AWS re:Invent 2018 Guide - An Alternative Look

Oliver Berger | Sun, 23 Sep 2018

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Congratulations - you convinced the boss to let you go to re:Invent in Vegas! You’ve started reading up on all the most useful talks, the breakouts and you’ve probably lined up a bunch of meetings with key vendors / clients / contacts (delete as appropriate).

But what about the leisure time? How are you planning to spend that well earned break away from the office and/or the kids. How are you going to max out the company expense account?

Here are some tips from a Vegas veteran, I’ve been more times than I can remember (!) so the following comes with the benefit of experience:

Everything is much further than it looks

If you’re on the strip and you’re looking to walk from one hotel to another, or even a couple of blocks, it will take you a long time. I’m not joking. Look at any map and you’ll see that each hotel takes up a whole block and then bare in mind that each of those blocks is filled to the brim with tourists and street performers. Allow plenty of time to get places and be thankful you’re not navigating the strip during the summer months in the Nevada Desert, although that does mean it'll be a bit cold...

Pack plenty of fluids

Scarf, Sweater and Hat

You might think that because you’re in the desert it’s going to be warm but you’re mistaken. Last year was pretty cold although thanks to some mad hoodie swag from AWS it was manageable. Don’t forget, the hotels are spaced pretty far apart so you’ll spend a fair bit of time outdoors. Even if you’re staying at the Venetian, chances are that unless you’re a hermit you’ll go elsewhere in town, at the very least because some of the sessions are spread to other hotels.

Chapstick and Moisturiser

Applies to guys and girls - no discrimination here. The air conditioning in Vegas is intense. You’ll be indoors a lot at that time of year, so if you’re at all prone to that sort of thing, you’ll want to avoid drying out by being prepared.

Make meetings in advance

There are plenty of awesome people to meet at the conference, some who you’ll want to track down for the first time and some of whom you’ll have had dealings with before over Skype (or Chime!), via email or even in the OG-AWS slack community. Just remember, everyone is busy and tearing around the place with a lot on their agenda! Try to arrange meetings and drinks with people in advance - last year we found a huge amount of benefit from locking in appointments with people up front, some of whom were from the same town but we would never have made the time for otherwise.

Also, research where to meet. Last year there was a great coffee shop just outside the hallway (which may have served us two espressos when we asked for a double) but also check that the places still exist - we made a number of meetups at The Bourbon in The Venetian which is no longer there - it’s worth checking!

Play some poker

A lot of people are nervous about playing poker in Vegas, they’ve seen the movies and they don’t want to get suckered. Don’t worry too much about it. Set yourself a limit and go play Texas Hold ‘em at the $1/$2 table at the Bellagio. Write off a few bucks as throwaway entertainment money and look at any winnings as a bonus. Speaking of bonus, they’ll serve you free drinks if you sit and play poker at the Bellagio (and most card halls on the strip), they just ask for a $1 tip each time.

It can sometimes be tricky to get a seat at peak hours (friday into the weekend) but if you’re travelling from overseas I recommend taking advantage of the jetlag and playing in the early hours of the morning before breakfast. For me, even at low stakes, there’s something exciting about ditching the comfort of a home game with your friends and taking your game to some strangers.

Eat Well

The variety and quality of food in Vegas is astounding. There are 24hr buffets that cost next to nothing (especially if you’re used to paying Australian prices). These are great for a good large feed, but there are also some excellent options that cater slightly more specific cuisines.


Koi is an product of its amazing namesake in LA. They refer to their cuisine as “traditional Japanese dishes with modern Californian accents” - pretty spot on. If you want ultra-traditional sushi, then don’t bother. If you want creative twists on standard Japanese fare, this is your place. The spicy tuna on crispy rice is probably unlike anything in your home town and worth the admission alone. If you have a spicy palette, the roasted shisito peppers are a delight. I highly recommend it for adventurous eaters who like sushi but want to try something a bit different.

Hash House A Go Go at The LINQ

At the other end of the sophistication spectrum is Hash House A Go Go. This is probably more of a novelty for those who live outside the USA and particularly LA which is generously serviced by Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles.

My advice - go there and order fried chicken & waffles with syrup. It sounds crazy, but just do it, maybe on a hangover. It’s rich and it’s greasy and it’s self-indulgent and it’s definitely unhealthy, but as a one-off you’ll be pleased you did it and when you’re in the gym trying to work it off back home, you’ll believe that it was totally worth it.

Have Fun

Vegas is much more than just a gambling destination - there’s more entertainment than you could possibly get through in the week of re:Invent.

See a show

If you get the chance, go to a show or 2. If you want to check out a Cirque Du Soleil, I recommend O at the Bellagio. There’s a swimming pool in a theatre. A. SWIMMING. POOL. IN. A. THEATRE. That should be all you need to know about it.. But yeah, they do cool shit in and out of that swimming pool too. So go see it if that’s your thing.

Sadly, Celine Dion is not playing in her eponymous theatre during re:Invent, perhaps she’s busy attending and figuring out whether the EC2 X1 is too large for her needs or whether Redshift is truly the solution that meets her database requirements.

Maybe you'll bump into her at the IOT breakout session

Go shoot a gun

Again, a recommendation for those who live outside the USA where the novelty might be a bit more compelling. If you can sneak away from re:Invent for a couple of hours, take a cab to Battlefield Vegas where some lovely ex-military types will equip you with some guns and a friendly word on how they work. If you really want to work out some of those anger issues (maybe from that time the AWS outage sent your environment into meltdown), I recommend the mini gun.

Don't forget to take your boss

Drive a really fast car

Drive a Ferrari or a Lamborghini or a McLaren. Drive it real fast. Then get driven in it even faster.

Last time I was in Vegas we took the day at Dream Racing. After a few minutes checking your competency in a simulator, they’ll take you out on a track with a professional who will get you driving faster than you ever thought you could go. They’re with you the whole time barking instructions in your ear so nothing can really go wrong. Its an incredible thrill, even for someone like me who doesn’t like driving. Then, just when you think you’ve run out of adrenalin, your instructor will drive you round for a couple of laps - you’ll really get to know what quick is.

Hang out with GorillaStack

These are just a few of my favourite things to do when in Vegas. If you want to hang out with us at re:Invent and go do something cool or talk about AWS Automation and how GorillaStack can help to simplify your DevOps workload.. drop us a line. We love to hear from new friends and we’d love to play some poker or go shooting with you. We won’t be checking out Celine Dion with you unfortunately.

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