In brief: Stayed at Flamingo (can't beat the location; room was fine; valet is a nightmare) Vegas Club (surprisingly big room; largely clean; can't beat free) Ate at Ellis Island (Mmmm, cheap steak) Paris Le Village Buffet for Breakfast (as usual, wonderful) Center Stage (Great view; good food; good service) Binion's (Mmmm, cheap breakfast; good quality actually, especially the hash browns) Capriotti's at Red Rock (Mmmm, the Bobbie) Rao's (Good food; loud room; crap service) Cravings for Lunch (Great selection; great quality; newlyweds!) For pictures of some of the above and other adventures, visit my website. At length: Christmas was spent with family in Seattle, but Rick and I decided to do one last Vegas trip, so we planned a trip for right after Christmas. I landed around 1 on the 26th (after some tardiness and one stop in Oakland) and got my car rental taken care of before waiting way too long for my bag--after about an hour after landing, I was finally on my way to the Alamo lot. Sadly, the only thing left in the Intermediate section was a tan Malibu--yeah, rock on in Vegas! I revved it up and headed over to Terrible's to bide my time before Rick arrived and perhaps partake in some gambling. And, lo, I did: I used a coupon to gain about $50 at the blackjack table, but then lost that on video poker. However, the real profit here was the slot club, where I got two t-shirts and a coffee mug for free. I'm up! Terrible's wasn't, so I'd recommend it for those who want some cheap table games and good VP near the airport. On my way to pick Rick up, the check engine light came on the 'bu, so, having a bit of time before he landed (he was also tardy), I wheeled on over to Alamo and asked for another car. The guy was a bit of a snot ("Was the car not working properly?" "Well, I'd rather not find out."), but I ended up getting a G6 Coupe, which is much more Vegas-y. I sped over to the airport, picked up Rick, and peeled out for the Flamingo. (Small note here: road construction in Vegas is out of control, making an already bad traffic situation ridiculous. Every single road we traveled on had some construction. It sucked) We arrived at the Flamingo and found the cluster**** known as the Flamingo valet. Cars everywhere, people getting out and abandoning cars--it was a madhouse. I finally flashed my Diamond card and got a valet to relieve me of my car. We sauntered into the Diamond check-in--we weren't able to get one of their newly refurbished rooms, but got a decent enough room with a nice view of the pool and mountains in the distance. But enough of the room--let's eat! And, yes, it was time to return to Ellis Island for their $4.95 steak special. I partook after a short wait (Rick had a pot roast special) and was not disappointed--good enough steak with all the trimmings--bill totaled just over $12. We then bellied up to the bar, turned over our coupons, and commenced drinking for free for an hour. Rick had about half a dozen rum and diets, while I slid egg nog after egg nog down my throat. Mmmmmm. Surprisingly we made it back to the Flamingo--after stopping at Barbary Coast for some losing video poker and Wheel of Fortune Super Spin--in one piece. The next morning we awoke very early--before 7--a trend which would continue throughout: for some reason, we could not shake our jet lag (doubly strange for me since I'd been on the West Coast since the 22nd). We sauntered over to Bellagio to see if we could swing anything on comps for brunch (um, no...like no freaking way), and then photographed the conservatory to death. Pretty. Dropped by Aladdin to see the renovations (which I actually sort of liked: they have done some creative things with the lights and made the casino space slightly less cavernous). Finally made it to the Paris breakfast buffet--soooooo good. Everything, really. So good. Made all the more better by not having to stand in line. I love being Diamond, though the special Diamond room had largely crap service and is not convenient. We decided to walk off our enormous meal, so we headed north, briefly stopping by Barbary Coast for slots and Imperial Palace for craps (winner!). We then had to make our way thorugh the ridiculous Denny's gauntlet. I know that it can sometimes find a place for breakfast in Vegas, but seriously: don't wait for a table at Denny's in Vegas! It's criminal. We made it to Wynn and played a fair amount of video poker, played a slot machine for a co-worker, and then sat down at the sportsbook. I decided that I wanted to bet on some basketball--I had good feelings about three games. Mind you, I do not follow basketball closely. At all. But, a feeling is a feeling. I then saw the parlay bet, so I found another two games I liked and decided that when I returned to Flamingo to get my winnings (I had bet on the Sonics, who won for a change the night we arrived), I'd make the parlay--at 20-to-1 odds. We crossed the street and made a short pilgrimage to Frontier, where we lost at blackjack fairly quickly, but made some money up in video poker, putting some of it back through, yes, Sigma Derby--I love that thing; I also love how this guy was giving us strategy for it. Dude. We then walked back to Flamingo--a long walk, but we managed to beat a Deuce bus easily, traffic was that bad. I made my sports bets, and then it was time to head downtown. We checked into the Vegas Club easily and soon found ourselves in a surprisingly large and clean room. I'd rank it as a slightly faded Hampton Inn or so. It was really quite fine. We headed down to El Cortez soon enough though, for we had drink coupons to burn. We also played some blackjack and video poker and lost at everything. We made our way through Fitzgeralds and lost still more money before getting to the Plaza and the Center Stage Restaurant. We got a great booth without having to tip the maitre d', and settled in for some lights and decent food, and we got plenty of both. I had the Veal Saltimbocca, which was quite good. The accompaniments of salad and asparagus were nothing to write home about, but, with a coupon, one of entrees was free, so it really was all good. After having a lovely meal and Fremont Street Experience, we headed over to Main Street Station so I could see the final moments of my games. See, I won all three of my east coast games and was waiting on two west coast games. Unfortunately, the MSS bar didn't have them on. However, thanks to the cell phone, I discovered that I won my last two games--meaning I won $400. Yes! I am such an NBA guru! I blew some of my newfound winnings at MSS and Vegas Club, but went to bed a happy man, seeing as how I was now far less in the hole than I had been. I got up a less happy man though because jet lag still had its claws in us: we were eating breakfast at Binion's by 6:45 (btw, I'd completely do breakfast again here: everything was fast, including the service, and good and cheap). After some walking among the windstorm and more coffee at the Golden Nugget Starbucks, we headed out for an off-strip jaunt. We have stayed off-strip before (GVR), but haven't in a while; however, since we have been renting cars, we generally spend some time at at least one off-strip place. I think the Stations do a great job in general, so we decided to hit two. Our first stop was Texas Station to (yes) redeem a coupon--this time for matchplay. We sat down at a blackjack table populated by two other gentlemen--and proceeded to spend the next ninety minutes having a ball...in the middle of the morning. We were all winning and joking and just having a congenial time, which, frankly, is sometimes more likely to happen off-strip than on. Oh, did I mention we were winning? I cleared over $150, which, at a $5 table (OK, I was betting more than that once I was up), is saying something for me. After fun at Texas Station (and an ill-advised $20 into the Love Boat slots--but who could help themselves?), we dropped by Fiesta Rancho, just a block away to do another matchplay. We walked in, around, and then right out: not really Station quality, and nothing interesting theme-wise, so we decided not to waste our time. Then, we headed out to Red Rock. We had considered staying here this trip, but thought better of it (three hotels in three nights is one too many); however, we were impressed by everything--interiors, gaming, food options, service. And, it also helped that I won $500 on 4 Aces with the kicker on DDB. We lost a bit on pai gow poker and craps, but that was fine--we were headed to Capriotti's for a shared Bobbie. Mmmm, Thanksgiving on a roll. Next time Red Rock sends us an offer, I think we will seriously consider it--yes, it's hella far away from the Strip (half-hour on surface streets), but we were thinking it'd be perfect for the first two nights of a trip, doing the first day on the strip, driving to RR, one full day at the resort, and then heading out the next morning for wherever. Anyway, we headed back to the Strip where I picked up my winnings at the Flamingo (and ultimately lost some on ill-advised bowl game bets...best stick to basketball) and then played some roulette--and actually ended up being even after some shaky spins. Had fun with some people at the table (lovely lady from Cleveland) and a freak guy who first had his cellphone on a chain on his wrist, so betting was a nightmare as he kept knocking stacks over; once he figured out that wasn't a great idea, he put away, but kept trying to talk on it every five minutes. Um, you can't do that (btw, if someone would like to explain to me why you can't talk on your cell in a sportsbook, but can do so one foot away, I'd love to hear it). It was soon time though to head to our "nice dinner" of the trip, Rao's at Caesars. The place just opened, so I'd heard that there were still some kinks, but I figured it wouldn't be bad. Huh. We were a bit early, so had a drink at the bar before being seated. The hostess then came over and asked if we had settled up; we hadn't, and asked if we could just get the tab moved to our table: "sure, just tell your waiter." Really? Isn't that your job? Anyway, we got seated, and eventually our waiter sat (yes, they do that thing where they sit down. Whatever) and helped us through our selections: since they prefer to do things family style, he suggested we get a couple salads, a half pasta, and then two meat dishes. Great. We both got the Insalata di Barbabietola, which features roasted beets and gorgonzola on greens, decided on the Pesto Gnocchi (I cannot resist gnocchi. I must have it), and then I chose the Pollo Scarpariello, chicken sauteed with Italian sausage and peppers in a white wine sauce, while Rick chose the Veal Scaloppine in Marsala. I told the waiter while ordering that we were still working on our cocktails, but would probably want wine around the gnocchi, but definitely by the meat course. So, Rao's employs that annoying "team service" approach, where one person takes your order, one person does the water, one person takes drink orders, one person takes the dishes, on and on. I hate it. It may seem more efficient--and maybe it actually is--but I've only ever seen it be, largely, a cluster**** (really, I don't know why this is my favorite word right now for that situation). Our salads arrived and they were fine; our waiter asked how they were and I told him so. The gnocchi came and it was great--some of the lightest gnocchi I have ever had, perfectly tossed with a tasty but not overpowering pesto. However, our waiter was nowhere to be found. No wine for us. Then, the entrees arrived; as whoever put them down, I told him that we wanted to see the wine list. We dug into our food, as we were a little hungry. We were eating, and then Rick looked up and asked if my meal was warm. I said it was--though certainly not hot, and now that I think of it, it's just really luke warm. Huh. Well, that's problematic. I'm not exactly down with paying dozens of dollars per tepid entree. So, some manager-looking woman drops by and asks how the meal is. I say, "it's fine" in my most deadpan voice. Sensing that wasn't exactly convincing, she asked what was wrong, and I told her: the food is not hot, and I don't have any wine. Two minutes later our waiter miraculously appears and asks to warm up the food; I say that it's fine--I just want to eat (and get me my wine!). He finally convinces us that it won't take long and wisks away the plates (and getting me my wine, which we'd finally ordered). We began talking about whether we were being asses or not when a very tall older gentleman comes to the table and introduces himself as Frank--I recognized him from photos as a co-owner. He apologizes for the problem for the food and says that, while they're still working out kinks, it's no excuse--the entrees are off the bill and we'll get a dessert. See, folks: that's how you stay in business for over a hundred years. We got our food back and it was good--the heat did make a difference in making the flavors, especially the spices in my dish, come alive. We were stuffed, but decided to take advantage of the free dessert and shared their awesome cheesecake. The waiter tried to make small talk at the end about him meeting Toni Braxton and how small her ears were (Um, OK), but we had had it with him (though we left him a still decent tip--the bill with the discounts came to around $85 (when it would have been $145 at least), so we left $110). Would I go back? Not for a while, and with so many good Italian places, I don't know that I need to get back there. The food was good but not ravishingly wonderful. We walked out of Caesars and found our adult lemonades, and were happy...momentarily, for the Bellagio fountains weren't going because of the crazy winds. We consoled ourselves with some video poker at Barbary Coast and craps at IP before turning in. Once more we awoke far too early. We were planning on a big lunch, so I just foraged for some bagels, finally finding some at the Seattle's Best in Barbary Coast. We ate, got our stuff together, and went downstairs to check out. We traipsed through the habitat and saw the purty birds. And, then it was time for the clustervalet--at least 20 minutes, and then I spotted my car just parked off to the side: I had to track down the valet who had the keys but who hadn't yelled my names over the screeching hordes. So much for benefits of Diamond. Overall though, I'd completely return to Flamingo: you just cannot beat the location, and the rooms are more than tolerable. Also, the pool looks awesome. We then headed out to another coupon off-strip location: Silverton. It's like someone casino-fied Disney's Wilderness Lodge--lots of wood and tree-like ornamentation. We settled into some penny video poker (that somehow Rick rocked at, especially the Super Times Pay, at which he converted $20 into $120) before getting bored of it all and a tad hungry. Probably won't go back as it wasn't all that; plus, I don't think I need to visit a casino that has a Hootie and the Blowfish lounge. Seriously. Now it was back to the Strip (no, this itinerary didn't make sense) for Cravings, which we've heard great things about. We don't normally do lunch buffets (preferring breakfasts), but since our flight was at 5, we thought we'd bulk up so we wouldn't have to depend on airport/airline snacks. After a twenty-minute wait, we got in, and I was impressed: great variety, great quality (nummy made-to-order salad and tortilla soup), and, of course, great quantity. We were humming right along when a hubbub arose: I looked up and saw about 30 people coming our way, led by a man in a tux and a woman in a white gown. No...Oh, but yes: someone was having their post-wedding lunch at Cravings. So Vegas. They even re-arranged the tables so that there was this sort of "head table" against the wall (if you look at the picture on the Mirage website, it was against the lime green wall next to the Raw Bar). It was fairly surreal, and a little sad. Loved it. Before leaving Mirage, we played some roulette until we were even, and then it was time to leave. Smooth sailing out of Alamo (ended up paying less than expected somehow) and, though there were long lines at Southwest, the shortest lines at security this year. Our flight was a bit late (Denver effects) and we didn't get in the front door until 2:30, but it was a fun trip. We realized about halfway through that we were not exactly bored, but perhaps blase about the whole thing--I think in part because this was, in fact, our third trip in seven months, but also because it was just the two of us instead of a big group. Right now I think we will probably go in July, but otherwise, I think one of our New Year's resolutions is to cool down our gambling a bit--in part to make trips to Vegas more special and not humdrum.