Vegas, Vegas Everywhere

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: I don’t even know why I am blogging about Las Vegas. This is one of the world class tourist destinations in the world and somewhere around 40 million people visit Las Vegas every year. So chances are that everyone who is reading it have been there at least once maybe (mostly for the North Americans). 

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Walking around at night

But I do recommend one thing in Vegas, other than just hopping from one casino to another and trying out all sorts of food or shopping in expensive stores; that is please get out of the city and enjoy the beautiful mountains and valleys that Nevada has to offer. Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Death Valley…some of these places are only half an hour to a few hours of drive and they have majestic landscapes, spectacular mountains with lots of activities to do. These ideal getaways, especially if you are traveling with kids. 

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Vegas life

I went back to Vegas after about 15 years and it looked almost exactly the same as I remember from 2004. Maybe new hotels here and there or slightly more crowded. But overall, the essence of Las Vegas was still the same…energetic, noisy, hustling, and fun. Yes, it’s an exciting city to be in for any age. For those who are not into gambling like me, believe me you will find something you’ll like everytime you are in this Sin City. 

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Vegas, Vegas, and more Vegas

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Stratosphere Tower or The Strat this time. It’s a bit off the main strip of Vegas, but Uber or public buses are there to take you around. It’s surrounded by many shops and restaurants. Inside the hotel, cafes, steakhouse, buffet, and Starbucks are there. Stratosphere also has Skypod restaurant, extreme rides (like skyjump), observation deck, and rooftop pool. If you are a fan of King of Pop, Michael Jackson, Stratosphere’s theater also arranges MJ Live Tribute Concert every evening. Stratosphere’s buffet is also way cheaper than many other casinos. Depending on the day/night of the year, it’s usually somewhere around $20 per adult. 

TIME of TRAVEL: My daughters and I were in Vegas during their winter break of 2019. We stayed there for 4 nights and 3 full days to enjoy as much possible in and around the city. This is a great time to see the Christmas and holiday decorations in each hotel and casino. The temperature is not as warm as I thought it would be. It was around 50s during the day but at night, it drops down to 40s. So carrying a sweater is a good idea. 

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Gorgeous day near Venetian in December

EATING and SHOPPING: I guess you don’t have to worry much about finding a restaurant in Vegas. Everywhere you look on the boulevard, at least 10 restaurants will be there in every direction. Since my girls and I are big In ‘N Out Burgers’ fans, we ate twice there…on the Linq Promenade. Shake Shack is another excellent burger place you can try. We also had dinner buffet at Stratosphere, called Crafted Buffet. It had all the variety of delicious food yet is cheaper than most of the buffets in town. For around $25 per adult and half the price of kids…we had excellent dinners there twice. Another few places I would recommend, if you are into celebrity TV shows, is trying out celebrity chefs’ restaurants. Bobby Flay, Iron Chef Morimoto, Wolfgang Puck, Giada, and etc…they all have some kind of big of small restaurants in Vegas. Gordon Ramsey has few of his own eateries here too. For one of the lunches, we tried Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen in Caesar’s Palace. My daughters’ baked salmon, burger, and finally…my lobster risotto, phew…I can never forget the taste of that risotto. To finish it off, we had sticky toffee pudding…it was a perfect sweet treat to end the course. We had to wait in line for half an hour but the service is pretty fast and the whole restaurant is themed around the TV show “Hell’s Kitchen” and with blue and red team.   

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Lunching in Hell’s Kitchen in Las Vegas, NV

Souvenir shops are almost everywhere in Vegas. We liked the unique ones on Linq Promenade and other factory shops (see below). By the way, In ‘N Out Burgers also has a factory store somewhere around The Strip. Every hotel/casino has their own souvenir shops and other brand name clothing stores too, if you are into brand names. 

 

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Below are some of the things we did in Las Vegas. Next time, we are definitely going to the downtown area where the world’s largest LCD display can be seen with laser show and all (at least that’s what I heard). Checking out few other casinos/hotels would also be nice for next trip, like Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, or Paris. If you are here for a longer time, drive to Sedona, AZ…a red rock city which makes a great getaway from this busy place. 

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My lobster risotto in Hell’s Kitchen in Las Vegas…I can still taste it in my mouth.

 

Below are some of the places we visited, things we did, and shows we watched in Vegas:

  1. THE LINQ PROMENADE: This is a busy pedestrian zone near the Linq Hotel which is packed with unique shops and restaurants. In ‘N Out Burger is here too, if you like their burgers. Lots of street artists, including magicians, can been seen performing on the promenade. Different activities, like zipline, ferris wheel ride, etc can be done here too. We went back there twice, because it’s just nice to walk around here and window shop at different stores or just do people watching. 
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Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, NV

2. FACTORY STORES: Few of the fun stores we visited in Las Vegas that my kids absolutely enjoyed were M&M World, Coca-Cola Store, and Hershey’s Chocolate World. 

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Hershey’s Chocolate World, Las Vegas

M&M World and Coca-Cola Store are side by side near New York New York Hotel. And Hershey’s Chocolate World is right opposite of the other 2 stores. Fans or not-fans of these snacks and drinks must visit these exciting multi-floored shops just to check out what they have done inside and all the exciting items they sell. We ordered the international coke tray in the Coca-Cola store where you get to taste 16 different coke products from around the world for $15. 

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Our 16 flavors of coke from around the world in Coca-Cola Store in Las Vegas

3. THE PARK: Right beside New York New York Hotel and Casino, The Park is a delightful place to take a short stroll at night. It looked extra beautiful with Christmas lights and decorations everywhere.

4. SHOWS WE WATCHED: Las Vegas offers hundreds of different kinds of shows and performances all over the town. We caught 3 shows this time: David Copperfield’s Magic show in MGM Grand, Cirque du Soleil’s “O” in Bellagio, and MJ  Live – A Michael Jackson Tribute Concert in Stratosphere. You can book these tickets before you go or buy them at your hotel. Depending on the shows and nights, they can get booked pretty quickly.  

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Since we couldn’t take pictures inside the show

The only free show we’ve watched was Bellagio’s water fountain show, which takes place every half an hour and lasts for less than 5 minutes. There are other ones as well, which we couldn’t make time to go were 10 minutes free circus  performance inside Circus Circus, volcano by the Mirage, and many others. Almost every big hotel on the Strip offers some kind of free show or activities with little money. 

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Watershow in front of Bellagio, Las Vegas

 

5. CASINOS & HOTELS: New York New York was one of our favorites to visit for its cute little NY style alleys/streets like interiors. MGM Grand and Treasure Island was great too…nothing extraordinary. When I first visited Vegas 15 years ago, Caesar’s Palace was on my top list but this time, it didn’t appeal to me much. Nevertheless, it is still a great casino/hotel to check out. Bellagio’s Christmas decorations exceeded our expectations with its grandest and most creative ornaments. A whole section was dedicated to holiday celebration. From kids to adults, everyone was in awe after seeing Bellagio’s magnificent adorning statues, holiday figures, and colorful embellishments.

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Christmas decors inside Bellagio, NV

 

But to top everything, Venetian was our most favorite (no shocker). From outside, San Marco tower depicting Venice to inside Grand Canal Shoppes, gondola rides, and the whole nine yards…it’s breathtaking. Just being there feels like you are completely in a different world. Have some gelato while walking around the indoor mall.  

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Grand Canal Shoppe in Venetian, NV

6. RED ROCK CANYON: Taking a short trip to Red Rock Canyon is almost a must when you are in Vegas. Only half an hour from The Strip, this is a great outdoor heaven that you would not want to miss, especially if you have children. Please visit the right-sidebar to check out the things you can do in Red Rock Canyon. 

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Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas – Getting out of The Strip

RED ROCK CANYON, LAS VEGAS: When you think about Las Vegas, for most of the tourists, you don’t really imagine it being a place where people go hiking or mountain climbing or go mingling with nature as much. Only half an hour ride from the heart of Las Vegas Blvd, Red Rock Canyon is a fantastic getaway from the city chaos and to appreciate the great outdoors. Locals love Las Vegas, not for the boulevard, but for the spectacular hills and valleys that it has to offer. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

This is an open museum to enjoy some natural views, stunning landscapes, rock formations, and learn some facts on how Indian tribes lived here hundreds of years ago in the harsh environment. My kids definitely loved it and learned a lot on some local history, native Americans and their lifestyle, geology, and etc. According to our guide, the park has so many hiking trails that even if you hike everyday of the year in Red Rock Canyon, you still won’t have to repeat your trail. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

I booked this trip online through Viator with Red Rock Canyon Discovery Tour weeks before reaching Las Vegas. For about $75 per person, we had this guided 3 hours of tour. We started around 9am and were dropped off by noon. There are other longer and different versions of Red Rock Canyon tours with different activities and prices. But for me and the kids, 3 hours out of The Strip was perfect and were back to the city right on time for lunch. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Stratosphere Hotel or The Strat this time. Red Rock Canyon Discovery Tour doesn’t have pick up from here. So we met up with the guide in front of Treasure Island on The Strip. 

TIME of TRAVEL: It was during the winter holiday of 2019 when we came to Las Vegas. Red Rock Canyon can be slightly colder than the city. Make sure to bring a hoodie or a heavy sweater and wear very comfortable shoes here. If you are coming in summer, bring plenty of water and maybe a hat. Since it’s out in the desert, I can imagine the extreme heat can cause some serious problems if you are not prepared, especially if you are planning to hike. 

EATING and SHOPPING: There isn’t really any place to eat in the conservation area that we’ve seen. Not sure if picnic is allowed here either. Officially camping is prohibited inside the park but climbers still do camp on the high hills when it gets dark. 

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: After the visitors center, we stayed on the Scenic Loop Drive to stop at different areas of the park. The roads are clearly marked with all the signs. Some places we stopped at are below:

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

CALICO HILLS: This was our first and probably my favorite spot. Beautiful red rocks, small hills, canyons, and the sheer rugged beauty of this place is simply breathtaking. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

HIGH POINT OVERLOOK: This was another look out point with vast landscape and small mountains. 

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Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV

WILLOW SPRINGS: There are few hidden falls and streams in the park which we didn’t get to see. Willow Springs is a point where a tiny stream flows in the woods. We also saw ancient handprints on a stone wall here. Other tribal hieroglyphics can be found few areas in this park. Our guide also gave us some insights how native Americans used different plants for different purposes and how they helped them survive. 

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Can you see some hand prints? Red Rock Canyon, NV

 

Florida Parks: The Best Way to Explore the Florida Keys

Lots of visitors to the Florida Keys rave about the food, the nightlife, and the welcoming atmosphere, but the best way to experience the Keys is through Florida’s state and national parks. These are some of the most beautiful and unique public lands in the continental U.S. People travel the world over to swim, snorkel, and fish here. Read on to find out why.

Bahia Honda State Park

Located on Bahia Honda Key north of Key West, this park is best known for two of its beaches. In fact, you might even recognize them from photos. One’s on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island and one’s on the Florida Bay side of the island. Beach equipment rental is easy at the island concession stand, which also offers food service and a small gift shop. Visitors enjoy hiking, fishing, biking, as well as birdwatching. You can pitch a tent or park your RV in designated areas, with reservations; marina slips are also offered for overnight docking. No trip to Bahia Honda State Park would be complete without snorkeling – reserve your spot on the snorkeling tour of Looe Key Marine Sanctuary in advance by phone or online.

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Get a real feel for American history while enjoying some great outdoor activities at this landmark fort on the southern part of Key West. Tours of Fort Zachary Taylor are offered every day. Learn more about how American troops served during the Civil War and the Spanish American War by walking the same paths, looking through the same gun ports, and watching re-enactors bring history to life. Nature trails offer hiking and scenic views; bring a bike for the bike trails. Swimming at the sandy beach here is popular; you can also rent umbrellas, beach chairs, and snorkeling gear. The picnic areas here have grills, so consider stopping by a grocery store for supplies on your way in; if you’d rather let someone else do the cooking, visit the park’s cafe for light refreshments in the shade. If you have a fishing license, there are also designated fishing spots here.

Biscayne National Park

Another of the Florida Keys’ parks with expansive underwater acreage, this one is located at the northernmost part of the Keys. Initially created to preserve the last of the undeveloped Keys, today, tourism is the primary draw. See the best of Biscayne National Park on a guided tour from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. View some of the historic shipwrecks that are part of the Maritime Heritage Trail and the colorful marine life that’s grown up around them. Kayaks and canoes are available for rent, and guests can take a self-paced tour around the key, exploring mangrove-sheltered shallows. The park’s shorelines are home to wading birds and shore birds, as well as dolphins and turtles, so be sure to pack binoculars. Don’t miss Jones Lagoon and Hurricane Creek. Feeling adventurous? You can camp at Biscayne National Park, too, at Boca Chita and Elliott Key. These campsites are pack in/pack out, and offer trails and swimming; however, the amenities are pretty basic. And be sure to try the fishing here. The area is especially well-known for bonefish, grouper, tarpon, and spiny lobster. Seize the Day Charters  can ensure any required licensing is in place for a relaxing trip.

Florida’s state and national parks offer visitors a unique and up-close look at the Sunshine State’s natural beauty. From snorkeling and diving to fishing, birdwatching, kayaking, and more, it’s easy to immerse yourself among the plants and animals that make the Florida Keys such a special place to visit in these parks.

 

Reasons To Visit The State of New York

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You might think more songs have been sung about New York than there are people in this fascinating place. But there is one thing that anyone who has visited this state can agree, it is a helluva town. And that is the first thing that we should address, New York is a state and not just NYC as you might think. So we are going to take a look at why a tourist should visit New York, the whole state.

Attractions

If there is one thing you can say for sure with New York, it is that there are enough attractions to keep you busy for weeks. We are going to break them down into different categories to demonstrate just how broad a trip you can have in this part of the US.

 

  • Theatre

 

The first thing that a lot of people will want to do when they arrive in New York is book Broadway show tickets. The reason for that is pretty straightforward, aside from the West End in London there isn’t anywhere in the world with such a great range of commercial theatre on offer. Every show you can imagine will be available on this historical stretch of New York from the classics such as Chicago and Oklahoma to the modern hits like Mean Girls and Book of Mormon.

 

  • Architecture

 

If there is one thing that attracts the world to New York City it is the architecture. Home of the skyscraper is one way to describe this stunning part of the world. Some of the feats of engineering haven’t been replicated anywhere in the else from King Kong’s favorite hot spot the Empire State Building to Rockefeller Centre; home of NBC and Saturday Night Live. Be careful not to hurt your neck looking up at these incredible buildings and make sure you pay a visit to the beautiful memorial to the tragic events of 9/11. You will be amazed at how in such as busy city there can be this peaceful place for reflection and respect – a true testament to the spirit of New York.

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Photo by 12019 from Pixabay

Natural Beauty

As promised we aren’t going to stay in Manhattan, no we are going to explore the other parts of the state and the place to go if you are looking to get out of the city of New York is, Buffalo. Now, it might not sound like much but this is the home of Niagara Falls; the natural phenomenon that straddles the border of the US and Canada is not to be missed and is accessible by car from New York City. Niagara is the perfect example of why you should look beyond the city when it comes to New York. While there are some incredible things to see in the state’s capital, there is natural beauty like nothing else in the world just a short drive away. While visiting Niagara Falls, be sure to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist so that you can get up close and personal to hear to the thunderous roar of the waterfall.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

My kids and I were in Palm Springs, California over the Thanksgiving weekend. And one of the highlights of this trip was visiting the magnificent Joshua Tree National Park. We stayed in the city of Indio in Coachella Valley and It was about little more than half an hour drive to the Southern Entrance/Cottonwood Entrance of JTNP from our hotel.

Beautiful landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, California

Beautiful landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, California

Ticket per vehicle is $30 which can be used for the next 7 days. You can spend from half a day to few days or weeks in this park. We bought few water bottles, some protein bars, luncheables, chips, and candies before entering the park. We arrived the Southern Visitor Center around 10:30am and stayed until about 3:30. If you have time and energy, staying longer is highly recommended to enjoy dramatic sunsets or to camp or if you love star gazing…to experience a stunning desert sky from the park. JTNP is a paradise for the hikers, rock-climbers, photographers, nature-lovers, kids, adults, and many more.

If you follow the JTNP map, it’ll take you to all the spots and parts of the park that you want to visit. We made it to most of the places that we planned to visit. These are some of the really cool and beautiful places of JTNP that we loved and the kids enjoyed:

Ocatillo Patch: Ocatillo is not a true cactus but a beautiful plant indigenous to Sonoran and couple other desert in the USA. JTNP has an area, called Ocatillo Patch, (follow the sign). It’s a nice place to take some pictures, walk around, and explore the nature.

Ocatillo Patch in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Ocatillo Patch in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden: This was one of our favorites. A whole big area on the both sides of the road is covered with cholla cactus, a beautiful looking but very thorny cactus. Be careful with kids here. We ended up spending more than half an hour strolling thru the cacti, taking pictures, and having fun looking at these plants in the desert. We even saw couple small lizards here.

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Cholla Cactus Garden in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Jumbo Rock Campground: This was our number one in the park. Jumbo Rock campground and the surroundings are the places with really huge boulders. My kids couldn’t get enough of rock climbing and the stunning view of everything…the trees, big rocks, mountains, blue sky, everything was part of a big piece of this beauty. It’s a big playground for any age. We stopped at different sections of Jumbo rocks and still couldn’t see all of it.

Jumbo Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Jumbo Rock Campground in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Camping in JTNP is a very popular activity and we saw bunch of tents and RVs parked in Jumbo Rock Campground. I can imagine the beautiful night sky from here. Tourists can spend days among these boulders for rock climbing, photography, or just hiking.

Skull Rock: Skull rock is another jumbo rock which has the shape of a human skull. We didn’t spend much time here other than just taking some photos. But there are other big rocks that can be climbed and trails that can be hiked.

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Keys View: Keys View is another must. Even if you don’t visit other spots in JTNP, Keys View deserves some attention. This is a view point from where you can see the mountains and Salton sea. Although we didn’t stay too long since it was getting a bit cold, sunset from this spot is very famous…just bring some extra clothes.

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Once we were done, we left the park thru “Joshua Tree” visitor center, which is about 20 miles from Keys View. JTNP doesn’t have any running water, restaurants, café or snack bars or vending machines inside the park. It’s better to bring lots of water bottles, sandwiches or bars, extra clothes, or even maybe first aid kits (just in case you are that unfortunate or clumsy tourist who may have a bad luck with the cacti there).

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