Itinerary: Road Trip from Chicago to Badlands, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton

Itinerary: Road Trip from Chicago to Badlands, Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton

Leisure travel was far different in 2020 compared to the previous three plus decades of my life due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. It was important to do your due diligence in just about every aspect of trip planning. It was also important to assess whether the risk-benefit analysis favored flying or driving, and depending on your personal health or those around you at home, if traveling for leisure was something that should have been done at all. With all these considerations in mind, my family (wife, toddler son, and infant son) took a road-trip out to 4 different national parks. Initially we had booked a round-trip flight on American Airlines since both legs of the trip had a half-empty plane. However, as we got closer to departure, the Chicago to Bozeman, Montana flight started getting more and more crowded. Two days before our flight, I received a courtesy message from American Airlines that the flight was expected to be full. They gave me two options: A) I could get my miles refunded without any cost to reinstate them or B) I could book another flight for the same day which routed me through Dallas. Getting off the plane in a state that was a hotbed for COVID at the time? No thank you. We took option A and decided to do a one-way car rental and then fly back from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This was also going to be a test-run to see how our 22 month old and 4 month old (at the time) would handle a lengthy drive. Driving also allowed us to add Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota to our itinerary since we weren’t going to drive 1,500 miles from Chicago to Glacier National Park in Montana in one shot. The benefit of driving also allowed us to do some research and plan our stops away from COVID-19 hotbeds. It required meticulous planning and multiple calls to various hotels to see what precautions they were taking for COVID-19. The least they can do is ensure all staff and guests were wearing masks in common areas of the property while sanitizing every area of a room that would be prone to physical contact. One hotel also informed me that rooms would be blocked off for 24 hours once a guest checked out. Gathering that type of information gave us some peace of mind.

Day 1: Chicago to Mitchell, South Dakota

So it began. We left Chicago at 10am with the GPS showing us an ETA of 8:03 pm at Mitchell, South Dakota. Factor in diaper change stops, gas stops, and venturing out of the car for a scenic viewpoint or two, we knew 10-10:30 pm was the more realistic time frame. We chose this town since it wasn’t too close to Badlands National Park (204 miles) where overcrowding could be an issue, but close enough where we can drive over and get there in under 3 hours. We took I-90 West and made our first stop to explore the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River at Great River Bluffs State Park. We did a relatively short hike here with the kids and got panoramic views of the Mississippi River. The hike itself wasn’t difficult and it was a perfect way to stretch out after being in the car for nearly 5 hours.

View of the Mississippi River from Great River Bluffs State Park

After spending about an hour here, we continued on our journey further west to South Dakota where we’d spend the night. We stayed the night at AmericInn (Wyndham brand) and they did a great job of keeping things clean. Since this was a stopover hotel rather than a destination hotel, I won’t be doing a detailed review but it was sufficient for our purposes.

Day 2: Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore

On our second day of the trip, we had Badlands National Park on our agenda as the first stop followed by Mt. Rushmore. We made it a point to get up early and get to Badlands National Park as early as possible. It took about 2 hours and 45 minutes and as soon as we got through the gates, I felt like our decision to drive was validated. The scenery and rock formations over here are unreal and there is also some wildlife. We saw bison, big horn sheep, and pronghorn. There are several trails you can hike at Badlands but due to our time constraints, sweltering heat, and an infant and toddler in-tow, we decided to focus mostly on lookout points and drive through the park.


Big Horn Sheep
Rock formation at Badlands
Bighorn sheep aka Rams

After spending about 6 hours at Badlands, we headed 75 minutes west to Mt. Rushmore. It’s not as big as I thought but the precision and detail that was necessary to carve out four U.S. Presidents is pretty incredible. In hindsight if I had to choose between spending more time at Badlands and visiting Mt. Rushmore, I’d have chose Badlands. If its a bucket list item that you want to cross off, by all means go ahead and visit it.

Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln

We finished Mt. Rushmore at around 7:15 pm and now it was time to make the 366 mile drive to Billings, Montana where we would spend the night. Along the way, we made a stop at Black Hills National Forest to take in the views. This was a very underrated place that deserved more than the 35-40 minutes we spent here. Absolutely beautiful and I should have done my homework before visiting. But hey, you can learn from my mistake.

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

We didn’t reach Billings, Montana until nearly 1am. Fortunately both kids were asleep nearly the entire way and the 80 MPH speed limit in South Dakota and Montana didn’t hurt.

Day 3: Bozeman, MT and White Fish, MT (Glacier National Park Area)

Our goal on day 3 was to get to Whitefish, Montana with a stop in Bozeman. Whitefish was going to be our home base to explore Glacier National Park. If you recall earlier, we had our flight booked to Bozeman, MT from Chicago and that is the location where we originally booked our rental car. We found a really good car rental deal through Budget and even though it was non-refundable, we went ahead and made the booking since prices were increasing by the day. Since we cancelled our flight, I came to the realization that Bozeman was going to have to be incorporated into our trip one away or another. With that in mind, we booked our one-way rental from Chicago to Bozeman and I just aligned the drop-off and pickup times so that we could drop off the car we rented from Chicago and pick up the SUV we originally booked in Bozeman. It took 2 hours to get there from Billings and then another 5 hours to drive up north to Whitefish which would serve as our gateway to Glacier National Park. The entire drive was scenic and beautiful and long drives don’t seem long and burdensome when you’re surrounded by beauty. We stayed at the Pine Lodge on Whitefish River and that is a hotel I will be doing a review on.

Quintessential Montana on the drive to Glacier National Park.

Day 4: Glacier National Park

This was our day to explore as much of Glacier National Park as we could. We entered Glacier National Park from the west entrance and immediately got on Going-to-the-Sun Road. This road connects the eastern and western sides of the park and offers stunning views at just about every turnout. There are many trails worth hiking at Glacier National Park but I strongly suggest going in groups of 4 or more due to the presence of bears. If you’re traveling with an infant or toddler or need wheelchair access, Trail of the Cedar’s is the one you want to do. It is an ADA accessible loop trail and there is no climbing, steep declines. or hard scrambles. This is a very popular trail for families with younger children so I strongly recommend getting there early as the parking area near the trailhead can get packed after 9am.

Trail of the Cedar’s

Continue driving on Going-to-the-Sun Road and have your camera ready for several pullouts that offer some of the best scenery in North America.

Going-to-the-Sun Road will eventually lead you to Logan Pass, the continental divide of the country. This where the watershed that drains into the Atlantic Ocean is separated from the watershed that drains into the Pacific Ocean.

There is a visitor’s center here and the parking lot tends to attract several bighorn sheep. It may be tempting but do not feed them if you encounter them. They will follow you and are capable of doing damage.

Juvenile mountain goats near Logan Pass

The sunsets at Glacier National Park are gorgeous. If you want the best spot for viewing, there is a stretch of Going-to-the-Sun Road about a quarter mile from Logan Pass that will give you the best vantage point. There are also car pullouts in that area.

Day 5: Drive to Gardiner, Montana-Yellowstone National Park

We slept in on day 5 and took our time making the 6 hour drive about 400 miles south to Gardiner, Montana. This was the segment where our toddler was most restless due to the long drive and spotty cell phone data coverage along the way. My wife did a great job keeping him entertained and he did a great job not throwing a tantrum. Ridgeline Hotel was going to be our homebase for the next 2 days and is situated near the north entrance of the park. Ridgeline is part of the Ascend Collection of hotels under the Choice Hotels network. We called it an early night and prepared for a longer day tomorrow.

Day 6: Yellowstone National Park

If you enter from the North Entrance of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs will among the first sights. I highly recommend getting there early as parking can fill up quickly and parking along the road is illegal (many tourists ignore this warning). There are some stairs to climb but there is a wooden walking path and ramp that will take you right to the springs.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Once you’re done here, you can either head south towards Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, and other geothermal hot springs or you can head east towards Lamar Valley. If you want to view wildlife including wolves, bears, bison, Lamar Valley is where you want to be. We saw wolves from a distance, several bears, pronghorn deer, elk, coyote, red fox, and other native animals. I do want to point out that if you do get out of your car to take a picture of a bear or wolf, you should maintain 100 yards of distance and 25 yards of distance from animals such as bison or elk. The pictures below were taken using a 200 mm zoom lens with more than 100 yards of distance between me and the bear and more than 50 yards between me and the bison. Bison may seem docile and gentle but if you get near them, they may charge you and can potentially kill you.

Bison in Lamar Valley, Yellow Stone National Park

With the exception of wolves, we were able to sight all of the aforementioned animals from the comfort and safety of our car. This is ideal if you’re traveling with younger children and would rather not bring them along for a hike. I did allow my 2 year old son to walk on a trail with me and I made sure it wasn’t near the tree line or thick shrubs that can be used as a hiding spot for a mountain lion or bear.

It’s important to note that seeing certain animals such as bears and wolves in Yellowstone does require patience. It’s not as simple as you driving there and the animals just show up. The longer you stay in Lamar Valley, the higher your chances. The more days you spend in Yellowstone, the higher the likelihood that you will sight most if not all the animals. There is a 20 mile stretch of Lamar Valley which we drove back and forth several times. It took about 2 hours before we saw our first bear. Bison and elk are plentiful and those are the two you can count on seeing with minimum to no effort. We spent the entire day here and were rewarded for it. Remember to bring plenty of food and water if you plan on doing the same. Also remember to bring binoculars.

Herd of Elk at Yellowstone National Park

Day 7: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park

Just as most other days, we got up early with ambitions to cover two parks in one day. We started our day very early in the morning (can’t thank the kids enough for cooperating) and drove south to view the geysers. Old Faithful is the one that everyone wants to see and the parking situation can be impossible if you don’t get there early enough. The same can be said for Grand Prismatic, a hot spring that is the largest in the U.S. and third largest in the world. Grand Prismatic is part of the Midway Geyser Basin which also home to Excelsior Geyser, Turquoise Pool, and Opal Pool.

Excelsior Geyser
Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

Grand Prismatic is the size of three football fields so if you want to get a panoramic view or a picture that would fit its entirety, a little hiking is required. If you look straight ahead in the picture above, you will spot people (they’re very tiny in the picture) who have made the hike congregated in an area that allows them to get a birds eye view from elevation. Doing this hike with small children on a sweltering day was not an option for us but if that’s not a concern for you, do the hike. Once we finished the Midwest Geyser Basin, it was off to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

The southern entrance of Yellowstone and northern entrance of Grand Teton are only 31 miles apart. While Yellowstone covers over 3,500 square miles, Grand Teton is much smaller at about 484 square miles. Grand Teton National Park has stunning mountain views and also plenty of wildlife. We got here around 4pm which gave us time drive around Jackson Lake, Jenny Lake, and Leigh Lake and take in the various viewpoints the park has to offer.

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park
Little guy taking in the views

We didn’t have much luck spotting wildlife other than bison on this day. We did enjoy the beautiful sunset and then called it a day. For this portion of our trip, we stayed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming at Hampton Inn. The summer time pricing of $400/night was exorbitant and I ended up using 131k Hilton points to book two nights. This was an average redemption rate but the property itself was very nice and the décor really fit its Wyoming location. It was easily one of the best Hampton Inn properties we had ever stayed at. We had one more full day left in Grand Teton National Park before it was time to fly home.

Day 8: Grand Teton National Park

On the final day of our trip, we woke up early and started driving around the park early in the morning. When we got to a particular area of Snake River, we were told by park rangers that three grizzlies had killed an elk overnight and consumed some of the carcass about 600 yards off the road. They said it was possible, even likely that the grizzlies would return later to finish off the carcass. With that in mind we drove around other parts of the park with a plan to return to that area a couple of hours before sunset when the grizzlies were likely to return. From our vantage point, we were able to spot the elk carcass and park rangers did not allow anyone to get within 500 yards of the downed elk. So we took in the beauty of other parts of the park but full of anticipation for what may ensue later in the day.

Grand Teton National Park
Pronghorn at Grand Teton National Park

At about 6pm, we made the drive back to the area of Snake River where the elk carcass situated. By this time, several other groups had gotten word by park rangers about the potential of a grizzly sighting and the shoulder of the road was packed with cars. After about 30 minutes of waiting, we saw a grizzly running through the meadow and heading straight for the elk carcass. It consumed whatever it could for about 10 minutes before heading back to the trees.

To observe nature in action was the absolute perfect way to cap off our trip. Over 2,500 miles driven, countless hours in the car, and cooperation by both kiddos made this trip possible. A very special thanks to my wife who initially thought I was crazy for proposing this trip but eventually bought in. She did a great job keeping our 22 month old occupied while making sure our 4 month old was always fed. Without her kid/baby management skills, this trip would have been difficult. We’re always asked how we made this trip with an infant and toddler and if it’s possible for other couples with young kids in-tow to do something similar. Our 4 month old spent most of his time sleeping so he was pretty easy to deal with. To keep our 22 month old busy, we had several educational videos and interactive games uploaded to our phones. We also bought some puzzles, etch-a-sketch, and other toys that would keep him busy. The most important part of the trip was keeping our 22 month old (Now 32 month old) engaged and educating him along the way. If we saw a specific type of animal or landscape, we’d identify it for him and then ask him to identify it for us if we saw it later. This added to his vocabulary and gave him experiences he can not only look back on but also look forward to. We’re not huge fans of giving a ton of screen time but trips like this are an exception. These types of trips may seem daunting but you’re capable of more than you think. It does take a complete buy-in from both parents but once you have that, make a game plan and execute it the best you can.

Day 9: Departure from Jackson Hole Airport to Chicago

One of the unique things about Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming is that it is the only airport in the U.S. located inside a national park, in this case Grand Teton. This makes for some spectacular views upon takeoff and landing. Even plane spotting with the backdrop of the mountains is very cool. Thank you for reading and if you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Review: Frontier Airlines

Review: Frontier Airlines

On a recent trip to Chicago which I had to book 10 days prior to departure, I lucked into one of those deeply discounted flash sales that Frontier Airlines has from time to time. I was able to score a one way ticket from Syracuse to Chicago (ORD) for $15.

FrontierAirfare

From Albany International Airport, a one way ticket was going for nearly $400. Even when I factored in the $31 Amtrak ticket from Albany to Syracuse and the $10 Lyft ride from the train station to the airport, the savings were very significant and hard to ignore. I used to be very averse to low-cost-carriers such as Spirit and Frontier because of their poor on-time performance and lack of suitable contingency plans if a flight was cancelled. Based on OAG’s data from June 2018-May 2019, Spirit has really improved their punctuality as they now rank fourth among U.S. carriers in on-time performance.

OntimeRankings

Frontier on the other hand is still struggling with on-time performance and I actually had to deal with a cancellation on a Frontier flight I took about two weeks after this one (they handled it very well and compensated me for my ticket on American Airlines). For $15, I just had to it. I mean that’s a ridiculously cheap price to get from point A to point B almost 700 miles away. Frontier was also the last of the major remaining U.S. carriers I had yet to fly on so this was also a great way to experience their product.

Checking In

PersonalItem

I used Frontier’s mobile app to check-in. The key with Frontier much like Spirit is knowing how their model works before flying. When you pay for your ticket, you are only entitled to the space under the seat in front of you. Carry-on bags cost $41 if you purchase in advance and $60 if you have to pay for it at the gate. This is the part where many people who have never flown on Frontier end up getting sticker shock. My bag fit comfortably under the seat and fit above with a little nudge to push it down. Checking in a bag costs $37 if paid for during booking, $40 if paid for during check-in, and $55 if paid for at the airport.  I was able to fit enough clothes for 3 days in the bag shown as well as my laptop in the laptop compartment. Another thing to keep in mind when flying on Frontier (especially when traveling with family) is that you can’t choose your seat assignment unless you pay. If you simply choose not to pay, Frontier will assign you a seat during mobile check-in.  This is similar to the basic economy structure on the larger carriers as well as Spirit Airlines.

Boarding

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Frontier’s Airbus A320 at Syracuse Hancock International Airport. Frontier has the youngest fleet among U.S. carriers. 

Frontier boards their elite members, active military members, and customers in Zone 1 (customers who have paid for their carry-on bags) first. That’s followed by Zone’s 2, 3 and 4. During the boarding process, the gate agents will eyeball everyone’s personal item and if it looks too big to fit under the seat, they will have you put it in the bin to see if it fits (or mostly fits).

 

In-Flight

EmptyOverhead

One of the beneficial aspects of having people pay for carry-on bags is that the boarding process flies by. Since people aren’t haggling for overhead bin space and attempting to stuff oversize bags in them,  most people find their seats and are seated rather quickly. The picture above illustrates this point perfectly. My flight had a lot of unused overhead bin space since most people are not going to pay $41 to carry on a bag. I’d guess the people that did bring in a carry-on bag were Frontier Airlines Credit Card holders who have a free carry-on as a perk.

PersonalItemUnderSeat
My personal item fit enough clothes for 3 days

As a low cost carrier, Frontier does not serve complimentary snacks on-board. They do serve complimentary Dasani water which is appreciated. They do have a variety of snacks and beverages for purchase. Another thing I noticed was their tray tables being very small. It certainly won’t hold a laptop and it’s just big enough to hold a large smart phone.

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Very small tray tables

FrontierMenu

FrontierMenu2

There is no online WiFi or in-flight seat-back entertainment so make sure you have your phones charged and have a movie downloaded prior to your flight. Frontier’s business model is cramming as many seats as they can onto their Airbus airplanes.  This means you won’t get a ton of leg space unless you pay extra for a “stretch seat” with additional pitch. The seats were thin but I did not find them to be uncomfortable for my flight.

FrontierSeats
Frontier’s thin seats

 

 

 

Conclusion

My first time flying on Frontier was a good experience and it went about as I expected. If you do fly on Frontier, remember to sign up for their frequent flier program as there are a few benefits. First of all, Frontier awards miles based on distance flown rather than dollars spent. This means a really cheap transcontinental flight can earn you nearly 3,000 miles. A second benefit of their frequent flier program is no blackout dates. This becomes extremely valuable during peak travel times such as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the day before Christmas. Frontier prices these award tickets at 10k miles each way although I would assume there is probably a limited number of seats they allot for redemption. My only gripe about Frontier is their poor on-time performance and the bind it can put you in if your flight was cancelled. Since Frontier operates many routes just three or four times a week, a missed flight due to weather related issues could mean waiting two or three days to get to your destination. If a cancellation was due to their own shortcomings (mechanical, lack of a pilot, etc), they send you a link to book on a different airline and they reimburse you up to $400 to get to your destination. This happened during my second time flying Frontier but I was able to book with American for a flight that departed an hour later and it didn’t end up ruining my trip. If you absolutely have to get to a place on time, say for a wedding, a job interview, etc be aware that a weather related cancellation would yield you a refund or booking on a later Frontier flight. You would have to pay your own way to make it to your destination on time.

How to Passively Earn United Miles Using Your Normal Shopping Habits

How to Passively Earn United Miles Using Your Normal Shopping Habits

The last time I wrote one of these shopping related posts, it was for JetBlue and their relationship with Amazon. About six months ago, both companies mutually terminated their relationship (unless you purchase on Amazon while flying on JetBlue plane) and everyone who shopped at Amazon frequently lost a pretty easy way to rack up TrueBlue miles. This wasn’t entirely a passive way to earn points since you still had to log-in to your JetBlue account and click on your personal Amazon link to get you to Amazon.com. However, United now offers a couple of truly passive ways to earn miles if you just link your credit card to the United Shopping Portal. One of them requires you to link your credit card with BP and fill up your gas there as you normally would. I made a post about this earlier and you can read about that here. The second is to link your credit card(s) with the United MileagePlus shopping portal. Remember, it costs nothing to have a United MileagePlus account so be sure to sign up if you haven’t already. I took screenshots on how add your credit card(s) to your United account and how to link your credit card to United’s shopping portal so just follow along.

How to Add Your Credit Card(s) to your United MileagePlus Account

Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 3

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Scroll down and click on “Manage Profile”

Step 4

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Scroll down and click on “View All Saved Forms of Payments”.  You can then add the credit cards you use most often

Linking Your Account with Participating Retailers on MileagePlus Shopping

Step 1

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Step 2

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Step 3

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Step 4

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Step 5

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These are just a few of the retailers that you can purchase from in-store and receive United miles. 

You will get a text message from United as soon as you make a purchase with any of your chosen retailers notifying you that the points will be added to your account in 3-5 days. Shopping alone likely won’t get you enough miles to land a business-class ticket (unless you’re a prodigious shopaholic) but it’s a nice way to bump up the United frequent flier miles balance and perhaps get you closer to an award ticket in economy.

Review: Lufthansa Business Class Chicago to Frankfurt. A $14,400 Value

Review: Lufthansa Business Class Chicago to Frankfurt. A $14,400 Value

For a recent trip to Portugal, I decided to transfer 140k Chase Ultimate Rewards into United and book two business class tickets to Lisbon via Frankfurt, Germany on their Star Alliance partner, Lufthansa Airlines. Usually, I don’t redeem points for business class even though it’s a better value than redeeming for economy class. I would rather use fewer points and have enough left over for another trip than burn twice the amount on luxury and comfort. However, there were a couple of factors at play this time around. First of all the wife is pregnant and this was our babymoon so her being comfortable was a high priority. Secondly,  United had saver level awards for business class but no saver level awards for economy (30k miles per ticket) on the day we wanted to depart. So my choices were 70k miles per person in business class or 70k points per person in economy (lol). This was the most no-brainer of no-brainers. Neither of us had ever experienced an international long-haul business class flight and both of us gained a better understanding of why business class redemptions provide much better value than economy class redemptions. Here is a screen-shot of the price we would have to pay for each ticket in business class if we were using cash:

 

Capture

A combined $14,400! Instead, we used a combined 140,000 United miles plus $40 tax per ticket. We got a ridiculously amazing value of 10 cents per mile on this award ticket. This was by far the most value we have ever extracted from a miles/point redemption. Normally if you’re getting 2.5-3 cents per point on a redemption, that’s considered pretty good. In addition to the in-flight service, we both got access to the Polaris lounge in Chicago and Lufthansa Business Class Lounge in Frankfurt. Our flight from Frankfurt to Lisbon was also business class and I’ll have a separate review for that. You can read about my Polaris Lounge experience here.

Check-in

Checking in was very straight forward. We got to use the designated business class check-in counter and this allowed us to skip the line that is usually seen in economy.

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There was no one in front of us and after taking our check-in luggage and handing us our boarding pass, the Lufthansa representative informed us we had access to Polaris Lounge if we wished. That was the reason we got to the airport 5 hours prior to departure in the first place =)

Boarding and Seating

LufthansaBoeing747
The airplane we flew on for this flight

During the boarding process, we got to board in the priority lane that was reserved for first class and business class travelers. For this trip, we were going to fly on the Boeing-747, the airplane that’s known as the “Queen of the Skies.” I had not flown on a 747 since 2005 and to be able to fly on one in a premium cabin gave this award redemption added value. Upon entering the plane, we took a right turn into the business class cabin and were seated in 5A and 5C (these seats are adjacent). Lufthansa Business Class has fully lie-flat seats. This is a huge deal when traveling overnight as you can beat jet-lag and not waste a day recovering. After finding our seats, our air hostess offered us welcome drinks prior to takeoff.

LufthansaSeatingNormal
Business class seats in their upright position

Seating

These seats have space under the footrest area and a pullout compartment where you can store smaller items during the flight. This is also where the amenity kit can be found. If you would like to utilize the in-flight entertainment, Lufthansa provides Bose noise cancelling headphones in the arm-rest compartment.

BoseHeadphones2

LufthansaAmenityKit
Business Class Amenity Kit

The amenity kit provided socks, eye-covers, razor/shaving cream, lip balm, moisturizing cream, mint, toothbrush/toothpaste, ear plugs, and headphone covers for the Bose headphones they provide.

After Takeoff

Shortly after takeoff we were given salted cashews as a snack and a dinner menu.

CashewsHowever, the menu didn’t really apply to us as Lufthansa was able to accomodate us with a halal meal that I requested during the booking process. Just for completeness, I’ll post the menu right here.LufthansaMenuFor our dinner, we were served scallops for the appetizer and it was delicious. LufthansaScallops

For the main course, we received a meal both us were very familiar with:

LufthansaDinner

Butter chicken with jasmine rice and mixed vegetables cooked Indian-Pakistani style. This was also delicious and tasted like it was restaurant quality. It wouldn’t shock me if one of the restaurants on Devon Ave in Chicago is the supplier for halal requests. For dessert, we received a cup Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream. I do wish they had something different for dessert. There is nothing wrong with Haagen-Dazs and I am a big fan of their ice cream but this is something I can get from the freezer section of my local grocery store. I suppose something more unique would have been more desirable.

LufthansaDessert

Post-Dinner

After dinner, it was time to take advantage of the lie-flat seating and get some shut-eye until breakfast time.

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Photo credit: Ayesha 

The air-hostess asked my wife and I if we wanted to be woken up for breakfast and we both said yes. This gave us about 5.5 hours to get a good sleep in.

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If you’re wondering, we were both able to sleep very comfortably. Lufthansa gave us nice lush pillows and thick blankets which were hotel caliber. The 5.5 hours of shuteye was very refreshing and before we knew it, it was time for breakfast.

Breakfast

For breakfast, we received a croissant, warm turkey slices with cucumber and lettuce, fresh fruit, and orange juice. No complaints here as everything tasted great. The hostess came around a second time if we wanted another beverage or coffee. She also passed around a box of chocolates which was a very nice touch.

LufthansaBreakfast

About an hour after breakfast concluded, the descent had begun into Frankfurt International Airport. Lufthansa did have in-flight internet but I did not purchase it so I have no idea how the connectivity was. My time was going to be spent either eating or sleeping and that’s exactly how it went. If I had redeemed an award ticket in economy, I would have likely purchased in-flight wifi since I sleep very poorly when sitting upright. This was a fantastic business class experience for my wife and I and the fact that she was able to sleep well on the plane being 2/3 into her pregnancy made this part of our trip extremely comfortable for her. I also want to acknowledge the flight attendant who was assigned to our part of the cabin. She did a wonderful job and routinely asked us if we wanted anything to drink or if we wanted any snacks. The attentiveness we got in business class was not lost on us so thanks to Lufthansa.  I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever extract the value I did for this award redemption and the great thing about it is we weren’t even done. We still had access to Lufthana Business Class Lounge during our 6 hour layover in Frankfut as well as another business class flight to connect to Lisbon, Portugal. I will be posting about my experience for both so keep an eye out.

Why The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a Keeper

Why The United MileagePlus Explorer Card is a Keeper

 

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I just recently got an email from Chase and the new benefits that will be rolled out for the MileagePlus Explorer card. Starting from June 1st, cardholders will get 2x the miles on hotel and dining purchases (previously 1 mile/$1), $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and 25% off in-flight purchases. This is in addition to the two United Lounge passes that Chase gives every year upon renewing the card. All these perks are appealing and in the realm of basic economy, having an airline card assures you of being allowed to carry a bag that can be checked in or carried-on (if you book a basic economy fare). What happens if you don’t have an airline-branded credit card and you book the basic economy fare? You can only bring a bag that can fit under your sit. Anything that goes into the overhead bins would have to be paid for and airlines are starting to enforce this policy at the gate.

Many airline credit cards are popular for churning. This means you sign up and get approved for the card, rack up the bonus miles after hitting the minimum spend threshold and cancel the card within a year.  Then you’re free to apply those miles to that destination you’ve been saving up for. Since I find myself traveling between Chicago and the East Coast several times a year, I’ve held on to the United MileagePlus Explorer card as well as the Citi American AAdvantage Platinum to save on baggage fees and for the convenience of priority boarding (on super busy routes such as LGA to ORD, it assures overhead bin space). If there was only one credit card you wanted to pay an annual fee for, I wouldn’t recommend an airline-branded card since you’re married to that one airline if you want to reap the benefits. A credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve would be the better option since you have multiple airlines whose frequent flier programs you can utilize via transfer. But if you’re willing to pay for two cards and you live near a United hub (Chicago, D.C., Houston, Denver, San Francisco, Newark/NYC, and Los Angeles), the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card might be one of the most appealing airline-branded credit cards available. In addition to the benefits I outlined above, United offers exclusive mileage redemptions to cardmembers only.

The example itinerary I used is Chicago (ORD) to Cancun from July 29th-August 4. In both instances, we’re going to use award redemptions.  The first example is the redemption available if you are a Chase United MileagePlus credit card holder.

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This is the segment from Chicago to Cancun. Two non-stop options available exclusively with the MileagePlus credit card for 17.5k miles.

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These are the options for the return. Three non-stop options if you hold the credit card. 35k miles for the roundtrip for one passenger.

Now let’s look at redemption availability if you want to book this same trip using United miles but you don’t hold the United MileagePlus Explorer credit card:

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If you want the non-stop option, it will cost 25k miles rather than the 17.5k miles seen above.

 

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They do have one 17.5k redemption to get to Cancun but look at that disgusting itinerary. Not only are you departing at 6am but you have to switch airports in D.C. By the time you’re in Cancun, you’re spent.

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The return trip to Chicago would cost 25k miles. There is no 17.5k option available for the return.

As you can see in the example above, having the Chase MileagePlus Explorer card means you’re using only 35k miles (plus the applicable taxes) with the benefit of having a non-stop flight on both legs of the journey. Without it, you’re using at a minimum, 42.5k miles and likely 50k miles if you want to have a non-stop each way and a productive first day in Cancun. How much is that 15k miles savings worth? The Points Guy values each United mile at 1.5 cents. 1.5 x 15k = $225. This is just an estimate but even if you valued it a bit lower, it becomes obvious the miles you saved by having the card is worth far more than the annual fee of $95 you’d be paying to keep the card. Again, this card isn’t for everyone and those who would benefit the most are travelers who live near a United hub. If you are an SPG or a Chase Sapphire Preferred/Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder and you find yourself transferring Ultimate Rewards points or SPG points into United often, pairing the MileagePlus Explorer card with either of the three only enhances their value.

 

 

Photo source: http://www.chase.com

 

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Maine

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor Maine

Acadia National Park had been on the bucket list for quite a while. Acadia National Park encompasses a large area of Mt. Desert Island off the coast of Maine. This beautiful setting is known for its stunning vistas, scenic hikes, views of the ocean from atop Cadillac Mountain. This is also the first place in the U.S. where you can see the sunrise between October and early March. If you’re there in the peak of summer, you can take a swim at Sand Beach when the water temperature is more tolerable. We drove from Albany, NY and it took us about 7 hours to get there. Acadia National Park is about a 4.5-hour drive from Boston and about an 8-hour drive from New York City.  If you’re not close enough to drive, you can also fly into Bangor International Airport which is about 50 miles from the town of Bar Harbor. We used Bar Harbor as our base camp and gateway into Acadia National Park.

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Day 1: Cadillac Mountain

We arrived at Bar Habor in the late afternoon about 2 hours before sunset. We stayed at the Hampton Inn which is located just 5 minutes away from the park entrance and used that as our base camp for this trip. Since it was a clear day, we decided to enter the park and drive up Cadillac Mountain to catch the sunset. The cost to enter Acadia National Park is $25 per vehicle and the pass is good for 7 days. Park Rangers routinely check for the passes (it must be hung over the rear-view mirror) so please purchase them prior to entering.  DSC_0066DSC_0118

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The spectacular sunset from Cadillac Mountain

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Overlooking the town of Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain

Incredible sunset views and plenty of photo opportunities. Cadillac Mountain has plenty of pull-outs so utilize them and take your time driving up the mountain. For dinner, we came across a tavern called Thirsty Whale. Their lobster rolls were delicious and highly recommended.

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No one does lobster quite like Maine. Here’s a lobster roll from Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor.

 

Day 2: Jordan Pond and Bubble Rock Trail

Our second day in Maine was overcast with a slight drizzle at times, but nothing that would keep us from further exploring Acadia National Park. On this day, we decided to hike the trail around Jordan Pond and climb up South Bubble Rock. Jordan Pond is actually a small lake and there is no swimming allowed as it is the main source of drinking water for residents in the area. You are allowed to bring a kayak or small boat and utilize it on Jordan Pond. The circular trail around Jordan Pond is 3.4 miles and isn’t difficult at all. We saw people of all ages, from 5-year-olds to senior citizens. The hike up Bubble Rock is a different story. It’s only 0.4 miles but it’s all vertical and there are areas where you have to climb. I wouldn’t recommend this trail for kids or those who aren’t fit enough to climb vertically. Please wear proper hiking shoes if you decide to do this hike or any other at Acadia. They do get precipitation often and gym shoes on slippery rocks is a recipe for disaster. Once at the top, the views are magnificent.

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Jordan Pond

 

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Part of the trail around the perimeter of Jordan Pond.

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Atop Bubble Rock. The hike to get here isn’t long but it is steep. The views at the top are amazing.

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We all made it.

For dinner, we stopped in town at went to a restaurant called Geddy’s. Their haddock sandwich was delicious. Seafood from Maine really is on a whole different level.

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The town of Bar Harbor, Maine. 

Day 3: Bowel Trail, Beehive Trail, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain

Day 3 gave us perfect weather and we took full advantage of it. First on the agenda was the top of Beehive Trail. There are actually two ways to get to the top. The first is taking the most direct route which is Beehive Trail itself and vertically climbing straight to the top. There are handlebars as you get higher and if you’re afraid of heights or you’re a novice hiker, this route isn’t for you.   The other way to get to the top of Beehive Trail is by taking the longer Bowel Trail. The hike is longer (1.4 miles) and you gain elevation gradually. This trail also offers multiple picture opportunities and allows you to loop around a small lake. If you do hike the Beehive Trail to the top, you have to hike Bowel Trail on the way back down as Beehive Trail only has one-way traffic going up. From the top of the trail, you’ll get spectacular views of the ocean, the park, and many islands around Mt. Desert Island.

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A view on the Bowel Trail

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Egg Rock Light, a lighthouse built in 1875 and still active today as seen from the trail. I used a zoom lens to get this close up shot. Still looks beautiful.

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View from the top of Beehive Trail. Sand beach in the background

 

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View of  Sand Beach from Beehive Trail

After we were done hiking, we walked across the street to Sand Beach to get an up-close look. The water looked very enticing but given that it was still early May, the water was still too cold to go for a dip. Perhaps late June through early September would be a good time to go for a swim. The beach is very clean and the water as blue as it looks in the picture.

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Sand Beach at Acadia National Park

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Sand Beach

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The rocky shore of Acadia National Park

Since we were going to pass Cadillac Mountain on the way back, we figured we would stop by and soak in the views from vantage points we missed the first day.

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Cadillac Mountain

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We stopped at a pull-out and walked a few hundred yards over the granite to get this view on Cadillac Mountain

For dinner, we went back to Geddy’s because of the wonderful experience we had the day before. This time we all opted for the fish and chips. And man, it did not disappoint.

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fish and chips with coleslaw and tartar sauce

This was our trip in a nutshell. I want to point out that there is a very steep and difficult trail called the Precipice Trail which is closed between March and August due to falcons nesting between that time. If you happen to go outside of this timeframe and you’re physically fit to hike the trail, check it out because I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Whale watching season was still a few weeks away during our visit but if you’re in the area and are interested, it’s a great opportunity to potentially see humpback whales, minke whales, and finback whales. If you plan on visiting Acadia National Park, budget at least 3 days. 4 or 5 days would be optimal in case a day or two isn’t productive due to the weather. This was a memorable trip and Acadia National Park is a setting with endless beauty and plenty of things to do. We had a blast and we hope to visit again soon.

 

Chase Releases 5x Category for Chase Freedom

Chase Releases 5x Category for Chase Freedom

Chase has released their 5% quarterly categories for the 2nd Quarter (April-June) for the Chase Freedom credit card and there are some great opportunities to rack up the points. The categories are grocery stores, Chase Pay, and PayPal. Grocery stores are one of the most lucrative opportunities as most of them also sell gift cards for other retailers such as Amazon, department stores, and gas stations. If you happen to shop online, PayPal is now accepted at multiple websites and you can link the Chase Freedom to your PayPal account. The value of these points are further enhanced if you own the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred since you can transfer the points from Chase Freedom into either one of these cards. Make sure you activate the card prior to April and if you don’t have the card, it’s one I’d strongly recommend adding to your wallet. This card does not have an annual fee.

JetBlue Making Significant Changes to its Partnership With Amazon

JetBlue Making Significant Changes to its Partnership With Amazon

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Simply put, this really sucks. I have benefitted greatly from this partnership between JetBlue and Amazon over the last 18 months or so and I am sure many of you reading this have benefitted as well. Even though I’d still get points if I make an Amazon purchase while flying and being connected to JetBlue wifi, I don’t fly JetBlue enough where I’d be able to take advantage of this frequently. If you’re based in the Midwest or a smaller airport that doesn’t have a ton of JetBlue service, you’re probably in the same boat. It’s even harsher for those who utilize the free two-day shipping with Amazon Prime frequently. I have no idea whether it was Amazon or JetBlue that called off the partnership but you have until March 27th to accumulate TruBlue points via Amazon shopping.

Travel Itinerary: 4 Days in Kauai

Travel Itinerary: 4 Days in Kauai

Kauai was the second island my wife and I visited during our last trip to Hawaii. We started off in Maui (you can read that itinerary here) and took a one-way flight from Maui to Kaui on Hawaiian Airlines via JetBlue miles. Kauai is known as the Garden Isle for its lush tropical landscape. Based on my experience, Kauai offers more seclusion than Maui and Oahu and more lush greenery than Big Island. All of the islands are special in their own way so I’d recommend experiencing all four.  Here’s a rundown of what we did during our four days in Kauai.

Day 1: Arrival

My wife and I stayed at Mariott’s Kauai Beach Club Hotel during our stay in Kauai. Great property that wasn’t expensive and located right on the beach just 10 minutes from the airport. We rented a car in both Maui and Kauai and if you want to make the most of your time there, I’d recommend doing the same.  We arrived in the late afternoon from Maui so we spent the evening at Kalapaki Beach, right in front of our hotel and took in the live entertainment that was offered by Marriott.

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View of the beach from our balcony

Day 2: Poipu Beach

On the second day, we spent almost the entire day at Poipu Beach. Of all the beaches I’ve been to in Oahu, Maui, and Kauai (I’ve been to many), this was my favorite in Hawaii. Plenty of space, clean, an abundance of marine wildlife, and a perfect place to snorkel. If you’re in Kauai, this beach is a must see. You also get spectacular sunsets if you decide to stick around until the late evening.

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I was very fortunate to be able to swim alongside a green sea turtle. If you’re going to snorkel in Hawaiian waters, get yourself a GoPro or any underwater camera. You’ll see some really cool wildlife and it’s worth getting on video.

Day 3: Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park is another must-see place in Kauai. From our hotel near the airport, it was about 32 miles away to the entrance and took about 45 minutes. You can also take a 3.4-mile hike to the bottom of the canyon and this will take about 3 hours round-trip. The cool thing about Waimea Canyon is that the surrounding area looks like Sedona, Arizona. You’ll find red clay, orangish water, and landscape that almost seems out of place for Hawaii.

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The landscape on the periphery of Waimea Canyon

 

 

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The main lookout at Waimea Canyon

 

Once you’re at the main lookout point at Waimea Canyon, you’ll find local farmers selling local produce such as mangos, star-fruits, and papayas. They are delicious and if you purchase the fruits, you’ll be supporting local.

Day 4: Napali Coast State Park aka Jurassic Park

No trip to Kauai is complete without seeing Napali Coast State Park. This was the setting for Jurassic Park and the minute you get to the entrance, it will all come back to you. My wife and I were dead set on doing the hike and we did about 3/4 of it until park rangers told us we couldn’t go any further due to flooding from heavy rainfall the previous night.  The hike is definitely challenging, particularly the first quarter mile where there is a lot of steep uphill climbing. If you do the hike, bring some solid hiking shoes, plenty of water, and a couple of granola bars. I saw a few people with flip-flops and they were getting killed from mud and wet rocks. Please don’t do this hike with flip-flops or sneakers. You don’t need expensive hiking shoes and a $60 pair would do the job.  I’d also bring a very light raincoat since this part of Kauai gets a lot of rain and the weather can change from hour to hour. Other options to see the cliffs are from a boat or helicopter. I have heard the helicopter takes four people and that if you’re one of the two sitting in the rear, you’re kind of blocked off from the views when compared to those sitting in the front. Just something to be aware of.

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Overcast skies on our way to Napali Coast.

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The weather on this part of the island changes from hour to hour. If you open up any weather app on your smartphone and you see rain for the entire day, take that with a grain of salt. On our drive there, we had mostly overcast skies with drizzle here and there. By the time we started the hike, the clouds started clearing up and gave way to sunshine. Don’t get disappointed if you see overcast skies while you’re driving there. Just wait it out and hopefully the sun will appear.

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A view from the hiking trail. The skies cleared up about 40 minutes after we started hiking. 

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Waiting for a raptor to come around the corner….jk

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The majestic cliffs and a rainbow from a distance

So this was Kauai in a nutshell. A special place and a beautiful island that’s home to my favorite beach amongst the ones I have visited in Hawaii. I really wish we had an extra day here and I know I’d be saying the same thing even we did. If you happen to visit Hawaii, try to include Kauai in your itinerary as well. But only if you are certain you can do the three must-see places above. If you want to read about our most recent trip to Hawaii (Big Island), you can do that here. As always, thanks for reading.

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Maui

Travel Itinerary: 3 Days in Maui

Maui was the first of two islands my wife and I visited during this particular trip to Hawaii. The second island we visited was Kauai and you can read about that here.  Our last trip to Hawaii (Feb 2019) covered The Big Island and if you are interested in reading about our time there, you can do so here. Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is the second largest island in Hawaii and with endless beauty. Our three days didn’t cover everything, but it covered most of the main attractions. We had a total of 7 days in Hawaii (the first day was more like a half day), three which we spent in Maui and four in Kauai. The question a lot of people ask is if 3 days is enough to see most of the main sights in Maui. It was enough for us for two reasons: First of all, we woke up at the crack of dawn and got an early start to our day. This is absolutely crucial. If you’re not in your car by 8 am every day, it’ll be very difficult. The second thing which was totally out of our control but worked in our favor was the weather. We had sunshine all 3 days and that’s just us gambling on great weather for 3 days and getting lucky. Ideally, you want to have one or two extra days as a buffer for rain.

How We Got There

You’ll probably notice a trend with just about every itinerary I post.  We rarely use cash to get to our destination and this trip was no different. Now keep in mind, my wife and I have schedules that for the most part, allow us to take these trips during peak travel season.  This trip to Hawaii happened to be during the last 9 days of December which is high season in Hawaii. Likewise, the number of miles that airlines require to get to Hawaii is also doubled from most cities. United usually charges 22.5k miles a person one-way to get to Maui. That redemption rate from Chicago, Newark, and D.C were 45k miles per person one-way. Fortunately for us, Denver still had the saver award redemption at 22.5k miles so we decided to spend two days there (both of us had never visited Denver), and depart to Maui from Denver International Airport.

 Arrival

Even though this was technically our first day, we arrived too late to do anything significant. Our flight to Maui arrived at 4:35pm and by the time we deplaned, got our bags, and picked up our rental car, it was close to 5:45pm. At this point, we only had about 15 minutes of daylight left. We checked into our hotel, the Napili Shores by Outrigger, ate an early dinner and decided to go sleep at 8pm.  The next day was going to be very long.

Day 1: Haleakala National Park & Papawai Scenic Lookout

  • Haleakala National Park

If you’re visiting Maui, you simply can’t leave without witnessing the sunrise at Haleakala National Park. It’s something that can’t be replicated elsewhere and it’s magical. The ideal day is when there is a layer of clouds below you that allows the sun to rise above that layer. Sometimes it can get cloudy enough where there is little to no visibility and that’s the type of day you want to avoid. Your best bet is keeping an eye on the weather. You do have to pay $25 per car at the entrance and you have to make a reservation for $1.50 if you’re going there at sunrise. The ticket for the sunrise is good for 3 days and it can be purchased up to 60 days in advance. My wife and I got there 2 hours before sunrise to assure ourselves a good parking spot.  You should aim to get there no later than an hour before sunrise or the desirable parking spots and viewing areas will fill up quickly. It’s a relatively slow 45-minute that has steep curves and hairpin turns after hairpin turns. It does require your full attention and if you’re the type that gets distracted with a cell phone easily while driving, turn it off until you’re at the top. If you run into fog, it can get a little challenging but fortunately for us, it was clear all the way through during our drive to the top.

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View of the sunrise at Haleakala National Park

A few important things to keep in mind. When you’re at the viewpoint, you are at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. Not only is it cold, it is very windy! You will need a warm jacket and ear covers or I promise you it won’t be pleasant. The air is obviously much thinner so If you’re sensitive to elevation or have had trouble breathing in elevation before, please reconsider. Once you’re done with the sunrise, you can stop at other viewpoints on the way down. There are fantastic picture opportunities of the surrounding craters and landscape

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View of the craters from one of the scenic lookouts on the way down

  • Papawai Scenic Lookout

  • On our way back to Lahaina, we decided to stop at the Papawai Scenic Lookout. Locals recommended this spot as a great place to whale watch from land. During the winter months, mother humpback whales will birth their calves and teach them important behaviors in the waters right off of Maui. It took a little bit of patience but it paid off and we got a show of a lifetime. About 15 minutes after we got there, we noticed a mist of water that was sprayed about a quarter mile offshore.  And there it was, a baby humpback whale under the watchful eye of its mother practicing breaching behaviors. At first, the calf looked like it needed a bit of support just to breach halfway.

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This was as far as the calf could go the first few times.

After about 8 attempts of getting halfway up, it completely breached the water. I kept my camera in rapid-fire mode and I was fortunate enough to capture a memorable moment.

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Even if you don’t manage to see whales, the lookout provides excellent photo opportunities.

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At night we walked around Lahaina Town and stumbled upon one of the best Ice Shave’s you will ever have. It’s called Ululani’s Hawaiian Ice Shave and they have over 50 flavors. I had the ‘Haleakala’, a mix of coconut, leche, and condensed milk. I really wish I took a picture to post here but I guarantee you’ll find whatever you’re looking for.

Day 2: Road to Hana

Along with Haleakala National Park, the Road to Hana is another excursion you simply cannot leave Maui without experiencing. It has black sand beaches, waterfalls, bamboo forests, flower gardens, breathtaking ocean views, and it was one of the highlights during our stay in Hawaii. The Road to Hana from start to finish is about 52 miles it is a journey which will take the majority of the day if you factor in the time you will stop at various stopping points. There is over 600 hairpin turns, 54 bridges (46 which are one lane), and you will have to concentrate while driving as the roads can get very narrow at certain points. My wife and I had a rental car so if there were certain stop points we liked better, we were able to spend more time. You can opt to take a tour bus but then you’re on their time. If you are driving there,  fill up your tank before you start. The last town prior to starting this journey is Paia and the gas prices over there are expensive. You’re better off filling up in Kahului. There no gas stations between Paia and Hana. If you are driving yourself, I highly recommend downloading Gypsy Guide – Road to Hana on your iPhone or Android.

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It cost me $5 and it was the best $5 I spent on the island.  The app will recommend which points of interests are worth stopping for, which ones don’t require a lot of time, and which should be skipped altogether.  It honestly felt like we had an actual person with us and the app even told us of approaching food shacks and cafes. The great thing about this app is that it worked even when we lost data connectivity. On the way back, the app tells you more of the cultural significance of different points in Maui. These are the places we stopped in chronological order:

1. Garden of Eden Arboretum

This is one of the only points of interests on the Road to Hana where you have to pay to get in since it is privately owned. The cost is $15 for adults, $5 for children, and infants are free. They do offer student and AAA discounts. My wife and I found it to be worth it and you can budget about 30 minutes here. They have numerous native and indigenous plants, many you might have never seen before and it also offers some great photo opportunities. The garden also has a smaller waterfall and you’ll see peacocks on the premises as well.

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Garden of Eden Arboretum

2. Waikamoi Ridge Trail

This was a hike which really stimulated your senses. The best thing about this trail? There are mango trees all around and it smells like heaven. They also have one my favorite trees, the rainbow eucalyptus tree which looks like the bark has been colored by a pastel. The trail can get extremely muddy so if you’re wearing flip-flops or don’t want to get your shoes destroyed, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to skip this and spend more time at Twin Falls (which we skipped).

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This fruit looks like pineapple but it is not.

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Rainbow-eucalyptus tree

3. Halfway to Hana Stand

They’re known for their banana nut bread and it’s delicious. If it wasn’t worth the hype I wouldn’t tell you to stop here.  It won’t take long and you can park on the side of the road.
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4. Upper Waikani Falls

There is only room for a couple of cars on the side of the road to see this trio of waterfalls but it certainly is beautiful and worth stopping if parking allows.

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4. Nahiku Market Place

Two words: fish tacos.  Perfect place to have lunch. The fish tacos were super fresh and delicious. I wish I had a picture but I inhaled them before I realized I’d had forgotten.

5. Wai’anapanapa State Park

This is one of the places where you absolutely have to stop. A beautiful black sand beach which also has an abundance of volcanic rock, a cave that takes you to the waters, and you can also go for a swim. The waves are very strong so something to keep in mind. We spent a solid hour here and honestly we wished we could have spent more.

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Black sand beach and volcanic rocks

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There’s a story behind this cave but I won’t ruin it. Download the app above and it will tell you all about it

6. Wailua Falls

Another point of interest that you should definitely stop by. You can park on the side of the road and walk down to the base of the falls. I even saw a few people swimming near the base and they seemed quite comfortable doing so. I have no idea how deep it is so please be cautious if you decide to go in the water. It’s a beautiful waterfall and probably the largest one you’ll see on The Road to Hana.

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7. Oheo Gulch (7 Sacred Pools)

This was our last stop on The Road to Hana. Unfortunately, due to mudslides, access to these pools was closed during our visit to Maui. We were able to see some of the falls from the trail but no one was allowed to swim at the base. Oheo Gulch is located 15 minutes past the town of Hana. Here is a very important detail to keep in mind. If you go beyond this point in your rental car and if something bad were to occur, your insurance becomes void! Even your credit card coverage would be voided.  The road beyond this point is mostly gravel and dirt and the major rental companies have this written out explicitly in the contract agreement. Many tourists will risk it because there are some beautiful sites to see even beyond Oheo Gulch. But even something as minuscule as a flight tire means you’re on your own.

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Oheo Gulch

Day 3: Napili Bay

Maui has plenty of amazing beaches that you can choose to spend your day. Or you can even go beach hopping and get a taste for almost all of them. Since our hotel was situated at Napili Bay, we decided to spend the day on the beach over here. If you’re into snorkeling and seeing marine wildlife, this was an awesome spot for that. I saw plenty of colorful fish and was lucky enough to see a few sea turtles, one which was managing to get by with a flipper missing. You can see the video below.

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You can see me snorkeling in the distance with the island of Moloka’i in the background.

If you happen to be in the Lahaina area, I strongly recommend stopping by Gazebo Restaurant for breakfast. Their white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes with homemade whipped cream were amazing. They are also very generous with their portions.

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So this was Maui for us in a nutshell. We wish we could have stayed a day longer but that meant subtracting a day from Kauai. We felt pretty satisfied with our 3 days here (excluding travel) and felt like we accomplished just about everything we wanted to accomplish. If you want to continue reading about Kauai or the Big Island, scroll to the top of this page and you will find the links. Thank you for reading.