Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vegas Vacation Report

My wife and I just got back from a free trip to Las Vegas on Monday night. I won the trip at our company golf outing (one of our vendors gives this trip as a prize for our employees.) It's a 4 day/3 night trip. This is the second time in four years I've been the one to win it. The first trip didn't turn out so well, as I ended up getting some kind of virus while there and spent the last full day there at the medical care center waiting to see a doctor. Not a fun time.

Since it's been four years since we've been to Vegas, I was really looking forward to the trip. I love Vegas. We aren't huge gamblers and don't have a lot of "throw away" money to gamble with, so our gambling budget is quite small. I usually don't put more than $20 into a machine. If it doesn't pay out when I'm down to about $10, I cash out and move along to another machine. I'm not much of a table gamer either, but I have tried my luck at roulette a few times in the past.

With that as a preface, let me tell you about our free trip...

First of all, we were presented with four choices of hotels... Harrah's, Luxor, NYNY, and the Flamingo. We stayed at the Flamingo the last time we were there, and since I got sick there, we opted not to stay there again this trip. We chose Harrah's, as it is in the middle of The Strip and centrally located to most of the other casinos.

Our flight was with Spirit. We didn't have a choice of airlines, as we weren't paying for anything, so I wasn't going to complain about too much. I've never flown Spirit before and didn't know what to expect. The last trip I took was to Lotusphere08, and I flew with AirTran. I have to tell you, I'm not a big fan of Spirit. It had nothing to do with the flight, as we arrived in Vegas about 40 minutes early. It had to do with all the "extra" stuff.

Evidently, purchasing a ticket with Spirit only guarantees you a spot on the plane. If you wait to check in 24 hours in advance, you take your chances on where you sit (pretty much par for the course with any airline, I guess.) However, Spirit gives you the opportunity to PURCHASE your seats well before the 24 hour check-in window. Aisle and window seats are $10 per flight and the middle seat is $5 per flight ($30 total for the flight out and back.) I suppose I could have waited to choose my seat during the check-in window, but that would not have guaranteed that my wife and I could have had seats next to each other. Spirit also charges for the checked bags. It's $15 for the first checked bag (per person) in advance, or $25 when you get to the airport. Again, that's per flight, so that was another $30 for the checked bag (we only took one checked bag.) So, our "free" flight cost us $60, with guarantees seat assignments and a checked bag... I guess that's not so bad, considering we didn't have to pay for the flight itself, but that is a little ridiculous, if you ask me.

The problem I have with charging for checked bags is that now, people who are flying are trying to cram as much stuff into the largest carry-on bag they can find, to avoid having to pay the checked bag fees. This causes a lot of problems for people trying to find a spot to put the carry-on bags in the overhead compartments. I saw some bags that were very close, if not more, to being over the size limit for a carry-on. It's crazy.

The check in at Harrah's went fine. As the woman checked us in, she went over some of the paperwork for the room. Our room had a mini bar. She explained to us that the mini bar had weight sensors in them, and if you as much as lifted a bottle of something in the mini bar, you were charged for it, whether you opened it up or not. We were also told that we could not store our own stuff in the mini bar (like bottles of water.) If we did, there would be a charge for that. We found out once we got to the room, that we would be charged $50 if we were to put something in the mini bar. Incredible. I can understand the weight sensor thing in the mini bar, as I have heard of people opening a bottle of liquor (like vodka, rum, or gin), drinking it, and then refilling the bottle with water, to make it look like nothing was consumed. But explain to me the reason for not allowing me to put a bottle of water I purchased elsewhere into the mini bar to keep cold? I don't get that part of the puzzle.

As for Vegas itself, a lot has changed in four years. The Aladdin is no longer the Aladdin, but Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. There's a few new casinos being built. Trump now has a hotel in Vegas. There's the Miracle Mile Mall attached to Planet Hollywood that wasn't there the last time we were there. You couldn't tell the economy was in the tank, looking around at all the construction and new things going on in Vegas.

As for the gambling... we were losers. I'm a video poker player. The best I could manage was a full house on any machine. I never hit four of a kind or straight flush, and only sniffed at a royal flush, only to miss that and a flush at all. The machines are a lot different too. Sure, they have penny and nickel machines, but to play these machines at max credits, you have to play anywhere from a buck to $3 per spin/hand. They aren't really penny machines if you have to play a buck a spin. They are dollar machines disguised as penny machines, and people were playing them like they were penny machines. Hell, some of the machines wouldn't even let you play just one penny (not that I would have done that, but still...)

I cannot believe the number of people who bring their little children to Vegas and think it is a family vacation spot. I'm not talking families with young teenagers, but families with babies and children under 10 years old. There are things in Vegas these kids do not need to see at that age, and I'm not talking about inside the casinos. I know the saying "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" and that's all well and good, and people really do play the part. People dress differently out there and a lot of the women wear very revealing clothes (not that I'm complaining), but these little kids don't need to see that. Not to mention the guys (and women) standing on the sidewalk handing out the little cards for escort services. These cards are nearly X-rated pictures of naked women with "stars" on their naughty parts. You don't have to take on from the people handing them out, as they little the sidewalks. I'm just amazed at the people who thing Vegas is the kind of place to take their little one's on vacation. I have two children, 9 and 6, and there is no way in hell I would even consider taking them to Vegas before they were 30 (ha ha).

We did see Wayne Brady at the Venetian, while we were there. Very good show. He's an amazing improv performer and a good singer as well. We got tickets a week before we left and had 3rd row seats at stage right. He performed for about an hour and half or so, and had us in stitches. He did several things he's done on "Who's Line Is It Anyway?", brought people up on stage to have them participate, and it was all good fun. I would suggest checking him out, if you have the chance. My wife wanted to see Cher, but we couldn't get tickets prior to getting out there, and it was a good thing. As we were walking through Caesar's Palace on Saturday afternoon, we walked by where she was performing and say a notice that her show was canceled that night and it was not going to be rescheduled. I'm glad we didn't have tickets to the show.

All in all, even with the complaining I did above, we had a great time. We did a lot of walking, we went downtown to see the older casinos, but didn't stay to see the Fremont Experience, as we had seen that the last time we were there. We went through almost all of the casinos, new and old, that we wanted to. I was a little disappointed in the Monte Carlo. They have a brewery there. Well... hey used to. The restaurant was still there, but they no longer make their own beer. It was the only reason we visited the Monte Carlo.

We we were there four years ago, and even though I was violently ill on my last day there, I would have gone back the following weekend. This time, I'm not as excited to go back. I'm not sure if it was because I was four years older and my view of life is that much different than it was then, but, I'm just not as excited to go back as I used to be. Sure, I'd go again, but I can wait to go back. I didn't feel that way four years ago. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Viva Las Vegas...

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