Trip Report – Summer Grand Tour: Introduction



It is almost the time for summer vacation here in the USA and that means that Heidi and I can finally take some time off together and get away from the world of work. This year though things are a little bit different. After heading home to Australia last year, this year we decided to stay here in the USA. I have visited 48 of the 50 states and I wanted to add at least one more state. Sadly though the two states I am missing are not the easiest to visit, North Dakota and Maine.

Originally we were looking at driving back across the country from Chicago and spending two weeks exploring some of the area. But sadly that was not possible as car rental companies wanted something in the vicinity of $3000-4000 for a one way rental. Yeah, no.

So we looked back at what to do and came up with a bit of a different idea. What if we caught the train? Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs a daily service between Seattle and Chicago straight through the state of North Dakota. The train has a number of stops in North Dakota including a full refuel and crew change in Minot. Score! So we could take the train all the way from Seattle to Chicago (or the other way around) and spend a few days in Chicago. But what to do for the rest of the time!

Heidi hadn’t seen Sylvia for a while so it was pretty easy to catch a flight down to LA and then spend some time in the area. We both like Las Vegas so that was a given, and with some time mid week we could probably head somewhere pretty decent as prices would be pretty good (as long as there wasn’t a conference). Heidi also wanted to take me to Joshua Tree National Park which could mean a small side trip to Palm Springs. That meant the trip was set. Everything was booked and I managed to get some of the hotels through work.

After a few back and forth changes thanks to schedule changes, hotel issues the trip was finally fixed up and we had a a pretty good itinerary that looked like this:

Monday June 19th – Seattle to Chicago – Amtrak Empire Builder 440pm to 3:50pm+2
Wednesday June 21st – Waldorf Astoria Chicago – 2 Nights
Friday June 23rd – Sleep Inn Chicago Midway – 1 Night
Saturday June 24th – Southwest Airlines WN4652 – Chicago Midway to Los Angeles
Saturday June 24th – Country Inn & Suites Ontario – 1 Night
Sunday June 25th – L’Horizon Resort & Spa Palm Springs – 2 Nights
Tuesday June 27th – Aria Sky Suites Las Vegas – 2 Nights
Thursday June 29th – Golden Nugget Las Vegas – 1 Night
Friday June 30th – Country Inn & Suites Ontario – 2 Nights
Sunday July 2nd – Delta Air Lines DL2515 – Las Angeles to Seattle

It was looking to be a pretty sweet trip. The train would be a solid 46 hours of being onboard. Originally we were booked in a Roomette which is tiny, no bigger than a single bed. But thanks to trolling the Amtrak site one night I saw the price of a Bedroom drop. It meant we could have a larger room for not much extra. We would be upgrading to a room the same size as our bathroom at home. Better than nothing right!

Some of the hotels we booked through work and it meant some pretty amazing hotels on offer. We couldn’t get the one hotel we wanted in Chicago (the Peninsula) but we got one that was still pretty decent. Vegas was going to be fun as we could actually rest on a 3 day stay and check out an area we hadn’t stayed before (the Golden Nugget is downtown).

Heading out on the train in a few days is looking like fun… can’t wait!

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