A Travellerspoint blog

DAY 2 - SAN DIEGO ZOO

sunny 19 °C

Hanging onto the hire car while in San Diego has been really good advice that I picked up, probably a forum somewhere. San Diego is a big city and so much easier to explore and get to places without taking hours on public transport. We've discovered that public transport is quite expensive x 5 people and it is really worthwhile weighing up the pros and cons, depending on where you are and for how long when deciding on whether you will need a car or not.

After a long day walking around the Zoo and SeaWorld it was very nice to get back in the car and let Wayne chauffeur home the weary travellers without sitting on crowded buses that take hours battling the peak hour traffic.

We'd picked up some information about the zoo and been warned about the very steep paths. A day at SD zoo needs some planning! It is an enormous park and even includes a Skyfari aerial tram to get you to the far side so you can then walk mostly down hill back to the entrance. Our city pass included tickets for both the Skyfari and the Bus tour which was a bonus so we boarded the gondola and soared above the trees towards the Polar Bear Plunge.

Unfortunately, our timing here again was all wrong. Polar bears obviously like to sleep a lot and enjoy the sun, they weren't moving off their rock!

With such a big zoo we had no intention of trying to get to every exhibit but rather the animals we don't often get to see in Perth. Of course the panda was high on our list as was the grizzly bear.

The gorillas were being very aloof and mysterious. As we arrived , 3 of them were sitting with their back to the glass with an occasional turn of their head to see who was watching.
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The group of gorillas also included a 39 year old silver back who was very impressive. When he moved, everyone got out of his way!
This orangutan appealed to us and was enjoying having his photo taken, even prettied up his hair to join in. Can you spot the difference between the four of them? Which one doesn't belong?
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We made it around to the panda bear enclosure and were excited to be able to see the new panda baby called Zhen Zhen. She is 10 months old and only been on show to the public for the last month. Her favourite spot is perched up high in the tree but "mum" graced us with her presence. She woke up from her slumber to come and sit in front of us, methodically breaking apart some bamboo stalks. What beautiful, serene animals. They appear to be so docile.
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Our final must see, (we saw heaps of other animals but won't bore you with all their details) was the grizzly enclosure. I can remember back to when Perth zoo had a grizzly in the horrible concrete boxes so it was more pleasing to see this enclosure, while not huge it was stimulating and the two 16 month old bear cubs were enjoying each others' company playing chasey and wrestling.
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Another animal which I thought were just way too cute were the pygmy hippo. They looked like toys so just had to put in this photo too.
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I was impressed with this lion because as I called to her, she looked up!
The kids have been spotting all the school buses around the area as what is recognisable from movies so when this one was parked at the zoo carpark we just had to have another photo.
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Posted by fiveofus 23:06 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

CALIFORNIA FUN PASS - SEAWORLD

sunny 19 °C

The beginning of 2 weeks of theme parks started at Seaworld San Diego. We handed over a very large sum of money at the gates to Seaworld for a South California City pass which gives us entry to the 5 big parks, Seaworld, Sand Diego Zoo, Disneyland, Universal Studios and California Adventure over a 14 day period with a re-entry into Disney or California Adventures. Good value when you break it all down but the initial figure of over $1000
takes your breath away!

Of course the big ticket item at Seaworld is Shamu , the biggest Killer Whale in captivity, however there is so much more here to see. With programme of events tucked under our arms we planned our day around the shows of dolphins, sea lions and otters, and of course the killer whales.

It's been years since I had seen a dolphin show, back in the day of Atlantis at Yanchep, and not much has changed! Beautiful, graceful animals with some different tricks. I think the best one was the dolphin interpreting a great white, good lesson for all of us!
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The sea lions performed on a submarine stage and were very humorous with some very clever acts to lots of music and humour. They even had a sea otter as part of the show as well.
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In between shows there were interactions with the dolphins and seals where you could buy fish to hand feed them . I thought it was abalone they were feeding them at the price they were charging for little fish, but hey, it's not every day you get to hand feed dolphins and give them a rub on the nose. The competition to actually get it into the dolphin or seal's mouth before a bird caught it mid flight or straight out of your hand was a challenge in itself.
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"Believe" was the title of the show for the killer whales and told a story of a young boy who always dreamed of being a killer whale trainer. The show had a total of 4 magnificent whales that performed the most amazing manoevres for such enormous animals. The trust and mutual respect between the trainer and whales was just incredible. The favourite part of the show for everyone was the "Shamu " chant when he swims around the edge of the pool swishing his tail to see how far he can splash the crowd. About half of the entire viewing area is marked as a soak zone and it definitely became one. The force he had with his tail was awesome.
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Another of my favourites to see was the polar bear. The entire region for the polar bears was set up as an Arctic camp which you walked through tunnels and it had displays of how it would be living on a base camp.
There were 3 polar bears, luckily one woke up long enough to have a little stretch and a wander so I could get some photos but unfortunately we couldn't coerce him to have a swim.P1010361.jpg
Of course the penguins were a must see and we enjoyed looking at the different breeds in real life after studying the different varieties last year at school.
The flamingoes were also so spectacular I had to include a photo.
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After managing to stay out of the splash zone in all the shows for the day we couldn't resist riding the Shipwreck Rapids. As we lined up we thought it looked quite tame until we started to pass people coming off the rafts - they were soaked! Luckily, this was our last bit of the day and it looked like fun. Well fun it was, wet fun definitely. The raft actually took you under a waterfall and people watching could put quarters into a water soaker and pump water at you as you floated past. The kids had so much fun and didn't think they got wet enough the first time so insisted on another ride. Wayne, however, scampered off to drier ground and the four of us took off for another soaking at the hands of some guys who had nothing better to spend their money on.

Posted by fiveofus 21:59 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

SUNNY SAN DIEGO

sunny 17 °C

After a 2 day road trip through a most desolate part of Arizona, we were happy to see green pastures and palm trees on the outskirts of San Diego. Once again we had arrived in the city at 6pm ish with nowhere to stay, we were thankful for our friend "Garmin" that calmly gave directions to the area of San Diego we thought we might like to call home for the next few nights.

We'd had a taste for the water the night previous when we decided to stay the night in a place called Lake Havasu City, nearly on the border of California and Arizona. A big place, hence the name "city" , it surrounds an enormous lake fed by the mighty Colorado. This city seemed to have as many boats as it did people and the competition seemed to be which one was the biggest, fastest, had the loudest stereo or the most girls in bikinis! A big party place by the look of the number of boats, beached up on the inlet to the marina, stereos blaring, and eskies overflowing. No-one using the boats for anything other than arm chairs!

The idea of a water view for a few days in San Diego was appealing but everything decent and affordable was booked up for the Saturday night. Feeling very dejected, we grabbed a motel room with the plan to organise a move on Sunday morning to something slightly more salubrious. Thankfully our plan paid off and we were able to secure a marina view suite at the Bahia Resort in Mission bay for 3 nights and once we arrived and unpacked we decided an extra night here was a better option to Anaheim.
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Sunday was spent taking a wander through Old Town San Diego where all the buildings are original in nature and all the wares are not. I thought a nice souvenir of the town would be a lovely, colourful pashmina when I looked at the tag it was made in Italy! An interesting area with lots of culture, history and colour. Mexican restaurants lined the streets with trios of men playing their instruments. The Historic Village was full of original buildings dating back to the 1840's, including the first school house in sounthern California.
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We ate at a Mexican restaurant for a late lunch and I didn't waste any time in getting my hands on not one, but two Margharitas. The strawberry was so good I had to try the mango as well.
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Posted by fiveofus 01:15 Archived in USA Comments (1)

GRAND CANYON ADVENTURES

sunny 17 °C

A welcome relief to be leaving LV, Wayne picked up our hire car from the airport and by lunch time we were on the desert highway heading towards Grand Canyon. A quick drive by of Hoover dam was spectacular but quite congested with the ongoing construction there to build an enormous by pass bridge over the Colorado River.

A long lonely road of trucks, enormous RV's, and amazing landscapes the trip was interesting enough, passing from Nevada into Arizona, especially as we got onto Route 66 and through the historic section of Williams, kids noticed memorabilia similar to the characters and props in the movie Cars. The places that you will find casinoes and RV camps, in the middle of nowhere amazed us.
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By the time we reached the Grand Canyon National Park gates it was nearing 5.30pm, so no hold ups there. Straight through and onto our accommodation at Yavapai Lodge which was near to the South Rim Village Centre. Basic motel style rooms ( the sort you can't swing a cat in!) but we're not here to watch TV! We threw in our bags and grabbed some warm jackets as the wind was bitterly cold and took off to see what we could before the sun went down.

Wow!! Photos, videos and the like can not do The Grand Canyon even the smallest justice. What an amazingly, special place. With the high winds of the last couple of days a lot of dust and pollution had blown in from San Diego and LA causing quite a haze over the canyon, but the forecast for the next couple of days looked good.

We set off early on the Tuesday to get the most of the full day we had. What a welcome relief to be away from the hustle and bustle of LV. We found everything about Grand Canyon National park to be extremely well organised and your park entrance ( a mere $25 for the week, per car!) covered unlimited shuttle transport to all the main points around the south rim area and entrances to all exhibits, museums and ranger information talks. The day was bright and sunny, no wind and perfect conditions.

We began with a visit to the Yavapai Point where you could clearly view the Colorado River and through binoculars see rafters leaving on their white water raft experience. The kids met with a ranger where they began their junior ranger program. They each received a booklet of activites relevant to their ages and the requirement to complete 4 activities and attend a ranger talk to be able to be sworn in as Grand Canyon Junior Rangers.
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What better classroom, than perched on a rock on the edge of the Grand canyon? The kids were so excited to complete the activities that we had to drag them away to go for a walk down one of the trails. They had decided they would attend the ranger talk at 4pm on the condor, so we had to be back in time for that.
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The Bright Angel trail starts at the south rim and takes you all the way to the bottom in approx 4 hours. We thought we would do a section of it for the experience and so glad we did. We got to see Indian pictographs on the rock walls and parts of the trail were even still iced. At one section we had to step aside to let a mule train pass. The canyon is so extraordinary that each vantage point gives you a different perspective. I felt the huge numbers of tourists that come in daily from LV to spend an hour or two at the top outside the Bright Angel Lodge to have an icecream and turn around again, are really missing out. It is probably the one place, so far that we have visited that I wish we'd had more time and I would love to return one day and hike/or rent a mule , and go all the way to the bottom. It is so spectacular and considering the large numbers of people that visit every day, the area is so well organised it never felt crowded or spoilt.

The trip out to Hopi Point was also beautiful, a popular viewing spot and magnificent for the photographers, we were also treated to a fly by of 3 condors once the masses had left on the first few shuttles. We had learnt that there are 65 condors living in Grand canyon and only 300 in the wild so to see them was a real bonus. You can't really miss them when they are above you with a wing span of 10 feet, they are the biggest flying land bird.
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The following morning we packed up and took off to Mather Point for a look and also for the kids to hand in their booklets to see if they qualified to be Junior Rangers. Ranger Scott was most impressed with their work and especially their sketches of the canyon. With right hands raised they pledged their committment as Junior rangers to Grand canyon national park, were sworn in and received their gold ranger badges and certificates with much pride.
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Posted by fiveofus 23:14 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

LAS VEGAS, LAS VEGAS

sunny 20 °C

Our departure from Vancouver began with a fancy limousine transfer to the airport. After much enquiry to numerous taxi companies we discovered that no companies have 5 passenger taxies and it worked out cheaper to rent a limo than get 2 cabs or the airport shuttle…go figure?? Anyway, we all enjoyed pretending to be celebrities as we came out onto Robson Street and our limo was parked waiting for us!!
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Vancouver airport has to be the best organised airport so far. After check in to Alaskan Airlines you pass direct to immigration and clear US customs while still in Vancouver! Our flight to Las Vegas then became a domestic flight plus we could still pick up duty free!

The flight to Las Vegas was quite amazing as you watched the landscape change so dramatically. The turbulence coming across the mountains on the descent to the airport was the most exciting we have had yet-getting us ready for Disneyland. The kids were invited to have a look in the cock pit and meet the pilots once we had landed and we were told that the bumps and dips were very normal and quite tame compared to some of the summer winds.

We had organised our accommodation while in Vancouver for Las Vegas and managed to pick up a suite at the MGM Grand for about $120 US a night. The MGM was enormous! With over 5000 rooms it was like a mini city. It was very easy to spot from the plane and the airport. The lobby was the size of a football field with the gold lion in the centre, marble and displays of fresh flowers everywhere.

Thankfully we had planned to be in LV midweek and not the weekend as there were crowds of people everywhere. The casino and the bars in the hotel were accessible to everyone and we were able to walk through the casino with the kids. However not a place we wished to linger too long as they were all open to smoking and the smell of the air freshener they use to stop the smoke smell was even worse than the smoke!! The casinos were enormous but so casual, I don’t think there were any dress standards enforced, thongs and singlets were even the go!
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Our aim while in LV was to hopefully get tickets to one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. There are 5 shows permanently featured in LV and after some research we thought “Mystere” would be most appropriate and enjoyed by all of us. Luckily we were able to book tickets for the Tuesday night.

We spent the Monday night taking a walk up “The Strip”. It was great to get some warm weather but the wind made our easterlies in the hills seem like a pleasant afternoon breeze. The strip came to life once the sun went down and the neon lights and spectacle of all the frontages of the hotels we had heard about were definitely spectacular. The effort and expense put into the architecture, statues and façade of the hotels was overwhelming and over the top to say the least!

We ate in the MGM at the Rainforest Café which was decorated as a rainforest right down to the animated animals, waterfall and rainforest mist. Every quarter hour, lights flashed and elephants trumpeted, monkeys squawked and cheetahs roared. Not quite your intimate dining experience but fun nonetheless. The highlight of the restaurant was the Balloon Maker, a roving balloon manipulator that made to order any request for balloon characters. The usual poodles and tulips have been left behind, the kids ordered and were delivered with a lion hat, a zebra that could also be worn and a monkey eating a yellow banana! The most amazing twisting and turning of balloons I had ever seen.
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The best feature of the MGM for us was the tide pool which let the kids let off some steam as they were sent drifting around the metres of waterways, 6 acres of "pool area" and the permanent lion habitat they have inside the casino. From 11am to 10pm two hand raised lions are on display daily for all to see that wander past. The keepers were in the enclosure most of the day and at times would have handfuls of mince that they would throw against the glass for the lions to lick it off in front of your face! Apparently 30 lions are kept on a ranch outside of LV and 2 are brought in daily to be in the habitat. Another feature was the glass bridge which was a favourite place to sleep for the lions or they would lay on it and chew bones above your head!
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Mystere by Cirque du Soleil was as good as any we had seen before and performed at Treasure Island Hotel which was more comfortable than the usual tent we get in Perth and without the poles which can get in the way of your viewing. A perfect blend of humour, colour, acrobatics and action it was enjoyed by all of us.

Unfortunately, the high winds we experienced on the 2 nights resulted in the Treasure Island Pirate and the Bellagio fountain display being cancelled. You can imagine how dark I was- hurrying up kids to finish dinner to trek down the strip in the chilly wind at 10.30pm to see the only show I was remotely interested in - cancelled! Frankly, I couldn't wait to leave LV. I found it expensive, disorganised, over crowded and extremely over-rated. A half hour to walk down the strip, at night, would have been enough for me, but the millions that visit every year often think differently so I must be the weird one!

Kids did manage a photo with the Treasure Island crew but that was as close as it got.
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Posted by fiveofus 22:41 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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