It was Vegas, Baby!

So I’m back! Back from what felt like a whirlwind girls’ weekend to Las Vegas, otherwise known as Sin City. Never fear, not too many sins were cast during our time there. I must say however, I had a grand old time, saw the sights, heard the sounds, saw a show, and had a wild and crazy time after climbing into a white, unmarked van (much of that I will get into in more detail in a later post, as that warrants it’s own post). Some of this may venture into the rated R level, so please be forewarned.

For those not caught up, my bestie is going in for surgery this week. For some reason, despite having many surgeries and hospital experiences throughout her life, this one in particular is bothering her a bit. She’s anxious about it in a way I haven’t seen her anxious before. To alleviate her anxiety, she decided to plan a vacation in Las Vegas, and I was her desired travel partner. We’ve been friends since high school, were housemates once upon a time, and have been through the best and worst of times. We laugh together, we’ve cried together, and most importantly, we’ve been there for each other. When she had a prior surgery, I cooked meals and dropped them off for her and her non-cooking husband. When my ex treated me badly, she scrubbed the toilet with his toothbrush. You get the drill. She’s one of my ride or die friends, the ones that are hard to come by in a world full of selfish people. Anything the other one needs, we’re there for each other. I trust her implicitly and I know she feels the same. I’m so very lucky to have her. We had talked about going on a girls weekend to Vegas since we were in our teens, but marriages, kids, and a world of responsibilities later, we never made it. She asked me to go. I said I couldn’t, because while my kids are cute as hell, they are EXPENSIVE and I just didn’t have the cash to swing it.

She told me to pack my bags, she was taking me on her dime. All I needed was some spending money. My husband said we’d make it work, he’d work short days, and my kids bonus grandma said she’d watch them when my husband was at work. How amazing is that? So with tickets booked, hotel room reserved, and bags packed, we headed to the airport on Saturday night. We flew out Mint on jetblue after 9 pm, arriving at around 11:30 PM Vegas time. Mint is extraordinary, with all the perks and seats that go into full on beds. I slept and awoke just before landing feeling refreshed. Off to the hotel we went.

Arriving at the Bellagio, I walked in feeling a bit underdressed, but excited. I had been to the Bellagio for a wedding years ago, but didn’t know all to much about it. I had stayed next door at the Vdara (which was awesome by the way….it’s a none gambling hotel and it is quiet and smells non smokey, which is a plus. The rooms are modern, calming, and quiet…plus they are well air conditioned, but I digress). Our room was up on the 26th floor, in the building on the left side of the main building as you’re looking up. We checked in, grabbed our bags, and started the LONG walk up to the room. Everything in Vegas is a long walk from everything else. The sheer amount of steps and miles I walked last week was unreal. Anywho, we arrive at the room, and step in. The room is clean, pretty, and has an AMAZING view of the Las Vegas strip, but not only that, we can view the Bellagio fountains going off throughout the day/nights! We had a prime view of Paris, as well as some other hotels. I immediately stepped to the thermostat to turn the AC on, after all, it was Vegas and it was warm in there. I tried lowering the temp, but it wouldn’t go down past 65. Also, the AC cut off. I went all the way back down to the desk, only to find out that the AC is on a motion sensor. This meant that the AC would cut off at night and when we left the room. “Do you understand this is the Bellagio? In 105 degree heat? Why does the AC turn off?” I asked. I know, not my proudest moment, but I HATE being hot at night. The person at the desk shrugged, apologized, and sent a fan to the room. I slept every night with a fan blasting me in the face.

Now, you can tell when long term friends, especially those who lived together, go on vacation together. Concessions are made, and adjustments to keep everyone happy. I am always hot, she is always cold. She said I should sleep near the AC vent, with the fan, and she got an extra blanket. This happened for the whole trip, each of us finding ways to “make it work” which resulted in everyone having a great time.

After checking in, and getting our fan, we wandered down to gamble a bit, and played for a few hours before turning in to sleep. We awoke early Sunday and headed off to see the casinos. She wanted to make sure I saw as many as possible, as well as some free shows or things that made each casino unique. We also found eating a big breakfast and then eating dinner worked best for both of us. We went to Caesar’s Palace, MGM, Mandalay, Mirage and some others. We each had points from playing the free “My Vegas Slots” game, which scored us free passes into the Mandalay Bay Shark Reef. I am a huge water person, always happiest near the water, so this was totally my happy place. They had some other animals and fish there, including a piranha who had had it’s lip bitten off, leaving it with a permanent toothy grin. The woman who worked there informed me he was one of the best eaters of the group despite the deformity. The shark tanks and tunnel were awesome, and I got a pretty great shot of a shark swimming right over my head. Beautiful creatures, but I must say seeing them up close confirmed my nervousness about open water caused by the movie Jaws many years ago. Speaking of Jaws, I am fairly confident that may be a movie that impacted multiple generations of people.While you don’t necessarily think “Jaws” when someone asks which movie has had a huge impact on you, if you spend much time near the water and think about it, I’d be willing to guess you have thought about that movie more than once when on the beach. If you are going to Vegas, play the free slot game…they give you free play money, you earn rewards, and you can earn points towards free food, experiences, and discounted or even free hotel rooms! Another side note, your ticket to the Shark Reef also gives you a free pass to Mandalay Bay’s beach and pool. Score!

Over the next few days, we did some more exploring of the various casinos, checked out people on the strip (Vegas is simply AMAZING for people watching) and hit up Fremont st. Now, speaking of people watching, Fremont street was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s a bit of a trek to get down there, so we caught an Uber. I had only Ubered once before this trip, so I had to get the hang of it, but I was very impressed. The Uber rides became a challenge for us. For those not familiar, Uber is an app you put on your phone. You select where you want to go, the app figures out where you are, and it offers you a few selections of cars, as well as how much each one will cost. Most of the time it was 8-10 bucks for where we needed to go, but the price can fluctuate a bit depending on time and how busy it is by the looks of it. That being said, all our drivers were prompt, had good AC (a total blessing in 105-110 degree heat) and chatty. My friend initially started chatting with them, and in no time, we had a game going…”which is your weirdest Uber driver experience?” This is a great game to play if you use Uber a few times, especially in a place like Las Vegas. Some of the stores were mundane, such as drunk vomiters who got charged a very hefty fine, but the winner winner chicken dinner of the vacation belongs to a driver in a Nissan minivan. He had a couple in his car, and they were headed to a bar. The boyfriend poked the girlfriend in the side, teasing her, but poked her hard enough that it hurt, making her angry. He told her not to be mad, and said “ok, you can bite my thumb if that makes you feel better”. She grabbed that thumb and bit part of it off. LET ME REPEAT, SHE BIT OFF A SECTION OF HIS THUMB. The Uber driver, mortified, said he didn’t know what to do, so he simply asked if he should divert to the local hospital to have the thumb piece reattached. The couple declined and said they still wanted to head to the bar.

I have so many questions.

Well, it is Las Vegas, so while he was the winner of our contest, I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised by severed body parts in an Uber minivan in Vegas.

Now, back to Fremont st. Some folks call it Freakmont st, and 5 minutes in, I could see why. When you arrive at Fremont, it is a flurry of activity. Normally, that’s not really my bag. I like things a bit more quite and low key in my old(er)(ish) age, but this was Vegas, so I was up for it. Fremont street is an assault on your senses, but it also tugs at your sense of humor and your heart as well. It’s a very interesting place, to say the least, and probably not a great place for kids. Although I notice some people are a bit more lackadaisical about what they expose their littles to than I am. At Fremont, you walk and there is almost a canopy overhead, with a lightshow. It’s bright and blingy. Also above you is Slotzilla, a giant zipline that goes very high up. You can zipline seated and Superman style, depending on your choice. Now, I didn’t do the zipline, and unfortunately its my one big regret on this trip. I wish I had done it, because it looked a blast. Now there is the main walkway, but along the sides there are these black circles. I was curious about these, so I looked them up online. Apparently street performers can sign up online to reserve a circle, which they get for 2 hours. They can then do basically whatever they want in the circle. The night we were there, I saw an “older” woman standing holding a sign that simply said “finish on my face”. I’ll leave that one there. There were two women in skimpy outfits offering to whip people. There was a guy in only a thong with KISS makeup, and he stood next to a “Little Person” who looked like Mr. T. One guy had a guy with a sign and a clown nose that advertised you could kick his friend in the nuts. (There were actually two guys who did that schtick. I’m not sure how they did it, but I have video.) Two guys did a “human gumby” routine where you could pose them any way you’d like and they would stay in that pose. Another circle was occupied by a small group who did dance routines, only all were contortionists and did moves that made me cringe. It’s not required to tip the performers, but most people would if they participated. It’s not the same vibe you get in NYC with some guy in a shitty Elmo costumes that curses you out for not tipping if someone takes a picture. It’s all about fun and crazy and freakishness. It’s Vegas on a street level, with fun and fabulous. There were a few vets hoping for tips. One guy used his time to complain about Hilary….which was about the saddest waste of time I could think of. Dude, you’re in VEGAS and she’s not president or impacting you…move on, or have some fun! There were free concerts with great bands, and the whole vibe was bright, flashy and most of all, a fun party atmosphere. The street performers were my very favorite, and most seemed to be enjoying their time. If I wasn’t so tired from the heat and walking from the day, I likely would have stayed well into the night, but I’m a British girl who wasn’t built for heat and sun. Freemont is free to go to, so definitely plan some time to spend there in the evenings. As long as you’re not prudish, you’ll likely have a blast. We topped off the evening with Hash House A Go-Go, where I got a little burger. Their portions are HUGE….like crazy huge, the food is reasonable, yummy, and the server and hostess were sweet. I got home full bellied, tired, and slept well.

Tuesday we had a lazy day at the hotel, starting off with a big Bellagio buffet lunch and a dip in the pool. I was coated in 100 SPF and tried laying out for a few but 106 degrees is a beast. The pool was lovely, albeit small, and there were plenty of chairs, to my surprise. We then went up to get ready to head to a show. My friend scored tickets to the Cirque show KA on her credit card points. We arrived at the theater, grabbed snacks and wandered to our seats. I believe we were about 7th row, not bad at all!! We were unable to take any photography once we walked in. Unaware of this, I took a picture of the side set, and was quickly asked not to take any more. The best way I could attempt to describe the side set is that it looked a bit like the Ewok village. There were people swinging from the set over the audience. The show hadn’t even started and i was already having fun! I’ll be very honest that I am not entirely sure what the plot was, and I left very confused but in awe. The cast was simply amazing, and some of the stunts I witnessed, as a mom, made me cringe with nervousness. These cast members were nothing short of athletes. Climbing, spinning, jumping, and doing feats that seemed impossible. I left the show saying “I have questions” when it came to the plot, but having thoroughly enjoyed myself. If you get the chance, go see it. You won’t regret it.

I’m not exactly sure whether it was Monday or Tuesday, but that was the day my mystery friend left. I was sad to see them go, to be honest. It started out with a hallway table and a simple pad of paper. As I made the long trek to my room each day, I noticed someone had written something on a pad in the hotel hallway. The next day, I wrote something silly back. As I headed back to my room, I laughed when I saw they had responded, so I in turn responded to them. Back and forth it went, until the pad stayed blank. I suppose they must have checked out. I was honestly sad to see them go, and wish I had met my mystery pen pal to see who they were. Such simple things, yet it made me smile.

Wednesday was the day I was most looking forward to. It earned every ounce of anticipation, and to be honest, was so awesome, it deserves its own post. We were able, through my friend’s Chase rewards points, to book an excursion to ride dune buggies in the desert. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted in. I’m more of a speed freak than a heights person, and this seemed perfect. I will post separately about the excursion because it was an experience to remember in all the right ways, and I was able to capture not only stunning views, but also met some awesome people who run it. If you are headed out to Vegas or anywhere near, check out OUI Experiences. You won’t regret it. We had a private, full day experience riding UTV’s across the Arizona Mohave desert, topped off with a massive jump into Lake Mohave for a swim in it’s crystal blue, perfect temperature waters. I saw wild donkeys, cattle, and plenty of cacti. The couple that run the tour have exclusive access to certain areas, and you feel like you stepped onto the set of Breaking Bad when they are driving the RV into the desert, except there’s nobody but you and the guides, and an occasional passerby once every few hours. It was without a doubt, my favorite part of the trip. That being said, it was 116 degrees out. Now, I know folks always follow that up with “but it’s a dry heat”. No joke, 116 degrees feels like 116 degrees, especially wearing a full helmet, bandana, and riding a cart that also got a bit hot in spots. Ice water became hot water in no time, so we were constantly chugging cold water to stay hydrated. I think I drank more than a bottle per hour, and topped the whole thing off with an ice cold beer at the very end. It was fanfriggentastic.

We arrived back at the hotel with just enough time to wash the dust of the Mohave desert off of us, pretty ourselves up, and Uber out to the Stratosphere at the end of the trip. We we tired from the heat and hungry as hell. My friend treated me to dinner at the “Top of the World” at the top of the Strat, as they are trying to rebrand the hotel. Now, The Strat as the call it, is at the far end of the strip, and the area has a much different vibe than everywhere else. It starts to look a bit dicey, and there are some drunks roaming. The casino part is alright, but the access to the elevators was through a doorway into a hallway. It left me uneasy, but I can’t really explain why. It’s not a place I’d walk to late by myself comfortably, nor did I feel comfortable in the darkish hallways. Once on the elevator, at the top where the restaurant is, it’s a totally different vibe. The restaurant is busy and the views are unparalleled in Vegas. The floor of the restaurant slowly rotates, which allows you to see everything around it, doing about a 360 degree turn in an hour. This means that during an average dinner, you can see everything surrounding the hotel. 107 floors up. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but I sucked it up and dealt. The meals aren’t cheap, and you can easily run dinner over $300 for 2 people with just a single alcoholic drink or two per person. That being said, the food was delicious and the ambiance was awesome. My bestie treated me. (Sadly, she’ll be treated to my less than stellar cooking for the next week while she recovers from surgery…it hardly seems fair). After dinner, we wandered up a floor or two to the bar. Not only is there a bar up there, but also RIDES. Yes. You heard me, and everything is there with the intent to see if you are a crazy person. I forgot to mention that during dinner, one of the sites we got to see was someone doing a controlled drop off the roof. God knows how they did it without having a heart attack, because I was freaking out just watching them!! They also had multiple rides which dangle you off the side of the building, 108 or more floors up. I got anxious just watching them and had to step inside.

We headed back to our hotel room via Monorail (I definitely recommend getting a pass before you go to Vegas, as there are some great multi day pass deals out there. Mine was loaded to my iphone and popped up on my watch whenever I got close to the monorail, making hopping on and off a breeze). After a quick stop in front of the hotel to video the Bellagio fountain show for my daughter, we headed back to the room to pack and stumble into bed. It was midnight and man, were we wiped. I was sad the trip had come to a close, to be honest. It had been so much fun having time with just my friend, seeing and experiencing so much. Had I had more time, I would have done one of the ziplines. Ah well, another time. 3 hours later,after a nap, we were on our way to the airport. I was so tired I felt it in my bones. We both crashed out on the plane. The Jet Blue flight attendants scored MAJOR brownie points when they made me an Americano when I commented how sad I was to have missed coffee (and how much I needed one!) They handed me one not long before landing, making me promise to keep the lid on for safety. Thank you, Jet Blue!!!!

It took us ages to get back to our area due to rush hour traffic. My kids were with their aunties and uncles at a local sandwich place, grabbing a bite to eat. I saw their location on the tracking app they have on their phones, and showed up to surprise them. My daughter came running to hug me, a smile but also some tears of happiness on her face. My son, the too cool 13 year old, gave me a smile and looked surprised but pleased to have me back. My husband looked so happy to have me back when I got home that I could have cried. Nothing like a girls trip to make you realize how amazing the world is, especially the little world you’ve created in your own home.