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June-July, 2003

Since we didn't really take a vacation last year, this year I was itching to fly somewhere. Anywhere. My mom graciously volunteered to babysit, so Julie and I decided to take a short trip to Las Vegas. It would be the third time there for me, and the fourth time for Julie (she went with her coworkers in February). Word of our trip quickly spread like wildfire through Julie's family, and before I knew it, four other people (Julie's parents, Julie's sister, and her husband) joined us on the trip.

I tried to book the traditional Sunday to Thursday trip, but due to the deal we got on the flight, we had to stay a Saturday night. So our trip was Saturday to Wednesday instead. Unfortunately, all the hotels on the Strip tripled their rates on the Saturday night. So I booked the Golden Nugget downtown for that Saturday night, and the Bellagio for the other three nights.

The big day arrived (Saturday), and we got to the airport. Upon boarding the flight, I was selected as the "random" person to be thoroughly searched before boarding. So in front of all the other passengers, I was told to take off my shoes, take off my belt, and answer questions about all my personal belongings. The only way that I could have been more embarrassed would have been if my mom went on the PA system and started describing all my bedwetting episodes when I was a kid.

When we finally arrived at McCarran Airport, we took a limo to downtown instead of a cab. There is a five-person limit for all size cabs, including minivans. So our options were either two cabs, the hotel shuttle bus, or a limo. Per person, the limo ($38) was only slightly more expensive than the shuttle ($33 for six people).

The limo took us to the Golden Nugget, where I had booked two rooms. We tried to get adjoining rooms, but since we got there so late, we weren't even on the same floor. We were on the 14th floor facing the Strip (south), while the other four were on the 18th floor facing Fremont Street (north). However, since we were in the South Tower, our views weren't that great. The rooms were pretty nice, though. Our room had a king-sized bed, with a makeup desk outside the bathroom so that I could apply my eyeliner in comfort. The hotel didn't have any queen-sized beds, so the other four had to make do with two doubles. One thing that was readily apparent was the sheer size of the hotel. I'm not used to having hotel room numbers with five digits. Remembering the room number is almost like memorizing a phone number.

After we all unpacked, we headed down Fremont Street. We saw the "$11.99 Steak Buffet" sign at Sam Boyd's Fremont Casino, so that's where we had dinner. They had steaks cooked to order, along with crab claws and shrimp. I had a few steaks that evening. They weren't that good, but boy, did I eat a lot of them. After dinner, we waited for the Fremont Street Experience to start before we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. The next morning (Sunday), I woke up early (6:30 AM) and decided to walk around Fremont Street. I went to the ubiquitous Starbucks in front of the hotel and just wandered around outside. This area is completely different early in the morning, with a sedate calm that is completely opposite to the mood any other time of day. As I wandered aimlessly, I bumped into Julie's dad, who also woke up early and was just sitting on a bench on Fremont Street. What were the odds of that? After everyone eventually woke up, all six of us ate breakfast at the McDonald's inside Fitzgerald's. I also won a few bucks on the $3 blackjack tables here.

Julie in front of the Bellagio

Later that morning, we checked out of the Golden Nugget and headed to the Bellagio. As I dragged our luggage to the front desk to check in, I was told that we had adjoining rooms, but the second room wasn't ready. The prior guests were allowed to stay there until 4:00. So after it got cleaned, we wouldn't be allowed in there until 5:30 or so. We decided to throw all the luggage into my room and then walk around afterwards. When we first saw the room, we were very impressed. We were on the 28th floor, facing the Strip and the Bellagio fountain show (they said that it was the top floor, but there were a few floors above us, probably for the VIPs). Each room was about 550 square feet. The room itself wasn't big, but the bathroom was huge. The bathroom was lined with marble everywhere. It had a huge soaking tub and a shower that could easily accommodate 2 to 4 people. There was even a telephone right next to the toilet. I called next door a few times with that phone, until they started getting annoyed. And the phone even had a dataport, for the busy executive that had to work on the laptop while "doing their business" on the toilet. The room didn't have a closet; instead it had an armoire, where a bathrobe was awaiting us (there was only one bathrobe here, so maybe the previous guests took one for a souvenir).

We headed downstairs to look around the hotel. We checked out the pool area (six pools!) and the conservatory, where the hotel had a lot of flowers and plants on display. The casino was so fancy looking, I was almost embarrassed to be wearing my cargo shorts around (for some reason, I always feel like a "doofus" wearing cargo shorts). The Bellagio was so fancy, that those men that were wearing suits wouldn't have felt out of place, unlike if they were hanging around Circus Circus, for example. Surprisingly, for such a swanky place, there were actually some 2-cent slot machines.

The night-time view of the Bellagio Fountains from our room

From our room, we saw the sign for the "$11.99 Prime Rib or T-bone Steak" at the Barbary Coast across the street, so that's where we went for supper. The food was pretty good, with generous portions, but I was getting sick of steaks (I never thought I'd ever say that). After supper, we walked down the Strip to the Venetian. Even though I wasn't hungry, I got a beloved Krispy Kreme. Later that night, we went to Caesar's Palace and checked out the Forum Shops and the new auditorium that housed Celine Dion's new show. Celine Dion even has her own store next to the auditorium. I, of course, made her even more wealthier by buying a few souvenirs for my mom.

The next day (Monday), we took a CAT bus to the southern part of the Strip, getting off at the Mandalay Bay. Wandered around for a bit before taking the tram to the Luxor, where we had breakfast. Took the tram again to the Excalibur, then walked to the New York, New York. Then walked across the street to the MGM Grand. The only one of these hotels that I haven't seen before was the Mandalay Bay. That night, Julie's parents, sister, and her husband went to see a show at Harrah's, while Julie and I decided to go on our own and head over to the Fashion Show Mall. On the way back to the Bellagio, we saw Sean Connery at the Venetian for the world premiere of "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen". We also saw Charlize Theron there, but she didn't even make eye contact with me.

Finally, at about 9:00, we lined up for supper at the Bellagio Buffet ($25 for supper). After about a half hour wait (who else eats supper this late???), we pigged out on elk, buffalo, lamb, veal, Alaskan king crab legs, jumbo shrimp, and uh, pig. Damn, that was one of the best meals I've ever had, despite being a buffet. It must have been pretty good, since I'm usually not on the verge of blacking out, mid-meal. And every five minutes, I had to go up one notch on my belt. I had three huge glasses of cranberry juice, which alone would have cost at least $10 anywhere else. The dessert was probably pretty good (I say "probably" because I was so stuffed, I lost my sense of taste and smell at that point). I think that having soup at a buffet is about as pointless as having vegetables at a buffet. But the wild mushroom soup was fantastic. It was so good, I had to have seconds, despite the fact that I was so full. Seriously, although I hadn't tried some of the other better buffets (like at the Paris, Aladdin, or Rio), they would have been hard-pressed to beat the Bellagio Buffet. And to top off the night, I won $200 on a 25-cent slot machine, on one pull.

Hey, isn't that James Bond?

For our final full day in Vegas (Tuesday), we walked to the McDonald's south of the Aladdin (we weren't very ambitious that day). Later that evening, we had supper at PF Chang's at the Aladdin (excellent food). One thing that I noticed in the Aladdin was the bathrooms. Why are the paper towel dispensers automated? Are we so lazy as a society, that we aren't capable of pulling down on a lever anymore? "Sure, I'd like to dry my hands, but there's no way that I'm putting any effort into it." The soap dispenser was automated too.

On our last morning, we went to the breakfast buffet at the Bellagio. It was very, very good, though not as mind-blowing as the supper that we had there. On the flight back home, we encountered two different crying babies. From Vegas to Seattle, a baby was crying right in front of us. From Seattle to Edmonton, a small kid was crying and being bratty right behind us. You'd think that since I have my own baby, I would have been understanding and empathetic. However, I wasn't. Those kids drove me crazy!

A crowd viewing the Bellagio fountain show

After I won the $200 on the slot machine, I won another $80 the next morning

In conclusion, we had a great time in Vegas. I got to visit the new hotels that weren't built last time I was here, including the Bellagio, the Venetian, the Paris, the Aladdin, and Mandalay Bay. I would highly recommend the Bellagio to anyone, if they can get a good room rate (including the promotional rate, plus a discount because I complained that we couldn't get into our second room until late in the day, each room was $125 a night). If you paid that much in New York City, you'd be lucky to be staying in a broom closet in the basement. It was well worth it for the nice room, incredible view, great service (turndown service every night), and impressive bathrooms. We got a good rate at the Golden Nugget as well. Including our AAA discount, we got each room for $71 a night; a pretty good rate to get for a Saturday night. Overall, everyone had lots of fun visiting Las Vegas.

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