Las Vegas 2012

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December 14-17, 2012
Las Vegas NV

December 14
Photo Album

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.

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Epcot 2011

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January 16, 2011
Walt Disney World Resort FL

I’d always thought of Epcot as a ‘learning park’. I love museums and I love interactivity, but there wasn’t a whole lot at Epcot that I felt was a must do. Thankfully, though, we planned on spending a good chunk of our day at Epcot, and because the park was SO massive the lines weren’t bad at all. Plus the park was just amazing.

We arrived at the park’s rear entrance after walking around the Boardwalk area from our boat ride. I took over 700 photos in three days, and about a third of them were at Epcot. The park really was just that amazing. I could definitely go back and spend an entire day there just visiting countries and eating. Mmmmm…eating…

Wandering around World Showcase first, we then headed into Future World. As far as the first attraction I have photos of, I think we rode Mission: Space first. This ride was something I’d been looking forward to for a LONG time. But I was also kind of nervous as I really didn’t want to get sick and ruin my day knowing how intense this ride is. Still, the wait wasn’t very long so we headed in.

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Las Vegas 2007 Day 2

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December 2, 2007
Las Vegas NV

Sleep is wonderful when you’re exhausted. Even with the exhaustion, we pressed on Sunday and actually got a lot accomplished. Jon was so out of it, though, that it took till Monday for him to really get a feel for Vegas. He woke up early and got ready and I heard him go out the door just as I really woke up. Since Larry was still sleeping I decided I’d take my shower, get ready, and go have breakfast in the hotel. It was 7:30 AM and even though I’m not a morning person I was still on EST, so it was really 10:30 AM to my body. One great thing about Vegas is that because it is so dry, when you take a shower  when you step out, all of the humidity has dried up and you dry off quick.

I headed down to the Luxor’s 24 hour diner for some breakfast. The food was great, and in large portions, but I spent way too much for breakfast and got way too much food. For once in my life, I left a lot that I didn’t finish. I even had coffee this morning, which was very rare for me. Once I finished with breakfast I walked thru the casino and watched the early morning gamblers. I was sitting in a rather out of the way place when a guy walked by and looked at me like he knew me before walking off. It took both of us a second to realize who the other was, as I yelled at Jon as he was walking away.

We hung out watching roulette for a bit before we headed back to the room. Larry had finally got up but he had different plans. We were going to hit up Star Trek: The Experience, but Larry decided to sit it out. First we walked over to New York, New York with plans to ride The Roller Coaster, but upon arrival we saw it did not open until 11 AM and it was only 9:30. I never did get to ride it on that trip, but oh well. So we headed across the street ready for the ginormous trek thru the MGM Grand yet again to the monorail. After arriving at the Hilton we were greeted with a closed attraction. How come nothing opens up before 11 AM but gambling and restaurants in Las Vegas?!? Anyways, we walked thru the space themed casino, walked thru the Hilton Shops, walked thru the main casino, and then headed to the bar at the space themed casino for a drink before opening. Then promptly at 11 AM they opened the shops at Star Trek. The attractions opened at 11:30, with the first ride at noon.

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Las Vegas 2007 Day 1

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December 1, 2007
Las Vegas NV

On Saturday December 1, my parents drove me to Charleston WV to meet Larry & Stephanie, and from there we left and drove to Elkins. One of Steph’s friends was along for the ride as well. Jon drove his new car to meet up with us in Elkins. From there we drove to Charles Town, where Jon’s brother lived. We watched WVU get soundly beaten in football as we stayed there for the nite, although I don’t think any of us got much sleep. As we were leaving the next morning, I made sure to grab my wallet, and I saw an extra key on the table by the couch that looked like the extra key I keep in my wallet, so I put it back in the side pocket where it belonged. I did, however, manage to leave my tooth brush RW’s house.

We drove to Dulles, checked our bags, and ate breakfast all before the sun rose. I’m not a morning person, but we booked a flight at 8:15 AM EST so that we could have a full first day in Las Vegas. At approximately 8 AM we were boarding the plane. This was our first time flying Southwest, and thankfully we got in the ‘A’ boarding group. The flight seemed longer than it should have at over 5 ½ hours. But we were on a plane going to Las Vegas, and everyone was in a party mood. Just before 11 AM WCT we landed at McCarran. Having watched Ratrace numerous times on DVD, I knew that this airport had slot machines. And that was what you were greeted with as soon as you stepped off the plane and into the terminal.

McCarran had a very Vegas feel to it, with shiny surfaces, slots, and neon lights. I was surprised at how quickly we got our baggage and how close the taxi line was to the baggage claim, which was good because I WAY over packed for this trip. But in line for the Taxi this annoying older guy kept trying to cut me off from my group by getting in between me and the other 2 . Finally I outsmarted him and ended up in between Larry & Jon. So we got our cab and were off to our hotel. It was a sunny day, but colder than it looked outside.

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Pigeon Forge 2005

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In 2004 I had the bright idea to go to Dollywood in December for my first visit to the park. Since it was open and they run the coasters in the winter, I wanted to go try out Thunderhead. I wasn’t aware until last year just how close the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area was to where I lived. And Thunderhead was screaming at me to come and ride. So I brought it up to a few people and we planned an informal event on a Saturday in December. Ten of us, and we all had lots of fun. After coming back and talking about it for some time several other friends and acquaintances decided that they would like to come as well if we did it again. Well in 2005 we did it again. With seven more people than the previous year.

So, months of planning went into this weekend.  Of course, I took it upon myself to plan.  And one thing the group (or most of them anyways) learned was not to trust Clint with money.  More importantly, I should say, don’t trust Clint with Math.  Ever.  Ever ever, in fact.  I did a good job with planning the meal, though.  So after literally almost a year of planning, we had a group of 19 going.  Then Josh and Brandi had to back out.  So we were down two people, but since they weren’t going to eat at the buffet and they didn’t have to pay to get in with their season passes it wasn’t hard to adjust.

The week finally arrived.  I was driving from Southern West Virginia to Pigeon Forge by myself.  I was off for the week prior to the trip, so I was able to adjust my sleeping as I was a day sleeper during that time.  So on Friday December 16 I woke up early and headed south.  The drive from home to the Pigeon Forge area is about 4 hours, but all interstate once I reach Bluefield, Va. which is about an hour from home.  Since my Xterra drinks gas like a fish drinks water, not to mention I’m in need of new tires (c’mon income tax refund), I borrowed my parent’s Honda Element for the weekend.  I got my ginger pills, bufferin rip off, XM Radio, and CD case from my car and off I went.  Thank goodness for XM Radio.

I arrived in Sevierville around 1pm.  Beth, who had picked up Kris Allen and Danny Perkins were heading to Louisville to pick up Mike Case and Matt Scott as their flights landed…or so she thought.  Unfortunately, when Matt arrived in Cincinnati, they canceled his flight to KY, so he was on a bus that took far longer than they had anticipated.  I arrived to Pigeon Forge after Tina and Ed  so I met up with Ed as Tina waited at the NASCAR Speed Park for Nicole.  Half of the power was out in Pigeon Forge, and none of the traffic lights worked.  The coaster at NASCAR Speed Park was closed for the weekend as well.

Ed was at Best Western, so we headed towards Gatlinburg, stopping for me to pick up some stuff on the way.  We stopped to look at Hillbilly Golf, which never opened, and then we rode thru Gatlinburg for my first time.  Tina called and she and Nicole decided to meet us back at the parking lot by Hillbilly Golf.  Since we weren’t far away, we drove around downtown Gatlinburg a bit.  While down there, I had seen a Ferris Wheel and a Yo-Yo and something else I couldn’t make out up on a hill.  We drove up a road to see if we could get closer to investigate, and found a park that had to have been closed for quite some time, as everything was needing to be painted, de-rusted, and what not. It was abandoned.  It only had a couple of rides in it, but it looked quaint.  I couldn’t figure out how to turn around, but the gate to the park was open, and that was the only place the road let to turn around, so I turned around by the Yo-Yo and headed back down. I’d never driven thru an amusement park before, and I didn’t really mean to this time.

So we picked up the girls at the parking lot and headed to park in Gatlinburg.  We went to the far end, paid, and left the Element in a covered car park.  Then we headed out into Gatlinburg, as none of us had ever really been there.  We were going to go thru the Ripley’s Haunted House, but I wasn’t paying $14 for it.  That was far too expensive for something I’ve done elsewhere, and while good, it wasn’t amazing.  So we walked more, found a candy shop where I had a wonderful green apple dipped in caramel and chocolate, and then we walked down to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokeys around 4pm.  Mike Bartlett was just arriving in the area and was going to meet us here in a while.  So we paid and went on in.

The Aquarium was wonderful!  I had been thru the Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach and loved it, so I knew I would like this one.  It was very similar, but also different; though that could be more because it has been a few years since I had been thru the one at Myrtle.  We wandered around looking at fish and what not until we arrived at the tunnel going under the shark and fish tanks.  We all really enjoyed standing on the moving walkway as sharks, sawfish, eels, turtles and more swam around us.  We liked it so much that we wanted to do it again.

Then I realized something.  Mike may have been trying to call…but you don’t get a signal when you’re under thousands of gallons of water on your cell.  So we went to call him, but actually saw Mike standing on the balcony above us.  We went up to meet him, and got a chance to do the first half of the aquarium all over again, which was fine, as we really kind of wanted to anyhow.  This place really was great.

We spent quite a lot of time at the aquarium, saw some feedings taking place, and petted the stingrays and lots of other stuff.  Then the crew picked up a few things at the gift shop before we headed out.  It was getting dark by this time.  Walking down main street Gatlinburg, someone saw a shop down one of the offshoot alleyways.  I mentioned how we had plenty of time, so we could go and look.  We did.  After coming around to the back of the shops, we walked down by the hotels and what not on the other street.  Then I saw something I had read about and was interested in, Mystery Mansion.  This was a haunted attraction in Gatlinburg that I’ve heard good things about, so since everyone wanted to go, we headed towards the Tiki Torches.  Tina was happy about that…

We arrived to the almost glowing white house to see nobody else around.  The attraction was open, but it was still early, and no one was there but us.  So we paid our way and headed in.  This was by far one of the best haunted houses I’ve done in a while.  This was a rather large attraction.  They have live actors that can not touch you, nor can you touch them.  It was really well done.  And it was an entire building filled up with haunted house offerings.  I was spooked a couple times, after complaining to the actors that they weren’t doing their job by scaring me.  They made up for it after that.

One thing that was fun was standing on one of the balconies that were outside on the front of the ‘mansion’.  Mike B. made the comment that it would be funny if it dropped.  We laughed.  A few minutes later, we were in an ancient Egyptian Tomb themed area, and I went onto another balcony.  And it DID drop.  It also made me scream.  Good job, scared me.  The actors got better.  We were the only ones getting the attention, after all.  Oh, and I have to say that the room with the doors was a nice touch.  As well as the first room, which was very much like a generic version of the first room on Tower of Terror at Disney’s California Adventure?  Well, except that you don’t get Rod Searling talking to you, and you have to find your way ‘behind the fireplace’.

So we walked back to the main street and picked up my car after checking out Ober-Gatlinburg.  We took the girls back to their car after checking on Mike’s, which was by the Aquarium.  We were to meet the rest of our group at the Hard Rock Café at 8pm, but I wanted to get there around 7:30 to make sure they knew we had quite a few coming.  I parked, the girls parked, and the five of us went on in to the Hard Rock to meet Brian, Alicia, and his good friend Brad.

We all got a table and waited.  Beth and company were supposed to be there soon.  So we waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Beth and Co. were not having a good trip.  They did finally arrive at the hard rock around 9:20.  We had eaten by that point and had a very nice time getting to know one another in person.  Hard Rock was standard, but there were far more Mohawks & kilts working there than at other Hard Rock Cafés I’ve been to.

When the BethBus did arrive, we walked down to Wendy’s for them to eat as Hard Rock was getting crowded.  We all sat there for quite a while, and eventually went our separate ways.  Beth had rented a cabin, so Matt, Danny, and I rode in my ride for the weekend up to the cabin.  We got turned around a couple times, but found it.  It was really quaint, even without the Foosball table and the fact that their hot tub didn’t work that nite.  Oh well.  Sleep came fast for me when I eventually made it to my bed.  Would tomorrow cooperate?

Las Vegas Part 2 2005

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Las Vegas 2005

On Thursday we had plans to do several different attractions around Las Vegas. We met up with the gang, which were now joined by Tina and Bill, who had arrived this morning from Los Angeles, as well as Rob, our Las Vegas native, for an all day pass on Speed. We only took 2 spins, which was still cheaper than one ride on Manhattan Express.

Speed The Ride-You have to travel thru the Nascar Café to get there, but once you’re in the station very little NASCAR is actually seen. The launch into the over banked left hand turn was great. Then it goes into a loop, thru more LIMs, another turn to the left, and up a large spike. The kickback at the highest point was great. Then you do it all again with a deceleration at the LIMs instead of a kicker launch. I really liked Speed, and after it was all done, we rode it again. This time I sat with Jeff in the front seat. Even with the OTSRs, this was nothing like Joker’s Jinx with ‘em. This was a better start to coasting in Vegas!

Apparently we were a few drinks behind everyone else with those 99¢ margaritas, but Jamaal and I decided to play it sober for now. The gang re-grouped and headed down the street towards the Adventuredome indoor theme park at Circus Circus. Circus Circus is an older property, and it shows. I was going to book two nights for us there, but I’m glad I didn’t. Actually, the inside didn’t look as bad, and I hear their steak restaurant is one of the best in vegas. But we were there for one reason and one reason only: Canyon Blaster.

We made our way through the casino and around to Adventuredome. The first ride we saw was their newly installed Chance Slingshot Tower. I had rode one in Myrtle Beach and loved it, but I was only willing to part with enough cash for the main coaster here. We walked around Adventuredome, which is very pink. Adventuredome is an indoor amusement park with a huge faux mountain in the middle and several rides, mostly Chance Rides, scattered about. I would like to spent a few hours there at some point in the future. Eventually we all got to a ticket booth and went to the coaster station. 

Adventuredome 2005

Canyon BlasterThis was one of the smoother Arrow loopers I’d ever ridden. I think that being indoors helps, not being subject to the elements, with less of a chance of rust or fading paint, all of which could affect the ride. Everything in the Adventuredome was very clean and well kept. This was the first time I’d been on an Arrow coaster with their later rolling stock. It was very comfy, even if they didn’t look very Arrow-esq. The ride wasn’t very different from any other Arrow loops-crew. You have a first drop into loops and a turn into corkscrews, then a helix before you’re done.

The other kiddie credit was not open and I wasn’t in the mood for any flat rides so we wandered around while some of the crew played DDR, and eventually left. Some of them still had to get that Manhattan Express credit but since Jamaal, Jeff and Myself had it we went to do the other geeky thing I’m into-Star Trek.

For years I’d wanted to go to Vegas just to visit Star Trek: The Experience  I mean, this was Star Trek Mecca! At the time, while I still enjoyed Trek, I wasn’t quite as huge a fan. This was something I wasn’t going to leave Vegas without doing. We made our way to the Hilton, passed thru the ‘futuristic’ themed casino (which just happens to have one of Travel Channel’s “World’s Best Bathrooms”, and yes we visited), and then I saw it. 

Voyager, the Enterprise, a Klingon Bird of Prey. I was super excited. So we bought our all day passes to both ‘Klingon Encounter’ & ‘BORG Invasion 4D’ and headed thru the ‘History of the Future’ museum. I filmed the whole thing. I even got to talk very briefly with a severely tall Klingon. Eventually, we made it to the queue of ‘Klingon Encounters’, the original attraction. The wait wasn’t very long.

Star Trek The Experience 2005

Klingon Encounter-I didn’t know the storyline until I got there. You’re met by an attraction host and the intro has you lined up ready to head into the attraction. But something goes wrong and you’re transported onto the Enterprise D. The transporter effect was brilliant. You’re rushed to the bridge of the Enterprise for a briefing, where you find out that someone in the group is an ancestor of someone important in the future, and a rogue Klingon has went back in time to change the future. The next major scene is in a turbo lift where, again, they use special effects that were very well done. Finally you’re taken to a shuttle craft where the simulator part of the attraction begins. I’m not a huge motion sim fan, but this was the best one I’d been on. As you exit, there was a newscast playing on the screens that gave an ‘update’ about a UFO landing in Vegas.

You exit thru retail shops and Quark’s bar on the Promenade. Then it was back around to do BORG Invasion. Back thru the museum and into the other queue. This time the wait was even less. We were all eventually led into the first room for our pre-show and briefing.

BORG Invasion 4D-This one was even better. The pre-show features the Doctor from Voyager telling you why you are there. This time you are on a space station. Then something happens, and the station is under attack from the BORG. As you’re moved through the space station, the BORG start to attack the ‘staff’ of the space station, assimilating them. This was more like a walk through haunted house style of attraction. At the end of it all ended up in a large theater that used practical effects to make it feel as if you’re in a different kind of vessel, with 3D and practical effects putting you in the action. Because I used to wear glasses, the 3D glasses on most attractions didn’t work well for me. These worked like a charm. I really enjoyed it.

Star Trek The Experience 2005

Afterwards we were back on the Promenade, where I picked up some stuff. Then we decided to have a drink at Quark’s Bar. I had a Warp Core Breach. It was quite large and Jeff had to help me finish it after he drank his Mind Meld. We called the group and met up eventually at the Bellagio after riding the Monorail from the Hilton to Bally’s. They had been watching the fountains for quite some time now. We stayed and watched a full run of the fountains as well before heading off to Fremont St.

Bill and Tina went ahead to the Stratosphere and the six of us went to see the Fremont Street Experience. After getting to Fremont St. we went into the Mermaids Casino to get some food (deep fried Oreos, yum!) and cheap mixed drinks. Fremont St. is the original strip in Las Vegas. Binion’s Horseshoe, the Golden Nugget, that famous neon Cowboy and Cowgirl. All are found on Fremont St. It is also home to the Fremont Street Experience, with Viva Vision as the centerpiece, a large LED canopy.

The Fremont St. Experience was the world’s largest television. It’s actually a large canopy over Fremont St. that stretches from one end to the other, over 5 football fields long. Viva Vision is the series of shows between 6 and 9 minutes long that are shown at the top of every hour. Once a busy street in Downtown Las Vegas, most of the area is closed to vehicles now and is a shopping, eating, and gambling venue. I found it to be very clean and entertaining, with live music and a fun atmosphere.

At the top of the hour, however, Fremont St. gets very different. The things that Vegas is most known for, the Neon lights on the casinos, all go off at once, as the large overhead screen comes on. We were about to witness ‘The Drop’, a psychedelic underwater techno music show. Jamaal took video of the 8 minute show. There are a few different shows.

After that Jamaal and I headed to the Stratosphere Tower, as did Dawn who was dropping off Kristin and Jeff. We all eventually met up with Tina and Bill at the top. The nite could have been a lot different…

Las Vegas 2005

Once we get to the top we find that Insanity, the new ride at the top of the tower, was closed. The person selling tickets had told us that the ride was open and operating. This was, after all, opening nite. Tina and Bill almost made it on before it closed down. What do you do when you have a building over a 1000 feet tall standing in the desert where the wind is always blowing and you’re looking for a new thrill ride? Build Insanity, of course, which can’t operate in winds over 25 mph. Insanity never ran again that nite, and we stayed till closing. Oh well, at least it wasn’t a total loss. There were three other rides at the top of the tower.

So instead of riding Insanity we boarded their other new ride, a see-saw with an attitude: Xscream.

Xscream-Scariest. Flat-ride. Ever. Hands down! We got on close to the back. I didn’t have my glasses on, but could still see well enough. The platform you stand on lowers, and you’re sitting there being held in by a lap bar dangling 900 feet in the air. Did I ever mention I’m afraid of heights? Whew. Very scary. They run a few programs on the ride, all equally as bad. I swore I’d never ride again, but I ended up riding 2 more times after this (screaming like a girl the whole time) and even once in the front row.

After Xscream we headed farther up the tower for another coaster credit.

High RollerThis had the worst ops I’d ever seen in my life. They tried to fill the train and since the top of the tower wasn’t busy, we waited. And waited. And waited. Then they realize that the guy sitting in the front seat of the coaster was too big to ride the coaster. So they all look at him, then they go inside to discuss it. For about five minutes. Then they come back and tell him he can’t ride. Then they wait till a few more people arrive. Quite a while later. I know we sat in that car a good twenty minutes before the ops finally decided to send the train around. It goes around the circuit twice, but one would have been enough. Not very fun, actually rather boring. And it was rough.

Jeff and Kristin finally made it to the top and we all rode Big Shot. 

Big Shot-Even sans glasses (darn me for forgetting my strap), I could see a lot of the city. Big Shot was more fun than scary, especially now that I realize that I like S&S towers much better than Intamin as you’re not held at the top before dropping. A couple good bounces, and air at the top made this a really fun ride. 

More rides on both Xscream and Big Shot followed. We had a last ride on Big Shot before the tower closed for the evening. Then we all parted ways for the nite. The plan was for Jamaal and I to go to ‘Ra’, a club at the Luxor but it was too late and I was too tired. So I went back to the room to sleep as Jamaal ventured out to wander around and shop. We got up fairly early the next morning to leave.

Hollywood & Maroon 5

Las Vegas 2005

Washington, D.C. 2003

PNG image 2The Smithsonian | Holocaust Museum | Photos | Videos


January 16, 2003
Washington D.C.

My friend Jon and I decided to take a mini-vacation in January to D.C. to go to the Holocaust Museum and to tour the National Mall. The trip started on Wed. evening as Jon and I traveled to Charles Town, WV where Jon’s brother, R.W. lives. This was where we were going to stay for the weekend. We arrived at his house in the late evening and went to bed so that we would be rested well for the next day.

We awoke early the next morning and accompanied R.W. to his job at Dulles International Airport. After a brief tour of his office and surroundings, and getting directions, we headed for Vienna, Va. where we were to board the D.C. Metro Line. Vienna is the end of the line, and since I love riding the Metro, I knew I’d enjoy our 30 minute trip into the city.

The train starts out above ground, and then submerges underneath the city limits. After arriving at our station, we headed up to the street. I got harassed by some homeless guy, and then we went to our first (and only planned) stop, the National Holocaust Museum.

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