As a couple who doesn’t smoke, drink, gamble or eat meat (and avoids dairy and eggs) Vegas might seem like the most unlikely place to find us vacationing. Yet, there we were this past weekend.
We were there to join other like-minded geeks who are interested in how things work and how things can be broken, which in turn, can then be improved upon. Yes, we were at the ‘hacker’ convention called DEFCON, which was held this year at the Rio.
But I’m not going to write much about the convention itself. No, I’m interested in writing about how a vegetarian (or even vegan) can survive in this heat-delirium-inducing city. I’m also going to talk about how to save a few coins along the way.
We arrived, via airplane, around 7:45 Friday morning. The first thing you have to do once you land in Vegas is find transportation. Vegas is full of various forms of transportation, but be aware that most of these methods are quite costly. The conference actually started the night before, but the Friday schedule stated that we could start getting our badges and swag at 8am. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish we had picked up a 3-day bus pass ($20/ea) at the airport. But we didn’t. Instead we chose one of the shuttles in the hopes that we could get to the hotel fairly quickly ($7/ea. one way). Fyi, the limos (which is more like a black sedan with a driver) were something like $47, and the taxis were something along the lines of $8 for the first 1/3 mile and $20 each additional 1/3 mile. Can you see how the bus system is a much better deal? But we will get to that shortly. We waited forever for the shuttle to arrive, luckily our hotel was the first stop.
By the time we got to the conference all the Titanium badges had been given out and we were given the paper ones. 😐 Turns out it didn’t really matter when we got there on Friday, because “By Thursday night, they ran out of all the Titanium badges they made 10,500.”
We brought along several bars and snacks with us, which we subsisted on until we could find some veggie-friendly food. Water is a precious commodity in this town, and you will pay a premium for it. I purchased a 20oz bottle of Dasani for over $3.
The Rio has several restaurants on-site, but somehow the Whopper Bar and the Sports Deli just aren’t veggie friendly. We decided to try Gaylord India Restaurant. We ordered the Vegetarian Combo Plate (which we shared), with a couple of Sprites (which were not refilled) and tip our meal came to $47.
We spent much of Friday frequenting the convenience stores within the Casino to hydrate ourselves with water and juice. By breakfast Saturday morning, we had depleted my stash of snacks and had drank all the liquid we had purchased from the day before. The java and pastries shop just beside the elevators to the rooms was devoid of all the pastries, having been hit by the DEFCON crowd no doubt. I found myself, again, in one of the convenience stores trying to find something to eat for breakfast. I walked out with two bananas, 1L bottle of water, two bars, and a package of crackers with peanut butter all for the low low price of $15. This trip was turning out to be quite expensive. The Rio has a place called Carnival World Buffet, we asked to see what all would be offered since there were not any menus displayed on the outside. We were allowed to take a look, we probably could have pieced together some semblance of a meal with bits of this and bits of that, but for $25/ea we just could not bring ourselves to eat there. It was time to find a way to get to Whole Foods. *Chalk drawings are from the signs hanging around Whole Foods.*
Enter the hottest and longest trip to the grocery store. We probably could have done this in a much more intelligent way, and now that we can look back and see what we did wrong, hopefully next year we can do this smarter. The Rio has free shuttles that run to their other properties on the Strip (Harrah’s and Bally’s). And on the Strip, you will find bus pass vending machines all along the street. But for what ever reason, we decided to go a different route. We decided that we would walk several blocks to a bus stop near the Rio, pay cash for the ride ($2/ea), get off at Town Square (where Whole Foods is located) and then buy a bus pass at Town Square for future use (and to get back to the hotel). It seemed like a sound idea. I apparently didn’t take the heat index into account. And it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if we had arrived only 5 minutes earlier. But no, we had just turned the corner to the street with the bus stop when we saw the bus (the 104) drive away in the distance (distance is deceiving in the heat). It took us about 5 minutes to get to that bus stop, and then we had to wait another 25 minutes or so for the next bus. We tried our best to seek out shade while we waited and melted. Finally the bus arrived. Yea! Then the stop for Town Square came up and we signaled that we wanted to get off the bus. The bus turned a corner and we started to wonder in our delirium if we were going to drive past Whole Foods. But luckily, the bus stopped just a few feet from the street corner. We had to cross the street and we still weren’t sure we were at the right place. There’s nothing like feeling lost in a hot city with the realization you might have just made a terrible mistake and have no transportation back. But never fear, we were at the correct stop, just a few blocks from where we had expected to be. We did figure out a much easier way to do this trip, which I’ll explain later.
A side note here. I wanted to give a shout out to a great sunscreen that I found for this trip. It’s cruelty-free and kept me from getting sunburned (I burn easily). KINeSYS SPF 30 Fragrance Free Sunscreen Spray worked great. It comes in a 1 oz spray bottle, so it easily fits in your approved liquids bag for air travel. It also applies easily, a few sprays on your arm and then rub it to distribute evenly, as well as a few sprays in your hands to put on your face. It dries quickly and didn’t leave me feeling greasy. A must have.
After walking for several more blocks, in the scorching heat, we found the mother load… the beautiful and miraculous Whole Foods, I was finally home! My taste-tester said I looked like a kid in the candy store. 🙂 This Whole Foods is bigger than the one I go to in San Diego and the one I used to go to in the DC area. This one is a big one like I used to frequent in Austin, oh yeah!
The Deli was spectacular! After being surrounded by eateries that do NOT cater to vegetarians in the Rio, it was such a delight to be in a place that catered not only to vegetarians, but to VEGANS too! There was a huge selection of salad bars and hot food bars. There was even a hot food bar specifically vegan! The Deli was like a food court that caters to vegetarians with several vegan options. There were pizzas, sandwiches, tacos and burritos, Asian foods (Japanese, Korean, and Bamboo Express which had dishes like veggie delight and teriyaki veggies), desserts (some of which came from a local vegan bakery), local root beer on tap, smoothies and juices (even green smoothies). I had found my people. 😀
After sharing a made to order vegan Reuben (~$6-7), a bowl of teriyaki tofu with veggies and brown rice (~$6-7), two 16 oz servings of local root beer, another 16 oz serving of fresh squeezed lemonade, and a vegan fudge brownie; we were ready to stock up our bags and head to the Strip. We loaded up on bars and snacks and Evian water. By the way, a 1.5 L of Evian water costs $3 at Whole Foods… that’s $0.06/oz Evian water vs. $0.15/oz hotel convenience store water (1.5 L = 51 oz). So we grabbed two. We had a backpack with water pockets on each side, which made carrying the water easier. By the way, Evian water tastes great at any temperature, it makes you wonder why other brands don’t, just a thought. They also had some ale with a fun name (which we didn’t buy)… Arrogant Bastard Ale.
We then walked to the very close by bus stop with a bus pass vending machine and bought a 24-hour bus pass (we would be on our way to the airport within 24-hours by this time) for $7/ea. This bus stop, by the way, is on Las Vegas Blvd (aka the Strip), which means that Whole Foods is one stop down from Mandalay Bay (southbound). If you take the SDX (strip downtown express) you can go up and down the Strip with some of the casinos as the stops, or you can take the Deuce which stops at every Casino along the Strip. Although, we found that on Sunday the Deuce did not go all the way to Town Square (aka Whole Foods), and so we had to get out at Mandalay Bay and wait for the SDX.
Once on the Strip, we got out at Paris and started taking pictures. We saw all kinds of things, and I was even able to capture some of the water show at the Bellagio with my camera. We ended up staying out until really late, but I learned all kinds of things about my camera and how to capture night pictures. I have a ton of pictures to go through, and if I’m lucky I might even be able to submit some of them as my homework.
To get back to the hotel that night, we jumped on a free shuttle at Bally’s and got a ride to the Rio. On Sunday, we took a much more intelligent route to Whole Foods. We jumped on the shuttle at the Rio and got off at Harrah’s, we looked around the Strip for a while, then hopped on the Deuce (southbound) to get to Whole Foods for another trip through the Deli. We had a vegan BLT and I created a salad from the salad bar. We also had more local root beer. We still had some of that Evian water left in our backpack and so we made sure we finished that up, since we couldn’t take it on the plane. We then when out to the bus stop got on the SDX (southbound) got out at the Strip Transfer Terminal and waited for the 109 which took us to the airport.
So to recap, if you want to find vegetarian friendly eats and save some coin on transportation…
1. Buy a 3-day bus pass at the airport for $20 (bus route map). The 109 will take you to and from the airport and the Strip Transfer Terminal. The Deuce (runs 24 hours) and the SDX (runs 9am – 12:30am) will take you to the Strip as well as Whole Foods (Town Square). By the way, the Deuce and the SDX are very air-conditioned rides. The four lines that we rode on (104, Deuce, SDX, and 109) were all clean, air-conditioned, and friendly buses.
2. Whole Foods is your friend, and oddly the least expensive option. Stock up on snacks and water, check out the Deli, salad and hot food bars, you won’t regret it.
3. If your hotel is not on the strip (like the Rio), see if they have a free shuttle to the Strip (the Rio has two – one to Harrah’s and one to Bally’s, which run from 10am -1am), then hop on the bus to get to your destination.
4. Drink plenty of water! And protect yourself from the sun by sticking to the shade when you can and wearing sunscreen for the times when you can’t.
I know it probably sounds like I had a horrible time, but actually, I did have fun. Once we figured out how to get veggie-friendly food and how to get around the city, it all became much less stressful, and we had a great time. We were able to attend the conference, check out the Strip at night, and eat veggie-friendly food, all while staying hydrated and not getting sunburned. All in all, one of our best trips to Vegas.
I still need to go through my pictures of the Strip, I hope to post them in a future post.
Until next time…