Day 3 we drive out to Zion National Park, it’s about a 3 hour drive (mostly highway). They charge you $25 at the gate, but it is good for 1 week. There are certain trails that we can’t go on as we do not have an SUV, but that doesn’t bother us. We go up the main road and there is plenty to see. They give you a map with trail recommendations – it is pretty breathtaking here. You know when you are in the National Park because the roads are red!
We were going to attempt to go to Bryce Canyon as well, but it was another two hours away – so we decided to pass. We drove out the other side of the park and ran into Thunderbird Cafe – we decided we just HAD to try the “Ho-made” pie.
Now for the pie. I had high hopes. I happen to prefer my crust sweet, and this was more of a savory pie crust. It certainly wasn’t the diamond in the rough that we were hoping for, but it was perfect for what we needed. History of the Thunderbird.
Highway 89, Mt. Carmel, UT
Talk about glitzy! The Cosmopolitan hotel is easily accessible from the Hilton by a bridge. Jaleo is located on the 3rd floor of the East Tower. Note, if you are coming in through the bridge, you will enter on the 2nd floor. Here is a view of the Chandelier Bar.
Jaleo is by Jose Andres, who you may recognize from his wildly popular restaurant in Washington, DC. The restaurant it bright and fun – and has 8 seats at a chef’s table if you want that truly memorable experience. The restaurant can get a bit noisy at times and is certainly buzzing by the time we get there.
Love the bold colors here. All the dishes were creatively plated (one even comes out in a shoe!) fresh and flavorful. The menu is well thought out and extensive, so there is something for everyone. Note, if you are ordering paella, it does take 45 minutes – so be prepared to wait.
Three queso ($26) Top: San Simón con garapiñado de frutos secos (Galicia) A smoked cow’s milk cheese paired with homemade nut brittle, Middle: Rey Silo Blanco Con Albaricoques Y Almendras(asturias) intensely flavored cow’s milk cheese with pimentón, paired with apricots and Marcona almonds; Bottom: Rey Silo Blanco Con Polvorón De Piñones (asturias) intensely flavored cow’s milk cheese with a pine nut crumble cookie. I loved the top cheese the best – the other two were a bit too “stinky” for me. All the pairings were delicious, I especially loved the cookie!
Torrejas ($15) our waitress likened this to French toast. There was a hint of orange zest inside and it came topped with apples. Not one of my favorite desserts, but it was still good. The service was good – our waitress was attentive and food came out promptly. Dress here was stylish and trendy although there were certainly people here who were much more dressed up.
Jaleo by Joe Andres at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S , Las Vegas, NV
Day 2 we decided to go to the Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon West. First stop Hoover Dam – and to get there you drive through Lake Mead National Recreation Area. They charge you $10, but it is good for 7 days. There are a number of scenic turnoffs along the way.
The Hoover Dam is about 45 minutes from Vegas. Because we knew we were going to be doing a lot of day trips, we opted to rent a car – a little compact car that got great gas mileage – which was much cheaper than doing a guided tour. You can opt for guided tours with companies like Pink Jeep or Viator. Tours at the dam are offered from 9am-5pm, walking by I overheard the tour guide talking about how many people have tried to commit suicide by jumping off the dam – um…morbid much? Parking at the dam is $10.
Pretty amazing when you think about it. Then it was off to Grand Canyon West. It’s about a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive from Las Vegas, and when you get closer, make sure that you have enough gas, as stations are sparse along the way.
When you get closer to the entrance, the road turns to a dirt road – makes for a slow ride (about 20-25mph). You arrive at a visitors center and buy your tickets, then you board buses that run in a loop between 3 stops. See the packages here. So for two people, to ride the bus and to go on the Skywalk, it was $152.
The Skywalk. There are 3 viewpoints, Eagle Point, where the Skywalk is, Guano Point and the Hualapi Ranch. Before you walk on the Skywalk, you are asked to leave all personal belongings in the lockers provided. They make you go through a metal detector as well, so leave all your cell phones, cameras, etc in the locker. You are then asked to put on little disposable booties as your step out onto the glass. While you are not allowed to bring camera or cell phones, there are photographers there that can take your photo that you can purchase when you exit through the gift shop. The Skywalk is suspended 4,000 feet over the Colorado river.
The views here are pretty amazing. Note that if you are bringing small children here, you should keep eyes on them at all times. There are no railings here and it would be easy enough to slip off the top of the canyon.
For more information, see the Grand Canyon West website.
Day 2 we moved to the strip. We decided on the Hilton Elara in the Miracle Mile Shops. The self park garage is the same one that shoppers use, so it can get pretty full in the evening. The hotel is accessible through the 3rd floor of the garage. We made the mistake of rolling our bags into and through the mall, when there is a bridge straight to the hotel – just walk towards section 3A in the garage and you will see the entrance.
The hotel lobby is sleek and clean and the pool is just outside the bar area. There is a Starbucks in the lobby as well as a liquor store. There are no restaurants in the hotel, but there is in room dining and plenty of places in the mall and nearby to get food.
The hotel has king guest rooms, 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom suites with full kitchens, sofabeds and living space. We stayed on the 14th floor (1409) and the 17th floor (1723) (our flight home was cancelled so we had to stay another night). The hallways were very….Vegas. It did get a little noisy at night – or should I say early morning.
A nice kitchen area with a full size fridge and a stove top, complete with a blender and a TV. There were 4 tv’s in the room, one in the kitchen, on the bedroom, one in the living room that could be converted into a projector, and on in the bathroom.
The living room faced the parking lot, so at night, when people went out to smoke, you could hear the echoing conversations as well as the street noise. In addition, when we were on the 17th floor, you could hear a lot of bass from the night clubs.
80 East Harmon Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada
This past weekend I was invited to go on a chocolate tour with Old Town Trolley Tours – they’re now in their 16th season! You’ve probably seen those orange and green trolleys zipping around town. Most people use Old Town trolley as a hop on hop off tour of the city, but on Saturdays, they offer a chocolate tour that leaves from their shop near the common (Boylston and Charles St.) We’re greeted by Brian, the depot manager, and we receive a great little gift bag that they give out to all chocolate tour participants. Inside, they have a few samples of Taza and Ghirardelli chocolate along with some additional coupons. This was a great way to spend a weekend afternoon – even if you live in Boston, play tourist for the day! Old Town Trolley offers a Hometown Pass where Massachusetts residents ride free when they are accompanied by a full paying guest.
Chocolate tours run from January to April, and leave at 11:30am on Saturdays. The tour will make three stops: Top of the Hub, The Omni Parker House and Cafe Fleuri at the Langham Hotel. Round trip the tour is about 3 hours. We luck out with an unseasonably warm day, one perfect for this kind of expedition.
Meet Jeff, our trolley driver and tour guide. In between stops, he gives us a brief history of chocolate and some fun facts! Jeff was informative and personable – a great mix for this kind of job! See the Favecast here: http://favecast.com/CfKQuvy18s
First stop is the Top of the Hub. We get dropped off at the Sheraton hotel and meet our guide who will bring us up to the restaurant. We have to walk through the hotel and the Prudential mall to get to the elevator bank that will take us up 52 floors!
On the left, we have Executive Pastry Chef Tak Kuen “Tommy” Choi and on the right, our celebrity chef tour guide. Chef Choi began his career in his native Hong Kong. He started his career in the States at Rialto in 1994. He has been at Top of the Hub since 1995 and has received numerous accolades.
Stop number 2 on the tour is the Omni Parker Hotel, home of the Boston Cream Pie. Founded by Harvey Parker in 1855, the Omni Parker House is the oldest and longest continuously operating hotel in the United States. For all you ghost enthusiasts, the ghost of Harvey Parker has been known to roam the halls of the 10th floor annex. Or how about in 1949, a man died in room 303, and the scent of whiskey sometimes reappears in the room. There’s even talk of the elevator that is called to the 3rd floor and no one is ever there – some suspect it is the ghost of Charles Dickens who stayed on the third floor in the old Parker House in 1867!
The hotel is steeped in history: Veitnamese leader Ho Chi Minh served as a baker in the bakeshop from 1912 to 1913 and Malcolm X was a busboy in the early 1940′s. Numerous icons have stayed at the hotel: John Wilkes Booth, Bill Clinton, James Dean, JFK, John Kenneth Galbraith, Ulysses S Grant, BB King, Bob Hope, Ben Affleck and many more! In 2008, the hotel went through a $30 million restoration, helping to blend modern day amenities into the hotel without losing its historic charm. See my Favecast here: http://favecast.com/24ceLNrtu6
Did you know that the Boston Cream Pie is the Massachusetts state dessert? It beat out the Toll House cookie, the Fig Newton and Indian Pudding. For those of you not familiar with Boston Cream Pie (which is really a cake, not a pie), it is two layers of sponge cake, filled with custard and topped with chocolate ganache. See the original recipe here.
Our final stop is the Cafe Fleuri in the Lagham Hotel. This year, the chocolate bar is celebrating its 25th anniversary. For this special occasion, Chef Ryan Pike presented us this year with “Decades of Decadence,” a buffet featuring the most popular desserts from the past 25 years.
Chef Pike graduated Newbury College in 2003 and in 2007 accepted the job of assistant pastry chef at Top of the Hub where he worked under chef Tommy Choi. He eventually moved to the Lagham and moved up from assistant pastry chef to head pastry chef in just around 2 years.
An adult chocolate cocktail menu features cocoa infused martinis such as the “chocolate decadence” with raspberry vodka, dark chocolate Godiva liqueur and Frangelico. You can also order a “white Coco” with vanillla vodka, dark chocolate Godiva and white creme de cacao.
They also offer a crepe station and a cold stone ice cream station where you can mix in any number of toppings. See my Favecast here: http://favecast.com/2ACEQrt18I
Top of the Hub
800 Boylston Street, Boston, MA
In the Omni Parker Hotel, 60 School St., Boston, MA
See their website and menu here.
In the Langham Hotel, 250 Franklin Street, Boston, MA
See more information here.
For more information about booking a tour, please see Old Town Trolley’s website.
**Disclaimer, I received two tickets to the Boston Chocolate Tour in exchange for writing this post. All opinions are my own.
After seeing “O” at the Bellagio, we head over to Caesar’s Palace for a late dinner at Rao’s. Before you go to Vegas, you might want to sign up for Total Rewards, it gets you discounts at certain restaurants in Caesar’s, Rio, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Paris, Planet Hollywood, Bally’s and the Quad. You will get a discount at Rao’s and the money you spend on dinner will give you points on your Total Rewards card. You can also use your Total Rewards card while you are gambling at the casinos.
Maybe you’ve heard of Rao’s, a small Italian restaurant in Harlem, NY, known for being one of most difficult places in New York to get a reservation. Maybe you’ve seen the pasta sauce in your local market – it’s expensive, but it’s delicious.
Good thing the Vegas location has more than 10 tables. I was expecting great things – glad to FINALLY be able to try the food out. The restaurant was winding down, there were a few business dinners happening, but it was late.
I had the Gnocchi Bolognese Special ($28). I have to say that I was really disappointed with this dish. The gnocchi was rubbery and gummy and tasted like something that you would get from the supermarket. The bologese was good, but not good enough to make up for the pasta.
Meatballs ($16) and the mozzarella carrozza ($15). The meatballs were the size of softballs, and boy were they good: ground veal, pork and beef, Italian breadcrumbs and seasoning, marinara sauce. The carrozza, their version of the mozzarella stick, was over breaded and over cooked.
For dessert we had the peanut butter tart ($12) that was peanut butter mousse, graham cracker crust and chocolate ganache. Overall, pretty disappointing – it tasted like it had just been pulled from the freezer at Bertucci’s. Overall, we walked away feeling pretty disappointed with our meal here.
Rao’s in Caesar’s Palace
You know the Bellagio. You’ve seen that famous scene in Ocean’s Eleven.
I love the Chihuly ceiling in the lobby.
After making our way through one of my favorite lobbies, we head to the Cirque Du Soleil theater. We sat in section 203, row X, seats 26 and 27. They were perfect. While they were on the expensive side, $170 per ticket, it was certainly worth it. You don’t want to sit too close as there is so much going on on stage, you might miss something.
Photo credit: Bellagio website. There are amazing sets, performers that will amaze you with their gymnastics, and swimmers that will mesmerize you with the synchronized moves. Here you will see men and women flying through the air being launched from seesaw like swings, a woman balancing on a trapeze on her head, gymnasts that move their bodies in ways you never thought imaginable.
Photo credit: Bellagio website. There are elements of trapeze, high dives, ring work, parallel bars – while you’ve seen those things before, you’ve never seen anything like this. I think that one of my favorite parts was the fire dancer. The costumes are beautiful, and by the time the show is over, you feel like you just want to see more. The show runs 90 minutes long with no intermission. Photos are prohibited for the safety of the performers. The do have food and drink available to take with you into the theater, but be aware that it is pricey. A fountain soda will cost you $7 and a small bottle of water will cost you $5.50. Note that “O” performs twice nightly at 7:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. There are no performances on Mondays and Tuesdays. Also note that if you want to get tickets the day of the show, you can try and get them at a discounted rate at Tix4Tonight.
For tickets and more information, please see the website below:
While we were in Henderson, we decided to make the most of it and take a trip to Ethel M chocolates. From the Ethel M website, “In 1981, after passing the leadership of Mars, Inc. to his children, Forrest Mars Sr., retired to Henderson, Nevada and created Ethel M.® Chocolates as a tribute to his mother, her recipes and chocolate making teachings.” Mars is a highly recognizable brand with names like M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, DOVE®, TWIX® and more under their belt.
There are over 300 species of plants in the garden. See the website for some examples of what you might find!
There is a kiosk past security in terminal 3 in the airport in case you want some last minute gifts, but it was more fun to go and see the factory!
Ethel M Chocolate Factory
2 Cactus Garden Dr.
Henderson, NV 89014
Sonrisa Grill is owned and operated by California natives Tim and Chanthy Walsh. They serve what they like to call, San Diego Mexican food. Sonrisa, which means “smile” in Spanish, unfortunately didn’t make us smile. The food was mediocre and the tables were a little sticky. The service was so so, even though there were only 2 other tables eating. The food felt more like a Bertucci’s bar scene than “San Diego Mexican”.
Sonrisa Grill at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas
30 Via Brianza #100, Henderson, NV, Henderson, NV
Let me start by saying that I am fully aware that hotel pictures on their websites, rarely look that way in real life. The Hilton Lake Las Vegas looked stunning in the photos on the website. We pulled into the garage and the lot was empty. When we got into the elevator, it was dingy. Nowhere does it say Hilton – just Montelago and casino, which we would soon find out was, in fact the Hilton.
I can imagine in the nicer weather when you’re able to use the pool that this place would be more attractive. The reason why we chose this hotel was because we didn’t want to be right on the strip. We were doing other activities while we were in Vegas and figured this would be a nice quiet getaway. The hotel is about 30 minutes from the airport and the strip, and while they do offer a shuttle, I believe it runs from 9am to 9:30pm and runs every 3 hours, who is ready to leave the strip/dinner by 9:30? The shuttle makes one stop at MGM Grand.
The lobby looks like it is newly renovated. The hotel is rated a Hilton Category 6, so we thought it would be a decent hotel (Hilton ranks hotel free nights on a scale from 1-10, 1 being 5,000 points for a reward night and 10 being 70,000-90,000 points). We paid for the hotel room, but the amount of points needed for a free night is usually a good indicator of hotel quality.
As Hilton Gold members, you are usually given a complimentary room upgrade if there is one available. We had booked a lake view room but it seemed as though we were pretty far away and there was no room upgrade.
Needless to say, this is not what we were expecting and we decided to cancel our reservation after one night and move closer to the strip. We went downstairs to the Medici Cafe for breakfast the next morning – Hilton Gold members are offered a complimentary continental breakfast. They also offered a hot buffet. There were two other tables sat while we were eating breakfast.
Hilton Lake Las Vegas
1610 Lake Las Vegas Parkway, Henderson, Nevada