HOW TO VACATION AN ENTIRE WEEK FOR UNDER $2,000
I have to premise this story with a FACT. Marc and I did not have a honeymoon vacation, nor have we had a traveling vacation that did not involve just going to my family in North Carolina. We simply have not had the time (due to kids, then having his mother living with us for 16 years of our marriage) nor have we really had “throw away funds”. This is the first year that we are free of kids and his mother. It is also our 25th year of marriage so we decided we would splurge and go away.
We spent agonizing amounts of time trying to decide what to do. The things I like to do involve horses, outdoors and dirt … three things that Marc seriously is not into.
And the things he likes to do is read in a quiet room, sleep in and role playing games. Three things that are too sedate for me.
What to do, what to do.
We thought about a cruise (Marc has motion sickness).
We thought about a train trip across the United States (minimum time necessary was 10 days – too long for us to be away from the business)
We thought about a trip to New York City and see some shows (WAY TOO EXPENSIVE)
So many things that we came up with were either “not interesting” to one of us or “too much time” or “too much money”.
We were sitting around one evening watching some television, which is pretty rare for us, when a commercial came on. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. We looked at each other and were like, “YES!!!!!”
And so we contacted a travel agent, told her what we were looking for budget wise, and thus began our plans for vacationing away from Pennsylvania.
***NOTE TO SELF*** Do not use this travel agent again. Throughout the process of planning this trip, we had very poor communication. After booking everything for us, we felt totally abandoned by our travel agent. Nothing was explained to us. We had to figure out everything on our own. When we asked questions about reservations, we were answered in terse, one sentence replies. When we found a couple issues in reservations and contacted her via email, we were answered in terse, one sentence replies. When we got to Las Vegas and found some discrepancies in our reservations we sent her a text … and she never bothered to answer us or help us out. Fortunately, the resort must be used to this kind of thing and problems were resolved very quickly through the resort management.
Let’s talk costs, and we’ll add it up throughout the story. Resort, flight, rental car. $984.00. The travel agent did tell me there would be a resort fee to pay directly to the resort at the end of our stay, $29 per night (x 4 nights). They could not prepay this for us because if we didn’t go for some reason it would not be refunded. Okay, so add an additional $116 for a total of $1100.00.
When we booked this trip, my fourth child Terry, and his girlfriend Sarah, already had plans to be out of town the same week we’re to go away. This was a huge problem! Terry always takes care of my zoo while we go away for a day or two. He knows the routine, he is comfortable being here with the animal mob, and he is very dependable. Now I’m at a loss what to do for animal care and house sitting.
We almost cancelled the trip when I thought of my riding buddy, Jeff. Tentatively, I put out a feeler to him about whether he would be available AND whether he’d even want to deal with the mob of critters that live at my house. I knew, already, that he traveled a lot for his work and was pretty sure he would probably be working out of town, but I put it out there to him.
And he said, “YES!”
So I carefully started documenting the daily routines for the zoo care and I wrote him a seven page manual for living in the zoo. It detailed out each pet, what they eat, what kind of behaviors could be expected from them on a daily basis. The manual contained one page of phone numbers for emergencies. Jeff also wanted to care for the horses so he could start learning what kind of work goes into that, as well.
Really? Oooo Kkkkk …
The day of departure arrives. Marc and I went to bed early, as we needed to be up and on the road to the Philadelphia Airport by 3:30 am, and we laid there and tossed and turned – like little kids anxious to go to Disney World.
We drove to the Philly airport in record time. Why? Because there were no cars on the road at 3:30 am on a Monday morning.
Okay, first issue with the travel agent arose the night before when we were pre-booking the parking lot. The travel agency offered a 20% discount for one parking lot. She didn’t arrange it for us, we had to arrange it ourselves. I thought it *WAS* already paid for as part of our package, because the paperwork “APPEARED” to have it booked and paid. I went on line to confirm and found out it was not. I did a little research before booking the parking lot and found that the “recommended parking lot” was more expensive, even with the 20% discount, than parking at a different parking area. So, first overage costs to us arise.
$1100 plus $55 for parking.
As we entered the airport to leave, I began to worry what other costs were not going to be covered. I had asked for a full blown package, everything paid for in advance, so I didn’t have to worry about paying anything on the back end.
And we’re so early, very early, that we sit around in the airport two and a half hours waiting for the plane.
Marc was our photographer on this trip. He got some nice shots saying good-bye to The Lehigh Valley and all this humidity.
See that fella next to me? Funny story. We were sitting in the airport lounge and his wife and I started talking. Oh yes, I’ll talk to anyone who will listen. They were traveling to Las Vegas with their two boys. We discovered we were on the same plane, in the same row on said plane *AND* staying at the same resort. We did not (however) have the same travel agent because she mentioned they got a wonderful package deal (resort, airfare, rental car) for all four of them for $1400.
Five hour flight. ugh. I read a book on my Kindle. I snoozed. I ate a sandwich (which I brought with me because everything on the plane costs money, and a sandwich was $11 if you bought it on the plane) None of this was explained to us by our travel agent. I found all this out from talking to friends about our trip. They advised us to pack our own food for the trip.
THANK YOU, FRIENDS!
Finally, coming into the last half an hour of flight. More photos here of the Grand Canyon and of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam.
So we arrive in Las Vegas. We are well taken care of with shuttle service to the car rental lot, which is about five miles away. it’s hot out here, but it doesn’t feel overly hot. I’m not sure the temperature until we get into the rental car and we’re driving towards The Strip. It is 10:30 am … yes, still early morning and it is 104 degrees. I’m here to tell you that everything they say about dry heat is true. I was not hot.
Above photo is the view from our room during the day. Getting this view was a little bit of a hassle. When we arrived at the Resort (again, thanks to the travel agent who didn’t have any communication with us) they first told us.
“Ah, early check-in is $55.”
“But we do have a smoking room available and can check you in right away. The room is already booked and paid for but you have to pay the resort fee up front.”
I did know about the $29 a day resort fee.
“Do you have a credit card with you? The fee for four nights is $259.”
WTF? $259 divides by 4 is NOT $29. That’s more like $65
Once again, our travel agent has let us down. No biggie, we just won’t eat as much as we were going to … because that extra funds has to come from somewhere and I’m certainly not taking it out of my day trip expense bucket.
Who needs to eat anyway? Although we did go off the strip and had dinner at the In And Out Burger joint. Mmmmm, french fries.
And a note to all you first time travelers to Las Vegas … none of the resorts on the strip have a refrigerator or coffee pot in the room. They want you down in their resort area eating, drinking and playing in the casino, not up in your room having a leisurely cup of coffee or eating snacks. When you get to Vegas, go off the strip and purchase a cheap styrofoam cooler and a cheap coffee pot. Coffee in the resorts runs about $4 a cup.
Updated totals so far. Resort, flight, rental car. $984.00. Parking at Philly $55. Resort fee (not $116 but $259) GRAND TOTAL $1,298.00.
The best part of Vegas is the night. We spent two hours in the afternoon doing a Wydnam Resort Tour, the price of collecting our free $125 in slot vouchers and free lunch.
Free is good, right? Especially since we’re now having costs we were not expecting.
They were very sad that we didn’t fall for their plot to get us to purchase a one week time share in Vegas.
HA! But we got our free slot money, free lunch and a $100 gift card for a Las Vegas restaurant to have dinner. Well worth the boring two hour tour.
We went back to the hotel room and rested. I was sure that the time lag would catch up to me and I’d be fast asleep by 9:00 pm, but I was wrong. As soon as it got dark we went out and started exploring. We stayed out until midnight (which would be 3:00 am our time.)
The big round ferris wheel looking thing is called The high Roller. A lot of the photos we took from there. It’s a 30 minute ride which takes you up over 1400 feet and you can see everything. It was a remarkable view from up there. The sides are completely glass so your view isn’t obstructed by anything. That was fun!
On day 2 we woke up very refreshed. The mattress in our room is heavenly. I wish our mattress at home was that nice! I didn’t have an ache or pain anywhere when I woke up.
Now, it’s 6:30 am Vegas time (9:30 am our time) Who would believe I could sleep that long.
Tuesday’s agenda, do another Wyndam 2 hour tour (just call me Gilligan) and get more bonus prizes. Two free tickets to ride on The High Roller, two free buffet tickets, free breakfast and a free tour. Yeah, Marc is already having fits over me doing these “tours” but I told him that free is free!
Then off to the Shelby factory and museum and do some more foot touring of Las Vegas. Seriously, it is not hot out here. We’re out walking around and we’re very comfortable. One thing I saw in Vegas that was a shock to me, as I’ve never been exposed to this before, were the number of homeless people. Sleeping right on the sidewalks, sitting with hand written signs, and it was remarkable to me that this is a common sight in Las Vegas. They sit on the cross ways and alleys in between Casinos.
Another amazing thing to me was how clean the Las Vegas Strip was. We didn’t see one cigarette butt (no smoking on the sidewalks – signs everywhere), one cup, one tissue. Nothing. The Strip is very very clean. I found out later that the casino’s employ 24/7 staff and their only job is to keep the walks in front of the casinos pristine and dust free. Off the Strip, we did see some trash, but not a lot.
Let’s go back to that non smoking law. That’s right. No smoking on the sidewalks. If you want to smoke on The Strip, you pop into a casino, play a slot machine, get a free drink and smoke.
That took some getting used to!!!!
NOTE! All photos in this vacationing album are taken with Marc’s Galaxy6 phone. You can tell the ones I take because they aren’t clear and they have no photo value. Marc has a very good eye for taking shots!
Tuesday – STOP #1 – Shelby factory and museum. (We all know that Marc is a Mustang and Shelby fanatic … except for the Dodge Shelby’s – he thinks they suck.) Cost to visit the Shelby Factory and Museum for two and a half hours? $0 – FREE!
By now it’s well into the afternoon in Las Vegas and we decide to head back and do some more foot walking exploration. And then hit the casino. While we did not come to Las Vegas to gamble, we do have free slot tickets so it’s not really gambling, if it’s not your own money … right?
First stop, after we park, is to go to Casino Royale. Oh my, this place was lit up with mirrors on the low ceilings and machines filling every inch of the place, but quite honestly, it was a real dive. I was disappointed. We had a free $10 slot ticket for Casino Royale, so we played it an got out of there.
We’re getting a wee bit hungry since our free breakfast has worn off hours ago and we have a free $25 coupon to Toby Keith’s Restaurant. It is an wonderful experience! We were served our tea and soda in a quart sized mason jar. The food portions were HUGE! You have to click this link and visit their website, the pictures they show about the food is truly real. We had so much food on our plates that we actually had enough leftovers to put into boxes for lunch the next day … and then some.
With very full bellies, we headed out for some night life casino hopping.
We visited seven casinos Tuesday evening. We were playing the penny slot machines and having a blast. We started the evening with $125 in slot tickets. We finished the night with $137 in cash to play with the next day. WHOO HOO, up $12 and we’re ready to retire! Marc had one really big win of $82. It was way exciting!
Grand total spent by end of Day 2: $1,298.00 plus dinner $45 = $1,343.00
GRAND TOTAL WINNINGS/LOSSES end of Day 2: $12.00
Agenda for Wednesday, Day 3 – this is going to be a very busy day! Now we’re going to be tourists. Mob Museum. Paradise Oasis Gardens and Museum. Pinball Hall Of Fame. Palace Station to play $100,000 bingo. And Marc’s favorite thing to make is Popovers … the restaurant that he got the recipe from is located here in Las Vegas. We looked at the menu on-line and we know this is going to be a real expense to eat there, but we HAVE to eat there! Marc wants to taste the Popovers directly from the restaurant.
First stop – MOB MUSEUM! For those of you that know me well, you know I am totally a Mob Era fan. I probably have 20 books written about the Mob from the late 1800’s until their shut-down in the late 1970’s. I know all the families, their Don’s and how they were captured or killed during the FBI take down in the 60’s and 70’s. I did not, however, know many things that I learned while at the museum and it was such an exciting adventure.
To get to the section of town where the Mob Museum is located, we had to go through Chapel Alley. I swear to you, I quit counting after 30 … yes, there were more than 30 “GET MARRIED HERE” chapels. Many of them had signs out front with the historical symbol on them, clearly stating they were here first. Now how is that possible that so many could have been first? It cracked me up … What happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas … unless you get married, then you have to take that home with you. Just past Chapel Alley, almost to our destination, I saw a couple building that said, “IMMEDIATE DIVORCE” … TOO FREAKIN’ FUNNY!
Things I knew (that you may not know) – Mob money built the first hospital and the first orphanage and the first college in Paradise, NV. What I did not know is that the mob was key in the completion of Hoover Dam a year ahead of schedule and over one million dollars under budget.
Next stop, Paradise Oasis … we sat in the parking area and ate our leftovers from the night before as our lunch … and we STILL had food left over. That was the biggest serving of food I have ever seen at a restaurant! There is something to be said about Texans!
Here are some interesting facts about Las Vegas. Yes, it is located in the middle of the desert. It was chosen because there were seven oasis and a small railroad town sprung up around these oasis. The town was called Paradise, NV. A small Saloon which hosted card games and betting was built outside town in the meadows surrounding the oasis. Soon a second saloon was built, and a third. Soon, a Madame and her six night-girls took up residence and the red light district of this small western town became known as Las Vegas (Spanish for The Meadows)
The original strip of gambling establishments is still there, on Fremont Street and there are guided tours of this area, with historical facts and stories.
ANYWAY! In 2000, the last of the seven oasis dried up on the surface. By the year 2007 all the underground water in the seven oasis was gone. And it’s gone forever, the water reservoirs for the oasis are collapsed. The museum at Paradise Oasis showed the water usage of Paradise/Las Vegas and it is off the charts. All water in the town now comes from Lake Mead.
Over the years as Las Vegas grew and construction continued, many very well preserved fossils were found in the surrounding desert. These fossils are on display at the museum and it was very cool to see little hoof prints and paw prints and huge bones and skeletons found here.
Now, many of my friends know I am a BINGO nut. I go to BINGO games all the time. I don’t know why, something about BINGO just makes me smile. There is a place in Las Vegas called Palace Station that has $100,000 BINGO games and I am all about visiting there. The BINGO games run on every odd hour from 9:00 am until 1:00 am. After spending two hours at the Paradise Oasis, we head over to the BINGO game.
Palace Station is one of the first casinos to build off Fremont Street. They are not “on The Strip” but are very close to it. The casino proper is still in it’s original building, but it has grown into a resort. They had a historical placard at the front door telling the history of the casino. Interesting read!
I played nine games of Bingo for $6.00 … the last and final game was a blackout game and I sat with only two numbers to blackout … for thirteen calls. That’s right, thirteen numbers came up while I sat there waiting for two to blackout … when someone yelled BINGO, my little heart was broken. The blackout started at $5,500 and I had TWO numbers to go … and the amount went down every number called. By the time it was paid, it was worth $325. And I didn’t win. But it was a fun 90 minutes of play for $6.00.
We left there with big smiles on my face (not so sure how Marc felt about BINGO, but I loved it! Back to the hotel and walk around a bit. Here’s some photos from the Pink Flamingo. One of the original “sin city” casinos, it moves from Fremont Street onto the new strip and became one of the icons of Las Vegas. The casino inside was pink. No kidding. I don’t know why Marc didn’t capture some photos of that. BTW, these birds hanging out on the street are alive and people are stopping to pet them. I would NEVER let anyone pet Molly, she would bite their finger off.
We stopped to see the fountains, which we had seen from the top of The High Roller, but didn’t see in person close up … unfortunately, I was hungry and Marc was hungry so we didn’t stay to see them.
Now it’s time to get ready for supper. Marc is a huge fan of the Pop-Overs made by the BLT Restaurant. I invite you to visit this website and look at the menu. Everything is a-la-carte. We knew this meal was going to break the bank, but Marc really wanted to go there and try their signature pop-overs to see how close they were to his own. And you know what? Everyone needs to splurge on one expensive meal, once in a while. Total with tip (and we did not have any alcohol) was $150.00 – yes, that’s right, $150 for two people to have dinner and ice tea. WOW!
After eating, we decide to go to the casino and try and win our money back. We also had a free spin on the One Million Dollar slot machine. Obviously, since you’re reading this story, we did not win the $1 million.
We did, however, win a little bit of money at the slots before going to bed. We spent $40 between us and cashed in our slot tickets for a grand total winnings of $42 so we’re up another $2. YAY US!
Grand total spent by end of Day 3: $1,343.00 + $40 Mob Museum + $36 Paradise Oasis + BINGO $6 + BLT $150 = $1,575.00
GRAND TOTAL WINNINGS/LOSSES end of Day 3: $12.00 + $2.00 = $14.00
Today is the last full day we will spend in Las Vegas. Day 4 we awaken to a couple of puffy clouds in the sky. Maybe three of them. Yes, the humidity has come up in Las Vegas, it’s at 10%.
You laugh, but apparently that is a big deal in Las Vegas to have any kind of humidity!
Our plan for today is to go to Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. I am very excited to take a trip out of the city. While I am enjoying city life for a couple days, I am missing the wide open spaces. The houses in Las Vegas and low and have clay rooftops. It was very cool to see the different kinds of architecture out here, meant to keep the home cool. We also saw a lot of homes with solar panels. Guess when the sun shines every day, you can run your home off the sun!!!
These pictures will not do any justice to what we saw and how we felt leaning over the edge to look down upon the waters of the dam. It was colossal. Huge beyond imagination and I actually got a wee bit nervous walking along the edge of the dam. I felt like someone from the crowds of people was going to knock me over the edge. Weird vertigo feelings!
And as a small historical note, you can see that at one point the water in this dam was much much higher than it is today. (Remember about the Oasis problem?) Well, Las Vegas has been in a drought since 1997. That’s right, we read the placard and the water levels of the dam have been dropping an average of two feet a year since 1997. There is a run-off built into this dam in case the water levels get too high. The last time any water was in that run off was 1983.
So, back to the city we go. Now I’m really really excited because I am a PinBall wizard. In 1976, I won the PinBall Championship held in Virginia Beach, VA … and I played pinball every opportunity I could after that, though I was never in a competition again. Las Vegas has the largest PinBall Hall Of Fame, all the old pinball and video games you used to play as a kid. I was saving quarters for a long time to go there and play.
We stopped at a Chinese Restaurant next to the college. Yes, there is a college in Las Vegas. Now, I felt a little out of place in the restaurant as we were the only non-asian people in there. But, you know the food is gonna be good when all the asians eat there! And it was AWESOME! The food was to die for.
Then, off to play some more penny slots. And win some money.
Grand total spent by end of Day 4: $1,575.00 + gas for car $22 + $20 PinBall + $32 dinner = $1,649.00
GRAND TOTAL WINNINGS/LOSSES end of Day 4: + $14.00 – $11 = $3.00
Day 5 and time to go home. I had the most marvelous time with Marc in Las Vegas. It was really nice not answering the phone, or email, or facebook or anything. And to have Marc all to myself was amazing. We did not watch any television, or movies, or anything electronic. I have to say it was a great mental downtime.
We had some coffee, checked out of the hotel and played slots while we waited to drive to the rental car return and get started on our trip home. We lost money on the slots today and went home with a total of $12.00 lost gambling.
We bought food to take on the plane, because now we know that we need to do that (we’re not all that uneducated by this trip) bringing our grand total spending for the week to $1,595 plus gambling losses of $12.
Not bad, not bad at all.