Vegas 101 (The Basics)

First trip to Las Vegas?  Or, has it been awhile since your last visit?  Here are a few tips and basic suggestions to help ensure your visit is enjoyable and FUN!Las Vegas (101)

Determine what kind of vacation you are looking for before you book your trip.  If you are looking for a wild time to party and are willing to pay top dollar, then New Year’s Eve, any week in March for Spring Break, Fourth of July, Memorial day weekend, and Labor day weekend are the best.  The long-weekend exception is Thanksgiving, since most people want to eat turkey at home with the family, Vegas is less expensive, less crowded, fewer families, and super fun.  If you are like me, and you would rather a better value for your accommodations & prefer to avoid the crowds and lines, then I suggest weekday visits, off-season (when kids are in school, both college kids and younger kids since some families insist on bringing children to the city of SIN).  Double-check for large conventions in town during your visit.  It is probably better to avoid the Vegas Porn convention if you do want to bring your children, or parents for that matter!

Continue reading “Vegas 101 (The Basics)”

Luxurious Spa Avania in Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona

This time of year can be stressful, we are in a rush to finish projects before year-end, family travelling or just providing the extra “drama” to the day, crowds and traffic for holiday shopping, and many other unpleasant activities.  If you are looking for a great way to relax and recoup your energy, then book an appointment at Spa Avania at Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale!  Also a great present if you want to give the gift of relaxing.  The spa offers Arizona residents discounts on certain services, and it is a beautiful resort for our out-of-town visitors (or locals that need a staycation).

Spa Avania gift certificates were part of my Birthday present this year, and today I needed a facial!  Previously, I enjoyed the best deep tissue massage of my life here and the facial was pretty darn good, too.

Spa Avania entrance, Resort lobby to the left
Spa Avania entrance, Resort lobby to the left

Updated August 2015 – During an amazing day of group pool time, eating, and treatments here, several friends commented that it is difficult to find the spa.  Spa Avania and the mineral pool (pictured below) are located in a stand alone building, southeast from the lobby across from the front parking area. Continue reading “Luxurious Spa Avania in Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona”

Barrachina in San Juan

The entire city of San Juan was a pleasant surprise.  It is not quite modern America, but a blend between downtown Tucson and a historic town that time really does not closely pay attention to.  At 18 degrees north of the equator, the weather is fantastic and warm year round on the beautiful little island.

We arrived at the port in San Juan and explored the old part of town on foot in a few hours.  In old San Juan there are narrow cobblestone streets, historic forts, and gorgeous views of the water.  All of that walking made us hungry, and thirsty.  As a US territory, my smartphone had excellent coverage and thanks to Open Table we found Barrachina for dinner.

Barrachina courtyard

Famous for the origin of the Pina Colada, it was the best Pina Colada that I have ever tasted!  The food was amazing and fresh.  Barrachina is reasonably priced, providing great service, and amazing food.

We started with Grouper Fritters that were fresh, perfectly prepared (not too greasy for breaded & fried fish), and delicious.  Due to all of our walking before dinner, these yummy appetizers did not last long enough for a picture.

Mofongo beef, chicken, and shrimp is a fried green plantain dish, that can only be described as a flavor explosion.  My mouth waters just remembering how good it tasted.  The spices reminded me of Spanish cuisine, complex and mild that would not count as “spicy” compared to any Mexican dish.

Red Snapper dish
Red Snapper dish

 

The ultimate treat was the local caught, grilled whole red snapper fish with shrimp and putanesca sauce.    Yes, it is a 24 ounce entire fish with scales, eyes, tail, and face.  Admittedly, I skipped the eyes and tail.  The fish alone could easily serve 4, then they added shrimp, rice, veggies, beans, and hearty tomato putanesca sauce.  Two of us barely put a dent in this wonderful dish.

Sunset in old San Juan

With so much to see just in San Juan, we did not explored much of Puerto Rico and now I have another must-explore list to my future travel plans.  We will definitely dine at Barrachina on our next visit to Puerto Rico, which I hope will be soon!

Desert Botanical Garden

There is so much beauty in the desert.  Some of it is hidden away, just out of sight.  The Desert Botanical Garden is one of those hidden gems.  Located in the very heart of metro Phoenix.  This tranquil garden showcasing the desert beauty.  In addition to daily tours (recommended for October through May), there are evening events for enjoyment year round.

Papago Park overlooking Desert Botanical Garden
Papago Park overlooking Desert Botanical Garden

I was asked to plan a work event on a small budget.  After narrowing the selection down to my top 3 selections, the team voted on dinner and concert at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.  Since our group was larger than 10 people we were given the group discount for the concert.  I worked with one of the super accommodating group planners to order dinner and reserve a private patio.

The garden is just beautiful!  Walking along the paved path there are so much beautiful plants with amazing colors.  We watched the sunset over the mountains in the garden during our cocktail service before dinner.  It is easy to forget that the garden is located in the middle of Phoenix.  The garden is full of delightful smells and visual treats.

The entire dinner was prepared well and seemed far more elegant in the garden setting.  Many people in attendance described the event & location as “classy”.

 

This is a fantastic location for wedding ceremony, reception, special night out, the list goes on and on.  I am already planning my next trip, maybe just a simple tour and romantic picnic lunch.

Taste Chandler

Last night I attended the Taste Chandler’s Culinary Festival in Downtown Chandler.  Single ticket was $35 and Couples admission was $50.  All tickets included 12 drink tickets, redeemable for 12 drinks! Chandler was smart to offer free bottles of water. You can eat and drink for 5 hours, which was a great value for the price.  We visited both lounges and went back to the Vintage 95 Wine Lounge a few times sampling the different wines.  12 tickets went a long way with the generous pours in the lounge!  Chandler did a good job organizing the event, with hand wash stations, plenty of rubbish bins, and music.

This is a great opportunity for restaurants to showcase their food.  Some of them achieved this goal, while others saved me time and money to ever visit their establishment.  This is a tasting event, about a tenth the size of Taste of Chicago, but a similar concept.  Each vendor brings small plate portion or a small single serving.  This allows you to sample a little bit from everyone.

Places now added to my “skip it” list:

  • Dos Gringos Mexigrill steak tacos tasted like low-quality dog food.  If I step foot into a Dos Gringos it will be to order a drink, maybe.
  • Irish Republic offered Jamison meatballs that went straight into the garbage after one bite.  I fear a second bite would have ended my night right then and there.

If you are going to do one thing, then do it well:

  • Coach & Willie’s lobster bisque was delicious.  We were actually in line for another vendor, when the woman beside me and asked if we had tried the soup.  Then she insisted that we immediately get our soup before they run out.  It was a little salty on the finish, but tasty and flavorful.
  • Grimald’s Brick Oven Pizzeria mixed it up with perfectly flaky cannolis.
  • Latitude 8 Thai Grill quenched our thirst with a refreshing vanilla vodka thai tea, mixed right in front of us.

    Le Cordon Bleu
  • Le Cordon Bleu is a culinary school that I always look forward to.  They served a choice of pasta, salmon with rice, or filet mignon with seasoned mashed potatoes.   It was one of our first plates to taste, and I am glad we arrived before they ran out of filet.
  • Yoli’s cafe served chicken tacos with sweet cabbage slaw.  I had never heard of this little gem, but I plan visit them soon.  She accommodated my special request, and gave me a coupon.

Superstars:

  • Pearl Sushi Lounge served sweet chili edamame, salmon poke with avocado “tacos”, and a crunch roll.  The greeter was informative, provided coupons, answered questions, and gave a complete description of everything we sampled.  I will definitely use the coupon, and plan to wear pearls for the Girls and Pearls Thursday night happy hour special!
  • Bourbon Jacks Bar and Grill started with a pretty good pulled pork sandwich, then finished with a fantastic black bottom pecan pie.  The pecan pie was so good that I ate 2 servings!
  • Udder Delights is the ice cream store for my favorite little local dairy, Superstition Farms.  The pumpkin ice cream was fantastic and served with an even better pumpkin ricotta custard.  The pairing was pumpkin heaven!  Even people that said they really do not like pumpkin agreed it was tasty good.
  • Shimogamo is one of my favorite sushi restaurants in town.  Since they were
    Shimogamo preparing sushi on-site

    preparing and serving food in an outdoor festival, they were did a great job with the delicious salmon and white fish sushi with crunch rolls.  They brought a portable refrigerated case, hand-made everything right there by their best sushi chef, and customized each plate with preferences.  It was by far the

    Sampler plate from Shimogamo

    BEST dish served at the festival, and it is not nearly as good as what they serve in the restaurant.  Seriously, they are that good!