Hey everyone, although this was my 5th time to Vegas, it's the first time I've gotten around to finishing a trip report! Thanks to everyone on this board for all the great Vegas tips over the last three plus years. Hope you enjoy it. (It's pretty long, better grab a snack.) Thursday You know those movies sequels where the action picks up right where the previous one left off? They have to rebuild the sets and the actors are a couple of years older but it looks almost, but not quite, like a continuation of the first movie? That's what our latest trip to Vegas felt like. Our last trip was just a few months ago, September of 2004. We had spent two nights staying at the Tropicana then traveled downtown to spend the last two at the Golden Nugget. As nice as the Nugget was to stay at, we certainly weren't their target audience where the gambling was concerned. We ended up doing most of it at Fitzgeralds after my then girlfriend (now fiancÃ©e!) discovered a very generous Loose Deuces nickel video poker machine which paid her $125 jackpots two days in a row. It was a fun place with a party atmosphere and we pretty much decided at the time that we would stay there on our next trip. We got their players club card and racked up as many points at the blackjack tables and video poker machines as our limited gambling budgets would allow; faintly hoping we'd receive some kind of room offer in the mail. About two months after that trip (or approximately three weeks after giving up hope of receiving anything from them) we got an offer from Fitz. THREE nights free stay, weekend nights no less, plus a special dinner and surprise gift to celebrate our "special day". I'd never gotten comped more than free drinks during my four trips to Vegas so this was a huge surprise! We weren't too sure about the whole vagueness of the "special day" thing, all we could figure is that Andrea's birthday was in January and she had put that down when she signed up for the card. I called Fitz just to make sure that we weren't going to be obligated to sit through a time share seminar or something (you never know) and after a one sided battle against common sense and the household budget, I booked the cheapest flight I could find back to The Greatest City In The World. Our last trip ended with a redeye flight out on a Friday night after spending all week in Vegas. We were exhausted and aching to go home, trapped downtown without a hotel room to retreat to as the new crop of weekend partygoers started to pack Freemont Street. Now here we were, coming back to Freemont Street on a Thursday evening, tired from the flight but raring to go. If it wasn't for the fact that most people were wearing coats due to the chilly weather it would be hard to believe we had ever left. And feeling like you've never left Vegas is no bad thing. I had cajoled my sister into coming to Vegas with her friend Mike at the same time as us. They had flown in from Boston several hours earlier. She was at the "oxygen bar" kiosk on Freemont Street when we got there. I don't get the point of paying $10 to breathe something you get for free, especially when you could feed that money into a video poker machine instead but whatever does it for you I guess. She had ignored my advice about eating at the Golden Gate cafÃ© or snack bar after getting there and had decided we were going to get the prime rib special at Magnolia's in the Four Queens. I didn't know how my stomach was going to feel about that so I opted for the sushi instead. The sushi was kind of dry and disappointing but I didn't want to complain too loudly since the sushi chef was only about ten feet away and he had a big knife. After that it was on to some gambling. I had found a $5 chip for the Four Queens amongst my possessions a couple of weeks earlier and I had decided that I was going to take it to the roulette table and put it on 19 since thatâ€™s the number my sister and I usually play. I figured since it was money I didn't know I had, it was worth the risk. Not surprisingly, I lost. After that I sat down and dropped another $20 at the table while my fiancÃ©e Andrea struck up a conversation with the amiable dealer (or croupier or whatever you call them) who told us all about how he moved out there from New York since he loved Vegas so much. Is there any other city like this? Is there any other place where people are this happy and excited just to be living in, or would just pick up and move to on the drop of a hat? After that we headed back to Fitz, determined to rack up the points in the hopes that we'd get another offer in the future. (Ohhâ€¦ so that's how they get you!) I don't remember the details of what we did now, it was a long day, but I was able to enjoy the dumpy little guy who sings karaoke-style cover songs next to the blackjack tables. He's not very good but you have to love his enthusiasm. Susie succumbed to the effects of the prime rib dinner and several drinks and went to bed early, so around midnight Andrea and I took a walk with Mike down to Binions Horseshoe because he had never seen the famous poker room. Andrea had been playing a lot of Texas Holdem online since our last trip and had gotten pretty good at it. I had been telling her, half joking, that she'd be playing at Binions soon. After eyeing up the competition at the table, she decided she was going to go for it. She bought in for $55 and when she made it back to the room two hours later she had nearly doubled it! Not bad considering that it was 3 am our time when she sat down at the poker table! Friday Andrea was up early the next day, she had decided to play in the $25 buy in tournament at the Luxor and registration started at 9am. She had headed for the Strip before I got out of bed. I met up with Susie and Mike a little later and we caught a bus down to the north part of the Strip to eat at one of our favorite places in Vegas, The Peppermill. The Peppermill serves huge quantities of food and has tons of that old-school Vegas charm; I'd recommend it to anyone. Thanks to all the people on the travel2vegas boards for suggesting it in the first place! Afterwards we walked over to Westward Ho since my sister wanted to play some blackjack there. I got tired of losing at their tables and walked next door to Slots A Fun. I've always had good luck there for whatever reason and this day was no exception. They had a $3 Let It Ride table so I said what the hell. I don't normally play Let It Ride because it's expensive anywhere but Vegas and the house edge is big, but for three bucks it's hard to resist. I hit a straight while I was sitting there and had enough chips to keep me in the green until Susie and Mike showed up. Susie talked to a guy at the roulette table who claimed to be a mercenary in Iraq. She thought he was pretty cute but he kind of reminded me of Jamie Gum from "Silence of the Lambs". She told him we were staying at Fitzgeralds and I was worried that she'd find herself at the bottom of a pit with him telling her to â€œput the lotion in the basket or she'd get the hose againâ€. After that we walked over to Circus Circus. I hate this place with every fiber of my being but I always end up in here for some reason; usually because of the $15 for $10 buy in. I got Susie and Mike to get the buy in as well and we headed to the roulette tables to spend em but people were packed in tightly around them not letting anyone in. Susie said 19 hit twice at the table as she was watching, unable to place a bet. We both ended up spending our chips getting our butts kicked at hand dealt blackjack. The best I got was a push. There seems to be a lot more two deck hand dealt blackjack than there was just four months ago, not sure what started this trend but now that the hand dealt no longer intimidates me I'm enjoying it. Jamie Gum was lurking around the Circus Circus roulette tables too but Susie did not talk to him, Mike and I had convinced her that she might end up in a burlap sack, nice guys that we are. After Circus Circus, we caught the bus back downtown. We stopped in the dreaded La Bayou so Susie could play the video blackjack machine that she had inexplicably won $90 on the night before. I threw ten bucks in a nickel slot and watched it disappear. When I turned back to Susie she was cashing out for a $40 profit. Her luck is like that. We went over to Golden Gate where they had a $3 Let It Ride table open, one without a side bet. We all sat down, I bought in for $20, Susie and Mike busted out fairly quickly but I just could not lose. I hit a flush with two bets (no side bet available unfortunately but it saved me money most of the time) and struck up a conversation with the guy next to me who said he used to drive a tour bus for Neil Diamond and once hit a full house with $50 bets at Mandalay Bay. Why he was playing it for three bucks at Golden Gate, I didnâ€™t ask. Susie and Mike has long since wandered off by the time I cashed out, which was a shame because I wanted to show them the nice black chip I got for my efforts. With no one around to impress, I cashed the chip in and headed back to Fitz. I found that Andrea had been back at Fitz for a while and she was giddy with excitement. She had placed fourth out of eighty-three people in the Luxor tournament and won $110! Filled with joy over our newfound gambling wealth, I asked her to marry me right then and there. Maybe not the most romantic way, but it felt like the right time to do it. At 4:30 we had our special dinner in Limericks steakhouse. I had thought about proposing there originally and I'm glad I didn't. When we got in we realized that we didnâ€™t have a private table, we were in a room with maybe 50 other people and seated at a table banquet style. So it would have been kind of awkward. As it was, Andrea was showing her new ring to our table companions and received many nice compliments. The banquet itself was nice, we had a few food options to choose from and I got a huge steak while Andrea had ribs. Both were a little on the dry side but otherwise really good (everything's better when it's free). We sat at a table with three casino hosts and they were conversing mainly with a retired couple who claimed to make their living entirely off of video poker. When they told us they had made over $125,000 last year, we started to wonder if we had gotten this special treatment by mistake! We didn't let on that we were small potatoes compared to these folks; I guess we'll just have to see when my birthday rolls around whether or not we get a similar offer. The "surprise gift" turned out to be a leather (not sure if it's real or not) bag with the Fitz logo on it. It was pretty nice and came in handy for hauling home all the various Vegas crap that I always manage to accumulate on these trips. Saturday Saturday morning we had all planned to grab the breakfast buffet at Main Street Station. Like the Peppermill, it has become one place I try to stop at on every trip. Their breakfast steak is always delicious and the omlette guy who prepares it is very entertaining. We soon discovered that Susie and Mike had stayed up very late the previous evening and had gotten steak and eggs at the Golden Gate at 2am so they weren't exactly in the mood for another big meal. We headed over there by ourselves and by the time we got back Mike and Susie were ready for their first taste of the El Cortez. My sister and I love cheap roulette and I had been telling her for the last two years that she needed to go to the El Cortez to experience the cheapest roulette around. The cheapness is only one part of the appeal of course; you really can't match the El Cortez for its weird, gritty atmosphere and its unsavory characters. Play roulette at the El Cortez for a good 30 minutes and you are guaranteed to see quite a few. Drunks throwing chips all over the table, vagrants possibly throwing UP on the table, bitter chain smoking old ladies, and always, ALWAYS, some disheveled guy staring wild eyed at the roulette wheel and frantically scribbling down the winning numbers on a piece of paper. These are the guys who have a Roulette System. They watch it for a few spins and then invariably spread tons of chips all over the board and bust out like everyone else. It never fails. I shouldnâ€™t mock them because it could be me some day. It takes a brave soul to venture down to the El Cortez but unlike, say, the Western or the Gold Spike you aren't creeped out to the point that you want to run screaming for the exits and youâ€™ll always walk away with a good story. So we head towards the couple of scary blocks separating the El Cortez from the Experience and find a very large parade blocking our path. It's not every day that happens. We did have a flyer in our room informing us there would be a Martin Luther King Day parade on Saturday from 10am to 2pm which to me looked like a typo. How could a parade last for four hours? Well this one didn't, it lasted for five and half! We saw the last remnants of it at 3:30 in the afternoon. Apparently they take MLK day very seriously in Vegas. Either that or they do this for every holiday. Luckily there were lots of breaks in the parade (maybe a reason for the length) and they were letting people cross the street in groups. We get to the 'Tez and all buy in for $20 at roulette. You've got to love 25 cent roulette; where else does a $20 buy in make you look like a millionaire? Andrea and Susie wandered off after a while but Mike and I kept plugging happily along on our twenty bucks. After a while, I came up with my own foolproof Roulette System. I can't give you all the details unless you pay me lots of money but trust me, I've tried many systems at the El Cortez and this one was the best. It basically came down to putting a few chips on just one number that hadnâ€™t come up in a long time and throwing down a few other bets each spin just to cover your losses. Not exactly brain surgery I know but what I had decided was that I was going to absolutely stick with just the one number until it came up. Well it workedâ€¦ first with 19, then 34, then 20, then 14. Eventually we got the whole table to put chips on the number we were willing to come up. I walked away from the table two hours later with $90. Not bad for a $20 buy in on quarter roulette! It was a good thing I won it too because my luck took a turn for the worse after we got back to Fitz. I gave most of it right back at the blackjack and Let It Ride tables. I also tried some new gimmicky table game I remember seeing at Fitz last time, I forget the name but it claims to be a Texas Hold'em type game. Its really just Let It Ride in reverse. You get two cards and increase your bet if you want to see the flop. A quick $40 loss convinced me to stay away. I also fufilled a life long dream and finally found out what a deep fried Twinkie tastes like. Mermaids has been advertising them for a couple of years now but I've never had the nerve to try one. I used some of my winnings to buy food at their snack bar for everyone and we soon found they tasted more or less like funnel cakes. Strangely, they bear absolutely no resemblance to the twinkies on the sign out front. Later that day, we caught the bus to the Strip. Mike has an uncle that works as a bartender at Ballyâ€™s and he and Susie planned to visit him later in the evening. Before doing that we walked through Bellagio and saw the current conservatory display, which was a celebration of the Chinese New Year. It was stunning as always. My sister took a few pictures of Andrea and me for our parents and then we went out and grabbed a spot to watch the fountain show. I'd seen bits and pieces of it before but never the whole thing. I was surprised to learn that it was only one song! The song was Frank Sinatra's version of "Luck Be A Lady Tonight" and it was certainly impressive but I always thought it lasted longer. After this we all agreed we needed some real food. We wanted something good and cheap and quickly realized we were in exactly the wrong part of the strip to find that. After walking through Bally's and Barbary Coast (Barbary Coast has no cheap restaurants??? Who knew?) we ended up at some place in the Flamingo. The prices were still a little high - ten bucks for a Cobb Salad? - but we soon found out that the portions were monstrous! We split a mountain of nachos and none of us managed to finish the salads. After that, we left Susie and Mike to their drinking and took the bus back downtown. Andrea went to the room to take a nap and I decided to wander around Freemont Street taking in the sights. I got one of those monster frozen drinks from La Bayou and walked around enjoying the buzz. I just love being on Freemont Street at night and I wanted to enjoy it one last time on this trip since I knew Sunday night we'd be trying like hell to get home. I lost money at Binions while watching their new singing cowgirl show then headed back to Fitz and lost money while watching the loud cover band play. It was all quite enjoyable until the buzz wore off and I realized how much I had spent. So I took the last $40 I had on me over to the Fitz Let It Ride table for one more go. I expected it to evaporate quickly but apparently my luck had returned. I hit a flush once again, with a side bet which paid out $50 alone! After a nice long session I colored up for a black chip and headed upstairs to bed. Sunday Sunday morning we said our goodbyes to Susie and Mike. They had an 11:30am flight back to Boston. We had been able to get a 2pm checkout time which was good because we had another dreaded redeye flight back home at midnight and we wanted as much time as possible to be able to retreat back to our room. After they left went to Molly's Buffet and spent our Fitz card cash back points on a mediocre brunch. Thereâ€™s another great reason why it's better to go to Vegas during the week. On the weekends you have to pay for "brunch" instead of breakfast, which just means they throw in all the lunch stuff you donâ€™t feel like eating yet with the breakfast stuff and you have to pay extra for it. I had originally wanted to do the Champagne Brunch at the Golden Nugget but the line was out the door and for Downtown it was pretty pricey. Afterwards, we decided to head back to the El Cortez again to test my Roulette System. But first, I placed my first ever sports bets at the small book inside Fitz. Being the weekend of the NFL Divisional playoffs, I decided I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to put money on my team, the Patriots. (I was getting tired of the sports media fawning over Payton Manning like they always do; they somehow overlook the fact that the Colts never, ever beat the Pats.) I put $20 on the Pats to win (hey, I'm new at this, taking it slow) and $20 on the Vikings to cover the spread against the Eagles, for the sole reason that I hate the Eagles. We went back over to the El Cortez with my infallible Roulette System in hand and once again enjoyed a long and lucrative run on our $20 buy in. We both cashed out for a healthy profit again and by the time we left the El Cortez the Eagles had pretty much destroyed the Vikings so my first bet was a bust. We went back to Fitz and I sat down at the Let It Ride table once more since there was a good view of the TV near the bar from there. I bought in with my black chip from the night before and played on it through the entire first half of the Pats - Colts game, I kid you not. At the half, I colored back up with a $10 profit and went upstairs to find Andrea who had been playing the Loose Deuces nickel machine that had treated her so well on our last trip. When we first got to Fitz on Thursday she had made a beeline right to the machine only to find that the bill acceptor wasnâ€™t working properly. During the time we were there, change attendants had to come over almost every time she wanted to play it to get it working again. I know she hopes that machine is well taken care of and is still there on our next visit because she played on her initial $20 throughout the entire football game. I alternated between chatting with her and sitting in the sports lounge watching the Colts fans get more and more depressed. After breaking even on my bets and quickly losing the $38.50 at the Fitz roulette tables (my infallible System only works at the El Cortez apparently) it was time to leave Downtown and begin the final leg of our Las Vegas vacation. As I mentioned, we were stuck taking the redeye back home again and we did not have happy memories of the experience from the previous trip. We had learned that being Downtown at night time with out a nice quiet hotel room could really suck and made for some bad gambling decisions just to pass the time. When Andrea had played the tournament at the Luxor she also found that the Excalibur runs a poker table with a single $1 blind. We had planned to try and play there with Susie and Mike but had never gotten around to it. We also learned from our previous trip that a cab from the south end of the Strip to the airport only cost ten bucks. So our brilliant idea was, grab all our bags and get on the CAT bus to the Strip. Check our bags at the Tropicana, eat the 2 for 1 burger special at the Trop which we had also enjoyed on our last visit, then play the $1 poker at the Excalibur until it was time to get a cab to the airport. It sounds like a great plan on paper and it might have been perfect if we had left a little earlier. As it was, the evening rush was just beginning so we found ourselves in a standing room only bus clutching our bags like a couple of idiots. The bus crawled through the traffic and we couldnâ€™t get seats until we reached the Sahara. The ride in total took up an hour. So admittedly, it killed some time and stopped us from losing money. After that, things did go smoothly. We checked our bags at the Trop and the bellman went out of his way to help us. We scarfed down our burgers and walked over to Excalibur where I got my first taste of casino poker (sort of anyway, people aren't scared to call a $1 blind no matter what they have). After killing two hours and losing $30 apiece, hey you can lose a lot more in two hours on the Strip, we went back to the Trop and the bellman got us a cab right away. The rest of the trip I wonâ€™t detail here because it involves being really uncomfortable and unable to sleep on the redeye back home, made even worse by the fact that we had to transfer in Pittsburgh at six in the morning, but all that hardly spoiled the trip. To sum it all up, we had a great vacation. It was the perfect amount of time to be in Vegas, we didnâ€™t overextend ourselves or get burnt out. I came back with half my bankroll left and got engaged to the woman I love. What more could you ask for from a vacation? Some Vegas observations and tips: One of the best parts of a Vegas trip; waking up in a pitch dark hotel room on the first morning, forgetting where you are for a second then suddenly remembering that you're in VEGAS. Thereâ€™s nothing like flying into Vegas after dark and seeing all those lights to put you in the right frame of mind. Six hours sitting in Coach doesnâ€™t seem to matter once youâ€™ve seen that. A quick shower and/or a couple of cups of coffee are as least as good as two hours of sleep in Vegas. A red eye flight back to the east coast may seem like a great idea, but it really isnâ€™t. You will not magically wake up fully rested at your destination. Donâ€™t forget that you lose three hours. The Bellagio and the El Cortez are two places everyone should visit at least once; preferably during the same trip. Vegas operates in a different time stream. Every day feels three days long. When you get there you feel like you never left, but by the time you get home you feel like you never went at all. And remember, youâ€™ll have plenty of time to sleep when you get home!