"It's only money" ~ Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley), Viva Las Vegas
Vegas...Sin City...Entertainment Capital of the World...City of Lights. Whatever you want to refer to it as, Las Vegas can be a lot of fun.
Vegas has evolved over the years, I think. It's no longer just about drinking, gambling, and general debauchery; it has become a destination for foodies, cocktail lovers, concert goers, those weird people that love Cirque du Soleil, and still those that love to gamble. There is something in Vegas for everyone. Honest, I swear. It just amps up your interests to an 11.
For me, I love gambling, food, and drinks, so a weekend getaway to Vegas is fun for me. More than 2 or 3 days though, and I'm done. Too much. Too much food. Too much to drink. Lost too much money. Too much second-hand smoke. Too little sleep. But during those 2 or 3 days...too much fun!!
Not that I'm a high roller, far from it, but during our honeymoon stay last year, my husband and I earned enough rewards points to move up a level on our mLife Rewards program. For tips on getting the most out of these casino's rewards programs, check out this past blog post on Vegas.
MLife is the name for all the MGM-owned Las Vegas resorts - MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Excaliber, Bellagio, Monte Carlo...just to name a few. So, because of our current rewards level, I received an offer for up to 2 nights comped at Monte Carlo. I'm not one to turn down free stuff, so I started asking around to see if there was anyone interested in going one weekend. Turns out my mom really wanted to see Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire performing at Caesar's Palace so we checked the dates and, fortunately, my comped nights coincided with one of their show nights. We were all in!!
So, here's our trip, from the top!
Road Trip to Vegas
"I love waking up in the morning not knowing what's gonna happen or who I'm gonna meet, where I'm gonna wind up." ~ Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), Titanic
When gearing up for a road trip, there are many things to do and take care of. Road tunes, for one. Despite how awesome you think your music taste is, it may not be for everyone. Except mine. My taste is impeccable. I like a wide variety of music, artists and genres, but even I try to have a little bit of music for everyone who may be traveling with me.
In order to not get tired of any artist or genre, I tend to use playlists and design them specific to the occasion. Currently I use Spotify. I signed up under a 3 month free trial subscription and I will definitely become a regular subscriber. They have a free plan (with ads), a $4.99 student plan (which is half off their premium plan), their $9.99 premium plan (no ads), and then a family plan for $14.99 where you can have multiple people in your household with their own account and playlists. They also have a download option, which is great when flying or when you don't want to use any phone data. I really do like their playlist feature - you can build your own and almost every artist and album is available. So far, the only artist I have not been able to find on there is Def Leppard.
Anyway, build your road trip playlist and blast your tunes. Singing along is fun, makes the time go by faster, and keeps you awake.
The next road trip essential: Napkins. Load your glove compartment with spare napkins. You will spill something at some point. It's inevitable. Also, it never fails, but those drive-thru's never give you enough napkins.
A trash bag is also good to have handy so you can throw food wrappers, empty cups, or gum away in. When you stop for gas, or a bathroom break, just throw it away. Make sure you bring a couple. Those plastic grocery store bags are handy for this. And, a bonus, it will help keep the inside of your car clean.
Road trip snacks are important too. It's good to bring munchies. My personal fave is Ritz crackers and EZ Cheez. I never eat that stuff, but start talking about a road trip and I crave it. Stick with the basic flavors, like Cheddar or American. Don't get caught up by the bacon flavored one and thinking bacon makes everything better. Normally, yes, but not this time. It's truly disgusting. And yes, I know I'm still talking about EZ Cheez.
In general, you want to bring things you like to snack on. Trail mix, cookies, crackers. Do not bring melty items. You're in a hot car and it's an icky mess waiting to happen. You'll really regret it if your glove compartment does not have napkins. Gum is also good. It'll help your ears pop if you're going over mountains. Water is another essential.
My husband, Jon, has his own road trip check list and it's much more manly and practical. You can check it out in his Man Corner.
The road trip with my mom was good. We were fortunate to not hit any traffic going in to Las Vegas; not so lucky outbound. Either way, it was a good trip. Going in was nice because it was nighttime and therefore missed out on the vast nothingness of the scenery.
I'm not sure if it was a coincidence or someone trying to tell us something, but about an hour before we arrived in Las Vegas, we noticed the outside temperature (109*) while The Power Station's "Some Like it Hot" was playing. Spoooooky!!
Monte Carlo Resort & Casino
"It's like Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot" ~ Eugene Morris Jerome (Matthew Broderick), Biloxi Blues
We arrived in Vegas Friday evening at 11pm and, MAN, was it hot - the temperature was 109*!! No bueno!
We decided to use the valet parking at Monte Carlo for the weekend and noticed that it has changed a bit over the years. You've always had to pay for valet when staying at a hotel, but now they charge valet even if you are just visiting a hotel or casino for a couple hours. You used to just tip the valet attendant, but now it's about $13 for 0-4 hours and $18 for 4-24 hours. Some casino charges may vary and the downtown casinos are still old school where it's tips. More on Downtown Las Vegas in a bit...
Checking in at Monte Carlo was a breeze. I guess arriving late at night makes a difference? The staff was friendly and helpful, but the downside was that I had a promotion for a strip view room upgrade for $8/night, but at check in we were told they overbooked. That particular room was not available and we'd be given a partial strip view instead and a $75 resort credit to make up for the inconvenience. The credit was a nice gesture, but this definitely set a tone for disappointment with the Monte Carlo hotel.
Monte Carlo is going through a big renovation right now so a lot of areas are closed, including the pool. The room itself, as well as the decor in the elevators and halls are all tired and worn looking. Our room was disappointing as well. It was understocked as far as basic amenities, like towels, bathmat, and toilet paper. Our room did not even include a clock. This is probably not normally an issue nowadays with cell phones, but there were no outlets near the beds to charge our phones so we couldn't have them nearby. We tried several times to contact housekeeping and the front desk, but could never get through to anyone. My mom ended up mugging a housekeeping cart in the hall for some of the missing essentials.
I had heard good things about MC from friends who have stayed here so I was mildly disappointed. Oh well. I'm not here for the room, right?
My mom had a trip bucket list of places she wanted to go to, to eat: PF Changs, the Irish Pub in Mandalay Bay, Bellagio buffet, Wynn buffet, Caesar's buffet, etc etc. I had to remind her that we were only here for 3 nights and I didn't want my gut to burst.
Our food adventures started Saturday morning. We wanted just a little breakfast at a cafe, but it seemed to be closed due to the aforementioned renovations, so as we were standing in line at their coffee shop, we began mentally adding up how much a small breakfast item, pastry and coffee would be and it was coming out to about $19 per person. We decided to ditch the coffee line and head over to the buffet, since it wasn't that much more ~ $22.95 a person.
The buffet was basic, average. About what you'd expect from a hotel/casino buffet. Definitely nothing noteworthy. It had a carving station, made-to-order omelettes, big pan of greasy room temp bacon...the usual. So far we were not doing well on my mom's food bucket list.
One of the places my mom wanted to go to was Ri Ra, an Irish pub in Mandalay Bay. We ended up there Saturday afternoon for a late lunch/snack.
This place was very authentic with it's Irish Pub decor, the music playing, and their menu items. We ordered sausage rolls (very delicious, and just like my English grandparents used to make). My mom ordered fish & chips and OH MY GOSH, this was HUGE!! The fish was bigger than the plate!! My mom said it was really good and the batter was light and airy, not at all thick and greasy.
Next door to the restaurant was a Guinness store that has apparel and other Guinness gear. In addition, they have a tasting bar as well as a tutorial on how to properly pour your beer. I think I'll bring my husband here during our road trip vacation this summer. I think he'd really enjoy it.
Later Saturday night, not that we were hungry, but while we were checking out the Aria casino, we decided to grab a late night bite to eat. (Late night for us, not late night for Vegas.) We decided to check out Bardot Brasserie, and boy this place did not disappoint. To me, this is new Vegas ~ top notch food, drink and dining. The ambiance of this place was classy, but not so classy that you felt out of place.
We were seated at a small table in the bar / lounge area and I was completely in awe of their bar!
While we were deciding on what to order, we were brought a warm, fresh baguette with butter topped with a bit of sea salt.
Below are screenshots of their food and cocktail menus. It was tough to decide what to get; everything sounded amazing!
We ultimately decided to split an entree and a side dish - the 10oz Flat Iron Steak, with pomme frittes and a side of bearnaise sauce and the Macaroni & Mimolette Gratinee. In additon, my mom ordered one of the salads and I ordered the Onion Soup Gratinee.
My mom's salad was good, but she regretted ordering it - not because it was bad, but because my French onion soup was amazing. So cheesy, so delicious. It was huge too; we easily could have split it. Honestly, I never thought I liked French onion soup, but I definitely do now!
Our steak was tender and flavorful. I can only imagine how much better the filet mignon would be. The mac & cheese was delicious as well, but more notably it looked like a work of art. Or a mac & cheese replica of the Devil's Tower in Wyoming - upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/Devils_Tower_CROP.jpg
Actually, calling it mac & cheese is a disservice. It was nothing like Kraft or Velveeta. The topping tasted like the crispy cheese ends of a grilled cheese sandwich. The sauce was something creamy and amazing. The whole meal was divine. Seriously.
Now the cocktails...the cocktail house or signature cocktail list was extensive. Some old school, like a Manhattan, and others that were fresh and creative concoctions. I chose the Weimar Triangle.
My drink tasted a bit like a classy hard apple cider. It did not taste boozy, which those are the drinks that end up sneaking up on you, but it was very crisp and refreshing. Perfect for a warm summer day by a pool. Or in a bar, drinking with friends. It's the all-purpose cocktail.
Bardot is another on my list to bring my husband to. He'll love it just for the cocktails. He became a fan of the Blood & Sand after I took him to a local bistro and bar in San Luis Obispo called Granada Bistro. He's asked a couple other bartenders since to make him this drink, but none have been as good. I have faith that Bardot can best them.
The next food bucket list item from my mom's list was the Wynn buffet. We went Sunday morning so it was their brunch buffet. For the food selection and quality, the $39.99 price tag is low. Downside is this does not include alcohol. If you want bottomless champagne (who doesn't?), mimosas or other morning cocktails, then it's an additional $16.00.
I have never been to a brunch buffet like this before. They do not take reservations, unless more than 20 people are in your party, and there is a WAIT to get it. I mean a WAIT. It's a Disneyland style wait line of twists, turns, and wraparounds. Just when you think you are near the entrance, your line moves into another room of double-back style lines. It took us 30 minutes (at least) to be seated. Believe it or not, it's worth the wait.
The food is all freshly prepared - and hot, not just kept warm by heat lamps. The variety of food was impressive: Sushi, meat carving station, Asian, made-to-order eggs/omelettes, made-to-order pancakes, such as blueberry or red velvet with a variety of toppings, and OH MY GOSH...the desserts. It was it's own separate room of dessert heaven.
Creme brulee, lava cakes, chocolate mousse in little baby cones, bread pudding, gelato...how do you choose? It's like picking your favorite child! I know I didn't see it all, or even eat it all.
We spent a good couple of hours there, just grazing. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Quite literally.
This is another list item for my husband and I. I feel like my bucket list is going to be extensive by the time we leave, just like my mom's was when we arrived.
After all of these exquisite meals, Monday was anti-climatic as we grabbed Starbucks and McDonald's on the way out of town. We definitely hit the wide spectrum of food and food quality, that's for sure.
Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn started their Vegas residency back in 2015 and have extended concert dates through 2017. My mom really wanted to see their show at the Colosseum in Casesar's Palace, which is why we made this road trip happen.
The concert venue itself is good sized, but it doesn't appear to have a bad seat in the house. We sat in the first balcony area, in the center, and had a great view down to the stage.
Our concert was Sunday night and it was a full house. All three came out together and opened with the Brooks & Dunn hit "Play Something Country". The sound, the singers, everything sounded great. Nothing was too loud or distorted. The three sang several songs together and then Reba left the stage to "get out of these heels" and left Brooks & Dunn to sing on their own. After about 15 or 20 minutes, they switched and B&D left while Reba sang for awhile. They did this rotation throughout the show, singing more than 30 songs between the two acts. They ultimately ended the show with all three singing the Brooks & Dunn song "Only in America", which brought the entire audience to their feet.
It was a really good show, and this coming from a person who is not a fan of theirs. I literally only knew three songs during the entire show - B&D's "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and their aforementioned "Play Something Country" and Reba's version of "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". It was fun, though. The concert was just under three hours and non-stop, without any breaks or intermissions. If you are a fan of any of these artists, you should check it out. I believe their next round of shows are in December.
Downtown Las Vegas
Don't go there. That's my advice.
Seriously, it has changed over the years and not for the better. It's a block from really seedy parts of Las Vegas, there are police everywhere (which should tell you a lot), people passed out on the sidewalks or propped up against the side of buildings...it's just not pleasant.
It used to be that you could go to the downtown area and find cheap slot machines or cheap blackjack or craps tables, but not anymore. The tables are just as high as the strip and penny slot machines are everywhere now, and they are no longer a penny a spin either.
My mom and I went downtown to the Golden Nugget after the concert and didn't stay long. The casinos were hot and crowded and loud, and none of it in a good way. Everything just felt dirty and sticky. To be honest, the only nice thing was the free valet parking...but that's not really worth it considering everything. Stick with the hotels and casinos on the strip. It's definitely worth the extra money just so you don't feel gross and icky.
Sandy's Completely Non-Expert Gambling Advice
Ok, let me preference this with - I'm not a gambling pro nor am I a high roller. However, I do like to gamble, but I also like my money and I like to make my money last, so I developed a little system about 15 years ago.
I start with a set amount that I am willing to play with (and eventually lose) during my stay and I keep it separate from any other spending money I may have for the trip. I purposely keep it separate so I always know how much I'm ahead or, realistically, how much I'm down.
The first thing I do is troll the casino floor. I look for cheap (if they exist anymore) table games like blackjack or poker. For me, anything over $5 is too rich for my blood. Your money disappears too fast on big dollar bets, although the reward is higher if you win. I also look for slot machines that catch my eye, like this Betty White and The Simpson's slot machines. I like games that are fun, funny or have interesting bonus rounds to them. I might as well be entertained while I'm losing my money, right?
Once I've picked my machine, I make sure that I'm betting enough to cover all lines and enough to trigger bonus rounds. Some machines are sneaky and they only subtly mention that you need to bet more to be eligible for a bonus round, if one comes up.
I always insert the same dollar amount each time I play a slot machine. For me, it's usually $20. I play a couple of spins and because I get bored easily, if I'm not getting any little wins then I'll move on. My threshold is typically when I'm down $5. If my remaining credit is $15, then I collect my ticket and move on. Conversely, if I'm actually doing well then I set little mental cash out notes for myself. If I put in $20 and end up with some wins where I'm over $20 then I tell myself to cash out when I get down to $20 again (no loss that way, just breaking even). If it keeps going up, then I continue to set little mental limits to cash out. If I actually end up with some wins under my belt, I kind of like to stay ahead, if I can and for as long as I can.
When it comes time to cashing out on slot machines, they no longer give you coins. Instead you get a ticket. Here is my other little "trick". I hold onto and save all my tickets until I am either done at that particular casino or done for the night. At which point, I cash them all in. If I am going to another casino after my cash out, I keep that recently cashed money separate from the rest of my gambling funds, and separate from my other spending.
Once I get back to my room for the night, I count how much is left of my gambling money, if any, and then count up all my cashed in tickets. If the totals combined come out to the same starting amount then I put everything back in my gambling fund for the next day. If there is anything over my gambling allotment, I completely set it aside and do not spend it. That's take home money!
The basic idea is just to continue to have money to gamble with during your entire trip. It's not fun to completely run out of money 30 minutes into arriving.
I have a friend who does something similar, only she brings self-addressed stamped envelopes with her and for her overall winnings, she pulls it out (in $20 increments) and mails it back to herself.
The other fun part about gambling are the free cocktails. My current drink order of choice is champagne. I feel all fancy sitting at my $0.25 poker machine, sipping the bubb.
Anyway, the point is to have fun and enjoy your time there. There is so much to do, eat, and see in Las Vegas that there is never a dull moment, or even a moment when you feel slightly hungry.
I am heading back to Vegas in a couple of weeks with my husband so if anyone has any recommendations for us, let me know! We already have on our list to check out Fizz in Caesar's Palace. I have a feeling that any place with a champagne vending machine is my kind of place, so stay tuned!!
"All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination." ~ Earl Nightingale
For many, the arrival of summer means vacation time. I love summer. I love vacations. I have been spending the last couple of months planning our own summer vacation and I'm excited that we are getting closer to our trip.
One of our upcoming stops is to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. We are excited because neither my husband or I have been there before, but we have heard lots of great things about the area.
I found a VRBO for us to rent and have made a list of different activities, restaurants and places to check out. On the to-do list is beer tasting, wine tasting, checking out the local sights and activities, and trying out a couple local restaurants and coffee shops.
I am looking forward to posting all about our travels. It will be an epic road trip! Stay tuned!!
My birthday month planning is underway!
I've been tossing around various ideas for my birthday celebrations such as, picnic, melodrama, miniature golf, dinner, happy hour, brunch...lots of different ideas, but one plan has officially fallen in place ~
Still Waters Vineyard & Winery
If you caught my Instagram post from Sunday, I posted a picture from Still Waters Vineyard and Winery following my adventure drive out to see the Super Bloom (click here for that blog) with the caption "Forget the Super Bloom, this place is beautiful!" I meant every word of that caption; this place IS beautiful!
Returning from Carrizo Plains, my friend Julia and I took a bit of a detour before heading home and ended up on the "Creston Wine Trail". We saw a couple of winery and tasting room signs, but decided to stop at Sill Waters and, wow, what a gem! This place was gorgeous! Honestly, Julia and I should've come here for the day. We could've enjoyed our picnic lunch on one of their many tables, drank some wine, and played several rounds of corn hole and bocce ball. It would've been a perfect day!
"Wildflowers don't care where they grow" ~ Dolly Parton
Disclaimer: No ground squirrels were harmed in the making of this blog...though many tried their darnedest...
Like many of you, I have been seeing amazing photos of the "Super Bloom" wildflowers posted all over Facebook and Instagram, so I was excited to go and see what all the fuss was about. My friend Julia and I made a plan to go out to Carrizo Plains this past Sunday to check it out for ourselves. We had been hearing conflicting details on the best location - Shell Creek Rd or Soda Lake, near the Carrizo Plains National Monument. Based on the most recent "intel", Soda Lake seemed to be the best considering we are at the tail end of the bloom.
I did some research on the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) website to get an idea of the area and any visitor tips. The website recommended bringing food, water, and a full tank of gas. There aren't any nearby gas stations - McKittrick is approximately 27 miles away in one direction and Santa Margarita is 40 in the other - and cell service is intermittent, at best.
Julia and I decided to make it a full adventure drive, so we packed up the car with the above mentioned items, road trip snack essentials (Ritz & EZ-Cheez, don't judge me), and some items for a picnic lunch (sandwiches, chips, and cookies).
Off we go!
I am Sandy Surprise, new to the blog scene, but anxious to share my adventures with you! Read more about me by clicking here.
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