Las Vegas: A Not So Sinful Sin City Trip

On the Las Vegas Strip - Paris and Planet Hollywood

On the Las Vegas Strip – Paris and Planet Hollywood

Las Vegas is a bit of an anomaly. Ad campaigns that sell sex, pool parties, nightlife and intrigue are targeted to adults, giving them a place to let loose and forget about their cares while allowing them to return home and pretend as if it never happened.

Yet, on my visit last week, I couldn’t help but notice that, while you can certainly indulge some of your wildest fantasies in Sin City, there is also a bit of a contradiction when I see parents bringing newborn babies with them. I’m not saying that I necessarily agree with people who decide to travel with small children to Las Vegas – the air is rife with smoke that will hurt their little lungs and it doesn’t really allow for you to enjoy a day at the casino – however, this city has become more of a family affair over the years and various events and shows currently cater to a wider variety of patrons. Even I remember going to Vegas with my parents, but as a child I can’t say I recall enjoying it that much. As an adult though, there is more than enough to keep me entertained.

Now a traveler in my late twenties, I can still enjoy an evening of debauchery at a dance club despite never having been a huge partier, but there is no way I can do that a few nights in a row. So, what exactly did I fill the rest of my time with when I landed in the wonderfully warm and snow-free desert? Let me recount the events for you.

Flying over the outskirts of Las Vegas - beautiful brown earth here we come!

Flying over the outskirts of Las Vegas – beautiful brown earth here we come!

Day #1

Upon arriving at the McCarran International Airport, I immediately noticed that the terminal we entered was shiny and new, which was a major plus in my books. There is nothing worse than getting off a plane and entering an area that is old and crowded, so the bright and open space was a great welcome. My friend, Ashley, and I took a cab to Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino where, thankfully, it didn’t take us long to check in. Because we arrived early, we did have to pay a small fee to get our room right away, but the extra $16 was worth it.

After freshening up, it was time for lunch. Ashley had been telling me for weeks how amazing Earl of Sandwich is, so, of course, we made a beeline for the place inside the Miracle Mile. I tried the All American with turkey, cheddar, cranberries, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing while Ashley ordered the Holiday Turkey, basically Thanksgiving in a bun. Our sandwiches did not disappoint! So messy to eat, but delicious, and for two major foodies, it was an excellent start to our time in Vegas.

Later in the afternoon we walked over to ARIA to sign up for the M Life card, which is a requirement for many of the rewards that can be redeemed off of myVEGAS Slots, a game that is available as an app on most phones as well as on Facebook. As you play the slots or blackjack games, you accumulate loyalty points that can then be used to purchase vouchers for restaurants, buffets, drinks, shows, attractions and merchandise. Both Ashley and I played prior to our trip and we were able to exchange our points for coupons that either provided us with free meals or entrées and helped us to save quite a bit on food during our vacation.

Dinner that evening was enjoyed at Dal Toro in the Palazzo. The restaurant has tables that look into the showroom of the Las Vegas Car Museum, which makes for an interesting atmosphere that is colourful yet quiet and serves a menu of traditional Italian cuisine. The portion size of pasta was quite large and the sauce was not overly creamy and went well with the glass of Prosecco I ordered. I also liked that we weren’t rushed and we were able to linger after we finished eating.

The night was still young, so we crossed to the west side of the strip and walked south towards Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino to catch Shania Twain‘s show, Still the One, at the Colosseum. I have been a Shania fan for years, but had never had the chance to see her live and boy am I glad that Ashley was willing to go with me. We bought tickets way up at the top since they were the most affordable and while the view wasn’t bad, we couldn’t really make out Shania’s face that well. But, as luck would have it, the ushers offered to move us down to the main floor as they like to fill empty seats. We ended up sitting maybe ten rows from the stage and had a fantastic view. Shania was extremely personable throughout the show – she brought fans on stage to hang out by the campfire with her, she stopped to talk to the audience throughout the show, she came through the orchestra seats and shook people’s hands (mine and Ashley’s included!) and took pictures with people – and she has a knockout voice and a killer body. She reminded me of why she is a star and continues to be loved by so many. I also had forgotten just how many hits she has had during her career. This was an excellent end to our evening and I would highly recommend her show to anyone visiting Las Vegas before the end of July this year.

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Day #2

This was a very full day. It began with lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR located right inside the Planet Hollywood casino. The two of us each got a Farm Burger (a beef patty topped with duck breast bacon, English sharp cheddar and a fried egg) and we shared an order of the truffle Parmesan fries. I wish I could have gone there again, but, alas, we had many other places to go to. Should you decide to stop there for a bite, I recommend getting there earlier, if possible, otherwise the line-up or wait can get long. Also, sign up for Total Rewards because showing the card will give you a dollar off each menu item at the restaurant.

Absolutely stuffed after finishing our lunch, we caught the SDX bus in front of Paris Hotel & Casino. Six dollars will allow you two hours to ride either the Deuce or the SDX, but I suggest paying an extra two dollars to get a twenty-four hour pass. If you are planning to take the bus to the north outlet mall like we did, it is a safer bet to have the extra time to ride as it takes 40 minutes just to get there from the middle of the strip and another 40 minutes to get back. Having a bus ticket that gives you a full day’s use ensures you can peruse the stores at your leisure. Ashley and I spent about three hours at the Premium Outlets looking for wallets and while a number of stores had what we were looking for, the prices and quality at Fossil could not be beat. Aside from that, we didn’t leave with much else, but deals can certainly be found there.

We made it back to the strip in time for our six o’clock reservation at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill inside the MGM Grand. Each of us decided to go with a fish dish – Ashley had the Pan Seared Black Bass and I had the Grilled Scottish Salmon – both of which were cooked to perfection. Paired with wine, it was a light meal that left us satisfied.

Back at the hotel, we had a little time to kill, so we shopped the Miracle Mile for a bit and found some killer discounts at French Connection. We also received wristbands for the Britney Spears afterparty at Koi Ultra Lounge inside Planet Hollywood.

Britney Spears during "Work Bitch"

Britney Spears during “Work Bitch”

Next up was Britney Spears‘s show, Piece of Me, at the Axis theatre. I’d been waiting all through 2013 for her to announce her residency, so when I heard it was official, I had to go to Vegas to see her. I grew up listening to Britney and I’m still a big fan. I have to say, she did not disappoint. She’s still not matching the level that she was at back in 2001 with “I’m a Slave 4 U” or 2003 with “Toxic,” but we have to remember that was more than ten years ago and times change. Her show was so much fun. She seemed energetic and present and I hope that, as she continues on with her time at Planet Hollywood, she will move further into the zone (pun intended) and just own it. Still, there was tons to keep my attention – plenty of dancing spread out between her and her dancers and music to take me on a trip down memory lane. Dare I say that I would go back and see her again? Absolutely!

Pumped up after the concert, we dolled ourselves up and headed to Koi Ultra Lounge. The cover charge was $20, but drinks were free all night. Although, I’m truly not sure how many drinks you can get away with there. The bartender basically free poured and every beverage we had consisted of at least five ounces of alcohol. It made for a fun evening of dancing though, which is why we went out that night. If only married men didn’t continuously hit on us. Why do they think it’s okay? Do we want to go use your hot tub? No, we don’t. Notwithstanding some of the unwanted attention (there were a few guys that were alright), the night went by quickly and before we knew it, the lights were up and it was time to go to sleep.

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Day #3

We took it pretty easy on the third day of our vacation. After “sleeping in” (we didn’t really get much sleep since we didn’t go to bed until about four in the morning) we ventured across the street to ARIA for the lunch buffet. I’ve eaten there the last three times I have been in the city because the desserts alone are worth the cost. There is literally something for everyone. I enjoy the sushi, snow crab, curry and naan, but what brings me back time and again are the Jean Philippe Patisserie sweets that are to die for. While I completely overate, I think it was worth it.

A canoe art piece outside ARIA.

A canoe art piece outside ARIA.

A quick trip to Topshop and the Tix4Tonight booth at the Fashion Show mall helped to work off some of our meal. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck snagging any discounted tickets to the O by Cirque du Soleil show for that evening, but we checked with the desk at Bellagio and managed to purchase a couple of the few remaining tickets in the balcony.

O was quite the treat. I’ve never really had much of an interest in the circus, but many of the performers are pure athletes and how they are so flexible I’ll never know. It was certainly entertaining – my favourite part being the diving segment – but, out of all the Cirque shows that are currently playing in Vegas, it is probably the most expensive one there and one of the more mellow ones to see. The music is quite soothing throughout the show, so after the previous night we had, we found ourselves nodding off for a few seconds here and there. Still, I would recommend O to others as it had a great mix of stunts and comedy. Next time I go to Vegas I think I’ll see something a bit more upbeat like at MGM Grand, The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage or Michael Jackson ONE at Mandalay Bay.

The Bellagio fountains

The Bellagio fountains

Ducks watching the fountains at the Bellagio with us.

Ducks watching the fountains at the Bellagio with us.

Day #4

Our fourth and last day in the city, we had to be out of our hotel room by 11 AM. Because our flight wasn’t leaving for another nine hours we checked our baggage with Planet Hollywood before making our way to Luxor to redeem our free buffet lunch from myVEGAS Slots. The variety of food there was nice – the orzo salad was great and so was the health bar (weird name) cheesecake.

This was also the day that we finally had a chance to see the small, but spectacular Liberace exhibit found on the main floor of the Cosmopolitan. The American vocalist and pianist’s intricate stage outfits and grand piano that glittered from the sunlight that shone through the windows were literally works of art. Everything was extremely detailed and ornate, the perfect fit for a man who seemed to be larger than life.

A few of Liberace's stage outfits on display in the Cosmopolitan's exhibit.

A few of Liberace’s stage outfits on display in the Cosmopolitan’s exhibit.

Of course, we couldn’t leave Vegas without doing one last thing: losing some money. Ashley and I played the slots both in the Cosmopolitan and at Planet Hollywood, gambling away around $20 to $30 each while providing a bit of entertainment for an hour or two.

Next thing we knew, it was time to go back to Edmonton. Four short days was actually plenty in Sin City. I had an incredible time, but I always feel ready to head home by the end of a Vegas holiday.

So, whether you’re my age, older, single, dating, married, or with your girlfriends, kids or your mom, there are so many things to keep visitors occupied in Las Vegas. If you like warm weather, hiking (if you’re willing to venture over to Red Rock Canyon), lounging by the pool, eating, walking, shopping and watching shows, I guarantee you’ll enjoy a stop in this desert of excess!

I’m even hoping to go back in October for the Life is Beautiful Festival, a fantastic mix of music, food, art, and learning, which are all the things I love rolled into one. My friend went last year and said she had such a good time at the festival, so I would love to experience it for myself, if possible.

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Feeling Nostalgic

1950’s Oceanic Surcouf French Valve Radio

I am currently the teaching assistant for a course about using and managing communication technologies. Essentially the class covers the history of the subject and a couple of weeks ago the topic up for discussion was the radio. The professor asked each of the students to share their memories of the technology in the hopes of finding someone else who related to the medium on an ethereal and intimate level just as he had as a child.

Growing up in a time when television played a larger role in my childhood and the computer was becoming the norm, I didn’t quite fit the bill of a radio listener. In fact, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the format. You can’t choose what you listen to and the advertisements bothered me to no end because it seemed like when one station had them on, every other station did as well. But, after reading some of the responses from the students, I saw how important the radio was to them. It presented an escape for them when there was nothing else at their disposal. The radio triggered their imagination with one student recalling how they listened to hockey games and the play-by-plays made them feel like they were actually there seeing the game live and in-person.

This discussion made me think about how I sometimes long for a previous time in my life. I’m feeling more and more lately like we’re inundated with too much information and that we’re too accessible. We’re constantly tethered to devices and people. Instead of separating personal and work lives, we’re available through our smart phones at all times. Since when did it become okay for work to seep into evenings and weekends?

I wish I still had the time to sit in my living room creating the perfect mix tapes like I did when I was a teenager. I’d pick out the songs and time it all so that I could get the most out of both sides. How many of you remember doing that?

When I didn’t have a care in the world, I would re-watch a movie over and over again until I memorized all the lines. I did that with Legally Blonde and Zoolander. But, then you grow up and there never seems to be enough time to do the laundry and the dishes, fit a workout in, pay the bills, run your errands or walk the dog, among a million other things. For many people, that carefree feeling that we used to have somehow goes out the door as we get older.

My memories of being a kid running around at recess, sitting on the school steps playing with pogs, walking to the neighbourhood general store with a friend to pick up a slushie or some five cent candies feel like they happened forever ago.

I think, in the end, what I’m trying to say here is that we can’t forget how we grew up and what made us happy when we were younger. When you feel nostalgic, call up your best friend and ask them to take a walk with you to the corner store like you did when you were kids or make yourself the perfect mix CD for your next road trip. You deserve to take the time out for yourself, to go back to a time when you had no obligations, even if only for an hour, an afternoon or a day.

I’d love to hear about what makes you feel nostalgic. Please share in the comments section below.

Photo source: http://thebakeliteradio.com

Does Advertising Ever Speak to You?

For many people, advertisements are a waste of time and space. They ignore them when they pass by one on the street or they get up and do other things during television commercial breaks. Sometimes I do the same thing, but on occasion there are advertisements that have the ability to make me laugh, cry or think, and if they’re really good, I actually want to see them again.

The following are a mix of both new and old advertisements that perhaps you have seen and enjoyed. I hope that you will share some of your favorites with me as well!

I’ll start with an oldie, but a goodie! Kia‘s Maniac commercial from 2007.

I think most of us remember this 2009 Heineken commercial. It was a dream come true for men and women alike. The follow-up to their popular walk-in-fridge advertisement follows.

While flash mobs might not be as popular as they once were, this T-Mobile ad from 2009 still makes me smile every time I watch it. It even makes me cry a little because the whole idea of complete strangers coming together to create such a joyous event is pretty amazing.

I can’t leave out Old Spice‘s fabulous 2010 commercial, which taught all women exactly what they wanted in their man.

This 2011 ad from AT&T spoofing the flash mob phenomenon to promote their faster network is just hilarious. I had to stop and watch it every time it came on the air.

I thought I would also include some interesting print advertisements as well. They can have just as strong an impact as a television commercial.

Flight Network newspaper advertisement that gets people to do something with the print ad.

An excellent retail campaign for Sears Optical. Buy glasses from them and you’ll be able to pinpoint something in all that mess.

This next one is a print advertisement from Dove. This company always seems to be pushing the bounds of advertising. This one in particular was purposely run upside down as seen in the first shot, but when flipped upright, so the text is the right way round, the image you see is quite shocking. It really makes you question how people perceive the things they are confronted with.

Dove ad, upside down, as printed in the publication.

Dove ad, right side up, once it has been flipped so the text can be read.

I currently love Samsung‘s commercial touting the Galaxy S III as the next big thing that is already here. As someone who is neither an Apple fan nor a Samsung devotee, I can certainly find the humor in the advertisement because I know Apple devotees just like that. I find this commercial both humourous and clever. It seems like Samsung is creating the next big thing and the next big corporate rivalry a la Coca Cola vs Pepsi or Mac vs PC.

This last one is maybe not really a commercial per say, but I found it through my Creativity Online newsletter on September 12, 2012 and I really love how thought provoking it is.  ‘Then-n-now’ was written and directed by Shing02. I think it really speaks to our digital culture nowadays and it makes me a little bit sad when I watch it.