Even on vacation, I tend to wake up on the early side. That was actually a good thing on this trip, as my husband was eight time zones away and I wanted to talk to him before we got going - and he went to bed.
The rest of our group was still fast asleep, so I slipped out to find a quiet spot where I could make a phone call - and while I was at it, I did some hotel reconnaissance.
The casino is relatively quiet at 7:00 a.m. - but not quiet enough for good conversation. I made my way past the fine dining restaurants, away from the shopping center to one of the two hotel Starbucks... and found the hallway that leads to the complex's convention center.
I grabbed my triple-grande skinny vanilla latte and called him. While we were wandering in the desert the day before, he was having his grand Wimbledon adventure, so we both had a lot to catch up on.
By the time we'd finished, Mary Ellen and all the girls were up and ready to hit the pool.
It was 8:00 a.m.
Our VIP package at Mandalay Bay included early pool entry, which sounded redundant, because we had already paid for a cabana rental.
I was wrong.
Thirty minutes before the pool area opened, there was already a line to get in. I guess the hotel has more guests than choice spots for lounging, so it's essential to get there early and grab your chairs. And the same principle applies to the cabanas: We were penciled in to have one near the South Pool, but the actual assignment is made on a first-come, first-serve basis and Mary Ellen wanted to have her pick.
So that's how we ended up at the pool even before we had breakfast.
"I want to get our money's worth," Mary Ellen said. We were paying for a full day and by golly, we were going to get a full day. I think I saw her scowl a little when she saw a sign announcing that the pool area would be closing a couple of hours early due to a private party there that night.
I've concluded that a cabana rental is essential if I ever get to stay again at Mandalay Bay. It had all the comforts of home: a couch, table and chairs, high-def TV, a fridge stocked with soda and water (and cabana waiters who kept bringing us ice)... and most important, electrical outlets and wi-fi! I managed to write some posts and upload photos to Flickr while the kids were enjoying the pools. (The only problem was how hot to the touch my computer got by afternoon - the cabana's overhead fan didn't help out much in that department.)
But by 10:00, I started to worry. I know my kid. She wants nothing more than to play, play, play... and hates to interrupt something as important as pool time with a silly little thing like food. I have to force her to stop and eat something, and she will protest to high heaven that she's not hungry -- but once I get her to a table, she will eat everything in sight (at least, everything on the limited list of foods she actually likes).
You can order food to be delivered to the cabanas, but the menu was kind of limited (hamburgers, sandwiches, salads) AND pricey. "The buffet price for breakfast seemed very reasonable," I told Mary Ellen. I think the cost comparison is what convinced her that we could safely leave our cabana for an hour to get a good breakfast... and we were all glad we did. They put out a terrific spread (as you would expect in Vegas), and all of us (with all of our dietary restrictions) walked away happy -- so happy that the girls all begged us to get the buffet again the following morning.
And we didn't really miss out on that much by taking an hour out to eat. In fact, by 2:00 p.m., Megan had had her fill of sun and water. Megan's sensitive skin wasn't reacting well to the chlorine levels in the pool her eczema started to flare up badly. Of course, the one thing I had forgotten to pack was Aveeno oatmeal bath, which is the only thing that ever seems to give her any relief. I remembered the LUSH store we visited the previous night and decided this was as good an excuse as any to spend some money on a Floating Island moisturizing bath bomb.
"Why do they have to put so much chlorine in the pools here?" she whined.
Two seconds later, we found out. The lifeguards were clearing everyone out of the wave pool because a kid had done one of the "three P's" (puke, piss, poop -- and I heard it was the last one). The pool had to have a shock treatment done... and it must have been strong, because it reopened in an hour.
By the time we got back from Lush, we discovered the rest of our party back in the room. I guess five or six hours poolside is our limit!
Our big buffet breakfast enabled us to go until 5:00 p.m., when we decided to have an early pre-show dinner. I've been a fan of Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's Border Grill since it was a little hole-in-the-wall on Melrose... and so it was serendipity to find ourselves in the hotel that hosts their Vegas location.
This was a great choice: For one thing, Border Grill was the first Vegas restaurant we'd been to that offered a kids' menu. For another thing, every item on the adult menu was amazing, beginning with the cherry mojitos we ordered to start. It was sweeter than a straight mojito, and amazingly refreshing after a hot day.
I've been limiting my carb intake since I began my diet regimen last year -- but I put that on hold when the waiter brought out the crispest, freshest, warmest basket of tortilla chips I've ever tasted, along with three wonderful salsas. That should have been enough, but we just had to pair them with the restaurant's excellent guacamole.
Entree portions were so generous that Mary Ellen and I could have been happy splitting one -- but the options were too good for us to decide on just one. So she feasted on Cochinita Pibil, which the menu describes as "achiote marinated pork slow roasted in banana leaf with grilled onions, orange, and cinnamon; served with red rice, organic black beans, plantain orange salsa, and handmade corn tortillas." I had the Green Chicken Poblano Enchiladas. I thought I'd be able to stop at just one, but they were too good. I ended up cleaning my plate.
We ended our evening at the Wynn, where we caught one of the last performances of Spamalot (which, alas, has closed now). Musical theater is always tricky, especially with children... but Monty Python's comedy is silly and physical enough that even kids can appreciate it.
I should mention a parental warning for those who are queasy about certain vulgar words and themes. I always remember the Tonight Show writers' assessment of comedy: "The audience will forgive anything as long as it's funny." Spamalot is very, very funny (how could it fail, having been "lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?) - and I feel that exposing my daughter to the Pythons' humor is part of her cultural literacy.
Megan enjoyed it so much that she made me get her the Broadway cast recording (featuring Tim Curry, Hank Azaria, David Hyde-Pierce and Sara Ramirez -- yes, she of Grey's Anatomy). She's nearly got the whole score memorized now, having played it over and over in the car on our drive to and from San Diego this week. If you ask nicely, she'll do the Laker Girls cheer from the show (you remember the Arthur legend right? The Lady of the Lake ...and her Laker Girls).
All in all, we had an excellent family break in Las Vegas. I hope I don't wait another ten years to go again.