Honeymoon Avgeekiness…. Pt 1

Since it is a Sunday night, time to share some avgeek porn. Lots of planes from the trip with some spotting in Vegas, Tucson and also LA.

I managed to get some avgeek time at the PIMA Air & Space Museum (and you can read about it here) but the first half of the trip the most spotting I got to do (apart from some while we waited for our helicopter flights) was in Las Vegas. My shots during our helicopter flight were pretty crap (Bernie can you teach me your tricks?) so all I have from Vegas is from when I first arrived where I had about 45 minutes or so getting some arrivals as the sun set.

From Honeymoon Spotting
From Honeymoon Spotting
From Honeymoon Spotting
From Honeymoon Spotting

Other than that, the best I got was in Tucson while parking the car at our hotel (which was right by the airport mind you) we managed to score a flight of Arizona Air National Guard F-16s doing circuits. But this is about the best of that set

From Honeymoon Spotting

More later in the week!!

Happy Birthday to you!

Dearest Heidi

Today you turn a young 27 and it is not only the first birthday we celebrate as a married couple, but also the first birthday we celebrate together. Although I had an amazing birthday back in August when you suprised me with this:

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That card has even made several suprising trips to work:

From Life in Seattle 2014

But rest assured my love that your birthday today will be a special one. Let everyone please wish Heidi a very special happy birthday. I know that today has not been a great one for you (her car broke down, she had to work, had to go to Uni as well and has to do an assignment tonight) but I will do my best to make sure you have at least some specialness.

I

5 years have passed

It was 5 years ago today that I showed up early in the morning to a small non descript building in Brisbane. Down by the river, in a suburb full of rich residents & lots of up & coming restaurants. But that building and the people who worked there were the ones who changed my life.

5 years ago today I looked like this

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O how much has changed since then. Look at me now:

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Although I can’t say that I am 100% happy with the way I am today, I can say that I am happy the way I am overall. My life has changed a lot since that morning. I remember doing a 2km time trial to see my fitness level. A 2km walk took almost 30 minutes.  Now I can run 5km in less than that. A 2km run on average takes me 10-11 minutes!

I have many people to thank and they all know who they are and I have said it many times before. But this time of year truly makes me thankful for everything people have done for me in my life.

Being Thankful

As an Australian, one of the strangest holidays to me in the USA is Thanksgiving. A day that celebrates the Pilgrims coming to the USA and having a dinner with the indians that were later slaughtered… or something like that. But it is strange to me because it is celebrated in a time of year where there are already so many other big holidays or events (christmas, halloween, labor day, columbus day etc) and it feels like the time is just condensed with it. In reality the day is celebrated with copious amounts of food, football on the tv and for some people, lining up to shop till you drop (or in some cases start shopping super early).

But yesterday’s thanksgiving was a new experience for me. In the last couple of years, thanksgiving has just been a day off, sitting around watching tv, nothing special. However life is very different now, very very different. I have a wife and a new family and Thanksgiving for them is a very big deal. It was almost like the typical day, with plenty of food, plenty of family and football to finish off the day. But it was quite a bit more, I felt like I was truly part of the family. A lot of Heidi’s family said that they were happy to share the day with me, that they were thankful Heidi had found someone to love and cherish. I felt well and truly like part of the family and that was a big deal.

Although Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal with Australians, I guess I need to start thinking like an american for some things. Thanksgiving is so much about family, spending time with them or just seeing them. It isn’t about the food (although I will say that actually creating a dish to contribute feels much better than buying something, but that is something personal), it isn’t about the tv. It is more about spending time with my new family, getting to know them. I like the fact that everyone comes together to see each other, catch up, talk and spend time with one another. It is those kind of moments that I miss at times.

I look forward to spending many more times in the future with my new family and much more time with Heidi. I do love the fact that I now have a new family here in the USA, so many more people in my life!

Honeymoon Photos!

Just a quick piece to say that my honeymoon photos are up (Heidi’s are probably going to end up on Facebook) but there are still a good lot of ones that I need to work on. With plenty of photos taken as usual, but not as many as in the past, there is still plenty of good stuff.

The Spotting photos still need to be worked on and there are a number of artistic ones I want to work on. But enjoy!

Honeymoon

Honeymoon – Final Day – Bye Bye Sunshine

I can’t believe this trip is almost over. Today is our final day and we fly home at 545pm this afternoon. Although I will be happy to be flying again, I am sad that it is all over and we have to go home :(  we both want to stay down here and keep having fun. The last few days have been a blast.

The time in Anaheim was great. Although we were not staying as close to Disneyland as we could have, it was still a good location. The Radisson Suites Buena Park was right next to Medieval Times (no we didn’t go) and surrounded by restaurants & shops. We were also about 500m to Knotts Berry Farm. Can’t complain about that right? The hotel wasn’t bad and had decent sized rooms. We really only stayed there to be close to Disneyland and it was only a 10 minute drive away.

Ahh Disneyland, what can I say about you. I had a blast acting like a 4 year old all day. We both got into the swing of things and at the suggestion of the ticket agent we went to guest services to get a celebration badge (we actually got 3 of them) and for the rest of the day we got many congratulations for our wedding. It was odd yet awesome. The rides were good and we didn’t have that much of a wait for anything. Longest wait for a ride was maybe 20 minutes if that. The longest wait we had all day was for Heidi to meet Thor. Yep, not even as long as for the mandatory Mickey visit (which was funny and a whole different story). Once we finally got into visit Thor, Heidi was star struck (and it wasn’t even the real Thor), she couldn’t speak.

Disneyland was fun but I am never going on Space Mountain again….. EVER! I just don’t like that ride, it is horrible! I would be ok with the roller coaster if it was light but in the dark my body (and mind) just couldn’t handle it. Not doing that again. O and I almost puked on the tea cups, so that was worth it!

We also headed down to Long Beach to catch up with a friend (hey Brett!) and also check out the Queen Mary. We didn’t do a tour as the prices are extortionate, but it was good to see the ship that my Grandfather came home on from Africa, during World War II. The boat is so small in comparison to others yet was one of the biggest of the time. I don’t know if that is a sad thing or a good thing.

We headed out to the Ontario (California) area so that we could spend some time with Heidi’s best friend Sylvia. It was good to catch up with her & finally meet her husband. I hear so much about them both so it was good to spend some time with them. We took some time out yesterday and headed to Santa Monica & Venice beaches. Santa Monica felt super touristy & posh and Venice was just weird. Although I don’t normally like touristy places all that much, I would take Santa Monica any day of the week. Venice was just an absolute clusterfuck. It was just amazing that people could live in that area with how bad the traffic, parking & overall stupidity of California drivers (that part deserves a post on its own).

We finished off our honeymoon by retracing the steps I took to head out to Vegas almost two weeks ago. Cruising down the 105 towards LAX really added to the fact that it was coming to an end. We had a good final couple of donuts, a last lunch at In n Out & then it was time to drop off the car.

Sitting here in Terminal 5 at LAX I am sad to be heading home. I wish we could keep going but it is back to reality.

Current Location: Gate 52A LAX Terminal 5
States Visited: 3
Miles Driven: 2000 miles
Slim Jims Eaten by Heidi: 8
Cookies Eaten by Mal: 38

Honeymoon Day 8 – A Graveyard of Sorts

Tucson was fun, much better than I thought it would be. Our time there was Heidi’s idea from the start and to be honest she handled it like a trooper. She treated her avgeek husband like you would expect in this situation. You let him go and say yes dear a lot.

We spent the last two nights in Tucson at the Country Inn & Suites by the airport. Why that one? Well we were using the mountain of Club Carlson points I have and the card offers the 2nd night free on a stay, so for very little we could get a free stay. It wasn’t bad but our check in was comically bad. 3 rooms till we got one that was acceptable. It was like Goldilocks, the first room had a broken shower curtain rod, the 2nd reeked of cigarettes (non smoking hotel as well) the third was just right (and by just right I mean we could live with it). Breakfast at the hotel was basic (but they couldn’t make oatmeal to save their lives) but tasty enough. Nothing really to complain about for the price we paid.

The main reason we went to Tucson was to visit The Boneyard. I will cover more in the airlinereporter pieces about them specifically but we had fun, PIMA was great and they had way more planes than I expected. It was heaps of fun and Heidi wasn’t totally bored.  Great spotting as A-10s were always climbing out of Davis Montham (even managed to see a couple of F-16s doing touch & go’s at the main Tucson airport).

Tucson was a good break for us. We could settle in for 2 nights and relax.  The weather was nice (70s during the day) and we thawed out after the Canyon & Sedona. We also caught up with some friends of Heidi’s (well her best friends in laws) for dinner. It was apparently the birth place of the Chimichanga although I was to scared to try one (who deep frys a burrito… Seriously!). We even found a really cool ice cream shop that had old school sundaes (although as usual I chose wrong & ended up with something smaller than I wanted… Typical).

We rolled out of Tucson early this morning as the sun rose. A lot of highway ahead of us as we cruise along I-10 heading to Anaheim. Tucson was a great stop & one that I enjoyed. We will probably go back some time, there is more I want to see around that area, a good way to escape I guess.

Current Location: I-10W, Mile Marker 70, La Paz County Arizona.
States Visited: 3
Miles Driven: 1369m
Slim Jims Eaten by Heidi: 5
Cookies eaten by Mal: 35

Honeymoon Day 6 – Being Shown the Kimpton Love

I hadn’t intended on giving Sedona it’s own post, it was an in between stop for us.  A stop for us to switch off and give us a break between the Grand Canyon & Tucson. We could have driven that in one day and perhaps had an extra night in the Canyon, but we didn’t. We decided to break it up & we could see more (plus this way we avoided Phoenix).  When we originally decided to stop in Sedona we wanted to try the Kimpton, to give them one last go at keeping out business. After the incidents on the starvation, I was a little dubious about what might happen. However that need not have happened.

We made good time into Sedona & Heidi was at the wheel the whole time. We stopped at the Oak Creek Vista trailhead for a quick lunch stop. Sadly the temperature wasn’t much better than the Canyon but it was still higher at least. The quick stop gave us a chance to stretch our legs and feed our stomachs (we had packed a lunch from the morning buffet).

We rolled into Sedona around 2pm and went to the hotel first, thinking we would have a room to go to. When the Amara told us that the room wasn’t quite ready, they would look after our stuff & give us a call once it was ready but it wouldn’t be to long. So we left our stuff & the car and hiked up the hill to town. We went for a walk wondering if this was going to be a moment of truth.

When we got the call to come back, we came back down the hill to the resort, checked in & headed for our room. We were on the far side of the resort (which isn’t all that big). Our room was at the end of the left wing, on the upper floor, it didn’t look all that big from the outside & I was wondering if the upgrade didn’t happen. Then we walked in. The room was huge, I wouldn’t call it a suite but it was awesome still.  More a junior suite with a large 2 person Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. We were in the room mere moments till we saw the Amenity.

Kimpton hotels are pretty awesome to their elites. All their entry level members get free wifi & $10 worth of bar credit (at the bar or mini bar). But as an elite (which i am till the end of this year) you also get a tailored Amenity. They will put whatever you want in your room. Like nuts & diet coke, that’s what you get. Our last Kimpton Stay was a shock because we didn’t even get our Amenity, we got someone else’s. Not this time. We walked into this:

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The hotel knew we were on our honeymoon, we had told them in advance. We had tweeted how excited we were to be staying at a Kimpton, I guess they did some research on us. They had done it right, all our snacks wer packaged up like takeaway boxes like you might get on a flight. We even had bottles of water with our names on it. We were Muir Airlines!

The amenities were spot on for us. Cookies, Fruit, Diet Coke & Water. Add on some Prosecco to celebrate our wedding & that would have been amazing on its own. The staff even wrote us a little note to say that they appreciated our stay, the kicker is what was on the TV, us. We were on TV, the TV in our room. What the hell. I remember stammering to Heidi “look at the TV”. The hotel had downloaded the YouTube video of our wedding and was playing it via a USB stick in our room.

It isn’t that often that you get to see a bug moment of your life in a hotel room in a state several hours flight time away from home. They had really done it, pretty much Kimpton had our loyalty now, one small gesture like that will keep us staying (though inner circle probably will slip). The Amara as a whole was a great hotel. Nicely furnished, not to large of a resort but not to small either, a good mix of both. The staff were great and really helped us enjoy our one night in town.

Although we didn’t do much, we still had a great time. We did go for a little explore through the trails around Sedona (and by explore I mean getting lost on some trails for an hour or so). Sedona overall is a great town, somewhere we would like to come back to spend a few days in the future. But if your thinking of going, go to the Amara, you won’t regret it, we didn’t.

Current Location: Exit 175, I-10E Arizona.
States Visited: 3
Miles Driven: 1005m
Slim Jims eaten by Heidi: 3 

Honeymoon Day 5 – From Desert Heat to Canyon Cold

After we rolled out of Vegas at 6am Saturday morning we were heading East towards Arizona. Retracing some steps I took the very first time I visited the USA though this time I was at the controls and not trying to sleep off any hangovers. The drive was stunning as the sun started rising over the mountains.

We made a pit stop in Kingman AZ for breakfast. Quick stop at the Dunkin for coffee & a bagel and back on the road we go with Heidi at the wheel.   Another pit stop in William AZ for a walk, a snack & some beverages & then North towards the Canyon. The road was easy going & our first real road day together on this trip. We were aiming to be in Grand Canyon Village by 1300 at the latest as we had a helicopter flight booked. I had applied for an industry stand by rate for one of the longer flights and it was a deal for $35pp.

We made it into town around 12 so went for a walk, grabbed some lunch & tried to check in but they wouldn’t let us. Not a big deal. We headed off to the airport for our flight. This was Heidi’s 2nd helicopter flight in as many days & she was still super excited.  I thin I have created a monster. I am going to say that the best way to get a perspective on just how vast the Canyon is you need to see it from the air.  No real commentary from our pilot bug a good flight. I was in the back with Heidi next to me on the window. Didn’t worry me at all, we only paid 1/10th the price others did.

After our flight we headed into the National Park (here’s a tip, purchase your pass at the Imax Theatre, same price, no lines & no wait at the park entrance)  and headed for the rim. Originally we were going to head to the rim around the main visitors center for sunset, however there was massive crowds, way over the top. We decided to go East towards Desert View & the sunset point out there, it would be less crowded (it was). The winds were up and the temperature had dropped dramatically. In Vegas it was in the 70s during the day, at the Canyon it was high 30s plus windchill. Ugh. We had an early night with Mexican food & TV in bed.

Woke up the next morning to a snow & ice layer on the ground. A temperature of high 20s was a rude shock. Not something you want to deal with when you are meant to be out hiking. We revised our plans after recovering from a rude awakening by the fire alarms going off at 5am (joy) and decided to just stick to the rim walk for a few kms, mainly for safety & keeping our bodies in one piece.

The Canyon walk was good & worth the hour or so we took to stroll along. At one point we came across an entire flock of Mule Deer, just wandering along as though we didn’t exist. Still really beautiful & Heidi had a blast running about amongst nature. We finished our Rim Walk by the fire thawing out at Bright Angel Lodge before Hopping the shuttle back to our car.

The Canyon is ever as beautiful as I remember it, the colors at sunset were stunning. Although we didn’t come prepared for temperatures at that level (my hands froze solid at one point & I went through considerable pain as they thawed out) we still enjoyed the time we had there. Right now we cruise out of the park headed for Sedona & our most expensive night on this trip, but hopefully the one that is going to be the most relaxing & luxurious.

Current Location: State Route 64 between Tusayan & William AZ
States Visited: 3
Miles Traveled: 777m
Slim Jims Eaten by Heidi: 3

Honeymoon Day 4… The Vegas Aftermath aka my stomach hurts

Vegas was a good couple of days. Heidi has never been before so it was a good mix of new stuff for me (on my 4th time around) and also seeing the traditional touristy things for Heidi. I picked Heidi up at the airport after the first flight in from Seattle. The flight was actually early and I made it to the terminal pretty much as she was walking off her flight. Timing it well and the 15 minutes free parking meant that I could be there as she cleared out of the secure area, scored a big hug for that. Took Heidi back to the hotel so she could get some breakfast and finish off some Uni work she didn’t quite get done and then it was off to explore Vegas.

The first thing we did was check into our hotel, the Mandalay Bay. After 2 days of searching www.mycheapvegas.com I managed to find a really good rate for a Bay Suite that was less than what other hotels were charging for a room (conferences in town and the Rock n Roll Marathon had something to do with that). But the check in process really summed up just how this hotel was either hot or cold. There was never a real middle ground, the hotel was either really good for something, or just horribly bad. The first person to check us in at the Invited Guest desk (a suite check in benefit we had, along with also the fact that my Mlife Gold status has that benefit) was borderline rude. Treated like we didn’t deserve to be there and that just put me off immediately. Had Heidi not been there I may have made a scene, one thing for certain, she didn’t get a tip (aka $20 trick). When we came back later to get our room, the person greeting us then gave us a great welcome. However even though I had made a point to make sure they knew it was our Honeymoon, no one really seemed to care.

The Mandalay had it’s good and bad parts, the rooms were large and spacious and I did love the bed (however it wasn’t to Heidi’s liking). The bathroom was large and we had a giant Tub but the room itself had three major flaws:
1. No power plugs anywhere near the bed at all, they seemed to be centered around the desk where there was an ample supply of 6 plugs
2. The lights were terribly awkward to control and were predominantly lamp based, again a pet hate of mine.
3. This one really got Heidi’s goat, but there was no coffee available in the room. Not just no supplies but no way at all in making any. Not even like MGM where they provide a Keurig machine and charge you $6 for the cup and the pod to use. Nothing at all! Way to go Mandalay Bay, you just made an enemy of my wife.

The facilities around the hotel were great, and although the main pool was closed for the winter, Moorea was more than ample for Heidi’s needs (way too crowded for me personally). Our most memorable part of the Mandalay was technically not even at the Mandalay Bay but at the Four Seasons Las Vegas. A hotel within a hotel, the Four Seasons lobby and check in are below the main casino floor but they occupy a good portion of floors towards the middle of the main tower. They do however have a hidden gem that is Charlie Palmer Steak. This isn’t your typical Vegas steakhouse where you pay $120 for a piece of steak with no sides. We opted for the set menus at $50 for 3 courses including “Bottomless Wine Pairings” it is amazing value. The “Cut of the Week” menu that I had alternates on a weekly basis but the value for money is amazing. We expected to end up with smaller portions like you may expect for a set menu (ala restaurant week) however the portions were full size. Well worth it as my Steak would normally go for $40 on its own!

Apart from the Mandalay Bay we spent quite a bit of time outside of the hotel. We spent time exploring Caesars Palace and their shops (as it has a very large H&M that Heidi wanted to check out). We also spent some time wandering through the Venetian and grabbing some treats at Carlo’s Bakery (famous from the TLC show Cake Boss). I am a sucker for a baked good and one that is from a celebrity chef. SOLD! Not bad but the Tiramasu that Heidi decided to have was quite expensive for the size. My Cookie though was super tasty. We also grabbed a couple of cup cakes from the Cupcake ATM which was a weird experience of itself. We had a good time exploring Cosmopolitan in search of their secret pizza place and it was worth it. Yummy thin pizza, New York style, and cheap too! Of course this is Vegas and what trip would not be complete without a buffet. Of course you all know Heidi and I love going to Brunch. But in Vegas, Brunch is a weekend only affair and we couldn’t have that. So we went with a breakfast buffet instead, one that we could enjoy without feeling guilty over the quality. There was many hours of research, checking out best value and best quality and in the end it came down to Aria. Their buffet even had like 9 different types of Ice Cream. We had breakfast with my friend Kevin and I think Heidi and I ate way to much food. I know I had 4 of those 9 ice cream flavors along with other tasty treats (Banana Waffle, with Bananas foster sauce and Pumpkin Ice cream is AMAZING).

I was able to get Heidi her first ride in a Helicopter (though you will have to wait till I write that up for AirlineReporter to see what she thought of it) and I also checked out the Neon Sign Museum. It was really interesting to see a good portion of Las Vegas history from all the signs that the city was just so well known for. Also a piece of interesting trivia. Put Las Vegas Neon Museum into Google Earth and see what you see when you Zoom in, you will thank me :D

We rolled out of Vegas early this morning with the overall feeling that it was a great couple of days. It really pushed in the fact to both of us that Vegas in small portions is ample enough time. You can always come back another day to see something else, because I am sure it isn’t going anywhere any time soon. We left heading further east towards Arizona and the Grand Canyon hitting up some old school Route 66 but heading into the National Parks.

Current Location: Holiday Inn Express & Suites Grand Canyon
Miles Driven: 725m
States Visited: 3
Nights on the Road: 3
Slim Jims Consumed by Heidi: 2