Day Five - December 24, 1998
Today I woke up tired. This is the longest we have been in Las Vegas and even though we've had a relatively slow pace, I'm exhausted!
We looked over the packet of information we got at check in and realized that if we're going to do the Carnival World Buffet, we'd better do it today. We called downstairs for the hours and found that lunch started at 11am. As it was after 10am and I wasn't dressed, we decided on an early lunch.
We made the long hike from the Masquerade Elevators to the Buffet on the opposite side of the casino and there was already a HUGE line in the first section of turnstiles. Having read alt.vacation.las-vegas, I knew to keep walking and find the second line, but as we were, something occurred to me. Did we have a line pass here too? I had Dan get in the shorter line (probably half as long as the first line) and I stood in the "casino guests" line by the slot club counter. After helping some guy sign up his entire family (I was under the impression you had to actually be there to get your slot card, apparently with this guy, you just need to bring their ID), we were buzzed through the gate and went up to the line. I signed the charge of $21.29 to the room and we went inside.
This buffet is HUGE! There is no way that anyone could possibly eat everything, even if you spent the day. We were seated near the salad bar and decided to start out with some fresh fruit and Dan had a small salad. We amused ourselves watching people stuffing apples and bananas into their purses while trying to be discreet.
We got another plate and headed for the Japanese place. I got side tracked at the fish and chips place with some clam strips, butterflied shrimps and shrimp puffs. Dan got us some sushi (salmon and cucumber rolls) that was pretty good. They had wasabi, but no small plates for mixing it with your soy sauce. We ended up finding a saucer and improvising. He also got some sort of onion, vegetable and shrimp stir-fried thing. It was pretty good.
I saw someone with pot stickers and that sounded good, so I sent Dan off to look for them. He came back with some Chinese food, but not the pot stickers I was looking for. By the time we finished that, we were stuffed to the gills. There were still about 10 other stations we didn't even look at. The Hamburger grill and one other on the far left were closed with people painting or sanding or something. I can't imagine not finding something good to eat here, although the price seemed a little high for a buffet, in my opinion.
Since we were already way over on this side of the hotel, we decided to check out the pool area. Our jackets were in the room, so the trip was quick, but we got a chance to see everything, including the icicle hanging from the rock waterfall! Did I mention it was cold in Las Vegas this week?
We played a little bit of Sneaky Queens video poker. Dan played the Bonus Poker next to me and hit four Kings. He cashed out and we headed upstairs for a brief rest.
Dan was sort of complaining that we weren't going anywhere, so he called the Luxor to find out the hours of the Nutcracker IMAX movie. We had just missed it and had plans for later on in the evening. We called Ceasar's to find out what the IMAX movie was and found out that the 3pm movie was "Africa's Elephant Kingdom", one I had been anxious to see. It was just after 2pm, so I put my shoes back on and gathered my jacket and we were off again.
We valet parked my little Geo and had some time to spare, so we signed up for the slot club. I am always hearing about the great offers other newsgroup members receive, so I'd been anxious to sign up. The signing up process took several minutes, so we just had time to make a bathroom break and get upstairs for the movie.
Let me take a moment to complain about this theater. These are the most uncomfortable seats in any theater I know. The seats are very narrow and there is barely enough room for a Kate Moss style fashion model. Anyone who has frequented the buffet is going to have to squeeze and be friendly with his or her neighbor. In addition, there isn't any legroom. Dan and I are both 6 feet tall and our toes press up against the back of the seat in front of you. It only causes problems with people show up just after the movie starts and you all have to clear out to let them into the center of the aisle.
That said, I'll be more positive. This movie is wonderful. There is a warning on the ticket and signs that says, "Parental guidance suggested for children under 10 due to realistic portrayal of nature." I expected to see a zebra killed or an elephant poached, but that wasn't what it was at all. There was elephant sex something everyone has to see once! But the story of the elephants was touching and well told.
The movie is told in first person narration from the point of view of an older bull male. He talks of his aunt Torn-ear (or something like that) who is the leader of their clan. He explains how the female elephants are in charge of the family and how it is their job to remember where food and water are and to lead the pack from food source to food source.
There are some excellent scenes of the baby elephants playing together that is too cute to describe in words and the scenes of the female elephants charging the IMAX camera had the whole theater gasping and squirming in their seats. It is really impressive and you can get a sense of the power behind these massive animals as life-sized images of them charge at you from the dome above you!
The movie covers the drought in Africa and the problems it causes for the elephants. It is very poignant when the animals suffer and struggle to survive. The poor babies are dragging behind and hardly keeping up and you get a sense of the family bond as one elephant goes down. The rest of the elephants lift this massive creature off the ground and force it to keep walking.
While you are worried about the smallest elephant in the group, the clan comes across a mother elephant all by herself. She and her baby have lagged behind their family because her baby isn't well. Apparently her baby had died not to long before this pack arrived and I was not the only one crying in the theater when the film showed this mother picking up her baby with her trunk and trying to get him to stand up and walk.
It was really fascinating to see how caring the other elephants are as they caressed the grieving mother with their trunks, just like one woman might put her arm around another grieving human mother. It was very touching. Another scene that showed this intense bond the animals have is when they come across an elephant skeleton later in the film and they each feel the bones with their trunks, not missing an inch. The narrator says, "There are memories of a life in these bones." I found it very moving and powerful.
As usual, the IMAX movie was visually stunning with excellent pictures of the elephants in their natural habitat and Mount Killimanjaro. I usually find the stories in the IMAX movies to be a little lacking in substance, but I thought this one (as well as Everest) were an exception. I was mesmerized by both stories and the visuals were used to emphasize the point the movie was making. Let's hope this is a new trend in IMAX that will continue.
I have to say that I still prefer the flat screen to the dome. We recently got an IMAX theater here in San Jose at the Tech Museum and were disappointed to find out it is a dome as well. I think there is some distortion on the edges that takes something away from the experience. Maybe I just need to find a better seat, but that would mean arriving early and that will never happen. I'm just not that organized!
We were seated right next to the exit so we dashed out after the movie to beat the rush of people to the escalator. There was already a long line for the 4pm showing of Everest.
We went down to the casino by the entrance to the Forum Shops and found some $0.25 Video Poker. We put in our slot cards and something came up on the screen that said "Countdown 100" and started counting down the coins I put in. I ran a $20 bill through a couple of times and Dan ran through a few bucks next to me. We cashed out up a couple of dollars, but not enough to really write home about. While waiting our turn at the cashier's cage, Dan stuck the card in a dollar slot machine and the countdown was 15. I'm not sure what the countdown is on a dollar VP machine or $0.25 slots. Anyone know for sure if there is a difference between VP and slots at Caesars Palace?
We wound our way back to the valet and got our car. We hit a green light and made it to Bellagio in record time. We decided to go back to the South Parking Garage again and discovered that there were "-52 spaces available" on level 2. I didn't want to be the 53rd car waiting for one car to pull out, so I went up to level three where there were "NO SPACES AVAILABLE" or so they said. I had my choice of about 12 spaces right in front of the elevators.
This time we walked into the casino not too far behind a crying infant in one of those sling baby carrier things. There wasn't any security to be found anywhere. Oh well.
We went into the conservatory to get some pictures of the tree and topiary while there was still light. The place was even more jam packed than last time. You couldn't even walk through there and some lady in a red, security jacket was trying to shoo people off the 6-8" high border of the planter boxes. A group of older people worked hard to get down that low to sit and rest and there she was, making them stand up. I thought she could have looked the other way for a minute or two, but oh well.
I was anxious to get out of the crowd, so I rushed Dan back out the front doors. Again, the revolving door had to tell Dan to hurry up and not lag back so far as I crashed into the door in front of me. Thanks Dan! And we made our way down the driveway to the right to get to the front of the lake for the first water show after dusk.
As we were walking, we had an excellent view of the progress at Paris. This place is going to be gorgeous. I am very excited about it and look forward to seeing in completed. I had Dan take a picture of it and as I was standing about 20 feet away from him, I noticed a guy with a radio directing traffic into the valet parking right where it splits between valet and self-park.
Apparently this giant urban assault vehicle decided not to stop and the oh-so happy Bellagio employee shouted "Asshole!" after him. Very nice. Is this 5-star service, Mr. Wynn?
We decided to try to avoid the disgruntled employee and moved down to street level. We weren't entirely sure when "dusk" was, so we got to the front of the hotel at 4:30. Apparently that it not dusk. We got ourselves a spot in the big terrace at the center of the lake and set up the tripod and camera.
We chatted a bit and people watched for a half an hour until 5pm when the shows started. There was a beautiful sunset and we got a nice picture or two of the colorful skies behind the Bellagio as the lights were coming on. We also got an opportunity to watch them testing the fountains and whatever machinery makes the spouts come up from beneath the water surface. Two men came out in a rubber boat and one had on a wet suit. Considering it was below 40 degrees, nobody wanted to have that guy's job!
The show started at 5pm and ran every 30 minutes until 7pm. Then every 15 minutes until 10pm and then every 30 minutes again until midnight, according to the recording at the Bellagio. This show was done to the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." It was quite impressive!
Basically this show featured water shooting at least a hundred feet up into the air and swaying back and forth with the music. It was very well done and I don't think our pictures (or any pictures) can capture the magnitude of it all. I look forward to doing this again in the spring or summer when you don't risk frostbite out there by the lake! It would also be nice to have some marble benches out there for people to sit.
We packed up our camera stuff after the show and made our way to the opposite end of the Bellagio from where we parked. This entrance is at street level, by the walkway from Caesars and Bally's. This is the entrance with the shops like Tiffany Co, Armani, etc. All WAY out of our price range. Again, kids walked past the security. I stopped for a bathroom break and found the restrooms in this area were just as nice as those in the casino area. Not at all like the ones in the Forum Shops!
I was starting to get a bit cranky as we wound our way back to the car. It is just too crowded in Bellagio for me to enjoy it. I'm constantly bumped and crowded by people. I don't find that at all pleasant. We did stop to peek in a couple of restaurants. The patio at Olives looks lovely and the jelly fish tank in the sushi restaurant is really beautiful. You have to expect to drop at least $70-80 per person for dinner at each of these, but the ambiance is nice. Maybe we'll try to come for dinner when the initial excitement dies down a little at Bellagio. Maybe once the Venetian opens, things will quiet down at Bellagio.
We got back to our car (do I need to mention that I saw more kids coming into the casino?) and arrived back at the Rio at 5:40pm. We called the Voodoo Café and got a 6pm reservation for dinner. We probably should have gotten one for a little bit later, but I'm good at rushing. Dan had to help me brush out my hair and fasten my necklace as I was putting on my makeup. We came out of the Masquerade Elevators in the beginning of the 6pm parade. It's nearly impossible to get around the casino at this time with all the people beating each other to get beads.
We were on the first floor and had to go down to the escalator and then back around to the elevator to the restaurant on the second floor, almost directly above where the room elevators let us off. I suppose we could have taken the handicap elevator by Mask to the second floor, but it was too crowded to get back there and we were already late.
We told the lady who we were, but she didn't have our reservation as we had just called 20 minutes before. She let us into the elevator and we were on our way up. Now, I knew this was a glass elevator and I'd been saving it as a surprise for Dan.
Dan had commented earlier that he had seen a glass elevator, but couldn't figure out where it was or whom it was for. I shrugged my shoulders and kept quiet. We got in and I turned Dan around to face the back of the elevator as I pushed the button for the 50th floor. The elevator whisked us up and the view was quite incredible. Almost too incredible for this person with acrophobia!
We were seated immediately at table 8. It is a small table for two next to the window, just one table down from the left-hand door to the patio area. Our waiter, Rich, came by to explain the drink menu and wine list and introduce himself. We were given water and bread just a moment later.
Dan decided to have a glass of Cabernet Blanc, but I couldn't pass up the specialty drinks they offered. I wanted to try the one with Kaluha, but settled on a Sexual Trance, a fruity drink made with Absolut Citron, Midori, some fruit juices (pineapple, mango, passion fruit) and something else I can't remember.
Rich came over a short while later and took our order. I decided on the Shrimp Creole and Dan had the Dueling Blue Crabs. We both chose the soup of the day instead of the salad (which also sounded excellent). The soup was a cup of a spicy chicken broth with shrimp, lobster, scallops and other shellfish. Some of the fish had been blended in a food processor so the soup was thick and there were some chunks of lobster and small shrimp in the soup as well. It was excellent. I would have loved to take a big thermos of it home for my cold!
After we finished our soups, we looked out the window at our view down the strip from the Mirage to Downtown and beyond. Rich took our soup bowls away and promptly brought our entrees. They were even better than the soup!
My Shrimp Creole was served on a huge plate. In the center of the plate was a generous mound of white rice, probably a little bit more than a cup of rice. Around that in the plate were 6 huge, juicy shrimps that had been butterflied. All of that was swimming in a spicy tomato sauce. It was quite spicy, but excellent. The shrimp literally melted in your mouth. All of this was garnished with curly strands of green onion and celery.
Dan's Dueling Blue Crabs were sitting upside down on mounds of some sort of mashed potato, on top of julienne vegetables (looked like zucchini and carrots and something else, I didn't ask). The crab shells on the potato mounds were filled with crabmeat that was seasoned and in some sort of creamy sauce. It was not at all spicy, but was smooth and also melted in your mouth. It was very flavorful and exquisite!
The restaurant was filling up now that it was getting close to 8pm. Unfortunately, our service also slowed down. Rich had two big tables of more than 8 people, each wanting something special. There were only two waitpersons and one busboy for the restaurant as it was Christmas Eve. This was not enough apparently.
We finally got a dessert menu and, upon Rich's recommendation, chose the Chocolate Decadence with Raspberry Sauce. It was a very thick, flourless chocolate cake. It wasn't a cheesecake, but was very thick and rich. The whole thing was topped with raspberries and swirled with raspberry sauce. Dan had a cappuccino with dessert and had to eat most of the cake, as it was too rich for my already full stomach!
After dessert it took a very long time to get our check. We chatted and enjoyed the view. We each took turns strolling out to the patio for the excellent view of the entire strip. I look forward to coming back in the spring or summer when I can enjoy a drink out on the patio without freezing to death.
We finally got our check and charged our meal ($85.51 with $15.00 tip) to the room. Then we went upstairs to check out the Voodoo Lounge. It is the same décor, but a bar instead of restaurant. Looked like fun, but we had other things to do.
We went back down to the casino floor and to the Play Rio Ticket Center. Our room package came with two tickets to ride in the parade, but I wasn't willing to do it. Dan wanted to give it a try, so we got a ticket for him in the midnight show.
I played some Sneaky Queens Video Poker while Dan took some pictures outside and went to the wine cellar for wine tasting. I wasn't doing well, so I cashed out and met up with Dan in the cellar.
*** Dan Writes *** I would place myself around the lower end of wine aficionado-dom. I enjoy the taste of fine wines, but I dont know the vocabulary of the various bouquets and noses. I have some taste though. After sampling a few wines at a Bay Area art & wine festival, we had lunch at a Round Table Pizza, where I ordered a glass of the house Rose to go with my slice of pepperoni and olives. YEEUUCK!
I had also done a little wine tasting at a couple of well-known Napa Valley wineries. But I had not done any side by side comparisons of different labels.
The Rio has an extensive wine cellar. I discovered it for the first time by descending an elevator from the 2nd floor near the Napa restaurant. It can also be accessed from the casino floor by a lovely curved staircase.
The Wine Cellar is filled with 5 foot-high stacks of cases of fabulously expensive wine. No Beringer of Fetzer here! I walked very carefully, knowing that if I knock anything over, the cost of those $100 bottles of wine add up fast!
I sat down at the wine tasting counter and opened the menu. From here you could order wine by the glass for $10-$40 a glass, or order "flights," which are three one-ounce servings of a particular varietal. The flights ranged in price from about $12 to $35.
I am a fan of the richly complex fruity tastes of Pinots, so I selected the Pinot Noir flight. The waiter poured for me a glass of classy European bottled water and set out a box of saltless crackers. Notably absent was a spittoon, which are common in Californian tasting rooms though seldom used. I supposed they dont expect that too many customers will be driving home immediately after tasting sessions.
The three selections were a 1996 Hartford Court from Arrendell Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, California; Franz Keller 93 from Germany; and a Leevin Estate 96 from Austrialia.
I found the Arrendell to have a tangy bouquet, and a smooth, subtle flavor a little too subtle for my own taste. I would have preferred a little more pronounced flavor. Next, I sampled the Franz Keller. My notes describe the taste of this as "smooth with a subtle sweetness." I did not care for the Leevin Estate Pinot. It had the acidy "bite" that I associate with cheaper wines.
Lastly, I considered paying $15 for a glass of Krug Champagne. I have never tasted a $15 glass of Champagne, and I was curious how it differed from Napa and Sonoma sparklers and that cost less than that for a whole bottle. However, I passed. Maybe next time.
For my souvenir I selected a bottle of the Franz Keller, which now sits in the bottom drawer in the kitchen, awaiting the next time Sonya makes her calzones, a delectable dish that truly deserves the company of a fine red wine. ***
At some point we exchanged the one gift each that we brought on our trip. Dan bought me a new CD and I got him a new travel coffee mug. They were small gifts, but we each wanted to get something we could use on the trip. I figured that Dan could make a coffee in the Rio's coffeepot in the room for the ride home.
At 11pm we watched the headlines of the local news and headed downstairs. We waited by the front of the stage area for a few minutes and a guy showed up and took Dan's ticket. He tried desperately to talk me into going, but there was no way it was going to happen so he gave up and decided to flirt with two teen-aged girls who were riding for their 9th time this trip. In addition to Dan and the girls, there was a couple in their mid-20's or so and a Japanese woman in her 20's or 30's who spoke no English. Her husband (?) went backstage with her, but didn't get on the float.
I set myself up at some Bonus Poker VP machines below the stage until what I guessed to be 5 minutes before the show. Then I moved upstairs to the large balcony area overlooking the tables in the Masquerade Village.
It wasn't long before the dry ice smoke started rolling out of the area of the stage where the drumset had disappeared about 45 minutes earlier. The wall on the second story where the floats come out lowered and the music started. The band came up out of the floor of the stage and was all dressed in bell-bottom pants and weird hats. A woman dressed like a hippie who also happened to be on stilts started walking through the casino area.
I instantly had flashbacks of one Halloween when Dan dressed up like a hippie. I was embarrassed before I even saw him. The riverboat float came out first and they told me that Dan was on a big green plant thing called "Brazilian" on the ticket stub. His was the 2nd to last float out (followed by a girl in a hot air balloon) but I amused myself watching two Asian acrobats dressed like Elvis who were suspended from the ceiling by wires on their hips. They were spinning and flipping all over the place. That looked like much more fun than the floats!
Then I saw Dan on the big plant thing float. He was sitting on the bottom level with a bunch of girls dancing overhead. He was on the same float with the couple and the Japanese woman. A guy who looked like he stepped out of the "after" picture from a Rogaine ad accompanied them. This guy had on a really wild wig!
Dan was dressed in a wildly colored poncho type shirt and had on a rainbow colored headband. He had a maraca (sp?) that he later informed me was attached to the float so you couldn't steal it. Dan was shaking that thing and rocking out for all he was worth. I'm sad to say that he was the only one besides the paid performers who seemed to be getting into it.
As the float came around the casino, I grew more and more embarrassed. I was thinking, "Please don't let anyone notice him acknowledging me!" As the float got closer, I heard in 15 different languages, 'Oh my gosh! Look at the guy rocking out!"
Dan was definitely looking for me in the crowd and found me when their float stopped just in front of the balcony. All of the girls got off the float and pulled people out of the crowd on the balcony to dance with them. People were having fun. Dan rocked out with the big hair guy on the float.
Dan was left alone with the 30-something couple at one point because the Japanese woman got off the float at one point. The big-haired guy had to go chasing after her and get her back on the float.
After one song the dancing girls got back on the float and they were off for the rest of their trip around the casino. I got pelted with some beads and saw a few people fighting over them and ending up with two broken strings of beads. (sigh)
*** Dan Writes *** The one new thing left for me to try way the Masquerade Parade. When I purchased my ticket after the 8 p.m. show, 10 p.m. was filled up, so I bought tickets for the Midnight show. I was instructed to be at the iron gates in front of the stage by 11:15 to meet the guide who would take a backstage at the Rio.
I met my guide at 11:15 as instructed. Also turning up for the adventure was a Los Angeles software engineer and his wife, a woman from Tokyo, and two underage girls who were there for their 9th Masquerade ride because there was nothing else they were allowed to do.
Steve, our fearless guide, took us through an unobtrusive door in the back of the casino. Gone were the subdued lights and Marti Gras décor. This part of the Rio was brightly-lit hallways with white walls, tan carpet and mysterious unmarked doors leading who-knows-where on either side.
At the top of a staircase, we were led into a room with black walls and tightly backed sleeping floats hanging from the ceiling. Now the electronic "do-da-do-lu" song of a thousand slot machines was filling the room, so I knew the casino was not far like on the other side of the black curtain that formed one wall.
We were led past the floats to small locker room, and assigned lockers where we were to find our costumes. I was assigned locker 17. This locker contained several wonderful costumes, but I was only to wear the first one. It was a sort of a psychedelic afghan, like what attendees at a Grateful Dead orgy might keep handy to throw on quickly if the police bust in. A colored headband, some beads and a plastic Rio medallion (or is it a plastallian?) completed the costume.
The teenage girls were assigned to the Showboat, and the rest of us were seated on a big plant thing. Since we werent being paid enough to risk our necks we werent being paid at all we were asked to remain seated with our seat belts buckled at all time. We were also asked to refrain from throwing beads, or doing anything else we were not instructed to do. There was a maraca attached to a coiled cord I was allowed to shake.
A big-haired hippie and a dancegirl soon joined us and made small talk with us while the other performers got ready for the show. Looking behind me, I saw several other performers getting ready, including a pair of Asian Elvises. (My spell checker says that "Elvises" is not a word, but we Vegas fans know better!)
After a few more dancegirls boarded the plant, it was now midnight. Everyone yelled Merry Christmas! At each other as the music started and the shop began.
The curtains at one part of the room opened, and the floats began exiting. I saw the Elvises flying around. Soon we left the stage and floated past the video poker and over the craps tables out. The folks at the machines had stopped playing and were watching us. We parked near Bamboleo on the second level, where the dancegirls deboarded over a drawbridge to dance among the onlookers, with only the big-haired hippie to keep us company. I felt that since I was part of the show, I had an obligation to the audience to stay in character, so I continued to shake my maraca and move to the mix of 60s and 80s dance music. My fellow hitchhikers didnt feel any such obligation. They all sat and smiled like they were politely watching their kids perform in an elementary school play.
The dancegirls returned, and we did one more pass over the video slot and blackjack tables before returning backstage. This time, the players seemed done with us, and they were again staring at the machines hoping that the right combination of aces, 7s or bananas would appear on the pay line.
Now it was back into the black-walled room with the lockers. We didnt get to keep our costumes or headbands, but we did get to keep our Rio plastallions and a bonus handful of beads.
After the show, I headed back down to the Bonus Poker machines and played until Dan showed up. He told me all about it and I hit four kings. I cashed out and we went upstairs for bed, as the next day would be a big one.