Sunday, March 12, 2017

Vegas Road Trips (Area 51, Death Valley & more)


First gotta give a huge shout-out to Shy Guy Shawn for all the planning, awesome pics & one of the greatest friends to hang out with on a road trip to this dream destination.  It doesn't seem like much, but Area 51 is so shrouded in mystery I just had to see it myself!

This was my absolute highlight of the vacation (and the original reason for the trip).  The views on the way of endless roads extending into what looks like forever were awesome (even better than the Grand Canyon to me).

The only thing that could have made this day better would have been a UFO sighting or alien abduction.  But I'm thinking even if the aliens were to visit, this would be the last place they'd come to.  

So we didn't realize it when we stopped here to take a pic of the view, but this road below is the one that leads to the front entrance of Area 51!

The Little A-Le-Inn was the big food destination.  Lots of alien merchandise here, alien beer lol and people who lived and breathed the mythology that is Area 51.  The food was just ok but the ambiance was awesome.

The first Area 51 visit was to the back gate.  You know it's being monitored but we never saw anyone there aside from other cars that drove up to see it.

The Black Mailbox is just a mailbox in the middle of nowhere.  It really doesn't have much to do with Area 51 other than it's there.

Now the front "gate" is the one that's got a freaky feel to it.  The road to it is long, dusty & surrounded by free-roaming cows.  And then all of a sudden around a bend, there it is.  On the way some Cammo Dudes in a white van passed us - me & Shawn were super psyched!

And we could see yet another white van up on the hill - I'm guessing there were some Cammo Dudes watching us from there the whole time.  Made hanging around the gate a little spooky.  But this is why we came, so we explored the area a little - from our side of the "gate" of course.

I have no doubt if we were to take five or six steps over that line, we'd suddenly see someone with a gun blocking our path.  Didn't want that experience.  Our eyes were almost constantly on that van watching to see if it moved toward us.

Heading back, we had to stop at the Alien Research Center.  This is where we bought some alien stuff (hoodies, etc).  Loved this stop and highly recommend it to anyone who visits Area 51.

Then the ride back & more amazing views.  100% successful day trip!



We used Take Tours for this day trip ($95 per person).  I'll give you the good and bad of the trip, but it's mostly good.

Things started off sketchy as the bus showed up to the hotel 10 minutes late and there was no way to contact them to see what was going on.  We weren't sure if we missed the bus or not.  Then they finally arrived.

After one more hotel stop to pick people up we learned there was only going to be 7 people taking the tour - awesome!

The first stop was Hoover Dam.  We had 25 minutes to walk up a long path to a bridge that overlooked Hoover Dam.  It was a great view.  And of course we had to walk the entire length of the bridge to see the Arizona welcome sign and the Arizona / Nevada border symbol on the bridge.  But we cut things really close doing all that walking - Shawn & I then had to jog back across the bridge and back down to make it to the bus on time.

Then it was off to the Grand Canyon (West).  The first stop was the gift shop.  From there, everyone (all tours and tourists that visit) have to take another bus to be shuttled to the three Grand Canyon stops.  We had 2 hours before we had to return to the bus.

Stop 1:  The Hualapai Village.  I read reviews online that said it's a tourist trap where all they do is try to sell you stuff.  And the amazing Grand Canyon views - not here.  So we just stayed on the bus and skipped this stop.  Which was a smart move as it would have wasted the short time we had to see the reason we came.

Stop 2:  Eagle Point.  Wow, the view is amazing here.  Shawn ran right to the edge and sat with his feet dangling into the canyon.  There's no barriers or anything - you get too close and fall off, that's a really bad day for you.  But we all then had to do the same as the picture and view was awesome.

This is also where the Glass Bridge was (a $25 upcharge we had paid on the bus).  I wasn't impressed with the bridge or the views from it as it was so much cooler walking right up to the edge just minutes earlier.  It was basically 5 - 10 minutes of a photographer following you around, having you do poses, and then wanting you to buy the pictures after.  You are not allowed to take anything on the bridge with you - no cameras, no hats, no nothing.

Stop 3:  Guano Point.  People say this is the best view of the canyon and it didn't disappoint.  The winds were fierce this day which made things even crazier getting close to the edge.  We were even nervous holding up our phones for a pic, worrying that the winds were going to blow them out of our hands into the canyon.

Then back to the gift shop to catch the bus back to Vegas.  Here's the biggest negative I have for the tour.  We got on the bus on the far side of the lot early.  So Frankie & Shawn went to use the nearby bathroom for a second and that's when the bus driver decided to move the bus all the way across the lot to the main entrance.  He wouldn't wait the extra 10 seconds for them to return, so they then had to walk all the way across the lot to get back on.  Yeah, it's not crazy far but that wasn't cool.  Especially since it was still early.  Even more annoying was two of the other people ended up getting back to the bus 20 minutes late forcing the rest of us to sit there and wait.  They're the ones that should have been left behind.

But overall, I'd say go with this tour company.  It's cheaper than others and got us to the main stops we wanted to go to.  And it still left plenty of time to do things in Vegas when we got back there.



We booked an SUV with East Side Sierra Shuttle for this.  It was $500 for the 4 of us.  Paul was our guide to the extremely hard to get to Racetrack Playa area of Death Valley.  That's where the rocks mysteriously move on their own.

Very few tours go to this area - I have no doubt in my mind we picked the absolute best one.  Do not do this drive on your own.  The road to get there is awful and Paul's SUV was readied for this journey.  He said many people get a flat or two trying to make this trip.  After bumping along that crazy gravel road for 3 hours, I have no doubt about that.  We got lucky this trip though - no flats.  But his car did have the warning lights on by the time we got back.

After 90 minutes on a road that got more "gravely" and bumpy as we went on, we arrived at Teakettle Junction.  It's a junction of roads where people hang teakettles on the sign lol.

Almost 30 minutes later, Racetrack Playa.  Beautiful.  This is where the rocks move.  Now Death Valley is the hottest place in the world!  But on this day, I wore a heavy hoodie.  The winds were whipping and it was cold.  Around 50 or so (wind chill certainly less).

The next hour or so was spent wandering the Racetrack checking out all the rocks and their trails.  We heard there was vandalism here a few months back but luckily didn't see much evidence of it.  The rain must have washed the tracks off where people annoyingly drove on the Racetrack.  We also heard people had removed some of the rocks at the ends of the trails.  Some were definitely gone but others had started new trails and we had plenty to take pictures of.

Paul let us hang out as long as we wanted.  When done, the journey back felt like forever down that gravel nightmare.  Just as the gravel road ended another 90 minutes later, we stopped at Ubehebe Crater.  The wind was insane here but of course that didn't stop us from going right up to the edge for some epic pictures.  The view so impressive.  We could have hiked down into the crater, but passed.  We were ready to head back to Vegas and eat!

After Paul dropped us off, we did a quick stop at the Death Valley Visitor's Center for some souvenirs then it was back to Vegas.  Yet another successful Vegas day trip!

If you want to do this tour (or any tour of Death Valley), absolutely go with this company.  We could not have possibly had a better time than with Paul.  I've been putting links on all the titles, but this one deserves to stand out even more -

Random Vegas

Rated 1 - 10 (with 10 being a must see)...

This was the best part of Fremont Street and was easily the best meal I had in Vegas!  Upon walking in you have to put on a hospital gown and the heart attack theme is everywhere throughout the restaurant (the music videos were hysterical - loved when Olivia Newton-John's Heart Attack came on).

Only had a hamburger there, but it was a Triple Bypass Burger (each burger was massive) with 15 pieces of bacon added on.  The burger was super yummy.  Could have used a little more ketchup & mustard but I didn't want to make things any more messy than they already were lol.

Shawn & I both ordered the same thing to see who could finish more.  The danger in not finishing your meal - your waitress / nurse will spank you.  Hard.  With a paddle.  And with a view outside where a crowd watches it happen.  Shawn left about half a burger - I left one small bite (how could you go there and not experience the spanking - plus couldn't let my buddy go through it alone).  The spanking hurt.  Our waitress put every ounce of strength in her body into it.  But still 100% worth the visit.

If you're scared of the paddle, order the single burger - that can easily be finished.

Our first meal in Vegas and whoa was it a lot of food.  And good food at that!  I'll be back and next time I'm trying the red sauce (had meat sauce this time - it was good, but need to try the original).

My first lobster ever and it's lobster-on-a-stick!  I liked, so ready for plain lobster next.


I had the sausage, egg & cheese and a buttermilk biscuit - it was meh.  But the name is priceless lol.

I was extremely excited with the gelato - had 9 servings I think!  I was extremely stunned by the price, which resulted in a 2 for the review.

Oh and they had caviar on the buffet!  For an extra $150.00 - umm no.

A pic must.  Get ready for a long line if you go during the day.

The old section of Vegas but you gotta include it on any Vegas trip.  It's like a seedy Niagara Falls Clifton Hill.

AHKOB  (9)

Free!  Hidden inside the Louis Vuitton store in City Center.  I'd give it a 10 if pics were allowed.  But well worth a stop.  Make sure to leave 45 minutes for the complete tour - it's worth it.  And absolutely make a reservation a week or two before you go!

GLACIA  (10)

Free!  Also inside City Center.  I love weird art like this.

It was a cool show, but I was hoping for more acrobatics and less theatrical stuff.  I yawned through the Cirque show I saw in Pigeon Forge too, so maybe not for me.

I first saw the show 3 days before my Vegas trip, so I wasn't really too familiar with this.  But the people were awesome at this store - super nice.  But none of the shows' stars were there the day we were.

Shawn & I wanted to visit the absolute worst casino in Vegas.  Something old, run down & completely off the beaten path.  We saw this from the freeway & figured it had to be the place.  It was definitely run down and only had one blackjack table going when we went - good signs for success.

But then things went far different than we expected.  Two people at the full blackjack table offered to get up and let us play (what?!) and one of the pit bosses was questioning who was winning and was then happy to see it was us.  No, this wasn't the worst casino - this was one with the nicest people.  I absolutely plan to return here on my next visit!

We were running late when we got here so couldn't stay long.  Which is sad as the classic pinball & video game selection was awesome.  It's free admission & the video game prices are also very retro:  25-cents for 3 - 5 balls at pinball and 25-cents for the arcade games.  Another spot I gotta return to next visit.  Give this at least 90 minutes if you go!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt!

My buddy Shawn spent hours upon hours putting together a scavenger hunt of things to do while in Vegas which involved a stop at every major casino on the Vegas strip.  It was centered around the fact that it was Frankie & Alicia's first time in Vegas so we did a lot of the touristy Vegas things.  (It's Alicia on the card as it was her birthday that week.)

Running down that list, I'll rank them 1 - 10 (with 10 being a must visit)...

Free!  It's way up the strip but absolutely worth the visit.  We were all stressed out from a rough day of running around when we got here, but the mermaid managed to put us all back into a happy mood.  How can you not smile and feel good when a mermaid blows kisses at you!

It's a nice aquarium.  Kinda small, but has a walkthrough tunnel you can see the sharks from, a giant jellyfish tank, and (my favorite part) a pool where you can pet stingrays.  A little pricey at $20 but if you like aquariums, it's worth a stop.


LUXOR:  Inclining elevators  (3)

Free!  Pyramid elevators can't go straight up & down of course.  These are on an angle (you can tell by the observation windows in the background - although the elevators themselves do not have windows).  The "A" elevators (I think) are the best ones to take as they're the only ones that go up to the 27th floor where you can look down at the casino floor from almost the highest point.  When going in the elevator, walk to the left side and lean against that wall as it moves.  You'll absolutely get that weird sidewise movement feel there.


Free (but pay per game obviously).  It's an arcade with skeeball & video games.  We played the 4-person Pac-Man Battle along with a couple others.  Was a fun time.

Free!  Exactly as it sounds.

Free!  If you've ever wanted to have a say in what a major TV network airs, here's your chance.  They put you in a room with a bunch of computers and have you watch an episode of a brand new TV show.  It's usually one that hasn't aired yet (but in our case we saw the pilot of episode of Superior Donuts which had already aired a few weeks before - it's still too early for next season's TV pilots).  As the show airs, you turn a control to say whether you like or dislike what you're seeing.  After it airs, you fill out a survey on the computer giving more opinions on the show, characters, etc.
Wait to eat until after as they'll most likely give you coupons for the food court and discount coupons for the CBS store as well.  Plan on an hour for this.

$19 and up and includes a parka and gloves to wear.  It's a bar where everything is ice (including the glasses you drink out of).  We did a Groupon that got us a free drink inside too.

Free to see, $20 for the champagne.  Exactly as it sounds.  I'm not a big fan of champagne, so not really my thing.


COSMOPOLITAN:  Hidden pizza place (Secret Pizza)  (9)

Free (pizza reasonably priced).  It's not on any map, so have fun finding it!  It's worth the hunt as the pizza was excellent (I got cheese & sausage).

Free!  Give it a rub for good luck.

Free!  No major theatrics here - just thunder, lightning & rain while in a mall.  Don't worry, you won't get wet.

$20 (check for deals).  An observation deck.  We did this after Stratosphere (which was amazing), so this wasn't too impressive.  The highlight was the guide at the top who knew every little weird fact about every casino on the strip.  He made this visit 100% worth it.  I so wish I could remember his name.

Free!  Easily the best fountain show I've ever seen.  Make sure to go at night!

Free!  It's located near the Cheesecake Factory in the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops.  Such an outdated looking show but worth a watch.

Free!  There's actual flamingos at The Flamingo lol.


Free (but if you want to play at their table, then obviously not free).  It's a long block off the strip, but I HIGHLY recommend this stop.  We had the best time here, but sadly didn't have much time as we had a plane to catch.  I could have stayed here all night.  A Wynonna Judd lookalike was our blackjack dealer and she was awesome!  I ended up winning about $50 but even if I didn't win, would have still loved every second.  A Mariah Carey lookalike was also there when we went but we didn't have a chance to play at her table.  You can also bet on upcoming sports games here (Shawn bet on the Bills, I placed a bet for the Cubs).

$22 and up.  As of this writing, it's the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world.  I recommend the non-bar cars as they're far less crowded so you have tons of space to move around.  A great view of Vegas from this.

Free!  My memories of the volcano eruption were nowhere near as impressive as what we saw.  This was so cool and absolutely worth a stop.


Free to see (unless you order a drink).  It's impressive to see the acrobatics of the flipping / flinging of the cups as they make the drink.  Unless you have our guy who dropped things a lot lol.

TREASURE ISLAND:  Pirate Show  (1)

Free!  You can only see the pirate ships now, the show has been discontinued.

$29 & up.  The guy who serenaded our ride was excellent, but the ride was extremely short.

Free!  This was one weird show on a small pond.  We found the greatest place to watch it from a little casino bar on the 2nd floor towards the right side of the pond.

Free!   I can't believe I'm rating this high, but it was really cool.  We see Ladderman and it was non-stop impressive.  Also at Circus Circus (way behind the casino) is Adventuredome, where they have one of the last operating Chance Chaos rides in North America.  You might remember it from Martin's Fantasy Island (not the exact ride that was there, but a clone) - it's one of my favorite spin rides ever.

Free!  We had to do a substitution here as the sex shop is now out of business - which is shocking in Vegas of all places!  The bar features pictures of monkeys everywhere lol.  I probably would have rated higher if we had a chance to hang out longer here, but the Stratosphere was waiting.

$20 and up.  This is the #1 view of Vegas!  And once at the top, don't just look out the windows - go outside and see an unobstructed view of the strip.  And then do the Insanity ride that's pictured hanging over the edge (or one of the other rides up there - Big Shot is good too).  Insanity was so awesome, I rode it 3 times.  And got Shawn on it too - he loved it.