Every summer, 20 of my family members on my dad’s side come from Cleveland, Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, Israel, to go on vacation together. My great-aunt and uncle own a travel agency, making this doable.
For five or six years we stayed in houses at a low-key lake in northwestern Maryland. We’d rent paddle boards and do puzzles and go to the sketchy local arcade when it rained, but my aunt and uncle grew bored with these activities, so we’ve branched out to Tel Aviv, Costa Rica and, a few weeks ago, the American Southwest.
I would like to note that “we” are my immediate family, grandpa, several aunts and uncles, and six cousins ranging from age 11 to 18 — plus one of my cousin’s boyfriends. I would also like to note that I overheat faster than my French bulldog and hate the outdoors. That being said, here are my reviews of every place at which we spent more than an hour.
Sky Harbor Phoenix International Airport
Phoenix, Ariz.; 4/5 stars
My family spent several hours here waiting for the Israelis and Philadelphians to arrive, and we had a blast eating tacos and charging our phones. Also, any airport is nicer than Cleveland’s.
Grand Canyon National Park
Arizona, 3/5 stars
The Grand Canyon isn’t overrated, but it wasn’t my favorite park, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Arizona, 2/5 stars
You have to pay to enter the area surrounding Lake Powell, which I think is technically Page, Arizona, and I have no idea why. There is a big dam, which you can walk across, a dam museum you can visit and there is a single “resort” where we stayed for three days. The outdoor areas were infested with thick clouds of flies and there was always a bonfire burning by the pool despite the 90-degree heat. But I had fun with my family, and their chicken wings weren’t bad.
Little Hollywood Land: Museum, Trading Post & Chuckwagon Cookout
Kanab, Utah; 5/5 stars
We drove from Phoenix to Las Vegas over the course of eight days, so we pulled over at many rest stops. This was the only one offering hot-pink Clint Eastwood-printed tunics, a room devoted to cowboy hats and a field full of huts out in the back equipped with DVD players ready to screen old westerns. What more could you want?
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah, 4/5 stars
The Grand Canyon’s artsy, more original younger brother. We only spent an hour here walking a brief trail overlooking the park, and a few brave family members hiked 10 minutes into the canyon, but it was enough. Bryce was fun and, I can imagine, thrilling for families who actually enjoy hiking.
Zion National Park
Utah, 5/5 stars
Zion was my favorite national park we visited. It was the only one we toured at the base of the canyon instead of the top, and the park (and nearby town, Springdale) had everything — river hiking, normal hiking, horseback riding and a Mexican-Italian restaurant. Also, the Marriott we stayed at felt like a five-star resort after Lake Powell.
Nevada, 1/5 stars
I can’t even say I understand the appeal of Las Vegas. I don’t. I can only say the Blue Man Group is entertaining and the food is good. Otherwise, it’s blisteringly hot and I saw more people throw up on sidewalks than on any Saturday night I’ve spent in Oxford.
To recap: Definitely visit Little Hollywood Land if you find yourself wherever it is in Utah, prioritize Zion National Park on a visit out West and steer clear of Lake Powell unless you’re, like, really into dams.