One Man's Eyes

I'm an early 30's engineer with delusions of adequacy. From here, I'll share my perspective, usually through words, sometimes through pictures, of the view of the world from one man's eyes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Las Vegas Trip - Travel Report...Part 3

Alright, time to get back on this report. When we last left our heroes, they had just returned from an all day adventure to the Grand Canyon.
Knowing this would take a good bit out of us, I decided that Tuesday would be something unique. Honestly, had it not been for reading some Las Vegas review sites and the Tripadvisor forum, I don't think it's something I would have come up with on my own. We scheduled the major part of the day around the Qua Spa at Caesars. As seems to be the case with most of the Vegas hotels, access to the fitness center requires a separate daily fee. Caesars, along with most, give access to the fitness center if you also get a day pass to the Spa. And, above that, at Caesars at least, if you schedule a treatment, such as a massage, access to the Spa and fitness center for that day are also included. The reviews of Qua in particular were good, so I decided that, since we were staying at Caesars, we ought to try it out. Jen and I each scheduled a classic massage for the early afternoon. This allowed us to sleep in, catch a late breakfast, and then head over.
We were actually feeling pretty good after breakfast, and both spent time at the fitness center first. I had a good workout, starting on what was probably the nicest treadmill I've ever seen, followed by a round on the various weight machines. The fitness center itself is coed, so Jen and I were together for this portion. After that, we were each on our own as the Spa area has separate areas for men and women. We agreed on a time, a few hours after our treatments, to meet back at the room. We had a good hour and a half before our treatments to explore and use the spa. I definitely agree with the recommendations that I read to get to the spa before the treatments to take advantage of the facility.
There were several dry and wet steam rooms, along with "Arctic Ice" cold room, and the Roman Ritual baths. I spent time in all of them before my massage session. Having never been to such a place, we talked with the advisor when we scheduled our sessions about the etiquette of the area. On the men's side, I was provided with a robe and a locker to put my clothes into. I wore a towel for the most part when in the steam rooms, but went bare when in the tubs. That was pretty typical, though there were a few who wore swim trunks the whole time. The lighting is subdued and relaxing. There's water and towels available everywhere, along with fruit, teas, and juices in a central room where you can relax and wait to be called for your session. I enjoyed the scented steam room and the Roman Ritual Baths the most. The "Artic Ice" room was brisk, but the "snow" consisted of soap bubbles blown into the room and I found they irritated my nose. I noticed this was the case for a few others as well. The Roman Ritual Baths have three jacuzzi tubs. The largest is the Tepidarium, where the water temperature is about body temperature. I spent a good bit of time relaxing there. This is the launching point to the other two tubs, one hot (the Caldarium) one very cold (the Frigidarium). I could handle a fair bit of time in the hot tub, but just a few minutes in the cold. That cold tub definitely wakes you up and appreciate the return to the Tepidarium.
I used the showers to get cleaned up and relaxed in the lounge with a banana and juice when my appointment time drew near. There were a few of us with appointments at the same time and we were escorted back to the treatment room area and introduced to our artisans. When scheduling the appointment, we were asked if we had gender preferences for the artisan doing the massage. We both decided we didn't have a preference. Mine turned out to be a young woman.
Getting massages is something that my wife and I had talked about getting done for a long time, but we just never pursued it. I decided that, being in Vegas with access to these facilities, it was a good opportunity to give it a try. My treatment was essentially a full body "classic" Swedish massage. The room had subdued lighting and calming New Age type music played. I even recognized a few tracks from my own music library. The artisan asked if there was a particular area that needed focus. I figured my lower back was probably in need of most work. However, after she worked up to my neck and shoulders, it was clear that I was extremely tight there. The artisan paid extra attention to my head, neck and shoulders. Man, was it fantastic. When she was done, I felt more relaxed and loosened up than I can ever remember.
While we paid for the treatments when we scheduled them, as in a restaurant, there was a slip in the room at the end to leave a gratuity for the artisan. I was quite happy to leave a good tip. Afterward, she escorted me back to the spa area and I spent another hour or so enjoying the tubs and relaxing before heading back to the room. While, on the one hand, it is something of an annoyance that access to the fitness center and spa are a cost adder, I appreciated the fact that it also meant that the facilities weren't overcrowded with people and I was able to enjoy the space. I would have to say that Qua was probably our favorite part of our Caesars experience.
Since I had picked Le Reve as our "water show" for this trip to Vegas, I decided that we also would see an actual Cirque du Soleil show as well. Cirque is running a summer special in Vegas for all their shows - buy a regular price ticket, and "bring a friend" for $25. Based on a number of good reviews, and it's proximity to where we were staying, I had booked tickets for Mystere at Treasure Island for our evening's entertainment.
Having been through the Forum Shops a few days before, we decided to have dinner at The Cheesecake Factory before the show. Both our meals were very good and we each chose a different cheesecake for dessert. We ended up with extra time before the show and extra cheesecake, so we took them back up to our room to save for breakfast.
The showing of Mystere was at 9:30p and seating opened at 9:00p. We got there around 8:50p. Having walked up and down the area, I had picked up a few shortcuts (or at least paths to keep us out of the heat). We would typically walk through the Forum Shops to get to the strip. Near the main entrance, there was a covered walkway to go into the Mirage, which sits between Caesar and TI. There is a tram that runs back and forth between the Mirage and TI and we used it to complete the journey in relative ease. I learned that lesson the hard way coming back from Le Reve on Sunday. At night, TI features their "Sirens of TI" show a couple of times each night. When it is going on, passage in front of TI, and even across the street from it, is just about impossible. We never actually saw the show, but we did get stuck in the crowd trying to move through. The tram made it possible to avoid all of that.
When we arrived at the Mystere theater, there was a line almost all the way across the casino. We waited for about fifteen minutes for the line to pass so we could go in. Even though it was moving pretty quick and steady, the end never seemed to appear. People would keep walking all the way to the end and coming back with the line. Finally, we did the same, though it wasn't terrible. We got to our seats pretty easily and thankfully didn't become victim of the clown. Most Cirque shows feature some sort of clown element, in this case, it was a man in a rumpled tuxedo. Before the show, he would go to the main entrance where ushers pointed people to their seats. He would randomly take couples to "show them to their seats". He would end up taking them on long circuitous routes and cause mischief to the amusement of the rest of us who were already seated.
The show was not a complete sellout, but the theater was still pretty full. I was quite happy with our seats. The theater was such that you'd have a hard time finding a place where you didn't have a good view.
The show itself was impressive. The stage area had several animated sections that would raise and lower to bring in and take away various set pieces and groups of performers. This show was much more pure acrobatics than Le Reve was. If you've seen any of the traveling shows like Allegria or Varekai (which I've only seen myself on video), then you'll be familiar with the kinds of performances that happen. But still, having a dedicated theater for the show allows everything to be an order of magnitude more impressive than the traveling shows can provide. The stunts were impressive, though there were at least three miscues during the performance where jumps or catches were missed. Still it was very entertaining. The only real negative we felt was the amount of filler. The main clown made several appearances between acts and there were also several by a "baby" doing different tricks and causing mischief. The segments for both of them would tend to run too long and their entertainment value was not so high. Still, we enjoyed the show and were glad we went. After that, we took the secret path back to our room to turn in for the night.
I was going to try to get through two days with this post, but I ended up having a lot to cover with this one day. I should be able to get the final day and a half into the next post and then I'll finish with a summary as well as some general observations that don't fall specifically into the chronology of the trip.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Las Vegas Trip - Travel Report...Part 2

Alright, let's do some more reporting. Sunday was a big "free time" day and we did a lot of walking around. We did a pretty good walk around at Caesars, including the pool. The pool area is under construction, but most of it was finished and there was always a good crowd whenever we looked at it. We never actually went in the pool. I must confess, I tended to avoid doing things that I could as easily do back home. Plus, we did something better than the pool....but that comes up later.
We walked around the Forum Shops. The Forums Shops are a pretty good size shopping mall attached to the hotel. There were several restaraunts and a number of fairly high end shops. The shops, like the hotel, are decorated with statues and columns. It also features a ceiling that is painted to mimic a partly clouded sky.
While the Forum Shops were nice, The Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian were a whole order of magnitude nicer. The theme was similar, but was more elegantly executed and also featured a gondola ride that runs through the middle of the shoppes. We didn't get around to the gondola ride, but, that's just something else for the list of things to do next time.
Part of the purpose of walking around was to pick up tickets for the other shows we were going to see. To that end, we visited the Wynn and Treasure Island during our day of walking. The Wynn was a really nice looking hotel and immediately felt cleaner and more modern than Caesars. Treasure Island was nice, but felt like a cut below Caesars.
For dinner, we ended up at the food court at the Fashion Show Mall. The food court was a nice large area with plenty of choices and offered us a place to eat for some reasonable prices. I tried a place that made a proper Philly Cheese-steak and it was quite good. After we ate, we started to walk around the mall, but didn't stay long. While the outside architecture was interesting, the inside was pretty much a conventional shopping mall. We didn't come to shop for clothes and shoes on this trip, so it didn't hold our interest.
But, the night finished big. We booked a 7pm showing of Le Reve at the Wynn. I took the early show because of our plans for the next day. To put it simply, the show was fantastic. It was the most expensive entertainment that we went to on our trip, and was completely worth it. The music, light, stage, and performers were beautifully choreographed into a spectacle that was a visual and auditory feast. It is not a true Cirque du Soleil show, but it created by the man responsible for many Cirque shows. While it does feature a good bit of acrobatics, there is also a lot of dancing and synchronized swimming that combine to offer a truly unique show. We seriously considered going for another showing later in the week, but that didn't work out. This is one we definitely plan to see again in the future.
So, what was so big about Monday that made me choose an early show for Sunday evening? An all day trip to the Grand Canyon is what. Thanks to Tripadvisor, I found a small tour company, Grand-Adventures, that offered small groups on day trips to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Darrell is the owner and main guide. He picked us up at the front of the hotel at 6:30am. There were three other couples and another assistant, giving us a total group of 10 people. On the way, we made stops for breakfast, for a photo op at Hoover Dam, and a quick side stop at Seligman, AZ - the town that inspired the Pixar movie, Cars.
Hoover Dam was impressive and we were able to get some nice pictures. The water level in Lake Meade was down well below normal and you could see the large expanse of white in the rock that should have been covered by water. Seligman was also a nice stop and has made quite the effort to keep the Route 66 concept alive.
We arrived at the South Rim around lunchtime. We swung through the gift shop to collect some trinkets and then the group started hiking along the rim. We stopped in a clearing for lunch. The tour package included lunch. We had box lunch sandwiches, cheese, crackers, grapes, and cookies. There was plenty of food and Darrel and his assistant also carried plenty of water. And it was a good thing too, as we needed it. From my previous post, you can get to my Flickr pictures of the Canyon. While I took quite a few, I posted only a few standouts. The Canyon is deceptively big. Your mind literally cannot process the size correctly. We looked down onto the Bright Angel Trail and it seems to be just a few hundred feet down to the bottom. But, then we saw a group down at the bottom riding mules. It was only then that it hit me that they were very small and thus very far away. What seemed like a few hundred feet by itself turns out to be a few thousand feet in reality was the human element comes into view.
Overall, we spent about three hours walking along the South Rim, enjoying some impressive vistas along the way. I took my GPS watch to track our progress and we covered about three and a half miles during the hike. It actually turned out to be a pretty tough hike due to the thinner air. The rim of the canyon is actually 7000 feet above sea level and it is a big change from what we're used to.
After all than, Darrell drove us back and dropped each couple off at their hotel. We were the last ones dropped off at about 9pm. It was a long day and we were well exhausted. Darrell was great. He's really taken the time to put together a day trip that is interesting and manageable. If you are going to take a day trip, I very highly recommend Grand-Adventures.
And so ended the third day of our big trip. Tune in next time to see how we recovered from that adventure.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Las Vegas Trip - Travel Report...Part 1

Last week, my wife and I took a trip to Las Vegas. It was the first time for each of us. The kids spent the week with my parents, so it was just the two of us. In getting ready, I spent a lot of time learning about the town at sites like the Tripadvisor Las Vegas forums and Zeke Quezada's blog and articles at So, first a brief rundown of each day, and then some general thoughts and observations.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon. I had decided in advance that I didn't want to deal with a car this trip, so we planned to take a cab from the airport to the hotel. I was expecting to have to wait in a line, but when we reached the queue, there were plenty of cabs and only a few customers, so we got one right away. We got an honest cabbie as well, straight over to Caesars (no tunnel) and the fare came to what I expected. Nice tip for her.
We checked in at Caesars Palace. Being our first trip, I elected to follow the advice to find a center strip hotel for a home base. We had stayed at a Caesars property some ten years ago when we went to Lake Tahoe and enjoyed it, so I felt it was a safe choice. I managed a very good deal on the hotel and flight together through Southwest Vacations. It was a bit of a surprise, because the consensus was that the best deal was to book hotels and flights separately. But, the deal being offered by Southwest was at least $200 better than any other way I could assembly the flight and hotel.
We got a mini-suite in the Palace Tower and it was a very nice room. We were on the 24th floor with a view of the pool. The room was bigger than our first apartment and featured separate bathrooms for each of us (already planning to do that in our next house now) with a joint dual shower and a jacuzzi tub that was big enough to seat us both comfortably.
I had scoured the internet for deals on shows and had three booked before we left for the trip. The first night, we went to see Penn & Teller at the RIO. When we got to Caesars, I got a Harrah's reward club card and several coupons. One was for the Carnival World Buffet at the RIO, so we went there for dinner. The food was good and there was a lot of it. A good half dozen different stations with different food types, plus a whole separate space for desserts. There was a big crowd and a sizable line, but, since I was using a coupon, we actually got to switch over to a short line and were seated after about 20 minutes. Definitely be prepared to wait if you want to go eat here. We stuffed ourselves pretty well and went to the show.
I found a deal at Travel Zoo for 40% off mezzanine tickets. Apparently, so did everyone else. The lowest level seats had opening and the balcony above us was largely empty, but the mezzanine was pretty much full. Penn & Teller were entertaining. The tricks that they pulled off were amazing, even when they showed you how they did some of them. Penn was a little heavy handed with his political and atheist views during the show, but it was still an entertaining night.
Getting back Caesars was a bit of a challenge, though. The RIO is off the strip, across the highway. While it was about a mile and a half walk from Caesars, the path was not pedestrian friendly. I found out that Harrah's run a free shuttle from both the Paris and Harrah's over to the RIO. To get over, we walked down to Paris and waited about 20 minutes for a bus to come. However, when it came time to go back, it was clear that most of the Penn & Teller audience were like us, coming from hotels on the Strip. The queue was long and it took a good while for us to catch a bus back across. I'd recommend just catching a cab back from the RIO to the strip if you are coming out after a show.
You know, I think, since I've still got several more days to cover, that I'm going to close for tonight and make a few more posts over the next few days. In the mean time, you'll just have to entertain yourself with some of the pictures that I took from the trip.

Ed's Vegas and Grand Canyon Photos

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