Return to the Pyramid!

Las Vegas Trip Report June 5 to June 9, 1999


After hearing the salacious rumors and reading the dizzying reports from ďbillhereĒ, we had our hearts set on a Dennis Rodman sighting. 8-) We were really looking forward to being paid anywhere from $200 to $500 to not play at his Blackjack table, to see and hear the hoopla and women throwing themselves on him with our own eyes. At best we figured maybe he would throw a punch and we could sue for $250k or more. Following is a report on that perverse quest. (Iím joking of course.) This was our first trip back since our honeymoon in April 1998.

Luxor
Once again we had a great stay there. We stayed in a jacuzzi suite in the pyramid on the 22nd floor North West side with a lovely view looking out over the towers and Excaliber. Since we were VIP status (with Gold Chamber check in which was nice) due to our comped room from the GM they held a nice room for us. Which was great since we were delayed so long and did not arrive until about 10pm. This time the jacuzzi was clean and since it was early by Las Vegas standards and we could really use it from that trip we hopped into the jacuzzi for a hot steam and ordered room service. :) 

Throughout our trip at the Luxor we perused the casino but no Dennis Rodman sighting. As we were sitting having drinks in Nefertiriís Lounge (drinks there not that great), a woman started screaming about her jackpot on a slot machine. I glanced over and told my brother, Ben, it was no big deal since the light wasnít flashing. I went over anyway and sure enough she had won 450 quarters. A nice jackpot but no flashing lights. 

It seems they have also removed (and moved) a number of slot machines we enjoyed playing last year. Probably because they were too loose. In fact it seems theyíve tightened up the already tight slots there (and in all the strip casinos) . 

The pastries at the Luxor Coffee shop on the attractions level are really good. I had a danish and cruller which were great. The coffee was not so great. It seems theyíve lowered the price of the lunch buffet ($7.99) so now itís only 50 cents more than breakfast. I remember it as being $8.99 or so.

The only real problem we had was at check out. At 10:30 in the morning on Weds there were huge lines of people waiting to check in which made it tough for those checking out and Gold Chamber was closed. Finally someone came to the Gold Chamber desk and I ran to be first in line. It turned out that it was good I didnít do express check out and just leave cause they really screwed up the bill. We were supposed to be comped the first two nights and then pay $75 for the remaining two nights in the suite (since the regular rate for a suite is $250 to $350 this was quite a bargain!). However, even after this was confirmed when I checked in, somehow someone managed to screw it up and there was a $125 charge for the first two nights and a $89 charge for the 2nd two nights. I showed the woman my confirmation letter and she very quickly and efficiently straightened it all out. (See 4/98 trip repot. The reason we were comped 2 nights was because I wrote a letter to the GM after our honeymoon explaining nicely what we enjoyed about Luxor but also the major problems we had. He wrote back apologizing with the offer for our next trip out.)

Venetian
We wanted to see some of the new casinos so we headed over to the Venetian. We had read wonderful, sparkling, glossy ads in the America West magazine about the new shops and such. Well, no such luck. They were still finishing the outside and the shops were not due to open for another week. We would be gone by then. 

As I always say, for most part, once youíve seen one casino youíre seen them all. (Except for Luxor and its Egyptian theme!) The Venetian casino is pretty standard to a laymanís eyes. However, the waitresses attire in the Rialto Café is quite something else! Iíve never seen such an excitingly delicious combination of scant attire and fashion anywhere! :)  If you go there (aside from the new Emeril's) thatís as good a reason as any to go check it out. And no Dennis Rodman sighting. 

My brother heard it was a good place to play blackjack since they were training their dealers and he was right. Within half an hour he won a nice little sum of money.

Let me elaborate on my ďyouíve seen one casino youíve seen them allĒ statement. Ok, thatís a bit of an exaggeration. When thereís lots of people (and Dennis Rodman) and the action is hot (and youíre winning!), casinos can be exciting places to hang out. Going from the nice, new hotels and casinos to the older ones downtown, you can clearly see that the ones on the strip are much nicer and posher. The hotels and casinos downtown are a bit dated, run down, and showing their age. The thing is that when you are in a place like Las Vegas with so many casinos to visit, after a while they all sort of blend together. 
 

Bellagio
As I expected with all the hype and rumor surrounding this much heralded new miracle of a hotel/casino, the Bellagio oozes class and style from every pore right down to no kid enforcing bouncers, renaissance style floor and ceiling tiles, and the haughty airs of the shoppers at Gucci and Prada. Bellagio oozes high fashion and style like nothing else on the strip. Except maybe for the Forum Shops and the new shops at the Venetian if they ever open. 

Of course you canít hear it but my voice is oozing high fashion sarcasm as I type this. Letís get down to business! Youíve seen one casino, youíve seen them all. :) Youíve seen one Rodeo Drive or 5th Avenue, youíve seen them all. Overall Bellagio looks like they put a lot of attention to detail and money into it and thatís nice. Itís very nice and impressive. But really, Iím just a down home sucker for that Egyptian crap over at the Luxor. 

The thing I noticed about the casino (which I didn't realize at first) is that you don't hear the slot machine noise you hear at other casinos. It's quiet. And that means no winning noises either. No Dennis Rodman sighting although I didnít think there would be considering the no kids rule and the bouncers enforcing it at the entrances.  And yes, we saw a burly red coated bouncer deny access to some woman with her kids despite a plea to ďjust see the lobbyĒ. 

The lobby with its glass flower ceiling was wonderful. To each side of the reception area are new works by Robert Rauschenberg made specifically for Bellagio in which items in the painting represent something about Bellagio.  The atrium outside the art museum is light, open, and airy with lovely gardens. We were very impressed with the tile work. 

We ate/drank at the resturant next to the museum while waiting to get in. My $4 glass of OJ was not as fresh as it couldíve been. Jenís (Ben's friend) french toast was very good though. From there we had a great view of the very nice pool area.  Job well done there. 
One resturant we were surprised but happy to see in the shops area was Olives. Apparently itís an outlet of the original Olives from Charlestown in Boston. (Although I live in the Boston area, we still havenít gone there but plan to soon!) Itís one of the most popular Boston resturants and considered one of the best. 
At night we saw the fountain show outside which was very nice and colorful.

Sometimes the best finds are the small things you have to go looking for. On the way to the swimming pool, off in one of the corridors away from the casino is a little place called the Gellato Cafe. The pastries and gellato were to die for and the sandwiches on Foccacia bread were very good!!! I had a smoked salmon sandwich with probably half a pound of salmon (which should go for about $13) for $6. We were impressed! We ate one of the brownies with icing and sugar dust which was divine! 

The Bellagio Art Museum
We went on a Monday and had only a 2 hour wait to get in when we bought our tickets. (I should preface this by saying I've been to most of the major art museums in America and Europe and minored in Art History in college.)

I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed with the museum and it's art.  The hushed silence when you enter is quite a contrast to the bustle of the atrium area. The works in the  gallery's two small rooms are separated by a large wall and in time by the 20th century (pre and post 1900).

The rooms are darkened and the paintings are illuminated by small spots around the room. (There are also many of those little black camera globes too.) The lighting was superb because I could view the paintings from many angles without any glare
from the lights which often happens at many museums. It's a very good survey of western art; samples from the baroque and impressionist eras to 20th century modern works. These aren't just token show pieces but masterworks in their own right. We were particularly impressed with the Van Goghs and two wonderful Renoirs which I never knew existed. One Renoir in particular depicted a palm tree pathway somewhere in Algiers and displayed a style of Renoir's I had never seen. It was stunning.

Of course, one of the ironies of all this is that everything in Vegas is a copy but in the midst of all that are these originals. They give you a hand held device in which you listen to Steve Wynn ramble on, often at length, about the paintings.  Some of it is informative and other times I just switched to the next painting. Once you hear it though his voice is unmistakable. That night on TV, I noticed his voice narrating an ad for Siegfried and Roy.

Slots
In general it seems the strip hotels have tightened up their already tight slots. It was like trying to squeeze water from a stone. To heck with them, weíre not wasting our money on their slots anymore! We had much better luck and a much better time at older casinos like the Rivera and the Lucky Lady. There more often you hear the chink chink chink of change falling down a chute than on the strip. 

Steve Wyrick at the Lucky Lady
If you want to see a good Las Vegas magic show without paying the high prices of the strip then this is it! (With coupons from ďbillhereĒ we got $10 off per ticket and paid $23 each.) Steve is a nice guy and his tricks are top notch. However, you can see that itís not a polished show like the Lance Burton or Siegfried & Roy shows, and heís paying his dues. He made a few mistakes but fortunately not when it counted. :) 

George Popovich at Circus Circus
The best show in Las Vegas is also free! Itís George Popovich and his trained cats and dogs!! We saw him last year on Penn and Tellerís Sin City tv show on cable. We love cats and knew we had to go! But at the time we didnít know where he performed. We found out on the internet (of course!). I had forgotten his name and just called CC and asked when the performing cats were on. They gave me show times for the next few days. My wife is a cat fanatic and was totally delighted. It really is quite something to see cats performing tricks that most people would say are impossible; that cats canít be trained. We consider ourselves lucky to have seen the act because he tours a bit. 

Emerilís
Our big splurge (since we didnít go to the new O and Lance Burton was on vacation) was Emerilís Fish House at the MGM. I was surprised at how casual it was. Plain old shirts (some hawaiin) and slacks for guys. What can I say except that the service and food was exceptional. Total bill was $130 with tax and tip. We only had two glasses of wine. We shared an appetizer of poached oysters on toast which had a mild taste of the sea. We each ordered a grilled fish dish (bass and mahi mahi) both cooked to perfection and with sauces that were out of this world. The grande finale, banana cream pie (his specialty) drizzled with caramel, was extraordinary. It was a memorable meal.

One can have exceptional meals in any price category. Itís not what you pay for a meal that makes it good nor is high price any indicator of quality or something to your liking. We enjoyed it. I received an email from a couple (in reponse to this trip report) who were there about the same time as us celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and enjoyed it very much as well. 

Of course to get anywhere in the MGM Grand we had to go through the casino. I did a spot check but Dennis Rodman was not in attendance. 

Rent-an-Elvis
My brothers came up with the idea to do a goof video for our Dadís birthday and since two of us were both there at the same time, we did some filming around the strip. My brother, Ben, rented an Elvis impersonator to play a guy who married our Dad to some casino girl named Ginger way back when. He found an Elvis impersonator named Brendan Paul who does the Elvis role at the Imperial Palace's Legends in Concert show. The guy was very nice and did a great job for us on the video. If you need to hire an Elvis for your next wedding in Vegas, heís the one to get! Heís not cheap but it will be worth it!!! My wife and I would eventually like hire him when we renew our vows in Vegas for our 10th anniversary.  :) Call Brendan at (702)450-9548 leave him a message and he'll call you back.

The Peppermill Lounge
This legend of Las Vegas lives on and we indoctrinated my brother and his girlfriend into this unique lounge experience.  Ben got hooked on the Pina Coladas and couldnít wait to go back the next day.  I had told him to rent ďCasinoĒ before we went which has a scene from the Peppermill in it.  The Peppermill is right next to the Riviera. 

The Star Trek Experience
Kathy and I went on the ride twice last time (which we loved) so this time we just went back for lunch. The food is very good. We had the Betazed onion rings which were big and tasty. I had the Sulu salad which was great. The infused vodka martini drink was not that hot.

It seems theyíve toned down the loud video which was really annoying last time. It was a much more pleasant atmosphere to hang out in. Of course they have those costumed characters from the show who come up to your table and talk to you. The Ferengi was nice enough and we took a photo with him. The Klingon on the other hand was another matter. Talk about a guy getting into the part. I think he was one of those people who spend their weekends in Klingon attire at conventions with their Klingon ďshipmatesĒ and who learn to speak Klingon at Klingon language camp. (Go see the movie Trekkies and youíll see what I mean.) I tried to joke around with him but he acted like I had insulted his honor, and if not for being a diplomat on a starbase, he wouldíve taken a batleth to my head. I told him Iíd wouldíve gone for mine in the back of my pickup truck in the parking lot. He was not amused. So the lesson is, donít mess with the Klingons. :) 

Fremont Street
Since weíd never been there of course we had to go. We didnít care if most natives considered it the biggest tourist trap and ripoff of Las Vegas. We were, after all, tourists!!! :) The overhead light and sound show was cool. However, we lucked out seeing it because after the 9pm show they didnít do it again I think due to a big private block party they were having with a band further down near the neon cowboy Vic. 
We checked out the neon museum which is down the street from it. It was very cool to see those old Vegas neon classics! 

Weíd never been to Binions so we went in an walked around. We saw the million dollars. It seemed to be a happening place cause all the tables were filled with people. So either itís happening or itís just smaller than most places so it just seems that way. We looked but Dennis Rodman was nowhere in sight. 

Traffic
Traffic seems to have gotten worse since we last visited. One day it took us 10 minutes just to get past Circus Circus for no reason. Other than perhaps bad light timing. Another day during the week it took 20 minutes to drive the length of the stip from the Mirage to the Bellagio!!! After the Bellagio traffic clears out. What the heck is that all about?! The night we went back from the Fremont experience I figured Iíd take 15 and be up to the Luxor in a jiffy. Wrong! We left at 10pm and ran into a tremendous construction backup near Sahara. So we got out at Sahara and I figured Iíd go up the strip. No such luck! It was the damn Circus Circus light backup! So I turned around and went down some road and then turned right onto Paradise. It was smooth sailing until the Hard Rock in which there was a huge backup again. It took 15 minutes to get past there and there was no major traffic associated with the Hard Rock. It was just the poor timing of the stupid lights there!!! Someone at City Hall needs to get a clue!!!! We got back to Luxor at 10:45. I remember when that ride from downtown up the Strip would take 10 minutes! HA! As much as we love Las Vegas and had a great time, we felt this frustration was fraying the magical veneer of Las Vegas. 

But we'll be back!

There were other things we wanted to do which we did not have time for and will just have to wait until our next trip. Like Lance Burton, O, Speed World at the Sahara, and Fly Away. We didnít have any Dennis Rodman sightings but we didnít go to the Hard rock which is one of his hangouts anyway. We realize that Dennis may go broke by the time we go back so we may never end up seeing him in action at a casino in Vegas. Oh well. (Better to see Michael Jackson at Bellagio buying a $200,000 bracelet at Tiffanyís). Life just isnít always fair I guess. 8-) You canít always get what you want. But sometimesÖ. 

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Copyright 1999 David Weinstein, zmax@world.std.com