Las Vegas (October 2013)

Posted Posted in Trips

This is the third leg of our four week holiday in the United States and Canada.

October 1

Las Vegas

We reluctantly left downtown Vancouver for Vancouver Airport and flew with Air Canada direct to Las Vegas, arriving at 2.00pm.

We decided to arrive in style and took a limo to our accommodation at The Mirage. The cost was equal to having to hire two taxis. The rear wall of the reception counter is a massive aquarium.

Government Shutdown

Whilst we had heard there was the potential for a US government shutdown, speculation was that the issue would be resolved before money ran out. Unfortunately that was not the case and for the rest of our holiday we had to forego visiting many of the locations we had planned to visit.

Some of the places we couldn’t visit included Red Rock Canyon, Grand Canyon South Rim and the Pearl Harbour memorial.

Refer to our post on the Government Shutdown for the grief this gave us.

The Mirage

Whether our expectations were too high or not, but our accommodation wasn’t what we expected. Our room was almost at the end of one of three wings of rooms, some considerable distance from the lifts. From the lifts there was a lengthy walk through the casino to the entry foyer, and then another lengthy walk to actually get on “the strip”.

The Big Red Bus

This evening we took the Las Vegas Night Tour operated by the Big Bus Tour Company.

The tour lasted about three hours and we went up and down the strip with a stopover at Fremont Street.

Fremont Street Experience

The Fremont Street Experience was one of the highlights of Las Vegas.

The overhead video screen was amazing, especially the way the video synced to the music being played. The video being played was of Bon Jovi singing “Livin’ on a Prayer“. Apparently this was to promote a concert that Bon Jovi were due to play in Las Vegas.

October 2

Camaro Convertible

As a treat we hired a Camaro convertible for 24 hours. The top went up and down at least a dozen times due to the novelty of never having driven a convertible before.

Almost Red Rock Canyon

We took the Camaro for a drive out towards Red Rock Canyon, hoping we might be able to “sneak in”. Whilst there was no money available to keep the canyon open, there was money to pay someone to stop anyone from entering. One of those “only in America” moments.

Bonnie Springs Ranch

As were unable to enter Red Rock Canyon, we kept driving and eventually drove down a side road to Bonnie Springs Ranch and visited the ranch for a few hours. Our recommendation would be not to bother – the “Wild West” wasn’t that realistic and the zoo wasn’t clean. Give it a big miss.

Pawn Stars

We visited a number of the locations at which the TV shows filmed in Las Vegas. These shows air on the A&E Network. Whilst we were unable to enter the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop as they were filming, we did see the Old Man, Rick, Big Hoss and Chumlee.

Ricks Restorations

Once again, there was filming being conducted at Rick’s Restorations, luckily we did see Rick and the rest of the cast whilst we enjoyed a tour of the workshop.

Counting Cars

There was no filming at Counting Cars so we didn’t mange to see the Count, but we did see a lot of modified cars.

David Copperfield Show

Another highlight was being able to attend a David Copperfield show.

How he did what he does had us stumped. It was all so believable.

October 3

The Yukon

Today we returned the Camaro convertible and picked up a GMC Yukon which we would drive for the rest of our stay on the mainland.

Premium Outlet Stores

Most of the day we shopped, primarily at the Premium Outlet Stores. This is where we purchased our replacement luggage.

October 4

Hoover Dam / Lake Mead

This morning we were away early to take in Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. The visitor interpretative centre was a font of information and the Dam Tour was well presented. This really is a feat of engineering.

Grand Canyon (West Rim)

Due to the government close down, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park remained closed. We decided to visit the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. This is where the traditional Indian owners of the land built the Skywalk attraction on the rim of the canyon.  Interestingly, they could build the Skywalk, but couldn’t build decent roads to get to the Skywalk.

We would have much preferred to see the rim without it having been spoiled by the Skywalk. Hopefully there will be a next time and we can visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon as we had originally wanted to do.

Viva Las Vegas

After a long day visiting Hoover Dam and the West Rim we returned to our accommodation and our time in Las Vegas drew to an end.

 

US Government Shutdown (October 2013)

Posted Posted in Ramblin' On, Trips

From October 1 through 16, 2013, the United States federal government entered a shutdown and curtailed most routine operations after Congress failed to enact legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014, or a continuing resolution for the interim authorization of appropriations for fiscal year 2014. Regular government operations resumed October 17 after an interim appropriations bill was signed into law.

And just like that our holiday took a dramatic turn for the worse.

This is why you shouldn’t rely on your Travel Agent

Once we understood the ramifications the government close down we immediately rang our Travel Agent back in Australia to resolve our accommodation for October 5 (we had planned to stay in the Grand Canyon National Park) and October 6 (staying in Phoenix).

We had rung our accommodation in the Grand Canyon and informed we could cancel and get a full refund or we could wait and see and if the close down wasn’t resolved, we would automatically receive a refund.

We also rang through to our San Diego accommodation and they informed us that we could extend our stay by 2 nights, but the accommodation provider would need to receive confirmation via our Travel Agent’s wholesale provider.

We explained all this to our Travel Agent, yet when we rang back the following day our Travel Agent informed us that everything was normal and to continue with our itinerary. I begged to differ and suggested that the Travel Agent might like to investigate a little deeper than they had.

By now it was Wednesday US time, but Thursday Australian time and time was running short to resolve our accommodation for October 5 and October 6. We had visions of sleeping two nights on the side of the road.

Fortunately when we rang back Thursday US time (Friday Australian time), our Travel Agent was able to confirm that we had an extra two nights accommodation in San Diego, and that depending on what (if any) refund received for the cancelled accommodation , there might be added costs to pay on our return to Australia.

We did receive confirmation that our Grand Canyon accommodation would be refunded, but no refund would be given by the accommodation provider in Phoenix.

Unfortunately, we can’t prove anything, but we suspect the reason for no refund forthcoming from the Phoenix accommodation provider is due to the short notice that was given by the Travel Agent’s wholesale provider.

We believe most accommodation providers offer a full refund less an administration fee provided at least 48 hours prior notice is given. If the Travel Agent’s wholesale provider had notified the Phoenix accommodation provider when we first contacted our Travel Agent we would have received almost a full refund.

However, as the accommodation wasn’t cancelled until Thursday US time, no refund would be considered.

Taking into account the many omissions and mistakes made by our Travel Agent we will in future attempt to make all our own arrangements and be in total control of our arrangements, and not rely on a Travel Agent .

Rant and whine over!

 

Vancouver (September 2013)

Posted Posted in Trips

This is the second leg of our four week holiday in the United States and Canada.

September 29

Grouse Mountain

Having settled into our accommodation our plan was to visit Grouse Mountain and experience the cable car ride to the top of the mountain. However, the further up the mountain we drove the more inclement the weather became.

Stanley Park & Lions Gate Bridge

Along the way we drove through Stanley Park and crossed the Lions Gate Bridge.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

By the time we got to the car park, the weather had well and truly set in and it was raining hard and there was no visibility to speak of. We had some cake and coffee at Starbucks before making our way down to the Capilano Suspension Bridge.

Unfortunately the weather hadn’t improved so we elected to return to our accommodation.

September 30

Today was a “ground-hog” day. Downtown the weather was OK, once again as we drove up to Grouse Mountain the weather turned nasty and again their was no visibility at the car park was again non-existent.

We walked the area around our accommodation and enjoyed a Chinese meal at a restaurant around the corner from our accommodation.

We would like to return to Vancouver (hopefully the weather will be better) and spend more than two days there.

Alaskan Cruise (September 2013)

Posted Posted in Trips

This is the first leg of our four week holiday in the United States and Canada.

September 20

Baggage Dramas

Our baggage made it in one piece to Los Angeles, but somehow between Los Angeles and Seattle the airline damaged four of our bags such that we needed to replace them. We purchased replacement bags at Target in Seattle. However had to replace two of the those bags damaged when we flew between Vancouver and Las Vegas.

Thanks to Target’s refund policy, we received a credit for the bags purchased in Seattle in Las Vegas and then hit the premium outlet store in Las Vegas and secured top quality baggage at half recommended retail price.

We made a claim with the airline for not taking proper care of our baggage and received a full refund for the new baggage that we had bought.

Seattle

Almost 24 hours after leaving Adelaide we arrived in Seattle, the time difference being 17 and a half hours, having transited through Sydney and Los Angeles. We flew with Qantas on the A380 Airbus. Given how squashed we were, the flight wasn’t too bad.

September 21

As we really only had a day in Seattle we spent most of our time in downtown Seattle. We had accommodation arranged at the Hyatt at Olive 8. The motel was ideally located as it was very central and we could walk to all the locations we visited.

Once we had replaced our luggage, we visited the Last Resort Fire Department Museum, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, the Metropolitan Police Department Museum and the Pike Place Public Market area. In the evening we visited the Space Needle.

As we were walking to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum we passed McCoy’s Firehouse and decided it was a good place to have lunch at. Our waitress was fantastic and we even scored a couple of souvenir glasses which was really appreciated.

We did try to pack as much as we could in our short stay in Seattle.

This is the link to our Seattle photos.

September 22

At Sea

After another good nights sleep we gathered our luggage and booked travel to the cruise check-in point.

By 11.30am we were on board the Norwegian Pearl and eager to start our Alaskan cruise.

The ship departed Seattle at 4.00pm and we were on our way to Alaska!

The views departing Seattle harbour were wonderful with the iconic Space Needle in the background.

September 23

Due to rough weather the ship’s Captain decided to cruise through the inside channel, and not in the open sea. The views were wonderful and eventually the light faded and we retreated to our cabin.

Even within the channel the effects of the rough weather were being felt. We rocked and rolled a few times but by morning most of the inclement weather was behind us.

Our first port of call would be Juneau, the state capital of Alaska.

September 24

Juneau

We arrived in Juneau at 1.00pm and experienced seven hours in Juneau. We walked up and down the main street. It was interesting how the shops catered for cruise passengers. It seemed every shop we entered had an offer which we shouldn’t refuse. But refuse we did!

We took a ride on the Mt Roberts Tramway. At the top, we explored the Sky Bridge and Mountain House complex created by Goldbelt Incorporated, the local Native Corporation that owns and operates this attraction. We also visited the live bald eagle display.

We returned to the ship at 5.00pm.

September 25

Skagway

We arrived in Skagwag at 7.30am and had arranged to meet Howard Mallory for a tour up the Klondike Highway to Carcross, Canada. We were on the road by 8.00am and returned to the dock at 2.00pm.

It seemed that everywhere there was a photo opportunity. Whilst we expected to see abundant wildlife about, any wildlife we did see was way to far away to photograph.

The border crossing from the USA to Canada was uneventful, but the same could not be said for the border crossing from Canada back into the USA. The border security agent seemed overly vigilant in performing his duties, requiring us all to step out of the vehicle whilst he searched it for anything illegal.

The weather deteriorated on the way back due to low cloud and poor visibility, and we missed many a photo opportunities that we said we would photograph on our return to Skagway. Upon returning to Skagway we walked around town for an hour or two before returning to the ship.

The ship left Skagway at 8.00pm.

September 26

Glacier National Park

What a sight to behold – John  Hopkins Glacier in the Glacier National Park. We arrived at 10.00am or thereabouts and spent five hours at the lip of the glacier.

Words can not adequately describe the vistas of the mountains and the ice. As we entered the glacier, gradually larger and larger pieces of ice floated by the ship.

This was most definitely the highpoint of the cruise.

September 27

Ketchikan

We arrived in Ketchikan at 8.30am and by 9.00am we had our hire car, a Ford Focus. This was the first time that we experienced driving on the “wrong” side (for us) of the road.

We visited Totem Bight Historical State Park which was about 10 miles out-of-town. We walked through the park and viewed many a totem pole and the Clan House.

Eventually we returned to the car and drove in and around town for an hour or so, until it was time to return the hire car.

The ship departed Ketchikan at 1.30pm.

September 28

Victoria

We arrived in Victoria at 6.00pm for short five hour visit.

Whilst we die step off the ship and make it to the start of the pier, the weather wasn’t kind to us, it was raining, quite chilly and to put it simply – miserable. Rather than be out in such inclement weather, we returned to the ship and kept warm and dry on board.

The ship departed Victoria at midnight for the short journey over to Vancouver.

September 29

Vancouver

All to quickly our cruise was at an end.

We docked in Vancouver at 8.00am and had disembarked the ship by 8.30am. We took a short taxi ride to collect our hire car, a Toyota Rav 4, but the attendant showed up late, so it took a little longer than expected to collect the car.

We had accommodation booked at the Holiday Inn, and “Murphy’s Law” saw us go to the wrong Holiday Inn first. However, checking our quote and our accommodation vouchers, each was contradictory. Eventually we settled into the Downtown Holiday Inn, rather than the Broadway Holiday Inn which was a few miles further from the Holiday Inn we stayed at.

Interestingly, our shuttle to pick us up to take us to the airport also went to the wrong Holiday Inn first. Seems like this another stuff up by our Travel Agent!