December 14-17, 2012
Las Vegas NV
I hadn’t been on a ‘real’ vacation in some time. I’d been on plenty of extended weekend trips, but to actually go on vacation was something I hadn’t really done since my cruise in 2009. I wanted to take at least one more trip before the year ended, and had considered Chicago in October, but that didn’t happen due to a host of different reasons.
Some time around October I decided to go to Las Vegas. I love Las Vegas, and figured I’d also visit a couple of parks in the L.A. area whilst out there. So on Friday, December 14, my brother took me to CLT to catch my flight out west. I got thru security fairly easily and headed to Starbucks for breakfast. Around 11 AM my flight was off, with a stop in Cleveland. Eventually, I ended up on Pacific time, and arrived in Vegas around 2 PM.
I had used Orbitz to reserve a rental car. I got an insane deal with EZ Rental Car, but every review online was not good. So I took the bus over to the new McCarran rental car center, and within just a couple of minutes, I was walking out to my little red not Corvette Chevy. I had no complains, save for the fact that I didn’t realize they put a $200 hold on your account, but whatever. For $68, I got a great rate and no issues with the car.
Leaving the rental plaza I headed to my hotel. My original plan was to fly out on Saturday, thus I had only made reservations at Luxor for Saturday thru Wednesday. But about a week before my trip I Hotwired another room for Friday nite. It actually ended up being at Luxor too, and for a little bit cheaper than the other nites. Once I got to the hotel I waited thru the line to check in and I asked if I would have to switch rooms on Saturday since I had 2 reservations. The girl at the counter at first said no, but then looking, realized that I had a suite on Friday and then moved to a regular room for the rest of the time. I decided to keep the suit for Friday nite.
Man, I wish I had just booked this room for the whole trip! I had a three room suite, with a living room, dining room with a bar, large bedroom with huge 4 post king sized bed, large bathroom with a shower and jacuzzi. It was nice! After getting comfortable in the room I took a shower and cleaned up, got ready, and headed out to the Las Vegas Strip. I didn’t mean to head thru Excalibur, but oh well. I made it first to New York, New York where I decided to replay the first official act of my first trip to Vegas, and ride the Big Apple Coaster at NY, NY and try out the newer trains.
Big Apple Coaster–Ouch. Ouch ouch ouch. I’m convinced they could put lap bar only trains on this and it would still hurt. My shoulders were mostly fine, but the train just shuffled so much. Leaving the station you round the corner onto a long stretch of straight track before turning once again and heading up the lift, which is painful slow. Then you top out and drop, curving around and up another curved turn before dropping again and up another ramp hill that curves and drops. Then you go through the loop, which is okay, but the twist and dive after is the only good part of the ride. After is a hop to the mid course then a turn/drop, campy hill, banked turn hill, and a few more final hills with a helix to end the ride. This hurt even worse in the cold.
The Roller Coaster was terrible, and I was hungry so I left and I walked down the strip making my way to the Cosmopolitan at CityCenter. I’d read and heard about the Wicked Spoon buffet, though recent reviews weren’t as stellar as opening reviews. After walking all the way thru the hotel I found it. There was no line, so I headed right in. Wicked Spoon was really great. I had several small plats and desserts. After I finished I headed back down the strip. My next stop was the Bellagio fountains for a show. I always enjoy watching the fountains. I only got to see 2 shows on this trip, but it’s always worth stop. After hanging around for a bit I headed first to the ABC store to get some Jack Daniels & a bottle of Coke and then back to the hotel as I was tired and it was getting late.
On Saturday morning I woke and headed to the Hoover Dam. I’d wanted to visit on every other trip but didn’t get to, so I was determined to go this time. The ride out was nice, I loved riding thru the desert. I had slept late so by the time I got there, which was about 1 PM, I parked and went to buy my ticket for the next tour, which was at 2:30. So I had a 90 minute wait to hang out and take photos. Everyone said to do the full tour and not just the power plant tour. I’m not sure why they do just a power plant tour. It was informative, but definitely not the highlight. The Dam Tour, though, was worth the $30. You go deep inside the Hoover Dam, see out the vents, and really get an idea of how massive this project was. I was there for several hours, and made sure I got to see everything available, including walking across (halfway at least) the bypass bridge to get some photos of the dam.
After my trek to the Hoover Dam, I was tempted to hang out in Boulder City and check out the small desert town, but I had bigger fish to fry. At least I thought. I bypassed Las Vegas and headed out to Primm. I wanted to get out there after 5 PM since the plan was to ride Desperado, the turbo shot tower, and the log flume at Buffalo Bills. I had the Desperado credit but definitely wanted more rides, and figured I’d do the other rides while I was there. Imagine my disgust when I arrived after an hour and, even though nothing was on the website stating as such, the whole hotel was closed for the winter. They’re apparently doing renovations and maintenance. I was not happy.
Thankfully it wasn’t far back to the Strip. Arriving back at the hotel I freshened up and the headed back down the strip. I checked out some different shows at the half price ticket place but didn’t see anything I wanted to pay for. I did see another fountain show at Bellagio and explored some casinos. For dinner, I decided to head to Caesars Palace’s newly re-done buffet, the Bacchanal, which had just reopened recently and was getting rave reviews.
I arrived to find a 90+ minute wait. No thanks. I was going to come back for lunch on Sunday, but after walking thru the casino for a bit, I decided to head back and pay for the express pass. I heard a middle aged couple talking to each other, looking for the buffet, so I told them to follow me, but also that the line was long. They were Diamond Status members from Atlantic City so I told them there was a separate line for them. We chatted a bit as we waited to be seated and then they were off. After leaving they were nice enough to tell the host that I was with them, but needed my own table. So very nice. The food was outstanding yet again. more great small plates and desserts. I spent the rest of the nite hanging out in Vegas, before heading back to the hotel around 1 or 2 AM.
Being lazy I slept in on Sunday before heading over to In N Out burger for breakfast. They’ve done an incredible job at turning ok fast food into a tourist attraction. It was packed. In fact, every In N Out I’d ever seen, in Vegas, in the LA Metro area, Texas all packed. The food isn’t bad, but it’s not worth standing in line for people. Then after breakfast I headed down town to Fremont Street. It was dead. This was my first time down town during the day. I really wanted to do the Neon Museum but I couldn’t find it for the life of me. I finally got frustrated and stopped looking. Everyone was doing the zipline, which was actually really cheap, but I was about 8 pounds over the listed weight, so I didn’t chance it. It looked fun, though.
There was a large vintage toy store down town that I did go into which was neat, but they didn’t have enough Star Trek, and nothing else that I wanted to buy. I love downtown Las Vegas because of the retro atmosphere. I spent some time at Mermaids casino trying to score some cheap drinks but they didn’t take debit cards and I didn’t want to spend $5 at an ATM. Eventually I left down town and headed to the Stratosphere. I got a few pictures of the downtown skyline from the parking building and went in. I purchased a ride all day pass, though I really only needed a ticket for each ride, but that’s okay. Sadly, you can’t take your tripod up, even my small one that fit in my pocket. Boo!
I loved being up on the Stratosphere. This was my first time being there during the day time as well. I had headed there for some daytime action on my first visit, which was when Insanity opened, but it wasn’t running the nite we were up there, and it wasn’t running the next day either, so we passed. After taking some pictures and wandering around at the top, I decided to ride Xscream.
Xscream-This is still the scariest ride I’d ever been on. First off, I was the only person on it, and they put me right up front. This was my first time riding without glasses, which meant I didn’t have to take the glasses off, which meant I could see EVERYTHING. I was screaming with every move and shift. There was a couple standing on deck laughing at me, and I yelled back “It’s a lot scarier over here!”. My shins hurt from pressing against the restraint so hard.
Once Xscream was over I headed to the outer deck to take some photos. There weren’t a lot of people. I toyed with riding big shot, but felt I should save it for later. Eventually I made my way to Insanity and one other guy rode with me.
Insanity-Its not as scary as Xscream, but its probably the 2nd scariest ride I’d ever been on. Even with swinging and spinning, you don’t get sick, and there’s just enough force to make me feel a little more secure. You get much better views during the day.
I hung out at the top of the Strat for a while. I really wanted to do the Sky Jump. Had I known that I was getting a bonus from work, and that it was going to be direct deposited while on vacation, I would have, but even with a decent budget for this trip, I didn’t think I wanted to spend the hundred on it. Oh well. Next time. And there will be a next time.
Leaving the Strat I drove back to the north end of the strip and went to finally see some retro Las Vegas that I’ve missed every other time I was there, even though both times I stayed so close. This time I was determined, so I headed to the ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign. Finally! And I got a couple of decent photos because there weren’t a lot of people there. So I headed back to Luxor to lounge around the hotel for a bit. I ate a burger at Public House, Luxor’s steak house. It was decent. The hand cut potato chips were really good. Once it got dark, though, I headed back out to the city. I went back to the Stratosphere first. Seeing the strip at nite is really beautiful. I hung out a while, toyed with riding Xscream and Insanity at nite, but didn’t do either. I did ride Big Shot.
Big Shot-I love shot towers. Even though you’re already about a thousand feet up, it’s no more terrifying than any other shot tower, and I love those. I rode with a younger girl, while a family with British accents were around to the side. The view was spectacular, another view I didn’t get last time without major blur.
There were several people I watched jump off the side of the building and then had a few drinks at Airbar, the highest bar in Vegas. The bar tender was really nice and the drinks were very strong. After a bit I wanted dinner. I probably hung out at Stratosphere for about an hour and a half. Once I got back to downtown Vegas I parked at the same place I had last time and headed to Fremont Street. There was an Xmas show on the canopy that I just missed. I knew it would be an hour until the next show so I walked around a little bit before heading to Tony Roma’s for their $12 steak and lobster special. It was good, and the food came quick.
I love hanging around casinos and people watching. Everyone is so buzzed and having fun. It’s a different atmosphere and fun to watch. I headed back outside and had one of the tall plastic bottles full of some type of mixed drink. It was only $12 and it was really good. There were some country music bands on all of the stages. I’m not a huge country fan, but live music is always good for atmosphere. When the Fremont Street Experience kicked in, it was set to The Doors and was really good. Since I had to get up early in the morning I headed back to the room and went to sleep. I would be driving to LA to ride coasters all day and needed to get to bed early.
After spending the day in LA at Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain on Monday, I spent Tuesday finishing up most of what I wanted to do in Las Vegas after dropping off the rental car. I walked thru MGM Grand, headed down by CityCenter, and ate at the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood. On my last visit this was the newest buffet and had gotten really great reviews. We enjoyed it so much. This visit, while it was still good, it felt very dated by Vegas standards. I should have went to Wynn or Bellagio instead. Having never been to Coke World I decided to check it out after walking around on the strop to try the $7 Cokes rom around the world sampler. I finally got to try Beverly. I really liked some of them, but some of the flavors were nasty.
Walking thru Paris for a bit I eventually got on the Monorail back to MGM Grand, where I got lost and headed out thru the back of the hotel in an area I’m sure I probably wasn’t supposed to go thru, but I ended up walking back to the Luxor from there. I had planned to have one more nite out, but I ended up having a severe allergy attack on my last nite. So instead I lounged around in the room until dinner time, when I met up with Rob who picked me up and took me to a classic Vegas landmark, Ellis Island, for their steak special. It had gone up in price, but was still really good. I had their Root Beer and some other type of Beer from their micro brewery. It was really great catching up with Rob, whom I hadn’t seen since 2005.
Once I got back to the hotel I really wanted to force myself to go out, but instead I fell asleep due to the allergies. Bummer. I ended up turning in early on my last visit because of kidney stones. My last nite in Vegas is just not meant to be fun. I woke up early on Wednesday so that I could pack and get ready for my flight home. I took a cab to the airport, checked in, and grabbed a bite to eat from a sub shop at McCarran. My flight took me home thru Dallas, so I got some decent Texas BBQ for dinner, before finally heading back to Charlotte.