America is a destination which many travellers aspire to visit, either to meet up with kith and kin or take a tour of this great country. I preferred the second option although I have relatives in the USA.
What is so special about USA tour? It forms in two parts viz., first part consists of visit to the West Coast first and then move to the East Coast. The tour of West Coast begins with city of San Fransisco in the state of California and ends with East Coast at New York. The second part consists of visit to New York in the East Coast first and ends with San Fransisco in the West Coast.
I preferred the first option of visiting West Coast first and end it with East Coast at New York through SOTC for a 12 days tour called "American Experience".
The tour itinerary was San Fransisco-2 days, Los Angeles-2 days, Las Vegas-2 days,Niagara-1 day, Williamsfort-1 day, Washington DC-1 day, New York-2 days, Return-1 day = Total - 12 days.
Started from Mumbai International Airport on 3rd May 2017 at 2135 hrs by Etihad Airways and reached Abu Dhabi at 2325 hrs. Onward journey from Abu Dhabi to San Fransisco started at 0225 hrs (UAE time) on 4th May and reached San Fransisco on the morning of 4th May at 9.00 am after 17 hrs flight. As USA is 9.1/2 hours behind India, the first day at USA remained 4th of May.
Lunch was at Bombay Garden Indian Cuisine restaurant. It was refreshing to eat Indian food at restaurants abroad.
First day was allotted for getting rid of jet lag at Courtyard San Fransisco Hotel near the Airport. The rooms are quite spacious and comfortable. It has a lake view on the rear side approacheable from the lobby.
It was a guided tour of city of San Fransisco in the morning. San Fransisco, according to the guide Mr. India Jones is a city of 47 sq.miles with 42 hills. This city is well known for the Golden Gate bridge which was designed by Mr.Joseph B Stausse with active assistance from Charles Ellis, another Engineer. The Golden Gate bridge is an engineering marvel with 740' towers and cables which opened to the public in 1937. It is one of the longest suspension bridges with a length of 1.3 km and a height of 70 metres. An estimated 10 million people are visiting this engineering marvel every year. It is also most photographed bridge.
The city tour also included visit to Union Square, Chinese Square, Lombard Street (which is also known as crooked street), Twin Peaks, Telegraph Hill and Fisherman's Wharf on the Sausalito town. Lunch was at Prabh Indian Kitchen.The Lunch included Vegetarian and Non-vegetarian food. The food was of good quality and tasty.
Evening was reserved for a cruise on the San Fransisco Bay. The cruise started from Sausalito pier and moved around the Alcatraz island which houses the famous Alcatraz jail. The guide informed us that the famous Al Capone was imprisoned at Alcatraz Jail. It has a light house and buildings. It was declared a national historic landmark. It was a nice experience to move under the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the skylines of San Fransisco.
Dinner at Tandoori of India, a restuarant serving Indian cuisines. Night halt was at the same hotel viz., Courtyard Marriot San Fransisco Hotel.
We started from San Frasisco at 8.45 am and reached Los Angeles at 4.30 pm i.e., about 7hrs 45min travel by bus with a stop over at McDonalds at Baker's field for lunch.
In the evening visited Santa Monica Beach, one of the famous southern California beaches. It is about 5 kms in length has has three Piers viz., Santa Monica Pier containing amusement park, acquarium and restaurants, the North Pier provides access to the beach through bridges and walkways, and the Southern Pier contains parking area and hotels. Artists were seen playing piano and other instruments on the pavement to entertain the tourists. It was so breezy, many of the tourists were found holding on to their hats. The weather was also chilly. Later visited Third Street Promenade consisting of open air, car-free blocks for shopping ranging from luxury items to malls and boutiques.
Dinner was at Taj Mahal. The food quality was good and the service was also quick althouh we were a group of 48 tourists.
Night halt was at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Carson at Civic Plaza, Carson, CA. This was one of the best hotels we stayed. The rooms were quite spacious, clean and had all the amenities needed by tourists.
The itinerary included a visit to Universal Studios in the morning at 8.45 am which lasted till evening 5.00 pm.
Universal studio is a large studio with variety entertainment divided into two lots viz., lower lot and upper lot. For the Lower lot, you need to take three escalators down and the upper lot is housed on the ground area. The entertainment includes the thrilling Jurassic Park ride and Transformers' ride and Revenge of the Mummy Ride on the lower lot and Harry Potter and the forbidden journey, Shrek 3D show, Water World show, and other shows like Walking the Dead, Despicable Me, Animal Actors etc. on the upper lot.
The Jurassic Park ride is a heart pounding water ride including a 50foot plunge down a 84foot waterfall. You can also feel water being splashed on you by dinosaurs during the ride.
Harry Potter and the forbidden journey takes you through the familiar classrooms and corridors of Hogwarrs. The soar above the castle grounds on a new 4K HD ride lets you join Harry Potter and his friends in a thrilling adventure.
Walking the Dead is a journey among the so called dead where you suddently find a ghost appearing in front of you or trying to pull you in a dark tunnel with lighting effects.
In Shrek 3-D you see the original 3-D film starring the talents of the original cast.
Waterworld takes you through incredible stunts, jaw-dropping explosions and intense thrills.
And then you have the Studio Tour. You are taken on a train around the Universal Studio to know the screts of Hollywood filmmaking. There is also a 3-D experience of King Kong 30 3-D and a grand finale of Fast & Furious show.
On the way back, the tour included visit to Hollywood Boulevard from where you can see the Hollywood board, Dolby Theatre in the Boulevard where Oscar function is held every year, TCL Chinese Theatre, Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Hills, the residence of the rich of the USA.
Night halt was at the same hotel - Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Carson.
Day 5 started with a bus journey from Los Angeles at 8.45a.m. to Las Vegas lasting 6 hours covering a distance of 400 odd kms. On the way we had a break at Barstow at 10.30a.m. and passing through Nevada desert, Baker's field, Death Valley, Arizona, white space river and reached Las Vegas city at 2.45p.m. having a packet lunch in the bus on the way. Nevada desert has the largest number of bushy plants and Joshua trees which provides greenery to the otherwise barren desert. On the way we saw some casinos and gambling halls like Gold Strike Hotel and Gambling Hall near Sandy Valley & Silverton Casino and Lodge.
After a short break on reaching Las Vegas, we had a High Roller Ride which looks somewhat like London eye but the cabins are much larger and the roller ride is slow in movement providing a panoramic view of Las Vegas City, particularly in the night with illumination all around. It is an awe inspiring sight. It is a 550 foot tall and 520 foot diameter giant Ferris Wheel in Paradise, Nevada. It is one the favourite spots for selfies.
In the night, there was an illumination tour of Las Vegas city which included New York skylines, Bellagio fountains, the Pyramid and Fremont Street. Fremont Street provides a dazzling display on the world's largest TV screen with over a million light bulbs covering three city blocks. The Light Show starts at 6.00pm and runs for 20 minutes every hour till 1.00 a.m. which is watched by a large number of visitors. The Light Show video screen is 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide and suspended 90 feet above Fremont Street's renowned pedestrian mall. It is an awesome sight.
Dinner was at Tamba Indian Cousine. It serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian items but nothing extraordinary.
Night halt was at Monte Carlo Resort and Casino at Las Vegas Blvd. Unlike the other hotels we stayed, this hotel although looks large, the room size is smaller, there is no tea-maker in the room. For breakfast we had to go to a nearby Thamba restaurant. But one attraction was that the entire ground floor is a Casino filled with machines and people were seen playing at the machines till late night, some of them even throughout the night. This resulted in the lobby of the hotel getting crowded. There is another hotel by name Hotel Cafe Hardrock in Las Vegas which displays a guitar as its brand symbol.
The day started at 8.30 a.m. for a visit to the Grand Canyon as an optional site visit. One of the world's most powerful and inspiring landscapes, this phenomenon is 446 kms long, 29 kms wide and 1.6 km deep through which the Colorado river passes from Arizona to California. It takes 2.1/2 hours to reach the Canyon by bus from Las Vegas. On the way we could see Boulder Dam and American Canal, local Casinos, Mahavir ranches and world's largest number of Joshua trees.
There are different options to visit the Canal from different points called rims. The South Rim is more popular. The North rim contains mostly montane forests. The West Rim is where the helicopters pick up passengers. There is a ground tour where the shuttle buses pick up the travellers and take them around the canyon to the different points like Eagle Point, Guano Point and skywalk point.
The most exciting is the West Rim Air and Ground Tour with Helicopter and boat ride. In this tour, a helicopter will pick up 5 passengers at a time (in fact large number of helicopters are in service to cater to the ever increasing visitors) and take them to the bottom of the Grand Canyon which takes about 7 minutes and there you board a pontoon boat for a 9 minutes ride on the Colorado river. This is a photographer's delight. After the helicopter picks up the passengers and drop them back on the helipad, there is a ground tour by shuttle buses covering the Eagle Point, Guano Point and Skywalk point. Number of buses ply every few minutes so there is not much delay. An estimated 5-6 million people visit the Canyon every year. Skywalk is on a U platform made of glass where you can see the view of the Canyon to the depth of 2000 feet. This phenomenon of Grand Canyon was declared as a World Heritage site in 1979.
Visit to Grand Canyon is the most thrilling experience watching the nature's miracle of creation of the Canyon and the flow of Colorado river through it which flows to a distance of 1400 miles.
The evening was free for visit to the local Casinos. Overnight stay at the same Monte Carlo Resort and Casino.
On completion of the tour of West Coast, it was time to move to the East Coast. As the distance between Las Vegas to Buffalo (to go to Niagara falls) is roughly 2650 kms, travel by road was not possible. Hence, we took a flight of Southwest Airlines at 10.00 a.m. and reached Buffalo at 5.15 pm.
In the evening, we could witness the grandeur of Niagara Falls with beautiful illumination from the Canadian side. The meeting point of Lake Erie into Lake Ontario provides a horse shoe view from both United States side as also Canadian side. While the view from US side is sideways, the Canadian side provides a front side view of the falls. That's why tourists prefer to watch the Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. The horse shoe fall has a drop of about 50 metres which is the highest in the world. The falls are located in the Niagara State Park.
People holding visa to enter Canada, can pass through the Rainbow Bridge into Canadian side of the Niagara Falls.
Night halt was at Radisson Hotel Niagara Falls - Grand Island. This hotel has a beautiful lawn and lake view. Watching sunrise from the room balcony was an exquisite experience.
After watching the Niagara falls by night, it was time to visit the falls during day time. After checking out of the hotel, we moved by bus to Niagara Falls for the second time to take a boat ride called the 'Maid of the Mist'. The huge vertical drop of the water fall to a depth of 50 metres creates a mist around the fall which rises to about 8-10 feet above ground level.
We took a boat ride on the Niagara river and approached the horse shoe, where the force of the mist almost blew us out. It was a wonderful experience getting wet in the mist near the fall and hear the roar of the deep fall at close quarters.
After lunch, we moved to Williamsport at 2.00 p.m. and reached there at 6.00 p.m. after taking a short break in between travelling a distance of about 350 kms by bus.
Overnight halt at Genetti Hotel, Williamsport. This is a smaller hotel but the rooms were clean and tidy.
Dinner was at Long Island Pizza restaurant. As no Indian restaurant is available at this place, we were happy to eat pizza at this outlet.
It was time to move to Washinton DC. After breakfast, we moved by bus from Williamsport at 8.30a.m. on way to Washington DC. at a distance of 320 kms.
On the way we visited Hershey Cholocate Factory Outlet located at Pennsylvania at 10.30 a.m. to see how the Cocoa beans turn into delicious chocolate. The tour of the chocolate conversion process was quite interesting. The outlet also provided a large variety of Hershey's chocolates, which are otherwise not available at a single store in such variety. Chocolate shopping was an interesting experience. The outlet also contains a Theme Park with large number of visitors every day.
Lunch was at Comfort Inn - Passage to India restaurant, Harrisburg at 12.30 pm lasting 45 minutes. The food quality and service was good. Thereafter, we drove to Washington DC reaching there at 3.30 p.m.
Upon arrival, we were taken on a guided tour of Washington city, first visiting the National Air and Space Museum which contains a large number of aircraft models and details of space technology used by USA in the past. It takes quite some time to see the various models of old aircrafts and space shuttles. Later, we visited the Lincoln Memorial. Front view from this memorial provides a view to Washington memorial. Opposite to the Lincoln Memorial is the Vietnam Wall which contains the names of the 58300 personnel killed or missing in action in the Vietnam war. We also visited the Capital Hill where the Parliament of USA is housed, and then to see the White House where the US President resides.
An interesting episode was explained to us by the Tour Guide i.e., from The Capital Hill, the White House is not visible which is because then President Andrew Jackson built the Treasury Building between the two, blocking a direct view between the two monuments.
Overnight stay at Courtyard Marriot Hotel, Virginia. The rooms were quite spacious with all required amenities. The surrounding area to this hotel is filled with beautiful flowers.
After breakfast at Virginia, we moved to New York city by bus at 8.30 a.m. reaching there at 3.30 p.m. covering a distance of 540 kms. The bus journey provided a view of the greenery between the two cities.
On reaching New York, we were taken on a local tour to see Wall Street where a bronze bull is installed on the road side, which is supposed to be a good omen to those visiting the Wall Street Building for trading, and Rockfeller Center, United Nations Building, 9/11 memorial and a glimpse of the Central Park. As it was raining at New York on the date of our visit, we could see these places briefly. Dinner was at Simon Indian Palace in New York. This is a busy Indian restaurant in New York, yet their service was good and food quality was also good.
Overnight stay at The Manhattan at Times Square Hotel. This is a busy hotel in Times Square. We were checked in pretty fast and staying on the 16th floor did not pose any delay as there were 4 lifts operating at good speed. The room quality was pretty good and important amenities required by tourists are provided in the room. And the most important was that shopping area was at walking distance from the hotel.
Times Square at night is full of illumination. From 42th street to 47nd street which constitues Times Square and from 32nd to 41st Street, people of all destinations could be seen shopping around even till late in the night. The total number of visitors to this square is estimated to be 131 million a year. Some of the bigger malls like Macys, H & M etc. provide scope for longer hours of shopping. Times Square is the site of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop when an estimated one million viewers visit the square to witness New Year celebrations.
After a continenal breakfast at Hollywood Plaza at Times Square, we set out to visit the Statue of Liberty in the Liberty Island. The island could be reached by ferry leaving from Battery Park near the Hudson river. The Hudson river divides New York on the one side and New Jersey on the other.
The Statue of Liberty, which is made of copper has turned into green color owing to wear and tear over the years. Large number of tourists visit this spot and take pictures. On the way back, we saw the Ellis Island, where the travellers to America were first required to embark in the early part before entering the country.
After lunch, we visited the One World Observatory, the new building constructed on the destruction of the earlier World Trade Center in the bombing attack, which is 101 floors tall with a height of 1776'. We were taken by lift to the 101st floor to have a panoramic view of the entire city of New York and New Jersey. In the lift there was a slide show depicting the rise of New York city. On the way back, we paid homage at the site of what was once World Trade Center.
Overnight stay at The Manhattan at Times Square Hotel.
Before we even realised, the tour was over and we checked out of the hotel to move to the airport at 11.00 a.m. and took the Etihad Airways flight from New York to Abu Dhabi at 3.20 p.m. and arrived at Abu Dhabi at 12.05 p.m. (UAE time) after a 12 hour flight and boarded the connecting Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai on 16th May at 3.00 p.m. and reached Mumbai at 7.00 p.m.
The tour involved travel by road to the extent of 2096 kms and by air ( 2650 kms) between Las Vegas to Buffalo. The tiredness of the travel was overridden by the historic significance of some of the centres and the illumination effects in others and shopping experience at different centres like Sans Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. The beauty of Niagara Falls and the wonder of Grand Canyon coupled with illumination at Las Vegas and New York are the highlights of the tour.
It was a richly rewarding experience travelling from West Coast of USA to the East Coast and get to know the history of the mighty nation.