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cindy18 07-05-2008 11:44 PM

Southwest Splendors July 5-July 12 Real Time Trip Report
Hello from Sedona, where we have reached the Amara Resort and Spa and the first stop on this week's tour. I thought it might be cool to post in real time what we've done and are doing, while the memories are as fresh as they are ever going to get. I can't promise to do this every day, but as time and energy permit, I will.

We are me, 43, DH, 44, DD 12 and DD 10. We flew in to Phoenix yesterday and had a lovely afternoon and evening in Scottsdale. For people who can come in the day before the tour starts, I really recommend it. The travel day is always exhausting and stressful, and it helped a lot to have the afternoon and evening to relax. The people who flew in this morning are totally exhausted, and some had some rough flight delays, which must have been pretty tense.

We got to the Starbucks right before noon (it's at the end of Terminal 4, right by the International Arrivals gate and is much larger than the other Starbucks in Terminal 4). Our guides for this trip are Tiffany and Geraldine, and so far they both seem terrific and true to Disney form. They told us our departure time would be 1:30, so we got some lunch and walked around for a bit before meeting up with everyone else. There are 29 of us on this tour, pretty much evenly divided between adults and kids (and the kids seem mostly to be younger teenagers, although there are a few who are around 8). It's a very nice size, and there's lots of room to spread out on the coach.

We got right on the coach and met our driver, Freddy, who seems pretty funny. The coach is very comfortable and clean. We drove for about 90 minutes to Montezuma's Castle, picking up a guide right before we got there. It was a nice way to begin, because the castle is unbelievably cool but the whole tour takes less than an hour. After a short drive, we arrived in Sedona. The red rocks are really jaw-droppingly astonishing. I gave up trying to capture them with my camera, because I think it's impossible. So I just stared and pointed, and that's pretty much what everyone on the coach did too. My daughters, who usually aren't at all impressed by scenery when we drive, were amazed and fascinated, which I think is a good sign.

When we got to the Amara, all we had to do was walk into the lobby and pick up our keys. Our luggage was waiting for us in our rooms, which was very impressive. The rooms are very comfortable and clean, with a few unexpected goodies from Adventures by Disney, and the staff seems very accommodating. We had a little over an hour to settle in before dinner, which was in a private room on the 2nd floor overlooking the pool and some more magical red rocks. There was a live animal presentation and some orientation from Tiffany and Geraldine, along with a few surprises, before dinner and a really nice music show. Everyone is pretty tired, so the evening ended at about 8:15.

All in all, I have to say that this was a very good first day. Things went as well as they could have, and everyone has been warm and friendly. And the views are just as spectacular as we had hoped they would be. I was excited before we got here, but now I am really looking forward to every day.

Feel free to respond to this with specific questions, and I'll do my best to answer them.

wii fit mama 07-06-2008 01:18 PM

Wow, thanks for the update. We want to go next year around the same time with our 13 year old. How does the heat compare to Disney World?

zachsmomie 07-06-2008 01:35 PM

Sounds you like are really enjoying yourselfs and are off to a good start! Hope the rest of the trip is just as smooth.

cindy18 07-06-2008 07:24 PM

Hi again from Sedona. It's late afternoon on day 2, and we're resting before getting ready for dinner so I thought I'd post again.

The beds at the Amara Resort are very comfortable, I am happy to report. We all slept great. Because we're all still on east coast time, however, we gut up early. DH and I were up by 6, and the two DDs were up before 7. It was a beautiful morning, and the coffee in the lobby is excellent, so we relaxed and watched some Wimbledon (what a match between Federer and Nadal) before heading to breakfast at 8. The food was good, and everyone was psyched for our off-roading jeep tour.

We met outside the hotel at 9:15 where we were greeted by 5 red jeeps, each driven by a very amusing cowboy. and off we went. We road through Sedona and up into the hills for 2 very bumpy hours while our drivers regaled us with stories about the region, its history and its agriculture. We stopped twice to look around at some incredible views and ultimately wound up at the Sedona Heritage Museum. Even though it was only 11:15, we were all really hungry, so it was a good thing a yummy picnic lunch was waiting for us. After lunch, Tiffany and Geraldine talked to us about logistics for tomorrow and suggested an early sign-up for activities at the Grand Canyon and in Moab. Then we learned how to lasso, pretty poorly, and made corn dolls, also pretty poorly, but at least we tried.

At about 1, we had the option to go back to the hotel in the coach or set out on our own. We chose to walk into town and explore, which we did. We stopped for very good home-made ice creams and walked around until we were too tired to walk anymore. We thought about swimming at the hotel, but resting seemed a better idea, so that's what we're doing.

A word about the weather, since Wii Fit Mom asked. The heat is penetrating and ennervating, but it's very different from the heat in Florida because the humidity is so low. Because Sedona is in monsoon season, clouds apparently roll in every afternoon, and once they do the heat becomes much more bearable. We were really hot by the time we got to the museum for lunch, but right around the time that we left, the clouds started to cover the sun, and all of the sudden, it felt much better. I think walking around town would have been tough without the cloud cover. But the heat is clearly a big part of the reason why we are so tired, and they really do a very good job at keep you provided with water so that you don't get dehydrated. I'll let you know how things progress on the weather front as we get further north.

Aunt Cawa 07-06-2008 08:06 PM

Thank you for the great report. We did Southwest Splendors last year and we are really enjoying your reports. Who are your guides?

sayhello 07-06-2008 11:43 PM

Glad you're having such a great time! The Red Rock is just spectacular, isn't it? And it only gets more spectacular from there! ;)

Have you been to the Grand Canyon before? I always love to read about people's reactions to the Grand Canyon!


cindy18 07-07-2008 09:04 AM

Aunt Cawa, our guides are Tiffany and Geraldine. I've seen Tiffany's name in other trip reports, so I know people have had her as a guide before. She is really fun and seems like a very happy person, great qualities in a tour guide. This is Geraldine's first year with Adventures by Disney, although she says she's a tour guide for other tours the rest of the year, so she's a pro and really nice.

Say Hello, they took a poll on our first bus ride, and out of the 29, only 4 had been to the Grand Canyon before. No one in our family has been there. We really can't wait.

Last night we had dinner at the Gallery on Oak Creek, which is the restaurant in the Amara. It was really excellent, a little fancier and pricier than the places in town but lovely, and the views of the rocks, especially as the sun went down, were spectacular. Then we sat out by the fire pit that's on the outdoor patio of the restaurant and in front of the pool, and just watched the stars come out. It was really nice.

This morning, bag pick up is at 7, and breakfast is from 7-8, and they want us on the coach right after breakfast. Apparently, they've added in a surprise quick activity before our nature walk. I'll keep you posted!

erin1998 07-07-2008 09:22 AM

:goodvibes Good morning.....sounds like you are having lots of fun!!!
I am looking into this adventure and am enjoying your trip report thus far! :thumbsup2 I am curious how many other children are on the tour. I have a 10 year old son and would be concerned that there would be no other children for him to play with and that he would be bored.
Thanks and have a great time!!! :goodvibes

cindy18 07-07-2008 08:52 PM

Erin 1998 -- fear not about your son being bored. There are lots of kids on this tour, about half of the total headcount, and the age range is something like 6-15. There also seems to be a pretty even split between boys and girls, maybe a few more boys. My guess is that so long as you go on the tour during the summer, when school is out, your son will have lots of company.

So after breakfast this morning we left the Amara and went to Airport Mesa. This was the surprise extra that our guides had mentioned yesterday. Airport Mesa is a vortex, so they thought it would be a good place to stop and soak in the view (and think positive thoughts). We were only there for about 10 minutes, but it was worth it. From there we drove to Red Rock State Park and took a 90 minute nature walk. Our guide, Pat, was very informative and also very interesting, and the walk was really nice, although it did get a little hot towards the end, and we were glad for the waiting, air-conditioned coach.

We drove from Red Rock State Park to Tlaquepaque, a little sort of artist's village in Sedona, where we had lunch at one of four restaurants there (our family chose The Secret Garden, which was organic and very good) and strolled around. The whole tour converged at almost the same time on How Sweet It Is, an old-fashioned candy and ice cream shop, where there was definitely something for everyone. Right around the time it was time to head back to the coach, we got hit with one of the famous monsoons, the first time it had actually rained on us since we've been here. We raced for the coach and headed out.

So long Sedona, here comes the Grand Canyon. It was a little over 2 hours on the coach to the Grand Canyon, but the time passed quickly because we watched an old Disney movie. We didn't go straight to our hotel but instead headed right to the canyon, where we had about 75 minutes. Tiffany was very clear that she wanted us to stay together as a group, and within the group as separate families, and walk together to lay eyes on the canyon for the first time. She didn't even let us look ahead. We literally walked the last 10 yards or so with our heads down, looking only at the feet of the people in front of us, until we were all lined up along the rim and Tiffany said we could open our eyes. I have to tell you that I actually was so overwhelmed by it that I started to cry, and my cynical DH was absolutely speechless. We stood there for awhile, taking it all in, then walked along the rim, checking out slightly different views, before heading to the information center and the book store and then back to the coach.

So finally we checked into The Grand Hotel. Everyone will have a different opinion about this hotel. We have two adjoining rooms, and they are clean and comfortable. They aren't really pretty and they are a little spare, the bathrooms especially. It's clearly a come-down from the Amara, and the hallways are a little spooky. But there is nothing at all wrong with it, and I strongly suspect that it is the hotel of the 3 on the tour that we will spend the least amount of time in.

Dinner tonight is with the whole group in the hotel's restaurant, buffet style. I'll report on that and more in my next post.

sandybobandy 07-07-2008 09:30 PM

I'm signing on-hope you're having an awesome time!!!!

Turtlemom 07-08-2008 10:56 AM

Hi cindy18!
I'm really enjoying your real-time trip report! We're going on this adventure on August 20 with me (43), DH(44), DD(11) and DD(8). Really looking forward to it! Your reports have us really excited!

One question though--given the heat and monsoons (who knew about the monsoons!), do you have any packing suggestions? Are most of the places casual, or do we need to pack something a little more dressy as well? Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks for the reports and please keep them coming!!!!!


Turtlemom 07-08-2008 11:20 AM

P.S. -- Hey, Cindy18! Just read your reply on Sayhello's trip report thread. (Haven't had internet in a few days and started reading things out of order!)How are your girls enjoying the trip? It would have been great to be on the same trip, with our girls being so close in age. Oh well, hopefully they have found friends on the trip and are enjoying themselves. . . . .


powerranger3000 07-08-2008 01:18 PM

I think u are right

cindy18 07-08-2008 07:47 PM

Turtlemom, the packing is really easy for this trip. Apart from the restaurants that you choose to go to because you're on your own for that meal, every place we've eaten has been very casual. Most people just wear shorts and shirts for all meals. We each took one nicer outfit with us, just in case, and the only time we've worn those outfits was when we ate in the restaurant in the Amara hotel on our own, although I don't think we had to. Otherwise, we just brought lots of shirts and shorts and underwear with us. I brought one pair of jeans for horseback riding in Moab, and each of us brought one warm sweater in case the evenings are cool. I recommend shoes with good tread, closed-toed if possible. It's just much more comfortable for the walking and hiking around, and I suspect they will come in handy on our hike to Delicate Arch in Moab. And basically, that's it. Lots of sunscreen and a good hat. We decided that we didn't want to do laundry, so we packed enough clothes so we wouldn't need to, but you are unpacking and repacking a fair bit, so if you want to pack light and do laundry, there are laundry rooms at The Grand Hotel and at Red Cliffs Lodge.

Also, I think there will be plenty of kids for your daughters when you go on your tour in August. I asked our guides, and they say pretty much every tour during the summer school vacation has lots of kids on it, although the break down of age ranges is very unpredictable. All the kids have been very friendly on our tour, and it seems like they are only getting closer as time passes.

cindy18 07-08-2008 08:20 PM

So to continue the trip report...

Last night's dinner was a buffet in the restaurant in the hotel: ribs, brisket, bbq chicken, corn on the cob, you get the idea. There was a cowboy singing songs and some native american dancers for entertainment. Afterwards, a bunch of the kids went swimming and the grown-ups did their own thing. We hung out with Tiffany and Geraldine for awhile, which was really nice.

We had to be on the coach by 8 this morning, so breakfast was early, a buffet in the restaurant. Everyone was commenting about how well they slept. I can't decide if that's because we were tired from the higher altitude or we're finally getting over our jet lag, but people slept well last night, myself included. We left the hotel and drove back to the canyon, where we picked up a tour guide from the park (Jerry, pinch hitting for Robin, who is apparently the regular Grand Canyon guide for the Disney tour but who couldn't be here today). Because we had Jerry with us, we were able to get to lookout points that most other tourists can't get to, which made for some spectacular views and lots of quiet. We went to three different places on the Canyon, spending anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour at each one, just sort of taking it all in. The kids were scrambling all over the rocks and getting pretty into it, and even the parents were seeking out the best spots for photos. By the last stop, which was the Watch Tower, we all were pretty into it, snapping photos of each other and taking in the view. At one point we had almost all the kids and Tiffany and Geraldine posing for a series of shots. The contingent of 15 year old boys put up with it, but I actually think they liked it as much as the rest of the kids did. In between stops, Jerry told us lots of stories about the canyon, its history, the explorers who tried to understand it and stuff like that. He went on a bit, but he was pretty interesting, and he certainly knew a lot.

When we were done, it was around 11:30. People could choose to go back to the hotel or hang out on the canyon. Most people decided to go back to the hotel, but a few families stayed on the canyon for lunch and exploring. The coach made a few shuttle runs throughout the afternoons for people who wanted to go back and forth. We (and several others from our group) went to Wendy's for a quick and easy lunch and then had a helicopter ride. I think most of the families on our tour signed up to do that. You can choose between a 30 minute tour and a 50 minute tour and also between two different types of helicopters (one has more windows for viewing and costs a bit more). We loved our helicopter ride. It wasn't scary, and it was a completely different perspective on the canyon. We got a good look at the north rim, which is very different from the south rim, and also some different views of the Colorado River, which miraculously flows through the canyon. All in all, well worth it.

After the helicopter ride, we went to the nearby IMAX theatre to see the IMAX movie about the Grand Canyon (tickets courtesy of Adventures by Disney). The movie was pretty good and certainly worth the 35 minutes it runs.

Because the afternoon and evening are totally up to us, Tiffany and Geraldine offered to take anyone who was interested back to the Grand Canyon at 6:30 to spend an hour watching the sun go down. This hasn't happened yet, but I think everyone from our group is going to do that. Afterwards, I think we're all descending on the local pizza place for a fun dinner. This is pretty cool, because as I said we're on our own this afternoon and evening, and yet we're all opting to do stuff as a group. About 15 minutes ago one of the other 12 year old girls on the tour knocked on our room door and asked my daughters if they wanted to go swimming, so off they all went. Great bonding stuff!

Today has been a really great day so far. Stay tuned...

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