Long layover at Tom Bradley International Terminal LAX

15 hours at LAX – oh how I was dreading spending my time at the airport!

LAX

Let me begin from the start though. Picture a small group of travel professionals selected to embark on an educational adventure to Tahiti. Needless to say a trip like that involves a schedule planned into the smallest detail. Resort visits, inter-island flights, ferries, excursions, dinners with hotel executives, networking trade shows… 8 fully packed days.

Because of that, I did not want to miss my flight to Papeete and hence decided to leave the Midwest very early in the morning, for a late at night flight from LAX. I landed at LAX around 8am. It took me a good hour to retrieve my luggage and make it to the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.

The good news is, I was early enough to catch the Air Tahiti Nui gate agents who had just sent off a morning flight. They allowed me to check-in more than 12 hours prior to my actual flight, thus giving me the golden ticket, the boarding pass, that would give me access to the terminal.

Before doing anything else I had to have some breakfast. I settled for an over priced yogurt/granola breakfast from Larder at Tavern which well, was just okay. Since I wanted to do some work  that day and I had brought my laptop and quickly found a comfortable space with view of the runway.

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10 hours into the layover I have to say, Tom Bradley International Terminal is absolutely great. The amount of daylight you get in this terminal makes you forget that you are inside. The architecture and design is simply stunning.

Here are my top things to do (when not working):

  • Food (I was looking for reasonably priced options)  and found these faves:
    • ink.sack: A great selection of gourmet sandwiches prepared to order. Priced reasonably which is truly a treat at this airport.
    • 800 degrees: Typical Neapolitan pizza, the perfect airport comfort food.

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  • Water (admittedly, I am picky, spring water is a must have). There is definitely a shortage of spring water in the newsstand areas (Dasani and Smart Water is the choice and those price around $3/4 for a bottle). Fiji is the only natural water I could find and it has to be purchased from one of the food vendors. $5.50 (incl. tax) is pretty much the street price.

You will also find Starbucks, pinkberry smoothies/ice cream, as well as Vanilla Bakeshop (selling cupcakes and other sweet indulgences).
In addition there are a lot of upscale dining options, including a sushi bar, Petrossian caviar,  and many fun bars to choose from.

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Shopping options are plenty and mainly high-end

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Wifi at LAX is free only for 1 hour. If you are staying longer you will have to purchase a Boingo Plan. I ended up subscribing to Boingo’s monthly plan which turned out to be less expensive than the 24 hour option. I used it again on my return layover and then cancelled the plan after my return.

Electricity is available all across the terminal, however, make sure to check that the outlet is working. I’ve encountered several that seemed to be malfunctioning.

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I do like to workout and feel the need to move around. I found that it is really easy to walk laps throughout the terminal as well as integrate stairs into the workout.

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Having spent pretty much an entire day at this terminal I can tell you that it is very peaceful and relaxing. At no point did I feel it was noisy or rushed. That is until the evening hours, when the terminal started to fill up with the late night flight passengers. It was still easy to find a spot, but it definitely started to feel more like a terminal. One of my favorite evening perks was the live duo, playing some classic cover songs which sounded great throughout the main hall.

For those traveling with children you will be happy to know that there is a designated kid zone area. However, I was a bit disappointed. It is stuck in the darkest back area with absolutely no daylight whatsoever.

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The one thing I feel would put this terminal over the top, is an outdoor area somewhere. A little bit of fresh air would have made this layover perfect.

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I had originally planned on spending my day at the United Lounge, however I am so glad that didn’t work out, as I am sure, the time in the terminal was more relaxing and interesting. Plus, I got to enjoy the pretty sunset.

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Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

36 hours in Arizona – Road trip Day Two: The Grand Canyon without the Crowds

Day Two of our spontaneous Arizona adventure starts off as early as Day One, it is still pitch black.

This time however, an incredibly vast starry sky above. The air crisp, almost frosty. Leaving Utah we drive South. The sun starts rising in the East, slowly lighting up the seemingly endless landscape and then turning it golden. Another gorgeous day awaits.

the gap, arizona, state road, aavtravelWe pass The Gap and in Cameron turn right, onto State Route 64, the road leading us straight to the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance. Along the way, we see a group of Navajo Indians selling crafts and jewelry. I would encourage anyone to find native people selling their own goods versus buying something at one of the souvenir stores. Not only is it going to cost you less but far more importantly, you get the opportunity to talk to the people that have been living on these lands for 100s of years, are fighting to preserve their culture, and most likely are wiser than many of us.

As we enter the Grand Canyon’s East Entrance it is still very early and none of the big tourist buses have yet arrived. Our first stop, the Desert View Watchtower. Built in 1932 it was designed by Mary Colter, one of the very first female architects. The Watchtower was meant to mimic an Anasazi Indian Watchtower. It is a very interesting structure to explore and the views you get from the tower and its surroundings are breathtaking.

desert watchtower, arizona, grand canyon, anasazi, mary coulterdesert watchtower, Indian art, arizona, grand canyon, mary coulter, aavtravelgrand canyon, arizona, south rim, aavtravelInsiders know that for an uncrowded visit to the Grand Canyon, one should visit the North Rim, as it only receives about 10% of the yearly visitors. However, if the South Rim is easier accessible, as it was in our case, entering the East Entrance is a great way to avoid the crowds. Most of the Grand Canyon’s visitors never make it past Grand Canyon Village which is home to many hotels and accessed via the South Entrance. As for the tours that actually travel along the rim, you will be long gone before they make it to the East Entrance.

As we travel West along the South Rim, we stop a couple of times along the way. Most of the time we are alone. It is an incredibly powerful feeling, to experience the immensity of the canyon by yourself. Standing or sitting at the edge, overlooking the ancient rock formations dropping down into the large abyss, sometimes catching a glimpse of the Colorado river winding its way at the bottom of the canyon. Many different shapes and colors. The screeching of a crow, a lizard basking in the sun, and the smell of fresh pine trees in the air. This is the way the Grand Canyon should be experienced.

grand canyon, arizona, stefanie pichonnat, aavtravelgrand canyon, north rim, arizona, aavtravelgrand canyon, arizona, south rim, aavtravel, stefanie pichonnatEventually we make it to the Grand Canyon Village and after exploring some of the hotels, walking along the rim, glancing into a few shops, we end up getting a scoop of ice cream to enjoy overlooking the canyon. As we sit there, our feet dangling over the edge, a steady flow of people walking by behind us, we see something moving below. A young bobcat chasing a bird which eventually seeks refuge in one of the crevices. What a great way to end our time at the Grand Canyon!

grand canyon, bobcat, arizonaDespite the half day only visit, we felt we got to experience an incredible time at the Grand Canyon. If you visit, try to leave the beaten path behind and find your spot. It is powerful!

For us it was time to head on to our last stop, Sedona, but more about that in Day Three of this series.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Indy FastPark Ride & Relax – Best Place to Park your Car at Indianapolis Airport (IND)

honolulu, hawaii, aavtravelWhenever you take a plane to head somewhere, you either get dropped off at the airport or need to find a place to leave your car.

When it comes to parking around Indianapolis Airport there are a few options. If you have an early flight, you might want to choose to stay at one of the many airport hotels that offer so called Park and Fly rates. There are a few things you need to pay attention to when making your reservation:

  • Make sure the hotel’s airport shuttle actually runs during the hours you need it. Some shuttles run 6am – 10pm. So if your flight departs really early in the morning, or comes in really late, you won’t be able to take advantage of the shuttle.
  • Airport hotels can be located around Indianapolis’ old airport, or the new airport. Depending on the direction you are coming from, it makes more sense to stay in one area instead of the other. If, for example, you are coming from Terre Haute, your best options are located in the Plainfield and South Ameriplex area, as these locations will save you a good 20 minutes in additional travel time each way.Ready for take offIf you are looking for a parking solution, you can stay on one of Indianapolis Airport’s official garage or parking lots, or you can choose an off airport solution. The best one, in my opinion, is FastPark Ride & Relax. Here are a few reasons why:
  • The hourly rate is very similar to Indianapolis airport’s Economy Parking. However, if you have an AAA Membership card your receive a 15% discount on the rate!
  • You are picked up and dropped off directly at your car. No need to drag your luggage around  the parking lot or wait. If you can open your trunk with a click, the driver will deposit your luggage right into your trunk when you get off the shuttle.
  • They will even give you a bottle of water when you leave the parking area. What a nice gesture!
  • The parking is covered so you can expect a cleared and ready to go vehicle during those cold winter months. No defrosting and scratching icy windshields. This comes in particularly handy when your landing looks like this!

Snow landing INDHow to get to Indy FastPark Ride & Relax?
If you come from Terre Haute on I-70 follow these instructions:

At the airport exit, stay right towards SOUTH Ameriplex Pkwy

IND Airport Exit coming from I-70WAfter about a mile you will see the first FastPark sign and the rooftops of the covered parking area.

IndyParkRideRelax002Turn right on Stansted Drive, right before Subway.  FastPark IndyIndyParkRideRelax004 IndyParkRideRelax005 FastPark Indy Covered Airport ParkingPark, Relax and have a great trip!

How to plan your time? To be on the safe side, plan about 30 minutes from the time you enter the parking lot to the time you make it to the terminal.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

36 hours in Arizona – Road trip Day One: Antelope Canyon

Whenever I don’t travel for a couple of weeks and don’t have a trip in sight I get  antsy. It’s like this mosquito bite that itches and no matter how much you scratch or put anti-itch on it, it won’t stop bugging you. That is when I usually come up with some spontaneous last minute getaway. These trips aren’t really planned or budgeted for, they just kind of happen. A few miles, a destination of interest and boum, there is your potential adventure.

This particular one lead us to Arizona. We landed in Phoenix late at night, ready to start our adventure early next morning. We were heading North, way North. Our destination: Antelope Canyon.

arizona, sunrise, highway 17, saguaro, aavtravelWe drove North along Highway 17 and later on State Road 89. It is amazing how the landscape and colors change along the way.  Desert isn’t just desert, it has its own atmosphere and color scheme. Some people say the desert is boring. However, I find it highly exciting and full of diversity, and there is something special about driving along a desert road, the promise of freedom. Wherever you can see, vast space, mile after mile, nothing other than the skyline, some hills, rock formations, sand, gravel, tumbleweed and saguaros. Highway 71 Phoenix to Flagstaff Arizona desert Highway 71The drive from Phoenix to Page takes about 5 hours. We stopped in Flagstaff to get ready for what lay ahead. The local supermarket was perfect to stock up on water and supplies before heading North on State Route 89 towards Page. Once you leave Flagstaff, you are pretty much in the wild. Better head out there with a filled tank of gas, water and food.

Route 89 Flagstaff to Page Arizona Route 89Most everybody has seen images of the amazing rock formations and light displays at Antelope Canyon. It is located on Navajo land, not far from Page, AZ, managed by the Navajo Indians. It is a slot canyon, meaning it is much deeper than wide. Antelope Canyon is a baby in terms of age, especially in comparison to the nearby Grand Canyon. When you arrive at the canyon entrance there is not much to see. The entrance is through a narrow crevice somewhere in the reddish rock.

Lower Antelope CanyonThere is a Lower and an Upper Antelope Canyon, both spectacular. Since our time was limited we decided to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. Both canyons have to be visited with a guide and tours are best booked in advance, especially during high-season, or if you are on a tight traveling schedule. We really wanted to visit the canyon on our own but unless you are a legitimate photographer with the adequate equipment as proof, you will have to go with the group. Although a bit disappointed, we quickly realized that it really didn’t matter. There are groups all over the canyon and you are never really alone as they come passing through.

Lower Antelope Canyon EntranceIn order to enter the canyon you will have to go down some steep steps and ladders.

Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope Canyon Lower Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon is hands down one of my favorite places ever. It is simply incredible. Once we emerged from its beautiful depth, we headed towards Lake Powell where we spent the rest of the day enjoying a wonderful picnic overlooking the lake.

Lake Powell ArizonaThe sun set fairly early and it got pitch black very fast. The starry sky incredible. We didn’t mind the early night as we had planned a whole other adventure for the next day.

Written by AAV Travel’s Owner

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelSTEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating customized travel itineraries. Having personally traveled to many destinations worldwide, she can help you create a wonderful vacation experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

 

 

Do-it-Yourself Shore Excursion: Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is known for its steady rainfall. Big, grey clouds and a soft drizzle awaited us the day our ship pulled into the port. The first thing that stood out, were the many seaplanes looping around the port, landing and taking off. As we learned later, these were taking tourists to the nearby Fjord. As always, we had planned to escape our ship and its passengers as soon as we got off.
seaplanes, ketchikan, alaskaOn this particular day, we were heading to the Rainbird Trail. I hadn’t found much information about it online but knew that it should be short enough for us to hike within the 4 hours we had ashore.

ketchikan, cruise, crown princess, princess cruise, alaskaThe official trail-head is located in downtown Ketchikan, by the Alaska University. Since Ketchikan spreads out to both sides of the cruise terminal, we weren’t quite sure whether to go right or left, and ended up asking a local. We asked for the Rainbird Trail. With a broad grin and pointing uphill he said: “If you can make it up there!”

Having hiked at our two prior Alaskan stops we felt very comfortable and were sure we could manage “the hill”. It was steep alright, and probably took 10 minutes to climb. However, I am really glad we started the trail at its end. It makes for a much better beginning. Once on top of the hill we couldn’t quite make out where to go, so we stopped by the local radio station. Not much was going on that early in the morning, but the lady swiftly pointed us in the right direction and we found the trail’s end in no time.

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hikingketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hikingThe Rainbird trail goes along the mountain side backing Juneau. You basically walk from the cruise port to the University of Alaska, located in downtown Juneau (left side), in very dense rainforest. At first we were a bit skeptical as we would see the harbor and neighboring islands. However, it didn’t take long and we were in the midst of it. It looked like a place straight out of Middle Earth, magical. Densely green, lush, and overgrown, large trees, broken trees, lots of moss, and everything wet, it was simply beautiful and always changing.

Ketchikan012 Ketchikan011 Ketchikan010 Ketchikan009 ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelAs it was early in the morning, we were the only ones there. Half way into the trail, we spotted a reindeer. Instead of running off it simply looked at us with its dark black and gentle eyes. I felt as if it was communicating with us. We kept staring at each other for a good 5 minutes, before it peacefully trailed off.

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravel, reindeerKetchikan006 ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelThe Rainbird Trail proved to be a wonderfully authentic adventure, for a town otherwise thriving with tourist shops and masses of cruise passengers.

Here are a few things you will want to watch out for if you are headed to the Rainbird Trail:

  • It will rain, make sure you have the proper gear and protect your electronics
  • Bring some water to drink
  • Your shoes need good tread and need to be ideally waterproof. The terrain goes up and downhill, there are large rocks, gravel, and tree trunks to cross. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your foot and your gear is adequate.
  • Chances are, not many of your fellow travelers will know about the trail. And, even if they do, if you start at the end, you will likely not run into any of them until the very beginning of the trail.
  • The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is steep at times and can be a bit challenging.
  • You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own, be responsible as some parts of the trail can seem risky.
  • Bring bug spray just in case
  • To walk the entire trail and back to the ship you will need about 2 hours.
  • The official trail-head is located behind the Ketchikan University in downtown Ketchikan (left side when getting off the ship). I recommend starting at the trail end however, which you can find by walking up Schoenbar Road and then turning left onto 3rd Avenue. Once you turn into 3rd Avenue you will quickly come upon the set of stairs that lead you onto the trail.
  • Tread quietly, you never know what kind of animal you might be lucky to spot

ketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, aavtravelketchikan, rainbird trail, alaska, hiking, university of alaska, aavtravelstefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT Stefanie Pichonnat is a Princess Cruise Lines Certified Expert at AAV Travel. With her personal experience in Alaska she can help you create and customize a personalized travel itinerary. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

 

Do-it-Yourself Shore Excursion: Juneau, Alaska

Clouds are hanging low over Juneau on this morning in June. No roads lead to this city and it can only be accessed either by plane or boat.  I am not a large cruise ship fan and this particular cruise aboard the Crown Princess represents a means to an end. It gets me where I would like to go. As soon as we disembark, I am determined to lose as many co-cruisers as possible. juneau, cruise pier, crown princess, alaska, aavtravel I had researched hiking trails in Juneau and originally thought we would take the cable car up to Mount Roberts. However, once they started promoting this particular idea to the 3,500 passengers on board, I quickly made up my mind. Instead of taking the cable car, we would actually hike the trail leading up to Mount Roberts. Just before noon we disembark and our first stop is the post office. Juneau’s post office looks like a gift store. You would never recognize it, if it wasn’t for the official sign. The girl behind the open, wooden table counter, is super smiley and welcoming. She points us to The Rookery, a local favorite, famous for its house made burgers. Yes, you might argue that eating burger in Alaska doesn’t really make sense, but when you are trying to escape the other tourists in the area, one is willing to compromise. The Rookery was packed with local people, no tourists in sight. People here were mingling, chatting. The restaurant/coffee bar appeared to be Juneau’s conversation melting pot. The food was outstanding and the service super friendly. juneau, alaska, downtown, aavtravelAfter lunch we head off uphill to the Mount Robert’s trail head. We are “alone” except for the local people that are going for a run or are walking their dogs. The walk uphill to the trailhead takes us along colorful houses, beautiful and lush gardens. We also see the old Russian Orthodox church. russian church, juneau, alaska, aavtravel Just as we are about to get to the trail head we pass a young man. He curiously asked us if we were locals (I guess we did not quite look the part, but then again our gear wasn’t all that off). As we decline he suggests we continue wwalking on straight, as there are waterfalls and a black bear to be seen. On the hunt for the black bear we give up the idea of climbing Mount Roberts and instead embark on the Perseverance Trail. The Perseverance Trail is historically one of Alaska’s most significant trails during the Gold Rush. We had no idea what to expect, but what we found was absolutely stunning. Steep mountain sides, waterfalls, lush and versatile nature, offering a new surprise around every corner. Nature at its purest. We filled our water bottles in the streams that we crossed and continued our way far beyond what we had originally planned. perseverance trail, juneau, alaska, aavtravelperseverance trail, waterfall, juneau, alaska, aavtravelperseverance trail, juneau, alaska, aavtravelperseverance trail, juneau, alaska, aavtravel perseverance trail, juneau, alaska, aavtravel perseverance trail, juneau, alaska, aavtravelThe Perseverance Trail makes for a wonderful do it yourself shore excursions. Here are a few things you will want to watch out for:

  • Weather changes constantly. Be prepared for rain as well as sunshine, it can change in minutes.
  • Bring some empty water bottles so you can fill them up with fresh water from the streams
  • Your shoes need good tread. The terrain goes up and downhill, there are rocks, gravel, water to cross. Make sure your shoes snug tightly to your feet and your gear is adequate
  • About half way into the trail you lose cell phone signal, meaning you are on your own
  • If you see a bear, don’t run. Instead, curl up on the floor in a ball and pretend to be dead.
  • The trail requires a certain level of fitness. You do not need to be a professional athlete, but it is steep at times and can be a bit challenging.
  • You can do the trail with your children, however they need to be old enough to hike on their own and you need to feel comfortable to let them run a little risk every now and then
  • Bring bug spray, just in case
  • It takes about 45 minutes to walk from the cruise terminal to the trail head. By the time we made it to a spot called “Glory Hole” and back to the ship, we had walked about 8 miles.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT Stefanie Pichonnat is a Princess Cruise Lines Certified Expert at AAV Travel. With her personal experience in Alaska she can help you create and customize a personalized travel itinerary. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

Olympic Peninsula, WA – Photo-log

“It rains a lot!” “Beware of vampires!”
Just a few examples of what people might say, when they hear you are visiting the Olympic Peninsula. Located in western Washington, just across Puget Sound from Seattle, these 3,600 square miles, contain some of the last unexplored places in the continental US. As a matter of fact, the peninsula wasn’t mapped until around 1900.

During our visit we did not get a drop of rain, neither did we see any vampires. Then again, they are supposedly fleeing the area when it is sunny out. Locals assured us that the weather we experienced was very uncommon, especially for June. When planning a trip to the Olympic Peninsula you have to expect rain, and be prepared for it.

This is a photo-log of our 2 day journey, enjoy!

Ruby Beach – early morning, the inside of the Peninsula was nice and sunny, the beach however offered some eerie fog views.

ruby beach, washinton, beach, rocks, aavexplorationsOlympicPeninsula003The Hoh Rainforest – around noon. As per its name it should be raining, however on this day it didn’t.

OlympicPeninsula007 OlympicPeninsula006 hoh rainforest, washington, olympic peninsula, hall of mosses, aavexplorationsRialto Beach – absolutely stunning, you might recognize it from movies such as “The Goonies”, or “Twilight”, the beach by La Push

OlympicPeninsula015 OlympicPeninsula014 OlympicPeninsula013 OlympicPeninsula012 OlympicPeninsula011 OlympicPeninsula010 rialto beach, la push, washington, olympic peninsula, aavexplorationsHurricane Ridge – offering incredible views and some really friendly wildlife

OlympicPeninsula008 OlympicPeninsula007 OlympicPeninsula006 OlympicPeninsula005 OlympicPeninsula004 OlympicPeninsula003 hurricane ridge, olympic national park, olympics, olympic peninsula, washington, aavexplorationsLake Crescent – beautiful, clear fresh water lake along 101

OlympicPeninsula009 crescent lake, olympics, olympic peninsula, washingtonEspecially the more rural areas of the Olympic Peninsula offer a very limited number of accommodations, mainly campgrounds and some motels. It is definitely a nature and adventure lover’s playground!

We decided to spend our night on a sailboat in Port Angeles harbor which was simply perfect for our adventure!

port angeles, saiboatstefanie pichonnat aavtravel
Written by STEFANIE
PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com.