USA holiday summary

Arrived back in Australia on Saturday August 18th.
Here is a summary of good and bad things about our trip.

In LA our travel agent had arranged for transport to our hotel with Karmel Shuttle service. To get picked up I had to telephone the shuttle and then there was some confusion as to where they would pick us up. I would recommending instead to use the Supershuttle service as they have a dedicated stop at the LA airport and no need to ring up.

Crowne Plaza Resort Anaheim; good accommodation in Anaheim. They include free wifi but the signal from our room made it next to useless. We did use the free shuttle to Disneyland but if you have an early pass into Disneyland you have to take a taxi as the bus doesn’t run that early. Standard check in was 4.00pm which we found a pain when we arrived at noon.

Medieval dinner; this was great fun and highly recommended. When the agent booked this the tickets provided for ‘general admission’. We paid about $60 more to upgrade our seats to ‘royalty’ so that we could sit in the front row to see the knights fighting.

Disneyland; the lines are long. Use Fastpass for the good rides, and when possible try the single rider line for much shorter waiting times.

Universal Studios tour; make sure you purchase the Front Of Line pass. Its about $80 extra per person but worth it when you get to skip all the lines.

Lux Bus; we were picked up from our hotel at 8am and arrived in Las Vegas about 1.30pm. Power sockets were provided for the seats. I thought it was a good alternative to flying to Las Vegas.

Luxor hotel; the great pyramid hotel in Las Vegas is getting old and in need of a refurbishment. I wouldn’t stay here again. They also did not offer any wifi internet access.

Las Vegas night lights bus tour; we checked with the concierge at our hotel and found out about a double decker bus tour that left from the Luxor hotel next to our hotel. Purchase tickets from the bus stop for the cheapest price.

Las Vegas shopping; we caught a taxi to the Premium Outlets South. It was basically a medium sized shopping centre but allows you to check out clothes shops at cheap USA prices. There were no electrical goods stores in the centre which I found a bit disappointing.

Grand Hyatt San Francisco; Wifi internet was an extra charge. This hotel is rated 4 star and I highly recommend it. Great location, only 2 blocks from Chinatown and not far from the Italy area.

United Airlines; we flew united airlines from Sydney -> LA, Las Vegas -> San Francisco, San Francisco -> Sydney. The staff were really friendly. On the first flight the headset socket for Julia’s seat didn’t work. On the flight back home I paid to upgrade our seats to business class. Disappointingly the headset socket in Julia’s seat didn’t work again. Not good for 14 hour flights! Business definitely had more room and the chairs reclined to almost flat so they could be used as a bed. Julia managed to sleep most of the flight and I even slept for a few hours. Business class seats also had USA power sockets for tablets/phones/laptops. Our seat upgrade also gave us access to the United Club at the airport in San Francisco. This wasn’t anything fancy but it was quiet with comfortable seats; and we filled up on biscuits and cheese, softdrink and juice while we waited for our flight. Also power and free wifi was available. Despite the great service I’d hesitate flying with them again due to the media functions not working for our flights.

Taxis; we took taxi’s in all the cities and had no problems. Fares were acceptable and drivers were friendly and courteous. It was disappointing then we arrived back in Sydney and the taxi driver was rude and tried to rip us off by going a really long, and unnecessary way to get us home.

Money; we took USA cash for small purchases such as junk food or taxis. Most of our funds I had put on a Prepaid Mastercard through OzForex. The funds were already in USA dollars and we had no problems using the card at any locations.

San Francisco – Golden Gate Park

We caught a taxi from our hotel to the Golden Gate Park to do some exploring. The park is huge, so we only explored a little area.

We walked through the Japanese Tea Gardens.
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I think you can pick the Aussies abroad because they get excited when they see a squirrel. I know I did. Chased these buggers around the park until I got a photo.
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Next to the tea gardens is the de Young Museum. We didn’t go inside. But the building is impressive in shape. The outside is made of copper which is meant to change colour over time through oxidation.
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Me enjoying a hot dog in the park.
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Opposite the museum is the California Academy of Sciences. It was a real mixed bag of things. There was an aquarium.
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A giant dome with plant exhibits from around the world.
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Dinosaur skeleton in the entryway
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You could go up to the rooftop
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And they had a section on Africa. With stuffed lions and other animals. But they had live penguins.
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There was a small restaurant in the lower floors called the Moss Room. Probably because it had a wall with water running down it into a fish pond. And there was moss on the wall. Kind of unusual menu items but Julia said she had the best pasta there. So if you are in the area and want pasta, check it out.

Touring San Francisco

We had organised a city sight seeing tour, and harbour cruise while in San Francisco.

We saw lots of fire engines travelling around the city. None of them had their sirens on. I don’t know why so many were out driving. Especially since the San Francisco streets seems hard to navigate; narrow little streets. Would be really hard for a truck this size.
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Some large artwork along the water line
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San Francisco traffic; apparently everyone was going to a baseball game. On a Thursday morning. Don’t people work here?
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The famous San Francisco trams. We didn’t go for a ride. They seem more a tourist attraction then ‘real’ public transport as the line to get on the tram was 45 minutes long.
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The town hall, pretty fancy
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Apparently these houses are referred to as ‘the painted ladies’ in some famous literature. I’m obvious not reading the same books because I’d never heard of them.
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The San Francisco skyline.
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The Golden Gate Bridge. We were lucky on the day we were here as there was no fog obscuring the view. Apparently its common for the fog to roll in the block the view of the bridge completely.
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There are bad drivers everywhere. This bus driver decided to block 3 lanes of traffic.
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After our bus tour we walk around the pier area before our harbour cruise.
The sealions sunning themselves.
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Alcatraz Island. I had wanted to go over there but we were told that the tours were booked out a month in advance.
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The boat we took for our cruise. It was too cold on the water so we actually spent the entire time inside. The boat went under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island.
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San Francisco

We checked into our hotel room at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. A few minutes after getting to our room they delivered a complementary tray and a bottle of wine, to congratulate us on our honeymoon.

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How nice was that. Also on the day we were going to leave our flight wasn’t until that night and I asked if we could get late checkout; normal is 12 noon. They said they can give us complementary checkout until 2pm, and then it was $20 per hour. Which I thought was good. I organised for a checkout at 6.00pm on our last day. Plenty of time to explore in the day, and then rest and shower before heading to the airport.

Our hotel room overlooked a square called ‘Union Square’. They seemed to have music concerts there every few days.
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We decided to go for a walk and explore. Only two blocks from our hotel was the Chinatown area.
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It was a strange mix of shops in this area. The usual cheap souvenir shops were there. But also lots of shops that had very expensive items; like glass blown things, or metal casts of status/animals.

After we walked through Chinatown we got to the Italian area. We stopped at a small restaurant for dinner. Nearby this building had an interesting painting on the outside.
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We decided to keep walking after dinner and ended up walking up a pretty steep street. Actually most streets in San Franciso are steep.
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When we got to the top of the hill there was this monument building, called Coit Tower.
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It was built as a tribute to firemen by a wealthy lady. We used the tower as a reference when we travelled around the city.

Las Vegas

My main memory of Las Vegas will be that it was hot. Damn hot. So we spent as much time as we could indoors.

On the main street is the Coke and M&M stores:
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In the M&M store they have all the colours of the rainbow in M&Ms. They also have just about everything with an M&M brand on it. From clothing to kitchenware, to novelty items. And yet when I wanted to buy a packet of peanut M&Ms they didn’t sell them. I would only buy them from the dispenser which was sold per weight of the bag you filled, which I didn’t want.
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Similarly the Coke store had heaps of Coke branded merchandise. I settled by purchasing a Mexican coke. It didn’t taste any different.
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We went to the top of the Eiffel tower, where there are great views of the main Vegas street.
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One evening we went to Bellagio casino and admired the flower arrangements they had made. Here are some giant flower ladybugs:
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In one of the casinos, in front of a sweets shop was this chocolate dragon. The dragon and the flowers are made completely out of chocolate.
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One day we stopped for lunch in an eatery and I mistakenly asked for a ‘large’ burger meal. The coke I received was just too big for me. Even Julia had some but we didn’t even finish half of the beverage.
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One night we were at the Venetian and near the ticket office and saw that the Blue Man Group was having a show in 20 minutes. So we checked and tickets were available. Pretty good tickets too in the middle of the theatre. The show was funny and very entertaining. There was a bit of audience participation with the blue men pulling audience members on stage which I didn’t care much for. But I wasn’t selected so it was all ok.

Next stop is a short 1.5hr flight away to San Francisco!