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




Sneak Peek of what’s to come: Tahiti, Tetiaroa, Bora Bora, and more

As I am sitting in my office chair, typing on the laptop, my hands slightly chilly from the cooler fall like air, I cannot help but feel the excitement in me grow. This December, I will have an incredible opportunity. Granted, I get quite a few of them and they are always exciting. But this one, this one, I have been waiting for, for quite a while. It is one of these opportunities that only gets extended to very few specialists, and truth be told, most of the time they are located along the West coast, not necessarily from the Midwest.

tetiaroa, tahiti, brando, aavtravel, french polynesia

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

Thanks to Classic Vacations and the Tahiti Tourism Board, I will be traveling to Tahiti coming December. I will get to experience Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Tetiaroa.

Tetiaroa will be our first stop. It is a privately owned atoll in the Windward group of the Society Islands and up until recently was solely enjoyed by its owners, the Brando family. Marlon Brando had discovered the atoll whilst looking for movie locations for the Mutiny of the Bounty in 1960 and eventually purchased the atoll a couple of years later.

Last year however, The Brando resort opened, and now over 50 years later, we all have the opportunity to experience this small piece of paradise.

brando resort, french polynesia, tahiti, tetiaroa, aavtravel, atoll

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

After Tetiaroa we will be heading to Bora Bora, a volcanic island, surrounded by sand-fringed motus (islets). Bora Bora is famous for its spectacular scenery with Mount Otemanu, a dormant volcano, as well as scuba diving and some of the most prestigious luxury resorts.

sea turtle, tahiti, brando, aavtravel

Photo courtesy of the Brando Resort

As the leaves are starting to turn, and as it is getting chillier outside, I cannot wait for this exciting adventure to start!

Written by AAV Travel’s South Pacific Expert

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 Hawai’i, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and soon Tahiti, she can help you create a wonderful South Pacific experience. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

24 hours in Paris – Paris is always a good idea!

paris, il de la cite, notre dame, seine, aavtravelI will never forget my very first time in Paris. I had just turned 14 and my parents decided to take my sister and I to the City of Lights for a couple of days. It was sometime in the 80’s and the TGV, the high speed train, had just been introduced. This new, super fast train, made traveling from Bern to Paris non-stop and a breeze.

Quite a few memories remain from that visit. Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen and Le Magasin Tati, shopping heaven for bargain hunters, or teens on a limited budget. The incredible grandeur of Versailles impressed me forever with its lavishly decorated halls and perfectly manicured gardens. Dinner in a typical French restaurant, somewhere along the Seine river. A charming French waiter who traced a heart of whipped cream on my dessert, timidly asking my parents if he could take me out that night. Me, deeply embarrassed and the laughing stock of my sister. Needless to say, the trip left an everlasting impression.

ile de la cite, paris, seine, river, aavtravelA couple of years later, I returned to stay for a year. The city was still beautiful; but had become somewhat more menacing. I spent my mornings working as a nanny in one of the suburbs and the afternoons perfecting my French at the Alliance Francaise in the 6e arrondissement. Most of my free time I spent roaming around Paris, discovering every nook and cranny, meticulously following the different walks suggested in Michelin’s Guide Vert. For almost a year, I discovered Paris inside and out. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’ve returned many times since but this summer was going to be different. I was headed in that direction with my girls and it was their very first time. We only had about 48 hours but I absolutely wanted them to see Paris, even if it was just for a day. It was an incredible experience to watch them get excited, show interest, and wanting to discover more.

Here are a few pictures from our day visiting some of my personal highlights in the city. Enjoy!

carousel, merry-go-round, bercy, paris, aavtravelOur first stop, the carousel at the Parc de Bercy. This is probably Paris’ newest park which is beautiful and consists of 3 different gardens, The Romantic Garden, The Flower Beds and The Meadows. There was no chance we could leave the carousel, without enjoying one of the enormous “barbe à papa” (cotton candy or loosely translated, daddy’s beard).

barbe a papa, cotton candy, paris, bercy, carousel, aavtravelNext on the list was one of my very favorite places in Paris. La Place des Vosges, home to Victor Hugo’s house, located in the area called Le Marais.

le marais, place des vosges, paris, aavtravelplace des vosges, playground, le marais, paris, aavtravella place des Vosges, paris, marais, aavtravelWe headed towards Les Quais de la Seine, the boardwalks by the Seine river where until today, you can find merchants selling old books, magazines, posters and paintings.

quais, seine, marche, livres, paris, aavtravelseine, parisLively St. Michel made for the perfect lunch stop. We opted for Indian food at Le Safran and enjoyed a lovely lunch in their upstairs area.

Indian food, paris, safran, restaurantLe Louvre was already closed when we got there but no matter what, it is beautiful to look at. I remember the controversy of the pyramids when they first installed them and today they are an integral part of these ancient buildings. If you go, make sure to check out La Pyramide Inversée, the inverted pyramid as well, which acts as a skylight.

louvre, paris, aavtravellouvre, pyramides, paris, aavtravellouvre, road, paris, aavtravelWe went on to Le Jardin de Tuileries (the Tuilerie gardens) where the summer carnival was in full swing. We did go on the Ferris wheel which was incredibly overpriced and honestly said, not worth the money. I was however able to get some nice shots. Can you spot La Défense,  Le Musée d’Orsay, Les Invalides, Opéra Garnier and Sacré-Coeur?

tuileries gardens, carnival, jardin des tuileries, paris, aavtraveljardin des tulieries, tuileries, musee d'orsay, paris, gardens, aavtravelmontmartre, opera, paris, tuileries, aerial view, aavtravel, parisDawn was setting in as we headed North to the Montmartre area, one of my absolute favorites because of the incredible view. subway station, metro , louvre rivoli, parisThat evening, it was incredibly busy due to it being Le 14 juillet (Bastille Day).

sacre coeur, montmartre, paris, aavtravelparis, montmartre, view, aavtravelWe decided to head back to the Tuileries to watch the fireworks and walked towards Pigalle where the Moulin Rouge is located.

mourlin rouge, pigalle, paris, aavtravelWe enjoyed the fireworks from a distance and then traveled back to the hotel for a last night in Paris.

eiffel tower, paris, by night, aavtravelBonne nuit mes amis! We had a great time, short but sweet. We will be back!

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in France and Paris, she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact Stefanie at stefanie@aav-travel.com


Cruise versus all-inclusive, or is a Cruise really all-inclusive?

Ever wonder if a cruise is less expensive than a stay at an all-inclusive resort?

The average US citizen is entitled to 16 days of paid leave. However, not all people take the entire time off, or even parts of it for that matter. As a result, the average vacation lasts for about 4 days. Needless to say, we want to get as much as possible out of the vacation we take.

waterfall, rappelling, costa rica, adventure travel, aavtravelWhen looking for an affordable, easy, and uncomplicated vacation, many people turn to either a cruise, or choose to stay at an all-inclusive resort. The idea of having your vacation pre-paid and not much to worry about once you get there, sounds very appealing to many.

all-inclusive, playa del carmen, palace resort, mexico, aavtravelHowever, an all-inclusive resort experience can seem pricey upfront compared to a cruise, especially with cruise lines advertising fabulous voyages aboard a spectacular ship for next to nothing. Once you start to truly look at these fares however, you quickly realize that they do not include taxes and surcharges. In addition you also need to add the travel cost to the ship when calculating your total vacation cost. Since it is recommended you arrive a day early at your port, you also incur the cost of an additional overnight stay.

Truth be told, a cruise is nothing more than a couple of hotel nights including a full-pension meal plan. Most everything else will end up costing extra. Whilst you might pay less for your cruise upfront (if you do, after you add up all the surcharges and the pre- and post cruise travel expenses), you might just be surprised at how high your final invoice can be once you are ready to disembark your ship.

cruise, princess, alaska, aavtravelOn our recent Princess Cruise for example, we paid the following surcharges:

  • $11.50 per person and day in tips (7 day cruise means $80.50 extra per person). These tips cover your stateroom steward and main dining room staff, however you are still expected to tip in the bar and entertainment areas…
  • Specialty restaurants ($25 – $40 per person extra). Do you really need them? No. But if you want a more sophisticated, a cooked to order meal in a more intimate atmosphere, then yes, it is something you want to splurge for.
  • Wireless connections are highly valued these days. Trust me, if you want or need to be connected on your cruise this is a high ticket item. We are talking an easy $75 for 120 minutes.
  • Alcohol ranged from $6 for a beer to $12 for a more fancy cocktail. The all-inclusive option you can add on, on cruises longer than 7 days, comes with a steep price tag of $50 per day. Everybody in your stateroom needs to have it. So again, 7 day cruise add $350 extra per person just for alcohol (and this will not yet give you free access to the top shelf whiskys)
  • Access to the adult-only area, $40 a day per person
  • A spinning class, $15 per person
  • Room service surcharge
  • If you wish your minibar stocked in your room, expect to pay about $60 for one setup.
  • Wine tasting, $25 per person

all-inclusive, resort, pool, dominican republic, secrets royal beach, aavtravelGranted, upfront a trip to an all-inclusive resort might look like an extra $500 per person if you compare it to the fare of the lowest costing stateroom, but it will have the following perks included:

  • Unlimited alcoholic beverages (and smoothies, and specialty coffees…), top-shelf alcohol at many resorts, no questions asked
  • Specialty gourmet restaurants, oftentimes room service. You can eat around the clock and usually don’t have to pay any surcharges.
  • Access to adult-only area? Absolutely, either it is an adult-only resort, or if it offers and adult-only section you don’t have to pay extra to get there.
  • Spinning classes, yoga and pilates classes, zumba classes. I have not yet found a resort that charges extra for any of them.
  • A minibar, fully stocked and restocked daily.
  • My personal favorite, a window! Even if it just overlooks a distant parking lot or gardens.
  • Most every resort includes the use of water sports equipment, some even include snorkeling and diving excursions, or evening catamaran cruises. Entertainment, tastings, and sorts of other activities are included as well.
  • Oftentimes tips

If you are wanting a vacation that is relaxing, where you can enjoy drinking, and don’t want to worry about how much money you have to pay once you get back, then hands down, the all-inclusive resort is you better option.

cruise, ship, pool, princess, aavtravelHowever, here are a few good reasons, to take a cruise:

  • You get to experience several places without having to pack and unpack (especially true for cruises longer than just 4 days).
  • Some destinations are harder to get to and a cruise makes them more accessible (Alaskan coast line, some of the smaller, off the beaten path, Caribbean islands, the Mediterranean coast…).
  • You enjoy being confined on a boat with strangers in a Vegas like atmosphere.

Ultimately it comes down to what you are looking to get from your vacation versus which one really is cheaper. If you decide to cruise properly (stateroom with a window, alcohol every now and then…) you will likely end up paying just as much, if not more, as you would at an all-inclusive resort.

stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner of AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com

“Into the Woods” – Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

“Into the woods, it’s time to go, I hate to leave, I have to go. Into the woods – It’s time, and so I must begin my journey”. Those lines kept on going through my head as I watched my daughters running along, disappearing into the thickly spread pine forest near Glenmore. The air was moist from the sprinkling rain, the undergrowth was covered with dew drops, and the smell of pine, moss, and grass, was overwhelmingly fresh.

Glenmore Forest Park CairngormsThe idea that day, was to take a stroll along the Ryovan Pass to the Ryovan Loch which is known for its vividly green color. People say that its color is due to the fact that the local fairies wash their clothes there. Always on the lookout for fairies, we were eager to head that way. I didn’t have much information on how exactly to get there, but knew that we had to park by the National Outdoor Training Center, at Glenmore Lodge.

Once parked, we looked around and simply took the first hiking path spotted. It so happened to lead us up a hill. We climbed through the thick of the pine forest for a good 20 – 30 minutes before emerging on a dirt road, higher up the mountain.

glenmore, crairngorms national park, loch morlich, aviemore, aavtravel, scottish wildflowers, lupinesThe view that greeted us was spectacular! With Loch Morlich and distant mountain ranges. We decided to follow the dirt road further uphill. It soon stopped and led us onto a smaller path through more woods.

cairngorms, hiking, aavtravel, scotlandScotland has so many areas of incredible beauty and it is one of those places, where getting off the beaten path means you will be on your own. The entire landscape is there for you to soak up, and enjoy. It still has a very untouched feel and radiates an incredible energy. It is as if you get to the heart of nature, where everything is pure and you can feel the pulse of the earth and smell of the air as it is supposed to be.

cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravel

scottish lupins, flowers, cairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelcairngorms, scotland, glenmore, aviemore, hiking, aavtravelWe had set out to find a loch colored with fairy water that day, but found an incredible place uphill instead. We never doubted that fairies must live there.  We even spotted a small stream with reddish water. And maybe, just maybe, fairies are as meticulous in separating their laundry by colors as we are.

If this peaks your interest and you want to learn a bit more about Cairngorms National Park and what it has to offer check out some of these videos


stefanie pichonnat aavtravelWritten by STEFANIE PICHONNAT
Stefanie Pichonnat is the owner and travel consultant at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm customizing travel itineraries for discerning customers. With her extensive travel experience in Scotland she can help you create a wonderful trip. Contact her at stefanie@aav-travel.com