A Travellerspoint blog

May 2006

Its getting closer

The final countdown to Beijing

overcast 14 °C

I cannot believe how quickly time flies! We are off to China on Thursday - 5 whole days away - l really need to start getting my ass in gear and sorting myself out!

So l have sorted out my clothes (ie pulled out likely candidates of stuff l could take and dumped them onto the spare bed!), our passports are currently in Dublin having themselves had a week long vacation in the Chinese Embassy to get our visas, Paul picks those up on Tuesday.

We will lift our travel spends on Thursday at the airport before we fly to London - just need to pre book that online.

Gotta sort our travel insurance - our annual insurance runs out about now so that needs renewed although it will see us through for the Austrailia trip and some inital searches are coming up with quotes for about £60 for the year for both of us!

Tomorrow, Purdy the cat goes on her holidays for almost 2 weeks to her grans - she doesnt know yet cos l dont think she will be amused about the car journey!!!

So today l really need to focus on packing and ironing and seeing if there are any last minute things l need to pick up! AND, lm trying to ignore a cold which is trying infiltrate my system!!

More to follow!

Posted by Purdy 02:27 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas

semi-overcast 10 °C

December 2005 we spent 5 days in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The true city that never sleeps, anything and everyone goes. It shuns the healthy image portrayed by other US states such as neighbouring California - smoking is the norm - everywhere - it's the done thing to get boozed up and gamble your life away. Vegas is truly and adult playground and not for the faint hearted or for those out to relax and chill - yet l may contradict my self on that last statement as some of the hotels on the strip do have oasis's of peace and relaxation.

We booked our trip through Expedia - which was a totally painless experience and we would definitely recommend using them again. We even received an email when we got home, hoping that we had a good time and asking for our recommendations so that they could be passed on to other travellers - good customer service.

We didn't fly direct - Virgin Atlantic, BMI and BA do direct flights. We chose to fly with United Airlines to Los Angles and then flying from LAX on to Vegas. It was in all probably a 15 hour journey.

We stayed in the Stratosphere Tower Hotel at the end of the strip. A decent hotel with all the usual facilities - it is a bit far out although there is a bus which is 24 hours and travels from Downtown up the length of the strip so there were no problems. I think on hindsight we wouldn't stay here again but the hotel was fine no major complaints.


McCarran International Airport - 6th busiest airport in the world apparently according to the PR - is so close to the city you are almost on the strip! Our transfer took 20 minutes to our hotel. It was great flying into McCarran - it was dark so you could see the strip at its neon best - picking out the sights l had read about in the guide book brought me around from the severe tiredness which was definitely kicking in!

In true Vegas style McCarran is a hive of active - neon lights and boards advertise all the shows on at the strip hotels, slots are everywhere and everywhere is noise hustle and bustle.

We booked our transfer with Expedia which worked out at £12 return for 2 adults. There are lots of transfer bus desks just outside the main terminal for those who don't pre-book but they do cost slightly more. Cabs are readily available and you should expect to pay at the most $20.


As l have noted we stayed during the start of December and the weather was chilly. During the day time we were lucky enough it was warm enough to where short sleeves - around 18° C maximum but temperatures rapidly fell to around 2 to 3° C at night. So sweaters and jackets were required. During the day it was bright and it didn't really rain, we had one overcast day which dulled the photographs but on the whole the weather was fine. During the summer months though - expect to be baked - Vegas is set in the desert so expect desert temperatures and don't forget your sunscreen.

Hotel Accommodation

There is a level of accommodation for everyone in Vegas - from 6 star luxury of the Wynn Hotel - the most expensive hotel and opulent in the world to that of B&B and hostels. Our hotel was middle of the road - it had its own Casino which was well air conditioned so the smoking wasn't obvious, a smattering of diners and restaurants, a Starbucks, Theatres for shows, gift shops, a shopping level, and its main attraction - the Stratosphere Tower - where you can visit for a fee to see the sights of Vegas Strip. Up on the tower for the insane are rides that swing you about so you dangle with nothing between you and the ground meters and meters away!! Also there is a revolving restaurant - which we lunched in - you get the view without paying the entrance fee to the Tower - the food was excellent but expect to pay for it, and l would guess it was the dearest meal we ate whilst in Vegas around £20 a head (for lunch).

I found the hotel itself to be adequate - the rooms were of a decent size - television, hairdryer, towels, iron and board. The bathroom was of a decent size and the shower was powerful. I do have a few complaints that being the walls were paper thin - l could hear our neighbours in the shower or their alarms going off; and guest services were slow with making up the rooms - we left one day at 10am to go out for the day - and we were back by 6pm to get ready to take in a show that evening - our room was still not made up.

There is a wealth of accommodation as l said and on the strip - the hotels themselves are the attractions with something going on to draw in the unsuspecting tourist and to swipe away their dollars.

My Favourite Strip Hotels

To go through the hotels on the strip would require a book and l would guess everyone's interpretation of them is different therefore these are my favourites - l cannot comment on the service and state of the rooms as l did not stay in them.

The Belliago

Named after an Italian town and costing $1.6 billion to built - its themed after its namesake and inspired by its lakeside beauty. You can expect to see Tuscan architecture, and a huge man made lake outside the hotel - opulence and elegance and the buzz words! The fountains draw in the tourists nightly - and from nightfall every thirty minutes the fountain show stops people in their tracks - the fountains elegantly dance to music to entertain the throngs.

There is a fabulous shopping mall - where if you are like me you simper past wishing for a lottery win - Fendi, Prada and Tiffany are the stores to expect.

The Casino as one would expect judging from the rest of the hotel is elegant and chic - but as l found with EVERY single Las Vegas hotel static electric shocks - Paul would take my hand and we would be blown apart with the shock!

There are many restaurants inside, we ate at the Belliago Buffet - around $26 ahead for all you want to eat - soft drinks and coffee are included in the price but alcohol is separate. The buffet was huge (and is very popular in Vegas) - seafood, American, Italian, Mexican and Asian, along with a superb selection of deserts to tantalise any taste bud! And the best thing about it - it's all you can eat!

Vegas is renowned for its spectacular shows and the show at the Belliago is believed to be one of the best in town. Prices are not cheap expect tickets to start at around $120 dollars and if you really want to see this show pre booking is not a bad idea - it was totally sold out when we were there - and December isn't peak season! The show on at the moment is the Cirque du Soleil's O - a water based spectacular.

The Christmas decorations were fabulous in the Belliago - with dancing water fountains at the foot of a massive tree, the Coca Cola Penguins and Polar Bears which moved and all this with softly piped Christmas music in the background.

The Venetian

Out my listed hotels the Venetian is possibly my favourite. Expect gondoliers gliding by on the Grand Canal whilst you experience a replicated Venice - to scale. It opened in 1999 at a cost of $1.5 billion - the attention to detail is fantastic - beautiful archways, gondoliers with voices of angels punting lovers along the flowing canals, and cobbled walk ways.

There's another shopping mall, not of the opulence of the designer Belliago but still set apart from the usual high street shops. There are 15 restaurants - we ate at the Mexican set by the Grand Canal so we were able to watch and listen to the gondoliers as we ate. Food was reasonable and a decent Mexican for the price - around $70 for main course for 2 and drinks.

We also saw a show in the Venetian - the world acclaimed Blue Man Group - who have their own Theatre named after them. Again tickets do not come cheap although availability was much easier than that in the Belliago. The tickets cost $90 each and the show lasted just over 2 hours with no intermission. Whilst there is no actual dialogue the Blue Men communicate through rhythm and comedy. They have a fantastic backing band and actively encourage (and seek) audience participation. We thoroughly enjoyed the show.

It goes without saying there is the ubiquitous Casino as with all Vegas hotels - we did play the slots for a time - but really lm no gambler so l was never going to win a fortune!

Mandalay Bay

To be found right at the end of the strip - towering above the others and in a golden colour so instantly recognisable. While we were in town - Rocky VI was being filmed in this hotel - and they were looking for volunteers for the crowd scene! The hit West End Musical Mama Mia was also playing in the Mandalay Bay. This hotel cost slightly less than the previous 2 l have mentioned a mere $950 million only!

Mandalay Bay is based around an Asia Tropical paradise and its pool area is based in sand and has man made waves which gently lap to the shore. I'm sure this is a haven for relaxation.

Attractions include that of Shark Reef - which we did visit - but l really would not waste my cash again - lm sure kiddies thought it was great - the attraction an aquarium featured mainly sharks and the main tank had a moving walk way for visitors to watch the marine life in action. It lasted around 40 minutes and cost $16 per adult.

There is a monorail which runs between the Egyptian themed Luxor Hotel and the Knights of the Round Table themed Excalibur Hotel which saves your feet and is free.


There was a nice atmosphere about this hotel - it was big and spacious and something attracted me to its atmosphere.

New York New YorkNY NY Vegas.JPG

Well l think the name of this hotel gives the theme of it away really. A miniature Manhattan awaits those visiting this hotel. It cost $485 million to build and really is a must see - even from the outside only. Expect The Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty and a façade of NYC skyscrapers.

Visitors can get up close and personal with these buildings as a roller coaster - accessed from inside the hotel - twirls, zooms and whips you through the Manhattan Sky Line! From what lm told not for the faint hearted - me lm not insane and like to keep my feet on terra firma!

There's as usual the Casino inside with bars such as Coyote Ugly - made famous in the movie, Nine long Irish Men - funnily an Irish Themed pub and many NYC style diners.

Another Cirque du Soleil Show can be seen in New York New York - that called Zumanity which is apparently more risqué than other shows in its books. Again tickets are around $100

As you see l could write a book on the strip hotels - others worth a brief mention include Cesar's Palace - where Celine Deon is currently warbling; Aladdin - a fantastic mall which actually recreates a tropical rain storm; The Mirage - see the Volcano erupt nightly and Treasure Island - where the sirens of Treasure Island perform nightly shows outside on pirate ships.

Trips Outside of Town

I'm will be brief as this tour really deserves a tour of its own. Vegas is a perfect location for visitors to take a day trip out to the Grand Canyon - pass through Boulder City and the Hoover Dam. We did a bus tour and it cost around £85 for each of use but it included a fully guided tour, hotel pickup, stopping for pictures at Hoover Dam, a visit to a range and a horse cart ride with some cowboys; a visit to an Indian reserve, food and of course the Canyon itself. For an addition cost a helicopter tour was available.

The Canyon is mammoth, phenomenal and awe inspiring. The colours are constantly changing and looking down into its vast depth really makes you feel small and insignificant in this world. The trip is highly recommended to all who visit Vegas.

We picked up our trip from a street vendor on the Strip - just down the street from Coca Cola world and Gameworks, in the Grand Canyon Shop - but street vendors are ten a penny. There are numerous trips from a few hours helicopter tour, to boat rides along the famous Colorado River to the romantic champagne and sunset tours, whatever tour you choose believe me you will enjoy it.

Grand Canyon.JPG

Grand Canyon 1.JPG
I hope l have given you a taste of Vegas life - there is really something for everyone whether it is shopping, gambling, food or the shows. Kids will not be disappointed either as lm sure their parents will entertain them! The day trip to the Grand Canyon was fabulous for me and l highly recommend it. An area l didn't go into detail about but is worth a visit is downtown to Freemont Street where the giant canopy covering the street with the animation and visuals every half hour is jaw dropping. It can be seedy but don't let that put you off. Vegas does have its nastys - those handing out flyers for girls to come to your room and the like but ignore it (or not if that's your bag!) just as we did. The buffets are fabulous and l would recommend a champagne brunch at Mirage - delicious with as much bubbly as you can take!

Posted by Purdy 08:50 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A weekend break to Edinburgh

albeit for a family get together

sunny 14 °C

May 6th until May 8th 2006 we were in Edinburgh, Scotland - mainly to see Joanne, Paul and Carys - who was the main focus of the weekend as it was her dedication service on Sunday the 7th May.

We stayed in a travel lodge near Musselborough where Joanne lives, it was handy and had car parking - but that is about it - the facilities were basic, rooms non-descript it stank of stale smoke even though the room was NON smoking, and the Little Chef next door was dire! Still it had a bed and shower!

We did a quick open top bus tour around the city on Monday and whilst quite blustery the sun did shine, and it was a nice way to while away a few hours before heading back to the airport for our Easy jet flight back to Belfast. It took in the major sites and cost £9 for an adult. We hopped on at Ocean Terminal where we were able to park up for free, and hopped off at Princess St so we could grab some food, then back on again for the trip back to Ocean Terminal. There was a pre-recorded voice over giving out local sites and "funny" antedotes! The musical sound track was awful and l think my cat could have sung better!

Edin Castle.JPG


Once back at Ocean Terminal, mum, dad, Lucy, Lynda & Carys decided to wander around the shops whilst Robert, Paul, Joanne & myself went to see the Royal Yatch Britania to while away an hour. It was good enough costing £9 to enter with the remote hand held speakers which gave you a guide in English included in the price also. Britiania.JPG

Mast Royal..itiania.JPG

After this is was a rush back to the airport to drop off the hire car for 5pm and then check in and wait for our quick flight back to Belfast.

Posted by Purdy 08:10 Archived in Scotland Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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