Trip Report: Weekend in Las Vegas and the 2016 Garth Brooks World Tour

Being that I grew up in a small town in Texas, with my formative years in the 1990s, Garth Brooks music was an undeniably large part of my young life. So when I found out that the beginning of his new world tour happened to coincide with a free room comp offer I had received from a Vegas casino, it seemed like a no-brainer to book a little weekend getaway.

First, though, we had to get there.  To cover our flights, we transferred points from our Chase Ultimate Rewards account to the hubby’s Southwest account, where we have the Companion Pass that allows me to get a free ticket anytime we book one for the hubby. With a couple clicks on the computer, we now had free round trip flights to Vegas.

As for the hotel, I’d received an email offer from MLife, the loyalty program for the MGM Grand group of hotels. One thing a lot of people don’t realize about MLife (and other casino loyalty programs) is that you need not gamble in order to rack up the rewards.  As I travel to Las Vegas a few times a year for work, usually staying for a week or more each time, I make sure to attach my MLife number to my hotel stay, all my meals, and any side slot-machine action I get into.

And apparently, for some of MLife’s older properties at least, my less-than-impressive spending is still enough to warrant an occasional free room comp.  We were offered a free two-night weekend stay at the New York New York resort and casino, plus a $50 resort credit that we could use towards meals, drinks, or the daily resort fee.  This made the logistics of our trip totally free, and left us able to use our vacation budget for more fun things.

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Park Avenue Room at the New York New York

We arrived on Friday afternoon and were able to quickly check in to our standard level room, which they call a “Park Avenue Room”.  Though nothing special, the room was comfortable and we received a nice view from the 24th floor.

 

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Shower of a Park Avenue Room at the New York New York

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Bathroom of a Park Avenue Room at the New York New York

 

Once we were all checked in, we headed to the pool for a bit before showering and getting ready for our main attraction of that evening: dinner at L’Atelier by Joel Robuchon, a Michellin-starred restaurant from the most-Michelin-starred chef in the world.

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This restaurant is for the serious foodies, with the seats arranged around a large, open-kitchen, allowing you to watch the chefs in action and ask questions. We ordered the “Seasonal Discovery Menu” with wine pairings and also added the seared foie gras as well as the hamachi, uni, and caviar “ravioli” a la carte. Prepare yourself for the food porn:

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Our 10-course menu at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

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The bread basket.  We’d heard amazing things about the bread cart at Robuchon’s signature restaurant next door, but this was just “good” not “great”.

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Our Amuse Bouche

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The Hamachi ravioli, stuffed with uni and topped with stugeon caviar

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Crab tabbouleh, topped with avocado mouse and radishes

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White asparagus with Iberico ham and parmesan foam.  (Yes, it looks like baby vomit…they should maybe reconsider the plating of this one.)

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Sea bass in porcini cream.  One interesting note here is that they kept the cream in a cream whipper, and then put the whole cream whipper in an immersion circulator.

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The seared foie gras.  Amazing.

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Foie gras stuffed quail with their “signature” mashed potatoes. (The secret to the potatoes is that they use equal parts butter to potato.)

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Passion fruit sorbet palate cleanser

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Dessert was actually the most disappointing dish. Very boring.

After dinner we hit the slots and roulette table for a while before eventually turning in.  But we had to wake up early the next morning, as we had a lot more Vegas to see!

Saturday, we started the day off with a trip to Caesar’s Palace to take in their “Bacchanal Buffet“, which has been voted the top Strip buffet for many years.  Even better, we were able to find a Groupon that took the regularly $54/per person with tax price tag down to a more reasonable $44/per person, and also came with a free mimosa ($7) and a skip-the-line pass (which they normally sell for $25/person).

The buffet was certainly extensive, and we thought that the dim sum section, featuring  a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, bao buns, noodles, soups, and sweets was by far the highlight.  Most other things we tried, including the pizza, shellfish bar, and traditional breakfast fare was just “meh”.

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Cheese station at Caesar’s Palace Bachhanal Buffet

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The raw bar included snow crab legs, Jonah crab claws, boiled shrimp and crawfish, and several seafood salads.

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The carved meat station.  The hubby was happy to partake of a hearty portion of slab bacon.

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The gelato is the same as is available in the Forum Shops elsewhere in Caesar’s.

Having visited almost every Vegas buffet by this point in my life (Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, Aria, Cosmopolitan, Rio, Orleans, Caesars, Wynn, and Bellagio to name a few….) I would say stick to the Wicked Spoon buffet at the Cosmopolitan. Still, Caesar’s was a nice experience as well.

After brunch, we wondered around the Forum Shops for a while, since the Hubby had never been. Always a good time, even though I’ve probably been nearly 10 times.

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Next up, though, we went to a brand new (to us) attraction: the High Roller at the Linq. The High Roller is a giant observation wheel that boasts that it’s larger than London’s eye. In fact, it’s so large, each car can fit a full bar!  Again, turning to Groupon, we purchased a “daytime happy half-hour” ride for the two of us that included open bar during the ride. By buying on Groupon instead of at the venue, we saved about $7.

And it was great! The view from the wheel is really spectactular, and we were both able to grab about 3 drinks during the course of the ride, a pretty good deal for Vegas.

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From the top of the High Roller at the Linq, where we enjoyed a shot while watching the Bellagio fountains..

After the ride, we headed back to the hotel to pay a visit to Lady Luck in the casino (she wasn’t in, apparently) and to take a nap before getting ready for the concert.  We ate a low-key early dinner at the hotel, then made the walk over to the brand-new TMobile Arena, just steps away from our casino.

And as for the show? It was simultaneously one of the best concerts and absolute weirdest shows I’d ever seen. A big part of that was because they were videotaping this performance for inclusion in an upcoming HBO concert special. This meant that the two front rows of the arena were filled not with actual paying fans, but with heaps of good looking young ladies in their early 20s that they’d likely scouted at the pools earlier that day.

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The front row of girls were “plants” – note the camera just behind them, and the lack of normal concert security. (And…ya know…the fact that most of them are under 25.)

Then, before the show started, the tv producer came out to get us to “scream” in a variety of ways (“do this one like he just finished a ballad” or “now scream like he just did Friends in Low Places”) for B-roll purposes, followed by prompting us on when we were supposed to put our arms in the air, turn our camera lights on, etc. So much for realistic.

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At the start of the show, you see a Garth figure in silhouette, before the screens raise up towards the ceiling and his oval-shaped set is revealed.

And then, finally, the show started. After a very strange intro/countdown on the computer screens to make it look like the computers had been hacked by a Russian intelligence agency (yeah, I didn’t get the connection either…), Garth came out.  And his energy level was somewhere between Howard Dean screeching during the 2004 election and Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch.  It just seemed too forced, too fake. He even showed us at one point how his guitar wasn’t even in the sound mix – apparently for the tv special, only the “good” musicians were allowed to play.

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We were told to turn our phone’s front light on during The River

So he sang the favorites like a coke-crazed grandpa, ending with Friends in Low Places, confetti cannons shot off everywhere, and he heads off stage. The crowd cheers like crazy, and then, he comes back out for his “encore”.

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The kept the drummer in a cage.  Good job, drummers are dangerous 🙂

And then…all of a sudden…the show got really good.  He explained that now that the cameras were off, he would take requests.  So…he did. People held up signs or screamed out song titles, and he played each one, just him on his guitar singing along. Sometimes one of his band members would come out and play along, other times it was just him.  And it was great!

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None of the running around like a crazy man or climbing on top of the set pieces, just a world class musician playing his catalog. All told, he played for about 2 hours, with just slightly less than half of that time coming during the “encore”.  He even did a few covers.  It was bizarre but totally awesome.

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A little blurry, but he takes off his hat to say goodbye to the crowd.

The next day, we caught a quick breakfast in the hotel before heading back to the airport.  Our Vegas trip was a super quick one — just 48 hours or so total — but it was a great weekend, and the fact that it was so inexpensive was just the icing on the cake!

What are your Vegas must-dos? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Whitney