... but also very very long and with some non food parts in between. Hope you'll like it.
Food is important part of any balanced diet.
day 1 tuesday
Checked my bags in at the train station [no really, you may do so over here], took the high speed train to Frankfurt and boarded the plane after removing my shoes only twice. Changed planes in San Francisco. Arrived in LV at 5 p.m., got my car at Hertz and drove to LV Club. I was in my room (1403, Hog, in the South Tower, plain but clean and lots of room with a choice view over the railroad) at 6.15 - not bad at all. At checkin, the letter with the billhere coupons was waiting for me.
After freshening up a bit, I headed for the Golden Gate for the very good large Shrimp cocktail ($2,95) with a zesty sauce, trying not to crash into one of the numerous fences on the FSE where the repairs were carried out on my way there. After that appetizer, I headed to the California for a bowl of oriental combination soup which as has been reported here earlier was excellent for 4,95. I went on to the Plaza to catch the Sunspots where I was easily 30 years younger than most of the rest of the audience. I enjoyed my free drink courtesy of the Plaza funbook and after catching the FSE show, I headed back to the Club. It was 6 a.m. European time by now, so time to call it a night.
As it was pretty windy outside, it was rather noisy. I still fell asleep quickly.
day 2, wednesday
I woke up at 3 a.m. and went to the Plaza again where I had the $9,95 Steak and Lobster deal, $6,95 with coupon, which comes with great fries, roll and a pretty tired breaded tomato. Because of the quite good steak, a fine deal. At 7 a.m. I ventured outside again with my kickboard. I wasn´t allowed to use it at the FSE as I was told by a security guard who was obviously happy to be doing anything. It was quite nice nonetheless to board lightning-fast past the usual suspects on my way to the Spike which was surprisingly packed. GAMBLING ALERT: here I blew a full dollar on the copper mine full pay video poker, totalling 1 dollar down for the trip.
After checking out, I drove to Henderson where I was given the grand tour of house and community by David and his charming wife Roz.
After having met about half the population of the community (David assured me that this was ´a coincidence´ - he might have paid them to stand there for all I know -, we headed for the Blue Wave sushi buffet, where about $13 bought us a nice buffet of excellent seafood and very good sushi. As the master told me, it was better than his last visit, but Makino´s the best in his opinion. Having tried all three sushi buffets on different trips, I wasn´t so sure about big differences, but my ranking probably would be Makino - Blue Wave - Todai. The differences aren´t big enough for me to warrant any big trips, though. We then drove to Green Valley Ranch, where David showed me around. We even got to see a room, which was pretty nice (even got the room number, Hog: 4039), with a Strip view, mini bar, robes sitting area and a very nice bathroom. I liked the pool area with a great view of the Strip. After ´coincidentally´ meeting another of David´s "friends" we headed back to Sun City where I bade the Berman´s a fond farewell.
Being a bit tired after only having slept 4 hours (or maybe because I had shook hands with more people than Kerry and Bush combined in their whole presedential campaign), I drove to the Orleans, a favorite of mine. After some friendly banter with the dangerously pregnant desk clerk, I scored a 16th floor Strip view room (1614) a long way from the elevators, but also from construction. It had the wonderful view and the usual amenities of this great hotel. I promptly decided to head to the pool for some light LVR reading. Then I cooled my aching hands on to bottles of Coors at Brendan´s courtesy of the Orleans coupon book. Getting reckless after having witnessed David´s turning the shocking amount of $10 into 30 at GVR, I wagered another dollar at a 5 cent video poker machine. After a strenous session of about 5 minutes I happily retrieved my initial investment, though I was hurt that the cocktail waitress hadn´t visited me once (still down a buck). Having found out in the meantime that one of the coupons from the Viva LV service was missing, I decided to get even and bought a ticket to Tarantino´s "Kill billhere". Talk about false advertising - there was not a single LV reference in the movie !
Day 3, thursday
This day started at 3.30 a.m. with a $0,99 graveyard special at the Orleans coffee shop. Good hash browns, toast, eggs and sausage is just about all you might want for the price. I then had a Southern Comfort and Ginger Ale (told the Barkeeper to surprise me) for another coupon.
After some serious shopping at Fry´s and LV Premium Outlets for my wife and kids, I drove to Sahara for Rosemary´s prix fixe lunch. $20,04 buys you a selection of 3 courses from a very interesting lunch menu.
I started with Hugo´s BBG shrimp with their signature Maytag blue cheese cole slaw which by itself was worth the price of admission. 6 huge shrimp which were a bit on the salty side, but the slaw was heavenly.Then I went for the huge Mahi Mahi with julienned vegetables, orange slices, an orange sauce and an orange reduction. This was an amazing dish, the vegetables and sauce actually outshining the (very good) fish. I topped the experience by ordering the goat cheese cheese cake which sounded intriguing. It was very good, too, the very subtle goat taste contrasting nicely with the more conventional cheese cake flavours. Some hazelnuts and a scotch sauce complemented the dish.
I´m probably preaching to the choir here, but everyone the least interested in fantastic (and different) food at bargain prices should make this trip at least once. The restaurant is at W 8125 Sahara at Cimarron. The prix fixe lunch is offered Mo-Fr. Website with a menu at www.rosemarysrestaurant.com.
I then checked in at the Barbary Coast. After some friendly banter with the check-in clerk (maybe you notice a trend here), I scored an excellent room (404), with a great view of the Eiffel tower and the Bellagio fountains. I could hear a bit of traffic noise, but that was just a slight inconvenience considering the perks. The layout of the room was similar as in the Orleans. I liked the dark tones in the decor.
I then did the midstrip thing, visiting the Bellagio Conservatory (nice, but not as spectacular as on my last trip), the Deserted Passage which actually was quite busy and returned via Paris and Bally´s. I also caught Big Elvis which definitely wasn´t my cup of tea. The voice ain´t half bad, but man, is this guy obese.
I then completed my day of shopping with a visit to Cesars. I hadn´t visited the pool area before and was a bit diappointed. Then off to the Forum shops, where I decided to try the bar menu at Bradley Ogden´s. It´s a great looking place and I didn´t feel out of place with my classy black t-shirt. What a great idea for such an upscale restaurant to offer bar seating. I ordered the blue cheese souffle, keeping in line with my lunch choice, and a Gordon Biersch. This proved to be an excellent choice, albeit an expensive one at $16. That got me a souffle the size of my palm, accompanied by arugula, candied nuts and some kind of chutney I couldn´t readily identify. Not exactly filling, but after the rich lunch that hadn´t been what I was looking for anyway. On my way out, I sneaked several peaks at Shadow bar. Those shilhouetted dancers are a fun concept - for about the two minutes I watched. One of them seemed to be rather cold.
For a nightcap, I returned to the bar at Barbary Coast, using yet another coupon (these Coast people sure like you drunk). I told the barman to surprise me which got me an Alabama Slammer which I enjoyed accompanied by the vocal stylings of the Smith Brothers. They were better than the Sunspots. Then again, even I am better than the Sunspots.
I had decided earlier to forgo thr Fountains of Wayne show for the Fountains of Bellagio. It was about 10 p.m. when I returned to my room. They call me Party Boy.
Day 4, friday
Woke up at 2.30 for a change and decided to get some exercise. I needed about 20 minutes to reach Circus Circus from the Barbary Coast with my scooter. While the winos around the Spike had ignored me, I got plenty of comments here. Being dressed in a black t-shirt and pants, I overheard at least 3 people say to their companions something along the line of "here comes security". Feeling mighty important, I crashed on the wet pavement to general merriment from the crowd. It´s tough being a trendsetter.
I then visited another fovorite of mine, the Peppermill. Here I felt the need for some vitamins and ordered the French Toast Ambrosia ($8,95), a giant portion of french toast (duh) loaded with mountains of fresh fruit. I conveniently overlooked the copious amounts of whipped topping and maple syrup on my healthy choice. But man, what a great place the Peppermill is ! Love the decor, love the food, love the company. Always funny to watch the reactions when some fool actually orders a dessert after his meal.
I scooted back to Barbary Coast for a last couponed gimlet and got back to my room.
After some more shopping (hey, the dollar´s pretty weak against the euro), I parked the car at Barbary Coast again and made my way to Harrah´s for the early Mac King show which is $6,95 with coupon. Great show, with more than a few belly laughs. After the show I couldn´t find my sunglasses, so, leaving, I asked Mac whether he had taken them. He seemed genuinely concerned I might be serious and assured me this wasn´t the case. Later, I found them in my car. Sneaky bastard, this Mac King guy.
The Bellagio buffet has always been a favorite of mine. In the past, I had already got in for lunch and stayed until dinner. This is even more interesting fridays, as $15,95 buys you lunch, while the gourmet dinner is a whopping $32. So I went in an hour early and paced myself. That wasn`t that difficult, as the lunch selection wasn´t exactly wonderful. Maybe this as the completely wrong labeling of food items were owed to the shift change, but I distinctly remember this not being the case at my last visit. Deciding to wait for the dinner part proved to be a good decision. There weren´t all new dishes alltogether out there, but the changes were significant: the very mediocre sushi rolls were complemented by nigiri now, there were kobe sirloin, beef Wellington and prime rib, all really good, as well as wild boar and split Alaska king crab legs. The dessert selection now featured floating isles, an excellent creme brule and some more new choices too. Altogether a good choice for people willing to invest an hour for a serious discount. After the buffet, my cunning plan of winning Megabucks with a single $3 wager were thwarted as the machine seemingly wasn´t able to grasp the general brilliance of my plan. Curses, foiled again and down $5 now.
Checked in at Terrible´s (room 2223, a nice view of the surprisingly nice pool, large king, coffee maker, tub and shower). This will be another backup hotel for me, as the room was quite nice and the location´s pretty good. Got a hat for enrolling in the slot club that actually didn´t suck. My descension to gambling addiction accelerated as I put another $3 in the Megabucks machine, thereby accumulating a proud 1003 points on my card, but also being down $8 for the trip now.
After a leisurely evening at Barnes and Noble and some Reservoir Dogs on my laptop, I called it a night.
Day 5, saturday
Up at 4 again and on the road to Baker, I15 still empty at this time. I had the Bomba Burrito at the Mad Greek ($3,95) and got some brochures about the Mojave National Preserve at the visitor center. Thus prepared, I entered the Preserve via the road to Kelso (no relation to the 70´s show, I´m sure). On this 30 mile stretch of road, I didn´t see a single vehicle, feeling much like Cmdr Mark, on whose website you can find a excellent account of his own travels there. After taking a picture or two of the handsome peach Kelso depot, I drove on to Cima, having exhausted all of Kelso´s touristic possibilities. The road got more and more beautiful, with blooming wildflowers, joshua trees everywhere and the not so barren desert which you either love or you don´t. As my car didn´t break down, I firmly fell into the first category, driving on past Cima along the world´s densest assembly of joshua trees. Rejoining I15, I continued to Primm for some sightseeing and a rather forgettable but free buffet, courtesy of the slot club I joined. All in all a nice trip, but only for people who really like the desert and have done the more spectacular and closer nature stuff.
Choosing to forgo the Strip traffic, I took 146 to Henderson and continued to Lake Las Vegas. This was one of the more disappointing things on this trip. I found the whole complex to be pretty but fake. Of course much of Vegas is fake, but in a good way. This I didn´t like, even the Ritz was looking somewhat cheap from the outside. Can´t win ´em all.
Driving back to Terrible´s, I stopped at Ethel M´s, which was good only sample-wise. The tour was boring, and I liked the desert demonstration garden a lot better than the cactus garden here. Not worth a separate trip from the Strip.
Back for some pool time and mulling over the evening´s options. I finally decided to go to Dave Feldman´s dining room (some people also call it Lotus of Siam). Luckily for me, they were able to accomodate me without a reservation, even though it was saturday night. I started with the crispy rice and sour sausage ($7,95) and found it easily the best dish I´ve had there yet in four visits. Exactly possessing the right bite and with a delightful crunchiness, the flavor remained with me until the main course arrived. The waiter had been trying to steer me towards the fresh fish, but I felt more like ordering the yellow chicken curry (also $7,95). This second dish was rather disappointing, proving perhaps that I should have been more adventurous. The curry itself was ok (not spectacular), but the huge chunks of carrot and potato (?!) didn´t do anything for me. Maybe I shoul´ve gone with my initial inkling and should have just ordered the crispy rice again.
Had some beers at the Terrible´s bar (Newcastle Brown Ale, a lot better then Bud) and headed for bed.
day 6, sunday
Up at 5, I started the day with a visit to the Double Down Saloon, a dive bar at Paradise which is tucked away in the back between Tropicana and Harmon. Talk about a dramatic entrance: I entered from the by now gleaming sunlight into an almost completely dark and hushed bar. There were about 25 people hanging around the bar under a rather impressive collection of underwear. In the very moment I was squintingly trying to find my way around the place, the juke box blasted into action, playing a track by the Purrs. Not a little rattled, but quite happy nobody was actually assaulting me, I stationed myself at the pinball machine. Later, I checked out the great selection at the jukebox.
Obviously, there was only one place to go from here: Bally´s Sterling brunch. As you know, it´s expensive at $58, and I did have second thoughts about it, but then I thiught what the heck, who knows when I´ll be here again.
As you´re probably also aware, the SB is all about luxury items, not about creativity or special preparation. This is fine with me, but a bit disappointing when you come from an experience as special as Rosemary´s. As always, there was a menu of the exact dishes outside, so you can make up your mind when you´re there. Reservations are recommended, though. They´ll also email you the menu in advance if you ask nicely.
I found the appetizer selection a bit ordinary this time. I´m not a big caviar fan and most of the other selections could have not only be found at Aladdin or Bellagio, but at many other higher quality buffets too. The beef tenderloin was very good, the rack of lamb merely good. The whole dilemma of this buffet shows at the filet mignon or the lobster ravioli, which are so conventiinal they´re almost bland and crying out for some innovative flavoring. Looking at the crowd, though, I´d guess that this is the way they like it. My favorite dish this time actually was the lobster which was prepared conventionally but very well and in my memory didn´t taste nearly as good on my last trip. I defintely got my money´s worth here. Another very good items were the pan seared orange duck and the wild mushroom polenta.
Desserts were just ok too, quite good cherries jubilee marred by mediocre (and icy) vanilla ice cream. The pistachio ice cream on my last visit had been out of this world. Raspberry Mascarpone cream didn´t rock my world either and the creme brulee was merely adequate.
Checking in at the Venetian, I asked for a Strip view room and got 22201, with a fine view from the Mirage to TI, the north Strip and Wynn. It also overlooked the pool area. The room was right by the elevators. As I had read at several places including cheapovegas that these were to be the nicest rooms in LV, I wasn´t too pleased with what I got: the room was large with a separate sitting area, but the decor didn´t appeal to me. These muted colours supposed to convey italian elegance rather seemed faded, as the carpet seemed already worn. I missed the little touches which makes staying at a really extraordinary hotel such a nice experience . Take the bathroom, for example: there was a soaking tub and a shower, but there was absolutely nothing special about i (if you don´t count the hairs in the tub and the fact I had to fix the drain which would´t close all the way before using it). This didn´t ruin my stay or anything, but I had certainly liked Bellagio and even Mandalay Bay (where to have been fair I had an upgraded room and can´t really compare) a lot better. There were two tvs in the main room. Funnily enough, only one of them got HBO.
I like the rest of the hotel a lot, though, and as I wandered through the marvelous open spaces, paused at the balcony looking over the huge square in front of the hotel with all those little lights and the gondolas waiting for customers, witnessed the Mirage´s volcano come to life in the back (which elicited some a little overenthousistic comments from some firsttimers nearby: omygod omygod checkitout checkitout omygod), perused the great restaurant choices, got a free sample at Krispy Kreme right off the belt, life was good. Still, as all of this can be enjoyed without a room, my next luxury splurge will take place at the Bellagio again.
I did a lot of walking in the area from Fashion Show to Bellagio and back. I finally found the kind of necklace my wife had most subtly alluded to (hey, if someone lets you go to Vegas while taking care of the kids she certainly deserves a thank you) which came in a light blue box.
On my way back, I got the $1 margarita (quite good) and Michelob (better than Bud, but then again, which beer isn´t) at the Casino Royale. I then took part in the preview studio, where they pay you two bucks for your opinion. Figuring that to be a good omen, I dropped them and a friend into a megabucks machine. Oh ye gods ! Down $11.
day 7, monday
Up at 5.30, I headed for Red Rock for some scootering. A guy working at the visitor center asked in all seriousness whether I´d scootered in from the Strip... After that, I drove to Santa Fe Station for a nice Fatburger ($3,49). Then I bought a fabulous Las Vegas designed gigantic suitcase at 35 bucks at the outlet mall for all the goodies I´d bought earlier. Tacky but wonderful. Can´t help but wonder what my wife will say (she loved it, by the way).
Check-in at the Trop let to the only wait at check-in. I had made reservations for one of the cheaper motel rooms, figuring I´d have so much extra stuff I´d appreciate the short haul to the room. The room (5236) was much nicer than I´d been expecting from what I´ve read, with a great view from the balcony to the pool and a BOTTLE OPENER installed in the bathroom - talk about useful things the Venetian hasn´t got. A king bed, a sitting area, a clean room, some nice view, a tub / shower and a very short walk to car and casino, coupled with a great hotel location - I don´t want any more from a budget hotel. The Trop´s open spaces show plenty signs of use and wear, though, and the water pressure left somewhat to be desired.
I drove to Capriotti´s on Sahara and ordered the Bobbie (turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayonaise). Even the small one (at $6) kept me busy for some time. It wasn´t as religious an experience as I had thought, but it was pretty good. Wonderfully completely absent décor. If you plan to do this by car: its on the right hand side of the road coming from the Strip just before the Interstate. I would have liked to know that beforehand, coming from the other direction, necessitating some ennervating detours.
I then did the South Strip thing, finally visiting Mandalay Bay again after 5 years. I really loved the public spaces of TheHotel, incredibly cool all in black (and some yellow) with great looking art thrown in. Also great was the new shopping area Mandalay Place, looking good and offering some really interesting stores (loved the small bookstore. Also Im a fan of Urban Outfitters, which I had seen in some others US city, but not in Las Vegas yet.). I had a frozen custard at the Chocolate Swan, but wasnt blown away. Finally I visited the public areas of the Four Seasons, very elegant and with a lovely pool area which was so completely deserted on that lovely afternoon the attendant (a former mormon missionary to Spain of all places) was genuinely happy to chat with me and even took a photo of me.
In the Showcase Mall, I got a free scoop of fine mango ice cream from the M&M cafe courtesy of the coupon book (which you get by being a AAA member, too, if I understood the sign correctly). At the coke shop, there was an offer to taste 8 different soft drinks from around the world for a buck w/coupon. That was fun (I remember that 5 years ago, that was part of then now defunct Coke museum). Gameworks was completely shut off for a company event (I wonder which companies still have money for something like this nowadays certainly not MY employer).
Then (at about 9.30 pm) I grabbed my scooter again and scootered down E Tropicana to Paradise (along the airport). This was good because there werrn´t many people I could crash into. That was also bad because there still was a surprisingly high number of people I certainly didn´t want no closer contact with. But they were probably just as scared of that scootering lunatic passing by.
Finally, I made it to the Double Down Saloon were I just had to have a few drinks without having to worry about driving. A car, I mean.
It was as great as the last time. I sat down at the bar and ordere some Ass Juice. Asked the bartender what it was and he said no idea, its something different every time and someone else made this batch. Well, this time, it was green. Great stuff, followed by a Flat Tire, a microbrew recommended by the friendly barkeep. After some conversation with the other patrons (it was actually less crowded than at 6 a.m.) I continued down Paradise and made a left onto Flamingo, heading to Ellis Island for their steak special which arrived exactly as ordered and this time certainly exceeded my expectations. An ok salad with blue cheese dressing, good steak fries, garlicky green beans and pretty fine steak - that´s a great deal for $4,95.
I made it back to the Trop without further incidents, scootering down the Strip and walking the scooter when crowds got too dense.
Day 8, tuesday
Don´t you just hate the last day of your stay in Vegas ? I always get the feeling you have to be extra careful with your time, to enjoy as much as possible. That "I can always do that tomorrow" feeling is gone.
Had a drink at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Maryland which has got free wifi - a great opportunity for those internet addicts a short drive from the Strip. They open at 6 a.m.
After some packing, lunch was at the outlet center location of Makino, and man, was that great. I´ve eaten at both Makinos, Todai and Blue Wave by now, and Makino towers above the others in terms of selection and creativity. Each item was was refilled right away, not some 20 minutes later. That seaweed salad (thanks Andrew, wouldn´t have tried without your advice, but this way I got thirds)! Those rolls (I didn´t know what I was eating half of the time, but didn´t care)! I liked the rolls of the month best (of which there were about different ones). For $13,95, certainly the best buffet value I had on this trip. And the setting´s much nicer than at the one on Decatur, too. I didn´t stuff myslef silly, planning to eat out in the evening, too.
After some pool time I packed my stuff up and headed to M&M BBQ on Jones to get some short ribs, fried ocra, excellent yams and red beans and rice ($12,95). Great stuff in an ok setting , but quite a hop from
The Strip. The waitress was about as old as me, but still called me son.
Sporting my trusted scooter, I headed down the Strip for a last hurrah. I had spent a great deal of thought into where I should win Megabucks. What to wear ? What to say afterwards ? After much agonizing, I chose NY NY. I put my $3 into the machine and stared at it in horror. Could it be true ? But there was no doubt: I was one of the very first avlv posters who had actually lost at gambling. Down a whopping $14, I vowed to change my evil ways. Watching a mechanically button pushing lady drop about $200 in 5 minutes helped.
Caught Louie Louie at the MGM and then I visited the Polo Lounge. Can´t believe I hadn´t done that before ! Wonderful view across the Strip from Mandalay to Mirage in a pretty relaxed atmosphere. I had a beer, most of the other people around didn´t seem to order anything.
I still had some time until the show, so I played some Spot the Hooker and scored three points at Cleopatra´s barge. At the IP, the Sax Man puts on a pretty great show. The Jacko dealing at the Legends pit sure is scary.
Cook E. Jarr at Harrah´s wasn´t as good as I hoped he would be, so I headed back to my hotel. As I was passing Bellagio, the Fountains were playing Time to say goodbye. Ain´t that the truth, baby.
Day 9, wednesday
After some more coffee and wifi at the Coffee Bean, I drove to the airport. In the shuttle I overhead this conversation:
Hertz Courtesy Bus driver: where are you going ?
Sweet old Lady: why, to the airport.
The rest of the trip won´t be interesting I guess. Suffice it to say that this was about the time my diet started.
If you read on until here, thanks a bunch. As always, comments and questions are most welcome.