Vegas: Day 2

So, how do we follow up the extra-spectacular eye-candy that was KA the night before?

You don’t, really.

TOMORROW IS A NEW DAY!

We open up Day 2 with brunch. Specifically, the MGM Grand buffet (on this blog, pronounced “boo-fay”, in honor of Phoebe on the “Friends” TV show). We’ve been told by everyone – “You have to check out the buffets!”, so here we are. And, let me tell you, Mister (or whatever title you prefer)… WHAT A SPREAD.

There’s like a dozen rows of glass stations, all filled with food. They had breakfast AND lunch, so we had EVERYTHING. Bacon, eggs, sausages, 4 different kinds of breakfast potatoes, fruit, quiches, pancakes, waffles, omelet stations, and more. For lunch, there was chicken tenders, sushi, salads, a full taco bar, a Chinese food station, a full Italian station (all kinds of pastas), and plenty more. Not to mention the desert bar, which had multiple kinds of cakes, crème-brulee, and ice cream with chocolate, strawberry, sprinkles, nuts, and my favorite, tiny M&M candies for toppers.

Everything was absolutely awesome. Well, except for the sushi. Steph ate it, but I refuse to eat sushi just on the principle of it. So, it sucked. It was a little expensive -  around $55 for the both of us – but it was very high-quality, and I’d do it again. Especially for the ice cream with the mini-M&M’s on top!

So, we finish up, loosen the belt a couple notches, and waddle our way over to the MGM Grand Lion Habitat. This is so cool. They have two adult, female lions in the habitat, which itself is an enclosed, somewhat large area, with toys for them to play with, a small area for water (a waterfall), and an upper area that they climb on – which doubles as an underneath viewing area for patrons; there’s a tunnel you can walk into that’s directly underneath where the lions climb and sleep, so you get a VERY close view of these giant cats. These lions are actually maintained by a gentleman that lives just outside Vegas. He maintains a lion sanctuary, and the lions inside the MGM habitat are actually swapped out every 6 or 7 hours, so they’re not spending all their time in captivity. Very cool. We snapped a whole bunch of pictures here, and then one of the best things of the whole trip happened next.

Not only are there two big lions to look at, there’s also a few month old cub! And not only is the cub there, but you CAN TAKE YOUR PICTURE WITH IT!

So Steph and I got in line, waited about 30 minutes, and then there we were, standing in a room behind this absolutely CUTE little lion cub – Steve Irwin would call her a “good lookin’ little Sheila!” She was on a table facing away from us (her name is Pebbles), and we got to pet her back while the handler got her psyched up with toys to look into the camera. We got a perfect shot, and an 8×10 to bring home with us.

Steve-o  would also have summed it up best: “WHOO-HOO!”

So, after getting our picture and purchasing a few things from the Lion Habitat store, we head over to kill a few minutes on the slot machines, before deciding we’ve been inside the hotel for too long. We head outside, and walk around the corner, where we’re in full view of the Strip. We get pictures of the MGM Grand statues outside, New York New York across the street, featuring the roller coaster on top of the hotel, the miniature Brooklyn bridge and the smaller-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty. We can also see Excalibur, the Hooters Hotel (should have stayed there!), and other places. It’s awesome outside, about +10 degrees.

Well, just about awesome. Stephanie all of a sudden stops dead in her tracks, and punches me in the shoulder.

“Jarret! MY BAG!”

“What?”

“My bag! With our stuff from the Lion Habitat! It’s still in the casino!”

We left it at the damned slot machines.

Steph turns and BOLTS back for the door, and I follow her back. When I get to the casino, she’s long gone, but I go back to our slot machine, and of course, the bag is gone.

Well, kiss that $100 goodbye.

I hang back near the open area that leads to the doors, ensuring that Steph can find me on her way back, and then moments later, I see her ZOOMING across the casino floor in the opposite direction. Aaaaaaaand, she disappears.

So I wait for a little longer, maybe another 5 minutes, and then she comes roaring back towards me, skipping, if you will, and she’s holding her bag in the air like an Olympic torch bearer. Either a patron, or an employee, or Security found the bad and turned it in. Thank you whoever you are! Steph couldn’t be happier. Pebbles is safe and sound!

From there, we decide to hit the Stratosphere. So, we manage to almost walk around the entire MGM Grand (or at least that’s what my back told me) and we get to the monorail area, buy a 3 day pass, and jump on board. It’s quite a fun ride, heading from the MGM Grand and then back north, passing hotels like Bally’s, Wynn, the new Planet Hollywood, and the Hilton Las Vegas, before arriving across the street from the Sahara. We jump in a cab and head over to the Stratosphere, and DAMN that thing is huge. A big tower, over 1000 feet straight up. We go through the casino and walk around the place, seeing all the shops, and two of the most aggressive cell phone accessories salesmen I’ve ever met.

It’s too early to go up to the observation deck, so we decide to head to this show called American Superstars, a show with several musical celebrity impersonators. Or, tribute artists, as they prefer to be called. It starts in like 5 minutes, so, we hurry and purchase our tickets (close to the stage), and head into the venue, only to find people still setting up for the show. A lady informs us we’re rather early, and I check my watch, which is somehow displaying the second time zone, and we’re 90 minutes early.

Question #1: How did my watch flip over to the other time zone?

Question #2: Since when does a time zone contain half an hour anywhere else than in Newfoundland? Certainly not in the middle of the continent?

So while we’re busy trying to solve these mysteries, we decide we need a bite to eat, and head over to a nearby pretzel place. I have the world’s greasiest pretzel dog, and we head back to the show. This time, we’re seated, and I need to go to a sidebar here.

When we bought our tickets, we were looking at places close to the stage, and they had some nice looking booths there. Now, me and booths normally don’t get along. And really, it’s not the booth’s fault. It’s the fact that my ass is the size of nine normal human asses. So I ask the guy: “Are the booths BIG? I’m a big guy, so I need to be able to get in there.”

The guy sizes me up, and says no problem. So we buy the booth.

Now, we’re getting seated, and this lovely lady shows us to our booth, which I immediately ascertain can only fit three human asses, not nine, so I tell her this, and she moves us to a table right in front of the stage. Awesome.

Then, we see an ad on the big screen, where if you bought tickets to the show, you can add on admittance to the Stratosphere tower for only $5. That ALSO includes a boo-fay. Don’t need the boo-fay, but if we were to buy tickets to the tower separately, it would cost $15 each. Thanks for telling us at the ticket booth!

So Steph – who doesn’t mind paying for things, but absolutely HATES getting ripped off on anything, boogies her way out to the front, and comes back with new show tickets with the admission to the tower tagged on. You go, girl!

The show is about to start. First dude up is Elvis. Or, a dude playing Elvis. Or, as they prefer, a dude paying tribute to Elvis. Whatever the hell they call it, this guy is MONEY. He’s like Elvis reincarnated. He’s singing about Blue Suede Shoes, and how he’s a hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’ love, and he’s shaking everything and sweating his ass off, and he’s NAILING this performance. Later on, he tells us that a couple years ago, he went to Graceland, and they had an Elvis impersonator competition, and out of over 300 Elvis’s (Elvii??)… he WON. Holy shit. But yeah, he’s THAT good, and we have a blast.

The next dude did a Tim McGraw impersonation, but his singing was mediocre, and he acted way too cocky to be like Tim McGraw. Up next, a Britney impersonator, and while I don’t really like her music, at least this woman was easy on the eyes – and the outfits certainly didn’t hurt her situation. She even said during her show, that we “don’t need to be a Britney fan to be MY fan!”, and I’m instantly convinced.

“Britney” finishes her set, and next, we’re introduced to Carrie Underwood, and this girl doesn’t really look like Carrie at all. She’s very pretty, and the headlights were on ultra high beams, if you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down, and she was a decent enough singer, but NOT Carrie Underwood. And she doesn’t even sing any of Carrie’s popular songs. Pass.

But next, we’re promised, the man, the myth, the legend, the King of Pop.. MICHAEL JACKSON! And HOLY CRAP does this guy ever LOOK like Michael! His voice is a little off, but let’s face it, only Michael could ever sound like Michael, so no problem there. This guy ROCKETS through all of MJ’s biggest hits, and moonwalks his ass across the stage just like MJ himself. He looks, dances, dresses, acts, talks, and I’m sure sneezes, eats, and shits just like Michael too. WOW.

Shane Parsons, if you’re reading this, you NEED to go see this show if you can!

*crotch grab* HEE-HEE!

From there, we’re off to the Stratosphere tower. The observation deck is 900 feet in the air. 108 floors up. The elevator goes up at a rate of three floors per second. That’s a 36 second trip.

I can’t get taken up *5* floors at my office in 36 seconds.

We arrive at the 108th floor. I tell you, you haven’t seen Vegas until you’ve seen it at night, and from almost 900 feet in the air. You can walk all the way around the tower, seeing an amazing night-time view of Las Vegas, all lit up. You can see the *whole* city, and seeing the whole thing lit up is VERY cool. Words can’t do it justice, so when I post the pictures, you’ll have to go check. We walk all the way around the tower, and once we’ve had our fill of the view, we head back to the elevator, where the same elevator dude that brought us up asks us if we want to go OUTSIDE.

Excuse me?

The 10*9*th floor is an OUTDOOR observation deck, about 1/3rd of the way around the tower. So we go. Sweet mercy. Seeing straight down at that height, with the wind blowing in your face, and all the lights… wow. What a view.

But not only is there an amazing view at 900 feet in the air.

They have RIDES.

“What kind of rides could they possibly have at 900 feet in the air?”, you might ask?

I will tell you. They have THREE.

  • The Big Shot: Think of the Drop of Doom at 900 feet in the air. In REVERSE. You strap in, and the ride shoots you straight UP 160 feet at 45 MPH, pushing over 4 G’s. That’s nuts. You’re over 1000 feet in the air with your brains in your feet and your stomach in your throat.
  • X-Scream: Basically, a giant teeter-totter that’s pitched over the side of the tower off the observation deck. You sit in this rail car, and PLUMMET down the track towards the city streets, before the thing HAMMERS on the brakes right at the end. WHOA.
  • Insanity: Ok. If the Big Shot is nuts, this ride is f’n crazy. You strap into a chair with a group of other people. There’s four mechanical arms to this thing, and you’re lifted out OVER the city at 900 feet in the air. Picture your hand, bent down at the wrist so your fingers are pointing towards the floor. The ends of your fingers are the chairs in which people sit. Then picture your hand opening up and extending, so that your fingers are straight out. You’re in that chair at 900 feet, looking STRAIGHT DOWN. THEN… the whole thing starts spinning around in circles at a high rate of speed. HOLY SHIT!

Ok. You back with me yet? I hope you haven’t puked all over the place or passed out in fear. You sure you’re ok? Alright. Let’s continue.

One of the things I wanted to do was play some cards. Not content to just want to pour dollar after dollar into the slots, I wanted to sit down and play some real games. So, we went downstairs in the Stratosphere casino, and grabbed $100. I immediately gave $50 to Steph for safekeeping (come on, it’s habit by now) and I sit down at $5 minimum table.

Ok. There’s one thing I have to explain here, which might contribute to my lack of decision-making ability that I will soon describe.

The dealers at Stratosphere are all extremely good-looking women.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts and – how do I put this somewhat PC – great boobs.

Extremely good-looking women with tiny, tight jean shorts, great boobs, and shirts open to the waist.

ARE YOU GETTING THIS YET?

So I sit down with my $50 and start playing. I haven’t played real Blackjack for at least a couple years, so I’m rusty, and I let them know this. The girls were very nice, taking the time to give me the odds of winning certain hands, providing advice on what to do with certain cards, letting me know when to split or try and double up, all the good stuff.

Shortly, I’m up $70, sitting with $120. I should really get up and leave. But I can’t. There’s some kind of… super magnetic force that’s got me pinned to the table. I look up, and see what they are-I mean, what it is.

An hour later, my $120 is gone.

But it was FUN.

We cash out our remaining $50 and decide that it’s late, so we jump a cab back to the Sahara, and ride the monorail back to the MGM Grand. Another successful night!

Next: Vegas: Day 3

Vegas: Day 1

So, after a pair of $6 tickets to ride part of the Strip from the airport to our hotel, we arrive at the front door of the MGM Grand. On the outside, it’s really big. And really green. On the inside, it’s rather spectacular at first look.

The main lobby floor is covered in shiny white marble, streaked with black. On the left, is the MGM Grand & Company Store, where they look to take even more of your gambling money away with merchandise sales. On the right, the hotel’s business services area, check in area (which behind that is a GIGANTIC set of TV’s advertising upcoming events at the hotel), and the concierge service.

Directly in front of you, though, is the centerpiece of the hotel. A huge golden statue of Metro, the MGM Grand Lion, the namesake of the first “M” in MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Tall and regal, overlooking the lobby, he also looks like he could tear your head off in an instant.

Well, he IS a lion.

Nice kitty.

So we proceed to go check in, and we meet Ann, a young woman who’s clearly at the end of her rope, but she manages to pull it together for us, and even cracks a smile and a laugh as she assigns us a room on the 23rd floor, overlooking the Strip. Awesome. We finish check in, and wave goodbye to Metro for fear he’d eat us, and head for the elevators to our room.

The moment you pass Metro and the hotel lobby, you’re walking IMMEDIATELY into the casino. We’ll also find that this is a common theme amongst all the hotels we’ll visit. Brilliant, really. Make everyone pass through the casino to get *anywhere* in the hotel. Might make a few extra hundred bucks that way. But the slot machines don’t get us THIS time, and we head off to the elevators to head to our room.

Express elevator! WOOHOO!

We get to our room, and it’s pretty nice. The bathroom is almost the size of our bedroom at home, king sized bed, television, high-speed internet ($14.95 per day!!) and a fantastic view overlooking the strip. We can see the Stratosphere, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, New York New York, among other places (great photo ops!), and we just kick back for a few minutes and rest after all the travel. Unpack a few things, get somewhat organized, and take a breath.

Downstairs we go, and we step back out into the casino. This part of the casino is just the basic stuff; low end slots, small minimum blackjack, roulette, that kind of thing. The REAL action is down the hall, where the Poker Room, areas with high end tables, and a whole special WING dedicated to the high-rollers.

Staying away from there!

We look around, and see the KA Theater, home to Cirque du Soleil’s production of – you guessed it – “KA”. We booked tickets to the show tonight, so we head over to pick up our tickets, which must be picked up at least two hours before show time. The whole side of the wing is devoted to KA – merchandise store, ticket area, and of course, the absolutely ginormous theater.

By the time we’ve checked in, rested, gotten organized, and walked around a bit, it’s 5 Vegas time, but our stomachs are still on Winnipeg time, so we decide to find somewhere to eat. Right in front of us is Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill, so we figure it’s perfect. Eat, then straight behind us is the KA theater. Not far to go. Plus, we’ve seen Wolfgang on TV lots, on Craig Ferguson, Dave Letterman, and Ellen, and we’ve always wanted to try his food. Win all around!

Wolfgang Puck’s is a wide open area. Well, it’s gated off to physically separate it from the casino, but the layout is wide open. It’s very nice for a bar and grill type place, and we’re seated, and start looking over the menu. THEY’VE GOT CRAB CAKES! We’ve always wanted to try crab cakes, so we order those up as an appetizer, Stephanie orders a gourmet burger, and I get some kind of gourmet pepperoni pizza.

Ok. I know what you’re thinking. You’re in Vegas. You’re at Wolfgang freaking Puck’s and you ordered a burger and pizza? Well, first off, this place serves bar food, so it’s about par for the course, and let me tell you something else… if you ever ATE this burger and pizza… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Drinks and crab cakes come out, and one thing I didn’t realize is that the crab cakes come out on a little bed of guacamole.

I HATE guacamole.

Great. This is gonna SUCK.

But, I try it anyway.

I almost fell out of my ever-loving chair. It was THAT good. These particular crab cakes were in patty form, seasoned, and on the guacamole, and all of a sudden, I didn’t even care about guacamole.

So Steph and I DEMOLISH the crab cakes, and have some drinks, waiting for our entrees, and finally, this gigantic burger with thin cut and obviously seasoned fries comes out, along with my pepperoni and cheese pizza, and folks, you might think this was JUST a burger, or JUST a pizza, but if you believe that, then I’ve got quality real estate in Siberia for sale with a fantastic view, AND your taste buds have been SORELY lacking.

Not only lacking, but now they’re REALLY jealous.

Hands down, the absolute BEST I’ve ever had, and if you think I almost fell out of my chair after eating the crab cakes, then this time my jaw went through the table in between bites.

Amazing. Along with great service, and we were duly impressed. Not that expensive, either.

But if we thought we were impressed after that, then our minds were about to be BLOWN.

It was time to go to KA.

Now, if you know me at all, you might think that my early perception of Cirque du Soleil might not be all that favorable. I’ve come around a lot lately, with shows like So You Think You Can Dance, but I thought CDS was going to be a bunch of artsy folks floating around the stage for a couple hours. That, I can take in small doses, but contemporary type dance has never been my bag, baby.

Was I about to get rocked.

I don’t know how big this theater is. Square feet wise, it’s monstrous. On the MGM Grand map, they say that Studio 54 is 20,000 square feet, but if you look at the size of Studio 54, and then look at the size of KA, you’d think you could easily fit 10-15 Studio 54’s into the space of the KA theater. It’s HUGE.

You walk into the theater, and you’d think the place is like an Ewok village. Even the ushers are dressed as part of the show. Remember the little fuzzy guys from Return of the Jedi? Well, THIS village is filled with tribal folk.

Huge, muscular, tribal folk. That go to war.

You look around the theater, and the main stage area in front of you isn’t really a stage yet. It’s a giant pit. It’s a giant pit that shoots out fire at irregular intervals. And it’s HOT, especially when you’re only a few rows back like we were. All around you on the sides of the theater are these tree-like things that lead up to enclosed platforms, and these platforms exist on multiple levels. The theater is surrounded by them. Before the show even starts, the tribal folk come onto these platforms, and start yelling at each other in some tribal-speak we don’t understand. They break out in laughter. They seem to insult each other. They pound on drums. Then, these groups of two guys are hooked up on some kind of pulley system, and they’re leaping STORIES through the air from platform level to platform level, supporting and pulling each other on this pulley system. Crazy.

Some facts about KA, before I forget:

  • 80 artists from around the world perform the show twice per day, 5 days per week and about 50 weeks per year
  • Over 100 crew members are working for the show in 8 or more technical and artist support departments
  • The music is played live, by human-beings, every time, only about 2 minutes of pre-recorded audio is used throughout the whole performance
  • The total number of cast and crew for the show is about 266 people
  • The production cost for KA were higher than the combined cost of all Broadway productions that were released in the same year as KA
  • The custom build venue for the show inside the MGM has 1,951 seats
  • Every seat is equipped with its own loud speakers for optimal sound experience
  • The main stage of KA is called a "Gantry" made of 2 decks, one that can slide forward and backward and the other one which can be rotated and moved 360 degrees
  • The main deck is 25×50 feet (8×16 meters) in diameter, weighs 300,000 lbs, which is more than a fully booked, loaded and gassed-up average-size jet airliner
  • Fully erected to its maximum height, artists perform their act 100 ft in the air!

Keep all that in mind!

So the story of KA is that everyone travels through life with the Egyptian concept of the ‘ka’ – their spiritual double, and this double leads them from one life through to the next. There are the Imperial twins that are about to embark on their own journey with their own ka’s. Along the way, the twins confront characters and events representing the opposing forces of good and evil. Before their world comes under attack and collapses around them, the twins receive a magical talisman for protection. As the plot unfolds, danger lies in wait for them at every turn and along the way, surviving ocean storms, meeting fantastic creatures and conquering evil opponents, and are finally reunited at the end of the show.

Along the way, the performers do amazing things, and so does the set. The main style of dance is capoeira, an ancient tribal style of dance developed by Brazilian slaves who were planning to rebel, but hid their fighting training inside the dance so as not to be discovered getting ready for rebellion.

Enough babbling. I can’t really do this performance justice in words. The costumes, set design (and engineering), props, makeup… EVERYTHING is just astounding. It’s amazing.

At the start of the show, a couple people come out and do a little demonstration, prepping us for what’s about to happen. They see a guy in the crowd with his cell phone on, so they come and grab him – and his phone – and TOSS the phone into the gigantic fire pit. The guys isn’t so happy, so they toss HIM into the big fire pit!

The guy was obviously a plant, but it was great nonetheless.

Out rotates this the gantry I posted about above.

The stage is first a giant rowboat, as the twins and their group embark on their journey, but then the WHOLE THING rotates and is replaced by another stage, where folks on this main stage get into this whole group number, where this one amazing guy is flipping and flying all over the place, while everyone else is twirling and throwing batons, and not only that, but they are KICKING the batons through the air back and forth in PERFECT synchronization. Just nuts. Archers are shooting LIVE arrows across the stage from the aforementioned platforms, and one woman is shot in the ASS. Another guy takes one in the chest, there’s fire everywhere, everyone mourns, and the story of the war begins.

I’m not going to tell you the whole thing, cause I’d be typing here for HOURS, and you don’t have that much time to read everything, but this is WICKED. There’s all kinds of group numbers. The stage is rotated out and replaced by a duplicate that’s turned into a BEACH, where folks are dressed as crabs and starfish and they interact with the characters. The whole platform ROTATES FORWARD ON IT’S END, and all of a sudden, it’s 100 feet from top to bottom, and at the end of the scene, all the sand pours off the deck, and at the top of the deck, one group of warriors is rotating on top of the deck as well. A second group of warriors try to climb 100 ft up from the bottom, but they’re met by posts that come poking out of the deck, that are like mock arrows being shot from the platform, knocking them off into the pit below! One valiant warrior manages to get all the way to the top, avoiding the big poles, but he’s finally knocked off, and he DROPS 100 ft PLUS into the pit below!

A HUGE dragon flies across the stage, with this woman hanging on for dear life, but she’s finally dropped into the pit from WAY above the stage!

There’s a great individual number where these two folks, one man, one woman, come out and do this high-flying number where the guy is swinging on a rope, and he’s doing all kinds of movements on the rope, and the woman joins him, and together, they’re doing all kinds of flippy stuff, amazing lifts, and crazy swinging drops and stunts that boggle me.

Transition into this scene where this angry looking dude is absolutely SHREDDING on a double guitar, setting the scene for this EPIC piece where there’s this huge set of double wheels rotating through the air. Picture five gigantic hamster wheels, but they’re orbiting around a central point. There’s two guys trapped in different wheels, but they escape, and pull off some of most death-defying stuff I’ve seen in a long time, running along on the OUTSIDE of the wheels while they’re orbiting, and leaping (ok, DROPPING) from one wheel to the next, and rotating through again. Simply amazing.

Cue up the deck rotated from top to bottom, so we have a 100ft vertical platform, and two groups of warriors locked in battle, performing some of the best wire harness work this side of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. These folks are FLYING up and down the platform, using weapons, martial arts, and other crazy stuff in this battle. Finally, good triumphs over evil, and the twins are reunited to continue on their journey.

As I said, there’s so much awesome in this, that I can’t ever hope to describe it. I will instead point you to this video to have a look on your own:

 

Here I was, thinking it was going to suck, and I was treated to one of the most awesome things I have ever seen in my life. Thanks Steph, for insisting we go see this.

By the end of the show, it’s about 9 Vegas time, 11 Winnipeg time, so we’ve been up for 19 hours, been through a lot of travel, a big meal, and a great show, and done it all on only two hours of sleep after a 20 hour day before that. So we go back to the hotel room and crash for the day.

I’d say that Vegas: Day 1 was a rousing success.

Next: Vegas: Day 2!

Las Vegas: The Report

I should have done this sooner, but this will be the first of several entries chronicling our trip to Las Vegas from Nov 30th to Dec 2nd, for all to relive our trip with us. I’ll be posting photos separate from this blog, as there’s just too many. We took almost 400 pictures! I’ll post an update here when the photos get uploaded.

Pre-Trip:

Graciously, Stephanie’s mom and dad offered (were volunteered?) to take care of our dogs Cola and Kira, and our cats Kitty, Jazz, and Zoey while we were gone, so leading up to the trip, we were furiously tidying up the house, get paperwork for the trip in order, preparing everything needed for the animals, and oh yeah packing.

Right. Before I forget: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to Morris and Marge for everything they did for us over these 5 days. We couldn’t have done it without you two.

The flight was set to leave at 7:10 AM from Winnipeg, and we were up until about 2:00 AM the morning of the flight finalizing things. We wanted to be at the airport about two hours ahead of schedule, so Steph’s mom and dad were to show up at our house at 5 AM to take us to the airport (only 15 minutes away), so we planned on rolling out of bed at 4 AM, maybe 4:15, and be ready for 5. Well, they showed up at 4:30 AM! So, we hustle our asses, say goodbye to the animals, and we’re off to the airport.

This is the part where I should fill you in on something. Originally, we were set to go from Winnipeg to Calgary, then on to Vegas. We were going to arrive in Vegas at around 10:30 AM Vegas time. But about six weeks before the flight, Air Canada (through Expedia, where we booked everything) calls us and says “Hey there, we had to change your flight.”

Me: Really?

Them: Yup. The time between flights in Calgary is 51 minutes. We must allow you at least 57 minutes, so we can’t guarantee your connection.

Me: Well, that sucks. What’s the new schedule?

Them: The best thing we could do for you to get to Vegas at the earliest possible time is to send you from Winnipeg to Toronto, a 2.5 hour flight, and then a two hour, ten minute layover, before a 5 hour flight from Toronto to Vegas. You’ll be in Las Vegas around 3:30 PM local time.

Me: Toronto?

Them: Yes.

Me: You realize this is in the absolute opposite direction from where we’re headed?

Them: Yes, we do.

Me: So a six MINUTE issue is going to add another 6 HOURS to my schedule?

Them: Unfortunately, yes.

Me; Ok, book it.

Wow. Thank you, Air Canada.

So, paraphrasing the dude in the Goodyear Tire commercial… “Goin’ to Toronto!”

The Flight

Flight leaves at 7:05 AM. Almost two and a half hours later, which I barely remember from passing in and out of sleep the entire flight – I must have watched two episodes of “The I.T. Crowd” at least three times – we land at 8:30 AM Toronto time.

We use the next two hours to find our way around the cavernous Toronto airport, complete with Maple Leaf Lounge (vomit), to find our baggage, weasel our way through Customs – where I had to take off my belt and my SHOES – thank you, shoe bomber, grab some lunch, purchase a guitar magazine for me to read that somehow cost over eleven bucks – wait. That was actually funny. Picture Stephanie not hearing the price of the magazine, handing the cashier a $10, and then him asking for more money.

Stephanie: More? I gave you a ten.

Him: The magazine is $11.76.

Stephanie: (out LOUD) WHAT?!?! $11.76? For a MAGAZINE?!? OH MY GOD! That’s RIDICULOUS!

And then the coup de grace: she looks at the cashier, smiles, and says “Of course, it’s not YOUR fault. You just work here. But MAN!”

Color me RED.

From there, off to our departure gate. My ridiculously over-priced magazine (interviewing Tommy Iommi and EDWARD FREAKING VAN HALEN, no less!) stays in my backpack, and after some bathroom breaks, we wait for our connecting Air Canada flight to Vegas.

The Flight, Part Deux

We finally board the plane, and after take-off at 10:30 (11:30 Winnipeg), again, in between bouts of sleep, the flight lasts around five hours.

5 hours.

5 hours of slight – nay, extreme – discomfort the entire trip – there’s barely any leg room for anyone. Good luck to anyone over four-and-a-half feet tall. Steph is five-two and she had problems. And then there was the HEAT.

The sweltering, sweaty, all-crushing HEAT. How can it get that freaking HOT on an airplane? I realize we’re 35,000 feet in the air, but the cabin is pressurized! Isn’t there any bloody climate control? Steph shows me the air nozzles above our seat. I knew they were there, but she tries to help me get it going. Really, it was no use.

This thing was like bringing a six-shooter into a shoot-out with an entire mob of gang members carrying fully automatic rifles.

With extra large ammunition magazines.

And with laser sighting.

We were just overpowered.

Thank you, Air Canada.

So combine the two hours of sleep we had, plus the six-plus hours we’ve already spent in an airport or on a plane, add the debilitating heat, and you’ve got a recipe for instant sleep.

‘Night, folks.

I wake up part way through the flight, and I’m glad I woke up when I did, as we had some fantastic views. As we got closer to Nevada, we could see the mountains, and then a gigantic gouge tearing a mark across the earth that could only be the Grand Canyon. Amazing. Then it was the Hoover Dam. Seeing it from fairly high up doesn’t do it justice – it looked like it was only three relative inches tall, but even at that range, it looked HUGE, and you could see it holding back the Colorado, and we were in awe of it’s power. Truly a sight to see.

The Landing

From there, shortly after, we began our descent into Las Vegas, and we landed on schedule, around 3:30 Las Vegas time (5:30 Winnipeg), even though it felt like once the pilot hit the brakes, the ass end of the plane was going to swing around and we were see how many donuts we were going to do before coming to a stop.

But, we landed alright, and once again went on a journey to find our luggage. Once that was accomplished, we headed straight outside into the Nevada sunshine (+12!), and caught a shuttle to our hotel, the MGM Grand.

We’ve arrived!

Next: Las Vegas: Day 1

Dinner With The Great One

What’s with me and misleading post titles lately?

No, I didn’t have dinner with The Rock – although that would be incredibly freaking cool. Nor did I actually have dinner with Wayne Gretzky – I’d probably faint before I ever even touched my fork – but it sure felt like I did when I got to go to Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant (clicky) in Toronto last week while I was on course for work.

All pictures can be clicked on for a bigger version.

We roll up to the restuarant, and they have a tremendous sign up at the front:

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When you walk in to the front of the restaurant, there’s a fantastic store chock full of Gretzky merchandise: t-shirts, golf shirts, hats, pucks, tiny sticks, mugs, keychains… all kinds of stuff. And then, as you proceed inside, you see the desert display:

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Would you LOOK at the size of that cake?!? Keep that in mind. I’ll come back to that later.

So once we sat down, the place looked really good. There were two parts of the restaurant – the outer perimeter looked really snazzy, the walls done in a deep red that looked really nice, with art work and magazine covers of Wayne, and even one of Janet on the walls. The accents and tables were nice wood, so it looked cool.

Close to us was the following chalkboard:

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Someone’s got some SERIOUS MAD CHALK SKILLZ.

Our area where we were seated was right in front of the kitchen, so it was more of a diner-like setting, with a black and white checkerboard floor, and our tables were designed like small hockey rinks – each of the designed with a different scoring play from Gretzky’s career on them – drawn like you might see on a play book or football chalk board.

Our two tables had two very memorable plays – ones that I can still remember the highlights of very vivdly – of the playoff goal he scored on Mike Vernon while streaking down the left wing, and of the record-breaking goal he scored against the Oilers, when Marty McSorley made that brilliant little touch pass to a wide open Gretzky for the goal.

Wait a minute.

Did I just use the words "Marty McSorely" and "brilliant" in the same sentence?

Wow.

Anywho… continuing on…

So, we have dinner – which was pretty darned good – and we see the desert menu. Lo and behold, there’s the cake we saw earlier. A slice is $13.99, but it’s TEN LAYERS.

TEN LAYERS.

The four of us decide to go for it (the bill wasn’t mine, so they didn’t have to twist my arm very much). Here’s a shot of the cake (you’ve GOTTA click this for the big version):

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That’s our friend Becky dodging behind the FREAKING GI-NORMOUS piece of cake. Once we laid it down to cut it, IT TOOK UP TWO PLATES!!

Anyway, the cake was awesome. The food was excellent, and the four of us (myself, Stephanie, my co-worker Vern, and our friend Becky) had a real good time.

Then it was time to go sight-see.

This place is AMAZING. If you’re AT ALL a Gretzky fan, you MUST see this place before you die. Put it on your bucket list. DO IT!

Here’s some shots from around the restaurant:

Picture of Wayne with Gordie Howe:

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A framed ROOKIE JERSEY from the Oiler years:

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And right behind our table was this awesome glass display case with sticks and pucks in it. Each item held some significance in Gretzky’s career:

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If you look closely, you can see on that Titan stick up close that it was used when he broke Bobby Orr’s scoring record. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?

Then you got to walk through this AMAZING back hallway, filled with display cases FULL of stuff covering Gretzky’s entire lifetime and career. Most items are noted with their significance (ie: this jersey was worn during his last game in Toronto, or these gloves were worn scoring this point, etc). They even have the puck from his first NHL goal:

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There’s even a jersey from the legendary Vladislav Tretiak, the amazing Soviet goalie that made us all look like fools:

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Here’s a look at the case in chronological order:

As a child: (the score sheet in the background is the ACTUAL score sheet from the year he scored 368 goals as a 10 year old is 68 games. Nevermind the fact he was playing against kids much older than him!

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The teenage years: (marking his time in The Soo, and playing with Indianapolis before moving to Edmonton)

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Of course, the Oiler years, where he became a legend:

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The "Trade Heard Round The World" sent Gretzky to Los Angeles in 1988:

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There’s even some stuff from his All-Star and International play:

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Gretzky was the King of Broadway:

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And for the motherlode… one of these authentic, signed jerseys will be mine SOME DAY!!

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At the end of the night, we stopped off at the merchandise store and picked up all kinds of things Gretzky’s to give to the relatives for Christmas and birthdays. I picked up a sweet looking mug and puck.

But what trip to Toronto and talking about Wayne Gretzky would be complete without talking about the Stanley Cup? After all, Gretzky and Lord Stanley’s Mug are like bread and peanut butter – they go great together and when you think of one, you think of the other.

I was fortunate enough to have 45 minutes in the Hockey Hall Of Fame (damned place closes at 5 PM!!!), and in breezing through the place, I caught the 802 pucks for Gretzky’s goal record, and a whole whack of great jerseys and other things, but I got to see the Holy Grail of professional hockey (and touch it too!) – the Stanley Cup. We got a couple of pro shot pictures. One is of myself and the Cup, and the other is of the Cup with myself and Stephanie.

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I’ve got to go back some day and see all the rest of the great hockey memories, and spent more time just taking it all in and really just enjoying it. This was pretty rushed due to my course hours, but all in all, it was a hockey – and Gretzky – fans’ dream!