Friday, December 30, 2016

L and D go to White Castle! A Girl's Getaway in Las Vegas!

A few days ago, one of my BFs and I went on a quick girl's getaway trip to one of our favorite cities, Las Vegas!!!  It's been a long time since we've done an overnight trip, so we were really excited to escape for a few days! D and I have been friends since 3rd grade! We went to elementary, middle, and high school together and 30+ years later, we still hang out. Here we are on the plane, on the first flight of the day!
I enjoyed this trip for many reasons!  First, it was almost 72 hours of not having to worry about anything and anyone other than ourselves!!  We both have sons who are really attached to us. So having some alone time and personal space were really refreshing! We did what we wanted, ate what we wanted and even tried some new things!  Most of all, we shared stories and laughed with and AT each other. That's how best friends should be able to hang.

USING LYFT
We planned this trip literally a week before we went so we looked at it as a gift from our husbands and to ourselves. However since it was last minute, we didn't have a chance to save for it. So being on a budget, one of the things we decided to pass on was renting a car.  I had used Uber on a previous family trip earlier this year and loved it. It  being a Tuesday when we arrived, I had previously seen T-Mobile Tuesday giveaways that typically included a free Lyft ride. I found it and quickly redeemed it on my phone and scheduled our first ride from the airport to our hotel. We had to look for the designated floor in the airport parking garage for rideshares. (Actually, since Lyft and Uber have exploded, almost all of the hotels have a separate entrance designated for rideshares away from the main entrance. I don't know how taxi cabs will continue with these other options providing competitive rates for the same service, but I digress.)  Anyway, our driver was there within minutes and delivered us promptly to our hotel. I thought the ride was free, but I was charged $14 something! The airports adds on a couple fees. I didn't read the fine print on the T-Mobile giveaway. The free ride was available starting three days later.  D laughed at me!  Oh well, read the fine print folks!

D didn't have a Lyft account yet, so she signed up and we took advantage of the new user promo. Lyft gave her a $50 credit, which was $5 off the first 10 rides. And since she signed up with my referral link, I got a $10 credit.  So at least I got one ride free!  We used Lyft at least 7 times while we were there and most of our rides were either free because they were under $5 (using the applied promo) or ranged from $1 to $9.  Overall, the costs of using Lyft during the time we were there did not exceed $35 TOTAL! Can you imagine what we would have spent in terms of renting a car, gas, parking fees (which the major hotels charge now) plus the time spent driving place to place, looking for a parking space and walking to an entrance.  All but one of our drivers received 5 star ratings from us. Most of them were former limo drivers or past taxi drivers. They were friendly, courteous, offered water bottles, snacks and phone charging service.

The one female driver we got, I would rate 2 stars for these reasons: First, she got lost finding us and passed by us TWICE! We were standing out in the cold for ten minutes even after giving her a description of where we were. She had to call us twice as well. Though she was nice enough and apologized profusely for not finding us. Secondly, two stars because her car smelled like smoke!!! Yuck.  I wrapped my scarf around my mouth and nose to minimize the odor.   Then, she delivered us to the hotel NEXT DOOR to where we wanted to go.  She said she was following her GPS.  We went through the back streets to try to get to our hotel, but you know pedestrians there, they cross even on red, so we literally got held up at a corner.  D finally told her that we would just get off there at this corner.  I was relieved because I was able to get out of that car and BREATHE! Other than her, every driver was familiar with the ins and outs of the hotels we went to and knew where to go. We never waited longer than three minutes for a pick up, and this was door to door service. Thumbs up to Lyft! The next trip we go on, we plan to do the Uber new user promotion for discounted/free rides!!!

21,000+ STEPS A DAY SO WE COULD EAT!
Since we stayed at a hotel in the middle of the strip, we did a lot of casino hopping and walked over 21,000 steps a day! I'm a total foodie, D not so much, but she was game. So we would walk, eat, walk (and play too!), have a snack, 2-3 hours later eat, walk some more, eat, it was a literal work out! The pedometer on my phone said I reached my highest walking records of the year the two full days we were there! These are all the casinos we visited:
Bally's
Paris-beautiful Eiffel Tower at night
Lucky Dragon
Side note on Lucky Dragon:  It just opened and imo, not worth visiting. Very small casino. Like 5 people were playing there including us. Although the food court looked promising! More people were standing in line for the bao buns than playing slots. How will they survive?  My theory is that it is a front for a Chinese billionaire laundering his money through, hahaha, just kidding! It is a beautifully decorated casino though. Here's Lucky's Dragon's chandelier! Back to the list....
Cromwell
Flamingo
Margaritaville
Rio
Caesar's Palace
Wynn-Gorgeous Christmas and flower decorations!


Mirage
Treasure Island
Gold Coast
Golden Nugget
Golden Gate
Binions
The California
Palazzo
and here we are in front of the SLS statue
That's eighteen casinos in two and a half days! Whew! And like I said, walk, eat, walk, eat, so now, a few pictures of the food...I ate an Umami burger for the first time!  $15 but oh so good! I'm going to replicate that parmesan crisp at home!
We also explored the Grand Bazaar shops in front of Bally's around 8:30 pm one night. There were a lot of people lined up outside this particular ramen eatery.  It was like 35 degrees or something like that, and I wanted a hot soup, so we signed our names up on the clipboard. You know the place must be relatively good if they have a clipboard system, right?  A couple even came outside with an employee after they ate and took a picture with him. I couldn't figure out if he was the owner or what. While we waited, I looked the place up. Ramen-Ya is the sister restaurant to San Francisco's Michelin starred Katana. No wonder people wanted to eat here. After a 45 minute wait, we were seated. The food is good and very reasonably priced! This is the Tonkatsu ramen with karaage and gyoza.
There was also a counter-service schwarma place a couple doors down, no seating though, that also had a long line.  Wahlburgers is located in this marketplace too.  We're going to visit those next time!

And last but not least, D and I made it to White Castle! It wasn't our mission or anything, but we were walking by and saw it! It is on the strip inside Casino Royale. The line wasn't long and people were ordering sliders like crazy. The people in front of us spent $60! The sliders are small and can be purchased in packs of ten and even a case of one hundred is available! We just ate our lunch two hours earlier, so we both just had one double cheese slider.  Shame on me, I forgot to take a picture!!! Here's one I found on the internet, but ours was not as high, it was smushed down and that's what it tasted like, smush. Baby food texture meat with really soft bread.  I guess because they steam the patties on top of the onions or something like that. I've had White Castle before and it was alright, but not something I would stand in a long line for!  D said it tasted just like the frozen ones so I don't really understand the hype.
LAS VEGAS FIRSTS!
Although I have been to Vegas many many times since I turned 21, there were some firsts that I experienced on this trip.
  • I rode on the complimentary tram between Mirage and Treasure Island for the first time.  It was fun and since it was so early, we had the whole train car to ourselves for the two minute jaunt. 
  • We went window shopping at Fashion Show Mall and a really cute salesgirl called us over to try on hair extension products from Sohostyle.  We both have never worn extensions before and why not, she wasn't pushing to make a sale. She was Korean, so we connected on K-pop, lol!! She told us the hair was human hair from China. The girl said you can cut and even dye them, just take them to your hairdresser.  D had about 4 pieces of 2-inch wide extensions snapped into her crown to add thickness. We couldn't believe how D's matched her hair color so well and were really easy to clip in. They were indistinguishable from her own hair! Since I already have thick hair, she took a piece that had an invisible headband and put it on me like a crown with the hair in the back to add length. She also added a lighter brown piece on the side to see what "highlights" would look like.  Six pieces will run you around $200. We took a picture and gave the hair back, lol! D told me later that females in China grow their hair and donate it to the monasteries and the monks sell them to earn money. I never knew that! Here we are with longer and thicker hair!
  • Another first was having a Benihana chef who was tatted up and down on his arms!We went there for the "show" and really, for the fried rice, hahaha! Lunch is very affordable there. I was surprised that a restaurant would let tattoos show. Also, you know the onion ring volcano that they build and pour water into so it'll steam on the grill? Well he actually poured some liquor or something and then set it on fire with a lighter! They can't do that here in San Diego. Really, anything must go in Vegas!
Here's our teppanyaki chef, Cody, working the spatula! He's from Osaka, j/k!  He was very nice. He asked me and D if we were going to watch any shows and said "Chippendales?" I quickly replied, "Why, is that where you work after this? Will we be seeing you there?"  He laughed and ended up talking to mostly me the rest of the time. I guess he felt comfortable after he asked us all what we do and when I told him I am an Assistant Principal, he said, "Oh, I would have been spending a lot of time in your office." He looked like Chris Pratt to me.

(Birdwalk) The family of 3 next to us at the table was very interesting.  Caucasian Dad, Chinese mom and their daughter. Chef Cody asked us all where we were from.  They said they were from San Francisco but just for about 9 months now. They moved from Shanghai.  I asked them if they were able to see the opening of Shanghai Disneyland.  "No." the mom said, however the Dad did some work for it! Then we learned that they have traveled all around the world and the little girl, who is seven, with the exception of Shanghai Disneyland, had been to ALL OF THE OTHER DISNEYLANDs already! OMG, this little girl has completed my bucket list and she's only SEVEN! This is one moment, out of many, where D was laughing at me after the meal.  Remember Chef Cody asked if any of us were going to see any shows? The mom mentioned they were trying to get Blue Man Group tickets the previous night but were too late. I tried to sell them on this show we saw last year, the Mac King Comedy show, only around $15 and told them they had tickets at the Half Price Tix store in the mall so a really good price! This was before we heard the mom talk to us about travelling every year to Paris, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, all over Europe  and that their daughter is bilingual in English and Mandarin and that the Dad worked for Disney, etc! These people were rich!!! And here I was telling them all about this great bargain show, LOL! They obviously didn't have to worry about a budget while on vacation. We had a really good laugh about that, oh well! Back to "firsts"...
  • Another "first" was visiting the Taco Bell Cantina that just opened! D is a huge Taco Bell fan and said there were only four locations in the country. So we walked over there one night to check it out! The place was more like a club than a fast food restaurant. Bumping music playing and dark lighting added to the atmosphere. They had the regular menu, but you could add alcohol to the freezes. Seating was located upstairs or on the front patio.  They even had an exhibition window so you can see your food being prepared.   The employees were having a great time, singing and dancing to the current jam being played! I counted that as another free show, lol!



All this for $5!
  • The final Las Vegas "first" on this trip was getting my palms read! I have always wanted to do this! We went downtown to Fremont street and there was this small trailer in the middle with a sign outside for Palm Readings and/or Tarot Card readings. I peered inside to see if the person was creepy.  She was actually young, pregnant, and looked like Mila Kunis!  Ok, I decided to do it. Just for the entertainment value alone, it was worth my $20.  I don't want to write down here what she told me, but a year from now we'll see if she was accurate! It was a positive experience!
We had so much fun on this trip! We decided to try and make this an annual one. My husband has been taking an annual Las Vegas trip with his buddies for at least 9 years now so now I say, ME TOO, ME TOO! 

My 2017 Las Vegas wish list
  • Watch a show, JLo, Britney, Mariah, even Backstreet or Boys II Men! (Thunder Down Under, just kidding!!!)
  • Eat at a nice casino buffet.  We didn't hit even one on this trip!
  • Get a pastry from Carlo's Bakery! The line was way too long when we passed by.
  • Use a bigger suitcase to leave room for some shopping!
  • Sign D up and use free new user credits on Uber, hahaha! 
  • Mimic our pose every year from now on with Binion's million dollars until we're really old and gray!  It's free you know!
To close, ladies, if you have the opportunity to escape your daily life for a few days, DO IT! We didn't win a monetary jackpot, but D and I came back happy, relaxed and ready to get back to being the best wife and mom we can be! Giggling with her for three days really made this a memorable trip! We were definitely rejuvenated and added another memory to our friendship book!
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