Las Vegas, Nevada

Vegas Trip Report - Wedding locations
March 9 - 11, 2003

This trip was primarily for us to look at possible locations to get married in the next year or so. I feel like I have a fair amount of knowledge and information about Las Vegas as a tourist, but I find myself totally clueless about getting married in Vegas. It always seemed so easy. If Dan ever asked, I'd say yes and we'd whisk off to Vegas and get married on the boat in front of Treasure Island. Not so easy once he finally did ask last Christmas. He asked and I found myself really starting to think about getting married. Should I go to Vegas or should I do it near my new home of Washington State? Should I get married close to where the majority of our family members live in Southern California? Should I have a big shindig or just something for Dan and I? So many questions, so few clues. :)

I got on the phone and hit the internet and found out lots of great information. We looked at some places in Washington and got information about Disneyland weddings (where we had our first date). I had too many questions about the places that sounded good to us in Las Vegas. We just had to take a trip out there to see things for ourselves and see if something there really sang to us and said, "I'm the one!"

I called everywhere I could think of, visited all the websites, got all the brochures, got the catering department to send menus, looked at pictures and talked to other Vegas Brides. I had all the information I could get and put together a list of places I needed to visit. Got some plane tickets and a pretty good price at Paris and we were all set…. So off we go…

For those who haven't read one of our trip reports before, we do sort of a he said/she said thing. To keep it from getting too confusing, all of Dan's comments are in itallics.

March 9, 2003

Got up at 7am which seemed very early to me to catch an 11am flight. I'd been having some anxiety about traveling and all the headaches involved. Saturday night I was starting to wonder if the Vegas wedding idea was even a good one. But I managed to get myself out of bed and into the car and we were off to the airport.

Had no problems getting to the airport and through security with the boarding passes we printed off the Alaska Airlines website. That's a wonderful feature! It saves tons of time if you don't have luggage to check. The downside is that we were at the gate at 9:30am and had to just sit there for an hour and a half waiting.

I was a frequent flyer at my previous job, so I've had my share of airport hassles. This was my 2nd trip since, the Dept. of Transportation took over airport security last year, and I'm happy the security procedures at airports are both better and faster than prior to 9/11. Where they used to have only two or three metal detectors at a gate entrance, they now have about a dozen, and half of them seem to open when I'm coming through. The security screeners themselves, once the butt of late-night talk show jokes, are more professional and no longer appear to be scraped from the bottom of the hiring pool.

Until now, I haven't had any complaints about Alaska Airlines. For me they've always provided great service at competitive fairs - like Southwest - with reserved seats and better food -- until this trip. When I flew Alaska last December, I was given a lunch consisting of a small roast beef sandwich with cheese (OK - a single thin slice of cheese, but at least it was a sandwich), foil packets of mustard and mayo, a granola bar, and a small apple.

So this time we board an 11:00 am two-hour Alaska flight expecting lunch, and what do we get? A bag of tasteless pita chips and a container of roasted pepper humus - that's right - cardboard and pepper flavored mud. Come on!

We had been assigned to row 30 on the plane which happens to be right in front of the engines on the MD80. IT WAS A VERY LOUD FLIGHT. Despite the "lunch" being something they called a snack and the crowded plane, the 2.5 hours went by very fast and voila, we were in VEGAS BABY!!!

There's nothing to get your blood pumping like the sounds of the bing bing bing of the slot machines and coins clanking as soon as you get off the plane. It was great! For the first time we were arriving in Vegas on an airline that wasn't Southwest so I had to get my bearings and navigate the new terminal. We quickly found the way to the Dollar counter and saw a sign saying that Fastlane members could go straight to the shuttle.

We got to the curb just as a shuttle closed its doors and drove away. Grumble.. grumble.. Patience is a virtue, Sonya. :) Another bus arrived about 5 minutes later and we were off to Dollar. We got our silver Dodge Neon SE and headed off to the Rio.

We got to Rio and after some confusion managed to find the wedding chapels. One thing I can never get used to in Rio is that you have to go downstairs before you can go upstairs. I hate that steep escalator in the Masquerade Village and I find that I'm always on it. :)

The chapels were being changed over from wedding seating to a banquet style for some meetings they were having early in the week. I knew about it from my phone calls to the chapel, but they promised me that I'd be able to see the smallest chapel if I got there by 2:30 on Sunday. They were right. The Gardenia Chapel was still set up for weddings.

The chapel didn't excite me too much. It was the first one we had seen in person, but there wasn't much special about it. The people were nice enough, but didn't seem too interested in helping us. They just pointed us around the corner towards the chapels. We toured on our own. Nobody offered us brochures or additional information.

I stood up on the altar of the Rio Chapel and pictured myself next to Sonya with our families watching from the chairs. This gave me a warm feeling and I was almost ready to say "Let's do it here!" But Sonya was less enthusiastic, and I have to admit the room was rather plain. I knew that I would see many of these rooms over the next two days and should reserve such judgement until then.

The chapels have nice warm colors, but are basically not too much more than big rooms with rows of chairs and a podium up front. Dan and I went through a door off the left of the "altar" and found two dressing rooms for the brides.

Dan loves the Rio Hotel. We've always had a good time there, although we haven't stayed there since they linked up with Harrah's so I'm not sure how we'd like it now. I didn't see anything in the chapels that made me too excited.

We asked at the desk if we could see one of the honeymoon or bridal suites, but they didn't have anything available to show us. They said to come back later in the week and they could show us something so we made a note to return.

We walked over towards the front desk to see if we could see a Masquerade suite, but the lines at check in were huge so we decided to forget about that project until another day.

The cardboard and mud airplane snacks were not going to hold us over forever, so we stopped at Bamboleo's for a quick bite. We just split a plate of taquitos and dug into the chips and planned the rest of our day.

After our bite to eat, we left Rio and headed down Flamingo to Paris. We parked in the self-parking and lugged our stuff through the shopping area and casino to the reception desk. They have one of those "every man for himself" check in areas. I much prefer the one big line and then the first person goes to the next available spot instead of people just milling around and jumping at the first open window.

I asked the clerk if there were any upgrades available and she said there weren't. I asked if we could get something with a nice view of the Bellagio fountains and she said she had a good one. I was happy to see the "P" on the room number when she handed us our keys.

We headed up to room 1625P. It was on the 16th floor at the FAR end of the hall towards Aladdin. We had two windows, one looking out past the Eiffel tower to Bellagio and the other over the Arc de Triumph and valet area to the Aladdin. The room was large and comfortable and served us well during our trip.

This room was on a corner, so we had windows facing two directions. The view north was largely blacked by one of the Bally's towers, as we couldn't see past Caesar's. The view from the other window was dominated by Aladdin, looked down onto the Paris Balloon and south to Monte Carlo. This was similar; though not quite as good as the views from the Treasure Island room we had several years ago. The best part was that when we opened the air vents we could hear as well as see the Bellagio fountain shows.

We unloaded our luggage and checked out the room and then headed down to see the chapels at Paris. The one we looked at was the Chapel du Jardin, the smaller chapel. It was decorated nicer than the one at Rio with flowers and arches painted on the wall. Also there was pew seating as opposed to chairs. The whole facility was nice and comfortable.

There was a larger chapel with the golds and cherubs on the ceiling, but not only was it too large for us, but it was totally not my style.

We walked through the door off the chapel into a hallway where we found bridal dressing rooms again. We were taking pictures (these had bathrooms in them and we were a little disappointed to not find a bidet in there, after all it is Paris) when we heard a voice saying "Can I help you?" A woman was standing at the end of the hallway. We told her that we were just looking at the chapels and were taking pictures of the bridal dressing rooms. She told us that "guests are not allowed in the administrative hallways" and she promptly shooed us back into the chapel areas. Oops! We got "le busted" by the hallway police at Paris. Now I'm not sure if I'll get shooed out of there if we plan to get married there, but the whole thing sort of put us in a snit.

We asked if we could see the Le Rendezvous Lounge as a possible reception site, but there wasn't anyone available to show it to us. We could return the next day at 2pm to see it if we had time available in our schedule. We made a note to return.

We left Paris and walked next door to Aladdin. Up across from the London Club we found the wedding chapel. The chapel has a huge glass window on one side that looks out to the spa entrance and London Club. You can close the curtain, but it wasn't as nice as some of the other chapels we saw.

It also had the painting on the walls like Paris, but I didn't like it as much. We waited for the wedding coordinator to get off the phone and we asked a few questions that we had. They didn't have a suite to show us that day, but we could come back and see one later. Do you see a trend developing?

From there we walked over to Tremezzo and asked to see the private dining room. They said that the room would hold 20 people, but there is no way. Maybe 12-14 people could fit in there if they were tiny and very friendly, but never 20 normal people who hardly know each other. :) They also showed us a patio area that was lovely. Our concern with the patio was the late afternoon sun that bakes down on the front of the casino. They have big umbrellas out there and misters so maybe it wouldn't be so bad on a warm day.

We then stopped at Elements and saw their private dining room which was a much better size for our 20 people. We had hoped to find time to eat at one of these two restaurants but we never made it back there.

That was all we had on our list for Aladdin, so we headed back to Paris and to check out Mon Ami Gabi. We took pictures of their private dining areas and decided to have a bite to eat. Our intention was to just have an appetizer because we had eaten at Bamboleo's just a few hours earlier, but changed our minds when we saw the menu. I guess we'd worked up an appetite with all that running around.

We put in our names for a patio table and went up to the room to drop off the camera and my notebooks and for Dan to change from shorts back into long pants. When we got back down they gave us a beeper thing and we sat in the bar for a few minutes until it went off.

We were given a table at the far end of the patio, almost all the way to left if you're looking at it from the Strip. We were right at the fence with a light post right behind me. The menu looked wonderful and we decided to go ahead and each get an entrée. I had the paillard of chicken breast with lemon butter and pepper and pommes frites. Dan had the trout grenobloise and a glass of wine. Our food was quite good and we really enjoyed the fountain shows across the street as the sun set on Las Vegas. We saw the Pink Panther and Con Ti Partido shows. It was a warm evening and a perfect Vegas dinner.

After dinner we sat down at some video poker machines by Le Caberet stage area and listened to the music and did a little gambling. I ended up a little and Dan was down.

When the band took a break, we went up to the room to watch TV. I knew that Fear Factor was going to have their Vegas show while we were in town, but I wasn't sure which night it was on. It wasn't Sunday. :) We watched a little TV and I took notes on the wedding stuff we'd done that day.

At about 9:30 we decided that we'd like to go have some dessert or a drink somewhere. Olives and Fontana Lounge were on our list, so we hoofed it over to Bellagio. We took the walkway from Bally's over to Bellagio. The place was packed. There was an hour wait for a table on the patio at Olives, so we kept walking. Then there was a long line and no hostess to be found at Fontana so we gave up on Bellagio. We did stop in the conservatory to see it partially dismantled. They were taking down the Chinese New Year decorations and there was a large, headless Oriental man in the garden. Now that's not something you see every day.

It was the first time I'd seen them changing it over. I wish we had brought the camera because I thought it was interesting to see all the containers you can't see when the plants are all in there. Or maybe it's not really that interesting and I'm just weird. Or maybe it is interesting and I'm weird anyway. :)

We started our walk back to Paris, feeling our "Vegas legs". Not a good sign on the first night. We took the moving walkways down towards Aladdin and ended up riding the walkway back up towards Bellagio so we could watch the Singing in the Rain show from there. It wasn't as good as seeing it from the street, but it was different.

We got an ice cream at the little shop right by the elevators in Paris and went upstairs to watch some news. Dan was asleep before it was over and I read my book and watched the fountain shows from our window until after midnight.


March 10, 2003

Dan got up at some ungodly hour of 5-6am or something. I believe I grumbled something and threatened him with bodily harm if he didn't turn of the f-ing lights and be quiet. Not too long after that I heard the door to the room close and it was quiet again.

Moving to the Seattle area has meant a big change to my schedule and body clock. During the week it's up at 5 a.m., and on the ferry by 6:25. On weekends, "sleeping in" usually means getting up between 6 and 7, or earlier since the cats seem to be able to read clocks better than calendars, and are unable to understand that I don't want to be up at 5 on Saturdays and Sundays.

So even in Vegas, my brain starts to shut down around 10 p.m., and starts going again before 6. Though I tried to squeeze out a little more sleep, I couldn't, so I got up shortly after 6 a.m. and peeked through the curtains. The most amazing dawn light was falling on Bellagio and the Paris Balloon. I took a shower, dressed and went downstairs.

After buying a copy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal I saw doors open to the pastry shop next to the elevators. I bought a bear claw and a latte and took a seat in the casino lounge with a good view of a TV running CNN. Although I was reasonably sure they weren't going to start the war until after our trip, I did peek at TV news when I had the chance just to be sure. At this time they were just bantering about who was going to vote for which UN resolution - so far so good.

When I travel, I like to read the local newspapers of where ever I'm at. I like getting a feel of the social, economic and cultural environment of the place I'm at. And the LVRJ didn't disappoint me that morning. A Washington-based rock band called "Death Cab for Cutie" was playing at the Huntridge Theater that evening. I work with the mom of one of the band's members, and you'd never guess that a parent of someone in a band with that name would be deeply involved with school anti-bully programs. On the same page, Norm's Vegas Confidential writes about how many feel that Celine Dion will not be "Vegas" enough, that she won't be part of the headliner community and support other entertainers by attending there openings etc. The editorial page featured a letter from a Rio cocktail server who wrote that the real reason the Rio wants to replace its server staff is to replace all those waitresses who have aged and had kids and since the resort opened 10 years ago.

After finishing the paper, I took a look outside. By that time the dawn light was gone and was replaced by regular daylight. I went inside to play some blackjack. I'm a bit frustrated that blackjack tables with $5 minimums are an endangered species at the top Vegas resorts. Psychologically, a $50 losing streak is easier for me to take than a $100 losing streak. But Paris didn't have anything less than $10 tables. I did have coupon for blackjack that paid an extra $10 on a $10 winning bet. I placed that coupon down on a table with a $10 bill - and lost. I went out the door in search of $5 blackjack.

But $5 tables were not to be found next door at Bally's either. I did find $5 games across Flamingo road at Barbary Coast and so I played there. I came out of the gate strong, advanced to a $20 bet, and then started losing. Two of the three other players at the table were playing with beers in hand, cigarettes hanging from their mouths and spoke to the dealer in drunken slurs. Come on guys! It's 8 a.m.! Go back to your room and go to bed already! I was up and down for a while until the 2nd shuffle break, when I was about even. I checked my watch at it was about 8:24. I decided I would play until 8:30, then move on. Well, that shoe gave me one of those streaks where the best you can do is 17 or bust and the dealer gets 19 - 21 every time. I was down to $2.50 left over from a 21, so I left. But I did get to enjoy a comped Baily's & coffee at the cost of $47.50.

Back at Paris my luck changed fast. On my second max-coin play at $.25 video poker, I got 4 queens, winning back $30 of what I lost down the street. Not wanting to squander my changed luck, I cashed out and headed toward the bar.

Allow me to digress one more time… Last year after seeing the films "Moulin Rouge" and "From Hell," I became interested in a drink used by these films' characters called absinthe. This distilled liquor was quite popular with 19th Century European artists, poets and other bohemians until it was banned in most countries in the early 20th Century - an easy target for the temperance movement to hang the blame of all social ills. Absinthe is made with an herb called wormwood, which in addition to providing a bitter aniseed or licorice flavor, also contains a substance called thujone. This supposedly gave absinthe a more "clarity of thought" effect than other liquors and made it the drink of the 19th Century European artist & bohemian set.

In recent years, production of absinthe became legal again in some European countries, and it is currently having a resurgence of popularity in England, which never actually passed a law against it. It is illegal to sell absinthe within the United States, but it is not illegal to posses or consume it, and there is no law against importing one or two bottles for personal consumption.

What does this have to do with me wandering about a Vegas casino at 8:45 in the morning? Well, in the 19th century, the top absinthe brand was from a French distillery called Pernod. When absinthe was banned in France, Pernod reformulated its product and produced a thujone-free "near-absinthe" called simply "Pernod" ("absinthe" does not appear on the label) which has been readily available in the United States to this day.

I had been curious to try Pernod but didn't want to pay $25 for a bottle at my local beer & wine store. What better place to sample Pernod than a bar in a Paris-themed casino?

I found Pernod to be a more yellowish green than the drinks seen in "Moulin Rouge." The taste was licorice and less bitter than I expected. It took little imagination to picture myself at a Paris café in the 1880s enjoying the "green hour" with a glass of real absinthe. I told the bartender about absinthe, and he seemed interested. I gave him a web site where he could read more about it. By then it was about 9 a.m., so I returned upstairs to the room.

Dan brought me back a croissant for breakfast a couple hours later and I got dressed and ready for another day of wedding stuff.

We walked over to Bellagio and hiked all the way back to the chapel. It is really far! Through the casino, back past the pool, around the corner past the meeting rooms and then it's there. Good thing there are chairs along the way. You may need to stop and rest. :)

The chapels at Bellagio are GORGEOUS! It was very opulent and beautiful, just what you'd expect from Bellagio. The coordinators were both busy but called someone right away to come and talk to us. The woman who came out suggested we consider the South chapel because the East chapel can be tight with pew decorations even with a small party and she likes the longer aisle, but I think the smaller chapel would be just about right for our party size. I think we'd be lost in the big chapel, even with the longer aisle. Besides, I don't need the long walk down the aisle; I'll be tired from the hike to the chapel from the elevators. :)


I tried to call the banquet manager to see a suite or some banquet options, but couldn't get through to her. We could try again on another day. We started the walk back to the casino and on the way Dan decided that he wanted to get a chip for his chip collection. I picked out an area of Video Poker machines by the slot club and sent Dan off to find a $10 blackjack table. I got a new Players Club card to replace my old cards (I have them for the individual casinos) and sat down to play. The progressive locked up on me and Dan came back while I was waiting. I cashed out up and Dan had his chip and had played a little blackjack, happiness abounds.

Yes, the coordinator at Bellagio knew how to upsell. But I agree with Sonya that the cozy East Chapel would be comfortable with our needs, while the West Chapel would simply have too many empty seats in it.

While Bellagio in undeniably a grand and beautiful hotel, I don't feel the ambiance really suits my style. I find myself more comfortable in the art-deco styling of Mandalay Bay or the festive atmosphere of Rio.

As I said earlier, $5 blackjack is an endangered species at A-list Vegas strip resorts, and I didn't expect to find any at the Bellagio. As Sonya and I walked through the casino, all I saw were $25 and $100 minimum tables. I wanted to have a Bellagio chip for my collection, and I won't just buy a chip and take it home. I have to play at least one real hand to get it, and I was concerned about how much that might cost me if I didn't win the first hand.

When I left Sonya to play some video poker, I looked around for a $10 blackjack table, and was surprised to find not one but two tables with $5 minimum bets, so I bought in for $20. On my first hand I got 21 on my third card, but the dealer drew 21 also. I lost the second hand, then won the third. I decided that was fine and cashed out for $15, keeping the best chip for my collection.

We walked back across to Aladdin and met up with Deb in the Wedding Chapel. This time she had a Panorama Suite to show us. We headed up the elevators and down to the end of the hall towards Paris.

The room was beautiful! I wasn't too excited about the big screen TV, but thinking more about the TV, it sure would be nice to watch a movie or something from that big bathtub. :) We took tons of pictures and talked about how the coordinators daughter did a suite reception when she had the room. We got lots of great ideas and possibilities there.

I've never been totally comfortable and relaxed in those hotel meeting rooms, so I find a idea of a suite reception very appealing. Having such a large room with a spectacular view for two nights would be a great way to greet guests as they arrived in town, pass out gift baskets and give advice on places to see and things to do. I also liked the Aladdin chapel better than Sonya. It did have a window to a public area along one site, but there were drapes that could be drawn to provide privacy

After leaving Aladdin, we walked back to the parking garage at Paris to get our car and head over to Treasure Island. We used the valet there and went upstairs to the chapel. It was very pretty and comfortable. I liked that they have one chapel (west) set up for the ceremony and the other (east) set up for photos. Considering it was one of the less expensive places we were looking at, I was surprised we liked it so much.

We walked across the hall to catering to talk to someone about a banquet room. They were all full so we couldn't take any pictures, but we got a packet and peeked into a couple of meeting lunches to see how the rooms were set up. Not bad, but it looked like a meeting room. I wish I had been able to see one set up for a wedding.

After Treasure Island we went back to Paris and we were starving. We stopped at Le Boulangerie and got a couple of sandwiches. I got a turkey and swiss and Dan got one that had proscuttio and roasted peppers with a pesto sauce dressing. Both were yummy and hit the spot. We ate them in the room while we watched the movie trailer channel. Just needed a little time to relax and process the things we'd seen that morning.

At 2pm we had been told to show up at the Paris Chapel to see the Le Rendezvous Lounge. They have a continental breakfast and happy hour for special hotel and casino guests in the morning and evening, but have the room available for wedding receptions for people who get married at Paris from 1-2:30 pm or 1:30-3pm. It sounded like a good option for us, so we wanted to take a look.

I really liked the room. It's up on the 31st floor of the hotel and has a nice view of the Eiffel tower and Bellagio Fountains. The room has several small cocktail tables and a buffet along one wall. Dan didn't like the room as much as I did, but I think that if it were decorated with linens and small centerpieces it would be really nice. The only feature that concerns me is the staircase. They like to bring the bride and groom up to the 32nd floor and then you come into the room down the stairs. I'm not sure I'll be able to navigate stairs at that point. :)

I can't really put my finger on anything I didn't like about the Rendezvous Lounge. Maybe it's the yellow color scheme - I'm not sure. I guess it just didn't sing to me the way the suite guest rooms did.

On the way back down, we got off on the 3rd floor to check out the hotel pool area. It was nice but not spectacular like Mirage or Mandalay Bay. I know they have a bunch of poolside wedding packages available, but none of that appealed to me. I like the idea of being outside by the pool, but not with all the kids running around. :)

After seeing the pool area we went downstairs to play a little Video Poker and I had to find and play some Survivor Slots. I am a closet Survivor fanatic and love trying to spoil the show with some people on a board who love to hate the show. I put in a $20 and hit NOTHING. I was down to just 9 credits left (3 credits per spin) when I hit a bonus and selected the gross food one. I ended up getting 165 credits, basically doubling my money and decided that was enough for me. :)

We went back up to the room to look at my book and decide what to do next. We decided to take a trip out to Freed's Bakery. We got the car and headed down Flamingo to Eastern. We found Freed's in a strip mall type shopping center. There were a lot of places available for lease in the center, so I got a little worried.

We went inside and were greeted by a man who pointed us to a table full of books of pictures and information. We looked through some books to see some cakes we liked and after a while someone came over to help us. At first she didn't get that we weren't locals. We explained that we're just scouting on this trip and were trying to get information that we could use to book things over the phone later. Once we got that established, things went well.

She brought out two pieces of cake for us, one white and one chocolate. The chocolate cake had a raspberry filling and butter crème frosting and was delicious; the white cake was also very good with a strawberry filling and half and half frosting. (Half white frosting and half butter crème). She also brought out a plate that has fondant and some white frosting. We both agreed the white was way too sweet for us. Dan didn't know what fondant was and we both agreed we didn't like the taste much and the texture even less. Dan liked the butter crème, but I loved the half and half. Not too sweet, but not to buttery either. I'd pick that for sure.

We looked at a couple of cake ideas that we liked. For our size of party, we would get a 2 tier cake, 6"x10". We figured the cake would be about $150 with a $35 delivery fee to a restaurant and $40 to a suite. There is also a $10 deposit for plates and pillars. We wrote down a bunch of cake names that we liked (Wind Romance, Forever Lace, Great White Way, Sweet Reverie and Lori's Cake) and headed off.

It was getting late in the day and we were supposed to go to Mandalay Bay at 5:30 to check out the chapels. We had about half an hour to see Monte Carlo's chapel if we hurried. On the drive down Tropicana, I tried to call the chapel to see if it was a good time, but only got a busy signal. We pulled into the valet and there was a huge line of cars. I just jumped out and Dan headed to the self-park. I met him at the escalator and we went up to the chapel only to find a sign on the door that said "Wedding in Progress". An employee came out and we asked when would be a good time to come back. I asked if we could come back in the morning and she said that 10am was fine.

We got the car and headed off to Mandalay Bay. We pulled into the valet and were inside in a few minutes. We headed straight for the escalators down to the Beach Level and as soon as we got on the escalator I commented to Dan that I had forgotten how much I loved the hotel. I really am crazy about Mandalay Bay. I like the décor and the atmosphere and everything. Dan hasn't had good luck at the casino and he bases a lot of his feelings about hotels on that, but he had to admit that we have always had a good time in the non-casino parts of the hotel. :)

We walked out to the pool area and quickly found the chapel. There was a wedding party in front of the chapel area getting the last of their pictures taken. We stood off to the side for 5 minutes or so and then I called the chapel to find out if there was another way inside. The coordinator said that we could probably sneak through between pictures, but just then they finished and we all headed inside.

The chapel was really beautiful. It was probably my favorite of the trip. I like the wide chairs and the high ceiling. I also liked the fountain area out in front of the chapel. I wonder how loud it is there when the pool area is full of people.

We talked to the coordinators there for a little bit, asking questions and getting all the paperwork and information. We asked about the suites in the hotel and she said that they are probably too small for a reception. I'm not familiar enough with the larger rooms to know for sure. Forgot to ask when I called the hospitality department too. We got lots of good information from them and headed back into the hotel.

We had narrowed down our reception restaurant choices at Mandalay Bay to two - House of Blues and China Grill. We went to House of Blues to see the New Orleans Room. They didn't have any tables set up, but we could get a pretty good idea. It was a fun and funky room. Would be a great place to have a reception, but I'm not sure how the older people in our party would feel about the rock music and voodoo décor.

From there we walked back to China Grill. We asked the host and hostess if we could see the private dining area. They told us that the staff had just had dinner in there and it wasn't really set up, but we could look. The area is slightly above and off to the side of the restaurant. It's separated by a curtain from the rest of the room. The table is U-shaped and has large, high-backed velvet chairs.

While Dan took some pictures, I talked to the host. He asked if we'd eaten there before and I told him we hadn't. He said that we had to stay and try the food. We were sort of hungry and it was about dinner time so we decided to stay and have an appetizer or something.

We were seated and looked at our menus. Everything looked so good. We were interested in three of the appetizers and two entrees as well as a couple of the sides. Decisions, decisions. :) We ended up ordering their special "trio" appetizer which was a calamari salad, salmon roll sushi and some tuna tartar. FANTASTIC! The best sushi we've had since we moved away from our favorite Sushi restaurant in Santa Clara, California. We also had the sake-marinated "drunken" chicken and wasabi mashed potatoes. Both were excellent! Definitely the best meal we've had in a very long time. The service and food were amazing and well worth the extra money we paid to eat there. Regardless of where we get married and have our reception, I know we'll be eating at China Grill again when we're in Vegas.

We also made a point to visit the restrooms at China Grill before we left. The Travel Channel voted them one of the 10 best in the world. They are definitely different. Once you figure out how to get inside, you find your unisex bathroom pod and watch a little Dave Matthews video. It was fun.

Yes, the Dave Matthews toilet pods were different, but among the 10 best bathrooms in the world? I'm not so sure. But the food at China Grill is not your neighborhood Chinese restaurant food. It's not quite like anything anywhere else and every item was a great surprise.

We left Mandalay Bay and headed back to Paris. We grabbed a couple of waters in the gift shop at Paris and headed up to the room. It was 5 minutes to 8pm and we were in a hurry because Fear Factor was on. We watched them swing around Fremont Street, eat eyeballs and slide down Luxor. It was extra fun to watch knowing that we'd just been driving by all those places. I was a little worried when they headed back to Mandalay Bay for the gross food part. I was afraid they'd go to China Grill and I'd change my mind about liking the restaurant, but I was safe. :)

I think we just hung out in the room and watched TV until midnight and went to bed. We were going to order a dessert from room service but ended up not doing it. We didn't need the sugar anyway. :)

March 11, 2003

This morning I was determined to take advantage of my early-running body clock by getting some great shots in the dawn light. Even though I got out of bed at midnight the night before to see and hear the Bellagio fountains perform "The Star Spangled Banner," I was awake shortly before 6 a.m. I quickly showered dressed, grabbed the camera and made my way downstairs. I took some shots of Bellagio and the Paris Balloon in the dawn light. About half of the people out at this hour were joggers. The sight of joggers on the Las Vegas strip intrigued me, so I shot some pictures of them as well.

I went back inside, bought a newspaper, raisin Danish and latte at the pastry shop near the elevator. I then took the same seat as the day before in the casino lounge near the TV showing CNN.

The front page of today's LVJR had an interesting article about how gaming revenues have declined in the past few years and how that is impacting the Nevada state budget. It outlined the construction booms of the 80s and 90s, and noted that there have been no major openings since the Aladdin opened a couple of years ago (I'm sure the folks at the Palms loved reading that). The editorial page ran a response to Monday's letter from the Rio cocktail waitress. The response said that the Rio's reputation of having the "hottest" cocktail servers was key to the resort's success, and necessary given its location somewhat off the strip. Therefore, the letter writer wrote, the Rio is justified in replacing its aging server staff.

I still wanted a Paris chip for my collection, so after breakfast I sat at one of Paris's $10 tables, resigning to the fact that the chip may cost me $15 if I didn't win and get the chip for free + $5 back. I drew a pair of 9s against the dealer's 6. I normally don't split 9s, but the dealer was egging me on, pointing to his 6. I decided to go for it. I drew 10s on both 9s, and the dealer conveniently busted. So I got my free chip + $15.

But I didn't want to play $10 blackjack so I went up the street again, this time to the historic Flamingo, incorrectly believed by some to be the first casino in Las Vegas. Maybe not, but it was the first on what would become the Las Vegas strip, which at that time was a lonely highway way out of town. It was also the beginning the mob's involvement in the Vegas casino business. I had heard that there was a plaque and a restaurant named in the memory of Bugsy Segal, so I walked around looking for it. I found the plaque outside, right next to the wedding chapel. The chapel did not open until 9 a.m., but it looked OK. I took a picture of the pool area, suspecting that it was not the same pool used by Elvis and Ann Margaret in the film "Viva Las Vegas!"

Inside I found a wall with photographs of the Flamingo taken throughout its long colorful history. One shot from the 1950s showed a man taking a swan leap from a 10-foot high dive. Yup! Definitely not into the 3' deep pool that's out there now! Around the corner were at least a hundred posters advertising many of the entertainers who performed at the Flamingo over the years.

I sat down at a $5 blackjack table and bought in for $50. A few hands later the dealer and my fellow players all got up and left. The new dealer was a 60-ish woman named Alfie. I asked her if I was her first. She laughed and said "Honey, you are not my first!" I embarrassingly explained that it was 8 a.m. and meant to ask if I was her first player today. As I played 1-on-1 I asked how long she had worked at the Flamingo, she said 16 years. As she dealt the cards to me, we talked about the history of the Flamingo and of Vegas in general. It was all very interesting, but I was having trouble focussing on both the conversation and the game I was playing. I guess I'm not as good as I thought. At about 8:10 my phone started ringing. I quickly finished the hand and left the table to take the call. Sonya was awake and ready for breakfast. I made three more walks around the casino, the first to find the cashier, the second to find Bugsy's Deli and buy a bagel for Sonya, the third to find the door. I had cashed out with $37.50. I kept one Flamingo chip for my collection, so I was really down only one hand, plus a surrender of a 10-6 to Alfie's 10.

Our last day in Vegas! Dan got up really early again and headed off to Flamingo. He brought me a bagel and cream cheese from Bugsy's Deli for breakfast and we packed and got organized and ready to go.

I had asked for a late check out so we didn't need to be out of the room until 1pm, but I wanted to have everything together so it wasn't a mad dash at the last minute.

At 9:30 we headed down to the car and over to Monte Carlo to see the chapel. By this time I was all chapeled out. :) It was beautiful, but my heart wasn't in it anymore. We walked over to the Market City Caffe to see the private dining areas, but nobody was working there yet. Dan just walked in and took some pictures of areas that looked like they might be the place.

We drove back over the Rio to try to see the honeymoon suite. We got up to the chapel fairly easily, especially now that I knew where it was, but nobody was at the desk. I put my tired butt into one of the chairs in the area and waited. Dan wandered around to find someone to help us, but nobody was around. We saw a couple of employees of Rio, but nobody acknowledged us. Finally Dan asked one young lady if there was someone here who could help us. She said, "Uh.. I think she's out today." Okay. :)

We asked if we could see the honeymoon suite and she said she'd make a call to see if it was available. She came back a few minutes later to say that they'd put someone into it last night and we could probably see it "tomorrow". I told her that we were leaving today but thanks anyway and we headed out.

I was a little disappointed in the service we got at Rio. Of all the places we visited, I was most disappointed with Rio. I have always had such good service there in the past. I was surprised to have had so many indifferent people there this trip. Hopefully it was just a fluke or my bad luck.

We walked up to the check in desk and got in line. When it was our turn we asked if there was a way we could see a Masquerade Suite as we were considering getting one for a wedding reception. The check in clerk gave us a key and sent us up to room 37029.

<-- This bath and this -->
closet are in the entry area for guests

We went up and toured around a beautiful suite. It has a great 180-degree view of the Strip that must be amazing at night. The bathroom off the bedroom was HUGE. Almost as big as our room at Paris! The entertaining area seemed a little smaller than the room at Aladdin, but still big enough for a party.

I'd have to pick the Rio suite over the Aladdin suite. Although the Aladdin suite we saw had a wide-screen flat TV, and the Rio had a mere 36' regular set, a larger TV at Rio would only block the magnificent view which includes the entire Las Vegas strip

Being the groom, I don't have strong preferences for one chapel over another. All are "churchy" enough for people who feel weddings should be in a church, yet not overtly religious enough to put off non-religious people. I thought Mandalay Bay and Bellagio had the nicest chapels, followed by Monte Carlo, which is a bit less expensive. The Rio chapel was a bit plainer and looked a little worn, which was a slight disappointment because I do like the Rio a lot. Also, all of the chapels we saw had at least three video cameras to record the ceremony. Some had them just mounted on the wall on either side of the altar, others had them recessed behind one-way mirrors or tinted glass. One place had them painted to match the walls behind them. Hidden would be better, but I wouldn't base my decision just on that. For receptions, I like the suites we saw at Aladdin and Rio. I just feel more comfortable in my own space.

What is always in the back of one's mind as you look at these venues is the reaction of family members. My relatives are not huge Vegas fans, and I was a little worried about the image of the Vegas wedding which includes drive-ins, Elvis, questionable buffet food and gaudy tackiness. While all these are available in Vegas for those who want them, some of the venues are very classy as well. Mandalay Bay is not Stardust, Flamingo or the Circus-Circus buffet (so slight against these places - they were built in a different era and so offer a different ambiance). Mandalay Bay is a place I would be proud to share with any family member, and would be my pick if cost were not a factor.

We took all our pictures and headed downstairs. My poor body was worn out so I sent Dan to return the key without me. I sat down at a Video Poker machine and put in $20. I didn't think I got enough credits, but just started playing. When Dan showed up, I started to cash out and really big quarters came out of the machine. It was a $0.50 machine. I said, "Oops! I thought this was a quarter machine!" Dan asked how much I put in and then how much I was taking out. I'd managed to turn a $20 into a $50, so yay for me. :)

We got the car and gassed up the rental car at the Texaco across from the Rio. We'd always gotten gas there in the past, but this time we had to go inside to use our credit card to get an advance and then back in to do the charge. What a hassle!

From there we headed back to Paris to have some lunch and check out. Dan wanted a crepe, but I just wanted a sandwich. I went to the little pasty shop by the elevators and got a chicken sandwich there with endive and pesto. I took it up to the room and watched the noon news while I ate. Dan showed up about 15 minutes later with a crepe that was more like a pizza, olives, tomato sauce, etc. We finished eating and packed up the last of our things.

We had the bellman come and take our one suitcase and our jackets. Then we checked out at the registration desk and paid our bill.

After that we played one last round of Video Poker and cashed out up a little bit again. I'm not exactly sure how Dan ended up but I took home almost twice the cash I brought with me. I didn't bring very much as it wasn't going to be a gambling trip, but I count that as a big win anyway.

We headed over to Dollar to return our car and got on the shuttle to the airport. We got to Alaska and the little check in computer things were broken so we had to wait in the line. It wasn't too bad of a wait and we got to the gate about 2:30 for our 4:15pm flight.

At about 3:30 we found out the plane was delayed and we finally left about 5pm. It was a long flight with some delicious cardboard chips and pepper mud for a snack. This time we were smart and had bought a couple of Mrs. Field's cookies just in case the snack sucked again.

The cardboard crackers and pepper mud wasn't so bad this time, as we weren't expecting anything more. The Mrs. Fields cookies I smuggled aboard really hit the spot for us - good idea.

I was really restless on the flight home. My feet hurt, my legs were sore, my back was tight and I was exhausted. I couldn't even begin to process all the things we had seen and done, but I did know that no one place had really cried out to us "I'm the one!". I had really hoped that something would become really clear on this trip. I'm still not sure if it did or not, but we sure got some great information and had a wonderful trip away from home for a couple of days.

We got home around 8:30 to find our house a mess. We had a flood on the 3rd floor on Friday night and they had replaced our bathroom ceiling while we were gone. The house smelled like paint to the point I almost couldn't breathe. My poor kitties! But even worse was the thin layer of sheetrock dust all over everything in the house. We stripped the bed and dusted as much of the bedroom as possible before Dan went to bed. He had to be up at 5am for work so I was in a hurry to get that much done. The rest could wait for the next day.

I managed to get most of it cleaned up that night and finished it off with some extra loads of laundry on Wednesday. I'm still tired and sore, but I'm glad we went. Even if we don't get married in Las Vegas, we saw some great places to tie the knot if we want to.