I'll write this as little notes instead of a long narrative where details get missed by those looking for tips/observations on what's going on. As a background, this was my first Vegas trip in 3 years. My sixth overall. This trip was mostly work-related, but it was fun nonetheless. FOOD 1. Up until this trip, the Paris breakfast buffet was my favorite meal anywhere. No more. It is a mere skeleton of what it once was. The crepe station lacked the fresh blueberries that I loved, replaced with canned varieties of cheaper fruit. The omelet station lacked the seafood options that I once enjoyed. Even my local Golden Corral has shrimp for your omelets. The final straw was when I saw grits at the Paris buffet. I'm from the South, so I appreciate grits, but at the Paris buffet? I was simply upset and disappointed the whole meal. 2. First meal was the Bellagio dinner buffet. It made me physically sick, it was so good. Plenty of seafood options. Huge cocktail shrimp, two varieties of crab legs, and all kinds of fish. My favorite was a teriyaki-glazed salmon. I ate way too much of that. The prime rib was ok. The dessert station wasn't nearly as great as it used to be, but overall I was still happy. BTW, we went in at 3:45 to take advantage of the lunch price. There was no line at all. 3. Tried the Wynn buffet for the first time. We'd signed up for the Red Card and got the 150 points for two freebies. We hit the lunch buffet. It was good, but I wasn't blown away by it. The dessert station was the highlight. I expected more from this buffet, but I just wasn't wowed by any of the foods. I'd easily place Bellagio ahead of it. 4. In & Out Burger. This was my second try at this off-strip chain. It's a really good fast food burger. Very juicy with quality ingredients and cheap to boot. I'll be making this joint a regular visit on future trips. 5. Grand Lux Cafe at Venetian. Very impressed. From the online reviews, it looked like everyone comes away pleased. I can see why. I had a lunch salad/soup special for $9, and it was fine. My wife had the BBQ sandwich. I was skeptical of any BBQ from a place like this, but I ate half the sandwich and must say it was great. We ended with a piece of cheesecake (this is from The Cheesecake Factory after all), and were very happy. 6. Cheesecake Factory at Caesar's. Beautiful place and quality food. I had a burger that was bigger than my head. More cheesecake. Good times. 7. Sunset Station breakfast buffet. The local newspaper has buy one, get on free coupons for the Station buffets, so I wanted to try a new one. I had only been to Palace Station in the past. I was really impressed with Sunset Station. Nice, clean place with movie theatre, a Fatburger (yeah!), and a really nice buffet. For $10 with tip, I was extremely happy. They were even dishing out fresh brick-oven cooked pizzas for breakfast. I was so happy with this meal that I'll consider staying at this joint in the future. HOTELS 1. Four nights at the Venetian, $119/night with $50/night slot credits. What's not to like? This was my first stay here, and I confidently rank it as the best place I've been anywhere. I've stayed at Bellagio, Rio, Paris, Aladdin, Monte Carlo and the Golden Nugget, and the Venetian stomps them all. The room was huge with three TVs, and impeccably clean and beautiful. The entire hotel smells so good (how do they do that?), it's easy to feel like you're a real somebody. I didn't play any table games, but we did burn up the machines using the slot credits. We really enjoyed the place. GAMBLING 1. Since I wanted to take advantage of the Wynn buffet promotion, we went there. This was the first time I've been there. I doubt I go back in the future. There's some good games not offered there, especially the community-style slots that my wife liked. The place had a vibe that we didn't like. We know we're not rich and have a hard enough time feeling like we belong at the Venetian, but the Wynn seems to go out of its way to make us feel unworthy. Don't ask me why. Perhaps it's because of the dressed-up, Secret Service-looking thugs that step up in front of you asking you how they can help you. Perhaps they were trying to be helpful, but I found their approach to be slightly insulting. My wife did to. Well, we got our buffets, been there, seen that, and we won't be back. 2. Based on what I'd been reading lately, I decided to give my old friend Binion's a second chance. On my last visit, it had nothing in common with what was my favorite gambling place. I must say, it was more its old self this time around. I played $5 double deck and felt right at home. 3. Made a couple of trips to the Strat. I always enjoy playing there, and this time was no different. I got a new card, we put a 100 points on it quickly to get a t-shirt, and with the fun book, I marched over the craps table to use a $10 match play. I waited until I was rolled before I put the match play down. I rolled an eight. With $20 essentially on the table already for an eight, I did something I rarely do -- place $5 on the hard eight. Next roll, I roll the hard eight for a $70 win. For this small-time gamer, that's a big win. I always like the Strat, although I can't say the same for their rock-hard beds. SIGHTS AND SHOWS 1. The Bellagio fountains are still the best show on earth, and free at that. On our last night, we spent an hour there watching four shows while eating the $5/scoop gelato and sorbet from the Bellagio's snack station near the fountains. If you don't spend an evening doing this with your significant other, you've missed out on something special. 2. The Mirage volcano was new and improved. We never got close to it - we'd watch it from the Venetian's porch. It's leaps and bounds better than before. 3. We caught Mamma Mia at Mandalay Bay, a great deal for $90 for two. Of course, it'll be gone soon. The music and production was great, and the group ensembles at the end were top-notch. I'm sorta "ehhh" about the story, but we got our money out of it. 4. We considered seeing Blue Man Group, but opted to just watch the Bellagio fountains. One of the ticket sellers said the show was about to become half-priced, for those who are interested. 5. From a work friend with connections, we scored free seats to see Brooks & Dunn at the LV Hilton. They're not my typical cup of tea, but they put on a good show for what they do. They are quality entertainers, that's for sure. 6. After our four nights at the Venetian, we drove over Hoover Dam (there's one mammoth bridge being built over that thing that is jaw-dropping) en route to Bartow, Arizona and the wild burros that roam the street. The drive to Bartow over the old Route 66 was a treat, and the burros were fun. Although beware that they can be very assertive about getting all your carrots. After Bartow, we drove towards Needles, California en route to Laughlin. We stayed one night at Aquarius in Laughlin, which while enjoyable, seemed like an incredible let-down after four nights at the Venetian. I liked the Aquarius casino, especially the more ordinary folks playing at the tables. I just wished the place hadn't been so cruel to my wallet as I blew through a $100 at the blackjack tables in no time. The room, which is newly renovated, was a great bargain for $27. One highlight on the drive was when I was trying to find the next leg of Route 66, I saw something crawling across the road. It almost looked like a big crab. I stopped the car and walked back to get a look at it. When I got within 15 feet of it, I saw it a huge spider. We don't have spiders like that in Tennessee - it was as big as my hand. I had to get a pic of it, and my little 3x zoom about forced me to get within five feet of this beast. Despite my trepidation, I got a shot of it. A guy in a utility truck saw me stopped, so he pulled up and looked amused at this hillbilly enthralled by the spider. He said it was some form of a tarantula, and it was migrating at this time of year.