Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hotel Review: Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort

I've now stayed at the Caribbean Beach on two separate occasions, and I have absolutely no complaints about this resort :)
For my first stay, I had a standard room on the first floor of building 55 in the Aruba section, and although we were a good 5 minute walk from the main shopping/dining/pool area, it was not that bad. We were also fairly close to a parking lot and a bus stop. We were right by a little beach with chairs and hammocks which we thoroughly enjoyed.

The second time around, we had another standard room - this time on the third floor toward the back of a building, facing the "woods". This room was a little farther from the secondary pool, the beach, and the parking lot but it was also a lot quieter and more private. That said, I did prefer the first room for its general convenience.

Disney has, over the past couple years, upgraded the bedding at their moderate resorts. Although the mattresses are still a bit hard for my taste, the sheets/blankets/comforters/pillows were of a much higher quality. Also, the rooms are a decent size--we had four people to the room on our first Caribbean Beach stay, and three people the second time around - and it never felt too crowded.

Just a warning--the food court does tend to get VERY crowded at breakfast time. It may be quick service but one morning it took us about 35 minutes to get our food and eat. Also, one time we caught a bus right away for EPCOT, and another time we had to wait about 20 minutes to get plan accordingly!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lucky #7 Vegas Extravaganza: Sending our trip out in VIP Style

For the third and final night of an already awesome Vegas trip, we'd booked a VIP table at Club Vanity in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Of course we dressed our Vegas best, and then we grabbed a limo on a whim rather than take a taxi...and we were on our way to enjoy what was sure to be an amazing evening!

The one thing I have to say is that things outside Vanity were not organized. I approached the ropes when we arrived - which was a few minutes before club opening - and told the gentleman there that we had table reservations. He said to wait right there, and wait we did...for a good twenty minutes, before I was finally able to catch the attention of a female employee and ask when we'd be helped.

At which point she told me that we were waiting in the wrong place.

So. I wasn't exactly happy with this confusion - but what are you gonna do? We moved to the line where we should have been waiting, and thankfully about 15 minutes later we were escorted to our table. And first thing shots!

Because we had six people (and three of them were guys) we had a two bottle minimum, and after our free shots and just a few minutes, they brought over our drinks and mixers...and of course I had to pimp it out with the bottles ;)

I swear that's my smart-ass face, NOT a duck face. I swear.
Thankfully the DJ at Vanity was much better than the one at Chateau. He played a great mix of new songs and older ones, which to be honest is what *I* like. And yeah, having a place to sit and rest our feet, or just to dance without being in the crush of a crowd, was awesome.

I'd heard great things about the "insane" bathrooms at Vanity, so you know I couldn't pass up the chance to take a couple pictures when I inevitably had to visit them...

Now I'm not the type to drink liquor all night. I enjoy a good gin and tonic as much as the next girl, but I'm a beer person at heart...of course at a table, you have to buy beer by the bucket. Not that I'm complaining. I supposed I could have gone to the bar and purchased a single beer, because it's not like they give you a break on the buckets anyway...but with the help of my friends, finishing that bucket of beer wasn't a problem.

Needless to say, we stayed at Vanity until we had to leave ;) We grabbed an Escalade (again, why not pay maybe $5 more per person for that rather than take two regular cabs?) and went back to the Mirage, where we enjoyed a few more drinks before Maria and I had to make for the airport and our crack of dawn flights. So no, we didn't sleep...or at least, not until I stumbled through airport security and onto the plane and into my seat.

And that, my friends, was a perfect end to an amazing Vegas trip!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lucky #7 Vegas Extravaganza: Our Final Day, Part 1

Can you believe that I'm already writing about our final day? :D

No, but really, it makes me sad that this trip was such a whirlwind one, because it was in fact absolutely amazing.

Of course we slept in a bit on our Saturday morning in Vegas, but once we were up it was about that time.

Champagne brunch time, that is!

Part of this complete breakfast...
To be honest the Mirage's champagne brunch isn't one of the better ones I've been to, food-wise, but hey...there's never a crazy line/wait and they're at least good about keeping the champagne/Mimosas flowing!

Post-champagne brunch a few of us went to nap ::cough::JENNA::cough:: and those of us who aren't losers decided to hit up the pool. It was quite crowded and there were no chairs available (not surprising), but Maria and I found a spot at the edge of the pool where we could cool off in the water and leave our things sitting on the edge of a planting area to keep them dry, and we hung out for a good hour soaking up the sun and enjoying gin and tonics.

The rest of our day was taken up with wandering the Strip and of course...checking out the Bellagio fountains!

A few times in a row. ;)

We had dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, because I can never pass up a chance to eat their Pear Gorgonzola pizza. Seriously, it's delicious. And cost vs. quality-wise, CPK is one of the better places to get a great meal for a decent price in Vegas and even more so at the Mirage.

After all of that walking, though, we needed to relax our feet a bit. Well, we had the perfect place for that!

Pedi Party in the jacuzzi tub!
Seriously, we just filled that tub up with some hot water and used shower gel to make it foamy. And yes, all six of us sat around it. And yes, it was amazing. Plus, once our feet felt better it was time to get ready for our Big Night Out...a VIP table at Club Vanity at the Hard Rock!

More to come on that... ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wild Oats Taproom Simpsonville

I hate that I don't have any pictures of the group dinner we hosted at Wild Oats Taproom in Simpsonville, but at the same time it may be for the best. You see, I'd been to this location when it was Beef O'Brady's and when it was The maybe there's a curse on it. Because although my experience at Wild Oats wasn't terrible, it also wasn't very good and to be honest I'll be surprised if Wild Oats is there a year from now...unless they change a few things up.

My first impression upon walking in was that the front/main room where the bar is located was a great little space. Unfortunately, we were seated in the back room and the ambiance did not spill over into this area. It's very open, the tables are spaced far apart (which in itself is nice but doesn't provide the sort of sense of "community" one would think to exist in a "Taproom" style restaurant and bar), there is little to no decor and even the TVs seemed too small and hung in odd places.

On top of that, there was trash all over the floor in the dining area (tons of napkins and visible crumbs), the counter in the bathroom was covered in giant puddles of water and the bathroom trash can was overflowing. Someone may need to remind them that they are running a restaurant and that even if they have an "A" rating on the window when you enter right now, they should keep up a proper clean appearance and remember that the right (or wrong, however you want to word it) person could walk in at any moment and would take that rating away if they saw this restaurant as I saw it that Saturday evening.

Service-wise I'll say that we did have a fairly large group (14 people) and our two servers, while a bit slow with drink refills and taking orders, did an okay job...though of course with everything else about this experience being average at best, *great* service would have been nice to write about...had it existed :-/

The beer selection - which of course Wild Oats Taproom is all about - was in fact pretty decent, especially for the Simpsonville area. I'd heard some people from Fountain Inn/Simpsonville complain about the prices, but to be honest they are still cheaper than downtown Greenville and I think patrons of Wild Oats need to remember that they're drinking craft beer and not Bud Light ;)

As for the food - well, to be honest the menu is all over the place and the couple of dishes we tried (for instance, quesadillas and a Philly Cheesesteak) were of average quality. I think that they have way too many options and should focus on a smaller menu and producing better quality food. When I say the menu was all over the place, I mean that they had the usual bar/taproom fare of the aforementioned Philly Cheesesteak, burgers, etc. but they also had random Mexican dishes on the menu that just...didn't seem to fit.

I think a restaurant and bar like this has great potential in the Simpsonville area - especially on Fairview Road, which is mostly populated by fast food and chain restaurants but also quite close to numerous new neighborhoods and more easily accessible by many Fountain Inn residents. I just hope that Wild Oats can take a look at what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong and make some positive changes before they go the way of the previous two restaurants who inhabited this space.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lucky #7 Vegas Extravaganza: First Full Day, Part 2

I have to hand it to the Mirage (as usual) for installing a slushy-drink bar that offers discounted refills when you bring your cup back. Personally I'm not so big on slushy type drinks that it's worthwhile for me, but some people are ;)

Rhumbar to go!
We were all pleasantly surprised to find that price-wise these drinks were definitely competitive with other refillable slushy drinks on the Strip. I may have to suck it up and get one the next time in Vegas...though I think I'll stick with the size JB had (the far left, more "normal" sized cup, haha).

Once we left the Mirage we headed over to TI to see what times the pirate show was playing. Somehow we got roped into a conversation with some of those damn Vegas promoters (I swear it wasn't me ::cough::CHAD::cough::) and that blew away a good 45 minutes. After that we had to fulfill Chad's wish of riding the moving walkways at the Venetian, of course...

And then Chad and JB had to molest poor Indiana Jones. Or Harrison Ford. Whatever.

By this time we were all starving so we went back to the TI to eat at Kahunaville. The food was okay but for the price...meh. Jenna and Chad had collected a bunch of coupons for this restaurant from those promoters, but of course they had all sorts of rules that (a) aren't listed on the coupons and (b) the promoter would never tell you...only one "buy one get one 50% off" meal coupon per table and the like. Of course no one would listen to me but let's hope they learned their lesson ;)

After dinner we finally made it back to the room to get ready for a night out. We were going to Chateau at the Paris and thankfully our names were on the VIP list because the promoter I'd been in touch with was great. It never hurts to ask, folks, and that's all I'll say about that ;)

Getting ready in the master bath. We are a clever bunch, no?
Ready and waiting to head out to Chateau!
The boys in their matching shirts. Not done on purpose. (Supposedly?)
When we arrived at Chateau (a bit too early - I think we got there right around 10:45?) and approached the girl at the bottom of the stairs, she took one look at our group - three girls, three guys - and scowled when I told her that we were on the list. She asked who put us there, I told her. She actually went and found the promoter and asked if he knew us! Thankfully he remained really cool and I immediately said "I'm Tara, we were in contact via email". He recognized my name I suppose, or he was just not willing to be an ass, so he lifted the clip and let us in, no line no cover. Not gonna lie though, it took every ounce of maturity I possess to not turn around and stick my tongue out at that witch-with-a-b who gave us such an attitude.

On the Chateau outdoor patio
As for the club can I put this nicely?
After encountering that one foul you-know-what at the entrance, every interaction I had with an employee here was extremely positive. The bartenders were quick and didn't ignore any customer, even when they were busy. The bouncers were almost friendly - one outright offered to take a picture for my friend Maria and I, plus we never once got snapped at for standing in one place for too long (damn that Vegas shuffle...). And of course the aforementioned promoter was great. Also, the outdoor patio was really pretty and of course had some great views.

View from Chateau
The problem was...there was no real dance floor. I mean, there was one, but it was oddly shaped and very small and when you entered the club you kind of spilled right out onto it. And of course you could be dancing and a bouncer would have to tap you on the shoulder and ask you nicely to move a foot or so in another direction because the only want to get out to the aforementioned patio was to walk across the dance floor. In which case it wasn't really a dance floor so much as a walkway? I don't know. Also, the DJ that night was mediocre at best - I haven't heard such bad music and mixes played at a Vegas club since I went to Pure at Caesar's in 2007.

I suppose I can cross my fingers and hope for a redesign and some better house DJ's at Chateau, but to be completely honest until one or both of those things happen I doubt I'll go back :-/ And while I'd love to say that you could just pay for a table and enjoy yourself more that way, the tables here are ridiculously overpriced...far more expensive than numerous other clubs on the Strip, including both Tryst and XS at the Wynn/Encore.

We actually called it an early-ish night and were all back in the room by...I want to say 2/2:30 AM. Not that we went to bed right away...instead we had some much-needed "Late Night Suite" time.

Late Night Suite: Chad drunk texting, Jenna organizing our Vegas escort cards, water bottles and McDonald's trash all over the place. Good times, good times.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lucky #7 Vegas Extravaganza: First Full Day, Part 1

Somehow we dragged ourselves out of bed at about 10 AM on our first morning in Vegas, knowing that we had to check out of the Monte Carlo and into what we had dubbed our "Party Rock Suite" at the Mirage.

At least we woke up to 90 degrees and sunny and a not-so-shabby view from a cheap room ;)

And somehow we all ended up brushing our teeth together in the little bathroom? I don't know, so please don't ask. (haha)

Look at how badass we are, brushing our teeth.
I suppose we could dub this day "let's see how many silly things we can accomplish" day, because honestly we were just a mess. Jet lagged and running on not even five hours of sleep will do that to you...and it didn't help that two of us didn't shower (that would be myself and Chad, whatever.), it was hot and our suite wasn't ready until after 2 PM...which left us wandering the Strip after taking our time with an early lunch at La Salsa.

Somehow we decided that it would be a good idea to buy Mardi Gras beads and sport them. In Vegas. In September. Again, I don't know, so please just...don't ask. We each chose a string of beads, and then I think it was like "5 strings for $5" so we ended up with an extra one. That had a plastic chicken on the end. And somehow I was the one forced to wear it.

Chicken beads!
Of course, what's a day trekking up and down the Strip without being accosted by some crazy dude who insists on taking pictures with you and then rudely demands a "tip"?

Yeah, his shirt says "I <3 to Fart" and he was FOUL. As in he stank of B.O. and used more swear words in 30 seconds than I use in a day.
Finally we decided to stop at the packy (that would be liquor store, for you non-New Englanders) and check to see if our room was ready. We got lucky - it was! We made our way up to the fourth floor, and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that we were on such a low floor and therefore had a crappy view :-/

Click here for my long, picture-laden post about why I love the Mirage...because all of the suite pictures are on there, and there are a lot of them! (scroll about halfway through the entry to see them) can view the silly little video that I made of our suite. It's not edited and I wasn't exactly sober when I took it, but personally I think that makes it all the more fun ;)

Of course we spent a bit of time exploring and enjoying the suite. This may or may not have included making fools out of ourselves, but at least no one else could see us. Until now. You be the judge:

Two silly drunk girls jumping on the couch...

I guess we were trying to prove how big the jacuzzi tub in the master bath was?

I don't even know.

We decided to let the chicken take a nap.
Don't worry, we didn't nap. In fact I was champ for the entire trip and I think I was the only person in our group who never took a nap, because, you know...


More Strip wanderings and a night out at the new[ish] club at the Paris, Chateau. Stay tuned!