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Journal of our Journeys

  • Caesars Palace - a Hotel Review

    1/29/2017 6:34:06 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    casino, dining, entertainment, hotel, Las Vegas

    As frequent visitors to Las Vegas for the past 25 years, we have stayed at more than 15 properties – on and off of the Strip – ranging from the Flamingo to the Mandarin Oriental. So in January we stayed at Caesars for the first time. We had frequented the property for many years when it hosted major boxing matches. Our first was “The War” in 1989, between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns. We have also been regular visitors to their Qua Roman Baths and Spa and regular shoppers at the Forum Shops.

    We’ve watched Caesars grow through the years, becoming one of the largest resorts on the Strip. So we wanted to find out what the experience would be like as hotel guests. We took a shuttle from the airport and upon arrival found that the hotel drop-off area was uncovered and a distance from the front entrance. There was no one in that area to assist with luggage. That is definitely an inconvenience in inclement weather. So if it had been raining or triple-digit temperatures (as is often the case during summer months) we would have been very uncomfortable after being dropped off, and waiting to be picked up. There is no covered shelter to protect from the elements. That area is also the designated drop off/pickup point for Uber and Lyft drivers. There is no clear walkway from that area to the entrance so we had to maneuver our way through traffic, over uneven surfaces to enter the resort.

    When we made it to the check-in desk, and presented our reservation confirmation we were greeted warmly and processed fairly quickly. It was 1:30pm and check-in time is 3:00pm. This is normal procedure at hotels, but often there are rooms available and guests are allowed to check in early. We were told that there were no rooms available yet, and advised to leave our luggage at the bell desk. Then we were presented with and option – if we paid $30.00 a room would be available. We chose to utilize that option. However, we viewed that as an upsell. We have stayed at fine hotels all over the world, and have never had to pay for early check in. If a room is available, we’re normally allowed to check in. It was apparent that rooms were available, but not until we paid the $30.00. This is an unnecessary upsell and a deterrent.

    Locating the room was an adventure in itself. Caesars is a 50 year-old property that started as a single hotel, but has grown into a maze of separate towers, connected in very disjointed ways. Signage is confusing, at best. Getting around the property is similar to maneuvering a maze. We stayed in the Palace Tower in a standard king room on the 26th floor, overlooking the pool. The room was spacious, clean, well-furnished and even offered a Jacuzzi tub. However, there was a letter in the room, informing us of construction due to remodeling. We should have been informed of that at the front desk. We did find the noise disruptive and registered a complaint. They did offer a change of room.

    The Palace Tower is one of the oldest, and getting to the elevators requires walking through an area lined with shops and salons on both sides. Guests passing through this area are constantly solicited by aggressive shopkeepers. We were accosted each time we entered and exited the tower – VERY annoying. That sort of behavior is expected out on the Strip, but certainly not inside of your hotel tower.

    DINING: The dining options are plentiful – from fine dining, to the food court - and service is excellent. The Bacchanal Buffet is one of the best in Las Vegas. We also enjoyed Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill that served great pub food and the service is exceptional. Prices at most of the eating establishments (with the exeption of the food court) would be considered $$$, so it is not the place to “eat on the cheap”.

    Since it was January, we did not utilize the swimming pool. But walked around the area and examined the cabanas. The area is well maintained with marble statues and pretty landscaping. No doubt it is a happening place during the warmer months.

    GAMING: Table games and slots are plentiful, covering much of the casino floor. There is a large Sports Book, with very large high-quality screens. However, it is poorly lit and with the layout, it is difficult to see the betting boards. Also, free seating is limited, there are only a few free seats in the very front row; which only allows a distorted view of the screens and the betting boards. The remaining seats must be reserved – at a price. In many of the other resort casinos on the Strip (Venetian, Palazzo, Wynn, Aria) free seats are plentiful.

    SHOPPING: The Forum Shops still offers a great shopping experience, with shops and boutiques by many of the world’s top designers. It is well laid out and beautifully designed. It features the Roman theme and even has a small replica of the Trevi Fountain. The “Fall of Atlantis” show is not to be missed. With the dramatic music and moving statues, it is one of the best free shows on the Strip.

    ENTERTAINMENT: There are a good number of nightlife options, including the Omnia Nightclub and the Colosseum where many of the world’s top entertainers like Celine Dion and Elton John perform.

    Caesars is priced like many of the other luxury resorts on the Strip, but the overall experience does not compare. There are some elements of luxury but I would consider it a 3 star property with a few 4 star amenties.

  • Vegas Your Way

    8/24/2016 7:16:52 PM Link 3 comments | Add comment

    casino, dining, entertainment, family travel, hotel, Las Vegas, restaurant, Travel Tips, zipline

    Las Vegas….Sin City….Entertainment Capital of the World…..whenever it’s mentioned it evokes strong emotions. People either really love it or really hate it. I’ve heard people make statements like, “I don’t like Las Vegas because it’s so smoky”, or “I don’t like Las Vegas because I don’t gamble”. Apparently they believe that smoking and gambling are all that Vegas has to offer. They couldn’t be more wrong.

    I happen to be one of those who really love that city – especially the Strip. I’ve been going there for the last 26 years and often go several times each year. I’ve watched the Strip reinvent and redefine itself continuously. Believe me, there’s much more to do than smoke and gamble.

    There’s a world of activities, attractions and entertainment to enjoy. Here are just a few:

    DINING

    If there ever was a foodie’s paradise, Vegas is it. Gone are the days of the cheap buffets and $2.99 breakfasts. Many of the world’s top celebrity chefs have opened restaurants in the major hotels and they offer world-class dining experiences.  That list includes Joel Roubuchon, Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Giada De Laurentis, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Many of them have more than one, and they offer a variety of dining experiences. For an unforgettable French dining experience I recommend Joel Robuchon, a 3 Michelin star restaurant located inside of the MGM Grand hotel/casino. On the other hand, if all you really want is a hamburger, you can’t go wrong with Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace.

    Located right on the Strip in front of the City Center, I discovered this gem during a recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The burgers were so good that I had to eat there twice. Even the service was exceptional; I’ve never been served so well in a casual dining establishment.

    If you have a sweet tooth I highly recommend Buddy V’s at the Palazzo and Jean Philippe at Aria.

    The Las Vegas buffet scene is still alive and well and I’ve had some unbelievably delicious buffet experiences at Bacchanal (Caesar’s Palace), The Wynn Buffet and The Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan).

    SHOPPING

    Many of the world’s top designers have opened shops in the major resorts and shopping centers like Crystals in the City Center and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and Prada are just a few of the shops that I visit when I need to get some “retail therapy”. The Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 stores and offers a nice shopping experience. For discounts and deals I always visit the Las Vegas Premium Outlets or take a drive out to the Primm Outlets.

    ENTERTAINMENT

    At just slightly over 4 miles long, the Strip has more entertainment venues than anywhere else that I can think of. It has always been home to world-famous entertainers, showrooms and lounges. But today’s choices are absolutely mind boggling. In addition to the world-famous headliners, there are several Cirque du Soleil shows, magic shows, comedians, burlesque shows and so much more. During my recent trip I went to see Legends in Concert, one of the longest running hit shows where the super-talented cast members play well-known entertainers like Prince, Lady Gaga and Whitney Houston. It was great! The nightclub scene is phenomenal and some of the resorts even have day clubs. Marquee Day Club at the Cosmopolitan had a very long line….at noon. It spans 22,000 square-feet and boasts two pools, several bars and a gaming area. Programming throughout the season is highlighted by Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub resident DJs encompassing the world’s premier electronic music talent.

    You can always find discount (often half price) show tickets at one of the many Tix4Tonight locations.

    ADVENTURE/ATTRACTIONS

    For those seeking action or adventure, there are lots of choices. Las Vegas Valley has golf courses and packages for every skill level. You can take a flying leap at Vegas Indoor Skydiving. You can satisfy your need for speed by taking a spin around a racetrack in an exotic car like a Ferrari 488 GTTS or a McLaren 570S. You can soar above the Strip in a helicopter, or fly to the Grand Canyon.

    Amusement park lovers have a variety of attractions to choose from. The High Roller at the Linq, a 550-foot tall observation wheel (similar to the London Eye) allows riders to enjoy the view of Las Vegas in comfortable glass-enclosed cabins. You can even have open bar.

    The Roller Coaster on top of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino features towering drops, multiple loops and stunning views of the Strip. When it was first built I agreed to ride it with my son. From the ground it didn’t look too rough…boy was I wrong. That’s one hair-raising ride!

    If you’re really feeling daring, go to the Stratosphere to try the world’s highest thrill rides.All rides are at the top of the Stratosphere Tower, over 900 feet high. The four extreme thrill rides are The Sky Jump, the Big Shot, the X Scream, and Insanity.

    SPAS

    Spas in Las Vegas offer a variety of specialty treatments and wellness services that aren't offered in your neighborhood back home. Some of my favorite places to be pampered are Spa Mandalay (Mandalay Bay Hotel), the Mandarin Oriental Spa, and Qua Roman Baths and Spa at Caesars Palace.

    FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE

    Downtown Las Vegas is home to the Fremont Street experience a pedestrian mall covered by a barrel vault canopy where light and sound shows are presented nightly beginning at dusk on the Viva Vision video screen. For a real rush, try the Slotzilla Zip line experience.

    FREE ATTRACTIONS

    If you happen to blow your budget before you leave, not to worry. There are plenty of free attractions to enjoy. The Bellagio Conservatory is a beautiful place to enjoy elegant arrangements of plants and flowers. Circus, Circus has free shows featuring jugglers, unicyclists, trapeze artists and acrobats perform death-defying stunts and exciting acts every half-hour at the World's Largest Permanent Circus. One of my favorites is the free Fall of Atlantis fountain show that entertains audiences with special effects and animatronic figures who recount the myth of Atlantis. I especially enjoy watching the Fountains at Bellagio, a combination of music, water and light; it is a spectacular audiovisual performance with its majestic fountains.

    Hotel/resort choices are many and there are options for every budget. During my 26 year love affair with Las Vegas I have stayed at most of the major resorts on the Strip and each one delivers a unique, experience. I have several preferred properties, and my newest is the Mandarin Oriental. It offers a 5-star luxury experience in a non-smoking, non-gaming environment. It is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of the non-stop energy of the Strip.

     

    Whatever your preference, Las Vegas is what you make it – and you can do it your way.

  • A Day in the City by the Bay

    3/9/2016 8:17:49 PM Link 3 comments | Add comment

    dining, entertainment, hotel, restaurant

    Travel has always been my passion. So I live in a constant state of packing and unpacking, relishing my last trip while planning the next trip.  When I mention that I have been to more than 22 countries and many of the world’s most-visited cities, people always ask what my favorite city is. I have never been able to answer that question, because there is so much to love in each city that I’ve visited. Munching warm croissants in Paris, people watching in Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, watching the sun melt into the caldera in Santorini, watching the Changing of the Guard in London, sailing into Oslo at sunrise….the list is endless. However, one city that is always on my short list of favorites is San Francisco. Since I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived here most of my life, I have the opportunity to visit the City by the Bay very often.  Although I’ve been there hundreds of times, I am still discovering new experiences and hidden jewels.  At only 46.9 square miles, it is not one of the world’s largest cities. But it is certainly one of the most exciting and diverse. There is always something new and exciting to see and do. 8 hours isn’t nearly enough time to experience this vibrant city, but here are a few of the activities it has to offer:

    Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most iconic structures. Well-known by its orange color and majestic structure, it spans the strait of the Golden Gate from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. It is beautiful to drive across and is accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during daylight hours. There are viewing areas on both sides of the bridge that serve as great places to take photos or just enjoy that gorgeous bay.

    Fisherman’s Wharf is always a fun place to spend an afternoon. It lines the bay and offers world-class hotels, restaurants and family-friendly attractions. It is best known for its seafood. The air is permeated with the aroma of just-caught crab boiling in the pots along the sidewalk. Whether you enjoy fine dining or just a snack from a sidewalk stand, it is the place to enjoy some of the best seafood in the world. The fish & chips is the best I’ve ever tasted. There are always lots of street performers who provide great free entertainment.

    Union Square is a good place to begin a day in the City. Since it is centrally located, it provides easy access to public transportation by bus; streetcar and no visit would be complete without hopping onto a Cable Car. Union Square is a plaza where it’s easy to sit and do some people watching. Since tourists visit the city from all over the world, I’ve often heard 5 or 6 different languages in just a few minutes. It is also the city’s top spot for shopping since the square is surrounded by large department stores like Barneys New York, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. There is also an extensive selection of top designer shops like Tiffany & Co, Carolina Herrera, Chanel and Christian Louboutin.

    Hangin’ in the Haight is always a good way to spend a few hours. Known for it’s history as the home of the 60s hippie movement, it is still one of the coolest areas of the city. I love wandering in and out of the trendy boutiques and vintage clothing stores. It also has some really great restaurants like Indian Oven and Memphis Minnie’s. I always make a stop at Three Twins shop for some of their delicious organic ice cream.

    Dining is one of my favorite things to do in San Francisco. With its hundreds of restaurants and every cuisine imaginable, it is truly a foodie’s paradise. Whether you’re looking for a celebrity-chef owned restaurant or just a food truck, you’ll find what you’re looking for. Here are a few of my favorites. I recommend Alioto’s for exceptional seafood and a fine dining experience. I like chef Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar when I’m in the mood for a good burger and great beer. For some down-home cooking I like Brenda’s French Soul Food. Her crispy fried chicken and fluffy biscuits are simply the best. My husband and I discovered Café Mason by chance and were very pleased with its homey atmosphere, large portions and delicious food – especially the chicken picatta. When we’re in the mood for Italian food we head to North Beach, where there are dozens of choices. We’ve tried several and have never been disappointed. The area is a little “touristy”, so when we want something a little quieter we head to the Nob Hill Café for its intimate atmosphere and delicious Italian food.

    Golden Gate Park is a large urban park that offers beautiful green space and a variety of activities. It is often the site of music concerts during the spring and summer months. It is also home to the De Young Museum that features American Art, Modern Art, and special alternating exhibitions. Beauty abounds in the park and you can visit the Japanese Tea Garden, The Conservatory of Flowers, and a botanical garden. There are also several beautiful lakes throughout the park. It is like getting out of the city without actually leaving the city limits.

     San Francisco is a surprisingly “walkable” city. Since it is so compact it is easy to stroll from one area to another. But remember, it’s also a very hilly city, so sometimes a stroll can turn into a steep climb. But it is a great city to explore on foot. One evening my husband and I decided to stroll to a new restaurant in the North Beach area. We started at the top of Nob Hill with its luxury and opulence went through the vibrant Union Square, then through the Chinatown Gate where we were met with the kaleidoscope of activity and exotic atmosphere of Chinatown. From there it wasn’t long before we were in North Beach strolling down Columbus Avenue past all of those wonderful Italian restaurants. It felt as if we’d been on a short international trip.

    San Francisco is an international city with a patchwork of cultures and a vibrant energy all its own.

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Vegas....Revisited

    1/18/2016 9:23:24 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    casino, dining, entertainment, hotel, Las Vegas, restaurant

    Our first trip of 2016 was a getaway to one of the most exciting cities in the world, Las Vegas. It is one of our favorite cities and we manage to go there several times every year. It is constantly evolving, so no matter how often we go, there is always something new to see. It has been referred to (and rightfully so) as an adult’s Disneyland.

    We fell in love with Las Vegas was in the late 1980’s when Caesar’s Palace was the biggest resort/casino on the Strip. We went to see Sugar Ray Leonard fight Thomas Hearns for the welterweight title and the fight was billed as “The War”. At that time, Caesar’s had the main arena for world class boxing events. That was our introduction to a star-studded event with world famous entertainers and athletes in attendance. Since then we have attended other major boxing matches including Holyfield/Tyson, George Foreman/Michael Moore, James Toney/Roy Jones Jr and Holyfield/Bowe, Oscar de la Hoya/Chavez, Mayweather/Guerrero and many more.

    Through the years we’ve seen the Strip completely change with the addition of resorts like New York/New York, MGM, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandarin Oriental, The Cromwell, Wynn/Encore and our personal favorite the Venetian/Palazzo. But even with the new additions, some of the older resorts like Circus Circus and the Riviera are still going strong.

    Although Las Vegas has been known primarily for gambling, it has so much more to offer. In recent years it has developed into a foodie’s paradise. There is a long list of celebrity chefs who have restaurants on the Strip; Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Hubert Keller and Giada de Larentiis, just to name a few. Of course there are numerous buffets and fast foods to choose from. So whether you decide to enjoy Joel Robuchon’s 16-course degustation menu, or a White Castle burger, you can find what you want on the Strip.

    Our first meal was at Yardbird Southern Table and Bar where the fried chicken and biscuits were off the hook! They also offered flights of really good craft beers.

    Las Vegas offers such a variety of entertainment choices, it is difficult to decide what to do, but this trip was all about sports. The primary reason for this trip was the NCAA Championship football game between Alabama and Clemson. We decided to watch the game at Lagasse’s Stadium in the Palazzo. Not only is the atmosphere wonderful for watching a sporting event, the service is excellent and the food is delicious. And it gets better…there is even a sports book inside. So Robert and Marcus were able to place their bets and collect their winnings while we were there.

    On day 2 we ventured downtown to Fremont Street to get a taste of old Vegas. It had been a few years since we’d been there and we found that it has changed also with the addition of a zip line and several new street vendors. There were also some interesting street characters roaming about…like the man who strutted around wearing only a cowboy hat and a G-string…or the man singing old Motown hits with his karaoke machine and one background dancer; kind of like watching Gladys Knight and “a Pip”. Binion’s Horseshoe is still a great place for beginning gamblers who want to get away from the high-pressure stakes that can be found at casinos on the Strip.

    On day 3 we hung out at the LINQ, one of the newest hotels on the Strip, next to the Flamingo Hotel. Next to the hotel there is a promenade that has lots of great eateries and shops. The promenade is anchored by the High Roller, the world’s tallest observation wheel – even taller than the London Eye.

    After that it was time for lunch so we headed over to Caesar’s Palace to the Bacchanal Buffet. We’ve sampled several other buffets in town, but this is by far the best. There were so many delicious choices that it took me 10 minutes to see all that was being served – then another 10 minutes to plan my eating strategy. I managed to eat everything that I wanted and still had room for crème brulee AND a Nutella crepe…. The 3 of us made quite a dent in the food and still managed to walk out without waddling…too much.

    Las Vegas is always a fun getaway and every time we go we discover something new.

     

     

     

     

  • Hotel Review - Renaissance Shanghai Caohejing Hotel

    12/27/2015 7:34:08 PM Link 1 comment | Add comment

    China, hotel, Shanghai

    During a recent trip to China we spent two nights at this hotel. We visited four different cities and stayed at four different hotels, and this was by far the best of the four. We were immediately impressed when we entered the spacious, modern lobby. The high ceilings and expansive marble floors gave a feeling of openness, while the plush lobby seating areas gave a feeling of hospitality and comfort. The check-in process was quite smooth and before long we were settled in our room on the eleventh floor. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable, with modern lighting and bathroom facilities.

    The hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, Café BLD was a great choice for casual dining. They served a delicious breakfast buffet with plenty of selections to satisfy both Chinese and American palates. It was also a very good choice for dinner with its sumptuous array of meats, fresh seafood, shellfish, vegetables, salads, fresh fruit and much more. The plentiful dessert selections were beautifully presented – a delight for the eyes and quite delicious. We were quite pleased to find out that the dinner buffet also included beer and wine – and there were several good selections of both.

    Its location in a business district makes it a good choice for business travelers. But it is a good choice for leisure travelers also. We recommend it highly and will definitely go back on our next trip to Shanghai. 

     

  
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