USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 9 – Grand Canyon South Rim

On all my previous visits to Las Vegas, I always visited the Grand Canyon West Rim. This is because it’s only 2 hours away compared to the long 5 hour drive to the South Rim. Another reason is because I have never woken early enough to make it worthwhile to drive there for the day as our decisions to go to GC in the past were always last minute. This time I would be better prepared.

The South Rim is part of Grand Canyon National Park while the West Rim is privately owned by the Hualapai Tribe. The price difference to enter both is huge. For the West Rim park entrance and skywalk ticket (a small bridge that takes you over the edge so you stand over the huge drop) cost per individual was around $70 which I purchased each time. The South Rim cost was $20 per vehicle for a 7 day pass and permits all passengers to enter.

My alarm goes off at 6am and I feel my almost 6 hours sleep will be enough to get me through the days drive. We collect our vehicle around 7am and enter Flagstaff into the GPS navigation system. This would be about 250 miles with a driving time of roughly 4 hours. We top up the fuel tank and make our way towards the I-40 and pitstop destination Flagstaff.

With this being a Sunday morning, the roads were extra quiet so we wasn’t expecting to hit any traffic. We drive past Lake Mead (which we would visit another day) and drive over the Hoover Dam bridge. The US-93 as expected was traffic free. We see signs for viewing points and decide to take a quick gander at one of them.

I have no idea what part of the road this was on but what a wonderful view for a Sunday morning….

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Back to driving and within minutes, the others one by one each fall asleep. Fantastic! Let’s try and reach Flagstaff without having to stop. Doh! 60 minutes later we are required to make a pit stop so I pull over at the next available place which appears to be a small family restaurant. As I also head round the back to use the restroom, what I see next startled me. I am surprised to see a Rodeo Ranch. Sadly no photos as I had left my camera and phone in the car but nevertheless the place turned out to be a lot bigger than just a small family restaurant.

The drive continues with the road taking us past Kingsman along the way, we are now on the 140 mile plus stretch on I-40. We reach around 11am and decide to refuel now as well as on the way back if needed. As part of our party have never tried Taco Bell or KFC (US version) before, we vote to eat lunch here as both were part of the same restaurant. Other choices around us would be Pizza Hut or McDonalds. No photos warranted as the food from Taco Bell didn’t look great and KFC well is…..KFC. With the food over it’s back on the road we go. As we get back into the car I see the gas stations opposite filling up with what can only be tourists also visiting the South Rim. Not far to go now, only another 80 odd miles or so.

This last part of the drive took much quicker than expected. By 12:45pm, we had arrived at our destination and were looking forward to seeing some fantastic views. With the car parks close to the visitor centre quite full, we had to park a bit further out but with regular shuttle buses taking you around the park, this didn’t matter.

We make our way to what is recommended for a 4 hour visit to the park, the red route. I only have one word to describe this. Wow!

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Walkways with safety railings.

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Highly recommend anyone who is undecided to take the long drive here or to the West Rim to make the most out of it and choose South Rim!

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We spot what I believe to be a Gazelle.

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This was definitely worth the early wake up, the 5 hour drive here and what will inevitably be a 5 hour drive back.

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We spent a little over 4 hours at the park. Definitely not enough! Maybe next time we will consider staying overnight at a nearby hotel or on the park itself.

The journey back to Vegas was uneventful. We stopped off in Kingsman for food and fuel reload and got back to Sin City around 10:30pm. Exhausted!

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 8 – Las Vegas Part 2

Before I begin to describe our second day in Las Vegas, I want to retract part of the statement in my last blog where no photos of the landscape were taken during the drive between San Francisco to Las Vegas. It turns out that one of my friends did actually manage to take some shots of the landscape so I thought I’d share a couple of them.

Here’s one of the many wind turbines near Mojave. I may be wrong though as I wasn’t 100% sure exactly where we were at the time.

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The long stretch on the road towards Vegas.

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Although I don’t have any photos of this, I do love driving into Las Vegas where you can see the city from so far out with the bright lights in the background. I can imagine that some people might find this irritating as it makes Vegas appear closer than what it actually is.

Anyway…….

Onto our second day in Sin City, although granted an extra late check-out at the Palazzo, we decide to leave around 12:30pm and hoped for an early check-in at our next hotel which would be the Marriot Grand Chateau. The reason why we chose this hotel is because of the option for a 2 bedroom villa with easy access to the strip and no casino downstairs. This would be our first experience in a Las Vegas hotel without a smokey atmosphere downstairs. This was also the hotel not available for our first night in Vegas.

Marriot Grand Chateau (MGC) is situated next to Planet Hollywood. It’s close to the strip yet very quiet. The drive from Palazzo down South Las Vegas Boulevard took us past The Mirage, Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Paris, and Planet Hollywood before turning left onto East Harmon Avenue. The check-in time is normally 4pm. With it being 1pm only, I was hoping some super duper leeway would be given due to my status with Marriot Rewards.

The check-in staff member was great. He wasn’t able to give us a room immediately which wasn’t surprising considering the time, but he was more than happy to request a high floor corner villa to be cleaned for our party. He said we would be contacted by either email or phone call as soon as it was ready.

MGC doesn’t have self parking like the other mainstream hotels on the strip. It’s all valet parking only. I suppose for the hotel this is a good thing as it allows them to be in control of who goes in and out of the car park and where each car is parked. At the same time, if something happens to your car then what would happen in terms of liability? The longest we had to wait for the car was 10 minutes. Not bad considering this is normally the time it takes for you to walk to your car from the lobby in a Vegas hotel. Unless you are lost of course.

With this we leave our luggage at the hotel and wait for our car to be handed back to us. With our stomachs crying our for food we get into the car and take a quick 2 minute drive to Aria hotel as we had read good reviews for the buffet there.

The Buffet at Aria lunchtime brunch on a weekend costs $31.99 excluding taxes. I have tried hotel buffets at The Mirage, Harrahs and MGM and sadly two out of three of these were quite poor. On the other hand, I have to admit The Buffet at Aria was a very good choice. Arriving at 1:30pm on a Saturday lunchtime also turned out to be great timing in the end too. At first it was quite worrying as there was no queue to enter the restaurant and nor were there many people inside. The lunchtime rush had been and gone it seemed.

There were many serving stations. Fish Market was smack bang right in the middle with a salad station opposite and then the various international cuisines located around the side.

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My only disappointment was the dedicated Asian cuisine station. I was really looking forward to eating some Siu Mai dumplings but the closest they had were Har Gau dumplings. I took one look at these and thought “these don’t look great, i’m hoping the rest of the food here doesn’t look as bad”, needless to say I was wrong, very wrong! Other choices here included classic chinese choices such as char siu buns and special fried rice. Thai and Vietnamese dishes were also available. The pho cooking station was quite popular.

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Living in Singapore means it’s not often I get to eat traditional UK breakfasts anymore. I took one look here and thought both sausages and bacon are definitely going to be tasted! Nice location for the lasagna…..

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Maybe this is where the lasagna was supposed to be?

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The chicken parmesan lasagna tasted great! 🙂

Without pasta there would be no pizza….

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The carvery meat counters were great. I haven’t had a traditional roast dinner since back in the UK in December 2015. This made up for it.

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The beef was super soft and melted as soon as I tried it. Perfect texture. The confusion I had was the gravy tasted more like BBQ sauce.

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To go with the roasted meats….

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Excellent choice of seafood that included snow crab legs and crawfish!

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There was a small selection of sushi and sashimi on offer. I only took this photo so not the full spread. I didn’t try any but it did look good.

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The cheese and meats selection which is ever so popular in certain European countries that include France, Belgium and Holland.

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If you are a dessert lover, then this is definitely the place for you! I will let the photos do the talking but the choices on offer were excellent.

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I went for the Oreo cake with 2 scoops of Gelato ice cream on offer.

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Overall, this is definitely one of the best buffet meals I have had in Vegas and will definitely come here again in the future.

After dessert I check my phone and notice I had an email sent to me by the hotel around 30 mins after we left. Our room was ready.

We head back to the hotel and are given a room on the floor in the 20’s with the last number 25 (that’s all I remember). A corner suite with a view of the airport in one room, and the strip in the other.

The seating area in the living room was quite big and very comfortable for our group.

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The dining table next to the seating area.

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After 8 days on the road, our group decided it was time to take advantage of the facilities in the kitchen that included a washing dryer!

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The master bedroom had one queen bed with an ensuite bathroom that contained a hot tub.

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The second bedroom had 2 double beds.

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Space wise, the villa was huge and had plenty of space for all our luggage and clothes.

The second bedroom had a really good view of LAS airport.

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Back to the master bedroom….view of MGM Grand with Luxor and Mandalay Bay in the background. We could also see Excelsior too but couldn’t get it in the same shot.

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After unpacking we make our way to Las Vegas North Premium Outlet to do some bargain hunting.

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We head back to the hotel around 9pm and grab a quick bite to eat in the mall at Planet Hollywood. An early night is much needed as the next day we would be heading to Grand Canyon South Rim.

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 7 – Arriving in Las Vegas

After a fantastic 3 nights in San Diego and now a further 3 more in San Francisco, it was once again time to pack our belongings and embark on the next step of our journey. This time however the drive would be longer. The distance according to our GPS from San Francisco to Las Vegas would be approximately 600 miles with a drive time of around 9 hours, 150 miles and 2 hours further than the drive from San Diego to San Francisco.

With this in mind, we leave the hotel at 7am and make our way towards Gilroy before cutting across on Highway 152 to get back onto the i5. After a short 10 minute pit stop on Highway 152, we proceed to reach the Interstate in good time.

Our journey took us through Bakersfield. Many years ago I would see this place on maps only, notably on flight routes on aircraft entertainment screens. Once through Bakersfield, the road takes us onto Highway 58 past Mojave where we see lots of wind turbines. No photos sadly as my group were all sleeping, not a bad thing as it meant no pit stops.

Eventually the group awakens and after 5 hours of non-stop driving we take a break in Barstow for what turned out to be a quick 20 minute visit to the outlet only. This outlet didn’t seem to excite us so we left and grabbed a bite to eat at Carls Jr and then head towards Vegas.

5pm, we arrive! Las Vegas, I have sure missed you. I used to visit Las Vegas at least 2-3 times a year but my last visit prior to this was during Thanksgiving in 2013. Our first choice of hotel wasn’t available for the first night so we decide to take one night at a different one before heading to our mainstay hotel the following day.

We check in at The Palazzo Las Vegas and are given a suite on a floor on the late 30’s (unfortunately I have forgotten what floor this was exactly). This actually worked out really well for us as this enabled us to explore this end of the strip before concentrating on the other side later in the trip.

The suite given to us could easily fit 6-7 adults. Due to status, we were given an upgrade with a view of the strip. I think our original booking was for a strip view also but the suite may have been slightly smaller.

A room with a view……

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My past stays in Vegas have all been at either the Bellagio or Mirage. This suite was certainly a lot bigger and much nicer than those rooms. I can’t decide if I prefer this view or the view of the Bellagio fountains though. Each to their own really.

Some shots of the room. The room came with 2 queen beds and a further queen size sofa bed.

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The sofa bed and sitting area.

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The Palazzo Las Vegas is part of the same chain and complex as The Venetian. This means easy access to the Grand Canal Shoppes.

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You do see the Gondolas inside but like a schoolkid, instead of taking photos and enjoying the moment I rushed outside to get my first glimpse of the strip on foot.

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My last stay at Mirage was back in 2011, I wonder how much it has changed since then. Does anyone know if the internet connection there is still poor? I don’t mind paying resort fees for extras but only if they work!!!

This is a shot of the Mirage in the background and the side of the volcano. We waited on cue for the volcano show to begin but it never happened. Not entirely sure why and there were no announcements either.

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I missed taking a shot of the interior in Grand Canal Shoppes but not inside Caesars Forum. Both I have to admit are similar.

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Fountains outside Caesars Palace.

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A last quick shot of the day from the Bellagio fountain with Paris hotel in the background.

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As the drive took up most of the day, by this stage I was extremely tired.With the time now being past midnight, we head back to the Venetian food court for a quick bite to eat at Panda Express and then rest up for the remainder of the night.

Next day would be a move to the Grand Chateau Marriott followed by more exploring of Las Vegas.

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 6 – San Francisco Part 2

Day 6 – San Francisco Part 2

The 6th day of our trip, 2nd full day in San Francisco was again a 9am start. We thought it would be a good idea to get our pick of car park spaces so we decide to use the same car park as the day before arriving roughly the same time. We park our car in the exact same spot and begin our walk to Pier 33.

We purchased tickets online 3 months in advance for the Alcatraz tour, one of the worlds most famous prisons. As we walk down the Embarcadero, we pick up some snacks along the way and see some iconic names such as Pier 39. We also see a sign for Bubba Gump, a possible eating option for later in the day. I’ve eaten at the Bubba Gump chain in Bali, Hong Kong and Manila, I figured it would be nice to add a US city to this list too.

I also remembered to bring my Go Pro with me. Forgot to bring it out with me the other days. So off we go, boarding begins for our departure and the winds begin to hit us full flow in the face.

This is what we are leaving behind.

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This is where we are heading too.

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After 15 minutes, we approach the island.

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Coming close to docking point, I get a moment of excitedness where I am actually about to step foot onto this iconic location. It’s also the place where Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery filmed the movie The Rock. This in my opinion no doubt made Alcatraz even more iconic, especially to international visitors.

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I notice there’s some kind of graffiti on the side of the first building we see. Indians Welcome.

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We spot some more graffiti linked to the first one.

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We disembark and I take a quick snapshot of the boat.

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Welcome to Alcatraz Island! 🙂

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Amazing. With the prison closing in 1963, none of our group had any idea that Alcatraz Island was part of an occupational protest by native Indians in 1969 lasting for 19 months. Luckily the tour guides are all great and full of information explaining to us the past. I won’t go into it too much but for those interested information can be found here.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Alcatraz

A quick look at the map before we head indoors. We definitely don’t want to get lost here.

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Will let the pictures do the talking.

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We enter the cell areas listening to the audio tour as we go along.

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The escape from Alcatraz. These inmates were never seen again.

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This is where one of the chemical missiles were hidden in the Rock movie. 😀

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It was a stunning view of San Fran from the island.

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View of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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As we complete the tour, we are told that this was the menu of the last meal to be served in the prison.

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We hop onto the next available boat back to shore and grab a quick 10 minute nap. We spent about 3 hours in total on the island. It was very educational and truly a great experience. If you are a tourist and only get a day to spend in San Fran, do try visit the prison!

Back on shore and a walk from Pier 33 to Pier 39. It’s time for lunch so we head to Bubba Gump.

Here was a surprise.

The view from inside the restaurant was lovely. No wind too which was a bonus!!!

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Anyone for a smoothie or a fancy drink?

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Shrimp and salad.

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After lunch, Pier 39 wouldn’t be the same without a visit to the local residents.

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It was really windy so I didn’t stay there long. After this we decide to head back to the car and do some driving around San Francisco. Bonus, our parking for some reason cost $10 only, the day before it was $45. As we initially decided to drive and and park due to the BART cost, this incident added extra value to our decision.

After driving around for 30 mins admiring the views, we reach Lombard Street. Driving up and down these hills is truly a great encounter! 🙂

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Our last day in San Francisco comes to a close. We have ticked off everywhere we wanted to see and as it’s now 4 hours since our Bubba Gump meal, we unanimously agree to eat at In and Out Burger again. This place certainly lived up to the hype. So back to Daly City we go and then back to the hotel where we prepare to pack for the next day drive to Las Vegas.

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 5 – San Francisco Part 1

Day 5 – San Francisco Part 1

So our original plan was to leave the car at the hotel and take the BART from SFO airport into the city. After working out that the cost for 4 persons would be approximately $80 for a return journey, we decided to put this towards the cost of parking near Fisherman’s Wharf instead. This option gave us more flexibility and freedom especially for returning back to the hotel at the end of the day.

After reading online that finding car park spaces after 10am in SF might be troublesome, we decided to give ourselves an hour to reach Fisherman’s Wharf. We left the hotel at 9am and the journey took less than 30 minutes of which 10 of this was in standstill traffic.

Heading down the Embarcadero, we see our first glimpse of the Bay Bridge. We pull over for a few shots before heading down further to look for parking.

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There’s an open air car park with an entrance on the corner of Taylor Street which is right in the heart of Fisherman’s Wharf. Parking for the day would cost $45 which in itself is quite expensive, however this is much cheaper than what the BART would cost.

At 9:40am, the parking lot was empty. Our car was probably one of 3 cars only to be parked at the time. The car park is behind the Boudin Bakery Café on Jefferson Street.

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The main reason why we parked the car there is because it is located right opposite the terminal stop for the Big Bus Company. We purchased 2 day tickets instead of 1 day ones in case we were unable to visit all the sights we wanted to see on the first day.

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The bus itself is a double decker bus with the top level being open air. Everyone is provided with a set of poor quality ear phones so you can listen to the in-bus tour audio guide.

The bus departs and straight away we see some iconic sights, an Applebees and a Ripleys Museum!

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The bus takes us past some wonderful buildings as we venture through the financial districts of the city.

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I spot a famous SF Tram.

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Approaching Union Square where we see some famous department stores.

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Next we approach Civic Centre where the famous City Hall can be found.

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We get off the bus to visit the Painted Ladies. Surprised how iconic these are..

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After getting back on the bus, we finally reach the part we have all been looking forward to. The Golden Gate Bridge, and what a sight this was!

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The bus took us over the bridge towards Sausalito and in all honesty I never expected it to be as windy as it was. It was also very cold! I was so lucky I had a small hoody with me.

The view of the bridge from Sausalito….

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We transferred to the Sausalito tour which was included with the tour ticket. I don’t have any photos from here but the view of the bridge was one of the best and the town itself was a lovely charming place. I recommend you visit for a few hours if you are ever around.

We transfer back to the main bus and make our way to the Palace of Fine Arts.

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By now the time was 4pm. Lunch??? We forgot to eat lunch as we were too engrossed in our sightseeing activities. We head back on the bus and decide to go to Chinatown to see what the local roast meat and rice dishes are like. Problem – heavy traffic. It seemed like we had hit a busy part of the day as traffic was horrendous. The driver let us off the bus as it was quicker to walk. We were hungry, we needed food quick!

We followed the GPS on Google Maps and realised we were not too far from Union Square. We remembered seeing a Cheesecake Factory restaurant advertised near Macy’s so we decided to head there instead.

A quick healthy lunch –

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The best part of Cheesecake Factory is the window shopping!

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Which one do you order?

During lunch, we decided to head back to the Big Bus Company terminal and join the Night Tour that begins at 7pm. We finish lunch about 5:30pm which gives us 90 minutes to get there. We walk through Macy’s and realise we don’t have enough warmth! If it was cold in the daytime as the bus glides through the windy air of San Francisco, it’s only going to be a lot colder in the night time. Ammunition time. We buy jackets in Macy’s that’s on offer. Needless to say I have not had to use this since arriving back in Singapore. We walk all the way from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf. We made it just in time.

We reach the bus and we take our seats on the upper deck, open air of course. It begins with a warning that it’s going to get extremely cold.

Who likes chocolate?

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Sunset time at the bridge.

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As it got darker, the air got colder so I put my camera away and decided it was more important to keep warm. The bus tour took us over the Bay Bridge which had some great views of the city. Unfortunately my hands were so cold I kept my camera away and admired the views without taking any snaps.

With the tour ending around 9:30pm, we had a short walk back to the car and I decide to take us on a drive to Daly City. Why? For In and Out burger time!!!!

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After waiting many years to try the famous burger, was it a letdown? No. The burger was totally worth the wait. For the price and quality it’s probably one of the best I have had. Highly recommend people to try this if they ever go US west coast.

This is it for day 5, a great day out with a happy ending.

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 Day 4 – San Diego to San Francisco

Day 4 – San Diego to San Francisco

3 nights in San Diego is definitely not enough, there is so much more to do and see here than I realised, I’m sure we only just touched the tip of the iceberg. We never had the chance to pop into downtown or visit areas such as the Gaslamp Quarter, both of which I heard were great places to visit. Next time we visit San Diego, we will stay for at least 5 days there. Until next time SD we bid you farewell.

Thank you Homewood Suites Liberty Station for making our stay comfortable. We will definitely come back. With all the construction going on it will be interesting to see what the views of the other side of the lake will be next time round.

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We originally planned to leave SD around 7am but were worried about hitting the morning rush hour traffic once approaching LA. Because of this we decided to leave around 9am instead. After checking out and saying our goodbyes to the staff, with 4 of us in total in our 7 seater Dodge Caravan, we laid down the back row seats and maximised the luggage space. I wish I had taken a photo but between us we managed to get 5 large suitcases, 2 medium suitcases, 5 carry-ons and 2 rucksacks into the back with plenty of space to spare for at least another 2-3 suitcases.

We used the quickest route to San Francisco which took us mostly on the i5. After starting our journey at 9am, we reached the sight of Los Angeles downtown by around 10:30-10:45am. Once we past Los Angeles, the number of cars visible on the roads started to dwindle. This gave a clear path all the way to close by San Francisco.

The scenery was wonderful, for a few hundred miles all we could see was dry land and mountains in the background (some of which were apparently 80-90 miles away). This is something we don’t get to see or experience much in Europe or South East Asia.

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I originally made plans to stop at designated gas stations with a number of food choices along the way to break up the journey as we wasn’t sure how frequent the availability of stops would be, however after noticing gas stations every 10-20 miles we decided to scrap that plan and would stop as soon as one needed a toilet break or got hungry.

With the group sleeping, I ventured up the i5 driving past each exit salivating after seeing signs for at least one of the following chains Carl’s Jr, In and Out Burger, McDonalds, and KFC. Please would one of you wake up and tell me you need a pit stop! After coughing loudly, one of the group wakes up and announces they need a pit stop……Bingo!

Next stop, we come off the i5 and make our way to explore the numerous food choices available. However at this one there doesn’t appear to be much except for a Denny’s and a Gas Station. I had heard so much of In and Out Burger I really wanted to try it. Oh well, I have waited 30 odd years so a few more days won’t hurt. Denny’s it is then!

The Denny’s we’re at is based in Grapevine, California. A nice atmosphere inside with friendly staff but the food overall isn’t that great in my opinion. In fact I’ve been really disappointed in the quality of food at both Denny’s and iHops.

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The food always looks great in the menu.

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I didn’t even take a photo of my meal as it didn’t warrant any memory space sadly. However Denny’s didn’t completely disappoint (after seeing food choices at the other stops) as the view outside around the back was one I had never experienced before. I stood, admired the view and reflected my life and future for a couple of minutes.

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I stood until it got too hot for me so I ran back to the car turned on the air conditioning and prepared myself for the remainder of the journey.

Beginning the second part of the journey at 1pm, we were still around 300 miles away from our destination. The whole journey in total was just under 500 miles so at this point we had yet to reach the halfway point.

After nonstop driving for around 3 hours following the GPS system, I wake the sleeping threesome and ask one to help take a photo of the outside. Does anyone know where this is? I remember it being part of a national park in California.

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After setting off at 9am, by 5:30pm we start to drive past exit signs for places such as Foster City, Mountain View, San Jose, and eventually San Francisco Airport. By 6:45pm we had reached our second hotel of the trip, Homewood Suites, San Francisco Airport North.

After checking in, the room we booked was again a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite (same as San Diego). Our room was located on the ground floor but it seemed to be the furthest away from reception. There was also a railway track behind the hotel but I don’t recall hearing any trains during the night.

No photos of the outside of the hotel but it was in a nice location with plenty of parking. I originally chose this hotel because to begin with we planned to leave our car here and take a train into the city, we never did this in the end. In Hindsight I probably would have stayed much closer to the Bay Area and paid for parking instead of going for the free option. Reasons will be explained later.

Homewood Suites has a social evening every Mon-Thurs where guests can mingle and enjoy free food from 5:30pm-7:30pm.

The reception area is quite homely here.

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The 2 bedroom suite had a nice ample sized living room and kitchen. The sofa bed can again fit 1 large adult or 2 small persons. Overall again, same as San Diego the place can fit 5-6 adults easily.

The living room area.

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The beds are extremely comfortable! I wish I had this mattress at home. One room contained a king sized bed and the other, a queen sized bed. Both bathrooms had a bathtub with shower and plenty of towels and amenities

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Dinner was at a local McDonalds near Cow Palace that is close to the hotel. After this we settled down for the night and woke up early for our first day out in San Francisco!

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 – San Diego…..Seaworld, Phil’s BBQ and USS Midway

Day 2 and 3 San Diego…..Seaworld, Phil’s BBQ and USS Midway

After a short wait to collect our hire car (Dodge Caravan) from Alamo LAX, we proceeded to purchase prepaid sims from the nearby AT&T store. Around 7pm we were eventually on our way to San Diego with our journey taking us down the i5.

Our first place of residence would be a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom suite at the Homewood Suites by Hilton at Liberty Station San Diego. One room contained a king size bed and the other a queen bed. There was also a sofa bed that can fit 2 persons (1 adult or 2 small persons), overall the space is big enough to fit 5-6 adults. It’s not a 5 star hotel but it did the trick perfectly for us to get sufficient rest to combat jet lag.

We arrived in San Diego pretty late in the end, so sadly no photos from inside our first hotel. By the following morning the whole suite was ransacked by luggage so it didn’t look as homely by then. I did take a short walk however and was surprised to see how scenic the local surroundings were.

This is Courtyard by Marriott which was next door to Homewood Suites.

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Near the waterfront.

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The staff member that checked us in did give me a slight chuckle, I asked where the best place to start a morning run would be and he mentioned to start over this man made bridge.

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Aren’t all bridges man made? 😀

The hotel staff including the check-in guy were all great, couldn’t fault them in any way. They were friendly, polite and extremely knowledgeable of the local area. In fact their attitudes was one reason why our vacation got off to the perfect start.

The hotel comes with free breakfast, it’s basic but it does the trick to get your day off to a nice start. Apologies for no photos as I didn’t carry my phone or camera down to breakfast each morning but it consisted of a couple of hot items (sausages, hash browns etc.) and had your usual cereal / waffle start ups.

Our first outing of the trip began with Seaworld. We purchased our tickets online which included entry, front of line / reserved seating and unlimited food for the day. The cost was $109 per ticket IIRC.

Before I proceed further, I want to add that being raised and living in the countries I am from, I know very little or understand the delicate issues that surround the animal issues at Seaworld. Due to this I am not too sure how or what I should feel. My visit however did make me feel relatively sad that the animals are not in their natural habitat (similar to zoos around the world), but at the same time convinced that they were all looked after extremely well.

Seaworld is a very patriotic place which I thought was very nice. It was noticeable at the shows where the announcers always asked for those that have served or are still serving the country to stand so they could be thanked and applauded. I felt honoured to witness this. 🙂

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I also noticed a lot of this man cave stuff which I didn’t quite understand why it would be here.

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Seaworld has lot of these game stands where you pay an amount and have a chance to win a prize, mostly which are soft toys.

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This is Mrs Mlee888 having a go at getting a score of 12+ to win the giant pink Shamu.

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The only way to do this due to the 3 disks is to get 2 into 5 points and then 1 into 3.

I won’t embarrass her but she did get 13 points in the end so we ended up with having to head back to the car to place the huge stuffed toy so we wouldn’t end up carrying it for the whole day.

After the games we had missed the first Shamu show so with the next starting at 2:30pm, we had a bit of time to take a look around at what else was on offer.

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Walking past the seals, we see a show about to begin and think “oh this might be fun” and make our way to the sea lion show.

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Entertaining, yes…..but it’s not something I would watch again.

Before the Shamu show begins, we have time for one more thing.

This was the only ride we went on in the end. We had the front of line passes which helped us skip maybe 20 minutes of queue time. It was child friendly and I certainly never came off with any vertigo.

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We walk past some Flamingoes along the way to the Shamu show.

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So the main event of the attraction…

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It began with a video explaining what Seaworld does for the animals, what the breeding program is about and what care they provide them. I’m not sure if this has always been a part of the show or if it is something added recently due to the sensitivity issues that took place in the last few years.

Some shots from the Shamu show from the reserved seating area.

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I found the show quite entertaining but I don’t think I will return to Seaworld again. There is a part of me that believes that Seaworld ending the breeding program with the Whales is the right thing to do.

The unlimited food was a good deal. On it’s own it costs $35 so to make the most of this, you need to take at least 3 meals as each meal averages $12-$15. with our package this worked out to be $20. There are a number of choices available around the park and for each visit you get a main, side / dessert and drink. You can only use it once an hour to prevent you from getting food for other people.

We had a tasty burger in the morning and for afternoon lunch we went for the Pizza and Pasta option.

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My meatballs and pasta wasn’t the greatest but I have to admit the chocolate fudge cake was very good. Highly recommend this and also the California Flavors restaurant there that does a magnificent burger.

After lunch we have a final visit to a Dolphin show. Another entertaining show.

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We spent the last few hours at the park playing more games trying to see who could win the most soft-toys.

Without considering how they would all fit into our suitcases, lots of the prizes ended up being given to Mrs Mlee88 family members that resided in San Diego. 🙂

After leaving the park, we made our way to the evening family meal at a restaurant called Phil’s BBQ. I cannot say enough how good this restaurant was.

I ordered a boneless chicken and rib dinner and it was so huge it was big enough to feed 3 persons. The taste and quality was perfect. When I return again to San Diego, this will be the first restaurant on my list to go to.

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The whole menu can be found here.

https://www.philsbbq.net/bbq-menu.html

The meal was a great way to end our first full day in US. It wasn’t the greatest fun day out at Seaworld but it was a nice start to get things going. Jet lag arriving from Asia usually takes 2-3 days to get over properly in US so this and our next day at USS Midway would be a nice way to help us out.

Day 3 – San Diego USS Midway

The 3rd day of our US trip was a nice stress free easy day, a day much needed to help get over our initial jet lag with only 4 hours sleep for the first 2 nights. This day would begin with a tour to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier now museum.

We arrived at the magnificent USS Midway just before midday. Parking at the attraction was around $10, although I know on the roads outside nearby are much cheaper. These however are hourly metered whereas the attraction itself was stay as long as you need.

The entry price…

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Audio tours came in 6 different languages with the US flag representing English.

After collecting our headsets you come to this part of the ship.

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I was in complete awe. The aircraft on show, the stories of the missions before the carrier was decommissioned, the history, and the overall structure of the carrier. It was a complete new world I was entering.

This is just a small insight into the lives of those on the sea fighting for the freedom of their country.

Living quarters on board show that each officer was entitled to one locker and a bed approx 6 foot long.

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Sleeping quarters were also found in corridors.

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Some photos from the crew on board on show.

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Aircraft on show…

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The outside deck where more aircraft and helicopters were on display was my favourite part of the tour. Being able to sit in and experience this was something I never expected to enjoy.

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Final photo from the control deck.

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The whole tour took around 2 hours at a medium speed. I know some have mentioned the tour can take 3 to 4 hours but at the same time others have taken less than 1.

After this our group decided to go to Las Americas Premium Outlet which was close to the Mexico border. Unfortunately no photos here, but definitely a great place to pick up some bargains.

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USA California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip May 2016 – Singapore Airlines SQ12 SIN-LAX via NRT 14th May 2016

First WordPress TR: SQ SIN-LAX via NRT RT (J) with California / Nevada / Arizona Road Trip.

My first trip report begins at Changi Airport and a flight on Singapore Airlines.

So here’s my itinerary that began on 14th May –

Day 1: 14th May SIN-LAX via NRT in J class on SQ12 departing 9:25am arriving 1:25pm local time.
Days 1-3: San Diego
Day 4: Drive from San Diego to San Francisco
Days 5-6: San Francisco
Day 7: Drive from San Francisco to Las Vegas
Day 8: Las Vegas
Day 9: Grand Canyon South Rim
Days 10 and 11: Las Vegas
Day 12: Drive to Los Angeles
Day 13: Santa Monica
Day 14: 27th May LAX-SIN via NRT in J Class on SQ11 departing 3:45pm local time arriving 3am on the 29th May Singapore time.

Will post more photos from the trip as weeks go by but here’s day 1. Hope you enjoy the report.

Plane: A380
Class: J
Seat: 96a (upper deck)
Departing Airport: SIN T3
Arriving Airport: LAX Tom Bradley
Via: NRT (Tokyo)

Changi Terminal 3 has a separate check-in row for SQ Business Class. Didn’t have to wait to check-in but with this being early on a Saturday morning, all rows including economy were quiet from what I could see.

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SQ are currently displaying their premium economy seat in the terminal. It looked quite reasonable but I know the price difference from Y may deter many from using. I may be tempted to give PE a shot in the future so watch this space.

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Departure area, not busy at all compared to early weekday mornings…

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After a quick check-in process and provided with my Row 96 all upper deck A380 J boarding pass, it would be time to hit the lounge. Immigration is mostly always smooth for those that are citizens / residents here in Singapore. I make my way to the Silverkris Lounge to grab something to eat before making my way to gate B4.

SKL is quite a big lounge but IME, this is where SQ probably falls slightly in their quest to be the worlds all-round greatest airline. The ambience was dark and for some reason I didn’t feel like I wanted to be in there anymore. I decide to take a couple of shots of the food area and after a quick bite I make my way to the gate area 30 mins before boarding.

With this being 8am, food choices were mainly a selection of dim sum and western choices.

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The siew mai which you can see on the right were actually very nice. I forgot to take a picture of this sadly.

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Breakfast shot….

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A brisk 5 minute walk from the lounge to Gate B4 shows a collective lounge area for those departing from B1-B4. Other flights departing around the same time include an SQ flight from SIN-LHR. Entering the area took around 10-15 mins due to congestion of other travellers. Everyone except those requiring assistance have the same status regardless of travel class when entering security here. Other airlines at Changi however do have separate channels for priority checks, notably Skyteam. SQ seems to fall on this sadly.

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B4 appeared to be quite busy and with 5 mins before boarding, I was surprised to see no one queueing up yet. There are separate channels for status as expected.

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The location of the waiting area made this difficult to take a picture of our beautiful whale.

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Boarding was announced and after suites, it was business class. I made my way to what would be home for the next 17 hours.

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The seat itself appears to be older with this being the former generation of J but it’s still very comfortable. I chose row 96 due to others on the forum mentioning the privacy of this seat does make this row feel like a mini cabin making it a unique travel experience, sure why not? I have been fortunate to experience rows 11, 21, 23, and 25 on SQ before and loved each time. In fairness, we are lucky whatever row we sit in when travelling in J.

Before taking this next photo, a gentleman took the seat next to me and I thought I had a close-ish neighbour for the journey, until Tokyo at least. An FA asked to see his boarding pass and somehow he made his way to the upper deck as his seat was actually downstairs in Y.

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A quick look at the entertainment screen. In row 96 it is slightly further away from you than the other seats but there is slightly more leg space.

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Captain announced all doors were closed and there I was the only pax in row 96. Any downsides to this row? Not really except the close proximity to the galley behind and a toilet which was rarely used.

In the back cabin, load was 8/24. We had 3 flight attendants covering us and I have to admit the lighter load really did make a huge difference in the level of service. SQ service was truly magnificent, I compare this with the full load on my return journey which was a full cabin and although staff were more rushed here, they still provided an outstanding job not far off from the level of service I received here.

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A quick look at the in-flight menu….

Japanese lunch option from SIN-NRT

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Western option

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Dinner option from NRT-LAX. Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of the Japanese option. For some reason I seem to have missed this.

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Breakfast options…we had an option to wake up 2.5 hours before landing for a full service or sleep longer and have a light breakfast 90 mins before landing. I actually woke 4 hours before landing and didn’t fancy either of the breakfast options so I went for the beef sandwich instead.

Breakfast options.

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My drink options for the flight….

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Drinks are standard on most airlines so I took this shot of the champagne offerings only.

Plane was ready to depart and off we go….not sure what the runways are called so I name this the runway that requires the plane to cross over main road before taking off. Before heading over the bridge, I spot a couple of SQ planes in *A livery.

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Here we are crossing the bridge…

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And take-off…..

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Shortly after take off the FA provides me with my goodies that consists of slippers (which are comfortable mind you), socks and sleeping mask. Oh and my glass of champagne……

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Toothbrushes and lotions etc. can be found in the bathrooms if required. I didn’t take any pictures of the bathroom this time round but the one by seat 11a at the front of the plane in upper deck is huge!!!! If i remember correctly it’s about 2-3x bigger than the ones at the back.

A quick look at the internet wifi service.

30MB at $12.99 just seems a bit too expensive for me.

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I took this later in the flight as I know some have asked if you can use the same wifi purchase on a different sector of the flight. This confirms you are not able to do this so in my case, I wouldn’t have been able to use any remaining data from the first leg on my second. Shame they don’t have the unlimited usage providers like they do on some of the newer planes as thats a much cheaper option than this.

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After an hour the food service began. I wasn’t that hungry and skipped the satay knowing it will also be available on the second leg.

I asked for my main course and dessert only. For my main, I requested the classic lobster dish via book the cook.

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This was absolutely delicous. The sauce wasn’t overpowering and the saffron rice complemented this very well. The lobster was cooked perfectly and it wasn’t too salty.

Dessert was Macadamia Ice Cream with Banana in Caramel. It was also very nice. As I didn’t have starter or appetiser, the FA’s did ask if I wanted seconds and thirds which I kindly declined. 🙂

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The rest of the flight was uneventful with me watching The Revenant. Great film!

Approaching NRT.

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Arriving 45 mins before schedule in Narita was brilliant. However we were stuck on the runway near our gate for about 25 minutes due to another plane delayed in departing taking our spot. We eventually deboard around 20 mins before schedule. In Narita, those carrying onto LAX still have to come off the plane and go through security in Japan. This allows time for the aircraft to be cleaned and my guess also to ensure those that are supposed to get off the plane here do so.

Plane spotting at NRT….

Air Canada….

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Of course an ANA plane…

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At NRT, clearing security took 20 minutes. It’s a quick process where after 2 minutes walk you enter security and are then back at the gate area. J class has access to ANA lounges and there’s one conveniently located by the gate here.

I went in briefly but only to grab a quick drink so sadly no photos here other than the following.

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Food options were not many but didn’t concern me as I knew dinner would be served on the flight within an hours time.

I returned back to the gate area and people were queueing up for the flight already.

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After 5 mins I was welcomed back on board by lead flight supervisor Shirley who had a team of 3 (including her) to once again serve a load of 8/24 pax in the back cabin. Although saying this I am not sure if they help out in the middle or front cabins also.

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I had a really nice conversation with the crew on this flight. One of them told me that the flight crew for SIN-LAX round trip took them away from their homes for a week. After the first leg they stay over fpr one night in NRT before proceeding to take over the NRT-LAX route. They remain in LA for 2 nights before returning back to NRT and then onto SIN the following day.

One more photo of another plane before settling back for take-off.

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Another glass of bubbly followed by the start of dinner service of satay. I also asked for a glass of vodka and coke and did warn them not to serve me too much alcohol as I had to drive once arriving in LA. The crew were excellent, they only served me juice or water after this.

The satay.

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The ham starter with SQ’s famous garlic bread. The garlic bread is delicious.

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For my dinner, I ordered book the cook again and requested for the beef fillet with pesto. The beef was cooked medium and was quite juicy. Very nice meal overall. The pasta was so so but at this stage I didn’t care as all I wanted to do was sleep after this.

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The night before, due to the early start I managed 4 hours sleep only. I forced myself to stay awake for the first leg knowing that a good sleep on the evening flight would leave me in good stead for west coast USA with this being 15 hours behind Singapore time (during daylight saving).

As I skipped dessert due to tiredness, Shirley kindly offered to make up a bed for me in another seat on the plane as she was worried the noise from the galley may wake me. I kindly declined again and she insisted on making up the bed for me in the seat next to me (96D). She also gave me some ear plugs. Watching Deadpool on this flight helped me sleep well also. I didn’t enjoy it unfortunately.

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With the whole back row to myself, it really did feel like a private mini cabin.

My wife was already in the US on vacation and she also previously sat in this row the week before and warned me that it got pretty cold there. It really does get cold but getting cold is better than getting too hot. The quilt does keep you relatively warm and I managed to get a good 4-5 hours sleep.

I woke up around 3.5 hours to departure and didn’t fancy any of the breakfast on offer. I asked for one of the snacks which was a beef sandwich with onions. It looked and tasted great!

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This was about 45 mins to landing, cabin shades open and along came my first views of California.

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Landing at LAX can be hit and miss. On this occassion it was a miss for me as I had to queue 2 hours at immigration. By the time I got out, the luggage from our flight had already been removed from the conveyor belt and placed on the side for collection. Priority luggage on this case didn’t help.

A friend of mine landed an hour after me at Terminal 2 or 3 via Virgin Atlantic and arrived to meet me at Tom Bradley 10 mins after I came out. His immigration experience was less than 30 minutes. A second friend arriving 3 hours after me at Tom Bradley took only 20 mins to get through. I guess 1pm is peak period with so many flights arriving from across the pacific and atlantic at the same time.

I end this chapter with a final photo of 5 different airlines in 1 shot at Tom Bradley. Hope you have enjoyed this so far and I look forward to sharing the next leg of my journey in the near future.

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