Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: November 2017

A very Vegas wedding

There’s nothing that screams old school Las Vegas like an Elvis wedding chapel wedding ceremony so it was my pleasure to have a front row seat for a friend’s wedding at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel which bills it self as the largest freestanding chapel on the Las Vegas Strip.

Arriving a little early I watch another happy couple customize their ceremony with the full Elvis add-on although the King isn’t the only themed wedding option as the chapel’s slogan is “if you can dream it, we can theme it!” as everything from Star Trek to Zombie is possible.

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While fun-filled these wedding ceremonies are completely legal as the groom, David, explained about obtaining the marriage licence from the Clark County Marriage Licence Bureau in downtown Las Vegas near Freemont Street as proper identification, a completed application and $77 are the requirements to obtain a wedding licence. Bureau statistics show the number of licences issued has dropped by as much as one third in the last decade but tourism officials hope adding gay marriages and more advertising will help reverse the trend.

David and bride Karen welcome our small group before they were whisked away and guests were  invited into the wedding chapel were we chatted until the 2001: A Space Odyssey Theme Song (Also sprach Zarathustra)   music swelled, lights dimmed and dry ice fog built the excitement which climaxed with the opening of large double doors at the rear of the chapel to reveal the happy couple seated in the back of a pink convertible Cadillac driven by a sequined jumpsuit 70’s Elvis who breaks into That’s All Right. Talk about an entrance!

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After the formal vows were exchanged and Elvis sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” the 10-minute ceremony ended with fun promises from Elvis song titled and lyrics for David to always love Karen tender and never leave her at Heartbreak Hotel while Karen pledge to never return him to sender and never step on his blue suede shoes followed by the signature Elvis song Viva Las Vegas song.

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The wedding reception was held at another classic Las Vegas venue, the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge whose chrome, neon and velour interior is a throwback to 1972 when it opened its doors.

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The Peppermill, which features a sunken fireside lounge, has been used as the setting in a number of movies and TV shows including Casino, CSI Las Vegas and Showgirls.

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photo by Krista CC by 2.0

The night ended with a few cocktails and wishes for a long and happy marriage for David & Karen and thanks for having included guests in their fun-filled ceremony which was the highlight of my Vegas trip.

Flight review: Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767

Thanks to an Air Canada travel credit earned by accepting a voluntary bump I was able to parlay part of it into a  quick trip to Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding and made my virgin voyage on Air Canada Rouge, a charter airline-like subsidiary Air Canada launched on Canada Day 2013, whom I’d heard much feedback about with very little of it being complimentary. Happily for me however my luck in picking seats on Rouge was far better than my luck at picking numbers at the roulette table and so came away with a more positive impression of the airline-within-an-airline.

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When describing Rouge to others I’m always careful not to use the term ‘low cost airline’ because it really is only low cost to Air Canada as it operates without unionized flight crew enabling it to better compete with real ‘no frills’ and charter airlines on mainly leisure routes. Passengers flying on Rouge will notice some big differences compared to mainline Air Canada aircraft such as no seat back in-flight entertainment screens (iPads can be rented for $10 but availability is limited), older aircraft and at 30 inches a much tighter seat pitch by 3 – 4 inches.

It was because of the compressed economy seats that I opted to spend $30 to assign a roomier Rouge Plus  Preferred Seat on the Boeing 767 for the Vancouver – Las Vegas flight but  this investment is well worth it as these seats at the front of the economy cabin deliver an extra 5 inches of legroom as well as boarding in zone 3 ahead of other economy passengers. This is window seat 14A on the Boeing 767 which features two seats on either side of a center section of three seats.

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Note the green light of the shared power port between the seats.

For my return flight I opted for the Rouge Plus bulkhead window seat 12A which offers as much legroom as the other Preferred seats however the seat itself is a little narrower because the tray table is tucked away in the armrest.

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I purchased my Rouge Plus seat assignment months in advance on the outbound flight but it was only while in Vegas that I opted to upgrade my seat on the return flight for the following day being unable to convince myself to try Rouge economy seats in the name of travel research and I was lucky the upgraded seats were still available for purchase as they can fill up well in advance. I would definitely recommend securing these seats on longer overseas flights as while I would’ve survived a 2.5 hour Vancouver – Las Vegas Rouge economy flight am less sure how I’d fare on a 7+ hour journey in a tight Rouge economy seat.

The Rouge stewards  – all trained by Disney and sporting hip Canadian-made uniforms – were universally polite in making the rounds with food & beverage service. The Air Canada Bistro menu offers a selection of hot foods and snack items but having had an early morning big breakfast at an Edmonton Airport eatery opted for the bag of cashews and a large 475 ml can of Mill Street Organic Beer which at $9.50 for the combo didn’t strike me as overly expensive compared to airport pricing or even pricing around Edmonton.

I’ve always preferred a window seat for the views and enjoyed watching the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest give way to the arid brown landscape of the Nevada desert.

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The pilot and first officer on the Vancouver – Las Vegas flight was all female which was another travel first for me.

While my preference would’ve been to fly non-stop from Edmonton – Las Vegas instead of connecting through Vancouver my first experience flying Air Canada Rouge was far from horrible as the flight was on time, the in-flight service efficient and the Rouge Plus seats comfortable so there was little for me to dislike. Whether I’d fly on Rouge again would depend on a number of factors including cost, destination, alternate airline options and availability of Rouge Plus seats but wouldn’t rule out a future flight.

Hotel review: Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo

Hotel loyalty programs can be a safety net for those rare times when it makes sense to spend your hard-earned  points to avoid having to pay out of pocket for a hotel stay and a recent two-night escape to Las Vegas was one such case as I was able to avoid a hefty hotel bill by blowing some banked Starwood Preferred Guest points for the Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo, a moderate hotel off Las Vegas Boulevard aka “The Strip”.

Scanning the online reviews in the months leading up to my stay had me a little concerned as the picture many  painted was of, well, a dump in an unsafe neighborhood but happily can report those reviewers were a long Vegas block off the mark as the 129- room hotel deserves to be seen for what it is rather than what it isn’t. Yes, this hotel is a mile off the strip and yes, it’s an older, moderate hotel and yes, I did notice some transients nearby but if that’s all that makes some people consider an area unsafe the same could be said for many, many urban hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada. The walk from the hotel to The Strip on a warm October Saturday afternoon was a casual 25-minutes but guests not feel like walking there’s always Uber which arrives quickly and costs around $6 for a one-way ride so it isn’t so isolated a location as to be even a small problem.

My “Traditional Room” #343 overlooks the small pool and whirlpool and features a king bed, flat screen TV with DirectTV instead of cable, laptop-friendly safe in the closet and a white noise generating machine in the form of an old AC unit below the window.

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One small upside to the noisy AC unit that runs constantly is that it helps block out the road noise from the busy East Flamingo Road that is a few hundred feet from the hotel.

Despite the warm weather there wasn’t a single swimmer in sight on the pool deck.

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The room was comfortable and the typical chain hotel furniture however lacked a mini-fridge which given how hot Vegas can become in Summer seems an odd omission however there is free bottled water in every room.

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The bathroom was a pleasant surprise and easily the best thing about the room as gone is the dinky short and shallow tub & shower combination found in almost every chain hotel room to be replaced with a large shower stall which I very much prefer.

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Water pressure and availability of hot waster is good and despite the standard shower head I enjoyed having enough elbow room to enjoy a refreshing shower without stepping into a small tub and having the shower curtain clinging to me. Mounted to the wall was a user-friendly rack with hair and body wash products in easy to use dispensers.

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Buffet breakfast is served in PJ’s Bar and Grill from 6:30 – 10AM weekdays and 6:30 – 11AM on weekends. The breakfast is pretty standard fare with hot sausages, scrambled eggs, choice of cereals, bread and pastries, coffee, tea & juice was augmented by a waffle maker for those intrepid morning diners.

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As I was staying on a hotel loyalty award assumed that  breakfast was included in the room rate however after I was already half way through my meal found out it wasn’t after giving the waiter my room number. After a moment checking with the front desk manager the waiter said they would comp. me the breakfast that morning, a generous goodwill gesture I very much appreciated.

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To one side of the restaurant area is Best Brews, a small lobby bar meant to highlight the many local breweries best beers however I discovered only one local beer on tap, an excellent Porter style dark beer from Henderson, Nevada’s Joseph James Brewing Company.  The large pillar in the middle of the bar is an odd design feature but it’s a comfy enough space to down a point or two while winding down watching some sports on the big screens after a long day in Vegas.

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The hotel has a sort of modern Rec. room décor with leather chairs on the guest room floors and in the lobby.

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The lobby features two PC’s for guest use for online airline check in or checking emails but having a laptop I connected to the in-room Wi-Fi to check-in for my Air Canada flight home and select a seat. Just to one side of the front desk is “The Pantry” with sodas and snack food but beware the cost of convenience as a can of Coke and small bag of chips cost $6 much to my dismay which is easily double what the pair would cost off-site.

As I had a very limited amount of free time during my two-night stay I didn’t use the hotel’s fitness facility which features a pair of treadmills, elliptical and stationary bike along with free weights and yoga mats.

The hotel staff helped make my stay a little warmer with a really positive attitude and friendly approachability.

For a moderate hotel that really didn’t stand out as being outstanding in any one area, the Four Points by Sheraton East Flamingo did enough of the little things right and delivered a comfortable enough stay that I would return but probably only under the right set of conditions where it was enough of a value compared to more luxurious accommodation on The Strip.

One of those conditions changed after I confirmed my Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG for short, hotel loyalty program award stay and this Four Points became less of a value as it had been classed as a category 2 hotel for award redemption requiring only 3,000 points per night for a standard room but has been upgraded to a category 3 hotel which now requires a minimum of 7,000 points per night for a standard room award stay. As with many things in Las Vegas good timing never hurts and in that respect my SPG award redemption timing was in hindsight excellent because I might not chose to spend coveted SPG points if paying out of pocket to stay elsewhere becomes a better bet.

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