American West

Salt Lake City, Utah

IMG_2285Last summer I attended  the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City. We were quite a large group and therefore stayed in a large house we found on airbnb. I would recommend a house to any one traveling in a group ever. It allowed for a common space to play board games and watch the NBA Finals(#Believeland), as well as drove down the price of food as we were able to cook for ourselves. However, if you are traveling with a smaller party it may not be fiscally wise. I loved the mountains, which were a nice breath of novelty compared to the ever flat Ohio.

Attractions

Temple Square

It was extremely beneficial to be traveling with a Mormon for this section of the trip, but if you don’t have your own personal Mormon, definitely stop in one of the visitor centers on either end of the square. They serve as de facto museums and insights into the Mormon Religion. Forewarning: if you are not a Mormon, you cannot gain access to the spectacular Temple, however the outside is worth a visit.

Bell Canyon Reservoir and Waterfall Hike

It was tough, but it was worth it. If you’re not looking for a major time commitment the hike up to the reservoir is about 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult (this is coming from a girl who never exercises). The lake has great views of the mountains and of Salt Lake City. If you’re in for the long haul it’s another hour and a half up to the waterfall. It’s worth it. The hike down is just a difficult, maintaining balance and stepping down rocks, but you’re left feeling very accomplished.

East High

This is where they shot High School Musical. It looks just like it. Take a HSM jumping picture. (“Zac Efron was HERE!”). You might be able to find a way inside. The group that went the day before us saw the cafeteria and gym, but we were stuck on the outside. And of course you have to take that HSM jumping shot.

Olympic Park, Park City

A 40 minute drive outside of the city, but well worth it. Olympic park is host to a range of adventuresome activities, of which we opted for zip lining.  There is only one zip line for $20, which is less of a deal than other zip lining excursions I’ve done (Vermont and Mexico), but it was fun nonetheless. Perhaps the most interesting was watching the ski jump training into a pool. We stood and watched them do tricks into the pool for a significant amount of time before heading to downtown Park City for some lunch and shopping.

Food

The Red Iguana

Truly authentic early civilization Mexican food, and very good. They’re famous for their Mole, but don’t skip out on the guac!

Sapa Sushi

I’m not a huge fan of sushi, but the boys of our group were. I ordered one of the Lunch Special Bento Combo boxes and was very pleased. It included rice and a beef curry dish, salad and some California Rolls. The Cali Rolls made me feel like I was adventurously eating sushi when I really wasn’t ( and one of the boys ate most of them anyway). This place was near East High if you’re looking for lunch around there.

In-n-out

I don’t eat fast food ever. But In-n-out was good, especially at 1am fresh off an airplane. If you’re not from the West Coast, this is a must.

Las Vegas

Hotels

MGM Grand

It is HUGE. This is where we stayed and honestly you could spend the whole week here without getting bored ( not that I recommend it). During our stay we saw the Cirque du Soleil show: Ká and David Cooperfield.

Ká is supposedly the first Cirque du Soleil show with a story line, but it wasn’t really clear what it was. It’s just like all the other Cirque shows with a little more connectivity. That being said it was still really good. The stage is really impressive; it’s attached to a hydraulic press and moves up and down and horizontally and vertically. If you’re going to see it, definitely get there early as the preshow starts about 15 minutes before curtain.

David Cooperfield: So you might think, like I did, that all magic shows are heavily geared towards kids and are kitschy at best. Well this one is not. Note, I’m not saying kids won’t enjoy it just that adults will too. He veers away from the traditional bunny-in-hat and saw-women-in-half magic favoring more spectacle feats. I won’t give anything away but my jaw did drop more than once. If you fear audience engagement, this might not be for you as almost every act involved someone from the audience.

New York, New York

You should take time to walk around, both inside and outside, of New York, New York which is right across the strip from MGM Grand. We had a snack at the Nine Fine Irishmen after arriving and it felt very authentically Irish. So authentic it felt more like a Disney Epcot version. Shopping here is also very good, we spent time looking at Stupid Idiot and Swatch.

The Bellagio

You can’t go to Vegas without seeing the fountains. They go off every 15 minutes. I would try to see them more than once since there is more than one show/song. We saw them dance to some Italian opera and some Uptown Funk. If you have time I would also suggest going inside to look at the flower show in the center lobby.

Caesar’s Palace

This one stressed me out. All casinos have bright lights and loud sounds but this one was particularly excessive. But, we also saw this one last after a long day of traveling and I might have just reached my limit. We did have a nice dinner at the Trevi Restaurant with some really good Italian food. I would recommend the non-alcoholic Italian Soda cocktails(my sister and I got the blackberry one).

The Venetian

Another great Italian food place. We ate at the Mercato Della Pescheria, which was really good but also pretty expensive. I would recommend trying to eat during the height of happy hour times (4-6) to get some half price apps and drinks. I got the mushroom risotto and the artichoke appetizers( who knew artichokes could taste good?). Also hit up the ghirardelli store to get yourself some chocolate covered strawberries, and watch the impeccable technique of the guy making them. And if you really feel like treating yourself go down the escalator and get yourself some gelato.

Paris

We ate at the buffet and it was worth it. Its divided by region of France with food from each region. Make sure to save room, a lot of room, for dessert namely, creme brûlée and macaroons.

Hiking in the National Parks

Red Rock Canyon

If you want to go to both parks, go to this one first. You’ll have to pay for the car to get into the park but other than that it’s free. Definitely go to the visitor center first to get recommendations for which hike suits your abilities/time restraints/preferences best. We did the Calico Tanks hike which was pretty difficult but well worth it for those views!

Fire Valley

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The hikes are shorter here so you can do more than one. If you only have time to go to one park, choose this one since it is so unique with the red/orange/white rocks. Wear shows you don’t mind getting sandy as the trails are all sand.

Hoover Dam

Get here early! Shoot for a half hour before the park even opens, that way you can guarantee an early tour and you won’t be waiting around the visitor center all day. The tour takes you down into the dam and a guide tells you how it all works. Don’t skip the introductory video since it gives great context to the importance and magnitude of the Dam.

Don’t Bother

Downtown Vegas

Unless you really want to see Sin City, avoid downtown or old Vegas. It’s basically just a strip club and a couple of bars. It’s not worth the drive.

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