19 Hours In Las Vegas

Last weekend I found myself with a free weekend on another long work trip to San Diego.  In the past during these situations I had taken to exploring the area in and around San Diego, having really getting to know the city pretty well.  I had even ventured up into the mountains and to Los Angeles a few times, but never really strayed any farther than that.  With another free weekend at hand, I decided I needed to get out of town and go somewhere completely new to me and let me forget about work.  And there is only one place within driving distance (in the US) that allows for that: Las Vegas.

I actually had not made up my mind until I was eating breakfast at a place near my hotel in Mission Valley, but perhaps having already packed my camera bag with a change of clothes means I had made up my mind.  It’s a pretty easy drive to Las Vegas, taking about 5 hours on I-15 between the two cities.  As with pretty much any drive in this area, once you start getting inland, the climate really changes.  In this case, once getting up in the mountains outside of the Los Angeles metro area, the terrain pretty much became desert.  Then once past Barstow, there just isn’t much at all aside from a few roadside towns until you hit Vegas.

…and this road out in the middle of nowhere: Zzyzx Road (Try to pronounce that one)

Crossing the Nevada State Line – New State!

I guess with most cities, I kinda expected to hit suburbs before finding myself in the middle of Las Vegas, but it’s pretty much the opposite.  You come around turn and BAM! it’s Las Vegas with all of it’s ridiculously large hotels and casinos.  And while the Interstate wasn’t too horribly packed, once I exited the highway and hit the surface streets, I was greeted with some pretty horribly traffic.  Of course we can blame Las Vegas Blvd and I’m sure everyone else who had the same idea as me to get away for a weekend…

Looks Like A Lot Of Other People Had The Same Idea As Me

While on the drive up from San Diego, I made my reservation for the night over the phone at the Westin Las Vegas.  While I’m sure I could have stayed on the strip for the same price, I figured I would go ahead and start working towards re-qualifying for my SPG Gold status since so far I have only stayed at Hilton properties out here in California (which is probably going to get me Hilton Diamond status this year).  I checked in at the dedicated SPG Gold/Platinum counter and was offered a welcome amenity of bonus points, a free drink at the lobby bar, as well as a $5 certificate for refusing housekeeping service (which I forgot to use and I’m sure they weren’t supposed to give me for a one night stay).  Complimentary Internet, which is a usual Gold welcome amenity choice, is not an option at this hotel as there is a $19.95/room “amenity charge” (essentially a resort charge, minus the resort) that includes Internet, phone calls, the workout facility (something that is typically free, so meh), Valet/Self Parking, sauna/steam room access at the spa, bottles of water (again something that is typically free), fax service, daily newspaper delivery (I didn’t get one, but then perhaps there isn’t a Sunday paper), notary services, pool access, currency exchange and a Westin Happy Hour (they never told me about that one; I assume it’s free alcoholic beverages during a set period).

I reserved a King Room and was placed on the 7th Floor.  Out of my window I had a fantastic view of the hotel’s sign and a parking lot behind Bally’s.  I guess you can’t expect much off the strip.  The room itself wasn’t anything special (I’ve stayed at several nicer Westin Hotels), but I wasn’t there to spend time in the room.  It served its purpose by having a comfortable bed.  Honestly, it really feels like an “airport hotel” and it doesn’t help that it appears to the crew hotel for several domestic and international airlines.  Location isn’t bad at being a block off the strip, meaning that it is a short walk to all the action, although I could see how some people might feel uneasy walking down Flamingo Road at night though (not that I found it to be worse than walking down any other side road in a large city at night).

Westin Las Vegas – King Room

Westin Las Vegas – Bathroom

Westin Las Vegas – 7th Floor View

After dropping my bag, I headed down to the strip and soon enough found myself in the Bellagio. I won some money then lost some money and then decided that I would find myself dinner.  After browsing through several options online, I figured I would just head to Todd English’s Olives at the Bellagio.  Feeling in the mood for steak I went with the Porterhouse which included broccoli and fried mac and cheese; for the starter I went with a caesar salad.  I thought it was pretty good and was obviously was a bit pricey, but considering how much I’ve been working so far this year and still have not had a day off, I pretty much didn’t care – I was going to have a great meal!  The best part of the restaurant is the fact that it is right next to the fountains at the Bellagio and from my seat inside next to a window I got a pretty decent view of the show.

Todd English’s Olives

Todd English’s Olives – Drink Menu On An iPad

Todd English’s Olives – Porterhouse Steak

Once done with dinner, it was back into the casino for a bit before I started bouncing around to several other casinos on the strip.  Caesars Palace was next since it was right next door, was where my luck started to turn south.  It wasn’t long before I moved on to the Venetian which I didn’t find too interesting, and the cycle kept on going.  I thought about a show that night, but earlier in the day I couldn’t find any tickets online for anything and having been super last minute I wasn’t super sure which of the shows would be worth my money or not.  I ultimately decided to not risk it and just continued to casino hop through the night.

Paris Las Vegas

Eventually, late into the night I would finish up at the Planet Hollywood Casino for a drink at the Heart Bar where I could enjoy pricey bottles of beer.  Considering that I had to drive back to San Diego in the morning, I didn’t drink overly too much and by 2AM was back to the hotel.  I wanted to get up at a decent time in the morning so I could go get breakfast and hit the road around 10AM.

Planet Hollywood Casino

Surprisingly the next morning I got up shortly after 7AM without any alarm; I wanted to sleep in a bit later, but decided to just roll with it and get moving.  After stumbling around in the hotel room, I headed back out to the Bellagio for the Easter brunch buffet; at $40 it wasn’t cheap, but I have to admit it was a pretty good buffet and pretty much had everything I could think of on it.  The quality of the food was generally pretty decent, the only disappointment for me was the steamed pork bun that was cold, but that was probably more of a factor of me not pretty much eating that right away after getting back to the table.  In the end, you won’t walk out of there hungry; if you do, you’re not doing it right.

I didn’t mess around with any casino games that morning; the Bellagio at least was pretty much empty anyways at that hour, and just went back to the hotel to check out.  In fact I’m pretty sure a large portion of people were hungover in hotel rooms still at this hour, so I just decided to get the heck out of town.  A leisurely drive down the strip, I made my back to the Interstate and before I knew it Las Vegas was behind me and the open desert in front of me.

Las Vegas Strip In The Morning

One Last Look Back At Las Vegas

On the way down I decided to detour through Los Angeles so I could stop at the small park under the approach for Runway 24R at LAX.  It looked like it was might rain, but I wound up lucking out and was able to hang out for about an hour with my camera snapping some shots of various aircraft taking off and landing before I decided to continue on with my journey back to San Diego.

Although my trip to Vegas was extremely short, it did prove to a good escape from all the work I’ve been doing so far this year and got me out of San Diego for a little bit.  It’s a shame I walked away having not gained a single cent, but as long as I had fun, who cares?  I think I will have to make my way back out here in the future for a more proper trip and find a place right on the strip, see a show, check out Fremont Street and so on.  There’s a lot to do out there, and I’ve only barely scraped the tip of the iceberg.

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