Kevin's Independence Day in Vegas

Now there was no way Kevin could allow Robert to hog the limelight for so long, so here is his trip report of his holiday weekend in Sin City.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: July 16, 2004 at 1:44 AM

For some insane reason, I decided it might be fun to spend my four-day July Fourth weekend in Vegas. It isn't actually all that insane for me since Sacramento's summers aren't known for their mildness either, but Vegas's even drier heat turns my allergy ridden nose into something really nasty. But this trip ended up being very pleasant on both the weather and nose fronts. It was near 100 the entire time but a bit breezy three of the days. And semi-religious nosepicking solved some hardening problems up there.

Anyhow... we drove in early on Friday after stopping at the Mad Greek in Baker. I think it is actually California law that people driving to Vegas have to stop here. Not necessarily for their "famous" strawberry milkshakes either, since they do have a very extensive menu. It's always nice to get out of a car in Baker, as the town with the "world's tallest thermometer" is always hotter than hell. Well, it isn't nice in Baker, usually, but the niceness comes when you realize Vegas will feel cool in comparison to this armpit of a "town."

And it certainly was. After driving around looking for our offip motel for an hour, we finally stepped out to a breezy afternoon. Yes, I said motel. I do not do the Strip on weekends. That's for the suckers from Southern California. If you have a car, you don't need to stay on the Strip unless you want room service, a spa or a really nice pool. I made sure to find a motel with a decent pool (not an easy thing to do) so we could spend part of the day in it or around it.

We didn't stick around long on Day One, since we planned on doing a show and we needed to check out the half-price booth next to the MGM Grand. Plus, I was STARVING. First the ticket booth, where they make a big deal about not advertising which shows they sell tickets for, but I will freely tell you I bought tickets for Hypnolarious at the pathetic Bourbon Street. Then we ran over to the extremely generic Bay Side Buffet at Mandalay Bay. (More in an upcoming review.)

As for Hypnolarious, I have seen Terry Stokes do his hypnotism act several times, and it is usually... ummm... hilarious. Unfortunately, after buying the tickets I discovered it was a "Terry Stokes Production" or some such nonsense and the star was a woman I had actually seen performing as his assistant previously. The show had a few side-splitting parts, but she ain't no Terry. And she has a stoopid dog that just wastes a bunch of time. To make matters worse, after the show, she encouraged people to stay for Terry's R-rated Hypnosis Gone Wild. Dammit! I saw his adult show before and almost had an aneurysm! Still, I'm not even sure it was him since he and his son also do a Hypnolarious show up in Reno. I am so confused. Whatever. It was still a good show for $25, which isn't something you often find in Vegas.

That night we went out drinking. Yay!

On Day Two, after some sun, we headed to the middle of the Strip for some sightseeing. We checked out the patriotic decor of the Conservatory at Bellagio and two of the fountain shows. These things are fun, but much nicer at night.

We checked out the new crap at Caesars and, boy, does it leave something to be desired. The new plaza is actually a plaza and not some non-plaza thing named a Plaza because it sounds nice. Which means it has a bunch of open space and one restaurant. Big whoop. Maybe it will turn into something one day, but it will still have an irritating design. You have to climb stairs from the sidewalk, and then head back down stairs to the plaza floor. In a town full of escalators, this "feature" really stands out as an example of poor planning. Plus, this whole casino is just getting silly with the 894 different buildings. I have no clue when the stoopid Forum Shops expansion will open, but at the rate the Shops keeps losing interesting stores, I'm not really that excited for it.

That night they produced what was possibly the most amazing fireworks show I have ever seen. The thing went on so long that people started clapping on several occasions, thinking it was over. Then they'd just start up again. There were so many fireworks some actually shot into the "Caesars Palace" lights on the main tower and blew out a couple of the letters. That was quite a finale.

We headed over to the Harley Davidson Cafe for dinner and I am really becoming addicted to this place. Best macaroni and cheese ever! I can live without the theme, but that food! (Once again, more in the future.)

It was dark and our show was a late one, so we stopped and watched a couple more fountain shows, the volcano at the Mirage and then the new pirate show at Treasure Island. This was several treats in one! First treat, they close their sidewalk about 15 minutes prior to the show, so no matter how empty their sidewalk is, you can't get in. They were even tossing people who climbed over the fencing. We climbed up on the fencing without climbing over, which was apparently fine. Being six-feet tall or more sure helps here.

I have heard wretched things about this show, but it started off fine. Then came the double entendres. And the dancing. Finally, there came some fire. Then MORE DANCING! Then some of the most sexist things I have ever seen and heard in my life. I'd actually respect these women more if they were pole dancers. MGM Mirage should be ashamed of themselves for creating not only a bad show, but one that actually seems to hate women.

Over to our evening show. Skintight, Harrah's take on the showgirl extravaganza, has a late start, which is nice, and half-price coupons in one of those Vegas magazines you find all over the city. So we didn't have to trek down to the half-price booth. (It was on the list the day before, but you can only buy tickets for that day.) I have seen other versions of Skintight in Reno and this barely compares to those shows. In its move south, the show has caved in too much to what a Vegas show "should" be. I guess scantily-clad men dancing around with the scantily-clad women is all the shock they are going to give us, so they trot out the ever-tired showgirl parade and a somewhat-talented Playmate of the Year. Even weirder, the $50 list price (although few people probably pay this) is much higher than the cost of its Reno sister shows, yet this show was actually less elaborate than previous Reno shows. Lame. Not that it's a bad show, it could just be much better.

We headed back down to TI for its midnight pyro show. Compared to Caesars' show, this was seriously pathetic. Think Magic Kingdom's old FantASSy in the Sky show, but lamer. And still it was better than the "Sirens of TI." If they instead set fire to the guy who wrote the script for that monstrosity - and you KNOW it was a guy - they would have had to close down Las Vegas Blvd to deal with the crowds.

Then we went out to drink the night away. Yay!

On Sunday the Fourth, we hung around for quite a while at the pool. Okay, my buddy did. I was officially sick of the sun at this point and sat up in the room playing SimCity 4. It would be nice if people with money would move into my towns!!! We headed out to Lake Las Vegas that afternoon for their Independence Day celebration. The Lake Las Vegas area is very nice and worth the lengthy drive out there, but it is still a work in progress and the outdoor shopping area still has many vacancies. This event is apparently a big thing in Vegas since we had to park a zillion miles away and hoof it in. The place was PACKED. I was starving, but lines were out the door everywhere, and even longer at all the barbecue places set up. It wasn't long before the fireworks so we decided to wait.

The fireworks were okay, but not Caesars quality. The location was nice though and made it all worth the hassle. We quickly weaved our way into the casino - Casino MonteLago - and right up to their cafe. Tennuta is a 24-hour cafe, which is a necessity in every casino, but this one is more restaurant than cafe. I had some tasty calimari and some pasta that was even better. After spending time here, getting out of Lake Las Vegas was a snap.

We then headed to downtown Las Vegas to check out the new Fremont Street Experience. We saw the Area 51 show, which was visually much better than the old shows, but far sillier. Honestly, this thing made Independence Day seem intelligent. But it was blissfully short. And I had my yard of the slamming slushies they sell at the little Bayou casino. Mix two flavors and you can get 151 AND Everclear in the same huge glass!

Later we went out drinking. Yay!

Last day and we couldn't decide what we wanted to do. I was hungry (surprise) so we headed to the Mirage to try their new buffet. We got there twenty minutes before three and were third in line. Where we proceeded to stand for thirty minutes. A new cashier was counting all the money in her drawer, but she ended well before three. I checked the sign and - wouldn't you know it - dinner pricing started at three! Now most buffets I have ever seen post an end to the lunch pricing at least 30 minutes prior to the beginning of the dinner pricing. Cravings, the unmodern name for the buffet's new modern look, claims lunch ends at three and dinner starts at three.

So it wasn't surprising that when they finally allowed us in - at the higher dinner price, naturally - that most of the people there started yelling at the manager. I was starving so I figured I would allow him a few minutes before unleashing my personality upon him.

As I was eating I caught his attention and signaled him over. I asked him what the problem is, and he told me they need fifteen minutes to prepare for dinner. I then asked him, in my sweetest manner - shut up! - why I was there twenty minutes before three and the departing cashier was already counting out her drawer. I also asked why we weren't allowed in until ten after three? He had no answer for me but to say that many people complained. I asked him how long it has been going on and he said over a month. I said, "Oh, since the buffet has reopened then?" And he actually said no! I don't like liars! He claimed he just talked to his vice-president about the problem ten minutes before our conversation. I asked what was being done. I said a sign would be nice, or maybe someone like, oh, a manager, explaining this to people in line. He told me this stuff takes time. I told him that this wasn't just a ridiculous way to treat customers, but it was absolutely moronic to have people standing in line for a half hour when they could have spent this time out gambling. By this time, I was getting a bunch of "I understand"s, so I told him that I wrote for a website and that the Internet would be hearing about this. So go to the buffet and tell the manager you aren't eating there because you saw something bad about them on the Internet!! Please?

Anyhow, the new look for the food stations is beautiful while the dining are is now horribly ugly. We're talking Three's Company in design here. And the floor was already horribly filthy from a month's worth of spilled food. The food was delicious, though, and this would be my third favorite buffet... if I ever planned on returning. With the way MGM Mirage has ruined so much of Treasure Island and then this fiasco, I plan on steering clear of their casinos for quite some time. I can't wait for them to destroy Luxor and Mandalay Bay!

We left and checked out the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian since we missed them the day before and then headed out.

I wanted to stop at Buffalo Bill's in Primm to ride some rides. I have eyeballed Desperado on several occasions and wanted a ride! This thing would be really fun if it wasn't for its horrendous jerkiness. I really could have used one of those water massagers you find all over the Strip after this coaster. We also climbed on the Adventure Canyon Log Flume, which actually winds through the casino. Okay, it's a little lame but I enjoyed it. I was excited to see guns in the logs, meaning it was a shooting flume! I know many of the targets weren't working, which wasn't helping my tendinitis much, but I still had fun. I just wish the drop was steeper.

We didn't stop at the Mad Greek on the way out. I think it is also a law that you can't stop here on your way out of Sin City.

I had an okay time overall, but I have realized that I enjoy Vegas more for the Sin than the City now. Drinking and overeating and copious nudity are bigger draws than the casinos and the entertainment they offer. But I do have one more trip coming up in the next couple months, and there are some shows I am itching to see. So be prepared, Vegas!

Readers' Opinions

From Amanda LaFrance on July 16, 2004 at 4:02 AM
Everclear and 151 in the same glass! You remind me of my youth!
From Billy Barf on July 16, 2004 at 8:25 AM
Then we went out to drink
From TH Creative on July 16, 2004 at 8:45 AM
One hopes that Mr. Baxter only drinks this much when he is on vacation. If not, he should seriously evaluate his habits and perhaps enroll in a local program.

Take care my friend.

From PM 24-7 on July 16, 2004 at 12:46 PM
Here's what to do in Vegas (from a LV native). It doesn't seem like Kevin did anything that would be considered 'to do' in Las Vegas...Here is your guide for Las Vegas:

1) Get a nice hotel! There is a brand new all suite hotel called "the Hotel" at the Mandalay Bay that is still a secret. The room rates are a little higher but the rooms are the nicest in town and you'll pay no where near what you'd pay for a Bellagio Room and the rooms here are nicer.

2) Shows: GO TO MYSTERE at the Treasure Island! It is still the best show on the strip even though it's not the most expensive (and yes, I've been to Blue Man Group, "O", and Zumanity). You can see this show over and over and still leave wanting to see it again.

3) For after hours fun, The Palms is the place to be. Check the Calendar at the Palms for the 'Acoustic Asylum.' I think it's still every Tuesday Night. It's set up like MTV Unplugged where multiple singers/songwriters perform acoustically with an intimate audience...It's something you can't get anywhere else and usually isn't packed.(and the best's FREE!)

4) For late night fun, try the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio (a terrace on the roof of the hotel). It's trendy, but, not so much so that you feel out of place being there (like at the club at the Palms, 54 at the MGM, or the other Nightclubs in town).

5) To Eat: Take advantage of the buffets during the day! It's hard not to find something that you like at a buffet...the best ones in Las Vegas are at the Rio (2 of them)(Carnival World Buffet and All Seafood Buffet). If you're down town, the Main Street Station Buffet has become a local favorite since it was remodeled.

5) For cool restaurants Try:
Bahama Breeze (chain), the "Top of the World Restaurant" at the top- of the Stratosphere is on a platform that rotates 1 rotation per hour giving you panoramic views of the city while you dine and their Chateau Briand is the best steak you'll have in your life-even though it is expensive),
Rum Jungle (at Mandalay),
Cheesecake Factory (chain)(Forum Shops), or Wolfgang Puck's Postrio's/Emerils Delmonico Steakhouse (both at Venetian).

6) For quick something to eat, the Paris has world famous pastry chefs and they sell pastries at a counter in the Paris...The best sweets you'll ever have and most less than $5.

7) Attractions in LV are only partially covered by this site...there are several attractions all over Las Vegas, however, most probably don't even deserve to be rated. (ex: Romantic Gondola rides at the Venetian, Race for Atlantis at the Forum Shops, Indoor Skydiving on the strip, A.J. Hacket Bungee Jumping (10+Stories beside the Circus Circus into a swimming pool), Gigantic Magic Motion Machines at Excalibur (best value), 3 rides on the top of the Stratosphere, Roller coasters at Stateline, New York New York, Sahara, and Circus Circus, etc...A definite don't miss attraction is "Scream" at the Stratosphere.

8) Shopping: the place to be seen is the Fashion Show Mall, however, there is a mile-long factory "Las Vegas Outlet" mall south of the strip that offers the best deals from the "Name" manufacturers. It's the place to go if you actually want to buy something. Notables are the Forum Shops (still the most elaborate), the Canal Shops at the Venetian, and the Dessert Passage shops at the new Aladdin.

Too often tourists come and take what's avalible...if you do a little planning, your weekend in Vegas will become something you won't ever want to leave.

From Kevin Baxter on July 16, 2004 at 2:03 PM
I've been to Vegas a zillion times, so I've already done most of this stuff. Hell, I've seen Mystere three times. This is why I said I am more interested in the Sin than the City now.
From Ryan Williams on July 16, 2004 at 10:26 PM
Las vegas sucks in general. too much glitter and not enough gold. the place looks nice when your driving in but when you get out and feel that wonderful heat and see a bunch of homeless people handing out XXX flyers every 15ft. Las Vegas is a heaping sesspool of filth and crime.
From Jason Herrera on July 16, 2004 at 11:49 PM
Mr Williams I take you when you describe filth and crime you're talking about your visit to North Las Vegas? ;o) I see you're in Nipomo, good to see another TPI poster clsoe to Santa Barbara. Good times.

With the opening of the monorail on the 15th, it'll be really interesting to see how it clears about congestion all along Las Vegas Blvd. However if I operate a taxi cab, I may begin to wonder if I'll be able to put food on the table. How much business will this monorail take away from the men and women who make a living as taxi cab drivers?

I guess people will still take a taxi from McCarran International to their hotels and back. But if the monorail project is extended to McCarran International that would kill the need for taxi cabs.

As for X-Scream, I think it's an overrated attraction. That spinny ride they're going to add --- now that'll be some serious fun, I hope; that's the same thing I said about X-scream.=(

From Kevin Baxter on July 17, 2004 at 1:43 AM
Filth? If you stick to the Strip you will find some of the cleanest real estate in this country. But that sounds more like a holier-than-thou sentiment than one involving facts. (Plenty of filth can be found where tourists don't tend to go, though.)

I thought about the taxi/monorail thing too, Jason, but that town needs to get rid of at least 1/3 of its cabs if it wants to continue pleasing its visitors. There are too many cabdrivers there who are horn-leaning psychos who think nothing of winging pedestrians who have the nerve to walk across a casino driveway. Many are also notorious for taking the long route from the airport (going through the tunnel to I-15) to bilk customers and the police simply don't have the staff to cut down on this properly. So hopefully they can find some way to weed out the bad apples.

Still, there will be a major need since the monorail will close at like midnight or one and doesn't go everywhere, like Hard Rock, Rio, Palms, downtown and anything on the west side of the Strip. Plus, the monorail will cost money, just like the taxis, so it isn't like four dudes at Luxor will go, "Screw taxis, let's get on the monorail to Excalibur, cross the pedestrian bridge to New York-New York, then cross the bridge to the MGM Grand, head all the way to the back of the casino AND get on the monorail!" Some taxis will disappear, but some NEED to.

From Ryan Williams on July 17, 2004 at 8:05 AM
I'm sorry about your job but who the hell wants to pay 20$ just to get from one end of the strip to the other and have to go through endless stoplights? I'm sorry if you dont like my opinion of LV but thats just the way i feel. I go there almost every month becasue i have family there and the place just doesnt do any justice for me. In responding to your comment about Santa Barbara being a crime place, your wrong, its Oxnard which has the crime :)
From Kevin Baxter on July 17, 2004 at 7:11 PM
Where did I say SB was a haven for crime? It's a haven for some of the worst traffic I have ever seen in my lifetime, but I don't see it as being so crimeridden.

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