July 17, 2006

Vegas Baby! (part 3)

Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.

Even if you don't gamble, there's plenty to do in Las Vegas. I'm not talking about things for kids, because as hard as they try to make it family oriented, I don't really think it's all that great a place for a vacation with the kids. You can run through the kiddie stuff in two or three days, including the zoo and the Leid Children's Museum. On the strip, there's the Excalibur which caters to families, and at the other end of the strip is Circus Circus with their "largest indoor amusement park in the world". Other than that, Vegas is pretty much an adult town.

I spent three full days visiting various attractions and museums using my "Power Pass". This little gem got me free admission (well, free after paying for the pass) to a whole heap of cool places, and if I went back next week, I'd get another 3-day pass because there's that much more that I didn't have time to visit. Liz got the 1-day pass, and we spent our anniversary doing things that both of us wanted to see.

I spent one morning visiting the very cool and highly recommended Atomic Testing Museum. Did you know that the US has conducted almost 950 nuclear tests? Not all were for weapon research either, as there were tests done for medical research (as in "nuclear medicine"), for business and industrial research, and of course for pure scientific analysis. One interesting test happened in the 1980's when a tower was erected that was the height of the detonation of the bomb over Hiroshima. At the top of the tower was placed an unshielded nuclear reactor that mimiced the radiation output of that first bomb, and underneath a series of Japanese structures were built using WWII-era construction techniques and materials. The objective was to measure the level of radiation protection provided by the various buildings in order to help Japanese doctors treat the long-term health effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors.

If you look here, every crater is the site of an underground test, where the surface collapsed onto the dome of the chamber where the device was detonated. The engineering and geology behind the test chambers is explained, and the resulting radioactive leftovers from the tests wind up buried hundreds of feet underground in brilliantly conceived and designed self-sealing pits.

The museum wasn't all rah-rah and "go team". All in all it was a fairly balanced look at the testing done in the area, both good points and bad. There was a section on the local indigenous peoples and how the testing affected them (they were forcibly removed by the government when the test range was created) and what the land means to their cultures. This part of the museum was created with the cooperation of the local tribes (Shoshone and one other I can't remember offhand).

You learn the what and the why, but also the how. They put a lot of history out there to experience, and place it in context of the times. Did I say highly recommended? It's worth repeating.

Our hotel, the Luxor, offered free admission to the King Tut Museum and the In Search of the Obelisk ride as part of the Power Pass package. The "ride" was ok, if a little hokey. Most of it is a movie shot with a special technique that makes it look very real to life. It was difficult to distinguish between the actors on the screen and the live people who're part of the show.

The King Tut Museum is a recreation of King Tut's tomb. You get one of those new audio wands that all museums seem to be in love with nowadays, and it tells you interesting things about what you're looking at, which is good. It also tells you when to move along and look at the next thing, which is bad. These were nice because they had a pause button. When they don't, I get fed up quickly and ignore them.

Anyway, the tomb exhibit shows the four rooms of treasures found back in the 1920's by Howard Carter. A lot of details are pointed out, so you really get the significance of what you're looking at, rather than just the jumble of Egyptian stuff. Interesting, but very quick to go through.

Fifth Vegas Tip: Most attractions are not worth the admission price, but they are worth seeing. Either remind yourself that you're on vacation and don't sweat it, or get one of those discount packages.

The Luxor also features an IMAX movie theater (at single ticket prices cheaper than the Air & Space in DC). I plunked down twenty bucks for a three show package and saw "Journey down the Nile", "Magnificent Desolation" in 3D, and "The Sea" in 3D. The first movie was excellent, the second (about the space program, how could it be bad?) was pretty damn good and the IMAX 3D was wonderful (no funky red/green glasses, these used some sort of polarizing effect). The last movie though, gave me a headache. Maybe it was just too much movement for 3D or my glasses didn't fit right or something, but I could've done without the fish. It also got preachy about ecology and conservation, which I'm sure everyone pondered that evening as they wolfed down lobster and crab legs at the buffet.

Let's see... what else...

The Venetian and Bellagio both have museums built into the premises. At the Bellagio was a fine exhibit of and about Ansel Adams, again with the annoying audio wand (completely ignored by me).

The Venetian had a display of Ruebens and Van Dyke oils, amongst other contemporaries. I was given an audio wand for this one, but I lucked out and caught on to a live tour. Unfortunately it didn't last long because although the guide had interesting things to say, her voice made me want to stick pencils through my eardrums. I finished seeing the exhibit sans guide and almost completely without the use of the magic talking stick.

The Venetian also features Madame Tussaud's Celebrity Wax Museum. Unlike any other wax museum I've ever been to, here you are invited to touch and pose with the figures for photos. Mookie saw the one in London and said it's the same way. I wish I'd been forewarned, so I could have taken a sign that said "Noo-Klee-Err" and held it up while posing with President Bush at the podium. Oh well. Spilt milk, eh? They also offer a side-trip through a mini-house of horrors that isn't very scary.

At the Mirage is Seigfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, which was pretty cool. They don't do shows, per se, because this is a research facility that allows folks to watch and help pay the bills. The staff has frequent "interactions" where they feed fish to the dolphins and the dolphins do all kinds of tricks and stunts. You know, just like a show. You can get very close to the action, and there are several underwater windows to see what's going on from below.

The Secret Garden half is full of tropical plants and several large areas full of sleeping lions and tigers and alpaca (!?!?!?!).

Hey, you're a Star Trek-lovin' geek, right? If so, you're in luck! The Las Vegas Hilton features the "Star Trek Experience". It's chock-full of memorabilia from all the various incarnations, and as you go through it you're accompanied by a long-ass timeline that ties events from the whole shebang together. When you're done with the static displays, you get to choose between two exciting adventures, something about the Borg, and something about the Klingons. Your admission gets you into either and both (it's an all-day pass), but I only had time to do the Klingon side. It was hokey but not too bad, and did have some funny bits and actual thrills. In our group were two ladies who had no idea what the hell was going on, so they were cracking jokes about how stupid everything was. I contemplated putting on my earnest face and becoming the "dedicated Trekkie" to explain the error of their ways, but they were pretty funny and I could tell that they were already annoying the real trekkies in the group, which I enjoyed.

My shining moment came at the end when you're offered a chance to buy a photo where your face is placed into a group shot of the Star Trek crew of your choice. When they asked which crew was my favorite, I said "original series" and quicker than you could stomp a Tribble, there I was with Kirk, Spock, Sulu and the rest. Only one problem... I complained bitterly that I was in a red shirt, and there was no way I was buying a picture of me knowing that I was nothing more than "the guy that dies".

That brought some laughs from the other folks, and I noticed that after me everyone picked "next generation" or one of the others.

Before you leave, you can stop in at Quarks bar and restaurant and have a bite to eat. If I have to explain, you wouldn't get it.

So far, everything I've mentioned here was free with my power pass (except for the IMAX movies). Among the other things I could've seen for free was the Las Vegas Zoo, the top of the Stratosphere tower, Elvis-A-Rama, the Liberace Museum, a half-day tour to Hoover Dam, the Museum of Natural History, the Las Vegas Art Museum, "Lost Vegas" Gambling Museum, the Circus Circus amusement park and much much more.

The limiting factor for most of these (besides time) was transportation. I got ripped off by a cab driver who stuck me for eleven bucks for a six dollar ride, and after that I was leery about using them. More than one local warned me about them as well. Almost all of the things I did were on the strip, so you could walk or take the monorail.

Sixth Vegas Tip: Make sure you have plenty of ones and fives on hand for tips and taxis. The scumbag cabbies will claim they can't make change.
Seventh Vegas Tip: There are two monorails on the strip. The first is at the extreme south end and connects Mandalay Bay, Luxor and the Excalibur. These three are all right next door to each other and are also connected by covered walkways. You never need to ride this monorail.

The second monorail starts at the MGM Grand (south end of the strip, across from Excalibur) and goes north. The last two stops are a block east of the strip at the Convention Center and the Hilton. Rides are five dollars, two for nine dollars (up and back), or fifteen bucks for the all day pass. This is a nice system, and worth the money if you don't feel like walking miles up and down the strip in the heat.

Eighth Vegas Tip: From the Hilton, you can grab a shuttle bus to the Freemont District, which is like a mini-strip. This was where all the action was when Vegas was just getting started.
Other things to do include (as Shank mentioned in previous comments) renting a machine gun for some quality time on the target range, learning to drive various high performance vehicles (both racetrack and off-road), and Madalay Bay has a wicked-cool Shark aquarium.

And that's not to mention all the free stuff you can do...

Next time.

Posted by Ted at July 17, 2006 04:48 PM | TrackBack
Category: Square Pegs
Site Meter