This is obscenely long for a five-day trip report, so if you aren't in it for the long haul, skip to the end for summary and a link to photos.

The Girls trip to Vegas was talked about for along time before it actually happened. Back in October, I raised the idea again and got everyone on board for the planning. Since I'm always making the travel arrangements for Las Vegas, I went ahead and researched our options. We had two Vegas Virgins in the group, and that meant we needed to stay both Downtown and on the Strip in order for them to get the big picture of what Las Vegas has to offer. It also had to be affordable for all, allowing room in the budget for gambling, of course! I managed to get two nights at Fitzgerald's and two nights at the Aladdin, with a rental car for five days for a total of $102.00 per person, taxes included.

Sacha and I departed Manchester (NH) on Friday morning, arriving in Las Vegas at 2:10 pm, about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. We grabbed our bags from baggage claim and hopped on the shuttle to the Alamo rental center. We picked out our midsize car, an Olds Alero, and were on our way. At the exit to the Alamo lot, they waved us through without noting the scratches on the car. I made sure they wrote every bit of damage down, as last summer I saw a couple get charged for scratches on a car they claimed were there when they picked it up.....Didn't want to take the chance of having the trip end in an argument with Alamo. Since I had the digital camera on me, I also took photos of the damage, just in case!

Alamo is way on the other side of the airport, so rather than taking my planned route of Paradise to LV Blvd to Downtown, we took the 15. Yikes! Bumper to bumper the whole way- it took us over an hour to get to the Downtown exit! I was antsy as I always am upon arriving in that town, but we rolled the windows down and took in the 65 degree weather, grateful we weren't at home in the sub-zero temps!

Finally get to the Fitz and check in. We were in room 817, and had a view of a parking garage, a bit of Freemont Street, and the El Cortez. The room was quite decent- clean newish carpeting, pleasant smelling; your basic Holiday Inn type accommodations. We called for extra pillows and towels and they were there within five minutes with four sets of each (good tip for that!). We barely had time to set our bags down before we were headed back to the airport to pick up Ruth, who was arriving from LA @ 5 pm. Paradise Road was a mess due to the CES convention, and she was waiting curbside when we pulled up. We were all starving, so we sped back downtown and headed to the California. I had the $5.99 Prime Rib special (which is actually now $6.99!) and my friends had something else. It was definitely a good deal, especially with the salad bar. I knew with all the partying we'd be doing that I'd need my veggies, so I stocked up! After dinner we wandered Freemont Street a bit, then headed back to the Fitz to join their players club. The Elvis lounge act was playing on the second floor, so we snuck in and caught a few songs before being told there was a one-drink minimum. Never mind! We saw all we needed to, skipped the drink, and went downstairs for some gambling. We sat at the bar and played some JoB VP and had coffee and Baileys. (We need to pick up our fourth, coming in at midnight). It was here that I learned some people are not so good at being taught: Sacha plays regular poker. She has no idea how to play VP. I tried to explain how they are different, and coached her on a few hands. After watching her play and hold a low pair and a high card every time, I gave up. I can't watch people play incorrectly, especially after asking for my advice, not heeding it, and then dismissing my help! I don't play games I don't understand, because it's throwing money away. But hey, if other people want to do it, more power to 'em.

Sacha stays behind and sleeps when Ruth and I go get Kim at the airport (this would be the standard for the trip). We pick up Kim who is wide-awake and ready for action. I take Tropicana to the Strip and we cruise to Downtown that way. It wasn't too bad for a Friday night, and Kim was floored by what she saw! We made it back to the Fitz, dropped her luggage off at the room, and headed out to the LV Club for craps and Mudslides. Well, the table was full and the mudslides were not good! Perhaps they're just not what I'm used to, but we all agreed they had a weird saccharine-like aftertaste. Oh well- head to Binions and- WHAT'S THIS?? Closed? Locked UP? What happened???? People outside the doors told us about the Federal Marshals marching in and shutting the whole operation down. I wish we'd played there earlier, it was too late now. We make our way into Four Queens, where I had won $60 on VP at the bar. Ruth and Kim were looking for craps action. I wasn't feeling it so I sat down at a DW VP machine. I have the Bob Dancer Win Poker software (Thanks, Dad!), but was still a little rusty on the DW strategy. The woman on the other side of the bank had just hit a Royal Flush for $1000 and I got to see it- ahh, someday!
My friends crapped out on craps and joined me at the VP machines, where I soon hit four deuces for $250. I cashed out for $280 and we called it a night at 3:30 am.

Saturday: We wake up at about 9:00 and head up to the coffee shop at the LV Club (I have a coupon in ACG for a free entree). Good greasy spoon breakfast and very friendly service. We check out Binions- yep, it's really closed.......Back to the room to regroup and for me to change into my Patriots jersey, then out to Lady Luck where I sign up with the players club and win a free t-shirt for my husband. We then head down to the El Cortez for some $2 craps. Hey- we like this place! Good crowd at the table and we play for a long time. We all cash in about $30 up and head back to the room. Then off to the Stardust to place a bet on the Pats Titans game and grab a seat in the Starlight lounge, where they had big screen TVs set up. We watched most of the Carolina game and missed the opening drive and score by the Pats due to the NFC double overtime game. Damn! I already lot my bet! I had money on the game, but not the Pats per se (we New Englanders are pretty superstitious when it comes to our sports teams- wonder why!?!) I bet that the first score would be a field goal, more points would be scored in the first half, total fields goals: over 3, total fumbles lost: over 2. Yikes- I was way off! We lost Kim to the slot machines but Sacha and Ruth stayed with me and we drank Coronas, cheered, talked a little smack with those around us, bit our nails, and breathed a sigh of relief when Vinatieri kicked the 47-yarder that would ultimately win us the game. Screw the bet- I really just wanted them to win the game!!

After the game we went to the New Frontier and had dinner at margaritas. Ruth and I shared the Fajita dinner for two- this is a great deal- steak fajitas with beans and rice, and two Margaritas for $15 total. We ate about half of it between us and were stuffed. After dinner, we went back downtown for some Blackjack and craps at the Four Queens. Sacha cut out early, and Ruth, Kim and I ended up back at the room at about 3:00. We hung out in the bathroom for a while enjoying a nightcap and conversation, trying not to wake up Sacha.

Sunday: We check out of the Fitz at about 10:30 am. Those Sunday elevators are SO SLOW! Not only were they slow, but also every single one was full. Ruth decided to take the stairs and wait for the valet while we took the elevator. We got down about ten minutes later and the car came soon after. I drove us up to the Aladdin and checked us in. I decided to forgo the $20 trick as the desk clerk gave us the best they had without it. We had the bellman bring our bags up. When we got the room, we were pleased! We were on the 21st floor and very close to the elevator. Our view overlooked the Paris and some of the Bellagio fountains- certainly enough for us to get a good look at them at night. The Resort room was great, especially for $79/night. Very spacious, nice furnishings, very clean, a big safe, two big windows, two queen beds, and a huge bathroom with two sinks, a tub, separate shower and water closet. The bellman arrived to drop off our bags, then we went to down to breakfast at Zanzibar cafe. The breakfast was good, but definitely overpriced and they took forever just to come and ask if we wanted coffee. After breakfast we headed over to the Luxor for their Hold 'em lesson and $1-$2 game @ 2:00 pm. The lesson was good- mostly about table etiquette as so many are watching the WSOP they know the gist of how the game's played now.

Poker's not really my bag, so I sit at the bar and play some VP and watch the Packers-Eagles game. I'm sick of the Packers and of Favre, and ever since the comment by Rush Limbaugh about McNabb, I've been kind of rooting for the Eagles. I end up having a few Vodka & cranberry drinks at the bar and leave up about $30. Ruth and I then play some Blackjack, where it was up and down. The dealers were really unfriendly at the tables here. So unfriendly that I probably won't be back. Especially when there are cheaper places to play where the dealers are really nice! I go back to the Hold 'Em game, where my friends are having a good old time! Just then a seat opens up and I grab it. I win the first pot of about $40, then nothing more. It was a great group to play with, and every time I folded I turned around to watch the game, which was getting pretty intense, heading into overtime. The Eagles win it; we stay at the table for a couple of hours, and then cash in our chips (I lost about $50 here). We get the car and drive over to Ellis Island for the steak dinner. It was delicious as usual, and my friends enjoyed it as well. We didn't stay to gamble here, but headed back to the Aladdin for some drinks in the room and to change into more fancy duds- it was, after all, Saturday night in Vegas, and even if we weren't high rollers, we could dress the part! We scoped out the action at the Aladdin, and I all but forbade my friends to play Blackjack at the 6:5 tables. Two of my friends didn't seem to care about house edge and statistics and probabilities- they just didn't think a couple of percents were very significant. I guess that's who's playing at all those 6:5 tables, folks. Either they don't know, of they can't see how a house edge of 4% is so much worse than 2%. A 2% difference? How insignificant! (roll eyes)
We had a drink at the Lamp bar and I leave the VP machine $60 richer. That made up for my loss at the Luxor.

We get the car and head down to the Flamingo-Casino Royal block. We hit Casino Royale first, as they have those cheap tables of Craps and Roulette. Kim and I play some Elvis slots. Not one bonus round! I get on the craps table, which is totally inconsistent, as it had been all weekend. I decided that was it for craps this trip, as I couldn't catch a wave and was becoming frustrated with the game. The same went for the other girls at the other tables. We head back down to the Barbary Coast, as I don't enjoy gambling at Harrah's or the Flamingo, and last time I was at the IP I did very poorly......

The Barbary Coast is my kind of place. Small, not too dark, good lounge acts, great dealers and blackjack. We played at a $5.00 table for hours, throwing back the drinks and having a great time with the dealers. I'm not sure that anyone won here, but it was ten times more fun losing money here than at the Luxor. It was getting on to the wee hours, so we headed back to the Aladdin. Sacha went to bed while Ruth Kim and I sat at the Lamp bar for more drinks and VP. We had a great bartender who served us some generous pours of Remy Martin. He also gave us a glass of olives to munch on as we had been admiring them- guess that steak dinner had worn off! I cash out up $80 and we were all good and drunk by the time we got back to the room. We woke up Sacha, drank a few more in the room, and eventually called it a night at 4:00 am. We made plans to go to the Paris breakfast buffet the next day and to the Orleans for a limit Omaha tournament at noon.

Monday: Morning came way too soon and we were up and out by 9:30. The buffet was excellent, as usual, and we managed to waddle out of there in time to regroup at the room. I dislike Omaha Hi/Lo and decided that since I was doing well with my winnings, I would hit the Orleans spa for some rest and rejuvenation. Money and time well spent! My friends joined the tournament of 100 for a $25 buy-in, and I headed to the Spa to see if I could get an appointment for a massage. They only had half-hour appointments available, which was perfect, as I wasn't looking to blow ALL of my winnings! I had a half hour shoulder and neck massage (which really was like a full back massage) from Lauren, who was excellent. I'll probably go back to her in March. Then I enjoyed the Jacuzzi and the Eucalyptus steam room for another hour. That steam room rocks! It felt like I could breathe deeply again, and all that smoke and alcohol I'd taken in was leaving my body. I showered with all the complimentary spa products and felt shiny and clean and glowing when I left. I was ready for more drinking, smoking and gambling!

After two hours in the spa I walked over to the poker room, where my friend Kim had just lost. She was quite frustrated with the game, as she went into it not knowing how to play! This was a common occurrence all weekend, with several games. There's only so much your friends can teach you, and if it were my money, I wouldn't try to play games at casinos in Vegas that I had no idea how to play!

Anyway, she finished 80th out of 100, so she shouldn't feel too bad. We played craps while our other friends were still in the running. Ruth found us and told us she had placed 30th- not bad for never having played in a tournament before. Apparently, some of the serious players at her table were begrudging her luck. Too bad! It's just a $25 tournament, anyway! The craps here was up and down as well; no consistency. Wait- wasn't I going to stop playing this game this trip? What can I say- I love the game and was hoping to leave Las Vegas still loving the game....not this time!

We all went back to the Poker room where Sacha was still in. We played VP at the bar (I couldn't hit much here!) and Sacha ended up out of the tourney placing 20th. Pretty good! They were, literally, the only two women playing that day. Guess poker's still a man's game........(roll eyes)

It was sunset and on the way back the Aladdin we stopped at Tacos Mexico for Carnitas tacos for Sacha. Then we hit In 'n Out Burger for Double Doubles for the rest of us. We eat in the room, watch the fountains, and rest for a while. Kim, Ruth and I were talking and Sacha took a bath, A little while later we heard the bathroom doors rattling. What's going on? Is she trying to lock them? They don't lock...."Sacha? Are you trying to lock the doors?" "Nooo..." "Sacha, are you okay?" "Nooo....." We got up to see what's wrong and there's Sacha, splayed out on the floor in her towel, in a daze! Can't say for sure what caused it other than the hot bath, but that rattling of the doors was Sacha passing out and slowing sinking to the ground, hitting her head on every groove in the door on the way down. Yikes! We got her a cold washcloth, some clothes, and helped her get it together. She felt better after awhile. Ruth's plane departed at 9:00 pm, so we took it easy until it was time to take her to the airport. After a quick goodbye (the best kind), I accidentally took the tunnel by accident. So THIS is the tunnel- I'd never seen it before! Well, okay, we took the tunnel and I realized that by going this way, Sacha would get to see the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" sign on the way into town. It was cool to see- we also saw the Klondike- I was tempted to stop, but thought it might be a little much for Sacha, especially after her fainting episode earlier! On the way back to the room we grabbed Starbucks for Kim, and ourselves who was up in the room napping. We took awhile to get going, and decided to gamble downstairs as it was pretty late and Sacha wasn't feeling up to more. Again, no room at the craps table, and I wasn't feeling it anyway, so Kim and I played some Elvis slots. They were so good to me last time- this time, a bust. I go with the familiar (and what's winning for me) and take a seat at the Lamp bar for some more JoB VP and a drink. What's this? Oh, Sacha and I are breaking up a group of prostitutes at the bar! We sat down right between them, and got a kick out of listening to the women trying to snag customers- especially the conventioneers. It was quite fascinating, really. The girl to my left had many attempts, but no takers. The girls on Sahca's side snared one guy, and they left to meet him outside. Eventually the other girl gave up and moved on. Meanwhile, I won $80 more at the Vp machine. These VP machines at the lamp bar were my bread and butter this trip! Whenever I lost, I'd find myself there recouping my losses and winning on top of that. I hope they have the same magic when I go in March! Sacha went to bed and Kim and I went to grab a late late dinner at Zanzibars. We split a Cobb salad and couldn't come close to finishing it. That was a much better deal than the breakfast we had there....Back up to the room and in bed at about 3:30 am.

Tuesday: Last day (sad face). We sleep in today- rolling out of bed at 10:30. We got a continental breakfast room service, and packed. Checkout was effortless, no line, but oops! Check out was at 11:00 am, not noon! They were fine with it, and we jumped in the car with our luggage and headed out for our last day in Vegas. We decided to drive out to Red Rocks, as Kim hadn't seen the desert since she was a kid living in California, and Sacha grew up on a military base in Germany, so she'd never seen it. We ended up getting lost in Summerlin- Damn! Those mountains are so close, and look, I can see red rocks, but we just...can't....get....there......Jeez- we were like a bunch of men refusing to stop and ask for directions. Finally we did, and were in the park in a matter of minutes. It pays to ask!!! We drove in just far enough to see some burros, take some pictures, and collect some cool rocks (which we probably weren't suppose to take, but at least we weren't contributing to the litter we saw everywhere!). Driving back out, I realize exactly where we are, and head north. Sure enough, we were right by the Cheesecake Factory I went to last July with family who lives there, and the Suncoast casino. We go to the CF for lunch, and of course, can't nearly finish the meal- the portions there are ridiculously large! We then head back into town to catch the last hour of the Big Elvis show at the Barbary.

Loved it! I was a little weirded out at first, trying to figure out if people were really liking him or came to check out a freak show, but this guy wins everybody over, regardless of their preconceived notions. He puts on a great show, plays to the audience, and I loved it- especially when he sang Suspicious Minds- loved that one!! Can't wait to go back in March....After the show we sat down for more blackjack. I think I was getting ready to wrap up my trip with my friends as they were starting to drive me a little nuts: every...single...hand.....was..."Heather, what do I do on this? do I hit?" For god sakes people, basic strategy is a simple concept! I just started saying "Come, on, you know this! What do you think you should do?" It started being not-so-fun- especially when on the rare occasion I wasn't asked and they would stand on 15 against a dealers 10 showing, then I'd need a card and the card that was meant for them would either bust me, or cause the dealer to win. I lost many a hand because of this!

We played until it was time to hit the airport. Turning in the car was easy- no problems with the scratches, and we hopped on the shuttle to the airport. We said goodbye to Kim who was headed back to Baltimore, and caught our plane back to Manchester. The plane was nearly empty, so we got rows to ourselves to lie down and sleep the flight away. I slept a full four hours on that flight, and another hour from Cleveland to NH. Welcome back to sub-zero temperatures. I meant to go from the airport to work, but that didn't happen. I got home and crashed for another six hours. Vegas takes so much out of me, I need a recovery day. This trip, I came back with $50 in cash less than what I came with. I never went to an ATM or charged my credit card for meals, etc. (Rooms & car were paid in advance) that means that I gambled, drank and ate for five days on fifty bucks. Guess this means I came out ahead in gambling!!

Thanks for sticking with this painfully long trip report. This is why I didn't submit one for my ten day trip last July- I got a third of the way through it and just lost steam! Guess I need to take a journalism class to learn to condense facts.........

-Fitzgerald's is totally acceptable and I consider myself to be somewhat picky about hotel rooms.
-I'm really bummed about Binion's.
-Craps has been letting me down and I'm not going to play it so much.
-The mudslides at the LV Club were not what I expected (they were worse)
-The dealers at the Luxor except in the Poker room were ridiculously unfriendly.
-If you're interested in trying Texas Hold 'Em, try the $1-$2 game at the Luxor, 2 pm daily.
-The Orleans spa is a really good deal.
-Renting a car is key, but having to be the driver all the time really sucks. Get another driver listed on the rental agreement and share the burden!
-Tell your friends to read up on the games they've never played. Relying on me to tell them when to hit or stand made me feel responsible when they lost, even though I was going by the rules of basic strategy. It's too much responsibility for me and how can it be any fun for them to not make their own decisions?
-I had to do much coaching on VP I could barely play my game in front of me! See above.
-The Starlight lounge is a great place to watch a football game.
-My husband has been and always will be my favorite travel partner. We'll have a blast in March!
-The New England Patriots ROCK and I hope they take their game to Houston!!! GO PATS!!!!!!