Coasterville Commentary

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My new Flags of the World set

Well, I finally did it, I added something to my flag collection I have wanted for a really long time. I have had a fascination with the flags of different nations for some time, probably started by a game I had as a child. Like most children I had a memory game when I was growing up, and my particular version used world flags as the symbols to be matched in the game.

When I started taking an interest in flags, I had noticed a display of all the flags of the world using miniature flags. The display caught my eye, and some years later I found an advertisement for a set just like it. I didn't persue it at first for a variety of reasons, first is the high price for the collection, and the other is the space requirements. The display takes up quite a bit of room, even if it is in miniature.

Well, like most things you desire, it keeps picking at you, I tried to quash the desire by getting a Flags of the World screensaver for the computer, and that seemed to work for awhile. However, every so often my mind would come back around to wanting the actual flag set.

Now, to be fair, this set was designed with commercial, not residential utilization in mind. The target audience for this set is schools, libraries, museums, lobbies and board rooms of multinational corporations and possibly even transportation venues for international travel, such as travel agents, airports, railway stations and the like. Part of the reason for this is the set, when properly displayed is 140" long, that is 11.5'! Think about that, in your house where do have 11.5' of uninterrupted room at a height that is suitable for visually enjoying the set. In terms of price, a fair market price for the set seems to be around $500, which is in two components, the miniature flags themselves retail for around $300-$350 depending on where you look, and the woden base goes for $150-$200 depending on where you look. These factors limit the home appeal of these sets to serious flag collectors only.

Well, this spring the urge came up again, and as I was searching various internet sites, I found a deal on the flags from Flags Georgia ( ) who was and still is selling the collection for $230. Hey that is a great price, and their price for the base is right in line with everybody else at $175. On the morning of Holiwood Nights, I did stop by my local flag shop to get their quote on the set. They indicated the suggested retail price, and that would be about $325 plus about $180 or so for the base. So even though I respect my local flag shop and try to support local business I can't overlook the $100 savings. So I stewed on it for a few weeks, and then decided that since the price was so much lower than what I had seen anywhere else to go ahead and buy it.

So on a Friday night I went out to their website and ordered the flag collection and base, and learned the shipping charge would be $12, which is very reasonable considering the bulky size of the item. In fact I was half expecting an email or phone call to break it to me that either the item price was incorrect or the shipping price was too low. But, in fact I was quite surprised to return home from work on Wednesday to find a 6'x1'x1' carton sitting in my living room. Mind you the that flag store has stated hours that do not include weekends. I do believe shipping services are getting a lot faster.

So, I sit there like a kid on Christmas, first I open the carton and pull out the three parts of the base, each wrapped in nice thick foam padding. The three parts of the base include two identical end parts, each about 51' long that have a row of holes drilled in the top to hold the flags in a nice straight line while on a gradual incline to the center. The center part, while shorter at only 38", has a much more pronounced arch. The set comes with two wooden pegs to hold the three parts togehter, the pegs rest in holes on the ends of the center piece, and holes in the bottoms of the end pieces slip over the pegs. The metal fasteners that hold the actual racks to the wider wooden bases are recessed so you don't have to worry about damage to your furniture.

So I pulled the three parts of the base out and set them up (not connected) on my living room floor, then proceeded to pull several plastic bags out of the carton each bag holding a multitude of miniature flags. I was kind of hoping the flags would be in the bags in some kind of order, hopefully alphabetical, but that was not the case. What I did next was to grab the catalog I received from my local flag shop which had a Flags of the World section I could use as a check off. This set contains a miniature 4"x6" "silk like" flag for each nation, mounted on a 10" tall plastic staff with a gold-tone spear tip. The flags are dyed to remarkable detail for such small flags and I notice the dye work must be done before the flag is stitched on all four sides to prevent fraying.

Anyway, I grab my list of flags from that catalog (which is also a good flag ID chart) and a pen and start to inventory the flags. As I am inventorying the flags, I place them into the bases. If the flags are towards the ends of the set, I count holles, if not I guesstimate and adjust them later as the situation calls for. In accordance with Flag Code, I place the flags into the base in alphabetical order from left to right, with the exception of the United States flag at its own far right (the viewers left). Even though it is a work night when I receive the set, I stay up probably way too late all giddy and happy and placing the flags into the racks. I am also happy to report that all the flags were there. With that, I leave the set in the living room and go on to bed.

The next day I leave the set in the living room again while at work, then when I get home I decide to take some photos with it. To add to the international flair of the collection, I reach into my flag closet and pull out a 3'x5' Olympic flag I had purchased off eBay about 4 years ago. I proceed to take photos of the set, and since if you are still reading this, you must be interested, here is what I bought:

United Nations miniature flag set with full size Olympic flag

When I got done taking photos with it, my mom offered to take a photo of me posing with it, so here is the World Flag Set with its proud owner:

United Nations miniature flag set and its proud owner

After the photo shoot, I move the flag set to its permanent home, which will be the balcony ledge at the top of our stairs, which works well since I have the entire second floor to myself. The balcony ledge is only 9' long, so I still have to display the set in two rows instead of the one long row intended.

Here is the set looking edge on from the top of the stairs:

United Nations miniature flag set

But to give you a better idea, here is a front on view of the set in its new home, taken from a side angle:

United Nations miniature flag set

I did note that the set even has the brand new Iraq flag that was just adopted in January:
New Iraq flag - no stars

And that even though they rendered all the flags in 4"x6", even if the flag is square like Switzerland's is, which is also done at the real UN, except they use 4'x6', they did stay true to the unusual shape of the flag of Nepal:

The most unusual flag of Nepal

So, now its a month later, and yes I do still enjoy having the set, and I still look over a couple of the flags every night. I do note that I am not done here, as it seems 1 or 2 nations decide to redesign their flag each year, which means that will keep me on my toes staying current, and of course that means more trips to my local flag shop to buy the new flags to fill in when things change. In fact I have already done this as being Catholic I recognize Vatican City (Holy See) even though they are not a UN member, and look there is one extra hole in this rack.

So I went out and added the Vatican (Holy See) flag to the display. (Also buying a new full size United States flag for the house as I had just changed out the flag, and always like to keep a spare on hand). I was surprised when I got home and also found a miniature United States flag in my bag, but this one was made of a courser material, not the silk like material and was on a wood staff. I don't remember buying this, then I looked closer, the miniature flag is their business card. The wooden flagstaff has all the inforation on it you would expect from a business card.

Well, its getting late tonight, time to go to bed, and since I pass the flag set on my way to the bedroom, it gives saying Goodnight to the World, a whole new meaning.

Mini-TR: Coney Island of Ohio - June 21, 2008

Tonight I was going to see a Pops concert at Riverbend up at Coney Island, but before the show I thought I would check out some rides, at least that was the plan.

We arrive at the park around 6pm (concert was at 8pm), and I purchase a after 4 wristband ($7.95) and head to the Rock-O-Plane. After about a 20 minute wait I am shown to a tub on the Rock-O -Plane. They load me, advance the wheel, load another car, advance the wheel, load another car. Then they immediately unload the people they just loaded, then they started quickly unloading the other cars. As I am unloaded the ride operator explains there is lightning in the area. By this time its like 6:30. I take a quick walk around the park to look at the new Euro Bungee Dome, and the new canoe themed swinging boat ride. Both look interesting. However by this time most of the rides are closed for weather. I head back to the parking lot before the rains really started coming down. What sucked was the park does not give refunds or even comp tickets to come back another day in this situation.

Oh well, I'll try again sometime later. At least the skies cleared up in time for the Pops Concert so I got to enjoy that, so the park visit wasn't a total loss.

TR: Stricker's Grove - 6/15/08

Today was my church's summer picnic out at Stricker's So after church and brunch at Frisch's we headed out to the park. We arrived just before 2pm, and were lucky enough to get a parking space right up by the front gate. We entered the park, and took our covered dish for the picnic to the air conditional hall. Mom and Evelyn were going to stay inside the cool of the hall, so after making sure they had drinks and were settled in I hit the midway.

I headed back to the Tornado, and noted that all the seats were open which is an improvement ove the last day of the last season. I took a ride in seat 7 and even though the train still squeals at times, and its still rough, it also still delivers the goods in the back car on the final two hills. Two nice big airtime pops. I took at least two more rides on Tornado at this time. The midway wasn't very crowded, and at times thee would be no one waiting to board the Tornado. If nobody was waiting they would let you ride again, sometimes without even stopping, but if even 1 person wants to board, everybody has to get up and walk around.

After my initial ride seession on Tornado, I headed next door to the Flying Skooters. At least the operator this year was running the ride in a safe manner, and I proceed to actually have a snap filled Flyers ride at Strickers. I didn't think it was possible, but I found the rhythm. I then walk next door to the Spin the Apple, hey wait, what happened to the Spin the Apple? It's missing but the Herschell Helicopter ride is back, and it looks better than ever. I continue on and fail to ride the Scrambler. It looks just as slow as last year, but now sports a large "NO SINGLE RIDERS" sign, and observing the ride I could see that rule was being enforced.

I do ride the Tip Top, and had a rather lackluster ride. The tubs are just too hevy for one person to spin, and once the ride starts, the tub turns so that a single rider goes to the outside and stays there the rest of the fun filled bouncey ride. On the other side of Tip Top, I note the Ferris Wheel is also now "NO SINGLE RIDERS" and yes its also being enforced.

Next up is the Train. The train ride is sometimes very interesting because you go back behind the midway and out around the far reaches of the park. At times you can catch glimpses of future new rides. Not so this time, so I merely had a nice relaxing train ride around the perimeter of the park. The train ride was exhibiting a loud squeal in the corners whch I don't usually associate with train rides.

From the train ride I notice the new Jumping Jumbos is now open, and the carousel is still there. On the other side of the midway are the kiddie rides: motorcycles, boats, rocket ships, Turtle, Whip, and Teddy Bear coaster. I take a token ride in the back seat of the Teddy Bear coaster. Its a fun little junior wood coaster.

Next to the Teddy Bear, I learn the Round Up is closed today, but I do proceed to ride the Tilt A Whirl whee I actually get a nice Whirl filled ride. Tilt A Whirl is noteworth in that it has new red white and blue tubs this year. The tub hood have that red sparkly metallic finish, and the bodies have clown faces and lightning bolts in the design.

I proceed to have some more Tornado rides and another Flying Skooters ride. I then decide to take a ride break with a beverage, a game at the shooting gallery ($1), and a solo round of mini golf ($3). Stricker's mini golf is a more traidtional style. The course is mostly flat with more emphasis in getting the ball through tiny openings or in banking the ball around various shaped holes. (Like a "Z" or "U" shaped hole for example. The course has signs of having had movng targets at one point, but those items are mostly removed, with just their junction boxes remaining, orthe obstacle is still there but no longer moving. It was a relaxing game of mini golf.

After a round of golf, its a drink at the 19th hole, then a few more Tornado rides, followed by 2 or 3 Flying Skooters rides up until the rides close for the meal break. During the meal break the park furnishes a free buffet meal with hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks and roast corn. The fellow parishoners provided covered dishes whch provided the salads, vegetables and other sides, as well as the deserts.

The meal was served inthe air condiitoned hall, and you had a choice of eating in the cool hall or out in the picnic grove. We opted to eat inside and had dinner and conversation. We decidedto not stick around for the late ride session and instead went over to another party we had been invited to.

Next up: Coney Island

Watch for it.

Holiday World/ Beech Bend Weekend

Trip Report: Holiday World (Holiwood Nights in 3D) Santa Claus, IN - May 23-24, 2008
Beech Bend Park (Rumblefest) - Bowling Green, KY May 25, 2008
The Drive back home - May 26, 2008

Howdy once again, its time for the annual spring season opening event, Holiwood Nights at Holiday World, and this year Beech Bend Park is playing along by having Rumblefest the same weekend, and its Memorial Day weekend so we have the Monday after the events off, to get back home.

Day 1 T-shirt: The All Ohio Coaster shirt from last year's Coastermania

This year it will be Rideman and myself, so Friday morning I get packed, have lunch buffet at a local Indian (as in India, not native) restaurant, did a little shopping to get information on a specialty product at my local flag shop (you may get to read about it in a future blog entry if I ever get caught up!), and even had time to play some pinball. I was sure to return home by 2pm, to get Rideman's email that I should make that 3pm, at around 3:30 I get a phone call, you better make that 4:30pm.

4:30 is not d deal breaker, and in fact it might work out great, because we do have an hour time change to play with, and with a trip time of around 3 hours that gets us to the park around 6:30 local time, or really just after ERT has started. Friday doesn't include all day admission, just the meal and ERT, and okay if you arrive after a certain time they may let you in a bit early. Friday night is more of a preview night anyway, and hey it ends at 9:30 this year.

So Rideman picks me up around 4:40, we get the car loaded up, and out on the road, just in time to find ourselves stuck in friday evening Cincinnati rush hour traffic, ugh. We don't really shake the traffic until we have spent quite a bit of time getting as far as Florence in Kentucky. From there it is pretty uneventful the rest of the was to Louisville with one fuel stop on the way. Approaching Louisville the signs are flashing a warning of a traffic alert, we turn it on long enough to learn it won't affect us and proceed to Holiday World.

We pull into the Raven parking lot and find a space not too far from the gate. We proceed to walk up to guest relations, and since neither of us had preregistered, we had to fill out forms, name tags, hand over payment, and receive the usual packet with a coupon sheet, tickets, event schedule and an advertisement for Coasterbuzz's fall event. I also purchase the official event shirt for $15. With the procrastination tax added for on-site registration, our tickets came to just under $55. We then go make a mad dash for, the car, to drop off all the stuff we won't be needing on Friday night.

We return to the gate, enter the park, and check on eof the nice large clocks the park has added all over to learn its about 7:30 local time now. Between that rush hour traffic, the fuel stop, and getting registered, we ate up quite a bit of time. However, we still do not go to the coasters, we instead head to Kringles for a snack sponsored by the letter "P": Pizza, Potato Chips, Pepsi, Phudge, and Produce (in the form of a relish tray).

It was a tasty snack with each of us having 3 or 4 slices along with everything else that comes with it. From the pizza party it was time to hit the coasters, we first started heading for the appetizers, the the foreplay, the previews before the main feature.

We first headed to Raven, where first I notice the coasters have all received the looping safety announcements that started with Voyage. Raven was not popular so with only a 1 or 2 train wait, we were getting into the second to last seat. While Raven was running fast and furious through the curves, the airtime on the big drop in the middle of the ride didn't seem to be there.

We next headed to Legend, which was a total walk on, so we walked on to the front seat. I am very happy to report that after a few sluggish seasons, Legend is BACK. Legend was going through the course at full speed making the legendary 4 curves of doom make their presence known in a big way. Everything you used to love about Legend when it first opened, including the insane laterals and intensity are back. We stopped for a drink before heading the main feature.

It's a bit of a walk down to Thanksgiving, and when we get there we are shocked to learn that Voyage is also a walk on. Where is everybody? We head to the second to last seat on Voyage, it is already getting dark outside. What is to follow is coaster nirvana. Strong airtime on just about every drop on the ride, insane laterals on all the curves, the mid course brake was not trimming. Welcome to Perfection: The Ride.

The rest of night 1 would be spent riding Voyage over and over, with the periodic stop for one of the two services offered in the Pepsi Oasis building. After the first ride, we started just taking open seats as we got to the station without being picky. All to get the most rides in, and the air in the middle of the train is acceptable, its not the insanity of the back car, but its still quite nice. Towards the end of the night, Rideman and I get seperated, and as we are waiting for Voyage there was a 15 minute or so delay in the station. Unknown to me, Rideman headed to Raven as to avoid that long hill climb at the end of the night. I waited out the delay and rode Voyage. When I got off Voyage the queue had been cut for night 1. I had a few free drinks while I waited for them to run out the rest of the trains. Seeing no Rideman, I knew that if I headed to the car we would meet up eventually, so I made the long trek through the park out to the car. Once at the car I snag my cellphone out of the trunk and contact Rideman. Rideman is having a social chat right inside the front gate (how did I miss them on my way out?), so I returned to the front gate to join in.

After the front gate chat ended, we headed to assorted cars, and met up with Avalanche Sam, proceeded to chat some more in the parking lot until deciding to be more civilized and head to Denny's, where I proceeded to have breakfast. We spend a bit of time at Denny's partly becuase we were having good conversation, and partly because we having the usual Denny's slow service. After Denny's we head to our hotel in Evansville. No problems wit check in "You guys are the last to arrive tonight!" and soon we are in a first floor room with just under a jillion pillows on each bed. Ahh, good night, we have to get rested up for the full day version tomorrow.


We had decided neither of us had much interest in the waterpark ERT, and we also decided the park doesn't really have that much to offer to warrant getting a bright and early head start. We are up in time, however, to enjoy the hotel courtesy breakfast. Waffles, bagels, eggs, toast, cereal, but their feature item is hot breakfast sandwiches. Well you take them out of a refrigerator and microwave them yourself. After having our fill of breakfast, we load up the car with the itms we don't trust leaving back at the hotel, and head to back to the park. We manage to miss the 231 turnoff on the way to the park, so wind up taking the usual entrance route off exit 63.

We enter the Raven lot and here parking attendants direct us to a space about midway between tram stops 2 and 3. The good news here is there is a tram to go with those tram stops. We get parked and walk right over to a waiting tram.

Day 2 t-shirt: a Lesourdsville Lake shirt

Rideman left his nametag back at the hotel, but a quick stop by Guest Relations fixed that, and soon we headed into the park. We headed straight back into the 4th of July themed section, where Rideman started to take ride photos for his collection. The lines for Paul Revere's Midnight Ride (Spider) and the Rough Riders (bumper cars) did look a bit long. What caught our eye, though, was the new for 2008 addition. The old pool for the bumper boats was removed, and in its place was the new Star Spangled Carousel. It sits down a bit in a ravine but appeared to be a popular new addition. The change also makes the Betsy Ross Doll House walk through more visible from the midway.I decide to grab a quick ride on Liberty Launch (S&S Double Shot) using the single rider line, and despite having just ridden Big Shot out in Vegas multiple times last week, the entriely too short belts on this ride prevented me from riding.

We next head past the Freedom Train and I note the BBQ stand that is very rarely open, was actually open. We proceed into Holidogs FunTown and while Rideman is getting photos, I am getting a Dreamsicle , which here is vanilla soft serve mixed with Orange ICEE. Yum, what a tasty treat. We continue the camera tour of the park heading past Revolution and Eagles Flight. and the Indian River (Venture Canoe). We then head down into Thanksgiving and proceed to take a nice little wake up ride on Voyage, Holiday World plays holiday specific music over their sound system, so for example in Christmas you will here carols played all summer, and to be quite clear quite a few of them are in fact Christmas Carols in the religious and not secular sense of the word. In this park, the giant statue of Santa stands proudly receiving visitors right across from appears to be a life size nativity set. In the 4th of July section you can have your fill all the patriotic standards, in Haloween its the spooky songs, and in Thanksgiving, well you have some hymns of thanks and praise, as well as songs that can be tied in with thanksgiving and feating. As we started to board Voyage (as in the seafaring Voyage to the new world), I was tickled that the song on the PA was the seafaring ditty "What to do with the drunken sailor" no words , just the melody, but still it fits perfectly. And this ride will waken the drunken sailor quite nicely. That doesn't mean that later in the day when I was with some other riders who also recognized the ditty that we didn't start singing it...

From Voyage we head to the Tilt A Whirl, here called the Turkey Twirl with the new style G5 tubs custom themed to look like turkeys. We manage to get a decent but not great ride on the Turkey Twirl and for the first of many times today my LeSourdsville Lake shirt gets me noticed. From Turkey Twirl we ride Gobbler Getaway. The Sally dark ride where you hase down turkeys with your turkey caller. It s a nice long dark ride, with lots of crash doors, lots of targets, and if you hit the target a turkey will appear out of somewhere. It also includes an ending where the turkeys win out, and the father serves his family a nice large pizza under a covered dish before you go through the room with turkeys doing a chorus line. Hillarious ending, and Rideman continues to use the "I got a bad gun excuse" here as well.

Gobbler Getaway exits right across from Plymouth Rock Cafe, so we proceed to have our main meal of the day, and what a meal it is. For only $7.99 you get choice of meat, 3 sides, bread, and of course beverages are always free, $2.49 more adds the desert. So for $10.48 plus tax, I had a nice size portion of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, baked apples, sweet tea and pumpkin pie. I'd be hard pressed to put together a meal of that caliber outside an amusement park at a restaurant for that price. Not only is the price great, the food is also quality food.

We spent a bit of time enjoying our meal and meet back up with Avalance Sam. We start our rides together with a ride on Gobbler Getaway, and then Voyage. I notice that for Memorial Day weekend the highest pair of flags on the Voyage lift are United States flags, that is different then what I remember in the past, and even recent photos of the ride.

We then head out of Thanksgiving, have another drink, ride Legend, then ride Scarecrow Scrambler. From the Scrambler we watch the high dive show practice and I note they are tying it into the Olympics which is not uncommon for them, I mean they have a section of carnival games called "Olympic Tryouts" The high dive act stage is lined with various international flags to help set the Olympic theme.

We proceed to then take a ride on Raven before Dave finishes his photo tour with the Rudolph's Reindeer Ranch childrens area. Here, you may recall the ball crawl and kids climbing structure have been replaced by a custom themed Moser Spring Ride called "Reindeer Games"

By this time, its time to head back to Thanksgiving for the Voyage walk back. We all gather by Plymouth Rock Cafe and proceed to have the usual walk back up the steep hill alongside Voyage for the purpose of photo taking and seeing the ride from a whole new perspective. I note they allowed us further closer access to the turnaround section than I remember them giving us in the past. We finish the tour, and we meet up with a different gentelman whose name I forget though I have his card downstairs here.

We take a ride on Voyage, and then I take a ride on Revolution (Dartron Zero Gravity), we proceed to take a walk through Holidogs Funtown where we point out, but do not ride the Howler. Back through 4th of July where we proceed to wait through a full queue wait for Paul Revere's Midnight Ride (Spider), but the good news is we are rewarded with an excellent spin filled ride. I decide to get a Patriot Missle, which is a red and blue soft serve ice cream with yellow and red sprinkles. I enjoy my ice cream while we walk around the park. When we get around to the front, we decide to get our hand stamped, and take the tram out to the far reaches of the parking lot to move our car to somewhere up at the front of the lot . We know from past experience that they don't run trams after ERT, and you are lucky to have lights on in the lot.

We reenter the park, and head through the park to find people carrying roller coaster parts out through the park. We head back to the picnic grove where they have an area where they are selling off the old parts from the Legend trains they must have just rehabbed, as well as selling old park brochures, posters, stationery Voyage media kits, lift hill flags and more. I wound up getting a Voyage media CD and a nice travel coffee mug marked with CoasterCon so it must have been a giveaway during last years ACE convention. This means we get to the buffet just in time to be some of the last people to have our traditional picnic lunch of burgers, hot dogs, chicken, baked beans fruit salad, and more. Don't forget the cookies and brownies. We enjoy dinner then there is the live auction, and the announcements.

We start to head to Voyage, but it is having trouble waking up for ERT, so we mill around a bit and then proceed to take several Voyage rides, making sure we get both a front seat and back seat ride somewhere in the set, but mostly towards the middle. Voyage is perfection, I mean it just doesn't get better than this. Halfway through the ERT we go up and visit Legend where you could basically stay on as long as you like, as it had no line. Shame as it was running in kick-butt mode moreso than it has in years. We took a few rides here. Then we headed back to Voyage for a few more rides , then we made sure to get to Raven for the final 15 minutes, where we had stay in your seat conditions there too, aso ended the night and event with a multi ride Raven session.

from the event it was back to the hotel without a meal stop.

SUNDAY May 225

We continue our recently established pattern of pushing the hotel check out time to the limit. Beech Bend is not that big of a park. We pull out of Evansvile around 11:00 am or so, and with a fuel stop arrive in Bowling Green right around 1:20 or so. Thanks to Kentucky for abolishing the tolls on some of its parkways. We then attempt to check into the Econo Lodge on 231 near the park. Our attempt to check in is thwarted when they tell us they have a $10 early check in surcharge. Say what! We don't need access to the room, we just want to get checked in so we don't have to deal with this late at night. We have checked into hotels at other places early all the time with no hassle made of it. This is the kind of petty surcharge that makes me think I don't want to do business with Choice Hotels for awhile.

We opt to not pay the $10 idiot charge, and instead head to Culvers for lunch before heading to the park. The entrance to Beech Bend is more country club than amusement park, with ranch style fences lining the front and sides of the driveway where a single row of trees dots the center divider back to the park. One lane in, and one lane out. We pull into the lot and are lucky to get a spot quite close to the gate. We walk up to the front gate and spot an event registration table located just before the gate. We explain we are not preregistered, and proceed to pay the $30 fee each, and in no time at all we have wristbands (yellow tyvek) on our wrists that will be good for admission and rides, a stick on name tag on our shirts, a dinner ticket with a pocket sized copy of the event schedule stapled to it, and as an added bonus a ticket good for one go-kart ride. Just the POP wristband and the go-kart ride have a $29 value, so its a great deal. Beech Bend is one of the few parks left that still offers both POP and ride ticket packages.

We go through the front gate, take a glance in the gift shop, then pass the checkpoint where they make sure you have a wristband or handstamp. The park is basically one long rectuangular loop with a cut accross path in the middle. You enter at the the cut accross path. Here the waterpark is on the right (and is even included in general admission), and either straight or to the left are the rides. The pay extra go-kart track is right up front, but we pass that by for now. The description of the rides area of this park as an overgrown carnival that never left is quite fair.

We pass by a Sizzler (hey its a different Sizzler than the one they had, and this one looks like it might actually be a park mount), then a Wisdom Tornado, a couple kiddie rides, an Alpine Bobs, Rainbow Rock kids climbing attraction. At the corner is a Zamplerla Power Surge, and I delight in a ride while Rideman watches (he isn't much for the Power Surge). Power Surge is one of those demented rides where you go up and the cars spin around in a circle on a vertical orientation, and he seats are free to do rolls entirely by inertia. I was riding single so was awarded with a flip fest. Next to the Power Surge was a designated smoking area. Wow, a park in Kentucky limiting smoking to just a handful of small gazebos scattered through the park.

We next walk past a portable log flume, and that water looks too artificially blue for our taste. Next is the parks big 2006 expansion project. A GCI wooden coaster called Kentucky Rumbler, but the installation also included an outdoor seating area as well as a building that resembles a Cracker Barrel. Big front porch with rockers, and a gift shop and one of the parks main snack bars inside, large free rest rooms complete the deal of being just like a Cracker Barrel. What;s more the exit for Rumbler is routed through this building.

Kentucky Rumber is a walk on, so we walk right on to the front seat. It still has the glass smoothness of a GCI but I don't know I'm not that impressed with it yet, and I thought I recalled the front was where is was at with this ride.

We continue walking around the park and next stop at the Looping Star. We were both relly dreading the Looping Star, and against better judgement we went ahead an rode the Looping Star. It still has its safety sign from the Firecracker. That was the best part of the ride, it is still quite painful. The rides back seat was roped off today, and Rideman commented that all the seats should have been roped off.

We are reminded though, that Beech Bend is going all out for the friendliest most outgoing staff award, maybe even moreso than Holiday World. The operator chats with us and asks if we are staying for the event, we respond we are and she says she will see us later, we respond "Not if you are running this ride tonight"

We next head to the bumper cars, and last time I ecall we thought these were pretty good bumper cars. We were not so impressed this time owing to the fact we found some dead spots on the floor that if you hit them, you are out of luck until someone bumps you into a live area. I still like how they have both the regular and junior bumper cars in the same pavilion.

From the bumper cars we take a ride on the Starship 3000 (Gravitron) and then head to the Shock Drop, which is a portable model drop tower. Again friendly ride up, who is chatting as he gets us strapped in "This ride takes 1 minute to go up, and 3 seconds to go down", then he starts the ride "DROP in and see me sometime!", Dave responds "We'll be down in a minute" Watch out for the umbella over the ride operator if you get a cetain corner seat, its a close clearance. Luckily the brakes stop you before you would go crashing through it, so you have tie to dodge it.

We walk past the picnic grove and some kids rides. We opt not to wait for the parks Haunted House dark ride as the line was about as long as it was last time, and we know thats a long slow wait. This forms the next corner of the park. We also skipped the antique car ride and headed to the parks all new Scat 2, which replaced an older Scat 2 ride. Scat 2 is a stand up spin ride, where you have two cars which stand about 10 people each, two rows of 5 facing each other. The individual cars spin, and then the main ride boom spins, which also adds some height and angle variation as you spin around. Don't worry its bark is much worse than its bite.

We investigate the air brush shelter and realize it might have been a carousel pavilion at one time. We then walk around more kids rides under a shelter, just like at Stricker's Grove, and a Jumpiing Jumbos. At this corner of the park is a Zamplera Crazy Mouse titles Wild Mouse. We take a ride on the Wild Mouse and we both sit towards the center of the tub thinking that a balanced car will spin better, we wind up getting a totally spinless ride. We also get a ride where just about every trim brake is on hard, and it is taking the turns quite rough. Ugh, what a nasty eperience, but at least it was open, as it had just come up from some downtime.

The exit for the Wild Mouse is right next to the Wisdom Moby Dick. Moby Dick is one of those platform rides where you stay upright the whole time and this is the version where you sit facing outwards. Personally I prefer the version where you are facing the center. We do ride the Moby Dick, and then take a ride on the Tilt a Whirl. Rideman called the Tilt a Whirl puke orange, but I didn't think it looked that bad.

After Tilt a Whirl we fail to complete the lap by going through the video arcade, but instead head back to the center path. Here there is a ferris wheel, rocking tug, and some games, but we head to the miniature golf course. Here, miniature golf is included in the general admission, but you do have to put a $2 deposit down on the club which you get back when you return the club.

The course is strange in that hardly any of it is flat, but odder some of the holes have two holes a red easier hole then the noral hole. It does use three different types of carpet, the nice and smooth light green fairway carpet, the somewhat rougher dark green carpet for the rough, and a deep shag tan carpet for the sand traps. In addition tot hat it has some buildings that you shoot through or around. Its a very interesting course, and Rideman and I proceed to play a round of mini golf. At the end we return the clubs, get the deposit back and I note the place where you get the deposit back also has a fridge with cold drinks which sell for the same amount of the deposit, clever.

We then play the shooting gallery, hey its only 25 cents for 12 or 15 shots here. By this time its almost 5:30 and our picnic starts at 6. We also still have to redeem these free go kart tickets. We head to the racetrack to find the longest line in the park. Odd, since this ride is $5 and is not included in the parks POP plan. We then realize that it seems like just about everybody who is here for Rumblefest decided to hit the go kart track at the same time, which is futher made worse by the fact they only had four single cars running. Yes, they had some double cars, but they didnt let people ride single in them, which is just as well as the doubles are very slow.

So it gets to be our turn and we go to the pits, the ride uses the miniature NASCARTS, where I note here the roofs of the car flip up to allow you to climb inside. he cars are real low riders where you are reclined at a severe angle and your legs are propped up. I think the foot pedals might be even with the steering wheel and your head is just barely above that. The ride uses a big "V" shaped where there is a belt mounted above each shoulder and both belts come together in a buckle in the center that buckles in between your legs. The buckle is far enough out where it won't cause discomfort even if you get a person who grabs the adjustors and gives them a hard yank. That won't be a problem here as they barely even looked at the belts before securing the roofs of the car back in the closed position. The race starts, and the cars were okay nothing spectacular in terms of speed. The ride seemed short, but since everybody was riding on free tickets and they were trying to clear through a long line I could see why.

We take one final ride on the Alpine Bobs on the way back to the picnic grove. We see evidence of an attempt at a electro-magnetic lapbar lock. Their Alpine Bobs goes forwards and back and by the time it ends its time for dinner.

We head to dinner, where we turn in half of the meal ticket and hit the buffet. Third event meal in a row, and all three are different. This one featured pull pork BBQ, BBQ chicken, hot dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, cole slaw, a sauce it yourself condiment station, soft drinks, ice tea (sweet and regular), lemonade, banana pudding and brownies. It was also the best event meal of the weekend. After dinner Dallas Jones the owner of the park, intorduces his family, thanks us for coming and notes that during ERT they are going to offer free soft drinks, hand dipped ice cream and fudge. Again, he is going all out to put on a great event. Then there were several door prizes, and a Q&A with the GCI crew.

After the Q&A, we get escorted to Kentucky Rumbler by the GCI crew and taken under and around the ride in areas that are usually restricted. Here people can take photos an see the ride from unusual angles while the GCI crew was talking about the different parts of the ride. It was a very enjoyable behind the scenes tour.

After the behind the scenes tour, all 4 coasters open. Most of the coasters will close at 9, and the Rumbler runs through 11:30. We take our first ERT ride on Rumbler towards the back of the train, have a pretty good ride, then go to ride again, but Rumbler has gone down mechanical, and hey say it will be about half an hour. We head down the midway, we have no interest in Looping Star, and we get back by Orient Express. We decide why not and take a ride on the Wisdom Orient Express kiddie coaster. The friendly operator gives us 4 or 5 laps around in our ride session. We learn from the other people on the Orient Express that the Wild Mouse is also down mechanical. We recall that the Scat 2 is also open for ERT, so we go take a spin on Scat 2, then get to Wild Mouse right after it reopened. This time we sit on opposite ends wih one of towards the center and one in an outside seat. Well at least this caused our tub to get a lot more spin. After Wild Muse we hear Rumbler has reopened so we head back to Rumbler. For the next hour or so the pattern is ride Rumbler, get a drink or snack, ride Rumbler, snack, Rumbler, snack, Rumbler, snack. Mostly just drinks, but in the course of the evening I do manage to get one dish of ice cream and two or three blocks of fudge. To be fair the fudge was just a bit bigger than a free sample size.

Things get even better we when at 10:55 we boar the next to last seat on Rumbler and don't have to get out of the seat until 11:28. I don't know the ride seems better in the back this year, with lots of nice airtime pops on the hills, and a great ride. We get bumped out just before the final ride of the evening, but we can't be upset we just had a half hour session without getting out iof the seat.

After ERT we mingle out in front of the ride chatting some more with people until the crew decided to leave, and then we leave via a service gate directly from next to the log flume right out to the parking lot. We get back in our car return to the hotel and get checked in. Of course it is after midnight, so we are checking in through a small window with a guy who is clearly acting like we are more of an annoyance to him. We then get to a room that is hot and stuffy. Even with the doors leading directly to the outside, we left the door open for at least an hour with the AC on to try to get the room aired out and liveable. It was not a very good hotel, but at least the lack of modernization also meant they had good old fashioned shower heads. Ahh, that felt good.


"All thats left is the ride back home"

Again we push check out time to the limit. We get checked out and head down the street and fail to eat at an unusually crowded Waffle House. We start the rive back home, we do pull off to take a look at the remnants of Guntown Mountain, and dive around the Cave city area where we pass one of the original WigWam hotels. "Sleep in a wigwam!" Cave City has a Dinorama that looks like the inspiration for the Dino themed area at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The area is lined with rock shops, mini golfs, go karts, an alpine slide and all manner of tourist trap novlties. We wind up going as far as the Mammouth Cave visitors center, though we don't take a cave tour.

After leaving the Mammouth Cave national park, we head back up the highway some more and it starts to rain and will continue to rain the rest of the way home. We make a stop at a Waffle House, a fuel stop, and a rest stop on the way home. The rain was really coming down when we got to Louisville, and so we skipped a stop at Kentucky Kingdom. All in all Rideman drops me off round 5:30 or 6, and even helps take my luggage in for me.

And so ends the Holiwood Nights Weekend.

Next up: Reports from Stricker's Grove and Coney Island.

Watch for them.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mega-TR: Las Vegas - May 11-16, 2008 - Day 5 and 6 May 15, 16 and 17, 2008

Time to start our final full day. I admit it, I slept in today, but after I got up and dressed, I learned that Uncle Rick and his crew had been out and brought back some HOT DOUGHNUTS NOW! from Krispy Kreme. Hmm, Donuts! We get to talking and they mention they had gone out to see the Sirens of TI free show out in front of Treasure Island and did not give it a good review, and coments about how they pack you in like sardines and all. I had planned on taking mom to see that tonight, but after hearing that review, we decided we'll just take it slow and stick to an evening tour of the Venetian, which mom really wanted to see. Rick also mentions that they had won free tickets to see the magician at the Tropicana yesterday, and that was a good show.

I start to think about what i want to do in the afternoon, I could go to the Pinball Hall of Fame, I could go try to ride Insanity at Stratosphere, or I could do something different. I knew I wanted to ride Speed at Sahara, and it is only open from 2-8, but i have a prepaid ride. I decide Sahara will be in the afternoon, Venetian at night, so I have some time until 2. I finally get smart and just call the Stratosphere and I learn that yes it is windy again, so no dice riding Insanity again today.

Mom wants to rest up after our long day yesterday, I'm not surprised, and Uncle Rick and I take a little walk to the sports book. Not to play sports, though I did purchase and lose on a horse race ticket. Anyway, Uncle Rick tells me that he and cousin Rick have tickets to see Fantasy, which is a topless showgirl reivew tonight at the Luxor at 10:30. Hey that will fit into the plans just fine. Rick advises me to go to the players club to try to get a free ticket. One trip to the players club later and I have a voucher for a free ticket to Fantasy and a free buffet put on my acccount. The players club host calls up the Luxor box office and makes the reservation for me and hands me a claim check with the confirmation number.

We then decide to go to the box office to turn the claim checks in for the actual tickets, which is a pretty simple process. We then collect Aunt Wanda, and cousin Rick decided to take in the pool area. I was going to go with them to Mandalay Bay to play some slots, but I remembered I had to put on my tour leader hat and perform an important errand. I excuse myself back to my room and collect up the tickets for the shuttle bus ride back to the airport. I was instructed, and its printed on the ticket to call the bus company 24 hours in advance to schedule the return ride. I call the up shortly after 12:00 and after waiting on hold for about 15 minutes have a pleasant operator schedule us for a 3:30 bus to the airport, and gives me a confimation number. That errand done, I return the group at the casino and excuse myself so I can go to the Sahara.

Of course I don't go to the Sahara right away, first I go to New York New York and take another ride on The Rollercoaster. It actually wound up being the worst of my three rides as I was in the back with a snug shoulder bar. I then head to the MGM Grand and take the monorail to the Imperial Palace. Entering the Imperial Palace from the monorail is really a service entrance, a big solid metal door with a small window. The same monorail platoform also serves Harrahs, and like the Sahara station you get off the train, then go up an escalator to the station proper, then you walk over the tracks on a bridge, then an escalator back down. The walkway ends in a T with the Imperial Palace to the left and Harrah's to the right. I had never seen the Vegas version of the Imperial Palace. I enter and its two escalator rides down to the casino floor. The Imperial Palace is a long thin casino and is entirely unremarkable. I exit the front doors of the Imperial Palace and you can't even see the street for the huge pagoda out front that houses a night club. The walkway to the strip has all the class of an alleyway.

I take a right and walk down the sidewalk. As I walk past Harrah's I get to an annoying area where the sidewalk actually turns and curves in and around the outdoor entertainment complex in front of the casino. I duck into Harrahs and cut through to the front door and come out right by the crosswalk that goes over to the Mirage.

I cross Las Vegas Blvd. and stare at the construction walls around the Mirage. I knew the volcano out front was out of service for rehab, but did not expect the entire entryway includingthe moving sidewalks to be closed off. They have a temorary walkway along the side of the driveway that leads to an entrance. You enter the Mirage by the deli, and I invoke the man law, that means getting lost trying to figure your own way without asking directions. I was headed to the Dolphin Habitat, and I see the signs saying Aquarium and follow those signs. I am taken to the hotel registration area which sports a huge aquarium. Of course i don't get the connection and continue walking in the same general direction and proceed to ride up a tiny escalator and find myself in the parking garage. Uhm, this doesn't look right. I go back down the tiny escalator, and I backtrack through the casino till I see the Magic Garden signs. Ah I follow those past the Love Cirque theater, then through the shopping area and out the back door.

This exit leads to the hotel pool area, and between the pool and the shopping area here is a pathway to the right that leads to the secret garden. I start down the trail and come to a ticketing plaza. They have three ticket booths, and one line feeds all three booths, which would work great if all windows could handle all transactions, but they can't. The booth I went to told me they could not redeem Power Pass at this lane, and to go to the far left window. I walk over to the far left window just as it became available present my power pass and soon have a ticket. I proceed between the ticket booths and through an unattended turnstile. I head back a pathway to the actual attraction and about halfway back the path a ticket taker tears my ticket nd i am told to go straight ahead to the amphitheater ahead of me, which is odd since the park stresses there are NO shows.

I file into the show venue and it is a stand up venue. The presentation is more of a welcome and orientation of the attraction. They stress again there are no shows, making it quite clear they are an educational attraction, not Sea World. However, they do have animal trainers who will interact with the animals. Our hosts points out the ramps to go down and see the dolphin tank from under the surface, and to take the bridge in front and to the right of the dolphin tank to get to the other dolphin tank where one can also see their new baby dolphin. Interested in the african safari themed Secret Garden, just go through the safari tent just past the other dolphin pool. They point out the restrooms, gift shop and snack bar, then dismiss us to explore the park.

I, like most other spend more time observing the dolphins in the main tank, but since there are no trainers in the area its pretty uneventful, and so I follow the crowd down the stairs to the front of the grandstand and into the park. I must pause now as I started huming the opening song to the new Hitchhikers Guide movie, here is a clip of it, why should I have all the fun.

So I first go down the ramp to the underwater viewing area, and yes the dolphins are much more active down here. I spend some time viewing the dolphins before I return to the surface and cross the bridge to the next tank. Here I find a much smaller tank and two dolpins getting personal attention by a trainer. This is very entetaining and I spend quite some time watching.

From there I go to the safari tent to go from the Dolphin Habitat into the Secret Garden. Ther is a bit of a line to get through the safari hut, and yup you guessed it this is whee they put the green screen photo booth. The Secret Garden is a U shapes area with you entering at the bottom of the U, back here you can see lions, tigers, leopards, etc. A keeper was just putting a leopard on display while I was watching. I take a tour of the secret garden animal exhibits and then exit back into the Dolphin Habitat through a gift shop.

By this time the keeper have left the small tank, and are back at the main large tank interacting with those dolphins. I spent some time watching them, then head to the snack bar. The snack bar is actually reasonably priced for an amusement venue. At first I was going to get a strawberry slushie drink for only $2 until I realized that as a zoological attraction, they can't give you straws or anything like that. Besides the family ahead of me ordered 5 of them, and the slushie machine must not be heavy duty as by the time they got finihsed pouring theres, the solid/liquid ratio was turning very liquid. I settle for a cheaply priced soft drink.

I then follow the path to the exit which is up to the top of the grandstand, then down the long path back to the casino passing through the exit turnstiles along the way. I backtrack through the Mirage, then cross the street, then backtrack through Harrah's using the monorail exit at the back of Harrah's. I am, of course, behind schedule as I simply spent a lot more time than planned at Seigfried and Roys Dolphin Habitat.

I board the monorail, actually making a mad dash from the bottom of the escalator to the train as they train was in the station when I arrived. I ride the monorail to the Sahara, and more or less walk all the way through the casino to get to the NASCAR Cafe, but not before stopping to take, and lose on, my daily players club free pull.

I walk to the NASCAR ticket desk, present my power pass, the put it in the machine, then put a white and blue checkered tyvek wristband on my wrist. She points out how to get to Speed the Ride, and the Cyber Speedway race car simulator, and tells me I get unlimited access to each until 8 pm. She also points out some lockers in case I want to store my stuff.

I head through the empty Speed queue , up the stairs, into the station and into the empty train. I take 2 solo rides on Speed in the front seat, yes having to walk around each time. Walking around here is no problem, really, you exit to the unload side, walk to the back of the train, there is a bridge that goes over the track in the rear (that leads back to the service area), and then the chain is dropped so you just walk right back down the load side to a seat queue.

Another group comes up and I take 3 or 4 more rides with them, with us alternating to share the front seat. Speed is a Premier shuttle coaster that still has the shoulder bars, and I note unlike the original Flight of Fear trains, seat dividers have been added to the seats on Speed. The ride starts out with you inside the building, and the launch is indoors and you shoot out the front of the casino, then do a severly overbanked turn to lead you to a tunnel under the entryway to the casino, you then go up a hill and continue along the front of the casino at a high speed pace. You go through a vertical loop and then you slice through a real tiny minaret shaped cutout in the Sahara Casino sign. Talk about visuals, then you continue past anothher launch and then up the reverse spike, time to do it all again backwards. Fun ride, not spectacular, but still a fun ride.

After I had my fill of Speed, I head down the exit stairs. I then decide to try a game of Cyber Speedway since it is included. I head to the entrance and the hosts asks if have had the briefing, I respond I hadn't, so had me go over to a rather plain yellow door. After she got the next race started she led me into the closet sized room. The room had metal benches and a TV with what looks like an old laserdisc player. She tells me to watch the briefing video, then exit the briefing room through the other door and go to Car 1. The briefing introdues the attraction and tells you its not a game, its a simulator. It then goes through in detail how to approach and get into your car. (There is a step up platform involved, and no you don't climb in through the window, there is a door handle), how to adjust your seat, start your car (simple toggle switch like a racecar) shift gears or if you put the shifter in A, you get an automatic. He points out thee is no clutch to worry about,and that there is an emergency button if you start experiencing motion sickness or need to end your race for any reason, I am surprised that with as detailed as the attraction is, they don't put racing harnesses in the cars, if only just for theming. They also mention that unlike comon driving games your car will get slower and less responsive with each crash, but you can opt to go to Pit Row to get your car repaired, at the cost of time and position as the other cars will keep racing. The video ends and I go out to my car and wait for the next race.

I head out to my car, wait for the next race, then get into my car and prepare to race. It takes me the first lap to get used to the response time of the car and all, but during the middle of the race I do petty well, I do have one crash where I get the car in a position where I am parked facing a wall. The game does not help you out, and I think I tried every position on the gearshift to try to find reverse. (You can't see the shifter pattern during the race), after I get out of that mess I do pit in, which is neat because you can feel them shake you car and jack the car up to change the tires. I should point out the cars here look like full size scale models mounted on motion bases with screens that wrap around at least 180 degrees. Pretty amazing, after the race I get out of my car and as I am waiting for the results I hear the other players complaining about that klutz on the track, I decide to make a quick silent exit. I exit the NASCAR cafe section and am headed back through the casino when again the cell phone rings, just like it did Tuesday. Dinner plans?, meet me at the Kuxor players club at 4pm.

I take another monoail ride from the Sahara back to the MGM Grand, which is at least a 15-20 minute ride and I admit to falling asleep on the monorail. I get back to the MGM Grand, high tail it through the casino, and darn it the up escalator out by Rainforest Cafe is broken. Man it is steep walking up a malfunctioning escalator. I cross the bridge, duck through the New York New York, have to love a casino that shows roller coaster footage on the jumbotron above the entrance. I take another walk through the Excalibur and into the Luxor where i join Mom, Wanda, and Uncle Rick at the players club. Everybody gets comps for the buffet. As I had done this earlier, I played and won some slots while I waited. We wound up playing more slots as we got the entire group all together at one place. Well, most of us anyway, we called Cousin Rick and he wasn't interested in dinner. So the four of us go down to the basement of the Luxor and partake in a free buffet. All in all, we weren't that impressed with it, the fresh fruit was good, the deserts were excellent but most everything else was merely ok. I did like the nice cut of lamb I recieved complete with mint jelly.

After dinner we part ways, and mom and I get in a taxi and head to the Venetian. We arrive into a taxi cab cluster as it seemed like about a zillion cabs were all arriving at the same time. The cabbie drops us off, and greeters dressed like gondoliers act as crossing guards to get people accross the driveway and into the casino safely. We enter by the hotel serivces area and the hotel lobby has an ornate hallway with paintings on the ceiling and everything, a golden object that looks like some sort of navigational instrument sits at end nearest the desk. We go to the bell captain, and just like Bellagio I fill out a loaner chair contract for mom, and leave a credit card slip. We walk through the breathtaking lobby and then walk into the casino itself which is very posh an upscale. I try to find access to the Grand Canal shops on the second floor but have trouble finding an elevator. I ask a staff member and they point out an elevator that is literally hiden inside a plain column. It looks like a support column and on one side of it is an opening to get to the elevator. The Grand Canal shoppes is another shopping area with very upscale shops, and the illusion of walking outdoors through Venice, complete with a canal down the center of the mall. This means to get across from one side to the other you either have to walk around the fake canal or cross one of the many bridges just like in Venice. We don't even get to the canal when we come across a mime doing a living statue act. We pause to watch that, then continue towards the canal. Just like in Vencie gondolas and their gondoleirs are plying their trade. The gondolas look pretty close to genuine articles in style. They have the distinctive back fin, and the crest on the front of the gondola and everything. They are slightly smaller and only seat 4 people whereas the real gondolas seat 6. These gondolas also have seatbelts, unlike the real things. (Note: I have ridden the gondolas in Venice, and you can read about them in my Italia mega-tr) . I note that singing Italian romantic standards must be a job requirement of the gondoliers, Its a very romantic setting, and I noted more than a few couples taking the option of buying out the other two seats to get a private boat to themselves for a romantic gondola cruise. We observe and watch the gondolas for quite some time, and eventually wind around to the St. Marks Square area which is like the mall's center court area. We arrive just in time to see a live band on the bandstand in the area, then we continue one, we see docked in this area a white and gold gondola that we figure must be reserved for bridal parties.

We do a lap around the edge of the canal, stopping again to watch the dock where people board and alight from the gondolas. It's a very efficient operation, and the gondoliers pilot their small watercraft so effortlessly I do have to wonder if they are on a track. We exit the shopping area and step out onto the balcony outside. The casino building is made to look like the Dodges palace, and you can overlook a big man made lake out front with antoher gondola ride concession. You also have a buildling facade that looks like San Marcos Cathedral, they also have the bell tower, but it is covered in giant Phantom banners. We take in the view from the balcony, then I take mom inside the casino and get her settled in.

I go back to the bell tower which houses a Madame Tussauds's wax museum, its something I would probably not pay for ($25) if it weren't on my Power Pass. Between the casino and the bell tower, they have a big arched bridge just like in Venice, unlike in Venice they have special moving sidewalks that go up, over and back down the bridge. I show my Power Pass and get a ticket to the wax museum and the entrance hall looks like you are walking the red carpet for the academy awards complete with camera flashes and all. You then go up an escalator to the museum level. At the top of the escalator your ticket is scanned and you enter. I learn the museum would be much better enjoyed with friends, as they have was figures posed for you to take picutres with, One room has a waiter serving coktails and you can sit at the table, another one is a chair you can sit in while a showgirl lusts over you. There is a scene where you can get into a wedding scene the minister and groom are there, and there is a slip over wedding gown available to wear to fit the scene. In one area they have several sports scenes, play basketball with Shaq, golf with Tiger Woods, that sort of thing. Evil Kenevil is there as is a NASCAR winner, and there is a container with checkered racing flags you can hold and wave to pose with. Its really meant to be shared with others.

After the sports scene there is an area with entertainers like Blue Man Group, Steve Wonder and others, and an area where you can be on the American Idol stage or sit amongst the judges. I come to a room where they start to explain how their wax figures are designed and made. I figured this was the end of the exhibition, but then you go down a stairway to the lower level. To make it clear there are more exhibits there is a sign at the top of the stairs that lists what you still have to see, The stairs are dark and forboding with spider webs all around, and at the halfway landing on the way down is a wax figure of Spiderman, At the botto of the stairs you have a haunted house. This part is optional and you wait in a queue and go in small groups. The usual hands on shoulders of the person in front you rule applies here, and it works out about as well as it does at Kings Island. The haunted attraction on the whole is pretty weak, I expected more gruesome wax figures than there were. About the only real thrill is they have the required chainsaw weilding maniac who chases you out the haunted house area exit screaming.

You then go through an area with Vegas legends like Wayne Newton and Micky Gilley, and of course Elvis has his own large display. Marylin Monroe is there to. You go through the kitchen and meet Lucy from I Love Lucy. The last gallery is a patriotic themed room where you can be at the podium with the President, or astronauts planting the flag on the moon, or other famous presidents and famous americans. You then exit the museum into a gift shop. I looked through the gift shop and then headed out the exit door and down a couple stairs to exit right next to the ticket booth I entered through.

I rode the moving sidewalk across the high arched bridge, and rejoined Mom in the casino. Shortly thereafter we returned to the bell desk, and we traded chair for my credit card information back, then we exited the casino. The gondoleir costumed staff helps us cross over to the taxi stand at the far other side of the driveway. Their big theatre show must have just let out as they had a long amusement park syle queue for a taxi. I feared i might not make it back to the Luxor by 10:00, but that whole massive queue only took about 20 minutes until we were seated in a taxi headed back to the Luxor.

We get back to the Luxor and earlier I had noted how they didn't have doormen or automatic doors, but due to the way the taxi dropped us off we learned the doors on the far right on the way in are actually automatic. We renter the hotel, and we head up to the room to meet the rest of the gang. Then we go back to the casino floor, and the guys all go up to the atrium for a different kind of entertainment.

We were headed for the Atrium Showroom and arrived after the lobby had opened but before they had started seating. We entered the lobby where there was a cash bar and merchandise counter available. The ticket taker starts taking tickets, and I have a feeling the Atrium Showroom is actually up a floor with the 'backstage' type functions underneath. This is because after the ticket taker, you go up a long curved ramp almost all the way around, then an usher guides you to one of two ramps up the rest of the way. Even though our seats were only 4 seats from each other, we were sent up opposite sides of the theater, you then come to another podium "Wait here to be seated". I first thought self seating was not an option so as to generate tips for the ushers. The usher though merely pointed to my seat from the door. The Atrium Showroom is roughly a round room, with stadium seating. There are no center aisles, just the side aisles, but there are a couple cross aisles. I entered at row D, so had to walk up one row to E and my seat is just off center. I noticed the seats still show evidence of being rigged for the 4D movies that used to be played here, but I have no idea if the 4D equipment is still operational.

To refresh your memory, we are about to watch Fantasy, which is a topless showgirl review, and Pharaoh is treating us to this show in his Pyramid, the face price on our tickets was $55+$5.50 live entertainment tax. Therefore, looking around the theater, I was somewhat surprised at the number of females in the audience. The curtain is closed with a projected Fantasy logo dancing around while we wait for the show to begin. The curtains open to reveal a movie screen, and they short a short movie which serves as highlights about what you are about to see. Don't worry about thinking you are actually going to see a movie of a showgirl review, as the movie screen then rises in a slow teasing manner slowly revealing the live showgirls on stage. When the screen gets up high enough you may be disapointed that the girls still have their clothes on, but don't you worry that will change soon enough. To be clear this is a topless show, not a nudie show, bu that doesn't mean they don'tsometimes come out wearing the skimpiest g-string they can find. There is a mistress of ceremoies who leads the show (and never gets undressed). I could talk about the artistic merit of the show, or give you a rundown of the scenes, but let's face it, there is exactly one reason why hot blooded males are watching this show, and its not the theatrical quality of the production. The set is done with almost tacky overdone vegas show glitz, and as you might suspect sometimes suggestive props are used like a giant bed, and some bondage gear "Who likes to see women tied up!"The basic format is showgirls dancing, often suggestively, to popular music standards. In between the scenes, they have a male comedian come out, and he does some stand up as well as several celbrity impersonations. His role is to keep the hot blooded males thermostats under control so they don't blow a fuse. He is on stage so often that he would be annoying except he is so funny and his impersonations are so good. At one point he brings a guy up from the audience on stage, after hearing he is there with his girlfriend (???), and the comedian asks him "Tell, me who is the hottest woman in this room?" The guy starts looking the showgirls over and the comedian goes "Hint: there is only one safe answer for you right now" He does get a Fantasy showgirls calendar for being up on stage, which of course gives the show the chance to plug that the calendars are available for sale at the sales table on the way out. All in all it was a 75 minute show, and I was loving every minute of it, especially when the girls were on stage. At the end of the show you go back down that same ramp to exit the showroom and they have the commedian and a couple girls in the lobby as you exit. Oh, for those wondering how my Mom took the fact I went to see a topless showgirl review, her response was "I'd be more concerned if you didn't want to see it!" After the show I go to toe McDonalds counter at the food court to get the largest Pepsi they have. Ahh, that is so refreshing.

Uncle Rick goes down to play some slots, and cousin Rick and I decide to go to Coyote Ugly at New York New York. Rick things he has some VIP passes in the room, so he goes to fetch those, but when he returns he says he couldn't find them. We take the now usual walk through the Luxor and Excalibur anyway, this time for the last time, which is good becuase it had already gotten old and annoying. We'll take the details as read. When we get to Coyote Ugly, we find a long stand by line to get in, and a sign indicating that VIP passes are only being accepted for half price, not free admission due to a special event. We look in the exit door and the place is packed in like sardines to the point where people couldn't even move. We decide this isn't the scene we want and decide to just walk down the strip. We exit NYNY and take the escalator down to the strip so we are walking along the faux harbor and Statue of Liberty. I'm kind of glad we did, because between the two giant flagstaffs, I discovered that there is a 9/11 memorial setup. The story is that since the casino is themed to NYNY it was a natural site for people to congregate and build a memorial, and in the cases alongside the harbor they have a representative sample of items donated to the memorial. Since most people don't walk around this corner since you can't cross the street here, so the area actually becomes a nice peaceful reflection area.

We walk alongside the fake Brooklyn Bridge, and then past the Monte Carlo. I have never been in the Monte Carlo, and didn't visit this time eiher. The bar and grill alongside the strip is interesting it has a pirate theme and a sign states that they have fast, friendly waitress service SOMETIMES, at least they are honest about it. We the go though a construction safety tunnel as we walk past the massive City Center construction project. This tunnel is full of people passing out dubious advertisements, but it is well lit and at this time there was still a steady crowd moving through it.

We arrive at the Bellagio, and use the moving sidewalk to travel the far distance from the street to the casino. Once in the Bellagio we play slots for quite some time, and I start to win back some of the money they took from me the night before. My only complaint would be that waitress service was very slow. From the Bellagio we cross the street and fail to visit Bally's or Paris. As we are passing Paris, Rick asks about going up in the Eiffel Tower. Its now almost 2AM, I mentioned that if he had mentioned it when we first left the show, we could have possibly had a chance of getting here before they closed at 12:30 or 1. We press on to Planet Hollywood. Last time I was here this was the Arabian themed "Alladin" Well, all the arabian theme is gone, and by day the place looks plain from the outside, but at night is glows blue and pink. The entrance is up a stairway from the strip but there are three speedramps, right next to each other, all of which go up.

The interior has no real theme but is modern and hip inside. We see a pit of table games where just behind the tables are small elevated platforms upon which are females dancing suggestively. I meanm how is a guy supposed to concentrate on his card game? We pick a bay of slots that have a convenient view of a certain table game section. We play awhile, have a drink or two, and then around 3AM, we decide to start heading back.

We exit Planet Hollywood and head down the strip to the MGM Grand. Between the two there isnt much on that side of the strip, the businesses are mostly shops that are closed overnight, and its not that well lit. We passed some dubious characters, and realized they were soon trailing us. We felt a bit better when we joined up with a larger group who were walking the strip, but I didn't really feel good or breathe easy until we were in the safe confines of the MGM Grand.

We didn't stay in the MGM Grand long, just long enough to calm down, then we headed back to the Excalibur, and while passing NYNY, you have to love a casino that shows clips of its rollercoaster on their jumbotron. Once inside the Excalibur, Rick mentioned he is hungry, you may recall he didn't have dinner. I could use a bite, so we headed to Sherwoood Forest Cafe for that $7 new york strip steak. I note that the menu price for the same steak is around $20. The best part of this meal was the conversation with the next table, as the cheap steak tasted like a cheap steak.

After we had our steak dinner, we headed to the Luxor, and not wanting to go to be until dinner had time to digest, we sat and played slots till about 5:30 AM. Rick decides to just pull an all nighter, but I decide to run up to my room and get a nap. Tomorrow is check out day.


I get up around 9:45, get cleaned up, dressed and packed. We all push the check out time of 11am to the limit and we check out of our rooms using the video check out feature on the room TV's at about 10:58. We make sure we have everything, and we head on out after putting our keys in the sealed envelope provided. Its our last sideways ride down the inclinator because when we get to the first floor, we have to deposit the envelopes with the keys into a lock box. We haul our lugage through the casino up to the bell captain. We turn the bags over to the bell desk an they give us a claim check and tell us when we are ready to leave, to go out to the taxi stand ad hold the ticket up in the air anrd ou bags would be brought outside to us. Baggage turned in, we head up to the food court for lunch, then back own to the casino.

I consider going to snag my daily ride on the coaster at NYNY but that walk just doesn't seem worth it. We wind up visiting a couple gift shops in the casino, and then wind up playing slots and tables until just before 3pm. I do go to the blackjack table and burn that $30 in promo chips I bought the first day for $20. The table minimums are $10, so I am in for three hands. I find out the brown chips can't be cashed out, if I lose, they will of course be collected, if I win, I will get paid my winnnings in real cashable chips, but will retain the promo chips for the original stake. Thus, you WILL lost all $30, you just have to hope you win enough real chips in the process to reover your stake My first two hands are losses, but on the thid hand I also put down the "If you win the dealer gets $1" coupon on the table with my last $10 in brown chips, and my luck turns. We start a new shoe, n I have a shoe where I can't do anything wrong. I get dealt 12, I hit I get a 9, I get dealt 13, I hit and get an 8. It was glorious, and it ran everybody else at the table away as they were not enjoying my success. When the shoe ended I was playing alone, and I decided to just color up my chips and leave instead of chancing going through another shoe.

I also go to the player club to get my cash rebate for slot play, and I found out they cleared out the charges I had made to my hotel room, how mice of them, and they said I was eligible for $20 rebate. They do't give you the cash, you go to a machine, insert your card and some money. You have to enter a code on the keypad next to the slot card reader. Follow the not so obvious instructions and eventually you will get it to put the slot machine in free play mode Any machine you like, what happens in free play mode is you have to insert the money like normal and you play the machine as normal but at the end of each spin the machine refunds your wager, until your free play credit is exhausted. You get the refund no matter if your spin was a winner or loser.

At around 3pm, we go outside, and I hold the baggage check up and as promised a bellhop comes up to me, asks how I am getting back to the airport and when I mention Gray Line shuttle he goes inside, gets our bags, and takes them all the way over to the Gray Line pickup point. You can set a watch on the shuttle as it pulls up at exactl 3:30 and we find out we are the last pickup before the airport. The ride to the airport is quick and convenient, and the diver drops us off in front of he proper terminal.

We go into the terminal, and now that we have two seperate confirmation numbers, I try using the self serve kiossk and this time, the thing doesn't crash, but it won't let us check in, instead it says that Delta has a very important message for us. We go over to the ticket counter and find one of the nicest Delta employees. See our flight was originally a Las Vegas -> LoS Angeles -> Cincinnati via the red eye. It was great as we would leave Vegas at around 9pm on Friday night. Well the afternoon Vegas->LA flights were discontinued, and instead of doing something logical, they instead sent us to Salt Lake City ->LA -> Cincinnati. Recall, I booked through Travelocity, and after dealing with call centers in India and finally getting a Travelocity manager who said that in the eyes of Travelocity these arangements were comparable to what we had, and that I was pretty much stuck. This experience which had angered me but the rest of the family took pretty well combined with having the Luxor tell me that if I hadn't used Travelocity they could have refunded a lot more of my room bill means I will likely never use Travelocity again, at least not for Las Vegas.

Well, the impotant message from Delta was Delta making things right and they were willing to put us on a direct non-stop from Vegas to Cincinnati, but leaving Vegas at 1am. The family decided that since we are already here, they said to stick with the crazy whacked out schedule we had The ticket agent decided to bundle and staple all the flight 1 tickets into one bundle, then all the flight 2 tickets into another bundle and so on. Made a lot of sense to us, but besides being compassionate, she noted that Mom was having trouble walking after the week in Vegas and told us that show could arrange for wheelchair assist at all layovers as well as at Vegas and at our arrival point, We take her up on this, so she puts that on Moms reservation.

We go over to the wheelchair area across from the ticket counter and she had warned us it could be a 15 minute wait, but in reality, a wheelchair host arrived no sooner than we sat down in the waiting area. This turned out to be have even more benefits as when he walked us back to the gate, at the TSA checkpoint we dodged a long line as he had authority to take us through the First Class TSA entrance. It is the same screening, but we were expressed through it. He wound up taking us all the way to the gate and making sure Mom was situated and everything at the departure lounge. Well we had about an hour and a half to the flight, so we did go and play some of the slot machines in the airport. I can say the Las Vegas airport gave me a nice $100 parting gift on the way out.

Our flight to Salt Lake City was short and uneventful, and as promised there was another wheelchair host that met us at the gate at Salt Lake City and he took mom all the way to the next gate over in a different terminal building, The rest of us walked or used moving sidewalks. It was a LONG walk. I noted the professional wheelchair pusher turned mom's chair around backwards to go down a long ramp. I mentioned my experience at Ceasar's where I was yelled at for doing that, and he helped to reassure me that, yes, I was correct. We get to the gate and the gate agent is already there when we arrive at the gate. She says its about 45 minutes to boarding, but that we should be there about 15 minutes before the normal boarding time as they were going to allow us to pre-board. Not only that she looked at our tickets, we were in they very last row in coach, and she said she could do us better, and she moved us way up to the second row of coach. We boarded the plane early as promised and at first it seemed like there would be lots of empty seats, in fact the flight attendant even commented that it looked like we had a light load. There was a large last minute crowd who boarded the plane. We get in the air, and I learn that I am having my first flight on a Delta jet with the in seat personal entertainment system in every seat in coach: Satalite TV, a loaded mp3 player, video games (pay extra except for the free trivia game), movies on demand (pay per view), and a feature where you can track your flight progress. On this particular flight they could not get a good satelite signal, so spend most of the flight playing the trivia game which is free and you compete against anybody else on the plane who is also playig trivia. The game format reminded me of the NTN (National Trivia Network) system that used to be common in bars.

We land in LAX and yes there is another assistant waiting for us, which is a good thing, as we landed in building 5 and our next flight was in building 6. The good news is they have a tunnel so you dont have to exit and then go through security again, the bad new is the tunnel seems to be about a mile long, and is butt ugly. You also have stern warnings to be careful as you go through the security cut off doors, which could slam shut at any moment. So we get the whole crew to building 6, then the three guys go all the way back to building 5 to get food, then walk back to building 6 where we have dinner while waiting for the red eye to Cincinnati. The redeye home is long as you might expect, I didn't get much sleep which is normal for me, but there is good news it was my second flight with the personal in seat enterainment system in coach, and their plane had working satelite service. It would have been better during the day, but first I watched the late night rerun of an NBA game on ESPN, then CNN news after that. The only bad thing about the in seat system, is you don't get the free in flight movie, put instead can pay ($6) to watch the movie of your choice of their movies-on-demand system.


We arrive in Cincinnati, and yep the host is waiting for us. We is thoughtful enough to make a restroom stop for everybody after that long red eye flight, then he takes mom all the way to the baggage claim area. I go to buy some drinks out of the vending machine, and by the tie I get back out bags have arrived. All we have to do is walk outside and wait about 10 minutes for the shuttle bus to arrive. The shuttle takes us to our off site parking space, and our parking bill comes out to just around $32 with a coupon good for 1st day free. I guess thats not too bad for a weeks worth of parking. They then drive us home, and help us get our bags in the house. They deciede not to go get breakfast, and they head off to their house.

I settle into bed for a nice long long nap.

And so ends the Vegas 2008 experience, hope you enjoyed it.

Coming up: TRs for Holiday World, Beech Bend Park, Strickers Grove, and Coney Island - OH.

Watch for them,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mega-TR: Las Vegas - May 11-16, 2008 - Day 4 May 14, 2008

Mega TR- Las Vegas May 11-16, 2008 - Day 4

Well, today is destined to be my big day showing Mom around Vegas. Knowing we were out late last night, and would probably be out reasonably late tonight, I let mom sleep in till about 11. As you will find out, that was a very good call indeed. I got up and cleaned up earlier and headed downstairs around 10:15. I didn’t play slots yet, but I headed u p to the atrium level. I headed to the attractions ticket office, here I inquired to see if they still honored Power Pass, as I had noted they had been removed from the vendor's website. Unfortunately, they don't honor Power Pass anymore so $15 later I had a combo ticket for "In Search of the Obelisk" and the King Tut exhibit. In search of the Obelisk is an IMAX ridefilm according to the signage for the attraction. I get to the attraction entrance and find a chain blocking the path, upon talking to the operators I learn that they are taking longer than expected getting the attraction ready today, but not to worry, they should be ready by 10:30, 10:45 at the latest.

So I mill about the atrium level and then I notice not only is the "Games of the Gods" arcade gone, but now so is the sign. That was quick. Around 10:30 I head back to the ride and I watch the bally video on the monitors outside the attraction, it gives you a short preview, followed by gushing testimonials. Some more people approach the ride, and I can say the attendants did drop the chain and let us move into the waiting area that has benches while we continued to wait. Then came the guests that all ride operators loathe. The one that hears "the ride isn't open yet" and won't take no for an answer, and makes a big stink about it, and gets the ticket office and a manager involved, all to be told it isn't ready yet. Do they think that with enough complaining somebody will open an attraction before they are confident it is safe?

Well around 10:40 the attraction open, and based on what happens, I'm not entirely sure they were fully ready. Anyway, the entrance looks like you are going down a cave/hallway into the pyramid, the mouth of the cave has been fitted with two turnstiles, each with ticket scanners of a similar style as The Park at MOA uses. Today the turnstiles and scanners were not in use, as they admitted us through the wheelchair gate in the center while tearing tickets. We make a left turn and continue down the hallway until we come to a television. Here you learn the back story. It seems that scientists are exploring the Egyptian pyramids, and hey are "In Search of the Obelisk" which is rumored to hold some special powers. (Wait, I just saw an obelisk as a centerpiece for the hotel's atrium, why search for it)

You also learn that they have discovered some sort of ancient flying machine, still in working order, and running off of some kind of magical enrgy, that will allow us to explore the subterranian pyramid areas. Of course, its not all smiles, as you also get introduced to a rival scientist who is bent on making sure he gets the fame, glory and power and will stop at nothinng. At about this point the automatic doors open and you move into the next room. Here the video continues and you learn that you are about to board an elevator that will take you the scientists camp deep down in the pyramid, but wait we have more company, the military has arrived, and the scientist challenge this, saying this isn't a military site. The comander smirks "Not yet", and comments that if they discover anything the federal government wants for itself, he is there to ensure the federal government gets it.

On the right side of the room you see two elevator doors, the video indicates that the scientists would be riding down in the left elevator, and the visitors (you) will be riding in the right elevator. The right elevator door opens and enter, then go through another door into the elevator cab. The cab has three solid walls (behind you and both sides), to your front is a railing and an open space above it. The doors close and the elevator starts 'moving'. They turn on the lights in the shaft and a movie screen in front of you comes to life. On the movie screen you can see the other cab with the scientists going down, and you can see the shaft walls going up. Soeone else in the cab said "Watch you probably only go down 1 floor" to which I wanted to say "you think you actually move that far?" Of course the rival team sabotages the elevator cars sending them falling to their doom at the bottom of the shaft. Your hero character on your team, is able to stop you before a rough landing. In fact he stops you perfectly so the door on the other side of the elevator cab opens, and you have a nice flat walk to the next room.

Here you are looking in a big room with the flying machne they have discovered, but there is no time for sightseeing, now that they realize that you are in danger. The jist is that they are going to trailer a passenger compartent onto the back of the flying machine and 'hero' will rescue you and take you to the surface, but hurry start down that hallway, only to be intercepted by another video monitor. You can see your craft ahead of you and you get a briefing and a taunting by the two scientific teams, and you are told to step forward towards the automatic doors and board the craft. But wait there is aother monitor right next to the doors, and here is where the military commander type gives you the ride safety spiel in a huourous overdone drill seargent style.

The doors open, and we board the ship, walk down a metallic a hallway and enter the passenger compartment. Big IMAX screen in front of you, and the ridebase is rather small, 3 rows but several seats in each row. Passenger restraint is your basic lap belt. We take our seats, and prepare for the ride part of the attraction, when we hear "Sorry for the inconveniene, there will be a minor delay - we have to rewind the film." Hmm, I wonder if they were really ready to open, I mean we were their first group. On the other hand, I appreciate actually being told what is wrong, and I know that rewinding a film is a rather brief process and that nothing is really amiss. But, remember the overly demaning guest outside the attraction, she had the audacity to whine "Don't spoil the illusion!" It is poetic justice that the one who wanted them to rush to get a ride open, now has to wait for the ride to be ready.

The movie uses the device of being able to see your here character at the bottom center of the screen, just like you were really trailing him. You have a thrilling flight through the pyramid, you might see the obelisk, but you will see a battle between your hero and the rival scientist. In the end you do get rescued, so that you exit the theater out the other side and walk down a rather utilitarian ordinary hallway that feeds into a gift shop.

Anyway, I walk back across the atrium, pick up a carry-out for Mom and I at McDonald's and head back to the room. We enjoy breakfast together in the room, and I know Mom needs about an hour to get ready, so I head down to the casino floor in the meantime. I had seen the King Tut museum at the Cincinnati Museum Center, so I didn't have too much interest in seeing it here, but my Uncle Rick did, so I left the King Tut MuseuM part of the combo ticket in Ricks room.

So I go down, lose playing slots, and meet back up with Mom around 12:30 or so. Mom and I then head out to the taxi stand. As luck would have it we get a minivan cab, but last night mom had trouble getting into one of those. However this one had a compassionate cabbie, and she let mom sit shotgun up front, and that made it all work out easy.

We rode the taxi to the Paris casino. Paris has the Eiffel Tower as its major iconic symbol, complete with a leg coming down in front of the casino. We enter the casino and quickly realize that this is a much more luxurious casiono, It used a common Vegas style of making it appear as though you are outside, and all the retail, food stands and services look like storefronts. We walk through the casino, and I a amused to learn that at least two legs of the Eiffel Tower come right through the ceiling of the casino and are rooted in the floor. It's a tactic that further blends the outside and inside, and i'm sure is structurally important for the tower. We see that unlike the real Eiffel Tower that has a road that runs directly under it, this one has the elevator shaft in the center of the pyramid. It's a shame they could not recreate the 'elevator goes down the legs' element of the original. We head to the elevators but learn we can't board at the casino level The Paris casino has a restaurant at the lower observation deck of the tower, and there is a reservation desk and entrance for the restaurant next to the elvators, as well as signs stating that to get to the observation deck, to enter via the entrance at the other end of the bridge. You can see a bridge running from the Eifell Tower to some shops on the other side of the casino floor. We follow under the bridge on the casino level until we get to the shops. In the center we see the Tour Eiffel shop, which is also the Eifell Tower ticket office, and that shop is flanked by escalators for the bridge. A ticket taker stands guard over the escalators.

Eiffell tower is a power pass attraction, so I go into the ticket office to purchase a ticket for Mom ($7) and redeem a free ticket for myself ($10 value). There was nobody in line at the ticket office and two cashiers open. Since they can't process both power pass and cash transaction on the same sale, I wind up having BOTH cashiers working simultaneously to put my ticket order together. I take the tickets out to Mom, we present them to the escalator guard, and are allowed to ride the escalator up to the bridge. At the top of the escalator we see a Tour Eiffel sign which appears to be an admission price sign from the real tower.

We start to cross the bridge and don't get too far until we join the back of the line. About halfway across the bridge they have photographers taking your photo, what is more impressive is they don't use a backdrop or green screen, they actually have a natural backdrop planned into the casino. I mean you see a leg of the tower behind yoou, a bright blue daylight sky with a statue, and even a flagstaff flying the French flag. We get our photo taken, and we rejoin the line next to the elevator area. Soon, they count off a group, and they walk us halfway around the tower to the elevator doors. We have time to admire the view of the casino from the bridge, and then the elevator arrives and the group coming down gets off the elevator and walk back around the tower to the bridge. They then load us into the elevator. Its an odd shaped triangular elevator, however it does have windows all around. After they load the elevator they take us upstairs and the spiel is almost just like the one Kings Island uses on their Eiffel Tower "Welcome to the Eiffell Tower, this tower is a one-half scale replica of the Eifell Tower in Paris, France. This tower was made with the original blueprints of the original tower, its just everything was reduced by one-half" I want to point out the elevator situation as one key difference, but I didn't want to look like a smart aleck or to spoil the guys presentation. You first have a brief glimspe of the casino then you blast through the roof ofthe casino, then you can briefly see into the restaurant before you start the major climb up to the observatgion deck.

One-half scale model, huh, okay why is this observation deck a lot narrower than that on the 1/3 scale model in Kings Island. I mean on the Vegas tower can barely accoodate two people passing each other on the observation deck, and they encourage people to tour in a clockwise direction. For safety there is a full cage around the outdoor observtion deck, with both vertical and horizontal bar. There are camera holes every now and then for your camera. There was on person who was clinging onto the inner wall of the observation deck for dear life, clearly afraid of heights. I point out the full cage so she is in no danger. She responds that I am bein way to rational about it. I then go on a photo safari of Vegas fro the top of the tower, while at the same time act as a tourguie for Mom. It was a very well enjoyabe time at the top of the tower. We do a lap around tower then get back on the elevator back to the casino. You get off the elevator then walk back around the tower to the bridge. Here you sometimes have to wait to cross the bridge until between photo sessions for those entering the tower attraction. We cross the bridge, down the escalator, which leads you right to the photo sales counter.
We actually decide to purchase this photo.

Next to the photo sales counter, we see a group fo promotional slot machines roped off, but what was noteworthy is that the denomaination of the machine was actually labeled as "FREE PLAY", not even pretending to be a real denomination slot machine. Speaking of slot machines, we rest up from our Eiffel Tower Experience with some slots. Their cocktail waitress scores bonus points for, after taking a drink order. "I have to get that from the bar on the other side of the casino, can i interest you in a bottle of water or soft drink off my tray while I go get you cocktail for you?"

As we are leaving the casino I note they have not only a faux sidewalk cafe inside the casino, but a real sidewalk cafe out in front of the casino on Las Vegas Blvd. We walk past Bally's casino without going in, but I notice the sleek looking access way to the monorail with moving sidewalks and all. We instead go up the escalator to the bridge to cross the main road, We are halfway across the bridge, and what perfect timing as the fountain show at the Bellagio starts, and we have a commanding view of it from the roadway bridge. We stop to watch the fountain show, then continue on to the shopping arcade that leads back to the Bellagio casino. We don't enter the Bellagio casino quite yet, but instead go out the first exit to the right and cross the street to Ceasars Palace.

We get to the other side of the bridge, and the escalator is out of order, so we ride the elevator down to the street level. I don't remember the walk to Ceasars being this bad before, but you have to walk along the front of it between the fenced off special events area and a roadside bar to the pathway back to the entrance. The casino sits WAY back off the road, and there are no moving sidewalks to help. After this walk mom announced she is pretty worn out. We wind up entering near the hotel services area, so needing help, I walk up to the Concierge and ask about borrowing a wheelchair, and the concierge clues me in that at most Vegas casinos, including this one, wheelchairs can be borrowed from the bell captain. The bell captain is the next desk over, so as promised they loan us a chair upon request, no form to fill out, no ID checks, no deposits to make.

I take mom through the casino area, we see Elton John's red piano, and we see a blackjack pit that has a cage for an exotic dancer in the middle. Only in Vegas. We continue to walk through the casino and we exit out into the attached shopping mall the Forum Shop. I note the slot machines have been removed from the middle of he walkways in the mall. The Forum Shops have some distinct features, one is an artifical sky that runs though the usual 24 hour day/night cycle every hour, and the center court areas have large fountains and giant statues, meant to look like Rome.

I had heard that the statues come to life every hour on the hour, so we pull up to the statues in the first court area we come to at around 2:55, and proceed to wait till 3:05 and no statues come to life. I ask the hostess at Trevi restaurant, and while she had an air that she has answer this question zillions of times before, she does inform us that we need to turn left, and go all the way to the end of the mall to see the living statues. Let me tell you, Forum Shops is NOT flat there are almost ramps all the way along it. We head down the next stretch of stores up a ramp to a courtyard area where there is a bar and ice cream stand in place of the usual fountain, then we head up some more ramps through the next section of the mall, and we come to a gigantic impressive fonntain with several roman statue above it. Unfortunately, we also come to a sign that says they apologize but the statue show will not be performed. We are more than a little bummed out, but I take mom around to see the statues and we do find a surprise in the back of the fountain is a huge aquarium. The aquarium was even more interesting as there was a man in the tank doing tank maintenance.

We tour the aquarium and the statues, then backtrack through the mall, past all we had seen and then towards the other end of the mall. We do pass another big pool and statues. At the far end of the mall you come to a large rectangular room. This room is three stories high, and the ground floor has a huge reflection pool, and statues stand guard in the corners. However, the dominant feature of the room is the spiral escalator. You heard that right, they have escalators where you make about a 180 degree turn with every floor you travel, I admit, I gleefully take the spiral escalator dow to the 1st floor, then all the way to the 3rd, then back to the 2nd. Hey, its a free novelty. We continue our tour of the mall and I find our pathway blcoked by a gate and some no entry signs, We start to turn around and a staff member opens the gate and allows us to shortcut back to the main mall instead of backtracking around the rectangular room again, We do backtrack through the mall to the casino proper. It should be noted that on the ramps in the mall, if we wee going downhill, I would turn around and take mom down the ramps backwards, in accordance to how I have been taught in pushing wheelchairs. Yes, this does matter later in this story. The reason is simple: it minimizes the chance of the rider falling out of the chair on a steep ramp, the person in the chair feels more secure as gravity is pushing them into the chair, not out of it.

Anyway, we re-enter the casino and go to sign up for players cards, and learn that becuase we had been to the casino on the Cherokee Indian reservation many years ago, we are already members, and they give us new cards. We do play a few slots, and then I decide to move to the end of the casino nearest the Bellagio. About halfway accross there is a ramp down, so I turn the chair around and start to take mom down the ramp, and a casino employee starts scolding me, almost ripping me a new one for how irresponsible I am being in going down the ramp backwards. I have to battle the desire to rip the casino employee a new one, with not wanting to create a scene. Afteralll, mom is present. The casino employee turns out to be a dealer at a card table, as we pass each other we give each other death stares of the "If looks could kill" variety. I stiflle the urge to have a confrontation with her in front of her pit boss, while playing up the morally offended and upset angle. At the very least I am fuming, after all I have had training in this, who is she to scold me in a very unprofessional manner in the middle of the gaming floor. Mom and I agree to just cash out and leave Ceasars Palace, and frankly I don't care if never set foot in Ceasar Palace again. Yes, we did remember to return their loaner chair.

We make the long trek back to the street, then up the escalator to the bridge, then into and through Bellagios shopping mall, then into the Bellagio. We stop at the first slot machines we come to for mom to rest. While I have mon seated, I go to pick up our ticket for "O" tonight. I head to the ticket office and with confirmation in hand, I get in line to pick up my tickets. I was under the impression that we had tickets for the 7:30 showing, but when the attendant punches in my information, the ticket computer has us down for 10:30 tickets. I mean the seating assignment is dead on what I had been promised, just the wrong time Unfortunately it had been a phone order to buy tickets, so I had a confirmation number but no other backup. Possibly since I am still funing from Ceasars Palace I press the issue, and I press the issue. Nope, the ploy to score a food comp out of them for inconveniencing me on the showtime did not work.

Anyway, I break the news to Mom, and we sign and saym what are we going to do, we will have to stick around until the late night show. So now we will just be starting to watch the show the time we had planed on returning to the Luxor, and I would have to cancel my plans to go to the Hard Rock with cousin Rick. I make the necessary phone calls and sooth things over with the rest of the family. I then start exploring the Bellagio for a reasonably priced sit down meal we can enjoy and have some quality time with each other.

I eventually find the Bellagio Cafe, which seems to fit the bill, but it clean on the other side of the resort from Mom. I stop at the bell captain, and ask to borrow a chair, and I don't think she was very trusting of me. I had to leave a credit card deposit in the sum of $250. The deal was I signed the credit card slip, but the charge wasn' put through, if I return the chair by the deadline, they will give the credit card slip back, if not they will put the charge through, I go and collect Mom and bring her back to the lobby whee she is dazzled by all the blown and stained glass flowers on the ceiling of the hotel lobby area. We then head towards the famous Bellagio flower conservatory, except it was closed as they were changing out the display. This meant they kept a pathway back to the Bellagio Cafe and a couple other places along the border of the conservatory open., but other thn that it was off limits. At least they did not put up construction walls around it, so we could see the transformation in progress, and at one end they had pictures of some of their displays so we could see what it looks like normally.

We enter the Bellagio Cafe and get immdiate seating There is not much business here, and I would think some of that is due to the fact it looks like you can't even get to it due to the renovation work. Its the kind of place where the service is wonderful, the dishes match the decor of the room, and you get linen napkins and real silver silverware. I notice Freeno (Keno) is available, but the Keno board is not in a convenient place for me to play. We wind up spending a lot of time having friendly conversation over dinner. I wind up having the grilled salmon and mom has a club sandwich. It was a wonderful meal, great conversation, and even watching he consevaorty renovation was humorous at times. You see there were these two working on a manlift with one operating the lift, and the other hanging parts of the display. Well the person controlling the lift would keep joging the bucket up and down so fist the guy is reaching up to hang the branch, then the bucket would rise up fast, then he is leaning forwad to reach down to hang the branch and the driver would jog the bucket down. Yes, our playful pair was in proper OSHA harnesses and so were safe at all times. After the branch was hung the driver reaches over and pats the other guy on the back like "You have just passed your initiation, welcome to the crew" The guy hanging the branch was wearing a much newer looking harness than the other people on the worksite, giving credence to my theory of a little new man hazing going on.,

We finish dinner, so then its back to the gaming floor to play. We had 2-3 hours to kill, and lets just say it was not pretty at all for me, it was a butt kicking. I even took an advance on the next days gambling budget. Gambling wise it was brutal. But, its a small world, there were three of us sitting at this one row of slots, and Mom and I mention Cincinnati for some reason, and the thrird person, a stranger, was also there from Cincinnati, and was also there to see "O". We talked a bit, and she did put in a good word for Cirque's other show "Mystere".

Aboout an hour before showtime we head to the theatre, in perfect time to get caught up in the crowd exiting the 7:30 show. We duck into a slot area to get out of the crowds. After the crowds pass we move to the first part of the lobby. In the lobby area they have Cirque related statues as artwork, that were just installed not that long ago. They hold us in this area till about 9:50, then the doors from the hallway open into the outer lobby of the theatre. At the door an usher tears our tickets (Admission - $165 each), and noting the wheelchair takes out a tag, writes out seat location on it, and hangs part of the tag fro the handle of the wheelchair, and gives us the stub. We then pass by a cart where we buy a souvenir program ($15). The entry way then splits into two pathways for the orchestra seating and the escalators to the balcony. An usher guides us to the holidng area for our seats, so we veer off to the left and we enter a room with a cash bar, and a concession stand. There is also an area to pour out any drinks in glasses or glass bottles into plastic cups before continuing. An usher tells us to skip the line and get in position right in front of the doors to the auditorium, and we are admitted to the auditroium a minute or so before doors open. We had seats in lower orchestra, right off a center aisle, and only 4 rows from cross asile. An usher takes our chair back to the checkroom for us, while another usher seats us, Fantastic seats, and rows are far enough apart where you don't have to get up to allow people to pass.

The show that is to follow is everything I have come to expect out of Cirque and more. It stats out with the clowns interacting with the audience in the last minutes before the show, taking a gigantic life preserver through the audience, and an umbrella with holes in it, A well used spray bottle to rain on guests. At the end of this skit an audience member is called on stage and eventually pulled through the curtain only to reappear and read all the safety announcements. The show starts with a band walking through the auditorium complete with a rarely seen hand crank barrel orgran, An aerial artists gets us warmed up by beforming an act in the very top of the seating area of he auditorium.

The show moves to the stage ad the curtain just seems to collpase to the center and is then pulled back to the back of the stage. O is a uique show, its Cirque in, on, and above water. The main feature of the stage is a large 20' deep pool, but not only that a 20' pool with sectional floor sections that can raise up out of the pool and become a stage floor in a matter of seconds and without creating a wake. Cirque has always been on the cutting edge of theatrical technology and this show is no different. Some have dubbed this Cirque: Earth, Wind, Fire Water, as yes there are acts in the water, there are acts on the stage (Earth), acts in the air (Wind) and yes there are actors that play with fire to finish the set.

The show runs about 90 minutes with no intermission, as is common with Vegas shows. The curtain opens and the show wastes no time putting the swimming pool to use with a synchronized swimming routine. From there you have the trapeze act, but it is two people sharing one trapeze.
From there its time for the gymnastics act. The gymnastics act is impressive enough in their other shows, but in this show they perform on a floating platform in the middle of the pool. Cirque provides moments of pantomime comedy in their show performed by clowns to provide a break between the high energy acts, and O is no exception. In this show the clwowns come out on a floating stage that looks like a cabin, excpet fitting with the theme the cabin is severely flooded such that our two clowns are living on the roof of the cabin.

Other acts of note are a huge flying ship that your cirque performers to aerial acrobatic acts on and under with a combination of huge rings and parallel bars. Its is visually stunning piece. As I mentioned there are fire dancers who play with sparkelers and even a guy who sets himself on fire and is seen sitting in a chair as if nothing is wrong. I mean he just looks so calm there.

They to a triple russian swing act (there are platoforms that look remotely like playground swings that 2 or 3 people can stand on, and then they get swinging back and forth really high and fast, then at the peak of the arc they jump off and perofrm amazing aerial stunts. In this case the center swing has a big bell on top that starts ringing and gets more frenzied as the act goes on. I have my doubts as to if the bell you are hearing is the one on the piece of apparatus. At the end of the act they have to swings that look like they are directly across the pool from each other, and it looks as if they two artists are going to crash into each other when they jump at the same time, but they really have distinct yet close trajectories so its safe.

In another act the zebra dressed actors that are in all the PR stunts start perofming on a giant moving jungle jim like structure that hangs just above the pool. Don't worry about your cirque classics, as yes they have an aerial hoops act, a contortion act, a couple more trapeeze acts, and here they up the ante by revealing the trapeeze is mounted on a rigging that can move the whole setup forwards and backwards in relation to the audience, as well as SPIN it. Another breathtaking moment is they use the pool to incorporate a high dive act, and at first it looks like two professional divers, and our hapless audience volunteer, the one who helped start the show. They make a big deal of bringing him up on stage, putting him into a safety harness and making him climb the ladder up to the very top of the stage. Moments later, all three of them make the high dive from the very top of the auditorium into the pool below, and they have the moving floor panels setup so that they have the smallest pool opening possible to perform the triple simultaneous dive safely.

It is worth noting that the pool also has impressive fountains in it as well, which should not surprise you since this is the Bellagio after all. Towards the end of the show when they are wrapping up they roll the piano out on stage and as the band is doing a band solo, the stage goes down into the pool and takes the grand piano down into the pool with it! I highly doubt that it is a real piano, and since you can still hear the piano quite clearly after it is fully submerged, its very dubious. The show ends with curtain calls, and the audience I was with gave them the usual standing ovation as well as loud shouts of Bravo.

The show ended, we wait till the traffic clears in the aisleway, and I go up to the check area for the wheelchairs, claim the chair, then mom and I make out way back out through the lobby to the casino. We find out the path of least resistance is actually to go through the shows gift shop. We then go to the front of the casino, turn the chair in, I get the charge card paperwork back so it won't be turned into the cashier to be processed. We then head out to the taxi stand and get a bit of culture shock. Back home, at the end of a performance in the theatre, people go out to their cars in the parking lot and drive themselves home, out in Vegas most peopl have arrived in taxis, so the taxi stand line is wrapped around the driveway and is almost around to the fountain. It looks scary, but with a seemingly endless parade of cabs the line moves rapdily, to the point where its almost a taxi walk and not a taxi stand. It was good the line moved fast because those fountains in front of the Bellagio reek. We get in a normal car style cab and discuss the show as we are taken back to the Luxor. Since we both had long days, we headed right up to our room, stopping off at the Pepsi machine on the way. When I first arrived, I laughed at a pop machine in a casino that offers free drinks, but you know when you are thirsty, want a real size drink with no aggravation. It's well worth it.

We then head to our room, and call it a night.

See you tommorow for my last full day in Vegas. It will include a field trip to the Venetian with mom, as well as stops at the Mirage and Sahara for me. Plus the guys take in a show!

Watch for it!