Family fun in Sin City

Oops, I did it again. I missed writing about yet another trip taken over the past year. But like the indefatigable Britney Spears, I, too, am making a comeback!

My plan to blog regularly suffered from “too much to do” syndrome this past year. But I’m hoping to redeem myself and start again with my most recent trip — a family vacation to Las Vegas to celebrate Dan’s birthday. In which I actually did see Britney Spears. Her high-powered show was the first night of fun, thanks to a big (OK, little) push from my daughter, Maureen. It was a fabulous show, although I have to admit I didn’t recognize most of the songs. I also felt a little out-of-place among the short skirts, plunging necklines, and stiletto heels. Talk about feeling old!


• We stayed at the Grandview at Las Vegas, a timeshare across from Southpoint Casino about four miles from the Strip. They gave us two connecting rooms, which was great. Turned out to be a nice home base. Got in some great runs through nearby neighborhoods and a beautiful city park across the street.

• The kids and I spent Sunday afternoon walking the strip from the Venetian hotel to New York-New York, where we met Dan at his favorite Vegas pub, Nine Fine Irishmen. Striving to find a little saintliness in the midst of Sin City, we decided to attend mass at the beautiful Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer. Then we went across the street to Hooter’s Casino to play the cheap blackjack tables! 🙂 Only in Vegas!

• Took a break from the Strip to drive out to beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, where the kids did some risky (to me!) rock climbing. (See if you can find them among the rocks in the pictures below — it’s our very own “Where’s Waldo!”) Despite 90+ temperatures, we hiked the same trail as Dan and I did on our last trip, and this time we actually saw two of the wild burros! If you’re interested in them and the park in general, see my 2013 blog post “What happens in Vegas…”

• We celebrated our last evening with a fun dinner at the Hofbräuhaus Las Vegas. Enjoyed the food and the oom-pah band and the memories it rekindled of our years in Germany. We then drove out to Fremont Street to enjoy the impressionist Gordie Brown at the Golden Nugget as well as the whole Fremont Street Experience. After we got back to the resort, everyone but me was up for one more casino run, so out they went till the wee hours of the morning. Lucky choice for Tom and Bryan, not so much for Dan and Maureen. But that’s Vegas, baby! 🙂

Categories: Desert, Family Fun, Las Vegas, Travel, Vacations, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Georgia mountains: an idyllic weekend getaway

It’s always been a toss-up which I love more — the beach or the mountains. Sparkling waves crashing on the shore vs. majestic vistas and quiet, serene beauty. They each inspire peace and tranquility and are a beautiful reminder of God’s infinite glory. Definitely hard to choose, so I’m glad I get to spend time enjoying both.

We’ve been heading to the ocean a lot lately but usually only get to the mountains during ski season. However, in August, Dan and I took advantage of a great deal to head to the North Georgia mountains for a weekend getaway. We stayed at the Kingwood Country Club and Resort in Clayton in the northeastern part of the state. I had never been up in that neck of the woods, which is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest and is quite beautiful. I highly recommend the resort, which has a spa and beautiful 18-hole golf course. The staff was very friendly and accommodating, the food in the lodge was excellent (free hot breakfast buffet) and the rooms were spacious and comfortable.

On Friday night, we ventured into downtown Clayton and found some great pizza at Zeppelin’s Pasta House on Main Street in the historic area. We then headed across the street to Universal Joint (or UJoint as it’s known) a restaurant/bar housed in an old commercial garage. How clever! We were lured over by live music out on the patio, which consisted of a man and woman with a guitar and synthesizer. They were very entertaining. It was great sitting outdoors under the beautiful full moon and being part of the locals’ Friday night out. Clayton, Georgia was hopping! 🙂

People on stage.

Outdoor entertainment in downtown Clayton under a beautiful full moon.

We planned to hike on Saturday, and luckily the weather cooperated since we had threats of storms all weekend. We headed about 25 minutes south to Tallulah Gorge State Park, which Dan and daughter Maureen had hiked years ago, and I always wanted to see. It was awesome! We hiked to the nearby waterfalls, which involved climbing up and down 878 steps as well as traversing a suspension bridge. It was tougher than it sounds! But I felt like you couldn’t really count it as hiking if you’re climbing stairs, so we decided to tackle the trail to the bottom of the gorge. It’s called, quite appropriately, Sliding Rock Trail. A quarter mile of nothing but rocks and boulders on a 45-degree slope. Yikes! You have to get a permit at the interpretive center before doing that part of the trail — that should have been warning enough. But it didn’t really hit me that it was kind of dangerous until I slipped and fell into a gully and smacked my side against a tree limb. So much for being the intrepid outdoorswoman.

When we finally reached the bottom, we saw lots of people enjoying the water around Bridal Veil Falls, where you’re allowed to swim. Some were daring enough to use the rocks as a slide, which actually looked fun. Dan took advantage of a cooling swim, but I didn’t feel like hiking back up soaking wet, so I relaxed and had a snack. Surprisingly, it was easier to climb back up the trail than it was to come down, but we were pretty tired when we finished. My ankles and legs really felt it later on. (Guess those stairs were more of a workout than I thought!) Back at the resort, I enjoyed some relaxing pool time, then we went to dinner at the lodge. Excellent crab-stuffed trout!

We hoped to go to the beach at nearby Lake Rabun on Sunday, but the weather was overcast and misty. We went to mass at St. Helena’s Catholic Church, then took a ride out to the lake anyway to check it out for next time. Lake Rabun is huge, and the part we traveled around was really pretty with lots of coves and inlets. Looks like a great place for a summer home! Dan? 🙂

Categories: Georgia, Hiking, Mountains, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Can’t beat the beach for sun and fun

Florida’s Cocoa Beach has been our go-to summer vacation spot for the past couple of years, and we enjoyed another trip there in July. Lots of family members joined us last year for a 4th of July birthday blast, but this year was quieter with just my mother visiting for a couple of days. We still had a great time, though. What’s not to love about a week filled with golf, swimming, running on the beach, and beautiful, romantic sunsets? (Heard the sunrises were spectacular too, but we didn’t quite make it to those!)

This year, we found a great Irish bar called Nolan’s Irish Pub and became fast friends with owner John Nolan, who hails from county Wexford in Ireland. Our first night there they were having a memorial fundraiser for George Donaldson of the group Celtic Thunder. He was a friend of John’s who was supposed to sing that night but unexpectedly died in March of a heart attack. Very sad. The fundraiser was to help his 13-year-old daughter in Scotland. John and his wife, Mary, also run a travel/tour agency, and they were leaving later that week for Ireland and Scotland to visit her.

John invited us to return the following evening as they were having a jam session with local musicians, most of them professionals who had retired to the area. Great music! By the end of the night, Dan was invited to join them, and he sang a beautiful rendition of Danny Boy. It was pretty cool. I think we’ll be visiting Cocoa Beach for years to come just to hang out at Nolan’s. 🙂

Dan (in yellow shirt) singing at Nolan's Irish Pub.

Dan (in yellow shirt) singing at Nolan’s Irish Pub.

The other highlight of our trip was a Victory Casino Cruise out of Port Canaveral. We chose the daytime trip, which had a LOT of old people on it (so if you’re on the younger side you may want to try the nighttime party cruise). Pretty good deal — only $10 for the trip, more if you want the buffet. Of course, when all was said and done, it cost us a helluva lot more! Definitely was not our lucky day. 😦  Note to self: don’t let Dan play roulette. Even with 50-50 odds, he can’t pick the right one!

After the cruise, we headed over to the Cove at Port Canaveral, a waterfront recreation area teeming with restaurants, lounges, shops, and ships. It gets pretty lively at night, with most places featuring DJs, live music, karaoke, and plenty of dancing. We enjoyed dinner and music at Fishlips Waterfront Bar & Grill while watching a storm come in over the water. Made it back home just in time!

All in all, a wonderful week. Till next year …

Categories: Beach, Florida, Ocean, Travel, Vacations | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dreaming about the good life

Dan and I headed down the Atlantic coast in May to visit more of our favorite islands — St. Simons off the coast of Georgia, and Amelia Island near Jacksonville, Florida. It was a “visit our best friends who live on beautiful islands so we can be jealous and fantasize about living there too” sort of trip. Well, for me anyway! Technically, Dan’s friend Mike no longer lives on St. Simons (although he still has a house there), but they played rugby on Saturday so we did get out to the island on Friday night for the pre-game party. And Mike now has a beautiful home in Brunswick on the Little Satilla river, with a dock and a boat house and a fabulous view, which inspired a sufficient amount of envy (at least in me) to count.

While Dan met up with his fellow ruggers on Saturday, I headed to Amelia Island to visit my friend Jan, who has retired to a leisurely life of cycling and running on the beach. We did a bit of both and rewarded ourselves by dining out at two great beachside restaurants — Sandy Bottoms Beach Bar and Sliders Seaside Grill. Jan has a beautiful house about a mile from the beach, and we relaxed on her patio Saturday night and enjoyed pizza and a movie, and of course, lots of girl talk. My visit was way too short, and I look forward to returning for more than just an overnight. Maybe even permanently …  Dan? 🙂

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Springtime in South Carolina: a weekend jaunt to my favorite island

Anyone who lives in the South knows that its springtime beauty is simply unsurpassed. Dogwoods, azaleas, wisteria, lilacs, forsythia — the earth simply explodes in a riot of color. As a transplanted Yankee, I have to say it’s my favorite season here. It’s always nice to take a road trip in the spring, so Dan and I took advantage of a four-day, three night timeshare deal to come back to Hilton Head Island, off the coast of South Carolina. It’s one of my favorite places, with its lush landscape, beautiful beaches, and miles of trails. We’re old hats at the timeshare thing, so we don’t mind sitting through the spiel every once in a while. Unfortunately, we only had one day of sun, and we missed half of it in the presentation Saturday morning. But we did spend the afternoon on the beach, which was wonderful. Just the sound of the ocean makes all my cares melt away!

People walking along the beach.

Beautiful day for enjoying the beach.

People playing volleyball on beach.

Spring Break time! The Holiday Inn beachfront is always a popular place.

Friday evening, we ate dinner at Skillets Cafe and Grill in Coligny Plaza, then wandered around the shops and bars. We always enjoy that area, which is located across from the beach in Shipyard Plantation. Saturday night we enjoyed dinner at Reilley’s Grill & Bar while watching our alma mater, the Connecticut Huskies, beat the Florida Gators in the NCAA semifinals. We were definitely in the minority fan club! The Huskies went on to win it all, as did the fabulous Lady Huskies, the 2nd time our teams won the national title in the same year. What can I say — UConn rules! 🙂 Sunday, we woke to pouring rain, went to mass at Holy Family Catholic Church, then attempted to do some sightseeing, hoping the rain would lighten up. Sadly it didn’t, so we reluctantly headed back to our condo for a quiet afternoon of TV (Dan) and a good book (me).

The weather cleared up some on Monday, so after checking out, we headed to the Old Town area of Bluffton on the mainland so I could show Dan some of the historic places I’d seen on a previous visit. We found the old Church of the Cross on the May River, built in 1854 and still in use today. According to the church docent, Bluffton was popular as a summer vacation town for the plantation owners from as far away as Charleston. The cool breezes from the river helped dispel the summer heat as well as control malaria from the mosquitoes! Today, it’s a beautiful, historic town with award-winning restaurants, galleries, and shops. Definitely has the Lowcountry vibe along the river with the trees draped in Spanish moss. After wandering around a bit, we stopped for lunch at a great Italian place called Napoli on our way out of town before heading home to Georgia.

Hilton Head is well-known for its spectacular golf courses, and we were sorry we didn’t get the chance to play. It also has miles of trails for biking and running and beautiful coastal villages like Harbour Town in Sea Pines Plantation. Hopefully, on our next trip the weather will cooperate so we can take advantage of all this beautiful island has to offer.

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Cruising the Caribbean: a mother-daughter trip to remember

Hubby doesn’t like to cruise. Mother eagerly seeking a cruise companion. Is that a no-brainer or what? Time to hit the high seas for a mother-daughter getaway!

Valentine’s week (sorry honey!) turned out to be the best deal on the Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s largest ship and my choice for our great adventure. I had heard a lot about its amenities like Central Park and the Boardwalk and its fabulous shows and thought it was something mom would really enjoy. Turned out to be a great choice. Despite a few glitches with weather and traffic getting to Ft. Lauderdale (I flew into Orlando, mom picked me up, and we drove the 4 hours down) the rest of the week went smoothly. We spent the night in Ft. Lauderdale so had plenty of time the next morning to get to the port. We brought a wheelchair for mom since she was having some hip problems, and I didn’t want her to have to walk everywhere. Great idea — gets you straight to the head of the line! Have to admit I did need some help pushing her up the five-story boarding ramp and in other spots on the ship (and almost tipped her over a couple of times — oops!) But it worked out well, and I sure got my upper-body exercise!

Night view of Central Park from our balcony.

Night view of Central Park from our balcony.

We chose a balcony cabin overlooking Central Park, and it was wonderful. My first time having a balcony, and I really enjoyed the openness. Central Park was great for people watching and listening to live music in the evenings. I didn’t mind not seeing the ocean as there were plenty of places on the pool deck to enjoy the view. Actually, the best place to be near the ocean was on the jogging track on deck 5. I ran almost every day and loved it — the track circled the entire ship. My absolute favorite place was the very back of the ship where you could see the huge wake as we meandered across the ocean. They had chairs available to sit and enjoy the quiet beauty, but I never got the chance to relax out there. Just kept running by it! Next time for sure.


A beautiful sunset on the ship’s aft.

Labadee from the ship.

View of Labadee from the ship.

The ship made three stops during our cruise. We enjoyed a beach day at Royal Caribbean’s private area on Labadee, Haiti, and did some shopping in the ports of Falmouth, Jamaica, and Cozumel, Mexico. I was thrilled to find free wi-fi at the Diamonds International shops, where I used my iPad to chat with Maureen and email Dan. We’d heard Atlanta was in the midst of an ice storm, so it was nice to get in touch and hear everything was OK. We sure picked the right week to get away — couldn’t argue with sunshine, blue skies, and 80-degree temperatures!

Mom on beach chair in the water.

The Haitian lifeguard put mom’s chair in the water, which she thoroughly enjoyed!

During days at sea, we relaxed in the solarium, shopped, and explored the ship. Although we didn’t take advantage of the cool amenities like the Flow-rider, zip line, or rock climbing wall, it was fun to watch those who did. And we took advantage of all the shows, which were exceptional.The musical Chicago was fabulous, the Aqua Theater was really impressive, and we loved the ice skating show and the Blue Planet, a spectacular mix of song, dance and aerialists.

The Allure carries more than 6,000 passengers, which apparently sounds scary to some people, who think it could be overwhelmingly crowded. Yet as large as it was, we still ran into our tablemates from the dining room at various places on the ship, and we continually crossed paths with a couple we met at the comedy show. Although we never got their names, we greeted each other like old friends every time we bumped into each other! Directional assistance on the ship is unsurpassed; they have interactive screens everywhere that you can touch to find out where you are and where you want to go. Plus they color code all the hallways. (Did I mention I LOVE this ship??) As long as we saw the blue signs, we always knew we were in the right hallway for our cabin. Very handy. It did get crowded at times, particularly around the dining areas, but I think it was worse for us trying to maneuver the wheelchair around people and always having to take the elevator. Otherwise I think we would have been fine. There are plenty of quiet, uncrowded places you can escape to if you want some solitude.

The week flew by, and I was sad to see it come to an end. Definitely a special experience spending time with mom and enjoying each other’s company. Next time, though, (after she gets a new hip) we’re planning to ditch that wheelchair and hit the dance floor!

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Pre-holiday romp in the Rockies

Dan and I had never taken a ski trip in December, but we took a chance this year when we saw some great deals on flights to Denver for the weekend of Dec. 14-15. Boy, did we ever luck out! Colorado had a snowstorm that week, but by the time we got there it was sunny and clear and not too cold. We flew in on Friday and headed to Colorado Springs to visit with our friends Judy and Wayne Hayes and my sweet goddaughter Alex. We met in Germany when we were all stationed in the K-town area and have been skiing buddies ever since. It was nice to finally see their new home that sits on the edge of a mountain overlooking the city. Beautiful view of Pikes Peak and the valley!

View from Judy's back deck — Frosty the Snowman keeping watch over the valley.

View from Judy’s back deck — Frosty the Snowman keeping watch over the valley!

After a delicious paella dinner (very impressive — thanks Judy!) and a fun evening catching up, we all headed to bed so we could get up bright and early the next morning to drive to Breckenridge. The scenery along the way was awesome! We usually come in on the interstate from Denver so it was great seeing the back mountain passes, that is until we had to come down the mountain into Breck on snow-covered roads. We were just crawling in our little rental car and had to keep moving over to let all the SUVs and trucks pass us by. Not too embarrassing! So glad the rest of the roads were clear.

We enjoyed two great days of skiing (I even did a few black runs!) and Judy and Wayne spent Saturday night with us at the Holiday Inn in Frisco. They headed back Sunday after skiing, while we did a little apres-ski in town, then drove out toward Denver to spend the night. We had a nice brunch Monday morning before heading to the airport and had a smooth flight home. It was definitely a great weekend getaway and a nice break before all the holiday craziness set in!

Dan tackling the moguls. I even did this one - mainly because i made the mistake of following everyone to the wrong slope!

Dan (in the Army jacket) tackling the moguls. I even did this one, but one black mogul run was enough for me!

Couldn't ask for a more beautiful day for skiing!

Sunshine and blue skies — couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day for skiing!

Categories: Colorado, Mountains, Skiiing, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great American Thanksgiving Road Trip

I’ve been thinking about visiting family in Connecticut over the Thanksgiving holidays for the past several years. My brother, Bob, and his wife, Joyce, always have a big family get-together, and I hate missing it every year. This year we finally decided to go for it, adding in a few days in New York City beforehand to pick up Tom. Bryan and Maureen were willing to make the trip too, so the most economical option was to drive. First reaction was “Yay, road trip!!” On second thought, the idea wasn’t quite as appealing as it was in our younger days. Spending 18 hours with four adults in our Honda Accord didn’t exactly sound fun. But everything went amazingly well, and we actually enjoyed all that time together. (At least I did!) I kept a journal along the way, so here’s a brief recap of our 8-day adventure. One note: Dan did ALL the driving. Thanks honey!

Day 1 — Sunday, Nov. 24: Dan chose the scenic route through North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania rather than I-95 through D.C., and the trip went well. Took us 10 hours to drive to Chambersburg, Pa. Pretty cramped, but we all survived. Stayed at the Fairfield Inn off the highway and ate dinner at Appleby’s.

You don't have to be a kid to enjoy the Hershey Factory!

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the Hershey Chocolate Factory!

Day 2 — Monday, Nov. 25: Left around 9 a.m. Stopped at Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa. along the way. Kind of a cheesy tour with singing and dancing cows, but interesting history about the Hershey family. Lots of overpriced candy in the store, too, but we still bought some! It was a fun break. Arrived in NYC around 3 p.m. Checked into the Holiday Inn Midtown. Nice hotel. Went to the trendy Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar across the street because Maureen had a four-square coupon for free wine. Great deal! Ate dinner at Bella Napoli, decent Italian place. Walked around Bryant Park Christmas market and watched the ice skaters. Really cold! Bryan came down with a sore throat overnight. Poor thing was sick the entire week but never complained. What a trooper!

Day 3 — Tuesday, Nov. 26: Dan spent the morning moving the car around so he could get free parking. 😦 Maureen, Bryan and I decided to walk up to Macy’s and shop along the way. We met Tom and Dan at the Lincoln Center for a free lunchtime Dixieland jazz concert. Very nice. Started raining so we decided to head indoors. Kids and I walked through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So much culture! Went out to Grimaldi’s pizza for dinner. Great cannoli for dessert! Headed to Paddy Reilly’s pub afterward for Irish music. Also went to the Rodeo Bar but weren’t crazy about the country music. Walked back to the hotel in the cold and rain.

Rainy day in Central Park. At least we provided a spot of color!

Rainy day in Central Park. At least the Flahertys provided a spot of color!

Day 4 — Wednesday, Nov 27: Lots of rain. Picked the wrong day to drive to Connecticut! Somewhat of a nightmare getting out of the city. Stopped at my friend Donna’s in Ridgefield for lunch and had a very nice visit. Arrived at Bob’s around 3 p.m. Checked in at Marriott Courtyard in Waterbury for the first night. Kids took the train in and had big problems. Train stopped and they had to return to Bridgeport and wait in the rain for a new train. Ended up being a 5-hour trip instead of 3. So much for a nice, relaxing ride! Picked them up and went to Joyce’s for dinner. Mark’s family joined us. Bryan and Maureen went home with them, and Tom came with us to the hotel for the night.

Day 5 — Thursday, Nov. 28: Happy Thanksgiving Day! Went to Dan’s friend Flip’s house to pick up quilts and straps for moving our niece Laura’s piano later on, then back to Bob’s. Ate dinner around 2. They set it up as a buffet in the basement. Really nice. Traditional turkey, stuffing, and side dishes. Joyce did a wonderful job with the cooking! Guests besides our family included Laura and Mark, Mark’s mom Linda, Simone, Maurice, Ricky, Mark, Lorine, Kendra, Eric, and Mom. Cousin Bill came by later. Played games in the evening — Trivia and Maureen’s movie guessing game. Fun time! Dan, Tom and I stayed overnight at Bob and Joyce’s.

Nice to finally get together with family.

Nice to finally get together with my brothers and their families in Connecticut.

Mom and the grandkids.

Mom enjoyed her time with the grandkids.

Day 6 — Friday, Nov. 29: Wonderful brunch at Laura’s. She did a great job! First the guys moved her piano from Bob’s house. Quite the production but with Dan in charge it went smoothly. 🙂 Laura and Mark’s renovated ranch was very cute. Afterward, went to the Timex factory store and picked up a few Christmas gifts. Interesting to see how it all started in Waterbury! Headed to the mall where 11 of us saw the movie Catching Fire. Dan and Tom went to see Flip and various cousins. Met up at Bob’s for delicious turkey soup and salad dinner. After, went to Mark’s to celebrate Lorine’s 50th birthday. He did a great job with the party and made a wonderfully sweet speech about Lorine. Another fun family get-together!

Day 7 — Saturday, Nov. 30: Woke at 7 a.m. Joyce was sweet enough to made us a big breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, English muffins, and bagels. Very much appreciated! On the road at 8 a.m. Long trip to Boone, N.C., for an overnight at Dan’s sister Deb’s, but all went smoothly. Arrived about 7:30 p.m. Deb prepared a wonderful dinner for us. Enjoyed our visit.

Day 8 — Sunday, Dec. 1: Went to church in the morning. Left about 11:30 a.m. Lots of traffic as we joined all the other Thanksgiving travelers on the last leg home. Arrived about 5:30 p.m. Were happy to be home sweet home!

Categories: Holidays, New England, New York City, Travel, Vacations | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

What happens in Vegas . . .

Labor Day weekend found us jetting off to wild and wonderful Las Vegas. Fortunately — or unfortunately depending on your view — we have no wild and crazy stories to share. (I’m sure Dan’s rugby buddies will find that hard to believe!) Although if I hadn’t carried my cellphone during a very hot run along a “desert” trail, Dan might have spent a day searching for his lost wife, à la The Hangover movies. But that’s another story. As it was, we survived our trip to Sin City none the worse for wear. Thanks to a great Travelzoo deal, we spent four nights at the beautiful JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort and Spa, about 15 minutes from the Strip. We rented a car, which enabled us to see the area as well as get away from the glitz and glamor when we needed to.

We're never disappointed when staying at a Marriott Resort and Spa

Picture perfect day at the Marriott Las Vegas Resort and Spa.

The grounds were beautiful with lots of quiet areas to relax.

The grounds were beautiful with lots of quiet areas to relax.

Of course, the resort featured its own lavish casino, which you had to walk through to get to the restaurants, so we couldn’t resist throwing a few dollars into the slots every time we went by. For the record I came out ahead and Dan did not. He hit some decent jackpots, but as is usually the case, those greedy machines stole it all back. I did better at Blackjack and managed to have some fun for a while before calling it quits with my massive $45 winnings. As you can see, I’m not exactly an adventurous gambler. 🙂 Highlights of the trip: Vegas show. We saw the comedian/impressionist Gordie Brown at the Golden Nugget. He did a fabulous job impersonating singers — everyone from Elvis and Frank Sinatra to Coldplay and Eminem — using his own hysterically funny lyrics. If you don’t want to shell out big bucks for the top entertainers, he’s a great alternative and I highly recommend his show. We got an online deal ahead of time for dinner and the buffet so it was even more affordable.

We had a great time at the Fremont Street Experience.

We had a great time at the Fremont Street Experience.

Plus it got us down to Fremont Street, the original Vegas strip, which was pretty cool in itself. You don’t want to miss the Fremont Street Experience. Part of the street is under a dome, which features music videos flashed on the overhead screen. On this particular night, a live band was playing as part of their summer music festival, and we rocked out to the music of Journey, Boston, and Led Zeppelin. I’m sure my kids were sorry they missed that! Vegas Strip. We spent a day walking around the infamous Strip, mostly on the south end. Handy tip: all the casinos offer free parking so just pick your favorite, park in their garage, and head out from there. Our concierge recommended the Bellagio, since it’s more or less centrally located, and walking through their lobby is certainly a nice way to start your day! We missed the famous fountain show, but it’s a great treat if you can time it right. We spent some time at the New York-New York resort (great roller coaster!) and the Nine Fine Irishmen pub. Not quite as exciting as the real Big Apple, but a fun place nonetheless.

Night view of the beautiful New York-New York casino with its famous roller coaster.

Night view of the beautiful New York-New York casino.

We ended up returning to the pub Sunday night for some wonderful Irish music and dancing. Before that I wandered through The Shops at Crystals, part of the fabulous new City Center — an upscale collection of hotels, restaurants, and stores —  while Dan checked out the PBR Rock Bar & Grill. We also walked through Excalibur and Mandalay Bay. A free tram travels between those two resorts so be sure to look for it. I’m sorry we didn’t get down to the other end of the Strip as I especially wanted to see the new Trump Hotel, but there’s only so much you can fit in! Red Rock Canyon. To take a breather on Sunday, we drove out to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, which was only a few miles from our resort. The area is absolutely breathtaking. We drove the 13-mile scenic route, which made me slightly nervous as there were thunderstorms in the area and the news kept warning us about flash floods (one reason I didn’t want to drive out to the Hoover Dam/Lake Mead area). But the storms stayed away, and we even got out and hiked one of the trails. The sandstone landscape is really amazing and totally worth a side trip.

The red rocks in the canyon are sandstone formations created over millions of years.

The red rocks in the canyon are sandstone formations created over millions of years.

We hiked a bit of the trail but didn't see any wild horses or burros that populate the area!

We hiked one of the trails but didn’t see any wild horses or burros that populate the area!

On Monday, we enjoyed the pool and casino before taking the red-eye home that night. Although I know Vegas isn’t for everyone, I think it’s an exciting city with lots to do and see. (Not to mention lots to eat — we definitely overdid the buffets!) It can be as wild and crazy as you want to make it, but it’s all up to you. Keep in mind that some people actually do survive Vegas without getting married, getting lost, or completely forgetting everything they’ve done!

Categories: Desert, Las Vegas, Mountains, Travel, Vacations, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Fireworks, family, and fun in Florida

Picture of resort and pool

Beautiful resort. Loved the pool!

How many of you loved the show “I Dream of Jeannie” when you were growing up? Whenever I hear of Cocoa Beach, I think of the hometown of Major Nelson and his crazy-but-lovable genie. Last year, we had a chance to visit this beautiful beachside town when we exchanged our Orlando timeshare for The Resort on Cocoa Beach. When we had the opportunity to go back again this year, we grabbed it. Same week too — 4th of July — which gave us the chance to celebrate my son Tom’s and sister-in-law Cheryl’s birthdays. They were both born on July 4th, what are the odds? Two patriotic babies in one family!


Make a wish! Celebrating Cheryl and Tom’s 4th of July birthdays.

The resort itself is great, right on the beach with a beautiful pool, a mini-movie theater, and Mexican restaurant with 2-for-1 margaritas at happy hour. What’s not to like? We were even given the same corner unit as last year, which I love because the balcony has a view of both the ocean and the Banana River, as well as a great cross-breeze. Since we face the side, you have to peek between some high-rises to see the ocean, but believe me, when you do, that view is awesome!

Cocoa Beach is part of the Space Coast, and there’s so much to see in the area — Kennedy Space Center, Port Canaveral, the Orlando attractions, historic Cocoa Village, and Patrick Air Force Base for all you military vets. During this particular week, there are no less than three huge fireworks displays — one at Port Canaveral, one in the town of Cocoa (beautifully accompanied by the Brevard Symphony Orchestra) and one off a barge on Cocoa Beach. We could actually watch that one right from our balcony. Our birthday celebrants had no shortage of fabulous festivities to partake in!

Maureen, Rene in front of amphitheater

Loved the patriotic atmosphere at Cocoa Riverfront Park.

This trip was particularly fun because it was a mini family reunion with Dan’s brother Roger and wife Cheryl, as well as his son Kelly and family, Sarah and toddler Shae. My son Tom and daughter Maureen came with us (we missed you Bryan!) and we almost had Dan’s sister Deb and brother Chuck, but they had to back out at the last minute. We enjoyed getting to know Kelly and Sarah and their very active 21-month-old. He’s a sweetie!

Kelly, Sarah, Tom, Maureen and I took a day to visit the wonderful world of Disney, where we enjoyed the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center, despite bouts of rain.

Maureen sad in raincoat

Someone didn’t like the rain!

Group pic with castle in background

Sarah, Kelly, Tom, and Maureen

It turned out to be a good day to go because the rain finally let up the next day and we had sunshine and blue skies at the beach the rest of the week. During the week we also played golf, shopped at the world-famous Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, (just had to see it after being tantalized by the billboards all the way down the interstate — good marketing ploy!) and enjoyed some beautiful morning runs on the beach.

Waves crashing on shore

The beach was perfect for long runs or walks. Tip: it’s about 2 miles from the resort to the Cocoa Beach Pier.

3 people standing on pier

Evening out on the Cocoa Beach Pier

3 people around table

Great dinner at Coconuts on the Beach

I highly recommend this area of Florida as a vacation destination. It’s about an 8-hour drive from Atlanta, but less than an hour from Orlando International Airport if you fly. It has great waves for body surfing as well as real surfing — it’s the surf capital of the east coast! Very family friendly, with lots to do in the area, but fun for adults as well. Head out to the Cocoa Beach Pier for happy hour drinks 800 feet over the ocean, or try Coconuts on the Beach for live music on the outdoor patio, great food, and a super view.

Can’t wait to go back again next year!

Categories: Beach, Florida, Ocean, Travel, Vacations | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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