Back On Track!

This Vegas blog has had one HUGE fundamental problem.  An author who hasn’t been to Las Vegas since the blog started.  That’s unacceptable!!  I need to get this blog back on track.  Not because it’s a New Year’s resolution, but because it’s the right thing to do.  The only way to do that my friends, is to sacrifice my time in the comforts of my own home, and a bit of precious vacation time from work to take a trip to Las Vegas.  I’m willing to make those sacrifices for you, the reader!

I am booked for later in the month, and on a mission to see things I haven’t seen, do things I haven’t done, and eat at places I haven’t eaten at.  All while doing all the same things I’ve always done, going to the same places I always go, and eating the same things I always eat.  How is that possible?  It’s not, but I’m gonna push myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself to experience as much of Vegas as I can, so I can share those memories (and most importantly pictures…. otherwise I’m going to have to keep posting pictures of the Bellagio fountains like this one) with you.

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I’m going for 4 days and I’ll be staying at the Cosmopolitan.  It will be my second time staying there, and third if you count the time that I had friends staying there, and I hung out in their suite all the time before retiring back to my modest headquarters of the moment which was The Carriage House.  I like a January trip to Vegas because it’s pretty much the cheapest time to go.  The weather isn’t hot, but more of a spring type of temperature during the day.  It gets a bit chilly at night.  That said, for those who don’t know me, I am Canadian!  Therefore Vegas in January is a welcome relief from Toronto in January which is quite a bit colder.  The swimming pools aren’t open this time of year, but I’m not much of a swimming pool kind of guy.  I would probably go once per trip if it was open, but I won’t miss it if it’s not.  I absolutely love the Cosmo.  I had to pony up a bit extra to stay there instead of many of the other hotels on the strip, but I did get a package that came with free buffet breakfast every day.  As I’ve explained in a previous post, I love Vegas Buffets, and the Wicked Spoon is my fave!  I’ve also signed up for their rewards program, so I’m trying to get my comps up.  I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to the Cosmopolitan at some point, but I’ll wait until I’ve stayed there again, and can get some more pictures.

The last time I was in Vegas which was about a year ago, I fell in love with Garrett’s Popcorn.  This is an outfit from Chicago, and they make the most incredible popcorn I’ve ever had, and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.  I’ve tried every brand that seems to be coming out with a knock off ‘Chicago Mix’, but nothing has compared.  I haven’t been to Chicago since the 90’s and it isn’t a regular stop for me, so I go to the Garrett’s in the Miracle Mile shops at the Planet Hollywood Hotel.  I’m told that Oprah attributed some of her weight problems to Garrett’s, and I definitely understand why.  The key is not to pig out on Garrett’s all day because there are restaurants I need to check out, and I don’t want to spoil my appetite.  I don’t want to hit that vacation wall I sometimes hit, where I just lose my appetite completely and start ordering salads.

Wish me luck!  If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll have a lot more pictures to share with you, and hopefully some stories and recommendations.  Can’t wait!!

The Nature Post Pt 2 – Valley Of Fire

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So if you read my last Vegas post you know that I’m not a nature guy.  Not that I can’t appreciate its beauty when it’s thrust upon me.  I just don’t go out of my way to have it thrust upon me.  My good friend who used to live in Vegas IS a nature guy, and when we would go to visit, we usually ended up out in the desert somewhere.  I’m glad I brought a camera, because these are some of the best pictures we ever took.  My last post which was about Red Rock had a few nice photos, but to be perfectly honest, I was only there for an hour or so.  I managed to squeeze a blog out of the pictures I took plus a little research.

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Valley Of Fire was a different story.  We made a day of it.  We went to Whole Foods at Town Square, and got ourselves lots of snacks and refreshments for the road.  This was a bit further out than Red Rock.  I enjoyed this so much more because we actually hiked for a bit, and saw a lot of different things.  I remember loving it so much, and thinking to myself that if I wasn’t friends with this guy, I NEVER would have been out that way, but I’m so glad I did it.  One of my best days in recent memory!  It was certainly the highlight of that particular trip.

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Usually I’m so verbose in my blogs, but I’m just gonna let the pictures speak for themselves.  This is definitely a worthy trek if you’re in Vegas, but want to get away from the strip and see something beautiful.

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PS…….  I think I might be able to finally get back to Vegas in January, but I don’t want to jinx it….. Stay tuned!!

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The Nature Post Pt 1 – Red Rock

What???  I have a Vegas blog??  Oh yeah!!  So neglected already 😦  I felt like I would do these posts all the time, and take all these Vegas trips to research for more blogs (or to get drunk and have fun), but I haven’t been to Vegas once since this blog started.  It’s almost like bad luck.  Life gets in the way of Vegas sometimes.  I’m starting to run out of pictures too.  Oh well, I’ll get back there one of these days.

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Today I’ve decided to post a couple of pictures from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  These pictures are going to be a little different than the ones you’ve seen on this blog.  When I go to Vegas, I typically don’t bother renting a car, and I stay on the Strip because that’s what I enjoy.  That said, I know there are some people that like to get away from it and do some tourist stuff off the strip.  While I haven’t done a lot of that myself, I can tell you about a couple of places I’ve been and enjoyed.

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Red Rock is a good place to start, because it’s not that far away from Las Vegas, and you don’t have to kill a whole day there if you just want to drive up and see it for a couple of hours.  If it’s super hot and you don’t want to get out of the car, there’s a road that goes through it, and you can enjoy the scenery in the comfort of your air-conditioned vehicle.  Even if you’re pretty lame like me, you should at least pull over a few times, and take some pictures.  It is quite beautiful.  I was lucky to have a friend who lived in Vegas for a time, and he and his wife spent a lot of time out in the desert.  Photography is one of his many talents, and they were kind enough to take us out to Red Rock one time, which I thought was great, because if left to my own devices, I probably would have spent the time watching a ball game at the Sports Book waiting for the waitress to bring me a free drink.

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The pictures you see here are mine.  His would probably be a lot better.  If you’ve never been out in the desert before, remember to take it seriously.  Bring about five times as much water as you think you’ll need, and don’t wander off and try to be a hero, unless you know where you’re going, and how to get back.  If you’re a desert enthusiast, and don’t care as much for the glamour and glitz of the strip, there are casino resorts out that way as well that would have all you need.

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The Vegas Trip That Wasn’t

As I’m starting to type this I could be in Vegas right now, but I’m not.  It would be 5:25pm right now, and I’d probably be thinking about what to have for my last dinner before heading to the airport and getting on the red-eye to come back home.  I’d had this loosely laid plan which has been a moving target with various factors contributing to if I could go, when I could go, as well as in what style could I afford to go.  Without getting into all that, I’ll just say that it didn’t work out.  It was probably for the best.  My son was really sick this week with a fever, and he has been a handful for both my wife and I.  I’m sure she would have been cursing me to the blazes of damnation if I was in Vegas right now, and she’d be right to do so.  If you’re going to go to Vegas, you need to leave your guilt at the door, or don’t go.  Unless it’s a Stag….. then you have to go!

The truth is that this blog has been suffering a bit.  When I first thought about doing it, I envisioned eventually going back there to take some pictures to use.  I have lots of Vegas pics from the 6 times I was there, but they’re of people with Vegas in the background.  I don’t really want to use pictures of myself, my family and my friends for privacy reasons.  I haven’t been back since I started writing this blog, and the way things are shaping up, I won’t get there again until next year.  I know, I know…. First world problems, right?

So this isn’t a complete bummer, I’m going to list off a few things I haven’t seen or done yet that are on my list of things to see next time I go, (or if I want to stay in a negative space, I’ll call it ‘things I would have done in the last 3 days’).  Maybe some of you have seen/done these things and can tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

SHOWS

I kind of want to see Jabbawockeez at the Luxor.  I think that would be cool.  I like any kind of comedy.  Maybe something with rotating comics.  Brad Garrett’s comedy club at the MGM maybe.  Not too into magic, but I think my first pick would be Penn & Teller at Rio.  Gotta pick a Cirque show too.  I’ve only seen the Beatles LOVE show so far.  I think I’ll go with KA, although there’s a new Michael Jackson show at Mandalay Bay which might be interesting.  Always check the Tix4tonight booths around the strip to see if you can get some cheaper tickets for shows.  I always do that first.

EX-BEER-IENCE

Don’t even think about stealing that word from me 🙂  There are a few bars I’d like to try for different beers.  Near Fremont there are a couple of micro-brewery pubs I’d like to go to.  The Triple 7 which is at the Main St. hotel, and the Chicago Brewing Company at the Four Queens hotel.  Near UNLV I need to head back to the Freakin’ Frog to see if they still have St. Bernardus Witbier which I swear is the best beer in the entire world (at least that I’ve tasted), and I can’t find it anywhere. It’s been almost 3 years since I had one.  I also saw that Gordon Ramsay opened a pub in Caesar’s Palace which is supposed to have a great beer menu as well.  I’ve still yet to set foot into the Nine Fine Irishmen pub at New York New York.  So many left to tick off the list.

RESTAURANTS

Bobby Flay’s MESA grill at Caesar’s.  Holstein’s at the Cosmo.  Yellowtail at Bellagio.  Countless buffets at countless hotels.  There’s a million of them, and no point in me even trying to list them here.  If you go to www.vegas.com they have 867 of them mentioned, so if you’re there for 3 or 4 days…… they’ve got you covered!  Maybe in a future blog I’ll list off my 10 favorite Vegas meals so far.

As far as other stuff goes, I just take it as it comes.  I do a bit of gambling, a bit of shopping, a lot of eating, and if I’m there long enough, I just might take in a tourist attraction or two.  If you don’t know what to try, I can’t recommend the www.tix4tonight.com booths enough.  Get a good price if you’re gonna take a gamble on a restaurant or show.  I’ve almost never been let down.

Bellagio fountains

Bellagio fountains

Vegas Baby (Literally)!

Is Las Vegas a ‘baby-friendly’ town you ask?  It really depends on the baby.  There’s not a lot that a baby can do in Vegas other than be a baby.  They would do that at home anyways, so does location really matter?

My wife and I decided to go to Las Vegas when my son was 3 months old.  I was just looking through some of the pics feeling a bit nostalgic about the trip.  I’m not going to lie and say that it was my best Vegas trip ever, but if I had a choice between being there with a 3 month old right now, or here typing, I’d do the trip again in a heartbeat.  We were at a stage where we were mentally and physically exhausted.  We needed to get out-of-town for a bit.  My wife had heard tales of babies flying for free, and wanted to test this out.  She was on maternity leave, and was going to have to sit around at home anyways.  Why not sit around in Las Vegas.  It was January after all, and in Toronto that means you can’t (or shouldn’t) be taking a baby out in a stroller.  In Vegas, January is perfect spring weather by our standards.  There’s no snow, and while you still have to bundle your baby up a bit, you can get away with a light jacket.  Perfect for pushing a stroller around.  There are times of the year where Vegas would be way too hot for a baby.  I also like January because it’s low season, and there’s great hotel/flight deals to be had.

There were some crappy elements to this, but there seemed to be a silver lining for every cloud.  We couldn’t really go to too many nice restaurants.  Mostly buffets, and casual places in case our baby lost his mind in the middle of our meal.  We were also forced to eat dinner at about 5pm which meant we never had to wait for a table.  We stayed at the Cosmopolitan in a gorgeous room, but they didn’t have a crib there.  Which is understandable as babies are not their target market.  Our son wasn’t sleep trained yet anyways, so having him in our bed was no great setback at the time.  We had to take turns gambling, because babies aren’t old enough to gamble, and a security guard will kick you out if you try to pull a stroller up to a slot machine.  This way we could only lose money half as fast.

Between my son, and my sister-in-law’s kids, I’ve been on 4 or 5 baby-vacations.  Even if you go to the most kid friendly places (Orlando), I’ve learned that there are always compromises to be made as a parent.  Naps, feeding, diapers, bedtimes happen whether you’re at home, at an appropriate baby spot, or Las Vegas, so you might as well go to Las Vegas, and take that compromise vacation, and just be happy that you’re not stuck at home.  Grab a Beer and a Pina Colada, stick them in the stroller cup-holders, and go enjoy the strip.  It won’t be like your bachelor party, but you can definitely have a good time!

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5 Things I Love About Fremont St.

Yet another reason I love to go to Las Vegas is the Fremont Street Experience.  For those that haven’t been, it’s a taste of Old Vegas.  There’s something nostalgic and awesome about some of these older casinos, and all the gaudy lights they have on their signs.  It’s an absolute drain of electricity, but c’mon…… it’s also a great spectacle that you don’t want to miss.  There are quite a few hotels and casinos here that are within walking distance, and the street is closed off to vehicles, so there’s a lot going on outside the casinos as well.  It’s best to visit in the evening, so you can see the light show they put on.  Like other parts of Vegas, you can’t possibly go to all the bars and restaurants in one trip, so if you’re like me you’re always looking to try something different every time you’re there.  There are a few things that I can vouch for, but I’ve still got lots of research ahead of me. 

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Here are 5 things that I love about Fremont St.

1.  It’s not anywhere near as expensive as the strip.  These are older hotels and casinos, and they are losing business to a lot of the latest and greatest properties.  They know they can’t stand up to the hotels on the strip, but the prices reflect that.  The gambling is cheaper, the food is cheaper, the drinks are cheaper.  If you find you’re in Vegas and running out of money a little faster than you’d hoped, you can definitely stretch your dollar out a bit further at Fremont St. 

2.  Call me ignorant, but I can’t get enough of the freedom of walking out onto the sidewalk with a bottle of beer.  You can do this anywhere in Vegas mind you, but at the Fremont Hotel, Corona and Heineken bottles are $2 all the time.  Where else can you get road beers for that price?

3.  The light show they have after dark, which changes periodically (so is different every time I travel there) is really cool.  The one that sticks out in my mind was a tribute to the band ‘KISS’.  This is happening in the middle of the street at night-time usually about once an hour.  Grab a $2 beer and enjoy the free entertainment!!

4.  There is zip lining available as well.  I’m too scared to do it, but it looks really fun.

5.  Deals on Prime Rib Dinners.  I’ve had the one at Tony Roma’s at Fremont Hotel, and the one at the Gold Spike although they closed their doors this year 😦  I can’t wait to try more of them!!!

Do you know of any cool things for me to check out next time I’m there?

Buffet Fantasies

As many times as I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve never done the Buffet of Buffets 24 Hour Pass.  I’ve vowed to many a time.  When I’m with my wife, she usually squashes the idea because she’s half my size, and couldn’t possibly do the type of damage that I’m confident I could do.  She likes to pull the ‘I’m trying to save your life’ card when denying me this fantasy of mine.  So sweet.

For context I should explain what the Buffet of Buffets promotion is.  On the Las Vegas strip, a fair number of the hotels are owned by 2 ownership groups.  One of which is Caesars.  They own Harrah’s, Paris, Rio, Bally’s, The Quad, Flamingo, and of course Caesar’s Palace.  This is great if you want to sign up for a rewards program.  This way you don’t have to stay in the same casino to rack up rewards points, as long as they’re affiliated with the same group of hotels.

If you haven’t been to Vegas, it’s important to understand that almost every hotel has a buffet restaurant.   When you can’t decide what you want to eat, or you feel like stuffing your face to within an inch of its life, the buffet is for you.  Caesars not only has a quality rewards program, but they have a 24 hour pass for their buffets.  What this means (not that any of you should need clarification, but some of you might have started drooling, so let me repeat) is that for 24 hours, you can go to the buffets at any of those hotels for one price $49.99.

DISCLAIMER…… This is a picture of an advertisement on the side of Bally’s that I took in 2010.  IT IS NO LONGER $39.99, but can you imagine??????

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I’ve planned out in my head a million times which ones I would go to, in which order, and how I can screw the system by actually getting 4 meals out of it.  As if I could ever eat 4 buffet meals in 24 hours.

One day Vegas…. one day!!!  I will get that Buffet Pass!  I can feel my arteries seizing up just thinking about it 🙂

I thought I’d finish this post by mentioning which hotel buffets I’d been to in Vegas.

– Flavors (Harrah’s)

– Carnival World Buffet (Rio)

– Wicked Spoon (Cosmopolitan)

– The Buffet (Aria)

– Paradise Buffet (Fremont)

– Cravings Buffet (The Mirage)

– MGM Grand Buffet (Uhhh I forgot which hotel this one is ….. oh yeah….. MGM Grand)

– Excalibur Buffet (The Excalibur)

– Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood)

– The Las Vegas Hilton Buffet (LVH)

I will say that the Wicked Spoon is the best one I’ve been to, and Flavors at Harrah’s was probably my favorite ‘bang for the buck’ one.

Which buffets not listed here must I try next????

 

 

What Show Would I See Again?

In my 6 trips to Vegas I have been to less than 10 shows.  I want to wait until I’ve been a few more times and seen a few more shows before I start telling you what’s what.  I can only make recommendations based on what I’ve heard, and what I’ve already seen.  There is one recommendation that I’ve made over and over again.

A couple of years back my wife and I were visiting Vegas, and I was looking for a show that we could go to.  Although the Cirque de Soleil shows are the most talked about and renowned, they’re also the most expensive.  I’m all about bang for the buck, and a huge music fan, so I really wanted to see a show where music performance was the focus.

I’d read about an Australian vocal group called Human Nature that had a show doing all Motown songs.  They had a show at the old Imperial Palace (now the Quad), and Smokey Robinson’s name was attached to it.  Yes, I’ll point out the elephant in the room.  It’s 4 white guys doing Motown, which didn’t necessarily seem natural to me, but if it was good enough for a Smokey Robinson endorsement, then it was good enough for me (ie I don’t see Smokey Robinson’s name attached to anything that isn’t amazing, so I was pretty confident in my choice.)

To say that my expectations were exceeded is a total understatement.  I was blown away.  I’d like to think that I don’t get blown away that easily.  Especially when it comes to music, and concerts, I’m usually pretty hard to impress.  These guys were amazing, and did many of the Motown favorites that you might expect, and even some you wouldn’t (they tackled a few songs that had originally been sung by women).  They were backed by a great band, they each had their own vocal range of expertise, often taking turns as the lead vocalist, and some of their best moments were a cappella.  Their treatment of Smokey’s ‘Ooh Baby Baby’ made my arm hairs stand on end.  As soon as it was done I looked across at my wife and said “I think I shit my pants”, it was THAT good.  (Too much?).  Luckily for her and I, and the cleaning staff at the Imperial Palace, that was not the case, but I was totally amazed by these guys, and would recommend their show to ANYONE, ANY AGE, with ANY TASTE IN ANYTHING….. they are THAT good!

They do tour around a bit, but most of the time they are still on the strip (although they’ve upgraded to The Venetian… no offence Imperial Palace, I’m looking forward to seeing the Quad).  They used to sell CDs after the show, and they would autograph it for you, but this was a couple of years back, so not sure if that’s still the case.  Do yourself a favor, and go see this show.  You will thank me, and Vegas should pay me, but that’s another story 🙂Fall 2010 149

 

Anthony Bennett!!!

I’m so excited tonight, and I know this is a travel blog, and it’s my second basketball related post in a row.  I’ll tie it into travel later in the post.  Anthony Bennett was the first overall pick in the NBA draft tonight.  This is a big deal to me for 2 reasons.  First, he is the first Canadian to be the top pick in the draft.  Second, he played his College ball for my favorite NCAA basketball team, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels!!!

This is the first time a UNLV player has been drafted first overall since Larry Johnson in 1992 when the Rebels were the GREATEST COLLEGE TEAM IN THE HISTORY OF THE NCAA!!!!!!! They weren’t that this year.  They were an unfortunate first round knockout in March Madness in a game that Bennett didn’t really dominate…. but it’s a team game.  I guess the Cleveland Cavaliers thought he was the guy, and I’m super stoked that they did. It’s historical for Canadian Basketball, and should be great for the UNLV program.

Where does this turn into a travel blog??  It just so happens that I attended a UNLV home game this year during my last trip to Vegas.  I love going to the Thomas & Mack Center especially because of the reminders of that amazing team from the early 90s.  I even bought a Stacey Augmon jersey from the concession stand when I was there.  Being Canadians, we were of course cheering for Bennett, but I had no idea I was watching the top player in the NBA draft that night.

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I missed some of the game too.  Shortly after this picture was taken, my 3 month old son (don’t ask me why I thought it was appropriate to bring a 3 month old baby to an NCAA basketball game….. I just did) lost his mind when the crowd started cheering after they announced the starting 5.  He was sleepy, and I thought he might sleep through it, but the sudden bursts of noise were too much for him.  My wife gave me the look, and the 3 of us jumped in a cab to go back to the Cosmopolitan.  After they were tucked in, I jumped in another cab and went back to watch the 2nd half of the game.  The Rebels won!!!

If you’ve never been to an NCAA basketball game, I strongly urge you to experience it.  The fans are great.  I’d almost say better than the NBA.  It’s just such an electric atmosphere.  I love the marching bands and cheerleaders and all the chanting and craziness that goes with it.  These kids aren’t getting paid either.  It’s just pure youthful enthusiasm.  Lot’s of fun!  Yet another fun thing to do in Vegas.

Yay Anthony Bennett!!!

NBA Finals in Vegas???

I wish…..

I’m sitting in my condo in Toronto which is finally getting some good summer weather.  I’ll be watching Game 7 from the comfort of my own couch.  I’m cheering hard for the Spurs. I really don’t like the whole ‘let’s get all our buddies together and create an unbeatable super-team’ thing that the Heat has going on.  Now that they’ve already won, I guess I don’t care, but I wanted them to lose soooo badly last year.  Guess where I was???

VEGAS BABY!!!

We went to Town Square the day of the deciding game.  This is about a 5 minute cab ride south of Mandalay Bay.  Don’t try to walk it…. that’s another story for another blog.  We ate dinner at Kabuki which is an excellent Sushi restaurant.  We were there in the late afternoon because we wanted to finish before the deciding game started.  This worked out well because they have a Happy Hour between 3-6 pm where a selection of sushi and specialty rolls are discounted, not to mention cocktails.  I have a picture (which I’m not posting here) of my with an unreasonably sized can of Asahi Extra Dry (which is my favorite Japanese beer).  Kabuki was awesome…. it really got the night going in the right direction, well before it took that awful turn. \

Speaking of Happy Hours…… First let me tell you why Happy Hours in Vegas are the best. If you’re a sports fan like me, and you’re used to watching the games in the Eastern Time Zone, then your favorite team probably has a game at 4 pm Vegas time.  With most of the Happy Hours being around  3-6 pm, you can go have reasonably priced drinks while you watch your favorite team, and the night is still young when the game is over.  I’m tired of all these people telling me that Vegas is just sucking all the money out of us….. if you know where to go and when, Vegas can be the most reasonably priced place around!!

Speaking of Happy Hours, we moved over to the Yard House to watch the first half of the game.  They have an absurd selection of beer from all over the world, and even though it’s a chain and there’s quite a few of them, I’d never been to one before.  I wish I had more time to spend there because there were a lot of different beers there that I wanted to get acquainted with.  Since we’d already eaten at Kabuki, and who can remember how early in the day I actually started drinking, I was no match for Yard House.

We decided to go back to the Cosmopolitan to watch the 2nd half in my friend’s suite.  The Cosmo is a gorgeous 5 star hotel, and this suite was really nice.  I love that they have balconies at the Cosmo, because most Strip hotels do not have them.  I’m not sure why, but I would suggest that liability issues are at play.  We had beers in the fridge that we had purchased at the new Walgreen’s earlier (the Walgreen’s on the corner outside of the Planet Hollywood hotel has a walk in beer fridge with excellent selection, so we weren’t stuck with Bud Lights), so it was just a matter of drinking away the pain of the Miami Heat beating the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2012 NBA championship.  When I would get upset at the game, I could go out onto the balcony and watch the Bellagio fountain show.  We were so high up that they looked like lawn sprinklers, but if you’ve seen them up close you know how massive they are.

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I’m hoping and praying that San Antonio wins tonight.  I don’t have ‘chillin in an elaborate suite at the Cosmo with a breathtaking view of the strip in Las Vegas’ to take the edge off a Heat championship this time.