Once again it was time to return to our desert home, and boy were we ready. It had been almost a year since our last visit, and due to some stressful situations at home, we were more than ready to get out of town and relax. As usual, 'we' is myself and my wife Ada. This trip ended up being a series of discoveries and re-discoveries for us.

We left NYC Saturday on a 2:30 flight. Somehow the pilot trimmed almost 40 minutes off the flight time, putting us into Vegas before 5PM their time. A short wait for the luggage, and then a quick cab ride to the Stratosphere. We had heard about all the renovations done to the hotel, and they even made a point to mention it when we made our reservations. We were struck by it when we entered the front door. The lobby area has been redone with a modern look and marble floors. The casino host/VIP area was now an enclosed office, which was also sharp. We were using three nights of a four night offer there, and in no time were in our 7th floor renovated room. No more multi-colored Motel 6 bedspreads; now everything is a sharp white with maroon trimming. Otherwise, the rest of the room was the same. Not fancy, but comfortable.

We had gotten sandwiches to eat on the plane, so we weren't all that hungry. We didn't want a big meal, which meant the Italian restaurant or the buffet was out, so we looked around the place. The old Lucky's coffee shop was never reopened, and from the way the wall was sealed, it doesn't look like it ever will. Because of that, Roxie's, the 50's diner, is now open 24 hours, so we stopped in. We just had a couple of appetizers and chili, which was all fine. I did notice how they had really reduced the size of the menu. They still have enough choices I supposed, but the old menu seemed endless.

I finally hit the casino and discovered the new version of the Press Your Luck video slots, a penny game. It was a fun game, with a free-spin bonus and a bonus round that recreates the big board from the TV show. I did good for my first try, clearing a $100 profit. I also met the new Deal or No Deal $1 game. No reels; you spin a wheel that either adds to a jack pot or puts you into the 'pick a brief case' game. I love the show, but this was kind of boring to play this way. The rest of the night was just assorted penny games, and a run at the $5 blackjack table that netted another $100 before going to bed.

Sunday was our excursion to South Point to visit a friend who works there as a floor person. That's when we were hit with a cold snap, by Vegas standards. We never rent cars there, so we're at the bus stop, wearing shorts in 60 degree windy weather. By evening when we were returning to the Strat, it seemed to be in the 50's and very, very windy. We had wanted to surprise our friend, but he kind of surprised us. He was now on the grave yard shift, so we didn't see him. We played a few hours anyway and had a comped dinner in the café before leaving. We are fans of Vegas coffee shops and the one at the South Point is right up there. Between my steak and Ada's ribs, appetizers and dessert, we were plenty stuffed.

Returning to the warm confines of the Stratosphere, I wanted to play some old favorites and started with a Flame of Olympus game. The first spin had 3 wild cards, which double the payouts, and gave me a $150 win on that one spin. I played a little longer, cashing out at $130. While on that game, I was able to see one of my favorite waitress, Teresa. We talked a bit, and she told me the renovations were all nice, but business was still really down there. I've known Teresa for several years at the Strat, so I hope things do pick up. I wished her well and went about the casino. I ended the night playing video poker, which I don't do often. The C-Bar was not too crowded, so I gave it a shot. A good place for a few beers, plus I did win about $80 in the process.

Due to the cool weather, we didn't try going to the pool on Monday. Instead, I took Ada to Bellagio to meet up with her sister and her friend, who would be there until Friday. While they got together, I went across the street to the Flamingo to see my friend Rhonda from the Open Vegas boards. I always have fun meeting Rhonda, and we spent a nice couple of hours. We chatted about Vegas, families, life in general, all the while playing video poker and having a couple of drinks. She is such a nice person, and is always a high point of my trips. I do appreciate the fact that she goes out of her way to come down to the Strip to visit with me.

Afterwards, I met up with the girls at Ceasars and we all returned to Bellagio for dinner. Once again it was a coffee shop, but the Café Bellagio is a step up. The fettucini alfredo was excellent, and something I know I won't see at home any time soon. After dinner, I beat up a Price is Right machine to the tune of $300 before returning to the Strat. The rest of the night was a little rough. I spent about an hour on the $1-2 No Limit Hold Em poker, but never really got anything going there and left the table down about $40. A lot of losing here and there until I stopped at the $25 double-deck blackjack table. This was going to be a quick stop before going upstairs, but the table went well. Two hours later, I finally pulled myself away, earning $300.

Tuesday was moving day to the Bellagio. When checking out at the Strat, the host went over our bill. We only had a buffet charge and a breakfast bill from Roxies. They comped the buffet, but not the $35 diner tab. No big deal; I know we didn't spend all that much time there since we were out of the building every day. We cabbed it to Bellagio and was able to check in immediately. We were on a 2 night comp offer, and would be paying $135 for the last two nights each. Our 17th floor room was very nice, and had a view of Ceasars and the Rio. We unpacked and met up with Ada's sister in the casino. As usual, I went off on my own to play. I had $50 in free play as part of our offer, and turned that into $45 real money on a Catch A Wave game. I was bouncing around, not having any other luck to speak of. For some reason, I was at the bar by the poker room and decided to try $1 video poker while having a couple of Heineken drafts. I was beginning to regret this decision when I was down $80, but then it all turned around by hitting four 5's for $250. I did give some back, but left that machine up $150.

Our entertainment for the evening was to be the Sin City comedy/burlesque show at Planet Hollywood. We went early for our tickets, then explored the casino a bit. I never found any game that gave much playing time. I wanted to play poker, but they only had no-limit games going and I wasn't in the mood for that. Eventually it was time to eat and we all agreed to try PF Changs. None of us had been there before, but we were all impressed and enjoyed the meal. I got a kick out of seeing Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on tap there too, and of course I had to try it for old times sake.

The ticket clerk had convinced us to go for the VIP tickets, which gave us free drinks before the show and second row seating. The show featured three stand up comedians. They were all OK: none really all that special though. Between each comic, an attractive dancer performed for a song or two. Now from the ads in the tourist magazines, it gave the impression there might be several dancers, but no, just the one. She was good, but it just seemed like the ads were misleading.

Following the show, I brought the girls back to Bellagio and went off on my own to explore. I had always wanted to see Ellis Island, and since it was a short walk and a nice night, I checked it out. The place has a simple charm to it, right down to the concrete floor in the casino. I thought it was just great, and played a little $5 blackjack. The dealer was extra nice and friendly and we were having a great time. Unfortunately, the only other player at the table had an issue when there was a misdeal. He wanted to back out of the hand, but the pit boss said it had to be played as dealt (he had been playing two spots and the dealer accidently did not deal the second hand). Of course we both lost that hand, and he was rather upset by it all and left. I stayed a bit longer, but was falling behind, so I left too. Still, I had a great time there. Too bad I was still full from dinner and could not check out the steak special there. Back to the Bellagio for some assorted penny games, then off to our room.

We had been impressed with the Bellagio pool area last year and wanted to return to it, but it was still too cool and windy on Wednesday. No swimming, and we only managed to spend about 30 minutes in the sun before the wind got to us. After cleaning up, I bounced around the casino, but it was becoming a steady losing streak. Just to shake things up , I even played Casino War. My luck was similar to Chevy Chase's in the Vegas Vacation movie. I finally got together with the girls, and they wanted to check out the Cosmopolitan next door. We didn't see much beyond the lobby and casino, but it all looked nice. I think I liked it better than Aria, which we saw last year. I played some assorted games and 25 cent video poker, but still no luck. I joined the girls at a $15 blackjack game for a while, and did manage a $60 profit there. Talking to the floor person, when they heard we had comped rooms at Bellagio, they offered to match room comps for us next year if we were interested. It's an interesting idea. My only problem would be the lack of a poker room, but who knows. It might be worth trying someday.

Our dinner was the Bellagio buffet on a comp. I still think it's one of the top buffets I've had. Knowing I won't have them back home, it was great eating crab legs, duck and lamb roast (Ada doesn't like any of those). I excused myself after dinner for another exploration run. I dropped back into Ellis Island for a little while, but had no luck at all. Since I was out and knew it wasn't that much farther down the block, I checked out the Tuscany. This casino I really liked. Small, but plenty of games and a lot of machines I like. I even came across a Star Trek and original Twilight Zone games, neither of which you see very often any more for some reason. I had a great time at their $10 double deck blackjack also, spending well over an hour playing there. Finished up the evening again roaming around Bellagio, playing whatever game jumped out at me. Still not too much winning, but the loses were manageable so far.

On Thursday, it was finally warm enough that we could spend over an hour at the pool. I still didn't go swimming, but it was nice to relax in the sun without so much wind. Following the pool, we spent some time playing at Bellagio, but still there was not too much winning going on for any of us. Everyone wanted to see another comedy club show, so we picked up tickets for the Improv at Harrah's. They were not available at the discount ticket seller, so I just got them from the Bally's box office. We had not been inside of Harrah's in several years, so we went a little early to check it all out. I still have the same impression that it is a big, rambling place. Dinner time was approaching, so we tried the Asian restaurant there (I forgot the name of the place). We all agreed that the food was fine, but PF Changs was much better, and the service was even a little better at Changs.

We still had a couple of hours before the show, so we split up. I spent a little time in the Carnival Court, watching all the action on the outdoor dance floor. When I went back into the casino, I put a $20 into a Flame of Olympus machine just to kill some time and have a beer. Once again, about 5 spins in, I had a couple of wild card combinations that paid $120 on the single spin. I stayed just a little longer before cashing out, and ended up in all places at the karaoke bar. I don't sing myself any more, but I must have spent 45 minutes there listening to those that do, and a couple were quite good. They really had the place rocking and it was a fun time.

The Improv show was much better than the Sin City show we had seen. These three comedians were all top notch. I'm terrible with names, but I do recall the headliner was David White who was just great. We were right next to the stage, and he did go after our group a couple of times, all in good fun and never mean. We were all very happy with this show, and even got free t-shirts out of it.

I brought the girls back to Bellagio, and then took another walk to Tuscany. No winning there this night, but I still had a good time.

On Friday, Ada's sister and friend left to go home, so it was now just the two of us. The weather had improved to the point that we spent over two hours by the pool. We had decided to run over to the Rio, since we had not been there for several years either. The place is big, but for some reason I remembered it as being even bigger. I guess that's just my mind playing tricks on me. I tried a few different machines and some quarter video poker, but nothing really clicked. We had a big breakfast at the Bellagio that morning, so we weren't looking for a big dinner. We decided on the deli by the Rio sports book, and was very happy with that move. Ada's cheeseburger and my BBQ pork sandwich were both perfect. We took our time eating, while watching a little of a Yankees-Mets game that was on.

We cabbed it back to Bellagio, and I finally decided to play their $4-8 limit poker. I had avoided it all week because I usually play for slightly lowere stakes, and I remembered how crowded the table area was. Since last year, they moved the limit games to a back area of the room, and that was a lot better and a lot less cramped moving around the tables. I bought in for $200, and I guess the luck was with me that night. At first not much was happening, and I was down about $80. All of a sudden, I went on a major run. I didn't win every hand, but I had a run for over an hour that brought me up to about $500. Some at the table were even making friendly comments on how well I was doing. I think I had them going because I tend to play on the slightly tight side, not raising additionally when I probably should have. I did mix my game up enough though that for the most part, they didn't figure me out too much. I think I hung around almost for hours before finally leaving up over $400. One more quick run to the Tuscany for a $100 black jack win, then finally off to bed at about 3:00AM.

Saturday was check out day. Earlier in the week, a floorperson told Ada she would have a comp on her account to cover one of our coffee shop charges, so we went to the host office to check out. All we were looking for was that meal comp, so imagine how surprised we were when the host they were comping everything; a couple of meal charges and our additional two nights. I know we played more this trip at the Bellagio than last year, but I never expected to get all the room charges comped, even including the resort fees. We were very happy and satisfied with our treatment at the Bellagio.

After breakfast at the coffee/snack bar, we had some time before going home, so I just played some machines. Absolutely no luck this day. I did get to play the Ultimate X video poker on a five cent game. I had heard about this on the Atlantic City forums, and it was and interesting game. Basically, you play three poker hands, and if any of them win, then that line will have a multiplier on it for the next hand. I didn't really have any luck with the game, but it was fun to play for about a half hour. Finally it was time to head to the airport. As usual, it was a little busy there for a Saturday, but the security line moved well. Our last Vegas meal was Burger King at the airport, which I guess is a little bit of a let down after the last several days. A good flight home, except for the fog in NYC. We had to circle a couple of times, but still got in on time at a little after midnight.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip. We been going to Vegas for so many years, that we are well past the point of feeling we need to see and do everything. We had a good time, at our own pace. We discovered some new places to us that we enjoyed, and we checked out some we had not been to in years. We were impressed wiith the changes at the Stratosphere, but they do need to reopen that coffee shop (I don't think it will happend). In any event, I guess the Bellagio may end up as our primarly home base, at least for now. My only regret this trip was not getting to the Sahara before it closed. I knew Monday was their last day, and had planned to go there then. I didn't know they were closing Monday morning, not evening, so we didn't make it. Still, the trip was great. We didn't win, but our loses were within our budget, and the food and room comps along the way helped. Thanks for sticking with this to the end; it ran longer than I thought it would. To eveyone going to Vegas in the near future, good luck and have a great time. The town still can't be beat for a vacation.