’s biggest indoor double loop and twist roller coaster and then Jack and Lilia played some putt putt golf, they had a great time but we needed to eat, however getting a meal wasn't what it used to be as the buffet had a massive line as did other restaurants we tried to go to. So we walked and walked and went to Denny's which was great, no line to wait and the food was very cheap and good. But despite enjoying the food we were fast running out of time as we needed to get to the end of the strip back to MGM by 6:45pm for our show, we made it with minutes to spare after having to deal with Disneyworld like crowds and hundreds of people trying to push call girl cards into your faces - yep prostitutes are everywhere and you just need to turn a blind eye. I remember when we were here in 1981 and dad walked ahead of us the same thing happened to him, so nothing has changed in that regard.
We got to the MGM and went and took our seats for "KA" we were right in the middle 6 rows from the front, the best seats we could have hoped for - no doubt again due to Wendy's early planning. The show costs a small fortune so I was very pleased to see that they treat you very well and even gave both kids cushions to sit on so as they could see everything without stretching and sitting uncomfortably for the duration of the show. No photos allowed which is understandable as you wouldn't do very well in such low light conditions anyway, plus there would be a souvenir book available to purchase which we would do after the show.
Well words cannot describe the show; it is absolutely incredible with the most amazing storyline, costumes, acrobatics and stage performances I have ever seen. There were times that they were performing on a vertical stage - the stage was mechanical and could rotated 360 degrees and added to the degree of difficulty that the performers all took for granted, they put on a great 90 minute show and the crowd was in awe. We all enjoyed it thoroughly.
Well it was not about 8:30pm. Getting back up the strip was a huge challenge due to the crowds, we had hoped to see the Bellagio Fountain show, but we couldn't really get any vantage point to see it properly, Lilia was on my shoulders so she could see it good but Jack had to try and squeeze though all the big adults blocking his view, I took what will likely be pretty crappy photos but it was the best we could manage. We also missed out on seeing the Sirens show at Treasure Island due to the number of people, but again there wasn't much we could do but walk with the crowds for another 7 blocks or so. To make walking the strip worse there are many intersections where there is no pedestrian crossing of lights to enable crossing the street and many times we were re-routed through hotels and up elevators to pass via bridges, this just added to the difficulty in getting back. We finally made it back to Circus Circus at about 10:30pm but we needed to go back to the theme park to get some money’s worth from the $75 it cost to but our unlimited ride passes, we end up going a few more rides and saw a short 4D movie on SpongeBob Square pants and then Jack and I had 2 games of Laser Tag which he enjoyed so much. It was just about midnight now and the park was due to close shortly so we went back to get some much deserved sleep. It was quite a warm night too but was confortable.
I got up at 6:00am so as I could go to the casino to do a little gambling, I won a huge $10 but quit playing shortly after losing it again very quickly, it was just a bit of fun for me, I went for a quick stroll got a coffee and a doughnut and went back to wake the family as it was not about 7:30am and time to get up. Wendy had just woken but we let the kids sleep a little bit longer.
We are going to be heading up to San Francisco today, it will be too long a drive to get there in one day so we will likely stop at Kettleman City which is about a 6 hour drive, we don't have any deadline so we can take it a little easier than normal. Only a few more days to go now.
We plan to leave at about 9:00 and should arrive at our stopover about 4:30 pm with allowance for a couple of stops.
I got up at 6:00am to go to the casino just to have a quick go, I only took $20 to play with and pretty much lost it all, I won $10 at the end and called it quits after such a big win, bought a coffee and Krispy crème. I wandered around the streets for 30 minutes before heading back to wake the family.
We got up and went to have the breakfast buffet at Circus Circus, it cost about $50 for all of us but we had a good breaky and were ready for another long drive. I actually had 2 servings of bacon, eggs and sausages then 4 pancakes and then finally some doughnuts, Jack had bacon and eggs, scrambled eggs, french toast and some other stuff, Lilia had peaches and yogurt whilst Wendy had bacon and eggs and then a bagel with salmon and sour cream. We all enjoyed it and headed back to the RV as we needed to get going. By the time we were ready it was just about 11:00am - time for check out anyway.
We headed out of town and said goodbye to Las Vegas - city of sin.
First stop was to get fuel, as we approached the service station we saw signs saying that there were massive delays on the highway, there wasn't much we could do as it was pretty much the only route. When we got fuel the guy inside said the highway was closed due to grass fires, but because we saw everyone else going that way we decided to continue and ignore the warnings as the only suggested route would have been to back track via Las Vegas to Hoover Dam and then to come down the other side of Las Vegas, all in all it would have taken over an hour so we continued down the highway. Not too long and the traffic came to a standstill all 3 lanes were stuck and we could see for miles the cars waiting, there was no turning back no though, but we couldn't determine what the cause may have been whether it was traffic accidents or fires as we were cautioned about. Well we were stuck for over an hour and during this time there were so many cars which pulled into the emergency lane or worse still went off road and down the side of the road via the dirt tracks, on a few occasions we saw the same cars being overtaken by the slow moving traffic, but it was really annoying as they were all just trying to cut the traffic which everyone had to put up to. Finally we got through it and with great surprise we saw that the police had caught many of the short cutters.
Well it looked pretty dismal ahead, very dark and most likely was dust from the Death Valley area, renowned for its wicked dust storms. It sure was a dust storm so much so that the wind was similar to what we experienced in Texas that horrible night when we got snowed in, and the visibility was down to about 50 feet.
After yet again struggling to keep the RV in a straight line due to such immense winds we had no option but to pull over in a rest area, the wind and dust was just incredible and the most amazing dust storm we had ever seen or heard of. After asking some locals we were told that this was very uncommon and it could continue for hours or days, we couldn't wait as we felt very unsafe with the howling winds and dust - the dust was so strong it would sting your legs when trying to walk outside.
We proceeded with great caution and decided we would have to stop at the nearest town - the town was Mojave famous for its desserts. Funnily enough this is where Richard Branson launched his first intergalactic space flight some months earlier as we later found out when we went for dinner at a place called Jack in the box. We got talking to one fellow who was interested in our accents, when we started talking the whole restaurant stopped to listen to us chat, just prior the place was a hive of talking with families and others chatting, but the place fell silent when we were talking to this guy who had heard of Australia only through TV, they obviously hadn't had many if any Aussie here before, it was like a small ghost town so fair enough i guess.
Well we stayed at a little Inn called Executive Inn; it was reasonably priced but had a bit of a smell about it, probably due to not having any guests stay here for a while.
Outside when looking towards the mountains there were wind farms extending as far as the eye could see, presumably they take advantage of the massive winds that seem apparent all the time. We enjoyed dinner and each had a hot bath to freshen up before getting an early night, it would be a very early start tomorrow as we needed to make up a few hours due to the storm today.
We left Mojave at about 7:00am and headed for San Francisco - it would be a 5 hour drive and we needed to see Muir Woods National Park before closing and do sightseeing of San Francisco, so there was no time to stay put and enjoy the freezing cold conditions. On our way we still experienced extreme winds which we would later discover was not normal. Along the way we saw more wind farms going hell for leather, some didn't move at all but most were going so fast we could tell there were significant winds about, this yet again caused the driving to be less than ideal and the RV once again was difficult to keep in a straight line. We stopped for fuel twice on the way the 2nd time we had brunch at a place called Fosters - burgers and shakes, we each had a burger and settled out empty stomachs. We drove through a lot of very picturesque area mostly farms of Almond trees and flowers. It was now about 12:00pm and we only had another hour or so to arrive on the outskirts of San Francisco. The traffic started to increase significantly which told us we were certainly getting close, despite the GPS sending us on a bit of a run around. We needed to back track just a little way to get us back on the right highway but did so without too much difficulty. Once we arrived on the edge of the city we could see San Francisco in all its glory, the tall buildings stood proud as did 2 fabulous bridges - neither of which were the famed Golden Gate - well not just yet anyway. Within minutes we got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge which Lilia appropriately named the Red Bridge. We had to drive very carefully as the roads were extremely narrow and definitely not designed for RV's, so much so that both side mirrors over hung both side lines and was a little scary to say the least, what made things worse was the huge winds which just kept thrashing us about, something which I was getting more accustomed to each time we experienced it. We drove through the tight roads seemingly being the only RV in the city - as Wendy pointed out it would be like driving a huge RV through the little back streets of Sydney city - it just isn't something we would do not expect to see but what choice did we really have.
We proceeded to find parking and entered a parking lot within a few blocks of Pier 39 at Fishermen’s Wharf, this spot was chosen by me as I happened to see a lone RV parked within the car park, well it turns out that we could enter but we couldn't find parking nor could we exit due to the number of cars parks and the tight space in which you could manoeuvre the vehicle, this turned out to be a bad decision on my behalf but we were pretty much stuck, so i carefully positioned ourselves in a handicapped zone and took up two spaces just to fit the RV, we paid $40 to stop there and figured we had better just stay put and hopefully when we return there would be some cars that had moved enabling us to get out of the sardine can we were in. The wind was absolutely howling and it felt like minus 10 but we proceeded to walk down to the main Pier and see the sights. 1 Day is definitely not enough, well 3 hours anyway to see San Francisco as it needs a good couple of days to wander about leisure and see everything. But we made use of our time and walked up Lombard Street to view the crooked street from afar, the closest we could get in the timeframe we had but the kids could see it and were pleased anyway. A few more blocks away was Fishermen’s wharf which we walked to; the crowds were amazing as this must be the number one tourist spot. We saw plenty of new and older cable cars which was again a bit of a novelty and fun to see, however catching one was out of the question as you needed to have exact coinage for each passenger, that meant $8 in quarters which we just didn't have. After some wandering of the shops and buying some souvenirs and a couple of books we continued to enjoy the various shops and the kids had a go on a beautiful old merry go round. Wendy was lucky enough to find a lovely charm for her Pandora bracelet of a San Francisco cable car also which was lucky. We walked to the end of the pier and overlooked Alcatraz Island but we could only view it for a short time as the wind was just incredible and made the temperature very uncomfortable. Jack bought some fish and calamari, we got a couple more squashed pennies for the kid’s collections - these are available pretty much everywhere as good little souvenirs, they each have a special little wallet in which to keep and display them also.
We were aware of the time and needed to get going soon to allow us sufficient time to get to and enjoy Muir woods - it was only about 40 minutes away but we had to get back to the RV, get the RV out of the tight parking and then navigate the streets of San Francisco without hitting anything along the way. After clearing the way we were back on track and about to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. It sure is a marvel to see and is absolutely beautiful and so big, driving across was a little hairy as the winds was just carving it up and the bridge itself was swaying happily. With 10 lanes of traffic the bridge was full to capacity so there wasn't much room for error if any, but i carefully got us across whilst the family enjoyed looking about, i unfortunately didn't really get to see much as i had my eagle eyes hones in perfectly on the white lines either side of the RV so as not to stray. Getting across was a bit of a relief and we could then concentrate on getting to the Muir Woods National Park - this is where the huge redwood trees are. I seems to think that i had been here as a young boy but I am actually not too sue as I remember driving through or seeing cars drive through the base of a huge tree. We arrived at the start of the entry to Muir Woods only to see a few warning about taking campers and large vehicles - neither of which was recommended, we would soon find out that this is a very tight and curvy patch of road which has significant drops either side of the road and was very scary to drive, most of the time i was doing 10 - 15 mph hour and had to take extreme caution not to plummet over the side, needless to say Wendy was not real happy with the road and was pretty much beside herself the whole drive. It was about a 20 minute drive and we even missed the turn and now had to somehow do a u turn on these tight roads to get back, i was able to do so after a few minutes and then needed to make a very sharp turn in order to get through the entry. It was one hell of a drive that I will never forget. Well we made it down the mountain and entered the park only to find out that there was no parking for RV's and all the spots had been taken by small cars, this was hugely frustrating as we needed to drive about a mile out of the park only to walk back, despite being told by 2 park rangers that we could park in the bus zone, when we tried to another park ranger lady said we were not allowed, what made this more frustrating was that there were cars which had done exactly what were not allowed to do despite having already paid our park entry fees.
Well anyway we were in no position to argue and finally found a spot some 5 minutes away. We walked back via a nice path and entered into the park only to be overwhelmed by the large trees and the expansiveness of this particular forest, it was truly spectacular. We stopped by the gift shop and bought the obligatory souvenirs and continued walking through some tracks, we got lots of excellent photos many of which the kids were able to stand in or around some of the largest trees we had ever seen. Well it was now about 5:00pm and we needed to get going so as to find out RV Park in a place called Marin City - this was on the other side of the San Francisco and only about 15 minutes drive. We fortunately had another route to take so as to avoid the treacherous roads we took when we arrived and it was a little better. We made it to Marin City but the RV park office was already closed but had fortunately left a RV number for us to pull into and prepare for the night ahead, it was cold and we expected it to be a freezing cold night but wasn't so bad after all. We had attempted to walk around and find something to eat, but after 30 minutes of walking in the freezing conditions we gave up and headed back to the RV to eat what we had leftover in the fridge, Pizza, Egg Rolls, Hot Dogs and Corn Dogs, luckily we did have some food available as we were all starving.
Lilia and I played her 1 Direction game until about 9:00pm and Jack watched a video, at about 9:30pm they were all fast asleep and i did a little reading.
Tomorrow we plan to leave nice and early to get through to San Francisco to get some photos of the Golden Gate before peak hour traffic starts so it will be an early start. We will then head to San Jose to tour the Winchester Mystery House.
Up at 5:00am to allow enough time to update the travel blog and get ready for the drive into San Francisco and onto San Jose.
Well we did leave at 6:30am and got to the Golden Gate Bridge viewing area to get some nice photos of the bay area and the bridge spanning the bay all in nice time however it took 3 hours to get to San Jose which should have been an hour drive, all due to peak hour traffic. When we arrived at Winchester Mystery House they let us delay our tour for 30 minutes so as we could get something to eat and drink first. The memories of this place are a little different, i seem to remember that there were a lot more land or at least house property, as it stands today there is hardly any land surrounding the actual house and it is taken up with shops and cinemas, perhaps it was the same but it was so long ago i can't fully remember, I asked one of the staff and it was in and around 1980 when they sold a lot of the land to the government, so perhaps my memory wasn't too far off.
We had 2 tours to do today, a standard house tour as well as a special behind the scenes tour. The gardens and outside of the house are the only places where taking photos are permitted so naturally i took plenty of photos. Just prior to entering the house for the first tour at 10:00am we bought a couple of squashed pennies and looked around at a little firearms museum and we were ready for the tour. Upon entering they take a family photo, not that we were going to purchase it but Jack and Lilia stood in front of Wendy and I whilst the kids held a Winchester rifle each, but we were dressed liked camper travellers and the photo wouldn't have been up to scratch. We entered through the carriage doors which was where Sarah Winchester used to have her horse drawn carriage drive into the actual house to avoid poor weather, they asked us to refrain from photos and to hand over my newly purchased super-size Winchester Coffee travel mug, which i did knowing i would get it upon exiting the tour. We had a young girl called Shay who had only done a handful of tours but knew her stuff, i came to know quite a bit about this place as i had done huge amounts of research out of interest prior to leaving Sydney and she was on the mark. We walked through the house for about 60 minutes and lagged behind a few times as i just needed to take a few photos despite the rules, although i knew i would later buy a book which would cover of the photographic needs i sought. There seemed to be more places which were restricted now and everything was cut off from tourists behind red velvet lines. However it was truly an amazing place and story. After the house tour we were scheduled to go on the behind the scenes and garden tour which took us to places only opened to the public some years ago, definitely worth doing as i had read a lot about it. We had a nice young man called Donald who had a lot of great jokes along the way and specifically included Jack and Lilia and Jack even participated in telling a few jokes along the way. We got to see all the outhouses including the garage, fruit drying barn, water shed and then the most exciting was going into the basement. The basement was particularly interesting as they used to import coal from Australia as it was the cheapest option. Sarah Winchester was very innovative as they had their own Gas Producing plant, Boiler and electricity which were generated by 3 different means. The gardens held a lot of significance also which were truly amazing and kept in perfect condition. The house begun tours within a month of Sarah's death in 1922 and some years later was purchased by a local business however we don’t get told nor is there any information as to who bought and manages it.
Well it was time to visit the gift shop again to make our purchases, of which we bought a book, patch and DVD on the house and its secrets.
Unfortunately Wendy was getting really crook as a migraine was coming on, so we went back to the RV for her to rest a while and Lilia and I went to find some lunch.
This surrounding area is like the richest place and everything was designer, including the burger joints. Jack wanted just a cheeseburger but they cost $10 each, Lilia only wanted a smoothie but we couldn't get one so she settled for a milkshake whilst we bought Wendy a subway roll, all up this little lunch time adventure cost nearly $50.
When me and Lilia got back Wendy’s condition had only gotten much worse to the point where we couldn't drive anywhere and had to stay put for nearly 3 hours, this obviously wasn't ideal for hew not our schedule to get back to our LA hotel by tonight. At about 3:00pm we drove for a while but i could tell Wendy wasn't very well and found a pharmacy to get some tablets and medicine to help her, this however meant we were stuck in the parking lot for another good couple of hours, by which time it was nearly 6:00pm and there was just no way we could make it to LA tonight. So i looked for the nearest RV Park on the way south and it was just about an hour away. After Wendy had settled sufficiently for us to drive we drove to Los Banos which was on highway 5 and at least heading in the right direction to LA but still 5 hours away. We pulled in to a Motel 6 where Wendy would have been able to have a hot bath and try to fully recover. Despite changing plans to stay at a motel instead of the RV Park the place didn't have bath plugs so we had to dodge something up to allow her to have a soak. After unpacking just what we needed for the night Jack and I went to get some dinner at a place called the Iron Skillet, it is just the most amazing place with restaurant, gift shop, truck stop, games room, cinema for those weary truck drivers etc., we ordered the best meals and took them back to the room. It worked out the best way it could have under the circumstances.
Let’s hope Wendy is feeling better in the morning. Funnily enough Wendy and Lilia both had strange experiences with the Séance room at Winchester House, Wendy suddenly felt the room move and saw a man’s figure on the roof and Lilia though she had seen a ghost also, both told their stories at different times and i don't believe either were influenced by the other, strange, very strange. This is also when Wendy's headaches started to occur. She isn't too keen to ever visit again but Lilia would like to live there.
It is now 7:00am and the kids and Wendy are still asleep although it appears Wendy has recovered and we should be heading off soon. We have a 5 hour drive ahead of us and unfortunately we must get back tonight as we leave US tomorrow, so fingers crossed for an easy wind free drive.
Its 1:06pm and because we were so short of time I ignored what 'Missy' was telling me ( More about Missy shortly...) and went at about 80mph for most of the trip, the roads were in poor condition, more so on the far right lane as this is the designated truck lane so it cops a lot of traffic.
'Missy' is our GPS we had to name her as she was a bit of a dummy, she had a tendency to get her left and right correct, as well it was common for her to send us not only on a wild goose chase but in circles, just repeating the same circular track for ages. Anyway that’s Missy.
When we were trying to enter the address for the hotel it wouldn't accept the exact address number, often we would try to redefine the exact destination when we were closer, however this time we ended up going down to a cold-e-sac and construction all around full with truck and cement mixers in the street I was stuck. A guy in a huge Ute needed to get out, i reversed as far as I could to let him get out and do the required 75 point turn. Now this enabled me an opportunity to use his space to get in a nice 24 point turn instead. Sure enough we got out and drove straight ahead and just had to cross the road and we could see the hotel on the right, easy.
Ok we got across the road ok but this hotel is not our Cockatoo, ours was further down and on the left. Ok last 3 point turn to do then we are home free, got down to our hotel ok but they don't have parking, so not direct access to our room as we had expected. So we get to the Cockatoo Inn hotel at about 1:25pm, we had pre-arranged this room for last night and tonight so as we had somewhere to unload the RV, pack and all the other things that needed to be done, whilst also waiting until 7:00pm when we have a shuttle bus taking us to LAX.
So after struggling to temporarily and quickly unpack the RV, so as to even allow us to get into the room, we packed everything we had into plastic souvenir store bags and made post haste for the room. We loaded the hotels one and only trolley with bag upon bag. It really looked like i was moving enough stuff for 3 families not just 1.
We sure had a lot of stuff and I couldn’t even take a photo. Up to the room we unload everything and now the rush is on to get the RV back.
So we didn't have time to wash the RV, not dump the tanks, nor fill the gas, clean the inside properly (it was kept clean daily but it's not like you could vacuum the place as you went) and just a while ago Jack and Lilia managed to break off completely a door which had come unhinged during the trip. Crikey Moses, it was madness.
I had kept the screws for the dislodged hinge throughout the trip and used these to push back into the hinges to get the door looking like it was ok, upon close inspection though you can see that two of the four hinges have snapped, this was a door without handles as it covered some piping only, so it was never even meant to be opened.
We set Missy for her last chore 22335 E 223rd, easy right, well you have got to be kidding trying to get here was a battle and a half - turn of highway 105 down 190Th / Carson E???? That was typical of the instructions we would be given - I gave up going the wrong way and rung the RV place and we were told we were just a block parallel to them...well that was a crock. It took us another 10 minutes to find them as 1 block here must mean each block consisting of a suburb each. Finally got there and Wendy was emotional as it had been quite trying in getting here and she just needed to let it out, it was good timing as the first guy to inspect the vehicle saw Wendy and could see she was upset and basically quickly looked inside and gave us the go ahead - no checking, no tank level testing nothing.
I went and settled the bill, I was even honest enough to tell them what we had no time to get done and would accept the charges incurred.
They tried to hit us $171.00 for a TAX we had pre-paid but I discussed it with them and they came to agree with me. They were convinced that we could not have paid tax as the different states in which we drove had different percentages and therefore it is always paid at the end so as it could be calculated based on the state variables, however they were accepting the originally quoted total, so I said if you have no intention to recalculate what was the point of the whole discussion, assume we have paid, when and if we cannot produce our receipt ( which we had back home as this was paid for a month before we even left AU ) then charge us. They refunded the whole $500 security deposit and we could leave, they had a taxi there waiting for us. The taxi driver took us to Wal-Mart.
We had to by extra luggage to fit in everything, we bought 2 whole sets of 5 and arranged another taxi to get us back to the hotel, the taxi arrived within a few minute and we wanted to pay by VISA but his machine was broken, Wendy had only just tried to get cash out inside Wal-Mart via an ATM but she couldn't work it. The taxi driver offered to help Wendy use the ATM; he couldn't figure it out either so drove us to the nearest ATM to get cash out. He was very nice and talkative and was kind enough not to start his meter until after getting the cash out. We got back to our hotel and gave him a nice $10 tip as he deserved it.
Quickly to the room as Wendy (no way I’m going to try) needed to pack, i offered to go and get some dinner.
Well the luggage fitted finally, but I put money on it that my two carry-on bags would have weighed more than our big ones, they were jam packed; mostly due to all the books Wendy kept on buying.
Well to our surprise our shuttle bus was downstairs unloading his last drop offs, David was from Mexico and was one of those nice guys but he couldn’t take us on that bus because it had to go to the mechanics. So he was getting another bus and arrived back a short time later, he opened the back door ready for me to start loading and there was this great big bus door lying where the luggage was to go. I helped him move this door over to the block where cars were parking as guests, we dumped it and came back and loaded all 12 suitcases, done now we just had to get to the airport within 3 hours and we would be fine. 20 minutes later we were loading the bags on two trolleys and went to check-in, nice and early no crowds everything was now down to the weight of our bags, excess charges would be highly likely we thought and had prepared ourselves for this, well the bags were just under weight limits and we got our boarding passes just like normal, phew.
The plane type was changed to a 747 instead of a 380, so based on our very original plans and tickets, the plane had now changed 3 times, which meant that our original awesome seats now became standard 4 row squashed seating. Plane was leaving at 10:30pm and would be in the air for 14 hours. Kids played games whilst we waited, and as usual upon boarding, parents with children are offered early boarding precedence.
Kids get offered their meals first and not long after we had taken off
the kids watched some TV a movie or played games on the headrest entertainment system. Within minutes of having a little to eat the kids were falling asleep, Lilia nodded of pretty much for most of the trip and occasionally stretched out across me to get a little more comfy, whilst poor jack was restless and couldn’t get comfy for hours, he eventually nodded of but he was already too big and just couldn’t get into a position the settled him, he was stretched out across me competing with leg space with Lilia.
Wendy got patches of sleep despite not being very comfortable either but I struggled to get any sleep the whole time, Jack head was overhanging his armrest and every time a person or worse a trolley would come by I had to stick my hand over his noggin to stop it from getting hit, it was making me laugh.
We have landed at 6:30am it is now Friday and we left on Wednesday night, it sure feels like Thursday but we don’t get one.
Wendy and I are feeling very jet lagged.
The shuttle bus will not be here to pick us up, so we hire a car to get us home which we will return this afternoon to Richmond.
Holiday officially over.