Vegas Part I

We’ve been back from our long weekend in Las Vegas for over a week now, and I’m just getting around to writing about it. That’s mainly because I’m trying to catch up on the sleep that I missed. The rule is that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and some of it will, but we had a lot of fun and did a lot of cool things, so I’m going to write about it anyway, but I’m going to break it up into a couple of parts. If you want the picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words version, pictures are posted here.

Gail and I went to Vegas once before, back in 2005 for our tenth wedding anniversary. We had a great time, so when some friends decided that they were going down on the long weekend in May, they mentioned it to us. Originally, we figured it would be too expensive so we decided not to go, but then they told us about the deal they had gotten at the MGM Grand – something like $350 for four nights. We priced the Venetian for the same time period: over $1350. We found flights for about $150 each (each way), so we decided to go. How often can you get four days in Vegas for under $1000? Well, obviously you need to add some for food. OK, plus tickets to any shows you want to see. And taxis. And the monorail. And service charges and airport taxes on the airfares. And gondola rides at the Venetian. And car rental to drive to Hoover Dam and the tours of Hoover Dam itself. And souvenirs and gifts for the kids. And of course gambling money. Considering we’re going to the UK this summer, and my company has delayed our salary raises for at least three months (assuming there are raises at all this year), and Gail’s income has dropped by 5% thanks to her company’s salary cuts, well maybe this wasn’t such a cheap vacation after all. But hey, it’s only money, and we had a lot of fun, so I don’t regret it for a second.

The MGM Grand is unbelievably big. There are over 5,000 rooms, a monster casino, sports book, a gift shop and several other shops, five pools and a lazy river, a TV studio, two spas, an arena for boxing and other sporting events and concerts, a monorail station, a theatre showing a Cirque du Soleil show, and countless restaurants and bars. Oh, and a lion enclosure. If you’re hungry, you’ve got your standard Vegas buffet (required by law at all casino resorts, I believe) as well as the Rainforest Cafe, another cafe, a grill, a deli, a sandwich place, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, two French places, a steak house, a seafood place, and a “California cuisine” place owned by Wolfgang Puck. And if all that’s not enough, there are two Starbuck’s and a food court with five more places including McDonald’s. We arrived on Thursday night, and by the time we left on Monday afternoon, we could usually find our way to where we needed to go without getting lost. But the sheer size of the place meant that it took forever to get anywhere. We stayed at the Mirage last time, and it was also big, but not outrageous. This place was just too big. In contrast, our room was actually quite small, but very nice. It was only the two of us and all we did there was sleep and shower, so we didn’t really need any more space.

Since the hotels on the strip are so big (many of them take up a city block each), walking between them can take a long time. Combine that with the zillion-degree temperatures in the summer, and you have a fairly hefty need for a rapid transportation system. So the city has put in a monorail that runs behind the hotels on the east side of the Strip. MGM is the southern-most station, and there are also stops at Bally’s, the Flamingo, Harrah’s and the Sahara, as well as a couple of stops off the Strip. It’s great if you’re going, like we did, from MGM up to the Stratosphere, which is about a 6 km walk. It’s not cheap – a single ride, regardless of distance, is $5 each, though you can get a day pass for as many rides as you want in a 24-hour period for $13. That turned out to be a better deal for us, and we ended up doing that twice. Apart from the cost, there is another problem with the monorail which involved, again, the size of the hotels. At one point we were headed to Paris, so we took the monorail from MGM to Bally’s (right next door to Paris). The elevators to our room were at the front of the MGM, so we had to walk all the way to the back, which was at least five minutes. Then we took the monorail one stop (three or four minutes), then had to walk to the middle of Bally’s and over to Paris, which took at least another five minutes. All told it took us about fifteen minutes to get there, at least ten minutes of which was walking. We probably could have walked all the way in that time, so the monorail only saved us a few minutes of walking. Now, we were there in May, so it was pretty hot outside but not unbearable. If it was 105 degrees outside, which is not unlikely in July and August, spending $10 to walk for 15 minutes inside rather than walking for 15 minutes outside might well be worth it.

Coming in our next installment: The Stratosphere and Hoover Dam.


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