Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Las Vegas

We arrived in Las Vegas Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, and man was it hot!  Officially it was in the high 90's and low 100's for the whole week we were there, but our friends in the rig next to us had a thermometer on their outside back window, right in the sun, and it was registering 115!  Fortunately, the RV park where we were staying had 50 amp service so we could run both AC units.  We were here, the home base of Fantasy RV Tours, the company that we went with to Alaska, for a week of training to become tailgunners and eventually wagon masters for future caravans.  The wagon master on our tour had asked us if we would consider doing this, so we decided to give it a shot.  Since the training was in September and we were already on this side of the country it was convenient for us to do it.  We had told the company that our schedule for next year already had some things on it that would prevent us from going on any tours, but they encouraged us to go ahead and do the training, so we would be trained and in their database for future years.  Who knows what future years will bring, but it was a very interesting week.  Amazed that they could pack so much into just a few days of training, but we learned a lot about the behind the scenes workings of a caravan, the history of Fantasy, and what their plans are for the future.  One thing we learned for sure--it takes a heck of a lot of work on the part of the tailgunners and wagon masters to make a caravan run smoothly!  the trainers were great--Chris, the Tour Department Director, and her husband, Brian, who heads the Marketing Department, along with a couple of veteran wagonmaster couples, really taught us a lot.  We also got to hear from the founder of the company, Nel Filliger, a petite little dynamo of a woman who has been the driving force behind making Fantasy the leader in RV caravan companies.  Went out to their offices one day to see how the operations center works--very informative.  So glad we did the training, though, and met some really nice folks who would be fun to work with down the road.  One other couple from our Alaska trip was there, Larry and Sharon from Tampa, and they were parked right next to us.  Sophie was glad to see Aunt Sharon, who had become a favorite during the caravan--they have two goldens, so Sharon loved being able to hold Sophie in her lap!  Of course, the fact that Sharon's pockets were always full of treats didn't hurt either!!  We also saw Lisa and John, a couple from Mass. whom we had met in Alaska--they had gone on a caravan with our same wagon masters, Chuck and Sally, some years earlier, but happened to be staying at the same campground we were in Fairbanks, as they had come back for some more Alaska exploring.  Chuck had introduced me to them and told me later that they were going to do the training.  They are super nice folks and we hope to cross paths with them again down the road.

Larry and Sharon had been to Vegas several times over the years, as Sharon's business brought her here for conferences and conventions, so they were familiar with the town.  Neither Trisha nor I had ever been, so on Saturday night they took us downtown to show us around the Strip.  Well, let me tell you it was crazy!!  Not unexpectedly, we saw every conceivable type of person, from the "Gollee, lookit them tall buildings" small town, wide eyed tourists, to the glamor and glitzy--guys with the gold chains and women in impossibly high heels and sparkly, impossibly short dresses--and of course, some Elvis impersonators, all of this just on the streets!  We went into the Venetian and Caesar's Palace to see the over the top hotels, with their ceilings made to look like the sky, the realistic canals with gondolas in the Venetian, the way overpriced exclusive shops, etc.  The architecture of these places is really amazing, to see what they've done to recreate an alternative reality--it certainly drives home the point that these casinos are making unbelievable amounts of money, if they can put all this into just the decor and ambiance.  And one thing is consistent from place to place--all the hotels are designed so that you have to walk through the casino area to get anywhere, either to the check-in desk, restaurants, etc.  They clearly hope to entice you to sit down and part with some of your money, and many people oblige them.  Though we were staying at Sam's Town, a good ways from the Strip, it was still a big casino and it was set up the same way--we had to walk through the casino each day to make it to the meeting room in the hotel where our training sessions were held.  Though we did see some people seeming to have fun and enjoy themselves at the  blackjack and poker tables, engaging in conversation and laughing, what was really sad and depressing were the rows and rows of slot machines and other single player game machines.  Here you saw people just staring at the screen, not smiling, by themselves, just pouring money into the machines.  Lots of them were older, many dragging oxygen tanks, and the smoke throughout the casino was overwhelming.  But it was interesting to see the spectacle, even though we certainly don't think this is a place we'd likely want to make a regular stop--to each their own.

The highlight of the week, however, did in fact take place on the Strip.  Our sweet daughter, Shelley, gave us tickets to see Cirque de Soleil's show O at the Bellagio!  She had surprised us with this as an anniversary gift, and it was the most amazing experience!  Unfortunately you were not allowed to take pictures during the show, not surprisingly, so I don't have any photos of the actual show to post, but it was just unbelievable.  This is the show that combines the usual Cirque's balletic gymnastic expertise with diving and swimming.  The stage was alternatively just a regular stage, completely dry, then transformed itself magically into water--sometimes just shallow water less than ankle depth, to suddenly deep enough to take gymnasts flying off springboards and super high platforms into the depths of the water.  The stage floor was in sections, sometimes the whole floor would be water, sometimes just smaller sections, and it was hard to see how they had designed it so that you couldn't tell when the floor sections were moving up or down.  At one point there was just a small section that was water and three divers--I'm talking Olympic diving quality here--did a series of high dives, landing just inches from the edge of the dry floor!!  And all of this was done in costumes that were so elaborate, and designed so that they looked the same when the performers emerged from the water as they did before they got wet--how'd they do that???  Shelley had scored the last two tickets in the center section available for the night we went, and we were just 11 rows back from the stage--incredible!!  Just an amazing experience--thank you Shelley!!!!  After the show we strolled through the Conservatory--an area of the Bellagio off the hotel lobby where they have a fantasyland sort of display, made up of thousands of real flowering plants, animated displays, e.g., talking trees, that all changes from season to season--can only imagine how much this costs, over and over again, but it was fascinating.  Then we went outside to watch the "Dancing Fountains" in the big pool in front of the Bellagio, a longtime staple for this hotel.  

The company put on a very nice farewell dinner on Thursday evening, and then we were off Friday to St. George, Utah to spend the weekend with our friends, Sue Ann and Jim.

Couple of casinos as we came into Nevada

 Downtown, from a distance
 Love the way they put so much into making the walls along the interstate sound barriers and overpasses so attractive!

 these signs cracked me up!  Wonder if my old law firm ever thought of this approach!

 Ever seen this sign before?

 The Strip on Saturday night
 The walkways over Las Vegas Blvd.  Sharon and Larry said the cops are known for handing out pretty steep fines for jaywalking.

 Inside the Venetian--made to look like the real city!

 The canals have gondolas, obviously powered by electric motors, but seemed pretty realistic to us!

 Gondolier, serenading her passengers with Italian favorites
 These were the biggest candied apples I've ever seen, in one of the shops along the way in the hotel!

 Beautiful floors of an art gallery in the hotel
 Looks a little like the Cistine Chapel, huh?

 Going into Cesar's Palace

 The ceiling in the shopping mall area of Cesar's

 Our friends, Sharon and Larry

 Sophie turned two while we were here, so she got an ice cream treat--Ben and Jerry's, no less!

 Costumed manequin in the lobby of the O Theater in the Bellagio

 Ceiling of the theater

 Here we are, eagerly anticipating the start of the show!
 They did let us take pics of the curtain call, but my phone took too long to warm up after being turned off during the show, so I only got this one shot.
 Walking through the Bellagio's lobby
 to the Conservatory

 This animated tree would talk!

 Bally's and Paris

 Dancing Fountains at the Bellagio