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Brian Bennett

Las Vegas, September 2002

My Vacation

I've had a lot of folks asking about my recent vacation, many of them assuming that I'd been back to Walt Disney World. Actually, my wife had a business conference and I tagged along.

During our trip Barb and I were able to make brief stops on a couple of Polynesian Islands, I saw Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings (that would be in Egypt), visited a medieval castle, walked through the Arabian desert, saw some of the great works produced by Fabergé including three of the Imperial Russian eggs, and went up to see the International Space Station. Finally I stopped in briefly to see Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Monte Carlo, New York, a small town in Italy, and Paris.

How did I do all of that in nine days? Simple. I visited Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Boulevard, looking North from Excalibur.
Las Vegas Boulevard, looking North from Excalibur.

Here's a very brief summary report on Las Vegas with some random thoughts thrown in just for fun.

Before I go on, I just say that I found a new taste treat sensation that I just love. Does anyone know where I can buy Gelato (the Italian soft ice-cream-like dessert) at Walt Disney World?

The Mega Resorts

Barb and I were able to visit all of the strip's mega resorts. Here's a list, in alphabetical order, along with my 1-10 evaluation in terms of theming:

Aladdin (8) — Aladdin is a tremendously executed resort in terms of it's theme. Many architectural details make the point. Desert Passage, the resort's themed shopping area, is perfectly detailed, too. Unfortunately, for some reason the crowds just aren't there. That detracted from the excitement of being in such a well-designed area.

Bellagio (9) — The jewel of the city just has to be Bellagio The resort is gorgeous, the conservatory gardens are spectacular, the casino is classy without being overly pretentious, and the exterior vistas of the town of "Bellagio" as well as the resort's famed fountains, are icing on the cake. Why didn't Bellagio get named a "10?" Simply because the Italian town theme of Bellagio wasn't taken indoors to the extent that the Venetian, Aladdin, and other resorts did.

Caesar's Palace (7) — Caesar's disappointed me. It was built in the 60's and the casino and much of the resort looked like it. Still, the Forum Shops are extremely well executed and a joy to stroll. The animatronic "shows" were a bit lame, but they were free so I guess you get what you pay for.

Circus Circus (6) — Circus Circus has an obvious theme and it's fairly well done. The big top area and the surrounding midway were a lot of fun. If I really was bent on taking my kids to Las Vegas for a few days, I'd be very tempted to choose Circus Circus as our hotel just because of the midway. However, the rest of the resort (the casino and other public areas) were seedy and disappointing.

Excalibur (7) — Excalibur is nice and well maintained. It's obvious that this resort emphasizes families and kids, but it's still odd to dedicate so much of the resort's space to gambling when kids can't drop their own coins in the slots. This would be where I would stay if I did visit Las Vegas with kids. (With Circus Circus a close second.)

Excalibur.
Excalibur.

Luxor (6) — At first glance, Luxor is well themed. In fact, on second glance it is too. The details are awesome and the whole building really gives you the feeling that you're in Egypt at the height of the ancient empire's power. If you stop there, give Luxor a ten. But after spending some significant time at this resort, I really started to feel a bit creepy. A pyramid is, after all, a big tomb... and I really started to get a closed-in, haunted kind of feeling. Walking back to Excalibur after a few hours at Luxor was actually quite refreshing.

Mandalay Bay (7) — Mandalay Bay and the Mirage get the same rating from me because they're so much the same. Both have a Polynesian / South Seas Islands kind of theme. Mandalay Bay is a bit less immursive than the Mirage, but both are quite nicely done. Mandalay Bay also has a pretty impressive lineup of restaurants including the highly regarded Areole and the quite-out-of-theme Red Square (with a Russian theme).

The Mirage (7) — The Mirage and Mandalay Bay get the same rating from me because they're so much the same. Both have a Polynesian / South Seas Islands kind of theme. The Mirage has a fantastic entryway that is a much-updated version of the one at the Polynesian. Unlike the short and straight walkway that leads past a small garden and waterfall display in front of the Polynesian's Great Ceremonial House lobby, the Mirage's entry provides a winding walkway with gardens and waterfalls on either side (like a smaller-scale Oasis, the entry area at the Animal Kingdom park).

The MGM Grand (7) — The MGM Grand is a fabulous example of art deco extravagance. The entire resort is replete with example after example of art deco detailing. Beyond the obvious "old Hollywood" theme, though, the Grand is not anywhere near as over-the-top as so many of the other Las Vegas mega resorts. It's subtle and stylish, but not so theme-driven that you can lose yourself in the styling. The Studio Walk shopping area is great, and the art deco pool area (with a great river pool) is fantastic.

Monte Carlo (6) — The Monte Carlo completely confuses me. The exterior of this resort is absolutely stunning, with a very strong, formal European structure, but the interior doesn't follow through. Even more mystifying is the fact that very little architectural attempt is made to draw people into this resort from the strip outside. Unlike the Venetian, Bellagio, and Caesar's Palace which almost beacon you to come in and check out their properties, the Monte Carlo almost repels -- very much like the feeling one can get from an old, stoic library or stodgy art museum building. Unless you know you want to be inside, you tend to walk on by to see what else is on the boulevard. The low amount of excitement and pedestrian traffic inside the casino seems to confirm my opinion.

New York New York (10) — New York New York is an incredibly well executed theme. The exterior of this resort truly represents the skyline of the Big Apple. The casino is located in "central park," with a small village area with several delis and shops that is the resort's food court. There is no larger, more diverse, or pleasant food court in all of Las Vegas! The resort's showrooms, like most of the others in town, are all located off of the casino also. Topping things off, quite literally, the Manhattan Express roller coaster loads from a platform just above casino level and takes riders on a fast-paced ride through those city icons.

New York New York.
New York New York.

Paris (9) — The City of Lights is well represented by Paris Las Vegas. The resort is classy, with the casino located in an area that represents the parks surrounding the Eiffel Tower. The restaurants and boutiques surround the casino (and also form a small avenue that winds it's way over to Bally's). The overall effect is pleasant without being overly pretentious.

Rio (7) — The Rio disappointed me. The Masquerade Village shopping area is extremely nice, even if smaller than I'd expected. The casino is cleaner than the older, more seedy properties. However, for whatever reason, the clientele of this resort seemed to be pushier and less courteous than in any other resort. The result is a nice resort with an atmosphere and ambiance that just isn't friendly.

Treasure Island (9) — Treasure Island is aptly named. It is one of the best-themed resorts in town, at least in my opinion. What makes Treasure Island so special is the effort that has obviously been made to take the exterior theming and make it consistent in the interior as well. The swashbuckling atmosphere is extremely well done, and the free buccaneer show, although having a very sudden ending, adds to the flavor (even when the two sailing vessels are just sitting there during the day, they add to the flavor of the resort.)

The Venetian (10) — The Venetian is an incredibly detailed, entertaining, and classy all-in-one package. I never did set foot in the Venetian's casino, because it's one of the very few of the mega resorts where you can enjoy the tremendous facilities without having to make tracks past the slots and blackjack tables. The Grand Canal Shoppes get my personal vote as favorite of all of the themed shopping areas that we visited during the trip. Not only is the atmosphere inviting and the shopping excellent (albeit a bit upscale and pricey), but the "streetmosphere" that we saw in the area including the canal's gondoliers, musicians, and Venetian nobility walking about just made this a fun place to hang out.

And the rest... Bally's, Harrah's, The Riviera, The Flamingo, The Palms, The Jockey Club, Las Vegas Hilton, Stardust, etc. — None of these resorts are themed in any way, and most of them are fairly "seedy." Actually, the Las Vegas Hilton is a nice enough place, but the lack of theme detracted significantly from my interest as a potential future vacation destination.

Attractions

Las Vegas boasts a tremendous number of attractions. Roller Coasters, flight simulators, Imax rides and films, museums (including the Bellagio Museum of Fine Art and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and Las Vegas' edition of the Guggenheim Museum chain both of which are located at the Venetian) and shows make up the bulk of offerings. I will only have specific comments on those attractions that I personally experienced, although I think I covered a good chunk of everything that is available.

Buccaneer Bay Show (Treasure Island) (7) — "Absolutely free" is a key phrase when describing this blatant advertisement for Treasure Island. The show is lively and entertaining, although it was painfully short and had a very sudden ending. Still, for free how can you complain?

Chicago (Stardust, Wayne Newton Theater) (8) — We did enjoy seeing Chicago, now celebrating their 35th year as one of the World's classic musical groups. It was a very good show, featuring the classic Chicago brass and woodwinds as well as the typical keyboards, guitars, and percussion. The Chicago groupies were a bit over-the-top, but Chicago put on a great show with one classic hit after another. OK, so they're not the same since Pete Cetara left, but they're still fun to see on stage.

EFX Live (MGM Grand) (8) — Starring Rick Springfield, this was a fun show to see. It does have some incredible effects, although the fire breathing dragon was dead as a doornail (it's my lot in life... the first time I saw Fantasmic! at the Disney - MGM Studios the Dragon was dead, too). EFX Live was a show that has some of the pizzazz of a tradition Las Vegas show without featuring topless dancers.

Forum Shops Audio-Animatronic Shows (Caesar's Palace) (6) — The shows are free, so it's hard to complain about them, but although the Atlantis show had a real, if weak, story to it, neither one was anywhere near to Disney / Universal standards.

Imax Films (Luxor) (5) — I watched a couple of Imax films. One, narrated by Tom Cruise, was a pretty good documentary about the International Space Station. The other was a fantasy/horror film about a rock star and a haunted castle. The first was decent... the second, not worth the time.

Luxor's intricate theming.
Luxor's intricate theming.

Imax Motion Rides (Luxor) (4) — I also had tickets for several motion rides. Unfortunately, I did the Funhouse one first, right after lunch, and due to the large amount of motion and the poor quality of the film, I almost lost it (that before mentioned lunch). I skipped Search for the Obelisk and another haunted castle one. I wish I'd seen Search for the Obelisk first and skipped the others.

Masquerade Show in the Sky (Rio) (5) — The show features a bunch of dancers as well as some brilliantly lit floats that actually hang from a monorail in the ceiling. The pre-show with several carnavale-like performers was actually more fun to see than the main show. Perhaps the fact that only a couple of floats came out for what I think was a quite abbreviated show.

Midway (Circus Circus) (8) — Skeeball, ring tosses, and other such fair and amusement park midway games make up the offerings at Circus Circus's midway. It was a fun diversion, well worth an hour or so... especially with kids (and Barb had me).

Museum of Fine Art (Bellagio) (10) — The museum shows temporary displays of art from around the world. When we got into town, I found out that the current exhibition was on the incredible works of the Fabergé works in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Imperial Russia. Being a bit of an amateur historian and having some Russian blood in my veins, the opportunity to see some of the Fabergé eggs and other works was a huge draw. I must say that the works were incredible! Besides that, the Museum employs some technology, also used at Shark Reef (see below) that I think Disney could use to great advantage in the Living Seas, Tree of Life Garden, Cretaceous Trail, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Rifiki's Planet Watch, Maharajah Jungle Trek and any other such "walk through" attraction. The handheld digital wand (for want of a better term) was simple to use. One simply keyed in the number shown on a given display to hear a portion of a digitally recorded narration.

Race for Atlantis Ride (Caesar's Palace) (6) — Race of Atlantis was a three-D simulator ride. It was pretty good, not up to Disney or Universal Standards, but not bad.

Shark Reef (Mandalay Bay) (8) — Shark Reef was very similar to the kind of experience you get at Sea Base Alpha at the Living Seas in Epcot, but the trappings (unlike Sea Base Alpha's high-tech approach) are decidedly simple and natural. It works well, especially with the narration wand that was mentioned above.

Mandalay Bay's main building towers above the resort.
Mandalay Bay's main building towers above the resort.

Star Trek Adventure (Las Vegas Hilton) (10) — The Star Trek adventure is extremely well done. I'd expected a Star Tours-like ride, and I wasn't disappointed on that, but the whole "Adventure" is much more than just the ride itself. To start out, you walk through a queue area that must be able to handle hundreds of people at a time if need be. While a queue, the walk-through area doubles as a museum of all things Trek. A timeline of everything that has been documented to have happened throughout the "history" of Star Trek's Federation provides interesting reading. Scatter about, too, is a great array of props, uniforms, and other costumes that were used in the production of the television shows and movies. After going through the queue (I spent a lot more time dawdling than I had to) we were lined up to load into the simulator. Spoiler Warning: The video display began to explain how to safely load into the simulator, when suddenly the video broke up into static, the lights went out, a great wind began to swirl around in the darkness, and finally a familiar sound could be heard. As the lights come up, I found myself no longer waiting to enter the Star Trek Experience's simulator. Now, I was standing aboard the Federation Starship 1701-E Enterprise. Below the floor, above the ceiling, and around the walls had completely been transformed into the familiar transporter room with a couple of Federation crewmen in full uniform directly in front at the transporter controls. We were escorted onto the bridge, where First Officer Riker explained the situation. Apparently, a bunch of Klingon's were trying to capture all of us (the group that had been loading into the simulator ride) because one of us was a distant ancestor of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. As proof, the Captain was missing from the bridge although Riker and Engineering Officer were working on our issues from the engineering deck. (Just a note, the bridge was fairly well staffed with several uniformed crew members at the helm and other stations around the bridge.) Next, we were taken into a turbolift, and taken down to the hanger deck where we were loaded into a "real" shuttlecraft to fight the Klingons and return to our time. Unfortunately, the Klingons followed us through the dimensional rift and we ended up having quite the dogfight over Las Vegas before crashing back on the maintenance level of the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton :Spoiler Off. After the ride, we were returned to the Star Trek Experience where we had ample opportunity to shop for any Star Trek gadget or gizmo you can imagine. Quark's Bar and Restaurant is also available for those Trekkies that need some refreshment before heading back to reality. Obviously, I enjoyed this attraction. The Federation crew members, Klingons, Borg, and other "shipmosphere" characters were great additions. If you're in Las Vegas and are a trekkie (or even have just enjoyed the reruns on the tube) don't miss this!

Tutankhamun's Tomb (Luxor) (6) — What could have been a fantastic attraction disappointed me. Although I'd expected a full recreation of the tomb, only a small portion of it (including the burial chamber of the dead pharaoh) was actually on display. The narration wand technology was provided, which was a welcome tool. However, the experience could have been so much more.

Totankhamun's Sarcophagus.
Tutankhamun's Sarcophagus.

Battle of the Buffets

Bellagio Buffet, Dinner (10) — The best buffet that we experienced was the buffet at the Bellagio The selection was awesome, and the flavors of the various dishes was excellent. To top off the meal, the desert options were the best in all of Las Vegas.

Carnival of the World (Rio), Lunch (7) — Although we visited at lunchtime, the buffet was incredibly busy. The selection was good, but the advertised "Mongolian Barbecue" was a bit disappointing.

Spice Market (Aladdin), Dinner (9) — Spice Market had the advantage of being our first buffet and the one we visited after flying from Michigan to Nevada. Even so, the selection was very good, and the lamb and chicken shish kabob were excellent!

Grand Buffet (MGM Grand), Dinner (7) — Lots of choices, but none of them were spectacular. The Grand Buffet would be a favorite at home, where Old Country Buffet and Ryan's would be the competition, but it's just not as good as the best of the buffets in this town.

The MGM Grand.
The MGM Grand.

Le Village (Paris), Dinner (9) — I thoroughly enjoyed both the quantity and uniqueness of the various selections. Obviously, I'm don't frequent French restaurants, so having so many choices of regional dishes from around France was a treat. Not surprisingly, the deserts were fabulous, too.

Mirage Buffet, Dinner (7) — We had a very late dinner at the Mirage one night. The service was OK, and the selection was OK, and the food was OK... but the overall effect (even though we were very hungry) was just OK.

Mandalay Bay Buffet, Lunch (8) — The lunch buffet at Mandalay Bay was pretty good. The selections had a decided Polynesian flair (lots of seafood and stir fry kinds of things), which both Barb and I enjoy. We didn't leave here hungry.

Las Vegas Hilton Buffet, Lunch (7) — The lunch we had at the Las Vegas Hilton was very similar to our experience at the Grand Buffet. Everything was good, just not exceptional.

Sin City and the Bottom Line

Does Las Vegas deserve that old moniker? Well, in a nutshell, yes it does. In addition to gambling (which I personally see as an expensive pastime, but not as a "sin"), strip clubs, nude shows, and such abound too. Advertising for in-room strippers are freely handed out on Las Vegas Boulevard.

Personally, I think that anyone with half a brain is quite able to handle the sensory inputs. Just ignoring the leaflet passer-outers kept them at bay. Only those folks that want to see an adult show or visit a strip club need do so. However, the atmosphere was pretty strong.

Is Las Vegas a good "family destination?" I think not. I certainly won't be making plans to visit this city with my boys.

Brian Bennett's Disney Trip Planner

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Brian's Archive - Contents

A Little More Disney Information:

Reviews of Other Disney-Related Stuff books and CDs!

A Brief History of the Disney Parks just an overview, but worth reading!

A Tribute to Walter Elias Disney the text of Eric Severeid's eulogy of Mr. Disney, December 15, 1966

The Boycott and the Bible the reasons behind the anti-Disney boycott(s), and my own Bible research on what I should do about it

Plush Revenge - A Shopping Story about how I bought over $353.00 worth of Disney stuff for $18.56.

About the WebMaster:

Brian and His Family some background on my own family

Michael's Story a bit more information on how we adopted our littlest boy

Growing Families International a great organization for parents

Christian Family Services a link to my favorite adoption agency

Email Brian if for some odd reason you want to contact me...

Las Vegas, September 2002 Trip Report a report on a personal trip that didn't include a visit to any Disney places whatsoever!

 

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