And that’s enough Vegas for this year

IMG_4084The second week in November was another trip to Las Vegas. A work conference that I got to tag along for. So this time was mainly devoted to things that I don’t normally feel like I have time for in a 3 day trip. Which is good because I’m not sure how much more I can say about Las Vegas this year!

I guess something I haven’t covered much yet is transportation from the airport to your hotel. Taxis will cost you around $30 to get to The Strip or the downtown hotels. If you are splitting the cost, it’s not too bad. You can get any number of shuttles. This time I went with Super Shuttle. You can buy advance tickets online or there at the airport. Their desk is outside of the doors to baggage claim where you go to get taxis. A round trip ticket cost $22. With a round trip ticket you tell them when your return flight is and they give you a pick up time within a 15 minute window. They do drop off at more than one hotel on a trip, so it takes you longer than a taxi will, so factor that in when making a decision.

IMG_4042The conference was at The Venetian so that’s where our room was. All the rooms at The Venetian are suites. That means that they all have a bedroom area and a living room area. It was a nice, large room with entirely too many mirrors. There wasn’t a wall in the bathroom without at least one. Way too much seeing of myself all the time! The bed was very firm but not horrible. The pillows were terrible – marshmallows in the extreme.

IMG_4069There were two televisions in the suite (along with a small one in the bathroom) and they were really poor quality. Pictures were fuzzy as all-get-out. There were blackout drapes over a wall sized window. They were apparently on a timer of some kind because they opened at 6 a.m. every morning except for Friday, but I could never find where the timer was set. So each morning I woke up as the drapes slid open, fumbled for the remote and shut them again. The drapes made it pretty dark in the room except for the really bright night light that was set into the stair down into the living room. Makes sense, right? Keep people from breaking their necks in the night. But if you tend to go to bed and stay in bed, not wandering over to the Indiana Jones mini-bar, it makes it a little bright.

IMG_4076As to the Indiana Jones bar… everything in the fridge and on the snack bar was on a weighted pressure sensor.

indianajones2If something got moved or picked up, you got charged for it. I get it – don’t want people drinking the $8 Cokes and replacing them with $3 ones from Walgreens. Or drinking the tiny $45 bottle of booze and pouring water back in I guess. Inconvenient if you want to keep a bottle of water or a mousse cake leftover in the fridge or something. But Las Vegas on The Strip is not about budget or leftovers. It’s about paying a lot of money for everything, every time you turn around – especially at The Venetian.

IMG_4068The Venetian is the home of the celebrity chefs. Which means that finding a meal for under $20 per entree is somewhat difficult. I paid $18 for my lunch there the first day at Tintoretto and it was a salad and a lunch sized plate of alfredo pasta. It wasn’t particularly good, to be honest. The Caesar salad was really heavy on the anchovies and the alfredo was gummy and pasty. The wait staff was decent until it came time to get the check, then it took forever since they were chatting with each other.

IMG_4048I wandered around a bit more, looking at shops all too expensive for me to need to do more than look in the window. Who goes to Las Vegas to a fake Italy to buy $500 watches or jewelry or Italian clothing? I mean, really. If you have the money to spend on that stuff, you can probably go to Venice and buy the real thing in the real place.

IMG_4050I grabbed some gelato from Cocolini in St. Mark’s Square (still in The Venetian, not the real one). It had a very odd taste, almost like bad milk, but not quite. The texture was more like a not very high quality ice cream and I didn’t even finish what I had.

IMG_4054After playing a bit in the casino while waiting on my husband to arrive, I decided to try the gelato in the food court. One of the two food courts is off to the side of the casino (the other is in the Grand Canal Shoppes). It has about 5 places, I think. A crepe/coffee/gelato place called Cafe Pan, bbq, Mexican, pizza/Italian and burgers. Almost positive Cafe PanĀ  had the same supplier for gelato as Cocolini. Exact same flavors, same texture. This didn’t taste almost spoiled, though, and it was about $2 cheaper than Cocolini. I still didn’t finish it – it just wasn’t that good.

For dinner that first night we went to Buddy V’s there at The Venetian (maybe technically in The Palazzo, not sure. The hotels are connected by the Grand Canal shops).

In the GC Shoppes, between Venetian & Palazzo

In the GC Shoppes, between Venetian & Palazzo

Apparently the chef (or the name behind the restaurant at any rate) is Buddy Valastro from Cake Boss on TLC. He also has a bakery, Carlos’ Bakery, across the hall from Buddy V’s. Earlier in the day the line to get in the Bakery was 40 people long (more about the bakery later)! Per standard for a celebrity chef place, a meal there is not cheap. However, much to my surprise, the food was really excellent. Kind of grandma’s kitchen type of Italian. Nothing pretentious or cheffy. The pasta was good enough that if it wasn’t made fresh there, they must have a really good source for it. The Caesar salad was salty, which was a nice touch, but there was enough salt that about half of the salad was enough. It came with fried polenta cubes as well and those were excellently tasty.

We were going to try the Grand Lux for breakfast the next day but the line was way out the door- I assume part of that was that it was the closest place to have a sit-down-waiter-serviced meal to the area where all the conference sessions were being held so everyone there for the conference was eating there.

Palazzo entrance

Palazzo entrance

We ended up at Morels instead. It is over at The Palazzo. Also not an economical breakfast but it was extremely tasty. I mean, eggs are eggs and potatoes are potatoes, right? But I had a croque madam and it was really, really good. The service was also very good. If it hadn’t been a $50 breakfast for 2 people, we’d have gone back.

After breakfast, I headed out to meet an imaginary internet friend at the Downtown Container Park. There are a few choices for transportation from The Strip to Fremont Street. The Deuce is a double decker bus that makes stops at every hotel on The Strip. Takes about 30-45 minutes to get all the way from mid-Strip to the Fremont stop. The SDX is the express bus. Also takes about 30 minutes but doesn’t stop at every hotel along the way. Tickets for one work for the other and you can get them at automated kiosks by all the stops. As I’ve noted before, you can also get a taxi. Taxis are easy to get from any hotel taxi stand and they are about $25 one way. The bus is $20 for a 3 day unlimited ride pass. You can buy a less expensive pass with less time on it as well. For all the up and down the Strips and to Fremont I was planning on, my best buy was the 3 day pass.

Entrance to Downtown Container Park

Entrance to Downtown Container Park

The Container Park is a neat little place. A few shops carrying work from local artists, a few restaurants, all in shipping containers. A playground in the middle that was being very well used by mid afternoon. It’s worth the block or two walk from the end of Fremont Street. And while I did not check it out, there is an arts district also within a short bus ride of Fremont Street. The 18b Arts District.

IMG_4088After that, we headed to the Four Seasons on The Strip for afternoon tea at Veranda. The setting was peaceful – out under a portico type of set up, by the pool but separated from it by a greenery barrier. The weather was just right for being outside. They do have indoor seating but it wasn’t being used that afternoon. The food was good, mostly, though not what was noted on the menu – the chicken salad had no apples, the egg salad was not on tomato brioche and none of the desserts were what was on the online menu so if you care specifically about what you get, you should call and ask when you make the reservation. The scones were really good and the desserts were also very tasty and seasonally appropriate.

Terribly cute little chocolate mousse ladybugs

Terribly cute little chocolate mousse ladybugs

The tea selection was not bad, but they didn’t describe the teas properly for at least one of the choices, leaving out a pretty big flavor profile of smokiness. That doesn’t appeal to a lot of people so noting it seems like it would be important. And their blackcurrant tea said it was a Ceylon blend, which would make it a black tea. What I got was a lovely pink colored fruit tisane, nothing with tea in it at all. But we were allowed to switch tea choices for our second pots so I eventually got my black tea. The service was decent though it seemed to take an inordinately long time to get our checks. Speaking of which, there was no price noted on the online menu – it was $34. I will note that high tea is generally expensive but I have had better for less money without doubt.

Thoroughly stuffed, my friend dropped me off back at The Venetian. After putting it off as long as possible to let my tea settle, we went to dinner (someone really needs to eat lunch during the day so he doesn’t want dinner at 4:30…). We went to I <heart> Burgers, which is actually in The Palazzo, though still in the Grand Canal Shoppes. I was far too full to eat a burger so I had the fried mac & cheese appetizer. It was pretty tasty. The service there was good and very friendly. And it wasn’t a $20/entree place for a change.

Another view in between Palazzo & Venetian

Another view in between Palazzo & Venetian

It is also right across from the only place I purchased anything (other than meals) in the hotel – Honolulu Cookie Company. They have the most tasty shortbread cookies… They have all of them out for sampling in the store. My favorites are the pineapple, the coconut and the seasonal peppermint. I wish they offered the pineapple in a box all by itself but you can make your own box as well.

Spa water with cucumbers. Yum!

Spa water with cucumbers. Yum!

On Wednesday I had a spa appointment in the afternoon. I looked at the prices at The Canyon Ranch Spaclub at The Venetian. Pretty pricey overall. The Golden Nugget spa had better prices, even when factoring in the bus fare to get there. If you were taking a taxi there, it would be about even. But I know the Nugget has an excellent spa. I got there with enough time to use the whirlpool and relax a bit before my appointment.

Let me just say a word here about spa etiquette. You turn off your cell phone, put it on silent, etc. if you simply must use it. If your texting makes noises when you “click the keys” then you turn it off. The spa is supposed to be an oasis of calm and relaxation. It’s not relaxing to hear you texting or talking on the phone. If it’s an emergency then you take it out in the lobby. And ladies, even if you are talking in another language, it’s just as rude to shout back and forth between the sink and the showers.

Ah, well. The spa itself is still fantastic. Afterwards I met my husband downstairs and we walked around Fremont Street a bit before going to our dinner reservation at Vic & Anthony’s.

Fabulous cocktail - St. Germaine, Creme de Violette & raspberry vodka (and some other things that I can't remember)

Fabulous cocktail – St. Germaine, Creme de Violette & raspberry vodka (and some other things that I can’t remember)

I’ve enthused about them before and this time was no different. Great meal, great service. It was busier than it had been the last times we went and thus was a bit louder but that’s okay. It’s not a cheap meal, even by Las Vegas standards, but so, so, so worth it.

This otter would never survive in the wild. He was totally unconcerned about the approaching swimming death

This otter would never survive in the wild. He was totally unconcerned about the approaching swimming death

Thursday was a visit to the aquarium at Mandalay Bay. I walked through Harrah’s to get to the monorail. The monorail has several different ticket options. Combined with my bus pass that was still good I only needed a one way ticket. And if I’d been thinking more closely I’d have skipped the monorail completely and just taken the bus. But no matter. I took the monorail down to MGM Grand, walked around the hotel to The Strip and over the walkway to the Excalibur.

IMG_4126Then I took the tram down to Mandalay Bay. The shark tank is allll the way at the other end of the hotel from the entrance. It is quite a hike. But a neat thing to do. (And there is a great Mexican restaurant on the way there – Border Grill – fresh tortillas, etc.) There is a pool with horseshoe crabs and rays. You can touch them if you want. One of them spent the whole time I was there fluttering around the edge of the pool and lying about 3 inches out of the water so people could pet him. The guide there said he does it all the time and seems to really like the attention. For me, that was cooler than the shark tunnel. That was cool, but I love rays.

Then in the later afternoon I visited the Mandarin Oriental’s Tea Lounge. They do an afternoon tea service (24 hour advance reservations) or you can just get a pot of tea that easily serves 2 people and scones or other treats. There is also an option to do a gong fu cha ceremonial tea service (tea only and green Dragonwell tea only). Also 24 hour advance reservations and they say 3 people minimum for the “full experience.” However, the couple in front of me when I got there was asking about it and it sounded like if you were willing to pay for 3 people you could do it with 2.

IMG_4155The Mandarin Oriental is not a casino and it is somewhat obscure to find. You can walk south through Crystals shopping center (worth walking through to see the water tornado sculptures) and when you come out you take the walk over the street and past Bobby’s Burger Palace and the driveway to the hotel is just south of that.

There were pumpkin men down in the same area with the water tornado sculptures this time.

There were pumpkin men down in the same area with the water tornado sculptures this time.

The lobby has elevators with 3 choices – one of them is the bar/lounge level. The other is the hotel rooms and the last is the lobby. Kind of spartan compared to the other hotels that are also casinos. Pretty decor.

IMG_4156The view is good. Not as good as it is from the bar, but still nice. I imagine that after dark is is more impressive. The scones were delicious. Light and hot with a delicately crispy outside and tender inside. There were 4 of them in an order but they were on the small side. Their signature tea, the Mandarin Orange black tea, didn’t taste like orange or vanilla to me. It was also steeped a bit too long and was a touch bitter. The Jasmine Earl Grey black and green blend, though, was really nice. Very floral and light. Each pot of tea has probably 5-6 cups worth (36-42 ounces). I drank a lot of tea all by myself… I’m not sure I would go back and pay the full price for their afternoon tea, though. The menu doesn’t appeal to me much. I would go back, get a pot of tea and try some of their pastries, though. The service was very friendly and prompt as well.

IMG_4162That night my husband wanted to go back to Buddy V’s. If you knew him, you’d know how unusual it is that he expresses a preference FOR a restaurant. Usually he has distinct dislikes but not much he actually likes.

View of the Palazzo from Buddy V's

View of the Palazzo & the Wynn from Buddy V’s

After dinner I popped over to Carlos’ Bakery since the line was only 6 deep at that time. It’s a small store. The bad thing is that their display cases are set up so that you get one look at them as you go through the line. It isn’t set up so that you can walk back from one case to the other to make your choice.

IMG_4172You place your order and they box it up and call your name when it is ready to pay for. I only really got a good look at the pastry case before the girl wanted my order. So I got 2 small cakes. As I passed the second case there were cookies and other tasty looking things but I had already placed my order. Bad set up. I would have bought more stuff if I’d seen it before having to give my order. In the end, the cakes were $10 each and not really worth it. They were just sweet.

My flight didn’t leave on Friday until the afternoon so I checked out Aquavana at Canyon Ranch Spaclub. It was $25 if you were staying in the hotel and paying the resort fee for internet access (Which, by the way, was pretty bad for something you paid for. Resort fees really chap my hide – just charge more. Don’t tell me something is free when you are charging me for it and just not calling it a charge.) Aquavana was okay – if it was more than $25 it wouldn’t be worth the price. The hot tub area was nice – had nice heated lounge chairs around the perimeter. The herbal steam room was different. I didn’t use the freeze room. The rain showers were interesting. The whole place is single gender so swimsuits are optional. While I was there several ladies were in the all together. Doesn’t bother me, it’s just the first time I’ve seen a suit optional spa actually being treated as suit optional by the patrons. They do not have a swimsuit dryer, so take a bag to put your wet suit in if you plan on wearing one. I spent a couple of hours there, lounging in one of the heated chairs and reading.

Then I caught my shuttle back to the airport and went back to a very cold home state.

Seattle Tea Trip!

IMG_3830No hotel review this trip as we used Airbnb for our accommodations. Seattle is a pricey place to stay. You can go further out from the center and find cheaper hotels but if you want to stay within about 15 minutes of most of the famous attractions, it’s often hard to find something for under $100. Maybe I’m just not the best at looking but I used every search and discount place I knew of and couldn’t find anything. What I could find wanted too much extra for parking and I knew we wanted to rent a car so that we could do a day trip to a beach or maybe Olympic National Park. What we ended up with was a place with free parking, microwave, coffee maker, mini fridge, living room, bedroom, bathroom & free wifi in a neighborhood with lots of walkability for under $90 a night. It was a nice, clean, bright, safe place to stay. A sink in the kitchenette would have been nicer, but there was free bottled water and our hostess supplied paper plates, bowls, silverware and some nice big mugs.

Airbnb is a nice alternative to hotels, especially if you are staying somewhere for more than a couple of nights. You can generally find a place with a fridge and a microwave at least so you don’t have to eat out every meal.

IMG_3738We got in on Thursday afternoon and immediately headed out to explore the nearby Fremont district. We walked around the corner to Roro’s BBQ for some really good brisket and tri-tip sandwiches with excellent fries. The sauces were okay – more watery and vinegar based than I generally like but I’m used to the sweet KC BBQ sauces. After that we walked down to the water and then up to see the Fremont Troll.

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Dallas Chocolatour Part Eleventy

I have relatives that live in and around the Dallas, Texas area. So I try to make a couple of trips there each year. Every time I’ve been down there lately there are new chocolate shops to visit! This time we had happened upon a Groupon for a tea room as well so we ate ourselves silly, went to 3 new to us chocolate shops and tried out a tea room.

First things first, we flew down on Spirit. This was my first time on Spirit. For a short hop to a destination where you need little more luggage than a gym bag or back pack, they are acceptable but do your homework before you book your ticket! The plane we flew out of KCI on seemed like a training model. The normal seat back tray table and seat back pocket were next to non existent. The pocket was an X of bungee cords to hold the safety card and the menu of things they will sell you for an additional fee. Couldn’t put a water or soda bottle in it – it just fell out the bottom. The tray table was about 4 inches deep. That’s it. Couldn’t set a water or soda bottle on it without holding it on there. And the seats had zero padding. I am not exaggerating here. They were like wooden bench seats or bleacher seats covered in that airplane seat vinyl/pleather. Towards the end of the 1:40 flight my butt was getting a little sore. And I’m not lacking in bring-your-own-padding! Our return flight was also an Airbus but a different model, I think. It was more like a standard airplane. Average seats, standard seat back pockets, etc. So maybe the first plane was an anomaly.

We arrived later in the evening and were treated to a late dinner at Cafe Brazil. Breakfast all the time, plus lunch/dinner items. AH-MAZE-ING bacon! Thick, like they let 3-4 slices just stick together as they cooked them. Fat almost as crispy as pork rinds. Fantastic. Must figure out how to do that. Otherwise, their tortilla soup was really, really excellent. Definitely recommended!

Then it was on to Kate Weiser Chocolates.

IMG_3683Clean, sparkling white surfaces. Gloriously colored chocolates in a case. A view into the prep area, as is the trend in chocolatiers these days. About average price per piece. Also sipping chocolate, ice cream, coffee… We got a frozen hot chocolate that was disappointing – not nearly chocolate enough, just icy. The dark chocolate ice cream with orange flower ice and cocoa nib streusel, though? Now that was excellent. So, so chocolatey.

IMG_3685The chocolates themselves, while probably the most beautiful I’ve seen (sorry, Christopher Elbow), did not live up to expectations. The raspberry ones were phenomenal but the others, while really good chocolate, didn’t really have flavors you could pick out easily.

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