Wednesday, October 29, 2014

VIMFP, Aliens, and quads, quads, quads (Days 7-11)

(See my report for days 0-6 in my earlier post)

Day 7:
Pilot must've came too fast, never pulled out.
We slept in a little bit on Wednesday morning, and then hit the road back to Vegas. Travelling at a much more leisurely pace than the previous two days, we made several stops to check out some neat spots.

First, we stopped in the ghost town of Goldfield. At least, the guidebooks call it a ghost town. The residents would probably disagree.  We stopped in Beatty, finding a geocache in an old airplane marking the entrance to the Angel's Ladies brothel ("Free all night truck parking!"). We then took a side trip to the real ghost town of Rhyolite, where we encountered unexpected artworks, an abandoned town, and fenced-off gold mine shafts.
The Last Supper, with fiberglass ghosts.

A miner and a penguin, probably 20 feet tall.
Minecraft porn. The curtains match the rug.
We continued south into Pahrump, where cell phone signal allowed me to ask, "Hey Siri, where's the nearest Quizno's?" Answer: McCarran airport. "Hey Siri, where's the nearest Subway?" Answer: "I found three train stations" -- and gave me monorail stops. Sigh. Using other phrasing, we found two Subways in Pahrump, and decided to go to the one not in the WalMart. I shudder to think how quickly I'd have been able to fill out my People of WalMart bingo card in the Pahrump WalMart.

Red Rock Canyon has red rocks. Who knew?
We continued on to Red Rock Canyon, where we'd planned to take a 1½-mile hike to get one of the oldest geocaches in Nevada, but after so many caches, and after driving the canyon loop, and the sun going down, and knowing that I'd be giving Erik and Abby a walking tour of the strip that night, we decided against it. The loop drive itself ($7 admission fee required) was amazing, peaceful, and with the sun getting low on the horizon, full of color.

We headed into town and picked up Abby's car from the Golden Nugget valet. Abby dropped me off at the McCarran rental car center, and we all met back up an hour later at the Silver Sevens, where we'd each booked rooms for the night (mine was comped). Into my rental, and our first stop was the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. It took me 13 trips, but I finally stopped and took my photo there.

I stashed my car at the Mandalay Bay valet (after lying to persuading the valet to let me leave it), and I walked Abby and Erik through the casino, into Luxor, and into Excalibur. It was Abby's first time on the strip, and Erik's first visit in 20+ years. I'm such a Vegas nerd, I talked non-stop about everything that came to mind, most of which I learned from the VIMFP podcasters and other excellent blogs (such as Vital Vegas and VegasChatter). Erik, having driven more than 900 miles in the last three days (not to mention the drive down from Seattle just to get here), seemed pretty overwhelmed. Abby was similarly showing signs of sensory overload. I, now in my element and always lacking in the ability to pick up on social cues, pushed them onward. I talked of TheHotel's change to Delano; of the shabby hit-your-head-on-the-windows rooms, the de-theming and structural questionability of Luxor; and of the dangers of Excalibur's buffet, Fun Dungeon, and Criss Angel.

We crossed the street to Tropicana, where I rambled about the remodel, the casino scents, and the anal light fixtures. We stopped to unsuccessfully search for a geocache outside, and then crossed over to MGM. Somehow, I could tell they were wearing down, so I merely pointed into the casino ("the largest in Las Vegas") and explained the concept of bottle service to them ("lots of dollars, little sense").  On to New York New York, pointing out the once-slated-to-be-closed Coyote Ugly, the roller coaster ("it's real!"), and the dueling pianos at Times Square. Heading on to Monte Carlo, I pointed out The Park construction, comparing it to The Linq, which they had yet to see. We walked through Monte Carlo looking for a snack at 800° Degrees (I hate that redundant name!), finally realizing we had to walk all the way back to the front, outside, to get to it. Pizza was good though.

Onward toward Aria, and Abby and Erik were really dragging. I pushed them, and showed them the Chuhuly gallery, the water wall, and the silver Colorado River sculpture behind the reception desk. I marched them through Crystals, across the boarded-in skybridge under the Harmon (explaining the rebar lawsuits and the impossiblity of implosion), and into the Cosmopolitan.

The Cosmo is my happy place. For some, Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. For me, it's descending the escalator down to the Cosmo casino floor, the thumping of Bond behind me, the hip classiness of Chandelier to my right. For Erik and Abby, it's when their sensory overload took full effect. 

I don't remember everything I rambled to them about Cosmo ("terrace suites, fountain view, secret pizza, free foosball, used to be a record player here..."), but they glanced at Liberace's car and we headed for the door, through the thumping gyrations of Bond. 

Once outside, now four hours into the tour, we re-assessed the plan. Bellagio, High Roller, and that's it for the night. Fair enough. At the top of the Bellagio escalator, we stopped to watch the fountains. On the way in, I recapped Steve Wynn's story, from the Golden Nugget, to the Bellagio, to the $28 million Popeye statue. We wandered the conservatory, looked at the Chihuly artwork in the reception, and headed through the casino (me: "Hyde's a great place for early evening drinks.") to exit on the Bally's skybridge.
From there, we made a beeline to the High Roller (with my commentary fading into the desert air,"the fugly Bally's Bazzar roofs," "Giada's new restaurant," "never eat at the Flamingo," "Imperial Palace to Quad to Linq"...)

I had a coupon for two free passes, and Abby splurged for one more ticket. It was just the three of us in the pod for half an hour, and while I could feel my Vegas energy continuing to build, I could tell -- despite my lack of social instinct -- that this was the end of Erik and Abby's tour. The ride was great, but I'd only do it again if it was free. I provided a little commentary ("There's Wynn and Encore. That's where the Silver Sevens is. That's the Flamingo timeshare building."), but mostly just listened to the in-cabin broadcast.
I can see my happy place from here!

Half an hour later, back on the ground, we took a cab back to Silver Sevens. We said our goodbyes, and I stayed in the cab to go get my car from Mandalay. I donated $20 to their slot machines as penance for abusing their parking, headed back to Silver Sevens, donated another $45 to their slot machines, and called it a night. The room was clean, comfortable, a bit worn, but definitely a decent place to sleep and shower.

Day 8:
I had food credit to use at Silver Sevens, so I had a basic breakfast there. It wasn't bad, wasn't great, just a typical casino coffee shop breakfast. For free, sure, why not. I played a bit of video poker, churned through some freeplay Silver Sevens gave to sweeten the deal, and then headed to the Mirage to get a free ticket to Cirque du Soleil's Love Beatles show. Sitting in the car in the Silver Sevens garage, I read the fine print, and realized I needed to phone MyVegas to redeem the ticket, and then go to Mirage to pick it up. I called. Their computers were down. The operator was stuck. The second operator was also confused, but finally, 20 minutes later, they gave me a confirmation number.

I drove to the Mirage, and left the car with the valet, but the box office line was fairly long, so wandered a bit until the line shrunk down. Once at the counter, the clerk couldn't find my ticket, so asked for my confirmation number. It's in the car. No matter, she says, and searched for it a few other ways. After about 10 minutes of searching, she found it -- the phone operator had both issued it and then cancelled it. It took another 15 minutes and two other people to figure out how to issue the ticket. It's like nobody ever redeems their MyVegas points for big ticket items.

Frustrated with the Mirage, I pulled up the PokerAtlas app on my phone to find out what low buy-in tournaments were coming up soon. The Quad 2:30 tournament looked promising, so I headed over there and paid my buy in at around 2 PM. I dinked around on slots and video poker, losing a little at both, and then returned to the poker room. Only one other entrant -- they cancelled the tourney at 2:45, refunding my buy-in. Now what? Luxor at 3:30? Could I walk there in 45 minutes? I tried, but was 10 minutes late. No matter; they allow late registration. I bought in, survived through the first break, and with seven of the original 28 players left, got knocked out when I was in danger of being blinded out and ran into my opponent's flopped top pair.

I slowly moseyed my way back to the Mirage, and thoroughly enjoyed Love. Again, a bit on the nerdy side, I was mezmerized as much by the theatre mechanics (the curtains, the screens, the lighting, the rope work, the tracks) as by the acrobatics. As my first Cirque show, I now understand and agree when people say there's not much of a plot, a thin thread running through the whole thing, and that there's not a bad seat in the house.

When I turn my phone on after the show, I've got a voice mail. It's the players desk at The Quad. Apparently, they have a pair of High Roller tickets for me. They say I printed them but never used them. Really? The ticket in my pocket I used last night disagrees, but whatever. I'll stop by tomorrow.

I'm now part of a large herd of show attendees at the valet. I head back in for a bit, lose a good chunk of change at the slots, and head back out. Still crowded. I hand over my ticket, ask how long it will be, and the valet says "not long... most of these people are here to watch the volcano." I sit, watch the 9:30 volcano show, and wait, and wait, and after the 10:00 show, I ask the valet how much longer. "Oh," he says, "it's parked right over here." Must've been watching the show instead of my car.

Here's a random photo of Vegas I took on
day 8. Day 9 was too full of moseying to
spend time taking pictures.
It's still early, so I turn left and head to SLS. Formerly the Sahara, it underwent a $415 million renovation, and I wanted to see how it looked. It's funny -- it feels kind of the same, but completely different, like moving from Windows XP to Windows 7. I signed up for the players club and got $6 freeplay. I grabbed dinner at Umami burger, and took the chef's recommendation of ordering it medium rare. Usually, I like my burgers well done, but it was really good. The sweet potato fries were even better, with a cinnamon-sugar coating, a taste I'd never considered, but definitely on my to-make list.

I hit the video poker at SLS (winning), the slots (winning), and the craps table (winning). SLS is a winner in my book. Too bad it's still so far away from everything else.

It's about 1 AM as I hop in the car, thinking I'll head back to Silver Sevens and crash for the night. Then I realize it's still early in Vegas. Half an hour later, I'm in my happy place, giving Cosmo the money I took from SLS. I finally crash into bed at 3 AM.

Day 9:
Friday in Vegas. My wife, Kim, is due in tonight, so I'm moving to Aria. First, though, I check out of Silver Sevens and head over to Mandalay Bay to use a MyVegas breakfast buffet comp. Still feeling bad about persuading the valet to leave my car there on day 8, I opt for the self-parking instead.

The buffet comp went much more smoothly than the Love comp. I grab pizza and eggs from the buffet, guzzle down some coffee, and go back for seconds.  When I come back to the table, everything's cleared off, including the coffee. No matter. I commandeer a fork from a set of silverware on the table behind me, finish my French toast, and leave, no tip necessary.

I play a bit of video poker, losing quickly. Next, to the Aria, where I check in, and the $20 trick gets me an upgrade to a city-view room, but that's all they can do -- they're booked up pretty solidly.  I wander from there to The Quad to find out about those High Roller tickets. They confirm that yes, somehow they've got an extra pair of tickets for me. I point out that I used them yesterday, but they say the computer says I've got two tickets coming, so I get two for Saturday, hoping to hand them off to a fellow FiveHundyite.

I lose a little at Flamingo, and then head over to Caesars. Kim and I plan to check out the Shania Twain show on Saturday, and I've been trying to find cheap tickets, but have had little luck. Tix4Tonight didn't have any listed, and it makes me nervous to put it off until the day of the show.  It took me until just now to remember that I might have enough Total Rewards points on my account to buy one of the two tickets. To my surprise, I had enough to get both. Cha-ching!

I'd been wanting to try the drinks at Cosmopolitan's Book & Stage for years, and knew they were comped when playing video poker at the bar, but I'd never worked up the gumption to actually try it. Today was the day. "I hear from some podcasts that you make some great cocktails, comped when I'm playing," I ask the guy behind the bar. He confirms that's correct, when playing at least $1 a hand, which is what I expected. "What can I get you?" he asks. "I'm craving something with blackberry, and I'm not a fan of ginger." He comes back a few minutes later with a tall dark purple drink. I'm excited to try it. "It's got blackberries, St. Germain, whiskey, ginger beer..."

Hmm. Ginger? I'll try it anyway.

It was great. Maybe this is my new happy place.

I continue to play video poker, chatting with the older guy next to me. He's here in Vegas nine months out of the year, much of the time sitting in that stool. I tell him that I'm in town maybe twice a year, and that this is probably my favorite spot.

Then I hit four aces for $200.  I affirm to him that yes, this is indeed my favorite spot.

I pocket the money and head to the car. Where to? I'm feeling rich. I'm feeling big. I'm feeling like 25¢ roulette at the El Cortez. Wait? What?

I drive downtown, and quickly realize that it's unlikely that I'm going to get there quickly. The Life is Beautiful festival starts tonight, and several streets are blocked off. I've left my downtown players cards in my room at Aria, so the El Cortez guards won't let me park there, which is understandable when parking appears to be $20 nearby. I give up and head back to the strip. Where to? Riviera, I suppose. They've gotta have cheap gambling.

As I turn left on Riviera Blvd. to get to their parking area, the Westgate sign looms in front of me. In 13 trips, I'd never been there. That's my new destination. I explore the casino, which is smaller than I expected, but reminds me of a run-down Caesars Palace. I think they were built around the same time, so it kinda makes sense.  I played a little video poker, a little on the slots, watched a little of the World Series, and left. Meh. I don't know if I'll head back. Maybe if my little play results in some good offers. Otherwise, probably not.

Kim's flight arrives in a couple of hours, so I aim the car towards the airport, and stop at the Hard Rock. For a Friday night, the place is dead. I lose a small chunk of change on video poker, and a larger chunk of change on the slots. Still, I'm up for the day. I head to the airport, pick up Kim, and head back to Aria. She was up early, had a full day of work, and crashes into bed. I'm still energized, and it's Friday night in Vegas, so I head back out, wander up to Encore and back, and crash into bed about three hours later.

Day 10:
Kim and I rise slowly on Saturday morning, and stagger down to the Aria café for breakfast. Good, quality food, but crazy expensive for what it is. We've got $100 resort credit to offset it, so that helps. We play some slots, play some video poker, and lose on both.
Always take in the Fountains of Bellagio with
the love of your life. Always.
We mosey down to Caesars by way of Cosmo ("that's where I hit aces for $200 plus a tasty drink!") to see if I can upgrade our Shania Twain tickets. Nope -- the tickets are from the casino comp pool, which are non-upgradable. No big deal. We go explore The Linq, which was barely open when we visited in February, and which I zipped through when I was dragging Abby and Erik with me. Kim enjoys the retail experience, so we take our time and pick up a few gifts for folks back home. I remember the Sprinkle's cupcake ATM, and get a tasty chocolate cupcake out of it.
Just like the one in L.A., which had a line two
blocks long when I considered stopping

Dinner is at Giada's, where we both order the tasting menu. Being from the northwest, the Coho sounds like an everyday food so we opt for the lamb. Although the amuse bouche was excellent, and the bread was superb, and the blackberry tiramisu dessert was among the best I've had, the lamb was merely "pretty good". Service was over the top, but not intrusive. Perfectly executed.

The Shania Twain show was fun, pretty much exactly what I'd expected. She played all of her hits, a few of her more obscure songs, and interacted with the audience quite a bit. Although we were up in the top balcony, the seats still had a great view.

After the show, Kim and I wandered a bit, losing money in slots at Planet Hollywood and Venetian, and I won a trifle at Treasure Island. The video poker at Encore put $20 in my pocket. Back at Aria, as a late night snack, I used my final MyVegas comp for pizza and a beer at Five50. The pizza was greasy and seemed like it had been under the heat lamps for a while. It might be that Pizza Rock spoiled me the previous weekend.

Day 11:
We both woke up feeling less than great. Kim had been fighting a headache; I think I was feeling sad that this was our last day.  We checked out of Aria, burning the last of our resort credit on some incredibly overpriced peanut brittle. I considered heading to Westgate to watch the Seahawks game, but it had already started, and Kim wanted somewhere more quiet. I suggested Wynn, so we drove there and left the car with the valet -- but Kim noticed the Disney Store sign on Fashion Show Mall, so that was our first stop. Lunch in the food court, a few hours of wandering, and back to Wynn. We played some slots (losing), and then some video poker. Kim and I were both down a bit, and then I hit four aces. Booyah!

The $28 million dollar man
Still, it was too loud and overstimulating. I know a great, scenic, quiet spot. I took Kim to Red Rock Canyon, this time stopping at the visitor center and several viewpoints. From there, to the airport and an uneventful flight home.

My longest Vegas trip ever has come to an end. My next trip might be in January, another will definitely be next October. And I'm looking at hotel rates in November, just in case.
Until next time, Vegas. Keep my money warm.


Mark DeVol said...

Holy cow, Travis, that was quite a trip! Sounds like you had some good luck in the casino and on the road caching. It was great to meet you at VIMFP! Hope to see you again next year.

Abby said...

Great trip reports, Travis, but you didn't exactly drag me through the casinos, I was a willing victim. ;) I'd love to meet you back there sometime and get a tour of the second half. I enjoyed Vegas a lot more with someone who knows their way around.