Thursday, May 20, 2010

CityCenter - photos and observations

As a big part of my April 2010 Vegas trip, I did quite a bit of walking around on the second day to take some photos with my new camera. During my wanderings and meanderings, I finally made it over to the (somewhat) newly opened CityCenter. I wanted to see if I could truly appreciate the art and the area after the much-hyped and much-anticipated opening early in 2010.

I had been walking through Bellagio taking photographs when I found the signage for the tram to CityCenter located near the back of the Conservatory, so I decided I'd take that route instead of heading back out to the Strip and trying to find my way into CityCenter that way. When I got to the escalator for the tram, I discovered there was also a walkway directly from Bellagio to Vdara (the closest hotel in the CityCenter complex), and I would be able to see more of the area on foot and at my own pace than I would if I took the tram from Bellagio directly over to Aria. The walkway was not very long at all - a couple hundred yards at most, and very non-descript - and I found myself in Vdara shortly thereafter.

I took a couple of photos in the immediate vicinity before I headed out into the sunshine again. I was a bit afraid of getting lost in Vdara and didn’t want to chance it, so I didn't venture too far off the main pathway that led to the bright sunshine. There was a neat bar area near the Vdara exit that I just had to photograph, and I found the strange canoe sculpture everyone has talked about right outside the doors. It wasn’t quite as large as I thought it would be. Maybe it just looks bigger in photographs. Meh.

I followed the walkway to Aria and found that it is, indeed, extremely dark in that casino. It’s far darker than Caesars ever was before they renovated it. I continued my photo tour and marveled at the delicious-looking desserts in the Aria sweet shops, but I decided that all I really wanted to do was head over to Planet Hollywood because I was pretty much dead on my feet after several hours of almost non-stop walking and I had planned on eating there, anyway.

My plan was almost foiled when I got lost in Crystals – I encountered no fewer than five dead ends while I was trying to make my way to the Strip, and I had to re-trace my steps and attempt another route repeatedly. I could see the outside world, dang it! It was so close and yet so far. I finally gave up my attempts to get out via Crystals and headed back to Aria by retracing my steps and following along the outside of the building until I FINALLY reached the Strip. Joy!

I was later informed by my friend Claire that I could've picked up a map of Crystals at the Customer Service desk to help me navigate the shopping area. Not only would it have helped me find my way around and out of the building without getting lost (I'm still not certain of that; it is purely conjecture at this point), it would've also pointed out all the objets d'art that I had missed along the way. Apparently I was more concerned about getting OUT than admiring art.

Will I be back? Maybe I'll be back to Aria to see Viva Elvis, but other than that, I don't know. I really like my "old Vegas" stuff: the bright lights, noisy people, and the glitz and glamour that seem to be slowly disappearing. The beautiful and refined stuff is apparently way over my head, because I either A)just didn't get it, or B)really didn't like it, after all.

Zefferino's Restaurant - Venetian Hotel & Casino: observations (small review)

I had heard quite a bit about Zefferino's bathroom being the "best bathroom in Las Vegas", and, being known as something of a bathroom guru amongst my fellow Vegas-loving friends (read: I love pretty Vegas restrooms, and I love to photograph them even more!), I hoped to get a glimpse of the infamous location during my April trip.

My friend Claire and I had discussed storming the place while maintaining at least some small amount of decorum and discretion before we got to the intended target area. We decided we would have a drink or two before making our way to the famous bathroom at the top of the stairs.

If you’ve never been to Zefferino’s, it’s easy to miss on a casual walk through the Grand Canal Shops at The Venetian. It has an unassuming entrance near the front of the shops and really doesn’t stand out at all. If you're coming from the Strip, head into the Canal Shops and look for the green awning on the left. It's located on a corner, so if you turn and head into St. Mark's Square, you've gone too far.

We met and enjoyed a long chat over a glass of Zin in the downstairs bar area (thanks again for buying, Claire!) before making our way up to the super-secret bathroom located on the second floor in the back of the restaurant. You can reach the bathrooms by stairs or elevator, if needed.

We disregarded the sign stating that no photos were allowed without management approval and took several, because that's what we were there for. I must say that it is a very small bathroom, but I do like the fact that each individual stall has its own sink and mirror, and they even have mouthwash and lotion for their guests. The small size of the individual stalls made it somewhat difficult to take photos, but we did our best.

Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with the “best bathroom in Vegas”, and I think the bathrooms at Palazzo, Wynn, Encore, Bellagio, Caesars and Paris are just as pretty in their own way. Sure, they don’t have sinks in every stall, but they all have their charm and distinct personalities. I don't get exactly what it is that makes this bathroom "the best" - is it the mouthwash? The chandelier? I dunno. Other bathrooms can make the same claims, so I guess it's just a personal preference as to what you think is "pretty" or "special".

I would like to make a trip back for dinner sometime; the restaurant and menu looked very inviting, and it is a smallish establishment that has a certain amount of charm to it. I haven't heard anything in particular about the food, though, so I might wait until I have more information before I make a final commitment to it. I was pleased to see that they offer a prix fixe menu, which seems to be the new thing to do in Vegas. Hey, they get my attention, so why not offer them? Prix fixe menus certainly make some otherwise expensive restaurants somewhat affordable for the regular visitor.

Anyway, I can say, "Been there, photographed that." On to the next!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

April 2010 trip photos - link

I took my new Canon Rebel T1-i camera to Vegas on my April trip. Lots of great opportunities to take photos with a great high-def camera in Vegas, to be sure. I won't be taking the big camera outfit again, though; I was too worried that I would drop the camera, or lose something, or have something stolen. And it wasn't lightweight, either. Even so, I'm glad I took it along, because I got some great results!

Out of the almost 400 photos I took, here's a link to about 60 or so of my favorites on Photobucket:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Gondola Ride at The Venetian: a review

Part of this review came from my March 2010 trip report.

We had originally intended to take a nighttime gondola ride on Tuesday evening after seeing Phantom of the Opera, but it was pretty late when we left after the show and a late dinner, and we weren't feeling up to waiting in line at the time. We decided to head over to The Venetian on Saturday morning, instead, because we had a few hours to kill before we headed to the airport for our flight home and nothing planned at all on a beautiful Spring day.

There was no line at 11:00 a.m., so we were in the boat and on our way quickly. The cost was $16 per person, and our gondolier’s name was Donatello (or so he said). He sang 3 songs for us during our ride and was very entertaining in general, so he got a nice tip for his efforts. I remember two of the songs: "Volare" and "Santa Lucia", but I can't recall the third song at the moment. The whole ride experience lasts about 12 minutes. It really was a very pretty day, and the company was great, so it made the ride extremely pleasant and relaxing. Hayley had an extra good time because the boat assistant (the guy who held the rope at the dock) was an adorably cute guy who looked like Taylor Lautner (look him up if you don't know who he is).

In the end we purchased a set of photos that cost $29: it included an 8x10, 2 wallets, a key chain photo and a magnet photo. I think that's a pretty standard price for souvenir photos, and we're using all of them in some way, so we're actually putting the entire package to good use and not wasting the money...or so I think.

If you decide to take the gondola ride, remember that there are two separate rides: one outside by the Strip, and one inside that goes through the Canal Shops. The two areas are not connected at all, so you can't ride from one area to the other.

This is a very tourist-y thing to do, and I would say that I probably won't ever do it again unless I was taking someone else to try it for the first time (because I'm nice that way). But, if you're into tourist-y stuff and like doing things like this for the memories, you'll enjoy it.

Ride hours: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m. - midnight. The last gondola leaves the dock 15 minutes prior to closing. The outdoor ride is operated as weather permits.

Legends in Concert at Harrah's: show review

Part of this review was taken from my March 2010 trip report.

I had seen Legends in Concert once before with mom, about four years ago, when the show was still located in its original home on the 5th floor of the Imperial Palace next door. The show had recently been moved to the Harrah's showroom on the 3rd floor of that casino, and my mother had already seen the show in the new location with one of my aunts during a previous trip. I was assured that the show hadn't changed very much from it's previous state, although she felt the showroom was quite a bit smaller than the original showroom at Imperial, so I decided to use my free ticket offer when Hayley and I were in town during Spring Break in March.

I picked up my two free tickets at the Concierge Desk the day before the show. I would recommend reserving tickets for the performance you wish to see as soon as possible, since they do have a tendency to sell out on certain nights (and depending on how many freebies they give to their HET cardholders). If my mom had decided to accompany us, her ticket would've cost her $65, so she decided to gamble, instead.

Show time was at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evening, and we had seats at the very back of the theater, row QQ, sharing the booth with a nice older couple from Chicago. The theater at Harrah’s is not very large, and every seat has a good view of the performers. You don’t have to worry about not hearing anything, either, because they apparently wired their sound system for all areas of the theater. I think that the original theater was a far better venue for the show because of its beauty (it was decked out in Vegas-y red and gold instead of plain black) and its size, but the content has not changed at all.

The five impersonators for the evening were Jay Leno, Cher, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Elvis. Elvis always closes the show, but the other entertainers change regularly. We were wowed by the Michael Jackson impersonator most of all – he was absolutely awesome and spot-on. My mom had seen him perform previously, and he certainly lived up to her review. The Cher impersonator uses a "volunteer" from the audience and put on quite a show and made everyone laugh. Other impersonators that rotate in and out of the show on a regular basis include: Tom Jones, Tina Turner, Britney Spears, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, The Pointer Sisters and Garth Brooks, just to name a few.

All in all it was a very good show, but I would’ve liked to have been seated up a little bit closer because our aisle was the one that was used by everyone to get to and from the bar and the restroom. There was a lot of foot traffic back and forth throughout the show, and I found myself wishing they would all find some other route to get to where they were going. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give the show a 7. It needs more space for the audience, and its old home did a much better job of providing plenty of room with a good view and not taking anything away from the performance. It's a great show for all ages, however, and Hayley enjoyed it thoroughly.

Whether you get free tickets or pay for them yourself, one "complimentary" drink is included with each admission; additional drinks can be purchased at the bar, and tips are welcome. Be aware that they will not make frozen drinks while the show is in progress, so be sure to get your drinks before the first performance begins or you'll have to settle for something you might not want. Non-alcoholic versions of all the frozen drinks are also available for underage people and non-drinkers.

Souvenirs and photos with Elvis are available in the lobby after each performance.

Show times: 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Sun.-Fri. Ticket prices begin at $48+tax for general admission and $58+tax for VIP seating. For additional information or to purchase tickets, go to or call 702-369-5111.

Eiffel Tower Experience at Paris Las Vegas: a review

Part of this review was taken from my March 2010 trip report.

I have no idea of ever going to Paris, so I'll probably never see the original Eiffel Tower in person.

That being said, the one-third size version located alongside the Las Vegas Strip at Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino is a pretty good stand-in for what I'm missing, I think. Granted, I can't look out over the City of Lights in France, but I CAN look out out over the best "City of Lights" this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This was my second trip to the top of the tower. I had previously ventured up to the top alone, and right before dusk, about four years ago. Consider that I am afraid of heights and made the trip twice, I think that's saying something for the view. The ride to the top can be a bit challenging for me, though; the elevator is glass-enclosed, and I have to turn myself at an angle where I can't see the outside while traveling up or down. Other than that little bit of discomfort, I don't mind it at all.

It is very nice at the top if there is no wind, and you can see to the surrounding mountains on all sides on your own or with the help of one of the lookouts located on the observation deck. You can take photos from any area on the deck and can stay there for as long - or as little - as you'd like. I personally enjoy watching the planes taking off and landing at McCarran International Airport nearby as much as I enjoy taking photos of the wonderful views. I also think CityCenter looks better from up there because it doesn't appear to be as overwhelming as it does from the ground. I don't know how comfortable the view would be in, say, July or August, when it's 110 degrees and you sweat when you blink, but for Spring it was perfect.

The current price for the Eiffel Tower Experience is $10 for adults during the daytime hours and $15 for adults during evenings and weekends. Children's price is $7 daytime, $9 evening for those under 12. Attached to each ticket is a 15% off coupon for the Eiffel Tower gift shop, and the coupons do not have an expiration date. Also, if you decide not to take the ride to the top of the tower immediately (or if something comes up and you have to postpone), the ticket is good for one year from the date of purchase. There are no age, height, or weight restrictions for this attraction. The tower is closed during inclement weather, so be sure to plan your trip accordingly.

Hours of operation: 9:30 a.m. - 12:30 a.m. daily, weather permitting. Reservations for groups, private tours and birthday parties (although I can't imagine that) are available.

Terry Fator at The Mirage: show review

Part of this review was taken from my March 2010 trip report.

Terry Fator was a new kind of show for me. I’d seen one of his performances towards the end of “America’s Got Talent” (which he won in 2007), but I really didn’t know what to expect as far as content was concerned. I'd never seen a ventriloquist before, and I was just hoping the whole show wouldn't be too corny for me as an adult.

Hayley and I had seats in Section 103, Row LL, which is just to the right of center in the mid-sized theater and about 1/3 from the front of the stage . The cost for these seats was $83 per person using a 25% Mirage discount online at and the discount code "MIRAGE". We both thoroughly enjoyed the entire performance. His DJ/dance master was fantastic pre-show entertainment; we loved his take on the “Evolution of Dance”, modeled after the YouTube viral video from a couple of years ago. We laughed throughout the entire show.

It’s one thing to be a ventriloquist, but to be a ventriloquist who can sing through his puppets while impersonating famous singers from every era in modern music? That’s a whole other league altogether. He certainly deserved to win AGT, and he seems to be a very humble and self-effacing man. He welcomes and encourages photos and video taping (not the whole show, but “your favorite parts” as he says), and he includes quite a bit of audience participation. He also donates all proceeds from the sale of souvenirs in his shop to military families, which I think is an absolutely wonderful thing to do.

The show lasts about 1 ½ hours, and the time seems to fly by. Hayley was *almost* the youngest person there: I saw one girl who was probably about 7 or 8 years old, but the audience was made up of mostly middle-aged and more “mature” adults. Children under the age of 5 are not permitted at the performances. No matter the age of the audience members, it was certainly a show for almost everyone, with a few risque comments, but nothing offensive and no foul language at all.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Terry Fator's wonderful show a 9. It is enjoyable for any age, and I would enjoy seeing it again.

Terry Fator and His Cast of Thousands perform Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The theater opens at 6:30 p.m.; a full bar and concession stand are located just outside the upstairs entrance. Ticket prices are currently $59, $79, $99 and $129 and can be purchased online at or calling 702-792-7777 (toll-free 800-963-9634).

Manhattan Express Roller Coaster at New York/New York: review

Part of this review was taken directly from my March 2010 trip report (with Hayley in tow).

I have been wanting to ride the Manhattan Express Roller Coaster at New York/New York for a number of years; almost since it first opened, in fact. My cousin Eddie (who lives in Vegas) had always promised me that he would be a more than willing tour guide for the trip, but we never seemed to cross paths and make it happen. Having Hayley with me in March gave me yet another reason to try a Las Vegas roller coaster, and this one is located conveniently on the Strip.

Hayley and I share a love of roller coasters and have spent quite a bit of time on them at various locations around Texas and Florida. The faster, bigger, twistier and scarier...the better.

What a maze to get to that thing! Getting to the roller coaster entrance from the Strip is the easiest part, and that's saying something when you consider you're following signs posted up high throughout a dark casino. After you head up either the escalator or elevator at the back of the casino near the food court, you follow additional signs on the floor and wind your way through several rooms of carnival-type games before you ever get to the cashier at the entrance to the ride.

Once you're at the cashier, you are required to stow any and all of your personal belongings that could take flight during the ride in a rental locker for 50 cents per use. You can use the locker all day, and the locker key is conveniently attached to a rubber band that you wear on your wrist so that you won't lose it during the ride (wouldn't that be ironic?). Just make sure to take out your money or credit card before you close the door, or you'll be paying another 50 cents to re-open the locker to get out your payment before you even get in line for the cashier.

The cost is currently $14 per person, or $25 per person for an all-day “Scream Pass”. (Note: if you buy the Scream Pass, you get $2 off the price of a 5x7 souvenir photo). We considered it because we weren’t sure if we’d want to ride again, but then decided once would probably be enough since we really had no idea what to expect and didn’t want to make ourselves sick.

As a roller coaster ‘aficionado’, I would give this one a 5 rating out of a possible 10. It was good, but not great, and certainly not as exciting as some of the other roller coasters I’ve been on. Hayley said that at one point during the ride, she closed her eyes and suddenly felt like she was back in San Antonio – something about the sun and breeze and the effects of the coaster. I have no idea.

That's not to say that it was a bad roller coaster, just that we expect a lot out of the roller coasters we intend on riding repeatedly...or ever again. Okay, we're spoiled. It has a "heart line" turn that gives you a zero-gravity effect, a great descent after the first climb, and a fantastic view of Las Vegas in general (if you can take your head off of the headrest, which is not advised and is strongly discouraged). I might take someone else on it if they wanted company, but I wouldn't seek it out as a repeat rider myself.

The roller coaster is open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. and Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-midnight, weather permitting. Riders must be at least 54" tall to ride.

Hash House A Go-Go at Imperial Palace: breakfast review

Some of the information in this review was taken from my March 2010 trip report.

We had changed our plans and let Hayley sleep in a little to try and have her start the day more rested, so we didn’t get started until 10:00 a.m. We made our way over to Imperial Palace to try out Hash House a Go-Go and were greeted with a looooong line. We asked about the wait and were told it would be at least an hour, so we started to walk away. My mom noticed that they have a separate line for Diamond and Platinum players, and walked back up to the hostess to ask about it. Wait time for Diamond and Platinum was 5-10 minutes. Okay…we’ll take it! It pays to ask - and it pays to have a mom who's more like a "whale" than a "guppy" when it comes to her gambling status.

Interesting restaurant, that. I didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t expecting the farm references accompanied by a motif that was more leather seats and aluminum-topped tables than hillbilly chic. The restaurant advertises itself as offering "twisted farm food", but I think they mean that they offer home style cooking in large portions.

I liked the atmosphere, though, and we all enjoyed the food immensely (in both size and satisfaction). They offer the biggest pancakes I’ve ever seen. I had their most popular specialty pancake: banana and brown sugar. It was basically a pancake cooked with sliced bananas and brown sugar in it so that everything caramelized together like Bananas Foster. Topped with maple syrup, it was really good, but I didn’t even eat half of it. Hayley and mom both had plain buttermilk pancakes, but mom didn’t realize the size of them and ordered hers with eggs and bacon. Needless to say we were stuffed when we left, and we wasted far more food than we could've ever managed to eat. Breakfast for the three of us with coffee and tea came to $38 plus tip, and I think it was well worth the price.

I would love to return again and sample their lunch and dinner menus, as well, but I would be just as happy to have another gigantic pancake or try one of their other breakfast options, like the much-touted "Griddled French Toast".

Hash House currently has two Las Vegas locations: one on the 2nd floor of the Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino, and one on Sahara Avenue. Here's a link to their website with the full menu, restaurant hours, photos of some of their more popular dishes, and a bit of information on the history of the restaurant chain:

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Hash House A Go-Go a 9. I think they could do with more waitstaff to help take care of the customers more efficiently and keep the waiting line moving, but they do an admirable job of turning over tables based on what they're working with. I would suggest going to breakfast at an earlier hour if you don't want to stand in a very long line, but be aware that you can also enjoy seating at the bar if you are dining solo (or don't mind sitting at the bar with your companion).