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8th April 2000

We had long wanted to visit America and wanted a holiday that would keep us busier than Antigua so decided on a fly-drive to California, also taking in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. So in April 2000 we headed off to Los Angeles with Virgin Holidays, flying Virgin. The flight was good - not too uncomfortable considering it was 11 hours. Spent most of the time watching films on the tiny seat-back screens and even the food was pretty good. We collected our car from Dollar close to the airport - because there were four of us, we went for the biggest we could find as we needed the boot space! It served us well during the next two weeks. Then off to Anaheim to the Sheraton. Early night.

9th April

manns.jpg (28148 bytes)Up early but determined not to suffer any problems with jetlag. Buffet breakfast - none of us have the capacity of an average American though so not such good value for us as for some! Then off to Hollywood for the day. First stop - the Hollywood Boulevard and Mann's Chinese Theatre - where the handprints of the stars can be seen. The actual Boulevard was disappointing - full of nasty little shops selling cheap and tacky rubbish. But interesting to see all the names on the paving slabs. We then took a minibus trip into Beverley Hills to see the stars' homes, Rodeo Drive and so on. The trip lasted 2 hours and was very interesting - much easier than driving ourselves. The properties were amazing - one of the prettiest was that of Leo di Caprio.house.jpg (19534 bytes) We also saw those belonging to Liz Taylor, Aaron Spelling (the biggest, cost $48 million - but that did include the furnishings...), Janet Jackson, the Reagans and so on. This is Janet's - I think! We also saw where River Phoenix died (Viper Den), the place that The Doors started out and the loo in which George Michael was caught in-flagrante :-)) Oh, and the houses that were used in the film Halloween. Then back to the Boulevard and a visit to the Hollywood Museum - which included a trip to the Star trek set. Then back to the car and on to Santa Monica beach. Bit chilly, very long beach, not that interesting really. 

10th April

Today we went to Disneyland, celebrating its 45th birthday in 2000! Cost about £25 each for the day, but you get a lot for your money. We had only done EuroDisney in the past so this was our first American Disney experience. We managed to organise our timing so that we never had to queue for too long. Did all the usual Disney things - a very enjoyable day.

11th April

Good bye to LA and hello to Palm Springs, about 100 miles East. As we approached palm Springs, we could see the temperature getting hotter - way over 30°. We also had an onboard compass which was reassuring for the navigator (me). Arrived at our hotel - the Hyatt Regency which was lovely with a huge atrium, marble & glass lifts and fairy lights over the balconies. We had 2 suites, very swish. Palm Springs is an unusual place - very quiet, very clean, very hot. The streets are lined with lovely shops, lots of galleries - we were especially taken by one full of the most incredible photos - Terra Images. The hotel pool was very welcoming after the heat of the shopping street. We had dinner in the hotel - the food was excellent.

12th April

incan1.jpg (31766 bytes)incan3.jpg (33283 bytes)A tip - always check that your room's previous occupants didn't leave their radio alarm on! 6am........  Breakfasted in the hotel as there wasn't anywhere else open. Great food anyway :-)) Today we went to the Indian Canyons - one of my favourite places of the entire holiday. Palm Canyons is about 15 miles long andincan2.jpg (86605 bytes) we only explored a tiny bit of it. It was absolutely beautiful - but hot - over 40° which is unusual for the time of year, so we liked the shady bits best! We moved on to Andreas Canyon - much smaller but possibly even prettier. It must be wonderful to spend a much longer time in the area, walking through these peaceful places. In the late afternoon we set off again, this time for the aerial tramway. they really do encourage you to eat in the US - it cost $23 ps.jpg (24574 bytes) including dinner - and $19 without! $4 for dinner seemed a good deal....... The ascent up the mountain took about 15-20 mins - that was up to 8500 ft! Much cooler up there, of course but all the time the sun was out it wasn't bad. There was snow at the top ;-) The views were spectacular - you could see for miles. We had our roast dinner - not bad, although Martyn deeply regretted the mouthful of bread sauce - it was horseradish! the tram back down was a bit crowded, but that just meant that when it lurched you didn't fall over as easily! Another wonderful day.

 

13th April

Over 200 miles today to Lake josh2.jpg (21908 bytes)Havasu (home of the old London Bridge). We josh1.jpg (27426 bytes)took the long route going via the Joshua Tree National Park, very well worth the extra miles. The views were spectacular with incredible mountains, strange rock formations and the trees themselves. We were a bit worried about time so were unable to stop for too long. Again, I'd have liked many hours to really soak up the peaceful atmosphere and unusual beauty of the place. But you have to compromise when you have two teenagers in the party! After leaving the park and having some lunch we set off for the "real" drive. Just a long, straight road that looked the same for mile after mile. Arrived at Lake Havasu and our hotel at 5.30pm. It's a man-made lake that was created in the Colorado River in the 60s by a guy that sold outboard motors! He bought London Bridge and shipped it there. Odd place really, slap bang in the middle of the desert.

14th Aprilgrand.jpg (19127 bytes)

grancan1.jpg (28956 bytes)Our route-planner from Virgin told us we had a 400 mile drive today but it looked to be around 250. The route was pretty uneventful, but fast. Speed limit 75mph on the freeway and 65mph on the highway. Better than we were expecting, and very little traffic. In fact we arrived very early at The Grand, our hotel in Tusayan, just a few miles south of the Grand Canyon's south rim. We were 3 hours too early to check in but managed to book a flight over the canyon with Grand Canyon Airlines. Much cheaper than helicopters at $75 each for 45 minutes, although the helicopters go deeper into the canyon. This was incredible, hard to believe we were really flying over this magical place. It's nearly 300 miles long and we saw about a third of it. Apparently 6 of the world's 7 eco-systems can be found within it. The grancan2.jpg (24343 bytes) Colorado river is spectacular, weaving through the canyon. I wasn't expecting to see snow :-) Unfortunately it was rather turbulent and almost everyone onboard was ill. I escaped that indignity but was glad it was only a 45 minute flight! The worst bit was when we seemed to drop like a stone. poor Jo really thought we were all going to die :-((  After that we went back to the hotel to recover. We'd hoped to go up to the rim for the sunset but the weather wasn't really right for a spectacular sunset. There was a Native American show in the evening but we'd already finished our dinner ages before and were all very tired so had an early night. 

 

15th April

Off to the south rim this morning to walk along the trail. What angcmelvs.jpg (26958 bytes) amazing place. You can't grancan3.jpg (26161 bytes) describe the sense of wonder as you look at it. More impressive than when viewed by air somehow - perhaps you feel part of it rather than a mere observer. The weather was good too and we took masses of photos (that haven't scanned as well as I'd hoped). The place is really nicely laid out. I had imagined there would be a fence all round but there wasn't, just a nice path with boulders at the sides. If you wanted to die in spectacular fashion, it would have been easy to jump off without being stopped. A number of people have fallen - and surprisingly some have survived. After we had soaked up as much as was possible, we went back to Tusayan and paid a brief visit to the IMAX cinema where we saw an excellent film of the canyon, and learned of the history of its discovery. Well worth the visit. 

After that we set off for the long and boring drive to Las Vegas - luckily the car was really comfortable and we had CDs and cassettes to keep us entertained. We arrived at the Hoover Dam just in time for their last tour, something Martyn had been looking forward to. Can't say the rest of us were particularly interested but it was worth the visit! It smelt horrible in the turbine halls, just like the power station where I used to work! We arrived in Vegas at about 7pm and our hotel (Mandalay Bay)mbay.jpg (18998 bytes) seemed to be in total chaos. It transpired this was due to a massive prize fight taking place that evening. We were not very amused to be directed to the wrong car park which meant we had to carry our luggage right through the enormous hotel complex of shops and casino. Now I know what the lug in luggage means...... Not a good start. It took an hour from arriving to get to our rooms. But what rooms - they soon brought the smiles back! Masses of room, nicely furnished, enormous luxury bathrooms with big baths, separate shower cubicles and a loo with its own door. There are 14 restaurants within the hotel so it was hard to choose! Quite busy though due to the fight - casino.jpg (21056 bytes)dined in Raffles café which was vast. As were the portions! Took a look at the casino and even won $20 on the machines. Put it all back of course as it came out in tokens. Couldn't run to the $25 bets on the tables - saw just one table with $10 minimum and that was full. Loads of shops but very upmarket. This is a rich person's place. I can't say I felt that comfortable really. It's one of those places that I said I wouldn't especially wish to return to, but a couple of years on, I have changed my mind!

16th April

vegasue.jpg (8619 bytes) We had breakfast by the lagoon - yes, a lagoon complete with beach and waves!! Bit crowded though. Then off to explore some other hotels. There are so many, we only managed a couple! There's The Luxor complete with pyramid and sphinx, Paris complete with Eiffel Tower and Chateau, New York New York with a Manhattan skyline and The Venetian with Grand Canal, Campanile, Doge's Palace and Rialto Bridge. It even has a cloudy sky :-)) Then we took a taxi to the Hard Rock Hotel where we bought tickets to see Tracy Chapman in concert that evening. ($43 each - standing.) This hotel was older than others we had seen and felt more "us". Lots of rock exhibits all around and Sarah was especially impressed with the Hendrix cabinet. Then back to our hotel for a bath and an early dinner courtesy of room service before the gig. The venue at the Hard Rock was small - The Joint, all standing. Tracy was fantastic, we all really enjoyed the show although found the American audience perplexing. They seemed to think nothing of talking through the show and even cheering through the saddest songs... I just can't imagine a British audience doing that.

17th April

Today was for the girls - shopping! Our taxi driver told us where we could shopluxor.jpg (11383 bytes) without a mortgage - the Belz shopping centre just a few minutes drive from our hotel. Billed as America's largest factory outlet, it didn't actually seem that big to us. We did manage to buy quite a few bargains though and had lunch there. That afternoon Jo & Sarah stayed in their room and Martyn and I visited The Luxor and Excalibur hotels. They're all very similar if you strip away the themes. Huge casinos surrounded by shops and restaurants. That evening we investigated our directions for the route to Yosemite - there weren't any!  We decided to go via Death Valley, looks like about 350 or more miles.

18th April

Had an early start and drove on and on ... and on and on...... Attioga.jpg (15683 bytes) least it wasn't too hot but as you climb you have to turn off the air con which must be awful in the deathv.jpg (16988 bytes) summer.. Once through Death Valley, the scenery became much greener and very pretty. We had the first inklings of a bad day - we realised that Martyn had left his credit card at one of the gas stations. We didn't have time to retrace our steps (it was probably by one of the pumps - you put your card into the machine there......) So then there was a frantic call to the company to cancel it. As we approached Yosemite we climbed quite high and temperatures dropped to 3° or 4 °. Our route was to take us right across Yosemite Park from East to West via the Tioga Pass. Unfortunately, Virgin neglected to tell us that the pass is never open at this time of year :-(( We arrived to find it closed (see photo on the right). There's no other way in except by driving several hundred more miles. We had already driven over 350 miles. Apparently the pass never opens before late May or June. Our only course of action was to drive a further 100 miles north to Lake Tahoe, find a hotel and stay there for the night, then drive a further 200 miles the next day. The drive was actually quite stunning but we were in no mood to appreciate it - the roads were steep and twisting with warnings of ice. Lake Tahoe is a ski resort - we had clothes for the heat of the desert and the temperature was dropping below o°! From 41° to -1° in just a few days! We decided to stop at the first decent looking hotel we could find - that was Caesar's. We were back in Nevada and gambling country so this was similar to the Vegas hotels but on a much smaller scale. The rooms were hardly a bargain at $160 each (for a 12 hr stay) but it was 8pm and we were in no position to argue. The enormous jacuzzis were a bonus though. Ate in their Planet Hollywood restaurant, always a good bet for us. Tried to plan our route for the next day, only to find we had lost our map, probably left it when discussing our route with the guy that parked the car for us. :-((  Not a good day at all.

19th April

Martyn managed to find a shop open early and bought a new map. Then on getting into our car, found our map had been put in it, so that was nice. So, our day in Yosemite was to be replaced by a day's driving instead. En route we found an old-fashioned diner with a jukebox full of 50s & 60s music and Coca Cola memorabilia all over the walls. A good menu too and our spirits lifted a little. We finally arrived in Yosemite via the Western entrance at 3pm, planning a quick wash & brush up at our hotel (about 8 miles outside the park) before yos1.jpg (18977 bytes)returning for a few hours. Yet more problems - the route out to the hotel wasyos2.jpg (24953 bytes) closed for roadworks daily between 8am and 4.30pm and again between 10.30pm and 6.30am which meant we couldn't get out unless we made a 100 mile detour. So we had to settle for a couple of hours there and no prospect of returning the next day. We stayed at Cedar Lodge, a nice rustic hotel - made infamous some years back when a couple of grisly murders took place there. I didn't mention this to Jo & Sarah until much later! Had a good dinner in their restaurant and the others browsed in the shop after I had gone back to our room. They bought me a Yosemite teddy and a book about the park, which really cheered me up :-)

20th April

I was really ill during the night so that wasn't a good end to our trip to Yosemite! But we got away OK and set off for the final leg of our journey, to San Francisco. Not a very interesting drive and it was the first time I messed up the navigating - only one turning missed though so soon put right. We arrived at 3pm at the Holiday Inn which was  quite nice although much smaller rooms than elsewhere. We went off to explore Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf, just a short walk away. It was bustling with people and street theatrbubba.jpg (17714 bytes)e activities. Lots of shops and restaurants. We had an early dinner at Bubbagumps, based on the Forrest Gump film. Great fun, but very busy and noisy. Lots of Gump memorabilia everywhere and good food and smoothies. After that we went shopping and Sarah found a Magic 8 ball that she'd been searching for throughout the holiday - what a relief! We also bought a Billy Bass singing fish. Since then, they have become very popular in the UK - but we were the first to have one!! Very tacky I know, but we have grown very fond of him. Always cheers me up when he sings "don't worry, be happy" :-)

21st April

Good Friday today - not that you'd have noticed though. After trying in vain to sort out our problems with the Virgin rep, we went to explore and hoped for a ride on a cable car. However, when we saw the queue we didn't bother!sanfran2.jpg (27940 bytes) We were in for some much needed exercise - the streets are very hilly, which of course is one of the landmarks of San Fran. Walked into Chinatown, a mix of restaurants and shops selling Oriental furniture, cheap tacky things and strange "delicacies", most of which we didn't investigate too closely! Then a trip to the Virgin megastore for a complete contrast. Visited Union Square where an art exhibition was being held and then went to a 7 storey shopping mall - couldn't afford anything though. Exhaustion caused us to go back to the hotel by taxi. Learning to drive must be a nightmare - all those hill starts.pampani.jpg (20897 bytes) Jo & Sarah stayed in their room whilst Martyn and I went back out to the quay and took a tour around the SS Pampanito. How 80 men lived in those cramped conditions for months at a time, I don't know. This was a real highlight of the trip for Martyn, he finds submarines fascinating. Did some last minute shopping and bought a bag for all our extras that wouldn't fit properly into our cases. Weather was getting decidedly chilly so we opted to eat in the hotel - had some vouchers for drinks and clam chowder. I had my first ever (and second) margarita - very nice too.

22nd April

Back home today but it was pouring with rain so that helped! Had a final attempt at resolving things with the rep but yet again a wasted mission. The departure lounge was very basic with few facilities so our wait was very boring. A good flight though with more good films to watch to pass the time.

Post Script

A wonderful holiday, marred only by the Yosemite mess. We found the Americans extremely helpful and kind and enjoyed all our destinations. The tour hotels were all very good and it was worth paying extra for a bigger car (we drove about 2000 miles) and for 4 * accommodation. There were so many things we didn't have time to see and do that we will definitely go back one day. Next time we'll drive the coastal road between San Francisco and San Diego. Considering there were 4 of us to please, we managed a good balance of things to see and do.

We were very disappointed with Virgin Holidays' refusal to help us in our time of need. It took several letters and phone calls for me to get a refund for our extra costs and we were given no compensation.

 

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