Viva Las Vegas!

My great friends Michele and Reilly go to Vegas all the time. Reilly’s company has an office out there, so convenience is one reason they go.  But really, they go because they love it.  And who doesn't love Vegas?! 

I met Reilly about a year ago through Aaron.  And then I met Michele at their 4th of July party.  Actually, my core group of non-work friends here in Stillwater, I met them all through Aaron.  I was telling a friend the other day, I would be really lonely here without this group.  I have my work friends, but we really don’t socialize much outside of the office.  It’s very disappointing, because when I first started at OSU 8 years ago we did a weekly happy hour.  Then over the course of about 6 months it faded to every other week; then once a month; then nothing.  My friend and co-worker Mary and I hung out a lot for a few years, but then she started hanging out with a group of work friends closer to her age.  So there’s a core group of about 10 of us who spend a lot of time together. Everyone's kids are pretty close in age, and a few even go to school together. So we can do group things as adults or with kids.  Even though Aaron and I are the only ones single and no kids, we still do the family activities too.  

Michele and I have become really good friends over the past 11 months.  Saturday at Walgreen's the cashier asked how long we had been friends.  Probably based on our conversation with each other and the guys in front of us in line. She was shocked when we said less than a year; she said she figured we had been friends forever.  That’s the type of friend you know you’ll have for life.  Michele has been trying to get me to go to Vegas with them for months, but I've had a conflict every time.  This time Reilly started in on me too.  I was still holding out, but we got a great rate on both the flight and hotel, and it was a quick 36-hour group trip.  I couldn't say no to that. The same thing happened in '07 when OSU played in the Maui Invitational.  I wasn't going to go, but I used my airline miles so my flight cost $7.50.  You can't pass that up.  Ever.

I've only been to Vegas one other time, 3 years ago with a group of guy friends.  It was a longer trip, as we were there for 4 days.  During the day they golfed; I went to the pool, walked the strip, and people watched.  And then at night we met up for funtivities. I had a good time, but it would have been more fun to have girlfriends to hang out with.

I met Reilly and Michele at their house Friday morning.  I give Reilly so much grief because he doesn't have a Pike Pass for the turnpike, so he has to stop and pay at each one.  I told him I’m getting him one, and I reminded him of that again when we hit the first toll.  As we got to the second toll, about 20 miles from Stillwater, he made a comment about toll money since he hadn't made it to the ATM yet.  I dug in my purse for my wallet to pay…and NO WALLET.  I had left it at their house.  I’m always super diligent before I leave my house for the airport, and triple check for my license and credit card. As long as I have those 2, I can get to where I'm going and buy whatever I need when I get there.  But I had taken out my wallet at the house and left it on the counter.  I went into major panic mode, as we were already cutting it a little close to get to Wichita.  Thankfully Kennedy was home, and drove out to meet us.  We did have to turn back a little, but it wasn't too bad.  Good thing I noticed it there instead of at the airports.  I would have been like Tom Hanks in The Terminal.  Wichita is nice and all, but the thought of being stuck there rather than a weekend in Vegas was not a good thing.

So, a caveat before I go any further.  I had really big plans to take tons of pictures and do lots of food blog research.  I didn't do nearly as well as I planned.  With such a short trip and a big group, I focused more on spending time with my friends.  I already told Michele that I want to do a longer trip where I can have it a little more structured and really do a blog research trip.  Of course she was on board with being a part of it.

They usually fly Allegiant Airlines because of the price.  Allegiant flies from OKC and Tulsa, but it’s often cheaper in/out of Wichita. But it's also deceiving, because they nickle and dime you for everything.  The flight itself was only about $200 round trip, and it’s direct.  But you have to pay for your bag, even a carry on.  And it’s more expensive than other airlines.  The weight limit is only 40lbs, when every other airline is 50lbs.  And then you have to pay if you want to select your seat.  Anywhere from $15-$20 each way. If you want to sit with someone you're almost forced to pay; otherwise they automatically select your seat and you could end up at opposite ends of the plane. If you want to pay with a credit card, that’s ANOTHER $9; debit card is free. So all of a sudden a $200 flight ends up being $250, and that's if you only do one bag.  Oh, and you even have to pay for non-alcoholic beverages on the plane.  They get you at every single turn.

Southwest has a direct flight from Tulsa, so they always check that.  If it's cheaper, that's the way to go because you don't pay for anything but the ticket.

We stayed at The Venetian, and the price was very reasonable.  The thing I hate is the resort fee.  I’m sure all Vegas resort hotels do it, but it’s such a racket.  $29 per night.  And what do you get? A cup of coffee at a shop in the casino (no coffee makers in the hotel room); newspaper (nobody reads the paper, especially in Vegas); free local calls (everyone has a cell phone); access to the spa club (I'm sure it's just the gym, and not any services at the spa); and a 2-for-1 drink (you don't need that if you're gambling, because then drinks are free).  A much better solution is to eliminate the resort fee and just charge a little more per night. 99% of the people probably never use any of the amenities, so the hotel makes out like bandits.  I could have paid $30/night more for a view of the strip, but why would I want to do that? 

Anyways, enough griping.  This is officially my favorite hotel in Vegas.  Which is funny, because I've only ever stayed at Planet Hollywood.  The Venetian is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s an all-suite hotel with phenomenal rooms.  The tub was gorgeous and looked so inviting, but I never tried it.  I’ll have to do that next time.  I could have stayed there a week.
Gorgeous statue in the main lobby

These beds give Marriott a serious run for the money in terms of comfort

View of the pool from my room
Most of the resort hotels on the strip have loyalty cards.  Grazie is the card for the Venetian and Palazzo. Saturday morning I got my card. You earn points when you gamble, book rooms, and spend money in the resort.  I was annoyed because I got a free $10 play card when I checked in. But I wasn't really paying attention when I arrived, and didn't notice it until I was packing up my stuff on Sunday morning.  And you only get it when you sign up.  I thought about going back to the desk before we left, but I wasn't going to have enough time because our flight was so early.

I got about 2,000 points in 18 hours, but I'm still a LONG WAY away from the next bump up.  And that's when you start earning good benefits. I guess this is another reason I need to stay here from now on.  Otherwise I'll have a bunch of loyalty cards with not much loyalty on them.

Madame Tussaud's is at the Venetian.  I've never been to any of the locations.  I want to go, but then I think, do I really want to spend the money to see wax figures of people? But lo and behold, as we were walking out of the hotel Saturday morning, we ran into The Rock!!

I’m pretty sure they rotate different statues to entice people inside.  But seeing him was good enough for me.

Oh, and one more thing.  They have these moving sidewalks that go up from the street to the 2nd floor.  Of course it wasn't moving.  And my $5 Walmart flip flops did NOT do well on it.  I literally slid down the whole way.  So just an FYI...wear shoes with some traction.

If you want to eat good food, you’re going to find it in Vegas.  There’s every single cuisine in the world both on and off the strip.  Lots of restaurants on the strip, particularly in the larger resort hotels, are owned by celebrity chefs.  Celebrity chefs usually means celebrity prices.  On my first trip I went to a couple of those.  And spent a boatload of money.  But you really don’t need to do that.  There’s tons of restaurants that are reasonably priced.  Yes, it’s a little higher in general because it’s a tourist town.  But you can easily choose what you want to spend.  You can break the bank or be frugal, and either way get really good food.

I did a great job writing posts on the follwing 3 restaurants
* #158 - Friday late lunch at Lagasse's Stadium
* #159 - Saturday brunch at Hash House a go go
* #160 - Saturday light dinner at Lobster Me

Ever since I agreed to go on the trip, Reilly’s been talking about going to Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace.  He raved and raved about the brisket. He didn't care if nobody else went, he was going. I love buffets, so I was in. Everyone ended up going on this adventure.

When you think buffets in Vegas, you usually think of miles and miles of food.  Bacchanal is that and more.  Reilly and Brad have VIP cards, which saved us over an hour wait.  I asked Reilly how you get one of those, and he said, “spend a s*#%!load of money”.  Clearly I’ll never have a VIP card.  I totally forgot to take pictures, which is a complete fail because Bacchanal is beautiful. Gorgeous really. I did find this picture online, and this is just one section of the raw bar.

You almost forget that you’re at a buffet.  It’s more like a full service restaurant, with a very trendy, hip atmosphere, and great music playing in the background.  Even the food displays are works of art.  They have every single type of food that you can imagine, and change up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most of the food is traditional buffet style, in big serving bowls.  But they've also got some items in small plates.  They also freshly steam crab legs all day and night, and have a vat of churning clarified butter.  The guy behind me complained that "for what we're paying we should have real butter".  Seriously?! Get over yourself.  Clarified butter is what they normally serve with crab legs. They also make street tacos on this big round cast iron griddle.  

The buffet literally twists and turns and runs for about 500 yards, and then there's a huge dessert station in the center. The price is very reasonable for Vegas, and considering all the raw bar food they have, it is a great deal.  My first plate was Asian food; second plate was brisket, mac & cheese, and a fish taco; and my last plate was the freshly steamed crab legs.  I really wanted oysters, but that part of the line was too long and by that point I don’t even know if oysters would have fit in my stomach.  I am definitely going back here next time, and I am taking lots of pictures.  I don’t care how long it takes me to eat. 

Late Saturday night, Michele and I decided we were hungry.  We didn't want to go too far, so we hit the food court right next to the casino at The Venetian. She went with Mexican, I did San Gennaro Grill.  I was originally going to get a burger, but then the salmon sandwich caught my eye.  Then I reconsidered. Should I trust a salmon sandwich from a food court at midnight? I asked the server, and she said she'd never had it.  However, she said it was one of the most popular dishes on the menu.  She also said they had to stop the employees from eating it, because it was running out and guests weren't able to get it. So I decided to take a chance.

I forgot to take a picture, but I found this one online that's a great representation of my meal

This sandwich was awesome.  It was a big piece of salmon, probably close to 6 ounces. It was cooked perfectly, and really juicy.  It's served with thousand island dressing, lettuce & tomato.  I've never had thousand island with salmon, but it worked really well.  I only ate a little of the bun, and then just ate the middle.  My fries were the skinny cut ones. They were just okay, and I really could have been perfectly fine without them.  But oh well.  Michele helped me eat them.

When people think of Vegas, most automatically think of the Las Vegas Strip.  All the glitz and glamour, all the lights and people.  Downtown Vegas is the older part, with the casinos that you see in old movies. The best part is the gambling is cheaper.  

After we left lunch, I needed a power nap.  I had a really long week, and hadn't gotten much sleep. So I knew that was the only way I would be able to stay up late.  Everyone thought I was crazy and wouldn't make it back out. But of course I proved them wrong.  I went up and crashed for about an hour, hopped in the cab, and met them downtown.  

They started at the D Hotel, and by the time I reached there, they were at the Golden Nugget.  I didn't know they were at the Nugget, so I went to the D.  Not a big deal, since everything is super close together.  But I also had no idea where anything was, so Reilly had to come out and find me. 

On my next trip, I’m spending a day downtown so I can do a more complete review. Because there is a ton of stuff to see and do.  And quite possibly, even more entertaining people watching than on the strip.

The strip reminds me a lot of New York City.  Tons of people and lots of great people watching.  And definitely sensory overload after a while.  Nobody I know actually lives on or near the strip.  Most of the locals live in Summerlin or Henderson, which aren't too far away.  And even if you live close, you probably avoid it like the plague.  You rarely ever go, because you don’t want to deal with all the tourists.  And you can walk pretty much everywhere on the strip.  One end to the other is 4.2 miles.
The stunning Bellagio hotel

Our photo op with Toby Keith
There are so many shows you can see in Vegas.  Every single hotel has them.  And I swear some celebrities that I thought had completely died out are back doing shows there. Michele was determined to get me and Shauna to go see Rock of Ages.  She’s seen it before, but really wanted us to go.  She hounded us all day Saturday.  But we both rebelled. I do want to see it, but just wasn't feeling it this trip.  I've promised her that next time I will go.  Last time we went to see Holly Madison’s peep show.  If you don’t know, Holly was one of Hef's girlfriends.  The show was really good and entertaining and funny, and let me tell you, Hef's money was very well spent on her plastic surgery. 

With my Greek warrior protectors

There’s also bars and clubs in every hotel and all along the strip.  The clubs are all in the hotels.  Last time we went to Pure, but that’s closed now.  I know a guy who’s a host at Marquee and Tao, but I always forget to text him until I’m either on my way to Vegas or there already.  Next time I’m gonna text him as soon as I book my flight.  With the clubs, you really need to know somebody or be a VIP.  Otherwise you’ll wait in line forever, pay a huge cover, and just stand around and buy crazy expensive drinks.  And there’s a strict dress code for guys.  They definitely don’t play around with that. We talked to a host on Saturday who had to check and see if cowboy boots would even be acceptable.  

After brunch on Saturday, Michele wanted to go to Rent the Runway at the Cosmopolitan Hotel.  Shauna, Lindsay and Kacey didn't want to, so they went back to the hotel.  By this time it was about a million degrees outside and zillions of people.  We stopped at a vendor stand for water, and then headed to Walgreens for a couple of things.  Then off to the Cosmopolitan.  Rent the Runway is a store where you pay a monthly fee, and can literally rent clothes, shoes, and accessories.  When you return something, you get to rent something else.  Vegas is the only brick and mortar location, so Michele really wanted to go and see some of the stuff in person.  The only thing is, most of the stuff in the physical store is for going out in Vegas.  And we live in Stillwater.  The heat was getting to me a little, so I sat on the couch with a husband who was there, and we watched Clueless.  Michele didn't find anything, but she did get to meet Destiny, who is her personal shopper.  So she was very excited about that.

Of course we gambled.  I'm quite sure my mom is the only person in the world who goes to Vegas and doesn't spend money. Her entire trip limit is $5, and then she's done.  I have a strict limit of $50/day.  Craps takes way too much thought process; I have no clue how to play poker; and I tried Texas Hold Em and had no idea what I was doing.  So I stick with blackjack.  I didn't do well on the automated machines, but with Reilly's help I actually made money on the blackjack table.  

It does sadden me to see older people who spend all day and night in the casino, blowing their hard earned money on the slots.  The casinos will never admit it, but I guarantee those games are rigged so the house wins the majority of the time.  Otherwise they'd go out of business.  They are definitely not doing that.  Not even close. Lady luck doesn't really shine down on me, so I usually lose my money pretty quickly. And then I live vicariously through those who win big.

The one thing I hate about the casinos is the smoke.  I swear at least half the people in there are chain smoking either cigarettes or cigars.  The ceilings are really high and I hear they pump oxygen through the ventilation system so it helps. But if you're sitting next to or really close to someone smoking, you might as well light up yourself.  There was an old guy at the blackjack table wearing a dust mask.  Sorry dude, that's not helping anything.

As you can imagine and see, we had a fantastic time. Most important, it was awesome to spend quality time with Reilly and Michele, and to make 4 new friends.  Even though it was a quick trip, we packed a lot into it.  I'm struggling a little bit today, but I can't let that hold me down!

There's so many more things I need to do in Vegas.  Eat at more restaurants--for research, of course; take lots more pictures; spend the day on Fremont Street; go see shows; see the Hoover Dam; and the list goes on and on.  I'm going to need a bunch more trips to fit it all in. 

We're already planning more trips to Vegas, including a big group trip for my birthday.