Las Vegas Trip Report – June 22-29 2013 – Flamingo


TRANSPORTATION

We (parents, brother, friends) live about 45 minutes away from Cleveland but have found airfare is much cheaper out of the Detroit Airport (DTW) and this year was no different. At the end of January, we were able to get round trip airfare – Saturday morning departure from Detroit and Saturday night return flight – for under $300 from Spirit Airlines.

That’s the good news. The bad news is to compensate for the low fares, Spirit finds ways to nickel and dime you the rest of the way. They limit your luggage to 40 pounds (every other airline I’ve flown keeps the limit at 50) and even charge you for a small, carry-on roller bag. While on board, there are no complimentary snacks or drinks. This can be a bit of a nuisance for a four-hour flight. Items were available for purchase albeit on a non-cash basis.

Due to the heat, there was some slight turbulence over Arizona and Nevada and a couple quick drops that would remind you of a thrill ride, but all in all, the flight was pretty good.

Every other year, I treat our travel party to a limousine ride to and from the airport. It’s just fun to descend the airport escalators and see the guy or gal in the tuxedo holding the sign with my name on it. I book it through vegas.com and the company is Presidential Limousine. Our driver’s name was Adele and she was really nice. She gave us some food coupons and a tour of the strip before pulling into the Flamingo.

There is major construction at the former Barbary Coast/Bill’s Gambling Hall site. A shuttle which used to depart from there for the Rio and Gold Coast now departs every half hour from both Harrah’s and Bally’s. It is a free shuttle and runs until 1 am and obviously a much more cost effective option than a taxi. We used the Deuce to get downtown. For $8 you can get a 24-hour pass. Make sure you board with exact change. Beware of cranky drivers and no standing in the stairwell while the bus is in motion!

ACCOMODATIONS

We booked three rooms for the week at Flamingo through my Total Rewards Card. Now that we have a casino in Cleveland which is a Harrah’s property, it is much easier to rack up points on our player’s cards. All of the rooms were discounted except for Saturday which was still a tad inflated due to the third annual Electric Daisy Carnival.

Flamingo is located at the best intersection in town and tough to beat for its location and value. It’s important to note all Harrah’s properties are now charging resort fees but since we booked our rooms before the change, we were exempt from paying them. Flamingo also has a Total Rewards check-in line so we were able to walk right up to the front desk and bypass a fairly good-sized line. We tipped the clerk and he honored our non-smoking room request and allowed early check-in for no extra price.

Throughout our stay the housekeeping staff did a great job with the rooms. They respected our privacy and on days we got a late start were still able to come back and turn the rooms over in the mid afternoon.

If not the best, Flamingo’s Go Pool is definitely in Vegas’ top five. By forcing patrons to show both their room key and ID, you keep underage youngsters and non-guests out. They changed their food and drink menu at the pool but it’s still pretty decent. You needed a very early start to get lounging chairs, otherwise you were stuck. With temps well over 100 all week, the pool areas were extremely crowded yet still enjoyable.

FOOD & DRINK

I am not one to normally spend a lot of money on food and drink. I just need some light sustenance to keep my engine running. So for me, the Flamingo food court was sufficed. It had Johnny Rockets, Nathan’s Hot Dogs and Bonanno’s Pizza. The portions were good but the prices were obviously through the roof. The pizza place near the pool entrance did offer a decent deal where you got a slice, four breadsticks and a drink for $10.

I got one free buffet and one discounted buffet on my Total Rewards Card so we visited the Carnival World Buffet at Rio and the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood. The Rio buffet is still the best I’ve ever been to. It also features a separate Total Rewards line so there was no waiting. This was good news because Rio was playing host to the 2013 World Series of Poker and it was a Friday evening.

A few others in the travel party checked out Flavors Buffet in Harrah’s and reported positively. I notice the Harrah’s 24-hour buffet deal is now $49.99. It would probably only be worthwhile if you bought it around 7 one night, went to Rio ($32 itself) for dinner, did a breakfast buffet somewhere else, a lunch buffet somewhere and then snuck one last dinner in around 6 the next night. That would be four visits and probably a really good deal.

NIGHTLIFE

We have been loyal customers of the Las Vegas Club Crawl since 2011. For a price, you get appetizers at a sports bar, admittance to four bars/clubs on the strip and a free drink at each stop. The benefit is paying no cover charge and bypassing the often very long admission lines. When we arrived, we were able to get a week pass to the crawls (they have them every day but Monday) for just $25 per person.

Saturday’s tour took us to Treasure Island and the Venetian but jet lag caught me so I tapped out after the stop at Venetian’s V Bar. It is “L-shaped” and pretty tight but the waitresses are scantly clad and easy on the eyes.

The best night on the crawls was Tuesday. I joined it in progress at Koi in Planet Hollywood. While the dance floor is far too small and crowded for my health, its second floor location and balcony provides an awesome view overlooking the casino floor. I kind of felt like a big-shot casino manager standing 100 feet above the table games pit.

From there we walked to Pure – often called the premier Las Vegas nightlife spot. With three separate social gathering spaces, Pure was definitely as good as advertised. The second floor outdoor terrace provided some amazing views of the strip. After some groundwork was laid, we were able to tip one of the attendants and he put us in a posh VIP booth for the night. It was pretty cool sit there and pretend we were celebrities for the night. We ordered drinks and cigars and took panoramic photos of the strip.

GAMBLING

Well obviously since I’ve placed Gambling down this far on the list, things didn’t go well. With the exception of one mid-day blackjack session at The Palazzo, I had no success at all. In fact, it was a miserable week at the tables and machines. I took $2,500 which was mostly my federal and state income tax return and it took a significant hit. It’s very, very disappointing to look forward to something for six months and then have things go the way they did.

And it wasn’t just once game at one casino. I tried everything. I tried everywhere. Nothing worked. And to make matters worse, others at my table would win and I’d either be treading water or losing. I started the week on a $5 Let it Ride table and lost about $150. It took me three days to finally get back to even and I actually went up $50 after winning $125 at the Palazzo playing $10 blackjack. I had gotten away from playing BJ recently because it’s such a “kiss your sister” type of game. But here I was able to play heads-up against the dealers at only $10 with good rules (blackjacks paying 3:2, resplit aces, etc.). But evidently I was having too much fun and taking Sands Corp. for far too much money at my $10 hands because when I went up $150, they started the momentum-killing tricks like pit boss small talk, dealer changes, new cards, etc. I was even playing $5 for the dealers on my hands but they’d had enough of that too and after losing three straight hands I colored up with a $125 win.

Craps was absolutely brutal on this trip also. I could never find a run and it seemed like every time we sensed one was about to get started they either brought in the new chips or switched out the dice. They really are a bunch of greedy fools. Harrah’s, Flamingo, Paris and the Quad are all places were we donated some funding at the dice tables. The El Cortez downtown had a nice $3 craps table where we made about $30 but you have to put up with break-in dealers and some odd locals. The Quad is formerly the Imperial Palace and while the creepy Far East themes are gone, at least the $5 tables are not. The “Dealertainers” have survived the change, however. Beware the dealer passing himself off as Little Richard. Just don’t make eye contact. Slowly walk away.

This was also a terrible trip for what had been my new favorite game, three-card poker. It was terrible. Most of the time I didn’t even have hands to play. And when I did, it was either Queen or King high. When I got a three-card flush with a 10 high, the dealer had a flush with a King high. Just awful. Planet Hollywood, Flamingo and Caesars Palace all had ice-cold three-card poker tables. I should have played at the MGM properties as they don’t offer the six-card $1 million bonus side bet.

I was able to make some money at roulette but not until I had already tore through half my buy-in. So it was only about a $60 win and I only hit the wheel one time. Some guy walked up, dropped four green chips on random numbers right before the ball dropped and hit nothing.

I hit the slots early in the week. Nothing major, mostly just pennies and a little video poker. Again nothing. Not even any bonus rounds. My mom won $30 after starting with $5 at Tropicana so that kept her happy. A friend and me tried the new mechanical craps machine at the redesigned Hooters Casino. We played for a couple hours on $100 with him losing half and me going down to about $15 before rallying back to even and eventually winning $1.50. Hey, a win is a win. At just $2 a roll, it’s a pretty fun way to pass some time and roll up some points.

I’m torn on the Hooters redesign. We used to stay there every year but moved to Flamingo because of the location and pool. While they’ve definitely put some money into the place, they’ve kind of lost the small casino charm they used to have. Plus they’ve shipped their older, looser slots out in favor of sparkling new ones which were very tight.

The Gold Coast Casino across from the Palms and Rio still offers a double-deck blackjack pitch game (3:2) for $5. Single deck is gone. Some Russian guy with slicked back hair in a suit with chains and a bad attitude swooped in to play third base. He grumbled and moaned about everything (betting $50 hands) and eventually was chased when he doubled on an eight against a four. I waited until he stormed away to accuse Drago of using steroids.

OTHERS

I realize it is probably impossible but something really needs to be done about the street urchins on the strip. Maybe it was because I was agitated from the table game results but it seemed like there were more on the streets this trip than ever before. I don’t mind the silly characters charging for pictures because if people are foolish enough to pay $5 to get photographed with an imbecile wearing a Chewbacca costume in 115-degree heat who am I to stand in the way?

I am talking about the people peddling pornography, strip club “passes” and just overall being nuisances. I observed a pack of these individuals one night from the porch at Margaritaville. Their ruse starts innocently enough, offering discounted or free club passes. And once they have your ear, they start offering some illegal substances. When I’m walking with my mother and father, I’d rather not be offered illegal drugs if it’s all the same. Someone must have tipped off the police because they eventually meandered down our way and scattered the belligerents like children avoiding the playground monitor. I hate to stereotype but Las Vegas becomes a far less enjoyable place when the Los Angeles and Southern Cal crowd swarms in on the weekends. My dad took a cupcake from the buffet out to a homeless gentleman one day. He broke it in half and gave the other to his female companion. Is there any way to check the validity of the guy collecting change for veterans?

Aside from a couple visually stimulating attractions (tornado fountains, ice sculptures, nature landscapes) the City Center still comes off as a dud to me. The casinos at Aria and Cosmopolitan are too expensive and new, the whole complex is awkward and difficult to navigate and the shopping is too geared toward the wealthy. I think if I bought a pair of socks it would have exhausted my vacation fund.

Not much has changed on Fremont Street. There’s a new casino called The D down there – formerly Fitzgerald’s – that is pretty nice but you pay for their renovations at $10 and $15 tables. There are just as many screwballs trying to get your money down there as there are on the strip. But if you want a cheap meal, some decent gaming and a bit of a local flavor, that’s the place to be.

Until next time, best of luck. Or at least better luck than I had.

TL