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Our family holiday to the USA

by Lauren Muddell

Today, the 16th June, we flew to LAX 13.5 Hours on Qantas. Qantas gave the children a welcome pack with colouring in and a magic sketch pad; they also had a great selection of shows/movies for the kids.

We had a couple of hours to spend at the airport while waiting for our plane to Miami. Great staff at Sammy's made this time enjoyable.

Five hours of flying to Miami on American Airlines felt like eight hours, but again great staff and Disney shows for kids. Bring snacks on board if you take that flight as it’s a no-food service flight. They do come round with drinks though.

We arrived at Miami and were greeted with heat and humidity but we fell in love with Miami straight away. Upon arrival to our hotel, the Sagamore on Collins Ave, we were greeted with smiling faces and buckets and spades for the kids. It was 6pm but still sunny and warm so we walked out our back gate and onto the beach.

After a great night’s sleep, buffet breakfast, a lovely walk down Lincoln Rd shops and lunch at Jerry's Diner (great place, lots of choices and a kids’ menu with crayons) we went cruising past the houses of the rich and famous on Star and Palm islands on a Duck Tour – it was fabulous and the hostess, Didi Duckwoth, was great! The kids also got little ‘quackers’ as a gift and a bath duckie each. This tour was worth every minute.

After the Duck Tour we caught the red hop-on-hop-off tour bus and got off at Jungle Island.

Jungle Island is awesome! Here we caught the live show and at the end of the show had a family photo holding the two-month-old tiger cub called Tara. While we had our photo with her Shane fed her a bottle of milk. Such a great experience and only $63, including tax.

We also got to hand-feed Macaws and parrots and had a flamingo stick its head through the bars to get a closer look at Mikayla. All the animals were happy and healthy and we got to see a Liger (a cross between a lion and tiger), white tigers and a white lion.

After our time at Jungle Island we caught the red bus into town to the shops and then back to the hotel.

The next morning we left early on the Sawgrass Express to head out to the outlet mall. OMG, talk about shops!! We had a quick bite to eat then caught a taxi to the Sawgrass Recreation Park where we took an Airboat ride and saw wild alligators swimming beside us. After the ride we went through the park where snake patting and baby alligator holding was a highlight for both kids. There were dragonflies everywhere; they even rested a moment on the kids. After the park we called a taxi and went to the mall. Ladies shoes were at least half the price of shoes at home. Leather jackets were a third the price; kids' clothes, lego, hats, anything you can think of, were cheap. After shopping up a storm we returned on the bus to the hotel.

Just enough time to put our bags upstairs and duck out for dinner with an old friend from Sydney (who now lives in Palm Beach) while watching the Miami Heat basketball game on a big screen (Go Heat!). Dinner was at a lovely sushi restaurant across the road. Great sweet potato fries there. The basketball game went well into the night so a very late night was had by all.

After only a few hours' sleep we got up very early to start the journey to lovely Key West. If you have the time I recommend it. It is over three hours away from Miami but the lovely coach you travel in picks you up and brings you back and offers discounts on activities in Key West. We had five hours to explore the island. We started at the little shopping mall next to the aquarium - great idea as some of the shops offer coupons for the other attractions. The butterfly shop lady gave us $6 admission tickets, which is half price for adults and $2 cheaper for kids than the door price at the Butterfly Conservatory. We then went to the aquarium, which has a little touch pool.

We took the trolley tour (kids ride free), which gave a lot of information about the area and allowed us to travel to the areas we wanted to see in the shade as it was very, very hot. We saw wild iguanas and chickens. One of the stops was the lighthouse and Ernest Hemmingway’s house where, I kid you not, live six-toed cats. Yep, they have six toes. True.

There are lots of cafes and restaurants around so after we saw the marker from the southernmost point of USA soil, only a short distance from Cuba (actually that marker is closer to Cuba than it is Miami) we went to the Butterfly Conservatory which was beautiful, then sat by the beach and had a bite to eat. We went back up to meet the bus and stopped in at the perfume shop – good bargains to be had there plus very friendly staff who gave the kids a sample spray of their choice on their wrists. On the way home the bus played a kid-friendly movie, The Guardians, and we all had a nap.

Not much time for sleep as we were up early to head to the airport for our next stop – NYC!! Miami Airport is huge!!! Hold onto everything! Hold onto your kids – it's very busy.

NEW YORK CITY, HERE WE COME!

We arrived in New York after a great flight to find La Guardia a relaxingly smaller airport than Miami.

Our hotel (Hotel Belleclaire) has nice staff on arrival but if you are looking for coffee or tea in your room here you are out of luck. There is, however, a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf just around the corner. We went down the street and got some groceries, and had dinner at Serafina restaurant just across the street. Lovely gluten-free pasta here as well as kids' menus with colouring in, tic-tac-toe and more.

It was still so light after dinner that we took a walk down to Riverside Park. Here the kids had a great time looking at all the dogs walking by, playing on the fun equipment, standing on the elephant that sprays water and most of all watching a crazy squirrel jump around and dart across the park from tree to tree, then to the ground and back again. He was a funny and fast little thing to watch.

After an early night and a good sleep we got up and made ourselves breaky then went to the American Museum of Natural History - wow, what a place!! We saw a wonderful show at the planetarium (included in our City Pass). Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg it was all about the stars and how they are formed and the elements they contain - it was amazing!

After the stars we went to the dinosaurs section - a great time was had by all looking at the various skeletons of all shapes and sizes; there was even a T-Rex!! We had a bite to eat at the cafe there which had dino nuggets. Yep, chicken nuggets in the shape of different dinosaurs. Beware, this cafe is expensive.

We left the museum, crossed the road and took a walk into Central Park. We got on a rickshaw which took us across the park past the Friends fountain, Maid in Manhattan bridge, Home Alone 2 bridge and more. We popped into the Central Park Zoo which is small but friendly; it took us about an hour to do the whole zoo. Only one disappointment: the polar bears were hiding. Not to worry, the lemurs and penguins made up for it with their funny antics. Just outside the zoo gates was a balloon artist who made the kids balloon animals 'for free'. The creations were well worth the $2 'donation' - the dinosaur and butterfly were loved.

After the zoo we walked through the streets of NYC to Dylan's Candy Bar. The best candy store ever! Lollies and chocolates of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Upstairs there is a cafe and ice-cream bar, three levels of candy shopping heaven.

After some ice-cream topped with candy we headed towards home, stopping briefly to have a caricature drawn of the kids and to watch some street theatre - breakdancing to be exact. That night we had some pizza and pasta two streets up from the hotel while our clothes were washing. Big tip - use a coin laundry to save $$$$. The cost to have washing done through the hotel was huge.

After a great night's sleep we woke on the 22nd and went to the Museum of Modern Art. A lovely time was had by all. The sculpture garden is relaxing, the kids had fun in the touch-and-learn area where they can finger paint on the computer screen and save it to the MoMA online gallery. The MoMA also has a bingo-style game for kids to play during their visit. A quick cab ride to pick up theatre tickets and we were ready for lunch. Lunch came from a place that didn't look child friendly from the outside but inside Hartley's Smokeshack & BBQ Restaurant & Bar there was a kids' menu, stacks of coloured paper and a tub of crayons per child. The staff here were great, and if you have kids interested in sports they will love the multiple TV screens on all different sports channels. Jayden got to see golf, baseball, soccer and car racing. They also give a complimentary serve of cornbread.

That afternoon we saw one of the best musicals I have seen - Matilda. No words can describe how awesome this show was!!! I recommend it to everyone. We all loved the show, even my husband who isn't really into musicals at all. The children in it are so talented, actually all the actors are. Very clever choreography and lyrics!

When the show ended we took a walk through Times Square. Talk about people everywhere!!! We somehow ended up at M&M's World - more levels of candy shopping!! The kids had a great time choosing the colours they wanted to eat. Then we stopped in at Nintendo World - a great place to let the kids have a turn of a DS or two. Then we took the journey to The Top of the Rock. Fantastic view of all of NYC!! The kids loved looking through the telescopes and seeing what was in the distance, especially the Statue of Liberty. It can get a little breezy up there so hold on to your hats. People up there are very friendly and if you take a photo for someone they are usually more than happy to take one for you. The City Pass came in handy here too as we didn't have to wait in line for tickets.

Our last full day in NYC started with a Semi Circle Cruise around the Hudson and East Rivers and of course past The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Due to damage from Hurricane Sandy we were unable to go to either of these places but the view from the cruise was amazing!! Make sure you get outside and look up as you go under the bridges - they are huge!

Following our cruise we took a short walk up 42nd St and found a lovely playground featuring a Tin Man play structure. Then on to have lunch at Dave & Busters. A great place for kids as it's an arcade that serves food. The best New York cheesecake topped with caramel and pecans I have ever eaten was here. They have kids' menus and also entree/game card packages.

Stopped off for a play in Union Square park, some shopping and hot chocolate. Then we found Manhattan Mall and let's just say we did a little bit more shopping. JC Penney has great-priced clothes for kids and adults.

We decided to finish our last evening in NYC off with a trip up to the top of the Empire State Building, also included in the City Pass. We were put through to the front of the line and given an added audio tour because we were City Pass holders. It was beautiful as the sun was setting and the lights were coming on. Central Park looked like a big shadow.

A quick play at Riverside Park on the 24th and we were off to the airport ready for the Vegas leg of our journey.

A WEDDING IN LAS VEGAS

Well, that was fine - the pilot let the kids into the cockpit and everyone was happy until a cancelled flight threw everything into chaos. Never fear, we made it to Vegas even though it was 4am when we arrived at the hotel. Make sure you take the contact numbers for your hotels with you so you can call them if you are unable to check in. I called our Vegas hotel (Stratosphere) and let them know we wouldn't be checking in until that time due to the flight. Also carry any tour company numbers on you. Luckily I did this and was able to move our Hoover Dam tour a day later due to landing time.

After a few hours' sleep, we ducked up to the North Outlet mall. Fabulous discounts on kids' clothes and shoes. Also some bargains for the adults. A lovely fudge shop there offers samples too.

That afternoon Shane and I renewed our vows with Elvis! The kids loved the white stretch limo that picked us up and being there with us all dressed up. Elvis walked me down the aisle and sang some songs; it was a lot of fun and something we had always wanted to do. Can't wait to see the photos!!

Following the vow renewal we had some family fun at Circus Circus! We all took turns playing the various arcade and skill games and all came home with a prize or two. While there we also enjoyed the free circus acts that are performed at various times in the middle of the arcade section.

Breakfast was very tasty the next day at Roxie's diner. Best gluten-free flapjacks, with maple syrup and pecans on top - yummo! It was an early breakfast though due to our Hoover Dam tour. We booked the Mini-Deluxe tour and got to go down to the power plant. Very cool. So much concrete went into that dam and the amount of energy it produces is amazing!! The tour stops at Ethel M Chocolates factory and Botanical Cactus Gardens on the way back. As part of the deluxe package we were given a $10 gift card each for The Miracle Mile shops and a taxi voucher for our return to Stratosphere. Woo-hoo, more shopping!! Make sure you pick up one of the booklets at the information counter as they have coupons in them. We got two serves of popcorn from Garrett's free - so yummy! We also enjoyed the free indoor rain shower. The kids thought it was very cool to see a storm inside.

When in Vegas one must see a show so we took the kids to see V - The Ultimate Variety Show. Wow! So much fun. Such a great show full of comedy, magic, music and strength. We all enjoyed it so much we laughed and gasped and got to meet the host (Wally Eastwood) afterwards. The kids even had their photo taken with him.

FUN IN SAN FRANCISCO

Another day, another airport. This time we were heading to San Francisco. At the airport in Vegas the children were given Junior Security Officer stickers by the nice man at the checkpoint then after another delay we were on the plane and the kids got to meet the pilots again – they even gave them wing badges.

Thursday the 27th and we arrived in San Fran, only a couple of hours late due to construction at San Fran airport. Took a little stroll around our hotel (The Handlery in Union Square), saw a couple of cable cars and then finally had an early night.

The next morning we took Cable Car Number 7 to Golden Gate Park. Such a beautiful place with so many things to do and see. We went to the Academy of Science (included in City Pass). It was amazing! Lots of great exhibits to see and touch. They even have an earthquake demo area and an albino alligator! Another fabulous thing about the academy was the cafe. Excellent food at excellent prices. The food was healthy and home-made - the chefs were cooking it on the spot, and there were veggies, spaghetti, fish, gluten-free buns, slow-cooked meals and more. Even the sides of salad, rice and corn cobs were healthy.

We had a play on park equipment, saw a couple of fountains and a squirrel. We love seeing squirrels. We finished off the day with dinner in the Westfield Centre and a trip to the coin-operated laundry two blocks away. Again, doing our own laundry for $2-$5 was much cheaper than the hotel rates of $7-$10 for a shirt or two. By the way, the best concierge service of our whole trip was here.

The following day we went on a big adventure. It started with an awesome cable car trip down to Fisherman's Wharf. We had a lovely breaky at Jacks - cost-effective yummy food with kids' menus, but beware - it had the worst coffee we have ever had. After breaky we took a Blue and Gold cruise (included in the City Pass) past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a lovely summer day so we all enjoyed it.

After the cruise we took a stroll down to Pier 39. We saw a seal playing, rode the carousel and had lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The service here is great and they have a lovely kids' menu with activities and crayons. Kids' meals come served in a boat-shaped dish. They also helped with gluten-free choices. That afternoon we caught the F-Tram down to Pier 15 where we went to a fantastic place for the whole family: The Exploratorium. The Exploratorium is a hands-on science experiment centre of fun. So many different things to touch and try. Colour, sounds, lights, weights and more. They have a fabulous gift shop full of fun things too.

That night we had dinner at Cioppino's, an Italian restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf. By eating dinner here we not only got great food (GF pasta, woo-hoo), we also got a discount by showing the receipt from the shop a couple of doors down where we got some sunscreen.

DISNEYLAND ADVENTURES

On the 30th we left for LAX where we got the shuttle to our last destination - The Howard Johnson Anaheim. We instantly loved the hotel, our room, the staff, the games room and of course the water playground. Our favourite kids' suite yet. The kids loved having the bunks, own TV, sofa and bathroom.

A big benefit of the hotel is the five-minute walk to the Disneyland gates. There is a fabulous cae, Mimi's, right next door that has great real food at great prices and the kids' menu has activities and colouring in. The hotel also has a coin-operated laundry in the basement and is a few minutes one-way from Walmart and the other way from Target so you can get breakfast cereal, snacks, water bottles, frozen dinners and more.

Our first night we had dinner at the Outback Steakhouse with our great friends the Naders. The following day was Miki's birthday so we had breakfast with the Naders down the road at Coco's where they have yummy GF pancakes. After that it was off to Disney California Adventure Park. WOW. What a place. Within the first five minutes we met Goofy and Donald. We had lunch at Ariel's Grotto, a fabulous place for young ladies to meet their favourite princesses. The whole family enjoyed the afternoon at Paradise Pier and of course we had to pop into Cars Land and ride on Racers. Well worth the long line. Our night was topped off with the fantastic Disney fireworks.

The next morning we used our Magic Morning Pass and entered Disneyland at 7am. Yep, 7am!!! Best idea ever!! We got on all the big rides without needing a Fast Pass in the first hour of being there. Then we got on most of the others with hardly any wait time. The longest we had to wait was 30 minutes. That evening the boys and girls went different directions – the boys to the pool and the girls to more rides.

After some much-needed sleep we went to Legoland. This was a whole-day event. The bus picked us up at 8:30am and returned us home at 8:15pm. A lovely day had by all. Miki and I even got to eat GF burgers at Castle Burger!! They also had a place with GF pizza!! Lots of rides and lots of water. Big tip - before you go near splash battle, put on swimmers!! We did not do that LOL! It was lots of fun. Kids climbed the Lego fireman wall, drove Lego cars and went on rollercoasters.

The next morning was 4th July. We went to California Adventure Park at 8am to get tickets to World of Color, then spent a couple of hours doing the rides we had missed the first day. So much fun. Once it warmed up too much for us we took the shuttle to the Citadel outlet mall. Lots more shops!! A great lunch at Ruby's diner, fabulous kids meals and a cardboard robot to make. Yummy GF burgers and less than $10 per person.

The shuttle took us back to the hotel and we had a quick dinner at Mimi's before heading off to World of Color! What an amazing show of water and colour. The kids loved it and said it was awesome. The water showed songs/scenes from various Disney movies and the fountains danced to the music. Being the 4th of July the show started out red, white and blue with American songs and of course the anthem. Add fire and fireworks and you have one brilliant show enjoyed by everyone in the crowd. After the fireworks we went on Jay's fave ride - Toy Story Mania - and then we went for a stroll through Cars Land and took a ride on Tow Mater's ride. Being the 4th July we stopped in at Mimi's for dessert on the way back. Yum!

Friday signalled our last day at Disneyland so we started the morning doing the last couple of rides we hadn't done and met the last couple of princesses we needed autographs from. Loved getting the hand stamp to duck out for a swim and a bite to eat.

 

We got back to Disneyland in time to watch the parade - well worth it! Everyone loved seeing all the characters. We then spent our last afternoon back at California Adventure Park going on our favourite rides and strolling through the shops. We were sad to say goodbye to Disneyland.

Our last day we all slept in then had some fun in the water park (at our hotel), played in the games room and had our last meal at Mimi's. Check out was at 12 but the hotel can store your bags for the day. You can also use the pool and games room after checkout while waiting for airport shuttles, etc.

SURPRISE ENDING

We flew home with Qantas at 11pm on 6th July. Great flight, kids got to meet the captain and were given kids' packs. As it was Shane's birthday I had arranged a surprise - the cabin crew came and sang Happy Birthday to him. Then they surprised all of us by giving him a bottle of Champagne.

A lovely end to our fabulous three weeks in the USA! Can't wait to plan the next trip there!

 

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