Tuesday, July 8, 2014

#135 He Does Vegas

When I was in first grade, my grandparents on my father's side moved to Las Vegas.  Perhaps as a way to ease the blow of this move, my parents told my brothers and me that one day we would visit them.  I'm sure they instantly wanted to kick themselves for making such an off the cuff suggestion.  From then until about fifth grade there wasn't a moment that I wasn't either asking when we were going to Vegas or packing a bag for Vegas, just in case.  The summer after I finished fifth grade, my Vegas grandfather passed away suddenly from a heart attack.  My dad made the trip to Vegas for the funeral, and I don't think I ever asked to go again.

Until my mother decided a few years ago to treat my family to a trip to Vegas with inheritance money she received from some random great uncle I had never heard of before.

Thank you random great uncle.

After this most recent trip to Vegas for Hubby's 30th birthday, I realized I really love Vegas.  Like, I really really really love it.  So here it is:

My Top Five Likes About Vegas
(I hope you are as excited about this list as I am)


1. Everything is open late

I am not a morning person.  However, I am also not the type of person that stays in bed until noon.  I can be awake in the early morning, I just don't want to speak to anyone, and I certainly do not want to smile.

Night time is a different story.  I'm happy, I'm awake, and I'm ready to go.  It depresses me that everything closes at 9 pm because that is when my day is just getting started.  I don't want to be home at night, I want to be out.  The worst part is, it doesn't matter to where.  We could be headed out for a night on the town or only going to Target to pick up toothpaste and I'm in my element.    

So when I tell you that the stores in the casinos are typically open until 11 pm and that most other things on the strip are open even later I'm not exaggerating when I say that my heart is palpitating just a little bit over the thought of such things.


2. Every casino is different, a world within itself 

We stayed at The Flamingo this year because we had comps that made us only have to pay something like $12 a day in taxes (can you say, 'sweet!!!'?).  Plus, The Flamingo is basically in the center of all the action.


Every casino has its own little theme and cutesyness to go along with it.

Yes, cutesyness.  Cutesy is a word, so why not cutesyness?


What I remembered from a few years ago was that The Flamingo had real flamingos at it, and for some reason that came back with me as extremely awesome.

It was funny watching them fight.  I wasn't sure if I should go over and break it up or not.


There are so many casinos with different features it's too hard to describe them all.  Some of my favorites are: 
  • Paris: Featuring a mini Eiffel Tower that you can go up in for a view of the strip (it also has a restaurant inside just like the real Eiffel Tower), French restaurants (delicious breakfasts to be had there!), and ceilings painted like the Paris sky
  • Circus Circus: WAY off the strip but a very kid friendly casino with circus acts and its own theme park inside
  • Luxor: It's a pyramid.  Enough said.
  • Excalibur: This casino probably has the best outside and inside appeal.  Shaped like a castle, inside and out sticks to the Medieval theme in a classy and also kid friendly way.


3. The food

As I said before, food is one of the main attractions of a vacation for me.  With Vegas you have to be leery of getting sucked into too many buffets.  Some of them are awesome, others are just posers.  They have all the bells and whistles on the outside, but as soon as you've shelled out $25 (and up) and are heading towards your seat...that's when you realize perhaps not all buffets are created equally.    

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The best buffet we went to was Bacchanal Buffet in Caesars.  And no wonder, it was voted the best buffet in Las Vegas.  Did we know that when we went there?  Of course not!  So we wound up eating there for breakfast, but I can only imagine that their lunch/dinner is amazing.

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I know it's a little blurry, but I had to include the above picture of my crepe I got there for breakfast.  There was an omelet station, a crepe station, seafood (even at breakfast), and other average and non average breakfast delights.

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'Cravings', the buffet at The Mirage, was decent.  We had dinner there before seeing a show.  Wine and beer were included in the dinner price, which was pretty good considering most buffets charge you separately for alcoholic drinks.  Although they didn't have soft-serve ice cream (which Gram had been craving), they had some pretty gourmet desserts which not only looked gourment, but had a taste that matched. 

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The Venetian recently opened Carlo's Bake Shop, and although I could make a trip anytime I want to Hoboken to go to the original Carlo's Bake Shop, I figured I'd spare myself the trip by trying this one out.

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I knew it was going to be good, but I had no idea how good.  Hubby and I went there for breakfast on our last day in Vegas.  We had two hours to kill, so we shopped a little in the Venetian, then stood in a considerably short line (in comparison to what it looked like a few nights before) for our goodies.  

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Hubby got a Midnight Chocolate Mousse which was without a doubt the smoothest, creamiest, most delicious mousse I have ever tasted in my life.

I had been craving a cheese danish since the middle of the week and had yet to find one.  They were sold out of the individual cheese danishes, so I unashamedly ordered the $13 danish ring.  I won't say how much of it I ate, but it was more than what is pictured below.

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4. The shopping 

If you wanted to, you could stay on the strip and get all the things I love about Vegas: food, shopping, and shows.  We did this for most of the week.  Pictured below are the Miracle Mile Shops which house 170 shops.  Every casino has some form of shopping.  Some such as The Venetian and Caesars offer a more mall like option.

We did, of course, venture off the strip before our trip was over to the North Premium Outlets.  That's right, Las Vegas has a North and a South Premium Outlets.  Both seem to offer most of the same thing, except North had more and that is how I made my decision of where to go.    

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5. The shows

Tix 4 Tonight has booths literally everywhere on the strip and they offer a decent discount on show tickets and other attractions.  Depending on the show you can even purchase the tickets the night before.  This time around we saw three shows and I wish we had squeezed in one more.

First, for Gram, we saw Donny and Marie which was much more bearable than I expected.  They sang a lot of their hits, paid homage to performers who have inspired and influenced them, recognized a man in the audience celebrating his 103rd birthday, and ended with a taste of their favorite Broadway hits. 

I wanted to see The Rat Pack, even though Hubby and I had already seen them before.  They were performing in Rio which is so far off the strip it makes Circus Circus seem smack dab in the center.  It wasn't until we made the agonizing walk in 102 degree heat  from our hotel to Rio (which looked from our hotel to be much, let me stress MUCH, closer than it was in actuality) to pick up our tickets that the man at the box office told us that our hotel should run shuttles to Rio.  This was after we realized we forgot our voucher that we needed in order to pick up our tickets. 

Regardless of that fun and embarrassing story, The Rat Pack makes you feel like you are in a nightclub watching the real Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra perform.  If that's your kind of scene, you'll swoon for sure.  I know I did.

We saved the absolute best for last.  It was between Blue Man Group (which is still on my list) and a Cirque show for our last night in Vegas.  I had been interested in seeing Cirque Du Soleil's Love featuring The Beatles' music and Hubby made it happen.


When we found our seats I was in shock with how close we were:

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We were four "rows" from the front.  I use quotes because the first "row" sat two people, the next four, and progressively larger as the rows went back.  I can't describe the show any better than to say it was the most amazing show I have ever seen in my life, and I promise, I am not exaggerating.  There are so many different acrobatics taking place on stage at once that Hubby literally had to shut my jaw once because my mouth was hanging wide open in amazement.  The fact that the music was The Beatles just made it even better.

If you've contemplated going to Vegas but weren't sure because of the bad rap Vegas seems to get from television and movies, have no fear: it is as awesome as it seems.  There are so many things we still haven't done (Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon) that I know we'll be coming back again, and maybe even again?        

Saturday, July 5, 2014

#134 He Turned T-H-I-R-T-Y

Hubby isn't the type for surprises or big parties, so when we realized he was turning 30 this year (umm....how did that happen to the gangly 17-year-old I started dating a trillion years ago?) we decided we would take a 30th birthday vacation to Las Vegas instead.

I love Vegas.  This was our second time going, and I'd go again, and probably again and again still.  Vegas is my kind of town, for many reasons which you will have to wait until my next post to read about.  This post, however, is dedicated to:

My Top Five Dislikes About Las Vegas

I figured I would get my complaints out of the way so I can go into detail about all the things I love later!

1. Cigarette smoke is everywhere

I suppose I've been spoiled since New Jersey banned smoking in restaurants.  The only times I've had to endure cigarette smoke in Jersey is when I've been right next to someone outside who is smoking or when I accidentally walk near a smoking zone in Atlantic City casinos.

The luxury of signified smoking areas does not exist in Vegas.  The whole town is an open smoking area.  It's the worst in the casinos, so much so that when we went a few years ago in December all our clothes reeked of it.  This year it wasn't quite as bad, but there were moments.


2. Girls! Girls! Girls! propaganda is everywhere

This sort of thing is to be expected, I suppose, in Vegas.  What annoys me is that these people are practically side by side, lined up, slapping their business card sized brochures to an unknown rhythm in an effort to attract any passerby's attention.  

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3. Wyndham employees attack at every turn

If you don't know what I mean by this, consider yourself fortunate.  We got talked into this racket on our honeymoon and have learned from our mistake.  Here's how it starts: A friendly looking person who looks rather official with their bright colored polo and sparkly smile approaches you and asks if you have a few minutes, and of course you do because you're on vacation.  They then proceed to tell you how they can get you a free show, dinner, or an extra night's stay.  If you've entertained them to this point, they'll tell you all this can be yours if you just give them another thirty minutes (which really turns into three hours) of your time.

In Vegas, they are in every casino.  It got to a point where Hubby and I would have to blatantly ignore them when they would approach us as we were plowing through to our next destination.

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4. People don't know how to stay to the right

This might sound vaguely familiar if you read my post about NYC last October.  Vegas is packed with people, especially at night.  Streets and casino hallways are only so wide.  So why on earth can't people understand the basic concept of keeping to the right so that the left is open for oncoming walkers?


5. There is a lot of walking

Unless you plan to do what my grandmother did (play slots only in the casino where you are sleeping), plan to walk a lot.  We knew this from experience when we booked our trip, so we chose to stay at a casino that was in a pretty central spot: The Flamingo.  Yet somehow we still walked so much that by the second day we decided to go to the Jacuzzi in 102 degree heat just to relax our feet.

Note: This list is information that is worth knowing, but definitely not worth hindering any trip to Vegas.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

#133 He Lets Me Take a Break

Mid-May until end of June was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it span of time.  There was so much going on.  There were so many things I wanted to write about.  Yet, there was also only so much time.  I could jump into what has been currently going on with me (my recent Vegas trip?--oh yes, there is plenty to say about that!), but first, I would hate to ignore all the perfectly fantastic things that have already transpired.



My brother, Jonathan, competed for his final season with his SONJ swim team, The Pioneers.  Since he graduated this year, he'll have to join a different team next season.  It's sad, but exciting, but still sad.

Jonathan spent a better part of the Saturday competition day dancing to music that made my ears hum for two days.



My sister-in-law, my brother, my Gram, and I sat by Gram's pool at a table on the patio under an umbrella (yikes, so many prepositions!) as a passing thunderstorm came by while we were attempting to get the pool open for summer.  Instead of running inside as the drops pattered on, we huddled closer together at the table.  I'm chalking it up as a family bonding moment.



Hubby turned 30.  I know, I know, he's super old.  Thank God I decided to stay 25 forever.  I can't imagine what he feels like.  

We went to our favorite restaurant in the entire world, so far, to celebrate.  I'm not sure what it is about Oyster Bay Restaurant in Cape May, okay wait, that's a lie, I do know what it is and it's pictured above.  If you love filet mignon, crab meat, and Bearnaise sauce, holy moly, PLEASE go there immediately.  It is absolutely my favorite meal I've ever experienced in my life.  I've ordered steaks Oscar Style (with crab meat and Bearnaise sauce) several places, but Oyster Bay has it down to a science.  An incredibly delicious science.



I said goodbye to my Kindergarten classroom forever.  I've said goodbye to several jobs before, but this one cracked my heart a little.  I've had quite a time trying to discover what I was made for in life, and I've discovered that being a Kindergarten teacher was one of the things sitting at the top of the list.

And then...


Jonathan graduated high school.  First, he received an award for perfect attendance.  To any ordinary person, such an award would probably not be that great a deal.  In my home growing up, it was expected.  For starters, my mother would never let us stay home from school.  Ever.  If you didn't have a fever and/or you weren't barfing, there was nothing, no matter of begging, no pleading your case that could convince her as to why you should be at home instead of in school.

Thank you for your sympathy.

Therefore, Jonathan receiving perfect attendance was, as you can imagine, quite an achievement.  


I think he actually was more of a ham on the stage than my brother, Joel, was when he graduated.  And Joel walked down wearing Hulk gloves.

Yes, my family is a special breed of strange.



As soon as Jonathan had his diploma in hand, I screamed, hugged him, plopped an Olaf doll into his arms, and then hopped in the car with Hubby and his coworker for a road trip to Indiana.

We stopped about three hours into our trip in Bedford, PA at the Jean Bonnet Tavern.



I ate this beautiful masterpiece.  I had been craving scallops, but this was supposed to be my lunch, even though I was having it around 5:00 pm.  That said, I had gone into the restaurant with the intention of having a sandwich.  

But who can resist pan seared diver sea scallops in a basil pesto sauce served over fresh asparagus, tomato, and orzo?

Not me.

A little later...

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Hubby, Gram, and I boarded a plane for Vegas less than twelve hours later after returning home from Indiana.

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Our view from the hotel room was perfect.*

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Another thing of perfection were the desserts at the different buffets.  I'm not too big on the whole buffet scene, but I do love being able to nibble on a variety of desserts.  These were fantastic.  

By the way, that is a chocolate truffle cake pop.  

Be still my heart.

*Have no fear, there is more to come on my trip to Vegas.**

**I'm sure you are on the edge of your seat in suspension.



The day after we returned from Vegas, we celebrated my boy's graduation.  Back when we planned our Vegas trip it should have fallen two weeks after the end of school.  All the whacked out Jersey snow pushed the end of school right up to the start of our vacation.  We were on pins and needles for a little thinking that Jonathan's graduation might end up being scheduled during our trip.

Thank goodness that didn't happen.

But either way, I wouldn't have missed his party for the world.


We had a pig.

And it was an oh-my-goodness-melt-in-your-mouth-meat pig.

As tradition with any parties involving Jonathan go, we also had a pie in the face. 


Two innocent men dressed in blue.


Pie in hand, ready to be delivered.


Jonathan is in the zone.


And, whack!


Jonathan!  There's something stuck to your face!


Oh, that's better.


He sat there, then stood, for a good three minutes before deciding he needed to wipe the whipped cream off.


Of course, there was more dancing and singing to be had before the party could come to a close.