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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Viva Las Vegas!

Growing up, I always wanted a big family. Ya know, with like 50 or so cousins?

I used to crave huge family reunions where new people are always coming to, there's always someone having a baby, someone else is graduating, and another one is getting married. But alas, I do not have that family. Collectively between the two sides, I've got 8 cousins, ranging from 35 to 10. When I was younger, I used to be a little bitter that my family wasn't bigger. Now I'm just sad that we all live so far away!

Every year, all of the family on my Mom's side make a pilgrimage out to Sin City for our annual family reunion. We have a corny little nickname for it, and next year we're making t-shirts! Yes, we are that family. While Vegas seems like an odd place for a family get together, I'll preface with the fact that my grandparents live out there. So, we all use that as an excuse to go ;)

We have 5 birthdays within an 8 day span at the end of June, so we go out for the same week every year. I start it off, and my cousin (whose a year and 8 days younger than me) ends the birthday train. Last year was amazing, because we flew out the day after my 21st birthday. What a great way to spend the big birthday weekend, let me tell you! Since we usually leave the day before my cousin's birthday, we decided to bump the trip back a week so he could have the big 2-1 while we were all out there. My family's always the first to arrive, since we're coming from the midwest (hello time change!). I love flying west- we leave at 7 and get there by 8 in the morning! Its almost like time travel. We always pick my grandparents up after getting our car and take them to breakfast and on a booze run to target to pick up drinks and the 20 things my sister and I managed to forget. Again, yes, we are that family. 

The whole trip is pretty much down to a routine now, which I quite love. We always stay at the same resort, the JW Marriott Hotel & Rampart Casino in Summerland. Its close to my grandparents and houses my grandma's favorite casino, as well as off the strip- so great for families or those looking to relax a bit more than they are wanting to don their party pants constantly. Its absolutely gorgeous, has an oasis of a pool (with killer beverages and food), quite a few different restaurants, gorgeous views, and wonderfully helpful staff. 

Poolside :)

View from the top.

I absolutely adore my family. Everyone on my mom's side (except for us, alas) hails from the west coast, so seeing them once a year is an absolute treat. The whole gang wasn't going to get to Vegas until Friday, so Thursday night it was just my family, my grandparents, and my uncle/aunt and their kids. Including the birthday boy! We had dinner at Chef Gustav Mauler's Italian restaurant, Spiedini, which was actually just a hop skip and a jump from my favorite little martini bar in the city (and the resort, conveniently)! 

My beautiful mother & I at dinner. If you dine at Spiedini, definitely get the lobster ravioli and the caprese salad. So yummy!

The Jade Martini. I've had dreams about this beauty.

I love me a good martini. Usually I prefer just a simple dirty gin or something with cucumber and dill, but this little number featured in the photo above is the martini of all martinis, in my opinion. The Jade features Ty Ku Soju (a low calorie vodka that I need to find), melon liquor, and something else that I cannot for the life of me remember. The martini bar you can find this little gem at is called 221, and its just off of the Rampart casino in the JW. The 21 and uppers met there before dinner, and then my sister and I went off to our room for a quick kip so we could rally for the big birthday at midnight, Vegas time. Which is 3 our time. While I love the time change en route to the West Coast, its a bit of a rough adjustment for nightlife. Upon getting back to the room, we unloaded our bounty from Target into one of the sinks in the bathroom, since there were no fridges for rent at the hotel (they rent fridges out) and got a few hours of shut eye before cracking into our bounty for a few pre-birthday beers.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life doesn't give you a cooler, make one out of a sink :)

Midnight whiskey shots with the birthday boy!

The next day was spent lounging by the beautiful pool while the rest of the family arrived. We drank and dined poolside and visited, and then went to the Irish pub for dinner. I wish I had snapped a picture of the pub, but I didn't, and I can't find any from last year, but its an authentic Irish pub, originally from Ireland. The JW had the pub taken apart and shipped to the States, where it was re-assembled inside the resort by Irish workers. The beer is authentic, the food is authentic, and its all around lovely. Hands down best fish and chips I've had. Unfortunately (if I can say that), all of the cousins, sans 10 year old, had to eat light because for the first time we were all hitting the Vegas strip! My oldest cousin and her boyfriend planned a night out on the town for all of us as a birthday gift to pretty much all of us since we're so close together. 

None of us had ever been out in Vegas before, so we had no idea what to expect. Haley and I had a few bites of our corned beef sandwiches (trust me, one of the lightest things they had to eat!) and ran back up to the room to throw on some slinky dresses and sky-high heels. Hair and makeup perfected over cups of coffee to ensure we stayed awake through the night, we met everyone back down at the front door to get picked up.

My wonderful cousin and her fantastic boyfriend pulled out all of the stops. A limo picked us up that the resort and shuttled us down to the MGM, where we had reservations at Hakkasan, Vegas's newest (and hottest, word on the street) club. We overestimated the traffic we were expecting, so we got there a bit early. We stopped in at one of the bars in the casino for a few shots and bevs before we met our guy at the door to get to our table.

Limo ballin!

Now, I'm used to small clubs and dodgy college bars, but holy cow. Hakkasan is a must go if you're going to hit the strip at all. The club is 3 floors, with different styles of music being DJ'd on each floor. Our table was on the main floor which was featuring house music and DJ Bob Sinclair and a surprise appearance by Rev Run. We got bottle service with all the fixin's, in a gorgeous VIP section with a few other tables. We had a bouncer, busser, and cocktail waitress all to ourselves. Very swanky! One of the coolest things about Hakkasan, however, was what was under the seats. This may be standard in all big city clubs now, but there were drawers under each seat with phone chargers in them, so you could hide your purse and not worry about a dead phone. However, since I had put my phone away, I was much less inclined to take pictures of the evening. I wish I had snapped a few- Hakkasan was incredible. 

Happy birthday, Cuz!

VIP style & Hakkasan hospitality

We drank and danced the night away, and made a few friends in the process. Just as the night was starting to get a bit fuzzy our ride arrived, we bid adieu to our new friends, and made the trek back to our lovely quiet hotel. Of course, we had to have snacks upon our return so we hit the 24 hour cafe for some grub, and then clambered into bed.

The next morning was a very rough start. It was the hottest day on record for the city, and nearly too hot to lay out. However, that didn't stop us- we kipped by the pool and drank mostly water while we tried to sweat out all of our drinks from the night before. 

It was 117 degrees. Way too hot to not be in the water! And the fact that its dry heat does not make it any better.

We had a bit of post-pool party in one of the rooms where I showed everyone photos from my Indianapolis 500 Festival Princess adventure, which I will tell you more about sometime soon. The men on my mom's side are all huge racing fans, so they were drooling over the photos of the track and the cars. I loved getting to share my stories with them, but just wish we were all closer geographically so they could've come out for the race weekend. I think I made a race fan out of my youngest cousin though, and some of the family are planning to come out for next year's 500! 

Our last night together in Vegas, we always have a big family dinner at Shizen, the Asian restaurant at the JW that specializes in teppanyaki. The food is a bit pricey, but considering you basically get a show with your food, its definitely worth it. I always do the scallops and shrimp, since I'm a seafood junkie, but they have everything from tofu to fillet that they can throw on the grill for you. My aunt always makes a dessert for after the dinner, which Shizen always allows us to keep in their kitchen and eat at our table after dinner. Its very conveneint, because I know a lot of restaurants are pretty anti bringing your own dessert. This year it was her homemade cheesecake, which was out of this world. 

After a bit too much food and plenty of wine, we all hobbled out into the casino to spend some time with lady luck.

The Mt. Fuji onion! 

Grandpa and all of his kids :)

60% of the family. Still can't believe we didn't get everyone this year!

No big winners this year, but I still left Vegas feeling like I hit the jackpot. I love spending time with my family. They're all so dynamic and entertaining, its never a dull moment!! Its always too short of a trip, but I'm already excited for next year. 
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