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Celine Dion in Las Vegas

It probably seems like I just got back from Las Vegas, but I went again a couple weekends ago. I had some unfinished business from my December trip, so I’d been itching to take another trip up there. I had two specific goals for my recent visit. I wanted to see Celine Dion, who was sick when I visited in December, and I wanted to learn how to play craps. I’m happy to say I accomplished both goals, and I did it while fighting a cold. In retrospect, I probably should have spent the weekend in bed, but I really did have a great time.

My room at The Orleans Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

My room at The Orleans Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

I’ve only been to Las Vegas a few times, and on previous trips I’ve always stayed in hotels directly on the Strip. This time I decided to try an off-Strip hotel, so I booked two nights at The Orleans, which is about 1.5 miles west of the south end of the Strip. Obviously, it was a lot cheaper than staying in one of the mega-casinos. The room was very nice, bordering on fancy. I had a view of the Strip from Bellagio north, which was really cool at night. I didn’t do a whole lot of gambling there, other than some slot machines, but the casino is huge. The slot club is worth joining, if only to get a discount on the buffet, which is a lot cheaper that what you get on the Strip. There is a shuttle bus to Barbary Coast, their sister property on the Strip. The shuttle is supposed to come every 30 minutes, but it seemed to come a lot more often. I’d definitely stay there again.

I left Phoenix Friday afternoon and arrived in the early evening. After checking into the hotel, I took the shuttle to the Strip. Barbary Coast is directly across the street from Caesar’s Palace, which is where Celine performs. I had checked out the ticket situation on Ticketmaster before I left Phoenix, but I decided not to buy ahead of time, in case I decided not to go because of my cold. This turned out to be a stroke of incredibly dumb luck. I went to the box office and asked for the best available ticket, and the agent showed me where my seat would be. First orchestra, sixth row. I couldn’t believe it. Literally. As the agent was running my credit card, I was still scratching my head over the fact that the seat I was getting was so much better than the one I found on Ticketmaster. “That seems like an awfully good seat,” I said to the agent. He replied, “Sir, Celine will be no more than 20 feet from you.” He was right. Actually, I think it was more like 15 feet.

Some of my friends have been a bit surprised that I’ve been so hot to see Celine Dion. The truth is, I’m not such a big fan of her recorded music. Before I attended the concert, I’d have had trouble naming three of her songs. I still would. And I really disliked that song from Titanic, which assaulted my ears for about 18 months on radio stations. However, I’ve heard really good things about her Vegas concert since the first season it opened, and I’ve been wanting to see it for years, if only for the spectacle of it. The fact that she is an absolutely phenomenal vocalist is a nice plus. The show is ending at the end of this year, so I’m sure it’s going to be harder to get tickets as the year goes on. I felt I should go now, or I’d never see it.

I arrived about 45 minutes early for the show Saturday night, and I took my seat next to, I swear to God, Celine Dion’s biggest fan. She was a gray-haired, middle-aged woman from London, England, who has seen the show every season since it opened. And she doesn’t just see one show. She comes for an entire week each time and sees five shows on back-to-back nights. She had already seen the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday shows that week, and she was going to see the Sunday show before flying back to England. She complained about the drunks sitting next to her the previous night and said she was relieved to have someone sober sitting next to her that night. I swear, she has sat in every seat in The Colosseum. She told me how great our seats were, but where there were even better ones. I told her I bought my ticket less that 24 hours earlier. I couldn’t tell if she was impressed or jealous. It may have been both. As chatty as she was, I was a little worried it would carry over to the show, but she was quiet as a mouse when the show started.

What can I say about the show? As much as I paid for tickets like that, my expectations were high, and they were exceeded. I was completely captivated from the first note she sang. The Colosseum seats over 4,000, but there was still a felling of intimacy. When she looked out into the crowd, I almost got the feeling she was looking at me. As taken as I was by her voice, I almost forgot to notice the spectacle of dance that was going on around her. As the show continued, I got better at dividing my attention between Celine and the dancers. Simply put, the show was amazing.

Earlier in the day Saturday, I finished breakfast at my hotel, and decided I was going to take the shuttle to the Strip and do a little people-watching. As I was walking through Barbary Coast, I noticed a sign saying they give free craps lessons every day at 10:30 am. What an easy way to accomplish my second goal! It was about 10:15, so I decided to hang out until the lesson started. I was all alone at first, but by the time the lesson started, there were easily 20 people there. The instructor, who I think was a pit boss, was really friendly and walked us through the basics. The table etiquette is as important as the rules, so I paid careful attention. Since I had arrived so early, I got picked on a couple times by the instructor. He used me to demonstrate how not to hand money to the dealer. It turns out dealers aren’t allowed to take money out of a player’s hands. The money has to go on the table first, and the same with the chips. I also got to be the one who demonstrated throwing the dice. I did exactly what I was told, and it was a textbook throw. A whole table of people started cheering me. There wasn’t any money on the table, and I was already on fire! Such is the power of craps. After taking the lesson, the casino gave us all coupons for $5 in match play, but as it turns out, I ended up not using it.

A craps table, but not the one I played at. (This is a screenshot from a casino website. I don’t recall which one.)

A craps table, but not the one I played at. (This is a screenshot from a casino website. I don’t recall which one.)

After the concert, I was determined that I was going to play for real. Playing at Caesar’s on a Saturday night was out of the question. The table minimums were way too high, and the place just had too much of a nightclub feel, with all the skanks lining up for Pure and so forth. I went back across the street to Barbary Coast, since I had to go there anyway to take the shuttle back to my hotel. They had $10 tables, but that was still a little high for a first-timer. I decided to head back to The Orleans, but the line for the shuttle was about 50 people deep, and it only held about 15 at a time. However, the shuttle to Gold Coast, another sister property just off the Strip, was practically empty. I decided to ride over there instead. They had $5 tables and 3x-4x-5x odds. That was perfect for starting out.

Walking up to the table for the first time was a little intimidating, even with the lesson. Everything happens so fast. I pulled five $20 bills out of my pocket, placed them on the table, and with as much authority as I could muster, said, “Change one hundred, nickels.” A few moments later, I had a pile of chips and a space along the rail. Being a little timid, I waited until the come-out roll and placed a single chip on the pass line. The shooter rolled a six, so I could take odds. I put five chips behind my first chip. At some point, it occurred to me that I had $30 on the table that was going to disappear as soon as the shooter rolled a seven. Several rolls went by. It seemed like forever. Then, a six! Suddenly I had a whole bunch of chips in front of me. I was paid $5 for my original $5 bet on the pass line, and then another $30 for the $25 odds bet. I was completely hooked. I played the same way for at least an hour. I was up and down like a roller coaster until I finally wagered and lost my last chip. In retrospect, I should have given it to the dealer as a tip, but my etiquette will improve, I’m sure. It was, by far, the most fun I’ve ever had losing $100 in a casino. Next time I’m in Vegas, you can find me at the craps table.

Sunday morning, my cold really kicked into high gear. I woke up feeling like total and complete shit. I contemplated staying another night and just ordering room service and pay-per-view, but for some reason, I latched onto the idea that I really wanted to be ill in my own bed. After checking out of the room, I drove over to Ellis Island Casino & Brewery for breakfast in their restaurant. This is quickly becoming a tradition for me. If you’ve been to Vegas and you haven’t tried this place out, you should. It’s a dark, smoky little casino that’s popular with the locals, but they serve a damn fine breakfast, and it’s super-cheap. I had the corned-beef hash and eggs, served with toast and potatoes. It was very good, it was so much food I couldn’t finish it, and it was $3.95. I’ve also been there for lunch and had the fish and chips, which is also good and ridiculously cheap. And the beer is $1.50. If they had a decent craps table, I wouldn’t have to go anywhere else.

The only good thing I can say about the drive home was that I got across Hoover Dam before the afternoon traffic piled up. The cold medicine I was taking made me have to pee every hour. Somehow it all worked out, and I was home around 4 pm.

I took Monday and Tuesday off work.