10 Things: New Orleans

“We wander through old streets, and pause before the age stricken houses; and, strange to say, the magic past lights them up.”

~ Grace King, French Quarter Guidebook ~

I absolutely love New Orleans; not the loud, drunken partying New Orleans, but the cultural, culinary, historical and gracious New Orleans.

My husband knows this, so when he had to schedule a business trip to this grand old Southern City last week, he made arrangements for me to accompany him.

{He’s thoughtful that way.}

While Bourbon Street is clearly the most happening place in New Orleans, I tend to prefer the more subdued side of town.  You may ask what else is there to experience in this town known for its lively side, so let me share some of my favorite things to enjoy while traveling New Orleans.  I’ve included a few tips and links to help you plan your own vacation.

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1. Step back in time and tour the plantations on Louisiana’s old River Road.  From the stunning Houmas House and Gardens to the lesser known St. Josephs plantation (owned by the same family since 1877), these are still estates with working gardens or sugar cane crops!

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The Houmas House, also known as the Burnside Plantation or “The Sugar Palace”… The original portion of the house was built in the 1700s with  additions made by later owners completed in the 1840s.  The original portion of the home was built in the Federal style of architecture that was so common in the late 1700s, but the newer portion is obviously Greek Revival style which was used in many old southern homes.

We toured Houmas House first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrived.  It was still cool and quiet which made for a lovely and relaxing morning.

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The Houmas House guided tour is quite informative and well worth taking.  You will hear stories of several generations who lived there as well as a few details on furniture (Audley loved the 150 year old humidor) and accessories throughout the house.

 

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St. Joseph’s Plantation in Vacherie was built in the 1820s.  I love the French Creole architecture of the area and time.  The house was originally opened on the bottom as many Creole homes were, but was enclosed prior to the Civil War so that the home is 12,000 square feet!  My guide, Rae was full of information and facts including that the home was built from cypress wood since it was inexpensive to use, then faux finished to look like oak which was much more expensive!  Very interesting when so many seem to think faux finishes are a newer design concept. 

I visited St. Josephs later in the afternoon where I enjoyed a personal tour.  There were only a few other people around this time of day so I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and really soak in the history.

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Sugar Cane (certified organic) is still grown and harvested here at St. Josephs.  

If you love history and architecture, this is definitely a stop on your list of “to-do’s”.

2. Treat your sweet side with a trip to Sucre’ on Magazine Street for authentic French macarons, chocolates, and pastry.  Make sure you have left room in your carry-on for carrying a few delights home with you!

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Window shopping is quite sweet while strolling the streets of NOLA

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3. Enjoy the beautiful, historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter and take a tour of the stunning St. Louis Cathedral with her Renaissance & Spanish (which surprises me since Louisiana was such a large French colony) architecture, first completed in 1793 and added onto in 1850!

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The Andrew Jackson statue … Hence the naming of Jackson Square.

4. Enjoy a carriage ride through the French Quarter with a knowledgable and entertaining guide.  If you are limited on time, this is one of the best ways to take in a little of local New Orleans history and flavor.

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We took our tour at twilight and left from in front of the cathedral, where tours leave from all day.  We participated in a group tour so our ride was $20/each, Carriages for two run about $45/each.

5. Indulge your taste buds with delicious New Orleans flavor by dining at one of the many local restaurants found in the downtown area.  We thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Red Fish Grill located on Bourbon Street (near Canal).

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Start your meal with fresh, Gulf oysters shucked right in front of you, then venture into the dining room for a delicious meal showcasing traditional, local flavor.

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I highly recommend the shrimp and grits topped with friend pickled okra and pancetta, although Audley was totally suggest the wood plank grilled red fish with lump crab meat.

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No matter which you prefer, make reservations before heading out for the evening.  This is true for almost every restaurant in the area!

6. And while you are making reservations be sure make time for a cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.  

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Our demo and tasting class included Gumbo, jambalaya, and Pralines and was only $28 each.  We were so full when we left, so it is well worth participating in.

Here you can choose a demo and tasting class, or a full hands-on instructional class.  Either way, you are going to learn a lot about traditional French cooking from Colonial, Louisiana and how it evolved with Italian, African, and Haitian influences into the amazing flavors we enjoy today!

7. While I’m definitely not a fan of Bourbon Street, I LOVE strolling down it long enough to reach Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub.  A stop in Fritzels is like stepping back in time to mid-century France or Germany with their jazz clubs, long wooden tables and benches included.  It doesn’t take long for you to find yourself lost in the music, leaving the present day behind.

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There is not a cover charge for Fritzels, but there is a minimum one drink per set purchase required; bottled water counts as a drink!

8.  Tour an old historic cemetery as there are plenty to choose from.  The old St Louis Cemetery #1 is the most popular and requires a $20 admission and comes with a guide.  Audley and I enjoy exploring on our own and there are several which allow you to do just that.  One of our favorites in the Hook and Ladder cemetery (established in 1858) in Gretna.  It’s not too big, still lovely in a unique way, and definitely worth checking out.  If you want to make your tour a little more interesting, read up on how these family mausoleums work… extremely interesting!

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The Hook and Ladder is located next to fabulous restaurant, The Red Maple,  which I also highly recommend you visit for supper one night!

9. Take some time out to shop the market in the French Quarter. From local boutiques artisans to stereotypical gift shops, there is something to be found for everyone on your shopping list.

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10. Did you really visit New Orleans if you skip over Cafe du Monde?  Located next to Jackson Square in the Quarter, stopping in for beignets and a cafe au lait in this famous open-air cafe is a must-do on your trip.  Choosing from a very limited menu of hot chocolates, coffee, cafe au lait and beignets takes little time.  There is really no excuse to miss this cafe as they are open 24-hours!

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Have you visited New Orleans before?  What are your favorite things to do in this grand old city?

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5 Years of PDQ

Dining for our family has been so different over the last several years as I’ve lost all of this weight, and still work hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Not only did I change my lifestyle, eating more “real” foods that are fresh and without additives, I have also focused on teaching my kids to be a bit more choosy about what they ingest. This included taking fast food out of my diet completely and limiting what they are allowed.  Even now, they make smart choices when dining out with friends, generally making fast food the very last thing they would choose.

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The chain of restaurants known as PDQ celebrated five years of business this past weekend .As a part of their birthday celebration Audley and I were invited out to check out this awesome brand with a tour and lunch!  Let me tell you, this upscale, fast-food restaurant is one my family can visit over and over!

PDQ is casual, fast dining for the whole family.  Established in 2011 by one of the founders of Outback Steakhouse, Bob Basham and Nick Reader, this restaurant has grown to fifty-five locations in eight states in just five years and is planning to branch out, opening thirty more in 2017!

  Having worked at McDonalds and a dinner riverboat to pay my way through high school and college I pretty much know there is a lot the food industry doesn’t want you to know.  I was quite surprised and pleased at the transparency of PDQ.

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Audley and I were met by Michael Francisco the operations director at the Columbia, SC location of PDQ.  He set Audley up right away with a hand-spun Oreo milkshake (I didn’t say everything was healthy and calorie free) and we were off on a complete tour of the restaurant.

One of the first things I noticed was that the entire restaurant is an open concept.  You have a complete line of vision to the kitchen where food is prepared and can see each employee (all of whom were extremely busy and cooperating with one another) working.

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 Knowing how your food is prepared is really important to me, just as knowing what I am eating is.  The dining area is open as well with walls of windows to allow for natural light.  They also have TV’s in the dining room for sports coverage.

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The menu at PDQ is quite simple: chicken tenders, nuggets, and sandwiches, turkey, salads, blueberry slaw, zucchini fries, French fries, shakes, and cookies.  In-house made lemonade (consisting only of real sugar, water and fresh squeezed lemons),  Joffrey’s tea (those who frequent Walt Disney World will appreciate this), and bottled water from their own source in Florida (instead of using a brand bottling company) round out their menu.

So what makes PDQ different and why would I choose it over another restaurant known for its chicken?

1. The chicken and turkey is never frozen and delivered fresh a couple of times each week.  The poultry is marinated in-house made marinades for 24-hours, then breaded and cooked as ordered (there is a station for breading chicken that never stopped while we were there).

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For a healthy option you can order grilled chicken items as well.  And if that doesn’t sound appealing enough, the chicken is hormone and steroid free.  Visit their website where they list what all is in products that they use as a disclaimer regarding allergies.

2. All sauces are made daily in-house with name-brand ingredients and individually packaged.  You don’t have to pay extra for any sauces (which means my son the condiment king would be really happy about), so if you need extra you get it.  Marinades are also created in-house using real honey (save the honey bees) and other quality ingredients.  And the honey-butter for the new chicken sandwich which appeared on the menu this week?  Real butter tempered in the store and mixed with honey.  It’s that simple.

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3. Fries … yep, 400 pounds of French fries are cut and prepared daily in the store.

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And if you don’t want fries, go for fried zucchini, also cut fresh and battered in-house.  Fries are cooked in their own vat of vegetable oil where floured products are not allowed.  This keeps them from becoming contaminated with gluten from the breaded chicken products.

4. Salads are made when ordered, so that you can choose what fresh ingredients you want on them.  Vegetables are delivered to the store a couple of days a week where they are prepped fresh everyday; no bagged salad mixes here.  PDQ also has these yummy candy-coated almonds that you can add to your salad, and guess what?  They make the coating right in the store.  They are also prepped in small individual containers to keep them from contaminating other items that might reach someone who is allergic to nuts.

5. Cookies.  The yummy cookies are baked daily in the store and then individually wrapped.  The cookies that contain nut products are baked and wrapped separately.  PDQ goes to great lengths to protect their customers with allergies.

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6. Customer service is so important to me in any dining experience.  PDQ goes above and beyond in customer service starting in the drive-thru.  With no speaker box to be found, customers drive right up to the “hospitality hut” where they are greeted in person by someone who takes their order face-to-face.

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 This cuts down on mistakes that often occur by the use of a speaker box and keeps the experience personal.  After placing an order in the drive-thru you drive on around where your food is given to you.  The goal for food service is less than a two minute wait.  There are separate assembly stations for the drive-thru and dinning room to cut down on confusion and running over each other while trying to work.  Each station stays fully stocked with sides and condiments.

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All of the employees at the Columbia location were super friendly and worked well together.  Communication is key to keeping things running smoothly in the restaurant.

7. PDQ wants to be very active in the community by supporting schools at all levels, sports teams and churches.  Each store has a budget for community service and uses all of it, sometimes more to meet community needs.  Since they use their own brand of bottled water, they donate a lot of water for any number of situations where it is needed without having to get permission from bottling companies.

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 The PDQ we visited in Columbia is next to Ft Jackson military base and the University of South Carolina.  They have free delivery and expanded their area to a 30 minute drive to meet the needs of the communities.  South Carolina students can even use their Carolina Cash (money connected to their id cards) to pay for purchases which is super convenient.  They also offer Military Monday where military personal and their families receive a discount.

Audley and I tried a smorgasbord sampler of some of PDQ’s best selling items as well as the new honey-butter chicken sandwich which is way better than another popular chicken sandwich that gets a lot of attention!

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The Honey-Butter chicken sandwich is absolutely delicious!  Hand-battered chicken on a Brioche bun drizzled with honey-butter with bread and butter pickles …

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PDQ Tenders will make any chicken loving child and adult very happy!

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This is like “Friday after Thanksgiving” on a bun … grilled turkey on a brioche bun, cranberry sauce and lettuce.

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Fried Chicken salad tossed in house-made honey mustard

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Blueberry slaw made with mayonnaise, cilantro, red wine vinegar, poppy seeds and a touch of honey … you’ll want extra!

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And a cookie to top it all off; peanut butter, chocolate chip to go!

While we were treated to dinner for our review, all opinions of PDQ are totally my own and we will definitely dine here again.

Now I am giving you an opportunity to check out PDQ  for yourself and see why we were so pleased!  I am giving away dinner for five at PDQ.  Unfortunately since PDQ is only in a few states (Florida, Georgia, north & South Carolina, South Alabama, Texas, Las Vegas, and New Jersey),  it may limit you on participating. If you travel a lot, by all means enter so that you can check them out!

To enter, go to the menu on the PDQ web page and tell me what you might like to try AND then tell me what you look for when choosing a restaurant for you and your family!

It’s that simple.  You have until Monday, November 7 to enter and I’ll notify the winner through email.

I will also be doing a Facebook give-away and an Instagram giveaway, so be sure to follow me so that you will have an extra opportunity to win!

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48 Hours in Arizona

It is outage season in the world of boiler businesses which means Audley is on the road nearly every day each week.  Now that the kiddos are so much older and require less of my time, he really encourages me to take off at least once a year for a girlfriend’s getaway and a little down time to help maintain my sanity.  Last weekend I was able to take off and enjoy a little Momma vacay  in Arizona with my friend, Yvonne.  She is quite familiar with the area as she owns a condo in Flagstaff, so I knew it would an exciting, jam packed weekend. We were quite limited on time with just over 48 hours to enjoy ourselves so Yvonne wanted to make sure  wanted to make sure I enjoyed a real taste of Arizona.

So, what can you do with such a short amount of time in an amazing area?

Let me share some of our fun with you!

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1. Dine at Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon and Musical Review in Flagstaff.  Dinner out at Black Barts was so much fun!  This eclectic restaurant is staffed with a lot of talent who might drop what they are doing without notice and jump on stage to sing for you.  With performances of show tunes from old Broadway to recent Disney favorites you might even find yourself singing along!

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The food was good (my Prime Rib was cooked perfectly), but the atmosphere is what makes Black Barts worth the stop!

A couple of other great restaurant suggestions would include the fabulous Horseman Lodge Steakhouse in Flagstaff (features local fare, including some amazing Elk Chops) and El Rincon Restaurante Mexicano in Sedona.

2. Wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise as you travel through the desert to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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Skip the initial first view of the canyon (you’re charged to see it) and travel to Navajo Point for a truly gorgeous sight!

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Check out the shops (especially the Kolb Studio… the home and photography studio of historic Canyon photographers and film makers, Emery and Ellsworth Kolb ) and then hike the Angel Light Trail.

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Just remember while it’s a fairly easy hike down, plan to double your time on the hike back up, and be sure to pack light!

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Whew!

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Utilize the free shuttle around the southern rim and visit different viewing points around the canyon. Also chat up the NP rangers for a bit of history and to answer your questions about the park.

3. Take a ride down Route 66 for a few unique shops and sights.

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4. Soak up the many views of Arizona’s ever-changing landscape.  From Prairies to mountain tops the scenery  around Flagstaff is amazing!

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We drove up to the Arizona Snow Bowl skiing area to see these gorgeous views!arizona-weekend-2-oh-fiddledeedee-com

And I do believe Arizona has enjoyed a much prettier autumn than we have in the Carolinas.

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5. Visit the unique Indian cliff dwellings built into rock at Montezuma’s Castle.

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Why build in the rocks?

 Protection from flooding, predators and MOSQUITOS!  Those pesky little insects like to stay low, so living high in the cliffs protected the native Americans from their annoying bites!

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6. Head off to the Sedona desert for a hike at Bell Rock and marvel at the breathtaking formations surrounding you!

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And on your way out, stop for some fun shopping with local artisans in Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village.  Sylvie & Bruno is a wonderful stop for locally designed jewelry (I picked up a couple of gorgeous turquoise pieces) and if you love photography you must visit the Eclectic Image Gallery.  Owned by the husband and wife team of Elaine and Duane Morgan, you will be enthralled (and a wee bit jealous) by their photographic eye for local beauty.

7. Take an evening horseback ride at the historic Hitchin’ Post Stables in Flagstaff.

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Dale was an awesome trail guide, and Sally was a fun horse to ride!

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8.  Leave a little early (and even drive off of your designated path) as you head to Phoenix to catch your flight out, and marvel at the swirly cactus on the way.

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Superstition Mountain in black and white …

While a long trips out west would be so much more fun, it is so easy to take in this fabulous destination and feel like you really got a taste of Arizona, even in 48 hours.

 FYI… If you plan to visit Arizona and especially its parks, purchase a National Park pass.  It’s good for a year and will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, If you fly into Phoenix and decide to take the Arizona Shuttle to Flagstaff… Don’t.

Just pay to rent a car.  It’ll save you so much trouble and your sanity as well.

Happy Weekend Y’all!

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“What Happens in Vegas”

Each year my hubby slips away for a safety professionals conference in Las Vegas. Tired of him having all the fun, this year I made arrangements for the kiddos and slipped away with him for a much needed get-away.  I was told by several people before we left that I would either love Vegas or absolutely hate it; there was no in-between.

Me?

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I fell in love with Las Vegas.

Now you know I am not a wild and crazy girl, but guess what?!  You don’t have to be to have fun in Vegas, and “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t necessarily have to “stay in Vegas”

And I had a blast the four and a half days we were there!

So what can you do in Las Vegas if you are not a huge gambler or a late night partier?  Here are seven fun things you can do and still get a Vegas experience!

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1. Take in a show.  As cliche as it seems, you can’t go to Vegas without seeing at least one live show.  There is something from everyone from impersonators to live concerts.  The week we were in town Brittany Spears performed twice and we had an option of no less than FIVE Cirque du Soleil shows!  We opted for a musical and watched Jersey Boys  (the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons story), which was playing nightly at the Paris hotel theater.   The music was fabulous, making it an awesome choice and a show we enjoyed very much!

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2. Enjoy dinner at a high end restaurant!  Enjoy yourself and splurge.  We chose to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the Paris hotel as part of a package that included dinner and the Jersey Boys performance.

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Our reservations were early so that we had prime seating for the sunset and a view of the strip as it lit up for the evening.

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We could also watch the fountains at the Belliago from our table.  Another good reason for dining early was to keep us from being absolutely stuffed while watching our show later in the evening!

Service at the Eiffel Tower was impeccable.  The sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and took his time going over the wine list with us.  The waitress was very friendly, yet professional and efficient.

Our filet medallions were cooked perfectly and dessert…. let’s just say I was very thankful for gym access!

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My Creme Brûlée was sheer perfection.

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3. Spend a day at Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center.  Located in the Venetian Hotel this spa club has everything you could imagine to spoil yourself … which is exactly what I did.

Because I have fitness goals I am still striving to reach, I took advantage of the personal trainers on staff and had my booty handed to me.  It was a humbling experience as a licensed trainer to have another trainer whip you and nearly have you crawling out of the gym.  I told them what I was looking for and for two days got it.  I will definitely use the facility and the trainers again!  The fitness club has every kind of equipment you could possibly want or need for a workout, as well as cardio equipment and a climbing wall!  Fitness classes like spin, yoga, and zumba are available as well.

The ladies locker room is peaceful and calm which really encourages you to focus on the workouts to come!

While at the spa-club I spent the money and took advantage of one of the hairstylists, to “fix” me up for our  evening out on the town as well as a cosmetologist for a dramatic makeover that I’ll never be able to recreate!

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I’m not a “selfie” person …

It was so much fun and extremely relaxing.  Something every wife and momma needs from time to time.

While time didn’t allow for me to enjoy all the activities at the spa, with a spa passport you can use the steam rooms, rainforest aquavana, the sauna, and a hydrospa.  For extra you can schedule a variety of massages, manis/pedis, body wraps and even a couples mud bath!

4. Walk through the many themed hotels and take in the architecture and decor.

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I know, you’re thinking “how boring!”, but I promise you it’s not!  Our trip corresponded with Chinese New Year, so a walk through the Belliago was unique, colorful and so enjoyable!

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During the afternoon at the Venetian you may find a carnival atmosphere taking place right in the Canal Shoppes!

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With live music and colorful costumes, it’s worth taking a break from your day to sit and take in a little Italian culture.

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Stop by Buddy’s bakery or Godiva while hitting the Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Just be sure to do a few extra reps when you hit the gym!

An if you want a bit of Egyptian culture, step into the Luxor.  You feel like you’ve traveled the world with just a little walking!

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5. Step back in time to the day of gangsters in Vegas with a stroll through The Mob Museum.   Located in old Vegas the Mob Museum housed in the old US Post Office and courthouse built in 1933, the museum shares the history of the mob from it’s beginnings in the United States to its rise in Vegas and the end of several prominent mobsters.  There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of history for you to soak in.  “The Godfather” just doesn’t tell all of the story!

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Another great exhibit in Las Vegas is the Titanic display at the Luxor.  Cameras are forbidden in the tour, but the images will be forever etched in your mind.  With actual artifacts from the shipwreck, paired with carefully reconstructed displays of various rooms on the ship and stories of the passengers you will need a box of kleenex.  Very touching indeed.

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6. Take a hike into Red Rock Canyon.  While the Grand Canyon is drivable from Las Vegas (3.5-4 hours), Red Rock Canyon is just an hour out and a day you will find most enjoyable.

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 Start in the visitors center where you will get an idea of the history of the area as well as the wildlife and variety of native plants you will see while you are out and about.

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 Talk with one of the Rangers and pick up a guide showing you the many hikes you can take.  It’s a stunningly beautiful area.  Take a picnic, enjoy a hike, take in the wildlife and soak in God’s amazing creation.

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7. Hit up a gun range for a military experience!  We discovered Battlefield Vegas by accident as I was trying to do something fun for Audley since he had been a good sport by hiking and dressing up for dinner.  Battlefield Vegas is owned and operated by US Veterans which made it even more appealing to us.

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The experience begins when you are picked up at your hotel in a military vehicle and taken to their location.  You can tour around outside and look at old military vehicles which made my veteran hubby quite happy.

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Once you go inside, you have several packages to choose from for your shooting experience.  We choose the Navy Seal package, plus added and extra gun.

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Apparently Audley has missed shooting an AK-47.

We just paid for one package and split it.

Audley had a blast…. and so did I.

The “instructor” assigned to help us with the guns was really great and I think shocked that I knew what I was doing.  You don’t have to regularly shoot to do this shooting experience; you will have plenty of help.  They guys are really awesome and were great for answering any questions you might have.  When you are finished shooting, shopping and touring, the guys will carry you back to your hotel or even a restaurant if you are going to eat.   There are other shooting experiences available in the area, but we really had fun at Battlefield Vegas and will definitely do this again!

For reference, hotels for every budget are available in Las Vegas.  You can stay in the Best Western or in Caesar’s Palace.  We chose a Hilton property (always our preference), using the Elara Grand Vacations for our stay.

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The pulled “shade” over the window was a screen for a TV projection!  We watched the Super Bowl in high definition comfort of our suite.

With a jacuzzi and full-sized living room and kitchen it was like we were in our own apartment instead of a hotel!  I’m not a gambler at all, but for the Vegas experience I did play a couple of slot machines.

With only four days for our trip, as you can imagined we in no way saw all there is to see.  I’m already planning to accompany Audley next year to his conference … I told you I loved it!

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