Monday, September 08, 2008

Palau Kayaking

Aww man, our last day in Palau. As always, when I travel, I so don’t want to go home today.

Planet Blue Kayaking

Today we enjoy more aquatic adventures, of the kayaking kind. Thanks to our friends at Sam’s Tours and Planet Blue Kayaking, we enjoyed a 1/2-day kayaking adventure.

Before I continue, I wanted to post a picture of Molly, our wonderful host on this excellent adventure. Today she’s wearing the Little Miss Giggles shirt she borrowed (from her daughter, who protested that the shirt might not be professional enough to wear to “work.” We should all have to work this hard.)

Today we had another excellent insider tour of the island. We learned some of the local lore, kayaked under and through some incredible rock formations, and even around a sunken World War II battleship.

During lunch, we enjoyed some additional, amazing snorkeling. The sea life here was about as varied as I’ve ever seen, but sadly I opted not to rent the underwater camera for a second day.

What amazes me is how much colorful, diverse sea life can thrive just feet away from beaches. It seems like nature would want to protect itself and make its greatest beauties harder for humans to find. But I guess Palau is a stunning example of just how generous Mother Nature can be.

Four Hands Massage

After lunch, we returned to the PPR hotel, where I had a massage scheduled at the property’s Elilai by Mandara Spa.

I had planned to try a massage at both resorts, but as you’ve probably gathered, we’ve been somewhat busy this week. So since this was my first free minute to have a massage, I totally (over) indulged and booked myself a four-hands massage. Many of the massage therapists in Palau are trained in Indonesia, and my two therapists were no exception.

These two ladies were totally in sync, both exerting identical amounts of pressure just where I needed it. Normally I like my massages at a “Rough Me Up” level, but my sunburn was a deterrent, and it was a pleasure to just enjoy a relaxing hour in someone else’s hands.

I absolutely cannot rave enough about how blissful the experience was. I came out of the spa, and one of my travel mates told me I looked stoned. Which is pretty much how I felt.

After a few tropical drinks on the beach, it was time for the group to convene and enjoy our final dinner.

Fruit Bat Soup

All week, our hosts had been great about introducing us to typical Palaun experiences, but I would say that Melson really went out of his way to make sure we had a touch of local flavor. He brought us the Betel nut, clams, fried donuts and a number of other one-of-a-kind experiences.

The one thing he had not yet delivered was the national dish of Palau.

Fruit Bat Soup.

But at dinner, Melson, who hadn’t let us down yet, delivered once again. And voila, here you see the result of fruit bat soup. In terms of flavor, the soup tasted pretty good. The bat itself tasted somewhat like Japanese eel (tastes like chicken!).

But since the soup is cooked with the whole bat, having to peel off the little guy’s hairy skin would probably make this an experience I don’t need to repeat.

At dinner, we finally got to meet Darin Deleon, our very gracious Palau Visitor Authority host, and the person that made it possible for all of us to travel on such a wonderful excursion.

The dinner was hosted by the Palau Pacific Resort, who even arranged to have a traditional performance for us. What a fabulous way to end our stay.

After dinner, we had a short rest before we were escorted to the airport for our 1 am departure.

(I was considering writing a scathing overview of the retarded procedures at the airport in Guam. Think dot matrix passenger manifests and highlighters, but I decided that the journey was just too lovely to ruin with a scathing end. Just know that if you fly through Guam, you may need to arm yourselves with a little extra patience and a fine-tuned sense of humor.)

And also know that any stop in Guam is 100% worth the process if you get to enjoy Palau on the other end.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Palau Snorkeling

Here’s another deep dark confession. I’m just horrible at snorkeling. I’m so inept, I always get my hair caught between my goggles and my head, so the goggles don’t fit right and water gets in my eye. I can’t dive below the surface at all, because I’ll always end up taking a big giant gulp of ocean water through my breathing tube. The salt water makes me tear up and get all boogery.

Despite all that, I absolutely love snorkeling. Even with water trickling in my eyes and having to surface and wipe the snot off my face ever ten minutes or so, I just love it.

So I was very much looking forward to today’s snorkeling itinerary, which was to be hosted by Fish N Fins. I’ve heard so much about the wonderful dive/snorkel sites in Palau and despite the build up, the excursion beat all expectations.

Big Drop Off

We first went to a popular dive location known as Big Drop off. Here snorkelers could float on top of the coral reef, while serious divers could submerge down the coral wall. Having (for once) planned ahead, I rented an underwater camera from the hotel, and boy am I glad I did.

For the education of visitors, our crew had sent a trap into deep waters where the elusive Nautilus lives (generally 600-2,000 feet by day and 300 feet at night. Not to wax eloquent on the Nautilus (because there is so much more to say) but it is one of the oldest sea creatures on the planet, and very rarely seen in its natural habitat, so this was quite a cool experience.

Also interesting is that the cage used to bring up the Nautilus had also caught an errant Moray Eel. The eel was clearly not long for this world, and despite our guides’ gentle attempts to revive the eel and encourage it to swim away, it hung loosely in front of us. While sad that the eel was unwell, it was my first time to ever see a moray completely removed from the rocks they normally hide behind, and see just how long they actually are.

Soon, however, I became quite distracted by the Black Tip Shark swimming just below us. Generally he seemed pretty uninterested in the humans (there were a lot of people swimming about) These bad boys of the sea were hungry though, and if you look closely, you can see this one chomping on a small, yellow fish. (Right about now, my sister the marine biologist is shaking her head at my hugely scientific definition of sharky’s lunch.)

At any rate, the shark was so hungry, that while we were all watching his maneuvers, he swam directly in front of us, grabbed a hold of the Moray eel and took off like the proverbial bat out of hell. Wow, it was like the discovery channel unfolding in front of us.

Lunch on the Beach

Our next stop involved enjoying a leisurely lunch on the beach. I pretty much scarfed through my snack box, and couldn’t wait to jump back in the water. I swam some 100 feet out, where a boat from another tour company was dumping snacks in the ocean in an attempt to bring the fish close to their boat.

The fish were ecstatic and thousands of them began to swim about me. What started out as really cool took on a sort of EEK! feeling when five or six huge (okay at least five feet) sharks figured out that where there are thousands of fish, there’s a fine sashimi lunch to be had.

As a few of the sharks swam around and took a second pass, two of them swam by me, almost nose to nose. Umm, not sure on exactly how much human sashimi these sharks feel a need to consume, I felt my heart slam into my throat. Melson was close by, so I did the typical tourist thing, handed him my camera, and swam back to the safer waters of our own boat. What you are looking at here, is some of Melson’s fine photography work, as I was far too chicken to be THAT close to the action.

Jellyfish Lake

Now if you’re thinking, wow, “swimming with the sharks, what could be better than that?” I’d say, “I know, right? How could the day get any better?”

Unbelievably it did.

We’d been told of a mythical lake, one that was once part of the ocean, but as the sea waters began to recede (gillions of years ago, after the ice age), the waters became trapped inland. Now the lake, a brackish mix of salt and fresh waters, still houses jellyfish that have made their home there for millennia. The jellyfish, with no natural predators, have evolved to be almost completely stingless. (I kid you not.)

So, we did have to take a somewhat steep hike to get up to and then back down to the lake. Me: hot, sweaty, klutzy, not looking forward to the hike. However, I sure am glad that I went.

This place was AMAZING. There literally is no other way to describe it.
Imagine swimming in a bowl of pea soup with the peas floating around you. That’s sort of the experience we had. The jelly fish were everywhere. In the picture you see Courtney (who took one of the earlier shark pics), and you get a great idea of just how many jelly’s are floating about. What you can't see in the picture, however, is Courtney's nefarious plotting to take home a jelly fish to keep.

We stayed here about an hour, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us wanted to leave.

A Giant Clam

Now, we went to so many places today that I don’t remember what all of them were called. I’m pretty sure the next location we hit was “Clam City.” Yup, the clams below were giant as promised.

And seriously, who can say the words “Giant Clam” without thinking of the B-52s?

“--He was in a jam
--s’in a Giant Clam”

Everyone now!

Too bad most of my group was too old (or too young) to know the song.

What was particularly cool about this dive is that it was what’s called a drift dive. You jump in the water, watch the world below you, and let the current swoosh you along. (By the way, a special kudos to travel mate Jacqui who was somewhat afraid of the water, yet still donned life vest to take a look along. Even when she realized how far away the boat was, she continued as if she were a seasoned pro.)

Even those who aren’t strong swimmers, or not swimmers at all, could navigate this site with ease. Pop on a life vest, let the water do the work, and the boat will swing around to meet you at the end.

Milky Way

Even though the day was drawing to a close, I don’t think any of us were ready to go home yet. Fortunately, Tim, our captain, had one last place to show us. We ended up at a fabulous place known as the Milky Way.

Here, the boat crew hauled up buckets of the milky white sand from the waters of a protected inlet. We were told to slather the sand over ourselves and let it dry. Basically, a free spa treatment. We were enjoying the afternoon too much, though, so we pretty much posed long enough for this picture before jumping en masse back into the water.

This adventure was probably slightly cooler before we learned that the fine, milky white sand in the water is scientifically known as Chiton poop. Whatever, my skin never felt so good.

Barracuda Bar & Grill

As the day came to a close, Fish N Fins hosted our delightful dinner at their on-site restaurant, Barracuda Bar & Grill. Despite a raging sunburn (in places I’ve never burned before), I managed to scarf down a stunning amount of delectable cuisine, before returning to the hotel to fall into a near comatose sleep.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Battle of Peleliu

Here’s my deep, dark, secret confession.

Part of our group would be going diving today while the rest of us would be doing an “alternate” activity. So of course I was thinking that a separate (but equal) activity would be snorkeling.

Nope. We non-diving girls would be visiting Peleliu Island for an in-depth overview of island’s importance during the War in the Pacific.

Hmm, can’t say I was as excited as I should have been.

Turns out, the program was quite fascinating.

We were transported by a 40-minute boat ride to Peleliu Island by Sam’s Tours . Once on Peleliu, we were escorted by Des Matsutaro, an expert on the island’s history, and a World War II historian.

War in the Pacific

Peleliu, which is currently inhabited by some 200 residents, had no less than 10,000 residents before the (in)famous battle. Many of these residents were Japanese, as the Japanese had several military sites on the island, in particular an airstrip that proveg to be central in the fight to control the Pacific.

Scattered throughout the island are numerous World War II artifacts, all of which are protected under historical preservation rules. We visited a memorial site (seen in the photo) dedicated to the 81st infantry division (the Wildcats) as well as many other historical sites, including the famed “Orange Beach” where one of the initial battles took place.

Des did a fabulous job of bringing the history of this area to life. The battle for Peleliu was considered controversial, by many, in particular because of its high casualty count and because of the fact that the airstrip never ended up serving its intended purpose as a strategic site in the battle to recapture the Philippines.

Des excelled at conveying the feeling of that time. The young men of the US (and Japanese) armies fought in 115 degree, humid weather marching over sandy beaches and tropical vegetation. The horror of what these brave men went through, in the defense of liberty, is really beyond my comprehension. I've attached this photo (which I "borrowed" from the Department of Defense, public domain) which illustrates very well, the overwhelming forces fighting for Peleliu.

We took a break from military history to enjoy lunch at Yellow Wall restaurant, which is owned and operated by our hosts for the day, Maml Divers. We were served stuffed mud crab, a local specialty, as well as a totally decadent deep friend cheese log. Bad, bad, bad (but so good.)

After lunch, our history lesson continued, as we visited Peleliu World War II Memorial Museum. The museum is largely made up of donated artifacts and items, as well as many personal histories of the soldiers that fought on the island. One of the many donations here was a copy of John McCain’s biography.

We visited some of the island’s caves, which played a huge role in the Japanese defense of the island. These caves were largely the reason that the battle of Peleliu didn’t take the four days the Americans anticipated, and rather lasted some four months.

Palau Diving

Des told us that diving operations also have base locations on Peleliu Island. Because the island is much closer to some of the famed reef spots, visitors embarking from Peleliu will reach the prime diving spots an hour before the visitors from Koror, making for at least an hour of prime, unshared diving time.

If staying on the island, one of the best resorts to check out is Dolphin Bay Resort. This cute little resort is an ideal jumping off point for eagers divers wanting to get an early start.

Palau Pacific Resort

During the day our belongings had been transferred to the lovely Palau Pacific Resort (known by locals as PPR), our second accommodation in the islands. After finishing our Peleliu tour, we enjoyed a relaxing 40-minute boat ride back to Koror, where we were dropped off directly at the PPR’s boat dock.

This gorgeous, west-facing facility would be our home for the next three nights, and what a home it is.

Sams Tours

After a brief rest we were escorted back to the Sam’s Tours headquarters. The tour company is operated out of an open-style area, which loans itself well to group events, meetings and functions. We were served a splendid dinner, prepared by the wives of the Sam’s Tours senior staff.

A particular favorite was the crab in coconut milk (gosh I can still taste it) and lobster with garlic butter. Our hosts were incredibly generous with their time and they pulled out all the stops.

We enjoyed an in-depth presentation on the ecological history of Palau by Ron Leidich, the staff biologist for Sam’s Tours.

We were also lucky enough to watch some of the stunning underwater, movie footage shot by staff videographer Dr. Nick Martorano, Ph.D. If you want to watch some of his awesome footage (or even download it to your iPod), you can visit his site at: A sample picture from a dive to a "mystery wreck" is included here.

With our heads and our bellies filled to the max, we returned to the PPR to enjoy some well-earned rest.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Babeldaob Island Tour

Early Morning Massage

Now here's a great way to start the day. The Palau Royal Resort sets up a massage therapist in the lobby, who gives away five to ten-minute massages in order to encourage traffic to the property's Mandara Spa.

Ahh bliss. I don't think I'm going to have time to enjoy a complete massage here, but it sure felt good getting a 10-minute preview before we set off for our hard day of sightseeing.

Palau International Coral Reef Center

Palau is so reliant upon its coral reef system, both for the tourism it brings, as well as for the marine environment that sustains much of the country’s economy, that it’s great to see an Aquarium dedicated specifically to the reefs.

The Palau Coral Reef Center is a small but mighty attraction with lots of great information about the reef and its native denizens. The Outer Reef exhibit is one of the largest exhibits of its kind in the world and houses angelfish, butterflyfish and wrasses along with many coral types. We had a huge itinerary today, and definitely did not have enough time to explore this amazing place.

Having said that, however, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss anything else on the day’s agenda, so wouldn’t have really changed a thing. Our next stop would be Ngchesar to enjoy a new Palau attraction.

If you’re feeling confused by Palau's names and locations, don’t worry, so was I. I’ve attached another map of Palau, to help you get your bearings. Again, my apologies to the PVA for stealing their content.

Ngchesar Jungle River Boat Cruise

Next we visited the Jungle River Boat Cruise

Being the uber Disney fan that I am, needless to say, I had a few jokes about the “Jungle River Boat Cruise” ride. But turns out the joke was on me, because owner Billy Takamine lived in Anaheim for a time, and designed the concept somewhat around its namesake.

It is definitely much, much cooler on a real jungle river, that’s for sure.

The aluminum boat holds forty people and sails up a 2.5-mile river, until it hits the ocean. Along the way, the river is lined by mangroves and we had our very own guest appearance by two crocodiles, who apparently are quite the local celebrities.

After our fabulous cruise, we were treated to a tremendous luncheon barbecue, starring some of the best short ribs I’ve ever eaten. (And since I worked with the Korean government, I’ve eaten a LOT of short ribs.)

What I think impressed me the most is that this entire operation, which is run on land owned by Billy Takamine, is all run without any electricity. The land, which was nearly inaccessible until roads into the area were recently developed. Because the area is somewhat remote, electricity is a fairly new development, and Billy isn’t in any hurry to get it. (Don’t worry, the restrooms, which are lit by candle, do feature running water.)

That’s kind of how the Palauns are. Eco friendly, not because they have to be, but just because it’s a way of life.

Babeldaob Tour

A light rain, and the fact that we left the Jungle River Boat Cruise considerably later than our itinerary had planned, meant we had some last minute modifications on our afternoon schedule. Out was the waterfall hike (too slippery) but the rest of the Babeldaob (Island) tour was intact.

First we did some creative four-wheeling to see Palau’s national capital, Melekeok. The town, which has less than 200 residents, boasts a gorgeous capital building literally situated in the middle of nowhere.

I think our group was perplexed by the fact that all the nation’s officials had to drive 40 minutes each way, every day, to come to work, but apparently Palau is hoping to develop the area in the near future.

In the area, we also visited the Melekeok Bai, a traditional ceremonial house and stepped far back in time at the Ngarchelong Stone monoliths. The origin of these mysterious stone heads is unknown, but the Palauans consider this space sacred. While walking through the area, I definitely got the sense that this location is being guarded by ancient spirits.

Today our hosts were Kadoi, Yumie and Melson of the PVA. Melson was great about introducing us to some of the native aspects of Palaun life. Here you see him enjoying some very fabulous raw clams at a local market. If we’d had more time, I probably would have eaten 20 of these babies, but since we were on a schedule, we had to roll along.

Poor Melson also took quite a hit later when he elected to introduce us to an old stone sarcophagus further along Babeldaob. The sarcophagus, origins unknown, is located up a steep, muddy slope. You know what happens when rain, hills, mud and klutzy Monica mix together, right? Yep, I took a header up and down that hill.

Melson was great about trying to get us all up and down safely but to no avail as one of our group (not me, thank god) quite literally crashed into him, taking him out. He’s survived in one piece, but likely won’t ever forget our group.

Elilai Restaurant

After spending the day toiling in the mud and visiting some of Palau’s remote areas, it was a total shock to the system to have dinner at Elilai,
a trendy “Asian” grill.

This place looks like it comes straight from the pages of New York or Las Vegas magazine. The owner, Takuya Tetsuzo is a designer as well as a restaurateur, and he wanted to open a restaurant with a modern flair in Palau. Mission accomplished. The meal consisted of countless courses of Asian specialties (like Pad Thai, pork ribs, pineapple fried rice, seared ahi with a Korean hot sauce) and the restaurant sported a beautiful view of the neighboring Rock Islands. (Again the view was implied, as that dreaded night darkness prevented us from seeing much.)

Even without the view, the lounge-feel of the restaurant balcony made an enjoyable setting. After dinner we enjoyed drinks in the restaurant lounge. Quasi day-beds, video screens, what more could a girl want. Here you see Yumie, Kadoi and Heather enjoying a rare quiet moment.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palau Overview

Palau Royal Resort

This morning we got our first "real" look (by daylight) at our hotel, the Palau Royal Resort, a lovely resort in Koror. This is one of Palau’s high-end properties and definitely worth checking out if you’re planning a visit. This is a member of the Nikko Hotels family and because of the huge volume of Japanese travelers to Palau, it felt a little bit like traveling in Asia.

Yay for me, because that meant the delicious breakfast had lots and lots of Asian specialties. I never eat breakfast at home, so why oh why does a buffet seem to lure me with its message of “go crazy and try to eat everything?”

I enjoyed my favorite international breakfast, congee rice porridge with a side of bacon. Gross, I know. But don’t worry, I added other specialties from the buffet, including made-to-order waffles in order to round out my palate.

Koror Museum Tour

Not really knowing much about Palau, I was pleased to see our morning consisted of a museum tour of Koror. We visited the Belau National Museum, Tebang Woodcarvers and Etpison Museum, all of which helped color in some details of the Palauan history (as well as a greater understanding of the islands that make up Micronesia.)

At the Belau National Museum we had a great overview of the effects of international communities on Palau. From the German control of Palau to the Japanese occupation to modern-day influences such as Taiwan, which uses its friendship with Palau to further its own global positioning independent of China, the tiny nation has played a role in much of international politics.

At the Tebang Woodcarvers, we saw artisans crafting the “storyboard” wood carvings that are a popular Palauan handicraft. The storyboards generally follow one of just a handful of fables, which give a greater insight into the nation’s history. For example, the Palauan past has a rather grim history in that the women never had a natural childbirth. The woman’s womb was sliced open with a bamboo knife and needless to say, the woman rarely survived this process. Along came the spider god Mengidabrutkoel and showed the people how to deliver babies naturally. Now many storyboards bear the image of this spider god and display this legend.

The Etipson Museum also proved to be hugely informative with exhibits focused on the endemic culture of Palau. With displays of a Bai (traditional men’s meeting house), canoes and other boats, the museum helped wrap up all the information we’d learned this morning during our advanced-learning Palau course.

Dolphin Pacific

In the afternoon, we got up close and personal with some of Palau’s natives, the dolphins. Dolphins Pacific is an educational facility that studies the dolphin habits. Since I am a child of the “Flipper Generation,” I’ve had a deep seated “awww” for dolphins since my early childhood. I’ve been up close and personal before, but these smart animals never fail to make me smile.

The dolphins have been taught not to eat the many leaves that fall in their enclosures, but rather to bring the leaves to a trainer. As a reward, the dolphins get a tasty seafood treat. Now the crafty critters swim around the pool finding leaves and trade them for seafood in an almost incessant manner. Makes you wonder whose training whom, right?

Although we had some scheduled “free time” in the afternoon, Heather, one of our hosts, had told us that one of the best places to buy story boards was at the men’s prison. Cool, right? So naturally a group of us made our way over to check out the inventory. They must have had thousands of storyboards there. Overwhelming.

The paper sign over the door mandating “no prisoners beyond this point” was our first clue that this might not be a high-security prison. Although I was tempted to buy the storyboard of the legend of “Melechotech-a-chau” about a giant with a long, long, long male member that sort of resembles the Loch Ness monster, the cliché of a sex carving by a male prisoner was just too much for me to bear. So I bought a nice legend about boats, and turtles and greed set in Ngerchemai, a the home village of our other host, Kadoi.

Palasia Hotel Palau

Dinner tonight was at the Taiwanese-owned Palasia Hotel Palau. Our all-Chinese buffet of delicacies was followed by drinks overlooking the Rock Islands. (Of course since it was pitch black outside, this was more of a figurative overlooking than an actual view.) If I’d had more time, I definitely wanted to indulge in the hotel’s Chinese-style massages, wow, priced at just $20 an hour.

I just love inexpensive hedonism.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On My Way to Palau

One Country Closer to the "Century Club"

There are some (usually older) travel geeks who keep track of how many countries they’ve visited, and for them the “century” mark of 100 countries is a high water mark. I’m nowhere near visiting 100 countries, but have noticed lately that I’ve only been traveling to countries I’ve already visited. I’m not complaining, of course, but when I got the offer to visit Micronesia’s Palau, I jumped at the chance.

When I told people I was visiting Palau, I usually received one of two responses. The main one being “where’s Palau” and the second-most popular being “oh yes, there was a very famous World War II battle fought there.” For those of you in the first category, I’m including a map of the area, which I borrowed from the website of our hosts, the Palau Visitors Authority Palau Visitors Authority For those of you in the second category, keep reading.

Getting To Micronesia Via Continental Airlines

To get to Palau we flew Continental Airlines and Continental Air Micronesia with routing from LAX to Honolulu, then Honolulu to Guam and finally Guam to Koror (Palau).

Suprisingly, the flights were not awful. I can’t stand flying truth be told. Being tall, big and above average in the chest region mean that airline seats are at best uncomfortable and usually pretty intolerable. Continental however had a decent enough pitch (room between me and the person whose reclined seat usually rests on my chest) to allow me to even get in and out of my seat, and to eat my meal without performing my usual contortionist dance.

Further the food service was plentiful and fairly pleasant. On the long leg (HNL to GUM) we were even served ice cream sundaes for our mid-flight snack. Oh yum.

And anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a video game addict. So the in-seat video games (on a domestic carrier no less) were a welcome distraction. The movies were on demand so you could start, stop, pause and fast forward through the movies at your own whim. Don’t you just hate having to start watching a movie half way through the film?

Fortunately (sorry Continental, please don’t reduce your flights after reading this) none of the flights were 100% full, so I mostly had an empty seat next to me, which was awesome. Just enough to let me spread out a little bit.

The flight schedule was great, getting us into Palau in the evening. We didn’t get to see much on our first night, but it was great being able to get a full night’s sleep right away, rather than having full day’s schedule on only airplane rest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's Not a Mirage

The Mirage Hotel

Cravings Buffet at the Mirage HotelOur culinary tour of Las Vegas commenced today at Cravings, an all-you-can-eat buffet at The Mirage Hotel. Phew, all you can eat, and I don't just mean that in an "eat-till-you're-full" sense. I mean they had so much food on this buffet it was almost impossible to decide where to start.

Once we'd been well fed, we went to our final stop on the whirlwind Las Vegas tour, to Siegried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat.

Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage HotelThe dolphins were so cute. (Don't come expecting a Sea World-esque array of tricks and jumps, though. The trainers work with the dolphins, but there are no "shows" per se.) After communing with the dophins we headed into the Secret Garden.

The giant lions and tigers inside totally reminded me of my own kitty cats waiting for me back at home. They were just as lazy, just as playful and just as cute. Although we had uncommonly breezy weather (for Las Vegas), the Secret Garden should be a great place to visit year-round. It's perfectly shaded and the kind of rereat where you can just sit back, relax and and enjoy the peace and quiet.

And suddenly we were done with our trip. I soon found myself on the road back to Los Angeles with a ton of great new memories, and a bag full of press kits I would need to spend some quality time reviewing.