Here it is, three weeks late, a trip through two states to work and a bout of flu later. It’s long, but it’s our Mom’s birthday treat trip to Las Vegas. This trip was as exciting to plan as it was to experience. The whole purpose of it was to treat Mom (my mother in law) to a truly amazing birthday trip to Las Vegas, a place she loves as least as much as we do (which is a LOT). She was 83 years old this birthday – but we thought she was only 80, more on why the difference later. That’s not important though, what’s important is that it worked out so well. Mom’s trips to Las Vegas had been decidedly low roller in the past, so we wanted to treat her to the best. We were staying five nights, with Mom coming in for two nights in the middle of the stay. I called our host at the Wynn/Encore and she offered three free nights with the other nights and rooms at casino rate. That was a so-so offer since Ed and I alone need two separate rooms thanks to his B-52 take-off level snoring and the fact that he smokes and I don’t. With Mom’s room, that would be a total of nine nights to pay for at $149/night plus tax. For rooms at the Encore, it’s still a steal. But then again, we had some seriously great offers from the Venetian that would cut the cost way down and seemed to fit our needs to a tee. They were offering four free nights for me, four nights in the Venezia Tower at $35 for Ed, and an “invite a friend or relative” tag-along offer for $109/night. And the level of play we had to maintain was very low, we had maybe run a couple of hundred through their machines on our last trip (staying at Encore). It was an insanely great deal, how could we not book it? Well, one reason was that we loved the Encore. Their basic suites are to die for. And though we had stayed at the Venetian about 7 years ago and found the suites exceedingly nice, on our last blow through we were disappointed that the casino looked a little ragged compared to its former pristine state, and we were concerned that the rooms might have gone down-hill too. We debated a little, but decided to book it in the end. Even if the suites were not of their former glory it would still be better than anything Mom had stayed in (last time, the Riviera and she thought that was lovely), and the Venetian was offering the highly touted Venezia Tower for Ed, that had to be nice, right? I had seen a travelogue on it a few years ago. It was supposed to be the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me at the Venetian, special this, special that in the suites, separate lobby, exclusive everything. I would just make do with my standard accommodations, as long as Mom was happy that’s what mattered. We booked the Encore for our last night as a treat, comped one room, casino rate for the other. We told Mom about her trip a few weeks out so she could get prepared. She was so excited! She is (obviously) very elderly, has trouble walking, and is a diabetic and we wanted to make sure she was rested and had her meds all in line. We told her where she was staying, but not about the other surprises we had planned. She didn’t even know she had her own suite instead of sharing. The trip had the theme of “Seven Surprises”, and I had most of them planned out. We requested wheelchair service at both airports for her, and she was good with this, so we assumed she would go along with using either a wheelchair or a motor-around at the resort. I have never traveled with someone with infirmities before, and many kind people on VMB had lots of advice, one of which was to get her a portable suction support for the shower since she has to have something to hold on to. We found one, very reasonably priced, from a local trustworthy pharmacy. This went in our luggage and we were set. We departed from the East coast on Sunday, Oct 25th, for a few days in Vegas to ourselves before Mom arrived and all our attention would turn to her. We arrived in Vegas after an unremarkable flight at 10:30 in the morning. We usually book a Presidential Limo, but that was going to be Mom’s first surprise, so for our ride to the hotel we took a cab. I was amazed at how organized the airport taxi line was! There was someone directing people and directing cabs, and although several large airliners had just deposited full loads of passengers all at one time, we never stood still in line once, and had a cab in minutes. Now, some Las Vegas Cabbies are characters and others are scary. We got a character, and he amused us the whole way. He reminded me of Jeff Dunham’s Walter – all full of grump and grumble, but funny at the same time. Check in at the Venetian was very fast since we could use the Invited Guest line, and the lobby was as sparkling and gorgeous as I once remembered. Were my impressions of the last trip an anomaly? This really did look like magnificent, bright and welcoming. However, we approached the suites with a little trepidation, and we were not so concerned with my suite, but Ed’s in the Venezia. You see, he had been reading reviews before we left and they all pretty much slammed the Venezia. For one thing, the separate, special check-in was gone. That was fine because it met our needs, but it was worrying that they were cutting back on costs. Then there were the stories of the multiple elevators to reach the Venezia suites. The check-in lady confirmed this, so we went to check out my room first. Was I ever pleasantly surprised! It was beautiful! Not only was it not worn, but it was completely renovated – new bed, new furniture, all lovely, a little more modern than the original, and I liked this new style better. It all looked brand new, and all was spotlessly clean. I was so happy about it. One draw-back was that it was a little dark for me, even with all the lights on. But that was mainly because I wanted to be on the same floor as Mom, and, because of a fear of heights, she wanted a low floor. So my room on the fifth floor was heavily shaded by a row of trees, placed to shield a walk-way to pool complex. Yeah, I was in Vegas and I had a view of nothing but trees. Oh well. I’d try for a high floor at the Encore. I was afraid I would hear nightclub noise because of my location, but that turned out not to be the case. I got no outside noise at all in the suite. Peaceful. The bathroom was spectacular, with it’s faux gold fixtures, sparkly marble, lots of full size toiletries. So we called for the luggage, ready to make our way to Ed’s room. When we bell-checked the luggage we made our usual mistake. We have two rooms, but we checked the bags on one ticket. Oh well, Ed was thinking he’d just haul his to the room. But the bell-hop would not hear of this. Sure he was looking for a better tip, but it was still wonderful of him to take us on the lonnnnnng trek from the Venetian Tower to the Venezia Tower, up one elevator, across a bridge, down through a warren of hallways to another elevator up to Ed’s floor. Thank goodness he took us, because we would never have found our way without getting lost (like we did, sans luggage, several times after). We passed many fellow guests wandering around the Venezia hallways with stricken expressions on their faces, searching the walls for signs, any signs, which might direct them out of the maze. I’m sure I saw some of the same people more than once. And they were all complaining. Now, I’ve seen my suite and I loved it. So we get into the Venezia suite and…. the reviews were right! If someone has never stayed in a top of the line property before and doesn’t know what’s across the bridge at the Venetian, they might think this was nice. However, my immediate take on it was that it’s the Venetian on the cheap. The bed cover was just a plain (thinnish) sheet, with a comforter folded at the bottom to look like a bed scarf. Now, I can’t remember exactly what the original furnishings were in the Venetian before they renovated the suites, but I swear it looked like they moved the discarded furnishings from the Venetian over to the Venezia. It was ornate, overly ornate, and a bit worn down. The sofa was grubby with squashed pillows. There was a large cigarette burn in the carpet next to the bed (well, at least the carpet must be flame retardant). The bathroom was nice, with waist level shower jets, but the towels were thin and frayed – ribs of cotton braid just hanging off the ends of some. The real shocker was the size and quantity of the toiletries. Everything was a miniature of what was offered in the Venetian suite. Tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion. One shrunk down paltry disc of soap, and just one. You had to take the soap from the sink to the shower, and they never did replace that one little bit of soap. Ed was showering with a sliver by the end of the stay. It was so sad and so cheap, especially since unaware, full paying guests pay more for the privilege of staying in the Venezia “Concierge” suites – and we never could figure out the concierge part. Never saw one, and the existence of one was never touted. Never mind, we weren’t paying full price, in fact we had a nice discount, and the reviews had prepared us. And it wasn’t awful, just dowdy. Also, we had planned to go down and get lunch after checking out the room, but we were darned exhausted after the trek so an instant decision was made to order room service. It was excellent. The service was everything it should be and more, a real treat and it was nice to have a real dining table rather than eat off a cart with a table cloth over it. Ed had his gold standard for Vegas food, the club sandwich. Ed’s gold standard is set on the last room service club sandwich he had at the Venetian seven years ago, so it was good then, and it was as good now. I had the appetizer crab cake, wonderful – mainly because it was solid white crab meat packed with very little filler, and perfectly fried. I won’t belabor the point by describing every room service dining experience we had at the Venetian meal by meal; we also had breakfast, and another lunch when Mom arrived and I’ll just say that the food was always excellent. Between the Bellagio, the Encore and the Venetian, the Venetian room service breakfast is by far the best. We never did have anything, even a basic sandwich, that wasn’t absolutely superb both in quality and quantity. It was always beautifully served and presented. It always took 45 minutes to get it – no matter what the time of day, but it we never waited longer than that. However, we did see cracks in the perfection when it came to clearing the dishes from the room. More on that later. That first day, and evening, we hit the Venetian slots. My impression of the casino did not change – it didn’t seem as grand as it once did, but it wasn’t a dump by any means. However, the tell-tale signs of minor neglect were there – a stained and dirty wall far back in the casino that should have been re-painted long ago. The carpet clearly wasn’t new and needed cleaning in spots too. The Palazzo was different, nice, but it’s fairly new. We had lackluster play on the machines, luck that was to stay with us the whole trip. We had a few minor wins here and there, but mostly lost. I did find my favorite machine for this trip. It is a new quarter, 5 coin, Wheel of Fortune with video type reels instead of actual barrel reels. You had to line up three “Spin” symbols to get the bonus, but that happened frequently enough that it was playable. I took a fair amount out of those machines (to loose elsewhere) most nights. My main game though is Video Poker, and for that the Venetian sucked. It wasn’t just the pay tables – I’ve ceded to the reality that none are available below $5.00 anywhere on the Strip, and I accept that fact as a trade off for wanting to stay on the Strip. But in the Venetian it was bloody hard to find any at all! They had the ones at the bar, but I don’t like playing at the bar. Other than that I had to go on a major expedition around the casino to find a quarter or fifty cent machine to play. The few I found played okay – no royal but usually a 4OAK now and again. I did play Star Trek and got promoted again (that and six bucks will get you a cup of coffee at the Venetian). I noticed something that first night too, that I hoped was not the norm but it turned out to be. The drink service was abominable. Between the Venetian and Palazzo that night I caught a waitress twice, and that was early on. For the first time in my many years visiting Las Vegas, at least until we got to the Encore, I went up to my room every night stone cold sober. There simply were very few waitresses on the floor. Amazing. We ate a late dinner at the Grand Lux CafÃ©. I can’t remember what I had, but I don’t remember it being bad, so it must have been okay. One thing we learned, though, was next time to ask for a table away from the kitchen area, which is separated from the back dining area by a very pretty, but very thin glass partition. It was so noisy, with the staff shouting out orders and the dishes clattering, and the sound was amplified by the openness of the dining area. The next day, after room service breakfast, we went out to visit some casinos we hadn’t been to for some years. We started out by walking up to Harrah’s – slightly run down, but as for the clientele I have not met a friendlier bunch of people anywhere. Harrah’s has always been like that, nice folks you can strike up a conversation with, and nobody trying to impress anyone else. From there we took a taxi to another casino we hadn’t been to for a long time, Mandalay Bay. My, that’s a nice looking casino. My, that was an empty casino. If there had been crickets in there, you could have heard them chirp. Harrah’s and the Venetian hadn’t been full, but there were plenty of people around. This was incredibly deserted. We had no luck there, and didn’t like the solitary gambling, so we left for the Bellagio where a TV show about the world’s best buffets made me want to try theirs again. And it was good, better because the Travel Channel said it had to be. I am easily convinced by TV shows. If it wasn’t for the fact that I find the spokesman annoying I would have a whole closet full of Sham-Wows. We stayed at the Bellagio in April for my birthday, and I liked the slot floor and had more luck there than anywhere. But again, luck was not with either of us this time. But I did score a few drinks, though. We caught a cab back to the Venetian, played there some before heading to bed – again sober, and after being teased by the Bellagio’s alcohol I really felt like getting tipsy so I stopped at the sundries shop by the elevators and picked up a bottle of wine for the room. Mom was arriving from Denver just after noon the following day. Ed and I got up early and hit the Grand Lux mini-buffet for breakfast. This is actually quite good, it had eggs made to order, potatoes, fruit, waffles, everything you need for breakfast and it was very popular. Unfortunately it is set out in this miniscule side room, so you had to jostle and squeeze around all these people to get to what you wanted. I had to head to the Concierge to set up a couple of Mom’s surprises (a gift card for the Venetian shops and a fruit basket) and to enquire about wheelchairs. I had a long wait to get to the desk. But once I was there I was taken care of by a wonderful lady who was so professional and helpful I emailed the Venetian to praise her after we got back. Ed wisely decided to wait until Mom arrived to let her decided whether she wanted a chair or a scooter, but I got information on both. We took a cab to the airport, and got slightly long-hauled. It would have been more than slightly had we not made it clear we both knew, from his first wrong turn to the interstate, what was going on. The fare only cost 4.00 more than it should, and he got the same amount he would have done if he hadn’t long hauled – that is, no tip. We were told by the United agent that the best place to meet Mom was at the baggage carrousel since the wheelchair service would take her the whole way down there, and we met up with the Presidential driver there, who arrived plenty ahead of time. Mom’s bag had arrived ahead of her, which got us wondering what time she had showed up at Denver airport (4 hours early to beat the snow!) so all we were missing now was Mom herself. When she arrived in her wheelchair it was us who spotted her first, and many hugs and kisses later, we introduced her to her first surprise. The fact that she was going to ride in a Limo bowled her over, but it started what was to become an all too familiar refrain if we didn’t find a way to stop it: “But you mustn’t spend too much money on me…” So Ed lied to her. He said it was part of a package deal from the hotel. Which we mostly got free anyway. And what we had to pay for, we didn’t pay much for, so just relax and enjoy Mom. I don’t know if she really bought the story, but she never brought up how much we were spending on her birthday present again. The last several times Mom had been to Vegas she actually hadn’t seen much of it since she was at the mercy of SIL, who wouldn’t ever think of paying for a cab anywhere, and on her last visit she hadn’t even left the Riviera. So we asked the driver to take us down the strip so Mom could see it, if it wouldn’t take up too much of his time, and he was a gem. He pulled onto the strip at Mandalay Bay and drove the entire length of it to the Venetian. Mom had started to tell us one of her long (but interesting) stories about one time when she was in a limousine when she was first married (I didn’t know they had them then), but the story came to an abrupt interruption when she started to see all the sights, and we started narrating the strip for her, giving her a history of the new hotels and what used to be where they now stood. Yeah, the limo was a good idea. She especially liked the (screw-top) champagne! The driver got a very nice tip. The next thing that floored Mom was the Venetian itself. She had never been inside it. And the foyer, with its fountain and grand hall, are truly spectacular - especially when seen for the first time, and it was starting to sink in for Mom that she was actually staying somewhere very nice. Now, she had with her a walking cane with four little rubber feet, and she was doing fine, though going slow, outside. But when she got onto the glass-like shiny floor inside she came to a panicked halt and grabbed my arm. Shiny floors, it turned out, were very scary for her to walk on. I tried to reassure her by scuffing my feet and showing that they weren’t (quite remarkably) slippery. But of course from her perspective, and having fallen badly on a shiny (wet) floor before, just the sight of such a floor petrified her from walking without being very firmly supported and taking tiny steps. However, this gave us a good opening for suggesting what we had planned on all along - a wheelchair, or even better rent a scooter for her. We were not prepared for her instant and absolute refusal. She wouldn’t entertain the idea. No. No! She insisted all she needed was someone to hold on to (which turned out always to be me), and she could walk fine. So that is how we got around, and how I got an achy back. We would seek out carpeted routes whenever we could, where she could get along fine, and when we had no option but to walk on shiny floors (which I discovered was incredibly frequently – think of the Wynn, the Encore, all the big resorts) she would pull my arm close and hold on, cane in her free hand, me on the side that she carried her enormous bag on, and around which I had to lean, making me walk in a question mark shape. Ow, my back. We went to the invited guest line to check Mom in, and the desk clerk remarked that it was her birthday the next day. “Yes,” Mom replied, glowing. “I’m going to be 83!” The desk clerk looks (politely) ill at ease. We had already told the Venetian that it was her 80th birthday and they had dutifully logged this information in their computer. Now it looks like Ed doesn’t know how old his own mother is. He mutters something about she’s supposed to be 80, and now he’s really on the spot. “She’s got two birth certificates!” he blurts out in explanation – which must have sounded really strange to the clerk. But the truth is that she does have two. One of them (or maybe both) is forged. She graduated from nursing school in Panama very young, probably at age sixteen, and she married that same year. Then she and Ed’s father (also a nurse) wanted to emigrate to the US in response to a nursing shortage that happened right after the war, when American nurses, all female, were dropping out of the field in droves to have baby boom babies. Problem was that one had to be at least 19 years old to enter the US under this program. Hence the birth certificate saying she was three years older than she really was. Now, probably to take advantage of some benefit available (like collecting social security?) she had reverted to using the forged certificate, and she had to stick with it. It causes great confusion all around. So we think she is really 80, but unless she wants to go to jail for fraud she has to say she’s 83. Well, we take the 83 year old up to the room. We hadn’t told her she wasn’t sharing a room, we just let her assume she was (like she had with SIL). So when she saw her suite, it seemed to give her added amazement that all this room was just for her. She absolutely loved it. Funnily enough, the bathroom floor didn’t seem to bother her. Ed put the suction bar in the shower, and she tried it out, and found the whole set up very satisfactory. After she had time to look around the suite, and get gently warned that the stuff in the mini-bar wasn’t free, Ed ordered sandwiches from room service (thinking of her blood sugar level) and I went to my room to get some more of her surprises, most of which we had decided to give her upon arrival so she could take full advantage of them. So while we waited for the food we gave her her birthday presents one day early. We had bought tickets for Phantom of the Opera, and had been warned that the theater could be chilly so I bought her a gossamer soft shawl to wear (though we didn’t tell her where she needed it yet), we gave her a gift card for the Venetian shops so she could buy all the souvenirs and gifts she wanted without dipping into her own funds, and an envelope containing money for her to gamble with – not much, but enough that it would carry her through at least one day if she stuck to the level that Ed had witnessed in the past. We never saw any of that money leave her purse. We had also ordered a fruit presentation from room service earlier on, but it hadn’t arrived, and it didn’t even come up with the food although Ed had told them we had it on order. It took several calls and a long time waiting to get that darned fruit. It seems that the Venetian room service can handle regular orders just fine, but throw something slightly out of the ordinary at them (this was ordered through the concierge) and it gets screwed up. We finally got the fruit – which was to be Mom’s in-room snacks to keep her blood sugar within range – and it was beautifully presented in a glorious glass bowl which we promptly had to tell Mom that she couldn’t take home. Ed explained to Mom how to call room service if she was up early and needed to eat, and then called room service to clear the dishes – which we didn’t wait for. It was time to hit the slots. And this is where it got amusing. I honestly expected Mom to use the money we had given her to gamble with. But we sit down at a row of penny slots, minimum bet 45 cents, and Mom puts in a dollar bill. Of course, two plays later it’s gone and she sighs and looks miserably at the machine. She sighs, and pulls out another dollar bill. Same result. Ed apparently thinks she’s playing with twenties and gets worried that she’s hitting super bet max or something and I have to explain to him that she’s playing one dollar bill at a time. So he reaches around with a twenty and feeds it into her machine, “No, Mom you can’t play these machines with one dollar and get anywhere…” And that’s how it went for the whole trip! I was laughing inside, because I knew she was playing Ed, and he knew it too. Unlike myself, who had never played slots with Mom, Ed had known she wouldn’t use the money we’d given her because he always fed her machine for her. Now, when she won she cashed out, kept it, and put in a fresh dollar – sometimes a five dollar – bill. But when that was gone the cycle started again. Ed basically split his bankroll with her, like the loving son he is. Mom loves buffets, she waxes lyrical about the time she ate at Harrah’s some years ago, so we wanted to treat her to the one at the Wynn. It’s practically next door, but with Mom in mind we take a cab. We hadn’t entered the Wynn through the main entrance before, because we had always walked from either the Encore or the Palazzo, and had always approached the casino through an esplanade. Now we got to enjoy the full impact of the beauty of the Wynn – it really is breathtaking. And it was really semi-empty after the Venetian. We found the same lack of people when we moved to the Encore for our last night. It was practically empty compared to the Venetian, and the only reason we could think of was the liberal comping of suites practiced by the Venetian versus the Wynn/Encore. We hadn’t received any offers from the Wynn prior to our trip, I’d had to call and ask. But the Venetian had almost literally filled up my in-box with them. That’s one way to keep your casino floor full. Give away the rooms to anyone who has shown even minimal play. Mom did enjoy the buffet. It is good, though you pay for it – no bargain basement pricing but the quality and selection is outstanding. I was surprised how much and how liberally Mom could eat considering her condition. But she ate wisely – no sweets, only a small amount of carbs. She loves sea-food and the Wynn came through in spades for her, and she enjoyed the many perfectly cooked meat dishes. I pigged out. ‘Nuf said. We gambled some at the Wynn with the same results we’d had at the Venetian, that is, no wins. I did get some drinks though, which was a novel experience for this trip. We went back to the Venetian for some play before going to bed, with the same no wins result, except I had opportunity to fully sober up thanks to the non-existent drink service. Darn. I had done my usual wandering off from Ed, and found neither him nor Mom nowhere in sight at about 2 AM, and I figured they had both long ago gone to bed so I didn’t call Ed, I just went on up myself. I was surprised, after a half hour in my room to get a call from Ed. “Are you still in the casino?” I asked. No, he said. He was still in Mom’s room. He had escorted her back there over two hours ago, only to find that the dishes and now smelly food from lunch were still there. He’d called room service to come get them, several times, but they still hadn’t shown up! One hapless representative had suggested that Ed just push the cart out into the hallway. Duh! At the Venetian they don’t LEAVE a cart. The meals are always served on the dining table in the suite and the cart is removed since the guest doesn’t need it. So I suggest to Ed to just put the dishes (quite a lot of them) out in the hallway. Which is eventually what he did. When we met up the next morning he told me that he’d had to line them up single file along the wall because he didn’t want anybody to stumble over them, and the line had stretched – with breaks at each door – from Mom’s room five doors down, out into the foyer. It must have been a heck of a sight, and a puzzling one for other guests. When I got up and out they were gone finally. Bad service, Venetian, bad. This day was Mom’s birthday. She had, as expected despite the late night, gotten up early and she’d taken our suggestion and ordered room service. She was so impressed that they knew her name when she called and wished her happy birthday. How do they do that, she asked? I didn’t tell her that it’s all computerized now and when the call comes in to any of the hotel services the guest information flashes up on the screen. I just let her think that they memorized her name because she is special. Which she is. We were going to give her some more gambling funds today, but what was the point? So instead we just gave her a birthday card and told her we were going to see Phantom (she was excited). Then we asked her what she wanted to do. Well, we’d given her the gift card. She wanted to go shopping. There are two gift cards you can get for the property: one (online only) from the company that runs the Canal Shoppes and the other strictly for the shops managed directly by the Venetian, obtainable only from the Concierge desk. We got her the one for the Venetian shops since we figured they were all in a smallish area on the Casino level, and these shops would be the most likely candidates to carry Venetian souvenirs. Simple right? No, it wasn’t. First of all, not all the shops or concessions that are operated by the Venetian (as in “Venetian Stores”) accept the card; in fact none of them seemed to have seen the Venetian gift card before and were genuinely surprised when it accepted the charge. Second, not all the Venetian shops are on the casino level, in fact many of them are mixed in with the Canal Shoppes on the Grand Canal level. And the list we have of them is decidedly out of date, we find when we start asking. So off we go on a merry chase to find Venetian stores versus Canal Shoppes stores. We should have just given her the hundred bucks and said lets’ shop. But the card was pretty. And the hunt did get us up to explore that area of the resort, which is something we were glad we did because it’s lovely as long as you accept it is an exceptionally fake and unnaturally clean reconstruction of Venice. If you’ve been to the real Venice, do not expect to walk into Sheldon’s fantasy and go “Wow, this is just like the real thing!” We stopped in St Mark’s Square (where are the flocks of pigeons?) to watch the performers, and Mom got her picture taken with one of the Polizie (and a hunky looking one, too). We then crossed the bridge to the canal area (where’s the smell of rotting rat carcuses?) where we offered one of our final surprises, a Gondola ride. But Mom felt too nervous about climbing down into the boat, so we called that one off. She was rapt watching them, though, and listening to them singing as they fake-polled along. We eventually found (several) shops that sold souvenirs, and another assumption I had made crashed and burned. It’s only $100, I figured that at a high priced Vegas resort that won’t last long, a couple of purchases and we’d be off to do something else. I had not been gift shopping with Mom, though. She went straight for the $4.00 shot glasses and $5.00 key chains. A couple of each from each store, and in each store a search for a cheap tee-shirt for her college age grandson. “Mom,” we explain, “$17 for a tee-shirt here is a pretty good deal”. Okay, then we have to find one that used to be that price but is now on sale. Jason, I hope you like your Def Leppard Played Vegas tee-shirt with the small blue stain on the back. That $100 stretched on for hours, until she finally got tired and finally bought something (on sale) for herself. But she seemed to have such a good time we were happy to just go along. We had intended to leave the Venetian for the afternoon, either to take a trip Downtown so Mom could visit some of her old (like forty years ago) haunts or maybe to the Bellagio, another resort she had never been to. However, it was now well into the afternoon and Mom was way overdue for lunch. So we descended to the Grand Lux CafÃ©, securing a table well away from the kitchen, and had a late lunch. I had the fish and chips – bloody excellent but way too much food. The portion sizes in Las Vegas are perfect for Sumo Wrestlers, but I can’t ever eat more than a quarter of what is on my plate. By the time we had finished lunch, we had only a couple of hours to be in place for the show, so we went over to the Palazzo to play a few favorites (Sopranos for one) and then back to our rooms to change. Now, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that you have to dress up to go see the Phantom of the Opera, because it’s got the word “Opera” in it. All I did was add a flowery jacket to my very casual slacks, shirt and comfy shoes. Mom put on silk pants and matching blouse that I had bought for her some time back from an overseas trip, and the shawl, and the only reason she did, I think, was because I bought them for her. Ed kept on his day time clothes, the highlight of which was, as it was every day in Vegas, an Hawaiian type shirt (it makes him easy for me to find in a casino and it screams “I’m on vacation!”). That is one of the things I especially love about Las Vegas – you can wear what the heck you want wherever you want to go, with the exception of those dress code restaurants, and with my love of buffets and smallish appetite I don’t bother with those. Wynn did try a dress code for his precious Bellagio when he opened it, and promptly dropped the idea when he found out that rich people like to dress down on vacation like the rest of us! As long as it’s not underwear, covered in filth or has dirty words on it, and as long as it covers your privates, you can wear what you like even at the highest end resorts. They don’t care. They just want your money. I did see ladies show up for Phantom wearing long dresses like they were going to the opera. I saw just as many in jeans. When we booked the seats online, there was a special where the best seats (Golden Circle) were priced the same as the next lower range, so we booked the best. And they were great seats, 12 rows back dead center stage (M 36, 37, 38). However, when we booked we didn’t know that the chandelier did stuff, and we were sitting a few rows in front of it, so that when the chandelier did stuff we had to look back and up, and we missed some of the action (I won’t say what it does, so as not to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the show). So if you want truly the best, try the next block back – rows P – T. I wouldn’t sit any further back though, because for the life of me I didn’t see any screens, so you had to rely on your own eyes to see the detail on the stage. It was a spectacular show, the players had great voices, and it was just the right length. The sets were stunning. And the recreation of an old Paris opera house was authentic right down to the seats because they were hard and my bum hurt before it was over. Another thing I missed, because I’m looking at my ticket now: it’s good for a complimentary drink at Lavo – something we weren’t told and that we completely overlooked. A shame, since it’s the only free drink we would have been guaranteed at the Venetian, what with their lousy waitress service. By 8:45 we’re back in the casino, avail ourselves of some snacks, and at the machines. And I have the one winning experience of the entire trip. All three of us sit down at a Big Event Monopoly machine, something that Ed had played before and he sought it out because of the frequent bonus events, shared by all players on the bank. They were frequent, and I quickly figured out that the best thing to do was bet max, because you would really reap it in on a bonus event if you did. I started out with a hundred, got it up to seven hundred, went down to six hundred and change, and cashed out. That was immense fun to play. But boy, was it volatile, and you had to play fast to keep your multipliers up. Go play it, you’ll quickly figure out what I mean. Mom had her own wins that night on a video tile Wizard of Oz game. Her best one was for $127 – not bad since she was only playing two cents a line. You know, we have to have eaten something that night, but I can’t remember what. I vaguely remember going into the food court, not to sit down but to grab something. So that’s probably what we all did. It’s funny that I could blank out like that and STILL BE STONE COLD SOBER. Sorry, enough bitching about the drink service. But that was one of the nights when I bought a bottle of wine from the Apothecary and took it up to my room. Amazing, but I drank almost three quarters of it in short order, and I still managed to get up in the morning early enough and chipper enough to be able to check out of the room in plenty of time. We ate breakfast at the food court based on some passing souls recommendation, and it was good. All of the concessions offered breakfast, but not all of them had the exact same offerings. For example, they all served eggs and breakfast meats, but one also had pancakes, while another had biscuits and gravy (my favorite), at yet another you might find waffles and hash browns. It was a good, reasonably priced (for the Venetian) breakfast and I’m sorry we only discovered it on our last day there. Actually, as far as prices go, the Venetian really wasn’t that bad compared with similar resorts like Wynn (be prepared to sell your first born for a bagel) or Bellagio. Like our experience in the souvenir shops, room service and the lower end food joints we ate at weren’t outrageously overpriced. Sure, more expensive than I would expect to find at Casino Royale or the Plaza, but for this kind of property I didn’t feel like I was being mugged. Maybe it’s all the money they’re saving on the drinks…. We played slots for a little while until it’s time for the limo. We had booked the airport round trip package, but we had to come back to the Venetian to get our bags and get what we could out of the players club. Since we were only paying for one trip from the airport and one trip back, we were quite prepared to hop over to arrivals after dropping Mom off to catch a cab back. But again our Presidential driver excelled. Ed was explaining to him what our plans were just so he could give us some clue on how to get over to arrivals from the United departure desk. He asked, why would we want to get a cab when he was time blocked for a whole hour? Sure he was only supposed to drop us off but he had the time and he would be glad to bring us back. He would have to circle around until we came back, so we might have to wait on him… We explained that it might be a while until we could get Mom situated, but he said that was fine. And that’s what he did, he circled around, and around, and around while we got Mom seated and her wheelchair confirmed. I have his card: Roger Kaplan. Ask for him if you book Presidential – although all three drivers we’ve had from this service have been excellent and helpful. Mom ended up crying as she tried to thank us and say goodbye, which meant we had tears in our eyes too. Ed gave her the money we had set aside for her second day of gambling as a parting gift – and I don’t know if that adds up to seven surprises because our plans were subverted on a couple of occasions, but I don’t think she was counting either. We do know that she left a winner, and she had stripped the hotel of ever soap, mini ketchup and anything else that wasn’t nailed down too. Ed did count the towels before we left her room. She had a wonderful time, and we convinced her it didn’t cost us much (which in the scale of a top notch Vegas vacation, it didn’t). More important were the memories all three of us have that any amount of money couldn’t buy. When a loved one is that advanced in age you have to seize any opportunity you have to do that something special for them while both you and they can. Well, we did it and if it had cost twice as much it would be a bargain. We got the freeplay we had accumulated with Club Grazie, quickly lost it, got our luggage and cabbed it to the Encore. We had been looking forward to our one night stay there. We had stayed once before at Encore, and I had thought it was going to be our new Vegas home (which used to be Caesars). But I had just come from a Venetian suite. When I saw my Encore suite again it now felt cramped! It was incredibly nice, but the scale was ruined thanks to my four nights in the humongous Venetian standard suite. Damn. We still had a good amount of our bankroll, and we went at the slots heavy, with very little return. We ate dinner at Terrace Point in the Wynn – it was empty. So was the Encore casino. But the drinks service was great. I was so lit up by 11 PM that I couldn’t talk right, and I had that strange weaving feeling trying to make it back to my room. At last! The next morning we ate breakfast at Society CafÃ©, good but not great. We then did express check out and went to the casino for what I usually call our desperation session – that one last, time constrained, shot at the slots that has you punching the button like crazy trying to get a win. But this time I was punching the button bored. I had finally done what I thought was impossible. I had played slots for so long (and without enough wins) that it was (gulp) boring. I quit with plenty of time to spare and so did Ed. We meandered towards the bell desk to get our luggage, actually feeling kind of eager to be on our way. I had never wanted to leave Las Vegas, but now I did. Maybe it was the dearth of wins that made it not worth doing any more. Or perhaps it was that Mom had gone home and the whole point of the trip was already fulfilled. We got to the airport way early, but when we got on the plane I was happy to find my in seat entertainment console. We had our usual several hour, no good reason for it, delay in Atlanta (gosh, I hate regional airlines) and got back home much, much later than we had planned. Now I’m back at work in Alabama, writing this from my (very nice) extended stay hotel room. It will probably be April or June before we go back to Las Vegas. I hope I’ve got the gambling bug back by then. That, or I’ll have a completely different Vegas experience. Mom, on the other hand, would be happy to go back any time – and we just might take her.