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Quarter-Life Crisis Adverted. Sort Of. Driving Cross Country, Part Three: Missouri and Nevada

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Driving Cross Country: A Cross Country Tale of the US, Part Three: Missouri and Nevada

Long story short, my partner of two years and I quit our stable, semi-satisfactory jobs in D.C., bought a car, and spent two months visiting the 48 continental states.

Why would we do something so irresponsible? Why not? Timing was good, funds available. There were many more reasons why but that part is boring. Over the next several weeks I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of some of the more interesting parts of the trip. Please enjoy.

The States: Missouri and Nevada

Sure, everyone has heard of Las Vegas, Nevada but have you heard of Branson, Missouri? Believe it or not, the two places have a lot in common and we were fortunate to visit both in November.

Las Vegas, Nevada

The Bellagio. Photo Halley OfnerWe checked into the MGM Grand just before dinnertime. Despite a really not-so-great room, the MGM Grand really had some beautiful areas. Our first order of business was to check out a buffet. Since we were still pretty tired from visiting Disneyland the day before (more on that in a future article), we decided to stay close to the room and just head downstairs to the MGM Grand Buffet. Um, pretty delicious.

With full bellies we thought it was only fitting to head to the penny slots for a little gambling. I mean, what else do you do in Vegas, right? At the end of the night (which for us meant 10pm), my partner was down $25 and I was down $15. Blah.

The next day held much more excitement. It started with an interesting conversation over lunch with two gentlemen who claimed to be from D.C. (actually from Virginia) and bragged about the lap dances they received the night before. They even showed us pictures. Multiple pictures.

We found exactly what we were looking for in a stereotypical glamorous Vegas experience at the Bellagio, just a few blocks down the Strip. We caught one of the famous fountain shows before heading inside. Once inside, the first thing we noticed was the gorgeous ceiling. I still can’t quite put into words what we saw, but it looked like hundreds of hand-blown glass sculptures. I was so fascinated that I got dizzy taking pictures and may or may not have bumped into someone.

The Ceiling inside The Bellagio. Photo Halley OfnerWhen I finally managed to stop staring up, we hit the penny slots again. For those who don’t know, usually the maximum bet on a penny slot machine is between 20 and 25 cents. This low risk is why we stay in this area of casinos. Despite the small buy-in, by the time our highly anticipated Vegas show started, I was down another $25.

Our Vegas act of choice was O, a Cirque du Soleil show that involves a lot of jumping into water (yes, a 1.5 million gallon pool is the majority of the stage) and the usual acrobatics that come with every Cirque du Soleil performance. I feel the best way to describe this hyped show is in one word: amazicredibcraziawesome. The costumes, music, movement and humor were all done so well. I’m fairly certain no one could have prepared me for the wonderfulness that was O.

Back to the slots, because, again, we were in Vegas and according to all the shows on the telly, that’s what you do. I left my companion happily playing Hex Breakers, her favorite, and wandered over to Super Jackpot Party. I played 20 lines at one cent each for a whopping 20-cent bet, was bounced right into a bonus game, and won $12. Looking at the main screen, however, it was saying I only had 1268 credits, which translates to $12.68, which means I lost more than my 20-cent bet. Needless to say, I was a bit angry. Frustrated and thinking that the machine had malfunctioned, I withdrew my money.

Well I hadn’t won $12. I had won $318.25. On a 20-cent bet. A thank you.

10:30pm seemed like a good time to have dinner, so I treated us to a nice meal at the Café Bellagio. A few more fountain shows and to bed we went so we would be rested for our adventure at the Hoover Dam the next day (definitely the best damn dam I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting).

Branson, Missouri

Branson. Think family-friendly Vegas. Like the Strip, Branson has lots of lights, lots of acts, lots of shopping, and even a fountain show. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go into many stores due to the holiday (Thanksgiving) but we were able to catch a show. It was no Cirque du Soleil, but there was still plenty of action.

If you’ve ever been to a Medieval Times, the show we went to was very similar. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, allow a brief description: horse-riding stunts, singing, cheering, one side wins while the other does not, flags, lots of little kids, eating a four-course meal with your hands. Fun the first time, because you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into, but I’d caution against going twice or more.

The World's Largest Banjo. Photo Halley OfnerDolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede was transformed from its usual North vs. South show into appropriately Christmas-themed (no politically correct “holiday” here) North Pole vs. South Pole. The North was clearly where it was at as we creamed the South section. I don’t even feel a little bad about screaming at the horses to go faster. Well, maybe a little.

Another similarity between Sin City and Branson: Scams. Everywhere you turn, someone is trying to sell you a timeshare. Step right up and spend two hours listening to the benefits of buying in but be careful, kids: if you’re even a second late, you no longer get those “free” tickets to that show. Not married? No deal. Different last name than your spouse? No dice. We had the honor of sitting through a pitch by a woman at a gift shop, so we feel pretty well versed in the dos and don’ts of timeshare presentations. Lucky, lucky girls.

Although Branson does not have slot machines, good buffets (they existed, but they weren’t all that and a bag of chips), or men on the corner advertising ladies performing nearby, it does host the World’s Largest Banjo, so that might actually make it cooler than Vegas. Just saying.

Click here to read more of my Cross Country Roadtrip Tales.

–Halley Ofner is a Contributor to The Free George. Photos by Halley Ofner.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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