DEC. 2011 A ROCK N ROLL WEDDING & PLENTY OF COUNTRY

We don't often visit Las Vegas in the winter. To us Las Vegas means spending time at the pool, relaxing in the morning sunshine and enjoying pleasant evenings. So it takes something special to draw us there in the heat of summer or what to us is the cold of winter.

Even a normal wedding would qualify as special but this one was truly unique. And though we didn't choose the dates for this trip, they also included the rodeo and American Country Awards, so there was plenty to see and some new experiences to enjoy.

Saturday Dec. 3rd
It isn't very often that we get to experience a new hotel in Las Vegas, but because of all we had going on in that area of the Strip we decided to stay at TI for the first time. We checked in around 11:30 am and were given a Strip View room on the 22nd floor.

First impression of the room at TI: Wow this room is small, the smallest hotel room we've had in a long time. And the TV has to be the smallest flat-screen we've ever seen. My wife watched ESPN one night, which was broadcast in HD, and because this was not an HD set the picture didn't fill the screen. So she couldn't read the headline crawl on the bottom at all. We did like the nightstands, which have 2 very deep drawers. The bed had enough light for reading, although the bathroom could have used more light. And like many hotel bathrooms in Las Vegas, it had very little water pressure. There was a nice fridge in the closet, but it did not have a small frozen section like some. The Strip view was outstanding, and although we didn't pay extra for it, IMO TI along with MB are the only two hotels that are worth paying extra for a view of the Strip.

We go downstairs and I check out the casino. Most of the full pay JOB machines are still there from previous visits, no Pai Gow table for me but there is Pai Gow Poker with $10 minimum on Saturday, and they do have a couple of my wife's favorite WOZ machines. So at least there are things for us to play here. I place bets on 4 California races, so that time handicapping on the plane wasn't wasted, and we kill the afternoon walking around and playing a little in the casino.

Three of the four horses win, although the best was only 7-2, so along with a quick $20 profit on WOZ, and a loss the same size on VP it was a profitable afternoon. And at least we put a few points on the cards so TI knew we were there and actually gambled a little.

Around 5pm we walked to Bills and took the shuttle to Orleans. Normally we wouldn't do much walking in December, instead taking cabs. But my wife wanted to get more exercise this trip, so we went out of our way to walk as often as possible.

Dinner was at Big Al's Oyster Bar. It has reached the point where I almost never order an entrée at Big Al's anymore. The reason we go there is for the clam chowder, and it is so filling that ordering an entrée is just overkill and we would just be forcing ourselves to needlessly eat more. So dinner is 2 salads, 2 bowls of chowder and 2 Iced Teas, $31.28.

We have tickets to see Lee Ann Womack tonight. One of the really great things about being in Las Vegas during the rodeo and the American Country Awards is that country performers are playing all over town. Orleans show room is the perfect venue, just the right size so there are really no bad seats.

I wasn't very familiar with Lee Ann's music. Sometimes you will go see a singer and during the show you'll think 'I remember that song' or 'I didn't know she sang that song.' Well that didn't happen this time. Not once. But the show was pleasant enough, and my wife enjoyed it, so I'm glad we went.

After the show we went to play some VP by the lounge, and as we walked by the band was playing 'Runaround Sue' so of course I was immediately roped in. They were a country band named Mammoth Jack and we stayed for most of two sets. I grew up with Rock n Roll, but with the right crowd Country Music can make for fun and lively times. And in Vegas this week it was all about Country.

We did take a cab back, one of the very few this trip. For those keeping track, and we were, my wife took 10,000 steps today.

Sunday Dec. 4th
We woke up to a phone call at 7:30am. It was kind of hard to complain, as the person was just returning our message left at 11:30pm the night before. You would think that all of us live the same hours in Las Vegas, but I guess it doesn't work that way. It was the father of the bride. Today was the wedding, and we had to arrange to stop by and pick up our wristbands for the event.

This morning we were finally going to make it to the Jazz Brunch at Country Club Grill. I had been looking forward to this for a couple of years, but we just couldn't work it into our schedules. It was worth the wait.

There was a 3-piece band in the main room, but I asked to be seated in the room on the side with a view of the waterfall. So we had both the view and some excellent background music. This was perfect for us, a buffet that emphasized quality over quantity, with everything very fresh and some special and unique touches. For our entrees my wife chose the Vanilla Bean French Toast and I had the BBQ pulled pork and poached egg. Brunch was a very relaxed 90 minutes and overall a very nice experience. 2 Jazz Brunch $107.26, 1 Baileys & Coffee $9, 1 Fiji Water $8.50, total $147.34.

After brunch we walked to Venetian and spent some time with the parents of the bride, arranging to meet with them again in a couple of hours at the ceremony. Then it was back to TI to get ready and watch the start of the Marathon on TV.

The full marathon started at 4pm, with the ½ marathon beginning at 5:30pm. The full Marathon had 6000 entrants, while the ½ Marathon had 38,000 participate. It was televised live in Las Vegas, and we were hoping to be able to watch the first of the runners come down the Strip from our room at TI. Unfortunately the marathon route took them west of the Strip for some distance, and we had to leave before the runners returned to Las Vegas Blvd.

The wedding ceremony itself took place in front of the Mirage Volcano. The family and guests of those getting married had a special viewing area, and we headed there just before 5pm to stake out some close spots, that would allow us to not only see the ceremony but also hopefully get some good photos.

There were 40 couples getting married for the 1st time, and 64 couples either getting married again or renewing their vows. With a couple of exceptions, all of these couples ran in the ½ Marathon in one group, and tried to stick together and arrive at the Mirage around the same time. It was a completely choreographed event, scheduled to start at exactly 6:20 pm and shown live on a number of Las Vegas TV stations.

We waited patiently for over an hour, and eventually couples started arriving. Of course we were waiting for one particular couple, and they didn't arrive for about another 10 minutes. Due to our prime spots we were able to get a few photos of the couple before the ceremony started about 10 minutes later.

It was quite a sight to see, 100 couples all dressed in their own unique idea of wedding finery combined with running wear. Our groom was quite dashing in his running shirt with a picture of Wall-E, a set of Mickey Mouse ears and a top hat. But the bride was the center of attention, in her shirt with a picture of Eva, a set of Minnie Mouse ears, princess tiara, and of course a veil.

The ceremony was actually quite nice. For the 4th year in a row the same Minister was running in the race with the wedding participants and also officiating. She did a very good job with the timing, almost getting it perfect. At the end, as the couples were kissing, the Mirage Volcano was set off in the background.

Then there was a period of 10-15 minutes when most of the couples posed for pictures for family, and then it was back to complete the race as Mr. & Mrs. We all then went to the parent's suite at Venetian for a mini-reception, which lasted for a couple of hours.
When we got home my wife looked up the results on the Marathon's website. The happy couple finished the race hand-in-hand (pictures on the site) in a time of 4 hours 21 minutes, and placing 33,171st & 33,172nd.

We left the Venetian a little after 9pm and to our surprise it started to rain. We felt sorry for the bulk of the runners who hadn't finished the race yet. And for the next couple of hours you could see them in the hotels wearing thermal covers that were handed out when they finished.

We were hungry not having eaten since brunch, but didn't want to walk anywhere in the rain (the Strip was still closed). So we had what was certainly our most overpriced meal of the trip at the TI Coffee Shop. 2 Clubhouse Sandwiches $29.90, 2 Iced Teas $7, total $40.89.

We may have played a little VP, but if we did it wasn't for long. It was a very long day and we deserved some rest.
BTW: We were up to 12,000 steps today.

Monday Dec. 5th
We set the alarm for 8am as we had the Wedding Reception at 9:30. The reception was held in a private room at Dal Toro restaurant at Palazzo. Because of the time a breakfast buffet was set up and there was an open bar.
I think there were about 30 people, although the room could easily have held 50 comfortably. It was an excellent venue for a reception this size.

Of course the bride and groom attended this reception. They were looking forward to winding up their Las Vegas experience with a visit to the Gun Store to try their hand at firing machine guns. Isn't it wonderful how Las Vegas has something for everyone? Then it was home for a couple of days before the happy couple went to Orlando for their Honeymoon, which includes another charity event called the Goofy Run.

After the reception we walked over to Bellagio and went to the Conservatory. To my recollection this was the first time we've seen the Christmas display. I have to admit that we weren't very impressed. Possibly it was the throng of people milling around that we have to fight through, or maybe it's just that we've seen it so often that the artistry doesn't move us anymore.

We took the tram to Monte Carlo and walked over to the M&M Store. We don't shop often in Las Vegas, but when we do the M&M Store is our store of choice, and one of the few we can't find at home. It was the perfect place to find a present for our grandson's 5th birthday party on Saturday. But of course, we didn't stop there. This place must make a fortune on grandparents alone.

The American Country Awards were this afternoon. Almost all awards shows in Las Vegas start at 5pm to be shown live on the east coast, and are then shown on a tape delay on the West Coast, and this one was no exception. So we took another rare cab to the MGM Arena around 4:30. We are not Red Carpet people, so we went right to our seats. Having been to both the Arena and Awards shows before, we knew better than to sit on the floor, so we had seats midway up the stadium seating on the left side near the stage.

From a technical POV the show seemed perfect to us, although of course we didn't see the TV product. No problems with timing, the seat-fillers did an excellent job and are always interesting to watch, and the set and band changes all went well. Every time we see a live show, with the commercial pauses, I think of The Grand Old Opry where the audience gets to enjoy the broadcast of the commercials.

The show itself was two hours. The byplay between the hosts, Trace Adkins and Kristin Chenoweth, was humorous as they emphasized the large height difference between the couple. Because I didn't follow Country Music the past year I wasn't familiar with some of the songs or even a couple of the nominees, but my wife knew them all. It was very much a made for TV event, but never the less enjoyable and a fun experience. One thing I did notice, while Carrie Underwood was a major performer and one of the big winners this year she was in and out of the audience. But Taylor Swift, certainly one of Country's current big stars, remained in the audience the entire show even though she did not win an award or appear on stage at all.

We didn't have any plans so we wandered around and ended up at Emerils for dinner. I guess it's a sign of the times that we could walk up without reservations, after a major event at the Arena at 7:30 pm, and be seated right away. In a very rare instance we decided against appetizers or salads, and because I wanted the Mac n Cheese as a side we had a 35-minute wait for our meal. So naturally we met the mother and daughter at the next table, who had come just for dessert, and had a very nice conversation. And what's so great about this is that nobody considers this strange or unusual in Las Vegas. My wife had the salmon and I has the poached chicken, and both were excellent. And yes, the Mac N Cheese is worth waiting for. 2 Ice Teas $9, 1 Chicken $30, 1 Salmon $33, 1 Mac n Cheese $10, 1 Asparagus $10, Total $98.72.

Even though it was 10pm, and much colder than these wimpy Californians are used to, we walked back to TI. For those keeping track with us, 20,000 steps!

Tuesday Dec. 6th
This was as close as we had to a free day this trip. My wife went to the TI fitness center and spa and I had the afternoon to play some poker. She was impressed with the fitness center, although not so much with the spa. According to her the waiting lounge was lacking. The chairs were not comfortable and there wasn't enough reading light. She wasn't expecting the facilities that come with the better spas, but was hoping for a peaceful place to relax for a few hours.

After a little VP at TI, I walked over to Wynn in search of a poker game. To my surprise they didn't have a game that suited my style of play. I knew it was 11am on a Tuesday in December, but this never happened at Wynn before. So I found a couple of the few remaining 8/5 JOB machines at Wynn and put $20 on each of our cards to keep them active.
I was able to find a seat in $4-$8 game at Venetian and immediately went card dead for a couple of hours. After a test of patience, I finally got a few cards to play the last hour. So I played until 3pm registering a win of $112.
Tuesday night in Las Vegas for us is Trivia Night at McMullan's Irish Pub. So around 5pm we walked over to Bills and took the shuttle to Orleans. We played a little Pai Gow Poker, where the cards I got were just brutal but I only lost around $50. Around 7:15pm we walked over to McMullans where we were later joined by Shotlady and Lahoree, for a Trivia mini-M&G.

The trivia contest at McMullan's has 7 rounds and takes about two hours. With the right people it can be a lot of fun. Because we wanted a larger table this time, we were stuck in a back room with mostly somewhat serious teams, so we didn't have the interaction with other tables that we usually have. But we had our own group so really didn't need it.

Between the four of us we did pretty well. Sometimes laughing at the questions that none of us knew, and other times amazed at the answers one of us would come up with. And really taking pleasure in the ones we didn't know for sure, but managed to guess right by working together to figure it out.
We did really well in a few of the rounds, and even held our own in the picture round. But of course we were done in as usual by the music round where we only got 2 correct (Grease & Li'l Darlin). One of these days we are going to bring along a young couple to help us with the more recent musical periods, lol.

With the help of our new friends we had our best showing ever, amassing 52 points and finishing right in the middle of the 30 teams. We were no real threat to the eventual winners who ended up with 71 points. But we were reasonably competitive, and had a great time, along with some decent drinks and good pub food.

We walked over to Orleans, where Lahoree tried to show us his slot system for WOF, which I'm sure works a lot better if you hit a jackpot or two, lol.

Shotlady very bravely allowed us to show her Pai Gow Poker. The table was friendly and the game was fun. The dealer was getting some pretty bad hands, so everyone on the table did well, except for me as I was still in my PGP funk. I hope Shotlady doesn't think it's always going to be that easy. And I hope we didn't create a monster, we had to leave after about an hour, but she kept playing without us, lol.
No step-count tonight because they would include the fitness center.

Wednesday Dec. 7th
We weren't leaving for the airport until 12:30pm so I called down and asked for a late check out, and was told noon. I explained that I needed 12:30, and was again told noon by the clerk. No sense arguing, so I replied I would do my best, and then left the room at 12:30pm. I checked on the internet when I got home, and as far as I could tell my staying the extra 30 minutes didn't cause any permanent damage to TI.

We went to the breakfast buffet and it was exactly as we expected. You very much do get what you pay for at Las Vegas buffets. But it gave my wife a chance to have a plate of fruit and I was able to get my bacon fix.

Our plane landed at home at 4:30pm. We picked up our car and drove straight to Kaiser, where my wife attended the final group meeting for the Asthma Study. And her efforts were rewarded when the scale showed that she lost 1 and ½ lbs in Las Vegas.

Every time we return from a 4-night Las Vegas trip I find myself wishing we had booked 5 nights instead, but not this time. This time it was just right.

Opinions, Thoughts, and Conclusions.
This was one of those trips that make you feel great about Las Vegas. Between the Rodeo, The Marathon, and the American Country Awards, it was a wonderful time to be there.

Everywhere we went there were cowboys, and all the hotels rolled out the red carpets for them. Some actually showed the rodeo telecasts live, and many had Country Music to draw them in. And I don't blame them, from what we could see they are the perfect Vegas Visitors. The fact that they don't mind spending money to have a good time is part of the reason, but also because they are respectful about it. Respectful to employees and even to other guests, such a refreshing change from the typical younger crowd around most weekends. They were a lot of fun to be around.

The wedding was a truly unique experience, and we were so lucky to be a part of it. It isn't exactly our idea of the traditional romantic ceremony, but then again it wasn't our wedding. The bride and groom were happy to have a ceremony that reflected their feelings, and if that isn't the perfect wedding I don't know what is.

I was so focused on attending the wedding that it didn't occur to me that the Marathon might be an event worth experiencing on it's own. If we ever go back again I will make sure to be there Saturday morning to watch the Santa Run and possibly the Stiletto Dash that afternoon.

We enjoyed our stay at TI. For an economy hotel it has a lot to offer, and we will certainly consider staying there in the future. But only if it's not pool season, as the pool is sorely lacking.

We did a lot this trip but still managed to take our time doing it, if that makes any sense. We obviously walked a lot more than any of our other winter trips. The weather was colder than we prefer, but not bad for December.

Gambling was an even smaller part of this trip than usual, but we really didn't miss it. I made a few dollars on the races and playing poker, but ended up losing about the same amount on VP.

We really enjoyed the atmosphere in Vegas this week, and my wife has already mentioned going back the same time next year. Maybe we will just bask in the glow of this trip for a while before making that decision.

Our next trip is booked for the 1st week of March to attend the WCC Basketball Tournament. I'm looking forward to that one and another new experience.