11/29/2010 07:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Travel Made Simple

I. Hated. Flying.

I had come to that notion without ever stepping foot on a plane -- and I had never been to an airport before either. Traveling wasn't something that I was pressed to do. But when I got the opportunity to travel for a story, I couldn't pass it up. So there I was, in the airport with my boarding pass, not really knowing what to expect.

I am part of a post-September 11, 2010 group of people that have procrastinated about flying for fear of something, anything happening. But thankfully, that was not the case.

And my airline, Southwest, was awesome. I flew from Philadelphia International Airport and the flight was relaxing enough that any flight anxiety was a notion that never panned out. I must be honest, I had heard that my ears were going to pop, air pockets made it seem like the plan was in trouble, and that turbulence was an unfortunate circumstance, but I didn't experience any of that.

Dare I use the words first time flyer?

If I did, it would make since. This was the first thing that I thought of when my body along with everyone else's was hoisted up into the air. Where the flight attendants could have been hard to deal with and impolite they were very attentive to every passenger's needs. I could tell that Southwest Airlines was the kind of airliner that paid special attention to passengers -- and I needed all of the attention that I could get.

Of flying for the first time with Southwest Airlines, I just have to say that, now instead of hating to fly, I hate to fly anything other than Southwest.

When I finally reached my destination -- Las Vegas, I was picked up from my hotel the next morning in a Pink Jeep. We were en route to an Eldorado Canyon Tour. It lasted for roughly four hours. Though the tour focused on Nevada's mountains, the tour guide was very informative and experienced. The jeep was comfortable enough for passengers to relax while being enlightened on the many natural sights that passed one after the other.

When we finally reached our destination, we were greeted by another guide who took us into what used to be gold mines. Deep within each cave laid a story which the guide told with great animation.

Pink Jeep tours are a great alternative for people who want the entire Nevada experience. It is easy to think that said experience would be centered around a single strip in Las Vegas. And for the most part it is, but people should know that Pink Jeep is an ideal tour for history and nature lovers. The tours provide great insight of the state while keeping your interest. After all, how could you not be interested while riding in a big pink motor vehicle?

When traveling, sometimes the best alternative is the one that is different. As far as first experiences go, I have Southwest and Pink Jeep Tours to thank for teaching that to me.


Las Vegas hotels are sticking to what they know best - creating one-of-a-kind situations with circumstances that are tailor-made to their patrons. In other words, each hotel experience is different from the next.

Boutique hotels are the newest trend in fashion, in Las Vegas. Of them, Rumor Boutique Hotel has that little something extra that seems to fit their audience just like a sequined glove with purple paisley trimming (their décor is accented with purple paisley).

Now boutique could be another word for small - and Rumor would fit that bill too. However, what they lack in square feet, they certainly make up for in style. Rumor's staff is young and beautiful - no doubt to support the overall theme of the hotel. At Rumor, they tread a very fine line of being stylish enough for you to get the point, without being too over-the-top. Rumor's deluxe suites are perfect for getaways with options. And by options - I mean that there is a lot to do. In the bedroom are elevated soaking tubs, which sounds like a glorified hot tub - and for the most part, it is. But Rumor's bathrooms feature rain showers and enough cosmetic products to make even the most anal metrosexual happy. Air conditioners complement each room in an uplifted position on the walls.

If I were an instructor at a school for hotel services, I would say that the service at Rumor is basic, though the staff does makes an earnest effort to accommodate their patrons. I would also say that the housekeeping is on point and goes the extra mile to offer new linens each time a little sheet of paper is placed on the unmade bed by patrons. Upon entering the doors of Rumor, it is obvious that their niche patron is a 20-something, looking to have a good time, not planning on spending that much time in the room, party-hardy, person.

Rumor's rates are great for their location (right off the strip) which means that you can easily experience the excitement of the strip for a fraction of the cost. It is hotels like Rumor that make the Las Vegas experience tangible on a budget.

On the higher end, Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort is in a league all its own. There is more to this resort than meets the eye - which is an understatement because what meets the eye - is a lot.

Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort sits pretty on a piece of land that has the kind of view that makes you want to pinch yourself for fear of being at the ending credits of a phenomenal dream. If I didn't know any better, I would think that the folks at Loews did that on purpose.

But let's be clear, Loews Lake Las Vegas is not on the strip - or in the city of Las Vegas. The resort is about 20 minutes outside of the strip. As a courtesy to patrons, the resort has regular shuttles that go to and from the strip free of charge. These shuttles can be caught several times of the day for the convenience of their patrons.

Where Rumor catered to a younger crowd, Loews Lake Las Vegas caters to a mature and settled patron - someone who would want to enjoy the excitement of the strip in moderation, while still having the option of peace and quiet. And where the aforementioned intentions are concerned, they certainly pass with flying colors.

Their rooms are work-space equipped with free Wi-Fi throughout the resort and active phone lines. Their presidential suite has a large dining room table that makes having emergency meetings more convenient. It might not be a stretch to think that Loews hosts workaholics in spades. If this were true, those kinds of patrons would love to hear that their spa services are truly heavenly. Spa Moulay has several different massages and body therapy treatments that leave you a comfortable and relaxed shell of your former self. Their signature Moulay Massage is especially addictive.

Like most resorts, Loews has a lot to offer by way of activities. Perhaps their biggest deal is their Golf course. And I would feel like I was offending the beauty of the course if I didn't mention that it has 88-bunkers and several carries over canyons and water. That all sounds nice, but you have to see it to believe it - and golfing on such a course, might be a distraction for someone such as myself who lives for beautiful scenery and land.

But too much organization can be a bit trying sometimes - and it is easy to get caught up in all that this resort has to offer. Sometimes the best thing to do is lay out at the pool. And this resort has two pools that are heated year-round - this is in addition to their white sand beach.

It's easy for a large name in the hotel industry such as Loews to get comfortable in their reputation and fall off, where service is concerned - and it has happened with other names. And I cannot speak with other Loews, but Loews Lake Las Vegas is militant in their service with a staff that is welcoming and warm.

Being in a hotel is a constant reminder that you are not home - whether you want to be or not. Having to adjust to new surroundings is a task no matter how small or large - still, Loews' staff is down to earth enough to make the task easier to deal with. Doing so for 493 guest rooms can't be easy.

As for their suites - the presidential suite specifically, is beautiful. The three section room is comfortable with plush carpet that is so tightly woven, that you are able to slide around barefoot. Their kitchen area is small, but equipped with all of your amenities that you left home. The master bedroom is welcoming with an incredible view to boot. Their décor is Victorian with an edgy balance that evens out the overall décor of the space and makes it approachable to different aged patrons. Of their bathroom, the presidential suite has two - but the master bathroom is a large space with the basic rain shower. A different and fun amenity is the television in the mirror - which makes showers more recreational.

It is obvious that Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort specializes in luxury, and has no problem with delivering that to their patrons with ease and comfort. This resort is luxe, rustic-chicness at its best.

Closer to the strip, a new luxury hotel and resort will be opening December 15, 2010 - The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. And to call this resort a fashion extravaganza, would be an understatement. It would appear that the hotel was styled to look as if it was created directly from the pages of French Vogue.

One of the most unique features of this hotel is the chandelier with a bar and lounge inside. Putting aside all other features that alone is an experience unlike any other. And perhaps The Cosmopolitan isn't the first to do so, but to offer it to patrons and not just VIPs is certainly a welcomed experience.

The Cosmopolitan is located on the strip, it is close to everything, and its patrons are bound to be important people from all over the world - such is the case for every other hotel on the strip. What makes The Cosmopolitan different is that you won't want to leave the building. How do I know? During the site tour, I found it hard to move from one area to the next because I felt like I was only getting a glimpse of the fabulous-ness (I had to add the ness for impact).

The Law and Order investigator in me thinks that the folks behind the Cosmopolitan got together and decided to create a fashionable and chic hybrid of the Las Vegas that we all know. And with a nightclub and ultra lounge, restaurants, high-end boutiques, and spa services, it is hard to believe otherwise. Their casino and pool districts are in a league all their own - with different amenities that make each one different than the next.

But not too much can be said until after the launch. Of the launch, one thing is for sure, it stands to be a heck of a party.

Las Vegas is going through a change of sorts. Casinos, resorts, and hotels are adjusting to the new patron - someone who might have had bad experiences due to the economy, but still wants that high end luxury experience that they come to Las Vegas for. You may still have to pay for what you want, but it would seem that venues are making an earnest effort to make your experience exclusively for you.


It would seem that Las Vegas restaurants are coming out of their shells, and then steaming them and serving them on a silver platter for their patrons. Restaurants in Las Vegas are offering more exploratory menus to make your dining experience a journey. And what a journey it was.

Addiction at Rumor Boutique Hotel was absolutely delicious no doubt due to Executive Chef, Vic Vegas. Now of Vic Vegas, it should be known that he is quite the accomplished chef. He is the winner of the 2008 Food Network Challenge, "Big Bash Caterers" and he is on Esquire's List of 45, under 45. It might be easy to be distracted by Vic Vegas. His personality is as big as the tastes of each creation that he put together specifically for Addiction. The menu at Addiction is as diverse and different as each tattoo that Chef Vegas sports on each arm. When I visited the restaurant, Chef Vegas asked me what I liked. Based on the conversation that we had, he created something on the spot - he called it, Mac-n-Chickie - seared chicken breast topped with macaroni and cheese. The cheeses were so diverse that I was able to taste each one individually in one bite. The chicken was moist enough to slide off of the fork, and the macaroni complimented the meal so well that I was sad to see it go. Other dishes include what he called, Caramel Pork - a center cut, frenched pork chop over a roasted potato puree topped with fried potato strings with a topped caramel whiskey glaze.

Perhaps the best thing about Chef Vegas is that he seems to work with his patrons. If he comes out, you would find him to be charming and funny to say the least - and that is just the icing on the cake. Addiction hiring Chef Vegas as executive chef is probably one of the best things that they could have done.

And because Las Vegas has something for everyone, their list of restaurants is as long as any menu in any of them. Munchbar is relatively new to Caesar's Palace, but the restaurant is more comforting than most. The wait staff is very attentive and professional enough to offer that trademark high-end service, while still being basic enough to come off as welcoming rather than intimidating. You don't need a dictionary to figure out what you would oder from this menu. The food is so excellently prepared by Executive Chef Bryan Ogden that you might think that you are in a restaurant with a menu that had nothing on it, lower than $75. Bryan Ogden puts a gourmet slant on classic American comfort foods. His Naked Wings are a special favorite - in the Italian flavor, Ogden melds one heritage with another.

It is obvious that Shawn Olyaie and the other owners of Munchbar thought about their audience, while keeping true to bar culture. The venue is decorated with chalkboards and comic book walls that make it look like you are eating inside of the pages of a Lichtenstein painting. Fresh lime green colors meld with a white and black color scheme to make the place welcoming and edgy. But the truth is that the food is so good, that if the restaurant were inside of a plastic bag, customers would still come just to eat the food. Another favorite was the fish tacos on white cornflower tortillas.

Fans that visit Las Vegas and eat at Munchbar will be happy to know that the eatery might be coming to a town near you. Olyaie says that the Munchbar establishment will be expanding and taking root in other cities - Seattle is an immediate that comes to mind.

If I had to describe the restaurant, I would say that it is an edgy Americana establishment with uber-friendly staff, and a gifted chef who has a fresh perspective on classic favorites.

But for those that want that classic Las Vegas experience, you should go to Vintner Grill located in Las Vegas' suburbs. This restaurant gives its patrons the high-roller experience that you only see in those old fashioned black and white films. Ironically, the restaurant has screens that are nestled in glass wall fixtures that play classic Hollywood films from a time long ago. That means, while enjoying one-of-a-kind dishes, you might see Frank Sinatra, a young Debbie Reynolds, or Ms. Marilyn Monroe herself.

Vintner Grill is where the locals go - according to a waiter. Important society people and politicians frequent the establishment to make big deals, break big deals - or to just enjoy a meal. The establishment is based in a business space with buildings adjacent to the front door. Still, the eatery has a beautiful space with scenery for days. The wait staff is probably better than most in their league. Not only was the staff attentive, but they handled my table effortlessly.

Of the food - Vintner Grill's offerings were delicious, each one outdoing the last. Special dishes include the pan seared crab cakes with tarragon cream, roasted peppers and mache as an appetizer. The Treviso Caesar salad wrapped in prosciutto with egg and reggiano is a delightful refresher before the entree. By way of entrees, the bone in rib-eye is the special kind of dish that has a lasting memory. The Spanish blue cheese polenta, baby vegetables and port reduction only compliment the entree in the best way. Patrons have the option of pairing entrees with their impressive wine list. On another note, Vintner has a 50 under 50 wine list that is economically pleasing and classic at the same time.

For a classic experience at a fraction of the price, patrons should visit Vintner Grill off the strip for an experience unlike any other.

And where eating is concerned, Bradley Ogden is certainly in a league all its own. The executive chef is Mr. Ogden himself and he is the father of Bryan Ogden. Caesars believes in keeping it in the family and so far, they have not given me a reason to doubt their culinary decisions. Bradley Ogden is a restaurant that maximizes the culinary experience with an ease that makes them that more, unforgettable. Their menus are set up in courses to help patrons organize their thoughts. It is easy to get wrapped up in all that this restaurant has to offer. Those that come to Bradley Ogden should get the Oak Grilled Prime Ribeye. Bradley Ogden does something very special with this dish. It would seem that every bite was a maximized tasting experience. Ogden senior is a seasoned chef with all kinds of flavors and tastings in his impressive arsenal.

Also right in Caesars, Mesa Grill led by Bobby Flay is incredible. The kitchen has clear walls, which means that if you look hard enough, you can see your entrée being prepared - which can be comforting when trying something new. And Mesa Grill specializes in new dishes and experiences. Their smoked chicken and black bean quesadilla is a great starter. The chicken is indeed smoked, but the flavor is still there. Their black angus New York strip steak is a delight, but what makes that entrée is the house Mesa steak sauce that is created by the kitchen. Mesa Grill takes you on a great tour pass the border and straight to your plate, but if you do not like inventive foods, Mesa Grill is not the restaurant for you.

Las Vegas eateries are different - one from the other. I think that this is something that they pride themselves on. Menus in Las Vegas are diverse enough to give patrons all kinds of options and choices. This is no doubt due to the patron that demands more and expects more.