What Happens In Vegas…

… gets plastered all over the internet for everyone to see.

Rather than spend hours writing a ginormous blog post about our Vegas trip, we thought we’d show you instead. We spent days wandering up and down the Strip, checking out the various hotels and casinos, catching shows, hitting up Fremont street, and of course, taking hundreds of photos.

So, grab a beverage or two, sit back, and (hopefully) enjoy the videos!

Life In The Center of The Universe

Or, “Our Quick Excursion to Toronto”.

I used the phrase “Center of the Universe” to describe Toronto because that’s the way most of us in the West of this great country feel about Toronto; they get everything, the government caters to them, we’ve been assaulted with FAR too many Maple Leaf games on CBC… everything in this country seems to revolve around Toronto, or at least, that’s the way it feels sometimes.

Didn’t feel like that when we traveled there, though.

Stephanie and I went to Toronto for what turned out to be three really fun-filled days from the 15th to the 17th of July. Just a quick break, a reason to get out and do something.

Who am I kidding? We went because I’m a giant geek and I wanted to go to TransformersCon. We just added a couple extra days and did stuff that didn’t center around what *I* wanted to do. :)

We left super early on Thursday morning (the 15th); our plane took off at 5:45 AM, so that brought about the now-ingrained custom, well, now, tradition, of Stephanie and I rushing to do everything at the VERY last moment the night before we left, getting two hours of sleep, and then stumbling to the airport.

Thankfully, some brilliant human invented web check-in, so we checked in a day ahead of time, and showed up at the airport with boarding passes already in hand. All we had to do was check our bags and get abused by airport security before getting on the plane.

The flight was great – it’s awesome now that we’ve lost all this weight (crossed the 80 pound mark today!) and airplane seats are SO much more comfortable! After landing in Toronto around 8:45 AM, we headed over to pick up our rental car.

I’m wondering at this point if these guys ever get anything right.

We get to the rental desk inside the airport, and the guy can’t find our reservation (we booked through Air Miles). Finally, he finds it after a few minutes, and says our car is waiting. We take our papers over to the parkade where the cars are, and the car we were assigned was already given to someone else.

So now, while I’m waiting for another car, I have to endure an East Indian gentlemen (who I’m sure is otherwise a very nice man) screaming at the desk clerk because he was apparently given the wrong price, yet he was given all the paperwork and just didn’t understand. I think the guy wanted a SUV, and ended up leaving with his family in a Dodge Charger because of the mix up.

And did I mention the young woman, with her husband and baby, desperately trying to pick up their reservation, but didn’t have her drivers’ license with her? No ID, no rent-y, sister.

So, we were supposed to get the Charger, but the lovely East Indian man drove off with it.

Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound quite right.

I don’t mean anything by it, really.

So now I’m waiting for another car. We end up with a Ford Fusion.

I’m deathly allergic to Ford.

Something about them breaking down and leaving me stranded. We load our suitcases up into the trunk (which was quite spacious, I might add. You could store several bodies in there comfortably. Something to keep in mind next time work pisses me off) and get into the car, which was actually quite nice. None of my allergies were kicking in.

Where to? Let’s go to the hotel and check in.

So, off we go. We’re confident. Stephanie has a map and is doing a fantastic job at navigating. She’s bound and determined we’re not going to get lost. (Unlike last time I drove in Toronto, where I somehow ended up on the QEW and in Mississauga.) Stephanie plots a course and lays it in, and I take the helm and we’re off. Everything checks out. We pass all the correct streets. I don’t turn off onto any major freeways.

A few minutes later, something’s not right.

“We’re on the 401,” I say.

“How the hell did that happen?” asks Stephanie.

A giant feeling of deja vu kicks in, and 15 minutes later, we’re nowhere NEAR where we should be.

Our hotel was back beside the airport.

I get us turned around after being stuck in traffic for almost an hour (damned closed roads!), and find a familiar street. Stephanie plots us back to the hotel, and we get there around 11 AM.

Check-in is at 3 PM.

Dammit.

So, let’s go downtown and meet our co-workers for lunch. We hop back in the car, and Stephanie plots another course. We’re perfect this time, and make it downtown smoothly. But on the way and navigating we’re all “that street looks familiar” and “so does this one”.

Turns out that when we got “lost” (and I use quotes cause we weren’t really lost, we just took the scenic route), we were about two minutes from where we’re going now. We just drove in one gigantic circle.

Figures.

We finally get downtown and park at a subway station, and take the subway deep into downtown. My first ever subway ride. We meet Adeel and Steve from our Toronto office (Adeel used to work with me here in Winnipeg) and Steve takes us to the Friar and Firkin, an English pub. The food was tremendous (even though it was just pub fare), and talking with Adeel and Steve was a fun time. On the way back to the Toronto office to meet everyone, I got a great picture (forthcoming) of the CTV building with a truck sticking out the side of it a couple floors up.

Back to the office to some other co-workers, and then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d finally get to go here and spend more than 45 minutes there. On the way there, we got a free ice-cream sandwich from in front of Union Station.  We went through the whole building in a few hours, and saw everything from the net filled with 802 pucks (Gretzky’s goal record), to the double-sized Gretzky exhibit, to a ton of Red Wings stuff both new and old, international hockey exhibits, to a live game where I played goal and had virtual Messier and Gretzky shooting at me.

Stopped all five shots, by the way.

Then we went over and walked through the Montreal Canadiens dressing room, and checked out the stalls of all the greats like Lafleur, Roy, Geoffrion, Richard, and the like. I even sat down at Roy’s stall and put on his goalie pads. That was pretty cool.

And no HHOF trip would be complete without a trip upstairs to see the Stanley Cup. We’ve seen it before, but ya just gotta do it, you know? I took extreme close up pics of all the Edmonton Oilers’ engravings. Neat-o. Heck, even Steph liked it.

From there, it was off again on foot (in 32 degrees C) to the CN Tower. What else can you say about it? It’s tall. Really tall. We got the full pass, and went to the Look Out, the Glass Floor, and the Sky Pod. You can get all the heights from the web site, but I think the observation deck is like 1,100 ft up. What a view of the city. Amazing. One level down is the glass floor, which – you guessed it – is a glass floor. You can stand on it (or lay on it, or jump up and down on it) and see right to the ground. Now THAT’S a view you’re not going to forget. It’s a little intimidating to begin with, but you soon get used to it, and it offers quite the perspective. Then it was up another 300+ feet to the Sky Pod, and the view just gets better. I remember looking down next door into the SkyDome (or Rogers Center, currently) and seeing the crew prepping the building for the upcoming soccer exhibition, and the vehicles in there looked like ants. Tiny ants.

After checking out the CN Tower store, we decided just to walk around downtown. Picked up another ice cream sandwich (free, of course), and ended up at East Side Mario’s, one of Stephanie’s all-time favorite restaurants. The food was good, but the server was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so that took away from the experience a little bit, but it was still enjoyable. A little more walking around and then back to the hotel and lovely air conditioning with a chance to rest our feet, and sleep.

On the way into the hotel, I dropped my suitcase, and I jammed the pull-out handle you use when you’re rolling the thing around. This presents a problem for the flight home.

Friday brought about a slightly-later-start-than-we-wanted, but at least we got up in time for the free continental breakfast! Then it was off to Toronto Zoo. Stephanie had been there before, but I was going for the first time. Now, we’re getting used to the place and driving there was much easier.

We get to the Zoo around noon, and get to exploring. We jump on the ZooMobile, a giant multi-seat and multi-section golf cart, complete with tour guide that drives you around on a tour of the zoo. The zoo is broken up into pods, and each pod deals with animals from a different geographical region of the world. You can either stay on the ZooMobile for the entire tour, or you can get off at a particular pod, walk around that area, and then come back and catch a different ZooMobile that will take you to the next pod. Explore that pod, and then jump back on to head to the next one. It’s very efficient and allows you to see a lot of the zoo in a short amount of time.

The enclosures/exhibits are so much bigger than what we have here in Winnipeg. It’s like our zoo is a Lego model and theirs is the real deal. It’s incredible how big this place is. And they’ve got everything, from cats to sea creatures to insects to jungle animals.

Lions and tigers and bears! OH MY!

I’ve seen a lot of these animals at the Winnipeg Zoo as well as the Minneapolis Zoo, so I’ll touch on the highlights, but the first thing we saw was a giraffe. A GIRAFFE! What a way to start the day off!

I’ve seen giraffes on TV and in documentaries, of course, but it’s NOTHING like seeing one from less than 50 feet away. These things are MASSIVE! Gorgeous, gorgeous creatures. We saw rhinos, red pandas, macaques, cheetahs, Komodo dragons, I mean, sheesh, it’s a zoo, but there’s some cool stuff here. The gorillas were awesome.

We’ve seen the gorillas before, actually. We used to watch a show called Zoo Diaries on Animal Planet, and it featured animals from the Toronto and San Diego zoos, so we saw a bunch of these animals live that we originally saw on TV, and the gorillas were a mainstay of the TV program, so to see them up close and personal was very cool.

We toured the zoo for about 4 and a half hours before hitting up the gift shop and heading out.

Stephanie again does a great job at plotting a course to our next destination, a subway station near downtown where we’re going to meet up with Rebecca and Mark. Rebecca is an old friend of Stephanie’s, and we decide to take a walk through the Greek area and find a restaurant to eat at. The two are very fun to talk to and hang out with, and after a great dinner, we walk up and down the streets just exploring. We stop at a book store where we find Rebecca’s recent work published in a few magazines (she’s a writer – check out her site here). Rebecca is extremely talented and I enjoy her work.

Following dinner and walking, we hit up the Stone Cold Creamery for some FANTASTIC ice cream. Sorry Jason, I know it’s not on the approved list, but hell, I’m on vacation! All said, it was a very fun day, some time spent with good folks, and some good food.

We drive back to the hotel, but we kind of stay off the main drags; except for Bloor, the “fashion” area. Only on this street, can you find Winners across the street from Prada.

Tremendous.

We drive through an area dedicated to what seems like auto repair. There’s lots of small “areas” like this (well, not auto repair, but small sections devoted to a particular segment of society) on the way back to the hotel. It’s great to see that all these small businesses are open at midnight on a Friday night – the bay door to one garage was open, and we saw a team of guys underneath a car trying to get it fixed – when businesses here close at dinner time, unless they’re a restaurant/fast food/pizza place, bar, gas station, Walmart, or Shopper’s.

Saturday brings the aforementioned TFCon, and if this place isn’t the last great bastion of geekery on this planet, I don’t know what is. We went to check out the dealer floor, with me looking to score some rare Transformer that’s been the object of my geeky desire since childhood. This dealer floor was HUGE, and it was crowded. We’ve been to ComicCons and stuff before, but at those the floor is divided up with geekery from all fandoms spread around; sports, comics, toys, movies, the works.

This place was ALL Transformers.

I think my brain exploded at least 7 and a half times.

After working the room and seeing what was out there, I picked up an original Predaking which is like #2 on my Holy Grail of Transfomers list, so I was a happy camper. I also got a print from Lil Formers artist Matt Moylan.  Stephanie picked up an awesome Superman t-shirt (the vendor sold shirts for EVERYTHING), and a tiny Optimus Prime pin, so it was win-win all around.

From there, it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM),but not before we stopped to shop at My Pet Boutique to pick up some treats for the fuzzies, and then we stopped for some photo ops and street hot dog (which was fantastic!).

The ROM is cool. Enough said. There’s a really great exhibition on China’s Terracotta Warriors that will have you looking at them all day if you’ll let them. There’s all kinds of artifacts from 2,200 years ago, and the Warriors themselves are amazing. If you’re going to go, spend the extra $7 to see it. It’s awesome.

From there, we went to check out the DINOSAURS!! HOLY SHIT! These things are huge, amazing, awesome, huge, and crazy all rolled into one. Did mention they’re HUGE? Some of them are partial recreations, but there’s a lot of REAL dinosaur stuff from millions of years ago right here in North America. VERY cool, and an awesome exhibit.

We also checked out the bat cave, bird area, Saumrai exhibit, the Greek exhibit, and some other stuff, before we met up with Rebecca again, and this time it was off to Chinatown for food and exploring.

Chinatown is this: lots of Chinese signs, markets, import business, and restaurants. It’s actually much more, but it’s a LOT of these things. And it’s awesome. Only in Chinatown can you walk down the sidewalk and find a cooked goose with his head still attached looking down at you OUTSIDE.

We passed a place selling suitcases on the way to the restaurant. Note to self: check this out on the way back.

We go and eat at one of Rebecca and Mark’s favorite places, and the food – even though I stuck to chicken balls and fried rice – was excellent. A lot more fun conversations were had, and then we picked up and walked around a bit before I bought an orange and black suitcase for $25. Problem solved!

We jumped on a streetcar (also my first time!), which, unfortunately, Rebecca is deathly allergic to like me with Fords. But, she toughed it out like  a Champ, and we went back to the subway station to get back to our car to get back to the airport.

We JUST made it to the airport in time after returning our Fusion (which I now would probably buy if it were just a LITTLE bigger), only to find out our plane has been delayed for an hour and a half due to lightning storms in Montreal. While we’re waiting for the plane, a couple of teenage girls were entertaining us by running, skipping, jumping, and whatever else the wrong way down the moving walkway. Good times.

Thanks to the delay, we got back home around 1 AM-ish. It was another good flight home, although there was a little turbulence because of all the storms.

After about 20 hours of walking around various parts of Toronto and a real late flight, we slept in on Sunday. :)

As usual, I’ll get pics up when I can. I know you’re all still waiting for pics from Vegas, but I’m almost there. Just getting everything organized/cropped/presentable, and then I’ll post everything.

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

Vegas: Day 3

After a late night overload of gambling, thrill rides at 1000 feet in the air, and lots of great boobs, we’ve slept in a bit on Day 3. I had a horrible sleep, like the pillow was trying to constantly suffocate me (or was that just Steph trying to cash in on the insurance money?), so we took a while to get mobile.

When we did, it was off for morning (late morning) fuel, so we headed over to the Rainforest Cafe. Yeah, I know, it’s a national chain (take THAT, Brent!), but it’s somewhere Stephanie has always wanted to go, and we didn’t get a chance when we were last in Minneapolis.

We split a tiny pizza for an appetizer, and I can’t really remember what else we had, but the food doesn’t matter. You go to the RFC for the environment. Literally. You first enter the RFC through a 10,000 gallon overhead double archway aquarium with all kinds of little fishy-type things in it. The host (who calls himself a Tour Guide) walks you to your table. Once inside, the entire place is like a tropical area or jungle; the walls are covered with vines, trees and plants, and interspersed throughout are various animals – there’s a family of gorillas in one corner, elephants in another, a cheetah in different locations on the wall, and birds, parrots, and butterflies (OH MY!) up in the rafters (where there’s even MORE vegetation).

Our order is taken by our Wildlife Guide (they’re taking this environment thing quite literally, which is cool), and we start looking around at the aforementioned local flora and fauna. Every few minutes, one of the animals in the cafe will start doing something; the gorillas will make a ton of noise, the elephants will as well; the cheetahs roar and swish their tails around.

Every 30 minutes, the cafe puts on a mock thunderstorm, with the lights flashing, simulated lightning flashing throughout the cafe (hey, we ARE in a rainforest, after all) and all the animals in the place just FREAK OUT. The gorillas are all stomping around and “OHH OHH AHH AHH!”-ing, the elephants are screaming, the cheetahs are roaring and swishing their tails like they’re swatting at some imaginary foe, everything just going berserk. Hilarious!

We finish up and Stephanie does some shopping at the RFC merchandise store, and then it’s off outside to head around the corner to the M&Ms store.

Not the meat place. The CANDY.

But on the way, we’re basically accosted by these two guys from Planet Hollywood that want us to come and listen to this 90 minute presentation on the new building they’re… um… building, and sell us on staying there the next time we come to Vegas. We’ll get $100 in chips at PH for our time, and we realize pretty fast that there’s some kind of catch here. Are they going to try and sell us a condo or time share or something? I keep declining and wanting to leave, but the guy just won’t SHUT UP, and keeps trying to sweeten the deal. He’ll give us dinner in a couple places while we’re in town, and give us three free days at Planet Hollywood if we’ll come to the seminar. On TOP of the now $150 in chips he’s offering. Stephanie is now interested, but I’m having nothing to do with it. This is gonna be a con-job of the NTH degree, and I want nothing more than to get OUT of there. I finally just tell the guy “no, thanks” and turn to leave.

Back out onto the Strip, and around the corner, and there it is.

FOUR, GLORIOUS FLOORS of all things M&Ms. This building is MASSIVE! How else can I explain this? I really can’t.

28,000+ square feet of M&M memorabilia.

If you can think of a product and put a M&Ms spin on it, they’ve probably got it here. Clothing, accessories, jewelry, alarm clocks, shower radios, book ends, books, golf club covers, golf balls, mugs, little tiny kid’s stuff, older kid’s stuff, adult stuff, dolls (well, I’ll call ‘em action figures)… I mean, they have a FREAKING STOCK CAR up on the fourth floor, all decked out in a custom M&M paint job, along with NASCAR driving outfits, leather jackets, shirts, everything! It’s CRAZY!

So we spend a good couple hours in there, picking up a couple things for the niece and nephew. Steph got a couple things for herself, and I grabbed a yellow M&M golf club cover and a dog tag necklace. Before leaving, we even got a picture with Green M&M herself!

Back outside, we see the giant Coca-Cola bottle next to the M&M store, which used to house a Coke museum, but now all that’s in there is an elevator to take you to the top – it’s all part of the integrated mall. The thing is taller than the rest of the mall around it – take THAT, Pepsi!

Next door is the Hard Rock Cafe, which has a MASSIVE illuminated guitar sign on the outside of it.

We then realize we’ve killed the better part of a few hours, and we have to get to the Venetian to Emeril’s Delmonico Steak House, which, for me, is a giant object of personal excitement for me. We’ve always watched Emeril Lagasse on FoodTV, and have always wanted to try one of his restaurants, and we’re finally about to do it.

We get to the Venetian, and once inside, we’re immediately taken aback by the architecture and design of the lobby and main hallway that leads down to the casino. The place is done up like OLD SCHOOL Italy, complete with pictures on the domed ceilings and everything.

We’re a little early, so we stop and plunk a few bucks into the slots, but of course, it all disappears, and we head over to Emeril’s.

First off, the place is huge. And very white. It’s kind of plain in there – not a lot of art on the walls, or color, but still, the environment manages to be very inviting and comfortable. The acoustics in the place let you hear EVERYTHING – conversations across the room are heard plain as day, so somehow we try to be a little quiet, but it doesn’t matter.

We’re greeted and sat down, and our waiter introduces himself and lets us know that he – and two others – will be taking care of us tonight. Wow. Where some  restaurants have a full compliment of cutlery and dishes and glasses already out on the table for you, our table is empty, and only what is needed is brought to us – very efficient.

We give our order, and almost instantaneously after, our drinks, along with a tall glass of water are brought to the table, along with small dishes, butter, and a knife for the fresh-from-the-oven bun – delivered by TONG – as it’s placed on our plate.

I *have* to stop here and mention that the service at Emeril’s was absolutely world class. It was phenomenal – the absolute best I’ve ever had. Drank half of your water or pop? The young lady is there to fill it for you post-haste. The glass was never more than half empty. Finish your bun? Another, fresh, warm bun was almost immediately tonged onto your plate, followed by fresh butter. Amazing.

Then the REAL food starts coming out.

For an appetizer, we wanted to compare Emeril’s crab cake to Wolfgang’s crab cake, so we ordered the lump crab cake. Where Wolfgang’s was patty-styled, Emeril’s was hunks of crab meat, fresh, juicy, and tangy. Absolutely wonderful. Both were amazing, but in different ways. I think I’d give the (slight) edge to Emeril here. We polish off the crab cake, and wait for the entrees to arrive.

And… they come.

And they look AMAZING.

Stephanie had the rib eye steak with vegetables and an Idaho baked potato. I had the BBQ salmon, which came with tiny onion rings and chopped veggies. Steph asked for her steak well done, so when they brought it out, they asked her to check it (unheard of here), and it turns out it was a little under-cooked. Profuse apologies abound, and her steak is taken back, AND… my plate is taken to keep my food warm. Refills are immediately brought. Now THAT’s service. We kept our potatoes and started loading them up with bacon, green onions, and sour cream and butter, so it’s not like we were missing anything,

HUGE KUDOS for the Emeril’s team for caring to get it right.

Not 10 minutes later everything is back out to us, and folks, I’m just going to put this bluntly… if it were physically *possible* for taste buds to have orgasms, then Emeril’s would have been the wettest place this side of the mighty Mississippi.

Just close your eyes, let the food literally melt in your mouth, let out a few audible “mmmmmmmmmmms”, and “Oh my God’s”, proclaim how fantastic everything is, and enjoy.

That’s how good it was. You just can’t physically explain it.

With apologies to everyone I know that’s ever cooked for me, THIS was hands down the BEST meal I’ve ever had. That simple. There’s no other way to put it. It’s like sex on a plate.

So, we enjoy the hell out of everything, but leave some of our potatoes as we’re getting pretty full, but dammit, this is EMERIL’S, and we’re GOING to have dessert.

Stephanie chooses Emeril’s Banana Cream Pie, and I go for the Root Beer Float.

As expected, Steph’s dessert was the Best Damned Banana Cream Pie on the Planet, and my root beer float was actually made with a special root beer brewed in New Orleans. TREMENDOUS.

We finish up, thank the staff for an absolutely fantastic experience – and folks, cheaper than places back home like 529 – and take our leave.

If you ever come to Vegas, you’ve GOT to come here. It’s WORTH it.

Steph decides to take a walk around the shops of the Palazzo, which is way too high end and haute-couture for me, so I take a seat on a bench near Emeril’s and wait. Once Stephanie returns, we head back to the casino, and end up playing the greatest slot machine of them all.

The Price Is Right.

Complete with Plinko, The Mountain Climber, the Big Wheel, and Showcase Showdowns, this is a GREAT slots game. You can hit bonuses that let you play Plinko or the Mountain Climber game, try to win showcases, or spin the wheel for big credits. It’s awesome, and not boring like the other slots games we played. Even the game show music is true to the show and mesmerizing.

I had the distinction of watching my mountain climber dude yodel his ass right off the edge of the cliff on several occasions. I forget how long we played for, but it was FUN, and then it was time to head to the Bellagio to see the famous light and fountain shows.

Headed outside and into a cab, and we got a really cool cab driver. He gave us all kinds of info and tips about the places we were driving by, and was fun to talk to, unlike most cab drivers who wouldn’t say a word, or else were too occupied talking on the phone. And, as we were pulling into the Bellagio, he was kind enough to point out the best vantage point to watch the fountain show from. We thanked him, handed him a generous tip, and with camera and video recorder in hand, we headed over to the balcony by the lake to watch the show.

We just missed a show, so there was about 10 minutes before the next one would start. We took the time to look around and see the sights from the other side of the Strip. We saw Paris, with the scaled down Eiffel Tower, the new site of Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, the Flamingo – complete with a GIANT visage of Donny and Marie Osmond down one side of it. It must have covered 80% of the side of the hotel.

Seeing all the lights was pretty cool, and then we pulled out the equipment to get ready to capture the show – Stephanie with the still camera, and me with the video camera. I was playing around with the video camera, and realized I could zoom in a HELL of a distance. So I pointed the camera at the Flamingo – which was several blocks away, and started zooming in all over the hotel room windows. I soon discovered I was almost able to watch…

Get your head out of gutter, folks.

I could see images moving on the *television*. Couldn’t quite tell what it was, but I thought that was pretty impressive.

So now, the show’s about to start, and it’s also quite impressive. A coordinated display of lights, music, and water eruptions over a 3.5 square kilometer lake. Very cool. Each performance is about five minutes long with a ten minute break in between, and we stayed for three or four shows.

Hard to describe other than what I said above, but I’ve got video to post once I get it all organized. Neat stuff.

I even managed to do a pretty phenomenal job of following one of the shows with the video camera, and I did it all with the video recorder on pause.

Yes, folks, sometimes I manage to amaze even myself.

That ends our night, and we hop a cab back to the MGM Grand, and in checking the camera, we’ve taken 337 pictures so far, and this is only day 3.

Now, it’s back to sleep, in hopes that the pillow (or Steph) isn’t going to try and kill me in my sleep.