Sunday, June 19, 2005

I'm home (well, at this very moment, I'm actually at work), resting and recuperating after a fun and profitable Vegas vacation. I won a fair amount of cash, enough to offset the money I won't be making during summer school, when I'll be down to working one day a week. And I had fun, playing in some new casinos and checking out the sights of the Strip.

I attempted to post a second time from my hotel room at Green Valley Ranch, but my two hours ran out right before I finished the post. As I suggested in my last post, I wasn't as impressed by Green Valley Ranch this stay. Partly, I may just be growing complacent, not appreciating the luxury of the hotel now that I've stayed there many times. But there were definitely problems with my stay. My first night there, I woke up at about six in the morning with a sharp pain in my right calf. I don't know why, but for some reason the leg was suddenly seized by an excruciatingly sharp pain. I got up and walked around, and it gradually got better, and I went back to sleep, planning to sleep in. Instead, I was awoke at 10:00 by the sound of drilling outside my room. Apparently they were replacing the light fixtures in the hallway, even though this wing of the hotel is only months old. The next night, I was awaken even earlier, by hammering before 10:00. No hotel should allow work in the common areas before 10:00 AM. So that annoyed me.

My other main complaint occurred moments after my previous post. As I said, I concluded my post and went downstairs to dine at Il Fornaio. I wasn't hungry earlier, so planned on a late dinner, as the in-room guide said they close at 11:00. But lo and behold, I go downstairs and they were closed. They close at 10:00, just as virtually every place to eat at Green Valley Ranch does. The only place still open was Fatburger, so I ate there, even though I don't really get the appeal. But they don't take room charges, so I had to pay with my slot club points, and I still owed a dollar. The upshot was, I had close to $50 to spend on breakfast the next day. So I ordered room service, and was really blown away. Yes, it was expensive, but it was top quality. I ordered the french toast, which was corn-encrusted, with a cream cheese filling and bananas foster sauce on the side. I really liked it, and the sausage and toast I ordered on the side were pretty good, too, though there's not much you can do to toast. I also ordered a double latte, just because I had the funds available; it was fine, but with the in-room coffee-maker, not worth $6. Service was real good, too, arrived a few minutes early, and the server was all class. I've never ordered room service before, so it was a nice little thrill, and I'm sure I'll do it again. That used up about half my remaining credit; I spent about $15 in the gift shop, and that got me pretty close to the $100 mark.

I checked out of Green Valley Ranch around 11:00, down a small amount of money, and drove to the Las Vegas Hilton to play for awhile until I could check in at New York-New York. Sadly, my luck was pretty sour at the Hilton, so I left, to go explore the Wynn, via the Riviera. It was hot, and the cocktail service at the Hilton was poor (I couldn't get a bottled water to save my life), so I was dehydrated, and the walk across the asphalt just from the Hilton to the Riviera was unpleasant. I got some water at the Riviera, and planned to sign up for a players card there, to get the $10 free slot play they give new sign-ups, but the line was too long, so I left for the Wynn. The walk from the Riviera to the Wynn was longer than I thought, and rather unpleasant. I wouldn't recommend the walk. Also, coming from the North, I had some difficulty finding the entrance to the Wynn. I personally confirmed reports that the front of the casino was poorly designed, as the traffic circle in front seemed woefully inadequate for a resort of this size, with quite a backlog of taxis. Once I gained entry, however, I was instantly impressed. Entering through the central entrance, one immediately faces a beautiful garden, with tons of flowers and natural light. Later on, I would go to the conservancy at the Bellagio, a monstrosity with animatronic eaglets as part of a gaudy 4th of July patriotic theme. A comparison of how the Bellagio is currently managed and how the Wynn is being run puts Steve Wynn in a much better light than many of the Wynn Casino reviews have suggested. There are certainly aspects of the design in which, yes, the understated qualities are overstated, but this garden, for instance, is simply understated elegance. I especially would appreciate the natural lighting when I returned that evening, and discovered it was now evening in the garden, as well. What other casino actually notes the passage of time? True, once you're in the gambling hall, natural light is replaced by 24/7 brightness, but still it's a nice touch. I walked around, checking out the sights, and was suitably impressed. Then I got a players club, and took a seat at a blackjack table. I heard reports they often have $25 limits at double-deck, but I didn't see any. I did find a $50 minimum table, which was raised to $100 shortly after I sat down (I was grandfathered in at the lower limit). I had good luck, mostly, and won back what I lost at the Hilton. Played with a couple rich Texans, who were splashing money around just like everyone else in this joint. I didn't mind gambling there, but I must admit not feeling really comfortable there. Not that anyone working there made me uncomfortable; service was top-notch all-around. Drink service was excellent; for those who are interested in such things, my cocktail server looked more like a stripper than a waitress. But despite the ample silicone on display, the service was superb, the sort of service you expect from the older waitresses in town, who know they have to depend on their service for good tips. I played almost two hours before cashing out. I'm hoping the action I gave them, as well as a little bit of video poker play the next night, might get me some mail. I'd be surprised if I got a free room, but I wouldn't mind paying a fair price to stay there. I wasn't looking forward to walking back to the Hilton, but fortunately, I noticed a sign pointing to a monorail shuttle. The pit boss explained that it takes to you to the convention center stop, which is one stop away from the Hilton. So I was excited by that. The wait for the shuttle wasn't long at all. It turns out, the shuttle just takes a loop along the back end of their property, dropping you off on the edge of their lot, across the street from the convention center shuttle. I was now fully hydrated, and decided to save the $3 and walk back. A much more pleasant walk than the crowded walk along the strip, and in no time I was at the Hilton. I chose not to gamble here again, got my car, and headed to New York-New York, hitting a drug store to get food and water for the room.

Check in at New York-New York was fine, and in a matter of minutes, I was on my way to the room. The front desk clerk was helpful, and gave me a map to find my way to the elevator. To use the elevator, you need to insert a room key. My hands were full with my luggage and shopping bags and paperwork, and on top of that, the technology didn't work very well, so I had to just ride the elevator a little while with other befuddled guests, until we finally got it working and selected our floors. The layout was a little strange, with twisting halls, which was just slightly claustrophobic, but not too bad (which is to say, not like Imperial Palace). My room was not far from the elevator, and my first impression upon entering was how small the room was. It was nice, though. I settled in a bit, then went into the bathroom, which was fairly nice, with lots of marble. I then admired the various toiletries offered in the room: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, used bar of soap, half-roll of Rolaids. I was a bit peeved that they did such a poor job cleaning my room, when a few minutes later I discovered the previous occupants trip itinerary. I thought that was odd, but on closer examination I realized they were not due to check out until Friday. After verifying that their luggage was not in the room, I called down to the front desk and explained that I found some possessions of the previous guest, including a flight itinerary they might need, and that I believed they might still be in the hotel in another room. Rather than appologize for doing such a poor job cleaning my room, they seemed annoyed I was wasting their time, and at first denied that anyone moved out of my room, but then verified they were in fact still in the hotel. So I brought it down to someone at the front desk, who seemed confused but said she would pass it along. The poor housekeeping service, and the overall unimpressive room, made me fairly certain I wouldn't stay here again, so I had no problem gambling elsewhere, and not worrying about future comps here. I ended up playing a little video poker one night, and playing some pai gow the next, with a $25 promotional chip they gave me, but played very little here. I did play some video poker at Bellagio as well, which uses the same players card as New York-New York.

I did eat two free meals at New York-New York. As part of my stay, they gave me a $25 credit at Nine Fine Irishmen or whatever they call their Irish Pub. I ordered meatloaf, an odd choice for me, as I don't think I've ever ordered meatloaf in my life. I wasn't particularly hungry, so it was probably a poor choice, as I got a huge block of meat. It was pretty good, though. It's just not the kind of food I like. But I ordered it partly because it had been so long since I'd had meatloaf, and partly because I figued it would be a good thing to eat cold in my room later, and I was right (though it did give me horrible heartburn around four in the morning). The pub is overpriced, and the atmosphere didn't do too much for me, but if you like pseudo-authentic Irish pubs, and you're on the South Strip, you might like it.

I had lunch the following day at the ESPN Zone. This comped meal had nothing to do with gambling, but rather was the result of a great promotion they have on their website. All you have to do is join the ESPN Zone MVP Club, and you'll receive a $20 gift certificate, a $10 game card for the arcade, and a free six-pack cooler. Sadly, I would leave the six-pack cooler at the Pai Gow table (which is actually a shame, as it was pretty nice, much nicer than I expected), but I took full advantage of the other two gifts. $20 will barely cover a meal in the overpriced restaurant. Actually, as all I wanted was a cheeseburger, I got off cheap, and probably could have squeezed in dessert, too, though I might have owed a dollar or two. But you can't complain about getting $20 in free food for just signing up for an e-mail newsletter you can cancel anytime (the free magazine offer they tout is something you have to opt-in for, so no need to worry about cancelling it unless you want to receive the free issues). I forgot the menu said burgers served well-done unless requested, so I found the burger rather dry. But not bad, and the fries were good. The arcade was okay. Not a lot of stuff I like to play, but they had two pinball machines. I also managed to score respectably on the golf simulator, for a first-timer. I didn't want to waste much precious gambling time in an arcade, but it was a nice little break.

So concludes my impressions of New York-New York. While I generally spend a lot of time in the hotel I'm staying at (I never went outside during my two days at Green Valley Ranch), this trip I moved around a lot. I set food in the Monte Carlo for the first time (wasn't impressed). I gambled at Bellagio for the first time (won $100 on video poker). I rode the monorail a lot (which meant trekking through the MGM Grand a lot--another casino that really doesn't impress me at all). I spent most of my time, however, on the North Strip, especially the Venetian and Wynn, and a fair amount of time at the Las Vegas Hilton.

While at Green Valley Ranch, I read an odd and disturbing article about the Venetian gondola attraction's duck infestation. It was distressing that the ducks would be left to starve, but the article seems to suggest the ducks will soon be able to leave on their own, or that they could very easily be relocated. So it seems like it's gotten rather blown out of proportion. But still, I was tempted to pick up some cheerios to feed to them, but decided not to. When I made it over to the Venetian, I looked for the ducks, and sure enough, they were chilling on some gondolas, not looking like anything was wrong. I intended to buy a bagel or something to feed them on my way out, but soon it was late, and the ride was running, and I'm sure security would have frowned on me feeding them. And it's my vacation, and I was a bit self-absorbed, nothing wrong with that. I'm sure the ducks will be okay.

I don't know if the Venetian is feeding the ducks, but they fed my wallet pretty good. I had some small wins on a few visits, and my last night, I really cleaned up. They have a pretty good game, and I was surprised by the low limits. Considering the place was fairly busy, I was surprised I could consistently get a seat at a double-deck game with a $25 minimum. I imagine the situation is different on weekends, but compared to their neighbor the Wynn, the limits were completely reasonable (I never found a $50 table at the Wynn again; my last visit, the limits on the three open double-deck games were $100, $200, and $300 respectively). Their are better games in town, but for a property of its caliber, I was surprised by the availability. I played here a fair amount, and am hoping some good offers. I would really like to stay there, especially as I found myself feeling more comfortable than I thought I would there. It always seemed a bit too ritzy, with well-dressed executives mingling with trendy eurotrash, and I figured I'd feel out of place. That's why I like Green Valley Ranch, with an ultra-swank hotel partnered with a locals casino with a more down-to-earth clientele. But I didn't feel too out of place at the Venetian. Money talks, and any slob in a smelly tee-shirt is treated fine if he's playing enough. I don't see it becoming my home casino anytime soon, but with the Harrah's/Caesar merger ruining my last home casino (I played three hours there this trip, and earned a whopping $3 on my card), maybe I shouldn't have a home casino anymore...move around from trip to trip. But I would like to stay at Venetian sometime, check out their rooms. Pictures on-line sure make them look nice.

Incidentally, I thought I might have played blackjack with Stephen Spielberg at the Venetian. I think I was mistaken, though. Looked a lot like him, though. But maybe I'm just doubting myself too much; I would be more certain, but I was pretty sure I was playing with Quentin Tarentino the night before, but it turns out it was just a real ugly guy.

I won't go on about every single time I gambled. I'll just say the North end of the Strip is showing a lot of potential. I liked Venetian, liked the Wynn. Stayed away from the Stardust, just because the offers they've been sending me in the mail are an insult. $39/night for that dump? But I can get free rooms at Green Valley Ranch, which go for $250/night or so? Get real. I think they're just trying to trim the riff-raff from their database before they level the place to build Borgata Las Vegas, as the rumor has it.

Beyond the gambling, I didn't do to much. Went to the Bellagio, saw the conservatory, which was crappy, as I've noted. I never did see the dancing fountains there this trip, though...which is a shame, I really enjoy watching that. Saw a little bit from a distance, but that's it. I was over near TI, but the pirate show was cancelled due to technical difficulties. I've never seen the revamped show, would like to know if it's as bad as everyone says. I guess seeing the Wynn was the main spectacle for the trip. I enjoyed the common areas. I also enjoyed the outside approaching from the south side, from the Venetian. The mountain doesn't seem like much, just a bunch of waterfalls, but the effect is quite nice. More understated than the Mirage volcano, and as a result much less ridiculous. All in all, the Wynn doesn't reinvent Las Vegas or anything, it just shows that Steve Wynn has learned his lesson from the Golden Nugget/Mirage/Bellagio/etc., what works and what doesn't work, and produced a pretty neat place. Next time, I'll have to eat there, see if he got that right.

So in the end, I earned a not insubstantial amount of money. I figure it's easily more than I will be missing out on when I'm only working one day a week during summer school, so that's a plus. My last day in Vegas, I checked out of the hotel, had lunch at Paris, riding the monorail one last time (I got a good value out of my $10 one day pass, and passed it on to some guy outside the MGM Grand station before I left, to enjoy the last few hours left), and used up my credits in the ESPN Zone arcade, then hit the road. I hit the road a bit later than usual, and had some traffic along the way. I didn't stop much, just to get gas, and later to use the bathroom at Target, where I got Tanner a toy (a pink flamingo he really seems to enjoy) and myself a Mint Mocha Chip Frappachino at Starbucks (hated it). Hit traffic, but was home by 6:30 or so. All in all, a profitable and enjoyable trip. Green Valley Ranch disappointed me, but is still a pretty nice place. Wynn was nice to see, exceeding my expectations, lowered as they were by negative reviews. My opinion of the monorail improved, as it does seem to be a good value if you're staying on the North end of the Strip (I forget just how far apart some of the casinos are). I see no reason to stay at New York-New York, but at least I can add one more hotel to the list of Vegas hotels in which I've stayed. I saw a duck, which is always exciting to me, even if it was under uncertain circumstances. And Tanner got a new rope and plush toy to destroy. A fun vacation and a well-needed refresher. Now I just need to book a vacation for the week after summer school ends (I figure if they can do without me at work for six weeks, one more won't hurt).

No comments: