Overall, we had a great trip. We fell in love with the Southwest. The red rocks were so gorgeous and we loved the way the scenery changed with every shift of light. My friends who go out there regularly always start their stories with “and there we were, with red rock vistas all around…” and I never really understood why that would be pertinent to a tale about a tennis match. Now I do. Everywhere we turned, everything we did, we were aware of the beauty around us and it was breathtaking. I have no idea how people drive there without constantly wrecking due to not having their eyes on the road. I can’t imagine anyone ever getting jaded to those views! I think this would be a perfect “starter” trip for someone who hasn’t done group travel before, and hasn’t done one of the international ABDs. There was plenty of “on your own time,” and enough space both physically and in the schedule to let each family choose how much to mingle and how much to stick together. We ended up on this particular departure by default, when our original choice was part of the “great cancellation” earlier this year. (There was actually an ABD phone center CM on our trip who gave a little insight into that and other ABD mysteries on this trip – I’ll do another post on that.) The timing ended up working out well for us – we were able to squeeze in another trip earlier in the month, our pretrip was easy to change, we had a few days to enjoy summer after school got out. BUT, we never could shake the feeling that we were on the “wrong trip.” I know that sounds silly, but that was the feeling. It started with our entrance into the lobby of the Amara where we were greeted by a large sign welcoming everyone to the “Vacation Club Exclusive” Adventure. Not a big deal and it was never mentioned again. Just a little disconnect. We sort of wondered if there was some secret DVC ritual going on at night after we’d been told the festivities for the day were over and we could go to bed. There also just happened to be a lot of families on this trip who shared very similar regional backgrounds, very different from ours. Nice people, we liked everyone, just the humor was a little inaccessible to us. Where they bonded, we held back a little. This sort of “off” feeling was entirely within ourselves and had nothing to do with the presentation of the ABD. It affected some of our perception of the trip, but isn’t helpful to apply to a review for other DISers. So I’ve been trying to think through writing a more unbiased review and have run into another issue: We compared everything on this trip to the one we did last year, Sacred Valleys and Incan Cities. That one was the trip of a lifetime. Everything was perfect. We fell in love with ABD. Then this trip was like the “second date.” And not as fabulous. We tried to decide if it was just that we were in America. But the Southwest was every bit as magical to our Southeastern eyes as Peru was. Really the main difference here was in the service and quality level of the Adventure itself. But who wants to read a review that is negative? Especially when, actually, our experience was very positive, and would have been even more so if we hadn’t been constantly comparing and looking to have our very high expectations from the last trip met. On the other hand, there are some DISers who have equally high expectations and some who are actually doing these trips in the order we did them. I always think forewarned is forearmed, when it comes to avoiding “expectation failure” as DH calls it. Plus, there are a few very practical things to know that can improve the trip. AND, everyone wants to hear about the Thunderbird. So, I’m going to break up the info into three lists: the good stuff, the stuff that disappointed, and more than you ever wanted to know about the Thunderbird Lodge. If you want to skip the negatives, it will be a more upbeat report. And yes, we would do another ABD and we still love Disney.