Things finally seem to have settled down for us now, so I am going to try and catch up on my postings. Rather than add to the previous request for advice when planning our trip, I thought that it would be better to start a new discussion and give you a summary of the journey. We left the UK on 12 Feb and travelled to Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand prior to arriving in Los Angeles on 8 Apr. We then spent until 1 May travelling through the southern states and finally heading north for 3 days in Chicago prior to our return to the UK. On our return to the UK, we had our 40th wedding anniversary lunch to organise and our eldest son's wedding … time seemed to fly!
As most of the Marriotts that we stayed in were in the USA, I thought that I'd start with a summary of that part of our trip before giving a summary of the rest. I'll put the hotel reviews in that section and just reference where we stayed in this summary.
Overall, the vacation was amazing and we had a great time on our road trip. The advice that you guys provided was extremely helpful and so a big "thank you" to you all. We avoided the freeways as much as we could and found some amazing little towns and stunning scenery on our way. We did have some interesting occurrences on our journey, e.g. the big fire in West whilst we were in Dallas and we reached Louisiana at the point when tornado warnings were being given over the radio. The fire in West looked devastating and we really felt for the folks there.
The tornado warnings worried us a bit as they gave locations by county and we didn't have a clue as to which county we were in. Therefore we stopped at a Pancake House to grab a coffee and check with the locals. I don't know if they were giving us a dose of 'tourist humour' or if they really are that relaxed. When I asked a couple of guys if we were in a dangerous area the response was along the lines of … "don't worry, you'll see it coming so just turn the truck around and drive as fast as you can in the opposite direction". They then carried on eating their pancakes and eggs etc.
We did not, fortunately, see any tornadoes. However, having seen the recent damage in the Mid West, I don't think that I would as relaxed the next time that I heard a warning.
DAY 1 - Monday 8 April
We arrived early afternoon into LAX from Auckland on an Air NZ flight. We hit the usual Border Control delays but were at the Hertz desk by about 3pm. Despite pre-booking the vehicle and being a Gold customer, they still made a complete screw up of getting us an acceptable ride. We had booked a Ford Explorer or similar but they tried giving us some huge 8 seater truck. It took an hour plus before we left with a Mazda 6 … nice enough car but 'similar to a Ford Explorer?' … I think not. This delay did, of course, put us into the worst of LA traffic.
When we arrive at the Hesperia SHS, we were very tired and living in hope of an easy dinner and early night in a comfortable room. As soon as we walked in, we relaxed … great welcome from the lady on the desk and pleasant enough room. All of the staff that we met were excellent and very helpful. We grabbed a quick dinner at IHOP … Ann Marie's favourite fast-food restaurant in the USA. (My wife is not a fan of fast-food places … think of the 'wild horses' phrase if anyone mentions MacDonalds.)
We had a great night at the SHS in Hesperia.
chrisf, I am so glad you had a great time. Driving via roads that are not highways makes for great site-seeing and local feel of the area. I love that as well. When I was younger, my family would travel across the US via Route 66 from Oklahoma to California. Those were amazing trips. I can't wait to hear more of your adventures, both here in the US and also Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. I have been following pluto77 on her adventure to Sydney, Australia as this area is on my bucket list and hope to travel there within the next few years (before I'm too old to enjoy it...). Therefore, I can't wait to hear more of your trip as well.
Glad you made it back safely to the UK and thanks for coming to America to see the sights.
Message was edited by: madmax btw, Happy 40th anniversary. I forgot to add that.
With the moniker of 'madmax', you certainly should make sure that you visit Oz! We only called in on relatives in Melbourne on this trip but we did cover Sydney and Cairns a few years back. Loved Sydney … we spent a week there and need to go back. I am planning a return visit to Oz in a few years time … currently looks like 2016 … we plan to spend about 6 weeks touring around. It's such a long journey that we want to make sure that we get good sites in for the day each way travelling
I have been watching and storing all information about it so I can hit all the high points and hopefully some of the off the beaten path areas as well. Pluto's blog of visiting her sis in Sydney was one of the beneficial ones. Great pics there as well. Thanks for the info chris.
DAY 2 - Tuesday 9 April
Checked out and headed for Kingman. Decided we would try and do part of the journey on Route 66. We had a drive around the Needles area and stopped at the Wagon Wheel for lunch. Lovely historic restaurant with very friendly locals … our server commented on our 'cute' accents … mmm.
After lunch, we headed up to Bullhead City and had a very quick tour round as it was getting late. (Nice big Walmart where we stocked up on essentials, e.g. wine for Chris!) Picked up Route 66 again and had an amazing drive over to Kingman … just stunning scenery for us Brits. We went through a small tourist 'wild west' town but I didn't note the name … looked fun but we were too late for the day's action.
Stayed at the SHS in Kingman … pretty good but a few small criticisms. We ate at Redneck's Southern Pit BBQ … excellent ribs … amazingly cheap and good!
I see you two took the time to drive through our little podunky desert town of Bullhead City. When we began recreating there over 45 years ago, it was nothing but a tiny little two horse town. Laughlin, NV across the river where the (now aging) high rise casinos are, was exactly just one restaurant that served up steak and eggs and had about three slot machines in it. Times they have a changed, except to say that BHC is now big enough to sport a Wally World , yet podunky (and depressed) as ever.
Still, it's where we go for fresh water fun. Life as seen from the Colorado River there is a whole different world than what you see from the highway. I spent a lot of time there in April when my grandma was ill, but was not there on the day that you and Ann Marie passed through, and disappointed that we missed each other.
The desert scenery really boasts a unique majesty all it's own. Terrific photos.
Pluto, we didn't have much time in BHC unfortunately. The problem with doing a road trip in the USA is the distances … on the day we went through BHC we were driving 245 miles. Although this seems not that far, by the time we had stopped for food, views, etc. and driven on twisty roads, it took a looong time.
DAYS 3, 4 & 5 - Wed 10 to Fri 12 April
Checked out and headed for the Grand Canyon, using Route 66 as much as possible. Stopped at Seligman at the RoadRunner for coffee and donuts. Fascinating time capsule. People were just so friendly … amazingly so considering that they have to cope with so many tourists. Headed onto Williams, where we were hoping to find somewhere nice for lunch. However, it was so busy and parking was a challenge so we just had a quick look round and headed on.
The road from Williams to Grand Canyon Village just seems to go on and on and on … pretty boring drive … but arriving at GC Village is amazing! We had booked one of the historic lodges at Bright Angel … lovely location but the cabins are really small … even by Brit standards. They were advertised as B&B but were really 'bed only' and had no catering facilities at all. The cabin location was great, right on the rim, but parking was a nightmare.
Anyway, we weren't in the cabin that much, so no big deal. We were generally up early and out walking. We walked part way down the Bright Angel Trail but limited our time going down as we knew the walk up would be a bit more challenging. the 'road-crew' were heading down on their mules to do some track repairs when we set out … the guys looked real 'wild west' characters. Food prices weren't too bad considering the location. We tried a few of the restaurants … the Arizona Room was our favourite.
I was thanking the inventor of the digital camera whilst we were there … such stunning views and loads of wildlife … I would definitely have run out of film. One of the major difficulties that we encountered was getting a sense of perspective in the photos … the canyon is just so huge. As for the sunsets … speechless! We've added Grand Canyon to our list of revisits.
Wow chris these are absolutely stunning. Brings back alot of memories of when I was a child. It is funny you mention the road from Williams. That stretch is about 180 miles of absolutely nothing.
Glad you didnt have car trouble along that stretch. Thanks for the fabulous pictures and information about your trip.
DAYS 6 & 7 - Sat 13 / Sun 14 April
Had a last look around the Grand Canyon and dragged ourselves back onto the road and headed for Sedona. A huge 'thank you' to those of you who recommended a detour to Sedona … absolutely stunning! It was a shame that we only had two days here. It seemed to be the reverse of the Grand Canyon … there we were on the rim, here we were in the valley bottom.
We stayed at the Best Western in the absence of a Marriott … bit of a mistake … BW Diamond status doesn't seem to count for much. Unfortunately, the Hyatt only had mega-expensive rooms left. Still, the room was comfortable and we had a huge balcony on which we could watch the sunrise. Breakfast was a bit chaotic. I wouldn't recommend the BW.
The main street in Sedona seemed quite touristy by Tlaquepaque was excellent … we went here after our main street walk about and ended up enjoying a nice glass of wine in the Secret Garden. The highlight of the visit to TlaqueP for me was spotting a hummingbird's nest on a branch … tiny and the bird was on the nest. We did the walk to West Fork … loved it but were blocked from going any further as the stream was getting a bit deep. We also drove up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross … an inspiring piece of architecture.
We found a couple of great places to eat. (Jerry, we never made it L'Auberge … we'll make that next time.) We had a great italian meal at Troia's … Sam and Rosanne were great hosts (see pic below). We also stopped at the Indian Garden for lunch after our West Fork walk. However, on Sunday evening, we decided to veg and had a healthy salad and wine on the balcony.
On our way up West Fork
With Rosanne and Sam at Troia's
Love the hummingbird nest and hummingbird as well as the other pictures.
What was the cathedral looking structure?
Also, did you go on the glass overlook at the Grand Canyon?
Thanks for all the updates and pictures, chrisf.
Hi eb5147, that's the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Quite a stunning piece of architecture … wikipedia has a good write-up …Chapel of the Holy Cross (Sedona, Arizona) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
DAY 8 - Mon 15 April
Checked out and headed for Santa Fe … our first visit to New Mexico. Pretty long drive today … 411 miles … well, a long way for us Brits … the longest distance in the UK is from Lands End to John O'Groats - 837 miles.
Despite mostly travelling through a desert landscape, we were surprised at the varied scenery. Some pretty stunning colours too. We stopped off at Holbrook for lunch in a very rural and historic diner … Mr Maestas … their real home-made burger was excellent. We arrived at the Fairfield Inn quite late and were given a great welcome by the young lady on reception. A slightly unusual FFI … see Review.
We headed out to Maria's for dinner and had a huge and excellent mexican meal. A very busy restaurant with not a lot of parking space. We also checked out the historic area for a visit the next day as we had a shorter journey.
I just found the pic of Mr Maestas … the restaurant area was full of curios inside ...
Message was edited by: chrisf
DAY 9 - Tue 16 April
We decided to get an early breakfast and head back into historic Santa Fe before we hit the road to Amarillo. An interesting area with the stunning St Francis cathedral. Quite a lot of arty shops. Parking was a challenge due to a fairly difficult one-way system. we were surprised at the level of poverty with a large number of homeless people in the central square … a large police presence too.
We were a bit late leaving Santa Fe and arrived at the Amarillo FFI late evening. We didn't want to go far in search of food and were recommended to Macaroni Joe's. The appetiser (crab cakes) was excellent and the wine good and reasonably priced but the entree had a very rich creamy sauce which dominated any other flavours. Service was good and the ambience very nice.
The FFI itself was excellent … usual comfortable room and great service.
St Francis Cathedral ...
DAYS 10 & 11 - Wed / Thu 17 & 18 April
We set out early on our drive to Dallas … 366 miles and I had been warned that Dallas traffic was a nightmare. Oh, how true that was!! I am amazed that there are not more traffic accidents than there are … Dallas driving ranks fairly high on my list of the worst driving that I have encountered on our USA trips.
It seems very strange to be writing about our stay in Dallas on the eve of the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Whilst we were in Dallas, we did of course visit both the Book Repository and the Memorial. We expected to spend an hour or so at the 6th Floor Museum but ended up there for nearly 4 hours … missing lunch. I know that it was a tragic event but I thought the museum content had been delivered very thoughtfully and respectfully. It certainly gave us a huge insight in the possibilities of what occurred on that day.
The Memorial was pretty deserted when we visited and it provided a very peaceful area for contemplation. We had heard that it was a very plain memorial and not liked by many. However, I found it difficult to see what better format it could take. I think that its simplicity shows respect for the tragic event.
We ended up staying out at Mesquite in a Courtyard as we were meeting up with some relatives. The Marriott team there were excellent and the hotel was great. As we were very late arriving (courtesy of the Dallas traffic and challenging road layout), we ate at a Red Lobster near the hotel. The fish always seems to be reliably good.
When we met up with our relatives the next day, they suggested eating at El Finex on McKinney … worked for us as we were doing the museum etc. during the day and love texmex. The meal was great and the margueritas were very good … I had to try a few to make sure that they were consistently good
Hi IAHFLYR … yup, Houston ranks up there with Dallas as a pretty nightmare place for Brits to drive in … we just can't cope with 6 lanes of traffic with vehicles continually swapping lanes! However, we did manage to find a route out (fairly lengthy detour) which avoided the big freeway stuff. We then stuck with the old US90 wherever we could to Lafayette … a longer but more pleasant and interesting journey then the I10.
Hey, it doesn't take being from across the pond to hate Houston traffic.
When I was there, I was always fascinated by the fact that when they needed extra lanes, they just added them...in the current space! It was a game of whether you thought (not crazy enough to try) you could reach out and touch the other car at 75 mph. Great report. Looking forward to Louisiana.
nuhusker we're just warming up the audience while chrisf loads up the next leg of his trip, then I'll share my gator and crawfish stories.
Texas was where drivers learn to go lightly on the horn, no matter what (those trucks with the gunracks are great instructors). This has served me well, especially in the DC market, where most drivers are not from here.
Yes. I hate driving in Houston, even more than Dallas.
When I drove through there a few years ago on I-10 on the way to Polk Co., TX; the construction was going on with the concrete walls / barricades next to the outside lane, AND the lane had a ridge in it with one side lower than the other that kept switching in relation to the car, while cars never even slowed down despite being in construction areas. INSANE driving and construction.
Smart, IAHFLYR. And congrats for insider of the month.
I have a double 2nd and 3rd cousin who live on a golf course in the Houston area. He drives his golf cart around there.
His father once drove a tractor lawn mower from McKinney to IA or IL once after his driver's license was taken away because of poor eyesight. He had his picture taken for the newspapers all along the way.
DAYS 12, 13 & 14 - Fri 19 to Sun 21 April
We managed to escape Dallas after negotiating the morning traffic … tried to avoid the major roads on our way to San Antonio. We took a leisurely day avoiding West as the roads were still busy from the tragic fire. Stopped off at a Cracker Barrell for lunch in Killeen … just love CB, so reliably consistent. Arrived at the Marriott Courtyard Riverwalk late afternoon.
The drop-off area is pretty small and was very busy but the guys did a great job of unloading our bags and parking the car. Great welcome and excellent room … 17th floor overlooking the Riverwalk. We had a breakfast inclusive rate and the breakfasts were excellent - freshly cooked.
We had arrived here during the Fiesta celebrations … great timing but by accident. Just loved San Antonio … lots to see, great restaurants and a lot of history. We hired some cycles from the Blue Star Bike Shop and cycled along the Riverwalk to San Jose Mission … excellent! Visited the Guenther House, Steves Homestead, Market Square, did the bus tour and, of course, visited the Alamo. The only low spot was the Guenther House … not pleasant people … the first place that I have ever given a 'terrible' rating on TripAdvisor.
Ate at some great restaurants … Luke's and Mi Tierra … and some average - e.g. Mexican Manhattan. Overall, we loved San Antonio and would definitely go back.
View across San Antonio from our Courtyard room
Steve's Homestead … a great place to visit
Here we are … eating and drinking again … Mi Tierra
Cycling along the Mission Trail by the Riverwalk … outstanding!
There was just so much wildlife along the Riverwalk ...
Well, Insiders has done it again, increased Marriott's sales through word of mouth referrals. After reading your write up and viewing jkernitzki's and razorbackfan's photos and tef6178's and missgee's praises of RiverCenter, I'm heading to the Alamo, no doubt to sample some of the restaurants you wrote about and of course my new favorite BBQ, courtesy of nuhusker, Rudy's (the Chandler Az. one was terrific).
Here's an interesting pricing tidbit - a first for me (and as you all know, I live in the Marriott pricing matrix); I reserved the property, couldn't secure award flights on one of the end days, so I was going to reduced a day in order to fly free. I went to the matrix, checked the rates first, sure enough, one less day did not alter the room rate, BUT when I went to my Marriott reservation to modify and clicked the modify link, the matrix informed me that the new rates were $20 more each night (even though on my other tab I have the new/same rates right in front of me). So I had to make a new reservation and cancel the 15 minute old reservation; but I wonder how many road warriors juggling between five/six stays a month, understandably, in a hurry, just modify on the terms Marriott throws at them and get sucker punched?
Man o' man, these Marriott machines are nasty. Ok, back to the road trip, thanks for sharing.
I concur Prof erc. This site is great for spurring up a spontaneous trip. As for that pricing crapola, it just reminds me that some businesses live by the cutthroat rule of buyer beware. The hotel industry leads the world in opportunistically sticking it to any and all prospective buyers. Maybe someday, a chain will shake up the industry and go to a flat rate.
erc, I've also spotted this one but found it essential to confirm the new booking before cancelling the old one … things seem to change pretty dynamically. I also avoid booking the 'advance rate' … rates frequently go down close to our dates and if we have pre-paid on the advance rate, there is no chance of changing!
DAY 15 - Mon 22 April
We headed out of San Antonio fairly early and headed for Houston. Having had to avoid the freeway on our journey from Dallas and found the smaller roads to be much more pleasant, we avoided the freeway and used the US90. This took us through Halletsville at around lunchtime and we found a great bakery for lunch … Besetsnys Kountry Bakery. There was a stew and a chilli on offer or the local combination of the two, called a hot-shot .. we went for the combination - very tasty! They also had an amazing selection of cakes … yep, we bought some.
By the time we reached Houston, traffic must have been at its peak. We had a pretty terrible journey in on the 6 lane freeway (bit of a misnomer - nothing was flowing freely!) with vehicles constantly swapping lanes. We eventually found the right exit and reached the Marriott hotel. Parking was a fair walk from the hotel and then we had to track through some renovation work before reaching reception. However, the welcome was excellent and the CL was great. We decided not to venture out into the traffic again so ate what was on offer in the CL. The traffic seemed to be noisy all night.
Houston was a bit of a watershed for us as we saw very little of the city. We realised that long days driving and short stops at major US cities was not a great idea. By the time we had negotiated the city traffic, there was little time to see any sights. A better approach would be to do less distance, stay outside the city and then get a cab in … far less stressful.
The bakery in Halletsville
DAY 16 - Tue 23 April
Nice breakfast in the CL and then checked-out of Houston. As we didn't want to get on the nightmare 6 lane freeway, we made a detour to the north of Houston … quite an interesting drive and we saw more of the rural parts of the city. Once we escaped the core of Houston, we stuck with the US90 … much more pleasant than the I10. We found the Louisiana Visitor Centre on our way … what nice, helpful people and free coffee too! Arrived at the Lafayette FFI early evening … in the rain. Very poor welcome and not at all Marriott quality.
We looked for a local restaurant and fount the Blue Dog Cafe … great meal. Breakfast at the hotel the next day was pretty poor and we were glad to escape. Very disappointing … especially as our previous visits to the other FFI in Lafayette had been so good.
Day 17 - Wed 24 April
Terrible weather when we left Lafayette … heavy rain and lightening. Our last leg of our trip … heading for New Orleans. On our way, we started getting Tornado warnings but, as the warnings were by county, we didn't know whether to worry or not. Around lunchtime, we stopped at a Waffle House and the locals were fairly relaxed about the warnings … their recommendation was 'if you see a tornado coming, drive as fast as you can in the other direction" … mmmm!
Anyway, we made it to New Orleans without incident and dropped the car at the airport rental returns. Hertz actually delivered at this location and drove us to a taxi rank. We grabbed a cab and headed for the New Orleans Marriott on Canal. The guys here gave us a great welcome. We didn't like the first room and they quickly moved us to one that was great. A glass of wine later and we were ready for NO … we were here a week, so I'll add a new posting of our time here.