What I did this weekend: Black Friday trip to Las Vegas

I’m halfway through a six-hour layover at YUL which is what I get for booking with Aeroplan: it took nine hours to get from Toronto to Las Vegas (connection in Phoenix) and 12 hours to get from Las Vegas to Toronto. I say this but I don’t particularly mind. This end of YUL is really quiet (and consequently a little cold) and I’ve had all this free time to sort my photos and blog!

I don’t think I knew what Black Friday is or about the shopping until 2007 when I was in Vancouver. When I was a student in Toronto, we didn’t have money or means to go cross-border shopping. When I was older and back in Halifax, I didn’t hear about it and I wonder if it was because we weren’t particularly close to the States (526 km to Calais, ME and I don’t even know if it is good shopping). The “traditional” of going shopping in the States started in 2007 with an overnight trip to Seattle (actually, Tulalip), followed by 2008 in Vegas and our 2009 road trip to Portland, OR. I can’t remember what, if anything, was organized in 2010 and last year at it was was a road trip to Seattle so I didn’t go from Toronto.

This would be my third trip to Vegas in six years, which I find to be a decent frequency. It’s a super-convenient and fabulous jaunt from Vancouver, a 2.5-hour plane ride away. I get a little surprised to hear that Toronto folks hop over for things like bachelor(ette) parties when it is a 4.5 hour flight but where are they supposed to go … Atlantic City?!

We were a party of eight, traveling in three groups (some direct from Vancouver, some driving to Bellingham to take an Allegiant flight) and staying in two or three hotels at a given time. I haven’t traveled before with NPY’s parents so this was a preview of how it might work as we intend to travel together on occasion in the future.

Armed with our own GPS unit, we rented two cars for the eight of us as it is “necessary” when visiting Las Vegas. All of the hotels have free self-parking that wasn’t horrible (far) to access from our rooms. In the past four years, I managed to remember the insane motor vehicle traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard with the longest traffic lights. It was not without some time-consuming errors when we ended up driving on the Strip before we knew to always endeavour to drive on the back road (Frank Sinatra) that was easily accessible from our hotel.

I had forgotten how long it took to get anywhere on foot and since we didn’t stay at the same hotel as everyone else, I was stressed out about meeting up on time. Case in point: we had to get from Monte Carlo to Paris and it looked close enough but the slow-moving human traffic on the detouring skywalks really drew out the walk and stressed me out. I wondered (and NPY agreed) if I have gotten more impatient with Vegas human traffic and NPY blames it on me being in Toronto and I never want to be that slow-moving tourist who mills around, aggravating everyone behind her.

Our first day of meals were taken care of with a Buffet of Buffets pass which is a $45 deal for Total Rewards members. For 24 hours after you start the clock with your first buffet, you can have as many buffet meals as you want at the nine participating hotels. We started it off at Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace. There is a $15 surcharge because it is better/new and the line on the day before Thanksgiving was 90 minutes at 6 p.m. so we went for a drink before returning at 8:30 and still waited for an hour. The dining room was very nice and there was plenty of crab eaten (not by me) and lobster was present in an overly salty bisque. The next morning, we went to Paris’ Le Village Buffet that has a crepe station the people queued behind me raved about. The brunch queue was long and not moving so after sending a scout to the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood, we left the line and got into the PH buffet immediately. There was crab there, too, and I liked how I could have Mexican and Mediterranean dishes that I don’t normally get to eat. Half of us still wanted to try the Paris buffet and not resort to a “crappy” buffet which we associate with the older, uglier hotels. So, on Thanksgiving evening, we queued for two hours to have the Paris buffet which was a small letdown in food and environment after all is said and done. The queues weren’t so bad four years ago but there was no Buffet of Buffets pass back then.

Our only dinner with the entire group was a buffet dinner at Feast Buffet at Sunset Station. It was so cheap! And good for its price, i.e., it’s like they are giving their food away!

The two things you’d think, shopping and gambling, were definitely on the back-burner of my thoughts. We did go to the outlet mall (Las Vegas¬†Premium Outlets – North) around 8:30 on Thanksgiving and shopped in relative quiet until midnight when the place was really hopping. Then we head to Macy’s and the connected Galleria Mall in Henderson until we nearly dropped from exhaustion and had to give up.

Since we were in Vegas for five days (compared to a true weekender of three or four days), we could fit in a day trip. Everyone except for me and NPY went on a bus tour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon which included a Hoover Dam stop. I was game to go but NPY wasn’t and I found out about Zion National Park as somewhere we could visit as a smaller road trip while the others were gone. What boy who has watched The Matrix could resist going to a place named Zion? So, we were able to wake up at a normal hour and head out just before noon while the others were picked up by the tour bus at 7 a.m. to start their 16-hour tour. We drove across two state lines (Nevada-Arizona and Arizona-Utah) on the I-15 and I feared that the scenery about us was spoiling it for when we got to the park. Not so. The red sandstone cliffs towered over us as we took the scenic drive and hopped out several times to take pictures and even go on a mini hike. NPY has some weird attraction to running up a mountain but he hasn’t theorized yet how he’d summit one of those Zion peaks. A short film at the Zion Human History Museum gave us at bit of the geological background and we were floored and I felt like my trip was connected to the Grand Canyon one since they all lie on the Colorado Plateau. Besides being in awe of the grandeur of nature, throughout the drive, I felt like we were driving through a fantasy novel, something about the red sandstone peaks. On a future trip to Vegas, I’d love to go hiking in Zion National Park, reach Angel’s Landing or something.

 

I’m still reading Bonnie Tsui’s Chinatown and from it, I learned that Las Vegas has one of the newest Chinatowns and it is completely manufactured, like the Strip. After visiting a most sad and derelict Chinatown in Honolulu, NPY was a little skeptical. But his parents had been to and recommended it so we exited on Spring Mountain Road when we returned from Zion and my eyeballs popped out a little at the big all-Asian plazas with the pagoda roofs to signify authenticity or something. Chinatown Plaza, the original, is the most lit up of them all and lived up to the “hype”. We ended up having Korean food that night and returned the next night for pho!

Two single guys traveled with three couples, the younger two of which are practically married. I could see or imagined some restlessness on their part. Single guys gamble and drink and do other things but all we had done was eat buffet and shopped, both energy-consuming activities. Finally, on our third and fourth days, we hit up some lounges. The Mandarin Bar at the new Mandarin Oriental was on the 23rd floor and offered really great views of the Strip in a classy environment. We ended the night on the second level of the Chandelier Bar in the Cosmopolitan where you’re sitting inside a chandelier composed of two million crystals. Each level has different cocktails but we were on the same level both nights – environment trumped drinks menu. I left on Sunday evening and that’s when some late-night gambling went on.

One more new attraction we visited was Fremont Street, old Las Vegas retrofitted with a blocks-long canopy that screened a video accompanying Don McLean’s American Pie at 8 p.m. The place was gaudy and retro and fun to walk through but even though the tables would have low buy-ins, NPY and his parents didn’t want to play there. NPY was impressed how it is constantly busy everywhere both on the Strip and away at Fremont. Now, I feel like I’ve seen everything in Las Vegas.

Alas, I think I’m earth-bound for the next few months while (hopefully) some other big changes I’m working on are coming through. There’s a possibility to that I’ll go to Halifax for Christmas (boring!) but that’s it.

On this day..