On of the best things about having DVC points while living so close to Disney is that we can use them for everything OTHER than Walt Disney World hotels. We’ve stayed at Tokyo Disneyland’s Miracosta Hotel, Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris, The Plaza Hotel in NYC, gone on the Disney Cruise, etc., all using DVC points. This year we’ve decided to use our points to visit the American Southwest, via an Adventures By Disney tour called Southwest Splendor.

After waking up slightly before noon on Friday morning and having done only a small percentage of our packing by then, we agreed to stay up all night to get done whatever had to get done in order to be ready for our 7:15am flight. The plan worked well and by 4am, we were pretty much ready to be on our way. Joe’s dad picked us up at 5:15am and, with last-minute Pippi and house sitting stuff, we were at MCO a few minutes before our planned time of 5:45am.

The flight to ATL was uneventful and although experiencing not one, but two gate changes at ATL was a little inconvenient, we had given ourselves plenty of time between flights for such maneuvers. Besides, if we hadn’t gone from gate A17 to B25 to B8, I never would have gotten to see the Amish dwarf, which isn’t a sight one sees every day…especially in an airport in GA.

Food service on airlines has reached a new low. On our 3.5 hour flight from ATL to PHX, we were offered 2 crackers, cheese spread, the teeniest tiniest box of raisins ever invented and a shortbread cookie. Two hours later, we got the choice (the CHOICE!) of peanut butter crackers, peanuts or 2 biscuit-type cookies. On, and 2 servings of Coke products too. Sheesh…Continental at least still offers dinner roll sandwiches.

Dick met us at baggage claim and after retrieving our suitcases, gave us directions to the Starbucks (Terminal 4, 3rd floor) where we would meet the rest of our group. While searching for “the big Starbucks at the end of the hall,” we came across a Famous Famiglia Pizza. Be still my heart!!! After wolfing down as close to “good NY pizza” as we can get without going back up north, we found our guides, Chris and Mike, and the other 14 people on our tour. We walked outside (it was a wall of dry heat), got on the bus (ahem, “motor coach”…it’s an Adventures by DISNEY tour) and Tom, our bus driver, drove us the hour and a half to the first stop on our tour, Montezuma Castle.

While driving to the Castle, Chris and Mike offered “infotainment” about the history of Phoenix, some of the native plant species in the area, what flags have flown over AZ, etc.

A few minutes before we got to the Castle, we picked up Jack, an expert on local history. He gave us a brief history of the Southern Sinagua, the prehistoric culture who built Montezuma Castle in the 1100’s and lived there until the early 1400’s.

Jack talking about the Sinagua in front of Montezuma Castle

Joe looking at the Castle

A hidden Mickey at Montezuma Castle?

We spent about an hour exploring the area, which was mainly comprised of the ruins of the Sinagua housing. More information about this National Park area can be found HERE.

Back on the bus, we drove the 40 minutes or so to Sedona. We knew we were getting close when we became more and more surrounded by beautiful mountains of red rocks.

We arrived at the Amara Hotel around 4:30ish and, after getting our room assignments and a quick debriefing of when and where we were going to meet for dinner (and a warning to not lie down in the beds…gee, with the 3 hours of sleep we’ve gotten since Friday morning and it’s now late Saturday afternoon, why on earth would they warn us about that?), we went to our rooms to unpack, freshen up and get ready for dinner.

We left our room around 5:30pm to take part in some complimentary wine and hand massages in the lobby, and continued on to the “Meditation Room”, a banquet-style room just above the lobby, for our dinner.

We started with a fruit and cheese plate and passed hot hor d’oeuvres of teriyaki chicken, beef skewers, chicken wrapped in prosciutto and skewers of mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. After this was a short information session led by Mike and Chris, so we would get a better idea of what to expect on the tour and a chance for all of us to introduce ourselves so we could get to know each other.

A buffet-style dinner was next, with sourdough rolls, a pear salad, a green leaf salad, steamed veggies, a potato dish that was akin to, but not exactly au gratin, salmon with a fruity sauce, a carving station of filet of beef and an AMAZING chocolate bread pudding for dessert.

We had live entertainment during the hor d’oeuvres and and meal, provided by 2 cowboys who sang traditional cowboy songs.

After dinner we were provided infotainment from Maggie, a local animal handler who gave us examples of some of the “critters” we might come up against while in the southwest. She had the skull of a local mammal, a rattlesnake skin, a live baby king snake, a constrictor snake named Spirit and a tarantula named Sahara. The latter were available for any of us who wanted to hold them, so a few brave souls volunteered.

We parted ways after dinner, with Mike and Chris reminding us to be downstairs for breakfast between 8 and 9 tomorrow morning. And with that, we could FINALLY go to sleep (grin). More tomorrow…