36 Hours In… Las Vegas

I learned a long time ago not to go to Vegas for more than three days… I learned last year that 36 hours is just about the perfect amount of time there. While most of the trips I’ve taken in the past tend to be guys trips, this one was a bit different: it was my first couples trip to Sin City.

Getting There

I’ve espoused the many benefits of the Southwest Companion Pass, here I am putting it into practice. I live about five minutes from Washington Reagan National, but I’ll drive a bit further to prevent a layover (and for a better price). Southwest runs a direct flight from BWI to Las Vegas several times per day, so I booked my flight using 21,000 Rapid Rewards miles and added Julie onto the itinerary for free.

One of the best things about Southwest is that if the cost of a flight goes down, you can rebook for free. I kept an eye on the Sunday flight (which was the more expensive of the two) and sure enough it dropped 6,000 miles. I rebooked and had the miles redeposited back into my account. 15,000 Southwest miles for two roundtrip tickets to Vegas.

Staying There

I’ve been to Vegas four other times and stayed somewhere different each time1. Part of this is that I like to get the experience of staying at the different famous Vegas hotels. Mainly though, I look for two things: (1) the cheapest price (2) on the strip. Some people will say to stay the cheapest place you possibly can and then take a cab to the strip. This will definitely cost you less money. But for me, there’s something about being right there in the thick of it that makes it worth the extra cost.

For this trip, I booked us into the Monte Carlo. The absolute best way to find deals is to sign up for the email list of all the hotels and to be flexible with when you want to go. I find the former fairly annoying, so I focus on being flexible and get emailed weekly updates from this Flyertalk thread, which discusses deals found on Vegas hotels.

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My MLife Gold status got us upgraded into a Diamond Suite. While the room itself was older, the amenities and size couldn’t be beat. Diamond Suites included separate living and bedroom areas, a kitchen, an extra half bath in the foyer, and a two person jacuzzi. It’s not the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but its sheer size made it worth it.

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Being There

My first trip to Vegas was when I was 14 years old. In the 90s, the city tried to rebrand as family friendly and was actually fairly successful at it. Nowadays you see much, much less of that. It can be good for a solo trip, guys trip, a girls trip, a couples trip, and even a family trip, but don’t be fooled: it’s called Sin City for a reason.

If you’ve never been to Vegas, take some time to just wander up and down the strip. Its not called Disney World for adults for nothing; everywhere you look is a decadent veneer. Stay long enough and the cracks in that veneer become evident; stay just the right amount of time and there’s no place more enjoyable.

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Gambling

I like to gamble, but I get my thrills more from winning and losing, not from betting big money. Because of that I like to stick to $5–10 tables. Depending on where you’re staying and what you like to play that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

To a point (roughly around the Mirage), the further north you get on the strip, the more expensive things become. It’s fun to stay up there, but you’re in the wrong place if you’re looking for cheap tables. With the exception of Saturday night, we were able to find $5 blackjack tables at the Monte Carlo. The only time we found a $5 craps table was early on Sunday morning. If you’re looking for cheaper, head further south on the strip or catch a cab downtown.

Eating

This trip was a bit uncharacteristic; usually I eat almost as much as I gamble. I continued my Saturday morning tradition of the brunch buffet at the Bellagio, but didn’t get a chance to eat anywhere major besides that. Brunch at the Bellagio is unparalleled, though. It’s hundreds and hundreds of square feet of almost any kind of breakfast and lunch food imaginable. It’s pricy at $35 per person, but the quality of food more than makes up for it.

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If you book directly through the hotel, you can often get food credit on site. This time the Monte Carlo offered us $75 credit at the Pub. We weren’t too hungry for dinner after our huge brunch at the Bellagio, so we ran into the Pub for a quick beer. 2 We ordered two flights from their selection of local brews and American crafts. The beer selection is spectacular, but the food is pretty much your typical bar fare. Unless you’re hungry, save your money for trying the beers you’ve never had before.

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Shows

I’m middle-of-the-road when it comes to shows in Vegas. I’ve been with people who go to one every night and I’ve been with others who’d rather blow the $120 at the tables. I take a much similar tact to how I see shows at home: if it’s a good enough deal, I’ll see anything; but if it’s expensive, I’ve got to really want to see it.

The whole point of this trip was a birthday present for Julie to see Britney Spears. Much like all good teenage boys of the 90s, I had a non-musical interest in Britney that somehow led to me knowing way more of her songs than I realized. Tickets were expensive (we went for the cheapest at $90 per ticket), but the theater was small enough (seated around 4500) to where it didn’t really matter how far back you were.

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The show itself was fairly enjoyable, even for a non-fan. The production values clearly indicate that it’s a Vegas show, but depending on your tolerance for everything Britney Spears, your money may be better spent elsewhere.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: You didn’t think you’d get out of this article without a couple of gambling stories, did you? Flight gets in late, we get to the hotel around midnight. I sit down at a blackjack table and play seven hands. Four double downs, two blackjacks and one loss put me up $105. I quickly closed up shop and went to bed.

Good: You’re in Vegas, you’re going to pay a lot for food. Go eat brunch at the Bellagio. It’s absolutely worth it. It’s a Vegas tradition for me.

Good: While the food wasn’t great, the beer selection was top notch at the Pub in the Monte Carlo. If you’re tired of gambling and want to sit somewhere cool and have a beer, go here.

Bad: The Monte Carlo is right on the cusp of being one of the great hotels or merely one of the OK ones. The rooms have great amenities, but they’re a bit run down compared to some of the other places you can stay. Still worth it, but could be better.

Ugly: One last gambling story. I was teaching Julie how to play craps before we left3, but we couldn’t find a $5 table to play at until early Sunday morning. We were only two of three people at the table and the other guy was playing the Don’t Pass Line (come on, dude). We very quickly proceeded to make him a lot of money.

Tip of the Trip

Hyatt and MLife are partners, so you can do a status match between the two. If you’ve got Hyatt Platinum or Diamond, it will translate to MLife Gold, which will be good enough to get you a room upgrade. Also, make sure to add your Hyatt and Southwest numbers at checkin; you can also get points in those two programs.

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:

Britney Spears: Piece of Me

Stay here:

Monte Carlo

Eat this:

Bellagio Brunch Buffet
The Pub (only for beers)

  1. I’ve previously stayed at the MGM Grand, the Mirage, the Bellagio, and the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton).
  2. This violates my first rule of Vegas: never pay for a drink, but since it was paid for with hotel credit, I deemed it allowable.
  3. As you craps players can attest, there’s nothing more fun in Vegas than a craps table that’s hot.

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Six Days in… Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires doubles as not only the last stop of our around-the-world trip, but also as the longest we’re spending in any one place. For six days, we ate tender Argentine steak, drank the rich Malbec wine, and partook in the spectacular music scene of one of the world’s greatest cities.

Getting There

There are always pretty good fares from the continental U.S. to South America (check on some of American Airlines’ super saver deals if you’re looking to use miles). But as with Paris, this was part of our larger around-the-world trip. If you’re interested in reading about how we booked that trip, we’ve already done a pretty thorough job of documenting it.

As is true with many airports, EZE lies well outside the city limits. Unlike some of the ones we’ve been to recently, there’s very spotty public transportation to and from. Your best bet is probably to just bite the bullet and pay for a cab into the city. It shouldn’t be that expensive (around $30–40) and it’s probably worth it. We were lucky to have our host offer to come pick us up at the airport and drop us off at the place we’re staying.

Staying There

I’d mentioned in my Paris report that I always like to stay in an Airbnb, if possible. For those that don’t know, Airbnb is a site where locals can advertise rooms, apartments, or even entire houses to rent. Many people equate it with couch surfing, but honestly, it’s much closer to a hotel than that free alternative. Most cities I’ve seen have offers for entire homes or apartments, which to me, is even more preferable than a hotel. If you’re lucky and book as early as you can, you can often stay in prime spots for much less than a hotel would cost.

We booked this Airbnb pretty early in our planning and we had good communication with our host, Ruy. The apartment itself is everything you’d look for when visiting a city: not only close to several restaurants, banks, and public transportation options, but also within walking distances to many of the things you’d want to see in Buenos Aires. We stayed there for all five nights and the accommodations were more than adequate.

The only potential downside is that we were only offered one key, which was necessary to both get into the apartment and out of it. That meant that we were pretty much sticking together for the bulk of this trip unless we planned ahead enough to figure out a way around this problem.1 There was also one morning where we didn’t have hot water, but it was back on in a couple of hours, so that’s not really anything to worry about, at all.

Being There

When I think of Buenos Aires, I think of steak, wine, and tango. That wasn’t far off. The city is lined with parrillas (steak houses) all offering their own take on the staple and each offering their own particular version of Argentina’s delicious Malbec wine. We’ll offer up some suggestions below, but honestly, it’s tough to go wrong here. Everywhere we ate was delicious.

Historically, the bulk of my knowledge of Argentina centered on Juan Peron and his wife Eva, also known as Evita. The politics and intrigue of the real story play out as well as an Shakespearean tragedy, but even sixty years after her death, it’s completely obvious how much of a role she stills plays in the minds of Argentine people. It’s impossible to escape her visage on the sides of buildings and many of the city’s most popular destinations have an Evita aspect to them, as well.

Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada
The hub of all political life in Buenos Aires. And I do mean all. Casa Rosada is the mansion and political residence of Argentina’s president (completely analogous to our White House). We didn’t get a chance to tour it, but saw the spectacular building from outside its iron fences.

But where all the official policies of the country may originate from Casa Rosada, the feelings of the people are demonstrated in Plaza de Mayo. As we were there, things were being cordoned off for what looked to be a huge demonstration later that day. Asking around confirmed that this was not an unusual event; the Argentine people love to protest and they love to do it in Plaza de Mayo. While there were several people camped out in the plaza, I never felt unsafe or as if anything bad would happen. It was completely evident that this is just a part of Argentine life; I just remained aware of my surroundings (as I do in any big city) and was completely fine.

Bicentennial Museum
Just behind Casa Rosada is one of the better museums I’ve been to on this trip. The Bicentennial Museum was developed from the old Argentina customs office that was recovered and then renovated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Argentina. It takes a a chronological look at early 19th century Argentine life all the way through its current presidency. While most of the exhibits are in Spanish, the pictures and artifacts alone make this worth a trip.

La Recoleta and Recoleta Cemetery
Probably Buenos Aires swankiest neighborhood and its most famous sight. La Recoleta tracks well with some of the most yuppie neighborhoods I’ve seen: farmer’s and artistan’s markets line the streets, microbreweries seem to pop up everywhere, and outdoor seating subsume every available sidewalk in the area. It’s very much worth taking a morning and walking around, the area is incredibly beautiful and it reinforces the idea of Buenos Aires as a modern city.

As in life, death, I guess. Recoleta Cemetery is famous for its decadent monuments to those that have died. It’s almost entirely privately funded, and it shows. Many of Argentina’s most famous people have been buried here, including, funnily enough, Evita herself.2 Tall monuments line what can only be described as streets and streets of tombs, each one clearly trying to outdo the one that came before it. Recoleta is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and absolutely worth a trip. There’s an iPhone app and several maps available for guiding viewers through the cemetery, but unless you’re well-versed in Argentine history, culture, and politics, most people will be completely unknown (at least they were to me). There’s no signage or anything explaining each tomb, though, so if you want a little context, going on one of the guided tours is your best bet. At the very least, grab a map and ask one of the guides to point you in the direction of Evita’s tomb.

La Brigada Parrilla
One of San Telmo (a Buenos Aires neighborhood) most famous steakhouses, La Brigada did not disappoint. We were treated to one of, if not the best steaks and bottles of wine I’ve ever had; it was so tender that the restaurant literally only provides a spoon to cut it with. I’m not much of a food critic, but trust me, go to this place. Prices were a bit higher than normal and more in line with what you’d see at a nice steakhouse in the U.S. We made a reservation before going, so it may be a good idea to do the same. As with most places that serve dinner in Argentina, the restaurant didn’t even open until 8pm (Those Argentines are a late-eating bunch).

El Tigre and Delta
I love going to cities, but going to the small towns outside of large places tends to be more my speed. El Tigre was about an hour train ride outside of Buenos Aires and was one of my favorite places I’ve had the opportunity walk around. (Mike and I repeatedly remarked it reminded us a lot of Napier, New Zealand.

While it was nice to stroll around in a small town, people mainly go to El Tigre for the river and its delta. After flooding destroyed several parts of the city, the people decided to just go with it and form their town around the water. While El Tigre has a main commercial area linked by normal asphalt streets, the bulk of the residential area is linked by waterways; everyone lives right on the river and uses boats to get to the main section of town. We had the opportunity to take a ride on one of the commercial boats to see the some of this area. It was a great contrast from the city and I highly recommend it, if you have the time.

Evita Museum
Much like the bicentennial museum, very well put together. But your enjoyment will probably depend on how interested you are in Eva Peron. It’s fairly small, so it’s easy to get through, but the museum is laser focused on all things Evita (as it probably should be).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: Buenos Aires loves it protests and that extends past the kind where you air your grievances in Plaza de Mayo. We had the opportunity to see some local bands play late one evening. The theme: all were repurposed songs from failed revolutions. I couldn’t understand much of what was being sung, but the energy coming from the bands absolutely couldn’t be matched. This seems like it’s done fairly regularly, so if you get a chance, head down to the Centro de difusión Cultural Severino DiGiovanni.

Good: Buenos Aires is known for its food, so we spent the better portion of two days eating our way through the city.

Bad Eating probably kept us from seeing all we should. Oh well, priorities!

Bad: Remember how I said I think of steak, wine, and tango when I think of Argentina? Yeah, well, we never got to see any tango shows. That’s totally on us and there are several every night for you to see. Be better than us and go see one!

Ugly: In Recoleta Cemetery, there were several of the tombs and monuments that had fallen into various states of disrepair. As in they’d completely crumbed in on themselves. In what can probably be described as a bit of karmic justice, families are required to pay a monthly upkeep fee for the cemetery to make sure that the relative’s final resting place receives regular maintenance. If a family doesn’t pay (for any reason), the tomb is ignored. One of the most shocking sights was to see all of this wealth in life and in burial, be completely for nothing twenty years after a family stopped paying the monthly maintenance fee.

Tip of the Trip

One thing our host told us as we were coming into the city: Buenos Aires is well known for its Italian food. I’ve never been to Italy (though, that should be remedied next month), but the Italian is absolutely spectacular, if not the best I’ve ever had. There’s plenty of restaurants around; make sure to take at least one night and have some pasta somewhere. (Supposedly the pizza is also really good, but we didn’t have a chance to try it.)

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:
Plaza de Mayo
Recoleta Cemetery
El Tigre and Delta

Stay here:
Airbnb has many places, including the one where we stayed.

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p>Eat this:
La Brigada
Desnivel

  1. Edit: We asked our host as we were leaving if there were additional keys, turns out there were. He probably still should have offered them to us in the beginning, but you can ask him about them if you stay in the same place
  2. There’s some controversy about Evita being buried here. Rightfully so. Before marrying Peron, she came from extremely humble beginnings and spent most of her time as First Lady of Argetina speaking for the rights of the poor. Recoleta Cemetery is completely counter to everything she stood for.

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Four Days In…Paris

Don’t worry, everyone. After weeks of writing, long, flowery, probably over-descriptive posts on our around-the-world trip, I’m going to revert to something a bit more practical for our description of Paris: namely our version of the ubiquitous trip report.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, our crack Leap Forward team 1 likes to do things a bit differently. Lot’s of great people have written some great things about Paris (The Points Guy, Mommy Points, Ernest Hemingway), but we want to try and put our own spin on it and on trip reports in general.2 The format and what exactly we write in these things are still in flux, so if there’s something you’d like to see that you’re not getting, make sure to let us know.

So without further ado, let’s kick off the first of our “Four Days In…” series with Four Days in…Paris!

Paris is one of those cities that everyone says to visit. I knew I’d get there eventually, but it kept getting pushed further and further down the list. It wasn’t in the initial plan for our around-the-world trip, but in order to make Madagascar and Buenos Aires work, we had to come through Paris twice, so it made sense just to schedule a longer period of time to see it.

Getting There

As I mentioned before, it was part of our around-the-world trip. I was there for four days total; one day after flying from Moscow on my way to Madagascar and three days after flying from Madagascar on my way to Buenos Aires. Paris is not that difficult to get to, but it can be expensive. Weather during the winter is hit or miss and the throngs of tourists during the summer scream “stay away” to me. Do this: go in early-to-mid spring. You may hit a day of rain (as we did), but odds are you’ll have some great weather (mostly sunny, highs around 70, lows around 40).

Getting from the airport (Charles de Gaulle- CDG) is an easy 40-minute train ride right into the heart of the city. It costs about 10 euro, but is clean, comfortable and runs fairly often. There are other ways to get into the city, but this is the one that you’re going to want to take.

Staying There

You’re probably going to pay a lot of money to stay in Paris. You can do it cheaply, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of hostels.3 If you’ve got hotel points or free hotel stays, this is the place to use them.

We stayed for three nights at three separate hotels: the Hilton Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, and Trianon Palace (a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property in Versailles). We’ll have a more in-depth review of the properties at a later date, but here’s the basics on each one:

The airport Hilton was more out of convenience. With only about 22 hours in Paris before our relatively early boarding for the flight to Madagascar, we didn’t want to stray too far from de Gaulle. It hit all the things you’d expect an international hotel chain to hit: free breakfast and a lounge for diamond members, large rooms, and impeccable service. Mike used 40,000 HHonors points to book the room.

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome was a little bit different; it’s widely considered to be one of (if not the best) Hyatt properties in the world. It’s located fairly close to several of the major Parisian sights (it’s within walking distance of the Louvre museum). But if you’re staying there, the hotel in and of itself is part of the experience. It’s lavishly decorated and the staff are extremely considerate and efficient with all requests. We stayed in a suite, paid for by one of the two free nights given to me by applying for the Chase Hyatt credit card.4

Our final day in Paris, we spent in Versailles and stayed at Trianon Palace, a Hilton-Waldorf Astoria property. It was literally a palace that was part of Versailles. Mike’s diamond status with Hilton got us an upgrade to the main property, as well as free drinks in the bar (which at 20 euro apiece, I wasn’t about to buy otherwise). He used Citi ThankYou points to book the room at full price, so not only was the room free for us, but he also earned points for staying there. Not bad for what used to be a retreat for the King of France!

Being There

Four days in Paris is enough to see the major things, but you’re still going to feel like you need to come back and spend more time. I prioritized seeing the major sights while there:

Notre Dame
The famous cathedral didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty much exactly what you’re expecting: a giant Catholic Church with stunning gothic architecture. Don’t miss the gargoyles on either side!

Pantheon
Originally built as a church, but now functions as a mausoleum. They’re currently doing construction on the dome, so it was hidden from view.

The Eiffel Tower
The most well-known symbol of Paris. It’s similar to the Washington Monument, the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the London Eye, and other tall structures that people probably pay too much to go up in. You need to go there and see it, but I opted not to pay to go up in it. I don’t want to seem to cynical here, though. It’s a spectacular piece of architecture and you really need to see it in person to appreciate that.

Paris Catacombs
Carved from the limestone that built the city, the catacombs house the dead of millions of Parisians far underground. If you’ve been to catacombs in other cities, you know what to expect. But what you won’t expect is the sheer size of it. I walked for nearly an hour, surrounded by stacks of bones higher than my head. They only let in 200 people at a time, so the line can get a bit long. That’s a blessing and a curse; without the line snaking around the circle, it would have been almost impossible to find!

The Louvre Museum
If it’s possible to undersell the most famous sight in (arguably) the world’s most famous city, the Louvre is undersold. I had one art history class in college, which gave me enough knowledge to know what I need to see when I go places like the Louvre. On Wednesdays, the museum is open until 9pm (it normally closes at 5pm), so I assumed giving myself four hours should be able to let me hit everything I needed to see. Wrong. Everywhere I went I kept seeing pieces of art and history that I’d at least heard of in passing. By the time I needed to leave, there were still several things I wanted to see that I didn’t get a chance to. If for nothing else, I’m going to have to come back to Paris to see more of the Louvre.

Versailles
Best known as the palace of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI (before the last had an unfortunate run-in with a guillotine), it stands today as one of the most decadent examples of monarchy-era France. It will take a full day to get out to see it and if you’ve got other things you want to see in Paris, you can prioritize those. But if you’ve got the time, it’s absolutely worth it. The train runs out to Versailles, so while it takes some time to get out of the city, it’s fairly easy to do. We’ve seen a lot of big important houses on our trip around the world, this was probably the last one and it did not disappoint.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Good: As I mentioned before, the Louvre. If you’ve got one day in Paris, this is what you go see. Even if you’re not a fan of art or history, it’s pretty difficult not to be wowed by how many things you’ve heard of are in one place. There’s literally miles and miles of art to see, so you may want to do a bit of planning in advance. There’s an iPhone app that will guide you through much of what you need to see while your there. It’s $2, but I don’t know if I’d been able to see half of what I did without it.

Bad: Not to dwell only on the Louvre, but probably the second most famous piece, the Winged Victory of Samthrace, was being restored while I was there, so I didn’t get to see it.

Bad: There’s very little in the way of explanations for any of the pieces in the Louvre and what there is, is totally in French. Without a guide or without the iPhone app, you’re literally just looking at painting and sculptures without any context.

Ugly: From this picture, where would you expect the tour of Versailles to start?

If you said the giant gold archways in the center of the palace or any one of the smaller stone archways that line the edges, you’d be wrong.

If you said that tiny entrance in the middle of the three arches off to the far right that had absolutely no markings, you’re obviously cheating (or have been there before). We walked through some of the smaller rooms for about half an hour, wondering “is this it?”, before finding the actual start of the tour. Come on guys, let’s get some better signage!

Tip of the Trip

You’re going to be waiting in lines quite a bit in Paris. To avoid one of them, you may be able to buy your ticket to Versailles at your hotel (if you’re staying in Versailles). If not, swing by the gift shop (it’s on the left, across the street, at the top of the hill, before you enter the preliminary gates). You can buy your ticket there for the same price, sans line waiting.

Come on, just tell me what to do already! (TL;DR)

See this:
Notre Dame
The Louvre
The Eiffel Tower
Versailles

Stay here:
Park Hyatt Paris Vendome (if you can swing it)

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  1. Not our Leap Forward team on crack
  2. Knowing me, I’ll probably write a thousand-word post on why we’re doing it this way, so for those of you who do like me over analyzing things, just hold tight.
  3. my personal favorite way to stay is Airbnb
  4. If you’re a platinum or below, you get two free nights at any Hyatt just for applying for the credit card and meeting the minimum spend. If you’re a Diamond member, you get two free nights in a suite.

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Trip Report: New Year’s in Times Square

Oh man, I said I’d never do it again. And I meant it.

Times Square for New Year’s is just as you imagine it: decadent, depraved, and dependent on a buzz that quickly degrades to a hangover shortly after midnight. There’s something about being there, something about the skyscrapers on either side of you and the throngs of people pushing you in every direction. I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but at its pinnacle, the energy and anticipation of a new year in that venue has never been topped.

What may surprise you is that it’s a fairly orderly affair. (Almost) anyone who wants to be in Times Square for the ball drop needs to be there by about 4pm. NYPD sets up cattle corrals (no, really) and seals off entrances around that time. Everyone has to go through a metal detector and no one is allowed to leave until after midnight. That means if you want to see the ball drop, you’re going to go over eight hours without being able to go to the bathroom or get any food.

As you can imagine, that’s not the most pleasant of experiences.

Both times I’ve been lucky enough to have atypical experiences, ones that I can’t really complain about (but that doesn’t mean I won’t!). The first time (in 2011), I met this guy, Mike Turner, (yes, the same one who’s going round the world with me) at a party about two weeks before New Year’s. He asked if I wanted to tag along with a group of about 15 people he’d put together. They had two rooms at the DoubleTree Suites right in Times Square.

This time was a bit more of an ordeal. With Hilton’s recent devaluation of its Hhonors program, the price of rooms ballooned to 95,000 points per night. (before the devaluation, you could have stayed four nights at the DoubleTree Suites in Times Square for 140,000 points) Mike and our friend Jason Burrows had already committed to going, so they’d picked up two rooms fairly early in 2013. But as December 31st grew closer and the peer pressure to go grew stronger, Julie and I got sucked into the gravitational pull of the force of nature known as a Mike Turner (and Jason Burrows) trip. I had 95,000 Hilton points, they had about 30 people who wanted to go, so between the three of us, we booked five rooms at the DoubleTree Suites right in Times Square.

That may sound like a lot of people for just five rooms, but honestly it’s not as bad as it sounds. Every room is a two-room suite with a pull-out sofa in the living room and we were lucky that our Hilton status could get us (mostly) on the same floor and (mostly) two-bed suites. We ended up being able to put six people in each of the five rooms and (mostly) everyone had some type of bed to sleep on.

If you’re over the age of 25, employed, have friends that are employed, and want to experience New Year’s in Times Square, you’re probably going to want to copy our model. One of the rooms that Jason and Mike sprung for was facing Times Square, so most everyone congregated in that room. We could open the windows, see what was going on, and listen to all the performances without going outside. We could have stayed in that room for the ball drop, but if you’ve made it that far, you’re going to want to try and make it outside.

Going outside sounds easy. It is not. Mainly, there’s the aforementioned NYPD-shutting-down-all-entrances-at–4pm issue. Needless to say, New York police officers are not pushovers. Luckily, neither is Mike Turner. Don’t ask me how he does it, but Mike greased enough wheels to not only gain us entrance into supposedly closed off areas, but also get us in only about 15 minutes before the ball drops. Instead of standing in puddles of urine among swarms of hungover people for eight hours, we pulled right into our ball-watching spots with only a few minutes until midnight.

I’ve posted some pictures below (and you can click through to see the whole set). That’s probably the best way to get a sense of what it’s like. There’s a kind of joyous pandemonium that becomes more palpable with every second that’s counted down.

Is it worth going? I think so, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done.

Will I be going back?

Never again (until the next time).

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