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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

Filtering by Tag: Las Vegas

Dining at the Rainforest Cafe, Las Vegas

Paula Gaston

On our last trip to Las Vegas, we had an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. This is a restaurant chain where you can hop into the middle of a rainforest. Even though it might seem a little comical with its howling animals, it is a fun place and kids especially love it. Animals at the Rainforest Cafe are not real of course. They are all mechanical and even the plants are plastic. We went to this same restaurant some years ago, and I have also visited the one in San Francisco which was closed in 2017. I am almost positive that I have also been to one in Chicago. We have had good experiences in this restaurant and our daughter had a blast on this visit too.

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TROPICAL ANIMALS AND NORTHERN LIGHTS

The Rainforest Cafe is a chain which was first started in 1994 at the Mall of America, Minnesota. From there it expanded to ten different states, and even outside the USA. Usually you can recognise the Rainforest Cafe from far away, because there are lots of plants and steam at their front door. Every now and then the animals inside the restaurant will start moving and making noises. The elephants will flap their ears, a monkey hanging in a swing closed his eyes and even the snakes were sticking their tongues out at us. There was also a bizarre thing going on in this rainforest. After the day turned to night, a sky full of stars lit up the ceiling…and with Northern Lights! I bet that the countries that actually have Northern Lights don’t have rainforests also.

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While visiting the Rainforest Cafe one should take a little stroll around it while waiting for the food; just to check out all the animals they have. They usually also have a souvenir shop in the lobby where kids can find all kinds fun things to take home.

WOW, WHAT A DRINK AND SOME DELICIOUS SHRIMP

Since we were in Vegas, I decided to have a drink before dinner. I was looking at the Margaritas and wanted to try something new, so I ordered a CoronaRita. It wasn’t until I saw the drink that I realised what I had ordered. It is two drinks in one; a margarita with a beer bottle. And I don’t even like beer. For some reason my brain didn’t register that I was ordering something with beer. But hey, since we were in Vegas, the rest of the drink was given to us to go.

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CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

CARIBBEAN COCONUT FRIED SHRIMP

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy! AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

This appertizer we shared with a bigger group one year and it was so yummy!
AWESOME APPETIZER ADVENTURE; Chimi-Cha-Chas, Spinach & Artichoke Dip, Cheese Sticks, Chicken Strips, guacamole

The Rainforest Cafe menu is a pretty typical American restaurant menu. There is plenty to choose from and something for everyone. Salads, snacks, burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and meat… and of course, a separate menu for kids. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I chose some coconut shrimp with mashed potatoes. This was easily sharable with our little one too, who still needed pureed type of food.

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If you are traveling with kids or just want to experience something different, the Rainforest Cafe can be fun. The food is good but a little bit pricier than a normal restaurant. We left the place for the streets of Las Vegas with full bellies and with an emptier wallet.

 

A Family Favorite in Las Vegas - Excalibur Hotel

Paula Gaston

Before Christmas we did a road trip from California through Nevada to Utah. On that trip we spent two nights in Las Vegas. Maybe you already read about out tips what to do in Vegas with kids (or even without). At that time I promised that I will tell you more about the Hotel Excalibur later. It was our first time in this hotel, and here is all the info you need when deciding if it could be a hotel for you.

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Excalibur Hotel & Casino is one of the theme hotels on the Strip, the main road in downtown Las Vegas, and is popular especially among the families traveling with kids. It is built in a medieval theme and looks a little bit like a castle. It also attracts families with its entertainment. And it was very easy to find in the evening, since the castle towers were lit and looked amazing. After circling around a while, we managed to find the self parking entrance too. Parking there cost us $10 per day.

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EXCALIBUR ROOMS

I had booked our room through Booking.com, and since we travel with two kids, I always choose a twin queen or twin king room. These rooms are most practical for us and usually available in most hotels. We do have a travel bed for the baby too, but when staying in a twin room we don’t really need it.

While checking in to the hotel, we were offered an upgrade to the Royal Tower with for $10 per day. And since my husband had been a little doubtful that the Excalibur, that it would be outdated, we decided to go ahead and upgrade. I kinda thought that all the rooms in the hotel had been renewed last century, but we were told that the Royal Tower had rooms that were remodeled only a few years ago. That sounded good to us. Later I was a little bit bummed out that I didn’t ask for a room where we could see the colorful towers outside. The view from our room was to the Strip as the receptionist proudly told us. Oh well, I would have rather been looking at the towers than the street.

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The room was very basic and to be honest, it had already seen better days in my opinion. And in that regard, overpriced as well. But that was not a surprise for us since most hotel rooms in Vegas seem to be old and used. I felt exactly the same in Luxor few years ago. Overall, be prepared for the Vegas hotels taking your money every possible way they can. This time however, we got free wi-fi. The room prices vary hugely depending on the time, even from $40 to a couple hundred. Guests can use the pool area and the gym when they are open. Unfortunately when we visited in November, the pool area was closed for the winter season already.

EATING AT EXCALIBUR

There are plenty to restaurants to choose from when looking for food in Excalibur, but be prepared to wait. There are almost always lines to get in to the restaurants. The first night we ate at Buca di Beppo, which turned out to be a great family restaurant with good food. I had read about Dick’s Last Resort but after seeing it, it didn’t seem like a place we would like to eat with kids. It was very loud and people were in a party mood. They offer obnoxious service in a funny way and guests sit with paper hats on their heads. Maybe if we visit without kids someday we will try it out.

Finding breakfast turned out to be a little bit more challenging, since everywhere we went had huge lines. We ended up getting some breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Starbucks in Luxor, and then ate a bigger lunch that day. We were thinking about the breakfast buffet, but the line looked like it would take us hours to get in. Even though I love a good breakfast now we just needed to get something before getting out to explore.

TAKE A TRAM TO LUXOR AND OTHER THINGS TO DO

Like most hotels in Las Vegas, there was of course a casino downstairs. And the ones in Las Vegas are especially complex, so that you will get lost many times while trying to find places. We walked around many extra miles while on our visit. If it was summer time, we would have for sure been at the pool too, but now we didn’t spend much time at the hotel. Excalibur Family Fun Center didn’t seem appealing to us and even the roller coaster looked too scary for our kids. The Family Fun Center has all kinds of activities from mini golf to go karts, but we wanted to see more of Vegas. Excalibur also has other entertainment like Tournament of Kings (a joust), Cirque de Soleil and other shows.

The Mandalay Bay Tram is a free tram which will take you from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay or Luxor which are both part of MGM Resorts. At least Luxor is a fun place to visit since it is shaped like a pyramid and had an Egyptian atmosphere.

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Our experience at Excalibur was ok. Nothing bad or especially good that stood out on our stay. But our 6 year old still remembers her night in a medieval castle.

 

Visit to Hoover Dam in Nevada & Arizona

Paula Gaston

Our road trip continued from Las Vegas to the border of Nevada and Arizona. While our next destination was in Utah, before heading there, we wanted to stop at Hoover Dam, which for sure is the most famous dam in the USA. It is located on the Colorado River right at the state border. Many people visiting Las Vegas also visit Hoover Dam since it is so close.

 

The drive to Hoover Dam from Las Vegas is less than an hour. There are a lot of visitors there, so at the end of the drive, the traffic was going very slowly and we had to line up for a security check. Not all of the cars were inspected, but we were told to drive to one side with many other SUVs. The security check was very fast; they looked in from the windows and wanted to see what was in the trunk. Then we were given permission to continue.

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Hoover Dam provides power not only to Nevada and Arizona, but also to Southern California. In 1936 when it was construction was completed, it was the biggest concrete dam in the United States. And for sure the most famous one too. A total of 112 men were killed during the construction. The dam was named after president Herbert Hoover. Today, Hoover Dam is a major tourist destination getting almost a million visitors yearly. We felt like there were cars everywhere, and even the huge parking garage seemed to be pretty full. Luckily there was always someone leaving and we found parking pretty quickly. And so we headed out to see the place.

Hoover Dam is interesting, since if you cross the river, you are actually in a different state and in a different time zone. So you can move your clock forward one hour. And then you can walk back and turn your clock back too.. ha ha. The view from the dam is amazing. You can see the Colorado River and the newly built bridge. Hoover Dam Bypass was built to ease up the traffic for those who are just passing by and not there to see the dam. If you look down, you can see all the concrete that they used to construct the dam. There is three and one-quarter million cubic yards of it.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

On Nevada time

On Nevada time

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They do have some guided tours at the Hoover Dam Powerplant, where you get to see how the powerplant works, see the generators, and go onto the visitor center observation deck. You can check the prices from here. While we visited Hoover Dam, the visitor center was under renovation, so also the guided tour was limited to the powerplant only. We skipped the tour and headed to the free viewing point instead, which in my opinion, was an even better experience than walking on top of the dam. It is on the bridge that you can see in the photo above. My husband didn’t agree with me, and he thought walking along the dam was way cooler. I however loved the view from the bridge. Just follow the signs to Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza. That is also where we took the photo posing with the “Welcome to Nevada” sign.

Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza

Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge Plaza

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A visit to Hoover Dam is pretty interesting! It isn’t every day that you get to see something like this. So if you are close by, you should definitely include a stop at Hoover Dam in your itinerary.

 

Viva Las Vegas with Kids!

Paula Gaston

Las Vegas, also known as Sin City, is known for gambling, casinos, quick marriages and bars open around the clock. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” they say. So why take your kids with you on vacation to such a place? In the USA, it is common to take kids with you anywhere you go. Same goes with Las Vegas. But I have to say, that one will see a whole different part of the city when you are not free to party and stay up all night long. We stayed there for two days with our kids, and we still had a great time!

CHOOSE A HOTEL THAT SUITS YOUR FAMILY

Planning a vacation in Las Vegas starts by choosing a hotel for your family’s needs. We always want to stay right at the Strip, the main road of downtown Las Vegas. Otherwise, you will have to drive over to experience it. No matter what, there will be a lot of walking involved in Vegas, so we like to be close to the attractions. During summer, Vegas can be very hot, so a nice pool area might be a good idea, but during the winter outside pools are closed. Many hotels on the Strip have some kind of a theme, or at least an attraction to bring people in. Theme hotels tend to be more expensive than others, and unfortunately some of them are a bit old and run down. But they are definitely popular. If you are looking for something newer and more “luxury”, the Cosmopolitan and Wynn are good but they have no theme.

One popular hotel among families with kids is the Excalibur Hotel where we stayed on this trip, and which I will tell you more about later. Excalibur looks like a castle and has a medieval theme. Right next to it is Luxor, which is also a fun choice, since it is shaped like a pyramid. We stayed there some years ago when we didn’t have kids yet. The most known of the theme hotels are New York New York, Paris and the Venetian with its Italian theme.

In front of New York New York

In front of New York New York

Luxor

Luxor

Paris

Paris

Venetian

Venetian

ENJOY THE FREE ENTERTAINMENT OF DIFFERENT HOTELS

We spend a lot of time in Las Vegas just by walking around and seeing different attractions the hotels have to offer. And the best part of that is, that most of them are free. My personal favorite is Hotel Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden located in their lobby. The flower arrangements are just amazing! Especially if you happen to be there at the holiday season. The water fountain in front of the hotel will have a show every 30 minutes starting from 3 p.m., sometimes even more often, and the music varies. In front of the fountain there are usually different kinds of characters who are waiting to get photographed with people, but it’s good to know that they will charge for it. It used to be Elvis impersonators, but on our last visit we saw multiple Mickey Mouses, and some super heroes.

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Bellagio

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardenin

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardenin

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We usually go to the Venetian Hotel just to see their amazing gondolas which sail the canals inside the resort. In the Luxor Hotel one can get into an Egyptian atmosphere, and both New York New York and Paris are like little cities from inside. Both of them have nice restaurants in them. Last time we visited Vegas, the MGM Hotel had some live lions in their lobby, but I was happy to see that they had closed that attraction. I don’t think that the hotel lobby is the right place for wild life. The Mirage Hotel has an erupting volcano in front of the hotel which is also great entertainment.

The hotels on the Strip have everything from go-karting to amusement parks and minigolf. Or in case one wants to see all this from high up in the sky, there is also a pretty pricey ferris wheel in the downtown. Vegas definitely has something for everyone.

EAT IN SOME FUN RESTAURANTS

When it comes to Las vegas restaurants, there is so much to choose from. Almost every casino-hotel has their own buffet, but they also have other restaurants in them. On the Strip one can find the super trendy Shake Shack, Hell’s Kitchen or Rainforest Cafe. The last one is for sure a hit amongst the kids. I definitely recommend checking online what kind of choices there are before heading out and looking for a dinner place aimlessly.

BOOK A SHOW

Vegas is full of great shows and performers. One of the most popular ones must be Cirque du Soleil which has many different shows around the city, the Blue Man Group and David Copperfield. All shows of course, are not meant for kids, but if you are traveling with adults, don’t miss seeing some great entertainment. A list of different shows can be found here. There are some shows that are suitable for kids, though we didn’t see any on this trip.

GET A FAMILY PHOTO AT THE FAMOUS LAS VEGAS SIGN

The most famous landmark of Las Vegas is absolutely the Las Vegas sign at the end of the Strip. There is usually a line to get in front of it, but it goes pretty fast. If you can’t wait though, you can do what I did in the picture below; I took it slightly from the side of the sign. In front of the sign there is actually a couple posing. The earlier you get there in the morning, the fewer people there are in the line of course. There is a small parking lot where you can park, since the sign is in the middle of the main road. You can’t leave Las Vegas without getting your photo taken here!

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I have to admit that Las Vegas has not stolen my heart (yet) and is not on my TOP 10 list. Like always in Vegas, it took me a while to get used to the noise of the casinos and all the smoke. The second day of our stay we started to get exhausted by the hectic pace and all the walking. But still, it is nice to visit every once in a while and see the unreal life with all those neon signs. And everyone should experience it at least once in a lifetime!

Have you been to Vegas with kids? What was your experience like?

 

Our Thanksgiving Trip to Nevada and Utah

Paula Gaston

Our latest trip is now finished and we have arrived back to California. Our final souvenir from the trip was the stomach flu that first hit the baby and then me, so it has been a little quiet here in the blog, and on instagram as well. On our way back home from Utah we stopped in Nevada for one night, and that was when the baby started vomiting. It was like a flashback from our trip to Highway 1 few years ago, when I had to stay up all night with our older daughter due to the norovirus. Luckily, this time the bug wasn’t so bad, and we were able to continue our drive the next day. No one else felt sick. But when we arrived home the baby got a fever and I started feeling very worn out.

Here is the route of our road trip:

FROM AN INTERNMENT CAMP TO DEATH VALLEY

Sounds quite disturbing, right? But actually it was not like that at all. Our trip was great. We were happy to leave the smokey Bay Area behind us and breath some fresh, clean air. Our first stop was the city of Mojave where we spend the night. It was the first place to see blue skies again since the smoke had spread all over the Central Valley. The next morning we headed towards Death Valley, and on our way there, we stopped at the Manzanar internment camp where Japanese people were held during World War II. After visiting both; Manzanar and Death Valley, we drove to Las Vegas were we spent two days.

Las Vegas is always fun, even with kids, but at the same time it is tiring and surreal. But we enjoyed staying in one spot for more than just one night and being able to unpack our bags a bit. While in Vegas, we always end up walking a lot since we like to see different things the hotels put on display. And so we did this time too; we ended up walking the Strip almost from one end to the other.

A MOMENT IN ARIZONA AND THEN TO UTAH

Then it was time to leave Vegas behind and head to the Colorado River to see the Hoover Dam. Before getting there, we stopped at Lake Mead which is part of the National Park System in the USA. Hoover Dam is right at the border of Arizona and Nevada, so just by walking to other side of the dam, you can change states and turn your clock forward or backwards one hour. Hoover Dam was pretty amazing and I am not surprised that it is the most famous dam in the USA. This was our first time visiting.

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From the Hoover Dam we drove over to Utah. Before getting to Utah, you are actually in Arizona for a time. Our first place to stop in Utah was the city of St. George, where we stayed the night at 7 Wives Inn. We all know about Utah’s polygamist history, and our bed & breakfast has an interesting story. 7 Wives Inn was really lovely and I will tell you more about it later. In the morning we packed our bags in the car again, and drove up to Cedar Breaks National Monument. We spent a day enjoying some brisk mountain air and snow, and then stayed the night in Cedar City.

THANKSGIVING WITH FAMILY AND DRIVING HOME THROUGH THE SALT FLATS

From Cedar City we drove to Vineyard to meet some family. We got to enjoy Thanksgiving with them, and spent time with cousins and great gramma. Three days went fast and right when it started snowing, we left for our long drive back home. This time we took the northern route via I-80 to Nevada and then on to California. We drove along the Great Salt Lake and then to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats where we stopped for some photos and lunch.

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After spending the night in Winnemucca in Nevada there was only the last leg of out journey remaining. That was the most boring drive on this trip so far, since there is not much to see in Nevada. At some point we did see some wild horses. When we finally reached the Sierra Nevada mountains, the views really started to change. Beautiful mountains and lots of snow!

Even though it is always great to be on the road, we really enjoy returning home too. Last week the Bay Area got some rain and the air quality is good again. Also the wild fires have been tamed which is great news. The next challenge will be mud slides or flooding caused by the rains. But we are happy to be home and getting ready for Christmas!