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Messages - kivabb

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1
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: October 06, 2020, 05:19:55 PM »
Any ideas for a hike to a lake with mountains in the background that’s not in RMNP other than St. Mary’s Glacier? <2 hours from Denver

Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Lake Isabelle
http://www.rockymountainhikingtrails.com/lake-isabelle.htm#:~:text=Trail%20Description%3A,the%20small%20town%20of%20Ward.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea/?recid=28182



2
Does anyone know if this is still available to pay the $525 fee for 35K points on the United Club Infinite Card?

Dan's post is from 5/18...

https://www.dansdeals.com/points-travel/airlines/united/redeem-united-miles-value-1-5-cents-pay-united-cards-annual-fee-call-chase-first-covid-19-offers/

And confirmed again 8/4....

https://www.dansdeals.com/credit-cards/limited-time-offer-earn-100000-miles-united-club-infinite-card-club-membership-2-free-checked-bags-worldwide-4-miles-per-dollar-spent/

But I wasn't sure if still valid.

Also, how do pay with the 35K points if you don't spend the $5K to trigger the sign up bonus by the time annual fee is due? Do you merge older account that has a balance to this account?

Thanks

3
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: August 20, 2020, 10:18:03 PM »
Has anyone gone rafting in either the Vail or Royal Gorge areas that can recommend which one is a better experience and which rafting company they used?

I-70 still closed going to Glenwood Canyon from Vail so that might exclude that option unless you're taking the scenic route.

https://denver.cbslocal.com/2020/08/20/grizzly-creek-fire-interstate-70-i-70-glenwood-canyon/

I was there the day the fire started:



You can read about my experience here: https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=118953.0



4
Trip Reports / Re: Colorado 11 Day Trip with our Group of 11 (Part 1)
« on: August 12, 2020, 09:43:16 PM »
(Part 2)

Day 8 - St Mary's Glacier
We wanted to break up the drive from Denver to Avon and this seemed to be a popular spot not too much out of the way. The hike is about 1.5 miles RT with constant elevation and lots of rocks. The view of the lake and glacier once we were up there were beautiful. There is no snow or ice on the actual trail to the glacier so you should be able to avoid injury assuming nothing foolish is done. Here too, on a hot Sunday, there were lots of interesting people that were dressed accordingly. Bring exact change ($5) for parking. There was a cop giving tickets to people parked on the street.



We checked in later that night to the Wyndham Avon. We got a beautiful 3 bedroom Condo for $300 a night (plus $15 parking). Pool was closed. Game-room was open. They had a great patio to make BBQ as well as a fire pit for a good chill at night (as some of my kids call it). Concierge as well to help with trip ideas.

The Chabad in Vail allowed us our first Mincha/Maariv in about a week with a Minyan. They seemed okay with anyone coming in as long as masks were being worn.

Day 9  - Glenwood Cavern Adventure Park - https://www.glenwoodcaverns.com/
The $60 entrance fee was too steep for our party of 11. So I contacted group sales ahead of time and they asked me if anyone in our group had a birthday the month of our arrival as that would be their best rate. That entitled us to a $40 entrance fee per person and a pizza party.  They allowed us to trade in our pizza for a $10 gift card per person to use just about anywhere in the park. I think the minimum for the “birthday party” is 8 people. We officially went on a slower day and still had to wait about 30 minutes per ride. Great Alpine Slide.

This isn’t too important for future travelers, but it definitely added a twist to our trip. After about 3 hours there, the power had gone down on the mountain. Shortly thereafter we saw smoke billowing up from a mountain a short distance away. It seems a forest fire had broken out a short distance away (the locals later claimed that a forest fire of that scale hasn't happened there since 1974) and we were asked to descend the mountain and leave the park. By the time we got down, highway 70 had been shut down going Eastward and our 50 minute drive turned out to be a 5 hour drive as we took the scenic route (Rifle, Craig, Steamboat Springs) fearing that it could be many hours or potentially days for the roads to reopen. In the end, the park refunded us 75% of our visit. So considering that the other 25% we paid was a gift card to buy souvenirs, we did okay. I was very impressed in how they handled things. Three days later, I-70 is still closed. It's a good thing we didn’t wait.


Day 10 - Ford Park, Botanical Garden, Vail Village, Lionshead Village
The ADHD in me has a hard time with a chilled out day, but I needed to leave a day open in case bad weather (or a forest fire!!!) would require a schedule change for our Glenwood Canyon or Rafting day. I also knew my wife would appreciate a day like this. Parking was free. The park and gardens were nice (if you appreciate that stuff). The window shopping in the villages are seemingly trying to resemble European architecture (the Alps?) and nice.

Day 11 - Piney River Ranch
In the end, they cancelled our rafting trip due to the forest fire earlier in the week. I have had this dream of taking my kids rafting on the Colorado. I had done extensive homework to get the most bang for our buck (they offered us like 20% off since we were eight) for rafting on the Colorado and we had chosen Defiance Rafting to do the Shoshone rapids twice, https://www.raftdefiance.com/double-shoshone, but it wasn’t meant to be. They gave us a full refund.

So we needed an activity for the day. My younger ones had been hiked out from the week before so we needed an easier day. The concierge in Wyndham suggested Piney River Ranch. It’s only 8-10 miles from Vail but on a dirt road and a bit nauseating for my passengers (we took Bonine). Once up there, a beautiful lake and background. They rent canoes for $30 an hour and you can put up to 3 people in each. He gave us an extra 20 minutes and it was beautiful. They also have horseback riding, but with pricing at $105 per person and needing to weigh less than 220 pounds, that counted that out one way or the other. They seemed to have a hike as well which we skipped. On the drive out, there’s a small bridge that you cross that has a small camping area right there. We pulled over there to have lunch and then went down to the stream down below and the kids had a real nice quiet place to put their feet in the water. We saw a moose on the way out. https://www.pineyriverranch.com/



Day 12 - Lake Dillon, Loveland Pass
Tomorrow is our last day. We have a 6PM flight so we figured we’d take a short stop by Lake Dillon and drive by Loveland Pass to get a picture by the continental divide since it’s just 10 minutes out of the way. Then stop for some pizza before heading towards the airport.

Final Thoughts - Colorado is a beautiful State and we only touched what was within 2 hours driving from Denver or Vail. On top of that, the idea that kosher food and minyanim (under normal circumstances) are available make it an obvious place to visit. I would have loved to have hit some spots like the Sand Dunes and the Grand Canyon of the Gunnison but with our age groups, it would have been too much driving at this stage in life.

Vail is a beautiful place. And if you have the time, it’s definitely worth stopping here for 3-4 days as a base to hit places like Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake, Colorado River Rafting, Piney River Ranch along with Vail Mountain and shops. Most of the people that I met in the Vail area only come to Vail to visit. Some for 10 days. I think it would be a shame to make the trip to such a beautiful state for so long, and miss out on many places that are too far from Vail when they could have done it if they were based in Denver (or any other place for that matter).

I hope when the kids are a bit older to return and hit some of those places I couldn’t reach, as well as get my Double Shoshone Rafting.

I hope this helps.





5
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: August 11, 2020, 12:03:46 PM »
I'm in Avon/Vail area and looking to spend chilled day today without spending all that money on Gondola. Would love to see something beautiful or nature without the hike. Read all 88 pages here. Considering Ford Park and Botanical Gardens and walking the shops based on what I saw on Trip Advisor, but wondering if there's a must see in Vail that I'm missing. Please advise if you see this message soon.

6
Trip Reports / Re: Colorado 11 Day Trip with our Group of 11 (Part 1)
« on: August 10, 2020, 10:50:27 AM »
Wow amazing TR sort and to the point . did u make all the trips from Denver ?

Yup. All trips from Hyatt House. Sometimes we drove 100 minutes each way, but for my wife if was worthwhile to come back to same hotel and not keep packing and unpacking.

7
Trip Reports / Re: Colorado 11 Day Trip with our Group of 11 (Part 1)
« on: August 07, 2020, 02:56:44 PM »
Wow, awesome report! I haven't been to RMNP yet, but now I know what specific things to do once there!

Your trip report actually inspired lots of my trip planning so thank you for that!

Added a pic of Emerald Lake.

8
Trip Reports / Colorado 11 Day Trip with our Group of 11 (Part 1)
« on: August 07, 2020, 01:03:04 PM »
It seemed that our family was probably from the minority of visitors that were in Colorado when we were there that had actually planned a trip 10 months in advance. And as the months rolled by and Corona was increasing in all states, I selfishly watched Colorado and hoped it would stay under the radar and not stop reopening. B”H, it was meant to be and we had a great trip.

Denver has so many beautiful day trip options, and the idea of being able to park ourselves in as little hotels as possible was a huge luxury for my wife. So the first week we did just that. I was actually surprised how little Yidden we saw the first week on the trails. Then we found out that most people go straight to the Vail area. Our plan was the following week to go to the mountain area in Avon. If you have the time, don’t miss some of those incredible nature day trip options from Denver.

Our group consisted of my wife and I with our 9 children ages 3 to 21. Maybe our last licks (in our current status) of having everyone together on a family trip.

Flights
I’m a big fan of United Group Flights. If you have 10 or more in your group,  they can hold your reservations until 3 months before departure penalty free. This year, because of Corona, they basically would have allowed me to cancel at the last minute. They also allowed me to match lower pricing as pricing dropped. In the end, we got $150 RT including handbags. I know they had these crazy flash sales from PHL that dropped as low as $100 RT on some airlines, but with Newark being so convenient and 5-6 non stop flights a day, we decided to stick with them. They required masks except while eating or drinking, so we worked within the system as much as possible without making a C”H, to allow the kids a “breather”.

Car Rentals
I like using Costco Travel for car reservations. They include an extra driver for free, usually give me great rates, plus allow me to add Fast Break to my Budget reservation so I can skip the counter. Avis did not allow me to get both the Costco discount and apply to Avis Preferred. When I made the reservations 6 months back, the price was $1250 for 11 day rental. I kept checking back and it had gone up as high as $1500, and in the last week had dropped to $933 with Budget. I made a backup reservation with Avis for $990 in case Budget had no Ford Transits. Moral of the story, keep checking for price drops. With our group of 11 B”EH, I love renting those Ford Transits which are basically the 15 seater with the last row removed for luggage. In my experience, only Budget or Avis rent those. The other companies are with the extra back bench and minimal luggage space. When I arrived in Denver, I learned not only that Avis and Budget share the same fleet, but that they only have the Chevy’s in 12 seaters. Luckily for me, there was 1 Ford Transit in the lot from a one way rental that was just dropped off.


Lodging
Hyatt House Denver/Lakewood at Belmar - (5 nights). I love Hyatt House. 8K points for a suite with a full size kitchen and eating area (we needed 3 of them). Plus they were on sale now 25% off. The hotel manager was extremely accommodating to our needs (you’ll see her email after you make a reservation) including room type (awards only allow kings and we needed some double queens). There was no housekeeping because of Corona which was an adjustment, but everything within reason that we requested, they were happy to accommodate. They had a large enclosed patio that we made our BBQ’s every night which has huge convenience. Free breakfast had cereals, fruit, and stuff like granola bars to go that was a help. Good coffee too. The location was extremely convenient. It was a 10 minute drive to the Yeshiva where we went for Shachris, there is a Target literally next door which was great for restocking every night, and they had a Nordstrom Rack across the street which increased my ratings with the ladies of the family. The immediate area seemed very safe and we would definitely return.

Shabbos/MS - Spent with some family in Denver.

Wyndham Avon - (4 nights) We reserved a 3 bedroom condo. We used promotion code entertainment and we received 20% off. https://www.extraholidays.com/avon-colorado/wyndham-resort-at-avon

Food - Sandwich makers, homemade muffins, cold cuts and cheeses for breakfast and lunch . It helped a lot to have a pizza shop (with great food) along with a supermarket to stock up. We usually get a small propane grill to cook up the burgers, not dogs and schnitzel we bring in our bar bags. We usually get from Walmart and pick up when we pick up the propane but the last few summers they had been out of stock in August. I found that Ace Hardware had and we arranged a pick up a few minutes away. https://www.acehardware.com/departments/outdoor-living/grills-and-smokers/gas-grills/8394876

Altitude Sickness ? - On Day 3, I experienced some tightness in my head as we went up in altitude to RMNP. My wife had some tightness in her chest that reminded her of Corona. My girls also had some headaches that dwhich issipated as we went down in altitude. Another one of my daughters threw up later that night. That was with sleeping in Denver and waiting until day 3 to go to a higher altitude. On Day 5 we went back up with no symptoms.

Corona - Our whole family had gotten sick in March so our attitude was mainly being considerate and respectful to others and not make C”H. My understanding from some in the local community was that most people in the Denver community did not get Corona yet. So many Shuls were being extra cautious and not allowing out of towners in (understandably so!). So make sure to call ahead and see if you will be granted entry. As far as the trails are concerned, RMNP had most people without masks, but Brainard Lake had most with masks. When reading the reviews on the hiking sites for the trails we were considering, I saw that many reviewers bad mouthed the non maskers. So being that we wanted to avoid C”H, we kept masks handy when oncoming hikers would walk by.

Downtime- We try to plan ahead so we’re not caught off guard while trying to keep the same standards we keep at home while away in regard to television, movies, etc... If you go to https://www.seatguru.com/ you can see if your flight has a entertainment system and if you need to prepare accordingly. If they don’t, then it’s easier. For when they do, we bring DVD players on board to give them a safer alternative. During the trip, we try to pack the days so we’re usually exhausted by the time we hit the hotel. When they do need a chill, we’ll have our girls scout out the pool and if it’s empty we’ll let them take a swim which is always fun. And again, we bring the DVD’s with some appropriate entertainment for if/when needed. In our case, having Nordstrom Rack and Target around the corner provided a safe (while expensive) outlet. Or you can write trip reports in my case :)

Activities-

Day 1 - EWR-DEN, checked in, unpacked, winded down.

Day 2 - Garden of The Gods. Plenty of trail options from stroller friendly to more intense. We saw a bear! Beautiful place.



Day 3 - Rocky Mountain National Park.
Need to book in advance at https://www.recreation.gov/ for park entry.
Free if you have a (going in or out of) 4th grader https://everykidoutdoors.gov/index.htm
Emerald Lake Trail - 3.6 Miles Round Trip (Beautiful!), Old Fall River Rd, Trail Ridge Road

Emerald Lake:


Day 4  - Epic Sky Trek (ropes course). Good safe fun https://castlerockziplinetours.com/sky-trek.html
They had a Groupon and with the 20% coupon they have every few days we ended paying $31 a person (versus $49)

Day 5 - Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Lake Isabelle - 4.2 mile hike to Isabelle Lake
The hike starts from Long Lake Trail head. The main challenge is parking as they’re only allowing 80% capacity due to Covid and they’re real strict. Not getting to park at the trail-head can add anywhere from 1-4 miles to your hike which could have spoiled our day. They allow people in at 6, 10:30, 12 and 1:30 so we aimed for the 12PM arrival. We did some homework and determined that the afternoon would be the best time to arrive to avoid the morning rush and increase our chances for a parking spot by the trail-head. With all that, we still didn’t get our preferred parking and were told we had to park half a mile away (Mitchell Lake) and walk the extra mile. I asked a ranger if I can drop off the family and then I would walk the extra distance myself. They agreed. When I dropped them off, a parking spot opened and God had mercy on us as the ranger allowed us to park right by the trail-head. I knew it was going to be a great day! The ranger left the trail-head at around 2:30PM so if you arrive after that there seemed to be several spots open. I have been to many beautiful places on the west coast, and this lake is definitely close competition. There’s a turnoff to the left of the trail right when you hit Lake Isabelle that most people miss that offers some incredible views of the lake at eye level, with the falls right by your feet and the incredible panoramic background. And those moose that never get any attention in an enclosed setting, become the most majestic looking animals when seen in their natural habitat. We saw them here with antlers and all. This place should be on everyone's bucket list.
http://www.rockymountainhikingtrails.com/lake-isabelle.htm#:~:text=Trail%20Description%3A,the%20small%20town%20of%20Ward.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea/?recid=28182

Here's one shot of Lake Isabelle. Images don't really do justice but you get the idea. There's  a waterfall right behind here.



Day 6 - Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
Beautiful place. It was 100 degrees when we went so beware of lots lots of semi dressed people doing all sorts of exercise and plan accordingly.

Shabbos - We’re spending time with some family on the East side. A shout out to Aish Denver that definitely tried to hustle for us if we would have needed a plan B. They seem like an amazing community. Granted that having a normal Shabbos option can make a huge difference on our trip.

I’m actually writing this on Friday of our trip. We’re going to Avon on Sunday, but wanted to get this out on the possibility that someone else would benefit from our findings.

So if you see a tall group of 11 walking around the East Side for Shabbos that stick out like a sore thumb and don’t look like the locals, that’s us :)

Stay tuned for Part 2







9
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: August 06, 2020, 10:01:53 PM »
ok how many guys from lakewood am i gonna meet in Colorado next week?  >:(  gonna be traffic going up the trails :-\

I've been here all week. So far we hiked Emerald Lake, Brainard (Lake Isabelle) and Garden of the Gods and we only saw a few brothers (and they didn't even seem like they were from Lakewood). So you might just be seeing my family :)

10
Trip Reports / Re: Corona Time 3 Day Getaway to the Berkshires
« on: July 27, 2020, 06:17:04 PM »
That was the whole trip :)

11
Trip Reports / Re: Corona Time 3 Day Getaway to the Berkshires
« on: July 03, 2020, 12:36:29 PM »
Correction on Day 1 Awosting Falls hike above. I wrote that it's 1 hour hike, but I intended to write 1 mile hike (which I hope must of us can still do in way less than 1 hour).

12
Trip Reports / Re: Corona Time 3 Day Getaway to the Berkshires
« on: July 03, 2020, 12:26:57 PM »
How was?

Jiminy Peak was great! Good healthy fun for just about anyone over 3 years old and 38 inches tall (they need to ride with officially 16 year old+ but they're not too strict about the 16 year old part). When we first arrived they told us the Mountain Coaster was closed and offered to give us $10 discount for each ticket. 2 hours later they opened that up too so the kids had an emotional roller coaster as well. They're pretty strict about checking in and well as waiting in lines with masks..... but once on the ride or just sitting on park benches they were okay without the mask. They allowed us to make BBQ as well on site. Bring drinks as they wanted to charge us $4.80 for a Powerade. I wouldn't have minded a Mincha Minyan. We practically had the whole place to ourselves and minimal wait times.  Sorry for those I spoiled that for that were planning on going before I wrote this ;)

13
Trip Reports / Corona Time 3 Day Getaway to the Berkshires
« on: July 01, 2020, 11:08:06 PM »
With Quarantine blues, some of the kids camps cancelling, and trying to bring some fun as we try to transition back into normalcy, I tried to find a 2-3 day getaway to have some good family time outside the house.

I was hoping Busch Gardens Williamsburg would open as that has been a fun safe getaway for us in the past, but they kept delaying their opening so I ruled that out.

With just about everything indoor closed, and many hotels closed, we needed to find something outdoors where in the same area we could find normal (affordable) lodging....but we kept encountering closures.

In the end, we managed to find a real nice getaway, so my wife and I (and 8 kids) headed north to Massachusetts. I literally spent 10+ hours planning this short getaway, so I'm sharing in the hopes that if someone is in my situation that they will benefit from my research.

Transportation - We departed from Lakewood with both our cars. My oldest daughter drives, so that allowed my wife and I some quality time together in the front seat (which is almost non existent when the kids are practicing to drive and we're travelling as a family).

Lodging - With absolute divine intervention, I came across a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Williamstown MA, for 5K Marriott points a night! We needed 4 rooms for 2 nights, which was a total 40K point total. The hotel opened in December and it was clean and comfy and a great base to some of the places we planned to visit. The pool and fitness room were closed, and they make you wear face masks in the public areas. Overall, I felt I finally some good usage for my Marriott points. https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/albfw-fairfield-inn-and-suites-williamstown/

Food - Fairfield Hotels only have mini fridges and I'm always wondering if those things really work or not, so thanks to our trusty bear bags (we brought 3 of them) we're able to keep everything cold or frozen without the fridge. We got one of these Portable Gas Grill from Walmart (https://www.walmart.com/ip/Expert-Grill-17-5-10-000-BTU-Portable-Gas-Grill-Black/238454155) with a few mini propane tanks. We also brought a sandwich maker. So sandwich makers and homemade muffins for breakfast, cold-cut sandwiches and wraps for lunch, and marinated shnitzel, hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner. We usually bring a few cases of Tradition Soups as well as an insurance policy. The hotel served a grab and go breakfast that consisted of a OUD granola bar and muffin as well as a water bottle. For us it was was a waste of time, but they did say it varies by day.

Activities -
Day 1 - We departed Lakewood at about Noon. The drive direct to the hotel was roughly 4 hours, so I was looking for something en-route that we can break up the drive. Literally 10 minutes out of the way I came across Minnewaska State Park that was the perfect find. Entrance fee was $10 per car. We did a beautiful 1 hour small hike to Awosting Falls. It's beautiful and the kids loved it! We also did a 2 mile walk around the Lake Minnewaska Loop. Both would be accessible with a decent stroller. We then had a picnic dinner before heading towards the hotel. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g47994-d105820-Reviews-Minnewaska_State_Park_Preserve-Kerhonkson_Catskill_Region_New_York.html

Day 2 -
Natural Bridge State Park - Literally 10-15 minutes from hotel, this (free) stop was beautiful and fun. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g41715-d218997-Reviews-Natural_Bridge_State_Park-North_Adams_Massachusetts.html
Berkshire U-Drive Rent-A-Boat on Pontoosuc Lake - Just 25 minutes from hotel this was also a great find. 10 person pontoon was $206 including tax for 2 hours. The kids got to jump in the water and it was great fun. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g41769-d14138048-Reviews-U_Drive_Rent_A_Boat-Pittsfield_Massachusetts.html
Burbank Park by Onota Lake - The locals told us to park alongside the road that takes you to beach access where we'll find picnic tables by the water to make our BBQ dinner. Pretty.

Day 3 -
Jiminy Peak - Alpine Slides, Mountain Coasters, Zip Lines. $39 and $29 unlimited depending on your size and you only pay if you ride, but you do have to reserve ahead of time a 4 hour slot. (This is tomorrows activity as I'm here in the hotel typing this as I had some down time. I hope we'll have a blast. ) https://www.jiminypeak.com/Summer/Attractions/Mountain-Adventure-Park
BBQ at Jiminy Peak and then head back home.

I hope this helps :)



14
Destination Guides And Trip Planning / Re: Colorado Master Thread
« on: June 16, 2020, 05:23:35 PM »
Thinking of a day trip from Denver with wife and kids to Brainard lake/4 mile hike Long Lake to Isabelle Lake and spending half the day there.....and then Eldorado Canyon Park Fowler Trail 2 mile round trip on the way back to Denver.   

I need to break up the hiking for the kids and the second hike seems to be somewhat stroller accessible.

Make sense?


15
This past summer my wife and I went on a long awaited 11-day West Coast family trip. San Francisco, Yosemite, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Sedona and finishing in Phoenix. I would think that the places we went to won’t be so informative for most of the readers, as I probably got many of our ideas from this forum. What I hope might be beneficial for some is that our companions were our 9 children ages 2-20, and our experience with them from beginning to end. With my oldest at age 20, I view these trips as potential last licks of being able to disconnect from the fast pace of life as well as have special family bonding time before some of the kids move on. I start planning and scheming the trips 10 months in advance, and the anticipation and involvement with the family of the different planning stages is almost as fun as the trip itself. I also feel that in a world (at least my world) of dwindling kosher outlets, the idea that we can pass the message over to our kids that going on a beautiful hike….these beautiful national parks….seeing this beautiful country…..a fun filled action packed vacation without compromising on our standards….especially with the people you love…. is a great gift we will have given them.

Flights
Outbound - We booked Alaskan Air from EWR-SFO on an 8AM Sunday morning in August as we found tickets for $129 One Way (includes hand bag). My wife and I also each had the Alaska BOA credit card which got us like 4 checked in bags for free. At some point, we were notified that our flight was cancelled and we were being put on the night flight which was leaving Sunday night. That created some complications as we would lose the whole Sunday, as well as start the next day exhausted. Typically, it seems that Alaskan Air would have just allowed for us to either take the evening flight or cancel with no penalty. Neither of those solutions helped as the current one-way on any airline was at least $250 one way at that point. I noticed that Alaska had a morning flight from PHL-SFO for $250, and they told me that since we were a group that they would change us to that flight for same price. I’m sure most of you that are experts at sweet talking an agent for reconsidering a credit card application could have easily done what I did without the group. But for me, this was definitely a crisis averted.
Return – For the return we booked on United PHX-EWR that I also found at $129 including the hand bag. United has this great Group Flights feature that if you have a party of 10 or more people, they will hold that fare with a deposit and it’s totally refundable if you cancel 3 months in advance. They’ll even lower the fare if you notice the tickets drop and in price and you call in before they’re ticketed. It has other perks which people would benefit from like name changes for some, but those didn’t apply to me practically.

Luggage – As I said earlier, handbags were included so you can be sure that we all had one. Backpacks too. As far as transporting the food on the plane, this site at some point posted a sale on Bear Cooler Bags at 50% off. We were in for 4 which we used to transport our perishables.

Entertainment – Like I said earlier, we have kids of all ages. So, the idea of stepping onto a plane or hotel room for that matter and having the onboard entertainment system with lures galore in front of everyone without proper preparation would almost guarantee to be a compromise on the message my wife and I are trying to give over to our kids. Yes, we probably could have found some cartoon without too much innuendo. But what about the before and after? And that would have satisfied the younger ones. But what about the older ones? Once we’re giving the green light, they would obviously want to watch something more “age appropriate”. And once my older ones would be watching something more exciting, the younger ones would definitely want to jump on board. So where do you draw the line? And what’s the message to them? That what we don’t do back at home, we can do on the plane or the hotel room? That would be confusing. But at the same time, can I realistically expect the kids with those screens with endless selection to sit there for 5-6 hours and not turn them on? So, I’m going to share what we did. Not because I’m tooting my horn, but rather if there’s someone reading this who might have thought that such a task was daunting, I hope this could be helpful on some level as well as encouragement that it could be done. It’s not all or nothing. First, I went and bought several DVD players with us on the plane.  I then tried to find and purchase appropriate videos for the different age groups that they would find interesting. I had a pep talk with all the kids expressing to them our goals for this trip, which basically were to have great family time and fun together…… see beautiful places…….make a Kiddush Hashem (I gave specific examples)…..and to try the best we could to keep God on our team…..to not compromise on what we felt God wanted us to do or not do….that life experience has shown me that when I hustle for God on a trip, I feel like we have an extra dose of Divine Intervention when we go. I then turned to the older ones and said to them that without getting into if it was halachically permitted or prohibited to watch certain entertainment, that I was asking them as a favor that at least when we’re on our family trip to help us reach our goals by doing their part. I also offered an incentive that whoever helps me with the above would get to go one day of the trip on something really special. In this case it was the Sedona’s Broken Arrow Jeep Trip tour which was one of the highlights of our trip. It cost me $100 each (which was steep) but it was all part of the message. I tried to plan an action-packed trip full of structure and activity which I felt would help the game plan. Spending, for example, a week in a vacation home in NMB with no real schedule of what’s being done everyday I feel would make it much harder to keep the unintended entertainment off. Lastly (and probably most importantly), I prayed for success. Yes, I think it does help that I’m somewhat out of the box. I’ve also discovered that if I’m having a great time…. then so will our group. B’H, we have been doing this ever since the kids were little and our win streak continues.

Transportation – We rented a 12-passenger van from Avis using Costco Travel. No credit card is needed to hold the reservation and the second driver is included in the price.  It’s really a 15-passenger Ford Transit van that has the last row taken out for luggage room. I have come to notice that Full Size Vans that Alamo and Enterprise rent usually are the full 15 seaters with the last bench included (advertised as 15-seater with 2 pieces of luggage). Avis, and sometimes Budget, many times don’t have the last row in there and is advertised as full size 12-seater van. (Just make sure you confirm with that location as it’s possible to have a 12-seater without that extra luggage space). The idea that we can all fit in one vehicle without stressing about luggage space coming in and out of hotels was huge.  The lowest price from SFO with drop off at PHX, was $1300 for the 11-day rental. I searched in the SFO area to see if they had cheaper Avis options and found a few places that had $650 for the one way. I figured I would take an Uber while they’re getting the luggage. But we were arriving on Sunday and these local places are either closed Sunday or close at noon which make it too close to call. I was also concerned that those smaller rental locations usually have just one van in stock, and if someone is late on a return, then I’m in trouble. So, I did a one-day one-way rental from SFO to Hayward (like 20 minutes from hotel) for $180. The next morning as I was going to pick up the van, I received a call that my van had not yet arrived and they were anticipating it later in the afternoon. That would have been bad news at $180 a day and an Alcatraz cruise scheduled at 11:30AM. The backup plan worked and they allowed me to just keep the van I was in which saved me $470.

Food – We needed to bring enough food to satisfy some big eaters. Yes, we would go out for lunch and dinner a couple of times, but going out to eat for anything more then pizza is an easy $150-200 per meal. We also didn’t want spend time every day preparing meals from start to finish as we had places to go during the day, and lots of tired kids by the time we got back to the hotel that night. So, we brought raw marinated and breaded chicken cutlets in Ziploc freezer bags, frozen hamburgers, cold cuts, shredded cheese, homemade granola squares, homemade muffins, cream cheese and milk (for coffee to save a stop in SFO). As far as cooking utensils, for breakfasts we brought along a frying pan, spatula and a sandwich maker. A sharp knife. Tongs. For the BBQ dinners we stopped in Walmart on our first day to buy a portable grill that you can attach those disposable mini propane tanks. We were a bit challenged with finding one as it was late in the season (mid-August) and they already removed those seasonal items. Luckily, we found the last one in Kmart. Next time I’ll plan better and arrange an online order with pickup in store. Paper goods, eggs, condiments, breads, snacks, water, we bought our first day in San Francisco, and stocked up every few days.

Time Zone – We had a 3-hour time change from EST to PST. With our 2 and 4-year-old, we suspected they would be up early each morning no matter what. We also had several good reasons to get an early start each day like the late minyan in SF (at 6:30AM!!), getting up for an early morning hike on The Mist Trail before the crowds fill or South Kaibab Trail before the sun bakes us. So, we decided to try to keep to the EST time zone in regards to going to sleep and waking up times (my oldest son even kept his watch on EST) so when we woke up many mornings at 6AM (9AM EST) it’s wasn’t only less painful, but it gave us a great jump on the day.

Hotels/Vacation Homes
Hyatt House Emeryville - Travelling with 11, needing space to eat, lots of fridge and freezer space, and not breaking the bank can be a challenge. Taking 4 standard rooms anywhere peak season is very expensive. Besides, that wouldn’t allow us a kitchen or living area for the family time to eat together and schmooze at the end of a long day. The suite rooms are usually double the price and we would need 2. That can easily be $550-600 a night. The VRBO’s and AirBNB’s usually have those steep fees that don’t make it worthwhile for a few night stay. Plus, there’s just something about the hotel that make it part of the fun experience. So, I have come to discover Hyatt House which many times has 2 queens in private room, Large L shaped couch with Queen pull out bed (and room for someone younger on remaining couch), full size fridge/freezer kitchen, as well as seating area. They also usually have free breakfast to stock up on fruits in the morning, cereals, as well as paper supplies. In order to be comfortable, we need 3 of those Hyatt House Suites that can also run $200 each a night. But many times, you can pick up at 8K points per night (x 3) and that’s what we did. In San Francisco, we stayed in a beautiful Hyatt-House-Emeryville right over the bridge and a 10-minute drive to minyanim. We spend 2 nights here and it was great.
River Rock Retreat Yosemite West – We booked this through a reservation center called Scenic Wonders that organizes vacation homes in the Yosemite area. You can usually get these same homes through VRBO or Airbnb, but I found that with the extra fees and stuff, that Scenic Wonders was cheaper with one set fee. We stayed in a really cool home called River-rock-retreat. I should warn that although entrance fees to National Parks are close to nothing (and free if you have a kid going into or out of fourth grade), and we had 3 days in the park where activities didn’t cost us anything….. finding appropriate lodging in the park is a fortune. The idea of staying outside the park is much cheaper, but you end up spending a good 1 to 1.5 hours getting into the park which could be waring on little kids (and their parents). In our case we were 15 minutes from Yosemite Valley. $700 a night for a beautiful home that fit us all comfortably. 10 people is usually the cutoff in many of these homes but I told them that it was 10 plus a baby and they allowed. We spent 2 nights 3 days here and it was definitely very cool, comfortable and convenient.
Home of Close Family Friends – After many summer trips that included a Shabbos away from a community and spending it in a hotel all cooped up with the kids, I try to make it a big priority to be able to spend Shabbos in a community where at least a minyan is in walking distance. But again, needing accommodations for all of us with eating space, food preparation space and a kitchen is many times a big challenge to find. One thing is to reach out to the community to put up my wife and I for a meal, but to ask to get invited to a meal for 11 people out of town would be a chutzpa. Even in my hometown, very few people would dare to invite us for a meal. Los Angeles is one of those exception situations where we have some close family friends that put us up and fed us all so graciously. Besides the recharge of Shabbos itself, it was an opportunity to make a few washes and restock on some kosher rations in the kosher supermarket section in preparation for the next part of our trip. And after spending 2 nights and Yosemite and spending a fortune, spending 3 nights here definitely helped the budget.
Yavapai Lodge – No frills hotel inside Grand Canyon Park, but gave us everything we needed for a one-night stay: They have something called an East Family Room that consist of one room with 2 Queens and 1 bunk bed, AC, as well as a shuttle stop right outside to the South Kaibab Trail for which we were planning an early morning hike down. Each room was $186 plus tax and we needed 2 rooms.
Villas of Sedona – I was having a hard time finding suites or several individual rooms for one night in Sedona for under $600 (total) until I came upon this place. A two-bedroom villa with a loft ($200) plus 1-bedroom villa with loft ($150) with full kitchens in each had room to spare.

Minyanim – With the exception of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix, we weren’t too successful in finding a Minyan even during peak season. I tried to set up temporary minyanim for our days in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Sedona on GoDaven but we were unsuccessful.

Itinerary-
Sunday, we flew PHL-SFO, picked up our Van with Avis, set out over Golden Gate Bridge, stopped at Battery Spencer (free) right past the bridge to get some beautiful views of the bridge and the water. We then continued to Muir Woods. It’s a beautiful paved path through Redwood trees and definitely worth a stop if you have a National Park Pass. Muir Woods National Monument is officially part of the National Park System, but (even with my National Park Pass that gives my fourth grader and everyone in her family free entrance) some of us still needed to pay something to get in. If you go on a Sunday like we did, be sure so reserve advance parking for like $10 as it gets full in the summer. We then continued to Muir Lookout (free) which is a few minutes’ drive from there which offers beautiful views of the Pacific Coast. We then headed for some food shopping and in search for a BBQ Grill and propane before heading back to the Hyatt House.
Monday - Avis Rental from Hayward,  Alcatraz Cruise 11:30 AM departure, Fisherman’s Wharf, Sea Lions on Pier 39, Lombard Street, Frena Bakery  (a nice break for my wife after a long first day). They had some early dinner options for us and we had confirmed that it was Cholov Yisrael. Back to Hyatt House.
Tuesday - Drive to Yosemite NP, Tunnel View, Check in to River Rock House, Glacier Point Road, Washburn Point, Glacier Point. Stunning! Sleep in Yosemite West
Wednesday – One of the most popular hikes in Yosemite is the Mist Trail. But we were warned that in August the crowds get so big that it takes away from the hike (as well as the parking spaces). For us, all being at the trailhead at 7:30AM was a great feat and helped provide one of the highlights of our trip. The hike is officially 3-4 hours and strenuous, but if you have some determined little ones as well as some backup shoulders on the older ones, then it will be well worth the effort. We spent the rest of the day in Yosemite Valley seeing the different falls and beautiful stops via the tram. Sleep in Yosemite West.
Thursday - Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias, drove to LA, Slept by close friends in LA.
Friday – I wanted to use this day to give my wife some needed downtime while I take the kids for the day and let her stay behind. An amusement park made the most sense until I realized the price tag for most on admission. I came across on Ebay tickets in “bulk” for Knotts Berry Farm. Considering it came out to $20 a person (versus over $100), it was an easy decision. The park was nice, had something for everyone, and most importantly gave my wife the break she needed.
Shabbos – Beautiful Shabbos in Los Angeles. Motzei Shabbos went to supermarket to stock up for next leg of our journey.
Sunday – The goal of the day was to drive to the Grand Canyon South Rim to try to catch sunset on the canyon. We made a few stops along Historic Route 66 like Oatman, Arizona to watch a gun show and feed some of the mules. These stops were cute and touristy, as well as an opportunity to stretch our legs, but nothing to write home about. We all got a kick out of watching the outside temp in the van reading 118 degrees. Thankfully, we made it to the South rim with time to spare, checked into our rooms, unloaded, and then headed out to the trams to catch a glorious sunset over the canyon. Slept in Yavapai Lodge.
Monday – First order of the day was a 3-mile hike down the South Kaibab Trail. We had taken two rooms in Yavapai Lodge. So, we made up the night before to divide the rooms for the night with the early hikers (myself and 5 oldest) in one room and the rest in the other so my wife and the younger ones would hopefully get some more sleep. The plan was to get up so we can daven with the netz, and then head out on the shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail head and head out to Cedar Ridge. The early morning was so peaceful. The hike was breathtaking. We then met up wife my wife, (had some quick showers before check out,) and went to some of the famous canyon vistas, as well as the visitor center where there’s a short (free) film about the Canyon. A datapoint that might be helpful for some is that the IMAX about the Grand Canyon that they have outside the park has a bikini scene, in case you’re sensitive to that. My wife and I did almost this same trip when we were first married, and (for better or for worse) I remembered that scene (it’s the same film) and we didn’t go this time. We then started our drive to Sedona. What a beautiful place and beautiful just driving around. We checked into Villas of Sedona, made a BBQ, took a dip in an empty indoor pool we had found and went to sleep. We were wiped.
TuesdaySedona/Phoenix. Pink Jeep Broken Arrow Tour for myself and the 7 oldest. Only 8 people fit in a jeep and my wife gets nauseous easily so she was more then happy to stay behind with the 2 younger ones and get us ready for departure with some quiet to spare. The jeep tour from the driver, to her photo taking abilities, to the scenery she took us to was incredible. Yes, it was the most expensive 2 hours of our trip, but as explained earlier it was part of an incentive and a really special way to spend our last day. We had taken a 9AM two-hour tour so we can hopefully be back at hotel and freshen up before Noon checkout as we had a red eye that night from PHX. Little did we know then how stifling PHX would be that night. We headed to a trampoline park in Phoenix area as we were looking for something with AC where kids can jump around for a few hours. We then went to Nordstrom Last Chance Clearance Store to check if any great deals. Our experience there was that you really need a lot of patience, mazel, as well as some defensive tackle skills to make it worth the trip. I don’t think we would return there, especially with the 9 kids. After catching a Mincha/Maariv, we went for dinner to LaBella Pizzeria. We were pleased and would return.  We then headed to the airport for the most uncomfortable van drop off I ever did. I’m from Miami and I’m used to the humidity, but it was pretty oppressive and any hopes of feeling clean for a 4-hour flight were gone. The red eye was hard and thinking back I should have rushed for the 4PM earlier in the afternoon to at least get some semblance of sleep. But we made it.

For a recent wedding anniversary, our girls surprised us and made for us a slideshow video clip in which they composed a song for the occasion and went to a recording studio to have it recorded. The combination of the words in the song along with the 20 years of family pictures they had put together brought me to tears. It was a 5-minute clip and we must have watched it 5-6 times. As we were watching, I couldn’t help notice that a good 75% of the memories and pictures in that clip were from those amazing trips we had taken together as a family.

My wife always says that when her and I go somewhere just the two of us, it’s a vacation….but when go with the kids, then it’s a trip. Yes, it’s exhausting (as well as expensive). But the lessons hopefully learned, the incredible memories and bonding time together I think will last a lifetime.



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