It was a dark and stormy night... (Peanuts compared to the weather we had the week before) As I went to bed December 19th, visions of fog, high winds and rain danced in my head as I drifted off to my last trip of 2009. The year has certainly had it's up's 'n downs. MATSON NAVIGATION COMPANY where I've worked for the last 35 years celebrated it's 126th year in business (we ship freight to Hawaii) and have no plans of shutting down...nor do I and Las Vegas, the RIO and MResort were just fourteen hours away. Dark and early Sunday morning, the wind had stopped, there was no more fog and 'Basil'...my cab driver extraordinere for the last seven years picked me up at 6am and we were off to SOUTHWEST at Oakland International and by 10am... I was checking in at the RIO. My registration friend 'Rose' had blocked out the rooms I like the week before, so it was just a matter of seeing if any would be available and when. I.......found something to do to kill the time (was down $600., then even again by the time my room was ready) 2:00 I was up in 1755, IMPNIMA TOWER, pool view. Prior to getting my room, and along with the diversion of gambling...I WAS HUNGRY! I'm usually given a few 10% discount cards for the buffet at check-in so I stopped in at the Diamond/Platinum desk at the World Buffet. Twenty three bucks and four trips to the buffet line later, I was content until dinner UNTIL...one of the chefs came round to visit the guests eating in the lounge. We 'sorta' knew each other and 'yacked' it up a while. She mentioned what a 'good deal' this $25.00, all you can eat/all day buffet special was!................WHAT SPECIAL!?! I said...!?! "I just paid $23.00 for one meal" WELL............we went up front and fixed that problem and for the next two days, the buffet satisfied most of my food needs, lol. I say 'most' of my food needs because as some of you my know, I'm a BIG FAN of the RIO's Carrot Cake. Sometime last year, the cake had gone down hill...it's just not the same. She said they go through a lot of head chefs there at the RIO...Each new person 'tweaks' the menu, changes things around to meet his or her ideas of what the food/recipes should be etc. and this new person...(in keeping with McHarrah's vision of ALWAYS keeping costs down for the Evil Empire) started buying cheaper ingredients for their Carrot Cake recipe (mainly the frosting) and that's why their world famous, WONDERFUL, mouth watering Carrot Cake has gone the way of BANKERS and WALL STREET's creditability. *By the way...this ALL YOU CAN EAT/ALL DAY buffet special only runs through January but rumor was...they'll probably extend it. It was time to head over to CITY CENTER and my first of 2 visits to the 'preview' version of VIVA ELVIS. It took asking 3 cab drivers if they'd been to CITY CENTER yet (most hadn't) before I found one I felt comfortable enough with (and spoke English) to try my way of getting there. I wanted to go the back way via HARMON AVE. If you drive... there's basically two ways to get there. #1 via the Strip, #2 (from the West side) via HARMON which is real slick and avoids all the traffic on the Strip. 1,2,3 and we were there and I got out at the North entrance of ARIA. The main ARIA entrance and registration is on the front side of the hotel, but the North side is where the Show is and very convenient. Up the escalator, down and around one of ARIA's many wide hallways til it opens up to the huge VIVA ELVIS lobby (this place is quite impressive)...ARIA that is. That night, I had a seat in the upper rear/Tuesday night I had 4th row down front. I'll have some thoughts in the Shows/Entertainment section a bit later. Monday morning I took the free CITY CENTER TRAM from BELLAGIO to CRYSTALS (the shopping complex) The tram station is through the BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY and up an escalator...down a hallway and up another escalator to the landing platform. It's new, clean, fast and a great way to get over there. It runs to CRYSTALS, a side stop at VDERA, then on to Monte Carlo and back again. Only a handful of shops are open at CRYSTALS, but for now, you get the idea of what it will be like when everything is up 'n running. Various construction and finishing work is going on all around with easy access to all levels of CRYSTALS and outside to other areas of CITY CENTER. I took the sky bridge over to MANDARIN ORIENTAL...the 47 story non-gaming hotel and residential property. Their 23d floor sky LOBBY is open to everyone and worth a trip up the elevator for a look see. Windows all around, you get a real good view of this new, monster addition to LAS VEGAS. Continuing up the sidewalk and in the front entrance of ARIA, I noticed something strikingly odd... In all the rush to open CITY CENTER...and with all the possibilities the architecture and lay out provides... MGM/MIRAGE totally forgot about CHRISTMAS! Not one bit of decoration, not one Christmas Tree in any hotel...NOTHIN'/ NO WHERE. I'm sure that will change next year...CITY CENTER is just made for a big ROCKEFELLER CENTER holiday lay out. I stopped in at all the properties that make up CITY CENTER. Architecuraly it's amazing. The textures, colors and light inside...the glass exteriors and possibilities outside for landscaping, potted trees, and water displays are impressive BUT...for me, I found CITY CENTER cold and without much personality. Save for next year sometime when I'll see VIVA ELVIS again after they get done 'tweaking' it (...it's not ready yet) I don't anticipate visiting CITY CENTER on any regular basis. CITY CENTER's gift...it's example to the other cities is it's use of GREEN TECHNOLOGY but 'Capital of the New World' ???...not the world of LAS VEGAS I enjoy. I saw 'LOVE' again this trip. Something maybe about the attitude of the holiday visitors this time of year...don't know, but the audience and Artists seemed more energized, joyful, (dare i say) LOVing than at other 'LOVE' performances I've been to...ALWAYS A GREAT SHOW!!! Each December when he's in the States, I try and catch the BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA at the HARD ROCK's JOINT. Rock 'n Roll Christmas songs, his 15 piece band with a MONSTER horn section and back up singers...this Show is always on my list during the HOLIDAZE! and YES...it SNOWS in The JOINT after their rendition of the NUTCRACKER overture and big JINGLE BELL ROCK encore finale! Always FUN/Always a great Show. Wednesday I checked out of RIO, picked up a car from their HERTZ rental and drove myself out to Marnell's 'M'. My 3d stay there, their halls were all decked for Christmas and the...tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation stood tall and beautiful, surrounded by presents outside by the pool. (an old Marnell tradition as he always did at the RIO) I had a $50. food comp for Wednesday and wanted to use it at VELOCE Cibo restaurant on top of the hotel that night but I got back too late after my Show and they were closing. RED CUP CAFE closed at 10pm so my only option (...so i thought) was the deli and a couple slices of so-so pizza and a salad. DUH!...ROOM SERVICE DUMMY! I rarely do room service, but in this case...for fifty bucks, up in my room on the 12th floor, looking down at the pool and Christmas Tree with the lights of LAS VEGAS off in the distance...I could have been a happy camper watchin' the 42" flat screen and eatin' ANYTHING I WANTED!... (next time) During the last few stays at 'M' I've needed a car to drive in 'n out for my Shows. Using cabs the way I do, I'm pretty familiar with the navigating around town (from the back seat at least, lol) but NOW...that I'M DRIVING, I'm very pleased that things are going as smooth as they are. No problems and even in the dark, I haven't got lost... (much) Christmas Eve I had a date with ANDY WILLIAMS. Why?...I'm not sure. I needed a Show for Thursday night and remembering his Christmas Shows on TV as a kid brought back fond memories so..... Mid theatre center, aisle seat at the LVHilton...the orchestra plays a long into of Christmas medleys then... starts in with MOON RIVER and Andy walks out. Dressed in a back tux and a long red winter scarf he breaks into We Wish You A Merry Christmas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas...his vibrato a bit slower, but still has his breath and held out LONG notes with quite a flexible octave range for a guy his age. My neighbors sitting next to me, were a young Asian couple who had just flown in from New Your City...just to see THIS Show. Earlier that afternoon, Williams had been signing copies of his new book at the hotel. They had the book, the program, the CD...all of which they were taking home to they guy's mom who was...THE BIG FAN but...she didn't live in New York (he did) and they were flying back the next day........THEN, they were catching another flight to Wales in the UK where his mom and family lived. They'd spend New Years in London, then fly back to the States. Andy's Show was fine but...after the four young girls who served as his Christmas back up singers (they might have been his grand or... 'great' grand kids) got done doubling as Penguins in big, full body suit costumes, AND the dancing/magic act couple from Russia, AND the fastest fiddler in Branson, PLUSS the BIG TALKING BEAR...remember the the talking bear from his TV show??? Well, I decided I'd had enough holiday good cheer and headed out early so as NOT TO MISS my 10:00 reservation at VELOCE Cibo this time (LOVE their Asian New York Steak!!!) Gaming at both RIO and 'M' were uneventful. No sizable hits on either the slots or video poker. Surprisingly...I got the best bang for my buck, consistently regular points to keep me playing on a Double Diamond Deluxe dollar MEGABUCKS machine at 'M' That being said, I still came out a looser at the end of my six day trip, but had a GREAT TIME! (4k down/1300 home) Ya know...I'll turn 60 years old next month which doesn't bother me a bit cuz if I wasn't still having birthdays... ...I'D BE DEAD! and I must be doin' somethin' right. (thank gawd for dated AVATARS...works for Miss Manners, Dear Abby and NORM...works for me too, LOL!) This trip I maintained my Platinum level with Total Rewards for 2010, got 5 comped nights for March, June and September of next year at RIO and even MResort for as little 'play' as I've put in there are sending out onezy/twozy free nights and casino rates so... I GUESS WE'LL DO THIS AGAIN NEXT YEAR HUH! HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!