Southwest Splendors: The Good, The Bad and the Thunderbird

Discussion in 'Adventures By Disney' started by kristilew, Jun 29, 2009.

  1. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    KJD - I forgot to tell you, your guides will also be Maura and Geraldine. They are so cute, I know you will love them!
     
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  3. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    SayHello,

    I was wondering about their description of the Grand. The whole way leading up to the Grand Canyon, they were "spinning" on the the Thunderbird. Everyone was worried about it and they were giving a party line about how "each hotel is fitting for its location." I wondered at the time if Maura was just trying to make me feel better.

    The Condors are pretty ugly! I couldn't believe that was what she fell in love with! Especially as we've lived with a year of llama obsession since Peru (and the year before that was red pandas, also cute and cuddly). I think it helped that the one she was close to was so young. He hadn't gotten his ugly red head yet and was at about the same stage of gawkish adolesence that DD herself has reached:

    [​IMG]
     
  4. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    I can't believe I forgot to post this picture yesterday. This just sums up what we loved about the views out there. It's from the porch at Red Cliffs Lodge:

    [​IMG]
     
  5. SLK1

    SLK1 DIS Veteran

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    Thanks for your refreshingly honest report! Whenever I read a report that is only all positives, I'm a little suspect. What you did was put expectations where they should be - when you overhype a trip, people can be disappointed. I wouldn't NOT go on a particular trip because of someone else's opinions, but I would certainly know what to look for, what to expect, and how to maybe prevent things from going wrong. The trip sounds fabulous and it seems like you had a great time! Thanks!:thumbsup2
     
  6. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    Thanks, SLK1. We did have a great time, and it was a fabulous trip. A great way to see a beautiful part of our country.
     
  7. sayhello

    sayhello Have Camera, Will Travel Moderator

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    OMG, kristilew, what a magnificent rainbow over the Red Cliffs & the river! Beautiful! :thumbsup2

    You might be right about Maura trying to make you feel better about the Thunderbird. I know a lot of people were pretty leery based on the reviews of the Thunderbird... But then, a lot of people were leery of the Grand, also. It definitely wasn't the Amara or the Red Cliffs Lodge, but it was perfectly acceptable. Sounds like the Thunderbird mostly wasn't (except for the location, location, location!)

    Sayhello
     
  8. whiteside61

    whiteside61 Earning My Ears

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    Kristilew, thanks for your reassurance. You really wrote a wonderful trip report and I do appreciate the effort you put into it. I know we will have a wonderful time and knowing in advance about some of the "less than great" aspects of the trip will insure that.
    a couple of questions for you....what time of day did everything start? For example, was breakfast from 8 to 9?
    Did your guides give you recommendations on where and when to make dinner reservations, or did you need to make them before you left home? ( I'm thinking about the El Tovar and Bright Angels)
    Also, what was the approximate cost of the ATV excursion? It would probably be too costly for all of us but maybe for the boys.....

    Finally, you are correct that my large family of six is probably more used to "family chaos" than that of a smaller family of three. Although my children are older, one in college, a high school senior, and twins in middle school...our children have always been taught to be respective and polite in public so it will be interesting to see the dynamics on our trip.

    Lastly, where in NC are you? We live in Highlands, a beautiful but tiny mountain summer resort community in western North Carolina.
     
  9. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    what time of day did everything start? For example, was breakfast from 8 to 9? Breakfast was generally from 7 - 8, but at the Grand Canyon it started at 6:30. We usually had to be ready to go on our first excursion by around 8:30.
    Did your guides give you recommendations on where and when to make dinner reservations, or did you need to make them before you left home? ( I'm thinking about the El Tovar and Bright Angels) We didn't need reservations for any of our meals. There was about a 10 minute wait at Bright Angel at 6:30, but would have been none half an hour later. They did advise us to eat early in Sedona, as the town closes up early. However, when we checked at the Cowboy Club, the restuarant they suggested we try, they were serviing until 10 so we didn't rush. A family with us had made reservations for dinner at El Tovar a long time ago. I don't know if they had needed to, but if you're thinking of this for dinner, you might as well go ahead and make them, just in case. Your whole afternoon and evening is free, so any time is fine.
    Also, what was the approximate cost of the ATV excursion? It would probably be too costly for all of us but maybe for the boys..... I don't know what it was per person, or for child/adult. For our two adults and one child the base cost was $395. We then tipped $50 on top of that. The horse riding was less expensive at $69 a person, but also far less fun, as it was a nose to bumper trail walk, with constant stopping to let those who couldn't make their horses go catch up. (DD11 still loved it and was under the illusion that she was doing an excellent job of stearing her horse :rolleyes:)
    Finally, you are correct that my large family of six is probably more used to "family chaos" than that of a smaller family of three. Although my children are older, one in college, a high school senior, and twins in middle school...our children have always been taught to be respective and polite in public so it will be interesting to see the dynamics on our trip. The kids on our trip were probably not being impolite by many standards. We are just used to a lot of quiet. (For example, I rarely carpool as I can't stand to hear the chatter in the car)
    Lastly, where in NC are you? We live in Highlands, a beautiful but tiny mountain summer resort community in western North Carolina.[/QUOTE] We are about 7 hours east of you. Love Highlands, though. So beautiful! It will be interesting to see what you think of the red rocks and buttes compared to your blue mountains.
     
  10. glassslipper2004

    glassslipper2004 DIS Veteran

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    Kristilew -

    Thank you so much for your report. I was actually afraid to read it, after reading your introduction, since we are going on this trip in August. We have spent so much money on it, I had hoped and expected it would be the over-the-top every little thing is magic experience that we had in Italy with Disney next year. I feel better after reading your report (that is, better than when I just read the intro) because at least I know what to expect and can be prepared. Like you said, your attitude can make or break the trip -- DH is already on my back for even mentioning that the Thunderbird isn't top notch.

    I'm sad about the food. I love eating good food on vacations, and really hate sandwiches. Also hate hotel eggs, and hotel bland food in general. I suppose most food compared to Italy would be inferior, but you'd think at least Disney would find good restaurants for us. I couldn't help but notice that the two meals you seemed to like the most (at El Tovar and Bright Angel) were ones you had to pay for.

    Please, please, do communicate your feelings to Disney. For travelers used to first class and feeling pampered by ABD, this is really a let down.

    Thanks again for writing.
     
  11. WeLoveABD

    WeLoveABD DIS Veteran

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    Welcome back! My family did a driving trip which included staying at the hotels Disney picked for Moab and Sedona--excellent properties! In fact, we were at the Moab lodge the same time as your group--I met the guides and the bus driver, who were very nice. Doing a trip on our own (with the worries of traffic, reservations, finding food, selecting activies and kid burn-out) reenforced the value of a guide-driven vacation (I feel much more at ease on a ABD trip than on one of my own device!). That said, we stayed at the El Tovar rather than the Thunderbird--and loved El T. I wondered about why Disney chose the Thunderbird, and one maid told me (as she was tossing us out of the Thunderbird) that the Thunderbird lodge has the most "canyon view" rooms of any in the park--and in fact, the El Tovar only has two rooms that overlook the canyon. With a national parki, it is always a limited choice so I imagine Disney opted for view and location over the amenities in the room. (Our experience for out of US ABD trip is that there is usually a hotel in the middle that isn't in the same league as the rest--you start and end strong, suffer slightly in the middle). But as you say--the location location location was great! Welcome back!
     
  12. sayhello

    sayhello Have Camera, Will Travel Moderator

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    Actually, we were told by our guides that the El Tovar refused to work with Disney. There's only one tour group (I don't know which one that is) that the El Tovar allows to reserve blocks of rooms, and they did not wish to work with Disney. So the Thunderbird was the best they could negotiate. People complained about the Grand Hotel, as well, so I guess ABD decided that as long as people were going to complain anyway, they might as well get the hotel with the better location.

    Sayhello
     
  13. glassslipper2004

    glassslipper2004 DIS Veteran

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    Kristilew mentioned that some people on her trip made dinner reservations at El Tovar. Has anyone else eaten there? Any thoughts on whether it is a good choice for dinner or, as Kristilew mentioned, it would do to go for lunch? I'd love to add a special meal to our trip, since many of the meals seem less than special. What is the restaurant at Bright Angel (is that the right name?) like?
     
  14. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    The restaurant at Bright Angel is nothing fancy, but was cute. They have menus on the wall from when it first opened, which were entertaining to read. (10 cent meals!)

    We were so full from our lunch, we just got very basic food - I ordered spaghetti and meatballs, DH lasagne, and DD got a hamburger. These were all fine, but nothing special. Service was good, but not fawining. It was just right for us as we'd spent several hours walking around, attending ranger lectures, etc and were tired. I also got the soup, which was the same as the one at El Tovar that I'd had at lunch and liked. At least the same name. It was slightly different when it came, but still yummy. A cream of roasted red pepper. Our total with tip for the three of us was 59.69 and that included 4 beers and a shirley temple.

    El Tovar was much more elegant and the food was fancier. We both got the soup, as I mentioned. I ordered a fabulous peppercorn encrusted Angus burger. Fanciest burger I've ever had. It managed to be moist and juicy but no pink, and big enough that I ate it like a steak instead of a burger. DH got the special of the day (really good, he said, I can't remember what it was) and DD got a beautiful quesadilla dish from the kids menu. We drank here as well and our total was $71.98. Our waiter (Jonathan) worked at Ruth's Chris before here, and had the same super-attentive manner you get there. He was also interesting, fun and a joy to talk with.

    If we'd waited until dinner time, I don't know if we personally would have done so well there, as we were just plain tuckered out. On the other hand, if we'd planned for it we might have taken it easy during the day. (of course, there was the shower issue as well....)

    It just depends on your group. With older kids, you'd probably do well with dinner. Especially if you're planning to do an intown activity like the helicopter ride or the imax, you might want a quick, easy lunch. Of course, I think dinner will be a lot more expensive. You would definitely feel like you were having a special meal, I think. And you could easily dress up a little. You'd be out of place dressed up in Bright Angel.

    HTH!
     
  15. WeLoveABD

    WeLoveABD DIS Veteran

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    El Tovar takes dinner reservations (and it is recommended--otherwise it might be a long wait). We really enjoyed the atmosphere there--and while pricey, the food was great. However...breakfast was a bit too pricey, and our next morning we ate at Bright Angel lodge--good b'fast, good price. Probably the least expensive way to go would be to get lunch in the El T dining room, breakfast at Bright Angel and dinner...well, why not a late picnic dinner and take in the sunset out toward Hermit's (accessible only by a long hike or by the free shuttle bus)?
     
  16. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    Oh, wanted to add, our meal at Cowboy Club in Sedona was also fantastic. Again, a super waiter, William, we enjoyed talking with and who seemed to read our mind. He happily brought us tasters of the various drafts at no charge, and was full of interesting information about the area.

    DH tried all the regional specialties (maybe that's why they didn't offer them on the group meal nights?) He got the Cactus Fries (so-so, but worth trying) and the Buffalo flank steak. He ended up with serious steak envy when I got the sirloin. Both were perfectly cooked and tender. The buffalo is a little gamy, though. DD got, yet again, a burger. But it was cooked without being charred, and she ate it all, so we were both happy. DH's meal was a "deal" with the app, buff steak and a dessert. The dessert was an chocolate thing to die for. Yum!

    Our total with drinks and tip was $87.15.

    Cowboy Club has two sections, a fancier one with a slightly different menu and then the one we ate in which resembles an old saloon. We came in directly from a 6 - mile hike, so thought it best to stay out of the fancy section ;)


    We also had good food at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque. Excellent fish and chips and bbq sandwich, and lots of people at our table split their brick oven pizzas, which were great. (They are huge, though, be warned!)

    So you'll have plenty of good food on the meals you do on your own.
     
  17. kristilew

    kristilew DIS Veteran

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    This is a great idea. Just pay attention to when the shuttle makes its last run - it was at 7 when we were there. It would be a long walk back!

    The driver of the shuttle was another person we enjoyed and who had lots of good advice.
     
  18. glassslipper2004

    glassslipper2004 DIS Veteran

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    Thanks so much for the info. A few questions -- do you have to buy your own breakfast? Not a big deal, but a little surprising, since so many hotel stays come with breakfast. I obviously need to take a closer look at the itinerary.

    Also - Kristilew mentioned an imax - is there an imax movie option? I don't think we'll be springing for the helicopter ride, and if it is really hot out, spending some time in the A/C might be in order. How do you get to town?

    Finally, do you know if you need reservations at El Tovar for lunch?

    Sounds like there are some good restaurant meals to choose from - especially if you like steak and burgers, which everyone in my family does. :goodvibes
     
  19. kjd469

    kjd469 Addicted to WDW

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    Leaving in the morning to head to Phoenix a day early...our departure is Sat....wondering if ABD will do anything special for 4th of July? Anyhow, we're all super-excited and looking forward to the week ahead. I'll be sure to take note of anything that Kristilew hasn't mentioned (although she did a great job covering everything!) Bye for now!:cool1:
     
  20. glassslipper2004

    glassslipper2004 DIS Veteran

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    Have a great time! :banana:
     
  21. WeLoveABD

    WeLoveABD DIS Veteran

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    Breakfast was included in all of the stays on our ABD trips--I can't say what they did on the Southwest trip (we were there on our own). No reservations taken for lunch at El Tovar (or for breakfast--just dinner). There is a free shuttle (I think it is the green line--you take one shuttle that departs near the rim hotels to a central station and catch the green shuttle there) that will take you out of the park to a nearby town (south of the Grand Canyon), where there are hotels and the IMAX theater (playing a Grand Canyon film produced by National Geographic).
     

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