Month

April 2017

Where to Eat in Las Vegas

Where to Eat in Las Vegas

It is so hard to narrow down all of the good restaurants in Las Vegas! Each time I go, I find another great spot to grab a bite to eat. Vegas restaurants range in price and cuisine so I grouped them all together in a post that covers some of my favorites!

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab

Originally opened in Miami, Joe’s is one of the few places in the country to dine on stone crab. You’ll pay quite a bit for these gigantic crab claws, but they’re flown in fresh every morning and worth every penny. The crab cake appetizer is one of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had!Joe's Stone Crab Vegas

Hash House a Go Go

Fantastic spot for breakfast, brunch, or a late night snack! The location in The Linq is open 24 hours. Hash House is known for gigantic portion sizes so all of their dishes can be shared. This makes an already affordable restaurant even more affordable. Try the pancakes that are the size of your entire plate or their Crab Cake Benedict. Some other good options include the Sage Fried Chicken (featured on Man vs Food!) or one of their mimosas made with your choice of fruit juice (try the lemonade mimosa!).Hash House A Go Go Vegas

Holsteins Shakes and Buns

Holsteins is such a fun burger joint! It’s in The Cosmopolitan so it caters to a younger crowd with their extensive craft beer menu and their life-size, hot pink cow mascot! Impressively, almost everything is homemade including their buns, fries, onion rings, condiments, and toppings. Save room for dessert because their signature alcohol-infused “bam-boozled” milkshakes are awesome (especially red velvet)!

Holstein's Las Vegas

Sprinkles Cupcakes

I’ve written about this in a previous post, but it deserves another mention. Sprinkles cupcakes are fresh and delicious, and they have a rotating menu so the flavors are always new. Try their ATM machine if you don’t want to wait in the long line!

Sprinkles ATM Las Vegas

Bacchanal Buffet

No Vegas vacation is complete without a visit to a world-class buffet. My favorite is the Bacchanal Buffet inside Caesars Palace. The food is definitely NOT your typical buffet food. The dishes are creative, perfectly plated, and just the right temperature. Bacchanal features all the classic buffet food, but try their sliders, fresh seafood station, chicken and waffles, made-to-order crepes, and elaborate dessert display. To avoid the horrendous line and wait times, check in at one of the kiosks right outside the entrance.

Serendipity 3

This is so sad to me!!!! Serendipity was one of my all time favorite places in Vegas, but sadly they closed a few months ago. I’m still including it with hopes that they’ll reopen at another location (long shot, I know). If you’re ever in New York City stop by their original location for a frozen hot chocolate. RIP Serendipity.

Serendipity Frozen Hot Chocolate Vegas

Rao’s

Rao’s was first opened in New York in 1896, and it is literally impossible to get a reservation here. Tables are owned and unless you have “table rights” or know someone who does, you aren’t getting in. The last article I read, reported that the restaurant has been sold out every night for the past 38 years. Fortunately for us regular folks, Rao’s opened a second location in Las Vegas. The owners collaborated with Caesars Palace to assure the same dining experience, recipes, and menu are consistent with New York’s Rao’s. They’re an Italian restaurant famous for their meatballs and marinara sauce (which you can buy in a jar at your local Kroger!).

Rao's Las Vegas

Mon Ami Gabi

Underneath the Eiffel Tower on the strip, Mon Ami Gabi is a sophisticated French restaurant with a breathtaking view of the Bellagio Fountain. If the weather’s nice, ask for a seat outside so you can watch the fountain show during dinner. Filet mignon here is wonderful, but my favorite are their desserts!

Mon Ami Gabi Vegas

Taco Bell Cantina

This is probably the only time you’ll ever see a fast food restaurant on my list of recommended places to eat. BUT this Taco Bell is no ordinary fast food restaurant! It’s two stories, with the first floor being where you order food and the second floor being a dance floor complete with a DJ! There’s nothing special about the menu, but if you’re needing a break from the hot Vegas sun, try one of their slushies with an alcoholic shot added in!

Payard Patisserie and Bistro

This bistro is not necessarily a place I would go out of my way for, but if you’re staying at Caesars Palace, then pick up breakfast from here one morning. They make crepes fresh per order that you can take back up to your room and eat in bed! Try the smores or Nutella crepe for a good morning sugar rush. They also have a gelato selection for dessert on the way back to your room.

Lobster Me

With two locations in Vegas, Lobster Me shouldn’t be missed if you’re a seafood fan! It’s a counter service restaurant solely devoted to Lobster. Lobster mac and cheese? Lobster bisque? Lobster rolls? Yep, they’ve got them all! Even though it’s a counter service restaurant, Matt and I still spent $75 on lunch for the two of us. Consider splitting an entrée, but you’re probably going to want your own lobsicle (deep-fried lobster on a stick)!

Lobster Me Las Vegas

Cabo Wabo Cantina

Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina mixes a laid-back beach vibe with a rock and roll edge. Nothing on the menu is too special, but it’s hard to mess up cheese dip and guacamole. What they do have, however, is a great spot for people watching and a lot of tequila.

Cabo Wabo Cantina Vegas

Tao

An all around great Asian restaurant with a night club atmosphere. Don’t expect to be able to talk to anyone at your table though… the music is so loud!

Top of the World

Don’t go here if you’re scared of heights! Top of the World is a romantic revolving restaurant at the top of the tallest building in Las Vegas, the Stratosphere. The nighttime views of the Strip are unmatched anywhere else in Vegas. If you can’t afford dinner, dessert and/or drinks would be perfect while you watch the view slowly change.

Top of the World Las Vegas

Beijing Noodle No. 9

The best thing about this place is being able to watch the chefs hand pull the noodles! It’s such an interesting technique, and the homemade noodles are delicious. Very inexpensive and the menu is huge!

Beijing Noodle Las Vegas

Cheesecake Factory

I hesitate to put a chain restaurant on here, but if you’ve never had a piece of cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory, then you’re missing out. Put it on your dessert to-do list (doesn’t everyone have one of those?)! Try the Oreo cheesecake and don’t look up the nutrition facts.

Cheesecake Factory Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of my favorite places largely in part due to their amazing dining options. This is just a start! If you’re looking to pass the time in between meals, read this post HERE. Let me know if I missed any of your favorites, and I’ll add it to the list for my next trip!

 

Top Tips for Your Next Cruise

Cruise Tips

I need to start this post with a disclaimer: Cruises are not my favorite way to travel. 1) They’re crowded. 2) Their food motto is generally “quantity over quality”. 3) It’s hard to experience the true culture and uniqueness of a destination if you just drop in for half a day. 4) Hidden fees. 5) I saw Titanic.

Now, having said that, I will admit that there is no better way to see Alaska. Our family went on an Alaskan cruise, and we were able to experience some things we never would have been able to experience anywhere else. We all had a wonderful time, and we learned some things along the way. While our cruise was to Alaska and through Princess Cruises, these tips can be applied to any cruise destination or cruise line. Here are my top tips for a successful cruise!

Just do the safety drill. Before the cruise ship can set sail, it’s mandatory that a safety drill is conducted. Grab your life jacket and go to your designated muster station. Be happy about it, don’t complain, and don’t push people. Once it’s over, you can embark on your long-awaited cruise! Between getting to the cruise terminal, getting your luggage on board, and going through security, it’s been a long day for everyone. This is the last step before you can set sail so be patient and have fun with it! Your attitude on this day will really set the tone for your entire trip.

Don’t assume excursions through your cruise line are the cheapest. They’re usually not. Do a little research before you go, and do some price comparing. More often than not, you can have the same exact excursion with even the same exact company for a cheaper price. For example, we could have booked an excursion to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau through our cruise ship. The excursion the ship offered included a shuttle to the glacier’s visitor center. Instead of booking with the ship, I purchased tickets in advance from a local shuttle company that took us to the same visitor’s center. We still saw the same glacier and got to experience the same things except for much cheaper. Plus, we arrived before the ship’s excursion so it wasn’t as crowded. All it required was a little pre-planning on my part. The only time I recommend booking through the ship, is if there is a time crunch. Your ship will not leave without you if you’re running late on one of their excursions, but that’s the only time the boat will wait for you.

Don’t forget to set your clock with the ship’s clock. As you move from destination to destination, sometimes you’ll pass through time zones. The captain will reset the ship’s clock with whichever time zone you’re in. Oftentimes it happens while you’re sleeping. So if you disembark at one of your ports the next day, but didn’t reset your watch with the ship’s clock, then you might show up an hour late to an empty dock!

Read the newsletter left on your pillow each night. This is the best way to find out about the time changes I just mentioned. It’s also the best way to find out about activities on the ship like formal night at dinner, information about the port you’ll be visiting, the ship’s daily activities, and any other pertinent information.

Participate in the activities on the ship! The amount of activities scheduled onboard throughout the day will shock you. A schedule for the day’s events will be listed in your newsletter you receive each day. You’ll miss out on so many fun things if you aren’t paying attention! For our Alaskan cruise, we were able to hear lectures from an Alaskan wildlife photographer, the first woman to win the Iditarod race (and she brought one of her huskies!), and a wildlife expert. If lectures aren’t you thing, then that’s no problem. We participated in trivia games, game shows, and karaoke. The ship also featured an ice sculpture carving demonstration and a melon carving demonstration. So many interesting things are happening… especially the days you are at sea! But laying by the pool while watching a movie on the jumbo screen sounds just as nice as well.

Gratuities/tips are included, but it’s a general rule to tip a little extra at the end of the trip. Your room steward works so hard during your cruise to make sure your room is clean, organized, and fully stocked. We left our room steward an extra tip at the end of our trip because it was so well deserved. If you have a bartender that remembers your drink order or a server who gives you extra dessert, then show your appreciation at the end of your vacation. For you stingy people right now who are thinking that the tips are included so why should you tip extra… just stay home. If you can’t afford to tip, then you can’t afford to go on the cruise. These people are away from their families for months at a time, and they’re not making a lot of money to begin with. Save a little of your cash for them.

Some people enjoy splurging on their room, but I see it as a waste of money. If this is your honeymoon or anniversary trip, then by all means stay in a nice room with a balcony. But if you’re looking to cut some costs, then staying in a room with a porthole view or even an interior room (with no view) will be fine. We were hardly ever in our rooms because of all of the ship’s activities and ports of call. Your trip will not be any less special by getting an interior room. Most of the time, balcony rooms are not that special, but I will say that Alaskan and Panama Canal cruises are an exception. Land is generally in sight during these two cruises so it makes having the balcony worth it.

Decorate your door! This is cheesy, but I don’t care! The doors to your cabin are made of metal so magnets stick very easily to them. When you’re walking down the really long corridors, every room looks the same and could easily be missed. I brought some magnets to decorate our door so we wouldn’t skip our room. I also brought some streamers to decorate my parent’s door since it was their anniversary. We decorated it while they were asleep on our first night, and they were surprised the next morning. Plus, we never had trouble remembering which room was theirs! Sticky notes are also a great way to leave messages for each other!

Bring a walkie-talkie! Our biggest complaint about our cruise was how hard it was to communicate with each other! We didn’t have cell phone service out at sea, and the ship’s wi-fi was pretty spotty and slow. Sure we could call each other’s room, but we were never in there! My parent’s got a different room category than we did, and we were on opposite sides of the ship. Finding each other was next to impossible. We would have meet up times for different activities or meal times, but some people would be running late or others would change their mind last-minute, and we would have no way of knowing. Princess Cruises does have an app that can be used to communicate with each other, but it’s not user-friendly and only worked part of the time. We kept saying how much we wished we had a pair of walkie talkies to use on the ship! That would have made everything so much smoother.

Bring your own food/drinks/alcohol. Cruises are basically all-inclusive until it comes to their drink plan. If you want to drink anything besides water or tea, then you’re going to pay. They do offer all-inclusive drink plans, but at an additional cost. Matt and I mainly drink water anyways so this wasn’t an issue for us. However, sometimes (especially on vacation) I really crave a real, ice-cold, calorie-packed, Coke. So the night before we boarded the ship, we walked to a grocery store near our hotel and bought two six packs of bottled cokes for what two beverages would have cost us onboard. We carried them on the ship with us and never had a problem. If there’s a special wine you like or you want to avoid the marked up prices on the ship, then Princess Cruises allows one bottle of wine or champagne per person to be brought onboard. If it is consumed in your room, then no corkage fee is applied. However, if you want to take your wine to dinner in the dining room, then Princess Cruises charges a $15 corkage fee. Check your cruise line’s alcohol policy before you go just to be sure!

Pack your luggage smartly. During the embarkation process, your luggage is handed over to the porters so that they can scan the bags and then deliver them to your room. Depending on your room location or how busy the porters are, you could possibly not see your luggage again until almost 10 PM! Remember this when you’re packing your bags. You’re allowed a carry on bag so I made sure to pack us a change of clothes for dinner, swim suit in case we wanted to swim, and toiletries and pajamas in case our bags didn’t show up before bed time. Put any medications you need in your carry on as well.

Don’t forget the dress code. Unless you plan on eating chicken strips at the buffet your whole trip (gross), pay attention to the dress code. The dining room will require nicer clothes for evening meals. Some nights on your cruise might even be designated as “formal nights” which means dress code will be stepped up a notch. I’m not sure they actually refuse service to anyone, but don’t be that guy who shows up in jorts and a cut off t-shirt on formal night.

Sanitize your room. Cruise ships are notorious for norovirus. It’s incredibly contagious and spreads easily in a tightly packed environment like a cruise ship. Our exact ship actually had an outbreak a few weeks before our cruise. So I wasn’t taking any chances. I had packed sanitizing wipes in our carry on bag, and the first thing we did was clean everything in our room. The hostesses in the dining room will make you use their hand sanitizer before you’re allowed to enter. And the hostess at the buffet won’t even give you your plate until you’ve used the hand sanitizer. So the ship does their part, but it’s not fool-proof.

Don’t take the elevatorWe learned this the hard way. Everyone tries to take the elevator. Especially near meal times or after entertainment in the evening. The wait was forever, and then when the elevator finally came to our floor, it was full. Just take the stairs and save yourself some time and claustrophobia.

Plan for the weather. Cruises cover a lot of ground and climates can change literally overnight. Ketchikan is a natural rain forest so we packed ponchos and an umbrella for the day we were there. Glacier bay was freezing cold while Skagway was on the warmer side. Pack for anything!

Prepare for seasickness. This will absolutely ruin your trip. Even if you’ve never gotten seasick before, this would be a terrible time to find out that you do, in fact, get seasick. Invest in some seasickness patches. You’ll be glad you brought them if you need them.

Knowing this information before you go will help make your trip smoother and your planning easier. I plan on doing a blog post for each port we stopped at on our Alaskan cruise. Check back soon for our itinerary and tips at each location!

 

Chicago Pizza Showdown

Chicago natives can be pretty opinionated, but especially when it comes to their pizza! Matt and I decided to finally put the debate to rest: Which Chicago deep dish pizza is the best? I know, I know… such a hard job, but someone had to do it. We visited the top three deep dish pizza places in Chicago and picked our winner!

Gino’s East

Gino’s East has several locations in Chicago, and we visited the South Loop restaurant. The restaurant has a small-town-sports-bar ambience, which is hard to achieve in downtown Chicago. Gino’s has been serving the same pizza for over 50 years, and they recently began serving their own beer that they brew at their River North location.

Gino's East Chicago Gino's East Chicago Gino's East Chicago

Now, onto the pizza.

It was piping hot, and served in a cast iron skillet. The skillet really gave the crust a good, crispy crunch, but without that dry cracker-like texture some pizzas will have. Gino’s crust is unique because it’s made with cornmeal. The cornmeal takes longer to rise, and since each crust is prepared per order, it can take about 45 minutes once your order is placed. Worth the wait! I personally really liked the cornmeal crust, and the sauce was perfectly garlic-y and tomato-y. My favorite part overall, though, was the CHEESE. When our waitress cut our pizza, the cheese stretched on for miles! I knew right then that it was going to be a good piece of pizza.

Gino's East Chicago Gino's East Chicago Gino's East Chicago

Type A Tidbit:

We conducted this experiment based on cheese pizza, but Gino’s Meaty Pizza has been on Man vs Food!

Lou Malnati’s

Lou Malnati’s has locations all over the city so we planned our lunch location around whatever museum we were visiting that day. You’re never too far from a Lou’s! A family business, Lou’s has been serving up deep dish pizza since 1940.

Lou Malnati's Pizza Lou Malnati's Pizza

I could tell with one bite, that Lou Malnati’s uses fresh, good quality ingredients. The tomato sauce was thick, chunky, and flavorful. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed in the “cheese stretch”, and the mozzarella was a tad on the rubbery side. Lou’s is known for their butter crust, and I really hate to say this (because I love all things butter), but this crust wasn’t my favorite. I prefer chewy pizza crusts, but the butter crust was thick and kind of hard. It reminded me of a savory pie crust instead of a chewy, bread-like pizza crust. Sorry, Lou’s fans.

Lou Malnati's Pizza Lou Malnati's Pizza Lou Malnati's Pizza

Type A Tidbit:

Try their Chocolate Chip Deep Dish Pizza!

Giordano’s

Giordano’s, also a family business, has been in operation since 1974. Not quite as long as the other two contenders, but still as impressive. Their 18 Chicago locations goes to show just how popular they are! That doesn’t even take into account their locations in six other states.

Giordano's Pizza Giordano's Pizza

By the time Matt and I made it to Giordano’s, we were so full. Fortunately, they serve a mini version of their deep dish pizzas! We ordered the mini, and I was still impressed with the amount of cheese they stuffed into it. The crust was a more traditional flaky pizza crust, and the sauce was more garlic-y than some of the others… but that’s a good thing! It definitely added to the richness of the sauce. “Cheese stretch” was in full effect as well!

Giordano's Pizza Giordano's Pizza Giordano's Pizza

Type A Tidbit:

I mentioned this earlier, but it really does take a long time for deep dish pizzas to cook in the oven. Don’t go if you’re in a hurry!

The Verdict

We really tried to focus on what makes a good deep dish pizza: Crispy, flaky crust. Sweet, but acidic tomato sauce. And warm, gooey mozzarella.

Overall, Gino’s wins it for us! We really liked the cornmeal crust, tangy tomato sauce, and stretchy cheese.

Check them out next time you’re in town, and order their deep dish brownie for me!

If you aren’t a pizza fan, Chicago still has plenty of other great restaurants!

Chicago Pizza

 

Skydeck vs 360 Chicago: Which One is Better?

I never get tired of seeing a city from its highest viewpoint. My first day in a new city, I always try to visit an observatory because, way up above the skyscrapers, I can get the lay of the land and see all the landmarks I’ll be visiting. Chicago is lucky enough to have two observatories: Skydeck at the Willis Tower and 360 Chicago at the John Hancock Center. So if you only have enough time (or money!) for one… which one is better?

Skydeck (Willis Tower)

Skydeck 360 Chicago Skyline

Stats: 

Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower is the second tallest tower in the United States… 108 floors! The Skydeck Observatory is located on the 103rd floor, and from that height, four states (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan) are visible.

Price:

There are many ticket options available, but the most popular are listed below.

General: Adults $23, Children $15

Fast Pass Admission: $49

Hours:

Open 365 days a year. March to September: 9 AM – 10 PM. October to February: 10 AM – 8 PM. Last entry 30 minutes before closing.

Location:

Address: 233 South Wacker Drive. Located on the South Loop in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Experience:

During the elevator ride to the top, a video comparing the Willis Tower to other famous landmarks plays. It’s kind of eerie to see on the video when you reach the height of the Statue of Liberty, and you’re still climbing! When you finally reach the top, the views from the Skydeck are stunning! Plenty of photo opportunities!

The Skydeck is home to the Skydeck Ledge Experience. A glass box extends 4.3 feet from the side of the building so it gives the illusion of stepping out onto nothing! Matt is scared of heights so he wasn’t sure about the Ledge. With a little encouragement, and a lot of laughs, I finally got him to come out so we could get a picture!

Skydeck Chicago

360 Chicago (John Hancock Center)

360 Chicago Chicago Skyline

Stats:

The 360 Chicago Observatory is located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. On a clear day, you can expect to see 80 miles!

Price:

General: Adult $20.50, Children $13.50

Fast Pass: $44

Add on the TILT experience: $7

Hours:

Open 365 days a year from 9 AM – 11 PM daily. Last entry at 10:30 PM.

Location:

Address: 875 North Michigan Avenue. Located on Magnificent Mile near Lake Michigan.

Experience:

This elevator ride is so short because the John Hancock Center has some of the fastest elevators in the world! The views from the top are just as good as the Willis Tower. Interactive touchscreens located around the observatory, point out Chicago’s city landmarks so it’s easier to spot them.

360 Chicago is home to the TILT experience. TILT is a series of floor to ceiling windows that visitors lean against. While they’re leaning against the windows, it tilts out 30 degrees so they’re looking straight down to the ground! I chose not to press my luck with Matt since he was such a good sport with the Ledge. Plus, the TILT experience costs extra.

TILT 360 Chicago

Which is Better?

We preferred the Skydeck at the Willis Tower more than the 360 Chicago experience. The Ledge is so much fun to do, and it’s already included in your ticket price. Both locations have great views so it’s a tie as far as that goes. 360 Chicago is a little cheaper, but that didn’t matter to us because both location’s fast pass admission were included in our CityPass (definitely worth the price, and you can read about it HERE).

Chicago City Pass

If you can only visit one, then I suggest visiting the Skydeck on a weekday morning to avoid crowds. However, if you can visit both locations then I highly recommend that. Visit Skydeck during the day, and visit 360 Chicago in the evening. The city looks completely different when the sun goes down! If you visit 360 Chicago in the evening, afterwards you can head two floors up to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. The Signature Lounge has a full drink menu, appetizers, and desserts. Hungrier than that? The Signature Room, on the 95th floor, is a fine dining restaurant that I’ve heard is wonderful. You can always skip the 360 Chicago experience and only visit the Signature Lounge. For the price of a cocktail, you get the view for free!

Signature Lounge Chicago

Type A Tidbits:

Lines get extremely long for these attractions… you can wait  for up to 2 hours! We visited the Skydeck right when it opened on a weekday so we got lucky with no wait. Even if there had been a wait, our CityPass included the fast pass so we could have bypassed the line!

Make reservations for the Signature Lounge or the Signature Room to avoid a long wait.

Don’t be scared, but on a windy day you can feel the building sway!

Thanks for reading! Check out our other posts in the Chicago series on what to do and where to eat!