Saturday, March 28: We left for the airport a little later than we had planned. Our Northwest flight was scheduled to leave Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport @ 9:25 am. We got to the airport and parked. We had used miles to upgrade to first class on the flight to Vegas, so we figured there would be little or no line to check in our bags and get through security. We walked into the airport and were quite surprised to see the first class counter with a long line. After all it was spring break for St. Paul Public Schools and probably many other districts in the area. After waiting to check our bags, we walked to the security line. It was much longer than usual. I was starting to get nervous that we might miss our flight. We had printed our boarding passes at home, so we already had our gate information. We got through security and hurried off to gate G16. When we arrived at G16 the gate and entire area was empty. After a few choice words, we walked back to the walkway to check the monitors. Sure enough, the flight had been moved to gate G2. Of course this was all the way back to the main area of the terminal. We hoofed it back to G2 and got into line. So much for getting on board early as a first class passenger. Once on board we only had time for one pre-flight drink. The flight left pretty much on time. After another bloody mary for me and vodka cranberry for my partner, Deb, the flight attendent offered us our choice of an omlette or cheerios. We both opted for the omlette. It was a ham and cheese omlette with sausage and potatoes along with a piece of warm coffee cake and a plate of fresh fruit. Believe it or not, it was all really good. I never expect much from airplane food these days, especially breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised. The plane landed on time and we pulled up to the gate. We waited at the gate for our friends that were also on the flight. We all walked slowly to the tram and on to baggage claim. There is no need to hurry as it is a well known fact that McCarran has the slowest baggage delivery anywhere. At that point, our friends headed off to the car rental facility as they had not checked luggage. Our slow stride paid off as our luggage was just coming around as we walked up. We grabbed it and headed to the rental car shuttle. As we hit the doorway the warmth and sunshine instantly transported our tired bodies to vacation mode. The 40+ increase in temperature from home to Vegas was much appreciated. We learned on our last trip that it is very helpful to have your confirmation number when trying to get your car through Alamo. Their kiosks make renting very easy. Swipe your card, press a couple of buttons and you are on your way to your car. We were really pleased that they let us have a mid-sized SUV in place of our reserved car. We ended up with the same car we drive at home. Therefore there was no getting used to a new/different vehicle. Off the lot we wentâ€¦ straight to the Strip. We headed straight up the strip to Encore. Yes, it would have been quicker to take I15 or Paradise or Koval. But it is our tradition to drive up the strip as soon as we arrive in Vegas. It was about noon, and Saturday, so the traffic was a little slow going. That was ok with us. That first drive up the strip is always a thrill. Even though we had just been in town last December, there was plenty of â€œnewâ€ to see. First change was the big sign on the south face of Luxor. It looked like the view through the viewfinder on a video camera. One has to wonder how they get those stickers, or whatever they are, on the sides of buildings. Many places seem to be posting themâ€¦ NYNY, Flamingo, Mirage, etc. The second thing we noticed was City Center. The exteriors of Aria and Vdara seemed nearly complete. The odd shapes of some of the other buildings were coming to life. On the east side of the strip, the Hard Rock CafÃ© also seemed to be progressing. Planet Hoâ€™s condo building looks to be nearing completion and the new tower at Caesarâ€™s is nearly enclosed. The addition to Venetian is moving along. Iâ€™m not quite sure what it is they are adding. The lot where the New Frontier formerly stood is still as emtpy as it was last Decemberâ€¦ and Echelon appeared to be just as dead as last December, too. Two right turns and we pulled up to the Encore valet. Let the pampering begin. Both our doors were opened and we were welcomed to Encore. Our bags were whisked off one way while we were escorted off to the registration desk. After a brief wait, we approached the counter with DL, CC and $$ in hand. I gave the clerk my name, DL and CC and handed her $40 (I was hoping for a nice upgrade). She started typing and I dropped the big question, â€œdo you have any upgrades available?â€ She typed a little more and said, â€œyes, I can upgrade you to a panoramic room on the 61st of 63 floors.â€ I asked if it was facing the south strip. She said she had nothing on that side of the building. I knew that the room she was offering was $50/night more than what we had booked, so we were ok with that. I signed the paper and off we went. One cool thing about Encore is that your room key is also your players club card so there is no standing in line waiting for a card. Immediately past the registration desk is The Lobby Bar. The lure of the bar was too much for us to resist, so we wandered in and found a seat at the bar. A beautiful Latina came over, welcomed us and offered us a glass of water while we parused the drink menu. I decided on a Perrier Jouet raspberry grand brut. The drink consisted of Perrier Jouet grand brut champagne, Stoli raspberry vodka and raspberry puree. It was wonderful. Deb had a pear and ginger martini made from pear vodka, ginger liquer and pear puree. It was also wonderful. We were a bit hungry, so we order the carpaccio. The raw beef tenderloin was sliced so thin you could have read the drink menu through it. It was dressed olive oil, capers and parmesean cheese and served with crisp melba style toast. Delish! We finished up and headed off to our room. On the way to the elevator we saw Penn Jillette (Penn and Teller)â€¦ how cool. It was nice to see that they had separate banks of elevators for the first 30 and second 33 floors. That way one doesnâ€™t spend so much time stopping at 60 other floors on the way up or down. We got to the 61st floor and noticed the sign pointing to rooms starting with 6122 to the left and 6100 to the right. Our room was 6123, so we automatically assumed we would be at the far end of the hall. We were delighted to see that our room was acturally the first room down the hall. The $40 really had paid off. We opened the door and could instantly see the fabulous view to the north and the moutains off to the west and east. The way the building is curved gives you a truly panoramic view. We could see west towards Red Rock Canyon, north towards downtown and east over the golf course and to the mountains. Simply beautiful. The room was pretty nice tooâ€¦ huge bathroom, big comfy bed with tons of pillow and a decent sized sitting room with desk, couch/chaise and a swivel 46â€ plasma tv. We were quite pleased with the room. I noticed right away that my name was displayed on the top of the screen on the phone. I had to take a picture as I am so easily impressed with stuff like that. Another cool feature was the way the lights were controlled. They all had a button and the brightness of the light depended on how long you held down the button. Also, there were control panels by the front door to control the lights and by the bed to control the lights, drapes and â€œdo not disturbâ€ feature on the door. There was a button on the bedside panel labeled â€œnightâ€ and when pressed it turned on the lights in the hallway so you could find your way to the bathroom. After checking out the room, we called our friends and made plans to meet them at South Point Casino. We drove down to South Point and met up with our friends. We played a little craps (lost quickly) and some blackjack (lost some more) and called it quits for gambling that night. The four of us met up with some local friends of our friends and had dinner at the Garden Buffet. I will be kind and just say the dinner was cheap. The company was great and we enjoyed making some new friends. We were really tired after a long day of traveling so we headed back to our hotel. We sat and stared out the window at the lights of Vegas for a while. We finally climbed into the comfy bed and drifted off to sleep with visions of jackpots dancing in our heads. Sunday, March 29: Sunday morning in Vegas means Sterling Buffet. We had reservations for noon. I headed down to the Lobby Bar for some coffee. We lounged around, got ready and headed off to Ballyâ€™s. As we walked to the door we saw Mekhi Phifer (from ER) sitting in the Lobby Bar. We met Helen outside the Buffet. Her husband, Bob, decided he would rather gamble and eat hotdogs. We lied and told the Matreâ€˜d that we left our Diamond Card in the room. He said we needed to be diamond level to sit in the main dining area. We told him we had specifically requested this at the time we made the reservations and that were assured we would be able to sit there. He hesitated and took us in. On one visit we were seated in one of the overflow rooms for the buffet. It just wasnâ€™t the same as being in the actual steakhouse for the full experience. This time we had a great table on the upper level. We sat and enjoyed a glass of Mumm champagne before heading to the buffet. I looked over the salads and fruit and headed straight to the shrimp and crab claws. The shrimp are very large and perfectly cooked. Cold shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce and lots of lemon is my favorite way to enjoy shrimp. The crab claws were equally as tasty. After enjoying my seafood starter, I headed up for a little breakfast. I had a couple of pieces of bacon, a little waffle and a made to order omlette with lobster, spinach and boursin cheese. I asked the chef to make it tiny so I wouldnâ€™t fill up on the omlette. It was delightful, but still too big so I only ate about 1/3rd of it. On to the entrees which included garlic roasted leg of lamb, prime rib, chicken roulade saltimbocca, steamed muscles and scallops, filet mignon with bernaise and veal picatta. The star of the entrees was broiled lobster. I had a small piece of lamb, some chicken saltimbocca, a piece of filet and some vealâ€¦ and of course lobster. All of it was awesome. The best IMHO was the shrimp, crab claws and veal. I shouldnâ€™t forget to mention the caviar, sushi, lobster bisque, oysters and many other fine things I did not eat. Also, the desserts consisted mainly of fruit tarts as well as bananas foster and made to order crepes. The Mumm champagne was great. In the past they have served Perrier Jouet. The Mumm was even better. Our waiter was wonderful. He filled our champagne glasses after nearly every sip. Iâ€™m certain by the time we left we had each drank a full bottle. The three of us walked up to the front of Ballyâ€™s to meet up with Bob. We decided to go over to Wynn to catch Bobby Knight and Billy Packer in the sports book talking about the NCAA tourney. Christian Laettner was also there. We took a few pictures and headed back to Encore. We decided to have a lazy night and just hang out in our room. We ordered room service for dinner, Philly steak for Deb and a Reuben for me. More staring out the window and off to bed. Monday, March 30: Monday morning started with coffee and croissants from the Lobby Bar. They have awesome breakfast croissants. We lounged in the room until about 1pm and headed over to Hard Rock. We had lunch at Pink Taco. We ordered the pink tacos and the special of the day, crispy chicken tacos and shared. Both were great. Their house margaritas are also really good. After lunch we spent some time playing BJ (lost) and some craps (lost more) and headed back home to Encore. We dropped by the room and then went down to Switch Bar. Jeffrey, the bartender was a really nice guy. He made a mean cocktail and told a great story. We both ordered the basil gimlet. One sip and we were hooked. After our second, I called a friend from work that was staying at Wynn. She and her hubby came down to join us. We sat and drank and chatted so long they had to run to catch their LeReve reservations. Jeffrey made a couple of different kinds of shots for usâ€¦ he was a hoot and we had a great time. Tired and a little tipsy, we decided to order room service again. Deb had chicken quesadillas and I had meatball pizza. Both were good. A little TV, more staring out the window and off to dreamland. Tuesday, March 31: Tuesday morning started out the same as Monday, coffee and croissants from the Lobby Bar. Again, we lounged around until about 1:30 and then went to Bellagio. We had lunch at Olives. I had read about their carppacio and infused vodka martinis. We ordered the carpaccio and a couple of drinksâ€¦ a pineapple infusion martini for me and a pineapple and cilantro concoction for Deb. Both were really good. The carpaccio was phenomenal. I loved the polenta cake. It added a different texture and flavor with the gorganzola. Deb preferred to enjoy hers on the cracker bread. We both agree that it is the best carpaccio we have ever had. We both ordered a mixed berry vodka infused martini and split a burger for our entrÃ©e. Good burger! After lunch we played some BJ (lost a little) and walked down to the conservatory. The theme was gardens and butterflies. The place was divided into 5 gardens; French, Japanese, Italian, English and a butterfly greenhouse garden. It was beautiful as usual. By the time we finished in the conservatory, we figured we should head over to Caesars. We were meeting Helen @ 6:30 and meeting Bette @ 7:30. We had some time to kill so we wandered through the Bette/Cher store. Still more time before Helen would be there, so we had a cocktail at the Slice Bar. When Helen arrived we went back to the Bette/Cher store and bought a couple of things. When then headed over to the show. We had seats in the 3rd row of the 1st mezzanine just right of center. They were great seats. The show started about 15 minutes late. We saw Betteâ€™s opening night show and were courious about how she might have changed the show. The show started with the same video, but Betteâ€™s entrance had changed. Last year she rode in on a donkey. This time she rose from below the stage on a â€œthroneâ€ of luggage. There were other changes, as wellâ€¦ all for the good in my opinion. I will post a review of the show under â€œshows & entertainment.â€ Suffice it to say that of the five times Iâ€™ve seen Bette, this was without a doubt the best show of all. Her opening night show at Caesarâ€™s would rank 2nd of the 5 shows Iâ€™ve seen. After the show we headed over to Raoâ€™s. I posted a review under â€œRestaurants and Buffets.â€ Simply said, the food was wonderful and the service was terrible. I donâ€™t think we will be going back to Raoâ€™s. Tired from a long day, we headed back to Encore and the comfy bed. Wednesday, April 1: New day, same startâ€¦ coffee and croissants from the Lobby Bar and a lazy start to the day. We really wanted to play some craps, but didnâ€™t want to play the high minimums at Encore so we decided to head to the Eastside Cannery because they offer 100x odds. We called for the car and on the way down decided to stop in at the Eastside Lounge for a cocktail. This lounge is located along side the pool area and the east side of the casino. We chose a seat outside and ordered one of their famed vodka infusions. The infusion was mixed berries with a hint of Tahitian vanillaâ€¦ over ice, very nice! The infusions come as shots, martinis or in quantity of Â½ or whole liters. We ordered the Â½ liter. The sun, the warmth and the cocktails made for a perfect morning. Needless to say, we were a little delayed in getting to the Eastside Cannery. When we finally got to the casino, I was pleasantly surprised. I figured it wouldnâ€™t be much. It was actually pretty nice. Everything was new and clean and not smokey at all. There were tons of video poker machines from nickels on upâ€¦ and they were full pay 9/6 machines. I sat at a machine to kill some time while Deb waited in line for a â€œCANâ€ card and a free gift. I lost $5, cashed out and we headed to the craps table. We both bought in for $200. They asked for my card and I said I didnâ€™t have one. They offered to make me one. So much for Deb waiting in line. The table was $3 minimum bet with 100x odds. It took a while for me to get used to what odds to place. Iâ€™m used to 3-4-5 and trying to remember whether the odds should be an odd or even amount. I stuck with the $3 pass bet and basically went with 10x odds. I also usually placed the 6 & 8. Things were going pretty well, and then started downwards. I was about to quit when my luck turned around again. I upped my odds to 20x and hit a few points right away. After playing for about 3 hours I walked away up $250. It was my first (and last) win of the trip. Deb won a bit, too. We were getting hungry so we cashed out and headed back to Encore. We really wanted to go to Wazuzu for dinner. It was about 8pm when we got to Wazuzu. We started with a couple of cocktails (shocker, eh?!) and the crispy roll. Deb had the Pacific Breeze which had watermelon liquer, vodka and muddled watermelon. I had the Wazuzu Smash which had rum and muddled pineapple. Both were wonderful as was the crispy roll. For our entrees Deb had shrimp Pad Thai and I had the Cantonese BBQ platter with duck, BBQ pork and red cooked pork. All was great. After dinner we headed up to relax and enjoy the view for the last evening. Thursday, April 2: Again we started the day with coffee and croissants from the Lobby Bar. We lazily packed and prepared our brains for the trip home. We had used miles to upgrade to first class for the flight out. However, we were unable to upgrade for the flight home. We were not looking forward to 3 Â½ hours squished in the seats. Just before noon we left Encore and headed to the rental car return. As we pulled in we remembered that we had not filled the gas tank. Too late. Fortunately we had only used about 4 gallons and they only charged $3/gallon so it only added $12 to the bill. We hopped on the shuttle and got to the airport in no time. We had our boarding passes (printed by the concierge at Encore) so we only had to check our bags. That took about 5 minutes and we were off to the gate. The security line looked long but kept moving and we were through pretty quickly. After the tram ride we stopped for a quick beverage near the gate and waited as long as possible to get on the plane. The plane pushed back right on time, and then sat there for nearly an hour. What a pain. Fortunately they made up some time and we arrived only about Â½ hour late. I went straight to get the car and Deb got our luggage. Vacation was over. This was truly a great trip. Highlights were Bette Midler, Sterling Buffet, drinks and carpaccio at Olives and everything about Encore. Also, it was really great to have our friends Helen and Bob as well as my friend/co-worker and her hubby to hang with. Only downer was the service at Raoâ€™s. We are already looking forward to going back in July.