Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. - Tom Robbins

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Las Vegas for $80? I Can Dig It!

So, this crazy deal from Expedia comes out, where you can take $300 off any flight + hotel package. I quickly learn that it can be applied twice, so essentially bringing down the price for 2 people by $600.

For a 2 night weekend flight and hotel package, this brought the cost down to $80 each after tax, for roundtrip flights (direct too!) and hotel. Sure it was just at the Gold Coast, but it actually got quite good reviews on TripAdvisor, and was just a little ways west of the strip, with a free shuttle.

After booking mine, I started frantically making calls to friends. "Vegas, 80 bucks, flight and hotel, you in?" Since the flights were pretty much the perfect Vegas flights (after work on Friday, coming back late Sunday night) there really couldn't be any excuses related to work.

It was a bit hectic, trying to get everyone booked, and trying to figure out the workings of the Expedia deal at the same time. It turned out that you needed to book with 2 separate credit cards to get the $300 credit to apply twice. On top of all that, I was busy sending out mass notifications on Facebook to try and get 250,000 other Canadians in on the deal.

In the end, 8 of my own friends ended up booking in time to get in on the deal. Those who hesitated, as is so often the case with great travel deals, missed out.

In all the frenzy, I later realized I had booked myself on the morning flight, and told everyone else to book the evening flight, leaving just after normal work hours. I decided that since I would have the day to myself, I would rent a car and check out the Hoover dam, just outside of Vegas.

After locating a great coupon code for a rental car, I managed to snag a 3 day rental for $18 after all taxes and fees. $18! Vegas was looking mighty cheap so far.


At the airport I ran into Tony and Sara, some friends of friends, who also got in on the deal. They were pretty excited about heading down to Vegas and had some 2nd row seats to Cirque de Soleil.

I remember the view from the air being pretty amazing that day, there seemed to be a blanket of clouds all around with the Rocky Mountains seemingly resting on top of them. It looked like floating mountains in the sky.

I had chosen a seat on the right hand side of the plane so that I would be able to see the strip on approach (80% of the time it works out that way). Approaching in the daytime, it wasn't quite as spectacular as at night when the strip is all lit up.

I proceeded to the Alamo rental car kiosk, where obtaining my car was absolutely painless. Normally I find the car rental process to be so slow and cumbersome, standing around in line, while you wait for customer after customer to give the rental car agent their details and you're stuck twiddling your thumbs. At the electronic kiosk, I simply entered my own reservation number, my license info, hit 'No' a bunch of times when asked if I wanted any extras, and I was done. The screen told me to proceed to the garage, pick whichever car I wanted (the keys were already inside) and drive away. Fantastic!

Being hungry, the first order of business was to grab a quick bite to eat. Off the highway, I found an Albertsons and stocked up on some food and alcohol. I'm always amazed at how cheap alcohol is in the U.S., especially in Arizona and Nevada. And it's handy not having to drive to two different stores to buy groceries and alcohol, we really need to adopt this here.

Next I proceeded to the Hoover Dam exit, and was quickly waved through the security checkpoint (the minivan in front of me was not so lucky). I parked the car and walked over the Pat Tillman Bridge, which had just opened in October 2010. It's definitely an impressive piece of engineering, with a large arch that seems to just pop out of the mountainside, spanning the canyon in front of the Hoover Dam.

There's a pedestrian section on the bridge that you can walk across to take a look at the Hoover Dam from above. Yep, a whole lot of concrete, and a real feat of engineering in it's day, as promised.

Next I drove down and checked out the Dam from up close. There's a bunch of tours you can take of the dam, but I'd read they weren't that great, especially since 9/11 when they started restricting access to where the tours could go.

I decided to get back in the car and make my way to the Valley of Fire, about an hour from Vegas. It's a pretty neat place with great big reddish rock formations everywhere, along with 4,000 year old petroglyphs. Unfortunately the daylight was quickly fading so I didn't have long to check it out, and I started my way back to Vegas to check into the hotel.

Before the hotel though, I wanted to hit up the Pinball Hall of Fame. It was worth a stop, with literally hundreds of pinball machines ranging from very new to wooden pinball machines from the 50's.

After a long day, I checked into the Gold Coast. I didn't have too much time to relax before I needed to head to the airport to pick up Chris and whoever else needed a ride. At the airport I ran into Jon and Dana, who were flying in from Edmonton (also for $80). They took a shuttle to the hotel, and everyone else ended up taking taxis.

At the hotel, everyone came up for some drinks from the giant $14 bottle of Captain Morgan's that I had purchased that afternoon (did I mention I love the price of alcohol in the U.S.?). Steve/Hoa, Heather/Trenton, Jon/Dana, and Chris and I all had a few wobbly pops and then everyone got ready to go hit the strip.

We proceeded to the Vegas strip, which I think blew the mind of Trenton, who was a 'Vegas Virgin'. The lights, the noise, the Bellagio fountains, the Eiffel tower, the excessiveness of it all, it really can be a lot to take in, especially your first time.

We decided that our first stop would be the Cosmopolitan hotel, with it's new lounge at the bottom, called 'Bond'. A group called the Beats Antique were playing there that night and Heather wanted to check them out. It turned out to be a great place to grab a few drinks, sit back on a couch, people watch, and listen to some good tunes.

After that we walked (stumbled) a short distance over to the Planet Hollywood. Inside there, was a sandwich place that I wanted to check it out. It was the 'Earl of Sandwich', which was very highly reviewed on Yelp, and billed itself as the 'World's Greatest Hot Sandich'. I have to say, it did not disappoint, I had the Original, and it was amazing. Steve would later admit that he would go on to think about their sandwiches for the next 3 days.

By this point, Vegas had come to take it's toll on poor Trenton, the Vegas newbie. The excess was just too much and after ending up face down in his sandwich we decided it was best to get back to the hotel. It was getting late anyways, even by Vegas standards.


The next morning for breakfast we drove to the 'Egg & I' a breakfast place that was highly reviewed. It was definitely a great breakfast, I had an omelette, and Chris had the eggs benedict.

After breakfast we headed to Caesar's Palace to check out the Forum shops. More excess. Ordinary people walking around pretending to be rich, meanwhile making people who are already rich, richer. The H&M store had it's own DJ and would probably rival most nightclubs in large majority of cities.

Then we watched a lame fountain show that is featured hourly, with terrible audio quality and some pyrotechnics. After that we searched for a chocolate shop that Dana was looking for, Vosges, which had bacon flavored chocolate.

After that we tried to redeem our vouchers which claimed to offer tickets to a free magic show, Nathan Burton's, but shockingly, they had no more free tickets for that day, or the next day, but we could upgrade to different seats for $20/person. I have a feeling there weren't any days with free tickets, ever.

Then we walked around the Flamingo and their 'wildlife' exhibit which amounts to basically a few goldfish and some flamingos.

We then met up with Jon/Dana and Heather/Trenton who were in line at the discount ticket place, looking for Cirque de Soleil tickets for that night (We had already purchased some). Jon was going strong with a giant jug of Coors beer. More excess.

While the girls went to Nordstrom's, Trenton and I went to O'Somethings to grab some food and check out the beer pong in the back.

We went back to the hotel to freshen up and grabbed a taxi to check out old Vegas. Near Fremont St was a restaurant on our list we wanted to check out, and that was Firefly. The tapas were quite good, and it has a great view of the Fremont Street Experience through the large windows surrounding the restaurant.

After dinner we wandered down the Fremont Street Experience. During dinner the large overhanging led screens were doing all kinds of interesting things, but when we were walking down, it seemed to be just showing boring ads. There were a few bands playing Christmasy tunes, and a few famous look-alike characters walking around, posing for pictures for tips. Chris swears she saw Brett Michaels, but we're not entirely sure if it was the real Brett Michaels.

We headed back to the strip, and over to Treasure Island, where a large line had already formed outside the theatre for Cirque de Soleil's 'Mystere'. We had high hopes for Mystere, as most people were of the opinion it was perhaps the best Cirque show. It was definitely a great show, although we found the Cirque show that came to Calgary to be just as good and it was an hour longer. I think we had higher expectations for Vegas since it was in a permanent installation.

After Cirque we walked over to the Bellagio which had done a better job than most of the hotels in instilling a Christmas vibe. There were gigantic Christmas trees, all sorts of Christmas lights, polar bears, penguins, etc.

Next, Jon/Dana and I jumped into a cab to head over to a place called the 'Double Down Saloon' that Dana wanted to check out. Our cab driver was hilarious, with an entire comedy routine involving his mother and other material.

The Double Down Saloon turned out to be a very local haunt to say the least, with basically the most alternative type of crowd that you can imagine. The band playing that night was probably pretty similar to what one could expect on most nights, with the lead singer going into spastic convulsions and hurling himself around the dance floor / mosh pit. We stuck it out for a few songs and then headed back to the hotel.

Back at the Gold Coast, Jon and I checked out the bowling alley. It turned out to be pretty massive, with well over 70 lanes, and pretty busy for 4 in the morning. Bowling was only a dollar or two a game, so we bowled a few games and called it a night.

Sunday ------ The next morning our breakfast place of choice was 'Hash House a Go Go' which we had read was legendary not only for it's great food, but ridiculously large portions as well.

Like all our food experiences in Vegas, this place didn't disappoint. The food was delicous, and the portions really were insane. Think 18 inch high stacks of waffles, and pancakes the size of pizzas, that sort of thing. I had what they called a 'hash' (mixture of chicken, asparagus, and eggs). Chris had a breakfast quesedilla that was, of course, gigantic, and came overhanging the edges of the large plate it was served on.

Next we drove out to Valley of Fire. Yep, the same place I was on Friday, but I had wanted to check it out again anyways, since I didn't get much of a chance in the failing light. This time we saw the petroglyphs, which were amazingly well preserved, save for a few idiots and their graffiti. We went on a few short hikes to check out the rock formations, an arch rock, and the 'Mouse's Tank', which served as a hideout for a bandit back in the day.

Then we went to check out the Hoover Dam and the bridge. Yes, again, basically a repeat of my Friday morning, but I got some better pictures of the bridge this time.

We drove back to Vegas, and were in a bit of a rush to make dinner at the Lotus of Siam, which allegedly has the best Thai food in north america. Jon/Dana were at the outlet malls, so I offered to come pick them up and take them to dinner. We only had one car between all of us, so Chris/Heather stayed at the outlet mall, and I promised to come back and pick them up in 15 minutes.

Problem was, first I wanted to go and pick up Jon/Dana's luggage at the hotel so they wouldn't have to worry about coming back to get it. Then we got stuck in traffic due to an accident on the freeway. Then we couldn't find the restaurant, since there wasn't any visible markings for it from the street.

End result, I had two women mad at me for leaving them stranded in the cold at an outlet mall, waiting for me to return.

Eventually we all made it to the Lotus, and the Thai food was definitely incredible. I just wish we would have had a little more time to enjoy it.

We made our way to the airport, and we all swapped stories about the good times that we had over the weekend. Some of us saw a few famous faces (Charles Barkley at a club), and apparently Steve had a little drunk talk session with George Strombolopolous.

All in all, good times had by all. I'm pretty sure we ended up spending more than $80 a few times over, but I think the great thing about deals like this is it gives an opportunity for so many friends to share in a travel experience together.