Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Family Travel (page 1 of 5)

3 Highlights (and 2 Disappointments) Visiting Death Valley

Death Valley National Park had long been on my list to visit among the many California National Parks I have yet to see. And on our Southwest road-trip in 2018, I finally made it happen. We were traversing the desert from Tucson up to Tahoe, and a stop at Death Valley was a must. The previous days had included Las Vegas and Red Rocks National Conservation Area (SEE: The Easiest Hike at Red Rocks).

The final days of the trip were a bit rushed, entailing a lot of driving each day, which meant that we didn’t get to linger. I’m not sure I’ll plan a trip again that gives us so little time, as there is so much to see. Whether it is the cacti of Saguaro National Park, the magnificent red rock formations of Sedona, or the majesty of the Grand Canyon that we almost didn’t see, everywhere we went felt like it deserved another day (well, except Vegas). Death Valley was no exception.

We headed toward the valley from the east, after staying at a nice hotel in the oddest place (SEE: Holiday Inn Express Pahrump Review: This may be the best HIE ever?). I planned our night in Pahrump so that the park would be little more than an hour of driving the next day. The drive is pretty lonely,

Eventually, we made it to the park entrance, which consists of some pit toilets and a payment kiosk. There are no National Park Service staff to greet you.  Even though it isn’t staffed, you do need to pay the entrance fee, which is $30 (increased from $25 when we visited). The fee is good for up to 7 consecutive days in the park. If you plan on visiting twice, just purchase an annual pass, which is only $55. Better yet, just buy a National Parks annual pass for $80.

I had high hopes for our one day visit to this otherworldly place. The plan was to head to Dante’s View, then along to Zabriskie Point, and eventually down into Badwater, the lowest point on the continent.

Unfortunately, things started off with a bit of disappointment. But our brief visit was still great overall. Here are the highlights, followed by what we missed:

Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America

No trip to Death Valley is complete without a stop in Badwater. At 282 feet below sea level, this basin is the lowest point not only in the country, but in the entire continent. Technically, it is the lowest point in all the Americas.

But a visit here is worth more than just being able to add something to your personal record books. A walk out on the salt flats will help give you a perspective of the vastness of Death Valley.

The Panamint range towering above you in the distance to the west is certainly impressive. It is mind boggling that Telescope Peak, the highest mountain in this arid range, is 11,049 feet tall. This is a crazy elevation differential over a distance of barely 10 miles!

We had to obviously take a photo at the sign. I’ve never stood this fare below sea level, and it was fun to describe to the kids how we would be way beneath the ocean’s surface, could the ocean reach this inland valley. They thought that was pretty cool.

What the kids were definitely not into was walking out on the salt flats of Badwater Basin. They aren’t hikers (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert). Hiking and walking were natural parts of my upbringing, so much so that it is basically my default activity when traveling if I have no other plans. Just get out and wander. I’m learning to make adjustments with the kids along.

This will forever be one of my favorite photos. The faces say it all. I mean, it was 100 degrees out that April morning. But the air was bone dry, and you could hardly feel it. I’m a wimp when it comes to heat, and I did fine. Humidity is what does this guy in.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center

We stopped in Furnace Creek after visiting Badwater Basin and the Artist’s Palette. It is a great place to stop if you’re in need of break, a bathroom, and some cool air. With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees outside, it makes for a nice pit stop.

The two main things I found most interesting about the visitor center were the Death Valley model and the story about “Death Valley Scotty”. The model is in the middle of the visitor center and provides you with a great perspective of the vastness of the the park. The vertical scale is obviously exaggerated. It was cool to show the kids where we’d arrived from and which way we were heading out after our visit.

The half hour film on the ecology and history of Death Valley is excellent. Make sure you budget time for it. More than anything else, I was intrigued by the man known as “Death Valley Scotty”. Starting his career as a stunt rider in “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West show, Walter Scott began a series of “ventures” where he managed to swindle his wealthy patrons out of every penny they invested into his schemes. Remarkably, Albert Johnson, one of his patrons, became a lifelong friend of Scott’s, forgiving him for his fraudulent stunts.

This friendship provided Scott with a level of stability he never would have enjoyed in his later years, and it managed to weather the con man’s tendency for boasting and self-aggrandizement. The mansion known as “Scotty’s Castle” didn’t actually ever belong to Walter Scott. It was instead the Johnson’s vacation home. Unfortunately, the castle was damaged in a flood and it is no longer possible to visit.

What amazed me most about the whole story of “Death Valley Scotty” was how the man who gets all the notoriety and association with this place is not at all the hero of the story. Johnson’s steadfast friendship with Scott and support of him is what is truly remarkable. Like I said, the video at Furnace Creek Visitor Center is well worth watching.

One note on Furnace Creek: make sure you fill up the car. Gas prices are obscene! It was bad enough when we visited, but they are well above $5.00 per gallon for regular at time of writing.

First glimpse of the valley from Zabriskie Point

While I’d hoped to have another view as our first glimpse of Death Valley, our initial stop, even before heading to Badwater, was at Zabriskie Point. You don’t get a sweeping view of Death Valley, but you can at least steal a peek over the badland formations. It is one of the most photographed points in the park.

The terrain here is otherworldly. Shaped by rain erosion, is the sort of look and texture you’d expect from a wasteland of a planet from a sci-fi film. The complete barrenness of the soil stands in stark contrast to so much of the rest of California and the other deserts I’ve visited, which have a robust ecosystem.

Had the time been available (and the temperature cooler), I would have loved to hike the Golden Canyon trail from the opposite side of the Badland formations.

Biggest bummer: Dante’s View was closed

Now for the depressing parts. When I was researching what to see in Death Valley, the viewpoint known as “Dante’s View” topped my list. This viewpoint is accessible from the east side of the park. You head south from the main road essentially from the entrance kiosk and then drive for several miles up to the point.

But Dante’s View was closed. You could drive a ways down the road to a parking lot, but the road was gated beyond that point. Had we been able to access the scenic spot, we would have enjoyed sweeping views of Death Valley stretching out before us. Dante’s View is positioned right above Badwater, and is one of the best vista points in the park.

The viewpoint is open again. We unfortunately just came during a period of maintenance where the Park Service was doing work at the Dante’s View parking lot. You can enjoy this spot once again.

How little time we had

The second bummer is how abbreviated our visit had to be. Yes, this is completely my fault. Death Valley is vast; this was not lost on me. It takes a good amount of time to just drive through the park and from point to point within it. For example, to get from Badwater to Scotty’s Castle (unfortunately closed, like I mentioned), you will need to drive almost an hour and a half. Plan accordingly.

I knew we would have at most about 5-6 hours to see and enjoy Death Valley. This is enough if you want to simply stop by a couple of highlights and then keep moving, like we did. To really experience the valley, you probably need a couple full days.

Conclusion

While our visit to Death Valley was brief, I really enjoyed it. The kids were less enthusiastic, but we did make memories, even if it was of them pretending to die as we walked across the salt flats. They still talk about it, and that is what matters to me most. Hopefully they’ll look back fondly on our visit one day, realizing I really wasn’t trying to kill them. Go see and experience this amazing national park!

Travel Day – Beijing to Hong Kong

It was a bit sad to wake up and realize that our time in Beijing had already passed. Our five days in the Chinese capital were an amazing experience. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of what Beijing has to offer, but the food, history and people make it a great place to visit. Here are the posts from each day of our adventures in Beijing:

Breakfast was again complementary in the top-floor lounge of our central Beijing hotel (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review). We even finished up early, a small miracle for my children. My bags in hand, we made our way downstairs and I asked the desk to call us a taxi. We could have taken the subway, but it would have meant a transfer and toting our bags a good distance. Given how cheap taxis are in Beijing, the convenience was totally worth it.

Our ride took off around 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I figured we would take an hour to get to the airport. The driver made me a bit nervous at times, cutting quickly from lane to lane. But we made it safely. The ride took 40 minutes on a Sunday morning leaving about 8:45 a.m.

Arriving at Beijing Capital Airport

Front of Beijing International Airport Terminal 3 is impressive. Our flight into Beijing had arrived into Terminal 2, and we’d taken the Airport Express straight from there. I didn’t get a good look at the airport. Plus, it was dark and we were exhausted. We also had an unfortunate incident where my son wet himself, as he hadn’t gotten up to use the lav before our final approach into Beijing. He has a habit of not being aware of his need to use the facilities, not to mention the worst timing on the airplane (every time he got up to go was during meal time). Just one of the hurdles of traveling with kids.

But I digress. The memories of our arrival into Beijing, although it was only a few days prior, already seemed distant. We walked through the doors into the massive departures hall of Terminal 3. There is row after row after row of check-in counters and there were huge queues of people. I’m not surprised Beijing in building a new airport that is projected to be the world’s busiest in short order.

Too early for a flight?

Turns out that due to our early departure from the hotel and faster drive than expected, we were an hour earlier than my anticipated arrival at the airport. We were also there an hour before the check-in desk opened for our flight. Now…I know there are some places where check-in counters don’t operate all the time. But given that Beijing Capital Airport is massive, and Cathay has more than just a few flights per day, the fact that the counter was not yet open surprised me.

There was one counter open. But the signage clearly marked counters for specific flights, something I’d never seen. We unfortunately had to kill an hour wandering the departures hall.

Once we were finally checked in and had dropped the bag, it was time for Chinese immigration. We’d had no issues entering the country on the 144-hour transit without visa (TWOV) exemption, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bit of apprehension about passing through the country. I’d been instructed to keep the stubs from the original visa paperwork, and they were still in my wallet. Everything should be good.

And it was. We got a couple odd looks from the immigration officials, but we passed through just fine. Very glad that we were able to take advantage of this opportunity for a stopover in the Chinese capital.

Security went smoothly as well. This was the 14th segment for both of my older two kids, and they have learned the drill pretty well. I was a dolt this time though and insisted that my backpack didn’t have any water in it even when the security official flagged it in the x-ray. Had totally forgotten that I’d put in the last bottle from the hotel that morning. Oops.

Once through, we hung out in the lounge for a while where the kids did some school and I wrote a couple blog posts and enjoyed a glass of wine (SEE: Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport Review). We also ate an early lunch. All for free with my Priority Pass membership through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Our plane was late, but we still got out early enough to make it to Hong Kong in time. You can read all about our experience flying Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy.

Hello, Hong Kong

We landed right before sunset and hopped on the Hong Kong Express toward Kowloon. A short bus ride later, and we were walking the last few blocks to our hotel through the bustling Mongkok neighborhood. I wasn’t so sure about staying here, but I would happily do so again. The energy and everyday-ness of Mongkok makes it a vibrant place to enjoy as a foreigner.

Bedtime came at about 8:30. It was a good travel day. Now we had Hong Kong to explore for our last three days!

Our Whirlwind 44 Hours in Luxembourg

After three days in the City of Lights (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3), we hopped on a train across the French hills to the tiny country of Luxembourg. I’d wanted to add a second destination to our trip, and it made sense, given that Paris is just a few hours away. Alternatively, we could have done another location in France, or possibly Belgium. But given the brevity of the trip, Luxembourg made the most sense.

I also have a fascination with tiny countries. When my wife and I toured southern France, Italy and Ireland in 2016, we also spent a couple nights in the tiny country of San Marino. Landlocked within Italy, it is a city-state with a fascinating history (SEE: 5 Reasons to Visit San Marino). We also visited Monaco on that trip, another tiny country (SEE: Hiking Monaco to La Turbie). Luxembourg was a good fit, and totally doable in a day and a half.

Hotel on a hill

We arrived in The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (as it is officially known) in the late afternoon at the main train station. I’d asked the hotel if they have a shuttle that would be able to pick us up. Unfortunately, they don’t , but the staff member who responded to me gave me instructions on how to get there by bus. Turned out to be super easy. We had to make one transfer at the Badanstalt stop.

We were staying at the DoubleTree, which is located outside the central part of town (SEE: DoubleTree Luxembourg Review). The bus didn’t run all the way to the hotel, so we did have to walk a few hundred yards up the hill.

The kids were fairly tired by this point in the trip. We’d spent three days seeing Paris, plus another couple hours in Luxembourg Gardens that morning before heading off to the train station. Our evening would best be spent in the pool, which was fine by them. We also made a couple calls back home, one to mom and their brother, and one to my daughter’s friend.

The one downside of not venturing out was that we had to eat in the hotel, which ended up being stupidly expensive. Not to mention the food was sub-par. But everything got better from there.

An enchanting morning

I’d told the kids the night before that I’d probably be up early to take a walk. They both said they wanted to go, but I knew that 6:00 a.m. was going to come too soon for them. Plus, I did want them to sleep in a bit and get a good night’s rest. I’m sure I could slip out and in before they even woke up.

The next morning was lovely. I left the kids sleeping peacefully in the hotel room and started down the hill. I traced the route the bus had taken from the City center, only departing once I got down near the creek in the bottom of the valley.

There was a light fog over the landscape. This, plus the utter quiet, made it a perfect morning indeed.

I wound my way through the trees along a creek that I could hear but really couldn’t see until I passed through the old city wall and came to some homes along the canal in the valley.

I also passed under the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge, also simply called the “red bridge”. It was far above, barely visible through the fog. The bridge connects the old upper part of the city with the new section, called Kirchberg. This section of the city is notable for containing multiple European Union institutions.

Further along, I came across an elevator that takes you from the bottom of the valley up to the old city. The topography of Luxembourg makes for some wonderful views, but it can make foot travel a bit challenging in places.

I’d not known there was an elevator at this point, but it was more than welcome. I’d been expecting to have to slowly wind my way out of the valley and up to the old city once I discovered a route. This made things far, far easier. It was just a couple more minutes before I strolled past the Badanstalt bus stop where we’d transferred the day before and made my way into the old city.

The old city wasn’t awake yet when I arrived. I spent some time wandering the streets, enjoying the shops beginning to open at the Places d’Armes and the view across the steep valley to the south.

There is a sign on the cultural center (formerly a palace and government building) that commemorates when Allied troops liberated Luxembourg during the Second World War.

Walking back past the cathedral. I grabbed a coffee at one of the only open cafés. It surprised me that the city was so sleepy, but I guess it was a weekend.

I knew it’d be a hike to get to the old city,  but I’d made good time. But taking the bus back made a whole lot more sense than walking. Luckily, the system is super easy to navigate. I ended up jumping on the first bus that would get me close, rather than waiting another 20 minutes for the one that could take me to Rue Jean Engling near the hotel.

I arrived a little over an hour after I’d left. The kids were right where I’d left them, snoozing peacefully. I’d given them clear instructions the night before on what to do if they woke up to me gone (get dressed for the day, don’t answer the door). Turns out those weren’t even needed. So much for getting up early with dad to take a walk! We’d do enough walking that day, so it was definitely better that they’d not been up and out at dawn.  😉

Old Luxembourg

After a nice (and free) breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to enjoy our one full day in Luxembourg. The Old City is the main area of interest, and that is the first place we headed. It was now mid-morning, and the town was a whole lot more alive than when I’d been there earlier. The kids were feeling alive, too, and wanted to play at the…uh…playground. I actually wouldn’t call it that, but other kids were climbing the poles, and, hey, they wanted to join in.

We wandered the streets for a little bit, visiting the Place d’Armes and cathedral first. Luxembourg Cathedral isn’t quite as impressive as others in Europe that I’ve seen, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

The town was waking up a bit more now. People were enjoying breakfast at many of the cafés. It was a very lovely morning. We wandered to the south edge of the town with a view of the Pont Adolphe, eventually making our way to the Luxembourg City Museum, the first real stop on our itinerary that day.

Luxembourg City Museum

I highly recommend the Luxembourg City Museum. The museum costs only €5 and is free for kids. The city-state has a fascinating history, and the museum will give you  great taste of it. The exhibits take you from the founding of the city on its rocky outcropping through to its place in modern Europe.

My daughter happened to meet a young lady busily spinning wool on a spinning wheel in one corner of the museum. They struck up a conversation while my son and I wandered the two rooms nearby. She then protested when we were going to move on. Long story short, I let her hang out with her newfound friend, and she chatted her ear off the entire time. The lady was a Luxembourger-American who had decided to relocate back to the land of her father after growing up in Seattle.

My son and I enjoyed the rest of the museum, moving slowly through the exhibits from floor to floor. The early section has some cool models showing the expansion of the city through the years.

The massive elevator that takes you between floors was a highlight as well. I’ve never seen one so large. They obviously custom-designed it to fill the space.

Near the end, there was a modern model of Luxembourg City. It was very neat to see where we’d already been. I pointed out a few places we’d be headed the during the rest of our visit.

We spent about 1.5 hours at the museum, although you could probably spend more. It’s not all that large, but there is still a good amount to see and read. Our visit concluded, my son and I returned to the first floor to fetch my daughter, who was still happily chatting with her yarn-spinning friend.

The Grund

Exiting the museum, we slowly made our way down to the Grund, the lower section of Luxembourg City along the river. This involved walking a lovely narrow street down toward the casemates. Along the way are some of the best views of the entire city. You can see part of the upper city in the left background, the Grund in the middle foreground down below, and the modern tall buildings in the distance located in Kirchberg.

We arrived at the casemates, a complex of tunnels used a bomb shelters during World War II. You can tour them for a fee, but I decided to pass up this attraction. My son found a piano and decided to give Silent Night (the one song he knows) a go. I did not expect this, given the public setting!

Continuing downward toward the river, we eventually found ourselves winding back to the middle of the Grund, which was directly below us when we started. Even though we could see exactly where we were headed, we probably walked at least three times the distance to get there. I should have paid more attention to the bus schedule, especially considering how reliable the service is and that the kids are free! At least taking the path meant the kids got to stop for a bit and play in the creek.

There was a small open air event going on at the bridge. We bought crepes for lunch from one of the stalls and hung out by the river for a bit. I thought the kids would enjoy a Nutella crepe, but it turns out that combination wasn’t received well. We hung out for a while with the people and vendors, eventually meandering to the other side of the river and waiting at a bus stop to head back to the middle of Luxembourg City. We took a brief joyride on one of the buses to see a bit more of the city before returning to the hotel for the evening.

But wait, there’s day two!

Our full day exploring Luxembourg City may have been over, but we still had a bit of adventure left before we needed to head back to the airport. Day two began with a lazy morning, as we’d done so much walking the day before. After another great (free) breakfast at the hotel restaurant we moseyed on down to the bus stop, just in time to catch the bus to the city center again. But today we caught a different line at Badanstalt this time, however, one that headed out to the edge of town. The point of interest? The Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.

There are a number of U.S. cemeteries scattered across Europe in which soldiers from both world wars are buried. I figured we should visit the one in Luxembourg, given that we were so close. The cemetery is a 15 minute walk from the last bus stop, down a quiet road. It is in the flight path of the Luxembourg airport, so we got to do some plane spotting on our way there and then on the way back again.

Because our kids are from Costa Rica, they are almost completely unfamiliar with American history, especially history as it relates to the world wars of the twentieth century. I relayed what I could regarding World War II to both of them as we made our way to the front gate of the cemetery.

Overcome by reverence

I knew the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial would command a great respect, but I was not anticipating the level of emotion that I experienced when we walked through the gate.

The cemetery is perfectly maintained. There is a memorial chapel in the middle of the stone terrace. Flanking it on either side are two displays of the names of soldiers who were missing in action during the Second World War along with engravings of military operations.

Many of the soldiers buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial were killed in combat during the Battle of the Bulge, late in the war. It occurred very close to Luxembourg. Down the hillside are row upon row of wooden crosses and Jewish stars for each solider.

At the very top of the hill, closest to the terrace and separate from the other graves is the grave of General George Patton who tragically died just months after the conclusion of the war.

I would highly recommend a visit to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial if you are an American visiting this tiny country.

Off to CDG!

The hours passed by so quickly. I felt like we’d barely arrived in Luxembourg, even though we’d spend a solid day and a half exploring. We made a final stop at the Palace of the Grand Duke. They have a guard outside who parades back and forth and switches off with the one in the booth.

We also had a photo op with Grand Duchess Charlotte. She was the monarch of Luxembourg during the Second World War, but abdicated in 1965 and was succeeded by her son. The “red bridge” mentioned earlier is named in honor of her.

All too soon we had to head back to the hotel, fetch our bags, and return to the train station. The rest of the day was spent making our way back to Charles de Gaulle airport for our flight back to the U.S. the following morning (SEE: Air France A380 economy review: Paris to San Francisco).

I’d say things went smoothly, but I’d be lying. We had a little incident where I got lost in Metz in our rental car. But that is a story for a different day. Our final night was at the Holiday Inn Express Charles de Gaulle (SEE: Paris Holiday Inn Express CDG Airport Review), which ended up being a great airport hotel pick.

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort Agave Suite: A Review

Pros: Great resort pool and other activities, reasonable breakfast, spacious room, good for families

Cons: Facilities a bit tired

After a day in Tucson (SEE: Should you visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?, AND: Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!) and a morning spent hiking in Saguaro National Park,  our two older kids and I headed to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort for a fun afternoon in the pool.

I booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort as an award night. Prices over our dates weren’t bad, but I still didn’t want to shell out the cash. Our single night cost 41,000 Honors points. The added benefit of booking an award stay is that we didn’t have to pay the resort fee. If I’d moved the slider even a little bit to change our booking to a mix of cash and points, or paid cash for the night, the entire resort fee would be due.

So, if you’re ever looking at an extended Hilton resort stay, points are absolutely the way to go. I despise resort fees. If you are unfamiliar with them, check out this site.

Arriving at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

We drove up to the Phoenix area after spending two nights in Tucson enjoying Colossal Cave and the Pima Air and Space Museum. The morning was spent at Saguaro National Park, and we finally rolled into Phoenix about 3:00 in the afternoon.

The entrance to the resort is fairly easy to find. We drove up to the main lobby and checked in. The agent at the front desk was cheerful and helpful, giving us an orientation of the property as it was our first time here.

The property is big enough, however, that you’ll probably need to drive around to get closer to your room. We were in the North Pointe building at the very end of the top floor.

The front desk gave us a modest upgrade to a slightly nicer suite. Standard suites are located in the south building, while the Agave Suites are located in the north building. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between them from what I read, but the Agave Suites have been more recently remodeled.

Taking a look at our Agave Suite

The suite had a sufficient amount of space and comfort that I’d be willing to come back here with the whole family. With a living area, we could actually make it work for 5, if the hotel would allow that.

 

The front area includes the desk, couches, and a TV. It’s a great little living space.

There isn’t a full kitchen, but the fridge and counter space is enough to easily prepare food and cook if you bring a hot plate.

There isn’t quite enough seating for five, but it’s better than a hotel room that has a single desk chair or armchair. You can use the desk chair in addition to the living room seating.

The Agave Suite is definitely a true suite in that you can close the door between the living area and the bedroom. The bathroom is situated in the middle between the living and bedroom areas. One side has the toilet while the other holds the shower. The design is great as one person won’t tie up the bathroom for everyone.

Beyond the tiny hall and bathroom is the bedroom area. Ours had two queens, which with the sofa in the other room would be sufficient for our family of five.

But since there were only three of us this time, the Agave Suite was extra spacious.

There is a small balcony at the back with a lovely view of the parking lot. Not. At least the hills in the distance are pretty cool.

Overall, I was super pleased with the our room at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The River Ranch

The primary reason I’d booked the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was…the resort part. Which in its case is called the River Ranch.

The April weather in Phoenix was lovely, and the pools were wonderfully refreshing. The kids spent literally hours in the water. I swam for a while and then laid back and took in some sun.

The main pool stretches around a middle landscaped hill that contains the top of the waterslide.

At one end of the pool there is an artificial waterfall feature. You can swim right up underneath them, and there are even benches to sit behind the screen of water. This was our favorite area of the pool.

There were not very many people present the day we were there. I cannot imagine what the place would be like if most of the lounge chairs were filled. It would be a zoo. Luckily, we’d picked a quiet day to stay at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.

The kids also enjoyed the lazy river. You can ride a full circuit around the mini-golf course on a tube.

The kids and I also played one round of mini-golf. Our first experience with this was in Costa Rica when we stayed at the Hotel Punta Leona at the Pacific in Costa Rica (SEE: Hotel Punta Leona review – stellar price for an all-inclusive). That time, everything was crazy. There was no taking turns; it was everyone just hitting the golf ball willy-nilly. This time we had a much more controlled game.

One of the kids favorite parts of the resort was the water slide. It isn’t very big, but unlike our stay at the Disneyland Hotel (SEE: Disneyland Hotel Frontier Tower adjoining deluxe view rooms review), there really wasn’t ever a line.

They did it over and over and over again.

I could have taken dozens of photos.

The River Ranch at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was entirely worth booking a resort hotel. We really don’t have much experience with resorts of any type, as they’ve never been high on my list of places to visit. My wife and I aren’t the types (well…more so me) to just head to a beach and park it for several days. Travel to me means walking through nature, experiencing culture, and taking in a new place. Resorts don’t fit the bill.

But with kids things are a bit different. They just want to have fun sometimes, and I’m trying to find a balance between “fun” activities and seeing the sights. So a resort stay now and then might become a bit more common.

Breakfast at Rico’s American Grill

One of the benefits of holding Hilton Gold status was being able to enjoy a free hot breakfast at one of the hotel restaurants, Rico’s American Grill, during our stay.

Instead of giving free breakfast to all of us as a Hilton Honors Gold benefit, the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort provides vouchers at the front desk. These are enough to cover their continental breakfast option ($10), or the buffet for the kids. If I recall correctly, the hotel did give us three vouchers, even though the they only have to extend the benefit to one guest.

I’ve found on multiple occasions now that Hilton is accommodating in that way when I’m traveling with two kids (SEE: DoubleTree Luxembourg Review). The kids got to pick from all of the items, while I had to make do with pastries and coffee.

But I really didn’t mind. There was a reasonable enough variety at Rico’s.

Overall, breakfast was good. It didn’t wow us in any way, but there were plenty of options at the buffet and the atmosphere was both casual and nice. Solid hotel breakfast, especially since it was free. Not sure I’d pay $19.99 for the adult buffet.

Outside of Rico’s on the patio area are some games. It was a nice Phoenix morning and not yet hot, so we hung around for a while playing Connect 4 and bean bag toss.

When the kids tired of the games, we moseyed back to the pool for an hour and a half. They enjoyed the water slide and pool, and then we dried off, packed up and loaded the car.

After that it was (sadly) time to hit the road to Sedona!

Area around the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

There isn’t much in the immediate area around the resort. You’re basically in suburbia. There are some business and stores along the same road as the resort, but the rest of the area is just surrounded by houses. To the east are the hills seen in a couple photos.

There really isn’t anywhere to walk around the resort. If you have a car, you can see other sights in the Phoenix area. I wouldn’t suggest trying to visit the resort without a car. Or the Phoenix area, for that matter. The Phoenix metro is the textbook definition of suburban sprawl.

We did find a local Mexican restaurant down the street for dinner the first night.

Conclusion

Our one night at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort was enjoyable and a great value. We had a fun-filled afternoon swimming and playing mini-golf before returning to our room for a movie. Having Hilton Gold status and using points for the night helped us bring the cost of our stay to nearly $0 out of pocket.

Eating off-property is easy since you are essentially in suburbia and there are plenty of cheap local options. Honestly, I would suggest it. If you also are a fan of cooking in your hotel room, you can definitely get one that would allow that to work easily as well. You’d just need to bring all the cookware and a hot plate.

The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort isn’t a glamorous place, but it’s a great value for families looking to stretch both their points or their budget. It’s definitely on my list of places to take the whole family in the future.

3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City

After dragging ourselves through the exhaustion of our first day in the City of Light (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 1 – Surviving the Jetlag), followed by a very full day of seeing the main sights (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 2 – Hitting the Highlights), some extra sleep was called for to start off our third day.

Once the kids were up and ready, we had breakfast at Aux Péchés Normands for the third time. It was already becoming tradition. The little bakery is a two minute walk from our hotel and offers great pastries, plus fresh coffee and juice. Fueled for the morning, we headed back toward where we’d began our adventures two days ago.

Notre Dame de nouveau

Notre Dame cathedral was both the first and last stop on our first day in the city. We’d enjoyed the view of the famous church from the square in front, returning later to enjoy the view from the towers.

But we’d missed one important piece: seeing the inside of the cathedral. This was what we intended to rectify today.

We arrived at Place Jean-Paul II to what seemed like an enormous line in front of Notre Dame. It extended the length of the square, and then wrapped around back towards the front of the Gothic cathedral. There really wasn’t any alternative to get inside, so we just joined the lengthy queue.

The line moved surprisingly quickly, and we were actually inside in under 10 minutes. The inside of Our Lady of Paris is just as lovely as her exterior. I love wandering around old cathedrals. When my wife and I visited Europe in 2016, we went to cathedrals in Milan, Florence and Dublin.

We didn’t stay especially long, just enough to take in the stained glass and immense feel of the cathedral. From Notre Dame we moved on to the other sights located on the Île de la Cité.

Conciergerie and Saint-Chappelle

A short walk later and we were standing at the entrance to Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful chapel with some of the most impressive stained glass I have ever seen. The chapel isn’t very large, but the ceilings are high and the color is mesmerizing.

Sainte-Chappelle is part of the Palais de la Cité, the residence of the kings of France for centuries. In many ways it is equally as impressive as Notre Dame.

The kids and I enjoyed the stained glass and wandering both the upper and lower levels of Sainte-Chappelle before moving on to the Conciergerie, located just another short walk away.

The Conciergerie is another part of the royal palace on the island in the middle of the Seine, albeit an infamous part of it. It served a number of functions after the French kings moved to the palace across the river, before becoming an infamous part of the French Revolution. Many prisoners were held here before being executed by guillotine, including Marie Antoinette.

I was surprised by how bare the interior is kept. There were a few areas where you could read about the history of the building, but other than that, you just got to wander the bare stone rooms. Bare, that is, except for a flume that is oddly constructed through the space and results in the waterfall you see outside between the towers.

I did my best to relay my limited knowledge of the French Revolution to the kids. They were fascinated by the story of Marie Antoinette, asking again and again why she was killed. The fact that the revolutionaries killed her unjustly, hating her for her wealth and power as one of the French royals, was hard for them to get their minds around.

Even as we left the Conciergerie, the kids continued to ask about Marie Antoinette and what happened during the revolution. I was glad for the moment I could teach them a small nugget of history, right in the place where it happened.

Lazily cruising the Seine

From the Conciergerie we continued our stroll along the Île de la Cité, heading to the dock where one of the river cruise companies operates. Given how much we’d all been on our feet the previous day, I wanted to make sure we broke up our day a bit more with active versus passive activities. I made sure to plan a time where we could just sit and talk and take in Paris. A cruise on the Seine fit the bill perfectly.

The tour company we used was fine, but there is serious room for improvement. Given the price of Paris in general, I was going for cheap. I’m sure there are better companies out there. The main drawback was that the tour guide did little more than point out 8-10 places in very thickly accented English. I caught most of what she said, but the kids hardly understood anything.

But it was still enjoyable to watch the city drift by from the water. The cruise took us from the Île de la Cité to the Eiffel Tower and back again.

We also headed upriver briefly and passed by Notre Dame, which was a highlight from the water.

We also saw (purportedly) the smallest house in Paris.

It was a great way to kill and hour and still enjoy the city. I’d highly recommended adding a Seine cruise as part of your Paris itinerary.

A much needed rest

Even after sitting for an hour, the kids were still tired. Three days of walking and sightseeing was a lot for both of them. It was mid-afternoon, and I still wanted to take them to Champ de Mars that evening to see the Eiffel Tower again and basically saw our goodbyes to Paris.

The best course of action was to regroup at the hotel for a while. The kids spent some time watching cartoons while I closed my eyes and tried not to drift off to sleep. Which was hard. I don’t like taking down time and would rather stay out until I’m completely done for the day. But with the kids, I needed to break it up.

But we had to get moving soon before I just decided to stay put. Dinner. We needed dinner.

Au revoir, Tour Eiffel

We headed out after maybe an hour at the Crowne Plaza Paris Republique, and grabbed some more bread, cheese and lunchmeat at a local store. Dinner was on the cheap yet again. However, we splurged afterwards, buying eclairs at one of the top-rated bakeries in the city. It was the most utterly delectable cream-filled pastry I’d eaten in my entire life.

On our way to the Champ de Mars, I became concerned that we might get rained out. The weather didn’t look promising. Sure enough, as we exited the train station, a light rain was falling. Plenty of other people had umbrellas. We weren’t so prepared. Even living in Humboldt, I cannot remember the last time I used an umbrella out and about.

We decided to just make a go of it. Looking at the clouds, I didn’t expect the rain to get worse, and it certainly wasn’t cold. We would be fine. This turned out to be the right call, as the rain let up within 15 minutes.

We walked along the Champ de Mars, bidding the icon of Paris adieu. Just had to get the perfect photo of these two in front of it. We strolled along slowly, me taking it all in. The kids brought up the fact that I’d made them walk up hundreds of stairs to the top. I have no regrets of my decision.

On the other side of the tower we encountered “the bubble man”. He was in the business of providing enjoyment to at least a dozen kids at a time for a small sum from their parents’ pocket (voluntary, of course). The kids enjoyed jumping and chasing the bubbles immensely. The Eiffel Tower made for the perfect backdrop.

A carousel ride, the perfect Parisian ending

After that we crossed the Seine toward Trocadero once more. This time we weren’t in a hurry, having already accomplished the mission of the evening. The kids asked to ride the carousel, and I figured this was the last chance we’d have. Of course this one picked a plane instead of a horse.

From there we wandered over to a small park maybe 100 yards from the Trocadero fountains. To my surprise, there were a couple families with kids. Young kids. I’m always taken aback by how late Europeans are out each evening. It was definitely late for us. The kids should have already been in bed. But here we were, enjoying the park, as the hour hand crept past 9 o’clock.

We finally got back to the hotel around 10:00, and quickly to bed. We said goodbye to Paris the following day, which was bittersweet. A final visit to Luxembourg Gardens was all we were able to fit in. We’d had a ton of fun. But the adventure would continue in Luxembourg!

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