We got up closer to midday than we would have liked. The last couple of days had been tiring and the lack of sleep in Death Valley hit us hard. Emma had been looking forward to today as it meant she could hit up the MGM Champagne Brunch! This wasn’t her first trip to Las Vegas either. She had been in 2009 with her housemate Jenny and had always raved about the buffets the the large resorts have. The buffets aren’t cheap unless you leave the strip. They can also vary massively in quality so with the price. The ones operated by the MGM and Caesars Group tend to be expensive but decent quality.
When you look at the strip you see over a dozen themed casino resorts in almost perfect cohesion with their setup, walkways and light rail connections. Well that cohesion is real as the majority of the Vegas strip is owned by just two companies. MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corporation between them own 18 casinos on the strip. You might think that Excalibur, The Bellagio and New York New-York are nothing alike. Well you are just spending your money at MGM properties. It is the same with Bally’s, The Flamingo and Paris. You are just spending your dollars at Caesars. This monopoly comes in handing if you join the corresponding rewards card system. As we were staying at the MGM we joined the MLife program. So long as we present the card whenever we spend money in any of the MGM resorts we would get discounts and comps. I soon realised that this only applied if we spent either a lot of cash, or if we were going to be in Vegas for a long time. $20 on the Ghostbusters slot was not going to get us VIP treatment at Mandalay Bay any time soon. It would also help if we remembered to actually show the card instead of remembering when we were in the cab home.
We eventually found the buffet and got shown to our seats. The champagne was quickly poured and we toasted to a nice time in Vegas. It felt odd to be drinking champagne before 12pm but why not? The buffet was huge and I didn’t know where to start. I had prayed it had proper bacon and I didn’t have to eat more fraudulent American bacon. Emma came back with a small mound of food, mainly salad related items. I turned my head in disgust and attacked the breakfast section. I came away in tears plate loaded with fraudulent bacon and some weird kind of sausage. The food was delicious and after a second helping of both food and drink we hit the casino. I was still sipping my champagne like a seasoned Vegas pro and took a seat at the Blackjack table. This was the first time I had ever sat at a casino table and I was only playing small fry. Before leaving the UK I had taught myself basic blackjack strategy and had a handle on keeping a track of picture cards. I don’t have the brain capacity or concentration to count cards but using basic strategy I hoped to have some fun and not lose too much. Emma stood behind me like my dolly girl screaming stuff like “You go daddy!” and “Mmhmmm this man knows poker.” She didn’t really, she just stood there gazing longingly for a Lord Of The Rings slot or maybe even a Dr Who roulette. She didn’t want to play anything, probably just to keep an eye on me so I didn’t end up walking round the casino in just my pants crying that the bad casino people had taken all my stuff. A cocktail waitress came up taking drink orders and I reminded myself the drinks were free so long as you played on the casino floor. Cheekily, I asked for another champagne and went back to playing cards badly. She returned a few minutes later with a coke glass of champagne.
“Sorry hun but this was the only glass we had.”
I tipped her a couple of dollars and looked at my half a pint of champagne. ‘Vegas isn’t too bad’ I thought before looking down at my rapidly decreasing stack of chips. We had a full day ahead of us so I raised the stakes to a massive $25 for the final hand and got dealt two 9′s. I dropped another $25 to split them and landed an ace and a king. I leant back like a seasoned pro sipping my champers while the dealer wen bust. I grabbed the now replenished stack of chips and turned to Emma:
“Just won $50 with that hand, We are $10 up, time to go.”
The best piece of advice I had been given about gambling was by a drunk guy in Napa. If you’ve been playing for a while and you break even, walk away. You’ve had a fun time and you still have your cash. We didn’t cash in the chips as it felt cooler to be walking around with them in our pockets. We took a cab to Mandalay Bay at the bottom end of the strip to start our day of exploring. It would no doubt be a long painful day for me as I was suffering badly from cracked feet caused by a combination of the dry desert air and the air conditioning. That may be a bit too much information for some but it seriously hampered my mobility and urge to walk miles around the resorts.
We got to the Mandalay Bay resort and followed the signs to Shark Reef. It was a huge indoor aquarium that contained sharks, turtles, and all sorts of awesome sea creatures. The tickets were quite pricey but I had got them through the MyVegas game on Facebook. Now I am going to give you a quick run down on MyVegas without getting too fanboy on the whole thing. MGM resorts as previously mentioned own a few properties on the strip and through these properties they offer free stuff if you play their game. This game is MyVegas and entails you earning loyalty points through playing slot machines and blackjack. You get free chips every day but can buy extra ones if need be. Every time you play you get loyalty points and the more you bet the more you earn. After a while you can then trade in these points for prizes. They range from 10,000 points for a ride on a roller-coaster to 1,000,000 points choosing the song for the Bellagio fountain display. In the months before the wedding I had spent an abnormal amount of time playing the game in pursuit of free stuff for our trip. With hindsight it would have just been easier and cheaper to watch TV and just pay for the stuff but we shall ignore that for now. We got our free passes for Shark Reef and entered into a humid wet atmosphere. Immediately we were by some tough skinned long tongued fellow. But to be honest I didn’t care, I wanted to see a shark!
Before the sharks we got to the Stingray tank. I recoiled in horror and had images of Steve Irwin haunt me. Those murdering beasts would throw themselves at me, barbs flailing screeching in horror. Instead there was a helpful girl who told us we could touch the stingrays very carefully as they quite enjoyed it. She was right I would hold my hand under the water and they would swim under my fingers. Their backs were very rough and boney yet quite slimey, an unusual texture and it didn’t feel right on the hand. We had fun touching all the stingrays and they seemed to enjoy it, I accidentally pressed too hard on one and it skid on the sand. It didn’t seem to mind and went off for a back rub from Emma. The girl fielded some questions about Steve Irwin. She said that stingrays were naturally unafraid of humans as we could see from the ones in front of us and only get their barb out if they are scared or protecting themselves. She said that Steve Irwin could be quite rough with animals and if he had frightened or surprised a stingray by jumping in next to it, it wouldn’t be beyond her imagination that it stabbed him in what it perceived to be self defence.
Next to the stingray area was the jellyfish tank. In old horror films you have brains floating in jars with creepy lighting. Well that is exactly what it looked like except it was jelly fish. The large tank with the sharks in was superb. We saw turtles, shark, stingrays and loads of other fish I can’t pronounce the names off. It still baffles me how they haven’t all been eaten by the sharks. The casino must keep them very well fed so the patrons don’t have to witness a turtle having it head bitten off by a hungry shark.
We came out Shark Reef glad we hadn’t paid for it for some reason. It was great but felt too short especially for the fee we would have paid had it not been for MyVegas. We then started doing some free stuff like the car auction. It was a lot of pristine American classics for sale, we were only going to look and maybe take a few photos. Just as were about to go in we were asked to show our tickets. Tickets? The show wasn’t free and it was $22 each. We quickly evaluated how much we wanted to see the show and decided to move on. There were lots of other free exhibitions to see, or so we thought.
There is a monorail that connects the east side of the strip. It connects most of the MGM properties together making it easier to lure customers into their casinos instead of anyone elses. Likewise there was a monorail connecting Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur. It was free so we made good use of it and saved my poor feet.
Emma had been to the Luxor on her last trip and said the view inside was amazing. The Luxor is a giant pyramid and to me is one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. It is 111 metres high which is just 27 metres short of the largest Egyptian pyramid Khufu. The hotel is hollow with the rooms around the outside so you can look up and see all the floors and the top of the pyramid from the inside. I’ve been inside the the Khufu pyramid in Egypt and I can tell you there was a lot less blackjack tables there. It took us 20 minutes to find the right place to look up as we kept getting lost. At one point we were staring at the cleaning cupboard and watching housekeeping clean rooms. Eventually we got a great view of the Sphinx and the Obelisk.
We cabbed it to the Venetian as it was hosting a National Geographic exhibition of their top 50 photos. The Venetian is a fantastic hotel with canals running in and around it. It was also a really crappy hour for us. The canals were dry with no chance of a gondola ride. The ice cream was £7 a scoop. £7!!!!! That’s more expensive than Ben & Jerry’s at the cinema! We went ice cream-less then were turned away at the National Geographic exhibition because we didn’t want to fork out $50 to look at photos we could see online. The exhibition was empty and the man behind the til admitted to having very few people visit. I subscribe to the National Geographic magazine I give them enough cash already but this doesn’t matter. They still wanted more. The Venetian just like the real Venice was a ripoff. I was quite disappointed with Vegas by this point. I had been promised that there was a lot to do and it wouldn’t smash your pocket to do so. But if we had seen Shark Reef, two exhibitions and got a scoop of ice cream each the bill would have been £110, for half a days entertainment.
None of that mattered however as we made our way towards an awesome dinner and evening show. We went downtown to the world famous Heart Attack Grill. I had been warned about this restaurant that it may just be the weirdest place in Vegas and it didn’t disappoint. It prides itself on gluttony and food so unhealthy it kills you. Interestingly their mascot did in fact die of a heart attack. As soon as you walk through the door you are met by a scantily dressed nurse who puts a hospital gown on you. You are a patient who needs their food to get better. Our nurse was Jamie and she gave us the menus and took our drinks order. She informed us they only sold Mexican Coke and it was made with real sugar not the fake sugar the US government makes them use. You could taste it, and from then on whenever I could find Mexican Coke we stocked up on it.
I had secretly been dreading this meal. People over 350lbs eat free. For those that don’t know I am a fat guy. Emma is tiny and before we left for the USA I managed to fit her in our empty suitcase. Good to know if I ever need to bump her off. I had lost quite a few lbs before the wedding and was feeling trim but nearly two weeks of driving across the US had me not so confident I could make it. I wanted to pay for my food dammit! I got on and watched the numbers quickly fly up. 352lbs and an alarm went off with a flashing light, everyone in the place turned and cheered, some giving me thumbs up other exclaiming me to be a lucky bastard. I nearly run back to my chair where Jamie was waiting to congratulate me. What kinda of a place is this where there are waitresses dressed as nurse congratulating you on being able to eat as much of their food as you could for free? I could have as many burger and chips as I wanted and each time I finished one they would bring me another. Emma also ordered a burger and chips though she would have to pay.
Jamie brought over the Cokes and noticed the guy on the table next to us had finished eating but there was food still on his plate. This is not how it is done at the Heart Attack Grill. She pulled him up in front of the restaurant and declared he was a naughty boy for not cleaning his plate and took him over to a metal frame that happened to be about six feet from us. Now this is getting weird. Once at the frame he bent over and she spanked him very hard with a leather paddle. I quickly checked that yes we were in a restaurant and not a sex dungeon. Apparently he loved it and his friends took loads of photos and I suspected he had left food on his plate on purpose. This is obviously the sorta thing they do in Vegas, once finished Jamie transformed from a tough mistress seamlessly back to her job as a waitress and went to get our food.
When it came we were scared about the paddle and I asked her in a quiet voice if everyone had to do that. She smiled, looked at Emma’s worried expression, lent over and said:
“Only if you want me too hunny.”
“Thanks I think we will opt out of that one.”
The food was like nothing I had tasted. In a strange way, it felt like everything was covered in lard. Probably because it was, the chips were deep fried in lard and you could tell. They were delicious and the burger was fried in its own grease. After a few bites there was a film of grease forming in our mouths and the food went from own right delicious to a bit sickening. Then the moment came where I couldn’t finish the burger. What sort of fat guy was I? Able to eat as much as I wanted for free and couldn’t even do one portion? Neither of us could finish the lard covered food and Jamie took it away without comment or spanking. The food was a confusing experience. It was so rich that we couldn’t eat more than a few bites. The chips were so fatty that after a while it turned disgusting. It was a nice experience and something we would never forget but I feel the one visit was enough. I would certainly go back there if we went to Vegas again.
We walked back down Freemont street and into the Binions Casino. I made a beeline for their main attraction. ONE MILLION DOLLARS CASH! To me that is incredibly cool.
Meatloaf – The Legend
We made it to Planet Hollywood as the doors opened for the evening show. Back in April we had travelled a four hour round trip to Nottingham to see Meatloaf at the Capital FM Arena. When we arrived we found a lot of distraught fans milling around, the concert had been cancelled. It was eventually rescheduled while we were out of the country. I doubted we would ever seen him again. That was until I read in August he was planning a Vegas stint. It was opening night tonight and Emma had bagged us a pair. the venue was small and intimate. given a tennis ball I would have had a good shot and hitting him from our seats. I am not going to go all fanboy about it but he was very very funny and his interaction with the crowd was one of a seasoned pro. He played all the hits and was musically sound and predictably left Bat Out Of Hell until last. His voice has taken the toll of decades of rock and roll. He needed backing singers to hit the power notes in Bat Out Of Hell which didn’t stop me from having a lump in my throat (because I’m a bit of a loser like that) but apart from that he was 10/10 for entertainment. The bats on wires flying across the crowd with bright red eyes a a nice touch.
We walked from Planet Hollywood to the Bellagio for the world famous fountain show. It was surprising how many people were there to watch it and we managed to get a spot on the wall just off centre. The show was mesmerizing and I loved it. We could have stayed for the next showing 15 minutes later but the day had taken its toll and we were flagging. We needed to go to Bertha to get the laptop so we could back up the photos taken the last couple of days. I was pretty sure I knew where she was and we headed off down the strip in search of the RV. That is when we realised how seedy Vegas could be. There were beggars, people peddling prostitutes and nightclubs every few yards. It didn’t matter that Emma and I were holding hands they would still try and give me leaflets for prostitutes. The police clear the streets of undesirables and they just go up into the walkways. It does nothing to clear the beggars or hustlers except move them around like trying to mop up a drinks spill with your hand.
Of course we got horribly lost before eventually finding our way back to the main entrance of the MGM. We called security and surprisingly we got Rick again. We chatted telling him about our day and what we had seen. He seemed pleased to listen and recommended some stuff for tomorrow. Two of the top ice hockey teams in the world were due to play an exhibition match the following day at the MGM and I was disappointed we weren’t going to see it. He told us the MGM Garden Arena was based on Madison Square Garden in New York. I said that it sounded cool and a fabulous arena. On the drive back from Bertha he asked what we were doing now. It was a loaded question and it went straight over my head and I rambled something about sleep and blackjack. Emma caught the loaded question and went with it
“We haven’t got anything planned apart from a drink and then bed.”
“Well do you folks wanna see it?”
“Yeah only take a few minutes, I’ll get you in.”
He then drove us round the back to the crew entrance of this massive building. We walked through the non-descript security entrance and past a box of Krispy Kremes. Then past some crew members playing cards and through a pair of tall doors. We came out next to the ice and we were temporarily speechless. The arena was empty but the lights were on the the ice rink was fresh and ready to be played on.
It was great to see it all and the arena was impressive, Rick took our photo out back and then drove us back to the hotel. I gave him a big tip and thanked him for going out of his way to let us see the garden. To cap off a long day I sat down at the blackjack table for $10 a hand. I managed to get a few dollars up before the dealer hit 20 or 21; 9 hands in a row. I couldn’t believe it and walked away shaking my head. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how sound you play cards, it just isn’t your day. Emma had the right idea in the form of a spa bath and bed. I followed her soon after and we were out like a light after our busiest day yet.