Apologies for a long report but for those that want some detail, here it is: My wife and I are frequent visitors to Las Vegas (3 or 4 times a year) but she doesn't like the summer trip where I like to drive the desert. My friend RZ came with me instead as he needed a break also and didn't mind the 111F+ heat.

AirCan was great from Toronto. We were on frequent flier points and got business class seats. In the summer, AirCan cancels one of their two daily flights, but upgrades the one remianing flight to a 767-300 with European seating. Full recliners on a flight to Vegas!

Rented a car at Hertz where I am top elite status (President's something....) With the bad economy, rates are getting up there as they are not replacing their stock anymore. Fewer cars = higher rates. And higher mileage. We got an excellent deal booked 8 weeks in advance that included the LDW (insurance)and all the extra taxes for a Mustang @ $320 for the week. I don't often take the LDW option except when doing a lot of highway driving. The first one they gave us had 27,000 miles but then they found one with 6,000 miles. I promised my wife we would not be out driving in the desert with anything less than a new car. It turned out to be great fun.

We got our 12 pack of water for the car (a must when desert driving!) and stopped by RZ's favourite cigar store on Paradise before headingon the highway mid day Saturday to Laughlin. I love this drive and look forward to it every year. The vistas are spectacular, and the final 15 mile drive through the mountain pass ending with the final steep approach to the Colorado river and Laughlin relaxes me more than I can describe. The air is clear (no smog at all) and the river and the red rocks of Arizona beyong the Laughlin hotels make it worth the trip. We checked in at the Aquarius and our host had upgraded me to one of their huge renovated suites (wet bar, dining room, etc) and she added $100 slot credit as a birthday present. The new rooms the Aquarius (formerly the Flamingo Hilton) are first class (except for no room safes) and the best deal in Nevada. I had a gorgeous view of the river and was told I was full RFB. My play would never warrant RFB in Las Vegas so we had fun, including a good (not great) dinner at their Outback steak house. The Aquarius has respectable pay video poker, lots of different denominations and types of games and tables and very friendly staff. I imagine this is what Las Vegas must have been like 30 years ago- personal service, very friendly staff- and not a resort built to attract 3,000 twenty-five year olds to a fancy club with $500 bottle service. We like Laughlin.

We played the next day at Harrahs Laughlin in part for a change and in part because they have a non-smoking separate casino. I played PaiGow poker there and Three card poker and some video poker. All with great views of the river and the Arizona red rock. We drove across to Bullhead City and explored the new stores and decided to take some pictures along the river. We then drove south 6 or 7 miles and crossed back to Nevada at the Avi Resort and casino- a local Indian casino. They had some full pay video poker and some older machines that still paid coins from a hopper! I hit quads on a dollar machine and had the old time fun of carrying six buckets of dollar tokens to the cage. I even took some movies to show my family what slot machines used to be like. Great payout tables and lots of fun. Their beach seemed to be busy and I think the Avi resort has improved their product since my last visit 3 or 4 years ago. We then played some more at Acquaries after a lunch at the new IN-N-OUT burger joint. Wish we had them in Canada.

The outside temperature hit 123F and we took a picture to show our friends. That was seriously hot.

Next day drove back to Las Vegas to stay one night (comped) at the M resort. The resort is spectacular and the rooms modern and first class. I had checked it out opening week on my last trip and now had a chance to spend a night. Lots of happy Henderson locals. Not many tourists. The staff seemed happy and enthusiastic. Loved the free soft drink stations at every change machine. We ate dinner at the M buffet and got window seats with views over the city. Food and service was excellent although we didn't eat that much. They have lowered some of the better pay Video poker machines since opening week so not sure how quickly I will return. I did manage to win about $800 there on video keno (7 out of 7) and we stopped at a Bank of America machine where I deposited some of the winnings in a US account my wife and I have. Love it when you can deposit rather than withdraw!

Turns out I had left my Canon digital camera in the trunk the previous day and the screen pixels melted. My fault. We shopped for a replacement and I bought one at Fry's on sale. Paid cash again so that I had something to show for the trip no matter what.

Next day we checked in to Encore where I had an offer for free room and $200 slot credit. They do a beautiful job at Encore and I had never stayed there before. We ate in the deli at Wynn and it was very good. I hit four aces and a kicker on a 3 row double/double bonus machine for a little over $1200 and a tax receipt. Played some Crazy-4-poker which I like and which they don't have at my local Rama casino in Ontario. Had an exciting moment when the first two cards that I squeezed were A-A, so I was able to triple my $20 bet with three cards to go. The game pays huge for quad aces and I didn't see any other aces on the table. The dealer flops my hand and I did get a third ace (not a fourth) so it paid about $200 in total which although nice was not the $4,000 (more or less) I might have won if I had quad aces. Fun.

I also had an offer for a free room at Ballys and $400 cash that week so we also checked in to Ballys (I feel very comfortable at the old Ballys for some reason...) where my host had kindly upgraded me to their Celebrity Suite. Very 1969 Elizabeth Taylor/ Dean Martin kind of suite, with a wet bar and fireplace, and old style sunken tub and mirrors. I didn't want to make it dirty and didn't touch the room. It was a great upgrade and a great suite and hope I get it next time when I need it. I did play at Ballys that evening. I like the live music and the lower limits and the staff who have been there a million years. Their Video poker payoffs are not great, except in the high limit raised ($1+ ) aread, and their video keno payoffs are terrible, but their table games are fun, except for the table across the rope from the poker pit. Poker players cannot smoke there, so they take a break across the velvet rope, lean on the tables next to the pit, and smoke like chimneys. I don't play poker in Vegas and it spoils the rest of the table games in my opinion when the poker players treat it as a smoking break area. I miss the bally's total rewards desk because now you have to go all the way over to paris to get a chit for the gift shop at Bally's. Harrahs should allow you to use your card directly in the gift shop.

We drove to Red Rock for a look around Summerlin and we played one evening at Red Rock and took some pictures from the roof of the West Garage. We like playing at Red Rock. A stylish local resort. I know the Station owners are in some financial trouble, but I hope they don't let the quality or maintenance go down much more.

Final two days were comped nights at Palazzo. Plus some slot credit and Phantom tickets. BTW we only each had small carry on cases, so moving around between hotels with our car was very easy and stress free. Rooms were always ready and we used valet parking to make it even easier.

I was put on the concierge floor which was nice. Not worth paying $100. per night extra but if free, it was great. Coffee, snacks, light breakfast in the 15,000 ft lounge on the 23rd floor. Best part was a self service business center room with 6 computers and a high quality colour and black and white printer. Tried to keep work to a minimum but this let me check things out and also print our boarding passes for the return flight. Pre-printing your boarding pass if you are carryon only is extra important for departures with AirCanada at Terminal 2 (the small international terminal) because you get to skip the check in line where they ALWAYS want to weigh your carry on bag.

We walked the strip one day and used Total Rewards points to (finally after all these years) see the car collection at Imperial Palace. RZ is more of a car guy than I am but it was still impressive. Many of the cars are for sale, and some of them are worth $1.2 million or more. Even better because I didn't have to pay the $18. entry fee. They usually have someone handing out 2-for-1 coupons in front of the hotel. Although the Imperial Palace is getting really run down and grungy, the people seem friendly and the "high limit" $1 video poker area actually has fantastic payoff tables.

We had a great lunch (shared a pastrami sandwich) in the deli at the Mirage. Too big even when shared! Phantom that night was excellent of course. They have done a good job cutting it down from 2 1/2 hours to exactly 90 minutes (no intermission) and we had major broadway star Anthony Crivello as the Phantom. The custom theatre is an experience in itself and all the talent on stage was best in the world. Their voices were first class but in my opinion their performances (acting) was kind of on auto-pilot. I guess that can happen after hundreds and thousands of performances. Great voices but only good performances. Thanks for Palazzo for the free tickets. Unlike some of the Cirque shows, you want to sit not too far away. I've seen it from the back of the house, and from 11th row. It is a 100x better experience to see phantom from no further back than 15 rows in my opinion, unlike Love where you can enjoy from anywhere in the theater.

Had an excellent breakfast in the Canyon Ranch Spa at the Palazzo. Healthy, small portions, excellent quality food and service. Worth the money. Had a dinner in Noodle Asia (Venetian) which was also first class, casual, and fast. We ordered too many dishes, but all fresh and worth the (higher than it should have been) price. Turned out my host comped our food during our stay so it was worth it.
Won $800 on the silly but fun Star Trek slot machine. Won $600 on Pai Gow poker. Lost $500 on Three card at Palazzo. Then later won $900 at Crazy-Four-Poker playing at a $25 table- which is normally too high for me at Crazy four poker because it really is then $100 per hand including all the bets. Hit a Royal flush on video poker quarters (which only comes up about once every 42,000 hands) and it paid $1000 which is just under the tax amount. With the Venetian getting louder and crazier and more targetted to club kids (not that there is anything wrong with that), the Palazzo's calmness and quiet seemed more comfortable to me this trip.

And my wife loves their Canyon Ranch Spa.
We will be back soon.

Very relaxing fun trip. Loved the HOT weather. Lost about $800 but coming back with a new camera paid for and two tax receipts worth a total of about $900 that I will get back (I file a US tax return every year to get back my withholdings) and no visa bills whatsoever for any rooms or food. Just the car. A very relaxing birthday week.