Sometimes we have a reason to visit Las Vegas, an anniversary or birthday, an event, or possibly a concert or show. Not this time. This was just our normal October trip. It was a welcome chance to rest, to relax by the pool, to take a break from our normal routines and responsibilities, and most importantly to spend some time together. Even though we didn't make a lot of plans in advance, Las Vegas certainly has a way of filling your time. And yes, we really did see Donny, Marie, and Justin in the same trip.

Saturday 9/29
We took a 10:30am flight, which is a little later than normal. The only reason I mention the flight is because my wife thought this flight was noisier than usual. I'm sure most have noticed that the flight to Las Vegas has a tendency to be a lot louder than the one coming home. And I'm sure this is true no matter which airport you use.

Most of the time we prefer to spend our week-ends off-strip, so we arrived at Gold Coast around 12:30pm. Although we visit Gold Coast almost every trip we hadn't actually stayed here in a couple of years and I was looking forward to it. We were given room 574, further down the hall as I prefer. The room had a view of the apartments behind the hotel along with Downtown and the north part of the Strip. The bathroom window had a Strip view.

We really like the renovated Deluxe Rooms at Gold Coast, and I strongly recommend paying the extra $10 per night for this upgrade. My wife likes the décor, especially the style of the armoire. She also likes the bathroom, the color of the tiles, and the height of the vanity and sink. I like that the bathroom window is lower than the one at Orleans, and I love the desk/table that can be used from either side so it is comfortable for two to use at the same time.

The only important item missing from the room is a safe. So the 1st thing we did was go downstairs and open a safety deposit box. Use of the box is free but there is a $100 key deposit, which must be paid in cash.
BTW: We put some money in the box, and then didn't return until we checked out, so the inconvenience was not an issue.

We spent the afternoon in the casino, where not much has changed since our last visit in May. Although I did see something I never thought I'd see at Gold Coast; while checking the pay-tables on the machines I actually found a couple of machines with 7/5 JOB. Who would possibly play these machines in a casino that still has 9/6 available? We played some WOZ +$35 (for some reason the GC WOZ machines like me) some 9/6 JOB -$30, and some nickel DW, where I hit 4 deuces, +$45.

Dinner was at the Cortez Room, one of our perennial favorites. My wife usually orders the Prime Rib. As usual it was a very nice experience, and one of many good values found off-strip. A tip; they have fresh horseradish for your Prime Rib, but only bring it on request. If not you will get the creamed horseradish sauce. 2 Iced Teas $5, Queen Prime Rib $15, Ribeye Steak $22, Coffee $2.50, Bailey's and Coffee $7.50, total $56.21.

After dinner we played in the free-roll VP tournament, without any success. Neither one of us had any big hands. I ended up with 1145 points, which is about half of what was needed to cash. But it was all 5 or 10 credits at a time, it's just that I can play an awful lot of hands in 15 minutes.

It was a quiet 1st day and night in Vegas, just the way we like it.

Sunday 9/30

Breakfast was at TGIF, and it was exactly what you expect, fine but not fancy. TGIF offers free wifi, and the signal is much stronger than at Java. 2 Coffees $5.18, Ham Steak and Eggs $7.29, Belgian Waffle $5.99, total $19.96.

I then took the shuttle to pick up our tickets for Wednesday night at Flamingo. As I left Flamingo I didn't really have a destination. I thought of walking down to Cosmo and putting a few points on my card there. But it occurred to me that even if we got a decent offer from Cosmo we probably wouldn't stay there. It was already close to 100 degrees and the air was just sitting there. And if I was just going to play VP anyway, I might as well just go back to Gold Coast and play the better machines. So my 1st visit to the Strip lasted all of 5 minutes.

We skipped lunch and wanted an early dinner at Ping Pang Pong, so we arrived at 5:18 pm. The reason I mention this is because PPP closes after Dim Sum lunch at 3 pm and re-opens for dinner at 5 pm. In the 18 minutes before we arrived the restaurant was ¾ full.

I used to think Ping Pang Pong was a very good restaurant, then a couple of years ago I tried the San Pan Tiger Prawns, and elevated PPP to elite status. OMG this is good! Let me make this clear, Ping Pang Pong is not 'good for the money' it is just plain good at any price. And I agree with the critics who class it as one of the 50 Essential Las Vegas Restaurants. Pot Stickers $5.95, Shanghai Noodles $7.95, San Pan Tiger Prawns $13.95, Jasmine Rice $0.50, Hot Tea included, total $30.65.

Justin Bieber. We've been to a number of events at the MGM Arena, so we know enough to use the back entrance and not go through the hotel. This is where they have the Red Carpets for the various Award shows. Today it was filled with the bus and truck caravan required by a modern Pop Star tour. And lots of girls with Moms taking pictures and hoping for a glimpse of someone famous. Hopefully this also helped many prepare for the scene inside.

Of course the concert was sold out, and I wasn't originally planning to include it in our trip. But I knew my wife wanted to see him, and that our granddaughters would be greatly impressed, especially if we brought them some souvenirs. So I had to buy tickets from Stub Hub, which I'd never used before. I started looking a month in advance, and took a week to make the purchase, as there were literally over 1300 seats for sale. My approach was fairly simple. I figured that if I was going to grossly overpay for tickets anyway, getting the right seats was more important than saving a few dollars. While we may still be young enough to go see Justin, we are too old to want to stand up in a crowd for 2 ½ hours. So floor seating was not a consideration. And I decided against paying more for lower stadium seating for the same reason. I ended up with perfect seats. Section 208 Row A. Right above one of the entrances so no one could walk or stand in front of us. I did get the seats I wanted, but not at the best price. I know this because the Mother/Daughter sitting next to my wife purchased their tickets from the same seller the day before for $40 less per ticket than I paid. So I am going to think of it as paying for the room you really want in Vegas instead of hoping for an upgrade.

For those interested in the concert itself, the opening act was Cody Simpson a teenager from Australia. He performed for almost 30 minutes, and I thought he was a very good dancer, which was a big part of his performance. Then a break of 15-20 minutes, followed by Carly Rae Jepson who performed for almost 30 minutes. I was not familiar with any of their music, but of course most of the audience was. Then a pause of another 20 minutes until Justin came on stage.

His show is quite a production, with elaborate special effects, staged exits and entrances, and as befitting Las Vegas some flying and action above the stage. And his fans loved it! One thing I did think was funny. During the upbeat numbers there was much clapping, cheering and dancing in the audience. But when he sang one of his few quieter numbers the kids didn't know how to react. But this may have been the 1st concert many of them had experienced.

The audience seemed to be divided about 40% young girls of 5-8 years and 60% tweens, mostly with Moms but there were a few Dads. BTW: If you have been wondering where all those 20-something girls standing in the club lines in Vegas come from, just go to a Justin Bieber concert for a preview. Most of the tweens were dressed to impress.

I won't go as far as to say I enjoyed the concert, but my wife liked it and we had fun, and that's all that matters. Life is full of experiences and memories, and this is another one we can share.

It took a long time to exit the Arena, with 14,000 people, mostly kids, leaving at the same time, and it was partly my fault. Instead of going back the way we came, I decided to walk through MGM. After all, what kind of parent would march their kids through a casino? That shows what I know about parents in Las Vegas, lol. So thousands of us marched en masse through MGM to the Strip. It had to take at least 15 minutes, and I can imagine what this moving throng looked like to those gambling in the casino. And for those of you who complain about too many kids on the Strip, you should have seen it Sunday night between 10:30 and 11pm.

Once we finally escaped the throng we decided to walk to Aria for dessert. Berry and Chocolate crepes from Jean Phillipe; we can't think of a better way to end an evening in Las Vegas.

Monday 10/1

Slept in until 9am, so we just grabbed coffee and Danish for breakfast. Today was moving day and we arrived at Orleans around noon. We received one of my favorite renovated rooms, #2098. If you are a light sleeper, the lack of people walking by your room at the end of the hall more than makes up for the longer walk from the elevator.

Not much has changed in the Orleans casino. They still have the one 9/5 JOB machine, but they also still have Spin Poker with a 9/5 pay-table, so we spent some time on them.

It was too hot to use the pool this afternoon, but my plan was to go to the pool later that night. Unfortunately today is October 1st, so the pool now closes at 7pm instead of 9pm, which means no pool tonight. So we hung around the casino playing $5 Pai Gow Poker. And my wife decided she wanted to learn how to play Deuces Wild, so we spent some time on those machines.

Dinner was at Big Al's Oyster Bar. As often happens, we weren't hungry enough for both Clam Chowder and dinner entrees, so we chose Chowder. 2 Garden Salads $9.98, 2 bowls Boston Clam Chowder $13.98, 2 Iced Teas $4.98, less 10% Funbook coupon -$2.89, total $28.16.

After dinner we found the one screen in the Sportsbook showing the A's-Rangers game (4 screens showing different baseball games and 85 showing Monday night football). So we got to watch the A's clinch their playoff spot!

Tuesday 10/2

I LOVE Tuesdays at Orleans! I walk through casino or lay out by the pool with a smile on my face most of the day. On Tuesday Orleans plays my favorite oldies music throughout the property, and yes I have been known to sing along.

We slept in late and went down to the Courtyard Café for breakfast around 10am. They have consistently good food at reasonable prices, and always great service. Ham Steak & Eggs, an omelet, and coffees came to $20.67, which my wife graciously picked up using her points.

After breakfast my wife headed to the spa for her massage appointment. This was my afternoon for poker, but I couldn't get into a game right away and didn't feel like waiting. So I frittered away my afternoon playing some Pai Gow Poker and VP.

Playing Pai Gow Poker in Las Vegas isn't that much fun for me without my wife. I don't bet enough money for it to matter, and I miss the shared experience. So it's really more a matter of killing time than gambling.

Around 4pm I found my wife at the DW machines, which turned out to be her preferred game for the rest of the trip. Then she had to go upstairs and send some emails for work until it was time to head to McMullans.

The last few years we've been spending our Tuesday nights in Las Vegas at McMullan's Irish Pub, for their Trivia Night. The last couple of years we've invited other members of TA to join us, for kind of a combination M&G and fun night out away from the casinos. This trip the results were fantastic.

There were 10 of us, and while I won't list all the names I did want to make special mention of LastminuteLasVegas, who came directly from the airport, toting baggage. I'm sure he didn't get checked into Mirage until at least 11pm that night. If I had a special merit badge to give out he would have earned it.

I've always felt that a group from TA, with people of different ages and backgrounds, would make a pretty good trivia team. And this group proved my theory. We didn't win, but we did score 60 points and ended up in 11th place (the winner had 73 points). By far this was the best showing for any of our groups. So whether they realize it our not, all involved should be proud of our effort. A couple of notable comments on the questions themselves: We got a HUGE break when the music round was about songs from the 70's. We scored the maximum 13 points on the BEER round. So obviously TA members are well versed in some of the important things in life.

Most importantly of course, was that we got to meet some new people with common interests, and had a great time. I want to thank all who took part, and look forward to seeing some of you again in the future.

Wednesday 10/3

We slept in late again so I picked up pastry and coffee for breakfast. My wife had to finish her work so there was no pool again this morning.

One thing I wanted to accomplish this trip was to take a tour of the Aria Sky Suites. I called the concierge and made an appointment for 2:30pm. The cab driver said he couldn't use the Sky Suite entrance, so we had to walk through the hotel. The separate lobby was very nice as was the staff. I had the chance to see both the Aria Suite and the Penthouse Suite.

I was not really impressed with the Penthouse Suite. A little too much white marble tile for my taste, and the way the suite was laid out made it seem a little too large and sprawling. Of course, in my mind I'm probably comparing it to the Skylofts, which may not be fair, as I've never checked the pricing for the Aria Sky Suites.

I did however like the Aria Suite. Smaller than the Penthouse, but I liked the floor-plan and it seemed more livable. I could see us staying in one of these under the right conditions. To me these suites are like those at Wynn, where I prefer the smaller Parlor Suite to the larger Salon Suite.

After the tour we walked over to Mandarin Oriental for one of the highlights of our trip, Afternoon Tea with Blagger. We've stayed at Mandarin Oriental, but for some reason did not partake of their tea service that trip, so we jumped at the chance when he suggested it.

Tea is served on the 23rd floor in a very quiet and comfortable setting, with small couches and living room style chairs. The only thing my wife didn't like about the setting was that she could actually see guests at the registration desk. But overall it is a very nice venue.

We are not very adventurous when it comes to teas, and we wanted something soothing, so we chose Earl Grey. Blagger ordered scones a la carte, but my wife and I both wanted to try the Classic English Tea Service. This consisted of the standard 3-tiered tray with finger sandwiches, scones, and tea pastries. Everything was top quality and well presented. The one thing that disappointed my wife was that, although I thought the Devonshire cream for the scones was very good, they did not include her favorite lemon curd. The assorted dessert pastries were very good, but my wife, who sometimes forgets that you are allowed and even expected to over-indulge on vacation, chose not to partake and Blagger and I were not quite up to finishing the treats. Overall it was a wonderful experience, a nice break from Las Vegas activities, and an excellent way to spend time with a friend.

We then went to Flamingo to see Donny & Marie. My wife has fond memories of Donny & Marie, because they were the first concert that she took her daughters to see when they were just girls. I had never seen them.

The Flamingo showroom has old-fashioned seating with booths and tables, which seat 6. We ended up sharing our table with 2 couples from Wisconsin who were our age. Of course looking around the showroom, almost EVERYONE was our age. One of the women was a real fan, and couldn't help but sing along with a few of the songs under her breath. No problem, I've been known to do the same thing.

Marie is very talented with a wide vocal range, which didn't surprise me. Donny is more energetic. His songs are more production numbers. And he very much plays to the crowd, entering the audience, walking on tables and interacting with his fans. Together they put on a show that very much pleases their audience, although I'm not sure if those under 35 would think so.

After the show my wife felt like a hotdog. So we walked over to Bally's and went to Nathan's. Sometimes a hotdog is all you need. BTW: To my wife a hotdog is over-indulging, as this is a pleasure she doesn't allow herself at home. But if it were me, I would have had some of the dessert pastries at MO and made up with it for a salad or bowl of soup after the show.

Thursday 10/4

We went down to the buffet at 9:30 for breakfast, but the line was too long so we went to the Courtyard Café instead. I'm sorry, but no Vegas buffet is worth waiting in line for, especially the economy ones like Orleans. I ordered the Lox and Bagel platter, even though I knew they would charge me 75 cents for the extra cream cheese I want, which is one of my biggest Vegas pet peeves. Breakfast was $26, which I paid for with points. My wife and I are such high rollers that by the end of the trip, using the 7x points I earn on Tuesday and the 40% discount you get for paying with points at the Café, I usually amass enough points to pay for breakfast on our last day.

We were leaving this afternoon, but there was no need to rush as I booked the room for another day. I went upstairs while my wife decided to stay and play some deuces wild. 15 minutes later I get a call from my excited wife. 'I just got 4 Deuces, and I'm playing quarters---but there's no one here to see it I'm going to leave it here until you come down.' This is a big deal for someone who normally plays nickels. So I told her she might want to take a picture (I learned that on TA) and that I would be right down.

After I verified for my wife that this really did happen, I suggested that she play it down to $280 and cash out, guaranteeing that she would not have a losing trip. And then she could put $5 in and go back to playing nickels. Is there anything better than hitting a jackpot the last afternoon of your trip?

No problem with the flight home, and it was a lot quieter than the 1st flight.

Thoughts, Opinions and Conclusions

I can't remember ever taking a trip in May or October where we didn't use the pool before. We might lose a pool day or two due to wind or rain, but still find some time to relax poolside. It was just plain to hot for our comfort, and very rare for this time of year.

WIFI: Is it just me, or does it seem the public wifi spots are providing weaker service and slower download speeds? We don't bring actually bring computers, so I use a Kindle Fire and my wife uses an I-pod Touch, which may not be best for internet access. But it did seem slower this trip.

Sleeping: I am a very light sleeper. But the last couple of years I've been sleeping amazingly well in Las Vegas, better than at home. Of course I choose my room with great care, with quiet being the most important attribute. And the fact that we are spending more nights off-strip may have something to do with it. What this means is that I actually come home from Las Vegas feeling rested. What a great feeling.

We spent the entire trip off-strip. Originally I had booked MGM for the weeknights. But my wife hinted that she doesn't like MGM very much, and really likes the pool at Orleans. So I made the change. She was right.

Gold Coast and Orleans: They're not for everybody, but they work very well for us. The dining value is incredible. There is no Strip property that provides options to compete with Ping Pang Pong, The Cortez Room, Big Al's Oyster Bar, and Prime Rib Loft. Not to mention the economy dining choices. The Strip has fancier restaurants. Some that do provide excellent dining experiences, but they also come with fancier prices.

Even though we stayed off-strip I didn't rent a car this trip. At Gold Coast and Orleans it isn't needed, unless you want to do a lot of running around. We used the shuttle some and took a few cabs. But cab fare to almost anywhere on the Strip is no more than $15, usually less. And even if we had a car we would have taken a cab to the arena Sunday night. It's a lot easier to have a cab drop you at the rear entrance than it is to deal with parking and having to walk.

Meeting with others: The main focus of our Vegas trips is to rest, get away from the real world for a short time, and enjoy time together. We never travel in groups, and have only brought a person or couple with us a few times for special occasions. But we do enjoy meeting others and making new friends. Whether it be meeting an individual or couple for a quiet drink, or a group experience like McMullan's for Trivia. Hopefully these meetings will remain a part of our future Vegas trips.

Gambling: It's never a very large part of the trip cost for us, although we did spend more time in the casino due to the weather than we planned. But remember which casinos we are spending time in, those where the gambling is much better. And with the exception of a few slots for my wife, we stick to gambling at the games which have higher returns.

My wife came out a little ahead, thanks to her 4 deuces the last afternoon. I left home with $1400 and came home with a little over $1100. This included cab fare, tips, gambling, and some JB souvenirs for our granddaughters.

When people ask me 'How did you do'? of course they mean gambling. I tell them honestly that we don't gamble very much, but that doesn't mean we don't spend as much as people who do. We just spend it differently.
Some trips we spend it on the hotel, some trips fine dining is a large part of the cost, and others like this trip entertainment is a major expense. One way or another we do contribute to the Las Vegas economy.

This was only our 2nd visit this year. Unusual for us, but there were a couple of cancellations. We don't go to Las Vegas in the winter, unless we have a truly compelling reason. The master plan for next year has us going twice in the spring, early April for our Anniversary and the end of May for the AARP mini-convention.

In the meantime, I will try and keep up with what's happening in Las Vegas, and maybe help a few others plan their trips.

Thanks for reading.