On Monday, I posted about my planning process for this trip. This is how it all turned out. Warning: This is a long narrative post.
Monday morning after only a few hours of sleep I headed to the airport. I got there at 5am for a 6:25am flight on Southwest. I almost missed the flight due to surprisingly long security lines. I had an A group boarding pass, but was one of the last people on the plane for the sold out flight (never a good thing for a Southwest flight). I had a middle seat, but still managed to get an hour or two of sleep.
When we landed, I quickly made my way to baggage claim. Four Southwest flights had just arrived and were using the same baggage carousel. It was so overloaded that they had to stop it and give some time for people to clear their bags before continuing. My bag was one of the first out when the carousel restarted. There were still a lot of bags out, so mine was above another large bag. I couldn’t quite reach it on the first try and ended up straining my shoulder a bit once I was able to grab it. I had also noticed that 3 or 4 practically identical golf club bags came out right before my bag. I figured they belonged to a group of buddies out for a gold trip. When I got to the cab line I noticed two things. First, they now have a sign with the estimated wait time for a cab. Second, the person in front of me, who looked like he was solo, had one of those golf bags. He kept looking at it and eventually realized it wasn’t his bag. Multiple identical bags coming out one right after the other and he hadn’t verified his bag until he was almost in a cab. Hmm. When I got to the front of the cab line, I was given spot 13. Almost missing my flight; baggage carousel problems; cab space 13; this was going to be a great trip.
It was about 10am when I got to Harrah’s. It was early, but I went to see about checking in anyway (I had put 10am as my arrival time in the reservation). My room wasn’t ready (no surprise). They told me I had a suite assigned, but if I wanted something right now, they could give me a standard room which was available. I said I’d wait. We completed the check in process and they even gave me the room key. They couldn’t give me the room number yet (for security purposes), but they would call when the room was ready. Handling it that way meant that I could charge things to my room even though I didn’t have a room number yet and I wouldn’t have to wait in line to get a key once it was ready. Very convenient.
I stored my bags with the bell desk and pondered what to do next. I thought for a moment about heading to Excalibur where I had another room reserved for the night, but quickly wrote that off since it was too early to expect to check in AND I was planning on spending most of my evening there. Food was a high priority. I wandered by the new Fulton Street Food Hall, but nothing caught my eye. I looked at the buffet, but $23.99 was more than I wanted to spend on breakfast (officially brunch according to the buffet).
I had a few missions to do downtown, so … Fremont Street it is. I caught the Deuce and headed downtown. Food was still high on my list, so I made an unconscious beeline to the Paradise Buffet at the Fremont Casino. $9.49 was much more in line with what I wanted to spend on breakfast. I could have paid $1 less for it, but I didn’t have my B Connected card on me and didn’t feel like going to the players club to get a new one. The Fremont Casino and the Paradise Buffet hold a special place in my heart. The Fremont Casino was where I stayed (for a week) on my first real trip to Las Vegas and the Paradise Buffet was one of the filming locations for Swingers. I was born in Hawaii, so there is that, too.
The buffet is not gourmet, but it has everything I need for breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs Benedict, fruit, coffee. They had an omelet station, but I didn’t want to wait for that. Servers still handle beverage service (something that I’m seeing more and more buffets move away from) and my server made sure my coffee and orange juice never got low.
Now that I had eaten, it was time to check out the gaming exhibits I had heard about at the Plaza and El Cortez. My first stop was the Plaza. On the second floor, on your way to Oscar’s or the Bingo Hall, there is a display of sports, gaming and Rat Pack memorabilia. At first I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. The area wasn’t lit well and there wasn’t any signage or information about the displays. It was next to a closed cigar counter.
I took the long walk from the Plaza to the El Cortez. Their display was smaller, but felt intentional. The display takes up a few cases by Club Cortez, their players club. I’ll do a full review (including photos) of booth exhibits soon.
On the way back, I stopped at the Burlesque Hall of Fame. It has a nice little display of burlesque memorabilia; mostly photos, but there are some costume pieces, too.
I caught the Deuce back to the Strip. I was debating where to go next, and decided to hit Circus Circus on the way back. Years ago, I would have avoided the place at all costs (and I have unpleasant memories of walking there from the Strip in August, 2002). Now I like to stop by to watch the free midway acts, play a few games and play mini-golf.
I eventually caught the Deuce again and headed back to Harrah’s in hopes that my room would be ready soon. I killed some time playing video poker in Harrah’s high limit room and at one of the bars. I had a nice hit in the high limit room, but it would be my only winning session of the trip. A little after 1pm I got the call that my room was ready. Perfect.
About 4pm I decide it was time to head back out and wander towards Excalibur. I walked by the Bellagio in hopes of seeing a fountain show. As I got closer, I noticed what looked to be a drum kit and bass rig on a small stage in the middle of the lake. Then I started to see additional lighting gear and a film crew. According security, they were shooting a commercial. It looked like the crew was ready, but I saw no signs that anything was going to happen soon (including a regularly scheduled fountain show) so I wandered on. Next stop, Cosmopolitan. I always stop at Cosmo to check out the Art-O-Mat machines. I also took a moment to explain to a few visitors exactly what they were since people tend to be confused by the restored and retrofitted cigarette machines.
I walked past Monte Carlo and New York – New York. The arena was still fenced off, but I really like what they have done with the area so far. I love having all of the benches and picnic tables along the walkways. I’m a fan of Shake Shack, too, and tend to eat there once per trip (although I skipped it this time).
Finally, I crossed the pedestrian bridge to Excalibur. I followed the signs to the front desk. The check in line was rather long (to be expected since it was about 5pm). At the far right of that main check in line was a smaller crowd. As I got closer, I saw a sign for Mlife Pearl and above check-in by that smaller crowd. I got in line. Within about 10 minutes I was at the counter. I gave the agent my info and he said I had a Resort Tower Queen room (with 2 queen beds). I asked it there were any better rooms available, preferably with a king bed, and mentioned the myVEGAS Reward booked with Run of the House specifying that I should receive the best available room upon check in.
He said, no, that means you get the most cheapest room and when those run out we bump you up to the next type although he would be happy to upgrade my room for a fee (and pointed to the layout they had on the counter with all of the upgrade room types). I told him that made no sense and that I could have reserved a better room originally if I hadn’t opted for the Run of the House. No change. I asked to speak to a manager. The manager came over within a few moments and reiterated that Run of the House meant the lowest room type available upon check-in, but as a courtesy they were upgrading me to a Resort Preferred Queen Room (and that they would happily upgrade me to a better room for a fee). I considered asking to speak to her supervisor, but decided it wasn’t worth it. I was here to see what a typical guest might experience, so I let it go. The desk agent tried to sell me on the Tournament of Kings while finishing checking me in.
Now that I was checked in, it was time to go to the Mlife desk to load the myVEGAS Rewards for Freeplay and a free dinner buffet. The Mlife rep asked for my card, ID and room number. He needed the room number to pull up my reservation since both of the Rewards required a stay at a MGM hotel (the Freeplay required that I be staying at Excalibur). He couldn’t find my reservation. Not a big deal. I figured I had probably walked over to the Mlife desk faster than the info could get through their system. He spent some more time trying things on the computer and then said that the room number I had didn’t’ exist. Long story short, because of how the room number was written on the room packet with a space for the floor in addition to the actual room number (where the floor number is incorporated) the agent had put the room number as the floor number followed by the actual room number. Eventually things were sorted out. I got the printed voucher for the buffet comp and the Freeplay was put on my card. I asked why they didn’t put the buffet comp on my card like most of the other casinos. He said that people were having problems with the offer not showing up on their card when they got to the buffet, so they went back to doing printed vouchers. OK. Time to head to the room.
I followed the signs as best I could and found myself at the far corner of the casino. It really felt like I was heading out of the building. The elevators are divided by room number. For the Resort Tower, one bank of elevators served rooms ending in 1-36 and another bank of elevators on the other side of the hallway serves rooms ending in 39-75.
The room was OK, but I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to stay there for the night. The beds were showing signs of their age much like the rest of the room. I could hear kids yelling and running down the hall. This was not the place for me. Still, I spent some time in the room. The view made me laugh. I turned the AC on for a moment, but quickly turned it off due to the noise. I used the WiFi to catch up on email and backup photos, laid down for a bit and watched the news and freshened up a little. I could still hear kids in a room at the far end of the hallway as I walked back to the elevators.
Next stop, the Buffet. The line at the Buffet was very short. I saw a sign for Mlife Pearl and above and went to that entrance.
There were 3 lines for the buffet. One for people who had already paid for their buffets at a kiosk, one for standard cashier line and one VIP cashier line. The people who had paid at the kiosk were immediately seated. There was one cashier handling the regular and VIP lines. There was a problem with the people she was helping when I got there. It took a while for that to get straightened out and since there was only one cashier, the line wasn’t moving. People further back in the line were getting visibly frustrated. Once the cashier was done with that transaction she turned to me to apologize for the delay. When she did that, the next people in line complained that they were with the people in front of them and needed to be next. No problem. I wasn’t in a rush. Turns out they had another free buffet promo as part of their room deal, but it hadn’t been validated. They couldn’t use their comp until they went somewhere else to have it validated. After a brief standoff, they decided to go ahead and pay for the buffet with a credit card. I started to suggest that they charge it to their room, which could give them a chance to sort it out later but decided my involvement would just cause more confusion and prolong the scene. The cashier got to me next. The next person in the regular line was not happy about that at all, but I quickly used the myVEGAS comp and was seated.
The buffet was OK. Drinks were self-service Pepsi products. The sushi station looked to only have California Rolls and vegetable sushi. Nothing of interest to me there. There was a carving station with turkey and roast beef. I got a little of the more well-done roast beef with horseradish on the side and some smoked sausage. I picked up some noodles and sesame-ginger chicken as well as a bit of salad. This was done in 2 passes. They had a large selection of shrimp, crawfish and mussels. The dessert station had a lot out. Most of it just didn’t look good, though. It was close to St. Patrick’s Day, so they had green bread which looked … like a bad choice. While not gourmet, I was happy with the meal. $24 seemed a bit high, but when I think about it in terms of price and value compared to other Strip casino buffets, it was pretty good.
Now it was time to use my Freeplay (and a bit more). I had heard of playable video poker in the Excalibur High Limit room from the VPFree2 database. The High Limit room is small, so it was easy to find the multiline 9/5 Jacks or Better machine. I had a few nice hits early on, but it went downhill from there. The volatility of playing 45 credits per spin (3 hands at 15 credits each) and 50 credits per spin (5 hands and 1- credits each) was taking its toll. Another player came in, sat down one machine away from me and started smoking. I took that as my cue to go elsewhere. I played a slot machine for a little bit before noticing the other guy had gone. I went back to my original video poker machine. My session didn’t get any better, but I did get most of the points I needed to keep my status. I was ready to leave Excalibur. I went to the front desk. Even though there was only one person working the Mlife check-in at this point, I was able to check out quickly.
On the way back to Harrah’s, I wandered back through The Park, picked up water, juice and snacks at CVS and picked up a bath bomb at LUSH (they have a corner stall in the Grand Bazaar at Bally’s). I kept an eye on the Bellagio Fountains as I passed. The video trucks were still there and I saw no sign of a fountain show. I’m not sure whether any of the regularly scheduled fountain shows happened that day.
As I passed the Fulton Street Bar on the way to the elevators at Harrah’s, I took a moment to check the video poker payables and the liquor options. I asked the bartender what they could comp. The typical beer, wine and low-level call brands. I asked if they could comp premiums for Diamond players. He said they comp Diamond players whatever they want. I told him I’d be back. I dropped off my things in the room and headed down to the bar.
I spent the rest of the night playing video poker and enjoying the Fulton Bar environment. One of the highlights was seeing a young couple come to the bar to celebrate a successful marriage proposal. I offered to pay for their champagne, but the bartenders already had it covered. I managed to catch Mirage Volcano show from my room before going to bed.
Tuesday morning I had some of my CVS snacks for breakfast and took advantage of the in-room coffee. I spent a bit of time figuring out my plan for the day. I had already accomplished many of the things on my list. The main things for today were the 4pm Dirk Arthur Wild Magic show at the Westgate and dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Bar and Grill at MGM Grand. Before heading out, I left a $5 tip for housekeeping.
I spent the morning playing more slots and video poker. I had some nice hits on a multi-line 5-reel Double Diamond machine and a wild royal playing Deuces Wild. After all was said and done, I was even for the session.
Time for lunch. Nothing was calling my name, but I wanted to have lunch at Harrah’s. I looked at Flavors. The Free Buffet after 50 Points promo I had hoped to use had been discontinued and $24 was more than I really wanted to put towards lunch. I looked at the new Fulton Street Food Hall. They had a lot of options: a noodle bar, sushi bar, custom salad bar, taco stand, pizza stand, sandwich counter. I circled a few times and settled on a premade cobb salad and an Odwalla smoothie. When in doubt, keep it healthy :-). There were many tables available, so I sat in the food hall for a while and ate my salad.
It was time to head to Westgate for the Dirk Arthur show. I went to the Monorail booth behind Harrah’s and redeemed my myVEGAS one day pass BOGO. The attendant had to leave the booth a few times during this transaction to reset a turnstile that kept malfunctioning.
It was a quick trip to the Westgate. I had about 35 minutes until showtime. I got my ticket at the box office (located just inside the casino; not really near the theater) and looked around for a bit. I saw a solitary sign for the Elvis exhibit I had hoped to see, and knew was supposed to be closing. I couldn’t find any other info about it, so I asked a slot attendant who said it had closed already. The old Spacequest casino section was now a timeshare model and sales area. Very sad. I noticed the line at the International Theater starting to move, so I headed to the theater.
The Dirk Arthur show has maître de seating. Your ticket tells them the basic area, but it is up to them after that. I was seated about 8 rows back near the center. It was a fine vantage point. The show wasn’t as good as I had been hoping, but I would recommend it for kids and grandparents if you get reduced price tickets from Goldstart or Tix4Tonite. Do not pay full price for the show. I will write a detailed review soon.
After the show, I caught the Monorail to MGM. I quickly found a seat at the bar at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. I ordered the Ribeye and used the myVEGAS Reward to get the Tuna Tartare appetizer. The Tuna Tartare was great! I’d consider going back for it. The ribeye was OK. The meat wasn’t bad, but the sauce was overpowering. I chatted with a lady a few seats away who said that the sauce on her steak skewers had been excessive, too, and tasted like A-1. That sounded about right.
Mlife gives you 25 Tier Credits for every $1 spent on dining at MGM restaurants. However, many of the restaurants aren’t directly connected to the Mlife system, so you need to either charge your meal to your room or take your receipt to the Mlife desk to get your points. I was no longer checked in at an MGM Resort, so I took my receipt to MGM Grand’s Mlife desk.
Once the points from dining hit my account I would still be about 400 tier credits short of what I wanted. The Mlife agent said that if I was that close, they would probably renew my status as a courtesy. That was nice to know, but I wanted to make sure I was OK. I considered playing blackjack but I didn’t have a lot of cash on me. I had managed to keep within the cash I had brought with me so far and didn’t want to hit an ATM, cash a check or use my credit line. Playing an hour at $25 per hand should do what I needed (that should yield 550 Tier Credits), but it wasn’t realistic to expect to last an hour at that level with what I had. I asked a pit boss if they still had a minimum bet to be rated. Turns out they had recently changed their policy. They used to require a $25 per hand minimum to be rated, but now they would rate anything (as long as it met the table minimum of course). OK, I could last a while playing with a lower minimum, but that would mean playing even longer. I decided the best option was to play video poker. That would also allow me to see exactly what points I was earning. It didn’t take long to get in the play that I needed. I called it a night and caught the Monorail back to Harrah’s.
When I got off the Monorail, I noticed the signs pointing to Harrah’s and The LINQ from the Monorail were counterintuitive. While the arrows point the proper directions, the word Harrah’s is on the LINQ side and the word LINQ is on the Harrah’s side.
Wednesday morning, I focused on relaxing. I made some coffee and then went down to Fulton Street Food Hall to get a breakfast sandwich. Later, I soaked in the whirlpool at the spa. It was a great way to unwind before heading to the airport. When I went to check out, I had $2 left on my room after using my Reward Credits. The front desk rep (who was the same person that checked me in) stepped over to the host on duty in the Diamond Check-in and quickly got that $2 comped, too. The taxi ride to the airport and the rest of my travels for the day were uneventful.
I’m not sure that I could call it a nice trip, but it was very productive.