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Walk On: El Cortez and Ballys, 2/20-2/23

Discussion in 'Vegas Trip Reports' started by doctor_al, Feb 28, 2011.

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  1. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    My Trip Report


    (One bit of business to get out of the way up front. There are pics with this, and if my video card hadn't picked right-effing-now to die, I'd be uploading them right-effing-now from my main pc instead of this pre-USB laptop. I'd even held off writing this up for a couple days until I could get to my PC and upload the pics. They really are some nice pics. But you'll just have to trust me on that. For now.)


    Meanwhile... most of the actual trip went well. While the Twin Cities were getting socked in with over a foot of snow, and most of the rest of the airlines were throwing in the towel, cancelling flights right and left, Sun Country soldiered on and got me up in the air and out of town. I considered that a good sign.

    Unfortunately I had over-celebrated a little bit the night before, and was arriving in Las Vegas in the condition that most people leave vegas, hungover and tired and feeling less than ideal. Kind of a different experience. But coming in late and in a state, my planned dinner at the Flame was replaced with a plate of good comfort food down at DuPars. It's not the old Bay City Diner, bit it works for me.

    (a photo of the LVC and Golden Gate neon would go here)

    I should mention, check-in at the El Cortez was another good sign. Scored a King Leisure on checkin, one of those 3rd floor “suites” that aren't mentioned anywhere on the El Co website, that you only get by asking for them. I’d thought about asking for one, but then thought nah, I'm booked in the cheapest possible room thru a cheapo discount site, and they probably hold them for The Regulars or something. But I got assigned room 3303 without even asking. Maybe there was a run on the Vintage Queens or something, but I'm not complaining. I got a spacious King room with an L-shaped sectional sofa in front of the TV and an odd little side office or something with a desk and chair in it. Bathroom was about the same as a 2nd floor room. There are only four of these rooms, two face Fremont Street and two look out over the roof of the casino towards the tower; I got the latter but it was quieter than the street probably would be. Caesars Rain Man suite this is not, but it's a nice comfortable room, I'd be curious to see if they get redone in the suite remodel project. The room was a little smoky as the aroma from the casino floor wafts up through the stairway, but it didn't really bother me. It smelled like I was sleeping above a casino. Which I was.

    First night all I did was walk Fremont, get dinner at DuPars as I mentioned, and then wandered back to the El Co. Dropped a few bucks in a slot or two and called it a night.

    Next day the plan was to take the 207 from somewhere near MSS to Springs Preserve and then on to Arizona Charlies Decatur. The 207 picks up on Main right by the old Buffalo Bill passenger cars between the Plaza and Main St Station, makes a loop around the new Bonneville Transit Center, then winds it's way slowly west past various Medical Centers, which seemed to be the main goal of most riders. I went past that to the recently completed Springs Preserve, just off 95, across the street from the Meadows mall on Valley View. Springs Preserve is a park/museum/gardens complex centered around a patch of land that used to host a natural spring (hence the name). I came here to get at least a feeling for the "natural Southwest", what this place would look like sans hotels and fountains and such, and I wasn't disappointed. There were a variety of exhibits related to living in the southwest, including demonstration gardens. Palms and cactus, but also a variety of other plants that were native or at least reasonably well suited to the climate. So I strolled the gardens and did the hike through the "preserve" area. Not a long hike but best to bring a hat and sunscreen and water. I didn't, so I was very ready for a good lunch at the Wolfgang Puck outpost above the gift shop.

    (pics of Springs Preserve and a tasty Puck lunch would go right here)

    After Springs Preserve I hiked up to Lorenzi Park, which was a mistake from several angles. Too much walking on the first day, not a great neighborhood to walk through, not much to look at when I got there, and a long wait for the 208 back to downtown. Nuff said.

    Took a break in the King Leisure suite for a while then went back to the MSS for microbrews (my first drink of the trip, believe it or not) and bartop VP. Didn't win anything but didn't lose either, anyway put a few points on the B card. Pretty much how most of the trip went, which was ok with me, made enough to keep even or slightly ahead and I had fun doing it. Used only a couple of the matchplays, but had several freeplay coupies that helped keep things in the black.

    Having missed my original plan for dinner at the Flame I determined to eat there Monday night, then try to catch up with the meet at 777 brewpub. The Flame did not disappoint. In fine frugal form I used my ACG half off coupie and the free bottle of Mondavi red on dinner, wound up being something like 12.95 plus tip. The prime rib was great, the sauteed fungi was tasty, and the waiter did a great job. I left there full, happy, a little liquored up, and late for the meet, but that didn't wind up happening anyway so I just went back to wandering downtown.

    Finally settled back at Jackie's. Thought to myself, now what would RossW do now? Well, he'd probably take a shot on some penny slot near the stairs up to the room and hit for a few bucks before turning in. Which is what I did, except with $ in my hand I went looking for another machine to give it back to. Then I jumped into the 1-3-6 spread limit game that's always going at the El Co, and was lots of fun. Especially when I had quad deuces and the guy with the ace-high flush (who was being kind of an ass to that point) asked if I had a boat. No, I replied, and I'm not sure what these four twos do, but the ace, I think, is pretty high. Heh. Anyway, it wasn't the sort of table you had to play well at, which was fine, I played a few hours then retired up a bit more. (Next day, I saw one of the guys from that game at the table again -- or maybe still at the table).

    Tuesday was a bit of a cluster since A) I wanted to poke around the North Strip and B) I needed to checkout of the El Co and checkin at Ballys and C) that was just too much walking. If I'd checked out first it would've gone better, but I didn't. So I took the even-more-agonizingly-slow-than-before-now-that-it-goes-to-the-BTC Deuce down as far as the Strat. I'd never been in the Strat, had no interest in the tower, just wanted to check out the casino. It's nice but seemingly without any sort of cohesive theme or decorating scheme or even logical floorplan. Still it'd be an ok place to have as a home base, with the ubiquitous casino bar and a little lounge. Strange shopping promenade tho.

    Hiked from there down to the Sahara via the Bonanza gift shop where it took way to long and cost way too much to buy a little keychain with my son's name on it. The dogs were barking pretty good by this point so I sat down at a nickel VP machine in Sahara to kill a little time. This is where being checked out of the El Co would have been better, then I wouldn't have had to rush back downtown. And catching a Deuce going north was a way bigger pain in the ass than I thought it should have been. Regardless, got back downtown, and got checked out in time and had lunch at Aloha Specialties before heading back to the strip.

    (gratuitous pics of Strat, Sahara, and Fontainebleau would go here)

    Taking the Strip-Downtown Express (SDX) was less than ideal as well. First, as with the Deuce, everything has to wind over to the BTC, which takes more time. Second, it was standing room only by the time I got on with my carry-on -- awkward. Third, there was an unfortunate situation where a lady in a wheelchair got on and got strapped in, but this bar that's supposed to come down alongside the chair and provide some stability wouldn't come down all the way, and just kept beeping every time the bus came to a stop. As I said, unfortunate.

    Now granted any day in Vegas beats a day at work, and I was trying to remember this as I schlepped my bag on sore feet into Ballys. Where there were about a dozen people waiting for two checkin agents, who didn't seem to be making any headway checking in their people. Eventually a couple more agents came out, including one that just... stood there. What. The. Fuck? Finally got up there but there were a lot of negative vibes on both sides. I was booked for a South tower room, and asked, if possible, could I get something with a view of the fountains. She got everything together and handed me a couple keys in a little card, nice and prompt but excuse me what's my room #? And did you manage some kind of view or what? Just was pointed to the North tower elevators. Got room 526, and for reference, the 5th floor in Ballys is like the 2nd floor in the El Cortez - you're right over the casino and you've got a lovely view of the roof and you get to hear all the PA announcments below you.

    Took a nap and let all the negativity go. On further review, it was a nice room, and I was looking in the general direction of the fountains, just not high enough to see anything. And in the hall I saw a guy who was in the checkin line in front of me. Maybe she was just booking this hall for some reason, or maybe we both got the shaft. Who knows.

    Earlier that morning I'd hit the Tix4Tonight downtown (much shorter line than on the strip), looking mainly for a Rat Pack show. Mystere was about 60 and I thought about it, but a high school classmate of mine is a Dean Martin impersonator and I wanted to go see a show he'd worked in, Sandy Hackett's show at the Riv. Also had a freeplay deal at the Riv so I hiked up the strip at about five for a 7pm show. Grabbed a roadie at Casino Royale, but felt a little self-conscious swigging this brew while also trying to make some time up the strip. No matter. Got there in plenty of time to do the slot thing before the show. I've never been super impressed with the Riviera and this time, even looking for slots, there really wasn't all that much there. So I did the freeplay thing, racked up a few points and would up at least close to even, then sat at the bar, killing time before the show playing VP and drinking beer. Hit a couple quads, which really just meant I was even at the end, with a bunch more points on the card (for whatever that's worth). One thing I'll say for the Riv tho, I liked the bartenders there.

    Finally got let into Sandy Hackett's Rat Pack show. In that room, there are no bad seats, it's pretty small. I was seated in the last row and it was about right. The show itself was ok, amusing but not engrossing, although the guy playing Sammy did a great job, and they all sounded good. Just lacked any kind of chemistry, and the Dean didn't look like Dean and he wasn't as fun as Dean really was. Worth doing once though, and a martini or two makes the jokes funnier.

    Wandered back thru Wynn to the Venetian, grabbing a seat at the bar of Enoteca Otto Pizzaria in the San Marco square. Had a pancetta and goat cheese pizza, which was good, but talk about rich. Supposedly had a decent wine to go with it but would have been just as far ahead with a cheap chianti. Overall it was ok but not something I need to make a point of going back to.

    And after that it was really just a matter of wandering back to Bellagio to watch me some fountains. It's really why I booked Bally's, I'm a sucker for the fountains, and I got to see my fave a couple times.

    (ubiquitous fountain pic)

    At this point, my feet were killing me. Lotta walking today. So the smart move would have been just go back to the room and call it a night. But Cosmo was right there... just a short walk away... what the heck, I'll go check out Cosmo. I don't think I'm in the target demographic, but I have to say that place looks like it'd be a lot of fun. Several cool bars not far from each other in the semi-open atrium, not to mention the rooftop area which is way cool. Pools, loungers, TVs, even pool tables and a pinball machine, multiple levels and all with a view of the strip. As I said, way cool. Feels like what Planet Ho wished it was. Or maybe the next evolutionary step from the Palms.

    (nifty pics of the Cosmo rooftop areas here)

    I was about to cross the overpass and head back to the room, but... Aria was right there... kinda. So I soldiered on through Crystals (very nice) and into Aria, which is nice, but kind of underwhelming. Whereas Cosmo was fun and condensed energy, Aria was more sedate. I tried to find a nickel slot or something to get off my feet for a while but just nothing looked interesting, so that's as far as I got. Well, that, and some trendy casino bar with 15 dollar drinks and 6 dollar budweisers. Sure, it's the strip, but this place doesn't have anything on Bellagio or Wynn, where I feel a lot more justified in shelling out. Instead, climbed almost up onto the roof of Crystals trying to get to the monorail. Really glad the windows in that train are tinted, that thing tips pretty good going slowly around corners.

    Last day I'd originally planned to run over to Palms and Gold Coast to use some matchplays, but it just didn't seem worth it (although there was a shuttle to Rio right from Ballys). Besides, what I really wanted to do was go back up to Wynn and hang out there a while, then come back and watch some fountains, especially if I could get an outside table at Olives. So that's what I did. I particularly liked Steve's Megabucks machine or whatever it was. A bit spendy at $3/spin but I got lucky and won a little bit there, but then gave it back on some dollar slots (house money, why not take a shot?). I could imagine Steve saying "I don't mind when a gambler wins, because I know I'll get it back eventually, and then some". Not that I'm any kind of a gambler, but anyway, it worked out for him. Had a really nice mojito in Parasol Up, and migrated unhurriedly down towards Bellagio, stopping at Caesars to do some more souvenir shopping.

    Got into Olives but of course no outside seat, or even view of the lake. The food was really good, in particular a ricotta ravioli, but the waitress, I don't know. Maybe I wasn't spending enough money, or fast enough for her, I don't know, but just got more of that negative strip vibe.

    And that was pretty much it. A little more fountain watching, a little more bartop VP, this time back in Ballys, to kill time before the flight home. My original plan was to take the WAX bus back to the airport, since that worked so well getting to downtown, but that would have meant slogging down to Tropicana with my bag. Instead I just grabbed a cab, and got the best cabbie ever. Real nice guy, a counterpoint to the thread here detailing bad cabbie experiences.

    So that's it. A good solo trip. Springs Preserve was a good find. I still like the El Cortez, and I'm getting closer to not going to the strip at all. The buses weren't great but I'd use them again, just not too much on any given day. Oh, and almost forgot, thumbs down to the video-dealer table game machines they're trying out downtown, even at the El Co. You think 6:5 is an abomination... this is much worse IMO.

    Hope you enjoyed the read.

    P.S. If I get it worked out somehow I'll get some pics up.
     
  2. dewey089

    dewey089 Guru of Value

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    Thanks for all of this.
    I especially liked the King Leisure description. I've been wanting to try those and felt the same as you felt. Now I'll ask. I am assuming with only four, there won't be late night television from other guests pounding through the thin walls. That destroyed the actual Vintage room experience for me last trip.

    And great bus information. I visited Desert Springs last November and have thought of going in April when I think more of the desert is in bloom.
    I was just thinking that I would not be walking between Bellagio and Tropicana with my 85 pounds of luggage, but if the SDX is too crowded, I suppose I'll just hoof it.
    You've certainly convinced me I won't be riding the Deuce even without luggage.

    Great too reading about my favorite Las Vegas poker game. Nice quad anecdote.

    Bally's is on my list for my Harrah's poker comps. This is the first negative I have read. I don't care about view, but I need some quiet. Thanks.
    I'll look for the photos, but the narrative gave me plenty of details.
    Thanks for posting.
     
  3. Joe Strummer

    Joe Strummer VIP Whale

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    Doctor Al,
    Thanks for the read.
    .
    Ugh !....I've got about 3 more months til my next trip.
    "Any day in Vegas, is better than a day at work."
    I've reminded myself of this - several times - when
    things aren't going my way while in Vegas.
    .
    The Rat Pack Show - thanks for the review.
    I've seen several versions....The Plaza version + many
    years ago, at The Sahara = was the BEST show I've
    seen.
    The characters were really good + that band kicked @ss !
    .
    You are definitely a Vegas Veteran........to take the time to
    walk out/in to The Preserve.:nworthy:
    It's nice to get some silence of the desert - after all the casino
    bells + whistles !
    .
    Do you recall what the Brewmeister's Special(s) were at 777 brewpub ?
    .
    I have not even bothered to check out those new midstrip properties -
    .
    I stay at The Stratosphere all the time -- yes, weird casino layout.
    I just wandered in there 20 years ago......and never left ?
    They comp me....so I keep coming back.
    .
    Bally's gave me a weird vibe many years ago - from a cranky Craps
    table pit boss to a worn out room......never to return.
    .
    I have to watch The Fountains next trip......it's been awhile.
    .
    Thanks
     
  4. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    Joe, not sure what the brewmeister special was, just had the porter and the IPA.

    Dewey, I forgot to mention but the Bally's thin walls/floors showed not only in sound from the casino below (which you wouldn't have higher up) but the amorous activities of one of my neighbors, loud enough to wake me up.
     
  5. nhcris

    nhcris High-Roller

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    I really enjoyed your report. It's fascinating to read about things besides the Strip. One of these trips I am going to plan a couple days downtown and see what it really feels like!

    I totally agree about Enoteca. Not bad but there are too many places to eat for better food and value!
     
  6. zerofan

    zerofan VIP Whale

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    Great report Al and a great read.

    I love hearing about the ElCo rooms (and will hopefully get to see some pics):wink2:

    and will eventually wind up staying there one time.

    I am also going to give The Flame a try with my buddies. :peace:
     
  7. dewey089

    dewey089 Guru of Value

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    Well, I did not like Flamingo. I loved Harrah's. In May I'll see about the Rio. And if that is good, I'll skip Bally's.
    That is the thing that gets my sleeplessness going. Noise. And once I am awake, well, I am probably awake for a while.
    I really loved the cozy El Cortez room until the cacophony of two televisions, one on each side, drove me down to play more poker, tired or not. I have sound reduction headphones, but I'm already wearing a mask to sleep. After awhile I feel more robot than man.
    I am hoping that if I land a King suite vintage like yours and drag my 85 pound luggage up that last flight of stairs, it will turn out to be quiet. Street noise won't bother me.

    You got me looking at that Lorenzi Park, although you did not like it that much. I figure that you were pretty tired doing the Preserve and all that hiking.
    I thought it might be nice if I wake up real early one morning and just head out there with a bit of breakfast. I like the idea of seeing waterfowl. I'd also like the chance to see the largest The largest ichthyosaur ever found, a fossil 225 million years old. (I think that was a couple years before I was born.) Did you get in the Nevada Museum?
    I am only downtown for four days, but if I still have a gambling bankroll, I'll save the idea for next trip. I never heard of it before.
     
  8. LaRae

    LaRae Low-Roller

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    Hello my fellow twin cities citizen. Thank God, for good ole' Sun Country!! My husband & I always make the ElCo our home base. Have you ever tried the awesome Chinese Food at the cafe there? Thanks for posting.
     
  9. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    I probably didn't do Lorenzi Park justice. For one thing it was "winter" so it wasn't as green as it would be. And for another I didn't go to the museum

    Hello LaRae, no I haven't tried the Chinese food at the cafe, but seems to me my buddy RossW did and also had good things to say for it.
     
  10. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    Pictures - Downtown

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    The zip line was very popular, but it starts from the top of this rickety structure:
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    Gratuitous Light show shots. Also have a short movie of the end of the Doors show.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  11. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    Springs Preserve

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    Wherever you go, there it is:
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    This time at Lorenzi Park. For some reason I wanted to shout out, "it's a big dubbaya I tell ya!"
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    I never promised you a rose garden... in bloom.
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    If there's two signs, it could be... a sign.
    [​IMG]
     
  12. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    North Strip, day

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    Sahara:
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    Fontainebleau is immense, just unbelieveably huge. And a big eyesore.
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    I think the trees on the other side of the street are just on trailers. They're anchored against the wind.
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    Trying to protect the view for these people:
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    Incongruities upon incongruities:
    [​IMG]
     
  13. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    Strip, night

    [​IMG]

    I liked the shadows in this one:
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    Cosmopolitan:
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    Love the rooftop area:
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    There was also a chinese boat, but I have a rule against taking pics of another guy's junk.

    Palazzo:
    [​IMG]
     
  14. chefantwon

    chefantwon Tourist

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    Did you have the baked potato at Flame? I am wondering because the last time I ate there it seemed the tater was about 3 times the size of a normal baked potato.

    Overall I enjoyed your TR.:beer:
     
  15. DonD

    DonD Super Moderator

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    Great pictures, doc. :nworthy:
     
  16. dewey089

    dewey089 Guru of Value

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    Nice eye for the camera.
    Thanks.
     
  17. doctor_al

    doctor_al VIP Whale

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    No tater for me, just a side of mushrooms.
     
  18. VegasDiva

    VegasDiva VIP Whale

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    Wonderful TR and love the pics

    The Springs Reserve and Lorenzi Park look very nice , even in winter
    lol @ the strat comment
     
  19. nhcris

    nhcris High-Roller

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    Fabulous pictures ad commentary! Almost makes me want to venture out to the Springs myself.
     
  20. chefantwon

    chefantwon Tourist

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    Was it a full bowl or just half of one?
     
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