Bourbon Street Balcony Party during Mardi Gras 2016 (Bourbon Vieux)

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016


Bourbon Street Balcony Party During Mardi Gras

When I first started researching things to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a Bourbon Street balcony experience was near the top of my list. But, strangely, it was difficult to find any consolidated information on the different balcony options during Mardi Gras. I was able to find like two or three options, but that was it.

View of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras

I actually resorted to Google Street View. I’d look at the names of the restaurants and bars along Bourbon Street, see if they had a balcony, and then google the name of the resturant. Then, I’d email the restaurant for information. I must’ve emailed like 15 places. And not a single one ever responded.

One of the balcony options that I had consistently seen all along was Bourbon Vieux. They had pictures of their balcony party, online ticket ordering, and other good information available. It just seemed SO DAMN EXPENSIVE. That is why I wanted to comparison shop a little bit. But, since no other places ever responded to my inquiries, I went ahead and booked Bourbon Vieux.

I was really happy with that decision!

There was plenty of seating available inside. (One of the more common complaints in the online reviews for Bourbon Vieux was that they oversold their balcony parties, leaving people without seats.). I’m pretty lazy, so the idea of having to stand for 5 hours straight at party was not appealing. But, luckily, my worries were unfounded!

Inside the Balcony Party at Bourbon Vieux

Ken and I sat at a small round table inside Bourbon Vieux. The decor was great, and I thought the lighting was really well done and added a lot of Mardi Gras ambiance!

Inside Bourbon Vieux during Mardi Gras Balcony Party Table arrangements

There were quite a few people at the party, but many tables were empty, so I definitely don’t think it was a sellout.

Plenty of seating at round tables

There was a good food spread set up.

Buffet food at Bourbon Vieux’s Bourbon Street Balcony Party Food spread at Mardi Gras Party Buffet foods

There was also a dessert table, which unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of, that included different desserts including New Orleans’ famous King Cake!

The bar was well stocked and luckily there was never a long line. (The Bourbon Vieux balcony party included all food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages).

Bar at Bourbon Vieux

They also had beads for sale at the bar. We had bought some beads from Oriental Trading Company to bring with us to Mardi Gras. We figured that beads in New Orleans during Mardi Gras would be at crazy inflated prices. However, the beads we ordered online were pretty junky and tangled easily. So, we did end up buying some of the nicer beads they had for sale at Bourbon Vieux. (The junky beads we brought with us are on the right).

Beads we purchased at Bourbon Vieux

The Balcony!

Okay, so let’s get to what REALLY matters at a Mardi Gras Bourbon Street balcony party … the BALCONY!

When we arrived at Bourbon Vieux, we were given wristbands. All party guests had one of two colors. Every 45 minutes or so, there would be an announcement that it was time for the Purple wristband group to go outside on the balcony and the other wristband color to come inside. Then it would alternate every 45 minutes or so. That way, the balcony was never overly crowded.

(You could, of course come inside at any time regardless of what color you were wearing. It was just a restriction on who could go outside to the balcony. That was good because, like I mentioned in previous Mardi Gras posts, it was quite cold during our time there! Sometimes 45 minutes outside would be too much! There were space heaters just on one section of the large balcony)

Here’s how the balcony looked:

Balcony at Bourbon Vieux during Mardi Gras

We were generally able to get right up to the balcony railing. But sometimes not, we’d have to squeeze in after somebody abandoned their spot. But it never felt overly crowded or annoying.

We had a great view down Bourbon Street:

View of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras

And we had lots of fun throwing beads to the folks down below.

Throwing beads from Bourbon Street Balcony Throwing beads during Mardi Gras People catching beads thrown from Balcony People catching beads during Mardi Gras Crowds on street below Bourbon Vieux Balcony Me throwing beads from balcony during Mardi Gras Ken throwing beads from Bourbon Vieux balcony Beads closeup

And, as had been the recurring theme of what we saw during Mardi Gras, lots of religious stuff. A bunch of men in red hats carrying a cross down Bourbon Street:

Men carrying cross down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras Bible sign on Bourbon Street

It was great people-watching.

People on Bourbon Street People on Bourbon Street

Overall, we were really pleased. Although the tickets were expensive at $160 each, the fact that it included food and and all drinks was great. We liked that it wasn’t crazy crowded, and that everyone got plenty of time to spend on the balcony.

Have you gone to a Bourbon Street balcony party during Mardi Gras? Which one did you go to? How did you like it?

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa – Hotel Review (Part 1)

Earlier this year, Ken and I went to the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa in San Antonio, TX. My sister and her family had recently moved from Pittsburgh, PA to the Dallas, TX area, and had learned about this resort during one of their trips to Dallas while house hunting. It quickly became a favorite for everybody, my niece and nephew included!

My niece and nephew liked it so much, in fact, that we decided to celebrate their birthdays there (my nephew turned 10 and my niece turned 3, just two days apart). So, my dad flew down too, my sister and her husband and kids drove from Dallas, and Ken and I flew on a nonstop from Baltimore to San Antonio.

The Entrance

The driving entrance to the hotel area is somewhat unassuming and covered by lots of trees. There are a few resorts in the area that seemed similarly “hidden.”  The GPS on our phone though took us right where we needed to go! Reservations are needed to enter the parking area (names are checked on the first day, then you’re given a parking pass) to ensure that non-guests cannot come onsite to use the pools and other amenities.

Entrance to Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Entrance to Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Entrance to Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Entrance to Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

The Room

We booked a King room, and then were offered an upgrade option to a 1 bedroom suite upon check-in for an extra $25/night. We decided to jump on the offer.

When you walked in the door to the room, a bathroom and closet was on the left, the door to the bedroom was straight ahead, and the living room was on the right. The living room was a good size and had a lot of places to sit. (Which was nice since, during our stay, family members were always in-and-out of our room … 5 adults and two kids!)

One Bedroom Suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa One Bedroom Suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa One Bedroom Suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa One Bedroom Suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

There was balcony access from both the bedroom and the living room.

The bedroom was a decent size.

Bedroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bedroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bedroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bedroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

The bathroom was very basic. I would’ve liked to have seen some slightly higher end finishes in a 1-bedroom suite, but it was perfectly functional.

Bathroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bathroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bathroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Bathroom in the 1 bedroom suite at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

The large hallway closet was great.

Hallway closet

But really, let’s get onto the REAL attraction of this hotel … the grounds and activities!

The Lobby Area

I’ll let the photos do the talking here!

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Lobby

Then, there were a lot of outdoor seating areas to sit back and relax.

Outdoor areas at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Outdoor areas at hotel Outdoor areas at hotel Outdoor areas at hotel Outdoor areas at hotel

Even though it was May and in Texas, the area had plenty of trees and shade so it never felt exceptionally hot or humid. (Of course, constantly going in and out of the pools helped with that too!).

I think that’s about enough for one post! I’ll cover other parts of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa, like the pools, the “Ramblin River,” S’mores, and outdoor movies in a part 2!

Mardi Gras 2016 in New Orleans – Days 3 and 4

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Mardi Gras in New Orleans 2016


Our Mardi Gras madness continued! Our third day in New Orleans started with a trip to Mardi Gras World. (It’s open year-round, not just during Mardi Gras). Mardi Gras World makes and stores a lot of the parade floats. I was a little worried that, since Mardi Gras was currently underway, that perhaps it would be empty or not as fun to see.

Luckily, my worries were unfounded! This place was a photographer’s dream (er, in our case, an amateur photographer’s dream!)

Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans

It’s a bit off the beaten path, but Mardi Gras World operates a free round trip shuttle from various hotel stops in New Orleans. Luckily, our hotel was one of the stops, so we didn’t even have to go anywhere to pick up the shuttle! They don’t stop at every hotel automatically though, so you do have to call in advance to arrange the shuttle pickup.

Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans Mardi Gras World | New Orleans

During the tour of Mardi Gras World, you get to stop at various “stations” all throughout the warehouse to see artists designing, constructing, and painting floats. The guide mentioned that as soon as Mardi Gras ends one year, the designs and constructions start for the next year!

Here were some float designs posted!

Float design at Mardi Gras World Float design at Mardi Gras World

So many art supplies. And my god, the STYROFOAM. SO MUCH STYROFOAM.

Styrofoam at Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World

I cannot imagine the tremendous talent and patience that it must take to make rectangular styrofoam slabs and construct them into an amazing Mardi Gras Float like these!

Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World Mardi Gras World

And, look what we found there! The same gorilla that everyone threw beads at the previous night at the Bacchus Parade!

Bacchus Parade Gorilla at Mardi Gras World

We bought a few souvenirs in the gift shop after the tour was over (and after we spent a ton of time taking lots of photographs!), and then took the shuttle back to the hotel. The shuttle ride unfortunately took quite a while because traffic was a mess. That’s what happens during Mardi Gras Season in New Orleans! Lots of closed roads to accommodate the parades. But, we didn’t mind being able to relax and rest our legs on the bus.

French Quarter During Mardi Gras

After we were dropped off at the hotel, the next order of business was getting lunch! And more walking around the madness that is the French Quarter during Mardi Gras.

New Orleans French Quarter

More Jesus signs, just like the day before.

Funny signs in New Orleans French Quarter

This dude in a motorized scooter had gotten into an argument with a guy in an SUV, and they were racing in the snail-paced traffic.

French quarter

And beads in trees EVERYWHERE!

Beads in trees during Mardi Gras

And, of course, a stop at Cafe du Monde for some beignets and hot chocolate. It was, expectedly, MUCH more crowded than our off-season visit in October 2008! There was a long line, but it moved quickly.

Beignets from Cafe du Monde in New Orleanse Long lines outside Cafe du Monde during Mardi Gras Cafe du Monde menu board Cafe du Monde seating during Mardi Gras Ken and I at Cafe du Monde Beignets from Cafe du Monde

We stopped by a mask shop and bought a fun Mardi Gras mask (just for our display shelves at home!).

Mardi Gras Mask Store Mardi Gras Mask Store

Then, we headed back to the hotel for a while. We had Bourbon Street balcony party tickets for later that night, and wanted to get some rest since it was likely to be a late night. (I’ll cover the Bourbon Street Balcony Party in an entirely separate post).

Fat Tuesday!

We woke up bright and early for the parades on Fat Tuesday! We had grandstand tickets at the Hotel Intercontinental, and the parades start around 8AM on Fat Tuesday.

The Zulu parade comes first.

Krewe of Zulu

Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016

This year’s Zulu parade had an amusement park theme, and I was so tickled to see the Cedar Point float. That was an amusement park I went to many times as a kid!

Cedar Point float | Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu parade | Mardi Gras 2016

The most coveted “throw” from the Krewe of Zulu are little handpainted coconuts. Apparently those riding in Zulu are no longer permitted to throw the coconuts into the crowds. They have to gently hand them off to people. So, more experienced Mardi Gras goers come prepared with little baskets and nets that they can extend to the float and hopefully get a coconut placed in their basket!

Like the orange basket below which says “coconut please.”

Coconut basket | Krewe of Zulu

We were enjoying the parade, but damn, we were getting cold. The winds that day were 30+ MPH, and as I mentioned in our previous Mardi Gras posts, we were woefully unprepared clothing-wise.

Ken and I at Krewe of Zulu | Mardi Gras 2016

As Zulu was wrapping up, we decided to go inside the Hotel Intercontinental to get some lunch. Many restaurants are closed on Fat Tuesday, and since we were right there, we decided that the hotel was a good option. We warmed up with some soup and hearty burgers.

Soup at Hotel Intercontinental New Orleans Burgers at Hotel Intercontinental New Orleans

We stayed inside for a while longer until we started to hear marching bands playing outside the hotel again. That was the sure sign that the next parade, Rex, was starting up.

Krewe of Rex

Rex, Latin for “King,” reigns as “King of Mardi Gras.” It is one of the last parades of the entire season.

Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016

Apparently a big piece of one of the floats had fallen off earlier during the route! That big shell-looking thing was being towed in the back of a truck!

Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016 Krewe of Rex | Mardi Gras 2016

And, of course, lots of folks were dressed up for the occasion, including this guy wearing thong underwear on his head:

Costumes during Mardi Gras Parades Costumes during Mardi Gras Parades

There was a bull float that came by that seemed to be incredibly popular. Although it took me a while to find out the information, it seems to be that it symbolizes the last meat eaten before Lent.

Bull float | Krewe of Rex Bull float | Krewe of Rex Krewe of Rex

Right as the parade was wrapping up, we started to head back to the hotel to get packed up for our flight that was departing that evening.

Grand Hyatt Seattle (Hotel Review)

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015


After our gorgeous ride onboard the Amtrak Cascades Line, we arrived at the Seattle train station around 10PM. We quickly found a taxi and took it to our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

We stayed for two nights, and both nights were free. A year earlier, I had applied for the Chase Hyatt credit card, which offered a bonus of two free nights. Although the Grand Hyatt Seattle may not have been the most valuable use of those two nights, the night were expiring within a month, so it was time to put them to good use! We booked a “City View with King Size Bed, floors 23–30.”

We arrived at night, so please forgive how dark the photos are!

From the door to the room was a long-ish hallway, with the bathroom on the left and the bedroom area straight ahead.

Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room

The room was not overly spacious, but it did have room for a small sitting chair and a decent size desk and chair as well.

Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room Grand Hyatt Seattle 1 Bedroom King, City View Room

The bathroom, on the other hand, was very spacious and had a lot of luxurious finishes.

There was a separate tub and shower.

Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room

And, there was plenty of countertop space, which is always a plus!

Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room Bathroom at Grand Hyatt Seattle, 1 Bedroom King room

I really couldn’t believe it, but somehow I forgot to take pictures of the lobby and exterior of the hotel. That’s what happens when you basically have about 24 hours to see the sites of a major city! It was fairly generic.

The location was great. It was about a 20 minute walk to Pike Place Market, and it was a lovely walk, with lots of shops along the way. We Uber’ed or taxi’ed to most of the other spots in the city, like the Space Needle area and to the port the next day for our cruise departure.

The service at the hotel was decent. We had shipped our luggage ahead (more on that in a future post!), and the Grand Hyatt had received it the day before and had it sent up to the room after we checked in.

One minor complaint though on our arrival. We hadn’t eaten anything since we left Vancouver. So we were damn hungry and looking to grab a quick bite to eat. We asked at the front desk if there was some sort of quick sandwich or takeout place, or even just a nearby fast food place that was open. It was nearly 11PM, and according to our quick searches on Yelp, our options were fairly limited. The front desk staff said, “No, the only option at this hour is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Mention you’re a guest and you’ll get a discount.” This seemed pretty suspect that Ruth’s Chris was the only other option available. I explained that we were just looking for something quick and inexpensive. They said no, everything in that area was closed. So, we were annoyed. We went up to the room and unloaded our luggage.

Then, we decided to venture out to walk around and see what we could find on our own. I had found a restaurant while searching on my phone that was a few blocks away and still open. We started to take a different exit from the hotel, and lo and behold, there was a deli LITERALLY ATTACHED TO THE HOTEL. Like, we didn’t even have to exit the hotel to get to the deli. I guess the front desk staff had forgotten about this place? Or maybe they get more of a kickback for sending people to Ruth’s Chris? Either way, I can’t be sure. Ken and I ordered sandwiches from the deli and went back up to the room to devour them. Just what we had been looking for! Something quick and easy before crashing in bed after our long day.

And it was definitely a comfy bed!


Amtrak Cascades Line Vancouver to Seattle (Review)

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Alaska Cruise 2015

After our quick stay in Vancouver, it was time to make our way to Seattle, the embarkation city for our Alaskan cruise. And what a scenic journey it was!

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

As I mentioned in the introduction for this trip report, I kinda tripped upon the Amtrak Cascades Line as our method of transportation from Vancouver to Seattle. To recap:

My original plan was to just stay at an inexpensive hotel near Vancouver Airport, and then drive the following morning to Seattle. (Our flight wasn’t arriving in Vancouver until like 12:45AM, so I didn’t want to start driving so late at night. But there was one issue. Rental cars were INSANELY EXPENSIVE. A ONE DAY rental from Vancouver to Seattle was going to be $199 CAD (About $150 USD.) I swallowed my pride and made a reservation, but I couldn’t help but think that there had to be a better, and cheaper, way.

And lo and behold, there was! I came across the Amtrak Cascades option! I had read that it was a very picturesque way to get from Vancouver to Seattle, and much more relaxing than a drive. Even though we have Global Entry these days, the line at the Canadian-US border crossing can get very long, so the train seemed like a good option to minimize the delay as well!

Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station

We arrived at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station about an hour before the train departure.

Outside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

We weren’t sure what kind of Canada customs or exit processing there would be. There was a dedicated line for the Cascades line, since it was crossing into the United States. There was also a dedicated line for business class passengers.

We walked around the station for a little bit.

Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station Inside Vancouver’s Pacific Central Train Station

After a short while, they started processing the passengers, including checking our passports and providing seat assignments.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class Review

Amtrak Cascade Line’s business class consists of seats in a 2–1 configuration, which I had learned long before our departure. However, I wanted to make sure that we were on the “coast” side of the train. Since the train was heading south to Seattle, that meant we wanted to sit on the right side of the train to have the best views of the coastline. But, I was never able to figure it out in advance if the coast side was the “2 seat” side or the “1 seat” side.

Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class configuration Amtrak Cascades Line Business Class

At the check-in, we were assigned seats in the “2 seats” side of the train. I asked the agent if that was the “coast” side, and she said no. That traveling south, that’s the “1 seat” side. Even though it meant not sitting next to each other, we opted for the “1” side. But, as a bonus, she was able to give us two single facing seats, instead of sitting one in front of the other.

Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class Seats facing each other on Amtrak Cascades Line | Business Class

Since we still had quite a while before the train departure time, I went outside and took some photos of the exterior of the train.

Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle Exterior of Amtrak Cascades Line from Vancouver to Seattle

Views from Amtrak Cascades Line, Vancouver to Seattle

This train route has been touted to be one of the most scenic in the world, and I dare say that I have to agree! [Photo overload to commence] View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

It’s worth pointing out that since we were traveling south, and seated on the west side of the train nearing sunset, it was incredibly sunny! Ken wore his hat and sunglasses even on the train!

Sunny side of Amtrak Cascades Line View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Seriously, SO scenic. I couldn’t take my eyes off the outdoors.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

At the Canada-US border crossing, everyone had to stay in their seats while US Customs and Border Patrol officials boarded the train and checked passports. We were stopped for about 20 minutes or so at the border, and then the train continued on.

View from Amtrak Cascades Line | Vancouver to Seattle

Photo Tip: The glare from the windows of the train really could have affected our photos if we had not had our polarizer filters on our SLRs! Seriously, if you do this train ride, be sure to have a polarizer filter, otherwise your photos will be filled with glares!

I walked around to some of the different cars and took some additional photos.

Menu on Amtrak Cascades Line Dining car on Amtrak Cascades Line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Snack bar on Amtrak Cascades line Advertisements for Amtrak Cascades

As we got closer to Seattle, farmland started to mix in with the coastal views (which were still scenic!)

View from Amtrak Cascades Line

And then, the sun started setting farther below the horizon.

Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line Sunset from Amtrak Cascades line

We arrived in Seattle, disembarked, and took a taxi to our hotel, the Grant Hyatt Seattle. Highly recommend Amtrak Cascades!