Vegas: The Voyage Home

Or, Leaving Las Vegas. Or… nah, there’s no other Vegas-appropriate movie titles I can come up with.

Our last morning in Vegas, we arranged for a late check out, since we needed time to pack up and make sure that we weren’t going to be leaving anything thousands of miles away from home.

Translation: We had to find a way to fit everything Stephanie bought into the same suitcases we came with. :)

After heading downstairs, we check out, and find out the next available shuttle to the airport will be there in little over half an hour, so we head back in and dump a final few dollars into the slot machines, kiss them goodbye, and then head out to the front of the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport.

The driver was awesome and told us all kinds of stuff about Vegas that we stow away in the back of our minds for when we come back (cause I’m sure we will!), and a few minutes later, we’re at MCCarran International Airport.

Now, you’d think that when you’re at the airport a couple hours ahead of your flight time, you’d have all kinds of time to chill out and relax, but really, those two hours are all just a blur. By the time we check in, get our luggage tagged and checked, take the monorail over to our terminal, stop for a bite to eat (it’s after 1PM by this time and we haven’t eaten yet), hit the head, and actually get to our gate, our flight is boarding in only 15 minutes!

We flew to Vegas on Air Canada, but coming home we were on United. And from Vegas to Denver, we were automatically booked in Economy Plus – you would not believe how much difference an extra six inches of leg room means! Bonus! As an extra bonus, Steph and I are the only two in our row, so no getting wedged between someone else, and we’ve got freedom to move around, look out the window, etc. It was a most excellent flight.

Then we got to Denver.

Didn’t see much of Denver – it was pretty dark at this time, so we didn’t get to see the mountains and all, but we saw the airport.

Boy, did we see the airport.

See, someone in their genius minds decided to make Denver the largest airport in the USA – you can put LaGuardia and O’Hare and LAX all in the space that Denver airport takes, and still have about half the room left over. That’s much ground this place covers.

Not too shabby, I guess. *Someone’s* gotta be the biggest there is.
And then there’s the terminal.

Most terminals I’ve been in have LEVELS. You know… floors? One on top of the other?

The Denver airport is one… long… strip.

ONE floor.

Even though we’ve checked our luggage, we’re still carrying our back packs as carry on. Mine, with my laptop, two digital cameras, video camera, books, and other goodies has got to weigh close to 40 pounds.

We check the terminal directory, and we’re headed for gate 82.

Guess where gate 82 is?

You got it.

Gates 81, 82, and 83 are all tucked away in the deepest, darkest recesses of the entire airport, in a little tiny corner WAAAAAAAAAY at the ENTIRE OPPOSITE end of the airport. You can’t even SEE from one end to the other, this place is so big.

This isn’t good. We’re tired. We’ve had a long 5 days.

So, we do all that we can do – we hike up our back packs, and start hoofing it, watching with faces green with envy as a senior couple gets a ride all the way down from the airport folks in a frigging golf cart.

Then, as if someone out there was listening to all of our bitching and moaning, we’re saved! MOVING WALKWAYS! That’s GOTTA be faster than us walking all the way there, so we gladly jump aboard and we’re whisked away (at a snail’s pace) down the walkway. We get to an intersection, walk a bit farther, and then there’s another gigantic moving walkway.

Wash, rinse, and repeat, and 5 moving walkways later, we’re within sight of our gate. And as we start to get to the final corner, we’re asked by a security guy – sitting in a golf cart – if we needed a ride anywhere.

“Where the fuck were you when we were all the way at the other end of the airport… 30 MINUTES ago?”

No, I didn’t say that. Really, I didn’t. Ok, I did. In my head.

“Actually, sir, our gate is right over there, but thanks for the offer. We could have used you half an hour ago, though!” Steph says with a chuckle.

“Oh man,” he says. “You guys walked all the way down here?”

“Yup.”

“That’s too bad. Make sure you ask for a ride next time you come through here.”

“Right. Next time. Thank you, sir.”

Next time.

Hmmph.

So anyway, we get to our gate, and we’re boarding in like 15 minutes. There’s hardly anyone at our gate. I take the opportunity to call my sister, as it’s her birthday today, but the phone is busy. Figures, as everyone else is probably trying to call her, too. So I keep trying for about 10 minutes, and finally I get through. No busy signal.

Voice mail, lol.

I leave her a message, and then it’s time to board the plane. We get out there, and I swear it felt like we were walking into a plastic toy. This is the smallest plane I’ve ever seen. We’re still flying United from Denver to Winnipeg, but this ain’t no 737 or Airbus. It’s a CRJ. I’ll give you a couple guesses as to what the “R” stands for.

CanadAir REGIONAL Jet.

Translation: Not designed to go very far.

Austin Powers’ Fat Bastard Hungry Scottish Translation: “Ohhh… it’s like a wee baby. *lip smack*lip smack*”

Awesome.

I immediately notice there’s only two seats per side instead of three, and the overhead bins look like they’re at least half the size of the ones on the Airbuses we flew in on. There’s 14 rows.

And 11 passengers.

The flight attendant tells us to “pick a row” and we make ourselves comfortable. We have to strap our backpacks into the seat next to us – cause they don’t fit in the miniature overhead toasters – but we settle in for the ride back to Winnipeg.

Like the Goodyear Tire commercial.

“Goin’ to Winnipeg!”

Flight Attendant Sidebar: Our flight attendant (from now known as FA) is a young guy, and he obviously enjoys his job. And he’s good at it, but more on that later. Think Tony DiNozo on NCIS.

We prepare to take off, and the FA goes through the safety spiel. Once we’re in the air, the Captain comes on the intercom and gives us the details of the flight. It was snowing a bit when we left, and we had to get a quick de-icing before taking off. The Captain explains that the weather isn’t great in Winnipeg, it’s snowing well, and we’ve been given an alternate landing point in Fargo, North Dakota.

Great. That’s all I need right now, is to get stuck in frigging FARGO.
The flight, though, was fairly good, despite all the obvious room for error and design for discomfort. I rather enjoyed it, especially when the FA would get into his antics.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, all *eleven* of you, I just thought I’d let you know that we’re up at about 32,000 feet, and we’re travelling at about 589 THOUSAND miles per hour.”

WTF?, methinks?

“Let me explain that to you,” he says.

Ok, awesome.

“Our aircraft is travelling at about 589 miles per hour. When you take into the consideration that the Earth rotates at a speed of about 1000 miles per hour, and the Earth hurtles through space at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour. If you put all that together into a nice little scientific formula I have here, and that gets us to 589 thousand miles per hour.”

So we got stuff like that pretty much interspersed throughout the whole flight from Denver to Winnipeg over the course of the next two and a half hours. Entertaining as hell.

But, we were happy to see the lights of Winnipeg when we arrived, and Steph’s mom and dad were there to pick us up once we’d gone through customs and declared everything (good thing we left most of the receipts in our luggage! I’m just kidding. Really.) and we went home.

It was awesome to see how mind exploding it was to our dogs when we got home, and their excitement was a great welcome back.

And that’s our trip. It was a blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Welcome Back: Vegas: Day 4

What-a-do, everybody?

Welcome back to the blog, and Happy New Year to y’all. I hope everyone had an excellent holiday season, and we’re all healthy and happy. I know we’re all a few pounds heavier thanks to all the massive amounts of food! Mmmm… Aunt Elvie’s meatballs!!

So, where were we? Oh yeah… Vegas. Day 4 of 5. This was going to be our last full day in Vegas, so we had a lot planned. The weather continues to be awesome. Should have pulled out the shorts while I could!

Hmm. Maybe not a good idea. The sheer whiteness of my legs would have blinded half of Vegas. Never mind the Strip full of Neon.

We started the day inside the MGM Grand, where they have something called CSI Experience.

Here’s a little tip. If you’re a fan of CSI – any version – and you’re in Vegas, this is something you HAVE to check out.

Once we bought our tickets (I was a little confused; was this a show?), we were taken downstairs into the bowels of the place by a lovely (wink wink, nudge nudge) young lady dressed up in full CSI gear, and we’re made CSI Agents. Unfortunately, we didn’t get our own flak jackets, side arms, and awesome investigator kit full of goodies like you see on the show. I always wanted my own fingerprint paper, black light, and handcuffs.

Don’t you “Oooooooooh” me! Get your minds out of the gutter!

Anywho, we’re signed up and made Agents, and we get a choice of what crime scene we want to try and solve. We have a choice of three – one where a car has been driven into a house, one where a body has been found in a dumpster, and one where human remains are found in the desert.

Steph and I chose the one where the car has been found smashed through the front of the house, since there’s tons of blood, and we’ve always been interested in the way the show explains the mechanics of blood spatter, so we’re in.

Once we’ve chosen our case, we’re taken through to an empty room with a video screen in it, and we get to see a short video. We’re getting our own personal pep talk from our supervisor, none other than Gil Grissom himself! I guess this place was made a year or two ago, since the Grissom character is no longer on the show, which is a shame, since he was the most interesting.

But, I digress.

Once we get our welcome message, instructions/reminders, and heads up from Grissom, we’re taken into another room where our crime scene is. I thought it might be a video/still frame, or a display, or something, but they’ve ACTUALLY RECREATED the crime scene in full life sized detail. There’s A CAR smashed through a wall in someone’s living room! This is so cool!

Steph and I are being awesome agents, documenting everything we see, noting fingerprints, the way the car was wrecked, the scatter of the debris throughout the living room, family pictures giving information, footprints, and of course, all the blood you might find at a real accident where someone’s wrecked a car through the front wall of a house at a real high speed and been killed.

Once we’re done collecting/documenting evidence, we head off into the back, where they have several actual labs set up for each crime scene. I was channeling my inner Grissom, and we had fingerprints identified, footprints scanned, blood work done, toxicology panels done, dirt samples and hair samples evaluated, and each lab pieced together part of the story and led us down the path to finding the suspect and pinning the evidence to him. We didn’t get to physically *handle* evidence, but it was all built into their computer programs. Very well done.

When all the labs were completed and we thought we’d figured out what happened, we went to file our final report and submit who we thought did it. Steph and I were both correct, and once again Grissom came on and told us what a fabulous job we’d done. The whole story, complete with how the scene happened, was played for us after we solved it, and now we understood how it all came together. We fired in our email addresses, where we could have our very own CSI diplomas emailed to us!

Take THAT, over-educated and highly-paid crime scene investigators!

After a grueling morning solving crimes and proving our highly elevated brain power, we spent some time in the CSI store and picked up some memorabilia. From there, we went shopping at the CBS store – fitting, since CSI airs on CBS. I thought maybe I could pick up some Craig Ferguson merchandise, but alas, they all had their heads up their asses – no Ferguson stuff to be had! I was denied my replica snake mug! Steph managed to pick up her very own Survivor buff and a couple other things, and after a stop at the Harley Davidson store, we thought we’d take a break and grab a bite to eat as it was close to lunch time.

We found this sandwich shop near to the CSI area, and went in for a snack. The place was called “‘wich craft”, and let me tell ya, they’re working SOME kind of voodoo at that place, since it was packed, and they must have some powerful magic to accomplish that with two sodas, sandwiches, and soups costing close to $35. It’s like they have this magical aura that sucks people into opening their wallets and throwing everything down for their food, which wasn’t really even all that good.

Note to y’all visiting MGM Grand: AVOID ‘wich craft!

After being worked over by their spell, we left the sandwich shop and went back to the hotel to drop off our purchases, before heading to the Mirage to spend the rest of the day there, and we headed straight to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden.

This place is so cool. You come through the gate, and there’s this grand walkway with bridges through the trees and over water – all very beautiful, and you come through at the end to the dolphin area.

There’s a large man-made pond, and we arrived just at the end of a “show”, where the dolphins would have been doing all the flips and jumps and tricks and all, so we just watched them swimming for a while, and being trained to do some actions by their handlers. Dolphins are mega-cute, so while we didn’t get a show, it was very cool just to watch them swim, play for their handlers, make sounds, and generally have a good time. It even looks like they smile when they’re getting fed or rewarded for a job well done.

For a quick moment, I felt like jumping out of my chair and recreating the scene from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective where he leaps into the pool and does his Star Trek impressions.

Not only would that have gotten me arrested, I would have been soaking wet.

From there, it was off down the path into the trees, and we came across an enclosure filled with alpacas. If you don’t know what an alpaca is, it’s basically like a smaller, furrier version of a camel. There were three or four of them lounging around in the sun, really not doing much but being kept company by a robin.

Moving on past the alpacas, it was time for what we came for.

The big cats.

The first enclosure had a black panther perched high in a resting area, but it’s face was in full view, and I got a tremendous shot of it. Thank you zoom lens!

One enclosure had Siegfried and Roy’s signature, the white tiger. The animal was huge, and gorgeous. It walked around, really not caring too much about the people crowded around to see it, but DAMN, it was a big cat. Again, there will be pictures coming later.

Moving on, we got about two feet away from a long, high, mesh fence, where both a female and male LION were in their enclosure. The female was pretty tired, so she didn’t do much at all other than lie there, but the boy… oh BOY… when he was walking the fence, he was literally three feet away from us. He was HUGE. Like XBOX. A big, flowing mane like Fabio, and a roar like you’ve never heard. This lion’s roar REVERBERATED through the small forest, and you could hear him way back at the dolphin pond just like he was standing right beside you. I’m sure we’ve all heard a lion roar on TV at one time, or we’ve seen any MGM film begin/end with the lion roaring, but there’s nothing.. AND THE ROCK MEANS… NOTHING… that compares to a gigantic male lion roar live and in the flesh – three feet away from you. You shake and shiver from your head right down to your toes and all parts in between. If that fence wasn’t there, I surely would have needed a new pair of pants. Wow. Simply amazing. Gorgeous, gorgeous animals.

Around the corner from the big scary lions were the highlight of the Garden: two teeny white tiger cubs! Everyone there practically DIED of cuteness. They were sleeping when we got there (great photos!), but the handlers woke them up, and they started to play a bit. Think about it. Tiny, little, cute, itty bitty tigers. Playing like house cats. We got to ask the handlers questions about their time with them, how they’re raised, and got stories about their experiences. It was an awesome experience.

On the way out of the Secret Garden, there was one more tiger enclosure, with 5 – count ‘em – 5 tigers.

Discovery Channel Sidebar: In watching recent documentaries on tigers – cause we do that, as we’re obsessed with big cats – researchers were surprised to see that tigers remain functioning as a family unit throughout their lives. It was previously believed that tigers were a very autonomous animal, preferring to be alone, but this research clearly showed the male tigers returning to the pack after long trips patrolling and defending their territory, when they were thought to have abandoned the pack altogether.

Back to the story. So we get to this enclosure with 5 tigers – both white and Siberian tigers are in there – and they’re all sleeping in a giant pile, curled up like a mound of puppies. Yup, they sure look pretty lonely to me! How cute is that? Anywho, the flashbulbs start going off by the dozens. I’ve never seen anything like that before. Absolutely adorable.

It’s time to leave the Secret Garden, so we stop at the gift shop on the way out – well, Steph did, and I went back to watch the dolphins – and Steph picked up some goodies, as well as some pictures. On the way in, there’s a spot where you get photographed against a green screen, and then the folks at the Garden put that photo into a pre-made scene, so it looks like you’re standing in the rainforest amongst the tigers, or any number of other different scenes. We picked that up as well, and headed back inside the Mirage, where we were to meet our friend Karen, as well as Karen’s mom and dad, Hans and Jan, who were in Vegas the same time as we were.

Why was that, you may ask? Well, that’s for a completely separate blog entry, which may require a whole lot of wobbly pops before I get the cajones to write.

Anyways, we meet the Schweitzer clan and head over to B. B. King’s restaurant and club for some down home southern cooking. I took a few of photos inside the bar, and we ordered our drinks. I don’t remember what everyone had to eat, but it was all very delicious. I had some Cajun chicken pasta, but the other thing I remember was Jan ordering a rather large baked potato.

The waiter described it as the size of a small baby.

I must stop and tell you here, that this baked potato was the single largest baked potato I have ever seen. Huge. Covered in enough bacon, sour cream, green onion, and butter to create a mid-sized gooey fortress, this was the absolute Queen Mother, the flagship of all baked potatoes. When she saw this thing carried out by six large muscular men (ok, I made that part up) and placed in front of her, I swear Jan’s eyes jumped out of her head, and right THROUGH her glasses into the butter. Her jaw was somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Get the picture now? It WAS the size of a small baby!

Needless to say, Jan didn’t finish the baked potato from hell, but we all had a great time, exchanged Vegas stories, and especially talked about what was coming next, after dinner.

Terry. Fator.

We all had tickets to see the winner of the second season of America’s Got Talent, and if you haven’t seen this guy, go on to YouTube, find a DVD, scour the internet and your TV, because this guy is MONEY.

But before Terry, the Schweitzer’s and Stephanie went out front of the Mirage to catch the 7 PM performance of the Mirage volcano, a tourist attraction that’s a simulation of a volcano put to music. We’ve got video of it. I, meanwhile, was, um, occupied, so I didn’t go, but the video was great. Steph says it was fantastic, so take her word for it.

On to Terry Fator. If you haven’t seen him, picture this. He’s a guy that not only sings his own stuff, but he does drop dead impersonations of music legends such as Louis Armstrong, Sonny Bono, Aaron Neville, Justin Timberlake, Elvis Presley, Garth Brooks, The Pussycat Dolls, and a whole lot more. He’s called the Human Jukebox.

And he does it all… with his mouth SHUT.

Yup. He does it while performing ventriloquism. Words just don’t describe this guy’s ability. And does it all around a comedy act, to boot. So we head to the show, we have great seats, and settle in for what’s bound to be a night of unreal entertainment.

To open things up, Terry’s DJ fires the crowd up with music, and does a version of the evolution of dance, where he strings together all the different dance moves from the 40’s and 50’s right up until today. It’s a great act.

Then Terry himself comes on, and I mean, this guy’s humble as apple pie. He’s been on the road for 26 years before he got his big break, and he tells us all that if we’ve got cameras, use ‘em. Take all the pictures you want to. If you brought your video camera, please don’t record the ENTIRE show, but feel free to record some clips as souvenirs. NO ONE does that. NO. ONE.

Yeah, we got some clips. If you can’t wait to see them, you can always check out Terry’s official home page, where there are some clips:

http://www.terryfator.com/videos.html

Almost two hours later, we’ve been through the comedy and musical ringer, and like Jan’s jaw at dinner, ours were all on the floor in amazement – when they were busy laughing our asses off at how funny this guy is. Terry also did a sincere, honorable tribute to all those in the crowd that have been or are currently in the military, and following the show, he announced that he would be outside to have pictures taken and sign autographs, and wouldn’t leave until each and every one of us that wanted one, would get one.

So we waited about 30 minutes in line, got to meet Terry, get a picture taken, and got his new DVD and got it autographed.

Good times, good times.

What to do next? Well, B. B. King’s is – go figure – a BLUES bar, so we thought we’d all go back and have a drink there and listen to some tunes. The Schweitzers went ahead to get a seat as Steph and I were busy meeting Terry, and I got back to the bar ahead of Steph, as she went to pick up the actual picture we had taken, and I found Jan with her head buried in her hands at the table. I thought she was just hammered, but then I heard the band start playing their next song. It was an incredibly bad version of some song by Akon, and we couldn’t stand it. We lasted long enough in the bar to have a drink after we stood in line for over half an hour, but that was about it. Oh yeah, Steph had some cheesecake or something, but that band cleared us out of the bar faster than a giant fart.

Jan asked the management why there wasn’t any blues band, but it turns out the main band had issues/was sick/couldn’t make it, so these guys filled in.

BAD CHOICE.

So, it was kind of a sour end to an otherwise fantastic day in Vegas, but fun was had by all. Well, everyone except for my back, who at this time was calling me every name in the book, and some that hadn’t even been invented yet.

Oh well. Back to the hotel room to crash!

Next: Vegas: The Voyage Home