Vegas Vacation, minus the Griswolds!

5 Jun

Well hello there!  Long time no chat!  But like I promised after our Birthday Caribbean Cruise Adventure, we’ve had lots going on and I’m here to do some updating!  You’ll remember that we had several things in the pipeline…A new business venture, trips to NYC and Chicago, and our BFFs coming home from overseas just in time to head to Vegas for a long-overdue fun vacation!  Well, I’m gonna change things up a bit.  It’s still just a tiny bit too soon to get into business stuff (plus, work stuff is never as much fun as play stuff, right?!), so I’m gonna jump ahead to Vegas and come back to the other very soon- I promise! 🙂

So, a little bit of background.  Our best friends, Sam and Chuck, live overseas with their twin toddlers for about 8 months of the year.  It’s tough saying goodbye each fall, being apart for all that time…So last summer we made a pact- that we’d go on an adult vacation just as soon as they got home and since none of us had ever been to Vegas (at least not as grownups!), that would be our destination. Not ones to waste any time, they got in from Israel last Saturday and were on a westbound plane bright and early Tuesday morning! WOOHOO!  And while we were out there for the better part of a week, I’m going to try to condense the adventure into just two posts- the city in one and the Grand Canyon in the other.  So here we go!

Welcome to Vegas, Baby!

Las Vegas, Nevada.  Vegas.  Sin City. Entertainment Capital of the World.  Yep, the monikers definitely fit!  Wow, what a fun place!  I’ve never seen so many lights or heard so many sounds in my life!   Before I get into how it meets and exceeds all stereotypical expectations, let me give a little background…The most populous city in Nevada and the 28th largest city in the US, there’s actually WAY more to the city than ‘The Strip.’  Other than the 3 mile twinkling, dinging boulevard lined with resorts and casinos, Las Vegas is a normal city with a small town feel.  It’s got normal people living in suburbs, working 9-5, strip malls, McD’s on the corners…The part that you see in movies is actually only the smallest part of the city, which I thought was pretty cool.  With an elevation of 2000 feet above sea level, Vegas is situated within Clark County in an arid basin on the desert floor, surrounded by dry mountains. Much of the landscape is rocky and dusty- dominated by sparse desert vegetation and some wildlife.  With a subtropical arid climate, it’s warm and sunny most of the year, just as you’d expect.

❤ Love ❤

OK, back to the Strip!  We split our time between two hotels- the Mirage and the Venetian.  Both were fabulous, although I will say that the rooms themselves at the Venetian were among the best we’ve ever had- and that’s saying alot considering how much we travel!  Now for those of you who’ve been to Vegas, you know about the hotels there- most of them have a ‘theme’ and it’s usually pretty apparent what that theme is just from glancing at the exterior.  For example, the Parisian hotel…

The Parisian, complete with half-size Eiffel Tower, hot air balloon and a very 'French' hotel building...

The New York hotel…

NY, NY...complete with Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline...

The Excalibur…

The Excalibur, providing guests with Camelot 🙂 It should be noted that this hotel generally gets listed among the 'very cheesy.' I'd believe it!

And the Luxor…

The Luxor, complete with Sphinx and a very 'Egyptian' hotel building, which by the way, looks very cool lit up at night...

You get the picture.  So let me tell you about the Mirage…

The Mirage

Opened in 1989 as the most expensive hotel-casino in history (construction costs were $630 million), The Mirage was the first resort that was built with the money of Wall Street through the use of junk bonds. Its distinctive gold windows get their color from actual gold dust used in the tinting process. It was reported that the resort would have to bring in a million dollars a day to pay off a 7-year construction loan, but it did so well that the loan was paid off in just 18 months. Congrats, right?!

The ‘theme’ of the Mirage is just what the name implies, a tropical oasis in the middle of the dessert.  Think atriums, palm trees, tropical flowers…even a signature volcano in front of the property that erupts every hour after dark!

Entryway Palm Atrium at the Mirage

The Mirage Volcano erupting...If only you could hear the impressively loud tribal drums beating simultaneously!

And the rooms were great, too.  No tropical theme, just sleek and modern simplicity- just the way we like it :).

Our room on the 24th floor, overlooking snowcapped mountains in the far distance...

Now, I’m sure some of you remember that Venice, Italy, is one of our FAVORITE cities on the planet, so you can only imagine our excitement about staying in the world’s closest replica!  And while nothing can compare with the real deal in terms of character and charm, the Vegas Venetian didn’t disappoint!

The Venetian...complete with Doge Palace, watch tower and Rialto Bridge...

The Bell Tower and the Rialto Bridge...

Painted ceilings of the Venetian...just like the real Vatican Museum 🙂

Walking through 'Venice...' The shops at the Venetian line the 'Grand Canal,' complete with gondolas and street lamps...

Yes, the waters are a little TOO pristine and the buildings are a little TOO perfect, but we always welcome the site of a gondolier serenading young love 🙂

So what all did we actually DO out there, you ask?  Well, the better question is probably what DIDN’T we do! Ha!  Definitely a little of this and a little of that…We walked the Strip (Sam was amazed at just how much walking is involved in a visit to this famous Boulevard!)…

The Bellagio and its famous 'Dancing Waters...' Every 15 minutes, night and day, these computer-programmed fountains 'dance' choreographed routines to all types of music, from Back to Aerosmith and everything in between. A neat tidbit: every 2.5 seconds of full-powered shots can fill an olympic swimming pool! Another tidbit: every day, the equivalent of 5 olympic swimming pools evaporates from the Bellagio Lake. Geez.

From a bridge over the Strip...

We took in the lights at night…

Harrah's, a throwback to Old Vegas...

That's the Venetian in the background. Front and center is the Casino Royale, the lowest buy-in and highest payouts on the Strip...And yes, that's a lone arch...proving that not even the most glamorous and ritzy places are safe from McDs!

We gambled…No, none of us won very much, but we didn’t lose our shirt either!

The Planet Hollywood casino...

It's destiny...her hands are exactly the same size as her girl-crush, Sandra Bullock 🙂

We hung out with celebrities…

With Hef on the velvet couch...

With his man-crush, Justin Timberlake 🙂

Rockin' out with Tim McGraw...

Giving Tiger some pointers for getting his game back...

No trip to Vegas would be complete without an Elvis sighting!

John didn't want Chuck Liddell to feel bad about himself...:)

And what the hell, how about a political statement while we're here? Ha!

So it was quite an interesting guestlist for this party, right?!  I guess Madame Tussaud’s, the wax museum, knows what it’s doing! 🙂

Moving along…We ventured out off the Strip to downtown Las Vegas, better known as the Fremont Street Experience.

The FSE is a 5 block pedestrian stretch, including the famous ‘Glitter Gulch,’ on Fremont Street downtown, about 10 minutes from the Strip.  Rich in history, the street holds the record for many of the city’s ‘firsts:’ first hotel (1906), first telephone (1907),first paved street (1925), first Nevada gaming license, first traffic light, first elevator (1932), and the first high-rise (the Fremont Hotel in 1956). Its Horseshoe Casino was the first to install carpeting, while the Golden Nugget was the first structure designed from the ground up specifically to be a casino. Neat, huh?

Fremont Street Experience during the day...Casinos have lower buy ins and higher payouts 🙂

A slot machine that was bigger than me! No, it wasn't any luckier than any other. Grrr...

Inside the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, the world's largest golden nugget. Found in Alaska in 1980, it's valued at just over $1 million.

The world-famous Binion's Casino, home of the World Poker Series. Also home of the highest buy in ($25k!) in Vegas!

OK, so we didn't gamble in that one, but that didn't stop us from posing with their booty!

It's gotta be cool place if it has Sex and the City slot machines, right?! 🙂

Vintage Vegas...

Complete with the Rat Pack, the 'Vintage Vegas' feel is definitely in effect!

For many years, the western end of the street was the area most commonly portrayed whenever producers wanted to display the ‘lights of Vegas,’ thanks to the many neon signs that earned the area the nickname, ‘Glitter Gulch.’ In the early 1990s, the FSE was conceived as a way to draw more people to the ailing downtown gambling area, which had been losing business to the casinos and resorts of the Strip. The goal was to blend vintage Las Vegas with high tech wonderment, live entertainment and more to create an attraction that rivals the famed Vegas Strip.

The 'Glitter Gulch'

Night time at the Fremont Street Experience...WOW.

The most obvious and largest part of the FSE is the light canopy and show. The canopy, the largest LED screen in the world, towers 90 feet above the ground and spans the length of five football fields. With more than 12 million LED modules that can display 16.7 million color combinations and 555,000-watt sound system, the light show is one of the biggest attractions in the city for both locals and tourists. The light shows themselves run the gammit- from classic rock to Motown oldies. For example, during “A Tribute to Queen,” visitors will hear “We Will Rock You” and “We are the Champions” while admiring the stunning graphics above. Fans of KISS can also catch the show, “KISS Over Vegas,” where they’ll rock to hits like “Lick it Up,” “Shout it out Loud” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night.”

IMPRESSIVE.

How is all of this controlled? Well, there’s a master control room with technicians operating eight computers that intertwine the light, visual and audio systems. And in addition to the light show, the street is full of casinos, hotels, vendors, shops and restaurants…There are also two permanent stages for live entertainment. Literally, something for everyone!

Now, I don’t know if I’d say that the FSE is necessarily a rival for the Strip, but it’s definitely cool, definitely great to look at and definitely exudes that ‘old Vegas’ feel!

Continuing on…We shopped…

A mackdaddy of candy stores!

Of course, we saw a show…

Peepshow, starting Holly Madison, Hugh Hefner's ex...FABULOUSLY SEXY SHOW! 😉

And last but not least…You know where this is headed, don’t you??  Yep, we ATE!!  What kind of post would this be if I didn’t at least hit the food highlights in a culinary playground of a city?!  Ha!

🙂

There’s no doubt that Vegas has 2304928302 posh, delicious, 5-star restaurants to choose from.  Literally, every single hotel has at least one- usually a few- of these restaurants helmed by world-famous chefs.  Think Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Morimoto… Yep, they all get beyond excellent reviews, the presentation is phenonmenal, the taste is even better, and the pricetag reflects the perfection!  Needless to say, we passed on all such restaurants in favor of more ‘out of the box’ top restaurants.  Some of our favs?

We went to one of our usual favorites, Chocolatier Max Brenner, that coincidentally, ended up having the BEST mac-n-cheese EVER.

Yep, that's a full-size skillet full of the planet's #1 comfort food...complete with marinara sauce to pour over the top. WOW.

Max Brenner Dessert...Caramel Chocolate Lava Cake and Apple Streusel Waffles 🙂

After hearing of a nearby top-rated German restaurant, the Hofbrauhous, John just had to cast his vote in its favor for a lunch…Truth be told, both of us are actually missing our time in Germany a bit- to the point where we’ve talked about signing up for it again!- so walking in this place and immediately feeling like we’d hopped the pond was just really cool.  🙂

John felt just like old times 🙂

Yep, definitely like old times! Anybody remember our German favorite? White sausages in broth and a pretzel. Mmmm... 🙂

German lunch: Chicken Brats, Sauerkraut, and Cheese Spaetzle *swoon*

We tried Grande Lux Cafe after learning that it was a top-rated casual restaurant in the entire city- how great that it was in our hotel, the Venetian!  Huge menu with something for everyone and all delicious- perfect!  The highlights of the meal?

Mini Chili Cheese Dog Appetizer!

Greek Salad

John opted for Woodfired Pizza...

Of course, we had to try a never-ending buffet since that’s what Vegas is known for…After tons of research, we went with the #2 rated Rio World Buffet (the #1 Wynn was $85/person and that’s just ridiculous).  The premise is that you go from station to station, each from a different part of the world- the Japanese Sushi Station, the Mexican Taco Station, the Italian Pasta Station, etc.- filling your plate.  Great idea, right??  Unfortunately, this was the only meal we weren’t impressed with.  Yes, there was TONS of food, but the quality was no better really than a Ryan’s Steakhouse :(.  I will say that Chuck took advantage of the crab legs and prime rib- both delicious!, so it was definitely a good choice for him!

Rio Buffet

And finally, our FAVORITE meal of the entire trip had to be at a restaurant featured not once, but twice!, on Man vs. Food- Hash House-a-Go-Go.  They promise delicious food and HUGE portions- think softball size scratchmade biscuits, 15 inch fluffy pancakes, and quesadillas so big that they don’t fit on the largest plates…and they don’t disappoint!  Having researched ahead of time, we each chose menu items that they’re known for- two of which were on the TV show.  Most impressive?

Chicken and Waffles! Yep, that's 4 Belgian waffles- with bacon baked INSIDE- topped with 2 sage fried chicken breasts, leaks and maple syrup. No worries, we got this as an 'appetizer' to split between the 4 of us. 🙂 Don't judge.

Corned Beef Hash, always a fav for John 🙂

Well there you have it- I’d say that’s definitely more than enough for one blog day, right?!  I’ve gotta say that I’m pretty impressed with myself for getting in several days worth of Vegas stuff into one post!  Ha!  I’ll be back tomorrow with our Grand Canyon adventure.  And I’ll warn you- it’s damn impressive! 🙂

 

One Response to “Vegas Vacation, minus the Griswolds!”

  1. granmom June 6, 2011 at 5:12 PM #

    Gosh! How did you have time to do all this. Very impressive.

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