January 11, 2013

Viva Las Vegas

We’ve been hit by three snowstorms in the few last weeks and to make it worse, we’ve had good snowfalls in between. Our snowbanks are as tall as me and The Honey is exhausted from shovelling. Even though the last two days have been mild, I’m still imagining sunny climates and warmer temperatures. It made me think about our trip to Las Vegas back in October.

We planned to go in late September/ October to take advantage of more normal temperatures. The Honey is not a fan of very hot weather and since Vegas is in the middle of a desert, he wanted to wait. Imagine our surprise when we were landing and the pilot tells us the temperature -- 100°F!!. The Honey was not happy at all. We figured it was 40°C, which was the same as the summer temperature, with all the humidity, in Ottawa. It didn’t make The Honey feel any better and throughout our week we took siestas back at our hotel to escape from the heat.

Of course I had some things planned: some shows (Jubilee – the glitz and glam oh so much fun; O – spectacular); the casinos (ended up with quite a bit of spending money as a result); some sites (the aquarium was enjoyable); and great food believe it or not. Eating gluten-free was very possible and pretty stress-free to not just my relief, but to The Honey’s as well. We had some downtime and spent a few hours each day in or by the pool. Hanging out in the very large hot tub helped mend my spastic ribs and they were in perfect form upon returning to Ottawa (lack of sitting on my butt also helped). We stayed at the Vdara Hotel (literally behind the Bellagio) and it was perfect. We had read some reviews that complained that it was too far off the strip, but seriously, we laughed at that. Get on your legs and walk people!! It took us 5 minutes to get to the strip, even less when we cut through the Bellagio. (Talk about lazy people)

Can you believe these are canoes?
We chose the Vdara for two reasons: there wasn’t a casino on site and every room was a suite. The whole City Center resort had been originally built as condos, but then the economy collapsed and so they were turned into hotels. We had an average suite and it was beautiful. We didn’t have a gorgeous view of this or that and that’s ok, because really, are you really going to stay in your room and stare out the window for hours when you’re in Vegas? Foodwise there was a bar and café on the main floor and the café had great coffee and food. There weren’t too many gluten-free options (lots of sandwiches), the salads looked good and the omelets were so filling that who needed toast? Plus, I had brought scones with me (the café gave me some little jars of jam) so with our regular morning coffee run, The Honey’s breakfast sandwich and my scones, we had wonderful morning breakfasts.

Leaving the city
Our first day was a day trip to the Grand Canyon with Paradise FoundTours. After lots of research I’m so happy we went with them. Our guide was nice, informative and entertaining and this tour group gave you the most time at the canyon (many only gave you 15 mins here and there). Leaving the city it was really cool to see the mountains and drive through them (no wonder Vegas doesn’t get any rain, it’s smack dab in the middle of a mountain chain!). 

Watch out for the rams
While the day had some down moments for The Honey, it was interesting for me from the beginning. One of my degrees was geography/environmental science so I got to see different landscapes, plant life, human effects (the Hoover dam), erosion, rock shifting, monoliths etc, etc, etc. It was stuff I had read about in my textbooks and here I got to see it… and on a massive scale! To me it was cool. 

Shortly after noon we were dropped off at Bright Angel Lodge (on the South Rim) for 3 hours on our own. Our guide gave us a few suggestions and we went with one of them. We took the shuttle to Mather Point and walked along the Rim Trail back to the lodge. This took us about 2 hrs, which seems long, but considering we do long walks anyway it wasn’t a big deal. The temperatures were about 10° cooler too and that made a big difference. We took a break along the way at one of the lookouts and ate our lunch. We sat on some rocks and just looked at the view as we munched away. It was great. 

On one hand we wished we had gone on our own and could have stayed longer, but knowing us, we would have stayed way too late and been exhausted. The tour company gave us a small packed breakfast and lunch – The Honey ate the wheat-based stuff while I ate the fruit – so I was very happy that I had planned on taking things to eat and snack on. There were rest stops too at a convenience store, but the fast food options weren’t celiac friendly and the rest was your typical junk food. Again, I was happy I had my own (and on the healthier side too). I had gone prepared so I wasn’t bothered.

Upon our return to the city it was late and our tummies were beginning to grumble. We figured we would find something to eat across the street at Planet Hollywood, but it would prove to be difficult. Most of the restaurants were closing up and as we ventured further into the casino the more frustrated we became. Finally we found Rock Bar and they were open. By the décor and the ‘fitting’ servers we expected to hear some Ozzy, Nickleback, etc. Instead it was something like America’s Top 40. Our waiter had tattoos and piercings and there was a dance song blaring above us; very odd (the dance music I mean). After being in the sun for most of the day I was craving a nice strong cider. Instead I was told what soft drinks they had. It took all my might not to laugh at our waiter and explained what I meant. I decided on white wine in the end. After the cider question I knew to ask detailed and specific questions for the kitchen. My bunless burger was tasty and the veggies on top tasted fresh. Being quite full and satisfied we walked back to our hotel and paused by the Bellagio fountains to watch the water and sound show, which we would end up doing every evening.

For the rest of the week we would walk from one end of the strip to the other meandering through casinos, shops and restaurant. We would walk outside when we could handle it then pop into a casino to cool off and try our hand at the slots. We aren’t big gamblers so although we went to Vegas, we weren’t planning on spending much time gambling nor losing much money (we get bored of it easily). Ironically, one of us would lose and the other would win; rarely would both of us win, but it did happen. In the end we ended up coming out on top and we hardly spent any of our own money on our trip (Sorry, don’t mean to brag). We didn’t win enough to pay off the mortgage, but it meant we didn’t have to be too tight with our purse strings.

The Kimono Dragon enamoured The Honey
The casinos are quite nice and have a bit for everyone – gambling, drinking, food, and shopping. And the new ‘resort’ types, like Venetian and New York New York, throw in some ambiance (both good and bad). After visiting the aquarium at Mandalay we were ready for lunch at Hussong’s Cantina. I had found a Groupon coupon and sent an email to the restaurant and the manager assured me that they could accommodate gluten issues. We had some big margaritas while we looked over the menu and I was happy to see that our waitress understood my concerns. She checked with the kitchen for me with a few of the items and helped me decide/make recommendations. When our arrived it smelled wonderful and it tasted just as good.

From the blossoms, to the trees, to the large dragon, everything is made of chocolate
After more walking around and being sadly disappointed in the Titanic exhibit we made our way back to our hotel. Thankfully there was a tram from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio and we then learnt to take advantage of the free trams, especially with the unbearable heat (Thank goodness we didn’t come in the summer; The Honey would have melted.). Later in the day we decided to take advantage of one of the thousands of Happy Hour and ventured to the Aria hotel across the street (it is also part of the City Centre Resort). None of the smaller bars really impressed me, plus they were empty. Then we came across a pub – Todd English Pub. It was lively with happy people and music. And a bonus: they had Strongbow on tap, which would prove to be a rarity on the strip. Unfortuantely, the only gf option was the carvery, a big traditional type dinner (think back to your Sunday dinners at grandmas). We had hoped for some cheap eats for Happy Hour, but the wings and sliders contained gluten. The ambiance made up for it and we enjoyed a few drinks. Our placemats also provided a laugh and The Honey saw my warped sense of humour surface. (I resorted to drinking wine everywhere and it was usually from California, which I’m not a fan of (Don’t get offended; I just don’t like it!) so that cider tasted soooo good.)

For dinner we walked up to Caesar’s Palace. There was a restaurant off the lobby, but it seemed a little expensive ($18 for a burger) so we ventured further into the hotel and found Rao’s. Fearing another repeat of Planet Hollywood we checked out the menu and they said they could accommodate gluten issues. Besides, $23 for a chicken entrée at a really nice restaurant seemed reasonable. We ordered, I got a delicious Italian wine, then our food came and The Honey and I exchanged some looks. His bowl of pasta was quite small and on my plate was the biggest chicken breast I had ever seen, and that’s it. Ironically, when the waitress asked if we wanted salad, we assumed she meant as an appetizer, not a side. I ordered a side of green beans and a large bowl arrived at our table. Was this supposed to be family style?!? Because I ordered them, I ate every single green bean (I would have shared, but The Honey can’t stand them). It’s a good thing too because that bowl of beans cost $15. Yes, $15!!!. You would not believe how much I apologized for the rest of the evening. We always have one nice dinner when we go away on holiday, but this would make it two (we had reservations at the Eiffel Tower the following evening). Should have gone for the $18 burger.


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