Lake Tahoe/Las Vegas Trip Report

Aug 6th, 2019, 10:14 PM
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Lake Tahoe/Las Vegas Trip Report

Cast of Characters: married male couple, 60s, devastatingly handsome. The trip was largely intended for me to take photos.

Date: Mid-July, ‘19

We flew United from Lihue (Kauai) to SFO then on to Reno. No problems with the flights.

We arrived in Reno close to midnight and overnighted at the La Quinta Inn a few blocks from the airport. The room was fine. Everything else was horrible. The breakfast was out of almost everything. They ran out of fruit and there was no milk for the cereal! The advertised free airport shuttle wasn’t running because the driver didn’t show up for work.

I walked the short distance to the airport to pick up the Dollar rental car that I had booked through Auto Slash (thanks to someone on this forum). The price was $90 less than Costco or Hotwire and I had no complaints.


The one-hour drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe was beautiful. We stopped for lunch at Zephyr Cove Resort Restaurant. It was nice to sit outside with the lake in the distance. Our sandwiches were good, and the coffee was even better.

Accommodation: Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort, South Lake Tahoe – the room was a studio apartment and was fine for us. It was important for me to have a kitchen. I liked being close to shopping and the casinos. The negatives: it was tough to find a parking space. The overflow parking lot always had spaces, but it was a 2 – 3 block walk, which wouldn’t have mattered except when we were lugging luggage and/or groceries. The resort is part of the Diamond “vacation ownership” group, which means the “concierges” did a hard sell, offering various incentives to get you to endure the 2-hour timeshare sales pitch. It felt a little creepy when they tried to undercut each other, offering better deals than their associates had offered, even after I assured them there was zero chance of my purchasing a timeshare. (We did NOT attend the pitch.)

The swimming pool was packed with noisy kids. In fact the entire place felt a little too “family friendly” for this curmudgeon. My biggest disappointment was that although the resort is essentially at the waterfront, there was no place to sit outside and look at the lake. It was essentially at a busy marina with tours and rentals going in and out.

We were tired and didn’t do much that day other than go to the supermarket, unpack, and for a nice sunset walk along the lake.

We had been warned to leave early for Emerald Bay to avoid crowds and trouble parking. Apparently, 9 am wasn’t nearly early enough. OMG. It was a nightmare. No exaggeration, it took us an hour before we found a parking spot on the road, at least a half mile from the entrance to Emerald Bay. Needless to say, the trails were very crowded. It was very beautiful, but the crush of people made it feel more like visiting Disneyland than being someplace where I could feel the beauty and serenity. This was about to be a theme...

The next morning we left at 8 am for Sand Harbor. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to those who urged me to go. It was the highlight of the trip and the place where I took the best photos. The boardwalk was wonderful, but was quickly getting very crowded. By 9 am the beach was absolutely packed and the water was full of paddleboarders and boats. But the long walk that took us to the coves was heaven. Just gorgeous!

Emerald Bay

Emerald Bay

Across from Harrah's Casino

Sand Harbor

Sand Harbor

That night we saw “Masters of Illusion” at Harrah’s Casino. The production values weren’t quite up to the big Las Vegas showroom standards. But the magic was superb and the four performers were terrific, each bringing a different element to the show. Being on the first row made seeing the illusions even more mind-boggling.

One of my favorite hikes was at Fallen Leaf Lake late in the day. There were very few other people and it was peaceful and quite beautiful. Our meals had been eaten in our room at the resort, or packed as picnics. But this night we ate at the Hunan Garden Chinese buffet. It had gotten great reviews. It was good. No complaints, but just your standard Chinese buffet.

On our final full day we took the MS Dixie afternoon sightseeing cruise. Luckily, we took the free shuttle bus from our resort because the parking was nightmarish. The cruise from Zephyr Cove into Emerald Bay was pleasant and relaxing. We enjoyed it.

The weather was perfection for the entire Tahoe leg of the journey. It’s a remarkably beautiful place, but sadly, due to the throngs of people, I can’t say that I loved it there.

Next stop, Las Vegas...
Songdoc is online now  
Aug 7th, 2019, 03:29 AM
Join Date: Dec 2008
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Beautiful pictures. I find that coming from the east, we tend to be up too early and the breakfast is not set up yet, coming from the west means that not much is left for you to eat unless the hotel has a proper supply and replenishes it regularly.

Thanks for the start, looking forward to the rest.
emalloy is offline  
Aug 7th, 2019, 07:39 AM
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Nice photos!

I did have (and expressed) concerns about your hotel but it sounds like you made the best of things.

Isn't Sand Harbor really wonderful?! I typically visit Tahoe in mid May and in the Fall so don't have to fight the crowds/traffic at Sand Harbor, Emerald Bay etc.
janisj is online now  
Aug 7th, 2019, 08:39 AM
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Glad you got to enjoy the beauty of Tahoe away from the fray of South Shore. We much prefer staying in Incline or even Truckee, and plan outings early on weekdays. Weekends are ridiculous and frustrating.
MichelleY is offline  
Aug 7th, 2019, 07:02 PM
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Thanks for the nice comments about the pix. It really is gorgeous there.

True! The breakfast area was packed and people were not happy. They do this all the time and know how many people have reserved rooms, so you would think they would have enough food to cover that number – at least enough milk. I wish I had thought to check if there were any restaurants nearby. There were!

Janisj & MichelleY: Yes, Sand Harbor was soooo beautiful. I love it. FYI, I was at Emerald Bay and Sand Harbor on weekdays. OMG, I can’t even imagine what it must be like on weekends.

If I had it to do again, I would have stayed in one of the little motels or cabins on Emerald Bay Rd., near Fallen Leaf. I would also have gone during a less busy season!

Las Vegas...

I should mention that neither of us are fans of Las Vegas. We don’t drink, gamble, or like noisy, crowded casinos. And we try to eat healthfully, so we avoid buffets. So why did we go? The goal was to visit and photograph Valley of Fire and Lake Mead, both about an hour from the Strip. And ... it cost $200 less to fly Reno -- Las Vegas – Nashville than if we had just flown Reno to Nashville. So it was essentially a free trip.

Our short flight on Allegiant Air was fine. Our experience picking up our rental car from Budget was NOT fine. After 30 minutes in line I was told my reservation (that I made through Costco Travel) had been canceled! The agent was rude and arrogant and I sure wish I had thought to get his name. I had definitely NOT canceled it and asked to speak with a supervisor. The agent’s response was “F3.”

“Excuse me?” I had no idea what he was talking about. The car I had reserved – that had been “canceled” had magically appeared in stall F-3. Grrr ...

It was way too early to check in to the Mirage so we headed to Lake Mead. I was stunned by it. I thought it would be an uninteresting, man-made body of water. WRONG! I thought it was stunning, with unearthly beauty and astoundingly blue water against a background of rich, earthy hues. I loved it and took lots of photos. I was surprised when several friends looked at my photos and thought it was not an attractive place. They described it as desolate and barren. I thought it was beautiful and fascinating.

The staff in the information center were awesome and suggested a route that would include lots of photo ops, without needing to hike in the heat. Ah, yes ... the heat. It was a delightful 112 degrees. Yes, it was a dry heat. But so is a blast furnace, and I wouldn’t want to spend much time inside one!

Heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a Walmart to pick up some fruit and bottles of water. There was a Burger King inside and I was happy to get an “Impossible Whopper.” (For me, they are the best vegetarian burger being made.)

The line to check in at the Mirage was unbelievably long. Again, they know exactly how many reservations they have and I would have thought they would have sufficient staff to make the registration process go quickly. The room was quite nice, but I was surprised that it had no coffee maker. I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed in a decent hotel that did not have a coffee maker in the room. Thankfully, there was a Starbucks next to the casino. But it would have been nice to have coffee without having to get dressed and wait in line.

We were exhausted from the heat at Lake Mead and with the a/c blasting took a blissful nap followed by a shower.

To be continued ...
Songdoc is online now  
Aug 7th, 2019, 07:30 PM
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>>We don’t drink, gamble, or like noisy, crowded casinos. <<

Seems like Vegas is a perfect match

>>The line to check in at the Mirage was unbelievably long. Again, they know exactly how many reservations they have and I would have thought they would have sufficient staff to make the registration process go quickly.<<

They sort of do that on purpose -- if you have their affinity card and status you get to bypass the line and all the peons get to stand there and watch in envy.

>> The room was quite nice, but I was surprised that it had no coffee maker.<<

I've never seen a room on or near the Strip that does have a coffee maker. They want you out if the room and on the casino floor or in one of the restaurants . . . not in your room having a lie in and fresh brewed coffee.
janisj is online now  
Aug 8th, 2019, 10:40 AM
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Great photos! Desert landscapes with no trees are an acquired taste. I love them, but people used to masses of trees may not.
Barbara is online now  
Aug 8th, 2019, 12:06 PM
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Pix from Lake Mead

Lake Mead

Lake Mead
Songdoc is online now  
Aug 8th, 2019, 03:30 PM
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Following along because everything Songdoc does and writes about it fascinating! What a life you live!
willowjane is offline  
Aug 8th, 2019, 03:38 PM
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I'm glad to see that there is enough water in Lake Mead to run a powerboat. The area in the foreground of the last picture used to be the the shoreline. The Colorado River which flows past Yuma into Mexico has not flowed into the Pacific Ocean in several years.
tomfuller is offline  
Aug 8th, 2019, 03:43 PM
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thanks, Willowjane!

Janisj: I’m sure you’re right about the reasons for the lack of coffeemakers and the long check-in lines.

Barbara: I'm with you. I think deserts have their own special beauty and I was blown away by Lake Mead.

There was an added bonus to staying at the Mirage. I was needing some photos of flowers and there were some very beautiful ones around the indoor waterfall.

We had booked tix for Zumanity for that evening at New York New York. We enjoyed wandering around the hotel before showtime. I was expecting a typical Cirque du Soleil show, but a bit racier and with topless performers. But this was a different approach. It was more risqué than I anticipated, and unlike the other C d S shows I've seen, it did not have a surreal "storyline" or music that was sung in an unidentifiable language. There were actual songs and dance numbers featuring terrific performers. There were also some of the contortionist and acrobatic acts I associate with Cirque du Soleil and they were phenomenal.

I found the comedy to be even funnier than the clowns in most of the Cirque productions (which I enjoy), and the Mistress of Ceremonies, a drag queen who channeled JoAnn Worley, was fabulous. There were so many standout performances. But the high-flying dwarf was absolutely incredible.

The production offered something for every sexual proclivity and was quite sexy at times, with some of the most beautiful bodies I have ever seen up close. This is not for the prudish. (I know people who would have walked out, and I read some reviews from people who hated the show.) But we loved it -- and were entertained -- every minute and it seemed the rest of the audience did, too.

On the way back to our hotel we stopped to watch the fountains do their thing at the Bellagio. Very pretty.

The next morning breakfast was something quick at Starbuck’s so we could head out to Valley of Fire by 8 am – before it got too hot. Too late! It was already 99 degrees when we arrived a little after 9 am. There were signs warning that it was too hot to hike and I believed them. It was 109 when we headed back a couple of hour later. I think they call it Valley of Fire because it was so hot I thought I might spontaneously combust! But it certainly is unique and beautiful and I enjoyed it, despite only being able to stay out of the car long enough to take some pix then run back to the a/c. I enjoyed learning about the indigenous people who lived there starting 4,000 ago.

Valley of Fire (Rainbow Vista)

Valley of Fire (the Arch)

We used to love going to Carnegie Deli in NYC (before health issues set in) and we were excited that there was a Carnegie Deli in the Mirage. That was our one time of being bad boys re: our healthy diet. But it was sooooo worth it. And to our credit we split one of the enormous sandwiches.

I was excited to visit the conservatory at the Bellagio and Flamingo Gardens at (guess where!) – the Flamingo. Unfortunately, the blazing 108 degree heat was too much for us—even just walking between hotels on the strip. The conservatory was disappointing. I was expecting something on par with Nashville’s Opryland Hotel, which is pretty incredible. The displays at the Bellagio seemed amateurish and a little cheesy in comparison. The Flamingo Gardens were worse. Silly me, I expected Flamingos! There was very little there; a couple of ducks in and some fish—and it was sweltering. But we did get to glimpse my personal version of hell. The Flamingo swimming pool was crammed full of people practically pressed against each other while a live DJ blasted rap music so loud we couldn’t hear each other speak. No thank you!

That night’s show was Tape Face, who we had enjoyed on America’s Got Talent. For those who haven’t seen him, he’s a bit of a cross between Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau. He has duct tape over his mouth and never utters a sound.

The show was at Harrah’s. After buying tickets I read that an "imposter" was performing. I thought that was ridiculous. They couldn’t possibly get away with that. But as I poked around the internet I learned that the "Tape Face" who had been on AGT was indeed not the performer I would be seeing in Las Vegas. I read that Tape Face envisioned his namesake being a character, not one specific person--a franchise that would have simultaneous productions throughout the world.

I think that's a great idea, but it was not marketed that way. With the original Tape Face's photo on the advertisements and a quote by Simon Cowell on the posters, I had no doubt I was paying to see THE Tape Face -- not one of many.

That said ... the show was hilarious. I pretty much never stopped laughing and the one-man performance was brilliant. The performer had a close resemblance, although the original had vivid green eyes (which were emphasized on the posters) and the guy I saw had brown eyes. If I had not read the article, I probably would not have realized that I was not seeing the person who had been on AGT. I'm certain the show would not have been any different or any better if I had seen the original.

Still, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had been misled and cheated. It felt like I had paid to see Cher then saw a perfect impersonator. Was the show great? Yes. But it was not what I paid for. I feel very strongly that they need to advertise this as what it is. Would I have gone? Probably not. Am I glad I went? YES.

And the next morning we left without having spent one cent gambling. We took a Frontier flight to Nashville, which had been home for 25 years. I still work there five times a year and DH’s mother and the rest of his family are there. So I didn’t do any touristy things that anyone would want to hear about.

And a bonus:
My Nashville trip report:

I took my mother-in-law to Walmart, went to a birthday party, hung out with friends and family – and otherwise, worked like a dog. The weather was its typical miserably hot and humid.

EVERY leg of my trip back to Kauai on AA was delayed. So it took me 19 hours door-to-door. I am soooo happy to be back watching dolphins while I drink my morning coffee and watching the sunset on the ocean.

As we were flying out of Las Vegas DH said, “Don’t ever expect me to come back here again.” And I don’t. He hates crowds, drunks, and noise even more than I do. But I loved seeing Lake Mead and Valley of Fire and the shows. If I ever went again it would definitely NOT be in summer.
Songdoc is online now  
Aug 9th, 2019, 03:44 AM
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I'm glad you got to see Valley of Fire even if you couldn't get any time climbing through some of the more interesting rock forms or hike out the trail to Mouse's Tank with petroglyphs along the wall all the way out. We've always been in much cooler times and it is a real natural treat after the fakeness of Vegas. At least the Vegas shows were a hit.

19 hours to get home is true punishment, but your homeland is so lovely that it makes it possible to survive to get there.

Thanks for the report.
emalloy is offline  
Aug 11th, 2019, 09:54 PM
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Sounds like you had a fantastic trip! A very entertaining read and brilliant pictures as well! Thanks for sharing!
ninasimon is offline  
Aug 13th, 2019, 03:14 PM
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So glad you are back in your happy place!
willowjane is offline  
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