So, I just returned from a four day December trip of non-stop blackjack and video poker with my youngest son (who bought me plane tickets!) Finally decided I should post some notes from our traditional October birthday trip. Sorry, no pics or witty banter - this is my first shot at writing a trip report, so I'll just lay out the basics. This was one of those rare trips when everything was a win. I'll break this up into sections so you can jump ahead when the boredom sets in. And so: Cruising: Big wins here! "A" boarding group for SWA both ways, I scored front row aisle seat leaving Austin, front row window on the ride home. My wife always grabs an aisle seat halfway to the back of the plane. Smooth non-stop flights, both left on time, both arrived early. Dollar express booth guy upgraded us to a Kia Optima with XM radio and navigation system when we let him know it was my lovely wife's birthday. Sleep: Used an El Cortez offer for three nights/ food/free play. Stayed in the Cabana Super Suite (not really a suite, but plenty of space, comfy bed and a really nice bathroom.) Our host Nords comped us the fourth night outright, fifth night depending on my blackjack play. He was out ill on the fifth day, so one of the pit bosses took care of our room charges with a quick phone call. Cabana Suites are perfect for us - nice little workout room for my wife, friendly staff, excellent housekeeping. Sustenance: We are pretty simple eaters - we don't do buffets much anymore and don't head to Vegas for high dollar fancy food. I'm vegan, wife is a carnivore, so we tend to try places that can satisfy us both. We hit some of our favorites this trip: Le Thai on Fremont is always our first dinner in Vegas - their spicy eggplant is freaking awesome. My wife tried the Thai fried chicken this time and loved it. Birthday girl got a free mango/coconut milk dessert that we split. Pop Up Pizza at the Plaza: Consistently good pizza, including excellent vegan slices. Amena Bakery and Cafe on Decatur: Simply the best falafel I have ever eaten, along with a full menu of tasty mediterranean dishes. Free assorted dessert pastries for the birthday girl. Owner and staff are the best! EAT on Carson and 7th: Best breakfast downtown - my wife says the pancakes here blow away those made anywhere else, including DuPars. Real maple syrup, also.... Jinya Ramen on West Flamingo: Small California based chain - trust me, this place is really good. Who woulda thunk that ramen could be so tasty and filling? Google them for a peek at the menu. Nacho Daddy on 4th St. near Fremont: Our first time here - we will be back. Big portions of tasty and spicy Mexican influenced food. Wife had a monster plate of the chicken nachos, I went for the vegan spicy "chick'n" burrito and was pleasantly stuffed when we left. Good eats! Palace Station Oyster Bar: We actually checked into Palace Station for one night in order to take advantage of a free play and food offer. Tower rooms are ok. Only spent enough time in the room for a "nap," Then it was Oyster Bar for m'lady, blackjack for me. Line for a seat at the bar was over an hour, but she said it was well worth the wait. She knocked down a dozen oysters, a cup of clam chowder, and some superb mussels. Yum.... Meanwhile, I walked away from the tables with an extra hundy. The Perfect Scoop on Jones Road south of the 215: Smoooooth regular and vegan homemade ice cream, worth the drive. Plenty of funky flavors that go way beyond chocolate and vanilla. Sunrise Coffee on East Sunset: Two thumbs up for awesome espresso, beautiful cappucinos! Ronald's Donuts on Spring Mountain: I have been raving about this place for years. Old time donut shop - no frills, cash only, known worldwide for their "top two rows" of vegan selections. But non-vegans also flock here for the world class apple fritters and the melt-in your mouth donuts. The owners are as as sweet as the donuts! At least a couple stops here every trip. Winning is fun: My lovely wife took advantage of the LVA/Plaza birthday "twice your age" free play coupon. She needed to accumulate 1K points to earn the free play. That translated to $3K coin in on video poker. I found a $1 9/6 JOB machine and dropped in a hundy. Oops, five minutes later I was going to my pocket for another. Luck got much better after that - a few fortuitous 4OK's and full houses helped me cash out 45 minutes later with a nice $250 win. Whereupon the lucky birthday girl plopped her $110 free play into a quarter 9/6 JOB game and ended up cashing out $115. Nice way to end the night. Blackjack: My go-to game, especially at El Cortez. If I'm in Vegas chances are you'll find me at the only non-smoking double deck game available downtown. Rode the usual roller coaster ride for four days, ended up dropping a few hundred bucks there. Won a little at Palace Station, was up and down at Orleans. Basically a break-even trip on blackjack, which was fine with me, because we kicked some ass on free play and match plays, giving us some cash to take home even before this: Video Poker: I play a couple hours every trip, only know strategy for 10/7 DB and 9/6 JOB. ElCo has only one JOB game, an old $1 coin dropper, so I hit that pretty hard on our 5X points day. Broke even on this machine, felt like a win. I always start out my Vegas mornings with a cup of yerba matte while tossing a few bucks in the .25 DB progressive at 4 Queens. Jackpot was amazingly over $1300 when we arrived. Somehow four days later it was still climbing when I sat down and threw a twenty in. Ten minutes later my first Vegas royal showed up, shocking the bejeezus out of me. (I already bragged about it, with a picture, in the gambling/VP forum.) Other stuff: Mostly just relaxation this time. Both of us had been working really hard, ready to just take it easy. One disappointment this trip: We always take some time to do a desert or mountain hike. Had planned a trip up to Valley of Fire for a day of hiking, but an injured big toe kept me in sandals the whole trip, so that didn't happen. We did wander around Sunset Park near the airport for a while enjoying the perfect weather. Also got to see folks warming up their remote-controlled model boats for the national championships. Really cool use of the little lake, along with the local folks who were fishing there. Went to Absinthe, hadn't seen it in a few years. Still great acrobats, still a hilarious show. Wandered Fremont, the container park, checked out the cool murals all over the East Fremont district. That's about it, folks - I'm amazed if you waded this far thru my ramblings. Just a few observations/notes: 1. Sigma Derby at the D is quite possibly the most fun I have ever had for $10. We never get tired of the excitement, and always join the drunk people jumping up and down and yelling at the funky little horses. 2. I think it's about a 17 mile walk to the Absinthe tent from the Caesars parking garage. 3. Fremont buskers run the gamut from talented to inept, hilarious to sad. I love being around them, guess I just fit in well there. 4. Statistics show that about 16% of Americans smoke tobacco, and apparently at any given time they are all in downtown Las Vegas... 5. RIP: The Beat Coffeehouse at 6th and Fremont closed down to make way for a new restaurant. They had great baristas, the best downtown coffee, good music, true coffeehouse atmosphere. Good news is the D has a new coffee kiosk open in the mornings. Fair priced, good espresso, nice folks running it. 6. Most times these days we have no desire to visit the Strip - we tend to take morning runs/walks around the downtown area, and drive to outlying areas to eat and goof off. 7. I now see why I'm a procrastinator when it comes to posting trip reports - this was much harder to write and much longer than I thought it would be. Next time I'll try lots of pics and a lot less words.... Safe travels and good luck to all!