I was a bit apprehensive about this trip because it would qualify as the longest flight (18 hours!) yet that I have taken with the kids. On hindsight, the Singapore to San Francisco flight turned out quite well and the fact that we had a transfer in Hong Kong provided some respite for the kids to run around and let off some pent-up energy. Upon arrival in SFO, we made a conscious decision to check into an airport hotel upon custom clearance to allow the kids some much needed rest. In addition, after such a long flight, the son’s milk supplies (clean bottles, formula servings) were running low and needed replenishments.
We rented an SUV from Hertz and made our drive to Tahoe via Vacaville. For anyone who is interested in discounted shopping, Vacaville Premium Outlets is a good place to explore due to its wide selection of brands and goods. The True Religion (high quality jeans) and Coach (Women’s bags and wallets) stores here are traditional favorites of mine. Having left San Francisco in the morning, we arrived in Tahoe by late afternoon. The beautiful Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine Lake in North America, surrounded by the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains.
I would highly recommend the scenic gondola ride at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area because my personal experience was positive and both my children loved it. One thing to note about the place however, is that parking space at the Main Lodge (where the terminal station of the gondola was) is hard to come by. Hence, if you are the kind who gets stressed out waiting for a park, it might be a better option to take the shuttle bus here from your hotel.
At Mammoth, our residence of choice was the Westin Monache Resort and frankly, we hated the place. Upon entry into the apartment, we were greeted by a strong smell of cigarette smoke. This was despite the fact that we had requested for a non-smoking room. However, what made us truly dislike the hotel was the fact that dogs (big and small) were allowed to roam freely throughout the hotel – in the lifts, lobbies, corridors … everywhere. For an animal lover, this might be a fantastic arrangement. However, for us, it was a nightmare since the kids and I were all terrified of dogs!
The temperature in Vegas hovered around 40 degrees Celsius when we were there. The heat made us want to hide in our apartment and watch television the whole day. But, the fact that we had travelled an extremely long way here made us determined to explore the place.
To entertain the children, we made up our minds to bring the kids to a list of family friendly shows. Mystere by Cirque Du Soleil at Treasure Island was a show that we had booked online and arranged to watch, prior to our arrival in the United States. Note that this was the one of the few shows that admitted very young children. The bright lights and colorful attires of the performers captured the son’s attention and he managed to remain at his seat for most of the show! Another show which we managed to squeeze time for was the Mac King Comedy Magic Show. Unlike Mystere, which we made bookings for in advance, for the Magic show, we opted for the last minute tickets option at Tix4Tonight – a booth that sold last minute tickets at a fraction of the original price. From the lady at the booth, I understand that they also sold discounted buffet coupons. So, for people who want value for money and have the time to queue up at the booth an hour of two before a show/buffet, Tix4Tonight is a good choice.
One of the must-see on our itinerary was the Grand Canyon National Park. Having failed to secure a reasonably priced and moderate quality lodging in Grand Canyon or its surrounds, we decided to stay in Vegas and do a one-day trip to the National Park with a professional tour operator. The husband picked a premier tour from the Grand Canyon Tour Company because it was one of the few that accepted small children. Since the tour pick-up at our hotel was 6.30 am, I woke up at 4.30 am to prepare (toddler food, milk powder, etc.) and get ready for the excursion. We made our way down to the lobby area to wait for the pick-up at about 6.15 am. After waiting for 30 minutes with no tour bus in sight, we called the company only to be told that the tour has been cancelled! We were shocked and upset, especially since the company had made no attempt to inform us until we called them.
It was at this point that we made the decision to drive to Grand Canyon ourselves. The main reason was because it was too late to arrange another tour and we would be leaving Vegas the next day. As such, if we do not make an attempt to visit Grand Canyon there and then, we would probably have to miss this attraction totally. The drive itself was much easier than we thought and we were glad that we made the decision to go.
Los Angeles reminded me of Brisbane in Australia because of its numerous amusement parks. The daughter insisted that we visit Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park and Universal Studios. For families with younger children, I would strongly recommend Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park compared to Universal Studios. Why? The simple reason was that there were a larger number of rides suitable for young kids in the Disney themed amusement parks. Having said that, do note that the queues for the rides are terribly long in Disneyland. In fact, for some of the popular rides (such as Space Mountain), a fast pass that you acquire in the morning might only be valid for use at night! Another place of interest that we visited from La La Land, en-route to Yosemite, was the Underwood Family Farms at Moorpark. Here, the children can try their hands at picking fruits such as strawberries and oranges. In addition, there were also farm animals which they could mingle with while visiting the farm.
There are pros and cons of staying within Yosemite compared to the town outside the Yosemite National Park. The advantage was that you could make your way very quickly around the sights in the morning before the crowds came in. The disadvantage however, was that food was pricey and options were limited. With 2 kids in toll, we chose the easiest hikes to take but despite that, we managed to cover quite a lot of ground and can proudly say that we managed a tick in the box for the main attractions in Yosemite. The children loved the experience of the waterfall “spraying” water all over them when they stood at the bridge in front of Yosmite Fall. Till today, the son insists that he enjoyed “drinking” water from the waterfall.
If there is only one thing that you can try in San Francisco, it would be the San Francisco Cable Car. It offers a comfortable and unique experience of touring through the city. I loved the feeling of hanging tight onto the rails of the cable car while it made its way through the bustling city traffic. The operator of the cable car with all his dramatics offered a different form of entertainment on his own.
Despite being in the United States for a mere 2.5 weeks, the children enjoyed themselves and we promise them that we will be back. Maybe to the East Coast next time!