All posts by Glenn

Disney Food & Wine Festival – October 2015

Every year Disney World puts on a huge international food festival with entertainment that’s really well done.  It’s held in the World Showcase section at the EPCOT park and it focuses on cuisine from around all the world.  The event is called the International Food and Wine Festival and we had went in 2014 for the first time and had a blast.

This time, our friend’s Chris and Cindy were able to join us and we really had a great time.

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We flew into Orlando late at night, since we had left after work on a Wednesday. Because we arrived close to midnight, we had booked one night at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport, which is a hotel literally in the middle of the airport. It doesn’t get more convenient that getting off the plane and walking directly to your hotel.

The next morning we met up with C&C and took the Magical Express bus to our hotel, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. This hotel is themed after the South Seas/Hawaii and was connected to the EPCOT park with a monorail.

If you were not aware, Disney World is enormous, roughly covering about 47 square miles.  There are four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney Studios, and Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon & Blizzard Beach), and 30 resorts.  This does’t include all of the recreational facilities like the huge sport complex called ESPN Wide World of Sports and the shopping area called Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney).  It really is huge.

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The Polynesian Village Resort was a pleasant place to stay during our trip.  The landscaping was very lush and the rooms were large and comfortable.

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This was our view from the room overlooking the Seven Seas Lagoon.  On the other side of the lagoon is the Magic Kingdom park and you can just make out Space Mountain building.  Right in front of our room were the new Polynesian Bungalows, modeled after the over-the-water bungalows you would find in places like Bora Bora and the Maldives in the South Pacific.

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After getting settled into our hotel, we attempted to take the monorail to EPCOT but it had broken down so we had to queue at the Disney bus stop.  Minor set-back but soon we were on our way to the park. A quick stop at the park ticket booth and we were in.

EPCOT consists of two separate “lands” – Future World and World Showcase. This is taken directly from the Disney website: Celebrating the human spirit, Epcot has 2 distinct realms: Future World, which features technological innovations, and World Showcase, which shares with Guests the culture and cuisine of 11 countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada.

For this trip, our focus was on the World Showcase and the Food & Wine Festival. However, with 11 country pavilions to visit, there was a lot to see, especially for first timers like C&C.  Each country pavilion consists of restaurants, shops, and general theming from that specific country. What makes it feel real is that all of the people working at each pavilion actually comes from their respective country. That’s one of the reasons we have always enjoyed the World Showcase area. EPCOT is about 300 acres, almost 4 times the size of Disneyland in California.

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Chris posing as a shop keeper in the Moroccan pavilion, he might have missed his calling.

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We attended two culinary demonstrations and one mixology seminar and they were very interesting and entertaining. These demonstrations were done by big name chefs, some of them from the Food Network.

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A highlight of the trip was breakfast at the France pavilion before the park had opened. This pavilion is well themed to France and it was easy to imagine yourself in Paris having a breakfast, with French waiters and the overall ambiance of a French cafe. Since Paris is one of our favorite places in the world, this simulacrum automatically rates high to us.
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Just so you don’t think all we did was eat for 3 days (but you wouldn’t be far off if you did think that), we did do a couple of rides. We spent one morning at the Animal Kingdom park and as you can tell from this picture, statistically 25% of people find the Expedition Everest ride terrifying.

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It was a fantastic trip and what made it so was the company. How can you go wrong with good friends, good entertainment, and good food all rolled into one extended weekend. It’s like traveling the world without flying.

Tokyo Disney Resort – October 2015

Our oldest daughter Alexis is now a senior and the years have flown by. For her senior year, Judy and I decided to each take her on trips – father/daughter and mother/daughter trips respectively. Sharing experiences and creating memories has always been a priority for our family and we thought this would be another wonderful way to have one-on-one time with our daughter before she went off to college.

For our father/daughter trip, I offered Alexis the choice of destination anywhere she wanted to go and she chose to visit the Tokyo Disney Resort in Japan. Our whole family had just visited Tokyo earlier in the year but she wanted to go back. With the trip being relatively last minute, the travel arrangements were more complex than normal but we managed to get decent flights along with a stay at the Hilton right next to Tokyo Disney Resort.

Our plan was to fly out of Las Vegas on a Thursday, have a whirlwind 48 hours in Japan and then catch our return flight back to the US.  It was definitely the shortest international trip we have ever taken but that really was part of the excitement.  We viewed the entire quick trip as an adventure and Alexis handled the entire experience, including jet lag, like a seasoned traveler.

On our way to Tokyo!

After landing at Narita Airport in Japan, we quickly bought tickets for the bus and went directly to the Tokyo Disney Resort, luggage and all. It was surreal to think that we were standing in Las Vegas one day earlier and now we were in Japan.

Entering Tokyo Disney Resort

First meal in Japan

After grabbing a bite at a ramen shop, we wandered around a bit just soaking up the atmosphere.  Then we took the short monorail over to our hotel – Hilton Tokyo Bay.  Our room at the Hilton had a very Japanese minimalist asctetic along with the standard high-tech Japanese toilet in the bathroom.

Our room @ Hilton Tokyo Bay

Nice night view of the Tokyo Disney Resort from our room

The next morning, after a great night’s sleep and feeling no jet lag effects, we headed out to the parks.  The Tokyo Disney Resort consists of two parks – Tokyo Disneyland that is similar (but still with many differences) to Disneyland in California and Tokyo DisneySea, which is a unique park only found in Japan. We had already decided to go to DisneySea the first day and the weather was perfect.

Entrance to Tokyo DisneySea

The theming at Disney parks in general has always been impressive but DisneySea takes the standard to a higher level.  The Mediterranean Harbor “land” of DisneySea is very immersive and we really enjoyed just strolling around taking in the sights.

Mediterranean Harbor

Another favorite “land” of ours was the Arabian Coast with it’s Middle Eastern architecture.

Arabian Coast

We were hungry and decided to eat while we were at the Arabian Coast.  As you can tell below, Alexis and I went in different directions for our respective lunches….

Lunch

One of the well-known and most popular snacks at the Tokyo Disney Resort is the many varieties of popcorn that are available for sale at the various carts throughout both parks.  I would like to say that we showed self-restraint but that would not be entirely accurate.

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After a fantastic day at DisneySea, we headed back to our hotel to sleep and get ready for our second day. The next day was going to be very busy, with a visit to Tokyo Disneyland during the day and then hopping onto our flight home in the evening.

Unfortunately, when we woke up the next day, the weather was the opposite of the day before. It was much colder and pouring rain but we had brought umbrella’s and jackets so we were prepared. This was an adventure, after all, and the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits.

Waiting to enter Tokyo Disneyland

One of the interesting things about Tokyo Disneyland compared to the “Disneyland” parks in California, Florida, Hong Kong, Paris, and Shanghai is that the Main Street “land” is completely covered.  With all of the rain, that ended up being a fortunate decision for us that the park builders decided to build the canopy. On a related note, this was the third time we had been to Tokyo Disneyland and each time it was pouring rain, not sure what the deal is with that…

Main Street

Winnie the Pooh ride

Tokyo Disney Train Station

After a soggy but fun visit to Tokyo Disneyland, our evening flight home was approaching so we headed out of the park and to the hotel to catch our bus to the airport.

Leaving Tokyo Disneyland

Hilton Tokyo Bay

We received some great news earlier in the day – our upgrades to Business Class for our return flight had gone through.  This would make a huge difference on minimizing our jet lag for the return home, especially since we had work & school the next day.

After a 45 minute bus trip to Narita Airport, we checked in and made our way through security. I had heard that they served made-to-order sushi in the Japan Airlines First Class lounge so that’s where we headed. I’m sad to say, the sushi was good in the lounge and that ended up being the first of three “dinners” I ended up eating over the next 4 hour. What can I say, self-restraint is not one of my top qualities.

The lounge itself was well-appointed and comfortable.  We ended up staying there for over an hour.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge

About 45 minutes before our flight, we left the lounge and heading over to our boarding gate.  After an efficient boarding process, we were in our seats and ready for the flight back to the good ole USA.  Alexis immediately went into full recline mode once we were in the air and stayed that way for the next 10 hours.

Alexis getting comfortable

We were served dinner and breakfast on the flight. Generally I have low expectations for US-based airlines regarding their meals but these meals were pretty decent. Kudos American Airlines!

Dinner Menu on American Airlines

Japanese dinner options

Snack menu

Breakfast options

Our concerns with jet lag and the quick turn-around on this trip ended up being for nothing. We felt great throughout the trip and with a solid amount of sleep on the return flight, we got back on Sunday night and hit the ground running Monday morning with minimal ill effects.

This trip was very memorable and was a great father/daughter experience that we will always remember and cherish. It was great to spend one-on-one time with my daughter and seeing the strong young lady she has become. I think that many people would think it’s crazy to fly that far for such as short visit but we had a blast and would do it again in a heartbeat. Who knew that taking an extended weekend trip to another country could be so much fun?

Tokyo, Japan – April 2015

This was our second family visit to Tokyo, Japan and we went for a total of 10 days and stayed in 3 different hotels.  Japan was the favorite country that our daughters had visited the first time and this visit just confirmed those opinions.

After arriving at Narita Airport outside of Tokyo, we took the long bus ride to our hotel – Grand Hyatt Tokyo.

Grand Hyatt TokyoWe’re fans of trying new hotels and our favorite hotel “brand” is Hyatt.  On this trip we were staying at two different Hyatt’s so I took a lot of pictures of the hotel rooms and I apologize in advance if there are too many.

We had two rooms because my mother had joined us for this trip.  So Judy and I had one room and my mother and our two daughters had the 2nd room.  Because we had upgraded our rooms, we were on opposite sides of the floor with our room being 1102 and their room being 1120.

Grand Hyatt Tokyo floor plan

The suites were modern, spacious, and extremely comfortable.  There were many touches and features throughout the suites that showed how much thought and care went into the room design.

This was room 1120 where my mother and daughters stayed:

And this was suite 1102, where Judy and I stayed:

Grand suite 1102

Grand Suite 1102

Grand Suite 1102

Grand Suite 1102

Grand Suite 1102 Bathroom

Grand Suite 1102 - Bathroom

The high-tech toilets that Japan is famous for were in full effect.  I’m not sure about the rest of the controls but having a heated toilet seat is definitely a “nice to have” item.

Grand Suite 1102 - Bathroom

Grand Suite 1102 - Toilet Controls

We also had access to the Grand Club lounge where they had complimentary breakfast in the mornings plus extensive snacks and drinks throughout the day.  For a complimentary breakfast, it was impressive spread.

Grand Club

Breakfast at the Grand Club

View from the Grand Club

One of the reasons we were excited to be visiting Japan at this time of year is the world famous Cherry Blossom trees would be in full bloom.  We went to Ueno Park and it was a beautiful sight to see.

Cherry blossom season at Ueno Park

More cherry blossoms

And even more cherry blossoms

Temple in Ueno Park

 

Within Ueno Park is the Ueno Zoo and the star attraction was the panda exhibit.

Panda at the Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo

The next day we went to Shinjuku Gyoen Park, which is one of the most popular parks in Shinjuku to see the cherry blossoms.  Another beautiful park with the blossoms in full bloom.

Middle of Ueno Park

Cherry blossoms drifting in the wind

Lake in Ueno Park

Beautiful setting in Ueno Park

We visited the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest tower and the second tallest structure in the world (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai being the tallest structure).  It was completed in 2012 and is 2,080 feet high with a dizzying view of Tokyo.

View from Tokyo Tower

Alexis stood on the glass floor that looked directly down to the ground level.  Intellectually you knew it was safe but emotionally…….

Alexis standing on glass in the Tokyo Skytree

Looking down from the Tokyo Skytree

One of the things that we found surprising is how great the bakeries are in Japan.  There are numerous bakeries everywhere we went with fresh baked bread, pastries, and other types of baked goods.

Japanese bakery

Japanese bakery

After 3 fantastic nights at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, we packed up and moved to our next hotel located in another part of Tokyo called Shinjuku.  The doorman summoned two taxis for the five of us plus our luggage.  The taxi were a pleasant surprise with the taxi driver’s dressed professionally and wearing white gloves.  The cabs were so clean with white seat covers, a starkly different experience than what you normally encounter in the US.

Japanese taxi

Japanese taxi

Our new hotel in Shinjuku was the Park Hyatt Tokyo, famous from the movie Lost in Translation and sits on the top floors of the Shinjuku Park Tower, a 52 story skyscraper.

Park Hyatt Tokyo lounge

View from the Peak Lounge

Rather than the standard lobby and front desk at most hotels, at the Park Hyatt Tokyo you are greeted at the ground entrance of the building and escorted to an elevator, taken up the main hotel floor and introduced to another staff member.  This staff member (I guess they would be called front desk agents but it seems very different) would sit down with you and go over the check-in.  The check-in experience is very personal and after checking in, the same staff member  escorted us directly to our rooms.

As with the Grand Hyatt, we had two rooms but this time we only upgraded the room that my mother and daughters were staying in. Our room was called a Park Deluxe King and did not quite have as modern a feel as the Grand Hyatt but was still very comfortable.

Park Deluxe King

The view from our room over looked a city park.

View from the Park Deluxe King

My mother and daughters were in a Park Suite and it felt more like an upscale apartment residence than a hotel room.

Park Suite - Living Room

Park Suite - Living Room

Park Suite - Bedroom

Park Suite - Bathroom

View from Park Suite

As mentioned earlier, the Park Hyatt Tokyo is famous from the movie Lost in Translation and the New York Bar was the star location in that movie.  Situated on the 52nd floor of the hotel along with the New York Grill, the views were spectacular. We did not eat dinner there but we did have a few drinks and appetizers while enjoyed the atmosphere.

New York Lounge

New York Bar

New York Bar

The night views of Tokyo were mesmerizing, the pictures really don’t do it justice.

Night view from the New York Bar

The pool is located on the 47th floor and made us wish we had brought our swimsuits.  We walked the pool area at night and could only imagine how great it would be to lounge by the pool during the day with the fantastic views.

Park Hyatt pool

Park Hyatt Pool

We ate our breakfast in Girandole, with my mother having having the traditional Japanese breakfast and the rest of the family being a bit less adventurous.

Breakfast at Girandole

Breakfast in Girandole

One of the areas of Tokyo that should to be on every visitor’s list is Akihabara, known for it’s vast options of electronics and technology shopping.

Akihabara

Pokemon Center

Akihabara

Another idea that would be wonderful to bring back to the US is the plastic food displays that are outside of most restaurants in Tokyo.  Restaurants have their food replicated into permanent plastic (I’m assuming they’re plastic but could be made of something else) models of the food that they serve.  This made it so much easier to order food when you have an idea of portion sizes and what’s included.  Here are a few examples of the numerous food displays we encountered.

Outside food display

Food display

Food display

Food display

Food display

Food display

One of our favorite things to do in every country we visit is to stop at a local grocery store.  It’s really interesting to see how similar and different grocery stores are in other countries as well as checking out the types of drinks, snacks, and other foods that the locals eat.  One thing about Japan that was very apparent everywhere you go is the high level of cleanliness and sense of order that the Japanese people have.  Even with fruits and vegetables, everything is organized and displayed with care.

Grocery Store

Grocery store - fruits

Grocery store - bakery

The wide variety of flavors for snacks and drinks was fascinating.  The 25+ flavors of KitKats alone was stunning.

Grocery store - KitKat display

For our final days in Tokyo we changed hotels again and moved to the Disney Resort area. Tokyo is a vast city and we found from our first trip that it’s easier to change hotels to the areas you want to visit rather than doing the long commutes back and forth.

Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disneyland Hotel

Tokyo Disneyland Hotel

Hilton Tokyo Bay

There are two Disney parks at the Tokyo Disney ResortTokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.  Unfortunately the day we spent in Tokyo Disneyland there was a massive cold front moving through Tokyo with rain and the temperatures dropped 30 degrees in 24 hours.  All day we experienced freezing rain and it really took away the enjoyment of the park.  One nice feature about Tokyo Disneyland compared to Disneyland in California or the Magic Kingdom in Florida is that the Main Street area is completely covered.  Because of the weather, this ended up being the area we spent the most time in.

Tokyo Disneyland - Main Street

Tokyo Disneyland - center of park

Tokyo Disneyland - Fantasyland

One memorable thing we did at Tokyo Disneyland was eat at the Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall, which is themed after the Queen of Hearts in the animated Disney movie Alice in Wonderland.  The theming in the restaurant was well-done and the food was good, not to mention it got us out of the rain and cold for a bit. Unfortunately we were not the only people who thought of this idea…

Queen of Heart Banquet Hall entrance

Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall food display

Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall food display

Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall

Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall - It was soon good to get warm....

Tokyo Disneyland is heads and tails above both US Disney parks in regards to popcorn.  I know, popcorn, really? Americans should own that snack category.  Throughout both Tokyo Disney parks there are carts with different flavored varieties of popcorn and these are the standard “sugar-coated” popcorn we see in the US.  Some of the carts served flavors such as honey (as you can see below), curry, chocolate, white chocolate, cappuccino, strawberry, soy sauce, and milk tea.

Popcorn Cart - honey popcorn

The next day we went to the other park, Tokyo DisneySea, which is a unique Disney park only found in Japan.  The attention to detail in general for Disney parks has always been impressive but DisneySea takes the crown.

Tokyo DisneySea - Mediterranean Harbor

Tokyo DisneySea - Mediterranean Harbor

Tokyo DisneySea - Mediterranean Harbor

Tokyo DisneySea - Mysterious Island

Tokyo DisneySea - Mysterious Island

One entire “land” is completely underground. It’s called Mermaid Lagoon and it simulates being under the ocean with theming from the Disney animated movie The Little Mermaid. The picture below is what the outside of Mermaid Lagoon looks like.

Tokyo DisneySea - Mermaid Lagoon

Then you descend into this colorful area that was huge, pictures don’t do it justice.

Tokyo DisneySea - Mermaid Lagoon

Tokyo DisneySea - Mermaid Lagoon

Another land was called the Arabian Coast.

Tokyo DisneySea - Arabian Coast

Tokyo DisneySea - Lost River Delta in front of the Indiana Jones: Temple of the Crystal Skull ride

Got to keep that head warm…..

Got to keep that head warm....

Our daughters had a photo shoot where they were dressed in traditional Japanese geisha outfits. They had a blast doing this and the pictures came out gorgeous.

Alexis - Before

Alyssa - Before

Alexis & Alyssa - After

Alexis & Alyssa - After

And as quickly as that, our 10 days in Japan were ending. Tokyo really is an amazing city with so many amazing sights and friendly people. We were continually impressed with how clean it was everywhere (especially public restrooms), how courteous and helpful all of the Japanese people we encountered were, and the variety of food and snacks that were available. As non-Japanese speakers, we had no problem with communicating with people, many who understood some English, and finding our way around the public transportation system. Tokyo is very cosmopolitan city where every type of cuisine is available so if you are concerned with what you are going to eat, you will find everything you can find in the US.

We have been fortunate to visit quite a few countries but we can say with certainty that if you have not been to Japan yet, it should be near the top on your list. We know we will be back.

Random final thought – On the way to the airport, we spied this car with this license plate.  We’re thinking that we would probably request a replacement……..

Interesting choice for a license plate

Part 4: Traveling From Melbourne, Australia – October 2014

Part 1: Traveling to Sydney, Australia

Part 2: Sydney, Australia

Part 3: Melbourne, Australia

Our stay in Melbourne was much too brief but we were excited for our flight home. We were flying on Qantas Airlines but the exciting part was that it was on the Airbus 380, the world’s largest commercial airplane. It’s a double decker plane that can accommodate up to around 800 passengers depending upon the seating configuration. Let me repeat, 800 passengers!

It really was a technological wonder and we were not only going to be on the A380 but we would be experiencing First Class on Qantas for our 14+ hours flight back to Los Angeles.

At the airport, Qantas has a little room off to the side for First Class check-in. After an efficient check in, we were escorted through security and sent to the Qantas First Class lounge.

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At the Qantas lounge we had breakfast and right outside the windows we could see another A380. It was amazing to see how enormous the planes are up close.

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In the picture below, you can see the 747 , which is a huge plane in t’s own right, parked next to the A380 as a size comparison.

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Here is a picture of our A380 we would be flying. The plane is so large that there are three gangways connected to the plane for the loading and unloading of passengers.

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As a reminder, this was the final international flight of our Australia trip flying around the Pacific Ocean.

Australia trip

We boarded the plane and were shown to our seats. The seats were very spacious and quite private with only three seats per row and a total of 14 seats in First Class. The cabin had a very classy look with warm colors.

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We were both in the first row with Judy in the window seat and I was in the center seat. This was my seat.

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Waiting at each of our seats were an amenity kit and pajamas.  It was a nice touch that they had gender-specific amenity kits. You can see my black men’s amenity kit below and then the next picture you can see Judy’s maroon kit behind her.

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One of the coolest things about the A380 was the outside rear tail camera. The picture was very sharp and it was a real treat to watch the take-off and landing.

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The flight attendant who would be serving our part of the cabin introduced herself and handed out the menu for the flight.

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The seat was controlled by a touchpad and it was quite comprehensive.

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Shortly after take-off, lunch was served. The design of the seats allowed for two people to share a meal, which was a great idea and wonderfully implemented. In these pictures I’m sitting opposite of Judy as we eat lunch.

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Lunch took about an hour, mostly because they served it course by course just like a nice restaurant. The food was very good and our flight attendant was extremely friendly and always checking on us.

After lunch, we both watched some movies on the extensive selection of entertainment that was available. I actually caught up on several movies on this flight that I had missed and had wanted to watch.

About halfway into the flight we changed into our pajamas as the flight attendant converted our seat into a bed. If you can believe it, they brought out a mattress, sheets, and duvet and made our seat into a real bed. It was exceptionally comfortable and as I was laying there, I remember distinctly thinking “wow, I’m in a bed on a plane”. It was a surreal moment.

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After a very restful sleep, we woke up about 90 minutes before we were to land in Los Angeles and asked to have breakfast. We went to change out of our pajamas while they removed our bedding and set us up for breakfast.

The cabin was still dark so our breakfast picture did not come out very well.

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This is a random picture but I thought it was pretty cool to see the staircase to the 2nd floor where the Business Class cabin was.

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Our flight was about 14.5 hours and once we had landed, we both agreed that it had been the most pleasant flight we have ever taken.  We would have been happy to stay on the plane and fly directly back to Melbourne for another 14 hours. It was a fantastic experience and really was the icing on the cake for our Australia trip.

After a short flight from LAX to Las Vegas, we were home and our Australia adventure had come to an end.