Pawn Stars, buffet and pinball

I am not much of a fan of Pawn Stars but the possibility of seeing The Old Man or even the sons lured us into the store. It was smaller that I thought and to be honest wasn’t much of an attraction. Took a picture by the cardboard cutout and left. Ticked a box. 

Another important decision to be made was the selection of a buffet dinner. Previously we had tried Bacchanal at Caesars Palace and it was excellent. My colleague recommended the Wicked Spoon at Cosmopolitan so we chose to visit it this time. It was also very good but somehow I found the sea food section of the Bacchanal with it snow crab legs unbeatable.

Fountains of Bellagio

Visiting Pinball Hall of Fame is our must-see in Vegas. This time with the whole family. A couple of rounds of Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Monster Bash and we’re done with Vegas this time.

Kia playing Twilight Zone, the best pinball ever

P.S. The Premium Outlets Mall charged for parking. It applied only to visitors. I can’t imagine any other mall in US charging for it.

Welcome to Las Vegas sign

How to get yourself a porn star name in Vegas?

Our choice of entertainment was done months before the trip. The obvious choices were one of the 6 Cirque du Soleil shows. However, Minna and I had seen ”O” in Vegas already and the other one ”Ka” on TV. None of us are interested in Michael Jackson or The Beatles so we decided pick one of the magic shows instead. At the time of our planning there were plenty of seats available everywhere so which show would most likely include audience participation?

So Penn & Teller at Rio it was. Row 4, aisle seats booked months before the trip to increase our chances for 15 minutes of fame. They even used to be my dads favorites so they’ve been around. Rio is a bit off the Strip so we took a taxi.

The show began with some jazz music played by a pianist and a contrabass player who looked familiar. Next the audience was invited on stage to look at a chicken and sign a cardboard box. This far the row 4 seats had paid off already as it was just a couple of meters to the stage so we were able to look at the chicken and sign the box with Kia. Very exciting, at least for people who had not seen a chicken up-close before. We had because my father-in-law used to have a chicken farm. However, we had not signed a cardboard box on a Las-Vegas-stage before.

Kia on Penn & Teller stage signing a cardboard box

Magicians always need help from the audience. Several people were needed for a trick where Penn & Teller would create a perfect password which could not be cracked. I was sitting in the section right across the center of the stage on my row 4 aisle seat when Mr Teller approached me and started talking. Can you imagine? I was really amazed and thought that this was the best trick ever. Like the tricks preachers do when they make people with crotches walk again. And the first words I’d ever hear him say were: ”Mr, would you join us on stage to help with the next trick?” To be honest, this is exactly what I’d been hoping for since I bought the row 4 aisle seat a couple of months back.

I went on stage with 4-5 other people. As English is not my native language, I was a bit nervous if I would freeze and couldn’t say a word in front of the 1000 people in the audience. This would be my biggest gig ever and it would take place in Las Vegas.

In short the trick was about collecting random pieces of information from all audience members who were on stage. People were asked about their credit card PINs etc. When it was my turn I was supposed to provide my porn star name from which one letter would be used for the perfect, uncrackable, password. It would have been impossible for me to invent a witty porn star name in front of the audience so luckily I was given some hints. My porn star name would consist of the name of my first pet and the street address of my childhood home. The first pet was easy as we used to have a golden retriever called Dusty. Technically it wasn’t our first but the name was perfect for a porn star. The street address of my childhood home was trickier as naturally it was a Finnish street address. This would be perfect spot for freezing and not managing to say a word. My mind worked quickly under pressure. In 1994 I lived in Cambridge MA and my street address was Newport Rd. Much easier for a magician to understand so my porn star name would be Dusty Newport.

I have to agree with Mr Penn Jillette that it is a perfect porn star name. So one letter from my porn star name was used in the password which was eventually found from a jar they broke in the end of the trick. In the end of the show I was invited on stage for the second time to witness an elephant disappearing in front of us. It was actually a cow dressed up as elephant, at least I think so. Penn & Teller meet the audience every time the show is over so we also got selfies and autographs after the show. Very funny and entertaining show.

Vegas, baby, Vegas

Physically it is just 400 km away from Joshua Tree but worlds apart mentally. The home of Penn and Teller, Pawn Stars and Hangover. The Sin City has quickly become my favorite Americana destination replacing the legendary I-Drive in Orlando. Minna and I had been here once before but it was Kia’s first visit. She had to wait until she was 21 years old. Now the whole family was ready for gambling, free GTs and huge souvenir cups of Margarita.

We arrived on Saturday and stayed for 4 nights. This would be Kia’s last stop before going back home. Naturally the kiddo wanted to stay on the Strip and in a casino hotel. However, the Saturday stays on the Strip were surprisingly expensive compared to last time. But who wouldn’t want to experience Fremont Street on Saturday with their 21-year-old daughter? First of all it’s cheaper than the Strip and within a walking distance from the The Neon Museum: one of the most original attactions of Las Vegas. Minna and I had been there a couple of years ago already but that was during daytime. Now we wanted to see the neons at night as well as their newest exhibition: Brilliant. Brilliant is really worth seeing. The old neon signs came to life through light projections and music. Book early and see both the guided tour and Brilliant.

Brilliant, Liberace, Fitzgerald

We stayed the first night in Main Street Station. Good reviews for a Fremont Street hotel and slightly off the action and noise. The following day we moved to the Strip and stayed the next 3 days in Planet Hollywood right across the Fountains of Bellagio. Cheaper rates from Sunday onwards and Mid-Strip location was excellent because you could go left or right when you left the hotel for a walk. The last time we stayed in MGM Grand which was in the south end of the Strip so you had only one direction to go whenever you wanted to go out.

Fremont Street East

What could have been the end of a lovely relationship

Our flight was due in the evening so we were supposed to be at LAX around 19:00. 500 km drive from Las Vegas to LAX should not be a problem. So we thought. We took our time to wake up and pack our bags as we thought that the boring drive through the desert would be… boring. We didn\’t have breakfast as we planned to stop somewhere.

We stopped at the Nevada-California border to have breakfast at the Whiskey Pete\’s Casino. Maybe some last rounds of slot machines.

We took off and everything went smoothly until this here. Just as the highway started rise towards to mountains, all three lanes stopped. We would spend the next 2 hours driving the 10 km stretch up the slope. Tensions in the car started rising but neither one of us started the blame game. We knew that it would cost us another set of one-way-tickets if we missed our plane. When we reached the top of the pass, we saw that a truck load had been fallen over on the road. And right when we reached the site of the accident, the traffic started moving again. If we\’d make it to Los Angeles in time, we would be there just in time for the rush hour. Of course hopefully driving against the traffic. We couldn\’t afford to miss any exit. And then we missed an exit and had to take a 10 km reroute.

Diamond lane to the rescue: Car pool lanes were mostly empty as people drive usually alone. We had to google how many people are needed in the car to be allowed to drive the diamond lane. It only required 2 persons so we were OK to take the empty lane while all the individual drivers were stuck in traffic.

Two more things to do before the airport: fill the tank and return the car to the rental lot which would be somewhere near the LAX but a bus ride away anyway. I decided to skip the gas station and pay whatever it costs to return the car with an empty tank. Luckily the guy who handled the paperwork at the rental return was kind enough to mark the tank fuller than it actually was. I gave him ten bucks.

During the 7-hour ride from Vegas to LAX neither one of us blamed the other for any delay. There were several occasions where either Minna or I could have said something about being late or missing the exit but we kept our cool and didin\’t start a fight in the middle of the drive. This was really a proof of the strength of our relationship. And we caught our flight eventually so the fight would have been premature anyway. We didn\’t manage to send the post cards though. There just wasn\’t enough time to find a mail box.

Breaking the Las Vegas rule

I am going to be the first one in human history to break the famous \”What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas\”-rule. The following really happened in Vegas:

My must-sees in Vegas are:

and last but not least:
The first experience is of course the Arrival. Ours was like this:

Accommodation: We chose to stay in the MGM Grand. We booked the room from hotels.com and it cost 63 €/night. A bargain compared to LA. A small drawback was the resort fee which hotels.com didn\’t mention but apparently is standard practice even if booked from elsewhere. The room didn\’t have a view to the Strip but who cares. Also free parking was available.

The gamble: Slots everywhere. Mostly table games had a minimum bet of $10 or even more. If you had a black jack or a roulette with less than $10 minimum, the table was \”automatic\” without a live dealer. We played slot machines. The sound was hypnotic. Whenever you won, you just couldn\’t stop playing because of the ring. The drinks were free as long as you sat by a machine. While I was away getting my membership card, Minna hit the jackpot. With a 1 cent bet, it wasn\’t really a lot of money but it was a lot of ringing.

Neon museum is also called the Neon Boneyard. It\’s the place where the neon signs go to die. Or actually to get refurbished and their stories told. Book your slot beforehand and remember that the tours fill up very quickly. You will need to attend a tour as the guest are constantly supervised and cannot explore the museum on their own. This is really a must-see as it has some of the signs of long gone casinos and landmarks.

The show: We tried to book seats for O Cirque du Soleil through the internet but for some reason the transaction didn\’t go through. So we had to walk to Bellagio to find out that the show was fully booked. However, if you will wait in line 1 hour before the show, there may be some leftover seats. The thing is: you don\’t know which seats you\’re going to get and especially how much they are. Or you will end up queueing for an hour and the show is sold out anyway and you just spent an hour in the queue for nothing. As we wanted to get the show-box ticked as soon as possible, we waited in line and got quite good and reasonably-priced tickets, if you can call them reasonably-priced in the first place as they are always very expensive.

The buffet: Based on a thorough investigation on the Internet, we chose The Bacchanal at Ceasars Palace with a wine package. We soon realized that we could have left out the wine package as there was so much to eat that drinking wine at the same time would be too much. Even eating was too much. Stone crabs, sushi, shrimps, jumbo shrimps, meats, pizza, you name it. Come dessert and you will feel sick.

The silver ball: I knew there had to be pinball arcade in Las Vegas and really there was a good one: The Pinball Hall of Fame. Lots of games, lots of modified games (for example Scared Stiff with colored animations as opposed to my original orange-colored animations) and lots of rare games. Even Space Mission which I had played last time in Pekan Baari when I was 10 years old. And of course Kiss (Bally)

On the way to the city which made Hangovers totally acceptable

I have always wanted to go to Vegas. Not only to gamble (mainly because Minna doesn\’t let me) but to see the atmosphere but also the Stratosphere. The drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas was absolutely amazing…ly boring. However, worth to do at least once.

The distance is about 450 km. We stopped twice. The first stop was in Calico Ghost Town which was kind of a disappointment. It wasn\’t actually a Ghost Town, just a tourist attraction. You basically had to pay an entrance fee to a streetful of shops where you could by some tourist junk. 
The next stop was right after the border of Nevada. Primm Outlets. It was a mini-Las Vegas with gambling, shopping and rides for families whose children have turned their parents crazy so that their dad doesn\’t want to drive any further. Only 72 km to go.