Las Vegas might not sound like the perfect spot for a blogger retreat, but Sin City is full of surprises. Here’s a recap of the Las Vegas retreat I attended recently!
It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my travels — though not a long time since I’ve traveled. I’m so sorry about that! The photos just seem to pile up and I never get around to it. But I will! One day. Promise. Today I want to to tell you about my recent trip out west for a blogger retreat in Las Vegas. I began my trip in Phoenix to visit one of my aunts, but I’m saving that for another blog post! I also had a long layover in St. Louis on my way home and got to visit one of my best friends. Travel win. It was a whirlwind 10-day trip! But I’ve finally recovered enough to tell you about it.
I’ll admit, when I was first invited to a blogger retreat in Las Vegas, I was skeptical. It sure didn’t sound like a relaxing spot to have a retreat. But I’d never been to Vegas before, and my dad says it’s a place everyone needs to see once. So I took a chance. And I am so glad I did.
Here’s what I thought Vegas would be like: A crazy, non-stop, overpriced, amusement park-esque city crowded with drunk tourists and people dressed up like Elvis and buildings filled with slot machines and card tables.
Here’s what Vegas was actually like: A crazy, non-stop, overpriced, amusement park-esque city crowded with drunk tourists and people dressed up like Elvis and buildings filled with slot machines and card tables — plus really great food, delicious cocktails and incredible design.
In other words, I thought I would hate it. But I didn’t. I loved it so much.
You know how people say everything is bigger in Texas? I think everything must be over-the-top in Vegas. But in a really awesome way.
(Side note: I did not realize how close the airport is to the Strip. I’m talking a 5-minute cab ride. You can see the Luxor pyramid and Eiffel Tower from the plane as you take off/land! I also spied the Hoover Dam from the plane. Bizarre.)
I had made plans to meet up with my friend Meghan from the blog Cake ‘n Knife at the airport. Meghan and I have now attended three blogging conferences together (Food Blog Forum in Asheville + Orlando were the first two), and she is my best travel buddy. Meghan had been to Vegas many times for work, which was helpful for a newbie like me. She suggested that we stay on the Strip for my inaugural Vegas experience, so we caught a cab and dropped off our bags at the Planet Hollywood Resort.
We had a few foodie items to check off our list. First, Shake Shack, then the Sprinkles ATM. (It’s an ATM for cupcakes!) Neither of those are in Charlotte or Denver, where Meghan lives. Food blogger priorities, I suppose. (I will say it hard to dislike traveling with other food bloggers — we just eat the whole time. And always at the best places! These are my people.) For dinner later, Meghan identified a few restaurants with happy hour specials. Happy hours are a great way to eat cheaply in Las Vegas! We found ourselves eating $3 tacos at Cabo Wabo Cantina. Delicious.
With a to-go cocktail in hand from walk-up bar Squeeze, we perused the various casinos — holy Instagram. There was just so much to see! Each one more elaborate than the next. My favorite was probably Paris. It totally felt like we were on the streets of France! The only one we didn’t make it to that I wanted to see was the Venetian, and I hear it is the best one. Next time.
(Not on my list? Watching the fountain at the Bellagio. I feel like I’ve seen it enough on my friends’ Facebook feeds!)
The Cosmopolitan was also superbly awesome. We got dolled up our first night and got drinks at Chandelier. I didn’t fully understand what Meghan meant when she described this bar to me. “It’s a bar! In a chandelier!” she said. And she’s right. But hard to imagine, isn’t it? Let’s see if I can do better: It’s a cylindrical space inside the lobby of the Cosmopolitan with a wraparound staircase and multiple levels of lounge areas. It’s surrounded by enormous curtains of chandelier crystals. Guaranteed to make you feel fancy. We ordered fancy cocktails, too. Of course!
The next day, I did a nerdy thing. I asked Meghan to join me at the Neon Museum after we moved hotels. If you follow my personal Instagram account, you probably know by now I love neon signs. It’s the graphic designer in me, plus I saw a documentary on neon signs once and I’ve been obsessed ever since.
I’ve known about the Neon Museum for years, and it was high on my travel bucket list. I’m so glad Meghan was willing to explore it with me. I knew they had a ton of run-down and refurbished neon casino signs on a plot of desert land, but I didn’t really know what to expect. It was awesome. I’d go back in a minute. My only complaint is that the tours are guided, so there’s not really a lot of solo exploring and ‘gramming. But still totally worth it. Some of the signs date back more than 80 years to the repeal of Prohibition. Insane.
The museum is in Old Las Vegas, or North Las Vegas, which was about a 15-minute cab ride from the hotel we were staying in for our retreat. After our tour, we walked down a boulevard that features a few of the signs that the museum has restored, and we wound up in the Fremont neighborhood. I did not expect to stumble across 1) more neon signs and 2) a very quirky, hipster-y neighborhood. But we did! After we finished taking pictures, we were famished, so we grabbed local beers and chicken & waffle sandwiches at Park on Freemont before we headed back to our hotel (The Wyndham Grand Desert, which is off-the-Strip, but only a short walk from it) for the beginning of our retreat!
Our first retreat night we enjoyed an around-the-world feast. It was college dorm-style — each room was assigned a country! While we mingled, we enjoyed different cuisines with food provided by Albertson’s. sampled the incredible herb selection from Gourmet Garden, one of the sponsors of our retreat, in different ways. For one of them, Nicole from Or Whatever You Do made us the most splendid Lemongrass Lemon Drop cocktails. Divine, y’all.
We mixed drinks in our rooms (Meghan and I are now experts at on-the-fly hotel room cocktails) and headed out for another Vegas must (and personal first): karaoke. It was fun bonding with the other ladies over the terrible singers and weird dudes in the bar. Jen from Yummy Healthy Easy, Meghan and I sang Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” together. But Nicole sings in a bluegrass band back home and she showed us all up! Karaoke wasn’t the worst, though. But what happens there stays there.
The next day, we had our first conference day. But I have to emphasize that this retreat was casual and low-key. The magnificent Andi from The Weary Chef organized the whole thing and she made sure there were no speakers, no name tags and no business cards. Just 20 strangers sharing our own blogging strategies and tips and tricks about social media, photography, advertising — whatever we wanted. We demo’ed software for each other, asked questions, gave advice and came out of it new friends.
For lunch, we split up. My group went to The Grand Wok in the MGM Grand. I can’t say it was the best sushi I ever had, nor the cheapest, but it was still a good time! (They even had neon jellyfish on display — I’m such a nerd.) Some of the other bloggers went to Burger Bar in Mandalay Bay and Chef Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant BurGR in Planet Hollywood. Tip: I hear the latter has insane milkshakes! (Picture proof.)
For dinner, we enjoyed a sponsored dinner and drinks at Bahama Breeze. This is a chain I’ve never heard of (apparently there is a location in Raleigh?!) but it was great!
The cocktails alone were superb. Some of them even come in pineapples and coconuts. So fancy!
Afterward, a few of us checked out Foundation Room, a nightclub at the Mandalay Bay casino. The club definitely fit my ‘what I thought Vegas would be like’ description, but the balcony gave gorgeous views!
On our last day of the retreat, we partook in another Vegas must: the buffet. I kept hearing everyone talk about the buffets and I kept thinking, “What’s so special about a freaking buffet?” But oh, everything is special at a Vegas buffet. Gourmet Garden treated us to an amazing lunch at Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. They had everything. Fresh-pressed juice, baby wedge salads, individual servings of mac & cheese, tiny baskets of fried chicken, sushi, fancy pizza, mini mousse cups, all the gelato ever… You name it, they had it. And it was all-you-can-eat! (Which is apparently not everything…)
For our last night, there was much talk about going out. Maybe back to Fremont Street, maybe to one more casino. But what we ended up doing was packing, heating up leftover food, drinking box wine and watching the sunset over the Strip while we chatted. It was the perfect way to end the trip, really: just hanging out with my 19 new friends.
Speaking of! Here they are:
- Michelle from A Dish of Daily Life
- Sara from Bitz & Giggles
- Meghan from Cake ‘n Knife
- Jaren from Diary of a Recipe Collector
- Heather from Heather Likes Food
- Jenny from Honey and Birch
- Sheryl from Lady Behind the Curtain
- Cathy from Lemon Tree Dwelling
- Kelly from Life Made Sweeter
- Deseree from Life’s Ambrosia
- Amy from Little Dairy on the Prairie
- Jamie from Love Bakes Good Cakes
- Nicole from Or Whatever You Do
- Lisa from Snappy Gourmet
- Christin from Spicy Southern Kitchen
- Danielle from The Creative Bite
- Kelley from The Grant Life
- Andi from The Weary Chef
- Jen from Yummy Healthy Easy
So yes, Las Vegas might be a crazy, non-stop, overpriced, amusement park-esque city crowded with drunk tourists and people dressed up like Elvis and buildings filled with slot machines and card tables — plus really great food, delicious cocktails and incredible design. But it’s so much more.
Was it relaxing? Yes and no. I find travel in general to be very invigorating and refreshing, and this trip was all of that, on top of taking place in a busy, bustling tourist destination. Regardless, I’m so glad I went! You can check out everyone’s photos from our Las Vegas retreat at the #blognowsleeplater hashtag on Instagram!
Is it weird that I didn’t gamble a single penny while in Vegas? I also did not get married in a neon chapel, and I didn’t see a show either. (Still mad that Britney Spears didn’t have any show dates while we were there!) But those are certainly activities for another time. Maybe not the wedding, though!
I also want to go back to Fremont and the Neon Museum, perhaps for a nighttime tour this time! I wish I had had more time to hit up the spots on the Las Vegas Hidden Gems travel guide that Esther and Jacob from Local Adventurer wrote for F+W last year. And in general, I’d like to just eat more food and drink more cocktails. Maybe try a buffet for breakfast?! There’s no way you could ever see or do it all, ever, if you ask me!
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse at my Las Vegas retreat! I have quite a few travels coming up, and I plan to share some photos from past trips, too! And maybe, just maybe, one of these days I will bring back the Hidden Gems series… // susannah