Saturday, May 3, 2008

Back to Vegas, Baby

We got back to the Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon and took another round of wonderful showers. We picked up a pizza for dinner and then headed to the Strip to sightsee. As we left the Gold Coast, we took a picture of the glittering lights:

On the strip, we admired the over 400-foot-high Eiffel Tower at the Paris casino:

Inside Paris, we visited the bread shop and the pastry shop and so on, and Sarah critiqued the wares. Each store seemed to be a highly Americanized version of a traditional French shop. We also passed a Wyndham kiosk and got roped into doing a two-hour timeshare presentation in exchange for tickets to “Tony’s ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding,” a show that we were excited to see.

Next, we watched the dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio.

This was one of the highlights of our stay in Vegas. Every 15 minutes, the fountains put on a show, set to music. The song is different every time, and the shooting, dancing, and swaying of the fountains is perfectly choreographed to the music. We liked the first show so much that we stayed for two more, edging closer to the prime viewing area in the center each time.

Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from the fountains and went inside the Bellagio. The indoor conservatory was cute, with a floral ladybug and giant sprinkling cans:

The tulips didn’t quite rival those in the Skagit Valley in Washington, but they were still pretty:

Also inside the Bellagio was the world’s largest chocolate fountain! Three different types of chocolate flowed down from one handmade glass bowl to another before being recycled. Unfortunately, the whole fountain was encased in glass to prevent sampling.

The next morning, we headed to the Rio casino to board a bus for Harrah’s, where our timeshare presentation would start. While we waited at the Rio, we took a picture of the inside of the casino. Unfortunately, as amazing as the casinos are from the outside, they all look pretty much the same on the inside, with lots of flashing neon lights from electronic slot machines.

At Harrah’s, we were herded into a room with over 20 other people to listen to the timeshare presentation. The guy giving the presentation, the Wyndham “senior specialist,” was obviously a salesperson. He had a few funny lines but for the most part was just loud. Most frustratingly, he took 1.5 hours of our time and really gave us very little information. We did learn that Wyndham doesn’t sell timeshares; instead they sell “vacation ownership”. You pay a certain amount upfront and get a certain number of points every year. The points never depreciate, and they can be used at any of Wyndham’s 150 resorts, or 1000s of hotels (clearly inferior to resorts, he said, although we weren’t quite clear what the difference was), cruises, plane flights, etc. His goal was to make sure we understood the importance of vacationing and the value of owning instead of renting so that we’d be disposed to make, say, a $75,000 purchase on the spot to lock in our vacations for life. Of course, the sales pitch, along with lots of incentives, were designed to get us to sign up today, before we came to our senses.

The 1.5-hour length of the sales pitch was especially frustrating because we knew that we also had to take a tour of Wyndham’s Las Vegas property, which was a bus ride away, and all of this was supposed to fit in the two hours that we’d signed up for. Our assigned sales rep thankfully walked us briskly through the property, but by the time we got back to Harrah’s, we’d still already spent 2.5 hours. And we still hadn’t gotten any of the most basic details, like, say, what packages are available and how much they cost. Brian firmly told our sales rep that although we were interested in learning more, we had only allotted two hours to this activity and Wyndham had already kept us 2.5 hours, so we would have to leave. She left to get a manager, and we had to tell him the same thing, also adding that Wyndham’s inability to fulfill its commitment to take no more than two hours of our time had hurt our trust of the company. The manager didn’t say anything, didn’t offer an apology or an explanation. Instead, he left to get another guy, who was supposed to survey us about our experience. We told that guy that we had already spent more than the two hours that we had committed to, and we just wanted our free gifts and to leave. So he left to get another manager, who came over and informed us that we had to take the survey if we wanted our free gifts. After some more protesting, he told us that the survey was short, and we could have finished it by now in the time that we’d been complaining about it. How incredibly rude! In the end, we took the survey, venting to the survey guy about what a crummy experience this was and the unfavorable impression of Wyndham that had resulted from it. We saw no intention on the part of Wyndham to hold to the two hours, no respect at all for the value of our time, and after about two hours and 45 minutes, we seemed to be the first couple in our group to leave! The others were all sitting at tables with their sales reps, getting the detailed pricing information that we felt should have fit into the two hours that we'd committed.

At the end, we got vouchers for “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” that had to be exchanged for tickets at the Rio box office, based on space availability. This was also news to us – the rep who had signed us up for the timeshare presentation had asked us specifically which show we wanted to attend and told us that we would receive tickets, not vouchers. The Rio is a bus ride away from Harrah’s but fortunately right next door to the Gold Coast, so we decided to spend a few hours walking the Strip before heading back to get our tickets, taking the chance that on a Monday, we’d be able to get tickets late in the afternoon.

But first, we ate the lunch buffet at Harrah’s, which was surprisingly good. They not only had meat fresh off the barbecue; they also had a dozen flavors of ice cream! Yum! Nothing like a Vegas buffet to take the edge off an annoying timeshare presentation.

We wanted to check out the Venetian, so we headed there right after lunch. Along the way, we passed a wax museum, and we just had to get our pictures taken with Nicholas Cage and Whoopi.

C’mon Nick, look at the camera!

Ah, that’s better. We thought they were amazingly good likenesses. In person, though, Nick Cage looked a bit spooky – kind of like he was dead, or maybe cryogenically frozen.

As we got closer to the Venetian, we saw someone wearing a brand-new Microsoft Management Summit (MMS) 2008 backpack, with the tags still on. MMS is one of the big trade conferences that Microsoft puts on each year, and it just happens to be the most important one for the group at Microsoft that Brian used to work for. Well, we kept walking toward the Venetian, and so did the woman with the backpack, and then she walked into the Venetian! As we walked around the Venetian, we saw more and more people who, while not wearing backpacks, had that distinctive “MMS attendee” look about them. We spent a while afterwards discussing what makes a computer conference attendee stand out from the rest of the Vegas crowd, and although it’s hard to point to any one thing, we decided that some of the common traits are: male, 20-40 years old, often out-of-shape, nevertheless walking fast and with a purpose, and a bit rumpled-looking. Not to stereotype computer folks – after all, we’re two of them – but just walking around the Venetian, the number of people with a majority of these characteristics screamed out, “This casino is hosting a techie conference.” Of course, the big conference-attendee hangtags around many of their necks gave them away, too.

Brian thought he might be able to find someone he knew, so we wandered in the direction of increasing density of techie-looking people, and sure enough, we found the conference. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, and another round of conference sessions was about to start, so when we didn’t find anyone within about 20 minutes, we were going to give up. Then we ran into Brijesh, a good guy that Brian used to work with. We chatted for a while, got some phone numbers of other Microsoft folks, and made some phone calls. Then we took a slow walk around the craps tables, the blackjack tables, and the surrounding bars, thinking those would be likely hangouts for people from Brian’s group, but we didn’t find anyone else. Oh well, it was a lot of fun to see Brijesh. And what a coincidence to be at the Venetian at the same time as MMS!

After wandering MMS, we continued to explore the Venetian. Canals wind through the inside and outside of the casino, and the gondoliers sing – quite well!

And the shopping and dining area really did look like Venice, albeit a bit cleaner!

As we left, we passed a really beautiful fountain in the hotel lobby.

Next, Brian wanted to see Treasure Island, so we headed over there. It was almost directly across the street from the Venetian, but to get there, we had to take what must have been a half-mile route of sidewalks, moving walkways, and escalators. One thing we learned about Vegas: Nothing’s ever as close as it seems. As it turned out, the inside of Treasure Island looked like, guess what, yet another casino, but the pirate ship outside was pretty neat.

After that, we decided we’d had enough casino touring, so we took the shuttle bus from Harrah’s back to the Rio. At the box office, it was no problem to exchange our vouchers for “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s” tickets for tonight, so we did that and headed back to the Gold Coast. After dumping our stuff off in our room, we headed down to one of the casino bars for pre-dinner cocktails. The coupon books that we got at check-in had coupons for free cocktails. Let’s see… This was our second stay, and there were two of us, and each book had three coupons – that’s 12 free cocktails! We had plenty of coupons left, so we ordered a round of kryptonites (recommended to us the previous night by the bartender) and then another. By then, it was time for “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s,” so we headed back to the Rio.

“Tony ‘n’ Tina’s” is an interesting concept for a show – it’s a make-believe Italian wedding and reception, and all of the ticketholders are guests at the wedding. It was very over-the-top tacky, with lots of audience participation. Brian got to be one of the Village People, Sarah got to be a Rockette, and we laughed a lot when the priest got drunk and when Tina’s ex-boyfriend made a scene. It was a lot of fun, and just maybe worth the time that we spent with Wyndham.

Afterwards, we went to the casino, where Sarah wanted to play the penny slots, so we put a dollar into a machine. “100” appeared as our number of credits. Sarah pushed a button, and a bunch of numbers and pictures of wolves in various poses appeared on the screen. And the “100” became “99”. Sarah did it again. Same thing, except the “99” was now “98”. She did this 20 times, until the number was down to “80,” and then we headed to another machine. The next machine had cute pictures of fantasy sea creatures instead of wolves, but every time Sarah pushed the button, the number went down. How boring! We never did figure out the rules. Eventually, we bet our last 25 cents on a five-card draw machine. We got a pair of queens, which paid out our original 25-cent bet (wow, we broke even!), bet again, and lost it all. We’d seen people camped out in front of slot machines for long, long periods of time, but after our slots experience, we still had no better idea why.

After that, we headed back to the Gold Coast for more cocktails and a nap, before another round of midnight bowling. This time we played three games and both did better than Thursday night. After that, it was 1:00 and time for bed.

The next morning, we got up and went swimming – it was already pretty hot by mid-morning. We checked out just before the noon cutoff, loaded up the car, then came back into the casino to play our next round of coupons for $5 matching bets on blackjack. We both started with 15, and the dealer had an 8 – not good odds. We both hit, and Brian got a 2 and Sarah got a 4, so we stayed with 17 and 19. The dealer busted, and we won. We also had a coupon for a match on a dollar six-spot keno bet, so we tried that and lost badly – only one of our numbers came up. We debated about whether keno or penny slots were more boring as we left the hotel, coming out $38 (and 13 free drinks – a nice person gave us an extra coupon) ahead on our Vegas weekend.

Now, on to Death Valley!


Lloyd said...

High rollers! :)

Lisa said...

You guys make Las Vegas look interesting. I kinda want to go there now.