Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Arches National Park - Part One - Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019

Las Vegas/Utah Trip Overview

We arrived in Moab around 4pm after driving around 7 hours from Las Vegas.   We decided to do Arches first during this week-long trip so we would not be so far from the airport (we were flying out of Las Vegas) and we could let the Memorial Weekend crowds settle down a bit at the more popular (and easily accessible) Zion and Bryce.

Dave expected the town of Moab to be a lot like Sedona, AZ.   Nope, nothing like it.   There were a few nice stores and restaurants here-and-there, but overall some of the buildings in the area seemed a little worn-down and less formal.  We chose to spend our two nights in town at the Moab Valley Inn.  It's very unlike us to not pick a branded hotel when available since we chase loyalty points.  In Moab the branded hotels are mostly on the outskirts of downtown.   The Moab Valley Inn was conveniently located across the street from Moab Brewing.   The Inn was ok.  We had a clean room that needed an overhaul, but the staff was friendly.

We were hoping to make it to the Visitor Center before 5pm closing.   That didn't happen because the line to get into the park was extremely long with many people taking too long to buy admission.  It would have been great if there was an annual pass express lane.

For our first few hours we were sticking with the first portion of the park taking the main road to Balanced Rock and then turning into The Windows section.
We used GyPSy Guide along the way to learn more about the sites we were visiting.   We really didn't know much about the area and went in with little expectations.   The first few sites had easy-to-navigate parking lots.   The main attractions of The Windows and Double Arches were a different story.   This area is where folks lingered.  Surprising fact - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade's opening scene was filmed here.

Most of the landscape was filled with desert rock and scrubby looking bushes with a few large red rock mountains thrown in for fun.  We had a great time exploring the first section of the park before calling it quits and heading back to the brewery for dinner and drinks after a long day on the road.




We stared at the happy camel rock for a 1/2 hour while waiting to get to the admission booth

Arrived 3 minutes after closing time
Park Avenue






There are over 2,000 identified arches in the park and more are being discovered (or formed).


The Windows from a distance


Balanced Rock




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Turret Arch


Double Arch








Sunday, August 4, 2019

Las Vegas and Utah - May 2019 - Las Vegas and Kolob Canyon

The foundation for our Memorial Week vacation was built back in November when tickets went on sale for Barry Manilow's show at The Westgate in Las Vegas.  Holly has been a lifelong fan and wanted to be sure she saw him perform one more time now that he is 75.   What made it even better is we scored 2nd row-center seats.

Now all that was left was building a trip around the show.  We floated around ideas like Palm Springs and the nearby National Parks, extending time in Las Vegas and the surrounding area, but ended up landing on the Southern Utah National Parks to fill our week. 

First thing we asked ourselves was "Who are we?"  We enjoyed our time in National Parks over the last few years while Holly completed running a marathon in every state, but those were 1/2 day or one full day visits.   This was a full seven days that would come with a lot of windshield time.   Part of our rationale was let's get some more active touring out of the way while we still have mobility freedom.   Parks and hiking can be tough for some folks that can't get around so easily.   Also, we are pretty good at sitting on beaches and around hotel pools so we thought it was time to try something different.  If it sucked it was only one week out of our lives.    Believe us, we kept questioning our choices as time got closer and Dave was constantly evaluating alternatives with Vegas as the start/end point.  But we stuck with it and had an incredible trip.



The itinerary (colors indicate drive day and match the route drawn on the map):

Friday night - Sunday morning: Las Vegas
Sunday:  Drive to Moab, stop at Zion's Kolob Canyon on the way, visit Arches National Park
Monday: Arches NP - Morning on our own and afternoon 4x4 tour
Tuesday: Canyonlands NP (north portion only), Capitol Reef NP, night in Torrey in a Conestoga Wagon
Wednesday: Capitol Reef NP morning, scenic Route 12, Bryce Canyon NP
Thursday: Bryce Canyon NP
Friday: Zion NP
Saturday: Zion NP, horse ride
Sunday: Drive to Vegas and spend some time casino touring before the flight home

We picked the rental up from the Las Vegas airport (tip - the rental center is so far from the terminal so allow extra time) and drove directly to the Welcome to Las Vegas Sign.  This was Holly's first visit to Las Vegas so we wanted to make sure we got a few touristy things worked in.


We originally booked The Paris Hotel but then realized for the same price we could stay next door (as next door as it gets in Vegas) at the Hilton Elara and earn major Hilton Honors points (and free parking).  It was attached to the mall shared by the Planet Hollywood Casino.   Disney fans will appreciate we had a Monorail view room facing south towards Mandalay Bay.  

Our first stop was Sin City Brewing's mall stand for a walkie.  We fought our way through the crowded Friday strip to the Bellagio Fountain show before grabbing a Lyft over to Fremont Street and old Las Vegas.  A free Blink 182 show was going to take place tonight in the center of the Fremont Experience so we did some quick casino touring and caught the early light show before playing a few games and having dinner at Lillie's Asian in The Golden Nugget.





We fought the Saturday morning breakfast crowds at Hash House a Go-Go in the Linq before heading over the The Venetian to tour the mall.  That turned into about an hour of gambling yielding near break-even returns.    Ubering out of The Venetian is a nightmare because of their setup so we don't suggest it.  Our car was taking us off-strip to Frankie's Tiki Room - a bar Dave has wanted to visit for over 8 years.   When we pulled up to the windowless building with an empty parking lot (at around noon) the driver offered to hang around while we checked it out.   It was open (24/7 as advertised) and it was a tiki bar dream (except for the smoke).  Dank, lots of wood carvings, hanging glass balls for lamps, an exotica music jukebox, and kitschy film clips on the TV.   As our time there went on the crowd started to build, keeping the lone employee/bartender occupied.   We ended up mail ordering a tiki mug and t-shirt from their website to save us room in the luggage.  Two drinks in meant it was time to find food. 





We caught a Lyft back towards our hotel and ended up at Cabo Wabo for lunch.   Not the most inspired choice but their was a seat available along the rail allowing us to watch all of humanity go by.  We spent a little time casino touring around Bellagio, Aria, and Cosmopolitan.  We found a good beer list at Holstein's in the Cosmopolitan.

We took the monorail over to The Westgate for the show.  We arrived early enough to browse the Barry Manilow shop, have a drink, and become less break-even on the slot machines.

Holly writes:
"When I heard Barry Manilow was going to start doing a residency in Vegas, I knew it was time for me to finally make the trip to Vegas.   Barry was one of the first concerts I saw and I have been a “Fanilow” ever since.   It has been a few years since I have seen him and I was really looking forward to the show.   Barry Manilow puts on an amazing show.   We splurged for great tickets and I was really excited to be sitting in the second row, dead center.    We got to the theater a bit early and I’m glad we did because they had a Copacabana bar with souvenir drinks.   I got the Made it through the Champagne drink, a clever parody of his hit “ I Made It Through the Rain”.   It came in a cool light up glass.   We made it to our seats and I couldn’t believe how close to the stage we were.  This was going to be good! 
Barry came out to start the show and I couldn’t believe how close I was to him.   I immediately started crying!    It was pretty embarrassing.   I was just so blown away that he was right there, my favorite performer.    He sang all the hits and he still sounds as good as ever.   He danced and moved around the stage just like always and he’s not a young man any longer, but you would never know it.    The big finale is Copacabana and it was amazing: show girls, the stage raised up so he could be up close to the people in the balcony, confetti, an amazing outfit on Barry, it was a true Vegas show experience.     I was still crying at the end and so thankful that I got to see him so close.   I now want to go back again!"













After the show we hopped on the Monorail to head back to Paris.  Before our dinner in the Eiffel Tower we spent some time gambling and enjoying the live band on the casino floor.   We got ourselves in the black enough to buy a 6-pack of craft beer.  Dinner at the Eiffel Tower was a little lack-luster.  We were dead center in the middle of the room and had to crane our necks to get some sort of view and the food should have been better for the price.   One thing we can tell you is their chef likes his salt.

***

The alarm went off early on Sunday.  We wanted to have some time in Arches National Park this day and expected about seven hours of driving.  Dave has always wanted to drive down one of those long desert roads with nothing in sight for miles - and he got his wish.  


It seemed every 40 miles or so the landscape changed. Within a couple of hours we passed through St. George, Utah and turned off to enter Kolob Canyon, the north section of Zion National Park.   It was bizarre because you did not expect to see such a dramatic change in the scenery taking a few turns up the mountain road.  We tried not to dilly on the short hike to the lookout but it was hard not to stop and take a few more photos.








Look for more pictures of Holly walking through nature in future posts.






The rest of the drive was uneventful.  We ended up in Moab around 4pm, checked-in to the hotel, then headed over to Arches.   We'll cover Arches/Moab in our next post.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Charities of the Last Few Months

Charity of the Month is a way Team Tizzel is helping to support some very worthy organizations. As part of this program, we will dedicate a post to a charity that we will sponsor through the month by donating Holly's training run money.

Dave has been pretty lazy on blog updates so that’s why we are giving you 4 charities in this post. Three are catch-ups and one is planning ahead.

In March and April we supported Homes for our Troops and Lower 9th Ward Markets by donating cash online.  


May, June, July and August Charities
JDRF - A person from Dave's office is running her second marathon (26.2 miles) to raise money for JDRF.  Her son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes a few years ago.  Since then Amy and her family have made fundraising and awareness a priority.  From Amy's fundraising page: 

I'm so excited be a part of Team JDRF for the 2019 Chicago Marathon! 
My 15 year old son Grant was diagnosed with T1D in 2014.  Over the last four years we've learned how to live a new normal with T1D.  It's not easy and especialy for a teenager.  We have to find a cure so kids and adults do not have to live with the struggles of managing this disease every day.
I ran my first marathon in 2018 and am challenging myself for another race, but with this great cause as my motivation.
Type 1 diabetes is a life-threatening autoimmune disease in which a person's pancreas stops producing insulin—a hormone essential to the ability to get energy from food. It strikes both children and adults suddenly and changes life as they know it forever. It cannot be prevented and there is no cure.
Stand Up to Cancer via American Airlines - We started Teamtizzel.com as a way to help our fundraising efforts to Avon's Breast Cancer Research.   We are continuing to support cancer research and decided that July was a great month to do so in conjunction with American Airlines awareness campaign.   From AA's press release:

“Our national collaboration with Stand Up To Cancer was driven by their proven approach to cancer research and our corporate purpose to care for people on life’s journeys. In a few short years, we’ve seen donations contribute to scientific breakthroughs and more access to meaningful clinical trials,” said Elise Eberwein, Executive Vice President of People and Communications at American. “Today, we ask anyone who has been impacted by cancer join us in our shared goal to make every cancer patient a long-term survivor.”

Jost Van Dyke Methodist Church - For many years we vacationed on the small island of Jost Van Dyke and have walked by the tiny seaside Methodist Church.   Last year Hurricane Irma devastated many of the British Virgin Islands and the community of JVD was hit very hard.    We were moved by the pictures of the destruction.   Almost two years later the Methodist Church is still in needs of massive repairs.  From the Virgin Island News Online article:

”Part of the plan of the fundraising is so the historic structure can be saved. We have had a number of meetings and I think they [church] are now pretty much convinced that keeping the historic structure was a good idea.”

Image result for scoops for hopeGive Kids the World -  We've supported Give Kids the World (GKTW) for years and have featured it as a Charity of the Month many times.   GKTW is known for not denying young guests anything, including ice cream for breakfast.   They turned that concept into a fundraising opportunity a few years ago but changed it to Scoops of Hope to not limit the day-part.   Dave's work gives employees the chance to run their own fundraisers for associates to buy a casual dress day by donating to charity.   Dave and his team will serve ice cream for breakfast as associates walk into the building on August 14th.  He registered the event with GKTW.  Since GKTW is a hotel and he works in hospitality distribution this is a perfect way to tie charity to our industry.  About GKTW from their website:

”Give Kids The World Village is an 84-acre, nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with critical illnesses and their families.

The Village and its community partners provide children and their families accommodations in fully-furnished villas, transportation, tickets to theme parks, meals, daily entertainment and much more.

Each year 27,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with a critical illness. Half of all children eligible for a wish through a partnering wish-granting organization choose to visit Central Florida and its collection of theme parks and other attractions.

Our goal, quite simply, is to provide everything these deserving families need to make their trip the vacation of a lifetime. Since 1986, more than 167,000 children and families have had their dreams fulfilled in a whimsical Village unlike any other place on earth."

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hawaii 2019: Disney's Aulani Resort in Ko Olina


Oahu | Kauai | Maui Posts | Maui Oceanfront Marathon Report

This will be our final post in the Hawaii series.

We've mentioned many times that we are members of Disney Resorts Timeshare Program called Disney Vacation Club (DVC).   We typically only use our membership at the Florida resorts or a few times at Disneyland.   For this trip we had the opportunity to use our points (without the hassle of transferring between programs) for a one-bedroom suite at one of Disney's newest resorts: Aulani on Oahu.  This helped us use up some surplus points since we didn't have a long Florida trip and avoid spending more money (since the timeshare points are pre-paid for) on another hotel.  The real plus of the one-bedroom was having a washer/dryer in unit.

In our first Oahu post we mentioned that we were dreading the Aulani portion of the trip because of the invasion of American Idol filming.    Luckily all the events occurred the two days before our arrival.   When we checked-in the main restaurant was closed for the final celebratory dinner, the stage was being dismantled on the beach, and a bunch of "idols" were running around being teenagers.    Thankfully no impact to us.....

About the resort:   Ko Olina is about 40 minutes outside of Honolulu.   It contains several man-made bays and was originally going to be built up in the 80's.   Stuff happened and a lot of the land remained vacant for years.   Disney, the Four Seasons, and Marriott have built resorts here and have spurred growth in the area.  In another few years a massive Atlantis will be built next to Aulani - which will overcrowd the area (our opinion).  Aulani's buildings form a U-shape facing out to he ocean.   Inside the valley of the U are all the resort amenities including dining, two pools, lazy river, kid's club, splash zone, reef snorkeling experience, watersports, beach, adult pool and bar, etc.  The beach is public (all beaches in HI are) so anyone can come-and-go from the resort.   Design elements incorporate tropical patterns with themes of Hawaiian/Polynesian culture.   The Menehune (mythical magical people like Leprechauns) are hidden around the property and are incorporated into a tablet based game you can play around Aulani.




Pros of staying at Aulani:
- Gives guests that "Disney" fix with character visits, dining, and shopping.  Elevator music is Hawaiian versions of Disney tunes (CD available in the gift shop). 
- Beautiful rooms, restaurants, pools.
- Excellent food - we ate on-property more than we thought we would.
- Great customer-oriented staff members.
- Good amenities nearby for dining and shopping.
- Duffy the Disney Bear is here.
- Mix of American/International guests - good chance to meet someone from another country.
- Live music and storytellers nightly.
- As DVC Members we used points (a fixed cost item) instead of paying with cash.





Cons of staying at Aulani:
- Tiny beach.
- Adult pool is shoved into a dark corner of the resort that appears to get no sun and no ocean view.
- Children - they are everywhere!   Since the resort's U-shape forces everyone into one area all the guests are squished into a few acres of pool and beach.   Kids just take over the beach and you can not sit there for more than 2 seconds without hearing one screaming or crying.  

This is not the place for your peaceful Hawaiian getaway.  If you have kids and love Disney this is probably a good choice for at least a few days of your vacation.


Dining:
Our first dining experience on property was a character breakfast at Makahiki.  How this works is select Disney characters stop by each table to say hi and take pictures.  Food is served buffet style which means you have to time your visits right or else a character could skip your table.  The food was hit-or-miss on this buffet and was not the best character dining experience.  Lighting in the restaurant is pretty low so photos don't turn out very well (as opposed to Chef Mickey's in the very well-lit Contemporary Resort).   This set dining here off on the wrong foot, but it fortunately got better.






Breakfast the rest of the trip was usually something simple from the quick serve from the Ulu Café.  Standouts were the acai bowl and breakfast flatbreads.   Tip: don't get a bagel here - nasty dry rocks.

Lunch:   When we stayed on property we had lunch at the Ulu café which usually consisted of a poke bowl or musubi (spam sushi).   One day we had chicken tenders from Mama's Snack Stop and another day sandwiches from Off the Hook bar.  Shave ice with optional Mickey ears is also available by the pool.







Dinner:  Our first night we went across the street to Monkeypod Kitchen.   They had a decent tap beer selection with upscale bar food.  This place was busy at 9pm on a Tuesday night.  We lucked into bar seats vs. having a long wait for a table.  Another night we walked over to the nearby country club for dinner at Roy’s.  The atmosphere was loud like a club house but the food was excellent and matched (or exceeded) other Roy’s locations we visited on the mainland. 

We had two dinners at the signature sit-down restaurant 'Ama 'Ama.  The restaurant is situated overlooking the beach and is very popular for sunset dining.    We show up about 3 hours later when the place is empty.   We pretty much ate the same meal both nights - poke (tuna) appetizer and fresh fis with sauce choice.  Both the food and atmospher here were perfect.  Another night we ate at the main bar - ‘Olelo Room.   It’s not huge but the seating flows to the patio.   This usually works well but one night it was cold with heavy winds.   Since everything is outdoors there was no place else for guests to go.   We had to sit on spare seats stacked in a corner.   What makes ‘Olelo great is the excellent staff, great food and drinks, plus live local music.


Activities:
We did the inside Menehune hunt which is an iPad-based scavenger hunt around the lobby area.  It was fun!  We thought about renting paddle boards but 1/2 the time they were locked up due to winds.  We skipped the luau.  

We did do a few character meets including Minnie, Moana, Stitch, and Duffy! Thank goodness the Japanese love Duffy. Chip and Dale had fun stealing Dave's GoPro.  












We did the lazy river once and used the slides a few times.   We found moving up to the deck by ‘Ama ‘Ama was a perfect place for sunset.  The rest of our time was spent on the child infested beach.  

We skipped the snorkel reef since we had excellent snorkeling one cove away.  You can view the action in the tank through aquarium windows so we felt we had our experience. 







The last activity we did at the resort was a couple's massage.   The spa at Aulani has a pretty garden with different plunge pools, hot tubs, and showers.  The services were great (but pricey).   One thing Dave didn't like was the initial process of picking a rock with a spa word on it (peace, balance, hope...) out of a basket and throwing it into the pond (fountain).   Hokey City!

Overall Aulani is a great resort and a nice choice for a short visit as part of your total Hawaii vacation.