Thursday, February 26, 2009

Las Vegas - This is the time to go!

In February, Warren and I spent the weekend in Las Vegas. It was a last minute decision and a good one at that. We got to get away from the snow, and because things are slow in Vegas we had some great opportunities!

We stayed at the MGM Hotel and Casino for the first time this weekend. Warren likes to play there but we haven't stayed there before. We missed our connecting flight through San Francisco due to weather in Toronto and didn't arrive in Vegas until after midnight. Our ride wasn't there and we were worried that we wouldn't get the room we were promised.

When we arrived at the MGM, we checked in quickly and went to our suite. So you know when you watch movies that are set in Vegas and the characters are staying in suites - well we ended up in one. We were in a Terrace suite, overlooking New York Now York and the strip. It had a beautiful 700 square foot balcony with a jacuzzi and lounge chairs.
Here is the video I did to show you how great it was.

To be honest, it was amazing staying in this suite. However, it is time for them to be updated. You will see in the video some tiles coming off around the tub.

Regardless it was great!

We didn't have many troubles making reservations at any of our favorite restaurants. Saturday night was busy with bachelor and bachelorette parties. But that was is. Taxi lines weren't too bad (which is how we judge how busy vegas is).

I didn't have to wait long to get on a poker table. Oh and by the way, MGM is now my favorite poker room. They have daily 11 am tournaments for $65 and the dealers were great! Their room is comfortable and I spent alot of time there!

The lions of course are fun to watch - get there for 11 am to see them come into their area. You usually get to see them more active then.

We ate at 'wichcraft - one of my favorite sandwich places and Wolfgang Puck - who were awesome as we had less than an hour to eat - we had tickets for Craig Ferguson - who by the way, was the best stand up comic I have seen in years!

The hotel was easy to get around - the pools looked lovely - hard to see for sure as most were closed.

Overall we enjoyed the MGM Grand and will stay there again.

We are always looking for new restaurants to try in Vegas - please share your favorite here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Andy and Michelle's Wedding at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - Day 3 Continued

Go back to beginning of Day 3

So what did we forget? Well let's see, Rings - check, Officiator - check, wedding party - check, hmmm, marriage license - OH NO - that was still in the safe in Michelle and Andy's room. So I took off my heels - put on my flats - grabbed Kyle and off we sprinted back to the Rainbow Tower for the marriage license!

Thank you Kyle for remembering the safe code and room number!

After our little sprint, we were ready. The wedding planner escorted the officiator, Andy and the guests to the gazebo to prepare for the ceremony.

We all took our positions and waited for Hannah, then Michelle and Kyle to walk down the stairs to the gazebo.

Wow what a beautiful bride. I could see that glint (aka tear) in Andy's eye as he saw Michelle for the first time!

Michelle took her place beside Andy for the ceremony. It was intimate, personal and perfect.

The officiator was awesome. He performed wonderfully and was relaxed and just all around great.

Michelle and Andy did the sand ceremony which just made the ceremony that more romantic.

They said their vows and then came the kiss. And what a kiss it was!

Next came Andy's vows to Kyle and they were pronounced a family!

Kyle looks happy doesn't he?

After some photos at the gazebo it was off the the beach we went for more photos. Kyle's feet started to hurt and he was adorable as he ran around the beach in his socks!

The ambience at the beach was amazing. Not only were there beachcombers and people enjoying the beach. There were even some ukalele players. The pictures were awesome and we got to enjoy the beginning of the sunset.

After the pictures at the beach we walked to the Bali by the Sea. Andy, Michelle and Kyle did the cake cutting ceremony for the pictures and we were ready for dinner.

The restaurant set up a beautiful table and Michelle picked an awesome menu. The chef then outdid himself! The food was the best of the trip.

The Maui Onion Soup was to die for and the wedding cake was amazing.

To top it all off the chef sent out erupting Diamond Head truffle chocolate desserts. We had to video it because it was just too cool!

After a wonderful dinner, we went for a drink at the Tapa Bar. There were lots of people enjoying the local band. Andy and Michelle got a dance and Michelle through her bouquet into the crowd. Ironically enough the girl who caught it was engaged by the end of her Hawaiian holiday! I guess Andy and Michelle inspire love and commitment!

After a long day we were off to bed! It was - in the words of Andy's dad - the most romantic wedding!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Andy and Michelle's Wedding at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - Day 3 - Wedding Day!

Missed Day 2? - Getting ready for the wedding and dinner the night before

Day 3 of our trip to the Hilton Hawaiian Village was Andy and Michelle's wedding day!
The girls and the guys decided to eat breakfast separately (the bride really shouldn't see the groom before the wedding!) We had a great girls breakfast and a nice chat. Michelle was a little nervous that morning, but after a text from her groom and a call from back home, she was calm and ready to get married!

I had a hair appointment at 11, so of to the Mandara Spa in the Kalia Tower I went. They were great in there. The staff were friendly and listened to what I wanted. I hated my hair - but I figured if everyone told me it looked nice then I would believe them. Afterall I am the worse judge of my own hair - lol - don't worry it didn't look like this in the end!

Hannah came in a little after me to have curls put in her hair and a flower for her role as flower girl.
Tip: If you are getting married while in a resort - work into your budget a trip to the salon to get ready - it was simple and made the day go easier!
Then Michelle's mom and finally Michelle. Since I was done earlier I went to check on the boys who were enjoying their morning by the pool - ahhh isn't it nice to be men and not have all the primping and getting ready to do? Just jump in the shower and it is done!

After some sushi with the boys at Hatsuhana I was off to get my stuff and meet Michelle at the hair salon.
Sure enough she was ready so we walked back to her room to get her ready.

The boys got ready in our room - Kyle got to have a bath in the funky bath and the boys took it easy until it was time to go the the chapel.

After a small "I hate my hair" breakdown - again remember it is better to let other people decide whether or not your hair looks good - and a glass of champagne - she put her dress on and was the most beautiful bride!
So after a lovely gathering of dressed up ladies, off to the chapel we went.

Warren and I were constantly in communication to keep the bride and groom apart. It is a large resort - but not that large!

We made it to the bride's room in the chapel and I texted Warren to say all was clear.

The boys arrived and we were ready to go... or were we?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Andy and Michelle's Wedding at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - Day 2

Missed Day 1? Click here.

On Day 2 of our wedding adventure, we met for breakfast again with Andy and Michelle. This was the morning before their wedding.

They brought down some quiz books that some friends of Michelle had given her as a bridal shower gift. They were how well do you know your bride and how well do you know your groom. Andy and Michelle asked us if we would go through and see how they answered each question.

Michelle pegged almost EVERY question! Andy - not so much - lol - but to be honest I think that is the difference between men and women. It's just how it is! To Andy's defense he got the ones that mattered!

So Michelle and I had to go and do some shopping down in the Main Street area the Waikiki, because we had to pick up a couple more things for her wedding. One of which was something to do the sand ceremony with. The sand ceremony is where Michelle has a jar of sand that represents Michelle, and a separate jar of sand that represents Andy, are poured into a common container at the sand ceremony. See Sand Video here.

We decided that a couple of shells would be perfect as this was a Hawaiian ceremony and it was a perfect symbol. It was something that Michelle and Andy could take home and have it on display in their home, as a reminder of their perfect day.

While we were shopping and walking around, we were getting a little tired and hungry, Michelle said why don't we get an ice cream and I asked, "have you tried Cold Stone Creamery?".

She said "no, I haven't should I?" and I said, "you haven't lived until you have eaten at Cold Stone Creamery!" We had found Cold Stone Creamery on our visit to Hawaii last summer. So off we went and splurged on a Peanut Butter Cup Perfection and a custom made banana chocolate concoction in a waffle dish. We declared this to be Michelle's Hen Party as she didn't have one before!

We wandered back to the hotel and had a great chat!

Next I was excited to see Michelle's dress. We stopped in to see the boys - who were sitting at the pool bar working on Andy's vows. And ran into Kyle and Hannah (Michelle's son and niece). They had spent the morning with Michelle's sister - Shara - at Pearl Harbor. I had promised them we would go swimming today so we made a date to go swimming after I went up to see Michelle's dress.

Michelle's dress was beautiful and perfect for a Hawaii wedding! She was having some leaking in closet/bathroom from the room above and was worried about her dress. She was told by the maintenance guy that apparently it is common for people to hang dresses etc. on the sprinkler system. This causes the sprinkler to go off - which will end up ruining anything hung on the sprinkler - Tip - don't hang stuff on the sprinkler!!!!

So off to get ready for swimming with Kyle and Hannah. We met up and started in the ocean on Waikiki Beach. It was kind of rocky and a little scary for the kids. They also saw a fish - it had a large black spiny fin that went up when you went near it. This scared them enough that we decided to check out the Lagoon.

Note: the beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village is the widest strech of Waikiki Beach. I prefered the beach in front of the Sheraton Hotels. It was narrower, but there was more sand - so it was more comfortable. Also it wasn't as rocky.
Note: The Hilton has done a great thing here. They created the Lagoon on their property. It is a great place for kids as it is like the ocean but also like a big pool. There is no current and the water seemed warmer - could have been in my mind but it seemed like it.

We had a great time playing in the water and playing with the kids. But as all fun time must come to an end, we had to go back to our rooms to get ready for dinner. We were all having dinner together at the Village Steakhouse and Seafood restaurant.

This was our first dinner together - all 10 of us that were here for the wedding (Andy, Michelle and Kyle, Andy's mom and Dad - Dorothy and Greg, Michelle's Sister - Shara, her niece - Hannah, her mom - Etta, and Warren and I). We had the pleasure of meeting Andy's parents for the first time. They were lovely people and we were so happy to exchange travel stories and get to know them.

We had asked to sit outside as the restaurant had a lovely verandah. They were able to accommodate us, especially as it wasn't too busy. They gave us a beautiful table right at the end of the rainbow tower on the main floor, which was on a balcony overlooking the ocean, the boardwalk and the Lagoon. As the evening wore on though, the wind picked up and it got quite cool and we ended up having dessert inside. The food was good, but the service was slow and seemed disorganized.

I had the seafood - scallops and shrimp with rice, and I had calamari to start. The calamari is sounded a little nicer than what it was, essentially it was justfried calamari. And I was hoping that it would be more than that. Others had salads and were quite happy with them. Some people enjoyed the Mahi Mahi and others had steak. As for dessert - Michelle and her mom shared a Bananas Foster with Caramel Mousse.

So after dinner we were tired and everybody was ready for bed. We had decided that Andy and Michelle were not allowed to sleep together on the night before their wedding. Michelle and Kyle stayed in their room and had a mommy son night. Since we were fortunately upgraded to a 2 bedroom suite at the Grand Waikikian - Andy stayed with us in our second bedroom.
They said their good nights, and on the way back to our room, we ran into some girls giving out drink tickets to a local bar.

We took Andy's picture with them and voila - Andy's stag night! LOL
We were all exhausted and off to bed we went.

Onto Day 3 - Their wedding day!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Andy and Michelle's Wedding at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - Day 1 Continued

Continued from this post - click here.
Since we had already started the drive up north, and we were a little hungry, we stopped at the Dole Plantation.
We had been there before, in our opinion it is a tourist trap, but we needed some refreshments. So we stopped and got a cooked cob of corn from a local guy and his daughter - selling it next to the Dole Plantation store. We then took another picture with the pineapples (at the plantation next door) and were on our way. (click here to see the original picture - they have fixed the bra on my pineapple!) The place was packed with tourists and tour buses so we didn't want to stay long.

It was a little bit longer to drive up to the North Shore than anticipated - due to the public holiday, but other than that it was fairly easy until we actually hit the main road at the top of the island on the North Shore - Highway 83.

All the people who live in Oahu, I think, were trying to get to the North Shore beaches to do some of the amazing surfing on the public holiday. So it took us at least 30 to 40 minutes to drive what will normally take 10 minutes along Hwy 83 -the road along the North Shore.

After a lot of texts back and forth with Andy and Michelle, and a slow drive, we made it into the Turtle Bay Resort - ready for a great lunch! At the time they were doing some construction on the road and on the entrance way but other than that the resort was as we remembered it.

When we arrived at the Turtle Bay Resort, we drove up to the security kiosk, and mentioned that we were going to eat in a restaurant down by the beach - Ola. He said, make sure you have a hamburger it's the best burger around. We told him how we had made the journey back to the resort just for the burger! So we drove around to try and find some parking.

Now all of the beaches in the State of Hawaii, are public beaches and therefore hotels can not restrict access to any of them. However, they only have so much parking. So each hotel, will charge what they want to for parking, but they can't deny you access to the beach. So the parking because it was a holiday was also quite busy and hard to find a spot.

But we finally found a spot and walked over to the restaurant that we had drove all the way up here for - OLA. This restaurant was featured in the movie, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" - as was the resort.

Warren went in to get a table for the seven of us that were coming for lunch and it was three minutes past three. I went to the restroom (It was a longer drive than anticipated!) and when I returned Warren was talking to the host or the owner or the manager of the restaurant. It didn't look good - The man quite insistent that he could not seat us as they close between three and five to prepare for dinner.

Now, if you ask me a restaurant of this calibre should serve you if you arrive at three o'clock for lunch, however, there was no moving him, so we went to the front desk, found out that the only restaurant serving was the pool bar, and we took a whole bunch of pictures all over the Turtle Bay Resort.
Lesson learned - Check with restaurants - before making the long drive on the hours - they serve!

Click here to see our pictures.

They told us we could get a hamburger at the pool bar - and that is what we had a hankering for - so we texted Michelle and Andy and told them what was going on. By the time we got there, however we were famished! The awesome waitress caught on to that and immediately brought us both a drink and I bucket of bar nuts and chips, and we ordered our burger!

The view here was beautiful! We were looking over both the surfing area of the North Shore, and the pool area. The waves were incredible! They must have been 10-15 feet high and the surfers were having a blast! It was absolutely spectacular!

Our burgers arrived and they were just what the doctor ordered - and huge! We highly recommend the burgers at the Pool Bar as well as Ola.

Finally Andy and Michelle and the rest arrived, and they ordered their late lunch/dinner. All around the food was good. So in the end we still had an a great meal and enjoyed a different view.

The kids were excited about the water so we wandered over to the calmer beach and the kids went for a swim. They had a great paddle around and did a little snorkeling, while the grown ups (that's us!) had a chat.

The Happy Couple! Andy and Michelle

And Us!

The sun started to go down and it was getting cooler so it was time to go. We caught the sunset through the trees on the way out of the resort.

Note about the winter weather in Hawaii - This past winter (we were there in January 2009) was quite cool for Hawaii. The local Hawaiians were complaining how cold it was. The air was cooler at night (needed a light jacket or sweater) and the water was colder than normal - make sure you check on the weather before you go - as many people had to buy sweaters etc. as it was too cold at night.
We got back on the road and the drive was easier and quicker as most people had already left the North Shore. We stopped at a Foodland for some supplies for our condo - it was wild as you could really feel the beach culture. i.e. people coming in after surfing in swimsuits and no shoes.
Just a note - items were quite expensive in the Foodland on the North Shore - most likely as there weren't many other stores around.
Once we arrived back at the hotel everybody was tired, so the kids went to bed and Andy went to the airport to pick up his parents who are coming in from New Zealand after there Australia and New Zealand trip and cruise.

Warren returned the car - 15 min late - they closed at 7:30 - (Alamo near the Hilton Hawaiian Village). We didn't want to pay for parking at the hotel and wanted to return the car on the same day. They were still there so they allowed us to return the car, but not without complaining about it of course :-)
Note: - if you can return a one day rental on the same day to avoid parking charges at your hotel - they can be $20 or more per night!
Michelle, Warren and I had a drink and waited for Andy to return. It was a nice quiet way to end a great day out!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Andy and Michelle's Wedding at the Hilton Hawaiian Village - Day 1

We just returned from a wedding in beautiful Waikiki, Hawaii on the island of a Oahu. We went for our dear friend's, Andy and Michelle Walker, wedding. It was a lovely, lovely few days, and we will cherish them.

Unfortunately we did not have enough time or a lot of time to spend on this holiday as it was a last minute idea for everybody to go. But we decided we would look into it and sure enough, we found a good rate - with a route of Toronto to Vancouver and then Vancouver to Honolulu.

Just a thought about the type of trip over here for air travel to Hawaii from the East Coast - as Toronto is considered to be the East Coast. It is about a 4 1/2 hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Then we had a three hour layover, and a then a 5 1/2 hour flight from Vancouver to Honolulu. We've also done a trip to Hawaii before where we did a 1 1/2 hour flight to Chicago and then an eight and a half hour flight to Honolulu. I much preferred the short flight and then a long flight for the main reason that you can actually rest on the plane -that is if you can sleep on planes. You can get a good four hours or so sleep, if not more on the longer flight. However, I wanted to try flying to Hawaii through Vancouver so this worked out perfectly.

The actual flight times worked out quite well for us as we arrived in to Honolulu at approximately at 9:30 p.m.. This was good because by the time we got to our hotel and got checked in and settled, we were really really tired. So we just went straight to bed, which really helped the jet lag, in fact, we didn't find that we had any jet lag pretty much the whole week. The only thing that I noticed was that we were waking up really early in the morning so we would wake up at like seven sometimes earlier - sometimes 6 a.m.. This actually worked out quite well, because we could do work out and communicate with people at home since there was a five hour time difference Toronto.

We booked the Grand Waikikian - the time share property at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. They had overbooked at the regular village and were moving guests here so we were upgraded to a 2 bedroom condo - which was brand new, beautiful and awesome!

So on our first morning in Hawaii, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel, we met Andy and Michelle, Michelle's son Kyle, and her niece, Hannah, at the Tapa's Café for breakfast. They do a pretty good spread for a buffet, both a hot and a cold buffet. On the cold buffet, you can get cereals, lots of fresh fruit, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, all your grains, like mini bagels and toast, cream cheese, and smoked salmon. On your hot buffet you could get your traditional American breakfast with scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage, and hash browns. The breakfasts were quite expensive as they usually are in hotels, $20 for the cold buffet and $30 for the hot buffet.

We normally try to book a condo or something that has a fridge that we can have our own breakfast in our room and sometimes we even bring a box of cereal. However since we were traveling for the wedding, and we wanted to eat with our friends, we had breakfast a few times in the Tapa Cafe and Warren had breakfast one morning in the Rainbow Lanai restaurant in the Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Warren had this with the boys on the day of the wedding as we were trying to keep the bride and groom separate on that day.

After catching up and getting up to date on wedding plans, we decided to rent a couple of cars to drive up to the North Shore. Andy and Michelle had not been out of Waikiki since they had arrived, and Waikiki can be quite overwhelming. It is more like a big American city, like Miami, than it is traditional Hawaii.

So because they had to get their marriage license in Hawaii, they thought it would make sense to rent a car, pick up the wedding license and then drive up to the North Shore. We told them about the Turtle Bay Resort as we been up there quite a few times, and we really wanted to have lunch up at the restaurant Ola, that overlooked the beach at the resort.

They learned one lesson that I will happily pass on - if you are getting married in Hawaii and you need to get a marriage license - don't go on Martin Luther King Day or any other public holiday.

Thankfully, the lady who does the marriage licenses was actually quite helpful as she left a note on the door of the licensing office telling people a number to call them and where to go to get their license if it's a holiday or a weekend. So they went over to this lady's house and they signed everything they had to sign and they took their oath and they got their marriage license all in her driveway. Then they were on their way.

Continue to next post.