Kevin and I wanted a honeymoon that would include adventure and excitement! While the purpose is to share the first few days of married life together, secluded and establishing our marital love, neither of us are the “sit your butt on a beach and sip a fruity drink” types. We knew we wanted to have some relaxation, but vacation for us is experiencing new places and new things!
After much debate and trying to get extra weeks off of work to go on a European escape, and failing, we finally decided on an 11-day jaunt to the U.S. West Coast. We wanted to go places that neither of us had ever been, so we could experience them together for the first time. Avid travelers, we’ve seen much of the Eastern states, so this was set up to be a really exciting trip.
Since we had each established ourselves in our own places prior to dating, we wanted a way so guests could contribute to our honeymoon instead of buying us another spatula or toaster oven. Between the two of us, we had three microwaves. So we really didn’t register for much “stuff”. Traveler’s Joy was the perfect answer to our question of “How do we encourage folks to feel confident donating to our honeymoon?”
Prior to finding Traveler’s Joy, I had spent countless days searching honeymoon websites and getting discouraged to find that I’d have to set-up a PayPal account or give 15 percent back to the site. Things I just wasn’t interested in doing because they didn’t seem fair or easy! Add to that the fact that I was planning the entire honeymoon, no travel agent involvement, and Traveler’s Joy was perfect! Being able to create our itinerary and upload our own photos made our site so personal. Our families were overly eager to give because they not only thought it was a great idea, but really enjoyed seeing exactly where their money was going, Meanwhile, they also felt like they were investing in our memories, memories made from the exciting adventures of our first days married!
Soon after we were engaged, we went ahead and booked the flights to and from the West Coast. We were to fly American Airlines into Las Vegas, NV and a redeye on Delta back from San Francisco a week-and-a-half later. Our flights totaled $2,000 with first-class upgrades included, which were at least $1,000 themselves! With flights booked, I had all the time in the world to plan out the rest of the trip and figure how we would get from point A to point B.
Remember how we didn’t want to visit anywhere we had already been? Well, my husband had traveled to the Napa area for work the year before and stayed at the most amazing Inn and convinced me that we HAD to include that as a stop. A stop in the middle of wine country? I was not complaining! So, we added that in. Plus, because we were traveling in October, harvest would be going on or almost over, so we knew that would be a perfect time to be there! We also planned to stay in San Francisco for some period of time since we were flying out of there, so that was set. Things were falling into place.
October 14th finally came and we had the most amazing day pledging our love and our lives to each other and celebrating with everyone that means the world to us! Then we had a day to rest before our early morning flight on October 16th to Las Vegas where we would start our adventures. Neither of us had ever been to Vegas and it seemed like the perfect place to get rich fast before settling down for the more relaxing parts of our trip!
WOW, Vegas never stops! We hit the ground running and saw four hotel/casinos in the first day on top of enjoying a romantic dinner at Prime Steakhouse in the Bellagio Hotel, where we were staying. They really rolled out the red carpet for us, sitting us by a window so we could enjoy the Bellagio fountain water show every 15 minutes and treating us with a surprise dessert. The next day may have been the most adventurous of our entire honeymoon. We booked a three-hour helicopter ride with Maverick Helicopters that landed us in the Grand Canyon for a champagne snack before we returned back to the Vegas Strip. We flew over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead before descending into the Canyon. And yes, it looked large from the sky, but until we landed inside we never could have appreciated the magnitude of it. And that’s with only seeing a tiny, tiny part of the entire thing. It truly was magnificent! And how fun to ride in a helicopter for the first time! The flight was so smooth, which really surprised me, and our pilot was so informative! Well, we didn’t strike it rich. In fact, we were so busy, we never even gambled. After two days, it was off to our next stop, Westport, CA, via Long Beach, CA and Sacramento. CA.
Our initial plan was to rent a car in Vegas and drive to Westport, CA. However, when we learned that it was a good 12-hour drive, we changed our tune! I found a really cheap JetBlue flight from Vegas to Sacramento (with a stop in Long Beach), making the drive from Sacramento to Westport, CA, only four hours. It actually took us five hours, on the curvy roads, in the pitch black night, but who’s counting? I was co-pilot, which didn’t do much good since earlier in the day I had traded in my contacts for older glasses with an outdated prescription. Between GPS not working and my phone loosing signal every other minute, I was just trying to keep us going in the right direction! As day three crept into day four, we finally made it to Westport (population: 60) a little after midnight and crashed at the Westport Hotel, waking up to the gorgeous Pacific Ocean lapping up on the rocks just outside our window!
Westport wasn’t initially a sought-out spot, but I wanted to get up into the Redwoods at some point and it made sense rather than driving up and down the 101 once we were already south around Napa. And boy, are we glad we found the Westport Hotel! It seriously was a hidden gem and maybe my husband’s favorite part of the trip! The bed was so comfortable and the feel of the Hotel (more like an Inn in my opinion) was just relaxation in a small town! We were greeted with scones and coffee right outside our door in the morning. And after dressing and enjoying a little walk down by the shore, we came back for a full breakfast cooked at the hotel, piping hot and so delicious! With full bellies, we were ready to pack our bags and head north to Leggett, CA for the day. We’ve already decided we’ll be back to Westport some day!
If I thought the drive from Sacramento, the night before, was curvy and dangerous, the drive up US Highway 1 was worse! Hairpin turn after hairpin turn, I really thought I was going to lose my breakfast before we made it to Leggett, CA. The roads were so narrow and every once in a while, the road would just drop off hundreds of feet below! No guardrails! Eek! However, winding through those enormous trees, being shaded by the sun in the early morning was just magical! And when we did come around a curve on the outside of the mountain, the scenery with the coast on the horizon was beautiful! We made it to Leggett and after paying our $5 fee, drove on through the Chandelier Tree...one of the only drive-thru Redwoods in California. I really didn’t think we’d make it through! With only inches to spare on each side, and worrying that the side mirrors of our rental would break off, we cruised on through and found a spot to park and explore for a little while.
Then it was a trip down the 101 into Santa Rosa, CA. Next stop, Safari West, a legit African Safari in the middle of California, the start of another amazing adventure! I booked the romance package. So, after checking in and exploring our tent, where we found a bottle of wine and chocolates, we were treated to a couples massage with the symphony of the animals wafting through our mesh tent windows. I’ve never been so relaxed! But the fun wasn’t over! We re-dressed and walked down to the BBQ pit for a dinner under the stars! And it included everything you could possibly want to eat. We retreated to our tent, which was truly a tent on stilts, but furnished very well! The only catch, it was not heated, so we had a space heater for the main area, but the bathroom was freezing cold. And believe me when I say we did not want to venture into the bathroom the next morning! Burr!
The next day was filled with visiting the animals that are part of Safari West. We had a full tour of the caged animals and then jumped in the safari vehicle for an hour and a half with the wild animals on the hundreds of acres surrounding the property. My favorites were the zebras! No, the giraffes! We got so close, we could have touched them. And since I was almost pecked in the face by an ostrich, I can tell you firsthand, that being that close isn’t always best! But it truly was an experience! Leaving Safari West, we stopped in Rohnert Park, CA at the Hampton Inn and Suites for a relaxing night with no plans! To be in the middle of no-where, they treated us so well! Complementary wine and a congratulations note! We were able to catch up on e-mail and just lounged around watching old movies on TV.
Day 6 was also a day of exploring with no set plans! We surprised ourselves with a history lesson and a walk around the Petrified Forest in Calistoga, CA to see the petrified redwood trees from the explosion of volcano Mount Saint Helena 3 million years ago. Then, we stumbled upon signs for “Little Old Faithful” and after a Google party and much discussion about if it was a tourist trap pretending to be Old Faithful, we stopped in and were greeted with a spewing geyser. Also known as Old Faithful Geyser of California, it’s one of only three geysers in the world with the designation “old faithful” which means it performs at regular intervals.
And in the 30 or so minutes we were there, we were able to see it blow about 5 times! Amazingly fun to be something we just stumbled upon! Our afternoon consisted of checking out downtown Napa for a bite to eat and checking into the Carneros Inn (hubby’s pick) for some over-the-top pampering in wine country luxury! After enjoying our complementary cheese and cracker tray with our wine, we biked to the Market on site, to stock up on some treats for our cottage, and ended our day with a relaxing dip in the hot tub looking over the vineyards. Breathtaking!
The next day was rainy and ruined our plans, but the wine gods spoke and beckoned us to Calistoga again for a wine tour in an authentic castle, Castello di Amorosa. We spent much of the day exploring the castle and its enormous wine caves below, enjoying our wine and chocolate pairings. And because this was the truly relaxing part of our honeymoon, we spent the afternoon napping, nibbling on cheese and wine and catching parts of the Baseball National League Championship Game.
We woke up at 5:00 AM on the 8th day of our honeymoon to a perfectly clear morning and a hot air balloon ride over the Napa vineyards! It had been cancelled the day before because of weather and somehow our reservation got mixed up, almost preventing us from flying, but in the end, we were able to board the basket with everyone else! Into the “grasshopper” balloon we went with pilot Gabe of Napa Valley Balloons! What an experience! Because you fly with the wind, you really don’t feel like you’re moving, just hovering in the air. Take-off was flawless! One minute we were grounded and the next, soaring higher and higher! From tracking rabbits in the grapevines to watching the sunrise over the fleet of balloons, it was a brilliant morning! The excitement began when we missed our first three landing spots and had to touchdown on the edge of a private vineyard. A homeowner nearby saw us and waved us over to land in his front yard, trapping in the cable man. After many jokes that we were a competing cable or satellite company swooping in to steal the man’s business, we finally packed up the balloon and drove back to our launch point for a full breakfast with mimosas! Much needed after such strenuous flying! (Note the sarcasm, since we did nothing more than stand in the basket!)
Our afternoon was spent in Sonoma, wandering through the cute shops and exploring more of Carneros, where we ended up napping by the pool and on our own cottage deck! We enjoyed a relaxing dinner at The Boon Fly Café in Carneros, via a short walk. Then we took our dessert to go and walked back to our cottage to watch “My Fair Lady” with a roaring fire and our dessert, mini donuts with chocolate dipping sauce! One of the best desserts I’ve ever had!
Sadly, the following morning, we had to pack our bags to leave Carneros, and I do mean sadly because it is a retreat like none other! It was off to San Francisco and because the Giants played so well and were advancing to the World Series, we were able to snag some tickets for an unforgettable surprise honeymoon treat later that day! On the drive into San Francisco, we stopped in Muir Woods to enjoy the quiet of the Redwoods again! To be so close to a bustling city, Muir Woods truly is a quiet place and one of peace and tranquil solitude, which we really enjoyed. Over the Golden Gate Bridge we drove and quickly hopped off the highway at the Presidio! Our reservations were at the Inn at the Presidio…the first hotel ever to be opened up on the former army barracks area. After quickly dropping our bags, it was off to the Giants game and we cheered hard for their well-deserved win, witnessing history when Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in the game! (Only the fourth person in major league history to attain this World Series feat!) How often do people have the chance to attend a World Series game? And the fact that it just happened to be in the city we were in was perfect! There was no way we could have watched the excitement in a bar or restaurant down the street!
Our first full day in San Francisco was spent taking a bay cruise, where we learned more about the history of San Francisco, Alcatraz and both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges! We ate lunch down at Fisherman’s Wharf and watched the sea lions. We even boarded a cable car and took a little ride down to Union Square Park. In our humble opinion, cable cars are not the San Francisco treat and after a good 2 hours of waiting for one and then walking well over 20 blocks to another line, we finally made it back to the wharf area. After all of the walking uphill and shins splints to prove it, we treated ourselves to a delicious treat at the Ghirardelli Fudge and Ice Cream Shop! Delicious! For dinner we decided on a spot in the Japantown district and enjoyed some of the fine Asian cuisine at Yoshi’s, a restaurant and jazz club with live music! The sushi was amazing!
We had one more day to go! We spent the morning on the Presidio at the Palace of Fine Arts Exploratorium and then drove to and down Lombard Street, the most crooked street, to the tune of 5mph. Of course you cannot be in San Francisco without seeing the “Full House” house, so we stopped by Broderick Street for a look. We then continued driving through the city and off to the airport.
Not only do we recommend travel on the West Coast, but we would recommend every single spot we stopped, even the smaller hotels in the middle of no-where and the restaurants on the side of the road along the way! Our honeymoon was perfect in every way!
All in all, our honeymoon was a little over $10,500 and was worth every penny! Thanks to Traveler’s Joy, guests gave us about a fifth of the total amount and we received about 3/5 of the rest in wedding gifts, so we were only responsible for about 1/5 out of pocket! When can you say you’ve stayed in Italy, ridden a roller coaster in New York, taken a gondola ride in Venice, had dinner in Paris, gone on a safari in Africa, enjoyed wine in a medieval castle, helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, ballooned over vineyards and taken in an all American pastime, baseball, all in a period of 11 days and while remaining in the U.S. on the West Coast? We can! And we made memories we’ll carry “until death do us part", because that’s exactly the reason we planned the trip to begin with.