I didn't keep good enough notes for a day-by-day trip report, but it would have been pretty boring overall anyway (gamble, gamble, gamble, gamble, shop, gamble, gamble, gamble, eat, gamble, gamble, gamble, show, gamble, gamble, gamble)...plus I yammer on so much it would be an epic (though this may not be much shorter) so here are the categorized highlights. And we only played slots, so there are no tales of great runs on the tables.
We first flew to the US to visit my family in Illinois for 3 nights, 1 night at a hotel near ORD, then spent one night in LA to visit with a friend we hadn't seen for several years...we flew into ORD on Virgin (very nice, new plane, plenty of pairs of seats), then to LAX on AA (we complain about Virgin being cramped on the international leg, but relatively speaking, they-re very roomy compared to the internal leg). After a night in LA we drove to Vegas. Personally, unless we were going to be spending time in LA for a specific reason as we were this trip, I would not fly into LA and drive to Vegas myself even after a night's rest...the drive is not that difficult once you get out of the greater LA area where I found it a bit stressful, but I would rather feel a bit uncomfortable on Virgin direct to Vegas than have to do the drive...but driving really tires me out. I know others like this option. All our inbound flights were on time which was a nice change. No issues with the Virgin IFE that I noticed though these are the newer planes...of course no killing of drinks service a few hours in as this was a flight to Chicago and not Vegas.
Rental car was picked up in LA. When I checked with dollar.com which I normally use as I do not need the insurance waivers, the price was coming out over $500 with a one-way charge. As recommended by several people on the Vegas thread at moneysavingexpert.com, I checked out carhire3000.com. In the end I got a rental with Alamo, no one-way fee for £217 saving nearly $200. Thanks to all those on the board who recommended them. With the exception of having to wait in the queue for about 30 minutes (which I am not used to normally using Dollar Express) it was fine. Picked out the only non-PT Cruiser in my section (an electric blue Sebring which was at least easy to find in parking lots!) I did find out that I DID have to pay for a tank of fuel up front - something I've never had to do before and didn't understand was apparently the norm in these sorts of rentals (so my apologies to anyone I may have given inaccurate advice)...but the per gallon charge they made was not dramatically more than I could purchase fuel for in LA. It was about $0.20/gallon more than gas cost in Vegas, but over a 17 gallon tank, I'm not going to argue. I thought I would actually like not having to return the car full as it would take away that last morning hassle of filling up the car. Instead, we kept trying to put in just enough to get us through but once the low gas light came on, I couldn't leave it, no matter how little driving I thought we would be doing...in the end, we put $5 into it FOUR times. :) Next time I will try not to be so cheap. My printed receipt did not show a one-way fee so assume I will not have the same experience Froggit had but will keep an eye on my cc anyway.
Places we slept...
Not Vegas but since it was part of a Vegas trip I'll mention it - my first Priceline experience came with our hotel in LA. We had stayed at a motel in Santa Monica before which was fine (even though it was the type of place that rents for the month as well as by the night) and was quoted $110 for our night - much less than anywhere else in the area, so we booked it. Then my brother-in-law mentioned they had used Priceline for LA with success and I did my research and tried it...I knew there were 3 3* hotels in our area that were likely to crop up on Priceline and none were horrid based on the reviews I read, so I went for it. So stressful waiting for the answer for those few seconds and then frantically looking to see which one we got (my 2nd choice). In the end for $85 we got a FAR FAR nicer place than the one in Santa Monica...was about a 10 minute easy drive from LAX...and it happened to be very close to our friend's place...and had on-site laundry...free WiFi...and a nearby In-n-Out Burger...and a Starbucks across the street. SO...while I would never use Priceline for Vegas, I am now a convert for other places - if proper research is done first, of course.
We arrived in Vegas and left the car at valet. There was no platinum check-in line at Bally's and so I very politely (snivelling and grovelling and -can you help me please even though we do not belong in this room, miss--) asked in the Diamond check-in and they explained that we were welcome to check-in there - nice as there was quite a queue at the desk out front. Very quick (so quick I didn't have a chance to even think about the $20 trick) and when I asked which tower we were in, she confirmed north (we booked the cheaper south - comped 5 nights, total of $140 for the other 3). Excellent! Not as high a floor as normal and not a -diamond- room - but basically the same without a coffee maker and lacking a few extra toiletries we never use anyway. Room 1019, looking out toward the north strip and overlooking Flamingo...a bit concerned about the note in the room regarding the works on Flamingo taking place overnight and potential noise, especially when we saw the massive equipment on the street - but never heard a peep. Would have taken some photos of the view but we've had the same but higher before and the windows were filthy on the outside. Room was as we've become accustomed to there - we like it.
We also had a night at Encore thanks to the generosity of Steve Wynn (free room and $100 slot credit, dude, seriously-)...we could have had 2 nights, but it would have meant the night we arrived and our 2nd night and I couldn't be bothered to check into 2 hotels the first night...so one night it was. Room 2828, south strip view. Fantastic. Simply fantastic. Better than Wynn with the separate lounge area, rotating HD telly, etc. Otherwise very similar to Wynn in most ways including the controls for the drapes and lights which I get way too much pleasure out of playing with. The beds are ridiculously comfortable and I love that they-re just that little bit too high so you sort of have to jump up onto them (apparently I want to be 6 years old again). I coveted the pillows (again). Bathroom is great, very similar to Wynn. Oh - they had doorbells...I don't remember having a doorbell at Wynn. And if you put the do not disturb on the doorbell WOULD NOT RING. It's the little things for me. Took several pictures but I'm sure they-re the same as those you can see on tripadvisor.com and elsewhere but if anyone wants to see, let me know. We would stay here again without question, though while it was so fabulous, for us it's not worth paying a lot for the room except for a rare treat - we just don't value the room that much. But for cheap or free- No question.
Shows we saw...
Danny Gans - through Goldstar so 30% discount plus fees - $141.40 for 2 balcony seats. In the end, I would have gladly donated $141.40 to anyone on the street if they would have gone for me. I hated this show so much. The guy has talent, without question, and does a few things really well, but most of it was lame, boring, tired, stale, etc. After 10 minutes I was worried. After 45 we established that both Jamie and I wanted to leave...but he decided that making me stay until the end and watching me try not to have a breakdown at my inability to get past him to get out would be worth more than just getting up and going (I even tried lying and telling him I had to pee so he had to let me out - instead he offered me his empty drink cup...evil). Most of the audience seemed to think it was a fantastic and funny show...so perhaps we are the odd ones out...or they were all really, really drunk.
Lance Burton - through the Mirage box office, discounted as mentioned at travelzoo.com - $115.82 for 2 second row seats. Thanks to my friend Matt for the steer on nearer seats rather than the mezzanine which was the other slightly less expensive option - it was great to be so close as he does a lot of sleight of hand stuff. We really enjoyed his show - I was surprised at how much he reminded me of Mac King in a lot of ways and then Jamie pointed out that they used to work together in their younger days. Looking into it, they grew up in the same general area which explains the accents, and a lot of their banter is quite similar. His show is of course a lot more grand than Mac King with a lot of bigger illusions which were really cool. Ultimately it was the sleight of hand stuff that we liked best though. And the juggler - the juggler was hilarious! And loved the ducks. Mostly we loved the fact that he wasn't Danny Gans.
Miscellaneous stuff we did...
Bought a coffee maker at WalMart - this is a must-do for us...they always have one for less than $10, and given that 2 fancy coffees from JavaCoast cost us $13 and it's so nice to have a whole pot of coffee in the room...totally worth it to us.
We wanted to check out a few new (or new to us) casinos while we were in town.
Palazzo - never actually set foot in there on our last trip. Nice enough place, loved the umbrellas.
Encore - as we were staying there we of course checked out the casino. We liked it. Jamie remarked that the chandeliers looked like crab legs...so now they look like crab legs to me too...but even with that, we liked the casino. Quite quiet which can be a nice change at times. Great drinks service too.
Silverton - I wanted to see the jellyfish tank as I love jellyfish...it wasn't quite as grand as I was expecting but was cool, as was the aquarium. Liked the casino.
M Resort - Really liked this place - quite open and airy relative to a lot of casinos. It's new so obviously all the machines are squeaky clean and some here that we didn't see elsewhere. They also had a complimentary self-service soft drink machine on the casino floor - hadn't seen that anywhere other than some of the Midwestern US riverboats. No freebies for joining their slot club which was a bit of a bummer.
Eastside Cannery - we like the original Cannery and liked this place too. Another new one so nothing has had a chance to get too worn so all was new and shiney. Thought that there were originally plans for a cinema here but none to be found.
Massage at Hawaiian Marketplace - I love this place, both for feet and back...as someone who cannot bear the thought of the nudity required for a proper massage, it's perfect. The guy I had this time was awesome. $50 for 55 minutes plus tip was totally worth it to me, but prices start at $10.
New Mirage Volcano - An improvement on the original, for sure...but somewhat like the Sirens of TI, once is probably enough...unlike the Bellagio fountains which we can watch over and over (though thinking about it, we didn't actually stop to watch a single show this trip).
Ran into Steve - One of my fellow posters at moneysavingexpert.com recognized me and came over to say hi one night...after a period of complete and utter confusion on my part we had a nice chat, though I was soooo tired I think I came off as a bit slow or something. Neverthless, it was really nice to meet him!
We also made a trip out to Valley of Fire. Having previously been to Red Rock Canyon we thought we would give this a try though were worried it would be quite similar. Totally different sort of place - VoF is much more stunning to look at...really incredible. Very glad that we made the trip, but would recommend that drinks are taken with you. They had a vending machine at the visitor's centre which we were told had been installed the week before (not sure if there had been anything there previously). We were told this when we were waiting for the guy to sort out the queue of us who had had our money stolen from the machine as had been happening all week. It was quite hot and it never occurred to us that the visitor's centre wouldn't have a little shop selling drinks so we were quite relieved when we got our purchased items, eventually.
We also made a trip downtown during the day once. We-re not big downtown fans generally - it can be a nice atmosphere at night, but I hate to pay $50 for a taxi round trip as we don't stay that long, refuse to take the Deuce and won't drive down there at night after our first and last time doing so...so we go during the day. We actually had a good run gambling downtown and enjoyed it. May have to make it something we do each trip.
And we had part of our last day committed to showing some Vegas virgins around...it was actually quite fun - I was worried about losing our last day to this but in the end it was OK.
Places we dined...
Having been in the US for 5 nights before we arrived in Vegas, we had started to acclimate to the time change and didn't get up as early as when we arrive straight from the UK...this totally screwed up our usual meal structure (early breakfast and dinner around 7 or 8pm). As a result, we didn't eat as many meals as normal - usually we were still full from dinner when we got up, then when we next thought about food it was too close to dinner to justify having a meal. One day we had a packet of crisps each all day until dinner. Another we had an In-n-Out burger for mid-afternoon lunch and a Nathan's hot dog for dinner before Lance Burton about 9pm. Not normal for us at all!
PF Changs at Planet Hollywood - This is our most recent first night's tradition having formerly been Rainforest Cafe. What we didn't realise when we called to make our booking was that it was 15th April (tax day in the US) and they were doing a 15% off deal that day. Couldn't understand why we couldn't get a reservation until 8pm but got it when we saw the flyers upon arrival. One thing we've learned is that once we know what time we want to eat, we call and book...any time we walk up we have a 45+ minute wait (which gives us 45+ minutes to lose money on the slots). We love this place, but always over-order. Jamie had lemon chicken and chicken fried rice, I ordered Singapore street noodles and cashew and almond chicken. As always, everything was great, but we had more than ½ of it left! Unfortunately we like different sorts of things and on our first night, we-re normally very -we-re on holiday! We will each have what we really want and forget the cost and waste!- and then afterwards we promise that next time we will be sensible. Hasn't happened yet unless we go a second time in the same trip.
Fire & Ice at Wynn - thanks to those who mentioned that they serve food in addition to all kinds of lovely looking sweet things. We both had the chilli cheese dog which was $8.99 and came with fries - it's a very nice hot dog, not your run-of-the-mill sort. Both enjoyed it though I forgot to warn Jamie that the -cheese- element would likely be cheese sauce so he was a bit alarmed when the food arrived. He was able to reduce the cheese content to reasonable (for him) levels and enjoyed it. I wanted to go back sometime for some sort of ice cream goodie but it never worked out - next time. The little outside seating area was really nice with the waterfalls and ducks, but after about 10 minutes we decided it was too cold even with the heaters (it was very windy) so retreated inside.
Red Rock Café - the only breakfast food we ate though it was nearly lunch time. Best chicken fried steak ever! It was ridiculously good and ridiculously huge...both Jamie and I ordered the same thing and left very full and happy.
Grand Lux at Palazzo - after Danny Gans (hooray! It's over!). I had been fixating on the Asian Nacho starter before and had said I was ordering them for my main, but as this was a day we hadn't eaten much, I was starving and worried that they would be too appetizer sized...so I ordered them as a starter and a barbeque sandwich as my main. Jamie had fish and chips. Of course I couldn't finish but ½ of my sandwich after the nachos (which were awesome, and possibly would have passed for a main though we did share them). I wouldn't order the bbq again - it was OK, but not stunning whereas everything else I have ever ordered there has been great. I understand the fish and chips were very good.
In-n-Out - yes we-d had In-n-Out in LA already, but still. I love this place so much and crave a cheeseburger animal style many times between trips so I was not adverse to a second trip. Jamie likes the burgers, but has declared the fries to be too -Polystyrene -y-. Funny as they are cut fresh in front of you!
Austin's Steakhouse at Texas Station - our 2nd visit...as good as we remembered. We prefer this to Sonoma Cellar at Sunset Station though the menus are identical - we like Austin's better. I had the petit filet, Jamie had the ribeye (the only steak we-d ever ordered there before) and we had the truffle macaroni and cheese, spinach and twice-baked potato to share. Delicious...we will definitely be back. Only had soft drinks (though weren't charged for them for some reason) and the bill after the $25 restaurant.com voucher was $90 something including tip. Totally worth it - our kind of -upscale- place - upscaleish food, without overtly upscale atmosphere. It's a nice place, but people wear jeans. Love it. Best part was immediately after dinner we found a new slot called Krakatoa that Jamie had been wanting to find - he proceeded to win $0.40 less than the bill for Austin's, so technically the meal was almost free.
Silverton buffet - using a LVA 2-for-1 voucher we tried this for lunch. Excellent value for $10 for the pair of us! Though we went in saying that it was lunch and inexpensive and we didn't need to eat like it was a buffet, we did eat a tad more than we should have. Would go back without reservation and thank our friend Elaine for the recommendation as it's not likely something we would have tried without it.
Ali Baba - I love Lebanese food and so when this cropped up on restaurant.com I really wanted to check it out. The food was OK - my chicken shawarma was a bit dry, but Jamie's lamb kebob was very nice. The worst part was realising that we weren't hungry enough (Silverton buffet for lunch) to have any starters or deserts...so our food order totalled $37 - $2 more than the minimum spend for the restaurant.com voucher...we didn't want to seem to be taking advantage especially because the place was almost empty...it was kind of sad really, I worried that they may not stay in business and they didn't need cheapskates like us (even unintentional ones). I would not necessarily recommend this place though it is good value with the restaurant.com certificate - there are just so many better places in the greater Vegas area.
Toby Keith's I Love This Bar - every time we've been there, I swear that next time I'm having the fried bologna sandwich...this time I made good on that promise. When they say thick cut bologna, they weren't kidding! It was like ½ an inch thick! It was good, I am glad that I had it, but now I can move onto try other things. The atmosphere here at lunch is a lot different than dinner (we prefer dinner after 9pm when they have a live band) but we enjoyed it for lunch anyway.
Ellis Island Barbeque - this was dinner the day of the crisps, we were preparing for it. Wandered over about 6:30 and not too many people on the list. We were told 35 minutes, but by the time we went to the bar to get our free drinks (LVA coupon, gold lager, very nice) they were calling our number - fastest seating at EIBBQ ever for us. Fabulous as normal (though I wonder if the corn is ever not overcooked, but I do not go there for the corn)...I had the combo (1/2 rack, ½ chicken - I was only going to get a ½ rack but for $1 more a ½ chicken seemed like a good option) and Jamie had the full rack...the 2-for-1 coupon really makes this a ridiculously good value...it's one of those every trip things for us now. And stopped back at the bar after our meal for another round of free drinks (still within the hour) and opted for root beer this time - so good.
Haagen Dazs - now this was a serious error in judgement...I had really wanted ice cream for several days but never satisfied the urge, and as we were coming back from EI we were walking through the lower-level shops at Bally's and I decided that this would be the time to use the 2-for-1 LVA coupon at Haagen Dazs...after all those ribs, I really did not need more food, but there's always room for ice cream, right- Perhaps, but lord was I full afterwards - Jamie barely finished 1/3 of his shake. Mint Chip Dazzler may very well be god's most perfect food-type thing.
Le Burger Brasserie at Paris - our first time here, tempted by another LVA 2-for-1 coupon. Both our burgers were delicious. They do not come with fries (and for $11+ that seems a bit sneaky) but we ordered onion rings ($4.99, various types of fries are $2.99) which were nice enough. I doubt we would return unless we had another voucher, but with one it was reasonably good value (I think it was $26 for the 2 of us with 2 drinks) and good food we thought. We paid with TR credits so it only cost us the tip.
Pyramid Café at Luxor - How come they have de-Egyptianized the rest of the place but left the Pyramid Café as it was- Weird. This was lunch before our flight, so neither wanted much. I had 4 chicken tenders (mild, buffalo sauce) and ate 2...Jamie had the fish and chips and ate the fish and a few chips. We were somewhat disappointed by the extent of the menu - we-d only eaten here at dinner before and had remembered more choices being available, but perhaps the lunch menu is more limited. It served it's purpose though and ensured we were not starving when we got to the airport.
And the gambling...
First win over $1199 this trip! We-d said we must be due, but because we mostly play low denomination slots it may never happen...but it did. First night, I'd opted to go back to the room before Jamie...I was pottering around sorting out a few things when Jamie came back to the room. I asked my traditional -are you a millionaire-- and he gave his normal 'no, I'm not- answer...followed by -but I need my passport and my ITIN card because I have a W2G win at Paris-. He seemed so calm, I was sure he was kidding...but he wasn't! $1267.25 on a nickel Get Nuts! Mostly due to 5 wilds on a win line... we went back to the machine later and checked - I can't remember exactly what it is for 2 or 3 wilds, ( 10 credits for 2 and either 60 or 100 for 3 - Jamie ) but for 4 it's 600 credits ($30.00)...and for 5 it's a staggering 25,000 ($1,250)...now maybe it's just me and I've never paid close enough attention, but that's a BIG jump! So exciting, so very exciting. Nice in some ways that it happened the first night as it meant that we would at least not be losing our entire budget on the trip!
Otherwise, we had a lot of fun. We had a few days which were somewhat dire - at least 2 days we both lost all of our daily budget and several we only finished with ¼ of it (we shoot for ½ but it was not happening this trip). Since we had his win in the bank as it were, we always knew we would have a decent enough trip overall.
We had a few decent wins - also the first night (after PF Chang's) Jamie won $300+ on a Sun and Moon slot, second biggest single win of the trip. We both had a few $100-$150 wins but mostly they filled joint deficits that had been created earlier in the day - we-re pretty good about evening things out if one has a nice win. Other than the first night we didn't really have anything stunning in comparison to previous trips.
We did play Hot Shot slots quite a bit even though I know they are my biggest weakness - we cannot play this machine for less than max bet as you cannot win the progressives unless you play max ($2)...it's somewhat trying to be playing max bet and hear everyone around you playing at $0.20 or $0.40/spin hitting the bonus all the time...but it happens because they can't win the progressive amounts so it's really just a normal spin. I absolutely think people should play what they are comfortable playing and would never suggest otherwise, but it does get a bit frustrating hearing all the other machines hitting the bonus round when yours doesn't and you-re the only one who can win the big amounts. I won my fair share of the lowest progressive ($20-$25) and each of us had a $120 win on the bonus round so that was fun...but these slots are dangerous for me - more than any other, they call for me to put another $20 in - just to try to get the bonus (in which I may not win anything and then I want to put in more to try to get it again)...I try to play them only when I'm up, but I cannot always resist them!
Before our return flight we did have some luck on Life of Luxury at both Luxor and Excalibur. He got the bonus which retriggered so he had 20 spins - he won the opal progressive ($8-$15) at least 5 times and the ruby ($35) once and in the end with other wins had well over $100. I won the opal twice and ruby once in the same feature - and had a shot at emerald ($100 or so - Jamie swears it was $300+ but I think I would have been more stressed picking if it had been!) but didn't pick the right jewel but still ended up with $90. We both said that we should remember we normally do well down this end and get down there earlier in the trip.
Having done the math, we spent about 60% of the budget (including gambling, food, etc.) so brought back 40%...not too bad and in fact, better than our last 2 or 3 trips...the remainder goes into the pot for next trip hopefully September or October.
Did our usual - check-in online 24-hours before, then leave the hotel about 10:30 the morning of our flight with our bags and headed to the airport to get rid of the bags. Normally this works perfectly and we-re in and out within 15 minutes (the time at which you have to start paying for parking)...but we found this time that they were no longer opening check-in before 11 so had to wait 10 minutes or so with 2 couples in front of us. We had a pair of seats at the back from the time we booked and still had them at the time we checked in online so that was a surprise having been moved from a pair last trip. We had been told once before that once you-ve checked in online it's almost impossible for them to change your seats unless there's an aircraft change, so it was nice to go into the last evening knowing we had our preferred seats. Personally, with my pre-flight anxiety (not fear of flying, but of something going wrong which causes any sort of issue with the flight) I would not do anything other than online check-in the day before - it's such a nice thing to know we-re sorted. The girl at check-in did say that the flight had been oversold a lot recently and many who arrived at the airport 2 hours before without checking in online were not being seated together. All the more reason to check-in as soon as we can, I think. We did ask about the extra legroom seats but they were not pairs at the back as we-d seen before, they were rows 50 and 51...as we prefer a pair over anything else, we kept what we had. Went back to the strip for a last few hours of relative relaxation having done the hard part and had a good run - I broke even and Jamie was significantly up by the time we said goodbye to Vegas. Initially thought we were onto a winner as the plane was almost fully boarded shortly before our departure time, but apparently waited for a couple of guys running late. In the end, we left almost an hour late so lost any benefit of the 9-hour flight time and landed pretty much bang on schedule.
Flight was uneventful...I was certain the guy in front of me would be reclining all the way very early in the flight, but he never did (thank you random stranger!). I think I got more sleep on this flight than any flight I have ever taken before, and found that mild to moderate turbulence affects me like rocking a baby...each time I woke up I hoped for more to send me back off to sleep. Again IFE worked fine, and I didn't hear them announce that alcohol service was being cut off (though that's usually on the way out). Bags took ages (so much for having Flying Club Silver tags on them) but eventually made it to the taxi area and were homeward bound.
A few final thoughts...
Vegas wasn't the ghost town we were expecting though I can see some signs that visitors are down. It was easier to get into restaurants most days, some promos that have always been around have been withdrawn or limited, etc...it will be interesting to see what the coming months brings.
We did see some kids, but not too many...probably because we were there during school time and not over any holidays.
Pedestrians are insane for crossing against the signal...traffic comes from too many directions to really know for sure if it's clear to go (other than in the wee small hours of the morning)...saw so many people get honked at and then flipping off the drivers...nice...you cross against the signal and the driver is at fault for honking at you-
Pedestrians are rude for not allowing cars out of places like Bally's strip exit where there's no signal...total nightmare. If you wait for the pedestrians to give you a break, you will be there all night - and I really do not think that is an exaggeration...so you just have to start slowly nudging out as you can, and then you get yelled at or get people thumping your car as they walk by you now half out into traffic and half not. We almost never take this route, but with the construction on Flamingo, we can't pull a U turn to head back west at the moment, so it was the only option from valet. From self park we came out via Paris where there is a light - much less stressful.
The best thing about Vegas for us is the fact that you can do pretty much anything at anytime...you-re not tied to opening hours and can just move around at your leisure. As a result, we have a tendency to plan as little as possible and really enjoy days where we just wander wherever we feel like going with no need to rush back at a particular time for a particular purpose. Cannot wait until the next trip!