17.12.2016 - 18.12.2016 10 °C
Total confusion to wake up at home this morning! Reuniting the family in Las Vegas - what a way to end my big trip and now enjoying wondering what the boys are up to in that extraordinary city. They were certainly in high spirits and raring to go when I left them on Sunday night.
Saturday 17th was my longest birthday ever... Relaxed breakfast in Auckland with a lovely parting gift from Tom and Jess - a multi-frame reminder of my ace early present of the skydive. Lots of time at airport waiting for the slowest check-in I've ever experienced. Straightforward 12-hour flight with Tom to Los Angeles with American Airlines and outstanding cabin-crew. Admittedly I was wearing my Birthday Girl badge, but they certainly made a fuss of me, including extra bubbly and chocolates. However, their attention and manner with all passengers was simply excellent. Regrettably little sleep on flight and so odd to arrive in the USA apparently several hours before we left New Zealand... Start the birthday all over again! Short wait in LA for Las Vegas flight, just over an hour, arrived to clear, blue sky but chilly wind. Minor hiccup of leaving airport through wrong baggage-claim area, which required waiting for the shuttle to a different terminal to reunite with our bags... First Las Vegas advice: Apparently this happens a lot - maybe a clue the signage needs changing to ensure passengers reach the right area, as no escorted re-entry available.
Great to see Las Vegas again, with the familiar scenery of the mountains all around, including snow on Mt Charleston, even if the city-skyline has changed and grown quite a lot. Checked in at the Palazzo Hotel - mini-suites highly recommended, lots of space and possibly the most comfortable beds we've ever slept in. Short sleep and freshen-up before return to the airport to meet Josh, Ben and Zack arriving from Gatwick, having started their holiday the previous night at the Gatwick Hilton. That was mainly for my peace of mind to be confident they'd all be at the airport in time, but it really takes pressure of airport-arrival with the hotel connected to the terminal, linked parking very nearby. They also benefited from some Virgin extra attention with Zack wearing his 21st badge and definitely enjoyed the complimentary drinks during the flight. It was great to see them come through the gate and us all be together again for the first time in almost two years.
Boys very happy with their connecting suites. Lovely surprise room-service delivery of birthday-champagne for me and Zack from Ben's girlfriend - thank you Sarah 😊 (Of course we shared it with the others!) First walk to familiarise selves with immediate area, main purpose = boys finding location of nearest food-court! For anyone who has never visited LV, everything is accessed by walking through huge casino areas active 24 hours. It probably sounds a nightmare to many, but even as a non-city, non-gambling person, I find it extraordinary and entertaining in its own unique way. The biggest contra-indication to visiting is if you don't like walking, because it is necessary in your own enormous hotel and/or visiting any/some/all the others! The Palazzo is part of the Venetian Hotel complex, which is one of the largest in the world with over 7000 bedrooms and 36 restaurants between them, but The Strip has most of the world's largest hotels, many extravagantly themed throughout with accompanying shops and other attractions, quite apart from their own huge casino. It's simply its own unique place and has to be taken on that level - don't knock it until you've tried it! Tom and Josh thoroughly enjoyed staying in the New York, New York 6 years ago for Josh's 21st - one of the 'smaller' hotels with only 2000 rooms - and a high-level roller-coaster around its towers. Las Vegas gives many visitors a feeling of world-travel with its Disney-esque reproductions of famous destinations - it's a gigantic grown-up playground/ theme park with only 30% of income generated from gambling, 70% from shopping, dining and other attractions. Interesting to learn that December is the quietest month in the hotels, most running at only 50% occupancy (usually close to 100%), thus great offers available (although unfortunately flights everywhere are more expensive from 14 December until after New Year). It felt neither quiet nor crowded, which was great.
Excellent dinner within the hotel at Morels, rated as one of the best steakhouses on The Strip. Fantastic food and service, once again further aided by the birthday-badges, including complimentary, dramatically-firework-adorned creme brûlées. After-dinner stroll including the wonderful Bellagio fountains-with-classical-music. Disappointing to learn that Treasure Island's excellent hourly live-action pirate show, including sinking ships and 'drowning' participants, is no more, while the Mirage's once-upon-a-time-astonishing erupting volcano and lake of fire looks to be a tiny shadow of its original self - admittedly it may have been the biggest health and safety contravention ever in its original OMG-stand-back-and-protect-your-face blazing format!
Relaxed, mixed Sunday - eating, shopping, playing a few slots. Big Don't Do Tip - Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N attraction - expensive, disappointing non-event, even for serious fans; more like the queue-time-killing-displays to be found at film-studios. Late afternoon saw me preparing to depart - and the boys preparing for When Mum Has Gone... Happy Birthdays and Christmas to my four young men - delighted to see them all happy together and to have shared in this special family-reunion, a wonderful end to my fabulous Big Trip.
Straightforward journey home, worst part being Heathrow Terminal 5. Many thanks to Elaine for braving heavy rush-hour traffic to meet me at Manchester Airport, having first made my home welcoming for my return. Just the small matter of Christmas for which to prepare now... (And then plan the next big trip? Definitely looking into a skydiving course... )