Monday, 8 August 2016

Grand Canyon | Stop Three | Travel

Road Trip West Coast USA | Stop Three | Grand Canyon
Whilst we were in Las Vegas, we of course, had to spend a day at the Grand Canyon. As one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, you don't need me to tell you just how beautiful it is. I'm sure it is already on your bucket list, or, if you've been as fortunate as me, you've crossed it off your list.
So, a quick little bit of back info for you about the Grand Canyon. Other than knowing that it's pretty damn famous, and some sort of idea of how the canyon came about (thank you A level Geography...) I was pretty clueless when I initially went to see the Grand Canyon I was just expecting lots of steep cliffs and tons and tons of red rocks (fairly accurate, if not a little uneducated).
So, first off. The Canyon is hu-uuuuuuge. At its deepest point the canyon reaches a 6,000 feet drop. Just to put that into perspective, that is four times the height of the empire state building. Yep. Just let that sink in. FOUR TIMES.
Mother Nature whooped our asses there.
Its total area is an astounding 4,926 kilometres squared, London would fit in the canyon three times over, well that would fix our housing shortages... So, I'm sure you get the gist of just how ma-hoosive this corner of the world is.
The Grand Canyon is one of America's national parks, and if you're into big doses of mother nature like me, you will have the vast majority of these national parks on your bucket list. They're mainly on mine because I'm also weirdly interested in Americas national park system (I actually wrote a paper on it in my first year at uni -nerd alert).
So far I'm sure you're all like 'red rocks, pretty huge and national park, right, got it.' but hold your horses, yes that's right, there's more.
The Grand Canyon has an incredibly rich Native American culture, there are several tribes surrounding the Canyon whose presence is strongly felt. Some have been there for centuries, some for millenniums. The impression we were left with after our trip is that the Native tribes seemed to embrace the tourism, how much of that is true we do not know. But, many of the people working the tours were natives and there were beautiful shops around full of lovely artwork, keepsakes and jewellery (I bought a spirit jar that you can see below). We even saw some traditional song & dance and learnt that the Hualapai tribe actually opened up the SkyWalk.
So enough of Amy's little fun fact section. More about how to actually take in such an enormous site in only one day. There are sooooo many different tour options you can go for, from helicopter rides, to hiking trails it is totally a matter of preference. And of course, there's plenty of hotels and lodges around the canyon if you're planning on staying longer.
For our one day trip we decided to opt for a huge mega-package so we would get to see the Grand Canyon at every angle in just the one day. We chose the 'Grand Voyager with Skywalk' package from Papillon which was good but not very personalised and very rushed. Next time I would look away from package deals and more towards something where we get more free time and choice. 
There are three main ways to see the canyon; on foot by the rim, from the air and by boat or walking through the canyon itself. We went for some huge mega-package sort of deal, so that we could cram as many viewing-opportunities as possible into one day.
The day begun being picked up from our hotel in Vegas and taken to an airfield. From here, we boarded what must have been the oldest and most rickety plane in existence and flew over the hoover dam to the north ridge.
From the North rim, we then got a helicopter down into the canyon itself. Personally I was so terrified for this part, I've never been in a helicopter before and planes don't really agree with me, but this was such a great experience and a really smooth journey. It's definitely worth getting a helicopter ride, the view as you come over the rim is completely breath taking.
Once we were down in the Canyon we took a little walk down to the Colorado river to board a small boat and adorn ourselves with some fashionable life jackets. We hopped on and took a ride down the Colorado river for around 20 minutes with a tour guide who kindly answered all of our endless questions.
Once we had got off the boat and strolled back to the heli-pad (in absolute blistering heat) we got back on the helicopter to head back to the North Rim.
Our next leg of the journey was more of an optional choice, we were given our time limit we had left and were told that in this time we could use the bus available to go and visit the south rim, go on the SkyWalk and pick up lunch at Guano Point.
We weren't quite hungry yet and a storm appeared to be brewing, not wanting to miss our chance to check out the SkyWalk we hopped on the bus and headed to the South Rim.
Unfortunately the SkyWalk for us was a massive let down. It was, of course an awesome experience but there were very strict rules with taking anything on the skywalk so you couldn't actually take your own photos. This wouldn't have been a massive problem but the photographer seemed to be ignoring us and with so many groups and so many photos to take we weren't eager on waiting around. Especially as my mum was absolutely freaking out, some people are just not meant for stuff like that and if you have a phobia of heights, I'd steer well clear.
Even if we were keen to wait around for photos, the weather quickly took a turn for the worse and the attraction was closed. So all in all it was probably the most disappointing part of the trip but I am glad we did it, it's definitely an experience.
We then got back on the bus and headed to our lunch stop, at Guano Point, spotting the Eagle Rock on the way. The food system was pretty great, you got a choice of a few hot dishes and it worked a bit like a school canteen. All the food was included in the price we'd paid for the package but if you wanted any extra drinks etc you could purchase them too. The food was so yummy and the views definitely just couldn't be rivalled.
After scoffing our faces, watching a lightening storm and letting the boys go on a mad one climbing some rocks, we got back on the bus back to the original airfield. From here we got the original plane back to where our transfer had dropped us off. Unfortunately the ride back was way more horrendous because a storm had well and truly rolled in and the plane was being thrown about all over the place.
From the initial airfield we got our transfer back to the hotel with plenty of time for quick showers and a nice dinner before catching a Cirque Du Soleil show.

To Catch up on Stop One in San Francisco click here
For Stop Two in Yosemite click here
To see what else we got up to in Vegas check out the post here
For Stop Four, Los Angeles click here!

and if you also fancy checking out my blog post comparing the Universal Studios VIP experience West coast vs East coast click here!


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Las Vegas | Stop Three | Travel

Road Trip West Coast USA | Stop Three | Las Vegas
Viva Las Vegas.
When we rocked up in Vegas I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The fact I wasn't 21 yet bummed me out. However, having had loads of chats with my other travel buddies (who too, went to Vegas underage) I was assured that I would not be bored. And oh boy, were they right.
I feel like I do have to put in a little disclaimer here, this is a marmite city. I absolutely adored the atmosphere, the tackiness and the whole package. However, it left a bit of a bad taste in my mums mouth- she much prefers walking round ancient cities full of culture and history (don't get me wrong I adore that too) so the money-sucking 'culture' of Vegas was a bit of a miss with her. But, she's old and boring (sorry mumma, I kid). It's a city that will either make you fall in love and relish in every flyer shoved in your hand, or you'll reject Las Vegas and choke on all the gaudy interiors it has to offer.
Inside Vegas' Paris hotel
So, what is there to actually do in Vegas if you can't join in the generic booze-fuelled casino life? Honestly, quite a lot. If you're here for a short time you will 100% not run out of things to do; from wandering around the hotels, shopping, seeing a show, lazing by the pool or popping into a gun range  you experiences aren't horrifically limited if your passport doesn't quite reach 21.
Of course when everyone goes to Las Vegas, they meander over to see one of the most famous national parks in the world; The Grand Canyon. There are endless packages to chose from, all, of course, incredible. But worry not- I'll be talking all things Grand Canyon-y in my next blog post (with loads of awesome pictures of rocks.)
*Sneaky Preview* apologies, I just couldn't help myself
But, let's be honest, no one reaaaaally comes to Vegas to marvel at mother nature, most of us flock to Sin City to revel in the delights of the man made casinos, hotels and incredible shows (no, not those kind of shows you cheeky devil.) There is, what feels like, an unlimited number of things to do in Las Vegas. The hotels in themselves hold shopping malls at least 4 times larger than the standard ones in the UK. If you're a shopping addict (like me) you could happily spend days wandering through the forum shops of Caesars Palace dipping into their high end shops (dreaming) and grabbing lunch then gawping at their exotic fish aquariums and watching their hourly whacky shows. Shopping just isn't simply shopping in Vegas, it is a whole experience in itself.
Yes, this is actually what the hotels look like inside, I don't think it's just me that finds this so mental? I mean whaaaat?! It is literally Disneyland for adults!
Of course shopping is not the be all and end all. There are some activities for all the boys out there,  there are a huge number of gun ranges offering various packages for an adrenaline and testosterone fuelled adventure. And yes, I do have to say here, I don't agree with Vegas' (or America in general) gun laws and I actually found this experience disturbing how easy it was to get your hands on a gun, showing no form of identification. As a matter of principal I chose not to shoot a gun but I did go in and watch the rest of the family (also not a nice experience if your jumpy around loud noises or have a crippling fear of guns).
Oh the night life in Vegas, it is simply legendary. Firstly it's amazing walking down the strip at midnight and still feeling the 30 degree weather. Oh England it puts you to shame, it really does. If you don't fancy taking in the humourous antics of drunken hen and stag dos stumbling down the strip from club to club, casino to casino, there are a huge number of shows you can grab tickets for. Whether it's a 'dreamboy'-esque strip show, a beauty pageant, theatre tickets or a good old dance show that you're after, Vegas will cater for you.
Whilst we were here, we decided to view one of the famous Cirque du Soleil shows. However, given that it was Las Vegas, this naturally still did not manage to limit it down to one show. Oh no, Cirque du Soleil has not one show in this city, but seven shows to choose from- Where. To. Start. We opted for the one in our hotel 'KÀ' which was just phenomenal. If you've ever seen one of their performances before I'm sure you'll know how absolutely stunning these shows are. The shows here range across lots of different themes; from Beatles and Michael Jackson performances to underwater performances and even cheeky ones for 18+. So it's safe to say, even if you can't enjoy the after-sun, 21 & overs, delights in Vegas' casinos and nightclubs, you can still find plenty of family-friendly shows and activities once the suns set.
Unfortunately we didn't get many days in Vegas, and due to my underage status, I can't give you guys any reviews on the clubs or casinos. Short but sweet is probably the best way I could describe our visit. But there is no doubt in my mind I will be returning to Sin city as soon as I'm able (got enough money...)

To Catch up on Stop One in San Francisco click here
For Stop Two in Yosemite click here
To check out the Grand Canyon click here!
For Stop Four, Los Angeles click here!

and if you also fancy checking out my blog post comparing the Universal Studios VIP experience West coast vs East coast click here!


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Yosemite & Road to Las Vegas | Stop Two | Travel

Road Trip West Coast USA | Stop Two | Yosemite
Before I start going off on a tangent and raving about Yosemite let me just first say, the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite- Oh. My. God. Just awful. In general I have to admit it was quite the pleasant drive, got to a point called Mariposa county, which was cute, very much 'outback' feels. Stopped off for some (incredible) pizza at a little spot called the Pizza Factory,  I highly recommend. But unfortunately, the devious sat nav took us on a cheeky 20 minute detour up a very windy, very bumpy, dirt track. Consequently resulting in a speedy stop at the side of the road, and me, emptying the contents of my stomach into a bush, before quickly dashing off, before a bear (unlikely) caught a whiff of my vomit. Yeah, not so glamorous side of travelling there for yah folks. Unfortunately reality dictates that long car trips aren't always agreeable with those of us cursed with a stomach sensitive to nausea.

Nevertheless however ill you may be feeling, when you're driving through such beautiful scenery, your mind is quickly distracted and totally absorbed by the sheer beauty of America's West Coast (yes let me live here). By early evening we got to our hotel, Tenaya Lodge, which was crazy beautiful and definitely in-keeping with its setting. I was still queasy beyond belief so I dragged myself into bed with a facemask for a pamper session and an early night, whilst my brothers explored the gym and my parents went to a campfire sing-a-long (my mums a cub leader, she lives and breathes for this stuff.) And thennnnn, dun dun dunnn, waking up in Yosemite for my 20th birthday (there is no better feeling).
There's this thing about Yosemite, a kind of charm that the national park holds, the kind of magic that steals your breath and ties your stomach up in knots. Honestly, if you get the chance to visit this wonderful corner of the world, I couldn't recommend it enough. There is something there for any outdoor lover, fancy a picnic by a lake floating on an inflatable, surrounded by astounding rock-faces? No problem. Horse riding up to the top of the waterfalls? No problem. Fancy a bit of golf? Wander round a museum for a few hours? Try out a zipline or test your kayaking skills? Done, done and done. Yosemite is just damn good for your soul, it's the best place to reconnect with your inner creativity and sense of adventure. (At least that's what I found.)
There isn't much I can say about Yosemite, other than ramble on for days about how beautiful and awesome it is. So I'm just gunna break down what we did on our single day there and insert some pretty pictures for you to gawp at.
So we decided to basically spend our day aimlessly wandering around Yosemite, we trekked up to Yosemite falls (not a bad walk at all for those of you looking for something less extreme and more relaxed) and we meandered along all the lakes and rivers and found an adorable picnic spot to stop and have a splash in the (cold) water and crack open a bottle of wine and cupcakes. We walked all day and hugged trees and climbed rocks and took pictures, we spotted three bears and basically just had the best day, ever.
Climbing up to the Yosemite falls
Hugging the fallen trees. Yosemite management has a great ideology, in working with nature rather than against it. If a tree falls it's left to provide new habitats for small creatures and creepy crawlies. There are so few places in the world that are so immensely popular but has such restricted human interference. 
As you drive around Yosemite, if you are driving of course, there are literally the most immense viewpoints that pop up every five minutes, it is so hard to resist the temptation to constantly pull over to get more and more snaps of all that stunning nature.
Unfortunately our stay in Yosemite was short lived, but we weren't too sad because our next stop was Las Vegas (yayayayayayay) and we still had a day of driving through Yosemite and its pretty surroundings and Death Valley to get to our third hotel of the trip, the MGM Grand. Mumma and Papa Ray Ray planned our road trip so immensely, that we were still gawping out the window all the way to Sin City. We stopped off by Tenaya lake (I could live in a tent by the side of this lake forever) and Lake Mono, which was kind of creepy and alien-like.
Tenaya Lake
Lake Mono

To catch up on Stop One, San Francisco click here!
To read about being under 21 in Stop Three, Las Vegas click here!
For Stop Three in Grand Canyon click here!
For Stop Four, Los Angeles click here!

and if you also fancy checking out my blog post comparing the Universal Studios VIP experience West coast vs East coast click here!
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