Low Budget Review: Las Vegas

On June 6, 2012, in Travel, by admin

Seems our rum swaggin low spending guy ended up in Las Vegas:

Just returned from 4 days in Las Vegas, my home away from home.    In this 24/7 city, there have already been changes made and changes started since my last visit in October.  First, arriving Sunday and getting the rental car, I drove to The Excalibur where we were staying this trip.  The Excalibur is on the Strip, right on one of the biggest intersections.  I was meeting my college-age son and his roommate who had never been to Vegas, and they decided to do a cross country bus trip…..hm, college kids)so we wanted the convenience of being right on the center of the action.  The other three corners are occupied by The Tropicana, one of the few remaining “old” Vegas properties, the MGM Grand with 7000 rooms and one of the largest hotels in the world, and New York/New York, with its distinctive architecture of the skyline of the Big Apple, a 3 story replica of the Statue of Liberty, a replica of the famous Brooklyn Bridge, and a roller coaster twisting amongst the architecture.  The Excalibur façade is a big castle, with turrets and a moat and its theme is tied to that castle: knights, kings, Merlin the Wizard, etc.  The rates were being offered were very good for Vegas about $45/night with the addition of the bogus “resort Fees” of $15 /day.  That is still a very good rate for anywhere in Vegas but especially the Strip.

 

After making a run through the Sports Book and getting some bets down, I settled into my room, took a nap then went to explore the hotel.  Why is this important?  Even though I had stayed there over 10 years ago, some areas had changed and been renovated.  The Excalibur has over 3000 rooms in four towers.  The casino floor is over 100,000 square feet.  Add in numerous bars, restaurants, many shops,  a downstairs ‘fun dungeon” with video games and carnival-style games this place is larger than large—it is humongous.  Very easy to get turned around and struggle to get where you are going.  It was not crowded.

 

Later that night, after picking up the guys from the Greyhound Bus Station downtown next to the Plaza (A 30+ hr bus ride—what fun) we settled in for a few drinks at one of the many bars.  Late dinner was at ABX (American Burger Works) a new chain.  Burgers and fries but with a myriad of dipping sauces. ½ lb burger was $6.99, so while expensive, it was cheap for Vegas standards.

 

The next day I let the guys sleep until noon (as they do anyway, but especially after little fitful sleep on the bus) we got up and started to cruise the famous LV Strip.  Next was to play the role of tour guide. First stop was the MGM Grand to see if the lions were awake in there indoor enclosed habitat.  Alas, the lions weren’t there—and neither was the habitat.  The whole area was under reconstruction, a common theme in LV.  I do not know if they will bring the lions back or not.  Onward to ever other casino on that side of the Strip-Planet Hollywood (with its modern design, very chic and sleek and well done)   Then past several shopping areas to Paris, Bally’s and then past Bill’s Gambling House to the Flamingo where we had decided to eat lunch at Margarittaville in the far end of the hotel.  Another change, the restaurant now has its own Casino, small, but tropical themed (duh).  The gift shop has been moved, the waiting area removed, but the bar with the huge margarita machine was still there.  As usual, I had a large Boat Drink (with rum and assorted fruit juices)no rum reviews here apparently, along with my “Cheeseburger in Paradise”.  The stage for live music is still there.  I would give Redd Granite’s left kidney to play there one night.  I would pay them to play there.  Yeah, the food is overpriced, the place crowded. Yeah it’s a tourist joint—I don’t care—gotta go.  After lunch, we purchased huge yard-long margarita’s to go.  Vegas is one of two cities (New Orleans being the other) that allow open containers up and down the street (if you are walking). So we took advantage of the opportunity. Note: do not let this opportunity go…..for all of the control our world tries to place on our behavior, this is a refreshing option in these two cities….God bless them both.

 

Next up was another change—The “old” Vegas place O’Shea’s (one of my favorite places to play) is gutted for a new property. Do not misconrue, this is the low budget guy, and O’Sheas was a place you could find $3 BJ tables on the strip.   Evidently Caesar’s Palace (across the street) bought it and is turning it into LINQ  and they are supposed to put a giant Ferris wheel, aka the London Eye on the roof.    We strolled past The Imperial Palace (a semi-dump) Low Budget Reviews guy’s kinda place….and Bally’s (my worst Vegas experience) to The Venetian with its Madame Tussaud’s  Wax Museum, (we took pictures of the guys with a wax The Rock).  The Venetian is one of the most beautiful hotels you will ever see.  Incredible murals on the walls and ceilings, impeccable marble floors and yes, a real canal inside the middle of the place.  A canal with real gondolas taking tourists (for a price of course) for a short trip.  Yes, singing gondoliers cost much extra.  We passed on that.  Although there were several more properties still on that side of the street, our fatigue was starting to show.  We had already walked several miles in 100 degree temps.  So we headed across the street, walked through the incredibly tropically landscaped Mirage then headed to Caesar’s Palace Forum shops , over 200 upscale shops, and restaurants all indoors with faux cobblestone steps, huge marble fountains, and lights that recreate full daylight to nighttime stars all in a 2 hr period.  We were fried by then, so took a cab back to Excalibur where the guys hit the pool.   Later that night, we migrated to the “Minus 5 Bar” in Monte Carlo hotel.  The Minus 5 is a bar with a unique twist.  For a fee (of course), you get a parka, and gloves and go into the bar area where the temperature is , you guessed it Minus 5.  As in 5 below zero.  Everything inside the small bar area is made of ice, the bar, numerous sculptures, the glasses for the drinks, tables, chairs, lounges—all made of ice.  They had faux furs on the seat.  Drinks were $10-cheap for Vegas, but small.  A photographer takes several pictures for purchase later.  There is no time limit inside but the bartender stated about 20 min was the average.  We had on shorts and tee shirts but were actually very comfortable.  We stayed about 45 min before our cold fingers and faces told us it was time to warm up. One of our party actually took a large bite out of his “glass”.  Amusing experience.  We stopped next door at Diablo’s  an open-are type bar/restaurant with an upper floor that overlooks the Strip, great for people watching. Alas, it was closed for a private party.  From there we stopped in NY/NY at the 9 Fine Irishmen pub.  This pub had been originally in Dublin Ireland and was dismantled and reconstructed here. Very cool place/dark Irish Pub vibe. We sat outside and had beers. I had a “Black and Tan” –half Guinness and half Newcastle’s Brown Ale.  It was good.    Back to Excalibur for dinner at their Italian restaurant a chain place called Buca De Bepo (or something) (Ed Note:  Actually that is Buca De Peppo, a chain BUCA is the stock exchange).  Huge portions, filling and acceptable even if not great.  Hit some slots then crashed.

 

The next day was the long day with many activities.  The first stop was the famous pawn shop for the hit show “Pawn Stars”.   As usual, there was a line to get inside, but we had less than a 10 min wait.  The place is smaller than it looks like on TV.  Alas, Chumley was not there.  Another change—the famous Jim Morrison painting was gone ($20,000). (And there was much weeping from
Redd Granite cause he let it get away) I don’t know if they sold it or just rotated to storage.  They had  another painting up instead.  In 10 min we were out the door and headed to In-and-Out Burger for lunch.  This west-coast chain offers nothing but hamburgers or cheeseburgers, fries and drinks.  That’s it.  The food is always incredibly fresh and delicious.  It is a must-stop at least once on every trip.  They have expanded into the Dallas area and eventually will be on the Austin area.  The Vegas ones are always packed regardless of time of day.  However, we drove right in to a parking spot, walked right up to place our order and snarfed it down.

 

Rejuvenated, we then headed out to Red Rock Canyon.  The Natl Wildlife Refuge is the setting for dramatic red rocks with layers of blindingly white rock formations on top.  Also, petrified sand dunes can be seen.  A favorite of hikers, bicyclers, rock climbers, the park has a one way 27 mile drive with numerous spots to get out a view the scenery or take a hike.  It is up several thousand feet in elevation from the LV Valley, so the temperatures are always 10+ degrees cooler.    Busy day so far, but not even halfway done!  From there we drove up to Mt Charleston, about 45 min away.  At 11,000 feet this mountain is remarkable in its scenery,  20 degree lower temps, pine and aspen forests, campgrounds, and at about 8,000 ft and cool restaurant and bar.  We ordered drinks and sat outside under an awning, enjoying the ambience and the view.   Unfortunately, the native-American ladies selling handmade jewelry were packing up for the day, so we didn’t get a chance to see what they had. (Sorry Redd).

 

From there, we now had the challenge of coasting downhill in neutral, to see how far we could go.  The Park rangers were out ticketing speeders, so I had to stay within the posted speed limit.  Nevertheless, I made it the 14 miles back to Hwy 95 before putting the car in gear.  Yesssssss! Quite a feat for LBRG since he drives like a grandma

 

Back to the hotel to take a shower, get a quick nap, and then off to the next adventure—Sunset and cocktails at the Stratosphere Tower, 107 stories up.  The drinks are not cheap $12-15 each, but you do pay for the location.  2 for 1 belvederes make this tolerable and a quick buzz. It is magical  to watch the sun go down and see all the fabulous lights of Vegas light up at dark.  Martinis and an appetizer kept us occupied for a good hour.   From there we drove to downtown LV to catch the hourly light and sound show of the Fremont Street Experience, a dynamic show on the ceiling on the downtown area, that stretches for blocks.  The shows last about 5 min and every hour features different bands.  The first one we caught was Queen, they did 3 songs.  The next one was the Doors.  After that we went to The Golden Nugget to see the huge gold nuggets on display and to grab a bite in their 24/7 Café.  While the entrees were close to $10 each, the portions were huge.  None of us could finish our meals.  After that long day, I was done.  Back to the room to crash while the guys went out to hit some bars.

 

My last day, we went to the Rio Hotel off the strip to the Carnival World Buffet for lunch. Should have skipped the buffet and headed to the Voo Pool.  In my opinion, this is the best buffet in Vegas,  Many, many offerings, great quality and quantity.  For about $20 a piece (for lunch) we stuffed ourselves, then wandered around the hotel.  Their pool area is very well done.   From their was went back to the hotel, and hit our pool for a while.  That night, we had tickets to the dinner show “The Tournament of Kings” a fun, family show with knights on horseback, jousts, hand-to-hand combat, wizards shooting fireballs, dancing girls, pyrotechnics….fun.  Dinner was soup, Cornish game hen, potatoes, biscuit, broccoli, served on plates with no silverware. Everything is eaten by hand (the soup was in a bowl).  Everyone is expected to root for the Knight representing the area in which you sit.  So there is much cheering, boo-ing, tacky comments, “Huzzah’s!!”  etc.

 

From there we walked down to the Bellagio Hotel, to watch the famous Fountains do their water dance to music, every 15 min.  Saw several of those, one of the top free things to do in Vegas.  Then inside to see the incredibly ugly décor and tacky carpet.  A visit to the Conservatory is a requirement on every trip.  This large room next to the check-in desk is themed to match the seasons, changed four times a year.  This being summer, there were huge areas of zinnias and marigolds among others.  There were two ladybugs made of flowers about the size of two suitcases, and there was a frog made of moss and lichen about the size of a small pony.  The Conservatory is always well done.

 

By that time, my energy and Vegas-tolerance was almost empty.  We trudged back to Excalibur, hit some slots, had one drink and I was done:  back to my room to pack and crash as I had a 4 am wake-up call the next day.  John and Galen were not leaving until Friday evening.  They were to have several adventures that perhaps he can write about at a later time.  They will have great stories to tell as years go by.

 

For closing notes:  In the empty lot across from Mandalay Bay, they have started construction on yet ANOTHER London-Eye size Ferris wheel, which will look down the Strip.  So eventually there will be two.  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing—it is the American Way.

 

And lastly, gas was anywhere from $3.96 to $4.06 a gallon for regular.  I just paid $3.39 here today. And what?  No report on your losses?

 

VIVA LAS VEGAS!

 

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