Trip Report Dec 18-25th, 2003
Stayed at: Bally's

This is pretty long & detailed, so be forewarned....

The players: Maureen & Jim, and Lex & Harry, our Christmas Vegas traveling pals. And Aunt Jeanne (who lives in Vegas for the Winter and Canada for the remainder of the year) Everyone's favourite Aunt and lots of fun to be with in Vegas.

Our trip out was smooth and easy. Valet-parked at Pearson Airport (Toronto) and skipped the ticketing lineup. Only lineup was for US Customs and it went quickly. Smooth flight to Vegas, right on time. Lex & Harry were waiting for us at McCarran and we picked up our luggage in short order, and were off to Bally's. North Tower renovated room, one King bed, good shower pressure. Our only complaint would prove to be our rowdy next-door neighbours over the weekend. We were even close to the elevator this time, bonus!

Quickly unpacked and freshened up. Time to hit the casino and try out our luck. Nothing exciting happening, tried various slots, the boys sat at 'their' bar and had a beer and played some poker & blackjack. Lex & Harry had a great coupon, two-for-one Paris dinner buffet if we went in before 5pm (came with check-in) bill came to $20 for four people and we were seated immediately. We were really impressed. Jumbo shrimp were peeled and chilled, easy to eat and very fresh. The Prime Rib was delicious and done to medium-rare (not everyone's favourite, but it suited us just fine). They had excellent steamed mussels, very garlicky and tender. Polished off a couple of plates of mussels! The Lyonnaise potatoes were made with carmelized onions and cream, and were terrific. Everyone enjoyed their meal and the service was quick and friendly. Nothing like Vegas for good Iced Tea. At home we get the pre-sweetened stuff that tastes
of chemicals. This was good homemade unsweetened tea. We drink gallons of the stuff down in Vegas.

Played a little more at Paris but the machines were TIGHT.

Friday - off to the Gold Coast for breakfast (we've been valet-ing the rental car because it is just so EASY to do)..Gold Coast breakfast coupon made it $10 for four of us - we can handle that - and it was good value for the money. Nice fresh scrambled eggs - bacon not too crispy but hey - for $2.50 per person....we weren't complaining. Had lots of fun playing at the Gold Coast as they had a good variety of machines, but again, no significant wins...Drove back to the Strip to pick up Aunt Jeanne and then out to see Green Valley Ranch. None of us had ever visited before. It was only about 15 minutes from the Strip, and was lovely from the outside. Interiors were nice too, lots of natural wood and rock. Again, tight machines everywhere, this is becoming a negative trend. Had fun trying the new Sat Night Live 'Church Lady' slots. Enjoyed GVR. There MUST be forgiving machines somewhere in Vegas, so we thought we might try Sahara. No luck here either. We were all hungry so decided to try the Sahara buffet. EXTREMELY boring and bland, everything tasted like school-cafeteria food.. Wouldn't return for this buffet for SURE, even at only $7 per person. Dropped into Albertsons for groceries/snacks/water for the rooms. Back to Bally's for a little bit of play. Harry had a bit of luck on the Penny Money Storm slot (it became a fave of all of us over the week) and turned $11 into $111. Woo hoo!

Saturday 6am, I headed downstairs for a Java Coast cappuccino to start my day off with a caffeine jolt. It did something for me; I turned $30 into $60 on penny Money Storm. You have to love the bonus rounds with the spinning farm animals and the 'It's Raining Men' song. Too funny. Met up with the gang and drove over to the Orleans for a $5 breakfast buffet. Excellent quality as usual but it was getting VERY crowded as large families started to arrive for the holidays. The Orleans seems to be a big family spot. We had great fun playing penny Hundred Play video poker. Took $50 out of one of these babies.

Back to Bally's for a break and then met up at 3.30 to play in the Aladdin No-Risk tournament (we knew we wanted to eat at the Spice Market Buffet and so always do the tournament first - it is a great deal with a $20 food voucher and $10 in free slot play for a $25 entry fee - plus it's fun!)...none of us had appreciably high scores but we did have a laugh - on to the buffet for dinner. The Spice Market is a favourite and we've always been impressed by their selection and quality. Again the king crab legs were split and meaty. Large peeled shrimp were delicious, and the peppered Atlantic salmon filets were amazing. Where to start?? Buttered new potatoes, shrimp in garlic cream sauce, tandoori chicken, fresh mozzarella salad with herbs, stuffed pork roast, glazed roasted sweet potatoes, chocolate mousse, dark-choc dipped strawberries. IT WAS EXCELLENT. Enjoyed every bite. Turned my $10 in slot play into $15 cash, so that was all right. We all tried the penny Beverly Hillbillies slots, they were pretty darn funny. Turned $5 into $25 here (thank you, Ellie Mae). Headed back to Bally's for one more coffee and a little more play. I turned $20 into $250 on Penny Money Storm - same great machine - Bonus round gave me 67 free spins!!!!...I took the money and ran upstairs before I could spend it elsewhere. Went to sleep happy.

Jim was awoken by our next door neighbours (college guys in for the weekend) yelling and carrying on. I slept through it with a pillow over my head. Jim headed to the front desk to ask why his balcony door did not open, and was told 'none of them open, sir, it's a safety precaution'...they were surprised when he told them that our neighbours not only had pried the sliding doors OPEN, they were happily drunkenly pouring beers on pedestrians? heads, 25 floors below. Front desk assured Jim they would send security straightaway. He went off to play. About 11.30 pm, I woke with a start, sure the wall was coming down between the rooms. Now these guys were more inebriated and jumping on the bed (that's what it sounded like)...I made a call to the front desk (wonder if they were ticked by the earlier call and that's why they were even louder?) I gave up on sleep and headed downstairs to play. No luck at Bally's but the Barbary Coast was kinder and nickel Scrabble paid me $75 on a $20 investment. To bed at 2am, thankfully the neighbours had PASSED out or GONE out for the night. Ahh, peace.....

Sunday morning we were planning on heading out to Laughlin. Jim had been there in the early 90's but the rest of us hadn't and we thought we'd enjoy the drive out through the desert. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining, and we had a great trip out. Loved the view coming into Laughlin, down the hill. We had made arrangements to stay at the Flamingo, for a whopping $15 per night. Good thing we didn't spend more than that, we were alarmed at the state of the rooms. Ours had a fist-hole punched right THROUGH the bathroom door, and red stains on the carpet that I PRAYED were red wine. Yuk. Mattress was all shabby and torn. Two skimpy pillows that were worn almost through. Yikes.

We decided we didn't like the feel of the Flamingo and would head down to the Nugget for dinner, since we've always liked the Nugget downtown. Harry & Lex took the $7 boat ride down the river and thoroughly enjoyed it. Jim and I walked through a couple of
casinos, just looking (not a single nickel out of any of them though). GRRRRR.

We had one of the best dining experiences EVER at the Golden Nugget Laughlin. Once we discovered they had no buffet we opted for their restaurant 'the Deck'. It didn't seem chilly to us Canadians to sit on the deck for dinner. Tiki torches and propane heaters made it warm and cozy. Two big stone firepits helped as well. The food was very good... (Pu-Pu platter, shrimp salsa, blackened grouper, chicken wings, shrimp pasta, divine brownie sundae) not over-the-top spectacular, but the ambience and the entertainment were the BEST.

Playing acoustic guitar (beautifully) in his Santa hat was Californian Michael Grofik. Michael had us going from the start, playing to our age group!! Jim Croce, Don McLean, Dylan, Cat Stevens, Willy Nelson, the Eagles, John Denver, Don Henley. He was EXCELLENT, with a raspy, wonderful voice. He was also a terrific guitar player. He
did some Christmas songs too, and we all sang along and had a wonderful time. The guys kept ordering scotches after dinner was done so we could stay for 'just one more set'. We bought Michael's cd and plan to keep in touch and follow his career. His talent should take him a long way and his friendliness and humour won't hurt his chances, either. Michael appears at the Nugget Saturday & Sunday night I believe. I'm sure the hotel could confirm. What a perfect night.

After exhausting out appetites (and the entertainer I am sure) we headed inside to play a little. Jim got brave and played Blackjack for a while but I didn't hear of any huge wins. I won $50 on a nickel Ripleys and it was fun to play, especially the trivia bonus rounds. We took some pictures in front of the SPECTACULARLY lit-up Ramada, but unfortunately they didn't turn out. (a combo of night time and many scotches?)

Monday morning we headed back to the Ramada for breakfast and weren't too impressed. We headed out and decided to cross the river into Arizona. Found our way to Oatman Arizona and were SO glad we did. Oatman is a charming little town with wild burros wandering around. Burro food (carrots!) is available for purchase and we had fun feeding the burros then trying to escape them! They can be as persistent as timeshare people (though infinitely more charming). Oatman's named after Olive Oatman, a pioneer whose family was slain. Look up the story, it's an interesting one.

After Oatman we drove onward, stopping to take some pics by the Route 66 sign. The desert landscape is so beautiful and different, we stopped to wander a bit and look for interesting rocks.

Back to the bright lights of Vegas, to the Orleans for dinner. Didn't realize till we arrived that it was Seafood Buffet night so the lineup was loooong. Jim opted out of dinner. The buffet was ok, I wouldn't recommend the seafood night. Nothing even mildly interesting or appetizing in the way of seafood IMHO.

The Orleans Poker room was FULL up and it looked like people were having a very good time. Might have to try table poker next trip. The Orleans didn't look too intimidating. While waiting for the car at valet, Jim notices a MABOK (Mercedes?) sitting out front being closely watched by Valet & Security. It's apparently one of the priciest cars on the planet, and he and Harry walked around it peeking in interestedly.

Tuesday: Lex & Harry were going shopping at the outlet mall, so Jim & I walked over to the Venetian just to look around. Couldn't find Aunt Jeanne, so we ended up playing a little in Casino Royale, O'shea's, Barbary Harrah's, Flamingo, IP. I met a lovely older gentleman playing in C Royale, he was there with his wife for her 80th birthday, and he chatted and told me some great 'old Vegas' stories. I love meeting people who love Las Vegas. They've been visiting since 1967. Gotta love it.

After freshening up we decided we were starving. I have ALWAYS wanted to have dinner on the patio at Mon Ami Gabi (Paris) and tonight was going to be the night. We were seated outside with a great view of the fountains (again, we Canadians didn't find it cool in the least, and they had the heaters going as well). I ordered scallops gratinee and Jim ordered the French Onion Soup. He enjoyed it. I thought the scallops were spectacular and cooked just right. We both ordered the filet mignon w mashed potatoes. We were both SO impressed (and Jim is a very discerning steak eater). The filets were prepared JUST as ordered and you didn't really even need a knife; they were that tender. Everything was hot and service was quick. I wish I'd had room for dessert but it will have to wait till next time. Sitting out there, listening to the fountain music, toasting each other and our trip. It was very romantic and VERY reasonable. I would go back to try out something else from the menu, though that filet would be hard to top. Loved it!! Full & happy, we headed inside to play a little. I had a nickel Cops & Donuts machine warmed up, it was paying me like crazy.. (from $20 to $140 within fifteen minutes).... Security had to come over THREE times to tell a family to please LEAVE (the mother had the toddler sitting in her lap at the slots, pushing all the buttons)...... ahhh people who ignore the rules in Vegas....

Wednesday - got a comp slip (love those kiosks) for the Paris buffet, which also acts as a line pass. This was GREAT bypassing the very long line and getting seated immediately. This was my first experience of the Paris breakfast, and I loved it., The smoked salmon was fresh, the mixed berries were UNREAL, with freshly whipped cream and toasted pecans, OH MY GOODNESS. Eggs Benny, herbed potatoes and crispy bacon were all DELICIOUS. Even the coffee was delicious and hot. Full carafe for each table. Excellent.

We picked Jeanne up at the Venetian and dropped her gear off at the condo. Drive out to
Boulder Station. We were taken aback by the number of people cashing their paycheques there. No wins, so off we go to Sunset Station (Lex & I were dropped off at the mall, where we didn't have a lot f luck, I bought one lovely sweater but that was IT). Met the gang at Sunset and decided on their buffet for dinner. It was quite good with a really fresh salad bar. Back to Bally's planned to nap and then play later. Ended up sleeping from 10 pm till 6am without waking up! Me! In Vegas! With a day to go!!

Thurs 6am: Merry Christmas! No, it can't be our last day! Downstairs at 6 (thanks to baseball caps, there are no Bad Hair Days in Vegas) to play a little and have a nice big coffee from the Java Coast. No big wins, but I did end up $20 ahead after playing a good two hours so that was fun. Time to check out and head for the airport.

Final thoughts: Enjoyed Bally's but am very unimpressed with their comp system and how TIGHT they have gotten. I would definitely consider the Orleans next trip (though I will miss the convenience of Bally's) or may even consider the Barbary, since we love playing there anyway. All the machines seemed tight; amazing the number of penny machines there are now and how MUCH you can spend playing them. Loved the food at Paris and am looking forward to another breakfast there. Aladdin's buffet was GORGEOUS and I hope P.Hollywood leaves it alone. Definitely too crowded anytime after the 22nd or 23rd of December (right till New Year's I imagine). Thanks for reading!