Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas at Caesar's

We went to San Francisco to visit the boys last month over Thanksgiving, so for the Christmas holiday we just decided to stay here in Vegas. Since it’s just the two of us we thought that we would do something a little different – since over 30,000,000 visitors come to Vegas during the course of a year we figured we could play tourist too. A few years ago we did Christmas Eve at the Venetian, this year we did the far south end of the strip, and we spent two nights at The Hotel in Mandalay Bay. After the National Finals Rodeo is finished and the cowboys go home December is rather a slow month for tourists and the room rates drop really low.

Las Vegas is not really a town for kids, several years ago a number of resorts tried catering to children; the MGM was made up like a movie set, with Wizard of Oz characters roaming around, the Excalibur was built to look like a castle, Circus Circus aimed at the younger crowd with circus acts and a big arcade and Treasure Island was made up to look like a pirate fortress, with big game room, skeleton decorations and the big pirate battle out front with ships shooting at each other in the lake on the Strip. The resorts realized that filling the rooms with families and creating things for the kids to do did not directly relate to an increase in income. Parents tend not to gamble and drink while here with their children, and those are two areas that bring significant revenue into resorts. So over the years the kid themed stuff has been disappearing. Treasure Island is now renamed TI, with all the pirate stuff taken down. The ships still battle out front, but instead of pirates one ship has been painted white and is the habitat of the scantily clad Sirens, who defeat the bad guys in the black ship every evening. MGM dropped the movie themes, and right now is rebuilding the front entrance again. Excalibur still looks for families, but then it’s hard to rebrand a fairy tale castle into something else, and Circus Circus built the Adventure Dome out back, filled with amusement park rides, so you can still do some things with children. There used to be a big water park across from Circus Circus, but that was replaced with condos.

When we stayed at the Venetian on Christmas Eve a number of years ago (before the downturn) the occupancy rate was under 20%, so walking the canals and restaurants was an isolated experience. The Hotel had a 100% occupancy rate on the eve eve and over 90% on Christmas Eve itself, so things were rather crowded. But we booked early and got pretty cheap rates. It looked like there were a lot of families with multiple kids. All of the rooms are suites, with one large sitting room and a separate bedroom, so with the door between closed there was some isolation and room for two or three fold out beds for the kids, so it is more family adaptable than the single big rooms at the Venetian. It looks like The Hotel (yes, that’s the name) caters to travelers from the Pacific Rim, with many people speaking Japanese, Chinese, Hindu or Korean.

On Christmas Eve we wandered down the Strip to look at the decorations in some of the other hotels. Caesar’s Palace did have some decorations up, and the shopping center was rather crowded. Out front it was rather cold (at least for Vegas) but sunny, with one of the hotel towers shading the front drive from the low winter sun

Inside they did decorate the statues for the holidays

It wasn’t decorated for Christmas, but the ceiling over the card tables in the casino still looked nice

Wandering through the casino to the shopping center we passed a restaurant known by the Brits

The transition to the Forum Shops is rather dramatic

I always liked the ceilings of this area, they used to cycle between day, sunset, night, sunrise every twenty minutes, but now the lights are set for evening, I guess the lighting changes confused people

About halfway down one of the main halls is a large fountain, with the statues periodically coming to life and putting on a little play

There is a grand entrance at the end furthest from the casino, the way people walking down the Strip from the north usually enter

I’m still impressed by the circular escalators

No, didn’t buy anything there, just walked around. It was rather crowded, with a lot of people in the shops purchasing stuff.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December in Vegas

December has been busy with holiday things. We started out on Saturday 1 December joining in for the annual Great Santa Run, which supports Opportunity Village. There were over 10,000 Santas (part of the registration fee includes an outfit, complete with beard)

On Thursday 12 December we went and wandered around the Venetian. They were fully decorated for Christmas. Out front was a big tree.

They had performers dancing and posing with the crowds.

Down on the front canals an ice skating rink was set up. It was cold (about 42f – 5c) and more people were skating than riding in the gondolas.

Walking around the canal shops inside I rather liked this store display

Being 12/12/12 there were a lot of weddings in Las Vegas – as opposed to the normal 200 or so there were over 7,000 marriage licenses issued for that day. I like to take photographs of brides I find walking around the Strip and the casinos, I usually come across one or two each time we go wander the Strip, but that night I saw ten in the Venetian alone! This one was posing for her photographer on the canal.

Besides the casino wedding chapel the white gondola on the inside canal (up on the second floor, above the casino) is a popular wedding spot. I guess it is rather romantic.

The Palazzo connects to the Venetian, their lobby had some decorations.

Walking from the casino to the lobby we came across these cowboys – December is the Nationals Final Rodeo held here in town, and we get thousands of cowboys in town to watch and compete.

The passage that connects the Venetian to the Palazzo has a big fountain and pool area, which is usually decorated for each season.

Next to the waterfall we saw another bride posing for pictures.

It was an enjoyable walk that day.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Almost Christmas

Almost Christmas – yea! I like this time of year, people seem to be more pleasant in stores, not as many complaints or nastiness and a lot of happy music playing in the stores. Unfortunately some stores have been repeating the same music since early September so I’m about done in on the Little Drummer Boy, but only a week more and we’ll be back to old Moody Blues on the Musak. Here in town all of the casinos have holiday displays – some more than others, and quite a few Chanukah menorahs around as well. I’m trying to get photos of the bigger ones, have to post soon.

Most casinos do more fancy stuff for Chinese New Year than Christmas, as that holiday brings over more big money gamblers than the December holidays, which are more family oriented. The only event during December that brings in the crowds is the National Finals Rodeo and associated Cowboy Christmas events. There have been a lot of fancy boots and big hats around town the past few weeks, but that’s over and all the horses have gone home.

We did have quite a crowd in town just for the marathon, but not as large a gambling partying group as the cowboys. Our Rock and Roll Marathon was run on Sunday December 2nd this year, it started in late afternoon into the dark early evening, with runners getting to go up and down Las Vegas Boulevard past all of the fancy resorts and enjoy the lights. As usual, this event is more of a big party than a dedicated sporting exercise. There were professional runners going after prize money and reputation, but most participants were here to have fun, enjoy the sights and the bands, and have a good time. There were quite a lot of runners dressed as Elvis – for some reason he is more popular now than when he was alive, with quite a few other costumes, superheros and appearances as well. We had a run through wedding chapel where thirty couples were married during the race. Over 7,000 runners did the full marathon and more than 25,000 doing the half. Winning time was a runner from Kenya with a time of 2:32, a lot faster than I could ever do it. A few years ago the course was different, mainly running through neighborhoods instead of the current commercial areas, and starting early in the morning. It passed closed to our house, and we would walk down the street to cheer people on and help out at the water stations. If you are a runner consider coming out next year and joining in.

We’ve spent a few Christmas Eves staying in the fancy hotels. Occupancy rates for that night are usually under 20%, so the rates are pretty cheap. You can get quite a fancy suite for under $100, which raises up to around $1000 the next week for New Years Eve. NYE is usually sold out way in advance, with the Strip closed down for a giant party and fireworks from most casino rooftops. That night we stay home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December in Vegas

The middle of December is a busy time in Las Vegas. The month started off with us participating in another Great Santa Run on a Saturday morning. The weather was nice, sunny with not much of a breeze and fairly warm. We don’t run at the Santa Run – most of the participants do a leisurely stroll around the one mile course. Some people do attempt the 5k run, but usually the rest of us get in their way and some get really frustrated at the crowds. Geez, if you want to run don’t do it at a fun thing like this. Everyone gets a Santa suit to wear, so it is strange being surrounded by over 10,000 Santas in red suits and beards. Some people wear similar outfits, and a lot of people decorate strollers and dress up their kids and dogs. This year a bunch of food trucks were out in the assembly parking lot, so food and drink was available. Gourmet food trucks have become popular in Vegas, with followers eagerly seeking their favorites. Later the NASCAR Champions drove their cars down the Strip before running at the speedway.

The next day was another running of our annual Rock and Roll Marathon. Last year it interfered with the cowboys in town for the rodeo, this year it was a year ahead of rodeo start to avoid that. The marathon started at 3:30 pm, with runners in a half marathon starting at 4:30 so as not to interfere with the fast guys. There were over 7,000 in the full and 25,000 in the half, so it was quite a crowd. Both routes started down at the south end of the Strip in front of Mandalay Bay, ran up Las Vegas Boulevard to Fremont Street, wound around downtown a bit and back down to end in front of the Mirage. There was a run through wedding chapel, with 30 couples getting hitched, multiple Elvi and lots of people in costumes. With the early winter sunset the course gave everyone two views of the big resorts, one in daylight and one after dark with all of the lights on. I used to say neon lights, but now almost everything has converted over to LEDs, with large screen video displays replacing all of the lovely old neon signs. And I do mean large screens – picture a high def TV over 100 meters across, sometimes in multiples across the front of a casino, all flashing with patterns alternating with videos of people inside having a good time.

The rest of the month is devoted to cowboys - the following week the South Point Casino hosted the World Series of Team Roping finals (still going on now), with over $6,000,000 in prize money, the top guys getting $1.75 million – some reward for all of that hard work. The National Finals Rodeo has most of its events over at the Thomas and Mack center on the University campus near the airport. There is a big Cowboy Christmas event at the Sands and the Convention Center.

The big resorts are catering to the cowboy crowd as well, with a lot of country and western entertainment available. Unfortunately Garth Brooks finished up his stay at the Wynn early, closing out after three years of shows, but Shania Twain started her multiyear events over at Caesar’s Palace (I hear it is rather impressive, from her entry on a flying motorcycle to riding in on a horse), and Faith Hill and Tim McGraw are at the Venetian.

The Miss Universe competition will be held at Planet Hollywood mid month, and December will end with our big New Year’s Eve party in every resort and out on the Strip. Best place to be besides Times Square, and a lot warmer too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Another step in the kitchen remodel

On Saturday we hooked up our trailer to the car and drove down to Ikea in Los Angeles – about a 520 mile round trip. This trip we picked up all of the cabinets for our kitchen remodel:

I didn't realize how heavy that pressboard stuff is. The pile is ten feet deep, five wide and about three high and probably weighs around a ton. It really was a load for the car. But we made it home, and now I will have many happy hours with little tools and screws putting everything together. Still have to take down the ceiling and install new lights, and also a larger window. Should be nice when done (whenever that

Friday, December 07, 2012

Weddings in Vegas

Nevada used to be the divorce capitol of America, mainly due to the short residency requirements before being able to apply for a divorce. Movie stars used to come from Hollywood, stay at a dude ranch for a few weeks to qualify for residency, and then file for divorce from their mates. As laws in other states changed the emphasis on divorce shifted over to quick marriages. You can hit the courthouse to get a marriage license without any residency requirements, then go to a wedding chapel and get married right after arriving here. Hopefully you will not be drunk at the time and regret it a few hours later after sobering up, but we’re not all Brittany Spears now, are we?

Las Vegas has a lot of wedding chapels, both stand alone and in almost every large casino and resort. Last weekend was our annual Rock and Roll marathon, where they even had a run through chapel which handled over twenty couples on their way through. A few weeks ago a new large Denny’s restaurant opened up on Fremont Street in Neonopolis, and besides pancakes they also have their own wedding chapel. I don’t know how many people would brag that they were married in Denny’s, but it is possible.

Fremont Street also has a zip cord ride down under the canopy, which will soon change. They are constructing a 100 foot high slot machine (30 meters) which will flash lights, spin dials, and then shoot people out onto a new longer zip line that runs the length of Fremont Street past all of the big old casinos and down under the lighted canopy. This is right next door to the Heart Attack Grill which offers some of the biggest, greasiest burgers in the world. And yes, somebody actually had a heart attack while eating there this year.

In addition to a chapel wedding (with or without Elvis, or driving through, or inside) there are several other places that you can get married at. We now have a chapel in a van, which will drive out to whatever location you desire and marry you out of the back door – the Welcome to Las Vegas sign is a popular location for this service. You can get married under water, (yes, out here in the desert) in the salt water aquarium at the Silverton Casino, on a pirate ship in front of TI (I had photos of one of those weddings I witnessed a few years ago), while skydiving (well, actually in the plane just before you jump), on a roller coaster while zipping past the Statue of Liberty in front of New York New York (so nice they named it twice), by helicopter down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, or up on top of the 1,148 foot tall Stratosphere tower either inside a chapel on the 103rd floor or up on a private balcony overlooking the Strip on the 112th floor. If you don’t like standing still up there you can opt for a ceremony on one of the roof top rides up there, for a really big thrill.

So come on out to Vegas and get married, or renew your vows. Sorry, Nevada hasn’t approved same sex marriages yet, but hopefully that will soon come.