Thursday, March 21, 2024

Yes or No: New and Old Experiences in Las Vegas February 24-26, 2024

So off we went to Las Vegas in late February.  This was supposed to be a girls' trip in honor of my middle child turning 21, but the young lady that was supposed to join us wound up bowing out in early January, so we asked Ally's dad to join us instead.  Now we have been to Vegas a lot over the last few years, so sometimes it is hard to find new stuff to experience and therefore new stuff to write about.  Well, we did manage a few new adventures and also repeated a few, some of which we still enjoy and a few we have just had enough of.  

Smoke on the Boulevard

I'm not quite sure how this happened but more than two months in advance of our trip, my daughter was able to get us a table at Gordon Ramsey's restaurant, Hell's Kitchen, a very hard reservation to come by.  Now we don't watch the show, so we really had nothing to go on, but we knew the reputation, so we decided to go.  Well, the food was absolutely delicious.  Two of us had the signature dish, Beef Wellington, and two of us had the lamb chops, which we then proceeded to divide up and share. Prior to dinner we all had beautifully presented cocktails including the 'Smoke on the Boulevard' which arrived in a smoky glass box.  With dinner, we shared a bottle of wine we brought from home that was opened for a corkage fee of $50.

The service was impeccable.

The decor has a lot of pitchforks and fire.  I feel like I would like this place more had the decor not been so hell related!  It wasn't disturbing, though, like demons and voodoo and stuff, just a lot of pitchforks and fire.

The location on the Caesar's property with a view of the Las Vegas Strip is desirable, though we did not have a view of the strip at our table.

Is it worth it? 

Well, I guess it is worth it to go once and say that you actually got a reservation and went.  We broke our record for expense for dinner for four.  We did not have an appetizer or dessert.  The bill was over $150 per person.  I do not think we will make an effort to go there again.

Hell's Kitchen Menu
Yes, those sides (carrots? mashed potatoes?) are $16.95 each

The prior evening we went to a lovely off strip restaurant called Herbs and Rye, the same Herbs and Rye that was in my Las Vegas: Off Strip Discoveries post in 2021.  We all had steaks, 2 cocktails apiece, and the best calamari we had ever had.  The total price for our dinner for four was $381 and change. The food and drinks were fabulous and the drinks delightful.  There are so many off strip and downtown finds that don't break the bank!

Now that's a meal!!
Sometimes I think its hard to find a good breakfast place in Las Vegas.  Worth mentioning, however, is a super yummy breakfast complete with margaritas at Nacho Daddy, near the Miracle Mile Shops.  We made a reservation for for a Saturday morning at about 10 am but when we got there the place was pretty much empty.   Anyway, Nacho Daddy has great service and good food; huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, breakfast enchiladas, the good stuff.  Pair this with a delish margarita and your day is off to a great start.  Breakfast for four with drinks-- $175.81.  Not cheap, but gosh, what in Vegas is?

Now while on the subject of breakfast I think I can move along to one thing that I think we will skip in the future, and that is the overrated and expensive Hash House a GoGo in the LINQ. I have been here four times now and I just gotta say there are better options. Hash House is just too long a wait (over an hour if you don't get there by 10), too expensive (breakfast for four w/o drinks-$115), and just too much food.  There is a fair drink selection, but most of the drinks come with a souvenir cup, the last thing you really need or want, with a definite upcharge.  The food is delicious but there are just so many other breakfast place right there on the LINQ Promenade that it might make sense to give something else a try.

Another thing I'm pretty much done with is the High Roller.  The 550ft, 360 degree observatory wheel is a MUST DO if it hasn't been done, and every time I have gone, which has been about 5 times now, I went with someone who had never been to Vegas, but at 40$ a pop, going just to go is not paramount anymore. 

The Sphere is pretty magnificent from the High Roller!

Now onto things that continue to please and will likely continue to be included into any upcoming Las Vegas weekends are The Golden Tiki and Brunch at the Wynn.  On this visit, we visited the off-strip Golden Tiki, located at 3939 Spring Mountain Road, for about the fourth time.  Since the last time we visited the Golden Tiki has made some upgrades, both to their food and to their drink menu.  The drinks are delicious and strong, and the atmosphere is fun, so I feel like it is still worth the Uber ride out and back to spend a few hours lounging in this campy kitschy establishment.  The word seems to be out about this place.  The time limit of 90 minutes is enforced.  Make sure you make a reservation or you are going to be out of luck.  Happy hour starts at 4pm with drink specials for 8$.  Open 24 hours.

One Mai Tai, one Navy Grog, 
one Hemingway's Ruin and a Piranha Punch, please!

This is the Happy Hour Menu
The regular menu is much more extensive

Another worthy repeater is brunch at the Wynn, which we visited for the third time.  It's not cheap at 55$, but it's pretty easy to eat enough food to make it worth it.  It is easy to reserve a time which requires you to pay in advance and I have no idea why a lot more people don't do this, because it cuts off a lot of time standing in line.  Many do not prefer buffets because they seem to be an exercise in gluttony, and this can be true.  At the Wynn, however, I see it more as an opportunity to taste just about every type of food.  Our family used the handy trick of trying things off each other's plates instead of going to get a whole serving.  This likely saved a lot of tummy ache.  Juices and coffee come in huge glasses and cups, but the bottomless mimosa is also an option. No rush to get out of there. The environment is bright and airy.  The one thing I would say is lacking is the number of bathrooms (three women's stalls for the whole place) and that the servers, while very pleasant, seem to be a bit overwhelmed, making it hard to get refills on coffee and juice and get your plates cleared.

Thank you for reading this post!  Since I started on this post, I have also been to Scottsdale for Spring Training!  Hoping to get a post going about that too!

Here are a few more happy pictures in lovely Las Vegas!

So you never see the strip quite like this!
Las Vegas Blvd closed for the 
Rock and Roll 1/2 Marathon

Drinks were lovely..and pricey...
at the new Juliet Cocktail Room in the Venetian
(formerly the Dorsey)

And going downtown is just fun and a NTBM!!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Saint Mary College Men's Basketball 23-24 season


Have your heard about my new obsession??  It's men's college basketball.  Namely, the Saint Mary's Gaels.

Do you know how much it costs to go to a Warriors Game?  The absolute nose bleed seats on a random Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks run more than $150 a piece. Tickets on the first level are over $500 and tickets in roughly the 4th row are going for over $1000.  Just for kicks let's check out this week's game against the Lakers..nosebleeds $250, 1st tier up to $900, 4th row..$2500! And did you also know the average cost to park your car at Chase Center is $170? Anyway, the prices are nuts, especially for a third place team with barely a .500 winning percentage. The players make oodles of money and some of them are not very well behaved which makes paying this much to see them even less appealing. Where can the average sports fan go see an exciting team play basketball without completely breaking the bank?!!

Go to Moraga.

Saint Mary's College is a small Roman Catholic liberal arts school in Moraga, CA.  Many people living in the San Francisco Bay Area have not even heard of Moraga, let alone Saint Mary's College.  The undergraduate enrollment at SMC is just over 2000 students, which is actually about the same size as my children's high school.  For being such a small school, we know plenty of people that went there, and my son is currently a sophomore.  We took him along on a tour with my older daughter while he was in 8th grade, and after that, SMC is where he said he wanted to go to school.

Believe it or not, Saint Mary's College is a D1 athletics school.  You would think that such a small school would have difficulty fielding competitive athletic teams.  Well, I don't know much about that, because those Gaels can sure play themselves some basketball.

The Gaels (The Gaels are an ethnolinguistic group native to Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man--thank you Wikipedia) has been led by Coach Randy Bennett since 2001.  In his time with the Gaels, Mr. Bennett has a winning percentage of .711, with nine NCAA Tournament appearances and three WCC (West Coast Conference) championships.  Bennett has also been named the WCC Coach of the Year for the last two years. Not too shabby for a school with 2000 undergrads.  Bennett will be the coach of the Gaels until at least 2027, much longer I hope. From what I can observe, Bennett attracts athletes who are team players.  There is no superstar on this team, rather, all seem to contribute generously.  On several occasions this year, when I attended games the point spread was such that the third string was able to get into the game. The starters, now on the bench, cheered them on as if it was a two point game.  These boys play their hearts out for Randy Bennett, their teammates, and their school, and it is infectious.  

From behind the Gaels bench..

The Gaels play in the West Coast Conference, otherwise known as the WCC.  This conference has a presence of strong competition in teams such as the USF Dons and the powerhouse Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Gaels are currently 15-0 in WCC play this season with a 16 game win streak. We have been to 5 games this year at University Credit Union Pavilion and the Gaels have won all of them, usually by a sizeable margin.  By the end of every game I am exhausted from the cheering and the excitement.  It doesn't help that the game starts at 8 pm, and now it's past 10pm and my bedtime.  The season didn't start out so well, though.  The Gaels suffered some hard losses early in the season to mediocre teams like Boise State, Weber State and Missouri State and when we went to their December 29th game against Kent State, their record was a dismal and disappointing 9-6. That night they killed Kent State 66-46, and they have not lost a game since.  Last night the Gaels clinched the championship of the WCC, with one more conference game to be played against Gonzaga this weekend.

Courtesy of Instagram
Congratulations, Gaels!!

One cool thing about SMC being such a small school is that the players are actually in class with my son and have been known to attend the same social events.  The mascot, Gideon the Gael, a fearsome looking thing I must say, is friends with my son.  When I went to Cal, I had know idea who or what was under that Oski costume.

The fierce Gideon likes moms too!

Anyway lets talk about the venue.  University Credit Union Pavilion (formerly McKeon Pavilion) is a 3500 seat arena, which is pretty small by college basketball arena standards.  UCU opened in 1978.  Apparently, thank you again Wikipedia, both its size and its age are a bone of contention.  There are some plans to knock out some walls and add 1000 seats, but this project has no funding (interesting considering how much this school costs!) so it does not look like it will happen any time soon.  Anyway, the tightness of the space and a very invigorated student section can really pump up the volume, making UCU one of the tougher venues for an opposing team.

Bleacher general admission seats for non-conference games were 30$ this year, conference games 35$, higher demand games, like USF 50$.  When school was not in session, lower general admission was available at the same prices, putting the general public into what was usually the student section.  Seats with backs are considerably more and are on the opposite side from the students. At conference games, one needs to take care to get there early enough to hold desirable seats a few rows back.  From the first few rows it is difficult to see the basket through the heads of the student section.  At the USF game, we got there a full 60 minutes before the game started, parked jackets on our seats and headed out to the cozy Vieira Family Courtyard where pizza, beer, hot dogs, clam chowder, popcorn, wine, and cocktails, are available, as well as heat lamps and a big screen TV, playing the days most important match ups.

Parking is available for 20$, just a short walk from the arena.

Anyway, super worth it.  It's been an exciting season and I was happy to have shared a small part of it.  Next week, on to the WCC tournament in Las Vegas and then onto the NCAA Tournament!

Well, this wasn't exactly travel, but I had been spending so much time in Moraga watching these kids tear it up, I thought I'd better write about it. 

Well, here is a post script.  I tried my darndest to get this post off before the game against Gonzaga was played but I ran out of time.  Last night the Gaels lost handily to the Bulldogs, ending their 16 game winning streak and perfect record in conference play.  I am still a little sad about it.  They won't play again until the WCC tounament, in a little over a week. :(

Here are some pictures!, 

Gaels on Replica Jersey Giveaway Night against USF

Gael Family on the same night, also "Paint Moraga Red" night

Lower GA seats on December 29th

A common happy sight this season!

courtesy of Instagram
One more shout out to the team!!

Thank you for reading this post!!
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Tuesday, February 6, 2024

New and Exciting in 2024 at Disneyland Resort. February 2-3, 2024

Well, it has been a while since I posted but now I have just returned from two days in the Disneyland Resort.  We chose to go during my son's semester break which meant we had to get him back to school by Monday, so our usual Saturday and Sunday trip turned out to be a trip on Friday and Saturday.  We had not gone this weekend before, in fact, over the last ten years we either did the first weekend in January, MLK weekend, or during when the resort was decorated for Christmas.  Crowd wise, things were pretty good. We did not feel the need to purchase Genie + (loved saving that $150) the first day at all, in light of the fact that none of the lines offered by Genie Plus were more than 35 minutes or so.  Even those marked as taking that long, were not.  The second day we did purchase the add on, but even with the purchase we were too late on Space Mountain to get a lightning lane and wound up standing in line 40 minutes at 10:45 pm.  It would have been nice to have it then, but otherwise in Disneyland that day we only used it for three rides.  In DCA, we used it on everything.  There was a lot down for refurbishment, some of the faves--but this is the price you pay, or don't pay, for going in the off season.

Now this post is kind of an experiment because it is the first in which MailChimp should notify subscribers that I have posted.  It is also my first post with a subscribe button (laptop version only, not mobile), so if you want to subscribe (and you are on your laptop!), please do! When you subscribe you should get a welcome email.  If you don't, please contact me and I will go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what's wrong.

Anyway, our last trip to Disneyland Resort was in December 2022.  These are the changes that have taken place since we've been there...


The outdoor marquis of the
"El Capitoon"

The long awaited renovation of Toon Town debuted on March 19, 2023 and its biggest star is Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway.  The attraction opened two months earlier as a Lightning Lane attraction with initially a virtual queue but, on October 11, 2023, it was demoted to being simply a ride with Genie + service.  For more explanation of Genie + and Lightning Lanes, please refer to my Jan 2022 blogpost entitled Is the Magic Back? 

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway is the first ride in Disneyland to feature Mickey and Minnie Mouse as its focal characters.  The ride's venue is the "El Capitoon" theater.  The venue accommodates a LONG queue, though we never waited more than 20 minutes (both times stand by).  A longer wait time would allow you to enjoy the not exactly fake but somewhat contrived Disney memorabilia, including a giant "Mouse-ke-doer" from by gone days of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and the "costumes" from the cartoon, "The Prince and the Pauper," displayed in the queue show rooms.  Past the snack bar, complete with ketchup puddles and condiment cups, you are on your way to the theater for the preshow.

The walls have all these parody movie posters

Passing the snack bar in the queue area..

The detail is so realistic!!

The ride premise in my opinion is a little odd.  Mickey and Minnie are going on a picnic which begins with a slightly annoying ditty about "nothing can stop us now/nothing can go wrong today" sung by the two mice as they head out to the countryside.  Totally unconnected to this event, we the riders board Goofy's train.  We don't make our way past the first bend before Mickey hits the train switch with his car, causing the train to come apart and to go off in several different directions.  Now one would think that Mickey and Minnie's day would pretty much be over before it began after crashing into the train switch and all, but it seems that this is actually where the adventures begin, including being swept over a waterfall, riding through the wild west and enjoying the lights of the big city.  Then suddenly Daisy Duck is conducting a waltz.  Hmm... Well, soon Mickey and Minnie are picnicking with Pluto and we are back safe and sound at the train station where we started.  

Well, I didn't get it, but its a great ride.  Disney once again makes use of trackless technology, a la Rise of the Resistance, to zip your car in all directions.  The screens are huge and colorful.  This is by no means a thrill ride and there are no scary elements.  No height restrictions.


Bye bye, Tarzan!  Not sure why--but Tarzan has been evicted from his treehouse to make way for a mysterious family of five that does not seem to be connected to any Disney production.  The sign says that the new edifice is "inspired by the Swiss Family Robinson," and the organ still plays the old Swiss Family Robinson music, but Fritz, Ernst, Francis and their mom and dad are no where to be found.  Anyway, it's cute and all and of course new and worth a look, but it's kind of hard to get excited about without any connection to a Disney plot. The views up top are also worth the stair climbing!


In terms of additional facelifts around the park, AstroOrbiter, Splash Mountain (now being completely scrapped and reimagined into the much anticipated Tiana's Bayou Adventure), Haunted Mansion, and Grizzly River Run are all closed (Feb 2024).

Both Indiana Jones and Space Mountain got small additions since last year, mostly in the form of projections.  Tiana's Palace quick service restaurant opened in September 2023 in New Orleans Square replacing the French Quarter restaurant.  The French Creole theme is the same but we did not eat there so I can't vouch for the quality of the food.

The newly opened Tiana's Palace Restaurant


Mickey gets things going!

Saturday February 3rd marked the return of Magic Happens, the parade marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Walt Disney Company.  You know, parades are a funny thing at Disneyland, perceived by many to be a waste of time that could be spent riding rides or avoiding crowds.  I beg to differ.  I would not say that parades are much of an opportunity for rest, but what they are is a chance to marvel at the creativity and artistry that Disney injects into everything it touches, not to mention the talent and energy of the performers, who dance for like forty straight minutes, all the way from Small World to Town Square. Sit (if you can), admire, and appreciate.

Magic Happens is your usual cavalcade of large floats with moving parts, catchy music and characters waving interspersed with colorfully costumed dancers executing playful choreography while interacting with the public.  It was great and we all loved it.

The costumes are out of this world!

Here come all the Disney pals!

Moana sails in

and my fave, Miguel sings "Remember Me" 
mixed with "My Proud Corazon"

I was soundly criticized for not having seen
this movie, but dang, that Naveen has some good hair!

My favorite place to watch a parade at Disneyland is in front of the 'King and Queen' rest rooms, across from the Matterhorn and next to Alice in Wonderland.  On all but the busiest days you can run up to this area minutes before the parade starts and find yourself a good spot.  A bit of advice, as I can appreciate the time spent away from the rides--if viewing the earlier 3 pm parade, plunk yourself near Small World (like where I suggested).  If viewing the later parade, either aim for Town Square or wait until about 10 min after the parade starts to aim for the aforementioned viewing spot.


For as long as I can remember Disneyland has decorations up for the Winter holidays from mid November to early January.  From what I can gather, since 2020 (which was the year of the mouse) Disney has had its Lunar New Year Celebration at DCA.   This year the event will run from January 23 to February 18th.  There is a lot to enjoy, mostly in the form of decor, food and specialty drinks.  Disney has created a festive red and gold jersey to honor the occasion. There is a great parade, Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession, complete with Mu Shu and Mulan accompanied by lots of color, music and dance.  Many of your favorite characters are greeting guests in traditional costumes.

Mu Shu greets the New Year!

This was a kid's jersey for sale.  So cute,
but too expensive for how often you'll wear it!

And of course you can buy Mickey in a traditional costume!

Fashion of course is a thing when one comes to Disneyland and we saw many beautifully dressed guests of all ages joining in the New Year celebration.

Well, I guess that's all!  I'll be travelling a bit now so hoping to do a little more blogging.  If you are on your phone, access GoFamilyGo on your laptop and hit the subscribe button, so you are sure to never miss a blogpost!

Here are a few more pictures!  You decide if we had fun!

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