Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Finishing up Las Vegas with food and Alcohol

There's a huge draw about Vegas that I haven't yet mentioned, the food buffet. Where do I start to talk about the food buffets? Almost all the hotels have one, but where is the best? There are a few front runners for Eric and myself. One hotel buffet that comes to mind is The Wynn Buffet. They have a great setting that gives one the feeling of dining within a garden conservatory. It's very impressive. The food is equally pleasing to look at and to eat. It will cost you between $25-$40, depending on holidays or the time of day. 

This time around we decided to stick with our hotel and eat at The Spice Market Buffet. I kept calling it "Spice World Buffet". We read that at some point in time, this buffet was once considered the best on the Las Vegas Strip. It helped that our hotel offered a 20% off coupon. Saving anywhere we can helps in the long run. 

When someone is as hungry as we were, the wait to be seated felt longer. It would have been smarter for us to maybe not eat at the ideal dinner time. Oh well. Luckily we were given a booth with an awesome server. The next decision is, "Where do I start?" There was a grand selection of food. 

I don't think Eric or I sampled all that was available. I had been craving sushi for a few weeks so I made a bee line for that and Mexican food. I thought it was an odd and fun combination. The one photo I did snap was of the dessert area. The workers behind the counter were even making Cotton Candy. I almost grabbed one because I've never seen that offered at a buffet, but I didn't. 

After enjoying our meal we wanted to grab a Piña Colada from a stand at Ceaser's Palace. The bar/stand is right near the Serendipity restaurant. As we stepped out it was great to feel that it wasn't a hot night, which we've experienced before. Once we made the long walk to the Bacardi stand we were told "Cash Only!" We became very disappointed because the drinks there are great. Eric and I don't carry cash usually and since we don't gamble that much, all we had were cards. 

Our plan was to grab that drink and watch a few of the Bellagio fountain shows. Eric had an idea to hit up the similar bar located outside of the Paris Hotel. When we got to the location we waited in line, but they also only took cash. As you read this you might wonder, "Why not visit an ATM?" Well the machines charge around six dollars to pull out your money. 

At this point we were a little annoyed but we crossed the street back to The Bellagio. There was a show in about 10 minutes and a crowd was starting to gather. The show began and the soundtrack used was Elton John's "Your Song". Lame! It was a lackluster water show. We do enjoy the song but not for something like this. We wanted a show that was a little more grand and exciting. 

After the show it was around 11 pm and from the long day we were getting tired. There wasn't a plan to go to sleep, but rather to hang out at the hotel. As we entered back into the hotel we came across a bar that carried a "Yard" of whatever you wanted. This location had Piña Colada yards!! We ordered up two drinks and set out for the casino. 

We were both feeling a little lucky and thought we'd play at least $20 on video poker. We broke one of our Las Vegas rules, we used an ATM. If you're reading this please know to ALWAYS use an ATM before arriving. We each paid about $6. At that point we just said to ourselves, "Oh well, we're in Vegas!" Now we know to NOT forget to visit the ATM prior to leaving for Las Vegas.

My $20 lasted about an hour. I think that's pretty good! I bounced around machines like normal slots, blackjack, and then went back to video poker. Eric's $20 lasted just slightly less than mine. Once I gained $3 from what I started with, I cashed out and said, "Ok bed time!"

So it was back to the room to relax and finish the wine! To be honest, we didn't have a lot of it left. But, it's also good to enjoy the money you spend on your room. 

The following day we stuck to our plans to be on the road before 11 AM. Our anniversary trip was full of variety and fun. I can't say I wouldn't stay at Planet Hollywood again because we were pleased with it. For the next Vegas trip I'd like to try The Cosmopolitan. It's tres chic! So off we went into the dry desert and left The Strip behind as we headed back to The Golden State. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Greece Lands at Disneyland and Magic Heads to Santa Ana

The Mighty Greek God Apollo chose to appear brightly and full of warmth for Disneyland's OPA Celebration. Brandi, Rey, and myself found ourselves at the "it's a small world" promenade as Grecian melodies filled the blue sky! A weekend of Greek appreciation was being enjoyed by all. What was the number one priority on our list (for Brandi and myself)? We just had to see Hercules, the son of Zeus!

Talk about some muscular thighs!! Brandi and I couldn't stop looking. It's a shame Eric couldn't make this part of the day. Of course with Rey being Brandi's boyfriend he had to state that his arms were much bigger than Hercules. 

The wait to see Hercules wasn't all that long, maybe 20 minutes. The great music permeating the festival helped us pass the time. There were even local Greek schools and churches dancing throughout the day. One random lady kept overtaking the dance space as she grooved out with the Greek flag. The three of us agreed it felt like a little corner at Epcot's World Showcase. 

Then of course came my moment with the strong Hercules. Rey agreed that he had quite the strong handshake! I was like "Whoa there sir!" 

I asked him, "What should we do?"
He looked puzzled and replied, "Well we are going to have our photo taken!" He thought a moment and added,"Oh! You meant as a pose!! Lets flash the hero stance!" So here we are in our Hero stance. 

Before we left the park for Circus Vargas, we caught the new show. Mickey and the Magical Map just opened this weekend and seems to be a hit. Rey was "all over that show" like a kid in an ice cream shop! Brandi and him loved the "talking" heads. This new technology of the heads blinking and singing along are great. 

We then connected with Eric via the infamous iPhone and we headed to Santa Ana for Circus Vargas. Circus Vargas has been touring California over 30 years. My family use to watch this circus when I was a kid growing up in Oxnard, California. They've recently ditched all the animals and even more recently changed their production style, thanks to Kevin Venardos. Kevin added his production influence and is also the show's singing ringmaster. 

There was a huge crowd for the holiday weekend. Although the type of seat we bought, first come/first choice, the four of us sat stage center. The tent seats viewers in the round, but sitting on the side isn't something I prefer. 

This year's production, Magikaria, was full of some cool illusions. I say "illusions" as a homage to G.O.B.  from the show Arrested Development. 

 It's a shame the crowd was the worst thing in that tent. So much talking was going on during that show. Eric just wanted to shout out "Quiet!!!" When we go to a Cirque du Soleil, unless the crowd is cheering, one can hear a pin drop. But I digress because we didn't let the chatter ruin the show. We still enjoyed the trapeze fliers, juggler, clowns, and magician. 

The show wrapped up with a flight through the tent. Yes you guessed it from the photo, a human cannonball. 

Here we see the acrobat as he soars through the air! This was a great crowd pleaser. After this act I was a little disappointed in the fact the crowd was getting up and leaving as the cast came out for bows. How rude! Eric made his applause known. 

Circus Vargas passes through Orange County ever year. Will we see their new show next year? If Goldstar has another $10.00 deal it's a possibility. After all, the American circus is a great way to celebrate Memorial Weekend. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Photo Fun at the Disney Parks

I can't say I call myself a photographer at all but I do love snapping pics! I most definitely know when I dislike a photo. I try to make all the subjects involved look as best as they can. If I notice I've accidentally given someone two chins, DELETE! As I walk through city sights or theme parks I can see bad photos being taken all over. You know, it is when the subject/persons are right up against a monument or signage I want to correct them. I definitely don't do that because it is just too odd. 

Anyway, Eric and I were at Disney California Adventure and Disneyland yesterday, and I messed around a bit with my iPhone 5. (Below, what is that shadow in the bottom, right corner?)

It was a warmer day than we anticipated. We almost wore shorts, but it was pretty breezy at home. I was sorry that I changed my mind. There wasn't a breeze at the park. But, I'm not complaining because regardless of what the groundhog said back in February, it's been cold for too long. 

We headed straight for the Paradise Pier area to the Paradise Garden Grill. Since I've recently gone back to being a vegetarian, I had the Veggie skewer. There were two chunks of tofu on my skewer plus veggies. I haven't had tofu in a while and found the texture mushy. It's one of those things you just accept if you're choosing to give up meat. The sauce is amazing and added great flavor!

We then waited a quick 8 minutes for Goofy's Sky School. There was a woman in our vehicle that was freaking out. It's a small coaster, but those turns really make one feel as though you'll fly off the track. She kept shouting, "This is too scary! Scarier than the big coaster!" Eric and I just laughed away at her. We ended up seeing that couple everywhere after that ride. See if you notice this happening to you next time you're at the parks. 

I could say we only took a trip to Cars Land with a plan to ride Radiator Springs Racers, but that would be a lie. Without a lot of convincing I told Eric we should grab a mud pie from Flo's V8 Cafe. Neither of us had eaten one in a while. It was as scrumptious as always!

Eric suggested we take the route of the single rider queue. We hadn't used it before because riders are split up. Luckily we ended up in the same vehicle, but separate rows. It's a little awkward when the rest of the car's riders are laughing and interacting with one another.....cut to me, laughing with my reflection in the car's rear view mirror (nice touch since it is suppose to be a race car).

We jumped parks and had a stroll through Fantasyland. This visit then confirmed to me that the area music was still being used. About a month ago Eric and I noticed that there is an orchestration playing along with the carousel calliope music. The new or once lost music is impressive as it is a counter melody to the calliope's feed. If you haven't noticed it heard this, check it out. 

At one point we wanted to ride the Matterhorn, but that ride broke down as we waited. "Let's try Alice in Wonderland" suggested Eric. 
Well, that ride had also been experiencing some issues. We also took a few steps toward Storybook Land and saw that the attraction had closed off the queue for the parade. 

So it was going to be a road trip through the English countryside! I wonder if our motor car will get us to a pal of ours in Poulton Le Fylde, England? As usual, we passed a crumbling bridge and a dynamite factory! It always ends with a trip to Hell. It seems J. Thaddeus Toad made a few bad decisions.  

It would seem that Eric and I were one of the last few to visit the Iron Man display at Innoventions. This is a building we never enter, but we now had a reason. There's no question that the suits were cool. It just seems that the long queues that once existed for the exhibit weren't necessary. 

With that promising look at tomorrow, we decided to end our Disney day. There's a Greek celebration this weekend that we might attend. I know there are a few few items, that don't have meat, that I'd like to try. Plus, Hercules will be walking around with his muscles exposed! I know Eric and I will be all over that! 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Our 1st trip to the Walt Disney Concert Hall

As with our tour behind the scenes with Zarkana, our dear friend Cassie really spoils Eric and I. This past Tuesday evening Cassie offered us free opera tickets to the following night's performance of The Marriage of Figaro! Since her Cirque du Soleil experience with hair and make-up, Cassie has moved on to other shows in the SoCal area. This show is her latest gig that is to be performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. 

Being that this event was "last minute", I had to secure an earlier off time and avoid the traffic up the 5 freeway. How we managed to get from work to home (tend to the dog), then get to Downtown LA, with little traffic, was pure luck! 

Being silly near the Ahmanson Theater

Upon our arrival in LA's version of towering skyscrapers, we did a quick walk about for photos. Eric and I couldn't resist a few silly "selfies" and snaps of the architecture. The concert hall itself is a masterpiece and really glistens in the sunlight. Sharing our excitement was our friend, and Cassie's husband, Ryan. Cassie's mother, Robyn (who we've also known for years) was with us as well. All of us were visiting this venue for the first time and all were dying to see the theater. Eric and I were overwhelmed with the space that is inside that location. It's a perfect and strategically carved out void that literally brings the music right to your ears. 

Our view from our seats. There is Ryan's head :-)

This performance was the cast's final dress rehearsal before Friday's opening (this isn't an OFFICIAL review). I had read a bit on the synopsis because I was sure I'd be completely lost with the Italian. Figaro wants to marry the love of his life, Susanna, but the other 6-8 characters create drama around them. The story includes The Count. He wants Susanna for himself. And, there's a sexually driven teenager that wants to be with The Count's wife, Rosina. The drama unravels and spirals during the performance that took place in four acts, about 3.5 hours. We were relieved that subtitles were used above the stage. They aren't fed "line by line" but rather just enough to convey what's happening. 

If presented traditionally, I believe the story takes place in the 1700s, but this production had a modern spin to it. The stage was bare and lighting was heavily relied upon to set the mood. Although the design was wonderful to look at (especially the hair & make-up), the lack of distinct sets made it slightly difficult for someone new to the story. Although the subtitles helped, the complicated plot would leave us scratching our heads. An example of this was at the top of Act 4. The setting was a well executed representation of a garden. Unfortunately the lighting overshadowed the actors and dimmed their faces. This fact made it tough to discern which soprano was singing. And, since the cast all sat in concert style, we had to make out who each character was addressing. 

Eric was getting a little artsy!

I want to mention how much we loved the voices of the cast. This was still a rehearsal, so to save their voices the cast would "dial it down" during certain moments. It was at those times we felt disappointed because obviously the lyrics were to be sung in a grandiose way. There are also  moments between songs where performers do what I like to call "sing songing" (not singing, not speaking, but somewhere in between). And, if you'd like to know the actual term, it's called Recitativi. It was also a thrill for us to witness the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. The musicians were in full view at the stage's edge. They're all so beautiful to watch as the bows strike across the strings of cellos and violins. 

If Eric and I have the lucky opportunity to see a different opera, like Madame Butterfly, we would jump at the chance. Cassie's mother said she is sure we would love that one. This version of the opera had the viewer working to piece together the actions, settings, motivations, cross-dressing, and character to character deceptions. Some directors would tell you that the days of a passive audience are over and the viewer should be involved. What's great about theater is that once the last note has vibrated through the building, many interpretations exist at one moment in time. Eric and I had an exciting peek into the  genre of opera and look forward to the next. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

11th Anniversary in Las Vegas Continues Some More!

That first day was so long, two posts were needed. I wasn't even giving all the minor details. All that excitement meant that we didn't wake up until nearly 11 AM! Sure I woke up a few times starting at 8 AM, but those blackout window coverings keep one sleepy. Even when I finally rolled out of bed around 10:50 AM, it felt as though it was the middle of the night.

Our lovely friends from work (Melissa, Natalie, and Fany) gave us an Earl of Sandwich gift card for our anniversary. The sandwich shop was in our hotel, so convenient. These sandwich locations are rare compared to Taco Bell. If you come across one, get in line and order Eric's favorite, The Full Montague or mine, the Hawaiian. While most people were gorging themselves at a buffet, we sat down to our tasty sandwiches. Right next to the eating area was a Sex in the City slot machine that I kept saying I would play, and never did.

We must have forgotten about ole Carrie Bradshaw and her fancy shoes because we were headed for Bellagio. Although I agreed with him, Eric wanted to not miss the flower display at Bellagio. For those not in the know, the conservatory that houses the spectacular display changes with the seasons. This hotel is also home to my favorite show in Las Vegas, "O" by Cirque du Soleil.

The display area was literally bombarded with tulips! There were tulips of every shade! The whole room was themed to what Eric called "Spring in Holland". At the back area there is a huge windmill that is a grand sight! The aroma of the flowers sweetly lingers in the air as it arrests your thoughts from ever wanting to leave that conservatory. I looked over at Eric and could tell he was in heaven, that made me happy. It is extremely rare when we have flowers in our home, but I may consider it more often. I hope the photos give at least a feeling of how impressive this is.

Before our Cirque du Soleil tour for Zarkana, at the Aria, we had just enough time to pass through The Cosmopolitan Hotel. We immediately knew we wanted to stay at this hotel because it's pretty fabulous! This hotel has elegance, great design all while staying hip for a younger crowd. Later in the day we discovered the casino area has a DJ that loudly plays excellent music. It really gave the place a lot of excitement. And something Eric pointed out were these cool, draped off areas that hold the slot machines, very intimate looking. The Cosmopolitan has the Chandelier Bar and it is covered by this massive crystal display. It is very overwhelming! Please take a look at these few shots from the hotel.

Left side shows the Chandelier Bar. Photo below will show what it looks like from above.
What an eye catcher!!

A good friend of ours worked on the Cirque show Iris and her friend would be giving us the tour. He oversees the Hair and Make-up for Zarkana. Right away we took the elevator into the backstage area and were in the wig room. There we found wigs in various states of production. Some wigs being set with rollers while others had been worn and needed to be brushed out. Although it was our second backstage tour of a Cirque show, it's always impressive to see the detail up close. And, some of the wigs read as a different color while onstage. There was a pink wig that appeared white under the stage lighting. It really is those little details that a viewer doesn't put to thought as we enjoy the show.

One of the female singer's costumes worn during the Spider Web/Trapeze act. She sings while upside down.
During the rest of our time backstage we visited a few training areas, quick change locations, and we went in the wings of the stage. While we were on the stage the trapeze act was rehearsing. Lean, muscle men were flying about! It was exciting to see what they can do with their strength. We witnessed one guy jump, with hardly any effort, from a platform to one above him. It happened so quickly that it was executed like a cat! And, on our way back to the Hair and Make-up office we quickly met the show's singer Paul Bisson. He is a friendly guy and I wasn't expecting that at all. Paul had also been the lead singer in another Cirque show we have seen, Corteo.

To show the amount of product they have back there, I wish I had asked to take a photo. The answer seemed to be an obvious "No", so I didn't ask. They had so many cremes, eye liners, blushes, and tons of eye lashes. I don't know anything about make-up, but seeing their stash all at once was crazy. Eric and I were also shown an overview of a make-up application. Although I know Eric secretly wanted to be "done up", we were shown via slides. Our guide said it could take up until 1.5 hours when done correctly.

Our time backstage won't ever be forgotten. We saw another group where they looked so underwhelmed. I can say Eric and I are very thankful for the time taken by our guide Mark. He certainly wasn't gaining anything by giving his time. Since our tour was done, we had an evening to get ready for. Food, drinks, water shows, and people watching were headed our way. If you will stick with us, we will see you here back soon for more of the trip.

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