We only planned one day in Vegas, partly because people said it wasn’t that great to take kids to, but mainly because we saw it as a good stop over on our way home to LAX. We planned for half a day and one night and thought with that arrangement we could see enough to say we had been and get a feel for it, and if it wasn’t so great, we were only there for a few hours before heading out to Cali for our flight home!

It turns out however that Vegas is mint, and not did we love it but Ethan still says now that he wants to live there! We actually wish we had scheduled in a couple of days there, and had been able to do more because we all totally loved it. Yes it was rather sketchy in places, very busy, and smelt like weed in most places, but mainly it was absolutely fabulous. We were all amazed by the strip, and we really hope that we can return again in the not too distant future!

We stayed in the Hotel Rio which is located off the strip, but still in walking distance. This hotel is MASSIVE! And even had a zipwire you can pay to go on across the two buildings. The rooms were also massive (considered more as “suites”), and ours had twin queen beds, a corner sofa, dressing area, bathroom and lovely views! It was £76 for the night for all 5 of us, and we also had to pay a resort fee of £35 upon arrival which is normal to all Vegas hotels! It wasn’t the cheapest, but was value for money!

Vegas with kids 

I get that to some people seeing Vegas with kids is not doing it right! But we have always been of the opinion that our kids will not stop us from seeing the wonders of the world, and having kids along for the adventure just means you get to see it from a different angle! So here is what Vegas looked like for us with our 3 kids!

Pool – Most hotels have pools in Vegas, but for us this was a must to feel like “a proper holiday”! The pool at hotel Rio was great for all of the kids as it gradually got deeper, and the waterfall feature added a little extra fun! Once we had checked in, it was getting on to 5pm so I took the kids down to the pool whilst Nathan did online check in in preparation for the next day. It was cooler than we hoped, but warm enough for a good hour or so in the pool to play and chill after the long drive down from Utah.

Strip by night – after we had bought some budget pizzas from little caesars for dinner (we were skint by this point and this was where we saw the shady Vegas), we drove down the whole strip to show the kids what Vegas was all about! They were going nuts and absolutely loved it as we passed by each enchanting theme and part of the world!

Driving down the strip at night was busy, but nowhere near as busy as if we had walked it. It worked well driving because it meant we could cover it all in a shorter space of time, and also meant that all 3 kids were tucked safely in the car and we could see everything without worrying about where they were in the crowds. Vegas is so cool by night with all of its fancy lights and night life and even seeing by car is a fun experience!

Walking the strip in the morning – Before we set off to Los Angeles the next morning, we decided that we wanted to get closer to some of the famous spots on the Las Vegas Strip that we had seen the previous night. Nathan wasn’t as bothered as Ethan and I were (he was keen to get to LA), and so he waited in the car with Alice down near the Luxor and we (Ethan, Megan and I) hopped out at New York, New York and walked a little bit of it!

It was about 7.30am and whilst there were a few people around (some rather questionable), it was a really good time of day to explore with the kids, because it was so quiet and not too hot! We saw New York, New York, Hershey, Excalibur (apparently where we are staying next time?!) and Luxor (which I loved)!

It’s like a giant toy town, and was quite the little adventure and a great goodbye to our flying Vegas stay!

Shows – We planned on taking the kids to see the light show at The Mirage, but due to time restraints, tired kids, and us choosing to drive the strip instead of walking it, this didn’t pan out! This and others are on our bucket list for next time!

M&M’s – We love M&Ms and hoped we would have time to see the huge shop too, but as we were late getting into Vegas with the traffic (there was an accident), we were sad to not do this either, but from what we heard before we went, and saw from a distance, I think it would be great for kids!

On to LA…

From Vegas to L.A we had just a 4 hour drive. Our flight wasn’t until 5pm, and so we had planned on an early start with hopes of getting there by lunch, and thus giving us enough time to see a few things before making our way to the airport home to London! It was the last leg of what had been an epic road trip, and so was quite easy going, and as we hadn’t had chance to see much on our very first day due to rain, we hoped to squeeze in a couple of famous sights when we made it to Los Angeles. It was this excitement that kept our feet heavy to the pedal and helped us make good time!

The journey was fine, and after we made it to L.A. we of course got stuck in so much traffic! Apparently traffic in Hollywood is bad at the best of times, but it was also Spring break and so we were going nowhere fast! In the end, we only managed a quick cruise through Hollywood, some snaps of the sign, and that was all!

It was Ethan that noticed the sign first and we are all super excited to see it in real life – such an iconic place and we were there! It was brilliant!

The flight home was fine (minus a meltdown on take off from Alice), and jet lag hit us hard, but Air New Zealand were fab and this holiday completely wonderful!

We hoped to see the Ocean and famous beaches of LA, the Hollywood Boulevard and more friends in Utah. And whilst this was a little disappointing, we look back on all of the things we saw and experienced; all of the beauty of dessert, canyons and mountains, and all of the people we hugged and spent time with. We look back on all of the sunshine we had, the snow storms and the yummy treats we enjoyed, during our 2 weeks in the states and wonder how on earth we could ever be disappointed? It was an incredible adventure, filled with memories to last a lifetime.

From California to Arizona, through the Grand Canyon and on to Utah, and back Via Vegas, we drove over 2,000 miles, listened to “The Greatest Showman” Soundtrack 100’s of times and had an epic road trip together! Of course we want to return and do more of what we loved, and see all of the things we didn’t get a chance to see (and more), but for now we are still loving talking about our adventures in America, and are all so grateful to have enjoyed such a wonderful family holiday Stateside!

Follow:

The second leg of our road trip took us from Arizona to Utah. The last time I wrote of our holiday in the USA I was up to the part where we had had an epic day at the Grand Canyon prior to setting off up to St George for the night – you can read about that all here.

So yes – We left The Grand Canyon and made our way to St George, where we had a hotel booked for a nights stay, before driving up to the Salt Lake area to spend a week with Family and Friends. This particular night of driving, which took us through the Canyon, was long and felt the hardest part of our Journey. We were pretty tired, there were not a lot of places to stop and get food, and the Reservation/Dessert at night-time is more than a little scary.

We finally made it to our Hotel around midnight and flopped into bed. I was pretty sick that night with something I had eaten for lunch (Wendy’s Chilli) and it was all a bit of a rough/long night! Thankfully by early afternoon the next day, and lots of water, I felt mostly myself again!

The hotel was a bargain at £60 for the night (inc a buffet breakfast) and was such a lovely room we had. We all rested well after the adventures of the previous day, and after said yummy breakfast, we had a lovely little wander around the LDS Temple and Visitors centre in St George.

After our brief visit, we hit the road again and made the almost 5 hour journey from St George to Provo (pit stop) and then onto Herriman where we had our base for the week with Nathan’s cousin. We saw a friend on the way, loved the snow capped mountains and bough a huge pizza for lunch from a tiny place owned by an Amish family!

Once in Utah it felt like home from home. It was so lovely to see everyone, catch up and chat, and whilst we were obviously on holiday, staying with family and seeing friends at parks and out for dinner, all just felt so very natural and normal. Both Nathan and I have been to Utah before, and so we were both comfortable in our surroundings and knew of all of the places we wanted to take the kids to. Looking back, our week in Utah was a good balance of days out/Touristy things, and chilling and reunions with our lovely family and friends!

Temple Square

Our first day there we felt pretty well rested and were very keen to take the kids up to Temple Square in Salt Lake City (and they were pretty keen to go). It is a special place in our religion, and an impressive place generally for people to walk around and see. We knew that there would be plenty to see and do to fill the day! We met some cousins/2nd cousins, and whilst it was a little nuts navigating the kids in a busy place, it turned out to be such a lovely time together.

We took them first to The Lion House – an historic house where one of our early Prophets lived, and then onto the Churches office building where you can take a tour to the top and look over the city from the roof! Both were super exciting and interesting places, and the views from the Church Administration building were stunning!

From here we walked around the outside of the Salt Lake temple, and then across the road to the conference centre (and then back again to the Visitors centre). It obviously took way longer than we anticipated with all of kids in tow, but they loved it and we had a really lovely and memorable family day out!

If you are ever in Salt Lake it’s a good tour to take and place to visit – you don’t have to be Mormon to look around it, and all of it is super interesting about our Church History and beliefs.

Wheeler Historic Farm

Wheeler Historic Farm was such a lovely day out that we did, again with cousins and extended family. It was a hot day, and started off with a big family picnic at the park next to it – It ended with us getting shakes and root beer floats!

Wheeler farm is a FREE farm, which was such a novelty, and it felt very much like an American TV set for an old farm movie! I loved it all, and as we wandered around looking at old machinery and the few animals that they have there, it was so pretty and fun for all. I was excited to see you could have a milking cows experience for just a few dollars, but unfortunately for me and my bucket list, it was later than we planned on staying until! The kids however enjoyed a wagon ride behind the tractor for just $2 each… another great day out filled with fun, adventures, family and fresh air.

Conference and Easter Weekend

After a few days out and gallivanting around places of interest (half of which we never actually went to) it was Easter weekend, and for us as members of the LDS church – our semi annual conference weekend too. This felt such a novelty to be in Utah for this, as we were able to get tickets to go to a live session of it, as opposed to our usual watching of it at home online!

We did watch most of it with his Cousin on their TV, but then on the Sunday morning Nathan and I had the opportunity to go back up to Salt Lake City and go to the morning session of conference. It was a beautiful sunny Easter Sunday, and we began by seeing “Music and The Spoken word” by the Mormon Tabernacle choir. This was breathtakingly beautiful and made me feel so happy to be there with my love!

The session itself was as inspiring and uplifting as we imagined it would be, and it was a real highlight for us both on this part of our holiday.

It felt a little strange to be away from home during Easter – mainly because I missed scoffing down a big chocolate egg whilst in my PJs! But Naths cousin did a lovely egg hunt in the garden for the kids, where they had little sweeties in plastic eggs. And then on Easter Sunday evening, when we got back from Conference, we gathered with his cousins for a lovely Easter dinner and plenty of laughs!

Reunions

I have a lot of friends in Utah that I lived with when I was over there and who mean a lot to me. We keep in touch on social media, and now other apps too, and it is such a blessing to remain a part of each others lives even though we live so many miles apart.

I was so excited to see them all (and relieved that it felt “just like yesterday”) when we met up on various occasions. We had so much to talk about, so many laughs to have, and we shared many delicious meals from “Chick-Fil-A” (which we got “on the house” because we were British!!) to fake cafe rio at a gathering in our honour. We had park days with the kids, chilling at houses and I felt so happy being with such treasured friends, individuals and family.

Reunions both with my friends, and with Nath’s family are what made our visit to Utah so wonderful and special. We wish we could see those faces and hang out with them far more than we are able, but we love living in England and their homes and hearts are in the states. But we will always treasure the time we get to hang out when they visit us or we can visit them – We hope that this is more frequent than it has been, as we treasure these experiences and memories!

Thanks Utah – for cheapo Root beers, More Costco Pizza, Chick-fil-a, Thai food, Five Guys, fake Cafe Rio, delish home cooked meals, and lots of love and laughs! It was a fabulous week and Easter Weekend, and we loved seeing everyone!

Follow:

2 weeks worth of holiday pictures, and over 2,000 miles travelled across 4 different states, isn’t an easy task to now  condense into one blog post (how could I do it justice?). And so as I have spent this last week reflecting on what a great holiday we all enjoyed, and as I have been sharing the odd pictures with friends while retelling tales of our adventures, I saw how massive of a task it would be to blog about such an epic trip in a few 100 words and decided that to really give you a feel for our trip, I would do this particular holiday over 3 posts… beginning with our first week in Arizona!

London to LA 

Before our trip, so many people said to us they couldn’t think of anything worse than an 11 hour flight with kids… Especially when one of them wasn’t even 2 yet. But we obviously like a challenge, and whether brave or just delusional we took on that challenge! After a 7am start on Wednesday the 22nd of March we drove 5 hours from Yorkshire to London Heathrow, for our 11.25 hour flight to LA.

Far from being the closest airport to us, it did however enable us to fly for a lot cheaper to America than the northern ones – thus making this whole adventure a reality! We found that on the whole there are some really good deals with Air New Zealand from Heathrow to LA (go check it out right now) and as an airline we could not fault them. They were great with the kids, the food was lovely, and the seats felt modern, clean and comfortable.

The kids were fab on the way there… they were mega excited and we were mega excited too, and so as a result of us all being super excited, the first half of the flight was simply great. They watched movies, they snuggled in their seats with their blankets, and then watched more movies. They ate the pre bought treats I packed (this is an essential) and enjoyed the yummy on board meals (Butter Chicken curry and rice with salted caramel Ice cream, and a calzone pizza and Jam & Cream scone before landing!). And then… you guessed it, they watched more movies!

As the hours passed by and we went way beyond what would have been bedtime at home, Ethan and Megan sat dozey eyed looking at their screens before falling asleep for a couple of hours. Alice on the other hand became increasingly fidgety and tired, and therfore very emotional. I walked with her up and down the plane, and stood in the galley at the back rocking her whilst she screamed her head off. At one point in life that would have made me paranoid about what others thought, but at this particular point, and in this moment of desperation, I didn’t care as long as she would finally doze off!

And she did…She gave in eventually, and managed a couple of hours before landing, enabling both Nathan and I to watch a couple of things too and enjoy the remainder of the flight. They all awoke as we landed, and we smiled that we had done it – an 11.25 hours with three kids – High 5!

Then was the hardest part of it all – Border control in LA! Let’s just say it felt like complete unorganized chaos, and with sleepy parents, 3 exhausted kids, no AC and a mega long line moving at 0.5 miles per hour it was HARD! After 90 minutes of that I had zero patience left and so approached a worker, who after some chat bumped us up to almost the front so we could get out and get to the car rental place, and of course eventually get the kids (and us) to bed!

A while later we had all of our luggage, picked up our “pimped” Nissan Rogue, and had a bed for the night in a shady feeling Motel. We slept, we showered and we settled in to life in the USA! We were here and we were more excited than the day before.

The Drive!

For weeks leading up to our trip, all we could talk about was dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean! We spoke of walking down the Hollywood boulevard and snapping shots in front of the iconic sign… and we dreamed of laying on the beach for an hour or 2, to recover from an 11 hour flight, and soak up the fact we were finally in America!

But none of this happened, at least not at this stage of our trip! Rather we were greeted with a tropical storm. Warm yes, but also very grey and lots and lots of rain! We decided that very first morning (after ordering our first stack of pancakes) that we would just go ahead and start an earlier drive over to Arizona to escape the grey and wet weather that was too much like home!

We took the I10  for 6 hours, with a stop off in Blythe for some tacos, and made it finally to Mesa early evening! It was the first of many long drives and like them all  (as you will see) was filled with so much natural beauty. This was sprung on us in abundance when crossing the Arizona border meant us seeing real life massive Cacti for the first time and it was such a novelty for us all (and especially the kids)!

Mesa Arizona 

Mesa Arizona was my home for well over a year, and I have missed it so much! Of course it has changed a lot since I was there 11 years ago, but the smell of the warm dry air and street names felt oh so familiar and I couldn’t get enough of it – it was like coming home.

We stayed in Mesa for 4 nights at one of my friends houses, which was so great. There we were able to catch up, chat late into the night, and reminisce. It was good for the kids too as they found new friends, and had other kids to play with which they thoroughly enjoyed. And then of course staying with friends or family means that is also great for the bank balance too! (Thanks Rachel). It was lovely living there as a local again for a few days, as well as going on a few adventures, and generally just seeing into friends lives a little more and living the American dream!

Whilst a lot of our trip here was about touring around the people and places that were important to me, we were also conscious that it was still a family holiday and so we wanted to do some activities that were fun and would build lasting memories too. The first day I started at the top of my my list and we had lunch at my most favorite of places – Cafe Rio (Priorities) and as hoped Nathan loved it too! Then with bellies full of deliciousness, we headed downtown to “Main Street” where they have an LDS Temple and Visitors centre. During Easter they also have an Easter pageant here, and so the remainder of our day (and evening) was spent here with friends… a place where most of my days were spent too 11 years ago!

We walked around and looked, played at the splash pad in Pioneer Park opposite, and then met more friends for a picnic tea and an evening watching the Pageant. It was such a lovely day in such a special place, that felt utterly surreal, but we lapped it up and had an absolutely fab time.

The following day we took our adventures to the next level when one of my friends (and his kids) took our family to Superstition Mountains for a hike. This was something I was greatly looking forward to as I have, for so long, wanted to explore the dessert a little more. The hike took us just a couple of miles up a track to the bottom of the mountains, where we found some Native American hieroglyphs – they were so cool! The kids absolutely loved everything about it (until Megs fell into a cactus), and had fun running round the desert and clambering up rocks with their new American pals!

Once at our destination we had our picnic and explored a little cave whilst admiring the incredible views and scenery. It was a warm day, but thankfully not too hot, and whilst I was somewhat anxious about potential scorpions and snakes, it didn’t seem to matter as it was still such a lovely time and Nathan and I loved just being in the desert, seeing the massive cacti and feeling the heat.

That evening the kids cooled off in the pool when we met up with an old friend and his family. It was such a great day, and then before we knew it we only had one last, and so spent the rest of the weekend mostly just driving round old places I lived and seeing old friends I love!

The Grand Canyon

We left Mesa on Monday morning after a delicious breakfast at the cutest of places in Gilbert! “The Gilbert House Restaurant”, whilst a little off track, was the loveliest of places to meet one of my friends for last minute chats and a hearty American breakfast. I loved everything about it; the food was incredible and I seriously felt like I was on “Anne of Green Gables” as soon as we walked up to it. It was a great start to our last day in Mesa!

Set up for the day food wise, we drove up the highway, passing Scottsdale etc until we reached Flagstaff. Here we had a toilet break and a late lunch before a shorter 1.15hr drive to the Grand Canyon National park.The scenery was beautiful, and as it blended from desert landscapes to picturesque woodlands, the temperature dropped and we soon found ourselves in a blizzard! It was the weirdest thing, and we couldn’t believe our eyes…especially to be at the Grand Canyon National park and seeing snow. As I stood there in my sandals, all I could do was laugh my head off!

The Grand Canyon and national park were quite possibly one of the major highlights for us all on this trip! It was so incredibly beautiful and each of us stood in total awe and amazement as we stood high on the edge looking over it. At this point, the sun came out and it was just spectacular! We weren’t there long, but it was long enough to appreciate it’s vastness, read of it’s people and see some local wildlife crossing the road.

It costs $30 for a car (weekly pass) which felt pricey for a couple of hours, but is completely worth it for a week. I would definitely go back here and explore it for longer, and would love to visit the Navajo stalls that line the road as you drive away from it! If you have a chance to go, you totally should (but beware of mountain lions!). It’s such an adventure and beautiful place, and we couldn’t believe our eyes, or believe we were there!

The canyon itself, and the drive down from it/ through it, and through the reservation is so fascinating and exciting. It is for sure the greatest of adventures! Of course it was a little more scary when darkness crept in, but with sleeping kids, it was an easy drive for the remaining 5 hours it took us to get to St George, Utah.

What a brilliant end to our time in Arizona!

Follow:

Our Family in March have travelled about 6,600 miles in the last 10 days. We have flown across the atlantic for 11 hours (yes all 5 of us), and then driven across 3 states of America, seeing everything from giant cacti and Native American hieroglyphs, to the Grand Canyon and Salt Lake City Temple – to name a few! We have had blazing hot sunshine and snow storms, and eaten stacks of pancakes, lots of Pizza’s, and are drinking root beer galore! The kids love that they have been allowed chocolate cereal here and chocolate milk and “Soda” – it’ been epic as basically all of the things we say no to at home, we may have said yes to on this holiday, and of course they have absolutely been loving it!

 So yes… with treats and travels, this month has been quite the adventure for the Smiths!

This month we have so many gorgeous and special pictures of our family, it was hard to choose which ones to use. People have been eager to capture us all together and I have loved it, because I have loved all of this time we have had together as a family. It has felt such a treat to spend so much time with Nathan, and to have hours of driving to have some great chats together. We have seen some incredible things and I am grateful that we have been able to share them as a family, creating wonderful memories!

The pictures I have chosen were all taken last week when we were in Mesa Arizona. The hiking ones are when we went with my friend and his kids to Superstition mountains and walked up to some Native American Indian hieroglyphs. It was only a 4 mile round trip but going up hill in hot weather was a little bit of a challenge, but then the incredible drawings in the rocks, and the views and scenery made it so worth it – They were just fantastic and super cool!

During the hike Megan had a run in with a giant cactus (true story), and ended up having to have the spikes pulled out of her leg. It was rather sore, but she was brave and it didn’t bother her too much. Towards the end she skidded on the rocks and grazed her arm and knees, so it was certainly a day to remember complete with scars to prove it! I loved being out in the desert together – the views and scenery were amazing – and we loved the history of the location. Ethan had a blast climbing up rocks and exploring with the little boy that came with us, and he was totally in his element all day.

The other picture I have chosen were taken at the LDS Mesa Temple where we went to see the visitors centre and have a walk around the beautiful grounds, and then the other was outside this cute little pancake house we had breakfast at before we left to drive to the Grand Canyon.

The Mesa Temple is an iconic spot in Mesa, and it is where I had the privilege of serving an 18 month mission for our church back in 2006 – 2007. The same day the picture was taken we had fun playing in the splash pad in the park opposite, and then a picnic tea on the grass with our friends whilst we watched the annual Easter pageant. It has been 10 years since I was there but it was great to reminisce and soak it all in.

Mesa was such a great few days, with great people and an opportunity for us as a family to experience a glimpse of what my life was like when I lived there. I just loved being back and seeing everyone, but ultimately sharing it with Nathan and the kids.

Before we left on this trip Nathan and I had a great night out with several couples in the village to celebrate our next door but 1 neighbours 40th! It was a lot of fun as it was great to chat and get to know everyone better and dance, and generally socialise in the village. It was also great as it was a 20’s theme and so we were able to dress up and have some laughs. It felt lovely to become more a part of our neighbourhood and made us feel even more settled than we already did.

it was also great to see both Ethan and Megan go up a reading level at school, and also have a really positive parents evening too. It was good to come away and leave as things felt mostly in a positive place, and the things that didn’t (I had a low period following mothers day and a few other things) were soon in a distant memory as we immersed ourselves in our travels.

The kids have had their moments here on holiday, but mostly they have been so brilliant with all of the people we have seen and all of the driving we have done. It’s been so tiring, and of course that at times has been way too much for them (and us), but ultimately they have been great and we have had a great March. It ‘s weird to not be having Easter in England, and therefore no tasty big chocolate eggs, but  this month will be long remembered as the ultimate adventure for us all.

 I love that we still have another few days running into April to build more memories and see more exciting things together here in the states. I love our little crew – this family we have made and built, and I love that we are not afraid to take the plunge and see the world together… it has been so fun and joyful and a great month for us!

This Month We Are Grateful For…

Safety whilst travelling
US family and friends (and some free accomodation with them)
Root beer
Water in the desert
Sunshine
Beautiful Desert scenery
Cheap “Gasoline”
Our cool rental car
Our holiday in America
New friends
Hardworking kids
Great Neighbours
The Me + Mine Project - Dear Beautiful
Follow: