Saturday, January 29, 2011

48 hours in Las Vegas! (the last 36 hours)

Mornings are not really all that in Vegas but our hotel restaurant is open and actually has quite a few people.  The atmosphere is casual, some people come through to get to the pool, but the food is better than you would expect and reasonably priced.

So what can you do when the sun is up?  Check out the Atomic Testing Museum (within walking distance of the strip if you are energetic) which shows you the history of, well, the United States atomic testing history.  The exhibits are set up in digestible, well organized sections.  There are interactive stations where you can view in-depth video clips, or play a game to determine where we should store our radioactive waste!  They cover the science, the people who ran in the tests, and the culture that sprang up (atomic fireballs anyone?).  I really loved the display of patches given to those who participated in the different missions, and the short movie of an atomic explosion, rumbling seats included.  Did you know that the tests used to be a Las Vegas attraction?  From certain hotels you could see the blasts and they would hold viewing parties-check out the postcards they made out of that!

So now Vegas is starting to get moving and we go back to the strip, Bally's in fact, to see The Price is Right Live show.  Of all the game shows out there this is the only one that I wanted to watch when I stayed home sick as a kid.  I totally remember Plinko, Rice-a-roni (the San Francisco treat!), and golfing with Bob Barker.  This isn't the one on tv, but the format is similar.  You wear price ticket name tags, get called down to contestant row, bid on prizes and play a game if you make it on stage.  The value of the prizes is lower and more people win something because they call up new people to spin the wheel and play the showcase showdown.  You can bring in drinks from the bar and they show best-of clips from the tv show.  Did you know that Vanna White got called down to contestants row?   The best part of the show was that I got called down to contestants row!  And then I overbid by $5-darn.  But I'm kind of glad because the final prize was a new refrigerator and I don't think it would qualify as free shipped luggage....

By now it is late afternoon and people are going to be lining up to get into the Miss America pageant.  It's not that I'm a fan...kind of the opposite...this is an excellent people watching opportunity.  We walk through the shopping mall attached to Planet Hollywood where everyone is waiting in line to get into the auditorium and grab some pizza at a little place that has 'outside' seating.  Pretty much everyone getting in line passes in front of us and we snark.  Wow are there some questionable fashion choices.  So many sparkles, so many pairs of ridiculous shoes, so many 2-hour hair-dos.   The most memorable fashion statement was the guy with the white suit, not tuxedo-like, but with a subtle pattern of white on white, complete with white alligator shoes-he did an amazing job owning his look.  The oddest thing was that of all the gowns/cocktail dresses only one was green.  Is green considered hard to wear?  Note to self, if I ever need a fancy dress, look for green!

On the way out we try the gelato at Sugar, the candy store the hotel is hyping-not bad, but don't make a special trip.  We head to the City Center, a couple new hotels and a mall with somewhat interesting architecture, since none of us has seen it before.  The highlights for me are the Chihuly gallery (the fancy glass flowers on the ceiling of the Bellagio) and the water features outside of Aria.  The fountain in the center of the drive is a mini version of the Bellagio dancing waters without the music, but the river wall that is outside the main doors is unlike anything else in Vegas.  They run water over a vertical bed of pebbles and the sound is intense, blocking out the usual ambient casino noise, yet soothing at the same time.  Since we are close we also check out M&M world where they put their logo on everything you can think of!  Next time I'll try to figure out ahead of time if I need something printed on M&Ms.

We take the free tram over to the Bellagio and walk past the world's largest chocolate fountain.  It's an amazing piece of engineering and art...and draws a crowd of small children staring open-mouthed, asking if they can drink it :).   The Chinese New Years garden is lovely, I've always been impressed with the Bellagio gardeners because they manage to pack so much into a small space.  And finally dinner, we grab the corner table at the piano bar directly across from the lobby.  This is pretty much the ideal spot-the pianist takes requests, the drinks come from my favorite bar, they serve fancy snacks, and it is prime people watching.  For interesting drinks we try a Dark & Stormy (rum and ginger beer), a Manhattan (the best Manhattan we've ever had came from this bar), an extremely well made mojito, and a light refreshing aloe juice cocktail.  Fancy snacks include mushroom bruschetta, jumbo seafood cocktail, beef tartare, and the duck charcuterie plate.  Yum-I love snack plates for dinner!  To top off the evening we see O.  Like the Blue Man Group if you haven't seen it it will be difficult to get a complete picture from a short description.  It is world-class athletes performing variations on a theme with a thin story line running throughout.  It is incredibly beautiful and there is such attention to detail (live music, intricate costumes, audience inclusion).  Of all the Cirque shows this is my favorite and it is only in Vegas because of the special theater.  If you only have time/money for one show, spend it on good seats to O.

On Sunday morning we sleep in and then hit the hotel pool and hot tub.  Nothing super fancy, but it has a nice view of the mountains and we are pretty much alone.  We figure we need to work in a champagne brunch and there happens to be one just down the street at the Flamingo.  They have very pretty grounds in the back, koi ponds, mini rivers, and, of course, flamingos.  The brunch is nice, breakfast-y things on one side (bacon in four different places!) and Asian lunch-y items on the other.  An item on the dessert table that is a big hit with the kids is the cotton candy, but my favorite is a butternut squash ring filled with some sort of sweet butternut custard-I've never seen anything quite like it and it was clearly dessert, even though it was a vegetable.

A final tour of Caesars where we try to guess the nationality of a group by their clothes/shoes/sunglasses...and we'll never know how successful we were, but it was fun to pass the time.  It is usually fun to check out the indoor fountain shows in the mall, but we were at the one with Bacchus and it was completely broken-yikes, they should turn that off rather than leave such a terrible impression. And that is all we had time for on this trip.  A quick cab ride back to the airport and it's bye-bye Vegas...till next time!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

48 hours in Las Vegas! (the first 12 hours)

Las Vegas, January 2011

I love opportunistic travel-travel to somewhere because someone else will be there.  We took this trip becuase my cousin Brenda was in Vegas for work, so E-- and I joined her for the weekend-woo hoo!  Now, the only thing about visiting Vegas is that we don't really gamble.  I can play a little slots, but not for long.  I'm too cheap and it doesn't thrill me at all. So what to do?  Turns out there are PLENTY of things to do in Vegas other than gamble, some are even free!

We arrive just before lunch on Friday and meet at our hotel.  I love staying on the strip in the fancy hotels, but am always looking for something different and/or cheaper.  I stumbled across The Platinum which is just a block behind Bally's and is completely non-smoking.  I really liked the peace and quite of being off the strip and the size of the suite was so huge we all had plenty of space to spread out.  Having spread out, we went in search of food and ended up at the buffet at Paris.  All the buffets have too much food so you really can't go wrong unless you want something specific.  The Paris buffet has a crepe station of course, and a wide selection of cheese, so that is lovely, and we end up stuffed-not really a surprise.

We are thinking about getting tickets to the Blue Man Group, which is up at the Venetian, so we head up the strip.  On the way though we get sidetracked-in a good way!  First there is a a photo shoot that we stop to figure out...turns out the Miss America pageant is this weekend.  Huh!  Who knew?  But it adds some possibilities to the weekend.  As we are walking past Bally's we see a Storm Trooper and Superman and Batman and Bumblebee.  For a dollar, you can get your picture taken with one of them. So this is actually pretty entertaining to people watch.  Who passes by without seeing them, who does a double take, and who gets their picture taken.  Bumblebee is clearly the most popular and Batman gets no love at all except if he is invited into the photo with Superman.

Once we are in the Venetian we see the Chinese New Year display.  Generally it is lovely, but there is a 20-foot rabbit that is trying to be realistic with its brown fur and moving parts and it is just a little creepy.  And even though we are still stuffed from the buffet I can't resist the gelatto because they have cinnamon, which I mix with caramel and it is quite nice.  Now we practically have to waddle north to the Wynn.  I haven't been there before and hear they have some fancy water thing.  You can see it if you check out the satellite view on Google Maps.  It is national parks ('forest' and 'waterfall') meets Greece (classical statues) and the light show part of it happens at night, so we will miss that.  But you can sit at one of the outdoor bars and have drinks and feel very relaxed by the sound of rushing waterfalls.  You just have to ignore that you are under the flight path to McCarren and get to hear a plane land, oh, every 5 minutes.  Actually if you are appropriately drunk that is totally possible.

We still have time before the show so we wander over to Treasure Island and get alcoholic slushies-just look out for a brain freeze!  They have some cool stuff on display, a sculpture that is part motorcycle part woman and old carved ivory tusks that are so intricate the carvings had to be done over generations.  Can you imagine seeing your dad carving this tusk knowing that you are going to have to continue working on and you won't be done so you'll have to pass it on to your kids-wow, that is some dedication to the piece!   And now we realize we may as well hang out until the show starts.  Now, it's been a decade since I saw the show and I basically remember there was some sort of pirate battle (duh, it's called Treasure Island).  They have 'sexed' it up...I guess.  The one ship is pirates, the other is sirens (female obviously) and they have a bit of a battle.  That includes singing and dancing and clothes removal.  The only advice I have is if you want to see the guys, stand near the street, if you want to see the gals, stand near the casino.

We make it back to the Venetian and our Blue Man show.  So if you have seen it, you already know.  And if you haven''s super hard to explain.  It is part musical, part comedy, part cultural commentary, and all performance art.  I really enjoyed it and the family behind us did too.  Turns out that was a long day, so even though the night is young for Vegas, we head back to our place and crash pretty quickly, and a good thing too because tomorrow will be a busy day!