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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Adventure in California and Vegas

In October/November 2011 my sister and I travelled the fifteen hours to California, I've been asked to give a recap of my adventure so I thought, hey, why not. Beware, this is a long post.

We were scheduled to leave via Qantas on the 30th of October at 6am. At 9pm the night before, Qantas grounded all flights. I'm sure you remember this debacle, it was on every news channel for about five hours after the announcement. After about an hour and a half of stressful waiting on hold with Qantas, I was refunded my ticket cost and manage to score two seats on an Air New Zealand flight to California on the same day, with a 4 hour layover in Aukland Airport.

 Who cares about Qantas anyway? I fly Air New Zealand.

It was a 4 hour hop to New Zealand and then an 11 hour flight to California. 11 hours of watching movies, eating far too much food and being generally bored. I have to mention though that while airline food has a general bad wrap, the food on Air New Zealand was bistro worthy, I ordered Vegetarian meals, my sister had standard meals, all of them were pretty good.

 Airport food: Sandwiches and Carrot Cake.

 Waiting for a plane from Aukland to LAX

When we finally made to to LAX Airport in sunny California, we were eager to run through security and greet our Grandfather who was picking us up, low and behold, not that simple in a high security company. It took 2 hours, very long and intense, drawn out questioning, scanning of passports, having our fingerprints and photographs taken and eventually finding our bags dancing around the carousel. No time for duty free shopping, we hadn't slept in 20 hours and were eager to get out of there.

First stop, Starbucks. PS: My Grandfather is obsessed with Starbucks.
Latte for me, Chocolate Sugar-Over-Load with Chocolate Chips, a billion shots of caramel, whipped cream and ice cream chunks Frappe for my sister and we were off.

My Grandfather lives about four hours from Los Angeles in California Wine Region, about halfway between LA and San Francisco. Driving up the coast, weaving our way to his home (with a few Starbucks stops on the way - I told you, obsessed), we finally made it at about 11pm. We went to our individual rooms and bunkered in for the night.

Upon rising, I stumbled into the TV Cabinet situated at the foot of my bed, 'Oh yeah, I'm not in my bedroom'. Peering out the window at the California morning, I started sorting out my suitcase for our first adventure.

 A California morning from my California bedroom

We were headed to Half Moon Bay, a small town on the Pacific Coast about an hours drive from San Francisco. My grandfather had a three day conference at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, so my sister and I had to endure two nights of luxury, horrible, I know.

The beautiful Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

The gorgeous bathroom in our room

Inside the hotel

We had two half days and one full day at the Ritz Carlton, the hotel had a free chauffeur service to the main town street so we piled in the car, leaving my Grandfather behind at his meetings and ventured out for sandwiches and shopping. After walking about two kilometers down the main street and asking several stop owners where we could go to buy things, we found a Rite Aid. Drugstore heaven, some may call it.

 Oh, you're welcome

Restraining, I picked up a few things, marvelled at the low cost of EVERYTHING and headed for the checkout. MUST. RESIST. CANDY. (Seriously, it was so cheap, like 25c for a block of chocolate). I made casual small talk with the guy behind the counter and he gave me a 25% discount on everything! This whole bag of goods cost like $12. PS: For all diet coke nuts, $1.07 a bottle. Yep.


Walking back down the main street of Half Moon Bay
On both nights we had dinner at the hotel restaurants, both had fantastic food and service.

We lazed around in our room pretty early each night, still trying to beat the jet-lag bug and getting smarter by the second.

 Getting smarter by the second

Watching 'Castle' and catching up on days of missed YouTube videos

We had room service breakfast each morning, waffles one day and a fruit plate the next. Seriously, this place did not underfeed you.

The Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay was amazing, so beautiful and the staff were very attentive. You can read my full review of the hotel HERE.

The next morning we headed to Monterey Bay, home of Monterey Bay's Largest Aquarium, jelly and pingu shots below.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, after rejecting our booking at some other seedy 'Adults Only' hotel my grandfather and sister had blindly booked. Yeah, that happened. But the Intercontinental housed us well, we had a nice view of the main street from our room and had dinner in the hotel Restaurant. Our server was very enthusiastic and even participated in our game of 'Name the capital of each American State', trust me, it's not so easy. Especially when you're Australian. You can read my review of the Intercontinental Hotel HERE.

 The Monterey Bay Main Street

 Laying in bed, watching Jimmy Fallon

On our journey back home the next day we drove through Carmel, one of the most beautiful little towns known to man. Spotted a Lush store, made some purchases. The sales girls were very excited to see Australians because they had just released an 'Australian Outback' sugar scrub. Smelt like ass. Sorry, Lush. We then made the final journey home. PS: The California Mountains in central California are something to be marvelled at. Amazingly beautiful.

Driving through vegetable patches (yes, huge vegetable patched along the side of the highways), weaving through mountains and debating the pronunciation of various Spanish words with my grandfather, we made our way back home.

I must say, my grandfathers house is beautiful. It's situated in the middle of a large block of land on a street of vineyards. The whole town looks like it should be out of a fairytale.

 Plus my bedroom was super cute

We spend the next few days exploring the local area, including dodging deers on the road (literally) to get to Hearst Castle. I could give you a mile long history of Hearst Castle but instead I'll like you to the wikipedia page HERE for you to read at your own leisure. The castle was frequented by celebrities and royals in it's prime years and has been carefully preserved as a tourist attraction now. These pictures don't give justice to just how beautiful the castle was.

We went to my grandfathers favourite margarita bar later that night, Chilli's.

 At least they give you fair warning

Bottomless chips, guacamole and salsa

A few days later, we headed to Vegas. The story of the horrible time we experienced getting there is far too long to detail here, so lets just leave it with these few notes. Never hire from Hertz Rental Cars, a $110 car hire ended up costing us almost $800. I am happy to take fault where fault is deserved but the fault was entirely with Hertz itself.

What should have been a simple 7 hour drive ended up taking 14 hours, so when we got there at 11pm, we were eager to get into our hotel room and go to sleep.

 $1 Tacos at Taco Bell

 The drive there was pretty beautiful, while daylight lasted

We stayed at Planet Hollywood Resort, I'll copy and paste my Trip Advisor review here, for your general entertainment purpose:

Lets start with check-in, after it took over an hour of wheeling heavy bags through the Million Mile Shopping Centre Hertz drop-off and trying to find the hotel check-in I thought that the worst was over and we were going to have a great time, the hotel staff were friendly and polite. We'd had a pretty rough time getting there so I paid for an upgrade to a Resort Room.
When we entered the room we couldn't find any light switches and were stumbling around in the dark using our phones as lights. We soon realised that there were no lights, only lamps. That's not a problem except that none of the lamps were plugged in and we had to crawl under desks and pull out bed side tables to plug them in. Note, this was only discovered because a friend in the room tripped over the lamp cord that had been left laying across the room. The television was also unplugged and we had to 'fish' for the cord behind the television cabinet.
Once we could see we discovered that the room had obviously not been used for a while. There was dust everywhere, coffee rings on the beside table and general filth around the room. The bathroom counters and sinks were absolutely disgusting, there was hair and a used bar of soap left in the sink. Towels were left on the floor and there was a half empty conditioner bottle on the counter. There weren't any general amenities such as hand soap (apart from the dirty used bar) or shampoo. Not a big deal but something you come to expect. One of the beds was unmade and just had the blanket thrown over the top of what I can only assume were dirty sheets. The television was broken and would mute itself after about 20 minutes, we would have to turn it off and on a few times for it to work again.
When we told the front desk about this we were told that there was nothing they could do because 'how do we know that you didn't make the mess yourself'.
Not only was the room and filthy, disgusting mess. When I woke up the next morning the hotel was holding $757 from my credit card. I was horrified and ran down to the check-in counter to speak with a manager who told me this was just in case I ordered room service and didn't pay for it. I was told that I would receive the money back when I checked out, and I did, but when I am only expecting to pay another $300 (we had previously paid a $100 deposit) it was an incredibly inconvenience. This is Vegas, we were planning on spending that money in the hotel.
The hotel really ruined our trip to Vegas, I stayed three nights and every single day my friends and I were just waiting for it to be over so we could leave. We paid for an upgrade to a disgusting, filthy room.
I will never stay in this hotel again.

Yeah, so that happened.

On the first day in Vegas we were venturing to find a taxi when we spotted a shining beacon of light in our otherwise irritating Vegas trip.

Sephora. In. My. Hotel.

Make up, perfumes, skin care products and $380 later, we were in a taxi headed to Fashion Show Mall. Oh Fashion Show Mall, you beacon of greatness you. We made a Pizza and Panda Express stop to fuel up and headed to Forever 21, Sunglass Hut, Nordstrom, Saks, Victorias Secret, Godiva, Chanel and various other stores to spend up big. We spent hours looking around various stores then took a stroll down the strip. We were so exhausted from credit card over-use that we went to starbucks, bought fruit salads and coffee for dinner and went to bed.

 Godiva Chocolate Covered Strawberries cheered us right up.

The next day, Forum Shops. We made a bee-line to MAC, a literal bee line, you know how bee's fly in loop-de-loops? Well, so do Forum Shop Shoppers when they are pushed around by other bee-lining shoppers. A good haul later, we were hungry and darting to The Cheesecake Factory (review on trip advisor HERE). We ordered entrees, mains and drinks, more food than we could ever dream of eating (as with all places in the US) and we grabbed out bags and headed to Bath and Body Works. Then Victorias Secret, another Sephora Stop, a quick dinner (Starbucks fruit salad and coffee) and we went back to the hotel to change our clothes.

 Inside the Forum Shops

 Inside the Forum Shops

 Inside Victorias Secret

Onion Rings at The Cheesecake Factory

That night we headed out to Peepshow, a dance musical starring Holly Madison. It's a nursery rhyme themed show starring all your favourite characters. I knew there would be nudity in the show, I didn't realise just how much nudity there would be. None the less, the dancing was incredible, the singers were amazing and the characters were hilarious. It was definitely a laugh out loud show. We had prime seating at a table in the front section. We pre-booked online and were able to select our seats. Holly Madison was a great performer and the cast was really interactive with the audience, it was all in all a great night.

 After the show we went back to our room, kicked off our heels and went to sleep.

The view from my bed and shopping bags on the chair

 Night view from my hotel room

 Day view from my hotel room

The next day we went and explored other hotels, such as the Venetian, I'll post a few pictures here (these are all from inside the Venetian Hotel.

 The lobby to the casino

 The ceiling was covered in this artwork

 Canals and gondolas inside the Venetian Hotel

And we went back to Fashion Show Mall to return a foundation that didn't match my skin tone and made another stop at the Chanel counter. PS: Every time I went to Chanel they would give me hand fulls of free samples, it's the little things that make me really happy.

We went into other random shops, went out for dinner and then headed back to the hotel to pack our bags for the venture home the next day.

 Bye bye Vegas

 Keeping hydrated on the journey home. $1.70 for 1.5 litres, this was a medium. 

Heck yeah free car upgrade! Driving through the Mojave Desert in style, we spent nine hours driving back home, stopping for plenty of snacks and tourist sights including lunch at Peggy Sue's 50's diner.

We made it home, greeted the family accordingly and spend the night sharing story's of our Vegas adventure.

 My navigator is such a jokester and decided to take me off the highway and down this high speed, incredibly narrow, two way road in the middle of the night for 30km and then throw me right back onto the highway at the exact same place it took me off. It was HILARIOUS..

The next day we relaxed by the pool, went shopping for food supplies and went to Walmart. WALMART! Found some bargains and shopped for food souvenirs for friends and family. Headed back home, stopping at Sally Beauty Supply for Seche Vite, read that story HERE, and prepared for a family dinner.

It was our farewell dinner because the next day we would be driving to LA for a few nights. You can find a lot of people at my grandfathers house, people who complete his renovations, clean his house and take care of the grounds all live in a huge guest house on his property. Everyone came over and we spend the night sharing story's and eating food. It's strange sitting at a dinner table and hearing words like 'soda' and 'ketchup' being casually used, I'd only ever really heard those words in movies.

The next day we drove to LA, grandfather in tow. We checked into the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City and had a delicious dinner. The next day we drove around Hollywood, went to Ulta (because I needed to spend more money, obviously) and made our way to Universal Studios. We saw plenty of attractions and went on a Studio Tour of CSI and Desperate Housewives. As well as seeing where well known movies were shot, including the War of The Worlds set.

 Getting used to the whole 'tipping' thing

 Gorgeous California mountains

 Santa Claus Lane!

We went out for dinner at Santa Monica that night, (review of that restaurant HERE) and went back to the hotel for our last sleep in the Unites States). A late breakfast the next morning consisted of fruit plates and pancakes and we headed off the see the Hollywood Sign and Hollywood Boulevard (and another Sephora). We drove around Venice and Santa Monica, took a break on Santa Monica pier and headed to the airport.

Looking out the window in Santa Monica

We paroosed Duty Free and waited for our flight. An 18 hour journey home through Aukland Airport and alas, the trip was over.


jacquii said...

Aww, for your efforts, I read it all.

A very interesting read, thanks for posting! :) x

Juliana said...

I live in the US, maybe I should go to Cali one day!

Melanie Kuziemko said...

I went to the US when I was 16/17 and I loved it. I got to see 28 states in six months, there was so much to see and do and don't get me started on the shopping, that was impressive :) Now after reading about your journey I am thinking I would love to go back there again one day. It's been 20 years and I bet a lot has changed, plus I want to see my name etched in a brick sidewalk in San Antonio Texas, hehe. Glad you had a ripper of a trip and thanks for sharing :)