Shortly after my solo trip last March, my friend Jeff and I started talking about what we could do to celebrate his graduation. We decided to go to Vegas (no surprise there) around his birthday to kill two birds with one stone...
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Shortly after my solo trip last March, my friend Jeff and I started talking about what we could do to celebrate his graduation. We decided to go to Vegas (no surprise there) around his birthday to kill two birds with one stone.
We thought we�d keep things relatively modest compared to most of our other trips and had our original reservation for a Tower Suite at Wynn Las Vegas. Then we started thinking that it might be fun to throw a party for several friends in a nice suite. It wouldn�t be the first time I�ve thrown a party in Las Vegas; last year around the exact same time, I had a two-bedroom Salon suite at Wynn, high-end drinks, and I even splurged on a little caviar. The result? Out of over 100 invites, 15 people RSVP�d �yes� and only eight showed up. Not that it wasn�t a blast, but convincing friends from all over the nation to come party in Vegas is understandably difficult and I was a little reluctant with the idea.
I gave it a little more thought, but first, we obviously needed bigger digs if it was going to happen. We started talking (or I should say dreaming) about having it at The Mansion. Now, for $5000 per night, 75% of that price is going towards service and exclusivity�a 2400 square foot villa there is actually pretty small for that kind of dough. Needless to say, getting even a few guests through its iron gates and security guards is probably impossible.
So I decided to call American Express Platinum Travel to see what kind of rate I could get at Skylofts instead and was quoted $510 for a one-bedroom. Now, AmEx Platinum hooks you up with a free upgrade (a two-bedroom that�s twice as large) if available, breakfast every morning, a $100 spa services credit, and a 4pm check out. Having never heard it so low through AmEx, I decided to book and pray that I�d score the upgrade upon arrival.
A few e-mails and phone calls were made just to get a feel for the interest in the soiree. To my surprise, I got immediate �yeses� and then some flight confirmations the next day from my friend Rami, his girlfriend Kathryn, Rami�s roommate Josh, and Josh�s girlfriend Alicia. Wow. This was really coming together. In fact, it came together so quickly that I wasn�t about to risk hoping for the free upgrade through AmEx. I eventually came to expect 60 or so guests and a 1500 square foot, one-bedroom loft with maybe about 1000 square feet of real, usable space was out of the question. I went ahead and booked the two-bedroom, 3000 square footer for a steal at $850 per night including all the extra amenities through American Express.
So after several months of anticipation, stress to prepare everything, getting an idea of the beverages my guests would be bringing, etc., the day finally arrived. Rami and Kathryn had come to California a few days earlier and met me at my place at 8am Sunday morning. We took off and picked up Josh along the way (his girlfriend would be flying in from Austin later that afternoon). An uneventful drive up and we�re cruising up the strip with the windows down and the sunroof fully opened. We made our way back down via Koval which provided some amusing billboards:
We self-parked at MGM Grand. I actually hate self-parking, especially in a hotel as massive as MGM, but with so many fragile bottles of booze in our luggage, the only people I�d want touching our bags would be us and so valet was out of the question.
Without any wait, I walked up to a young receptionist to check in to our Grand Tower rooms for the first night. With several reservations (we had other friends arriving as well) and a $50 bill between credit card and license, I gave her a wink and asked what she could turn into a Bungalow suite. She said we could actually get two Bungalows for a $20 upgrade per night on each. I told her that I�d rather she pocket the money and give me the �free� upgrade, but she said she couldn�t. So, with $40 charged legitimately on my card, I gave her another $10 for all her effort.
With the luggage still in the car, we headed to the Studio Caf� for some brunch. Service was impeccable. Yes, continue laughing that I used the word �impeccable� to describe the service of a 24-hour caf� with $12 meals. Honestly though, our server should have been working Robuchon. Hell, he even had the French accent. Unfortunately, my Brioche French Toast tasted more like Brioche Sand Paper. It didn�t matter though as we were finally settled in Vegas and enjoying ourselves. After brunch, I gave the crowd a little tour of MGM and we headed up to our Bungalow suites with luggage in tow.
The suites were actually very comfortable and impressive considering that I scored them for only $90 per night after the upgrade costs. The shower is built for the vertically challenged, but that�s really my only complaint; it�s an upgrade I�d do every time if it were available.
Josh decided to show us creative and fun ways to jump on the bed when bored in a hotel room. One such way is to keep your hands in your pockets and run towards the bed, jumping face first into the pillow. Here are Josh and Alicia demonstrating. Notice the unnatural bend in Josh�s back:
Josh would later demonstrate how to jump on one queen bed at just the right angle to bounce off and land onto the bed next to it. Let�s just say he wasn�t successful.
I went to check up on Jeff and see how he was doing. He pulled a little gift out of his luggage thanking me for planning everything. I was speechless. I�d be doing this anyway because it�s Vegas! Anyway, I tear open the gift-wrap to find something that I had been eyeing for a while now: the �4 Elements of the Perfect Shave� set from The Art of Shaving. Awesome.
With two Vegas virgins tagging along, we rested for a bit and then set off for a grand tour of the strip. It was relatively cool for the season (like �only� 96 degrees) with overcast most of the day. We walked all the way up to The Venetian taking every single air-conditioned parallel to the strip including Flamingo, Harrah�s, etc. It really made the walking much easier. Of course, when we finally made it to The Venetian, I let the virgins gawk and soak it in until I trashed it by showing them first hand examples of poor quality and workmanship.
We crossed the street and went back south through The Mirage, Caesars Palace, and finally Bellagio where we had dinner at the caf�. Unlike at MGM, service seriously sucked but the server was obviously in training. We were seated in one of the round tables that extend into the conservatory so the setting made up for it. Honestly, when you see Steve Wynn�s work with those mosaic floors and exquisite details after touring The Venetian a few moments earlier, you have to wonder how the hell Adelson can charge the same prices.
Anyway, while refreshed from dinner, we head out to catch a few showings of the fountains and then it was back down to MGM to get ready to hit MIX Lounge later that night.
Kathryn wasn�t feeling too good having her healthy diet spoiled with all the junk in Vegas. That, along with the heat and having seen 80% of the strip within a matter of hours caught up with her and she decided to stay in. Before heading out, Rami, Jeff, and I had each had about four shots of the Grey Goose compliments of a bottle Jeff had brought. Us guys head over to MIX with a solid buzz and run into some of my friends from school that had come for the Skyloft party as well. With my school friends being all girls and hot, our male/female ratio was so favorable that the doormen were practically begging to let us in. Cover charge was waived for the guys (score!) and we headed up. Several drinks and pictures later, I begin dancing with some girls from Seattle. They were pretty cool and I invited them to my party the next night, but they were leaving the next day and couldn�t.
Drunk out of our asses and not knowing where everyone else went, Jeff, Rami, and I began wandering Mandalay Bay making our way into 40 Deuce and then around the casino where many pictures ensued and a few hands of baccarat lost.
There was a guy on a lift several feet high cleaning all the booby sculptures on the wall near Aureole restaurant. He overheard my wish that maybe someone could pass by and take a shot of the three of us next to the booby art. He stopped cleaning, lowered his lift, hopped out and took several shots. He was freakin� cool and a blast to talk to. We thanked him and were on our way.
It was at this point that I realized how lucky I am to have Jeff and Rami as my friends. I don�t want to get all sappy, but there are no other people I�d love to travel with to Vegas or anywhere for that matter than these two. 37 trips thus far and it�s no coincidence that the most fun ones have always been with them.
Our feet were killing us so we took a cab back to MGM. Rami headed up to the room to check on Kathryn and called it a night. After a couple minutes, I tried to call him to make sure Kathryn was okay when I realized that my cell phone was lost. It had fallen out of my pocket while in the cab and Jeff began calling it relentlessly. It was on vibrate so I knew the driver couldn�t hear it. We hoped that maybe a passenger he�d pick up later would sit on it, but to no avail.
I approached Al, possibly the coolest cab hailer in history and explained my situation. He said he�d keep an eye out on all the cabs and suggested I get the numbers of all the cab companies from the bell desk. Then I approached Brenda at the bell desk. She was very understanding and generous and gave me all the numbers I needed. Maybe because they were bored in the wee hours of the morning, but the entire bell desk as well as Al really took an emotional interest in helping me find my cell phone. In fact, they even told me their hours the next day and that when I do find it, that I come back and let them know.
It wasn�t the cell phone itself of course that had me worried. It was the list of clients, several of which I had to call the day I returned from Vegas, whose numbers I hadn�t stored anywhere else. Not to mention, my cell was absolutely necessary for tomorrow night if my guests needed to call me to let them up to the Skylofts floor. Somehow after several agonizing minutes, the cab driver miraculously heard Jeff�s calls vibrating in the back seat and answered. He said he�d be back at MGM in five minutes and showed up with my cell in hand. Man was I relieved! I gave him $20 for the effort and thanked him profusely. I opened my cell to see no less than 45 missed calls from Jeff within the hour. Al was smiling and happy to see me relieved. I gave him $10 and then did the same for Brenda. She kept denying the tip but I insisted.
Let me just say that in the less than 24 hours that I�ve stayed with the �commoners� in the Grand Tower at MGM (and I don�t mean that in a snobby way, but its standard hotel has always been considered mediocre in service since the beginning), I hadn�t had a single bad experience with the personnel�they had all been truly fantastic. For a 5000-room hotel, it seems as though MGM�s training has really got their shit together. I mention this only because the next day in the VIP lounge of all places, things wound up being a different story.
Anyway, while tipping everyone who had helped me find my phone, my room key fell out of my pocket and someone stopped to tell me to grab it. Then, on the way back towards the room, a $50 bill fell out of my pocket as well. A girl grabbed it, ran up to me and said, �Excuse me, I think you�re going to need this.� So at this point in time, my cell phone�s been recovered, someone notified me that I had dropped my room key, and then someone else handed me a $50 bill I had dropped and in a casino no less! I�m generally not very superstitious, but I could feel the lucky energy in the air. I was serious. It was a feeling I had never had. Good luck was following me and so I changed direction from our room elevators and jetted straight to The Mansion casino to play some baccarat.
Well, I had my ass handed to me at the tables. Not fun, but funny as hell looking back.
We went to the next extreme and played sigma derby instead. I had fun, but only because I sat next to a rowdy group of friends from Dublin and we were all betting the same horses. I lost some more before it was time to call it a night.
The next day I woke up early after less than two hours of sleep. I called the Skylofts concierge at 8am, told them I was on the property, and asked how early I could check in. The concierge said she didn�t know yet. This irked me slightly because the moment before I left for Vegas, I checked Skylofts availability the night before I was supposed to check in and found several available rooms. Now, I don�t think within that short amount of time every single Skyloft had sold out like they had told me; the casino was obviously holding on to several for last minute high rollers walking in.
We tried to make the best of our time as we waited for the phone call. We ordered some breakfast and then gambled a bit until around 11:30 when I called Skylofts again for a more accurate estimate of when I could check in. The concierge told me around 1pm at the latest so we headed over to the West Wing Bar and relaxed for a bit longer. By 1pm, I was yet to receive a phone call and MGM was getting busier and busier. Before I knew it, there�s a freakin� zoo of people going in each and every direction. Now, I don�t have a phobia of people, but sometimes I just need my space and you could hardly walk. I suggested we head over to the VIP lounge for some serenity and there I could check the status of our Skyloft in person.
We entered the VIP lounge to find several unhappy guests. MGM�s lounge might be the worst in town. No food or drinks are out; they have to be ordered through receptionists and they genuinely avoid eye contact with you to keep from serving you. Other than the quieter setting, there�s nothing VIP about it. The service there just plain sucked.
So after another promise of the room getting ready soon, we were finally offered some wine. An older gentleman brings it out and asks if everything is okay. Now, I understand completely that check in time is at 3pm, but I was given a promise of �1pm at the latest�. Had I been told 3pm earlier, I would have made the most of it by going to the spa or hitting the pool and not anxiously waiting around. I saw other people arriving after me in huge parties lead by a Skylofts concierge which made it evident that mine had been given away. Since the server had asked how things were going, I kindly informed him of the situation and he snapped at me. I couldn�t believe it. �It�s all based upon availability,� he yelled with a condescending tone. I found the spiel he was giving me pretty hard to believe when I saw party after party being escorted up to their rooms first. It got awkward in there and you could cut through the air with a knife. I forgot the guy�s name, but Mr. Gamal Aziz, the President of MGM Grand, will be receiving a letter regarding the way they run their VIP services. Of course, I will also be letting him know how great Al, Brenda, and several of the other personnel I came in contact with the night before were. Fire the current asshats in VIP and replace them with those guys. One thing did happen that helped cut the tension, though: one of the VIPs, a frail gentleman sitting on the couch next to me, got up to ask for something and let out two squeaky farts in the process. In my attempts to refrain my laughter, my eyes just started tearing up.
Finally, at the completely unacceptable time of 3:45pm, a concierge came down to greet us. I wasn�t going to let a few personnel put me in bad spirits and from that point on, everything was pure bliss and flawless.
Rami and Kathryn headed out to see Love at The Mirage while Josh and Alicia left for the pool. Jeff and I chilled out for a bit, ordered some Kobe burgers from room service, and then did a video tour of the loft. We did it �MTV Cribs� style. If you�ve ever watched that show, you know it�s the sorriest, most depressing thing seeing what once supposedly oppressed �musicians� who claim that they used to live a hard life now do with their stupid amounts of money (hence the shoe closet and Nike comment in the video). Sorry if I tend to mumble a little. There are some quiet moments so I suggest listening with headphones or with the volume way up.
Jeff and I gave the clothes we were wearing for the party tonight to the butler to press (you get five free pressings per loft) and then headed out to Albertson�s on Tropicana to pick up some party trays and final mixers. I�ve said this several times before: I�m not paying $400 for a room service veggie tray no matter how luxurious the surroundings! We had brought extra luggage to get the food past the dozen or so personnel you might walk by just getting to your room in the Skylofts hallway. Fortunately, it all went off without a hitch.
So after some final preparation, 10pm was nearing and despite all my rushing, I didn�t even get a chance to shave. Oh well. I ran down to meet my guests at Zuri bar where they were all conspicuously hiding their favorite booze in bags to bring up. Gotta� love BYOB parties. There were far more guests than one elevator could handle and I made a total of around five trips down over the course of the first hour and a half or so. With 40-plus people including some of my closest friends as well as friends from various Vegas forums and this blog, we had an absolute blast.
The party started off a bit slow, but as more people crept in and more alcohol started flowing, things really picked up. It was great to catch up with my friend Matt who used to work Tower Suites at Wynn. He moved back to Philadelphia and I convinced him to change his June travel dates to come to my party. Rami found himself famous as he was approached with people saying, �Hey, you�re that guy in the Wynn villa video!� I still give him shit to this day for the way his voice cracks at 2 minutes and 20 seconds in.
While chatting in the billiards room, I saw someone running to get into the guest bathroom, but it was occupied. Some brown chunks leaked from his mouth and he made his way into the sink at the bar. We had a puker on our hands and the party had barely gotten started! I got about a million apologies from him and his friends and another million offers to help clean up. No need for any as it was at that point that I knew I had thrown a successful party. Mission accomplished.
There were so many hurdles before this party that writing them all would take up another several pages. I had to enforce a dress code to keep some Bud Light drinking frat brothers who I knew would trash the place from attending (long story�don�t ask, but the dress code worked like a charm). I had to tell several people�some my closest friends�that they couldn�t spend the night because maximum occupancy for the Skyloft was seven people and I wasn�t going to risk the good will I had with the hotel by putting more. Hell, I was beyond nervous to finally meet so many people that I had conversed with online, some for several years. But when all was said and done, I can�t put into words how much fun it was. Here are some pictures that captured the great moments:
Making good use of the pool table.
These four bottles were empty� and the party had just gotten started.
Kathryn and Jeff.
Friends for over 11 years.
Men take silly pictures (Rami and I).
Women take way better pictures:
Oh yeah, way better.
So people started trickling out and the party was over at around 4am. Jeff and I stayed up drinking bottle after bottle of Voss and taking in the fact that over two months of planning and preparation went off without a hitch. I couldn�t have asked for better friends or a better time.
The next morning, I went down to find the place nearly spotless despite keeping the �Do Not Disturb� light on. Rami and Kathryn had woken up early and cleaned up all the empty bottles, plates, and cups and put them in the trash bags I had brought. Sure, we threw a party that we probably weren�t supposed to, but we had the respect to clean up after ourselves and made the lives of the butlers and housekeepers a little easier.
Rami, Kathryn, and I headed towards the concierge to make lunch reservations at Wynn�s Country Club Grill for a party of seven. Sherman was working the desk. He reminds me of a throwback from the days of old Vegas. Much like the way Bugsy Siegel would make his rounds at the Flamingo greeting everyone and making all his patrons feel welcome, or the way the manager of a high-end bar or restaurant acts as the glue in holding the operation together, Sherman is that gem of an employee at Skylofts. Before I reached the concierge desk, he stood up with a big smile and said, �Mr. E____! What a pleasure to have you back. When did you get in?� I�ve seriously conversed with this guy only three times over the course of a year and a half and I can�t believe how good he is at remembering a customer. We chatted for a bit, I introduced him to Rami and Kathryn, and then I asked him to make the lunch reservation. Since we didn�t have anyone for the Maybach to take to the airport, he let us use one of MGM�s limos free of charge.
The three of us headed to the Grand Spa where I had a 12 o�clock massage appointment. It had been over three years since my last and I was well in need of one. I requested Toni through high praise from a friend and got her. She was unbelievable. I wish I had more experience to compare, but you could tell she knew the anatomy, musculature, and science of the human body inside out. She said I was a mess and needed a massage every other day for the next two weeks to get all the tension out. Even with light pressure, she had relieved what seemed like golf ball sized lumps in my back. To really drill the point home, she showed for just a few seconds how much pressure she normally uses and I nearly screamed. She informed me that that shouldn�t hurt one bit if my muscles are regularly massaged. I know what I�ll be doing more of while in town.
I limped out of there with water in my hand and feeling like goo. When I opened the door, I saw Rami in the lounge dressed and ready to go.
We met with the rest and took the complimentary limo straight from the spa and arrived at Wynn where we rushed to the Country Club for lunch. I had the usual Angus burger and it was superb. Then I gave Kathryn and the gang the grand tour including all the tiny details like the art hidden in the various areas and such. Walking those pleasant hallways after the hectic zoo that is MGM, traveling the short distances, and seeing all the exquisite details makes one appreciate Wynn even more. Despite the incredible stay at Skylofts, I think we all agreed that had we not needed the space, this is the better place to stay. I love Skylofts and I�ll do it again, but my home is here and will be until something could possibly come closer to providing a more intimate guest experience.
We took a cab back and headed up to the loft for some final packing and checked out. While checking out, I asked the concierge for several envelopes and sheets of paper. During the duration of our stay, every time someone helped us, I kindly told them to expect an envelope at the concierge desk with his/her name on it and my token of appreciation upon my departure. I wrote the names of every butler, concierge, and my pre-arrival coordinator who helped us out. I put in a fair tip for each and wrote a thank you note. This way it was much easier and less awkward to hand money again and again to the same person and a little classier in my opinion.
They asked for any final things and I requested two cups of coffee and six plastic bottles of Voss for the road trip. One of the butlers, who seemed to be the head manager, saw us waiting and asked how our stay had been. I told him how agonizing it�s going be leaving Skylofts and heading back to Orange County. He immediately told the concierge to check the traffic on the I-15 Southbound; it�s thoughtfulness like this that really sets this hotel apart.
With the water and coffee in hand, we left for southern California. Other than some serious downpour near Primm, the drive was smooth and uneventful. I never thought I could possibly top the numerous experiences I�ve had in this town, but with the people I met over the course of these two days and the friends I spent time with, we could have vacationed in Reno and I still would have had the time of my life.
Some final thoughts�
MGM has seriously improved in all aspects.
I can no longer play small limits for a long amount of time. It just gets boring to me after a while. I�d rather play for a short amount of time, but really get a thrill out of each hand.
The McDonald�s convention was in town and MGM was doing much of the hosting. Every elevator aside from Skyloft�s own smelled of Big Macs and flatulence.
Not much for the casino architecture and design nuts among us. Palazzo doesn�t speak to me. CityCenter and Encore, despite being not nearly as complete as Palazzo, leave me speechless. These projects will be incredible. Wynn�s Villa Atrium was closed for construction because it looked to be receiving the most ornate mosaic floors in the city.
I met Motoman at the party along with his brother. They also joined us for lunch at the Country Club where I also met Brian Fey and his wife. They all were a pleasure and I look forward to seeing them again.
I will be leaving for Vancouver, British Columbia in a few days and while I�ll have online access for most of my ten days up there, I�ll also be camping and therefore can�t respond to comments or questions as quickly as I�d like. Yes, I�m going from 24-hour butlers and Bvlgari bath products to unspoiled wilderness and leaves substituting as toilet paper.
Thanks for reading!