How crazy is this? Three hurricanes this year share the same name as four of my family members - and they're not all your everyday names. First came Hurricane Frank (my father and brother); then Hurricane Georgette (named after my sister). Now there is Hurricane Jeanne -- which is the exact spelling of my mother's name. Don't worry about Hurricane Johnny, though. I checked storm names for the next four years; the coast is clear (no pun intended).
Last week we flew from New York to L.A. on JetBlue, as I prepared to speak at a friend's travel seminar. The seminar went really well-- the crowd was very happy. Most of them came up afterward, thanked me (and bought my book). It was a very nice event, and because of their kind words and support I am now putting together my very own seminar, with a colleague from Johnny Jet. We'll be open for business in a few weeks. If you need us to come speak (we travel almost anywhere), we'll teach you and your colleagues how to travel like a rock star for cheap - just shoot us an email. When we officially launch, I'll let you know all the details.
I was home for only a few days (what else is new?) before heading out again. This time I flew to Vega$ on America West. America West is a low-fare, full-service airline that was a major carrier until a few years ago. That's when they got smart. They changed their entire business plan, and are now making money. Their hubs are Las Vegas and Phoenix, and they offer nonstop flights coast to coast. They have over 180 airplanes, with 800 daily departures to 89 destinations.
Unfortunately, I was on one of their older 737s. It wasn't that nice, but I hear they have some sweet new planes. Although the 737 wasn't stylish, my experience in the airport and on board was great. Their gate agents and flight attendants were awesome. Not to mention the price was right. I purchased a cheap, last-minute, one-way coach ticket. When the gate agent couldn't get any takers for a $50 upgrade to first class, he gave it to me for free. I'm sure he did it because I was nice to him. I'm also sure it didn't hurt that I told him it was my first time flying America West in a few years, and that I was an elite member of a few other airlines. He was smart: Because of his excellent service, I'll fly them again.
The flight to Vega$ was short: 48 minutes. I was so tired that I napped most of the flight. When I woke up we were over the mountains. Flying over them on hot day will wake anyone up — that's the one thing I hate about flying into Vega$. It's almost always turbulent. When I opened my eyes I was happy to find a refreshing tall glass of ice water with a napkin over it. Written on the napkin was "Sir, H20." I thought that was a very thoughtful gesture by the flight attendant. He also left me a bag of the best tasting snack mix ever! It had sesame sticks, dried cranberries and pistachios - yummm!
I was in Vega$ for two reasons: to go to a fashion show and a party with some friends and my cousin Dennis. There's nothing like going to a party in Vega$. When my plane touched down it was Africa hot outside: 106 degrees. It's dry heat, so it felt like I was in a sauna. That's not as bad as Florida on a hot, humid day. That's like a steam room and requires a shower every hour.
There was a huge trade show going on, so every hotel on the Strip was sold out or way overpriced. My cousin Dennis booked a room downtown. That's right: Glitter Gulch, baby. (They call it that because of all the outdoor light shows. The most popular is the Fremont Street Experience).
I had never stayed downtown before, so I looked forward to checking it out. I learned the negatives of staying downtown: It's dirty, old, less lavish than the Strip - and further away from the airport. That means a taxi costs about $21. However, if you are not in a hurry you can take a shuttle bus (just follow the signs out of baggage claim) for $6 a person. Still, I won't be doing that again to a downtown hotel (to the Strip, yes). The reason is that we stopped at hotels (like the Venetian and Rio) that were totally out of the way. The driver crisscrossed the city. Not only that, but the AC wasn't working too well (probably because the bus was packed). I was stuck in the very last row, in a window seat. How hot was it? Well, when my elbow brushed against the tinted window, I got a burn mark that I still have.
When the torture bus finally arrived at the Golden Nugget, I found my cousin Dennis in front of the hotel. As you can see from the picture he wasn't doing too well in the casino. That might explain why I busted him taking the money I left for the maid the following morning. If you don't believe me, check out this short video. Dennis had no idea my camera could take that video (now he does!). Golden Nugget, 129 E. Fremont St., Las Vegas, NV; tel.: 800-846-5336.
Our room was actually like one of the regular rooms you get on the Strip (though Dennis paid an extra $50, because it was an upgrade). I didn't see the other rooms, so if I was a gambling man (which I am) I would bet the regular rooms aren't very nice. Of course, I don't know for sure. The hotel ambience and décor definitely felt more like the late '70s rather than the 21st century. But we were just there for one night, and besides, it was kind of nice to be back in the old days.
The fashion show was put on by Paul Frank and Company. Paul is the guy whose Julius logo (the Curious George-style monkey) is on everyone's T-shirts. The fashion show was outside, in front of Paul's new store at the fashion show (outdoor shopping center). It started at 9:30 p.m., and the weather was still smoking hot. The show was entertaining. Besides the beautiful models, the best part was seeing Paul come out at the end in an Oscar Meyer Wiener hot dog costume. Too funny! It sounds weird, but it worked well because the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was parked right next to the runway. Paul Frank Las Vegas Store, 3200 Las Vegas Blvd., Suite 1260; tel.: 702-369-2010.
After the show we went across the street to the Frontier Hotel, where the party was being thrown at Gilley's. Gilley's is a cowboy bar that features not only a mechanical bull but mud wrestling. Yee haw! You should've seen those girls. Would you believe who was one of the few people to get his butt kicked by the ladies? For a minute there I felt like my boy Blue from the movie "Old School". Frontier Hotel , 3120 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas, NV; tel.: (800) 634-6966.
Next week we continue with our low-fare carrier travels, flying yet another new carrier to --- ? Here's a hint: It's in the U.S., and its 1,510 miles from Vegas. Need more? The city is on the water, and beach volleyball is very popular in the summer. In fact, while I was there the AVP volleyball tournament was going on. Guess which Olympians from my hometown I ran into?