Turning 30 not so bad Vegas-style

It wasn’t my birthday, of course. I’ve been 30 for an entire 6 months now (ick.) This time, it was Susan’s turn to exit her 20s, and we did it Vegas-style.

After taking a red-eye home and sleeping all day, I’m still adjusting back to East Coast time. I am tired, dehydrated, and out-of-whack. But it was all totally worth it. Here’s a little bit about my trip.

The hotels

Jeff and I arrived Wednesday night, 11 p.m. Vegas time. Despite feeling like 2 a.m., we couldn’t just go to bed. Spent the evening exploring parts of the strip before finally crashing out around 4 a.m. Vegas time in our posh room at the newly-remodeled Planet Hollywood. I knew I was throwing my already-off sleep schedule even more, but Vegas isn’t for sleeping, right?

The people at Planet Hollywood were amazing to stay with. Susan had booked us a room for Thursday and Friday nights at the Tropicana, so we knew we’d have a gap of time between checkout time at PH (11 a.m.) and when she arrived in Vegas (around 8:30 p.m.). The guy at the front desk happily gave us a 1 p.m. checkout time when we asked him if he could help.

Our room at the 4-star hotel was swank – complete with a shadow box containing the jacket worn by Warren Beatty as Bugsy Siegel in the 1991 film. Pictures all over the walls showcasing Hollywood moments. A great bed and flat-screen TV and posh bathroom.

Of course, it’s not about the room, it’s about the location. And the location was perfect. In the center of the Strip, near the Paris and the Bellagio, the hotel has a casino with a great atmosphere (read: great music at any hour) and is attached to the Miracle Mile shops (a mall with great stores including my NYC favorite H&M). And at $80 to stay on a Wednesday night (it’s more on the weekends) it was a steal.

The next morning, after crashing out late, we woke up to a problem with the room. I won’t go into details, but it was problem enough to make us want to check out early (10:30 a.m.). However, the hotel manager was very understanding and sympathetic and we ended up with $50 gift certificate to The Planet Daily, the late-night restaurant with yummy food. Unrelated, the hotel also gave us $100 to use at the slot machines, which we turned into $80 cash. Not bad!

After wandering the streets and casinos and being hotel-less for an afternoon (no better place than the Vegas strip to wander the streets!), Susan and Pat arrived around 8:30 p.m. We checked into our rooms at the Tropicana (average of about $90 a night; start cheaper during the week and get pricier over the weekend). It’s a little farther down the strip but is surrounded by other fun hotels such as New York, New York and MGM. The Tropicana itself reminds me of a cheesy 80s movie, with a gaudy casino (but let’s be honest – what casino isn’t gaudy?) The rooms were great – complete with a mirrored ceiling. That rocks! They call it Vintage Vegas for a reason!

The gambling

I’m not a big gambler, so it was fun visiting the city known for that with Susan and Pat, who know their way around a blackjack table. I played blackjack for the first time, and with their help ended up the night $60 ahead. Added to the $80 from the slots at PH, and not bad! Of course, Jeff and I also lost $40 in slots at the Paris, but we still finished out the weekend ahead! Susan and Pat cleaned up – not sure what they ended up with, but they weren’t doing badly when we left them on Saturday night.

The nightlife

Of course, part of the nightlife is all about the gambling. The casinos do it up right – you’re spending money and partying at the same time. Planet Hollywood was my favorite casino for this reason – fun club music playing all night inside the casinos, not to mention the live music outside at the patio bar and a piano bar inside.

We spent one night in Downtown Vegas, courtesy of Lee, our friend who lives in town. What a different kind of fun! It’s a lot dirtier and cheesier, and a lot of the people are clearly locals, and we got looks in a couple of the bars from people who clearly didn’t think we belonged … but the atmosphere was fun (albeit a little reminiscent of a Rock Hill, S.C., dive bar), the drinks were cheap and big (I got an $8 football filled with beer – so filled, I made everyone else help me drink it and we still only got about halfway through it before it got warm and gross). At midnight, as Susan’s birthday was ending, we went outside to see the show they put on on the roof over downtown (speaking of reminiscent of Rock Hill, reminds me a lot of the roof they had over Rock Hill’s downtown in the 80s).

Food and drink

I didn’t put a single thing in my mouth that didn’t taste delicious (OK, except for the football of beer … it was Miller High Life. Don’t laugh – OK, you can laugh.) The Daily Planet had the best macaroni and cheese I’ve had (including the mac and cheese at Wolfgang Puck). Le Cafe ile St. Louis in Paris Las Vegas has the best coffee I’ve ever had. We ate at the Mesa Grill in Caesar’s Palace one night (Bobby Flay’s restaurant), and it was excellent. Drinks are expensive, but if you’re gambling drinks are free, so it’s not so bad. I love mojitos, and I’ve ordered enough to know that some bars make really good ones, and some bars make really bad ones. I didn’t have a single bad mojito the entire time I was there, and for the record, no one had the “no mint” problem that many bars in Charlotte have.

I can’t mention food and drink without mentioning our good friend Dennis at Le Cafe ile St. Louis in Paris. He was the nicest person I met in all of Vegas, and Vegas is all about hospitality, so that says a lot. We first dined with him on Susan’s birthday, and he was just as excited about her birthday as we were! He gave her a piece of cheesecake with a candle. The next morning, Jeff and I returned and Dennis was full of questions about the birthday girl and if we’d had fun and if she was still sleeping. Dennis, plus the coffee (not to mention the good food!) make the cafe one of our favorite places.

Questions/observations about Vegas:

1. Why all the footprints on the ceiling of the parking garages? How do they get there?
2. Many of the escalators were turned on taking you into the casinos, but off taking you out. If you want to leave, you have to work for it!
3. Speaking of leaving, most of the casinos seem like they were designed to keep you lost inside. Even finding a bathroom is difficult in many of them!
4. Why no coffeepots in the hotel rooms? I get that they don’t want us to spend time in the rooms, but I like my coffee first thing. The second I wake up.
5. Most tourists are idiots. It really made me miss the crowded streets of NYC. Things are organized there; people don’t walk 3-4 across on a sidewalk and stop in the middle when they don’t know what to do. You get plowed over for that in NYC!

Overall, a great trip. Can’t wait to return (hopefully it’ll be a few years; not a cheap destination by any means!) Happy 30th, Susan!