Friday, 24 April 2015

[Day 1] Our Ultimate California + Las Vegas Trip In 2014

After months of planning and consideration, our family finally set-off for our first long haul flight to U.S. last December (2014) by joining the 14D11N Ultimate California + Las Vegas tour from Dynasty Travel. I still remember vividly during the preparations, we were worried about the traveling time, food, weather etc and moreover our tour only finalized two weeks before departure due to the dates and group size.

Looking back it had being almost 5 months since we returned from the trip but only till recently I have the time to go through those photos to compile the writeup.  I hope through these related posts I am able to share with you our wonderful memories and encounters during the 14 days west coast U.S. trip.



MUST DO AND MUST HAVE


Before the trip there is a "Must Do" and "Must Have" to take care of as follow:

[MUST DO] Apply for ESTA online
Singapore is one of the countries which participate in VWP (Visa Waiver Program) to travel to the United States for tour or business (visitor visa purposes) within the stay of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. But before that we are require to apply online for the entry authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA ) at least 72 hours prior departure.

The online application takes about 5 - 10 minutes to fill up and the applicant is required to get ready information such as passport and flight details, hotel address and etc. A minimum fees of USD$14.00 per person is required to be paid through credit card during application.

[MUST HAVE] TSA Lock
TSA (Travel Sentry Approved) locks are required for all passengers traveling to the United States of America (USA) because all bags will be electronically screen before it is placed on the airplanes. Therefore if there is a need for security officers to do a physical inspection on the baggage, they have an universal "master" keys to open the locks instead of cutting them.

With this special requirement you have to either purchased luggage bag that comes with built-in TSA Lock or get a separate TSA approved padlock shown above from departmental stores, airport or online to secure your bags. Besides that passenger who is traveling to U.S. is allow with 2 pieces of check-in luggage weighing NOT more than 23kg (making it a total of 46kg) each so please do not packed everything into one bag even though your allowed baggage weight is 46kg .

[MUST HAVE] U.S Notes
It would be good if you prepared enough currency during the tour especially with some small notes that allows to you give tips in tipping country like U.S. Generally it a good form to tip USD$1-2 per person for serving staff just clearing several rounds of your plates (buffet in the hotel) or up to 10%, 18% or 20-25% of the total bills for serving staff who takes your orders, refill your drinks, serve food and etc. On a side note, you are not required to tip in the fast food restaurants as there is no 'table service' where a server brings food to your table.


DYNASTY PREMIUM CLUB


[Transit Lounge] Dynasty Club Pre-flight Services
As a token of appreciation, Dynasty Travel also provide exclusive pre-flight services and facilities to their customers at Dynasty Premium Club located within the transit lounge of Singapore Changi Airport Terminals 1, 2 & 3.

Pre-flight services and facilities include:
  • Free flow of food and beverages (excluded beer and liquor)
  • Workstations with Broadband Internet Access and Wireless LAN
  • Shower and restroom facilities
  • Newspaper and Magazine available
  • Free local phone calls


SQ12 - SINGAPORE TO LOS ANGELES
Stopover in Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan)


SQ12 - Singapore to Los Angeles
Our flight SQ12 (A380) departed from Singapore around 9:30 am to LAX (Los Angeles) with a stopover in Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan) for 90 minutes to refuel and cleaning before heading off 11 hours non-stop to LAX. That makes our estimated arrival time in U.S. around 12:30pm which is 16 hours (during winter) ahead of Singapore timing.

[Singapore Airlines] Inflight Entertainment
First time on board A380 aircraft and we were seated on the lower deck on the front row with more legroom. Or else traveling in a long haul flight for more than 18 hours is no joke especially with a kid. So in order to keep everyone occupy during the flight a good inflight entertainment is essential. Singapore Airlines inflight entertainment provides passengers on board with over 1,000 entertainment options (movies, music, games and etc) available on their KrisWorld which is accessible via both a touch screen handset or the personal 11.1-inch touch screen monitor.

Apart from that passenger can also make use of the USB ports which is conveniently located under the monitor or chair (depending on your seating) to charge personal devices such as iPhone, iPad, iPod and etc during the flight in the Economy Class cabin.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Singapore to Tokyo) - Kid's Lunch Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] About two hours after departure, we had our first meal on board where the boy gets his Kid's Meal loaded with main course, drinks, dessert and snacks to keep him occupy for at least an hour while watching his favourite movie.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Singapore to Tokyo) - Adult's Lunch Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] The Adult menu comes with a choice of International or Japanese selection.  As shown above, I pick the Japanese Menu with appetizer (burdock mushroom salad), Japanese Cold Noodle, Braised Pork Belly served with veggie and steamed white rice plus roll and butter at side. The braised pork was rather tough with a hint of porky smell which I left it untouched after a bite.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Singapore to Tokyo) - Dessert
For dessert we were lucky to get our favoruite chocolate flavour ice-cream cone each where we enjoyed while watching the in-flight movie.

Sky view of Tokyo, Japan from the window seat before landing.
After 7 hours we reached Narita Airport (Tokyo) at 5.30pm for a 90 minutes stopover. And during disembarkation we have to bring along all our hand-carry because anything left behind on board would be disposed for security reasons. Besides our tour leader had also advised us to clear the security check as soon as we were out of the aircraft just in case it might take some time due to the unexpected crowds.

[Stopover] Narita Airport (NRT), Tokyo Japan
Once we have cleared the security check, we went for some quick shopping to get Japanese snacks such as Matcha Kit Kat, Tokyo Banana and etc. And if you are fast enough you might even have ample time to grab a bowl of hot ramen to satisfy your craving before heading back to the aircraft. (note: currency used is in Japanese Yens, but they do accept US Dollars but any surplus will be returned in yen)

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Kid's Dinner Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] After the stopover in Japan, food wise was rather towards the Japanese style with Baked Cheesy Penne and Honey Drumlet as main, strawberry mousse cake for dessert and oreo cookie plus orange juice as sides.  

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Adult's Dinner Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] For dinner instead of Japanese cold noodle and grilled salmon, I go for International choice with appetizer (roasted chicken with romaine lettuce salad) and main (pan-fried pork in mushroom sauce served with vegetable medley and mashed potato). Sides are cheese and crackers plus roll and beverages. 

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Dessert
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] Highlight of the night is something that we were waiting for;  Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream which taste so creamy and good. Always feel blessed to enjoy Häagen-Dazs whenever we were traveling with Singapore Airlines.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Light Snacks
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] After dinner we continued our movie marathon before catching up some sleep for  the night while the flight continue it's route to Los Angeles. One thing I love about long haul flight was you would never go hungry even in the middle of the night. With the light bits menu, you can always ask the flight attendant for snacks like chip, donut, muffin, nut or even fruits whenever you feel hungry.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Kid's Breakfast Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] Breakfast time (around 2:30am in Singapore) with another approximately 3 hours to reach Los Angeles airport. Here the half awake boy was having American Style Breakfast (omelette, hasbrown and mixed veggies) with milk, juice, roll and cookies. Gosh, kid's meal always look so good and fancy with all those bit of snacks and beverages.

[Singapore Airlines] Meal On Board (Tokyo to Los Angeles) - Adult's Breakfast Menu
[Singapore Airlines Inflight Menu] I prefer Asian dish so I take Rice Vermicelli which served with sliced fish, black mushroom and vegetables. The rice vermicelli itself was good but the fish was rather too salty for my liking.

[SQ 12 Singapore to Los Angeles] Bird-eye view of the city
Bird-eye view of the city before touching down to Los Angeles Airport. At that point of time our body were fatigue but on the other hand we were all excited to start our 12 days (excluding the days on flight) journey in California.

[UPON ARRIVAL] US Customs Declaration Card
One important thing to take note; travelers are required to complete the physical declaration form shown above (will be given by airlines or cruise lines before disembarking in the U.S. ) or you can do it online, print and bring it along on the trip and present to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) upon arrival in the U.S.

And with the recent regulation change, family members (members of a family residing in the same household who are related by blood, marriage, domestic relationship, or adoption) are allow to file a joint customs declaration for items acquired abroad to enable streamlines passenger processing too.


DOUBLETREE HILTON HOTEL, ANAHEIM
(Orange Country)


City Map of our hotel (DoubleTree Hilton), The Outlet and Disneyland California

[Accommodation] DoubleTree by Hilton Anaheim, Orange Country
DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Anaheim - Orange County was the first hotel that we stayed in U.S. which is about 30 minutes away from LAX airport. There are fast food restaurants like Wendy's and Starbucks across the street of the hotel plus The Outlets at Orange was also within walking distance (10 minutes). Furthermore, hotel guests are also entitle complimentary shuttle to and back from Disneyland® Park too.

[Accommodation] DoubleTree by Hilton Anaheim, Orange Country
The hotel is equipped with WiFi access throughout the compound and the non-smoking deluxe room that we stayed comes with comfortable double beds, 42-inch HDTV with cable, mini fridge and microwave. On top of that hairdryer, coffeemaker with coffee, iron with ironing board, two dual-line phones with dataports are also available for guests convenience.

[Accommodation] Complimentary Signature Chocolate Chips Cookies from DoubleTree, Hilton
And as a welcome gift from the hotel, every check in guest will also received one of this signature chocolate chips cookie which is baked fresh everyday by the hotel. We love the chewy texture with hint of crunch on each bite which makes us feel warm especially when we were away from home.

DoubleTree by Hilton Anaheim - Orange County
100 The City Dr S
Orange, CA 92868
United States
Telephone: +1 714-634-4500
Website: doubletree3.hilton.com


[Orange, California] The Outlets at Orange
After settled our luggage bags in the room, our tour leader bought us to The Outlets at Orange which is a one-stop open air shopping mall 10 minutes away from our hotel. The mall feature many brand names (CROCS, H&M, Forever 21, Levi's) of retail and outlet stores plus dining options ranging from fast food (burger, pizza, sushi, Chinese food and etc) to full service restaurants.  And  since it was our first day, Chris (our tour leader) told us not to rush into shopping mood as there other better factory outlets along the trip.

THE OUTLETS AT ORANGE
20 City Blvd W
Orange, CA 92868
United States
Website: http://www.simon.com/mall/the-outlets-at-orange


Stay connect with Mobile SIM Cards
[Stay Connect] Our aim to The Outlets was to walk around, have come coffee and bite as well as purchase the tourist mobile SIM cards in order to stay connect with the family members (easier to locate each other during the trip) and friends back home.  If you are keen to get a SIM card, there are mobile outlets like  AT&T and T-Mobile at The Outlets or other major shopping malls depending on which city or states that you are in.

We bought our SIM cards from T-Mobile which comes with unlimited talks, text and data plan in either 1GB, 3GB or 5GB with 4G LTE Data. For me since I am constantly checking information of the places and routes that we were heading plus updates on my social media, I picked up the 3GB bundle which cost USD$71.00 (about SG$91 after conversion) per month without any contact and you can top-up the data usage anytime when it hits 3GB. Although it might seems expensive but when the amount is divided over 12 days (about SG$7.50 per day) it was consider cheaper when compared to overseas data roaming.

Overall we were happy with T-Mobile services which cover more than 90% of the locations that we went in U.S. except on some routes to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon where there were totally no services.

Japanese Pasties from Narita International Airport

Dinner or Supper
I think due to the time differences and long haul flight we actually went to bed around 7.30pm (11.30am in Singapore) that night after we came back from The Outlets. But after a few hours of sleep it seems that our mind is playing trick with the fatigue body and we all woke up in the middle of the night at around 2.30am (6:30 pm in Singapore) to get our "dinner" fixed.  Luckily there were some Japanese Pastries which my brother bought earlier at the Narita Airport plus donuts and instant cup noodle/porridge to fill our tummy.

Till next post I would share about Disneyland in California. But for now, hope you have a great weekend ahead.


Disclosure: This 14 days West Coast USA tour package is booked through Dynasty Travel, Singapore on our own expenses. Therefore all opinions expressed in these related posts are on our own.

3 comments:

  1. Hi!

    Thanks for the useful tips provided in you post. Our family is traveling to the USA in Oct.

    Would like to know more about the T-mobile plan. Was the the SIM card and the plan separately? Am reading their website and an trying to decide which one should we get.

    Am looking at the US$50 prepaid under the individual plan. Does it have to be activated? Or is it one of those that I can load and use?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, can i check whether this hotel is clean in the sense that did u encounter any bedbus? This is because i found online that LA has a high bedbug incidence rate. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Peng Long, So far those hotels that we stay-in during our trip are quite clean and good so we have no problem on that.

      Delete

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