Canada and USA 2016: Las Vegas

Vegas was our last stop of the trip, and to be honest a bit of a blur! We definitely found it true that time passes more quickly inside the hotels and casinos. Here is a list of our highlights:

Hotels

Our first two nights were at the Westin, a couple of minutes walk off the strip. We booked this to be on the same hotel as my sister who by coincidence overlapped our stay for a night. We weren’t sure how it would be staying in a “normal” hotel with a relatively small casino – would we miss out on the full vegas experience? Actually we really liked it, it was nice and quiet by the pool and we could be in amongst it within 5 minutes but escape the crazy when we needed to. If you’ve stayed at a Westin you’ll hopefully be familiar with their very comfortable bedding (you can even buy it to take home!) and I’m happy to report that the Westin Las Vegas is no different.

We booked the Palazzo for the last night. I’m glad we got to see what it was like and the room was undeniably awesome. To be honest though we spent so little time there and everything seemed to be extra – no tea or coffee in the room, you could use the gym not the spa, a bit mean with late check out and so on. It’s a great place if you’ve got a big budget and don’t mind fighting for a place by the pool, for us it was probably unnecessary on this trip.

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Food (mostly buffets)

Our first buffet was breakfast at the Wynn. It was pretty great. We had to queue for about 45 minutes (we arrived at 8.30) but it was all very efficiently managed. The hotel and the restaurant were beautiful and, as we were to later realise, it was reasonably priced at $24.99 plus tax. My favorite things were the breakfast pizzas, pierogi and scrambled egg but we also tried the sushi, pancakes, sausage, thai breakfast options and probably much more that I don’t remember! After plate 3 or 4 we went back for desserts which to be honest looked pretty but weren’t that great. It didn’t matter though, the existence overall was brilliant and we didn’t need to eat again until evening.

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Following on from that we decided our best food option for the next day was to check out another buffet. On reading reviews the Bellagio lunch buffet cane out pretty high. Had we gone here first I think our minds would have been blown, however after the wynn it felt much more canteen like. We also got stung by a $13 increase in price (to $37.99 plus tax) because of easter weekend which increased our expectations. No sign, just scribbled down on a little piece of note paper next to the cashier after we’d already queued (about 5 minutes at 11.30am so no biggy to be fair). To justify the amount paid we really went to town on this one with 5 plates each and felt terrible afterwards because of the volume of food. We ate a snack at 11pm that but but only because we thought we should not because we were really hungry. I would probably go again for lunch on a normal day as it was definitively with the normal price.

Show

We only saw one, Raiding the Rock Vault. It was enough, and awesome! The idea is that members of rock bands from the past come and sing an anthology of songs from rock history. The voices and instrumentals on display were of incredibly high quality and the songs had excellent singalong potential. The theatre itself was small so you can even see the fingers moving on the guitars and appreciate the skill of the player. We got tickets from the both opposite the Bellagio for $40 each which I consider good value.

Other activities

We shopped at the Fashion Show mall which was nice and quiet and well air conditioned. A good place for a morning away from the hustle and bustle.

The fountains outside the Bellagio were fun and free. The sequencing with the music is seriously impressive. They go off every half hour in the afternoon then I think every 15 minutes after 8.

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The volcano outside the Mirage is also free and an impressive spectacle. It goes off at 8 and 9 on weekdays, I think also at 10 on weekends. You can’t see much in the picture below but you can imagine the scale!

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The mall at Caeser’s palace is pretty cool and the first place we saw a ceiling painted like the sky. It also has an automated show based on the Joseph and the technicouloured dream coat story which is located at the back by the cheesecake factory. We couldn’t make out what it was saying but the visuals and music were fun anyway.

Following the canal inside the Venetian took up a whole morning, partly because we got lost and couldn’t get out! Well worth a visit, as with all the hotels the attention to detail in the design is amazing.

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The Eiffel tower at the Parisian is another amazing replica. Getting up close the amount of effort that must have gone into it is astounding.

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And finally, just walking down the strip blew my mind a little bit. Going away from the airport you’ll walk past New York New York and many others that will amaze you. We spent so much time just taking it all in.

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And finally

To get from the airport to the hotel we used the Belltrans shuttle which cost $7 each plus a couple of dollars tip for the driver. It was good, very prompt and our hotel was the send drop.

For the journey back to airport we’d clocked into Uber and got one fir $15 fit both of us. The Palazzo has a special pick up point for uber and similar so the whole thing was very straightforward.

A couple of tips:
-Starbucks is more expensive in the hotels. The one at the bottom of the Fashion Show mall has normal prices.
-There is wifi everywhere, including on the street. You won’t want for it.

Oh yes, I forgot the gambling!

I’m not a natural gambler as I can’t stand the feeling of losing money! I therefore was a far from ideal companion for Ben who gambled a bit but was limited by my lack of enthusiasm. The bit we did – a couple of shot machines and roulette was fun and the scale is huge so if you are a gambler I’m sure you will love it.

I really wanted to do a free lesson in craps or poker (offered by a few hotels including the Venetian in the morning) but we missed them in the flurry of activity that is checking in and out if hotels. I think they would be really fun.

So that’s it for this trip. I can’t wait for more adventures in the near future!

Canada and USA 2016: soccer in Seattle

Although I don’t understand enough about football (meaning English football or soccer) I love the atmosphere of a live game so jumped at the chance to see the Seattle Sounders play. Tickets were a steal at $30 each!

The stadium is downtown near King Street station and purpose built with wide corridors for entry and plenty of parking right beside it, an immediate plus for being much easier to get to and enter than a London ground. If you feel like it you can meet the home fans an hour before the match in Pioneer Square and walk to the stadium with them. We took a look but there weren’t many people there so we felt a bit awkward and went on alone!

Finding our seats was a little tricky as they were right up top with their own entrance, but we loved the customer service from the stewards. Soccer here seems to have a much more family focus and in stark contrast to the scary security guard types you often find at London games, the stewards seemed to be a friendly bunch of retiree soccer fans who were happy to be there and keen for us to have a great time.

On finding our seats we still had an hour to kill until kick off so spent some time admiring the great views over Seattle from the top of the stadium.

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Another couple of things we noticed at this point:
1) it’s fine to take beer into the stands (all be it you can only buy two at a time per person before half time and one after). In the uk there is strictly no alcohol allowed in the stands and the blinds of the boxes where you can drink have to be closed so as not to inflame the crowd through their being able to see the booze. It was a good indication of a much better behaved crowd.
2) there were lots of signs warning against obscenities and we didn’t hear anyone swear. It was a pretty wholesome atmosphere and seemed suitable for young children.

The hype at the start of the game was long! I enjoyed it, Ben could have done without it. There were performance of both teams national anthems, fire works, pitch based chat and presumably assume other things I’ve forgotten as it lasted a good 20 minutes! When play kicked off we saw the next big difference to the atmosphere at an English game: the crowd was largely silent until prompted by the must energetic hype guy I could imagine. Basically one area of the crowd seemed to be designated for people who wanted to chant and rather than it happening organically the hype guy would tell then when to start and sing along with them from a mic. Watching it was seriously impressive and at some points almost like watching a Zumba class as he had crowd jumping and waving their arms. It looked exhausting! The pic below shows the flags in this area but doesn’t do justice to the full spectacle!

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The game itself was fun to watch although sadly seattle lost. It was also really easy to get out. None of the hour long queues along congested London pavements not designed to cope with the volume of the crowds. We were out and in our bus a few blocks away within half an hour of leaving out seats.

All in all a great fun way to spend an evening!

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