17 August 2009

Vegas Vacation 2k9

Introduction
Six years ago, my family and I embarked on a cross-country vacation which lasted a month where we visited my family on my dad's side for my aunt's wedding, then saw the sights around Virginia and Washington, D.C., stopping along the way in various states, most memorably Arkansas. We had a good time and ate a heck of a lot of waffles from the Waffle Houses we encountered along the way. But that was the last real vacation that I had taken until this past week, and it was long overdue.
I was fortunate enough this year to be able to take a 5-day vacation to Las Vegas, a destination my family used to go to during the summer vacations my brother and I had in school. But instead of taking my family, I was able to take my fiancee, Ashley. I had been planning the vacation since last year, and really got the ball rolling back in February when I finally made reservations to stay at the Mandalay Bay between the 3rd and the 7th. When I first looked for the reservation back in November of last year, prices were near $800 for that time period, but with a little manipulation, waiting, and the economy taking a hit, I managed to make the reservation for Las Vegas Strip-view rooms for a little under $400! After putting down a deposit for the room of close to $130, I filed away my reservation and continued on my studies until about mid-May when I finished my last set of finals.
As time approached, I made sure I requested those days off, made sure I had all my finances in order, and even made sure that my car was in good running condition for the long, hot ride there. Finally, the weekend before the trip, Ashley & I prepped by buying a few snacks and water for the trip, as well as packing our bags with the clothes that we were prepared to wear while we were there. I also started planning for the things that we were going to do, and reserved tickets for the shows that we were going to see while we were there.
The Trip
Sunday (8/2) night came, and I set the alarm on my phone for around 5:30 that morning, hoping that leaving earlier would help us so that we could get through Death Valley before the hottest parts of the day. However, thanks to the anticipation, I wasn't able to sleep all that well.
I was startled awake the next morning (Monday (8/2)) at 7:00 when Ashley woke me up and told me that I had overslept by an hour. I quickly got ready and tried to head out the door to my parent's house so that we could leave them the key to the apartment so that they could check on it while we were gone. After talking with my mom a little, we finally hit the road for Vegas.
We were very fortunate on the way there since there was cloud cover, so the temperature through Death Valley was quite mild (under 100 degrees F). We arrived at the hotel around 12:30 in the afternoon and immediately joined the ranks of people in the lobby waiting to either check out or check in. When we finally made it to the front of the line, I paid for the rest of the room and we both went to take a look at the room. Immediately when we opened the blinds to the window, we were excited - we had a fantastic view of the strip! We went back to the car to grab our things and started leaving them in the room. When we were ready, we left the room to start exploring the sights and sounds of Las Vegas!
Running Around
Though most things were still in the same places where I remembered them from the trips to Las Vegas with my family, there were quite a few changes. Since I needed to get reoriented with everything, I also showed Ashley around. So Monday (8/3) was spent really just exploring the hotel and visiting the strip. We went down to the Mandalay Bay beach (which was packed with people), then ate at the Red, White and Blue restaurant in the hotel, and then jumped on the tram from the Mandalay Bay to the Excalibur. We walked from the Excalibur to Planet Hollywood, passing through the New York, New York, the MGM Grand, and walking the strip a ways to the Miracle Mile shops at the Planet Hollywood hotel. We stopped when we found the V theater, which is where we would need to be to see Gregory Popovich's Comedy Pet Theater show. We headed back to the hotel after, changed clothes into something a little nicer, and headed down to the Rumjungle, but unfortunately were not able to get in because the club was full. We instead headed to eat at Mizuya in the hotel where we had sushi and Ashley had her first bottle of sake. Afterward, we walked back to our room and retired for the night, exhausted from all the walking and driving of the day.
Tuesday (8/4) was a bit of a strange day as I had to wake up early enough for a mandatory conference call for work. After the conference call was done, Ashley & I headed to the Mandalay Bay Buffet (hey, we're in Vegas, we have to go to a buffet right? Its, like, one of those things you have to do while you're there!) and opted-in to a special buffet deal which gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner for only $35/person. We missed breakfast unfortunately, but we still made it to lunch and we ate till we couldn't eat any more - we were stuffed! After our breakfast, erm, lunch, we headed back to the room to get ready for the show, and then left about 2 hours before the show started. After getting on the tram from the Mandalay Bay to the Excalibur, I noticed that time almost 30 minutes had gone by and we'd gone almost nowhere and I started to rush us. The reason I started to rush was the fact that we had to pick up the tickets no later than an hour prior to the show's start, and it was 30 minutes before that deadline and we still had quite a way to go. Fortunately, we made it to the V Theater with about 10 minutes to spare, and then spent the next hour waiting for the show and relaxed a bit.
It was a good, cute little show and we enjoyed watching Popovich entertain us with his acrobatics and his trained animals. He made a good point that cats were not easy to train, but instead he said that he identified individual "talents" of each of his animals and just focused on them to make his routines - and it made for a pretty entertaining show!
Well, after the show was over, we decided to roam around a bit and watched the mezmerizing and beautiful ballet that the Bellagio fountains performed periodically throughout the day, and headed to the Bally's where we would be seeing the famed Jubilee! show the next day. We wanted to make sure we knew where we were heading so that we didn't get lost and miss the deadlines. Afterward, we headed back to the hotel and despite the fact that we weren't very hungry, stopped at the buffet to have dinner before it got too late and they closed. I did notice, while I was in the buffet, that a lot of teenagers were sitting with their families eating, but a large majority of them had earphones on! I had to say to myself, "Hey, stop depending on your iPod and enjoy the sights & sounds of Vegas!"
Ashley & I both got up a little late again on Wednesday (8/5) and spent even more time trying to find out where to go eat for lunch. We remembered about a sign for a Rubio's that we had run across while venturing out the day before and decided to make our way to the Monte Carlo to have some. After waiting a while and finally getting our food and finding a seat in the packed cafeteria, we finally ate. After we ate, we decided to go exploring some more, and being the tourists we were, we decided to walk through each of the casinos on that side of the strip. We visited the Monte Carlo, crossed the massive City Centre complex, the Bellagio, Caeser's Palace, the Mirage, Treasure Island, the Palazzo, the Venetian, and then walked down the strip to the Flamingo where we escaped the heat and got onto the Las Vegas Monorail to get to the Bally's (which was the next stop). After arriving at Bally's, we made our way to the box office to pick up our tickets to Jubilee! We were about 2 hours early, so we had quite a bit of time to kill. We decided to walk a little into the Paris and bought two large Pina Coladas in large bottles in the shape of the Eiffel tower. Seeing as how I tipped the bartender, he decided to make ours "fresh" and by hand, and added what seemed to me a hefty amount of coconut rum.
After drinking them for a while, Ashley & I started to feel a little drunk, and decided it would be best to slow down, especially since I wasn't feeling so good (I had had nearly all of the bottle save for about 3 inches of it left at the bottom). Before long, it was time to be seated in the show. We sat down and watched the women wearing the very elaborate headdresses, mesmerized by the fantastic "interim" skits which involved gymnastics, all of which were amazing. We thoroughly enjoyed the show and highly recommend anyone who visits Vegas to see it. Be aware though: it is a topless show, although they do have a non-topless showing at certain times.
After we got out of the show, we decided to hit the Monorail again (and after struggling to get my "All-Day" ticket to work, I ended up just getting a single-use ticket again since the readers didn't like my ticket) and go down to the MGM Grand, where we go back onto the strip and walked up it a little again to go to a Del Taco. Yes, you read it, a Del Taco. We both just wanted cheap food, and it sounded the best at the time. Well, after, we walked all the way back to the room and retired for the night.
Thursday (8/6) was a little different. We had nothing really planned and decided to use the day to do whatever we wanted. Although we woke up early enough to have breakfast, we didn't end up leaving until after breakfast was being served, so, again, we skipped it. We decided to go to the Rainforest Cafe in the MGM Grand instead, and so we headed there, starving. Afterward, we got back on the Monorail and headed northbound to the last stop, the Sahara, where we got back on the strip and walked a few blocks to the Stratosphere. I wanted to go on the rides at the top of the tower, and so we bought tickets to go up the elevator to the 105th floor, where we could ride the rides at the top. Unfortunately, it was very windy and so they could not open a couple of the rides, although we did go on one ride called the X-Scream. After being scared at the top of the huge tower, we walked around the observation deck of the tower, taking pictures and visiting the gift shop. After we finished that, we returned to the hotel room and argued for a little while over what we should do next. We finally decided to go to the Border Grill at the hotel and have dinner, which, honestly, was very good. Finally, Ashley & I returned to the room, relaxed for a little while, then headed back down to the casino to gamble a little. We figured, heck, we're here in Vegas, we might as well do what people normally do in Vegas, right?
Well, we headed down to the casino floor inside the hotel and began searching for what we wanted to play. I had my heart seat on Blackjack and she wanted to hit the slot machines. We each decided to play $40, and after winning some and losing some, I ended up losing all $40 that I played and Ashley only lost $20 that she played (she didn't play the other $20). It was getting close to midnight and all the running around in the day was starting to tax me so we headed back to the room and fell asleep.
The Last Day
Friday (8/7) was our last day in Vegas. We woke up pretty early that morning to make sure we weren't late checking out. So we got ready for the day and began working on loading my car back up with our stuff so that we could head back home. We decided we weren't quite ready to leave and wanted to check out the Bodies exhibit at the Luxor, and so we headed to Starbucks, got ourselves a couple coffees, then bought our tickets to see the exhibit and walked in.
It was really fascinating! We were quite in awe when we saw and learned that everything we saw was actual human tissue that had been impeccably preserved. It was quite intriguing seeing how all the different organs of the body fit together, and what it looked like. We were both very fortunate to have had the chance to see it.
Afterward, the both of us were starving and decided to visit a Chipotle just outside the Las Vegas "Welcome" sign before departing, and had our favorite burritos as we looked out the strip. We bid our final goodbye to the sight and got inside my car and headed southward home.
Final Thoughts
Though the vacation was quite needed, it was quite fun and was definitely worth the time I waited to take it. It was also a one of the most memorable times I've had with Ashley, especially since it was the first time she'd ever been to Vegas. With both had a great time there and with each other and probably wouldn't pass up another chance to go - as long as its not for a little while. There was so many things to do in Vegas that we didn't quite have enough time to do them all. So we've decided to come up with a list of things to do in Vegas, crossing off the ones we've already done and adding to the list all the things we haven't. I'm sure as time goes on the list will change, with things being removed as Vegas takes things away or adding to the list as new things are introduced. Either way, we had a lot of fun and hope to return sometime in the near future!

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