See likes

See likes given/taken


Your posts liked by others

Pages: [1]
Post info No. of Likes
Re: United airlines Gift cards Where is the forum for selling gift cards?  I was not able to find it.

I have 200 in United Gift Cards that I would like to sell and would like to post.  I have three 50 gift cards and two 25 gift cards.

June 18, 2013, 03:57:04 PM
1
Re: Big Island Of Hawaii Master Thread Howdy to all.  Here is a trip report from my recent stay on the Big Island, my favorite place on the planet.

We arrived on a Sunday evening and our first stop was at the local Kona WM.  While Mrs. PBaruch did some shopping, I took the opportunity to do my thing (you all know what that is) - everything went off perfectly.  Our second stop was at Chabad - Rabbi Chazanow, where we picked up dinner and some food for the week.  A big thank you to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Chazanow for the delicious food and all of your help.  You greatly enhance our vacations.  Then off to Volcano where we stayed for 4 nights. 

The following day, a freak storm blew in and drenched the island in rain.  We weren't about to sit around all day and my good buddy Bruce Omori, a photographer with a gallery in Hilo (www.extremeexposure.com) drove us into Waipio Canyon.  We made it to the the black sand beach where my kids had a blast playing in the sand in pouring rain.  We then drove around Waipio for a while crossing rivers swelled by all the rains. Bruce's raised Toyota pickup truck worked phenomenally well.  Mahalo to Brudda Bruce for an awesome experience.  To all those naysayers, I have this to say - you can still have lots of fun in the rain.  Besides, how many people get to go to Waipio in pouring rain?

I uploaded a YouTube clip of the Waipio adventure for your viewing pleasure. 



On Tuesday and Wednesday, we drove through the Chain of Craters Road in Volcanoes National Park and did some hiking in various parts of the park.  Also, we drove to the black sand beach at Kalapana.  This year there was actually sand on the black sand beach and we were able to get down to it and play in the surf.  Unfortunately, there was no lava surface flow near Kalapana in an accessible area so I could not hike to the lava, as I did in prior years. 

Here is a YouTube clip of the entire Chain of Craters Drive:



Please note that this clip plays well in higher resolution mode but in lower resolutions there is quite a bit of pixelation. 

We were supposed to meet up with our friend Alex on Wednesday night.  He arrived earlier and decided to hike Mauna Loa, which he started on Sunday morning. If any of you are not aware, Mauna Loa is universally considered the hardest hike in Hawaii - 18 miles one way to the summit.  Alex didn't show up Wednesday night and we all became very concerned.  Seems that all that rain we were getting turned into a huge snowstorm at the mountain tops.  Both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were blanketed in snow (the road to the top of Mauna Kea was closed and there was no viewing at the visitor center due to cloud cover).  Alex was caught up in the snowstorm and couldn't get down the mountain.  He ended up sleeping outside in the snow for two nights. Ultimately, the story has a happy ending.  Alex was rescued by helicopter on Thursday morning.  They found him wandering down the mountain near the summit.  He was dehydrated, suffering from altitude sickness and symptoms of frostbite, but alive.  We remain hopeful that he will have a complete recovery.  And now, we can both say that we had near death experiences in Hawaii.

A link to articles about his ordeal can be found here for those who are interested:

http://www.nps.gov/havo/parknews/sverdlov.htm

http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/New-York-Hiker-Trapped-Hawaii-Mauna-Loa-Volcano-Snowstorm-242904701.html

At least one good thing came out of this ordeal - we got a free behind the scenes tour of the Jagger Observatory thanks to our new friend Park Ranger John Broward.  Mahalo John!

On Thursday, the sky opened up to a beautiful sunny day over Hilo, which was perfect for our doors off helicopter flight with Paradise Helicopters. Calvin, the owner of the company, personally came out to fly us around the volcano.  Many thanks to Cal for an awesome experience.  A clip of our flight can be seen here:



Towards the end of the clip, you can see a rainbow over a small patch of road in the area previously known as the Royal Gardens subdivision. This patch of road was, for some unexplained reason, spared by the lava flow.  I thought of Parshas Noach when seeing the rainbow and road surrounded by the lava field. 

You can also see the remains of Jack Thompson's house - all that is left is a satellite dish, a water tank, and some roofing material and debris.  Jack was the last holdout in this area until his home was finally claimed by the lava in 2012.  While the house was standing, I wanted to hike out to it and spend the night there and bring Jack some beers.  Unfortunately, Jack was away and when we came back the next time, the house was already gone. 

Later in the day, we drove to South Point and to the green sand beach.  Levi and his very capable Toyota 4Runner drove us to the beach as our rented minivan would never have made it.  A clip of the drive can be seen here.  It is a bit choppy at times because the truck was traveling at a good rate of speed over very bumpy terrain.



After our green sand beach excursion, we drove to the Sheraton in Kona, where we were upgraded to an ocean view room due to my Starwood Gold status.  The view was absolutely gorgeous and we were on the ground floor, which made it convenient to walk around on Shabbos.

On Friday, we did the Dolphin Quest at the Hilton and then went snorkeling and swimming at Kikaua Beach, which is perfect for little kids due to its protective cove.

On Friday night, after the Shabbos meal, we wandered over to Rays on The Bay Restaurant (at the Sheraton) where we were able to watch Manta Rays swimming right behind the restaurant while getting a bit sloshed.  Next time I hope to snorkel with the Manta Rays as I didn't have time this trip.

On Sunday, we went to Greenwell Coffee farm, where we stop by every year for awesome Kona coffee and to take our annual family picture (it has become a tradition). Then it was time to pack out for the return home on a United First Class flight with lay flat bed seats. 

While we were not able to do everything we wanted to do because of time constraints and the weather not fully cooperating, I have this to say to those who don't think the Big Island totally rocks.  Go to Maui, Kauai, or wherever you want.  I'm more than happy to keep the Big Island to myself.  :O)

Can't wait till next time. 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report. 

February 21, 2014, 10:06:29 AM
1
Re: Big Island Of Hawaii Master Thread Howdy to all.  Here is a trip report from our 6th trip to the Big Island, my favorite place on the planet.

We arrived in Kona on Sunday night and once again our first stop was at WM.  We then stopped by Chabad to pick up some food and off we went to Volcano, where we stayed for the first four nights.  We always break up the trip into two parts - Volcano and Kona.  This way we get to experience the best of both worlds. 

Chabad provides a variety of prepared food for sale.  In addition, I was told that they would soon be reopening a falafel place in Kona.  Also, for those who are interested, Costco sells kosher cornish hens and other items of kosher food.  Ask Rabbi Chazanow about which bread you can buy. 

On Monday, we visited friends in Hilo and then went off to Kalapana, where there is a nice black sand beach.  This year, there was quite a bit of sand on the beach.  There have been times in prior years when most of the sand was washed away.  We all had quite a bit of fun playing in the sand and surf.  Since we were all a bit jetlagged and tired, we took it easy and relaxed.

Kalapana  2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Kalapana 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Here is a really cool VW van that one of the locals restored all by himself.  He even painted it all by himself.

DSC_0608VW Van by peterbryan718, on Flickr

The locals at Kalapana lead guided lava hikes but this year the lava wasn't flowing in an accessible area. As a result, there were no guided hikes this year (not that I need one).

Information for those who are interested can be found here:  http://www.kalapanaculturaltours.com/

Tip:  If you go when the lava is flowing in an accessible area near Kalapana, request a private tour.

When there is ocean entry, another option to view lava is to take a lava boat tour.  We did that in the past and it was really nice.  Information for those who are interested can be found here:  http://www.lavaocean.com/

Even without the lava flowing in an accessible area this year, I still did my share of chasing lava and was not disappointed.  That is, of course, the primary reason I keep coming back to the Big Island.

On Tuesday we took a chartered helicopter flight with Paradise Helicopters. Once again, Cal, the owner of the company, personally came out to fly us around the volcano.  Many thanks to Cal for another awesome VIP experience.  A clip of our flight can be seen here:



Of course, the little guy came along for the flight.

Heli Charter by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Last years flight with Cal can be seen here.



On Tuesday evening we drove up Mauna Kea to the visitor center.  We couldn't drive all the way up to the summit since my kids are still too young.  Nevertheless, we had a nice time stargazing and looking through the telescopes.  I took a picture of the moon from the visitor center.

Moon from Mauna Kea 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

On Wednesday, my buddy drove us down to the black sand beach at Waipio in his pickup truck, where we had tons of fun.  I sat with the kids in the truck bed on the way down.  The kids insisted on sitting in the truck bed by themselves on the way up. (For those of you wondering, no - the baby didn't ride in the truck bed).

DSC_1353  Waipio by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Waipio 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

DSC_1293 Waipio by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Waipio 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Waipio 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

On Thursday, we went to South Point/Green Sand Beach.  This year, we went earlier in the day and it was really crowded.  Of course, the little guy came along.

Green Sand Beach 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

A YouTube video from the drive last year can be seen here:



Afterwards, we drove over to Kona, where we stayed for the remainder of our trip.

On Friday, we did a snorkeling trip to Captain Cook Monument.  Along the way, we saw tons of dolphins and humpback whales.

Kona Whale 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Kona Whale 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Kona Dolphins 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

A video of the snorkeling adventure can be seen here.   As you can see, the water is crystal clear.



On Shabbos, we all relaxed.  I was able  to see humpback whales from our ocean view porch and I took a very relaxing nap.

On Sunday, we were off to Greenwell Farms, where we go every year for awesome Kona coffee and our annual family photographs. This year we ordered a ton of coffee for our family and friends and for a nominal fee had them ship it to us, rather than shlepping it back.  Once you have Kona Coffee, its hard to go back to the other stuff.

IMG-20150201-WA0018[1] by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Say hi to the gecko.

IMG-20150201-WA0008[1] by peterbryan718, on Flickr

On Sunday evening we snorkeled with manta rays.  A video of our manta ray adventure can be seen here.  And yes, they really get that close - inches away.



On Monday, we went swimming at our secret spot in Kona and then we were off to meet up with my buddy and his wife for a beach bbq at another secret spot in Kona.  I purchased some chopped meat and hot dogs from Chabad for the grill.  While grilling, we saw humpback whales very close to the shore.  I never saw them that close before and of course they were gone in an instant.

Here is a long exposure I took at the bbq.

Kona Beach BBQ 2015 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Monday evening, we flew back home.

Stopped by the AA lounge - no kosher food.  I asked for fruit but it was all cut up.  I did get some whiskey.

IMG-20150202-WA0011[1] by peterbryan718, on Flickr

IMG-20150202-WA0013[1] by peterbryan718, on Flickr

Flight home.

DSC08240 by peterbryan718, on Flickr

After each Big Island trip, I think to myself that it can't get any better.  However, each year it does get better.  It still remains my favorite place on the planet.  If DW agreed, I'd move there in an instant and would never look back.  As I said in last years trip report, to those who don't think the Big Island totally rocks, go to Maui, Kauai, or wherever you want.  I'm more than happy to keep the Big Island to myself.  :O)

Can't wait till next time.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report.

A final note:  whoever said you can't take kids to Hawaii or have fun with kids in Hawaii hasn't done Hawaii PBaruch style.  My little guy was all over the Big Island and went almost everywhere we went.  He was by Kalapana, Waipio, Green Sand Beach, up in a helicopter, and he went with us snorkeling (of course he couldn't snorkel but I still took him in the water).  The only activity the little guy couldn't go on is the manta ray trip.  My older kids did it all and loved every minute of it.

If anyone would like further information, feel free to send me a PM.






March 02, 2015, 12:05:47 AM
1
Re: Iceland Master Thread Here is a trip report from our recent trip to Iceland.  Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading.

Initially, I would like to express sincere gratitude to my good buddy (who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons) for helping me book our free Icelandair flights.  (No PM's please).  Many thanks. Your help was greatly appreciated.

We arrived at KEF on Sunday night intending on spending the first night of our trip at the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel.  We met up with Sofus, a part time taxi driver/student/plumber, who became our taxi driver for the rest of the trip.  As I later learned, having multiple jobs in Iceland isn't uncommon as many people work in tourism during the hectic summer months and do something else during the winter.

We decided to stay at the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel on the first night of our arrival and then again for Shabbos, for reasons which will be discussed below.  Things didn't go exactly as planned.  We arrived at the Blue Lagoon on Monday morning at 2:30 a.m. (Iceland time) to an empty lobby.  After ringing the front desk bell a few times, a very wet attendant came running out.  He had clearly been soaking in the private hotel lagoon, a nice perk of the job.  After repeating my name a few times, I learned to my dismay that we didn't have a reservation.  Apparently the person who took our reservation didn't properly book it.  Further, since the hotel only has 15 rooms (they are presently expanding) they couldn't just give us another room because they were fully booked.  I later learned that the hotel had messed up another unfortunate fellow who booked a number of rooms for a conference only to show up and be told that the rooms were still under construction and wouldn't be ready until September.  Luckily, in our case, the front desk attendant was able to find us a room at another hotel nearby.  We loaded our bags back into the taxi and Sofus drove us to the brand new Geo Hotel.

At the Geo Hotel, the front desk attendant was a very pleasant Scotsman.  When asked how a Scotsman ended up in Iceland, I was told that he initially came for a visit and then got a local girl pregnant.  The rest is history.  He also spoke fluent Icelandic.  Apparently, he was forced to learn Icelandic when his boss stopped speaking to him in English.  I wonder if he speaks Icelandic with a Scottish accent. 

The next morning, Sofus picked us up at the hotel and drove us to pick up our camper truck, our home for the next four nights.  After a brief orientation, we were off.  The truck was a 2008 Ford F350 with a camper in the bed.
 
IMG-20150629-WA0000 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC08751 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although the truck was old (by USA rental standards) and had 125k Kilometers, the camper was brand new.  It took a bit of getting used to drive this behemoth.  For instance, you would normally expect a vehicle to stop once you press on the brake.  Not with this truck.  I quickly learned that I had to start braking about a block before I needed to stop.  That being said, once I got used to the truck, it was relatively easy to drive as long as I didn't have to back up.

We then drove to the local Reykjavik airport for our helicopter charter to the "inside the volcano" tour of Thrihnukagigur Volcano.  In this tour, you either hike ( a few kilometers) or take a helicopter charter from the Reykjavik airport to the volcano, which we chose to do.  Once there, you are lowered by a construction type lift into the magma chamber.  As some of you may know, I have a thing for volcanoes and lava and once I learned about this experience, I just had to go to Iceland.  For this trip, we booked the helicopter excursion, which was the least expensive way to get a semi private tour of the volcano.  With the hiking tour, you are stuck with a group of 15 descending into the magma chamber. However, if you take the helicopter tour, they take you to the magma chamber in between the regularly scheduled hiking tours.  If you fill up the helicopter with your family/friends, you will pretty much have the magma chamber all to yourself for about a half hour.  This experience was well worth it and I even managed to convince a frum family we met up with on the plane to join us.  The only thing that I'm pissed off about is that the volcano people refused to let me take the baby into the magma chamber.  I thought it would make for an awesome family picture.  Feh.

Here are some photos from the volcano tour:

View from the helicopter of the opening in the volcano.

DSC_2378 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kids getting ready to descend into the magma chamber.

DSC_2398 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Elevator descending into the magma chamber.

DSC_2400 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2401 by P Bryan, on Flickr

My daughter inside the magma chamber.  What did your kids do on their summer vacation?  ;D

DSC_2431 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the volcano tour, we drove around Reykjavik hunting for kosher food and supplies.  After realizing that neither the hotel we had stayed at on Sunday night (or the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel) had microwaves, we went to the Elko store (an Icelandic version of Bestbuy) and bought a 220v microwave (to heat up Mealmart box meals) and crock pot (for Shabbos).  We forgot to get a VAT form from the store to get a refund of the taxes (DW insisted on bringing back the microwave and crock pot) so if any of you decide to purchase something that you will take back with you, remember to ask the store for a VAT form.  Given that one of the major supermarkets in Reykjavik ("Bonus") has a large pig as its mascot, we didn't really expect to find much in the way of kosher food.  We only managed to find three things with a hechsher: (i) Popcorn chips; (ii) Nature Valley bars; and (iii) Powerade.  Even American brands such as Pringles didn't have a hechsher. 

We ended Monday by camping out at Thingvellir National Park in the parking lot by the visitor center.  There was a "pay" toilet (which isn't too uncommon in Iceland as we later learned) where it cost you 200 ISK (~$1.50) to use the loo. This is where the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian Plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region.  For those who are interested (and I know of one DDF member who has done this), you can dive into the lake and touch both plates at the same time.  We aren't divers (yet) and didn't have time for this activity anyways.

The next morning we took a charter super jeep tour to Langjokull Glacier.  The glacier is in the highlands and requires driving on unpaved roads.

The super jeep.

 DSC_2501 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20150630-WA0005 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2711 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2713 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Views along the way:

DSC_2494 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2557 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2500 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Luckily for us, our super jeep had huge tractor type tires and had no difficulty navigating the large mounds of snow still covering parts of the road.  The roads were impassible to everything else, including a bunch of land rovers we saw along the way. 

Can your jeep do this?

DSC_2531 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2532 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2533 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we were the only tour heading out to Langjokull Glacier that day, we had the entire route to ourselves.  The scenery was spectacular and it was an interesting experience driving on the glacier. 

On the glacier.

DSC_2573 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2598 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20150630-WA0015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way down the glacier, we had a flat tire.  Our driver/guide Jonas quickly fixed whatever the problem was.  Not sure how many others can say they had a flat while driving on a glacier.

After our glacier tour, we went to the Laugardalur Swimming Pool, a top rated public pool in Reykjavik.  The water was clean and refreshing and they had hot tubs with different temperature ratings.  However, the changing room/shower area was a revelation.  Apparently, the people in Iceland have no problem showering naked in front of everyone else.  You do your best to avert your eyes but sometimes you just can't help it if something is dangling literally right in front of you.  After Laugardalur, we drove back to Thingvellir and stayed at a campground.  I made a bbq at about midnight.  The next day, we began the drive to the Golden Circle.

Here is a picture taken at the campground.

DSC_2735 by P Bryan, on Flickr

In our Golden Circle tour, we went to Geysir and Gulfoss.  We finished the day with the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls (which are not part of Golden Circle tour).  Here are some pictures from our Golden Circle Tour and from Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss:

DSC_2758 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2836 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2841 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2906 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2914 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We made a bbq at Skogafoss and then at about midnight drove to Jokulsarlon, arriving at 4:00 a.m.  Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lake in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajokull National Park.  Along the way, we passed by awe inspiring scenery which words cannot describe, including  Eyjafjallajokull, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and grounded flights throughout Europe due to the ash cloud.  The drive itself was worth the trip to Jokulsarlon.   

DSC_2919 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2874 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2883 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our view upon arrival at Jokulsarlon:

DSC_3064 by P Bryan, on Flickr

While everyone else was shluffing, I woke up at 7:00 a.m. feeling refreshed and decided to take a walk.  I saw arctic terns fishing and flying back to their nests with their catch.  My attempt to get closer to the nests was promptly responded to by multiple dive bomb attacks.  When everyone woke up, we did a duck boat tour where we saw 1000 year old icebergs (I really should have brought some whiskey) and seals.  A little later in the day DW and my older kids did a zodiac boat tour while I stayed behind with the baby.  (DW says if you have a choice to do the zodiac tour as they take the zodiacs right up to the icebergs).  We ended up spending the entire day at Jokulsarlon.  Here are some pictures taken at Jokulsarlon:

DSC_2946 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2958 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2964 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2985 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2992 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3046 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3050 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our boat tours, we drove across the road to a black sand beach where I had the opportunity to photograph ice washed up on the black sand.  That evening, we began our trek back to Reykjavik for Shabbos.  We drove for a while and stopped to stay the night at the Skaftafell Campground.  Hot showers cost 500ISK (~$3.75) for 5 minutes.  They also had a washing machine and dryer.  While I did the laundry, DW, my older daughter, and the baby (in a carriage) hiked to Svartifoss, a beautiful waterfall framed by hexagonal columns.  From this campground, they lead tours where you can walk on the glacier.

On Friday morning, we continued our drive back to Reykjavik and didn't really have much time for any touring.  Once again, we gazed at the awe inspiring landscape on the way back.  We returned the camper truck at about 4:00 p.m. and met our buddy Sofus who drove us to the Blue Lagoon Clinic.  Along the way I had to fill up the camper with gas.

Can someone please tell me which button to press for S&S gas rewards?

DSC_3123 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Luckily, this time the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel had our reservation.  While driving, we called the hotel to ask that our Pomegranate meal that we intended to eat Friday night be taken out of the freezer (we left it at the hotel when we arrived Sunday night).  We weren't surprised to learn that they didn't take the meal out of the freezer.  I asked the front desk attendant if there was a way they could heat up the meal for us and was told they didn't have an oven but that there was a restaurant on site.  I then inquired if the restaurant would heat up our meal but was told in a rather stern tone that "we don't do that in Iceland."

Pictures of the private Blue Lagoon available only to guests of the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel:

DSC_3145 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3148 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20150705-WA0000 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20150705-WA0008 by P Bryan, on Flickr

This is the public Blue Lagoon:

IMG-20150705-WA0016 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3173 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20150705-WA0014 by P Bryan, on Flickr

They opened it up just for us.  Just kidding - we got there early when no-one else was there so I could take photographs.

After taking a dip in the Blue Lagoon, we put a Pomegranate chicken meal into the crock pot, which was our Friday night meal.  We then put a few Mealmart cholent meals along with potatoes and carrots into the crock pot, which was our Shabbos meal.  We also placed eggs into the crock pot which we ate for shalosh seudos.  After eating the Friday night meal, DW lit candles.  We davened, made kiddush, washed, benched and went to sleep.  Shabbos started at about 11:30 at night and ended after 1:30 a.m.  Since the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel is located in the middle of a lava field, we couldn't go anywhere to walk around.  Then again, it was a good opportunity to catch up on a weeks worth of lack of sleep.

We made havdalah on Sunday morning and then went to take a soak in the public lagoon (which opened at 8:00 a.m.) and then back to the hotel for a soak in the private lagoon (which opens at 9:00 a.m.).  This was one of the main reasons we decided to stay in the Blue Lagoon Clinic Hotel.  The hotel has a private lagoon for hotel guests only.  While the public lagoon gets very crowded, there are rarely more than a few people in the private lagoon at any given time.  Further, guests at the hotel get free access to the public lagoon.  Of course the baby went into the lagoon as well, although technically you have to be two years old to go into the lagoon.  (Some may already know I don't much care for rules).

After relaxing in the lagoon for a few hours, we packed out and met Sofus, who drove us back to the airport.  Before this trip DW didn't want to go to Iceland and now we are planning a winter trip to see the northern lights.  DW says she wants to go back because we didn't have time to go to the Viking Museum or the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik.  I'm also planning a two week camping trip to circle the entire island.  (DW says its not happening but we'll see about that).  Anyone interested in a kosher caravan tour of Iceland?  :)

After a week in Iceland, I felt like we barely scratched the surface and there is so much more to do and see.

PS:  In case any of you are wondering, BI is still number one.

July 16, 2015, 06:13:10 PM
2
Dreams of Flight - Hummingbirds and Arizona Howdy.  Here is a trip report from our recent trip to Arizona.  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy.

First off, thanks to my good buddy for helping me book my cheap airline tickets.  Your help was greatly appreciated.

We arrived in Phoenix, Arizona on a Wednesday evening and stayed that first night at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  We chose the Phoenician because it is a very nice SPG property and is fairly close to the airport.  The following day we relaxed and swam in the pool. We then went to Kitchen 18 for lunch (one of the best burgers I ever had - highly recommended restaurant) and drove to Grand Canyon National Park.

Here are some pictures taken at Mather Point.  These particular pictures were taken from our 2013 trip (the lighting was better in 2013 than when we went recently as we arrived late in the day).

DSC_4072_HDR by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3973 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3833 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying the view (2015 pictures):

DSC_3362 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3308 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After enjoying the Grand Canyon, we drove to Flagstaff where we stayed for the next three nights at the Doubletree by Hilton.  We chose this hotel due to its close proximity to the Chabad shul.  Although we had a nice time with Chabad in 2013, our experience this trip was way different.  We called asking to buy challah rolls and maybe some kugel for Shabbos and were told that none were available.  We ended up finding uncut pretzel rolls which we used on Shabbos.  In short, if you are in Flagstaff for Shabbos, make sure that you have everything you need in advance and do not rely on Chabad. 

On Friday morning, we drove to Sedona for the annual Hummingbird Festival.  The folks from the Hummingbird Society were banding and releasing Hummingbirds.  My older kids were able to hold and release hummingbirds after the banding.  Both said that this was their favorite part of the trip.  This was our second trip to the festival.

Here are pictures taken of the banding:

DSC_3429 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3430 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Here are pictures of my daughter holding a hummingbird before it fluttered away:

DSC_3438 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3441 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3444 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pictures taken of the hummingbirds:

DSC_3418 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3453 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3591 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A beautiful butterfly:

DSC_3510 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Here is a video I took in 2013:



direct link (can be viewed in HD) https://youtu.be/6vjTT7XzbXY

After the banding, we drove to Wupatki National Monument to see the ruins of the Pueblo Houses.  Here are some photographs taken of the Pueblo Houses:

DSC00010 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC00015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then drove to Sunset Crater National Monument.  Here are some pictures taken of the volcano and surrounding lava field:

DSC_3472 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3469 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3487 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3480 by P Bryan, on Flickr

This year my kids had a chance to see lava fields in Hawaii  http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=1646.345 , Iceland http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=9572.180 , and now Arizona.   :)

On Sunday we went back to the Hummingbird Festival for a garden tour, although we only went to one particular garden, one of our favorites from the 2013 trip.  Afterwards, we drove to Walnut Canyon and then to Petrified Forest National Park, which was absolutely gorgeous.  Here are some pictures taken at Petrified Forest National Park:

DSC_3606 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3615 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3609 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3616 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Someone is getting very serious about photography:

P1000979 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Petrified Forest National Park, we drove to Scottsdale for dinner at Kitchen 18.  Then it was back to Phoenix for our flight home.  We arrived Monday morning and I was back at work Monday afternoon.  Can't wait till next year.

PS: BI still rocks.

August 07, 2015, 12:44:03 PM
1
Twelve Days In Paradise: Oahu, Maui, and The Big Island by PBaruch (2016) After six consecutive annual trips to the Big Island, we decided to check out Maui in 2016 to see what the fuss was about.  On the way, we stopped off in Honolulu for Shabbos.  However, we couldn't entirely skip the Big Island as we have many friends we wanted to visit.  We ended the trip with two days on the Big Island.  Spoiler alert: Maui has nothing on the Big Island!

First off I'd like to thank my good buddy for assisting in booking our airline tickets.  I'd also like to thank Something Fishy for his help and advice and several other DDF members who patiently responded to my questions about Maui.  Your help was greatly appreciated.

EWR to HNL

We flew UA J.  Either I forgot to request kosher meals or UA neglected to provide them.  Either way, we didn't care that much as meals provided in the past were largely inedible.  We brought along Pomegranate meals and the flight attendants graciously heated the meals up for us.

EWR - HNL by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20160121_083840 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20160121_083851 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 1 - Honolulu and Pearl Harbor

We arrived in Honolulu on a Thursday afternoon, rented a minivan from National (which only had about 100 miles on the odometer), and checked into the Ala Moana Hotel.  After eating dinner from Oahu Kosher, we decided to walk over to Walmart to pick up some drinks and snacks.  We went to bed early that night as we were all quite tired.

Early Friday morning we went to Pearl Harbor.  For those of you who are interested, you can reserve your Pearl Harbor tickets online in advance:

http://www.recreation.gov/showPage.do?name=landing&landing=/htm/pearlharbor/home.jsp&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=72369

We arrived at Pearl Harbor at about 7:30 a.m. for our 8:00 a.m. reserved tour to the Arizona Memorial.  Interestingly, we bumped into the family we met in Iceland last summer.

The Arizona Memorial:

Arizona Memorial by P Bryan, on Flickr

Arizona Memorial Oil by P Bryan, on Flickr

Arizona Memorial Oil Sheen by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4049 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4050 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We next went to the Missouri Battleship:

Missouri by P Bryan, on Flickr

Missouri Deck by P Bryan, on Flickr

Missouri Deck Gun by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4188 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Missouri Sign by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4157 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4156 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We wanted to go to the Pacific Aviation Museum and thought we had tickets.  However, after getting off the shuttle, we discovered that the museum we had tickets for was the Bowfin Museum.  Not wanting to add an hour and a half to our time at Pearl Harbor (we ended up spending six hours at Pearl Harbor), we decided to skip this museum.

We then checked out the Bowfin Submarine and Museum:

Bowfin by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4310 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4225 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4206 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4227 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4197 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4196 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Shabbos

The only reason that I can think of to stay at the Ala Moana Hotel is its close proximity to the Chabad House, which is literally right next door.  However, the hotel is not friendly to Sabbath observers.  I asked the front desk if I could pay someone to let us into our room twice during Shabbos but was refused.  I then asked for a manager, who told me that they "didn't have the manpower to accommodate my request."  Despite the jerks at the hotel refusing to accommodate our request, help came from a very unusual source through the Chabad rabbi.

Shabbos with Chabad was an interesting experience.  There was a strange mix of people but there were no issues with having a minyan and the food was good.  On Sunday morning we packed out for our flight to Maui.

Part 2 - Maui

HNL - OGG by P Bryan, on Flickr

We decided to stay at the Westin, which I booked with SPG points.  I booked 7 nights for us and 3 nights for our buddy Bruce Omori and his family from the Big Island (unfortunately he was only able to get away for 3 days). 

For those of you who may be interested, Bruce is an award winning photographer with a gallery in Hilo.  He gives tours (regular and photo) on the Big Island and information about his amazing gallery can be found here:

http://www.extremeexposure.com/

If any of you find yourselves in the Hilo area, please consider stopping by Bruce's gallery.  You will not be disappointed.

While the Westin has a gorgeous lobby, the rest of the hotel is sorely lacking.  The rooms are very small and the parking spaces are meant for compact cars.  (Valet parking is $25 a day and the fee is not waived for SPG Gold or Platinum members).  Many times when we returned in the evening I had to hunt for a space that was large enough to accommodate our minivan.  Further, some of the staff was not very friendly or accommodating.  For instance, the valet refused to allow me to leave the car in front of the hotel while I checked in.  Instead, I had to drive into the parking lot and then go back for our luggage after we checked in.  Upon check in, I was refused an upgrade because the hotel was "sold out."  We paid an extra fee of $40 to rent a second refrigerator and microwave for the week ($20 for each for the duration of our stay).  This might be a minor gripe but the complimentary in room coffee was disgusting.  Even my little guy wouldn't drink it.  I'm not sure about you but I expect decent coffee in Hawaii.  For those of you who might be interested, I was offered 8k SPG points (the standard offer is 6k) to sit through an hour long timeshare presentation.  I declined as I didn't have time.  Suffice it to say, our stay was unsatisfactory and we will not be returning to the Westin Maui again. 

Westin Lobby:

Westin Lobby by P Bryan, on Flickr

Westin Lobby 1 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding the fish in the pond:

DSC_4842 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After settling into the Westin, we drove to the Acid War Zone and Nakalele Blowhole.  The blowhole wasn't blowing too high when we went but I had a chance to fly my drone around. 

Picture taken using my drone:

Blowhole by P Bryan, on Flickr

Acid War Zone:

IMG_20160124_181210 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Monday we drove up to Haleakala:

DSC_4395 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4361 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4403 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way back from Haleakala we stopped by Hosmer Grove to eat lunch.  Hosmer Grove has a number of Eucalyptus trees and the entire area was deliciously fragrant.  As a bonus, we were able to view endangered native Hawaiian Honeycreepers.

DSC_4438 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4429 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4441 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After lunch, we stopped by the home of Mike and Toby Neal.  Our buddy Bruce is friends with Mike and we were lucky to be introduced to this amazing couple.  Mike is an accomplished photographer and wood carver while Toby is an author.  Unfortunately Mike was too busy with work to take us out to photograph.  My kids, however, received a signed Toby Neal novel, which they both enjoyed quite a bit.  This is the book they received:

http://www.amazon.com/Island-Fire-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00QVK415I

Here is Mike's website:

http://nealstudios.net/

Mike's amazing woodwork can be viewed here:

http://www.mneal.net/index_files/page0003.htm]=

On Tuesday DW and my older kids took Stand Up Paddleboarding lessons with Outrageous Surf.  For those of you who are interested, their website is:  http://www.youcansurf.com/

We found them to be a nice bunch of guys and they even gave us a free CD with some photographs.  If you are in Maui and are interested in SUP or surfing lessons, I highly recommend this outfit.  While at the beach, we saw two local surfing dogs and they both came over to my little one, who just couldn't get enough.  All went well until the little one tried to pick up the black surfing dog by its hind legs.  A little chaos ensued but all ended well.

DSC_4571 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4652 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4697 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4700 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bananas growing by the beach:

DSC_4711 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4708 by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we returned to the hotel, we relaxed and swam at the pool before heading out for a BBQ with Bruce and his family (at the first beach park south of the hotel).  We took some nice shots of the kiddos on the beach and had a great meal.

DSC_4740 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4763 PB by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4761 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4810 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4819 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Road To Hana

For some reason, when traveling with the entire mishpacha, it is almost impossible to get an early start and that is what happened on the day we left for Hana.  Despite our late start, we didn't really care all that much as we were staying the night at the Trava'asa Hana.  Also, Mr. Doughty (Maui Revealed) recommends a late start to this drive if staying in Hana to avoid the crowds. (He recommends leaving after 10:30 a.m. if staying in Hana when the "road's more empty").  Our first stop on the road to Hana was at the Twin Falls fruit stand.  We didn't see anything all that appealing and there was a sign warning people not to park out of sight of the fruit stand.

Fruitstand by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4853 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our next stop was at the Garden of Eden.  This was a perfect spot to stop with little ones.  There are nice restroom facilities and picnic areas.  In addition, they have a flock of ducks, geese, and peacocks that you can feed.  The kids had a great time feeding the birds.  We ate lunch and continued on our way.

DSC_4875 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4929 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Water Lilly at the Garden of Eden:

DSC_4931 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A few sights along the road:

DSC_4859 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4858 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Suffice it to say, we enjoyed the drive on the Road to Hana even though we were not able to make the typical stops that someone without small children might make.  (Dan - yes it is possible to have a good time with little kids on the RTH as some others have also posted).

The Trava'asa Hana

I placed the Trava'asa Hana under its own subheading because this hotel deserves it.  We pulled into the Trava'asa Hana after dark.  As soon as we drove up I instantly fell in love.  There is something truly soothing about this place.  We were expected and greeted with kukui nut leis and fresh fruit juice (which I politely declined as I didn't know if it was kosher).  The employees were very warm and friendly and went out of their way to make our stay as comfortable as possible.  If we return to Maui in the future, I will definitely stay at the Trava'asa Hana for several nights including for a Shabbos.  If you think I'm nuts for wanting to stay in Hana more than one night, then you haven't stayed there or you just don't get the vibe of the place.  However, I can't really blame anyone who thinks that way because I also thought that way myself before our stay.

Our room at the Trava'asa Hana was very large and the bathroom was almost as large as our bedroom at home.  When we checked in, I asked for a microwave and by the time we arrived at the room it was already there.  After check in, I wanted to go for a swim in the infinity pool and take a soak in the hot tub.  Instead, I was stuck doing laundry in paradise because DW discovered the machines were free to use (only had to pay a nominal fee for detergent).  In between loads of laundry, I was able to check out the pool:

DSC_4947 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4946 by P Bryan, on Flickr

In the morning, we went swimming in the pool and soaked in the hot tub.  For quite a while we were the only ones there and we felt as if the entire place was ours:

IMG-20160128-WA0004 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4998 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Relaxing on a hammock:

DSC_5040 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We checked out of the Trava'asa Hana at about 12:30 and continued on our away through the back side of the Road To Hana making our slow return to the dumpy Westin.  Before we began the drive, we stopped by Red Sand Pocket Beach:

Red Sand Beach by P Bryan, on Flickr

We topped off on fuel at a gas station in Hana.  The price of gas in Hana:

Price of Gas in Hana by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then tried to hike the Pipiwai Trail but after a half mile uphill of carrying the little one (to the first stop of a then dry waterfall) we all had enough and turned back.

IMG_0637 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On our way back, we stopped by the Chabad Rabbi's house in Kula (upcountry) where DW made some challah dough.  The Rabbi promised to finish it up and bake the challah, which he did.  We would have liked to visit "Jaws" to see the big wave surfers but didn't have time.  I still regret not going there as we were told that a number of big wave surfers were going to be surfing Jaws while we were in the area.  You do need, however, a 4WD vehicle to get there and we had a minivan.

Snorkeling at Molokini

On Friday we were booked to go snorkeling with the Four Winds II to Molokini.  Due to a mix up in the time of the tour, we arrived as the boat was pulling out.  However, not all was lost.  After some scrambling, we learned that the Pride of Maui was leaving shortly and we managed to get on their boat with just minutes to spare.  While Mr. Doughty seems to rate the Four Winds as the better boat, we really couldn't see a difference.  Their mooring spot was very close to the Four Winds and from what we could see the food looked pretty good (even though we couldn't eat any of it).  We first went to Molokini and then to Turtle Town.  While I thought Molokini was amazing due to the clear visibility, Turtle Town was a disappointment.  The visibility by Turtle Town wasn't nearly as good and there were way fewer fish there as well.  The kids, however, preferred Turtle Town for some reason.  DW and my older kids did snuba at Molokini (for an added charge).

Pictures taken at Molokini with my GoPro while snorkeling:

Molokini by P Bryan, on Flickr

Molokini by P Bryan, on Flickr

Molokini by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pictures taken at Molokini:

DSC_5336 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Along the way we saw many humpback whales:

DSC_5200 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5383 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5400 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5415 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Shabbos, we packed everything into the minivan so we could leave the hotel by 5:00 a.m. for our 7:30 a.m. flight to the Big Island.  At checkout, I was quite surprised to get our final bill from the Westin showing an overcharge of $1,000!  The manager was called and she quickly corrected the bill.

Part 3 - The Big Island

We took a flight from OGG with a connection in HNL because the only direct flight from OGG to KOA was on a prop plane and DW preferred to fly on a jet.

OGG-HNL-KOA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived in Kona on Sunday morning for our charter flight with Paradise Helicopters.  Once again, my buddy Cal (owner of Paradise Helicopters) personally came out to fly us.  Although we expected a two hour valley landing charter flight, Cal surprised us with a six hour VIP flight around the entire Big Island.  I could not express enough gratitude to Cal for this amazing flight.  My older daughter sat in the front co-pilot seat and of course my little guy came along for his second helicopter flight (third if you count when DW was pregnant with him).  We started off in Kona, flew to the valleys and landed by a remote beach, refueled in Hilo, and then continued around the Big Island back to Kona.  We saw the entire Big Island and it was truly epic.  One interesting tidbit I learned was that the helicopter we flew on was at one time used in Israel.  If any of you find yourselves on the Big Island and are interested in a helicopter flight, I urge you to consider flying with Paradise Helicopters (instead of Blue Hawaiian which for some strange reason I see a lot of people flying with). 

Information about Paradise Helicopters can be found here:

https://paradisecopters.com/

Here are some pictures taken during our flight:

DSC_5663 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5662 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_0886 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_0864 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Valley Landing by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW took a picture of Bruce and me setting up the shot:

IMG_0824 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5558 Beach Landing by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5628 Waterfall by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5707 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waipio Valley:

DSC_5725 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5732 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5767 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5795 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Puʻu ʻŌʻō:

DSC_5818 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Puʻu ʻŌʻō as it looked during our 2014 flight:

DSC_5906 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Skylight:

DSC_5839 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5859 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following picture shows the remains of trees stumps after the trees were devoured by lava:

DSC_5870 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5882 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following three pictures of lava are from our 2014 helicopter flight:

DSC_5796 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5840 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5876 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flying above the  clouds:

DSC_5897 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Can you guess what this is?  We made our own rainbow and it is called a "glory."

DSC_5729 by P Bryan, on Flickr

South Point:

DSC_5902 by P Bryan, on Flickr

I bet you didn't know there is more than one green sand beach on the Big Island:

DSC_5912 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5918 by P Bryan, on Flickr

GoPro pictures taken during our flight:

Heli 1 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Heli 3 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Heli 4 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Due to our epic helicopter flight, we didn't have time to stop by Greenwell Farms for our annual visit or to stop by the many amazing roadside fruit stands that pop up near Kona on Sunday.  After our helicopter flight we went to Falafel in Paradise for dinner.  We were all starving and the food was pretty good.  After dinner, we drove to Volcano, where we stayed the night at the Kilauea Lodge.  This was not our regular spot in Volcano because the owners of our regular spot as a policy do not rent out for just one night.  We arrived at around 9:30 p.m. and I just crashed.  We had all been up since about 4:00 a.m. and I couldn't' keep my eyes open anymore.  After a full nights sleep (approximately 3.5 hours), I awoke to the sound of my phone vibrating.  Bruce was texting me that he was on the way to pick me up to photograph Halemaumau Crater.  I jumped out of bed and started to get my gear together.  Within a few minutes, he arrived and we were off.  We stayed out all night and left the crater at first light.

Pictures taken of Halemaumau Crater over the years:

DSC_5568 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2535 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following day was our last on the Big Island and in Hawaii.  After packing out of the hotel, we drove to Volcanoes National Park for family photographs.  We then visited friends in Volcano and Hilo.  After parting with our Big Island friends, we drove to Hilo Airport for our inter-island flight to HNL and then back home on UA J.  I was sad to leave Volcano as it feels like home.

ITO-HNL-EWR by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20160201_210740 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were thrilled to receive kosher meals from Oahu Kosher on our return flight.  We received steaks and roasted chicken for supper and omelets with a hashbrown cake for breakfast.  The food was very good.

Dinner:

Dinner Steak by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dinner Roasted Chicken by P Bryan, on Flickr

Breakfast:

Breakfast by P Bryan, on Flickr

Final note:  Maui was certainly beautiful and we would like to return at some point in the future.  On a future trip, I'd stay upcountry and in Hana and would skip the major hotels.  That being said, my family was pretty much unanimous (little guy doesn't get a vote yet) that everyone likes the Big Island way better than Maui.  Maui is a lot more crowded than the Big Island with less variety and no lava!  I can only imagine that certain people like Maui better than the Big Island only because they do not know everything the Big Island has to offer.  I even had several Maui residents admit to me that the Big Island was their favorite.

If the Almighty grants us another year of life and good health, we hope to return to the Big Island in 2017 with a seven day stopover in Kauai. 

Thanks for reading our trip report and I hope you enjoyed it.  Perhaps some of you might even decide to check out the Big Island.

PS: I have not yet had a chance to compile and edit my GoPro videos and will post the videos at a later date.

February 14, 2016, 03:35:00 AM
1
Motorhome Adventures in Utah and Arizona by PBaruch (2016) We are huge fans of America's National Parks and the American Southwest so DW decided to plan an RV trip throughout Utah and Arizona this summer (2016).  Since I selected our adventure in Iceland last summer, it was only fair to let DW choose a trip this summer.  Further, after renting a camper truck in Iceland, we were hooked and looking forward to an adventure in a proper full size motorhome.  The advantages of an RV include freedom to move around on a whim with no need to unpack in a different hotel each night.  However, the cost of an RV rental (including insurance and mileage) and fuel can be expensive.  As anticipated, the kids had a blast and are looking forward to another future RV adventure.

We flew into Las Vegas on an early Sunday morning and took a taxi to El Monte RV on Boulder Highway.  We decided to rent from El Monte because this was one of the few motorhome rental companies that we found to be open on Sunday.  Information about El Monte RV in Las Vegas can be found here:

https://www.elmonterv.com/rent/where-you-can-rent-rvs/rv-rentals-location-las-vegas-rv-rentals-sales/

We rented a 31 foot long Class C motorhome, information about which can be found here:

https://www.elmonterv.com/rent/rv-details/cabover-style-fs31-slide-out-rv/

This particular model has a bed over the front cab, a queen size bed in the rear, a bunk bed in the middle, and a sofa and dinette that convert into additional beds if needed.  This model also has two slides.  One slide extends the living/dining room area while the second slide extends the bunk bed and rear bedroom area.  Although I was a bit apprehensive about driving such a monstrosity, my initial fears turned out to be unfounded.  Aside from constantly correcting the steering as a result of road conditions and wind gusts, it was fairly easy to drive.

Photographs of the RV:

DSC_6442 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6445 by P Bryan, on Flickr

A few interior photographs (more of which can be found on the El Monte website link above):

The rear bedroom with a queen size bed.

The rear bedroom with a queen bed. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The over the cab bed.

Bed over the front cab. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The check in process was painfully slow and if you are expecting car rental service you will be grossly disappointed.  We had to wait for several hours before finally being seen.  After going through the paperwork and a walk through of the motorhome with a primer on how to use the various systems, we were off.

Our first stop was at a nearby Walmart Supercenter, where we purchased cheap sleeping bags, pillows, drinks, and supplies for our journey.  The motorhome rental does not include any bedding/linens and there is a $50.00 per person optional fee to rent blankets, sheets, pillows, and other items.  Instead of paying this fee, we bought sleeping bags for $10.00 each and pillows for $3.00 each from Walmart.  We joined two sleeping bags together to create a queen size sleeping bag for the queen bed in the rear of the motorhome.

The sleeping bags we purchased can be found here:

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Ozark-Trail-50F-Warm-Weather-Sleeping-Bag/49937670

Our next stop was at Smith's Food & Drug Supermarket, which has a dedicated kosher section with a large variety of take out foods.  Information about Smith's can be found here:

http://www.jewishinlasvegas.com/Smiths-Kosher-Experience.html

Photographs of the kosher section:

IMG-20160703-WA0008 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0014 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160703-WA0012 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After stocking up on food at Smith's, we were off to Ruby's Inn RV Park & Campground, information about which can be found here:

http://www.brycecanyoncampgrounds.com/

We chose this particular campground because it was near Bryce Canyon National Park, our first destination.  We arrived at the campground well after dark and since our site wasn't "pull through," I had to back the RV into our spot.  It wasn't easy but we managed.  After parking the RV and hooking up to electric (which is necessary to run the air conditioning system and outlets unless you are using the built in generator), we went to bed.  DW and I had not slept at all the night before (due to last minute packing) and we were plain exhausted.  Although we didn't have much time to spend at this campground, it was my favorite because the RV spots were nestled among the trees.  Most of the other campgrounds we visited were more akin to cement cities.

The next day we visited Bryce Canyon National Park.  Here are some photographs taken at Bryce:

DSC_6467 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6506 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6475 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6559 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6582 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Bryce, we drove to Page Arizona, our second destination.  Along the way to Page, we stopped off at Hanging Garden Trail near Lake Powell Dam.  This trail leads to a hanging garden.

IMG_2275 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hanging Garden Trail (near Lake Powell Dam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Hanging Garden Trail, we drove to the Page Lake Powell Campground, information about which can be found here:

http://www.pagecampground.com/

The next day we visited Upper Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon located on the Navajo Reservation.  I've been wanting to visit Antelope Canyon for years and it was a dream come true.  Our entire family, including my little guy, walked through the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken at Upper Antelope Canyon:

Upper Antelope Canyon (sunbeam), Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Upper Antelope Canyon, DW let me take a photo tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, which allowed me to bring my tripod into the canyon.  Here are some photographs taken in Lower Antelope Canyon:

DSC_6974 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6960 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6946 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Antelope Canyon - Spot the eagle by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_6787 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, we drove to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  During our drive, DW became concerned about our little guy.  He hadn't been feeling well and felt very hot.  What most concerned us was his refusal to drink or eat.  Upon our arrival at the Grand Canyon, DW found a park ranger who called an ambulance.  The emergency medical technicians checked out our little guy and recommended that we take him to the closest hospital in Kanab, Utah located about 80 miles away.  We were told that our little guy had a fever, was dehydrated, and needed IV fluids.

Before the ambulance arrived, I was able to take a few pictures at the Grand Canyon:

DSC_6988 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7004 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon our arrival at the hospital, DW took our little one into the emergency room while I stayed with our other kids in the RV in the hospital parking lot.

IMG_2649 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The little guy returned several hours later with a burst of energy unseen in days.  He was literally bouncing off the walls.  I'm not sure what concoction IV he was given but I'll take a double dose.  After a while our little guy settled down and we all went to sleep.

The next morning we drove to Zion National Park, our next destination.  At Zion, we did the Riverside Walk hike, a paved path running alongside a river.  Here are some photographs taken at Zion:

DSC_7015 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7034 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7058 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW was tired out and decided to rest with our little guy on a bench along the hike while I continued on with our other kids.  While DW was sitting on the bench, one of the ferocious park squirrels chewed through DW's backpack to get to some snacks:

IMG-20160706-WA0009 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The squirrels at Zion have no fear of people and we saw people literally step over squirrels on the path.  Clearly, someone has been feeding the wildlife.

On our drive into Zion we passed by majestic scenery which I thought I'd have an opportunity to photograph on the way out.  However, we drove out of the park using a different route and sadly I didn't have an opportunity to photograph those spots.  Zion is definitely a park I would like to visit again.

After our hike in Zion, we drove to Zion River Resort, where we camped for the night.  Information about Zion River Resort can be found here:

http://www.zionriverresort.com/

The following morning, we drove to Hoover Dam, our final destination of the trip.  Here are some photographs taken at Hoover Dam:

DSC_7129 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7175 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7121 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7165 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Arizona side of the dam had Arizona time:

DSC_7168 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Nevada side of the dam had Nevada time:

DSC_7158 by P Bryan, on Flickr

It was freakin hot:

DSC_7176 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Hoover Dam, we drove to Lake Mead RV Village, information about which can be found here:

http://www.lakemeadrvvillage.com/

On Friday morning, we drove back to Las Vegas.  Our first stop was at Smith's where we picked up food for Shabbos.  We then returned the RV and took a shuttle to the Westin, which I booked using SPG points.  We were unimpressed with the Westin but I didn't want to spend money to stay at a nicer hotel for Shabbos.

Our flight home was Sunday morning and we were all looking forward to get out of the Utah and Nevada summer heat.  At the airport, we visited the Centurion Lounge, which turned out to be a major disappointment.  I was very excited when American Express first opened this lounge upon hearing that kosher food was offered.  However, when we visited the Centurion Lounge, no kosher food was available.  Most of the fruit was already cut and they did not offer any disposable cups for coffee.  Further, when I asked for a disposable cup explaining that we could not use the ceramic cups, the woman at the bar rudely stated that they do not offer take out.

Here are some photographs taken at the Centurion Lounge:

DSC_7190 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7191 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We most certainly want to return to Utah and Arizona in the future and I am already planning a hike through the narrows at Zion National Park with a friend for next year.  I hope you enjoyed this trip report and thanks for reading.


August 03, 2016, 10:59:06 PM
4
Chasing Lava in Hawaii: Warning - May Induce Happiness, by PBaruch (2016) Our love for Hawaii Island (commonly known as the Big Island) is well known and some of you may have read my past two trip reports, which can be found here:

http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=60541.0

http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=60745.0

Our story began years ago while I was reading a photography magazine containing an article about shooting lava on Hawaii Island.  I was absolutely mesmerized by the photographs and immediately began planning our first trip.  Although DW had been bugging me to go to Hawaii before that time, I had never been interested until reading about the lava.  Since that time, we have visited the Big Island several times and we have been very fortunate to befriend some truly wonderful individuals.

Earlier this summer, we heard reports that the lava was again flowing towards the ocean.  The last time that there was ocean entry was in 2013 and although I had seen ocean entry on two prior visits, DW and the kids had not previously seen ocean entry from land.  Also, my little guy wasn't even born yet when the lava was last flowing into the ocean in 2013.  As soon as the lava flow hit the ocean, DW told me she wanted to go back to the Big Island and I wasn't arguing with her.  Also, since I had recently become self employed, taking time off was not really an issue.  I asked my boss for two weeks off and his response was take all the time that you need.

Flight to Hawaii:

ewr-hnl-koa map by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG-20160824-WA0007 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the flight to Hawaii we received Regal kosher meals which weren't bad and they were edible.

For this trip, we decided to stay eleven nights at the Sheraton in Kona and two nights in Volcano.  Although DW and I much prefer Volcano over Kona (the kids prefer Kona due to the swimming pool and nearby beaches), it made more sense for us to stay in Kona rather than Volcano for the bulk of this trip.  DW didn't want to spend Shabbos in Volcano and the cost of staying at the Sheraton was minuscule (using SPG points) compared to Volcano (where I had to pay for the hotel with cash).

We arrived in Kona on Wednesday afternoon, picked up our rental car, stopped by Walmart for some drinks and supplies, and then headed to the Sheraton.  Once again, we were treated well and upgraded to a large ocean front room containing three beds (only such room in the entire hotel).  On the following day, we did some more shopping including buying a jogging stroller for our lava adventure.  We stopped by Target and bought this stroller, which served us very well:

http://www.target.com/p/baby-trend-range-lx-jogger-chrome/-/A-15207263

We also stopped by Greenwell Farms, one of our favorite spots in Kona.  We took a farm tour and tasted delicious Kona Coffee.

Taking a tour of the farm:

DSC_7272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Holding a coffee bean:

DSC_7257 by P Bryan, on Flickr

I love Kona coffee!

DSC_7283 by P Bryan, on Flickr

There is a resident chameleon but we couldn't find it this time.

DSC_7315 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.  We awoke at about 12:00 a.m. and headed out at about 12:30 a.m. for the drive to Kalapana for our trip to the ocean entry.  At the present time, there are three ways to access the area where lava is flowing into the ocean: (i) walk the approximately 10 miles round trip over the county emergency access road from Kalapana (you can also walk over the road from the National Park side as well); (ii) rent a bicycle from one of several companies and ride to the ocean entry; or (iii) pay for Kalapana Cultural Tours to drive you most of the way and then hike or bike the remaining approximately 1.8 miles each way.  We chose the shuttle tour as it is very important for us to do as much as we can as a family and expose our kids to these wonders.  I was lucky to be introduced to the owner of Kalapana Cultural Tours, who graciously arranged a private tour for my family.  We were shuttled in a 4WD van and we then hiked the remainder of the way to the lava flow.  Unfortunately my buddy, photographer Bruce Omori, was unavailable to join us at that time.  I was able to go out to shoot lava with Bruce later in our trip, more about which is discussed below.

The county emergency access road:

DSC_8005 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at the ocean entry:

DSC_7772 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_3239 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7454 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7854 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_7910 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs of the lava from past trips:

Lava ocean entry on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2011. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava flowing into the ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2013 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After being out most of the night and into the morning hours, we returned back to the hotel for much needed naps.  We relaxed and prepared for Shabbos at the Sheraton.

On Sunday we visited Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park.  Although we had driven past Punalu'u on prior trips, we had never previously visited this particular park.  Punalu'u is famous for having sea turtles on the beach but none were there during our visit.  I didn't find Punalu'u to be particularly attractive but it is relatively easy to access this park and the black sand beach.

DSC_8020 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lilly pond behind the beach:

DSC_8024 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Punalu'u, we visited South Point where we watched some local kids jump off the cliff into the ocean below.  Also, I went hunting for the South Point marker, which denominates South Point as the southernmost point in the United States.  After an unsuccessful attempt on my own, I asked one of the locals who was fishing in the area about the marker.  He directed me to an area behind a large rock.  Once again, I went off in search of the marker but found nothing.  I went back to the local and he explained that the marker was nothing more than the remains of a plastic rod cemented in the rock:

DSC_8031 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After speaking to the local for a few minutes, he told me that his cousin owned Kalapana Cultural Tours and he asked me to send his regards.  After South Point, we headed back to the hotel to pick up frozen meat that we had brought from home for a BBQ with friends.  On the way to the BBQ, we stopped off at Walmart to buy a grill and supplies.

We met our friends and their families for a BBQ at a beach near Costco:

DJI_0006 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8070 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8075 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We grilled hotdogs, salami, burgers, and vegetables.  Our friends brought lilikoi (otherwise known as passion fruit) and breadfruit (which we grilled as well).

DSC_8045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The lilikoi was delicious and we couldn't get enough.  The breadfruit was...something to taste once.  The fruits in Hawaii taste amazing and you can immediately tell the difference between Hawaii grown fruit and the stuff we get back home.

The following day we took a snorkel trip to Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.  Although we had snorkeled there once before, it was worthwhile to return.  Once again, the kids had an amazing time.  On the way there we saw a school of flying fish and on the way back we saw a pod of dolphins.

DSC_8101 by P Bryan, on Flickr

P1020600 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the snorkeling trip, we visited the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa (near the Hilton), where we stayed for sunset.  We had wanted to photograph sunset from behind the fish pond by 'Anaeho'omalu Beach, but it was closed for construction.  Turtles can often be found on this beach but none were there when we visited.  (Noticed a pattern yet?)

DSC_8244 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8251 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday we visited Waimea and the Parker Ranch.

Driveway leading to the Parker Ranch:

DSC_8265 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8274 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside the main house:

DSC_8292 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Room inside another house at the ranch:

DSC_8318 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Parker Ranch we visited Umauma Falls, which is considered by some to be the most beautiful waterfalls on the Big Island.  We received free admission as it was raining when we pulled up.  However, when we arrived at the falls, the rain stopped and we had a perfect view.

DSC_8344 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8376 by P Bryan, on Flickr

My little guy took this picture of me:

IMG_4349 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Wednesday we visited the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm near the airport in Kona, information about which can be found here:

https://www.seahorse.com/

At the seahorse farm, our kids were able to feed and hold seahorses and it was one of their favorite activities.  We found out about the seahorse farm thanks to my buddy Mitch and his wife, who also happened to be on the Big Island at the same time.

DSC_8384 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8408 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8402 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8436 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding some fish:

DSC_8460 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The touch tank:

DSC_8498 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8510 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8489 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the seahorse farm, we went to the Hilton at Waikoloa, which has a saltwater lagoon that is open to the ocean but contains grates to prevent anything dangerous from getting in.  At the lagoon, you can rent hydro-bike, kayaks, or paddleboats and see colorful reef fish and green sea turtles.  Due to the expected Hurricane Madeline, boat and equipment rentals were ended early.  Luckily for us, neither of the two expected hurricanes affected us at all.  The weather in Kona and Volcano was perfect for the days that we were in each place.

Information about the lagoon can be found here:

http://www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com/resort-experiences/lagoon-and-beach

While at the lagoon, the kids fed a sea turtle:

DSC_8665 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8689 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we were so close, we went back to the beach by the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa for sunset.  Once again, there were no sea turtles to be seen.

DSC_8707 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Thursday we went to Pololu Valley, a short but steep hike to a black sand beach.  Although it was pretty, Waipio is still my favorite valley and black sand beach on the Big Island.

DSC_8758 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8723 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8746 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Pololu, we visited Kiholo Bay where we stayed until sunset.  Kiholo is another beach know for sea turtles but once again none were to be found.

DSC_8759 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8766 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8773 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday, DW and the girls visited Mauna Loa Observatory while I stayed with the little guy at the Sheraton.  Principally NOAA is based there, with a few other agencies also conducting experiments.  A NOAA technician conducted the tour.

Road to the observatory:

IMG_5045 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ozone detecting equipment is inside this telescope-like structure.  The technician was happy to rotate the dome and open it for them.

IMG_5071 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Touring the observatory:

IMG_5094 by P Bryan, on Flickr

List of famous astronauts who visited the observatory:

IMG_5135 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW requests that I give you the following to ponder: is there more carbon dioxide in the air in the summer or winter and why?

After DW and the girls returned to the hotel, we prepared for Shabbos.  I made a fried potato kugel:

DSC_8792 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW made chicken in a crock pot, which was transferred out right before Shabbos, and replaced with cholent:

12369 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Sunday, DW and the kids went swimming and used the water slide while I helped pack out for our transfer to Volcano.  Along the way to Volcano we stopped off again at Greenwell Farms for delicious Kona coffee.  One of the employees, Chai, recognized us and came running over asking me if I was Mr. PBaruch.  When I responded that I was, she thanked me warmly for our return visit with an Asian greeting.

After Greenwell Farms we stopped off at two roadside fruit stands on the way to Volcano.

Cooks Bounty Fruit Stand:

DSC_8795 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8798 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Basket of lilikoi (DSC_8799) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Judy's Fruit Stand:

DSC_8818 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8811 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8808 by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening, Bruce and I arranged to shoot the lava flowing into the ocean.  After we arrived in Volcano I did my best to get some rest but the noise from the kids jumping about coupled with my excitement precluded any sleep.  I was scheduled to meet up with Bruce at 1:30 a.m. at a gas station along the way to Kalapana.  I arrived at the gas station at about 12:40 a.m. and went into the gas station convenience store.  Afterwards, I sat in the car for a bit but became restless.  I then decided to linger outside the car for a while.  Several minutes later, four police cars showed up, which I though was due to the strange lurker hanging around.  Luckily I wasn't tackled or tasered that evening.  Bruce arrived at about 1:40 a.m. and we both went into the convenience store (right past the police officers) to stock up on drinks for the trip.  After we exited the store, the police asked us if we were coming or going.  I responded that it was "lava time" and asked if the police officers wanted to join, to which they all had a good laugh.

Bruce was able to drive his truck to the second gate down the county emergency access road (the farthest that anyone can drive), from which point we rode bicycles the rest of the way.  I rented a bicycle from Kaimu Rentals (808-333-4392), which is owned by my friend Junior (same person who guided me and my friend Alex to the lava in 2011).  I could not rent a bicycle from Kalapana Cultural Tours as they did not have anyone available to provide me with a bicycle in the middle of the night.

I mounted the bicycle wearing my heavy camera backpack and tripod, rode forward for a short distance, and promptly fell over sideways.  I hadn't been on a bicycle in years and was off balance with the backpack and tripod (that was hanging off to one side).  What happened next was quite comical.  I got back on the bicycle but must have looked like a drunk as I weaved back and forth.  Once I did get the hang of it, I realized how uncomfortable it was to sit on a narrow hard seat with a heavy load on my back.  My tuchus ached for quite a while but we managed to arrive at the lava at about 3:30 a.m.

Shooting lava is incredibly challenging and the magic light is only there for a very brief period of time.  Despite not always being able to properly capture the lava during the darkness of the night, Bruce and I both enjoyed the show.  At times the lava flowed like a river into the ocean while at other times it dripped as if from a leaky faucet.  We also saw lava exploding like a firecracker and lava balls rolling in the surf.

Pictures taken of the ocean entry:

DSC_8930 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_8958 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9272 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9302 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9392 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9686 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Videos taken of the ocean entry:





I returned back to the hotel in Volcano at about 9:00 a.m. and took a much needed nap for a few hours.  We ran a few errands in the afternoon and then visited Volcanoes National Park, where we saw the endangered nene.  We received a free one year family National Park Pass due to the following program for fourth graders:

https://www.everykidinapark.gov/get-your-pass/

Pictures of the nene:

DSC_9778 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9768 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9730 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9737 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flowers at Volcanoes National Park:

DSC_9702 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9749 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9748 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we stopped off at Jagger Museum to observe Halemaumau Crater.  The lava level in the crater was quite high and, for the first time, we were able to see lava spattering from the overlook.  I did not, however, take any photographs at that time as I had previously seen better.

The following day we returned home:

ito-hnl-ewr map by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_9781 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On our flight home, we received Regal kosher meals which were absolutely horrible and barely edible.   On our return flight this past February we received kosher meals from Oahu Kosher that were quite delicious.  We were looking forward to receiving meals again from Oahu kosher and were very disappointed with the Regal meals.  I'm not sure of the reason for the change but I hope UA continues to use Oahu Kosher in the future.

In summary, we didn't have the opportunity to do everything we would have liked due to time constraints and the two threatened hurricanes.  Nevertheless, we had an extremely restful two-weeks on the Big Island which is unlike many of our other trips.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report.

September 12, 2016, 08:51:58 PM
8
12 Days In Paradise II: Oahu, Kauai & The Big Island, By PBaruch (2017) After many visits to the Big Island and last year's winter trip to Maui, Kauai beckoned us.  Once again, we stopped off in Honolulu for Shabbos and we stayed the final two days of our trip on the Big Island.

EWR - HNL (UA J)

EWR - HNL by P Bryan, on Flickr

Shhh...Do Not Disturb

Shhh....Do Not Disturb (On our way to Hawaii) by P Bryan, on Flickr

I'm very busy....

 On our way to Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 1 - Oahu

We arrived in Honolulu on a Thursday afternoon, picked up our minivan from National, and headed over to our hotel - the Ala Moana.  I know some of you might be surprised we chose to stay at the Ala Moana again after last years experience, but the convenience of being next door to Chabad along with not having to shlep my little one on a 20 minute walk made more sense than staying at the Royal Hawaiian, which I would have preferred.  Since we were all tired, we relaxed at the hotel, ate dinner delivered by Oahu Kosher (there is no option for pickup), and went to bed early.

We awoke early the next morning for our drive to the north shore of Oahu hoping to see big waves and big wave surfers.  After some initial confusion as to where we should go (my friend said people line up by the side of the road but we arrived while it was still pitch black and couldn't see the ocean or where we should park), we ended up at Ehukai Beach, commonly known as the Banzai Pipeline, the most notable surfing spot on the North Shore.  Unfortunately, we didn't see any monster waves that day as they were only about 6-8 feet high.  (The waves there are known to get 25-30 feet high).  Nevertheless, it was still fun to watch the surfers.  I was told that there were many famous surfers out that day.

Ehukai Beach Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii  - DSC_0050 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Banzai Pipeline, we visited the Bishop Museum, which contains historical and science exhibits.  Founded in 1889, it is the largest museum in Hawai'i and has the world's largest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts.

Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kahili at the Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

What are Kahili Sign, Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kukulu Ka Hale (Building a House), Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Portrait Of King Kamehameha The Great:

Portrait of King Kamehameha The Great, Bishop Museum, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Outside Hawaiian Hall, we saw several individuals dressed in a traditional Hawaiian loincloth.  Unfortunately, one of these fellas took the period dress a little too seriously and some of us were treated to a very unpleasant view - wardrobe malfunction.  We then stopped by the planetarium and science discovery center, where the kids had a great time playing and exploring.

Bishop Museum Planetarium, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bishop Museum Science Adventure Center, Oahu, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting the Bishop Museum, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbos.  Once again, we dined with Chabad on Friday night and Shabbos day and the food was delicious.  There was a medical convention in town and many doctors from all over were in attendance.  We also met a doctor now living in Honolulu after relocating from the mainland.  On Shabbos, I had the chance to meet and speak with Yudi from Oahu Kosher.  I told Yudi how much we enjoyed the meals from Oahu Kosher on our return flight from Honolulu last January and asked if he was still providing meals to UA.  Unfortunately, Yudi told me he had some issues dealing with UA and that he was no longer providing meals to them.  Yudi did ask, however, that I write to UA and ask that they continue to offer meals from Oahu Kosher.

Part 2 - Kauai

On Sunday morning we flew to Kauai.

HNL-LIH by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fortunately, my buddy Bruce Omori and his wife were able to join us for three days.  Bruce is an award winning photographer with a gallery in Hilo on the Big Island.  If any of you find yourselves in Hilo, please consider stopping by his gallery.  Bruce also leads photo and non-photo tours on the Big Island.  Information concerning the gallery can be found here:  www.extremeexposure.com.

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kaui, which I booked through a friend's Diamond Account.  Since the hotel was fully booked, the best upgrade that we were able to obtain upon check-in was to a room that opened to a garden with a partial view of the ocean.  Although there was availability to upgrade to better rooms and suites later in our stay, we decided to stick with the room that we were given because all of the better rooms all had one king size bed and we needed at least two beds.  We very much enjoyed staying at the Grand Hyatt Kauai and frequented the club room where we were able to obtain lox, cream cheese, jam, cereal, and fruits in the morning.  Although they offered bagels from Oahu Kosher, the bagels were frozen and we stuck with eating bread brought from home.

On Monday we flew a doors off helicopter tour with Jack Harter's.  First I flew with Bruce and his wife on a photography charter, followed by my wife and daughters on a separate flight.  My little one wasn't permitted on the doors off flight so we had to take turns watching him.  The flight was wonderful and I highly recommend Jack Harter's for a doors off tour.  Photographs taken during our flight:

Door Off Flight with Jack Harter, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flight with Jack Harter, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wai'ale'ale Crater:

Wai'ale'ale Crater, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wai'ale'ale Crater, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wai'ale'ale Crater, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

One of the many waterfalls we saw during our flight:

Wai'ale'ale Crater, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Na Pali Coast:

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

You can drive a boat into this:

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rainbow over the ocean:

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our flights, we returned to the Grand Hyatt Kauai and made a BBQ on Shipwreck Beach directly in front of the hotel.  We commandeered one of the beach front cabanas for our BBQ:

BBQ at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

We grilled burgers, salami, sausage, zucchini, and pineapple.

BBQ on Shipwreck Beach, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday we drove to Polihale Beach, a real gem.  On the way, we stopped off here:

Menehune Food Mart, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Menehune Benjie was searching for?  We found them---or at least their food mart.  Bruce and Sheryl went there to get kulolo---a dessert made from poi, sugar, and coconut.

Polihale State Park, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Playing with the shutter speed is lots of fun:

Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Having fun on the beach:

Polihale Beach, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Playing At The Beach by P Bryan, on Flickr

As you can see from the photographs, we saw storm clouds moving in so we had to hightail it out of there.  Unless you have a 4WD vehicle (which we didn't), you can easily get stuck on the road if it rains.

After Polihale, we went to the Waimea Canyon Overlook.

Waimea Canyon Overlook, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we arrived, this was the view:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Several minutes later, however, we were treated to these views:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying the view:

Waimea Canyon Overlook, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding chickens at Waimea Canyon Overlook:

Feeding The Rooster by P Bryan, on Flickr

Feeding The Rooster by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waterfall in Waimea Canyon:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited the Pu'u o Kila and Kalalau lookouts but there was little visibility due to clouds.

On Wednesday, we spent the morning at the Grand Hyatt relaxing with our friends, as this was their final day in Kauai.  I enjoyed the club room and we went swimming.  After our friends departed, we visited Wailua Falls.

Wailua Falls, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

At Wailua Falls, we saw a family of pigs near the road.  Apparently they hang out in the area as tourists feed them.

Wailua Falls Overlook, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

In the evening, we went to Poipu Beach, where we saw monk seals:

Hawaiian Monk Seal, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaiian Monk Seal, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

The next morning I awoke early to photograph turtles and seals at Poipu Beach, and I was not disappointed:

Hawaiian Monk Seal, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaiian Monk Seal, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Green Sea Turtle, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

After I returned to the Grand Hyatt, we all went to feed the fish, which is done each morning at 9:00 a.m.

Feeding the fish at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fish at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then went to view and hold a macaw, which is done daily at 10:00 a.m.  I think the macaw was just about as big as my little one.

Holding a Hyacinth Macaw at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we went to Allerton Garden, renowned for being one of the nicest gardens in the world and the site of several movies.

Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Orchid at Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Picking a pomelo at Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying the view at Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Coconuts at Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Exploring Allerton Garden, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then drove back to Waimea and visited the Pu'u o Kila and Kalalau lookouts again.  On the way back, we found a beautiful spot along the road in Waimea:

Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday morning, I returned to Poipu Beach hoping to take more photographs of turtles and seals but this time there were only turtles on the beach:

Look what I found at Poipu Beach? by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napping Green Sea Turtle by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napping Green Sea Turtle by P Bryan, on Flickr

Green Sea Turtle at Poipu Beach, Kauai by P Bryan, on Flickr

After I returned from the beach, we went swimming and used the hot tub at the Grand Hyatt.  We then prepared for Shabbos.  DW made challahs and cake in a toaster oven that we had purchased at Walmart.  Afterwards, I made a potato kugel using the toaster.  DW also made chicken in a crock pot, which was substituted for chollent shortly before Shabbos commenced.

Baking Challahs by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 3 - The Big Island

On Sunday morning we flew to the Big Island.

LIH-HNL-KOA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We visited Greenwell Coffee Farm, a favorite spot of ours:

I love my Kona Coffee! by P Bryan, on Flickr

Avocado Tree at Greenwell Coffee Farm by P Bryan, on Flickr

Relaxing at Greenwell Coffee Farm by P Bryan, on Flickr

Making A New Friend by P Bryan, on Flickr

This time the resident chameleon showed itself:

Chameleon Crossing Sign at Greenwell Coffee Farm by P Bryan, on Flickr

Greenwell Chameleon by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then stopped off at Higashihara Park for lunch and the kids played in the playground.  Afterwards, we stopped off at the Mark Twain Monkeypod Tree.

Our next stop was at Punalu'u, where we saw turtles on the beach:

Punalu'u Turtle by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lilly pond behind the beach:

Punalu'u Beach 1-2017 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Punalu'u Beach by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Punalu'u, we made our way to Volcano Inn, where we stayed the night.  We were not very impressed with this inn.  The room, although large, had a musty smell to it (I was told that running the dehumidifier helped with that).  They did not permit shoes in any part of the hotel and refused to print our boarding passes telling me that they had no printers available for public use.  Nevertheless, for one night it sufficed.  After checking in, we made our way to Jagger Museum overlook to view Halemaumau Crater but the weather was rainy and foggy so there wasn't much of a view.  Also, it was extremely crowded and park rangers were directing people to parking spots.  It was not this way in the not so distant past when I had the place almost to myself.

The next morning we got an early start.  Our first stop was at Rainbow Falls in Hilo:

Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Girls Also Like Climbing Trees by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rainbow Falls Forest by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited Boiling Pots (where we saw broken car glass in the parking lot) and finally stopped by our friends' gallery in Hilo to say farewell.

Flight home:

We flew from Hilo to Honolulu, where we stopped by the UA lounge and relaxed for a bit.  We then made our way to the gate, where we heard an announcement asking if anyone was willing to give up a first class ticket in exchange for $1000.  I immediately ran up to the gate agent and offered our five tickets.  Sadly, I was told that they only needed one.  Interestingly, a family that was on our flight to Hawaii was also on our return flight.

ITO-HNL-EWR by P Bryan, on Flickr

Perfect ending to a wonderful trip:

On our way back in UA J by P Bryan, on Flickr

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this trip report.

PS:  All who comment in this trip report are eligible to win one of three 2017 Extreme Exposure Lava Calendars with free shipping anywhere in the United States.  Drawing will be held on or about March 7, 2017.

Final Note:  A video of the doors off helicopter flight with Jack Harter will be posted later.

February 07, 2017, 12:14:53 PM
4
Re: 12 Days In Paradise II: Oahu, Kauai & The Big Island, By PBaruch (2017) My three kids each picked one name out of a bowl and the lucky winners of the 2017 Extreme Exposure Calendar Giveaway are:

Extreme Exposure Calendar by P Bryan, on Flickr

1.  3yummyboys

2.  efflpetzel

3.  Something Fishy

If anyone is interested in purchasing this calendar, please go to www.extremeexposure.com


March 06, 2017, 06:33:10 PM
1
Motorhome Adventures in the Pacific Northwest, by PBaruch (2017) After my little one ended up in the ER during last summer's RV trip through Utah and Arizona as a result of the desert heat (http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=64756.0), we decided to take an RV trip through cooler locales this summer (2017).  DW selected Washington State and we settled on a 12 day itinerary with stops in Olympic National Park, Mt. St. Helens "National Volcanic Monument" (it is not administered by the National Park Service), and Mt. Rainier National Park.  We also had a day in the Seattle area at the end of our trip.  For the first night of our trip we stayed at the Westin in Seattle (12k SPG) and for Shabbos we stayed at the DoubleTree Hilton in Olympia for 40k HH per night paid (received from one Hilton credit card signup bonus).  We were told that there were no hotels near a shul in the Olympia area and we did not feel comfortable with several offered home stays for multiple reasons.  We chose not to stay in the RV over Shabbos for practical and halachic reasons.  Here was our itinerary:

1.             Westin, Seattle

2 - 5.       Olympic NP, Sol Duc Hotsprings Campground and Kalaloch Campground (national park)

6 - 7.       Hilton Doubletree, Olympia for Shabbos.

8.             Mt. St. Helens,  Longview North/Mt. St. Helens KOA Campground (private)

9-10.       Mt. Rainier NP, Gateway Inn Campground (private) and Ohanapecosh Campground (national park)

11.           Dash Point State Park Campground, Tacoma (state)


A couple weeks before we left, I received an e-mail informing me that if the Washington state legislature did not pass a budget, the state would shut down beginning July 1.  State parks would be closed which, luckily for us, only affected our last night.  We were given the opportunity to rebook elsewhere without penalty, but figured we could camp out in a WalMart parking lot if necessary, so we kept our reservation.  (Remember when the federal government shut down in 2013, and kicked everyone out of the National Parks?)

JFK-SEA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived in Seattle on a Sunday and rented a car from Enterprise.  After some research, I discovered that Enterprise had a location 1.5 miles away from where we needed to pick up our RV from Apollo Motorhomes in Fife (http://www.apollorv.com/).  As a result, I was able to reserve a one way rental from the airport to their Fife location outside of Seattle.  We stayed Sunday night at the Seattle Westin as Apollo was not open on Sunday.  DW didn't want to stay at a nicer hotel because she didn't want us all to get too comfortable and linger in the hotel.  The Westin was acceptable for the night but, as usual, they nickel and dime you for everything.  A refrigerator was $10.00 extra per day (but ice was free so we purchased a cheap cooler) and parking was $45.00 per day.  There were cheaper parking options, including an open parking lot across the street but there were quite a few unsavory characters hanging around and I did not feel secure leaving the car in an open lot overnight.  Also, I heard a story from another guest who said his car had been broken into when parked at an outside lot.

That evening we drove over to Pabla Indian Cuisine (http://pablacuisine.com/mainsite/index.html) in Renton, for dinner.  A family friend had recently married a girl from India, and she made some recommendations, so we weren't totally clueless.  We ordered four dishes to share:  Mixed Vegetable Pakoras, Aloo Tiki, Channa Batura, and Paneer Tikka Masala.  (Click on images for descriptions.)  When we ordered, they asked "mild, medium, or spicy," and we went with mild, but some of it (especially the Aloo Tiki), was still quite spicy.  We had some Mango Lassi to help cool off the spiciness.  All of us very much enjoyed our meal except for my little guy who wouldn't touch anything.

Paneer Tikka Masala @ Pabla Indian Cuisine, Renton, Washington State, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Vegetable Pakoras with mint and tamarind chutneys @ Pabla Indian Cuisine, Renton, Washington State, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Aloo Tiki @ Pabla Indian Cuisine, Renton, Washington State, USA. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Channa Batura @ Pabla Indian Cuisine, Renton, Washington State, USA. by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Monday morning we walked over to Pike Place Market to the very first Starbucks location.  We were originally intending on going inside to order something but the line spilled out into the street (as is usual) so we headed back to the Westin to check out before heading over to Apollo.  This, of course, is when we realized that we had left our 4th Grade National Parks pass at home, so we quickly printed out a new voucher at the FedEx in the Westin lobby.  Cost: ~$4.  Savings: ~$60.

Seattle to Fife by P Bryan, on Flickr

After checking in with Apollo, I drove 1.5 miles to return the rental car to Enterprise.  An Enterprise employee then shuttled me back to Apollo.  For this trip we settled on the smallest motorhome offered by Apollo.  While we enjoyed the 31 foot motorhome we rented last year for our Utah and Arizona trip, it is very difficult to maneuver in city driving, parking lots, and on switchback mountain roads.  We were given a 2018 Class C Winnebago Minnie Winnie 22R, which is 23'10'' long.  The RV had less than 10k miles on it and was virtually new.  It was equipped with a large bed over the front cab, a U shaped dinette which converts to a bed (although we did not use it as a bed), and a double bed in the rear.  It was also equipped with a refrigerator and freezer that were larger, surprisingly, than the one in the 31 foot motorhome we rented last year.  Our two girls shared the bed over the front cab while DW, my little one, and I slept in the double bed in the rear.  I found the quality of the Winnebago to be far superior to that of the Coachman that we rented last year, although it still had its share of problems.  For example, the door latch had a problem locking and once, while driving, the door swung wide open.  We also felt it was missing one important safety feature:  a safety net for the cabover bunk that the Coachman was equipped with.

22R Floorplan by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs of the RV:

DSC_1829 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20170706_110524 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20170706_110530 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20170706_110537 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After picking up the RV, we headed to Sol Duc Hot Springs, where we had reserved a space in the campground for two nights.

Fife to Sol Duc by P Bryan, on Flickr

As you can see in the map, we crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  Two things worth noting about this bridge:  (i) You only pay the (cashless) toll eastbound and since we crossed it westbound, and returned from a different direction, we did not pay the toll;  (ii) What happened to the first bridge at that location:



Information about Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort can be found here:

http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/lodging/sol-duc-hot-springs-resort/

Information about the Sol Duc RV Campground where we stayed can be found here:

http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/rv-camping/sol-duc-hot-springs-rv-campground/

The campground offers electrical and water hookups but no sewer hookup.  Other than the location, there really wasn't anything special about this particular campground.  The RV spots were right next to each other and we had a wooded area behind the RV containing a fire pit and table with benches.  At the campground, we saw a Tesla Model X towing an Airstream Trailer.  The owner of the Tesla plugged it into the electrical outlet at the campground:

IMG-20170626-WA0009 by P Bryan, on Flickr

From their website: Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort offers three Mineral Hot Spring soaking pools and one Freshwater Pool. The spring water comes from rain and melting snow, which seeps through cracks in the sedimentary rocks where it mingles with gasses coming from cooling volcanic rocks. The mineralized spring waters then rise to the surface along a larger crack or fissure.  The mineral pools vary in temperature from 99 to 104 degrees.  Information about the pools can be found here:

http://www.olympicnationalparks.com/things-to-do/mineral-hot-springs-pool-at-sol-duc-hot-springs-resort/

Since we arrived somewhat late in the day (it took hours of waiting at Apollo for our turn and then to get all the paperwork done and be off), we grilled hot dogs, relaxed, and went to bed.

The following day we all hiked to Sol Duc Falls.

DSC_1875 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC 1878 Sol Duc by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panoramic Photograph of Sol Duc Falls:

PANO_20170627_121437.Sol Duc by P Bryan, on Flickr

Tiny hands holding tiny cones:

DSC_1934 holding tiny cones by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1941 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then hiked the nearby Ancient Groves Nature Trail:

DSC_1967 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1953 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we soaked at the hot springs.

On the morning of our second day at Sol Duc, we headed over to the Hoh Rain Forest.

Sol Duc to Hoh Rain Forest by P Bryan, on Flickr

We walked through the Hoh Rain Forest Hall of Mosses, which is draped with magnificent moss.  Photographs:

DSC_2051 Hoh Rain Forest by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2235 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2077 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2090 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2109 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2198 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2144 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2243 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we continued on to where we would spend the next two nights - Kalaloch Campground on the pacific coast of Olympic National Park. 

Hoh to Kalaloch by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although we had selected a campsite right near the beach, our view of the ocean was completely obstructed by shrubs, while other sites adjacent to the beach had magnificent ocean views.  Unfortunately, we didn't realize that what we wanted was a site labeled "Oceanfront," and just chose one that seemed to be along the beach.

DSC_2428 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Also, Kalaloch had no hookups.  They did, however, have a spot to refill the RV water tank (free) and to dump your waste ($10 fee).  When I went to dump the waste tanks I hadn't realized that the numbskull at Apollo, who was demonstrating how to do it, left the black tank handle in a slightly open position.  As a result, when I went to dump the waste, I was graced with a splash of raw sewage on my wrist and shirt - feh!

Further, when we turned on the generator to power the microwave and electrical outlets (the only other way to power the outlets and the microwave without connecting to an electrical hookup), I discovered that they were not working.  We read the RV manual which mentioned a circuit breaker but we didn't know where it was located and we didn't have any cell phone reception to call Apollo to figure out the problem.  When we were finally able to call Apollo the following day, we were instructed to take off the front cover from the generator (located on the side of the RV behind a flip up compartment door) and flip the circuit breaker switch to the "on" position.  Since the circuit breaker switch was already in the "on" position, I toggled it off and on and then finally everything worked.  For my troubles, Apollo agreed to refund $25 of the $50 fee we paid for unlimited use of the generator during our trip.

After checking in at the campground, we drove over to Ruby Beach in the hopes of viewing sunset over the pacific ocean with the sea stacks in the background.  However, since it was quite foggy, we were not able to view the sunset.  Nevertheless, we all still had a lot of fun exploring the beach.

Photographs at Ruby Beach:

DSC_2253 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2256 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2265 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2289 by P Bryan, on Flickr

If you think the kids look cold in those photos, our big one (then small) was wearing a winter coat last time we were at Ruby Beach, almost 11 years earlier.  Here are a couple of photographs taken then, when we were able to view the setting sun:

DSC_0122 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_0123 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then returned to the campground, made a BBQ over a wood fire, and called it a night.  On the following day we drove to the nearby town of Forks to do laundry.  Apparently there were no laundry facilities in the Kalaloch area.  While in Forks, DW and the kids visited the Forks Timber Museum.  Since I wasn't interested in viewing a vintage collection of chain saws or suspenders, I decided to sit this one out and wait by the RV.  It cost $3 per adult, and the kiddos got to do a scavenger hunt for things like roller skates and chickens.  They were rewarded with sticker booklets.  The four of them were the only visitors at the time, and probably the only visitors that day.

Photographs taken at the Forks Timber Museum:

DSC_2311 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_9034 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_9010 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then drove back to the coast and visited the aptly named "Beach 1."

DSC_2394 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2393 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at Beach 1:

DSC_2314 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2335 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2351 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2362 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flower growing near Beach 1:

DSC_2372 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We hiked the Spruce Burl Nature Trail:

DSC_2378 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2386 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited Beach 3:

DSC_2396 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2401 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2403 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2425 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we returned to Kalaloch Campground and made a BBQ:  sausage, eggs, baked beans, and fresh grilled corn.

DSC_2431 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We wanted to return to Ruby Beach for sunset after our BBQ but the cloudy weather again obscured the setting sun.  The next morning we visited the beach adjacent to the campground:

DSC_2452 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way to the DoubleTree Hilton in Olympia.  We chose Olympia for Shabbos because it was the closest city en route to our next destination that had a Chabad.

Kalaloch to Olympia by P Bryan, on Flickr

While driving along the way, DW called the Chabad Rabbi to inquire if they received the food that we had ordered from Seattle for Shabbos.  Apparently, the way it works is that everyone in Olympia orders food from Seattle and it is delivered once a week - on Wednesday - and left outside the Chabad house for each person to pick up.  Although DW had spoken with the rabbi multiple times and discussed having someone bring our food inside and refrigerating it for two days, there was some sort of "miscommunication," and the food was left outside.  Luckily for us, Trader Joe's in Olympia sold kosher meat and chicken and we were able to buy what we needed for Shabbos and for the following week.  I should have figured that something was up with the dude when he asked me to run Shabbos services at the Chabad House that Shabbos as he was going to be away.

The Hilton was a nice hotel and there was a marina and park with a playground across the street.  Luckily, the parking lot was fairly empty when we arrived and I found the perfect spot to park our RV with space for the rear overhang:

IMG_20170630_192619 RV by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW threw some chicken into the crockpot that we had brought along, and then had four hours to go swimming with the kids (in an otherwise empty pool) while it cooked.  Luckily for us, candle lighting was at 8:52 p.m.  I relaxed for a bit and then made a fried potato kugel in a pot on an electric burner.  The chicken was swapped out for cholent right before Shabbos:

The kugel tastes much better than it looks. IMG_20170630_184206 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Little did we know that while we were eating Shabbos dinner, lawmakers were hard at work mere blocks away, scrambling to pass a budget before the deadline.

On Sunday morning we made our way to Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument:

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Olympia to Mt St Helens Forest Learning   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

We first stopped by the Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center where we viewed videos of the 1980 eruption and resulting devastation and we saw various forest related exhibits:

DSC_2482 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2479 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2477 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then stopped off at various overlooks and the Johnston Ridge Observatory to view the volcano:

DSC_2552 by P Bryan, on Flickr

For the evening, we settled in at the Longview North/Mt. St. Helens KOA Campground.  The campground wasn't anything special but there were full hookups, and a (24-hr) laundry room, which we needed once more.

In the morning, we made our way to Mt. Rainier National Park:

Longview North   Mount St Helens KOA to Mount Rainier Visitor Center   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although visible from Seattle, the true scale of Mt. Rainier's majesty and beauty is obscured by haze and distance until you draw close to the mountain, which towers above all others in the area.  As we arrived at Mt. Rainier, there was much snow all over and the kids immediately jumped out to play in it.   We then hiked the Nisqually Vista Trail, which normally has a paved trail.  However, when we were there the trail was almost completely covered by snow.  We met a bunch of people who couldn't find the trail and had to turn back.  This could have been due to various selfish individuals taking the tape-wrapped bamboo sticks, placed in the snow by park rangers, to mark the trail.  We even saw one of these idiots hiking with a trail marker.  Luckily, even without the trail markers, we were able to find the trail and complete the hike.  It might not have been the smartest thing to do with a 3 year old in tow, as we were slipping and sliding all over (including in areas with steep overhangs), but in the end it was well worth it.  The kids had a lot of fun playing and hiking in the snow and how often does one have a chance to hike in snow in 60-70 degree weather!  The only downside to all this snow was that there weren't any wildflowers in the meadows.  There were, however, many wildflowers in bloom by the sides of the road.  (The photograph I had visualized was of a meadow filled with wildflowers in the foreground and Mt. Rainier bringing up the rear).  We were told that the wildflowers would appear in about 2-3 weeks.

PANO_20170703_175746 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2687 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2676 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We stopped off at the bridge over the Nisqually River to view the Nisqually Glacier and the origin of the Nisqually River:

DSC_2711_HDR by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2737 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then headed to the campground where we would be staying the night - Gateway Inn - located right outside the park entrance.  The campground was eerily empty except for the permanently moored Airstream Trailer (with a refrigerator sitting outside) and a bunch of hillbillies living in a truck camper (that was not mounted on a truck but sitting on the ground). 

PANO_20170704_091454 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We had originally wanted to stay at the nearby Mounthaven Resort Campground but they required a two night commitment and we would only be staying one night.  Since we had already prepaid the night, we buckled down and dead bolted the RV door.

On the following day we hiked the Trail of the Shadows at Longmire, the site of the Longmire Springs Hotel from 1888-1920:

DSC_2754 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Location of the Longmire Springs Hotel:

DSC_2772 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2771 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Remaining cabin from the Longmire Springs Hotel:

DSC_2795 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Beavers at work:

DSC_2777 - Beavers at Work by P Bryan, on Flickr

Video of the Hot Springs:



We then went to Reflection Lakes:

DSC_2884 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2881 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_2899 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We hiked the Box Canyon Trail but didn't find it very interesting.  Afterwards, we made our way to our campground for the night - Ohanapecosh Campground - located inside Mt. Rainier National Park.  The campground was very rustic with no hookups for the RV.  Generators were not permitted to be used on our loop and bearproof storage compartments were provided at the tent sites.  Nestled among the trees, it was our favorite campground.  Information about this campground can be found here:

https://www.recreation.gov/camping/ohanapecosh-campground/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70945

Yup!  All this was our campsite.  PANO_20170704_170713 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After checking in at the campground, we hiked the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail.  Other than a suspension bridge towards the end of the hike which the kids had a blast running across, there was nothing remarkable about this trail.

DSC_2950 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following morning, we got an early start and made our way to the Sunrise Visitor Center.  We asked a park ranger if we could take the jogging stroller onto any of the trails but were told that strollers are not permitted.  Instead, he told us to walk along the maintenance road, where we were treated to more grand vistas, this time of the Emmons Glacier:

DSC_3033 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Back at the visitor center, DW and the kids officially became junior rangers (first time for my little one).  I then asked if there were any nice trails for me to hike and was told to try the "nature trail."  My older kids weren't interested in hiking up a mountain and DW let me go off by myself for a bit, even though there was a sighting of a mother bear with cubs in the area (which I was secretly hoping to see).  I didn't see any bears but I did see some grand mountain vistas:

DSC_3062 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3055 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way back to a campground in the Seattle area as we needed to return the RV by 11:00 a.m. the following morning.  We stayed at Dash Point State Park Campground, which was less than ten miles from Apollo.  The budget had been signed Friday night, at 11:14pm, and there were no closures.

Ohanapecosh Campground to Dash Point State Park   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Despite being in an urban environment, Dash Point had a very rural feel to it.  Information about Dash Point Campground can be found here:

http://parks.state.wa.us/496/Dash-Point

Photographs at Dash Point State Park Campground:

IMG_20170705_173819 by P Bryan, on Flickr

There were lots of bunnies hopping all over the campground and munching on flowers in the fields.  Bunny at the campground before we arrived:

DSC_3084 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bunny after we arrived:

DSC_3093 by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening we made a BBQ and grilled steaks over an open fire.  DW and the girls thought it was OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD.

IMG_20170705_183248 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following morning we packed out, returned the RV to Apollo, and picked up our rental from Enterprise to return at the airport.  We then visited the Museum of Flight, which we all very much enjoyed.  Information about the museum can be found here:

http://www.museumofflight.org/

Upon our arrival, we realized that admission was free after 5:00 p.m.  Apparently, on the first Thursday of every month the museum has a late night and admits everyone free of charge from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.  However, it would not have worked out for us to return at 5:00 p.m. as we wanted to have dinner again at Pabla Indian Cuisine before heading back to the airport.  It worked out fairly well because when we were leaving the museum we saw droves of people heading in to take advantage of the free admission.  While we were there, the museum was fairly empty.  DW and the kids wanted to tour the crew compartment of the Space Shuttle Trainer but the minimum age was 10 (so my little one couldn't go) and they required pants and close-toed shoes (as you had to climb up a ladder), neither of which DW or the girls were wearing.  They were quite disappointed.

Photographs taken at the museum:

Apollo command module  DSC_3116 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lunar rover  DSC_3121 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lunar rover wheel  DSC_3122 by P Bryan, on Flickr

They had a friggin M-21 Blackbird!  (The SOLE surviving M-21 Blackbird).

DSC_3128 by P Bryan, on Flickr

MiG-15 Jet:

DSC_3144 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Red Barn - Boeing's First Aircraft Production Facility first used in 1916:

DSC_3154 by P Bryan, on Flickr

How airplanes are built, circa 1916  DSC_3150 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Across the street (part of the museum), in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery was the Space Shuttle Trainer, and some additional space-related exhibits.  My little one loves anything to do with space:  he knows the planets on sight, was an astronaut on Purim, has seen numerous videos of the ISS and space shuttle liftoffs, and has been to the Intrepid to see Enterprise with DW.  But Enterprise is raised high off the ground, and you can't touch it, let alone explore it.  Since the trainer is not an actual space shuttle, it's not off limits.  Other than crew quarter tours, the payload bay doors are open, and you could walk through.  You can peer through a window to the crew quarters, and see where it connects to the ISS.  Little kiddo was in heaven.

Excited to see a tail fin on a space shuttle, as the one on his toy fell off.  DSC_3156 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walking through the payload bay.  DSC_3166 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Soyuz Descent Module:

DSC_3164 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Space Toilet:

We had watched Suni Williams give the tour of the ISS, restroom included, quite a few times.  Now we get to see it for real.  DSC_3167 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Then we moved on to the adjacent Aviation Pavilion.

B17-F Flying Fortress:

DSC_3171 by P Bryan, on Flickr

B-29 Superfortress:

DSC_3176 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The first Dreamliner:

DSC_3186 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_3191 by P Bryan, on Flickr

F-14 Tomcat:

DSC_3199 by P Bryan, on Flickr 

We also toured a Concorde and an old Air Force One.

We left the museum around 5:00 p.m., just in time to avoid the crowds coming to take advantage of the free after 5:00 p.m. admission.  We headed back to Pabla Indian Cuisine for another tasty dinner and then back to the airport for our flight home.

JFK-SEA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

July 16, 2017, 11:54:00 PM
8
Grand Hawaiian Holiday, by PBaruch (August 2017) Instead of sending the kids to summer camp, we decided take five weeks off this summer.  As soon as our older kids were done with school, we took a two week motorhome trip to Washington State (http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81754.0).  We were home for the next three weeks, left a day for laundry (after Tishabov), and then headed off to Hawaii, with a planned five nights on Kauai, nine nights on the Big Island, and five nights on Oahu.

Flight from EWR-SFO-LIH:

EWR-SFO-LIH.map by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA Polaris EWR-LIH by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although the plane made a stop in SFO and then continued on to LIH (we had some of the same seats for both legs), we were still forced to deplane and reboard 30 minutes later.  We flew in UA J - Polaris and received amenity kits and J/F class kosher meals on both flights.

Part 1 - Five Idyllic Nights On Kauai

Although I had wanted to return to the GHK where we stayed in January (http://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=72973.0), I was unable to find any availability, even when searching through a Hyatt Globalist account (in all fairness we didn't seek to book that far in advance).  Instead, we decided to stay at the St. Regis.  I was hesitant to use 30k SPG per night (including the 5th night free), but it turned out to be well worth it.  The St. Regis Princeville is now one of our favorite hotels.  We were treated extremely well throughout the course of our stay and the staff did not hesitate to store our food in their freezer.  We arrived on a Thursday evening and spent Friday relaxing at the hotel and preparing for Shabbos.

Swimming at the St. Regis, Kauai by P Bryan, on Flickr

We usually prefer rooms on lower floors, especially when at a hotel for Shabbos.  So when they gave us a room on the 8th floor, DW was less than thrilled, until we discovered that the lobby was on the 9th floor, and the 8th floor was  ground level.  The view from our room was stunning.

St. Regis, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

We made lots of new friends.  Apparently, the nene (Hawaiian Goose) knows that it is listed as endangered and does not hesitate to visit.  One morning I opened the lanai doors and was greeted by five nene honking loudly and flying straight towards me.  It was quite a sight.  A little bread was all it took to have them waiting on our lanai each morning.  It took a few days, and eventually they were comfortable enough to come inside.

Meeting the neighbors at the St. Regis, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Visitors at the St. Regis, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3629 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nene at the St. Regis, Kauai by P Bryan, on Flickr

The St. Regis Pool:

St Regis, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3689 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although the Na Pali coast is not too far from the St. Regis, the only company willing to take our little one was Capt. Andy's, out of Port Allen.  DW wasn't too keen on doing yet another snorkel boat tour, so we decided to take the afternoon/sunset cruise on Sunday.  Since we had to head down south anyway, and had some spare time, we revisited the Waimea Canyon Lookout:

Waimea Canyon Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waimea Canyon Lookout, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we were at the overlook in the winter of 2017 there were lots of clouds in the area.  This time, however, there were no clouds at all.

Waimea Canyon Overlook, Kauai, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then headed over to Capt. Andy's, information about which can be found here:

https://www.napali.com/

Although we motored along the coast to our destination, they did shut down the motor and put up the sail for 15-20 minutes before heading back.  Here are some photographs taken during the cruise:

Cruising with Capt. Andy's on the Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sunset near the Napali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3624 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Monday, we went swimming at Tunnels Beach, which is a real gem.  I had neglected, however, to bring proper beach footwear and had to run across scorching hot sand to reach the water.  The water was cool and refreshing.  We very much enjoyed swimming at Tunnels.  After Tunnels, DW and I took turns hiking the Kalalau Trail.  We each hiked .5 miles to the first nice viewpoint.  First I hiked with my oldest and then DW hiked by herself.

Photographs at Kalalau:

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3632 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3631 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3636 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kalalau Trail, Kauai, Hawaii - DSC_3637 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday, we visited Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.  Originally I wasn't all too interested to visit but once I arrived it was fascinating.  We saw White-tailed Tropic Birds, Great Frigatebirds, and many other types of exotic birds.  Information about Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge can be found here:

https://www.fws.gov/refuge/kilauea_point/

Photographs taken at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge:

Kīlauea Lighthouse, Kauai by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kauai, Hawaii, USA - DSC_3797 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Kauai, Hawaii, US - DSC_3696 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Great Frigatebird - DSC_3744 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then packed out for our flight to KOA on the Big Island.

lih-koa.map by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 2 - Adventures on The Big Island

On most of our previous trips to Kona, we stayed at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay.  This time, however, we decided to try out the Hilton Waikoloa.  Although we had never stayed there before, we visited the Hilton for a dolphin encounter with Dolphin Quest a few years back, and it looked awesome (looks can be very deceiving).  We booked the Hilton for 50k HH per night with the fifth night free (signup bonus from two  Hilton credit cards).  The kids were excited to stay at the Hilton because of the saltwater lagoon where they could go snorkeling/swimming and rent water toys.  DW and I, however, disliked this hotel very much and we will not return.  For starters, the hotel room came with a a free amenity kit - a used  pair of underwear hanging in the bathroom.  Also, the crowds!  Oh my  goodness, we've never seen anything quite like it.  We were also unhappy that Hilton apparently cares nothing for status and we were not upgraded.  Other minor peeves - there were no umbrellas by the pool area.  If you want shade, you have to pay for it.  In addition, you either have to walk-walk-walk, take a tram, or take a boat to get anywhere because the Hilton has apartment block style buildings.  Further, although they stored our food in their freezer, I literally had to beg for them to do it.  Finally, the hotel was not conveniently located (for us) and was a 45 minute drive to Kona.  I'm not sure why Mr. Doughty (Hawaii Revealed Books) liked the Hilton so much but we were unimpressed.

On Wednesday, DW and my little one did the Wee Tots Program with Dolphin Quest (as mentioned earlier, we had previously all participated in a dolphin experience before my little one was born, now it was his turn).  Information about Dolphin Quest can be found here:

https://dolphinquest.com/hawaii-big-island/

Dolphin Quest, Hawaii Island, USA - DSC_3862 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dolphin Quest, Hawaii Island - DSC_3858 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, DW rented a kayak and took my little one kayaking while my two older kids went Stand Up Paddle Boarding.  (The kids took SUP lessons on a prior trip to Maui.)

On Thursday, I took my two older kids snorkeling with Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures (WHOA).  I was told about WHOA by a friend and she badgered me (basically forced me) until I finally called to make a reservation.  I was really happy that I listened to my friend and my kids loved the experience.  Initially, I was told they weren't going out that day because they needed a minimum of four people and we were only three (I didn't want to take my little one because it would have been a totally different type of trip).  The solution to the problem was to book a fourth empty seat and have a private tour!  Information about WHOA can be found here:

http://www.wild-hawaii.com/index.php

WHOA uses a commando style boat and it is the Ferrari of the seas.  The boat is very nimble and is able to make sharp turns and stops very quickly.  On the way back to the dock, the captain made a series of sharp maneuvers and stops.  It felt almost like riding a roller coaster and the kids were all smiles.

Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures, Kona, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kona Blue...

Kona Blue - DSC_3951 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sharks, Whales, and Turtles...

Snorkeling with Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures near Kona, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Kona, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Kona, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pilot Whales near Kona, Hawaii, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pilot Whales, Kona Area - DSC_4061 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pilot Whales, Kona Area - DSC_4030 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Snorkeling with Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures near Kona, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Surprisingly, the kids were not afraid to snorkel with sharks.  (I didn't tell DW that we might be snorkeling with sharks in advance or I'm sure she wouldn't have let us go, well at least not the kids  😊).  We did receive some instructions before the trip including: (i) stay behind our guide, Jason, as he would always be between the sharks and us; (ii) do not flail your arms and splash as this is viewed as a sign of distress; and (iii) do not to swim away from a shark (as it will follow you and sense weakness) since you must assert dominance in the ocean.  I figured we were pretty safe with Jason in front of us -  if the shark would eat anyone, it would probably be him.  😊  Besides, sharks don't eat lawyers - professional courtesy thing.

After our snorkeling adventure we went to the Lava Lava Club in Waikoloa, where we enjoyed cold drinks while watching the sunset and listening to live music:

Lava Lava Club, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sunset at Anaeho’omalu Bay, Hawaii Island -DSC_4119 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sunset at Anaeho’omalu Bay, Hawaii Island - DSC_4068 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday we visited Greenwell Coffee Farms, one of our favorite stops on the Big Island.  Information about Greenwell Farms can be found here:

http://www.greenwellfarms.com/

Enjoying Kona Coffee at Greenwell Coffee Farm, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we (almost) always visit Greenwell Coffee Farms whenever we find ourselves on the Big Island, we became friendly with several employees, including Chai.  Whenever she sees us, Chai greets us very warmly and thanks us for visiting.  On this particular visit, we asked about Chai and were told that she was in the roasting room, as she was now the roaster (she had previously worked in retail sales).  We asked if we could visit Chai and were permitted to visit the building where she works.  Chai saw us walking up to the door and immediately came running out.  She was genuinely happy to see us and invited us into the roasting room to show us how she roasts the coffee beans.

Our friend Chai roasting the coffee...

Greenwell Coffee Farm - DSC_4172 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Roasting Room, Greenwell Farm, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then headed back to the Hilton to prepare for Shabbos.  DW made chicken in a crockpot which was swapped out for chollent right before Shabbos.  She also made challah in a toaster oven (purchased on the Big Island) and birthday cake for my 10 year old (who celebrated her 10th birthday on her 10th trip to Hawaii).  I made a fried potato kugel in a pot on an electric burner.  The challah doesn't come out looking quite the same on vacation, but everyone was thrilled to have fresh hot challah, and it disappeared down to the last bite.  We spent Shabbos relaxing and exploring the hotel.  We came across a lone forlorn nene inside a glass enclosure and three flamingos inside a second enclosure.  Compare that to the numerous nene, chickens, and other birds roaming free at the St. Regis.

Cooking for the Sabbath at the Hilton Waikoloa, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Sunday, we took a free Ukelele Class and a Lei Making Class at the Hilton.  We failed miserably at playing the Ukelele (it was comical) but the kids had a lot of fun at the Lei Making Class:

Learning to play the Ukelele by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lei Making Class - DSC_4204 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then met our friends at a beach park for a late afternoon/evening BBQ and the kids had lots of fun exploring the tide pools:

Exploring Tidepools - DSC_4255 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our BBQ, we transferred to Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo - a DoubleTree by Hilton.  We decided to book this hotel with cash since it was only $118 per night (including all taxes and fees).  Once again, we learned that status means absolutely nothing to Hilton (I had Hilton Diamond) and we were given a very small room overlooking the parking lot, with a partial view of the ocean.  We were told that the hotel was fully booked but that we could ask for an upgrade later in our stay.  We decided, however, that it wasn't worth the bother to pack and unpack in another room so we stuck with the room we were given.  Despite the foregoing, we actually liked the hotel, and for the first time, the refrigerator had a freezer just large enough for what needed to remain frozen: chicken for our last Shabbos, and two ice packs.  Also, the hotel is situated on a calm bay where you can snorkel and it is conveniently located.

The pool:

Hilton in Hilo, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Monday we visited Kapoho Tide Pools where we went snorkeling.  We saw a large amount and variety of fish.  However, the pools are relatively shallow and we found it difficult to snorkel in the particular area we visited.

Kapoho Tide Pools, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Snorkeling at Kapoho Tide Pools, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Snorkeling at Kapoho Tide Pools, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way back from Kapoho, we stopped off at Lava Tree State Park.  Information about Lava Tree State Park can be found here:

https://hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/lava-tree-state-monument/

Lava Tree State Park - Hawaii Island - DSC_4285 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lava Tree State Park - Hawaii Island - DSC_4292 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then stopped by WalMart to pick up supplies for DW and our two older kids for their hike to the lava surface flow early the next morning.  They bought jeans (to wear under their skirts) and gardening gloves.  (Lava is razor sharp,  hence the long pants and gloves that are recommended.  DW stumbled and would have had her hands and legs/knees shredded without them.)  We were  supposed to check in with Kalapana Cultural Tours at 4:00 a.m. for the 4:30 a.m. tour, so we left the hotel at about 3:00 a.m.  At 4:22 a.m., some random dude showed up asking if there was space on the tour.  I'm not sure what he was thinking but he was clearly under dressed in shorts and sneakers, carrying nothing but his cell phone and GoPro camera.  He lucked out but ruined the private tour for DW and the kids.  DW and the kids hiked 4-7 miles round trip to the surface flow while my little guy and I slept in the car for a few hours.  It took them 5.5 hours to complete the hike.  Our guide Herbie (same one who guided us to ocean entry last summer), regaled DW and the girls with dumb tourists tales.  For instance, there was one woman who wanted to get close to the  lava and backed up towards it to avoid feeling the intense heat in her face.  She ended up falling backwards into the lava.

Information about Kalapana Cultural Tours can be found here:

http://www.kalapanaculturaltours.com/

Surface Flow, Hawaii Island - DSC02972 by P Bryan, on Flickr

My daughter walking over lava flowing beneath her:

Foot over lava flow by P Bryan, on Flickr

Video of the surface lava flow:



After they returned from the hike, we went for ice cream and cold drinks at the local grocery store:

Kalapana Village, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Too bad we would miss the Cannabis Festival:

Kalapana Village, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then decided to drive to Ahalanui County Beach Park (also commonly referred to as "Hot Ponds") to swim in the volcanically heated water.  Along the way, we stopped off to take photographs:

Pahoa, Hawaii Island - DSC_4312 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pahoa, Hawaii Island - DSC_4305 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pahoa, Hawaii Island - DSC_4319 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our oldest was reading a draft of this TR, and asked, "when did we go to Ahalanui?"  After the lava hike, she slept straight through our visit to Ahalanui, while I went with my little guy and 10 year old.

That evening, we drove to Jagger Museum Overlook, to view Halemaumau Crater, one of our favorite stops on the Big Island:

Halemaumau Crater - DSC_4359 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Halemaumau Crater - DSC_4343 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Wednesday, we visited a  friend in Volcano, who we met on our first visit to Hawaii (she was our host then, and many times since). We then hiked the Kaʻū Desert Trail.  DW wanted to see the two hundred year old fossilized footprints but we were very disappointed by what we saw.  There are some footprints in a glass enclosure (in a structure along the trail) but they were very worn and barely visible.  (We later read that they were not properly preserved.)  Although there are other footprints in the surrounding area, we couldn't find them.

Kaʻū Desert Trail, Hawaii Island - DSC_4413 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kaʻū Desert Trail, Hawaii Island - DSC_4412 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ohia Lehua Blossom on the Kaʻū Desert Trail, Hawaii Island - DSC_4392 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kaʻū Desert Trail, Hawaii Island - DSC_4419 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kaʻū Desert Trail, Hawaii Island - DSC_4415 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We used our 4th Grade NPS Pass one final time (total savings 9/1/2016-8/31/2017: $150) to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail.  To shorten our hike, we planned to park at the Thurston Lava Tube parking area, but all spots are now restricted to 30 minutes. I dropped everyone off, drove back to the Kilauea Iki parking lot, and then walked to meet them.  On the way back, we had to do  this in reverse.  Of course my little one had to "go" three times while we were on the trail.  Since we were too far along to turn back, I simply held him over the edge of the crater rim in the rain forest.  Suffice it to say but the rain forest is now well watered and fertilized following our visit.

Kīlauea Iki, Hawaii Island - DSC_4421 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kīlauea Iki, Hawaii Island - DSC_4424 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kīlauea Iki, Hawaii Island - DSC_4461 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kīlauea Iki, Hawaii Island - DSC_4451 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kīlauea Iki, Hawaii Island - DSC_4460 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Thursday morning my older kids went swimming in the hotel pool while I gazed at turtles and a multitude of fish in the crystal clear waters of the bay.  We then checked out of the hotel and stopped by our friends' gallery in Hilo, Extreme Exposure.  Information about Extreme Exposure Gallery can be found here:

http://www.extremeexposure.com/

Afterwards, we headed to Hilo Airport for our flight to Honolulu.

ito-hnl.map by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 3 - Culture and History on Oahu

This part is (and always has been) for DW, who craves intellectual stimulation (her own words) that she does not get from beaches and hikes.

We decided to stay at the Royal Hawaiian.  Previously, we had always stayed at the Ala Moana to be next door to Chabad.  However, since we were staying five nights in Honolulu, we didn't want to stay in the dumpy Ala Moana for so long.  Also, we figured that my little guy was now old enough to walk to Chabad on Shabbos.  Upon check in, we were told that the hotel was nearly fully booked and very limited upgrades were available.  We chose convenience over view and were given a room on the first floor that was a short flight of stairs up from the main lobby (no elevator access available or required).  However, we didn't find the Royal Hawaiian all that enticing.  It took a very long time for the valet to fetch our car (even though I tipped pretty well) and the concierge never responded to one of my requests despite speaking to them twice in person and sending an email.  Also, this was the first time that I was hassled by hotel security for taking photographs of a hotel.  Here is the photograph which caused hotel security to approach and warn me not to take any more pictures before I spoke to the hotel manager.  The pretext used by the security guard was that people take unauthorized photographs of the hotel and then sell them on post cards.  Anyone interested in buying a post card?

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, Oahu - DSC_4709 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our room was one of the few with a lanai:

Enjoying Lavaman Beer at the Royal Hawaiian by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Friday we went to Hawaii Plantation Village.  Once again, I was less than thrilled to go but it turned out to be very interesting.  Our guide Ken, third generation Japanese American, told us fascinating stories about his family history (his grandfather worked the sugar plantations) and the history of Hawaii's sugar plantations.  For history buffs, we highly recommend a visit to Hawaii Plantation Village.  The kids, however, were quite bored.

Hawaii Plantation Village, Oahu - DSC_4464 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4511 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4508 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4473 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4477 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4489 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hawaii Plantation Village - DSC_4474 by P Bryan, on Flickr

One thing that my little one was interested in was an old, rusted out, steam locomotive that at one time was used to haul sugarcane:

Locomotive at Hawaii Plantation Village, Oahu by P Bryan, on Flickr

For Friday evening, we ordered food from Oahu Kosher and DW cooked the last of the chicken that we had brought from home.  We davened and ate with Chabad on Shabbos day.  I saw Yudi from Oahu Kosher and once again asked him if he was providing meals to the airlines.  Unfortunately, he only provides meals when airlines run out of kosher food from their regular suppliers.  As we walked from the Royal Hawaiian to Chabad, we were greeted by several individuals wishing us Shabbat Shalom.  One dude even ran out of the store that he was working at to wish us Shabbat Shalom and to speak to us.  My little guy was fine on the walk over to Chabad, but the way back was a lot harder.  He wanted to stop  every few steps, complaining that his legs hurt.

On Sunday, we did the premium tour with Atlantis Submarines.  Mr. Doughty claims that the Oahu based submarine tour is better than those offered on the other islands, and it even includes an airplane deliberately sunk by Atlantis to create an artificial reef.  The airplane was the draw for DW, who had previously done a submarine tour on the BI.  Conveniently,  Atlantis provided free shuttle bus pickup from the Sheraton, which was right next door to the Royal Hawaiian.  We saw a large variety of fish, including the pennant butterflyfish, Lau-Hau Pyramid Butterflyfish, and Humuhumu'ele'ele (aka Black Durgon Triggerfish).  Unfortunately, taking photos through a window, where you can't swim as close as you'd like, makes it hard to get good shots.

Atlantis Submarine, Honolulu, Oahu - DSC_4573 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Atlantis Submarine, Honolulu, Oahu - DSC_4535 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Atlantis Submarine, Honolulu, Oahu - DSC_4557 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Diamond Head - DSC_4568 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW was not impressed by the  tour.  The reef in Kona is natural, while everything we saw on the Oahu tour was deliberately placed at the bottom of the ocean to form artificial reefs.  Yes, it brought fish, but it felt fake.

After the submarine tour, we stopped by Lappert's for danishes, cookies, and ice cream.  (I called the Chabad Rabbi and was told that everything sold by Lappert's, including baked goods, is kosher.)  Information about Lappert's can be found here:

https://www.lappertshawaii.com/

Lapperts in Honolulu, Oahu by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lappert's in Honolulu, Oahu - DSC_4584 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying ice cream at Lapperts, Honolulu, Oahu by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Lappert's, we returned to the hotel, passing the U.S. Army Museum of Hawaii (http://www.hiarmymuseumsoc.org/visit.html) along the way.  Since the museum was closed, we stopped to check out some tanks and other items displayed outside.  We then went swimming on Waikiki Beach.  Although the beach was crowded by Hawaii standards, we still had lots of fun rolling around in the waves.

That evening, we were invited to dinner by one of the local residents.  They live in a magnificent house in the mountains above Honolulu surrounded by rain forest.  Here is a view from an overlook that we stopped off at on the way to their house:

Honolulu and Diamond Head, Oahu - DSC_4615 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Interestingly, our hosts hike about five miles each way from home to the Chabad shul on Shabbos.  They hike through mountain paths and have to hide/stow water along the trail so they could drink while walking to shul.

On Monday, we visited the Polynesian Cultural Center.  Information about the Polynesian Cultural Center can be found here:

http://www.polynesia.com/

Although I wasn't thrilled to go, I had a great time chatting with a bunch of guys and girls from the Cook Islands.  (The Cook Islands was a temporary exhibit.)  I spoke with a few guys from Rarotonga (it's on my bucket list to visit the Cook Islands) and some women from Penrhyn.  Penrhyn is famous for the coconut leaf hats woven by the local women.  The hats take many days to make:

Penrhyn Island Coconut Leaf Hats and Fans - DSC_4638 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Penrhyn Island Coconut Leaf Hat - DSC_4639 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Penrhyn Island Coconut Leaf Hat - DSC_4642 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Penrhyn Island Coconut Leaf Hat - DSC_4643 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The kids had fun making Kukui nut bracelets:

Kukui Nut Bracelets - DSC_4661 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW and the kids did enjoy it significantly more than me.  Each exhibit is a different Polynesian country displaying their culture through song and dance.  They repeat the performances a few times throughout the day.  Most of the countries have additional displays, with Hawaii being the largest.  Our first stop was Tonga, possibly our favorite.  The audience participation was hilarious, and included a guy from North Korea  (which was strange because he referred to himself as being from North Korea but I heard that North Koreans refer to their country as the "DPRK").

Playing a nose flute:

Playing a nose flute, Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu by P Bryan, on Flickr

Samoa was another interesting one, and included fire dancing.



At the end of the performance, one of the Samoan men climbed a 30-foot coconut tree in about 10 seconds.

The Hawaii exhibit area was the most comprehensive, with different houses displaying artifacts.  A taro to poi display had some poi to taste, with not much gone, unsurprisingly.

Iosepa, a voyaging canoe built to ancient specs, was also on display.  Every so often, the canoe is taken into the water to practice, and teach the younger generations.

Canoe, Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the exhibits closed at 6:00 p.m., DW and the kids watched the IMAX video with motion, which takes you by air through the fascinating Hawaiian  landscape.  They highly recommend it.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped off to take photographs of Chinaman's Hat:

Chinaman's Hat, Oahu- DSC_4676 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On Tuesday, the final day of our trip, we stopped off again at Lappert's for ice cream, bought souvenir key chains and t-shirts for friends, and packed out for our trip home.

hnk-ewr.map by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA J - HNL-EWR by P Bryan, on Flickr

For our flight home, we were provided economy class kosher meals from Regal instead of F/J class kosher meals.  Also, instead of providing dinner and breakfast, we were provided with dinner meals for both dinner and breakfast.  We have found UA to be very unpredictable with providing kosher meals.  I suppose they simply don't care that much about kosher travelers.

In sum, we had a wonderful time exploring Hawaii and we didn't want to come home.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

September 03, 2017, 04:09:25 AM
7
Re: Hawaii Master Thread: General Questions And Which Island To Visit?
If were going for 10 days to Maui and Kauai, which one would you recommend staying longer in?

There is no right answer to your question. Everyone has their own personal preference as to which islands they like better.  I suggest you read some of the trip reports to figure out what appeals to you.

September 11, 2017, 11:08:02 AM
1
Re: Grand Hawaiian Holiday, by PBaruch (August 2017)
Since you now stayed in both GHK and SRP can you compare the 2?

GHK

Pros:

  • Prettier grounds (not to be confused with prettier views) to walk around in than at the St. Regis (in my humble opinion);
  • More kid friendly - GHK has a slide in the pool (no slide at the St. Regis) along with activities for kids such as feeding the fish (free fish food provided) and holding exotic birds while having your picture taken (free by using your own camera to take the pictures);
  • Free access for Globalists to the Club Room where you can get kosher breakfast foods such as bagels (frozen from Oahu Kosher), lox, cream cheese, butter, jams, various cereals, fruits, drinks such as water and soda.  Also, you can get free fruits and drinks throughout the day;
  • Free laundry facilities including free laundry detergent;
  • No resort fee when using points;
  • Free self parking;
  • More convenient location to certain attractions - such as to Capt. Andy's cruises on the Na Pali, Waimea Canyon, the airport, etc.
  • Nightly entertainment;
  • Bidet toilet.

Cons:

  • They will no longer store your food in their freezer;
  • Views definitely not as nice as the St. Regis;
  • Not as attentive to your needs, wants and desires as at the St. Regis;
  • The GHK doesn't feel as private and intimate as the St. Regis;
  • When we were there in winter the water by the beach was quite rough and wasn't suitable for swimming - not sure how it is in summer;
  • Not near Chabad.

St. Regis

Pros:

  • Gorgeous views of the mountains, bay and ocean from the hotel - and in particular from our room and lanai.  I very much enjoyed spending Shabbos at the St. Regis by hanging out on the lanai.  The view of the mountains, rainbows, water, and sunsets were nothing short of incredible.
  • Roving bands of nene (endangered Hawaiian goose) that come to visit - we really enjoyed interacting with and feeding the nene;
  • We have never before experienced the level of service that we received at the St. Regis.  They are very attentive to your needs and are more than happy to oblige.
  • Beach is usable for swimming - the water was fairly calm while we were there.
  • No problem with storing our food in their freezer.
  • They did not charge me a resort fee when paying with SPG points.
  • Lappert's is located nearby in Princeville - kosher ice cream, etc (although we totally missed out on that);
  • Conveniently located close to the Kalalau trail and awesome beaches such as Tunnels;
  • The St. Regis feels more private and intimate than the GHK - definitely less crowds;
  • 2 mile walk to Chabad on sidewalks.

Cons:

  • Not as kid friendly as the GHK - no slide in the pool;
  • No laundry facilities - if you want anything washed you have to pay to send it out;
  • No free parking option and you have to pay for valet parking (for those who care about this sort of thing);
  • No Club Room as at the GHK where people with Globalist status can get free kosher breakfast;
  • No ice machine for self use - if you want ice you call the front desk and they deliver it to your room.  We were fine with a small bucket of ice each time and never asked if they would fill a cooler but they are very accommodating so I'd have to assume they would have done it for us had we asked;
  • We had to take 3 separate elevators to get to the pool and adjacent beach which was annoying.  I suppose this is dependent on where your room is located.

The general consensus is that we prefer the St. Regis over the GHK and hope to return there in the future.

September 12, 2017, 08:30:13 PM
1
Re: Maui Master Thread Thanks to everyone who offered advice.  I decided to book the Grand Wailea (380k HH for 5 nights including 5th night free) based upon the recommendations of several DDF folks.  I'm sure the Marriott is good and fine but I think the Grand Wailea is probably a nicer hotel.
November 28, 2017, 01:47:00 PM
1
Pura Vida in Costa Rica, by PBaruch (January 2018) Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet so naturally it was on my list of places to visit.  I mentioned it to DW several years ago but she wasn't interested, so it went on the back burner.  However, my friend's wife, who had dreamed of visiting Costa Rica for many years prodded us both into taking a trip together.  Neither of our families was disappointed by the decision to visit Costa Rica.  Some of you might wonder why we didn't go to Hawaii.  There were two reasons for this.  First, we were limited to only a week due to my kid's school schedule (older daughter had started high school, and they're pretty strict about taking extra time off), which I feel is not enough time to go to Hawaii from the east coast.  Second, we wanted to visit a new place.

Part I - Planning and Preparation

I used 5 x 25k UR and 4 x 26k UR through Chase Travel on UA for direct flights between EWR to SJO.  I looked into booking with miles on UA or JetBlue, but both options added hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees.  Thus, when I found availability for 25k-26k UR with no added charges and fees,  I grabbed it.  I booked in Y as there was no J lie flat availability and the flight was relatively short at about 5 hours.

For a rental car, we decided to rent a large 4x4 SUV, a Mitsubishi Montero, from Sixt.  I read good reviews about Sixt online, as opposed to some of the other car rental chains. 

We then started researching online to ascertain if we could bring in our own kosher food.  What we found was confusing.  Some folks posted that they had no issues bringing in their own food while others had some or all of their food confiscated.  One of my DDF friends put me in touch with a client of his, Levi, who lives in Costa Rica and imports kosher food into Costa Rica.  He suggested not bringing in too much food and ordering the rest from Super Kosher Costa Rica.  We received an email menu from them (containing groceries, frozen food, and prepared meals) and placed a large order, to be delivered on our arrival.  My friend's family, however, have a special diet so they brought much of their own food from home.  They also had a letter from their doctor translated into Spanish.

The proposed itinerary in Costa Rica was also a difficult decision.  There are so many nice national parks and reserves to visit and we only had one week.  Another friend, who had been to Costa Rica, suggested we visit Manuel Antonio National Park (located south of San Jose).  Although she had never been there, she met several folks that went and felt that she had missed out by not going there.  For the second part of our trip, DW wanted to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve while my friend's wife wanted to go elsewhere.  We decided to split up for the second part of our trip and would meet up the night before our departure in the Sheraton near the airport.

We decided to rent a four bedroom/four bathroom villa through Airbnb for the first four nights of our stay in Quepos, a town near Manuel Antonio National Park (paid for with Barclay Arrival credits).  For the next two nights, we booked a deluxe three bedroom/three bathroom cottage at Cabanos Los Pinos in Monteverde (paid for in cash).   For the last night, we booked a room at the Sheraton near the airport in San Jose (4k SPG per night with no added charges or fees).

Part II - Flight to SJO

EWR - SJO by P Bryan, on Flickr

We took an early morning flight to SJO and arrived in the early afternoon.  By the time we packed out of the airplane, the passport control line was quite long.  Luckily for us, Ticos (native Costa Ricans) love children and  we were ushered through passport control without having to wait on the long general line.  We picked up our bags, cleared customs in no time (without them opening any of our bags), and walked to the airport exit, which was populated by a mix of locals waiting for loved ones, folks trying to sell tours, and grifters looking to take advantage of clueless gringos.  Almost immediately, a Tico approached me and asked where I was headed.  He wore a uniform of sorts and looked as if he worked at the airport in some capacity so I told him we were waiting to be picked up by Sixt.  He accompanied us to the pickup area and called Sixt to let them know we were waiting. 

Meanwhile, our friends were nowhere to be seen.  Ten minutes later they come out, explaining how the customs official went through all of their food, and was on the verge of throwing some in the trash (even with the medical letter).  Luckily, they talked him out of it.

Shortly after, the Sixt Shuttle arrived and we were taken to their location a mile from the airport.  Once we arrived, we were told that they only had one of the two Mitsubishi Montero 4x4 vehicles that we reserved because the other had been in an accident.  We were given a choice - one of us could upgrade to a BMW X5 at no added cost or get a special rate on a smaller Hyundai Tuscon 4x4.  Since we were five and our friend's family was four, they chose to save some money and took the smaller Hyundai Tuscon.  We stuck with the Mitsubishi Montero since it had high ground clearance and was a true 4x4.  Neither of us wanted the BMW X5 since it was not 4WD and, in addition, because we didn't want to attract unwanted attention by driving a fancy car in Costa Rica.

Mitsubishi Montero, San Jose, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally on our way.  Our first stop was at the Walmart near the airport.

Walmart, San Jose, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

What immediately struck us about this Walmart was that it was gated and had a guard who constantly patrolled the parking lot on a scooter.  While I waited in the Montero with our luggage and my little one, DW and my older kids went shopping.  DW says that Walmart has an entirely different feel in Costa Rica than it does in the United States.  Although we had a list of kosher products (as most products there do not have a kosher certification printed on the label), it was in Spanish and difficult for us to understand.  As a result, it was quite difficult for us to navigate what products were kosher.

We also arranged for the food that we ordered from Super Kosher Costa Rica to be delivered to us at Walmart.  While we were at the airport, I received a telephone call from Christoph at Super Kosher Costa Rica asking us what time we wanted our kosher food delivered.  When we arrived at Walmart, I tried calling Christoph but he had left and no one else at Super Kosher Costa Rica spoke English.  I messaged Levi on Whatsapp and sent him a picture of our Montero showing where it was parked in the Walmart parking lot.  Levi then communicated with the folks at Super Kosher Costa Rica and not too long after a car arrived with our food delivery.

Part III - Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park

After DW was done shopping and our food was delivered, we were off to Quepos, a town near Manuel Antonio National Park, where we would spend our first four nights. 

San Jose to Quepos by P Bryan, on Flickr

Before we left for the drive to Quepos, my friend gave me four Costa Rican 1 Mil bills and made a joke - now you're a millionaire.  I had no clue what they were worth but he said take them as you will need to pay tolls along the way to Quepos (I was planning to pay in dollars).  When we paid our first toll, I handed one of the 1 Mil bills to the toll collector and got back some coins.  DW then asked - wait, didn't that bill say it was 1 million, which we calculated to be worth about $1700 USD.  I couldn't imagine my friend gave me a bill worth $1700 USD but the doubt of potentially paying $1700 USD for a 50 cent toll gave me some concern to say the least.  To add to the confusion, the other three bills were slightly different.  DW decided to call a Costa Rican help line, and I'm sure the person on the other end was quite amused by our tale.  Of course we didn't pay with a 1 million Colones bill.  Rather, it was a 1000 Colones bill - mil is the Spanish word for thousand.

We arrived in Quepos after dark and met the proprietor of our Airbnb, Mandel, by the Marina Pez Vella.  We then followed Mandel to the villa where we would spend the next four nights.  From the outside, the villa looked like a compound from Narcos - high walls topped with barbed wire.  The inside, however, was gorgeous.   The villa was comprised of a swimming pool flanked by two buildings.  The main building, located directly behind the swimming pool contained the kitchen, dining room, living room and one bedroom and bathroom.  The second building, connected by an elevated covered walkway (you could also walk between the two buildings at ground level) had three floors, each with a bedroom and bathroom.  There was also a laundry room and gym.

Information about this Airbnb rental can be found here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14804611

Photographs of the villa:

Our rented villa in Quepos, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Parking on the road outside the villa at an extreme angle:

Quepos, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After parking at this angle for the first time, my 10 year old opened the car door and promptly fell out.  Luckily she wasn't seriously hurt and we were very careful so this wouldn't happen again.  The villa itself also had multiple safety concerns including large step offs without handrails and gates.  It definitely wouldn't pass muster in the United States.

Red-crowned Woodpecker viewed from the porch:

Red -crowned Woodpecker (DSC_0213) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Agouti viewed from the porch:

Agouti, Quepos, Costa Rica (DSC_0233) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Before we left, DW had read online that Costa Rican toilets cannot accept any sort of sanitary products such as toilet paper.  That's what that little blue wastebasket next to the toilet is for:

MVIMG_20180127_213801 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Thanks to @SomethingFishy and that damn toucan picture he took in Panama (he didn't even realize he had photographed a toucan), DW insisted that we hire a guide for each Costa Rican National Park that we visit.  While looking for a guide for Manuel Antonio, Fodors Guidebook recommended Johan Chavez.  I emailed Johan but was told he was unavailable.  Johan, however, recommended Oscar Herrera and after several emails we were set.  We arranged to meet Oscar at 7:30 a.m. at the Joseth Supermarket right outside the entrance to Manuel Antonio.  The parking fee was 6-8 USD per car for the day.  After parking our cars, we purchased drinks at the supermarket and were off for a tour of Manuel Antonio. 

Information about Oscar Herrera can be found here:

www.birdingspotsmn.com

Information about Manuel Antonio National Park can be found here:

https://manuelantoniopark.com/

Oscar was clearly enthusiastic about seeing various forms of wildlife, including bats, lizards, and frogs.  He'd say - look up at that tree - there is a frog there!  I said, what frog?  He responded, you see that dot on the leaf - that is a frog!  Then he'd say, look at that lizard!  You don't often get to see that species of lizard. 

DSC_0011 by P Bryan, on Flickr

As for myself, I couldn't care less about some lizard or frog dot on a leaf.  I wanted to see monkeys, toucans, macaws and other more interesting wildlife.  Suffice it to say, we didn't see much interesting wildlife on the tour except for some howler monkeys and sloths (two-toed and three-toed), located quite high up in the trees.

Howler Monkey (DSC_0029) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The tour with Oscar ended at the beach at Manuel Antonio, and this is where the action started. 

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw a family of racoons trying to steal food from tourists at the beach, including from my friend's wife.

Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Then came the monkeys - lots of Capuchin Monkeys who were quite successful at stealing food from the tourists.  I saw a monkey steal food from the pants pocket of one tourist and another monkey steal a bag of food from some tourists sitting on the sand.  I was also told that monkeys would steal anything they could get their hands on, including cameras since they didn't know what contained food.  However, if they got their hands on a camera and realized it wasn't food, they would then throw it to the ground from whatever tree they had climbed.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey (DSC_0053) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey (DSC_0068) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey (DSC_0075) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey, Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

My little one was completely enamored with the monkeys and was chasing after them.  He ran under the tree where one particular monkey was sitting just a few feet out of reach and kept saying "come, come" with outstretched hands. 

Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth viewed from the beach:

Sloth (DSC_0089) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Playing at the beach:

Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica (DSC_0046) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica (DSC_0044) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Land Crab viewed on the way back from the beach:

Land Crab (DSC_0096) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After spending some time at the beach, we headed back to the villa in Quepos.  My friend's family wanted to visit the Rainmaker Conservation Project but DW didn't think the kids were up for another two hour hike.  Also, the kids wanted to go swimming in the pool.  I, however, decided to join my friend's family at Rainmaker hoping to see some wildlife.  Information about Rainmaker can be found here:

http://www.rainmakercostarica.org

The road to Rainmaker was quite bad and the entry to the parking lot was very steep:

Rainmaker Conservation Project by P Bryan, on Flickr

Unfortunately we didn't see any wildlife but hiking the jungle trails and on the elevated suspension bridges was awesome.

MVIMG_20180125_152805 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rainmaker Conservation Project, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rainmaker Conservation Project, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rainmaker Conservation Project, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Costa Rican Cows on the way back to the villa:

Costa Rican Cows by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the following day, we decided to take a Monkey Mangrove Boat Tour by Damas Island.  Information about this tour can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/Monkey-Mangrove-Tour-Chino-523572434474610/

Photographs taken during the tour:

Monkey Mangrove Boat Tour, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monkey Mangrove Tour by Damas Island, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monkey Mangrove Boat Tour (DSC_0109) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monkey Mangrove Boat Tour (DSC_0121) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monkey Mangrove Boat Tour (DSC_0136) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey visiting our boat - peeking in from the roof:

Capuchin Monkey (DSC_0128) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Holding a mangrove seed:

Holding a Mangrove seed (DSC_0132) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Various birds:

DSC_0148 by P Bryan, on Flickr

King Fisher (DSC_0161) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Basilisk Lizard:

Basilisk Lizard (DSC_0183) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the Monkey Mangrove boat tour, we returned to our villa and swam in the pool.  We then prepared for Shabbos.  About an hour before Shabbos, I drove with my 10 year old to the farmers market by the Marina Pez Vella.  Once we arrived at the marina, I found a parking spot directly across the street from the farmers market.  While attempting to park, a Tico came over and began giving me unwanted guidance to maneuver the Montero into the spot.  Once I got out of the car, he approached me and said he would watch the Montero for me.  We then went to the farmers market and were completely overwhelmed by the variety of produce being hawked there.  Since we felt rushed due to the late hour, I only bought a pineapple and some mandarins.  When we got back to the Montero, lo and behold the Tico was right there, watching our car like a hawk.  He was literally standing in front of the Montero and staring at it.  The Tico even stopped traffic by jumping into the middle of the road to let us cross the street safely (pedestrians generally do not have the right of way).  I figured these services were worth a mil so I gave the poor guy a 1 Mil Colones note.

Part IV  - Shabbos and Minyan with the Monkeys

We davened and ate together on Friday night.  After the meal, my friend and I enjoyed Costa Rican local beer, Imperial, while relaxing by the pool and gazing at the stars.  Afterwards, we all went to bed early as we were quite tired. 

On Shabbos morning, I decided to daven on one of the porches overlooking a garden of trees and the ocean in the background.  As I was finishing up davening, I heard rustling in the trees adjacent to the house.  DW had seen a troop of Capuchin monkeys jumping from tree to tree in that area the previous day, so I was on the lookout for the monkeys as well.  No sooner had I heard the rustling I spotted the monkeys.  "Monkeys, monkeys," I shouted.  Everyone came running.  My friend decided to cut up a banana and he stuck a piece of banana on a fork.  One monkey in particular began looking very intently at the banana.  Soon we had an entire troop of monkeys all over the villa.  The kids had an amazing time feeding and interacting with the monkeys.  Later that afternoon, we saw a pair of scarlet macaws flying near the villa and a multitude of other birds in the trees adjacent to the villa.  We also saw agouti foraging in the gardens below.

Part V - Monteverde

On Sunday, we parted ways with my friend's family and drove to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve north of San Jose.  My little guy thought it was called Monkeyverde. 

Quepos to Monteverde by P Bryan, on Flickr

The drive up on Route 606 was absolutely horrendous and bone jarring.  It makes any road in Hawaii including the Road to Hana on Maui and the road to Polihale Beach in Kauai look like a walk in the park (I will never complain about any roads in Hawaii again).  Route 606 was unpaved with large potholes and uneven surfaces through tight mountain passes with multiple one lane bridges.  Further, the road was closed for 8 hours during the day for construction, but luckily we arrived right before a brief window opened to allow traffic through.  It was a good thing that we had the Montero.  Although I never had to engage 4WD, another car without high ground clearance would not have been able to make it through unscathed on this road.  Also, since the Montero was diesel powered it had great low end pulling power up the mountain roads.  Although we did see regular cars navigating this road, I cannot imagine that they fared well.  Supposedly they are working to pave this road but who knows when it will be completed.

We decided to stay at Cabanos Los Pinos due to the recommendation by one of the guidebooks and from reading online reviews.  We reserved a deluxe cabin containing three bedrooms and three bathrooms.  Information about Cabanos Los Pinos can be found here:

http://www.lospinos.net/

Photographs of our cabin:

Los Pinos Cabanes, Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Los Pinos Cabanas, Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Relaxing in the hammock on the porch:

Relaxing in Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After settling into the cabin, we decided to visit the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, information about which can be found here:

http://www.monteverdebutterflygarden.com/index.html

Photographs taken at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens:

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens (DSC_0259) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens (DSC_0272) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens (DSC_0302) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Butterfly Garden, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Butterfly Garden (DSC_0332) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Leafcutter ants at the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens:

Leafcutter Ants (DSC_0342) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens, we returned to our hotel and went to bed early in anticipation of our visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  That night, we heard howling winds outside, which kept us awake.  I couldn't imagine what was going on.  Back home, it would be considered a wind storm and I was afraid we would have to cancel our tour of Monteverde on the following day.  I awoke early the following morning and went to the hotel office to inquire if we had to cancel the tour due to the high winds.  I was told, however, that high winds are quite normal in Monteverde in the winter and that the reserve was well sheltered so there was no need to cancel our tour. 

While getting ready to leave the hotel, we heard a scream from my 14 year old that there was a scorpion in her bedroom.  I ran into her bedroom and lo and behold there was a large black scorpion at the foot of her bed.  I swiped the thing with my shoe, which sent yellow goo flying everywhere.  And off we went to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Information about the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve can be found here:

http://www.reservamonteverde.com/

We arranged for a guide through the hotel for a tour beginning at 7:00 a.m., when the park opened.  For this particular park, a guide was indispensable.  We would definitely have missed out on some incredible wildlife without the guide.  We used Elberth Fuentes from Three Brothers Tours.  Information about Three Brothers Tours can be found here:

www.threebrotherstours.com

Photographs taken at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve...

Hummingbird in a nest inside the jungle:

DSC_0356 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bromeliads growing on trees in the jungle canopy:

Bromeliads (Air Plants) (DSC_0390) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The endangered Resplendent Quetzal:

Quetzal (DSC_0440) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (DSC_0566) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our tour, we visited the Hummingbird Garden located next to the park entrance.  The owners of the garden placed a multitude of hummingbird feeders in this area, which attracts a great many hummingbirds:

Hummingbird (DSC_0484) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Notice how the coloration changes with the light:

 Hummingbird (DSC_0516) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hummingbird (DSC_0535) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hummingbird Gallery, Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting the Hummingbird Garden, we returned to the hotel while trying to decide where to visit next.  DW wasn't interested in visiting a coffee farm (which cost $30 pp!) as we have done that many times in Hawaii (the tours are free in Hawaii).  We ultimately decided to visit the Monteverde Sky Tram, information about which can be found here:

https://skyadventures.travel/skytram/

This tour takes you on a tram car to the top of a mountain through the clouds.  After reaching the top of the mountain, we were able to walk and hike around for a while. 

Photographs from the Monteverde Sky Tram tour:

Monteverde Sky Tram (DSC_0595) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Sky Tram Tour (DSC_0601) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Monteverde Sky Tram Tour (DSC_0602) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cloud Forest, Monteverde, Costa Rica (DSC_0617) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw a Coati in the parking lot:

Coati, Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Coati, Monteverde, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the Sky Tram Tour, we returned to the hotel, packed up, and went to bed early.  However, once again we couldn't sleep.  We kept hearing howling winds and pouring rain on the tin roof of the cottage.  Unused to these noises, we had difficulty sleeping.  Nevertheless, we made sure to get up early to avoid the road closures (the road was closed from 7:00 - 10:00 a.m.) and to not to waste the day.

Part VI - Carara National Park

On the following day, which was to be our last full day in Costa Rica, we decided to visit Carara National Park on the drive back to San Jose.

Monteverde to Carara by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to Carara, we saw a number of large black birds that appeared to be vultures sitting on the highway in the opposite direction.  As we drove closer, a number of vehicles including some large trucks approached the birds, causing them to fly over the highway and into our lane of travel.  One of these large birds struck our Montero above the windshield and left a small dent in the roof.  We were very fortunate that the bird did not crash through the windshield.  Although spooked by the collision with the bird, we continued on our way to Carara National Park.

Carara is another park where we would recommend a guide, as you are likely to miss the wildlife on your own.  We hired a guide at the entrance to the park.  Another guide approached me, saying "Shalom" and introducing himself as Yochanan.  Also at the entrance, iguanas, which would scurry into their holes when approached.  At this park, we saw scarlet macaws, spider monkeys, and toucans.

Photographs taken at Carara National Park:

Carara National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Carara National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blue Crowned Motmot:

Blue Crowned Motmot (DSC_0622) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Costa Rican wild turkeys:

Costa Rican Wild Turkey, Carara NP, Costa Rica (DSC_0665) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Spider Monkeys, which swing through the jungle by their tail:

Spider Monkeys (DSC_0668) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Spider Monkey (DSC_0659) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Scarlet Macaws:

Scarlet Macaw (DSC_0760) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Scarlet Macaw, Carara NP, Costa Rica (DSC_0771) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Looking through the scope:

Carara National Park, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

Toucan picture taken by cellphone through a scope:

Toucan, Carara NP, Costa Rica by P Bryan, on Flickr

After visiting Carara National Park, we drove to the nearby bridge over the Tarcoles River, to view the crocodiles:

Crocodiles (DSC_0792) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crocodile (DSC_0798) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crocodile (DSC_0802) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part VII - San Jose and the Trip Home

After viewing the crocodiles, we made our way back to San Jose.

Carara National Park to San Jose by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived at the Sheraton in San Jose at around 3:00 p.m.  I went up to the front desk to check in and after hearing that we were a party of five, the front desk employee insisted that I take a second room at a reduced rate of $140 USD plus tax.  I tried explaining that I had two other rooms (reserved for my friend's family under my SPG account) and that we could put one of my kids in one of those rooms.  However, this particular employee either couldn't understand what I was saying or she simply didn't care.  After arguing with her for about 15 minutes, another employee came over and let me "put" one of my kids into my friend's room.  Aside from the problems with check in, the hotel was quite nice.  The rooms were decently sized, modern, and very clean.  Also, there was a full complimentary breakfast where we were able to get uncut fruit and awesome Costa Rican coffee.  The hotel had free parking and employed an armed guard to watch the perimeter of the hotel. 

The following morning we checked out of the Sheraton, drove to Sixt to return the Montero, and were shuttled to the airport for our flight home.  Despite only having 4.5 days to explore Costa Rica (not including Shabbos and the two travel days), we had a wonderful time.  We hope to return to Costa Rica in the future to visit some of the other national parks that we didn't have time to see on this trip.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

Pura Vida!
 

February 06, 2018, 10:04:40 PM
4
Alaskan Family Adventures, by PBaruch (June 2018) We had last been to Alaska years ago, when we visited Katmai National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.  Ever since, DW had been yearning to go back and as a present for her recent milestone birthday we booked a return trip.  We decided to visit Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, with visits to other areas/attractions in between.  Special thanks to Something Fishy for help in planning this trip.

Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

We booked tickets on Alaska Airlines, which made the most sense for me as opposed to booking with other points or miles. I found availability at 50k pp rt (20/30) so for 250k total Alaska miles were we set.  Other options would have required more miles and would not have been worthwhile.  50k pp isn't a great deal but it was the best I could find on rather short notice.  Also, due to my Alaska MVP Gold 75k status, we received some nice perks and upgrades, which are discussed below.

For accommodation and transportation, we rented a 32 foot 7 inch long Thor Four Winds motorhome from Great Alaskan Holidays as we wanted a larger size motorhome for this trip.  This particular motorhome has 6 separate beds, although we only needed 4.  Information about Great Alaskan Holidays can be found here:

https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw1NzZBRCoARIsAIaMwuvcWK4dLoVODILsXmXH5kf07MyIpvlDtXjsNn8M9Kx8htEwoL6MlW4aAmu4EALw_wcB

Here is the floor plan for the Thor Four Winds 30D motorhome we rented:

https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/alaska-rv-rentals/floorplans-photo-tours/

If anyone reading this decides to rent a motorhome from Great Alaskan Holidays, please send me a PM as they have a referral system and it would help us out quite a bit for a future planned rental.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 - Flight into Anchorage, pick up the motorhome, and drive to Seward with overnight at the Seward Waterfront Campground

Day 2 - Northwestern Fjord Cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park with second overnight at the Seward Waterfront Campground

Day 3 - Drive from Seward to Crow Creek Gold Mine outside Anchorage, Gold Panning at Crow Creek Gold Mine, then drive to Marriott near Chabad in Anchorage

Day 4 - Shabbos in Anchorage

Day 5 - Drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna, flightseeing and glacier landing flight with Talkeetna Air Taxi, then drive to Denali National Park with overnight at the Savage River Campground inside Denali NP

Day 6 - Bus trip to Wonder Lake in Denali National Park with overnight at the Wonder Lake Campground

Day 7 - Return bus trip from Wonder Lake to Denali National Park entrance with overnight at Savage River Campground inside Denali National Park

Day 8 - Drive from Denali National Park to Palmer, with a visit to the Musk Ox Farm and the Reindeer Farm, overnight at Big Bear Campground in Palmer

Day 9 - Return motorhome and flight home

Part 2 - Flight to Anchorage

At JFK, we visited the Alaska Lounge.  One of my friends gave me 4 lounge passes and even though we were 5, they let my little one in for free. 

Alaska Lounge JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_0824 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cappuccino at Alaska Lounge JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

After relaxing in the lounge, we were off for our flight.

JFK-SEA-ANC by P Bryan, on Flickr

As we were getting ready to settle into our seats for the first flight to Seattle (there was no direct from the New York area to Alaska), a flight attendant came over and offered us 2 upgrades to first class (due to my MVP Gold 75k status).  I didn't bother booking first class seats since they aren't lie flat but we gladly accepted the 2 upgrades.  I took one upgrade and my oldest took the other.  DW couldn't take the second upgrade because someone had to stay with my little guy.  Unfortunately, we didn't score any upgrades for the second flight from Seattle to Anchorage. 

Part 3 - Anchorage to Seward

Once we arrived at Anchorage, we called Great Alaskan Holidays for pickup by their free shuttle. Our orientation was scheduled for 6:00 pm and since we were early they weren't "ready" for us.  After about 30 minutes, we were ushered into a room to view an orientation video, followed by signing the necessary paperwork.  We were then given the keys to our motorhome and began the drive to Seward, Alaska.

Anchorage to Seward by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived in Seward after 11:00 p.m. and found a parking spot at the Seward Waterfront Campground.  Since we arrived so late in the day, all of the choice spots adjacent to the water were taken so we took a spot a bit farther away.  Seward Waterfront does not accept reservations (except for groups) so it is first come first serve.  We extended the two slides and I connected the motorhome to shore power but was too tired to hook up to the city water connection.  After our long day of travel, we were all exhausted and went to bed.

Photographs of the Seward Waterfront Campground:

Seward Waterfront Campground (DSC_0842) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our motorhome was parked one row away from the water:

Seward Waterfront Campground (DSC_0848) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old school bus converted into a motorhome:

Old school bus converted into a motorhome, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - Kenai Fjords Cruise

There are two large companies that offer cruises in Kenai Fjords National Park - Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours.  There are other small boat options as well.  We chose Kenai Fjords Tours because they were slightly cheaper than Major Marine and offered a slightly longer tour.  From the reviews I read online, it appears that Major Marine has better food, which didn't matter to us anyway.  We booked online in advance and received a 10% discount on our tour.  Information about Kenai Fjords Tours can be found here:

https://www.alaskacollection.com/day-tours/kenai-fjords-tours/kenai-fjords-national-park-tour/

We booked the Northwestern Fjord Tour, which is the longest tour they offer, information about which can be found here:

https://www.alaskacollection.com/day-tours/kenai-fjords-tours/northwestern-fjord-tour/

Travel Deep Into Kenai Fjords With the Northwestern Fjord Tour by P Bryan, on Flickr

The weather was cold and rainy so taking photographs was a challenge. 

Kenai Fjords Tours Tickets, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken during the cruise:

Sea Lions

Sea Lions in Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0879) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sea Lions, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0890) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sea Lions, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1192) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Puffin

Puffin, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1146) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Seal floating on ice

Seal in Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0939) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Glacier

Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0953) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1008) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waterfalls

Waterfalls in Kenai NP (DSC_1051) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waterfall in Kenai NP (DSC_1063) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1262) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1267) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humpback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1270) by P Bryan, on Flickr

During the cruise, and while we were near the glacier, I asked one of the crew members if he could scoop up a piece of glacial ice for something that I had been meaning to do since our Iceland trip - have a bit of whiskey with glacial ice.  The crew were more than happy to oblige.

Scooping up glacial ice (DSC_0992) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Whiskey with glacial ice

Whiskey with glacial ice by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nap time

Taking a nap by P Bryan, on Flickr

And now I'm ready to play

IMG_20180621_141606 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the tour, we returned to our motorhome at the Seward Waterfront Campground.  I attempted to make an outside bbq, but it started raining soon after the fire started so that was a bust.  The fire only looked like this for a short period of time before it went out.  We ended up cooking inside the motorhome.

Seward Waterfront Campground, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Panning for Gold

The following day, we packed out of the Seward Waterfront Campground and made our way back to Anchorage, with a stop at the Crow Creek Gold Mine.  We booked a private tour which included a demonstration and instructions on how to pan for gold.  We highly recommend booking a private tour as you will not likely be able to do it on your own, at least not the first time.

Seward  to Crow Creek Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to Crow Creek Gold Mine, we stopped off at Bear Creek Weir to view salmon jumping over a small waterfall. 

Bear Creek Weir, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Information about Crow Creek Gold Mine can be found here:

http://www.crowcreekmine.com/

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We learned about the history of the mine and were given a tour of several historic structures.

DSC_1315_blurred by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1314) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Water cannon at Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1320) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1325) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Learning how to pan for gold:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1344) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold, Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 1 - filling up bucket with gold bearing soil:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1364) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 2 - classifying the soil  (sifting large rocks from soil we dug up):

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1370) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1374) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 3 - pouring watery soil into the sluice box to filter out the gold from the soil:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1380) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 4 - cleaning out the sluice box and panning the remnants of soil for gold:

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we cleaned out the sluice box into a bucket and panned the remnants of soil, we struck it rich:

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Alaska Native Heritage Center, Capt. Cook Monument, and Shabbos in Anchorage

After visiting the gold mine, we drove to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where the most exciting thing that happened was a Code B alert (meaning bear running loose on the grounds).  Most of the folks working at the center appeared to be unhappy and/or unenthusiastic teenagers.  I'm not sure if my perception of their unhappiness was a cultural misunderstanding or if they were truly unhappy.  Either way, it certainly wasn't the most exciting part of our visit.

Afterwards, we stopped off at the Anchorage Capt. Cook Monument.  We were excited to learn that there was a Capt. Cook Monument in Anchorage, as we had visited the Capt. Cook Monument on Hawaii Island several times.

Capt Cook Monument, Anchorage Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then checked into a one bedroom suite at the Marriott near Chabad for Shabbos (booked with points) as staying in the motorhome would have been too complicated for Shabbos.  We couldn't daven and eat with Chabad on Friday night because services and the meal were at the Rabbi's house a 20 minute walk away and we didn't think my little one would be up for it.  Little did I know that while my little guy stayed up after we checked into the Marriott, I quickly passed out from exhaustion.  On Shabbos day, we davened and ate with Chabad with a mix of locals and tourists from all over the world.  Steve Bunin, who used to be a sportscaster for ESPN was the "guest speaker" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Bunin).  After the meal, we returned to the hotel to rest and relax.  Since Shabbos was over at around 2:00 am, we did go a bit stir crazy towards the end. 

We went to sleep before Shabbos was over and woke up after 3:00 a.m.  I did several loads of laundry and we packed out at about 6:00 a.m. for the drive to Talkeetna on the way to Denali National Park.

Anchorage to Talkeetna, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - Flightseeing Tour and Glacier Landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi

We booked the Grand Denali with Glacier Landing Tour.  Information about Talkeetna Air Taxi can be found here:

http://www.talkeetnaair.com/

Information about the Grand Denali with Glacier Landing Tour can be found here:

http://www.talkeetnaair.com/flights/grand-denali-w-glacier-landing

We chose this particular tour because it was the best tour we were able to take our little one on, as the summit landing tour has a minimum age requirement of 12.  I called Talkeetna Air Taxi in advance and was told they have a coupon in the Northern Lights coupon book (there are other brand coupon books as well), which saved us some money on this tour.  We also used coupons in this book at three other places we visited, so it was well worth the cost of $55.00 plus shipping.  Information about the Northern Lights Coupon book can be found here:

http://www.alaska-discounts.com/

Flight route (from Talkeetna Air Taxi Website):

Grand Denali w Glacier Landing by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken during our flight:

IMG_20180624_130819 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1427 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1441 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1462 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1474 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1502 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1643 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Landing on Ruth Glacier:

DSC_1595 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1604 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ruth Glacier, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180624_124525 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180624_124539 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Denali National Park

After the flight, we continued on to Denali National Park, where we stayed at the Savage River Campground inside the park.

Talkeetna to Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening, we made a BBQ at our campsite:

BBQ at Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camp Stove Cooking, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camping at Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We also roasted marshmallows:

Roasting Marshmallows at Savage River Campground by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following morning we drove back towards the entrance of Denali and parked our motorhome by the Riley Creek overflow lot, where overnight parking is permitted.  On the way, we saw a mother moose and two babies:

Moose in Denali NP (DSC_1701) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Moose in Denali NP (DSC_1714) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we arrived at Riley Creek, we parked the motorhome and waited for the camper bus to take us to Wonder Lake Campground.   Since you are only allowed to drive your own vehicle a few miles into Denali, the only way to see the park is to take one of the Denali shuttle buses.  (You can also hike into the park or ride a bicycle along the road).  We booked tickets on the camper bus, which transports campers and their luggage to the Wonder Lake Campground.

Denali Park Entrance to Wonder Lake Campground by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake Camper Bus, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the camper bus, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the camper bus, we bumped into a young Israeli tourist, Yoav G., who remembered me from Chabad.  Since we had booked two campsites at Wonder Lake for the night, we offered Yoav the use of our second campsite, which he gladly accepted.  Yoav had obtained a backcountry camping permit for two nights so he would not have otherwise been able to camp at the campground.  We booked two campsites because they officially only allow a maximum of 4 people per campsite.  However, when we arrived, the park ranger told us he doesn't enforce that rule.  Nevertheless, if Yoav hadn't used our second reserved (and prepaid) campsite, it would have been empty.

Photographs taken along the road to Wonder Lake:

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1779) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1979) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1992) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou

Caribou in Denali NP (DSC_1812) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou in Denal NP (DSC_1828) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou in Denali NP (DSC_1961) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Alaskan Brown Bears

Brown Bears, Denali NP (DSC_1925) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Brown Bear Cub, Denali NP (DSC_1931) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Seen along the road

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived at Wonder Lake Campground in the early evening and set up our tent:

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camping at Wonder Lake Campground (DSC_1858) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

As soon as the camper bus arrived at Wonder Lake, we were inundated by mosquitoes.  Since we had experience with mosquitoes last time we were in Alaska, we bought mosquito head nets for everyone at the Riley Creek Mercantile Store.  What we didn't expect, however, was that the mosquitoes were able to bite right through our clothing.  At some point we ran out of bug spray, which just added to the misery.  We weren't even able to eat without the headnets:

 Eating at Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

The kids asked Yoav how to say the word of the day, "mosquito" in Hebrew, and got a kick out of the answer, "yatush."

We attended a ranger talk about Fannie Quigley and finding gold at Kantishna (at the end of the park road), and then walked over to Wonder Lake, a short distance away from the campground:

Wonder Lake, Denali NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake, Denali NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake, Denali NP (DSC_1887) by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we awoke the next morning, my oldest asked DW to take a head count.  However, since we didn't see any gaping holes in the tent and didn't hear any screams in the night, everything was ok.  It was raining that morning and our tent was all wet. 

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Despite the rain, the mosquitoes were still out in full force.

We packed out and took the 8:00 a.m. camper bus back towards the park entrance.  We arrived at the park entrance in the early afternoon and had time to attend a sled dog demonstration:

Sled Dogs, Denali NP (DSC_1998) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sled Dog, Denali NP (DSC_2014) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sled Dog Demonstration, Denali NP Alaska (DSC_2022) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then returned to the Savage River Campground, where we made another evening BBQ:

Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska (DSC_2063) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

BBQ at Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 9 - The Musk Ox Farm and The Reindeer Farm

The following morning, we packed out for our drive back towards Anchorage.  We drove towards Palmer, and first visited the Musk Ox Farm.  We used one of the coupons from the Northern Lights Coupon Book at this farm.  The Musk Ox Farm was a bit disappointing as we weren't able to touch the animals at all.  It was somewhat interesting but I wouldn't go back.

Savage River Campground to Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at the Musk Ox Farm:

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2069) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2098) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2111) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2073) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited the Reindeer Farm, where we used another coupon from the Northern Lights Coupon Book.  Unlike the Musk Ox Farm, the Reindeer Farm was hands on and we all had lots of fun.  For those who have kids and like animals, it's a great place to visit.  Information about the Reindeer Farm can be found here:

https://www.reindeerfarm.com/

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2201) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were able to touch and feed adult and baby reindeer:

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2144) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2148) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We had a chance to pet and feed a Rocky Mountain Elk, which are not native to Alaska:

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2179) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2195) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 10 - Way Home

After the Reindeer Farm, we made our way to the nearby Big Bear RV Park and Campground.  We made our last BBQ and saved the best for last:

BBQ at Big Bear Campground, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following day we drove from Palmer to Anchorage and returned the motorhome. 

Palmer to Anchorage by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were then shuttled back to the airport for our flight home.  For the return flight, I received one confirmed first class upgrade.  Although I tried for a second one, I was told none were available.  I took the first class seat for the flight from Anchorage to Seattle, while DW took the first class seat from Seattle to JFK. 

Since we had a four hour layover in Seattle, we relaxed at the Alaska Airlines lounge.  Again, I only had four passes but they looked the other way and let my little one in for free.  We were all quite hungry so DW called Pabla Indian Cuisine (http://www.pablaindian.com/) to see if they would deliver food to the airport.  We were told that their delivery service does not deliver to the airport (even though they are only 15 minutes away) so we placed an order over the phone and DW took a taxi to pick it up and bring it back to the airport.  We had eaten twice at Pabla last summer during out Washington State motorhome trip (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81754.0) and it quickly became DW's and my older kids favorite restaurant.  When DW walked back to the Alaska lounge with the food, we were told that they didn't allow outside food into the lounge.  Their solution, however, was to give us a free conference room to eat our food (due to my MVP 75k status).  The conference room is normally $50 per hour.

While my older kids kvetched quite a bit during the trip, they were all smiles when we arrived home and we all can't wait for the chance to return to Alaska.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

July 05, 2018, 12:51:42 PM
5
Re: Hawaiian Family Adventures by PBaruch (July - August 2018) Lilly Pond behind the beach:

Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island (DSC_4460) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island (DSC_4475) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since my little one loves trains, we visited the Laupahoehoe Train Museum the following day:

DSC_4536 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4530 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4526 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_4538 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_113512 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_113702 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_115342 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_120317 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We considered going down to Laupahoehoe Point, but ultimately decided against it.  At the end of the day, we regretted this omission.  Instead, we headed back to Hilo, to the Farmer's Market:

Hilo Farmers Market, Hilo, Hawaii Island (DSC_4539) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hilo Farmers Market, Hilo, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hilo Farmers Market, Hilo, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way to the Mokupapapa Discovery Center.  In addition to its displays on Papahanaumokuakea, it is currently used as a temporary place for park rangers displaced from VNP.  We listened in a bit to a ranger talk about the eruption, but the best thing about the place was that it was air conditioned.

IMG_20180815_135710 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_142643 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW and the kids then went to the Pacific Tsunami Museum, with plans to go up Mauna Kea for stargazing. However, cloud cover caused the cancellation of the public stargazing.

IMG_20180815_144240 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180815_144622 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part VIII - Mauna Kea

I'd been dreaming of photographing the sunset and milky way from the summit of Mauna Kea for years.  However, it seemed to elude me on each visit to the Big Island.  I asked my buddy Bruce Omori if he had any time to go and photograph from the summit and he graciously took time from his busy schedule to take me up.  The last time I was at the summit of Mauna Kea was in January of 2010, when I drove up with my friend Alex.  We didn't properly acclimate and, when we reached the top, raced each other like wild dogs to the summit.  I felt quite miserable from altitude sickness afterwards and couldn't appreciate the sunset at all:

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii Island (DSC_0439) by P Bryan, on Flickr

This time, however, Bruce and I properly acclimated for an hour at the visitor center before heading up. 

Bruce's truck:

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

We photographed the setting sun:

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii Island (DSC_4553) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mauna Kea Summit, Hawaii Island (DSC_4791) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although Bruce has contacts that usually let him stay at the summit after dark, we had no such luck this time and were chased off the summit.  Luckily, we hid out at a spot a bit below the summit and were able to get some awesome night shots. 

Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (DSC_4824) by P Bryan, on Flickr

It felt almost like Star Wars up there.  We heard machine sounds and voices over loudspeakers coming from the nearby telescopes.  Notice the laser from the Keck Telescope beaming into the sky.  Bruce was upset that the lasers were ruining his milky way shots but I thought the lasers were awesome.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (DSC_4814) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (DSC_4832) by P Bryan, on Flickr

While we were shooting the radio telescopes, we saw a pair of headlights coming down the road towards us.  I initially thought it was a park ranger coming to bust us.  Bruce, however, knew better and said no ranger would be driving with headlights at the summit after dark.  I'm not sure who the bozo was but she/he did me a great favor by illuminating the foreground on the following long exposure shot:

Mauna Kea, Hawaii Island (DSC_4845) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part IX - The Flight Home

The following day we packed out of Volcano and flew home.  We flew Hawaiian F home for the first time.  It was definitely a superior product compared to United except we were unable to obtain kosher meals.  At the present time, Hawaiian does not offer any special meals in F.  Towards the end of our flight, the flight attendants came over and thanked us individually for flying Hawaiian, which we thought was really nice.

ITO-HNL-JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

HA bedding kit:

Bedding Kit on Hawaiian Air F from HNL - JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sleeping in the lie flat seats:

Hawaiian Airlines F from HNL - JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we arrived at home, I had the post-Hawaii blues for about a week, before I snapped back into reality.  As usual, we had an amazing trip and look forward to returning again next year.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach, Hawaii Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

September 09, 2018, 11:35:07 AM
7
Re: Hawaiian Family Adventures by PBaruch (July - August 2018)
Great TR the pictures are beautiful
I'm just wondering why do you keep going back to Hawaii, there's so many other places...?

We did do something completely new for our first trip of the summer:

https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=93831.0

Also, believe it or not, but not every trip of ours to Hawaii is identical.  Yes, we do some old favorite activities but this trip included lots of new things that we never did before.  For instance, we had never been to Lanai before.  We also did some new activities around Hana and on the Big Island.

Hawaii is a great place to just hang out in the summer with the family.  Instead of sending the kids to day camp and sleep away camp, we all get to hang out in paradise in a place where finding kosher food isn't a problem.  It's kind of like going to a bungalow colony for us.   :)

September 12, 2018, 01:41:37 PM
1
Re: DDF DO: NYC Edition?
Some of you have reading comprehension. It was for @PBaruch.

No need for fancy. I'm a cheap date. Main thing is to see you.  :)

October 11, 2018, 10:26:42 AM
1
Desert Family Adventures, by PBaruch (January 2019) The American southwest draws travelers from around the globe with an abundance of natural wonders, some of which are found nowhere else.  Having previously explored other parts of the southwest, I very much wanted to visit Death Valley National Park.  DW, while preferring to visit other locales, agreed.  In particular, I was interested in visiting off the beaten parts of the park accessible only by 4WD vehicle.  However, unless you want to experience earths oven,  which some deliberately choose to do, winter is the time to visit.  In summer, temperatures often climb north of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (Death Valley has the lowest point on earth in the western hemisphere).  In winter, the temperatures are mild during the day but chilly at night. 

A short time before our  trip, the government shut down which led me to question whether we should go to a national park.  My concerns, however, turned out to be completely unfounded.  Although there were a few closures, the majority of the park was open and empty (I can only assume others chose to stay away).  As a result, at times, we had the park all to ourselves.  The experience was extraordinary. 

Part 1 - Planning

We booked 5 tickets on Jetblue for a total of 103k points to fly from JFK to LAS, the closest major airport to Death Valley National Park.  Had I booked a little sooner, it would have been under 100k but I procrastinated in booking, and it cost me more points in the long run.  For accommodations and transportation, we decided to rent a 30+ foot long motorhome from El Monte with a bed over the cab, two bunks, and a bed in the rear.  A few days before our trip DW checked the prices online and saw that the price dropped by half.  I called El Monte and they honored the cheaper price without me having to rebook and lose my $150 deposit.  A link to the motorhome we rented can be found here:

https://www.elmonterv.com/rv-rental/rv-details/cabover-style-fs30-slide-out-rv/

We didn't want to be without hookups (water, sewer and electric) so we reserved 6 nights at the campground by Stovepipe Wells.  A link to the campground can be found here:

https://deathvalleyhotels.com/our-hotel/rv-park-and-camping/

For our final night, we decided to stay at a campground in Las Vegas, as we needed to return the motorhome early in the morning to catch our 12:00 p.m. flight home.  We chose the Sam's Town Campground, a link to which can be found here:

https://koa.com/campgrounds/las-vegas/

Since we wanted to do a fair amount of off roading, we rented a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for 2 days from Farabee's Jeeps.   Link to Farabee's can be found here:

http://farabeejeeps.com/

We didn't have a set schedule and, with limited exceptions, decided on what we wanted to do each morning.

Part 2 - Flight and Arrival at LAS

JFK-LAS by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived at LAS at approximately 11:00 a.m., took an Uber over to El Monte RV (Uber was about half the price of a taxi), and picked up our motorhome.  We then made stops at Walmart, Trader Joe's, and Smith's Supermarket.  Smith's has a kosher take out counter and sells a variety of kosher foods, so we stocked up on food for the week.  Afterwards, we drove to Stovepipe Wells, where we would be principally based for the next 6 nights.

Smith s Food and Drug to Stovepipe Wells Campground   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 3 - Death Valley National Park - Mesquite Sand Dunes

MVIMG_20190125_115306 by P Bryan, on Flickr

For our first full day in Death Valley, we decided to visit Mesquite Sand Dunes, located a short drive from our campground at Stovepipe Wells.  The kids had an awesome time playing in the sand and sliding down the dunes.

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley NP (DSC_4867) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley NP (DSC_4890) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mesquite Sand Dunes,Death Valley NP (DSC_4907) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley NP (DSC_4902) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Life still exists despite the harshness of the desert.

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley NP (DSC_4898) by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the walk back to the motorhome, my little one stuck his hands into his pockets and came out with handfuls of sand that he dropped, to "return it to its family."

Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - The Borax Museum

After the sand dunes, we visited the Borax Museum, which explains the history of borax in Death Valley and contains a large collection of pioneer-era mining and transportation equipment.  For quite a while, we had the entire grounds all to ourselves.

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4909) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4910) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4913) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4914) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4922) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4923) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California (DSC_4933) by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way back to the campground, we hiked the really short Harmony Borax Works trail (where my little one turned on his "booster pack" and nearly gave us all heart attacks when he ran off to the end of the trail all by himself).  It's a good thing I hadn't yet known there are mountain lions in Death Valley, or I might have really had a heart attack.

Harmony Borax Works, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Harmony Borax Works, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we passed by the Devil's Cornfield.

Devil's Cornfield, Death Valley NP (DSC_4950) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Of course, we all start coming down with colds due to the daytime heat and nighttime cold temperatures.  No place nearby to buy tissues but the Stovepipe Wells General Store.  A pocket sized pack of 10 tissues for $1!  We bought 12 packs over the next few days.

Part 5 - Rhyolite Ghost Town

On the following day, Friday, we decided to visit Rhyolite Ghost Town.  Rhyolite formed around 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills.  However, it declined almost as rapidly after the richest ore was exhausted.  By 1920, the town was in ruins.  It is now one of the most photographed ghost towns in the west.

Stovepipe Wells  CA to rhyolite   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crossing the border from California to Nevada (Rhyolite is located in Nevada):

Crossing the border (DSC_5007) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Welcome to the neighborhood:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs of Rhyolite:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_4970) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rhyolite  Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_4982) by P Bryan, on Flickr

An old caboose:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_4983) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_4985) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The ruins of the Cook Bank Building:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_4999) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ruins of HD & LD Porter Store:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_5002) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ruins of a jewelry store:

Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada (DSC_5004) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Shabbos in Death Valley

After returning from Rhyolite, we prepared the motorhome for Shabbos by covering the wheels, as is required.  DW purchased a set of wheel covers online (after being told the wheel size by El Monte), but when we fitted the covers on the wheels, we discovered they were too small:

MVIMG_20190125_153956 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then began preparations for Shabbos.  As usual, I made a fried potato kugel.  I was planning on using our camp stove for this, but the WalMart in Vegas was out of butane, and we were unable to find it anywhere else.  (Come to find out, California has special regulations regarding butane, as they do with seemingly everything under the sun).  Instead, we used part of our portable grill rack placed on the motorhome stove to hold the frying pan over the burner:

MVIMG_20190125_160533 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW made chicken in a crockpot, which was swapped out for chollent right before Shabbos.  We set the crockpot on a timer, I davened, and we ate our meal.  Being quite exhausted, I went to bed early.  At some point during the night, I woke up and realized that the power was off in the motorhome.  I quickly grabbed the cold chollent pot off the hot plate and placed it into the refrigerator.  Since the refrigerator runs on either propane or electricity, it automatically switches between the two and never turns off (assuming you don't run out of propane).  In the morning, the power was restored but the chollent was cold in the fridge.  I went outside and asked our next door neighbor if he would place the chollent pot back on its hot plate, which he did.  By the time lunch rolled around, the chollent was hot.  I later learned that there was a scheduled power outage for Friday night but no one bothered to tell us.

On Shabbos day we rested and I played "booster packs" and tag with my little one outside the motorhome.  It was certainly nice to have freedom to roam without being confined to a hotel for Shabbos.  Middle daughter woke each morning seeing the sand dunes out her window, and was hoping to walk over there, but we were pretty sure it was outside the techum.  We were able to walk over to the ranger station, which is where we first heard that the shutdown was over.  Being in the midbar during Parshas Yisro certainly wasn't lost on us.

Part 7 - The Racetrack

I had wanted to visit the Racetrack for some time now, having seen pictures online and being prodded by my friend Alex, who has fallen in love with the place.  This was one of the reasons we decided to rent a Jeep.   Since Farabee's Jeeps is located in Furnace Creek, about 25 miles away from where we were staying in Stovepipe Wells, we decided to overnight in a campground across the street from Farabee's.  As an added bonus, due to the government shutdown, the National Park Service was not collecting fees at this campground. 

While at this campground, we met "Jake" the cat, who liked to be walked like a dog on a leash.  Jake's owner told me that she had been walking Jake on a leash since he was a kitten, so for him, walking on a leash was normal.

After shuttling our motorhome to the Sunset campground at Furnace Creek, we walked the minute or so to Farabee's and picked up our 2019 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.  The Jeep was lifted and equipped with large off road tires.  We were given instructions on the use of the Jeep along with additional instructions on the use of the included Spot Satellite Messenger device.  We were told to always carry the Spot device with us (even when we left the Jeep), which had a button to alert Farabee's if we were in trouble along with another button to alert 911 of an emergency.  Luckily, we didn't run into any trouble and never had to use the Spot device.  We then loaded up the Jeep with our cooler and clothes and were off to the Racetrack.

Furnace Creek  California 92328 to The Racetrack  California   Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Racetrack is a scenic dry lake feature with "sailing stones" that leave imprints in the mud as they slide.  The stones move when ice sheets just a few millimeters thick start to melt during periods of light wind. These thin floating ice panels create an ice shove that moves the rocks along the dry lake bed.

MVIMG_20190127_102749 by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to the Racetrack, we saw many Joshua Trees:

MVIMG_20190127_110112 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree, Death Valley NP (DSC_5011) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Racetrack Road, Death Valley NP (DSC_5146) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Teakettle Junction:

Teakettle Junction, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Toilet in the desert (it was disgusting and hadn't been cleaned since the shutdown began):

IMG_20190127_121046 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Racetrack:

DSC_5044 Corrected by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190127_133112 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Racetrack, Death Valley NP (DSC_5061) by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190127_125041 by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Grandstand at the Racetrack:

The Grandstand at The Racetrack (DSC_5138) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Grandstand, Death Valley NP (DSC_5130) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Ubehebe Crater

On the way back from the Racetrack, we stopped by Ubehebe Crater,  a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley NP (DSC_5171) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then returned for the night to the campground in Furnace Creek:

MVIMG_20190127_170336 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 9 - Artist's Drive

The following day, we set out to explore various parts of the park, including parts we could not drive to in the motorhome (due to its length in excess of 25 feet) or those parts requiring a 4WD vehicle.  Our first stop was Artist's Drive, with colorful rock formations.

While driving, we saw a few coyotes along the road. I was told that the coyotes are very smart and they feign being injured, sick, or starving by the side of the road in the hopes of scoring an easy meal from a passing tourist.  I suppose it works for them, as we saw them by the side of the road on the way in and out. 

Coyote seen along the road:

MVIMG_20190128_084321 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Artist's Drive:

Artist's Drive, Death Valley NP (DSC_5202) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Artist's Drive, Death Valley NP (DSC_5220) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Artist's Drive, Death Valley NP (DSC_5238) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Artist's Drive, Death Valley NP (DSC_5260) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 10 - Devil's Golf Course

Afterwards, we went to the Devil's Golf Course, a large salt pan on the floor of Death Valley:

On way to Devil's Golf Course by P Bryan, on Flickr

Devils Golf Course, Death Valley NP (DSC_5267) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley NP (DSC_5268) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 11 - Badwater

We then visited Badwater, a basin and the lowest point on earth in the western hemisphere. 

MVIMG_20190128_105816 by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190128_110120 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Badwater, Death Valley NP (DSC_5294) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Badwater, Death Valley NP (DSC_5297) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Badwater, Death Valley NP (DSC_5332) by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190128_112247 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Salt had cemented the walkway at the entrance to Badwater:

Badwater, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 12 - Dante's Peak

And then made our way up to Dante's Peak,  5,476 ft above the floor of Death Valley, with views of Badwater below:

Dante's View, Death Valley NP (DSC_5354) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 13 - 20 Mule Team Canyon

Afterwards, we drove through 20 Mule Team Canyon, a beautiful unpaved road through colorful, eroded badlands.  If this place looks familiar, scenes from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, were filmed here.

20 Mule Team Canyon (DSC_5386) by P Bryan, on Flickr

20 Mule Team Canyon (DSC_5387) by P Bryan, on Flickr

20 Mule Team Canyon by P Bryan, on Flickr

20 Mule Team Canyon by P Bryan, on Flickr

20 Mule Team Canyon by P Bryan, on Flickr

20 Mule Team Canyon by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 14 - Echo Canyon

We next drove part of the way through Echo Canyon, a rough 4WD road.  Since it was late in the day and about to get dark soon, we didn't have time to drive to the end of the canyon road.  While driving to the canyon on a rough 4WD road, we passed a middle aged woman sitting beside her truck with the hood up.  Seems that her battery died.  I made a comment that it was good that we came along, to which she responded that she lived out of her truck and could have stayed there for a month.  Not wanting to pry into her business, I gave her a boost and we went along on our way. 

Exploring Echo Canyon, Death Valley NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190128_162241 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20190128_162732 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rocks at Echo Canyon by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 15 - Zabriskie Point

We ended the day at Zabriskie Point:

Zabriskie Point (DSC_5398) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Zabriskie Point (DSC_5405) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 16 - Long Way Home

After Zabriskie Point, we returned the Jeep to Farabee's and packed out of the campground by Furnace Creek.  We then returned to our campground, with full hookups, in Stovepipe Wells.  The following day, we packed out and drove back to Las Vegas.  On the way to the campground in Las Vegas, we stopped again at Smith's to pick up food for the remainder of our trip and the flight home.  Still needing tissues, we bought a box at Smith's.  Total we spent on tissues: $13.79.  $12 for the first 120, $1.79 for the second 120.

Afterwards, we checked into Sam's Town Campground in Las Vegas.  The campground was unremarkable but located a short distance from El Monte, which made it easy to return our motorhome the following morning.  On the next and final day of our trip, we returned the motorhome early in the morning, took an Uber to the airport, and made our way home.

As usual, we had a great time and really enjoyed the freedom of a motorhome.  Also, as usual, we had our fair amount of issues with the motorhome.  At first we couldn't get the interior outlets to work, until I figured out that the outlet in the bathroom had tripped and needed to be reset (all of these outlets were interconnected).  The shower leaked into the hallway, the kitchen sink leaked if we opened the water too much, and we weren't provided with a sewer end cap, which caused the sewer hose to pop out and leak poo all over (I learned to keep it in place by placing rocks on it to wedge it in).  Nevertheless, it was a learning experience and we wouldn't hesitate to rent another motorhome in the future.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

February 08, 2019, 12:35:09 AM
6
PBaruch's Trip Reports Master Thread Since I have so many trip reports, it has become difficult to keep track of them all and find them.  Taking a page from Something Fishy's book, I decided it was time to create a master list of my own trip reports. 

UNITED STATES

ALASKA
Alaskan Family Adventures (June 2018)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=93831.0

ARIZONA
Dreams of Flight - Hummingbirds and Arizona (2015)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=54632.0

ARIZONA & UTAH
Motorhome Adventures in Utah and Arizona (2016)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=64756.0

CALIFORNIA & NEVADA
Desert Family Adventures (January 2019)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=101345.0

HAWAII
The Big Island of Hawaii, PBaruch Style (2015)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=60541.0

12 Days in Paradise
Oahu, Maui and The Big Island (2016)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=60745.0

Chasing Lava in Hawaii (2016)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=66190.0

12 Days in Paradise II
Oahu, Kauai and The Big Island (2017)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=72973.0

Grand Hawaiian Holiday
Kauai, The Big Island and Oahu (August 2017)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=83248.0

Hawaiian Family Adventures (July - August 2018)
Maui, Lanai, Kaui and The Big Island
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=95603.0

WASHINGTON STATE
Motorhome Adventures in the Pacific Northwest (2017)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81754.0

INTERNATIONAL

COSTA RICA
Pura Vida in Costa Rica (January 2018)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=90729.0

ICELAND
The Not Your Something Fishy Iceland Trip (2015)
https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=60568.0

February 17, 2019, 10:19:30 PM
4
Into the Wilds of Minnesota and Michigan, by PBaruch (June - July 2019) Unbeknownst to me, DW had been secretly planning a summer trip to the wilds of Minnesota and Michigan.  Ever since driving past Lake Powell a few years back, and seeing houseboats, DW had wanted to spend a few nights on one.  Lake Powell was not an option for a summer trip due to the heat, but after some research, she discovered that houseboating is actually a thing in one of the more northerly National Parks, Voyageurs NP in Minnesota, on the border with Canada.  Wanting to add a second national park to our trip, Isle Royale NP was the obvious choice.  Isle Royale is the least visited national park in the continental U.S., and most who go are backpackers.  Now she just had to convince me.  Although I had read about houseboating in Voyageurs National Park some years back, it never really registered on my list of places to visit.  I never gave much thought to Isle Royale National Park, either.  However, her persistence eventually paid off, and I reluctantly agreed.

Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

It made the most sense to fly into Minneapolis, where we could stock up on kosher food and eat at several kosher restaurants before taking off to Voyageurs National Park.  In addition, the kids looked forward to visiting the Mall of America, which has a host of family friendly attractions.  Although Duluth is closer to Voyageurs, there are no kosher shops or restaurants. 

While looking for lodging in Minneapolis, I initially sought a luxury hotel and was drawn to the Hotel Ivy, a Category 5 Marriott property.  However, after careful consideration, we decided it simply wasn't worth it for us.  A cramped room and the additional parking fee ($44 a day for valet parking and $20 a day for offsite parking) didn't make sense.  Instead, we booked the Hilton Home2Suites which offered a room with two queen beds, a sofa, table with chairs, full size refrigerator, and free onsite parking.  The total cost was 120k Hilton points for four nights (30k Hilton points per night).  Unfortunately, we couldn't take advantage of the fifth night free, as we only needed four nights in Minneapolis at the beginning of our trip.  Information about the Eden Prairie Home2Suites can be found here:

https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/mspenht-home2-suites-minneapolis-eden-prairie/

After the initial weekend in Minneapolis, we booked three nights on a houseboat at Voyageurs National Park.  Since Voyageurs is primarily an aquatic park, there are only three ways to see it: (i) your own boat; (ii) national park concessionaire day cruise; or (iii) on a rented houseboat.  In researching houseboat rentals, the name that kept coming up was Ebel's, so we went with them.  Information about Ebel's can be found here:

http://www.ebels.com/

Ebel's rents a variety of houseboats, some of which can be very pricey.  We chose the "Voyageur 47" houseboat (10% off for moving our reservation up a day to begin in June; partially paid with Arrival credits), which sleeps a maximum of six, information about which can be found here:

http://www.ebels.com/boat_categories/voyageur/

Here's the approximate floor plan of the Voyageur 47:

houseboat floor plan by P Bryan, on Flickr

This particular boat wasn't equipped with air conditioning since DW was under the mistaken impression that there would be cool temperatures at Voyageurs (more on that later on).  The fancier boats have air conditioning (which runs off a generator) and a hot tub.

After Voyageurs, we decided to spend a long weekend in Duluth, which would give us a few days to explore neighboring Wisconsin.  We chose the Marriott Residence Inn, which had a king size bed, sofa bed, full size refrigerator, and free onsite parking.  Total cost was 25k Marriott points per night.  Once again, we couldn't take advantage of the fifth night free, as we only needed four nights for our second weekend of the trip.  Information about the Marriott Residence Inn Duluth can be found here:

https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dlhri-residence-inn-duluth/

After Duluth, our plan was to drive to Grand Portage, Minnesota, where we would stay in a lakeside cabin at the Hollow Rock Resort, which was managed by the Grand Portage Resort and Casino, information about which can be found here:

http://www.hollowrockresort.com/cottage_rental.htm

http://www.grandportage.com/index.php/staying/cabins

We chose the "Fish" Cabin, a two bedroom, two bathroom log cabin with a large deck on Lake Superior.  We decided to spend the night in Grand Portage because we had to be up very early the following morning for our ferry to Isle Royale National Park, which left at 7:30 a.m.

The following morning we were scheduled to take the ferry from Grand Portage to Windigo, Isle Royale National Park (paid for by Barclay Arrival bonus credits).  There are only three ways to get to Isle Royale, an island on Lake Superior: (i) private boat; (ii) ferry; or (iii) seaplane.  Information about the ferry to Isle Royale can be found here:

https://www.isleroyaleboats.com/home.html

While on Isle Royale, we rented a cabin for three nights at Windigo.  Information about cabin rentals at Isle Royale in Windigo can be found here:

https://www.rockharborlodge.com/index.php/windigo-camper-cabins

The two cabins at Windigo are in high demand, and we were told to book on January 2, which is what DW did.  She made sure to be up early to grab one of the two cabins.  The cabins are rustic but are equipped with electricity.  There is no indoor plumbing, kitchen, or air conditioning.  An outhouse is located nearby and flush toilets and paid showers are a short hike away down the hill. 

After Isle Royale, we planned to drive back to Minneapolis for our last weekend before our flight home.  We again reserved the Hilton Home2Suites in Eden Prairie.

Part 2 - First Weekend In Minneapolis

We booked direct flights on Delta from JFK to MSP and arrived in early afternoon.  Since the flight is so short, we booked in economy. 

JFK-MSP by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our arrival, we picked up our rental car at National.  Seeing the executive aisle bare, I asked one of the employees about vehicle availability, only to be told that there were sedans and pickup trucks left.  I explained that a sedan would not be adequate for us and that I didn't want a pickup truck.  I also told the employee that I had Executive Elite status.  Upon hearing this, he magically pulled an upgrade out of his hat to an Infiniti QX60.  Afterwards, the remainder of the day was spent on shopping and settling into our room at Home2Suites.

Our room at Home2Suites:

Home2Suites Prairie Eden by P Bryan, on Flickr

Supper was from the Prime Deli & Restaurant; I had a "Prime Burger Deluxe."  An accurate description of this monstrosity would be a burger wearing a tuxedo - overdressed and too large for my pie hole.  It really wasn't very good.  The Kosher Spot grocery store is right next door and this is where we bought our meat, chicken, dairy, and grape juice for our Shabbos meals (for both our first and second Shabbos).  Information about the restaurant can be found here:

https://www.primedelimn.com/

The following day was spent at the Mall of America, where we visited the Mirror Maze, Nickelodeon Amusement Park, and had lunch at Earth Burger (kosher vegetarian burger restaurant). 

The Mirror Maze:

Mirror Maze, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nickelodeon Amusement Park

Nickelodeon Amusement Park, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nickelodeon Amusement Park, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nickelodeon Amusement Park, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nickelodeon Amusement Park, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

Earth Burger, certified Kosher-Dairy Equipment by the CRC, was a hit with the family.  With the exception of one of the kids, we are not big meat eaters.  I had a burger, and actually liked it much better than the real-meat burger I ate the night before from the Prime Deli.  We also enjoyed their coconut soft-serve and kale ginger lemonade.  Information about Earth Burger can be found here:

https://www.eatearthburger.com/

Earth Burger, Mall of America by P Bryan, on Flickr

For supper we had a Basil pizza at its namesake; it was pretty decent.

On Friday, we went to the Breadsmith in St. Paul to pick up challah and other goodies for Shabbos.  Information about Breadsmith can be found here:

http://www.breadsmithmn.com/

I recommend their soft pretzels, and DW really liked their zucchini walnut bread.

Breadsmith, St. Paul, MN by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190628_094830 by P Bryan, on Flickr

From there we went to the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area's Visitor Center located in the Science Museum's lobby.  They had some high-tech exhibits, like virtually navigating the river and a virtual reality eagle game.  We didn't stay too long, and opted not to go into the museum.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area's Visitor Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area's Visitor Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area's Visitor Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then headed to the Mississippi NRRA's St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center where we learned about the falls (the only waterfall on the Mississippi River), and were able to walk along the lock wall.  DW and kids got their first Junior Ranger badges of the trip. 

Mississsippi NRRA's St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mississsippi NRRA's St. Anthony Falls Visitor Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

Then we headed back to the hotel to prepare for Shabbos.

Shabbos table at Home2Suites by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 3 - Voyageurs National Park

On Sunday, we packed out of the Hilton Home2Suites and made our way to Orr, Minnesota, to pick up our houseboat.

Driving from Minneapolis to Orr, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Along the way, we drove through some mean looking clouds, before heading through a massive downpour:

Driving from Minneapolis to Voyageurs National Park - hit some mean looking clouds on the way. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Thankfully the weather was sunny and clear when we arrived in Orr:

Ebel's Houseboats, Minnesota, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After arriving at Ebel's we were told that this would be our houseboat, labeled simply as Boat 6.  I felt that this was an undeserving name for the pile of crap we were given, with a dated interior that looked at home in the 60's (middle daughter said the plaid curtains looked like they had come from some grandpa's basement).  So I promptly renamed our boat the SS Captain Poopypants:

Houseboat at Ebel's, Orr, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Looking from the rear bedroom to the front of the houseboat. by P Bryan, on Flickr

The bedroom at the rear of the houseboat with 4 bunks. by P Bryan, on Flickr

My little one's drawing of Captain Poopypants:

Picture of our houseboat, as drawn by my little one. by P Bryan, on Flickr

After checking in, our luggage was loaded onto Captain Poopypants and we purchased some last minute provisions.  The kids, especially my middle one, were looking forward to kayaking but Ebel's only had two single seat kayaks left.  We didn't really want to rent two kayaks for three days, but middle kid was quite upset and disappointed.  Figuring that the frowns weren't worth it and seeing middle kid so upset, we decided to splurge and rented the two remaining single seat kayaks.  Ultimately, it proved to be a smart move as the kayaks saw quite a bit of use. 

During our orientation, I learned an interesting tidbit about the houseboat.  We were under the mistaken impression that a houseboat is similar to a motorhome, in that it had a freshwater tank, gray water tank (for the shower and sink wastewater) and a black water tank (for the toilet waste).  What I then learned was that Ebel's houseboats are not equipped with a freshwater tank for the shower, bathroom sink, or kitchen sink.  Instead, all of that water is pumped up from the lake and only filtered to prevent fish and critters from coming in.  (There is a small hand pump in the kitchen and bathroom for purified water.)  My immediate response was "that's disgusting."  However, the folks over there don't seem to mind.  Their response was, well, the fish live in the water and you eat the fish. 

The Ebel's employees typically show you how to operate the houseboat until they feel that you are comfortable on your own, at which time they abandon you to your own failings.  Sensing our complete and utter noobness, as we had never captained a boat before, they decided to drive the boat and moor it for us.  I had to learn how to navigate the lakes, drive the boat, moor the boat and tie it up (using various knots).  What made things even more difficult was that they didn't provide a GPS and I had to navigate solely using a map:

Map of Voyageurs given by Ebel's by P Bryan, on Flickr

I asked why customers weren't provided with a GPS and was told that they were concerned that folks would follow the GPS instead of watching where they were going and that it was "something else for people to break."  We ultimately ended up using our Garmin car GPS, which gave us a general idea where we were. 

Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Ebel's employees moored the boat for the night at an undeveloped site on our own private island, Filla Island, on Sullivan Bay:

Location of our first mooring spot on Filla Island by P Bryan, on Flickr

Filla Island, Sullivan Bay, Minnesota (DSC_5472) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Filla Island, Sullivan Bay, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Filla Island, Sullivan Bay, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190630_205208 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we settled into our spot for the night, DW and middle daughter went kayaking around our private island:

Kayaking around Filla Island, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Filla Island, Voyageurs National Park Minnesota, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

At some point, DW and the kids went to sleep, while I lay restless in bed from the heat.  As mentioned earlier, DW was under the impression it would be cool at Voyageurs, but it most certainly was not that first night.  The houseboat was quite hot and muggy.   As I lay awake feeling quite miserable while sniffing the occasional waft of propane sewage smell (about which we complained in the morning) I heard an unfamiliar howling in the night.  First thought was, can that be?  Is it wolves?  Then I heard it again and again - a pack howl.  A part of me thought that this was amazing to hear wolves howling in the night, while the New York skeptic in me thought that this was perhaps what park rangers do for fun in these parts.

The next morning, being quite unsatisfied with our current mooring spot and wanting to explore farther afield, we decided to strike it out on our own and pilot Captain Poopypants to another spot.

Initially I thought to pilot the boat to a remote spot that had previously been marked as a "nice" spot on the map.  However, the stress of driving and navigating the boat led us to decide to take the first nice developed houseboat site that we saw on Namakan Lake.  We ultimately settled on Blind Indian Narrows South, a beautiful cove with a small sandy beach, a BBQ pit, and nice hiking trails and overlooks.  We really enjoyed spending time at Blind Indian Narrows South and, except for seeing passing boats from time to time, felt as if we had the place all to ourselves.

MVIMG_20190702_091539 by P Bryan, on Flickr

As we pulled into Blind Indian Narrows South, I pointed the front of the boat into the sandy beach and left the boat in gear, as instructed, so it would not drift while I went to tie it up.  No sooner had I disembarked the boat and while holding the ropes, I turned around and saw that the boat shifted sideways and was now parallel to the shore.  (What I should have done was to give the boat some additional throttle to keep it pushed up against the beach.  This would have prevented the drift.  Live and learn.)  Although instructed to call Ebel's for help if this happened, I instinctively stripped to my underwear, jumped into the water and pushed the boat back to a position perpendicular to the beach.  As I'm in the water in my underwear, while muttering how much I hated Captain Poopypants, a boat from Ebel's pulls up.  We had radioed them early that morning complaining of a strong propane smell emanating from the back of the boat.  They decided to find us to check on the problem.  The guys tied up the boat for us and fixed a small leak in a fitting by the propane tanks.  After this fiasco, we decided that we would stay at Blind Indian Narrows South for our final two nights on the boat, rather than try to navigate and moor elsewhere on our own.

Photographs taken at Blind Indian Narrows South:

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA (DSC_5563) by P  Bryan, on Flickr

Our rented houseboat at Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5508) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5513) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5514) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5564) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5578) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA (DSC_5623) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kayaking and swimming at Blind Indian Narrows South:

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Taking the dinghy boat out to explore the surrounding islands and coves:

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, USA (MVIMG_20190702_113759) by P Bryan, on Flickr

While exploring with the dinghy, we saw a bald eagle eating a fish in a tree.  As we approached closer, the eagle took off with the fish in its talons. 

For both nights at Blind Indian Narrows South, we made a BBQ:

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Veggie burgers on a camp stove:

Blind Indian Narrows South, Voyageurs National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

During our final night at Voyageurs, I got up at 2:00 a.m. to photograph the boat under the stars.  I have learned to view night and darkness in a completely different way, after spending time with my buddy Bruce Omori in Hawaii. 

Voyageurs National Park (DSC_5669) by P Bryan, on Flickr

In the morning, we pulled out of Blind Indian Narrows South before 6:30 a.m. to head back and return the boat, which was expected between 9 and 10 a.m.  But first I had to get the boat off the beach.  I put the boat in gear and gave it a bit of throttle to push it against the beach, to prevent it from drifting while I untied the ropes.  After untying the ropes, I boarded the boat and retracted the wooden plank.  To my surprise, the boat didn't budge.  It was stuck against the beach.  With DW reversing the boat, I had to jump in the water and push the boat off the beach, getting all wet in the process.  The moral of the story is that if you have a boat, you will get wet.  We then made our way back slowly, and were much more relaxed on the way out.  By this point, I was getting used to the boat and was much more comfortable with navigating and driving.  Even the wake of a passing boat in a spot called the "Narrows" didn't phase me too much.  The return trip took about three hours and we arrived at Ebel's by 9:30 a.m.  Captain Poopypants was no more, and it reverted again to being boat number six. 

Afterwards, we headed over to the Voyageurs National Park Visitor Center for Junior Ranger badge number two.

August 03, 2019, 11:18:11 PM
4
Re: Into the Wilds of Minnesota and Michigan, by PBaruch (June - July 2019) Part 4 - On to Duluth

Not being in a rush to get to Duluth, we stopped at the International Wolf Center, which "advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future." 

Ebels to International Wolf Center by P Bryan, on Flickr

They had exhibits on wolves (including a children's area), some presentations, and large viewing windows to hopefully view their wolves.  To find out more:

http://www.wolf.org

To lure the wolves toward the viewing windows, they put food nearby.  As the wolves appeared, you can hear the awe in people's voices, "Wow!  They're beautiful."  I found the entire experience quite lame and wouldn't recommend the place.

DW wanted to attend a presentation on "The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale" ahead of our visit there.  Little one was not interested, so I took him to play in the children's play area, while the girls went with her.  The previous program, "Ambassadors to the Wild" was pretty full, so it came as a surprise that they were the only three people that showed up, and they had a private interactive presentation.  They discussed the reintroduction of wolves to Isle Royale that began last fall.  Interestingly, the two "original" wolves left on Isle Royale, from before the reintroduction, were father-daughter as well as brother-sister.  Although they did have a pup together, it did not survive its first year, as it was so inbred.

Photos taken at the International Wolf Center:

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

International Wolf Center, Ely Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then went to the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, which I had read about, to see wild black bears.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting to see, but I found the experience to be quite disappointing.  The bears show up to baited feeding stations and you observe them from an elevated platform.  I suppose some might find it interesting, but after seeing bears in the wild in Alaska, it wasn't all that interesting to me.

International Wolf Center to Vince Shutte Black Bear Refuge by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon arrival, DW and the kids refused to get out of the car.  There were horse flies around, and having finally left them behind in Voyageurs National Park, they did not wish to become reacquainted.  They gave me their blessings to go on my own, and off I went on their bus to the viewing platform.

Information about the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary can be found here:

https://www.americanbear.org/

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, Orr Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way to Duluth:

Vince Shutte to Duluth by P Bryan, on Flickr

Finally we arrived at the hotel for our second weekend, the Marriott Residence Inn Duluth:

Marriott Residence Inn, Duluth, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Marriott Residence Inn, Duluth, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Wisconsin

Being right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border without spending some time in Wisconsin would have been unacceptable to DW and the kids.  The kids each have a map of the U.S., coloring each state they visit.  In anticipation of visiting Wisconsin, my little one had already colored in Wisconsin on his map, so skipping it was not an option.

We got a late start and headed to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (http://www.nps.gov/apis).  Along the way, there were numerous "Historical Marker" signs, and when we saw one referring to a windmill, we pulled over to check it out.

Davidson Windmill, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Davidson Windmill, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Continuing on, we arrived at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Visitor Center not too long before they closed, and DW and the girls went in to find out what to do in the area with the weather being overcast.  They also got the Junior Ranger booklets, but did not have time to complete them, and will have to send them in to receive their badges.  Although we were originally thinking of going kayaking among the sea caves, we got there too late, and besides, we were all kayaked out.  Instead, we went to the Bayfield Maritime Museum, information about which can be found at:

https://www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org/

This is a small, but nice museum, and we stayed until closing.

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bayfield Maritime Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

In the immediate vicinity is the Frog Bay Tribal National Park, the country's first, and at this time only, tribal national park, so we decided to check it out.

http://redcliff-nsn.gov/divisions/TNRD/FBTNP.htm

Upon arrival, and seeing an abundance of mosquitoes, the girls refused to get out of the car and decided to sit it out.  Instead, DW took little one (both wearing head nets and bug juice) on what she thought was the Easy Trail to the beach.  After a while, DW expected to see the beach but didn't so, getting concerned about the waning daylight, turned around and headed back.  Turns out they took the Ravine Trail, which was twice as long.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

When they returned, I headed out on the direct trail to the "beach," which could barely be called that.

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Frog Bay Tribal National Park, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to and from the Apostle Islands, we passed a tank at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center and pulled over to take a photo of it.  Here it is in its Independence Day colors:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

The next day was Friday, and after putting a well-traveled chicken in the crockpot, we headed back to Wisconsin to the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center to see the tank once more.  We splurged on a guided tour - the Heavy Metal Tour -  and our guide introduced himself, saying he was going to be a Sophomore next year at such-and-such school.  It didn't hit us until later in the tour that the school he mentioned was not a college, but rather a high school, and he was in fact younger than our oldest.

It was a nice clear day, and we got some more photos of the tank, albeit without its red, white, and blue colors:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside the museum, its centerpiece was a World War II-era Lockheed P-38, around which the walls of the museum were built, that was restored to look like the one the museum's namesake flew.

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

When Major Bong was killed test piloting an airplane in California, his death was front page news and was placed ahead of the news that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan:

Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way out we stopped at the gift shop.  I was thinking to buy one of their World War II-era deactivated pineapple grenades, but it would not have been allowed on the flight home and I was too lazy to go and ship it.

Our next stop was the Old Firehouse & Police Museum, also in Superior, WI.

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old Firehouse and Police Museum, Wisconsin by P Bryan, on Flickr

From there we headed back to Duluth, to the Lake Superior Marine Museum, which is barely even worth a mention.  Crowds, and not very interesting.  Here is the only thing that we found to be of any interest, an A-frame steam engine.

Lake Superior Marine Museum by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wanting to pick up some goodies for Shabbos, we searched for a Whole Foods in the area, and found one, but upon arrival, discovered that it was a "fake" Whole Foods.  Despite being a "Whole Foods" in name only, they had some nice Pareve options, like natural gummy fish and natural ice pops.  Plus they had some Chalav Yisroel chocolate wafers.  After picking up some fresh challah at Chabad, we returned to the hotel to finish up Shabbos preparations.  The nice thing about residence-type inns is that they provide you with a place to cook, and you feel absolutely no qualms about doing so.  I made my usual Shabbos kugel on our camp stove in the barbecue area, and shared some with a couple I had been shmoozing with.

MVIMG_20190705_194638 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Grand Portage

On Sunday, we drove from Duluth to Grand Portage, Minnesota, as we needed to be at the ferry to Isle Royale National Park bright and early the following morning:

Duluth to Grand Portage by P Bryan, on Flickr

We made a quick detour to the Grand Portage National Monument Visitor Center (http://www.nps.gov/grpo), where DW ran in to get Junior Ranger booklets, and we'll have to send those in as well.   We spent Sunday night in Grand Portage, at the Hollow Rock Resort, in their "Fish Cabin."  The cabin was large, comfortable, and right on Lake Superior:

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin in Grand Portage, Minnesota by P Bryan, on Flickr

It was here that our phones started acting wonky, randomly switching back and forth between Eastern and Central time - the demarcation between Central and Eastern time zones runs between Grand Portage, Minnesota and Isle Royale, Michigan.  This wasn't exactly conducive to making an early morning ferry, so I put my phone into airplane mode to lock the time.

At the dock the next morning, we unloaded our four duffel bags, large cooler, two carry-on bags, and assorted other stuff.  We were taking the Voyageur II, a ship intended for those overnighting on the island, almost all backpackers.  Clearly we were not among that group.  Here's the Voyageur II with the Sea Hunter III, the day trip boat, in the background:

Voyageur II - Ferry to Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Trip to Isle Royale:

Grand Portage to Windigo, Isle Royale NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lake Superior is, by at least one measure, the largest lake in the world.  (Ryan Island on Isle Royale's Siskiwit Lake is sometimes referred to as "the largest island on the largest lake on the largest island on the largest lake in the world.")

Lake Superior (DSC_5811) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - Isle Royale National Park

Upon our arrival at Windigo after the two hour boatride, we had the standard Leave No Trace talk and checked into our cabin.  This is easier said than done, as the cabin is up a hill and is more than 150 feet higher in elevation than the dock.  Although we carried up some of our bags, this part of Isle Royale is actually frontcountry, and they were able to deliver our duffel bags to our cabin (named Radisson) by Club Car.  Facilities at the cabin: a drinking fountain/water spigot with potable water and an outhouse.  Although we almost never used the outhouse, choosing to use the comfort station at the bottom of the hill instead, as soon as we'd come up to the cabin, Little Guy needed to "rest," and back down the hill we'd go.

MVIMG_20190708_102559 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Water spigot near our cabin in Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Inside, the cabin had three rooms:  a main room with a futon, small table/desk, and two chairs; and two smaller rooms each with a bunk bed.  In total, this tiny cabin had 20 outlets.  Not sure what exactly we could've used them for...2 cell phones, camera battery chargers, laptop?

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cabin at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cooking on the camp stove:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

One of the locals paying us a visit:

One of the locals at Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

While we brought most of our food along with us, the Windigo Store was well stocked, even carrying Pas Yisroel bagels and fresh eggs.  If you could catch your own fish, you wouldn't need to bring any food with you.  However, catching our own fish didn't quite work out for us, so it was good that we had backup.  I purchased a cheap $20 fishing rod and reel on the way up to Grand Portage (wished we had it in Voyageurs NP) and we spent lots of time on the dock casting, but to no avail.

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Windigo, Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fishing at Isle Royale National Park by P Bryan, on Flickr

An eight year old boy, Dylan, was at the dock when we came down to fish, and he handed each of us some "real pirate treasure" that his father clarified was from the SS Amazon.  Dylan was there with his parents on their 40-foot sailboat, and they graciously offered us a tour of the below decks area, which was quite interesting to us landlubbers.  I was able to get some nice night shots of their boat as well as another 37-foot sailboat on the one clear night we had:

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6029) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6038) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We planned to rent kayaks and head out to Beaver Island in Washington Harbor for a picnic, but they only had two tandem kayaks, not enough for the family, and renting the small motorboat didn't work out.  Instead, Dylan took all the kiddos for a little ride in their dinghy rowboat.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Activity-wise, we hiked a bit:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5884) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5894) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5882) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5987) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5898) by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_5842 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Beavers at work:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5878) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw lots of moose prints but no moose (except that I saw two bull moose fighting across the bay once):

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5990) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we saw an abundance of beautiful wildflowers and butterflies:

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park (DSC_5837) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5917) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5935) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5947) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5950) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5962) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5967) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The company that runs the store and cabins at Windigo also owns a WW II era Willys Jeep, which I was told still runs but needs some parts:

WW II era Willys at Windigo, Isle Royale NP, Michigan, USA (DSC_5945) by P Bryan, on Flickr

WW II era Willys Jeep, Windigo, Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA (DSC_5924) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The one activity we did the most of was hang out on the dock.  Dylan's family set up a "living room" on the dock and we got to know them some.  They were happy to take our pillows when we left, and we were happy we didn't have to bring them back.  I later found out that they passed them along to the park rangers.

Speaking of park rangers, on Monday and Tuesday there was just one ranger program, in the evening.  We missed that first night, but on Tuesday, Ranger Jenna personally invited us, so DW and Co. went and and they all earned their Junior Ranger badges.  The Sea Hunter III arrives on all the other days of the week, so they schedule more ranger programs on those days, and we attended another one with Ranger Jenna. 

On Tuesday night, just after 6 p.m., we saw one of the rangers walk away with the flag that she had just taken down.  Little one was interested in seeing how that worked, so the next evening we made sure to be near the flagpole at 6, and he had his own private ceremony.  In case you were wondering, yup, it was Ranger Jenna's turn to do the honors.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After spending three nights at Isle Royale, on Thursday, in the early afternoon, we took the Voyageur II back to Grand Portage, passing the wreck of the SS America, which could be seen below the water, at the mouth of Washington Harbor:

Wreck of the SS America near Isle Royale National Park (DSC_6052) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Back to Minneapolis

Upon arrival in Grand Portage, we loaded up the car, and made the five and a half hour drive to Minneapolis. 

Grand Portage to Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

During the drive, we ordered dinner from the Prime Deli.  I decided to try something a bit different, and got their walleye tacos, which were pretty good, and the burger from the kids menu.  I liked this burger better than their regular burger.

Upon checking back in to the Home2Suites, we were given the same room as we had two weeks earlier.  Opening the refrigerator, we found the light off - we had forgotten to remove the tape that covered the switch for Shabbos and no one had done it in the interim.  Although we intended to remove it after Shabbos, we forgot once more.

The next day, while trying to figure out what to do, and after looking through the trip reports of @saw50st8 and @Dan, we decided to go to the Sculpture Park.

Sculpture Park, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sculpture Park, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sorry guys, but I thought the place was completely lame.

After walking a round a bit, some of us needed a restroom and, not being able to find one, we asked someone who responded that the nearest one was "probably at the Walker."  We had no idea what the Walker was, but headed over.  I walked ahead with my son, with DW just behind with the girls, but on her way in, someone stopped her and asked if she had a pass.  When she said no, the woman handed her a pass, telling her she needed it but the kids were free.  Still not knowing what kind of place the Walker was, she accepted the pass and headed to the restroom.  Who knew that asking for a pass to the bathroom was the secret code word for getting free museum admission.  Afterward, figuring she already had a pass, she wandered off with the girls to figure out where they were.  From DW - turns out it was the sort of art museum where you say "huh?" a lot.

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis by P Bryan, on Flickr

They enjoyed it - middle daughter asked to go to more museums like it; I was happy to sit this one out.

We then went to the Breadsmith on Minnetonka to get some goodies for Shabbos, and shared the very tasty margherita focaccia for lunch.  This Breadsmith also had complimentary coffee.

Sunday we packed out of the hotel and went to the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.  Little one enjoyed the street car ride, but don't expect an actual museum.  From there, we went to the third and final Breadsmith in the area and then headed to the airport for our flight home.

Total miles driven: 1622

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

August 03, 2019, 11:18:50 PM
6
Beverly Hills Bat Mitzvah, by PBaruch (August 2019) The celebration of a Bat Mitzvah is a milestone and we wanted to make our second kid's Bat Mitzvah special.  Since Bat Mitzvah girl's ("BMG") birthday fell during the summer, it was only natural to plan it around a family trip.  The centerpiece of the trip would be a celebratory dinner at Tierra Sur in Oxnard, California, where DW had been wanting to go for some time.  The rest of our itinerary would be somewhat flexible.  Other than a prearranged day trip to Universal Studios and Channel Islands National Park, the remainder of our trip would be dictated by whim and fancy.

Given the occasion and because I simply can't stand Y on long flights, we booked UA J from EWR to LAX.  For accommodations, we booked 10 nights at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills (to take advantage of the fifth night free resulting in two free nights).  My only out-of-pocket costs were the car rental (cheaper with cash than points), the $55 a day valet parking fee at the Waldorf, and food and attractions.

Many thanks to an LA based DDFer, who prefers to remain anonymous, for his help in recommendations for a laundromat, salon for the kids, and other general information.  Your help was greatly appreciated.

Part 1 - Flight to LA

At EWR, we visited the UA Pop Up Lounge.  The lounge was pretty lame but still better than sitting at the gate.

UA Pop Up Club at Newark Airport by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA Pop Up Club at Newark Airport by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA J from EWR to LAX:

EWR-LAX by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA Dreamliner Business Class by P Bryan, on Flickr

Well traveled dorky shoes:

UA Dreamliner Business Class by P Bryan, on Flickr

Somewhat edible meal:

MVIMG_20190812_170905 by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20190812_170831 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After landing at LAX, we picked up our rental car from National.  Once again, National came through with an awesome free upgrade to a Ford Expedition. 

Part 2 - Arrival at the Waldorf

Prior to our arrival at the Waldorf, the concierge asked if we were celebrating a special occasion.  I replied that it was my daughter's birthday and, upon arrival, there were birthday balloons, fruits, and a piece of cake waiting for BMG in our room:

For the birthday girl at the Waldorf Beverly Hills by P Bryan, on Flickr

I won't go into many additional details about the hotel or our room, as the Waldorf has already been discussed in several other trip reports. 

Part 3 - California Science Center and the La Brea Tar Pits

Since our little one loves space shuttles, we decided to visit the California Science Center, where the Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display. 

Endeavour Space Shuttle, California Science Center (DSC_6134) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Endeavour Space Shuttle, California Science Center (DSC_6126) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The last flight-qualified external tank for the space shuttle in existence.  These tanks were not reusable and disintegrated after detaching from the space shuttle about 70 miles above earth.

California Science Center (DSC_6136) by P Bryan, on Flickr

California Science Center, Los Angeles by P Bryan, on Flickr

In addition to the space shuttle, they had a myriad of other space related exhibits along with an interesting exhibit about kelp forests and marine life:

California Science Center, Los Angeles by P Bryan, on Flickr

California Science Center (DSC_6112) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we visited the La Brea Tar Pits, where they excavate pits in the summer.  Cover your eyes if you are offended by old bones.  (DW's aunt, who lives in LA, was quite insistent that we shouldn't go there.)

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum by P Bryan, on Flickr

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum - American Mastodon by P Bryan, on Flickr

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum - Saber Toothed Cat by P Bryan, on Flickr

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - Petersen Automotive Museum

For this particular day, DW and I split up.  DW took the older kids to Universal Studios, while I went swimming with our little one and then took him to the Petersen Automotive Museum.  Since DW had the rental car, I arranged for the Waldorf house car to drop me and little one off at Petersen. 

The 40 million dollar Bugatti  - 1939 Type 57C:

1939 Bugatti Type C57C at the Petersen Automotive Museum by P Bryan, on Flickr

The first mass produced electric car from a major manufacturer - GM EV-1:

GM EV1  at the Petersen Automotive Museum (DSC_6217) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And who doesn't love the Back to the Future Delorean:

Back to the Future Delorean - Petersen Automotive Museum (DSC_6239) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Once we discovered the kids room, little one didn't want to leave:

Petersen Automotive Museum (DSC_6236) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park comprises eight islands, five of which can be visited on a day trip with Island Packers.  After much deliberation and due to scheduling issues, we chose to visit Santa Cruz, the largest of the islands, on a day trip.  Information about Island Packers can be found here:

https://islandpackers.com/

We saw a large pod of dolphins on the way to and back from Santa Cruz:

On the way to Santa Cruz at Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6306) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Approaching Santa Cruz:

Approaching Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6328) by P Bryan, on Flickr

During orientation by a park ranger, we were warned to keep a close watch on all food, and to secure unattended food in a "Fox Box" away from island foxes.  The island fox, a descendant of the mainland gray fox, is the largest of the Channel Islands' native mammals, and about the size of a house cat.  On Santa Cruz, the foxes hang out in the campground and near the picnic tables.  They are quite the opportunistic hunter and any unattended food is quickly snatched.

The "Fox Box":

Fox Box - Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

The island fox:

Island Fox, Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6412) by P Bryan, on Flickr

While on Santa Cruz, DW and I took turns hiking as we landed a choice picnic table in the shade under a tree.  We didn't want to give up the spot.  Also, our little one got all prissy and decided he wasn't interested in hiking while our oldest decided to take a nap.  First I went hiking with BMG, and afterwards DW took off by herself for a while.

Hiking on Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6364) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6397) by P Bryan, on Flickr

BMG enjoying the view:

Enjoying the view on Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6395) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hiking on Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6409) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we went to the rocky beach to play and relax:

Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6428) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Playing at the beach on Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6423) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Island Packers Boat:

Island Packers Boat at Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6437) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kelp in the harbor:

Kelp Forest at Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6469) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Santa Cruz, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA (DSC_6464) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Walk of Fame and Touristy Hollywood

No visit to LA would be complete without seeing the walk of fame and Grauman's Chinese Theatre:

Grauman's Chinese Theatre - Stan Lee by P Bryan, on Flickr

Untitled by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards we visited Madame Tussauds Hollywood and the Museum of Selfies, which were both a lot of fun:

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles  (DSC_6693) by P Bryan, on Flickr

What's wrong with these pictures?

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles (DSC_6711) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Museum of Selfies, Los Angeles, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since it was Friday, we returned to the Waldorf to get ready for Shabbos.  The Jem Community Center, where we davened on Shabbos, was a short distance away from the Waldorf.  One of the Rabbi's sons invited our entire family for a Friday evening meal in his home.  On Shabbos day we ate at a kiddush in the shul at Jem. 

Since everything is electronic at the Waldorf and there is no access to the stairs, we had to arrange before Shabbos with the hotel for an escort each time we wanted to leave and return to our room.  Unlike our less than satisfactory experience at the dumpy Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu (adjacent to Chabad) where we stayed twice (never again), the staff at the Waldorf was more than happy to oblige.

The Waldorf owns several house cars, two of which are Rolls Royces, each costing approximately $550,000.  DW and our older kids were driven to Jem in the Rolls before Shabbos:

Rolls Royce at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills (DSC_6814) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Rolls Royce at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills (DSC_6821) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since there is a minimum required age of eight to ride in the Rolls (they don't want car seats ruining the buttery supple leather), I walked with my little one to Jem.  Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to be chauffeured in a $550,000 Rolls, DW and I later got a ride to Rodeo Drive:

Sitting in the Rolls by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dorky shoes look great in a Rolls:

Sitting in the Rolls by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - The Hollywood Hills

Another rite of passage for any trip to LA is seeing the Hollywood sign.  We drove up a winding path to Canyon Lake Drive for a view of the sign.  Despite the multitude of signs prohibiting parking under the threat of a tow, tons of cars were parked in the area.  My little one fell asleep in the car and, not being interested anyway, I babysat my little one and the car.  When DW and our older kids returned,  I went out to snap a quick picture:

Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles (DSC_6825) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Joshua Tree National Park

Since Los Angeles is the closest we would probably ever get to Joshua Tree National Park, we decided to drive there on a day trip (3 hour drive each way from Beverly Hills) and stay for sunset. 

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6838) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6852) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6861) by P Bryan, on Flickr

BMG seeking a moment of shade during a hike:

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6865) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6871) by P Bryan, on Flickr

These cactuses are really prickly.  I had to "water" the desert and came back with a pin hole through my pants on one leg and a bunch of large black ants crawling up my other leg.  Not sure which one was more painful - the cactus prick or the ant bites.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6895) by P Bryan, on Flickr

BMG's shadow:

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6921) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Desert Cottontail, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_6977) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_7007) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_7030) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California USA(DSC_7040) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA (DSC_7045) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Little one climbing up some rocks:

Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 9 - Tierra Sur

In preparation for the Bat Mitzvah dinner at Tierra Sur, DW took the girls to have their hair and nails done:

Bait Miryam Salon, Los Angeles, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we drove to Oxnard for dinner at Tierra Sur.  I had this vision of a restaurant with views of a vineyard.  Instead, I was disappointed to find a restaurant housed in a warehouse.  Although the menu was disappointingly sparse, the food was delicious. 

Spaghetti -  cherry tomato, tapenade, grilled broccolini, crispy bread, balsamic reduction:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hamachi Crudo - melon, grape, kumquat, jalapeño gelée, taro root:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7076) by P Bryan, on Flickr

BLT salad with lil' gem lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, lamb bacon, tempura avocado, rye croutons, and bacon vinaigrette:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7078) by P Bryan, on Flickr

16 oz Boneless Ribeye (we divided it into two plates to share):

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7106) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sliders and fries for the little one because he simply wouldn't eat anything else:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wood grilled salmon with citrus braised beets, cauliflower mash, swiss chard, and fennel chutney:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_6073) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Oatmeal cookie dough (2 scoops) and blueberry chocolate chip (1 scoop) ice cream:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7132) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lemon tart:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7134) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flaming Baked Alaska Dessert:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7138) by P Bryan, on Flickr

For the Bat Mitzvah Girl:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California by P Bryan, on Flickr

BMG enjoying her meal while trying to not look too embarrassed from having her parents take lots of pictures:

Tierra Sur at Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard, California (DSC_7095) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 10 - Malibu & Relaxing at the Waldorf

The following day, we again went swimming at the rooftop pool.  We then drove to Zuma Beach in Malibu.  After first stopping off at the Fish Grill, we spent several hours in the sand and surf:

Zuma Beach, Malibu, California (DSC_7205) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After returning from Malibu, we relaxed at the Waldorf.  Since I had $500 worth of HH Diamond food and beverage credits to use, we spent some of it at the roof top bar, where I enjoyed a whiskey.  DW had a liquor while our oldest kid had a coke and tried to look all cool and grown up.

Whiskey at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Beverly Hills, California (DSC_7259) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Whiskey at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Beverly Hills, California (DSC_7258) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 11 - Our way home

The following day we again went swimming in the morning.  After checking out of the Waldorf, we stopped by Bibi's for brunch and some snacks.  We then made our way back to LAX, where we relaxed at the UA Lounge.  The UA Lounge at LAX is far better than the Pop Up Lounge at EWR:

UA Lounge in Los Angeles by P Bryan, on Flickr

UA Lounge in Los Angeles Airport by P Bryan, on Flickr

View from the outdoor terrace at the lounge:

View from outdoor terrace at UA Lounge in Los Angeles Airport by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flight home - someone refused to pose for a picture:

UA Dreamliner Business Class by P Bryan, on Flickr

Largely inedible and partially frozen cold snack:

Largely inedible Regal Meal in UA Business Class by P Bryan, on Flickr

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

Back to the Future Delorean - Petersen Automotive Museum (DSC_6243) by P Bryan, on Flickr

September 05, 2019, 03:10:57 PM
9
Re: Beverly Hills Bat Mitzvah, by PBaruch (August 2019)
Amazing TR, the Bugatti front license plate numbers are in Arabic? Any idea on the history of the car?

DSC_6209 by P Bryan, on Flickr

September 05, 2019, 11:41:20 PM
1
Re: Panama Master Thread
I just liked her that much, want to make sure one bad review does not tarnish that.
But must say a bit of a strange question...

Your raving reviews for Sorhay seems a bit strange to me while completely discounting someones experience with her. 

November 18, 2019, 11:28:38 PM
1
Jungle Fever - A Real Panamanian Adventure, by PBaruch (January - February 2020) Panama never really registered on our list of places to visit until @Denverite put it on the map.  A relatively short and direct flight from NYC coupled with tons of kosher food options led us to plan our 2020 winter trip.  It certainly did not disappoint.  Thanks to @Denverite and @Zow for patiently responding to my PM's.

Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

For our annual winter trip, time is of the essence as we can only take off a week due to the kids mid-winter vacation schedules.  Therefore, we strongly prefer a direct flight.  We chose Copa Y, from JFK to PTY, booked through UA at 35k per person round trip plus $384 for taxes and fees.  A friend recently traveled to Panama on Copa J and said it was pretty lousy (and not lie flat).  Given that the flight is only around 5 hours, I figured we could tolerate it in Y.

Regarding hotels, this is where if became really complicated.  We wanted a nice points hotel within a few minute walk to a shul.  Although some folks don't mind, we did not want a long walk on Shabbos in the heat - and it was HOT in Panama (January is during their summer dry season although I was told it is even hotter in the wet season).  Having read multiple trip reports and researched the many comments on DDF, I initially booked the Sortis.  However, the Sortis would have been a 10-15 minute walk to a shul so I cancelled and rebooked the Le Meridian, which appeared to be a bit closer.  However, when a newly built Marriott Residence Inn popped up, I promptly cancelled the Le Meridian.  The Marriott Residence Inn is a 3 minute walk to Chabad.  Although the JW Marriott is also very convenient for Shabbos, it was double the points.  The Marriott Residence Inn was 117k MT points per week per room (at the time of booking) while the JW Marriott would have been in excess of 200k MT per week per room.  In the end, we did very well with the Marriott Residence Inn and I would not hesitate to recommend this hotel to others.  At check in, we were told that the hotel had just opened and there was some initial confusion as to what rooms were ready.  The manager had to inspect our rooms to make sure they were ready.  We were upgraded to a one-bedroom suite with two queen beds connecting to a studio king room.  In total, we had three rooms, two kitchens, and two bathrooms.  Each room had a sofa bed and the mattresses still had plastic on them.  We were the first guests to use these two rooms.

The suite with two beds:

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Living room/dining room in the suite:

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

One of the two bathrooms (handicapped-accessible):

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

The connecting king size bed room:

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

One of the two kitchens:

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

The rooftop pool:

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

View of the city from the rooftop pool taken using Night Sight mode on my Pixel 4:

View from rooftop pool of Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

The laundry room which was totally free to use (not sure but you may even be able to get free detergent):

Marriott Residence Inn, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

We opted not to rent a car, but for those considering doing so, bear in mind some unusual "rules":

(i) When the person in front of you is going too slow for your liking, tailgate at 80 KPH.  Then, when you see that you'll be able to pass, PICK UP SPEED in anticipation.  If you're more than 6 feet behind the car in front of you, you're probably a foreigner.

(ii) If you have to turn left, and there's oncoming traffic, don't signal, just GO.  They'll hopefully be able to stop on time.  If you signal, they'll pick up speed.

(iii) If you need to shop at a roadside stand, just stop in traffic.  People will honk for 30 seconds, then figure out you're shopping, and go around you.

For activities, we booked three tours with Sorhay - San Blas and Embera Village/Monkey Island.  Information about Sorhay can be found here:   

https://www.therealpanamatours.com/

Although Sorhay is more expensive than others, I can definitely say she was well worth the added cost, more about which will be explained below.  Since Sorhay was not available for the remainder of our trip, we booked additional tours through Alon Levi.  Alon did not accompany us on tours but hired naturalists/guides and drivers.

Alon Levi can be reached on Whatsapp at: +50766831663 and by Email at: oakfrst@gmail.com

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 (Wednesday) - San Blas - We chose San Blas over the Pearl Islands.  I did some research and watched videos on YouTube and was largely unimpressed with what I saw about Contadora and the Pearl Islands.  I know some will disagree.

Day 2 (Thursday) - Embera Village and Monkey Island

Day 3 (Friday) - Rainforest Discovery Center and Sloth Sanctuary

Day 4 (Shabbos) - Daven and eat with Chabad on Friday night and Shabbos day

Day 5 (Sunday) - Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal and the museum and Imax movie

Day 6 (Monday) - Anton Valley

Day 7 (Tuesday) - Ancon Hill, Amador Causeway, Casco Viejo, and Panama Viejo, followed by our flight home.

Part 2 - San Blas

As mentioned above, we booked a private kosher San Blas tour with Sorhay, for which she provided a new frying pan and utensils.  The local Guna caught and cooked fresh fish for our lunch using the new frying pan and utensils.  We were also provided with fried plantains and fresh fruit.  While there are cheaper options and Sorhay did not accompany us on the tour, it was definitely nice to have a fresh hot lunch on this all day tour.  Also, since it was a private tour, we were picked up from our hotel at 7:00 a.m. rather than the usual 5:30 a.m., when non-private tours pick you up from the hotel.  We were then driven in a Toyota 4x4 to the Caribbean coast to meet our Guna guide, boat driver, and the helper.  The overland portion of the trip took several hours and we had to pass through an armed Guna checkpoint before finally reaching the coast.  Although the ride was bumpy at times, the scenery was beautiful and we enjoyed seeing the Panamanian countryside. 

Residence Inn by Marriott Panama City to Gardi Sugdub  Panama - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Drivers all over the road to avoid the numerous potholes:

Road back to Panama City from San Blas by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our first stop was  Pelican Island, where I saw Pelicans diving into the ocean for fish.  We had fun in the sand and sea:

Pelican Island, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7310) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pelican Island, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7322) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pelican Island, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7317) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pelican Island, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7321) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After playing in the sand and surf on Pelican Island, a large group of tourists showed up and the island instantly seemed very crowded.  Our Guna guide offered to take us to another island, and we quickly departed Pelican Island.

At the next island - Isla Eloguadup - other than a couple from Argentina and Spain along with a few Guna people (and our boat crew), we had the entire island to ourselves.

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7326) by P Bryan, on Flickr

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7335) by P Bryan, on Flickr

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7344) by P Bryan, on Flickr

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7337) by P Bryan, on Flickr

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7378) by P Bryan, on Flickr

San Blas, Panama (DSC_7375) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our fried mackerel lunch tasted way better than it looked:

Fried Mackeral, San Blas, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

And Plantains:

Fried Plantains, San Blas, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

After lunch, our next stop was Starfish Pool, an area where you can walk on the ocean floor and see many starfish:

Starfish Pool, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7382) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Starfish Pool, San Blas, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Starfish Pool, San Blas, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Starfish Pool, San Blas, Panama (DSC_7400) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And finally we visited Perro Island, where we snorkeled by a shipwreck.  According to information found online, in 1958 a Colombian Ship called Buenaventura passed through the waters of San Blas.  Due to a navigational error, it struck some reefs close to Perro Island, and damaged its engine.  A ship from Honduras came to the rescue to tow the Buenaventura but it caught fire and sank.  (From here: https://www.joebrownadventures.com/en/dog-island-panama/).  We saw many tropical fish swimming around the shipwreck.

Shipwreck at Perro Island, San Blas, Panama (GX010614-14) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Shipwreck at Perro Island, San Blas, Panama (GX010614-2) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Shipwreck at Perro Island, San Blas, Panama (GX010614-5) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Shipwreck at Perro Island, San Blas, Panama (GX010614-7) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Flag of San Blas - in use since 1925.  I received a few messages after posting this picture on my Whatsapp status:

The Flag of San Blas, Perro Island, San Blas, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Many people have to make the decision between visiting either San Blas Islands or the Pearl Islands, and I have seen some respond that its best to go to San Blas on a multi day tour and to the Pearl Islands on a day trip.  Although we can't speak about a visit to the Pearl Islands, my response to these questions would be that it depends on what you would like to accomplish.  We enjoyed our one day trip to San Blas and didn't have to leave our hotel at 5:30 a.m.  I felt that we experienced plenty in our one day trip to San Blas.  However, I would have also enjoyed an overnight trip to do some night photography and relax.  That being said, I would definitely recommend a one day trip to San Blas. 

Part 3 - Embera Village - Jungle Fever and the case of the Switched Spoon

Once again, we booked a kosher tour to the Embera Village with Sorhay.  Sorhay provided brand new cooking utensils and the Embera would catch and cook fresh fish for our lunch.  We were picked up by Sorhay at Jeffry's Bakery and Restaurant, located about a block away from the Marriott Residence Inn.  Sorhay personally accompanied us throughout the entire day for this tour. 

In the middle of the previous night, little one woke up with a fever.  We aren't sure exactly when he got sick or where he picked up whatever he had, but this was the start of three days of throwing up and general malaise.  While we were eating our breakfast at Jeffrey's that morning, little one barfed all over himself.  Luckily we brought a change of clothes for him.  DW changed little one's clothes while I washed off the barf in the bathroom sink.  Although it wasn't the most pleasant experience with little one being sick, we went off on our trip and tried to make the best of it.  Hence the name of this trip report - Jungle Fever.

Residence Inn by Marriott Panama City to Parará Purú  Panamá  Panama - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Satellite Picture from Google Maps showing the village in the jungle:

Parará Purú - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Entering Chagres National Park, Panama (DSC_7432) by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to Embera Village, Panama (DSC_7437) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Map of the village:

Embera Village, Panama (DSC_7478) by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we arrived at the village, the Embera kids swarmed Sorhay, who brought them treats.  We heard the kids asking Sorhay for "those kosher chocolate treats [from Jeffrey's]."

Once again, Sorhay provided new utensils for our lunch and the Embera prepared fried fish for us:

Lunch at Embera Village, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

I was busy taking pictures of the Embera women cooking our fish that I hadn't even noticed that the woman on the left of this picture was topless (photo cropped to remove topless portion):

Embera Village, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

I posted this picture on my Whatsapp status still not realizing the Embera woman was topless.  DW then noticed my Whatsapp status and the topless picture and told me to take it down.  I figured to have some fun and let it be.  Suffice it to say, Jews care way less about topless women than about perceived Nazi symbols.  I received fewer comments on the topless Embera picture than about the San Blas flag.  Go figure. 

While I was wandering about the village, DW was supervising the cooking of our food (fish and chips).  When DW turned away for a moment, the Embera woman cooking our fish and potatoes grabbed a spoon from her own hot pot (instead of the new spoon Sorhay had brought), scooped up some cut up potatoes, and stuck it into the hot oil in the kosher pot before DW was able to react.  The Embera woman was distressed by the mistake but the pot was rendered treif.  Sorhay later told us that the case of the switched spoon would be the talk of the village the following day.  When I finally got around to messaging Sorhay to ask about it after we returned home, she had completely forgotten.  I supposed that the case of the switched spoon will remain a mystery.

We were, however, able to eat fruits provided by the Embera:

Embera Village, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Even the Embera keep pets:

Pet cat of Embera, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

While the Guna use a (reverse) swastika symbol on their San Blas flag, the Embera use this on their jewelry:

Embera Jewelry, Panama (DSC_7526) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Tiny hands holding a tiny frog:

Tiny hands holding a tiny frog, Panama (DSC_7508) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Leaving the village:

Embera Village, Panama (DSC_7545) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - Monkey Island

After our visit to the Embera, we went to Gatun Lake for the Monkey Island tour. 

Muelle Público Gamboa - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Having Sorhay on our tour made all the difference.  We saw three types of monkeys, an igauna, and many birds.  DW was initially afraid of having monkeys come onto the boat for fear of them having diseases such as rabies, to which Sorhay replied "Honey, the monkeys are healthier than you.  They eat fruits all day (fed by tourists)."  However, Sorhay was mindful of DW's preference, and when we approached an island with an orphaned juvenile capuchin, she cautioned the boat operator not to get too close, as she said that monkey would know who the mother is, and head straight toward her.

A friend went to Panama the week before us, and took a cheapo Monkey Island tour.  He expressed disappointment saying how he hardly saw any monkeys and that he shouldn't have gone in the afternoon as the animals are only active in the morning.  I can definitively say that these statements are incorrect.  The reason for my friend's mediocre experience is that going the cheapo route means that the boat operator simply wants to get you there and back as quickly as possible, without regard to your experience.  If you see a monkey - you got what you paid for.  With Sorhay, however, she directed the boat operator to different areas to ensure that we had the best possible experience.  She even let everyone take turns at driving the boat, including little one, who was surprisingly able to navigate really well.

We saw huge ships on Lake Gatun which were en route to the canal locks:

Vessels on the way to the Panama Canal (DSC_7593) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw a Howler Monkey:

Howler Monkey, Panama (DSC_7601) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And an iguana, which Sorhay said our boat driver would love to catch and eat:

Iguana, Panama (DSC_7620) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw Geoffroy's tamarins, a small monkey found only in Panama and Colombia:

Tamarin Monkey, Panama (DSC_7636) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The Tamarin Monkeys are tiny and very cute:

Tamarin Monkey, Lake Gatun, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Tamarin Monkeys, Lake Gatun, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

And Capuchin Monkeys:

Capuchin Monkey, Panama (DSC_7696) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey, Panama (DSC_7705) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capuchin Monkey, Lake Gatun, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

We also saw many birds, including this Blue Heron:

Blue Heron, Panama (DSC_7656) by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way back, everyone (except me as I didn't care) had a turn driving the boat, including little one:

Lake Gatun, Panama (DSC_7659) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Rainforest Discovery Center and Sloth Rescue Center (DW's portion of the trip report)

Little one was still sick and I wasn't feeling that great myself so we both decided to hang back at the hotel while DW and our older kids went to the Rainforest Discovery Center (RFDC) and the Sloth Rescue Center.  The guide and driver were arranged by Alon.  Alon arranges some truly knowledgeable guides, and for this day, we had Nicholas, who had a Master's degree in biology.  DW, also with an advanced degree, loves to pick the brains of guides, so this was perfect.

Residence Inn by Marriott Panama City to Panama Rainforest Discovery Center  Panama - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Upon arriving at the RFDC, DW realized she had left her wallet behind (she had to pay separately for tickets for the aerial tram and sloth sanctuary).  I had been paying for everything, plus she was distracted by kiddo not feeling well.  Nicholas was happy to lay out the money.  Alon believed that a guide received free entry. However, since they began offering free audio guides, they no longer allowed free entry to a guide.  DW was already kicking herself for having to dip into our limited cash reserves to reimburse Nicholas, so she declined to pay the additional fee for him.

She thought the aerial tram was nice, but overpriced.  At the top of the observation tower, you can see the Chagres River on one side and the Panama Canal on another.

View of Chagres River, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

View of Panama Canal, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

The next stop was the Sloth Rescue Center, with rescued sloths that could not be returned to the wild.  While DW was looking at the (two-toed) sloth in one enclosure, it came down from its branch, crawled slowly toward her, and started climbing the wall to her.  Perhaps it was a juvenile, like the capuchin monkey on Gatun Lake, and sought out the mother.  Unfortunately, before it could get too close, a worker came into the enclosure, and scooped up the sloth.  This sloth had eyes only for DW:

Sloth Rescue Center, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth Rescue Center, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth Rescue Center, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth Rescue Center, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

DW says it was so stinkin' cute.

At the RFDC, they also had a butterfly garden, as well as poisonous frogs and orchids.  These exhibits were included in the cost for the sloth sanctuary and while the butterfly garden was OK, the others were lame.  How do you have an orchid garden with no flowers?

After the RFDC, they headed to Soberania National Park for a walk in the jungle, where they saw lots of *tiny* wildlife, swung on a vine, and rock-hopped.

Sobernia National Park, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sobernia National Park, Panama - holding tiny frog by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sobernia National Park, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sobernia National Park, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Even Nicholas found something he thought was photo-worthy:

Daddy long legs on arm, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Daddy long legs, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Shabbos with Chabad

After DW returned with our older kids from the RFDC and the Sloth Rescue Center, we prepared for Shabbos and went to daven and eat with Chabad.  I met up with a fellow DDFer, Brooklyn CPA, in shul and we sat together during davening.  The Friday evening meal was crowded and hectic.  There were multiple long tables set up in the downstairs area and they were all full.  We returned again on Shabbos day but it was less crowded than during the evening meal.  I suppose the reason for this is only Chabad offers a Friday evening meal while you can purchase meals from Bet El on Shabbos day.  (You may also be able to arrange Friday evening meals through Bet El or get invited by a member of the community).  Little one tried to eat a bit at the meal but still wasn't feeling well and he again barfed all over himself.  We tried to clean him up as best as we could and quickly carried him back to the hotel.  It was very fortunate that we were within the eruv and very close to our hotel.

We found the hotel to be quite Shabbos-friendly.  Although there are electronic doors to the hotel, there is one entrance to the building (called the Pacific Center; the hotel starts on the fifth floor) that has non-electronic doors.  Inside the building, the door to the stairs is just before the hotel's electronic doors.  If you want, you can walk all the way up to your taped-door room, or you can have an employee escort you up in the elevator and open the door for you (with your key or theirs).  We chose not to carry a sick 5-year old up to the 11th floor.

Being concerning that little one was still sick after several days and continuing to throw up, once Shabbos was over we decided to take him to the ER.  Big one got a bad sunburn and had some concerns as well, so she also went to the ER.  B"H it didn't appear that it was serious for either kid, and little one actually said he was hungry after the ER.  This was the second time that little one ended up in the ER on a trip.  (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=64756.0)

After the ER, I took little one by Uber to La Spezia and he ate and kept it down.  The following day he continued to eat and it appeared that the worst was over. 

Part 7 - Miraflores Locks, the Museum and Imax Movie

Although DW really wanted to do at least a partial transit of the canal, she ultimately changed her mind, as sitting on a boat for 6 hours mostly doing nothing didn't seem like a great way to spend family vacation time.  Luckily we hadn't booked, or we would've been out the cost, since after the ER visit the night before, we were all exhausted and slept late.  In the early afternoon, we took an Uber XL over to the Miraflores Locks and watched an Imax Movie before visiting the museum and locks. 

Miraflores Visitor Center, Panama (DSC_7727) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Miraflores Visitor Center, Panama Canal by P Bryan, on Flickr

Miraflores Visitor Center, Panama Canal by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw several ships passing through the locks:

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (DSC_7740) by P Bryan, on Flickr

These boats were riding high in the water:

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (DSC_7731) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And after a short time:

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (DSC_7733) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We also saw a large ship going through the locks:

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal (DSC_7741) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Anton Valley

We booked a day trip to Anton Valley through Alon Levi but weren't sure if we would be able to do it until the last minute.  Seeing little one getting better, we decided to go for it.  However, the original tour guide that Alon had reserved for us had already taken another job and it wasn't until late Sunday evening that Alon had found us another guide, which he deemed to be "practically a miracle."  We were picked up at our hotel at 7:45 a.m. and made our way to our first stop, Chorro Macho.  Our guide, Joe, was picked up along the way to Anton Valley in San Carlos.  Joe (who has a degree in eco-tourism) regaled us with tales of crazy tourists, including one fellow who flew on a private jet from the United States, round trip in one day, just to see some bird, which he told Joe to keep in his sight until he arrived.  Once he saw the bird, and was able to cross it off his list, he immediately turned around to fly back to the United States.  The guy didn't even bother taking a picture.  Immediately prior to guiding us, Joe had guided a group of tourists on a 21 day birding tour throughout Panama.

Residence Inn by Marriott Panama City to Chorro Macho - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

While en route to Chorro Macho, Joe spotted a three-toed sloth in a tree along the road.  As the driver pulled over on the grassy median, he ran over the remnant of a metal sign post sticking out of the ground, which punctured the tire.  As they changed the tire, we took pictures of the sloth, which was moving from tree to tree while eating leaves:

Sloth, Panama (DSC_7756) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth, Panama (DSC_7769) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sloth, Panama (DSC_7786) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then arrived at our first stop in Anton Valley, Chorro Macho, where we hiked through a lush rain forest:

Chorro Macho, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7804) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hummingbird at Chorro Macho, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7811) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Chorro Macho, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7814) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The art of camouflage:

Chorro Macho, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7833) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Chorro Macho, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7821) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our next stop in Anton Valley was Piedra Pintada, where we saw mysterious petroglyphs which are said to be thousands of years old. 

Chorro Macho to Piedra Pintada - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our guide explained that the petroglyphs were a map of the area:

Pintada Petroglyphs in Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Piedra Pintada Petroglyphs in Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7834) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Another beautiful bromeliad:

Piedra Pintada, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7837) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Looking for wildlife:

Piedra Pintada, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Tiny hands holding rubber from a rubber tree:

Piedra Pintada, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited a waterfall, where we saw some local kids jumping in and swimming:

Piedra Pintada, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

At this point, my stomach was doing somersaults as we believe that three of us got sick from eating at Jeffrey's.  This was the only toilet available in the area.  Luckily DW brought toilet paper (the TP by the sink is ours).  DW wasn't feeling well either and middle kid got sick shortly after.  Can you spot something that is clearly missing?

Public toilet at Piedra Pintada, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our next stop in Anton Valley was the Mariposario Butterfly Haven:

Piedra Pintada to Butterfly Haven - Google Maps by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mariposario Buttefly Haven, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7880) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mariposario Buttefly Haven, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7867) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mariposario Buttefly Haven, Anton Valley, Panama (DSC_7873) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mariposario Buttefly Haven, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mariposario Buttefly Haven, Anton Valley, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the Butterfly Haven, our final stop was the market in El Valle, where we purchased some souvenirs. 

Part 9 - Ancon Hill, Amador Causeway, Casco Viejo and Panama Viejo

Not wanting to waste our last day in Panama, we hired a driver through Alon Levi to take us to Ancon Hill, Amador Causeway, Casco Viejo, Panama Viejo, and then finally to the airport.  While Uber would have certainly been cheaper, we would not have been able to see all of these city sights without a driver at our constant beck and call.

We started our day with a 6:30 a.m. pickup from the hotel to visit Ancon Hill, where I was told it was possible to see toucans.  Middle one and little one stayed home and slept, while DW and I along with our oldest went to Ancon Hill.  According to historical records, when the pirate Henry Morgan sacked Panama City in 1671 (Panama Viejo), his scouts first climbed Ancon Hill to gain knowledge of the local defenses.  Ancon Hill now overlooks the site of the new Panama City, constructed after Morgan's destruction of the old one.

Although I saw different kinds of birds, and a pair of toucans, the toucans were too fast for me to photograph.  While trying to line up the shot and focus, they were gone and I couldn't find them again.  I did capture this photograph of a beautiful Pale Billed Woodpecker:

Pale Billed Woodpecker, Ancon Hill, Panama (DSC_7883) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then returned to the hotel to collect middle one and little one before heading off for the remaining city sites.  Our first stop was the Amador Causeway:

Amador Causeway, Panama City, Panama (DSC_7900) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our next stop was a driving tour of Casco Viejo, the old city which was built after the complete destruction of the original Panama City in 1671:

Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our final stop for the day before heading off to the airport was Panama Viejo, the original city destroyed in 1671:

Panama Viejo (DSC_7908) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panama Viejo (DSC_7909) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panama Viejo (DSC_7923) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panama Viejo (DSC_7930) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Panama Viejo, we returned to the hotel and packed out.  They were very gracious and said we could have a late check out until 4:00 p.m.  We then made our way to the airport, purchased some food and drinks from the kosher Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf store at the airport terminal and then made our way home. 

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.  (I will try to provide an update about our night out at Kava in the near future).

From DW:  this TR is in memory of my Zaidy, 18 Teves 5685 NYC - 19 Shevat 5780 Lakewood.  "Dad" to 4, "Zaidy" to hundreds.  The day before we left, I took the kids to see him and told him that we were going to Panama/to the Panama Canal.  His memory was failing, and he replied, "I never heard of it, but go and have a great time."  This is who Zaidy was: positive to the end.  He loved his family with all his heart, and each grandkid felt a special connection.  Once we returned home, various things came up (including a kid with the flu), which prevented me from going to Lakewood again.  I finally decided I couldn't wait anymore, and was zoche to spend a couple hours in the hospital with Zaidy on Thursday.  He was niftar early the next morning.  Zaidy, you are and always will be deeply missed.

February 20, 2020, 11:45:59 PM
11
Re: Jungle Fever - A Real Panamanian Adventure, by PBaruch (January - February 2020) Since we were always on the move or sick, we didn't have much time to eat out.  When we arrived in Panama, we ordered burgers from Pita Plus and had our food delivered to the hotel.  On several other nights, since we were really tired and hungry, DW walked across the street from the hotel and picked up food from Dr. Sandwich.  I personally preferred Pita Plus to Dr. Sandwich.

We did want to try a nice restaurant in Panama at least once and after @BrooklynCPA kept raving about Kava, we decided to go there.  The place was completely empty when we got there, although several other small groups did show up later.

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

When going to use the restroom, I was looking for the door that said caballeros, but instead found these:

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Not too hard to figure out which one is which.   :)

We ordered sushi to start:

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

Little one got pizza and fries:

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we then ordered three different salmon dishes to share - here is one:

Kava Restaurant, Panama City, Panama by P Bryan, on Flickr

We all thought the food was pretty good and would definitely recommend it.


February 23, 2020, 03:12:14 PM
1
Re: DDFer positive peer review/feedback Rileywiles23 is a great upstanding individual. Done many deals with him and is always responsive and a pleasure to deal with.
June 29, 2020, 10:47:42 PM
1
Re: Panama Master Thread We did both in January. Had a great time in each place. Trip reports were posted. 
August 14, 2020, 02:14:59 AM
1
Re: A Week in Colorado Very nice. Glad you had a good time.
August 25, 2020, 02:36:37 PM
1
The Great American Road Trip, by PBaruch & Family (August 2020) This year has brought a multitude of challenges to everyone, us included.  While we are extremely grateful that our immediate family remained healthy and safe in the pandemic, the difficulty of being confined to home for months on end was driving DW and the kids stir crazy.  After five long months, DW and the kids were ready for an escape.  I, on the other hand, was forced to return to work at the office after only three months and I simply could not work from home for a variety of reasons.  Since I was getting out of the house on a regular basis, I didn't feel a compelling need to get away.  However, the pressure from the rest of the family eventually got to me and I agreed to a trip.

Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

We usually plan our trips six months to a year in advance, often with meticulous details.  This year, we were having trouble coming up with ideas, so B"H, we did not have any plans that we needed to cancel.  A last-minute trip with little advance planning was something new for us.  We initially considered another trip to Hawaii, but the lockdown with a fourteen-day quarantine requirement kept being extended.  We then thought about Alaska, but coordinating virus testing for all of us proved impossible, especially since I kept receiving conflicting information from various medical providers about being unable to get test results within three days of our departure, as required by Alaska.  Also, you try convincing a 6-year-old that sticking a swab up his brain was a good idea.

Finally, late July rolled around and we still had no clue as to what to do or where to go.  DW began checking various sites for last-minute one-way motorhome deals, and we hit the jackpot with a pickup in only one week, and on the exact day we wanted to leave.  El Monte advertised a nine-day, one-way relocation special, from Denver to San Francisco for $59 per day plus $16 per day for insurance, for a grand total of $75 per day.  Also included in this relocation special was 1500 free miles and $200 worth of free gas.  The El Monte website showed two such deals as available but the site kept hanging and I was unable to book it online.  I immediately called El Monte and after being on hold for over 40 minutes, finally reached a customer service representative.  I had been considering possibly booking the second deal for a friend, but was told that only one was now available.  Without hesitation, I plunked down a $250 nonrefundable deposit and booked the special.  The relocation special was for a 28-foot Class C motorhome with no extendable slides or bunkbeds.  The layout for this motorhome can be found here:

https://www.elmonterv.com/rv-rental/rv-details/cabover-style-c28-rv/

There was a bed over the front cab, a queen size bed in the rear, and a couch and dinette that both converted to beds.  The toilet was on one side of the "hallway" in front of the rear bedroom, and the shower stall was across from the bathroom.  Privacy was at a premium as there was no door blocking off the shower.  The shower was enclosed by a translucent sliding door.  The only way to get privacy while showering was to use a curtain to block the front half of the motorhome from the shower and toilet area.  This particular motorhome was far from ideal for our family of five, but for $75 a day and lots of free perks I was not about to complain.

Now came the task of planning a last-minute itinerary with stays at a campground for each night.  While we could have done some dry camping and stayed in Walmart parking lots for various nights, we would not have had any hookups, including electricity, water, and sewer service.  Not wanting to be without those conveniences (especially electricity, as temperatures were forecast to be in the 100s and I didn't want to run the generator continuously to power the AC), we splurged for campgrounds.  Also, I wasn't about to get away only to have to sleep each night in a Walmart parking lot.  Some of the campgrounds we wanted were fully booked so we didn't always get the choice locations we wanted.  However, it isn't as bad as what people write online about having trouble getting into campgrounds.  We generally did not have any problems finding availability in various campgrounds, even with last minute bookings.

Not wanting to only get away for only nine nights, we decided to extend our trip after returning the motorhome in San Francisco by seven additional nights.  Since we could not find any other motorhome relocation specials that interested us, we reserved a rental car from San Francisco with a return at the Seattle Airport (Washington state was on the quarantine list at the time, we davened for it to be removed while we were away, and it was).  We booked stays at various Marriott branded hotels along the way to Seattle.  All hotel stays were paid for using a combination of Marriott gift cards (purchased at a discount and reimbursed by the Marriott Bonvoy annual credit), Marriott credit card free night certificates, or Marriott points.

Now that the motorhome and car rental was booked, I immediately set out to arrange for our flights.  I booked JetBlue from JFK to DEN and for our return booked on Alaska from SEA to JFK.  All of the flights were booked with miles to minimize any cash outlay for this trip.  JetBlue was 13,800 points pp and Alaska was 12.5k miles pp. (During our trip there was an Alaska cash special and I tried to play around with it on my phone but didn't have much luck.  Not having patience to play around with it further, I just left the miles booking for our return flight.)

We also needed transportation from the Denver airport to the pick up the motorhome in Littleton, Colorado.  I reserved a one-way car rental from Enterprise which proved convenient as we were able to make several stops along the way to get pizza and stock up on food.  The motorhome pickup location did not offer airport transportation and an Uber would have been much more expensive than a rental car. 

Part 2 - Flight to Denver and Picking up the Motorhome

JFK - DEN by P Bryan, on Flickr

For the first time in my life, I did not want to sit in or be anywhere near F.  I had heard from others who had taken recent trips that F seats were booked solid while Y was fairly empty.  We headed to the back of the bus into a largely empty airplane. 

Fairly empty flight to Denver by P Bryan, on Flickr

After arriving in Denver, we stopped off at Brooklyn Pizza for lunch.  We now began our pizza tour of the west.  The pizza was ok, fries were salted like the Dead Sea, and the service was lousy.  Information about Brooklyn Pizza can be found here:

http://brooklynpizzadenver.com/

We then stocked up on kosher food at King Soopers, a supermarket next door to Brooklyn Pizza.  Afterwards, we went to East Side Kosher Deli for some takeout.  The kosher takeout food was ok but nothing great.  Information about East Side Kosher Deli can be found here:

https://www.eastsidekosherdeli.com/

Finally, we headed over to Littleton to pick up our motorhome.  Our motorhome was a very tired 2019 model with close to 50k miles.  It had scratches and scrapes all around.  The interior looked a bit dumpy and cheap and the bathroom was filthy.  Clearly, it had not been adequately cleaned.  The refrigerator was dirty and rusty and the plastic shelves on the door kept falling off.  Also, the waste tanks were not completely dumped.  At my request (yes, I had to ask), the attendant dumped the tanks and cleaned the toilet.  I made sure to test the generator, refrigerator, and AC before we took off.  My suspicion that the motorhome was at the end of its short but hectic rental life was confirmed when the attendant said the purpose of the one-way rental was so that El Monte could sell it.

Picking up the Motorhome:

Picking up our cheap 1 way rental. by P Bryan, on Flickr

Although the motorhome was old and tired, the main systems were all in order so we took off to our first campground where we would spend the night.  Our first campground was the KOA in Pueblo South/Colorado City.

At the KOA Campground in Pueblo South/Colorado City by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we arrived at the campground, I set out to connect all of the hookups, only to realize that the water hose was missing.  Luckily the campground store had one water hose left.  (El Monte later reimbursed me for the water hose.)  We had received warnings of two-inch hail in the area, and were hopeful to be far enough away before the storm hit, (I was told by El Monte that I was responsible for hail damage, which is ridiculous) but around 2 a.m. we were awakened by hail pelting the motorhome.  I'm not sure if the hail caused any damage to the roof but no one climbed on the roof when we returned the motorhome to inspect it.  They only inspected the front cap to ensure it wasn't struck by any low overpasses. 

Part 3 - Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

In the morning, we packed out of the campground and headed to our first national park of the trip, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.  While we had wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, we were unable to get a timed entry slot on short notice.  We also wanted to visit Pikes Peak but the motorhome was too long for the road.  They will have to wait for another trip.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

With the family being all out of shape from staying home for months on end, no one wanted to do any long hikes.  Middle kid was willing to go a bit farther out with me than the rest of the family.  Little one only wanted to play in the sand with his sand toys.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

I much preferred the sand dunes in Death Valley National Park (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=101345.0), although that is most definitely not a summer trip.  If it was up to me, I would skip Great Sand Dunes in the future.  After roaming around the dunes and playing in the sand, we cleaned off with our motorhome's outdoor shower (which had a broken hot water knob), and headed over to the next campground in Gunnison, Colorado.

MVIMG_20200806_083649_1 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Despite an annoyance with using the laundry, this KOA campground in Gunnison was one of my favorites.  (Yes, I did laundry about every two days on this trip instead of my typical five days, due to being ultra-neurotic about some virus going around.)  They had a small herd of campground animals including goats, sheep, donkeys and geese.  Little one had lots of fun interacting with the animals.

Little one learning to talk donkey:

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

While little one was teaching me how to talk donkey, a very specific process of cupping your hands to your mouth and making some donkeyish noises, a little boy came over and exclaimed that the donkeys don't speak English.  I mentioned, perhaps they speak Spanish?  Somehow, I don't think the kid got the joke as he didn't respond.

Hey there gorgeous:

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

Some of the donkeys had free reign of the campground:

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

Interacting with the sheep and goats:

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

This one is learning to use the lawnmower:

KOA Campground in Gunnison, Colorado by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

From the Gunnison KOA, we drove to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, our second national park of the trip.  This particular park is known for spectacular views, including some of the steepest cliffs in North America.  There really aren't any easy or moderate hiking to do here so we just visited various overlooks and enjoyed the views.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Enjoying the view:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then headed over to the Green River KOA campground in Utah for the night.  Along the way we stopped by the Welcome to Utah Sign, at the Utah/Colorado border:

Utah - Colorado Border by P Bryan, on Flickr

We finally arrived at the Green River KOA in Utah:

Green River KOA, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Capitol Reef National Park

We contemplated going to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, but it would've been too tight to get to our next campground and prepare for Shabbos.  We were spending Shabbos slightly out of the way, since our one criterion for Shabbos was a location with forecast temperatures not over 90.  The AC in the motorhome cools to 20 degrees below the outside ambient temperature, and spending the day in 80-85 degree temperatures did not sound like a pleasant way to enjoy Shabbos.  Since it was Friday, we got a somewhat early start and headed out to Capitol Reef National Park.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After stopping at the visitor center, we headed over to the Mott Orchard for apple picking.  Capitol Reef National Park has a number of historic orchards, which were originally planted by pioneers from the 1880's onward.

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Deer also like to eat the apples:

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pears at the Mott Orchard:

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Picking Ginger Gold Apples:

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8262) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8268) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Weighing our bounty:

Mott Orchard, Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8283) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After picking our fill of apples, we hiked the Cohab Canyon Trail.  We hiked as much as we could before having to run off to prepare for Shabbos:

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8305) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Huffing and puffing and trying to get back into shape:

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8307) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8343) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8352) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8377) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Capitol Reef NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8381) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And then we were off to the Richfield KOA Campground in Richfield, Utah, where we would stay for Shabbos.  We enjoyed being in a campground rather than a hotel over Shabbos, and the kids enjoyed roaming around.  One of the motorhomes at the campground had a couple of hummingbird feeders, and we were able to spot hummingbirds flying about.  At one point the kids started fighting and DW banished them from the motorhome.  One of the campground employees, with whom we became friendly, later told us that he had heard about the banishment as word travels fast in a small campground.

Richfield KOA, Richfield, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Richfield KOA, Richfield, Utah, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Bryce Canyon National Park, etc.

On Sunday morning, we packed out of the Richfield KOA and headed over to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Although we had previously visited Bryce (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=64756.0), we did not do any hiking on the past trip as little one was too young at the time.  DW wanted to return to Bryce to hike among the hoodoos.  On the way to Bryce, we stopped off at Butch Cassidy's childhood home.  For those who are unfamiliar, Butch Cassidy was a famous outlaw and information about him can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_Cassidy

DSC_8397 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Butch Cassidy Childhood Home (DSC_8401) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And then we were off to Bryce....

MVIMG_20200809_161442 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8409) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We decided to hike the Queen's Garden Trail to walk among the hoodoos.  Little one hiked to within five minutes of the end and refused to go any further.  No matter what I did or said, I couldn't entice him to finish the hike.  Even the ice cream bribe didn't work.  I ended up waiting with him while DW and our older kids completed the hike and came back to meet us for the return back up.

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8479) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Bryce Canyon NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8500) by P Bryan, on Flickr

MVIMG_20200809_144801 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Since we were short on time given our hectic schedule, choices had to be made as to which parks to visit and which to skip.  We didn't have time to explore Zion National Park, but drove through on our way to the next campground.  I'd love to spend some time in Zion and especially want to hike the Narrows - if anyone is up for that, let me know.

MVIMG_20200809_174140 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Zion NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8530) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Zion NP, Utah, USA (DSC_8541) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After a brief stop in Zion, we made our way to Las Vegas, along the way crossing into Arizona for 27 miles.  We restocked our dwindling food supply at Smith's, which has a great kosher take out counter and overnighted at the Las Vegas Sam's Town Campground.  This is perhaps our least favorite campground but was convenient as a stop off point in Vegas.

Sam's Town Campground, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Smith's Supermarket, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

While in Vegas, we continued our pizza tour in the west with pizza from Ariela's.  Seems like the farther west we went, the pizza got better.  This pizza had the best crust we've ever had. 

Pizza from Ariela's in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following day was a driving day to the Visalia/Sequoia National Park KOA Campground.  Photograph of the motorhome at the Visalia/Sequoia Campground:

Visalia / Sequoia National Park KOA Campground by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Although we visited Sequoia many years ago, this was before little one was born and we very much wanted to show him the big trees.  However, we forgot that the windy roads limited vehicle lengths and that our 28-foot motorhome wouldn't make it.  We were reminded of this by the campground manager upon check in.  Luckily, an Enterprise car rental location was nearby, and they picked me up and dropped me off at the campground.   We spent an entire day wandering around the big trees and driving through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

MVIMG_20200811_113122 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sequoia NP, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sequoia NP, California, USA (DSC_8557) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sequoia NP, California, USA (DSC_8585) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sequoias have an uncanny ability to survive fires.  You can see burn marks on this tree:

Sequoia NP, California, USA (DSC_8639) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Hiking the Big Trees Trail:

Sequoia NP, California, USA (DSC_8709) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Somewhere along this trail, a beetle jumped on DW.  She was pretty sure it was the invasive Asian longhorned beetle, but since there was a chance it was some rare endemic beetle, she simply photographed it.  At home, we confirmed that it was indeed the invasive species.  Moral of the story:  if you're hiking the Big Trees Trail and a beetle jumps on you, kill it.

General Sherman Tree:

Sequoia National Park, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Driving north near Kings Canyon National Park:

Kings Canyon NP, California, USA (DSC_8790) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Pinnacles National Park

The following morning, we celebrated middle kid's birthday with an improvised birthday cake - it was the best we could do at the time.  It was a far cry from her last birthday celebration in California (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=107346.0).  Hopefully, she will not endure any lasting emotional harm:

Improvised Birthday Cake by P Bryan, on Flickr

After two nights at the Visalia/Sequoia National Park KOA Campground, DW had the bright idea to drive to Pinnacles National Park in the middle of a heatwave.  In her defense, this was our last unvisited national park in California, and it was not yet a national park the last time we were in the area.  I did get out of the motorhome for a few minutes to watch a nearby deer, but that was about it.  The heat was oppressively brutal.  Little one and middle kid refused to get out of the motorhome while DW and our oldest kid hiked part of the Bench Trail.  It also didn't help that there was no road for motorized traffic through the park and the only way in was to hike or ride a bike.  We did see some folks on bikes but I'm not really sure how they handled the heat, unless they were preparing for an eternity in hell.  The other side of the park has some talus caves to explore, but that is not open to motorhome traffic.

MVIMG_20200812_130035 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Pinnacles NP, California, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After our brief stay at Pinnacles, we drove to the Santa Cruz North/Costanoa KOA in Pescadero, California.  Part of the drive was along the pacific coast highway and the scenery was spectacular.  Also, once we hit the coast the weather cooled down dramatically to a very pleasant 60-70 degrees.  Although our campground spot felt crowded, the campground was in a spectacular location with a view of the Pacific Ocean.  We would love to return to this area at some point in the future.

Santa Cruz North / Costanoa KOA by P Bryan, on Flickr

In honor of our last evening in the motorhome, we made a BBQ and cooked burgers and fries:

IMG_20200812_214823 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 9 - Returning the Motorhome

It was finally time to return the motorhome - hopefully they will clean and fix up all the aches and pains before passing it on to its next owner. 

While I was filling out the paperwork to return the motorhome, I bumped into the unlucky fellow who managed to grab the other one way special from Denver to San Francisco.  He hadn't realized that the rooftop AC unit was broken and ended up wasting a day bringing it into a service center to have the entire AC replaced.  If this had happened to us it would have ruined our entire frantic schedule.

After returning the motorhome, I called a nearby Hertz location, and was picked up for the beginning of our seven-day rental with a return at the Seattle airport.  I returned to El Monte with the rental van to pick up the family and we headed to Oakland Kosher Foods to restock our provisions and get some takeout for Shabbos.  The cole slaw, purple cabbage salad, and eggplant salad were ok.  The matbucha was really good.  Information about Oakland Kosher Foods can be found here:

https://www.oaklandkosherfoods.com/

Afterwards, we stopped off for lunch at Frena Bakery and Cafe in San Francisco.  Information about Frena Bakery can be found here:

https://frenabakery.com/

We bought mini pizza pies which were ok and not great.  The location, however, was in what I would describe as skid row - surrounded by lots of homeless and bums.  We felt very uncomfortable and got out of there as soon as possible.

Mini pie from Frena Bakery in San Francisco, CA, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our final destination for the evening was TownePlace Suites in Redding, California.  We asked for and were graciously upgraded to a two-bedroom suite.

Part 10 - Lassen Volcanic National Park

We had been to Lassen many years ago before little one was born.  Back then, we wanted to hike the Bumpass Hell trail but were forced to retreat to our car by grape-sized hail.  This time, the weather was beautiful, cool and sunny.  The scenery was absolutely spectacular.  Lassen was one of my favorites from all of the parks we visited.  Highly underrated.

MVIMG_20200814_081737 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California USA (DSC_8837) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8856) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Making a new friend:

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8861) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Spectacular views along the Bumpass Hell trail:

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8863) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8883) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8895) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8909) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we finally made it to the end of the trail, where we observed the hydrothermal area:

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8941) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8944) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA DSC_8954) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Now that we are back on the way up, little one found his second wind:

Lassen Volcanic NP, California, USA (DSC_8971) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then made our way to the TownePlace Suites in Medford, Oregon, where we stayed for two nights over Shabbos.  Once again, we were graciously upgraded to a two-bedroom suite.  On the way, we stopped off at Chabad in Ashland, Oregon, to pick up freshly baked challahs for Shabbos. 

Part 11 - Crater Lake National Park

On Sunday morning, we left Medford, Oregon, and made our way to Crater Lake National Park.  This was another park we had visited years ago before little one was born. 

MVIMG_20200816_091440 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We first hiked along the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA (DSC_8987) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA (DSC_8988) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA (DSC_9000) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crater Lake NP. Oregon, USA (DSC_9012) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards we hiked the Pinnacles Trail to see...pinnacles:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA (DSC_9080) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Not sure what this looks like....

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

The wildflowers were in full bloom:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA (DSC_9108) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We stopped off along the many overlooks to view the beautiful lake:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA (DSC_9032) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Apparently, there are many vicious squirrels at some of the overlooks:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Oldest was posing for a picture when a bunch of those little rascals ran right up to her looking for a meal. Who knew that squirrels can be so scary:

Crater Lake NP, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Once we had our fill of Crater Lake National Park, we made our way to the Marriott Residence Inn in Bend, Oregon. 

Part 12 - A Really Annoying Day

The following day we visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  If it hadn't been so close to our hotel, we probably would not have bothered with a visit as some of the attractions were closed and we were pressed for time.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument (DSC_9201) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Oh no, the floor is lava!

Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we made our way to Portland, Oregon, crossing the 45th parallel along the way, halfway between the north pole and the equator.  In Portland, we stopped for lunch at the Garbonzos food truck, located in the parking lot of the Mittleman Jewish Community Center.  We called Chabad of Portland while en route and were told where to find Garbonzos, as there was no information about this kosher food truck online.  Apparently, food trucks are a big thing in Portland.  Alas, there was no kosher pizza store in Portland, so our pizza tour of the west was temporarily put on hold.

Garbonzos Food Truck, Portland, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Garbonzos Food Truck, Portland, Oregon, USA by P Bryan, on Flick

We ordered veggie burgers in pita, falafel plate, eggplant sandwich and fries.  The burgers and the pita bread were really good.  The falafel plate and the fries were ok.

After lunch, we drove to Olympia, Washington State, where we were scheduled to spend the night at the TownePlace Suites.  We chose Olympia as it was the most convenient place to stay near Mt. Rainier National Park.  As soon as we arrived in Olympia, we realized that something wasn't right.  The place looked deserted, stores were boarded up, and there were many homeless people walking around.  Right in the vicinity of the hotel we saw a lot of homeless people and people that looked like they were drugged up as high as the sky.  When DW went inside to check in, she asked the manager about crime there.  The response:  "we haven't had a [car] break-in in a while...about a month."  We cancelled the reservation and hightailed it out of there, then called the TownePlace Suites in Renton, Washington, to ask if they could add a third night to our reservation and upgrade us to the two-bedroom suite. 

However, when we arrived at the TownePlace Suites in Renton, we were told that they didn't have any two-bedroom suites available but we were offered a second room for no additional charge.  I went to inspect the rooms before checking in (as we always do), and found that both were filthy and disgusting.  In one room there was a piece of a candy bar on the floor in full view and there was food residue and other gunk strewn about both rooms. 

By this point, it was already around 9:30 p.m. and I was tired and in a really foul mood.  Two strikes down and only one more to go.  I went to the Marriott website and found a nearby Residence Inn and booked two rooms for three nights at 25k Marriott points per room per night.  It was 75k more Marriott points than the TownePlace Suites but at this point, I had enough.  I suppose this was bound to happen as we were booking hotels on the fly at the last minute.

Either way, we hit the jackpot with the Marriott Residence Inn in Renton.  It was a modern and clean hotel and no homeless and druggies walking nearby.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get a room with more than one bed and there were no connecting rooms.  We stayed at this hotel for the remaining three nights of our trip.

Part 13 - Mt. Rainier National Park

We last visited Mt. Rainier National Park in early summer 2017 and enjoyed it so much that we wanted to go back.  (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81754.0)  Back then, we went in early July and it was covered in snow so I couldn't photograph the mountain with wildflowers in the foreground, as I had always wanted.

Here is a picture of Mt. Rainier last time we were there:

PANO_20170703_175746 by P Bryan, on Flickr

We didn't remember the name of the trail we had done and wanted to do over.  DDF TR to the rescue.  It was the Nisqually Vista Trail.  This time the meadows were covered with wildflowers:

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9263) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA  (DSC_9238) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The mountain in all of its glory:

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9229) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9291) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9305) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Another beautiful vista:

Mt. Rainier NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9282) by P Bryan, on Flickr

For supper, we ordered a pizza and fries at Island Crust Cafe, information about which can be found here:

http://islandcrustcafe.com/

In my opinion, this pizza was the best of the west and the winner of the west pizza tour.  However, middle one liked the pizza from Vegas best.

Pizza from Island Crust Cafe, Mercer Island, Washington, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Some of us were really looking forward to Indian food from Pabla Indian Cuisine, which we had eaten at a few times on past trips.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, we found out that the kitchen was closed on Tuesdays, so we just picked up some prepackaged food (nan, pakoras, samosas) to supplement our pizza meal.  You can find out more about them on their website:

https://www.pablaindian.com/

Part 14 - North Cascades National Park

The last day of our crazy trip was spent exploring North Cascades National Park. 

MVIMG_20200819_132247 by P Bryan, on Flickr

North Cascades NP, Washington, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

North Cascades NP, Washington, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We first hiked the Happy Creek Forest Walk:

North Cascades NP, Washington, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

North Cascades NP. Washington, USA (DSC_9330) by P Bryan, on Flickr

North Cascades NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9335) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Afterwards, we hiked the Cascade Pass Trail.  However, since it was pretty late in the day (it took a while to drive there, partially over a dirt road), we weren't able to hike the entire trail.  I would like to return to hike the entire trail at some point in the future.

DSC_9343 by P Bryan, on Flickr

North Cascades NP, Washington, USA (DSC_9375) by P Bryan, on Flickr

As seen from the road :

MVIMG_20200819_190857 by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we were on our way back to the hotel, we called Pabla Indian Cuisine to place an order.  This is what we ordered:  channa batura, aloo gobhi, mixed vegetable pakoras with mint and tamarind chutneys, paneer nan, Pabla special chilli cheese, mango lassi.  Included was two containers of basmati rice.  We also bought two kinds of ice cream:  mango and coconut with cardamom.  It was all delicious and filling.  DW to kid, "Have some channa batura."  Kid: "I don't like chickpeas, and that rice is weird."  DW proceeds to make a plate of food, kid proceeds to eat it all. 

The following day we checked out of the hotel, returned the rental car to an empty and unstaffed Hertz location at the Seattle airport, and made our way home on a relatively empty flight.

map by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 15 - By the Numbers

1 motorhome
3 rental cars
3 mountain ranges
4 pizza pies
7 states
12 national parks
16 days

Miles driven:
Denver to Littleton in car rental to pick up the motorhome- 57 miles
Denver to San Fransico in the motorhome - 1832 miles
San Francisco to Seattle in the rental car - 1739 miles
Rental car for day trip to Sequoia National Park - 193 miles
Total miles driven: 3,821

Our Google Maps Timeline:

Timeline by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 16 - Conclusion

It was a crazy trip but we saw a large swath of the country.  We drove through mountains, deserts, forests, and countless farms and fields.  One time we were driving past strawberry fields in California and the fragrant smell of strawberries permeated everywhere.  Would we do something like this again?  I guess it depends if we get another awesome deal on a motorhome. 

Pros and cons of a motorhome versus a car and hotels:

Motorhome Pros

1. You have your home wherever you go - easy to cook, shower, and use the restroom;
2. Most of the time you will not need to rent a car - the motorhome is your home and car;
3. If your kid needs to use the bathroom, just find a place to pull over - no hunting for restrooms and no accidents waiting to happen;
4. When you get to a location that has kosher food, you can stock up and keep it in the fridge and freezer;
5. If anyone gets hungry, easy enough to pull over and make some food;
6. No need to hunt for decent hotels each night and no need to unpack for each night and repack the following morning;
7. You have the ability to stay very close to your intended destination for each day instead of sometimes driving for an hour or two from the nearest
    gateway city where your hotel is located;
8. Some campgrounds are lots of fun to stay at - and most have a BBQ pit and picnic table at your campsite.

Motorhome Cons

1. You have your home with you wherever you go - depending on the vehicle length, you cannot take it everywhere and you might have to rent a car, as
    we did, when we visited Sequoia National Park;
2. Can be difficult to drive in urban locations;
3. Have to find campgrounds to stay at each night for an added cost or find a free location (usually without hookups);
4. Have to deal with emptying your waste tanks;
5. They are gas guzzlers - even with relatively cheap gas, it is an added expense;
6. Travel times are longer in a motorhome - you will not be able to drive as fast to your intended destination as you would with a car.

Well, that's about it for our crazy road trip.  Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

September 07, 2020, 07:15:32 PM
16
Re: The Great American Road Trip, by PBaruch & Family (August 2020)
Wow! This TR certainly looks like it took a long time to compile. Sounds like it was a great trip.

Yup, took an insane amount of time to write up and edit/compile the photos. 

Big fan of your trip(s) reports!
I hope one day ill do this with a family of my own! thanks

Thanks!  I'm really glad you enjoyed it. 

September 07, 2020, 09:55:21 PM
2
Re: The Great American Road Trip, by PBaruch & Family (August 2020)
Another amazing trip and equally well-done TR - thanks! We also love taking family trips in the US and visiting national parks, so I especially enjoy gleaning travel ideas from your TRs. This summer we were in northern MN and WI among other places and got some great ideas from your TR. Unfortunately Isle Royale was closed unless you wanted to pay $300pp to fly in, and houseboats in Voyageurs were all booked up, but we still had a great time.

Even though we've been to most of the places in this TR, we've always wanted to try an RV but have found the logistics daunting (it also helps that we have tons of hotel points so almost never pay for lodging), so I'd love some pointers about how to feel secure enough to go ahead with it. Specifically:

Are there any websites or generally good strategies to use to find good deals on RVs, whether 1-way or just cheap rates?
Are there specific RV rental companies that are more reliable, and any to avoid?
Are there any that include unlimited miles as is standard with car rentals?
In hindsight, were there any red flags you missed or questions you wish you had asked to avoid getting an RV Poopypants? :)
Any tips about how to find good places to stay each night?
Did you have prior RV experience, and any advice about how to handle unique RV issues like emptying tanks, leveling, etc., to ensure a successful first experience?

1. I would check with each RV rental company to see if they have any specials.  Here is a partial list:

El Monte 1-way specials
https://www.elmonterv.com/rv-rental/cool-deal-detail/ONE-WAY-SPECIAL/

Great Alaskan Holidays
https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/alaska-rv-rentals/specials/

Cruise America
https://www.cruiseamerica.com/

Apollo RV
https://www.apollorv.com/reloc.aspx

Road Bear RV
http://www.roadbearrv.com/en/rental-deals
http://www.roadbearrv.com/en/rental-deals/one-way-specials

https://www.imoova.com/

https://www.transfercarus.com/

2.  We have rented from El Monte, Apollo and Great Alaskan, as best as I can recall.  I do not know if there are any to avoid.  We have always had some issues with the rentals but I wouldn't characterize the issues we had as a reason to avoid that company in the future.  @Something Fishy once mentioned reading negative things about Apollo but we did not have any issues when renting from them and, at the time, they were one of the cheapest.

3. I think there are some that do include unlimited miles for an added fee, but you would have to check with each rental company.  Generally, it is not an option.

4. No red flags that I can specifically point out.  All I can say is that I have learned to check all of the major systems of the RV before you take off.  Make sure the AC, generator and refrigerator work.  Check to see that the outlets work.  Make sure the shower and sink work.  Turn on the stove and ovens.  It pays to spend a few extra minutes before you leave to make sure everything works rather than realizing later on and having to call the RV company and try to diagnose the problem.  With this particular 1 way rental, the RV was definitely beat up a lot more than any other rental we had in the past - but then again it was $75 a night.  Other 1-way rentals can be brand spanking new RVs that need to be relocated from the factory to the rental company - so you can really luck out there.

5. We like KOA campgrounds as they are a chain and are fairly consistent throughout.  We have also found other non chain campgrounds that we liked very much.  I'd suggest doing some research about the locations you want to visit.  National parks have some really nice campgrounds but those are often without any hookups.  You can also camp on BLM land for free but again, no hookups.  Info can be found here:  https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/camping.  Another option is to camp at farms, vineyards and breweries by purchasing a membership here:  https://harvesthosts.com/.  The cost is $79 or $119 per year.  Finally, if you are on the road and want a free place to stay for the night, most Walmarts allow you to stay overnight in the parking lot.  This list is by no means exhaustive. 

6.  We started renting RVs without any prior experience - just jumped right in.  The rental company will show you a video before you take off, which will contain a number of useful tips.  There are also many videos on YouTube that you can watch, to learn the basics.  Emptying tanks is not hard at all.  It's not a pleasant job but I don't understand why people make such a big fuss about it.  Likewise, leveling isn't a big deal.  Most RVs you rent do not have auto leveling.  The rental company provides you with one of those bubble levels.  Once you know which side needs to be adjusted, you drive the RV onto one of those small ramps that you are provided with.  I am sure it will be a little daunting your first time out, but once you get the hang of it everything will be fine and you will have a great time.

I hope I answered all of your questions.  If I missed anything, please let me know.

September 10, 2020, 04:45:08 PM
3
The Adirondacks, by PBaruch (October 2020) Not long after returning from our crazy summer road trip (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=119570.0), the big city blues set in.  For whatever the reason, we are usually happiest on the road and trail.  Also, NYC is quite depressing and miserable these days.  After going through the mail, paying the bills, and sleeping for about a week straight, the itch started up again.  With chol hamoed Succos falling out optimally this year, we decided to drive upstate to the Adirondack region.  Our plan was to visit Ausable Chasm, do some hiking in the Adirondacks, and visit a few historic sites.  A friend and his family joined us, although we only ended up visiting Ausable Chasm together. 

We decided to stay at the Fairfield Inn in Plattsburgh, New York, near the Canadian border.  This hotel was the closest Marriott branded property that I was able to find near Ausable Chasm, was relatively new, and a bargain at only 17.5k Marriott points per night.  My only complaints related to the lousy shower water pressure and shower head, and the cheap bath towels.  We called the hotel ahead of our visit to inquire if the pool was open, and were told that only one person/family was permitted to use the pool at any given time.  During our stay, we reserved a time slot and had the entire pool and hot tub to ourselves for several hours. We could have had more pool time as the hotel was relatively empty, but were too busy with other activities.  Information about this hotel can be found here:

https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pbgfi-fairfield-inn-and-suites-plattsburgh/

Part 1 - Ausable Chasm

I visited Ausable Chasm years ago when I was single, but DW and the kids had never been there.  Having fond memories of my last trip there, it was a worthwhile visit to return with the family.   Information about Ausable Chasm can be found here:

https://www.ausablechasm.com/

We visited Ausable Chasm during the last week it was open, and it is now closed for the winter.  There are many different activities at the Chasm, but pretty much all were closed due to the pandemic.  We booked a "Riverwalk" guided tour and purchased "Basic Admission" tickets for entry to the trails.

 Ausable Chasm, NY (DSC_9443) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ausable Chasm, NY (DSC_9388) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Walking through the gorge:

Ausable Chasm, NY by P Bryan, on Flickr

Traversing a rope bridge:

Ausable Chasm, New York by P Bryan, on Flickr

Friends in the woods:

Ausable Chasm, NY (DSC_9418) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We spent half a day at the Chasm and all had a good time.  If you are in the general vicinity, it is a worthwhile visit.  However, it may not be suitable to visit with very young children.

Since there was still some daylight left, we decided to venture into Vermont, a short distance away over a bridge, so little one could add to his list of visited states.  We passed by a sign for Alburgh Dunes State Park and decided to visit.  Apparently, there are dunes somewhere, but we couldn't find them.  We did find a playground and beach and little one had lots of fun at the playground:

Alburgh Dunes State Park, VT, USA (DSC_9446) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Alburgh Dunes State Park, VT, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

The beach - must be a pretty nice place in summer:

Alburgh Dunes State Park, VT, USA (DSC_9449) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 2 - Catamount Mountain Hike in Adirondack State Park

Wanting to get out and hike in the Adirondacks, I researched various trails near Plattsburgh, and discovered Catamount Mountain.  Based upon a description of the trail, it looked like we probably couldn't complete it with the entire family but I thought we might be able to do most of it.  Wishful thinking. 

I used a few resources to research hiking trails.  One good resource is the Alltrails website:

https://www.alltrails.com/

Another good resource is a book called 50 Hikes in the Adirondack Mountains, which provides very thorough information.  This book can be purchased here:

https://www.amazon.com/Hikes-Adirondack-Mountains-1st-Explorers/dp/1682683036/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2EDX3K7N1TQ1U&dchild=1&keywords=50+hikes+in+the+adirondack+mountains&qid=1603249025&sprefix=50+hikes+in+the+ad%2Caps%2C144&sr=8-2

We looked up the weather forecast before leaving and saw that it called for rain on the second day of our trip (not counting the first day spent driving up to Plattsburgh).  We kept checking the weather forecast which didn't change and ultimately the prediction was for 100% chance of rain.
 
Weather Forecast, Plattsburgh, NY by P Bryan, on Flickr

However, the morning was supposed to be clear, giving us a few hours for some hiking.  DW roused us out of the hotel for an early start and we were off.  My friend's family, however, didn't get an early start and couldn't join us for the hike.

Catamount Mountain, New York (DSC_9460) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Parking at the trailhead:

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9463) by P Bryan, on Flickr

The trail register:

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9466) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we were off:

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9469) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9475) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9477) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Beautiful fall colors:

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9480) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Trail marker on a tree - makes it kind of hard to get lost:

Catamount Mountain, NY (DSC_9504) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After about an hour on the trail, 2/3 kids started to kvetch and it began to rain, so it was time to turn around and head back.  The remainder of the day was a complete wash out, but we took the opportunity to drive around and explore the Lake Placid area.

Part 3- The Long Way Home

Not wanting to waste the final day of our trip with simply driving home, we decided to stop off at various spots along the way back to NYC.  Our first stop of the day was Fort Crown Point, where you can see the ruins of a British fort built in 1759.  Information about Fort Crown Point can be found here:

https://parks.ny.gov/historic-sites/34/details.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Crown_Point

There was no charge to enter the site.  We mostly had the entire fort ruins to ourselves, and were able to wander around undisturbed.

Fort Crown Point, NY, USA (DSC_9512) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Crown Point, NY, USA (DSC_9521) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Crown Point, NY, USA (DSC_9532) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Crown Point, NY, USA (DSC_9545) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Crown Point, NY, USA (DSC_9548) by P Bryan, on Flickr

A short distance away is Fort Ticonderoga, another 18th century fort.  Information about Fort Ticonderoga can be found here:

https://www.fortticonderoga.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Ticonderoga

Road to the fort:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9551) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Like Fort Crown Point, Fort Ticonderoga was also built in the 18th century and was the site of many battles.  It's interesting to think about how so many fought and died over these installations that are now tourist attractions. 

We paid the admission fee and first went to the corn maze.

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9553) by P Bryan, on Flickr

So many choices - which way to go?

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Yes, there was still corn on the stalks:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9555) by P Bryan, on Flickr

An then we were off to the actual fort. 

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9587) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9571) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We are in חשוב company:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9576) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Looking for redcoats:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9566) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cannons at the fort:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9563) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9568) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9572) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9575) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Staring down into the barrel of a cannon:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9581) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We found redcoats, but don't worry - they were friendly:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9584) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw a shoemaker making shoes the old-fashioned way.  The shoemaker said it took him 40 hours to make one pair of shoes, and if he sold a pair, he would charge $800 USD:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9577) by P Bryan, on Flickr

And we visited the tailor:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9583) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were too late for lunch:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9580) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crumbling walls after more than 200 years:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9582) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We saw a demonstration where the soldiers shot one of the old-time cannons.  If you look closely to the left of the soldier wearing the blue jacket you will see a cannonball in midair:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (Cannon Demonstration) by P Bryan, on Flickr

A short drive from the fort was Mount Defiance.  View of the fort from the top:

Fort Ticonderoga, NY, USA (DSC_9588) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After Mount Defiance, we drove to Lake George where we visited the Adirondack Indoor Gun Range, information about which can be found here:

https://www.adirondackgunrange.com/

Adirondack Gun Range, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

So many choices:

Adirondack Gun Range, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

We rented two semi-automatic assault rifles - a SIG and a Tavor and bought two boxes of ammunition.  For some reason, the Tavor didn't like the ammunition we were using so we had to swap it out for another SIG.

The older kids had a blast and said it was their favorite part of the trip:

Adirondack Gun Range, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Adirondack Gun Range, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

Middle kid was the best shot of the group:

Adirondack Gun Range, NY, USA by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the gun range, we made our way home, arriving late at night.  Along the way we stopped at a rest stop for an impromptu meal using our butane camp stove.  Little one was so hungry that he ended up eating one burger and two hot dogs. 

Part 4 - Parting Thoughts

I was on the fence about posting this trip report, but ultimately decided that someone would probably enjoy it (hopefully I am right) and find the information useful.  As with almost everything else this year, this isn't one of our typical trips.

Thanks for reading and we hope that you enjoyed this trip report.

October 25, 2020, 09:32:36 PM
16