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Seattle, Washington

Coming soon.

Posted in US

Long Beach, California

  • Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in all her splendor

Why Long Beach?  Why not Los Angeles or San Diego?

Speed baby!!  Long Beach is the home of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Once a year Ocean Drive transforms and the City embraces all that Indy Car racing has to offer.

If you have never been, you must go!  Even if you have been to races at other venues, you haven’t seen anything until you have seen it done at Long Beach!

GPLB offers an action packed week long event, with various events happening all over town during the week building up to the race.  

Go to GPLB.com for full race details.

Be sure to shop around early for the best deals on hotels – they sell out pretty fast.

Flight: The best way to fly in is to fly directly to the Long Beach Airport – it is my favorite US airport!  You pick your bags up outside, and there is almost always a food truck there that serves some fantastic chow!

You can also fly in to LAX and shuttle to Long Beach…but LAX is definitely missing all of the charm and personality that Long Beach offers.

Hotel: I have stayed at the Vagabond Inn (150 Alamitos Ave) on two of the times I went.  Average price during race weekend is $152 US per night.  

Hotel Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars.  I’ll be honest with you, this place is a dive.  It hasn’t been updated in at least ten years.  The rooms smell musty.  There are no extras – it is a bed and a tv.  There is a pool.  Both times I have stayed there the pool has been freezing cold.  Now all that said, it is super handy as it is located two blocks from the race.  Easy peasy.

The first year I went, I stayed at the Extended Stay (4105 E. Willow St).  Average price during the race is $80 per night.

Hotel Rating: 4 our of 5 Stars.  The hotel is great.  Clean.  Complete with fridge, stove etc.  No pool.  The only downside to staying here is that you are stuck taking a taxi to the race and back.  Fortunately, it is super easy to catch a taxi leaving the race as there are loads of them waiting outside the main entrance.  Unfortunately though it becomes a royal pain in the butt when you want to attend the race events like Thunder on Pine and others.

All said and done, if you are going to go to the race, search early – and find a hotel as close to Ocean Drive as you can get within your budget.

 

 

 

 

Posted in US

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona.  Home of the Snowbirds fleeing the Canadian winters.  And also happens to be the home of the Phoenix Grand Prix Indy car race.

I have been to Phoenix on more occasions than I can count.  In this post, I will share some of my favorite hotels, restaurants and activities.

Favorite Hotels:

  • Extended Stay (5235 N 16th St).  This is my go to Hotel in Phoenix.  I have stayed here numerous times as I love the location, and I love the people that stay here.  The rooms have recently been redone and offer couches, fridges, stoves etc.  All of your real amenities for a longer stay.  The super handy location of this hotel really helps too – venture down the street a couple of blocks to the strip mall that features a large CVS and a humongous Wine store plus a few fantastic restaurants.  Go a few blocks farther and you are at a great mall with some great shopping.  
  • Candlewood Suites, (1335 WEST BASELINE ROAD) Tempe.  Similar to the Extended Stay hotels, this is another, newer gem located very close to Arizona Mills shopping center.  It also has all the amenities such as fridge, and kitchen.  It also has a pool and hot tub – and a nice area for catching some rays.

DO NOT STAY HERE:

  • Super 8 Phoenix North Bell Road and I-17.  Living dangerously one trip, I decided I should try somewhere new.  Oh boy.  Bad idea.  This is to date the single worst hotel I have ever stayed at.  I won’t bore you with details, but needless to say I slept with all of my clothes on and chair lodged under the door.  I checked out the next morning and moved back to the Extended Stay.

Favorite Places to Eat:

  • Joe’s Crab Shack – located right across from Arizona Mills, this is the perfect spot to have some great drinks and a whole big roaster filled with lobster, potatoes and corn on the cob!  Great vibe.  Awesome service.  Reasonable prices.  Be sure to try the crab nachos!
  • Lone Star Steakhouse – another awesome find.  Highly recommend the ribs with the special stuffed baked sweet potato.  Oh Yummo!!

Favorite Places to Shop:

  • Arizona Mills – Burlington Coat Factory.  Just go.  And buy an extra suitcase while you are there as you are going to need it.
  • Old Town Scottsdale – some really unique little shops in here.  Wander the streets and pick up some desert style jackets, some flavored olive oils, and of course some tasty hot sauces.  There is a bit of everything in here.
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Waikiki, Hawaii

Coming soon…

Posted in US

Las Vegas, Nevada

Sin City.  In July.  During a heat wave.

We ventured to Sin City in the dead heat of summer to attend a conference and do some car shopping.  Wowser.  I don’t think that I have ever been that hot in my life.  Temperatures were averaging out at 46C during the day and cooling down to the low 30’s at night.

I should note that I have been to Vegas more times than I can count – see other posts – but this was the first time I had dared to go in July.  Yeah – doubt I will ever do that again.  Granted, I didn’t melt.  But it definitely doesn’t feel like Vegas if you can’t wander the strip with a cold king can of beer in your hand.

Due to the heat, we ended up taking a lot of taxis.  Our hotel offered a free shuttle to the strip which we never managed to catch as the prospect of waiting for it outside in the heat was not a welcome one.  That and we never did find the pick up spot that was supposed to be located behind the Linq.

Our Itinerary:

Edmonton, Alberta to Las Vegas, Nevada

Duration: 5 Days

Flight: Depart Edmonton (YEG) 06:05 – Connect in Vancouver (YYZ).   Arrive in Las Vegas (LAS) 10:25.  Flight rating 4/5 Stars. Even though we checked in 24 hours in advance, we were not able to get seats together for the outbound flights.  Both flights were completely full though, so I kind of understand.

Hotels: Gold Coast – Average price $43 per night plus $17.99 nightly resort fee.

We chose the Gold Coast partly because of a special offer I received, and partially because the summer rates on the strip were ridiculous.  In the past, I had gone to Vegas a couple times a year – so I always had comp rooms…unfortunately I had been so busy that I had let over a year and a half lapse since my last visit and my comps had dried up…well all except for the one night at the Luxor.

Luxor – One Night Free Comp Stay redeemed paid only for resort fees at $34.99.

Must See/Do in Vegas: Cheese curds at the Blue Ox.  Shopping at Burlington Coat Factory on West Sahara drive.  Browse the knick knacks at the World’s Biggest Gift Store next door to the Stratosphere.  Chicken fried steak at IHOP on the Strip.

Places we visited on this trip, and reviews of them:

  • TGI Fridays: 4 Stars out of 5.  Fantastic nachos.  Really good hot wings.  Can’t beat the happy hour deals.  On the downside, the lobster was not great and on the small side; but it was an incredible deal at $14.99 with a steak and the fixings.  It was also the first restaurant that I have ever been to that doesn’t serve gravy.  Good thing the mashed potatoes didn’t require it as they were very good on their own.
  • Gold Coast Hotel and Casino: 3.5 Stars out of 5. Great value hotel.  The rooms are nice and clean and not horribly outdated.  When we arrived, we were a bit disappointed to discover that the housekeeping had neglected to stock the coffee, soap and other bathroom niceties.  However, they had only ventured down the hall a few doors down and were happy to stock us up.  Yes, this hotel has in room coffee makers!  A definite plus.

The rooms were a fair size – enough room to get around with two big suitcases, with a small table and chair and a good size flat screen tv.  The beds were comfy and had lots of great pillows.

The casino was great – we always seemed to win enough to make us feel like we were hanging in.  Tanner ended up about a $100 ahead for his efforts and I was happy to break even.

There is a great bowling alley on the second floor as well as an arcade – both of which were very busy while we were there.

On the casino floor, there is a a pretty good assortment of restaurants: TGI Fridays (See review above), Subway, Ping Pang Pong and my personal favorite – a Hot Dog cart on the casino floor close to the sport book.

  • Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino: What isn’t there to love about the Mandalay Bay?  With the Conference Center being a huge attraction, this place gets crazy busy!

With one of the most epic pools in Vegas, make sure you pack your swimsuits and plan to arrive super early!  During the hot summer days, you will find that the pool area starts to fill up ultra early – there was a huge crowd already in place when we got there at 9am!

The dining options here can be pretty pricey – but not too horrible. The Buffet is great here – one of my favorites on the Strip.  And the House of Blues is awesome.  Pro tip – the lineups at Starbucks can be insane – skip them and go to the bar at the back of the House of Blues!  They offer a great coffee to go and there is never a lineup.

  • House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay: What a treat!  Tucked in the back corner of the casino floor is the House of Blues.  A very cool, uniquely decorated gem.  We dropped in for lunch and were very pleasantly rewarded.  We started off with the Voodoo Shrimp ($15) – a spicy concoction featuring spicy shrimp in a sauce served over jalapeno cornbread.  I followed that with that with what I can only say is the best mac n cheese I have ever had – the Chipotle Bacon Macaroni and Cheese ($12).  Tanner wasn’t awake enough for a full meal so he settled on the Jamaican Style Spicy Chicken Wings ($13) which he was completely thrilled with.

The service here is prompt and friendly with everyone being helpful and accommodating.

  • Luxor Hotel and Casino: 3 Stars out of 5.  I knew I was going to like it here as soon as our taxi pulled up and the waiting bellhop rushed over and immediately took control of our bags.  It was before 9am, but we had a class to get to and were in a rush.  Thankfully, he had us outfitted with a claim check in under a minute and we were off and running.  Great service!

I love that this very busy Strip hotel offers a mobile check-in service.  Like seriously love.  Those that forwent the service were treated to very long lineups.  Those that didn’t encountered virtually no lines and a super speedy service.  A definite plus.

The inside of the infamous pyramid can be a bit convoluted to navigate, especially finding the right bank of elevators to take you to your room.  But once you do you are rewarded with one of the more unique views in Vegas – the inside of the pyramid.  I am not sure why, but I figured the pyramid was mostly for show and the rooms would be located in a nondescript tower.  Wrong.  Once you step outside of the elevators you are greeted with quite the experience – vertigo in my case – and the realization that pattern on dots you spotted from the ground floor were indeed hotel room doors!  The occupants on the lower floors closely resembling ants in an ant farm.  Very cool.

The rooms are a bit dated, but the furniture is all themed, so it is understandable.  Would be really nice to see some new paint and wallpaper though.  That said, the rooms are large and well appointed with seating areas and a handy table and chairs.  The beds were super comfy with great pillows.

  • MGM Hotel and Casino: I have to admit, I was really curious to know how the legendary MGM would rebrand itself now that the major sporting events such as UFC and boxing have moved to the shiny, new T-Mobile arena.

We ventured to the hotel and were caught in a freak rain storm on the way.  And I do mean freak rain storm.  It was 43C.  And a wall of solid water came pouring down on us – just enough to make it look like we showered with all of our clothes on – and then it was gone.  Soaking wet, we stumbled inside the casino to the freezing air conditioning.  Shivering and dripping, we went exploring and very quickly discovered that the change in sporting venues had not in fact hurt a thing.  The MGM was bumping busy.

  • Excalibur Hotel and Casino
  • Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino