Wow, this trip report is long overdue but life gets busy, you know?

I guess it all started sometime in September when I was looking at the price of airfares to Vegas from Ottawa, Canada, where I live. I do this as a past-time so you know I need a new hobby. There was a really good seat sale on Continental ($212US) and all of a sudden, I felt like Fred Flintstone with the Angel Fred (or in my case, Lee) on one shoulder and the Devil Fred on the other.

Angel Lee: You really shouldn't. You're not working right now.

Devil Lee: Well then, what could be more positive than presuming you'll be working soon and planning to celebrate it?

Angel Lee: Not a good plan!

Devil Lee: If you decide later not to go, you can change your ticket, pay the penalty and it'll still be a good deal!

Angel Lee: Don't do it!

Devil Lee: Just go!

While these two fought it out, I managed to push "Purchase" on the Continental web site amid the racket in my head! It was done! I was going to Vegas from the 21st through the 26th of December. The Continental site is great and they let you assign your own seats. Incidentally, I got a wonderful job within a week or so and they were happy to give me a day or two off at Christmas to go to Las Vegas.

For those of you who "know" me, I like to plan. I started spread sheets and I had the whole trip mapped out, thrown out and re-planned several times before I left. I must say that travelling at Christmas is great because the hotels are begging for guests with wonderful rates (more about that later). I booked all of my rooms via the hotels' web sites. Comparable or better rates were sometimes available through travelscape.com or travelocity.com but I'm not quite to the point of sending my money electronically to someone other than the person I'm buying something from yet. Maybe one day. I might have used Priceline.com but their site will not accept Canadian addresses for billing.

I saved all fall and kept planning. I read the new editions of the travel guides and I plotted out which shows would be dark and which would be running. The only drawback to going Christmas week is that some shows are dark but there was still lots of selection and, even better, I was able to get good seats for popular shows. I booked Mystere and Danny Gans via the Mirage ticket by phone service and in both cases, service was friendly and helpful. I kept planning and when I filled a local friend in on my plans, I think I overwhelmed him with my level of preparedness and he said the only thing I wasn't doing was getting a massage on the way to the airport. Seemed like a good idea so I called and booked the appointment at a local spa.

Let me say that I am not wealthy but I worked ridiculous hours at two jobs all fall and this trip represented a substantial reward for my work. A Christmas present from me to me.

Finally, my countdown calendar said "0" and I headed to the airport. Because it was cold in Ottawa the day I left and I planned to do some shopping in Las Vegas, I took a larger than necessary carry-on suitcase and, once inside the airport, I put the coat in the suitcase so I wouldn't have to wear it.

My flight from Ottawa to Newark was delayed by almost an hour and I was afraid that I would miss my connection. The small Embraer regional jet that we took was wonderful. It had leather-like seats throughout the small plane and it was just a really comfortable flight. It was two seats on one side of the plane and one on the other. The flight attendant was very friendly and you got the sense that they were enjoying their jobs on this airline. I flew through Newark, despite the persistent pleadings of someone on the travel boards to change my plans (he thought Newark was a nightmare) and it was a really pleasant surprise. I had no idea Newark was a suburb of New York and so when we flew past the Manhattan skyline, I was taken by surprise. Very beautiful.

Because the plane was small, we parked on the runway and a shuttle took us to the airport. I had 30 minutes before the next flight was due to take off and the shuttles weren't moving. Finally, we left for the terminal and I literally walked into the terminal, then to my next gate and got on the plane. This was a pleasant surprise. I really didn't think my luggage would make the connection with me. It did. Our flight was somewhat delayed because an Asian man who didn't speak very much English would not sit down. He was tying rearrange passengers so his family could sit together, despite being told he was delaying the flight. The flight attendant told him to sit down or she would have him removed from the plane and still he persisted. Finally a large and athletic passenger stood and told him to sit down, which he scurried to do. We were off as soon as the applause subsided. I have to admit I lied to the woman sitting next to me. She was alone in the dreaded middle seat and wondered if I would switch with her husband (in a middle seat some rows forward) so they could sit together and I said I had to sit next to the window to avoid motion sickness. She seemed baffled (it WAS nighttime) but I didn't think I could say that I just really had been looking forward to a night landing in Vegas and I'd chosen my seat accordingly. I'm a really bad liar and I think she thought I was just being stubborn so I did what any grown man would do, I stared out the window at the darkness for 25 minutes to prove I "needed" the seat. It was an incredibly clear evening and we flew over Cleveland and Chicago, I think.

I landed (ok, the pilot landed but I held my breath because I think that helps) and got off the plane. The night landing was worth lying for! The food was not. They gave us meatloaf sandwiches that smelled awful. I had never heard of meatloaf sandwiches. Is this an American thing? Again the Asian man obstructed the aisle while he marshalled his family. Free of this man, I walked through the terminal looking for the in-terminal Park Place check-in for Paris Las Vegas but I never found it. I collected my luggage and went to the Thrifty shuttle. I was there one minute before the Asian Man from the plane and his family arrived and started to complain about the wait for the shuttle. He asked me when the shuttle would be there and I said I was sure it would be along in a few minutes. He was very troubled that the AVIS shuttle had come twice and ours had not. Just then, a loud crash and a scream announced the fact that an Asian couple who had not been looking where they were going had hit a man who was unloading his mini-van at departures, across the way. He got out and said he was sorry and tried to get back into his car to drive away before the police restrained him. He seemed baffled that he would have to stay after he apologised, since he had a flight to catch. I never did get to see the conclusion of this because our shuttle arrived. The aisle-obstructing man pushed me out of the way (literally) to get on the shuttle ahead of me, all the while smiling and saying "big hurry" over and over. When I got on the shuttle, it was just his family and me. He just kept smiling at me, which was driving me mad.

Let me take a brief moment to say that I am not anti-Asian, as should be evidenced by the fact that I live in my city's Chinatown and have many close friends who are Asian. Having said that, I have never seen more Asian people than I did the week before Christmas in Vegas. A cab driver later in the week said it's because "they don't believe nothing," which I doubt. I was routinely cajoled and pushed out of the way by groups of Asians who would then stop in the middle of an aisle or corridor to talk, blocking passage for all others. I promise you I am not racist but I was overwhelmed by the aggression and selfishness of the Asians I met in Vegas on this trip. One mother literally pushed me out of the way when I had been standing at the Pirate Battle rope for a half hour as though I had been saving a spot for she and her son.

Ok, that's out of my system.

I booked a car via the car rental web-site at Thrifty. I tried all the sites and came up with the best price at Thrifty. I got a compact for $15.95 a day and brought along a coupon I'd printed from their website for a further 10% and so the rental was $14.50 a day. The shuttle for Thrifty takes the tunnel and you end up near the Belz Factory outlets. I admit, though, that when we pulled up to the rental depot, I had NO IDEA where I was and thought we were near Circus Circus. The rental process was quick and when I pulled onto Las Vegas Boulevard and got oriented, I liked the idea of driving into Vegas at night past the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.

I stayed my first night at the Paris Las Vegas ($49). Before I went, I had read all the pay for upgrades/just ask politely threads and thought I'd try. I asked politely and was told it would cost $20 extra just for a view of the Bellagio fountains. It was late and I was tired so I declined. I was given a room near the elevator on the 22nd floor and it had a view of not too much. It looked toward the back of Bally's but mostly overlooked parking structures. The room was very nice and the bathroom was quite nice. There was a separate shower stall which I would have gladly sacrificed for a longer tub. I'm a soaker and the tub wasn't long enough for me. There was mouth wash, shampoo, bath gel and French Milled soap. French milled soap smells like my grandmother. Not too manly!

At this point, I felt something like a second wind so I went for a walk. I took the tram to Tropicana and spun their wheel and then crossed to Excalibur (total chaos, even at Christmas) and went over to NYNY. This is when I realised I was exhausted. I crossed the street and started heading up the strip to Bally's/Paris. I went into the Alladin and wasn't overly impressed and went past Paris to Bally's to spin the free wheel. Won a keychain.

Got back to my room at 1 a.m. and dropped to sleep in about three seconds.


Day 2

I wake up and realise I am actually in Las Vegas. I know this might sound silly but it seems that no matter where I travel, I have the same sensation of disbelief when I wake up there in the morning!

I get ready for the day and head out. It's a shame that I don't have more time in this nice Paris Las Vegas room because it is very comfortable. Nicely upholstered furniture.

Before I came to Vegas, I saw on an AOL board that someone was selling Las Vegas Calendars as a fund-raiser for a Vegas women's shelter called Shade Tree. I sent the fellow, David Berman, an email and he agreed to meet me to trade calendars for cash. I used these calendars (which turned out to be very nice) as stocking stuffers for late presents when I got home. I was touched that David and his wife, Roz, took time out of their schedule to bring me the calendars and was even more touched when they invited me to breakfast at the Paris buffet. This was to be my first trip travelling alone and although I was perfectly comfortable in doing so, I was afraid I might get lonely at mealtimes so it was nice to have breakfast with the Bermans.

The breakfast at the Paris buffet was wonderful. Beyond the normal offerings, they had an eggs benedict with a touch of dijon in the hollandaise and some wonderful lunch sort of offerings liek pork tenderloin. I'm not usually someone who would have breakfast with people I don't know well but the Bermans were wonderful. Roz has a very sweet disposition while David seems curious about everything and genuinely interested in getting to know people better. I enjoyed my time with them greatly.

I left Paris for the Riviera to buy tickets to their comedy club but got a bit lost trying to find parking (it's actually near the back of the property) so I gave up and went back to Paris and checked out. I went to the Las Vegas Hilton and again, tried the upgrade experiment. You remember that at Paris I just asked nicely and got nothing. At LVH, I tipped $20 and I don't think I got much more. The guy was really nice and did put me in a strip view high room but I don't think the room was any sort of upgrade. I had gotten the stupidly great rate of $38 for the Friday and Saturday so I wasn't going to complain. Besides, I was enjoying my experiment in human behaviour. My room was in the North Tower, which allowed me to park and ride up the glass elevator, which was pretty at night.

I headed down Tropicana to the highway that heads to Hoover Dam and I was on track to get there on time until I stopped at Wal-Mart for film. While I knew that I was on vacations, I had forgotten that everyone else was doing last-minute Christmas shopping and the store was hopping! It took almost 25 minutes to locate the film and buy it and by the time I got to the Dam, I was 10 minutes late for my hard hat tour. I asked if I could be included on the next tour and while the tour was pre-paid, they were under no obligation to let me in since I was the one who was late but the tour guide did let me in and she wished me a Merry Christmas.

I had been on the regular tour before and the hard hat tour covers off all the regular tour spots and adds some more touring within the dam. The seepage gallery is a bizarrely steep stairwell within the dam that allows drainage (but not too much!). We also got to look out one of the vents half way up the dam, which was awesome. Inside the dam, we stood there in complete darkness as the guide turned off the light. We were mostly adults but this still seemed cool. On the hard hat tour, you keep the hard hats as souvenirs. The tour is $25 and while it might not be worth quite that, it is certainly a much better tour than the regular one and anyone vaguely interested in construction will love it. My dad is a civil engineer so I'm likely predisposed to appreciating stuff like Hoover Dam. I will say that the guides at the Hoover Dam are the best guides I've ever had take me through any sort of attraction. Their love for the Dam's history is very touching.

The sun was setting as I drove back into the city. It was really beautiful. I stopped and just took a moment to look over Lake Mead and to enjoy the peace of the desert.

Back in town, I drove to Treasure Island to pick up the tickets I had reserved at the will-call booth for Mystere. I did that and went out front and realised I could stay for 30 minutes and see the Pirate Battle. I have seen this show before but from a guest room so I wondered if it would be better outside. It was and it wasn't. I was jostled a lot in the minutes leading up to the show and held my ground but at the last minute, I was literally pushed out of the way by a woman who looked at me sweetly as though I had been saving the spot for her and her 4 year old son, who she insisted on perching on the fake cases and boxes, despite security asking her to pull him back repeatedly. I was nervous for this little boy during most of the show so it diminished my enjoyment of the show. You also seem to have to more or less choose one side or the other to see since someone taller than you will be in the way of your seeing the other side or some parent will put their child on their shoulders so they can see more than just people's kness. Having said that, it wasn't that bad a show. I liked being up close and feeling the heat of the flames and seeing the waves, made by mini-wave machines.It is a bit hard to get out of there afterward but it's not too bad.

I left there and returned to the Hilton and had dinner in Quark's Bar, within the Star Trek Experience. I'm not a Trekker but I thought it would be cool to tell people I'd eaten there. The food was actually very good. I had a wrap and some pot-stickers , as well as some sort of inter-galactic drink. Very good. The service was great and there were Star Trek characters wandering about. I had no idea who they were and the people at the next table seemed stunned by this, which I found amusing. The only negative to this place is that the loop of Star Trek footage they show on screens seems to be about 5 minutes long so you keep seeing the same scenes over and over. If I had heard Kate Mulgrew tell the pilot to "set a course...for home" one more time, I might have lost it.

I left here and headed to Vacation Village to try and spin their wheel for ½ my airfare back but when I got there, they weren't going to be spinning for a quite a while so I headed to MGM and valet parked. I had planned on playing at Bally's after Cirque de Soleil so I would just catch the tram down here afterward. I was 3/4 of the way through buying a ticket for the Christmas Night show of EFX with a coupon they give out on the tram when the woman realised that this was a "special" show and the coupon was no good. That was really annoying and she told me there were tons of seats available at regular price if I wanted one. I said no thanks and left annoyed.

I headed up to TI by way of Bally's, where I won another key chain in their free spin. I also stopped into the Monte Carlo, which is normally my home casino. They have got rid of my favourite Monopoly Chairman of the Board Wild machines!!!! I puttered around Bally's and then went over to Mystere for the 10:30 show. My thought before the trip was that if I was going to try Cirque de Soleil, I would try Mystere because it was less expensive and if I didn't like it, it would be less of a loss. The only thing I can say to explain the strong reaction I had to this show is that I left it and bought a ticket to O. Far more articulate people than I have failed in describing this show so I will simply say that I found it to be awe-inspiring, sensual, funny, moving, sad and erotic. I spent most of the show with my hand clasped over my mouth or my cheek, gasping at the next feat of strength or beauty. I would see this show again tomorrow!

I was really very tired by this time and a couple of weeks earlier I had seen a Dateline where they proved that driving while tired is the equivalent or worse than driving drunk so I left my car in valet parking at MGM and took a cab back to LVH.

Day 3

I have crashed at the LVH and it occurs to me that I haven't yet described the room for you. It was like a nice Holiday Inn. Not posh but livable. It had electric curtains that opened and closed automatically and an arm chair. The "desk" was a ledge that ran below the window, which was nice. The room adjoined the others on either side which struck me as a good idea for those travelling with more than a couple fo kids. If this place weren't next to the Convention Center, I'm thinking it'd be bull-dozed by now. It's just not as nice as the Strip places.

I fell fast asleep and woke up a couple of hours later in a panic. In a way that makes sense only if you've just been wakened from a deep sleep, I thought someone had broken into my room, had fallen asleep and was snoring right next to me. I actually bolted upright in bed looking for something to hit them with when I realised it was the man in the next room. These were not the muffled noises you hear when people are talking or having sex in the next hotel room. This sounded like the guy was in my room. I could not believe how poor the sound-proofing was! Luckily, I still had my ear plugs from the Hoover Dam so I put them in. Seriously.

I woke up and went to the buffet at LVH for breakfast. It was nice but not a buffet that I would return to, the way you keep going back to the Paris or Bellagio buffets. The food was fine but there was no finesse in its presentation and the selection was no more than you would expect for breakfast. The service was ok but the champagne was awful. You had to fetch your own juices, too. The LVH had pretty good cashback over Christmas ($5 a point and $10 back when you got to 100 points) so I played a little there but the machines at LVH have always seemed to me to just accept the cash and give nothing back. I did get 50 points but I decided to hold my cash and play at Bally's.

I went to the South entrance to wait for my van, which would take me for my Heli-Tours USA helicopter trip into the Grand Canyon. When the van was 30 minutes late, I called and they said it should be there soon. It was there in ten minutes and I asked the driver about the delay and he said he just got the call 5 minutes earlier. I think they forgot about me but that was the only negative of this whole experience.

The check-in people were efficient and the guy who showed us the safety features was a hoot. I definitely heard the part about there being no washrooms in the part of the Canyon we'd be landing in. They said we could go "behind a cactus" but I'm irrationally terrified of snakes so I went to the rest rooms at the Executive terminal (next to McCarren), where Heli-Tours is based.
The men's room was broken so I waited in line for the ladies' room. As I was waiting, a woman lumbered up and the guy in front of me explained to her that we were all waiting for the women's, too. As he slipped into the washroom, I realised the woman was Sue Hawk from Survivor!!! I made a point of not asking her about the show (imagine how many people have!?!?) and we talked for about 10 minutes. She was very nice but definitely the rough and tumble Sue you know from the show.

The ride to the Grand Canyon was accompanied by music in our headphones. Everyone wears headphones like the pilot to protect your ears and to enable you to hear the other passengers speak through their microphones. I loved the approach to the Canyon, which took us over the Hoover Dam and a dormant volcano. The pilot told us that 6 people have committed suicide by jumping off the Dam in the past 6 months. The last one was a man who drove out from Vegas, parked his car and jumped off the Dam, while wearing high heel shoes and a dress. When the pilot realised not everyone was seeing the Dam, he "tipped" the chopper, which was a queasy feeling, although not was queasy as approaching a hill and having the pilot say he hoped we were all honest about our weights at check-in. It felt like we skimmed over that cliff by about 6 inches. We passed the cliff Thelma and Louise drove off of and the peak where the Jeep sat in that commercial last year.

We cleared a high hill and all of a sudden, what looked like the entire Grand Canyon was spread before us. I could not believe how physical my reaction to this was. I lost my speech and started crying as a woman (80 or so) next to me just kept saying "oh my," which just about summed it up.

We landed on an Indian (Hualapai) reservation and had a wonderful picnic lunch. You really spoke freely with the people from your chopper in the way that people who have had a profound experience together do.

On the way back, the pilot flew low over a pasture and told us that he followed a dirt road back to town, which was a joke, as we found out when the road started twisting wildly as he followed it. It was incredible and every "little boy fantasy" I ever had about flying in a helicopter came true that day. At one point, we flew "off a cliff" and the floor dropped out by 4000 feet. It was incredible. The weather was about 65 degrees and pleasant and, for a Canadian, to be swatting flies two days before Christmas was odd. We came into town and flew over the strip, which was really weird. I finally know how the Imperial Palace is shaped and why some hotels are so hard to get around!

We all received certificates upon landing and were shuttled wherever we wanted. Since I had left my car at the MGM last night, I went there. I was in the hotel about two minutes before I realised I wasn't carrying my camera anymore. I called Heli-Tours immediately but the camera never turned up. Luckily, I had changed films just before I landed so I lost no pictures of this wonderful trip.

I picked up my car and went to the Belz Factory outlets. It was not too busy, especially for Christmas week, and I got some really great deals on clothes. I know the factory outlets are not for everyone but I always seem to find a deal I wouldn't have been able to get here. I went from the Belz outlet to the Rio and saw the Carnival in the Sky before I went to the Mirage and really noticed how many people were piling into town. It was getting pretty crowded everywhere and it was still two days before Christmas. I had thought I would eat in the buffet but the line went through the entire queue area and into the casino. I was feeling a little nervy so I went to the slot booth and asked if I could possible get a line pass since I had tickets to Danny Gans and would be playing afterwards (which I was willing to do if they gave me a line pass). The guy said no, you need at least a 100 points for a line pass. I asked at the buffet maitre d' stand and he said he would let me in the line pass line but I still wouldn't be out in time so I went to the Caribe Café. What a pleasant restaurant! I had a nice fajita salad and a margarita and they even called ahead to the Danny Gans Theatre to ask how long before the show I needed to be there. They said 45 minutes, although this didn't make any sense to me or the waitress who assured them I already had a ticket. I got there 40 minutes before the show and they ripped my ticket in two and threw the other half into a drum so I have no idea how they would even know that you weren't there. I could see saying you have to pick up your tickets from the will-call booth by then but when you've paid for the ticket already, I just don't get it.

The Danny Gans Theatre is a nice room. It's all red velvet and wood. I had tickets about 15 rows back and it wasn't too bad but I wouldn't want to be much further back. I had declined tickets that were closer because I didn't want to pay a higher price but now I wish I had because I wouldn't have sat next to the couple who were next to me. They were sort of drunk. Not falling down by nowhere close to sober. She kept singing along to the songs and he kept saying whether Danny Gans had done a good job on each bit. If you've seen Danny Gans, you know he does fragments of songs and so this meant that this couple talked all through the show at something louder than a whisper. I asked the usher to move me but he said they sell the unclaimed tickets to a standby line. He did ask if I wanted him to speak to the couple but they seemed too sober to kick out and too drunk to be quiet so I said no.

Otherwise, this was just a super show! Danny Gans brings such a SENSE OF JOY to his work I'm convinced you'd enjoy it even if he wasn't as good at it as he is. I will definitely go back.

This show let out at 10 or so and I went and played at Bally's for a while before turning in. I won a keno ticket on their free wheel pull but I don't like Keno so I gave it away to a very suspicious man who thought I would want something for it.


Day 4.

Actually, let me finish off day three. I returned to the Las Vegas Hilton and played a while longer. My point total is up to 70 and I go to bed. I'm in bed maybe 5 minutes when all of a sudden there is a group of people chatting in the hall right outside my door. I wish they'd go to bed or at least go in their rooms but they just keep gabbing away, which I find very rude. Finally, I'm frustrated enough that I get up to check my peep hole. If they look like they're on the way into their rooms, fine. Otherwise I'm going to call security. I look out the peep hole and ... there's nobody there. The people are in the next room!!! They really sounded like they were in the hall but what with the crummy sound-proofing, I guess it's deceptive. I locate my ear-plugs from the Hoover Dam and put them in and I do manage to fall asleep fairly quickly. I wake up a couple of hours later to the symphony of the party on one side and the return of my other neighbour's snoring on the other. I can't locate my earplugs in the dark and I burst into uncontrolled laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. I ponder for a moment or two about ordering porn on the pay-per-view and cranking up the tv to give them something to listen to but I turn the light on and find the ear plugs instead. The thought of the porn makes me laugh and I fall back to sleep in a pretty good mood.

I wake up on Christmas Eve and head back down into the casino to see if I can get my point total over 100 so I can get some cash back. The same $20 passes through the machine several times and I'm to 100 points after an hour or so. I collect my cash back and then realise that I'm from the School of It Never Hurts To Ask. I go to the slot host area and ask if my play merits any break on the room charge. Now I know that I've only put $500 through their machines but I also have some small charges on my bill he could erase. He takes my card and looks up my play and pulls the most oddly contorted face you can think of, as though I had made him chug-a-lug horseradish. He say, "you've only been playing nickels!" I remain unflustered and say that, given that I play 18-27, I've really been playing $.90 - $1.80 a pull. He says that that's not the way he looks at it, in a you're-wasting-my-time kind of way. Re-grouping, I ask what sort of play they look for before they comp, say, my $12.95 buffet from the day before. He tells me I'd have to come back and invest some serious play before he could answer that question. That won't likely happen. I'm not saying he didn't have a point (although I don't think $500 through is an unreasonable time to start wondering if you might score a free breakfast - at the Imperial Palace, you'd get two breakfast buffets for this and having eaten at both now, the quality is not much different) but I think his delivery prevented me from wanting to ever "earn" his favour. There are a lot of hotels in Vegas and I don't need to stay anyplace where my level of play won't be appreciated.

I use the video check-out and leave the LVH and head for the Golden Nugget for breakfast. I got a line pass here when I was here in May and thought it would be a good thing to have after my experience trying to eat at the Mirage last night. I go find the Hand of Faith, which is a huge gold nugget. I stayed here last year and never saw it. It's kind of cool. I arrive at the buffet, line pass in hand and...there's no line. Even in my pretension, I can't be too impressive!
The food at the GN is always dependable and yummy and this was no exception. I should say that one of my defences against loneliness was to carry a puzzle book or newspaper to restaurants and it worked like a charm. I found it helped me from just eating quickly and leaving. I had forgotten it here and I did just that, I ate my meal and was out of there.

I wandered around downtown a little but I always find downtown just doesn't work for me in the daytime. I hopped back in the car and headed down the strip. I tried to park at Circus Circus but their lot was entirely full. I went across to the Riviera and parked there and bought a ticket for their comedy club that night. I played at the Riviera and liked it more than I would have thought. It certainly is a rambling spot. I went over to Slots of Fun and then headed down the Strip to check in at Bally's.

I was wondering if I should try the tip or try the be nice thing since neither has really worked well at Paris or LVH. I decide to be my old sweet self and I get a fabulous room. Since I was checking in at noon, I didn't know that so I'll let you wonder until later.

I play at Bally's for a while and then decide to go back to the mall. You see, I saw a leather jacket there and I have decided to buy it. I go to the Nautica store and discover the jacket is now on sale and decide it was all meant to be. I give my credit card and the
machine tells the clerk to call the authorisation centre. The woman from the bank comes on the phone and say that they just need to ensure it's me because I'm demonstrating a different spending pattern than normal.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes, she asks me:
- My home address
- my apartment number
- my city
- when I left Canada
- what my last few purchases were
- If I had any idea how much I was spending (hmm.. Christmas in Vegas will do that)
- When I left Canada (again)
- Where I was right now
- What my last name was
- What my secret code was
- Why I didn't know I had a secret code
- The hint for my secret code
- My mother's maiden name (which it turns out is everyone's secret code)
- where I'm staying in Vegas
- When I bought my airline tickets and what card I used
- When I'm returning to Canada
- If I knew I had spent so much money

I told her that I appreciated the security effort but that were people behind me and I thought I had taxed their patience too much and should I use another card? She said that no, I wasn't over my limit but she had a few more questions. I wanted to die! Finally, the bank lady says she will re-activate my card, as though this were a huge exception and favour. I ask her what she means and she tells me that they cancelled my account when I didn't return their call. I ask what call and she says that when I started spending so much, they called my house to verify the information she had just asked me. I said that my not answering seemed like pretty good proof that I was out of the country and was told there's no need to be rude to her. I gave up.

Now I have my new jacket and I decide to goto the Barnes and Noble on the Maryland Parkway. I'm an ex-bookstore manager and you never get the need to spend time in a bookstore out of your system. It was a nice store and it was good to do something a regular Las Vegan would do.

Next, I went to the Palms restaurant in the Forum shops at Caesars Palace, which my new friends David and Roz have recommended. I valet there and then wade through all the humanity in the forum shops. If the factory outlets were quiet, I know where everyone was. It was nuts! On top of that, the Palm was closed. I went to Tower Records and bought a cd and a magazine. The guy who sold it to me said that he guessed that the men were finally getting around to their Christmas shopping. I look at my watch (it's 3.45 on Christmas Eve) and say, 'Nope. The real men won't be here for a couple of hours yet. Besides, as long as there are 24 hour drugstores, what's the hurry. I'm enjoying this banter until the woman behind me grabbed my arm and told me I was a total pig and that if men only put half as much thought into gift buying as women... and then she was talking so fast I didn't know what she was saying. I told her that first, I was not talking to her and that if she was offended, she should not have been eavesdropping. I then told her that my Christmas shopping was long done. She actually did apologise but I suspect she's had a bit too much perfume wrapped in a CVS bag as a present to I let it slide. The clerk gave one of those looks that says it's been like this all day. I have to say that having worked retail until this year, I felt odd at being able to shop on Christmas Eve instead of being at work until 7 setting up for the post-Christmas sale.

Then, I went to Chinois, Wolfgang Puck's Chinese place. It was incredible. They serve lunch specials until 5 and I had a combo that started off with pork pot-stickers, segued into this incredible Chinese chicken salad and then was topped off with Basil Shrimp. The pile of shrimp was twice the size of my fist! This special was $14 and would have fed two people.

I made my way over to Bally's and got my room key. The check-in area was a zoo with enormous lines at all stations. I joined one of the lines and then watched as a man yelled at the clerk for the long wait. She said she was sorry, they were going as fast as they could but he wouldn't let up. I stepped forward and cut in to try to break the tension and asked if I was in the right line, since I had checked in earlier in the day and was just picking up keys. She loudly said that since I was so polite and willing to be patient, she'd do it right then and handed me the keys. It pays to be polite but it has never felt so dangerous!

My room was in the North Tower, facing Las Vegas Boulevard on the 24th floor. It had a balcony you could walk out onto and was enormous. The sitting area was at least as large as the bed area and had a sofa and a second desk. I could not stop saying "wow!" I understand this is one of the renovated rooms and they bathroom was identical to the one at Paris except it had no separate shower stall. No loss in my mind.

I went down and played in the casino for a quite a while and then went over and played in the Paris casino for a while, too. I liked that play in either casino combines for comps in either, since Paris is technically and expansion of Bally's. They have a really good mix of nickel video slots, which are my weakness. If the machine wasn't at Bally's, it was at Paris. I didn't care for the Battleship Slots (Bally's) but I liked the I Dream of Jeannie ones. You need to line up three bottles to get into the bonus round and Jeannie's "yes" gets more excited with each one so this machine can be a little embarrassing to play.

I had decided I wanted to keep my rental car and so I called Thrifty to tell them that. The woman said I could absolutely not do that and they would charge me extra. I said I knew that since that the extra day fee of $16 was printed on my contract. She said they were charging triple that because they needed the cars back so badly. I was in a playful mood and so I asked why they weren't held to the contract the same way I was and she said they just really needed the cars back. Now, before you email me to tell me she couldn't legally have charged me the extra $$, trust that I know that. A deal's a deal and they're as bound by the contract as I am. However, I did promise, when I signed the contract, to bring the car back on a certain day an the desperation in her voice made me not want to make her day any harder that it already had been.

I'm glad I did. I went to the depot with the car and checked it back in without incident. I sat and watched, while I waited for the shuttle, as she told customer after customer that the specific car they had reserved was not available and she was offering this substitution or that. This poor girl was working Christmas Eve and I nearly kept my car and presumed it would be her problem. I felt bad but I was glad I had reconsidered and kept my part of the deal.

Their shuttle driver drove me to the Riviera in plenty of time for the Comedy show. I really enjoy these moments to talk to locals about what it's like to live there.

The comedy club at the Riviera is good. The lady tried to give me a "good" seat, right up front and alone! No thanks!!! I asked and was seated a couple of tables back. The comics were all a scream except for the MC, who kept trying to make us cheer for his bad jokes. The drinks are not included here but the price is pretty reasonable and I got a coupon from a book a guy was handing out in front of the hotel.

I headed back to Bally's and played the slots until midnight or so and then went to bed. No noises audible here except the sound of my own sweet breathing.

Perfection.

Day 5 and last

I wake up after a great night's sleep in my room at Bally's. Having enjoyed the breakfast I had the other day at Paris (which feels like three weeks ago, at this point), I have decided to try the Bellagio breakfast. I have to admit that I am one of those people who thought the $10.95 these places charge for breakfast is crazy but having experienced the Paris breakfast (which is really more like a brunch), breakfast seems like one of the best deals on the strip!

Some of you have mentioned that I don't seem to have gambled much but I did, I just don't think it's that interesting to write about. I play mostly video slots and I like the bonus rounds but people seem to either love them or hate them. To this point, I really hadn't lost nearly as much as I budgeted myself to lose, so in a logic that only makes sense in Las Vegas, I get a bit more reckless. Actually, a whole lot more reckless. On the way to the Bellagio, I stop at the Wheel of Fortune Nickel machines in Bally's and put in a $100 bill. I play max bet thinking this is really the only way to make any money on these slots. 6 minutes later, I walk away with nothing. I will never be a high roller because I still feel a little numb at the thought that I've lost that much that quickly. I explained to myself that I'm on day 5 and I haven't even gone through half of my gambling budget but I know when I get back from breakfast that I will resume a more conservative play pattern.

I stroll right into breakfast at the Bellagio and have a nice breakfast. I think the variety of foods at the Bellagio breakfast is better than at Paris but in terms of dishes that are common to both (Eggs Benedict, for instance), I give the prize to Paris on most every dish. I know some people feel that the Paris' dining room has more character but I found the Bellagio's to have a lot lower noise level, which I like. I always think of meal time in Las Vegas as being a good time to re-group so the idea of relative quiet is appealing.

I head back to Bally's and play a little on their 98% bank of video nickel slots. I have two small hand pays within a half hour. Fun. I go to Paris and prove my own theory wrong. I figured that since Paris is newer and more themed, the slots would be tighter. Wrong. I hit 5 hand pays within 2 hours! I go and call my best friend and wish him a Merry Christmas back home and I head out for a stroll on the strip. I have to say that,for a Canadian, walking on Christmas Day with just a wind-breaker is weird!!!

I wander down the strip and check out the ice show in front of the New York New York, which was frankly a little bit lame. I walk over to Excalibur and see the Merlin show for the first time. Also, very dumb. I decide I want to go into the MGM and try the Family Feud slots. I don't do too badly. I played for about 20 minutes and broke exactly even but I just didn't enjoy them. I really like their bonus rounds but I find that the reels spin so quickly in the normal play that you can really plow through some serious money quickly. I also think I'm unlikely to stay at the MGM soon because they seemed to have passed some threshold and have just too many darned people. On a weekday, it's not awful but there were times on the weekend where you just couldn't move at all without bumping into people constantly. There's also the issue of the funny smell but I won't go there.

The coolest thing about visiting Bally's and going to MGM is the free tram. I really like being able to cover that much ground that quickly. I wonder when they extend the tram line to cover most of the strip how that will play out. What will the casinos on the other side of the street do? Will people still love the trams when you have to pay to use them? What about the cabbies?

I get off the tram and decide to try my luck at the Paris casino again. As I walk from Bally's to Paris, I pass the Paris buffet and notice that at 4:30 on Christmas Day, they are giving out time checks for 9:30!!! By the way, all the buffets increase their prices for Christmas Day. I can't remember the revised price for Paris (I'm thinking $24.95) but I do recall that Bellagio increased their price to $28.95. The other trick is that all of the buffets charge the dinner price from noon onward. I guess what with so many people in town and some of the locals going to restaurants they could have charged even more, since everything seemed to be sold out.

I played at Paris for only 30 minutes before I gave up and went back to Bally's. As I passed the Paris buffet at 5:15, I could hear the hostesses tell people that they were completely sold out until closing. I really hadn't thought about supper so I went to the tram corridor at Bally's and got a great slice of pizza from Sbarro. I know there are people who would find this sad on Christmas Day and I might normally be one of them but I have to tell you that I was perfectly content to sit in my room and stare out the window at the Rio and Caesar's Palace and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I finished my dinner and went down to the casino and played a bit more. I was up and down but never really seemed to win or lose, which I admit is preferable to losing. I decided I liked the Fortune Cookie game but every time I got a bonus round, an Asian person would walk by and I would feel embarrassed by the game's stereotypical Chinese food guy. I liked the Chicken game and I liked the Munsters a lot. I never played the Adam's Family because it was progressive so you had to play $2.25 a pull to win the big one and after this morning's fiasco, I wasn't back up to that. I play nickel slots at $.45 or $.90 a pull and that's about right for me.

At 7, I entered the Jubilee Theatre for my first traditional Vegas show. I went partially because I was curious and partly because all of my friends asked me the last time I got home if I went to one of those big Vegas shows. Those of you who have been to Walt Disney World know the wisdom of visiting Epcot before the Magic Kingdom. That way, you judge Epcot based on its own merits and not as compared to the fantastic Magic Kingdom. In that same vein, I would suggest that if you have the urge to see a traditional Vegas show, you do it before you see Mystere or Danny Gans. I liked Jubilee but it seemed a bit hokey and the show girls looked more naked than nude, if you catch my nuance. I just thought they'd look better dressed. The magic by Dirk Arnold was really great! I got my ticket the day before and got not too bad a seat but I would warn against my row to anyone thinking they'll go. I can't find the stub just now but I was in the row just behind the walkway 3/4 of the way up the theatre. The problem was that the pitch of the theatre levels for the duration of the walkway so I had trouble seeing over the people in the last row of the section in front of me. I'm 5'10" so that shouldn't have been a problem. Also, in this row, all of the late comers trip over your feet as they walk in front of you for the first 15 minutes of the show (they don't hold latecomers for a break in the show here).

I left there and played for a while longer in the casino before crossing the street to see O at Bellagio. It was incredible. The staging is more elaborate than Mystere and there are more trapeze things but I think I was more moved by Mystere. Given the opportunity to do it over, though, I would definitely still see both! I had a cool experience before the show started at O. I was chatting with the person next to me about how beautiful the theatre (built specifically for the production) was. I asked if he had seen the show before and he said he hadn't but his mom next to him had. Also, his friend who wasn't able to sit with them hadn't seen it. I asked why they weren't all sitting together and he said they couldn't get three seats together. You have to understand that there didn't seem to be a bad seat in the house and I was in the 22nd or 23rd row so I offered to switch so they could all sit together. This guy lit up like a Christmas tree (or a Menorah for our Jewish friends) and went and got his friend who gave me his ticket for the 10TH ROW!!! I was stunned and they were grateful and everyone was happy.

The show let out around 12:15 a.m. and I made a decision. I was not going to bed that night. I had to be at the airport at 6 a.m. and that meant getting up at 5:15 so I just wrote off the idea of sleeping.

I went to Paris and asked when the slot hosts finished for the night and was told that there was someone in all night but the club booth itself closes at 2. I played until 2 and then applied for my cash back. I got $11 back and asked to speak to a slot host. You remember that at the LVH, I got $10 back and then a bunch of attitude when I asked about comps? I got $11 back at Bally's and one night fully comped at Bally's! The host said that it was a little bit more than I had earned but it was Christmas. You can guess where I'll go the next time I have to choose between the Hilton and Bally's!?! I was offered a casino rate of $69 week nights and $95 weekend when I come back to Bally's, less whatever comps I might earn while I'm there.

I went to my room and showered and packed. Showering made me less sleepy, which was starting to become a problem. Feeling refreshed, I went to the Hard Rock Hotel for the steak and shrimp special at Mr. Lucky's. For those of you who don't know, it's not on the menu, you have to ask for it. It's $5.95 and comes with salad, garlic mashed potatoes and is entirely yummy!
Sadly, they were sold out so I had a fajita salad that was very good. I went from there to the Venetian and wandered around staring at their beautiful ceilings. I went back to Bally's, checked out and headed to the airport.

I checked in with Continental and asked the agent if the flight included a full breakfast or if was a snack sort of thing, since I wouldn't eat again until Newark and I could pick up something on the way to the gate, if needed. Nope, it's a full breakfast, she assures me.

I stop at the newsstand and buy a fist full of Almond Joys and Good n Plenty's, neither of which you can get here in Canada. Once on the flight, I'm pleased to see that my seat assignment ploy worked out. You assign your own seats when you book through Continental Online and so I put myself by the window near the back of the plane. I figured the window seat people would fill the windows seats in front of me as would the aisle people. By the time anyone was sitting next to me in the middle seat, the plane would have to be full. It worked. The plane was nearly full and yet the seat between me and the guy next to me remained empty.

I actually fell asleep right after take-off (I have never managed sleep on a plane before) but I woke up when the food came around. Our "full" breakfast was a bowl of cereal and a banana. Luckily, I fell asleep right after I ate it and didn't wake up again until just before Newark. I connected easily in Newark and started reading Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener on the flight to Ottawa, which I left on the plane when I got off. If I can plug his book, I will say that it was good enough to buy twice!

I enjoyed my first solo trip to Vegas. I was afraid I would be lonely so I planned a lot of activity and in the end, I maybe over-planned. I didn't care for the Las Vegas Hilton but as much as I was disappointed in that hotel and its staff, I was thrilled by the rooms and level of service at Bally's. I will never forget the physical and visceral sense of joy I felt at seeing the Grand Canyon or the profound sense of wonder that returned to me time and again as I watched Cirque de Soleil. Danny Gans proves you can perform the same show night after night and still retain a sense of joy and gratitude that the audience came. I still think comedy clubs are just about the best deals in Las Vegas and I will definitely eat more breakfast buffets in the future. I arrived in Las Vegas thinking I had planned everything perfectly and then I didn't perfectly follow the plan. Instead, I allowed the city to offer me diversions that wouldn't have occurred to me. Las Vegas didn't let me down and one of the last thoughts I had on the air plane before I fell asleep was "when I come back....."

Thanks for reading. It's been fun to write this.

 

Lee From Ottawa, Canada


Wow, this trip report is long overdue but life gets busy, you know?

I guess it all started sometime in September when I was looking at the price of airfares to Vegas from Ottawa, Canada, where I live. I do this as a past-time so you know I need a new hobby. There was a really good seat sale on Continental ($212US) and all of a sudden, I felt like Fred Flintstone with the Angel Fred (or in my case, Lee) on one shoulder and the Devil Fred on the other.

Angel Lee: You really shouldn't. You're not working right now.

Devil Lee: Well then, what could be more positive than presuming you'll be working soon and planning to celebrate it?

Angel Lee: Not a good plan!

Devil Lee: If you decide later not to go, you can change your ticket, pay the penalty and it'll still be a good deal!

Angel Lee: Don't do it!

Devil Lee: Just go!

While these two fought it out, I managed to push "Purchase" on the Continental web site amid the racket in my head! It was done! I was going to Vegas from the 21st through the 26th of December. The Continental site is great and they let you assign your own seats. Incidentally, I got a wonderful job within a week or so and they were happy to give me a day or two off at Christmas to go to Las Vegas.

For those of you who "know" me, I like to plan. I started spread sheets and I had the whole trip mapped out, thrown out and re-planned several times before I left. I must say that travelling at Christmas is great because the hotels are begging for guests with wonderful rates (more about that later). I booked all of my rooms via the hotels' web sites. Comparable or better rates were sometimes available through travelscape.com or travelocity.com but I'm not quite to the point of sending my money electronically to someone other than the person I'm buying something from yet. Maybe one day. I might have used Priceline.com but their site will not accept Canadian addresses for billing.

I saved all fall and kept planning. I read the new editions of the travel guides and I plotted out which shows would be dark and which would be running. The only drawback to going Christmas week is that some shows are dark but there was still lots of selection and, even better, I was able to get good seats for popular shows. I booked Mystere and Danny Gans via the Mirage ticket by phone service and in both cases, service was friendly and helpful. I kept planning and when I filled a local friend in on my plans, I think I overwhelmed him with my level of preparedness and he said the only thing I wasn't doing was getting a massage on the way to the airport. Seemed like a good idea so I called and booked the appointment at a local spa.

Let me say that I am not wealthy but I worked ridiculous hours at two jobs all fall and this trip represented a substantial reward for my work. A Christmas present from me to me.

Finally, my countdown calendar said "0" and I headed to the airport. Because it was cold in Ottawa the day I left and I planned to do some shopping in Las Vegas, I took a larger than necessary carry-on suitcase and, once inside the airport, I put the coat in the suitcase so I wouldn't have to wear it.

My flight from Ottawa to Newark was delayed by almost an hour and I was afraid that I would miss my connection. The small Embraer regional jet that we took was wonderful. It had leather-like seats throughout the small plane and it was just a really comfortable flight. It was two seats on one side of the plane and one on the other. The flight attendant was very friendly and you got the sense that they were enjoying their jobs on this airline. I flew through Newark, despite the persistent pleadings of someone on the travel boards to change my plans (he thought Newark was a nightmare) and it was a really pleasant surprise. I had no idea Newark was a suburb of New York and so when we flew past the Manhattan skyline, I was taken by surprise. Very beautiful.

Because the plane was small, we parked on the runway and a shuttle took us to the airport. I had 30 minutes before the next flight was due to take off and the shuttles weren't moving. Finally, we left for the terminal and I literally walked into the terminal, then to my next gate and got on the plane. This was a pleasant surprise. I really didn't think my luggage would make the connection with me. It did. Our flight was somewhat delayed because an Asian man who didn't speak very much English would not sit down. He was tying rearrange passengers so his family could sit together, despite being told he was delaying the flight. The flight attendant told him to sit down or she would have him removed from the plane and still he persisted. Finally a large and athletic passenger stood and told him to sit down, which he scurried to do. We were off as soon as the applause subsided. I have to admit I lied to the woman sitting next to me. She was alone in the dreaded middle seat and wondered if I would switch with her husband (in a middle seat some rows forward) so they could sit together and I said I had to sit next to the window to avoid motion sickness. She seemed baffled (it WAS nighttime) but I didn't think I could say that I just really had been looking forward to a night landing in Vegas and I'd chosen my seat accordingly. I'm a really bad liar and I think she thought I was just being stubborn so I did what any grown man would do, I stared out the window at the darkness for 25 minutes to prove I "needed" the seat. It was an incredibly clear evening and we flew over Cleveland and Chicago, I think.

I landed (ok, the pilot landed but I held my breath because I think that helps) and got off the plane. The night landing was worth lying for! The food was not. They gave us meatloaf sandwiches that smelled awful. I had never heard of meatloaf sandwiches. Is this an American thing? Again the Asian man obstructed the aisle while he marshalled his family. Free of this man, I walked through the terminal looking for the in-terminal Park Place check-in for Paris Las Vegas but I never found it. I collected my luggage and went to the Thrifty shuttle. I was there one minute before the Asian Man from the plane and his family arrived and started to complain about the wait for the shuttle. He asked me when the shuttle would be there and I said I was sure it would be along in a few minutes. He was very troubled that the AVIS shuttle had come twice and ours had not. Just then, a loud crash and a scream announced the fact that an Asian couple who had not been looking where they were going had hit a man who was unloading his mini-van at departures, across the way. He got out and said he was sorry and tried to get back into his car to drive away before the police restrained him. He seemed baffled that he would have to stay after he apologised, since he had a flight to catch. I never did get to see the conclusion of this because our shuttle arrived. The aisle-obstructing man pushed me out of the way (literally) to get on the shuttle ahead of me, all the while smiling and saying "big hurry" over and over. When I got on the shuttle, it was just his family and me. He just kept smiling at me, which was driving me mad.

Let me take a brief moment to say that I am not anti-Asian, as should be evidenced by the fact that I live in my city's Chinatown and have many close friends who are Asian. Having said that, I have never seen more Asian people than I did the week before Christmas in Vegas. A cab driver later in the week said it's because "they don't believe nothing," which I doubt. I was routinely cajoled and pushed out of the way by groups of Asians who would then stop in the middle of an aisle or corridor to talk, blocking passage for all others. I promise you I am not racist but I was overwhelmed by the aggression and selfishness of the Asians I met in Vegas on this trip. One mother literally pushed me out of the way when I had been standing at the Pirate Battle rope for a half hour as though I had been saving a spot for she and her son.

Ok, that's out of my system.

I booked a car via the car rental web-site at Thrifty. I tried all the sites and came up with the best price at Thrifty. I got a compact for $15.95 a day and brought along a coupon I'd printed from their website for a further 10% and so the rental was $14.50 a day. The shuttle for Thrifty takes the tunnel and you end up near the Belz Factory outlets. I admit, though, that when we pulled up to the rental depot, I had NO IDEA where I was and thought we were near Circus Circus. The rental process was quick and when I pulled onto Las Vegas Boulevard and got oriented, I liked the idea of driving into Vegas at night past the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.

I stayed my first night at the Paris Las Vegas ($49). Before I went, I had read all the pay for upgrades/just ask politely threads and thought I'd try. I asked politely and was told it would cost $20 extra just for a view of the Bellagio fountains. It was late and I was tired so I declined. I was given a room near the elevator on the 22nd floor and it had a view of not too much. It looked toward the back of Bally's but mostly overlooked parking structures. The room was very nice and the bathroom was quite nice. There was a separate shower stall which I would have gladly sacrificed for a longer tub. I'm a soaker and the tub wasn't long enough for me. There was mouth wash, shampoo, bath gel and French Milled soap. French milled soap smells like my grandmother. Not too manly!

At this point, I felt something like a second wind so I went for a walk. I took the tram to Tropicana and spun their wheel and then crossed to Excalibur (total chaos, even at Christmas) and went over to NYNY. This is when I realised I was exhausted. I crossed the street and started heading up the strip to Bally's/Paris. I went into the Alladin and wasn't overly impressed and went past Paris to Bally's to spin the free wheel. Won a keychain.

Got back to my room at 1 a.m. and dropped to sleep in about three seconds.


Day 2

I wake up and realise I am actually in Las Vegas. I know this might sound silly but it seems that no matter where I travel, I have the same sensation of disbelief when I wake up there in the morning!

I get ready for the day and head out. It's a shame that I don't have more time in this nice Paris Las Vegas room because it is very comfortable. Nicely upholstered furniture.

Before I came to Vegas, I saw on an AOL board that someone was selling Las Vegas Calendars as a fund-raiser for a Vegas women's shelter called Shade Tree. I sent the fellow, David Berman, an email and he agreed to meet me to trade calendars for cash. I used these calendars (which turned out to be very nice) as stocking stuffers for late presents when I got home. I was touched that David and his wife, Roz, took time out of their schedule to bring me the calendars and was even more touched when they invited me to breakfast at the Paris buffet. This was to be my first trip travelling alone and although I was perfectly comfortable in doing so, I was afraid I might get lonely at mealtimes so it was nice to have breakfast with the Bermans.

The breakfast at the Paris buffet was wonderful. Beyond the normal offerings, they had an eggs benedict with a touch of dijon in the hollandaise and some wonderful lunch sort of offerings liek pork tenderloin. I'm not usually someone who would have breakfast with people I don't know well but the Bermans were wonderful. Roz has a very sweet disposition while David seems curious about everything and genuinely interested in getting to know people better. I enjoyed my time with them greatly.

I left Paris for the Riviera to buy tickets to their comedy club but got a bit lost trying to find parking (it's actually near the back of the property) so I gave up and went back to Paris and checked out. I went to the Las Vegas Hilton and again, tried the upgrade experiment. You remember that at Paris I just asked nicely and got nothing. At LVH, I tipped $20 and I don't think I got much more. The guy was really nice and did put me in a strip view high room but I don't think the room was any sort of upgrade. I had gotten the stupidly great rate of $38 for the Friday and Saturday so I wasn't going to complain. Besides, I was enjoying my experiment in human behaviour. My room was in the North Tower, which allowed me to park and ride up the glass elevator, which was pretty at night.

I headed down Tropicana to the highway that heads to Hoover Dam and I was on track to get there on time until I stopped at Wal-Mart for film. While I knew that I was on vacations, I had forgotten that everyone else was doing last-minute Christmas shopping and the store was hopping! It took almost 25 minutes to locate the film and buy it and by the time I got to the Dam, I was 10 minutes late for my hard hat tour. I asked if I could be included on the next tour and while the tour was pre-paid, they were under no obligation to let me in since I was the one who was late but the tour guide did let me in and she wished me a Merry Christmas.

I had been on the regular tour before and the hard hat tour covers off all the regular tour spots and adds some more touring within the dam. The seepage gallery is a bizarrely steep stairwell within the dam that allows drainage (but not too much!). We also got to look out one of the vents half way up the dam, which was awesome. Inside the dam, we stood there in complete darkness as the guide turned off the light. We were mostly adults but this still seemed cool. On the hard hat tour, you keep the hard hats as souvenirs. The tour is $25 and while it might not be worth quite that, it is certainly a much better tour than the regular one and anyone vaguely interested in construction will love it. My dad is a civil engineer so I'm likely predisposed to appreciating stuff like Hoover Dam. I will say that the guides at the Hoover Dam are the best guides I've ever had take me through any sort of attraction. Their love for the Dam's history is very touching.

The sun was setting as I drove back into the city. It was really beautiful. I stopped and just took a moment to look over Lake Mead and to enjoy the peace of the desert.

Back in town, I drove to Treasure Island to pick up the tickets I had reserved at the will-call booth for Mystere. I did that and went out front and realised I could stay for 30 minutes and see the Pirate Battle. I have seen this show before but from a guest room so I wondered if it would be better outside. It was and it wasn't. I was jostled a lot in the minutes leading up to the show and held my ground but at the last minute, I was literally pushed out of the way by a woman who looked at me sweetly as though I had been saving the spot for her and her 4 year old son, who she insisted on perching on the fake cases and boxes, despite security asking her to pull him back repeatedly. I was nervous for this little boy during most of the show so it diminished my enjoyment of the show. You also seem to have to more or less choose one side or the other to see since someone taller than you will be in the way of your seeing the other side or some parent will put their child on their shoulders so they can see more than just people's kness. Having said that, it wasn't that bad a show. I liked being up close and feeling the heat of the flames and seeing the waves, made by mini-wave machines.It is a bit hard to get out of there afterward but it's not too bad.

I left there and returned to the Hilton and had dinner in Quark's Bar, within the Star Trek Experience. I'm not a Trekker but I thought it would be cool to tell people I'd eaten there. The food was actually very good. I had a wrap and some pot-stickers , as well as some sort of inter-galactic drink. Very good. The service was great and there were Star Trek characters wandering about. I had no idea who they were and the people at the next table seemed stunned by this, which I found amusing. The only negative to this place is that the loop of Star Trek footage they show on screens seems to be about 5 minutes long so you keep seeing the same scenes over and over. If I had heard Kate Mulgrew tell the pilot to "set a course...for home" one more time, I might have lost it.

I left here and headed to Vacation Village to try and spin their wheel for ½ my airfare back but when I got there, they weren't going to be spinning for a quite a while so I headed to MGM and valet parked. I had planned on playing at Bally's after Cirque de Soleil so I would just catch the tram down here afterward. I was 3/4 of the way through buying a ticket for the Christmas Night show of EFX with a coupon they give out on the tram when the woman realised that this was a "special" show and the coupon was no good. That was really annoying and she told me there were tons of seats available at regular price if I wanted one. I said no thanks and left annoyed.

I headed up to TI by way of Bally's, where I won another key chain in their free spin. I also stopped into the Monte Carlo, which is normally my home casino. They have got rid of my favourite Monopoly Chairman of the Board Wild machines!!!! I puttered around Bally's and then went over to Mystere for the 10:30 show. My thought before the trip was that if I was going to try Cirque de Soleil, I would try Mystere because it was less expensive and if I didn't like it, it would be less of a loss. The only thing I can say to explain the strong reaction I had to this show is that I left it and bought a ticket to O. Far more articulate people than I have failed in describing this show so I will simply say that I found it to be awe-inspiring, sensual, funny, moving, sad and erotic. I spent most of the show with my hand clasped over my mouth or my cheek, gasping at the next feat of strength or beauty. I would see this show again tomorrow!

I was really very tired by this time and a couple of weeks earlier I had seen a Dateline where they proved that driving while tired is the equivalent or worse than driving drunk so I left my car in valet parking at MGM and took a cab back to LVH.

Day 3

I have crashed at the LVH and it occurs to me that I haven't yet described the room for you. It was like a nice Holiday Inn. Not posh but livable. It had electric curtains that opened and closed automatically and an arm chair. The "desk" was a ledge that ran below the window, which was nice. The room adjoined the others on either side which struck me as a good idea for those travelling with more than a couple fo kids. If this place weren't next to the Convention Center, I'm thinking it'd be bull-dozed by now. It's just not as nice as the Strip places.

I fell fast asleep and woke up a couple of hours later in a panic. In a way that makes sense only if you've just been wakened from a deep sleep, I thought someone had broken into my room, had fallen asleep and was snoring right next to me. I actually bolted upright in bed looking for something to hit them with when I realised it was the man in the next room. These were not the muffled noises you hear when people are talking or having sex in the next hotel room. This sounded like the guy was in my room. I could not believe how poor the sound-proofing was! Luckily, I still had my ear plugs from the Hoover Dam so I put them in. Seriously.

I woke up and went to the buffet at LVH for breakfast. It was nice but not a buffet that I would return to, the way you keep going back to the Paris or Bellagio buffets. The food was fine but there was no finesse in its presentation and the selection was no more than you would expect for breakfast. The service was ok but the champagne was awful. You had to fetch your own juices, too. The LVH had pretty good cashback over Christmas ($5 a point and $10 back when you got to 100 points) so I played a little there but the machines at LVH have always seemed to me to just accept the cash and give nothing back. I did get 50 points but I decided to hold my cash and play at Bally's.

I went to the South entrance to wait for my van, which would take me for my Heli-Tours USA helicopter trip into the Grand Canyon. When the van was 30 minutes late, I called and they said it should be there soon. It was there in ten minutes and I asked the driver about the delay and he said he just got the call 5 minutes earlier. I think they forgot about me but that was the only negative of this whole experience.

The check-in people were efficient and the guy who showed us the safety features was a hoot. I definitely heard the part about there being no washrooms in the part of the Canyon we'd be landing in. They said we could go "behind a cactus" but I'm irrationally terrified of snakes so I went to the rest rooms at the Executive terminal (next to McCarren), where Heli-Tours is based.
The men's room was broken so I waited in line for the ladies' room. As I was waiting, a woman lumbered up and the guy in front of me explained to her that we were all waiting for the women's, too. As he slipped into the washroom, I realised the woman was Sue Hawk from Survivor!!! I made a point of not asking her about the show (imagine how many people have!?!?) and we talked for about 10 minutes. She was very nice but definitely the rough and tumble Sue you know from the show.

The ride to the Grand Canyon was accompanied by music in our headphones. Everyone wears headphones like the pilot to protect your ears and to enable you to hear the other passengers speak through their microphones. I loved the approach to the Canyon, which took us over the Hoover Dam and a dormant volcano. The pilot told us that 6 people have committed suicide by jumping off the Dam in the past 6 months. The last one was a man who drove out from Vegas, parked his car and jumped off the Dam, while wearing high heel shoes and a dress. When the pilot realised not everyone was seeing the Dam, he "tipped" the chopper, which was a queasy feeling, although not was queasy as approaching a hill and having the pilot say he hoped we were all honest about our weights at check-in. It felt like we skimmed over that cliff by about 6 inches. We passed the cliff Thelma and Louise drove off of and the peak where the Jeep sat in that commercial last year.

We cleared a high hill and all of a sudden, what looked like the entire Grand Canyon was spread before us. I could not believe how physical my reaction to this was. I lost my speech and started crying as a woman (80 or so) next to me just kept saying "oh my," which just about summed it up.

We landed on an Indian (Hualapai) reservation and had a wonderful picnic lunch. You really spoke freely with the people from your chopper in the way that people who have had a profound experience together do.

On the way back, the pilot flew low over a pasture and told us that he followed a dirt road back to town, which was a joke, as we found out when the road started twisting wildly as he followed it. It was incredible and every "little boy fantasy" I ever had about flying in a helicopter came true that day. At one point, we flew "off a cliff" and the floor dropped out by 4000 feet. It was incredible. The weather was about 65 degrees and pleasant and, for a Canadian, to be swatting flies two days before Christmas was odd. We came into town and flew over the strip, which was really weird. I finally know how the Imperial Palace is shaped and why some hotels are so hard to get around!

We all received certificates upon landing and were shuttled wherever we wanted. Since I had left my car at the MGM last night, I went there. I was in the hotel about two minutes before I realised I wasn't carrying my camera anymore. I called Heli-Tours immediately but the camera never turned up. Luckily, I had changed films just before I landed so I lost no pictures of this wonderful trip.

I picked up my car and went to the Belz Factory outlets. It was not too busy, especially for Christmas week, and I got some really great deals on clothes. I know the factory outlets are not for everyone but I always seem to find a deal I wouldn't have been able to get here. I went from the Belz outlet to the Rio and saw the Carnival in the Sky before I went to the Mirage and really noticed how many people were piling into town. It was getting pretty crowded everywhere and it was still two days before Christmas. I had thought I would eat in the buffet but the line went through the entire queue area and into the casino. I was feeling a little nervy so I went to the slot booth and asked if I could possible get a line pass since I had tickets to Danny Gans and would be playing afterwards (which I was willing to do if they gave me a line pass). The guy said no, you need at least a 100 points for a line pass. I asked at the buffet maitre d' stand and he said he would let me in the line pass line but I still wouldn't be out in time so I went to the Caribe Café. What a pleasant restaurant! I had a nice fajita salad and a margarita and they even called ahead to the Danny Gans Theatre to ask how long before the show I needed to be there. They said 45 minutes, although this didn't make any sense to me or the waitress who assured them I already had a ticket. I got there 40 minutes before the show and they ripped my ticket in two and threw the other half into a drum so I have no idea how they would even know that you weren't there. I could see saying you have to pick up your tickets from the will-call booth by then but when you've paid for the ticket already, I just don't get it.

The Danny Gans Theatre is a nice room. It's all red velvet and wood. I had tickets about 15 rows back and it wasn't too bad but I wouldn't want to be much further back. I had declined tickets that were closer because I didn't want to pay a higher price but now I wish I had because I wouldn't have sat next to the couple who were next to me. They were sort of drunk. Not falling down by nowhere close to sober. She kept singing along to the songs and he kept saying whether Danny Gans had done a good job on each bit. If you've seen Danny Gans, you know he does fragments of songs and so this meant that this couple talked all through the show at something louder than a whisper. I asked the usher to move me but he said they sell the unclaimed tickets to a standby line. He did ask if I wanted him to speak to the couple but they seemed too sober to kick out and too drunk to be quiet so I said no.

Otherwise, this was just a super show! Danny Gans brings such a SENSE OF JOY to his work I'm convinced you'd enjoy it even if he wasn't as good at it as he is. I will definitely go back.

This show let out at 10 or so and I went and played at Bally's for a while before turning in. I won a keno ticket on their free wheel pull but I don't like Keno so I gave it away to a very suspicious man who thought I would want something for it.


Day 4.

Actually, let me finish off day three. I returned to the Las Vegas Hilton and played a while longer. My point total is up to 70 and I go to bed. I'm in bed maybe 5 minutes when all of a sudden there is a group of people chatting in the hall right outside my door. I wish they'd go to bed or at least go in their rooms but they just keep gabbing away, which I find very rude. Finally, I'm frustrated enough that I get up to check my peep hole. If they look like they're on the way into their rooms, fine. Otherwise I'm going to call security. I look out the peep hole and ... there's nobody there. The people are in the next room!!! They really sounded like they were in the hall but what with the crummy sound-proofing, I guess it's deceptive. I locate my ear-plugs from the Hoover Dam and put them in and I do manage to fall asleep fairly quickly. I wake up a couple of hours later to the symphony of the party on one side and the return of my other neighbour's snoring on the other. I can't locate my earplugs in the dark and I burst into uncontrolled laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. I ponder for a moment or two about ordering porn on the pay-per-view and cranking up the tv to give them something to listen to but I turn the light on and find the ear plugs instead. The thought of the porn makes me laugh and I fall back to sleep in a pretty good mood.

I wake up on Christmas Eve and head back down into the casino to see if I can get my point total over 100 so I can get some cash back. The same $20 passes through the machine several times and I'm to 100 points after an hour or so. I collect my cash back and then realise that I'm from the School of It Never Hurts To Ask. I go to the slot host area and ask if my play merits any break on the room charge. Now I know that I've only put $500 through their machines but I also have some small charges on my bill he could erase. He takes my card and looks up my play and pulls the most oddly contorted face you can think of, as though I had made him chug-a-lug horseradish. He say, "you've only been playing nickels!" I remain unflustered and say that, given that I play 18-27, I've really been playing $.90 - $1.80 a pull. He says that that's not the way he looks at it, in a you're-wasting-my-time kind of way. Re-grouping, I ask what sort of play they look for before they comp, say, my $12.95 buffet from the day before. He tells me I'd have to come back and invest some serious play before he could answer that question. That won't likely happen. I'm not saying he didn't have a point (although I don't think $500 through is an unreasonable time to start wondering if you might score a free breakfast - at the Imperial Palace, you'd get two breakfast buffets for this and having eaten at both now, the quality is not much different) but I think his delivery prevented me from wanting to ever "earn" his favour. There are a lot of hotels in Vegas and I don't need to stay anyplace where my level of play won't be appreciated.

I use the video check-out and leave the LVH and head for the Golden Nugget for breakfast. I got a line pass here when I was here in May and thought it would be a good thing to have after my experience trying to eat at the Mirage last night. I go find the Hand of Faith, which is a huge gold nugget. I stayed here last year and never saw it. It's kind of cool. I arrive at the buffet, line pass in hand and...there's no line. Even in my pretension, I can't be too impressive!
The food at the GN is always dependable and yummy and this was no exception. I should say that one of my defences against loneliness was to carry a puzzle book or newspaper to restaurants and it worked like a charm. I found it helped me from just eating quickly and leaving. I had forgotten it here and I did just that, I ate my meal and was out of there.

I wandered around downtown a little but I always find downtown just doesn't work for me in the daytime. I hopped back in the car and headed down the strip. I tried to park at Circus Circus but their lot was entirely full. I went across to the Riviera and parked there and bought a ticket for their comedy club that night. I played at the Riviera and liked it more than I would have thought. It certainly is a rambling spot. I went over to Slots of Fun and then headed down the Strip to check in at Bally's.

I was wondering if I should try the tip or try the be nice thing since neither has really worked well at Paris or LVH. I decide to be my old sweet self and I get a fabulous room. Since I was checking in at noon, I didn't know that so I'll let you wonder until later.

I play at Bally's for a while and then decide to go back to the mall. You see, I saw a leather jacket there and I have decided to buy it. I go to the Nautica store and discover the jacket is now on sale and decide it was all meant to be. I give my credit card and the
machine tells the clerk to call the authorisation centre. The woman from the bank comes on the phone and say that they just need to ensure it's me because I'm demonstrating a different spending pattern than normal.
Over the course of the next 25 minutes, she asks me:
- My home address
- my apartment number
- my city
- when I left Canada
- what my last few purchases were
- If I had any idea how much I was spending (hmm.. Christmas in Vegas will do that)
- When I left Canada (again)
- Where I was right now
- What my last name was
- What my secret code was
- Why I didn't know I had a secret code
- The hint for my secret code
- My mother's maiden name (which it turns out is everyone's secret code)
- where I'm staying in Vegas
- When I bought my airline tickets and what card I used
- When I'm returning to Canada
- If I knew I had spent so much money

I told her that I appreciated the security effort but that were people behind me and I thought I had taxed their patience too much and should I use another card? She said that no, I wasn't over my limit but she had a few more questions. I wanted to die! Finally, the bank lady says she will re-activate my card, as though this were a huge exception and favour. I ask her what she means and she tells me that they cancelled my account when I didn't return their call. I ask what call and she says that when I started spending so much, they called my house to verify the information she had just asked me. I said that my not answering seemed like pretty good proof that I was out of the country and was told there's no need to be rude to her. I gave up.

Now I have my new jacket and I decide to goto the Barnes and Noble on the Maryland Parkway. I'm an ex-bookstore manager and you never get the need to spend time in a bookstore out of your system. It was a nice store and it was good to do something a regular Las Vegan would do.

Next, I went to the Palms restaurant in the Forum shops at Caesars Palace, which my new friends David and Roz have recommended. I valet there and then wade through all the humanity in the forum shops. If the factory outlets were quiet, I know where everyone was. It was nuts! On top of that, the Palm was closed. I went to Tower Records and bought a cd and a magazine. The guy who sold it to me said that he guessed that the men were finally getting around to their Christmas shopping. I look at my watch (it's 3.45 on Christmas Eve) and say, 'Nope. The real men won't be here for a couple of hours yet. Besides, as long as there are 24 hour drugstores, what's the hurry. I'm enjoying this banter until the woman behind me grabbed my arm and told me I was a total pig and that if men only put half as much thought into gift buying as women... and then she was talking so fast I didn't know what she was saying. I told her that first, I was not talking to her and that if she was offended, she should not have been eavesdropping. I then told her that my Christmas shopping was long done. She actually did apologise but I suspect she's had a bit too much perfume wrapped in a CVS bag as a present to I let it slide. The clerk gave one of those looks that says it's been like this all day. I have to say that having worked retail until this year, I felt odd at being able to shop on Christmas Eve instead of being at work until 7 setting up for the post-Christmas sale.

Then, I went to Chinois, Wolfgang Puck's Chinese place. It was incredible. They serve lunch specials until 5 and I had a combo that started off with pork pot-stickers, segued into this incredible Chinese chicken salad and then was topped off with Basil Shrimp. The pile of shrimp was twice the size of my fist! This special was $14 and would have fed two people.

I made my way over to Bally's and got my room key. The check-in area was a zoo with enormous lines at all stations. I joined one of the lines and then watched as a man yelled at the clerk for the long wait. She said she was sorry, they were going as fast as they could but he wouldn't let up. I stepped forward and cut in to try to break the tension and asked if I was in the right line, since I had checked in earlier in the day and was just picking up keys. She loudly said that since I was so polite and willing to be patient, she'd do it right then and handed me the keys. It pays to be polite but it has never felt so dangerous!

My room was in the North Tower, facing Las Vegas Boulevard on the 24th floor. It had a balcony you could walk out onto and was enormous. The sitting area was at least as large as the bed area and had a sofa and a second desk. I could not stop saying "wow!" I understand this is one of the renovated rooms and they bathroom was identical to the one at Paris except it had no separate shower stall. No loss in my mind.

I went down and played in the casino for a quite a while and then went over and played in the Paris casino for a while, too. I liked that play in either casino combines for comps in either, since Paris is technically and expansion of Bally's. They have a really good mix of nickel video slots, which are my weakness. If the machine wasn't at Bally's, it was at Paris. I didn't care for the Battleship Slots (Bally's) but I liked the I Dream of Jeannie ones. You need to line up three bottles to get into the bonus round and Jeannie's "yes" gets more excited with each one so this machine can be a little embarrassing to play.

I had decided I wanted to keep my rental car and so I called Thrifty to tell them that. The woman said I could absolutely not do that and they would charge me extra. I said I knew that since that the extra day fee of $16 was printed on my contract. She said they were charging triple that because they needed the cars back so badly. I was in a playful mood and so I asked why they weren't held to the contract the same way I was and she said they just really needed the cars back. Now, before you email me to tell me she couldn't legally have charged me the extra $$, trust that I know that. A deal's a deal and they're as bound by the contract as I am. However, I did promise, when I signed the contract, to bring the car back on a certain day an the desperation in her voice made me not want to make her day any harder that it already had been.

I'm glad I did. I went to the depot with the car and checked it back in without incident. I sat and watched, while I waited for the shuttle, as she told customer after customer that the specific car they had reserved was not available and she was offering this substitution or that. This poor girl was working Christmas Eve and I nearly kept my car and presumed it would be her problem. I felt bad but I was glad I had reconsidered and kept my part of the deal.

Their shuttle driver drove me to the Riviera in plenty of time for the Comedy show. I really enjoy these moments to talk to locals about what it's like to live there.

The comedy club at the Riviera is good. The lady tried to give me a "good" seat, right up front and alone! No thanks!!! I asked and was seated a couple of tables back. The comics were all a scream except for the MC, who kept trying to make us cheer for his bad jokes. The drinks are not included here but the price is pretty reasonable and I got a coupon from a book a guy was handing out in front of the hotel.

I headed back to Bally's and played the slots until midnight or so and then went to bed. No noises audible here except the sound of my own sweet breathing.

Perfection.

Day 5 and last

I wake up after a great night's sleep in my room at Bally's. Having enjoyed the breakfast I had the other day at Paris (which feels like three weeks ago, at this point), I have decided to try the Bellagio breakfast. I have to admit that I am one of those people who thought the $10.95 these places charge for breakfast is crazy but having experienced the Paris breakfast (which is really more like a brunch), breakfast seems like one of the best deals on the strip!

Some of you have mentioned that I don't seem to have gambled much but I did, I just don't think it's that interesting to write about. I play mostly video slots and I like the bonus rounds but people seem to either love them or hate them. To this point, I really hadn't lost nearly as much as I budgeted myself to lose, so in a logic that only makes sense in Las Vegas, I get a bit more reckless. Actually, a whole lot more reckless. On the way to the Bellagio, I stop at the Wheel of Fortune Nickel machines in Bally's and put in a $100 bill. I play max bet thinking this is really the only way to make any money on these slots. 6 minutes later, I walk away with nothing. I will never be a high roller because I still feel a little numb at the thought that I've lost that much that quickly. I explained to myself that I'm on day 5 and I haven't even gone through half of my gambling budget but I know when I get back from breakfast that I will resume a more conservative play pattern.

I stroll right into breakfast at the Bellagio and have a nice breakfast. I think the variety of foods at the Bellagio breakfast is better than at Paris but in terms of dishes that are common to both (Eggs Benedict, for instance), I give the prize to Paris on most every dish. I know some people feel that the Paris' dining room has more character but I found the Bellagio's to have a lot lower noise level, which I like. I always think of meal time in Las Vegas as being a good time to re-group so the idea of relative quiet is appealing.

I head back to Bally's and play a little on their 98% bank of video nickel slots. I have two small hand pays within a half hour. Fun. I go to Paris and prove my own theory wrong. I figured that since Paris is newer and more themed, the slots would be tighter. Wrong. I hit 5 hand pays within 2 hours! I go and call my best friend and wish him a Merry Christmas back home and I head out for a stroll on the strip. I have to say that,for a Canadian, walking on Christmas Day with just a wind-breaker is weird!!!

I wander down the strip and check out the ice show in front of the New York New York, which was frankly a little bit lame. I walk over to Excalibur and see the Merlin show for the first time. Also, very dumb. I decide I want to go into the MGM and try the Family Feud slots. I don't do too badly. I played for about 20 minutes and broke exactly even but I just didn't enjoy them. I really like their bonus rounds but I find that the reels spin so quickly in the normal play that you can really plow through some serious money quickly. I also think I'm unlikely to stay at the MGM soon because they seemed to have passed some threshold and have just too many darned people. On a weekday, it's not awful but there were times on the weekend where you just couldn't move at all without bumping into people constantly. There's also the issue of the funny smell but I won't go there.

The coolest thing about visiting Bally's and going to MGM is the free tram. I really like being able to cover that much ground that quickly. I wonder when they extend the tram line to cover most of the strip how that will play out. What will the casinos on the other side of the street do? Will people still love the trams when you have to pay to use them? What about the cabbies?

I get off the tram and decide to try my luck at the Paris casino again. As I walk from Bally's to Paris, I pass the Paris buffet and notice that at 4:30 on Christmas Day, they are giving out time checks for 9:30!!! By the way, all the buffets increase their prices for Christmas Day. I can't remember the revised price for Paris (I'm thinking $24.95) but I do recall that Bellagio increased their price to $28.95. The other trick is that all of the buffets charge the dinner price from noon onward. I guess what with so many people in town and some of the locals going to restaurants they could have charged even more, since everything seemed to be sold out.

I played at Paris for only 30 minutes before I gave up and went back to Bally's. As I passed the Paris buffet at 5:15, I could hear the hostesses tell people that they were completely sold out until closing. I really hadn't thought about supper so I went to the tram corridor at Bally's and got a great slice of pizza from Sbarro. I know there are people who would find this sad on Christmas Day and I might normally be one of them but I have to tell you that I was perfectly content to sit in my room and stare out the window at the Rio and Caesar's Palace and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I finished my dinner and went down to the casino and played a bit more. I was up and down but never really seemed to win or lose, which I admit is preferable to losing. I decided I liked the Fortune Cookie game but every time I got a bonus round, an Asian person would walk by and I would feel embarrassed by the game's stereotypical Chinese food guy. I liked the Chicken game and I liked the Munsters a lot. I never played the Adam's Family because it was progressive so you had to play $2.25 a pull to win the big one and after this morning's fiasco, I wasn't back up to that. I play nickel slots at $.45 or $.90 a pull and that's about right for me.

At 7, I entered the Jubilee Theatre for my first traditional Vegas show. I went partially because I was curious and partly because all of my friends asked me the last time I got home if I went to one of those big Vegas shows. Those of you who have been to Walt Disney World know the wisdom of visiting Epcot before the Magic Kingdom. That way, you judge Epcot based on its own merits and not as compared to the fantastic Magic Kingdom. In that same vein, I would suggest that if you have the urge to see a traditional Vegas show, you do it before you see Mystere or Danny Gans. I liked Jubilee but it seemed a bit hokey and the show girls looked more naked than nude, if you catch my nuance. I just thought they'd look better dressed. The magic by Dirk Arnold was really great! I got my ticket the day before and got not too bad a seat but I would warn against my row to anyone thinking they'll go. I can't find the stub just now but I was in the row just behind the walkway 3/4 of the way up the theatre. The problem was that the pitch of the theatre levels for the duration of the walkway so I had trouble seeing over the people in the last row of the section in front of me. I'm 5'10" so that shouldn't have been a problem. Also, in this row, all of the late comers trip over your feet as they walk in front of you for the first 15 minutes of the show (they don't hold latecomers for a break in the show here).

I left there and played for a while longer in the casino before crossing the street to see O at Bellagio. It was incredible. The staging is more elaborate than Mystere and there are more trapeze things but I think I was more moved by Mystere. Given the opportunity to do it over, though, I would definitely still see both! I had a cool experience before the show started at O. I was chatting with the person next to me about how beautiful the theatre (built specifically for the production) was. I asked if he had seen the show before and he said he hadn't but his mom next to him had. Also, his friend who wasn't able to sit with them hadn't seen it. I asked why they weren't all sitting together and he said they couldn't get three seats together. You have to understand that there didn't seem to be a bad seat in the house and I was in the 22nd or 23rd row so I offered to switch so they could all sit together. This guy lit up like a Christmas tree (or a Menorah for our Jewish friends) and went and got his friend who gave me his ticket for the 10TH ROW!!! I was stunned and they were grateful and everyone was happy.

The show let out around 12:15 a.m. and I made a decision. I was not going to bed that night. I had to be at the airport at 6 a.m. and that meant getting up at 5:15 so I just wrote off the idea of sleeping.

I went to Paris and asked when the slot hosts finished for the night and was told that there was someone in all night but the club booth itself closes at 2. I played until 2 and then applied for my cash back. I got $11 back and asked to speak to a slot host. You remember that at the LVH, I got $10 back and then a bunch of attitude when I asked about comps? I got $11 back at Bally's and one night fully comped at Bally's! The host said that it was a little bit more than I had earned but it was Christmas. You can guess where I'll go the next time I have to choose between the Hilton and Bally's!?! I was offered a casino rate of $69 week nights and $95 weekend when I come back to Bally's, less whatever comps I might earn while I'm there.

I went to my room and showered and packed. Showering made me less sleepy, which was starting to become a problem. Feeling refreshed, I went to the Hard Rock Hotel for the steak and shrimp special at Mr. Lucky's. For those of you who don't know, it's not on the menu, you have to ask for it. It's $5.95 and comes with salad, garlic mashed potatoes and is entirely yummy!
Sadly, they were sold out so I had a fajita salad that was very good. I went from there to the Venetian and wandered around staring at their beautiful ceilings. I went back to Bally's, checked out and headed to the airport.

I checked in with Continental and asked the agent if the flight included a full breakfast or if was a snack sort of thing, since I wouldn't eat again until Newark and I could pick up something on the way to the gate, if needed. Nope, it's a full breakfast, she assures me.

I stop at the newsstand and buy a fist full of Almond Joys and Good n Plenty's, neither of which you can get here in Canada. Once on the flight, I'm pleased to see that my seat assignment ploy worked out. You assign your own seats when you book through Continental Online and so I put myself by the window near the back of the plane. I figured the window seat people would fill the windows seats in front of me as would the aisle people. By the time anyone was sitting next to me in the middle seat, the plane would have to be full. It worked. The plane was nearly full and yet the seat between me and the guy next to me remained empty.

I actually fell asleep right after take-off (I have never managed sleep on a plane before) but I woke up when the food came around. Our "full" breakfast was a bowl of cereal and a banana. Luckily, I fell asleep right after I ate it and didn't wake up again until just before Newark. I connected easily in Newark and started reading Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener on the flight to Ottawa, which I left on the plane when I got off. If I can plug his book, I will say that it was good enough to buy twice!

I enjoyed my first solo trip to Vegas. I was afraid I would be lonely so I planned a lot of activity and in the end, I maybe over-planned. I didn't care for the Las Vegas Hilton but as much as I was disappointed in that hotel and its staff, I was thrilled by the rooms and level of service at Bally's. I will never forget the physical and visceral sense of joy I felt at seeing the Grand Canyon or the profound sense of wonder that returned to me time and again as I watched Cirque de Soleil. Danny Gans proves you can perform the same show night after night and still retain a sense of joy and gratitude that the audience came. I still think comedy clubs are just about the best deals in Las Vegas and I will definitely eat more breakfast buffets in the future. I arrived in Las Vegas thinking I had planned everything perfectly and then I didn't perfectly follow the plan. Instead, I allowed the city to offer me diversions that wouldn't have occurred to me. Las Vegas didn't let me down and one of the last thoughts I had on the air plane before I fell asleep was "when I come back....."

Thanks for reading. It's been fun to write this.