Monday, 20 May 2013

Day 15: Las Vegas, Tahiti Village

Hotel: Tahiti Village

It's an odd hotel, off the south end of the srip beyond the Mandalay Bay, but it really is worth a look if you want some time out from gambling and Strip Bustle, or have a younger family but want a base to easily see the family friendly sights Vegas has to offer. It's cheap too for what you get.

As a location it has a Whole Foods, the south strip malls and petrol stations all within sight.

You get a full kitchen, kitchenware, as well as a steam shower, large jacuzzi bath and a nice balcony.

Despite this, and to be fair we more come here for the wonderful pool area, we did a Denny's brunch as its on the site and you get vouchers for it.
We both had some time out in our own ways then. Pool for Mel, balcony for me followed by a doze. So not much to report sorry.

Late at night even though we'd made our own salad food again whilst watching TV we headed out for some midnight munches. For me, this turned into a problem the next day... EEP :-)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Day 14: The Rio, Las Vegas

I was sad to leave the Vdara as it was such a cracking room.

We headed to the Miracle Mile shops and valet parked for a meal at PF Changs, a rather splendid Chinese restaurant in the Planet Hollywood casino.

We got some rather hot wontons, soup, rice and orange peel chicken.

To say I had a hangover would be an understatement. Mel said I could have a blowout in Vegas and yesterday was indeed it. Judging by the size of the glass in my bag at least one drink was a big one.

I wore my Special Move T Shirt today, and it got 15 comments or so. Practically every server in PF Changs came to see it once word got round the kitchen, and the Valet dude in The Rio was really funny shouting to his girlfriend "Honey, honey, check this shit out..."

At Fat Tuesdays someone even asked for a picture!

Not a lot else to say outside of eating, drinking and gambling except the damn Show in the Sky has stopped and Penn and Teller are on holiday.

That's twice now. Grr. But the view isn't bad here.

Day 13: Las Vegas TV Stuff

Hotel: Vdara panoramic suite

Mel eventually dragged me out of the hotel room, where the view was glueing me to the seat of the desk.

Shopping on her mind we drove up to the North Outlets, parked where we shouldn't have unknowingly and hit the shops.

Suitably loaded up with bags, we get back in the car and head back down the strip.... find no queue at Pawn Stars. Yey!


We then headed to Ricks Restorations, where you are not allowed to take pictures behind the scenes. Yeah ok, no idea why. Rick and Tom the producer looked a bit bemused therefore, and the focus is shit as I had to take it real quick.

The boneyard.

Ron, Ricks brother, was a lot more accommodating however.

A few more dollars deposited into the bank of MGMMirage, and we made ourselves a nice salad for tea. Oranges, ham, salad leaves, lime and coriander made for yummy nom noms. Mel took her turn in the bath with a view, and to bed we went.. I'm sure going to miss this room.

Day 12: The Vdara, Las Vegas

Hotel: The Vdara, Panoramic Suite

Throwing the last bits into the case we checked out the Luxor and headed up the strip to the North Premium Outlets.

Passing the Pawn Stars shop again, the queue was as big as yesterday. I guess at least they provide misters to keep the people in the queue cool in the scorching desert heat.

I hate heights, I get that "Want to jump feeling" and all sorts of dizziness that my brain says shouldn't be there but somehow just happens.

So you can imagine I was really nervous about this suite at the Vdara, as I knew the moment I walked into it I would be faced with a 31 story 270 degree slab of glass. Even the bathroom wouldn't be a safe haven from it.
Perhaps I shouldn't watch YouTube videos of things?

But I psyched myself up for it using 3 bottles of Smirnoff Ice and into the elevator we went. This, funnily enough, turned out to be the worst bit. I walked out dizzy. That thing moves quick.

Entering the room, slightly shaking I admit, they had blinds down on all the windows to keep the room cool. Good so far. I tell Mel to leave the ones by the thin entrance corridor down to give me a bolt hole, but she was busy sorting out her latest slushie situation from 7/11 earlier.

I dare to raise a blind, having had a quick peek, and once I'd worked out the non-obvious controls I was faced with a portion of height. It was OK.  So I dared another.

"You've put the Blinds up!" came a voice from the bathroom. Which again, has multiple entrances and views in and of itself from the throne.

Feeling quite good about it all I searched out the entrance blind controls which were well hidden, and behold we had the full view of lots of hotels, from the Stratosphere to theHotel and glorious views into the desert and mountains beyond.

It's a big suite. You know you have a big suite when the fastest route from the desk to the American size fridge is through the bathroom. Yup, another bathroom so big it has two doors 10m apart. Crazy. If these were going to be apartments they should have made more storage space instead, no wonder they weren't selling.

All said though, don't stay here. If you want good views, the Planet Hollywood Fountain View rooms are smaller but have much better views of the Bellagio fountains and the Paris tower. If you must, you can always stay in the Bellagio but only if hearing the music is necessary and you don't mind stuffy cramped beds. If you can get the right side of the Ceasors Palace tower overlooking the fountains do that also, but it's a dice roll as if you book that tower you only have a 50% chance of getting it randomly, unless the check in clerk likes you.

I'm afraid the Vdara, whilst meant originally to be apartments and later changed to be a hotel missed a few things, and here are a few more...
When we arrived the safe was locked. Haha previous guest. Very funny, not the hotels fault but it should have been checked before we got there. We called down, waited an hour, then decided to leave with our valuables hidden and found the lock guy stood outside the room waiting for security. He asked if we had anything in the safe, we said no, and so he said it was fine for us to leave. Like it would change our mind.

Several hours later we returned to find the safe still locked. This time our call was responded to in 5 minutes. Again I was asked if I had anything in there. I said no, unless it's a stack of Benjamin's in which case we could come to an agreement. Safe dude hooked up his device to the safe and pop it went instantly.

Makes you think.

Although they sell this hotel on the room features, as the hotel has no casino or shows, it's pretty useless having a stove, fridge and dishwasher if you arrive to zero kitchenware. You have to call and ask for it, so I called and asked for kitchenware. Two plates, knives and forks arrived. We had to call again and specifically ask for a cutting knife and frying pan.

The hotel obviously isn't going down well, I was just joking in the lift with some other guests on our floor who also noticed nobody in the elevator was on a floor higher than 31 of the 56.


So, whilst the first safe dude was busy not opening the safe we had headed into the Aria hotel next door, a very short walk, to gamble, drink and eat.
My favourite slot machine of the evening was the Ghostbusters one, and it paid me well. It used the 3D technology to make things stand out of the screen, and had an absolutely amazing sound system that practically through you around in your seat. This combined with all the great music from the film, and clips and quotes a plenty, made for a great amount of funny.

Plus I got a $128 payout on one spin, and hit the top of the days leader board.

We lost track of time, like a casino is designed to do. No windows, no clocks, no idea. So when i checked my phone and googled the buffet times we realized we had only 30 minutes until our free buffet meal expired. We got a wriggle on to it.

Tip today: The Vdara wifi codes work in the Aria, and the current (May 2013) speed upgrade code they try and charge $15 a night for is "vipguest" the cheeky monkeys. Enter it as a VIP code. Not the room access code.

I ordered a white sangria and a peach balini turned up. The waiter then hassled me to sign off the drink order as he wanted to leave, I told him I couldn't as Mel was the signature on the card and she was at the buffet. He told me to fake it and got all shirty. I said no. Needless to say he is, so far, the only server so far this trip we haven't tip a cent.

Food is not bad at the Aria buffet, not as much choice as others but was very nice. I even went back for a second toffee pudding which is unusual Ali don't normally do puddings at all.

At this point we wrap round back to the earlier safe affair, and some night time pictures from the room.

I then got into the bath, watching the view of the Vegas lights from the window and some Simpsons episodes.
Then zzz's

Day 11: The Luxor, Las Vegas

Hotel: The Luxor - Spa Suite, floor 18

As I got up I moved all the furniture round so I had a good view out of the window whilst I had my healthy breakfast of Cinnamon Brown Sugar belVita breakfast biscuits, which I eat in the UK but of course we don't have this yummy flavour.

Washed down with Cherry Lime Vodka, again not in the UK, and some coleslaw, it really is the cornerstone of a nutritious healthy diet. At least my cough is better this morning so something is helping.

Today's budget sorted (one really should set budgets in Vegas, as it is the city of psychological money extraction) we head off onto the strip.

We drove up to the Pawn Stars shop but the queue was silly big, so we headed to Walmart for water and a new case for Mel (if you remember I zapped the lock/zip on the other one after leaving the keys in LA.)

Then really little else was done but gambling, eating and drinking.

There are a few interesting new machines. One is called Rich Life and is a combination of a slot machine and a board game. If you get three Rich Life symbols on the reels, you roll the dice on a huge 65" led screen and advance along the track. This leads to either a cash bonus game, nothing, or a do or die square where the wrong choice heads you back to the start. I got very close with a $20 investment, but when I got thrown out I walked away with $13 but spent a lot of time playing so it was fun.

Next we tried one called "Clue" which you link to your mLife (loyalty card) account and it stores your game progress. Mel did better at this one, I got fed up and cashed out quickly. Heading down towards the food court, we saw a Pawn Stars machine, it seems those guys are getting everywhere.

We tried "Rice and Noodles" in the Luxor, with lettuce wraps and pot stickers for starters and fried pepper pork for main. I also tried the signature cocktail, a strawberry martini called The Dragon.

Finally we threw a few more dollars into the MGMMirage groups coffers and headed to bed.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day 10: Bakersfield to Las Vegas

A late start as by now I'm running out of lungs to cough up, the mixture I bought clearly not working, and I needed a few more hours sleep. One sleeping pill later and I got them.

Mel had packed everything, so I just managed to squeeze another diary onto the Internet and we loaded up the car. I wrapped the leftover meats from the platter last night to nibble in the car.

Heading out the town we went to see a Pharmacist about my now extremely bad cough, and she suggested some tablets which are working well now as I write this the next day.

Filling up with fuel, I ask the girl behind the counter how much a cup full of ice would be, and she replied "Full Price." Thinking she clearly didn't hear me, I stated I just wanted a cup, ice and no soda in it. "Doesn't matter, it will still be full price." Needless to say I decline, without thanks. They also wouldn't accept their own chains vouchers!

Fast forward 125 miles and we are in Barstow at an IHOP for breakfast. I ordered a scrambled sausage, bacon, cheese and egg dish with a lemonade with mango; Mel had a turkey sandwich and fries with a strawberry and orange fizz.

When my plate came the amount of cheese on it was incredulous, as well as what was in the scrambled dish, it was also sitting on a bed of grated cheese too! The waitress asked if we wanted anything else, and I joked extra cheese which she took completely seriously and headed off to get it. I called after her telling her I was joking. Blimey, it must be a regular occurrence.

I asked Mel to pass the salt, pepper and statin shakers then quickly set about separating the bed of cheese from the scramble before they all melted together and I'd need to get my travel health insurance documents from the case.

Fast forward another 80 or so miles down Interstate 15 North and we are in Baker at the Alien Jerky shop. You can easily get off at the first Baker junction, drive down the main road seeing the various stores, and get back on at the next junction. It's worth doing even if you don't stop. The world famous Mad Greek Cafe if here too, and is a 24/7 operation if you're missing kebabs.

As well as all the very interesting alien / groom lake / area 51 items and information on the walls they have a large selection of jerky to choose from as well as samples.

Rich had asked me to bring him some jerky back, as the UK stuff is often very soft and unauthentic, so being the good friend I am I selected one with medical properties.

I'll let him tell you how that goes.

Another blast down the interstate and a quick stop at a casino after Primm so Mel could relieve her latest slushy, which had rendered her tongue blue. It rendered something else green she discovered in the morning.

Whilst she did that I hit my first slot machine, an American Idol one. They use the technology the 3D Nintendo does to create a 3D effect that works very well. The sound system in the seats gives your back a massage too. My $20 disappeared very quickly though, at 50c a spin. You have to be careful with machines that claim to be 1c machines as they often force you to play multiple lines to ramp the actual bid up.

Which I had just been reminded of.

....and finally in Vegas.

Valet parking and bags taken to your room is always a joy. We managed to get a strip side corner spa suite this time, but the view is obscured by the Luxors own towers and the Excalibur, so it's pretty average for a Vegas view.

Entering the room it is very large with separate sleeping and living areas, two 46" Samsung TVs, decent air conditioning at last, dining table and chairs which I moved to the window, fridge and a beautiful Egyptian hieroglyphic painted wardrobe and safe.

One interesting feature is the carpet, it is textured like sand dunes and is very cool to walk on.

The spa, which is really just a sunken bath as it has no jets, sits in the window which is nice. Plenty of towels everywhere, and the bed is ok but then we were spoilt last night.

Downside: The Internet access is STILL via a cable, which is about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike if you have an iPhone,iPad or MacBook air. 

So no diary updates for two days until we get to the Vdara.

Thinking the cat5 cable for the Internet was missing, with the possibility of me buying an adapter for the MacBook Air, I called and asked for a replacement.

When the technician turned up a few minutes later (they are very prompt here, as they were with our luggage) he fished behind the wardrobe and found it had fallen down. Slightly embarrassed I said I found the ethernet ports on the cable boxes behind the TVs and assumed they were missing.
"Oh, no sir. Those are for programming the cable boxes."

Really. Perhaps he shouldn't have told ME that. Especially now I've seen Walmart sell an adapter for $7.

Freshened up, changed, gambling budgets defined, singles for drink tips and ID for the players club all complete, we head to the desk to get our new loyalty cards and hit the slots.

We decided we would play together, as playing on your own can quickly make you zone out into a world of your own - indeed the machines are designed that way.

The first couple of machines ate our cash in pretty short order, but then we found a "Super Jackpot Party" machine, which is lots of fun and has been kind in the past. It was today too, over doubling our money at one point, but of course the house usually wins so between that and the food we took back to the room we were $40 down each today.

But we were just practicing. Heh.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day 9: Yosemite to Bakersfield

Hotel: The Padre - Head Honcho Suite

I got up early and finished sorting out our luggage whilst Mel slept in for half an hour. Makes a change for it to be that way round, so despite her asking to be woken at 9am I work her at 9:04am as she was so sweet and giggly last night :-)

She threw on some clothes quickly and fetched the car, as we couldn't park next to the "cottage," then got her morning routine out of the way whilst I loaded the car and emptied the cool box iced water into the bath so we could refresh it with ice. I guess she was fortunate I waited until she got out of it.

With last nights revelation that we could drive by the giant Sequoias, we set off with that in mind, and headed into Yosemite Valley once more to almost instantly turn off down the 41 towards Fresno. Only moderate bum clenching on this one.

Another tip: Nearing the Sequoia Grove there is a sign that says that parking is full and you should stop and use the shuttle bus. It lies, it is a permanent sign that can't be changed and embarks you on a 90 minute at best round trip back to that location. Ignore it, at this time of year anyway, as the car park was a third empty and I'm glad I was cavalier in telling Mel to press on.

However, moments later Karma caught up with me when I told her to turn down the Forest Drive turning, as that sounded like a good way of seeing the trees when one is in a hurry. But no.

Forest Drive is a road called forest drive, complete with residential housing, and is not A forest drive as one might imagine. A u-turn, a consult of the map and Google, and off down the road we continued until we found the actual proper Grove we sought.

This stuff should be documented somewhere.

But in the end I was right, you can park up right next to the trails if you ignore the sign and press on to the real one.

Now at 102f we parked up, had a nibble of chicken salad, grabbed water and set off on the trail. We took some pictures of a live tree, a fallen tree and a burnt tree.

After a mile we decided to throw in the towel and head back to the air conditioning. If we were to visit again we'd allow more time and take the tram tour so as to see more, but we felt today due to heat and hurting legs from yesterday's hike that one tree looks pretty much like another and we'd had our fill.


It had been niggling at me for some time as to why Bakersfield rang a bell in my mind for something. I had picked its location purely as it was half way to Vegas, leaving Mel to choose a hotel she liked.

Once we started seeing the numerous bail bond shops on the way through town to the Padre Hotel it dawned on me. The Prison.

When we arrived we parked over the street as we intended to go out fairly quickly for some take-out, grabbed our backpacks which we'd packed for a quick over night stay rather than lug the big cases, and checked in.

The room is amazing, with a pillow topped memory foam mattress, huge soft pillows and a nice view of the city at the bottom of the bed.

As it's a corner suite there are also city views to the side and we later got to watch some skateboarders making good use of the multi-story car park on that side.

In the bathroom, which has two entrances either side of the bed making Mel happy, is where the suite gets its Head Honcho name from. The spa bath fills from the ceiling! A most unusual feature. 

There is also a large shower with a seat which I like, a barrel sink and huge mirrors. The floor is a very interesting hexagon pattern a lot like the entrance plazas to the Magic Kingdoms at Disney.

A 46" Tv is set above the desk, which isn't the smartest move as someone working at it obscures it for someone sitting on the bed or L shaped sofa.

The only huge downer here is the Internet access: Not only was it slow, it was suffering 10% packet loss, meaning the evening I planned on updating all my diary entries ended up a fight just getting the photos online so I could insert them into the text I had already been writing as I went along.

In the end I did get a couple uploaded in the morning by plugging the iPad in overnight and forcing retries on all upload failures..

Mel wanted BBQ fodder, so we headed to Fabios corner which had good reviews to find it closed, a quick google and we headed to Dangerous Daves on the other side of town. We order burnt ends, ribs and pulled pork and waited 30 minutes for it, $25 total.

I also picked up some peach balini Smirnoff Ice from a sweet old lady (I like drinking them over here, they are only 4%, small and very refreshing cold.)

When we got back we found 4 ribs, a dozen burnt end cubes and enough pulled pork to cover the toast it came with. The coleslaw was enough to fit on a spoon. Needless to say, I do NOT recommend Dangerous Daves.

It was so little and so poor we ordered a cheese and meat platter from room service to supplement it!

Mel bathed, I fought with the Internet, and then we went to sleep on the best bed I have slept on EVER. Just a shame my cough woke me up so often. Grr.

Day 8: Yosemite Part 2

Driving back round for another loop, with some late lunch on our minds, Mel popped into the General Store to get some souvenirs whilst I consulted the maps further.

We then went on to the Anwahnee hotel for lunch, which is the hotel I'd recommend you stay at if you intend to spend a lot of time in the Valley area, as it's very plush even if wine comes at $10 for a small glass of house white.
Pulled pork and Pastrami sandwich's ordered respectively we were joined by our lunch guest.

The whole situation reminded me of the Fawlty Towers episode "Basil the Rat" with the squirrel running around, jumping on chairs and tables whilst the servers snap "Don't feed them! Watch out, they will bite and I'll need to get security..."

One last lap of the park then, but the sun was falling behind the mountains and most photography opportunities had been had or were now lost, so we headed out with happy hearts, aching legs and an insect bite or twelve.

Back at the lodge Mel re-teaches me how to play dominoes which I haven't played since a young child. One great thing about staying here for two nights is the lack of TV, Phone and Internet. It really does feel good to just enjoy each others company, and I vow to make us do it more often. Date night on steroids :-)

Bedroom for sunset.

Heading back to the lodge for dinner, we were told it was a 30 minute wait and given one of those pagers that flashes and vibrates which I quickly stuffed in my front pocket :-)

We both got a Mojito and sat outside in the twilight waiting for the buzz, and a resulting grin from me, when our table was ready - and it wasn't long. 

But then disaster struck! They were out of the marinated flat iron steak Mel had last night. At 8pm on a Saturday night I thought this was a bit rubbish, but chef agreed to do a rib eye in a similar balsamic glaze. Mel had the same, and whilst she polished off most of it my heart wasn't in it and it was a bit fatty so a lot got left.

The follow up blackberry margarita was divine though, and Mel had *gasp* another Mojito. That plus the Bud Light she had in the "cottage" is probably the most alcohol she has drunk in one evening :-)

Which probably explains why she was keen to get into the hammock that was outside our "Cottage" when we got back, and much hilarity ensued whilst we both tried to get on.

After some cuddles and star gazing again, we did manage a graceful dismount after a few minutes debating strategy, and we headed inside.

Starring at the map in disbelief that I made the mistake of thinking the giant sequoias were in Yosemite Valley, I suddenly realised that as route 41 south was open, we could go that way to Bakersfield instead if we got up a little earlier.


Bed then, after a quick shuffle of things into cases and chargers-a-charging.

Day 8: Yosemite Part 1

Yosemite Part 1
Our day in Yosemite is the main reason we pushed our holiday back from last October to now, so we were super-excited about today. If you'll excuse the Americanism.
We picked up some lunch from the lodge general store, a couple of chicken salads in a wonderful poppy seed, honey and cider vinegar mayonnaise, and a cheese and ham roll. I also picked up some drugs for my very annoying cough.
The drive into Yosemite is fairly quick, with only a few miles of the now all too familiar butt clenching. The fee for a week of access to the whole park is $20 which is jolly reasonable if only to pay the rangers to stop the bears stealing your pic-a-nic baskets.
While we were in the queue for the ticket station, we paused so I could get the customary photo of the park sign. This annoyed the person behind us, despite the fact there was still a length queue of cars ahead, so he started to honk his horn. I told Mel to ignore him whilst I got a better shot. He honked again and went to overtake us in the no-overtake zone we were sat in! He lost that one.
Later on we saw another chap get honked, shouted and sworn at for holding up traffic for not more than 5 seconds while he manoeuvred into a parking space. Jeeze. I guess if you only get 2 weeks vacation a year every second counts.
A huge area we passed, several square miles, had been devastated by fire and they were busy replanting.
Our first waterfall treat was quickly followed by a fantastic view of the valley. See the river down there? You drive down to that!
The first major site we attempted to visit was the B falls, but it quickly became apparent that chaos was reigning in the car park for it, so we continued on. A little way down the road a caught it through the trees anyway.
I caught a glimpse of the Yosemite Falls through the trees so we pulled over into a picnic area called Swinging Bridge.
Mel pointed out I've not mentioned the cooler we bought on the first day yet, and I guess this is a good time to slot that in. It has been a godsend. For $18 it's a sturdy plastic affair we grabbed in Walmart and when filled with ice over all the bottles of water etc. it keeps them ice cold for 3 days. We laid our fruit, salads and Mels mint and toffee Oreo cookies on top of that and despite the raging heat we have ice cold drinks on tap without having to pay park prices!
With our salad and drinks in hand I led Mel over to the other side of the bridge where you can clearly see the falls, but there are no picnic tables. I sat down on a tree stump and prepared to chow down until Mel pointed out there may be ants. She was right, and a swear they were a meter long.
Back to the regular area, where rather than waterfalls we got to watch squirrels and kids attempting to drown themselves in dinghies but it was so peaceful and pretty I forgot all about the waterfall for now. I did miss the water when it came to using the restrooms though, because there isn't any - just a hole in the ground with a seat on it.
At this point, whilst wondering where the giant sequoias were I started going through all the guides, maps and paperwork we had been handed at the gate. Then I saw it. They are actually one and a half hours south of the valley we were in, with a two hour trip back to the hotel after that.
It was 2pm, and there was much to do in the valley so we sighed at the oversight and headed onto Yosemite Falls. We parked in the road and cut across a wooded area to the information point, getting our feet wet in the process. We were pointed in the right direction and walked a mile in the now 84f heat to find - better places to park.
So here is my top Yosemite Valley tip: do a loop of the area first. It's not that big, it's basically a one way dual carriageway figure of 8, and you can see the best places to park for any given trail or area you wish to view. There is parking all over the place, and certainly at this time of year we never struggled except for that first location. Peak season you can park at the visitor centre and jump on the free buses if that fails you.
Once up at the lower falls, which doesn't take too long really, you are treated to a bridge over the river and a lovely cooling misty spray. It's very busy here, and you need to be quick to get photographs without other people in them.
We traded couples shots with another, sat for a while in the mist and then headed back to the welcoming blast of air conditioning.

Continued in Part 2