On The Road With Julie Grauf

“Who says you only ski in Colorado?” 

I’ve been to Colorado many times growing up, but always for skiing. This year we took our family and another to explore the small little tourist town of Manitou Springs. It’s actually closer to Pikes Peak than Colorado Springs and usually gets a little more snow because of it.

We beat the snowstorm that dropped two feet of snow in our area! We definitely enjoyed sitting in front of a warm fireplace at the house we rented, drinking hot chocolate and playing games. 

Julie and her husband, Chris, on a trail in Colorado.

The first days were spent sledding and exploring our area and hiking Red Rock Canyon open space. Glad we brought a good pair of boots! There is something magical about a walk through the quiet falling snow and viewing the mountains all around you. We even had visiting deer that would walk through the neighborhood eating berries off the trees. 

We drove an hour and a half to the Royal Gorge and walked through all the States represented on the bridge. 

Manitou Springs is known for its mineral springs that are still there today- be sure to stop and taste the healing waters. 

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods was a favorite site for all our party. There are paved trails with beautiful views and large red rocks shooting up to the sky. Kids even built a snowman village to leave for the other patrons. 

Hiking is our favorite past time and we took the trails up Pikes Peak walking over frozen waterfalls. During the summer you can drive to the top or take the Cog Railway (which will be up and running starting May 2021.)

Kids standing in front of Manitou ducks.

We spent an afternoon strolling the local shops in Manitou- everything is on the main street and plenty of places to “duck in” to get warm.

We might have been the only people to stop and get frozen custard on a 40 degree day but the worker at the Colorado Custard Company entertained us with jokes for tips!

Loved our trip to the Colorado mountains! 

at Pikes Peak

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It Only Happens Here

You’ve heard the iconic Vegas motto, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” which has appealed to visitors for many years.

However this week the Las Vegas tourism board modified the motto be “What happens here, ONLY happens here.” And I’d have to agree.

Vegas is unlike any other place.

When I say the words “Las Vegas” it can evoke strong emotions depending on the person. Some think “fun shows, big lights, great restaurants!” Others think “smoky casinos, heavy crowds, party atmosphere….” 

Whether you’ve been before or never been (based on what others have said), I want to share with you my favorite things about this city. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll believe you should give Vegas a try.

Without The Kids

The first time my husband and I went to Vegas, it just the two of us. We spent our anniversary getting out early in the morning when it was still nice and cool and touring the sights, relaxing at the hotel or by the pool in the afternoon and then going back out at night to explore more. 

Lodging in this city is incredibly-detailed and each one has a theme. Even if you’re not staying there, one of the best parts is touring the different hotels to see all they have to offer. 

Hotels you must see inside:  

Caesar’s Palace- will remind you of the old Roman Empire with it’s statues and replicas of the Spanish Steps, the pools, and the Statue of David. They have a free animatronic Atlantis show.

Bellagio– historic and beautiful on the inside! The lobby/gardens area always has a different display that’s worth a visit and the fountains outside at night have a free show frequently. Check here for the show times.

The Bellagio fountains
The Bellagio fountains

New York New York– the outside is incredible with a smaller version of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the NY skyline. Their in-house roller coaster takes you right by all these sights. Inside looks like the streets of NYC including lots of restaurants, and the hotel rooms are in one of the buildings (Crysler, Trump Tower, etc.) Don’t miss Hershey’s Chocolate World! 

Venetian– made to look like the streets of Venice with a miniature version of St. Mark’s Square, and the lobby is a replica of the Vatican. This is one of several hotels that the ceiling looks like the actual sky. The lighting in the St. Mark’s area actually feels as though 24 hours have gone by in one hour. Get some gelato and watch the gondola rides in the indoor river!

The Venetian
The Venetian

Paris Las Vegas– is a combo of these two. Looks like the streets of Paris with shopping and dining, but a sky like the Venetian. Don’t miss the Eiffel Tower if you are staying here.

Mirage- has an active volcano that erupts every hour after dark (free viewing.)

Paris Las Vegas
Paris Las Vegas

MGM Grand– huge and historic, CBS Television City inside allows you to sign-up (free) and screen CBS pilot episodes and give your feedback. If you are staying here the pools, waterfalls and river-pools are sure to be a family-pleaser. 

Luxor– has some really cool architecture inside, Blue Man Group is also here (that was our favorite show)

The Luxor
The Luxor

There are ample casinos, shopping and restaurants everywhere you look, but if you are celebrating make an advanced reservation for the Top of the World Restaurant at the Stratosphere Hotel. You’ll get a 360 degree view of the city and the food is divine.

There’s also no shortage of golf courses in the area that offer equipment and cart rentals. Chris played at Painted Desert Golf Course while I drove the cart and enjoyed the beautiful views. Even if you are a solo player they can pair you with an existing group. 

The Freemont Street Experience is a 7 block entertainment district in historic downtown. The free Viva Vision light show on the world’s largest video screen suspended above the street is hourly after 6pm. Plenty of characters on this street to take pictures with and a zipline over the crowd, but be aware the billboards in this area may not be appropriate for children. 

Be sure to make a stop for a selfie at the iconic Las Vegas sign in the median at 5100 Las Vegas Blvd South (little less than a mile walk from the Mandalay Bay entrance.) 

Las Vegas Sign
Las Vegas Sign

Getting excited before your trip I recommend watching movies that feature Las Vegas! Ocean’s Eleven (old and new), Vegas Vacation, Fools Rush In, Leaving Las Vegas are all good ones to choose from. 

With Kids

…. yes, that’s right, with kids!

The second trip we took our kids (then ages 7 and 5) and focused on those activities that were great for families.

We stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel where our girls loved the crystal chandeliers and giant high heeled shoes you could sit in for photo ops. However our best money spent was to upgrade our room to a Terrace Studio with a view of the Bellagio Fountains. The best place in the city with an incredible balcony view of the Strip! I also recommend Mandalay Bay Hotel with their Shark Reef Aquarium, giant pool complex with a wave pool and a lazy river and 20+ restaurants. Good pool + kid-friendly food= happy kiddos! 

The girls will always remember the bright lights and tall buildings of course but Las Vegas has been transforming it’s image for the last decade to incorporate more family-friendly activities. Here’s a few we’d recommend in addition to the list above: 

High Roller at the LINQ– Soar 550 feet above the center of the Strip on the biggest Ferris Wheel in the world! Breathtaking views and kids under 7 are free.

Our family favorite show was the Blue Man Group at the Luxor, but there is also David Copperfield or Criss Angel if you like magic and tons of Cirque du Soleil options.

M&M World– 4 floors of chocolate and merchandise dedicated to those little candies. 

Julie and her daughters at M&M World
Julie and her daughters at M&M World

Rainforest Cafe Restaurant- at the MGM Grand is a themed-restaurant and gift shop for animal lovers with great food choices. Watch out for the indoor rainstorms that happen every 30 minutes or so (don’t worry, you don’t need a jacket.)

Fun Dungeon at Excalibur Hotel or AdventureDome at Circus Circus Hotel (5 acre indoor amusement park)- both are dedicated kids areas for all ages.

Circus Circus
Circus Circus

Off The Strip

There’s more to Vegas than just that famous Strip, especially if you love the outdoors. Consider close by Red Rock Canyon for some desert hiking. Easy to moderate trails and outdoor picnic areas not 20 minutes drive from the city lights. Or drive the 13 mile loop through the park with the windows down, then stop at the visitors center where you’ll learn about the wildlife and vegetation. There are also many tour companies that offer day trips to the Grand Canyon (Arizona) or Zion National Park (Utah), which will pick you up and then return you back to your hotel at the end of the day. 

Julie's daughter's enjoying the nature away from The Strip
Julie’s daughter’s enjoying the nature away from The Strip

Lake Mead is close by and an ideal choice for boating/water sports, kayaking, canoeing, swimming/sunbathing or sport fishing. It’s not a bad idea to rent a car for a day or two to fit a few of these extra activities in. 

Visit Hoover Dam (another 20 minute drive from the city)but get there early to beat the traffic and the heat. Where else can you stand in front of the plaque to put one foot in Arizona and one foot in Nevada? Tours and gift shop also available.

Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam

Budget Friendly Vegas

If saving money is a concern let me offer a few suggestions. Make lunch your bigger meal of the day; many restaurants offer the same choices for lunch and dinner but the dinner menu cost is a little higher. Think about a hotel room that has a fridge or kitchenette so you can purchase breakfast or snack items.

For budget-friendly transportation make use of The Deuce, their public transportation is one of the best ways to get around the city. You can get a 24 hour pass for $8/p or a 3 day pass for $20/p. Reduced rates are also available for veterans, senior citizens (over 60), children ages 6-17 (age 5 and under free) and those with disabilities or mobility issues. The Deuce runs 24/7 so it cannot be cancelled like rideshares or taxis, however if you are more comfortable using that method Uber, Lyft and taxis are plentiful.

Make sure if you are hailing a taxi that you are in front of a property as drivers aren’t allowed to just stop anywhere along the street.

What about you?

Are you willing to give this city a try?