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 Goldstar.com 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 Goldstar.com 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

Restaurant Review: English High Tea at The Petrossian Bar (Bellagio)

A beautiful display!

For the last meal of my July 2011 trip I enjoyed English High Tea at the Petrossian Bar in Bellagio.  I made the reservation on my first day, as they only have room for about 6-8 people in the private area of the bar where they serve High Tea, and I hadn't decided before my trip if I was actually going to have tea service or not.  Luckily I was completely by myself; there were no other reservations at 2 p.m.  I didn’t feel bad about taking photos at all!

There are several different price ranges for High Tea, and your server explains all the options to you for each level.  I took the lowest level for $35 per person.  This gets your selection of a nice pot of tea that can be refilled as many times as you wish, two blueberry scones served with clotted cream, jam, butter and honey, 3 pre-selected desserts and your choice of four finger sandwiches in any combination.  Higher-priced tea services may include champagne or different options in sandwiches or desserts, but I kept it simple because I didn't know what to expect.  (When two people are dining, double the number of scones, sandwiches and desserts; for three, it would be three pots of tea, 9 desserts, six scones, and 12 sandwiches, etc.)

While the finger sandwiches are being prepared, the server brings out your tea selection in a porcelain tea pot set on a warmer.  The tea I chose was called “Relax”, and it contained mint leaves that really complimented the food.  I had my server guide me in my tea selection, as I had no idea whatsoever what sort of teas are the best.  She asked me several questions about my likes and dislikes before guiding me to the "Relax" tea, and I am glad I let her choose for me.

I chose four different finger sandwiches for my tea service: Chickpeas with red peppers and green olive mayonnaise on spiced Panella bread (very good!), Alaskan King Crab with avocado on Brioche (my favorite!), Classic Egg Salad with Quail Egg on white bread (yummy!), and Smoked Turkey, Brie and black grapes on cranberry bread (good, but my least favorite).  My server said she liked the King Crab, Egg Salad and Salmon sandwiches the best, but I didn’t select the Salmon sandwich because it had caviar on it and I wasn’t sure how it’d taste on a sandwich.  It just sounds gross with bread, y'know?

The desserts were also small, very pretty, and very good:  a light fruit tart topped with kiwi, grape, melon, banana, apple, strawberry, raspberry and a piece of white chocolate (I don’t know how they got all that on the little tart), a white chocolate and passion fruit cream cheese cake that tasted like coconut when you bit into it, and a cappuccino mousse in a chocolate cup decorated with the Bellagio “B” in gold.  They were almost too cute to eat!  Almost...

The chef came by my table to talk to me for awhile – nice lady!  She is the head chef for the Petrossian Bar, and she hails from Georgia.  I wish I'd caught her name, because she was very entertaining.  The same goes for my server; I never read her name tag and don't recall what her name was at all, and she was a great help when choosing my sandwiches and tea.

I spent about an hour or so at tea, enjoying the food and tea and just taking my time.  There isn’t a really quiet place to have tea in the Petrossian Bar because it's open to the casino and very close to the conservatory and registration desk, and there is a lot of "traffic" in the area.  People were even looking in at ME, trying to figure out what I was doing seated up there all alone. 

All in all, it was just the right amount of food for one person, and I wasn’t stuffed when I left, which is just as tea should be.  I give this whole experience a 7 out of 10.  If the location were more secluded for the tea service, I think I would have liked it even better.  It just seems so refined and somewhat like I shouldn't be watching so many people while dining.  I could still hear the piano player at the bar, which was a plus, but he was not nearly as loud in my area as the casino crowd.

Reservations can be made in person at the Petrossian Bar, by phone or on their website - check out the lovely photo on their webpage!

Restaurant Review: Breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi (Paris)

Cinnamon Pancakes (crepes) and Sausage - bon appetit!

In case you didn't already know it, Mon Ami Gabi is one of my favorite Vegas restaurants because it 1) is reasonably priced, 2) has patio seating on the Strip, 3) has a view of the Bellagio fountains, 4) serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, and 5) has some pretty good French Bistro food.

For my last July trip breakfast, I picked up a $30 voucher for Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Total Rewards desk the day before to take advantage of some of the cash I was putting on my card through my gambling.  I was told that the vouchers are good for 72 hours, and any unused dollars go back on your card if you don’t use them all.  There is a date printed on the voucher, so if you forget how long you have left before it expires, just look at the slip.

There were only a few people eating on the patio at 8 a.m., so I got a nice, small table next to the railing, looking out at the fountains.  (Note:  The Bellagio Fountains do not start operating until 11 a.m. for testing, then at 3 p.m. on regular days or 12 p.m. on special occasions or holidays, so plan your meal accordingly if you want to watch them while you eat.)  I made this reservation through OpenTable.com a few weeks earlier, and I was able to ask for patio seating when I made the reservation.  They never questioned it and took me right out saying a thing.  Mon Ami Gabi's policy is to never "guarantee" patio seating until you arrive at the restaurant, so I was surprised this was even offered in the process of making the reservation.

I decided to try the Café Gabi coffee drink based on my mom’s recommendation, but I didn’t care for it.  Café Gabi has Kahlua, Amaretto and Frangelica, but it was just too strong and not enjoyable all.  My mom really liked hers, so I'm guessing that I either had a bad cup, or a bartender who didn't know the right combination of liqueurs.  Plus, it’s $8.95 a cup – wow!  Not a very big cup, either, just so you know.

I ordered the Cinnamon Pancakes (which are actually crepes, not pancakes) based on the menu description.  There are four – FOUR! – crepes filled with a lemon glace' and whipped cream, with a fifth, crispy-edged crepe covering the other four.  The top crepe is covered in caramelized cinnamon and sugar and a dusting of powdered sugar, and a bowl of freshly whipped cream is served on the side.  The crepes were delicious!  I ordered a side of sausage to cut the sweetness, but I only managed to eat about half of the crepes and sausages before I was too full to go on.  

With two glasses of OJ ($3.95 each), the bill came to $35.24 + tip.  No need to turn in the remaining voucher!  Not the most expensive Vegas breakfast I've ever had, but without the alcoholic coffee drink and the second glass of OJ, it would have been very reasonable, indeed.  I say any alcoholic drink you've never tried before comes with a risk of not liking it at all.  In hindsight I'd also say that trying a new alcoholic drink at breakfast is not the BEST idea I've ever had.  Still, the breakfast itself was as good as ever, and I give it a solid 9 for ambiance, food and service.

To view the menus, check out their website:

Restaurant Review: First Food and Bar at Palazzo

I'd already taken one pretzel off the stack before I remembered to take a photo.

The large lobster pieces on small buns.  Not always a good thing...
First Food and Bar is easy to get to from the Strip – it’s right inside Palazzo, next to The Shoppes at Palazzo, where the hotel shops connect with The Venetian hotel next door.  It is easily accessible from the escalator beside Walgreen’s Strip-level entrance.  It was much easier to go that route instead of winding my way through the Venetian's July 4th poker tournament, which was the closest indoor entrance.  There were TONS of people playing, standing around, trying to walk through…I was glad I’d found the other entrance by accident when I stopped by Walgreens earlier in my trip.  The Venetian is hard enough for me to find my way around in without tournaments, so finding an outside, direct entrance was a win in my book.

I made my reservation through OpenTable.com with the intention of going for a late meal and having the Lobster Pot Pie, especially after seeing it in another trip report and hearing about it from several of my LasVegas4Ever friends.  Sadly, it was not on the menu.  What?  Why?  It could be that it isn't available on their late-night menu, I don’t know, but I didn't bother asking, either.  

While I pondered the missing Lobster Pot Pie and decided what to have in its place, I enjoyed the complimentary soft, warm pretzels with dipping sauces brought to me by one of the chefs.  They were delicious!  I think I could have made a meal out of these alone.  I did manage to eat two of them before I stopped myself and remembered I was there to have a meal, not snack my way through the complimentary appetizers.

I ended up ordering Lobster Rolls because I have a special weakness for them (and I love seafood, as you can probably tell from my food choices).  That was probably a better idea anyway, because I’m sure the Lobster Rolls were much smaller than the Lobster Pot Pie from the photos I've seen.  I have to say I was disappointed in them; they were not nearly as good as the ones I’d had at Holsteins in Cosmopolitan during my March trip.  

The pieces of lobster were just too big for the small rolls they were served on, and their sauce wasn’t as tasty as the sauce they make at Holsteins.  Everything about the lobster rolls seemed too large for the small buns, including the chopped celery that was part of the sauce.  The buns themselves had a good, mildly sweet flavor, but the bottoms were very greasy, as if they had over-buttered the pan before they were baked, and I found myself wiping my hands repeatedly every time I put down a roll, and not because of the abundance of sauce (it was just enough).

Overall, I was kind of disappointed with the experience.  I think I probably would have been happier if I'd asked about the Lobster Pot Pie, but I still think it isn't offered on the late evening menu.  My total bill was $22+tip, including iced tea.  The service was good and the atmosphere was nice, but the dinner left me wanting more.

The restaurant itself is very nice, with modern decor and dark wood and accents, with a great view of The Mirage volcano from the booths situated just opposite the bar.  I think the restaurant probably has one of the better Strip views, especially at night when everything is lit up and glittery.

Disappointment in my meal makes me give this whole experience a 6 out of 10.  The flavor was just not the best, and I'm not a fan of wiping my hands between every bite because of greasiness.  Still, the location and the other offerings on their menu make me want to go back to try something else.  

To view the menu or make a reservation, click here:  

Restaurant Review: Olives at Bellagio

A meal with a view tastes even better!
Nothing wrong with Olive Tapenade to start
Less tomato, more ravioli would've been better

Before I even get into the meal and the experience itself, I want to share a little story regarding the dress code for the restaurant.  The website has since been changed to show "casual" dress, but it said "resort casual" before my trip.  What exactly is that?  I say that it's upscale casual, like something a rich wife would wear on a day-long boating excursion with her family.  I decided on Bermuda shorts, dressy sandals, and a summer cardigan set.

We debated the dress code for Olives at great length on the LasVegas4Ever message board before I left, but let me tell you all I should not have been worried.  When I walked up to the hostess stand, a man walked past me who either A) obviously had money, or B) Olives just wasn’t that concerned about his appearance, because he looked like a hobo or a REALLY badly dressed tourist.  His salt-and-pepper hair was sticking straight up all over, a la Albert Einstein, and he was wearing black and red basketball shorts with flames coming up the sides.  He also had on white socks – yes, SOCKS! – with his black flip flops.  Not sandals…flip flops.  With his sock toes spread around the thong part.  Socks and flip flops is one of my pet peeves.  At least his black t-shirt was normal.  The rest of his party consisted of nicely dressed older people, so what was the deal with him?  Did they call him from the pool?  They appeared to be two couples, but I’m surprised his wife/girlfriend/SO didn’t make him change.  So I needn’t have worried myself about the dress code there.

I’d made my reservation on the Bellagio website, and it allowed me to ask for patio seating, so I did.  Views in Vegas are always my favorite things to ask for if I can get them for free.  The hostess noted it and led me out to a table at the front of the patio, overlooking the Bellagio fountains and Paris across the Strip.  It was a pretty day: cloudy and cool with a few sprinkles in the area, and patio seating was definitely the right choice for this meal.  Passing through the restaurant on my way I noted dark wood and low lighting, which are very nice when you're in the mood for that sort of dining experience, but I was in the mood for light and airy.

They served two delicious olive tapenades -one green and one kalamatta - with a basket of assorted breads, and I took my time looking over the menu while I tried out different combinations.  Trust me when I say all the combinations were good.  I should have saved myself from another overloaded stomach and had a lighter salad or a couple of appetizers, but their daily special, the Ricotta Ravioli, was calling my name.  It was pretty good, but it had a very tomato-y sauce.  The ravioli themselves were delicious and creamy, and I could have eaten them without the sauce (and probably should have).  The small pieces of Italian sausage throughout the sauce saved it from being way too tomato-y for me, but I think it just was too much food for lunch.  

All in all, I enjoyed my meal, the waitress' commentary and my beautiful view, and it was one of the few I paid for. ($26+tax and tip, including tea).  I would like to go back again and choose something lighter for lunch.  There were several items on the menu I would have loved to try, but dining alone sometimes leaves me with few options.  I'd rate the entire experience a 7 out of a possible 10.  The view and the tapenades were the best.

To view the Olives at Bellagio menu or make a reservation, visit their website here:

A major DISLIKE from my meal that had nothing to do with the food:  I have a couple of smokers in my family, and I have no problem with them lighting up after a meal if they ask first or even just direct it away from me.  Really, I don’t.  HOWEVER…if there are only FOUR tables occupied on a patio, all the people are seated close together, and you sit down and intend to smoke - from the beginning – wouldn’t you be courteous and ask if anyone minded if you smoked, or move to one of the other tables a little farther away?  I had just started eating when a couple came in and sat right beside me.  They both smoked from the beginning, holding their cigarettes up and away from their faces.  How nice of them!  It was blowing right in mine.  I asked the waitress if she minded if I moved back a little, and she looked over and saw why I wanted to move and got me to another table a little farther back.  These people had the audacity to look at me like I was the one who offended them!  C’mon, people!  I don’t mind smoke, but don’t force me to smoke with you.  I fully expect it in a casino, but how ‘bout a little courtesy?  

End of rant, and end of review.

Restaurant Review: Julian Serrano at Aria

Decorative touches...

Creamy Risotto

Salmon Roulade

White Ceviche

Julian Serrano was the place for my late tapas dinner when I stayed at Aria.  I made the reservation directly through the Aria website, and I had a $50 food credit that was included in my room offer to spend however I wanted.  

The restaurant is located near the reservations desk, along a "restaurant row" of sorts, and it's not hard to find.  The design is sleek and modern, and the restaurant is open to the rest of the resort on three sides.  My late evening reservation found a few other diners enjoying their tapas with quiet conversation in the main dining area, or watching Sports Center on the flat-screen TV's above the bar area.  I chose a small booth near the center of the restaurant but against a wall, with a view of most of the restaurant and outside areas (all the better to people-watch, my dear).

My waiter was quick and attentive, willing to describe any dish I wished to know more about.  In the end, I decided to try a couple of tapas I’d seen on the menu at home, as well as one of his suggestions and my waiter offered to bring them out one at a time, about 15 minutes apart, so I could take my time and enjoy them all completely.

First I tried the White Ceviche, which is something I don't get to eat too much of at home.  The dish was spicy, but just okay.  This was one of my own choices), and I was actually disappointed in it.  I think it actually needed more lime to give it a good balance.  I'm not exactly sure what the "chips" next to it were made of, but they didn't look familiar and I opted not to taste them.  

Next I tried the Creamy Risotto, which was also one of my own selections.  I had been eyeing the risotto since I first found their menu online, and it didn't disappoint.  The dish was very good and quite large and filling for a tapas dish.  The warm risotto paired with almonds and mushrooms made it quite earthy and very delicious.  A slice of fresh Parmesan cheese was presented on top of it, and I chose to break it up and mix it in while the dish while it was still warm.  So good.  I probably could have had twice as much of this dish and gone away just as happy.  

My third dish was the one recommended by my waiter:  Salmon Roulade.  It was very good!  This dish was presented almost like a large sushi roll on top of a piece of lightly toasted, and very delicious, bread.  The roulade mixture inside was very flavorful and fresh.  I broke everything apart and ate the bread along with the salmon.  I didn’t leave a bite of anything on my plate.  

I took my time and savored everything, and my intermittent conversations with the waiter were entertaining, as well.  It was nice to be able to sit back, relax, and just watch the world of Vegas go by for awhile.

All in all my tapas meal was a little over $38+tax (+cash tip) for my three tapas and an iced tea, so I didn’t even use my full food credit.  Awww.  I was too freakin’ full to eat another bite, though.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone who likes tapas and wants to enjoy a wide variety of dishes served in a quiet but elegant setting.  It's yet another Vegas restaurant I'll be more than happy to visit again.  There were several other tapas on the menu that I would have loved to try, but there's no way I could possibly try any more than three at one time by myself.  I'd give my whole dining experience a solid 8 out of 10.

To view the Julian Serrano menu, check out their hours or make a reservation, follow this link: