For 6 weeks I have traversed the US with and without my children, and the grand finale was an extended layover in Las Vegas, otherwise known as "The Buffet Capital of the World". (Perhaps you thought Las Vegas was renowned for it's gambling, or maybe the showgirls. But no. It's the buffets.)
We had plans to see a show, and swim in the pool, but as soon as I saw the sign for "BUFFET OF BUFFETS" all of those plans went right out the window. I knew what the next 24 hours had in store for us.
Here's the deal with the Buffet of Buffets. For $45 per person, you have 24 hours to basically eat as much as you can. It is awesome in it's genius, in that there are 6 buffets to choose from - so you can stop in on the different buffets as you make your way from casino to (participating) casino. We had our first dinner at 9pm, then breakfast, lunch, and another earlier dinner the next night, and it was all included in that one price. If you have children who eat like my children eat, then you can appreciate the incredible value this is.
In line, the kids were completely freaking out. They hadn't eaten in hours and the jet lag was setting in. I regaled them with tales of the best buffets we had ever been to, and reminded them that as soon as we were seated they could go straight to the buffet and get food - no waiting to be served, this was the best kind of fast food there was.
We finally got a table, and got down to business. We know what to do in situations like this: skip the carbs, pile on the red meat and seafood, look for the cheese platter and then hit the dessert, and hit it hard. I went straight for the massive pile of crab legs and shrimp cocktail, and got a second plate for prime rib. Sam was right behind me, pausing to add barbecue while I put a small scoop of mashed potatoes next to the roast -breaking my "no carbs at a buffet" rule because, frankly, I needed a vehicle for my gravy.
Lucy came back to the table with her first plate: a small wedge of cherry pie.
Max came back with 2 barbecued ribs.
"Um, what the heck are you doing?" I asked, bewildered.
"Dude, you can do better than that guys. Are you serious right now?" Sam looked back and forth between them, clearly distressed.
Lucy stabbed at her pie. "What? I love cherry pie!"
Max put his first rib down and sat poking at the second one. "I don't know what I want to eat."
I set my fork down. "Now you listen, and you listen good. I want you both up there getting plates full of something expensive TOOT SWEET. And Lucy, grab me another piece of that cherry pie, please." I picked up a crab leg and snapped it in half ferociously. "This is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and dammit that -" I paused to point a crab claw at the kids' plates "....is NOT all you can eat."
They stood up and wandered back towards the buffet reluctantly. Lucy returned a short time later with a plate of spaghetti, Max had a few leaves of lettuce drizzled with blue cheese dressing.
I thought Sam was going to have a stroke.
"They must be tired" I tried to reassure him. "Don't worry, they'll get the hang of it tomorrow. I know they can do better."
"You have crab on your nose." Sam said as he got up for a gelato. He came back with four. Unfortunately, Lucy was already asleep in the booth, and Max was savoring his Sprite and showed no interest in dessert.
A quick (free!) shuttle ride brought us back at our hotel. We were staying at Bally's, which is an iconic casino right smack dab in the middle of the strip, and home to Jubilee! Jubilee! is the ultimate (read: "topless") showgirl show upon which all other showgirl shows are simply cheap imitations some of the taglines in their advertising include "The headdresses weigh 45 pounds. The rest of the costume could fit in a teacup" and "Hundreds of thousands of rhinestones covering practically nothing." and "Usually you have to be in church on Sunday to say 'Hallelujah.'"
Hallelujah, indeed. Lucy was devastated to learn the show was for ages 18+, but luckily the billboards and posters all over the hotel (like the one above) gave her enough information to decide that being a showgirl would be AWESOME because they don't have to wear pants to work. I decided not to tell her that there were other jobs that also don't require pants, because I want her to be a showgirl when she grows up. They have excellent posture.
Note: Jubilee! should absolutely NOT be confused with Jubilee! which is something totally different, but equally inspirational. Although the quote on their website ("The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.—Frederick Buechner") could technically apply to either Jubilee! I do wonder if they were aware of the other Jubilee! when they chose their name. If they did, WELL PLAYED INDEED, JUBILEE!.
Bally's is part of a much larger group of resorts and casinos - 7 of them within a 4 block radius. And almost all of them have a buffet. What this means is, we had absolutely no time to see any shows because we clearly had a lot of work to do to train our kids on buffet etiquette.
The next morning found the kids standing at a crepe station, ready to fully embrace all of the make-to-order buffet options I had spent an hour discussing in detail, beginning with "The Monkey" - a banana and Nutella combo they were pretty damn excited about. I was happily breaking my no-carb rule, loading my plate with potatoes smothered in brie cheese and bacon. Sam was just loading his plate with bacon. Lucy asked if she could have a strawberry, which I gleefully fetched for her. They sat down with three plates between them, and began to eat. "It's okay if you can't eat the whole thing" I reassured them. "That is a very big crepe, and I know it's sweet. Just eat what you can." Lucy made a solid effort, then pushed the plate over to Max. "Can I have some more fruit?"
"OF COURSE YOU CAN." I leaped out of my seat and reached out a hand, ready o escort her back to the strawberries and watermelon. She picked up her plate and reached for my hand. "No, sweetie, you leave the plate here and get a clean one every time you go up."
She stopped in her tracks, and looked at me with her mouth hanging open. "WHAT?!"
"You have to get a fresh plate, honey. You can't bring up a dirty plate, because it has germs on it."
"Where should I put my dirty plate?" She was confused. Poor sweet thing.
"Just leave it here and our waitress will take it away."
"Mom. Are you telling me that I can take as much food as I want, eat only what I feel like eating, and then leave my plate on the table and go get a clean one and start all over again AS MANY TIMES AS I WANT?!"
"Well, yes. I guess. Sort of. Not really. You need to take only what you think you can eat. We don't want to waste food, but this is a great opportunity to try new things, or try a small amount of lots of things.... but you should eat what you take. And you should make sure you get some fruits and veggies too."
"But last night when Max got salad you yelled at him!"
"I didn't yell. And that wasn't salad, that was lettuce."
So wasn't convinced, but she set the plate down and took my hand, and we went over to get some more fruit. Which she ate happily for the next 30 minutes. Such a good girl.
A few hours later, it was lunch time. We went to a new resort, both to hit the buffet, and also to try to sneak into their pool. Because IT'S A GOOD SKILL TO HAVE. This buffet was not as good as the other two, so I half-heartedly took another slice of roast beef, and a few eggrolls, and then went back to the table where I found Lucy completely covered in chocolate.
"Mom" she said, waving her hands in the air. "This buffet? Has a chocolate fountain. "THIS BUFFET HAS A CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN."
Now we're getting somewhere.
And for the piece de resistance, the coda of our buffet experience, in the last of our 24 buffet hours, we found the buffet with a cotton candy machine.
And according to Max, that beats naked chicks with feathers on their heads ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.
For now. Somehow, I have a feeling his opinion might change.