"2011 Trip" Las Vegas Travelogue by PinkFloydActuary
Las Vegas Travel Guide: 8,512 reviews and 17,575 photos
It always seems like such a great idea when booking a flight to Vegas - get in as early as possible. Unfortunately, that means leaving as early as possible, which in this case meant a 6:00 flight and a 3:30 am wake up time. This was my first attempt with Southwest, and I had decided the $10 splurge on automatic check-in was necessary, as I absolutely need an aisle seat. My $10 did not go to waste, as I was fourth on board, with a aisle seat in the exit row. Totally worth it...got a 6-pack of Oreos for a snack to boot.
So, I touched down just before 8:00 am Vegas time, and Doug was waiting at the gate. Since Greg would not arrive for another 90 minutes, we jumped on the bus to the car rental depot, and with my Dollar Express membership, was directed immediately to stall 27, home of a brand new...Chevy Aveo! With Doug as a late addition to the trip, I did not upgrade my original reservation for an economy (which I had scored at $13.50 a day.) I imagine watching three people who come in at 6' 3" and above exit one of these things must be akin to seeing a clown car in action for the first time.
That only took about 15 minutes, so Doug and I decided to grab a quick bite. We jumped over to the strip, parked at the Tropicana, and walked up to the La Salsa Cantina in the Gameworks strip mall next to the MGM. The restaurant still has a $3.95 breakfast special - 2 eggs, a choice of meat, and breakfast potatoes. This year, I forwent the $1 cheese add on, and was now fueled until lunch.
We returned to the airport with almost pitch perfect timing, and met Greg at the baggage claim area. From there, we navigated the streets behind the strip in order to find the best ways in and out of Caesars without needing to drive on the strip itself. After a few small mishaps, we had it nailed and parked. Check-in for Caesars was at noon, so we had a little time to kill. We moseyed south through Bellagio, and found our way to Cosmopolitan, the new kid on the block.
After a few moments to figure out the map of this eclectic property, we figured it was time for a little Secret Pizza for lunch. Following the online directions down a hall across from the pool table, lined with record albums, we hit the kitchen and each got a large slice of the New York style pizza. As a Chicago area boy, my standards for pizza are pretty high, and this didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations. It's good, I had a slice of the white pizza, and it works as a "tide-you-over" type of place. While in the Cosmo, we headed downstairs to join the slot club, which had $10 of free play. While trying to find a machine that actually let you use the free play, I must have given mine up somehow, because eventually, my card showed a zero balance even though I never got to play. Oh well, luck would be up and down throughout this trip.
It was now well past noon, and having signed up for Caesar's "textpress" check-in, we headed to the bell desk and picked up keys without needing to stand in a long line. We were on the 9th floor of the Roman Tower, which is the lower end of the property. We were a little nervous based on a few reviews we had read, but the room was clean, had a view of the pool, and was right near the elevators, so no complaints from us.
For the afternoon, we looped to the north, starting across the street at the Casino Royale, since they have their $1 Michelob special still on. About 3/4 of the way through, I recalled that I really don't like Michelob. Greg sat down at a Mr. Lucky Fortune Cookie slot, while I sat next to him at whatever was available (Cleopatra, I think.) I burned through most of my buy-in quickly, but hit a big win near the end, and ended up a few bucks. We sat down again at Palazzo...still no drinks, and mostly break-even to losses on the machines. From there, we moved up to Wynn, where the waitress came by quickly, and we got a nice drink while the Video Poker machine ate all my money. Love those $20 drinks! Next up, we looped back south to TI, where we stumbled on to some Godfather slots. The slots were pretty much an up-and-down event, and I finished up a few dollars (with drink in hand again.)
By this time, dinner plans were being worked out, and we landed on the Orleans buffet. The Orleans is a fun place, and home to what probably was my favorite trip of all time. The buffet is smaller than some, but almost everything I ate was good, and I was back up for multiple plates of many items (including dessert.) After busting our guts, we wobbled over to a bank of Multi-strike video poker, where I had a semi-hot streak. The waitress came by a few times as well, so things were good all around.
The early morning for all of us was starting to take it's toll, so we headed back to the strip after a quick stop at the Rio. We had not stayed well hydrated, so the final stop was the ABC store in Planet Hollywood, where they always seem to have some sort of deal on bottled water. 1 liter bottles were going for 99 cents, so I bought one and consumed it before bed...ready for a good nights rest.
Day 1 metrics: 4 free drinks, 1 buffet, won $13; 32,808 steps (14.5 miles)
The excessive heat warning continued - expected temperatures were 108 for the day. To fuel up in the morning, we headed to Monte Carlo for the food court. Subway for me and Doug...McDonalds for Greg. Can't waste precious calories on breakfast!
We decided to jump out of town for the morning and head to Pahrump. This was the last "casino" town within a ninety minute drive for me to visit, but the real reason was to visit the Pahrump Winery. We squeezed into the Aveo, and got to town well before the winery opened, so it was time to check out a handful of the casinos. After a small stop at Walgreens so Doug could buy some child safety scissors to cut coupons out of the American Casino guide, we parked at the Pahrump Nugget. I purchased a deck of cards, and we got our $1 chips. We joined the slot club for a $5 free play, I took mine to a Village People slot, and ended up a few dollars. Doug had a match play coupon for BJ - he drew an 11 and had to fish into his wallet for another $5, but drew a 10, and walked away up. The big winner was Greg - who sat down at a Blues Brothers machine while messing around with his work e-mail, and a few minutes later hit the jackpot - 10,000 pennies! Feeling good, we went next door to Terrible's Town, where the slots stayed on the loose side and we pocketed a few dollars more. The final stop was Saddle West, which looked to be remodeling a little bit, so we basically were in and out of here...and off to the winery.
The Pahrump winery offers a few tours a day, and we were there 30 minutes before the first one, so we decided to do our tasting pre-tour. While every wine wasn't up my alley, several were quite good (you get to sample 7 of them.) The actual tour itself is about 20 minutes, and the awards room is quite impressive. We ordered a few bottles to be shipped to Texas. It's a neat little tour, and made the side trip worthwhile.
We came back along Red Rock Conservation Area, and stopped for a few pictures of the landscape. We were hitting lunchtime as we pulled into Red Rock Casino, and chose the Grand Cafe for lunch. My eyes got bigger than my stomach, and I went with a Caesar Salad and Prime Rib sandwich with a side of fries. Somehow, I ate most of it. Once again, a solid choice - good food and good service.
While in the area, we also hit Suncoast. We played a bank of video slots for a while, and was up a few dollars and we had the waitress by a few times. Then we moved to video poker, and everything started to turn.
The waitress didn't hear the "Amaretto" in my "Amaretto and Coke" order, and the machine went pretty cold - eating up my Pahrump and slot winnings and then some. Doug was also taking a beating, so we pulled up stakes and went back to the strip.
Our first stop was Bellagio, where we hit a three player video slot. I got a drink, but it was another of those $20 drinks (one of those, I need to stand around and wait for it because the money evaporated $20 drinks.) We then cut across the street through Paris to Bally's, where we played the American Idol slots, and I didn't even get the drink for my $20 this time. We next went over to Bills Gambling Hall, and I managed to hang even and pull over the waitress. Flamingo was not as kind - the money went quickly at the Hangover slots. At this point, I pushed us to get ready for dinner rather than take yet another schooling.
For dinner, we landed on the all-you-can-eat prime rib at Hard Rock. For $9.99, you get a slab of meat, mashed potatoes, and a veggie. The first round came out, and the meat was about half the size of the one the previous year, and not nearly as good a cut of meat. We did go for a second round, but it took a long time to arrive. Doug and I split it to not overdo it, while Greg went for the full second helping. The cut of meat dampened the excitement of the visit last year for me. That, and the spraying of au jus all over my pants.
We walked around the casino for a few minutes, and I sat down and my luck continued deep into my buy in when I finally had a nice run to eat into some of the earlier losses. To lift my spirits, we headed back to the strip and Ben and Jerry's at Casino Royale for dessert before retreating back to the room, and time to shake it off for round three.
Day 2 metrics: 5 free drinks, no buffet, lost $37; 18,476 steps (8.2 miles)
Good news - the excessive heat warning was over! It was only projected to get to 106 on Tuesday. Bust out the long underwear.
We had very little on the agenda other than lunch plans, so we started south. For breakfast, we stopped once again at La Salsa Cantina (the one in the Miracle Mile shops.) We did note several of the restaurants in the mall have breakfast specials, but nothing to compare with our $3.95 standby.
Our first stop was at the MGM, where we tried the Yahtzee machines - they didn't run too badly, and we had an OJ-based drink for our time served as well. From there, we skipped through the Trop (looking good after its renovations.) We considered the Mob Experience, but at $40 a pop, plus the possibility of being "hassled" by actors left us uninterested. Instead, we went over to Mandalay Bay where we sat down at a three person slot, I won a few bucks (and scored a pair of drinks...now things were looking up!) We cut back through Luxor, and stopped off at Excalibur, where I made the mistake of trying out an Alice in Wonderland slot - Alice stole all my money, and quickly. So we left Excalibur, cut through NYNY and entered Crystals near Aria en route to the Cosmo.
Our return trip here was to try out the new buffet, the Wicked Spoon. I had heard many good things about this one, and was hopeful they would turn out, as the price is fairly steep for the brunch hour. Turns out my fears were unfounded - everything was great. There are fewer stations here than some of the other buffets, and many items are served in small pots or dishes, which doesn't allow you to maintain portion control. But the food was great. Particular thumbs up at the Asian and Pasta stations, which were visited multiple times. Finish that off with make your own strawberry shortcake and an ice cream station that was top notch (I tried pistachio, tiramisu, mango sorbet, and lemon pomegranate sorbet.) Champagne or a Mimosa is included in the price. While Greg and Doug thought it was OK, I'm close to launching it near the top rung on the buffet ladder.
For the afternoon, we redid the north loop - starting with Planet Ho, Paris, and Bally's. I got one drink, but didn't score well on the machines (cursed Hangover slot!) We sidetracked over to the Casuarina, where they had $1 video Pai Gow (Awesome!) but no drink service (Bummer!). The low limits let us relax for a little while before another trip to Bill's (and another losing slots session) From there, we continued on to the IP, which will undergo a transformation in the near future, through Casino Royale (where our promotional spins got us nowhere) and then to Venetian. The losing streak for the day was heavy, but I maxed out a bonus on a Star Wars slot, which netted me a cool 5,000 pennies and got me back to positive for the day. We did a little more gambling at TI (where a royal with deuces saved my fanny), but then Doug suffered a severe headache, and we headed back to the room where he took Advil and a 2+ hour nap.
Greg and I ventured out for dinner to the Earl of Sandwich at Planet Ho. This was a place we talked about trying for years, and finally pulled the trigger. The sandwich was decent - I went with a Hawaiian BBQ - chicken, ham, cheese, and pineapple under BBQ sauce. Very tasty! For dessert, Greg kept eyeing the Sugar Factory over my shoulder and decided to go with a Fluffernutter milkshake: "Vanilla Ice Cream, Peanut Butter, Chocolate Sauce, Marshmallow, w/ Whipped Cream and Peanut Butter Cups" My teeth hurt just typing this. He says he shouldn't have watched them make it...while good, just too much. I led us back to Blizz Frozen yogurt at Mirage, hoping for the spectacular red velvet yogurt of a year ago. They didn't have it, but they did have Angel Food cake, which was almost as good.
Returning to the room, Doug had regained his color, and was ready to call it a day. Star Wars had almost pulled me all the way back to even...
Day 3 metrics: 8 free drinks (yes!), 1 buffet, lost $1; 29,337 steps (13.0 miles)
Once again, the trip was coming to a close. The effects of the milkshake still apparent, plus the fact that a Yoplait yogurt at the Roasted Bean was $3.25, led us to a breakfast of champions at Walgreens: Dark Chocolate Snickers and a Blueberry Naked Juice. We gambled a little at Palazzo and the Venetian before heading over to the Wynn to finally get a shot at playing the giant Star Trek slots as a group. We killed a little time, got a free drink, lost a few bucks, then were ready to go. I went to break a $100 bill at the bill breaker machine. it was taking a few minutes, then a wave of terror flushed over me as the dreaded "machine jam" message popped up. Luckily, Doug was able to track down someone who could open the machine and extract my mauled Benjamin. I went to the cage to get my $20s instead.
We turned south and ended up landing at the Bellagio buffet for lunch. This buffet has always been top three in town. This trip was a little bit of an off year, in my estimation. What I had was great, but the selection was lacking from previous trips. I ended up at the omelet station for round two, because I didn't see much on the first go around that was tempting. We may have come too close to breakfast, as there were a few stations still getting going when we left. Everyone has an off day - I still ended up eating plenty when it was all said and done (including multiple desserts, of course.)
For the afternoon, we decided to head downtown. First was a stop at the Gamblers General Store, where we picked up a few collectibles. My big regret is not stopping in at Spinettis afterwards - I've bought a few items over the internet from them before, but the heat was pushing us to move along.
We parked at Main Street Station, and we began our downtown assault. Across the street at California, I played one of the most entertaining slots ever, Monopoly Super Grand Hotel. The bonus consists of picking a train, where a number of guests (including rich couples and billionaires) run around jumping onto random properties. Lots of shouting at the little characters as they run around.
Several drinks later, we moved down to Golden Gate, where Doug went on a scavenger hunt to use his match play coupon. The slot club, pit boss, and cage all got involved. I stopped in at Mermaids and La Bayou to get free beads to irritate Greg, and also to get in one shot at Wheel of Fortune, which paid me in actual quarters that I had to lug around for the rest of the afternoon. We made it all the way down to El Cortez and back, and stopped in at the Plaza, which had a soft open before the grand reopening on 9/1. They really made the lobby and casino look a lot better, although we still caught a strange whiff or two by the main entrance. We finished to sojourn with time at the Vegas Club, where they still had the $2 video BJ machine - played for a while, got a few drinks, and won about $15.
On the way back to the strip, we stopped off at the Stratosphere. The highlight of this stop was the new Greyhound racing machine that plays like a hi-tech cousin of the old derby horse racing machine. You pick your dog to win/place/or show, and upfront you are told the payoffs. Pretty mindless fun, as the favorite often finished last (right next to the long shot.)
We were in town for Restaurant week, where many of the nicer restaurants build a special menu at a reduced rate to give the public a chance to try it out, with some proceeds going to charity. We wanted to stay a little on the simple side, so we chose the Carnegie Deli at Mirage. For $20 you got a choice of 1/2 of a sandwich (corned beef, pastrami, or the Woody Allen - a combo of the two), fries or a potato pancake, a coke, and a small slice of cheesecake. It's an incredible amount of food for $20, and outside of the sandwich, I couldn't finish any of it (although I was *this* close on the cheesecake.)
We finished off with a little souvenir shopping, my first and only sit down at Caesars (I played some Goddess slot and lost all my money), and one last trip to the ABC at Planet Ho. Our trip had come to a way-too-early finale.
Day 4 metrics: 6 free drinks, 1 buffet, lost $43; 27,628 steps (12.2 miles)
It took two of us several attempts and then a downloaded manual on a Smartphone, but we did figure out how to set the damn alarm on the clock in the room for a horrific 4:30 wake-up time.
Unfortunately, I had a major allergy problem set in, and could barely sleep due to build up in my sinuses and lungs. I groggily got to the airport, where Lady Luck gave me the finger one last time as I was singled out for the random "special additional" security measures. No body probing or anything, so I couldn't help but smirk. The financial losses were actually very small in total, so I upgraded my seat to an exit row for an additional $14 on AirTrans, sat back and fell asleep...and started dreaming about my next visit to my home away from home.
Trip Totals: 23 free drinks, 3 buffets, lost $68; 108,249 steps (47.9 miles)
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