****Man, this took me way too long to compile... who knows how long it will be until next blog update, so maybe you should scroll and read it in chunks.***
Stew attended a training for work in Las Vegas and I got to go along, Jan 31 - Feb 4 (the week of my 41st birthday). My wonderful sister Cathy came and supervised the boys & dogs at our house while we were gone. The following are a selection of phone pics from or related to our trip...
This was the first night, taken outside the New York New York Hotel & Casino, looking "up" the strip to the north. Was a Sunday night and cold so not a lot of foot or car traffic. We had driven a rental from our off-strip hotel and had parked in a parking garage. We wandered around in the casino (yuck, smoke-y!), through the retail areas (expensive!), and went outside to get some fresh air. Then we went back in and found a moderately priced burger joint (Broadway Burger Bar & Grill) to eat in before the show (Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity).
Closer look at the billboard for the 18+ artsy burlesque show we saw. Didn't get to see a pink mohawked dude in chains so a little disappointed. ha ha Our seats were about 3rd row from stage, so Stew got picked on during the pre-show "fun", i.e. he was one of the recipients of an awkward position when "voluptuous Botero twin sisters, dressed in racy French maid outfits, squeeze their way through the aisles. Everyone laughs as the sisters find themselves in awkward positions reaching or bending over guests while trying to hand out fresh strawberries." I played along and acted mad and stretched out to grab a strawberry from her tray.
The next morning I dropped Stew off at his training and then returned to the hotel. It was super windy, like 30 mph gusts, and cold (40s), so I stayed inside most of the morning just chilling in front of HGTV "Love It or List It" (which I never get to do at home) and eating chocolate. The view from our 8th floor suite was pretty cool. I guess I never realized Vegas was surrounded by "mountains". This is the view to the north, with the Stratosphere tower dominating... we ended up visiting that resort on the last night. Later that day I google mapped some nearby thrift stores and visited one before picking Stew up at 4 pm.
That second night we drove back to the strip and parked in the Planet Hollywood's garage. We did the same thing where we quickly walked through retail areas (there was a cool fake sky in this one) and smoke-y casino and then took pictures once out front. Across the street was the famous Bellagio fountain.
We turned around and went back in and found the P F Chang's in-casino restaurant and ate there, finally using a $50 gift card that we had had for several years. It was good up until they had drums play for what seemed like 30 minutes and we couldn't hear anything else. Do we sound like old fuddy duddies or what? ha ha
Tuesday morning the wind had calmed down but I drove Stew the block or two down to the convention center because it was still cold. This is the view to the southwest from the end of our hallway. That Westgate resort was adjacent to our parking garage and apparently the Westgate is where Elvis used to take residence when he did shows in Vegas.
Stew's work put us up at the Hilton Grand Vacations on Paradise which ended up being close enough to stuff but far enough that it was a nice quiet non-casino-y place to go home to each night. The room was a suite with kitchen, sitting area, bedroom and big jacuzzi tub! We got two complimentary water bottles a day and free DVD rentals (got Everest one night which was long/depressing to watch for that time of night). But there was no airport shuttle or continental breakfast or anything like that, which was OK since we rented a car and I got a few groceries the first morning.
On Tuesday I found a small business Nail Salon & Spa close by (after first looking at prices at a bigger one on the Strip, which were insane) and got my first ever manicure by walking in shortly after they had opened and lucking out that there was a time slot free. I got an Express Manicure with Gel Polish, which is something I'd been curious about for a while. It is supposed to last up to two weeks with no chips, and so far a week later it is still good but wearing down a little at the tips. Also have had a few spots near cuticles flake off due to me going hmm this feels loose... In hindsight I think did a sort of rush job on me to get done before her 11am appointment, but I didn't know any better and it looked fine by me at the time. Plus she was a little perplexed by how short my fingernails were and said it was a little harder to do. Here they are still looking fairly neat, shiny and non-chipped a week later... now I am looking into the gear you need to do gel polish nails at home.
After my manicure I google mapped the one yarn store in Vegas and hit that place up, buying some cute wool w/ bobbles stuff from their clearance shelves. Then I jumped on the freeway and headed up to some the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets where I snagged some $13 jeans from Gap in order to make the trip worthwhile, since I really went there to look at the lululemon/atheltica yoga stuff and rolled my eyes at the "discounted" prices, yikes $50 a top! Luckily I had already found three nearly new tunic length yoga tops at the thrift store the day before, for $12 total! But before leaving the outlets I did stop at two outdoor vendors and picked up reasonably priced souvenirs for the boys, so it was all good. Before heading home I explored "old Vegas" Main St / downtown area to scope out parking around the Fremont St. Experience, which is where I took Stew that night (after we stayed in and ate our leftover P F Chang's for dinner). It is downtown street turned pedestrian mall with an overhead light show, lined with old school casinos and souvenir shops, that extends for about 3 blocks. Lots of fun people watching in this area, like the guy that was standing around in banana hammock and cowboy hat.
The next day Stew was done with his training so we had the day for sight seeing. We headed southeast about 45 minutes to check out Hoover Dam. The man-made lake level is at lowest since built in the 30s, which is kind of sad to see, due to low snow meltwater from Rocky Mountains. But when you think about it, it is kind of sad that they dammed the river in the first place... I know I know it was an engineering marvel and provided water and power for everywhere and reduced flooding or whatever but still. We took the 30 minute Power Plant tour that went ear poppingly far down inside, and then we did self-guided tour across the top, walking across it to the Arizona side and back.
Here is the souvenir photo we bought at the end of the tour. We posed in front of a green screen at the beginning of tour and then at the end got to choose from like 5 different superimposed backgrounds. Stew chose this patriotic 'Murica, F Yeah! one, I think it was a picture taken during the 1996 Olympic torch relay, when a Guinness World Record sized flag was hung on the dam.
After the Dam we headed back west, stopping for a DQ Blizzard late lunch in Boulder City before skirting around Vegas to get to the other side by about 2 pm. There we took the 13 mile scenic drive through Red Rock Canyon park, which ended up being really pretty but about 8 miles too long by that time day.
We did stop at one of the overlook spots and took a little careful walk down the beginning on a longer trail. People were walking even further out and standing on rocks on the edge of the canyon to take pictures there but I was fine stopping several yards further back, thanks. There were also people rock climbing out there and lots of bikers meandering their way along the drive. It is only 30 minutes west of the Strip and supposedly "a hidden gem" so it was fun to check it out. Probably could have made a day of this place, slowly going further on trails and things, but we were happy cutting it short and heading back an hour once making it out of the scenic drive.
That last night, after resting for a little bit in our hotel, we went to see one more show at the Stratosphere Casino Hotel and Tower, which is sort of "old Vegas" at the north end of the Strip and was only a couple blocks from our hotel. If it had been nicer out we might have walked, but was easy enough to drive and park in yet another huge parking garage (all for free, but apparently some casinos are going to start charging for garage parking this Spring). We went up the "tallest freestanding observation tower in U.S. -- 1,149 feet" right when we got there, and I was able to take these two sunset photos looking south down Paradise Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, from the indoor observation deck area. Sure it was $20 a pop to get up there but it was pretty! And we were able to go up a second time after the show for no further charge. That time we went another floor up to the outdoor viewing area, but it was cold/windy and a little vertigo inducing and those pictures didn't turn out as nice...
After the tower we got a little lost trying to find Roxy's Diner inside the casino, first having to walk through a spooky 80s mall retail area that was super dead on a Wednesday night at 6 pm... but finally we found the cute retro themed diner down on the casino level and again were happy eating moderately priced burgers/fries... At 7 pm we caught the MJ Live show in a small cabaret style theater. It was a "Michael Jackson tribute show with impersonator, live band and dancers" and was basically a $50 Vegas show with lower-quality-than-Zumanity-dancers but lots of fun wardrobe costume changes and audience interaction. The MJ impersonator was pretty good (he could definitely moonwalk, that is for sure) & he was humbly nice and welcomed everyone to take pictures "to share online #MJLIVE!!!" though none of mine of him came out very good so all I have is this group dance shot to give you an idea of the seating/stage/lighting/video screens/etc.
The next morning we had to wake up early and get the rental car returned by 7 AM. I forgot my phone in the cup holder and luckily noticed it was gone just as we had sat down on the shuttle to the airport, so we were able to grab our suitcase and jump off and run back to the garage. The car had been moved from where we left it but it hadn't been given a once over yet so the check-in lady let me run over to it and grab my phone. Yay! Our flight to LA was delayed slightly in air and taxi position, etc. so our 45 min layover was more like 30 min. We had to walk very quickly one terminal over, which was congested due to renovations, but we had time to go back and use restrooms while waiting on a slow boarding process. The flight from LAX to RDU seemed shorter than reverse, plus this time we tandem watched two complimentary movies (Man Up w/ Simon Peg and Terminator Genisys) on the little screens in the backs of seats in front of us. Also both of those long flights we were lucky that they weren't completely full, so had a row to ourselves. Once back to Raleigh we were able to have one last dinner-out-by-ourselves before returning home to boys already tucked into bed. Cathy regaled us with some single parenting horror stories (she cried twice!) but it wasn't so bad that she moved her return flight home up a day or anything...
Which is nice because the next day was my birthday and as she is a wonderful sister/nanny she had wrangled the boys into making a cake the night before and hiding it until that morning. Wiley had suggested orange cake with pink frosting and they bought a round cake pan since I didn't have one. It was yummy. And if you switched the candles around, as the boys did a couple times, it made me be 14 instead of 41 which was nice for 30 seconds before reality set in again. Plus not sure 14 was really all that great if I remember correctly.
Later that morning Stew and I applied for our Concealed Carry Handgun permits (whole other story), got our finger prints taken (ack, in the system now) and then once back home I proceeded to take a 2 hour nap. Stew been sick with a bad sore throat a few days before the trip, and then I came down with similar symptoms about halfway through. All-in-all it was nice to get away, despite our illnesses and not really being the Vegas types (we don't smoke or drink or gamble!) and the cold weather and stuff. Would we go to Vegas again? Probably only if someone else footed the bill again which likely won't happen. But it was fun to experience it once, and it was nice to get to do "adult" stuff and figure out how to navigate travel, skills that kind of get rusty for middle age (ack) parents, especially stay-at-home ones.
On Saturday morning once Cathy got packed up we all drove into Raleigh and had quality family time during breakfast at Cracker Barrel, before parking and walking Cathy into the airport for one last big group hug. I am quite sure she gratefully went and stood in the security line after that and is probably back to loving her carefree married-without-kids traveling career woman lifestyle right about now. As always, she will be missed until the next time...
Man, this took me way too long to compile... who knows how long it will be until next blog update, so maybe you should read it in chunks. Which should be better stated upfront, so copy and paste here I go! If you made it this far all in one go, deja vu!