(MOVIE PLANNING VIEWING: THE HANGOVER, OCEANS ELEVEN, TWELVE & THIRTEEN, VIVA LAS VEGAS)
Chapter 1: Blisters, Sights & "$^it Your Ring" Rides (that aren't rollercoasters...)
After farewelling our fabulous friends Patty, Gregg, Keegan and Nanna on Tuesday 25 May, we caught two very short flights from San Diego to Las Vegas via Phoenix. During our layover in Phoenix, we were disturbed by the ordering process at Burger King (queue and order?? and no onion rings??) but were absolutely delighted to see the first Cinnabon of our adventure. And to our great enjoyment, they now have minibons - 6 to a serve and just the right size for Kelly and I to share! (Justyn doesn't get the Cinnabon experience, but we'll work on that!) Arriving in Vegas we had managed to score a reasonable rate at the Bellagio which is where I have always wanted to stay since seeing Ocean’s Eleven (and Twelve and Thirteen....) The fountains were breathtaking, the indoor glass garden so delicate and interesting - and acres and acres of slot machines and neon lights! We decided to head out for a walk to warm up in the desert sun as San Diego had been unseasonably cold so we walked out to The Strip, turned left and started walking. After checking out Half Tix, stopping for a margarita, sangria and a beer, we eventually (well nearly 2 hours from when we started...) found ourselves up near the Sahara Casino which had the Speed rollercoaster (planned as #6) and the Stratosphere Casino which had three rides off the top of its tower - 260 metres (800 feet) in the air! We planned to head to the Stratosphere and ride Insanity - a thrill ride that took you off the edge and hung you out facing down and spun you around - hence the name of Insanity or as K christened it – the’ $^it Your Ring’ ride! (NOTE FROM KELLY: "whilst I didn’t $^it my ring, I do think it was the scariest ride I’ve ever been on").
Dodging brides and grooms we made our way out through the maze that they make these casinos, intending on riding rollercoaster #6 at the Sahara - but it wasn't operating! So we caught a cab up to the other end of The Strip to the Mandalay Bay Casino to check out the House of Blues menu - and more margaritas! Spicy buffalo wings, short ribs, catfish nuggets, and spinach dip were followed by sliders (mini burgers), pulled pork sandwich and a blue cheese burger with sweet potato fries, accompanied by some band playing what was to become our theme song for Vegas "Jesse's Girl". It all proved too much for me and confirming my lack of ‘match fitness’, the margaritas went straight to my head which afforded Justyn and Kelly much amusement for the walk back to the Bellagio. And you guessed it, the biggest blister from all our walking was my reward!
Chapter 2: Outlet Mania, Dinner at Bouchon and a Show!
Those drapes in the hotel rooms sure do block out the sun and we arose sometime around 10:30 - 11am on our second day in Vegas. (Cool side note: the drapes were automated! Awesome!!) We headed down to the Bellagio Buffet - all you can eat for $19.95 - plus tax! It was the lunch menu when we arrived and it was absolutely astounding the amount and variety of food on offer in an area that was big as, big as – it was just big! Unlimited drinks, unlimited trips to the buffet and unlimited amusement in the form of people watching...
Two memorable notes from the buffet – the sculptures made out of chocolate around the dessert buffet and the sweet potato mash – sweeter than straight sugar – ewww!) We rolled out of the buffet, threw some singles in the slot machines on our way out to catch a taxi to the Premium Outlet Shopping Mall. Our taxi driver was very entertaining and picked our accents - and all he wanted to talk about was the killer animals in Australia! Is that all American's know about us - our killer sharks, snakes, lizards, fish, jellyfish, stingrays, spiders, bugs and other creepy crawlies?? Our first outlet mall of our trip was quite bountiful - Justyn picked up size 15 Adidas sneakers for $22 (winner!) and we also found many other bargainous items during our afternoon of trawling the shops. We made our way back to the Bellagio to get ourselves ready for the experience we had been waiting and planning for – dinner at Bouchon restaurant in the Venetian Casino. Bouchon is a Thomas Keller restaurant and while French Laundry was not on our itinerary, we were determined not to miss out on a Keller experience. Getting there was the trick though – you would think a taxi ride to the casino and then Bob’s your uncle... noooooo, we got so lost in the casino and had to ask for instructions not once, not twice, but three times!! It is quite apparent that the casinos of Vegas are designed to entrap you so that you never ever leave!!! We did eventually find our way to the marvellous world of Mr Keller and found ourselves at our table deliberating over cocktails. In keeping with the theme, Kelly had a French margarita while I indulged in a Moscow mule, and Justyn opted for a Czech pilsner. Working through the menu was tough, however our waiter was very helpful and we ordered the soup of the day – celery veloute with black grapes and blue cheese (J), the farmhouse pate with accoutrements (K) and I had the salmon rilette (which if I do say so myself was gooorgeous!). Assistance in ordering a domestic wine from the sommelier, the main courses were the special roast pork loin sous vide and roasted with polenta pave and braised raddichio (J), the salmon something with mushroom, broad beans and truffle mousseline (K) and the roast duck with asparagus, spinach and rhubarb (C). Entranced by the service, flavours, atmosphere, conversation and our waiters glasses, it took us a while to notice the side show going on at a table nearby where a couple of girls (mutton) were seated – obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves and apparently known to the staff but not known well enough for the waiters to let the rather largish girl know that she was putting on her own show for them and other dining patrons! A woman of that stature, carrying some well endowed girls should perhaps rethink her choice of shoe string straps on a maxi dress and just who was her friend who let her go out dressed like that???? Well you guessed it, the girls came out! And not just for a moment, we’re talking the rest of the evening! Waiters came and went to their table; they so obviously noted us talking and laughing (albeit hysterically) in their direction and yet she continued oblivious to the show she was putting on! Fortunately by the time it came to order dessert, they had finished and left – but not before I had a close up encounter with the offending nip on my way back from the restrooms.... Who would have thought Bouchon had a show for us as well! But back to our meal – and dessert specifically... Justyn quizzed the sommelier regarding a dessert wine and settled on a French one which he was assured was outstanding. Kelly went for the crème brulee that the waiter said would ‘thrill’ and I went for the special which was three brownies in champagne cork shapes with three different flavour ice creams – espresso, hazelnut and the divine peanut butter with chocolate fudge. Sen-fn-saational!! The night couldn’t end there, so we put a few dollars through the slot machines in the Venetian Casino (you enter a casino, you play the casino) checked out the gondola rides and the amazing Italian theme of the Venetian. The Vegas night was still young-ish so we headed back to the Bellagio to see what entertainment was in store there (not much) and treated ourselves to a couple more cocktails. All in all, a thoroughly memorable day with lots of surprises!!
Chapter 3: Show 2 (the one we meant to see), afternoon naps and the search for the Jeopardy Slots
The plan all along was to get tickets to see Barry Manilow – it was the one show I really wanted to see while in Las Vegas. And if we couldn’t get tix to Barry, then Cher was my next choice (I love Cher!) but I would have been going to that on my own and no money or bribery would have enticed Justyn or Kelly along! But the plan was to get up early and head to the Hawaiian Marketplace to queue for tickets that would hopefully include Barry (or Cher – I was prepared to go on my own!!). Fortunately we were the first in line and only had an hour to wait until tickets went on sale – unfortunately tickets for Barry or Cher were not available and according to the Half Tix sales dude rarely ever came available through them... So we compromised and bought cheap seats to see Holly Madison (The Girls Next Door) in ‘Peepshow’, supposedly a great new adaptation of the traditional burlesque strip show. But before we get to the show, we had another mission to accomplish – the purchase of Kelly’s purple camera! Much deliberation over the bus route, bus stop and bus ticket finally saw us on a bus (go figure) and heading to Town Square which turned out to be another shopping centre in the middle of the desert at the far south end of The Strip. After brunch/lunch at the Claim Jumper (where we were starting to learn to order less and share between us), Kelly and I discovered our new nirvana – the store Sephora where make up and cosmetics are a fraction of the cost of the same high end products in Australia! Justyn was bored but we were in heaven! A trek across the carpark to Fry’s Electronics found us in the largest store I have ever been in! And of course we found Kelly's purple camera.1! Our adventure to Half Tix and to Town Square totally exhausted us and it was back to the Bellagio for a well deserved nap before heading out to our ‘titillating’ show at Planet Hollywood Resort. While Justyn napped a little longer, Kelly and I decided to try out Koi Restaurant at Planet Hollywood – a Japanese fusion restaurant before the show and it was another awesome choice. Exquisite cocktails (lychee margarita and a raspberry mojito) followed by crispy rice with spicy tuna, dragon roll, albacore tuna rolls which were off the menu, kobe potstickers and salmon sashimi, washed down by a double up of cocktails. Dessert was again a highlight with Kelly ordering the molten chocolate cake while I enjoyed the Koi sundae with brownie, chocolate and vanilla ice cream, raspberries, banana, graham crackers and real chocolate fudge sauce – heavenly!!! By now, the Peepshow was about to start so we queued and strict security in the line informed us that we were not allowed to take any pictures and were supervised while we removed the batteries from our cameras and then shown to our seats. Peepshow was okay – Holly Madison was a little wobbly in places that you wouldn’t expect and received the appropriate cheers when she bared her reasons for being famous, but the show certainly didn’t perform as well as we were expecting... Good fun, a few laughs and I can now cross seeing Holly Madison’s breasts off my ‘to do’ list. We slung a few more singles through the slot machines in PH before wandering up to Caesar’s Palace where we saw Monica Trappiga who had obviously just been lucky enough to see the Cher Show - so I wanted to check out where Cher would have played if we (I) had managed tickets and put a few more dollars in the slots before heading back to the Bellagio to bed.
Chapter 4: Taken for a Ride and a Rollercoaster #6
It was the last day of our Vegas expedition and it involved packing, booking hotels for Chicago, lost mobile (cell) phones and of course the rollercoaster! Since we were never going to make it back up to the Sahara to ride the Speed Rollercoaster, we settled on the Manhattan Express at New York, New York. $14 bucks later, we had an hour to ride the coaster and head back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head to the airport. Kelly and I joined the queue for the coaster, and once again Justyn was our ‘bag lady’ for the duration of the ride. The coaster was a long steel ride, with a giant drop, one loop that had a gut spinning twist into a corkscrew turn and finished up with chicanes around the turn before scaring patrons in the hotel as we returned to the station. A pretty good coaster but only a rating of 6.5 out of 10 for thrills.
We had an absolute ball in Vegas and for those of you who are still wondering – NO! Justyn and I didn’t get married in Vegas!!