It’s not everyday I get to go on “vacation”, and certainly not everyday said vacation requires we get on an airplane, but a good opportunity presented itself and we jumped at the chance. As many of you likely know, I’m one of those people who scours the internet and calls customer service hotlines to get the best deals. Going to Vegas was no different. I wanted to do this entire trip for less than $1500.00 USD. To do this, crafty manipulation was required. Fortunately, my employer is very forgiving with time off, given enough notice.
We started looking for airfare in February (2014) as to get a great deal. We settled on a flight from our home airport to Las Vegas via AirTran, and a round trip flight was $838.00. Not too bad in my opinion. Yes, I could have done better with Priceline or waiting a little while to book, but airline costs are one thing I don’t leave to chance.
Next, hotels. I’m super picky about hotels and since I’ve been to Vegas before, I knew exactly where I wanted to stay. Enter The Signature at MGM Grand.
The Signature at MGM Grand is somewhat unknown on the strip. Their existence is due in part to a partnership between MGM Mirage and Turnberry Associates. On the land where The Signature’s 3 towers sit, MGM Grand’s ill-received Adventures Theme Park. Slated for destruction, when MGM announced what, at the time, was called “The Residences” they sold out in less than 90 days.
It’s 3 towers serve several purposes. First and foremost, many units at The Signature are compromised of condominiums. People own the units, not the hotel, and have access to the same resort amenities as a guest of the hotel. But when the owner wants, their condo can be leased out like a normal hotel room. Additionally, many of the other units at The Signature are just hotel rooms. And the third purpose is for 3rd party property management companies to lease rooms for their customers. To put it simply: “John” owns unit 25-709 in Tower 2, but for whatever reason doesn’t want the MGM Grand or The Signature Property Management to facilitate rental, so he has a 3rd party do this. In this scenario, there may be benefits passed on to the customer such as reduced room rates and free wifi.
The Signature is in many ways, unlike any other hotel or boutique hotel in Las Vegas. It’s private, secured, smoking and gaming free. It has it’s own entrance and you need not know that MGM Grand is just behind you. However, should you wish to wander over there, you’ll find once you exit the walkway, you will be placed next to the Spa. Quite nice!
As you may already have gathered, The Signature is connected to the MGM by an air conditioned, tinted, mostly moving walkway. In fact, check out this image if you are confused, The red indicates the covered walkway, virtually none of it is exposed to the elements.
If you’re a fan of the aquatics, The Signature has 3 pools, which are dedicated to the towers themselves. Meaning, guests of the MGM may not use the pool and related amenities. There are numerous hot tubs and cabanas for your enjoyment as well, and of course, as with nearly all establishments in Las Vegas, you may enjoy alcohol by the pool at your leisure.
The Signature is also a “non gaming and non smoking property”. Once you exit MGM’s Casino and enter The District , gaming ends, and as soon as you pass through The Signature at MGM’s doors, so does the ability to smoke inside.
Each room at The Signature is nearly identical. In fact, if you owned one, you aren’t allowed to change a thing! The only difference in room appearance is the room size/type. For example, there are two variations of the Junior Suites, one has a balcony, while the other doesn’t. For the space-conscious, there’s the one bedroom suite, which has a separate living area and a full kitchen like you’d have at home.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve stayed at The Signature in the past, and will stay again. MGM is my favorite place to stay on The Strip and while I don’t game/gamble, the property is comfortable. MGM has numerous hotel options for the discerning guests, from the standard rooms, the Stay Well to the West Wing, and SKYLOFTS to Mansion, as well as The Signature, there is something for everyone. As a past guest of SKYLOFTS and West Wing, I prefer The Signature. There’s something about it I like, a je ne sais quoi of comfort.
Our first priority in Las Vegas also happened to be something on my bucket list – visit (at least one of) the Area 51 entrance(s). We all know you can’t go very far, but as conspiracy theorists and fans of the lore surrounding the area, visiting is a right of passage. I won’t go into much detail about how to get there, if you want that kind of information Dreamland Resort has everything you’d ever want to know, including a friendly community you can discuss the current goings on of the base.
Before you plan a trip to The Extraterrestrial Highway, Area 51, the Black Mailbox, or Rachel, NV – make that trip a “day trip”. It is a 3-4 hour drive from Las Vegas to Groom Lake Road, and another hour minimum from there to Rachel. Also, definitely rent a car.
Below: a mini-gallery of our day trip to the ET Highway and a video!
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As you can see, the ET Highway is a popular place. In fact, you can check into it on Yelp and Facebook. I imagine the Nevada State Department of Transportation has had to replace the sign at least a few times, due to the stickers. From here, it’s about another hour to Groom Lake Road (below). The rear entrance to Area 51. The rear entrance, obtained by entering a dirt/rock road from 375 (aka The ET Highway). This road is undoubtedly littered with listening devices, sensors, and cameras.
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Towards the end of the photo gallery above you’ll see where we were able to photograph the “Cammo Dudes” – aka Area 51 security, and their camera appliances. We didn’t cross the line of course, as we would have been arrested.
After we escaped, I mean, left the perimeter, we headed on to see the Black Mailbox (below) and visit Rachel, NV, for a quick lunch.
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While investigating Las Vegas and things to do, we found a place called Jean Philippe Patisserie. There are two in Las Vegas, one in Bellagio and the other in Aria. For the purpose of this writeup, our experiences with Jean Philippe were at their Aria location.
Unfortunately, attempting to use the english language to convey to you, the reader, the quality and taste of their confections, isn’t possible. If you visit Las Vegas, or even live there, and don’t try Jean Philippe once, you’re doing yourself a dis-service. Their sandwiches leave a lot to be desired, but chocolate pastries, gelato, and bonbons are out of this world. Check out some of the ones we sampled during the 5 days we were in Las Vegas:
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Sure, it seems like a lot, but really there are a few pictures from Jean Philippe which aren’t displayed. Take my advice: they’re damn good! Check them out!
Cirque du Soleil – Kà,
We did manage to see Kà, and in case you haven’t heard, on June 29, 2013, cast member Sarah “Sasoun” Guyard-Guillot, an acrobat from Paris, France, died after she fell about 50 feet (27.5 meters) from the show’s stage at MGM Grand. She was taken to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada where she died. It was the first reported death from an accident onstage in Cirque du Soleil’s 30-year history. My condolences to her family and to Cirque’s family.
What we didn’t know until the last minute was a complete change of the final battle scene, aka the “Dressing Down scene”. To the right is the original ending to the production. (Sorry for the bad quality, it was a difficult video to find) Essentially, they now show the projection screen with the final battle, without people. The quality however, of this projection, is what I take issue with. Kàhas one of the most advanced stages and theater equipment sets in the world, and you mean to tell me they couldn’t get a better video projector? The “simulation” looks like something from an 80s movie where people were simulated. Honestly, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had better special effects (like the chess game scene) than this crap. Cirque has to fix this, it’s no wonder ticket sales for Kàare down!
Next time, we will not see Kà, but instead, will see one of the many shows on the strip. Fortunately, we received the Kà tickets at 20% off per ticket via my employer, so the money wasn’t also wasted.
No holiday is 100% complete without finding time to squeeze in some work on the side. For me, visiting the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas, NV was a dream, and having recently been promoted to Quality Assurance, interacting and observing the Zappos team would be great for my career. (In fact, my experience at Zappos on this day inspired a project at my job, but I won’t mention it here). Zappos has to be one of the most interesting and unique companies I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around or touring. For those who don’t know, their tour is free, you can book here or call them +1-702-943-7879. If it seems like you don’t get to see much or learn much on the tour, think otherwise. The tour is jam packed with goodies and tidbits of the tasty, nom nom, Zappos Culture. Who knows, maybe you’ll apply to work there on the spot.
Really, what makes them different isn’t just their benefits, which are free to all employees, but their open workflows. The entire company seems to be built on individual accountability, which, in many companies would be dangerous. They let you have your fun, don’t tie you to a desk all day, as long as you get your work done at the end of the day/week/month, etc. Speaking of their desks, they have the most non cube cube farms I’ve ever seen:
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If you work in any form of customer service, quality assurance, management, IT, call center, or are just curious where your shoes came from – definitely get a reservation for a tour booked!
Fremont Street. This is Vegas’ other costume party. First and foremost, this is Old Vegas. Binions, the oldest and likely most smokey Casino in Las Vegas is still operating here. Kinda scary when you think about it. How often do they change their bed sheets? eeek, I don’t wanna think about it. Despite the icky hotels, a few of which have been remodeled, there is still much to see. If you’re planning to visit Fremont Street for the free LED show – don’t. Here’s the show on YouTube:
If you’re planning to visit for the other sights, cheap booze, and a strip club or two – then you’re in the right spot. If you’ve ever been to Las Angeles or New York, you’re likely familiar with the poser people who dress up like a celebrity and do impersonations. They ask for tips and you get a photo of them. Well my friends, they are a dime a dozen on the Fremont Street square mile.
Of course, there are the other hotels, Golden Nugget, Bunions, The D, and a few strip clubs. mostly nasty places you’d really just want a photo of and not to go inside. In many ways, it’s like a horrible accident. You can’t help but to look away.
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But wait… you forgot about food!
Relax, I’m just taking my time with this article!
Believe it or not, we didn’t do anything special for food, however a list is prepared below:
- Bacchanal Buffet – Caesars Palace – Rating: Excellent and worth the money. Go for the dessert bar.
- Spice Market Buffet – Planet Hollywood – Rating: Decent, we would not have paid the price were it not for a 2-for-1 groupon with unlimited champagne.
- Tacos -n- Ritas – This is a food court restaurant located in the, you guessed it, food court of the MGM Grand. It was the last thing we ate before we left Las Vegas. The food is decent, but you should be ahead on the slots or tables, as this place is over priced.
- Noodle Shop – Mandalay Bay – we were really craving Chinese food and this place looked good without the Las Vegas price increase. Though they have Ramen, we did not try it. However, I saw a bowl come out for another customer and it looked delicious. My sweet & sour chicken was excellent, as was the pork fried rice plate, which was large enough to split. Don’t let the small size of the restaurant deceive you. It’s very good!
- Overlook Grill – Cosmopolitan – the restaurant, like the hotel, is pretentious, and tries to be something it’s not. It’s overpriced as well, However, they did manage to turn out a good sushi pizza. My friend’s salad, on the other hand, looked like something you’d feed a rabbit and cost almost $25.
- Fresh Grill Bar – Miracle Mile Shoppes Planet Hollywood – Located inside the Miracle Mile Shoppes within the Planet Hollywood, they truly have one of the best deals in Las Vegas. I had a simple teryaki bowl which was tasty, and not too overpriced. They also have a Coke machine with the touchscreen and free refills.
- DJ’s Tacos – There are two locations on the Strip, one across from City Center in the little shopping mall, and the other inside an international food court at Fremont Street. Specifically, we dined at their Fremont Street location and found their $2 dollar tacos to hit the spot. For $2 bucks, we got one quality taco with excellently seasoned and prepared meat, lettuce, and pico. Highly recommended, this one!
What didn’t we get to do?
There were a few things on our “we really want to do this” list. As with almost any vacation, you run out of time, money, or energy (ours was the latter) to do them. Things we missed:
- A day trip to Red Rock Canyon. We had the rental car, but the morning we wanted to go, we were quite tired and very sore. It wasn’t worth it. Resting on this day actually saved us from a grouchy, painful week.
- National Atomic Testing Museum – I actually purchased a Groupon for this, which is of course, non refundable. Alas, maybe cPanel will hold cPanel Conference 2015 in Las Vegas and I can use it.
- We also didn’t get to see the Ferrari store at WYNN, Mirage’s Volcano, Sirens of TI at Treasure Island, or the Bellagio’s fountain show.
As long as Vegas stands, there will be things to do. New exciting ventures, rides, and excursions. We had a blast and would recommend a vacation to Las Vegas to anyone. If you don’t drink or gamble, there is still a ton of things to do! Just do your research and when the time comes, get the best deal possible on your expenditures, show tickets, hotels, and airfare.