Saturday, 19 July 2014

Our 1st wedding anniversary USA road trip, Part 1 - Las Vegas!

Sarah and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary on the 4th July 2014. To mark one year since the most amazing day of our lives, and before we started our next journey that will make us parents, we wanted to have a big adventure together. We decided to explore somewhere completely different to the beach holidays or  city breaks we have been on previously - the west coast of the United States of America. Our route took us from Las Vegas-Yosemite-San Francisco-Monterey-Cambria-Los Angeles-San Diego. The next four of our posts will be the diary that we wrote as we were travelling. Before we flew, my Dad gave me a piece of advice; he told me to write myself a diary every night of what we had seen and where we had been that day, as there was no way we would remember it all at the end. He did this on a similar trip in his twenties, when he spent some time travelling around India, and proudly showed me his little pocketbook diary. We took his advice and it became something that we did together everyday. However, we want to transfer it to our blog as a permanent record of what became our best trip ever (honeymoon always excluded!) This is this first part of our diary:

Friday 27th June 2014 - Las Vegas

It's 07:30 here which means it is 15:30 in the UK and 16:30 in Malta (where my parents are) - time difference is so odd! The plane journey to get here was long but with upgraded seats to Houston and then only a 2.5 hour journey to Vegas we arrived pretty easily. I am impressed at our ability to get us where we need to be - having been pretty worried about the connecting flight, needing to collect and then re-check our bags, I am amazed that we did it all ok, and even had time to enjoy a large sweet tea (I loved it!) before boarding the 2nd plane (well, we were in Texas after all!)

Looking exhausted, enjoying an ice cold sweet tea in Texas.
The seats from London - Houston were pretty impressive, economy plus and sitting at the front meant we had loads of room, and even my beloved wife went to sleep for a couple of hours - something that has never happened before on a plane. We watched films and TV shows, and read our kindles mainly.I spent most of the time getting through series 1 of Orange is the New Black - six episodes in and I still can't see what all the fuss is about - but I'll watch the others when we are flying home, in a hope it gets better or something! The upgrade in seats were amazing and I'll definitely be investing again in the future. Also, food not bad - Thai green curry and rice, and the usual filler of bread roll and butter (why?!) and salad. We ate some of the plane food then ate bits of the picnic we had taken with us instead (flying to Mexico last year taught us a lesson - take your own food on the plane!). So a bit later on ate houmous and falafel wraps and superfood salads (our kind of food!). The United staff were brilliant and constantly bought round drinks, food, and tubs of ice cream which went well with our films! Sarah usually hates planes but actually really enjoyed this trip!

And the second leg of the journey was pretty seamless too - the plane was tiny and the ride was quite bumpy (nearly lost my stomach contents a few times), but it was over fairly soon, and meant we arrived in to Las Vegas on schedule at 16:45. We opted to take the shuttle to the hotel, which cost $16 combined and meant we were taken in a little minibus with a few others in nearby hotels. It took all of 20 minutes for us to arrive at our hotel, having received glimpses of the strip along the way. 

Our first impression when arriving at out first hotel, the Luxor, was the sheer size of the place - just like everything else in Vegas, it is enormous! We couldn't even find where to check in for a while! But we did, and bagged an upgrade to a large room in the tower suites, on account of it being our anniversary trip. We had booked a pyramid room for novelty, but every tripadvisor review boasts the tower rooms to be quieter, bigger, and have better views - so were very happy to be upgraded, for free! Also, I was impressed that the guy checking us in assumed we were a married couple - one of the few times that has ever happened to us, people normally need to ask to ascertain our relationship to each other, yet he assumed we were a couple, brilliant! 

 After travelling for such a long time we wanted little else than a shower, some food and some sleep - so that's what we did, in that order! We used last night to have our night of buffet food. The Vegas buffets are famous world-over, so it was definitely something I was keen to experience, but also we are the kind of people to much prefer a sit down restaurant, so had planned to enjoy a buffet on our first night as they are quick and definitely fit the bill after 16 hours of travelling. The Wynn was our choice of buffet, as that and the Bellagio are consistently voted the number 1 buffets in Vegas, and we are staying at the Bellagio on Sunday night so wanted to see another hotel. Wow the Wynn is gorgeous! Inside there is like a brightly coloured indoor garden, complete with carousel, it's amazing! And the food was good too - 10 minute wait to get in, and every different type of food you can imagine. I enjoyed the famous king crab legs but couldn't eat many, they are incredibly rich! I don't know that I would necessary go back to a buffet - as good as it was, I just don't think it's our kind of thing - I don't think either of us really eat enough food to get 'our moneys worth' and would much prefer one well cooked course over many OK cooked ones! But we both loved the chance to see the Wynn - such a beautiful place.

After enjoying good food there was only one thing left to do - sleep! By the time we got back to the hotel it was 9:30pm, meaning it was 5:30am in the UK and we had officially been up for 24 hours! 

Things that have surprised me so far:
1. The tap water tastes different, I don't know why I expected it to take the same as in the UK but I did. And it doesn't! 
2. I found myself really surprised that everyone speaks English and I can read all the road signs etc. Yes I know we are in America and our ancestors gave them our language, but you get so used to stepping off a plane and speaking really slowly so people can understand you, and being completely lost, that it threw me! 
3. They serve hot black tea everywhere. Thank god. Everywhere on the internet told me you could only buy coffee as no-one drinks tea over here, so I brought my own! But it's not true! 

First impressions of Vegas were so much better than we both expected. We expected somewhere quite loud, tacky and brash. Which bits of it are, in a fun way, and you can't help be impressed by the sheer scale and grandness that Vegas boasts.  Many of the hotels were huge, air conditioned, luxurious, and far from what we both imagined from Vegas. Very pleasantly surprised, we love it here!  

Saturday 28th July - Las Vegas

What an incredible day!

We went to the pyramid cafe at the Luxor for breakfast, having planned many of our meals in advance so as to avoid that 'so what shall we do now' conversation every time we wanted some food! Despite us talking about red velvet pancakes for months we didn't actually order them! I opted instead for Smore pancakes, which were just incredible - enormous pancakes covered in chocolate sauce, marshmallows and graham cracker crumb, and Sarah had lemon French toast with strawberries and cream. Both portions were enormous and we couldn't eat it all, but it meant we didn't need anything else to eat for the rest of the day, until dinner time came. If it fills you up for 12 hours I think it's worth $30!! 

Then we headed out on to the strip. The heat hits you as soon as you step outside, but it reminds me of Marrakech in that it's in the middle of the desert so is very dry heat, not the sticky humid weather we know from Malta etc. It made it much more bearable! The hotels are enormous and brilliant - we wandered through New York New York, including Hershey's World, and then on to Monte Carlo and in to the shopping centre adjoining Aria. We had only been walking for about an hour by this point but the heat was starting to get to me a bit so it seemed a perfect opportunity to go to Starbucks and drink shaken ice teas - yum. English Starbucks you are incredibly rubbish and need to start selling all these amazing ice teas soon!

And then on we walked to Paris, the Flamingo (amazing flamingos and pelicans - I loved them!) and all the way to the Venetian (it's about 2 miles!). The Venetian was beautiful! I could have stayed there for hours, walking along the canals and looking at the beautiful shops and the gondolas sailing by. It's a really great place and I feel very lucky to have seen it. We avoided the Mirage as they have unethically captive dolphins, and we didn't feel we could visit a place that holds such a lack of morals on animal welfare. 

There was no way we could have coped with walking back all that way too, in the blisteringly hot weather and rather jet lagged! So instead got on the monorail which took us all the way down to MGM Grand. After some confusion we worked out the weird monorail system that runs from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay - basically you have to get on the tram to Mandalay Bay and then get on another to come back again. Weird! But we got there, and it cuts out the last leg of the journey. After getting back to the Luxor we took a well deserved rest together for a couple of hours before heading back out again to Aria for the evening. 

Having arrived at Aria, with its beautiful paper butterfly filled lobby, we decided to get pizza before the reason we were at the Aria that evening - we had tickets to Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil. Mentioning to the girl on the door that we had tickets to the show at 9:30, and it was now 8:30, meant we were seated almost immediately at Five 50 and our order of pizza with all the veggies was taken promptly. Despite a little wait for the pizza to arrive, it was really, really delicious! Proper Italian pizza with lots of toppings - pizza express you have a lot to learn!! 

And then it was show time! Cirque du Soleil is one of those things you dream of seeing but wait your whole life to see - it was absolutely amazing from start to finish. I expected to be seated up in the gods but actually had really brilliant seats quite near to the stage. From talented sand drawings to beautiful breath taking acrobatics we were stunned and in awe every second of it. There was a section where watched as a male acrobatic couple told a love story whilst twirling high above our heads and soared through the air - it was incredibly moving to watch. What an experience, we are very very lucky to be here and even more so to have witnessed that amazing sight! 

Falling in to bed around midnight we were absolutely exhausted, but wow, what a day Vegas! 

Sunday 29th July - Las Vegas

We went to the pyramid cafe again for breakfast, as we really enjoyed it there yesterday. Sarah ordered red velvet pancakes, and I opted for an omelette - both were again huge, the omelette coming with a huge hash brown and toast, and all coffee is free refill!! But it was yum! The portion sizes are a little crazy here, but the really great thing is free refill on drinks, England seriously need to get their acts together and adopt that! 

Then time to check out of the Luxor and get a taxi to our next hotel. The text driver said we were going from one extreme to the other, and we didn't quite get what he meant, as presumed most of the hotels in Vegas are much of a muchness - how wrong could we be! The Bellagio is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been. The queue to check in was fairly long and took us a while, but once done we found our way up to floor 15 and in to our fountain view room (it was so pretty, and purple), fully expecting to just have a glimpse of the fountains in the distance somewhere. In fact, we were directly above the fountains and had a panoramic view of not only them but all the strip behind them. Wow! We were a little mind-blown and spent a while just sitting and watching the world go by on the Las Vegas strip.  At one point there was even a rainbow shining through the fountains. 

The hotel itself is luxuriously beautiful, with an indoor botanical garden, coloured balloons and giant flowers in the lobby, and a pretty shopping area, which even had our beloved Tiffanys! We spent a little while just wandering round this enormous, beautiful place before heading down for an afternoon by the pool - the whole hotel is influenced by Italian gardens and the pool no different - it was a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon, with my beautiful wife, drinking frozen cocktails and lying in the sun! 

For dinner had booked to go to the Stratosphere, so after a shower and chance to get ready in our amazing hotel room we walked over the moving walkway to Paris, and caught the monorail. I had read on the internet that this was the best way to reach the Stratosphere, as it is the very top of the strip. We walked through the older part of the strip which was interesting to see, and had lots of tacky Vegas wedding chapels!
Once we reached the restaurant we knew it was worth it. The Top of the World restaurant sits 800 feet above the Las Vegas boulevard (also know as the strip), and as it revolves you can see for miles and miles. We has booked it to coincide with sunset - and what a beautiful sunset it was. It meant we saw the strip and the surrounding mountains in daylight, sunset and night time. The food was amazing too, really beautifully cooked vegetarian food with a nice glass of pink wine to go with it. My wife looked incredibly beautiful, and it was brilliant to sit and eat good food in my company of my favourite person in the world. 

We decided to get a taxi back, and arrived back at the Bellagio for the 10:30pm showing of the fountains. It was so beautiful! We ended up watching each of them in 15 minute intervals until they finished at midnight, a couple outside stood in front of their enormity, and the rest from our room.

 As Sarah said - it's just lights and water set to music, but the end result really is quite something! It was a perfect evening and a beautiful way to end our time in Vegas. Vegas was a place we thought we would 'see for the experience' and never return but it ended up being much more than we imagined! It turned out to a be a beautiful, luxurious, crazy, interesting, varied, hot and very welcoming place. Bars and drinking aren't our thing so we wondered if Vegas was the right place to start our trip, but I feel like we definitely made the experience our own - sightseeing, beautiful hotels, and great food.  I'm not sure how long you could realistically spend in Vegas, but our three nights was perfect. What an amazing start to our trip!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fantastic! Looking forward to the next instalment x


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