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Admittedly, when I made my list of potential dream honeymoon destinations, a Utah road trip didn't even cross my mind.
Don't get me wrong, I've always wanted to explore Utah. But I'd prefer to travel internationally while I'm child-free and save domestic adventures for when I raise a family. Besides, my new husband has never traveled outside the continental US!
Truth be told, I was more excited to plan our honeymoon itinerary than our wedding. But if you're planning a post-pandemic wedding too, you can read how we pulled it off here.
As 2021 rang with hopes of less COVID-related restrictions, I started researching logical road trip routes through Costa Rica. Since this post isn't about a Costa Rica honeymoon, you probably guessed we had to cancel and make a Plan B.
With only 3 weeks to go, I considered every factor and narrowed down our options. Unsurprisingly, very few places in mid-February are accessible during winter conditions and open in spite of the ongoing pandemic.
In a final attempt to make the best of a rotten situation, I made reservations along a Utah road trip itinerary and tried to convince myself we weren't settling.
"It's fine. We're fine. It'll be fine."
Spoiler alert: turns out we really didn't settle at all!
A Utah road trip honeymoon might be the option for you if...
- Like us, your international plans got disrupted;
- You're on a budget;
- You don’t want to deal with the protocol hassles an international trip would require (medical insurance, vaccine passports, quarantines, negative test results in a certain timeframe, etc.);
- You’d rather take your honeymoon slow and simply be together instead of packing days full of nonstop experiences;
- You like controlling your own itinerary instead of trusting it to an impersonal tour guide.
I know, driving yourselves doesn't exactly sound glamorous. And, let's be honest, road trips can potentially cause some intense moments of miscommunication ("I said your next left!"). But you’ll end up bonding together over the whole experience despite any mishaps.
Ultimately, when your husband tells you he's amazed how perfectly the trip is planned, it's all worth it anyway. Don't worry, I'll let you take all the credit ;)
This is our week-long Utah road trip itinerary, including some bonus days in Nevada and California:
Day 1: Salt Lake City to Midway
Days 2-3: Midway
Days 4-5: Moab
Day 6: Brian Head/Cedar City
Days 7-8: La Verkin
Day 9: Death Valley to Vegas (where we flew out of)
Although my husband prefers the Waze app for navigation, I find myself using good ole Google Maps to break down itineraries. When mapping it out online, you can add up to 10 stops between destinations and send the directions to your phone. I also use Maps to “save” or flag places we want to check out along our main route, whether it's a restaurant, a scenic spot, or a landmark of some kind.
Andrew and I like variety. Yes, of course we wanted romance and relaxation during our honeymoon. But we also enjoy history, nature, unique food, and local culture.
We had plenty of time to hit the highlights on this 1-week Utah road trip while taking our time on what we deemed worthwhile.
Snow and winter activities, hiking, good food, hot springs, historical sites – from the mountains to the desert, from small towns to big cities and everything in between, this route offered a little of everything!
Without further ado, I've laid out our entire Utah road trip below. While this turned out to be the perfect road trip for us, it's totally customizable for your own preferences.
1 Week Utah Road Trip: The Unexpectedly Perfect Honeymoon
There is SO much to do between Salt Lake City and Midway, where we stayed our first two nights. Depending on your choice of activities, you could spend an entire week in northern Utah alone!
Just a little bit of advice, though, watch the forecast prior to your trip. Our nonstop Delta flight into SLC landed us right on top of a blizzard!
After much prayer and deliberation at the rental car checkout, we proceeded with our originally-reserved, mid-size SUV rental and hoped the mountain roads would clear by the time we needed to cross them.
Originally, we were going to drive to the Great Salt Lake, eat a picnic breakfast at Antelope Island, then head to a scenic waterfall (Adams Canyon) for a nice hike. However, with road conditions as they were, we stayed close to Salt Lake City to keep an eye on weather reports the first half of the day.
As expected, downtown was empty. But, the quiet, snow-covered surroundings made for a beautiful sight!
After a quick bite, we took a stroll around the Temple Square. The church is currently under construction, but the square is always free to the public.
Just as the heavy clouds began to part, we made our way into the mountain pass and let out a thankful sigh of relief when no chains were needed! Then we sat back and enjoyed the gorgeous mountain views on all sides.
You know that feeling when you show up somewhere and instantly feel at home? That's how Midway, Utah, feels.
This quaint mountain town is just under an hour east of SLC. We arrived at our resort mid-afternoon and had no problem checking in a bit early.
Andrew and I instantly fell in love with Midway. The snow-covered landscape, the quirky shops, and the cozy country feel was preferable to the busy, glam vibe we got while researching and driving by Park City. I'm sure it's a great place, and we'll definitely check it out someday. But to start out our honeymoon, Midway was just the right flow.
Things to do: Park City/Midway area
The obvious and most popular winter activities in northern Utah are skiing or snowboarding. There's a reason Park City is known for the greatest snow on earth.
If you're willing to splurge and interested in other exhilarating winter activities, though, consider bobsledding at the Utah Olympic Park for about $175-$195 per person. Or, test out your "mush" on a dog-sledding adventure with either Luna Lobos Dog Sledding, All Seasons Adventures, North Forty Escapes, or Destination Sports and Adventures. All are similarly priced around $300 for a sled that hauls approximately 300 lbs. (maybe two people).
It might also be worth mentioning there are plenty of non-winter activities to do in this area as well. Olympic Park has an alpine coaster only accessible in summer and it looks like a blast!
Or, follow our example and simply stick around Midway.
Check out the town's charming, open-air ice rink. An hour is plenty of time to enjoy a few laps before your ankles start to ache. All skaters must sign an online waiver no matter your age. But, they do offer skate rentals on-site. Bring your thick socks!
At night, meander through a maze of ice castles that glow in a gorgeous array of color. You never knew you always wanted to be Elsa dancing in your own ice palace until you walk through this cool paradise. Otherworldly and magical--I've never experienced anything like it. Not to mention, tickets are SUPER affordable (I'm talking $14 per person on a weekday)!
If you're an influencer, book the first time slot and show up 10-15 minutes early. We were the first in line ahead of a pack of children and we glimpsed the ice sculptures uninhibited, basking in the waning rays of twilight. Pure magic. It was also pure chill--as in so cold my phone actually turned itself off! This is one time you'll be glad to wear a mask to keep your nose warm. Come layered but prepared to ride the psychedelic ice slide at least once. You'll regret it if you don't!
P.S. If you're a twitter-pated newlywed couple too, check out these matching Mr. and Mrs. face masks. I mean, if we have to wear them, we might as well make them a fashion statement, no?
Finally, book a soak at the Homestead Crater mineral dome hot springs. Hidden inside this mini volcano-shaped limestone deposit are geothermal waters that have bubbled for thousands of years. For just $16 (plus tax), you get a towel, mandatory life vest, lockers, changing stall access, and a little over an hour to float blissfully in mid-90 degree, therapeutic water. There were about 10 of us for our morning timeslot, and we all had plenty of room to move around and seek out the hot spots in the deep blue pool. If diving is your thing, they not only allow it but offer diving lessons to earn your scuba certificate, too!
Dining in Midway, Utah
Start your day well-caffeinated at Fill'er Up coffee station. This 1930s style garage features vintage gas pumps and a Herby the Love Bug bumper. Although indoor seating isn't available due to the pandemic, the drive-thru is open and the menu offers a long list of specialty syrups and drinks made from locally roasted coffee beans.
If you're up for something a tad romantic, an Alpenglobe dining experience at Cafe Galleria is worth the hype. For a $25 reservation fee, one of these adorable, ingenious enclosures gets you and up to 7 other people a cozy celebration, curated with faux fur and designer chandeliers. Not to mention, the restaurant's wood-fired pizzas are top-notch and totally affordable! The wait staff was incredibly kind to us as honeymooners and went out of their way to make us feel special. Although dinner time would be stunning, we went during daytime which made for better pictures! Keep in mind, these fill up fast and might require a reservation weeks in advance.
Next up, grab some treats for the road at the Bakery on Main. You're on vacation, sugar highs are part of the package! But if it makes you feel any better, dairy free and gluten free pastry options are baked fresh daily. We were lucky to snag 4 very large, piping hot, gluten free chocolate chip cookies when we visited.
Lastly, head into Fanny's Grill after your winter wonderland ice castle jaunt. We're uncertain if this really was the best hot chocolate we've ever had or if we were just so frozen that our brains over-exaggerated a bit. There may be better restaurants in town, but for convenience and budget sake, Fanny's was perfect. Due to COVID-19, their menu was limited to one sheet of paper. But there were no complaints between Andrew's Midway Burger and my grilled cheese and apple sandwich.
Lodging in Midway, Utah
We loved our private cottage stay at the Homestead Resort. The biggest perk is that we were within walking distance of the Homestead Crater and Midway Ice Castles, which are both on site!
Since we purchased our 2-night stay on Priceline, we weren't aware of the Soak & Stay vacation package the resort offers. If you're planning a trip here, definitely look into this combination to take advantage of the crater experience. Why not save a few bucks!
Southbound to Moab...adding all the stops
Moab is only 4 hours southeast of Midway. Out of our entire Utah road trip, this was the longest consecutive drive time.
If you want to make the most of this leg of the journey, read below. If you’re on a time crunch, skip to Moab! The drive through the Provo Canyon is utterly incredible (probably without snow, too!), so you're in for a treat either way.
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument - Unfortunately, we can't give personal insight to this one because it is currently closed due to COVID-19 concerns. But doesn't this place look cool?! If you ever get a chance to go post-pandemic, please let us know what you think!
- Upper Falls Park - Right off Highway 189 headed south from Midway, this .6 mile, out and back hiking trail is rated easy and beautiful. However, thanks to the fresh powder that fell the morning we passed through, no trail was visible. We could see the falls above us completely frozen over, though. In the end, we decided to build a snowman and then thaw out our mitten-less hands in the car.
- Bridal Veil Falls - I feel like there is one of these in every state! It's less than a mile further down 189 from Upper Falls. But again, due to winter conditions, the parking lot was closed and we had to settle for faraway photos from the side of the road. Not the quick mile hike we were hoping for, but we checked it off nonetheless!
- Seven Brothers Burgers in The Riverwoods plaza did not disappoint! Andrew got the Teri-Samoa burger. All lathered in teriyaki sauce and topped with bacon and a juicy, grilled pineapple slice, this burger was mouthwatering to the last bite. I can't remember the name of mine, which I ordered sans-bun. I don't see it listed on their online menu, but I know it had a hearty kick of jalapenos and it was topped with a fried onion ring!
- Moon's Rare Books - This one is for all my fellow book and art lovers out there. Located in the same plaza as Seven Brothers, this book shop feels like a step back in time. From ancient texts to religious books to pop-culture paraphernalia and gorgeous landscape art in a conjoined room, Moon's could have easily captured more of our time!
Our 2-night AirBnB stay in Moab was actually in the Hyatt hotel off main street. We optimized on the free breakfast each morning. While the buffet was closed for sanitary reasons, the kitchen staff efficiently prepped both hot and refrigerated items to go by request. Andrew and I stayed full on sausage, potato and egg bowls most of the morning. Then we'd eat our fruit, cereal, or muffin to hold us over until dinner.
This location also allowed guests to utilize the outdoor hot tub (the perfect ending to a day of hiking). Since we were almost halfway through our trip, we took advantage of the laundry services, too. This is why I always pack light!
We arrived in Moab from Provo just after sunset. Thankfully, the hotel hooked us up with a free city dining guide, and within a matter of minutes we'd narrowed down the long list of options to Arches Thai takeout.
I know what you're thinking. Moab seems an unlikely place to get tasty Thai food, but we were impressed, and we've both had our fair share of Thai dishes.
If Thai isn't quite your thing, there are many other cuisines to choose from. For casual American fare in an industrial designed atmosphere (think chandeliers made from bike parts), try The Spoke on Center. They pride themselves on fresh, scratch-made, antibiotic-free ingredients. We ate here for lunch during a break from Arches and left satisfied. Although the restaurant is known for their burgers, we opted for the sauteed brussel sprouts starter, the meatloaf for Andrew and bowl of chili for me.
For our afternoon pick-me-up, we walked a block up from The Spoke to Moab Coffee Roasters for some local, organic grinds. As it was one of the few cafes open in town, the line for coffee (and the free bathrooms), snaked through the parlor. But that wasn't such a bad thing, because their drink menu and specials were slightly overwhelming and required time to study!
Moab Things to Do
Moab may or may not officially be known as the mountain bike capital of the world, but it could be. You won’t pass a Jeep, trail, or street rack that isn’t decorated with bikes. If you have the time to rent some, I’m sure it would be a blast!
Arches National Park
Smaller in comparison to the other national parks that make up Utah's Mighty 5, Arches can totally be done in one day.
With only one main road in and out, strategize your visit by starting all the way in at Devil’s Garden then work your way out. This trailhead is the longest in the park (8 miles), but we were satisfied seeing only Pine Tree and Tunnel Arch.
Next, take a walk through Sand Dune Arch – an easy one for anybody and mostly on sand.
The Fiery Furnace is worthwhile as long as the La Sal mountains are visible. Those contrasting white peaks against the red rock make for excellent shots!
Whatever you do, don’t bother with the Lower or Upper Delicate Arch viewpoints – just do the real trail later and pace yourself.
Our favorite part of Arches was the Windows Section. There’s so much space to roam through each window and arch without running into many people. Plus, it’s on a separate loop off the main road marked by Balanced Rock, which you can’t miss!
If you visit in winter, the biggest perks are the diminished crowds and tolerable weather. But even though the sun may be shining, the air is crisp. Bring layers! Carry water, wear a hat or sunscreen and thick shoes, and have an outer shell for wind or out-of-nowhere rain.
We left early afternoon because we were hungry but also because pictures are basically no good at that hour. When we returned around 4, storm clouds had rolled in and the wind chill left our faces numb while we climbed the 3 miles roundtrip to Delicate Arch. This hike is shorter but a thigh-burner for sure! The pictures don’t really do it justice, but the trail up to the top has some pretty steep drop-offs and no railing. Remember, sunrise or sunset hours give the best lighting, so try to time this hike (and really anything) with either one.
No, I didn’t name this Native American petroglyph. Located about 3 miles onto UT 313 from US Hwy 191, large carvings have been preserved along the rock face on the right side of the road. Take caution when parking and walking here, as it isn’t a formal site. Please be a cool human and don’t leave your own “art” or debris.
Copper Ridge Dinosaur Trackways
Of all things, my husband was probably most excited about this stop. When you’re headed north on Hwy 191 back toward I-70, you’ll take a right onto a gravel road (BLM 143) for a few miles until a parking area. Just a short walk up the slope are signs indicating prehistoric dinosaur footprints that are still visible today. This isn’t a huge attraction, but it’s still pretty cool to see something like this firsthand! There aren’t any bathrooms here, but it’s a great quick stop for a family with jittery-limbed kids.
Canyonlands National Park
We got a late start the day we checked out. To ensure we had enough time to get to our reservation that evening, we decided to forego our visit to Canyonlands. We didn’t want to drive all the way in, stay for only an hour, then drive back out. Looks like we’ll just have to make another trip 😉 For the record, we were planning to do the ever-popular Mesa Arch Trailhead. The Needles District in Canyonlands also looks cool! If you’re not tired of red rock by then.
Giant Soda Cans
It’s just too quirky not to mention! I’m not even sure these painted tanks constitute as an attraction, but they happen to be at one of the first gas stations in civilization once you come down the mountain into Salina. So, why not snap a photo?
Mystic Hot Springs, Utah
Like most amazing things, I discovered Mystic Hot Springs on Pinterest. There are actually a few different hot springs located throughout Utah, but unfortunately many are closed right now.
Rustic and unassuming, from the ducks casually wandering the lower level, to the 7+ primitive bathtubs encased in mineral deposits, down to the renovated school buses available for overnight stays, Mystic Hot Springs is a back-to-basics experience.
If you’re envisioning a 5-star resort with landscaped hedges and complimentary bathrobes, this isn’t your kind of place. A backcountry road leads you to a metal gate. The bathrooms at the entrance are stuck in the 80s. While there are solar yard lights to guide the general path, you’ll probably need to use a flashlight to watch your step.
But by golly, all of those aspects just made Mystic more charming to us. What it “lacks” in amenities, it makes up for in natural aesthetic.
I recommend booking a time slot that gets you a glimpse of sunset over the mountains. You’ll see Mystic during golden hour and be able to stargaze before your time is up.
Remember, the walk back down to the bathrooms might be a cold one, so bring your towels, robes, parkas, et cetera with you.
Lodging in Brian Head, Utah
This AirBnB didn’t mention being located a windy several miles up a mountain to an actual resort. No complaints about that, though. The moon lit our way as we climbed; Andrew and I watched the thermostat drop lower as the snow piles on both sides of the road grew larger.
Our one-night stay was cozy inside a 1 room condo with a real stone fireplace. This room was only intended to be a convenient halfway point between Moab and Bryce, but we do wish we could have spent more time up in those mountains (even if it was 9 degrees).
Based on high recommendations from friends, we stopped here before heading into Bryce Canyon. Good thing, too. The mountain pass we were originally going to take was closed off due to snow anyway.
First, we found a free parking spot on main street and headed into Grind Coffee House to fuel up. We both ended up ordering sandwiches for brunch – a pesto chicken for Andrew and a custom breakfast sandwich for me. There’s a bookstore connected to this café that was difficult to avoid!
To top off our meal with a treat, we stopped by The French Spot to order a crepe and macarons to go. I love macarons, but my usual complaints are that they are too small for the expense and often lack flavor. These cookies were BIG. Enough to share (if you’re feeling nice), and full of flavor!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Depending what you're up for, Bryce Canyon National Park could be a short or long experience.
We really only considered Bryce a pitstop to Zion, so we didn't spend too much time here. However, the orange hoodoos covered in fresh snow was a sight to behold!
We drove to Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, and Sunset Point to get a good look at the canyon from above, then continued south toward our main destination.
Zion National Park
There are probably a million places to stay within Zion's vicinity. Everyone is different. But for us, staying 5 minutes from the park for double the price didn’t seem worth the cost when we could stay 15 minutes away in La Verkin. Honeymoon or not, we still on a budget!
Do as the locals do, right? This little suburb on Zion National Park's west side was the perfect resting point. We chose a residential guest suite off AirBnB, conveniently located right off the main road and close to a gas station, grocery store, and local eateries.
We made our way from Bryce early afternoon, arriving at Zion's east entrance just before sunset. Those views with those golden hour hues utterly took our breath away.
Visiting Zion during winter months means not having to worry about shuttle bus traffic, so driving the loop at leisure is a huge perk!
Zion Things to Do:
Hiking is the most obvious activity in Zion. But if you only have a day or two to explore like we did, you want to pick your adventure wisely.
If heights are totally your thing, a 10-mile roundtrip hike with insane drop-offs and chains to help you climb, AKA Angel’s Landing, should be your choice. My husband, bless him, heard that a body was found at the bottom of this steep cliff the week prior. We don’t know the specifics, but it was enough to deter his already height-shy self. We will return to conquer this one another day!
Instead, we opted for the Canyon Overlook Trail. This short but moderate hike of 163 ft. elevation turned out to be the perfect compromise. The views were rewarding, the chipmunks were friendly, and the short workout allowed us more time to explore other areas of the park in the same day.
However, after driving through the park looking for photo ops and reading over trail descriptions, we settled on the Emerald Pools trail. We figured we had time for the long loop and that surely the highest pools would be the prettiest. Unfortunately, this entire trail was anti-climactic.
Maybe it depends on the time of day or season. But to us, these “pools” were just puddles with algae growth. Don’t get me wrong, the hike itself was great exercise. In hindsight, though, we would have been fine with the Lower Pool trail which sort of has some water run-off over a large canyon wall – otherwise, we would have preferred a more scenic hike.
But if you’d rather not spend your entire day hiking, the drive through Zion’s tunnels and switchbacks is incredible. There are plenty of spots to picnic by the river. If you do, there's a high chance you'll see deer nearby! Also, if you love looking through tourist shops, Springdale boasts quite a few gem collectors and boutiques.
Zion Area Dining
Whatever you do, don't bother with the barbecue in La Verkin! We craved and attempted BBQ two nights in a row, once at Lonny Boy's BBQ and once at the Stage Coach Grille, and were unsatisfied both times. Everything was edible, but the meat was tough and dry.
Thankfully, there is a redeeming restaurant in town called the River Rock Roasting Company where we ate breakfast both mornings. If you're looking for a low carb option, I recommend the breadless Garison. I treated myself to a lavender mocha with oat milk and couldn't recommend it more.
Valley of Fire State Park
Since we had special plans to surprise Andrew's parents after our honeymoon, this Utah road trip was mapped out as a one-way from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas where we would catch a flight to Tennessee.
We figured we'd try to squeeze as many national parks and popular attractions into our itinerary along the way. Valley of Fire State Park just so happens to be on the way to Vegas from Zion.
Couple things to note, you will need cash or a check to pay. The guard box was empty during regular hours so we drove all the way to the visitor center and paid the fee there.
The entire park takes less than a couple of hours to explore. At this point in the journey, we'd seen so many red rocks. Yes, we're still glad we checked this site off. But unless you're going to be doing a lot of exploring, Valley of Fire will pale in comparison to Utah's magnificent parks.
Remember when we thought we were excited about petroglyphs at Moab? Holy moly, this park has a ton! In some places, the entire wall was covered in ancient art.
Also, this place gets hot, even in February! If you plan on getting out of your car at all, carry some water and wear skin protection or a hat. You may also want to try to avoid pictures during the middle of the day due to harsh lighting. Unfortunately, we didn't have that option.
The next part of the journey is optional. You can do like we did and drive from Valley of Fire to Death Valley then stop at the Seven Magic Mountains (pictured below) on your way back to Vegas. Or, you can just head straight to Vegas after Valley of Fire and call it a good week!
Death Valley National Park, California
I won't lie to you. I sort of wish we would have just spent an extra day in Zion instead of pushing to Death Valley.
For one, thanks to a freak wind storm, high winds will likely give me PTSD for the rest of my life.
But, I'm jumping ahead.
Before you trek across the desert, you need to have a full tank of gas. Once you arrive, or at least before you leave, you'll likely still have to fill up at the overpriced gas station inside the park. There isn't another one for about an hour outside Death Valley on the way back to Vegas.
As my husband joked, UFO sightings were more common than gas stations.
Which would have been fine, if there hadn't been a dust storm the only night we stayed, totally obstructing the sought-after "dark skies" of Death Valley. Ugh.
So, this park is gigantic. Driving from one attraction to the next takes a minimum of 20 minutes one way.
When we first descended into the valley, we couldn't check into the Ranch at Death Valley right away. California time was an hour behind Utah. Go figure.
To kill time, we drove up to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in the northern part of the park. That's when the wind started to pick up and we noticed the haze sweeping across the valley horizon.
As the sun began to set, we decided to make the most of daylight hours by squeezing in a look at Artist's Palette. Consisting of potash and other volcanic minerals from over centuries of settlement, this hillside is a rainbow of colors against the brown desert. Although the colors were much more obvious in person, I think the dusty conditions hindered the beauty of our photos. Apparently, the colors are astounding right after a good rain, so try to time that right if you can (ha, ha).
To cut a long story short, our one night stay was a nightmare. Our building lost power, including access to hot water - there was no generator. The restaurant on site was atrociously expensive and takeout only. The general store wanted to sell us a box of club crackers for $9 and the use of hot water dispensers or microwaves to try to eat ramen was prohibited due to COVID. Anything that required a fridge needed to be eaten immediately because...well, you get it.
I'd like to say it was just another adventure. But as it was the end of our honeymoon, and the front desk was extremely impolite, Death Valley National Park left a bitter taste in our mouths.
We can laugh about it now, especially since they reimbursed us 40% of our stay. But I do wish I had a better report!
The next morning, before heading to Las Vegas, we drove to the lowest point in North America, feasting on snacks for breakfast. Like everything in Death Valley, Badwater Basin's salt flats seem never-ending. We walked, and walked, and still the salt field continued like a mirage.
In conclusion, I'm glad we got to check this national park off our list. Would I go back?
Not if you paid me. :)
Know before you go
Whew! This Utah road trip recap was uber long. If you made it this far, I owe you a hug.
Here are some final thoughts about the journey.
Get yourself an Annual National Parks Pass! I know, $80 sounds like a lot up front. But when you consider entrance fees for each park is roughly $25, it pays for itself on a Utah road trip alone. Besides, it covers a carload, so you can bring all your homies!
Lastly, if you can afford it, opt for an SUV with 4WD to handle snow or rough terrain. We got lucky on our trip and thank God for it. But I wouldn't take that chance a second time.
Hope you enjoyed this and find the itinerary useful someday!