Las Vegas - or, I Wasn't Expecting a Chicago-sytle Hot Dog

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004 3:33 PM
Before you read this trip report, know that, like most of my vacations, roller coasters played a minimal role. That said, I did ride one new-to-me coaster, and it was surprisingly awesome. I also discovered a hidden cove of arcade music games, so readers of the Coasterbuzz DDR forum might find that interesting as well.

At any rate, I tried to make it as detailed and entertaining as possible... but fair warning, it's *very* detailed. Heck, Day One is twice as long as most full trip reports.

Anyhoo... here we go.


DAY ONE
Airport Hell

The day started for my wife, Rachel, and I at 5 a.m. We awoke to cold temperatures and steady rain, as seems to be the case every time we go to the airport.

After dropping our dog off at a friend's house and dropping some books and DVDs off at the library... there's always time to run errands), we made our way down the rain-slick interstates to Port Columbus International Airport, which unbeknownest to us, would be our home for quite some time.

We parked in the $6-a-day Blue Lot, which I recommend highly over the much farther away, $5-a-day Red Lot. It's only a dollar more, obviously, but also, it's MUCH closer. Another advantage is that the shuttles to the Blue Lot from the gates have far shorter lines. When you're only one step away from getting to your car after a long trip, the last thing you want to do is stand in line.

So we caught a shuttle, which dropped us off at the America West gate. America West has been our choice each time we've flown from Columbus to Las Vegas, not only because it's fairly cheap, but also it's the only carrier that offers direct flights.

However, on this trip, I had booked only the flight to Vegas on America West. The reason was that the hotel we chose charges outrageous rates for Saturday-night stays. We decided to stay only Thursday and Friday nights. But America West (and most other airlines) offered Saturday flights only in the early afternoon. We wanted to stay and enjoy ourselves all day Saturday, so I booked the only red-eye flight available: an 11:20 p.m. Delta flight that would arrive in Cincinnati at 5:30 a.m., followed by a three-hour layover and a 30-minute commuter flight to Columbus. Nasty, yes, but better that than have to be at the airport at noon on a Saturday afternoon.

We got in the short line at America West (we were very early for the 8:45 a.m. flight), and I picked up a ticket folder. I gasped when I saw the professionally printed ad on the back of the folder had a grievous spelling error: "it's" instead of "its" for the possessive tense. I can't believe that got past someone. It was a bad omen of things to come, it turns out.

We passed through security, which is always a pain in the butt since 9/11, and found our gate. Being very early, we grabbed some Krispy Kremes and read magazines until the gate started to fill up. The plane boarded nearly on time and we sat in our exit row - lots of leg room.

We were happy.

We started to become less so when we realized we had been sitting on the tarmac for quite some time with the door closed, but we hadn't moved. Finally, we got an announcement from the pilot:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Just wanted to let you know about the current situation. We're having a maintenance issue - there are two computers up here, and they're each working independently, but they won't talk to each other. We need to power the plane down and reboot."

It didn't sound good. We continued to sit, plowing quickly through the SkyMall catalog and other reading material. They powered down the jet, then it came back up. Another announcement, basically saying the same thing. More waiting. Then, almost two hours past the scheduled take-off time, this:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are still having a maintenance issue. We have called America West for a part, but we do not know when the mechanic will arrive. He is coming in from Phoenix with the part. We're going to have you remove your bags and deplane."

In case you don't know, Phoenix is a four-hour flight from Columbus. So apparently the closest mechanic and/or part was four hours away. Nice work, America West.

We were told to go back through security and America West would attempt to get us on other flights. They admitted it could be as late at 5 p.m. before the mechanic even arrived, let alone fixed the plane. To make up for our "inconvenience," we were given $6.50 meal vouchers... so generous. We were told to go all the way back to the ticket counter and queue up.

That we did, and Rachel and I managed to get in line about 30 places from the front, with about 120 people behind us. There we stood for the next hour. No one was helped, the line did not move, and no one explained the situation to us. The ticket counter was fully staffed, but the staffers continued to help other customers, ignoring the massive line of delayed flyers.

Finally, after an hour, a harried, middle-aged woman wearing an America West shirt appeared and explained to us that, rather than string us along in the hopes that we'd be leaving anytime soon, America West had gone ahead and cancelled our flight. She said this as if the airline was being very helpful and generous in doing so. She said some flights out later in the afternoon had openings, and she'd try to get us on them. After the announcement, she literally was mobbed by passengers asking her questions.

During all this, Rachel and I noticed that some people were sneaking off, a la "The Amazing Race," and buying up the seats on other flights to Vegas. Stealthily, Rachel sneaked off to the United ticket counter and snapped up the last two seats on a 1:30 p.m. flight. Nice!

Now we had to make sure America West would pay for it. I worked my way through the mob and told the harried woman what we had done. She took our tickets and luggage tags and said she'd take care of it.

We got back in line, just in case. In the meantime, I used my meal voucher to buy a cup of chai tea at a nearby coffee shop... but they wouldn't give change, so I was forced to buy a bunch of snacks to use all of it up.

Finally, after another round of waiting around, the harried woman came back and told us everything was set and our luggage had been moved to the United flight. We checked in at the United desk and were ready to go. However, now we faced a 3-hour layover in Chicago.

So now we had about an hour to kill before boarding. We called our hotel to make sure they didn't give our room away. We also called and cancelled our rental car, deciding to take taxis instead to save time.

Then we went back through security again, and discovered that all the passengers from our cancelled flight had somehow been "marked" as security risks. Thus, we all had to be wanded and patted down. They went through our carry-on bags thoroughly, as well as my wallet and Rachel's purse. I even had to turn down the front of my jeans after the metal button set off the wand. Finally we made it through and found our gate... right across from the America West gate we had been at that morning.

While we were in line for security, we talked to a few people who had been scheduled on our original flight. Some of them had been placed on our flight; some of them got an earlier flight through St. Louis; but some of them got a later flight through Minneapolis. So it was up in the air whether we had done the right thing by going off on our own, but we didn't worry about it too much.

I was, however, a little annoyed that we were going to Chicago, an airport I've been to many times, when I've never been to St. Louis or Minneapolis airports. I love flying into new cities!

Once at our gate, I went off to the airport arcade down the way. Port Columbus is one of the few airports left to have an arcade, and it's got some of my favorite games, including Point Blank, which is hard to find anymore. When I got back, I was just sitting down next to my wife, when she said, "Is that Lisa??"

One of our best friends was approaching our gate. As it turns out, she was meeting her husband in Dallas and was on the same connecting flight as we were. So we talked to her for the next 30 minutes or so and had a good time. We found out they are going to Dallas to start a business that will sell smoothie machines to schools in Columbus... they've already sold quite a few.

Before Lisa came, my wife and I were depressed and pretty much seething with rage about the whole issue, but she really cheered us up. We truly believe she was sent by God to give us a better outlook on the situation. Anyway it was a welcome distraction.

Finally, boarding time arrived, and we jammed into the plane. We were in the back row, right next to the restroom, no reclining seats and no legroom. Good thing it's only a 45-minute flight.

A few minutes later and, at long last, we were in the air. The flight was uneventful, except for the fact that bad weather in Chicago forced us to circle over Lake Michigan for 15 minutes or so.

Once in the airport, we figured we might as well take advantage of being in Chicago and get one of my all-time favorite foods: the Chicago-style hot dog.

For those of you who don't know what that is: It's a beef hot dog on a steamed poppy-seed bun, topped with mustard, relish, onion, tomato slices, cucumber, a dill pickle spear, hot sport peppers and celery salt. It's truly one of the greatest culinary creations ever devised.

It didn't take us long to find a place that sold them. We ordered four and downed them in short fashion, then began to work our way to the gate.

O'Hare International is a cool airport, especially that underground section with the moving sidewalks and the awesome neon lights on the ceiling. We didn't mind the long walk.

We found our gate, and under sunny skies, things looked good for on-time departure at 5:30 p.m. We boarded on time and without incident. We taxied to the runway, and in the meantime, I plugged in my headphones to listen to the cockpit radio. After a few seconds on
the runway, here's what I heard between the captain and the control tower:

CAPTAIN: We've got a maintenance problem here we're working on.
TOWER: Roger, please clear the runway. Do you need to come back to the gate?
CAPTAIN: No, we're working on it.

So we cleared the runway and, once again, sat for about an hour. The updates from the radio were few and far between, and we got no announcement in the cabin about what was going on. At last, I heard that the problem had been fixed and we wouldn't need to deplane. Thank. God.

We took off into the now-dark skies. Once again, it was an uneventful flight, and we kept "entertained" by watching crap like "George Lopez" and "My Wife and Kids" on the monitors. I was happy that one of the in-flight stations was playing the new Cake album, at least. I had the window seat, so I also kept an eye out for cities. It's so hard to identify cities from the air, especially at night. I saw one medium-sized city that had a forked river right in the middle of it, like Pittsburgh, but even after checking a map later at home, I couldn't figure out which city it was.

We touched down in Las Vegas at around 7:15 p.m. Pacific time. I love coming into the Vegas airport, because it's so amazingly close to the Strip, and you can see all the casinos so well.

At the airport, we arrived at a gate that was far away from the one we usually arrive at... I think it was new, because I didn't even remember seeing it before. We had to take a tram to the baggage claim area, and the tram track had a huge hill and fast turns at what seemed like around 60mph... it was really fun. We also noticed in the new gate statues of desert animals such as scorpions, jackrabbits and snakes, and we vowed to take photos of them Saturday.

So we were in Vegas, and our ordeal was over. Or so we thought. We were one of the first people at the baggage carousel. The bags starting pouring out, and one by one, people grabbed their luggage and left. Then there was a pause. Then people from another flight arrived and their luggage came out. They all grabbed their luggage and left.

We began to realize our bag wasn't coming out.

Fortunately, there was a happy ending to our ordeal, although it's marked with America West's stupidity. We went to the United office to inquire about our bags, and they remembered our name - apparently America West had taken our bag to its office instead of putting it on the carousel with the rest. With some difficulty, we found America West's office, and there was our bag, along with about 25 others, sitting outside the office, with no security whatsoever.

We probably should have gone inside and identified ourselves, but we'd had enough. We just grabbed our bag and left. We were not questioned or stopped in any way. Nice work overall, America West. We're never flying you again, even if it means we have to connect through Anchorage, Alaska, on our way to Vegas.

Catching a taxi certainly was much easier than waiting at the car rental desk, and once we got our bag, we were on our way in just a couple of minutes. Our cab driver was fast, though we questioned his choice of routes. He took the interstate instead of going directly to the Strip via Tropicana Avenue, which, as far as we know, is neither faster nor a shorter distance. He was a really nice guy, but the fare was $23 plus tip.

He dropped us off at our hotel, the Bellagio. This hotel is an incredible place, with the mind-boggling and beautiful fountains in front, the Chihuly glass ceilings and lush decor in the lobby, and a general feeling of luxury in every corner.

Bellagio is definitely way out of our price range, but Rachel and I were celebrating our fifth anniversary with this trip, so we splurged a little. We even paid a little (a lot) extra for a lakeview room, so we could see the fountain show from our room. I would say the cost for a two-night stay was outrageous, but then again, you get what you pay for, and we really did feel like we were living in luxury for two days.

Check-in was uneventful, and since it was our anniversary, they gave us a coupon for free bottles of the signature Bellagio perfume and cologne. We headed up to our room on the 22nd floor.

The room was quite beautiful. The drapes and curtains opened with a touch of a button to reveal a panoramic view of the fountain show, as well as the Paris hotel and its 500-foot Eiffel Tower replica. The bathroom was all marble and had a deep tub as well as a glassed-in shower. The king-size bed was soft, with tons of pillows, and had been turned down. There was a flat-screen Phillips TV inside a giant armoire. There were robes, a CD player, mini-bar and desk. Definitely one of the nicest rooms we've ever stayed in.

We were tired from our airline ordeal, but wanted to get some food and gamble a little before we retired to our room. One bad thing about Bellagio (that we noticed last time we were here) is that, unlike other casinos, there's no food court or place to get inexpensive food. There's only one casual restaurant, called Snacks, and even it's quite costly.

So after getting our Player's Cards and quickly wasting $40 on video poker, we went to Snacks and paid $9 each for a BLT and a Thai chicken wrap. But I have to admit, it was the best BLT I've ever eaten.

After eating, we went back up to our room. Wow! Rachel had surprised me by, in advance, arranging for delivery of a bottle of champagne, along with berries, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. The berries were served in a swan-shaped bowl made of white chocolate. We were so full, but enjoyed a little of it, then saved the rest in the mini-bar fridge. I then gave Rachel a surprise of my own: a breast-cancer awareness pin from Swarovski that she's been wanting for a long time. My wife does mammograms for a living, so she is very passionate about that cause.

We watched the fountain show, then filled up the tub for a bubble bath. Yes, it was big enough for both of us. After the bath, we fell into bed after an incredibly long day. Whew.


DAY TWO
The Quest for the Missing Coaster

I call today The Quest for the Missing Coaster because my goal for today was to ride the one major coaster in Las Vegas that I had avoided the last two times: Canyon Blaster at Circus Circus. I had avoided it because, well, the propect of riding an Arrow loop-screw didn't really appeal to me.

My secondary goal (which actually may have been more important) was to seek out the Circus Circus arcade and its supposed array of rhythm games. I had read on DDRfreak.com's Machine Locations board that the arcade had many games in the Bemani series (of which DDR is a part) that I had never played before... or indeed, aren't even any of in the state of Ohio.

At any rate, the day started at the crack of dawn. The sun rises very early in Las Vegas, being on the edge of the Pacific time zone, and we were already jet-lagged, so we just got up. Well, not really got up, but we were awake. The pool did not open until 9 a.m., so we wasted two hours watching TV.

The channel selection was uncharacteristically large for a Vegas hotel room, but still not great. What got me is that there were six Japanese language stations. We wondered if enough Japanese people stayed here to justify that - but later we began to notice the sheer number of Asian people walking around the city, so I guess it's appropriate.

At 9 a.m. on the nose, we headed downstairs and into the pool area. The pool area is absolutely beautiful, with at least four full-size swimming pools, a snack bar and magazine stand, and trees and foliage *everywhere*.

Rachel and I had been here before - last year, we were given permission by a kind security guard to walk around the pool area after it was closed, and Rachel thought it was so romantic, she actually shed a tear.

This time, though, we'd be getting in the water, despite the crisp air. We were handed two towels each as we entered the pool area, and immediately began to look for the hot tub. We didn't see one. Surely
the Bellagio has a hot tub? There's the kiddie pool, but where's the hot tub?

Wait, it *is* the kiddie pool.

That's right, the hot tub was so huge we mistook it for a small pool. The sign said it could hold 24 people... wow. The water was so hot it took a minute to get used to it, but it was heavenly. We spent the next hour going back and forth between the warm pool and the hot tub.

At around 10 a.m., we dried off and went back up to our room for a shower, then headed off to the Monte Carlo, which for some reason is pretty much the only casino on the central/south strip area we hadn't visited the last two times. Once there, we hunted down the food court and I got a big ol' basket of corn-dog nuggets from Nathan's Famous. Too bad Ohio doesn't have these. Rachel had a very messy chicken sammich.

It was here we noticed just how slowly people walk, in general. We were walking very slowly, taking everything in, and still we found ourselves "stuck" behind even slower people all the time in every casino. If I walked that slowly, I would fall over.

After we ate, we quickly walked through the Monte Carlo's shopping mall, and were not impressed. Nor was I impressed with the arcade, which had only Pump It Up, the Korean DDR rip-off (I judge arcades by the quality of their music games, mostly).

We then crossed the street to go to Aladdin's shopping mall, which we enjoyed last time. The coolest thing about this mall is that the
ceiling is recessed and painted to look like a brilliant blue sky. The part we didn't see last year is that in one section of the mall, it starts raining every few minutes, complete with lightning and thunder. It's pretty lame, to tell the truth, but the thunder made all the babies cry, which was funny. :)

We walked around the mall, stopping at random stores such as the Sharper Image and Aveda... nothing we couldn't do at home, but it was fun anyway.

Leaving Aladdin, we walked up to Harrah's, where we stayed our first time in Vegas. We stopped for ice cream at the Ghirardelli shop, which is becoming a Vegas tradition for us. Although we could do without the terrible, terrible cover bands that are always playing in the "Carnivale Court" right outside.

Then we reached a point of decision. Our original plan for today was to split up, me going to Circus Circus and Rachel shopping at Caeser's Palace and the Venetian. Neither of us had any interest in doing the other person's choice of activity. But after a brief talk, we determined that neither of us felt comfortable with leaving each other for more than a short period of time in a "strange" city, so we stuck it out. Thus, together we went to the Venetian.

We did, however, split up for about 30 minutes when Rachel wanted to go to Sephora, a giant makeup store that bores me just thinking about it. So I hit the Venetian casino while she was there, quickly winning $65 but failing to cash out and losing most of that.

That took about 5 minutes... and I literally spent the next 25 minutes jogging around the casino and mall, trying to find my way back out onto the street. When I finally did, I tried to cross the hotel entrance street to get to the sidewalk, and some grumpy security guard made me go the long way around.

Finally we met back at Sephora, and it was time to go to Circus Circus.

We wanted to catch a ride on the new monorail, but when we had walked all the way through Harrah's to find the monorail station, we found it was closed. Then, we tried to hail a taxi, but apparently you can't do that in Vegas. They just don't stop for you.

Then, we attempted to approach the Venetian taxi stand, but that same grumpy security guard tried to make us go, once again, around the long way. Whatever. We just decided to hoof it.

Walking from the Venetian to Circus Circus is a pretty long hike, and Rachel already was getting sore feet from her flip-flops, but she
agreed to stick it out. The surroundings get more and more unsavory the closer you get to CC, but we did pass through a bizarre new mall
that looks like a building with a flying saucer crashed into the top of it.

It took about 30-40 minutes to walk, but we finally made it. The inside of Circus Circus looked identical to all the other older casinos, right down to the font on the signs. We followed the signs to the Adventuredome, the giant pink dome where Canyon Blaster is located.

Stepping inside the dome, my jaw dropped at its magnitude. No way was I expecting it to be so big. Immediately, I saw a large flat ride (sorry, don't know the name), but no coaster. It was on the other side of a huge artificial mountain.

Rachel left me for an hour or so to shop, so I had free rein of the place. Going counter-clockwise, I walked for a bit before I finally caught a glimpse of pink coaster track. It was over the arcade entrance, so I entered the arcade and immediately saw... DDR USA, the most lame version of DDR ever. I walked back and forth around the arcade and saw lots of great games, but no other rhythm games. What gives?

I climbed some stairs and saw the entrance to Canyon Blaster, but I wasn't ready to ride yet. I continued on, up ramps, down stairs, through tunnels, etc. Then I looked up, and on a ledge above me, I saw the back of an arcade machine and heard pounding bass. There!

I went down some stairs, up more stairs, around a corner... and... before me was the best collection of rhythm games I have EVER seen. They included:

-Two DDR Extremes, side by side, plus a bootleg DDR Megamix (identical to Extreme)
-DDR Disney's Rave
-Beatmania IIDX (a newer mix, I forget which one)
-ParaParaParadise 2nd Mix
-Mambo a GoGo
-Guitar Freaks 9th mix
-Drummania 7th mix
-Dance Maniax

And every one of them was at full volume. Sweet!

I started with Guitar Freaks; I still suck at it, despite having played it before at the local GameWorks. Next I went to ParaParaParadise. For those who have never seen this game, well.. it's something else. There are five invisible sensors (at the compass points W, NW, N, NE, and E in front of you) and as the arrows scroll up the screen, you must put your hand through the sensors at the right time. You stand inside a frame like Konami's MoCap Boxing.

This is my new favorite non-DDR music game. It is so much fun to sweep your hand across all five sensors at once when the arrows call for it.

Next I gave one of the DDR machines a try, playing a set of 9-footers, but the pads were so slippery, I didn't do well at all. Still got A's on all three songs though. :) (Sweet Sweet <3 Magic, Saint Goes Marching and Luv to Me Disco Mix)

After that, I studied Mambo a GoGo, but couldn't figure out how to play it, based on the Japanese instructions. Dance Maniax looked too similar to PPP, so I waited a few minutes, wanting to play IIDX. The machine looked awesome, with a giant widescreen monitor and a scrolling marquee below the screen that showed what song was being played. The people playing were awesome, too... mind-boggling to watch them play.

But as it turned out, they were jerks. After waiting my turn, I thought I was next, so I approached the machine, but another guy approached too. I saw we were the only ones around, so I asked if I could join him.

"I play solo," is all he said.

I know, I should have asserted myself, but whatever. I played another game of PPP instead. Then I attemped to play Drummania, but someone had stolen the drumsticks. What's wrong with people?

Noting then that I was short on time, I decided to ride Canyon Blaster. You buy your tickets from an ATM-like machine... it's so simple, and relatively cheap at $6 a ride (same cost for the log flume and other flat rides). I say relatively cheap because other coasters in Vegas are $10.50 or $8 a ride.

After buying my ticket, I stepped directly into the front-seat line and got the next train in. I wasn't expecting much as I pulled my OTSR down.

Wrong. Canyon Blaster is *awesome*. Yes, it's basically a loop screw. But with the proximity of the track at every point to bridges, walls and other rides, it gives an unprecedented feeling of speed and danger.

The turn at the top of the first drop is amazing. It's much like the ground-level turn at the top of Tennessee Tornado's drop - just as fast, only this time, you're at the top of a fake mountain, and the drop of the log flume is directly beneath you. The first drop delivers a nice pop of airtime and leads into two vertical loops, then around a quick turn into a double corkscrew.

Next comes my favorite part: A helix and a series of quick turns that reminded me very much of the ending of a B&M coaster. The helix goes directly through the arcade, and the turns are quick and tight, with the last one in a pitch-black cave.

It's a great ride, and a perfect fit for its surroundings. Easily the second-best ride in Vegas behind Speed, and it's awfully close.

It was time to meet back up with my wife now, and after we met, I convinced her to watch the IIDX players and be amazed. She also watched me play one last game of PPP. She wasn't impressed. :)

My mission accomplished, we began to leave, but not before watching an amazing sunset over the mountains, enhanced by the pink hue of the
clear dome we were in. We made our way back outside. The long walk had left Rachel's feet aching, so I promised we'd get a cab on the way back.

That we did, and it was a source of frustration, as we sat in traffic and the cab fare continued to go up as we waited. The driver kept trying to take detours and shortcuts, but every one he tried was just as congested as the last road. Finally, we made it back to the Bellagio, $18 lighter in the wallet.

Our plans for the evening were to rest up for a bit, then hit Bellagio's supposedly awesome buffet. It cost $35 a person, so it had better be good.

However, our sleepiness got the best of us, and we both dozed off on the bed, not waking until 9 p.m. When we finally awoke, we weren't hungry, but for some reason we were compelled to use the free "jump-the-buffet-line" pass we had received for staying here. So we went downstairs and jumped the line... not the line to be seated, we found out, just the line to pay.

Still, we were seated in a matter of minutes and began to eat. It's true, the buffet was incredible. There were all kinds of salads and breads, olives, pasta, four carving stations, seafood, sushi, all kinds of ethnic foods, and tons of desserts. I enjoyed the prime rib most, but the California rolls were quite good, as was the key lime pie. Both of us wished we were more hungry, though.

We wasted a couple of bucks playing keno, then, still somehow drowsy, trudged up to our room, where, inexplicably, we finished off the rest of the berries and champagne, which we had barely touched the night before. Then, we hit the bathtub. Lemme tell you, hot bath + drowsiness + alcohol + jetlag = extreme sleepiness. Both of us were having trouble holding our heads up at that point, so we dried off and literally fell into bed. Thus ended Day Two.

DAY THREE
Chillin'

Something happened overnight to my wife's sore foot. Instead of getting better, it had gotten worse - to the point that she could barely put weight on it. This, combined with the fact that I was very nearly out of cash, made us realize today was going to be a day to chill.

Day Three started identically to Day Two, with us killing time before 9 a.m., then hanging out at the pool and hot tub for about an hour. The only difference is that this time, we were joined in the hot tub by an overamorous couple about my parents' age. Barf.

We then went back up to our room to clean up, and I was surprised and happy to see that the Ohio State football game was on TV (surprised because it was only 10 a.m.). It was a great game, with OSU taking an early 17 point lead, then Michigan State coming back to make it 17-16, followed by about a million last-second points by OSU special teams for the win.

We had arranged for a late 1 p.m. checkout, and we wanted to make the most of our expensive room, so we decided to stay in until then. After the football game, we watched the fountains several more times, and we called Delta to double-check on our flight. I also went through the "Entertainers" section of the Yellow Pages... truly disturbing. There were ads for 18-year-old prostitutes. What kind of evil person goes to Las Vegas and says, "Hey, I'm going to have sex with a teenager I've never met tonight!" Even more disturbing, there were ads for 60-year-old prostitutes.

At 12:59 p.m., I used the TV to check out, and we hauled our bags downstairs to the bellhop stand, where we had arranged to leave them until the evening. I didn't know whether I was supposed to tip the guy for tagging our bags, but it didn't matter, because all I had were two $20 bills. Rachel was quite worried for a moment that he would "lose" our bags on purpose because we didn't tip him.

Now, with some difficulty due to Rachel's foot, we walked around "Lake Bellagio" and once again watched the fountains (never underestimate how amazingly cool these fountains are), then made the short walk to Caeser's Palace, which has probably the best shopping mall in Vegas.

We very slowly limped around the mall (noting the irony of us making fun of slow walkers before), stopping at random stores for gifts for friends, and to look around. Apparently the new "Forum Shops" doubled the size of the mall, but the new stores didn't interest us. What interested me was a series of curved escalators... that's something I've never seen before.

We also spent quite a bit of time at FAO Schwartz, a three-story upscale toy store with a giant Trojan Horse jutting out of the facade.

The first floor had mainly little kids' toys and art supplies; the second, dolls and girls toys. It was the third floor that I got excited about.

The third floor not only had all the "boy" toys, like electronics, race tracks, models and board games, but it also had about 20 arcade games scattered about it, including, yes, a DDR Extreme right in the middle.

They also had the awesome Simpsons Pinball Party pin, which I'm never going to pay for because my next-door neighbor just bought one. :)

I wanted to play DDR so bad, because this would be the absolute PERFECT place to crowd-whore. Unfortunately, you had to buy a game card to play, and the cost was $10 for 30 minutes. Being very short on cash, I acquiesced to leaving. I didn't see anyone playing it.

Rachel was getting slower and slower on her feet, so we stopped at the Virgin record store, where we grabbed books and magazines and sat at a table for quite some time, just reading. I was very annoyed with one display at the bookstore there: There was a table that said something like, "Political power - Get Involved!" However, every single book on the table was anti-Republican hate speech. Probably 50 different books, one literally titled, "I Hate George W. Bush." Seriously, every single one. You'd think just for balance, they'd throw in the straight biography of Bush or something, but no.

After that rest period, we left the mall and went back into the casino, determined to turn some of our last $40 into some real money at the video poker machines. My allotted $5 went quickly, as did Rachel's. Then, desperately, she found another dollar in her wallet, and turned it into $45. W00t!

However, after cashing out, I realized I still had to pay another cab driver, buy food and get my car out of the parking lot, so I took some cash from my savings account through an ATM, which gave me a $100 bill. Never seen that before.

We ate at Caeser's food court, which is unique in that you get a card when you enter, which can be used at any of nine different restaurants. When you leave, you hand the cashier the card and pay the total. I had a very tasty bacon cheesburger while Rachel had a Mexican chicken wrap.

Now it was about 6 p.m., and we had no idea what to do. We couldn't spend any more money, and Rachel could barely walk without leaning on me. We didn't need to go to the airport for another three hours.

So what we did was... sat on the wall around Lake Bellagio and watched the fountains. We watched several more shows, until it became quite chilly. Then, we went inside to the lobby and sat on a couch, watching people for a long time.

People-watching is one of my favorite pastimes, really. You see so many interesting people, and it's fun to try to guess what they're like and what they're doing. We tried to guess what they were saying, and we made fun of people's clothes, and tried to guess who was a prostitute and who was a terrorist, and which babies were cute and which were ugly.

The funniest thing was, after doing that for a while, we heard the people sitting on the couch back-to-back with ours doing the same thing!

Well, our flight wasn't until 11:20 p.m., and we had said we'd begin to leave at 9 p.m., but the line at the taxi stand was extremely long, and we were getting nervous about being late. So at 8 p.m., we got up to leave. When we retrieved our luggage from the bell stand, the bellhop told us to wait and she'd get us a cab. A few seconds later, she had one. We got to skip the taxi line that was probably an hour long! So much for being late.

In addition, this was the best cab driver of the weekend. He took back alleys, and the *proper* way to the airport down Tropicana. We got there in a matter of minutes, and the fare was only $8. I tipped him *very* well and silently cursed our first cab driver.

Check-in and secuirty were mostly routine. As we approached the ticket counter, a guard expressed surprise that we had paper tickets (if you're flying two different airlines, Expedia.com will not let you do e-ticketing). The guard seemed very suspicious and seemed about to make us follow him away, until we explained this to him; then he became very friendly and dismissed us. Whatever.

We made good on our promise to take photos of the desert-animal statue, making stupid poses with them (me riding the turtle and being stung by the scorpion; Rachel whispering into the jackrabbit's ear). We found our gate and got some Quizno's Subs to eat, then tried to sleep for a while. It was hard when every 5 minutes, the *loud* loudspeaker would call for standby passengers.

Oh, forgot to mention: Our flight was delayed until 11:45 p.m. Here we go again. Although it didn't matter - remember that 3-hour layover in Cincinnati.

The time slowly passed, and we boarded the plane. We had made a poor choice at the ticket counter. We had asked for exit-row seats, and were told there were two available, but the seat backs had limited recline. Legroom was better than recline, we thought.

Well, we thought there would be "limited" recline, not "zero" recline. Also, we didn't think about the fact that we'd be sleeping on this flight. So the flight was basically miserable, with Rachel and I leaning on each other and hunching over, our heads bobbing the whole time, trying to find a comfy position, which wasn't available. To add to the discomfort, the airline played "I, Robot," which brigtened up the cabin for two hours. What were they thinking?

Still, I managed to get some sleep, and wasn't tired when we got into Cincinnati around 6 a.m.

Now came another long walk, and we stretched the time by standing on the moving sidewalks instead of walking... not that Rachel could walk well anyway. We skipped a Starbucks, thinking there'd be another one, but there wasn't, only a local coffee shop called Peet's. After finding our gate, I went back to Peet's for chai tea and cocoa, both of which tasted like dishwater.

Rachel slept and I watched CNN repeat itself for the next 90 minutes. Our flight boarded on time, and we walked down the hallway and ... onto the tarmac. This is something I've never done at an American airport.

Our jet was tiny, with just three seats per row, and they actually made some people move to the back to balance things out.

I was excited about this flight, because it was a beautiful clear morning, and I knew the pilot would be following the Interstate 71 corridor, a place I know very well. So once we took off, I immediately tried to get my bearings. I saw us pass over the Ohio River, then I got lost. I really wanted to see PKI, but as I'd learn later, I was on the wrong side of the plane. :(

About halfway through the flight, Rachel moved to the other window so we could see both sides. She recognized the Wilmington Convention Center at I-71's Exit 50, one exit away from the exit that leads to my parents' house (and childhood home). I asked her to let me know when she saw Exit 58, and immediately, she did. So I looked out my window.

In a few seconds, I saw my hometown of 2,500 people come into view. Flying at only 10,000 feet, I was able to see so many details. I picked out my church, my elementary school and my best friend's house. Unfortunately, the plane was flying *directly over* my parents'
farmhouse, and neither of us could see it.

(Sorry for this, btw, but I'm fascinated with aerial views)

Flying south of Columbus was also cool; downtown looked so tiny from up there, and I saw the military jets below as we passed over Rickenbacker International Airport. Finally, as we descended, I saw Interstate 270, then the Airport Golf Course, Hamilton Road, and we were on the ground.

Getting off the plane (once again, onto the tarmac), we noticed some people taking their bags directly off the plane. We asked if we could do that, but apparently you have to have asked for a special tag in advance. Twenty feet away, we saw the handlers place our bag onto a cart to be sent to baggage claim, but we couldn't get it.

We entered the airport and walked (limped) through those oh-so-familiar halls down to baggage claim, where our bag was already circling by itself. Climbing the escalator to the garage, we waited for a shuttle.

Ironically, this time the Red Lot shuttle was here first, and we had to wait a good 10 minutes for a Blue Lot Shuttle. It was the airport's parting shot. :)

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004 4:42 PM
Thanks for the TR! Exhaustive yet informative.:)
How I love Southwest for their simple plan of using one style of aircraft for their flights. Mechanics get to know the plane very well, and parts are readily available (although I'm sure even they have their problems, it certainly helps to minimize them).
I never tire of the Bellagio water shows, and watch them every chance I get.
Don't worry, as soon as the monorail stops spitting random tires onto unsuspecting guests below, it'll be up and running.;)
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Wednesday, November 10, 2004 5:33 PM
:) :) :) :) :) :)

Vegas makes me smile like no place else. Thanks for sharing this. Chicago style hot dogs are pretty good too. I was impressed that you even remembered to list the 8th ingredient, celery salt. I worked several summers at one of the Chicago area's most well known hot dog establishments, so I will never forget exactly what goes on a real Chicago style.

Most cab drivers will take the freeway if you're not staying on the far south strip or unless you instruct otherwise, and they get pissy about instructions sometimes, but they are supposed to comply. Apparently, some companies tack on a charge of a few dollars for following "instructions." It's your first gamble of the trip either way, even if you're not a gambler.

And yes, coasters. Canyon Blaster is big fun, probably my fav in Vegas. Speed is a cool, but I don't like blasting out of cold air conditioning into the extreme (but dry) heat.

Anyone ridden Manhattan Express lately? Didn't they change the restraints or something? That twist-n-dive is a moment of brilliance; it's just too bad the rest of it sucks. *** Edited 11/10/2004 10:38:47 PM UTC by dawnmarie313***

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004 6:06 PM
And I didn't even comment on the Bellagio buffet! Which, IMO, is the best in Vegas. Paris was overrated and I suffered serious anticipointment there. I've tried to go to Rio twice and there was a 3 hour wait each time, on weeknights in June, and Aladdin is good, but not gourmet. Bellagio is really pricey for dinner, but it's not bad for lunch, and there's only a few things you can't have at lunch that you can have at dinner.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2004 7:26 PM
Ah, the Adventuredome. The only place I've been where you can play air hockey while a coaster whizzes by your head, 15 feet away. I wish my ride on the Canyon Blaster had been a little better. We rode in the front seat and it bottemed out pretty hard at the bottem of the loops. The rest of the ride was pretty good though. Glad to hear that you had a good time on it.
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Thursday, November 11, 2004 9:37 PM
Den,

Wow! Someone that likes to type as I much as I do. =:^)

I read your report word for word and enjoyed every minute of it. I also love aerial views and always try and pick out cities.

Did you check into flying with Southwest? I usually fly to Vegas at least once a year. The last couple of times I have gotten a direct flight. The times before that I had a hour and half layover in Chicago.

I also love Canyon Blaster. It shocked me at how smooth and powerfull it is.

Oh, and I guess you didn't know about the 1$ off per day coupon for the Blue Lot? You can find it by clicking the link below.

http://www.port-columbus.com/about/gateway.asp

I park at the Blue Lot all the time and print off the coupon before I leave.

-Sean

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Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:12 PM

-Dance Maniax

Best non-DDR Bemani evar.com.

I must have pumped $15 into a machine out in SoCal at the Boomers! just down the road from Knott's.

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Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:46 PM
I hate O'Hare. Worst. Airport. Ever. I've been through it a dozen times and I think it was my destination just once. Too much traffic in and out of there, which leads to too much sitting in a plane.

Cabbies in Vegas can really suck. The guy we had on the way out just crawled and put time on the meter when we got to the terminal, adding a full $4 to the fare. I'm generally the king tipper, but this jackass was padding the fare. It came to $14.90 and I gave him $15. Like an even bigger jerk, he sarcastically gave me a dime back. If he would've stopped the car sooner, he would've got a $4 tip on an $11 fare. His loss.

We didn't get around to going into Bellagio on our trip last year. Honestly, in our survey of other south and central casinos, the more "ghetto" casinos had more action. We stayed at Imperial Palace, which has a really cheap eating joint with mediocre food (but huge portions). Place was hopping all night and morning. Places like Paris, Aladdin and Luxor were ghost towns by comparison.

We're thinking Luxor or Ceasar's next time (Blue Man Group is at Luxor, as is the trendy meat market club, Ra). Might have to swing by IP for old time's sake for late night/early morning eating.

I'm surprised you managed to sleep at quasi-standard times. Our goal for a similarly lengthed stay was to sleep only when tired, and not more than five hours at a time. We didn't want to miss anything.

Even with just one trip to Vegas, the excess of it all is powerfully attractive in terms of alcohol, gambling and sex (if you're there trying to hook up, anyway).

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Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:53 PM
Jeff, I may be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that as of next year, the BMG will no longer be in Luxor. Can't remember where its going(Hard Rock?), but I either read or heard on the news that it was leaving Luxor for next year.

Nice TR. I can't wait to hit Vegas in March. Ra, here I come to dance the nite away till 5am:).

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Friday, November 12, 2004 7:44 AM
Blue Man Group will be leaving Luxor for The Venetian in October 2005 (I believe that is what I read in the LV Review-Journal).

The shopping mall was the Fashion Show Mall, which just added the big "flying saucer" thingie out front. I haven't seen it in action yet, but I guess it's a big LCD screen as well.

And Den, I give you a lot of credit for hiking as far as you did. Circus Circus is a LONG Way from Harrah's and The Venetian. I remember making the mistake of walking from Stratosphere to Circus Circus and man was that a hike!

I have a question Den- would you recommend flying AmericaWest to someone who never has? I'm trying to find a flight for February 20-25, and right now, America West has round-trip, nonstop service for $203. Continental is charging $383. Considering I'm buying tickets for myself and 2 other people, I'm trying to go the relatively cheap route... as long as I'm not flying ValuJet! ;)

Great TR!

Ray P.

Edited for spelling *** Edited 11/12/2004 12:45:24 PM UTC by ProgRay***

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Friday, November 12, 2004 8:59 AM
Are you close enough to Akron, Ray? You'd be surprised at the cheap fares out of there for a lot of cities. I've never looked for Vegas.
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Friday, November 12, 2004 9:53 AM
Thanks for the avice Jeff. I live in the "beautiful" city of Eastlake, so it's only an hour to Akron/Canton airport... which I always seem to forget about. Rates right now seem to be high on all airlines, even out of Akron. I guess I'm just spoiled because on each of my previous trips to Vegas, I have never paid over $240 for a nonstop flight on Continental. I have learned though that you need to look a couple of times every day because airlines can drop prices at any moment, and if you don't jump on those rates that day, they may not last. If it was just for me, I guess I wouldn't complain... but since I'm taking my parents (it's their 35th aniversary gift), I'm trying to save a few bucks on airfare so that we can actually stay someplace nicer than the Lady Luck downtown! ;)

Ray P.

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Friday, November 12, 2004 10:04 AM
Dawn - as we were leaving, we realized we did not even go south of Monte Carlo the entire weekend. Different from our last two trips, when we barely went north of Harrah's.

Sean - thanks for the parking coupon tip! That's awesome. I always forget to check out Southwest, because it doesn't show up on Expedia or Travelocity. What we wanted to do, actually, is fly Southeast out of Rickenbacker, but they cancelled their Vegas flights in October.

Michael - now I wish I'd played Dance Maniax. Do you just use your hands, or feet too?

Jeff - you're right about O'Hare, I've never been through there without delays. I just like the structure itself... nice and open. If you really want to see BMG, I'd recommend a day trip to Chicago. That's where I saw them, for about $40 less than it is in Vegas for the exact same show.

As far as sleep, well, we were trying to rest as much as possible, too, both coming off of our busiest months at work. And you mentioned sex... I left out anything related to that. This is a family site, right? ;)

Ray - I've never had bad service from America West until this time, so I guess I'd recommend it. Our tickets were $214 or something like that. Pretty good.

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Monday, November 15, 2004 1:47 PM
Just got back from Vegas myself, TR in a couple days, Dawn the Rio buffet was awesome, we went to the breakfast one, no wait and the food was to dye for. As far as ME it was pretty jerky, well I did ride it 12 times in a row so maybe that is why, I got the all day pass with the free shirt, hot dog and picture.
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Monday, November 15, 2004 4:02 PM
The one time I flew America West it was the trip from hell. We always took the early morning flight out and the red-eye back, and this particular trip was mothers only (me and my mom and another friend and her mother in law). Our flight out was delayed by two hour while we sat on the runway with no explanation whatsoever. My seat cushion was broken so I sat in a hole the entire flight.

On the way back (and this isn't exactly AW's fault) some fellow who had lost a ton of money in Vegas decided to try to kill himself in the restroom by slitting his wrists. We were diverted to St. Louis. Maybe it's because we were parked at a gate in the boonies, but I wasn't the least bit impressed with the St. Louis terminal and we were stuck there for 8 hours while they had to clean and decontaminate the plane.

As for taxi's, there is no reason to get ripped off. Vegas has a board of transportation who is very particular about the cabbies. We learned early on to tell the cabbie NOT to take the expressway when we are staying on the strip. The expressway adds $10 to the fare. We had a cabbie who tried to overcharge us for a trip from the Strat to the Luxor, and Gordon argued with him, refusing to pay the entire fare. He wrote down the cab number and name and called the BOT to report him. It apparently wasn't the first time he'd tried to rip people off and he likely got fired. WE got a free ride to the airport that evening for our trouble.

If they know you are from out of town and Vegas newbies, they will try to take advantage knowing they can get away with it. We've been there often enough to know how much fares are between various points.

Dawn, best bet for the Rio (both the around the world and the seafood buffets) is to do them at lunchtime. In fact, even better is catch them around 2:30-3 when they are just finishing lunch and starting to stock for dinner. You pay the lunch price, and get dinner food.

As for casinos/hotels, we prefer the Nugget or the Mainstreet downtown. Yeah, it's off the strip, but the hotels are not as expensive and very nice. There is a wide array of food options, and there are shuttles that will take you to the strip. Mainstreet has an excellent microbrewery and prime rib and porterhouse in their buffet.

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Monday, November 15, 2004 6:11 PM
Wow... CPLady, you're the first person I've seen in a while that agrees with me on staying downtown! ;)

I guess being the compulsive low-roller that I am, it's nice to be able to go "casino-hopping" each night. If you're not doing well at one casino, simply walk out the front door, walk a block or less, and pop into the next one. On the Strip, it takes a little longer to change venues!

I'll also agree that the food downtown is great. Both the Golden Nugget and Main Street Station have outstanding buffets (Main Street Station's buffet room is gorgeous), the Las Vegas Club has a grossly-underpriced 24-oz. t-bone dinner for $8.95 which didn't require a hacksaw to cut apart, the Golden Gate has delicious and inexpensive breakfasts, and there's even a touch of class downtown in the Binion's Steakhouse.

Thanks for the America West info also. I'm still searching for fares and Southwest seems to be the deal to beat right now. With our holiday bonus right around the corner, I'm itching to spend it on some fun in Vegas! :)

Ray P.

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Monday, November 15, 2004 7:36 PM
Thanks for the tip and feedback on Rio...I need to make it happen next time!

I love the atmosphere at Main Street Station and nickle video poker! Though the last time I was there I'd moved just a few seats from a quarter video poker to a nickle video poker and the cocktail waitress comes back with my drink and says "oh, there's the high roller." What a bithc! The whole place was dead, so it's not like some high rollers at the $50 minimum blackjack table were waiting to tip her.

Ate at their buffet once and enjoyed it very much, nothing fancy, but everything was well prepared and it was very affordable...just watch out for the old people, they know where the bargains are! ;)

*** Edited 11/16/2004 12:37:20 AM UTC by dawnmarie313***

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004 8:30 AM
We also stayed downtown, 21 bucks a night at Binion's, what a steal, we then stayed in Primm this last weekend for about 20-30 dollars cheaper than in Vegas, TR coming soon.
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Tuesday, November 16, 2004 9:43 AM
"...just watch out for the old people, they know where the bargains are!"

Hey Dawn!! I resemble that remark!!

Seriously, though, I love staying downtown over the strip. But then, I like gambling in the much more friendly atmosphere of the old casinos over the new ones where the dealers get snippy if you happen to have a lucky winning streak.

I actually had a craps dealer at the Monte Carlo get upset with me and a friend because we were placing side bets on 7, 2, 3 and 12 (basically the craps rolls) and winning big. They asked us to either stop betting on craps or leave the table.

When we want to gamble, we stay primarily downtown. When we just want to wander, see the sights, ride a coaster or see a show, we take a shuttle or cab to the strip.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004 10:04 AM
You get what you pay for, I say. I was spoiled back in the day when I had a corporate credit card. I stayed in a lot of places where the service was ridiculously good, and now I kinda have that expectation, even if I have to pay for it.
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