USA Hostels – Hollywood

Stayed: August 2015 for 4 Nights
Room: 6 Bed Female Dorm with Ensuite Bathroom
Overall Rating: 9/10

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Everyone has to experience Hollywood at least once in their lifetime right!?
I knew I wanted to check out Hollywood Boulevard and do the Hollywood Sign when I was in the city of Los Angeles so I chose this Hostel as it was really central and had great reviews!

I read online that this hostel in Hollywood had won the ‘Most Popular Hostel Award’ from LA- Hostelworld.com for 2015 and also the 2014 ‘Certificate of Excellence’ on Trip Advisor so it really is quite a popular hostel for people staying in LA. USA Hostel’s also have hostel’s in San Diego (Downtown & Ocean Beach) as well as San Francisco but I haven’t stayed in them before.

My experience:
When I arrived in California I took a Shuttle from LAX airport to get to the hostel which took about 50 minutes. (Less without traffic but when does that ever happen in LA) Check in didn’t start until 2pm which is usually the norm but I think I arrived in the afternoon so I checked in right away. All rooms have a swipe card so it’s pretty safe, plus you have to show your swipe card before you’re even let past reception into the building so no random people can walk in.

I stayed in a room with 5 other girls and we had our own bathroom which was great. It had a toilet, sink & mirror and shower/bath combo. The only annoy thing was having to wait in the morning if a girl was taking too long (I admit on hair washing day I was that girl) Otherwise there is 2 other common bathrooms in the hostel you can go and use.

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Picture off their website, but this is exactly what the bathrooms were like

There are also rooms you can book out for yourself if you have the extra cash. They’re a bit small but you get your own space and they have either one twin bunk bed or one double bed along with cable TV, a mini fridge, air conditioning and a private bathroom.

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Private Room in Hollywood

I enjoyed staying in my room, the Hostel provided me with a fresh duvet & sheets when I arrived so I knew my bed was all clean. I was on a lower bunk next to the window and had my own little shelf, reading light and power outlet to charge my phone. The lockers they have also have power outlets in them so you can go out for the day and leave your electronics charging if you need to which was handy. You just have to provide your own lock.
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All the room rates included breakfast (With make-your-own-pancakes), free WI-FI, laundry soap and free storage of your things on the day that you check out.

What I really enjoyed about this hostel was all the activities that they had available. In the reception area they had boards where you could write down your name on anything you wanted to do for that week. They also had Comedy nights upstairs in the ‘lounge’ area, Family dinners, BBQ nights and Pub crawls.
20150819_145909.jpgI’m kicking myself now that I didn’t join in on more stuff!
They do things on certain nights so maybe that’s why I missed out on some stuff. If you wanted to see Magic Mountain they have a free shuttle that goes there at 9.30am on certain days and provide you with discounted tickets from reception.
They also do a Runyon Canon Hike in the morning which is free and something I wish I did! I think it must have been too hot for me so I never did end up seeing the Hollywood Sign 😦
Check out this link on their website and you’ll find a monthly list of all the stuff they have planned so you can always book your trip based around those days.
20150818_123702.jpgI did sign up for one of the free Beach Shuttles to Venice Beach but unfortunately I was one of the last people to sign up so I missed out as the van was full. A few others and myself ended up getting an Uber instead and splitting the fare 4 ways.
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There’s actually quite alot to see in LA, you can read what I did here for my 5 days in the Sun 🙂
As this Hostel was right off Hollywood Boulevard I walked down the Hollywood walk of fame pretty much every day. It’s super close to the Chinese Theatre, Madame Tussaud’s and food places so I ate a lot of Pizza! Haha.
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Pros:

  • En-suite Bathroom in the Dorm Rooms
  • Option of Private Room
  • So many activities to choose from
  • Breakfast included in the price
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • ‘Chill out area’ upstairs with couches and DVD’s
  • Family Dinner Nights (Good if you’re saving money)
  • Well equipped Kitchen
  • Towels & Bedding Provided
  • Right around the corner from Hollywood Boulevard
  • Has a beer pong table outside to set up
  • Great privacy fence from the street
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Cons:

  • I actually can’t think of any major faults with this hostel. Maybe it was a bit noisy when I was trying to sleep as my room was right next door to a car park where homeless people would yell and get drunk some nights but I never felt un-safe or uncomfortable. The only annoying thing about my LA stay was the annoying people on Hollywood Boulevard haha. But I hardly think that’s the hostels fault.
    If you’re ever in Hollywood, I’d really recommend this hostel!!
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Green Tortoise Hostel – San Francisco

Stayed: August 2015 (Summer) 4 Nights
Room:
5 Person Female Dorm
Overall Rating:
 8/10 [Was clean, had lots to do, great location, friendly and social travelers]

mainbg1I stayed at Green Tortoise Hostel for my 5 wonderful days in San Francisco.
This was my very first time staying at a hostel so I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was pretty good 🙂
If you have a look on their website they sometimes have good rates for rooms depending on the time of year. I paid USD$204 for my 4 nights (including taxes)

Check in is at 2pm which was fine for me as I didn’t arrive until about 7pm. I’d just had a long 16 hour flight from New Zealand with a short stop in LA so I was knackered!
I paid for my room once I got to the hostel but you can cancel your reservation free of charge up to 48 hours in advance if you change your mind.

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There are private rooms available

The reception is open 24 hours a day which is really helpful for people arriving at different hours and it’s easy to find!
I took a shuttle from the airport for about $19-$20 otherwise you can take the BART for $9 and get off at Montgomery Street Station and walk for about 15 minutes.
If you have a car, note that they don’t provide parking and recommend you pay to park it in a garage. If you e-mail them, they’ll tell you where to go as sometimes they do deals with garages for like half the price.

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I stayed in this identical dorm 🙂

This is a Party Hostel so don’t book here if all you want to do is sleep and keep to yourself! Most of the people who stay here are between 20 and 30 years of age. They have nightly events so it’s good to check at reception to see what’s happening that night.

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Pros:

  • Option of Private Rooms
  • Massive Ballroom to eat in
  • Free Breakfast every day
  • 3 Free Dinners a week (Think it’s usually vegetarian though)
  • Free Wi-Fi everywhere
  • Computer’s available
  • Guest Laundry Room (Does close off at 10pm though)
  • Pool Table
  • Fully Equipped kitchen to make your own meals
  • Allowed to drink alcohol in the Ballroom
  • Large storage space under your bed
  • Private Bathrooms in the hallway (Not stalls)
  • Reception very informative with booking activities
  • Bike Rentals
  • Intercom Access after-hours (So no randoms coming in)

Cons:

  • Stairs! Maybe I’m just lazy but I hated walking up all the stairs whenever I forgot something
  • Can be noisy on the weekends and in peak season
  • Quite a few adult entertainment clubs on the next block (Personally I didn’t find it a problem apart from the odd catcall when you walked by)
  • No air con/fans
  • Showers can run out of hot water if you’re late having a shower in the morning

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Unfortunately I didn’t attend any of the activities they hosted (Bar crawls etc.). Looking back I really should have but I was new at this whole travelling solo thing. Also, I’d met some people when I was out on one of my day trips so I went out for dinner with them throughout the week instead.

Note: The only problem I had with this hostel was one of the staff member’s. When I arrived, obviously hot and tired and sore from carrying my stuff and my 16 hour flight he proceeded to tell me every single rule and info about the hostel while I just stood there and listened for 10 minutes. I asked if I could just go to my room and come back down later but he got snippy and explained how every single little thing worked from the washing machine to what cereals they provided. 
I know I sound bitchy writing this, but if you were in the mood that I was in, I just really could not be bothered. 
A couple of nights later when I was in bed, the same guy just barged into my room and switched the lights on. First of all, he didn’t knock which I thought was rude as it was a female only dorm room and I could have been getting changed. Second I was wearing a nightgown I had to quickly adjust and thirdly he didn’t even explain why he was in there! Just went to one of the beds and lifted the mattress looking for something. He left a few minutes later (Without turning off the light I might add) and 2 other girls came back with him a little while later who then explained to me that one of them found ants in her bed so he was checking to see what could be done I guess.
I don’t think anything was ever solved as her bed was right next to the window (And the window was open all the time) so I’m pretty sure that’s how she had them. I dunno, that just made me so annoyed how disrespectful he was!

494 Broadway

San Francisco, CA 94133

Hostel@GreenTortoiseSF.com

+1 (415) 834-1000

Toll-Free (USA and Canada)

1 (800) 867-8647

Universal Studios – Orlando

Universal Studios:
Theme parks with locations in Orlando- Florida , LA – California,  Sentosa – Singapore and Osaka – Japan
Universal Parks & Resorts is best known for attractions and lands based on famous pop culture properties (movies, television, literature, cartoons, comics, video games, music, etc.) from not only NBCUniversal but also other companies. – Wiki
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I had the opportunity last year (2015) to go to all of the Universal Studios (apart from Japan) but I only ended up going to the one in Orlando, Florida.
When I was in LA I pretty much just ran out of time, and in Singapore it was far too humid to be standing in line all day for rides so I didn’t go. I also hadn’t made any friends in Singapore to go with. Sad I know 😦

When I was on my Contiki Tour,  going to Universal was one of the options when we were in Orlando. If you’re ever there, defiantly go!! I had soo much fun. Especially as I was with a group of people, there was always someone keen to go on a ride with me.
It’s funny because when I went to the Theme Parks in Australia with my boyfriend last year, I was pretty nervous to go on half of the rides and didn’t even do some of them!
However when it came to going on the rides with my new-found friends from my tour, I was all for it!!

I think it’s because we didn’t even have time to contemplate how scary a ride would be. The lines were short that day so we’d just immediately line up and go for it without waiting and thinking how scary it was. The less you think about it, the better it is! Plus I didn’t want to seem like a wuss and chicken out at the last minute in front of everyone haha.

When the bus dropped us off at Universal, we all fast-walked to the ticket booth (And believe me, it’s a bit of a walk!)
You walk up all these ramps and go on these moving escalators to get to the park. I’m assuming they must get super super busy over the Holiday periods but luckily for us we went first thing in the morning and there wasn’t too much of a line.
When you get let through to the park, you go through a short process where one of the park employees uses a scanner on your finger tip and the software scans the swirls and arcs of your finger to create a grid of intersecting points. These points are then stored as a series of coordinating numbers so when the finger is scanned again, the number series will repeat and match itself to the stored original. I think they do this so they know the same person is using the same pass if it’s allocated to them for a ‘season pass’ or something.

Once we were given our tickets from our Tour Manager, we quickly got into groups and headed off to the rides.
My group decided we’d head to the Hogwarts Express first and take the train to Hogsmeade where we knew there were some Harry Potter themed rides.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a Harry Potter fan at all. I know the basic characters and everything but have never seen a full movie.
Anyways, we met a Hogwarts Prefect at the ‘London Station’ who lead us to our passenger compartment on the train and I have to say, it was pretty cool!

We were seated on the train just like I assume Harry Potter was in the compartments, and there was a screen on our window showing the beautiful country side as we chugged along.


When we arrived at Hogsmeade we went on the Dragon Challenge Ride first. It’s an intertwining roller coaster and has two corkscrews, and two vertical loops. Not everyone in our group was keen on this so myself and 3 others ran to line up. I’m glad I got a roller-coaster out of the way because it got all my adrenaline running at the beginning of the day.
It’s one of those roller-coasters where your feet hang down and you’re terrified you’re going to kick something or someone haha.


(The above video isn’t mine, I just found it off Youtube)

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When we got off the ride, we met the rest of the crew who had been waiting for us and tried one of their Butter Beers they bought from the Wooden Barrel. I was a bit hesitant to try one because (1. I hate beer, and 2. because as it was a dark color I assumed it’d taste like coke which I also hate)
However I was very wrong about this one. Looking back, I really should have gotten one because I always seem to crave it when I think of it.

Apparently Universal won’t release its butter-beer recipe, but people describe the drink as a”reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch.”
The drink is drawn from a tap, like a beer, and the dense, whipped topping is added from a separate tap. It’s served in cups, about $3 ($4 for frozen) for a disposable cup and about $10 ($11 for frozen) for a hard plastic souvenir stein so not expensive at all!

The next ride was Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™
We walked through Gringotts Bank which was a large marble lobby and saw all these ‘Goblins’ hard at work.

When we arrived at the Underground ride, we hopped on to these flying benches and got strapped in. The ride is all in 3D and it honestly felt so real! We were flying on broomsticks with Harry & Ron, we were navigating the underground vaults and trying to get away from Villians. It’s a family ride, but I was still screaming with laughter.

I was expecting more rides at Hogsmeade but that was pretty much it. They also had a Gift Shop to buy all the Harry Potter Merchandise you could ever think of which is cool if you’re into that.
The Harry Potter adventure didn’t stop there however. We took the Hogwarts Express back to ‘London’ and went to Diagon Alley which is set up like the streets of London with a fire breathing Dragon at the top of one of the buildings.
There were so many shops!
You could buy your own Ollivanders wand and also these Interactive Wands so you could cast spells throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. You just waved your wand in certain areas, recited a spell, and then magic stuff would happen haha.
You could also buy assorted Wizardwear from Madam Malkin’s Robes and purchase wizarding wares and supplies like crystal balls, telescopes, binoculars, and hourglasses from Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment.
It was like a Harry Potter geeks dream.

The only thing I bought was an ice-cream from Fortescue’s Ice-cream haha. It was pretty good though!

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Silly me didn’t take a photo of my treat so I took this photo off Google 🙂 Pretty similar to what I had though.

They have three water rides at Universal Studios Orlando, we went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure Ride first which I kind of regret because I got soaked and ruined my hair for the rest of the day! Such a princess I know haha. You’re basically in a boat with 3 rows of other people and you go around a calm river with dinosaurs until something ‘goes wrong’ and then you’re put in front of the terrifying jaws of a towering T-rex and suddenly plunged 85-feet into total darkness.


I didn’t take any picture on this ride as I didn’t want my phone to get wet so I’ve found some pictures off Google too. 🙂

The second ride we went to was called Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. I had only just dried off so I skipped this ride and was the photo taker for everyone else. As you can see, this one is a log ride and is set in the Canadian North Woods. It has a 75-foot drop (22 meters) underneath an “exploding” dynamite shack.
20150904_104449.jpg20150904_105818.jpgWe were all pretty hungry by this stage so went to one of the many food places the park has. I can’t quite remember what I got but I think it was a combination of fries and a drink of some sort. Knowing me, I didn’t want to eat too much in case it made me sick later on!

If you explored the whole theme park, you’d find so many places to eat!!
They have everything from New York Dining which has  Italian food, and an Irish-American pub and restaurant which serves Fish ‘n Chips, Corned Beef & Cabbage, Guinness Beef Stew, Sandwiches, Salads, and a Full Bar.
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They also had restaurants which have ‘Character Breakfasts’ (Great if you have kids with you) which you pay like $26 USD for and you get eggs, bacon, pancakes, yogurt, muffins & croissants in a buffet. You get to have your photo taken with characters from Hop & Despicable Me and then on the day of the breakfast you have access to an exclusive viewing area where you can see the Universal Superstar Parade which has floats & music etc.
Note: This is only available on Thursdays – Saturdays from 9am to 10am

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Universal also has Mel’s Drive- In Diner which is all 50s themed and plays golden oldies on the jukebox and serves Burgers and Fries, Chicken Sandwiches, Chicken Fingers, Onion Rings, Root Beer Floats and Frosty Milk Shakes. I didn’t go to this diner, but I went to the one in Hollywood when I was there and the shakes were so good!
ORL455_USF_MelsI could really go on and on about all the places you can eat but I’d be writing for ages! They have your Burger King in the food court. They have Starbucks, Moes (Mexican food), A Sushi bar, Cinnabon, Cold Stone Creamery and a place called Lone Palm Aiport which is an outdoor tiki bar with hot dogs, shrimp and beer. Writing all this has just made me hungry haha.
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I didn’t actually know this until I started researching more about Universal, but they have nightlife there!  At Universal CityWalk they have bars like The Red Coconut Club and a movie theater which has a concession stand serving hot foods like pizza and fries, plus a full liquor bar featuring beer and wine. I wish I went to The Red Coconut Club now 😦 it has three different bars spread across the club’s two levels, signature martinis and specialty drinks, an extensive wine list and VIP table service!!
I guess this just means I have to go back 😉

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Once we were all fed, we headed over to The Mummy Ride.
It was so much fun!! We made two of the people on our group go on this who barely went on many of the scary rides and they loved it, even if they were screaming their head off the whole time hahaha. We loved it so much we went on it like 4 times that afternoon.
You’re plunged into total darkness, there’s huge fireballs (Which are actually really hot) and swarms of scarab beetles and an army of warrior mummies coming at you.
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If you love The Simpsons growing up, you’d love the whole Simpsons Theme they have going on. They have a Simpsons Ride which we lined up for. You go into these individual rooms with groups of about 4 people and you’re put into a cart-type thing. It’s a 3D high definition ride so you don’t really go anywhere but you feel like you are!  You embark on a wild ride through Krustyland where you fly and float and crash through the attractions and stunt shows and your cart moves from side to side and up and down which is fun. It’s crazy what they can do with animation and stuff nowadays which makes you feel like you’re really about to fall down this cartoon roller-coaster haha.
20150904_150200.jpg‘Springfield’ was getting a bit dark and gloomy when we walked through the park thanks to a thunderstorm arriving so one of the guys in our group quickly bought one of those big pink donuts from Lard Lad Donuts and we took a couple of pictures before heading to Moe’s Tavern for a drink of Duff beer.

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There were quite a few people inside lining up for a cold Duff beer so the boys spent awhile trying to get the bar tenders attention. As I don’t like beer, I didn’t try it but the boys said it tasted all good 🙂20150904_150635.jpg
I didn’t get to try a Krusty Burger as I wasn’t hungry, but they also have a restaurant there selling the famous Krusty Burgers, the Clogger Burger, The Ribwich, Sideshow Bob Foot Long, or a Heat Lamp Dog.

Before we finished our day at Universal, we went on the Mummy Ride one last time and when we exited, it absolutely poured down with rain!
We all huddled underneath some shelter near the lockers hoping that the rain would pass but it didn’t so I went inside and bought a poncho.
They look a bit lame and everyone laughed at me but eventually they all bought one too!
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We wanted to go on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket which is a roller-coaster with this massive loop but it closed because of the thunder and lightning before we left.
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I forgot to mention this, but at some stage during the day. We did go on The Incredible Hulk Coaster®
You go from zero to 40 mph (60km’s) in two seconds flat, and was defiantly one of the coolest roller coasters I’ve been on.20150904_115159.jpg
The Hulk-4So that was my day at Universal!
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to go to one of them whenever you’re in Los Angeles,  Orlando or even Singapore! Or maybe I’ve done some of the research for you.
Head to http://www.universalstudios.com for more info about all the rides and resorts you can stay at.
If you’ve been, let me know what your favorite ride was in the comments below!

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