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Barfin' tourists, boatloads of cops, a Western visit

Discussion in 'Vegas Trip Reports' started by Don, Oct 9, 2010.

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  1. Don

    Don Tourist

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    My Trip Report

    Oct. 1 to 5

    Zero booze, amateur-level gaming, but good times


    Caution: This TR put together off a mega-hectic trip – two-thirds convention/work, two-thirds play, negative sleep. So coherence may be lacking. Four nights: Friday & Saturday at the Tropicana, Monday & Tuesday at MGM.

    We’ll be low-rolling the South Strip – ‘cmon along ....



    Friday:

    Son-of-a-@#$, we're off to a slow start: Delta’s first leg on Friday runs a half-hour late because of the East Coast weather, and the Detroit-to-Vegas leg loses 45 minutes while mechanics fix an engine oil leak. Why do my flights to LAS arrive late, but those to EWR or BDL manage to land on time?

    The Gray Line van is a convenient, cheap ride if you’re on the South Strip. Took it from McCarran to the Trop, a property I’ve never considered staying at before. This time, I was intrigued by their guest relations campaign, their renovations, the mix of modern & old school, the excellent Trip Advisor reviews, and the fantastic weekend rates. (About $80 a night on the weekend for the fresh Paradise Tower).

    It was the right call.

    Check-in was incredibly fast, despite this being 8 p.m. on a Friday. Oddly, service at the regular check-in desk was immediate; VIPs were waiting 5 minutes. Oh well, sometimes I’m happier having no status.

    Upstairs was good news: Courtesy of my advance e-mail, the guest relations manager had arranged a 22nd floor room with tremendous view. More on that later.

    First, it’s time to hunt up dinner … bought a 3-day Monorail pass, and headed north to get near Ellis Island. I’ve read great things about this place, and had the urge to try it. Oh dear. Turns out my image of prime rib varies a LOT from what many reviewers think. This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I’d call good, either. The root beer was genuinely excellent, but the meal itself was forgettable: Mediocre service, atmosphere and food. Denny’s-style plastic glasses, discount steakhouse-style service by an overloaded wait staff, and a remarkably unremarkable slab of beef. At least it didn’t cost much.

    Walked to the Strip by Bally’s, and enjoyed the sights going back to the Tropicana. What a wild night. Police absolutely everywhere - county and city cops, motorcycle and patrol car cops, foot patrol cops. Every half-block, there was some new deal: An accident, a cab pulled over for some violation, a teenager getting patted down near Paris, three skunky-looking motorcycle dudes cuffed on the sidewalk and getting questioned by bicycle cops.

    But you had to wonder if the cops are deliberately missing the real problem. Near the Coke bottle, there were patrol cars and guys in Metro PD bike patrol shirts watching the crowd – while maybe 500 feet away was some deranged street dude. He was barking and growling at passersby, then sort of skip-dancing across the sidewalk, then burrowing furiously through a trash can, then going back to the barking routine. The cops showed no interest in messing with him.

    Observations: The pornslappers are getting out of control. The Strip wasn’t just littered with hooker baseball cards, it was absolutely covered – like a New Year’s Eve in Times Square confetti explosion. Too much. My prediction is there’ll be a crackdown before this time next year.

    The pose-with-a-character guys were pretty much at saturation level, too, but at least they were amusing. Spiderman, Superman, automaton/statues were no big deal. But Winnie the Pooh dancing alongside to some horror-slasher troll character? Cool. Plus a grossly fat dude in some way-too-revealing swimsuit thing, the dude with the snake, etc. etc. … Vegas at midnight Friday beats Times Square all to hell.
    Back to the hotel by 1 a.m. for sleep.

    Gambling: $2 into the slots at Ellis Island, got $8 back. Why do those ratios never come into play when I'm bet bigger money?



    Saturday:

    Out to the Trop pool. It’s truly splendid, with exceptional landscaping. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm hit around 3 p.m., with winds so strong that everyone bailed immediately. Back upstairs, it was amazing to see the Strip so completely empty at that hour - just two or three soaked people darting over the MGM bridge.
    Here’s the deal on the Trop: I’d advise any friend to go now, while it’s in transition.

    The public areas are beautiful, the pool deck is outstanding, the renovated rooms are stunning – lots of whites and creams, faux bamboo and wicker, some fascinating flourishes with tiles and ceilings. Not the run-of-the-mill hotel remodeling at all.

    And so far, it hasn’t developed an identity yet – the pool area isn’t taken over by any one type or group – so there’s a relaxing mix of upscale retirees, eyecandy chicks in I-want-to-be-at-a-club thongs, middle-aged conventioneers and overweight tourist couples, party folks, California guys looking for club girls, Asian and German tourists, etc.
    If I had to wager, I’d say that in a year or two the place will be overrun with second-tier trustifarians & hordes of West Coast financial services d-bags in wrap-around shades; for now, it’s comfortable for anyone.

    Breakfast is Krispy Kreme and coffee at the Trop’s snack bar. Ken the cashier, like Barbara at check-in, is genuinely friendly and cheerful. Real hospitality. Nice.

    MGM Grand buffet for dinner. Not bad, but not worth the weekend surcharge. They had fewer choices than last June, when I went there on a Sunday or Monday night. Small crowd. Excellent mushrooms, curried vegetables, one or two good salmon dishes, a decent carving station. As always, everything is done with style – the bus staff uses attractive trays rather than those gray-plastic tubs you see everywhere, the drink service is fast and professional, no food is left under heat lamps for too long. Turns out to be the third-best meal in Vegas for this trip, but still short of “wow.â€

    The evening is spent with a long Strip walk – Planet Ho to Mandy Bay and back again, then one more time to the Trop. At the pedestrian bridge over the Strip, a young Asian guy is bent over the trash can near MGM, violently depositing dinner. Slumped against the MGM wall is his unconscious buddy, surrounded by barf – and three or for security guys who look more entertained than worried. Downstairs, the cavalry arrives: Two Metro bike cops ride through the casino with their little red lights flashing, then walk their bikes to the escalator.

    Observations:
    - All of the pedestrian bridges on the south end seem to have more homeless than ever.
    - Is every escalator repairman in Las Vegas on vacation? And was he accompanied by the lady who fixes the moving sidewalks?

    Gambling: Filthy despicable Texas Tea oil tycoon. He’s eaten about $15, and paid just one bonus check – and that was when I was playing nickels, not quarters. I hope the Chevy Volt puts him out of business.
     
  2. Don

    Don Tourist

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    Sunday

    Sunday:

    The early morning starts with a slower-than-cement run from MGM to the Riv. Buffets don’t improve running speeds.

    Interesting how the sidewalks seem to be filled with wide-load, self-centered, slow-moving skyline-gazers when I’m running in the morning … happily, when it’s over, I can go back to my usual role as wide-load, self-centered, slow-moving skyline-gazer.

    While up north, I took a self-guided tour of the Sahara. Sad. Riding the elevator up the Tangiers tower would not inspire you to book here. Hallway carpets are in awfully sorry shape. It was checkout morning, and a scary number of the departing guests looked like refugees from the seediest of the downtown spots. The doorway to the pool had a huge Bike Week sign: “No weapons, no colors.†In the pool, a chubby kid of about 8 is spitting in the water every minute or so; mom is oblivious, dad is nowhere to be seen. I’m happy to board the monorail & get away.

    Pack up and move to the MGM. Half-hour wait at check-in, but the payoff is the 26th floor, 400 wing with a superb Strip view. Very happy. (I enjoy that nighttime green glow from the MGM lighting, and I love falling asleep looking out at NYNY and the City Center buildings. So these will be a couple of very good nights).

    Lunch at Monte Carlo’s buffet, however, turned out to be my first loser bet of the day. Bland, lifeless, overpriced. And that’s generous. I’d figured this for reasonably upscale, but figured wrong. Next time, I’ll fork over the extra $10 or whatever to try Wynn or Bellagio.

    Strolled the Strip for a while, crashed at the room for a couple hours, then took the Deuce downtown on a mission: It’s time to experience the Western firsthand. I first heard about it from the Casino Boy review maybe 10 years ago, and Trip Advisor readers and others have posted accounts of visiting this pit. It sounds almost too bad to be true. Gotta see it.

    Getting off the bus, everybody turns toward Neonopolis while I’m heading to Fremont East. Bop through the El Cortez; boring. Look across at the dark Lady Luck; it has the down-and-out vibe of downtown Detroit’s empty skyscrapers. Shoot a few photos.

    OK, enough delay: It’s 8 p.m. – late enough to have a little flavor, but early enough so that the streets won’t be overrun with problem children. Time for the Western hike.

    Part of the Fremont sidewalk is ripped up, forcing pedestrians into the Western’s dark parking lot to reach the entrance. A couple of street people give me a second look, and one or two of the younger ones might be sizing me up (or my nerves might be playing themselves out), but nobody creates trouble – not outside, not inside. As in any city, I stay very aware of available routes to safety.

    No question, Casino Boy’s description of the Western is spot-on. The atmosphere is big-city homeless shelter, and everything – the furniture, the floor, the faces, the air – fits that perfectly.

    The men’s room has a urinal closed off by a plastic sheet, a stall with a metal bar across the front and a battered “closed for cleaning sign,†and overall the all-beat-to-hell look of New York’s Port Authority bus terminal in the worst of the ‘70s. On the casino floor are two coin-op massage chairs, their brown leather cracked & caked with ground-in dirt. I can’t imagine putting my shoes on either one, let alone sitting down. Back home, this is the stuff you see curbside outside Section 8 buildings on bulky-trash collection week.

    The crowd is small & looks to be a mix of the grizzly, the wasted, the prematurely ancient. Most would look at home in a down-and-outer’s OTB parlor or a WPA photo essay from the ‘30s. Nobody is hostile during my walk-through, but I wouldn’t flash money or anything shiny there, either.

    Overall, the Western lives up to its rep: It’s an ashtray.

    Next stop, the Gold Spike: Gotta finish this day with a prime rib special. Yowza. The Monte Carlo spread starts looking good by comparison.

    It’s not that I wouldn’t feed this meat to a dog, it’s more that the dog probably wouldn’t eat it. Yes it’s just $6.95, yes it’s 12 ounces of prime rib … and no, it’s no bargain. The chicken noodle soup: Well, let’s say no chickens were harmed in the preparation of this dish.

    The waitress is good-natured, so that helps. Still, there’s no need to consider dessert. It’s time for the return-trip Deuce. (For those who haven’t been downtown, the ride says a lot: The first dozen or so blocks are a steady stream of tattoo parlors, pawn shops, check cashing joints, wedding chapels and bail bond offices, all strung together in a seamless corridor of sad. The trip itself can be fun; on this one, the driver announces “On my bus, absolutely no gum-chewing of any kind … and no talking … and no smiling,†and the passengers enjoy a laugh.)

    The MGM looks better than ever when I get back.

    Gambling: A quick pair of $20 bets at MGM’s roulette table confirmed this would not be a gambling vacation, even by this non-gambler’s standards. Black and even on one, 17 and black on the other …. Both came in 7 red. (Which triggered the always-useless line of thinking: Damn! If I’d been putting just half my bet on 7 each time, would I really be up more than $11,000 right now? WHY isn’t my wife’s favorite number 7 instead of 17?)
     
  3. Don

    Don Tourist

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    Monday, Tuesday ... closing time

    Monday:

    Lunch at Spice Market; not bad, but nothing like it used to be. At least they’ve dialed back the volume of the overhead TVs since our last visit in June. The ground lamb isn't seared as well as last time, but the carved turkey might have improved a couple of notches. Go figure.

    Walk with a few conventioneers in the evening and everyone decides we ought to hit the Rio. Fine, but those desert distances are lots farther than they look, I warn. “Hey, what can it be, three blocks?” is the reply.

    Fifteen minutes later we’re still hiking no-man’s land on the pedestrian bridge over the highway; hearing the gripes, I really have to work at avoiding “I told you so.”

    Surprise at the Rio: The casino-level café (All-American Bar & Grille) serves a quality steak. Veggies and potato are better than OK, and the ribeye is genuinely good: A quality cut of beef that’s seasoned and cooked professionally. Damn, maybe the best meal of the trip.

    Cabbie on the ride back tells us the city is deserted this week. Outside Planet Ho, four motorcycle cops are pulling over drivers & writing tickets … a couple of cabbies are getting written up. Our driver tells us they pay the ticket themselves, and get fired if they accumulate more than 3 points on their license. Later, we see another cab – with passengers – get pulled over. As the cop goes through a slow-mo routine with the paperwork, I wonder if the cab’s meter is running.

    Monorail back to MGM; it’s checkout day tomorrow.

    Gambling: A little video roulette at MGM brings in $15, and the crooked old Texas Tea guy delivers another $15 and change. But My Rich Uncle takes back half. Enough of that.


    Tuesday:

    The reason you want a view is because the Strip looks different at dawn, at mid-day, at dusk and at night. Vastly different. From the MGM and the Trop, I’ve seen the colors of NY NY’s facades in all kinds of light … and they’re beautiful each time.

    The sunrise is stunning, but I roll over and snooze ‘til 10. Down to the pool for a little R&R before packing. The lazy river and one pool are now closed weekdays, so the remaining pools are a bit more crowded – but nothing bad. When you’re headed back Northeast for the fall & the approaching winter, those last minutes in the sun at the Producer’s Spa are as good as it gets.

    As it was last time, the MGM has been flawless on this trip. Great staff, immaculate property. I will miss the soothing green light at night.

    Lunch is in the Café Ile Saint Louis at Paris, and this, too, is a good one. Excellent mushroom burger for about $10, and (an average or slightly better) crème brulee for $6. I should’ve come here instead of the Monte’s buffet; chalk up another lesson learned.

    A last look down the Strip, and a final observation: The newest incarnation of Vegas architecture will have its fans, but I won’t be among ‘em.

    The implosion of the Sands, the Dunes, the Stardust and the Desert Inn all seem unfortunate, though in a distant sort of way. I was around for the tail end of their time, so I appreciate the history – but didn’t live it myself.

    The Vegas of the ‘90s is a different matter: If I live long enough to see Treasure Island or the Luxor or other “second generation” hotels taken down, that will be a depressing time. For me, they represent a wonderful era of Vegas: Fresh, fun, unique.

    Yet I’d buy a ticket to see the demo crews show up for Aria, PH Westgate and the Cosmopolitan today. They are the obnoxious Limbaugh-loudmouth cigar-chompin’ frat boys of the Strip, and at the same time they’re as tediously corporate, insipid and dull as the Duane Reeds of Midtown Manhattan. There’s no getting around it: They simply don’t fit in here. I enjoy Vegas despite them, not because of them.
    Today’s hope: The next ‘big thing’ in the city, whenever it arrives, will be smarter, sharper and cooler than 1970s-style office towers.

    Anyway. Before long, it’s 9 p.m. The monorail pass is expired, the convention has packed up, the bellman has given back my luggage, and only the long redeye awaits.

    ‘Til next time.
     
  4. VegasDiva

    VegasDiva VIP Whale

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    Excellent report Don
    Love your writing style and sense of humour :)
    Glad you had a great time

    Thanks for the overview of the *new* Trop :)
     
  5. IowaRyan

    IowaRyan Low-Roller

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    Good report

    Nice trip report. Like you I can remember when Luxor, and TI first opened, I think I stayed at Luxor three months after it opened. It'll be interesting to see what eventually replaces them.
     
  6. sailor53

    sailor53 Tourist

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    Well done. Enjoyed the read and thanks for posting!
     
  7. thebucket

    thebucket VIP Whale

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    Thanks for the report!

    Thanks for the great report! You provided plenty of most-informative detail, and it was quite a good read overall.

    It sounds as if you and I have a shared vice (Texas Tea video slot). If you haven't experienced it yet, the 5-oil-wells hit is well worth the many light losing sessions that the game provides (though I could have stopped the pennies from counting up when this happened to me (Gold Coast), I just sat back in my chair, ordered a beer, and waited out the 5-10 minute (likely very annoying to those nearby) credit count-up. :) That game can pay... It just doesn't do so very often.
     
  8. jgates8

    jgates8 VIP Whale

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    d*mn you......I'd kill for some of that creme brulee' right now!!!
     
  9. techie223

    techie223 High-Roller

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    Your TR was a great read. Thanks for posting.

    I agree with you on the whole (lack of) ambiance in the City Center properties. Give me themed properties any day.
     
  10. letsgo2vegas

    letsgo2vegas Tourist

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    Great trip report, with many insightful details. Thanks for taking the time to write it.
     
  11. BackInVegas

    BackInVegas VIP Whale

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    What a trip title

    How could I NOT read this one?
     
  12. Blonde_4_ever

    Blonde_4_ever "The Welfare Queen of Windsor"

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    "Yet I’d buy a ticket to see the demo crews show up for Aria, PH Westgate and the Cosmopolitan today. They are the obnoxious Limbaugh-loudmouth cigar-chompin’ frat boys of the Strip, and at the same time they’re as tediously corporate, insipid and dull as the Duane Reeds of Midtown Manhattan. There’s no getting around it: They simply don’t fit in here. I enjoy Vegas despite them, not because of them.
    Today’s hope: The next ‘big thing’ in the city, whenever it arrives, will be smarter, sharper and cooler than 1970s-style office towers"

    LOVED this paragraph.
    Thanks for a great report.
     
  13. gmoney590

    gmoney590 VIP Whale

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    A really well written report and I truly enjoyed it. Thanks.
     
    Back where we belong
  14. BigRoss71

    BigRoss71 Low-Roller

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    Very good report Don. I really enjoyed reading it. Scary thought, but a very possible one about the 90s era vegas hotels eventually being torn down. I hope i live long enough to see it, but at the same time, that might not be too far away with how these folks want to rebuild. Only thing slowing it is the economy. Its hard for me to imagine iconic hotels like the mirage and Luxor (luxor seemed kind of crappy when i was there for a couple hours last trip though) just being demolished.

    But when you put it in that context, the sands, dunes, desert inn, and stardust were all icons as well. I'm with you on the theme thing. I like vegas a little kitschy. I live close enough to NY where industrial and office themed buildings don't make me want to see what is inside. Its not part of my vacation fantasy. To Themed Vegas :beer:
     
  15. Nancyb54

    Nancyb54 Low-Roller

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    I enjoyed reading your report! Loved your take on the corporate-type casinos. I agree totally and you're right - they just don't fit in here.
     
  16. VegasBJ

    VegasBJ VIP Whale

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    I don't think the 90's era casinos are in any danger of being torn down soon as no major player can afford to build a new property, get it financed, and have the income producing necessary to service all that debt they just created.

    I read somewhere that if a new property project got built and finished on the Strip (prob not counting Fountainbleu since it can be finished somewhat more easily than a new ground up project) before the year 2020 it would be an absolute miracle. The point being that the market is so depressed, the major players are already saddled with so much debt, and the financing for these projects is almost non-existent at this point in time.

    Also, nice report!
     
  17. InTownNow

    InTownNow MIA

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    But you had to wonder if the cops are deliberately missing the real problem. Near the Coke bottle, there were patrol cars and guys in Metro PD bike patrol shirts watching the crowd – while maybe 500 feet away was some deranged street dude. He was barking and growling at passersby, then sort of skip-dancing across the sidewalk, then burrowing furiously through a trash can, then going back to the barking routine. The cops showed no interest in messing with him.


    .............

    I think my sister once told me that is the sting operator for the police dept. Sucker in some tourist or local for a drug deal and the local or tourist gets busted.
     
  18. HoyaHeel

    HoyaHeel Grammar Police & Admin

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    That's because what he was doing is not illegal.
     
  19. MaryS

    MaryS Newbie

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    Enjoyed your trip report! I agree with your comments about City Center. I stayed at Aria and it was nice, but the resorts they are building now look like office buildings. No ambiance.
     
  20. Lord Suspect

    Lord Suspect Low-Roller

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    thanx for trip report. Sorry your meals did not work out so good.
     
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