We returned from a three-day repositioning cruise with an added three days in Las Vegas this last Saturday. The cruise had an "interesting" period. The "Golden Princess" is a 109,000 ton displacement cruise ship with wonderful amenities, excellent food, nice lounges, great music (including the kind of music we like to dance to). We enjoyed all this on the night we left. By midnight, just after we went to bed, the ship left Juan de Fuca Strait and turned south towards the next destination, Los Angeles. At that point we ran into an extreme low pressure system with hurricane winds and huge waves. This extreme storm was strong enough to toss the ship around like a log, making walking almost impossible. Because of the violent motions, and winds in excess of 110km/h, access to the open decks was blocked, the swimming pools were emptied, and the ship had to reduce its speed to about 13 knots. The noises generated by the wave action kept me awake all night - the most annoying noise was the constantly clicking of the empty coat hangers in the open closest hitting each other, funnily enough. After we took them off the rack and stuffed them between our suitcases, my wife got some sleep, but I didn't.
While my wife has better "sea legs" then I, she managed to get to the dining rooms at the centre of the ship at the lower levels on the following day (which was just as violent as the night). I stayed in our cabin, which was located just one level below the open decks, and near the bow, close to the ships bridge, and tried to get some sleep. In that location, the motion is probably the most extreme. I could time and anticipate whenever the ship breached a wave, and then slammed down on the next one. At that point, everything in the cabin banged, creaked, and groaned, and I felt like being inside a drum being worked by a heavy metal band drummer.
This episode lasted just about 24 hours. When we finally got out of this extreme low north of San Francisco, the day turned into a much nicer one, and the previous day was soon an "interesting experience". The captain brought the speed up to over 22 knots, trying to make up for the lost time running slowly through the previous days' storm. None-the-less, we arrived three hours late, which played havoc with many people's travel connections. As usual, it takes about three hours to disembark the passengers and go through customs.
Our own travel connection was a bus to take us to Las Vegas - we had no trouble with that because the driver had to wait for all his passengers (who were making the same trip we were). We arrived in Las Vegas around 8pm. There were two stops at hotels before we got to ours (Harrah's). The first two got people off the bus to a well-organized reception by the travel agency; our destination had no one to "receive" us. That was somewhat chaotic and meant individual check-in. We finally got to our room after 9pm, and called it a day. Our room was nice enough, but little things left an impression of neglect (loose shower head and hot water tap covers, a bit of rust here and there, hallway carpets showing wear and tear and so on)
The next day, after a so-so and expensive breakfast with indifferent service at Harrah's, we walked the strip, and started looking at the various hotels, especially the new, luxurious ones: Bellagio, Aria, Caesar's Palace, Excalibur, Mirage, Venitian, Wynn's, etc. They were all superior to Harrah's. If we get to L.V. again, we'll probably stay at one of those. They incorporate large "shopping concourses" with many nice restaurants and other amenities. In the evening, we enjoyed watching both the "volcano" at the Mirage, and the "water ballet" at the Bellagio. Since we are not gamblers, these activities were our main occupation.
The shows which might have been of interest to us (Cirque de Soleil, and other high quality ones) were always either sold out or had long box-office line-ups. We had only two days in L.V., so we passed on them. Most of the other shows were "imitation shows": Sinatra, Elvis, Rat Pack, etc. They were expensive, and, since we have seen the real artists in the past, of little interest to us.
There are very few benches to sit down in L.V. - obviously on purpose: the businesses want you to spend time in the ubiquitous casinos (almost all hotels have one or more - they all look alike, and are just as noisy). You are also almost always forced to walk through them in order to get to the shops and amenities. The nicer hotels had easy chairs and tables in the long hallways, away from the casinos, which enabled us to sit down to a leisurely coffee or ice cream and watch people (which both of us enjoy).
We went to downtown Las Vegas on the following day - bought a day pass on the "Deuce" (a double-decker bus system which runs 24 hours a day). This proved to be the most efficient transportation for us. Fremont street downtown has a two block long arched cover which is actually the worlds largest video display. It's advertised as the "Fremont Experience". We arranged to be there early for the 7pm "showing" - it was a bit of a disappointment. While technically impressive, with a Hallowe'en-related theme, the show was only 7 minutes long. The real fun part for us was watching people from a sidewalk seat at a Starbuck's - the bikers had a convention; it made for some interesting viewing.
The flight home was somewhat convoluted. We were flown from L.V. to Phoenix, changed planes there, and flew right back over L.V. on the way home. Airport security is highly inconvenient (body scanners, numerous identity checks, etc.) and takes a lot away from the actual flying, which we both enjoy. The flight itself (US Airways) was on time, we actually arrived home early.
So, what is our overall impression? Las Vegas is a city of "imitation" and flamboyance, with relatively little cultural substance. It exists to "pull money out of your pocket", and that may be it's "talent", if it can be called that. Superficiality comes to mind; everything is "show"(off). Some of the new hotels are really beautiful from an architectural point and can be considered to be counterpoints to the shallowness evident elsewhere. We may get there again, someday, passing through, but it's unlikely that we'll make a special trip with this city as the destination.
Pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mimiandpapa/6213529854/in/set-72157627696025357/