Well, this is my first trip report, although I have read many of them over the years and love to read them! Thanks, everyone!

Well, my friend JJ and I (I'm 47 and she just turned 50 - the reason for the trip)decided last year we would take the trip to celebrate her 50th. She is from Missouri and I'm from Houston and she met me in Vegas on the afternoon of Sunday June 3rd.

Through a friend of a friend of a friend, she was able to get us 4 comped nights at the Stratosphere. Well, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I was disappointed when she told me which hotel/casino it was because I have never heard anything good about the Strat and didn't want to stay there - free or not. But I didn't want to be a spoil-sport, so I went along with it. A couple of weeks before we left, she also managed to get 2 free nights at Harrah's since she is a frequent gambler at Harrah's in St. Louis. I was a little more enthusiastic about that. We decided we would check into the Stratosphere and spend the first night there, and if we didn't like it, we would spend the next 2 nights at Harrah's and then return to stay at the Strat on our final night.

I have to say, I have been to Vegas many times and stayed at many different hotels on the Strip - Caesar's, Bally's, Treasure Island, The Mirage, just to name a few, so I wasn't expecting much from the Stratosphere. While our room wasn't anything special at all, it was clean and nothing to complain about. But what really surprised me was the casino. It was great! It was never crowded, very clean, and I never had a problem finding a seat to play anything. While I'm pretty much a 25 cent video poker player, my friend is more of a penny slot person. We actually rarely played together. My favorite spot was a quarter video poker machine at the bar. The bartenders were fabulous and gave me plenty of attention and kept my Jack and Cokes coming all night that first night. I slipped a $20 in the machine around 10:00 p.m. and by the time I quit around 2:00 a.m. I cashed my ticket out at $332. Woo Hoo!!! That is the best I have ever done. Due to the amount of Jack & Cokes I had, I couldn't tell you now how many 4OAK's I got, but I had several! (To back up a bit, we had earlier taken a cab to the Venetian to have JJ's birthday dinner at Emeril's restaurant. We both had steaks that were so good and so big, neither of us could finish our meals. The side dishes of creamed spinach and sauteed mushrooms were the best I have ever had.) Two thumbs up for Emeril!

The next morning I woke up very early after only a couple of hours of sleep. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I quickly showered, dressed and did my makeup and went back down to the bar. JJ wasn't feeling very well so she stayed in bed. One of the same bartenders from the night before was still at the bar and recognized me. I asked for a Bloody Mary and he made me a good spicy one! I started playing at the same machine from the night before. Before I knew it, I had been sitting there several hours and had consumed quite a few really delicious Bloody Mary's. No JJ to be found. I called her on her cell and she was still sleeping! I asked her if she was going to come down for breakfast or was I going to have to make a breakfast out of all of these olives the bartender had been giving me! She assured me she would be down shortly. In the meantime the bartender was having fun with me and bringing me huge skewers of olives for my "breakfast". I tell you, I wish I could remember the names of the bartenders there. They were all so nice to me and I really enjoyed their company.

By the time JJ came down, we were both starving, so we ventured over to the Stratosphere's 50's themed diner called Roxy's. It was about 1:30 and I wanted breakfast, not lunch, but that was not a problem. The food was very good and we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. All of the waiters took turns singing songs (with a microphone) from the 50's and each and every one of them had great singing voices! Another of the waiters from time to time would ride a tricycle around the restaurant. It was quite amusing and we decided we definitely wanted to eat there again before we left Vegas.

We gambled the rest of the day at the Strat. I held my own at the VP most of the day while JJ played her penny slots. Occasionally I ventured over to the Wheel of Fortune machines to try my luck. I'm not much of a slot player, but to me, WOF is just fun, even though I didn't have any big wins there.

That night we decided to check into Harrah's. At 8:00 p.m., believe it or not, they said our room wasn't ready! So we stowed our bags and went to eat at The Range Steakhouse which is in Harrah's. The atmosphere was lovely and we had a great table by the window and a really nice waiter. Since neither one of us was terribly hungry, we decided to just order appetizers. We both had the King Crab legs, a side salad, and we split a side of sauteed mushrooms. I also had two deliciously cold glasses of Fetzer Chardonnay (my fave). After the meal, we went once again to check into the room and it still wasn't ready! They couldn't give us any explanation as to what the problem was, but they ended up upgrading us to a suite on the 32nd floor of the Carnaval Tower. It was truly lovely and we were acting like 2 little kids jumping up and down on the beds and giggling like idiots. (Needless to say, neither of us has ever stayed in a suite)...we are low rollers....! But from now on, I'll do whatever I can to get one!

We went to bed and both of us slept GREAT! The next morning we headed down to Flavors, Harrah's buffet. We had a 2-for-1 coupon that a friend of mine had given me from her previous stay. The breakfast was decent but nothing remarkable in my opinion. I have seen much, much better selections on a breakfast buffet elsewhere and I would not choose to eat there again for breakfast. My friend had told me to use the coupon for their dinner buffet which she said was awesome. Perhaps we should have! Well, live and learn.

We decided to spend the day at Harrah's. My friend continued her penny slot addiction while I looked for some decent VP, which I couldn't find. I ventured over to the $1 Wheel of Fortune and within less than 5 minutes I had the chance to spin the wheel 3 times. First time won $20, then $30, then $125! I was thrilled. Took the money (well, paper ticket) and ran! I didn't feel like gambling any more so I walked down to Sephora which is next to the Venetian and spent some money on makeup. I looove Sephora. I could truly go crazy in there.

OK - next, we went across the street to the Mirage and I sat at my favorite place - the Sports Bar and played more VP. Met some crazy people and had some fun, but lost, lost, lost. Not surprised, but I did enjoy it. I love the comraderie of playing VP at a bar. My favorite thing!

That night, we had planned to eat at a Tapas restaurant that I had found on the Internet weeks before that was highly recommended. It's on Paradise Road and it is called Firefly. A short taxi ride from the Strip. It was fantastic! We sat out on the patio which at first we thought would be lovely, but the wind was so strong, that it got to be a joke with everyone on the patio because we were all trying to hold our food down to keep it from literally flying off the tables! I highly recommend this restaurant - if you do not know what tapas are, they are small plates of different types of appetizers (sort of). It's a great place to go and order a number of plates and share with your friends. They also had killer Sangria. They make it 3 days ahead of time and by the time you drink it, it's perfect.....ahhhh. This was a Tuesday evening around 7:00 and this place was packed. If you ever go, call and make a reservation. The place is very popular with the locals, and I can see why. If this sounds interesting to you, get on the internet and type in Firefly, tapas, or something similar and you can see their menu. It's large and diverse. There were so many things to order, we couldn't decide. We ended up getting a large bowl of the most delicious french fries I have ever had, cooked with Rosemary and kind of stringy. Then I had a spicy Thai beef salad and we split an order of "Sliders". There was two to an order and they were delicious little hamburgers made of top notch beef. I must go back again next time and try all new things. We were not disappointed in the least! We also had fun talking to the group at the next table as we laughed at all the flying food and napkins!

So anyway we went back to Harrah's and I was so full, I decided to call it a night (you know you're getting old when you are 47 and in Vegas and decide to go to bed at 9 pm.....geez!) So JJ went back down to play slots and said she would be back in about an hour. I decided to just get in bed and go to sleep. Well, the wind was blowing so hard outside that I couldn't sleep or even come close to it. We were on the 32nd floor - I don't know if being up so high had anything to do with it or what - but my heart was pounding so hard as I laid there because it sounded so scary. I kept thinking the window was going to explode and blow glass in any minute. It was seriously baaaad. When JJ came back I told her the situation and told her I was moving to sleep on the couch in the other room. She didn't seem to realize how bad it was until she turned the light off and got in bed...about 5 minutes later she called to me and said, "This wind is absolutely unbelievable!"....I said, "I told YOU!!!"....I fell right asleep after that but she said she stayed awake for about 3 hours, just as scared as I had been....when we checked out of Harrah's we told them they might want to check that window to make sure it was sealed properly....they didn't seem that interested in reporting it.

So...Wednesday we moved back to the Stratosphere and gambled there until around 6 when we decided to take a taxi to downtown. Neither one of us had ever been downtown and I really was going to make a point of seeing it this time. I loved it! It seemed so much like old Vegas....so different from the giant casino properties on the Strip. Next time I come to Vegas I want to stay downtown somewhere and mostly gamble there and probably also at the Stratosphere. The Fremont Street experience was so cool....I had heard about it but it was just so much better than I thought it would be. We went to the Golden Gate and tried the famous 99 cent shrimp cocktail....boy was that good! Then we went to Main Street Station on someone's recommendation and had the buffet. Maybe the best buffet I have had in a long time! Something for everyone and the atmosphere was charming. After we ate, we gambled a little at MSS and then went back to the Strat to retire for the night, as I had to get up early for my 9:20 am flight back to Houston.

All in all, it was one of my better trips to Vegas. I didn't lose as much money as I usually do, and had some fantastic meals. Can't wait to go back and check out more of the downtown scene!