Sorry for the delayâ€¦work has its way of piling up when one is away so thatâ€™s what happened to me when I got back. This trip report is dedicated to Hurricane Mikey who has provided me and many others with hours and hours of trip report enjoyment over the yearsâ€¦ I left Cincinnati for Columbus sometime before eight in the morning on Sunday, February 4th in order to catch a flight at noon to Denver. After a quick layover, I was in Mecca by 3:50 pacific time. The flights were smooth and uneventful, but my timing for the arrival wasnâ€™t the bestâ€”with the Big Game already underway, I couldnâ€™t lay any action on the Colts or the under, two bets which would have paid off. With three people in our party we decided to stay at the Residence Inn on Dean Martin Drive (the road formerly known as Industrial). Staying off The Strip or away from downtown is about as much fun as it soundsâ€”the hotel was nice enough, but when the urge to hit the tables strikes at 3:00 a.m. Residence Inn could not accommodate. The free shuttle to Mandalay Bay works well during the day, but the last bus picks up at midnight (not always the best time to drop everything in a 24-hour town like Vegas). The suite was also smaller than we expected, so we probably wonâ€™t stay there next time. For this trip, though, the air and hotel package could not be beat for the price. I got settled in and then met up with some family for dinner. Having family in Vegas gives me the best of both worlds: a localâ€™s perspective of the town with plenty of time to still be a tourist. We had dinner at Black Bear Diner on West Tropicana. In the mood for breakfast, I ordered the South of the Border omelet: a yummy assortment of chorizo, green chilies, jack cheese, and avocado. This omelet was in the running for best omelet Iâ€™ve ever had. Also notable at Black Bear Diner is their selection of cream pies. While I didnâ€™t partake, the banana cream pie (served in a huge bowl and piled high with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream) looked scrumptious. After dinner, too tired to think straight and too full to move, we went to the familyâ€™s house and relaxed a while, determined to recharge our batteries for the next day. I awoke early on Monday eager to take Vegas by storm. I outfitted myself in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts, an ensemble that drew strange glances from locals bundled up in winter coats. A hotel worker quickly pegged me as a Midwesterner and I replied that even the morning low in the 40s felt rather balmy to my cold bones. First stop on Monday morning was Mandalay Bay to check out the board for any enticing sports bets. The Bay was still cleaning up from the previous nightâ€™s Super Bowl buffoonery, so I left without placing any action. On I went to MGM Grand in search of the monorail. The Search for The Monorail turned out to be a hefty propositionâ€”one who enters MGM Grand on the side by Tropicana is required to negotiate the endless lionâ€™s labyrinth through the casino floor and the studio walk in order to reach the station. My final destination on this morning (as well as the next two) was Sahara, so despite the trek, I still found the monorail to be a convenient mode of transportation. The monorail is great for traveling north of Harrahâ€™s and Imperial Palace, but itâ€™s probably quicker to walk to any other southern property on the line than it is to walk through MGM to get to the monorail station. Safely aboard the monorail, I sat back and enjoyed the ride. The view of the golf course at Wynn is particularly niceâ€”this is the only view Iâ€™ll ever get as the 500-dollar greens fee is just a little out of my league. I took the ride to Sahara in order to enter their 11AM Texas Hold â€˜Em tournament. For a low-roller like me, Sahara had the best tournament structure: a 42-dollar buy-in for 3,000 in chips with an optional 20-dollar re-buy for 2,000 more chips. On top of that, Saharaâ€™s tournament has 20-minute blind levels and a 25/25 opening blind structure. This format allowed me the most bang for my buck. Other low buy-in tournaments offer only 300 or 400 in starting chips, 15-minute blinds, and blind levels that quickly increase to 100/200, which require one to get lucky on an early all-in move to stay alive. Saharaâ€™s tournament attracts about 60 to 70 players, with a fair amount of locals and a number of inexperienced players as well. The dealers and players were friendly during my visits and Sahara deals a quick but relaxed tournament. I quickly realized that no matter how much one knows about poker, one still needs to get decent cards in order to be successful. At one point I think I folded 20 hands in a row, with a measly pair of 9s as my best starting hand during this session. I lasted until the first break, but quickly found myself short-stacked. An unsuited ace/jack looked good in the hole so I went all in for my last grand or so, but was knocked out when someone called with queen/nine and both a queen and a nine came up on the board. While disappointed with my poor showing and the lack of good cards throughout the tournament, I had a great time and found my 42 dollars to be well spent. After poker, I headed south and wandered through Ballyâ€™s and Paris before settling in at one of my favorite spots in all of Vegas: the Bellagio sportsbook. Iâ€™ve professed my love for Bellagioâ€™s sportsbook on this forum before and it did not fail to impress this time around. I took a quick glance at the crowded poker room, hoping to catch a glimpse of some poker elite. I saw none, so I pressed on and quickly found a comfy leather chair in the sportsbook right in front of the bank of big screens. A cocktail waitress arrived posthaste and in two shakes of a lambâ€™s tail I had a tasty Bloody Mary. Some folks retire to Florida. Some folks prefer Arizona. I could retire to the Bellagio sportsbook. With three Bloody Marys in the system, it was time to find some lunch. I decided on the deli at New York New York. The ham, turkey, and beef brisket sandwich was good, although the accompanying potato salad left something to be desired. I met up with the family shortly after and we had dinner at a local bar and grille. The name escapes me as this meal was wholly uneventful and the meal was sub par. Still full from lunch I opted for a brownie sundaeâ€”the portion was generous and the flavor acceptableâ€”but the general consensus of the group was that the dinner was a disappointment. We headed back to the familyâ€™s house after dinner to catch up and then bailed to the hotel room early as our bodies had not yet adjusted to west coast time. Tuesday began very much the same way as Monday: a shuttle ride to Mandalay and then a monorail ride to Sahara for the 11AM poker tournament. It was at Mandalay Bay on Tuesday that I made the first of many sports betting mistakes. Loyola Marymount was an 11-point dog at home against Gonzaga. The money line of +600 looked even more attractive, but of course I didnâ€™t bet the game. Loyola Marymount went on to win 67-61 to make some bettorsâ€”but not meâ€”very happy. I went into Tuesdayâ€™s poker tournament with an open mind, determined to get some good cards. But the poker Gods were not smiling and I was once again bitten by the fold monster. 3-7 off suit, 2-9 off suit, and pocket 2s with ace, ace, king on the board ruled the day. I lasted about three hours, but once again found myself short stacked. In the big blind and able to post only one more blind, I went all in with ace/jack. A player with a lot more money than me rolled the dice with queen/two and I was busted out when a two came on fourth street. A tough day at the table to be sure, but I felt good about how I played with the cards that I was dealt. Steakhouse 46 at Flamingo was on tap for dinner so I decided to head south and relax at Bellagio. Cocktail service was excellent once again and I put away four more Bloody Marys while waiting for the dinner bell. I made my way over to Flamingo a little early in order to stop by Margaritaville before dinner. I secured a jumbo shot glass for a Parrothead friend of mine and grabbed a Land Shark Lager (Jimmyâ€™s own line of beer) from the bar. I found a lounge chair outside on the corner of The Strip and watched the world go by as I enjoyed the warm weather and the brew. With my drink drunk I went next door to meet up with the family for our Steakhouse 46 dinner. This would be my first â€œfancyâ€ meal in Vegas, so I was looking forward to the experience. My high hopes were quickly dashed, however, because of poor service and average food. I had trouble choosing between the lamb chops or the ahi tuna, but I ultimately went with the meat. I passed on a side dish and ordered the lobster bisque as a starter. The bisque was good, but the two pieces of lobster thrown in the bowl seemed like an afterthought by the chef. The lamb was decent, although nothing I couldnâ€™t get at an upscale restaurant in my neck of the woods. The slow and inattentive service didnâ€™t add much to the overall experience. I wasnâ€™t upset with our experience, but I wonâ€™t recommend Steakhouse 46 and will look elsewhere before dining there again. Steakhouse 46 simply was not worth the price. After dinner I headed back to the hotel, eager for sleep and ready to tackle Vegas once more in the morning. On day three I couldnâ€™t break my pattern of the previous two days and quickly found myself at Sahara for the 11AM tournament. I didnâ€™t stop by Mandalay Bay first to place bets on Duke, a 4-point dog to UNC at home. More on that game later. Since the table had been so cold at Sahara only Monday and Tuesday, I wasnâ€™t expecting to get decent cards on day three. I was quite surprised, then, to look down at my first hand of the day and see pocket aces. I made a good-sized raise with blinds at 25/25 and everyone folded around, confident that I had the bullets. My only other good hand of the day came later in the tournament just after a table change. I had king/ten of diamonds and made a flush when three diamonds came on the flop. Everyone else at the table had folded so I was headâ€™s up in late position. The guy kept betting into me so I was eventually able to double up. Soon after, I found myself with pocket eights in the big blind and went all-in. I got called by king/queen offsuit and the guy caught a queen to put me out. For 42 bucks I had a nice time, although I would have liked to post a better showing. From Sahara I made my way to Rio so I could secure tickets for Penn & Teller. Ballyâ€™s offers a free shuttle to Rioâ€”the shuttle picks at the small side entranceâ€”that is quick and convenient. I didnâ€™t get to Rio on my first trip to Vegas, so I spent some time wandering around. I had heard about the â€œBevertainersâ€ on these forums and got to experience their shtick first hand. If I had been sitting at one of the slot machines forced to listen to that ear-bleeding noise I would have been most annoyed. I was glad to be on a quick sightseeing tour so I could run away. I made my way back to Bellagioâ€”is it clear that I enjoy this place?â€”to catch the start of the Duke/UNC game. I placed a few more bets on underdogs that looked good (all eventual losers, of course) and had a few more Bloody Marys. Duke looked strong in the first half so I traveled back to Rio to catch the second half and to get ready for Penn & Teller. As the game wore on, Duke started to come unglued and my bets looked to be in jeopardy. I had Duke on the money line, and also made a bet on the points. UNC eventually covered, so I was not to cash a ticket on this game. With my wallet lighter and head hung low, I made my way to the Penn & Teller theater for the big show. Anyone who hasnâ€™t been to Penn & Teller, I would suggest getting to the theater earlyâ€”gates open at 8:00PM for the 9:00PM show. Penn plays upright bass in a jazz duet before the show and the audience has a chance to participate in the â€œPenn & Teller Envelope Signing Experience.â€ The show started promptly, and for the next 90 minutes I was thoroughly entertained. I hesitate to get into specifics about the show for those who havenâ€™t had the pleasure. Tellerâ€™s fish tank routine and Pennâ€™s juggling act are highlights. Penn & Teller get my highest recommendationâ€”anyone looking for an expert mix of comedy, magic, and (to some degree) social commentary should have a grand time. Penn & Teller, without question, are boss. After the show I called it a night as we had plans to visit family in Los Angeles the next day. We woke up at 5:30 Thursday morning with hopes to be in Los Angeles before lunch. The ride was uneventful and the four-and-a-half-hour drive didnâ€™t seem bad at all. Just outside of town, as if on cue, we broke into the chorus of Randy Newmanâ€™s â€œI Love L.A.â€ It was, indeed, another perfect day: sunny and mild with a nice breeze, although L.A.â€™s famous smog loomed in the distance. With that, we made the long and winding trek up the hill to our cousinâ€™s house in Silver Lake. Whatever the delivery drivers earn in L.A., itâ€™s not enoughâ€”I canâ€™t imagine negotiating a truck up and down the narrow streets and hairpin turns of the area. Safely atop the hill we said our hellos, soaked in the breathtaking view on the back balcony, and headed out for some sightseeing. First stop was the Hollywood sign. Our cousin promised us a locals-only view of the famous letters and he did not disappointâ€¦up, up, up the hill we went until we were about as close as one could get by car. We stopped off for a few quick pictures and then descended, on our way to Hollywood. I soaked in the ambiance of Hollywood Boulevard and all the while my thoughts turned to the Kinksâ€™ â€œCelluloid Heroes.â€ I was careful not to step on Greta Garbo, although I think Ryan Seacrest got a taste of my sole. We dined at a local pizza joint on Hollywood Boulevard and stopped by the Kodak Theatre. We checked out the Hollywood & Highland area and snapped a few photos at the Chinese Theatre. When then headed out for more sightseeing, and drove down The Sunset Strip, stopped off in Beverly Hills and its surrounding neighborhoods, and then headed toward Santa Monica as the sun went to sleep. An obligatory beach walk followed, and then it was off to the 3rd Street Promenade area of Santa Monica for dinner. Our cousin suggested Border Grill, calling it one of his favorite restaurants in the whole city. Dinner started off right with a trio of amazing salsas: roasted tomato, chipotle, and tomatillo. I had hoped Border Grill would have some jars for sale as this was some of the best salsa I had ever eaten, but I found none. I agonized over the main course; everything sounded amazing. I ultimately decided on the grilled skirt steak, which was marinated in garlic, cumin, cilantro, and lime. The steak was served with an excellent corn relish and a side of greens. A wonderful meal to be sure. I also tasted a bit of their Carnitas Nortenas, braised pork with serrano chilies, red onion, and cilantro. As good as the skirt steak was, I decided Iâ€™ll be ordering the Carnitas on my next visit. For dessert we shared the Tres Leches, which was out-of-this-world. I discovered after our visit that there is a Border Grill in Mandalay Bayâ€”if the offshoot is anything like the original I would definitely recommend a visit to Vegas travelers donâ€™t have the time for a trip to Santa Monica. With our bellies full we left Santa Monica behind and took a quick tour of downtown before heading back to Silver Lake. We enjoyed a bit of the nighttime view from the balcony before catching some much-needed Zs. We awoke the next morning, happy with the time we had spent in Los Angeles, but eager to return to Vegas for the last couple days of the trip. Back in Vegas, we relaxed a bit and got ready for a family dinner. I trekked over to MGM Grand to cash a couple winning tickets for a friend of mineâ€”a Pittsburgh native, he won money on the Penguins and the Panthers. The secret to winning in Vegas: bet on Pittsburgh teams. Who knew? For dinner that night we had Prima Pasta, an Olive Garden-esque local Italian joint on S. Durango Dr. The restaurant was running a special that I couldnâ€™t pass up: chicken and eggplant parmesan with a creamy marinara and. The dish was quite good, with a flavorful sauce and plenty of chicken and eggplant. For dessert we went next door to Cold Stone Creamery. We have a couple Cold Stone locations in Cincinnati, but I had never tried them before. I opted for the Mud Pie Mojo, a sinful culinary concoction of coffee ice cream, chocolate cookie pieces, and peanut butter all mushed up for one outstanding treat. I shuffled out of Cold Stoneâ€”barelyâ€”and headed back to the hotel to catch a few more Zs. Our plane was to leave at 3:00PM Saturday, so we planned to eat an early buffet lunch before heading over to McCarran. After much deliberation we decided on the buffet at Palms only to find out upon our arrival that their buffet was closed for renovations. Back to the drawing board we went with Mandalay Bayâ€™s buffet. Everything I sampled was goodâ€”the Asian selections were particularly tasty and I enjoyed a chocolate mocha cake for dessert. Even though the gambling didnâ€™t work out like I had hoped, I had a great time in Vegas. As soon as I stepped out of the airport in Columbus and realized I had traded 75 and sunny for 15 and snowy, I was ready to turn right around and book the next flight headed west. So there you have it. For good or for ill, my account of a wonderful trip to Vegas. Another visit canâ€™t come soon enough.