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Trip Report: Las Vegas - Day 2

Red Rock Canyon, Penn & Teller, 2-hour buffet lineups, and 9:00AM martinis.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted January 14, 2009 at 3:09 PM
The wake-up call came at 7:30a. We enjoyed the $25 buffet in the lobby – it was significantly smaller and less lavish than a typical Vegas buffet, but the quality was excellent. The sausages were the best I’ve had at any breakfast diner. The servers were friendly and very attentive. My coffee was refilled every time I took a sip. Needless to say, I started the day feeling like I was on speed.

On a side note, I did my first bit of gambling that morning. I ran to the MGM Grand Casino and chose to play some single-zero roulette. At the table sat a near-replica of Sharon Stone’s character from Casino. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dreamy Stone that DeNiro falls for, but rather the drug-induced leather bag from the latter half of the movie. She was sipping a martini at 9:00a and was barely audible. She even tried to lie to the dealer, saying that she told him to put money on 27 and he put it on 28. I put $25 on red, won, and took off. It felt like small potatoes compared to what she was betting, but I got out of there before she made eye contact and sucked my soul out of my mouth. Viva Las Vegas.

We decided to kick the trip off with something very un-Vegas: hiking at Red Rock National Park. The hotel booked and brought us a rental car for the day, and we began our trip out of Sin City. I can easily say this was one of the more interesting hiking trips I’ve taken. Red Rock Canyon consists of several trails on a strip that you drive through. What trails you choose is up to you, but you must pay a small fee to enter the park (sorry, but there’s profit to be had).

Our first hike was the highlight of the trip for my mom. It was recommended by The Unofficial Guide. It was of moderate difficulty, but we hike frequently and were able to ascend the slopes with ease.

From Las Vegas 2009

We’ve hiked all across the U.S. and Canada, but the scenery here was unique and ever-changing.

From Las Vegas 2009

Yes, that’s me in the center with my leg dangling over the edge. I’m what my friends call a “camera whore”. The finale of the hike offered a breathtaking view of the canyon and of Las Vegas, though the picture hardly does it justice.

From Las Vegas 2009

We took another shorter hike with distinctively different surroundings.

From Las Vegas 2009

I’m on the left, my brother Gabe is in the middle, and my dad is on the right. Sort of reminds me of the place Joe Pesci goes to bury guys in Casino.

If you need a break from all the glitz and noise, Red Rock Canyon is quite extraordinary. Hikers are always nice and the fresh air will make you forget about that cocktail waitress you hit on. I think the Sharon Stone character I encountered earlier could use a few laps around the canyon.

On a side note, I’m always saddened by the amount of obese people in Orlando. In Vegas, I was saddened by the gambling addicts. Sure enough, when I returned from daily excursions, the same people at the tables that morning would be there that night.

We left the canyon at 3:30p, purchased some beer/liquor for drinks in the room ($29 for a 60-oz Stolichnaya bottle – God Bless American booze), and encountered rush-hour traffic on the way home. Although the canyon was less than an hour away, we did not return to the room until 6:30p and were rather frazzled. Always avoid driving in Vegas whenever you can. We relaxed with some drinks in the room before going to dinner.

From Las Vegas 2009

We wanted to catch Penn & Teller at the Rio at 9:00p, and it just so happened that the best seafood buffet in town was at the Rio. We were told to go early since the buffet is quite popular, so we allotted 2.5 hours to dine. We were thoroughly shocked to find the line wrapped around the casino – it looked similar to the line at a major theme park attraction. It was HUGE. Never in my life have I seen so many people trying to eat. Needless to say, we didn’t have time to eat there and instead settled for a restaurant next door called Hamada of Japan. It wasn’t listed in the guide books and it was practically empty, so it must be a fairly new establishment … or a fairly crappy one.

The service was terrible at first. The Maître d' said there would be a table ready in 20 minutes, despite that the restaurant was empty. We asked where we could go, thinking we’d get one of those convenient buzzing-vibrating-flashing-2001: A Space Odyssey things you get at Orlando restaurants. Her response was, “Oh, you can wait.”

No sh*t, Sherlock. We could also wait in the buffet line to hell and get better food. Naturally, my brother took off for a bit while mom and I waited, and guess what? Table’s ready! What had it been, one minute? Two? This was beginning to feel too much like A Christmas Story when those dogs ruined dinner and the family had to eat at the Chinese restaurant.

Either way, we sat down. Just like most of the restaurants, the atmosphere was noisy due to the close-by casino. Still, our server was an elderly Japanese lady who was quite entertaining. We started with the spicy tuna sushi appetizer to split.

From Las Vegas 2009

The sushi was pretty good, but the wasabi was excellent, like a donkey kick to the temple. The appetizer also came with miso soup, which tasted good but looked like lake water, and a very tasty ginger salad. My brother and mom got the chicken teppan entrée (tasted like chicken but was rubbery), my dad got the enormous sampler (some excellent choices, some mediocre), and I lucked out with the shrimp and vegetable tempura, the best I’ve ever had. Light, crispy, and flavorful.

Overall, the meal was better than expected (especially for me), but there must be better Japanese dining around. We caught some of the Mardi Gras ceiling parade before rushing off to Penn & Teller. It’s a good concept, with floats attached to ceiling rails and dancers throwing beads to gamblers below, but the delivery was terrible. The dancers were apathetic and the floats were ugly. Sure, there were out-of-my-league women gyrating directly above my face, but at what cost? Where’s the smile? Where’s the heart? Where’s the bar? – that would make it more interesting.

At a steep $80/person, Penn & Teller doesn’t come cheap. Nevertheless, it was amazing. Great jazz music, well-paced tricks, hearty comedy, and plenty of audience participation. They often reveal how many of their tricks are done, but even then they wow you. From classic tricks like the cups and balls (redone with clear cups, of course), sawing a woman in half (with disastrous results), and fire breathing, to flag burning, nail gun firing, and “mind-reading”. Of particular beauty was a bit called “Shadows” performed by Teller in which he prunes a rose using its shadow on the wall.

From Las Vegas 2009

I had the fortune of meeting Penn after the show where he takes pictures and signs autographs. He signed my rye/Coke cup, but I had no camera. I told him The Aristocrats, which he produced/directed with Teller, is my favorite comedy. He called me a “sick bastard.” His words.

After the show, one-too-many drinks led me to the games where I lost some scratch. Drunken logic told me I’d make it back tomorrow. One thing to note about gambling in Vegas is that it’s not nearly as fun as gambling elsewhere. Both the staff and patrons are too serious. The dealer yelled at me for leaning on the glass at the roulette table.

All-in-all, a great day, but very un-Vegas in nature. Fresh air, exercise, natural beauty, and a live show that’s all-too-smart to be showcased in Vegas. But that’s the beauty of a place like Vegas – you never know what you’re gonna get.

Or what you’re gonna regret.


Comments in chronological order. Most recent at the bottom. Scroll down to respond.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted January 15, 2009 at 1:17 AM
I somehow broke our room T.V. that day and needed a repairman to fix it. For the most part, the employees at the Signature are very helpful and professional. The concierge on the first day was terrible, however.

From Don Neal
Posted January 15, 2009 at 8:44 AM
Awesome pics. The hiking looked awesome. Not sure when another Vegas trip will be in order but I'll have to consider getting out there.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted January 15, 2009 at 2:33 PM
I love the glitz and glamor, but the natural beauty surrounding it is incredible - and most don't even seem to know about it.

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