orlando-1

Orlando

Orlando

I know Orlando has more to offer like the NASA centre but we only had one purpose here: Disney World

Our Glimpse of Orlando

Orlando

I know Orlando has more to offer like the NASA centre but we only had one purpose here: Disney World Our Glimpse of Orlando

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Getting Around Orlando

Getting Around Disney Springs and Lake Buena Vista Our main priority in Orlando was getting to and from the airport. All our other transportation requirements

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Understanding Hotel Living

The Best Western Hotel was a treat after doing three Airbnb’s. But I hadn’t factored in some housekeeping given the length of the stay here. Here’s some tips to “family living” in a hotel.

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getting-around

Getting Around Orlando

Getting Around Orlando

29/10/2018

Getting Around Disney Springs and Lake Buena Vista

Our main priority in Orlando was getting to and from the airport. All our other transportation requirements were not going to be a problem because of our chosen accomodation location.

When booking our hotel for Orlando we knew it had a free shuttle to and from Disney World. One of the reasons we went with a hotel rather than an Airbnb, as well as finding a great deal on a room that sleeps six people, was because of this service. Our hotel was in the Disney Springs area which is the closest hotel zone to Disney without actually being in a Disney World resort. All the hotels on this Lake Buena Vista area have free shuttles. 

I knew I had to do supermarket trips once there but I figured I could taxi. As it turned out, the supermarket was walking distance and there was a shopping complex in the other direction which was walking distance. Probably the hardest part of the one kilometre walk was the heat but it was nice and flat so made for a dash.The only issue with the shopping complex is that it is designed for Disney tourists so the shops, eating places and supermarket are relatively expensive.

Had we stayed in a residential area close to Disney World we would have had to hire a car to reach a supermarket and all the Disney theme parks.

Getting to and from the Orlando Airport

Arriving in Orlando at midnight meant there were no public transport options. The shuttle was going to be expensive but I’d read reviews that Uber Car Seat was the way to go for a family. In Las Vegas we’d already had Uber reject us because we needed a car seat for our 2yo. Unfortunately when we arrived we found Uber Car Seat for 6 people was $75 which seemed like taxi prices. We tried to book one anyway but because it was late at night there were none available. 

We ended up having to go to the taxi stand and was pleasantly surprised to find it was only going to be USD55 fixed price plus taxes for a van. As a bonus it had two car seats we could use.

On the way to the hotel, the taxi went through a toll bridge so the driver charged us the toll amount plus taxes. We got the feeling he wasn’t supposed to charge us for that but it was only an extra USD5 at one in the morning so we didn’t bother to contest it. Plus it still worked out cheaper than the Uber quote for an XL carseat car.

On the way to the airport from the hotel, the taxi was around USD60 including taxes. 

Summary

Getting to and from the airport is still proving to be the most expensive part of our transportation costs once we land in a place unless we are using public transport. Public transport isn’t an option after hours when our flights are in the midnight zone.

Do your research before booking accommodation in Orlando and find out how you will get to Disney World. You might find a hotel with a free shuttle works out cheaper than having to hire a car plus pay for an airbnb.

Our Glimpse of Orlando

orlando-sign.jpg

Understanding Hotel Living

The Best Western Hotel was a treat after doing three Airbnb’s. But I hadn’t factored in some housekeeping given the length of the stay here. Here’s some tips to “family living” in a hotel.

Street Cars in mid town New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans

An amazing cultural experience full of food, music, interesting houses and trams

There are so many things New Orleans is famous for and the Disney Princess and the Frog highlights many of them. If you’re looking to experience New Orleans cultural food, music, wildlife, religion, architecture, art or history it’s all easy to find. And if you get stuck, the locals are so friendly you can ask anyone for help in finding it.

Our Glimpse of New Orleans

New Orleans

An amazing cultural experience full of food, music, interesting houses and trams There are so many things New Orleans is famous for and the Disney

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Homes of the Garden District

Houses of New Orleans

Houses of New Orleans

25/10/2018

The French Quarter

This area was the original town of New Orleans. It was settled by the French and named in honour of the Duke of Orleans. The street names are also named after their family including Bourbon St named after the House of Bourbon. This area predominantly had French speaking immigrants including French refugees from what is now known as Canada, Haitia and Sainte Domingue. Many of the French colony refugees included free people of colour who also lived in this area. Usually when immigrants came to New Orleans they settled in the French Quarter. This made for a very diverse racial population. 

There were French-African-Whites or Spanish-African-Whites called Creoles who considered themselves urbane. They were sophisticated and some of the wealthier sons were sent to France to finish their education while daughters were sent to local convents. Creoles are not to be confused with Cajuns. Cajuns were considered white French country bumpkin type people who were refugees from the Canada region. Creoles also should not be confused with the American slaves or descendants of slaves who were poor and generally uneducated, they lived in a different part of town. 

New Orleans allowed far more freedom for Creoles and people of colour, although they were still classed lower than lower class whites. Creoles had access to good education and were allowed to accumulate wealth. Along with the wealthy whites they loved cafes, masked balls and orchestral music. There were doctors, lawyers, teachers and business owners. Apparently in the 1850’s 85% were educated. 

This influenced the architecture in this area and many of the buildings are known as Creole townhouses. Many of the homes have a Spanish or French influence with cast-iron balconies and the top level is often half a level for children’s bedrooms while the bottom floor was a shop.

 

Mid-City

It was in the 1800’s when the white American immigrants settled in the French Quarter that the racial mix began to change. The whites did not like the freedom given to the Creoles and other people of colour. They began putting laws in place that divided the city and isolated whites from anyone else. It severely impacted the education and living standards of all people of colour who were sent to live amongst the American blacks. However, the blend also created Jazz and Blues music.

The Mid-City area where we stayed had a blend of Creole cottages and American style cottages. Although many of them were two-storey homes, usually they were duplexes or the upstairs was a separate home to the downstairs.

The Garden District

The Garden District was originally a separate city called Lafayette. It was English speaking and home to wealthy Americans. It had a variety of different styles based on the tastes of the owner.

Our Glimpse of New Orleans

Delicious Beignets

Food & Music in New Orleans

Food & Music in New Orleans

24/10/2018

Food & Music in New Orleans are often intertwined. Being the birth place of jazz music it’s not hard to understand why. Many restaurants and bars have live music. And although some great jazz bands start after 8pm there are many family friendly restaurants where you can feed the fanau day or night while enjoying soothing blues tones or jumping jazz vibes.

Our first day there, we started our expedition on the famous Bourbon St, (named after the French Royal family at the time, not the drink as I had assumed) looking for food. We came across an impressive jazz band playing in the street as well as young tap dancers. Now, although these busking artists perform for free we made sure to leave a tip for those we enjoyed because this was their livelihood.

We found ourselves in Oceana Grill that served alligator chips, crab cakes and etoufee  and this intense cocktail that didn’t taste good. Looked impressive though. I tried a creole vegetarian rice and beans dish which was flavoursome with a bite. The Cajun fries were really good. Being on a budget we could only sample a few New Orleans restaurants but we did learn what a lot of the local dishes are. As a vegetarian I didn’t have an appetite for crawfish, gumbo or poboys. But I did indulge in many Beignets!! (Pronounced ben-yay). 

 

The place to grab this delicious dessert is apparently Cafe Du Monde but I find Cafe Beignet’s beignets equally delicious. They had the same freshness, lightness, texture and taste. I did have a local tell me Cafe Du Monde was the only place worth trying these but if you don’t think the queues in the midday heat is your gig then Cafe Beignet on Bourbon St is definitely a great alternative. It’s a family friendly restaurant that plays live jazz music which is the reason we had stopped here one night. 

 

On hubby’s birthday we ventured to where the families went in the evenings to listen to New Orleans music: Frenchman St. We were directed to B.B. King’s Blues Club  a family friendly restaurant that plays live jazz, blues, soul and R&B.

 

 On our last night in New Orleans we ate at the Creole House on Canal St. Hubby had the Crawfish Etoufee and loved it. After a satisfying meal we strolled along Canal St and stopped at some tables outside a restaurant where we were able to enjoy an americano while listening to a live saxophonist busking on the footpath. He played a mix of jazz, blues and R&B tunes that seeped into our weary bodies from the long day of sightseeing and invigorated our soul. Our 4yo’s unbridled spirit acted out what most of us wanted to do but didn’t. He moved every part of his body to the rhythm of the music. We could see it as he shook his hands or waved his arms, tapped his feet, swung himself around or shook his body.

There’s debate over where and how Jazz originated. My overly simplified understanding is that it is a mix of Creole and Black American music. Creoles were free highly educated blacks that spoke Spanish or French. They had precision in their use of European instruments particularly their Spanish or French rhythms. The American blacks were poor and ex-slaves. They had rhythm and soul from their blues, gospel or labouring music. During a period of segregation in New Orleans, Creoles were forced out of the French Quarter into the Black American part of town on the west side of Canal St. It was traumatic for everyone involved but it also birthed the mixture of two different music types into Jazz.

Prior to visiting New Orleans I had no knowledge of why this music came into existence but I’d had the pleasure of enjoying a jazz tune when lounging about. Now when I here jazz I associate it with a diverse cultural mix of people that blended to create a whole new type of music.

 

Our Glimpse of New Orleans

Wildlife-feature

Wildlife

One thing our kids love is checking out the local animals. From lizards to birds to alligators, our Wildlife posts capture the creatures we saw.​

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Playtime

Because my four year old wanted to share some photos with his friends and because many of the queries I get from friends and family are about how our kids are enjoying our travels, we created this section to cater to both.

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Vehicles in New Orleans

Vehicles in New Orleans

22/10/2018

Trams

New Orleans city has “street cars” or trams for easy public transport. We took this one back to our Airbnb from down town. 

Rescue Vehicles

We saw many Police cars like the white one here and we stopped outside a fire station where they were selling t-shirts to raise money for breast cancer charities.

Boats 

New Orleans is on the Mississippi River, the biggest river in America. There lots of boats to see including the famous water wheel boat.

When we went for a swamp tour we saw more boats. The big one is the boat we rode to look for alligators.

Rubbish Trucks 

Two rubbish trucks we saw in New Orleans, one in the French Quarter and one on Canal St

Horse and Carriage 

In the French Quarter of New Orleans by Jackson Square, you can get a ride in a carriage pulled by a horse

Our Glimpse of Vehicles Around The World

Baby gator on board the swamp tour

Wildlife in New Orleans

Wildlife in New Orleans

22/10/2018

The Bayou

The Bayou is where the ocean meets fresh water rivers and lakes, much like Auckland’s estuaries, where the tide creates a current in and out. It tends to be low lying areas with lots of sheltered areas for water plants to take root. This type of environment allows all sorts of wildlife to flourish (assuming that it’s not over-fished or over-hunted).  When we went to a Louisiana Bayou we saw birds, turtles, fish and a baby alligator.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

This aquarium had sea creatures from all over the world as well as a special Mississippi River feature that included it’s bird life.

Our Glimpse of Wildlife Around The World

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Southwest Region

Southwest Region

Exploring parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

spot by the river at Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

20/10/2018

Beyond heading to Antelope canyon we hadn’t planned much more than this. So when we found we had a free day our hosts suggested Zion Canyon was well worth the one hour drive from Colorado City. Skip to the end to get a summary.

While driving the long desert roads from Las Vegas to Antelope Canyon we had seen some stunning scenery with pink and red rock formations. But it was a very different backdrop to the drive from Colorado City to Zion National Park which had the pink rocks but with green and yellow bush that flourished thanks to the pretty streams that flow through the area.

Getting into Zion National Park

I had only researched Antelope Canyon so we didn’t know what to expect entering ZNP. Initially there seemed to be a bit of logistics to navigate through. The town Springdale is located on the border of the national park. From here up to the entry point are free shuttles. There are loads of paid car parks and a few free street parks.

Once you reach the entry point you’ll need to pay USD20 per adult to enter the park and from there you can catch the free shuttle to nine different points that lead to various trails. If you are visiting more than one national park in a year it pays to buy the annual pass.

I had assumed because it was school time there would hardly be anyone in this remote location but this is not quiet New Zealand. We arrived around lunch time so we had a forty minute queue for the shuttle. And as it turns out Zion National Park is the most popular national park in Utah.

The Trails

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Zion National Park do Angel’s trek which takes a full day and apparently has spectacular views of the canyon. However, we were not prepared for such a big trek so we opted for the tracks marked “Easy”.

To view all the trails click here

https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

We first stopped at the entry to Angels Trek and played by Virgin Creek. Virgin Creek carves our the canyon in Zion. Whenever there are flash floods it creates a surge of water that erodes the walls of the canyon as well as flushing loose rocks on the river bed downstream. This creates a deeper and wider canyon. I remember playing by this stream with the fanau and being an awe of the canyon walls that towered above us.

After a quick picnic here we took the shuttle to another easy walk, Weeping Rock. Here the water has seeped into the earth from above and then reaches an impermeable layer where it pushes out of the side of a cliff. This creates a waterfall that seems to weep out of the rock.

We walked up a small hill to view Weeping Rock which creates a natural hanging garden under the shelf of the falls. It was a dry hot day so the fine mist from the sprinkle of water was a welcome sensation. From under the overhang we could look out toward a lush forest of trees at the base of a narrow red-orange gorge. With the rainbow that had formed with all the factors being in alignment, this looked like the back drop of a magical fairy tale.

This park is very well organised for thousands of tourists a day. It has flushing toilets at every shuttle stop along with drinking fountains to fill your water bottles. And at the entry point you can hire proper trekking shoes if required.

Because of the dry heat we decided not to stay too long. But the small parts we saw were beautiful. If I make it back to these parts again I will definitely set aside more time to see more of these National Parks.

Quick Learnings

  • Park close to the entry point which is after the town of Springdale
  • Catch a free bus or walk to the entry point where you can purchase your tickets
  • Tickets are USD20 per adult and allows you free access to the park shuttle
  • The shuttle takes you to nine different stops throughout the park where you can choose a trek appropriate to you

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

southwest-region

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

20/10/2018

Everyone asks “Why Antelope Canyon?” So perhaps I’ll start there. And then I’ll get into what it was like to view this stunning place (or 15% of it) with my fanau including a tired 2yo. Plus my opinion on our tour.

So, here’s the why. There was a time when I was subject to watching a lot of Lightening McQueen ie the Cars movie. I often looked at the background and wondered what the inspiration was, surely it was based on some place. Sure enough it was based on the old Route 66 and, as I tend to do, which is follow my research down a rabbit hole, I ended up finding Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. I put them on my bucket list of just sees.

Years later as we were deciding on where to go on our sabbatical, I thought we might as well swing by this place since we were heading to New Orleans and I didn’t think I would be heading to America again after that.

And so, was it worth the journey? Very much so!

It was our first destination and although we tried to break up the journey inside of a tight timeframe it still ended up jam packed.

To find out how to get there, check out this post.

The only way to see Antelope Canyon is using a tour guide. Much like the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, tragic deaths in the canyon caused by natural disasters had created these new rules.

From above the ground Antelope Canyon looks like a crack in the ground that you could jump over and never know what hides below. Or you might shatter the ground beneath you because it was a thin shelf and find yourself falling four metres into the canyon.

An amazing fact is that rain from up to 100 miles away can create flash floods that drain into Antelope Canyon. Once the water reaches the canyon it can be full in minutes.

First the water fills the top of the canyon hitting the sides creating a whirlpool. Once that top is full, it travels as a wall of water filling the remainder of the canyon.

The walls of the canyon are steep and it would be difficult to climb out of quickly. Currently there are steep stairs and ladders to help you in and out.

It was an incident about ten years ago causing some tourists to drown in the canyon due to a flash flood many miles away.

Before opening the canyon for the day, a couple of safety checks happen.

1. Rainfall is checked for miles around. Antelope Canyon May have blue skies but if it’s raining in an area that impacts the canyon then tours are cancelled for the day. This has only happened about ten times in the last twelve months.

2. Snakes, scorpions, wolves and any other dangerous creatures are picked up and moved about 500 metres away.

The canyon had so many designs crafted by the current of the water. The reddish pink earth was called Navajo sediment. We visited in the late afternoon and saw varying colours on the walls depending on where the suns reached inside the canyon.

Everyone in the fanau loves it! They were not enthusiastic about visiting Antelope Canyon until they were walking through it realising how beautiful it is. 4yo found it a bit scary because he said he was in a long tunnel. 2yo screamed his head off for about fifteen minutes of the walk – which seems endless when you’re trapped in a confined space that echoes. Once he passed out then I relaxed back into enjoying the scenery.

As for the tour, we went with Dixie Ellis. I’d read reviews about being given history of the people and some info on local flora and fauna. I’d hoped I could offset the tour as part of geographical, historical and biological study but this tour lacked cultural depth or any sense of education. 14yo comment that the “tour guide” was just a safety instructor and then went on to say that it could’ve been because it was the last tour of the day.

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

Horse Shoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

19/10/2018

Horseshoe Bend is a river set amongst a Navaho red rock canyon that has a hairpin turn shaped like a horseshoe, hence the name. It’s easy to access and comes with some precautions but it’s well worth the effort.

If you are making the trip to Antelope Canyon you must visit Horseshoe Bend, it is only fifteen minutes away. 

The walking track to reach the lookout gave us a tiny window into what it’s like to walk on dusty, gritty sand type rock and to feel the burn of the sun overhead while the red rock bakes you from underneath. What could be considered a bleak landscape is home to so many creatures but we saw none. There are so many people on the track you don’t even have to be scared of snakes. The view is amazing and perhaps I’m biased towards water bodies, but the blue of the water combined with the red/brown/pink rock definitely makes for a pretty picture.

Horseshoe Bend is located fifteen minutes from the town of Page and fifteen minutes from the tour places for Antelope Canyon. The walk is a light twenty minutes (if you’re not carrying kids) up and over a hill then down to a cliff edge where you can view the river and wide bend in the canyon. Avoid going at peak times when it’s hotter and flooded with tourists. Morning and late afternoon is best.

Unfortunately we were still jet lagged on our fourth day arriving in America from NZ so we woke late and, after a two hour drive plus a few stops for the kids, only arrived at Page by 2pm. We had booked the Lower Antelope Canyon tour for 4pm but my watch said 3pm. Side note: Page is the closest town to Antelope Canyon but it’s also close to the border of Utah and Arizona which are in different time zones. It was this confusion that meant we only had thirty minutes to see Horseshoe Bend before sunset.

We parked the car in a very full carpark that also had bus loads of tourists. The signs said to take at least one bottle of water per person and to wear closed toe shoes. I laughed at the water warnings because I’d read that the walk is only fifteen minutes from the carpark. And the older kids smirked as they passed a lady wearing sandels who was complaining about stones in her shoes when there are multiple warnings to wear proper shoes and she had only just started the walk.

The water suggestion is important for the little ones. Having said that, Horseshoe Bend is in a desert and the earth heats up. That means you feel the heat from above you and below making you feel much hotter than if you were doing a fifteen minute trek in bush. We were brisk walking to ensure we didn’t miss our slot at Lower Antelope Canyon, so hubby and I were hot and thirsty by the time we reached the bottom where the lookout is. But if you had time to sit and savour this place for a while then you definitely want to bring water with you.

Our 12yo and 14yo, free of any excess weight, cruised it even on the uphill back to the carpark – with proper footwear and a water bottle.

On another note, it was safe to be at the lookout with the 2yo because there is a proper railing as long as your child doesn’t stray from the path. You could easily take a pram down this track but it is quite dusty and sandy so a carrier would probably be easier. (Because I was asked: No, we don’t have a carrier – it would’ve been too much extra luggage for a year of travel).

Sometimes I wonder if visiting a place will be as beautiful as the photos I googled portray. Feeling the awe of such natural beauty and the work of natural phenomenons having carved out this massive space makes Horseshoe Bend more beautiful than a picture can describe.

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

Drive from Vegas to Utah

Getting to Antelope Canyon With The Fanau

Getting to Antelope Canyon With The Fanau

18/10/2018

Surprisingly we didn’t need to be that organised to get to Antelope Canyon but timing is everything, right from month and hour. Here’s how we planned our trip and why we ended up planning it in this way, and why it’s worth driving yourself to Page, rather than taking a tour bus.

Having Antelope Canyon as our first destination on our sabbatical meant planning all steps on how to get there prior to leaving NZ. So along with everything else that needed prep before leaving the country for twelve months, I had to have a few things booked – apparently. Here’s how we got to Antelope Canyon. Skip to the end for a summary.

Turns out that the reviews were for peak season travel which is America’s school summer holidays. We were traveling in their autumn- October. That was fortunate for us because two days before we flew out the only thing we had booked was the tickets to Las Vegas which is the nearest city to fly into to reach Antelope Canyon. We decided to staying Las Vegas for a few days. It seems that paying a taxi USD20 + tip would be sufficient from airport to city. 

We were flying out on the Monday and on the Thursday I booked a two bedroom Las Vegas Airbnb close to public transport that would get us to The Strip. Then on Friday I booked the deposit on a rental vehicle that could seat six passengers. Thank goodness for Trello because I was so exhausted I wouldn’t have remembered the high priority stuff. 

Our plan was to rest in Las Vegas, recover from jet lag and general stress of winding up everything in Auckland before embarking on a four hour drive to the small town of Page which is the closest resting place to Antelope Canyon.

We decided that with everything going on, our most important steps were to get to LV and have accomodation after a 35 hour journey.

As long as we had good internet connection (wifi) then we could book the rest. We figured if we missed out then we’d do something else.

This worked out well for us because we did have a better head space after arriving in LV and getting some sleep.

We were still tired but excited about being “on holiday”. We ended up booking an Airbnb the night before we needed it. We decided to go for a cheap place so that we could stay in a slightly nicer place in New Orleans. That meant booking one room that slept six with a private bathroom and shared kitchen. We would be based at a junction one hour from Zion National Park heading north and two hours from Antelope Canyon heading south. That also meant we only had to drive two hours from LV instead of four to Page.

Turns out that was the best decision because the hosts we stayed with were super lovely. They lived onsite and gave us some history about the small town of Colorado City in Utah that shocked America. Plus they told us what to see and do. They also recommended we book Lower Antelope Canyon tours that night if we were planning to see it the next day. Sure enough there were only two time slots left for a group our size (ie four adults and one child and one two year old). I picked the afternoon booking because I didn’t want to get everyone ready by 6:30am to reach a 9am tour that was two hours away.

I’ve driven in Australia from Melbourne to Wagga to visit family. That’s a boring five hour drive of straight roads and flat terrain with very few noteworthy landmarks along the way. It’s easy to fall asleep there.

Although driving from Utah to Arizona to get to Page is through desert, it is not boring!

There are amazing structures carved by the elements. A more in depth analysis in the school section. There are plenty of stops along the way if you have time. We stopped at Glen Canyon Dam which is just outside of Page and has an info centre with lots of information on how the canyons are formed and how these amazing rock structures have been carved out.

As a side note I asked my host if we should see the biggest dam in America which is close by. His answer implied that a dam is a dam. His mindset is more like ours when it comes to “hot spots”: The beautiful national parks and reserves were far more worthy of time out here in Utah than another man made structure.
Best way to get there from Auckland is to fly to Las Vegas then rent a car to Page. From Page it’s an easy drive to some beautiful national parks and many tours operate form here. Antelope Canyon can only be accessed through tour operators so it’s best to book that ahead of time so you don’t miss out.

This article is really useful for getting around Las Vegas
https://www.vegas.com/traveltips/top-transportation-tips/

For family ideas on what to do around Page I found this awesome article
http://www.takethatexit.com/page-arizona-things-to-do/

Summary

Although you can stay in Page to view Antelope Canyon, if you are arriving via Las Vegas, I recommend staying closer to Zion Canyon. Stay here for a few days so that you are not rushing around and you get a higher absorption of this beautiful area. From many towns near Zion Canyon, like Kanab, you are roughly a two hour drive to Antelope Canyon which you could cover as a day trip. On the other days you could visit Zion Canyon or Bryce Canyon. Depending on how long your stay is, you could then visit the Grand Canyon.

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

On the bus to the airport

Getting Around Las Vegas With A Family

Getting Around Las Vegas With A Family

17/10/2018

Getting to and from Las Vegas airport​

Arriving in Las Vegas we hadn’t organised any transport to the Airbnb. We had read reviews saying we should take an Uber. There was free wifi at the airport but not in the carpark which is where the pick up zone for the Uber is. We ordered the Uber but couldn’t track its progress because we were a ten minute walk from the airport wifi zone.

The Uber arrived but the driver rejected us because he didn’t have a car seat. We canceled the Uber and Uber charged a cancellation fee (the price of the fare) even though it was the driver that cancelled us.

We took a taxi and the cost was only $5 more than the Uber quote so I would recommend just taking a taxi for the sake of ease. On a side note, I unfortunately dropped my license and bank cards in the vehicle 🙁 I’ll only be able to order new ones once we book long term accomodation which is a few weeks away. Not very comfortable about the idea of ordering a bank card to be sent to a third world country. Will soon see how reliable their mail system is in Cuba or Mexico.

The taxi driver took us to our accomodation but we were a few hours early so the place was not yet ready so we requested the driver drop us to the nearest mall. We shopped around for a few hours with all our luggage and once the place was ready we lugged it all the 1.5km to our Airbnb.

Getting to and from The Strip​

The Strip is the street tourists come to see. It has the famous hotels, the Palaggio dancing fountain, the mini Eiffel Tower etc. We were staying in a residential area ten minutes drive from The Strip.

We were very close to a bus stop, only ten minutes walk and ten minutes walk to the mono rail. We ended up using both options. The bus is super cheap being only a couple of dollars per person. Check out the bus routes here  The monorail is USD5 per person and is only worth buying a ticket if you plan on using it multiple times over a 24 hour period, in which case you can buy the USD12 day pass. Check out the monorail website here.

To get to the malls, we walked since they were only a twenty minute walk. But we did find the taxi fares were pretty reasonable, perhaps because we were not travelling very far. It also meant we had more flexibility to explore other malls because the taxi driver could take us to cheaper supermarkets or malls that had what we were looking for.

Summary

Using a taxi is not much more than ordering an Uber and allows you flexibility. 

Buses are super cheap and more worthwhile than using the monorail.

Our Glimpse of the Southwest Region of America

Zombie paint ball bus at the Staheli Family Farm

Vehicles in Arizona & Utah

Vehicles in Arizona & Utah

17/10/2018

Rented this massive car

Hired this massive American car from Las Vegas and drove it to Antelope Canyon as well as Zion National Park. The two little ones loved the DVD player where they could watch Paw Patrol. The boot was massive and could comfortably fit all our luggage. 

Driving was smooth and it had a lot of power. Only one incident where I was driving on the left side of the road! Fortunately my 14yo (sitting in the middle row) reminded me and it was a quiet country road.

Other vehicles of Utah & Arizona

We were fortunate enough to see this ambulance and fire truck pull up in the carpark where we were ordering Mexican food in the small town of Page which is the closest town to Antelope Canyon

This MedicWest ambulance is a reminder of the lack of free health care here. It’s a private ambulance so has the colours of it’s company. The long petrol tanker has a trailer and was leaving the carpark where we found the MedicWest ambulance.

We visited the Staheli Family Farm, famous for it’s Halloween zombie night runs. We saw tractors and rode a trailer being pulled by a tractor. We also saw it’s famous Zombie paint ball bus.

Our Glimpse of Vehicles Around The World

Yellow fire truck

Vehicles in Las Vegas

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Las Vegas

Las Vegas

16/10/2018

Our experience of Las Vegas was not the party life that tourists usually seek when visiting. Instead we stuck to sight seeing the strip, and shopping at some of the malls, which meant a lot of walking plus navigating the terrain outside of “The Strip”.

We didn’t do any casinos or bars at Las Vegas so I wouldn’t say we did the usual Las Vegas trip. Having four kids, Las Vegas wasn’t on our list of to-dos. We ended up here because it was the closest city from Auckland that would get us to Antelope Canyon. However we had decided to stay two nights here so that we could recover from the 35 hour journey. Which actually is more than that because we woke up five hours before our flight and couldn’t check in to our Airbnb until five hours after we landed.

We were all exhausted and what I didn’t realise was that we were about to start the pattern of having 2yo and 4yo waking up early (at 6 or 7) while 12yo and 14yo woke at 11am or 12pm. I suppose if I’d known then perhaps I could have nipped it in the bud straight away. But I think it’s really been because quiet time is when 2yo and 4yo go to sleep so we all get to chill or catch up on digital time.

Anyway, landing in Vegas for us meant experiencing a version of American culture that most would expect in a city like Las Vegas. There were fast food joints everywhere, big cars, big roads, malls, bars, and everyone charging for anything. People trying to make money off tips dressed up in flamingo outfits, or even as minions, walking up and down the Strip hoping to pick up tips from a tourist wanting a photo op.

Stepping a few blocks away from The Strip where we stayed was run down pavements, ordinary people that do ordinary jobs, and although we saw a couple of drug addicts we didn’t see any homeless.

For 12yo and 14yo it’s been a lot of walking, looking after a backpack or helping with a younger brother in the dry heat. We were always grateful to step into an air conditioned hotel, which is often the only way to get off one of the pedestrian bridges used to cross the road. They don’t make it easy to escape these hotels so you can end up on the casino floor instead of back on the street. But at least that meant there were plenty of clean toilets for us to use. And if we went up one floor in the hotel we had have a quiet space to recoup before the arduous walk to nowhere.

Everywhere on the Strip was crowded and that meant extra walking because we were negotiating people traffic.

Outside of the Strip it was spacious and quiet. Malls were cheap if you went to a store that specialised in sales. Ross Dress For Less had branded gear left overs from last season. Another store did the same but with shoes. But even, the department stores are relatively cheap. We picked up some great quality sneakers for the little ones at half the price it would’ve cost in New Zealand.

Because we were eating out we struggled to find fruit and veg so I ended up feeling bloated every time I ate. I could taste the high levels of sugar in everything. I bought bread for the kids and it was inedible because it was so heavy in sugar but not in a nice way.

The supermarket, although 24 hours and only one kilometre away from our Airbnb, was set in a neighbourhood that meant we were not to walk there at night. Our Airbnb was very clear that we must not. So we went to the petrol station across the road on the corner. The counter staff were friendly and helpful but we struggled to find food we could call sustenance. After two nights I was glad to leave Las Vegas in the hope that being in the country meant we would find healthier food options.

Interestingly, after learning we were from NZ he asked if we were mayohree (Maori). Although I watch a lot of American fluff we have had a few funny moments where one of us didn’t understand the accent which meant answering a question nonsensically.

There are many beautiful hotels to explore which we did a lot of. And although we didn’t see any, there are also free shows. We did, however, manage to catch the famous Bellagio dancing fountain. 

Not sure that I would revisit Las Vegas. Compared to a place like New Orleans it definitely lacked a depth of culture. Having said that we still enjoyed it for what it is and that included the famous hotel district, the very American food places and the many cheap bargain shopping opportunities.

Our Glimpse of the South West Region of America

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Choosing toys for a Sabbatical

Choosing toys for a Sabbatical

14/10/2018

When working out the 12 month sabbatical the topic of toys was one of the top priorities to pack for the kids. I couldn’t work out what to pack given my space restrictions and their current interests. Fortunately I had my Playcentre level one education to help me decide. Here’s a guide to help you decide what toys to pack for your children for any trip.  If you’re in a rush jump to the end to get a summary, otherwise read on for great inform on how to keep your little ones stimulated while on the go.

When I first began planning my toy list I assumed I’d be taking Paw Patrol toys and their favourite games and books. Plus both the 2yo and 4yo had had their birthdays which meant a whole heap of new presents (in spite of telling everyone not to purchase anything for them 🙂 But after ordering my one 80L backpack that was supposed to fit my belongings as well as those of my two youngest, I realised their favourites weren’t going to make it. 

Coincidentally, at TPoA Playcentre we were analysing our resources and considering what needs to be purchased. To do that we had to understand our values so that we knew how to prioritise the purchases and ensure we weren’t wasting money. The suggested values and the discussions with members really helped to change my mindset about how I packed. 
The first step for me was realising how small my bag was after squeezing in winter and summer clothes plus toiletries for us three. There was about two 2Litre ice cream containers left for superfluous items including toys.

In my head I thought that I needed to work out where we were going and what we would be doing there. We had outlined that in some places we would hop around quickly so most likely there would be more activities out of the house, whereas in other places we would stay long term and get some homeschooling done, so that meant more at home time. I had assumed that short term stays would be tourist locations therefore hardly a need for toys and long term stays would require a lot of home play time so a lot of toys. For the short term stays I didn’t want to pull anything out of my bag that wasn’t needed. This included toys. For the long term stays I planned to unpack everything. This thinking was all wrong. It didn’t matter how long we were staying, the kids pulled all their toys out. Living out of a backpack is not easy so I unpacked my whole bag at every stop. 

 

Play Schemas

The things I did analyse was what play schemas are my boys interested in and what skills would I like them to develop. Based on these two factors combined with space limits I worked out what I could pack. 

You may be asking, what are play schemas? Play schemas are categories for the ways a child likes to play. By knowing about these styles of play that they prefer, we can help their learning and development. It also helps us to understand why a child is determined to do something when we think they are “just being difficult”. At those times, if we recognise the play schemas then we can redirect their energy to something appropriate. For example, my son had the trajectory schema. This means he enjoys throwing and dropping things (including food) as well as climbing and jumping (even if it’s too high for him). By understanding this we can ensure we take him to playgrounds where he can climb and jump off where we can catch him. We can also ensure he’s throwing appropriate toys at appropriate times. It is also something that can change with the stage they are at. 

When I looked at my two youngest ones, at the time I was packing, I saw:
Rotation– things that go round and round like wheels or propellors, drawing circles, rolly-polly’s, orbiting, spinning things around, etc. 
Transportation – 
Enveloping– hugs, colouring in so that everything is covered completely, 
Positioning– putting things in lines, tidying up, organising 
Connecting & Disconnecting– puzzles, lego, construction, block towers, destroying, 

This helped me to identify what I might need to create environments that allowed for:

  • spinning things around like cars or helicopters or string to tie a weight on the end and spin it around
  • vehicles or buckets to move things around
  • colouring-in tools or a blankie for enveloping
  • any toys that can be organised such as figurines, vehicles, blocks
  • puzzles, lego, blocks
From this list I could definitely see some common resources emerging that looked like must-haves such as vehicles, felts / crayons, paper, and blocks. Given space considerations smaller vehicles would have to suffice. I was not going to pack buckets but these could easily be substituted for boxes and other junk from any purchases we made. Turns out 5L water bottles are great for transportation. The cars I could use for positioning and the blocks too. I was unsure about how many blocks to take that would be worthwhile versus take up too much space. Puzzles were tricky because I wasn’t sure which ones and how many.

Skills To Develop

The next area I looked at was what are the skills they are still developing or that I would like them to develop while we are away. This first required me assessing what was working well. I could see music in the form of dance and singing was coming to them naturally. Role playing was something that had been enhanced by Playcentre and they were thriving in this area. They loved reading books, counting and naming symbols. Using blocks for construction came naturally to them. They loved playing with balls so I knew they would naturally develop that skill. One of them loved climbing and jumping and he loved painting while the other one didn’t so much. They also enjoyed puzzles. Because their older siblings and dad loves drawing, they loved drawing too. 

This helped me to see that some of my gaps were collage and crafts, messy play, play dough, and junk play. I could see that developing fine motor skills and strategy was important. It also meant that I would need to create environments that allowed for:

  • music which could mean songs on my phone, instruments, and action songs
  • ball play which could mean packing a ball
  • books for reading
  • blocks for construction or puzzles or lego
  • art supplies such as paints, drawing equipment such as felts and paper
  • scissors, rope, glue, hot glue gun and sellotape for junk play, crafts and collage
  • baking ingredients for making play dough or messy play
Some common resources listed here I could pick up on my travels rather than pack such as the baking ingredients. I thought hand-ball balls would be great because they are small. Books, just like puzzles, are tricky: how many, which ones, what size and weight would they be. Art supplies came up again but to take paints might be cumbersome. Craft materials sounded exciting but a hot glue gun would take up more space than it was worth carrying for the amount of times we would use it. I didn’t see any instruments making it unless it was a drum or maraca, both of which could be made from junk play.

Existing Resources

 

At this point I looked at all the toys and materials we already owned and wondered what would facilitate play, what I could make along the way and what could I pick up later if required.

On a side note, I’m very attached to repairing things so I decided I’d bring my computer tool kit. I filed this under necessary tools for junk play because it had pliers and screw drivers (wish I’d packed screws and nails).

In the lead up to our final pack we had been gifted some toys for the young boy’s birthdays so I decide to use some of these. Plus I had been gifted a Jenga set that friends had written quotes or messages on and some had drawn pictures. I decided these were small enough to be able to put in a tote bag and pack for the trip plus there were enough of them to be able to create some cool buildings. As a bonus they could be used as a board game.

When I was packing up my daughters art section which was huge, I put aside wool, scissors (kid friendly and adult ones), felts, crayons, colouring pencils, pens, markers, sharpener and rubber. I packed a container of water paints but this accidentally ended up in the long term storage boxes 🙁

I had books my two loved but they were heavier board books which would take up weight and space allowance. We were gifted some Hairy Maclairy books which were super thin so I decided this set would work. They also had dogs and cats which my kids love and could role play the story line.

I decided no instruments were worth packing and I hoped that we would pick up souvenir type instruments small enough to pack that were made local to the place we were in.

Calculating Down Time

 

The only other point that is important to factor is how much down time you will have at your destination. If you are doing a short holiday most likely you will be out and about visiting sites and eating out so you may not have “home time” where your child will play indoors. In this case you just want some small key items to keep them occupied for in-between time or when you are eating out or on a plane.

On sabbatical you can assume you will find more down time since your kids get sick of constantly travelling and eventually want time to do “normal stuff”. It’s the long periods of down time that require greater stimulation – the type that helps them to learn and grow so that they don’t end up pushing, snatching, hurling, screaming, etc 😉

If your accomodation is by some outdoor feature that is useable, for example a beach or a playground with moderate climates, then outdoor play helps to keep your child stimulated, fulfilled and content. However, if it rains or if you have to keep your child indoors because you have older kids homeschooling, for example, then you definitely want to be prepared with well thought out activities.

Summary

Use these questions to help you prioritise what toys to pack:

  1. What are your luggage weight and space allowances? 
  2. What are your child’s play schema(s)?
  3. What skills do you want them to develop?
  4. What do I already own, what could I make on the way and what could I pick up on the way?
  5. How much down time you are likely to have in your hotel /airbnb /accomodation?

Based on the above choose the most common toys and materials that pop up as suitable for these questions. 

Ideas For Home-Based Activities

Check out some of our posts to get some ideas on what you can do with your child, remember to check our site menu under For the Kids => Playtime

Our Glimpse of Playtime Around The World

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Travel Insurance

What travel insurance do I need for a sabbatical?

When booking travel insurance for twelve months for a family of six from New Zealand, there was a lot of reading involved to understand what I needed. This won’t can’t down your policy reading time but hopefully this will help you to choose yours much quicker. Jump to the summary at the end if you’re in a hurry.

There are quite a few things I learnt when researching this. The first thing is to make sure you are researching the correct phrase. Researching “twelve month travel insurance” doesn’t necessarily get me the type of insurance I’m looking for. Be wary of booking “frequent traveller insurance” for 12 months or “annual travel insurance”. Both of these expect you to return to New Zealand within 30-90 days. They are designed for you to leave New Zealand frequently for longer periods, not for continuous long term travel while you are abroad. Instead search for “Long term travel insurance”. This will give you appropriate options which allows you to be out of the country for 12 months.

When purchasing travel insurance it’s best to buy it before you leave NZ. Some companies only let you book from your country of origin, very few will allow you to book once you’re already overseas. If you do book once you are overseas you could end up paying hundreds of dollars more for it than if you had paid before leaving New Zealand.

Things to be aware of when booking travel insurance is that some activities are not automatically covered and will require further insurance. These include but are not limited to high altitude treks, cruises, high seas sailing, snow activities. 

Your expensive digital equipment isn’t automatically covered and neither is expensive jewellery or accessories. There is a limit to how much they will cover in total, and per item plus some require that it has been purchased in the last twelve months to fall under this special insurance category.

If anyone in your family has a pre-existing medical condition, be sure to declare it so that you are still covered for it when you are overseas. And if any of your extended family have a pre-existing medical condition and you urgently need to fly back home for it, be sure to make sure you are covered for that.

Read your policies thoroughly before signing up and if you have any questions be sure to ask. These insurance companies are happy to answer your queries and usually respond promptly.

For New Zealanders there are a couple of long term travel insurance options:

World Nomads
1Cover
Cover More

 

All of these will price your insurance based on the region you are visiting and that price is based on how expensive medical care is in that country.

In South East Asia medical treatment is quite cheap so generally this region is cheaper. But in America your medical bill could be $25,000 for one night so generally this region is the most expensive. Therefore if you are travelling to quite a few regions then you will probably need to purchase insurance for the most expensive region because then you will be covered for the others. The price is also dependent on the length of time you will be away to a maximum of 18 months. Because I’m travelling for less than this I haven’t looked into options beyond that timeframe. We purchased Worldwide as the region because we were headed to America. This gives us options to travel anywhere and be covered.

 

Summary

Read your policy and ask about anything you don’t understand

Google “long term travel insurance”

Book from NZ before leaving so you don’t incur fees

Make sure your activities, expensive items and tech are insured

Purchase for the most expensive region you plan to visit

Vehicles

Vehicles

This page is dedicated to Raylan, who loves all kinds of vehicles as much as our little ones do 🙂

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