Wednesday 14 May 2014

Las Vegas: Day One

Back in November a bunch of us were talking about the possibility of a Vegas trip. My best friend Amanda. G was there at the time, as well as my brother’s girlfriend Amanda. S and both of them (plus me) thought this would be an awesome idea – mainly because Britney Spears was doing a residency at Planet Hollywood! Nothing really came of that conversation until a few months later, when within a day we got everything organized and booked. (I can see why people tell me I missed my calling as a travel agent!) 

Our flight to Las Vegas was an early one – 8:55am, meaning we had to be at the airport by 6:30am. Mom, Dad, the Amanda’s and I all went together, and met Uncle Beau and Aunt Honey at Pearson. Within the last few months they have changed the way in which the airport operates at Terminal 1. As long as I can remember, for any flights going to the US, you clear US Customs in Toronto. It makes the process longer at the beginning but allows you to land in the US domestically, and proceed right to baggage and then the exit. Terminal 1 handles most of the US bound flights, so customs has always been full of long and slow lines. The new system they have implemented only allows you to proceed through customs once your departure time is called. This prevents long lines of everyone trying to get through at once, and instead moves groups along at a steady pace. It still wasn’t a breeze, but it was quicker then the last time we traveled from this terminal.

We all got separated at the customs line, with my parents going in one direction, and Amanda G in another, but fortunately Amanda S and I were able to stay together. We all reunited once we were through customs/security and into the actual terminal. Breakfast was an assortment of bagels, granola, and Starbucks drinks leaving us very little waiting time at the gate. The one downfall of the newer customs system is that it leaves a lot less time in the terminal to either eat or look through the duty free shops.

All seven of us were on the same plane going to Vegas, but Honey and Beau were further back. It was a newer/larger plane on the Air Canada Rouge system. AC Rouge is Air Canada’s newer and cheaper airline group. For shorter flights it is fine, but I personally find it lacking in the comfort and services that you would want for longer journeys. The flight itself was okay – a bit turbulent, but nothing out of the norm. It was early enough that most of us were able to get a little bit of sleep which ended up being beneficial when you mixed a late evening with the time change.

Upon landing Beau and Honey got their luggage first as they were priority (one of the perks Uncle Beau has from traveling so much for work), so they headed to the rental car agency. Initially we had talked about taking a trip out to Grand Canyon or Hoover Dam so having a car made sense. Plus, with there being seven us, relying on cabs could become complicated. Once we had our bags, and they got the car we headed away from the airport and to the Wyndham Grand Desert. This was one of my dads timeshare properties, and I had stayed there twice before. It’s a great property that has pools, a cafĂ©, a fitness center and more. It’s located off the strip, but there is a shuttle service that takes you to Harrah’s which is in the middle of the main downtown area.

Dad was able to check us in, but the rooms weren’t ready yet so we opted to hit the grocery store. We knew we would be eating out most nights; so we just bought things to make breakfast with, have as snacks, drinks and a couple things for lunches. We bought a bit more then we planned, which made loading the van problematic since we had all seven of us, and luggage still in there. Our ride back to the condo consisted of us girls being buried by bags in the back! Thankfully it was a short ride.

It was 2:00pm when we arrived back at the condo, and the rooms were ready. We had booked two units – both of them two-bedrooms and across from each other. The Amanda’s and I took one – with Amanda. S in one room, and Amanda G. and I sharing the other. They are great units – consisting of a living room, kitchen, eating area, and two bathrooms. We all had lunch together in one of the units, and then took an hour to rest/relax before heading out. Everyone but Amanda. S had been to Vegas before, so we were trying to optimize the time so she would get a chance to see as much as possible.

For our first night, we decided to head down to Freemont St/Old Vegas. We had dinner at this Italian restaurant in the Golden Nugget called “The Grotto”. Five years ago, Mom, Aunt Honey, her aunt and myself went to Las Vegas for Honey’s 40th and we had found this place tucked away. The food was really good and the prices reasonable, so it was on the list of places to return to. Dinner was fun, the highlight being the usual banter between Amanda. G and Beau. Both of them have a huge sense of humor – sometimes bordering on inappropriate – and when together can go back and forth for hours. Most of the time the rest of us are left laughing, sometimes rolling our eyes, but it made the trip hilarious. If there had been cameras rolling, we would have made millions as the new must-see sitcom.

After dinner we walked outside around the Golden Nugget pool area which has a shark enclosure in the center. Everywhere in Vegas – even the older side – is over the top! Mom, Dad, the Amanda’s and I had tickets to see Gordie Brown, so we split up for that. Gordie Brown is a comedian/singer/impressionist that has a show at the Golden Nugget each night. Mom, Dad, Beau and Honey had already seen him, but mom and dad thought he was great and wanted to see him again. It was okay. I found 50% of his material funny/enjoyable, but the other 50% not so much. It may be an age thing, as some of the people and songs Amanda, Amanda and I hadn’t heard of. I would definitely recommend the show to people – but only those my parent’s age/older.  It was still a fun way to pass some time – and reasonably priced unlike a lot of the shows in Vegas.

Afterward we met up with Beau (Honey had a headache and had gone back to the condo) and wandered around the casino for a bit. He and my dad took off to the tables, so us girls took the time to walk outside and up Freemont St. That in itself is an experience – there are so many different characters out there! People dressed up in insane costumes some just for fun, and some to make money through posing for photos. In this area, it seems as if Halloween is every day! We wandered up the street stopping to look at the enclosed “roof” of the street, which is a screen that flashes various multimedia. We also looked in a few of the booths and shops that line the street and posed for photos with the women dressed up as Show Girls. On Wednesdays they set up a bunch of food trucks in the area, so we passed by those – food trucks are really popular these days, and its incredible the different cuisines they serve! We made our way back to the Golden Nugget, and waited for Beau and Dad to finish blackjack. By this point we were all exhausted from such a long day.

Beau took the scenic way back, past all the wedding chapels and down the strip. This was Amanda. S’s first time seeing it all, which was fun. Earlier in the day, Amanda. G started singing “Anything for Love” by Meatloaf, so Beau downloaded the 8 minute version of the song for the ride back. Amanda being Amanda, decided to serenade us best she could – which was really just the chorus. The windows were down, so we got a few strange looks but it was hilarious.

It was a long day, but a great start to our Vegas adventure!

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