Las Vegas has it all: restaurants, casinos, shows, shopping, sightseeing. Sin City is a fabulous place to visit, and you’ll be hooked after your first trip.
My great friends Michele and Reilly go to Las Vegas very often. Reilly’s company is headquartered there, so convenience is one reason they go. But more importantly, they go because they love it. And who doesn’t love Las Vegas?!
Michele and Reilly are part of a core group of about 10 friends that I met through Aaron. I met Reilly about a year ago then met Michele about 2 months later. I was telling a friend the other day that I would be really lonely here in Stillwater without this group. I have my work friends, but rarely socialize much outside of the office. Its disappointing, because when I first got to OSU 8 years ago, a group of us had a weekly happy hour; over the course of a year that happy hour dwindled to nothing. My friend and co-worker Mary and I hung out a lot for a few years when she began working in my office, but then she started hanging out with a group of work friends closer to her age. In our core group, everyone’s kids are close in age, and a few even go to school together. It works out well that we can do group things as adults or with kids. Even though Aaron and I are the only ones single and no kids, we still do the family activities too.
Michele and I have become really good friends over the past 11 months. On Saturday at Walgreen’s, the cashier asked how long we had been friends, probably based on our conversation with each other and the guys in front of us in line. She was shocked when we said less than a year, and said she figured we had been friends forever. That’s the type of friend you know you’ll have for life. Michele has been trying to get me to go to Las Vegas with them for months, but I’ve had a conflict every time. This time Reilly started in on me too, and I finally gave in when we got a great rate on both the flight and hotel, and it was a quick 36-hour group trip. The same thing happened in ’07 when the OSU men’s basketball team played in the Maui Invitational. I wasn’t going to go, but with my airline miles the flight cost $10. You can’t pass that up. Ever.
I’ve only been to Las Vegas one other time, 3 years ago with a group of guy friends. During the day while they golfed, I went to the pool, walked the strip, and people watched. At night, we met up for funtivities. I had a great time with them, but it would have been more fun to have girlfriends to hang out with.
I met Reilly and Michele at their house Friday morning. I give Reilly so much grief because he doesn’t have a Pike Pass for the turnpike, so he has to stop and pay the toll at each one. I told him I’m getting him one, and I reminded him of that again when we hit the first toll. As we got to the second toll, about 20 miles from Stillwater, he made a comment about toll money since he hadn’t made it to the ATM yet. I dug in my purse for my wallet to pay…and NO WALLET. I had left it at their house. I’m always super diligent before I leave my house for the airport, and triple check for my license and credit card. As long as I have those 2, I can get to where I’m going and buy whatever I need when I get there. But I had taken out my wallet at the house and left it on the counter. I went into major panic mode, as we were already cutting it a little close to get to the airport in Wichita. Thankfully their daughter Kennedy was home, and drove out to meet us. It’s a good thing I noticed it there instead of at the airport, or I would have been like Tom Hanks in the movie The Terminal. Wichita is nice and all, but the thought of being stuck there rather than a weekend in Las Vegas was not a good thing.
So, a caveat before I go any further. I had big plans to take tons of pictures and do lots of food blog research. But, with such a short trip and a big group, I focused more on spending time with my friends. I already told Michele that I want to do a longer trip where I can have it a little more structured and really do a blog research trip. Of course she was on board with being a part of it.
They usually fly Allegiant Airlines to Las Vegas because of the price. Allegiant flies from OKC and Tulsa, but it’s often cheaper in/out of Wichita. But it’s also deceiving, because the airline nickle and dimes you for everything. The flight itself was only about $200 round trip, and it’s direct. But you have to pay for your bag, even a carry on, and it’s more expensive than other airlines. The weight limit is only 40lbs, when every other airline is 50lbs. If you want to select your seat, you pay $15-$20 each way. If you don’t pay, Allegiant automatically selects your seat. If you want to pay with a credit card, that’s ANOTHER $9; paying with a debit card is free. So all of a sudden a $200 flight ends up being $250, and that’s if you only do one bag. Oh, and you even have to pay for non-alcoholic beverages on the plane. They get you at every single turn.
Southwest has a direct flight from Tulsa, so they always check that. If it’s cheaper, that’s the way to go because you don’t pay for anything but the ticket.
We stayed at The Venetian, and the price was very reasonable. What I hate is the resort fee. I’m sure all Las Vegas resort hotels do it, but at $29 per night it’s such a racket. What do you get? A cup of coffee at a shop in the casino (no coffee makers in the hotel room); newspaper (nobody reads the paper, especially in Las Vegas); free local calls (everyone has a cell phone); access to the spa club (I’m sure it’s just the gym, and not any services at the spa); and a 2-for-1 drink in the casino (drinks are free when you’re gambling). I really wish hotels would eliminate the resort fees and just charge a little more for the room. I could have paid $30/night more for a view of the Strip, but that would have been a waste of money.
Anyways, enough griping. The Venetian is an absolutely gorgeous, all-suite hotel with phenomenal rooms. The tub was gorgeous and looked so inviting, but I never got the opportunity to try it. I’ll have to do that next time.
Most of the resort hotels on the strip have loyalty cards, and you earn points when you gamble, book rooms, and spend money in the resort. Grazie is the loyalty card for the Venetian and Palazzo, and I got mine on Saturday morning. What I didn’t realize, until I was packing on Sunday morning, is that my room rate included a free $10 play card, but it had to be redeemed at check-in. I was bummed, but let’s be honest…that $10 would have been gone in less than 5 minutes.
I earned about 2,000 points in 18 hours, but I’m still a LONG WAY away from the next bump up. That bump is when you start earning good benefits. I guess this is another reason I need to stay here from now on. Otherwise I’ll have a bunch of loyalty cards with not much loyalty on any one of them.
Madame Tussaud’s is at the Venetian. I’ve never been to any of the locations because every time I think about going, I ask myself do I really want to spend the money to see wax figures of people? But lo and behold, as we were walking out of the hotel Saturday morning, we ran into The Rock!!
They rotate different statues to entice people inside, but I love the Rock so this was good enough for me.
Oh, and one more thing. The Venetian has moving sidewalks that go from the street to the 2nd floor. Of course the sidewalks weren’t moving most of the time, and my $5 Walmart flip flops did NOT do well on it. I literally slid down the whole way. So just an FYI…wear shoes with some traction.
— Karyl Henry (@KarylHenry) June 8, 2016
FOOD & DRINKS
If you want to eat good food, you’re going to find it in Las Vegas. Cuisines from around the world can be found both on and off the strip. Many restaurants on the strip, particularly in the larger resort hotels, are owned by celebrity chefs. Celebrity chefs usually means celebrity prices. On my first trip I went to a couple of those, and spent a boatload of money. But you really don’t need to do that, because you can find restaurants at every price point. Yes, prices are a little higher in general because it’s a tourist town. But you can break the bank or be frugal, and either way get really good food.
I did a great job writing posts on 3 of our main meals
- On Friday our first stop after checking into our hotel was lunch at Lagasse’s Stadium.
- Saturday morning was brunch at Hash House a Go Go
- Saturday night, Michele, Reilly and I had a light dinner at Lobster Me
Ever since I agreed to go on the trip, Reilly’s been talking about going to Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. He raved and raved about the brisket. He didn’t care if nobody else went, he was going. I love buffets, so I was in.
When you think buffets in Las Vegas, you usually think of miles and miles of food.
The wait to get into Bacchanal is ridiculous, and it’s not uncommon for people to wait for 2 hours to get in. Reilly and Brad have VIP cards, and there is a separate VIP line. Our wait was only about 10 minutes. I asked Reilly how you get one of those, and he said, “spend a s*#%!load of money”. Clearly I’ll never have a VIP card. I totally forgot to take pictures, which is a complete fail because Bacchanal is beautiful. Gorgeous really. I did find this picture online, and this is just one section of the raw bar.
Bacchanal is a buffet on serious steroids. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and offers over 500 items daily. It has a very trendy, hip atmosphere, and great music playing in the background.
Even the food displays are works of art. Much of the food is traditional buffet style, in big serving bowls. But they’ve also got many items in small plates. In the seafood section are freshly steam crab legs, with a vat of churning clarified butter. The guy behind me complained that “for what we’re paying we should have real butter”. Obviously he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, because clarified butter IS real butter. And crab legs are served with clarified butter.
The buffet literally twists and turns and runs for about 500 yards, and then there’s a huge dessert station in the center. The price is very reasonable for Las Vegas, and considering all the raw bar food they have, it is a great deal. My first plate was Asian food; second plate was brisket, mac & cheese, and a fish taco; and my last plate was the freshly steamed crab legs. I really wanted oysters, but that part of the line was too long and by that point I don’t even know if oysters would have fit in my stomach. Bacchanal is 100% on my to-do list on the next trip, and I am taking lots of pictures. I may be there 3 hours, but it will be worth it.
SAN GENNARO GRILL
Late Saturday night, Michele and I decided we were hungry. We didn’t want to go too far, so we hit the food court right next to the casino at The Venetian. She went with Mexican, I did San Gennaro Grill. I was originally going to get a burger, but then the salmon sandwich caught my eye. Then I reconsidered. Should I trust a salmon sandwich from a food court at midnight? I asked the cashier, and she said she’d never had it. However, she said it was one of the most popular dishes on the menu. She also said they had to stop the employees from eating it, because it was running out and guests weren’t able to get it. So I decided to take a chance.
I forgot to take a picture, but I found this one online that’s a great representation of my meal
This sandwich was awesome. It was a very generous piece of salmon, probably close to 6 ounces. It was cooked perfectly, and really juicy,and served with thousand island dressing, lettuce & tomato. I’ve never had thousand island with salmon, but it worked really well. I only ate a little of the bun, and then just ate the middle. The fries were just average, but I really didn’t need them anyway, and it wasn’t worth it to complain. Again, it was a food court at midnight.
DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS
When people think of Las Vegas, most automatically think of the Las Vegas Strip. All the glitz and glamour, all the lights and people. Downtown Las Vegas, and Freemont Street in particular, is the older area, with the casinos that you see in old movies. The best part of downtown is that the gambling is cheaper.
After our morning drama, flight, and lunch, I needed a power nap. I had a really long week, and hadn’t gotten much sleep, so I knew a nap was my only chance of staying up late. Everyone thought I was crazy and would be down for the count. I went to the room and crashed for about an hour, hopped in the cab, and met them downtown. I will say, it was hard to get out of bed because it was so soft and comfortable, but I had to prove everyone wrong.
The group started at the D Hotel, and by the time I got downtown, they were at the Golden Nugget. I didn’t know they were at the Golden Nugget, so I walked through the D Hotel to look for them. And then Reilly had to come find me, because I was completely turned around and had no clue where I was.
On my next trip, I’m spending a day downtown so I can do a more complete review. There is so much to see and do just in that area, and I barely got to experience any of it. And quite possibly, even more entertaining people watching than on the strip.
LAS VEGAS STRIP
The strip reminds me a lot of New York City. Tons of people, lots of great people watching, and sensory overload after a while. If you want quiet, wake up and head out early. The first day I always wake up super early because of the time change. But I love it, because the streets are nearly empty, and you can go at your own pace. The strip is 4.2 miles from end to end, so it’s also a great workout early in the morning. Nobody I know actually lives on or near the strip. Most of the locals live in Summerlin or Henderson, which aren’t too far away.
There are so many shows you can see in Las Vegas, and every hotel has them. I swear some celebrities that I thought had completely died out are back, and doing shows in Las Vegas. Michele was determined to get me and Shauna to go see Rock of Ages. She’s seen it before, but REALLY wanted us to go. She hounded us all day Saturday, but we both rebelled. I do want to see it, but just wasn’t feeling it this trip. I’ve promised her that next time I will go. On my first trip to Las Vegas we went to see Holly Madison’s peep show. If you don’t know, Holly was one of Hef’s girlfriends. The show was really good and entertaining and funny, and let me tell you, Hef’s money was very well spent on her plastic surgery.
There are nightclubs in all of the hotels, and numerous bars both in the hotels and stand-alones. With the clubs, you really need to know somebody or be a VIP; otherwise you’ll wait in line forever, pay a huge cover, and buy crazy expensive drinks. There is also a very strict dress code for guys, and they are not flexible with that dress code.
After brunch on Saturday, Michele wanted to go to Rent the Runway at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. It ended up being just Michele and I, as the others went back to the hotel. By this time it was about a million degrees outside, and the strip was packed. Rent the Runway is a store where you pay a monthly fee, and can literally rent clothes, shoes, and accessories. When you return something, you get to rent something else. Las Vegas is the only brick and mortar location, so Michele really wanted to go and see some of the stuff in person. The only thing is, most of the stuff in the physical store is for going out in Las Vegas. And we live in Stillwater. Michele didn’t find anything she wanted, but she did get to meet Destiny, who is her personal shopper. I don’t belong to Rent the Runway, and most of the clothes in the shop are for people half my size, so I sat in the lounge area with a husband and we watched Clueless on TV.
I’m quite sure my mom is the only person in the world who goes to Las Vegas and doesn’t spend money. Her entire trip limit is $5, and then she’s done. I have a strict limit of $50/day. Craps takes way too much thought process; I have no clue how to play poker; and I tried Texas Hold Em and had no idea what I was doing. So I stick with blackjack. I didn’t do well on the automated machines, but with Reilly’s help I actually made money on the blackjack table.
It does sadden me to see older people who spend all day and night in the casino, blowing their hard earned money on the slots. The casinos will never admit it, but I guarantee those games are rigged so the house wins the majority of the time. Otherwise they’d go out of business, and clearly they are not even close to doing that. Lady luck doesn’t really shine down on me, so I usually lose my money pretty quickly. And then I live vicariously through those who win big.
The one thing I hate about the casinos is the smoke. I swear at least half the people in there are chain smoking either cigarettes or cigars. The ceilings are really high and I’ve heard they pump oxygen through the ventilation system, so it helps. But if you’re sitting next to or really close to someone smoking, you might as well light up yourself. There was an old guy at the blackjack table wearing a dust mask. I’m not sure if it was because he was sick or just trying to not inhale the smoke; but he was there for hours, so it lost its effect pretty quickly.
We had a fantastic time. It was wonderful to spend quality time with Reilly and Michele, and to make 4 new friends. Even though it was a quick trip, we packed a lot into it. I’m struggling a little bit today, but I can’t let that hold me down!
There are so many more things I need to do in Las Vegas. Visit more restaurants; go see shows; spend the day on Freemont Street; see the Hoover Dam; and take a whole lot more pictures. I will need several more trips to fit it all in.