Cantina 1511: A Review

Cantina 1511 is a step up from your typical Mexican fare.  Sure, they still have burritos, tacos, and chimichangas, but they also have dishes that stray from the usual path.  I love Mexican food flavors, but I want my food to be fresh.  Cantina 1511 delivered on freshness and flavor, leaving us satisfied and maybe a little too full from eating too much.  The inside was freezing when we walked in so we asked to sit on the patio.  That ended up being a wonderful idea because the temperature was perfect.  We sat at these cute wrought iron tables in some comfy chairs; the sconce lighting near our table was bad for taking pictures but also nice and subtle for an outdoor, evening dining experience.  Before we ordered, they brought out the obligatory chips and salsa.

Chips and Salsa from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The chips were standard and the salsa’s were good.  The red salsa was a medium/hot traditional tomato salsa and the green salsa was a tomatillo salsa, if I’m not mistaken.  The green salsa had a wonderful depth to it and the kids ate it right up.  I alternated between the two because they were vastly different and I liked them both.

We started our meal off with appetizers. We had just come from fishing and we were starving so we ordered three different appetizers: The Prima Guacamole, the Pigs Wings Carnitas, and the Arepas Con Cerdo.

Tableside Guacamole from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Prima Guacamole was everything you would want in a guacamole.  The flavors were balanced and melded beautifully the longer they sat.  By the end of our meal we were still eating the guacamole because it kept tasting better and better as time went on.

Initially we ordered a slider platter but were told they weren’t offering it so we switched to trying the Pigs Wings Carnitas.  The idea is chicken wings but executed completely differently.  These “wings” are actually petite pork shanks that have been marinated and fried.  The menu says they are tossed in salted orange caramel but I failed to taste those flavors.  I also failed to get a picture.  They came out with two on the plate, one for me and one for my husband.  He really enjoyed them but I probably wouldn’t order them again.  They weren’t bad or anything, I just wasn’t crazy about them.  Definitely something worth trying but once was enough for me to fulfill my curiosity.

Our final appetizer were the Arepas Con Cerdo (corn cakes for my non-Spanish speaking friends):

Arepas Con Cerdo from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Venezuelan corn cakes came out topped with pork, pineapple salsa, and cilantro.  They usually also come drizzled with a habanero crema but we had the put it on the side since we have been eating dairy-free.  The corn cakes were pretty good, though I have to say I have had some I liked more in other places.  The real highlight of these was the fresh pineapple salsa.  I enjoyed them enough to eat 2 of the 5 on the plate.

My husband and I both wanted fish tacos for our entree so we decided to split.  We ordered the Baja Fish Tacos:

Baja Fish Tacos from Cantina 1511 in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

Neat fact about Cantina 1511: If you order tacos you get to pick your shell. They have white corn, flour or crispy corn tortilla shells.  For our tacos we chose the soft white corn shells because I was after a street taco vibe.  The tacos came with rice and beans and a side of slaw.  The tacos themselves were delicious.  The fish was grilled and the fresh catch of the day so I have no idea what type of fish it was.  There was a spicy, sweet mango sauce on the tacos that really took them up a notch.  My mouth was on fire but I couldn’t stop eating them.  The sauce was the kind that the heat of it hits you after the fact.  So, so good!  The black beans and rice were also very good and fresh.  I didn’t taste the slaw but honestly didn’t need to.  The entree was exactly what I needed to cure my Mexican food craving.

The kids ordered cheese quesadillas which I didn’t bother to snap a picture of because they were very bland looking.  They ate everything on their plates, so I am sure it would pass the kid test.  Upon leaving my daughter asked me if we could please go back again, so I consider it a win.  I am very happy to have found a Mexican restaurant that passes the test; On The Border was no longer cutting it.  We will be back to try more things and when we do, you guys will be the first to hear about it!  Until then, if you find yourself in Charlotte, make your way there and try it for yourself.  You will leave there glad that you did.

 

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Firebirds Wood Fired Grill: A Review

The Saturday evening before Mother’s Day we went out for dinner.  The thought process was we would celebrate my Mother’s Day Saturday night and my mother-in-law’s Mother’s Day on Sunday.  We headed to 131 Main and were told it would be a 45 minute wait.  Yikes! No thanks, it was already 8:30 and I didn’t want to take up my entire night.  We also noticed some prom dresses so I was sure we could find a less packed place to eat.  We then decided to try our luck at Cantina 1511.  We arrived to find they were closed for the night with a private party booking.  They were apologetic and even gave us free guacamole coupons which will be used!  Right next door sat Firebirds Wood Fired Grill.  We had eaten there before a few years ago and remembered that we liked it well enough so we went for it.  When we walked in the restaurant was busy but no one was waiting.  The hostess told us there was a 35-45 minute wait and I was baffled.  As we turned to leave they called out to us and told us a bar area table had just opened up if we wanted to sit there.  We were fine with that and told them we would wait for them to clean it off.  As the lady is cleaning the table a man walks up and sits down; first come, first serve.  And just like that we were out of a table.  Good luck must have been on our side though, because then the hostess told us that there was an available table on the patio.  We accepted the table and were seated immediately.  So just like that a supposed 35 minute wait turned into a 2 minute wait.  I’m not sure what the motive was since there were no people actually waiting to be seated but I decided to write it off and move on.

Once seated the waitress showed up fairly quickly and we placed our orders.  The first thing that came out was the bread and it took awhile.

Bread at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

It was crispy on the outside and soft and warm inside.  My husband made the comment that it was good and I have to agree.  Some bread at restaurants can be disappointing; this one was not the best bread I have had but it was better than a lot of chain restaurant bread.  If I had to compare it I’d say it’s a step up from Outback bread and a step down from Del Frisco’s bread.  Next up we ordered two appetizers for sharing: the Smoked Chicken Wings and the Jalapeno Deviled Eggs.

Smoked Chicken Wings at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

We have found that the best way to order wings is with the sauce on the side.  The wings come out crispier and if the sauce isn’t the best you can forgo it.  These wings were very good. There was very little fat and they were a generous size.  The buffalo sauce was tangy but lacked any heat; you won’t find me complaining though, because the flavor was legit.  Bonus points for the celery being some of the freshest I’ve come across in a restaurant.  Also, the blue cheese dressing had a very homemade quality to it- not sure if it was but it tasted like it!

Jalapeno Deviled Eggs at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The Jalapeno Deviled Eggs were tasty with some modifications made.  I ate the first one with the jalapeno and it lit my mouth on fire.  I love spice and handle heat well and this was a tad bit much.  I ate the subsequent eggs without the jalapenos.  The good news is, the eggs didn’t need them anyway; they were good all by themselves- even the kids agreed.  I tasted the cole slaw served underneath them and it was decent as far as cole slaw goes.  The lines of sriracha on the plate seemed like overkill and out of place so I left that alone.

The kids meals came out next, about a minute before the adult entrees.  My daughter got the Macaroni and cheese with Fresh Fruit and Mashed Potatoes on the side. My son ordered the Cheeseburger with Fresh Fruit and French Fries.

Kids Macaroni and Cheese Meal at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

My daughter loved the macaroni and cheese and the fruit.  She told me she didn’t want to eat the mashed potatoes because they were lumpy and cold.  I went to try them for myself and when I stuck my fork in them to get a bite, that entire blob you see up there came off the plate in one big piece.  Kid you not.  For your sakes I tried them anyway and found that they were lukewarm and void of flavor- no seasoning at all.  On a positive note, I am almost positive they are real potatoes.

Kids Cheeseburger Meal at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

I did not taste my son’s food but he ate it all without complaint.  I’ll take that as a win.

My husband and I split the Filet Mignon with a side of Spiced Pecan Green Beans.  We ordered our steak medium and it was cooked to perfection.

Filet Mignon at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Charlotte, NC | www.adventuresquared.com

The steak was bacon wrapped and I was able to detect the subtle flavor that it added.  The green beans were out of this world as far as vegetables are concerned.  The spice mixture used on them with the pecans added in really took the whole idea of green beans up a notch.  I now want to recreate those green beans at home and serve them <strike>for Thanksgiving</strike>  all the time.  Kudos to Firebirds for splitting our meal up before bringing it out.  It always makes me happy to find restaurants that do this because to me it shows quality customer service and an eye for detail.

Food-wise Firebirds is pretty much on par with flavors and execution.  Service-wise, I’d say they have some work to do.  In addition to the wait time snafu, our waitress also left us wishing for more.  She was nice but not very attentive.  Our drinks sat empty through three trips to our table until, on the fourth trip, she brought refills.  Upon leaving I asked twice for to-go drinks for my kids and never received them.  These are small things but definitely factor in to my overall views of the restaurant.  Overall, I was pleased with Firebirds.  I left there satisfied and knowing I would be back.

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Viva Las Vegas (Part Two- Exploring)

My husband and I loved Las Vegas so much we had to go back.  On our second trip we had time to do whatever we wanted since it wasn’t work related.  We vowed to explore more of Las Vegas while also keeping some of our favorites on the schedule.  We stayed at the Wynn again in the same type of room and had the same amazing views as before.  Before booking though, I used the advice I had seen floating around the web to book a lesser room and then when checking in give the clerk a $20 bill and ask for an upgraded room.  We were a bit skeptical if this trick would actually work, but it did!  We got boosted up one room category which was nice.

This time around our trip fell on my husband’s birthday so we booked a couples massage at a highly rated place, Boracay Massage.  The ladies did a wonderful job and we will go back there again the next time we are in Vegas.  On the way there we really got a chance to look at the surrounding mountains and made the decision to visit Red Rock Canyon.  Red Rock Canyon isn’t too far out of the way and had good reviews so we set aside some time to check it out ourselves.  It was beautiful.  I think one thing that drew me to it was that it was so different from what I am accustomed to.  I saw people walking down into caves and crevices, but we just drove the loop in the park and found that we were able to get some beautiful pictures and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  I had many more pictures but I lost them when changing phones so the three below are from my husband’s phone; hopefully you can get a good idea of the beauty.

Las Vegas, Nevada: Red Rock Canyon | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada: Red Rock Canyon | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada: Red Rock Canyon | www.adventuresquared.com

After visiting the park we headed back to the Wynn to get ready for dinner.  For my husband’s birthday dinner we chose to dine at Top of the World.  The restaurant rotates in a complete circle as you eat, giving you views of every angle of the city.  The truly stunning part was when the sun was setting and the lights of Vegas started lighting up the night…

Las Vegas, Nevada :Top of the World nightview | www.adventuresquared.com

We also got to see people jumping off the side of the building in front of us as we ate.  Such a neat experience and the food was very good.  It was nice to have both good food and a beautiful view as we celebrated my husband turning one year older.

Another awesome thing that happened this trip was that we were able to completely pay for it with our winnings.  We are not huge gamblers, mainly playing for fun.  We went into this trip with a set budget- $100 for slots and $500 for sports bets.  We made enough at the sports book to pay for our plane tickets and hotel stay so it was like we never even went on vacation.  Slots paid dividends because we walked away with $300 and a ton of food comps in the hotel.  It was a lot of fun but we are always sure to set a budget and stick with it no matter what.  We were willing to lose that $600 but no more than that.  Also, for some people, gambling can become a serious problem- know yourself well enough to know if this is you and stay away.

One last nugget of information: Halloween is interesting.  We saw so many costumes- even a pope and nuns!  We spent Halloween sitting in a restaurant in the hotel just watching people.  You can really see some bizarre things in Las Vegas on Halloween.  We had so much fun and I can not wait to go back!  Next time we have plans to visit the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.  Vegas really can’t be beat since there is something different at every turn.

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Maui, Hawaii (Part Two)

For Maui, Hawaii (Part One) click here.

If I thought the scenery of Maui was beautiful at the resort, I was in for a real treat when we hit the open road.  The camera can’t really capture how breathtaking the views really are.  On one side of the road there are these rolling mountains in the most vibrant shade of green, while on the other side of the road you see the ocean and other islands in the distance.  Driving was difficult because the views distract you from what you are doing.  Thankfully we found some places where you could pull over to see the view and take pictures.

Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com

We took the pictures above on our way to visit the Maui Ocean Center.  The Maui Ocean Center is basically a small aquarium and we were excited to go check it out and see some native fish species.  We got through it all pretty quickly, I’d say it took us an hour at most but we really enjoyed ourselves.

Maui Ocean Center Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui Ocean Center Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui Ocean Center Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui Ocean Center Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com

Maui Ocean Center Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com

We were hungry by that point so we set out to find some deliciousness and landed ourselves at a food truck called The Shark Pit.  Sadly, I failed to get photos of The Shark Pit and the food they served.  I can tell you that it was the best thing I ate in Maui and all of the food I ate was good.  The Shark Pit serves fish tacos and burgers.  We went for the burger because they had run out of fresh fish for the day and while I wish I could have tried the tacos, the burger was outstanding.  I didn’t really know what I had gotten myself into when my burger arrived complete with a purple bun, but I wasn’t disappointed.  The burger easily made its way into my top five burger list.  The Shark Pit also gets bonus points because of the customer service.

After eating we decided to explore the little town of Lahaina near our resort.  Lahaina is a very cute town and a great place to spend some time shopping.  We found a neat little area with shops of all different kinds.  I stopped into a shop where you can mix and match your own bath salts and had to make some really hard decisions on how much to buy because they all smelled so good.  Next door to that I found a local artist’s gallery and fell in love with his paintings.  You can see his work here.  I wish I had purchased a print while I was there but I didn’t thinking about fitting it in my carry-on.  After browsing the stores and buying a bracelet or two we were ready for something sweet and made our way to Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.  I had read all of the reviews about this place before we arrived and it was one of my top things we had to experience.  There were so many flavors to choose from but we eventually narrowed them down and got our shave ice.  It was perfect.  Not too sweet and just the right amount of flavor.  Also, get the snow cap, you won’t regret it.

From there we spent the rest of the day hanging out at the resort and just enjoying life.  We began dreaming about how it would feel to live in Maui full time.  I think that was the point Maui had officially stolen our hearts.  Here are some more pictures of that beautiful island:

Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com Maui, Hawaii | www.adventuresquared.com

One other really cool thing I noticed in Maui is that the ocean never looked the same from day-to-day.  One day it was deep blue, the next day it would be sparkling like diamonds, and yet the next day it would be more turquoise.  Same with the hills; one day there would be cloud cover and the next day it would be so clear you could see to the tops of the mountains.  Maui is stunning.

The fun didn’t stop there.  Be sure to come back to read about our experiences seeing the whales and going to a luau!

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Orlando, Florida (Part Two)

We spent our second day exploring Epcot in Disney World.  The weather was significantly better than the day before and we took full advantage of it. Once again, we chose not to adhere to the advice to arrive early and instead had a leisurely breakfast at the house.  We got to Epcot before noon, excited to explore.

Orlando, Florida Epcot | www.adventuresquared.com

We immediately started looking for rides and attractions; the following is what we personally got to experience:

  • Soarin’ This may be one of the coolest rides around.  There is a movie playing that your seat moves along with in a flying motion all while you can smell the scenery in the film.  The smell part is what made me love this ride so much.
  • Test Track We rode this one multiple times.  You get to design your car and then take a super fast lap on the track.  This was one of the most fun rides we came across.
  • Mission: Space If this ride is really an indicator of what it is like to go to space, I am not sure I’d want to.  There are two versions you can pick for this ride; intense (orange) or less intense (green).  We tried both and they were worlds apart.  If you have small kids I would steer clear of the orange side because when they say intense, they mean it.  The motion sickness was real.  Having said that, the kids loved the green version and asked to ride it again.
  • Living With The Land We took this gentle boat ride with no expectations, but we were blown away in the end.  We saw all manner of things being grown and learned a lot all while getting a break from walking.  It wasn’t overly crowded and ended up being one of our favorite things in the park.
  • Circle of Life This is another attraction we found by chance and enjoyed.  It is a movie about animals so if you like that kind of thing, this is for you.

We ate an expensive lunch in the France part of Epcot where we learned that all of the staff within that restaurant were French!  My mind was temporarily blown at this nugget of information; I thought that was a neat touch.  The food was good but not worth the money and we found that to be true of most of the places within the park.  Granted, we did not eat at any of the places I had on my list so it could be chalked up to poor planning on my part.  We ended our day with a delicious hot chocolate as we left the park.

Orlando, Florida Epcot | www.adventuresquared.com

The next day we went to the mall in Orlando with two missions in mind: 1. Find a reasonably priced princess dress and 2. Get Carly’s ears pierced.  We found a Belle dress that looked every bit as good as the ones in the parks but for about half the price.  We also got her ears pierced at the Piercing Pagoda and they did a wonderful job.  We have not had any issues with her ear piercings at all.  After wearing stick on earrings for months, she was so happy to have real earrings.

Orlando, Florida Ears Pierced | www.adventuresquared.com

After the mall we headed to Sea World.  We arrived there later in the day and it was hot, hot, hot.  The only thing we managed to do was walk around, eat, and catch the main show.  We sat in the dry area because we are boring.  The orca’s and the show were amazing!

Orlando, Florida Sea World | www.adventuresquared.comOrlando, Florida Sea World | www.adventuresquared.com

Stay tuned for Part Three!!

 

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Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar- Review

When I first heard of Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar I thought it was weird.  I mean, sushi and burgers together?  Who does that?  Not me.  Despite that though, I somehow ended up there and it is now a highly frequented place by our little family.  They can become busy on the weekends and at peak hours so I try to go during other times.  The following review is based on my experience at the Charlotte location.

What can you expect to find at Cowfish?  Some oddities, that’s for sure; great food is a good bet as well.  The details are really nailed down in this restaurant from the artwork to the food.  There are some really interesting pictures hanging on the walls that I can safely say you probably haven’t seen before.  The fun continues into the bathroom where there is a never-ending loop of recorded conversation in various accents and languages.  While those things grab my interest, the real reason I keep coming back is for the food.  The menu is vast and offers the typical fare one would expect (sushi and burgers) as well as other things like salads and milkshakes.  The most unique thing they offer is Burgushi.  Burgushi is what happens when sushi meets a burger.  Trust me, it is better than it sounds.  Think of it as a burger shaped into the look of sushi.  It is a definite must try at least once.

Having tried a lot of different things on the menu, I can attest to the fact that it is hard to go wrong no matter what you pick.  I have, however, found a few favorites.  For an appetizer I recommend getting the Mini Burgers of the week.  Each week Cowfish features a different mini burger appetizer made in the style one of their regular-sized burgers.  Insider tip: Cowfish will make any style of mini burger you want when you order this appetizer regardless of what the feature is that week.  I usually pick the Texas Longhorn style for my mini burgers and it never disappoints.

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Texas Longhorn Mini Burgers | www.adventuresquared.com

For my entree I always roll with sushi.  There is one sushi roll that I get every time I go to Cowfish: the North Hills Roll.  It consists of tempura coconut shrimp, cucumber, cilantro, avocado, mango, cashews and eel sauce.  I always ask for a side of ponzu sauce to complete it.  I have tried almost every sushi roll on the menu and this one is the best!

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: North Hills Roll | www.adventuresquared.com

If I am eating at Cowfish with my husband, which I usually am, we will get one of the entree salads to split.  Usually we get the Grilled Salmon Salad, but to switch things up we recently tried the Seared Tuna Arugula Salad.  It had seared sesame tuna over arugula with Peruvian sweet peppers, carrots, hearts of palm, snow peas, artichokes, olives, and tomatoes tossed with a citrus soy dressing.  I would go with this salad if I wanted a smaller portion; the Grilled Salmon Salad would be a good choice if you were looking for something more filling.

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Seared Arugula Tuna Salad | www.adventuresquared.com

I would be remiss not to mention the kids meals.  Cowfish stands out when it comes to kids meals.  They offer so much more than the standard kids menu fare.  Sure, the usual choices are still there (chicken nuggets and burgers) but they also offer a california roll, shrimp tempura roll, and a PB&J roll. Also, the burgers in the kids meal are just as delicious as the appetizer version.  How could they not be when they are served on Hawaiian rolls?  Side dish choices, of which your child gets to choose two of, include edamame, apples, carrots, oranges, and fries. Dessert is a rice krispy treat topped with a Swedish fish.  All of this is served bento box style, complete with a tattoo for extra fun!

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Shrimp Tempura Kids Meal | www.adventuresquared.comCowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Kids Mini Burgers | www.adventuresquared.com

Cowfish is the perfect restaurant because there is something for everyone.  The food is fresh, the service is impeccable, and you leave there feeling truly satisfied.  If you find yourself in Charlotte, Raleigh, Atlanta, or Orlando, do yourself a favor and find your way to Cowfish.  The only regret I have concerning this place is that I didn’t find it sooner.

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South of the Border

My friend Selena and I kind of got into a fun routine of finding funky, unusual things and places to take our kids to see.  South of the Border is hands down one of the weirdest, most random places we happened upon.  Situated in South Carolina, not far from North Carolina (get it? South of the Border?), is a town that gives Speedy Gonzales a run for his money.  Picture this… You are driving along a typical southern highway, trees and road on either side; monotonous, really.  You round a bend in the highway and BAM!  Out of nowhere, this is what you see:

I can’t even lie, when I first saw it I was dumbstruck.  What is this place?  Why is it here?  I will admit that I wasn’t sure I wanted to get out of my car, but I am so glad I did.  We made memories that day that will last a lifetime (unlike the sombrero magnet I got as a souvenir that broke within the week).

Most of the attractions were shut down the day we went- not sure if it was the temperature, the season, or if they were broken.  No matter, there was still fun to be had.  We took the time to enjoy the many statues by taking pictures with them.

When we got hungry we went to the only place I could see, which was a small little diner.  It consisted of your basic, run of the mill hotdogs, hamburgers, and french fries.  The best part? The prices were out of this world.  I think I spent maybe $12 to feed me and two kids.  Unheard of.

After eating we made our way across the street to a beach store.  Beach store you may ask?  Yes!  A Myrtle Beach store to be exact, and being totally honest here, not a very good one.  Surprisingly, this is where we had most of our fun.  The kids found some interesting toys in there and in the back of the store there was a huge shark.  Very odd place to come across a beach store but that is part of what made it so fun.

After that we looked around town a bit more, played in an arcade for a little bit and eventually headed home.  If you live in South Carolina or some parts of North Carolina, this would be a neat trip to take for a quick getaway.  They had some rides and a reptile exhibit we were unable to see, but they looked like a good time.  I guarantee you won’t soon forget this place and you will definitely find some fun if you keep an open mind.  I’ll leave you with some more shots of this quirky town before I go…

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Viva Las Vegas (Part One- The Wynn)

If you are anything like me, not really a gambler or a party person, then you may be thinking that Las Vegas is the last place you would want to go.  I had that mindset; Vegas wasn’t even on my radar.  Honestly, when I thought of it I kind of had images of slummy, seedy parts of town with people that fit that description to go along with it.  I’m sure all of those episodes of Cops set in Las Vegas didn’t help.  My ideas about Las Vegas had to be pushed to the wayside when my husband won a trip to there through work. We boarded a plane, resolute in the fact we would be stuck on it for about 4 hours.

Las Vegas, Nevada | www.adventuresquared.com

I am not a person who gets motion sickness but on this particular plane ride I was sure I was going to be sick.  By the time the plane touched down my head was swimming and my stomach was rolling.  It took an hour or so for the feeling to completely vanish but thankfully it did.  After arriving we were taken to our hotel on a bus to check-in.  I should mention that at this point I was in awe.  This was my first trip out west and I don’t know what I was expecting, but the mountains that served as the backdrop to Vegas wasn’t it.  I had no idea Las Vegas had such beautiful surroundings.  We have mountains where I grew up but these were completely different; I am used to trees and these mountains were all rock.

If I thought the scenery was amazing, I was in for a real treat when I saw the hotel.  We were lucky enough to stay at the Wynn.  When we walked through the door the first thing that I noticed was the opulence of the place.  There’s rich, and then there’s rich.  This place was rich.  No detail had been overlooked in the design of this hotel.  From the floors to the ceilings, everything was tastefully, expensively outfitted.  I knew then that we were about to have a luxurious weekend.

Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com

Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com

We got a Tower room overlooking parts of the Strip and the views went on forever.  It was really something to be able to see the city with the mountains behind it.  I must have sat at the window taking it all in for 45 minutes.

Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com

Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com

We decided to go exploring in the hotel and grab some dinner while we were at it. During our exploration we perused the casino floor.  This was our first time in a casino so we were kind of dumb when it came to the ins and outs of everything.  We happened upon a slot machine with a Cleopatra theme and thought we would give it a go.  We put a $5 bill in the machine and pressed a button without knowing how the machine even worked.  I push of a button and we won $500!  I thought the machine was broken or lying to us at the very least.  However, after flagging someone down, we figured out how to print the ticket and take it to the window to get the cash.  We were very broke during this time in our lives and that $500 was a huge deal to us; we were able to pay a bill we weren’t going to be able to pay.  That was the only time we gambled on that trip- we took our money and we were happy.

Right to the side of the casino floor was my favorite area we found in the hotel.  It was what I call a flower garden.  The smells coming off of the flowers were incredible.  It really added a freshness to the atmosphere.  It really felt like something out of a fairy tale.  I have been on the hunt for a scent that mimics the scent those flowers gave off, but so far no luck.

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During our exploration, we found a variety of restaurants that we ate at during the remainder of our stay.  Our favorite (no longer there) was a small cafe tucked away down one of the hallways; they served pizza and gelato, among many other things.

We ate at the following places:

  • Zoozacrackers Deli (permanently closed)
  • Terrace Pointe Cafe
  • The Buffet
  • The cafe I mentioned earlier and don’t know the name of
  • Old Homestead Steakhouse (Caesar’s Palace)

The food was delicious every place we dined at.  We got to eat mouth-watering food such as chicken and waffles, pork benedict, and steak and eggs.  The little cafe we found that served pizza had the best pizza; crunchy crust, gooey cheese, and prime pepperoni.  It was simple but delectable at the same time.  Getting full was not a problem here.

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When we weren’t busy stuffing ourselves with food we were attending work related functions and sightseeing.  Vegas has a lot to see- just look!

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We didn’t have time to see everything but we vowed we would be coming back so that we could.  If not for my husband winning that trip, I would never have discovered my love for Las Vegas.  It is such an unexpectedly beautiful place that is full of fun for anyone, no matter your individual preferences.  And before I go, what good would a write-up on Las Vegas be without any night-time shots of the lights?

Las Vegas, Nevada The Wynn | www.adventuresquared.com

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How I Switched from Drinking Sweet Tea to Unsweet Tea

I have lived in the south my entire life.  If there is one thing that goes with the south it is sweet tea.  I grew up drinking sweet tea and it became a staple for me.  When we would go out to dinner I would order it, when our families had get-togethers we would drink it, and sometimes we would make it at home just because we wanted to.  The sweetness of the tea really hinges on personal preference but it can also have a lot to do with what part of the south you live in.  When I drank sweet tea I preferred mine to be lighter on the sweetened side (about 1-1.5 c. sugar per gallon of tea) while some of my friends liked to drink their tea with double the amount of sugar as me.  It was the varying degrees of sweetness that led me to make the change from sweet to unsweet.

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I don’t remember the restaurant I was at when it happened but I do remember asking for half sweet/half unsweet tea.  It was perfection.  Eventually that even became too sweet for my tastebuds so I then asked for unsweet tea and I added my own sugar to it.  I liked Sugar in the Raw so I tried to keep some packets on my person in case I was somewhere that didn’t carry it.  I started with two packets per glass and when they would refill the tea there was usually some residual sugar in the bottom of the glass so I refrained from adding any extra.  Once I got used to two packets, I cut back to one packet.  After a couple weeks of that I stopped with the packets altogether and have been sugar free with my tea ever since.

One thing I will tell you is that when you go sugar free with your tea you will finally be able to taste the flavor of the actual tea.  It will become quickly apparent that most places serve low quality, cheap tea.  The flavors of these teas can be bitter with undertones of cigarettes and burnt flavors.  The best unsweet tea I have been able to find is served at Chick-fil-A.  Try their tea first and use it as a measuring stick above all others.  If you are brewing at home, throw out the Lipton and Luzianne and go get yourself some Tetley tea.  Tetley has no weird after taste and is as refreshing as they come.

How I Switched from Drinking Sweet Tea to Unsweet Tea | www.adventuresquared.com

Cutting out the sugar from my drinks has dramatically changed my tastebuds.  I can no longer tolerate sweet tea; if someone serves it to me accidentally I can’t drink it and it usually ends up untouched.  If you would have told me I would ever be drinking my tea without sugar I would have said you were crazy, but here I am.  I have been drinking unsweet tea exclusively now for 3-4 years and there is no going back.

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Myrtle Beach

The first beach trip I can remember was when I was four years old.  We went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  I only have one distinct memory of the trip and that was of me swimming in the ocean while my family and the lifeguard stood on the shore screaming for me to come back in closer.  I had just learned to swim and the ocean seemed like a fine place to practice my newly acquired skills.  I did come back to shore and was chastised by my family and told not to go in past my knees.  Following that trip I have found myself at Myrtle Beach at least ten more times.

In the past five years, I have stayed at 3 different hotels in Myrtle Beach; the Landmark Resort, the Springmaid Beach Resort (now a DoubleTree by Hilton), and a Fairfield Inn close to Broadway at the Beach.  Out of those three, the only one I would suggest staying at would be the Springmaid.  The other two were outdated and the pools were, for lack of a better word, gross.  Since becoming a DoubleTree, the Springmaid has been off of my radar simply because pricing jumped from $99/night to $250+/night.  This year I will be going back to Myrtle Beach and staying at a new-to-me condo in the Sea Watch Resort– report to follow.  Regardless of where you stay in Myrtle Beach, remember one thing: If you like noise and partying head south, if you like peace and solitude with a more family feel head north.

One reason Myrtle Beach has become such a popular destination is because there is a never-ending supply of places to go and things to do other than play on the beach.  Rainy day? No problem, you will find plenty to do indoors.  Myrtle Beach is home to a myriad of Ripley’s attractions, dinner shows, and fun and unique places like Wonder Works.  I have been to the Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach and honestly I was a little bit underwhelmed, but most  people seem to really love it.  This year we will be making stops at the Skywheel, Wonder Works, and the Pirate’s Voyage Dinner & Show.

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Another fun (and somewhat tacky) thing to do in Myrtle Beach is shopping in the beach stores.  These stores are gold.  You can find clothing, souvenirs, and much more in these places.  Usually we spend a lot of time perusing them because it can be downright fun to try on different hats or read some of the things on the merchandise.  Word of caution: If you have kids that have begun reading and really grasping the world around them, be aware that there are some raunchy things inside most of these beach stores.  Be prepared to have your child ask you “Hey mom, what is this”?

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After all of the activities, I am sure you will be hungry.  Myrtle Beach has a ton of dining options from seafood buffets to fine dining steakhouses.  There are 2 chain restaurants I visit every time I go; Cheeseburger in Paradise and Dickey’s BBQ.  The kids enjoy Cheeseburger in Paradise for the coloring activities and the ambience and I enjoy Dickey’s because the food is legitimately good and the prices are on point.

We tried out Crabby Mike’s Seafood Buffet last year and while the food was pretty good, the atmosphere left a lot to be desired.  For money saving and to make it easier when the kids are with me, I usually have breakfast and lunch at the hotel.  This past year we utilized the free breakfast at the hotel.  After having fun at the beach we came back to the hotel, made sandwiches with fruit and chips, and then the kids swam for hours.  We always have dinner out because who wants to cook on vacation? Not me.

So, as you can see, Myrtle Beach is ripe with possibilities.  If you guys know of any places I need to see or eat at on my upcoming trip let me know in the comments.  I would love to try some new places.

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