Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Memories of Vegas

Just returned from a three and a half day vacation to Las Vegas, Nevada.  I'd never been before and now I firmly believe it's somewhere everyone should experience at least once.  Because without seeing it, you can never, ever believe.

Starting at the beginning - about a year and a half ago, my friend (Shane) called me to tell me that his boyfriend had proposed on New Years Eve.  And that the wedding was probably going to be in Vegas, so he was giving me some warning to save money so that I could be there.  I've been hearing about Vegas from him for years already; it's his favorite place.  The idea of a wedding there was pretty exciting, though I had no idea how great it would be.

Fast forward to this past May: Because I'm a bit of a money idiot, I'm in debt (we all know this already, right?), so I had been waffling on whether or not I'd be able to go.  I really wanted to.  I knew I'd hate myself if I didn't go, but I didn't think I could afford it, and I didn't want to ask my parents to support what amounts to a vacation, just because I was stupid with my money (and because I already owe them a ton.  I call it spending my inheritance in advance.)  So I'm talking to another friend on the phone, sharing some of these thoughts, when she says "We're going to go.  Let's make the plans."  So, with her awesome connections, she contacted the travel agent and we got everything set up between us.  I still ended up having to ask my parents for the money, but I felt better about it.  I think part of my uncertainty was because I was afraid of going by myself.  And the money made a good excuse to wrap it up in a bow.  But once I had a traveling companion (one who'd offered herself, that I didn't have to ask to come with me) it made everything better.

And Flash forward to September 9.  Got up at 4:30 in the morning so we could pick up my traveling companion (Sarah) and get to the airport with some time to spare.  I haven't flown since I was 17, and obviously never with my "bionic" hips, so I was a little anxious about going through security.  But it was all super easy and our plane took off about 15 minutes late - apparently the co-pilot was pulled off of another bearing.  Despite the minor delay, we landed in Vegas about 30 minutes early and it was glorious!  The weather was beautiful!  We didn't check any bags, so we headed straight to our shuttle bus to the hotel - who, incidentally, nearly killed us several times on the trip.  We stayed at the Excalibur, which is definitely not one of the best hotels on the Strip, but was pretty cute from the outside, shaped like a castle (though we commented that it ought to have a moat - a lot of the other hotels had water features; Or a dragon - that would have been great!).  The room, while not fabulous, was serviceable; the smell of smoke permeated everything, even though it was a non-smoking room.  Because smoking is allowed basically everywhere in Nevada, we assume the smell was because it's impossible to walk anywhere without acquiring the smell of smoke yourself, and that would be brought up to the non-smoking room by every single guest.  And it's a hard smell to get rid of.
View from the hotel room window

Anyway, we hadn't eaten since the airport, so once we checked in, we headed to get something to eat (and use the free Wi-Fi in the food court - YEY for free Wi-Fi.) and then wandered a little in the hotel.  We found the pool, and decided to hang out there for a bit before meeting some friends, including the grooms, for drinks/dinner before they went to see the Cirque de Soleil show Zumanity (an amazing show, from what we hear.)  We were meeting them at New York, New York so it was just across the street from Excalibur.  New York New York really does look like a miniature version of New York city.  It's amazing.  It also has a roller coaster that's boarded on the inside of the resort and then runs around the outside, complete with a loop.  Freakin' awesome.  Sarah wanted to ride it, but being completely afraid of heights, I couldn't indulge her.
The lights of Paris resort

For the rest of the night, we walked up the Strip.  It's crazy!  There are "performers" on every corner - either dressed in some sort of sad costume (lots of Ironman, Transformers, Woody from Toy Story, a Jack Sparrow, Batman and Spiderman) waiting for someone to give them money, and then there's the flocks of people wearing T-shirts that say "Girls Girls Girls to your room in 20 minutes or less" and flapping pamphlets on their hands trying to get you to take them.  They were everywhere!  We passed a group of kids trying to be the next Jackson 5 (complete with an adult Joe Jackson type) by lip synching to J5 songs.  At one point, the youngest took the mic.  Singing is not his destiny.

As we wandered we managed to find the ABC Stores, that sell everything!  I mean everything!  Souvenirs to household goods, and also alcohol.  Of course everywhere sells alcohol.  People walk down the Strip with beers/margaritas, etc.. in their hands.  It's such a culture shock for the first few minutes.  And there were people everywhere.  And for someone like me who generally dislikes people in large groups, it took a little getting used to.  But it's definitely part of the charm of the Strip.  Every possible kind of person coexisting.  I definitely see the appeal.

That ended Friday - besides getting some alcohol and ordering a pizza to our hotel room where we promptly crashed.  We had been up since 4:30am our time after all.

Primrose Courtyard - the wedding
Saturday was wedding day.  We decided to take the monorail to the Wynn where the wedding was taking place.  BIG mistake.  We had to walk all the way through the MGM Grand to get to it, first of all.  Then we had to get from the Harrah's/Imperial monorail stop to the Wynn.  We got lost.  Several times.  It was not the best of mornings.  We did make it in time for the wedding though, and it was absolutely gorgeous - despite a little bit of rain, and some rather dramatic thunder.   The Primrose Courtyard was decorated beautifully in white flowers and candles, and the grooms both looked great.  It was a very touching ceremony, including the moments when each in turn pulled out their iPhone/Blackberry to read their vows.  I feel like I should describe so much more here, but I just can't.  It was just beautiful.  And I usually tend toward being less than sentimental. I'm so glad that I got to be a part of it.

After the ceremony there were some pictures and then we were to wait for the Photo Tour arranged for guests to take part in.  We happened across the wedding party and were invited up to see their suite in the Encore (the newest part of the Wynn Resort).  It was an amazing suite, with an amazing view of the Wynn tower of the resort.  It made Sarah and I really notice the downfalls of our room at the Excalibur.  But, as we were later informed, we did not want to know how much was being paid for that room.  It was still gorgeous. 

Then we headed back downstairs to the photo tour - first stop: The Desert.  Which actually turned out to be a vacant lot at the far end of the strip.  It did look kind of desert-like, with the Strip in the background, but it wasn't truly the desert.   There were some more group photos and then the wedding party separated and we headed to the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.  It's kind of cool.  There was an Elvis impersonator there, complete with his pink Cadillac.  And yes, we did have our picture taken in front of the sign.  We were officially tourists, with the photo to show for it.  While there, we ran into a local couple who had brought out their 4 month old baby. She wasn't wearing a hat, and apparently no sun lotion because she was burnt.  We don't understand parents like that.  She clearly wasn't going to remember the experience.  So, why? 

Chandelier Bar at Cosmopolitan
Next stop on the photo tour was The Bellagio.  We headed over to The Cosmopolitan next door first so that we could check out the Chandelier Bar.  It's 3 or 4 stories tall, and completely strung in chandelier crystals.  Amazing!  I've never seen anything like it.  It would be an amazing experience to sit there, having a drink, looking out at the world through crystal.  Then we went and wandered in The Bellagio.  Stained glass flowers on the ceiling in the lobby, and a flower garden in the centre with thousands of flowers, and more fountains.  Which is only impressive when you note that The Bellagio is the hotel with the dancing fountains in front.  The fountains run every fifteen minutes, but we didn't take time to view them at this point.  We still had Sunday.

After this it was time to head back to the Wynn, and from there we were free for a couple of hours before the reception.  It was being held at Maggiano's (http://www.maggianos.com) at the Fashion Show Mall.  So, after taking a few minutes to sit at a patio in the Wynn, we headed over to the Mall and wandered around.  And then we headed in to the reception.

Wedding guests numbered nearly forty people, so we were seated at four tables of 8, uniquely the Mariah table, the Leona table, the Victoria table, and ours the Vanessa table.  There were also signature drinks named after Holly Madison, Mariah Carey, Joan Rivers, Nick Carter, Chord Overstreet and Zac Efron.  (I tried the last three.  Yumm.)  The meal was phenomenal.  A superb selection of Italian items served family style, so we could sample them all.  I tried several things that I've never had before, and found that I loved them all.

It's Britney, bitch!
And then the biggest surprise of the night.  The DJ announces "Britney Spears!"  No, not the real Britney, but a damn good impersonator - technically a drag queen.  It was amazing.  She (he?) put on an amazing performance, and even sang a little him (her?) self.  Very entertaining.  And something that I'm sure I will never, ever see at another wedding again.

The plan after the reception was to head back to the Wynn and go to Tryst, the night club there.  But Sarah and I kind of screwed ourselves out of that plan by not bringing our ID.  Stupid girls.  Anyway, we headed back to our hotel (by cab this time, to avoid getting lost, and walking any further than we had to.  It turned out the cab fare was actually the same amount it cost for each of us to get a day pass on the monorail anyway, so we should have cabbed it in the first place.  Who knew?)

Bellagio dancing fountains
And then it was Sunday.  We didn't have anything specifically planned, but knew we wanted to wander around some more, just take our time.  And we had dinner reservations at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris resort in the evening.  So, that's what we did.  We saw the Lion Habitat inside the MGM Grand, we went to the Flamingo habitat at the Flamingo (it stinks, literally), watched the fountains at the Bellagio and we wandered around at Caesar's Palace.  We also got to see the largest rain fall that Las Vegas has had in a very long time, as we sat in an outdoor, but thankfully covered, patio at Caesar's.  The rain came down so hard that the drains couldn't keep up.  It was practically flooded.  We watched the fountains at The Bellagio a couple of times, and stared in awe at a few more of the strangely costumed street people.  Then we headed to Paris.  We got a table on the patio, from which we could see the Bellagio fountains lighted at night.  And the meal was, again, amazing, complete with a carafe of Sangria.  We were both completely stuffed when we left the restaurant.  But we enjoyed every mouthful.
Bellagio fountain at night

From there, we headed over to meet Shane and take in the Sirens of TI show show at Treasure Island.  Highly entertaining.   Also highly suggestive, but hey, it's Vegas.  There was singing, dancing, fire and fireworks.  After that, we went to The Mirage, to watch the Volcanoes show.  Also pretty cool.  At this point, we said goodbye to Shane, and headed back to our hotel, knowing that our Vegas vacation was drawing to a close.  We had to get up early to head to the airport for our flight back to reality.

The flight home, while delayed over half an hour, was pretty uneventful.  Several of the others who attended the wedding were also on our flight, which was mildly amusing.  And we also had an idiot who had been on our flight to Vegas, that we both wanted to damage.  And while it was nice to get home, it was also bittersweet.  Vegas is a bit of a magical place.

Random notes:
1) There are no windows in Las Vegas.  It's a bit creepy that everywhere you go is dark.  And completely disorienting.  And of course, smokey.  It was so great to walk the Strip, just for the "fresh" air.  Each hotel had a completely different smell, because most of them pumped in scents with their air to mask the odor of smoke, and people who won't leave the casino to bathe. (Note: there are windows, but only in hotel rooms - everywhere else is void of outdoor influences.  They don't want the loser gamblers to be able to jump.)
2) We liked seeing the older couples who seemed to walk everywhere holding hands.  On the outside, it's sweet.  But then you wonder, maybe they're just doing it for fear of losing each other in the crowds. 
3) Why would anyone take children to a place like Las Vegas.  a) There's very little for them to do there - it is adult Disneyland after all.  b) Mostly everything to see has some content that's inappropriate for children - including the outfits on the waitresses.
4) It's disturbing to see people who had major health ailments (ie: oxygen tanks) sitting in a casino for hours on end.  And half of them were lighting up cigarettes at the same time.  I'm just left shaking my head in wonder.
5) Anyone can be a street performer.  Cotton Candy was the most amusing - a large black man, done up as a showgirl, shaking what his momma gave him.  Awesome!
6) Vegas weddings do not have to be either cheesy, or spur of the moment.  I say beautiful and classy, all the way.  Plus Britney.

More photos available here: Vegas Photos 2011

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