The Plan: My first trip, last November, was with the guys. This spring, my wife surprised me by suggesting that we go there while our son was staying with grandma and grandpa. I guess she must have gotten tired of listening to the stories, and the "next time"s. So this trip was more about a nice hotel room, good restaurants, in addition to the drinking and gambling. No shows, though, those ticket prices are a little too hard to swallow. A couple words about Travel: The flight out was Northwest, flight #777 - good number! OK, now I understand the Tunnel. The concept makes some sense, avoid the crowded strip crossings by heading south out of the airport, through a tunnel and out to I-15, freeway all the way. In practice, the cab meter was over $10 as we were only just passing Mandalay Bay. Final tally, airport to TI via tunnel, $18.30. Return trip on Sunday, TI to airport via Koval Lane, $12. Guess which cabbie got the bigger tip. The Hotel: I originally booked Bally's, then found a good deal ($65/105 week/weekend) at TI, and ponied up the extra $40 for a petite suite. Tried to get William Shatner to set me up at the Venetian on the cheap, but no dice - rooms really filled up for that weekend. TI turned out to be a great room, my wife complemented me on my room choice on a couple different occasions. My wife categorized the style as French Provincial, not sure how that fits the pirate thing. The petite suite is pretty much as you see it on their web site, although it was a little more spacious than I thought it would be. The bathrooms were large, well decorated, and very, very, yellow. I guessed from the odd geometry of the floor plan that the suite would be in the bend in the middle of the tower, and I was right. We were very close to the elevators. Got a little hallway noise out of that, but generally we were happy where we were. The view out our window was the same as Sonya's picture on this site, looking south down the strip. Having the window off to the side of the room is odd, but you see from the outside why they did it that way - one "window" on the outside is really the windows from four rooms (two rooms on two floors). The pool area, as I'd read was a bit small for the size of the hotel, but we could always find a chair, and while you couldn't swim laps, you could do a little swimming if you really wanted to. Mostly, we just sat along the edge and relaxed. Wife was going to go to the spa, but by the time we had gotten there, the rates had gone up (from what she saw on-line), and she passed on it. Aside from the pool, though, we really didn't hang out here much. The table limits started at $10, so we didn't gamble here, and aside from a stop at Kahunaville (see below) we didn't eat here either. The bar areas were nice (esp. the artful Breeze bar), but I got the impression that they're working pretty hard on attracting the So. Cal. yuppies, and maybe even siphon off some of the young money from Hard Rock. I don't know if I'll come back, but it was a good stay at a good value. The Entertainment: Really didn't do much of this. IMO, Vegas is itself a show. But we caught the last half hour of Pete Vallee (Big Elvis), and really enjoyed it. He's big, (there are sumo wrestlers who can't keep that kind of weight on) but Pete is an Entertainer, he runs a fun show. The dude can sing, and occasionally he gets up and busts a groove. Fun. And Barbary Coast seems like a nice place. Never got on a table there, but it's a pretty casino inside. Best of the low limit mid-strip places, IMO. Also, the Bellagio fountains were going full steam. I didn't see them last time, pretty impressive water cannon underneath that thing. And the tune was Frank singing "Luck be a Lady" - kind of set the tone for the rest of the trip! Also watched later from Mon Ami Gabi (see below), not as great, but we were inside. Oh yeah, the pirates. Worth seeing once for the pyrotechnics (Fire! Fire!). Take away the explosions, it would be pretty cheezy. (Sounds like it's moving toward cheesecake-y). The Eats: Kahunaville - our first stop in Vegas, just off the plane and hungry. The food was good, but the service was dog slow at mid-afternoon and the decor just didn't do it for me. Kind of Rainforest Cafe, but not convincing, or incomplete somehow. Of course, bring me a drink faster and maybe I'm happier with the place. Samba - one of my on-line research choices, a brazilian grilled-meat place. The sides were interesting (fried plantains, etc) and the grilled meats were good, but there was also some blah stuff (baked fish, dry ribs), and we didn't bring enough of an appetite. There was a LOT of food here, and we filled up too fast to sample it all. The decor is wild, almost Alice-in-Wonderland, and it is half open to the Mirage casino. Great background music, if you like latin rhythms. Sushi King - went on a recommendation from the board, and it didn't disappoint. Felt like a family-run restaurant. The menu included soba noodle soups, "real" Japanese food IMO. The sushi was, well, sushi, but the chef hid some little wasabi bombs under them, on top of the rice. Our waitress was Mom – with fluent Japanese. Nice place. Redwood Grill - Beautiful dining room, with nifty artwork on the walls. Porterhouse was great, and a great value. I like downtown. Grand Luxe - as always, great, great, great. They do simple things really well, and with flair; "cheese pizza" is a whole different thing here. And the Indochine chicken/shrimp that my wife had made her very happy. The dining room is an elegant, refined looking space, but all the kitchen noise makes it sound like a diner. Bring your appetite, big plates here. Monte Carlo Brewpub - good calamari, hit and miss brews (beer snobbery alert!). The best was the Pils, a "seasonal" tap. 2nd was the Red, which seemed more like a Scottish ale. The wheat was an american wheat, no character from the yeast - stick a lemon in it and you're ok. The Lite was what it was. The pale ale seemed out of style, an unpleasant surprise for someone who expected a hoppy west-coast pale. Had to pay the waitress for the food separately from the bar tab - Mon Ami Gabi - Called ahead for reservations, earliest we could get on Saturday was 10 PM. Stopped in there at 9:30 and was at a table by 9:45. We were told an outside table was another 45 min at least - I suspect I missed a “tipping opportunity” . The food was very good, but the view of the fountains, even for the outside tables, was blocked some by the trees. Bellagio Champagne Brunch (buffet) - Came as advertised. Sure, you could have your bacon and scrambled eggs, but this is La Vita Bellagio, eat seafood ceviche and sushi rolls while you sip your champagne. I passed on the pickled baby squid salad, my wife didn't. Get there early though - we thought we had a daunting line at just before 11 AM; when we got out it was well out into the casino. Burning Money: Didn't hit the tables the first day, never "felt the love", just wandered around. Wandered into Casino Royale for a cheap beer (promo worked), got a slot card that came with some interesting blackjack deals (i.e. 3 to 1 payout on suited blackjack), but just never found an open table that I wanted to play. Skipped the 6-5 single deck this time. 6-5 single deck was practically everywhere. Friday (day 2) was Old School Day. We hit the pavement and went north. Stopped in the Frontier to see what we could get with a slot card signup. Answer - nada. Still, I was somewhat impressed; its an older hotel with older clients, no glitz, but the atrium tower is kind of neat, and the pool area was pretty nice, actually. Next stop was the 'Dust. Sushi King wasn't open yet, so I got another slot card (including a "collectors" card!) with a bunch of 7/5 match play coupons. Played the roulette one, lost. Bought in at craps, lost. Got my first souvenir dollar chip, otherwise a bust. After lunch we hiked up to the Riviera. Didn't get a good vibe from this place at all, got a drink and left. Went across to Slots-a-fun, wound up at the street-side dollar craps table (2x odds max). Fun! Bought in while a novice was throwing a duke. Made a little money off that, but put some back in as tokes and lost some going in bigger on my own roll, so I came out about even. It was a lot of fun, and while I was doing that my wife was hitting on the "loose" nickel slots near the table. About the tokes – tipping is one thing you can't practice with software. It was only a dollar table, so I tossed another chip next to mine and told the dealer "two-way". I think I caught him by surprise, maybe that doesn't happen often on the dollar table (he seemed like a veteran dealer otherwise), but once he understood, he called out to the other dealers "Dealer on the line". Now I've got their attention, for what that’s worth. Anyway, I put odds behind both, don't recall if it hit or not, but I did it a couple times and eventually got them something. Another thing, I set hard sixes (quickly) the whole time, and no dealer gave me a hard time about it, not even the snippy ones. One stick (at the Plaza? Gate? not sure) saw what I was doing and passed me the dice in that set. Cool. At this point, it was time to take Old School Day downtown. We grabbed the bus, wound up with a tough old lady driving. Battle-hardened. Some dude in a shiny mustang with the top down and California plates was stopped along the curb, tried to wave her around. Not today pal. He got an earful then cleared a path. It was funny if you weren't the one she happened to be mowing down. But when she got downtown, she explained (thoroughly) how us obvious tourists were going to find the bus for the ride back, and that there was another stop closer to the Fremont Street casinos. Not for us, though, we're headed to the El Cortez. The ElCo, even at midafternoon, has some interesting characters in it, but I like it. There's a barbershop in it and that's somehow appropriate: folks here get their hair cut, not "styled", the men anyway. The dollar craps table, where I was headed, is (I've heard) where new craps dealers get started. The stick was getting quizzed by the box on hypothetical payouts, especially on hardways. Also, I confused my dealer by splitting $2 odds on a 6, half for me, half for the dealer; the dealer looked over to the boxman, "can you do that?". Apparently, you can. Also, I made a couple two-way pass line bets with odds. I don't know that too many of those hit, but when I walked away from the table, dealer AND box thanked me for my bets. I like downtown, and I like the ElCo. At this point, we walked down Fremont to the LVC, out the back to the Cal, up and over to Main Street Station. Prettiest casino downtown, just a great room. We played a little blackjack here, lost the first hand or two, then my wife got dealt a pair of 8's. Naturally, she split, and stood on the first 8 at 17. The second 8 was dealt another 8, and she split again (now using my chips). Stood on the second 8 with another 17, and the 3rd 8 was dealt yet another 8. Wound up with four hands, 17s and a 16, not a ten to be found. Dealer has 19, clears her out and leaves me with one chip left. I managed to work that back so I finished up ahead, but what a hand. Had the Main Street Station brewery’s porter, I recall it as ok, not stellar. Details downtown are always a little sketchy, for some reason . Next stop was the Plaza for $2 craps. Just did ok here. Mental mistake, I put only $1 odds on a 10. First dealer didn't call me on it, but then a new dealer stepped in, the 10 hit, and the new dealer tossed the odds chip back at me with a curt "you can't do that". True, but thanks for freeing me from feeling obliged to tip. Binions dealers were kind of snippy too, with one exception (oddly, the only guy without a name tag). And when the $3 table went up to $5, they wouldn’t grandfather me in, so I colored up and left. Someone posted here about playing slots so long they were looking for a urinal that "felt lucky". Play craps all day, and you feel you've got to clap out before you use the can. Next stop, the Fitz, for another $3 table. A good number of folks here. After my roll, I'm up a little, and thinking about cashing out when the dice pass to the lady standing next to the dealer on the left. I figure maybe I'll stay through her roll, and leave when the dice pass to the other end of the table. Good call. She throws, sets a point, throws, hits something else, throws, hits the point. She does this for what seems like an hour. After a little while, her daughter comes by, After another while, her husband comes by. Both look like they're ready to move on, but the lady ain't leaving till she's done. Box examines one of the dice real closely. Dealer on our end has a kind of amused look on. Eventually, she actually does seven out, and the table applauded her. NOW I color up and leave. In for $40, out for a single C-note after tips. Obviously that's a for a conservative lo-roller, but I was pretty happy. I like downtown. Next stop, the Gate, the shrimp cocktail, and the end of the evening. Before I left the twin cities, my buddy from the last trip handed me a ten dollar bill on which he'd written a large, red 17, to put down on a roulette table when I "feel the love". Well, if I'm not feeling the love by now... so I slapped it down on a $5 table in the Gate, and the ball went around and... nope. May have been a sign. Found another $3 craps game here and settled in - just as most of the table was leaving, except one guy (may have been a sign). Started rolling, started losing. Backed up the initial buy-in with another $20 or so, that went quickly. Now all I've got for a stake is the C-note from the Fitz. I toss that on the table, and manage to almost run through that too. Started coming back on the C-note, high-fiving the other guy who stayed on at the table when one of us hit a 4 or 10, but we'd seven out quickly after. Finally, he lost his last chip, and eventually so did I. It was kind of like being at the Alamo, the camaraderie, the long odds, the point when you win some skirmishes and think you can hear the bugles of the cavalry... but in the end, well, it's the Alamo. Not much gambling Saturday, still smarting from the a**-kicking at the Gate. Mostly just wandered down the strip. Stopped into Bally's race book to put down an exacta on the Belmont - Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Almost had it, up to the 3/4 pole anyway. Didn't stay to watch it there, as you couldn't get a seat in the race book (surprise!) and there didn't seem to be any drink service outside of it. Went over to the Bellagio, no seats there either, obviously, but we found a side bar with a big screen. About race books - we scouted a bunch of them out. Mirage (and Bally's) had race info up on lite boards for at least four different tracks. Bellagio, of course, had the best seats, but I liked the sports book area in Caesar's best, with the lounge chairs and the flat screen tv on the coffee table between them. Most places seemed to have a crapload of reserved seats, don't know if it was just that day? Or do you have to reserve those little desks? Anyway, that's for next trip - a day at the race book. Sunday, we were just on our way back from the Bellagio buffet, heading to pick up our bags at TI and cab it to the airport, and my wife says, "lets play a little blackjack at the Mirage before we go." OK, we hunt through the casino and find the $5 table (which we could never find at TI) and we both put down a twenty. I double on an eleven, get a small card but dealer busts. Then I hit a blackjack, then another blackjack. Then my wife hits two blackjacks in a row. We play till we lose a couple in a row, but still cash out to the good after tipping the dealer (who was excellent). Great way to end the trip. Other Places: Stopped in at the Island Bar in MB, our home-away-from-home last time. Didn't spot any hookers this time, maybe didn't wait long enough. Great lounge band. Also had a drink at the canoe bar in Luxor (not its real name, but you know the one). Pointed out to my wife the exact bar stool where I found my buddy when it was time to go catch the plane home, still up and drinking from the previous day. I had a "mission" for this trip, which was to scout out a downtown hotel for a February trip with the guys. So I got a bunch of slot cards, to get on mailing lists and such. HurricaneMikey had recommended the MVP rooms at the LV Club, so I stopped by there to see if they'd show me one of those. I guy from the desk took me up to one, and as the website says (duh), it's a regular North tower room with extra stuff like coffee maker and such. I guess I was under the impression it was a larger room. Anyway, I thanked the guy for making the trip, and tipped him, and he gave me his card - David Nolan, Director of Hotel Operations. Unless someone else bowls me over with a room offer, I think that's where we're going. Wrapping up: - Did I mention I Like Downtown? My wife liked downtown too. This time I could really feel the difference between the look-at-me going on on the strip, and the looser feeling on Fremont. Cheaper drinks don't hurt any either. - Ok, so I probably don't bring the bankroll to Really Play Craps, but I had a lot of fun rolling the bones, even with the Golden Gate Incident. Just next time I bring that wingman to tell me to walk away. - Did dice setting do anything for me? Don’t know. The real long sessions were from people rolling like they were playing Monopoly. But I’ll do it again, too superstitious not to. - Strollers in Vegas are just not right.