Friday, January 29, 2010

Las Vegas: Wedding Chapel Death March

This is a repost from April, 2009. My fiance and I had taken a weekend trip to Vegas to choose a venue for our wedding.

Matt and I made it back home yesterday after three days in Vegas, and wouldn't you know ... our last day there was our luckiest.

We left early Saturday morning, on a short 9 a.m. flight from San Jose to Las Vegas. After a $20 cab ride from the aiport, we were checking in to the luxurious Bellagio, and scamping up to our deluxe king room with a view of the fountains.

OK, so our "view" was more of a glimpse of blue from between rooftops, but the bathroom was enormous and the bed was comfortable. At lunch, we played a game of Keno with some sentimental numbers (our birthdays, anniversary, addresses, etc.); lost; and headed down the strip to view the first of the 30 chapels on my list.

We jauntily headed to the Monte Carlo, zipped through the New York, New York, skipped the Excalibur and walked in on a wedding at the Luxor. I had worn my "sensible" walking shoes from Italy that day ... and wasn't about to admit that each step I took--after just four hotels--shot fire through my feet. So we ambled through the Mandalay Bay, took a detour to find their shark reef (because you can hold ceremonies there, too), and took the long way to South Las Vegas Boulevard.

By the time we crossed the street and looked at the many, many city blocks between us and our next hotel, the MGM Grand, I was hobbling. But honestly, I spent a LOT of money on these shoes because they're engineered for walking, and I'd tramped through Italy with them. It wasn't that I chose the wrong shoes.

I must just have the wrong feet.

By the calculations of my pedometer, we'd walked about 20,000 steps before guzzling four water bottles at one of the dozens of Starbucks in the MGM Grand. Inside, I wept with relief to be off my aching, burning feet, while outwardly assuring Matt that I was OK. Despite that, we both agreed that after two more chapels, we were done for the day. He asked if I wanted to stop and get some flip-flops to carry me though, and I laughed him off.

"We're only two hotels away from the Bellagio," I said, faking confidence. "I'll be fine."

But it only took 10 feet of actual walking before I broke down and asked for help. We bought the first pair of sandals we saw, from the Rainforest Cafe, and my poor feet sang with joy. We took a gander at the chapel at the MGM Grand, and walked into another wedding at Planet Hollywood, then stumbled upstairs to our room at the Bellagio.

After about 45 minutes of silent and grateful resting (honestly, we covered more than 5 miles in the desert heat; we're not that out of shape!), we had to choose a place for dinner. The Bellagio buffet was $35/person. There was a PF Chang's across the street. The seafood buffet that Matt had been talking about since we first brought Vegas into the picture was a mere $40/person ... and I don't even eat seafood.

Decisions, decisions.

The Bellagio buffet won out simply because we were too hungry and cranky to go much further. After grimacing and handing over our $77, Matt made a beeline for the crabs legs, while I found Kobe beef and an enormous dessert station. So I grabbed a carrot cake. And we back for more: the peanut butter brownie, apricot mousse, raspberry chocolate mousse, bread pudding ... Obviously, that's where I was getting my money's worth, while Matt ate enough crab to make Discovery's "The Deadliest Catch" proud.

After that, we lost $50 in 15 minutes at the Wheel of Fortune machines, and went to bed.

The next day, we decided on a leisurely breakfast at the Bellagio's Pool Cafe before taking on the rest of the Strip's chapels. Having learned my lesson the previous day (and tended to blisters on my heel, adorning every single little piggy and even between them), I slipped on my running shoes and noted the extra bounce in your step when your feet aren't on fire.

We stopped in at the Paris, the Venetian, the Flamingo, Treasure Island and Cesars Palace before calling it an afternoon. Matt took a nap while I took my reading poolside, munching on a lovely bag of chips. One (slight) sunburn later, we were at the Bellagio's Dollar Rent-A-Car kiosk, ready to leave the strip for dinner ... and check out some off-strip chapels as well.

Our first stops were in Old Las Vegas, where (as it happens), Adult Video Stores are born. The first two chapels we looked at there (and by looked at, I mean drove by, laughing hysterically) were sandwiched between porn shops and strip clubs. The third was an old motel, with duct tape holding windows together and each door listing the theme of the chapel behind it.

Leaving that one, we saw strippers on a swingset outside a club and didn't think much of it. Later, when we drove by again, we noted that there was an intense spotlight shining on them, and presumably enticing people to come inside.

We enjoyed a nice chat over dinner at PF Changs in Henderson ... and were relieved to be away from the hustle-and-bustle of Casino World. On our way back, we stopped at another Old Vegas chapel; but since we had to drive through a thug-riddled neighborhood to get there, we decided to drive on by.

Back at the hotel, we had to find someone to would give us cash for our quarters. You see, like every Vegas-goer before us, we'd saved our change for about three years, and rolled more than $50 worth of coins to bring with us for the slot machines. I took all our pennies to the bank to get them changed to quarters, and packed those in my suitcase.

But it turns out that slot machines don't take coins anymore, just dollars or tickets. So we had to find people who wouldn't scoff at us while trading cash for coins. The first night, it wasn't a problem.

The second night, one cashier sent us to another, who saw our coins, rolled her eyes, and sent us to another. Who sent us to the first. Who sent us back to the eye-roller.

Change is not appreciated at the Bellagio.

Finally we got ahold of $32, and lost it in a matter of minutes. To take the sting out of our defeat, I made a beeline for the gelateria and ordered their biggest hot-fudge sundae.

What is eaten in Vegas, stays in Vegas, right?

Monday morning we checked out of the hotel, hopped in our rental car, and proceeded to take the least gas-efficient route possible to the several wedding chapels that remained on my list. What we realized was that the further out we were, the more we liked the chapels.

With one exception.

At Sunset Gardens, no one was there to greet us when we arrived for our appointment, so we waited in the lobby until someone shouted "Hello?" Puzzled, we answered, and a gentleman I like to call "Some Dude" came out in cowboy boots, gelled hair and a visor to show us around. When he determined we couldn't afford a 150-guest wedding, he took us into their indoor chapel (which was, admittedly, beautiful).

"This here is what you want," he said, gesturing and looking for just the right level of awe to register on our faces.

"What about your outdoor gardens?" I asked.

"No, you don't want that," he said, as he took us into the enormous reception hall.

"Well, what if we're closer to 15 guests than 50," I pressed, eyeing the sea of tables and chairs set before us.

"If you're going that small, you might as well just go off somewhere and get married," he said dismissivly, waving his arm toward the bleak desert landscape. "Why bother with anything else?"

Then he ushered us into his office, which was the size of a small house. We took his paper and his assurances of what we wanted, and left seething.

We seethed all the way to our next location, The Grove. This one was about 20 minutes off the Strip in the complete opposite direction; an old horse ranch. There was a gazebo, a pretty (manmade) brook, an arched bridge, pond and almond orchard.

We were immediately taken. It was beautiful, the staff was friendly, their packages contained all the amenities we were looking for, and if we keep things small, we can afford it.

But most of all, we fell in love. We took dozens of pictures, asked hundreds of questions, and left grinning. Since it was 4 p.m. and our flight was at 7 p.m., we headed straight for the airport. By 5:30, we were past security and noticed that our flight was already delayed by 40 mintues. Luckily, another flight was headed to San Jose at 6 p.m. ... and yes, they could get us on.

We were back home with take-out before our original flight even left; and asleep before it landed.

Not a bad end to a weekend I'll always remember as the "Wedding Chapel Death March: 22 Chapels in 3 Days."

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