Sunday, January 15, 2017

Itinerary: 2016 Asia

December 24
  • Springhill Suites Salt Lake City Airport
December 25
  • Delta-Scott (SLC=>Seattle=>Tokyo=>Singapore)
  • United-Katie and Kids (SLC=>San Francisco=>Singapore)
December 26-29 (Singapore)
  • Crown Plaza Hotel (26th)
  • PARKROYAL on Pickering (27th-29th)
  • Things We Did: Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay, Chinatown
December 30-January 4 (Thailand)
  • Jetstar (Singapore=>Tokyo)
  • The Sands Khao Lak (12/30-1/1)
  • Anantara Vacation Club (2nd-4th)
  • Things We Did: Surin Island, Phang Nga Bay, Mai Khao Beach
January 5 (Singapore)
  • Jetstar (Phuket=>Singapore)
  • Capri by Frasier
January 6-9 (Tokyo)
  • Delta-Scott (Singapore=>Tokyo)
  • United-Katie and Kids (Singapore=>Tokyo)
  • Hilton Tokyo
  • Things We Did: Senso-ji Temple, Shibuya Crossing, Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens, Ninja Museum
January 9
  • Delta-Scott (Tokyo=>Portland=>SLC)
  • United-Katie and Kids (Tokyo=>Denver=>SLC)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hotel Review: Fiesta Americana Puerto Vallarta (Mexico)

The Fiesta Americana in Puerto Vallarta is a beach front resort about a 10 minute drive from the airport.  The main stretch of hotels along the beach in Puerto Vallarta feel like they were developed during the late 80s.  Many of the newer, high end resorts are found in Nuevo Vallarta or further north in Punta Mita.  For the hotels that lie on the main drag of Puerto Vallarta, Fiesta Americana ranks favorably.

The hotel is dated and bit tired.  The first thing I noticed in my room was that the tile in the shower was crumbling.  The bellman hurried and picked that up.  When I took a shower, the water pressure was so strong, I had to make sure it didn't make direct contact with more sensitive parts of my body.  Flushing the toilet was akin to an airplane toilet, where the water sucks down with such ferocity, I'm pretty sure I could have flushed a bowling ball.  I kept thinking of some of the hotels I'd recently stayed at that had such a focus on water conservation, and it seems like all their efforts were to make up for the Fiesta Americana PV's over use of water.

It wasn't all bad.  The hotel staff were friendly and were anxious to help.  I was fairly impressed with the food I ate, especially considering it was an all inclusive.  The hotel sat on a pretty wide stretch of beach.  I think if someone was looking for a budget resort, they would be OK with the Fiesta Americana in Puerto Vallarta, but it's far from a luxury resort.

What I liked:
  • Proximity to the airport
  • Friendliness of the staff
What I didn't like:
  • The room amenities
  • The pool 
  • The dated feel of the hotel

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wolf Creek Golf Course

In early December, I went to Las Vegas for a golf weekend with Dave and Ryan.  On the way down, we stopped in Mesquite and finally played Wolf Creek Golf Course.  It's been on our radar for some time but we've never driven the extra 30 minutes past St George because there are so many courses there that we enjoy.  Since we knew we had to continue past St George anyway, it made sense to finally play this course in Mesquite that we'd heard so much about.

Wolf Creek has been listed on Golf Magazine's "Top 100 Courses You Can Play" and "America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses" by Golf Digest.  The course has been open since 2000 and has been featured on both Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy's video games.  It's the most unique course I've ever played with over half the tees elevated and bright green fairways framed by white dunes.

Wolf Creek Golf Course
The course was not forgiving to someone like me who has not played much golf over the last two years.  It was difficult for me to truly enjoy the course because I played poorly.  But my take on it was that if I were playing back to my old 8-9 handicap, I would have loved the course.  There are several short par 4s and 5s where strokes can be gained.  That said, the course doesn't require good shots, it requires great shots.

When we finished the front 9, we were already a little worn out and felt like we had played a complete round.  The course was beautiful, but the layout was also taxing. The continuous elevation changes take a toll.  Also, the course just plays slow (which they were kind enough to tell us when we booked) so you spend a lot of time standing over you ball waiting to hit your next shot.

I want to play Wolf Creek again because it's a course you have to play a couple times to get a sense of where to take chances and when to just lay up.  I wouldn't put this course in my top 10 I've ever played, I much prefer Sand Hollow, Reflection Bay, Kapalua Bay Course among others.  That said, it's unique, challenging and beautiful enough that I can see why many rate it their favorite.  Maybe my love will deepen the next time I play there.
Panoramic View from Number 2 Tee Box at Wolf Creek Golf Course
Wolf Creek Golf Course

Hotel Review: Best Western Hotel Baltic (Sundsvall, Sweden)

After Trondheim, our family drove to Sundsvall.  It was about a 6 hour drive in total, the first hour of drive inland from Trondheim may have been the my favorite part of all the hours we drove through Norway with all the beautiful farms.  We crossed over into Sweden, driving through Are and on to Sundsvall.

Sundsvall is town close to my heart because it was the last area I was in during my Mormon Mission.  Some of the best memories from my time in Sweden were spent in Sundsvall, the southern town that is the beginning of Norrland.  Sundsvall sits on the coast, has a charming town center and is just south of the beautiful Hogakusten.  I spent the fall in Sundsvall and was there until just before Christmas and have fond memories of Lucia and friends made.
Mason on Storgaten in Sundsvall

Storgaten in Sundsvall
Our family stayed at the Best Western Hotel Baltic which sits right at the town square.  It is an old building with lots of charm.  There is a parking lot right across the street for convenient parking.  The room was on the smaller side, the bathroom was a little dated, but everything was quite clean.  The ventilation in the room wasn't very good, but that is generally the case when staying in old European buildings.  I think I would try a different hotel next time we go through Sundsvall.

What We Liked:
  • The location was ideal
  • The breakfast was a great Scandinavian breakfast
  • It was reasonably priced
What We Didn't Like:
  •  The bathrooms were tiny


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Hotel Review: Quality Hotel Waterfront (Ahlesund, Norway)

Our plan in Norway was to road trip up the coast.  Prior to leaving, I went to Google maps to find the cities north of Bergen, looked them all up on Google images and charted our course based on the cities that looked the prettiest.  I had never heard of Alesund a couple months prior to our trip, but after looking it up, I was committed to making it one of our stops.

I looked up the distance between the two cities and found that it was about 260 miles but that it would take over 7 1/2 hours.  I questioned the accuracy of how long it would take to drive such a short distance.  I didn't fully appreciate how much longer a drive with 3 ferry crossings, winding two lane roads and draw dropping scenery would take.

When we finally arrived in Alesund, it was a Sunday afternoon and the town was practically closed.  We walked all around town and finally found a pizza place to eat dinner.  Gwen thought the town felt creepy because we passed maybe only 10 people in the hour that we walked around town.  I had lived in Sweden and understood how smaller Nordic towns shut down on Sundays, but this was a new experience for her.

Things changed the next day when the city came to life and a cruise ship pulled into harbor.  We also hiked up a hill with a beautiful view over the city and saw the city as captured by so many pictures I saw on Google Images.  The city was gorgeous.
We stayed at the Quality Hotel Waterfront while in Alesund.  It was the 4th highest rated hotel on hotels.com.  It wasn't quite as centrally located as some of the other hotels, but everything is still within walking distance.  The room was clean and smartly decorated.  We had convenient underground parking.  It wasn't a hotel that I feel like I'd love to stay in again, but really, I don't have any complaints.

What We Liked:
  • Clean rooms
  • Very good continental breakfast
What We Didn't Like:
  • The location was average
  • It was pretty pricey 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hotel Review: Scandic Byparken (Bergen, Norway)

We absolutely loved Bergen.  Our family spent 3 days in this gorgeous Norwegian city before renting a car and driving up the coast of Norway.  We were looking for a hotel that we could sleep all four of us in a room and that was ideally close to the city center.  We booked the Scandic Byparken right in the middle of Bergen.  It was a short walk to famous Bergen sites such as Torgallmenningen and the Old Wharf Bryggen.

The family standing on Mount Floyen overlooking Bergen
We booked a family room that offered 3 beds and it was nice finding a room that could accommodate all of us.  The room and hallway were a bit tired, the bathroom was very typical sterile white tiled Scandinavian, the lobby was dated.  All that said, the location was awesome, breakfast was great and we couldn't beat the size of the rooms.  I don't know that I would book this place again if it were just Katie and I and we didn't need the extra space.  However, for a family of 4, it was fine.

Gwen standing by the waterfall above Rosendal
What We didn't Like:
  • Property needed an update
What We Liked:
Things We did in Bergen:
  • Took a day trip out to Rosendal
  • Went to Mount Floyen on the Funicular
  • Went to Bryggen Wharf
  • Ate at the Fish Market


Day Trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

The Friday morning after Thanksgiving, our family drove from St George to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  It was a scenic drive along the Arizona Strip and took about 2 1/2 hours to reach the North Rim Visitor's Center.  We enjoyed the lookouts, getting just the right picture for Gwen's Instagram post and eating Thanksgiving left overs with a view.







Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hotel Review: Zermatt Resort (Midway, Utah)

Our family thought we'd do a weekend getaway and stay at the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah.  I would have been better to stay home.  The rooms were tired and looked like someone's grandma decorated.  The beds were uncomfortable.  The room we were in didn't smell very nice.  To top it all off, we had a family that checked in about 10:00 and their kids decided to jump on the beds above room for hours.  The finally quieted down when Katie went up around midnight, beat on their door and asked them to stop (I wasn't aware that had taken place since I can sleep through anything).

What We Liked:
  • The town of Midway
What We didn't Like:
  • Pretty much everything about the hotel, although the staff were nice

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hotel Review: Residence Inn at Anaheim Resort/Convention Center (California)


Katie's company took all their employees and families to Disneyland to celebrate the company's 75 year anniversary.  We stayed at the new Residence Inn at Anaheim Resort and were very impressed with our stay.  Residence Inn's are great for family travel, but we've rarely stayed in them because they never come up on "friends and family rate."  The hotel worked out very nicely for our family four.


The hotel is sparkling new built in 2016.  The lobby is decorated in a contemporary style and the breakfast area is open and clean.  The rooms were suite style with a nice seating area, full kitchen and large bathroom. 


The location of this hotel is excellent.  It's about a 10 minute walk to the Disney gates.  It's also close to many restaurants.  There is also a large CVS Pharmacy next door for various items.

I would recommend this hotel for any family visiting Disney!

What I Liked:
  • Walking distance to Disney
  • Free breakfast
  • Contemporary decor
What I didn't Like:
  • All the kids (kidding, but not really)
Things We Did:
  • Disneyland
  • Perfect Day at Newport Beach
  • Shake Shack





Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hotel Review: City Living Scholler Hotel and Apartments (Trondheim, Norway)

The City Living Scholler Hotel is a perfect place to book if you're like us and only had one night in Trondheim and wanted to explore the city by foot since it sits right in the center of Trondheim.  The hotel sits in the middle of the city and is walking distance to Nidaros Cathedral, the Nidelva River and countless restaurants and shops.

The Hotel has a bit of a hostel feel to it.  There isn't much a lobby, and what lobby they do have leads you to believe the property isn't going to be very nice.  We were pleasantly surprised when we got upstairs to our room to find that it was spacious, had a nice kitchenette and plenty of space for our family of four.  It is more of an apartment style hotel, so there isn't breakfast or daily housecleaning, but because of that, the rate was very good.

The night we were there was in late June and never got above 50 degrees.  We drove all day from Alesund traveling the north route which included a drive over the famous Atlantic Road.  We also drove through some tunnels that were several miles long and went over a mile under ground below fjords.  We really viewed Trondheim as a stop over before we drove inland toward Sundsvall.  But we really enjoyed this 3rd largest city of Norway and could tell there was young vibrant feel to the college town.  All of Norway was beautiful, but the first 40 miles of our drive inland from Trondheim toward the Swedish border may have been my favorite section.

What we Liked:
  • Location
  • Price
  • Size of the Rooms
What we Didn't Like:
  • No Black Out Drapes




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