MilesForTwo

Trip Report – Arizona/Grand Canyon

My wife had never been to the Grand Canyon before. I had been back when I was a kid. My family took our RV around and visited a couple different national parks. We wanted to make use of the long Memorial Day weekend and were able to find relatively cheap flights to Phoenix.

Since we were flying into Phoenix, this would require us to rent a car for the weekend. I am currently 24 years old so a lot of car rental places charge a ridiculous “underage” driver fee. We ended up renting from Turo. You can read more about our rental car experience here.

We flew in on Friday night and our flight was delayed (which was made bearable by our Centurion Lounge access). I knew we wouldn’t want to make a drive from Phoenix to Williams that night so I booked one night at the Starwood Aloft Phoenix-Airport Hotel.

Hotel #1: SPG Aloft Phoenix-Airport Review

Mind you this hotel was pretty much just a place for us to crash for the night since we wanted to get an early start the next morning to get up to the Grand Canyon. We tried to check in early and request key-less access, but for some reason the request didn’t go through. When we arrived, the hotel staff was friendly enough and got us checked in. The room itself was okay. I wasn’t a huge fan of the decor or the layout of the room. It’s kind of hard to describe. The bed was comfortable though and since we were only spending one night there I can’t really complain. Overall, I’d give it a 6.5 out of 10.

IMG_2672Day 1 at The Grand Canyon

IMG_2687We woke up early the next morning and left Phoenix around 8:30am. We then drove straight to the Grand Canyon National Park. When we arrived at the gate, we ended up spending 15-20 minutes waiting in line to enter. If you had already purchased a park pass, they were sending people through the authorized vehicles entrance. The entrance fee was $30/vehicle. This pass was good for 7 days. Finally once we got into the park, we had to search for parking. It felt like the mall on Black Friday. Every parking lot was packed. We circled for a while before we finally found a spot in a parking lot a couple miles from the canyon and visitor center. Luckily the park has a pretty good tram system setup. It reminded me a lot of the Disney World transportation.

We took the bus from the parking lot to the visitors center. From there we walked to the Rim Trail, which runs along the South Rim of the Canyon for several miles. I must say one of my favorite parts of the trip was seeing my wife’s face when she first laid eyes on the canyon. It was priceless! Even though I had been as a kid, I definitely had a greater appreciation for this natural wonder as an adult.

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IMG_2745We walked along the Rim Trail for a while and then stopped in at the Visitors Center. Overall, there wasn’t any super interesting exhibits.¬†We then walked back to the car and took the 25 mile drive to the Desert View Watchtower, which is on the east side of the canyon. In my opinion, the view from here was even better than around the main Visitors Center area.

We then made the hour drive back to our hotel in Williams and picked up dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.

Hotel #2: Holiday Inn Express & Suites

We arrived at the hotel pretty late in the evening after a long day of driving. We were assigned a hotel room right next to the main lobby. We thought about asking to switch rooms, but we were too tired to care. I also forgot to take pictures of the room. It was rather large with tall ceilings, but it was on the ground floor. Not my cup of tea. My wife ended up not getting a good night’s rest due to all the noise outside our room.

The following day we emailed the Hotel Manager and asked if we could switch rooms. When we returned we checked in with the front desk and they gave us our new keys. The room was on the top floor and far from the elevator. We definitely got a good night’s rest that evening.

The hotel served breakfast every morning. As far as quality goes, for the two mornings we ate, I would say the food was average. Not really anything to write home about. Overall our stay was a positive one. This was mostly due to the accommodating hotel manager who was able to move us to a quieter room. Overall, I’d give this hotel a 7.5 out of 10 rating.

Day 2 at the Grand Canyon

We woke up early the second day. Grabbed breakfast at the hotel and then made the drive north to the Grand Canyon.

13482958_1090303517679545_4527921833355899916_oBy the time we got to the Bright Angel trail head, it was around 8:45am. We started the descent down into the Grand Canyon. There was a rest stop about 1.5 miles down and then another one 3 miles down into the canyon. The trail pretty much consisted of switchbacks that took you 2,000 feet down into the canyon. It was a pretty amazing experience! As you got further down into the canyon it got significantly warmer. We made it down to the 3 miles rest stop, took a long lunch break, and then started our hike back up. The return hike was significantly more strenuous, but after many rest breaks we made it back up to the top. The 6 mile round trip hike took us roughly 7 hours. It was definitely worth it though!

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We were exhausted from our hike and drove back to Williams and grabbed dinner at a lovely little place called: South Rims Wine and Beer Garage. We found this placing using the Yelp app. The beer and wine that we had were great and the food was delicious as well.

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Back to Phoenix

On our third day, we left Williams and headed back to Phoenix. We had some time to kill before we had to drop off our Turo rental car so we drove around downtown. We also made a quick visit to the Penske Racing Museum. The museum was a lot smaller than we anticipated, but it was interesting. Last, but definitely not least, we stopped at the local In N’ Out for some delicious double doubles.

Points/Money Spent Summary:
  • 2x Southwest Flights RT – SEA to PHX: 19,907 Rapid Rewards + $22.40
    • estimated value with SW companion pass: $620 | cpp: 3.00
  • Starwood Aloft Phoenix-Airport Hotel: 3,000 SPG Points
    • estimated value: $80 | cpp: 2.67
  • Car Rental via Turo: $135
  • Gas: $55
  • IHG Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Williams: 40,000 IHG points
    • estimated value: $500 | cpp: 1.25
  • Food: $125
  • Grand Canyon Pass: $30

Total Trip Value: $1,545

  • Total Cash Spent: $367
  • Total Points Spent: 62,907

Typically, IHG points are only worth around 0.5 cents per point (or half a cent each) so I got nearly double their normal value with this redemption. The SPG redemption wasn’t bad either since the average redemption is around 2 cents per point. Overall, points really helped cut down on the cost of this trip. We had a great time in Arizona for Memorial Day weekend and enjoyed a change of pace from all the urban traveling that we’ve been doing.

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