Sunday, February 20, 2011

Las Vegas, Day 3

On Friday night we had agreed to meet for breakfast at 9:15 and walk to Paris to sample another buffet of buffets, but by 9:40 it was clear that our pals weren't meeting us and were likely still sleeping like the dead. Jared and I set out for Paris in a bit of a hurry, wanting to catch the buffet before breakfast was over, but as it turns out, for a city so fast-paced and bustling, it's impossible to get anywhere quickly. Las Vegas is the ultimate example of the saying "hurry up and wait."

We were out early enough that we passed a Pikachu without his costume head on and a street performing robot whose gold paint was only half-applied. A man waving coupons in front of Harrah's Casino called out, “Nightclubs, strip clubs, gay clubs—I got 'em all!”

When we finally got to the buffet in the Paris Hotel, we groaned at the line, but stood obediently for a few minutes anyway. It occurred to us that our “buffet of buffet” bracelets might be good for getting us in for our free breakfast a little faster, so I wandered toward the express line (where if you pay twice as much, you skip the wait). Just in front of the booth I encountered a man with a name badge that said “Keith” and I asked him if we still had to wait in the line if we already had our pass. (Actually, if we had read the brochure that comes with the pass, it states very clearly that YES you must wait in line.) Keith said, “Yes, even with the bracelets. The line's about an hour and a half at this point. We're already moving to the lunch menu...How many in your party?”

I brightened, “Just two!”

“Go get your partner quietly and come on back here. I'll do a good deed today.” Keith had served in the Navy and was quite familiar with Bremerton, we learned while our wait shrank from an hour and a half to only ten minutes. Thanks Keith!

The Paris buffet, while not nearly as expansive as Planet Hollywood's, was decorated like a little Parisian village and the attentive server brought us coffee, water and juice. The crepe and dessert station was situated in what appeared to be a tiny cottage and ivy climbed the “stone” walls. The food at this buffet was excellent, and even though we'd missed breakfast, Jared prefers lunch anyway, so he didn't mind. If I ever see Keith again, I will thank him profusely, especially in light of the next buffet experience we had in store.

As we finished our meal we received messages from Andy and Stephanie, who had woken up and were planning to take the shuttle to the Rio off The Strip. I drank the last slurps of my juice and we tried to hurry to the shuttle station, once again thwarted by meanderers, street performers and people snapping prostitute playing cards.

We waited for the shuttle in what has to be the most boring place in all of Las Vegas: the parking garage beneath Harrah's Casino. Eventually we caught the free shuttle, suffered through some bad oldies and ads and got off at the Rio. Despite having eaten quite recently, Jared and I decided to stand in line with our friends while they waited to eat at the Rio's international buffet, which we had heard was excellent.

It was not. Well, the food was good...when we got to it....finally...

It's a long story, but essentially there was a stanchion error. A very unfortunate stanchion error. We stood in the snaking buffet line like good citizens, while dozens of people skipped past the s-curves and went straight into the cashier. People were livid. I thought there was going to be a brawl. Emotions were high, blood-sugar was low. A group of young, fashionable 20-somethings behind us blew sighs up into their bangs while the grumblings behind us started getting louder. A severe woman in a suit appeared, pointed at a sign (which was rather confusingly worded) and announced, “IT COULDN'T BE MORE CLEAR.”

It could.

She sent the skippers, who genuinely did not know they were getting away with anything, to the back of the line. About four minutes later the same thing happened. Dozens more people passed us. I thought there was going to be a brawl. When we reached the cashier, we realized she was at least 134 years old, probably didn't see or hear well and certainly had no idea what was happening around her.

Once inside, we were free to sample the international cuisine. The food was good, but not worth an hour and a half in line or narrowly escaping a bar fight (buffet fight?). The selection certainly left nothing to be desired, although when I inquired about whether the custard or crust-less cheesecakes were gluten-free, the woman behind the counter snickered and answered, “There's flour in EVERYTHING.” She was wrong though; there is no flour in gelatto and the Rio's flavor selection was good. However, there was a line to get a scoop and I'd had more than my fill of those.

Our blood-sugar levels now approaching normal enabled us to plan the rest of our day. There was one kink in the planning due to our buffet of buffets deal. We had 24 hours free, but it had taken so long to get to lunch that we would have to eat dinner within the next 3 hours. This seemed a little ridiculous, especially for Jared and I, who had already eaten at two buffets in a row. But we were willing to take one for the team and eat again.

I'm sure the Rio is a well-managed place, but the buffet left a (metaphorical) bad taste in my mouth, so wandering around the casino and hotel didn't impress me any. One of the pool floors was actual sand, which sounded neat at first, but really, getting the grit in your sandals and swim suit is one of the drawbacks of swimming, so I'm not sure that's something I want simulated. At one pool a sign read, “No solo bathing” and I have yet to figure out what that's about. Are they afraid we would drown?

Inside the Rio casino a pit-boss was conducting a contest at a long line of slit machines with two-foot conversation hearts adorning their tops. We didn't stay long enough to find out what the exact event was, but it seemed that the object was to hit the “play” button as fast as possible. Contestants were hunched over the machines, index fingers pounding the buttons. There must have been a good prize involved.

The shuttle back to Harrah's filled up before we could get on, so we waited at the stop for 15 minutes for the next one, and then rode with a group of shiny young people who couldn't control the volume of their voices. Back on The Strip we split up so Stephanie and I could see the Bellagio while Jared and Andy played a little more blackjack. We stopped in at Bill's for margaritas first.

The Bellagio's quiet opulence took me by surprise because it didn't strike me as over-the-top, trying-too-hard to be snooty, as I expected. The entire building is beautiful—the walls, the pools, the fountains, the statues, the art, and even some of the carpeting.

The place was gorgeous enough that at one point I wondered aloud, “What are all those people looking at?” indicating a line-up of people who seemed to be intently examining a Chinese New Year display. I realized it as Stephanie explained, “That's just the front desk, Suzanne.”

Two thousand square feet of the Bellagio ceiling is covered in enough Dale Chihuly glass swirls to buy college educations for the entire city of Tacoma.

The botanical garden layout, complete with a Chinese fishing boat, water features and lucky statues, make me wonder who has the amazing job of designing the conservatory's seasonal displays.

Jean Philippe, a French chocolatier, owns a tiny pastry shop in the Bellagio where people stood shoulder to shoulder waiting for scrumptious truffles, mini cakes and tart-lets. I managed to snap a few photos of the cakes on display.

Above the pastry counter a mannequin labeled “Lady Chocolate wore a dress entirely made of chocolate, and the ceiling-to-floor chocolate fountain is (according to the Guinness Book) the largest chocolate fountain in the world.

Jared texted me while Stephanie and I were doing more wandering and staring, this time in the Vdara hotel. We met him and Andy at Caesar's Palace for our fourth and final buffet of the 24-hour period. There was not even one person in line. Essentially, we'd eaten so recently—the whole Rio fiasco—that we weren't really hungry, but it was nice to sit in cushy chairs, drink good coffee and relax. If you do this long enough, you will eventually get hungry again.

The Caesar's Palace buffet didn't offer as many gluten-free choices as the other buffets, but everything available was fresh and neatly presented. When I asked the man behind the buffet what the salmon was cooked in he said, “It's just fish.” But the woman setting out slices of meringue pie, key lime tarts and mousse covered in shaved chocolate went to get the chef when I asked her about the desserts. “I don't know how he makes them. I will get him. Please wait,” she asked. The chef materialized and pointed out a couple of types of custard in little cups, explaining that they were made without gluten. “I am sorry we have only these two for you. In the back I have fruit--I can make you a fruit tart right now if you would like.” I was honestly thrilled that the chef would offer to make me my own special dessert, but I also didn't want to bother him, so I declined the generous offer and ate one of each type of custard instead.

Treasure Island was the next stop of the evening. Jared and Andy stationed themselves at a poker table, where I hear Lex Luther from Smallville came by and hung out, but I wasn't there to witness our one celebrity sighting. Stephanie and I sat in the bar overlooking the huge moat in front of Treasure Island, warming ourselves by the lamp-post heater and singing Bon Jovi loudly along with the DJ. The bouncer at the bar informed us these were the best seats for viewing the pirate show.

The pirate ship in front of the casino must be at least three stories high and is the set for Treasure Island's Siren's Cove show, featuring dancing sirens. A second, equally enormous boat carrying pirates is somehow propelled across the moat during the show and the two boats battle with fireworks and explosions until the pirates' ship sinks into the water and the men all swim to the sirens.

By the time Jared had collected a couple hundred bucks in chips from the other players, it was time to head back to the Luxor for a few hours sleep before we flew out the next morning.

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