| Friday, February 14: We were still on Indy time so waking early enough to see the sunrise was very easy to do.
|In addition to the airport, our room featured a view of David Copperfield's giant head.
|We headed west in our rental car, passing the tower wing where our room was (on the left in this photo), ...
|... and the majestic MGM lion, overlooking the Strip.
|Here's the Orleans. We continued to drive west.
|This park caught our eye, ...
|... so we got out and took a brief look. This is what parks look like in places with no water. It was pretty in a very stark, desert-like kind of way.
|We decided to spend our breakfast dollars at Del Taco.
|We had never been there before so we were excited to try it. After consuming a huge burrito each, we decided that we were fans.
|We kept driving west. But why? Why?
|This is why. We had a morning date with Red Rock Canyon. We arrived exactly an hour after we left, and that included the park and breakfast stops.
|The visitor center features a very long window on one side of the building that provides the perfect frame for the gorgeous scenery right outside.
|Behind the visitor center building is an open-air interactive museum with lots to see and do.
|Check out this artsy shot.
|This metal sculpture featured pinwheels in an exhibit that focuses on desert air.
|At the very tip of the exhibit is a round platform with displays identifying the surrounding sites.
|For example, here's the Turtlehead Peak sign.
|Triops! They're also called tadpole shrimp, according to this sign.
|Huge lizard statue. Not to scale.
|After spending a nice long time at the visitor center, we headed out to drive the scenic loop.
|Our first stop provided a perfect background for some portraits.
|Here's more scenery.
|And still more. The rocks are many different colors and it's absolutely beautiful.
|At roughly the halfway point, we had a nice panoramic view of the whole valley, which is surrounded on nearly all sides by mountains. That's Las Vegas in the distance, not that you can see it from here.
|Here's a wide, shallow gulch.
|More scenery. At this point, we weren't far from the end of the loop, so it was only a 42-minute drive from here ...
|... to here. We had never been to Circus Circus, so we decided to stop in.
|Behold the pink awesomeness that is the giant glass dome over the amusement park inside.
|We mostly just walked around and looked at all of the rides and attractions, but we did ride the twisty roller coaster that loops around the park.
|Next, we drove down to Mandalay Bay and peeked in on Red Square, a vodka bar with a headless statue of Lenin at the entrance.
|It was closed, just as it was the last time we were here. Some day, we'll find it open and we'll check out that ice bar.
|Aureole, the restaurant with the two-story wine tower, is right across the way. We probably could have eaten here, ...
|... but the more reasonable prices of the food court beckoned to us instead. We got some lunch from Pan Asian, ...
|... and watched Sweden take on Switzerland's ice hockey team in the Winter Olympics.
|Our reason for visiting Mandalay Bay was to see the Shark Reef Aquarium.
|Here's a handsome alligator.
|This komodo dragon was just chilling.
|This colorful dude is a green tree monitor.
|The overall theme of the exhibit was based on Southeast Asia. We had seen a statue like this one at the entrance to Angkor Wat in 2012.
|Here's a black-tipped reef shark.
|Here's a statue out of water ...
|... and here's a statue underwater.
|We never tire of aquarium tubes. They're very common now but they're still fun to see.
|In the touch pool were horseshoe crabs ...
|... and not-very-well-hidden rays.
|The lionfish exhibit featured this handsome guy with dark markings ...
|... and this lighter guy.
|Oooh, huge jellyfish! Cool!
|This tank was large and dark, so it was especially spooky when this gigantic shark quietly swam by.
|It was great fun but it's Vegas and we had places to be.
|So we bolted back to the MGM Grand, got ready for the evening, and made the trek to the Signature.
|We were here to celebrate! Our dear friends, Dean and Audrey, were getting married.
|The suite was fully decorated for a Valentine's Day wedding, with enough food to feed an army.
|The sandwiches helped fortify us for our evening activities, ...
|... and the wraps came in handy several times over the weekend for a quick snack.
|Here was part of our wedding gift to the happy couple: MGM Grand poker chips in a vintage wedding bowl with a custom slot machine card.
|The view from the suite was fantastic.
|Looking straight out, we could see the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino where we had stayed for a conference four months earlier.
|To our right, we could see the north end of the strip.
|Straight down, we could see the facility's pool and the monorail below that we'd be taking the next day.
|Once the other guests had arrived, Audrey passed out our loot bags, containing souvenirs, shot glasses, and some items needed for the evening's activities.
|Dean made cocktails for everyone.
|The sun was setting as the officiant and photographer arrived, ...
|... and the ceremony started.
|Audrey and Dean exchanged vows, ...
|... and we all toasted the newlyweds.
|Then there were many group photos, both dignified ...
|... and not so much.
|Here we are with the newlyweds, properly color-coordinated, of course.
|Here are our long-time friends, Gina and Patrick, founding member and honorary member of the Vegas Five, respectively.
|With the ceremony over, it was time to board the party bus!
|Brian and Becky were the fourth couple celebrating with us.
|As part of the fun, we were on a mission to visit places in Vegas representing the seven continents. Our first stop was to the iconic Las Vegas sign which represents none other than our very own North America.
|Back on the bus, we raised glasses of champagne.
|Next, we visited the Rainforest Cafe in the MGM Grand, which represented South America.
|Gina and Debbie were sad to see that the Lion Habitat was no more. The famous photo of Gina, Debbie, and a baby lion was recreated, except with sad faces and no baby lion anywhere.
|The continent of Africa was represented by a stop at the Luxor hotel, where Dean and Audrey did an excellent job of impersonating the statues there.
|Time for a shot on the bus!
|Of course, this is the Australia stop and here are Becky and Brian posing for their snapshot. To get here, we walked right underneath a billboard for Thunder From Down Under, featuring handsome men presumably from Australia, but ain't nobody got time for that when you have a party bus to enjoy.
|When we got out for the Europe stop, we were right across the street from our beloved Cosmopolitan.
|Europe was ably represented by the Eiffel Tower at Paris.
|We reboarded our bus to seek out our next destination.
|Beverages continued to be poured, or in some cases, drunk straight from the bottle.
|The party bus had a pole. For safety reasons, most likely.
|Some of us didn't even know that Las Vegas had a Chinatown, but now we do. Continent of Asia: check!
|It's not a drive through Vegas without a stop on Fremont Street. We arrived just in time for a Valentine-themed extravaganza at the Fremont Street Experience.
|Group photo! Tom took on the photography duties for this one. This was a good opportunity to visit the local establishments -- in particular, their restrooms.
|We caught a few minutes of the next show before dashing back to the bus.
|At this point, DJ Dean was rocking the bus with crowd-pleasing tunes and there was much dancing.
|Our bride and groom performed to one of their favorite Madonna numbers. The bus was moving down Las Vegas Boulevard this entire time.
|We passed New York New York just before arriving at the Monte Carlo for our last stop of the evening: ...
|... the Minus 5 Ice Bar, representing the continent of Antarctica.
|We all bundled up in jackets, gloves, and for some of us, even boots.
|We weren't allowed to bring in our own cameras, but their photographer took lots of photos for us to buy.
|Here we are! This was our sixth indoor ice experience, having previously visited five locations in the Icehotel/Icebar family of locations, including the Icebar in Stockholm three months earlier.
A good time was had by all, then we helped Audrey and Dean carry everything back to the Signature and called it a night.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy