Trip Report: Weekend in Las Vegas and the 2016 Garth Brooks World Tour

Being that I grew up in a small town in Texas, with my formative years in the 1990s, Garth Brooks music was an undeniably large part of my young life. So when I found out that the beginning of his new world tour happened to coincide with a free room comp offer I had received from a Vegas casino, it seemed like a no-brainer to book a little weekend getaway.

First, though, we had to get there.  To cover our flights, we transferred points from our Chase Ultimate Rewards account to the hubby’s Southwest account, where we have the Companion Pass that allows me to get a free ticket anytime we book one for the hubby. With a couple clicks on the computer, we now had free round trip flights to Vegas.

As for the hotel, I’d received an email offer from MLife, the loyalty program for the MGM Grand group of hotels. One thing a lot of people don’t realize about MLife (and other casino loyalty programs) is that you need not gamble in order to rack up the rewards.  As I travel to Las Vegas a few times a year for work, usually staying for a week or more each time, I make sure to attach my MLife number to my hotel stay, all my meals, and any side slot-machine action I get into.

And apparently, for some of MLife’s older properties at least, my less-than-impressive spending is still enough to warrant an occasional free room comp.  We were offered a free two-night weekend stay at the New York New York resort and casino, plus a $50 resort credit that we could use towards meals, drinks, or the daily resort fee.  This made the logistics of our trip totally free, and left us able to use our vacation budget for more fun things.

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Park Avenue Room at the New York New York

We arrived on Friday afternoon and were able to quickly check in to our standard level room, which they call a “Park Avenue Room”.  Though nothing special, the room was comfortable and we received a nice view from the 24th floor.

 

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Shower of a Park Avenue Room at the New York New York
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Bathroom of a Park Avenue Room at the New York New York

 

Once we were all checked in, we headed to the pool for a bit before showering and getting ready for our main attraction of that evening: dinner at L’Atelier by Joel Robuchon, a Michellin-starred restaurant from the most-Michelin-starred chef in the world.

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This restaurant is for the serious foodies, with the seats arranged around a large, open-kitchen, allowing you to watch the chefs in action and ask questions. We ordered the “Seasonal Discovery Menu” with wine pairings and also added the seared foie gras as well as the hamachi, uni, and caviar “ravioli” a la carte. Prepare yourself for the food porn:

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Our 10-course menu at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
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The bread basket.  We’d heard amazing things about the bread cart at Robuchon’s signature restaurant next door, but this was just “good” not “great”.
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Our Amuse Bouche
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The Hamachi ravioli, stuffed with uni and topped with stugeon caviar
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Crab tabbouleh, topped with avocado mouse and radishes
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White asparagus with Iberico ham and parmesan foam.  (Yes, it looks like baby vomit…they should maybe reconsider the plating of this one.)
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Sea bass in porcini cream.  One interesting note here is that they kept the cream in a cream whipper, and then put the whole cream whipper in an immersion circulator.
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The seared foie gras.  Amazing.
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Foie gras stuffed quail with their “signature” mashed potatoes. (The secret to the potatoes is that they use equal parts butter to potato.)
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Passion fruit sorbet palate cleanser
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Dessert was actually the most disappointing dish. Very boring.

After dinner we hit the slots and roulette table for a while before eventually turning in.  But we had to wake up early the next morning, as we had a lot more Vegas to see!

Saturday, we started the day off with a trip to Caesar’s Palace to take in their “Bacchanal Buffet“, which has been voted the top Strip buffet for many years.  Even better, we were able to find a Groupon that took the regularly $54/per person with tax price tag down to a more reasonable $44/per person, and also came with a free mimosa ($7) and a skip-the-line pass (which they normally sell for $25/person).

The buffet was certainly extensive, and we thought that the dim sum section, featuring  a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, bao buns, noodles, soups, and sweets was by far the highlight.  Most other things we tried, including the pizza, shellfish bar, and traditional breakfast fare was just “meh”.

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Cheese station at Caesar’s Palace Bachhanal Buffet
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The raw bar included snow crab legs, Jonah crab claws, boiled shrimp and crawfish, and several seafood salads.
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The carved meat station.  The hubby was happy to partake of a hearty portion of slab bacon.
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The gelato is the same as is available in the Forum Shops elsewhere in Caesar’s.

Having visited almost every Vegas buffet by this point in my life (Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, Aria, Cosmopolitan, Rio, Orleans, Caesars, Wynn, and Bellagio to name a few….) I would say stick to the Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan. Still, Caesar’s was a nice experience as well.

After brunch, we wondered around the Forum Shops for a while, since the Hubby had never been. Always a good time, even though I’ve probably been nearly 10 times.

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Next up, though, we went to a brand new (to us) attraction: the High Roller at the Linq. The High Roller is a giant observation wheel that boasts that it’s larger than London’s eye. In fact, it’s so large, each car can fit a full bar!  Again, turning to Groupon, we purchased a “daytime happy half-hour” ride for the two of us that included open bar during the ride. By buying on Groupon instead of at the venue, we saved about $7.

And it was great! The view from the wheel is really spectactular, and we were both able to grab about 3 drinks during the course of the ride, a pretty good deal for Vegas.

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From the top of the High Roller at the Linq, where we enjoyed a shot while watching the Bellagio fountains..

After the ride, we headed back to the hotel to pay a visit to Lady Luck in the casino (she wasn’t in, apparently) and to take a nap before getting ready for the concert.  We ate a low-key early dinner at the hotel, then made the walk over to the brand-new TMobile Arena, just steps away from our casino.

And as for the show? It was simultaneously one of the best concerts and absolute weirdest shows I’d ever seen. A big part of that was because they were videotaping this performance for inclusion in an upcoming HBO concert special. This meant that the two front rows of the arena were filled not with actual paying fans, but with heaps of good looking young ladies in their early 20s that they’d likely scouted at the pools earlier that day.

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The front row of girls were “plants” – note the camera just behind them, and the lack of normal concert security. (And…ya know…the fact that most of them are under 25.)

Then, before the show started, the tv producer came out to get us to “scream” in a variety of ways (“do this one like he just finished a ballad” or “now scream like he just did Friends in Low Places”) for B-roll purposes, followed by prompting us on when we were supposed to put our arms in the air, turn our camera lights on, etc. So much for realistic.

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At the start of the show, you see a Garth figure in silhouette, before the screens raise up towards the ceiling and his oval-shaped set is revealed.

And then, finally, the show started. After a very strange intro/countdown on the computer screens to make it look like the computers had been hacked by a Russian intelligence agency (yeah, I didn’t get the connection either…), Garth came out.  And his energy level was somewhere between Howard Dean screeching during the 2004 election and Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch.  It just seemed too forced, too fake. He even showed us at one point how his guitar wasn’t even in the sound mix – apparently for the tv special, only the “good” musicians were allowed to play.

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We were told to turn our phone’s front light on during The River

So he sang the favorites like a coke-crazed grandpa, ending with Friends in Low Places, confetti cannons shot off everywhere, and he heads off stage. The crowd cheers like crazy, and then, he comes back out for his “encore”.

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The kept the drummer in a cage.  Good job, drummers are dangerous 🙂

And then…all of a sudden…the show got really good.  He explained that now that the cameras were off, he would take requests.  So…he did. People held up signs or screamed out song titles, and he played each one, just him on his guitar singing along. Sometimes one of his band members would come out and play along, other times it was just him.  And it was great!

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None of the running around like a crazy man or climbing on top of the set pieces, just a world class musician playing his catalog. All told, he played for about 2 hours, with just slightly less than half of that time coming during the “encore”.  He even did a few covers.  It was bizarre but totally awesome.

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A little blurry, but he takes off his hat to say goodbye to the crowd.

The next day, we caught a quick breakfast in the hotel before heading back to the airport.  Our Vegas trip was a super quick one — just 48 hours or so total — but it was a great weekend, and the fact that it was so inexpensive was just the icing on the cake!

What are your Vegas must-dos? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

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Perfect Summer Dinner: GRILL ALL THE THINGS!

Y’all. Have you been outside today?! It’s mother-flippin’ hot out there. Apparently while we were off galivanting around Alaska, Texas decided to flip the switch into full-blown-summer.

There is one consolation prize that Mother Nature gives us for this balls-hot weather. And that’s that a whole bunch of yummy things are ripening up around central Texas right now, like sweet corn and Texas peaches.

So even though it meant braving the heat, and standing in front of an EVEN HOTTER grill, last night we enoyed a delicious meal of grilled shrimp, corn, and peaches.

Got grill-timidation? No worries. These are some of the easiest things you can grill.

Let’s start with the corn. Peel back all the husks down to the base, but don’t pull them off.  Keep peeling them back, layer by layer, until you get to the thread.  Pick the thread off and discard, then give your corn a good lather of butter, salt, and pepper. Then peel all the husks back into place.

Your corn is now ready for the grill. Over a medium-hot heat, place the husks directly on the grate.  The flames should stop just before touching the corn itself…if it’s any higher, turn down your heat a bit, or move the corn to a slightly higher rack.  Let the corn cook with the grill top down, turning them every 3-4 minutes for about 10-12 minutes total. Keep a spray bottle of water handy, just in case any dried-up husks start to feel frisky.

While the corn is cooking, you can prepare the shrimp.  Leave them in their shells, and give them a quick toss in an oil-based marinade.  I like Zesty Italian dressing for this purpose, as it gives a nice flavor to the shrimp.  Then, skewer the shrimp on metal skewers (you can use wood skewers too, but you just need to soak these in water for ~10 minutes first) and throw them on a middle rack or slightly cooler area of the grill.

The shrimp will need about 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on the size of your shrimp.  You’ll know they’re done when they turn from gray/translucent to a bright pink.

Finally, the peaches.  These are the easiest of all.  Halve and core your ripe peaches – they should feel slightly soft to the touch before they’re “grill-ready”.  Microwave a tbsp of butter for 10 seconds in order to melt it, then brush it on the cut side, and sprinkle with a dash of salt and a little brown sugar.

Start the peaches cut-side up for about 2 minutes on a hot side of the grill, then turn them over and let them cook for another 1-2 minutes with the fruit directly on the grate.

That’s it!  If you cook things concurrently, your whole dinner will be ready in less than 10 minutes time, and will be so delicious you’ll want to repeat it all summer long.

Photo credit to Flickr user Mike McCune (who actually remembered to take pictures of his food before eating it, unlike me) under a creative commons license

Why are my bees going crazy?!

It happens to all beekeepers.

You’ve done your homework (you think) on backyard beekeeping. You built (or ordered) a hive. You received your bees, and even managed to get them into your hive without getting stung!

And then it happens…right around dinnertime…your bees go CRAZY!

Are they swarming? Do they hate their new hive? Are they going to all fly away? Did something get in the hive that shouldn’t be there? WHAT’S GOING ON?!?!?!

Relax, new-bee. (See what I did there?) Your bees are most likely just participating in their first training flight.

A training flight is how new, adolescent bees learn to remember where the hive is when they first go off foraging. It usually happens an hour or two before sunset, and it’ll happen just about every sunny day for the lifetime of your hive. The bees you are seeing are taking their first flights outside the hive, and you’ll notice they’re all facing in exactly the same direction, towards the hive.

Basically, they’re imprinting the hive’s location in reference to the sun and also what their hive looks like from the outside. And more importantly, they’re doing just fine. The show lasts for about 20-30 minutes, and then your bees will head back in the hive, ready to begin their lives as foragers from there on out.

So fear not, beekeeper. This will be a long, weird journey of bee ownership, and about 90% of the time, you’re not going to have any idea what these little buggars are doing. But the training flight need not be one of your worries.

More Freebies: Check Your Ticketmaster Account!

Hat tip to my friend Richard H. for discovering this one – but as a result of settling a class action lawsuit about their ridiculous ticket fees, Ticketmaster is handing out goodies to people who purchased event tickets on the site between 1999-2013.

If you login to your account and visit the “active vouchers” section, you can see if you have any freebies waiting as well.  I found nine vouchers good for two general admissions to eligible events, and nine discount codes worth $2.25 each, which can be used on future purchases.

The vouchers do note that “these codes can be used only against eligible events, which are still being finalized,” so I guess we’ll have to wait and see what that means.  But seeing as how the vouchers don’t appear to expire until 2020, it looks like there should be plenty of opportunity to use them. The class action information page also has the option to sign up for email alerts when new events are added to the list of eligible events.

Sweet!

Free Car2Go Membership – can be used in US, Canada and Europe!

As any frequent traveler knows, rental cars kinda suck. Picking them up is often a hassle, followed by the tricky tango to make sure you don’t get hit with any extra fees or unnecessary “upgrade” charges, and then you may end up having to pay a pricey parking fee at your hotel on top of it as well.

As such, most of the times when I travel, I try to avoid getting a rental car if at all possible and use public transit, ridesharing and taxis instead. Sometimes, though, it just can’t be avoided —like when you want to do day trips that are outside of a city center, as we did on last year’s Hawaii trip, where we spent the majority of our time at our beachfront resort but also spent one afternoon driving the Road to Hana.

Luckily, there’s yet another option called Car2Go. Car2Go has been around for several years now, and you’ve undoubtedly seen the compact white and blue smart cars (and their primo parking spots) around many US cities.

Once a member of the service, you can use a Smartphone app to “unlock” any nearby car, choose your rental period, and then enter a 4-digit pin on the car’s digital console in order to get the key and begin driving. You can choose to rent the car by the minute (at $0.41 cents/minute), hour ($14.99/hour) or day ($84.99/day). Car2Go covers gas, insurance, and parking associated with city meters and/or their designated private spots.

Up until now, though, we had never signed up — the $35 one-time membership fee, combined with no immediate needs for the service had dissuaded us. But right now, the service is waiving the sign-up fee, making it completely free to join. Just use code C2G15 at checkout, and they’ll remove the sign-up fee and also throw in your first 15 minutes free.

Considering that there are no monthly or annual fees associated with being a member, this is a great thing to do now, just as a back-up plan if you ever need it. With service available across much of the US, Canada, and Western Europe, it’s nice to know you can quickly and easily take advantage if you ever needed to.

Also, just as an fyi – I don’t get any sort of referral or kickback for this post, or if you use the above promo code. Just sharing the code for others’ benefit. So enjoy! And don’t forget to tell us about your Car2Go experiences in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Car2Go.

Low-carb Dinner: Thai Peanut & Sesame Chicken Lettuce Wrap

Now that we’re back from Alaska, we’re back on another low-carb kick. This time around, though, I’ve created some new recipes that we’ve really enjoyed, and I’ll share them with you in the coming weeks.

Tonight’s dish was peanut & sesame chicken lettuce wraps.  I’ve shared a recipe for lettuce wraps before, but the chicken and peanut sauce was a nice variation this time around.  In fact, the chicken alone was the star here, and could easily have been the center piece of a meal all on its own.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 pkg chicken tenders
  • 2 tbsp prepared Thai peanut sauce (we used the Thai Kitchen variety, which has only 4 grams of sugar per serving) + more for dipping, if desired
  • 1/2 tsp thai chili garlic sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • Butter lettuce, which has big leaves for creating the wraps
  • Garnishes of your choice – we chose carrots, red cabbage, chopped peanuts, and cilantro

Directions:

  1. Season your chicken tenders on both sides, with salt and pepper. At the same time, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet.
  2. In a large bowl, add the chicken tenders, peanut sauce, and chili garlic sauce. Stir to make sure the chicken is coated.
  3. On a separate dish, spread out half your sesame seeds, and transfer the chicken in order to “dredge” the chicken with sesame seeds.  Sprinkle the remaining sesame seeds over the top.
  4. Add your chicken to the skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, until chicken is cooked through. While the chicken is cooking, wash and layout your lettuce leaves, and chop your remaining garnish.
  5. After the chicken is cooked, let it rest 3-4 minutes.  Then assemble your lettuce wraps and enjoy!

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My Three Most Important Cruise Planning Websites

For most vacations, there are plenty of established tools like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and myriad travel guides that travelers can turn to in order to help plan their itinerary.  But with cruise vacations, it can often be a real challenge to get the unbiased info necessary to really rock out your trip.

With our third cruise vacation now under my belt, here’s my list of top online cruise-vacation planning resources that I turn to every time I’m looking to set sail.

 1. Cruise Critic

This is pretty much the holy grail for the cruise industry. In addition to having lots of editorial features on the cruise industry and reviews of every ship, Cruise Critic also features an incredibly active message board community where you can ask questions, do research, read user reviews of cruises, etc.

One other unique feature of Cruise Critic is the “roll call” boards. Here, you can pre-meet others that will be on an upcoming cruise that you’re also on, and depending on the cruise line, register for a meet-and-greet event onboard your ship.

We’ve found that these meet-and-greets can be quite beneficial.  On both Norwegian and Celebrity cruise lines, the meet-and-greets are usually attended by senior ship officers; good people to know in case anything goes awry on your vacation. In addition, on Celebrity, Cruise Critic members that had registered for the meet-and-greet were invited to an exclusive tour of the bridge, which was pretty neat.

2. CruCon Cruise Outlet

CruCon is an online travel agency, and though their website looks and operates like it was built by a fifth grader in 1996, I’ve routinely found them to have some of the best priced cruise packages available anywhere.

For example, for Celebrity Cruise Line, CruCon usually has lower rates than you’ll actually find on the Celebrity website, AND you’ll get an additional $300 in shipboard credit (money that you can spend onboard for drinks, specialty dinners, etc.) in addition to whatever perks Celebrity is offering. I’ve booked with CruCon twice now and been pleased with the experience both times, though if you’re looking for a travel agent that will do a lot of “hand-holding” to help you make your decision, this isn’t that type of service.

To get the best value out of CruCon, your best bet is to sign up for their email list.  Email subscribers get early access to the website’s two biggest annual sales, on Black Friday and Memorial Day. Try to book about a year out or more (or alternately, check out their super-last-minute fares), and remember to keep an eye on prices after you book too — if prices drop, you can usually get rebooked at the lower fare and/or get your cabin upgraded.

3. DeckPlanGenius

Whereas with a hotel, you book a “type” of room but don’t know your specific room number until you check in, on cruises you have the advantage of booking the exact cabin you want. DeckPlanGenius is a tool you’ll want to use once you’ve settled on a particular ship/itinerary, but have not yet booked into that specific cabin. They have information and reviews for specific cabins on all the major cruise lines, and can give you useful info on the pros and cons of a specific “room”.

The types of things that DPG would be able to tell you: is the room near an elevator or stairs (which may be a pro for some for convenience, or a con for others because of noise)? Is the room located underneath a busy public facility like the buffet, or the gym? Does the balcony have extra room (which often occurs on “cut out/cut in” rooms)? Is the view obstructed by the life boats? Etc.

Additionally, you’ll see reviews from individuals who have actually stayed in that cabin to tell you what to expect. I like to check it out just before I head over to CruCon to book.

 

So there ya go.  What online tools do you use when planning a cruise vacation? Tell us in the comments.

Garden Update: Everything’s Coming Up Salsa!

One of the most frequently visited posts I’ve done on this blog is about how we built a diy raised bed vegetable garden.  It’s been over a year since we first planted anything, and in that time we’ve had HUGE yields of just about everything we put in the ground.

Lately, it’s all about the early season tomatoes, onions, and serrano peppers.  When we came back from our Alaska trip, they had shot up like crazy, and the onion tops were starting to fall over in the garden. So, I resorted to old-fashioned onion braiding to preserve them in our pantry. (No root cellars down here in Austin!)IMG_3613

In the first week of June alone, I harvested more than 30 onions, 9 tomatoes, 16 peppers, and a few handfuls of strawberries. Which meant – salsa time! I love dicing up a quick pico de gallo for an afternoon snack.  Here’s how I do it:FullSizeRender

  1. Quarter 1 large or 2 medium sized tomatoes, and scoop out the seeds, leaving only the firm flesh of each fruit.  Dice the remaining tomato, and put in a bowl.
  2. Finely chop 1 small onion and 1 clove of garlic, then add to the bowl.
  3. Cut one serrano in half, and scoop out the seeds to your level of heat preference – I usually take about 2/3 of the seeds out. Then finely dice and add to the bowl.
  4. Grab a handful of fresh cilantro and shred or quickly dice.  Add to bowl.
  5. Top with salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lime. Stir everything together and serve with tortitlla chips or on top of your favorite meat. Delicious!

What’s popping up in your garden? Tell us in the comments.

Trip Report: Hyatt Olive 8, Altura, Eden Hill, and more in Seattle

Ed. Note: This is the final post in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.

Once we’d disembarked and said goodbye to the Celebrity Solstice, it was a quick cab over to the Hyatt at Olive 8 hotel in downtown Seattle to check in for our post-cruise stay. We had booked the trip with the two free nights available through the Chase Hyatt Visa card, meaning our room (which ordinarily would have run for around $350 or higher) was totally free.

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Our King room at the Hyatt at Olive 8
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The bathrooms at the Hyatt at Olive 8. I’m so not a fan of all the hotels replacing their soaker tubs with standing showers. 

Even better, because I’m a Hyatt Diamond member, we also received a free breakfast credit each morning that covered our coffees and scones at the onsite coffee bar. So all, told, between our flights, pre-cruise hotel, post-cruise hotel, and onboard MLife benefits, we saved roughly $2,200 on the total cost of this vacation through travel hacking.

After dropping off our luggage, we decided to take advantage of the sunny day and headed over to the Washington Park Arboretum.  The arboretum was pretty, but many parts were actually under construction, so we tired out after about an hour or so.

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The duck pond at the Arboretum was full of lilypads.
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The Japanese Maples set among the pines at the Arboretum.

The next stop on our agenda was famed food-trailer-turned-greasy-spoon, Skillet. I think I first heard of Skillet years ago on the tv show Eat Street, and with mention of their homemade “bacon jam”, I knew it was my destiny to visit this restaurant.  And we were not disappointed.  I ordered the “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” with bacon jam, which was tasty, though a little overly-sweet for my tastebuds. The hubby ordered the fried chicken sammy with added bacon, and poutine in place of fries.

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The cheese overflowed from the grilled cheese sandwich.
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It may look like dogfood but this stuff was fantastic.

The winner of the meal? The poutine. It was totally delicious. Some of the best I’ve ever had.

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The guitar chandelier at the EMP.

After lunch, we headed over to the Experience Music Project (EMP) to take a look at some music history. After exploring the history of the guitar, Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix exhibits, we headed up to the special traveling exhibit on Star Trek.  And man, was the hubby in nerd heaven!

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The stairs leading to the Star Trek Exhibit.
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The hubby as Borg.
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The hubby with scale models of all four starships.

Once we’d finished at the EMP, we headed down to waterfront for happy hour — oyster happy hour, that is. At Elliot’s Oysters, we sampled a dozen local oysters from their impressive selection for only $1.50 an oyster. Not wanting to spoil our dinner, we managed somehow to stop after the first dozen.

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More than 20 different local oyster varieties at Elliot’s.

And it was good that we did. That night, we dined at Eden Hill Restaurant, and this would immediately become BY FAR the best meal we had this trip.  We did a sampling of small plates that were all fantastic.

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Crab cake appetizer at Eden Hill.
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Lamb tartare at Eden Hill.
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The crispy pig head “candy bar” at Eden Hill.

My favorite was the “crispy pig head candy bar” which was succulent, unctious shredded pig meat stuffed inside some sort of sweet-ish fried dough.

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Salmon with seabean chimichurri at Eden Hill.  This one wasn’t my favorite.
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Lick the Bowl at Eden Hill.

The hubby’s favorite was dessert, a dish called “Lick the Bowl,” came with a sweet and buttery pound cake with a foie gras/cake batter “frosting” that you could spread onto the pound cake. It was then topped with a strawberry syrup and rainbow sprinkles.  It was so good, he can’t stop talking about it ever since we got back.

Finally, we ended Friday night with a trip to the Can Can Cabaret in the Pike Place Market.  it was a great show, but sadly, pictures weren’t allowed 🙂

The next morning, we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed for a trip down to Everett, Washington for a tour of the Boeing factory. My aviation-loving hubby thought it was really cool to see where all the big jets were made, and we were able to see 747, 777, and 787 production areas.

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The hubby in the cockpit of one of the original Boeing 707 aircrafts.

After the tour, we headed to the Pike Place market to try to find some lunch, but what we found was a zoo instead.  Whether because it was a weekend, or because the sun was out, the market was totally packed and we eventually retreated to a lackluster tourist trap for lunch, before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit.

That afternoon, we decided to check out the Capitol Hill neighborhood and take in the lovely weather at a bar called the Lookout, which indeed offered a great view of downtown Seattle below.

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The view of the Space Needle and downtown from the Lookout Bar.

For our final meal of the trip, we met up with some friends at Altura, a small Italian restaurant with a focus on local ingredients.  It was also very good, though no particularly standout dishes like at Eden Hill.

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The beef crudo with bone marrow chip and poached egg at Altura.
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The duck liver pate with biscotti and whipped Campari at Altura.
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The duck breast with pickled cherries at Altura.

Finally, to close out the evening and our trip as a whole, we headed over to the Pacific Science Theater where they were doing a special edition Prince Laser Light Show.  It was a fun way to end what had been an incredible trip, and we were very sad to climb on a plane the next morning to head home.

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A great view of the Space Needle from the Pacific Science Theater.

So, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed my series of trip reports from our 2016 Alaska trip, and I look forward to sharing about some of our other upcoming trips soon!

Trip Report: A trip to the bridge and Victoria, British Columbia

Ed. Note: This is part five in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 6.

After recovering somewhat from our death-march in Skagway the day before, we headed down to our favorite on-ship bar, Cellar Masters, to participate in a Riedel Wine Tasting Workshop. This was actually pretty cool.

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Our Riedel tasting mats.

The sommelier poured us each four wines – a chardonnay, a sauvignon blanc, a bordeaux, and a cabernet sauvignon.  We had the chance to taste each using a standard bar wine glass  (the “Joker” glass) and the correct corresponding Riedel glass for the varietal, which are supposedly shaped to enhance the taste of each type of wine. And we were pretty surprised – there definitely was a difference! Even better, the workshop came with a certificate for 4 free Riedel glasses, so we can continue our wine experiments at home as well.

Once we returned to our stateroom, we noticed that we had received an invitation.  For being members of the Cruise Critic message board (which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post), we were offered an exclusive tour of the Bridge — the main command center of our cruise ship.

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The first mate (left) had to keep driving while the rest of us got the tour.

We passed through a security screening before being allowed in, but eventually, behind a series of programmed and locked doors, we got up to the very front of the ship.  The second mate explained to us the many gadgets using one of the side command stations — our ship had three command stations, one in the center where they handled most of the “driving” and one on each side where they handle “parking”.

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The hubby was really into it.

Hearing about all the onboard whatzits and doodads was neat, BUT the tour happened to occur during the roughest seas of the whole cruise, and between those seas and being at the very front of the ship and out on one of the side bridge “wings,” soon the sea wasn’t the only thing tossing and turning.  We spent most of the rest of the day in our cabin, where I tried my very best not to hurl.

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Land, ho!

So, when I saw the above strip of land appear out our balcony window the next day I was ecstatic — that meant we were entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca and calmer seas would soon be at hand.

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O, Canada.

By the time we reached Victoria, my seasickness was all but past, and we disembarked to see what our brief Canadian port stop had to offer. We found the city itself to be very walkable, and just a short jaunt from the cruise ship port we found the beautiful Parliament building (the featured image for this post). A few more blocks over, and we reached the historic Christ Church Cathedral, though unfortunately we were too late to take a tour and see the famous stained glass windows inside.

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The Christ Church Cathedral. It stood in brutal contrast with the tent city across the street.

After our stroll through town, we headed over to North 48, a gastropub whose name is a reference to the latitude on which Victoria is located. There we were thrilled to get a respite from the cruise food and indulged with delicious homemade Cheese Whiz and  “General Tso’s” duck wings, followed by a burger for me, and a fancy hot dog for the hubby. The duck wings were the true highlight of the meal, though, and would fall off the bone almost the minute you picked them up – absolutely delicious.

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The duck wings (right) were a-buck-a-duck and were amazing.

With that, we headed back to the ship via the Beacon Hill Park where we ran into some of the loudest Canadians we’d ever encountered…peacocks!

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Strut your stuff, pretty bird.
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And also some Canadian geese.

Eventually, we bid our feathered friends adieu and reboarded the ship for our final night at sea. Check back tomorrow for updates on our final two vacation days, exploring more of Seattle! But first: one final gorgeous sunset.

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The sunset over the Canadian Rockies.