Not getting home until after 7:00 last night, and barely managing to get the photos uploaded to Flickr after some last minute editing tweaks before going to bed, I have been otherwise rather pressed for time -- I won't have a chance to write in as great of detail as I would really like, here, about my last three days to Las Vegas with Danielle; I have not had a chance to caption any one of the photos yet; they are not even tagged yet. If all goes to plan, they will by the end of the evening tonight, and by then you will have to rely on the photo captions over there on Flickr for the detailed account of the trip.
Suffice it to say that, this being my seventh visit to that city since my first in 2004, even though it had been four years and eight months since my last one in January 2015, I think it will be a good several years or more before I feel compelled to go again. There was not nearly as many new things to explore this time as there have been the last few times I went, in spite of the several years elapsed, which means the novelty has waned significantly; it also arguably made a difference that this time I was there with a travel companion (Danielle) who had perhaps the least enthusiasm for Vegas out of the four I have been there with (Craig; Shobhit; Jennifer; Danielle). Danielle did have a good time, as did I, but she seems content never to expect to return again. I would still really like to, although my dream now is to visit one day with Gabriel, who has a very specialized appreciation for and knowledge of old-school, mobster-era Las Vegas and where to find vestiges of it that still exist. This means a visit with Gabriel would mean experiencing Las Vegas in a completely new way I have never experience it before. Instead of visiting a bunch of glitzy tourist spots, I'd probably visit a lot of dark old bars and lounges and drinking a lot of bourbon. But whatever, it would be new!
Anyway. Danielle and I still managed to cram quite a lot into our three-day mini-vacation, a good number of them involved high views from upper-floor restaurants or observatories -- four of them, in fact; all represented in the four photos you see in this post. It's probably the highest number of "destination views" I have ever managed in a single visit to Las Vegas, but I also enumerated all the "points of interest" that we deliberately set out to visit, and the number came to eight:
1. Paris Las Vegas / Eiffel Tower Expreience [fourth time]
2. Le Village Buffet at Paris Las Vegas [second time I've had brunch there; Shobhit and I first discovered it in 2008]
3. Wildlife Habitat at The Flamingo Las Vegas [I've probably been to this one before but have not yet calculated when]
4. Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens [fifth time; only as of today have I separated these shots into their own dedicated photo album for an albums collection of their own]
5. High Roller [second time; it had been standing less than a year when I was last in Vegas, with Shobhit, in January 2015]
6. Voodoo Steakhouse at The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino [first time I ever made it over to The Rio, which is about a mile off the Strip to the west]
7. Penn & Teller at The Rio
8. Stratosphere Tower [third time up the tower; first time back since 2005 because subsequent times I stayed in hotels either in the middle or at the opposite / south end of the Strip; this was my first stay at The Stratosphere Hotel]
So, the photos in this post: the image of Danielle and me up top -- my favorite of any of the shots I got of the two of us up high on an observatory -- is of us at the peak of the High Roller ferris wheel's half-hour revolution; the next shot, below, is of Danielle and me on the observatory of the Paris - Las Vegas half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower; the one after that, not nearly as clear as I would prefer (but I got lots of other clear shots of the spectacular view from there), is of Danielle and me just outside the Voodoo Steakhouse on the 50th floor of the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino; and the last one, below, is of Danielle and me on the outdoor observatory atop the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower (its height being second only to Toronto's CN Tower in the Western Hemisphere, for observatory towers specifically).
My husband, being a sweetheart, actually had the time outside of varying work shifts and was willing to drive me both to and from the airport for this trip, a privilege I cannot remember having in many, many years -- I literally do not remember the last time it happened and it's probably been fifteen years or more. Has that ever happened at all since I have been with Shobhit? Since I've lived in Seattle? I'm just so used to taking Light Rail, and before 2009, taking express buses, to the airport. I was even totally willing to this time, but Shobhit actually seemed to want to. His shift on Sunday started at 8 a.m. but I needed to be at the airport by 7:40, so he just drove straight back up to Seattle and to work after dropping me off. Danielle arrived probably within ten minutes of me. And yesterday, he only worked until 1:45 in the afternoon, and so was able to pick me up at roughly 6:00 yesterday evening when we landed, and he even offered Danielle a ride home to Renton first, saving her the time and money of her alternate plan of taking a Lyft or Uber.
In any case, our flight landed in Las Vegas on Sunday just after noon, giving us most of the afternoon and evening in Vegas that first day. We did take a Lyft just that once, from the airport to the Excalibur Hotel, where we had to go first to pick up her hotel voucher for staying at the Stratosphere Hotel, because waiting for a bus on a transit system we were not yet familiar with, was going to take too long. Danielle paid for the ride, roughly $11, with her Lyft app. I paid for a 3-day transit pass on the local transit app, which Danielle did not want to download, which meant she had to buy her paper 3-day pass from one of the kiosks they have at every bus stop on the Strip, later. Soon enough we had it all figured out, though, and we took buses back and forth on the Strip (and once off the Strip to the Rio and back) so many times that there was no doubt it was absolutely worth it, and we spent far less money that way on transport than we would have relying on ride shares -- or even the Monorail, which is a separate agency and more expensive -- to get everywhere.
While I can't say that I am quite the "vacation boot camp" type that Grandma McQuilkin used to be, I do like to get things going a bit faster than Danielle seems to, and once we reached the Stratosphere Hotel (currently with a huge sign on it that just reads THE STRAT), we hung out in our room for a while before she wanted to get going and explore the Strip. Danielle took a brief nap while I walked the couple of blocks away from the hotel to a liquor store to get a 750 ml bottle of vodka, and then across the street from there to a Walgreens for some La Croix for mixing and also some limes at Danielle's request. Way made ourselves drinks when I got back, so it was a full two hours or so between arriving at the hotel and leaving again for the Strip. To be fair, the check-in line and process probably took up a good third of that.
Anyway. Once we were all settled in and got some booze inside us, on Sunday alone we managed dinner at a place called Off the Strip Bistro & Bar in the promenade by The Linq hotel behind which stands the High Roller, and then later we did a chilly ride up to the open-air observatory of the "Eiffel Tower Experience" after dark without our jackets with us -- a lesson we learned and did not make the same mistake the next night. We were both pretty tired and decided not to cram too much more into that day, and to head back after that; we returned to our hotel at about 10 p.m.
It was Monday in which we managed to cram in by far the most stuff, another rationale for getting back early Sunday night being that I had brunch reservations for us at 9:30 Monday morning -- because the price shot up from $23 to $30 when it transitioned from "breakfast" to "brunch" at 10 a.m. So, this way we got a good night's sleep and still were able to get up in time to bus back to the middle of The Strip. Thus, on Monday we began with brunch at Le Village Buffet at the Paris - Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (the timing working out perfectly because, being there before and then through and past 10 a.m, other more lunch-type foods began to get set out, so Danielle could have things like crab legs, which made her very happy); followed by the Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo, where we met up with Danielle's work friend Stacie who also just happened to be in Las Vegas; then across the street to the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. We did just a little bit of browsing in shops there, then finally worked our way to a "Tix4Tonight" discount ticket booth, where we managed to get ourselves discount tickets to both the High Roller and that night's Penn & Teller show at the Rio. We also got a "dining card" for three bucks that offered 10-20% off select restaurants, including the one I wanted to eat at on the top of the Rio's tallest tower and which happened to be the same building Penn & Teller perform at.
So! From there it was on to the High Roller, which Danielle was nervous about doing but once we were on it she had a blast and noted more than once how worth it it was. A big part of the experience this time was, unlike when Shobhit and I rode it after dark back in 2015, during a far higher-demand time of day for such things, Danielle and I took the "Happy Half Hour" open bar gondola ($35 each discounted from $40) at about 1:45 in the afternoon. And guess what? There were no other people taking that gondola -- which costs a bit more than the others -- at that time, and Danielle and I got the entire half hour in the open-bar gondola to ourselves! This was an amazing stroke of luck, largely because we are proud and happy day drinkers. Another key difference from when Shobhit and I rode it: because we were two out of something like 15 or 20 people in the car, the bartender was very busy making drinks for all those people, and I think Shobhit and I each managed maybe three of those relatively weak cocktails over the course of the single half-hour revolution of the wheel. But with this bartender tending to only the two of us? Danielle had eight drinks and I had six. I got a slight buzz on and this was a serious start for Danielle's serious day of drinking that day. Also, the bartender happily obliged and took photos of Danielle and me together, taking care to get a great shot of the Strip skyline behind us, as you can see by the truly great shot of us at the top of this post.
After the High Roller, we took the bus back to the Stratosphere Hotel, where I hoped to have a quick turnaround and get back to the Rio at least an hour before our 7pm dinner reservation -- I had never been to the Rio before and was interested in exploring the area a bit. But, true to form, Danielle would agree to a plan and then take her time every step of the way, cutting things closer and closer as time went along. To be fair, from her perspective it was fine and chill and pretty hassle- and stress-free. To me, it was relatively consistent lost opportunity, which I will admit was not always a fair way of thinking on my part. She wanted at least half an hour by the pool at the Stratosphere, saying she could get ready really quick (this was never quite as true as she proclaimed) once we got back down to our room. She was always super happy to feel the hot sun whenever we were outside, and even complained more than once that it was only in the high seventies and not around 90°; I found the weather perfect, except, I had to admit, when we did put our feet in the pool water and it was definitely colder than we wanted to swim in for that weather.
Anyway, I had hoped to get back downstairs to wait for a bus by 5:18, with the hope of getting to The Rio by 6:00, giving us plenty of time before dinner. Had it been up to me, this would have been easily done. But, Danielle wanted first to get two of the $4 Happy Hour beers at the Taphouse bar on the ground floor before we headed out, which I wound up carrying one of for her on the bus while she carried one of them in one hand and her water bottle in the other; I had a straw-lidded cup with a few shots of vodka I hoped eventually to add to a slushy drink later in my other hand. This thus became a near-repeat of when I carried beer for her on a bus coming back from the wedding she got wasted at in Syracuse back in June. Danielle was pretty well fine after all those drinks on the High Roller, and although she never got as stupid-wasted as she had in Syracuse, she did cross the line between "amusing buzzed" to "annoying drunk" with those two beers -- it got her drunk enough that, sometime later, on the casino level of the Rio, she finally had me throw out the last third or so of her second beer, admitting that she probably should have limited it to just one.
Now. I don't regret taking this trip. I had a good time. It was fun, and absolutely worth doing. I'm glad I went with Danielle. But, with this apparent need of hers to get gratingly drunk at least one night of every trip she goes on (or at least on both the trips I went on with her this year), I am not likely to be eager to travel with Danielle again any time soon. Although she did not get seriously sloppy with it this time around, she did have blackout periods -- she was with me when we picked up our Penn & Teller tickets at the box office in the Rio, and not half an hour later she was asking me when we were going to pick up our tickets. She had no recollection at all of having already done it. This stretch between taking the bus down the Strip on our way to the Rio -- where she even knocked against a wall and sloshed some of her uncovered beer onto the floor; and another time sloshed on the floor and only through blind luck did not get any on the very nice middle-aged black lady sitting next to her -- and transferring to a second bus from the Strip, was the worst stretch of time. Danielle would talk in this exaggerated, high-pitched, valley-girl type voice that I have only ever seen her do, at least to this extent of obnoxiousness, while drunk; any time I expressed annoyance or dismay at her behavior, particularly when she would lag behind me half-stumbling along the sidewalk or whatever, she would just laugh at my apparent ridiculousness, and more often than not, go out of her way to keep doing what she could plainly see was bothering me. I told her yesterday, and to her credit she took it very well, that I don't enjoy myself around her when she'd drunk. I just don't, and if that's what I have to look forward to any time I travel with her, then to be honest I'm relieved there are no further plans to do so at this point. She should find someone else who does enjoy themselves around her when she's drunk, who I'm sure would not be that difficult to find, and she should take subsequent trips with that person. She would have more fun that way, and so would I, so that seems pretty much like a win-win to me.
We were tasked with picking up our Penn & Teller tickets at least an hour before showtime, which meant we needed to get them before dinner. By the time we managed that it was well past 6:30, giving us no time to explore any of the non-casino shopping corridors of the Rio, as I had hoped, before dinner at 7:00. That said, again to be fair, I did not see a whole lot down on the ground floor of the Rio beyond pretty basic casino slots and tables anyway, unless there was a shopping concourse we did not see, which is still entirely possible. This "Masquerade Tower," where the restaurant we went to is on a floor labeled 50 but according to Emporis.com it actually stands at 42 stories -- this seems to be common with the Vegas towers, elevators that just "skip" several of the floors between 1 and 10 -- has been standing apparently since 1997, so it's not quite as old as I thought; the other building, the 20-story but much wider "Ipanema Tower," was erected in 1990. Given the "tourist attraction" nature of lobbies and novelty designs of shopping hallways and concourses of so many of the other huge casino hotels also originally built in the nineties, it seems like there is probably some area of similar interest somewhere in the Rio complex. I might say I'll look for it next time, but not only do I have no idea when next time might be, but it feels less than likely that a "next time" will include a visit to the Rio again, especially if by some miracle I ever manage to go there with Gabriel, who will have no interest. (If I ever go with Shobhit again, I suspect he could be persuaded to return to the Voodoo Steakhouse for dinner -- they had several very good vegetarian options on the much cheaper starter menu, although there is still a $30 minimum per person.)
It also took us a while just to figure out where the entrance was to the elevator up to the Voodoo Steakhouse, as we had to go up one level and walk along a -- oh right, that was a shopping concourse, with most of the stores closed at that time. Hmm. Was that all there was at the Rio? Maybe I'll research it more online later. It may very well be that it made no difference that we did not make it there by 6 as I had hoped, in which case I can't very fairly go resenting Danielle for holding us up. She still could have walked a little faster, damn it!
Once we were up in the restaurant, Danielle was again, much like the High Roller, pretty happy we went there, particularly for the very spectacular, panoramic view of The Strip you get from there, being just a mile off of it. We both took lots of pictures; there was a door to a small outdoor viewing area right behind Danielle's seat at the two-person table we were seated at. We were originally brought to a booth but I asked if we could sit by the windows. The restaurant was quite sparsely attended, which was a surprise for 7 p.m. (granted, it was Monday night). We both wondered if The Rio was kind of on its way out -- there is so much more of interest so much more tightly concentrated right on the Strip, what incentive is there for people to go out to the Rio?
Certainly not Penn & Teller, as it turned out. After the dinner, which included some confusion with the waiter regarding our $30 minimums resulting in us getting less than we thought we ordered, so I had to reiterate that I really did want the risotto (which was delicious), and he therefore gave us 20% off with my discount dining card rather than the 10% it was supposed to be at peak dinner hours -- nice! -- we went to the 9 p.m. magic show. Oh wait, before that we killed some time at a bar, where I had a "Lemon Drop ... Not!" and was finally able to add that cup of a couple shots of vodka to a drink (making it far less tasty, honestly). I had decided against a big slushie drink right before the show because I did not want to have to pee really badly in the middle of it. We were there maybe ten or fifteen minutes, I finally was rid of that stupid cup I had been carrying around for four hours, and then we saw the show . . . which was kind of disappointing. Penn & Teller did some very impressive magic tricks, but Penn sure spends an inordinate amount of time talking about what he's doing until he actually does it. I actually got tired and nodded off a few times; Danielle, who had said she wanted to see a magic show, declared it "kind of boring." So now I have mixed feelings about it, because at the very least we got discounted tickets at $75 with no additional fees or taxes; had we seen an alternate show, such as a Cirque du Soleil show like Zumanity, it's fairly likely we would have paid $100 or more per ticket. But, who knows? Maybe those tickets were at Tix4Tonight as well. They probably were.
So, in retrospect, there were two things we did this visit to Las Vegas that were not especially necessary. Penn & Teller was one of them, but then, it's hard to know if a show will be good or bad, and Danielle's primary interest, when I was the one taking us to all these other places with views, was to see a Las Vegas show. We did indeed do that; it just wasn't great. Not terrible either, but certainly not great. The other was, I realize now, the "Eiffel Tower Experience." I really got all the views I needed at the High Roller, The Voodoo Steakhouse, and the Stratosphere Tower, and I had already been up that Eiffel Tower three times before, twice in the daytime and once at sunset; this one, I guess, at least was the first time entirely at night. I guess there's that.
It had been 14 years since I last went up the Stratosphere Tower, though. We took the bus back to our hotel Monday night after the Penn & Teller show, transferring on the Strip, and were back at about 11:30. We made the choice to stick to the Stratosphere Hotel until leaving for the airport yesterday, and although I had hoped to do the Stratosphere Tower's "SkyPod" observatory Monday night after the Rio, Danielle was too tired and asked that we go in the morning instead, which was fine. We had breakfast at the Strat Café, and then were up to the SkyPod only minutes after it opened at 10 a.m., giving us the observatory largely to ourselves, with only a few other people up there. Once again, just like at Voodoo Steakhouse, I was able to get pictures making it look otherwise totally empty. I might have even skipped the Stratosphere Tower, except that we were actually staying in the hotel there, and guess get a huge discount on SkyPod tickets -- list price for guests is $5 but taxes and fees take it ridiculously up to $9; that was still less than half the regular list price of $20 (and that's not even including taxes and fees). So, it was well worth doing, and it will likely be many years, if ever, before I go up the Stratosphere Tower again either.
We were back to our room just in time to check out at 11 a.m.; Danielle even went ahead of me so I could finally stop at a Fat Tuesday slushie bar, where instead of getting a ridiculous "yardstick" drink of it, I just got a $10 20oz cup of pineapple slushie with "grain alcohol" (Everclear -- but so weak I really did need to add to it), to which I added about half the very last of the vodka, which I had again been carrying around, this time in a closed empty Starbucks cup. I had already added some to the orange juice I had at breakfast. We then checked bags in the lobby for an hour, and Danielle bought two Bloody Marys at a bar where hotel guests also got a 2-for-1 drink coupon. The last of our extra vodka was added to those. I nursed my slushie drink for a couple of hours; Shobhit would be so proud! (He usually hates how quickly I can down cocktails.) I finished it on the bus to the airport. Before catching the bus, though, we walked the block or so to the so-called "Largest Gift Shop in the World" (uh huh) where Danielle got sweatshirts and bracelets for the girls.
I got my best buzz of the visit off that slushie drink, and was hitting a sweet spot while we sat at the airport Chili's a bit later. Danielle tried to convince me to get another drink there, but I decided against it; I didn't want to tip over into outright-drunk, and another drink probably would have done it. I also didn't want to have to pee constantly on the flight, although using the bathroom was unusually easy. Danielle asked for the window seat on the way back, and I lucked out and had no one sitting in the aisle seat on the other side of me. So, getting up did not inconvenience anyone.
Okay! Well, I wrote a lot more here than I expected to, giving you plenty of information, I suppose. Once I get those photos all captioned on Flickr there will be plenty more, although you could still view them now if you wanted. This trip I separated the photos out into a record eight separate photo albums: one for general Vegas photos; the other seven separated by the aforementioned points of interest (although Eiffel Tower Experience and Le Village Buffet are combined into one). I really need to get some actual work done now though.
[posted 1:10 pm]