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Monday, June 30, 2008

I'M BETTING ON A GREAT LAS VEGAS WEEKEND--Part I

A long weekend in Las Vegas to attend the wedding of our friend Heather means a great catch-up time—not only with our son, Michael on leave from Iraq and our wonderful daughter-in-law, Leslie, and a large part of Heather’s clan—but also for Rob and me who seem to show up in Vegas about every twenty years! This is our third visit, so we get to see Vegas’ third reincarnation!!

Rob and I visited Las Vegas twice before: In 1971 (yes, ancient history) after driving our VW convertible (top up) through Death Valley. It was dark when we pulled into a motel (yes, aren’t motels ancient history?). In the morning we looked out our back window and saw nothing but desert. There was a road in front, the forerunner of the strip, and lots of signs advertising land for sale! If only....

The second time was in 1988 for the PMA convention, and this Las Vegas was the era of Caesar's Place, the Flamingo, the Tropicana, the Sahara and the famous personalities and revues. Hotels abounded, and there was a lot of action. Las Vegas had grown into a city, and we were amazed. But what seemed grand in ‘88 is inconsequential now.

Though we've heard of today's Las Vegas, nothing prepares us for the flight in. Through the plane’s windows we see far-reaching neighborhoods stretching out into the desert. We enter a different and amazing world. Some of the 1988 hotels are still there, but they are dwarfed by the hotels in this reinvented city.

We are staying in the MGM Grand, and on the main floor among the zillion slot machines, gaming tables, restaurants, and shops is Lion Habitat. Wow! Supposedly the lions featured in this free exhibit are direct descendants of the original MGM lion, Metro. These lions roam in a glass habitat built so we can walk around it on one level to see the lions and walk under it on another level to get a different perspective. Through the glass we can get very close. The lions are unperturbed.

The two trainers, who work six-day weeks to maximize their up-close time with the animals, are right in the cage with the lions, becoming part of the pride. This relationship allows special interaction I’ve never seen before. The lions rub their faces against the trainers’, showing affection and saying hello. It’s amazing to see. Rob and I spent a lot a time at Lion Habitat; it is impossible to simply walk through and walk away. It's fascinating to see the interaction between man and beast. You have to see it to believe it.

The MGM Grand is humungous. I cannot begin to estimate the size of the hotel, but it is monstrous and spread out in such a way that we can spend an entire day moving through the casino, the restaurants, the shops, theaters, clubs, and exhibits. We drop into the Stage Deli for lunch--yes, an offshoot of New York's famous deli. That's why we selected it for lunch. Around us are TV screens featuring basketball’s March madness, and there's not only gambling going on but also partisanship and applauding and hooting when favored teams score. The hotel is a playground, and it's a lot of fun! Rob and I aren’t really the kind of guests Las Vegas craves. There was so much to see and do that we only hit the casino once.

Back in New York we'd ordered tickets to Blue Man Group through the MGM’s concierge, but to exchange our vouchers, we have to head up to the theater located in the Venetian Hotel. We’re told the earlier we show, the better the seats. The Venetian Hotel is on our Must See list anyway, so this is not a problem.

The Venetian is phenomenal. It brings the outside world inside but only after we’ve walked through the inside world. Sound confusing? It is. But it is so fantastic, it is almost beyond belief.

We enter to blinding gold everywhere--painted ceilings, sculptures, and an incredibly long corridor. We pick up our Blue Man Group tickets and head down the corridor, through the casino, up the escalators, through the Grand Canal Shoppes, and into Venice. Here the outdoors are indoors. Here is the Grand Canal with gondolas and singing gondoliers. Here is St. Mark's Square with performance artists, musicians, restaurants and shops--even Murano glass is sold here. It's astounding. Like everything in Vegas, it is so huge it is difficult to comprehend. It is smile evoking. We do pass on the gondola ride at $15.00 per, but we take photos, and these I share with you. Remember, this is all inside the hotel!

Rob and I dine in Noodle Asian--delicious! Then to The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Too for some coffee, and we're there when Michael and Leslie call because they’re trying to find us before the show. They never do find us; the place is too huge and confusing, and we don't meet them until after the show. The theater, by the way, dwarfs any Broadway house. As with everything else, it is super sized. In addition to Blue Man Group, there are Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys, a comedy show and a joint exhibition of the Guggenheim Museum and the Hermitage of Modern Masters as possibilities in the Venetian Hotel. All in individual theaters or showcases, and I've not included any of the clubs or restaurants in this list. It boggles the mind!

Blue Man Group is beyond description. I think you have to be a slightly demented genius to think up the various marvelous routines, but this is one of the most original and wonderful theatrical events I've ever attended. I am soooo glad Spamalot (our original choice) was sold out! Even the audience participants are good sports, easing right into the spirit of the evening. The first three rows of audience wear plastic rain gear, and there is a good reason for that with paint splattering all over. The entire audience participates, decorating ourselves with rolled paper and reading our cues on the moving LED board. Spectacle is the order of the performance, and the technical virtuosity of the creators makes this an evening to remember. If you have a chance to see Blue Man Group, don't pass up the opportunity.

Needless to say, by the time the show is over we are really wiped out--the three hour time difference, the excitement, etc., but at 7 the following morning we are up to meet some friends--the bride's mother, aunt, and cousin for a two-hour coffee, fruit and yogurt breakfast at Starbucks. Then off we go to explore separately and rendezvous at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville at 4 PM. It's a great day to explore Las Vegas without being rushed because we’ll be back; this grown-up playground is a place we will re-visit, and not after another 20 years!


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