San Diego Zoo

by CameronM Tue, November 30 2010 19:41

After seeing everything aquatic at Sea World yesterday, today it was time for everything that walked, flew, slithered or crawled. The San Diego Zoo boasts some 4000 species of animals including lions, hyenas, elephants, monkeys and pandas. Add in a few goats and sheep at the petting zoo and a fun playground and you have all the essential elements of an interesting day out for the family.

The Southern California City Pass includes either the San Diego Zoo or the San Diego Wild Animal Park, so we had a difficult choice between two very different experiences. In the end, the proximity of the zoo, being only a few miles from downtown and the fact that we thought it may be easier for our 2-year to see the animals in the smaller enclosures meant that the Zoo was our choice. The Wild Animal Park by contrast is about 30-minutes north of San Diego and spread over 1800 acres, with large enclosures each housing a number of species.

Your admission includes unlimited use of the double-decker buses that regularly loop the main areas of the zoo and the Skyfari, aerial tram that gives a great view of the grounds, the neighbouring Balboa Park and glimpses of downtown.

We started with the guided 35-minute bus tour, which was informative and also helped you plan what animals you wanted to come back and see on foot. Even though it is much smaller than the wild animal park, getting around the zoo still requires a fair amount of walking, although you can use the express bus service, that stops at a number of places around the grounds, if you just want to get from A to B.

After the bus tour we headed to Skyfari that would take us from the front of the zoo towards the Elephant Odyssey. This was a recent $45 million addition to the zoo and is home to a pair of lions, a jaguar, an enclosure of rare condors and of course a herd of elephants (7). The elephant enclosure was certainly impressive, complete with mechanical trees and a large care centre where the pachyderms could come for daily grooming and pampering, including pedicures.

The Elephant Odyssey also included an interpretive walk linking past and present species with a number of exhibits portraying the discovery of fossils and a large selection of statues of prehistoric animals such as the sabre-toothed tiger. In my opinion this was a little excessive as the statues seemed to attract the younger visitors far more than the real, live animals did. There was also a lot of space given to artistic elements of the display that seemed to add little value to the exhibit, but no doubt helped some local bronze artist pay the rent.

What was impressive about the enclosures was that you could certainly get up close and personal, which in the case of the lions, was a rather scary prospect. Like most cats, the lions seemed completed uninterested in us and treated us with a reasonable amount of distain, which I must say in this case was just the way I like it.

What is interesting when travelling with little ones is the thing they find interesting. While walking along the Monkey Trail, Zane repeatedly wanted to go back to see the “clever monkey”, a monkey that had jumped from a tree onto the side of the enclosure about 3 or 4 meters away. His preference was certainly for animals that were active, as we also had to drag him away from the gorilla enclosure, where the 16-year old male was having a great time charging towards the visitors. Something that was a little scary even though we were standing behind very thick safety glass.

Food and drinks at the zoo are expensive, a simple chicken wrap costing about $9, so next time I would bring our own. Both the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park allow you to bring food, although large containers, such as coolers (eskies) are not allowed, but you’d have to crazy to lug around a huge cooler all day anyway.


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San Diego Sea World

by Melita Mon, November 29 2010 19:30

After a late night (but a surprisingly good sleep-in of 9am), we headed out ready for Sea World and on a quest to find breakfast. After a miss-step at Wal Mart (we didn’t feel like a sub for breakfast), we ended up finding a Denny’s. Having heard so much about it, I expected to be served with everything and then the kitchen sink, but while the serving size was excellent, it seems that some of the extras have gone by the wayside. I’m wondering if the rise in obesity has led to some cuts, or just the GFC. Anyway, no complaints. Everything was lovely, but I really can’t face bacon and eggs another day.

One thing that is continually surprising me is the number of Spanish speaking staff. I realise that we are very close to the border from here, but I occasionally feel like I’m actually IN Mexico. I do feel rather stupid. I wish I could switch from Spanish to English and then back again in the same sentence.

So, off to Sea World, where we purchased our Southern California City Pass. It turned out Zane is free as he is under 3, a real bonus and a saving of around $230. He’s definitely old enough to enjoy it though.

We started towards the seal show, but were distracted by the seals being fed outside the stadium. It was a feeding frenzy, and great fun to watch. After finally dragging ourselves away from the entertainment, we got to the show and saw a few good tricks.

We decided to plan the day around the shows and filled in time between with seeing the other parts of the park. So before the dolphin show, we went to the fresh water aquarium (a very old exhibit with many small fish tanks housing different fish, including a tank of piranhas). Zane wasn’t particularly impressed, but then neither were we. The dolphin show was next. I was really looking forward to this, knowing how great the one at Sea World Gold Coast is. I must say I was VERY disappointed. It was more of a pageant than a dolphin show. The dolphins didn’t really do much in the way of tricks at all.

The Shamu (killer whales) show was on next, but on the way we were happily distracted by the Sesame Street Bay of Play. This was an excellent kids activity section, with a huge netting section above the ground and walkways interconnected with climbing tubes. Great fun! We all enjoyed it!

The Shamu show was great. Zane could really see the whales (as they were so huge) and really enjoyed it. At certain points in the show, the whales drenched the crowd with water - the first 12 rows in fact. That tail could splash a LONG way. Thankfully we were well out of the way.

We also saw the polar bears, beluga whales, a walrus (very ugly), and watched some penguins being fed (greedy little things) before finally dragging our sorry butts to the exit, thoroughly exhausted, but happy with our day.

We had a well-earned dinner at a “Souplatation”, a buffet restaurant with salad, pasta, pizza, soups, as well as a desert bar with lots of soft serve.

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Oz to USA - the journey begins

by CameronM Sun, November 28 2010 19:03

Even though planes are fast, the trip to LAX from Brisbane is still long and often painful, especially in cattle-class. We had arrived at the airport very early,  partly because the drive in was quicker than expected and partly because we had wanted to get to check in early to make sure we got seated together.

We had done a bit of research into the feasibility of taking a car seat on the plane as we thought it may be far easier to encourage our active three year old to stay seated during the flight and would be more comfortable for sleeping. Thankfully the process was clearly outlined on the QANTAS website and was fairly straightforward. The main requirement being that we had to phone the airline at least 24-hours ahead to advice them that we would be taking the car seat onboard and then have the seat’s standands stickers sighted at check in.

One benefit of lugging a rather awkward car seat to the gate is that they let you on first, so you have time to get the seat fitted, and while it is a bit of a pain, in our case it certainly did what we wanted and Zane felt right at home and slept quite well.

Arriving on a relatively small terminal at LAX we were surprised by the limited resources available. There was a mobile phone rental desk and a currency conversion desk and that was all. Thankfully there was a sign pointing to the rental car company shuttle pickup point outside. Within minutes we had boarded the shuttle to Thrifty and after a short drive around a few other terminals at LAX we were taken to the off-airport dept.

Having compared different car rental companies and researched into to the various ‘insurance’ fees and charges, I thought we had covered all the bases. We had booked our Thrifty rental car online at Expedia and read enough articles to know that out travel insurance would cover excesses and public liability insurance. This didn’t seem to matter to the guy on check-in at Thrifty, who advised that to purchase the required cover we would be basically doubling the daily price of the car. Standing in the Thrifty lobby, some distance from the airport, after a long flight, having slept less than an hour in the past 24-hours, you certainly feel vulnerable. In the end, we eventually talked him down a little, but I went away feeling we certainly had wasted at least $300 on insurance we already had from our comprehensive travel insurance.

Feeling a little jaded, we walked out to the depot car park, were we could pick the vehicle we wanted (in the right class that is) and we quickly set up the Magellan GPS, fitted the car seat and loaded up the boot with our luggage.

We programmed the GPS to our hotel address in San Diego, said a quick prayer, mentally prepared ourselves for driving on the wrong side of the road and then headed off. Thankfully the road south from the Thrifty depot was very direct and with the help of the GPS we were able to easily navigate the numerous times the highway split.

The first thing you notice about driving on the freeway is the speed. Firstly the lack of speed limit signs and then the complete disregard most people have for them. Seeing as the books say the maximum on most highways is 65 m/h we were aimed at that, but soon found we were being passed by all and sundry, so we set the cruise control to 70 m/h. Even at this speed, we felt like we were standing still as most motorist drove a good 10-15 m/h faster and some sped past like they were on an autobahn.

It’s not that the roads are that great that you could feel safe speeding along either. The highway south was mostly concrete and the state of the road surface was terrible. You felt like you had at least two flat tyres most of the time. The road had also been patched so many times, that it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the line marking and the patches.

Hurtling along at 70 m/h we caught a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean on our right and much to the disgust of our GPS narrator, at San Clemente I took the off-ramp to see if we could find a nice place to stretch and take in the view.  The streets of San Clemente best resemble spaghetti, with roads winding up and down and intersecting all over the place. Worst still, the road are narrow and clogged with parked cars, making it an interesting experience to navigate, especially for someone who has only been driving on the right side of the road for less than an hour.

Eventually we found our way to the beach, but sadly the massive car park required payment, which explained why it was virtually deserted. Since we had neglected to get any money out at the airport (being focussed on getting our rental car), we only had a few dollars on us, so after a quick look at the pier from inside the car we headed off again.

Even though we had booked a non-smoking room, when we opened the door to our room at Best Western Seven Seas, we were confronted with the musty small of cigarettes. It wasn’t so bad that you would complain, just a hint that housekeeping had added the contents of a few ashtrays to the laundry. Thankfully we were able check in a little early and we headed to the in-house café/diner for lunch.

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