This trip was the umpteenth visit to Las Vegas for my partner Rick and me, but the first for our friends Sara and Dave. However, the trip also included some firsts for us as well: first time staying off-strip, first time using American Casino Guide coupons, first time in a slot tournament, first time renting a car, and first time at Ellis Island! The four of us were arriving on three different flights, two from Philly (Rick and me, and Dave) and one from Cincinnati (Sara). Sara got in first and had to wait longer than expected because of delays out of Philly. When we arrived, Dave still hadn't, so we decided to go get the compact car at Hertz which I had reserved for $57 through Priceline. When we got to the Subaru Legacy, it was nice and all, but fairly dirty inside. I went back to the counter and asked if they had any other cars, and ended up scoring a Taurus with Sirius. The Taurus quickly became known as "the Bull," but also as a "she" (perhaps because she was a lovely shade of blue?)â€”it doesn't make sense now, but sure did at the time. Dave finally arrived and we headed for a brief driving tour of the Strip. After going the length, instead of heading out to Green Valley Ranch to check in, we decided to stop off at the Hard Rock. We debated gambling, but ultimately decided to get some 2 for 1 drinks at the Pink Taco (I knew about this thanks to T2V!), which were great introductions to Vegas. It was kind of dead in there, but the chips and salsa were great. We finally headed over to GVR and had seamless check-ins. I got the info for the slot tournament (the putative reason for us being there, and the way we got three free nights) and Sara confirmed her spa reservations for the next day (her reason for coming along for the ride since she really doesn't gamble). We got to the rooms in the East Wing, which were very nice (see my pics on my website ). Perhaps not as spacious as The Venetian, but what is? I liked the dÃ©cor quite a bit and the general layout of the room. The quality of linens was excellent and the bed rivaled Westin's dream bed for comfort. The coolest part of the room? In the bathroom, there is a knob just beneath the light switches. When we first entered, I didn't know what it was for, so I ignored it for a while. However, our first morning there, I was in the bathroom and could really hear the TV. At first, I thought it was just wacky acoustics, but then I tried the dial, and realized there was a speaker connected to the TV in the bathroom! I was so pleased, because I love watching/listening to TV in the morning. The speaker is also hidden underneath the vanity, so it doesn't detract from the dÃ©cor at all. Great work GVR! I think the room could have been a tad brighter and I would have liked a nicer view (e.g. something other than the ramp for the parking garage), but overall was very pleased. After some brief gambling, we all headed out for our first stop: Lotus of Siam. It took us a while to find (it's in this strange strip mall sort of off of Sahara), but finally got there to sample what has been dubbed the best Thai cuisine in North American. Now, I think we probably just ordered the wrong stuff, but I was underwhelmedâ€”except by the renowned pork stew dish, which was all I could have hoped for. So, not blow my socks off, but good enough I suppose (thankfully, it's not expensive, so you can't be too disappointed). Since we were in that neck of the woods, we decided to go for The STRAT and Downtown next. Rick, Dave, and I were up for Insanity, but the line for the elevator to get up the tower was an hour long, and we weren't really willing to go for that (an aside: I know some people like the Strat, but this process of getting up to the tower is just asinine. It takes forever to even get to the security area, as you have to wander through a sad attempt at a shopping district [who do they think they are, Wynn?]. Once you get to the security area, everything is inefficient. And once you get up to the observation level, the signage is so confusing and insufficient that it takes you forever to find where to go for the elevator for the rides. I just hate it.). So, we headed to the Plaza for valet parking. Basically, we just wandered from casino to casino, people-watching (it was Bike Week after all) and taking it all in. We went into Binion's so Dave could see the poker room and wall of fame, but it was under renovation, so he left a little disappointed. We caught the UFO show of the Fremont Street Experience (very very weirdâ€¦and dumb) and then left: we were a bit jet-lagged at this point, after all. We were a bit hungry thought (well at least Dave was), so I decided to hit In-N-Out and get more people into the cult. Dave wants to open a franchise out here now. Got back to GVR, dumped some money into the video poker, and went to bed. The next day, we gathered for breakfast at the Original Pancake House. My God, I love this place! One of the best and biggest omelets I have ever had, and the service and everything was just great. I highly recommend it. The whole time we were there, Dave was waiting to get paged from the poker room, but he thought the pager wasn't really working (a continual problem for him), so he left and ultimately got a tableâ€”and that was all we saw from Dave for the rest of the day. Likewise, Sara headed out to the District (the shopping area next to GVR) and then to her spa appointments. Rick and I did some craps (crap), VP (very poor), slots (opposite of loose), and sports book (ended up losing on my Mariners and winning on the Phillies, for a wash basically) before my round in the slot tournament was up. The slot tournament experience was funny: lots of people there, most of whom were not serious about it, realizing that their success was all based on chance, but there were others who were dead serious. Sad. I did OK in the first round and had a good time. We then decided to hit the pool. What a really great setup they have. The pool is not big by any stretch, but I think it's big enough. The area surrounding it though is just wonderfully designed. Rather than having row upon row of deck chairs, there are several areas and several different types of seating arrangements, so that you really have some privacy. We lucked out and got one of the "bed cubes" above the pool. It was so comfortable and pleasant: we could still be outside, but still shaded. So, we napped, drank, read, and wrote the afternoon away. A great way to spend the afternoon. On our way out for the night, I stopped by the front desk to get some stamps for my letters. Now, I think GVR wants to be a high-level resort, and in many ways it is. At such high-level places, they don't nickel-and-dime you...like with something like stamps. I have had hotels just take my letters and put the postage on themselves, or have had hotels charge me the going rate for postage. GVR wanted $1.50 for two stamps. I mean, it's not a huge deal, but it was a bit disappointing and unnecessarily cheap. We then all congregated to head to dinner, this time at Taqueria Canonita at The Venetian. I again highly recommend this place. We were at a table near enough the edge of the canal so that we could see all we wanted to. The service, food, and drinks were all roundly excellent. I think it is a really great value: between the atmosphere and the food, it's quite a bargain. We then commenced our tour of the Strip for the newbies (and so Dave could get a $1 chip from each place we visited--a good way to have a souvenir collection I think). Starting at The Venetian, we did a big counterclockwise circle: â€¢ Wynn (first time seeing it, and I think I may actually like it better than Bellagio: more colorful, fun-seeming, though I don't really get the whole parasol thing) â€¢ TI (almost got caught in the Sirens crunch) â€¢ Mirage (very quick walk-through to see the tiger) â€¢ Caesars (the forum shops are really out of controlâ€”it's the last time I go through that place, because it just takes forever; placed a bet for a friend for the Chiefs to win the AFC, and they told me that Hank Greenberg from ESPN had made the same bet last week) â€¢ Bellagio (decided to rest our dogs and have a drink at the Baccarat Bar and people-watch; I was unimpressed by the Conservatory: I think the fall theme we saw last time we were there was much prettier and impressive) â€¢ Paris (just a walk through) â€¢ Barbary Coast (finally gambled a bit at roulette and used the first ACG coupon for a drink!) â€¢ Flamingo (gambled more here and did roulette again...and I actually came away with some money, having hit one number dead on. Hurrah!) â€¢ Imperial Palace (had to go in here to see the Dealertainers: I just love that they have a Stevie Wonder impersonator dealing Blackjack!) â€¢ Harrah's (basic walkthrough, except that Dave did his patented $100 color bet on roulette [he just walks up to a table that he has a good feeling on and puts down his bet on either red or black]. This time, a wheel hadn't hit black in about 8 spins...and it didn't even when he bet on black: oh well.) Again we hit In-N-Out and then made it back to GVR, where I again did some late-night gambling on VP and some slots. The next morning we arranged to meet for brunch at the Feast. While waiting for Sara, Dave went to put his name in for poker and I won $30 on the Password slots (I love you Rose Marie!). Soon after sitting down for brunch, Dave went over to the poker room to check on his progress, and we hung out and ate and drink. The brunch is good--a bar is to the side to get your drinks, and they have a good selection of breakfast and lunch entrees. It won't knock you over, but at $16 or so, it's a pretty good deal. After finishing, we found Dave, who wasn't in fact playing poker but still waiting around (the poker room communications at GVR are apparently not the best). It was time though for us to get Dave and Sara to the airport, sadly. So, the bull and I carted them out there while Rick gambled a bit. I got back in time for the second round of the slot tournament, and this time did even better. I had designs on placing, but would have to wait until that night to find out. We soon headed off to finally take care of Insanity. I guess late afternoon on a Saturday is a good time to hit the Strat, because there was no line for the elevator, and the line for Insanity was relatively short (we had to wait through 2 cycles.). So, not to be trite, but the ride was insane. Part of the terror is that you don't have a shoulder harness. Part of the terror is that you are 109 stories in the air with nothing below you. Part of the terror is when it tilts you so that you are now facing that nothingness. The spinning didn't bother me, surprisingly enough. Once we got back on solid ground, the night's mission was started: use as many ACG coupons as possible. We sat down at the bar by the Strat sports book to formulate a plan of attach; we sort of stupidly took advantage of getting free drinks by putting $10 into the VP machines at the bar. Whatever. Our first stop was to be the Lady Luck since there were some funbook opportunities there. However, remember I mentioned that Bike Week was going on? Well, that translated into no parking being available in typical spots: finally, we were able to squeeze into the valet at the Fremont. We walked back to Lady Luck where we signed up for their club and played their "special" promo slots which just took forever. Used some more funbook coupons at blackjack and craps, where we were "entertained" by an older biker couple who insisted on us rooting for particular numbers. Listen: I love to shout at craps, but I don't want to be made to yell. After Lady Luck, we decided on a short drinking tour thanks to the ACG coupons: first was Gold Spike (um, creepy!), then (Las) Vegas Club, and then onto Golden Gate so Rick could get a shrimp cocktail; unfortunately, the line was 20 deep, so we played some blackjack with a couple of self-professed biker chicks. They were fun even though we were losing. Then to the Plaza for some more drinks and slots. At that point, we decided we were getting hungry, and that meant only one place: Ellis Island. We drove on over and immediately signed up for their club, since the coupons we had depended upon that. We then got our four free cocktails and downed them while playing blackjack. We decided to finally put our name in and received our number back: 47 of course! We gambled a touch more until we were called. Now, of course we weren't expecting much, since the steak dinner is but $4.99. However, I was pretty impressed. The service was great, the salad good, and the steak? Very good! And it was accompanied by a nice baked potato and quite good green beans. So, with our ACG coupon, our meal of two complete steak dinners and two beers came to $8.41 (we threw a $5 tip to our waitress). I love Vegas (and T2V for the tips!). After a bit more blackjack, we decided to head to Orleans for more free drinks and cheap gambling. Unfortunately, the place was packed and the tables were jammed. We played a little craps and some slots, but the crowds were too much, and we decided to head to Palms for more coupon use (this time free credits). About broke even on VP there but got bored, so headed to Gold Coast, where we have always had good luck on blackjack. Got more free drinks (frozen!) and found a table. We were, however, cursed by annoying men. These are the kind of guys who talk a bit too familiarly with dealers who obviously are not in the mood for them, who make dumb bets, who ask for advice from the whole table, who generally slow things down and are just screaming for attention. So, while we did pretty well, I was glad to leave after a while just to get away from them. After a quick visit to Sonic for tater tots (we don't have Sonics up here), we made it back to GVR. And the slot tournament results were up: I finished 14th. I was happy that I finished so high, but obviously disappointed that I had been so close without getting any money. However, Rick pointed out that at least I wasn't 11th: that guy was only 4 points out of 10th and $500. Ouch. The next morning there was no gambling: just checking out (easy, though they didn't comp me anything...didn't expect them to, but it was nice for them to check!), dropping off the car, and dealing with the crush of humanity at LAS. I would fly Southwest again to/from LAS, but their terminal sucks compared to the new one: I was on the hunt for something decent for breakfast and ended up with Subway. The flight home was fine. So, we had a great time and hope Sara and Dave did too. I think we would stay off strip again, but will probably want to return for our next visit: it just nice to have a bunch of alternatives at your beck and call. And thanks again to everyone on these boards who responded to all my questions and generally provided great information: it definitely helped us have a great time!