Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lovin' Laughlin, Nevada Part 2

Kitchens at Windows on the River buffet.
Here's Part Two of the road trip Amy & I took through Southern Utah, Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada.
The next morning we had dinner at the Windows on the River Buffet. We got there at 8:30, ahead of the long line of people who seemed to show up right at 9 a.m.
True to his word, the Aquarius hotel's food & beverage director Tim Abrams found Amy and me in the dining room and gave us a tour of the kitchens. I was impressed with the cleanliness and attention to food safety, because frankly, I have some bad memories of losing my appetite after peeking into some restaurant kitchens.  This one looked pretty good.

Overlooking the golf course at Laughlin Ranch.
We had booked massages at the Laughlin Ranch, a planned-community development with a golf course and spa.  It was originally planned to be much larger, but the economy bust in 2008 nixed those plans, according to Meg McDaniel of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Amy and I were ushered into a luxurious changing room, where we changed into comfy robes and then went into the plush, peaceful waiting room for our massages. Mine was 50 minutes of absolute bliss, with all the kinks and knots in my neck getting worked out. The masseuse applied a menthol/camphor based Bio-Freeze to my knee injury, which helped loosen it up a little so that I could enjoy the rest of my day without pain. Relief!

Colorado Belle hotel and casino in Laughlin, Nevada.
We had lunch at Pints, a brewpub at the Colorado Bell Casino Resort. Since we're not beer drinkers, we weren't too interested in the brewing process. But we WERE interested in the restaurant's signature build-a-burger. You can choose from a long list of custom ingredients, marking off your order on a form that you hand to the wait staff.  It reminded me of The Counter burger chain (the one at the Gateway in Salt Lake City closed a few years ago). You pick the type of meat (bison, turkey, beef, salmon), the rubs, sauces, toppings, cheeses, and so on.  I had a bison burger with blue cheese, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. I rarely order burgers when I go out to eat, because so often, a burger is just....a burger.  But this one was really flavorful and juicy (for being bison especially) and since it had my favorite toppings, I loved every bite!

Celebration Cruise in Laughlin.
We rolled out of the restaurant with just a few minutes to catch the Celebration Cruise. The Celebration is a small riverboat that takes you up and down the stretch of casinos along the Colorado River. The captain offers a bit of colorful history as well. For instance, he told us when the folks from Circus Circus bought property to build the Edgewater Casino along the river, their plans were held up by a Mrs. Lafferty who wouldn't sell her parcel of land along the river.
After much wrangling, and price-raising, she finally settled for $2.5 million and a suite of rooms in their hotel so that she could still live near the water's edge.  As the hotel was in the final stages, the elderly Mrs. Lafferty passed away.  Maybe she should have settled sooner for a little less money, she might have had some time to enjoy it. Just sayin.'

Electric Cowboy from Fremont Street

We also saw the electric cowboy, River Rick, a clone of Vegas Vic that was on Fremont Street since the 1950s.  That was something I remembered from my childhood when we'd go to Las Vegas with my Grandpa and Grandma Koyen, who lived  in Tempiute, Nevada.  That big giant, waving cowboy was a fixture that welcomed folks to the "old" Las Vegas before the mega-"resorts"took over on The Strip.  And I think he has another twin brother in Wendover.

Celebration Cruise on Colorado River, Laughlin.
Here's what we discovered about the cruise: you should board early so that in case it's to capacity, you can still snag a seat on the top deck. It's covered so you don't get sunburned, but you have the a nice breeze from the river and you can see much better than the indoor deck below.

We had about an hour to go out to the pool and catch some rays. I did a bit of swimming to work out my knee a little. Then we went to The Cove Lounge, and enjoyed small plates of skewered beef, bruschetta and pizza before catching a river taxi to the Reba McIntyre concert.

Water taxi on the Colorado River in Laughlin, Nevada.
When I compare Laughlin to Las Vegas, the big advantage that Laughlin has is the river. First of all, it offers some "realness" when everything in Las Vegas seems man-made — a fake castle, fake pyramid, etc.

But also, the free river taxis make it convenient to get from one place to another, and alleviate traffic congestion. It was soooo easy getting to a sold-out concert, compared with having to drive through gridlocked traffic and having to find parking at so many other concert venues where I've been.

Reba McIntyre concert, with River Rick peering over the top of the stage.

Reba McIntyre put on a great concert. She shared the back-story behind each song, so you felt familiar with them while she was singing. We didn't realize that her stepson, Brandon Blackstock, is engaged to Kelly Clarkson, until Reba told us so. Amy was happy that she sang the theme song of her old TV sitcom, as Amy and Kim used to watch it regularly.
I thought it was kinda cool that you could see the lit-up River Rick sign in the distance, and it seemed that he was peering over the top of the stage.

About halfway through the concert, we moved down to the standing area to watch the rest of the concert.. Our seats had grown a bit uncomfortable (especially because the people in front of us sat in stadium chairs that took up all our leg room).
We decided to take the riverwalk back to the Aquarius, as it was warm and breezy and we figured the river taxis would be full.

Enjoying the riverwalk in Laughlin, Nevada.
Then, we walked over to the movie theater across the street at the outlet mall. It was around 10 p.m., just the perfect time for a chick flick, "Safe Haven." Surprisingly, we were the only two people in the movie!  So we were able to giggle and comment all the way through.  I was kind of surprised — 10 p.m. on a Saturday and the whole theater was like a ghost town. I suppose the seniors would be home and going to bed by then, and most Laughlin visitors probably came for the concert and casinos, not movies. As in most Nicholas Sparks movies, the plot was pretty predictable, until the little surprise twist at the end. I won't be spoiling anything by saying someone dies in the movie...someone ALWAYS dies in a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Seafood on the Golden Nugget's brunch buffet in Laughlin.
The next morning we had breakfast/brunch at the Golden Nugget in Laughlin.  Crab, oysters and shrimp are the breakfast of champions!

Pool and tennis courts at the Aquarius, Laughlin, Nev.
Then we went back to our hotel and out to the pool. The sun was hot and bright, and it was refreshing to swim and splash.  For awhile, I had the whole pool to myself and enjoyed swimming laps.  Someone was actually playing tennis on the courts next to the pool. I suspect those courts don't get a lot of use.  Just as few people use the hotel gym,  most people don't come to Laughlin to play tennis. But, given that the courts are in pristine condition, maybe they should.

As we checked out of the hotel, the valet brought our car (did I mention they have free valet parking?). Then we mosied on over to the outlet mall across the street. There were some great bargains at the Dress Barn and the Bath & Bodyworks outlet.  We could have stayed longer, but time was a wastin' and we had a long drive ahead of us.

Our stay wasn't complete without a drive across the river to Bullhead City, where Amy's eagle eyes had spotted a Maverik earlier. We filled up with drinks, gasoline and goodies and hit the road, fortified with Subway sandwiches and a CD of LDS General Conference to listen to.

We pulled in to Provo about 11:30 p.m., not bad for a 500-mile drive.

Although it's off the beaten path for most Utahans, Laughlin brings in Nevada's third-largest gaming revenue, behind Las Vegas and Reno.  The inexpensive rooms, the great food and amenities are obviously subsidized by folks who spend their time at the slot machines and blackjack tables.  But,  Amy and I had a great time without spending a nickel in the casino.

If you like the excitement, the crowds and craziness of Las Vegas, then Laughlin might not be your destination choice. But I tend to like trips that more laid-back and relaxing.

"It's how Vegas used to be," is one of the town's slogans, and it's an apt one. 

No comments: