Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Las Vegas Anniversary 2010

This trip was in celebration of our 3 year anniversary and quite possibly the last visit for a few years, so we wanted to soak in as much as possible. Due to a last minute story assignment, hubs came in a day after I did leaving me an entire day to myself to get in theoretical trouble.

Packed and bumpy direct flight in as usual on Southwest from SDF and airport was pretty busy when I got in at 2pm to meet my Presidential driver. I have never come to Vegas by myself before and I was a bit bummed hubs wasn’t there to enjoy it with me . . . I got over it quickly!
Flamingo Check-In and Impromptu Spa Visit
No one bothered to help me with bags when we pulled up so I lugged it all in myself. No big deal. Check-in was quick with no eye-contact or offers to upgrade my GO Room and I was told my room would not be ready until 5ish. I got a handful of coupons that were not useful for me personally, but included lots of food, show, and happy-hour specials among many of the HET properties. I booked through the TR website which was about $50 less than if I had booked through any of the promo codes.
Since I had time to kill, I checked my bags with the bell desk and went to see if there was a massage available in the spa. Luckily I slipped in just in time and had a great massage by the same therapist George Wallace and Donny Osmond use – since he used to be a nurse and is trying to go out on his own, we chatted the entire massage about small business ownership, LV living, and healthcare. He gave a great deep tissue bonus since I was shortchanged a bit on time.
The spa was functional with your standard sauna, steam room, warm and hot whirlpools, and basic toiletries/styling tools. They charge almost as much as the “better” spas for the same services, so I would not go back unless on a promo and I could get the same therapist again.
Flamingo GO Room
I had a nice view of the gardens and it was a modest hike from the lobby elevators. The hallway carpet and fixtures are showing wear, but not enough to be bothered by. I heard no noise from the hallway either walking through or from my room.The room looks just like the pictures on the website and I appreciated the coffee maker and small fridge that came with it. The Bell Hop was up in 5 minutes and gave me a tour of the room features. Despite the water going everywhere in the bathroom, the shower was awesome – high pressure with two extra heads you could turn on around waist level (or in my case, rib level). The bathroom in-mirror TV and equipment in the main area worked well and the bed was comfortable.
Flamingo Casino and Amenities
Despite wanting to chill at Bugsy’s Bar and taking advantage of some of the roving happy hour $5 martinis that occurred at different bars every few hours, there were not a lot of food options that drew me in. I was not in a mood to gamble and the air-freshener perfume that was piped in was just a hair too much to hang around for very long.
Dinner at in Venetian and turning in early
I met Evoni and her husband for dinner at Timpano Tavern– great conversation as usual and hope we can meet up again. This is one of the new eateries and it was okay for a casual dinner. I had one of their signature cocktails, the Dragonberry Hurricane, and was pleased. The prawns were big enough for all of us to share and the sauce was a perfect dipping sauce for their bread. My seared tuna was over seasoned (could not taste the tuna) and the onion soup at Panera was more flavorful than theirs. The cheesecake lollipop tree was fun and I am a fan of their single-serving dessert selection, especially the chocolate-raspberry cake.
On the way back I had to stop by Walgreen as a poison ivy reaction I had the week prior was going nuclear all over my back at this point and in need of first aid. Carnival court was the usual fun experience although the novelty of drunken frat boys hitting on me has defiantly waned. I briefly considered checking out Harrah’s piano bar or catching the late performance of O, but the travel exhaustion came on fast and I decided to hit the hay around (shock) 10:30.
Flamingo Habitat
This has been on my to-do list for the past several trips and I finally got a chance to enjoy it. I was up nearly at dawn and practiced my photography skills for a couple of hours. It is very peaceful in the morning and I got some great pictures of the wild life and gardens. The Bugsy Memorial could probably use an update since it still has Hilton owning Flamingo, but it was still cool to see.
Margaretville Breakfast and Check-Out
I milled around Caesar’s and Bellagio, but all of my favorite places to eat were mobbed. I headed back to Flamingo and had a nice mimosa and omelet at the 3rd floor bar in Margaretville. I sat between two sets of hung-over gentleman trying to recover from bachelor parties and enjoyed the stories and pre-marriage advice. I did the in-room check-out right at 11am and hailed a cab to Mandalay Bay.
Mandalay Bay
The driver dropped me off away from the bellhop area so I walked my luggage into an extremely busy lobby full of conventioneers. I found a friendly face and waited about 20 minutes to check in. I booked with a Travelzoo promo that gave a 750GR suite for the same as a regular room and provided 2-4-1 breakfasts at house of Blues and Foundation Room access (no resort fee since I booked before they instituted it - we got free wi-fi anyway!). They had a room ready right away, but I asked nicely if she could give me a high floor with a view if I were willing to wait and if she could do anything special for our anniversary. She provided 2 spa passes (we later changed it to a f&b credit since hubs is not a spa guy) and a fabulous room right off the elevator with the best strip view I ever had (room 29-201 for those that are interested). I tipped $20. I checked my bags at the bell desk and headed over to Luxor.
I had a free pass and picked up the rest of our MGM show tickets at the box office. No photos allowed but they will take your picture outside the exhibit – I skipped that. The exhibit was excellent for the novice, but as someone who has taken many science classes, it was a bit anti-climatic. I did enjoy internally cursing out the QL muscle when I saw it featured on one of the bodies and found the stages of fetal developments extremely interesting and the best part of the exhibit, especially since we are finally thinking about taking the baby plunge. It took an hour to get through, but if you are not familiar with anatomy & physiology it would probably take 2 hours to do the exhibit justice.
Aurora Lounge, Mizuya, and Airport Pick-up
I had a pear cocktail that was decent, but nothing spectacular – no happy hour specials, although they were pushing the Sex in the City 2 cocktails hard at all the MGM bars. Mizuya at Mandalay had a beer and sushi roll happy hour special that was lackluster – I am spoiled by the sushi we get at home and their spicy salmon roll was pretty underwhelming. Hubs wanted me to pick him up at the airport to start our anniversary trip off right, so I had a limo pick me up and do the champagne experience. Hubs had been in France and we had not seen each other in a week so it was well worth it. The driver forgot to take us to the sign, but we were too busy being excited to care.
Shang Hai Lilly
From this point on, take for granted that if restaurant.com has a discount for it, we used it. This was one of the best meals of the trip – potstickers, spring rolls, sea bass, and kung pao chicken were all exceptional and the service was top notch. Their sidecar was off, but the lycii cocktail and selection of Alsase wine more than made up for it. The almond cookies at the end were better than any fortune cookie. We both liked the décor and felt there was enough space between tables to have a private conversation. It was about ¼ full which was not surprising since it is classed as fine dining and there are a few other Asian restaurants at MB with lower price tags.

Strip Run
Woke up at 6 and finally conquered our goal of running the strip (MB to Sahara)! We ran on the MB side until we reached City Center then crossed over and ran that side until reaching Encore where we had to cross back over due to some sidewalk maintenance. We took a lot of steps and had very few stops along the way. The shell of Fountanblu “opening fall 2009” was pretty depressing, there were several sewage-smell pockets on the north end, and I am still peeved they took out the Stardust with this area of the strip in need of more action. We took in Circus Circus for the first time together and I thought it was a fine place to pick up a bottle of water and throw a few dollars down on black. We were too early to catch any of the circus acts or take advantage of the $20/20 minute reflexology treatments that sounded heavenly after a 4-mile run. Frankly, the atmosphere was much better than Excalibur although location and report of bad rooms takes it off my cheapo weekend getaway list for now. We walked back passing many fellow runners on the return trip to MB.
Lunch at Raffles Cafe
After a refreshing shower, we went to Raffles for a much needed meal. Our waitress was elderly and pleasantly scatterbrained and apparently causing some upheaval with other members of the staff. Hubs liked his hamburger and my tomato soup with grilled cheese was just fine. The Herschel Walker wings were breaded and deep fried with no sauce, which were okay, but we prefer our wings naked and sloppy. At this point, we are feeling the need to laze, so hubs went to the room and I went to the spa.
The Bathhouse
I imagine that if East Germany during the cold war had a state-spa for government officials, it would look much like the Bathhouse. It is institutional black cinder block with rains from the ceiling that makes you wonder if the dungeon is leaking. It is the perfect spa for people who feel guilty for spaing, dislike the typical warm tones found in other spas, or who can’t stand fru-fru environments. I had an excellent sun-facial that, as usual, I slept through, and spent a couple of hours in the warm whirlpool, sauna, steam room, and chill area. In comparison to the other spa folk milling about, I felt a bit under-jeweled and overfed, but not enough to harsh my mellow. I was not pressured to buy products or upgrade my service, which I appreciate. They have several $100 special on facials, massage, wraps, and nail services and the lounge is stocked with many juices, tea, water infusions, fruit, snack bars and nut mixes.
After getting back to the room, hubs went to the cigar shop at MB and was a bit disgusted at the selection, storage, and knowledge, but he picked up a Padrone anyway and we decided to head over to Aurora in the Luxor for a few drinks. I had a decent Mai Tai and hubs enjoyed a cigar with his bourbon. I finally got the Dean Martin slot to pay out something and hubs put all a $20 on black then walked away a winner. We spied another cigar store and he purchased 4 new ones and was much happier with this shop.
Stripsteak Dinner
One of the few thumbs down experiences of the trip. We were seated quickly off of the bar area and our waitress’s costume was about two millimeters away from wh*re. I have no problem with this in lounges, the casino floor, and sports bars, but when paying $50 for a steak, I should not be able to tell if the server has waxed lately. After months of yearning for the highly touted duck fat fries, we both came away with the feeling we were just served McDonalds fries doctored with some spices. Hubs had a tasty chicken dish and I had a solid bone-in ribeye with the truffled mac and cheese that everyone seems to have on the menu and I did not like as much as I thought I would. The wine menu did not have a good balance either. It was not horrible or great, but it was nowhere near Botero. Next time we will try Cut or Craftsteak.
Since this has received such excellent reviews, we figured we would pocket our dislike of CT based largely on the old AT&T commercials, and give him a try. We got these on a pick 2 for $75 promo and our seats were toward the back of the theater. No problem – it is an intimate theater and you can see everything. The warm up act was lame, but Carrot himself had us laughing beginning to end. As many have mentioned, he had a lot of recent news in his comedy act, which was about 50/50 props and stand-up. The theater was packed and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Because he keeps the act fresh, we would defiantly check him out again in the next few years.
Aria & Mandarin Bar First Impressions
We walked over to City Center and my first impression at night was that if they ever decide to re-theme the strip, this one would be perfect for a DC or Marvel comics home. I would love to see spidy crawl up the Harmon or see the bat signal come up from between the Veer towers. I thought the Aria casino was beautiful with all of the glass and metalwork hanging from the wall and ceiling, but hubs hated the brown. The vanilla scent was subtle and was not the super-sweet fake version you get in a lot of candles or diffusers. I wanted to take in the view from Mandarin bar and it did not disappoint. Hubs ordered a lemongrass mojito but returned it since the stalk of lemongrass stuck in the glass to replace the traditional sugar cane did nothing for the flavor. He got a Cavilier instead (a side car plus apricot and almond flavors) which was one of the best cocktails of the trip. My Golden Leaf/Mandarin cocktail was pretty good, and came with a 24K gold flakes floating on top (a little antibiotic for my itchy and now peeling back!).
Hubs is feeling the jet lag from his overseas flights and we decided to go enjoy the incredible night view from our room back at Mandalay. In an unprecedented move, we actually took a cab rather than walk.
Tuesday (our anniversary!)
We had some of the leftovers from Stripsteak that did not keep well and decided to put a ban on truffled mac and cheese for the remainder of the vacation. Bank of America calls about suspicious credit card charges despite notifying them the dates I would be out of town in Las Vagas – I was happy with this extra protection for about 30 hours until they did something that really p*sses me off. More on that later.
We head over to MGM for a memorial visit to ‘witchcraft – always delicious! Dean Martin gave me a little more love at Luxor on the walk over, which was a good omen since we had to hop the monorail to Sahara to pick up our Rat Pack tickets for that evening. I have not been in Sahara in years and I really enjoyed the casino feel. Most of the people playing $1 blackjack were doing crazy strategy, if you can call it that, so hubs went over to the $5 table and broke even after a few cocktails.
We grabbed the monorail back up the strip and stopped off at Flamingo so he could see the habitat. When we got to MGM, there was some kind of kids camp at Rainforrest Café that looked like a good time. The lions were out and feeling playful, but no chance to get pictures with the cubs. We get back to the hotel and got gussied up for the show and headed back to Sahara
Sandy Hackett’s Rat Pack
We got 2-4-1 VIP tickets through half price shows (lower fee than Goldstar) and tipped the usher for a good seat. Hubs and I are huge fans of the era and “our song” is “All the Way.” I admit I got misty eyed as the boys came out – none of them looked like who they were playing but they really captured their swagger, vocal styling, and nuances of speech. Most importantly, they all looked like they were having a great time. Due to smoking rules, Dino was handicapped by having to carry an unlit cigarette. We gave them a standing O and they were all there for a meet and greet after the performance. The guy who played Frank stayed in character for that – he really nailed Sinatra. There are different actors depending on the night, so if you happen to be in town on a Tuesday, put this show on the to-do list.
Parasol Down
We had some pre-dinner cocktails with Patricia, the head mixologist of Wynn, and got to sample everything on the new menu. I think the strawberry one or the ginger Collins were my favorites of the group (Canton Ginger seems to be the hot ingredient about town). There is also one with an absinthe wash that I did not care for, but absinth is icky to me. No changes have been made to the Lake of Dreams shows since we were last there.
Encore Beach Club/Surrender
We got to sneak into the employee “play day” at the new club. It is an amazing pool scene with all of the grandeur you would expect from a Wynn property. Since I am on the wrong side of 30 and have no desire to prance about in 4-inch heels and a bikini not meant for water, I doubt I will actually pay to go there, but it is really exceptional. Surrender is the ulta lounge night party counterpart to the pool and was not 100% finished the night we were there. I much prefer lounges to nightclubs so this one, as well as Blush, may make it to a must-do list in the future.
Society Café
Keeping in theme, we were going to eat at Sinatra but we missed the last seating. This was a lucky misfortune because Society really fit our style. A couple of couple things about us – my husband realized he wanted to marry me over a Nathan’s hot dog at the MGM and did a surprise engagement dinner with the ring on a hot dog (…blogger.com/blogger/…ring_ring.0.jpg). When we saw spicy pigs in a blanket on the menu, we knew we chose the right place. Also, we did lots of appetizers rather than a sit down dinner at our reception, so we kept the tradition going by ordering lollipop wings, ahi tuna tacos, and prime beef sliders. And a bottle of champagne. We were also introduced to the cocktail “Delicious” which is a beautifully fragrant and refreshing concoction made with raspberry vodka, ginger, citrus, and agave.
As we were leaving Wynn, a drunken 20-something began profusely complementing hubs on his brown hat with a feathered brim. He asked if he could borrow it for the night and tried to grab it off his head when hubs gave him the stare down, pointed at the feather and said “I killed the pheasant.” The look on the kid’s face was priceless
Since we were walking back to MB, we decided to take a turn into the v/p complex. A few blackjack wins were countered with my losses at the Star Trek machine (will I ever learn?) and we headed down the rest of the strip.
It was really late and our favorite bar, Petrussion Paris, was hopping. We managed to get a seat in the back and ordered an Armagnac sidecar – our official house cocktail should anyone want to swing by for Derby someday. On a trip to the bathroom, hubs met Leroy, one of the guys who does shoe shines, and for a mear $7 plus tip got the leather buffed and softened to a condition like never before. Gentleman, support the local economy by extending the life and comfort of your shoes – go get a shoeshine in the Bellagio! We stumble "home" to again enjoy our view.
The Café
2-4-1 mimosas, a tableside coffee carafe, vanilla custard pancakes with macerated blueberries, applewood smoked chicken sausage,Portugal spiced sausage, and a house eggs “café” benedict – a perfect breakfast. Service was pleasant and speedy and of course the atmosphere was subdued hip. If we stay at THE Hotel next time, I imagine this place will be a morning staple.
Private Garden Cabana
Despite many trip to Vegas, we have not been to any of the pools. I decided this would be a great time in the trip to relax, renew, and detox with a cabana. We chose the private garden and it was the best thing we did the entire trip! The key-entry area has 8 cabanas, most with their own Jacuzzi, and share a private pool.
It reminded us a lot of the resort we stayed in for our St. Lucia honeymoon. It was in the 80s and breezy, the cabana girls were attentive but not intrusive, and the vibe was mellow. We were told this was one of the most chilled-out areas of the poll and only occasionally a boisterous group of family with young kids chose this area. We had about 3 drinks each and took advantage off the free water and mixers in the fridge. I got an awesome teriyaki beef salad for lunch while hubs opted for the shrimp noodle salad. We briefly went out and took a turn in the Lazy River and wave pool, but we quickly retreated back to the zen zone. We hung out from 10 until nearly 6 and wished we could have booked another day. With the cabana came a 20% deal at any of the fine dining places at MB (can’t use with other promos) which would be a significant savings if you had a group. This is on the must repeat list!
Bank of America Can Stick It
Due diligence turned into a nightmare when I got back to the room and listened to a message informing me that my account went under a periodic review and they dropped my credit line to about $200 over the balance BEFORE I left for Vegas. Periodic my foot – there are no coincidences! I get my dander worked up then calmed down and they grant me just enough for what I had budgeted for the trip, but nowhere near what it had been just 2 days earlier. Thankfully we had cash in the bank to cover the rest of the trip. We are making big strides to reduce our debt to mortgage and student loan only and this just fueled the fire even more (so no more Vegas for awhile, - ho hum).
My father-in-law was in town for a conference so we met up with him at Burger Bar. We split a nutella shake three ways that was gone in about 2 minutes because it wasa so delicious. We each did a name your own burger – I like that you can choose the type of meat you want and that the toppings are there o enhance the flavor, not cover it up. I had a kobe (I know – it’s a farce) with prushito, mozzarella, and pesto with the fat fries. F-I-L had a peppercorn burger that he enjoyed much more than he thought he would (he is a local dive and chain restaurant guy) and hubs had the angus with a concoction I cannot remember. We left full and happy.
Since F-I-L had some MGM perks, we got 241 tickets to CSI. There are 3 crime scences and you can read the descriptions before you choose one for your experience. The first tip I want to pass on is that if there is more than one person in your party, you should each pick a different crime scene. One inside, you have access to all of the crime scenes but only the paper report for one. Had we researched this a little better, our group could have done all three. It took less than an hour to solve the crime and at the end you take a computer test and they will email you the criminologist certificate. Or you can buy it in the gift shop. I asked one of the staff if anyone ever fails and he said “only really drunk people” although there have been a few who got frustrated and left. The souvineer shop was mostly cloths and a few knickknacks. Hubs thought the whole thing was lame and nowhere near as awesome as STE, but what is?
I wanted to take a quick look at the ongoing renovations on the way back to MB. They are still deconstructing the entrance to the hotel and we got to hear a delightful cell phone argument on the way in. The musty smell is gone, but, wow, were the lights bright and white. It felt like a grocery store casino! We did a lap and walked out. Lighting and torn up entryways aside, I am interested to see what it looks like when everything is completed.
House of Blues
We took advantage of our 2-4-1 breakfast deal and they serve up a good omelet with an upbeat attitude! Hubs had a decent bloody Mary and my Singapore Sling had to be altered due to lack of ingredients. When the server told me it was “full of alcohol,” I did not expect a 16oz glass of gin with a splash of grenadine and sour, but I rolled out happy with a to-go cup.
Mac King
We spent the morning on various gambling at Luxor and Excalibur before hitting Nathans in NYNY using an ACG coupon. We decided to take a walk down the strip and check out Mac King. The$ 9.99 drink-for-entry (really about $14 after tax and fee) was well worth the comedy magic show. He had several people come up from the audience to include in tricks and ended with a great disappearing act. I would suggest coming warly since the drink line is outrageous and understaffed, and so you can have your picture taken (he inserts a cute surprise when you go to pick it up). Since he is a native Louisvillian, we had a nice chat after the show and we purchased a 50-majic-trick lunchbox for my niece.
Ahh, one of my favorite lounges! Hubs had one of his cigars with a fine rum while I tried the Spanish Trampoline (think tangerine mojito) and Tatonga (spice and mango rums with pineapple, lime,, sugar, and bitters). I enjoyed both, but my favorites are still their Mai Tai and Hemingway. It is amazing that with all of the rum and coke I drink while gambling, I rarely get tipsy. Half a cocktail here and I am nearly on the floor! Service is always great here and the atmosphere is comfortable chic.
Since we lounged a little too long, we grabbed a taxi back to MB to get ready for the show. It is a shame we lost the lunchbox and photo somewhere between Rhumbar and our room! We fully expected Believe to be so lame we would laugh about it over dinner, but were pleasantly surprised. Coming in, we thought Criss Angle was a huge tool and had never seen Mind Freak. They must have changed the show a lot since, contrary to the reviews, he was onstage most of the performance, the trapdoors and wires were well concealed, and he interacted with audience frequently. He did your standard illusions that probably most of the magicians perform on the strip perform, but he had a gorgeously twisted back drop with the avant garde Cirque flair as his hook rather than wildlife or comedy. I was a big fan of the memorial dedication to all of the rabbits that had perished in the line of duty serving magicians. The clown character that finds its way into most CDS shows was instead a magician assistant, the costumes were spectacular, and despite a few “I am so awesome” moments from Criss, this was very entertaining.
I long ago stopped comparing CDS shows to each other because, other than having a parent company name in common, the subject matters have little to do with each other (it is kind of like comparing the Wizard of Oz to Luxor – they are both MGM creations but it is hardly logical to compare a movie to a hotel). I would highly recommend this show to people who like illusion magic, appreciate modern art/dance, and enjoy dark humor.
When we came out of the theater, the Lakers/Suns game was just about to come to an end and the sports book was packed with LAfans (boooooo!). Since it was our last night at MB, we figured we would give the Foundation Room a whirl.
We had previously had one of the best meals of our lives here at Thanksgiving and put aside expectations of a repeat. We were seated inbetween two couples and felt a little crowded in our personal space. Hubs flaked out on me when he found a bottle of wine he wanted to try and opted out of the awesome 3-course tasting menu. We started with seared ahi tuna, I chose salmon while he devoured the lamb, and we finished it off with a trio of ice cream and coffee. We were not allowed to combine the 20% off cabana discount with restaurant.com, and since the $50 off worked out better, we went with that. Had we maxed out the cabana with 10 people (heck, even 6), that discount would have been a steal! Although this was a great meal, we decided we were kind of “foodied out” at this point.
Foundation Room
Well, I got in for free, hubs had to pay $20. The place was packed with men and a few attached women. That people actually pay for bottle service here makes me scratch my head. Yeah, it is groovy and it has one of the best views of strip an iPhone can capture (since the view has a copy write attached to it and you can not bring up “professional gear”), but we did not stay long enough to order a drink. It just was not our scene, I guess. Being in psych, I had to ask security if they had a jumper plan for those that had a few to many and really wanted to throw it ALL away in Vegas. As it was put “once they cross the railing, there is nothing I can do if they want to jump.” Apparently this has happened only once and not during the public hours. Hubs decided to stay up and gamble while I went back for a final turn in the whirpool.
I am signing off for today and will be back with our last 2 days at Aria. For now, scroll forward through these photos for night shots of the strip from our room at Mandalay and Aria, and some interesting views from City Center:
Checking-Out of MB
We order up room service to enjoy what little time we have left with our view – no late check-out available. It was your basic coffee, oatmeal, and fruit morning. I pack up everything we will not use again with one bag to carry us through the rest of the trip. Check out stinks – not the process, just the fact! We agree this was the best overall Las Vegas resort experience thus far and are a little nervous about the change to Aria. I doubt we will hotel hop again. It only took about an hour round trip, but it kind of interrupts the established trip vibe. My brother is meeting us today and calls to let us know he landed and is heading over to the Monte Carlo. We grab a cab and head over to Aria.
Aria Second impressions, Check-In and Room
The bellhop was great – he was really excited about the hotel and assured us we would have a great time. My initial casino love dwindled a bit when I realized the metal art I liked so much made the midday noise level several dBs higher than it ought to be. The staple of casino design is busy (ugly) rugs with a bare ceiling so your focus goes to the gaming. At Aria, there is so much to look at the casino feels like an afterthought. Well, except that the lack of wall-to-wall carpet and plethora of metal and glass creates a fabulous echo that give the impression the place has 1500 people in it when there are only 50.
Vegas was already filling up with the Memorial Day crowd but check-in was moving along smoothly. . . with faces as wooden as the casino décor and robotic as the room controls. The lady at the reception desk did not look at me once and when I asked about upgrades she gave me the "$30/night for strip view" without a commitment to the up-sell. I do not think she would have noticed if I used a $20 bill as a paper airplane let alone “the sandwich” routine. She did give us a high floor and we had a nice view of Vdara. She did not let me finish the question about the player’s club perks for this reservation – she pointed in the direction of the casino and said “I don’t know anything about it - go to their desk.”
Room 26-135: Only 6 or so floor included in this elevator bank so there was never a wait during the trip. All of the room electronics worked well and the bed was plush. This place would (and I guess does, in some fashion in the other buildings) make a great apartment. The bathroom configuration was innovative with the walk-in shower leading to the bath. If you are one of those people who complain that the frosted glass in the MGM Grand’s West Wing commode is not enough privacy for you, the door in this bathroom that makes the commode private may not be to your liking. There is a really nifty wood sliding door that closes off the bathroom though.
There are already some nicks in the wood furniture so I am not sure how well the room will hold up in 5 years. Doubtless the technology will fail at some point, but there are enough backup switches that it should not be a deal breaker. The bellman was up in 5 and had obviously been to the same personality-training seminar as the receptionist. Even in Flamingo they provided a tour of the features in the room. Thankfully I am tech savvy, but there is a learning curve for those who are not!
We met up with brother who thought the room was cool. We decided to try Julian Serano since we are all tapas fans. We tried the mushrrom soup with foie gras cream, ahi tuna tempura (best dish!), chicken croquetts, stuffed peppers, olives, and charcutrie platter (second favorite). We split the churro chocolate for dessert – they gave us A LOT of that spicy chocolate! All in all, a great meal but nothing that would compel me to return for aother few visits.
Gambling at Aria, Luxor and Excalibur
I get my $50 free play from the desk and realize, while the slot technology at Aria is excellent, the available denominations and payout on the machines are not! I burn through my freeplay quickly and we move on.
My brother decides to try and get over his 10-year-grudge against Luxor when he and a few buddies got kicked out for arguing with a dealer. Well, it may take him another 10 years to go back since he went to the roulette table, was in the process of putting his chips down when the dealer calls “no more bets” and she scoops up all of his chips before the ball drops. Time tempers the rage of youth I suppose, because when she told him “tough!” in response to his protest that he was placing the last chip on the table as she was calling it, he just walked away. To add a little extra insult, neither of us could get Top Dollar to give us an offer.
We moved over to Excalibur where hubs won me a rose and an owl stuffed animal on the midway. I forgot to mention we had attended the poker lesson there earlier in the week and enjoyed it more than we expected. Brother played 3-card-poker while hubs got beat up at the blackjack table. I came out even on slots plus a couple of really good rum and cokes.
And Back to Society Café
Hubs had a meeting at Encore at 6 so brother and I hung out to watch the Magic/Celtics game at the bar outside of Wazuzu. The bartender was rather dour and the pineapple punch was so-so. We had a toro roll (delicious) and pork belly buns that were a little bland as the boa bun hid the flavor of the meat. There was also a great fight that broke out on the slot floor - an elderly lady bumped into another playing slots, and the slot gal throws her drink at her and calls her several names before Encore Security makes their presence known about 2.377 seconds into it!
We wound up eating at Society Café again and ordered most of the same stuff as before plus a few chef gifts. We were also introduced to the Monaco, which was a delicious vodka interpretation of a mojito. Service was just as good as before and it is officially on our come-back list next visit.
Best “Walking the Strip Street Moments” of the trip
As we are walking through Carnival Court, a few guys behind us are talking about how they used to collect the porn-slapper cards when they were on a family vacation as kids and their parents were not looking. They then went into a discussion about what they did with those cards, using some terms I have not heard in a while. As their conversation was concluding, another group of drunk 20-somethings, as if to emphasize the point, were heckling the parents of young children walking by: “why are you bringing your kids to Vegas? You are screwing them up!”
And speaking of porn slappers, we saw many games of “slapper go-fish” and “are you smarter than a porn slapper” throughout the trip. There seems to be a lot more of them and are more intrusive, but I attribute it to the holiday weekend.
I am sick that Paris tore out the fountain to make way for a candy store/nightclub. I got the sparkly lollipop when they came out, and the novelty wore off quickly. However, there was an excellent row of street performers in the area, most notably a tall, beefy black gentleman who used a blend of contortions with de-strung badminton rackets and Ashtanga Beginner & Intermediate poses set to music and with a grand finale of shutting himself in a small, clear box.
Lost at City Center
Somehow we walked down the wrong staircase and wound up on the outskirts of City Center. I think we were in-between the Harmon and the coming-soon Cosmopolitan. However, the end result was some artistic architectural photos and the chance to watch a group of tipsy co-eds trying to walk of a flight of steps in stilettos and finding out the elevator was locked down for the night “OMG, I’m not trying to get a workout here!” We walked by the massive line to get into Haze and noted the standard issue girl’s uniform of mini-dress and podiatrist-referral heels, or mini-shorts with tunic (not the worst look to resurrect from the 80s. At least it is comfortable). Have I mentioned how happy I am I do not have to compete in this market? If I were a man, I do not even know how I would pick one to pick up!
Moderna Bar and Bedtime
I saw the piano earlier in the day and was hoping this would be our Aria Petrussion Paris. Not to be. It seems every time I walked into Aria, I started liking it less and less. But their amythest and il cuore di Aria were tasty cocktails and I got a kick out of their morning drinks, some of which came with a side of ibuprofen or Alka-Seltzer. We thought the place was packed by the noise, but one again, the echo fooled us and it was pretty tame inside the casino. We make it back to the room and are immediately in love with the bed. Hubs and I had an unintentional “is the remote or the manual switch more powerful?” fight when trying to close the curtains for his night shots. I set the alarm for open curtains, nature sounds, and bedside lights, and we sack out in the luxurious bed.
Aria Buffet
This sleep goes down as the best of the trip! We hem and haw a bit about breakfast, but since we heard good things about the buffet we decided to give it a shot. Hey, how bad could it be with unlimited champagne or Bloody Marys! We are no buffet connoisseurs and we do not always hit one with every visit, but I enjoyed this one much more than when we went to the one inParis. They had a burrito that was New Mexico style amazing! The pizza was just average, but hubs was a big fan of the seaweed salad and bacon cut straight from the slab. I enjoyed the selection of meats, cheeses, rolls, and fresh fruit. The cream puff was seriously yummy. The omelets, crepes, waffles, and pastas other folks were ordering up looked great, but we are trying NOT to have the appetites we used to, so we just grazed until we felt we got the $60ish bucks worth of booze and food.
Encore Gambling
I get this itchy feeling that Encore slots would be good to us, so we head over and finally sign up for our red cards. We play slots for 3 hours, each on about the same $20, and earned extra freeplay. Hubs has never lasted more than 10 minutes before loosing it all, and I rarely last 30, so we count it as successful! I consume a lot of rum and coke and watch as the now open Encore Beach Club goes on a wait-list. The streak of putting it all on black comes to an end for hubs and he blows it on roulette. I, however, have a great conversation with the dealer about space launches and NASA, where her son works. Bro and hubs also come to the realization they are bad luck when they sit at a table together, and that the bad luck may extend to strangers. They watched a guy at their table drop $1400 on BJ in less than 10 minutes. For once, the slots were more kind than the table!
Sahara Gambling
From posh to, well, Sahara. You do not need pretty surroundings to have a great time. Actually, we made a quick stop at the Rivera, which turned out to be dead in comparison to Sahara and about the same quality level. We sign up for player cards here and bro rakes it in on 3-card poker while hubs starts making some money back at black jack. The cocktail service there is lightning fast and I am once again breaking even. I don’t really have a favorite slot machine, but I do prefer the old-style ones where you can only bet 2 credits. I just have a hard time pulling a lever or pushing a button for $4 a pop! I am still playing with the same $20 I started the day with, but it is getting pretty low at this point. We meant to hit the Strat but ran out of time.
A Monorail Conspiracy?
Total Rewards had joined forces with the LV Monorail and now offers $5 in freeplay for new TR sign-ups. We take the monorail back to City Center and find it odd they say Bally’s is the best exit. We go with it, but it is a hike. Since you have to walk though Ballys and Paris then pass Planet Ho to get to City Center, I wonder if this is a HET trick to get you into their properties. If you took the logical MGM station, you would pass through and by MGM properties only on your way back, and I believe it would be faster too. If anyone wants to do an experiment, I would love to here the result. We did grab a quick bagel dog and water at Bally’s using the ACG coupon to help fuel the next few hours until dinner.
As I stated earlier, I am not going to directly compare this to another Cirque show. The only thing close would be LOVE (which I was lukewarm about), but this is a live music tribute show with circus acts as opposed to a dramatic interpretation show using aerialists and modern dance with recorded music. Out seats were on the aisle of section 204, and we got them through the summer promotion for $88 plus fees. Of course, I am one of the weirdos who likes to sit close up, but these were really good for taking in a fair amount of detail while still seeing the overall picture. The couches close to the stage looked pretty comfortable – I do not think the balcony seats would be that impressive. We decided on this show because, while none of us are huge Elvis fans, it was on all of our mutual “to see” list.
The pre-show show involves lots of girls dressed in 50s outfits giggling and getting the audience excited to see Elvis. Bro got some tasty peanut-butter/banana cashew brittle to snack on but we skipped the drinks. The show blends many circus elements that you see in other CDS shows – the clown, in this case, is Cnl. Parker as a narrator, period dancing, trampoline acrobatics, couples acrobatics, live musicians, huge set changes, and amazing costumes. I believe the Elvis vocals were isolated so the musicians and other singers could perform live with him. I like the 4 female singers they chose and one of the drummers was particularly awesome. I could see Cirque throwing in some guest musicians later on since their blocking is not that complex to learn. One of the things I think they changed from the original version is toning down the performers’ roles when they show live Elvis footage – whenever the footage plays, is where you attention goes. The performers usually did incidental dancing rather than amazing feats that would be likely be overlooked by the audience. Some scenes that stood out were the superhero trampoline act, the entire military sequence (love the flag being made up of the soldiers’ hanging laundry), the tearjerker wedding and honeymoon acts, and the finale where you may get a little gift if you are sitting in the right seat. The whole performance, I wanted to get up and dance. The energy was great with most of the audience getting up and dancing for the finale and remaining up to give a standing ovation. This is another show I would like to see again, and would be a good one to franchise in Memphis, the real home of Elvis.
A return trip to our favorite Mexican fusion eatery. We hung out in the lounge for a bit and got no end of amusement watching an older gentleman try to hook up his younger friends with some junior cougars dressed like 20-somethings at the bar. The mojito gave me an odd stomach ache but the spicy sweet Cosmo del Diablo more than made up for it. The asada, lamb, and short rib tacos were as great as we remembered and the spicy guacamole was even better. There were a few bachelorette parties going on and the place was still over half packed when we left around 11.
Casino Royal
Another first for all of us. We figured there was no way we would find do-able table limits in the higher end places, so into the dive we go. The casino was jammed packed with a huge line at the bar that went nearly to the back of the casino. When the guys finally did get a place at a table, the dealers were some of the nastiest they had encountered in any gambling establishment. I know some people have a good time there, but this was not the night to do it. There was a lot of grumbling about tight slots and , while I don’t think dropping $10 in Dean Martin is statistically significant, I did not want to feed this beast.
Worst Street Moment of the Trip
The area between Carnival Court and Flamingo was packed like Haj. I am 5’1” on a good day and I started getting antsy as I moved forward a millimeter at a time looking longingly at the empty sidewalk across the street. I would say “I can only imagine what the kid in the stroller thought,” but since he and the 3 other children I passed in the crowd were crying and wailing, I have a pretty good idea. I am not one to really have an opinion about kids in Vegas – I don’t have any so I can’t relate to the family vacation decision-making process – but come on, tuck them in by midnight, please! One of those cuties could get snatched and disappear in the blink of an eye or get injured in such a dense crowd. After about 10 minutes we escape the mob and cross over to Caesar’s. Although we did not intend to wind up at Bellagio . . . we wind up at Bellagio.
Seriously, $10 blackjack tables on a Saturday night? Are you kidding me? The lowest I saw at Aria was $15 into early afternoon, but mostly $25 and up no matter what time of day. Hubs sits down with a bunch of Norwegian guys who have no clue how to play and he finally comes up ahead for the trip. I play slots here and there and manage to make a few bucks, mostly on the Wild Cherry machines. I also decide someone needs to invent “butt tack” when I see this poor girl’s cheeks fall out of her dress several times. Surprisingly, The Bank line did not look too crowded. We end the night at Petrossian Paris, naturally, for a last round of sidecars. We decide to call it a night sometime around 5am (no late check out from Aria, naturally).
Aria – “see ya!”
We get a refreshing 4 hours of sleep, use video check-out, and call the bellman to get our bags. At 10am the ridiculous level of noise in the casino is starting to really get to me and I cannot wait to get out of Aria. However, I somehow had two cash out tickets in my purse from some last minute gambling a few hours prior, and decided to pocket the money rather than re-deposit it in another slot. I forgot to mention that at one point we did take the monorail to city center from Bellagio and we found it convenient, but not so much from Monte Carlo. I think if I were shopping for (and could afford) a loft, City Center would be cool. As for Aria, I just wanted to yank the casino out of the hotel and move it to LA, Dallas, Chicago, or New York. I think I would have loved the place a lot more outside of the strip.
We wanted to do Mon Ami Gabi but the guys are both anti-line, so we scratch our brains and decide to grab a burger. By the way, theParis buffet line practically reached to Ballys! We were not expecting much but were deliciously surprised with the quality we received. We split a vanilla milkshake and an order of fries. The guys both had the Le Paris (brie, caramelized onion, and bacon) on a parmesan bun, while I opted for the Promenade (chicken with brie, shallots, and bacon) on an onion roll. Usually I only eat half the bun, but I cleaned it up this time. We go back to Aria and catch a cab to the airport grateful we are getting out before the Monday rush.
Last Thoughts
Tube of Shame – not only are people now purchasing straps to hang these things around their neck while they get their sip on, but they are using them to secure the tubes to their check-in luggage. Does anyone ever use these things again?
Canadians – it seems the entire trip we were surrounded. Every casual elevator chat we got into, at least one person was from Canada. Every show we went to, either an audience volunteer was Canadian or there was a huge contingent in the audience. I asked if there was a holiday going on, and the the reply was, “no, its just still really cold!”
Trends I am over - St. Germaine in cocktails, celebrity pool parties (well, darn, we just missed Paris Hilton and Neyo at Encore Beachclub), organic alcohol
Plans for the Next Trip (new stuff):
Stay at THE Hotel, Bellagio, or Wynn/Encore with no moving
See O, Rat Pack at the Plaza, and Frank Caliendo
Eat at Cut or Craftsteak, Alex, Mastro’s Ocean Club, and Sinatra
Rent a car and see the Hoover Dam and Valley of Fire
Give downtown another shot with gambling and a trip to Firefly
Things we meant to do this time but will do next trip:
Watch someone sky jump from the Strat while we stay safely on the sidewalk
Afternoon tea at MO
Ice Lounge and THE Lounge
Check out Rio, Palms, and M (3rd time on the list is a charm, right?)
Oh, and hubs updated some of the photos for those interested in the Cabana, some Aureole shots, and the Aria standard room (you can get a good look at the pheasant feather!).
Originally posted here