Stephanie and I managed to pull off a week in "fabulous Las Vegas" a couple of weeks ago (I'd have written sooner, but time has been precious since returning) and, I have to say, that place is something to see.
We stayed at the Riviera (pictured left), which is really an "old Vegas" kind of place. Of course, you can't walk down the hall in one of these hotels without someone accosting you about "free show tickets" - free, in this instance meaning, "We'll provide you with tickets to one of our shows (at the Riviera, the shows consisted of a comedy club, a female impersonation revue, and Russian ice-skaters) provided you're bored enough or stupid enough to spend three hours of "quality time" with one of their sales reps/brain scientists who will try everything up to and including chemically enhanced KoolAid trying to break your will to convince you to spend your hard-earned green on the newest Marriott time-share commune. We were hit on (not in the good way) no less than four times (twice by the same person) about this matter. We were steadfast in our resolve to say, "No."
I think the thing that amazed me most about Vegas was the sheer size of everything. It's like, you think, "I can walk down to that hotel. It's right there." An hour later, you're still trying to make your way through the maze of shops, slots, and solariums in Bellagio and you haven't left the building. You haven't even left the same floor. But that's what makes Vegas so "fabulous" - everything's huge (and that means a lot since, you know, I come from Texas). We checked out Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, the Wynn, the Venetian...and several others. All of them were big, but Bellagio and Caesar's were the biggest ones we saw. I hear MGM might be bigger...not sure...we didn't go there.
Here's a breakdown on the week:
Sunday - plane got in around 7 p.m. or so, which was 9 on my body clock. Picked up the rental car (do you KNOW how difficult it is to walk right by a Lotus Spider, knowing you could feasibly be driving it out of the parking lot?) and headed to the hotel. Nothing's hard to find in Vegas. It just takes awhile to get there. We checked in and immediately hit the buffet at the Riviera since it was close and we didn't have to walk. Crashed.
Monday - up for breakfast at about 8:30 or so. Headed to Hoover Dam. Also quite big. REALLY big. An amazing place to visit, just to hear about how much concrete it takes to construct an item like that and how LONG it takes to pour it (night and day - 24 hours a day 363 days a year for four years - and that's pouring really big buckets). It was hot out, but not as hot as the week before when the temps hit 128. I think it topped out around the 110 mark most of the days we were there. Stopped at the In & Out in southeast Vegas for a burger prior to hitting the Wal-Mart to pick up snacks and drinks (fridge in the room - great idea). We stopped off at the M&M's store for awhile to look around for gifts/souvenirs, but decided to wait and see if we could come up with something better. Came back to the room, took a nap, and headed to the Rio. My hairdresser (okay, the woman who cuts my hair) told me it was worth the drive to hit the Carnival buffet there and Steph had heard the same thing from one of her co-workers. They were right. And, really, what do you do when you're faced with the choice of prime rib, fried shrimp, egg rolls, lobster, corn dogs, barbecue, steaks (cooked to order), enchiladas, calamari, sushi, and anything else your delicate palate can dream up? Well, let's just say it was "international cuisine" night in my mouth. The buffet at the Riviera was okay. The buffet at the Rio was awesome. By the time we finished eating, we both needed to be wheeled out of there. And it was just about bedtime, anyway, plus Steph had to work on Tuesday, so it was a relatively early night.
Tuesday - Steph was doing workshops at the National Kindergarten Teacher's Convention, so I popped out to check out the town. Drove around a lot, just looking at things. Once you get off the strip, Vegas looks somewhat like other towns, but I did take note of what it's like to be in a town where there isn't a church on every other corner. In fact, the first day we were there, it was still daylight and that was one of the things I noticed. Of course, putting a church on the strip would be impractical as well as costly, so...anyway, I started to see normal town stuff: schools, churches, stores that didn't have "Generous Slots" signs on the front. And, tucked in between all these things, of course, were a number of smaller gamblin' joints that looked more like convenience stores than casinos. I checked out a couple of the other hotels and watched some folks gamble at Bellagio (which just fascinated me). One guy was shooting craps and he had - by my ignorant count - about $30,000 in chips he was placing here and there. He'd lose big about once every 6 rolls, but his bases were covered so well the rest of the time that he'd just about always pick up some cash on something. And one guy was playing three-card poker and won $800 on a 40-1 payoff on a $20 bet. I figure if you're good at that, then more power to you, but the $7 I blew on slots was enough to convince me that this would not be a good way to live for me.
We had a reception to attend for the presenters and employees of SDE, the group that put on the conference, so we snagged some finger food there before heading out to see Spamalot at the Wynn Hotel. The lead was played by Seinfeld alum and Dancing with the Stars finalist John O'Hurley. I'm a huge Python fan, so I knew I wouldn't be disappointed. The only problem came about a third of the way through the show when it was pretty apparent that the orchestra's microphones weren't working and they had to call the cast backstage for a bit while they tweaked that problem. It never really worked dependably for the rest of the night, but toward the end it seemed to come together. Great show. Lots of fun. If you say otherwise, I shall taunt you a second time.
Wednesday - Steph was working again. I slept late, went to Starbucks, then headed down to the Hard Rock, where I walked around a lot again, but this time there was a ton of stuff to look at. This place has a great collection of guitars, etc., including some of Stevie Ray Vaughn's old guitars and a lot of rock and roll clothing posed out in glass cases (Madonna bustiers, Depeche Mode jackets, yada yada yada). It was a cool place with some really nice rockabilia. And, of course, there were slots everywhere. I ate lunch at the cafe. Had the quesadillas made with Joe Perry's Mango-Tango hot sauce...sweeeet!
Headed over to Caesar's Palace after that to see what that place was all about. Once again...BIG. I mean, it's a hotel, a gambling casino, a mall (a really EXPENSIVE mall), and about fifteen restaurants. It's one of those places you just walk and walk and walk in. Watched a few folks lose some money. Over by the Forum Shops - outside on the walkway - there was some elderly gentleman who had obviously confused the walkway with a driveway. His poor wife was walking in front of him, yelling, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" and apparently was trying to find him an exit route. One guy behind me is telling his wife, "Too many free drinks at the casino." I headed back to the parking garage and went back to the hotel for a nap.
We headed to the Venetian after eating dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (yea...I know...but there was NO wait and I knew the food would be good). We had tickets - GOOD tickets - to see the Blue Man Group. There's no describing this show. It's music. It's improv. It's comedy. It's social comment. It's art (literally - they paint - by spitting on stuff). And it's quite interactive. A TON of fun. We were really torn between this and seeing the Cirque du Soleil's new Beatles Love show, and I'm not sure we made the RIGHT choice, but there's always next time. Either way, BMG was an unbelievable show. If you have the chance to see them, take it.
Thursday - Steph was through with her consulting gig, so we headed out on the town and checked out some of the places I'd seen earlier in the week. We ate lunch at the NASCAR Cafe at the Sahara. Mediocre food and mediocre service at a not so mediocre price. Not impressed. After lunch, we headed over to Bellagio and Caesar's so Steph could see the sites there. We caught the moving statue show at Caesar's, which was kind of a Disneyesque little show - about ten minutes worth of "Here's what happened to Atlantis." Then we went to the Cheesecake Factory there for a "snack" before heading back to find the car and drive back to the hotel for another nap. Steph was pining for something familiar in the way of dinner, so we tracked down a Jason's Deli on the south side of town for dinner.Thursday night was low-key with packing and getting ready to make the trip back home on Friday morning.
Friday - airplane day. Left at 9, got home at about 3, after picking Kinsey up at the mother-in-law's house. She was none the worse for the wear and actually did better this trip than she ever has when we've both been out of town. It was good to be home.
Vegas was fun. It's kitschy, over-the-top, and crassly overdone, but if you've never been there, I recommend it.
We're thinking about going back next year. I'd better book those Cirque tickets now.