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Thursday: 'Ye Olde Village of the Damned
(NOTE: The following account is essentially a ranting gripe-fest. If you'd rather read about fun things, please skip ahead to PART 3.)

The rainy Thursday started slowly for me. I rarely touch booze at all, and the giant Sphinx drink from the night before left me feeling pretty wiped out. So while I slept in late, Art hoofed down to the Luxor casino and won $60 in the slot machines!

Even this cute purple dragon couldn't save Excalibur.I was finally showered and prepared for Vegas adventuring by 2:30. Once we had our coffee, we headed to the Pharaoh's Pavilion and rode two of the IMAX Virtual Roller Coaster rides. The first ride, In Search of the Obelisk was exclusively built for The Luxor and it was just as elaborate as The Star Trek Experience, though it was also twice as cheesy. The ride was very immersive -- participants were led through a series of Stargate-inspired rooms with lots of sculptures and props before entering the motion simulator. As a possible harbinger of things to come, one woman actually called for an attendant to stop the "In Search of the Obelisk" ride and elected to get off because the jerky motion hurt her already injured neck. While I'd have to agree and say the ride was unnecessarily violent (and both Luxor rides me a little queasy ... Star Trek did not), it was kind of annoying to start the whole ride all over again because of one person. There had to be a dozen signs and verbal warnings about the nature of the ride. Art and I couldn't figure out why the woman didn't heed the warnings before entering.

We took in the second ride -- an IMAX version of Disney World's "Haunted Mansion," then sprinted to The Pyramid Cafe for a late breakfast.

Excalibur looks nice on the outside. Looks can be deceiving.Our primary destination for the day was The Excalibur Hotel, which was accessible from The Luxor via a moving walkway. The Excalibur is a giant medieval-themed hotel shaped like a Camelot castle. It looked stunning on the outside. Since Art and I both like dragons and Lord of the Rings-ish fantasy stuff, we briefly considered staying at The Excalibur when we began planning our trip. Upon further investigation I thought the rooms I saw were unspectacular and I read some mixed reviews about the hotel quality, so we opted for The Luxor instead.

I had purchased advance tickets for a dinner show at Excalibur called The Tournament of Kings, which was described on the website as a "joust while you eat" affair styled like a medieval banquet. When I was in high school I attended a show in Florida called something like "The Queen's Feast," which was a genuinely fun Renaissance-fairy show with sword fights, jugglers, fire-eaters, and magicians. I expected Tournament of Kings to be very similar.

The show didn't begin until 8:30 so we figured we'd tour The Excalibur's shops, pick up our tickets, and take in some of the free shows until dinnertime.

The front door to the Excalibur was completely busted. And yuck -- someone spilled something gross there, too. This IS the front door as accessible from the strip.We should have interpreted the broken moving walkways that led to Excalibur as a divine sign telling us to stay away. In fact, let me say that the only broken hotel things we saw during our Vegas stay were ALL at The Excalibur. Broken escalators, broken walkways, broken doors, soggy bathrooms ... you name it, it was broken (we'll spare you the endless photos we snapped of the broken accessories -- that door should be sufficient).

Art and I perused the stores on the top level. Since, as mentioned, we both dig dragons, elves, and such, we expected to blow a good bit of money in the Excalibur shops. But all of the stores seemed kind of trashy ... especially compared to The Luxor's shops, which carried beautifully crafted and fairly inexpensive Egyptian items exclusive to the hotel. Everything in the Excalibur stores felt tacky -- nothing cried out to be purchased. What I saw was more Bea Arthur than King Arthur. To make matters worse, there was a Crispy Creme Doughnut bakery on the top level that reeked of fermented grease so badly it made everything up there stink like an indoor Amish farmer's market. There's a fairly popular wedding chapel on the top floor of the Excalibur, and though the chapel itself was pretty, I felt bad for any brides who found themselves smelling like a moldy Dunkin' Donut cafe on their wedding day.

The scurge of Excalibur: grouchy children. Where's the Pied Piper when you need him?Throughout our stay in Vegas Art and I remained impressed by how generally classy Vegas travellers seemed. Everyone was polite. Granted, most folks floated around as if in their own world, but there was no wanton rudeness. Excalibur was totally different; the people hanging out in the hotel were obnoxious and rude, and skuzzy. Just as an example: one Excalibur store sold a wide array of Medieval clothes and hats (jester hats, damsel cones, viking horns etc.). Now, a few feet away stood a shack that, for a small fee, provided customers with the same hats and outfits so they could pose for goofy Medieval photos in costume. We watched in horror as a large group of unbathed, oily-haired, dingy-looking scumbags all donned the medieval clothes that were on sale and posed for their own pictures; completely ignoring the station established for that very function! Then they returned the hats/clothes to the salesracks and moved on like nothing happened. I wouldn't wipe my ass with anything these people touched, let alone buy a dorky piece of clothing they'd worn. Yuck.

And then there were the evil throngs of children -- screaming, crying, pushing, shoving brats as far as the eye could see. Vegas is a wonderland for adults, but I really think bringing rugrats to Vegas should be against the law. There's simply not enough for children to do in Las Vegas. The underage boredom factor is so pronounced that I bet even the most well behaved child turns into an antsy animal when plopped in Vegas. The Excalibur crawled with more children than any other hotel we visited, and the place seemed to bring out the worst in kids. Tots were everywhere and they all behaved badly. It felt like we were surrounded by hundreds of irate miniature prison inmates all on the verge of rioting.

At one point early on, I mused rather loudly: "This place should be called 'Ye Olde Village of the Damned." One of the roaming Medieval players heard me and laughed.

The puppet show was short on plot, but it looked kinda groovy.Disappointed by the shops, we decided to take in a free show -- in this case it was a vapid black-light puppet show. The show was OK overall -- it looked kinda cool and included a number of thinly-veiled adult jokes designed to amuse grown-ups in the audience. But there weren't many adults in the audience; it was wall-to-wall jumping, squealing kiddies.

We decided to pick up our Tournament of Kings tickets after the puppet show, which meant we had to descend to the casino level. We rode down on an escalator that had a jagged railing. The railing sliced open Art's hand!! It drew blood. Our shared frustration with this hotel grew by the minute.

I had initially thought that The Luxor's casino felt claustrophobic. Seeing the Excalibur casino quickly changed my mind. The casino sported an erratic, hard to navigate floorplan and it was absolutely mobbed with grody looking adults and foul-tempered kids. We fought our way through the grimy crowd and stepped up to the ticket counter.

To be blunt, the attendant at the ticket counter was an incompetent boob. The people ahead of us in line were all quarreling with the attendant because he couldn't find their pre-purchased reservations. As they fought it out, my eye was drawn to a prominent sign that stated allergy/asthma sufferers should not attend "Tournament of Kings" because of the dust and horses.

This sign now haunts my worst nightmares. The warning you see here still does not appear on The Excalibur website.Huh. How odd. There were no warnings for allergy/asthma sufferers on the Excalibur website when I purchased the tickets!

Now, I currently live on a farm. With cows and chickens. I wake up to the zesty scent of manure every morning. A few feet away from the house stands a breeding stable for horses. I rode horses when I was younger. I also suffered from allergies when I was a child, though I outgrew most of them as I aged. Cats still make me sneezy and miserable, and I can't take penicillin. I was never allergic to horses even during my worst allergy years.

Yet ... one time when I was 18 I experienced an acute allergic reaction to a very dirty horse stable. A college friend of mine had a horse being temporarily cared for nearby and a visit to the overcrowded barn left me with swollen eyes and a wheezy chest. I felt bad enough that I immediately went to the campus infirmary when we came back, and the doctor thought I was having a reaction not to the horses but to some kind of mold growing in the barn.

The memory of that one allergic reaction raced through my mind just as the incompetent attendant called us to the counter. The Excalibur boob managed to "lose" our prepaid tickets as he did with the group ahead of us in line.

I looked over at the "warning" sign again as the attendant bumbled around the ticket desk like a jackass. I recalled that I'd been around horses since that one reaction. The more I thought about it, there was no reason for me to be concerned, seeing how I hadn't suffered any serious allergy flare-ups in over twelve years. Then I simply pushed the warning out of my mind.

Our show tickets, which the blind Excalibur ticket attendant couldn't find. God, Excalibur sucks.We finally received our tickets from the blind attendant and left the counter. Out of perverse curiosity, we lingered around to see if the Excalibur boob would "lose" the tickets of the next person in line ... and sure enough, HE DID!! Bewildered by the low-caliber Excalibur service, we set off to locate the actual entrance to the Tournament of Kings show, which turned out to be downstairs. The lowest level of The Excalibur was even dumpier than the casino. Once we knew where we needed to be at 8:30, we fled upstairs as quickly as possible. We were not surprised to discover the escalator that led upward was broken ...

I decided to visit the ladies' room on the casino level. What a mistake -- I almost wretched from the fecal odor that wafted through the dimly-lit bathroom. The floor was all wet with sickly gray water. And to make things even more surreal, a zonked out woman was propped up against the furthest wall; her nose was smeared with a white powder and her glazed eyes bugged out of her skull. Of all the many hotels Art and I visited, The Excalibur provided the only evidence of sloppy public drug abuse (odder still when you consider how many kids were roaming around the joint). I shook my head and tried to get out of there as fast as possible.

I reported my disgust back to Art, and we promptly decided to flee the casino level to return to the stores. We sat through yet another mediocre free show called The Mechanical Man, which featured a silly guy acting like a breakdancer robot a la those street performers in San Francisco. Really stupid, but the children were yipping and yapping with glee.

I noticed that The Excalibur installed little 'pay-by-the-minute' Internet stations with which you can surf the web, check email et al. Just what I needed! The Luxor offered no connections to the Internet, and I had long wanted to see if our no-show wedding guests had tried to contact me via email. We bopped up to a station and swiped our credit cards to initiate web service. Can you guess what happened? Right -- the station WAS BROKEN! In fact, ALL of the internet stations were busted.

NOW we were officially annoyed with The Excalibur.

We still had about 90 minutes to kill before our show began. We deduced that the walk was just long enough to render a trip back to The Luxor a waste of time. But we were so irritated by The Excalibur, we decided we'd rather bum around our room for a short spell and waste time walking than spend another minute in that medieval hell hole.

So we actually left The Excalibur for the comfort of our beloved Luxor sanctuary.

Dynamic promo shot of Tournament of Kings. It was too dark inside the arena to sneak any decent photos.Back at the room, we chatted at length about how sucky Excalibur was. We leafed through Art's Irreverent Guide to Vegas book and laughed hysterically at its all-too-accurate descriptions of Excalibur. "A Trailer Park Camelot." "Camelot, Ham-a-lot." Oh, truer words have never been written!! I apologized for suggesting we spend the afternoon at Excalibur. I honestly didn't think anything with a Renaissance flair could be so scummy in reality. We both expressed our hope that The Tournament of Kings show would redeem our Excalibur experience.

Heh.

We arrived at the Excalibur's Tournament of King's theatre around 8:15. We were pleased to learn that we had the best seats available; we were in the first row smack-dab in the middle of the joint. We sat an arm's length away from a giant indoor dirt field, which was where the jousting and fighting took place.

A waiter came by to pour cola into our giant plastic mugs. Art hates all forms of cola. Art politely asked if he could have water instead, and the waiter seemed confounded by the suggestion. He continued trying to pour cola into Art's mug. Art stopped him again and said it would be a waste of soda. The guy mumbled something about talking to the bar waitress and hurried off. Art and I rolled our eyes at each other. A few minutes later, a barmaid delivered three stout alcoholic drinks to the girl seated next to Art. He tried to flag the drink waitress, but she rushed off somewhere else. The gal next to Art swiftly sucked down her drinks and shots and became instantly wasted. As we perused our surroundings, we decided that her approach was probably the only way to enjoy The Excalibur -- "we should just get totally smashed and then we might not care how lame this place is!"

We sat idle for ten minutes. Finally the show began with an announced warning for allergy/asthma sufferers, followed by the standard "no photography" disclaimers. With a midget jester at his side, a low-rent Merlin started working the crowd. He gave cornball instructions on how to yell "Huzzah" during the tournament. Meanwhile, the waiter reappeared with metallic bowls of tomato soup (no spoons -- in fact, there were no utensils provided). I hate tomato soup. Art still had no drink -- not even water.

The bar waitress finally returned and we ordered our drinks. A "Cornish game hen" was then served to each audience member. Honestly, I think the game hens were just underdeveloped chickens -- flavorless and bland. Again, there were no utensils provided (jeepers, how 'medieval'), so you had to eat with your hands. The mediocre chicken was accompanied by an equally forgettable fried potato. Can you believe we paid close to $50 a piece for this? The meal was a major letdown after feasting like royalty for so many days. Still, we tried to remain upbeat despite the crummy food and service .

Not a very clear snapshot, but it should give you an idea how close to the dirt field we were.I think the waitress brought us our drinks just as we finished picking at our food. By then, the show was in full swing. The kings introduced themselves on horseback, and a good vs. evil plot was established. Each section of the theatre was divided into cheering teams. The king we were instructed to cheer for was The Russian. As luck would have it, he was one of the bad guys. After our crappy day in the Excalibur, we liked the idea of rooting for bad guys, so Art and I cheered wildly for our badass King and for Evil itself! We wanted to salvage some fun from the night.

Our 'Huzzah's' grew even louder once the drinks arrived.

At some point, I whispered to Art that the "Queen's Feast" I attended as a teen was far less tacky than the Excalibur show.

There was a bit of hand-to-hand combat on the field, then the jousting began in earnest. We had been there for about an hour. A cloud of horse-kicked dust rained down upon our section as the kings poked at each other with lances. I went to yell a hearty "Huzzah" for our double-crossing Russian antihero. Instead of making a cheering noise ... I choked.

I suddenly couldn't breathe. At all. I couldn't get any air down my throat. It was as if my lungs had completely closed up. I tried to remain calm ... again I tried to breathe deeply -- I just couldn't get any air. I tried yawning, and that only made my throat tighten from the inside.

I struggled silently for less than a minute, then abruptly excused myself. I began to sweat profusely as I rushed toward the back doors. Nothing like this had ever happened in my memory, and I was quite scared. I reached the exit doors and left the theatre ... Art was trailing close behind. I doubled over outside the main door as I gagged for breath.

In a quick blur, a waiter from the Tournament show arrived on the scene and ushered me away from the curious crowd. He called for an on-duty medical attendant. The attendant brought me an oxygen mask, but it proved useless since my throat was now almost entirely closed up. I just sorta sputtered and cried. Art paced like an expecting father as he was assaulted with a barrage of release forms (at one point, I insanely sent him back inside the theatre to grab the novelty cup my daiquiri arrived in). Somehow in the flurry an ambulance was phoned and a team of EMTs arrived shortly thereafter.

As the EMTs infused my lungs with an asthma medication, well, I was frightened to death, but I was also really embarrassed. I've never needed emergency care. Art assured me later that there was no need to be embarrassed: the hotel staff surrounded us like a human tent so no onlookers could see what was happening.

The EMTs were really nice and they reacted like a well-oiled machine. They told me that they are called to The Excalibur several times a week for the exact same thing -- people extremely allergic to whatever's in the Tournament of Kings' dust. The hospital's nickname for The Excalibur is "The Castle of Death." In between desperate breaths, I explained how I'd deemed it "'Ye Olde Village of the Damned" earlier that afternoon. I also told the team that I'd never had an allergic reaction this strong or violent before. They said they hear that all the time.

It didn't take long before my throat loosened up and I was breathing normally. The EMTs asked me if we were seated close to the actual jousting, and I assured them with a laugh that we were right on top of the action -- we couldn't have been any closer! Then the main EMT informed me that the typical allergic reaction they attend to lasts longer than my breathless bought. He recommended I go to the hospital for observation since a relapse was likely within the hour. I declined -- the last place on earth I wanted to visit on my honeymoon was an emergency room. So I signed a bunch of papers saying I was rejecting hospital care and bid farewell to the EMTs.

Art escorted me back to our Luxor room. I apologized to him profusely -- I felt terrible that I ruined the night. And what a scary way to ruin a night ... sheesh. Once "home," I changed out of my dress lest it be carrying particles of whatever it was I reacted to. I reclined on the bed with Art and took it easy. The asthma medication left me woozy. I was also petrified that I'd have a relapse and would need to seek additional emergency care. Luckily, that didn't happen.

Mandalay Bay has a gigantic stone wall with randomly strewn body parts.We waited out the "relapse" hour by renting My Big Fat Greek Wedding via pay-per-view. That film was all the rage last year, and while we were curious as to whether it was worth the hype, it didn't look like our thing when it played in theaters. We thought it was cute, though not as funny as we'd been led to believe. But once we watched Greek Wedding, we realized why it was so widely adored: it's really not terribly special. It IS an accurate caricature of most couple's weddings, Greek and otherwise. And in a strange way, it made us appreciate our own uniquely personalized wedding experience all the more (near-death dining events notwithstanding).

By the time the film ended (around 11:30), I was feeling perfectly fine. In fact, I was quite hungry! And honestly, the Excalibur day had been such a complete and total washout at that point, I wanted to do something fun to salvage the day. Art suggested we skip over to Mandalay Bay, which was accessible from The Luxor via an indoor walkway ... and that's what we did.

Patty investigates the largest stone nipple she's ever seen.Mandalay Bay was great. In fact, of all the hotels we visited, it was our second favorite behind The Luxor. We were greeted by some boozy retro 70's music coming from The House of Blues. The architecture/art at Mandalay Bay was just as nice as what we enjoyed at The Luxor -- only more varied. Mandalay Bay exuded a fantasy Caribbean/Asian theme that I found more appealing than I initially thought I would. We posed by the luxurious indoor fountains; marveled at a weird artsy wall that featured numerous randomly-placed 3-D body parts, and finally made our way to a small cafe that overlooked the hotel's enormous tropical pool area.

Art relaxes at Mandalay Bay and wonders how it's possible that the same swank hotel could also own and operate Excalibur.After a modest yet yummy cafe dinner we explored Mandalay Bay's casino, which seemed rather empty compared to Luxor's. Art lost most of his day's winnings while I ended up earning $61 on the slots! We admired Mandalay Bay's sights for a bit longer, then returned to our room sometime after 3:00. Once "home" we spent a good bit of time griping about what a shit pit Excalibur turned out to be before drifting off to sleep.

The day had been pretty awful, but hey, at least it was memorably awful. I vowed to write extensively about our Excalibur Thursday when we returned to PA.

Next: The Valentine's Day Blowout