To celebrate my 30th birthday a week ago, my friend and I flew down to Las Vegas for a long weekend trip. Itinerary in hand, we had no plans to party or gamble over the four days. This being our third holiday in Vegas within a two year period, we didn’t need to go dancing and drinking until the clubs close at 4am. No, this vacation was going to be different and unconventional – relaxing, eye-opening and filled with great food and a bit of shopping.
Here’s the info on where we stayed, what we drove, what we ate and where we went. I’ll try to be as brief as possible and let the photos do most of the talking.
Whenever we go to Vegas, we tend to stay at a different hotel. On this occasion, we purchased a flight and hotel package through Expedia that included accommodations at The Mirage. Upon check-in, we were given keys for a non-smoking, two queen bed room on the 15th floor. The room was clean (although the countertop was a bit dusty) and spacious with enough room to lay out our luggage and walk around.
There is a fridge under the counter, but it’s a fully stocked minibar, which I didn’t dare touch because you just never know and my money isn’t going towards overpriced mini bottles of alcohol or bags of candy. I do wish that there was some empty space in the fridge to store some leftovers though. Otherwise, the beds were comfortable and housekeeping never bothered us in the mornings.
Overall, I liked the hotel enough to consider another stay there and I would recommend it to others.
On a side note, I still question why Vegas hotels continue to charge people a daily resort fee. This is especially the case during the colder months when amenities like their pools are often closed for the season. What exactly are we paying for?
For this trip, a car was required for drives to the Grand Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. We rented through E-Z Rent-A-Car because it was one of the cheaper options. It was easy enough to get to the large rental location because of the shuttle bus from the airport, but the problem with E-Z is that we thought what we paid through Expedia would cover the entire cost. Unfortunately, liability insurance (we thought my friend’s credit card coverage would be enough) still had to be added on top of that, meaning we didn’t really save any money. We’ll probably look at other options next time.
The one good thing is that we were upgraded to a nice sage green (they listed the colour as white) Prius for the weekend, which was really efficient on gas.
Instead of going to Cirque du Soleil or a concert this time, we decided to change things up by checking out some new shows.
Our first evening in Vegas, we ventured to the Sands Showroom at the Venetian for Lipshtick. They’ve been running shows under this name for the whole year to showcase female comediennes. The headliner for the night was Whitney Cummings who was hilarious. I’m actually happy to have seen her do live stand-up. She can be crass, but she has great rapport with the audience and she’s quick on her feet with jokes and comebacks.
Whitney Cummings will be back in Vegas for another show in January under the Lipshtick banner. I’m hoping that they continue to add new dates because they’ve also had Iliza Shlesinger in the past and her Netflix shows always make me laugh out loud.
Mat Franco: Magic Reinvented Nightly
America’s Got Talent 2014 winner (I never watched the series), Mat Franco, now has his own residency in Las Vegas at the LINQ. Neither my friend or I had seen a magic show in Vegas (I’m fairly certain I haven’t), so we were game to check it out.
Mat Franco is definitely a showman and he has got his tricks down. I was impressed with his humour and his sleight of hand. Also, I’m one of those people who doesn’t think about how a trick was done. I don’t need to know. I just want to be amazed.
Jean Philippe Patisserie at Aria
For lunch when we arrived in Vegas, we ate savoury Italian crepes at Jean Philippe Patisserie. The two of us had each redeemed myVEGAS vouchers, so we got to eat for free. The crepes were huge with plenty of veggies for the filling and a good portion of prosciutto on top. This was a satisfying meal.
Dinner led us back to the Aria hotel where we indulged in the $89 Signature menu at Sage. To start, we ordered the Pearfection cocktail, recommended to us by our wonderful server. Bread (with butter and salt) was provided as well as an amuse bouche.
The Signature menu consists of your choice of four courses. Both of us had the wagyu beef tartar. That dish was fantastic. I could have eaten 10 plates. My friend had the salt roasted beets next. It was a beautiful dish that looked delicious. I had the Maine day boat scallops, which were perfectly seared and tender. The salted caramel reduction was rich and went well with the slightly bitter greens and the earthy mushrooms.
For our mains, my friend had the 48 hour beef belly and I selected the Beecher’s Farm whey fed pork loin. The bite I had of the beef belly was really succulent. The pork loin wasn’t as juicy as I would have liked, but it was tasty and not too heavy.
Knowing that I was celebrating my birthday, our server had told the kitchen about the occasion and my pumpkin clafoutis dessert arrived with a candle in it. That was a nice touch that I didn’t expect.
Before our excursion to the North Premium Outlets on day 2, we stopped at the Wynn for brunch at Tableau. What a gorgeous restaurant. We were seated near the entrance by a window that looked out into the garden. I didn’t see further back, but I think there’s an atrium space with more tables that would have been lovely.
My friend had a juice and I had a smoothie (vanilla strawberry balsamic) to wake us up. Both were refreshing. The smoothie was interesting because the balsamic made the drink more acidic than it would have been without. Judging from the strawberry that was placed on the rim, if it had just been vanilla with strawberry, it would have been very sweet because the strawberry was the best I’d had in a long time. I would love it if we could get such amazingly flavourful berries at home.
Viewing the menu, we both chose the duck hash & eggs. Our server told us that was one of the most popular dishes, so much so that it has never been removed from the menu even when they make updates. The duck was smoky, the eggs were fluffy, the pastry was decadently buttery and the hollandaise sauce was lighter than normal.
Prior to our Vegas visit, I joined the Sprinkles Birthday Club and received an email offer that allowed me to redeem for a free cupcake on my celebratory day.
This turned out to be our quick “dinner” before the Mat Franco show. I ended up getting the pumpkin cupcake (seasonal) along with an additional chai latte flavour, which was my favourite when we picked up Sprinkles in San Diego earlier this year.
Sprinkles cupcakes are awesome. However, I will say that two of them eaten back-to-back does cause sugar overload, and I don’t say that often.
After the magic show and a drink at the Seahorse casino bar at Caesars Palace, we were feeling pretty famished, so we decided to head back to The Mirage for some food at BLT Burger.
This was a great choice. The burgers were stacked high and for a decent price you could add a drink and a side of fries (skinny, curly, fat, waffle or sweet potato). My friend opted for the buffalo chicken burger and I went for the sesame tuna. Everything about mine was scrumptious. What was most surprising was seeing that they stacked two steaks (not extremely thick though) of ahi tuna on top of each other for my sandwich. Our crisp sweet potato fries were also accompanied by some ranch dip. Yum!
The reviews for the Monte Carlo buffet were less than stellar, but going in with lower expectations meant that I was pretty pleased with what we got for breakfast.
Eating for free because of another redeemed myVEGAS reward made it all the more worth it.
I had some banana bread french toast, hash potatoes, potatoes au gratin, bacon, chicken apple sausage, fruit and a glass of club soda and I was ready to go.
I would have tried more of the food, but I didn’t have a big appetite that morning. If I had, I would have gone for the roast beef, which some reviewers have said is often dry, yet it looked cooked to a nice medium rare when I walked by.
Maybe we can give this place another go.
On our way to the Grand Canyon, we paused in Kingman, AZ at the In-N-Out Burger for a snack.
My friend had been wanting to try their burgers for a while, so we thought this was the perfect opportunity. Plus, celebrities always rave about this chain.
Sticking to the regular menu (they also have the not-so-secret one), we both ordered a single patty cheeseburger without onion. I have to say that I was underwhelmed.
When we were waiting for our orders, I saw customers picking up their double-doubles and they looked good. However, when I ate my burger, the patty, while fresh, was thinner than I thought it would be. The meat itself wasn’t that seasoned, so most of the flavour came from their special spread. By far, the best part of the burger was the toasted bun.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill at MGM
Another day, another deal from myVEGAS. This time, we got a free entree with purchase of another during dinner at the MGM Grand’s Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill.
The restaurant is the bees knees. Our server was friendly and quick to offer his suggestions and favourites off of the menu. We each started with a pineapple mojito to quench our thirst. Those were great. I would absolutely order that drink again.
A basket was also provided with two types of bread. The onion bread is amazing. In fact, we asked for more and our server practically gave us a whole loaf.
We continued our meal with a plate each of the short rib entree and shared sides of roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts with pancetta.
The amount of food that came with our order was crazy. We ended up packing half of it with us (bread included) for breakfast and snacks the next day.
If you ever go there, and you like meat, I highly recommend that you try the short ribs. The beef is divine and I swear that they gave us twenty ounces of meat per plate. We could have shared one entree with the same sides and it would have been more than enough to feed the two of us.
With just a little over an hour before we had to leave for our flight home, we grabbed a quick dinner at Sushi Roku in the Caesars Palace Forum Shops.
Their happy hour is a great deal and I ended up getting a small order of albacore tataki and three maki rolls – spicy tuna, rock shrimp tempura & jalapeno and salmon & avocado – for $29, including tax and tip.
The service is good and the food is prepared fast while the seafood is fresh.
More info about Sushi Roku can be found in my last post about Vegas.
Since we happened to be in Vegas the day after Black Friday, I expected to find better discounts and deals at the outlet mall, but they weren’t as great as I thought they would be.
That’s not to say I didn’t find anything. Actually, we did a lot of damage in five hours, and we weren’t even able to get to every store that we had planned to stop at.
One of the reasons for that is the addition of an extra strip to the mall. An associate at the new Marc by Marc Jacobs outlet store said that they had just opened earlier this year. They also now have a Neiman Marcus Last Call Studio, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF Fifth, Dolce & Gabbana and AllSaints among others, so it was a lot to take in.
On day 3, we drove the four and a half hours to the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park, avoiding the exorbitant entrance fees charged by the Hualapai tribe at the west rim.
Once through the south entrance, we drove along making stops at many of the parking lots. We got out to walk along the rim at each location. The best spot that we went to was the Desert View Watchtower. With the canyon and the Colorado River before our eyes, it was a beautiful sight to behold. The watchtower provided various vantage points to take photos and it is also home to an extremely showy raven.
It was windy and cold that day, but nature is amazing and, if we weren’t freezing and it wasn’t going to be dark so soon, we would have stayed there longer.
On the drive back to Vegas, I noticed that the sky was so dark that all of the stars could be seen. They sparkled so brightly. We ended up taking the exit onto the Kingman Wash Access Road, so we could stop and soak it all in.
Rather than revisiting Red Rock Canyon, we decided to go somewhere different during this vacation.
I came across images of Valley of Fire State Park on Instagram about a month before we were set to leave and it looked beautiful.
About an hour away from the Strip, we were able to fit it in on our last day in Vegas.
Although we didn’t quite make it to every feature of the park, we managed to see Atlatl Rock, Arch Rock, Beehives, Rainbow Vista, White Domes and Fire Canyon/Silica Dome within two to three hours. That’s only about half of the sights in the park, not including various hikes that you can do as well. Some Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep also graced us with their presence.
We’re certainly planning to go to Valley of Fire again. But, we’ll be a bit more prepared next time. Here’s a tip: bring hiking boots with excellent grip and high ankle coverage. Much of the park is covered in deep sand, which makes for a difficult walk in basic flats or runners.
This was another whirlwind holiday down south. I like that we’re going off the beaten track to explore more of what Las Vegas and Nevada have to offer, and we’ll continue to do so on subsequent visits.
Again, I hope that this information inspires others to expand their horizons whenever they might find themselves there.