Stardate, 69527.6. The Mad Man attends the symphony. Tonight’s special?
If ever there were a video montage designed to testify to what it is to be human, this would be the one. The show, produced by some immensely talented individuals and expertly performed by members of the Czech Republic National Symphony Orchestra, is an amazing look at 50 years of Star Trek. Beware, your emotions will be brought out for some playtime before being put back on the shelf with your Star Trek collectibles.
When we bought tickets, we ordered a VIP package which netted us a free poster signed by the maestro, an invitation to Sound Check, followed by a Q&A session with the maestro. We had an idea of what the show was about going in, but we were wrong. I (incorrectly) believed they would project scenes, often pivotal, engaging, popular, or of battles on a huge screen above the orchestra and playback the music from said scene. Instead, they have cut, pasted, recomposed, and done everything to create a movie, just about 2 hours long, telling the story of Star Trek, through 50 years, 710 episodes and now, 14 feature length films, while capturing every moment that captures us to this day. The film and accompanying orchestral production are amazing, to say the least.
Below, some video from the sound check.
Now, on to vacation!
Since I was deprived of a vacation last year, due to almost falling down a mountain to my doom while visiting the terrible country of St. Thomas, we are making up for it this year with another trip to Vegas. I love Vegas, the history, the glamour, the food – oh, the food. Though I don’t drink or gamble, I still have a great time. The only problem? Getting there. Ent’re Delta Airlines.
Gone are the days of this Delta, the “better” airline with great customer service. We booked our flights in mid-October, 2015 and some weeks later upgraded the seats from our Atlanta > Vegas and Vegas > Atlanta legs to Delta Comfort+. If you’ve ever flown coach and not had enough leg room, or the seat was just too flat after sitting it, Comfort+ could be the solution – assuming you get a seat, even after buying an upgrade. Despite our purchase quite a bit in advance, when we printed our boarding passes our seats from Atlanta to Vegas had been changed to “preferred” seating. Which is to say, it’s a regular seat, but you get on the plane a little quicker than everyone else. Woo! Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a big guy and paired with the herniated disc in my lower back, those Comfort+ seats would likely have eliminated quite a lot of pain during that flight. What’s interesting is, even after having to deal with this, Delta, through their on-board TV screens, plays a video with their CEO discussing the core values of the company:
- Servant Leadership
Hate to tell you this Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta, but you violated all of your core values on our flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas.
- Honesty – You weren’t honest about the change in flight. In fact, had I not printed new boarding passes, I wouldn’t have known about this change until we checked in at the airport. Delta didn’t send any e-mails, push a notification to the Fly Delta app on my phone, etc. That’s not very honest. In fact, it seems as though you want to change the itineraries of customers around without giving customers time to address the changes.
- Integrity – You didn’t keep the deal. We purchased these seats well in advance of the flight and were bumped. Sure, I might not fly a lot, I don’t carry so-called “Gold Medallion” status with Delta, but reneging on a customer purchase is in poor taste. How would you like it if a coffee maker at your favorite coffee company took your order for a latte, but decided not to give it to you, just because she can? Integrity, my ass.
- Respect – I don’t need to call the lovely Aretha Franklin to explain this to you. You disrespected my traveling partner and I by changing our seats and not notifying us beforehand. It’s only through luck we were able to address the situation early. You also disrespected us by forcing me, someone who has an injury, to sit in a seat that caused undue stress on my back, inducing nerve pain that not-so-fondly reminds me of the time I was nearly electrocuted to death by some Christmas lights many years ago.
- Perseverance – Try hard and never give up? That seems to have been easy for you to avoid doing. No one tried hard to get me (us) the seats we paid for. They just said too bad, and asked if there was anything else we could assist with.
- Servant Leadership – Caring for your customers is difficult. I know, I work in Customer Service and have done everything from Sales, Support, Retentions, QA, and Escalations. Sometimes when you aren’t in the same situation as the person standing in front of you (or with whom you are are on the phone), it’s hard to put yourself in their shoes. Let’s put it this way – when we de-boarded the plane in Las Vegas, I’m sorry the slowness due to the arch in my back, created from the seat I wasn’t supposed to sit in, giving me an “Igor” like appearance slowed down the de-boarding of everyone on the plane behind me. At least the kind, compassionate people at McCarran International Airport had the courtesy to ask if I was okay and needed any assistance. Your flight attendants failed at this.
Day One – Arrival
While The Strip is airport adjacent, it’s not exactly convenient to walk to a hotel. Usually we get a private car service and have them handle our airport transfers. However, Uber, having recently launched in Las Vegas, is now allowed to pick-up and drop-off at the McCarran International Airport! With a few caveats… They can only pick up in ‘ride share’ designated areas. Essentially, you’ll leave the airport through one of the 2 terminals, go to the ground transportation area, past Valet, Limousine, and Taxi areas, and up 2 floors to a ride share area. Uber and Lyft are pretty big here, having gained clearance by the City of Las Vegas and simultaneously defeating the taxi unions. At the moment Uber has UberX (the cheap Uber), UberXL (SUVs, Trucks, etc) and UberSelect (‘Premium or Luxury’ Cars, Audi, Tesla, etc) up and running. Be very conscious of your use of the Uber app – surge pricing is almost always in effect here, so keep that in mind when deciding if you want to use Uber or pay for a traditional taxi.
As you can see, our Uber ride from the Airport to Hotel was $31.72 dollars. The blue octagon thing and lightning bold indicate surge pricing is in effect. Even as I write this, it’s in effect on all 3 version of Uber:
We have a fondness for the Signature at the MGM Grand. This is my 4th time at this property and my 6th overall at the MGM Grand. This time around, we requested a One Bedroom Suite, which compared to our previous suite detailed here, has a separate living room, dining room, and a full kitchen with full size Sub-Zero Fridge, a 4 burner Miele stove with oven, and a dishwasher. If that sounds deluxe, it is, but at the same time – isn’t. The Signature at MGM Grand is a Condominium Hotel property. You, me, anyone can buy these (when/if one is up for sale) and when you aren’t living there, you can allow the MGM Property Management team to add it to hotel inventory, earning some income for the property. As such, the units vary in size and amenities. Below, a gallery of this suite, 29th floor, Penthouse #608.
This room also has a huge balcony with a great view:
Funny thing about the view, however. We can clearly see the JANET flights at McCarran International Airport. If you’re unfamiliar with these aircraft, they are the flights that run to/from Area 51 each day, carrying it’s employees. If you worked for/at Area 51, driving to and from work would be a hassle, for one, add tons of mileage to your car, for two, and could be a threat to National Security should someone attempt to intercept you based on your pattern. For many years now, Area 51 employees have had their own parking lot at McCarran International and are flown to work, and back home. Convenient.
We had a few hours to kill yesterday, as we landed a few hours before check-in (3 pm), and as exhausted as we were, walked around some bit. If you’ve never been to Las Vegas, prepare to get some exercise. Yesterday, I walked 14.25 miles according to the Health app.
Day Two – Rest and a Show
Today is a rest day for the both of us. The two of us had been up since around 2 pm, Saturday January 23rd and didn’t get any sleep on the airplane. We tried to stay up as late as possible in Las Vegas to help our bodies adjust to the time zone difference and finally crashed out at about 9:30 or 10 pm, Vegas time. This morning, our legs ached, and we’re just taking it easy. One of the unique features of the MGM is Television City, an area in the back of the hotel near the escalators to the pool complex, and they often do TV show screenings and focus groups which pay $25, $50, or $100 dollars for a couple hours of time. We love doing those, and it is just as they say – you go into a room, watch a pilot episode of a show and then discuss it. They record your discussions and use that to decide if they want to order a season of the show. I’m sure Las Vegas isn’t the only place they do these focus groups, and today’s pays $100. 🙂 I’m not one to turn down free money.
Dinner was a unique experience. Despite my best efforts, we wound up at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. I really don’t like Guy Fieri. His insistence of enunciating his last name as Fieti, though he’s barely Italian (3rd generation), and his blonde-tipped hair should have been left in the mid-1990s. Personal opinions aside, unfortunately the food wasn’t the greatest. Most items on the menu are burgers, which claim to be award winning, something I greatly doubt. I selected the “Mayor of Flavortown Burger” and my dining partner selected the “Bacon Mac-N-Cheese Burger”. Honestly, they were burgers of average quality with somewhat fancy toppings. The fries, or ‘quad fries’ as they are referred, were fantastic. Four different cuts of potatoes, with salt, pepper, onion powder, and mesquite flavoring.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by Frank Marino and his Divas show at the LINQ Hotel. A tribute show with female impersonators, or drag queens (if you prefer), and some of the most widely known divas around, including Cher, Celine Dion, Reba McEntire, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Liza Minelli, and more. If you’ve been to a drag show before, you know they are loud, boisterous, cheesy, and fun. Frank Marino’s Divas have been performing on The Strip for 30 years, having attained numerous awards. Frank Marino does a great impersonation of the late Joan Rivers and provides comedic relief in between performances. At this show, photography is encouraged. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d see the show again, especially at full price. I managed to obtain VIP seating at around $40.00 per person and later saw tickets priced at $118.00 (non-VIP). I think that price is a tad high for the production quality of the show, but, that’s my opinion. 🙂
You can see some video from their performances here… NSFW (No nudity, and not child-friendly content)
Day Three – Denver
Our Denver experience began with a flight from Las Vegas to Denver International Airport, perhaps the creepiest airport on the USA. The Nazi-esque paintings on the walls, just after entering are very curious. Also, the red-eyed Bronco statue (which murdered it’s maker) you see while driving in is eerie. I won’t go into the conspiracy theories surrounding the Denver International Airport but you can read about them here.
Our reasons for visiting Denver aren’t important, if you know what I mean. We used Silvercar for our car rental. If you’ve never heard of them, here’s a primer:
- No hassle, lines, or paperwork. Download their app, make a reservation at one of their 12 locations.
- When you arrive, use the camera function of their app to scan the QR code on the car, and it will unlock allowing you to get the keys and go.
- Need toll road coverage? It’s built in. You pay the regular fee, no added fees.
- Free WiFi and built in GPS.
- Return the car empty? No worries. They charge $5.00 as a convenience fill up fee, and you pay the regular price at the pump.
- Rental pricing is very fair as well, as are policies for added insurance. You can also opt to use your own insurance, but be sure your policies cover such things.
The most unique aspect of Silvercar is the type of car they rent. Just one! The Audi A4. It’s always an upgrade, essentially. No more worrying if you’ll get the Lincoln MXZ you rented or “the similar model”.
Days Four and Five:
Honestly, nothing too spectacular happened on these days. We were exhausted from the flights to/from Denver, and all of the walking was beginning to catch up with us. Interestingly, we met up for drinks at the Mandarin Orientals Mandarin Bar with a friend of mine who happened to be visiting Vegas with her Mom at the same time. Mandarin Bar, located on the 23rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is an upscale bar with tapas-style plates, and stunning views of The Strip. Be warned though, the cost of food and drinks at Mandarin Bar is commensurate with the taste and quality of said items, and the view, no doubt. I can recommend their chicken satay as an excellent tapas dish. The antipasto plate was good, but I wouldn’t order it again. As far as beverages go, the harmonious pear, cliffhanger, golden leaf, and scarlet scorpion are equally excellent choices depending on your preference for ingredients.
Our last full day in Las Vegas, Friday, was fairly planned out. Several months prior to departure, we acquired a Groupon for the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood. I should note, we’ve dined at the Spice Market Buffet during our last trip, and I am pleased to report the quality of food has not declined and the menu hasn’t changed much. Maintaining status quo on food items in a Vegas buffet is fairly impressive, to say the least. Kudos to the Planet Hollywood chef & kitchen staff. The buffet consists of various stations for continental cuisine, such as American, Asian, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and “Seafood”. There is a large dessert station in the center with a wide assortment of pastries, crepes made to order, ice cream, and freshly spun candy floss. The buffet is in no way comparable to the quality of food and sheer variety of items at Caesars Bacchanal Buffet, but, for $49.00 for 2 people with unlimited beer/wine/champagne, it was a bargain. Pro tip: Spice Market Buffet passes such as the one we obtained are frequently available on Groupon. Be sure to check the expiration dates on them before purchasing, however. Especially if you don’t leave for several months!
We capped off the evening with a late performance (10 pm) of Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace. Absinthe is perhaps the funniest show I’ve ever seen live, which is odd considering it’s not a comedy show per se. The show takes place inside of an authentic Spiegeltent constructed in front of Caesars (in between Serendipity 3 and the main lobby of Caesars). This is an adults only show, not because of nudity (of which there is some) but because of extremely colorful language and suggestive situations between the host of the show, The Gazillionaire, his assistant, and the audience. If you’re offended by sexual innuendo, harsh language, and a bit of debauchery, steer clear of this production. Yes, I’m dead serious. Additionally, the tent is densely packed. If you’re a larger person, consider purchasing 2 seats so you are comfortable as you will be crammed in like sardines. It is a very intimate environment.
Imagine if you will, the result of mixing Vaudeville, classic circus acts, and colorful repartee, and you have Absinthe. A variety of acts, including high wire, strongman, gymnastics, all with a theme. Tied in by the butler, Maxim, and the Green Fairy of course. The show also includes the most impressive performance on roller skates I’ve ever seen. If you see one show in Las Vegas, let this be it! Below, some photos of the tent’s interior and cast.
Honestly, we were happy the last day was here. It sounds odd, since rarely does one want their vacation to end, but there’s only “so” much Las Vegas I can handle. As I don’t gamble, drink, or go to clubs, you tend to run out of things to do. The few days prior to this, with exception to shows or any dining, we spent most of our time in the hotel and at it’s Spa. Day Seven was to be the one day we wanted to visit the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, but it seems the universe had other plans. As we had no rental car, we would need to Uber to the factory. A fare quote from the Uber app revealed using Uber Select would be too costly, $40-$60 each way, so I decided on the low cost UberX, which had a far more reasonable $12-$17 each way.
Our Uber arrived, and immediately I smelled trouble. The car was a Toyota Camry. Anyone who knows me will tell you I absolutely despise the vehicle and find myself stuck behind them all too frequently as they putt around in the left-hand lane doing well below the speed limit. I’m convinced there’s an alarm in them alerting them they are out of third gear and they need to slow down…. but my dislike for Toyota’s Camry aside, a few minutes after our Uber journey began, the driver terminated the route and informed me I would need to pay cash before he would take us to our destination. My mother didn’t raise a fool. We got out at the next gas station and requested another Uber. Fearing requesting another UberX would give us the same driver, I gave in and chose Select. The app assigned a driver and his Jaguar XJL was just down the street on it’s way to collect us. My excitement was short lived however, as he failed to turn into the right area and instead phoning or text messaging me to get better/more precise directions to our location, decided to park. After waiting nearly 10 minutes, I cancelled the ride. Much to my chagrin, Uber charged me $10.00 (which has since been credited back to account).
It was at this point we decided a trip to the chocolate factory wasn’t in the cards and requested a third Uber back to our hotel where we killed time before dinner. Our last meal was to be “the splurge meal”, and even now, as I write from the airport, it was totally worth it. We wanted steak, but so many of the steakhouses on The Strip are overpriced, backed by names like Gordon Ramsay, Smith & Wollensky, and so on. Famous names equal higher prices. But, there was an alternative – The Steakhouse at Camelot, located inside the Excalibur Hotel & Casino. Quite possibly a hidden gem on the strip, The Steakhouse at Camelot has a great steak selection with classic steakhouse dishes, minus the markup. Below, some images of our steakhouse fare. Should you find yourself wanting that classic steakhouse experience during your stay in Las Vegas, but not wanting to shell out a few hundred, definitely get reservations at Camelot.
Unbeknownst to me at the time of travel, Chinese New Years coincided with our week in Vegas. Many of the hotel had decorations around, but none more so than the Bellagio Conservatory. Gallery below.
Concluding this trip report, we find ourselves a little burnt out on Las Vegas, and may skip it next year in lieu of another location. Perhaps Denver. Should you have any questions about this post, contact me!