Ko-So-A-Do

Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

What ding-dong is dinging my dong? (and celebrity look-alikes)

I should explain…

At my new job (the same job that has kept me in blogging limbo since Summer) there’s a locked door with a doorbell so that I know when someone wants in. This week, painters were supposed to come by and proceeded to mash the hell out of the darn doorbell. I opened the door, stating “What ding-dong is dinging my dong?” We laughed, then I paused with an uncomfortable look, realizing what I just said. I think it was even funnier for the painters because I’m female. (If you don’t get why this is funny, then you’re not sick in the head enough.)

Just another example of me opening my mouth and letting my darn foot fly in.

But anyway, the real meat and potatoes to this post is about celebrity look-alikes. You know, when you’re minding your own business, you look around and notice that the guy perusing the organic apples looks just like that guy from that movie/tv show/band? This happened at an alarming rate during my University years.

(Sorry, no pictures of the non-celebrity people, for privacy reasons.)

First, (In honor of the Day of the Doctor going Global) was the guy in my Organic Chemistry class that looked like a 20-something David Tennant, glasses, fluffy hair and all. You know, the 10th Doctor?

david_tennant

This was before Dr. Who became so popular in the States, so no one really got it at the time. That classmate went on to cut his hair very short, which ruined the illusion, but he still had the eyes and chin. There was the occasional (private) look at him with fan-girly speculation. However, since both of us were married, I never even tried to go beyond class-mates/friends. (Self-control FTW!)

And then there was the Hagrid look-alike.

Hagrid

His beard wasn’t nearly as epic, but he was a BIG (tall) guy!

Hugo-Hurley-Reyes

If he had shaved his beard, due to his youth, he’d probably look a bit more like Hugo from Lost, but not as… heavy.

Another one, less of a look-alike, was a guy that kinda looked like Thor. Yes, that Thor. The hair, eyes, facial hair…

thor-chris-hemsworth

I had even considered going up to him and asking him once who he was going to be for Halloween, maybe suggest a costume from the Avengers

And last but not least, my most recent addition to “Hey, You Look Like…” Misha Collins.

Misha

Yup, A new guy just moved in, looks remarkably like him. He’s a little bit shorter, lighter hair and a bit… softer around the edges, but the blue eyes, the smile, even a bit of the voice. And the scruffy stubble that he’s been sporting since he started playing Castiel in Supernatural. I doubt this guy has Misha’s crazy sense of humor, though. (Here’s hoping Misha’s rabid fangirls never find my blog…)

Have you ever met someone who looked just like a famous person?

Leave your comments Below!

~Hikari

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When in Japan: Japanese Men

I don’t mean to come off as sexist, but yes, this is VERY simplified and meant to be humorous.

I was speaking with a Japanese friend about marriage and how difficult it is to find a good man. My advice? Give up on the pretty boys/men and see past a man’s looks to his personality. I’ve found this to be somewhat true in America as well, but the problem seems exacerbated in Japan and I’m sure in other countries as well. It’s odd though, considering the male/female sex ratio in Japan doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Pretty/handsome (Ikemen) Japanese guys: there seem to be two kinds. They are either gay or assholes. If a man takes care of his looks, and he’s not into other men, he knows he looks good and already has women throwing themselves at him. Guys like this tend to go through girlfriends quickly and cheat. (From a man’s point of view, how could he be blamed, with all the temptation?) I call this type the Asshole.

With this thought in mind, I came up with a great pick-up line for her to use when trying to meet men: “My friend says there are two kinds of good looking Japanese men: Assholes and homosexuals. Which are you?” (Later, I found this funny, considering which orifice homosexual men use for sexual gratification…)

If he tries to argue with you about being either, you know he’s an asshole. If he admits to being an asshole, you might at least get a fun night. If he’s homosexual, then you can stop trying. If he says he isn’t good looking, maybe… just maybe, he might not be an asshole.

 

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Uninspired

I have at least three different posts partially completed and sitting in drafts. And that’s only for this blog. That doesn’t include my half-finished short stories.

My blog’s one-year anniversary came and went at the beginning of this month without a post.

Even my cooking has fallen into a slump, as we rely more on easy to prepare foods.

And I thought I would have more time now that school was out.

What’s the holdup? My new job. I’m having to learn how to do my job, and DO the job all at the same time. Some days are slower than others, but then there’s weeks like this past one where I’ve stayed late every day and actually worked, both physically and mentally. When I get home, I don’t want to move, let alone cook or write. Hubby’s made fun of the things I’ve tried to say as my brain has shut down upon entering the house.

At least Hubby is being supportive. But eventually, I have to get off my butt and deal with it.

But, I look at it this way: I am lucky enough to have a full-time job and I’m paid well enough to have a savings account again! I’m already ahead of the curve!

*sigh* Off to take care of the mountain of chores that have been piling up since I started working a month ago. I think I’m finally starting to build some stamina.

 

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Shpadoinkle! Goldfish Puffs

Aaahhh! I’ve started my new job this week and my brain is exploding with all the stuff I have had to learn.

Time to unwind with my newest find for snackin’: Goldfish Puffs by Pepperidge Farms.

DSCN1136

I’ve loved Goldfish crackers since I was a child, soaking those smiling orange crackers in soup or nomming them by the handful.

I noticed these babies after the 4th at Walgreen’s and HAD to try them. Unfortunately, all I’ve been able to find so far in the individual size is the buffalo flavor, so I have no clue what the other two flavors, Mega Cheese and Cheddar Bacon taste like.

If you like the smell and flavor of Buffalo Wing sauce but don’t like the heat? Then they’re not that bad. Definitely not very spicy and the sauce flavor is a bit muted. You can tell their coating has a cheese base, so I expect the cheese-based flavors to be more true-to-label. The corn puff flavor is pretty strong, but I like that.

I liked the firm texture and crunch to them, and they’re much denser than a cheesy-poof, less crunchy than a Cheeto. Less orange powder on you fingers, too. These guys are bigger than Goldfish crackers, but not too big for small hands or mouths.

Close up of the little critters

Close up of the happy little critters

Some come a little wrinkled or deformed, but that’s the nature of shaped foods, especially ones that puff, they’re not always perfect.

All in all, I liked them, but will avoid buying the larger bags due to my general lack of self control. If I can find the other two flavors in the small bags, I’ll be a happy camper, as Buffalo isn’t my fave flavor. I like it, but I don’t always want that strong, aromatic, vinegary tang. Bacon, however… If they manage to get that flavor right… Well… I might just buy the big bags after all.

Shpadoinkle!

Update:

I broke down and bought one of the bigger bags of Mega Cheddar. Yummy!

It’s all mellow and flavorful, not tangy like Cheetos. Love, Love, Love!

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Going down to Vegas (in a car) and back again: Part 2

(More pictures will be added once I find where Hubby hid our pix from Vegas!)

So, we’ve talked about my first driving trip to Vegas, how to find a good hotel deal and exploring Vegas on a budget. Now, here’s how we got there -in a car- this year.

As I previously explained, last time we drove, we chose Enterprise for our rental due to their low rates and mileage allowances. This year, we discovered that they had changed the 5-state group and it no longer included Nevada. Yikes! We contacted Enterprise, but without a major credit card, we couldn’t get any kind of expansion of our mileage range. Darn it! So, we went hunting. After checking prices, mileage availability, etc. we decided to go with Avis.

Why that particular company? This trip, we needed enough storage space for four people’s suitcases. Two were continuing on to Disneyland after, so their luggage was larger. This meant the full-size category of car. We checked multiple factors, including: Weekly rates, Mileage, Cost of insurance, Discounts and NON-AIRPORT location availability!

-Why is the non-airport location such a big deal? Extra Fees. Yup, at least in our state, if the rental company is in an airport, the rates are usually increased as well as extra taxes/fees tacked on. After our searches, there were only 3 or 4 companies in our area with non-airport locations.

-Weekly rates: Surprisingly, not all companies offer weekly discounts. This was handled by simply checking rates for the time we needed the car. *Some car companies have limited weekend hours and/or are closed on Sunday. This had to be taken into account in choosing our days as well.

-Mileage: it’s actually kinda difficult to find mileage allowances on some of the websites for rental companies, so we had to call the ones we weren’t sure about. Trust me, if you’re going to be driving at least 2,000 miles, you want to know this! We needed Unlimited!

-Insurance: With such a long trip, we needed some extra just-in-case padding if there was even a small fender-bender. We didn’t do the whole “you total it, you’re covered” package, but we did want some liability coverage.

-Discounts! Yes, we used a coupon code for our trip and saved more than $100! Where did we find our code? Some discounts are listed in the company’s website. We first found a code on our hotel’s website, and the discount was pretty good, but then we Googled Avis coupon codes and plugged them in one at a time until we found ones that worked, then we compared rates! (Just don’t put in personal info yet, just in case… and double-check restrictions, etc.) I just LOVE a good coupon!

Avis had nationwide unlimited mileage, so we could take the more convenient interstate driving route to Vegas this year.

trip2

The route’s a little bit longer than last year’s, but the time is the same due to speed limits.

Like last year, we plotted rest areas and places to get gas. After looking at a couple of gas price websites, we went with Gas Buddy as the prices were more representative of what we were seeing locally. Using their National Gas Price Heat Map and zooming in along our route, I knew where the best deals were and where to avoid due to price spikes. *If you search by your location, it kinda locks you into your state and it’s difficult to get back out again without cleaning out cookies/cache.

It felt a bit odd going east to get there. We also got a later start as we didn’t want to arrive too early and have to wait for our room (like last year). By about 6pm we were on our way and our passengers (Japanese exchange students) enjoyed the scenery and some videos we had prepared for them to watch during the trip. The mountains of Idaho and Montana are beautiful, but I-90 on the way to Missoula was petty darn rough in most of the mountain areas. We could even tell where large animals had gotten hit, leaving large… sometimes VERY large… stains on the road. Also, most of the trip was an hour behind due to driving into the Mountain time zone. While our phones updated, the car clock did not. We were lucky to stop in Missoula for gas and a snack before 10 pm because the restaurant closed at 10, but we thought we had another hour.

Somewhere between Butte and Idaho Falls, we pulled over, turned off the lights and did some stargazing. It wasn’t the same as when we were in the Nevada desert, and it was pretty darn cold, but the girls loved the view of a (mostly) unobscured sky full of stars, something they hadn’t been able to appreciate before. Hubby’s android app that let them see where the constellations were was also a plus. Sunrise found us in Utah, and we stopped north of Salt Lake City for breakfast. Unfortunately, while my handy construction look-up had warned me of current road construction, it did not let me know of some strange closing of all southbound lanes of I-15 through the northern Slat Lake area on the day we happened to drive through. Also, the off-ramp red light didn’t have an arrow indicating which way to turn for the detour.  After a brief wrong-way interlude, we turned around and found the other detour signs. While the area was lovely, I’m sure, it’s difficult to appreciate when you’ve been awake since the previous morning (except for fitful power naps in the passenger seat) and have to keep an eye out for the next detour sign. I also expected to see more of the giant salt lake form the interstate. Disappointed tourist is disappointed.

The rest of Utah was a bunch of shrubby desert, driving between mountain ridges, and passing by little spots of humanity that would crop up in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t see much of the “good stuff”. It got more interesting just before St George and the Arizona border, where we got some older geological formations, more colorful rock and some plateau/mesa/butte action (whatever you want to call it) to look at. I-15 cuts through the very northwest corner of Arizona and passes through an amazing mountain range that can be a bit frightening if you’re a fatalist that imagines all that rock crumbing down on you. *shiver*

Crossing the Nevada border brought us into more plateau area, and seeing the edges of the plateaus before driving up to their height was pretty nifty if you like that kind of thing.  Then it was more flat area, some desert shrubbery and the occasional rocky outcropping or mountain until Vegas.

On the way back, we got stuck in those Arizona mountains for at least an hour in a very large traffic jam. We discovered later that a truck had caught on fire. Kinda hard to detour when you’re trapped in the mountains. Almost 20 miles of mountain with only a camping ground as a rest stop in the middle. Thank goodness for air conditioning.

Utah was as uninteresting on the way out as it was on the way in, but our stop at a Chick-fil-a (OMFG, it’s been at least 8 years since I’ve had that delicious meat in my mouth hole!) for dinner in the northern part got us thinking about the Salt Lake City area. While the city itself has the same problems as any city, the sprawl that follows the interstate has all the benefit of being a part of a larger city area but reduced crime rate, depending on where you live. Also, there seemed to be plenty of parks, fun centers, malls, etc. to keep the masses entertained. (Seriously, there were a LOT of theme parks scattered about!) We may consider a stay in the SLC area at some point to explore further. The town we stopped in… Layton, maybe? It was a bit like traveling into a Stepford type of town, with smiling families and an overall friendly atmosphere.

The rest of the drive home was mostly like the way down, just in reverse. But there were clouds and a moon over Montana this time, making for some lovely visuals I wish I had photographed, but that would have required stopping the car. So sorry, no shots of the beautiful moon and clouds between mountains. Also, the mountains in Idaho were quite misty, giving an ethereal (and sometimes creepy) atmosphere until the sun got high enough to burn off the mist. Once again, it was near the end of our trek and all we wanted to do was get home and sleep. so, no lovely shots of misty mountain mornings either.

~Scary Event for the WHOLE TRIP: I was driving along I-90 heading toward Lake Coeur d’Alene when I saw the head of a deer pop above the concrete median. Then it jumped OVER the median RIGHT NEXT TO ME! I was inches from having that deer ram my car head-first! Needless to say, I was wide awake for a while after that. My screech of surprise had Hubby waking up a bit panicky. It made it across the road just fine, that kamikaze venison!

This probably had bored most of my readers, but as my interests cover a wide range, I felt I should write about my experiences. Of course, I’d need more than just a blog to write down all my thoughts and experiences, this was just a highlight. With a new job starting next week, expect more bento and food blogging to continue.

じゃ、またね! (Until next time!) (^o^)/

~Hikari

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How to visit Las Vegas WITHOUT breaking the bank; Part 2 (Exploring on a budget)

So you’ve planned your holiday, chosen your hotel and have arrived in Las Vegas. Now what do you do? Everywhere you look in Vegas, at least on the strip, there is something to do. Always. Being in Vegas is like visiting multiple cities around the world all at once. You can see the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, a pyramid and the Sphynx as well as ride in a gondola along Venetian canals all on one road.

~First thing, explore what your hotel has to offer. Got a room at an off-strip “normal” hotel? Skip this and continue to the next. Vegas casino-hotels are virtual self-contained cities. Take the time to browse the restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. Look at how expensive the food is, how much is that bottle of water, where are the souvenirs?

But beware, because this leads to my second tip:

~Never look someone other than your co-travelers directly in the eye. Unless of course, you’re intending to initiate direct contact. Everywhere you go in Vegas, someone wants to sell you something. Maybe it’s that woman with the hand cream made of crushed unicorn horn and dragon testicle. Or perhaps it’s the man handing out cards with the numbers of  naked women who will visit your room for a fee.

tourst1

When spending time in Vegas, think of it like this: The locals see you as a walking wallet. If you do not make eye contact, it makes it harder for them to engage. Someone shoves a pamphlet for a show under your nose while you’re trying to get on the escalator? Manipulative marketer trying to wrap you in a convertible dress you can wear 100 ways? If you have the undeniable urge to respond due to how you were raised, consider one of these replies (All while NOT looking them in the eye):

“Already been there/done that/seen it.”

“I already have one of those.”

“No thanks.”

“No Speak English” (Works best if you’re not as white as Wonderbread)

Do all this as you continue moving, don’t slow down, and for the love of baby pandas, Don’t Stop!

panda copy

If all the person is doing is handing out pamphlets, you can take one. Just be prepared to end up carrying about a tree’s worth of paper around with you by the end of the day.

~Some of those free pamphlets people hand out are actually worth taking. Just follow the “No Eye Contact Rule” and keep walking. In Vegas, there are coupons and discounts for almost everything. There are thick booklets of coupons that can be found almost everywhere. They’re great for ideas if you aren’t sure what you want to see. However, all those pamphlets don’t beat the best deal I’ve found in Vegas thus far:

~Tix4Tonight is the second place (other than online) you should look for ticket prices for almost everything. There are kiosks all along the strip and they sell tickets for shows, attractions and even buffets. All at a discount.

Example: We wanted to go to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Normal ticket price: $30. Online ticket price: $24. Tix4Tonight price: $20. The only thing better? Twilight Ticket (Online purchase only, after 6PM): $18.

It only takes a moment to ask one of the ticket staff (usually armed with a tablet) what the current price of something is. Best thing? If it’s not a scheduled show, you usually get about 3 days leeway to use the ticket. And they’re completely legit. If you’re seeing a scheduled show, just don’t expect the best seats.

~Bundle packages: The MGM group has two different bundle packages running, in case you don’t feel comfortable using Tix4Tonight.

Pick Two shows for $75* special: This is through Luxor and Excalibur. You have to go to the box office to get your tickets, so try to haggle for a good seat while you’re there. *Take care and read the extras, as some shows cost a bit more.

3 attractions for $57: This works best if you want to do the most expensive things on the list. Adventuredome and the CSI Experience are the best value on the list as day passes are $28 each to begin with. You get a third attraction for free, basically.

~Do Something FREE! There are tons of free attractions if you know where to look. Look at this list to get an idea, but it’s far from comprehensive. *Fall of Atlantis is not aging well, and the animatronics are starting to develop palsy. I’d pass on this unless you’re already there when a show happens to start.

Also, remember how I said that each casino-hotel is like a city? Spend an entire day checking out architecture, shopping and art of the different hotels! Sneak some peeks at street performers. Just touring Vegas and taking in the sights is an adventure!

~Going Shopping: If you’re in Vegas and are a shopaholic, there are three places that are Must-See: Las Vegas Premium Outlets (North & South both have basically the same stuff), Fashion Show Mall, and Miracle Mile Shops. The outlets are a little off-strip, but have ample parking. Fashion Show is next to TI and across from the Wynn. Miracle Mile is in Planet Hollywood.

If you took my suggestion from my previous posts and rented a car, go off-strip! There are strip malls and places all over that aren’t expecting tourists to visit and have awesome deals.

~The Food! Just because you’re in Vegas doesn’t mean you’re stuck eating at the often overpriced boutique restaurants located on the strip and in the casinos. It’s the same as with shopping: going off-strip gets you better deals. Many off-strip hotels like the Palms and Orleans have buffets at semi-normal prices. Also off-strip are the typical array of national and local restaurant chains. If you love eggs, try Eggworks, but come hungry. Many of the menu items involve 4 eggs.

~One more thing: Forgot sunscreen or a toothbrush? Dying for a candy bar or need a bottle of water but don’t wanna pay $3 at the little shop inside the hotel? Rite Aid and Walgreen’s have locations right on the strip. Or, consider an off-strip trip to the store of your choice such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Target, Walmart, etc. Seriously, Google Maps = your friend!

~Stepping Outside the city: Oft-overlooked are the other fine things to see just outside the city within driving distance.

Hoover Dam: I for some reason never remembered this American landmark being just outside of Vegas. In less than an hour from the strip, You can take a Dam tour, visit the Dam gift shop, buy a Dam t-shirt, and eat a Dam hamburger at the Dam snack bar. (Percy Jackson references, props to Rick Riordan)

Valley of Fire: Beautiful rock structures, petroglyphs and petrified wood, one of the best places to see desert nature ad reachable in a little over an hour. (While not the actual petrified forest where Rachel Morgan freed Ku’Sox, I like to think it’s pretty darn close! Props: Kim Harrison)

Grand Canyon: Okay, be careful when planning to visit! DO NOT go to the West Rim! It’s a money trap and not worth the extra fees the Hualapai natives extort from you just to get to see some canyon! (Seriously, check out Trip Advisor. I don’t care how cool the Skywalk is, the price is ridiculous and they don’t allow you to take your own pictures.) For the best experience from Vegas, visit the South Rim. Shop around and find a tour with everything included and enjoy sleeping during the long bus ride. It will be an all-day trip.

I think that’s everything, but it feels like something’s missing. If I remember what it is, I’ll update and re-post.

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WARNING: Jelly Belly BellyFlops really do have EVERY flavor!

Okay, I know I’m supposed to be finishing my Vegas post, but I had an experience last night… and it must be shared.

Everyone knows Jelly Belly, the American jelly bean company that makes some of the BEST jelly beans EVER. I say some, because there are a few other favorites, especially around Easter, but when I can go to the market and come back with a bag full of just my favorite flavor (Juicy Pear or Red Apple), well, there’s no contest.

So, this brings me to last night. Belly flops came out full force in spring, flooding shelves at discount stores like Big Lots and Grocery Outlet in 2 pound bags as well as little 5 ounce bags at the Dollar Store. What are Belly Flops? Here’s the description from Jelly Belly’s website:

belly-flops“Did you ever wonder what happens to the Jelly Belly jelly beans that are a little less perfect? Or the ones that somehow escaped the Jelly Belly logo stamper? Well, those are our beloved Belly Flops!

Belly Flops are no less flavorful, or lovable, than regular Jelly Belly jelly beans; they just come in wild shapes and sizes. You may find one that’s round, one that’s square, or you may even find a bunch stuck together. On very rare occasions, a flavor may not match a color. A red Belly Flop might taste like Blueberry, or a white one might taste like Chocolate Pudding. Crazy!

Belly Flop bags contain a lot of different assortments, and each bag is randomly packed. But you’re sure to get a good variety of flavors in each bag.”

.

I’ve bought the 2-pound bags and the little dollar ones for months with nary an odd flavor in the bag. But… thus one bag… must have gotten some Bertie Botts or Beanboozled beans.

Bertie Botts beans:

bertie botts

Have you ever tried these Harry Potter classics?

Beanboozled beans:

bean boozled

I REALLY feel sorry for the people who have to taste-test these things.

I was watching a Japanese drama, gleefully munching on my beans, when a terrible taste filled my mouth. It was hard to tell exactly what the flavor was, due to having more than one bean in there. All I know is the offending bean was dark. This was the first time I’ve ever gotten something other than a normal flavored bean. I will still buy belly flops while they’re available, but will watch what I eat a little more carefully from now on.

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How to visit Las Vegas WITHOUT breaking the bank; Part 1 (Choosing the Hotel)

This turned out to be much longer than expected, so I’m breaking it up into 2 parts.

Las Vegas has a reputation. It’s not a very savory one either. There’s a reason it’s called Sin City.

However, over the years Vegas has tried to soften its image, promoting conventions and family fun. (One of these years, I’m gonna manage to get into the CES!)

With the world in financial meltdown since 2008 and Obama’s repeated Vegas bashing (Just Google it), Vegas has been struggling. Reflected in this is how the casinos and hotels have flexed and bowed to make staying more appealing.

I will explain how you can, with a little research and schedule flexibility, find a reasonably priced casino-resort-hotel on or near the strip for cheap.

———-

But first, a story. Two years ago in the summer, Hubby and I wanted to take a vacation. We had considered doing something local (there ain’t much here, honestly!) and considered other points along the west coat that were within driving distance.

Seattle: Too expensive, not enough to do (except go visit Uwajimaya) that could justify the cost of a hotel room. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “There’s plenty to do in Seattle”, but of all the things we saw, nothing screamed at us saying “You wanna come here, like, RIGHT NOW, and do this awesome thing!” (except go visit Uwajimaya. With Daiso right next door. Yeah, I know, I have a problem.)

California, as a whole: Earthquakes, fires, smog and ridiculous traffic combined with some of the highest gas prices in the country? Why do anything there? Disneyland. ‘Nuff said. But have you seen the price of tickets??? And all the hotels around there have inflated prices.

While I was bemoaning how expensive our vacation was becoming, Hubby mentioned that he hasn’t been to Vegas in a while. Hmm, I’d never been there, but surely staying there would be expensive, right? Ha! How wrong I was!

When he was younger (and practically a completely different man) Vegas was a haven for him, and he made good money at the gambling tables. The Rio had once been like a second home to him. So, we checked out the hotel online. Hey, they have Penn & Teller! We love those guys!

Now comes the trick to finding the best prices in Vegas!

A screen-cap of their website now.

A screen-cap of their website now.

After choosing some random date within the next month, we discovered that during the week, rooms were less than what local hotels were charging! But weekends could double or quadruple the cost. Also, depending on the time of year, holiday or event happening, room prices fluctuate wildly with demand.

Then we noticed this little link:

See the area in the lower right?

See the area in the lower right?

Notice the price fluctuations for the selected dates. The Rate Calendar opens up a new realm of possibilities, including a whole month of room rates and the option to check out the price of different rooms. If you have some flexibility in your travel plans, this is an essential tool!

In our story, we poked around and selected five days with an average cost of $40 per night (similar to the first 5 days in the image). At the time, they were not charging resort fees. More on those later.

But this isn’t all. Not sure which hotel you’d like to stay? Try this:

Everything Caesar's Group owns.

Everything Caesars Group owns.

Yup, EVERYTHING this group owns in one handy drop-down. And if you click All, you get this:

Whoa, that's quite a difference in prices!

Whoa, that’s quite a difference in prices!

That’s a lot to compare! But this is just what’s owned by the Caesars Group. I do suggest being careful of the super cheap rates at the Quad. While they’ve recently been refitted, it was just the casino. The rooms are still the old ones from when it was the Imperial Palace. If all you need is a place to crash and don’t mind a room that might be a bit of dingy and possibly smelly (Seriously, check Trip Advisor), then go for it.

Want more? The MGM Group is a bit more tricky to navigate.

I’m using the MGM Grand as the example since MGM owns the attached properties. First, I clicked on “Check Rates” under Reservations.  (No pic for this, you oughta be able to figure it out.)

Then, I chose a Single Night (this helps with room availability in case they’re full one night). You can click “Search Availability” below or Check Rates on the right.

Simple system in use

Simple system in use

WARNING: MGM’s room search can sometimes be slower than molasses at the North Pole in January. Be patient. If you decided to check rates, you’ll get this:

mgm3

a two month calendar of room rates, based off their cheapest room. However, if you select “Search Availability”, you eventually get this:

Yeah, you read that price right.

Yeah, you read that price for the Skylofts right.

A list of their rooms, amenities, price difference, and in the lower right, a few of the other hotels in their group. It’s not all of them, but it’s a start.

What else does MGM own in Vegas? Aria, Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Vdara, etc. You can get more info on their resorts at http://www.mgmresorts.com  You can use this link instead of the actual hotel link, it eventually takes you to the same place.

There are plenty of other hotels along the strip not listed, like the Golden Nugget, Stratosphere and others. Do some research, spend some time figuring out which hotel is where (Google Maps is your friend!), most will have the rate calendars.

Once you’ve decided at which hotel you’d like to stay, start looking at promotions. This year we stayed at the New York with a 20% discount because we selected a buffet promotion. We ended up not using the buffet tickets due to a confusing credit card hold requirement, but we still got the room at the advertised discount.

Try Hotels.com as they have a tendency to apply the best rate automatically. Then you can go to the hotel’s website or call their front desk to see how to get that discount directly from them. You can reserve directly from another site if you like, but I have a severe mistrust of third parties when it comes to hotels and travel. Too many bad experiences in the past.

Okay, you’ve chosen your hotel, gotten the best deal, applied your discounts. Wait, what’s this extra daily charge? Resort fees? WTF?!? Alas, this is something that cannot be waived at this time. During winter and spring months, many hotels will offer no resort fees. But this summer? no dice. Double-check the resort fee for the hotels you’re considering, they’re anywhere between $15 – $25 per night. Too rich for your blood? Try a non-casino hotel off-strip. We found our stay at the New York, even with the fee, was still cheaper than staying at the local Comfort Inn.

Regardless of where you’re staying, I highly suggest renting a car. This makes getting away from the Strip easier so you can find off-strip food, shopping and tourism. Plus there are plenty of things to see and do besides gamble and drink. Both times we visited, I spent no more than $10 on the machines and only had one drink near the end of our stay. There’s so much to see, why waste it inebriated in front of a card table or slot machine?

Be back with more soon!

~Hikari

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Need to re-organize my blog

Hiya, all, still working on the Vegas post. In the meantime, you know you need to do something about your blog when you have trouble managing your own posts.

Now that my post count is over 50, I really need to sit down and figure out an organization system.

The problem is many of my posts deal with multiple subjects. If I go with organizational tabs, do I have to include the same post in multiple tabs?

*Sigh*

And I’m not willing to go “pro” and pay for the upgrades as this is mainly just for fun and I don’t get enough hits to monetize anything.

Hubby paid for an actual website a year ago (through WordPress), but after he let the subscription lapse (after numerous attempts to cancel the subscription) he got charged with over $100. At least he got to keep his free blog.

I’m still with GoDaddy with an actual dot-com, but it’s just sitting there and has for years. They have a free blog system, but should I switch or stick w/ WP, maybe link over from the dot-com?

Ahh, too many things to think about!

Other Bloggers: What have you done to help keep your blog organized?

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Going down to Vegas (in a car) and back again: Part 1

More pictures will be coming, I just have to dig through them to see which ones to add.

Two years ago, Hubby and I went to Vegas. The first time for me, and it had been a while for him. Since he can’t fly (medical reasons, not a phobia) we decided to drive. We rented a car to save mileage, wear and tear on ours. It actually came out pretty cheap since we planned it very carefully (More in a later post on finding the best deals).

This time around, we had a time constraint, so it cost a bit more than last time. Here is our adventure.

Okay, so the first time we went (August 2011), we used Enterprise for our rental because they included Nevada in the 5-state unlimited mileage plan (and they were the cheapest with unlimited miles). We chose a compact car, but got upgraded to an intermediate (very comfortable Corolla) due to them actually running out of cars. Because of the 5-state limit, we had to be careful of our route as the interstate goes through Utah, which was not covered in the 5-state unlimited mileage deal. This involved a careful plotting of a route straight down through Nevada at night. There was some colorful debate as to which mountains we would drive over. This is the shortest, straightest route we could decide upon.

trip1plot

Google map with the driving time estimate. We took a bit longer, but then there were multiple pit-stops.

When we lived on the East Coast, driving to Florida took almost this long, so it couldn’t be that bad, right?

With our route plotted, the days selected (5 days, no weekend), and the hotel reserved, we began our adventure mid-day. I must add I was anal-retentive enough in planning this trip I even checked road construction and delays before departure.

Driving during the day was nice, looking at cities, crossing bridges, navigating the mountain pass in Oregon, but the real trouble started after we entered Idaho and the sun set. Normally, I can drive all day, as long as the sun is out. However, with nothing to stare at but dark road I get Very Sleepy. Hubby and I had been taking turns every couple of hours, but after the sun went down, I could barely last more than about an hour, so he did as much driving as he could.

Note: Twin Falls, Idaho smells bad. I’ve seen some equate it to a farm smell, but it’s not quite that… And this was BEFORE the yogurt factory got built, so I can only imagine it’s worse now! We didn’t even get to see any of the falls it was named after as both there & back involved going through town in the middle of the night.

After making it into Nevada, the road got quite deserted, but what else should I expect from a highway going through the middle of nowhere? There were a few towns where we had to slow down as we drove through, but other than that, there was a whole lot of nothing. During most of the trip, we couldn’t even see lights from cities or even homesteads, so all we got was stars, the road and what little on either side that was illuminated by the headlights. There was even some wildlife wandering around at night, as we witnessed something with antlers crossing the road and some kind of large bird dive bombed us. (Come on, it was night time! like I’m supposed to be able to classify wildlife in the dark while driving?)

We pulled over at one straight stretch of road to enjoy the stars. With no moon or light pollution, it was beautiful!

Note: There’s a creepy town in the middle of Nevada called Ely. Maybe it was because it was middle-of-the-night deserted, but the place creeped us both out.  The highway becomes the main street so we had to slow down to 25 mph in places. If we didn’t need gas, we would have driven straight through.

After passing through Ely, navigating a mountain range and a couple of highway intersections later, we were in the home stretch. As the sky lightened pre-dawn, we were both exhausted. But we could actually start to make out the features of our surroundings, noticing the mountain ranges on either side. It was quite beautiful, seeing the rosy glow touch on golden & red rock. Sunrise found us at the intersection of Hwy 93 and 375 (the Extraterrestrial Highway). We would have gotten pictures of the sign, but we were exhausted and just wanted to get to Vegas.

This came from another blog (click picture for the link) as we never managed to get one of our own.

This came from another blog (click picture for the link) as we never managed to get one of our own.

After connecting with I-15, we could actually see Vegas in the distance. This was enough to energize me enough to make it there without falling asleep at the wheel. It’s interesting seeing a whole lot of desert and then the edge of a city rising up from the dusty flatness. We arrived at the hotel way too early to check in, so we shambled off for breakfast and some outskirts sight-seeing before they let us know a room was ready.

Our stay in Vegas was fantastic, but this will be covered in the next post.

On the way back, we got to see much of the scenery we missed on the way down. There were even some mountains with snow on them in August! Snow! in August! in Nevada! Honestly! (Pictures will arrive soon-ish) We were very grumpy when we finally arrived home.

See? That's SNOW in Nevada in August! But it was northern Nevada, on a high mountain peak

See? That’s SNOW in Nevada in August!
But it was northern Nevada, on a high mountain peak

Things I learned from our (driving) trip:

Nevada is not (entirely) a desert wasteland! There are (a few) rivers that create (some) lovely green areas, such as the Pahraganat (had to double-check spelling 3 times… it’s a mouthful) National Wildlife Refuge.

The desert is more green than I expected.

Ely is still creepy during the day.

Twin Rivers stinks (literally), at night anyway.

Nevada has some of the cheapest gasoline prices in the country.

Toyota Corolla is a very nice car to drive for long trips. We averaged about 45 miles to the gallon both ways. We missed it when we had to give it back.

Driving for 18 hours, having fun in Vegas and then driving back for another 18 hours is hell on a back. REALLY hell on a back.

Much of Nevada is a cell signal dead zone. Seriously. These are current maps, it was worse 2 years ago! Pray that nothing happens in the middle of the night, because no one will hear you scream, and the body (if there is one) won’t be found until the truck drivers start coming through in the daylight.

Seriously, double-check our route! Much of our time we had no signal!

Seriously, double-check our route! Much of our time we had no signal!

If you return a rental vehicle a day early, they do not refund the extra day. (sadface)

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