Friday, December 30, 2011

Wicked Spoon Buffet at The Cosmopolitan - a review

Chicken Adobo taco (in bowl), Pecan Swirl French Toast, Moroccan Rice Salad, Antipasti and Asparagus

Bacon & Spinach Quiche (top), Mac-and-cheese (left), Eggs Benedict (right), California rolls

The Wicked Spoon Buffet at The Cosmopolitan is one of the newest buffets on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's in the lower mid-price range of all the buffets on the Strip, with the Imperial Palace's Emperor's Buffet being the lowest at about $12 per person and the popular, Sunday-only Jasmine Brunch at the Bellagio starting at $55 before drinks on the higher end.  (For the record, Bally's Sunday Sterling Brunch is the highest priced at $78 per person, but they automatically include champagne with the price of every brunch buffet, so I think their price is on-par with the Jasmine Brunch.)

I was really looking forward to trying this buffet because I took it off of my “to do” list in July.   On that trip I ended up grossly overeating every day when I booked too many restaurants in my plans.  On this day Hayley and I were properly hungry, but not starving, so I personally was ready to try some new dishes and was looking forward to sampling lots of new things.  

There are two services available at this buffet:  brunch is served from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. daily, with a full selection of breakfast and lunch dishes, and dinner is served from 5:00 p.m. - 10 p.m. daily with dinner entrees.  There was no line just before 10 a.m., and we were seated and choosing our first dishes in less than 5 minutes. 

The Wicked Spoon buffet area itself is very pretty and modern, with lots of seating and great artistic touches everywhere.  The food items are laid out by region (Italy, Morocco, etc.) as well as by separate breakfast and lunch selections across the back of the buffet, so there’s no winding around to find something hidden somewhere.  I was very happy that the brunch seating included equal offerings of breakfast and lunch items because I hate to have more choices of one than the other, but that's a personal preference for me when it comes to buffets.  

Here are some of the selections we tried: 

Bacon, tomato and cheese omelet - Hayley ordered from the omelet chef.  The eggs were perfectly cooked and the omelet was a nice size, but maybe a little too much for a buffet.

Buttermilk pancakes - Served with lots of maple syrup, these were light and fluffy.  Hayley said she could've eaten a couple of stacks, but she was saving room for other things, too.

Pecan Swirl French toast - This was my favorite breakfast item of the day.  They were delicious, fluffy, warm, filled with nuts and slightly caramelized.  Add on the hot maple syrup and it was a very good way to start the day.  

Bacon and spinach quiche - Light and perfectly cooked, the quiche was topped with chives and a bit of mozzarella cheese, leaving yummy strings of cheese trailing when you took a bite.  The pieces of bacon were big enough to pick out but small enough to keep you from having to cut them up.  I wanted seconds.  

Eggs Benedict - Served in its own little silver pot, it was a very pretty presentation, but not a good item on this day.  Eggs Benedict is one of my very favorite breakfast items, so I try to enjoy them whenever I can.  These, however, were not good.  The egg whites were underdone, to the point of the egg being jelly-like and quite raw,  and the English muffin was too tough to cut with a fork, a knife, or both, so I ended up putting that aside.

California rolls - Fresh and bite-sized, these were really good and I sampled a couple of them because I'm too cheap to order sushi at a restaurant.  They had a nice selection of sushi available, but I don't get too adventurous when it comes to sushi, so I just admired most of it for its pretty presentation.

Moroccan rice salad - I put it down after one bite.  It was way too sweet for my taste.  Yes, it had raisins in it, but it was too sugary and not flavorful at all.  It was a very overpowering sweetness for a rice dish that was NOT a pudding.  

Mac-and-cheese - Also served in small, silver pots, these were good but very dense and almost overly cheesy, so it was hard to eat more than a couple of bites without feeling too full.  Definitely a comfort food, but I would've needed a nap after eating the whole serving.

Chicken Adobo taco - A nice, light, bite-sized treat in a tiny corn tortilla.  They added too many onions to the taco so it overpowered the chicken, but I ended up taking the onions off so that I could enjoy the flavor of the chicken, instead.

Chocolate-covered strawberries - Hayley was disappointed in these because they added nuts to their topping, and she hates nuts.  Who puts nuts on chocolate-covered strawberries?  

Pizza - We were both disappointed by their limited pizza selection to even try a single slice; they only had plain pepperoni and sausage pizza slices available on this particular day.  I was expecting more varieties of pizza, I guess, especially for a big, nice buffet.  No white pizza selections were available, either (the "sauceless" pizzas, with extra cheeses instead of marinara).

Asparagus - These were served crisp and slightly blanched, but they put lemon on them before serving them.  I prefer my asparagus with just a bit of salt, no lemon, so that's probably just a personal choice.

Mint and chocolate chip gelatos - Hayley said they had several different flavors available, but chocolate or chocolate chip is usually a safe bet in any case.  Theirs was nice and creamy, but the mint was especially delicious.  Maybe it's just a favorite of mine and I'm biased - who knows?

Chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick - Not much to mess up here.  The marshmallows are covered in dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, so they aren't as super-sweet as you'd expect.  A bite-sized treat that's a great end to a buffet.

Chocolate-orange mousse - A surprising little layered treat in a clear cup, this tiny mousse was surprisingly light and not overpowering with orange flavor.  Hayley debated getting a second one, but decided FULL was a good stopping point.

Overall, we were just not happy or impressed with most of the lunch selections we sampled, which is a shame.  The breakfast items and dessert selections were fine, but we just weren't WOW'ed by the whole experience, so I'd give the whole buffet a 6 out of 10 rating.  There are so many other great buffets in Las Vegas that I don't think I'll be going back to this one anytime soon.  I still think that Wynn and Bellagio have the best buffets on the Strip.

The Wicked Spoon Buffet is $22 per person and includes coffee, tea, and soft drinks.  Alcoholic drinks are available at an additional cost.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Attractions and Revamped Hotels Coming to Vegas in 2012-2013! (Link to article)

There have been very few changes to Vegas in the past couple of years, and my favorite city is feeling the effects on all levels.  It's nice to hear there are some changes underway that will debut in 2012 and 2013.  I need some new things to see and do in Vegas!

Here's a link to the article that details the changes to some of my "Vegas haunts" as well as some other changes around the town:

Looks like I need to get my "to do" list updated!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fremont Street Experience to include Bon Jovi songs!

If you haven't been to downtown Las Vegas in awhile (and I haven't), now you'll have a reason to visit again:  three Bon Jovi songs will be added to the Fremont Street Experience starting on New Year's Eve.

Check out the Vegas Inc. article for the details here:

Looks like I'll be heading downtown again - I LOVE Bon Jovi!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Restaurant Review: Carnegie Deli at The Mirage

The Open-Faced Reuben...that is OBSCENE!

Note that this is only HALF of the Club Dear sandwich (tomatoes, bacon, turkey layers), and a chopstick is needed to hold it together.  Hayley finished it all.

Since we were at The Mirage to see LOVE, we decided to eat at Carnegie Deli for dinner.  When you enter from the Harrah's/Caesars Palace side, it's located just inside the casino, off to the right.  You can order food to go from a separate line, or choose restaurant seating from the hostess around the corner.

The restaurant is not very large, but it is open to the casino on two sides.  This makes it ideal for people-watching in my opinion, but it's intimate enough that you can still carry on a conversation with your table mates and not feel the need to yell.  The decor makes me think of a diner, but one from the early 1940's perhaps - no blinding aluminum on the walls, just lots of photos and a very diner black-and-white tile floor.

The menu is extensive; they offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, and their portions are huge.  The menu mentions that they charge $3.00 for sharing, but I definitely think it's worth it if you're not a big eater.  Even if you ARE a big eater, look around to see the size of the portions before you decide to get something for you.

You are given a plate of their house-made pickles to munch on while you look over the menu.  Given all the great reviews I've heard about these pickles I have to say I was a bit disappointed when I actually tasted them.  They were crunchy, yes, but the overall flavor wasn't my favorite.  I guess because they also added some extra garlic (in an effort to be more like Klaussen pickles?) they were supposed to be very flavorful, but I wasn't overly impressed by them, and I LOVE pickles!

Hayley ordered the "Club Dear", which has to be the TALLEST club sandwich I’ve ever seen!  It contained over 12 pieces of bacon (we stopped counting at a dozen) and at least a pound of turkey.  She ended up taking it apart to eat it in smaller bite sizes with the tomatoes because it was impossible to eat any other way.  She said it was really, really good, no matter the size.  It normally comes with lettuce, but Hayley left that off because it's her least-favorite sandwich topping.

I ordered the "Open-Faced Reuben" instead of a salad because Hayley talked me into it (“They’re famous for SANDWICHES, mom!  Have a sandwich.”), but I should’ve ordered a salad because it’s what I really wanted when I walked into the restaurant.  I swear the plate my ‘sandwich’ came on weighed at least 5 pounds and the mound of pastrami and corned beef topped with sauerkraut and melted cheese was enough to feed the entire country of Africa for a couple of days.  It was huge all the way around, and  I only ate about 1/10th of it before I gave up – it was way too much meat.  I don't know what I was thinking.  I like corned beef and I like pastrami, but that much meat topped with other stuff and sitting on's too much for mere mortals such as myself.  I believe they have a smaller sandwich that's similar to it and about $5 less, but I didn't really review all of my options on the menu before I placed my order.  Shame on me.

We shared an order of fries, which were very good and crispy, and we each ordered an iced tea.  Our meal came to $65.91 before tip!  For sandwiches!  Our meal at Mon Ami Gabi later in the trip was less than that, and THAT meal included a glass of good wine for me!

Our waiter left a little to be desired because he was a bit slow-moving.  The restaurant wasn't crowded, but he took forever to get back to us and check on tea refills and see if we needed anything else.  I don't know if we came right before he went on a break or what, but we hardly ever saw him.

I would like to try the deli again, because I really want to try a smaller, more manageable salad and get a piece of pie or cake they are famous for.  Their cakes and pies are displayed in long, glass-fronted cases, and they all look fantastic.  It was just not a possibility for this trip, though.

I would rate the whole meal and experience a 7 out of 10.  Given the size of the portions and the selection, it's a great place to take someone for a sharing meal when you don't want to go anywhere too fancy.  Still, the price was a bit steep for me when I'm looking for a more casual dining experience in Vegas, especially for sandwiches.

Planet Hollywood's standard room - it's not that good, sir

This is it?  Are those sheets?  Are we in the military?
What's that over there by the far wall?  Nothing!

That's all the storage space right there.
And Hayley's suitcase is almost as big as the armoire...

See the wasted space?  Do something with it!
When I booked the hotel for my Vegas shopping trip with Hayley this past November, I chose the room based on my discussion with Hayley about the location and my desire to try new things on each trip, especially after so many trips to Vegas.  CET offered me a FREE "Hollywood Hip" room upgrade at Planet Hollywood, where I've never stayed before, and Hayley liked the modern photos on the website.  I figured we might as well check it out because A) I might not get another free room offer from them, and B) it was all about keeping the girl-child happy and keeping her near the shopping areas she was looking to visit.

We arrived from the airport at about 1 p.m., and I didn’t know if we’d be able to check in or not because the Caesars Entertainment website gives the earliest check-in time as 4:00 p.m. for all of its properties.  There were only a few people in line, and we were told that the comped Hollywood Hip room I booked through the CET website would not be ready until after 5 p.m. at the very earliest, but a standard room was available now if we wanted to take it.  I asked Hayley if she cared, and she didn’t.  The front desk guy said, “Well, you’re used to staying at Harrah’s, and we’re a step up from their rooms, anyway.”  Really?  We’ll be the judge of that!  

(I like how all hotel employees always assume - or try to convince YOU - that their rooms are superior to everyone else's in some way.  It's not that I stay in any high-end hotels on my Vegas vacations, but assuming that your rooms are better than other properties' rooms isn't always a wise thing.  Just sayin'.)

Off to the room, and I don’t think they ARE a step up from Harrah’s, personally.  The main bedroom area was very basic and a bit worn, and definitely not as large as I expected based on the front desk employee's description.  The very first thing Hayley noticed when we walked in was the theme: Predator 2.  Oh, boy!  We get to stare at aliens every day!  (If there were such a thing as a "sarcasm font", you could use it on those last two sentences, believe me.)  One of Hayley's big dislikes is aliens, and they're not exactly my favorite, cuddly bedtime friends, either.  I should have asked if “Sixteen Candles” was available and we would have both been happy.  That would be a great idea to add to the Planet Hollywood room booking:  selecting the room 'theme' based on your movie likes and dislikes.  So many other theme choices would've been higher on my list.

There were only two drawers and one closet in the bedroom armoire – too much wasted space for a room with double beds.  Pretty sure more than one person will (usually) be staying in a room with double beds, so why not give us more places to put our stuff?  The hanging space was very limited because of the smaller, single-door armoire, and we had to be very creative about putting away our clothes.  I ended up putting most of my folded clothes in the useless door area below the TV because...what else would I put there?  A stack of phone books?  Two females in one hotel room equals more space needed to put stuff!

No decorative pillows on the beds, no random bed décor, and not even a colored or creative bed skirt in sight…even Harrah’s uses some color for a standard room!  We both first thought that there were only SHEETS on the beds, with no comforters at all.  Luckily we were wrong about that!  All white bedding makes it look BLAH.  It was a very sterile-looking bed area.  The beds themselves were not the most comfortable I've slept in (Aria and Bellagio top that far...), and it was hard to find a good 'spot' to lay in at night.  I did like the suede headboards, but that's all I can say I liked about the beds.

The Roman shade on the window was frayed and worn on the edges, and you couldn't totally block out the light at night on the sides.  I really like sleeping in a completely dark room in Vegas.  For me, it's hard enough to get comfortable in a strange bed, so I want complete darkness and quiet to help me get the little sleep I manage.  To even GET to the window was hard enough:  a randomly placed purple chair was right in front of it, between the armoire and the foot of the bed, and we both had a hard time getting to the window to open or close the shade.  BEHIND the chair and in front of the window was a random "table" with movie memorabilia in it; again, alien guns weren't the thing I was hoping to see, so leaving that table behind the chair became one of the better decisions for this particular room.

Next to the bed near the far wall was some sort of light display-box-thing that was supposed to 'highlight' one of the alien movie posters on the wall.  Again, it had no real practical use, and the bottom portion of it was uneven and barely allowed Hayley to stow her suitcase out of the way.  It offered no other benefit or "wow" factor for the room because the lights weren't working.  Not that I'd turn on the light to highlight the alien poster in the first place... random, striped wall?  The carpet pattern didn't compliment the wall pattern, and neither of them went with the purple chair.  I think either the wall paper or the carpet was left behind from when the hotel was still Aladdin, and they haven't really finished updating everything.  At least that's what I keep telling myself.

The bathroom in the standard room is very big, but they could use the space better and put in a couple of open shelves under the sinks for storage, or even add a second sink with all that space - again, I'm thinking double beds, double sinks and a place to put everything that goes along with it.  There IS a separate area for the toilet with a door, so that's a plus I like when sharing a hotel room (there's no need to share too much, y'know).  The garden tub was nice and deep, but yet ANOTHER alien movie print staring down at you is not the best view when you want to relax in your hotel room.  Hayley actually took a bubble bath the first night, but she didn't comment on it.

The shower area is separate and glassed-in, but the tile is older subway-type tiles and very old-looking.  They would do much better to re-tile the shower to match the rest of the marble in the bathroom, or just use a pre-fab shower to make it look more updated and less like an old shower.  Good water pressure, though, and the water was nice and hot.

So, would I stay at Planet Hollywood again?  If you haven't figured it out by now, the answer is NO.  Given the below-standard state of their "standard" room, I will be happy going back to Harrah's for my next trip...unless I get an offer for another CET property I haven't yet occupied.  I give this room a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 - it was clean but very worn, and the bathroom saved it from being completely useless, but my vacation time should be enjoyable all around, even when I'm in the room.

If you're interested in checking out some of the OTHER rooms offered at Planet Hollywood, check out their website here, I'd stay away from the basic rooms if I were you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Demystifying Harrah's two towers and the rooms they offer

Nothing wrong with a nice Deluxe room at Harrah's, is there?
I didn't think so...
I recently uncovered a post by one of my LV4E friends, CarolWI, regarding the two Harrah's towers and the various rooms available.  I thought it might be helpful to re-post her information here, especially for a couple of my friends who are planning a Vegas trip right now and don't know where to stay on their budget, but *might* decide to ask for an upgrade, depending on what they can get before the upgrade request.  

Carol used to work at Harrah's as a reservation desk clerk and posted about the rooms that had recently been updated and had their descriptions changed in 2009.  Since then all the rooms at Harrah's have been updated to reflect standard colors and fabrics; even the most basic rooms don't have loud or flashy decor anymore, so 'renovated' doesn't really apply.  The "new" descriptions are still applicable today, however, so here's the room and tower information she provided to everyone at LV4E.  I hope it's helpful to someone else!

There are two towers: Mardi Gras and Carnaval. 

Mardi Gras tower sits closest to the casino.  The entrance is by the Harrah's cafe'/Ming's Table restaurant. 

Carnaval tower sits behind the Mardi Gras tower.  The entrance is near the front desk area and Starbucks. 

Room types are as follows: 

Classic...standard room, lower floor, no view, or upper floor, view of backside of hotel.  These rooms have been upgraded since 2009 with basic colors and no additional premium amenities.

Deluxe...formerly called 'Premium', these are in the Mardi Gras Tower. Odd-numbered rooms face the pool and hear music from Carnaval Court outside Harrah's. Even-numbered rooms have virtually no view, or if you are above 10th floor you get a partial view of Treasure Island. 

Luxury...a room with a view of the Strip (remember there is NO 'panoramic view' of the Strip and you have to look out OVER the Mardi Gras Tower/Casino roof). There are Luxury rooms in Mardi Gras looking directly out at the Mirage/Volcano. In the Carnaval Luxury rooms, you are higher up; facing North you will see TI/Mirage and facing South you will see over the pool and out towards will NEVER see the Bellagio fountains because of the distance, and some guests say they can hear music from Carnaval Court in these rooms. 

Mini Suites...a standard room, only larger.  Some have a small sofa that can pull out into a double bed. Others have only a desk instead of a couch. These only have 1 king size bed, no double beds standard. 

Petite Suites...these are much larger and somewhat of a triangular shape. Most have only a king sized bed although there are a couple that have 2 queen beds. It is one large room with a sitting area with a couch/coffee table. You have two separate windows with a view of the North and South Strip, but ONLY if you are above the 15th floor in Carnaval. 

Executive suites...these are on floors 30 and above in Carnaval tower. They have a separate living room with a bar and big flat screen TV, as well as a separate bedroom area.  Most have only 1 king bed, but a couple have 2 queen beds, as well as another flat screen TV in the bedroom area. The bathroom has a corner jacuzzi tub with small flat screen TV, separate shower and toilet. Odd numbered rooms have a view of the Strip, and even numbered rooms have a view of the back of the hotel. 

The executive and mini suites in Mardi Gras are the most newly renovated and (they) are not allowed to 'sell' these to hotel guests..they are reserved for higher players and are reserved through a host based on their play. 

Then there are larger suites above that: the vice-presidential and presidential suites, with two bedrooms, etc.,  but those are generally reserved for high-rolling players, or if an upgrade is available for purchase, between $150-$300 per night additional. 

ALL rooms above the Classic type are additional $$$ to upgrade. Upgrades must be approved by room management or VIP. 

Also to be noted - room types requested at booking are based on availability at the time of check in and are not a guarantee of the room you will receive. But of course (they) always do the best to honor your request.

Thanks again to Carol for putting this information together.  It certainly helps to know what to expect, even when you're getting a "comped" free room!  

For the record, my favorite Harrah's rooms to stay in are the Deluxe Mardi Gras rooms (view or not), or the Luxury rooms in the Mardi Gras tower.  For some reason I like being in that tower more than Carnaval, even though the elevators are not that far away from each other, or very far from the front or back of the casino.  Go figure...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Photos: Chandelier Bar at The Cosmopolitan (link)

I adore the Chandelier Bar at The Cosmpolitan.  Here are some photos to brighten up a rainy day!  

(Not mine - just borrowed.)
Pretty Cosmo Photos!

Fun fact:  Did you know that the Chandelier is made up of over 2 million beads?  That's a lot of BLING!

Link to buffet review: Wynn Country Club's Jazz Brunch by Diana

If you're looking for a great place to have Sunday brunch in Vegas, you might want to check out the Wynn Country Club's Jazz Brunch.  My friend Diana recently did a buffet review for this one, complete with lots of photos and details!  (She's a great trip report writer, and a neat lady to boot.)

As a comparison, she has dined at the Jasmine Brunch Buffet at Bellagio (once with me, on several other occasions with various friends and family), and she says this one is "on par" with the Jasmine Brunch.  Be still my beating heart, because I LOVE the Jasmine Brunch Buffet!

It's now on my "to do" list for the next trip - I don't know if I can pass up that much Cajun food in one location!

A link to her blog and the review, plus hours and pricing:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bataan Death March or Vegas Shopping Extravaganza?

Trip Report Nov. 20-23, 2011
Crack machine win!
First win on Wizard of Oz: Over the Rainbow

Love it!

I took my daughter, Hayley, on her second trip to Vegas during Thanksgiving week.  The trip was booked when she showed me her school calendar in early September and said, “Look, mom – a whole week off for Thanksgiving.  I think we need to go shopping in Vegas!”  Don’t need to tell me twice…

With approval from her dad - yes, I DO check with him for things like this - I booked the flights to get us there and back home before it was time to serve the turkey on Thursday.  We planned ahead and bought things we needed for Thanksgiving, pre-ordered a smoked turkey with gravy and dressing from a local restaurant that makes GREAT turkeys (thanks for picking everything up, mom!), and had the rest of the meal pre-planned as potluck with our other family members so we wouldn’t have to work our butts off when we got back.  When I plan, I plan EVERYTHING! 

Just a warning:  This is probably the most boring trip report I’ve ever written.  There’s hardly any gambling.  Mostly it’s the story of us walking, shopping, walking, shopping, walking, walking, walking…

Sunday, November 20th

As with the first trip to Vegas, Hayley started feeling homesick for her pets almost as soon as we took off.  Not for her dad; just for her dog and her cat.  My husband even went so far as to text her photos of them so she’d have them to look at during the trip.  Funny, I never feel homesick in Vegas…

I booked a round-trip Towne Car through Presidential Limo to avoid the dreaded airport cab rides.  For some reason those are the worst for me, coming or going.  Is it the ride TO or FROM the airport that gets them all riled up?  Got a cute driver, Brad (Hayley said he was cute), and we were on our way to Planet Hollywood for 3 nights.

We arrived at about 1 p.m., and I didn’t know if we’d be able to check in or not.  There were only a few people in line, and we were told that the comped Hollywood Hip room I booked through the Caesars Entertainment site would not be ready until after 5 p.m.; however,a standard room was available now if we wanted to take it.  I asked Hayley if she cared, and she didn’t.  The front desk guy said, “Well, you’re used to staying at Harrah’s, and we’re a step up from their rooms, anyway.”  Really?  We’ll be the judge of that!

Off to the room, and I don’t think they ARE a step up from Harrah’s, personally.  The room was very basic and a bit worn.  The bathroom in the standard Planet Hollywood room is very big, but they could use the space better and put in a couple of shelves under the vanity or even put in a second sink with all that space.  There were only two drawers and one closet in the bedroom armoire – too much wasted space for a room with double beds.  Pretty sure more than one person will (usually) be staying in a room with double beds, so why not give us more places to put our stuff?  No decorative pillows on the beds and no random bed décor…even Harrah’s uses some color for a standard room!  We both first thought that there were only SHEETS on the beds, with no comforters at all.  Luckily we were wrong about that!  On top of all the dislikes, the theme for the room was “Predator 2”; not my first choice of movies, and Hayley HATES all things alien-related.  Should’ve asked if “Sixteen Candles” was available and we would’ve both been happy.  Still, we had things to do and a show to see, so we were not willing to wait until later to get into another room.  And once a teenager unpacks…forget it.  It’s done.

I walked over to Bellagio to pick up our tickets to LOVE while Hayley unpacked.  I like the fact that you can pick up your MLife show tickets at any MLife property instead of having to walk a mile or two to get them from the “correct” box office.  After ticket pickup, we decided to head over to The Mirage to check out their shops and get an early dinner before our 7 p.m. show. 

Not much to say for the shops at The Mirage – very little selection.  The new Khardashian Khaos shop I’d heard about is really just a gift shop with t-shirts and other items bearing the Khardashian name, and nothing fashion-related at all.  Really?  The Khardashians have a billion-dollar empire and they open up a t-shirt shop in Vegas?  That was a waste of space.

We decided to eat at Carnegie Deli.  Hayley is a sucker for sandwiches in any form – it’s her favorite food group!  She ordered the Club Dear, which has to be the TALLEST club sandwich I’ve ever seen.  It contained over 12 pieces of bacon and at least a pound of turkey.  She ended up taking it apart to eat it because it was impossible to eat any other way.  I ordered the Open-Faced Reuben instead of a salad because Hayley talked me into it (“They’re famous for SANDWICHES, mom!”), but I should’ve ordered a salad because it’s what I really wanted.  I swear the plate my ‘sandwich’ came on weighed at least 5 pounds and the mounds of pastrami and corned beef topped with sauerkraut and melted cheese was big enough to feed Africa for a couple of days.  I ate about 1/10th of it before I gave up – it was way too much meat.  We shared an order of fries and each ordered an iced tea, and our total bill was $65.91+tip!  For sandwiches!  Hayley totally enjoyed her sandwich and ate every bite of it, bit by bit, but I really only enjoyed the fries.  That’s my own fault.

LOVE was a fantastic show as always.  This was my 4th time seeing it, and it’s still impressive and totally enjoyable.  We were in Section 201, Row O – half way up.  Of course, no seats are bad seats in the LOVE Theater, but it was nice to be in “the middle” of everything.  Considering it was chilly outside, it was pretty cool inside the theater, too.  I ended up giving Hayley my pashmina wrap to cover up with during the show.

We were really smart about our shoes for the evening, though:  we packed our dressy heels in our purses and wore comfy boots for the walk from Planet Hollywood to The Mirage, put our shoes on in the bathroom before the show, and then changed back to boots for our walk back to the hotel.  We never would have made it otherwise!  Paired with hot chocolate from Starbucks, it was a pleasant Vegas nighttime walk along the Strip for November.

After Hayley was safely back in the room and tucked into a nice, warm bubble bath she desperately needed to soothe her feet, I headed down to the casino for a little gambling before bed.  It was only 10 p.m. – there’s no way I can go to bed that early in Vegas!  I played around on my "crack machines" (Lord of the Rings) for awhile before finally losing my $20, and decided I’d try The Hangover slots again to see if I could do better than my last try at them when I went through $20 in less than 1 minute with nothing to show for it.

I can happily say that I did TONS better this time on The Hangover slots!  I played on the same $20 for over an hour, hitting bonus rounds with regularity.  I got lots of play, and I played $2.00 a spin, too, which is a lot for this penny slot player, but I wanted to be able to take full advantage of all the bonuses.  Every time I got the “Deal in the Desert” bonus off of Mr. Chow’s Free Spins I managed to pick Doug and get $20 in addition to my $$$ from the free spins.  Not a bad record for a person who is a notoriously bad bonus round picker!  I put a couple hundred points on my Total Rewards card with that $20 investment, and I was up to $140 before I finally played it all back down…and cashed out with $0.46.  I know, I know – I’m turning into a degenerate gambler like the rest of my Vegas friends!

I gave up at midnight and headed up to the room.  Hayley was fast asleep and didn’t move when I came in and got ready for bed, even though I felt I was making a lot of noise.  Day one in the books: one great show, two expensive sandwiches, a few hot chocolates (and a few Bailey’s and hot chocolates for me), no shopping purchases and only $40 lost.  I’d call that a pretty good start to a Vegas vacation!

Monday, November 21st

I actually managed to stay in bed until 8:00 a.m.!  It’s not that I didn’t want to get up, but I knew Hayley needed her sleep and she doesn’t generally sleep too late in hotel rooms because it’s not HER bed, so I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to get up.  I got ready for the day and she finally got out of bed to get ready while I…went down to the casino to gamble!  This worked out perfectly for us, because I have little patience for teenagers getting ready, especially mine – she really does take forever.

I played Lord of the Rings again but with no success, I tried Kitty Glitter slots with the same results, found Reels O’Dublin (Hot Hot Pennies), Gold Fish, Wizard of Oz Big Event…nothing good happening anywhere.  And all the seats were filled at The Hangover Slots at 9:30 in the morning!  I promised I wouldn’t leave the property to gamble, and I stuck to that promise the entire trip, but I was unable to find some of the new slots I wanted to play and saw everywhere else we walked, like Ghostbusters.  Oh, well – there’s always next time!

I found Planet Hollywood’s casino very easy to get turned around in when staying there.  Since the Heart Bar is central to everything, it’s easy to get lost because all the areas around it look exactly the same.  In the past when I’ve gambled there, I’ve usually stuck to one area and headed out to gamble elsewhere; staying there didn’t help me figure out where everything was, unfortunately.  I think I walked to the wrong elevators at least 4 different times before I realized I was on the WRONG side of the casino each time.

Hayley agreed to try one buffet on this trip, and we tried a new one on our second day: Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan.  I was really looking forward to this buffet, as I ended up taking it off my “to do” list in July because I was grossly overeating and knew a buffet would be impossible.  There was no line just before 10 a.m., and we were seated and choosing our first edibles in less than 5 minutes. 

The Wicked Spoon buffet area itself is very pretty, and the food items are laid out straight across the back of the buffet, so there’s no winding around to find something hidden somewhere.  Because the buffet has changed to brunch (8 a.m. – 2 p.m.) or dinner (5 p.m. – 10 p.m.) only, I was happy to find I could get breakfast and lunch items in equal quantities because I hate to choose more of one than the other.  Hayley requested a bacon, tomato and cheese omelet and enjoyed their pancakes while I hit the pecan swirl French toast, bacon and spinach quiche and Eggs Benedict.  Three of the five items were good: my Eggs Benedict were underdone on top and the English muffin was too tough to cut.  Hayley was disappointed that they had nuts on their chocolate-covered strawberries (she hates nuts), and we were both too disappointed by their pizza selection to even try a single slice.  I was just not happy or impressed with most of the lunch selections we sampled, which is a shame.  (A full buffet review will be posted later.)  I still think that Wynn and Bellagio have the best buffets on the Strip.

I decided to get a piece of art from one of the Art-O-Matic machines outside the buffet when we left.  Hayley says my $5 was wasted because it looks like someone sneezed on my art.  I think I have to agree.

From brunch to shopping, we headed to the Forum Shops at Caesars so Hayley could get some serious shopping done...or so we thought.  They have replaced the old FAO Schwarz store with a three-story H&M store, which impressed Hayley greatly.  Unfortunately, after about 3 hours of shopping in there, she only came up with a couple of small items she really wanted.  I was surprised.  I fully expected to be loaded down with bags at that point.  Another stop at Victoria’s Secret (for the teen PINK collection, not the adult stuff) and I really found myself surprised that I only had one small bag to add to my arm.  She’s holding back, I think.  That’s the only explanation.

From the Forum Shops over to the Grand Canal Shops at Venetian, we took a leisurely stroll to see what we could find.  I was sad we wouldn’t be staying in the area for the evening, as it was the first day of their “Winter in Venice” theme, which will be on display until January 5th.  A 65-foot tall, LED-lit Christmas tree is sitting in front of the Venetian, and I would’ve loved to see it lit up!  They have added a temporary ice skating rink next to the canals, too – how cool!  Hayley was ready to do some more shopping.

We wandered through the Grand Canal Shops and the Shops at Palazzo for almost an hour, finding nothing that captured our interest.  Hayley decided to continually photo bomb me while I was TRYING to take a couple of photos of the fall display in Palazzo, which was hilarious to the point of tears.  We decided to head back to Planet Hollywood to drop off our bags and grab a cab to Mandalay Bay to see how the other end of the Strip would treat us.

Yet another weird cabbie experience to add to my collection.  Our driver was an older Caucasian guy, very quiet…until we hear the cabbie complaint radio show he’s got on!  Oh, Lord!  A show where cabbies can call in and complain about OTHER cabbies and bitch and moan in general about customers?  NOW I know why they’re all so mean!  This guy was also a bit of an aggressive driver, honking at cars, other cabs, and pedestrians in turn, making quick lane changes and other scary things, which made Hayley freak out a bit.  It reminded me once again why I do NOT like cabs unless they are absolutely necessary!  We were glad to get to Mandalay Bay in one piece.

The shops at Mandalay Bay had nothing to hold our interest, either.  Yes, there were unusual shops, but nothing Hayley really wanted.  There was one soap shop that was very disappointing; everything we picked up smelled gross.  And one of the soaps had so much GLITTER in it we had to wash our hands four times to get the stuff off...just from touching it with our fingertips!

On to Luxor, where we inquired about the 2 for $75 shows I heard about on LasVegas4Ever.  Unfortunately for us, Tournament of Kings was sold out for the night, and no one under 18 is allowed into Carrot Top’s show.  What?  I hadn’t seen anything about an age limit for his show prior to walking up to the event booth, but there it is on the bottom of their advertisement.  It was disappointing to say the least.  I always research the shows before we go, and nothing was mentioned on the website.  Also, I should’ve ordered the Tournament of Kings tickets on before I left, but I was hoping to take advantage of the 2 for $75 tickets.  Lesson learned.  We ended up getting tickets to the Bodies and Titanic exhibits at Luxor to entertain ourselves, instead, but that just meant more walking and no sitting.

The Bodies exhibit was definitely interesting.  Hayley is hoping to go pre-med in college, and she is currently taking anatomy, so she was more interested than many teenagers might be.  We spent time looking at every little thing, and it was nice to have her identify and talk about things I had no clue about.  Our private school investment is paying off!

The Titanic exhibit freaked her out a little bit because things were so “real”.  Yes, she’s seen the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio movie a hundred times, but seeing actual artifacts from the wreckage made her quiet, touching the iceberg they have on display was too real, and standing on the mock-up of the deck looking out at nothing but a dark sky and stars was overwhelming.  It wasn’t just sadness for lives lost, but she also has a fear of the ocean and space.  (That’s aliens, deep oceans and space fears for those who are keeping track.)  She didn’t want to stay on the “deck” too long, but I personally find it both haunting and soothing at the same time.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it must’ve been like to be on that boat.  I’d seen the Titanic exhibit before, but I had no problem going back and seeing it again.  Hayley was most impressed by the re-created Grand Staircase, which is beautiful, impressive and a little awe-inspiring in its grandeur.

By the time we finished walking through both exhibits we were completely exhausted.  Shopping and walking all day, with not much time for sitting and watching anything in particular, is very tiring.  We took another cab back to Planet Hollywood and decided to get some food before we headed upstairs.  Hayley walked to Lobster ME (a new restaurant in the Miracle Mile Shops) with me to get a lobster roll, fries and a drink, and we headed back to Earl of Sandwich to get her favorite meal – a hot turkey club.  We sat and people-watched while we ate like we hadn’t been fed in days.  Hayley was just as surprised as I was that she hadn’t found anything great while shopping, but we made a plan to head back to Caesars Forum Shops on Tuesday to pick up a couple of things at Victoria’s Secret/PINK that she had seen earlier in the day before she’d had a chance to shop elsewhere.

A shower to wash off the long day was in order, and we watched a couple of silly shows before Hayley fell asleep while talking to me.  I left her a note and headed downstairs to gamble again.

The Hangover slots were calling me, and I had a fun time playing all the bonuses yet again.  I did go through $20 quickly, but my second $20 had me hitting bonus after bonus again, racking up points and keeping me playing for a long time before I finally ran it down to nothing and went up to bed.  The band playing in the Extra lounge nearby was pretty good, so I got to enjoy good music while I played.  Plus a few Baileys and hot chocolates, of course!

Tuesday, Nov. 22

Sleep was not our friend – those beds at Planet Hollywood are not the most comfortable things in the world!  We were up earlier than we wanted, and the usual routine followed:  I got ready and went downstairs, and Hayley got ready after that.  Gold Fish slots were a little kinder to me, but not for long.  I was playing a Buffalo slot machine when I got the “I’m ready” text, so it was off to breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris next door.

Oh, delicious breakfast!  I decided to have the cinnamon pancakes (crepes) again, and Hayley had blueberry French toast with bacon.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and a little warmer with no breeze at all.  They put us on the patio without us even asking about it, and it was perfect.  Hayley called and checked in with grandma (my mom) while we lazed over breakfast, not wanting to get up and go.  Breakfast was $36.81+tip – much cheaper than my solo breakfast in July when I spent that much on myself.

Off to Crystals at City Center to see what could be seen.  Well, there’s stuff to see, but nowhere to shop that mere peons like us can afford.  The Christmas decorations were already up, so we basically walked around looking at those instead of inside the uber-expensive shops.  It turned out to be a much shorter shopping trip than we expected, and we headed back over to the Miracle Mile shops, instead.

Shopping at Miracle Mile was also disappointing.  They took out Hayley’s favorite store, Max Rave, and there were few other stores to capture her interest.  She did manage to find a cute pair of shoes at The Wild Pair and several nail polishes in a couple of other stores, but still no clothes.  I managed to find a new Vegas purse for my next trip, but nothing of any real substance.  Off to Caesars Palace to get the things Hayley found at Victoria’s Secret/PINK the day before.

By this time our feet were hurting again, so we took it easy and walked much more s-l-o-w-l-y.  This time I noticed a sign announcing JOE MONTANA will be at the Forum Shops signing autographs on December 3rdSquee!  I LOVE Joe Montana!  I quickly texted my husband to find out whether or not he minded me coming back in a week and a half for an autograph.  He didn’t.  Now, if only could find airfare…

A quick trip by Margaritaville, and I am NOT happy with them basically removing half of their gift shop to add the casino.  There are hardly any shirts to choose from!  I had instructions from my mom to pick up a shirt for my husband from her as a Christmas gift, and Hayley and I had a hard time finding even one we liked in the limited men’s selection.  Phooey!

We were done in again, and headed back to the room to put away our purchases.  We decided to rest our weary feet and then pack for tomorrow’s trip home, which was a good decision because we had a late show that night and we were definitely tired when we got back to the room afterwards.

Packed up and ready to eat, we headed back to Mon Ami Gabi for dinner.  This was Hayley’s only real meal choice of the trip – she wanted Steak Classique and frites, and I was just ready for yet another lovely meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Vegas.  We were seated inside this time, which was fine, since it was pretty chilly out and I didn’t really feel like eating out in the cold, even with heaters all around.  The restaurant was steadily busy while we were there, and it was nice and warm where we were.  I ordered Gabi’s fish and frites again, and a glass of white wine recommended by our waiter.  I wish I could remember the name of the wine!  It was a sweeter white, and not too dry.  We decided to forgo dessert because they didn’t have a gelato available that night, and we didn’t want anything too heavy before our show.  Dinner was $61.24+tip – still cheaper than our two sandwiches at Carnegie Deli on the first night.  Seems impossible, but it’s true.

We picked up our tickets for Divas Las Vegas at the Imperial Palace box office at 8:30.   I ordered the tickets on for $42 each the night before we left, which is a little less than half price.  Our VIP tickets were assigned to table 13, seats 3 and 4, right next to the stage.  This could be interesting.  Hayley had to stop and listen to the Toby Keith dealertainer for a couple of songs, and then we checked out the Higuchi shop at Imperial Palace before heading up to the showroom to wait for the show to begin.

Divas Las Vegas is a drag/impersonator show starring Frank Marino as Joan Rivers.  A giant, scary Tina Turner comes out to greet the audience before they are let into the theater.  I started to worry a little bit about what we were going to see, but I shouldn’t have worried at all – Tina Turner was the scariest part of the experience…aside from Whitney Houston/Diana Ross, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

It was a really good show.  Frank Marino as Joan Rivers is probably not as believable as he once was he doesn't look as much like her as he used to, but he sure has some fabulous outfits!  After his opening “monologue”, he makes about 15 costume changes total between each performer.  Even though the signs at the box office say no one under age 14 allowed, I saw a couple of smaller kids being seated, and it was NOT a PG show!  That was a bit of a surprise, especially after being turned away from Carrot Top’s show the day before.  Lots of sexual innuendo and colorful language by Frank/Joan.  I was happy to hear that photos are actually ENCOURAGED during the show, and I did my best to take lots of them.  I didn’t use my flash, though, because I didn’t want to blind anyone on the stage or in the audience.

Aside from Frank, each performer appears as two divas over the course of the show.  I can’t remember every single one of them right now, but some of the best were Madonna, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Cher.  Diana Ross was the scariest close-up, and Britney Spears was scary close to the real thing.  I remember Derek, the guy who performs as Britney Spears/Lady Gaga, appearing on “America’s Got Talent” a couple of years ago, and when they cut him from the show, he said it was okay because he was going back to Vegas to perform.  Well, here he is!  Hayley said it’s wrong for a Britney Spears drag queen to look better in a bikini than she does.  I have to agree.

At the end of the show, the guy who performs as Madonna/Celine Dion removes his costume and makeup during a closing song and leaves the stage dressed as a man.  It’s really interesting.  Not for everyone, I’m sure, but very interesting.

I admire Frank Marino’s dedication to his work – he’s been appearing as Joan Rivers for 26 years and he is very involved in the Make a Wish Foundation, which is awesome.  Proceeds from the sales of his programs, t-shirts and fans go to Make a Wish.  Every diva should do that!

After the show, we sleepily trudged back to the hotel and double-checked our packing.  Hayley fell into bed, and I made another trip down to the casino, but only for about 45 minutes.  I played Lord of the Rings and The Hangover slots AGAIN with no good results, but I was willing to give it a try.  It was almost 2 a.m. when I made it up to bed, which isn’t late in Vegas for me, but the walking with no gambling in between is more tiring than anything else.

Wednesday, Nov. 23rd

I was up at 8 a.m. – again – ready to give it one last try before we headed to the airport.  Lord of the Rings, The Hangover, Gold Fish and Sex and the City were all being mean to me, so I took a seat at a Wizard of OZ Over the Rainbow slot I hadn’t noticed before, even though I probably walked past it 20 times.  A lady sat down next to me and asked how I was doing, and I said, “I just started playing” when I went into a bonus round.  Nice, too, since Glinda visited me twice during my free spins and gave me a total of $134.10 with her wild reels.  Excellent!  I decided to play down to $100 before cashing out, but I got down to about $107 when I hit ANOTHER bonus round and ended up with an additional $124.75 from Glinda!  I think she’s my favorite “Good Witch”!  Hayley texted she was ready and I told her I was finishing up.  She was surprised when I brought up $232 from my morning gambling, which is a pretty big win for me as a low roller.  That bit of gambling brought me up to $35 in the black for the entire trip, making it a winner for me!

We stashed our bags at the Bell Desk and walked over to Café Bellagio for breakfast.  We had a couple of hours to kill before we were picked up by Presidential, and we were both too pooped to head anywhere else for last-minute shopping.  Not that we’d find anything worth buying, but you know what I mean. 

Hayley decided on the Bellagio waffle and bacon, and she was too chicken to ask for a side of eggs because she was HUNGRY.  She should’ve asked, because she was still hungry when we got to the airport.  I debated several things and decided to have the Bellagio omelet again – it has a whole lobster in it!  It really is good, and it’s a very filling meal.  I don’t usually eat at the airport because it’s so expensive for fast food and just not worth it to mo, so I was planning on eating well before we had to leave.  A leisurely cup of coffee for me and hot chocolate for Hayley before we decided it was time to get up and go.  Total bill was $53.94+tip.

We ended up making another quick trip through part of the Miracle Mile shops to get a shirt for one of my cousins.  I think we passed that t-shirt six or seven times and I never saw it.  My cousin likes long-sleeved t-shirts for Vegas souvenirs, and she never manages to find them when she’s there.  It’s doubling as a Christmas present now!

Off to pick up our bags and wait for Presidential to pick us up.  Weird…we walk into the lobby, and it’s decorated for Christmas.  I asked Hayley if it’d been decorated when we stored our bags a couple of hours ago, and she said no.  They decorated the entire lobby - including a Christmas tree with presents – in less than three hours.  Stealthy!

We had an Escalade instead of a Towne Car for our ride to the airport, and it was worth it to have a private driver who didn’t try to run anyone over, bitch about the world, or listen to cabbie complaint radio with customers in the vehicle.  Our driver was Joe this time, and we chatted about Hayley’s experience in Vegas.

I love curbside check-in at the airport.  I don’t want to have to handle our bags any more than absolutely necessary, and the Southwest Airlines guys are always right there to help.  Thanks, guys!  Hayley found food and we settled in for well-deserved quiet time.  Our plane back home was full, but McCarran was not crowded at all – can’t say the same for San Antonio when we arrived, though, because it was packed.

Home again, home again…it was good to be home, even though we knew we had a bit to do before Thanksgiving guests arrived the next day.  At least it’s easier to get things done when you’re still on a bit of a Vegas high than waiting until the next morning.

When will Hayley go to Vegas again?  Not sure.  I need my “mommy away” time from my husband and my daughter, even working full-time again.  I go to Vegas to get away, so it’s good to actually get a chance to DO JUST THAT.  I think my mom and one of my aunts are trying to set up a trip for mom’s birthday in March, so that might be my next trip to my happy place.  Until then…Viva Las Vegas!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Vegas trip in pictures: July 3-6, 2011

Just a quick look back at my July 3-6 Vegas trip in some of my favorite photos...before I go on my next trip in one week!
Tiffany necklace - Bellagio

Seahorse statue - Seahorse Lounge, Caesars Palace

Decorative column - Seahorse Lounge

Reflections - Caesars Palace bathroom mirrors

Lights - Cosmopolitan

Dogs in conversation - Cosmopolitan

Aria hallway

Venetian sunset

Patio view of Paris - Olives restaurant at Bellagio

The Mirage volcano from The Venetian

Aria's chocolate flowers

Goldfish - Beijing Noodle #9, Caesars Palace

Goldfish II

Decoration at Julian Serrano restaurant, Aria

July 4th sunrise from my room at Paris

Dale Chilhuly ceiling art, Bellagio

Monte Carlo statue

Paris reception

Fourth of July fireworks over Caesars and Bellagio

Art imitating life, Bellagio Conservatory

Flowers and flags, Palazzo

Bellagio rose bouquet

Marquis entrance, Cosmopolitan

Cosmopolitan lights

Cosmopolitan escalator