Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 New Years Eve in Las Vegas



Introduction

First off, this is NOT a running related post... in fact, I did absolutely no running while on my trip.  So if you are looking for a running / race report, move on...

Every New Years Eve Shari and I look at one another and try to figure out what the hell we are going to do.  We NEVER go out on NYE.  Seriously, never.  By the time we think about making plans, it is a week before the big night and everything is either booked, outrageously expensive or sold out.

This year I decided to change that.  

In early December (or maybe it was November) I started to do some research as to what it would take to knock out visiting Las Vegas on New Years Eve.  I've always wanted to visit Vegas on NYE -- I've seen the pictures in the Las Vegas Sun and mumbled to myself, "I wish I could've been there".  This year, I made it happen and after a few clicks on Hotels.com, I had myself a room in Las Vegas -- for a princely sum -- at the Mandalay Bay.  

Now all, I needed was the weather to cooperate.  Traveling through Utah can be treacherous during the winter months and a snow storm can easily turn a 5 hour drive into an epic adventure.  For the most part, I am happy to report, mother nature cooperated with us.


Wednesday


I split from work slightly early in order to get a good start on the drive south.  The weather looked clear but I was more concerned about rush hour traffic across the point of the mountain (the imaginary line between Salt Lake and Utah counties) where they are doing construction and traffic can be backed up.

It was slightly congested but we made excellent progress and soon we were south of the major metropolitan areas and cruising at a good speed.  The weather looked a little hazy but the roads were clear and again, I was making good progress -- until... 

About 90 minutes into the trip it started to snow - somewhat heavily.  It was a dry snow and didn't seem to stick much.  It didn't seem slippery but there were cars in the ditches.  My 83 mph suddenly dwindled to the low 50's and even low 40's.  Luckily it was only about another 100 miles to Cedar City, Utah, our first stop for the night.  If I could just make it there without crashing, I'd be happy.  White knuckled, I continued south.

From the city of Fillmore to just south of Beaver, the going was fairly slow.  Luckily my car handled it pretty well and we managed to get to the Ramada in Cedar City just slightly behind schedule.  

Our first order of business was finding food.  We have eaten at the IHOP in Cedar City before, but we had some time to kill.  We drove the main drag in hopes that something would jump out at us but nothing really did.  I had seen a sign for the Hong Kong Buffet and saw it's gleaming bright lights from the side of the road near the downtown area.  Since this trip was all about buffets, we decided to check it out.

The buffet was fairly typical of Chinese food.  Some of it was good and some of it, not so much.  It was reasonably priced and I managed to get my money's worth.

Like the explorer I try to be, I decided I wanted to explore the old part of town.  It was decked out with Christmas lights and it was just a nice night for a quick walk:


This is the post office

Main Street Cedar City
The motel room was a bit dated and the bed hard, but the room was clean.  I wound up sleeping pretty well.


Thursday


Some 8 hours later I was up early to hit the road.  I was sort of worried about making it through the I-15 Arizona pass, as they are doing construction and I had heard horror stories about getting through the canyon pass during "rush" hour.  The construction has the road down to a single lane for about a quarter mile stretch and traffic can back up.

I grabbed a few bites to eat at the breakfast buffet at the Ramada -- which exceeded my expectations. I had read it wasn't good, but I thought it was fine and they had plenty of food to choose from.

It had snowed in Cedar City, but 10 minutes south of town there wasn't a trace of snow.  There also was hardly any traffic and it was smooth sailing until we reached our breakfast point -- the Virgin River Casino.

Just about every trip we make to Vegas involves stopping for their breakfast.  It is cheap (like under $8 a person) and the food is half way decent.  Sort of sad, that I know / recognize the workers there now...  We had plenty of  time to eat so I made the most of it and made out pretty well.

Happy Glow of a Buffet at the Virgin River Casino
We killed about 20 minutes in the casino and I played the Britney Spears slot machine, netting a $10 profit before hitting the road:



The Virgin River was also all decked out for that evening's festivities:


Soon afterwards we hit the road and made it to Mandalay Bay.  I had expected Las Vegas traffic to be backed up or at least crazy.  They close the strip at night and I anticipated people would be in gridlock trying to get into the city.  Boy was I wrong.

Shari and I goofed around in the casino and had not much luck there.  I'd win some and give it all back and Shari was having similar luck.

Eventually we figured we could check in and managed to get a room on the 32nd floor.  It was a handicapped room, which meant a bit of a funky shower, but it was clean and ready to go.  It also sported a totally beautiful view of the strip:

View from the room 32312

View from the room 32312
We wound up crashing for a bit.  We had been up early that morning and knew that we'd need to save our strength for the rest of the evening.

Around 5pm we met my runner friend Dennis, who I've known since I had lived in Illinois.  He currently lives at the Veer Condo (part of City Center) and he invited us back to his place to check out the fireworks at midnight.

We killed some time talking and wandering around the casino before settling in at the Mandalay Bay buffet.  We had a 2-for-1 coupon which made the $35 price (each) much more palatable.  I've eaten at the buffet before it is passable, but $35 is a bit too expensive, especially for the limited selection and the crab legs weren't precracked.  Come on, I am in a high-class hotel and you are going to make me get messy with self-cracking?  Ugh.

Dessert at the Mandalay Bay Buffet
I was in a chow down mode, so we were there for a while.

Afterwards we killed some more time before heading out to the strip.  We had about a mile walk until Dennis's apartment and it was a good time to walk the strip -- which had been closed to traffic.  

It was nice to be able to snap pictures and not have to worry about running or other runners.  I ran into TJ (Tom Jenkins), the head cop from the Vegas Strip cop show.  This was my second time meeting him (he is usually stationed around Planet Hollywood).

The crowd wasn't totally in force yet, but people were definitely partying. Glass bottles of any sort were forbidden so people were walking around with cups or plastic bottles.  There also was a lot of weed in the air too.  I was sort of surprised (and not) by this as the police were everywhere.














We checked out Dennis's apartment one more time.  He has an insane view of the strip, as evidenced by these photos:




We then decided to check out the Bellagio Fountains and Gardens.  Saw a water show based upon a Michael Jackson song (Billie Jean I believe).  It was chilly but I wasn't freezing.  Definitely jacket weather:



























As usual, the Bellagio gardens did a fantastic job.  It also afforded us a good time to take pictures as most of the people were on the strip.

We made it to the tram at 11:30 to take it back to City Center from the Bellagio.  We had a moment of terror when the tram said it was suddenly out of service.  Most of the hotels shut their doors from 11:30 until 12:30 to protect against fire code violations.  Dennis had a pass to get us into the City Center block.  Luckily the tram returned to service but it was clearly the last ride for 2015.  So how about that -- I was on the LAST tram ride of 2015 for the City Center tram.  Bet you can't say that.

We made it to the 37th floor of Dennis's condo just as the fireworks were starting.  It was crowded up there but I got some incredible shots of the fireworks:

video































The Aria was shooting them off right above our heads and the rest of the strip was bursting with action.  The show was about 8 minutes long -- a little short, but it was exciting to see it finally.

Friday


We slept in semi-late.  For me, that means about 9 or so.  Despite going to bed after 2 am.  I have a real problem sleeping in late.  I am definitely a morning person.

Also, we had plans to visit the Red Rock Resort in Summerlin.  I had a 2 free buffet pass for breakfast / lunch.  Unfortunately, I didn't read the fine print and by the time I got there I did.  I wound up ponying up the $40 for the two of us to eat.  

The Red Rock Resort buffet is HUGE.  I love the high ceilings and just epic feel the place has:



They don't have a lot of premium food, but what they do have is very good.  I especially liked the creamed corn and sweet potato mash they had.  They had some shrimp but it was peel and eat (come on!)  They also had awesome pizza.  Luckily the line was not very long and I certainly ate my fill.

We gambled a bit in there and I wound up tanking pretty bad.  Can I just say, I have NEVER had any luck in a station casino.  Never. I am tempted to say I won't gamble there again.  I don't know if it just bad luck, tight machines or what, but I can't ever think of a time where I won anything remotely noteworthy there.  I also had the worst luck with the video blackjack throughout the trip.

Suffice to say that by the time I left the Red Rock my wallet was a bit lighter.

We explored Summerlin a little, including making a pit stop at the Target.  Funny to see booze freely available for purchase in a Target (in Utah you have to go to the state-run store).  We did pick up a bottle of wine that we use for cooking as well as some supplies that we had forgotten to bring.

We headed over to the Suncoast casino.  I've had good luck over there and managed to kill a good 90 minutes on a Multi-Strike Video Poker machine.  I love that machine and you can play for fairly cheap for a long time.  I worked my comps up pretty well as a result.  

I just wished they had more waitstaff there.  It seemed like everyone was out and I was dying of thirst.  The casino was pretty well packed but the only ones working were the bartenders -- no one getting free beverages for the players.

Shari had a good run of luck playing Heavenly Riches.  She was betting pretty aggressively throughout the trip and was winning quite a bit.  Unfortunately, what she put into the machines, she wound up putting back in:

$110 win on a Red Envelope on Heavenly Riches at the Suncoast

We wound up heading back to Mandalay Bay.  Both of us were exhausted and we were still full from the brunch we had.  We had toyed about killing time until we were hungry again but all I wanted to do was lay down for a bit.  I tend to crash like that...

We cleaned up a bit before venturing out to see what the resort had to offer.  I was definitely hungry but not buffet hungry (huh???)  

We wandered around until we decided to try Hussong's Cantina.  Service was good and they were super generous with the chips and salsa.  The food itself -- was so-so. Shari didn't care for her enchiladas and my California burrito was good, but it just missed "something".  The restaurant was also noisy.  Whatever it was, it just sort of missed what we were looking for.  The portion size was also good -- for a change -- I was full after eating at a non-buffet restaurant.


We wandered around the casino a bit more and took in the Luxor for laughs.  We gambled a bit and I made some gains on my losses on a Fred Flintstone machine.

Inside the Luxor

Inside the Luxor

Inside the Luxor Casino

Saturday


Today was check-out day.  We got up semi late for a change and managed to get $25 each in free play at the Mandalay Bay thanks to some points we had earned from the Facebook game of MyVegas.  I wound up playing my through and cashing out with $17 of it.  Take that MGM.  

Our plan was to go to the Red Rock Resort and use my 2 free breakfast buffet passes to eat -- which I had doubled checked that I could use on this non-holiday.

When I got there to redeem them, however, they said they were blocked and they couldn't do anything about it.  Sigh.  I wound up calling My Vegas who transferred me back to the Red Rock who than transferred me to the Red Rock Player's Desk, where I had just been.  Long story short, about 30 minutes later I had two free passes.  I don't know what went wrong but they made it right.

The line at the buffet was pretty long but I've seen worse.  I was ravenous by the time we ate.  Again, Red Rock knows how to do put on a good buffet.

I only played about $20 there and didn't win anything there.  I think that's about all Station Casinos are going to get from me, from now on.

We took the Belt Way around the entire city of Summerlin and into the Aliante part of North Vegas.  It was an interesting tour and I got a better appreciation of the "burbs" of Vegas.  It took a lot longer to go this way but it was nice to see this stretch of Vegas I haven't seen before.  There may come a day when we settle in Vegas and now we have an understanding of what is where.

To break up the 5.5 hour trip home, I had decided to book a room at the Casablanca Hotel in Mesquite, which is on the Arizona / Nevada border.  It was fairly cheap and I figured it would be nice just to rest of up for the trip back home on Sunday.


It is a nice hotel and they have a lot of cheap gaming there.  They also have a weekend buffet that I wanted to take advantage of.

After settling into the room, I headed out to the hot tub and took a good 30 minute session.  The weather was in the low 50's -- about perfect for hot tubing.  I had the place to myself until the last 10 minutes when it seemed like everyone had the same idea I had.




The buffet is pretty good, especially for the price.  They don't have a lot of variety but they make up for it by having a lot of premiums, including pre-cracked crab legs.  The price is right too -- $18.  Yum!



We wound up circling the casino for most of the night.  Neither one of us had much luck, but at least I was getting some play for my dollar.  The Fred Flintstone game was very good to me and I seemed to have a fair amount of luck.  I wasn't wining huge amounts but it would offset some of my mounting losses.





Sunday


We got up super early -- like 6:15 early.  There were a couple of reasons for this:

1) I wanted to avoid any sort of rush through the I-15 Arizona canyon.  I had heard on Christmas it was backed up for an hour and I definitely wanted to avoid that.

2) We wanted to get back in time to clean up the house and care for the cats and have some part of the day to just catch up.

We were packed up and ready to go in short order and hit up the buffet one last time.  Turns out we had a 2-for-1 pass on account we were guests.  Thanks for telling us that at check-in.  Usually I loiter around the buffet packing in as many calories as I can, but since we had a time constraint we both ate fairly quickly and took off.

The trip home was fairly uneventful and we made excellent time.  In fact, we were home and unpacked by 2PM, which left a good portion of the day for discombobulating.  


Conclusion


Overall this was a great trip.  Thanks to Dennis's generosity, we got a once-in-a-lifetime view of the fireworks from high above the strip.  

I also got a chance to actually do something very cool on New Years Eve.  Again, my NYE's are usually filled with should've dones.  This year I actually did something.

Gambling-wise, this trip sort of sucked.  I had a few rounds of wins but mostly this was a bummer trip. 

Food wise I had some good eats.  Thanks to some coupons, I ate for cheap too.  If you know where to look, there are a few good remaining deals to be found in Vegas (which has now gotten super expensive).

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