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A Sinfully Grand Christmas Trip Report

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
So, I decided to do an actual report vs. gumming up the other threads. Not sure how this is going to go, since I was my usual self and took a ton of pictures (and handful of vids) and I feel like I'm being pulled in a million directions, but I'm going to try...since I usually enjoy the process.

Where- Vegas/Death Valley/Grand Canyon
When- Dec 23-28
Who- Me, Hubby, and the kids

*ooops- I thought you could see the hubs in this pic, but apparently not. ehhh...he'll come up later in the report.

I tried incorporating something with Death Valley into the title, but everything just takes it to a rather morbid sounding place. LOL

December 23rd-

After getting past my boarding mix ups with the dog (not the brightest thing around Christmas) and finding out that the government shutdown shouldn't impact our dining and lodging plans in the parks, we waved good-bye to our snow-flaked ceiling and were off...


(Girls surprised me with this Christmas snow a few weeks earlier)

Parking reservation went smoothly, as did airport security (never before had a TSA agent so interested in our destinations). We saw a ton of dogs traveling for the holidays...some more freaked out than others, but it was a good primer for all of the dogs we'd see in Vegas. We even got a decorated gate!


(saw it lit up on the return trip)

In fact, the only bothersome point was a girl who took out my shoulder and laptop screen with her LV tote. I was just sitting in a chair, so not like I was out in the middle of the floor. Thankfully, the laptop is OK...but no apologies or acknowledgement. I guess at least she was on a flight to Cleveland and wouldn't be joining us on the way to Vegas.

Things were running on schedule and I was the lucky one to get a window seat on the right side of the plane. There's always some peace of mind seeing all of your bags get loaded onto the plane (you don't need to see all 5- ha!).



The kids hate me for it, but I usually take pics through the flight. I waved good-bye to Houston...



Saw some neat terrain near El Paso...



We saw White Sands in NM from the air...



Waved hi to all of the passing planes heading east...



Got a preview of the Grand Canyon from the air...





And then we made our way into Vegas.











Our wheels for this trip were not as nicely appointed as our Jeep was for our summer trip was, but the Santa Fe we got fit the 9 million things we all packed. We were offered our choice of three different Jeep Wranglers as an alternative, but there's no way our stuff was fitting in that. Also funny, we wound up in a vehicle with TX tags. Speaking of driving, David had the crazy idea of driving the strip vs following navigation. So, we took the strip...


Even more fitting...Frank Sinatra came on the radio just before we turned onto the strip. Love me some Frank!

The kids knew about our lodging for the first half of the trip. I picked the Venetian because the price was the same, regardless of the number of occupants and they didn't charge for parking. Ooooh...and room size!

The check in line was crazy when we got there. I at least did a good deed while in line and hoped it would pay off in our favor. The guy in front of me needed to find his wife and asked me if I could hold his spot. He was gone for 5-10 minutes, but I waved him down when he got back. We were still only at the halfway point anyway. I also took a few pics as we waited...







I still only had my phone out at this point...so limited to the camera of an old iPhone 6s. May get a new phone in 2019, but I hate replacing something that works.

The line moved much more quickly than I thought it would. I have having flashbacks to a 2003 trip where we waited in line for over an hour at Caesar's and there were only a handful of parties in front of us. The girl at the front desk who helped me was very friendly, but had some problems getting me a room. Turns out, they were hosting a convention and all rooms in the category that I booked were locked. She asked me how I felt about a room on the 11th floor...I was fine with it...but it too was locked. Then, in an apologetic tone, she offered me something on 6...which I was good with as well...but that too was locked. Honestly...I just wanted a room in the room type that I booked...nothing more. Finally, a room up on 21 would let her in for room assignment. Whew! It wasn't ready yet (that's probably why), but promised me I'd get a text when it was and to find her before 5:30 if we hadn't heard anything. Oh...and a warning to the kids about touching things in the minibar fridge (we'd already had that discussion).

We were nearing 3:30pm PT...which was 5:30pm at home...and I hadn't eaten all day. The kids and David had crackers on the plane and breakfast before leaving home, but me...nada. We didn't want to journey far, so we went to the Grand Lux Cafe on the casino level.



 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Totally unlike me, but I didn't take any food pics. I know I had a farro and quinoa salad with grilled salmon. It was OK, but they failed to bring my dressing after multiple requests. Sam and David had similar issues with their food. On top of that, they brought bread, but never made good on the promise to bring the butter to go with it. Still, we left feeling better than we did before walking in...and during our meal, we also got the text that our room was ready. Time to head to 21338!

I wanted to find it before heading to the car for the luggage. I think everyone was in awe of the size of the place, but no time to play around...we had bags to wheel up. I still hadn't busted out the camera, but I took a few room pics after we settled in.









The kids were over the moon to have three tvs. Not like we were in the room very often...but three tvs in a small space was major wow for them. I say small, but I think this room was bigger than my first few apartments. Ha!

And then there was the view!






Not quite a strip view, but pretty perfect for my plans. A few weeks prior to travel, I had the kids do some Vegas research and draft a Santa wish list based on things that looked appealing. The High Roller made the list, but there are some members of this family with a fear of heights. The view really gave those people some proper perspective on how high that thing really is. As to think that said people also asked for a helicopter ride...yet they can't ride in window seats on planes because they can't look down!

I don't know why, but I also love this lamp!



We headed out to explore. I wanted to make our way up to the LINQ since I'd heard that they had things like snow tubing in previous years.









We made our way through the LINQ's casino floor since we haven't been in here since the Imperial Palace days. It always reminds me of a black jack dealer David met here who's name was Ka. She said she was saving up for a Y so she could be Kay. LOL But boy have things changed...



Caught a little entertainment as we headed out...



Time to head back...









I don't know why, but I was mesmerized by this little fountain.



Travel and dryness of the desert was starting to catch up to us. I went over to buy some overpriced water (since I left our refillable bottles back in the room). The girl behind the counter who got our water was very interested in my camera...asked me if I was a pro. Considering mine is more of a mid range DSLR, the suspicious side of me went on alert. Thankfully, I was just overreacting. No shocker there.

So, we got under the High Roller and if they weren't sure before, being right here made it very clear that two out of four of us had no desire to ride.



Of course, they saw the ziplining nearby and wanted to do that. David got me to do this insane zipline course in Mexico several years ago. I vowed never again. I don't mind the heights, but I hated the feeling of being in the harness and I had too many problems getting going and then stopping once I did. In the end, we tabled both experiences to see what Santa would come up with for Christmas. Sadly, there was no tubing that I could find. Bummer.

We decided to head out and walk some more. The crowds were heavier than I'd ever seen, but we were there...so why not wander?

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster




The fountains started going off as we were approaching the Bellagio. The kids were wowed, but we weren't in a great spot to stop and watch.


(I think this was the Hallelujah Chorus)

Santa had a Bellagio related surprise up his sleeve, so I wanted to go in and see what the kids had to say. The walkway with the shops leading up to the casino was nicely decorated, but nothing crazy.





The crowds inside the Bellagio were insane, but I was set on getting some pics of the Chihuly flowers.





Check in also had some nice decor...



While the crowds in the lobby and casino were thick, it was nothing compared to the conservatory. Still, I can't blame anyone for that...it's all decked out for the holidays and is quite beautiful. Essentially, it felt like you were walking through Cinderella's carriage to get to a Christmas wonderland.









I was particularly fond of the horses. Not only were their tails motorized to periodically give a gentle twitch (that freaked out the kids), upon closer glance, I could see they were decorated with seeds. It was all very Rose Parade sort of stuff.



I couldn't get close enough to everything to read up on all of the building materials, but she (who I'm thinking is the fairy godmother) was also pretty fabulous.



The polar bears were adorable.



Still exploring and trying to get in close enough to get some of the details.









 
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HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster




We couldn't take the crowds for another second, so we exited the conservatory. I did take a few floor detail pics though in the process. Pretty as it is, it's seen better days.



We decided to head out and hopefully we'd catch the fountains while trying to get down to Las Vegas Blvd.



Crazy moon out that night too!



The crowds were super heavy and the fountains started up, so we grabbed a side spot on the railing with a partly obstructed view. I would have preferred something classical, but we'd have to settle for Eartha Kitt's rendition of Santa Baby.







Not sure why, but this little blue lagoon below us looked so dreamy to me!



Not nearly as dreamy, but I was really digging the astronaut on the Cosmopolitan.



The kids' feet were starting to get tired and everyone wanted a bite to eat, so we started heading back to the Venetian.






(Frank's and Dean's stars!!!!!!!!)

And we're back! And it's funny...after the kids saw them in person, they didn't want a gondola ride.



Earlier in the day, we saw a poster for some place in the Venetian with over the top milkshakes. So, this became our must do for the night...



I know there are several in NY, but DTD Disneyland is also supposed to be getting one.

The wait was a bit frustrating. A number of people left the line while we waited, but we were too tired to trek anywhere else. So, we waited. Equally frustrating was that a large party showed up and talked their way into a side room with the promise that they'd only order drinks and shakes. Thankfully, we were seated right about the same time, so can't have too many sour grapes over it.

Our booth felt more like a barrel and the room to our side had a great 80s vibe.





We planned on food, but shakes were also a must for those that could have them. i.e. everyone but me!



Now, I'm sure we've all been places where advertising pics are far more impressive than the actual food. That would not be the case at Black Tap. The shakes would come out first and boy were they just as amazing in real life.



 
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HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster


Kendall's obviously has a big piece of cake on top. Sam's has ice cream sandwiches on the side and David's has a massive brownie in between the gobs of whipped cream and chocolate shake in the base.

So, I couldn't partake in the shake fun, so I had a salad and a burger that they put on a gluten free bun and made without the cheese.





Salad was decent and the burger was hands down the best I've had since all of my dietary changes. The kids also got a more basic burger to share (that was supposedly amazing) and David got some kind of fried cheese thing (that he thought was OK, but the kids were happy to take off of his hands).

All in all, the service and food at Black Tap were great. They also took a lot of care with my food intolerances and Kendall's severe food allergies. And while not cheap, it's not as pricey as I thought it would be. Those shakes were $15-17 a piece and easily enough for AT LEAST two people to share.

We ran by the concierge on the way out because I was having a tough time finding the fitness center and I was all set on working out during this trip. I know...I know, but it's been a major health transformation in my life with all of this, so I was just trying to stay on top of it. the concierge was so friendly and helpful...so I was still quite pleased with the Venetian.

I went to bed a bit nervous about the Bellagio since the kids weren't quite as wowed as I hoped they'd be, so I'd have one more day to work on them.

___________________

Coming up-
Christmas Eve
Gym time
The stupid elf found us in Vegas
Death Valley time crunch
A nice Christmas Eve celebration
Packing so soon?
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
December 24th-

Traveling around Christmas is one thing, but being on the road for actual Christmas and Christmas Eve is a different story. Kendall and I have had the Santa talk, but Sam still believes (although she's starting to question things). To further complicate matters, I "won" an Elf on the Shelf at a Christmas in July event. I managed to go 13 Christmas seasons without an elf and I really thought we'd always be an elf-free family.

Meet Ollie...



Yeah...come Thanksgiving, the kids conveniently reminded me about the elf and wondered when he was going to appear. I felt bad, so I decided to play along. Little did I know that their teachers were super creative with their elves. On top of that, Sam determined that one teacher's elf was a fake since it hadn't moved in three days and didn't look like any of the other elves. Needless to say, there was a lot of elf pressure. I'll will spare you highlights from my rookie elf season. LOL

Ollie disappeared from our house before the kids woke up on the 23rd. They were very sad, but wondered if he'd find us in Vegas. We told them that he must have seen our suitcases and was already heading up to the North Pole to report in to Santa. I at least came up with a plan for his Vegas appearance...I told them that I forgot to buy them our traditional Christmas Eve holiday pjs and they'd just have to do without this year. Ollie to the rescue...he was waiting for them on the morning of the 24th to save the day...


(took this at night- so it's kind of dark)

My Christmas Eve day started around 6am when I made my way to the fitness center. I expected it to be dead, but there were already a good 8-10 people in there and by 6:45, the place was buzzing with activity. This is not the Vegas I used to know! The Vegas I always knew was quiet until at least lunchtime. Oh well, the gym is nice...tons of equipment/tech...and in an area so you don't have to go through the crowds and casino. The only complaint...you have to climb these big diamond plate covered stairs to get back up to the elevators. I know I know...I was working out...but my legs are often Jell-o by the time I'm done, so stairs were not fun.

I had the pleasure of waking everyone up after my workout so that we could hit the road and get to Death Valley. We had a 7:30pm dinner reservation that night and I scheduled a Lyft for 6:45-7, so I knew our time would really be limited. Still...we all wanted to go. I drove on the way there, so there are absolutely no pictures until we got out shortly after the park entrance.







One of the big things I noticed, that didn't photograph really well, was how much of the rock was tinged with green. I'm sure if I opted to fuss around with my filters I could have captured it, but I just didn't want to take the extra time.

Something else to note...we visited the restrooms right near the park entrance. This was only day 3 of the government shutdown and things were already disgusting. I remember the news talking about lack of bathroom services in many of the open parks during the shutdown, but you don't realize how much those park workers do when things are operating as they should. I mean, park restrooms aren't things I expect to smell like roses or be like some five star hotel. Still, by day 3, those restrooms were bordering on being a health risk with the amount of human waste outside of the receptacles.

We hopped in the car and headed to Furnace Creek, hoping we might be able to find something there before stopping for lunch and exploring what we could of the park.





The visitor center was closed due to the shutdown, which saddened the girls since it meant no Death Valley stamp in their National Parks passport book. Still, they had been prepared for this, so it was no surprise. What was a surprise, and I won't be sharing his picture, is the furloughed park ranger who showed up to help park guests. He knew that the park would see a lot of guests and that the outdoor bins were probably low or depleted with park guides. So, he got the bundles left of the most recent ones that had been printed and started stacking those bins.

As my summer trip report showed, we have a great love for our park rangers. We tried to keep our conversation with him non-political and I'll do the same here, but he basically told us that it's not a job where you're in it for the money but he loves his park and just wanted to do what he could for the guests during this time. We couldn't stick around, but he stayed there answering questions from everyone that approached him. This would be our only ranger encounter this trip, but it speaks volumes about their dedication.

I took a few more random pics before getting back in the car...









I was initially hoping to eat lunch at The Inn at Furnace Creek Dining Room. It's in the 4-Diamond rated Inn at Death Valley and had a pretty fabulous looking menu, but the ranger did make a recommendation to try out the restaurant at the Ranch at Death Valley...which was pretty much next door to the visitor center. So, we went that route.

It's actually called The Last Kind Words Saloon and it's got a really fun wild west sort of atmosphere...















The menu also had some fun wording...



 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
We had a really great server as well. I felt bad, because when we arrived she was doing double duty...having to tell people that they couldn't park in the middle of lanes in the lot for driving. But...when she came in, it was all good. In fact, she brought Sam a sample (that was closer to a full cup) of their chili just for Sam to decide if it was what she wanted to order. It was kind of funny when she did. She said something like, "Thank you so much for the chili. It was really good, but I think I'll have the burger." Kids!

I took a brief look at the guide we got from the ranger so I could get a better idea of where we were going...



And then wandered outside for a bit before we got our food.

















OK, probably more details than anyone really needed, but I was just trying to capture that oasis feeling that you really get in the Furnace Creek area. Plus, the drive had taken longer than expected due to construction between Vegas and Death Valley.

I headed back in and it was food time!


I skipped the bun for the pulled pork sandwich. The pork was topped with an apple slaw, which was refreshing and delicious! David got the same thing but in full sandwich form.


The salad I got was nice too...right down to the little edible flower.

Sam's burger!


It's hard to see, but Kendall had this fried shrimp sandwich and the shrimp were enormous!


I got bored waiting on everyone and took a pic of the inside of my glass.


The glasses actually were a topic of conversation since they are a dark green, making it difficult for servers to tell if patrons are in need of a refill.

After lunch, David wanted to drive around the ranch...











I tried to get pics of these locamotives and wagons up by the ranch, but I was never at a good angle.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster






I had three or four places on my list of things I'd really like to do, but it became clear that we'd probably only be able to drive by some of those areas if we were to make it back in time for dinner. So, we headed off...



Something you may notice is how the landscapes...well, some of them...have a Star Wars vibe. Parts of A New Hope - Ep IV and parts of Return of the Jedi- Ep VI, were filmed in Death Valley. No, we didn't actually get out and walk the areas where they filmed, but you certainly get that vibe. I apologize if it seems like overkill, but I just took a lot of pics as we drove so I could remember what it felt like just being in this place. I'm not sure if beautiful or bizarre are the proper adjectives, since there were times where I almost felt trapped by the lack of life. Still, the sky was beautiful that day and it made for some wonderful contrasts against the stark landscapes.















It was kind of neat to see all of the dust being kicked up while people were driving on some of the secondary roads.



I also suspected we were approaching the Devil's Golf Course when I saw some of these rock features...



Sure enough...









Part of me was tempted to have David pull off, but Badwater Basin was my #1 goal. And I could tell by the cars ahead that others had similar goals.





It took some doing, but we found a place to park a little bit up the road.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Quite a few people were carving a path through this darker area, but 1. it looked like a challenge (even in hiking boots) to get through there 2. I wonder if rangers would have prohibited it had they been there.



And look...here's some of the BAD water.



This is one of my favorite pics from Death Valley. If I crop out the little bit of the parking lot and bathroom, it kind of makes me feel like David is walking on another planet.



This one of him with the kids has almost an Abbey Road vibe.



In hindsight, I don't know if we should have been up here either...but there were no signs.

I wish I could have gotten closer to this section because it's hard to tell how high it is compared to where you are on the ground...







Before we went down to the path, it was time for a restroom break and this one was equally as foul. What stood out this time though was a wonderful mom in the line in front of us. She had younger kids and was fully equipped with wipes. She sensed that me...a mom with older kids...would not. Next thing ya know, she's stocking us with wipes to ensure we have a better bathroom experience. And when Sam joined up with me and K, she made sure Sam got wipes as well...even though I figured we could make due with what she gave us. The bathroom was still gross...but this great mom made it so much better.

When we got down to the bottom of the stairs, we were faced with this...





I'm sure this is going to sound silly, but it's this view that said Death Valley to me. I mean, it's a valley, but there was just nothing out there. We had seen a couple of crows up by Furnace Creek, but there was just nothing out there. That's not to say that there aren't living things, but the signs of life are not so obvious.

Here's where the big miscommunication comes in. I took off on the trail with Sam at my side and we quickly realized that David and Kendall were being left in our dust. Still, we were taking pics as we went and figured they'd catch up.





It's supposedly only a half a mile down to the end, but it messes with your mind. The salt and sand creates an illusion sort of reaction and every time you feel like you're really making progress, you realize the end is still quite far. Still, we kept walking and taking pics...







Sam's stomach started cramping and we were way out in front of K and David, so I decided to turn around before the end. When we met up with them, it turns out David thought I just wanted to get out...take a picture of the sign...and get back in the car. Ummmm...OK. If we're going to get out...I want to explore. So, I started heading back and just took pics of the white parts at my feet that still showed some interesting textures.









Riveting...I'm sure!

It was around this part where I noticed the little sign in the rocks that said "Sea Level."



 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
And I guess that's the other real attraction factor for Badwater. It's the lowest point in North America. I can't even begin to imagine what this place is like during a flash flood. Also makes me wonder what kinds of fossils were lurking around us.



I was already well ahead of the rest of the fam on the return, so I grabbed a few more pics before heading up to the car...





The kids also had my old camera again...so I'm borrowing a few pics from theirs as well.





We all finally got back to the car and after a major panic over my phone going missing (too many people moving stuff around in my backpack), we were on our way back towards the park entrance. David was now giving me an earful about taking too long and how not only could we not stop anywhere else, but I was probably going to have to cancel dinner and our ride. Soooooo negative!

So, I tried to tune it out and just take pics.











The people in this next one should help give some scale...











For reference...this is the nicer lodging with the fancier restaurant I was initially planning on for lunch...as well as some adjacent buildings. It even has a golf course!









There's really not much around, so it wasn't long before it felt like you were out in the middle of another world again.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster






The pic above is the path leading to Dante's View. It was one of the places I wanted to stop, but we were too worried about time. Supposedly, early travelers in this area got to this peak, looked down on the land, and felt it reminded them of Dante looking down on Purgatory. If you're into all of the names...you have to go farther into the park to find places like Hells Gate.

On top of that, while I can't go peak by peak, there are some pretty high ones in the park...when you compare how low you are at Badwater and Furnace Creek. I can see that Dry Mountain towards the center of the park tops out at 8,674 ft, Wildrose towards the west is 9,064 ft and Sentinel is 9,636 ft.

OK, so back to driving out of the park...

















Of course the other side of this sign says Death Valley, but noooooo...the back side can't. I was hoping it would be like Badlands where it says the park you're now leaving. I'm such a whiner. Ha!



I didn't stop taking pics after leaving the park because things still looked pretty interesting around the area...





Sam and I both saw this skull looking formation. Creepy!



I alaso loved that there was snow in the mountains in Nevada.



At Death Valley Junction, we drove by some interesting looking buildings. I keep meaning to look into more info on them.







More areas that are probably scary during heavy rains.

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster


I also think it's funny how the areas around the national parks tend to be protected. I guess it adds an extra buffer zone of protected land.



Not sure why, but I thought this looked neat...



Almost in Pahrump.





And maybe it's because I live in a relatively flat part of the US that rarely sees real winter weather, but I must have taken 20+ pictures of the mountains and snow.





David and I had a lovely convo in the next section of our drive about whether or not these were Joshua Trees. I swear...sometimes things go to the craziest places when we're on the road.



We hit the construction zones again as we got closer to Vegas, but things weren't as slow on the way back.







I had no service in Death Valley, so I couldn't get a rough estimate on the drive 'home' until we were in Pahrump, but it was looking like we'd be back at the hotel by about 4pm...meaning we probably could have taken the time to see one more point of interest in the park. Still, you know if we had, something would have come up and our evening plans would have been ruined.

While I know we were still a ways away, it wasn't too long before Vegas came into view...



Also love all of the "rocks" in this area...


(so pretty in the morning when the early sun is hitting it)

Now I don't know about the rest of you, but I am a sucker for hot air balloons. You'd never catch me going up in one, but I LOVE seeing them. So, imagine my joy when I saw this...





One little curve around some hills on the highway and it got even better...







Back to "civilization"



Frank's road!

 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
While I don't watch as much as I used to, it was neat seeing some of the construction on the NFL stadium going into Vegas.





The kids were also pretty pumped to see their first non-Disney monorail. True story...David and I were in Vegas when it first opened...got to ride for free the whole time...and wound up being interviewed by the Houston newspaper there visiting to cover the opening. I just thought it was funny that two people from Houston went all the way to Vegas to get interviewed (randomly) by a Houston newspaper. LOL





Blurry, but we passed by the Cromwell, that had some of their holiday decor lit up for the night.



Not sure why, but I can't look at the Cromwell like some of the younger crowd. I see it and I still see Barbary Coast and how it used to be one of the more affordable (and also, less trendy) places on the strip.

It was a little after 4 when we got back to the Venetian, so we had plenty of time to rest and clean up before we needed to meet our ride...or so I thought. Kendall is obsessed with makeup and loved that the bathroom had a cute little benched vanity area off to the side with a nice makeup mirror. I wound up having to flat iron my hair in the hall and had to kick her out when it was time to do my makeup (which took a fraction of the time).

It all came together in the end, and I think we all looked pretty fabulous!







So, I feel silly, but prior to this trip, I never used Uber or Lyft or anything like that, but I know it's the cheaper way to go. I was wearing 5" platform heels for dinner and I didn't want to hoof our way to our Christmas Eve meal, so it was time to get over my crazy fears. Let's just say that when 6:45 rolled around and nobody picked up our ride request, I started to freak. Thankfully, it was only a matter of minutes befor I got the confirm.

We waited inside the Venetian's area labeled for Lyft and Uber, not realizing that we'd have to walk a bit more to get to the actual pick up zone, but thankfully we made it out with some time to spare. The kids were also driving me crazy looking for this guy's car. I kept telling them I could see on the map and would know + I was getting alerts. It wasn't until we were in the car and on our way/almost there, that I saw the alert saying our driver was hearing impaired. At least it came with some nice video tutorials on how to thank him in American sign language.

Dinner tonight was at Paris...











When it comes to meals on vacation, especially in areas like this with lots of options, I still use my Disney philosophy and look for meals with added attraction elements. I thought about the Eiffel Tower restuarant, but it seemed a bit too stuffy and date-night for Christmas Eve, so I went with the more casual Mon Ami Gabi since it had French (which I love) as well as steaks to cover David's likes...plus, some of the restaurant also had views of the Bellagio fountains...which was sure to be a hit with the girls. It also wasn't super fancy, but still felt more special than some of the more casual spots, they have gluten free options, and were offering a Christmas menu.



So, our nice Christmas Eve dinner got off to a rough start. The girls at what appeared to be the check in stand just stood there like statues and weren't exactly quick to engage guests. I also had some walk up decide to jump in front of me because statue girls weren't responding to me, so I guess she thought it was her turn. Turns out that check in stand was strictly for walk ups (who were mainly being turned away or waiting to sit in the area on top of the casino outside the restaurant). For people like me with reservations, I got to wait in a long line to check in.



Getting a smidge closer...



I wasn't the only one bothered about the check in line or the girls at the other stand. Everyone around us was griping and I can't tell you how many guests we saw approach the stand with those girls and come close to losing it. I was annoyed, and didn't like how it was all marked, but it was Christmas Eve...they were crowded...and keeping it civilized with cooler heads seemed the best way to go. But...it was what it was, we had a reservation...and we just were going to have to wait. Plus, it was exactly 7:30 when I got up to the front to check in, so it's not like we were behind...yet.

When I got to the front, I could hear the party in front of me was checking in for an 8pm reservation, so I was really hoping we would get priority over them, which it sounds like would be the case. But then they get to me and they tell me they're behind, so I'm handed a buzzer and we're now told we'd be waiting another 10-15 minutes. OK...not a huge deal, except that I'm in heels and casinos never have places to wait when the restaurant feeds into the casino floor. So, I propped up against a column and waited.

The buzzer went off around the 20 minute mark and the statue girls and their older male manager signaled for me to come over. They turned off my buzzer and were about to seat us when they realized we were on the inside list and they were unable to do anything for us...including turning my buzzer back on. So, now I had to go inside, cut into the check in line right at the front, explain why my buzzer was not lit up and get them to seat us. It was chaotic and took close to minutes to get us to a table. It was even more confusing because a woman named Sandy was checking in right when they made the connections about my buzzer issues and table being ready...so at first, the other Sandy thought the table was hers. Nothing got ugly though and everything was good with seating us. The good news...this is where the evening gets much better.

Not the greatest picture, but we're seated at a table with a partial view of the fountains. Not the ideal view, but not tucked away in a corner either.



Sam was seated next to me and had a prime view, but our server would later add a chair next to David so Kendall could sit and watch without blocking traffic. She didn't have to ask nor did she ever get in the way...he just saw that it would be a kid appeal factor and it would be better to just cover this early on.

They started us off with this herb carrot salad...compliments of the chef.



David and Sam were kind of meh on it, but K and I really enjoyed it.

They were also quick to bring me my first cocktail.



What's really funny is that he conjured up memories from our times in Vegas back in 2003. I like an extra dirty martini and our server jokingly confirmed that I wanted it "Britney dirty." Back in 2003, a Vegas bartender wanted me to clarify if my martini should be Britney dirty or Christina dirty...since back then, Christina Aguilera would have been the dirtier one of the two (hence her song 'Dirty').

Fountains going off again...



I never got any pictures of it, but there were about 20 or so vehicles decked out in holiday lights that kept parading down this section of the strip. I wasn't in a good enough position to see if there were any real themes, but it was a lot of lights. So, sort of like a Christmas boat parade...but with cars...on Las Vegas Blvd. Sweet!
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
I don't know why it's never come up before, but tonight would be the night that Kendall was introduced to shrimp cocktail. She loves shrimp and eats it like this at home, but never knew to order this from a menu.



I started with a nice salmon tartare with avocado and potato crisps. I was initially planning on country pate or mousse pate, but I just wasn't in the mood come the time. Sad, because I kind of regret it even though my appy was good.



I think David just had a salad for his starter. Sam was in a picky mood tonight, so she had a French grilled cheese from the kid's menu and their house made frites.



For my entree, I had filet mignon with bordeaux butter, red wine reduction and their house frites. Part of why I picked this restaurant is because they had a pretty decent gluten free menu and I'd read they were also good with other allergy and intolerance issues. Our server was on top of this at every step of the meal for both me and Kendall.

David got a prime steak with bearnaise. My steak pic didn't turn out, but you can tell that's his bearnaise sauce.



I never got a good pic of Kendall's meal. She initially ordered the skate that was on special, but they ran out, so I believe she had bass. She said it was deeelissh!

It may also be obvious, but I'm just using my phone tonight. I didn't feel like lugging around the big camera.

For dessert, there was chocolate mousse for those eating things with lactose...



And the berry and lemon sorbet was for those of us who were not.



If I were eating things like lactose and gluten, the apple tarte tatin or the creme brulee would have been my top choices...along with an order of profiteroles. YUM!

We took some pics together towards the end of the meal (LOVE that little penquin behind them)...





All in all, it was a good meal. My steak was better than David's, Kendal loved her fish, desserts were decent and our server was a total rock star. So, even with all of the waiting and check in hiccups...no regrets on picking this for our Christmas Eve dinner. In fact, it was kind of fun because so many people were all dressed up and decked out for the holiday. I didn't love having to trek out into the casino when the kids needed to use the restroom, but they did get a nice compliment from the woman at the table next to us who was impressed with their table manners and open attitude towards food at their ages.

On the way back, I switched into a pair of flats (even though they didn't match- it was making me nuts) and I had Kendall do the same (first night out in heels, but her flats at least matched). It was pretty chilly out, so we decided to walk through the Forum Shops. Kendall borrowed my shawl. I wished I had worn the dressy coat I bought for this trip, but I was going to have to make the best of it with my lined denim jacket.



It was late, we were tired, and we had driving ahead of us on Christmas. So, it was time to get back to the Venetian and get two little girls to bed...but not before modeling their new Christmas jammies.





They asked if I could talk to Santa about Ollie the Elf hanging with us for the rest of vacation, but I was done with stupid elf antics.

They also made me some updated Santa wish lists on hotel stationary.





I took a final pic of the elf with their gifts after they fell asleep, but before I went to bed...sort of proof that he saw Santa's final work for them for the year. And then I stuffed him away in a little toiletries bag and hid him deep in one of my pieces of luggage. He made it back to my closet at home (behind the discount Christmas cards I picked up on sale) and has gone totally undetected.



_________________________________________________

Coming up-
Christmas Day
- another early workout
-gift time
-a Christmas tradition for breakfast
-driving to the Grand Canyon
-dinner and hanging out at the El Tovar
 

ajrwdwgirl

Well-Known Member
Thanks for sharing what you experienced in Death Valley. It looks super interesting to me, I like the different formations and textures in the sand that you showed. I liked seeing some of the ranch as well, that is where we are going to stay. I also am impressed with the park ranger's commitment to the park. I love the National Parks and I hate to think of the possible destruction that could happen during this shut down.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Funny, but my throat felt so dry just looking at those pictures of Death Valley!
The whole trip was dry...at least compared to our norm. My poor skin is still trying to recover.

Thanks for sharing what you experienced in Death Valley. It looks super interesting to me, I like the different formations and textures in the sand that you showed. I liked seeing some of the ranch as well, that is where we are going to stay. I also am impressed with the park ranger's commitment to the park. I love the National Parks and I hate to think of the possible destruction that could happen during this shut down.
The ranch looked nice and it's right near the visitor center, so it should be easy to get all kinds of daily updates from that point once things are up and running again. I believe we saw tennis courts and a pool, which I'm not used to seeing in a national park. A number of resort guests were also coming in from morning jogs or bike rides. In fact, biking appears to be a very popular activity for visitors to Death Valley. I can't quite put my finger on the proper adjectives to describe what it felt like being there, but it certainly has quite a few neat colors and textures in the landscape. The destruction is another story. I'm incredibly torn on whether or not they should all be shuttered until things are back up and running. It would be devastating to have these natural wonders destroyed by careless people (and people just needing to relieve themselves) during a time where there's little to no supervision, but then I also think about all of the non-government people who make a living from businesses involving the parks.
 

HouCuseChickie

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
December 25th-

It was a bit tougher to roll out of bed this morning, but I was down in the Venetian's fitness center before 6:30am and by 7am, the place was filled with quite a few guests. I trudged up those crazy diamond plated stairs at the end with another woman and got on the elevator with an older woman who didn't understand very much English and was trying to get to the restaurants. We tried to hit the right buttons for her before we got out, and hopefully she got where she needed to go.

Our room was all the way at the very end of the hall of our "branch" in the tower and that hall was freezing for all of our visit (temps were chilly to us). It was quite refreshing after the gym, but at night, I was freezing my butt off making that walk. Oh well...I got down to the room and it was time to wake up the kiddos (and David) so they could see what Santa brought for them. I don't know how legible the note was in the picture with the dumb elf, but in the spirit of gifting experiences, Santa gave them...

1. Tickets to Cirque du Soliel LOVE
2. Dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen
3. A fountain/strip view room at the Bellagio when we returned to Vegas
4. A ride on the roller coaster at New York New York

I felt like it wasn't enough, but my coworker reminded me that I gave them a vacation and things like airfare and such aren't exactly free.

Side note- the kids were checking the room for anything we may have left behind and found my starter Santa notes. I initially was going to do one to each of them and then folded them up in the desk drawer since I was afraid they'd see them if I put them in the trash can. Yeah...just can't win, but I cam up with some excuse that they bought.

We were running a bit behind, but we needed to get the bags packed up and loaded into the car so we could check out and make our way to the Grand Canyon. The forecast had been all over the place for Christmas, but it looked like we might be driving into some snow and we weren't sure how bad it was going to be. Express checkout also wasn't working for me, so I had to go to the front desk. Funny, but the girl who checked us in also checked us out. The kids got a thumbs up for not doing anything with the mini bar.

We also hadn't had breakfast and I wanted something fairly quick and cheap. Continuing in the tradition of our 2015 Disneyland trip where we went to iHop on Christmas day (because nothing else was open), we went to iHop for Christmas breakfast...and modeled our "ugly" sweaters. David felt left out because he's got nothing!







They were out of the Grinch cocoa, so the kids "settled" for regular cocoa. They were also out of most of the toppings for the Grinch pancakes, but still had mix and drizzle to maks the pancakes. Hey...it was Christmas. Gotta make it festive!





I also was able to mix and match enough things so I could have a safe meal.

Breakfast was pretty speedy, so we weren't too far behind. Still, we'd be losing an hour going from Pacific to Mountain time, so I didn't want to waste any more time. This also meant ditching any plans for Rte 66 that I had in mind. I took the first leg of the driving and the kids forgot they could take pics...so there's really nothing until the tail end of our journeys on I40...which led to lots of ear popping with every 1,000 ft we climbed in elevation.

First thing I noticed after getting to ride shotgun were these Grand Canyon rail cars...



And then it was time to turn off...



Another park with a protected area just outside...



Weather forecast was looking pretty good, but they were still calling for a chance of light snow with less than 1" of accumulation. The skies had been crystal clear until we had made the turn off and started to get closer to the Canyon, but I could see there was some weather up ahead...









Also passed some fun stuff on the way...



Weather looking a bit closer...





We would eventually drive into a patch of wintry mix that would shift into flurries...


Hey...it's not much but it's falling snow on Christmas day! I told the kids I couldn't make promises, but I was going to try and give them some Christmas snow...and I guess I delivered!

It also wasn't long before I could sneak peaks of the canyon up ahead of us...





I knew once we got to Tusayan (just from trip prep maps) that we were just about there...



I never got a pic of the park entry because there was no reason to stop. I remember taking a pic of this sign shortly after because I realized I forgot to take any kind of park entry pic.



Sam was our animal spotter. She saw a few elk off to the right side of the car and then spotted the rest of the herd to the left.

 
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