Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Kids (page 1 of 6)

Bound for China!

I’ve been waiting for a number of weeks to break the news about our next trip. This summer saw a good amount of work travel, plus a couple shorter trips, each with one of the older kids. I took my daughter to visit her friend in San Antonio, Texas in July. During our flights out she got to experience domestic first class for the first time. My older son had his turn in August, when we headed to Atlanta for a few days before he started school (SEE: 3 reasons why the Delta Flight Museum is an avgeek must-see).

The solo trips with each of them were super fun, and these were on the heels of a week spent in Europe with both of them (SEE: 3 Days in Paris: Day 3 – Savoring the City). We’d previously called it off back in April, and rebooked a shorter version that was more amenable to everyone.

Right around the time of that trip, I talked with my wife about planning a second international trip with the older two for late in the year. There was award space available for a return from Beijing with a stop in Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, and I knew I could use the reimbursement I’d gotten from KLM after the cancellation on our Europe itinerary to cover most of it (SEE: Submitting an EU261 claim that could net me $1,500). The trip got the green light, and I moved ahead and planned it.

I’d been meaning to get this posted about a week ago, but a busy office move, onboarding new staff, and time at home kept me from wrapping it up. Figures that we would be en route when it is finally finished.

First stop, Beijing!

Our outbound flight is to Beijing, the capital of China. Like I mentioned above, I used the reimbursement from KLM to cover most of the fairly reasonable one-way fare for all of us. We have a total of six nights planned in Beijing, with 5 full days of sightseeing. On the itinerary are the core sights in central Beijing, including the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the parks nearby. We’ll also wander the hutongs and find plenty of cheap and delicious Chinese food.

Other plans include visiting the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven, two other iconic Beijing historic cultural sites. We also have an excursion to the Great Wall planned. I had my eye on the Mutianyu section, and after reading about Dan’s experience with his daughter (SEE: Great Wall Mutianyu Toboggan Ride review), this became a solid plan. It’s a slightly less visited section of the wall, so you avoid some crowds, and there are some fun things to do.

We did not obtain Chinese visas for the trip. I opted to use the 144-hour transit without visa (TWOV) policy that lets tourists visit a select number of Chinese cities for up to 144 hours without a visa. This is a fairly recent change by the Chinese government to promote more tourism. Other cities offer 72-hour TWOV, and another number offer 24-hour TWOV, which is basically only ideal for an overnight layover.

The 144-hour TWOV window in Beijing is honestly more than enough to see much of the city. And even if Beijing isn’t enough, the policy actually allows visitors to travel to other locations, as long as you stay within the Tianjin and Hebei provinces during your visit. Plenty of flexibility.

Our onward flight is to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific. Which may seem confusing since Hong Kong is still technically part of China, but for the purposes of TWOV, it qualifies. Hong Kong is one of the special administrative regions, and U.S. passport holders do not need a Chinese visa to visit.

Then 3 days in Hong Kong

Our final three days will be spent exploring the bustling Asian financial center of Hong Kong. Hong Kong can be crazy expensive, and hotel rooms are small, so I’ve had difficulty finding a decent place to stay during our time in the city. I’m still waiting to hear back about the room capacity for the hotel I booked (but I have a backup plan if it falls through).

Our Hong Kong itinerary includes hiking up Victoria Peak, eating dim sum, and hopefully meeting up with Jason Francisco, one of the other writers for Points with a Crew, and his wife. We’ll see if we can make that happen. We may stuff in a day trip to Macau, but I’m not sure I want to cram it in, given the time and cost required.

The school issue

We made these plans before officially making the decision to enroll our two boys in New Life Christian school. We are fortunate that the school was able to send him with the work he needs to complete. We are homeschooling our daughter, so bringing along her work was pretty easy. We’ll just have to carve out some time in the evenings to get some done.

What will mom and the little guy do? They have their own fun-filled week planned. Our four-year-old is super excited to have mom all to himself (LOL). With only one kid to wrangle instead of three, mom will also be able to catch up on projects that she has been wanting to get to for months.

Conclusion

I’m excited. This will be my first time to any country in Asia. I don’t count my 90-minute visit to Seoul Incheon airport early last year (nor do I count my unplanned stop in Anchorage – SEE: 2 people getting engaged and 1 going into labor on my crazy flight). The more I’ve read and researched about China, the more fascinated I have become with the country. I’m excited to experience the culture and people.

Featured photo courtesy of Pexels

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!

Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop Hike in Saguaro National Park

On a beautiful Arizona morning in late April we headed out from the Hampton Inn in Tucson to Saguaro National Park, to the west of the city. The plan? Complete the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop hike, a distance of about 2.1 miles, as an introduction for the kids to the desert.

Although we didn’t make it out of the hotel especially early to beat the heat, it was shaping up to only be in the 80s. I’m not sure we would have attempted this during the heat of midsummer!

Pit stop at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Before we started the hike, we made a quick stop at the desert museum, just to use the restroom.  Even though our time here was super brief, we encountered a rattlesnake. I hadn’t seen one in years. It was right in the parking lot!

Park staff promptly snagged him. With lots of people around, he definitely needed to be re-homed.

I used the encounter to help illustrate the need for immediate obedience from the kids. The last rattlesnake story I recall involved my dad calling my two sisters away from a picnic table at Mount Diablo. A diamondback had started to coil up underneath. Thankfully, they immediately got up and left. Dad then spent the next minute chucking rocks at the reptile until it struck.

With that story fresh in their heads, we headed a bit further down the road to the Kings Canyon trailhead.

Kings Canyon Trailhead

The Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike starts just a short distance down the road from the museum. The trailhead is at a small parking lot off the right side of the road. The Kings Canyon trail starts as a gentle ascent along a dry creekbed.

Although the views from the parking lot are decent, you quickly rise even more and are offered a lovely view of the desert stretching out beyond the way you came.

Unsurprisingly, the mighty saguaro are plentiful. The giant cacti are endemic to Arizona and the state of Sonora, Mexico. This multi-armed monster has to be well over 100 years old.

We stopped frequently, mainly to take in the beautiful desert around us. But also because the kids were already hot and tired.

It’s soooooo hot!

I lost count how many times I heard this during our hike. Even though our kids are native to a fairly warm climate, they have already adopted the utterly Humboldtian disposition of melting when it gets above 85°F. Except if there is a pool around. Then they’re fine. But hiking in the desert? Not a fun proposition (SEE: 3 Tips for Hiking with Kids in the Desert).

I got at least some smiles out of them. They reminisced about the hike we took with their cousins in the Redwoods. Bit different out here, isn’t it?

We reached an intersection that lacked signage, but took the trail that went in the direction I knew we needed to go to connect to the Gould Mine trail. No more than 15 minutes later we found the sign that could take us back around the hill to the parking lot.

kings canyon - gould mine loop hike

The Sonora desert is truly lovely. I’d forgotten how enchanting the U.S. southwest can be.

kings canyon saguaro national park

Even through their complaints, the kids were doing fine. We’d finished up the last of the water, but there was less than half a mile to go.

Our hike lasted maybe an hour and a quarter to complete the 2.1-mile Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop hike in Saguaro National Park.

Ending an enjoyable desert hike

It was an enjoyable hike for me. It was warm, but certainly not hot. We kept an easygoing pace, and there were no strenuous climbs. You couldn’t ask for a better quick hike.

The kids, on the other hand, were less than thrilled. Even after seeing some cool desert flora and fauna, they wanted to get moving on down the road.

Apparently my daughter’s feet had gotten a little hot during our excursion.

Note: normally I would not have let her do this, but there was hardly another car on the road driving through the park.

Bonus: Valley View Overlook

We drove for another 15 minutes or so from the Kings Canyon trailhead until we hit a dirt road within Saguaro National Park. I had one other point I wanted to explore before hitting the freeway: the View Trail.

view trail saguaro national park

There isn’t much to the view trail. It is maybe a quarter mile, and leads you gently from a small parking lot to a vista of the valley west of Saguaro National Park. Our panorama shot hardly does it justice.

Smiles were back at this point. It was a much easier hike.

And there were a lot more towering cacti.

Due to the ease of the hike and the view, the View Trail is a bit more popular. It certainly wasn’t crowded, but we saw maybe a dozen people during the hike (versus only 1 on the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine loop trail).

Conclusion

Fast pace road trips really don’t let you linger. We enjoyed our brief hikes, first around the Kings Canyon – Gould Mine Loop and then the View Trail in Saguaro National Park. But with the morning spent, it was time to move on. We stopped for a snack in Picture Rocks and then hit the road. Onward to the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort and time in the pool!

Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!

After visiting Colossal Cave Mountain Park, we headed to the Pima Air and Space Museum as our second stop on the first day of our road trip across the Southwest (SEE: Southwest Road Trip 2018: An Overview). As an aviation aficionado (and with a son that is already very much into airplanes as well), it was a must-see while we were in Tucson.

General info for the Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the eastern outskirts of Tucson, not far from both the airport and the Air Force base. The museum includes a massive 80 acres of exhibits featuring hundreds of aircraft. It is one of the largest non-government-funded air museums in the world.

Single-day entry prices are as follows:

  • Adult (13+) – $16.50
  • Junior (5-12) – $10.00
  • Senior (65+)/Active Military – $13.75
  • Child (< 4) – Free

There is also a cheaper price for Pima County residents. I’m honestly surprised they don’t offer a fairly inexpensive annual membership. The group rate (20+) is also only $13.50 per person for the day.

While we only were there for one day, the Pima Air and Space Museum also offers 2-day passes. If you’re a serious aviation enthusiast, this might be the best way to go. The 2-day pass is a great deal at $22.00 for adults and $12.50 for kids.

Indoor Exhibits

It is fitting that you are greeted by a reconstruction of a Wright Flyer as the very first exhibit. This brought back memories of our visit to the Museum of Flight near Boeing Field when I was 13 years old, where I got to take a couple turns in a simulator that allowed you to control the Wright Flyer almost exactly how Oroville Wright controlled in on that famous day near Kitty Hawk.

The main indoor hangar is filled with an incredible assortment of all kinds of aircraft, both civilian and military. You could spend most of a day in just this space.

There are also a few short films to watch at various locations and short sound clips. One of my favorite planes in the main hangar was the Martin PBM Mariner.

One of the coolest aircraft on display is a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

pima air and space museum

My aspiring pilot had a blast at the controls of this kit plane. No, he didn’t get off the ground. Can you believe you would assemble this thing yourself? Not sure I’d trust a plane I put together.

We spent the bulk of our time in the main hangar. There is simply that much to see.

Other Hangars

There are a total of three other hangars besides the main one, as well as an additional building that is a memorial of the 390th Bombing Group and houses a B-17 Flying Fortress. This was the first model plane I completed as a kid, and I have always been fascinated with it.

With such an abbreviated schedule, we spent about 10 minutes in the 390th museum (sadly). We didn’t even get a chance to enter the other hangars. I opted for a tour of the grounds instead.

Outdoor Exhibits

There is so much to see in the outdoor exhibits that you could literally spend all day walking around and under every single aircraft on the 80 acres of the museum.

I ended up paying for the tram, as it was a fairly hot Arizona day, and I knew the kids wouldn’t be up for walking much of the outside areas. Plus, it was faster and included a guide, and we didn’t have a lot of time. At $6 per person, the tram adds up quickly for a family. But I would recommend it, especially if you are on a schedule.

One of the perks is that the drivers are retired professionals from the aviation industry. Our tour guide’s name was Ron. He was a retired pilot who had a 27-year career with Northwest Airlines after seven years as a Navy Reserve pilot. His knowledge of aircraft and aviation history was impressive.

The first tram stops were near some U.S. military fighters. My favorite was “Big Sal”, an F-105 flown in the Vietnam War by Capt. John Hoffman and named for his wife, Sally.

One of the next stops was at a Marine Corps Sikorsky S-43.

Across from it on the other side beyond a fence is an Orbis Flying Eye Hospital DC-10. My son thought it was super cool with the engine built into the tail. However, this plane has the affectionate nickname “Death Contraption 10”, among other equally awful monikers, due to several incidents that resulted in loss of life. The most famous is very likely United flight 232. After suffering critical failure in the tail engine, the pilots were left with very little control of the plane. Amazingly, they still managed to nearly land it at Sioux City, Iowa.

One plane that stood out especially was the “Flying Guppy”.

Further along we saw a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Constellation. Our tour guide remarked how sleek and unique the plane’s lines are. The triple tail was a design feature that allowed the aircraft to fit into existing hangars with low ceilings. It’s a beaut.

The Lockheed Constellation (not this one specifically) holds the record for the longest duration, non-stop passenger flight on a piston powered aircraft. Trans World Airlines’ inaugural flight from London to San Francisco was a ridiculous 23 hours and 19 minutes. This wasn’t mentioned during the tour, but it is an amazing feat. The aircraft would have averaged a mere 230 miles per hour.

Soon we had passed enough aircraft that I began to lose track of what we saw. It was information overload. And my phone was dying, to boot.

I took a few more photos while I could, including this U.S. Air Force Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, nicknamed “Old Shaky” due to the aircraft’s tendency to due just that during flight. The large nose cone sported by the plane is a weather radar.

There were also a couple more modern airliners featured at the Pima Air and Space Museum. These included the second Boeing 787 ever manufactured. It is accompanied by a China Southern 737.

Near the end of the tour is what the tour guide called the queen of the lot: a Convair B-36.

Overall, I enjoyed the tram tour immensely. If we had had the time to spend (say, 2 full days), and had visited during the winter, I probably would have opted to walk the facility. But the knowledge of the tour guide plus the fact that we didn’t have to walk over 2 miles up and down through the outdoor section of the museum is definitely worth $6 per person.

After the tram ride, we spent maybe another 15 minutes inside. The kids were soon ready to move on, and we took off for the hotel (SEE: 2 Consistently Good Mid-Range Hotel Brands for Families).

Conclusion

The Pima Air and Space Museum was a great way to begin our trip. I already have a son that is very interested in aircraft and aviation in general, and it was the perfect place to see. Next on the list of aviation destinations is Seattle, where I’d like to take him to the Museum of Flight and on a tour of the Boeing factory. We’ll see when I manage to fit that trip into our schedule.

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