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72 Hours in Las Vegas

With so much to do in Las Vegas from partying to shopping, shows to fine dining, it can be hard to decide how to spend your time there! Our 3 day schedule which we put together for a mid-week break might give you some ideas of what can be achieved in a few days if you sacrifice a little sleep – and gives you a few tips on things to avoid too.

Day 1 (Tuesday)

Check In at MGM Grand – We stayed at the MGM Grand via a great midweek deal with Allegiant Air. With modern room designs, amazing pools, a great casino and enough restaurant options to last you a month, your only concern will be not getting lost in this giant complex!

Lunch at In and Out Burger – a cult Californian burger chain, this super cheap lunch option comes with secret codes for crispy fries and thousand island sauce. Highly recommend getting a taxi given its location on a major intersection unless you like dodging cars at high speed in the heat!

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Shopping at Fashion Show Mall – Vegas is littered with shopping malls but the biggest of them is the Fashion Show Mall next to Treasure Island. Worth bringing a spare bag to take your purchases home with!

Walking the Strip – You can’t visit Vegas without walking The Strip and admiring the sheer scale of the hotel resorts! Suggest you carry water and be prepared to be offered show tickets every 20 meters! Our favourite push back line was “saw it last night”……

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MGM Pools – you should make time each day to enjoy a few hours by one of the MGM’s many outdoor pools. With only 12 days of rain a year, and an average temperature of 40 degrees in summer, you are almost guaranteed warm sunshine! You are allowed to take in your own drinks (no glass), or the poolside bars offer refreshing cocktails. The main challenge is working out how to keep them cool!

Roller-coaster at New York New York – if you love the thrill of being thrown around at high speed, then a roller-coaster that goes through the New York New York casino is probably a must do. Cost is $14 per person for a 2-3 minute ride.

Gambling at…anywhere – You can gamble whenever you want, and when you do the drinks are generally free! We tried to give ourselves a time and budget limit as the casinos have no clocks and they pump oxygen in to keep you awake! #DontChaseThoseLosses

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Day 2 (Wednesday)

Buffet Lunch at Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan) – Vegas is famed for its Champagne Brunches but these tend to be only on the weekend. An alternative midweek choice is the elegantly decorated Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan which serves to 2pm each day everything from eggs benedict, to roast meats, to Asian sides to a very impressive dessert selection. $26 per person including soft drinks makes this a must do! #Stuffed

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MGM Lazy River – the best way to recover from a 4 course buffet brunch is to head to the ¼ mile long lazy river at the MGM Grand. Make sure you hire a tube for $10 (half day) and enjoy a relaxing ride with a cool beverage in hand! Watch out for human dams (guys trying to pick up girls in their tube by blocking the river) and powerful waterfalls which will dent your beer can, and knock the sunglasses right off your head if shoved under one!

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Drinking game in a taxi…or anywhere – so if you forget your ID to pick up your show tickets, you might spend a bit of time in a taxi going back to get it so why not make the most of your time by grabbing a few drinks and playing some drinking games – recommended the Name Game! As visitors from Canada with its super strict drinking rules, the option to enjoy a beverage anywhere, whether in a taxi or walking down the street – is pretty exciting in itself!

Cirque Du Soleil – you can’t go to Vegas and not take in one of the legendary shows, which sell out fast. We booked Mystere at Treasure Island a couple of weeks ahead of time for around $100 person including all the booking fees. Our great centre seats were fantastic value for money and the amazing Cirque Du Soleil acts did not disappoint – although we still can’t work out what the plot was all about.

Senor Frogs Yards – we decided to ensure we did not go thirsty on our nighttime walk along The Strip so used a 2-1 voucher to buy a yard of pina colada each from Senor Frogs, as well as throw a few token shapes on the dance floor. You get to keep the foot long glasses and the hangover!

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Bellagio Fountain – the fountain runs every 15 minutes, but is most spectacular at night. Last show is at midnight so arrive early to get a good spot and the classic “I was here” Vegas snap!

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Day 3 (Thursday)

Gondola at Venetian Hotel – a good way to recover from a sore head is to take a 12 minute ride on the Venetian Gondola. There are 2 options – indoors (signposted) and outdoors (not very well signposted..). $18 per person. Staff are super friendly and will sing on request!

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Lunch at BurGR at Planet Hollywood – Gordon Ramsey has taken the humble burger and turned it into a mouth-watering treat at a reasonable price. The hog burger with its English cheddar and apple butter along with the hand cut truffle parmesan dusted fries were sensational, and left you wanting more!

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Wet Republic at MGM. This “day club” runs from Thursday to Sunday with world class DJs playing to packed pools. Entry is $20 for men and $10 on Thursday. There is a dress code and security check! Don’t forget your ear plugs, this place is loud!

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill at MGM – situated on the casino floor Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill restaurant offered wonderful flavours with the Halibut being the stand out dish.

The Mix at The Hotel – if you want to see a phenomenal Vegas view with a great cocktail in hand, The Mix on the 64th floor of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay is your perfect spot. Leave your fear of heights at home, don’t forget your camera and make a visit to the bathroom for the best washroom view of your life.

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Tiesto at Hakassan nightclub (MGM) – a world renowned DJ playing one of Vegas’ latest and hottest clubs meant we were more than happy to fork out $50 for men and $30 for the girls on tickets. However, with a 1 hour wait for the ticket line and a dance floor which could only be accessed by those paying extortionate prices for table services this place was more about image than dance music. We left after a couple hours after being only able to dance in the packed gangways with no view of the main stage. Overpriced and over-hyped. #Avoid.

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Checking out – always make sure you check your bill, and don’t be tempted to do an express checkout. It took the super unfriendly and unapologetic front desk assistant 3 attempts to get our bill correct. The MGM has great rooms, a superb central location on The Strip and fantastic outdoor pools, but the front desk service on check out was less than ideal.

Top Tips for Vegas
– Get taxis where you can as it takes longer than you think to walk given the maze of lights and walkways. Budget around $10 per taxi
– Plan a bit in advance – the hottest shows and clubs sell out
– Sleep when you get home – there is just too much fun to be had!!

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Tofino Eats

Having visited Tofino every Summer for the past few years, we are always surprised by the variety and quality of the culinary offerings available from a town which is populated by barely 2000 people.

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Without doubt our favourite lunch time treat while in Tofino is a trip to the original Tacofino food truck behind the Beaches / Learn to Surf store after a surf session.  The tacos are varied and fresh, while the milkshakes may be the best we have every tasted. Be warned however, the popularity of this west coast Mexican street food outlet can mean big line ups, and full outdoor tables. Bring a blanket and have your own Mexican picnic!

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The Inn at Tough City

Despite the name this is not a fisherman’s bar where minor disagreements are settled outside, but a great sushi spot with a tremendous view of Tofino’s natural water, forest and mountain geography.

This is the best sushi we have eaten in BC – the fish is super fresh, the combinations exciting and complimentary. Go for the Beachcomber Roll, you won’t be disappointed. The view from the balcony is likely to take your breath away -a stunning natural harbour surrounded by forest clad mountains and snow capped peaks. You can even enjoy the float planes taking off and landing!

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Sobo

While a popular spot with our friends and many others given the long wait for a table, if we are honest, this is the only restaurant we have not LOVED in Tofino. We found the food was not quite to our taste, however the restaurant had some nice views of Tofino, and the design inside allowed for lots of light, while the staff were friendly.

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Shelter

Shelter is a gem of a seafood based restaurant located on the main Campbell road as you drive in to Tofino. We were attracted by the large patio, modern look, cosy feel and outside flames.

The menu was fantastic – the seafood red thai curry was excellent…..Paul asked for the dish without mussels (a long story involving an allergic reaction, an ambulance and lots of oxygen) and instead was provided with a huge amount of clams. This is not just a restaurant but also has the feel of a locals’ bar, with surfers sat on stools sampling their favourite local brew.

This place gets busy – we booked so at least got a table by the window, but if you want a patio seat get there early and be prepared to wait. There is also limited parking space outside the restaurant, we ended up 200m away parking on the road.

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Spotted Bear

This is a cosy bistro with super friendly service. Our pleasant tuna tartare starter was supported by an exceptional duck main, and an exciting halibut dish with octopus wrapped in bacon and pulled pork.

Our main memory of this night was the journey home. Be warned Tofino only has 2 taxis, so it can be a challenge getting back if you are staying out of the town centre. While the boys opted to run along the sidewalk in the pitch black, the girls in their heels scored a lift with a local surfer girl in her PJs. Some great local hospitality!!

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Long Beach Lodge

Located a few kms  outside of Tofino as part of the Long Beach Lodge resort complex, the food served in the Great Room is West Coast fine dining at its very best. The smoked albacore tuna & island scallops was sensational on the taste buds.

This food is only matched by the tremendous view of the beach and ocean as the sun sets. There is no need for music as the waves breaking provide the perfect cosy ambience. Highly recommend booking on Summer weekends, as we had a 45 minute wait with a reservation.

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36 Hours in Montreal

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be invited on a flying visit to Montreal. Montreal might be in the same country as our hometown of Vancouver, but from a political, linguistic, cultural and culinary perspective, it is very much French, making it the perfect Canadian city escape.

I stayed at the Hotel Le Germain. Perfectly located on Mansfield Street in the heart of Downtown Montreal, it’s ideally located for business meetings and not far from the shopping of Sainte-Catherine Street. A boutique that is trendy without being pretentious, the rooms are superbly designed with chic but understated décor and extremely comfortable beds. The service was exceptional during my stay, and every single one of the staff I met could not have been more helpful.

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The hotel’s restaurant, Laurie Raphaël, is highly acclaimed for its locally inspired menu of appetizer size specialities. The subtle flavours of my halibut, with polenta stuffed zucchini flower were particularly noteworthy, as was the progression of selected Québec cheeses. The flawless service continued with our server at Laurie Raphaël whose knowledge of the regional cheese producers and wine list was highly impressive. A note of caution, however – this isn’t your usual hotel restaurant to enjoy a quick business dinner. You will want to give yourself a couple of hours to really enjoy the experience.

My second dinner in Montreal was equally memorable. On the recommendation of the hotel’s concierge I headed over to Brasserie T, the sister restaurant to a veteran of the Montreal restaurant scene, Toque! You can’t miss the location  – a modernist structure with bright interior design, in the centre of the Quartier des spectacles. Tonight it was buzzing and I was lucky enough to jump a queue of 10 people waiting for tables, having secured myself a spot at the bar. Tonight I kept my menu choice traditional –an excellent steak frites, followed by crème caramel. Brasserie T is known for its quality ingredients, and in simple dishes like this, it really shows.

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Friends who know the city had told me I was particularly lucky that my trip coincided with the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, and they were absolutely right. After dinner, we caught a free concert by Canadian singer Kellylee Evans. I am no jazz expert, so it would do her voice a disservice to describe it as anything other than soulful and beautiful. But the relaxed atmosphere, with couples, families, tourists and locals all dancing and enjoying the music really captured the cultural vibe of the city, and was refreshing coming from Vancouver where, post Stanley cup riots, the fun police are always lurking at city outdoor events ready to pour out any “festive” spirit you may have!

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The next morning I had a few hours to enjoy the city before catching my flight, so I headed to Vieux-Montreal, for me the City’s must-do. Strolling along the riverfront and through cobbled streets and squares, I could easily have been in one of the small French towns of childhood vacations. Top tips for Vieux-Montreal. Le Magasin General is a gorgeous independent gem full of unique accessories, jewellery, décor and gifts. And believe it or not, perhaps my favourite meal of the trip in a French city was in fact Italian! BEVO Bar and Pizzeria is a trendy new take on a firewood pizza restaurant, with a terrace perfect for people watching over lunch. Since moving to Canada I have found a really good thin-crust pizza hard to track down. This one nailed it, with simple flavours, delicious fresh mozzarella and basil and perfectly crisp dough.

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A 36 hour visit was nowhere near long enough to enjoy this amazing city, but it was enough of a taster to ensure I will definitely be back for a longer visit!

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