EMPORIUM HOTEL BRISBANE.... Quiet as a mouse

Brisbane, like Sydney, is a regular place to visit for those doing business, a little city shopping or like us waiting an international flight. In the past we have chosen to stay smack in the centre of the CBD, but this time we ventured to inner city suburb Fortitude Valley.

Cocktails with Tequila Carmel
Cocktails

As soon as we arrived we hit the cocktail bar in the foyer. If you love your cocktails, this bar is for you. The margarita was something special, complete with black volcanic rock salt, dried lime and rosemary garnish, and the pink sherbet Champagne, wow.

emorium-bed
Onto the room. Large, lots of marble, huge bathroom and my favourite….. a pillow menu. As the title of this post says, QUIET. No embarrassing noises from next door, no traffic from the motorway and no noisy trolleys heading down the hallway, just one giant king bed and a perfect nights sleep.

emporium-poolThe roof top pool is an added plus, and felt like our own personal sanctuary, the day beds pool side are perfect for a book, glass of bubbles and some “you” time.

Fortitude Valley is located a quick 9 minutes from the CBD, and the hotel itself is at the centre of a luxury square of pumping restaurants,bars and brands, but don’t let that put you off, Guzman and Gomez is an awesome budget choice and its right next door. Or as we did, order room service, it arrived in 30 minutes, piping hot and was delicious.

We only stayed one night, and was most definitely worth the $275. this hotel gets a solid 10/10 from us.

 


THE MISSION RANCH, CARMEL CALIFORNIA

Nothing speaks romance, art and culture more than the picturesque Californian Sea side town of Carmel-By-The-Sea. Rated a top 10 destination in the US, the small town of Carmel is located on California’s Monterey Peninsular, a short 2 hour drive from San Francisco along the iconic Pacific Coast Highway. Half the fun of visiting Carmel-By-The-Sea is getting there.

Mission Ranch Hotel Carmel California

If leaving from San Francisco, leave early as there is a lot to see on the way. Heading Southwest on the Cabrillo Highway will take you along the Coast road to what should be your first stop, Half Moon Bay.

Mavericks California

Half Moon Bay is an easy 45 min coastal drive from San Francisco. There are lots of scenic viewpoints to stop at along the way, but the reason most people flock to Half Moon Bay is for the famous Surf spot Mavericks, where the waves routinely crest at between 8 and 18m high.

surfing Mavericks

Getting a look at the big waves is not an easy task as you need to take an uneasy walk around the cliff edge. We did this during massive winds which proved too difficult and had to turn back.

The walk to view Mavericks

Leaving Half Moon Bay, next stop Santa Cruz where you can opt to visit the Natural Bridges State Park or the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for some old fashioned fun. Ride the historic 92 year old wooden roller coaster and grab your authentic Santa Cruz singlet.

Santa Cruz Roller Coaster

This is a good spot to stop for lunch. We visited Aldo’s Harbour Restaurant and had amazing Clam Chowder in Bread Rolls.

Clam Chowder

Just short of reaching Carmel you have a choice to continue along the highway or take the 17 Mile Drive, a winding road that leads through exclusive neighbourhoods and magnificent coastal views to the beautiful Pebble Beach. Exit the scenic drive at the Carmel Gate and you have made it to the quaint little town of Carmel with beautiful fairy-tale cottages, arty tea houses, boutique shops and plenty of BnB’s to choose from. Our choice, the luxurious Mission Ranch.

The Mission Ranch was saved by Clint Eastwood and restored to its original beauty. A stay at the Ranch is an unforgettable, and expensive, experience. We took cover there during a fierce storm but was comforted by the open fire place, spa bath and comfortable California King bed. In the morning, after the storm passed, we were able to truly appreciate the magic of our surrounds. The grazing sheep and roaming deer amongst the cottages, and the smell of the ocean greeted us on our walk to the barn for breakfast.

The Mission Ranch, is in itself a bucket list destination. We give it a 9/10.

The Sitting area at The Mission Ranch


LAS VEGAS

VIVA LAS VEGAS

Last year Australia had 7,502,900 international visitors, the city of Las Vegas had 40 million.

Much has been said about Las Vegas, the opulence and extravaganza of the strip are a sensory overload to beat no other, but love it or hate it, it is sure to fill both your Facebook pages and dinner table conversations with exciting fun filled stories. So what has Sin City got to offer an Aussie so far away from home.

Las Vegas

I have been to Vegas 5 times now. With my 12 year old daughter in 2006, my sister Kate in 2007, with hubby Ron in 2011 & 13 and finally in 2015 when Ron and I went with my brother and his finance so they could get married “Vegas Style”. Each trip just as exhilarating and adrenaline pumping as the last.

The Hotels

 

The Las Vegas Strip is 7 kilometres of elaborate themed hotels, which you first spot when the plane is in its final stages of decent. Each time I have flown in I find myself whipping my head from side to side to see what I can spot, the tall sleekness of the Stratosphere, the pyramid shape of the Luxor, the sexy curves of Aria, the best decent being at night when the strip really comes to life, lighting up the desert sky with all its dazzling neon glory.kilometres of elaborate themed hotels, which you first spot when the plane is in its final stages of decent. Each time I have flown in I find myself whipping my head from side to side to see what I can spot, the tall sleekness of the Stratosphere, the pyramid shape of the Luxor, the sexy curves of Aria, the best decent being at night when the strip really comes to life, lighting up the desert sky with all its dazzling neon glory.

Night View Las Vegas

Notable hotels include The Bellagio with its 8 acres of dancing water fountains, the 7000 roomed Venetian Hotel, where Gondolas will take you on a singing boat ride through the man made canals of the 500,000 sq ft Grand Canal Shoppes, and Mandalay Bay Hotel which has an 11 acre beach and lazy pool complex, complete with its own waterslides, which in the eyes of a 12 year old Aussie is a major OMG moment.

Jayde at Mandalay Bay Pool

The Venetian Canal

The Venetian and Paris Hotels

The Bellagio dancing fountain

And my favourite, Aria Resort. We opt for the basic Deluxe room, which by no means is basic. For a mere $129 per night (this does change weekly), we had a 520 sq ft room with a modern 3 room granite bathroom, massive round soaking tub, computerised smart connectivity hub that will open and close your curtains and do just about anything in your room from the comfort of your amazing custom California King plush bed. The resort is conveniently located right in the middle of the Strip, and the pool side Margaritas, in my opinion are the best in town.
TIP: Take the $30 early checkin option. It allows you to skip the queues, which in a hotel with 4004 rooms can be very lengthy, collect your key at the VIP counter and head straight for your room.

Aria Resort

Pool side Margaritas at Aria Resort

The Food

 

I must confess that I do travel to eat. Las Vegas is now home to over 13 Michelin Star rated restaurants including the famed Nobu, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon, Michelin Stars aside, the food in Vegas is out of this world.restaurants including the famed Nobu, Guy Savoy and Joel Robuchon, Michelin Stars aside, the food in Vegas is out of this world.

Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand. Visiting this restaurant was high on our bucket list, and achieved while on our honeymoon in 2013. The meal consisted of a 16 course journey, and it did not disappoint, at $450pp you would hope not. It was all that we had expected, tasty, unique and decadent, from the array of breads presented on the bread trolly, appetisers, entrees, cheese and dessert trolly. There was even a choice of what herbs you wanted in your tea, truly a once in a lifetime experience. Our final bill for 2 people, $1100.

Entrance to Joel Robuchon

Gordon Ramsay’s Steak at Paris Hotel. As we did not prebook we could not get a table in the restaurant, but were told that we could line up at 5pm and take a table in the bar area. I am an avid fan of Gordon Ramsay and was not going to miss out, so we opted for the bar table. It was fantastic, the decor was modern and chic, and we were able to interact with other diners. From watching Hells Kitchen for years, i was very excited to try the famous Beef Wellington and it did not disappoint, tender, perfectly cooked and probably the best mash I have ever tasted. Together with appetisers, shared dessert and a bottle of wine our bill for 2 people $380.prebook we could not get a table in the restaurant, but were told that we could line up at 5pm and take a table in the bar area. I am an avid fan of Gordon Ramsay and was not going to miss out, so we opted for the bar table. It was fantastic, the decor was modern and chic, and we were able to interact with other diners. From watching Hells Kitchen for years, i was very excited to try the famous Beef Wellington and it did not disappoint, tender, perfectly cooked and probably the best mash I have ever tasted. Together with appetisers, shared dessert and a bottle of wine our bill for 2 people $380.i was very excited to try the famous Beef Wellington and it did not disappoint, tender, perfectly cooked and probably the best mash I have ever tasted. Together with appetisers, shared dessert and a bottle of wine our bill for 2 people $380.

Entrance to Gordon Ramsay Steak

Beef Wellington at Gordon Ramsay Steak

Gordon Ramsay Steak

Tacos and Tequila at The Luxor. After travelling for 30 hours jet lag had set in, all we wanted was some tasty food and a cold beer when we ended up at Tacos and Tequila. Carlos our waiter was awesome and made the experience even more enjoyable. He recommended the Queso Fundido, basically melted cheese with chile and Chorizo, it was unlike anything we had ever had and really hit the spot, coupled with Fajitas, jugs of Margaritas, beers and Tequila Flights, a perfect start to our trip. The atmosphere was exciting and was really starting to amp up when we left for a much needed sleep. Our bill for 4 people, $170.

Queso Fundido at Tacos and Tequila

Tacos and Tequila

Our Awesome Waiter Carlos

Finally I cannot forget to mention the Las Vegas Buffets, in particular my favourite Bacchanal buffet at Caesars Palace. This buffet is a massive 25,000 sq ft restaurant with 9 open kitchens serving over 500 items each day with seating for 600 and overlooks the Garden of the Gods pool complex.
Tip; Don’t plan to go at 5/6pm when all the families are lining up to get in, the food doesn’t run out so get there a bit later to avoid the crowds.

Bacchanal Buffet

The wine bars

 

If you are like me you will have a favourite bottle of wine, which you visit regularly. When you do venture outside of your regular bottle, you will often become disheartened that you spent that $20 – $50 on a substandard bottle that was not to your liking….. enter the wine bar.

 

Vegas is home to several wine bars that offer a huge array of exceptional wines by the bottle, glass or small pour. The Double Helix Wine and Whiskey Bar at the Palazzo, has about 100 wines on the menu with over 40 offered by the glass or wine flight, as does The Wine Cellar and Tasting Room at Rio with an amazing 10,000 bottles of wine valued at over $10 million dollars, and more than 100 wines offered by the glass, including Australia’s Penfold’s Grange. You can hang out at the bar and be entertained by the knowledgable wine stewards like we did, or sit back and relax on the luxurious leather couches. Another notable mention is the Hostile Grape at M Resort, with over 160 wines offered in small pours from the unique dispensing system. Simply purchase a card and help yourself.

The Hostile Grape

The Wine Cellar and Tasting Room

Wine Flight

Tapas at Hostile Grape

However my favourite is La Cave Wine and Food Hideaway at Wynn. As we entered the venue it felt like we were entering an underground hidden wine cellar in France, it is decked out with candles on pillars, leather couches, quiet nooks for romancing, wine walls and an intimate level of edgy music that wont offend. We spent about 3 hours there, and slowly worked our way through part of the tapas menu, and about 20 small pours of wine. The atmosphere was so laid-back yet exciting that it brought people out of their shells (or perhaps that was the wine), and new friendships were formed. This wine bar is unique and gets a 10/10 from me.

Tapas at La Cave

La Cave

The Shows

 

Britney, Ariana, Elton, Rod Stewart, David Guetta, the list goes on and on. Cirque du Soleil now has 8 shows in Vegas. We went and saw Criss Angel Believe at the Luxor, apart from the impressive custom motor bike display as you walk in, the show itself was boring, tired and full of lame jokes and sexual innuendos. The same went for Peepshow, The dancers were amazing as was the set and effects, but Holly Madison…. Hmmmmm. On a whole a Cirque du Soleil show is worth going to, my pick if you like all the acrobatics, smoke and fire is KA. Check online reviews before forking out any money..motor bike display as you walk in, the show itself was boring, tired and full of lame jokes and sexual innuendos. The same went for Peepshow, The dancers were amazing as was the set and effects, but Holly Madison…. Hmmmmm. On a whole a Cirque du Soleil show is worth going to, my pick if you like all the acrobatics, smoke and fire is KA. Check online reviews before forking out any money.is KA. Check online reviews before forking out any money.

Peepshow with Holly Madison

Activities

 

There is so much to do in Vegas that I could start an entire blog on the subject. From driving exotic cars on a race track, Helicopter flights from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, roller coasters and zip lines from tops of buildings or getting married by Elvis, Vegas has it all. One of the craziest things I have ever seen (thats seen and not done), was the Sky Jump located on top of the Stratosphere Hotel. People literally leap off a platform and plummet in a controlled free fall 829 feet to the ground, all while being watched by people on the viewing station inside. Purely for the brave.

Stratosphere

Stratosphere Sky Jump

Stratosphere Sky Jump

And if all else fails, grab a stool at the Cabo Wabo Bar, order a Tequila flight, bucket of beer and a side of wings, and people watch, its fascinating.

Cabo Wabo Bar

Tequila Flight

So thats it, many of the reasons why I love Las Vegas, and in a city that has approximately 200,000 slot machines, I did not mention gambling once. Vegas is not for everyone, it is what you make it, and with so many options, one thing I can confirm is that each visit, each person, each blog will have an entirely different experience when hitting the strip. Add it to your bucket list, you wont regret it.

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Good times