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Travel in the COVID Era

OUR FIRST TRIP TO THE GRAND CANYON!

It started like this…being trapped in our house because of COVID19, like all of us have been…I was googling away at quick, inexpensive family trips to take with the kids before school started. 
I started with the airlines and looked for what routes where still active from FLL.  Boom, there it was…
Boom, there it was…Las Vegas. 
Departing Thursday night at 7 p.m. would leave us with 2 full days to explore and one night.

"Let´s

I had heard some great things about Spirit in the COVID world.  They seemed to be like one of the first airlines enforcing masks and they were getting good reviews. 
We did not have much time to plan but we knew there were a few “must-see’s” on our list:
Next step, secure a rental car since the real purpose of this trip would be to go see the Grand Canyon.  We are all well-traveled but none of us has been to the Grand Canyon and after all, it is one of the Natural Wonders of the World!  When we travel, we like to rent Mini-Vans.  They just make our overall experience so much better with kids, frankly, they complain less. Enterprise Rental Car is our go-to.
Our flight from FLL to LAS was nearly full and the mood was of pure excitement!  Despite some bad weather, everyone was happy, and we arrived safely and without any mask problems.  We arrived at 9 p.m. Vegas time and we were ready to explore (knowing we had a short amount of time.)
Oh right, something that was on the kid’s list of “must-sees” was an “In-N-Out Burger.”  Thanks to tik tok and the famous “tiktokers” in Cali, these kids were all about eating at the famous “In-N-Out Burger.” So, we hopped in our mini van rental (for us, this was an important upgrade since we knew we would be doing a lot of driving) and drove to the closest “In-N-Out Burger”. 
A classic cheeseburger and fries, West Coast style.  Rocco and Violet were pleased.
Off to check in to our hotel at Paris Las Vegas, run by Caesar’s Entertainment.  We chose this hotel because of its prime location, price, “wow affect” and not so crazy atmosphere (for the kids!) 
Check in was different, Carlos and I had to walk by a Temperature Camera to be screened for a fever and then we were ushered to a well-spaced out area for check in where we were asked if we wanted to use one of the many kiosks.  It was very easy, and we were checked in within 5 minutes.

Off to the room where the door was sealed with a certification of sanitization and cleanliness.  We had a great view of the “Eifel Tour” and lots of Vegas lights.  Perfect for the few hours we would spend there.   

A quick clean up and off we were to explore the Strip and see the Fountains of Bellagio and more.  We walked a few miles, in and out of the Cosmopolitan, Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace.  Rocco had recently watched “The Hangover” with us and he was all about going to see Caesar’s Palace thanks to this movie.  We had a prime viewing spot of the Bellagio Fountains since there really were not many people on the streets (maybe a quarter of what would normally be there.

How do I know that Violet was impressed by this show?  Well, she is not one take a lot of pictures or videos, but she was enthralled by this show and captured it all! 

The gardens at Bellagio had a gorgeous expo of Hello Kitty and many butterflies in Japanese Style setting- truly impressive.

We got back to our room around 1:30 a.m. or 4:30 a.m. EST.  But we saw a lot (just one person throwing up on the side walk, which is not too bad for Vegas.)

Friday morning, we had some great waffles and croissants at the Boulangerie in the Paris lobby. We checked out the pool at the hotel (not so grandiose as perhaps the Bellagio) and then hopped in our mini-van for our 4.5-hour trip to the Grand Canyon National Park – South Entrance.

Our drive was picturesque.   Coming from Florida, where we don’t have any mountains that aren’t garbage mounds, the mountains and scenery captured our attention.  Radio, cell phone and internet reception were all intermittent throughout the ride, but we made it to the park by 2:30 p.m.

Right away we saw a large Elk on the side of the road, a great way to start!
$35 was the fee to enter for all of us for 7 days to the Grand Canyon National Park.  There really was a lot to do and see.  We crammed a lot into 5 hours but for those who have more time and like a more relaxed pace, you could rent mountain bikes, do more trails, etc.  

We chose to park at the Visitor Center and head to the Rim Trail.   The maps that they give you have some great tips on them, like what to do if you only have a few hours.  We based our itinerary off this.  Pretty much instantly, after about a 5-minute walk, we came upon our first views of the Canyon.  Breathtaking.  Glorious.  Astonishing.  All of these great adjectives and more can be used.  It truly was a wonderful experience that we will never forget.

The shuttles were not in service due to COVID and the museum inside was open but really just for the gift shop as everything else was covered up due to COVID and cleaning issues with the interactive exhibits. 

Since the shuttles were not working, we did not walk the entire suggested Rim Trail, but about half of it and then walked back to get into our Mini Van and head to the Village area for more exploration.  Here we found a beautiful hotel, lodge and restaurant, actually an official “historic hotel and restaurant of America,” https://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/el-tovar-hotel/

We hear that they are normally fully booked, especially this time of year but they did have availability.  We didn’t’ stay because we already had reservations elsewhere and their pricing was a bit above our budget for this trip.  But, if you have it in your budget, it really looks like a great experience to stay there, especially if you like historical hotels in interesting places.

There were truly great trails for hiking, but the only one interested in hiking was Rocco and we couldn’t fit it all into our itinerary.  We saw some more deer and then heading back to the perfect spot to view the Sunset.  Certainly, a great thing to do if you can.  The views are like seeing a painting and the pictures you can take will make great lasting memories.

We decided to eat right out of the gate of the national park before heading back to the Grand Canyon West that night.  Yes, I wrote that…. heading back to the Grand Canyon West (a 3-hour drive after already having driven 4.5 hours that day!)
We ate at a cool, local steakhouse that was decorated in western flare called Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse They had indoor and outdoor options, all employees in masks and very quick service!  The entrees came with homemade corn bread and a salad and we all ate our full plates!

The kids pretty much slept through the entire 3-hour drive in complete darkness from one part of the Canyon to the other.  I was very skeptical about arriving so late to the “Cabins at Grand Canyon West” but we didn’t have any other option at this point plus I was very much looking forward to staying there. 

We chose these cabins because of a friend of mine who is a travel advisor, Raymond Crocket.  He featured these cabins on his Facebook page and it caught my attention!  He helped us in securing our stay and visit at Grand Canyon West!  (certainly, rely on the use of a travel advisor for some or all of your trip planning!  They can offer some great advice, trip security and extra upgrades!)

Our long drive there also featured more wild animals, jack rabbits, deer, cattle and more!  Oh, and the stars!  Yes, we knew that we wanted to stay here too because of its remote location and the views of the stars would be spectacular!

he Cabin was clean, comfortable and a unique experience!  It has a trundle bed and Rocco said one of the best showers he had had!  Due to COVID, everything at the HUALAPAI ranch was closed except for the office and the vending machines. 

Saturday morning approached quickly, and I was up at the crack of dawn (that whole time zone changes!)  It was a great opportunity to see the sunrise near the Canyon and just feel the silence and peacefulness of this location.

We drove over to visitor center where we were shuttled on a bus to the “Eagles Point” area of Grand Canyon West.  Now, Grand Canyon West is on the Hualapai Indian Tribal land and there is a fee.  We got one free general admission ticket upon reserving the cabin for the night and the other tickets were an additional fee.  We also decided to get the combo to include the famous “Sky Walk.”  This sky walk is 4,000 miles high and very impressive.

More pictures and then the very nerve-racking walk over the Sky Bridge.  This was a great experience.  Even though they do not let you bring your own camera or cell phone (they provide free lockers for your stuff) the professional photographers that they have available to take your pictures (at no obligation) are very friendly and can leave you with some great souvenirs.  For $65 you get 20 downloadable, high-res images. We took full advantage of this, especially since Carlos is usually not able to get great family pictures of all of us since he is our family photographer!

Since no other restaurant was available by the Cabin (they did have a microwave and fridge in the cabin) we decided to have an early lunch at their restaurant overlooking the canyon.  Nothing fancy here right now during COVID, but their burgers and Chicken sandwiches were great.  The views and the service were great as well!

We took the shuttle bus to the Guano Point where Carlos and the kids decided to climb even higher.   I turned chicken and decided to wait for them. 

Overall, Grand Canyon West was worth the money.  We spent more time than we had anticipated.  We were there for about 3 hours and had a great time.
Next stop, Hoover Dam!  Although we had read that they were closed to visitors, we thought that maybe we could get some peaks. We were wrong.  There was a nice scenic view spot of Lake Mead though!
For our last night in town, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn City Center.  It was another great location, fairly new hotel and offered a free night thanks to our Hilton Honors status.  The Hilton promise with Lysol was nice to see everywhere.  Overall the hotel was great. Clean, modern, and great location.
We rested a bit and then headed off again for a few more places to visit in our final hours.
Las Vegas Historical Welcome Sign, check! (Did you know that this sign is on the list of Historical Places?)
Drive by New York New York hotel, M&M’s etc.  You could tell it was Saturday because there was a lot more action everywhere compared to Thursday.

Carlos found an amazing tapas style restaurant in the downtown area called Carson’s Kitchen Las Vegas.  We devoured the pork belly, mac and cheese, watermelon & feta salad and a to-die for donut bread pudding for dessert.

This restaurant was within walking distance to Fremont Street Experience.  So, we experienced this.  It was far too busy for my liking but at the same time it was nice to see people out and about.  The kids loved the ceiling screens and were enthralled by the overall action of the place.  Mom, not so much.

We drove back to the Strip area and got in line for our last attraction to visit, the High Roller Las Vegas.  It was a bit more expensive since it was a nighttime and weekend, but they did a good job at managing the crowds and sanitizing in between the groups (max size of 10 now.)  The views were spectacular. We waked down the street in this area a bit. The kids loved the Sugar Experience store, although the new way of having the employee fill your bag up of candy, is a bit awkward.  I do applaud them at staying open and figuring it out though!

By the time we got back to our room, we were EXHAUSTED and even more so in thinking that in just a few short hours we would be up again.
That 5:45 a.m. alarm came too quickly.  The lines at the rental car station to get on the shuttle to the airport were very long.  We must have waited about 30 minutes and the drive is about 10 minutes (so make sure you save extra time for this process if you rent a car!)
At the airport, unfortaunely most of the restaurants and outlets were closed due to covid.  We boarded the plane without even having drank a cup of coffee!  We really hope that more people will start flying again so that we can get these businesses reopen too!  Both flights were great.  The flight attendants from LAS to BOS were exceptionally friendly and attentive.  We all ordered some cup of noodles (since we couldn’t eat at the airport) and we flew across the country.  Ghassan, our flight attendant, did some chair yoga with us and finished by “bending over to pick up the trash!”  They were not only friendly and attentive but also pretty funny!

The trip was great.  Lightening fast but we came and conquered what we wanted to do!

We still have some ideas of what we missed like the Neon Museum, the Rail Explorers Las Vegas, the gondolas at the Venetian and the Hoover Dam but those will be saved for another time!

Until then!
It was great, Vegas,
thank you!

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