I’ve been meaning to write down my experiences from my US trip last year so that when I’m old and frail I can remember back to 2011 when I visited the US for the first time and when the Aussie $ was above parity.
I obviously spent the 6 months prior to departure researching/planning/booking to my heart’s content, as evidenced in my Excel spreadsheet:
Some call it OCD, I call it smart planning 😉
Some general tips I have when planning a trip to the US:
- Only 2 domestic airlines have free check-in allowances – Southwest allow 2 pieces and Jetblue allow 1. All other airlines charge you per check-in luggage which generally costs about $50 so factor that into the airfare
- A lot of credit cards give you complementary travel insurance when you purchase international airfares on it but a lot of websites/airlines charge you a surcharge for using credit cards so do the math and weigh up your options
- USA TSA is quite strict with searching luggage. They advise you to buy TSA locks so TSA officers can unlock your lock with a universal key but a lot of people commented that their locks were still cut despite being TSA approved. Before we left Australia I bought some TSA locks from Safe Skies (http://www.safeskies.com.au/) because they will replace cut locks, you just need to send them the cut lock and they send you a replacement. They were also really helpful because I managed to change the combination on one of the locks before we left, and couldn’t unlock it, so I sent it to them and they reset it for me. And of course our locks did get cut during our trip and they replaced them for us
- Get your USA Visa Waiver before you go – it only costs $14
- So many people get confused about using phones in the US because they use different frequencies. Check the specs of your phone to see whether it’s possible to take it over. I know that HTC Desire HD in Aus is incompatible but Samsung Galaxy S II worked no problems. You may consider not using a phone while in the US as free wifi is ubiquitous
- Since the US spans a number of timezones, factor that into your plans. I got caught out flying from West Coast to East Coast, losing a few hours, and missed the first hour of a concert in NYC
Ok so back to my US trip – our first port of call was Las Vegas after stopping over in Honolulu (we flew Hawaiian Air). After flying for close to 24 hours we finally arrived in Vegas at around 11pm and we are too exhausted and cold (Vegas was 3oc and I was wearing tights and a cardi) to go out for food. There was a flyer slipped into our hotel room so we ordered a burger and salad delivered for a grand total of $11. Ludicrous!
After catching some much-needed zzzz’s, the next morning we caught the bus up the strip to the North Premium Outlets. My haul included:
- Coach Ashley bag in white/silver
- Abercrombie & Fitch down jacket – SO warm
- Tommy Hilfiger argyle and cable knit v-necks
I didn’t want to go crazy because it was the first day of our trip and I didn’t want to lug too much around, but I just couldn’t help myself with the ridiculous prices! We had changed our money when the AUD was above parity so everything seemed even cheaper!
We were booked in for O Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio that night (I’d recommend booking Cirque du Soleil shows in advance as they sell out) and it is definitely worth the money. It is the best show I have ever been to – it’s amazing when you try and work out how they’ve done certain things (like people entering and exiting the stage underwater). We sat just behind the splash seats and were fine – even the splash seats didn’t get too wet. Don’t forget to go to the Bellagio foyer while you’re here to see the pretty ceiling:
After O, we had dinner/desert at the infamous Serendipity and I momentarily forgot about my lactose intolerance. The sundae we had was divine and worth feeling unwell for the hours after.
Obviously being in Vegas we had to visit the Grand Canyon. We decided not to do a bus tour as the thought of sitting on a bus for 10 hours did not appeal to us given we had sat on a plane for 20 hours the day before. The helicopter trip flew us onto the floor of the Grand Canyon where we had a packed lunch/dinner with Champagne. We flew back to Vegas during sunset which was absolutely beautiful and by the time we got back to the Strip the bright lights of Vegas welcomed us. The Canyon itself wasn’t terribly exciting but I guess now I can say I’ve been there.
The limo from the airport took us to the Palazzo (which is joined to the Venetian) where we lined up for tickets to Jersey Boys which was fantastic. I didn’t really know any of the songs but I still enjoyed it. After the show we walked through the Palazzo to the Venetian and Caesar’s Palace.
Our last day in Vegas we spent casino-hopping and shopping at the South Premium Outlets where I picked up more goodies:
- DKNY royal purple wool coat
- Calvin Klein ballet flats
- Converse silver high-tops for my sister
We topped off our Vegas trip with a visit to the Sugar Factory where my boy went CRAZY with lollies (he’s a sugar fiend). We had a cocktail at the attached restaurant and it was like drinking alcoholic liquid sugar. My boy had the ‘Peace, Love and Harmonie’ – tequila, rose syrup, fresh lime juice with a wild Hibiscus flower garnish. My outrageously green cocktail was called ‘Blow Pop’ which is vodka-based with Apple Pucker, Monin Granny Smith apple syrup and fresh lemon sour. If that’s not sweet enough they’ve added a sour apple lollipop and a bubble gum Pop Rocks rim.
Kay’s tips for Las Vegas:
- There are 2 buses that run up and down the strip stopping at the various casinos/hotels – the Deuce (which runs 24 x 7) and SDX (9am – 12.30am) although it’s almost easier to catch a cab
- Cabs only pick up at the casinos – you cannot hail one on the street. Don’t be scared of the huge taxi lines at casinos as they move really quickly
- The M&M shop in the strip is 4 floors of M&M goodness – they even do personalised M&Ms
- Most retailers are not open before 10am (they presume everyone’s nursing their hangovers from the night before)
- When you gamble, tip the drink waitresses a dollar or two and they’ll keep delivering you free drinks
- There are people who stand on the street and make a flicking noise – they are flicking business cards for ‘ladies’ who cannot advertise themselves in public. You’ll often see piles of business cards on the ground near a flicker