Friday, February 18, 2011

Las Vegas, Day 2

At 7:15am my phone made a cricket noise, indicating I had a text message. I'd rather ambitiously set my alarm for 8:30, but Andy and Stephanie, having gone to bed at 9pm, were already hankering for breakfast. The four of us met downstairs in the Luxor lobby and decided to hit the Mandalay Bay buffet. Mandalay Bay, one of the newer hotel/casinos on The Strip, lies just south of the Luxor, essentially the last stop before you run aground in the no-man's land of Vegas.

I had been nervous about eating in Las Vegas because I have Celiac disease, which means I can't eat gluten and it can be tricky to determine what's safe for me. But the Mandalay Bay breakfast turned out to be one of the best meals I ate on the trip—and that's saying something. My breakfast requirements aren't stringent though; give me some coffee, fruit, yogurt and I'm delighted. Add in some eggs, bacon, cheese and smoked salmon, and I'll be overjoyed. For the gluten-eaters in our group (okay, everyone but me) there were pastries, pancakes, and french toast, too.

The one odd thing about the whole experience was the somewhat disturbing statue behind us. Was he supposed to be a minstrel? If so, where is his instrument?

At breakfast Andy tried to confirm our reservations at the Hofbrauhaus for that evening only to discover we had none. He made some.

Fortunately for me, my traveling companions were just as keen on seeing animals in Las Vegas as I was, so we headed straight for Mandalay Bay's Shark Reef Aquarium. Upon entry a young man directed us to stand in front of a green screen and then cheerfully barked orders at us, “Hands on hips! Face the camera! Good. Now look scared! Good. Now just you two. Now you two. Good.” As Andy described it, we had our pictures taken like we were at shark prom.

The aquarium was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The exhibits were clean, the animals were healthy and easy to view, and the brochure we received with our ticket was educational and included a “seafood watch” card to help us make sustainable seafood choices. I approved.

There was a lounging Komodo dragon, a cylindrical tank full of undulating jellies, and an emerald tree monitor that was (if you will indulge me to say so) adorable. In a giant tank set up to resemble a shipwreck we saw a huge sea turtle, groupers, saw-fish and many different species of shark. A touch tank stretching at least twenty feet down the center of one of the rooms housed horseshoe crabs and two types of ray, some of which were over a foot in diameter. Their skin felt silky.

After I barely resisted the urge to buy everything in the entire gift shop, we left Mandalay Bay and must have been eager to receive some more abuse(or it could have been the two-for-one beers)because we stopped back in at Dick's Last Resort. I feel like much of the rest of the afternoon was spend walking and staring, which doesn't sound fascinating, but it was.

Three young lions slept in a pile in their enclosure at the MGM, which also boasts a theater that accommodates over 16,000 spectators.

We saw a cleaning lady boogieing (Yup, that's the recommended spelling) while mopping the floors of the Tropicana and a Michael Jackson impersonator doing the moon walk while “Billie Jean” blared. Caesar’s Palace, though over 40 years old was still one of the most impressive hotel/casinos we toured, with Romanesque statues, reliefs, fountains and marbles floors. We vowed to come back when the pools were open.

At this point we had to take a break from walking and gawking to slip into Bill's Saloon for some $1 margaritas. While Jared and Andy played a little blackjack and Stephanie was getting another drink, I was temporarily seated alone at an empty poker table, essentially an invitation for strange men to speak with me. Three older men in soccer jerseys suggested that I cavort with their friend donning a cowboy hat and another young man showed me his biceps.

After our margaritas (okay WITH our margaritas), we continued our exploration of The Strip. Inside the Venetian we discovered an actual canal running through the hotel, complete with gondolas and gondoliers in striped shirts. The cobblestone floors and quaint storefronts were reminiscent of what I (now) hope Venice is really like.

Most of the hotels had elaborate displays in honor of Chinese New Year, with paper lanterns and lucky coins. Part of the Venetian's d├ęcor included a two-story animatronic rabbit that wiggled its tail, blinked its eyes, and made us want to flee the building in terror.

On the extensive front veranda of The Venetian we called the Hofbrauhaus to confirm our table, only to discover they had once again lost our reservations. We gave up on the Hofbrauhaus and took the monorail back to the Luxor to freshen up and change into something suitable for a night on the town.

Our first task for the evening was to purchase a 24-hour “buffet of buffets” pass, granting us access to seven different buffets in Vegas, where we could eat as much as we wanted as many times as we wanted. We kicked off the buffet of all buffets at Planet Hollywood's Spice Market; in keeping with the planet theme, the buffet features stations with cuisines from around the world, so I spooned Moroccan spiced lentils, Greek salad, candied yams (these came from the American station), tuna rolls, and Mexican grilled turkey onto my plate. I left room for dessert in hopes that there would be a pudding or truffle that might be gluten-free, but when I asked the woman behind the pastry counter she said, “We have a cotton candy machine—let me know when you are ready and I will make you a batch!” I thanked her for being so accommodating, but had a bowl of soft-serve with Heath bar topping instead.

Donning our “buffet of buffets” bracelets, we walked through the Planet Hollywood hotel and sat at a bar called Blondies where the waitresses were dressed like cheerleaders, but the bartender wore jeans and a plaid shirt. This particular bar was located near a fountain with a sign that said there would be a display in twenty minutes, so we drank and waited. Twenty minutes later, we were giggling at the drizzling excuse for a “display.” When the dripping faucet stopped, we decided to indulge in the slurpy-like “yard dog” (no idea why it is called this). Jared and I split 32oz between us, as did Andy and Stephanie.

In front of the Bellagio we stopped to see a fountain display that put the one in Planet Hollywood to shame. It's amazing what can be done with water, music and lights. Plus, this show is free! This show is well worth watching.

You can use your imagination to envision what we did for the remainder of the evening, but it definitely involved training stone dog to “hold” and a rendezvous with TV's Joel McHale.

1 comment:

  1. If you had stolen me that giant rabbit, I, I don't know what I'd do. But now my life feels strangely incomplete. There's a giant animatronic-rabbit-sized hole in my heart.