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Saturday, October 31, 2015

happy halloween!

how is it the last day of october already?!  the fall season is flying by way too fast.  today we're looking forward to celebrating halloween with my parents and handing out candy to trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood!

love, laurie

Friday, October 30, 2015

what we ate on the las vegas strip

if you made it through this entire week full of vegas photos, i'm impressed.  kudos to you.  i'm not even going to tell you how much weight i gained while we were in vegas.  i was hoping that all of the walking we did would balance out all of the amazing food that we ate, but it just didn't seem to turn out that way.  regardless, we did have some great meals in vegas, and since we're food lovers, i give to you an entire post dedicated to what we ate in vegas . . .

when i think of food in las vegas, the first thing that comes to mind is a buffet.  vegas is known for elaborate and over-the-top buffets, and if you are in vegas you have to eat at a buffet at least once.  when it comes to the vegas buffets, you have to play your cards right to get a good deal.  many of the buffets are ridiculously expensive (and this is coming from two people who regularly eat in nyc).

in our opinion, the best time to hit up a buffet is during lunch because the prices skyrocket during the dinner hours (often with the very same food offered but with added alcohol).  before heading to vegas we did a little research to find out which buffets were rated the best.  topping every single list was the wicked spoon buffet in the cosmopolitan hotel.  if we were only going to get a chance to eat a one buffet, we wanted it to be the wicked spoon.  we were tired, jet lagged, and starving when our plane landed in vegas.  so soon as we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, the very first thing we did was head for lunch (which was actually the brunch buffet) at the wicked spoon.  the options were endless (even for a picky vegetarian).  it was my favorite buffet that we ate at because the food was excellent, and the presentation was great (i mean, how cute is that mini chinese food take-out box and that mini fryer basket?!).  the dessert selection was unreal and there was even an entire gelato section!  let me tell you, it was worth the exorbitant price.  we would definitely recommend the wicked spoon as a great vegas buffet.  (ps: the only beverages included were water, coffee, and tea.)

we didn't plan on eating at multiple buffets, but we quickly found out that the food prices in vegas were crazy expensive and the buffets actually turned out to be the best "bang for your buck."  we knew that the spice market buffet in planet hollywood had great ratings, so we ate there for dinner one night.  even with dinner pricing it was still a great deal.  the spice market buffet is set up "taste-of-the-nations" style, and we loved all of the ethnic options.  they had a great selection of seafood.  we were also surprised to see that they included non-alcoholic drinks in the price of the buffet.

the third buffet we ate at was the cravings buffet in the mirage.  we headed there for a very late dinner on our last night in vegas after going to the top of the eiffel tower.  there were a ton of options, including a chef's station where someone would make dishes fresh in front of you.  we don't drink, but this buffet included all drinks (even alcohol) and it was the least expensive buffet we tried.

in addition to buffets, we also ate at several regular restaurants.  we had dinner at the pantry in the mirage hotel before seeing the cirque du soleil beatle's love show.  it's a great spot for a quick meal, and they have really reasonable prices.  it's also open 24 hours too!  i had a great salmon dish and ryan had pulled pork sliders.

for a really quick lunch, we stopped in the 800 degrees neapolitan pizzeria outside of the monte carlo hotel.  we are huge fans of this style of pizza, and i'm still thinking about how good that pizza was.  i felt like i was in brooklyn!  old-world italian pizza is made with fresh ingredients and baked right in front of you in just minutes.  yum!

we sat down for an italian dinner at tintoretto's italian restaurant in the venetian one night.  what i really liked about this restaurant was that we were able to sit "outside" in the venetian.  technically, we were inside the hotel, but we were seated in a little section outside the front of the restaurant made to look like outdoor dining.  since the inside of the venetian is themed to look like the outside of venice, i really felt like we were sitting outside (just minus any pesky bugs or loud traffic noises).  the service was great and the food was awesome.  ryan had chicken and i had eggplant parm.  we actually had leftovers which we took back to our hotel and enjoyed for lunch the next day.

after riding on the high roller observation wheel, we popped into sprinkles ice cream on the LINQ promenade for a mid-afternoon treat.  we've enjoyed sprinkles cupcakes before (in washington, d.c. and in nyc) but we have never had their ice cream.  we shared a scoop of the flavor of the month which was apple pie, topped with graham cracker crumbles and a cone.  it was the perfect treat.

ryan had to grab lunch on his own one day while i was tied up at the conference, so he headed over to bobby's burger palace for a burger and fries.  he was excited to eat at one of bobby flay's restaurants and he really enjoyed his lunch!

there were a few mornings when ryan ventured off for breakfast on his own when i ate at the conference.  he found sambalatte which was a super cute coffee shop on the strip.  he spent a leisurely morning in there with a cup of coffee and a bagel, and he really liked it.  on another morning, he also grabbed breakfast at blondies sports bar and grill while i was at the conference.

overall, the conference food left a little to be desired, but this dessert for lunch one day really was excellent.  the paris hotel made each of us a giant french macaroon.  the shell had a great almond flavor, and the inside had a delicious cream with fresh raspberries.  i loved it!  (luckily, i was able to snag a second one from another conference attendee who didn't want hers, so i brought it back to the hotel room for ryan to enjoy!)

we ate at a few other places too while we were in vegas.  one worth mentioning was tamba, which was an indian restaurant.  they had a lunch buffet which we had one afternoon and we really enjoyed it.

(ps: most of these photos are from our iphones because i always feel so awkward whipping out my gigundous camera in a restaurant.)

have a great weekend!
love, laurie

Thursday, October 29, 2015

10 free attractions in las vegas

we had such a great time when we were in las vegas.  while we were there, we did pay for several attractions like the high roller observation wheel, the eiffel tower experience, and the cirque du soleil beatles love show.  however, we also visited a ton of free attractions too.

you don't have to lose money gambling, pay for shows, or dine at expensive restaurants to enjoy vegas.  there are plenty of free things to do if you know where to look.  if you are visiting vegas on a budget, here are 10 free attractions that you won't want to miss . . .

1. the welcome to fabulous las vegas sign
location: in the median of the highway at 5200 las vegas boulevard south
hours: daily 24 hours a day

the 25-foot tall iconic welcome sign is a famous landmark, and if you are in las vegas you absolutely must get your picture taken under the sign.  you can get to the sign by walking or driving.  however, it is a very long walk from the mandalay bay hotel.  you can drive or take a taxi and park in the little parking lot that was created for the sign in the median.  taxis are expensive and if you don't have a car, then the best way to get there is via public bus.  the deuce bus system runs up and down the strip and the express bus will drop you off right at the sign.  the buses stop in front of almost all of the hotels and an unlimited 24-hour bus pass is only $8 per person.

you will have to wait in line for your turn to take a picture under the sign, but the line moves very quickly.  on most days there is a guy there who will take your picture with your camera if you wish.  we handed him our camera and he took about a dozen photos of us, even telling us how to pose and where to stand.  he does it for free, so we tipped him $2 for his service.  when you're done, the bus will pick you up on the other side of the highway.  (buses usually stop every 15 minutes or so.)

2. the bellagio fountains
location: 3600 las vegas boulevard south
hours: every 30 minutes monday - friday 3pm to 8pm
every 30 minutes saturday - sunday noon to 8pm
every 15 minutes daily from 8pm to midnight

the choreographed water feature set to lights and music at the bellagio is absolutely beautiful and breathtaking.  the fountains are comprised of 1,200 nozzles with 4,500 lights that sit in an 8-acre man-made lake.  the fountains are visible from numerous points on the strip, although the best viewing location would be right in the center of the sidewalk in front of the fountains.  there are numerous songs used (here is the schedule) and all of the shows are different.  (above is a little video that ryan took on his phone while we were watching one of the fountain shows.)

3. the bellagio conservatory and botanical gardens
location: 3600 las vegas boulevard south
hours: daily 24 hours a day

in addition to their spectacular fountains, the bellagio hotel also features a conservatory and botanical gardens which are free of charge to the public.  the display changes with the seasons.  there are 140 expert horticulturists who work on the gardens to keep them in tip top shape, and the attention to detail is unbelievable.  since it was set up for the autumn display while we were there, we saw a pumpkin made entirely of fresh roses.  crazy!

4. the world's largest chocolate fountain
location: 3600 las vegas boulevard south
hours: daily 24 hours a day

after admiring the conservatory and botanical gardens in the bellagio, be sure to stop at jean philippe chocolates just a few steps away to take a look at the world's largest chocolate fountain which goes from floor to ceiling.  three different types of chocolate cascade down.

5. caesars palace fall of atlantis fountain show and aquarium
location: 3570 las vegas boulevard south
hours: hourly monday - thursday 11am to 11pm and friday - sunday 11am to midnight

the free fountain show is located right in front of the cheesecake factory restaurant in the forum shops at caesars palace.  special effects and animatronic figures recount the myth of atlantis.  it is built into a 50,000 gallon aquarium that is the home to 300 saltwater fish and sting rays.

6. flamingo and wildlife habitat
location: 3555 las vegas boulevard south
hours: daily 8am to dusk

the serene paradise stocked with exotic birds, fish, and turtles is nestled in the 15-acre grounds of the flamingo hotel.  flamingo island is home to a flock of chilean flamingos.  there are also two live feedings that you can watch each day.

7. the mirage volcano
location: 3400 las vegas boulevard south
hours: sunday - thursday 8pm & 9pm
friday - saturday 8pm, 9pm, & 10pm

nightly the waterfall display outside of the mirage hotel erupts into a volcano with an explosion of fireballs to a heavy metal soundtrack.

8. the lake of dreams show
location: 3131 las vegas boulevard south
hours: nightly every 30 minutes from dusk to 12:30am

with a 40-foot waterfall, the lake of dreams show tucked in the middle of the wynn hotel is a sight to behold.  it's a spectacle of music and imagery created by over 4,000 lights.  while you are there, be sure to check out the parasol up display, as well as the carousel and hot-air balloon made entirely of flowers.

9. singing gondoliers at the venetian
location: 3355 las vegas boulevard south
hours: indoor sunday - thursday 10am to 11pm and friday - saturday 10am to midnight
outdoor daily 11am to 10pm

although you have to pay to take a ride on the gondolas in the venetian hotel, it is completely free to stand around the canals and listen to the gondoliers singing in italian.  when they sing inside the acoustics are incredible.

10. the fremont street experience and the world's largest golden nugget 
location: 129 east fremont street
hours: daily every hour from dusk to midnight (and 24 hours for the hand of faith)

just a few miles from the strip, the fremont street experience provides a lit canopy of 12.5 million lights which illuminates the street below with nightly shows.  while you are at fremont street, be sure to stop into the lobby of the golden nugget hotel to see the world's largest golden nugget.  called "the hand of faith," it is a whopping 61 pounds and was found in 1980 in australia.  (above is a little video that we shot while we were watching one of the shows.)

love, laurie

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

the eiffel tower experience at the paris hotel in las vegas

we loved staying at the paris hotel while we were in las vegas.  one of the coolest things was to see the half-scale replica of the world-famous eiffel tower every day.  the day after we went on the high roller observation wheel, we went up to the very top of the eiffel tower.

the eiffel tower experience at the paris hotel is amazing!  in just 90 seconds, an elevator takes you 46 stories above the las vegas strip to an observation deck with 360 degree views of the strip.  we really debated as to what time of the day we should go up to the observation deck.  we knew that the view would be amazing both during the day and at night.  instead of making a decision, we opted to go up in the late afternoon while the sun was still out, stay up there to watch the sunset, see the lights turn on to illuminate the strip, and see the strip all lit up against the dark night sky.  it took a bit of creativity on my part to time that just right, but boy was it worth it!

luckily they let you stay up on the observation deck as long as you like, so we stayed up there for 90 minutes.  it was absolutely breathtaking up there and the views were even more incredible than i could have imagined.  there was so much to look at.  we walked around the entire observation deck multiple times to take it all in.

the day light let us see the strip in great detail as well as the surrounding areas and the mountains.  the sunset was unreal!  shortly after the sunset, the lights of the strip lit up to illuminate the strip against the dark night sky.  wow!

another treat was that there is a perfect birds-eye view of the bellagio fountains from the eiffel tower observation deck.  since we were there so long, we got to watch the fountain show 4 different times (twice in the daylight, once during dusk, and once at night).  that was really something else!  you can hear the music from the fountains perfectly up on the observation deck.

my travel tip: just like the high roller, the eiffel tower experience has different pricing for daytime tickets and nighttime tickets.  to save some money, we purchased daytime tickets at one of the tix4tonight booths on the strip.  our tickets were good anytime up until 7:00pm for admission.  by going up a little after 5:00pm, we were able to see the strip in the daylight, watch the sun set, and see the strip illuminated at night.

and here is a little video that ryan took while we were up on top of the eiffel tower . . .

{music: "viva las vegas" by elvis presley}

love, laurie