On Tuesday, I got a call from Mike saying he just “entered a lottery” for a free Vegas trip and that if he were selected, he would love for me and Ethan to make the 4-hour drive to see him. Past personal (and disappointing) experiences often leave me pessimistic with anything that involves odds (that's why I don't gamble), so I tried not to get too excited. On Wednesday, he told me he was picked to join the free trip to Vegas and that he would be leaving the next day.
Little did we know, that that would be the beginning of a rather eventful and interesting weekend at the Venetian.
On Thursday, Mike joined around 40 soldiers and marines (along with some family members) from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital and boarded a luxury 757 that would wisk them away for “quick getaway” in sin city, courtesy of multi-billionaire Venetian boss Sheldon Adelson and the Armed Forces Foundation, a nonprofit support group that arranged the event.
When they got there, Mike told me they were welcomed by the color guard from Nellis Air Force base, Governor Jim Gibbons and Lance Armstrong (who just happened to be in town for some cycling convention). When they got to the hotel, hundreds of employees lined the opening hallway of The Venetian, where “Salute the Troops” banners draped the ceilings in cascade with the beautiful hand-painted re-creations of Venetian art.
Still, they were in for more surprises.
They checked in and were surprised to be put up in the grandest 3500 square feet penthouse suites the five-star Venetian has to offer -- the kind reserved only to the richest of the rich. As you walk through the double doors, you are greeted with fine Italian marble, Murano chandeliers and high vaulted ceilings. There are 2 full bedrooms, each with a king size bed meant for royalty. There’s a separate wash room that leads into a bigger Jacuzzi room. The bathrooms have a walk-through double showers AND its own private steam room!!!! There was a huge living room/dining room furnished with a 52 inch plasma screen tv with surround sound, a baby grand piano and furniture that probably cost more than I could ever bear to imagine. The view from 35 floors up overlooks an awesome Vegas skyline including the infamous new golf course at the Wynn.
The penthouse suite reportedly goes for $5,000 a night.
Seriously... that’s ridiculous.
Now, Ethan and I were not part of the original “group”. Vegas just happens to only be a 4-hour drive and we were not going to let that chance to see Mike get away... so we packed our bags, Sissy in tow, and left for Vegas on Friday night.
I wasn’t sure if we could stay with Mike at the penthouse suite (it was obviously not a question of whether there’s space for us, but because he had a roommate), so I grudgingly made reservations to stay at the cheapest hotel I could find the last minute... the Circus Circus. Umm... I wasn't about to cuff up $200/night for a double room at the Venetian. But, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the good folks at the Armed Forces Foundation had decided to put us up in a suite at the Venetian instead. It wasn't the penthouse, but it was still gorgeous!
Free fabulous rooms, check.
But wait. As awesome as that sounds, there’s more.
The trip had a packed schedule for the group, which included VIP front row show tickets to the Blue Man Group, The Phantom of the Opera, The Jersey Boys and The Wayne Brady “Making $#it up” show. Everyone was given backstage passes to meet the cast for the Phantom of the Opera. I only got to see the Jersey Boys show on Saturday night, which I admit I was a little weary about at first, but actually ended up enjoying it. At the curtain call after each show, the cast made an announcement and acknowledged the "special guests" -- men and women who have been hurt in combat -- and I could not see a single person who weren't on their feet.
Free shows, check.
They also had receptions planned for every day of the trip, including dinners at the posh Dal Toro Ristorante (which adjoins the Lamborghini state of the art showroom), Dalmonico Steakhouse and Tao. There was a hospitality room every day until noon, which served breakfast/brunch. Not only that, we were also able to enjoy the other fine restaurants at both hotels - the Valentino had great calamari but the Grand Lux has THE BEST dark chocolate cake I have ever tasted in my entire existence - and all the tabs were charged to the room and picked up by Mr. Adelson himself.
Free food, check. Though it’s not just free food folks. It’s free FINE dining at its best.
And what’s a red carpet trip to Vegas without VIP treatment at the clubs? For Friday and Saturday nights, the veterans enjoyed VIP wristbands that let us cut in front of the lines at TAO (The Venetian) and LAVO (Palazzo) and best of all, free reign at the bar!!! You bet I enjoyed the dance floor, but those complimentary $30 Mai Tais were sure a bonus. Both clubs are supposedly very popular with the hollywood likes, and on Saturday night, "The Hills" stars Lauren Conrad and Lo Bosworth were there. Too bad I don't watch the show. :)
Free booze. VIP at the clubs, check.
What else can there be?
Ah, let's not forget the amazing treatments at the recently renovated Canyon Ranch SpaClub. Thank you Mr. Adelson for our $80 pedicures/foot massages and $140 haircuts because Sissy and I probably would never have afforded it otherwise. And thank you for the couples massage that Mike and I enjoyed that Sunday morning after a long night of partying like rock stars at LAVO.
Free spa, check.
Finally... it was only appropriate to end our luxurious weekend at the Venetian with a gondola ride. Our gondolier serenaded us, sculling along the canal through an enclave of 55 designer stores as pseudo-clouds float in the pseudo-sky. I personally thought they did an excellent job re-creating the canals, having seen the real Venice myself. The attention to detail is rather impressive. Stone is aged for that weathered look, statues and tiles are exact copies of their Italian counterparts, security guards wear Venetian police uniforms -- all that's missing is the smell from the real canals, but I was happy to let that one slide. Ethan enjoyed being on a "boat" and looking for money in the canal.
Free gondola ride, check.
Too bad the weekend had to end........
We got to enjoy a RIDICULOUSLY (and undeserved) pampered weekend, and we got to spend some time with Mike... though short, these days we take what we can get. Especially for Ethan since he hadn't seem Mike in months... we could barely pry him away from Mike all weekend!
But we also walked away with much respect to Mr. Adelson and his beautiful wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, for their generosity and sincerity in showing their appreciation to the soldiers and marines who have served their country. There was nothing political about it... from the several times I met with them, I could tell that their intentions were genuinely for the love of the troops. In fact, their plan is to be able to give this all-expense paid trip to every solder/marine hurt in combat... which is truly amazing. As a veteran myself, I've had my share of people who thanked me for my service, but that reception was beyond remarkable.
Thanks to them... this is definitely going down in the books for one weekend to remember!