The SoCal family is feeling lucky to be starting one of the Adventures by Disney; we are part of a group touring the US Southwest National Parks in an Adventures by Disney trip called Southwest Splendors. This is only the second year of the Southwest Splendors Disney vacation package, but so far, our guides Brian and Joanne are doing a terrific job keeping the group (12 families!) organized and happy, and learning a lot.
The Adventures by Disney Southwest Splendors travel package is a week-long soft adventure vacation which includes in-depth visits to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab, and Arches National Park. Today is just the first day, though; the group gathered together by a Starbucks in the Phoenix Airport and were taken via tour bus up to Montezuma Castle, then to our hotel in Sedona.
Montezuma Castle National Monument and Park is a Sinagua Culture cliff dwelling. The ruins show the intriucate setup, agriculture, and architecture that the vanished civilization created. It’s believed that it was built in the 1100s and inhabited until the mid-1400s AD. Now, Montezuma was never here, and this was never his castle, but the name’s been there too long to change it. The ruins of the cliff dwelling indicate that it was once a 5-story structure with areas set aside for grain storage, an intricate ladder set-up to get around, and the best protection from both the harsh desert heat and traveling marauders alike.
Adventures by Disney arranged for a Red Rock Jeep Tours guide named Doug to show the family group around, and the old pro really knew the right pace and level of discussion for a group of travelers with a wide range. My younger daughter is one of two 7-year olds, and kids up to teenagers are here too, along with parents and grandparents. No surprise to learn that Doug is a 3rd generation ranger and guide — it’s not easy to wrangle such a disparate group! He had the children answer age-appropriate questions related to Montezuma Castle National Park, such as “Why did the Sinagua people build this cliff dwelling,” and a word search. Upon completion, there was a short ceremony in the gift shop in which the children and teenagers pledged to uphold the US Park Ranger credo, and they all received Junior Park Ranger badges. It was pretty heart-warming, even for an old cynic like me.
It rained this day — an unusual event. The bad news is, my photographs can’t show how spectacular the Montezuma Castle National Monument is, because it was still overcast during our Adventures by Disney tour. The good news is, the desert animals that usually hide underground or under rocks during the day weren’t shy. Instead, they came out to enjoy a brief respite from the searing summer sun. We saw lizards, a velvet ant (which is really a wingless wasp), a huge beetle, cliff wrens, cliff sparrows, and one toad casually hopping down our path. We stopped to admire each desert animal, and our guides seemed to enjoy the critters, too. I wonder: Does it take family travel with young children to really enjoy the small details of a soft adventure vacation? If so, I’m sure glad that Adventures by Disney has put together a tour of the Southwest National Parks in a way that not only includes the under-10 set, but embraces them, as well.