Sunny Puerto Vallarta during a Texas ice storm!

My husband earned an all expense paid vacation to Puerto Vallarta through his employer and we were lucky enough to get away from Texas just as an ice storm hit.  While we were sunning on the beach and drinking cocktails, our friends and family were back at home freezing their asses off!  I’d like to say I felt bad but….

We stayed the week at the Casa Magna Marriott Resort.  This was my first time to be out of the country and neither of us had passports.  Luckily we were able to get them expedited and they arrived just in time for our trip.  Besides a welcome dinner on the first day and a farewell dinner on the last day – the week was ours to do whatever we wanted, eat whatever we wanted and drink whatever we wanted!  It was beyond fabulous.  There is nothing that beats a completely free vacation!

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Spring Break in Vegas, Family Style 2015

Another adventure that has happened in the past year was a Spring Break vacation with the kids to Las Vegas.  The last time they were there was back in 2009 so this time around it was a bit different but still a lot of fun.  My parents were supposed to go with us but my mother took on a new job right before and had to travel to MD for training that week.  Bad timing.  But I still urged my dad to come with us.

We had 4 nights comped at MGM and one night at Excalibur…also had 4 nights + one paid night at Flamingo – which is where my dad stayed. This was great for a mid-strip resting point most days.

This is the longest we have ever been in Vegas at one time. Did a lot of walking and mainly played slots at night after the kids were tuckered out. My husband had a few good wins on the 2nd and 3rd nights which let us go home with one day’s full budget still in the bank. That has never happened before!

Unfortunately I was the only one recording slot bonuses and I wasn’t winning anything big. We missed out on recording some nice big wins by my husband which would’ve been good to add to our slot channel. Isn’t that the way it always happens?!

The trip was too long for me to post the daily details so I will just post the highs and lows.

Highs:
– Limo transport both ways via Presidential Limo. I booked this as a surprise for everyone. We got in from Dallas really late so it was nice to just get in a vehicle and go without making a gazillion stops and without having to worry about the tunnel. The cost included gratuity but I tipped extra there and back. The way in we had a stretch limo with champagne for us adults and on the way back it was one of the SUV stretch cars. Complete with mood lighting and an awesome sound system – everything was perfect. Hubby and I have decided we will spring for this every trip now that we are spoiled!

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– Freeplay at MGM through MLife and MyVegas turned into a profit. Not much but $75 freeplay at MGM turned into $95 cash and $20 freeplay at Excalibur turned into $35 cash. It was nice not to lose it for once.

– MGM breakfast buffet was great. We ate here twice and normally I don’t like breakfast buffets but going around 10am gets you breakfast and lunch so there was a wide variety of food.

– Sprinkles cupcakes in the Linq area. My daughter is Vegan so we got two Vegan red velvet cupcakes there. They were so good and I think we inhaled them in under 4 minutes!

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– Diablo’s Cantina @ Monte Carlo. We had the $50 food credit from MyVegas to use there and our bill came to about $100. The waitress came back and said that their cashier wasn’t there and the bartender said he didn’t know how to apply it so the entire lunch was FREE! We were floored and I gave her a big tip that she was very appreciative of.

– Ka @ MGM. Of course it is always a good show. Hubby and I saw it about 6 years ago. The pre-show entertainers (the ushers) were really fun. Dad dozed off in the beginning but midway through it grabbed his attention and he stayed awake. One of the ushers playing with “George”, my daughters stuffed whatever it is

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– Dad’s room at Famingo. It was a CET comp and I think it may have been a Go room. Hardwood floors and a nice view of the pool area. I was actually impressed.

– Slots at NYNY and MGM – for my husband at least. He had a nice $310 win on a new Azure progressive slot at MGM we had never played before (picture below) and the whole bank of them were playing out nicely for a few hours hitting progressive amounts every now and then. I was able to catch the very end of it on video. He also had a nice $260 bonus win at NYNY on some WMS slot we don’t know the name of and another $150 line hit on 50 cent Wicked Winnings there. His best hit of the trip was at MGM on a Monopoly game. Not sure the name but the bonus win was $38 and then he hit a 10x multiplier for a $380 total win. He also had a $188 bonus on Goldfish 3. My one good win came from the Reel Em In slot at MGM for a catch of about $160. I did manage to get that one on video. One night we went back to the room with that entire day’s budget, including what we had spent during the day on non-gaming activities and food.

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– Monorail transportation. All I can say is thank God for it. With Dad mid strip and us on the South end, it made meeting up each day and going back much easier!

– The weather. After being in the Dallas area with nothing but rain and recent ice – it was so nice to walk around in 80 degree weather for a few days.

– Lucky Cat @ Cosmo. Even though my fortune said “By the time you turn around the person in front of you will have disappeared” it was pretty cute and they let the kids come in and take a pic.

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– Hash House a Go Go. Man the pancakes are huge! Nobody could finish theirs. The biscuit that came with my veggie hash was the best I’ve ever had.

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– The Secret Garden at Mirage! After watching the dolphins play, we walked through to the tiger area and who was there? Seigfried!! Probably the highlight of my trip, it was an honor to meet such a Vegas legend. Totally unexpected and worth the price to get in. I’m so glad my daughter talked me into it! They say he just shows up sometimes to meet people and hang out. We caught him before he left for the day.

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– Pink’s hot dogs. The boys really enjoyed theirs and I was able to get a veggie dog. It was the cheapest meal we had the whole week.

$8.99 Prime Rib dinner at Tony Roma’s downtown. The boys loved this meal.

– The Bellagio Conservatory. It’s so much prettier at night!

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– Adventure dome @ Circus Circus. It’s pricey to get in but my husband and the kids said the rides were great and they liked that there wasn’t a wait for any of them unlike most amusement parks. I bowed out of that one and lost some $$ in the casino while waiting with my dad.

20150312_141909– The dude impersonating Dr Evil in front of Planet Hollywood. Spot on!

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-Gold and Silver Pawn Shop…aka. Pawn Stars.  We took the bus towards downtown and walked to visit the shop.  It’s a tiny little place but fun to see, especially since my dad and my husband are fans of the show.

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Lows:
– Our room debacle at MGM. I opted for the $34 upgrade from the offer I got via email before our trip to the tower spa suite so we would have more room. Upon arrival very late that night, she said they were all out of them but we could do a 1 bedroom instead. The catch – it was their last one on the 1st floor – but she said she put an 8th floor room on hold for us that we could move to the next day. I hate those first floor rooms. Right off of the casino floor, you feel like you are in a dungeon. The couch and couch pillows had what appeared to be crusty food – or vomit on them. It was a large room and would’ve been great on a different floor and minus the unidentifiable substance on the couch. The next day I went to check on the 8th floor room and the lady said come back around 2 and it should be ready. 3pm I go to the desk and the agent is talking forever – talking to a manager back and forth a hundred times. She tells me that the room that was on hold had a maintenance issue and we were being upgraded to a different room on the 20th floor. I didn’t mind that because I heard the word upgrade. Getting to the room, it wasn’t an upgrade – it was the tower spa suite I originally reserved. That room is actually smaller than the one on the first floor. But on a good note – there was no vomit on the couch. On the 2nd night around 915pm, the shower backed up and flooded the bathroom. We waited an hour and a half for maintenance to come up and plunge it and for housekeeping to replenish our towels and take away the soaked ones. They did give us 4 free buffets but in hindsight I think I may still write them a note. They charged me $40 per night for the upgrade instead of $34 because we were supposed to keep the 1 bedroom – which we weren’t able to.

– The crowds. The college basketball tournament was going on at MGM and by Wednesday there were fans and players everywhere. When the games let out you could barely walk without stepping on someone.

– Chasing progressives. I need to make a mental note here. Chasing progressives only make you frustrated and depressed. There was one hanging on at over $460 on a must pay by $500 WMS Queen of Africa at Flamingo. I played it for a long time and hit about 7 bonuses. That damn thing never dropped. I gave up. The next day of course I just had to go check it. Yup…someone won it and it was back at $250. Dammit.

– Flamingo slots in general. We lost our butts there and couldn’t hit a damn thing. They don’t seem to have many new slots, just a bunch of old ones.

– The smoke. I’m an ex-smoker. I vape now. Maybe I’m just more sensitive now but the smoke at the casinos – especially NYNY – was so heavy I could literally taste it. Made me wonder why the hell I ever smoked those things. Our clothes went straight into the washer when we got home.

– The line at Carlo’s Bakery! Insane!

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– The Walking Dead slot machine. OMG. $200 gone in no time on max bet without one bonus and only one good hit for $90. Unbelievable. Never again!

– The Excalibur room – oh…the Excalibur room. What can I say? Motel 6 downgraded a few categories with 1970’s décor, little plastic cups in the restroom and hallways that smell like an old gym sock. Yuck. I’ll never stay there again. I added the night as an afterthought when we bought our airline tickets and had to extend a night to get the cheap fare. One good thing, they did not charge the resort fee so it was completely free. I will never stay there again and I made it clear on my survey that they are in dire need of a renovation!

– Downtown. Not really a low for me and my husband but my dad hated it this time around. I think the 70 year old man wearing a diaper up his ass and the naked large ladies with nothing on but duct taped nipples did him in this time. I found it hilarious and didn’t mind our teens seeing it, it made for some funny conversation. I mean, it is Vegas!

And finally, Chief Two Cheeks:

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The trip was fun overall but I think 5 nights is a little much in Vegas!  My daughter had a blast.  My son, well he’d rather be home playing video games or on a beach vacation. At least I don’t have to worry that he’ll slip off to Vegas when he turns 21 and become a degenerate gambler like his mom and dad!

California Adventure – VidCon 2014

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The last 3 days of our California vacation were spent taking the kiddos to VidCon. For those who don’t know, VidCon is the year’s largest convention for artists that publish videos and entertain on YouTube.  YouTube has become a modern day phenomenon.  My kids, for example, don’t hardly even watch regular TV anymore.  They watch YouTube!  Going to VidCon for them is like one of us going to the Academy Awards and mingling with the celebrities.

We really didn’t know what to expect on the first day so we just got up early and headed out. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot not too far into the convention center parking garage.  When we walked up to the doors, the crowd was ridiculous.  A line winded around the building and curved about 1 million times.  Doors had not even opened yet and there were at least 3000 people in front of us. I got on Facebook from my phone and read tons of angry comments from fed up parents who had spent lots of time and money just to sit in line and have their kids cry because the disorganization led to them missing a signing or picture with their favorite YouTuber.

We really didn’t have a plan in place so when they opened the doors to the arena, we ran inside to watch the opening celebration.

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It was actually pretty fun and really set the tone for the rest of the convention.  Inside the convention hall, it was pure madness.  Everyone trying to figure out how the process worked to line up for signings and autographs was pure hell.  I felt as if I was in a teenage mosh pit.

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Since we did this over a year ago, my memory is a little spotty on what exactly we did our first day so here are some pictures to help me remember:

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Tyler Oakley

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That guy from HGTV

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The mobbing of a guy who does videos on Vine

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The only YouTubers that my husband and I watch are the ShayTards.  I’m amazed that one video of Shay Butler romping around like a dork in a unitard has turned his family into millionaires over the course of 5 years.  They have over a million subscribers and their company Maker Studios – was just bought out last year by Disney for over 500 million dollars.  Talk about success!  I was bummed I wasn’t able to go to their signing on the first day because of the crowds.  We did get to meet them but more on that later.

The next day my daughter wanted to meet one of her favorites, Joey Graceffa.  This kid is a beautiful boy, no wonder the line we waited in was 6 hours long.  Yes,  SIX HOURS. At least the end result was worth it:

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His was a traditional signing, so that meant no pictures.  Just a high five and a handshake.  We made up for that earlier this year when Joey came to our area to do a book signing.  My daughter finally got her picture!

While we were standing in that 6 hour line, my husband texts me this picture:

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Apparently Shay Butler was waking through the center and was nice enough to take a selfie with my husband.  Ugh, I was jealous!

My son went on his own little adventure and attended a few YouTuber panels.  During one, he was able to get a picture with Chris Hardwick aka. The Nerdist…aka…that guy who hosts the Talking Dead on AMC.  Yep, that’s me being jealous again!

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The last day we were there, I was able to get into the ShayTards family panel.  That was a ton of fun.  I was able to ask them a question over the mic – I think I asked Collette how she stays so calm, being the mother of 5 children and the wife of Shay!

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While I was at the panel, my daughter got more pictures with a few of her faves:

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Alfie from Pointless Blog

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The hilarious Tobuscus

Finally on our last afternoon the ShayTards called a pop up signing for those who didn’t get to see them on the first day due to the crowds.  We waited about 1.5 hr and had a great meet.

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Overall VidCon was certainly an experience.  It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be and I know the kids enjoyed themselves.  I’m not sure that we would do it again, but maybe….

California Adventure Day Five

I’m trying really hard to finish this trip report….seriously.

Day five was our Disneyland day.  We got up early and headed out to Disneyland, which was literally about 2 blocks down the street.  After parking in the lot and taking the tram, we had arrived to Disneyland California Adventure!

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We’ve been to Walt Disney World at least 8 times in the last 12 years but we’ve only been to Disneyland once and that’s when the kids were very young.  The California Adventure park was a first for us.  First things first…our favorite ride:

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There was no line.  Then we hopped on the California Screamin’ rollercoaster.  It was a lot of fun.  I wanted to video the whole ride but as soon as our car took off up the hill, my camera stopped!  Here’s a few shots of it:

And this should give you an idea of how fun it was:

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We saw the parade:

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And caught the end of Goofy’s fountain show:

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And rode the Monster’s Inc Ride.  Disney is quite clever with their attention to detail:

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20140625_105928Here’s the whole ride.  It was really cute!

 

We walked through Cars Land:


We took a mid-afternoon break to register for VidCon.  The convention center was only a few blocks down the street so we trekked it down there and picked up our passes.

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After we got back to Disneyland we rode Mickey’s Fun Wheel.  This is the big ferris wheel you see in all of the pictures.  From a glance it looks tame.  But we decided to sit in one of the swinging gondolas vs. one of the stationary ones.  How bad could it be?  Or so we thought….

After recovering from that horror…we went on another vomit-inducing ride – The Golden Zephyr **warning, don’t watch if you get dizzy easily!**

It was getting more crowded as the evening went on so we decided to call it a day early and went back to the hotel to rest up for the VidCon madness to come!

California Adventure Day Four

Day four was our last day in the LA area before heading to Anaheim for VidCon.  I didn’t have much planned for us besides visiting the Griffith Observatory.  The Observatory is a cross between a museum and a planetarium – with an awesome view.  It sits atop Mount Hollywood and you can see for miles. Best part about it – admission is free!

The weather was perfect and we got there early before the first planetarium show started so we had plenty of time to roam around the grounds and get some great pictures.

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Hollywood sign view

View up from a long trail behind the building

View up from a long trail behind the building

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The fight scene from “Rebel Without a Cause” was filmed on the front steps

Here’s our walk around the building:

 

The inside was just as impressive as the outside.

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Murals on the wall

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Ceiling of the entry way

We got tickets for two planetarium shows.  Channeling my inner nerd, I was beyond excited about this because I think the last time I was in a planetarium, I was in sixth grade!  The shows were really neat.  The guy who was narrating them looked and sounded just like he actor in the Cadillac commercials.  You know the one who says we parked a car on the moon and left the keys in it?  Yeah, that guy.

Lunch was at the on site cafe and after we successfully pissed off everyone behind us in line by ordering 3 burritos (one lady making them) we sat outside.  Here is where I experienced something I don’t think I will ever forget.  I had to use the restroom and entering the door before me was a lady with a baby and a boy who couldn’t have been more than 5.  They went into the large stall with the baby changer.  We were the only ones in there.  I hear the lady talking to the boy and she’s using the F word in every sentence, just casually like it was no big deal.  Then the boy said something as a whisper which I couldn’t hear to which she replied LOUDLY ” I don’t give a F! What the F is she gonna do?  I’ll tear her F-ing head off and feed it to her for lunch!” At this point I hope to God she’s not talking about me and decide I’d better finish up and get the hell out of there.  This lady had some serious issues to be cussing in front of a young boy like that.  Later on during lunch I see her leaving with another lady and I assume that is who she was talking about.

Our lunch view before the bathroom horror show

Our lunch view before the bathroom horror show

From lunch we decide we’ve seen everything and decide to make our way back to the car.  About halfway there, my daughter asked…what about the gift shop?  So we headed back and checked that out.  To the left of the gift shop was another exhibit area that we didn’t even know existed.  It was an entire area devoted to space and the planets.  I could feel my inner nerd tingling again so we had to go in.

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Not sure what this was

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After seeing the last few sights of the observatory it was time to head back.  We had been there all day, as it was now almost 4pm!  Time flies when you’re having fun.  We had to drive to Anaheim to check into our hotel for VidCon.  The LA traffic was horrid and a 30 mile ride took us about 4 hours!  We made a pit stop at the iconic Randy’s Donuts near the airport.

That's one big donut!

That’s one big donut!

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The donut itself…not that impressive unfortunately!  Finally made our way into Anaheim and downed some crabs at Joe’s Crab Shack before calling it a night!

Day Five – Disneyland and VidCon registration!

 

 

 

California Adventure Day Three

I know, I’m a few days late on this.  The weekend was busy and I just didn’t have the energy!

Day three was our Long Beach / Queen Mary day.  I love all things paranormal and had heard of the “ghosts” aboard the ship.  I booked our tickets for entry onto the ship which included the Ghosts and Legends “tour”.  We got there early and entered the ship – the “tour” began at 11am.  I keep saying “tour” with quotation marks because it was not really a tour.  More about this after a few pictures:

Our Clan

Our Clan

BIG Boat!

BIG Boat!

I was really excited about the Ghosts and Legends “tour” until they started talking about special effects.  Whaaaat?  Noooo! I wanted to experience the underbelly of the boat (the old swimming pool, the boiler room) in all of its original glory.  Instead we got a staged Disney-like version of a haunted tour with special effects, sounds, lights etc… which really distracted from the history of those areas.  I was really disappointed.  I’m sure if there are really spirits living down there, they are pretty pissed off!

After that mess, we explored the common areas of the boat.  Outside was really beautiful and most of it has been restored to make it look good but most everything is original  The deck was quite impressive:

Ahoy Matey!

Ahoy Matey!

 

Thinking she's Kate Winslet.  Where Leo?

Thinking she’s Kate Winslet. Where Leo?

 

An old gun

An old gun

 

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Hello?

Hello?

After the deck we looked around inside a bit before lunch.

Creepy old hallway

Creepy old hallway

 

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Original controls

Of course by this time everyone was starving so good thing the Queen Mary is also a hotel with a restaurant on board.  Lunch was pricey but good and it was nice to rest our feet for a bit.  Overall, I would say that the Queen Mary is a very over-rated tourist attraction.  It would be nice to spend a nite or two on board but I really felt like I spent over $200 to walk around a hotel for a few hours.  Good to see once, but we won’t be doing it again.

Our son had been bugging us about going to Venice beach because he’s into skateboarding and there was a skatepark he had heard about there.  I was a bit apprehensive because according to Tripadvisor – Venice Beach is a s***-hole.  We got there quickly and after paying another gazillion dollars to park our car, we checked the place out.  Yep – Venice Beach definitely does have a certain “flavor”.  Somewhere in between 10- days- without -a -shower body odor, soured milk and dog poo.  No it did not smell good and no I would never eat at any of the places that line the boardwalk.  But, it didn’t feel unsafe as many of the Tripadvisor posters had mentioned.  We were there in the middle of the day so I’m sure that added to the comfort factor.

 

The skate park was really cool however and we spent some time watching kids with some pretty great skills on their boards.  One boy couldn’t have been more than 8 years old and he was killing it in the bowl (like a big empty swimming pool).  Being a mom I was tense every time he would drop in and fly out but he had it totally under control.  Mark my words, we will see this kid again some day – X Games, Olympics…something.  He was amazing. I don’t know if you can see him real good in this short video but he’s the one with the long blond hair. There are a few more clips on my YouTube channel.


We walked down the boardwalk a bit, bought my son a retro-style skateboard at the skate shop and then headed back up the coast.

The kids wanted to see surfers so we drove into Malibu to spend some time at Surfrider beach. The water was coooold!  I don’t know how some of those surfers could be out there without wet suits on.

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The seagulls in Malibu must eat really good because they are giants.  I’ve never seen such huge seagulls!

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We watched this one gull stalk a lady’s bag of Fritos as she was sunning.  He would wait until she closed her eyes…then creep over and try to steal the bag.  She was getting quite frustrated and thought it would be a good idea to hide the Fritos in her bag.  Not deterred in the least…that was one determined gull!  He waited for her to close her eyes and then went for the bag.  This went on for a while and I couldn’t help but laugh and cheer the gull on!  Who brings Fritos to the beach anyway and not share??

The offending seagull

The offending, Frito loving seagull

We stayed in Malibu until the sun went down and began our drive back into Thousand Oaks.  We ended the night with a dinner at the local Olive Garden.

Next up…The Griffith Observatory and lovely CA traffic!