I have just returned from an action packed, very busy educational to the West Coast of USA with W&O Travel. We started off our journey flying from London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic to Los Angeles.
We were fortunate enough to spend time in the Virgin Executive Lounge prior to our flight, a nice glass of Fizz is always a good start to a long journey I find! We travelled in Virgin Premium Economy, which is very comfortable, nice food, good inflight entertainment and of course bigger seats and extra leg room.
We flew to Los Angeles, picked up our hire car/van, we were a party of 7 and set off for the Loews in Hollywood. I am not a huge follower of the Oscars/TV&Film awards but this is the Hotel where all the action is when the Oscars are on. This Hotel has just had Millions of Dollars spent on refurbishment and is of the standard you would expect of a Loews Hotel. It is in a great spot, just around the corner from the walk of fame, where you have all the Stars in the paving stones with the names all the good and great from the Entertainment World.
This leads to the Chinese Theatre where you have all the foot & hand prints in the Concrete. I found Marilyn Monroe, who seemed to have the tiniest feet, Robert De Niro, too many to mention, you could just spend ages looking at them. We however didn’t have ages as a full and busy itinerary to follow! From this same location you can buy tickets and depart on Starline City Buses excursions, you can do the Movie Stars’ Homes, plus Hop On Hop Off bus tours all over the city as far out as Santa Monica.
This is a great way to get around Los Angeles which is quite a large sprawling City.
We went on the Metro, very clean, easy to follow directions and felt very safe, out to Universal Studios Hollywood. We spent a couple of hours whizzing around, there are lots of rides, 3D shows etc., we went on the Studio Tour which is good fun and quite informative. They have characters from various films that wander around who pose with you for Photos. I have gained a certain amount of credibility with younger members of my family as I have a photo of this robot thing that is called Bumble bee or something of that ilke!!!!
We left the big City behind and travelled out to Terranea Resort, it is only 45 mins from Los Angeles Airport. It is situated on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a striking location spread over 102 acres. It is a great place to spend a couple of nights relaxing at the end of a California Fly Drive.
You feel you are in the middle of nowhere, fabulous walks, stunning Sunsets, the birds all singing in the manicured but beautiful gardens as the sun rises, very peaceful. They have hotel rooms, houses and apartments, so a great place for a family or couples, there are 3 heated pools, onsite golf course a Spa and 8 restaurants to choose from. We had dinner which was delicious and a huge choice for breakfast the next morning.
Up early and back on the road, off to Santa Monica for a mixture of a hotel & resort visit before we flew to Las Vegas. We had a delicious breakfast at Loews Santa Monica, in a great spot overlooking the beach and pier, so within minutes so can have your toes in the beautiful soft sand. There is seating on the terraces that you can watch the world walk, cycle and skate by plus you are opposite ‘Muscle Beach’ this is where all these very fit looking guys were working out on hanging rings etc. What was really funny is the fact I could only just reach some of the rings never mind exercise off them!!!!
I visited Santa Monica a long time ago and it has really improved and has become a very smart resort since then. The beach is amazing, there is a lovely promenade walk, the shopping area a few blocks back from the beach is pedestrianized with great local shops. They have now built a new shopping centre that has all the designer brands but I didn’t have time to peak in there! It has a real ‘I am on my holidays’ feel to it and I think the aim is that you could stay in Santa Monica and do day trips to LA for the sights. It is certainly something I would recommend to some clients. It was really quick to get to the Airport too which is another bonus.
We flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for the next part of our trip! We now swapped to two cars with Sat Nav, which I feel is a big plus for this type of trip, probably assists domestic harmony if driving with your partner too!!
Las Vegas, my first visit, I was so looking forward to it as I have booked so many clients there over the years. We arrived in the sunshine and queued in the traffic as our hotel was at the other end of ‘The Strip’. It gave us a great chance to see all the hotels I have booked so many times, the fountains at the Bellagio are as spectacular as people say. Considering Las Vegas was built in the middle of nowhere you would think it might be a bit more stretched out instead the main strip is all sort of squashed together. Walking up and down can take ages as you don’t cross the road on the sides you go over flyovers, which can take you through shops and even casinos in places. I don’t think I was quite prepared for the enormous size of the hotels, the long queues to check in, leave bags etc., but if a hotel has 3500 rooms what can you expect. Take comfy shoes as it can be a 20 min walk to your room from reception via lifts and long corridors. I always seem to get allocated a room as far from the lift as possible wherever I stay too!
We arrived on Friday night, maybe not the best time unless you are you are in a party party mood. We walked down the strip to the Hard Rock Café for dinner and it was so busy at times you could just about get through the crowds of people. It was a bit more downmarket than I expected but the weekends do attract large parties of guys & girls and people out for fun. It is quite bizarre when you wander through the Hotel casinos in the morning as people are still there as if it is night, they don’t have any clocks so you are not always aware of the time. We had some free time in the morning after some Hotel inspections to wander around in the sunshine and just get the feel of the place. We came back to Las Vegas for the last night of our trip, I will mention there the hotels I visited.
We checked out, I would recommend the Valet Parking much easier than parking yourself and dragging cases around a monster size car park trying to find your way in and out! We left Las Vegas in blazing sunshine and headed for the next part of our exciting itinerary driving to Lake Powell. We passed the signs for the Hoover Dam but unfortunately much to my disappointment we didn’t stop by there as we had a very important appointment with a Helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon driving on Route 66 on our way there.
We arrived at the Maverick Helicopters office for our 50 minute flight which took us over Kaibab National Forest before bringing the Northern Rim and eastern end of the canyon into view. You are all weighed prior to going and then told where to sit as they have to distribute the weight evenly around the helicopter. Luckily for me my weight put me right at the front so I just had the best view ever! Our pilot Dave was very informative and chatty and tried to make sure we got the best out of our trip.
We flew along the Colorado River to view Marble Canyon and Point Canyon before flying through the widest and deepest part the Dragon Corridor. I think at its widest point is 18 miles! It is just so amazing, with the river like a green snake winding its way through the bottom, we saw some little specks that Dave informed us were people canoeing. There are lots of helicopter trips around the Canyon but I think they must all fly different areas or time it in such a way that we felt that we were the only helicopter. I would try and save money somewhere else and spend it on this flight if my budget was a bit tight, it is such a fabulous experience.
After all the excitement we got back into our cars and started to make our way to Lake Powell. Passing some lovely scenery on the way with great Photo opportunities and driving on the famous Horseshoe Bend. I will confess I did not know anything at all about Lake Powell prior to this trip. We arrived just before dusk at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina. It is low rise spread across several buildings so you can park your car right by your block, the buildings are painted sort of terracotta colour. Having spent our last 3 nights in 5 star luxury and now being very tired I was not quite sure what to expect. As always my room was in the furthest block from the main hotel and restaurant, we had 30 mins to get unpacked and into the restaurant for dinner. I just had the most lovely surprise, the rooms were lovely, comfy comfy beds, coffee makers and really quirky lights, good bathrooms too. We dashed down to dinner, dress code is casual and relaxed. We had the most amazing meal, we were sampling the new menu and everyone had something different and they were all just so delicious. I can honestly say that this meal held it’s own very well with some of the top hotels I have eaten in. Robin and her team were great fun and again very proud of their property and region. They also have Houseboats that you can hire which are really popular with families. I think you would have to book early during high season for the hotel, restaurants and boats. I am an early riser and the views over the lake in the morning were just stunning. The grounds are very well manicured in a desert fashion which matches the whole area and hotel perfectly, I understood the terracotta buildings at this point! We made our way down for breakfast, not sure how we managed to fit any more food in but we did, well it would be rude not too.
This morning before we hit the road again we had the opportunity to enjoy the Antelope Canyon Boat Tour, about 1.5 hours. We glided through the narrow, colourful and sculpted geology of the lower end of Lake Powell. This high walled Navajo Sandstone side-arm of Lake Powell is famous not only for its colouration but also for its famous slot canyons. Unfortunately we did not have time to go to the slot canyons as you walk there but the pictures look just amazing, definitely a place to go back and spend more time.
All back in our two cars for the next part of our journey to Bryce Canyon National Park. En Route we stopped for a site inspection of Amangiri which means ‘peaceful mountain’ part of the Aman resorts. It is quite hard to find, just a tiny sign at a gate that looks like you are going to drive into the middle of nowhere or the middle of the desert landscape to be more precise! It is low rise concrete building which just blends into the whole landscape. It just an amazing place to stay, everything seems to have been thought of, it is uber luxurious totally the other end of chintz as very contemporary, staff are discreet but would just appear when you need them I imagine. This highly acclaimed hotel has just 34 suites and offers a range of fantastic and quite possibly unparalleled excursions and facilities in the area. Another place to come back and spend more time methinks!
We then set off on our 3 hours drive to Bryce Canyon with photo stops along the route. We stopped for refreshment on the way at a little diner in the middle of nowhere it still had the railings outside to tie your horse too!! We passed through Kainab, this town is known as ‘Little Hollywood’ because of all the western films set here.
Bryce Canyon, we left Lake Powell in bright sunshine, drove through a sandstorm and arrived at Bryce to snow on the ground! It was freezing but the light was just brilliant highlighting the colours in such an amazing way. We were hoping to walk the Navajo Trail which begins at Sunset Point travelling down into the main amphitheatre for a close up of the hoodoos. This is one of the more popular trails and lasts about 2 hours but we were running quite late plus you lose an hour in Utah. So we drove to some of the viewpoints just to get a feel for the place and take in the absolutely stunning scenery. There are lots of different hikes you can go on depending on your level of fitness, another place I have to come back to and spend more time!
We checked in at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, it was dropping dark now and snowing a little, the car park was going very icy. The change in the weather is really quite bizarre! Bryce is really quite small we went, well slipped and skidded over to the big diner across the road for dinner. The waitress mentioned Bryce City which initially I thought was somewhere else but she said it was where we were!!!!
Next morning was brighter but still white and icy, we scrapped the ice off the windscreens packed our cars up and hit the road again. We were now heading for Zion National Park only a couple of hours away and the reverse happened to the weather as we drove closer to Zion it turned into a wonderful sunny day!
The soaring towers and massive monoliths of Zion offer spectacular grandeur, it is just fabulous. We were going to go for a short hike this morning and due to time constraints decided on Emerald Pools which is classed as a moderate walk. Quite a delightful if at times a bit steep, good footwear definitely recommended , you actually walk underneath the falls. This is a popular walk so fairly busy, I would definitely come back here with my husband and spend more days and hopefully experience more of the splendour of Zion.
We checked into our next hotel, The Hampton Inn in Springdale, a real little gem of a hotel, good rooms, a small pool with ample seating and a fire for cooler times. Fruit, non alcoholic drinks and even warm cookies are served in the reception area. Springdale is a delightful little town, with its many gift shops and galleries. We had dinner at the Switchback Grill, absolutely delicious and steak to die for, I won’t mention the deserts!!!
Next day, back on the road again, back to Las Vegas, this has a completely different feel to it during the week, not so busy without the gangs of party people. Our first stop was the MGM Grand for a hotel inspection and for lunch we had the MGM Grand Buffet, you could be the size of a house if you ate all the available food !!! Another busy day, we visited the Bellagio, which did live up to expectation. We did inspections of the ‘new kids on the strip’ The Vdara, a non smoking non gaming hotel, The Aria and The Cosmopolitan. They are more modern and contemporary in design and facilities, not as guilded and glitzy as the older hotels. The Cosmopolitan has some amazing wrap around terrace suites which have a balcony so you can sit out in the fresh air which is a positive for me. They also have an amazing buffet brunch, amazing food, much better I felt than your normal ‘buffet fare’ Other hotels visited include, The Venetian plus its sister the Palazzo, which is slightly more intimate. The Monte Carlo which is due for and is possibly ready for a refurbish. There were other hotels I wanted to see but time did not permit, maybe next time!
Last morning in Las Vegas with our last couple of inspections then en route to the airport we called into The Premium Outlets shopping mall for a mad dash around the shops, lots of bargains to be had, but that is another story
Back to the UK, head spinning, feet aching but a great time had by all, can’t wait to go back ……..