Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Express, Vancouver North / Salmon Creek

We usually spend Thanksgivings with Mike’s family in  Vancouver, WA.  Sometimes we stay with his mother, but more often we stay at a hotel.   This year there were 8 kids 12 and under for the holiday, which I’m sure makes the reason self-explanatory.

We’ve stayed in several hotels in the area, and the Holiday Inn Express is definitely one of my favorites.  It’s closer to the house than the ones near downtown Vancouver, it’s clean, comfortable and hassle free.  We stayed for three nights in November, 2014.

The room we got was clean and comfortable. It had two queen beds, a single desk with a chair, and a dresser with a flat-screened TV, a hidden fridge and a microwave. The room was large enough so that our family of four didn’t feel crowded. The bathroom was fairly large, as was the closet. And there was a little area for coffee, out of the way.
At first I thought the mattresses were lumpy and would be uncomfortable, but I slept very well. The mattress wasn’t too soft, but not terribly hard either. The pillows were great.

My two complaints with the room were relatively minor. Our first night, it was impossible to log into the hotel’s internet. I’m not sure if it was down or too crowded, but I couldn’t get a connection until after midnight. It worked well after that, though I had to re-authenticate at least twice a day.

The hotel was also pretty tight with the toiletries. We got a tiny bottle of shampoo and conditioner each day, sufficient for one person with long hair or two with short, but definitely not for a family of 4. Yes, I could have asked for more, but I never remembered to do so until it was too late. We also could have used more towels. On the plus side, the toiletries are from Bath & Body Works and smelled great.

The hotel itself is nicely appointed and functional. It has a large lobby with elegant but serviceable furniture, we used it for breakfast when the dining room was full, and to read the newspaper (available for free) while our room was cleaned.  The breakfast area remains open during the day, so if you need a table and chairs to work, you can go down there. The pool and gym are open 24-7 (you get in with your room key), and my kids enjoyed them. The water in the pool looked murky, but the kids didn’t complain. There is a small business office, but I didn’t use.

Breakfast was very good for a hotel at this price point. It had the usual continental breakfast items: fruit, yogurt, cereal/oatmeal, bagels, bread as well as a few hot items seating under a heat lamp. These were generally turkey sausage patties and biscuits with sausage gravy (didn’t try them). A couple of the days they had omelets (didn’t try them either) and one day they had bacon (very crispy, but not too bad). They have a pancake machine too. The best part, however, were the hot cinnamon rolls.  In the drink department, they had all the usual stuff – except for hot chocolate.

Check in and check out was hassle free. Traveling in November, I appreciated staying in a hotel rather than a motel (we’ve done the Shilo Inn before), as we didn’t have to face the cold to reach the hotel amenities.

I paid $77 a night + tax in November, by buying it through a Priceline express deal.
Two months after our one-night stay at the Best Western Arcata Inn, I have trouble remembering what the hotel looked like. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We arrived late on a Tuesday night during Thanksgiving week, and left early the following morning. What we wanted and needed was a clean, comfortable, hassle-free place to sleep – and that’s what we got.

The beds were comfortable, the pillows, in particular, were great. The beds didn’t have ugly, unsanitary comforters, which is a big plus for me. There was basic furniture and a large flat-screen TV. The bathroom could probably have used more towels, and it was on the small side, but there was good water pressure.

Breakfast was adequate, with a waffle machine, toasters and cereals. The breakfast area was tiny and crowded, however.

I paid $77 through a TripAdvisor deal. We stayed mid-week in November, 2014.

Holiday Inn Express Vancouver North – Salmon Creek
13101 NE 27th Avenue
Vancouver, WA 98686
(360) 576-1040

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Golden Nugget – Las Vegas – Hotel Review

Golden-Nugget-Las-VegasMy first introduction to Las Vegas came through a TV show that I watched as a kid in Argentina called Vega$.  Dan Tanna, a private detective played by the very good looking Robert Urich, went around the Las Vegas casinos solving crimes and helping get people out of trouble.  The show had plenty of scenes involving show girls, cocktail waitresses and gambling rooms, and that’s what I think of when I think of Las Vegas.  Staying at the Golden Nugget brought a little of that back, though the hotel has been modernized significantly.

Our real reason for staying, though, was that my youngest daughter, Camila, wanted to go to its pool.  The Golden Nugget has a very cool pool. It has a large, tall aquarium in the middle, which is full of pretty fish and sharks.  A 3-story high slide circles around the aquarium, depositing you in the pool.  The pool itself is pretty small, but I liked the in-water lounge chairs.  As things turned out, neither my husband nor Camila were particularly impressed with the pool.  The line to go up the slide was very long, which meant they only could go once, and the trip down is too fast to see anything.  My 12-year-old, however, really liked swimming around the aquarium, and said that changing hotels for a night was worth it for that opportunity.  The pool, by the way, is open until 8 PM in summer, though only until 5 PM in other seasons.

We stayed in the Rush Tower.  Our room was large and very nicely appointed with stylish furniture. There was plenty of storage space, though not as many easily accessible outlets as I wished.  I particularly liked the modular sofa/lounge chair in the room.  My oldest daughter was able to sleep there for the night, though I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone tall.  The room doesn’t have a fridge, though apparently you can rent one. It has a TV but with few cable channels and no children channels.

The room was fairly, but not completely, clean and ready.  There was no toilet paper in the bathroom (though some was brought up immediately after we asked for it) and a dirty towel had been left in the bathtub.  What would have been of larger concern, had we stayed more than one night, was the “view”.  Our room was in the fifth floor and faced the roof of a building.  There were too flood lights on these roof which were turned on at night, fortunately the curtains were heavy enough to not let any of the light come through.  However, even with the curtains open, the room was very dark.  We had to turn on the light to be able to see around, even during the day.  I’d recommend that if you stay here, you ask for a room on a higher floor, and on the other side of the building (an even number room).

The king size bed was quite comfortable, as were the pillows.  All in all we all slept quite well.

What I didn’t like about the Golden Nugget is how they nicked-and-dime you.  Internet was $13 extra a day; the room had a coffeemaker, but if you wanted coffee you had to pay $10 for it.

Mike and I did a little bit of gambling at the hotel’s casino, and I found it enjoyable enough, even though I lost.  It’s a smoking casino – as are most – but the smell wasn’t too bad.  It probably took 1/2 hour before a cocktail waitress approached me, but she was very nice and efficient when she did.  I had to wait less later when we were playing roulette.

We had dinner at Grotto, one of the more affordable (and yet, still expensive) choices at the Golden Nugget.

I don’t know that I’d stay at the Golden Nugget again, mostly because I prefer the strip, but it’s a definitely a good choice if you want to stay downtown.  It does feel much more intimate and comfortable than the hotels in the strip – but perhaps I perceived it like that because by the end of our four days in Vegas, I was tired.

Golden Nugget Hotel
129 East Fremont Street
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 386-8221

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Horsin’ Around Adventures – Sedona, AZ – Review

Last summer we visited Sedona and, of course, that meant organizing a horse ride for the kids.  I’ve ridden a horse once in my life and that was enough to know I don’t want to do it again.

Most of the Sedona-based companies seem to get fairly good reviews, but Horsin’ Around Adventures seemed particularly friendly.  Plus they were OK with doing a last minute dusk trip.

The girls had a GREAT time.  In their word, the ride was “awesome”.  They had a 90-minute ride and, for the girls, it was not nearly enough.  For my husband, whose horse-riding muscles are not commonly exercised, the last half hour was painful.

The scenery was beautiful, I’m told, even though it was sprinkling and the tour guide very nice.

Horsin’ Around Adventures
2650 N. Dancing Apache Rd
Cornville, AZ

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino – Las Vegas – Review

We were just recently in Las Vegas for a few days for Mike to attend a conference.  We stayed our first 3 nights at the Luxor, and our last one at the MGM Grand.  I wanted to stay at the MGM Grand because I’d heard their pool area was great, but the rates were too high during the weekend.  Even for a Sunday night they weren’t cheap (a bit over $100, including tax and resort fee), but the pool experience probably made it worth it.

In all, we liked the MGM Grand though it has only 3 things to really recommend it: 1 – its location close to the center of the strip, 2 – its incredibly comfortable pillows and 3- it’s very cool lazy river.


We stayed in a standard room with 2 “queen size” beds.  I put that in quotation marks because I’m pretty sure they were doubles rather than queens, they were narrower than my bed at home.  The room was rather small and featured two beds, two night tables, a desk, an armchair, two chairs, an entertainment unit with an old, non-flat screen TV and a small closet.  The bathroom had one sink and a bathtub with a shower curtain.  The room looked dated, the greenish wallpaper looked sad.  We had a view of the roof of the casino, not a big deal as we were only there for one night.  The room was, at least, clean.  It didn’t include a coffee pot or a refrigerator (they do this so you’ll spend money buying coffee and drinks at the hotel).  It had both wired internet and wi-fi but the connection was rather slow.

On the plus side, it has very comfortable beds with great bedding.  The down (or down-like) pillows were the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on.  They were quite full, just as soft and flexible as down, and there were plenty of them.  The down-like comforter was also very comfy.  If you’re into a good night sleep, this is definitely a place to get it.

There was good water pressure in the shower, and the hotel provides you with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion and soap.  The towels were fine.


As I mentioned, the big draw of the MGM Grand for us was the pool area.  The MGM Grand features four pools and a lazy river.  The lazy river is quite long and has a number of areas with water falling into it, though most of these you can avoid.  There is a small pool area with a huge waterfall attached to it, here there is also a high platform were toddlers and babies can sit in the water (but it drops into the deeper pool, so you have to pay attention to them).  The lazy river seems to vary in depth, but it’s probably shallow enough for a 7 to 8 year old kid to be able to walk it (my 6 yo was a bit too short for it).  It was a lot of fun, but very crowded on a Sunday in August.  There were some children, but most of the people there seem to be in their 20’s.  Quite a few of them appeared drunk, though we didn’t have any incidents.  Unfortunately, many people like to hang out by the edges of the river, making it hard to navigate through it when it’s quite crowded.  There are huge life savers you can rent (for about $16 each!).  We got a couple that people left behind and while they were fun for a while, it was a bit crowded to just lie on them and relax.There is a bar near the lazy river, so you don’t have to go far to get your $22 frozen margarita or $35 bucket of beer.

In addition to the lazy river, there seem to be 4 pools in the pool complex.  We tried 2 of them (another one was used for a water polo game) and they were basically just largish, square, non-exciting pools.  Still, Camila wanted to swim and she couldn’t do that at the lazy river. The pools were also pretty crowded (though she had room to swim), about 3 1/2 ft. deep.  The water in both the lazy river and the pools was on the warm side (no “cold shock” when you first get in).

The pool area has a snack bar, but no dressing rooms (!). There is a small bathroom (with 3 toilets, I think!).  Fortunately it wasn’t crowded.  Of course, that may be because people pee in the pool 🙁

Even though there were lots of people on Sunday, we didn’t have trouble finding loungers around any of the pools.


The MGM Grand is the third largest hotel in the world (at least according to Wikipedia), and like other Vegas hotels, its grounds feature a casino, a spa, multiple restaurants and shops. The coolest part is the lion habitat they have, which features a group of 3 lions they bring in daily (different lions each time).  Unfortunately the exhibit is only open between 11 AM to 7 PM and lions are most active at dawn & dusk, so most of the time they seem to just be sleeping.  Still, the girls found it very cool.  They have a small play area downstairs with Chuck-e-cheese style games (you buy tokens, you play them, you get tickets in return you can exchange for junk).  The only restaurant we visited was the Rainforest Cafe, which is terribly overpriced.

The air at the hotel is pretty good, they seem to lightly perfume it in a pleasant way.

The casino features a small business office with limited hours.  You are allowed to make 5 copies, and to print your boarding pass only (otherwise they charge over $1 per page you print).

There are coke machines by the elevators ($3!!!!) and ice machines as well.


Camila and I checked in at around 11:30 AM a Sunday morning.  We had to stay in line for about 15 minutes and got our room right away.  I’d reserved a King size room, but was able to change it to a room with two queen size beds.  The woman at the front desk waived the $10 fee.  I did the automatic check out, where you fill a card and drop it off in a box. You can also check out via TV or go to the front desk.

The line for storing luggage when we went was HUGE, though I suspect mostly with people checking out.


The MGM seems to be particularly popular with people in their 20’s bent on getting drunk and having a good time.  There is nothing wrong with that, but I did have to explain to my kids why people were behaving  strangely.  Hopefully it’ll teach them a lesson about getting drunk in public 🙂


In all the MGM Grand is an OK hotel, but not one I would rush to come back to.  I did love the bedding and the lazy river, but otherwise I’d probably go somewhere else.

MGM Grand
3799 South Las Vegas Boulevard
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 891-1111

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