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Old 06-28-2008, 04:48 PM   #1
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Trip Report -- Southwest Splendors! Part 1

Trip Report -- Southwest Splendors! Part 1

Hey, all! So sorry this report is *SO* late; I've just been trying to catch up and clean up, and all that kind of stuff! Finally got a chance to breathe... This may contain some minor spoilers, but I've tried to keep that to a minimum. Sorry, I meant to put in the title that there's a LOT of images...

I can’t really remember how I heard about ABD since they surprisingly don’t advertise that much. It might have been at Disney World, or online, I'm not sure. But I found the website and perused the offerings they had. The Southwest Splendors itinerary really sounded ideal, as it went to 2 places I’d *always* wanted to go to: Arches National Park and Monument Valley. It also went to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, 2 places I’d been before (17 years ago!) and really wanted to visit again. I called ABD, the price was not bad for what they offered, and the single supplement was reasonable compared to a lot I’d seen. And besides, it was Disney. You knew the quality had to be there. Decision made. :-D Vacation for this year: see America!

About a month ahead of time, I got my pre-trip package from ABD. It had a more detailed itinerary, a padded luggage handle thingy that identified your luggage as being for ABD, and a little count-down calendar. They also sent a messenger bag, with the ABD logo that was way too large and heavy to ever make a usable travel bag for me. The backpacks they give the kids would have been way more useful… Oh, well, it’s not like I don’t have any backpacks…

So, I started the trip by arriving a couple of days early so that I could relax and acclimate myself in Phoenix before the trip started. I cannot *imagine* traveling all that way and then going directly into the tour! Yipes! So I managed to get a really good deal on a couple of nights at the Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center. It was about half an hour from the airport, and had an onsite spa! When I’d made my reservation, I was offered the option to upgrade to the “casitas” which are slightly nicer rooms. When I asked the reservation agent her opinion, she said it really wasn’t worth the extra money; that *she* would take that extra money and get a massage at the onsite Spa. Sounded good to me, so I booked a massage for my full day there (Friday) with James. And when I arrived at the Resort, they upgraded me to the casitas *anyways* for FREE, so what a good decision that turned out to be! The resort was very nice, but boy, Phoenix was warm already, and it was only May. I don’t really think I’m a desert-living kind of person…



And the massage was FABULOUS!!! James was very good, and very responsive, and really tailored the massage to what I needed. It was *SO* good that I wished, just for a bit, that I was a local, so that I could keep coming back for massages from him. Very de-stressing and good for my aching muscles. But I have to admit it left me feeling like doing pretty much nothing for the rest of the day! I wandered the resort, read, and did manage to bip out to a local shopping area that really had nothing of interest but a lovely bookstore. I ended up buying some dinner stuff at a grocery store, going to a local park (beautiful, with a lake and a walking path), eating dinner and getting a really nice walk in as it cooled towards evening. I got this lovely pic of the surrounding mountains from the park… (The mountains kind of just look like mounds of dirt. Not like the mountains I’m used to).



The next morning was planned to be a leisurely morning: sleep in, check out, return rental car, have a nice lunch, then meet ABD at Starbucks by 1pm. Well, as is typical, that all went out the window. I woke up, and realized I’d left my cell phone turned off as I’d charged it. I turned it on, it case ABD needed to call me, and found I had a message from work. I tried a couple of times to get ahold of my co-worker, left him detailed messages. That took more time than I’d planned. Then got ready, checked out, and called the bell desk to get someone to carry my bags down the very narrow, steep staircase (the casitas, while very nice, had no elevator). 20 minutes later, I called back “Oh, they thought you said (room number that was not mine). We’ll send someone”. 10 minutes later, the bell supervisor showed up, apologized, loaded me into my rental car, and gave me directions. Now running way later than I’d planned. Lots of traffic, and an accident right by the Rental car return place. Only 2 guys checking cars in, and one guy’s little scanning gun is not working. Rather than go get another one, he goes from car to car, seeing if maybe it would work on one of the cars, and he could check them in. Starting to get worried! Another guy finally turns up, checks all of us standing around in. I try to get to the shuttle, and a woman stands directly in the way of the door to the shuttle area. I shout “coming through”. No response, I try to get around her, she shuffles DIRECTLY into my path (and she’s not facing away from me!). So of course, my suitcase catches on her foot, jarring my poor shoulder. (Sigh, I was SO relaxed after the massage!) FINALLY get to airport, and no-one I ask has any idea where the Starbucks in Terminal 4 is. (It’s supposedly this big landmark). By the time I get there, I’m not really *late* but I’m the last one there. They’d actually called my home number to see where I was (which makes no sense; ABD had my cell number!). Anywho, I was frazzled, sore, and definitely not as relaxed as I’d expected to be. The guides looked at me, said “Are you sayhello?” and proceeded to take all my luggage, whisk it away, recommend where I could go to grab some lunch to eat on the bus, and told me to be back in 20 minutes. Whew. I began to realize that this being taken care of thing is GOOD. I could get used to it!

At 1pm, much refreshed, I was back and met the others in our tour. There were the 2 guides, Chris and Cheryl, a “shadow guide”, Mike, who was learning the itinerary. Then there were 2 couples who travel together a lot: Jamie, Bob, Harriette and Mike. An older couple on their 2nd trip with ABD: Roland & Sandra. A younger couple: Kathy & Tom. 2 Canadians, traveling separately: Debbie & Jen. A family of 3: Steve, Mary Jane and their college-aged daughter Sarah. And me. It was a nicely small group, with no young children. One of the advantages of going in the “off-season” before Memorial Day.

We trekked off to our bus. The bus was great. It was one of those plush motorcoaches, which, I had been assured, *did* have a restroom. This bus was chartered for our tour (although this is definitely *not* a “bus tour”. We just used the bus as our transport from locale to locale.) And we had the same bus, and bus driver (Tom) for the whole tour. That was really nice, as we could leave things on the bus if we needed/wanted, and Tom, who had done this tour many times before, became almost like a 3rd guide. Very nice. While on our way out of Phoenix (**! the traffic!) I got a call-back from my coworker; they’d solved the problem (Yay!) so that was the end of that.

Our first stop, on the way from Phoenix to Sedona, was at “Montezuma’s Castle”, an area where there was a well-preserved Sinaqua Indian cliff dwelling. It’s really amazing that they built these dwellings up in the much cooler, easier to defend cliffside above their crops & fields & the river.



We had a naturalist from Sedona who met us there and gave us a tour of the area. Even though I’ve been there before, it’s always fascinating.

This was an extremely zoomed pic I took to get the white flower, which we were told was a powerful hallucinogenic the Sinaqua used. :-) Totally did not see the iguana until I looked at the picture way later!



We arrived and installed ourselves into our resort for the first 2 nights, the Amara Resort & Spa in Sedona. Very nice place, gorgeous scenery. But it was *very* oddly set up in a U-shape, and the only way to get upstairs to the rooms on the 2nd floor towards the end of the U (where my room was) was to walk all the way back to the main central part of the building. Very odd & inconvenient. (There was an emergency exit, but it dumped you by the river in the middle of the bushes, and you could not re-enter that way.) Otherwise, lovely!





We went to the welcome dinner, which was a lovely buffet of kabobs for appetizers, and a selection of meat and fish and various veggies, plus a luscious chocolate bread pudding that I allowed myself to eat a little of. Yum! A local expert came by & told us about the wildlife in the Sedona area. He brought some friends along. I refused to touch the tarantula, but the snake was kinda cool!





They also had a couple of entertainers who played & sang cowboy music. Very nice evening. Unfortunately, there was also a wedding at the Resort that night and they REALLY blared their dance music (as much as I love “Take on Me” by Ah-Ha, it just didn’t fit with the surroundings and atmosphere Chris and Cheryl were trying to instill). And the wedding party was in the suites near where my room was, and they apparently thought it was fine to continue the party in the hallway. I finally opened the door in my nightgown, and they got the idea…

At the dinner, the guides gave us what would be the one real concession to “Disney” on the trip (all-in-all, it was VERY un-Disnified). They gave us lanyards, and the first of our daily collector’s pins.



The next day, after a very nice but simple buffet breakfast, we were picked up by a company that does off-road jeep tours of the Red Rock area around Sedona. Thank goodness I’d brought my butt pillow with me! It was a great tour. The drivers all dressed as cowboys (one of them was the naturalist who’d taken us around Montezuma’s Castle the day before).

The scenery was absolutely gorgeous!







We also stopped at an area where an old cabin, called the Van Deren Cabin, still stood (much of the area was originally a private homestead) Incongruously, it had a golf course right next to it.

We then went up to an area above town that housed the Sedona Historical Society, and had a huge barn area where they’d set up lunch for us. Very nice. Lunch consisted of sandwiches, salad, chips and cookies that we had picked on the bus ride the day before. The guides were a little puzzled by my request to have 2 salads rather than chips and a cookie, but they caught on pretty quickly to my requirements as a Type 2 diabetic. We had some minor issues a couple of times, but it was nothing Chris & Cheryl were unable to deal with. The guides were always very careful to make sure we always had tons of water available to us, too. I cannot IMAGINGE how many cases of bottled water they went through on this tour. And there were only 14 of us, in May! A large tour in July would be so much worse! But you seriously had to be careful about staying hydrated. It was REALLY DRY there! The resort even gave out free bottled water at the bell desk right out front as you came or went.

And I learned how to throw a lasso! And I didn’t suck at it! :-D Of course the bull wasn’t exactly ducking my rope, either!





The afternoon was ours to shop or whatever in town at leisure (the Amara is right in town). I bought some beautiful opal & gold earrings in the shape of a spirit bear, and a painted copper dish, which I’ve yet to figure where to put…



I cannot even tell you how much stuff I drank that afternoon. Bottles of water, tall cups of iced tea, whatever sugarless I could get my hands on. I’d always thought Sedona would be a good place to retire (assuming I could afford it!) but I’m not sure I could ever get used to the dryness! **!

Dinner was on our own in Sedona, and I met Debbie & Jen (the 2 Canadians) in town to have dinner at the very simple but tasty diner-type place I’ve forgotten the name of.

That evening was a bit odd. After dinner in town, I went back to my room at the Amara. The cowboy singers were performing on the stage by the river again (right outside my room), so I left the door to the balcony open so I could listen. It started to smell like someone had lit a barbeque or torch or something, as there was a very strong smell of charcoal lighter. I was getting annoyed, but couldn’t really care, because I was feeling kind of light-headed anyways, and wanted to lie down. It took me a bit too long to realize that smell + dizziness might be related, so I got up and closed the door quickly. I began to feel less light-headed right away. By the time I started feeling OK again (although still a bit queasy) I called the front desk and told them what had happened. Of course, by then, whatever it was had dissipated. They sent a guy out to check, but he didn’t find anything. They called our guide, Cheryl, and she of course came over to my room to check up on me. (I think the word “queasy” strikes fear in the heart of any tour operator!). I assured her I was feeling mostly better, just had some left-over queasiness, and didn’t need to go to the ER or anything. And I was perfectly fine by the next morning. I will never know what it was, but the other resorts are close by (the grounds are small) and the river is open to the public, so anyone could have built a fire or something on the river. I was just unfortunate to have had my door open at the time. (In the meanwhile, I’d learned via email that a friend of mine had gone through a traumatic experience while on her own vacation, so I was even less fond of the odd setup of the hotel. I felt rather isolated…) All in all, I was not unhappy to leave the Amara behind.

The next morning, after another buffet breakfast, they took us up onto Airport Mesa, for a great overview of the Red Rock & Sedona area. The amazing thing (besides the scenery!) is how huge the town is. You really cannot tell, because they have really worked to build everything so that it blends into the natural scenery. And they’ve done an amazing job. You honestly can’t tell until you look down on it from above.



Then we took a fabulous nature hike through Red Rocks State park. I think I’d been through this area when I’d been here 17 years ago. Lots of stuff was starting to bloom, and, as we saw in many places, the water was fairly high due to all the snow they’d had in the mountains this winter. They split us into 2 groups, each with their own Park ranger, and we took the loop hike in opposite directions. The rangers were *very* knowledgeable and interesting.





Flowering prickly pear.



This was the one and only time the guides underestimated how much water to bring with them, and we ran out, so when we got to the visitor’s center, I scarfed down a bunch of water. They had a fountain there designed specifically for water bottles. How clever! Tasted wonderful.



Lunch was spent at Tlaquepaque, an artist’s shopping area in Sedona that I remembered from my previous trip. We had a delicious lunch at the Secret Garden Café. I’d heard that the food was really good, but the service not so much. I don’t know if it was because we were there in May, but they were great, and we had no problems. And the food was, indeed, delicious. I had soup and a fancy salad. We then went to How Sweet It Is and had some *really* scrumptious Sugar-Free ice cream. We were all very impressed by just how delicious it was.

After that, I realized I didn’t have my sunglasses. You REALLY need sunglasses for this trip, so I was worried that, if I’d lost them, I’d need to spent the little bit of time we had left there buying a new pair. Luckily, I found Tom the bus driver, and he let me check on the bus to see if I’d left them there. Yay! I had. So then we had just a very little bit of time to run around & look at the art. There was a place that sold all manners of iron windchimes and stone furniture… I can’t imagine how much the shipping is!



Then it was off to… The Grand Canyon! We arrived at the Canyon in the late afternoon. Since many of the people had never seen the Canyon before (and one couple had been there, but hadn’t seen a thing because the Canyon had been completely socked in the entire time they were there) we did that initial “go up to the Canyon and see it for the first time” experiential thing. It was VERY VERY windy. Unfortunately, that meant it was hazy, due to a lot of dust being stirred up, but it was still spectacular & beautiful.

Everything you’ve heard about the Grand Canyon is true. It is an incredible, awe-inspiring place, and pictures can never do it justice. Everyone was running around like little kids in a candy shop. But, as people have also said, it’s *SO* big that it’s almost hard to actually take in that you’re there. It almost seems like you’re looking at a painted back-drop. The haziness of the afternoon added to the feeling. Spectacular, but a bit unreal.



We then took off for our hotel, the Grand Hotel, which is in Tusayan, just outside the Park. Just as I’d read, it’s not as “fancy” as the Amara, or the place we were going to be staying in Moab, but it was a perfectly nice, comfortable, clean hotel with a lovely lobby, that was 2 miles outside the Park! Some people complained, but I actually liked it better than the fancy Amara. At least I got 2 good nights’ sleep! (The very fluffy, soft beds of the Amara may have been luxurious, but my back liked the firm pillow-topped bed at the Grand much better! And no mystery odors!) And the hotel restaurant had a family of Native Americans who performed traditional dances as entertainment, in full costume. Great stuff. Also, Chris said he believed Disney had been working to buy, or at least get involved with the Grand Hotel, and we noticed a lot of “Disney” touches, like in the cutouts around the light fixtures. So it may be that things are better than they were last year.







Dinner was a barbeque buffet, lots of choices, meats, salads, great corn bread, etc. Unfortunately, all the meats were covered in barbeque sauce, which I cannot eat. Chris went to the folks working the buffet, and they came back a few minutes with a plate with all of the meats without the sauce! It was enough for 5 people!

After dinner, as I was returning to my room, the family of 3, who were in the room next to mine, came out & said they were walking down the block to the IMAX theatre to see the Grand Canyon movie they had running there (ABD had bought tickets for us). It sounded like a good idea to me, to see the movie before going back to the Canyon, since it was supposed to tell you a lot about the history of the Canyon and how it was formed, etc. Plus, I then wouldn’t have to worry about getting back to the area in time to see the movie the next day. So we walked over and saw it. GREAT movie, very well done. I learned a lot. But it rained while we were there (better than while we were walking to/from!) and the temperature had dropped. Luckily, it was a very short walk. I also bought a knit hat there to wear the next day, as the wind & cold wasn’t very good for my ears, and I hadn’t thought to bring an earband… The IMAX was the ONLY place in the very small town that had anything resembling something warm to cover my ears.

Continued in next post, as there is a limit to the number of images in 1 post!

Link to Part 2, pictures galore!

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Last edited by sayhello; 01-13-2009 at 05:51 PM.
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Old 06-28-2008, 05:02 PM   #2
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Trip Report - Soutwest Splendors Part 2!

moved to another thread... too many images!

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Old 06-29-2008, 06:50 AM   #3
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Thanks for the images (and the report ). We live in Florida but love to visit Sedona for the change of humidity. You've captured the Red Rocks beautifully.
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Old 06-29-2008, 04:42 PM   #4
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Thanks for the post. My DH and I went on this trip last year and had a wonderful time. We flew in the day the tour began and I'm not making that mistake with the Backstage Magic tour in December. We crashed the first night! Thanks for helping bring back the memories on that wonderful experience.
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Old 06-30-2008, 04:30 PM   #5
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Thanks for the images (and the report ). We live in Florida but love to visit Sedona for the change of humidity. You've captured the Red Rocks beautifully.
Boy, that would be a change of humidity, all right! Like NO humidity! Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures!

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Thanks for the post. My DH and I went on this trip last year and had a wonderful time. We flew in the day the tour began and I'm not making that mistake with the Backstage Magic tour in December. We crashed the first night! Thanks for helping bring back the memories on that wonderful experience.
I was really glad I gave myself some time to acclimate. I was just fine by the day the tour started. I'm going to be sure to always do that! Glad to jog your memories. It was wonderful!

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Old 07-17-2008, 07:19 PM   #6
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wow.. gorgeous views!
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Old 07-17-2008, 07:49 PM   #7
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wow.. gorgeous views!
Thanks! It was a spectacular trip!

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Old 10-27-2008, 06:49 PM   #8
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ok, I have to ask about the butt pillow, is this like a stadium cushion? We are planning on taking this adventure next year so I am trying to plan ahead.
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Old 10-27-2008, 10:16 PM   #9
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ok, I have to ask about the butt pillow, is this like a stadium cushion? We are planning on taking this adventure next year so I am trying to plan ahead.
Hee! Yes, more or less. My butt pillow is kind of an "extreme" stadium cushion. It's made out of memory foam, and has a cut-out for my tailbone, so it really takes the pressure off my very bad lower back. I took it to Alaska for the Iditarod dog buggy ride, and to the American Southwest for bumpy jeep trips! It's *literally* really saved my butt (and back!).

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Old 11-08-2008, 01:30 AM   #10
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Sounds interesting and i hope you enjoyed a lot as i enjoy your post very much
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Old 11-08-2008, 12:10 PM   #11
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Sounds interesting and i hope you enjoyed a lot as i enjoy your post very much
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the report. I love sharing my vacations & pics this way. I *did* really enjoy it, a LOT!

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Old 02-23-2009, 12:59 PM   #12
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packing

What do you recommend packing for the trip and did you take a backpack with you each day?
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Old 02-23-2009, 07:54 PM   #13
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What do you recommend packing for the trip and did you take a backpack with you each day?
I didn't take a backpack, exactly. I have a large mesh Healthy Back Bag that I prefer to a backpack. I took that with me hiking into the Grand Canyon (to carry water, flavor packs, snacks and a jacket) and also on the Arches hike (for same things). The rest of the days, I just had a "travel purse" that I could wear cross-body. I would say a very small backpack would be useful for the Grand Canyon & Arches.

I packed jeans, shorts, a pair of nice sweat pants, several T-shirts, a long-sleeved shirt I could wear under the T-shirts. I also packed a denim skort for a couple of the dinners, and 2 or 3 nicer tops, again, for dinner. Dinner was pretty casual, but there were a couple of times I wanted to "clean up". Also a light sweatshirt.

I brought a water bottle strap, sunglasses, a hat. If you have any ear issues, I recommend an earband. I foolishly forgot to pack one. Some of the areas were fairly windy (especially the Grand Canyon & Arches). I borrowed a long-sleeve active-type shirt for under the vests when we went rafting (to wear over the bathing suit). And I brought a Gore-tex (waterproof & windproof) jacket. Tennis shoes, hiking shoes & waterproof Keens (sort of sandals).

Boy, that's all I remember off the top of my head. Was there anything specific you were wanting to know besides the backpack?

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Old 02-23-2009, 08:58 PM   #14
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Boy, that's all I remember off the top of my head. Was there anything specific you were wanting to know besides the backpack?

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Everything...hee hee. This helps a lot I always overpack but I want to pack light so when they pick up the bags for us that it's not a million pounds. We are going in September so I know it could be hot and cold. Thought it might be a good time to get some sales on some jackets so we started shopping. My Husband got his jacket but I am still searching. Any tips would be wonderful but this helps with what you gave me. Thanks so much.
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Old 10-23-2009, 02:42 PM   #15
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Great trip report!!
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