Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Las Vegas, NV: 1/15/11 - 1/17/11

It's been a while. I thought I'd try and revive this with a Vegas post.

Sick house DJ at Marquee Nightclub:

Meet and greet with the Jabbawockeez:

This was actually the second time we watched their show at Monte Carlo. We noticed that since last time (October 2010) they made a couple changes, the best of which is that they show their faces at the end now!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Los Angeles, CA: 7/19/10

1-Year "Headliner" Membership to The GRAMMY Museum: $50 (bought via Groupon on Oct. 20, 2009)
American Express Presale Tickets: $70 ($35/pp)
An Evening With Train: Priceless

To see Pat, Jimmy, and Scott in such an intimate setting was just unreal. The first hour was an interview with the band about music, their career, and so many facets of their journey. Pat Monahan is a riot. In the second hour, they got their 2 other bandmates up and performed:
1) Save Me, San Francisco
2) If It's Love
3) Calling All Angels
4) Hey, Soul Sister
5) Drops Of Jupiter

They are really, really good live. Afterwards, we all got to meet the guys and get our copies of Save Me San Francisco (which were included with the presale tickets) signed. When we were leaving the museum we saw Hector loading up the van and chatted with him a little bit, too. I will definitely be renewing my Grammy Museum membership.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Las Vegas, NV: 6/10/10 - 6/13/10

The Venetian invited us to the first event of their new "Grazie Cooking Series," which featured Chef Mario Batali. Batali has three restaurants in The Venetian/Palazzo and numerous others in New York City and Los Angeles. We were treated to an hour long live cooking demonstration with Chef Batali in The Venetian Showroom, given the recipes to take home, and received a complimentary prix-fixe meal of the food we watched him cook.

Even though neither of us are cooks, we found the demo to be very interesting and entertaining as Mario was very personable. My favorite quote from him, which he shared as summarizing his philosophy on food: "At the end of the day, there are only two things you put in someone to pleasure them. One of them is food."

We enjoyed our prix-fixe dinner at Carnevino, which is located in The Palazzo, just inside the doors to the walkway that connects to Wynn. We added on the wine pairing for $35, which featured wines exclusively from Joseph Bastianich, and tea for $6.50.

We also watched The Lion King @ Mandalay Bay this trip. I used TZOO40 (from Travelzoo) to get 40% off side orchestra tickets. It was $69.50 per ticket, which came to a total of $156.75 once all the fees were included. The show was extraordinarily creative and it was one of the best opening acts I've seen. I also felt Mandalay Bay did a great job creating the theatre venue.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Maui, HI: 4/4/10 - 4/7/10

For Uyen's spring break this year we went to the Hawaiian Island of Maui! We didn't book it until the middle of March when we saw a Pleasant Holidays offer on Travelzoo for 3 nights + air for $500/person. Adding an extra day increased the price by 40% so we stuck with the 3-night itinerary.

Day 1
Our flight on Sunday also didn't leave until 5PM, but that actually worked out well for us as it was Easter. While we were waiting for our flight at LAX we felt the 7.2 Baja California earthquake. Afterwards, we felt we needed to have a $13 margarita at El Cholo to set the vacation mood. Our flight was nonstop to Kahului, Maui on Delta. We arrived just before 8PM Maui time, picked up our rental car from Hertz, and drove directly south to Kihei for dinner at Da Kitchen. For less than $15, we had one of our best meals here. We shared the "Hawaiian Plate," which consisted of Pork Lau Lau, Kalua Pork, Chicken Long Rice and Lomi Salmon. I had read reviews prior, so I knew the portions were big and everything was on the salty side, but I think that's partly what made it so good. We also did drive to Maui Tacos, which was located in the plaza next door, but it was closed by that time and we were plenty full from Da Kitchen. It was about 45 minutes up the west coast of Maui to reach our lodging, the Kaanapali Ocean Inn in Kaanapali. This is pretty much the base hotel in Maui for Pleasant Holidays packages, and as many visitors before have stated, it is definitely a budget hotel. There's no elevator but there's only 3 floors. The walls were thin, the bed was lumpy and soft-ish, and we only used the chairs/sofa for putting stuff on as they all had dark (I'm guessing dirt) stains on them. It was certainly livable, though, the beach was steps away, and the service staff was good.

Day 2
So the next morning we woke up bright and early (by our standards) so we could return to the south side of the island for our reserved Molokini-Lana'i Snorkel tour with Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF). Long story short, we were notified of boat problems shortly prior to our 8:30AM departure time and around 8:50AM the entire tour was cancelled. We did get a full refund, but the tour would have been 7.25 hours so this really jacked up our plans for the day. There are snorkeling tours that leave all over Maui, but because we also didn't want to wake up super early and booked a "later morning" tour, all the other tours had left by this time. There are sometimes afternoon tours, but those were all cancelled because it was already windy at this time and only pick up in the afternoon when the tradewinds really set in. Even given what happened to us, I would still consider PWF in the future as it was the cheapest and only option for these 2 destinations (Molokini AND Lana'i) and PWF is a nonprofit, so all the proceeds support a nonprofit. Of course, being a nonprofit probably explains the shoddy boat, and they do have a reputation for being unreliable. Still, as long as things are always smooth when they do get out in the water, I'll forgive them for not having six sigma reliability.

And this did give us the chance for an impromptu adventure. First, we headed back to Lahaina's Front Street on the waterfront for brunch. We decided on Cheeseburger In Paradise. Frequent Vegas go-ers may recognize the logo as being very similar to Cheeseburger at the OASIS in Planet Hollywood next to the V Theatre. The one in Vegas is a branch of this very same store in Maui, which opened in 1989. As far as the burger went, it was definitely good and we plan to visit the store in Vegas sometime, but, for me, I don't think anywhere is ever going to beat Shake Shack in NYC.

We walked off our brunch by perusing Front Street and eventually walking to the Lahaina Maui Tacos. Despite being full, we figured we had to try Maui Tacos while in Maui so we got a combo and each had a fish taco. It was grilled fish, which is nice, but I realize I like fried fish better in my fish tacos, a la Taco Nazo. I'm definitely glad we tried it, though.

Determined to still do some snorkeling on Maui, we stopped by the Lahaina Cannery Mall and bought snorkels at Longs Drugs and fins at Boss Frog's. We then drove back south and snorkeled off the west coast of Maui at Olowalu. It was about 1PM at this time and, as it turns out, it is quite windy come afternoon on the west coast of Maui. The water was also colder than I imagined (and hoped) it would be. We did see lots of reef and fish and at least satisfied our itch to snorkel.

We then set out to do what we were originally planning to do after our PWF trip: circumnavigate the west lobe of Maui and drive the unpaved road on the Northwest of Maui (possibly breaching our rental car agreement). I rented a SUV expressly for this purpose and for the upcoming, similarly unpaved, "Road Beyond Hana." I followed this Frommer's article, except backwards as we were going from Central Maui to West Maui. Per Frommer's, we first stopped in the Wailuku area to see the Halekii and Pihana Heiaus. Heiaus are ancient places of worship that were generally located in beautiful / spiritual locations. These 2 were located on a hill that overlooked Central Maui and the northern coast.
After the heiaus we were soon on our curvy 20-mile drive along the northwest coast that showcased: "steep ravines, rolling pastoral hills, tumbling waterfalls, exploding blowholes, crashing surf, jagged lava coastlines, and a tiny Hawaiian village straight off a postcard" (Frommer's). The town being referred to is Kahakuloa, which is home to Julia's Best Banana Bread. A small green stand that can't be missed on the drive, I mention Julia's because it actually shows up in Google Maps when you zoom-in and even has a website! Naturally, we had to try it and it was very good, probably the best I've ever had. It was also reasonably priced and very well packaged (pointed out by Uyen). Just before Kahakuloa, we also stopped by Kaukini Gallery, which sells art by local artists.

Nearing the end of our drive, we stopped by the blowhole. There was a very short hike to get to it. What is a "blowhole" you ask? Below is a video of it. Of course right after I stopped recording a huge spurt came, but this captures the gist of it.

By this point in the drive the road had widened and was smooth. Then, after rounding the northernmost point of Maui, we looked for an outlet to Honolua Bay. Our first search brought us to a private residence in the middle of a jungle and me falling into a river.
We decided to head to dinner after that; I had made reservations for the Plantation House Restaurant in Kapalua. Just driving up to the restaurant in its country club/estate atmosphere signaled that we were not dressed appropriately, so we delayed our reservation and headed back to Kaanapali. Unfortunately, this meant we wouldn't be able to enjoy the sunset at the restaurant (which is a big reason why people go to this restaurant), but at least we were clean and I was dry.
Although we couldn't enjoy the sunset at the restaurant, we were still able to enjoy the beautiful Maui sunset from the balcony of our room.

Day 3
This day was dedicated to the Road to Hana. The Hana Highway is a 68-mile long windy, twisty road that follows the coastline of the eastern lobe of Maui. I opted to also do the "Road Beyond Hana", which completes the circumnavigation of Eastern Maui.

We left Kaanapali around 6:30am and arrived at the town of Paia, our first stop, around 7:30am. Here, we filled up our car and picked up a picnic lunch from Hana Picnic Lunch Co. They make your lunch fresh and claim that they have studied the art of sandwich-making to ensure that it will still be in tip-top shape when it's eaten hours later. We also picked up a Hana Audio Tour CD there that the very pleasant worker sold us on (and we're glad she did).

Our major stops were:
1. Waikamoi Ridge Trail, btwn miles 9-10: A short loop nature walk through lush trees, bamboo and ferns that took roughly half an hour.

2. Puahokamoa Falls, btwn miles 10-11: I initially drove past the lower falls and had to backtrack. Located off the ocean-side of the road, there were no signs and the best view of the falls came after crawling through a fence.

3. Keanae Peninsula, turnoff btwn miles 16-17: After the turnoff, it's less than a mile to get right up to the coast. The dark jagged lava rocks and the crashing waves made this a particularly beautiful stop.

4. Keanae Arboretum, btwn miles 16-17: The arboretum houses over 150 varieties of tropical plants and is a great place to see indigenous flowers and painted bark eucalyptus trees.

5. Waikani (Three Bears) Falls, btwn miles 19-20: While the falls were beautiful as viewed from the roadside, the really cool part was climbing under the bridge and taking the short jungle-like path to get an up close view of the falls.

6. Pua'a Ka'a State Wayside Park, btwn miles 22-23: This is where we ended up having lunch. There are picnic tables and a small waterfall nearby. Our lunch was in great condition and was perfect for our journey, just as advertised.

7. Waianapanapa State Park, mile 32 / Hana / Hamoa Beach, btwn miles 51-50 (the mile markers descend once beyond Hana):

8. Wailua Falls, btwn miles 45-44: What makes Wailua Falls so amazing in my mind is that this 80 ft waterfall is entirely visible just driving along the road.

9. Waimoku Falls / Oheo Gulch (in Haleakala National Park), mile 42: We first did the Pipiwai Trail, a 4 mi roundtrip hike that includes a 650 ft change in elevation, bamboo forests, and Waimoku Falls at the end. The hike was simply incredible. A half mile in was Makahiku Falls, which, at 185 feet, was quite magnificent on its own. Then, about a mile in, began the bamboo forests. At the very end was Waimoku Falls, a gigantic 400 ft waterfall that's the tallest on Maui.

As if Waimoku Falls wasn't enough, the trailhead also splits off to the Kuloa Point Trail, a 0.5 mi loop trail that passes by the ocean and Oheo Gulch, aka the Seven Sacred Pools. Unfortunately, we were notified upon entering the national park that swimming in the Pools was not permitted on this day due to weather conditions and the risk of flash floods. Doing so was high on my list of things to do, but it has to wait 'til a future trip.

We left the park a little after 6pm. We tried to look for Charles Lindbergh's Grave but couldn't find it. It was getting late so we decided to continue on, which turned out to be a good idea as it started to rain heavily just as we connected with the 7 miles of unpaved road on the southeast of Maui, i.e. the Road Beyond Hana. There really is nothing out there, but it was great seeing untouched Maui (aside from the road, of course). Many are concerned with the safety of driving this road. As the last picture demonstrates, this road can be extremely dangerous (and we actually didn't see it until we randomly decided to stop and Uyen had stepped out).

We reached Lahaina around 8:30pm and decided to have dinner on Front Street at Mala Ocean Tavern. We had the seared ahi bruschetta and kobe burger. For dessert, I had the dragon fruit sorbet, which is now my favorite dessert.

Day 4
For our last day we pre-scheduled with Haleakala Bike Company to do a bike tour down Haleakala volcano. Many people do a sunrise tour, but we opted to do the "Summit Deluxe Tour" so we wouldn't have to wake up at an ungodly hour. Our tour started at 9am and met in Haiku, which is just a little bit past Paia along the Hana Highway. We left the Kaanapali Ocean Inn for the last time at 7:45am and arrived in about an hour. After signing waiver forms and such, it was an hour+ van ride to the summit. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of going at this time is that it tends to be when the fog rolls in. We really couldn't see much of the crater at all because of the thick fog. I still got an appreciation for how big the thing is, though. We made 2 stops at the summit area: the visitor center and a site where we got a clear look at some observatories, telescope and missile defense facilities!?

To Be Continued...

Cost Breakdown

$1,018.00 - Package for 2 with roundtrip air via Delta + 3-nights at Kaanapali Ocean Inn from Pleasant Holidays
$191.13 - Rental car from Hertz (using prepay option that gave an extra 10% discount)
$94.80 - Dinner at Plantation House Restaurant
$10.00 - Entrance fee for Haleakala National Park
$71.70 - Dinner at Mala Ocean Tavern
$167.88 ($79.99+$3.95 for optional bike insurance+tax x2) - Haleakala Bike Co.'s "Summit Deluxe" Bike Tour