Archive for December, 2011

Seven Days of Birthdays, Driving & Vegas Baby!

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Las Vegas Baby!

A Girlfriend Road Trip to Vegas

I don’t know where, but somewhere, there’s a rulebook floating around that says your 30th birthday is supposed to be one of the biggest and memorable celebrations out there. I’m usually one for a big shebang of a party, but this year my birthday kind of fell off the map. Luckily, I have good friends with an innate planning ability, to put the whole thing together for me and wrapped it with a bow. Here’s where Houston event planning company, iCatching Events came in. Jody Torrence, the owner, happens to be a good friend of mine, and one that refuses to let a single opportunity for party hats and FB pictures to haphazardly pass you by. So he got together with another good friend of mine, Amy and put together the ultimate road trip from Houston straight into the flamboyant lights of Las Vegas. Here’s a little recap of the highlights of our Vegas Girlfriend Roadtrip:

Day One: Houston, TX – Carlsbad, NM

The drive leaving Houston was pretty standard passing through Austin, TX (one of my most favorite cities). Just west of Austin, we hit Fredericksburg, TX – one of my favorite new towns. This little town is full of charm, local shopping adventures and just the simplicity that Texas once was.

Our first stop was Heirlooms which was a collection of trendy clothes, home décor and little knick-knacks that could load up any one of your best friend’s stockings during the holidays. We also ventured into Lone Star Candy Bar (254 E. Main Street, Fredericksburg, TX 78624), which had over 30 different flavors of homemade fudge among other treats (including chocolate covered jalapenos because it is Texas after all). Then we grabbed a quick lunch at El Maguey Mexican Restaurant (116 N. Crockett, Fredericksburg, TX 78624), which boasted authentic Mexican food serving as the perfect addition to any and every road trip through the Lone Star State.

Vegas Road TripWe drove all the way through to Carlsbad, NM where we barely pitched a two-person tent in the dark and practically got frostbite. The temperature that night dipped well into the mid-thirties, which for two Texas gals is not natural. (I have this unreciprocated love affair with camping so Jody and Amy both obliged by adding this to our ultimate road trip list after much pleading from the birthday girl.)

Day Two: Carlsbad, NM – Tucson, AZ

We woke up in the car. Yes, the car. As I mentioned at the end of day one, it was so cold and we weren’t fully prepared so around midnight we jumped into our SUV and attempted a few hours of sleep. We woke up, packed up the tent (and the uniniflated air mattress because yours truly forget to bring the pump) and headed a few miles south to the historical Carlsbad Caverns. Given our already jaded experience with Carlsbad (my poor geography skills made me think I was going to Carlsbad, CA – my absolute fave city), we opted for the quick self-guided tour through the caverns ($6 per adult), which took us 750ft underground.

Las Vegas Girlfriend Getaway Road TripLuckily, instead of a campground, Jody got us a room at the Lodge on the Desert (306 North Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ 85711, 520.320.2000) that night in Tucson, just miles away from the University of Arizona and Downtown Tucson. The 103-room boutique hotel came with a room that was beyond spacious and included a fireplace, flat-screen TV and private patio. It also had complimentary wifi, which was imperative after being “disconnected” for two straight days in the car. After hitting up a local bar, we ended the night with one of my very favorite things – In-N-Out Burger. We don’t have those fine establishments in Houston, so I load up as much as humanly possible when given the chance. Had they provided candles, that burger could have sufficed as my 30th birthday cake.

Day Three: Tucson, AZ – Las Vegas, NV

After a quick yogurt parfait at the Lodge on the Desert’s restaurant, we hit the road to our final destination – Viva Las Vegas. Of course, a mere 12 hours after my last stop at In-N-Out, we stopped again after much coaxing and then headed to the Hoover Dam (free to walk around, $7 to park), which sits at a very tall 726.4ft. Fun Fact: the dam meets the domestic water needs of more than 20 million people in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and other southwestern cities and towns.

Jody hooked us up in a red room at Paris (3655 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109), which is centrally located to pretty much anything two girls could possibly want. The rooms were enormous and came with a full-length mirror, which is a vital necessity in Vegas.

Soon after arriving, we headed to a girl’s only event at a stripper pole “academy” to try the famous Pick Your Poison Cupcakes. These tasty cakes were recent finalists on Cupcake Wars so you know we had to try the alcohol inspired treats. Then in opposite fashion, we headed for dinner and grabbed what may have been the world’s best steak ever at STRIPSTEAK (inside Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino). A bone-in ribeye cooked medium rare which a side of scalloped potatoes. Yum! A pretty expensive meal, but for a birthday girl, it was well worth it.

After dinner we went up to the Foundation Room at the House of Blues to see the spectacular view of the strip. We finished the night off at The Cosmopolitan hitting up the Chandelier Bar and Bond. The vibe and atmosphere of both spots was perfect for a Friday night. Or any night in Vegas for that matter. There’s no doubt that since my last trip to Vegas, The Cosmopolitan is a new favorite spot for gaming, people watching, eating and dancing the night away.

Day Four: Las Vegas

We were up early for the Santa Fun Run (the largest collection of Santa’s in one area at one time) at Town Center which kicked off with three parachuting Santa’s. Our 5k (in 42 degree weather) was followed by a quick shower and then it was off to Lagasse’s to watch (and bet on) some college football. I realize many girls may not think sitting at a sports bar for hours in the middle of the day is the best use of their time while in Vegas, but it was 100% up my alley. The food at Lagasse’s (created by master chef Emeril) is not your typical run of the mill bar food. It’s like fine dining with a Bud Light and your own private flat screen. What could be better?

Las Vegas pamperingAfter a long day of football, not to mention a rather grimy road trip, it was time to go all girly and get some pampering. We headed over to The Blow-Dry Bar + Salon for a quick blow out where we had a menu of 8 sassy styles to choose from. I had some time to chat with Todd, the owner, and not only do they offer the blow-dry/up-do services, they also do makeup applications. And here’s the best part – they even offer a mobile hair + makeup service so for the larger groups (think bachelorette parties, birthday extravaganza’s, etc.) and can come to you. Not a bad deal at all.

After that it was off to quite possibly the largest buffet in the world – or at least Las Vegas – Wicked Spoon. The buffet was set pretty far back in The Cosmopolitan, which allowed me to burn off some of those calories I was about to consume. Crab legs that went on for miles, truffled mac ‘n cheese, shrimp cocktail, prime rib, fried rice, sushi – all of it was there for the taking. As a girl who loves desserts, the huge dessert square was a dream come true. Red velvet twinkies, PB&J ice cream, cheesecake bars, and chocolate covered marshmallows – the only thing missing were 30 candles. At $35/person, it was a great value IF you come hungry. It’s not your typical buffet where you feel rushed so the line can keep moving – the wait staff is very friendly and chatty, so pull out your elastic pants from storage and saddle up for a mighty fine meal. After that we waddled back to Paris and Bally’s to throw some dice, play slots and drink a little more whiskey. Or a lot.

Day Five: Las Vegas

I’ve yet to visit Vegas without stopping for breakfast at Peppermill (2985 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109) which always has at least a 30-minute wait no matter when you go. One of the hottest “touristy” attractions along the strip is the roller coaster at New York-New York ($14/person), which I DO NOT, I repeat, do not recommend. I am all for adrenaline inducing activities, especially roller coasters, especially in Vegas, but when you exit the ride with bruises already on your arms and shoulders, it’s a little too rough to deem it “fun”. If I wanted adrenaline and bruises, I would have set up a coed flag football team right on Las Vegas Blvd.

PH Towers by Westgate Las VegasTo give our trip some diversity, Jody switched our hotel for the last night to the PH Towers by Westgate (80 E. Harmon Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89109), which was still centrally located. And extremely posh. He hooked us up with a north facing one-bedroom suite, which had three flat-screen TVs, a kitchen with dining table and refrigerator, a projection screen on the wall, a plush king-sized bed and so many more lavish amenities for just one night. The room we stayed in is perfect for a larger girl’s trip if you’re looking to save a little money.

A good option is to reserve smaller guest rooms at PH Towers for most of your party and then one of the suites, which can be used as the common area or a place to gather and have a few drinks before heading out. The setup is very conducive for hosting a handful of guests. All Facebook-worthy-photo-opps aside, the PH Towers are one of the safest properties I’ve stayed at in Vegas. Since it’s slightly off the beaten path (aka The Strip), there aren’t as many people floating around the lobby and a security guard sits in front of the guest room elevators 24/7 where you must show your keycard to access. As a girl, those little safety features are always a plus for travel.

The towers are also connected to the Miracle Mile Shops, which is another plus for many female travelers, myself included. While it may not be the swankiest place for drinks in Vegas, as Texas girls, Amy and I love Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar inside Harrah’s. The $19 mason jars of whiskey are enough to make anyone start line dancing. Even in Vegas.

Day Six & Seven: Las Vegas, NV, Albuquerque, NM, Houston, TX

Probably the latest start of the trip (thanks again Toby Keith), we sadly checked out of the PH Towers and started our way back to Texas. Our last stop in good ole Vegas was Baby Cakes (2400 N. Buffalo Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89128) who received raving reviews of their red velvet pancakes. Since I love breakfast, and anything red velvet, Jody said this would be the perfect end to the Vegas portion of our adventure and this could serve as a belated birthday cake. With syrup.

Baby Cakes is a good 14 miles from the strip, so it may not be the easiest option for most, but luckily we had a car. And an appetite. Thanks to our good friend, Hangover, we were ready for some greasy breakfast. We both had an egg, sausage and hashbrown platter and split an order of Red Velvet pancakes and peanut butter and jelly pancakes. Bellies full, we drove almost a full day straight back home to Houston. Probably not the smartest option, but we were tired, and days later, still hungover. While this was a grand experience that Amy and I will never forget (and parts of Vegas probably won’t let us forget either), I don’t foresee that long of a road trip in my future ever again.

Jayme Lamm is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Houston focusing on travel writing and is in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sport’s column, The Blonde Side.