Travel News Cheaps

Fantastic Getaways that Don’t Break the Bank! -Part 1

Did you ever dream of a vacation that would bring you the relaxation you deserve or the excitement you crave, but the pocketbook just wouldn’t stretch that far? We may have just the escape you’re looking for, and you may still have money left in your savings account when you return home!
Before I became a travel agent, I never would have considered a cruise vacation. It seemed to me that cruises were reserved for the “rich and famous”. But with a little education, I’ve become convinced of the contrary. Did you know that cruise getaways are really no more expensive than your traditional vacation? In fact, in some cases, they can save you money!
A cruise can be as action-packed or relaxing as you choose. Your accommodations and meals (except drinks) are already included in the fare. On-board activities, some included-some extra, are plentiful. You may choose from organized social events & games, casino action, Vegas-style shows, movies, dancing & nightlife, pampering at the spa, sunbathing, children‘s programs, and many other activities that vary by ship. This is a fantastic way to get so much vacation for your money. Then, once you have docked in foreign ports, there are unlimited opportunities for sightseeing and shopping. You can even pre-book tours (shore excursions) so that it is included in the cost of your cruise! (Some cruise lines allow you to leave the kiddies aboard with qualified counselors to enjoy their own activities while the adults slip away to enjoy some time alone in port.)
Cruises are available in virtually any part of the world. North American cruises include such destinations as Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, West Caribbean, South Caribbean, East Caribbean, and the Panama Canal. Sometimes you can

even take “cruises to nowhere”, when a ship just leaves port for a couple of days at sea and returns without docking in any other ports. An example of a fantastic deal on a cruise includes one of Carnival’s current specials…3-Day Cruises to the Bahamas starting at just $229 per person, plus taxes & fees. Airfare & transfers not included. What a great way to sightsee & shop abroad, appreciate the luxury and relaxation of a vacation on the open seas, and enjoy an all-inclusive getaway package!

Travel News Grand Canyon And The Total Perspective Vortex

Trin Tragula was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher or, as his wife would have it, an idiot. And she would nag him incessantly about the utterly inordinate amount of time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.

"Have some sense of proportion!" she would say, sometimes as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.

And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex--just to show her. And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula's horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford is a sense of proportion.’ (Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy)

The Grand Canyon, may not be the whole infinity of creation, or a fairy cake but it certainly puts size into perspective, and as for a sense of proportion well...

The Grand Canyon is undoubtedly one of the true natural wonders of the world. The rock formations are known the world over, as the red strata is one of the most photographed areas in the world. This stratum shows millions years of evolution and erosion, the inaccessibility of some of the pictographs (cave drawings) are proof of that. But however many pictures you see, however many holiday programmes you watch, you could even know every statistic there is to know on what is essentially an enormous hole in the ground, but the reaction when you first see it, is indescribable it is very difficult not to gasp in amazement and awesome may be a horrid word, but for the Grand Canyon, it works.

When we visited we took a rather long way round, we drove around the North rim up to the far end of the Grand Canyon, where we stayed in Page on the shore of Lake Powell. The two extremes of the Grand Canyon are marked by two dams, the Glen Canyon dam in the East which forms Lake Powell and Hoover Dam (as repaired by Christopher Reeve in Superman!) in the West forming Lake Mead. Now, the Grand Canyon itself is 150 miles long, so I really don’t understand why the majority of visitors chose to visit only a 3 mile area of it, which is on the South Rim about half way down where you will find the Grand Canyon Village.

There are several ways of seeing the Grand Canyon; one of the most popular is by Helicopter or Plane. We didn’t do this but I understand from many reports, this can be a little unnerving. I think you’re fine if love flying, but if you suffer from motion sickness it can get very turbulent, I think they plan on cleaning out the machines fairly regularly. The prices for this seem to range from $150 - $250 depending on the length of trip.

Then there is by raft, this is one of the ways I would really love to see the Grand Canyon. The main issue is getting out again, there are only a couple of stops along the way where you can actually get access to the river so they offer trips of 3 days minimum or 7 days takes you down to the end of the line at lake Mead. The other issue with this area of the Grand Canyon is the white water so if you don’t want to do rapids, don’t do it. I was pregnant at the time of our visit so this option was out, but even if I hadn’t been you have to book places on the raft trips upwards of 18 months beforehand. My cousin did an independent canoe trip through and it took him 2 years to get the permit to allow him to do it, as the number of visitors allowed within the rim is strictly regulated.

However there is another option, as I mentioned earlier we stayed in Page and you can take a one day float (no rapids) down the Glen Canyon which is not as vast, but just as beautiful and costs (from memory) $50. These can be booked in Page itself and you do not need to pre-book. We did this and it was a wonderful day, the peace of floating down the river, seeing the wild life and rock formations and after just a short walk some 4000 year old pictographs. They provided lunch. The whole day was truly amazing, and fine for pregnant ladies. You get out at Lees Ferry, which is at the entrance to the Grand Canyon and is where the other rafting trips start.

Then there are the options that you can take from the Grand Canyon village, you can walk down into the rim, which if you plan on staying overnight you will need an overnight permit but if you do this you could stay at Phantom Range, if you don’t want to walk down you can take a mule. It is however a two day trip to go down to the valley floor, although the distance isn’t huge, it’s a really steep climb and you need to make sure you are properly prepared, copious amounts of water are essential as dehydration is the biggest problem. Mainly because this is desert country so it is hot. Having visited in the middle of summer some of the pictures of the Grand Canyon covered in snow are very beautiful but does looks very bizarre.

At this point I would recommend anyone who is interested in hiking, mules or planes to also have a read of the Grand Canyon review by Trampus, who describes her hair raising activities in excellent style.

Daily life at the Grand Canyon village is fairly predictable. Everybody wakes up fairly early, before sun rise to see the sun come up on the Grand Canyon, the colours change substantially and dramatically depending on the time of day, and photographers are out in force throughout the day, we are fairly good photographers and it has to be said all the photos we took from the Grand Canyon rim were well below our usual standard, and I think this is a fairly common experience so it is worth buying some postcards or something similar while you are there. The most popular time for photographs is of course Sunset, when the colours are at their most vibrant, and it is very orange. Most visitors to the Grand Canyon do not venture down inside the rim and simply gaze in wonder from the edge at the village, so at sunset in particular guard your spot early as from the various lookout points there is a huge number of people lined up with their cameras ready for the nightly show.

Accommodation in the village is actually fairly reasonable for a National Park, there are the usual sorts of hotel available and naturally you pay a supplement for a canyon view, there are 4 campsites within the park and any lodging is booked up way in advance, so you do have to get in early. The website address is and this has all the details you will need, although a straight forward search gives loads of options so it is worth having a good surf before you book.

the Grand Canyon village is as I mentioned earlier only a very small part of the Grand Canyon itself and I would strongly urge any visitor not to make it their sole focus. For me the most enjoyable part was not the Village, which I would not have missed for anything but the stay in Page beforehand. Page is on the shore of Lake Powell and at the entrance to the Glen Canyon, although is not as vast as the Grand Canyon it is very beautiful. The rock formation within the Glen Canyon is much softer than in the Grand Canyon, a bit like the difference between the Dolomites and the Alps for any of you who may have crossed them in Europe. There is much more to do in Page and it is cheaper, not being within the National Park. The view from the hotel room genuinely does not look real, it is like a picture of utter tranquillity and the changes in colour throughout the day is the only thing that reminds you it is not a painting.

The other noticeable difference in Page from the Grand Canyon village is the colour of the river, there is a very definite difference between the blue of the water and the red of the rock. However, the river running through the Grand Canyon is the Colorado which literally translates as ‘Colour Red’ and not without good reason, we were very lucky as we arrived on a blue day and then we had torrential downpour of rain, which disturbed all the sediment within the river, so the following day it was red or just dirty whichever way you want to think of it. This only took effect from the entrance to the Grand Canyon, and apparently can take several weeks to clear. From the Grand Canyon village the river is barely visible, and I love water so the main reason for preferring Page to the village was the fact that the river was so accessible. The Grand Canyon is just that, very Grand, very majestic but the Glen Canyon is smaller, softer and I feel more beautiful.

Comprehensive Guide To Las Vegas

I have been long-haul on British Airways, and can tell you that the services and facilities – eg, leg room, space, food, in-flight movies etc – do not differ greatly. Nonetheless, I do give a lot of credit to Virgin Atlantic for an easy, stress-free flight. Although the space in the economy seating – what do you expect, I’m not willing to pay £8000 to sit in first class - was limited (I am about 6”1’), I still had free movement and enough space to sit comfortably for 10 hours. The service from the stewards was top-rate, and we were continually offered free drinks. I can not remember what I had to eat on the flight, but we had two meals per flight, as well as snacks, all of which I found reasonable – do not believe the harsh stereotypes of disgusting aeroplane food (unless you are flying with EasyJet I suppose.) In-flight entertainment was excellent, with a choice of 9 or so movies to keep me entertained, as well as music. All the movies are updated monthly, as to keep it up to date, so you will not be watching any films that have been out more than a couple of months.
and I feel more beautiful.

It should be noted that there are many stop over flights, which enable you to visit other parts of America such as San Francisco. However, this is time consuming, and if you are only really going to see LV, it is definitely worth flying direct.

After the flight, we nipped into a taxi which drove us to our hotel in a couple of minutes. As the strip is fairly modern, the first hotel being erected just after WWII, everything is built together efficiently and effectively, so no long distance journeys from destination to destination. One thing to say about the taxis is to ask the driver lots of questions. A small percentage of the time, they can be a bit grumpy and impatient, but many have a tremendous and fascinating local knowledge of the area. I gained a lot of information about LV’s history, as well as ideas and places to visit.

Nonetheless, the taxis are fairly expensive – all running on the same meter due to a number of businesses owning the whole ‘taxi industry’ in LV – and I would suggest the bus. The buses run almost constantly up and down the strip, though if time is limited (which it probably is as there is so much to see) it may be worth spending a few extra dollars on a taxi.

However, walking the strip is what I would recommend the most, especially on warm, pleasant days. Although the strip is 4 miles long, and it wouldn’t be too wise to walk it all, walking enables you to stop and look in shops, cafes, restaurants or hotels at your own leisure. There are monorails joining some hotels, which is an easier way to travel – free and direct. However, they are very limited, and I would only recommend using the one linking the Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay Bay.


We stayed in the Excalibur, in the southern end of the strip. The room was fairly standard – bed, air con, table, sofa, television etc. However, this really isn’t important at all, for the simple reason that you spend such little time in your room. As this was our first visit, we weren’t quite sure where to stay, but the Excalibur is a lively, relatively cheap option. I would also recommend Circus Circus as one of the cheapest options, but it is more family orientated in the hotel.

Every Hotel has a casino, with literally thousands of various slots, as well as tables for blackjack, roulette and craps (amongst others). In many hotels, there are also poker rooms to compete against fellow gamblers. For the high rollers, there are separate rooms to gamble away thousands at a time – not greatly appealing to me!!! When gambling, free drinks are given, though you often have to wait for a long time to be served by the few waitresses there are covering a huge casino floor.

There are often food courts in the hotels as well, with a few small cafes and restaurants in addition to the usual McDonalds and Pizza Hut. I would urge everyone to visit a buffet at least once during a visit, all of which are fairly cheap.

Lots of hotels have arcades for the U21’s, but most are not as ‘up to date’ as all the information guides say. They are fairly standard, just as you would see in England. I would highly recommend the arcade at Circus Circus. It is huge and also has an indoor theme park with an indoor log flume.


Throughout the year, the weather is mainly sunny. I feel it is best to go between March – June, as in the summer months my friend told me it was uncomfortably hot on occasions, and it was best to stay inside with the air condition. In summer, it is also far busier leading to cramped, sweaty conditions in many of the leading hotels.


Though slightly irrelevant at this point, tipping is an important factor in LV. From taxi drivers to blackjack dealers, it is claimed you should “tip everybody.” It is hard to suss out how much you should give, but a couple of dollars per taxi fare should be sufficient, and if receiving a free drink in the casinos, it is customary to leave a one dollar bill.


I can not speak highly enough of “The Tournament of the Kings” at the Excalibur. In a small arena, you are divided into countries cheering on your horseman in jousting and fighting events throughout the evening. The atmosphere is immense, as is the action and drama. This is a really professional show where the actors do really go at each other with their swords, adding to the realism and excitement. Throughout the evening, I had to remind myself we weren’t in the medieval era!!! Served with half a chicken and wedges was fun, having to eat it with your hands – you can see how the atmosphere is set – and the overall meal and entertainment turned out to be great value for money. I got talking to a couple of Americans just before the show who had seen the show no less than 34 times. WARNING – if sitting in the front row, make sure you eat fairly quickly as the horses can kick sand up into your meal.

There are shows throughout the strip with huge stars such as Elton John and Celine Dion. However, performers often change and it is best to research who will be there at the corresponding dates. Huge musical shows as well as sports events are usually held at Caesar’s Palace.

The gondola rides in The Venetian are a must for any romantic couples, serenaded as you travel through a canal inside the hotel. Definitely worth doing, as the scenery is beautiful – sounds a bit strange doesn’t it as you are inside, but the ceiling is painted like the sky and the shops and cafes around are stunning. Be warned though, you often get the feeling you are being stared at by others along the river.

The Stratosphere is another must for everyone visiting LV for the first time. It gives a fantastic view of the strip – a great photo opportunity. It also has the fastest lift in the world, climbing 120 floors in about 20 seconds – apparently going 21mph.

There is quite a number of simulator rides and Imax 3D experiences, some of which are worth visiting. Most are only a few dollars, and quite fun. Obviously these change frequently, so I could not recommend a certain film to you.

There are also a number of free shows which are performed nightly in the overall attempt to gain the upper hand from hotel to hotel. I can recommend a few…

Treasure Island outdoor show – amazing sound, action and fireworks telling a story of enemy pirates. It includes dancing and fighting, as well as a huge moving boat – amazing considering this is all just outside the hotel. (Performed three times per night.)

Exploding volcano – outside the Mirage every fifteen minutes. I was unsatisfied with this spectacle, which lasted around two minutes. Worth seeing though if you are walking past.

Fountain Show – at the Bellagio. Huge jets fire masses of water in time with the music. There are also different demonstrates, so I saw the fantastic fountains about six times in all. Really spectacular.

The Conservatory – inside the Bellagio. Absolutely amazing plants, as well as a real life scene from Monet’s famous paintings. Really worth seeing, along with the famous Italian glass inside the hotel.

The Freemont experience – downtown, to the North of the strip. This is definitely worth seeing, with millions of LED lights giving a daily laser show on the ceiling!!!

M+M world is a huge building dedicated to the wonderful chocolate that is M+M. Interesting.


The Rollercoaster around New York New York is not for the faint-hearted. Apparently, the views are great and you even get to see the strip upside down, but the queues are often long and slow moving.

The stratosphere has a number of rides, including a rollercoaster. There is also a ride that tips you over the edge of the building, as you sit there facing down 120 storeys – not really my cup of tea!!!


As I have mentioned, it is definitely worth checking out a buffet or two, but there are a number of other fantastic bars and restaurants. I am only going to mention a few of the ones that stood out for me, because there are numerous restaurants, all serving great food.

Coyote Ugly at New York New York is a lively bar just like in the film, with table top dancing and a wild, party atmosphere.

Eiffel Tower Restaurant at the Paris Hotel is a great restaurant with terrific views, as you suddenly find yourself in France, which I found out is actually in America, not… France?!?!?

The Cheesecake factory is amazing for a light lunch or massive cheesecake – at Caesar’s Palace.

The Terrace Restaurant at the Bellagio is a stylish place to dine, with the additional factor of the magnificent fountains as a show every fifteen minutes.


There are a fair few shopping centres but I would only recommend the Premium Outlet Centre just North of the strip. It sells clothes at an amazing price, half of what you would expect to pay in England. If you have children or grandchildren, it is definitely worth getting them some clothes, as there is loads of Nike and Adidas items!

For the more lavish shopper, get to the Mall at Caesar’s Palace. It has shops from all the best designers such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and D&G. Quite expensive though, as you can imagine.

There are also masses of souvenirs which are a must, located all along the strip.


It is essential for anybody on a single visit to fly via plane or helicopter over the Hoover dam and around the Grand Canyon. It is safer to book in advance, but you can get great deals from operators on the strip. We flew to Grand Canyon, had BBQ lunch on the rim of Grand Canyon, flew down into basin by Helicopter and went on a boat along the Colorado river and back up in the Helicopter and flew back to Vegas for £150 each. The views are simply breathtaking, and I would love to meet anybody who could put the whole experience into words.


Las Vegas is not simply about gambling. For me, it was more about looking at the overwhelming sites in and around the hotel – here are a few of the fantastic hotels and what they represent…

Luxor – pyramid

Excalibur – medieval castle

Venetian – Venice

Paris – Paris (obviously)

Caesar’s Palace – well you can imagine, absolutely awe-inspiring.

New York New York – fantastic skyline of New York and Statue of Liberty (with memorial to Sep 11.) x

There is also constant building work along the boulevard, meaning rapid growth for LV. In ten years time, I think the Strip will be twice as big and popular as it is now. My prediction is that there will eventually be a “London Hotel” – though I will claim the idea, just think of the possibilities; Houses of Parliament, London Dungeons, London Eye?


Plan a basic itinerary before you arrive and list all the things you plan to see, and then tick it off once you have – it is very easy to forget to go somewhere which you will regret later.

Spend time visiting each casino, and collect as many souvenirs as possible – eg money pots, used decks of cards and matches.

Avoid the roads as much as possible – its extremely dangerous crossing seven lane highways – use bridges from hotel to hotel as much as possible.

Avoid travelling on the roads at weekends; it becomes extremely congested at times.

When checking out at the airport, especially terminal two at the McCarren airport, it is worth checking in your bags as early as possible (usually around four hours before boarding) and then getting a taxi to the Hard Rock Hotel/Cafe for lunch - just off the strip by the airport. This means you waste minimal time waiting around at the airport, and the hotel has a huge variety of memorabilia which is worth seeing.***

Watch out for any fashions or clothes people are wearing – in a couple of months, it is likely to be a hit in England, but double the price.

This is possibly the best advice I had from an American whilst standing in the queue for breakfast – “Think 24 hours, not 12!” Everything is always open, so go to bed when you are tired, not necessarily at conventional hours. There is too much to see for you to be wasting time sleeping – there is always time to sleep when you get home!

Travel News The Fantastic And Unforgettable Las Vegas

If someone had told me 3 months ago that I’d be spending Christmas in Las Vegas I would have told them they were mad. So when Rachel asked me to go 3 weeks before Christmas to attend their wedding there was no way I could say no. It was a trip I’d never thought of really making and certainly wasn’t high on my destinations list, or at least that’s what I thought. As the trip got the closer and the more I thought about it, the more I actually realised I really wanted to go.

We flew out with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick on the 23rd and some 10 hours and 4 films later arrived at Las Vegas, McCarran airport. It is a long flight to Vegas but taking off the 8 hours time difference meant we arrived at about one local time having left Gatwick at 10.30. The hardest part of the whole trip was next to come though as we stood in the immigration queue for almost 2 hours. The airport thankfully is right on the side of the strip so after that long arduous wait for immigration it isn’t a long transfer to the hotel. There are a number of shuttle buses and taxis available to take you from the airport to your desired hotel. If, however you fancy arriving at your hotel in style there are also Limos for hire outside. The Limo will cost you about $35 plus tip but the shuttles and taxis are very affordable.

At one point Las Vegas boasted 19 of the 20 biggest hotel complexes in the world and when you see the size of them it’s not hard to understand why. As you drive towards The Strip (the main street) there is a number of 4 and 5 story Travel Lodges. They cost about the same as the larger hotels on The Strip itself but not many people actually realise this before booking up. Due to the sheer number of rooms available in Vegas, some 124,270, they need to keep the prices competitive. So there are plenty of bargains to be had, with the flight likely to cost more than the hotel.

It’s hard to really imagine how Las Vegas will actually look. I’d built a mental picture in my mind but nothing prepared me for the views looking out of the hotel and onto The Strip. It’s hard to believe that a once small quiet town has developed into something as spectacular as this. It was during the construction of the Hoover Dam that Vegas started to expand, as the workers needed somewhere to spend their hard earned money on women and gambling. From there sprouted this truly amazing place that boast such sites as The Eiffel Tower and A Roman Coliseum.

We were staying at the Aladdin Hotel. It’s around about the middle of The Strip and offers guests the chance of a fantastic view of the Bellagio fountains. With some 52 floors and about 4000 rooms the Aladdin is a huge hotel. Like a lot of Vegas locations it has just about everything that’s needed under one roof. Each casino/hotel complex is pretty similar in this respect. All along The Strip the hotels seem to all have a large casino coupled with a number of attractions and a shopping centre. For instance the Aladdin had roughly a miles worth of shops in the fantastic Deserts Passage.

The main reason Vegas is famous though is nothing to do with the shops or the fantastic sights on offer around The Strip. It’s more famous for the Casinos and when I saw the size of these places it was easy to see why. In fact an amazing 9 billion is made from these casinos every year and with the casino floor being the size of a decent sized Tesco’s that figure almost seems a bit light. I didn’t have much cash to spend while I was there due to Christmas and everything else but I still managed to spend at least 3 hours a night in the casino playing various machines. With a jackpot of approaching 3 million dollars on some machines it was almost too hard to resist.

There is a lot more to Vegas than the Casinos though. If you have the time then the Grand Canyon and The Hoover Dam are both close by and it’s possible to do a number of excursions direct from your hotel lobby for around $40 - $60. We didn’t have time to do either trip but one day I will be going back to visit both of them. There are still literally hundreds of things you can do within Vegas itself and most of them are located along The Strip. It doesn’t matter what you are looking for, whether it be a magic show, play or even a wax work museum there are plenty of places worth visiting.

One of the best in my opinion was certainly the Las Vegas version of Ben Elton’s hit Queen Musical. I haven’t been to see the original London version yet but this one was fantastic. It’s showing at The Paris Hotel and tickets start at a very reasonable $50. A bit of the humour has been adapted to suit the American audience but regardless it was very funny. We didn’t get to see any other acts but with headliners such as Cirque De Soleil, David Copperfield and Celine Dion there is pretty much something for everyone.

The shows weren’t the only attractions that caught our eye. In fact it got to the point where 5 days really didn’t seem to be enough as every hotel offered an attraction of some sort that is worth visiting. The Roller Coaster on top of the New York New York casino seemed to draw us towards it on Christmas Day. Apart from a slight mishap it was a great ride and, although a little steep at $12 a go, was still well worth it. For the thrill seekers amongst you there are a number of attractions around, with the Luxor’s I-max cinema and Circus Circus having a fantastic indoor theme park. There are also a number of rides on top of the Stratosphere Tower, which unfortunately we didn’t make it to. The rides on top of there look to be quite extreme as they are some 345 metres above The Strip.

There are also a large number of museums with Madame Tussauds well worth a visit, it’s a lot better than the London one and Tussauds pass holders get in for free. Tussauds is located at The Venetian Hotel along with The Guggenheim Museum, which unfortunately we didn’t get to visit but it certainly sounds worth going to. The only attraction that really disappointed me was The Shark Reef at The Mandalay Bay as it didn’t seem to be any better than a Sea Life Centre. Even the promise of a Great White was a slight exaggeration as it was only a baby rather than the larger one we were told was there. It cost us almost $13 and the value for money seemed to be sadly lacking, but that’s another review.

I already briefly mentioned the shopping aspect of Vegas and around The Strip there is no shortage of places to shop. There are designer shops all over the place with the Bellagio home to a lot of the more exclusive shops. If you are looking for clothes the best place to go would be the Fashion Show Mall or The Forum shopping centre, both located along the Strip. A lot of the shops seemed to be quite expensive in the other Casinos but I found The Forum at Caesar’s Palace to be quite reasonably priced. One of the most fascinating shops in Vegas has to be the M&M store. A 4 storey building with every item of M&M merchandising you can think of. So whether it’s a T-shirt or a fridge magnet or one of 21 different flavours of M&Ms they can be found here.

You’ll also find the need to eat and again there is pretty much something for everyone. So whether you fancy McDonalds or a $35 a course lobster claw dinner from The Bellagio then you will be sure to find it. We had all our meals at the hotel and with the various restaurants located in the Desert Passage there is plenty of choice. There is an average of about 8 places to eat in each casino, all very reasonably priced and easy to find. There is even a 24 hour Starbucks in the Aladdin for those of you, like me, who love a good cup of tea.

The biggest problem we found with the food and drink search was actually finding a bar to sit down and have a drink. All the restaurants had small areas you could sit in but no where really encouraged you to go there and have 4 or 5 drinks, it was more get you in get you out. It was, however, cheaper to get drinks as you played on the various machines in the Casino as it only costs you what ever you want to tip the waitress rather than the bar price. The other thing that impressed us were the cocktail bars in various hotels shopping complexes, where you could buy large cocktails to carry round with you whilst you took in the sights of Las Vegas.

One of the other main reasons people make trips to Vegas, and the main reason for our trip, is to get married. It’s said there are around 315 weddings a day in Vegas and at a cost of roughly $35 dollars it is easy to understand why. Each casino seemed to have a wedding chapel of their own and there are also a number of independently run chapels. They all go to great lengths to make sure you have a special day and have a number of packages available. If you really feel the need to get married on the spur of the moment you can even use a drive thru chapel and not have to leave your car and I wouldn’t be surprised if they throw in burger and fries with it as well.

Getting around in Vegas is relatively easy. Of course you have the option of walking but the shear distances involved can be too much for some people. So rather than walk everywhere it is probably easiest to get the Monorail, which runs from the MGM Grand to The Sahara and Excalibur to Mandalay Bay, stopping at various other Hotels on the way. It is reasonably priced with a day ticket costing about $3. There are also bus routes and taxis on The Strip but during most of the day and night it is totally packed and it’s actually easier to walk. The cost of a taxi is very reasonable though and if you intend to travel anywhere off The Strip it’s certainly the best way to travel.

I felt we really got the timing of our visit spot on. As Vegas is in the middle of the desert the summers can be unbearably warm. Christmas time however is quite similar to our summer time and although the Americans were complaining about the cold, I spent most of the trip wearing t-shirts and even came back with a reasonable tan. It did rain on the last day of our visit but we were already on the way to the airport. They don’t get much rain in Vegas, but I’d certainly recommend going during the winter.

It is without doubt an amazing place and nothing can really prepare you for just how surreal the whole experience is. I would definitely recommend visiting Vegas to anyone who thinks they would like to go but is still a little unsure. There is plenty to do even if you don’t feel that gambling is your type of thing. The fountains outside the Bellagio for instance are a sight not to be missed and certainly something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The next time I visit it will certainly be for longer, with a lot more money as there are still loads of things I’d love to do.

Travel News Breathtakingly Beautiful Grand Canyon

We took a Scenic Airlines tour from the Las Vegas Hilton to the Grand Canyon. The company picked us up in a bus and took us to a small airfield where we boarded a small plane with about 15 seats. The flight is not for those who get airsick or claustrophobic, but it offers stunning views during the hour that you are in the sky.

The disappointments were that we only got about 1.25 hours total to walk around two different areas of the Canyon, and we left our hotel at 8am and didn't return until 7pm.

The best part of the trip was walking around Bright Angel Point. We found a secluded spot and sat at the edge just taking in the scenery. After fifteen minutes, my boyfriend surprised me by getting down on one knee, proposing, and putting a beautiful diamond solitaire on my finger. I was so stunned that I almost fell into the Canyon. About fifteen minutes later, another couple came by who said that they saw the proposal from another rim of Bright Angel Point and ran over to take pictures. That really made our day complete.

Quick Tips/Suggestions:

You really need several days to be able to fully enjoy the Grand Canyon. I have stayed at the cabins at Bright Angel Point in the past and recommend booking one. It is frustrating when a tour company dictates where and how much time you can spend marveling at the natural beauty.

Although it is expensive and crammed with tourists all the time, it is really worth it to spend a few days on the North Rim and then to drive around other areas of the Grand Canyon. This is the most amazing natural feature in the US and should be fully enjoyed, not rushed!

Best Way to Get Around:

Driving from the Flagstaff airport and booking an accomodation near the Grand Canyon and then just walking around or taking a helicopter into the canyon would be my recommendation.

Travel News Where do you start with highlights in Las Vegas?

Where do you start with highlights in Las Vegas? Race for Atlantis is a must do at Ceasar’s Palace, Star Trek - The Experience is another not to miss. For sheer wonder, go to Freemont Street at night and see the spectacular light show. Go on a helicopter ride over the city at night.

Probably the easiest highlight to tackle is simply to wander down the Strip at night and look at all the hotels in their glory. Quick Tips/Suggestions:

Drink plenty of water while walking about, it is very hot in Vegas and you dehydrate very quickly.

Try to visit as many hotels as possible, they are attractions in their own right. Best Way to Get Around:

Walking is the best way of getting around, although if you need to go from one end of the Strip to the other, a taxi is probably a better idea. There are also moving walkways operating between many of the hotels, just hop on and let the path do the walking. Shuttle buses also operate up and down the Strip. If you plan to go further, then the car is the only viable option.

Travel News The Mandalay is the newest acquisition by the MGM Mirage Group Las Vegas

That’s right—7.9 billion dollars! The Mandalay is the newest acquisition by the MGM Mirage Group, owners of half the properties on the Strip.

Q:What does this mean to you?
A: Being treated like a million dollars simply comes standard.

Vacations can demand lots of exploring time off-property. Mandalay Bay solves that issue, consciously constructed to be the ultimate vacation experience. All things desired to deliver a sated stray from home are found on one property. Las Vegas has been reinvented. Welcome to destination Mandalay Bay!

Mandalay Bay shines among Sin City’s competition for more reasons than this sky-scraping hotel’s precious-metal-tinted windows, a 43-story golden treasure visible to and defining the hopes of every passenger in a window seat landing at the airport. Imagine this: three hotels, 16 restaurants, 7 pools on 11 lagoon acres, Broadway venues, world-class spas, live music, hot dance clubs, professional sporting events, top concert entertainment, and its own unique retail shopping plaza (containing another 45 shops and restaurants!) set on 60 lush acres!

Mandalay’s Towers rise tall, providing a stay where the casino welcomes you to and from your room. About 3,300 rooms and suites opened their doors in 1999. THE hotelis the latest in sophisticated service and boutique atmosphere. All 1,100 rooms are suites. A stand-alone tower connected to the main hotel by easy indoor access provides its own restaurants, lounges, and clubs. The Four Seasons affords access to the amenities of Mandalay. It is complete with a private pool and building exclusively for its discriminating guests.

This is gamblers’ paradise. Slots sing seductive siren's songs, beckoning us to depart with our dollars or fund the fantasy of the ever-elusive progressive jackpot. Choruses of cheers float to the ceiling from the craps tables while the snap of crisp cards on blackjack tables create a symphony hall effect in 135,000 square feet of casino. Mind your obsessions or let them go wild, depending on what you can afford.

From the famousHouse of Blues and The Gospel Brunch; to Chef Hubert Keller’s San Francisco French culinary extravaganza, Fleur de Lys; to the tropically Cajun and Caribbean fare of Rum Jungle, doubling as one of the hottest dance clubs in town; and to Broadway’s Mama Mia musical and the host of live bands playing throughout the various club venues in the casino, boredom is illegal.

Quick Tips/Suggestions:

Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino at 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S. in Las Vegas, Nevada 89119

On the Monorail, a ticket is needed for each ride. A single ride is $3 from your boarding point to your chosen disembarking point. The tickets are conveniently sold at the stations, and there are discounted values available.

$10 Unlimited Day Pass - This is good for exactly 24 hours.
$20 Dollar Ten-Ride Shareable Family Pack Pass - Each ride is counted from a get-on to get-off stop.
$25 Three-Day Unlimited Pass - Non-shareable

Careful with the ticket. Bent ones will not work. Place it safely, since it is like cash in your wallet or purse when not using it.

There are no fee charges to your credit or bank cards. There are no refunds.

Check the Internet before your trip for discount coupons and free passes. Show tickets should be reserved ahead of time. And always, always, always keep your wallet safely in your front pocket and cash separate. Any crowded situation is a pickpocket’s payday.
Best Way to Get Around:

The Mandalay property is meant to be walked. Familiarizing yourself with the property to ease navigation to your locations is a good idea. There are maps at the check-in desk or VIP reception. If you find reason to leave for a while during your stay:

A tram is available in the Mandalay and swiftly delivers you to the Luxor and the Excalibur. It is a short walk across Las Vegas Boulevard to the MGM Grand and the Monorail.

Taxis are available at all hotels and can be very expensive.

The Monorail recently expanded from three to seven stops. It is inexpensive, and on busy days, faster than cabs on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Open 7am to 2am, it runs in a continuous loop from the MGM to the Sahara in about 15 minutes.
Kids under 5 ride free.
Stations are under armed security and monitored by closed-circuit TV, making it one of the safest mass-transit systems in the country.

Travel News Be sure to drink lots of water in Las Vegas

Be sure to drink lots of water if you're going to walk the strip when it hot out. It can get over 100 degrees, and you can get heat exhaustion pretty quickly. Many hotels offer free trams to other hotels.. Before planning your day, make sure to schedule in these trams to minimize your walking. Also, don't walk downtown (other than freemont st) at night by yourself!
Best Way to Get Around:

Taxi's are good to get around.. I recommend renting a car for at least a day or two so you can see the beautiful things around Las Vegas.

Travel News Grand Canyon National Park

Just pent 3 nights at Yavapai 06 May, and couldn't really fault it. The room was spotlessly clean, and the service was great. Only ate at the coffee shop once - it was quite adequate.
Ate most meals at Bright Angel, where the food was good and reasonably priced.
I would highly recommend doing the Xanterra tours if you are staying there. We did 2 tours for US$35 per person - 2 hour Desert View bus tour, then a 4 hour Hermits Rest tour. Both are excellent, and the drivers are full of all sorts on facts about the Grand Canyon. (Just book at hotel tour desk.) It is certainly easier than driving and trying to find a parking space!

I had never been to the Grand Canyon before, and it is true - you cannot put into words what it is really like. I would definitely recommend staying at Yavapai for its location - it is far enough away from the rim to be quiet, but close enough to walk. Much better than staying outside the park itself, in my opinion.

Travel News Hot Hot Hot in Las Vegas

Hot! Hot! Hot! That pretty much sums up the trip. The weather was beastly hot...100 in the shade but I shouldn't complain being that MN might not see summer this year. On this trip, I'm meeting a friend of mine in Vegas and it has only taken us 10 years of planning to actually make it happen. Also, this is my second trip this year to my favorite city.

Flight out (7:30am)from the Humphrey terminal on Sun Country airlines was a breeze and it was nice that they gave out free hot breakfast sandwiches on the flight. Remember those days? Watched Ocean's 11 on my portable DVD player on the way out. Actually the guy sitting next to me enjoyed it too. Arrived at McCarron at 8:30am and it was smooth sailing from the time I got my bags to the time I picked up my rental car from Dollar. I rented an SUV that put me back about $238 for the week. Met up with my friend (DK) and we started our adventure.

HOTELS: We both checked into our hotels. I stayed at the Aladdin and she stayed at Sam's Town. I got a great nightly rate of $49 and her nightly rate at Sam's was $39. Can't beat it. I did the ol slip a $20 to the check-in guy, flashed the pearlie whites and asked for a strip view. I got a strip view all right but right below me was a view of the roof top of the casino only to find out later that at night, an orange light from the roof shines into my glass window making it hard to see the city lights. However for $49 a night, I can't complain and actually, the large bathroom with the huge soaking tub made up for the lack of view. Nice room overall! Sam's Town is a really nice hotel off the strip on Boulder Highway. DK's room was normal size and very clean. Nice decor too. I think what impressed me the most about Sam's is the fabulous staff that works there. Very polite, fun, and helpful! I did not find that to be the same at the Aladdin. Actually, complete opposite. An example is that during my stay, I couldn't get my club card to work around the second day so I walked over to the club desk and reported the fact. This woman lectured me on the topic of demagnatizing and how I need to keep it away from my room key and cell phone. Thank you for the info.....NOW BACK OFF! I told her that I simply wanted her to demagnatize the card and I would be on my way. She just kept lecturing and her demeanor was less than civil. My players card did not work the rest of the trip and I made sure to keep it separate from everything else. I just let it go. No comps for me.

RESTAURANTS: DK and I hit a couple buffets while in Vegas. The World Carnival at the RIO and the one at Sam's Town. Sam's Town was by far the better buffet which really surprised me because years past, I would have voted the one at the RIO to be the best but they have changed their setup and alot of the food was dried out and cold. We also ate at Samba's at the Mirage which is a brazilian all you can eat steakhouse. I was not impressed with this place at all. I've eaten at a similar place in New York City called Churrascaria Plataforma and there is just no comparison. Pretty disappointing in fact. I absolutely LOVED Chin Chin a Chinese Cafe which is located at New York New York. The pork potstickers were huge and so tasty. I also had the chicken fried rice and General Tso's Chicken and I can't say enough about them! YUMMY!!! DK and I tried to get a In-N-Out burger during our stay but holy smokes....around 1:00pm or so, the line both outside and inside was a block long. I've had them before and they are wonderful. Maybe next trip I'll be successful. We had lunch at the Top of the World restaurant at the Stratosphere and this was absolutely wonderful! Of course the views were spectacular and the food was pleasantly tasteful and reasonably priced because it was lunch. I've been there at night as well and that is equally if not better but you certainly pay for the night views and menu items. The day we went, the winds were gusting at around 30 to 40 miles and so they closed the rides down. We noticed little sand storms developing way out in the distance too which was something to see.

GAMBLING: I'm normally a very lucky person. In past trips, I've won pots as low as $450 and as high as $1,000 but this trip was a total bust. Which is just fine. I just enjoy the entertainment of the machines. I have to tell you, we gambled at every casino there except for Mandalay Bay, MGM & TI. I think my luckiest spots were at The Orleans, Westward HO, Bally's and Sunset Station. I played mostly nickel machines this trip which is so not like me. I usually play dollar slots. My favorite nickel slots in Vegas are Frank Sinatra, Twighlight Zone, Gilligan's Island, and Monthy Pythons Holy Grail. I took out $100 from a penny Twighlight Zone machine at Barbary Coast. I was shocked and so were the 2 other players on either side of me. I must have hit 6 bonus rounds one right after another and picked the right doors etc.... DK is strictly a BJ player and we had a good time playing the tables. She did really well at Sam's! Hopefully she will share her experiences on this board. Had a great time gambling downtown! The 15th marked Vegas's 100th Birthday so they had a huge party downtown. Bands, cake, was super crowded (more so than normal) but it was a fun. Bottom line: I started out with $1,800 and came back with $700. I guess that is not too bad but usually I can come home even + whatever pot I had won.

ENTERTAINMENT: I booked myself a helicopter night flight while in vegas and it was ok. It costs me $60 for a free shuttle pickup at my hotel and a 12 minute flight around the strip. I sat in the back and on the right side of the heli which did not give me a good view of the strip. But it was fine. I met some great people. Two gals from Britain who at that point of their trip had done everything from horseback riding in the Grand Canyon to Bungee Jumping at Circus Circus. They were having a blast! DK and I saw Danny Gans. Very entertaining. We actually were moved up to the front row seats because there were 2 no-shows and they don't like having empty seats in the front. Lucky us! Danny does a hilarious Jeff Foxworthy and Johnny Carson skit. I've heard negative reviews on him but I thought he was great! Last trip in January, I saw "O" and Celine Dion. Both were fabulous and I highly recommend "O"!!!!

HOTEL REVIEWS: As mentioned earlier, we hit nearly every hotel in Vegas. My favorite hotels to gamble at because of either atmosphere or great drink service are: The Westin (drink service), Venetian (fun people and great free bands), Sunset Station (great all around), Golden Nugget (great all around), RIO (hot waiter guys), Sam's Town (fun BJ w/ 70's disco music)and The Orleans. There are others but those stood out on this trip. Worse and would not visit again: Bourbon Street, Slots of Fun, Stratosphere, Ellis Island and The Plaza. Of course my all time favorite hotels that i love to just hang out at are: NY NY, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Bellagio, etc.....they are just so grand but not to gamble. Green Valley Ranch...beautiful area but tight on the slots. Did not get a chance to visit Wynn. Next trip for sure. Up to this point and of all my trips to Vegas the past years, my favorite hotel room in Vegas has been at the RIO. Oversized rooms with floor to ceiling windows and if you get one that faces the strip and the pool, it is great!

MISC: I've learned a few things this trip.
1. Never keep your players card(s) next to your cell phone or room key and if you do, play dumb and tell them that you had it in your back pocket the whole time and don't know why it demagnatized. Or just tell them that you lost it. Also, Bally's seem to offer the best comps. Played there about 4 hours total and earned $40 in comps. I stayed there in January and ended up earning $85 in comps and they paid for all my meals.
2. Never to go to Vegas during the hot months unless of course you love the desert heat. I prefer the months of March and October.
3. Regarding the Aladdin, with Plantet Hollywood now the owners, the arabian nights theme will be no more and the hotel/casino will have a hollywood theme thruout. I'm not sure what they are going to do with the Desert Pasage shopping mall but it sounds like it will all be gone by the fall of 2006. This might be a good time to grab as much Aladdin named memorabilia as possible.
4. Valet! Valet! Valet!
5. Visit some of the casino's off the strip if you can. They are loved by the locals and seem to be alot looser in slots. Also, drink service is better.
6. Make sure you have a good battery in your car before you park it at the airport for the entire week. Actually, I know this can't be helped but when I arrived back to MN (the Humphrey airport) around 12:30am...I discovered a dead battery and had to wait one and half hours for a jump. Got home to bed around 3:00am. Reality had set in that the vacation was over!!!!!

Travel News Las Vegas is One Big Jackpot

Starting off with a T-time of +150 days, the departure date for our June 18 trip finally arrived. My husband, Mario, and I were out of the house and on our way to pick up our traveling companions by 4:30 a.m. Maureen and Dale were ready to go and … I’ll spare you the yada-yada-yada of the flight portion of our trip, which to sum it up was smooth and uneventful.

I had booked an intermediate car with Dollar, and was planning on using an upgrade coupon for a full-size. These coupons are based on availability, and we were disappointed to find that there wasn’t a single full-size car on the lot. I asked the attendant if there was anything else she could offer us, and she indicated a mini-van. The four of us looked at each other but didn’t need to talk about it – we were not going to take a mini-van unless we had absolutely no other choice. The attendant indicated that we could wait for some more cars to come out of the garage from being cleaned and washed, and see if a full-size came out. A lone Chrysler 300 Touring/Limited sat in the luxury aisle. I pulled a $20 out of my wallet, and asked if it was available. The attendant broke into a big, toothy smile, took the $20 and said “help yourself”. Which we did, and after Mario and Dale spent 5 minutes in the office adding Dale onto our contract as a second driver, off we went. Luxury class car rental $204.35 for 9 days (plus $20 “tip”)

Our first 3 nights were to be at the Rio (or so I hoped).

Let me explain. Dale received an offer from Rio/Harrah’s for $79 for that Saturday night, with Sunday and Monday nights free. Maureen and Dale had never stayed at the Rio, and were thrilled with the chance to stay there, especially since we’d often told them how great the rooms were. Mario and I have been receiving offers from the Rio for 4 or 5 years now – whereas this was the first offer Dale and Maureen have ever received from Rio/Harrah’s. Admittedly, the two of us don’t give the Rio much play, and we have often wondered how we’ve merited free room offers, but we weren’t about to question anyone about it. I know well enough that these offers are always intended only for the person they have been mailed to, but I thought we had nothing to lose by calling and trying to book under Dale’s offer code. I figured we’d be receiving a similar offer anyway, and somehow ours was just late coming to us. I was just going to plead ignorance when the clerk called me an idiot or even worse, anticipating her caustic reply when she told me that the offer I quoted her was not meant for me. Usually, if you receive a mailed offer from the Rio, you will also find your offer listed on their website when you login and check under “My Offers”. I kept checking right up until the week before we left, and all I got was one offer for Harrah’s Laughlin. Nothing from the Rio.

I called a Rio reservations clerk, gave her the rate code, and she put me on hold. When she came back on the line she confirmed our reservation under the $79/free/free rate. I was more than surprised it had worked, and I had visions of trying to check-in at the Rio and being told there had been a mistake and being turned away or, alternatively, being charged more than we’ve ever had to spend on a hotel room before.

I might as well fess up right now: we’re … um … frugal, and paying full-price for a 3-night stay at the Rio was more $$ than we were willing to spend. We did come up with a back-up plan, though. The 4 Queen’s sent us a 2-nights free offer, and out of caution I booked the Sunday/Monday portion of our trip at the 4Q’s. That way, if the Rio reservation didn’t pan out, then that would only leave Mario and me sleeping in the car for the Saturday night.

Okay, so now we’re at the Rio’s front desk, and I’m holding my breath the entire time the desk clerk is tick-tick-ticking away on her computer. She confirms our rate of $79/free/free and assigns us a room in the Ipanema Tower. Even as we walk away from the front desk I am expecting someone to call me back and say there seems to be a problem. But it didn’t happen.

I’d read a post that the Ipanema rooms had been renovated fairly recently, and that the rooms in the Masquerade Tower were beginning to show some wear, so I was pleased that we would be staying in that tower. Maureen and Dale were assigned a room in the Masquerade Tower.

I thought the Ipanema room was smaller than the Masquerade Tower rooms. And I didn’t like it nearly as well. Pretty picky all of a sudden, wasn’t I? – this person who only moments before had been crossing her fingers and toes, hoping against hope that she would even be staying at the Rio? Mario just sighed, and rolled his eyes when I called the front desk and asked for a room change to the Masquerade Tower. They informed me that they were not doing any more room changes that afternoon, but we could move in the morning if we wanted. I was pretty sure that the idea of this was that by the time morning came most people just couldn’t be bothered to move. The next morning I called the front desk again, explaining that we were traveling with friends, and would greatly appreciate having a room in the same tower as they were in. I believe I heard Mario sighing again as we dragged our suitcases through the casino towards our new room in the Masquerade Tower. We were assigned a room on the 16th floor with a great view of the Rio pool. I was happy. Mario was just glad to be staying at the Rio.

Over the next few days, we spent a couple hours each afternoon at the pool. That first day the music was cranked, full-blast rap and what seemed to be a variety of rhythmic jungle beat music – boom, boom, boom. I don’t really mind the music itself, but truthfully, it was being played so loud that even though we were sitting on lounge chairs only inches away from each other, we had to shout to make ourselves heard. The next two days, though, the music was more mainstream and was set at a reasonable volume, so I have to assume that the first day was not the norm. The Rio pool area itself is great, with several pools, lots of greenery and plenty of lounge chairs. This is a pool area that is definitely dominated by beautiful 20-somethings. The women were showing a lot of skin and the men were displaying a lot of muscle. The 4 of us were out of our element (we are in our late 40’s), but it made for some very interesting people-watching each afternoon. It seemed to me that many people’s activities at the pool were going to have a big impact on what they would be doing later that night, if you catch my drift.

One morning we had breakfast at the Rio buffet, using this coupon, which is good until the end of August, I believe:

I’d recommend the Rio buffet for breakfast at least. I’ve never had lunch or dinner there, though. The selection was great, and the food was very good!

We played slots at the Rio off and on throughout our stay, but lost more than we won. I like the slots in the Carnival Court best, because that’s where the best variety of penny or multi-denominational slots are. Unfortunately, especially in the evening, this area of the casino is extremely noisy – and I stress, extremely noisy – and it definitely impacted on our playing time there.

On Sunday morning we drove out to Green Valley Ranch, intending to have breakfast at the buffet there (using our ACG coupons) and then spend a few hours in the casino. When we arrived, we realized it was Father’s Day, the price of the Sunday buffet had been pumped up for the occasion, and we saw that our ACG coupons weren’t good on Sundays. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on breakfast, so we hopped back in the car and went to the Café at Sunset Station for a cheap but excellent breakfast.

We then played the slots for an hour or so, with no significant wins or losses. After that, we made a quick trip to Walmart, which is across the street from Sunset Station, so that we could stock up the fridge in our rooms with bottled water and Diet Pepsi.

That afternoon Mario and I attended a LVT Meet at the Monte Carlo Brew Pub. We were pleased to see Frank (the LVT Webmaster) and Dusty once again, and to make the acquaintance of BugsySiegel, dmeeks9 and TrawnaJack. It never fails to amaze me how these Meets, which bring strangers together, would, to someone looking in from the outside, believe it to be a gathering of good friends. It’s a wonderful way to meet people who share our love of Las Vegas, and it’s great fun to be able to put a face to a LVT Board name!

What a long walk it is now through the Bellagio’s new tower to get to the tram for the Monte Carlo. I doubt it actually saves you any steps if you are coming in through Bellagio from the Strip. We stopped at the Conservatory on our way back and Mario took some pictures. The display was beautiful, but not as inspired as I’ve seen it on other occasions. Someone needs to come up with some fresh new ideas, I think.

Maureen and their 3 children had surprised Dale with a Father’s Day gift of a helicopter tour to the Grand Canyon. Dale has often mentioned over the past several years how much he wanted to do this, so he was absolutely thrilled. The cost was around $300 CAD per person for about a 4-hour trip, which included a picnic lunch in the canyon. A limo picked them up at 9:00 on Monday morning. When they returned around 1:30 they were positively glowing – they said it was spectacular - an experience of a lifetime.

That night we had dinner at the Monterey Room in the Gold Coast. No Vegas trip is ever complete for us without having the $9.95 Texas T-Bone Steak Special. The price has gone up a bit in the past few years, but it’s worth every cent. You will need to bring a big appetite to get through this dinner.

Each trip we like to check out a casino we’ve never been to before, so we decided to take a drive out to the SunCoast after dinner. Not realizing that the map I’d brought along had become quite outdated, we had some trouble finding the SunCoast. First, we drove several miles past the turn we should have taken, and then when we got back on track we ended up taking more wrong turns, and went on quite the tour of the area. Eventually we made it there, more by fluke than anything else.

The SunCoast is a nice but rather small casino. Mario and I settled down at a Twilight Zone slot machine, and managed to turn $20 into around $180. We have a rule that we cash out once we’ve tripled our money, or if we hit a nice jackpot, we play it down to the nearest $20 and cash it out. Then we will put another $20 in and see how that goes. It seems to work well for us, at the very least keeping us within our gambling budget for the day.

We decided to call home before we went back to our hotel, and our son told us that our basement had flooded on the day we left Calgary. We’d had some torrential rains in June, but since we live on a hill, we had never been concerned about water damage to our home before. Apparently, we only had a few inches of water coming in, which had actually seeped up from the sump and through some cracks in the basement floor. At least it was clean rainwater and not a sewer back-up.

On Tuesday we moved to the MGM for 3 days. We’d booked under an email special that I saw mentioned on the Deals forum of LasVegasTalk - $59/night weekdays for slot club members, which, among other things, including a $35 dining credit at any of the MGM-owned restaurants, buffet or eateries. Maureen & Dale didn’t actually belong to the slot club, but they joined online and then booked the room.

Once we’d dropped our suitcases off in our respective rooms, we threw on our bathing suits and met Maureen and Dale downstairs for some pool time. Maureen commented on how huge the rooms were – even bigger than the Rio rooms. What?? Our room was more or less a standard hotel room, certainly not anywhere near the size of a Rio room. She described the huge bathroom, with not only a tub but a separate glass shower; a nice living room area, a fridge, a bar, etc. etc. Somehow, without asking for one, or even realizing it, they had been given a suite! Very nice!

To access the MGM pool you have to walk through the Studio Walk, which is the MGM’s shopping mall. I’d read several negative comments about how far away the pool area is from the room elevators, but truthfully I didn’t think it was that bad – just a 3 or 4-minute walk. The pool area is very large, set amongst an abundance of palm trees, flowers and shrubs. There are several pools and a lazy river. Inner tubes are available for around $15 a day, but you really don’t need one to float along the lazy river. The lazy river was great – we loved it!

Later that afternoon we drove out to Texas Station, where we’d planned to do a little gambling, and then have dinner and a movie. First stop was at the Fatburger in the food court for one of their fantastic chocolate shakes – I don’t even want to guess how many calories those things are, but then again if you have one of them when you’re on vacation, the calorie count is zero. Or so I’ve heard.

While we sucked back our shakes, Mario and I had some good luck on a slot machine called Password. We played this machine for quite some time, and cashed a few nice little jackpots out of it, to the tune of close to $200.

We had planned on having dinner at the Texas Station’s buffet using our ACG coupons, but the line-ups were long, and the four of us didn’t really feel like waiting in a line-up, especially seeing as we were not all that hungry – a buffet was probably more than we needed that night, anyway. In January of this year, Mario and I had met up with Grenadier (from the LVT Board) and his wife, Henny, who are Texas Station regulars. I recalled Grenadier mentioning at that time that the clam chowder served at the Texas Star Oyster Bar was excellent. That seemed like a good idea for a lighter meal, and as we passed by, we saw that there were plenty of tables available. All four of us ordered a bowl of clam chowder which, indeed, was delicious, and far more filling than we had anticipated. I loved the thin crisp parmesan bread wafers they served with the soup! Maureen & Dale had ordered a side dish of calamari to share, which they said was very good. Mario and I ordered a side dish of hot chicken fingers. More like chicken fists – they were absolutely huge, and served dripping with hot sauce. The soup had pretty well filled me up, and I could only get through ½ a piece of chicken, but it was excellent, simply excellent. We will return there next trip, without a doubt.

After dinner each couple went their own way to gamble for a few hours, and we met at the theatres for the 10:00 showing of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Mario thought it was pretty good, and Maureen, Dale and I sheepishly admitted to sleeping through most of it. The story line was just so unbelievable; I couldn’t get interested in it. And that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it. Maureen and Dale said they were just plain tired.

Since we had that $35 MGM dining credit, we decided to try the buffet for breakfast on Wednesday morning. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special, either. I’m glad it didn’t cost us anything.

Maureen and Dale planned on seeing the Titanic Exhibit (which Dale raved about afterwards!) over at the Tropicana that morning, so Mario and I hopped in the car and drove over to Green Valley Ranch to play some slots. For some reason, we always seem to do fairly well at GVR, and this morning was no exception. After a couple hours, we left about $80 up. Fiesta Henderson then fairly quickly relieved us of that $80.

We had planned on meeting Maureen and Dale at the pool that afternoon, but by the time we got back to the hotel, the weather had deteriorated, it had rained, and there was still lightning and thunder in the air. The pool was closed.

Since we had tickets for We Will Rock You (purchased at ½ price online with Goldstar Events - that night, we decided we should find a place to eat not too far from the Paris Hotel.

Maureen and Dale hadn’t ridden the monorail yet, so we decided to take it from the MGM all the way to the Sahara, and then back to Bally’s. Then we would walk over to the Barbary Coast and have supper at the Victorian Room.

Mario and I hadn’t eaten at the Victorian Room in years, but we remembered it as a great place for a casual meal, with good prices. Once we were seated, I was surprised to see that the tables had tablecloths on them, and this was not the casual café I had remembered. I did think as we approached the restaurant that it was odd there wasn’t a line-up at the door, like there always used to be. And the menu – well, an open-faced turkey sandwich was $14; a burger was $10. Yikes. I wasn’t very hungry, and all I wanted was something light and simple, like a chef’s salad or a taco salad. The waiter informed me there were no salads available at dinner time. Give me a freakin’ break. I grudgingly settled on a bowl of clam chowder soup. Maureen and Mario each had the turkey sandwich, and Dale had an open-faced hot roast beef sandwich. The waiter got a little snotty when I ordered only soup.

There weren’t that many people in the restaurant, and it took 45 minutes to get our meal, during which time we were virtually ignored by our waiter. Coffee and/or water refills would have been appreciated, and we had to stop a passing waitress for refills. My soup should have been served much hotter than it was, and the meals were mediocre. A definite “will not eat there again” experience.

We then walked over to the Paris Hotel and picked up our We Will Rock You tickets at the box office. Mario and I went over to Bally’s for a while, and lost some money on their slots. I don’t think we’ve ever won a cent at Bally’s.

Our seats for We Will Rock You were in the Radio Ga Ga section, about ¾ of the way from the top of the theatre, off to the right of the stage. The theatre is fairly small, and I don’t really think there are any bad seats. We Will Rock You is a fun show – the music and dancing was very good, and there is a bit of a campy feel to the show. Lots of humour, and even some sad parts. There were some young kids sitting in front of us, and I thought there was some dialogue that wasn’t appropriate for their ears – but I guess it depends on what you expose your kids to ordinarily (probably nothing they haven’t heard in the schoolyard anyway, I guess).

I stopped and bought my eldest son a Queen t-shirt to add to his collection of rock memorabilia, and then we strolled over to the Bellagio to watch a couple fountain shows. I can’t remember the name of the first show we saw, but the second one was Viva Las Vegas. It doesn’t get more appropriate than that.

We walked back to the MGM and said goodnight to Maureen and Dale. We played some slots for a couple hours, and had a bit of luck on a Matchgame slot. It was around 1:30 by that time, and both of us were hungry. By rights we probably should have just gone to bed, but we were on holidays, dammit. We could do whatever we wanted to do. We got a table at the Studio Café, which was extremely busy even at that time of night. I ordered some type of Chinese chicken salad, which was excellent, and Mario had a clubhouse sandwich, which he enjoyed. We sat for quite a while afterward, chatting, and by about 3:00 we were more than ready to drag ourselves through the casino and up to bed.

On Thursday morning we hopped in the car and headed to the Grand Lux Café at the Venetian for breakfast. This is my favorite place for breakfast in Las Vegas. We all chose the small buffet they offer, rather than ordering from the menu. The buffet includes an omelet bar, fresh fruits, yogurt, excellent breads, muffins and pastries, and all the other usual breakfast items. I believe the price is around $13 per person.

After breakfast we drove out to the Valley of Fire. It was a hot day, and the car gauge showing the outside temperature read upwards of 115 degrees at times. Las Vegas Norm had kindly given me some pointers as to what sights not to miss, and we stopped at each one he had recommended along the way.

Atlatl Rock

There were many petroglyphs on the rocks, and it would have been interesting to know what stories these prehistoric Indian rock writings told. There was a natural arch in one area that offered a great photo opportunity, and we stopped to take some pictures of each other.

A little further on we came to an area called the Mouse’s Tank, which is a natural basin in the rock where rainfall collects and can remain for several months. Intriguing, seeing as this is such an arid environment. We thought we would take the short walk to see what it was all about. Bad idea. The sand we were walking through was so fine that it was like red icing sugar, and it made walking rather more difficult, not to mention that Dale, Maureen and I were wearing sandals. Hot, hot, hot toes! That “short” walk took at least 20 minutes or more, back and forth each way, and we Canadians from the Great White North don’t tolerate heat all that well. We had thought to bring our bottles of water with us, but since we’d read that it was a short walk, we thought we’d only be gone no more than 15 or 20 minutes total. Our tongues were practically dragging on the ground by the time we got back to the car. All further sightseeing at the Valley of Fire that day was done from the comfort of our air conditioned vehicle.

On the way back to town we stopped at Overton Beach Marina on Lake Mead. We bought some very much appreciated cold drinks, and relaxed for a little while as we took in the view from a picnic bench.

The plan was to stop one more time, at Lake Las Vegas, before heading home to the MGM, but somehow, somewhere, we took a wrong turn, and missed it entirely, so we ended up back in Las Vegas.

I understand that the San Remo Hotel and Casino has been bought out by Hooters. It must be happening soon, because it looked like some of the signs have already been removed from the front of the property. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that the $5.95 Prime Rib Dinner is well worth the money, and I wanted to go there once before the hotel went through its conversion.

Dale, Mario and I ordered the Prime Rib special, and Maureen ordered a Monte Cristo sandwich. Maureen regretted her choice, because the sandwich was apparently deep fried and tasted rather nastily like fish. If it had been me, I would have complained and sent the sandwich back, but I don’t think Maureen likes to do that, so she ate as much as she could, and left the rest. Our prime rib dinners were good, and well worth the $5.95 price tag.

That night, Maureen and Dale had “2 for 1” tickets for Folies Bergeres, which they’d won on the free spin in front of the Tropicana. This worked out great for them, as one of the things they wanted to do this trip was see one of the traditional-types of Vegas shows. That really didn’t interest us, and Mario and I decided to head over to the Bar at Times Square in NYNY for an evening of Dueling Pianos. I wanted to get there early enough for a table, which are at a premium, so we were there by 7:30, with the entertainment scheduled to start at 8:00. Some basketball final was on TV, and many people in the bar were glued to the game. Of course – it HAD to go into overtime, and Dueling Pianos didn’t start until shortly after the game ended, at 9:00. Just a note here – the drink prices, as if they’re not bad enough already ($6.50 for a rum & coke), go up when Dueling Pianos starts, but that night even though the show started an hour late, the drink prices went up right on time nonetheless. I believe my second rum & coke cost close to $8.00.

Anyway, even over-priced drinks won’t keep me away from Dueling Pianos, and we had a great time that night. The camaraderie, laughter and good fun we enjoy in that bar cannot be beat. We stayed through two sets, and left shortly after the first pair of entertainers came back for their second set.

Mario told me, on the walk back to the MGM, that when I’d left the bar at one point in search of a ladies washroom, a woman who had been acting quite strangely moved over to sit in my chair at our cozy little table for two. She had drawn our attention earlier because she had walked into the bar with a guy, but she crossed over to the side of the bar with tables by herself, and sat down at a table of women she apparently didn’t know. The other women seemed rather surprised, but this strange woman didn’t acknowledge them in any way – she stared straight ahead and didn’t say a word. When the music was playing and absolutely everyone in the bar was singing at the tops of their lungs, this woman continued to stare straight ahead – totally unaffected by the music. When one of the entertainers encouraged all the women in the bar to get up out of their seats and sing, we all did, yet she sat there like she was made out of stone. In any event, when she moved into my chair and tried to engage Mario in a conversation, Mario told her that his wife would be back in a minute or two, and the chair wasn’t available. She stared at him for a minute and then got up and sat back in the chair she was in earlier. It would seem that perhaps she was a hooker, but her methods were very strange – there were at least 50 young, single drunk guys on the other side of the bar who would probably have enjoyed her attention.

Friday morning was check-out day. I tried to do the video check-out but the $35 food credit had not been applied to our bill, so we had to go down to the front desk to check-out. The desk clerk got the bill straightened out, eventually, and off we went to the Orleans for breakfast.

The Courtyard Café has some great early morning specials, but we arrived too late for those. You can always depend on a good meal at this restaurant, at a reasonable price. We were not disappointed, and after breakfast we arranged to meet Maureen and Dale at 10:00. We had fun playing several slot machines, Turkey Shoot being one of our favorites, but left the Orleans that morning lighter in the wallet.

I like to shop: Maureen LOVES to shop. The men dropped us off at the Fashion Show Mall, and they walked over to the Wynn Hotel to spend a few hours there.

When we met back up with the men again later, Maureen said she hadn’t even made it out of Macy’s yet, and here I’d sailed through several stores and was ready to leave. Maureen needed more shopping time, so we scheduled that in for the next day.

We were spending the next 2 nights at the Golden Nugget, so we hopped in the car and headed for downtown. We had reserved the GN under a $79/night weekend special, which included several good coupons. Check-in was quick and we were assigned rooms in the south tower. Maureen and Dale wanted to relax for a few hours at the pool, but the two of us elected to wander around Fremont Street for a while. We walked up and down Fremont Street, and then settled in at Las Vegas Club to play some slots. Let’s just say it would have been significantly cheaper to go to the pool.

We spent the evening at Texas Station, and this time we did have the buffet for dinner. The line-ups were bad again, which apparently was because there was only one person on the till that night and lots of people were paying by credit card, which slowed progress down a lot. By the time we were almost to the front of the line, another till opened that was only taking payment by cash, and we got through in no time after that. It must be a favorite buffet for the locals, as there sure were a lot of families in line, and SO many kids.

Dale is a “rib guy” – he just loves ribs, and he raved about them at Texas Station. I’ve never heard anyone say “mmmmmm” so many times during any one meal.

I found the abundance of unruly kids at this buffet very annoying. Their parents allowed them to run all over the place, yelling and fooling around, and taking food from the buffet without supervision. This resulted in spilled food on the counters and floors, and the mess around the ice cream machine was simply disgusting. Some parents need a serious kick in the a$$. We’ve eaten here several times before, and this was the first time we’d seen anything like this. Maybe Friday nights are a good time to stay away from there.

After the buffet fiasco it was time to play some more slots. We played Men in Black for an $80 profit, and then sat down at a slot machine that was called something like The Great Cheese Caper, which was fun, and paid us a couple small jackpots. We gave some money back on a few other slots over the next while, but managed to walk out of there in the black. At midnight we met back up with our traveling companions, and drove back downtown. Mario and I walked over to the Plaza (now that it’s virtually stink-free, thanks to new carpeting), and spent a few hours playing a slot machine we’d discovered at Green Valley Ranch – the theme was something about magicians. We did pretty good on that slot, but gave some of our winnings back on some other slots we played afterwards.

By around 2:00 we were ready to call it a night, and I remember remarking how relatively cool it was outside that night.

We met Maureen and Dale the next morning for breakfast at the Carson Street Café. This restaurant is consistently good, and today was no exception. We used one of our coupons we’d been issued at check-in, which was good for up to 4 people for $3 off each of our meals.

After dropping Maureen off at the Fashion Show Mall to continue her shopping experience, Dale, Mario and I drove over to the Imperial Palace to take part in their 11:00 Texas Hold’em lessons. The table was full, and we had an entertaining dealer doing the teaching. Most of us were fairly familiar with the game already, and we had a great time playing just for fun over the next half hour or so. After that, a table was opened for anyone from the lessons that wanted to play for real, and most of us moved over to join in. A few other stragglers showed up, and the table was full. I’d apparently picked up a horseshoe when I sat down at this table, because for the next 10 or 15 hands or so, I raked in the great majority of the pots. Then I started getting dealt mostly garbage, and for the rest of our time at the table I rarely stayed in past the flop. The horseshoe moved over to Dale, and he won some very nice pots over the next hour or so. Mario couldn’t get a hand if his life depended on it, and when he did manage to pull something even half-decent, he never got the cards he needed to win a hand. The players at the table were a happy and fun bunch, and we greatly enjoyed our time in the poker room. $30 profit for me; $46 for Dale; Mario lost $50.

Once we’d picked Maureen up from the mall, it was pool time once again for her and Dale. Mario and I begged off, and we met up with them later for dinner at the Golden Nugget buffet. We had 2 for 1 coupons, so we figured we might as well use them. The buffet was good enough, but I don’t know that I’d bother to go there again.

We’ve been to enough buffets (do ya think???) that we know not to over-indulge at them. It’s tempting to try everything that looks good and stuff yourself to the point of being uncomfortable. But it’s so not worth it.

Maureen and I hadn’t seen the Wynn Hotel yet, so that was the plan for our last night in Las Vegas. Yes, readers (or … maybe … reader, if even one of you is still with me?), there is an end in sight.

We parked at the Fashion Show Mall and walked across the street. Maureen and Dale had some things they wanted to see first on that end of the Strip, so after we arranged to meet at the car at midnight, they went off towards TI.

Thankfully, a walkover to the Wynn is in the final stages of being built, so soon there will be no need to cross over at street level.

The pond and waterfall in front of the main entrance to the Wynn is very nice. Inside the casino there is small garden area, where they hang different colors and sizes of fresh flower “balls” from the trees.

We played slots the rest of the evening at the Wynn, and accumulated more than 500 points on our slot card. Once you have 500 points on the blank slot card you are given initially, you can then go sign up for their slot club. You are awarded 2 free buffets at that time, which must be used within the next couple of days.

Once we got back downtown for the night, Mario and I spent a couple hours roaming in and out of the various casinos on Fremont Street. We were getting a little peckish, and decided to stop in at the Carson Street Café for a late night snack. We settled on nachos. They sucked – which is probably a good thing, seeing as by rights we really didn’t need to be eating just before going to bed anyway. The type of cheese they used to melt on the nachos was too moist and it made the chips mucky and limp. Yuck.

Sunday morning. The day we dreaded. Reality was looming. Our hope that 9 days in Vegas would be long enough for us was not to be. It was still not long enough. Not by a long shot.

We packed up our suitcases, checked-out of the Golden Nugget, and found a gas station to fill up the car in anticipation of returning it to the Dollar lot.

Since we had to use those two free buffets at the Wynn, or lose them, we offered one to Maureen and Dale, and off we went to experience the Wynn Buffet. We were worried that the line-ups might be bad on a Sunday morning at 9:00, but they weren’t.

The dining area is beautiful, light and airy. And if I had to sum up the food at this buffet in one word, it would be - wow!

Someone had mentioned to me the night before that the crab legs on this buffet were – and he held his hands out 2-feet apart from each other. I had laughed at his exaggeration. This morning, as I was wandering around the buffet checking out the selection, I actually saw someone with a full plateful of 2-foot long crab legs.

All four of us wished we had been hungrier that morning, because there were so many great-looking dishes that we would have liked to sample. One bakery item that really sticks out in my memory is the small cinnamon buns – absolutely wonderful – light and moist and perfect. Even the bacon was somehow better than regular bacon – it was cooked very well, but it wasn’t all curled up and greasy – each piece was straight as a poker and had a light hickory flavor. The orange and grapefruit juice was served by a chef at the buffet itself – because it was fresh squeezed the chef needed to keep stirring it to keep the pulp from settling.

We spent some time just enjoying the ambiance of the dining area, leisurely sipping our coffees, and reflecting on the past 8 days that we’d spent together.

As we walked back to the car, we decided to leave the Strip and spend our few remaining hours in Las Vegas at Terribles. Initially, when we had begun to plan this trip, we had booked Terribles through for the week-night portion of our stay. The pool area was remarkably nice, the rooms were decent, if not fancy, and the nightly rate was $34. Somehow it seemed fitting that we should spend at least some time at Terribles, since our plans had changed quite a bit since those initial planning stages.

Much too soon, it was time to leave for the airport. Our diabolical plan that one of us would win a huge jackpot just before we left, so that we could extend our stay at the very last moment, never came to fruition. It was a very sad and sorry-looking group of travelers that handed off the car keys to the Dollar lot attendant that day.

Well, that’s what I did on my vacation this year. I give you credit if you actually read through this long dissertation. You must be very much in need of a Vegas fix. I hope I provided that for you, and thank you for sticking with me through this.

Travel News Greetings from the Flamingo Hotel Las Vegas

In the past, I've stayed at Mandalay Bay and the Mirage. I was a little leery of the Flamingo. I shouldn't have been. It an older property, and not as nice as the others, but is still fine -- and much cheaper. The rooms are reasonably large, the beds are comfortable, there's a good sized closet and a good sized safe, and the location is ideal. It also has a very nice pool. On the down side, it's somewhat worn around the edges; I wouldn't want to walk barefoot on the carpeting in the room. The restaurants are nothing special, and the casino is just fair, but it's easy enough to leave the hotel for food and gambling. I checked in at the airport, and tried the $20 trick. Either it worked, or I live right. I got a strip view room on the 22nd floor (22104). Directly facing me was Caesars Palace, to the right was The Mirage, and to the left was Bellagio and its lake. In the distance was The Rio Hotel, as well as a beautiful mountain backdrop. Look down and you could see Las Vegas Boulevard. Perfect!

Wynn Las Vegas. I didn't stay at the Wynn, just visited. There have already been a number of detailed reviews. I'll just say that it's not revolutionary; it didn't blow me away. However, it's probably the nicest hotel on the strip, incrementally better that the others. On opening day, I got to walk through several of the restaurants, and the night club La Bite, as well as the shops and casino. I visited three other times, and eaten there twice. I also purchased some ridiculously overpriced but delicious chocolates at one of their shops. I like the airy feeling of the hotel, the casino is open and easy to navigate, I must be one of the few who liked Le Reve, and my initial impression of the restaurants is that they're top notch (although I have a lot more eating to do before I'll know for sure). When I stay there in September, I'll see what the rooms and pool are like.

Food ---- This trip was solo, so I ate most of my meals alone. It takes a little getting used to, but Las Vegas is an especially comfortable place for singles. I'd feel comfortable eating by myself even at most of the top dining spots. Sometimes a table for one is a good choice; sometimes there's a bar which serves the complete menu.

Delmonico Steakhouse. One of the high end steak houses, it's located in the Venetian. I ate dinner at the bar, where a full menu is available. Overall the meal was very good: very good foie gras; an excellent bone-in rib eye steak with three sauces (béarnaise, A-OK [like a fancy version of A-1], and a third sauce that I liked but can't remember anything about); bananas Foster ice cream pie that was good but not to die for. A number of wines are available by the glass.

Okada. Here comes a long winded review. This Japanese restaurant and sushi bar is in Wynn Las Vegas. I got there at opening time the first night it opened (April 28). No tables were available, but I snagged what turned out to be a prime spot at the sushi bar. I've eaten sushi for over thirty years, and have tried many of the top spots in Vegas. Okada has the potential to be the best. The quality of their sushi is top notch, and the prices aren't too bad. In fact, some prices are below those at places like Shintaro or Hyakumi. In particular, they had o-toro at $8/piece. When I last went, Shintaro charged $25/piece, and Hyakumi charged about the same. Other memorable items: uni/sea urchin (very firm and fresh); unagi/eel (not just warm, but ever so slightly crisp); tamago/egg (not one of my favorite types of sushi, but quite good here); o-toro/tuna belly sashimi (great flavor and texture, melt-in-your-mouth); hamachi/yellowtail (very rich and flavorful); awabi?/abalone (two pieces, each with a different flavoring); ama-ebi/raw shrimp (great flavor, but they don't serve the heads as tempura). The sushi chefs were also excellent. Somehow or other, the man who appeared to be head chef recognized me. He had been a sushi chef at Shintaro before moving to Okada, and knew me from there. However, there was one major flaw. When I was seated, I was informed by the waitress that I must order each piece of sushi from her. The sushi chefs were apologetic, but confirmed this rule. This was a disaster in the making. Not only does it tend to spoil the interaction between customer and chef, but it slowed orders down to a crawl. Fortunately, after a couple of painful rounds of ordering, the chefs saw what was happening and ignored the rule. After that, I had a great time. I'm sending a letter to Wynn Las Vegas urging them to change the rule.

Hyakumi. Located in Caesars Palace. Prior to Okada, it was my favorite sushi bar in Las Vegas. As good as ever. Order ama-ebi/raw shrimp, and as a bonus they prepare the shrimp heads as tempura. It sounds weird, but it's delicious. They also had ankimo - kind of a pate made out of monkfish liver. Also delicious! Ankimo isn't always available, and I don't know if it's on the menu; just ask for it.

Shibuya. MGM Grand. Japanese restaurant and sushi bar. Looks nice, but the sushi bar gets a failing grade because you must order from the waiter (see my comments on Okada). At least partially due to that, the atmosphere is sterile, even though the sushi is good. It might be better to get a table at this restaurant.

Michael Mina. At the Bellagio, this restaurant emphasizes seafood, but has other good choices as well. I ate at the bar; it's a pretty friendly spot if you're eating by yourself, and a full menu is available. I tried the seasonal tasting menu (pricey at a bit over $100) and the accompanying wine pairings (pricier still at $80 or $85). Picasso is better, and no more expensive, but I still enjoyed myself. The meal included hamachi tartare; lobster salad; (third course that I can't remember); kobe beef, foie gras and lobster mashed potatoes; trio of desserts, including an improbable but excellent sasparilla float. Excellent meal.

Bouchon. I had breakfast here. It's more formal than most breakfast spots, but is very bright and cheerful - a good place for a leisurely meal. French Toast Bouchon style is like sweet bread pudding, with apples. I had heard wonderful things about it, and was a bit disappointed. It was good, but not memorable. However, given the nice atmosphere, I'd be inclined to return and try something else.

Wynn Buffet for Breakfast. I'm not a big fan of buffets, but was curious. I tried out the breakfast buffet the day Wynn opened. The restaurant is pretty, and tables are spaced nicely apart. Service was friendly; coffee came quickly. There's a varied selection of food. What I tried was good, including: muffin; some sort of smoked fish; two Chinese dishes that I had never heard of before (one with beef, the other I forget); a type of link sausage. The omelet station looked good, there was a lot of fruit and pastries available, as well as Mexican dishes. All in all, pretty good. I haven't eaten at any of the other top buffets, and thus can't offer any comparisons.

Aloha Kitchen. This is a couple of miles off the strip, not too far from UNLV. There are a couple of other locations as well. It caters to the large local Hawaiian community. A typical meal is the mix plate, consisting of a large amount of white rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, and one or more items such as kalua pork, chicken katsu, and pork lau lau. Spam is also a mainstay (spam sushi!), or try the loco moco (bed of rice, hamburger patty, fried egg, and a big ladle of brown gravy). Health food lovers need not apply. Their food is cheap and filling. I like it a lot.

Carnegie Deli. At The Mirage. The new kid on the block, it's a branch of a New York deli. It should have stayed in New York. Their sandwiches consist of two regular size pieces of rye bread, with what must be a pound of deli inside. Large bamboo skewers hold everything together. If that's not big enough, you can order the Woody Allen, which combines corned beef and roast beef for an even bigger sandwich. You don't pick up the sandwich, you lift off the bread and use a fork. Sounds good so far, but the corned beef was only fair; same for the pastrami. At breakfast, I tried the matzobrei, pancake style. It was just an omelet with a little matzo thrown in - very disappointing. Their menu doesn't even mention sour cream as an option – you have to ask for it.

Rosemary's. This is way off the strip - perhaps a 20 or 25 minute ride. After hearing so many good things about it, I had to give it a try. Well…it was worth it. To save money, order from the prix fixe menu (available only at lunch). It includes an appetizer, main course, and dessert, for $20. A la carte is much more expensive. I had Hugo's Texas BBQ Shrimp and Maytag Bleu Cheese Cole Slaw (sounds weird, tastes great), grilled mahi mahi, and goat cheese cheesecake. The food is served in large portions and is very rich. Oh yes, this is another place where I ate at the bar, and felt quite comfortable.

Lotus of Siam. Lotus of Siam has a reputation as an excellent Thai restaurant. It deserves its reputation. There are numerous reviews out on the Internet. My observations: (1) reviewers warn against the buffet, which is standard Chinese. From what I saw, I'll second that view. Order interesting Thai food from the menu. (2) I had Nam Kao Tod (minced sour sausage mixed with green onion, fresh chili, ginger, peanut, and lots of crispy rice); charbroiled catfish; sticky rice with mango. It was a lot of food, and everything was very good. (3) The address is on Sahara Avenue. However, that's the BACK of the restaurant. Don't run away in horror; instead, drive around to the other side. It turns out to be a shopping mall, with the entrance to Lotus of Siam.

China Grill. At Mandalay Bay. There are two things of note here. First is the size of their salads. I ordered Peking Duck Caesar Salad; my companion ordered plain Caesar Salad. The waiter warned us that the salads were very large, and that one was more than enough for two people. When we told him that we were ordering no main course, just the salad for dinner, he paused and then said that might be OK. The pause should have warned us. These salads are obscenely large. They're served on dinner plates, piled so high that it's impossible to transfer some to your plate without causing a landslide (saladslide?) that ends on the table. I'm a big eater, and finished less than half…but it was very good. The second item of note is the bathrooms. Think translucent glass, music and LCD monitors - in the stalls.

Jean-Philippe Petisserie. This was opened as part of Bellagio's new Spa Tower expansion. Their pastries are wonderful - both beautiful and delicious. I can vouch for the cheesecake in white chocolate, Chocobana (chocolate mousse, caramelized bananas, dark chocolate cremeux, hazelnut dough), Opera (chocolate ganache, coffee butter cream, almond biscuit, espresso syrup), and the Pecan Tart (pecan caramel, espresso cream, pecan buttercream, hazelnut dough). The gelato was good, but not in the same league as the pastries.

Activities ---------- Hiking. I love to walk and take day hikes, but am not a dyed-in-the-wool hiker. At the end of the day, I want to go back to an air-conditioned hotel room. I also have no sense of direction whatsoever, and can get lost in an elevator with two sets of doors. Having said that, hiking is one of the highlights of my Vegas trips. Go to Red Rock Canyon, about 30 - 45 minutes west of Las Vegas. It's beautiful, and there are trails for all skill and fitness levels. I highly recommend a guide name Neil Sobelson, sole proprietor of Hike This! His web site is He specializes in customized hikes. That's right, for just you, or the two of you, or your group of friends. He'll ask about your interests and physical condition, and will tailor a hike to meet your needs. I've gone with Neil twice for hiking, and once for rock scrambling (see below), and have always had a great time. Warning: it can get HOT; hiking in the sun when it's even 80 degrees can be brutal. March and April are usually good; May can be hot, so hike early in the morning. In any case, make sure to take tons of water. For a half day hike, take a minimum of two quarts of water, or more if it's hot.

Rock Climbing. You know, with ropes and harnesses and all that good stuff. This was my second time doing rock climbing. My first time was an introduction with no more than 30 minutes actual climbing time. This would be a full day, with hours of climbing. Rock climbing is strenuous, scary, and incredibly exciting - and this from someone who was afraid of heights not too long ago. I highly recommend it, but make sure to get a good instructor. I used American Alpine Institute ( My instructor was Jason Martin. He was very good, spending lots of time on basics and on safety. He also put me through the wringer, which is what I wanted. I was able to complete some climbs, but not others; by the time I cried uncle, my arms were trembling so much I had trouble controlling them. I got to find out just how much I could do. I can't wait to go back. A note about trembling arms: this is an indication I was dong things all wrong; “use your legs, not your arms”. I've heard from more than one person that women, who have less upper body strength than men, usually learn faster than men – presumably because they have less opportunity to do things the wrong way.

Rock Scrambling. This is half way between hiking and rock climbing. It involves climbing over and around rocks/boulders that are anywhere from a foot tall to ten or more feet tall. No ropes, just arms and legs. My guide was Neil Sobelson of Hike This! (see hiking, above). Again, Neil is highly recommended. This doesn't take too much skill, mostly just good balance and a lot of care. However, it does take good leg strength and lots of stamina. This was my first time, and I think I'm hooked.

Kayaking. Boulder City Outfitters ( offers a guided kayak tour of the Colorado River in Black Canyon, below Hoover Dam. The government limits kayak permits to 30 people per day, with no motorboats allowed on weekends. It's beautiful, great fun, and beginners are welcome. However, be warned that it's a very strenuous trip. Yes, it's downstream, but it still requires continuous paddling for eleven miles, it takes most of the day, and there may be a headwind.

Walking The Strip. I love to walk The Strip. There's a different feeling at different times of day. To me, it seems that the porn slappers were a little less aggressive than last year – or maybe I've just gotten used to them.

Shows ----- Penn & Teller. If you've ever seen them on TV, you know what to expect. Nonetheless, good fun. Arrive early, and you'll be invited to get up on the stage and examine a couple of large boxes they use in their show.

We Will Rock You. The music is good, but the dialog ranges from annoying to downright embarrassing. If you can mentally filter out everything but the songs, you'll do fine. I couldn't.

Ka. This is one of the Cirque de Soleil shows. I'm not sure if this was good. I say “not sure” because I was exhausted from rock climbing that day, and repeatedly fell asleep. I even dreamt, combining rock climbing with the show. Talk about bizarre dreams! However, I liked most of the parts of the show that I saw. It was just a little bit too dreamlike for someone in my sleepy condition. The stage moves, not just up and down, but it rotates, and tilts all the way to vertical. I don't want to give away anything, but the final scene is dramatic.

Le Reve. The new show at Wynn Las Vegas. It's water based, with a circular stage so that all seats are center. I've seen mixed reviews, but it was my favorite show. Yes, it's similar to Cirque shows, but it's very well done, and the theater feels intimate.

George Carlin. He's back from rehab, and ready to offend everyone. I liked him a lot, but be prepared for very caustic humor.

Nighttime --------- The Bar at Times Square. Located in New York New York, this is one of those dueling piano type of bars. It might have been the first in Vegas, although now they're all over the place. It's loud, crowded, commercial, and corny – and a lot of fun! If you get there before 8pm, there's no cover charge. Get there later, and you not only pay, but may have to wait in line.

Gambling -------- I'm not much of a gambler, but I decided to try craps this trip. I knew the theory, but not the practice. My observations: Many casinos offer free craps lessons. If you know the theory, it isn't really necessary to take a class, but I found it made me feel more comfortable. The dealers were invariably friendly, and glad to offer help to newbies. There are a million kinds of bets, but it's very easy if you start with the simplest bet (basically, that the shooter will win). That bet also has a small enough house percentage that you'll probably be able to play awhile before losing all of your money. Craps is fun - especially because I won big. Well, given my bet size, big means enough for a nice dinner, but it sure beats losing. Uh-oh, I think I'm hooked. This could get expensive next time! I checked out many of the larger hotels on The Strip. Table minimums are usually around $10. Sometimes you can find $5 minimums, and sometimes $15 is the lowest. Wynn Las Vegas had one $10 minimum table on opening day. The Flamingo sometimes had $5 tables, but sometimes $10 was the minimum. I've read that there are lower minimums in some of the smaller places, like Casino Royale, but didn't check them out.