Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Ode to The Mirage Las Vegas: Not Your Average Hotel Review

This post has been a long time coming, and to be honest I'm totally psyched to finally be sitting here writing it. Because you see, there's just something about The Mirage Las Vegas.

Let's talk about these curtains - the perfect backdrop for pictures!
What is that something, you ask? The best answer is that I just can't put my finger on it - it's a combination of so many things.

And the beds? Heavenly.
 Not the least of which is the fact that out of my 7 trips to Vegas, I've stayed at the Mirage 5 times - and those five trips have been my best Vegas trips by far. So yes, maybe I'm just a bit superstitious about staying here...but I think it says a lot that I've never had a bad stay. Right?
Even the regular rooms have somewhat decent views a lot of the time :)
Let's start with the rooms. I've been lucky enough to get a couple of upgrades, so I've stayed in their regular rooms, their Strip View rooms, their Tower Deluxe rooms, and most recently a two bedroom hospitality suite (I actually booked that, though). Even when booking the least expensive room, you're getting a good deal - the Mirage has one of the best locations on the Strip - right next to the Forum Shops at Caesar's, a tram to TI, across from the Venetian and walking distance from so much more - and even the "lesser" rooms have amazingly comfortable beds, flat screen TVs, a nice desk/workspace area, and a decent amount of room to spread out. I do have to be honest, though - the bathrooms are, sadly, a bit small.
That's one heck of a Strip View ;)
The Strip View rooms are basically the same as the regular rooms, with of course a great view of the Strip - while the Tower Deluxe rooms are quite a big bigger and have a much larger bathroom, plus your own dedicated elevators!
Surveying the view from a Tower Deluxe room(floor to ceiling windows FTW!)after a LONG night in Vegas.With no sleep.
As for the two bedroom hospitality suites - these have the same awesome decor as the rest of the Mirage. Very sleek and simplistic, which is right up my alley. We booked one of the few and far between suites that actually has three beds - a king bed in the master bedroom and two queens in the second bedroom. While the suite was absolutely amazing, I do have just a few notes on it.
Hospitality suite living room

  • It really should have a better fridge. Our mini fridge was just that - mini. And in order to keep anything cold, we had to leave the door to the cabinet in which it was stored open 24/7.
Hospitality suite master bedroom
  • Our suite was - sadly - located on the 4th floor. No special elevator access and practically no view. I asked about a higher floor when we checked in and was told that they had a limited number of suites like this and this was the last one available. It didn't matter that we checked in at 11:30 AM or that we were there for a friend's birthday, that it was my 5th time staying at the Mirage or that we'd booked our suite nearly seven months in advance.
Master bath in the Mirage hospitality suite

  • The hospitality suites - to be named as such - should really have a few more perks. I.E. guestlist and free entrance to Mirage club(s), free entrance to BARE (at least for girls!), signs that designate what line to wait in at the casual restaurants, a leg up on cabana rentals, etc.
"Meh" view from the master bedroom of our 4th floor suite

Of course, I don't want it to sound like I'm complaining, because as a whole I was very happy with the suite - especially its size, decor, stereo system and awesome master bathroom. It was simply another great Mirage experience. But everything needs a little bit of improvement, right? ;)
Dining and wet bar in the hospitality suite
As for the rest of the resort - the atmosphere here is just awesome. Every employee I've ever encountered has been friendly and helpful. The restaurant selection is great - though I didn't care for BLT Burger (small selection and hefty prices), California Pizza Kitchen and BB King's have always been good. Kokomo's, the lounge in the lobby, is always a good time. Cirque du Soleil's LOVE - a Beatles "tribute" of sorts - is an amazing show, and the LOVE store has an awesome array of Beatles merchandise. The pool is great (though good luck getting a lounge chair without arriving super early or reserving one for $50 - especially on particularly nice days) and the spa is to die for. The minute I step through the lobby doors of this hotel I can't stop grinning...it's like I can feel that Vegas vibe pulsing through the entire place.
Second (read: normal) bedroom in the suite, which is just slightly bigger than a regular Mirage room
Not to mention the fact that The Mirage twitter and Facebook pages are seriously active. If you have a quick question they are great about getting you a quick answer. These are also great places to find out about their latest sales/deals :)
We may be chair-less, but we're still enjoying the Mirage pool!
To wrap this up, I just have to say that I hope you can see why I love love LOVE the Mirage Las Vegas. And how I've convinced pretty much all of my friends to love it too. And why I suggest it to everyone I know who is going out there.

And why I don't see myself staying anywhere else in Vegas anytime soon ;)
CHEERS TO THE MIRAGE!

See you next April...I hope :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Charleston Food & Wine Festival

Earlier this year we had the pleasure of attending the Charleston Food & Wine Festival. In fact, we had booked our package at this time last year - because many of the festival events sell out rather quickly. We decided on one of the packages with the Andrew Pinckney Inn, mainly because we could only be there for a weekend and there were very few two-night packages offered.

Now, I highly suggest booking a package (and doing so ASAP) because this is really the best way to get tickets to some of the more popular events. Plus, you will probably get a great little welcome gift bag - ours features everything from a small jar of BBQ sauce to some great silicone spatulas!

Our package included tickets to the early tasting tents in Marion Square on Saturday (11-2) as well as for the Gospel Brunch on Sunday. To be honest we were far more excited about the tasting tents, which turned out to be just amazing. We were able to eat a pretty decent lunch just by sampling some of the great food being given away, and there was plenty of wine (as well as a couple mixed drinks and beers) flowing.

We also added our own activity on Saturday evening by doing another tour with the Lesesne Tour Company. In honor of the Food & Wine Festival, this time around we chose their Martini Tour - and had an amazing time. So amazing, in fact, that we barely made it to the Gospel Brunch the next morning.

Now, as you can probably tell from the picture above, we were sitting practically right under the gospel singers. And that music was LOUD. And - totally our fault - we just weren't feeling it. We were tired and hungover and between the absolutely ridiculous volume of the music and the weird food, I simply wasn't too keen on the Gospel Brunch. Sad but true. But I had been hoping for some great brunch food and instead got this:
Which, if my memory serves me correctly, was basically boiled celery, a cold half-cooked egg, a pile of grits and a chunk of duck.

Yeah, duck.

I mean, I know this is a Food & Wine festival and I expected some fancy takes on classic dishes, but the food at the Gospel Brunch was just beyond that and bordering on, well, gross. As soon as we were finished eating we basically ran away from the unnecessarily loud music and decided that it was probably time to drive home.

Of course, the weekend as a whole was fun and I heard great things about many of the other activities - so I definitely suggest checking out this Food & Wine festival if you need an excuse to go to Charleston.

But who am I kidding? Why would anyone need an excuse to go to Charleston? ;)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Drinking Around the World: Food & Wine Style!

The great thing about the Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT is that you can [somewhat inexpensively] eat your way "around the world" as well as participating in the obligatory Drinking Around the World!
DATW F&W October 2007!
What is the Food & Wine Festival, you ask? Simply put, it's a giant festival that takes place at EPCOT in Walt Disney World, usually starting at the very end of September and running through, say, the second weekend in November. This time of year is in general a great time to visit (if you avoid Columbus Day weekend, that is) - it's not quite so hot, the Florida afternoon rainstorms are practically nonexistent, hotel prices are less expensive...and it's less crowded :)
DATW F&W, Halloween 2008 - necessary Troll picture
During the Food & Wine festival, the usual 11 country pavilions are open for business - of course - but for example, this year there are an additional 11 countries offering traditional food & drinks, as well as spotlights on numerous US states. You can sign up for special catered parties (dubbed Parties "for the Senses"), culinary and wine seminars. The "Eat to the Beat" concert series offers some interesting B-list artists - 2011 features the likes of Sugar Ray, Boyz II Men, Hanson, and Air Supply.
Another DATW F&W Halloween '08 picture - with the best F&W drink, the frozen Irish Coffee
The thing is, when Drinking Around the World Food & Wine Style, you still have to at least somewhat follow the DATW rules/guidelines. Of course, some things can be substituted! Therefore, my guide for a great DATW Food & Wine trip looks something like this:
  • Start by EATING around the world! Make your way to Canada around...12:30, maybe 1 PM and eat your way (counterclockwise around the World Showcase) from there to Mexico. Try the beer and cheese soup in Canada, the escargots in France, the Bobotie from South Africa, the lamb from New Zealand...whatever floats your boat! Don't stuff yourself too much (which is honestly difficult as the portions are "tasting" portions, not full meals) and by the time you get to Mexico - hopefully around 2/2:30 PM - you'll be ready for a Margarita!
  • Note that you STILL have to have at least 11 drinks in order for your DATW experience to "count". That said, during the Food & Wine festival you have so many more choices! I always stick with my favorites (I'll never skip those Margaritas in Mexico or the Tangerine Daiquiries in Morocco!) but it's great to change out, say, an "okay" Tsing Tao beer from China for an absolutely amazing frozen Irish coffee from Ireland :) Now, can you still drink the usuals and add a couple extra drinks on? Sure, if you're really, really brave. But I don't suggest it...you do want to actually make it all the way around the world, right?
  • And finally...ALL OTHER DRINKING AROUND THE WORLD RULES & TIPS STILL APPLY! ;)
(Yes, that means the kidcot mask, the fact that it's better with a group, and that you should take a ton of pictures...etc.)

What are you waiting for? Get your butt down to Disney for the Food & Wine Festival. I know I'll be down there at one point this fall!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hotel Review: Courtyard by Marriott Boston Cambridge

source
The most concise thing I can say about this hotel is that it is a great place to stay, but it is pretty pricey. The hotel as a whole was clean, the staff friendly and helpful. Our room was a decent size for a city hotel, the bed was very comfortable, and we had a great view of the river. The only complaint we had about the room was that the toilet was worse than a cruise ship toilet when it flushed.

The hotel itself is in a decent location, although not really a comfortable walking distance to many of the places we went to--Central and Harvard Squares, for instance. Because it wasn't quite as close to things as I would have liked, I think it was a little expensive for what you get, overall (between the price of the room and the $24 per night cost of parking).