LAS VEGAS TRIP - APRIL 2002
Wanting to avoid the Friday-night-to Sunday rush crowd between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, we planned this year's trip like last year's, from Saturday to Monday. Our caravan headed out Saturday morning, with a quick stop for a mobile breakfast and then a couple of rest breaks, arriving in Las Vegas around 1:30pm. We had previously decided on brunch at the Bellagio, so we headed that way.
The weekend champagne brunch buffet at the Bellagio is amazing. For about $22 per person (before tax), you have a huge choice of food, something for pretty much every taste. The choices offered included: full salad bar, full selection of assorted breads, omelette bar, bacon, sausage, potatoes, smoked salmon, several different kinds of cooked fish, shark, carving station (turkey and prime rib), a huge assortment of vegetable dishes, pasta dishes, sushi (though it's mostly California rolls), bowls and bowls and bowls of American Gulf shrimp, assorted pizzas, assorted fruits and a wide array of other desserts. Weekend brunch is served from about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning (I forget when it actually opens) until 3:30pm. Entry into the buffet is then closed until 4:30pm, when the dinner menu is then available.
After finishing with brunch, we headed over to the Motel 6 to check in. We had stayed at the Best Western Mardi Gras on our last trip, but it was booked when we started planning for this trip. We had decided on the Motel 6 since it was relatively inexpensive, especially considering it was for Saturday night. As our group waited in line to check in, I played one of the slot machines in the check-in area. I had four quarters - what the heck. The first two quarters went uneventfully, and the third quarter gave a little in return, but soon, I was down to one more quarter. Figuring it was my last for that time, I put it in - and hit for a return of $5.50. A pretty good start, and that was my cue to quit. Unfortunately, my slot machine experience was not to be as fruitful for the remainder of the trip, but as I don't gamble to increase my income, but really treat the slot machines as video games where I don't expect anything back and am satisfied as long as I get significant play out of the money I spend, it works out regardless. After putting our belongings away, we decided to head out to the Flamingo.
At the Flamingo Las Vegas, we did some shopping at the gift stores as one of our party was looking for some specific merchandise. Two of us ended up getting a squacking hand puppet of a bird that looks remarkably like those from Pixar's short "For the Birds". We had fun playing with those and only discovered later in the trip that they were apparently quite popular as we saw them available for sale in numerous other establishments. We discovered that there were actually live flamingos on hotel property, so we went out to look at them and the other birds. The buffet area in the hotel actually looks out on where the flamingos are, so we considered having a meal there on our next trip. We also hung around for a while playing in the casino. We then headed over to the downtown area but ended up not staying as all the hotel/casino parking lots were full. We thought that was a bit odd as we'd not encountered this problem last time, but then we decided to head over to New York, New York, which was a good idea, except that we hadn't taken into account that we'd be trying to head down Las Vegas Boulevard at about 10pm on a Saturday night. Traffic crawled along the street, so it took quite some time to actually get to New York. (I would definitely recommend against trying to travel down the main boulevard during peak hours on a Saturday evening.) After finally getting to the hotel, we wandered around and looked for somewhere to get a late snack.
Finding a place to eat at New York, New York after 10pm even on a Saturday night can be a challenge. Most of the places were closed, except for the full service restaurants. The only walk-up place that was open was the pizza place, which explained the huge line snaking out of the establishment. Not feeling like having pizza, I opted to get take-out from Chin Chin Cafe, the American-style Chinese restaurant chain. I have had take-out from a branch in Los Angeles and really enjoyed it. That night I decided to have the Chinese Chicken Salad, which was very plentiful and very good, especially since I'd recently discovered how much I love ginger dressing. After our snack, we stayed and played at the casino for a while before heading back to our hotel around 1:00am.
Sunday morning, we were up and checked out of the Motel 6 by 10:00 and then headed over to the Sahara for breakfast. Some of the people in our group had wanted to try out the coaster, and it had been one of the hotels we hadn't been to yet.
The Caravan Coffee Shop is the 24-hour cafe at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Breakfast there was decidedly less than one would expect at a major hotel in Las Vegas. Our greeting from the hostess should have been our first clue. Jokingly, she made an off-handed less-than-welcoming remark to our group, which, while it may have been intended to be funny, seemed inappropriate. After we were seated, our waitress came by, and while she was never rude, was fairly surly much of the time. It took quite a while from the time we ordered until the time we got our food, and one of the orders arrived incorrect, and the chocolate milk that was ordered by someone in our group never arrived but still showed up on the check. To her credit, she was very apologetic when we pointed that out to her and immediately had the check revised. The restaurant also has an odd policy of no more than 2 refills for coffee, something I've never seen before. Perhaps it's to discourage people from sitting in the cafe all day playing keno and getting free refills, but I've not seen that policy in any other Las Vegas hotel restaurant I've been to. I don't imagine we'll ever patronize that restaurant again.
After breakfast, we played in the casino for a while to let the boys digest before going on the coaster. They both seemed to enjoy their rides and came out talking excitedly about it. We then headed out for a quick stop at Caesar's Forum Shops. On our last trip, we had found some cool stuff at the Warner Bros. Studio Store, and we'd had even better luck at the Disney Store, finding the last piece to complete our Electrical Parade float collection. We were disappointed to discover that the Warner Bros. store there was one of those that had been closed. We saw some interesting things at the Disney Store but nothing we really wanted. I did, however, really enjoy wandering around the store. The theming and decor of the store are amazing, with Disney figures depicted in Roman settings. With the changes to Disney Stores that have been happening and are expected to continue, changing the charm and appeal of the Disney Stores into stark, cold, characterless warehouses, I hope that this store never changes. It would be a shame to lose such a wonderful looking store. We also discovered that they'd opened an FAO Schwartz since our visit last year, so we decided to check that out. It is an absolutely amazing store, reminiscent of the original in New York City. It is a three-story store, with a giant Trojan horse at the entrance, and to the right of the entrance is a huge, two-tier diorama depicting Roman scenes made up entirely of mechanically animated Steiff stuffed animals. It is absolutely a sight to see, with scenes that are cute, funny and clever. We didn't have very much time to wander around the store, so we made a cursory tour of the first floor and then made our way to third floor, where the Star Wars toys were listed to be located. The third floor is a Star Wars fan's dream. The decor is amazing, with x-wings (including one that changes back and forth between normal position and attack position) and other ships. There is also a full-size model of a pit droid - I love those things. There are also full-size models of Darth Vader and R2D2 made out of Legos. And the coolest thing of all is the cantina band. In what looks to be a refreshment bar (it was closed when we were there so I'm not sure if it's actually open on a regular basis or not), the cantina band from Star Wars Episode IV periodically starts playing their signature song and moving in time to the music. Awesome. On our next trip, I definitely want to spend more time in the store, both looking at all of the merchandise and other decor and spending more time looking at all the animals in the diorama.
It was time to leave as we needed to check into our new hotel and meet up with another friend who was coming by plane for a short visit. Because a few of us had tickets to see Blue Man Group at the Luxor hotel, we had decided to spend Sunday night there. Checking in proved to be a bit of a challenge as the lines were fairly long, and there were apparently two registration areas, so it took a while for our group to meet up and to meet up with our friend who had just come in from the airport, on top of which, since we had ordered our show tickets by phone, we had to pick them up by a certain time before the box office closed. It all worked out eventually, and with the happy addition that we'd be staying in the pyramid. We originally thought that we'd just be staying in the tower and were a bit disappointed, so we were thrilled when they told us there were two adjacent rooms and a third room a few doors down in the pyramid. Our rooms ended up being on the third floor, so unfortunately, we weren't able to use the inclinator, but next time! The rooms were very pretty, decorated in the Egyptian style and with gorgeous armoires that housed the television. The bathrooms had showers only (bathtubs are only available in the tower rooms), but they were very big, with sliding glass doors. After freshening up, we decided to head to the food court for a snack as we knew we'd be having a fairly late dinner.
The Luxor hotel has a food court with a few places to get a quick bite, including McDonald?s, Nathan's and Luxor Coffee Company. On the same level, there is also a full service La Salsa Restaurant, but you can get take-out from there as well. Three of us ordered the nachos and taquitos appetizers to split for a late afternoon snack, and it was plenty to share.
Half of the group was going to the Blue Man Group show, and it was soon time to leave. The other half of our group was going to amuse themselves while we were at the show, and we all agreed to meet at a particular time and location afterward. We headed up to our rooms to freshen up and change for the show, and I really enjoyed being able to walk from our room, through the lobby and directly to the show, all without even having to carry a purse.
I'm not really sure how to describe the Blue Man Group show. I didn't know much about the show going in. My husband and one of our friends on the trip had really wanted to see the show, and another friend who had seen it had liked it very much and recommended it highly, so we had decided to go. I'd seen the billboards, and I'd seen the couple of commercials they'd been in, but not much else. The best way to describe the show is that it's comprised of numerous bits, all about 15 or 20 minutes long. The bits don't necessarily relate to each other, and the bits aren't all the same format. Some bits were comedic sketches which involved various levels of props. Some bits were musical interludes, sometimes with and sometimes without the accompanying band. Some of the bits were appeals to a particular sense, whether sight or sound. During the course of the show, none of the Blue Men ever spoke. The finale of the show was absolutely amazing, and it was interactive. They warn you that if you have any drinks in the cupholders, to make sure that they're secure. I definitely agree with that warning. If you really want to know what the finale is, click HERE. After the end of the show, we were completely exhilarated by the experience. As we walked out of the theatre and down the corridor towards the exit, the Blue Men came out to meet people, and you could take pictures with them, get their autographs and even have them kiss your program and leave a blue lip mark. As excited as we were about the show, we headed for the merchandise kiosks that we had walked by on the way in. For me, the best gauge of how much I enjoyed a show is how much merchandise I walk away with. I liked this show quite a bit. We bought a t-shirt for each of us, a program, a regular CD and an enhanced CD that has DVD sound. I looked at the sweatshirt, which I kind of liked, but it was a bit expensive, and since I've got plenty of sweatshirts, I didn't end up getting that one. Our friend got a few things as well. If you like comedy, I would recommend the show. If you like music, I would recommend the show. If you really like drums and drumming (as I do), I would highly recommend the show. If you just want to see a great show, I would definitely recommend seeing Blue Man Group. It was absolutely worth the $85 ticket price, and I expect it's still worth the recently increased price of $87.45.
After the show, we then met up with the rest of our group, and since we'd ended up having a fairly big snack earlier, we weren't quite ready for dinner yet so decided to do a bit of exploring. We took the connecting monorail to the Excalibur hotel, walked over the street bridge to the Tropicana corner and then walked over that street bridge to get to the MGM Grand. We'd not been to the MGM on our previous trip, and one of our group had never been there before, so it was a good destination. We walked around a bit, but since the changes many years before, we weren't as enamoured of the hotel as we used to be. Instead of the lion statue and fountains that now adorn the front of the casino on the corner of Las Vegas and Tropicana Boulevards, there used to be a giant lion's head, and you entered the casino by going through its open mouth. The brass door handles spelled out the word "OZ". The main casino area had previously been themed to "The Wizard of Oz", with things happening in the skies above and a periodic tornado touching down. Unfortunately, the theming of the hotel has changed to old-time movies, so it's not nearly as impressive now, though I do love the black-and-white photos of old-time starlets and leading men. We wandered by the lions' cage, but as it was just about 10pm, the attraction was just closing, so we only got a momentary glimpse of the two lionesses in the enclosure. We then talked about taking the monorail over to Bally's and then walking over to Paris (which one of the group had never seen and which I happen to adore), but when we discovered that the monorail closed at 10pm, that idea was nixed. We ended up just walking around for a little while before taking the street bridge over to New York, New York and then the next street bridge back to the Excalibur, from which we then walked back to the Luxor. By this time, we were ready for dinner, and having earlier in our rooms perused the menus of the various restaurants in the hotel, we'd already decided where to have dinner.
The Luxor's 24-hour restaurant is called the Pyramid Cafe and boasts an extensive and impressive menu, with an array of different options so that everyone can find something to their liking. It was about 11pm by the time we were seated, and while the restaurant wasn't packed, it certainly wasn't empty, though I suppose that wasn't too odd given where we were. The food was very good and plentiful. I had the chicken parmigiana, and while the side of pasta was rather dry, it was the only thing wrong with my meal and there was so much food that I didn't even need to touch it. Our waiter was absolutely great. He was attentive and very helpful when we asked questions, even when it wasn't about the menu items. He was very friendly and stayed to chat with us when he would come over to check on us. He had a wonderful sense of humour and even had a surprise for one of our group after a remark she made about the show we'd seen that night. I highly recommend this restaurant. The only cautionary note is that our waiter mentioned that some of the items on the menu are no longer available (including a few of the desserts), but he couldn't remember what exactly they were. After dinner, we walked around the casino a bit before turning in for the night.
The next morning, the women had decided to do some early morning shopping. The previous day, one of our group had discovered the bazaar area with lots of little shops but the discovery had been made significantly after closing time, so we decided to make a quick morning trip. I had asked one of the hotel workers in the bazaar area the night before what time all of the shops opened and had been told 8am. Thinking that seemed kind of early for a Monday morning, I had decided to double check with a registration clerk, who had told me that the bazaar actually opened at 9am. We had then agreed to meet at 9:00, which would give us half an hour of shopping before having to meet the men for breakfast. All of the stores in the bazaar did indeed open at 9am - except for the one store that the friend had really wanted to visit. That store opened at 9:30. Oh well. No shopping for her. We met up with the men at the food court area again. McDonalds, Nathan's and Luxor Coffee Company all had selections available for breakfast and lunch. Two of us had the breakfast platter from Nathan's, which consisted of eggs, toast, choice of bacon or sausage, potatoes and either coffee or orange juice for a reasonable price. Others opted for something from McDonalds or breakfast pastries from Luxor Coffee Company, which serves Krispy Kreme donuts. After breakfast, it was time to check out, and then we dropped off our friend at the airport before we headed out to the Hilton to meet the rest of the group.
I rather like the casino at the Las Vegas Hilton and we had wanted to visit the Deep Space Nine promenade. In addition to the normal array of Star Trek merchandise, there were two items tied to "Enterprise", so I ended up picking up a t-shirt. We've had a couple of interesting experiences at the retail outlets in the promenade. On our last visit, a few of us went shopping and browsing in the regular shop as well as the higher end collectible shop while a few people went on the Star Trek Experience. While we were in the collectible shop, we ended up being followed around by the clerk there, who was an absolutely zealous, almost fanatical Trek fan who kept trying to impress us with his knowledge of Trek trivia and experiences. The friend I was with wasn't into Trek, so he didn't care, and having my own Trek experiences and store of Trek trivia, I didn't find him particularly impressive, but he was oblivious to both of our decided disinterest. This time, we encountered the polar opposite at another retail location. A few of us were at the outside retail area, which has a few items for sale, including Romulan Ale and the menu for the nearby restaurant called Quark's. We'd talked about having dinner there on our next trip and so were perusing the menu, enjoying the various Trek puns and play on names for the various food items offered. Of course, gagh was on the menu, but it was listed under the dessert section and was really just gummy worms, served cold. I made the comment that gagh wasn't any good then, since it's best when fresh and still living. The nearby retail clerk overheard our conversation and made a comment about live animals not being served in space. I reiterated that gagh was only good when still moving, and he again stated that there's no way live animals would be served in space. At that point, I just abandoned the conversation. I don't expect the workers to be Star Trek knowledgeable, and I'd prefer if they weren't rabid about their interest, but if they don?t know what they are talking about, it seems to me they should not be arguing those points.
After wandering around the Promenade a bit, we played in the casino for a while. I like the casino at the Hilton partly because they play pretty good music in the casino, and because it's not as crowded (or maybe because since we've only ever been there on Monday morning/early afternoon, it's just not crowded at that time), it's not as loud, so you can actually hear the music, unlike at other casinos. Also, some of the slot machines there have a device that, instead of pushing the button to start the machine (after you put the money in), there is a beam in between two points, and when you break the beam with your hand or your finger, it starts the machine. Fun! We played for a while and then it was soon time to head out for the drive back home. The Monday afternoon drive back to L.A. is definitely better than the Sunday afternoon drive. With one stop for a late lunch, we arrived back in town in the late afternoon.
Another fun weekend in Vegas!
To read about the March 2003 Las Vegas trip, please click here.
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