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Monday, August 23, 2021

Things To Do On Your Vegas Vacation Besides Gambling

I have been on vacation in Las Vegas so many times that I have lost count.  Why do I keep going back you ask? It is so much fun! Even for people who don't like slot machines and card games. I do like to play but don't really get to play as much as I think I will because there are so many other things to do and see.

I just got back from a trip with my daughter, Lisa. She gladly accepted the gift of a Vegas trip to celebrate her birthday. She also loves Las Vegas and she is not much of a gambler at all.

Even though both of us have been here many times, we always find new things to do and see and new places to eat.  This visit was no exception. 

What we saw and did:

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay

We always hope to find ocean life that we have never seen before when we are visiting an aquarium for the first time. Shark Reef Aquarium didn't disappoint in that way. We got a kick out of the fish with their mouths wide open. How were they not getting a mouth full of water? 

Besides for fish, there was a shark tank to walk through which gave us a view of the sharks from every angle. There was also the biggest Komodo dragon we have ever seen in our lives. Who knew they could get to that size. 

The aquarium was very convenient to get to because it is located in Mandalay Bay which is right on The Strip. It is definitely something to do with the kids if you brought them along. But the aquarium is very small and we were done in about 20 minutes so we were glad we had free tickets and didn't pay the $29.00 ($24.00 for kids aged 5-12) admission for the timed ticket we had. An anytime ticket costs $36.00 ($31.00).

Follow this link to our blog post, Free Things To Do In Las Vegas, to find out how you can get your free tickets.

The Neon Museum

This unique museum houses over 200 restored Vegas neon signs with the Green Shack being the oldest and dating back to the 1930's.

Green Shack was a restaurant located downtown that was famous for their fried chicken.

You can visit the museum during the day and do a self-guided tour or wait until evening when the signs are lit up and follow a tour guide through the glowing maze of neon. With the guided tour, you not only get to see the signs in all their glory but you also learn about the history of them and of Las Vegas itself.  

This sign acquired from the Moulin Rouge hotel was designed by Betty Willis, the same person who designed the iconic Welcome To Las Vegas sign.  The history of this hotel was so interesting. We learned of it being the first racially integrated casino. Sadly, it went bankrupt within 6 months but not before the biggest names like Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong and many other incredible and well-known greats performed here.

Look here to find admission prices.

Note: We mistakenly took public transportation to get to the museum. The bus left us off in a frightfully, desolate part of town except for a few people who looked under the weather, to put it mildly. I was ready to get back on the bus until Lisa pointed to the museum sign just a block away and begged me to just walk there quickly. Really consider taking a Lyft or Uber here if you are going at night. Needless to say, we took one back to our hotel!!

David Copperfield at MGM Grand  

David Copperfield's was one show Lisa was dying to see and luckily was at one of the few venues that would be open while we were in Vegas.

The show was fantastic and what we probably expected. I don't think any magician uses larger props than David Copperfield does. Did you happen to see his TV special when he made the Statue of Liberty disappear? 

I don't want to give anything away in case anyone reading wants to go in the future. I would suggest, though, when you are looking to buy tickets, that you look for the type of tables that are in Row G and a couple of others. They are rectangular tables that seat four and everyone faces the stage. Me and Lisa sat in Row H at a very tiny round table. We had the seats at the front of the table and we turned our seats to face the stage but we were cramped up against the short wall in front of us. The two people who sat with us at our table were disappointed with their seats also. 

We can't complain too much, though, because some of the magic was performed in the center of the floor, so right in front of us.

Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage

We got here around 4:15 just in time to view a training session. Dolphins are very smart and talented creatures and it's always a lot of fun to watch them performing. If we happened to arrive after the training session, we would have been disappointed because there wasn't much else to see.

The handful of lions, tigers and leopards in the Secret Garden were so hot that most of them were napping.

We were happy that this attraction was also free for us from the same place we got the Shark Reef Aquarium tickets.

Tournament of Kings at Excalibur

Going to a medieval times show has been on my bucket list for awhile so I was happy that we could work this show perfectly into our itinerary.  Since we had to have dinner somewhere before we had to go to the airport for our trip back to NC, we thought it would be a great idea to go to the Tournament of Kings and see one more show while we ate before we had to leave Vegas.

Tickets start at $61.00 which is not bad if you consider you are getting dinner but bring some plasticware if eating with your fingers is not something you like to do. We ate our Cornish hen, roasted potatoes, corn, roll and apple pastry with our fingers and it was delicious!

The show was interactive and so much fun. If you have a couple of kids with you and are looking for entertainment the whole family will enjoy, this is that place. There were sudden loud noises at times during the performance so I wouldn't recommend bringing toddlers. I'll never forget, when my son was about 4 years old, we did the pirate show at Disney . He was not happy and very upset with all the cannons going off. We could not get out of there quick enough!

Where and what we ate:

Gordon Ramsey burger at Planet Hollywood

We started off sharing an appetizer at Gordon Ramsay burger, Beer Batter Onion Rings that were  sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Both the chipole ketchup and cheddar ranch dip were so good but we dipped mostly into the cheddar ranch. 

Lisa had the Crispy Cherry Pepper Chicken which was a fried chicken patty topped with crispy chicken skin, avocado, lettuce, marinated tomatoes and cherry pepper spread. I had the Ultimate Cheeseburger that was topped with three cheeses, aged provolone, dubliner and boursin.

We shared a side of Truffle Parmesan fries that came with truffle aioli and their house ketchup to dip them in. We can't stop dreaming about having these again!

The food here was so rich and decadent but not dripping with butter or oil, but it was very filling. We decided that the next time we get back to Vegas we will definitely eat here again but share a sandwich. We ordered way too much this time and had to ask for a doggie bag.

                                Hash House A Go Go at Plaza Hotel & Casino Downtown

I have eaten here before but Lisa hadn't so since we wanted to play bingo at the Plaza, we thought it would be a great idea to eat brunch here. I really wanted one of us to get Andy's Famous Fried Chicken And Waffles so Lisa could see it (it's a massive stack of waffles that is a least a foot tall) but we were still stuffed from eating at Gordan Ramsey's the night before.

Instead we had their delicious hashes.  I had the veggie with mushroom, artichoke hearts, sundried tomato and spinach and Lisa had the chorizo, jalapenos, cheddar cheese and fresh tomato hash. They both came with crispy potatoes, 2 eggs made to order and fruit. A tortilla rounded out Lisa's dish and I had one of the best biscuits I've ever had with a fruity dip that was the best part of the meal. I ate all of that but had to leave half of the hash. We were still trying to digest all the food from the night before.

Downtown Container Park

I have been here before but I wanted to bring Lisa to show her this outdoor mall with it's interesting art pieces made out of recycled materials and the shops and restaurants made out of shipping containers.

But what I really wanted to do here was to take Lisa to eat some really delicious Mexican food at Pinches Tacos, one of the many eateries at the park. My favorite dish here, and what I ordered along with two other tacos, is the Gringo which is a shredded beef taco in a hard shell with all the toppings. Lisa had chicken taquitos which she shared with me. I think I have a second favorite now.


Vagabond at Excalibur

We had a reward coupon for BOGO Nashville Hot Chicken sandwiches, again from the same place we got the free entertainment. The chicken was cooked perfectly. The texture and crispiness of the coating and the moistness of the chicken was so amazing that I ate half of it even though it was way too hot for me. The chicken was topped with pickle slices and coleslaw which helped tone down the heat a bit but I finally had to trade a half of sandwich with Lisa for half of her fries. 

The $16.50 we spent after our BOGO coupon was a great deal for a great meal!

Excalibur's Brunch Buffet

Most of the Vegas buffets haven't opened since they closed because of COVID and none were open for dinner. Excalibur and MGM's were open for brunch and we had BOGO coupons for them. We actually had brunch all 5 days we were in Vegas so that we were able to skip lunch. It worked out fantastic for us.

Excalibur's buffet was very good. Lisa liked the choices she had at the omelet station and loved the chicken and apple sausage. I liked the Mexican section where I made a delicious masa egg breakfast burrito. But we both really loved the crepe station. I had a strawberry and whipped cream filled one the first day and apple filled the next. I was so surprised that I liked the apple one even more than the strawberry which is usually my choice when I have crepes.

If you have a choice of eating at Excalibur or MGM, we would highly recommend choosing Excalibur's.

Me and Lisa had a wonderful time in Las Vegas. We had so much fun on our first mother/daughter vacation. We can't wait to go back. After the spouses heard about the great time we had, I think our next trip will have to be a mother/daughter/father/son-in-law vacation!

Monday, April 12, 2021

10 Items You Should Have On Your RV Camping List

We have basically been working with the same camping list ever since our first camping trip, over 30 years ago.  And because we have our list, we have never forgotten to pack our camp chairs which we definitely need because we know we will want something comfortable to sit in while we enjoy our evening campfire.  We also haven't forgotten the matches or lighter we would need to get the fire started.  

In those days we were a family of five and camped in a tent,  Today we are a retired couple camping in an RV.  We still need most of the things on our original camping list but since we got our trailer and have started camping more than we ever did, we have found things that make outdoor life more convenient,comfortable and safer and have added them to our list.  We can't imagine not having them with us when we are camping and can't believe how we never missed them in the past.

This is our list of items we think you, also, should have with you on your next camping trip.

1.  Outdoor Cooking Station - Instead of putting our stove on the end of the picnic table, we now have a table that makes cooking so much easier.  The station is higher than a picnic table and there are side tables on either end of the section we put the stove on that we can use to put our cooking utensils, food and more on.  I love the holder on the end of one of the side tables that keeps our paper towels within reach and also keeps them from rolling off the picnic table where we used to keep them.  There's also a spot we use to put the tub we use for dirty dishes and room for everything else we want to keep handy for cooking and eating.  The station folds up to a slim 5 inches which makes it very portable and easy to store in our shed when we are not camping.

2.  Solar Walkway Lights - When we camped years ago, we made sure to bring a string of lights to hang outside of our tent so that we could see it, and the zippered door to get into it, when it got dark out.  We also made sure the kids all had their own flashlights and we had our flashlights and a lantern.  Camping with our trailer makes what we need for lighting a little different.  We no longer need the string of lights as we have lighting that runs across the top of one side of trailer.  We don't normally use our lantern because we spend the evenings inside the trailer but we do still need our flashlights for bathroom and shower trips after dark.  As we get older we are finding that it is getting harder for us to see in the dark so we have added solar walkway lights to our camping list.  They work great to show us exactly where our site is when we are walking back from the bathroom and we use them to light up bumps and ditches around the site that are hard to see in the dark.  We have two lights and that is working for us right now but will add more if we seem to need them.

3.  Portable Space Heater - We thought that if we camped in southern part of the US in the month of February we wouldn't have to worry about it being too cold especially in the trailer.  Well, we found out that it can get very cold in the middle of winter in some of the southern states.  There were days when it was so cold both day and night that we didn't give our little heater a break.  Thank goodness for the portable heater.  If we would have had to use our trailer heater I don't know how much propane we would have gone through.  P.S.  I love the safety feature that turns the heater off if it is accidentally knocked over.

4.  Charcoal Chimney Starter - Neither me or Soko knew anything about this handy item until we went camping recently with friends who had one.  If you, like us, have never seen one of these, the way they work is, you put paper, which you will light a match to, in the bottom section of the cylinder and put charcoals in the top section.  In about 10 minutes you have coals ready to go.  What we really love about the charcoal starter is that we have essentially replaced lighter fluid with paper.  Besides for saving on the cost of lighter fluid, it relieves the stress I have with carting lighter fluid around.  My son gave us some of his newspaper to use as a fire starter.  A friend suggested using the paper in our paper shredder which sounds like a great idea.  We'll try it next time.

5.  Trash Bag Holder - One of the happiest moments of our camping trips for me is when I see that our campsite has a lantern holder.  It lets me know that I have a place to hang our garbage and I don't have to search for a tree branch or take the time to try to figure out how fasten it to the end of the picnic table or somewhere else where it might stay until we are ready to throw it into the garbage bin.  How did I never know there was this amazing garbage holder!  It is a perfect holder for any size garbage bag and we like it for the small plastic grocery bags we like to use to hold our garbage.  It not only gives you a place to hang your garbage bag, it also holds the bag open which makes it very easy to dispose of your garbage. 

6. Yeti Rambler Mug - This was a gift from son Mike and DIL Chrissy.  We didn't know how much we needed this mug until we got it, but I guess the kids knew.  Not only does it hold a perfect amount of coffee, if you use the top it comes with like I do, Soko doesn't, it keeps the coffee hot until the last drop.  Another reason I love this mug is that we also use it to have a cold drink in and we use it to eat anything we would use a bowl for like soup, stew, chili, etc.  Because this one mug is so versatile we don't have to bring extra bowls and cups and can fill our small cabinets with other things we need.

7. Packing Cubes - We don't have any closets or drawers for our clothes in our small trailer so we have experimented with different ways of traveling with our clothes.  We started out by bringing our suitcases and leaving them in the car but the suitcases took up too much room and made it hard to get to anything else we needed to leave in the car.  On our next road trip, we put them in hamper bags in the car which took up less space and worked a little better but really wanted a way to have our clothes in the RV with us.  The only space we really have for them in the trailer is on the one long and one short shelf.  But our clothes had to be more secure than just piled up on these shelves as we found out after one quick turn and one bump in the road.  So we tried the packing cubes.  We got a set of four each which makes it easy to sort and find the apparel we are looking for and our bags are different colors from each other which helps too.  We think have finally solved our clothing dilemma.

8. Insulated Lunch Bag - We plan a lot of activities into our road trip itinerary.  Making lunch in the morning and bringing it out with us saves us the time and trouble of finding a place to eat not to mention the time it takes to be seated and served.  Of course, eating the local cuisine is sometimes one of the activities of the day, then that is a different story.  But most days are filled with places to see or trails to hike.  In that case, having a prepared lunch is ideal for us.  We are either eating it in the car as we travel from one sight to the next or enjoying our picnic lunch outdoors before a hike.  We found out, however, that sometimes plans change and we end up eating lunch very late or not at all so we would be drinking warm soda or throwing food away.  Now that we have our insulated lunch bag with us on our trips, the wasted food and warm drinks are a thing of the past.

9.  Yeti Cooler (cat not included) - Yes.  We have always brought a cooler on camping trips so this is not a totally new item.  What is new about this cooler is that it saves us time and money on getting and buying ice.  The Yeti cooler is really expensive, though, and we would not have it had it not been gifted to us by our kids.  But we may have looked into buying a comparative cooler, without the high-priced name, for the convenience it gives us of less trips to the ice machine.


10. Portable Radio - Actually, this radio is not new at all.  It is really, really old.  It has been packed in with our camping supplies since our early camping days.  We didn't bring it on our first trip with our RV because the trailer was equipped with a radio.  Well we found out quickly that the radio in the trailer didn't work at most of the campgrounds we stayed in.  Luckily we didn't toss this little radio out and we packed it on our next road trip.  It picked up stations when our trailer radio couldn't.  It also makes sense to bring a portable radio when you are camping on a site that doesn't have electricity.  Why waste the propane needed to supply electricity for your trailer radio when you don't have to.

I am sure most of you reading this, especially if you go camping in an RV, have some of these items already.  And you probably have some that we don't have yet.  Please leave your camping must-have in a comment below.  We would love to know more about what you have on your camping lists!

Monday, March 22, 2021

What We Learned On Our First RV Road Trip

We've just completed our first road trip in our RV.  Before this road trip we took two practice runs (read about it here) to campgrounds close to our house.  We were very glad that we did because we learned how to set up our camper and got a feel for driving it.  We knew that our trip up the East Coast would be a little more challenging but the practice trips definitely made us feel more comfortable, confident and ready to do a longer trip.  Did we learn everything we needed to know on the shorter trips?  We found out the answer was "No".  We learned a lot more on this trip and one thing we learned, we learned the hard way!

The first thing we did on this road trip that we didn't have to do on our two shorter trips was pull up to a gas pump with the trailer behind the car.

Pilot is our go to gas station for the coffee perks, gas discount and now we are enjoying their new app (read about it here).  Now, that we have the trailer, we have another reason to love Pilot.

Pilot gas stations cater to truckers so there is usually more room to maneuver a truck or trailer up to a gas pump and many of them have a separate RV area that is very easy to pull in and out of.  When pulled into the first Pilot we came to there were two gas pumps that were designated for RV pull thru.  We didn't use them because there was a end pump that looked very easy to pull next to.  We were both very happy that Soko did a great job pulling the car up to the pump without bumping the car or the trailer into anything.  He did ask me to check, as we were pulling away, to see if the camper was going to hit the gas pump.  We were a good 3' away but it was impossible for Soko to see.
Lesson #1 - When possible, go to the gas station the truckers go to for ease of pulling up to a gas pump.

We were filled up with gas and it was time to get on a major road, I4, the always busy interstate that brings you to your favorite Florida theme parks.  Our plan was to stay in the right lane so that Soko wouldn't have to quickly change lanes to get off an exit. 

You can see some of the traffic with the side mirrors but it doesn't give you as big a picture of what is going on behind you as you can get when you are able to use the rear view mirror.  That might be the hardest part of towing the trailer is the fact that the only thing you can see behind you when you look out the rear view mirror is what you are towing.

What we learned almost as soon as we got on the road was that we were going to have to change lanes.  Mostly to get around very slow vehicles.  Soko felt pretty comfortable using only the side mirrors for making sure no one was around him when he was ready to change lanes.  He just had to remember to wait until there was enough room for both the car and trailer to move over.
Lesson #2 - Changing lanes is not as difficult as we thought it might be and the most comfortable lane to be in, when on a 3 lane highway, is the middle lane.

Soko only wanted a stretch of 5 -5 1/2 hours, at the most, between campgrounds.  So that's how we selected the campgrounds that we did and we also wanted them close to I95, the interstate we would be on for the majority of the trip.  We know that when we GPS our ride from our Florida home to our NC home it tells us that it will take us 9 1/2 hours.  Our record time is 10 hours but we stop a lot so the trip for us is more like 10 1/2 hours, so an extra hour.  Knowing we would have to take it slower with the trailer and make more gas stops, we were curious to know what the difference in actual travel time would be compared to the ETA of the GPS.
Lesson #3 - A 5 hour trip when we are pulling our trailer really means a 6 1/2  hour trip, without traffic.

We were very happy that we got to our first stop, Fort McAllister Historic State Park in Richmond Hill, Georgia, safe and sound.  

It was on our way to our second stop, in North Carolina, that we had our eggstraordinary disaster!

Lesson #4 - Always make sure to listen for the extra click of the fridge door handle, telling us the door is locked, before we hit the road!

Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister, NC, was our second stop, and where we knew we would not have a water hook up to the camper.  We were prepared to learn how to use the trailer's water holding tank.

Lesson #5 - The water tank takes longer to fill than we thought and is full when the water starts to overflow out of the trailer or I noticed the second time we filled up, that the sound of the water going into the trailer changed right before it started leaking out.  I will be listening harder next time and try to stop filling before the leak out.

(I have to admit that we are not completely positive that we have the water tank figured out yet.  On our way back to Florida we noticed we had water leakage.  Not sure if it was us or the trailer.  We will get it checked out in September.  This might turn out to be another blog post on it's own, but hoping it won't be!)

We were successful at filling the water tank but when we tried to turn the water on in the trailer it didn't come out of the faucets.  Soko finally found the switch that says water pump right on it.  We now know how to check the level of water in the black and grey water tanks because it is right on the same panel as the switch that we never paid any attention to!  We had no clue, during our practice runs, of how much water was in the tanks and were nervous about overflowing them.
Lesson #6 - It's probably a good idea to consult the trailer's owner manual when we know we will be using a feature of the trailer that we haven't used before.

We had a choice of a three trails near our campground in Medoc Mountain and decided on the shortest trail because it was late afternoon by the time we got to NC.  We were treated to the beautiful sight of this gorgeous stream at the end of the Stream Trail and were so glad we chose this hike.

Our third stop, Susquehanna River State Park in MD, was where we discovered we lost a piece of our trailer.  Luckily, it could have been worse and we could have lost the plate that the trailer balances on but somehow it stayed on without the bolt that holds it.  We went and found this piece at Home Depot.

Lesson #7 - We will keep a few extra bolts in the camper at all times, and other parts that we discover we might need extra of.

The campsite at Susquehanna State Park was our favorite.  We always expect a grill, fire pit and picnic bench but when there's also somewhere to hang our garbage bags and a place to put our propane stove, well, it doesn't get better than that (when you're camping anyway!)

We took a 7 mile round trip hike, along the Susquehanna River, to see the bald eagles we heard would be at the Conowingo Dam.  There were lots of photographers lined up on the walkway with their cameras with 3' lenses waiting to get a shot of an eagle.  I was there with my phone.  My best shot is on the left.  I'm saying this is an eagle but it could have been a vulture.  We saw a lot more of them than eagles.  On our hike back to the campground, a woman approached us and gave us the photo on the right that her photographer husband took.  I have to admit he got a much better shot than I did!!

After 2 nights at Susquehanna River State Park, we took off for our destination, Strawberry Park in Preston, CT.  We have been here many times and planned this trip with Joe and Nicole so that we could enjoy our grandson's first camping trip with him.  On our way to CT, we thought about taking an alternate route to get there from MD but couldn't find the information we needed to see if we could safely, or legally, take the roads that we wanted to.
Lesson #8 - Research routes along the way of each road trip before getting into the car.

Joe, Nicole and Shea arrived on Thursday.  We showed Shea around our trailer, he showed us the cabin he was staying in for the weekend and then we went to find the campground playground.

On Friday, we went to nearby Mystic Aquarium in the morning before our first fellow campers, Janet and Chris arrived.  We showed up for Bingo at the outdoor rec room but no one else did so it was canceled.  We played Yahtzee instead!

Joe and Nicole invited friends and family to spend the day with us on Saturday.  We voted for our favorite car at the Strawberry Park Annual Car Show and we were entertained by a very good band.   We had a delicious BBQ and enjoyed great company.

We realized we only had a few short days, after our camping vacation with our family and friends in CT, to get back to Florida, park our trailer, clean and secure our Florida home, then return to NC in time to make our doctor's appointments.  So the same trip that we made to get to CT that took us 5 days on the way up, we would have to do in 3, meaning we only had time to stay overnight at each campground.  There is more work involved, for sure, with setting up a trailer to spend the night in versus rolling our suitcases into a hotel room.  I have to say that we were a bit tired when we got back but it wasn't as bad as we thought it might be.
Lesson #9 - Make sure we are giving ourselves plenty of time to complete a round trip vacation so that we don't have too many back to back one nighters.

We had a great time and learned a lot at the same time.  We feel like we now know everything we need to know about using our trailer and we can't wait for the next road trip!

We would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, helpful hints or if you just want to share any of your road trip stories!!

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