Sunday, July 31, 2011

Las Vegas: A Review: Part 3 of 3

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly …

The Good …

Here are some other highlights of my trip to Vegas …

My hotel and hotel room were very nice. I was pleased with the cleanliness, the decor, and the view my hotel room had. If I wanted to be picky about a few things I could be, but overall I'd rate my room at the Luxor, which was on the 16th of 31 floors, ★★★★ of 5.

Inside The Luxor Hotel / View of "inclinators"
To reach each room, one has to ride an "inclinator", which is a very unique experience to move diagonally in an elevator ~ when going fast ~ you lean.

The Luxor was very wheelchair friendly. A friend of mine had broken his leg about 45 days before our trip and needed to be in a wheelchair due to the severity of the accident. The bathroom in his room at the Luxor had a shower bench and was very spacious.

It was interesting that most all of the hotels flowed together. This allowed my friend, who was in a wheelchair, to essentially move from hotel to hotel without going out onto the street and needing too much assistance to get around.

My wife & I at the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas
I really enjoyed looking at and seeing the nearby New York, New York Hotel. It's really an amazing eclectic view of New York City.

I loved walking up and down the Las Vegas strip - I'm a people person and a people observer ~ so is my wife. I had one of the best times of my life just strolling and commenting on different people, places, and things with my wife. We got to do some gimmicky things together that you'd only do on vacation. One of those gimmicky things was go to an "oxygen bar" called Vitality. This was worth it. Vitality consisted of a massage and oxygen pumped through a tube into your nose with soothing scents like mint, eucalyptus, rosemary, and lavender. Another couple that I travelled with tried the Hydro-Massage and they said it was worth the money as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the inside of The Venetian Hotel and the Phantom Of The Opera: Las Vegas Spectacular show that was inside. I've seen the play many times, I'm a big fan of the movie version, and the presentation at The Venetian was unique and memorable.

My favorite line:

"You will curse the day you did not dooooooo allllll that the Phantom asked of youuuuuu"

View of Bodies: The Exhibition inside the Luxor hotel
From my hotel room door on the 16th floor.
The Luxor Hotel Bodies Exibition is very educational and memorable. I highly suggest making this a stop if you're in Vegas. The Vegas monorail magazine and website (called Vegas Vibe) both have $5 discounts.

I love flying - especially in commercial planes. Flying to Vegas is particularly awesome because you get to see so many different types of weather patterns in the clouds. You get to see the perfectly square pieces of property in America's heartland. It's truly stunning and a huge contrast to the way land looks in the South.

Transportation options in Vegas are plentiful. There is a free monorail from the Monte Carlo to the Bellagio hotel. There is a paid monorail on the other side of the street that travels from the MGM Grand to the very back of Harrah's and beyond. Cabs and buses also are practically every 30 seconds or less. Walking isn't nearly as bad or as difficult as you may think. High temperatures in Vegas are not equal to high temperatures in South Carolina due to humidity differences. Just bring good walking shoes.

The MORE buffet in the Luxor hotel was one of the greatest highlights of my trip. Great variety, unique items, and very neat artistic creations and presentation set it apart. The service and staff at the MORE buffet really deserve a lot of credit … they set themselves apart from other parts of the hotel.

Another couple I travelled with went to The Wicked Spoon buffet in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in City Center and had nothing but praise for it as well. It's also highly rated on just about every restaurant rating service such as Yelp.

The Bad …

The Luxor had my reservations wrong. The front desk blamed it on my common last name; "Smith". This caused a problem because I needed to be in adjacent rooms to my party due to one being in a wheelchair. I had promised my best friend that I would attend to him while we were in Vegas.

The Luxor front desk said that they don't assign rooms until check in. That story holds up IF I hadn't called two weeks before and gotten special consideration for my situation. I also called the day before my trip and re-confirmed. They just botched my reservation ~ plain and simple. I suggest you confirm and re-confirm any Vegas reservation because hotels and events fill up fast and without notice due to conventions and popular concerts. I was told it's rather common to overbook. Still, I had made my travel plans 4+ months in advance and confirmed. My whole stay was prepaid. There was no excuse for this blunder by the hotel.

The unique elevator in the Luxor presented a problem. This is somewhat of an attraction. To stop the public from using the elevators as an attraction ~ one has to use their room key to activate the "inclinator". The key will only allow you to go to your floor. If you are with a party and you don't have adjacent rooms and you want to go to their room without them being in the "inclinator", you just have to hope someone else is in the "inclinator" with you or get your room key specially coded.

The "inclinator" also presents another problem … only one "inclinator" of the three in the hotel goes to your floor. You'd think that with a hotel that has a ground level that's perfectly square - this wouldn't be a problem. Well, the "inclinators" aren't exactly in the corners - even though they look like they flow toward the corners. You have to walk through a maze of slot machines, shops, and venues just to get to each "inclinator". You also have to consider the shear size of the hotel … the second largest in Vegas and the third largest in the world. I was only able to figure this out precisely on my last day staying at The Luxor. If you're tired from your flight - it's maddening.

Some access between the hotels was downhill (or uphill going back). Wheelchairs were not allowed on the moving sidewalks … so … while hotels flowed together and it was easy for me to assist my friend in his wheelchair - this is an issue that the hotels didn't put a whole lot of thinking into.

Pool hours at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas
Pool times. Apparently, the Luxor wasn't the only hotel that closed it's pool at 8PM. I don't understand this. I understand 10PM and I understand closing the pool, but not the whole pool area. You're allowed to carry alcohol on the streets and the bar that served you the alcohol is still held responsible, so wouldn't it seem logical that if you drown due to drunkenness in a much safer place that the same rules would apply? This was very disappointing for what's suppose to be a "party all day / party all night" city. Getting to be in a pool is what I consider a major part of any vacation, even Disney World, or Gatlinburg. Getting to be in the pool would seem to be relaxing to guests and make them more likely to spend money. Just sayin' …

Be careful if your cab driver asks if you want to take the freeway. You may not always need to go on the freeway. Going off the strip costs extra - a lot extra. Cab fare is very expensive in Las Vegas.

The Ugly …

Our hotel had people dressed up in coats and ties at all the entrances to the casino floor (which led to other venues in the hotel). These people appeared to be hotel employees and appeared to want to offer you discounted show tickets or "help you find something" ~ the catch was "considering a condo" at the new City Center in Las Vegas. This was annoying and made you feel cheap. I didn't notice these people in any other hotel that I walked into in Vegas.

While the hotel offered wired internet access for free, the speed was VERY SLOW. Luckily, I have an iPhone. It was basically all I needed and it also provides tethering if I need it. I tried getting on the internet at different times during the day just to test the hotel connection ~ it was the same each try.

I've read that Las Vegas has one of the best cell phone infrastructures in the country. It's flat. It's conducive to cell phone signals. Outside on the streets, the signal is perfect.

I had full signal in nearly the whole building of Luxor and the “3G” data indicator was there too. I asked about this and it appears that nearly all of the MGM resorts hotels (which is most) use cellular blockers and blocking paint. This has the effect of blocking voice and data in the modern age.

One way you can test this theory is by going to the MORE buffet at the Luxor. It technically should be the worst place in the hotel to get cell signals – it’s essentially a dungeon below ground. It actually has the best reception in the hotel other than the pool area – it appears as if the area isn’t “painted” and the blockers can’t reach that area. If you think about it – it doesn’t make sense for a cell phone to work outside a door, then not work just inside the door.

This was very disappointing for me as many of the hotel venues had Foursquare check in specials and the Luxor hotel has their own social media manager who encourages you tweet and check in while you're at the hotel.

* All of my friends with me with had different phones and different rooms in different parts of the hotel and experienced the same issues.

Porn poppers. I covered this thoroughly in Part I of this review. For this single reason alone, no matter what tips others tell you about ways to avoid this disgusting annoyance that you are confronted with every 50 feet you walk on the streets of Vegas, I recommend that you either don't go to Vegas at all, especially do not take your children (of any age), or go and stay confined to your hotel and the mostly natural flow of connections and walkways between hotels. I sound like a fuddy duddy to some I'm sure, but it was just that bad to me!

It's also a bit embarrassing to be in a cab going down Las Vegas Boulevard and a big thonged butt on a moving billboard drives up beside you with the words, "Girls, Direct To You In 20 Minutes" scrawled on it.

When you're in Vegas you almost forget that there's a world out there with starving people in it. Although my vacation was almost free and I was comped a lot of things to review them on … I saw lots people spending lots of money that could be going elsewhere - to a church, to a charity, to their children, to someone else's children. I hate to end on a down note … I had a great time … the whole trip just got me to thinking about life ya know?

I had lots of fun … but I also missed my son and my dog. I had just as much fun "toobin'" with the whole family this past weekend.

Also see:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Las Vegas: A Review: Part 2 of 3

The Do's, Don'ts, & Can'ts of Vegas …

So, what did I do while I was in Vegas?

Maybe I should start with some things that I thought I was going to be able to do, but wasn't.

The Can'ts …

First, I took $50, and my wife took $20; to gamble. I honestly thought this was something I'd want to do. It wasn't. I helped my wife spend $11 of her $20 and that was it. I was more interested in walking around and doing things with my wife than I was in gambling. According to my friend who more than quadrupled his money at blackjack ~ the Luxor hotel where I stayed has a great casino.

I thought I would be able to relax at the pool or in a jacuzzi. I was surprised to find that the pools (most everywhere in Vegas) don't open until 9AM and close at 8PM - well before the sun set. I only got to spend about two hours in the pool area on the last full day I was there. It's a shame too, because my wife looks great in a bathing suit.

Pool hours at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas
I'm not quite sure of the reasoning that the hotel has for closing the pools at 8PM. It seemed like they were selling drinks by the dozens at double the high price of normal bar prices. It has to be largely profitable to keep the pool open. The Luxor has one of the nicest pools in all of Vegas. Making it where I had to fill some of my day with some "mandatory pool time" had the opposite affect on me ~ because I couldn't get my pool time in - I probably missed out on some casino time.

Liberty Creek wines served @ Oasis Pool @ Luxor

Speaking of alcohol … I'm not a drinker. In fact, I don't like the taste of wine or beer. I also think the bible speaks volumes about drunkenness. I did however do something in Vegas that can only be done in Vegas ~ I bought a Smirnoff Ice, took it out of the Venetian Hotel, and walked the street drinking it. Due to open container laws in most every other city in the U.S. - this can't be done. It was an indulgence to partake in because it felt like a time to take advantage of a unique opportunity.

Comedian Carrot Top performs @ The Luxor Hotel
I had also planned to see more shows (and scheduled to see more) but comedian Carrot Top, who has an exclusive show in the Luxor; cancelled his performances while I was there, due to laryngitis. This wasn't that big of a deal because I've seen Carrot Top in concert several times. He's very funny and without seeing his Vegas show - I'd recommend it. This also freed up one night for my wife and I to walk around and do things that we probably wouldn't have been able to fit in otherwise.

* Carrot Top's show is adult.

The Don'ts …

I was able to fit in the Criss Angel BeLIEve Magic Show. This performance was actually a part of my vacation package that included flight, hotel, and two tickets to a premium event.

I personally chose Criss Angel for our entire group.

Tickets for this event, billed as Cirque De Soliel Presents: Criss Angel BeLIEve range from $59 + tax to $179 + tax. Entertainment tax in Vegas is 10% - so don't be shocked when you get the final price to pay if buying show tickets. So, I was glad I got my tickets free with my package.

As listed on the Luxor website:

Criss Angel Believe …

Adult tickets from $59.00
Youth tickets from $29.50
+ entertainment tax & service fee

This also appears on the ticket purchase page as a disclaimer …
Children must be 5 years of age or older to attend. Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult. This show has mature language and may not be suitable for individuals under the age of 12, parental guidance is recommended.
I would change this disclaimer to … DON'T TAKE YOUR CHILDREN! There isn't just mature language but there's extreme sexual content, cursing, and purposeful almost pedophiliac jokes. At one point during the show, Angel "selects" a 17 year old "Chinese" boy from the audience named "Peter Who". Whatever your imagination runs wild with as far as jokes that can be made ~ it's in there! It was disgusting. I doubt I would have enjoyed it when I was in high school and I know that my son would have been embarrassed to be in the audience with his parents. This was on top of a mostly lackluster magic show that presented relatively common tricks amongst magicians nowadays. The show also seems to go through the entire Magic's Secrets Finally Revealed TV Series.*

* Interesting side note, the Wikipedia page from Magic's Secrets Finally Revealed has this concerning Criss Angel:
"Criss Angel claims that the "revealing" is false and the creators of the show are not talented or creative enough ... He implied that those are not the real techniques magicians use to do their tricks."
Seeing Magic's Secrets Finally Revealed certainly didn't taint my perception of Angel's show … it's just that there were certain points where one could tell trickery was going on ~ such as when Angel would disappear and reappear a few seconds later and be tired or when 3 second long blinding light flashes would appear on stage and you could visbly see Angel disappearing under the stage. Too many smoke and mirrors and the outrageously crude humor ruin the show.

I also failed to see much (if any) Cirque De Soleil acrobatics or ballet during the show and didn't really get how the term was even associated other than to entice people who aren't completely sold on Angel or magic shows in Vegas.

On a scale from 1 to 10 - I'd give Criss Angel BeLIEve a 4.

It would be 5 without the crude humor.

For those of you saying, "It's Vegas - what'd you expect?" I honestly expected better after following Angel on Twitter for several months before my trip and his hyping up of his religious background. (He also does this during the show.) I also expected more because there were so many children in the audience.

* I've seen David Copperfield in concert twice (once in my home town) and seen how he does a number of his tricks, but I certainly felt like I got my money's worth and that it was a good family show.

The Do's ...

View of the Vegas strip - all bridges have glass barriers
I did get to walk the Vegas strip. This was one of my favorite parts of my trip ~ looking and observing.

Fountains at Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas
I enjoyed seeing part of the show in front of the Treasure Island Hotel, I enjoyed seeing the fountains at the Bellagio and walking the courts and gardens of Caesar's Palace. Out of the three, I'd highly recommend visiting the inside and outside of The Bellagio. There's lots to see - like a glass flower collection and the world's largest chocolate fountain.

Full sized replica of The Liberty Bell inside the Bellagio Hotel

The "world's largest chocolate fountain" at chocolatier Jean Phillipe's inside The Bellagio

Glass Sculpture Fiori Di Como by Dale Chihuly inside the Bellagio Hotel
Some other things I was able to see and do …

The Bodies Exhibit in the Luxor Hotel ... I had seen this in Atlanta when it was on tour and it is truly educational. It showcases REAL preserved human bodies dissected to display bodily systems. The look inside a real pregnant woman at different stages of birth is fascinating as well as seeing the real lungs of a smoker.

Titanic: The Exhibition in the Luxor Hotel ... I actually gave my tickets to see this to another couple that I travelled with and they said they liked it. They particularly liked the stories that went with each artifact. Much of what you've read and seen in the movies isn't true. If you're a big fan of the movie though, you should really enjoy this.

Our view at the hotel overlooked the Nevada mountains … it was a great view.
Jelly bean Statue Of Liberty
Inside New York, New York

The New York, New York hotel and the replicas of various New York City landmarks is impressive and  worth visiting.

The Excalibur hotel (the medieval castle) is interesting to visit and walk through.

The Monte Carlo hotel was impressive - one thing my wife noticed was the scent in this hotel. It was very calming. I expected to smell smoke in the casinos and hotels - but didn't experience that at all. In fact, each hotel seemed to have its own purposeful welcoming aroma.

Venetian Hotel Las Vegas gondola ride
The Venetian Hotel - this hotel is home to many gourmet restaurants from the likes of Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse. The impressive art recreations on the inside are worth visiting the hotel to see. This is also the hotel that has the gondola rides, although during our visit the outside gondola area and "recreated flooded streets of Venice" were drained and being worked on.

One other part of The Venetian I enjoyed was The Phantom of The Opera: The Las Vegas Spectacular. Everyone in my group attended. The tickets to this show are pricey ~ topping $250 for the nicest seats. Luckily, I was able to find a deal a few weeks before taking the trip to Vegas ~ we each got tickets for $74 (½ off). I've seen the original broadway play and the traveling Phantom play when it came to Greenville. This performance ranks right up with those. The show takes place in a full recreation of the Paris Opera House where the story takes place. The added effects (which are very impressive) and Paris Opera house ambiance make this show a must see if you are going to Vegas ~ even if opera and musicals aren't your thing. One warning ~ the theater is COLD - I was told mid 50〬F.

But, it wasn't just hotels that I enjoyed seeing …

Take a look at this awesome McDonald's …

McDonald's on Las Vegas Boulevard
I ate at the New York Slice Pizza place underneath the McDonalds. This is kind of a secret little "hole" in the wall to get a great tasting, but reasonably priced meal. As you can see there's also a Panda Express Chinese fast food place and a Chipolte Grill Express. All three are reasonably priced.

Something rather unique that I got to see was the Pawn Stars pawn shop from the History Channel TV show. We went to get a T-Shirt souvenir for a family member. It was worth the cab fare just to see a part of "old vegas" that you most likely won't see otherwise. The line outside to get in was about 20 minutes wait. We were told it sometimes is up to an hour long. 

Continue on to Part III

Read ... Las Vegas: A Review Part I

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Las Vegas: A Review: Part 1 of 3

View of the Vegas Strip / Right: Treasure Island Hotel  /  Left: Venetian Hotel

I don't know if I could rate Vegas on a scale from 1 to 10 because there's so many aspects of the total experience to rate. I thought it would be an easy travel review to write down upon my return.

What I can say is that I enjoyed my time in Vegas very much. But,  I learned that my favorite part of Las Vegas is my favorite part of my home town ~ my wife.

My wife is an amazing partner. We enjoy walking and talking and observing. I enjoyed watching her take her first commercial airline flight ~ looking over at her on the plane at takeoff and doing the fake throw up motion with my mouth and laughing.

She is beautiful, I'm proud to have her by my side.

While I'm not a deviant person with an addictive personality, it's very calming to have someone, such as my wife, to keep me in check, just by being a standard ~ not by scolding. I cannot put into words how much I love her.

My best recommendation for you if you're planning a trip to Las Vegas ~ take someone whom you trust and love. Take someone that it would hurt if you acted without self control.

I travelled with four of my friends (two other couples) and I truly appreciate their companionship as well. They too made my trip memorable and I enjoyed getting to vacation with them. They each brought unique memories to my trip that I probably couldn't or wouldn't have experienced on my own.

Gambling, Girls, Grand Hotels …

This is how I would sum up Vegas. I specifically went to enjoy one of these three.

Grand Hotels … I'm not really a person that likes sightseeing. I like looking at art (paintings, sculptures, etc) but I'm not going to make it a part of my vacations by choice or schedule a trip to a museum by choice. I do however love to see creativity - it's one of the reasons I love to go into Toys R Us every now and then and observe. Creativity abounds in Las Vegas ~ especially in the architecture. Most everything you see is opulent ~ over the top and impressive. In a way, it almost saddens me - because I think to myself, "This was built on the lost fortunes of many." And while that's true to some extent - most of Las Vegas is either an MGM Resorts hotel or Wynn hotel.

The Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas
I specifically chose the Luxor Hotel to stay because I love the look of the hotel and because it seemed like a one stop shop if I chose to stay in one place. One of my friends was also in a wheelchair due to a badly broken leg ~ so I wanted to make sure he was taken care of in case he wasn't able to get out. The Luxor seemed to have the best to offer if you had to just stay at the hotel. Another reason I chose the Luxor was because I knew they had one of the best pool areas in Vegas called, Oasis.

The Luxor offers:

Bodies: The Exhibition

Carrot Top

Titanic: The Exhibition

Criss Angel Believe Magic Show

Menopause: The Musical

Several Nightclubs

Several restaurants including (3) Starbucks locations and a buffet

Gambling ...

The Luxor offers a great gambling floor ~ even though all my wife and I played were penny slot machines to the tune of $11 between us. We won (between us) $17 ~ all but $2, we put back into playing more slot machines.

We only played the mechanical penny slots. These machines take $1 dollar bills (and higher denominations or cash out tickets) and give you 100 credits per $1. I cashed out one ticket for 580 credits or $5.80. Casinos don't spill coins out of the bottom of the machine anymore ~ which is kind of a disappointment. That's one of those things you think of when you go to Vegas. The cash out tickets are psychological "fake money" and makes you have the urge to just put it back into the machine to play. I was given a hint by a pro slot machine player on the floor, put cash into the slots only, never a cash out ticket. A slot machine treats cash as a new player and builds the jackpot higher, faster.

One of my friends, the one in the wheelchair, who is very talented at math and computer programming, wanted to try his hand at blackjack. While he said he wasn't or really couldn't count cards, he said that the Luxor was a great hotel to play blackjack because the other hotels he visited had continuous shuffle card dealing shoes ~ this gives the house a greater advantage. Playing for nearly 8 hours of our 72 hour stay - my friend won $295 on $60 of initial betting. He wasn't to happy to find that Vegas rules on blackjack have changed. He says the dealer used to stand on a soft 17 - which is any ACE♥♣♦♠ & any 6♥♣♦♠ or six combination. Also, 5 cards dealt no longer equals automatic blackjack. The last time I was in Vegas, I played one hand of blackjack and miraculously was dealt (3) ACEs and (2) 2's. I won $20 and I was confused. I was told that (5) cards was 21 and even beat a dealer 21. Apparently that rule has changed.

Girls … one misconception about Las Vegas is that prostitution is legal. But apparently this is just terminology. See, "Escort Services" are legal. Escort services are available here in South Carolina and are actually prominent in the Upstate. Make no bones about it, these are prostitution rings. Anyone that works at an escort service and is offended by that statement isn't being realistic. I'm sure that not all escort services are sex oriented, but most are. The term "escort service" is just a fancy way of saying "legal high dollar hooker". This is probably the single worst part of Las Vegas and is probably the reason I wouldn't recommend to anyone to go. Why? Because everywhere you go ~ especially after 7PM - about every 50 feet or so - someone pops a set of business cards, brochures, or magazines right in front of your face loudly. The cards say, "GIRLS - DIRECTLY TO YOU IN 20 MINUTES!" The cards have obscene pictures on them with small stars covering over the "money areas" of their bodies. To heighten your awareness of these "escort services" - giant traveling billboards attached to cars travel up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. Every two blocks or so is a magazine stand that contains brochures that rival the centerfolds of most Playboy magazines.

My wife and I were surprised to see that Vegas had such clean streets. The ONLY trash was an occasional bottle cap, cigarette butt, and these "escort services business cards". In fact, the "business cards" were the most prominent trash on the streets at around 10PM each night.

Oddly, Vegas appears to really want to stop illegal sales of bottled water on the streets. Most every bottled water vendor, that were just a person and a cooler - had either a scout or appeared very nervous and on the lookout for police. But, Vegas seems completely fine with the "porn poppers" as I termed them. The bottled water sales, while without a business license, provides a true needed and desired service and none of them are pushy or stick a bottled water up in your face. The "porn poppers" however, are licensed (or at least appear to be) and are welcomed by the City* - yet are by far the worst part of Las Vegas. There's no where you can go that you can avoid this deplorable "porn popping".

My wife and I made a game out of how dramatically we could tell some of the "porn poppers" "NOOOOOO". Have I said how much I love my wife in this review?

* I'm sure there's some "free speech" claim being made in some Nevada court as well.

Also see:

Las Vegas: A Review Part II

Las Vegas: A Review Part III