Monday, January 23, 2012

Great sax in Vegas

I had to lure you in somehow. We'll get to the great sax in a minute.

For regular readers, looking for rants about Winnipeg, please excuse this deviation... you'd be surprised what sort of key words I get hits on, and some of the things I'd like to review from a trip to Vegas will reach some people, (even if it isn't you).

If you're here because you searched a key word, scroll through and look for the highlighted titles.

Howard Johnson Grand Forks Review

This place is dated, but clean. A stay during the week is fine, with a generally quiet setting, rooms that pass as OK, and a continental breakfast similar to an egg Mc Muffin and coffee, except that you can have OJ too. That said, on our return we had the room from Hades. It wouldn't be fair not to comment on the great airport shuttle service we were provided by the hotel via S&S Taxi. Clean, warm, friendly, the operator took our return info and was there to meet us as promised in a cab that was clean, warm and friendly. This guy was great. Back to our first room (return stay)...
Located on the main floor adjacent to the pool area, apparently on weekends people with kids check in in droves to enjoy the water park. Now it's not that we're against kids per sey, just screaming kids. I ENJOY happy kids, having fun, laughing, but those kids with parents who think screeching in a big room is acceptable... well we stayed away since we didn't feel the life gaurd needed to fish their bodies out of the pool. At 3 am the drunks from the bar head over to the area to congregate, chat, talk louder, laugh... eventually after calling the front desk they were escorted out. There is an exterior door that likely hasn't worked in some time given the amount of pnumatic oil that leaked through the seals of the self closing mechanism, and the screw that was obviously removed from a hinge that was inserted almost uselessly into the arm that controls the door. It slamed shut with such force the interior room door would shake in it's frame, meaning non existent day time rest (which we needed on our return). Our second room was located on the second floor, facing onto the back of the complex. This room had been updated at some point, and while the bathroom still had ceiling tiles that looked salvaged out of an old office building (as the first suite did) it was a nicer room, and we slept well.

Grand Forks Airport/Allegiant Air Review

We flew out of Grand Forks from their new terminal, and it's small. There are only two gates, but the obvious advantage aside from having a carrier that is 1/3 the price of WestJet, is that everything is FAST. Allegiant is a no frills airline that charges you for peanuts, checking a bag, reserved seats... your basic fair is one step above being strapped to the wing, and I like that. Considering it's a four hour flight, I can do without paying too much for drinks and snacks... I just bring my own. The flight was what it should be. Uneventful. We've never arrived during daylight hours, and the planes flight approach gave us a great view of the Hoover Dam and the new bridge. We had pre-purchased a shuttle to our hotel on the strip and discovered that purchasing that service upon arrival is actually a few bucks cheaper at the "Executive Transportation" kiosk just outside McCarren Airport.

Stratosphere Review

This was our second visit here, and it was gratis. The manager provided us with two free nights to make up for our last stay, which was less than impressive, and we let him know. He tried to make up for their failures by inviting us back again, so we obliged. Check in was uneventful.
The room was great. It was clean, spacious, and had a whirlpool tub, four foot square shower, twin sinks on a counter 10' long, two TV's (flat screens), our only expense was the internet at $12 a day. Ouch, but it is Vegas. When we signed up for the "Players Points Card" we were met by two rather freaky looking women, one of whom had so much botox that her lips didn't correlate with the sounds she was trying to enunciate, while the other twitched and stammered like a meth head who had been deprived of sleep for the past week. I was glad we didn't meet these two in some other setting, and that a counter separated us.

Transportation "The Deuce"

That's the name of the bus that provides (mostly) tourists transportation up and down the strip and downtown. A double deck unit, the best view is out the upper front window. At $5 for 2 hrs, $7 for 24 hrs, and $20 for 3 days, we bought our tickets at one of the street automated machines at about 7:30 pm after walking for a while. The time we purchased the passes correlates with our last planned dinner/show, so the pass would expire after we arrived and we'd cab back in the cool evening (yes, I might over think some things). The Deuce is probably the most cost/time effictive mode of transportation you'll find there, and is especially useful if you're located at the north end of the strip, (Stratosphere) or the far south end (Luxor). The strip is walkable, but there are large streaches of "nothing" you'll walk past. If you suffer from emphyseima you probably shouldn't attempt to walk the strip. At about 4 miles (7km), there are better things to do than walk.

Restaurant Review, Pampas Churrascaria

This place is great. Armed with a coupon we printed off at home, the restaurant is located in the Mircle Mile shops of Planet Hollywood. It's a Brazilian restaurant, similar to a review I did of a trip to Minneapolis. They serve meat grilled on spits and carve it off at your table. The food was fantastic, and fairly priced. We each had unlimited food that was exquisite and a pitcher of Sangria, which was not too sweet and almost broke a hundred dollars. Staff was attentive, very polite, and it was a great dining experience. We did not have room to enjoy dessert. All in all, very reccomended. Go famished, leave feeling like a glutton. It's OK... you're in Vegas!

Strip, Live Music

While walking, we stumbled upon a couple of guys playing some live music "The Love Brothers" who were clearly having a great time as a two man band. Playing a drum set and two guitars (at the same time) they have a sound I found unique and fun. I bought one of their home made CD's after dropping a couple of bucks into their "tips" jar. Great sound if you like mo-town style music. Check out

Stratosphere, the Buffet Review


We headed back to the hotel on our second night and decided to enjoy the Buffet. We received a 25% discount because we signed up for the "gambling points card" even though we didn't drop a dime into a single machine.
The buffet was fine... at first... but as we retired to our room, something had disagreed with me, and within the hour I recognized that not all was right. By 4 am we were calling the front desk requesting human bio-hazard bags and asking for a late check out (which was granted).
No one really seemed to care that we had eaten at the Buffet and I had become sick. I suppose that in Vegas, given that so many people are predisposed to "binge drinking" and blaming it on what they ate, it's not much of a surprise, but you could LIE to me and tell me how sorry you are. The next day was ruined and the after affects plagued me for a few days.

The Strip, Review

For those unfamiliar, the Stratosphere is a LONG way from anything. A few things have changed over the past couple of years. The Sahara is boarded up, ready for the wrecking ball I presume, and there are a number of projects that have been abandoned. The north end of the strip is starting to look a bit like some beach front areas of Mexico, where the foundation of a hotel has been started and simply left to have the re bar rust. Hotels that are started will be torn down, empty lots where hotels once stood are acres of barren nothing, and the areas in front of them are not really that plesant to walk, particularly in front of the Sahara where you are often in a darkened area well away from any sight line of the street.

The Imperial Car Museum, Review

We stopped in at The Imperial to visit the Car Museum, whch was fine, but you will be overloaded with Rolls Royces. There are simply far too many of them in there. The nice thing is being able to show my wife my "dream cars", specifically what I think is the quintisential sports car, a 1965 Jaguar E type, convertible. The colour scheme wasn't what I'd pick, but any E type is better than no E type at all. At under $20 for two, it's a good deal if you're into that sort of thing.

Day Three, we headed out at about noon before checking out and rode the Deuce to the Mirage, wandered around and had a yogurt smoothie for breakfast, and I had a quarter of a sandwich. Tired and weak, we headed back to our hotel for a "nap" which consisted of me lying on the bed and my lovely wife packing our stuff in anticipation of moving to the Fremont area, specifically The California.

Riding the Deuce again (yes, I like to get value for my money) we guessed at a place to get off that would limit our walk. Without having a map of the route, sometimes you have to go with your gut. After the second evenings events, my gut was something I wasn't that keen on following, but it worked. We checked into The California, a Boyd Group hotel... not that anyone cares, but the "family portraits" are hanging all over the casino so you can't help but feel like you're in the living room of old southern friends, kicking back and losing your shirt as their dog streaches out in front of the fire.

California Hotel, Review

The place is clean. What else is there to say? In old Vegas, things are... old. The room was nice, but the windows let in a lot of road noise from the freeway and railway tracks. Dollar for dollar, this place was nice, but nothing to "kvell" over. There are typically numerous hotels in Vegas available for $50 a night, unless there is a convention on the Strip (as there was when we were there) then prices more then triple.

Great Sax on Fremont, Review

Fremont is the "old Vegas" Strip. All the hotels banded together and covered the street with a covered barrel vaulted "roof" where lights will provide a "show" to music a few times a night. Although kinda neat, I probably wouldn't sit around and wait for them all. While there we heard a guy screaming on an alto sax. We stopped to listen, and this guy was Kenny G without the goofy hair do. Carl Ferris is quite good. We bought a few of his CD's but you have to be able to ignore the heavily synthesized back up music and just appreciate his saxaphone skills. If you can do it, you'll love this guy, blowing on a soprano, alto and a tenor horn.

Absinthe, Review

Going nto Vegas means attending at least one show while there. There was a dirth of really good value for money, and since wild horses couldn't drag me to Celine, we preused some reviews and decided on Absinthe.
The review we read said something like "This show is Circ on crack", which wasn't the type of thing that made me say, "I simply HAVE to see this".
I'm glad we went. This show was phenomenal!
The setting is inside a tent on the terrace infront of Cesar's Palace. Seating is limited to about 200 people, and it's on a flat floor, in a circular form surrounding the stage located in the center of it all.
That's what makes the show ... the stage. At about 9 feet in diameter, you'd hardly believe the performances this talented group of acrobats and performers are able to carry out. I'll bet a few of them looked at their producer and said, "You're kidding, right?"
Imagine a man, balancing himself ontop of 6 chairs, ontop of a table as if he were performing on a trammel horse, or two roller skaters spinning out of control, one of them holding the other out to fly into the crowd if he lost his grip. A tight rope act with three men, two of them supporting a third on a bar, him on a chair, seated at first but eventually standing on the chair, all on a single bar resting on the shoulders of the other two, all on a tight rope.
The strong men were my favs though. The sheer strength they displayed, the balance... everymove slow and deliberate. These men were amazing.
Mixed in was the swarmy "ring master", funny and vulgar along wiht his sidekick, equally funny and vulgar. If F bombs and sexually related humour are not your thing, go anyways and ignore it.
This show ROCKS and blows any multi million dollar Cirque show out of the water (that's a joke based on "O"). Leaving the show, we repeatedly commented on how great it was, how glad we were that we went to that one, and how impressed we were with the various performers.
There's no money in it for me to tell you that I've never left any show of any sort with my hands hurting because I've clapped so loudly, so often, and so long.
If you only see one show in Vegas, see this one.

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