Remember back on August 28, 2016 when I wrote “The Bloom is Off the Rose” about how I was so sick of Vegas I could puke? I managed to eke out one more blog post after that, and it’s been crickets here ever since. Well, to carry on the musical theme of this blog post’s title, it’s not just Backstreet that’s back. So am I! (But don’t get too excited, this may be a one-off blog post.)
Even when I wrote that post about my disenchantment with Las Vegas, I knew the feeling wouldn’t last forever. But I was surprised by how quickly I got to the point where I wanted to return. I actually had planned a trip last November. Unfortunately, the day before I was supposed to fly out, I came down with a miserable cold and decided I didn’t want to pay over a thousand dollars to fly across the country just to be sick and miserable in a hotel room, so I cancelled.
(Honestly, anyone reading this blog would assume I am the sickliest person on the planet, but I’m really one of the healthiest people I know. I hardly ever get sick. I just tend to get sick at the worst possible time, that’s all.)
Fast forward to February 2018 and my rescheduled Vegas trip. I was a complete paranoid germophobe leading into this trip (and during it). I loaded up on Emergen-C and Zicam before the trip, I was washing my hands obsessively like Lady Macbeth, and purchased some Clorox wipes and Curad Face masks for the trip. (I used the wipes but not the masks.) This time, I was lucky; I did not get sick before, during, or after my trip. I think that makes me a winner!
Sunset view from my room at the Cosmopolitan
In fact, this was pretty much the perfect trip to help me fall back in love with Las Vegas. I didn’t get sick; the weather was unseasonably gorgeous (sunny and mid-70s every day); I had a lot of new experiences; and I got to catch up with (most of) my friends who live in Las Vegas. (Thanks for making time for me, you guys!) I was in Las Vegas for 5 nights, Sunday-Friday (which I have discovered is my “sweet spot” for length of time I want to be in Las Vegas).
The following is a quick-and-dirty trip report for you, since there were a few things I wanted to comment on. I may or may not write more detailed blog posts later on. It depends on how much I feel like writing.
February 4-9, 2018 Las Vegas Trip
Last time I was in Vegas, I relied heavily on Lyft. This time, I relied on it exclusively. I took Lyft from the airport to my hotel for the first time; it was easier than I thought it would be to find the pickup location at the airport. I’ll be doing this from now on. I spent a bit more money than I expected to on Lyft rides, but it saved me a ton of walking, so it was worth it.
The grounds at Mandalay Bay
Five nights in a hotel only cost me $140 out of pocket on this trip, because I stayed one night at Mandalay Bay on a MyVEGAS comp and the other 4 nights at the Cosmopolitan, booked with air miles. All I had to pay cash for was the resort fees.
This was my first time staying at Mandalay Bay. Other than the remote location and the noise at night, I enjoyed what little time I had here. The room was very nice, with plenty of space for me. I had asked for a quiet room and wound up in a room overlooking the beach and pool area. Unfortunately, it also faced the airport, so I got to listen to airplanes take off and land all night–and I was wearing ear plugs. Also, the wind seemed to be blowing very hard that night, and I could hear the building making creaking noises, like it was an old haunted house or something. Freaky. Otherwise, I really like this property and would stay here again.
Because you’re probably wondering:
Mandalay Beach was not open, but the Moorea Beach Club was. I didn’t have time to use it.
Yes, there was plenty of security at the elevator banks (3 guards at all times) 24/7.
No, the resort didn’t seem to be empty at all. On the contrary, it was very busy, with lots of people playing in the casino on Sunday night. Of course, this was the night of the Super Bowl, which had just ended, so that probably impacted crowd levels.
On Monday, I moved over to the Cosmopolitan, where I would spend the next four nights. Now that I’ve stayed there, I can honestly say I have no idea how I’m ever going to stay anywhere else again. I LOVED this place.
I had a city room, because it’s the smallest, cheapest room and required the fewest air miles. But it was more than big enough for me. Like many have reported before me, l found the peekaboo window between the shower and bedroom to be bizarre. (What were they thinking?) I also didn’t particularly care for the sliding door that doubled as the bathroom door or the closet door, but never both at once. As far as quality of room goes, I’d still put Aria and Palazzo above Cosmopolitan. But in every other aspect, I really liked staying here. There are so many terrific restaurants all under one roof, you really don’t need to eat anywhere else.The casino is a great size. The property, while not as small as something like the Cromwell, isn’t so spread out that you feel like you have to walk 12 miles to get from your room to the Strip. The location at mid-Strip is fantastic.
Before you ask:
Yes, the pool was open (not the Boulevard pool, but the smaller one), but I never used it.
No, they had no security at the elevators checking keys at any time of day. Given recent events in Vegas, this seemed like a big fail to me. Though to be fair, I never felt unsafe here.
The Bacon Wrapped Bacon and Egg Appetizer at Rx’s Boiler Room
While staying at Mandalay Bay, I had dinner at Rx Boiler Room (love this place) and breakfast at Citizen Kitchen (also good).
At the Cosmopolitan, I ate at Wicked Spoon (still a great buffet, though I can never eat enough to get my money’s worth), Holsteins (I finally had an actual burger here!), and China Poblano (delicious meal), all of which I’ve reviewed before. This trip did not change my mind about any of them. I also ate at The Henry (good breakfast), Beauty and Essex, and Rose Rabbit Lie.
The best thing about Beauty and Essex is the fact that the entrance is at the back of a pawn shop (with some pretty neat stuff), which I thought was unique. The worst thing about it is that it’s way too dark to read the menu or the bill. In between lies the service (good) and food (also good).
Where but in Las Vegas can you drink a cocktail out of a bird’s ass?
I got sticker shock at Rose Rabbit Lie. Somehow, I had thought that if I had dinner there during Social Hour and just got a drink and a couple of plates, I could have a reasonably priced dinner. Two small plates, a dessert, a breathtakingly expensive cocktail, and a cup of coffee later, and I was staring at a $108 bill. Yikes. Still, I really liked the atmosphere of the Music room, and I got to hear a few minutes of a jazz trio before I left. So gird your loins and brace yourself for the expensive prices, but do go. It’s a neat place and the food and drinks are comparable to any other nice restaurant in Las Vegas. Hint: Get the short rib stroganoff.
Fremont Street: I ate at Pizza Rockduring their happy hour (I’ve reviewed this before, so no need to reiterate my love for this place), and at Vegenation, just off Fremont Street for lunch.
Avocado Tacos at Vegenation
Vegenation on Carson Street: I am not a vegetarian or vegan, but I am trying to eat less meat. I love this place. This wasn’t my first time here, but I don’t think I’ve reviewed it before. (Shame on me.) It feels very much like the kind of restaurant you would find in Burlington, Vermont. They were having a popup lunch special of beer battered avocado tacos that was just amazing. So, so good. Also inexpensive.
Ocean One Bar and Grilleat the Miracle Mile Shops: I had breakfast here twice, since it was so close by. It’s one of my favorite hidden gems on the Strip. Food is good and inexpensive here, and the atmosphere is nice. Honestly, I don’t know how they can afford to charge such low prices. But I’m glad they do.
Ocean One Bar and Grille
Giordano’s: I had lunch at the bar one day. If you order their personal size deep dish pizza, be prepared for a 30 minute+ wait. Luckily, I wasn’t in a hurry. The pizza was good, but I don’t think I’m a fan of deep dish pizza. I prefer flatbreads and regular crust pizzas. I would eat here again; I would just try something other than pizza.
Missed Opportunity: I had hoped to try Eggslut for breakfast one day, since I was staying right there, but the line was always too long. I’m not a patient person when I’m hangry.
Backstreet Boys Concert
The Backstreet Boys at Planet Hollywood: I planned my entire trip around this concert. They weren’t my generation, of course, but I like their music, and I like how easy it is to see big name acts like this in Las Vegas. The “boys” (most of whom are in their 40s by now) put on a great concert. Was it the best concert I’ve seen in Las Vegas? No. In fact, it was probably the my least favorite concert I’ve seen in Las Vegas. Let me repeat, though: It was a great concert, and I feel it was worth the price I paid. It’s just that when you’ve seen Billy Joel, Celine Dion, Lionel Richie, and Billy Idol, you’ve set a very high bar for other concerts to live up to. Their dancing was the best, though. Verdict: If you like their music at all, go see it. It’s a good show.
The Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism at the Palazzo
The Rolling Stones’ Exhibitionism at the Palazzo: I was so happy this show was extended so that I could see it on my trip! This is a traveling exhibit that has been to several major cities, and I’m sure will travel to many more. If you have a chance to see it anywhere, I recommend it. I’m not the world’s biggest Rolling Stones fan, but I really enjoyed this exhibit. It’s very well done and is probably worth full price if you’re a huge Stones fan. It was a great reminder to me of how long they’ve been at it and what a huge mark they’ve made on rock and roll. Verdict: Go see this, whenever and wherever you can.
Brilliant! at the Neon Museum: This is a multimedia show created by an artist where he brings old neon signs (that are missing bulbs and don’t actually work any more) to life digitally. I loved this show! Highly recommend. It was a great way to spend my last evening in town. They give you time after the show to take photographs. Note: This is not a replacement for the Neon Museum’s tours (which I have done before). If you’ve never done the tour, I’d do both. Verdict: Just do it.
iron Man Suits at Avengers Station at TI
Marvel Avengers Station at TI: I loved this attraction. It has lots of great props from the Marvel movies (Thor’s Hammer, Tony Stark’s Iron Man Suits, Cap’s motorcycle, etc.). It is a guided tour, so you do have limited time in each section. It also has a lot of interactive elements to it that I didn’t take advantage of because I was too paranoid about germs, and all I could think of was “How many people have touched this thing since the last time it was cleaned?” I also didn’t get to take advantage of the photo opps since I was there alone and didn’t want to bother the family groups to ask them to take my photo. I probably should have. The attached store was a disappointment. I want SHIELD merch, and I never see anything good along those lines. Verdict: If you’re more than a casual Marvel fan, it’s worth it. You get more mileage out of it if you’re with a buddy (for photo opps) and aren’t germophobic.
R2D2 at Millennium Fandom Bar
The Millennium Fandom Bar: I met my friend Joyce here for drinks as soon as it opened on a Monday night, so we were the only customers in the place. I’ve been wanting to check out this bar since it opened, and I really dug it. I felt very comfortable there. It still has the “bones” of the former occupant bar, the Lady Silvia, but with more fandom touches now. Drinks are cheap compared to what you pay on the Strip, and they have some great memorabilia and decor, such as R2D2 and Wall-E. I’ll probably make it a point to come here on every trip from now on. Maybe next time, there will be some sort of cosplaying or other fandom event going on. Verdict: If you are a fandom person (whether or not you cosplay) or a fan of cheap drinks, go here. Don’t go here if you’re a bar snob.
Year of the Dog at Bellagio
Year of the Dog Displays: I saw these at the Bellagio Conservatory and the Palazzo. Both were nice and picture-worthy. Not much more to say about either of them. Same with the Bellagio Fountains. If you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them a million times, but they never get old.
The Dome at the Container Park: I walked up to the guy selling tickets and asked what show would be playing next. The guy said “Whatever you want to see.” I was literally the only person in the theater. (This does not bode well for its longevity.) I chose to watch the U2 show, which ran about 45 minutes. It was kind of cool, but too long. I got a little bored after about 20 minutes. The light show was very trippy. It did make me feel a little dizzy a couple of times, so I had to close my eyes until the feeling passed. The recliners here are so comfortable, I almost fell asleep toward the end of the show. Verdict: Not really worth it, at least not more than once. I’d rather see a real planetarium here.
The Tipsy Robot: I wandered over to check it out, because I am easily amused by things like this. Verdict: It is neat to see once, but not worth going out of your way for. I wouldn’t particularly want to hang out in that bar. It was pretty dead, even at night.
The 4D San Andreas experience at Excalibur: I’m a big fan of 4D rides and also this movie, so I thought I would enjoy it. They wisely chose all the best action sequences from the movie for their film, but the 4D aspect really didn’t live up to expectations. Let’s just say, it’s not Disney World. Also, I was the only person in the theater. Verdict: Not worth it.
The Disney Fine Art gallery, Magical Memories: The last time I was at Disney World, I saw some really outstanding paintings of Star Wars scenes that I wish I had more seriously considered buying. (I am a Disney fan, a Marvel Fan, and a Star Wars fan, so Disney pretty much owns me.) So I thought I’d check out what this art gallery had to offer. Verdict: Holy moly, is that art expensive! It’s fun to look at, but you’d have to have a lot more money than me to buy it.
The Fremont arcade: This was a bust. I had hoped to play some arcade games–especially pinball machines–for awhile, but I was disappointed to see they only had 2 or 3 pinball machines. I didn’t stay. Verdict: If you want to play pinball machines, make the trip out to the Pinball Hall of Fame on Tropicana.
Loved these digital columns in the Cosmo lobby! They change images periodically.
And to wrap things up:
Gambling: I spent a total of $80 on gambling, all at the Cosmopolitan. One day, I lost $60 in 10 minutes playing slots and that soured me. On my last night, I was able to play for a fair amount of time (over 30 minutes) on a $20 buy-in, with some small wins. But overall, I just don’t feel comfortable losing that much money in such a short period of time, so gambling is not something I focus a lot of time on when I’m in Vegas. I realize I’m in the minority in that regard when it comes to Vegas bloggers, and I’m okay with that.
Now that I’ve gotten my Vegas fix to tide me over, it’s time to focus on different destinations, but I’ll be back eventually. ‘Cause you’re Still the One, Vegas.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about how I’m kind of sick of Las Vegas because I’ve spent too much time there over the past 15 years. One thing about Las Vegas that I’m not sick of, though, is its excellent variety of top-shelf shows. I’ve traveled around the world and when it comes to evening entertainment, nothing beats Las Vegas (okay, I suppose Broadway comes close). I believe experiencing a Las Vegas show can be an ideal way for a solo visitor to spend an evening. You might not feel comfortable going to a club or bar by yourself, but if you can go to the movies alone, you can go to a show alone.
On my trip last May, I decided to take advantage of the nighttime entertainment options in Vegas by seeing not one, not two, but three shows in one week.That’s the most I’ve ever done before, and I’m not the least bit sorry. All three were excellent, and they all offered very different experiences from each other, from the big, acrobatic production number of the Beatles’ LOVE (by Cirque du Soleil) at the Mirage to concerts by Billy Idol at the House of Blues and Lionel Richie at Planet Hollywood. I suppose if you really want to look for a common theme running through them, you might say all three represent the “music of my life.”
Note: All three of these shows offered theater-style seating, which is more comfortable for me as a solo. That’s something you might consider as you’re choosing which Vegas shows to see. Now, without further rambling, my show reviews:
Beatles Love at the Mirage
LOVE at the Mirage
There was essentially no line when I picked up my ticket for LOVE at the ticket booth. I grabbed dinner at California Pizza Kitchen before the show, and then entered about 35 minutes before show time. This is not a huge theater, and it doesn’t take more than a minute or two to find your seat. So there’s absolutely no need to arrive that early (and I wound up regretting it, because I have a bladder the size of a golf ball and had to get up to use the bathroom near the end of the show).
My seat was in the very back row on the second level in an aisle seat–and by “aisle seat,” I mean, my seat was not beside the aisle, it literally straddled the aisle. This felt a little weird, to be honest. But I had a great view of the stage and all the action in the theater, so I was happy with it.
The show itself is fantastic. I never saw it before the recent changes they made, so I have nothing to compare it to except all the other Cirque shows I’ve seen. I still liked Michael Jackson ONE better, but I’d say it’s probably my second favorite after that. The Beatles were a bit before my time, but I was still a big fan growing up and in fact, had an album of their greatest hits. Many of those songs get play in this show.
What I really love about what Cirque is doing with shows like Michael Jackson ONE and the Beatles LOVE is turning them into multimedia spectacles, not just acrobatics set to music. This show reflects the rise of the Beatles in the ’50s, then the “psychedelic ’60s.” They make great use of clips of the Beatles’ voices and projections of light, shadows, and imagery. They drive cars and a van onto the stage, there are aerial acrobatics, tumblers, you name it.
At one point they used a parachute material that covered the entire stage and much of the audience up through level 2. They rippled it (the way we used to do in elementary school during physical education) and projected swirls of light so it looked like the ocean, and there was a boat (a real one) that seemed to be on rough seas. For those of us in the upper levels, the effect was amazing. I have no idea what the people covered by the parachute material saw, if anything.
Mostly, though, you get the sense that every image they use resonates perfectly with the Beatles’ music–including a soldier who made me think of Sergeant Pepper (and yes, they do use that song). For “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” they have a dark sky and tons of twinkling lights as a backdrop for the aerial acrobats. For “Octopus’s Garden,” they again turned to aerial acrobats, this time costumed to appear as if they were swimming octopi. It was freaky and wonderful at the same time.
I can’t remember the entire play list for the show, but if you’re a Beatles fan, you’ll recognize most if not all of the songs played. I got my ticket for this show via myVEGAS, but it was selling for $86 online when I looked. I would happily pay that price to go see it again. It’s one of those shows you could definitely see more than once.
The audience is treated to photos from Billy’s long career before the show.
Billy Idol at the House of Blues, Mandalay Bay
This concert started at 8pm, but by 6pm, the general admission crowd was already lining up. I went off to eat dinner at the buffet and when I came back around 7pm, the line was much, much longer. I wasn’t worried, since I had booked my seat. But I decided to go ahead and get in line around 7:15.
The line moved sloooooowly. Finally, I made it up to the security guys and this is when I realized I’d completely screwed up by having an unopened bottle of water in my bag. I always carry water on me in case I get dehydrated (this is the desert, after all). They made me throw it away. So as soon as I got inside, I had to buy another (overpriced) bottle of water. I hate wasting money and resources. When you think about all the people in the world who don’t have access to clean drinking water, it really galls me to have to throw away perfectly good water.
Speaking of the overpriced drinks at the House of Blues concert hall: It cost $5 for a bottle of water and $14 for a can of beer (I think it was 20 ounces, but still). Unbelievable. I had thought it might be nice to get a drink to enjoy during the concert….until I saw the prices. Instead, I decided they were only getting $5 for water plus a tip for the bartender out of me. “Screw the Man!” (fist pump)
(Come on, if you go to a Billy Idol concert, you’ve got to start practicing your punk attitude.)
Drink prices aside, I really liked this music venue. It’s intimate enough that you can see the stage pretty well from wherever you are (sitting upstairs or downstairs or standing in general admission). Yet there’s room for a lot of people. I had a seat on Level 2 in the balcony (cost: $112). The balconies are at a steep pitch, which makes you feel like you’re really close to the stage. Even up there, I could see Billy Idol just fine, including facial expressions (though you wouldn’t know it from my crappy photos).
The seats were very comfortable and had cup holders for those overpriced drinks. There are also some seriously beautiful architectural touches in this concert hall, such as ornate backlit windows and chandeliers. There are two small bars on the second level (one on each side), and of course, bars on the main floor. The main floor has some table seating as well as the standing general admission area in front of the stage.
The concert hall has gorgeous backlit windows upstairs.
Even though it was more expensive, I booked a seat upstairs because frankly, I didn’t want to stand for 2-3 hours. After seeing how early the general admission peeps had to start queuing, I think that’s another good reason to upgrade to a seat. I don’t need to be right in front of the stage to enjoy a concert. Your mileage may vary, of course.
I liked the people on my left in my row. They were friendly to me, and so even though I was there solo, I didn’t feel like I was alone, if that makes sense. I felt a sense of conspiracy when one woman got so annoyed by the young couple a few rows in front of us standing throughout the concert and blocking our view of the stage (the only people in our section who were doing so) that she started dipping her fingers in her beer and flicking it at their backs until they finally got the hint and sat down. I caught her eye and gave her a thumbs up.
Everyone in my row was all around the same age, I’d guess–40s and 50s. The people on my right were friendly and nice enough, too….but then they made me really uncomfortable later on during the concert when they started making out like teenagers. (For future reference, I really do not want to be sitting next to your overt PDA. Thanks.)
The concert itself was terrific, though very loud. I was kind of wishing I’d brought a pair of earplugs. My ears were ringing all the way back to my hotel. The only glitch was mechanical: The sound kept cutting out at times throughout the concert, which seemed like a problem of the venue, but may have been their equipment, I’m not sure which. In any case, it can’t be fun to be up on stage when that happens. It wasn’t enough to ruin the concert for me, but it was a minor annoyance.
Billy Idol concert
At 60, Billy’s still got a great voice and puts on a high-energy, upbeat show, singing all his biggest hits (“White Wedding,” “Eyes Without a Face,” “Rebel Yell,” “Mony, Mony,” etc.) and many I’d never heard before–but they were all good. He is still rocking some great abs–he took off his shirt several times during the show. I didn’t see an ounce of fat on him. (I wonder if I could hire him to be my personal trainer?) Billy has a lead guitarist named Steve Stevens who is ridiculously talented; Stevens took the stage solo almost as much as Billy did, and the spotlight was well-deserved.
When the concert was over, it became immediately clear what this venue’s biggest drawback is: There is only one exit, and it’s a narrow staircase, so the crowd was slow to empty out of the balconies. If there were ever (God forbid) some tragic occurrence in that concert hall, there would be a trampling situation, and many people would not get out. Period. It’s just that bad. They really need to do something about that.
That said, I do recommend the venue, as well as Billy Idol’s concert. If you have the opportunity to see it, DO IT. I’ll certainly be open to seeing other concerts in this venue in the future as well, drink prices be damned.
Axis Theater at Planet Hollywood, before the show
Lionel Richie at the Axis Theater, Planet Hollywood
This was my first show at The Axis, which is accessible via the Miracle Mile Shops (and out what I would call the Planet Hollywood casino’s “backdoor” to the shops). Axis is a very large theater, but I never felt like I was miles away from the stage, the way I have at Caesars Forum Shops or the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Once you get through security and the main entrance, there’s a “lobby” of sorts inside where there are restrooms and multiple bars where you can buy drinks before or during the show.
The first thing I noticed about the crowd attending the Lionel Richie concert is that most people were far more dressed up than usual for a Las Vegas show. I saw very few people wearing jeans and no one wearing shorts (and it was very hot outside). I was dressed business casual, and even I felt a little underdressed.
During the concert, I quickly realized why: This is a “date night” or “special night out on the town for girlfriends” kind of concert, not a “I just have some time to kill and thought this might be fun” kind of concert. As is typical with major concerts nowadays, there are big screens on stage projecting Lionel, the musicians, and the audience at various times. Most of the shots of the audience were of couples holding hands, with their arms around each other, stealing a kiss, etc.
In other words, I started to feel a little out of place as a solo. Luckily, there was a solo guy sitting in front of me (one of the underdressed few) and a senior father and his two adult daughters sitting to my right, so I was able to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t the only uncoupled person there. Whew.
But if you’re familiar with Lionel Richie’s almost 50-year body of work (with the Commodores and as a solo artist), you can see how this might happen. So. Many. Love. Ballads. Of course, they’re all great songs, and he still has a lovely voice. He’s also a terrific showman. I had no idea he could be so funny. He knows how to work the crowd.
Lionel Richie at Axis Theater
Name a Lionel Richie song that ever hit the top 40 and I’m sure he sang it. “Lady,” “All Night Long,” “Three Times a Lady,” “Easy,” “Celebration,” “Hello,” “Dancing on the Ceiling,” “Say You, Say Me,” etc. Yes, he even sang the Commodores’ “Brick House.” I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s probably been two decades since I gave any thought to Lionel Richie’s music at all (sorry, man), but once he started singing song after song after song that I knew and remembered (and loved at the time), I realized what an enormous catalog of hits he’s had. My God, it’s impressive. Just thinking about it makes me want to run right out and buy them all.
The only criticism I have about this show is that it started 30 minutes late, with no explanation. Given what a great show it was, though, I can forgive that.
In short, this is another great show that I highly recommend. It’s totally worth the ticket price (I opted for a price in the lower-middle range, $105, with a seat about 1/3 in from the back, but if you’re there on Date Night, you might want to spring for the pricier seats). I’d also recommend the venue. I’d definitely go see another concert at the Axis Theater. It’s easy to get to, very comfortable, and the view and acoustics were just fine.
To wrap up, there’s no doubt that these three shows were among the highlights of my last trip to Las Vegas. Given that I’m not much of a drinker or gambler, seeing a show at night is a great way to fill my time in an enjoyable way. I guarantee you that the next time you hear me say I’m going back to Las Vegas, it will be because there’s a show or two that I want to see.
Postscript: Thank you from the bottom of my heart to those of you who supported me and my team in the Walk to End Alzheimers in September. I’ve updated that post, in case you’re curious about how it went.
When I was a child, I loved hot dogs. Whenever we had cookouts, we grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, mostly because they were cheaper than steak or chicken, and we were not rich. One summer day at a cookout, I ate one too many hot dogs and got really sick. Really, really sick. For years after that, I couldn’t even think about hot dogs or look at them or smell them–let alone eat them–without feeling nauseated.
Why am I telling you this story? I was in Las Vegas in early May. I had an epiphany when that trip was over: Vegas is my hot dog.
I’ve gorged on Las Vegas for the past fifteen years and finally, it made me sick. Sick to the point I couldn’t wait to get home, and I didn’t want to write about my trip, process my photos or anything. I just wanted to forget about it and focus on other parts of my life. So that’s what I’ve been doing the past few months. Honestly, I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner.
It’s not that I had a terrible trip. There were many highlights.
I paid for the cheapest room type and still somehow scored a kickass view of the Park and T-Mobile Arena from my room at the Monte Carlo. See?
T-Mobile Arena from my room at Monte Carlo. Sweet!
(I, for one, am really going to miss the Monte Carlo as a budget resort option on the Strip.)
I saw three terrific shows–The Beatles’ LOVE at the Mirage; Billy Idol at the House of Blues, and Lionel Richie at Planet Hollywood. I highly recommend them all. If there’s one thing Las Vegas really excels at, it’s shows.
Unfortunately, all of my photos from Billy Idol’s concert are pretty terrible. But the concert rocked!
I spent some lovely mornings reading by the pool at Monte Carlo or reading at Sambalatte. It was very relaxing.
I had some enjoyable meals at Brand Steakhouse, Bruxie, the Yard House, Aria Cafe, and California Pizza Kitchen.
Bruxie is heaven on a waffle. Do eat there. You won’t regret it. Bring wet wipes.
I saw the Bellagio Conservatory’s Japenese Tea Garden display before it changed over for the summer season.
The Japanese Tea Garden display at Bellagio’s Conservatory this spring was pretty.
I got to check out the new Park between Monte Carlo and New York New York. Basically, it has some good eateries and lots of outdoor space to hang out when the weather’s nice.
Beerhaus at night
As I’ve already written, I used Lyft almost exclusively on this trip and it was an excellent experience. I’ll probably never go back to cabs again.
Most importantly, I got to see my friends JoAnna and Cory before they moved to the Ukraine. Okay, I only got to see Cory for about 5 minutes, but better than nothing. Seeing them was my primary motivation for making the trek to Vegas when I did, so in that regard…Mission Accomplished. (Future trips to Vegas just won’t be the same without you guys! I will miss you!)
But I also had a hard time finding new things to do during the day. The temperatures were much hotter than they were supposed to be (in the 90s and almost 100 one day). I got severely dehydrated and sick as a dog one day and didn’t recover for the rest of the trip. It was 100% my own fault, but it put me in a very bad mood. I missed out on 4 meetups with friends and cancelled my stay Downtown.
On the bright side, I read the entire second book of Game of Thrones while I was there, which is 768 pages long. But I could have done that for free if I’d stayed home.
Sambalatte at Monte Carlo, one of the nicest places to sit outside in Vegas.
So yeah, the bloom is off the rose. The honeymoon is over. Vegas and I needed to go on a “break,” which is why you haven’t seen any blog posts from me all summer. I needed to focus on my “real life” for awhile. Going forward, I plan to focus my travel budget and time on new destinations and new experiences. (First up: San Francisco!)
But let’s not kid ourselves: Eventually, I will go back. (Maybe even sooner than I think.) At least I learned some valuable lessons on this trip that will change the way I visit Las Vegas in the future:
No more weekends. Weekends are crowded and noisy and expensive–all things I hate. Also, there seem to be more drunken idiots wandering around on the weekends. I’m not a fan of that, either. And get off my lawn!
I’d like to stay at a nicer hotel and not worry about pinching pennies to stretch my budget over an entire week. So from now on, when I am ready to go back to Vegas, my trips will be shorter. This will also hopefully solve my problem about finding new things to do during the day.
I can’t tolerate the heat any more. So traveling to Vegas from May through September is no longer an option for me.
I may try to travel to Vegas with a friend or two next time. That might help me see the city through fresh eyes.
A few weeks ago, I started to read Vegas articles again on my favorite blogs and listen to my favorite Vegas podcasts. I’m hearing about new restaurants and shows and other things happening in Vegas and thinking “Ooh, I’d like to go there!” or “I’d like to see that!” Finally, this week, I thought it was time to break my long silence on this blog, after I was inspired by a post over at Vegastripping that touched on the same things I’d been feeling about Las Vegas recently. The difference is that I’m still not at a place where I’m back in love with Vegas again. I’m sure it will happen in time, but I’m not there yet.
More soon. I think enough time has passed since my trip that I can start to process my experiences with some objectivity in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, enjoy the last blast of summer wherever you are!
As a single woman/solo female traveler, I’ve been a little slow to embrace the whole Uber-Lyft ride sharing phenomenon. The idea of getting into a car with a stranger runs completely contrary to everything I was taught about safety growing up, you know? But after awhile, I had to realize how ridiculous that was. I mean, really, what’s the difference between getting into a cab driven by a stranger or getting into an Uber or Lyft with a stranger? Some would argue that cab drivers undergo more stringent background checks, but you wouldn’t know it by some of the sketchy cab drivers I’ve gotten in the past.
Finally, on my latest trip, I had just reached my limit with the longhauling cabbie situation in Las Vegas and decided to give ride sharing a try. At least, I hoped, with the apps, if something bad did happen to me, the culprit would be easy to track down. And it was less likely that an Uber or Lyft driver would leave me in a dark alley outside the tour lobby of my hotel like a Vegas cabbie once did so I couldn’t report him to the valet for longhauling me. (Yeah, that happened.)
I didn’t actually take Uber or Lyft to or from the airport. I had arrived very late at night after a brutally long flying day and didn’t have the mental wherewithal to find the pickup location in the parking garage, figure out how to use the app, or wait for a ride, when the taxi line at Terminal 3 was immediate gratification. I was starving and tired and just wanted to check in to my hotel. I didn’t take it back to the airport because I was feeling a little queasy that morning and thought “If I throw up, I’d rather throw up in a cab than somebody’s car.” (I didn’t throw up.)
Between Uber and Lyft, I decided to try Lyft first, because I’d read online there were more female drivers for Lyft than for Uber, and I wanted to see if that were true. It didn’t matter to me whether I got a male or female driver, but I know some women are nervous about using services like Uber and Lyft alone, and I wanted to be able to speak to that concern. It seems to me that if a woman traveling alone knew she could get a female driver, it might alleviate some of her fears.
I did not sit in the front seat, as this Lyft press photo would indicate is the norm.
Out of 5 rides, I got 4 male drivers, all of whom were perfectly polite, if not downright friendly (and not in a creepy way). There was also a wide variety of diversity among the drivers, which I liked. For all of my rides, I consistently sat in the back seat on the right hand side of the car, which was more comfortable for me and may have been for them as well.
My first request for a ride was almost a bust. The first driver who accepted didn’t show up even though he was allegedly “a minute away”–for 10 minutes. Then he cancelled. That was disappointing. But I tried again. This time, I got a winner: Jeffrey was prompt, courteous, friendly, and he had a very clean car. He was a good conversationalist, and I felt very comfortable riding with him–as if I were being picked up by a friend or a friend of a friend.
When I told him about the first driver, he said the guy probably couldn’t find the pickup location and that’s why he cancelled. Made sense to me, since the pickup locations were a little confusing for me to find as well. (I found myself waiting at the wrong valet one time at the Mirage. Oops. Luckily, my Lyft driver was understanding.)
I had signed up for a discount code at the beginning of my trip that gave me 10 rides for $5 off each ride. My ride with Jeffrey from the Monte Carlo to the Mirage cost just $5, along with a $1.70 “Trust and Service Fee”; so the total ride before tip only cost me $1.70. I could have tipped as little as $1 (or nothing, if it had been a terrible ride, which it wasn’t), but I felt guilty spending so little on the ride, knowing that he was spending his time and keeping his car in good condition trying to make money doing this. So I tipped back the $5 discount I’d gotten. It was still a bargain in my eyes, since it was such a pleasant ride, and I didn’t have to worry about getting longhauled. I did the same thing with my next driver, Tende. I know: That defeats the point of the discount. But I’d rather give the $5 to the driver than the company, so why not?
Total cost of ride from Monte Carlo to Mirage was $6.70.
By the time I took my 3rd Lyft, I was ready to ease back on the tips from $5 to $2 to see if that affected anything (like people’s willingness to pick me up, my rating as a rider, etc.). I don’t think it did, but I can’t be sure, because the app doesn’t show me what my overall rating is. While Lyft, like Uber, allows passengers to rate drivers and drivers to rate passengers, I only received notice once that I’d been rated at all (one driver gave me 5 stars).
This leaves me feeling a little insecure about how I’m perceived as a passenger. Does this mean the others didn’t rate me? Or that they rated me poorly? Did I talk too much? I followed the etiquette for being a good passenger (except the talking thing). I’m pretty sure I rated all my drivers 5 stars, though of course, I can’t see that in the app, either. (Believe me when I say that if I were able to rate the cab drivers I’ve had in Las Vegas, only a very small percentage of them would ever get 5 stars.)
You might be wondering about Uber. I had planned to use both Uber and Lyft during my stay, so that I could compare the two, but as it turned out, I didn’t need to, because almost every Lyft driver I got a ride from told me they also drove for Uber. I peppered them all with questions about their experiences driving, because I wanted to get a sense of what it was like. 3 out of the 4 drivers who drove for both Uber and Lyft said they preferred Lyft, because Lyft treats its drivers better. (They give their drivers a bigger percentage of the fare than Uber does.) Only one said he didn’t see a difference and one didn’t drive for Uber. The 3 who prefer Lyft indicated that if they got a request from Uber and a request from Lyft at the same time, they would always take the Lyft request, because it would mean more money for them. Good to know.
My 5th Lyft ride was the charm in terms of finally getting a female driver, Jennifer. I asked her if it was true that Lyft had more women drivers. She said she didn’t know, but that the week she was hired, they’d hired 3 other female drivers. In any case, she said she enjoys it. She only drives for Lyft, not Uber, which I think is pretty telling.
Jennifer told me a story about getting a request once and as she was on her way to pick them up, she got caught at a red light. There was an Uber that was right in front of her in traffic that made it through the light, and she saw the people she was supposed to pick up jump in the Uber. So apparently, some people request a ride on both apps at once and whichever one arrives first, they take and cancel the other one. That seems very rude and unfair to the drivers to me, because they’re using gas and time to get to what they think is going to be a fare for them, and then miss out through no fault of their own, just luck of the draw (in this case, a red light). That kind of behavior is as shady as a cab driver longhauling tourists, as far as I’m concerned.
Based on my experiences, I am totally sold on ride sharing–yes, even as a woman traveling alone. I’ll definitely be using Lyft from now on whenever it’s available, and when it’s not, I’ll give Uber a try. All of my fares were $5 plus the $1.70 Trust and Service Fee, and according to the Taxi Fare Finder website would have been around $13.81 (including 15% tip) if I had taken a cab. The rides are quick to arrive, though at times it was difficult for me to identify them, because I’m not very good at knowing makes and models of vehicles, and I don’t see well at night. But otherwise, it was a very smooth process.
Not only is this a more cost-effective way to get around than taking cabs, but with some of the resorts charging for parking now, I think it’s also better than renting a car if you’re on a budget. It’s definitely preferable to using the monorail. The only way the monorail works is if you’re staying at one of the monorail resorts. If you’re staying on the West side of the Strip, take Uber or Lyft where you need to go. It’s quicker than the monorail–and cheaper if you’ve got a discount code.
Speaking of which….If you’ve never used Lyft before and want to get started with some sweet ride credits, just download the Lyft app using my referral. (I’ll get credit, too.) Here’s my referral link: https://lyft.com/iea/GRAY267487.
My only disappointment with this whole experiment? None of the vehicles giving me a ride had the cute pink mustache on the grill. I would’ve gotten a kick out of that.
Today I have a guest post from Rona Wright, who only began traveling solo after her husband passed away. After reading her story, I thought her perspective could be useful for many readers–for other widows and widowers, divorcees, or anyone who finds themselves in a new situation of traveling to Las Vegas alone. But also for those who can’t relate to my travel style, which is very different from Rona’s. For instance, I’ve never felt the need to pretend I was married when traveling in the U.S. But I’ve been traveling solo for 20 years, so it’s perfectly normal for me. In any case, I’d say given how much she raves about her most recent solo trip, Rona has clearly become a “Vegas solo” herself. Here is her story:
I have been to Las Vegas six times; twice with my late husband, and four times as a Vegas solo. I have stayed at the Monte Carlo, Bally’s, Flamingo, Mirage, and recently the Venetian, which was the best place I have ever stayed in Las Vegas and would highly recommend to others.
This was my best solo Vegas trip ever.
Going to Las Vegas I have experienced all types of weather and holidays: Memorial Day, Christmas, July, August, November, and now April. When I went last month two out of the four days were rainy which is unusual for Las Vegas, according to the people I spoke with, but it was a welcome relief for them due to drought conditions. Actually it was quite comfortable, not humid, and it did not deter me or others from enjoying ourselves. As I always say, if you can’t find something to do in Vegas, shame on you.
It has been close to six years since my husband passed and it has been quite an adjustment to traveling without him, but I have always felt safe in Las Vegas and for an over 50 widow this means a lot. You think differently since there is no one around to protect you and henceforth your priorities change. I would prefer to go with a companion, but in all honesty, most people I have met are not interested in traveling to Las Vegas and some people I prefer not to travel with so I go it alone. My husband really enjoyed Las Vegas and when I walk around the sights I think of him and the great times we had here.
Going to Vegas as much as I have, you expect long lines for check-in and waiting for your luggage, but this time everything went without a hitch which I took as a good sign. A little tip for solo travelers flying on Southwest and perhaps other airlines: Pay the extra money for preboarding; you don’t have to take your shoes off in the TSA line which saves time. In my case, since I was traveling alone, the TSA moved me through the line more quickly, and I was advanced to my departure gate in a timely fashion.
From the sedan service to the airport, to check in at the Southwest terminal, everything was great, my flight was not too bumpy or turbulent (I am not a fan of flying) and my early arrival at the Venetian was wonderful; I got the room I wanted at no extra cost; which surprised me.
I had booked a room in the Venezia Tower but unbeknownst to me, I learned it was the tower far removed from the action, and being alone, I wanted to be in a central location. My request for a room on a lower floor in the Venetian Tower was honored. In the past, when I checked into other hotels, I was put at the very end of the hall, which was rather disconcerting and during the stay I ended up relocating to another room which meant I had to pack everything up and go to another floor. My location here was perfect.
Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, photo by Rona Wright
As a solo/widow, I felt the most comfortable at the Venetian; there was a nice class of people walking through the property who were well groomed and the staff was very respectful. It had been years since I saw weddings in a casino and it was rather refreshing to see couples tastefully dressed milling about the casino. The Venetian, a five star property, lives up to its reputation of style and elegance.
The location of the Venetian is perfect for me, across from the Fashion Show Mall, my favorite place to shop, and having a Walgreens in the connecting sister hotel, The Palazzo, is a wonderful place to get snacks, souvenirs, and alcohol at a reasonable cost. WaIgreens is one of my favorite mainstays; something I am familiar and comfortable with.
The location of the Venetian is in close proximity to my favorite casinos; Casino Royale, Harrah’s, Bally’s, Bellagio, and Planet Hollywood. The old with the newer Vegas.
This is also a great area to catch the Deuce Bus; the public transportation system on the Strip. You are not far from Fremont Street or across the street you can catch the bus up to Mandalay Bay while the bus is not that crowded.
The highlights of my trip were seeing The Righteous Brothers perform (located in Harrah’s) and getting a picture with two Elvis impersonators. Talking with the two Elvises I learned a little bit of Vegas history. Where else can you have a conversation like that, plus they were generous in making sure I had clear pictures for my memories of Vegas.
Two Elvises, photo by Rona Wright
When I go to Las Vegas, I always make sure I see a concert. As a solo/widow, being alone with yourself all the time gets boring and concerts do take up part of the day/night. Also I love the concerts Las Vegas has to offer; it is one of my reasons for coming.
The Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley and his new partner, Bucky Heard, were fantastic. I requested an aisle seat which is good for a solo traveler; this way you do not stand out in the crowd. If you need to exit, you are not stepping over someone or vice versa. Sometimes when you travel alone, there are couples who may not speak to you, but the lady next to me was very friendly and we had a nice chat before the concert started.
Harrah’s main concert area was quite impressive, yet had an intimate setting with a combination of seats and tables. I am glad I had a seat instead of a table. When I saw a concert at the Flamingo in 2014 I was placed at a table with two couples and as they say five is a crowd. It was as if I was non-existent plus I was pushed at the end of the table.
The usher and bar staff were very polite at Harrah’s unlike the Flamingo. It was not a joint.
The reason I am mentioning these details is that when women are traveling alone at a certain age they are looked upon as an oddity. Most people over 50 are usually married and when you are alone you are treated differently unlike when you were younger. It is an unspoken rule. When I travel alone I wear a wedding ring to not appear available, but I have noticed that when you are not part of a couple, many women are rather apprehensive in talking with you, in particular when they are with their husbands in a group setting.
Upon writing about being an over 50 solo in Vegas, I observed that many of the tourists are in my age group and beyond; retired or coming here from other countries to celebrate birthdays, other events, or just wanting to see a part of America.
When I was dining in a restaurant near the Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, the female server asked where my husband was. I must have looked lonely or she was curious why I was alone. I gave the standard pat answer my husband is in the casino. She seemed concerned. I was not offended, but wondered what difference does it make? You have to eat. She might have also thought I had an inconsiderate husband who gambled away our money which is something I am sure happens.
Telling someone you are a widow is not a wise idea and I would not recommend total honesty. Besides it is no one’s business.
Going solo anywhere takes courage and a sense of adventure; something to be proud of, not to be pitied. You are making things happen instead of waiting for things to happen. That is how I look at it. I know of women who have traveled alone for business and for pleasure, and they agree with me, but at the same time they do not disclose going solo due to crime and this social stigma.
Many people I have met find this rather peculiar and sad that I travel alone. Haven’t you met someone who wanted to attend a special event such as a ballgame or concert, but will not go since they have no one to go with? We are a special breed and that is a good thing.
Lip Smacking Foodie Tour Restaurant List, photo by Rona Wright
A great way to experience restaurants in Vegas for a reasonable price is going on a Las Vegas Foodie tour. You meet like-minded people and get to sample foods from restaurants you may have never considered as a single and, of course, for a lower price. I booked an afternoon Lip Smacking Foodie Tour in front of the Aria and from there the group sampled foods at the Herringbone, Jaleo, and Javier’s restaurants, and Hexx, a chocolatier.
Donald Contursi, the President of Lip Smacking Foodie Tours, was our guide. Donald was very informative and couldn’t be more accommodating. We ate at a leisurely pace, sampling small portions of these unique foods. Amazingly, you leave feeling full and satisfied. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could eat like this every day?
Food from Herringbone, photo by Rona Wright
This tour was perfect for me, it ended early evening giving me time to walk, shop, and gamble. There are foodie tours for the Fremont Street area as well as a dinner tour.
Usually when I drink a cocktail, I have one at a casino while playing the slots, but after learning about happy hours I decided upon the recommendation of the Venetian staff to try the Grand Lux Café. The seating was very comfortable and I noticed a booth occupied by a “solo” woman as well, which made me feel less conspicuous. Their drink specials are very reasonable so I had a margarita for $5.50 which you can’t beat and for another $5.50, Asian lettuce wraps. I had an enjoyable healthy meal for under $20.00.
Another thing which most of you know: Tip generously. The employees at these casinos work hard and showing appreciation bodes good will. As a solo, you can feel vulnerable being alone and might feel uncomfortable requesting extra service; but I found being polite and tipping generously vs. little to no tipping makes for better relationships with the staff.
Since my husband passed, I have formed my own traditions, and while in Vegas on my last day before going home, I take the Deuce Bus as a farewell gesture to the city I love. I went to my other favorite casino, Mandalay Bay; it is so peaceful, and quiet. The slots are great and of course I had to buy something there.
Mandalay Bay, photo by Rona Wright
Things are ever changing, but much to my surprise and pleasure, The Las Vegas Sock Shop is still at Mandalay Place on the second floor. If you love unique socks, this is the place to shop. They have animal themed socks, sports socks, coffee theme socks, wine theme socks, and other types of socks imaginable. It is a great place to buy gifts (which I did) and of course, I bought some socks for me. The prices are reasonable as well.
Before heading back to the Venetian, I stopped at the Miracle Mile Mall in the Planet Hollywood Casino to gamble and browse the shops. As a custom, I bought cookies at the Nestle Cookie shop which are delicious. I looked around for the last time at the sights and sounds of Vegas and walked back to the Venetian.
I think I have mastered Vegas for me by not overscheduling events and just going about at a leisurely pace. This was a trip of reflection and relaxation. It has been a month since I have been to Las Vegas, and those pleasant memories are still with me, but slowly fading with time. Despite that, I am thinking of when I will return again.