The Unofficial Guide to IBM Information On Demand (IOD)
IBM Information On Demand (IOD) starts Saturday, October 20 and runs to Thursday, October 25 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Here’s my advice on what to do and what not to do in Vegas during IOD 2012, from my perspective as a Las Vegas resident, IT professional, and IOD veteran.
FIRST THINGS FIRST – Flights, rooms, getting around
Getting to Vegas:
Flights – A few options rise above the crowd this year – my new favorite airline Virgin America has direct flights from the Bay Area and New York, Southwest has good deals from everywhere else. British Airways has a direct flight from Heathrow.
Cars: Hertz often has one-way deals to Vegas. Or try VroomVroomVroom, a great improvement over the usual online car booking experience. Road Trip! Note that a new car rental center opened off-airport a couple of years ago, so you take the yellow buses marked “rental center” to pick up all cars (individual rental company buses are no more).
Orientation: The Mandalay Bay Hotel complex is huge. There’s the main Mandalay bay Hotel, then THE Hotel at Mandalay Bay, and The Four Seasons Hotel, all which share the big Mandalay Bay Beach and connect to the Mandalay Bay Events Center, where the actual event will be. If you’re in the regular Mandalay Bay Hotel and they offer you an upgrade to THE Hotel, take it. Trust me.
Nearby, the Luxor connects by a mall to the Mandalay Bay complex. Via Tram to the Excalibur you can easily get to the is the MGM Grand, New York New York, Monte Carlo, and the Tropicana as well.
Last Minute rooms – There appear to be plenty of last-minute deals on rooms this year. A quick search of hotels online show rooms just about everywhere – a couple of years ago this would not have been the case. Earlyvegas is a great place to look for last-minute deals – they track hotel promo codes and link directly to the hotel Web sites for the best deals.
If you don’t mind a drive, newer towers at the Hard Rock Hotel, the Palms, Planet Hollywood and a few hotels at CityCenter just opened and have pretty good deals. Extra Super Bonus: The Palms Place tower, The HRH Towers at the hard rock, Planet Hollywood Westgate, and some of the places at City Center were supposed to be Condos, but did not sell, so they’re bigger than normal hotel rooms, and many come with full kitchens. Ask when booking.
For those of you who can’t stand smoke and/or hate walking though a casino to get to your room, the Palms Place Tower and The Trump Hotel are completely non-smoking and non-gaming (but the Palms Place is connected to the regular tower and Casino via a walkway).
Cars are still king in Vegas. Parking at Strip Casinos is free and plentiful (Note – Downtown Las Vegas charge $5 or so at night – all strip parking isalways free), or tip the valet a buck not to be on bad valet.
Taxis are plentiful. Transport to Mandalay Bay and most other strip hotels and elsewhere for $15-$20 each way. From the airport is $15-30. Both depending on traffic, and the mood and “initiative” of your driver.
The Monorail is probably something you will not ride on, like everyone else.
The Deuce double decker buses that run on the strip are an option, but are mostly fun options for tourists and therefore not too efficient at getting you around. You’re in Vegas on business, remember? Fun trivia fact – most public buses in Las Vegas have free wifi.
Limousines are more reasonably priced than you think. Cost per person from the airport can be similar to taxis for three or more people, and some limos are on call by the hour if you need it during the conference. Bell Trans and Ambassador are reliable options.
For larger groups, rent a Double Decker Bristol. And invite me.
Best parts to Visit: The Mandalay Bay Events Center is huge and spread out. For sessions and the show floor, use the online IOD planning tool.
Swag: Don’t bring a bag to the show if you can avoid it, they have swag bags all over the place if you need one.
Water – buy water and drink it wherever you can. It’s fall and a little chilly (for here), but it’s still the desert. And the convention halls are very dry. Avoid alcohol and caffeine when you can as they dry you out. For the uninitiated, note that a lightheaded feeling, headaches and even nosebleeds can be signs of dehydration.
Jacket – If you plan to be outdoors, it gets cold here in the fall. Some days can be pool weather, other days you may need a jacket. But don’t bring a coat or jacket inside the show. It’s hot in there.
Footwear: Good shoes are essential, the walking distances are huge and concrete floors suck the life energy out of your feet. And if you have new shoes, break them in before you get here.
Coffee: There are a couple of full-service Starbucks in the events center, plus plenty of not-bad-does-the-trick coffee in between sessions..
Almost all hotels in Vegas have Wifi now, for a fee. Also, the Vegas Airport (McCarran) has Free Wifi. Here’s a list of other open Wifi Hotspots in Vegas.
Off-hours Vegas Tips:
Most large Vendors have events most nights, and there are several awards events and industry receptions, and the big concert Tuesday night. Keep your eyes open for private event invites!
Otherwise, if you want to get away from the conference and experience a bit of Vegas, here are my tips:
–Bellagio Fountain and conservatory, and the chocolate fountain behind the conservatory
-Ride to the top of the Paris Hotel Eiffel tower replica
-For Hemingway (and cigar) fans, a pretty good replica of La Floridita at Casa Fuentes in the Forum Shops. Have a Daiquiri and a Faux Cuban.
-Weird little robotic show outside the Cheesecake factory in the Caesar’s Palace Forum Shops (Vegas for Mall)
-Wynn hotel’s free water show – best at night
-Browsing rock memorabilia at the Hard Rock Hotel
-Fake Canal at the Venetian.
–Auto Collection at the Imperial Palace – Free coupons all over the place out front. Amazing Cars and all for sale.
-Las Vegas pays a lot of money to import culture. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, and the Wynn Museum are good bets, also there’s a new row of Art galleries, cool fountains, and other new installations at CityCenter.
-Free evening “Sirens” Show at Treasure Island
-Just walking up and down the strip and taking it all in.
ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE:
Las Vegas has 2 weekly entertainment magazines – check the Las Vegas Weekly and CityLife Web sites for the latest info on concerts, comedy shows, etc. Note that there are a lot of last-minute concerts and comedian shows in Vegas.
My favorite place these days: The Town Square Marketplace is a great shopping, eating and entertainment district a 15 minute drive/cab ride from most hotels on the strip, and right next door to Fry’s electronics store. Very un-Vegas ambiance – walking distance to everything, no hotels, no gambling at all, and kind of feels like downtown Santa Barbara. Lots of shops, a whole foods market with good, healthy eat-in and takeaway food, good restaurants, and a Rave Movie Theater. Blue Martini is the new cool place for happy hour for local twentysomethings. Amazing happy hour specials nearby usually from about 3-6 The Yard house is there too, but food and drink specials rate a meh. Lots of different kinds of beers, yes.
Please do Gamble. What happens in Vegas…Pays my Taxes!
Q: How do you make a small fortune in Vegas?
A: Start with a large one.
If you see one show, make it “O” at the Bellagio or my second choice, Love at the Mirage. Both are expensive, and worth every penny. For next year – Cirque show reservations can be canceled with a full refund with 48 hours notice.
Pure, Tao, and The Bank are currently the fairest of them all. Educate yourself about Bottle Service before you go. Note that many nearby clubs are closed for private receptions for at least the early evening, so call ahead.
BB King has a Blues Bar at the Mirage – pretty cool place. Great bands.
There are a few bars in town who are using new technology and displays to create some pretty fun and interesting electronic experiences as part of their lounge features. Many are in the VIP areas, so you may have to shell out a lot. And if you’re going to do that, you should invite me along to um, show you around or something….
Revolution Lounge at the Mirage
Perhaps Revolution’s most novel embellishment is its clutch of interactive tables, where patrons can take an ashtray or a cocktail glass and sketch designs on the tabletop from a series of different motifs projected onto the glass, from squirming jellyfish to fluttering butterflies.The images are then projected on a large column in the middle of the room.
Tabu nightclub at the MGM Grand
Wave a hand above a black-and-white image of a woman’s pursed lips on the table top and the area below your hand turns to color. Other tables appear littered with dozens of paper clips that scatter to other parts of the surface when an object passes over them. Yet another table is decorated with a fairly plain motif, until an item — say, a drink — is placed on it. At that, a Lord of the Rings-style circle of fire surrounds the object.
Eyecandy sound lounge & bar at the Mandalay Bay Hotel
Featuring interactive touch tables exclusively for eyecandy sound lounge, this groundbreaking technology allows guests to be in control of their nightlife experience all from the comfort of their booth. Using interactive, multi-touch tables, guests can create visuals and messaging as well as project images onto screens above the dance floor. This high-tech table technology allows guests to create and control the visual and audio environment, becoming part of the sensory experience, where each night has a unique vibe.
Windows Surface at iBar at the Rio Hotel
With the unique interaction that Microsoft Surface enables, Harrah’s has created an innovative suite of custom applications to provide guests with hip new ways to create their very own ultimate entertainment experience in an ultra-lounge venue.
Minus 5 Bar at the Mandalay Bay Hotel
if it’s not already cold enough in Vegas, you can freeze at this place. If you don’t want to go though the whole experience of putting on the jacket and sitting in ice chairs at an ice table, you can just have a drink in an ice glass in the bar next door.
You don’t have to buy a massage or treatment to experience a Vegas Spa. All Vegas Spas have reasonably priced day passes, which include access to all Spa facilities, usually including the gym (and outdoor pool, but it’s too cold for that), robes, slippers/sandals, lockers, refreshments, and are well worth the experience. Qua at Caesars palace is the best. It has a snow room! I also like the small but very good Drift Spa and Hammam at the Palms Place Tower. Other well rated Spas are at the Wynn Encore, Mandalay Bay, and the Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian.
Helicopter tours of the grand canyon. Maverick is the best operator.
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is now open.
The Valley of Fire is an amazing place.
Closer to Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is worth catching at sunrise, like Tony Soprano did. Peyote optional.
Vegas has a small but accessible and fun Ski Resort. Bet you didn’t know that.
There are several tourist gun ranges. You know you want to. Good Automatic Weapons packages here.
I like the Nine Fine Irishmen Pub in the New York New York. A great live Celtic band starts at 9, and they have live step dancers!
MIX in the Mandalay bay is a cool choice, with a great view of the strip, and free before 10, after that everyone is herded around into standing-only pens unless they want to buy bottle service.
For sports bars, I like the one at the Bellagio or the Wynn, or Blondie’s in the Mall behind Planet Hollywood. Emeril Lagasse has a new sports bar in Jay-Z’s old club at the Palazzo, called Lagasse’s Stadium.
The Las Vegas Strip is a great case study on the meaning of expensive vs. overpriced. However, there are some diamonds in the rough…..If you’re on expenses or just want to splash out, I recommend Bouchon at the Venetian or Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel. Also anything by Michael Mina – Seablue for healthy seafood at the MGM Grand, and unhealthy but great seafood like the the lobster pie at Michael Mina restaurant at the Bellagio.
For a good meal moderately priced I like Nine Fine Irishman (the seafood chowder is amazing) in the New York New York, Café Ba Ba Reeba for tapas in the Fashion show mall, or the Wynn Buffet, (IMHO the best buffet in town).
Bargains: The few edible meal bargains left in Vegas are off-strip. My faves are both at the Hard Rock Hotel: : The $7.77 Steak and Shrimp (ask for it – not on the menu) at Mr Lucky’s, and happy hour 5-7 in the Pink Taco, 2-for-1 drinks and appetizers.
SPECIAL DIETARY NEEDS:
Lots of healthy food at the several Trader Joe’s and two Whole Foods Markets in town. Also many products for special diets: Parve, Halal, Vegetarian, you name it….There is a nearby Whole Foods Market on the Strip, at the Town Square Marketplace, a 10-15 minute drive/cab ride from most hotels on the strip. Lots of very good, healthy, reasonably priced (for Vegas anyway) prepared foods. The closest alternative is Albertsons on Flamingo 5-10 minutes drive/cab ride in normal traffic from the strip.
The best dessert in Vegas is at the patisserie in the Bellagio. And the floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain is worth a visit. The white chocolate cheesecake is my favorite. The second best is in the Venetian: the Bouchon walk-up pastry outlet under the escalators across from the Phantom of the opera theater entrance Also great gelato in the food court nearby.
There are ABC stores hidden in a few malls around the strip, otherwise the 24 hour CVS and Walgreen’s pharmacies are next to CityCenter and between the Palazzo and the Venetian. All have reasonable prices on bottled water, etc, and the cheapest and tackiest souvenirs in Vegas.
Lee’s Discount Liquors south of the airport on Vegas Boulevard is the best and closest place Great prices.
Yes, Vegas has a Fry’s. If you don’t know what that is, it’s an amazing, huge and fairly cheap electronics superstore. If you can’t find it there it probably doesn’t exist in the retail world…..I call it Nerdvana….
Hope that helps! Have Fun! Leave comments of you have specific questions!