Thursday, October 18, 2018

Trip report: notVIMFP 2018

Where to start? My list of "stuff I did" is 75 items long, so I guess starting at the beginning is the best way. I'm always so excited for the October Vegas nerds trip, and this year, without an official event to bring us together, I feared it wouldn't happen... until an announcement came in late June:

Woot! Count me in. A few months later, and I'm on a flight to the promised land, listening to the song of my people:

Terminal 1, with no loud video screens.
It feels wrong, like I'm in terminal 3.
Thursday night:

Arriving at McCarran, I share the first of many Lyfts this weekend, this time to Luxor and check in. I'd reserved a basic Pyramid room -- hey, four nights were "free" and the fifth was "$19", plus $200 in resort fees -- and I'm flying solo, so no big deal. However, I tipped the clerk $20 and asked about complementary upgrades. A few taps on her keyboard, and she responds "we had you in a first floor pyramid room, but I've got you in one of the remodeled rooms on the 9th floor, east tower." Cha-ching! We talk briefly about how they'd been remodeled in December, and I head up.

The room's actually kinda nice. At this price point ("free"), it's really nice. Better than the Park MGM down the street, which fellow nerd Charles described well: It'd be a perfectly fine Hampton Inn in Dubuque, Iowa.
Not bad, Luxor remodelers.

I ditch my bags and head out for my first night in Vegas. Strolling up the strip, my destination, of course, is Chandelier at Cosmo. On the way, I glance at the high limit rooms in Luxor, Excalibur, and NYNY, but decide that the room at Cosmo is best for my plan. I should've started this a long time ago, but going forward, I hope that my first bet every trip is $100 on one number on a single-zero roulette wheel. That's way above my normal wager amount, but not enough that it's going to crush my bankroll, and with a $3500 payout, would be a trip-changing win. I drop a black chip on 4, the ball drops on 18. Maybe next time.

At Chandelier, the bar is full. I can't get a video poker seat, so I head over to Bond instead. It's my first time playing there, but the drinks are equally crafty and the clientele is equally entertaining. I played video poker for around 90 minutes, downing my first whiskey sour of the trip and eventually using two drink tickets for "The Secretariat", a citrusy julep with a star anise floater. Pretty good.

Caesars has a promotion where you get extra tier credits for earning 25 credits a certain number of days in a row, so I hop over to Planet Hollywood to start earning those credits. I hit the target, up 54¢ on the deal, and call it a night. I hop back across the strip, through Aria, through the sad Park MGM, and realize I should stop by CVS for some water bottles for the room.

In the construction walkway outside of Park MGM, I walk through a flock of hookers, who ask "how you doin' baby"and "where you going?". I don't break pace. "No thanks," I reply. "CVS." Oddly, one of them tries to trip me. I just keep walking. Oh, Vegas.


I've got a $50 food/beverage/entertainment credit at Luxor. I figure I've got plenty of time to use it, so instead I grab a Lyft to the breakfast battle in the Miracle Mile shops. I chose La Salsa Cantina over Blondies this time, because I wanted tortillas instead of toast. Some egg, some breakfast potatoes, some orange juice, and I'm out.

I wander up to Flamingo where I buy in at the $2/$4 limit poker table. It's always a soft game, and today was no different. I get some good cards to start with, I'm up about $40, but then the deck turns. I cash out for exactly what I bought in for, and lose $30 on slots while earning today's 25 points.

I want my two dollars.
There's no good video poker here, but there is at Main Street Station, so I grab a shared Lyft. A quad and some other nice play nets me $100, a $2 scratch ticket, and attentive service from the cocktail server.

Next, I mosey to the Sigma Derby machine at The D. I've got a winning system this time, I just know it. I'll bet on the favorite and the long shot. Brilliant! Thirty minutes later, I'm down $10, so I try a different strategy: bet a quarter on everything that's longer odds than 10:1. I hit a 37:1, and a 14:1, but yeah, that's not a long term financial winner, either.

You know what might provide financial security? No, not really. But I decide to drop $80 on eight spins of Vital Vegas's "old faithful" machine at Four Queens. It pays me nothing. More money for the next guy, I guess.

I play some ancient video poker at Fremont (but Sam Boyd's Treasure Chest won't take my $20), and then head over to Golden Gate for the main Friday night get-together. Name tags, handshakes, hugs, cheers, singing, laughing, drinking, and wagering ensue. Some video poker, some group craps play, and some group slot pulls (thanks, Eddie!). Man, I missed this group of misfits. I catch a Lyft back to Luxor and hit the sack.
Take my money, horses.
This space reserved for nerds.

Oh yeah, that $50 food credit. Sounds like breakfast at the Luxor café. They may have de-themed the Luxor a little bit, but there's only so much you can do with a giant pyramid. Thankfully, the theming continues into the menu items. I order a pyramid of pancakes and a side of eggs. It was a decent meal. Not Eat quality, but it's pancakes and eggs. Shrug. I eat about half of it, because I need to leave room for my next stop.

I grab a Lyft to Donut Bar just off Fremont, meeting up with six other nerds for coffee and donuts as big as a stack of DVDs. I order the Homer.

A sub-group of us wander up to Plaza for their 1 PM bingo session. Some of the best video poker is supposed to be on the machines right outside the bingo hall, but it turns out those machines were moved elsewhere. We head back downstairs and play for about 30 minutes. I see others hit a few quads, but not me. No big deal, though, because bingo begins.

There's about 10 of us nerds playing, probably irritating all of the other old people in there with our snickering when O-69 is called. And three games in, I hit the three way bingo for a $250 payout. Cha-ching!

Another nerd wins $60 a few games later. Seems like a successful event, and something we'll definitely need to do again next year.

Next up: the Happy Half Hour on the High Roller ferris wheel. I forgot my ticket in my room, so I zip out of the Plaza and grab a pair of Lyfts to Luxor and the Linq. I arrive right on time.

The Happy Half Hour, for those of you who don't know, is essentially an all-you-can-drink on the world's tallest ferris wheel. About a dozen of us piled into the orb, along with a smaller group of people celebrating their friend's 21st birthday. Cheers!

Our chariot
Drink up, nerds. You've got 30 minutes.
There's a lot of dirt moved around on the
site of Caesars Forum, and holes deep enough
to hide bodies in. Like that happens in Vegas.

We talk about the new Caesars convention space construction, the Madison Sphere Garden, and the Wynn golf course redevelopment. We chat about views from rooms we've stayed in, and views from rooms we wish we stayed in. We refill our drinks, and fill them again. We get a glass to go, and exit through the gift shop.

We chat a bit more in the promenade outside, and then slowly split off. I hop into The Linq to churn through today's 25 Total Rewards points (-$14.50). Eventually, I check my phone's Vegas Mate app to see if there was anything on my to-do list that I'd forgotten. Eureka! I catch an Uber to dinner at Eureka on East Fremont.

The sandwich? Pretty good.
The fries? Amazing.
I'm still a bit tipsy from the open bar, so I decide to have a diet... wait, is that a...? I order an Outlaw Milk Stout, the steak dip sandwich, and sweet potato fries, which the waitress informs me are dusted with cinnamon and drizzled with honey. The sandwich was very good, the fries were amazing. The mild tang of the sweet potato merges with the sweetness of the honey and slight dustiness of the cinnamon taste to create a taste combination I never would have considered, but it works really well.

Wait. This isn't my hyperlocal Seattle food blog (subtle plug). Forget that. It tasted good. Service was excellent. I forgot that I could have used my Golden Gate/The D "One" card points to pay for it. Oops.

I hoofed it from there over to the notMain non-Event at Vue Bar at The D. I went easy on the drinking, nursing a water for quite a while. Many of the Vegas nerds were there, although there were others in town who didn't show. Vegas happens, so we gladly spread rumors that they were living it up in Pahrump, trying to appear on the Live PD TV show.

I'm glad it wasn't 1,610 physical nickels.
That'd be inconvenient.
The party slowly winds down, and we wander off our own ways. I head back to the El Cortez, looking for their legendary 100+% payback video poker machines. After a lot of looking, I finally give up and instead play a 5¢ wheel poker machine (hit quads, spin the wheel). I hit quad aces and won 800 nickels ($40), and then spin the wheel and won another 800 nickels. Woot!

It's getting close to midnight, and I wander over to the Third Street stage and watch Zowie Bowie perform a trio of '80s cover songs. I see why he's been performing around this town for ages: he's good. Next door at Four Queens, I play a Silver Strike machine and take about $70 of money out of it. Then through the sad Binions back room and across the street to briefly play video poker at California. I'm tired and not that into it, so head back to Golden Gate to see if anyone's still out and about. They're not, but I leave my obligatory $20 in Top Dollar.

I catch a shared Lyft back to the Luxor, and before I head to bed, I check the Twitters to see if anyone's meeting up to watch football the next morning. There's no consensus, and I tend to be anti-social introverted, so I plan to go to Westgate and watch from there. Oh yeah, I'd better stop by Luxor's sportsbook and figure out my bets before I go to sleep. Morning comes early, and I don't want to miss the 10 AM betting deadline while I'm still trying to figure out what to wager on.


Up and at 'em! With less than an hour to kick off, I hop in an Uber to Westgate, find a comfy chair in the sportsbook (yay, soloing!), and get my bets in. That'll be the Seahawks at -3, the Cardinals at +9½, the Bucs/Falcons under 57½, the Bills/Texans over 40, and a Ties Win parlay of all these at an extra +½.

It didn't go so well. The Seahawks bet was the only one that paid. Ah well. A couple of free drinks, a couple of $3 hot dogs, a few hours of Sunday morning football in the best spot to watch it all... it's well worth the cost of admission.

I played a couple more hours of video poker there, being dealt a Fanboy but ending up with a simple flush. Then it was on to Palms to check out the shark.
Another Fanboy.Sigh.
The Uber took me past the (un)Lucky Dragon, which was closed and blocked off with a chain link fence. Kinda sad, really.
Rather unlucky, dragon.

At Palms, I wondered how easy the shark would be to find. It's not difficult. You walk in the front door, and it's right there.

I played some 100+% video poker there for a while, and then wanderd across the street to Gold Coast. I was kinda craving dim sum, and I've heard that the Chinese food at Ping Pang Pong is among the best in town. More video poker first, and I'm glad I took the time, because a tweet came through alerting me to more notVIMFP shenanigans:

I high tailed it over to Cosmopolitan, but didn't find any nerds at Chandelier. However, as I'm looking for people, nerd Roland tweets that he hit his first ever royal flush at Bond. I grab a seat next to him and his wife (dang, can't remember her name!), hoping that their luck will rub off and I notch a win. Nope, down a bit instead. On Twitter, we chat about dinner options, and I make a decision to meet at Yong Kang Street at 8:30. Three other nerds join the three of us, and we enjoy a mix of tame Chinese dishes. Because I suggested it, and had eaten there twice before, it seemed like the rest of the group turned to me to figure out what to order off the dim sum cart. Fortunately, it was all tasty. No, it's no Din Tai Fung, but then what is?

We agree that dinner the next night should be at Peppermill. 7 PM? 8 PM? Fine, 7:30 it is. I think to myself... maybe after dinner, I can check out the much derided Slots-A-Fun. I mean, if we're going to Peppermill, which is on the right side of cheesy Vegas 70's kitsch, why not check out the wrong side? I don't mention this to my tablemates, because there's a bit of a stigma attached to the place, in part because it's really just terrible, and in part because my favorite podcaster referred to it as a place to make a few extra bucks giving favors in the bathroom. He was joking. Probably. Maybe.

If you haven't already done so, this is the point you're probably thinking to yourself, "why am I reading this?" Hey, it's your life. You do you.

After dinner, we go our separate ways. I hop across the street and catch the 10:30 fountain show (Billie Jean), then head over to Caesars with two goals: visit the dismal subterranean bathrooms I've heard people rant about, and churn through today's 25 TR points.

The lobby, as always, is gorgeous.
Caesar really should have stayed here.
I decide to earn my TR points with video poker, and it goes slowly, and badly. Down $55 with only 10 points earned, I bail out and look for a slot machine. I'm looking for something bright, loud, and ridiculous. The Mariah Carey slot machine calls out to me. Like Mariah, it just sits there singing recorded music and doesn't move. I drop $20 in. And then another $20. And then a third $20. Bonus, bonus, bonus! The bonus round free spins take a while, which is always a good thing. I hit my 25 points, and walk away ahead $35. I'm so relieved, I forget to visit Caesars' dungeon bathrooms. Next time.

"Honey! We got meth money!"
I mosey further up the strip, snap a photo of the skeevy Buck, Winnie, and Chip statue at Harrah's, and find myself at Casino Royale with a bunch of drunk millennials playing bubble craps. As I told IndyJeff the next day, two advantages to bubble craps are that you can bet the dark side with hardly anyone noticing, and you can make bets that pay of in fractions of dollars. The disadvantage to bubble craps is you can make the stupid bets you'd never make at a real table, because nobody will see you. Case in point: I bought in for $40, was down to $10, made it back up to $39.88, and decided to bet $1 on the field. If I win, I'm ahead, and I cash out. I lose, so I bet $2. That loses; $4 bet. That loses, $8 bet. I've got $24.88 left. Fine. Bet $24 on the field. It wins. Whew. I'd never do that on a real table.

Further north, I cross the street and head into TI. I'm too tired to play video poker correctly, so instead decide to give The Goonies a few bucks. Exhausted, I walk back to Luxor, ignoring a few more hookers, and fall asleep immediately.


10:00 AM, I slowly wake up thinking about my plans for the day. Things I need to do: I still have $20 in Luxor freeplay to use, I need to visit Cosmopolitan because I still have a $55 ticket from the day before, I need to churn through 25 TR points, and I've got dinner plans at Peppermill. I'm doing the math and scheduling on this, and still bleary-eyed, at about 10:30 I grab my phone and see this:

I leap out of bed, fire off a reply tweet, and realize my plans are out the window. I'd earlier used the hashtag #AllVegasPlansAreInPencil; Tim said #AllVegasPlansAreTentative. Same thing. A quick shower, dressed, and I'm in a Lyft to TopGolf.

The targets we're allegedly supposed to "aim" for.
Nice form, Charles!

I'm not sure who goes to TopGolf to hang out
in the pools, but that's apparently a thing.
Pretzels, cheeses, meats, sausage,
apples, nuts, melted cheese product.
We play for around 90 minutes, and as it's still early in the day for me, I'm being a good person and order an orange juice and pretzel platter. It turned out the $50 food and entertainment credit can be used here as well, so I charge my part of the bill to my room. Cha-ching!

Four of us take turns whacking golf balls off the deck, allegedly aiming for targets but more or less just hitting the balls in the general direction of the targets. A few long shots brush up against the netting on the right hand side of the course. "They just want to go to Ellis Island," I suggest.

All my pitied little ponies.
After golf, I explore TopGolf a little more, pass on the $90 shirts in the gift shop, and then mosey over to MGM. Maybe I'll be able to use my freeplay there. The line at the players club is long, so I figure I'll head across the street to NYNY instead. On the way, I check out the Sigma Derby table. The horses are dead.

I stop by the NYNY players club desk. Sorry, the freeplay can only be used at Luxor. That's kinda what I expected, so I'll need to remember to use it tonight. I check out the face-up pai gow tables: $15 limits at 1:30 on a Monday afternoon. Too rich for my blood. Maybe the Park MGM table's cheaper? Nope, it's also $15. I've got a 8¢ ticket from Park MGM that I didn't cash in on my last trip. I place it and another $20 in a slot machine, and I'm soon down $20.08.

I'd heard rumors of a new hidden bar at Cosmopolitan: Ghost Donkey. my sources told me where to find it, so I checked it out. I didn't get anything -- it's not the kind of joint you'd hang out solo -- but it's a neat, intimate space for decompressing and eating something from the food court right outside. In photos, here's how to find it, along with a couple of menu shots. I didn't photograph the extensive mezcal list inside.

So yeah, now I know where it is, but I'm not sure if I'll make an opportunity to go back.

Chandelier is much more my style, which is where I head next to drink some tasty citrusy drinks, play some video poker, and have my spare Bond ticket rejected when I try and use it for a drink upgrade. Ah well.

Across the street to Planet Hollywood, I burn through $60 to get my 25 points for the day. Those Wheel of Fortune machines are just evil. I make back the $60 at Cromwell on their full pay video poker machines, and at around 5 PM, hop into a Lyft to the north strip. I want a better look at the new Resorts World construction before dark, and I'm feeling like playing some video keno. I know nothing about the game, but the Wizard of Odds keno survey site says Encore has the best in town.

I lose $10 on keno, and a lot more on slots. With time to burn, I walk slowly northward towards Peppermill, checking out the 3-for-$10 t-shirt shops, the strip mall, and the people raving about Tacos El Gordo. It looks like a second location is opening just a few doors north of the existing location; staff inside appeared to be in a training class.

I get into Peppermill about 20 minutes early, but Greg and Michelle show up shortly thereafter. IndyJeff appears a few minutes later. We grab a table for six, expecting two more, but #AllVegasPlansAreTentative. They arrive late and head into the lounge instead. The chicken parmesan was mediocre. I should've ordered breakfast food: twice as good at half the price.

Slots-A-Fun bowling.
Greg and I had the same idea! We invited IndyJeff to join us after dinner at Slots-A-Fun; he admits he'd just come from there, and to paraphrase him, "It makes dens of sadness look a lot less sad."

Slots-A-Fun is larger than I remembered. It has some tiny bowling lane things. It is indeed sad. And... here's the moment you've been waiting for... I used the men's room. It was cleaner than a gas station, well lit, with stalls on the right and urinals on the left. All three sinks work. Paper towels were adequate. Theming is Park MGM: beige, dull, functional. The guy in the stall nearest the door didn't offer us any deals, instead choosing to keep to himself. I respect that.

We got out of there quickly, but then I turned to Greg and Michelle and asked, only somewhat rhetorically, "So that was a bad decision. Circus Circus is next door. How about more bad decisions?" How could he refuse?

Caution: Slots-A-Fun men's room ahead.
(That carpet, though!)
I point out the Sarno blocks on the way in, and admit that the Sarno blocks there and in front of Caesars Palace are about all I remember about Jay Sarno, despite having read Dr. Dave's Grandissimo two years ago.

We look around a little, dodge some kids running through, and discover an escalator near the middle of the casino, headed up to an uncertain destination. "Is this like the one at The D, where you can only go one way, and then have to figure your way out?", asks Greg. Seems like a bad choice. Let's go up.

We're on the carnival level, what I refer to as the kids' casino. Greg is enamored with the camel races. I'm fascinated by the coin-pusher games with themes that appeal to kids: Willy Wonka, Elvis, Wheel of Fortune. It's just kinda the wrong amount of wrong up here.

We see the trapeze net in the center, and walk closer to take a look. Next show, 9:30, "Diabolo!". It's 9:05. Should we wait for the show? Seems like a bad choice. So what should we do until then?

The carousel of bad choices
I have an idea. "You know in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the scene where Gonzo is on the carousel playing the slot machines? That was filmed somewhere here, right?" (No, it wasn't, and I'm remembering the scene wrong. Shut up.) We spot the carousel with slots, and decide it would be a bad choice to play there. Michelle points out the stairs, and we head down.

Greg plays "Mystical Unicorns", and loses his buy in quickly when the unicorns realize he's a dude and won't pay out. I play a Sherwood Forest-themed game next to it while Michelle hides from us on the other side, playing who knows what. "Bonus, bonus," I yell, realizing there's kids around. That's no way to gamble. A few minutes later, though, I hit a bonus, get 8 free spins, 7 of which pay nothing. Lame. I still manage to cash out for $1.40 more than I bought in for. Take that, Circus Circus.

No, this isn't gambling, kids! The Oompa Loompas and
Elvis would never let you do that!

Back on the carnival level, we grab our seats for the 9:30 show. The diabolo is kind of an Argentinian yo-yo, I think, a bobbin spun on a length of rope. This Wikipedia article implies it take a lot more skill than it looks. Still, the performance is short and un-engaging. I want an immersive experience, dagnabbit! Amusingly, the house band for the show consists of a drummer and a person operating a recording of Welcome to the Jungle.

Diabolo! A random person on the internet
said he does the same performance at
Opium, so that means this is impressive.
The diabolo performance ends, the emcee cautions us to stay off the stage during the intermission, and then... nothing? Nothing. The show was 5 minutes long, and the "intermission" is the 25 minute gap between shows. Next up at 10 PM: Chinese parasol foot juggling. Time to leave.

Out in front of Circus Circus, my last night in Vegas for the trip, I ponder: are there any more bad choices I could make? I could head back to Chandelier, and play video poker for a couple more hours. Or is there something else.

"We're headed back to El Cortez,"Greg says. "Darren says he's playing craps there." Count me in. I catch a ride with their Uber, and on the way in, Greg notices the neon sign above the ElCo's Fremont Street entrance: Floor Shows. "I don't remember any floor show," he says. "You just haven't been paying attention," I respond. We head inside, Michelle retires to her room, and I grab a spot next to the craps table stickman, Cody, with Darren on the other side.

The game goes poorly. The crew is making mistakes, and the boxman is ripping them a new one, especially the stickman. "Cody," says the boxman, "What's 17 minus 6. It's not 11, is it Cody? Cody, what was your best subject in school. It wasn't math. Was it history? Gym? Home ec? What was it Cody? Are you good at cooking? I could get you a job in the kitchen. Are you good at writing essays, Cody?" Wow. I cash out ahead $5. Greg, who'd been standing back watching, pointed out that there's also been a commotion deeper into the casino. "You were right, Travis. There is a floor show."

I say goodbye to Greg and Darren, knowing we'll remember this night for at least the next few days. Feeling full of Vegasy snarky bad choice karma, I decide I want to play some final video poker at Main Street Station. I get distracted by a slot machine at Golden Gate, then decide to play at Plaza instead; I don't feel like the walk on Main Street to MSS is a fun idea this time of night. As my VP buy in is dwindling down, I'm startled by the face and a timid voice over my left shoulder. "Sir, can you help me with any money..." No, sorry. She begs from a few more people around me and then leaves. Oh, Vegas.

I catch a Lyft back to Luxor just after midnight.


Travels home the next morning are uneventful. I realize too late that I never used the $20 freeplay that Luxor offered, but unlike my last stay at Aria, I did remember to use the $50 food and entertainment comp. Total Rewards says I had five consecutive days of 25-credit play, which earned me 90 bonus tier credits. This leaves 4000 more credits to earn before the end of the year to hit Platinum. What a waste of time.

My gambling log indicates that on a daily basis, this was one of my best trips ever, with a daily average loss of around $25. I certainly got more than $25 a day of fun out of it. Heck, I probably got more than $25 a day in free drinks, and isn't that what Vegas is all about? I love this town, the Vegas nerds, and the one special time of year we get together to celebrate making bad choices.

(Late edits: spelled Michelle right; Park MGM isn't next door to Luxor; punctuation fixes; added Sam Boyd's Treasure Chest fail; Plaza poker machines were moved, not downgraded)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Trip Report: 360VV6, Go Knights Go

Welcome to Impossible.
This was originally going to be a quick trip report, but then I started typing. Sorry.

Sunday, May 27, arrived for 360 Vegas Vacation 6. Lyft didn't long haul me; my wife and I checked into Park MGM around 11 AM. No chance to try the $20 trick, as the human check in line was too long, Pearl status is too low-class for the VIP check in line, and the kiosks just hand out rooms with no options. (It could be that my first name, "J", also threw off the system, as it choked on my check in and required intervention.)

The room at Park MGM (formerly Monte Carlo) was newly remodeled, but done on the cheap -- "IKEA quality" is how some of us described it. The poorly-leveled shower floor didn't drain properly, fixtures were caulked poorly, the bed was generic white without a touch of color, and the walls are paper thin. For "comped plus resort fee," it's fine, but not a home run.

Lunch was China Poblano, as good as ever. After drinks at Luxor and a group limo ride downtown, dinner was Pizza Rock (thanks, Ryan and Rebecca!). I next walked up to the California, through its upstairs construction zone, across the skybridge, and played video poker for five minutes before discovering Mark and Dr. Mike were planning on craps at Downtown Grand. Sigh. Back to DTG. Fun times, and as the game faded, I left up $11. On to a little video poker at the Fremont for a bit, then back to the hotel for the night.

Also: Not Labor Day
Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day, not Veteran's day as the sign at Paris indicated): We Ubered to breakfast at Eat. Tasty again. We walked Fremont Street up to Binions, then a little VP at Fremont, then retreated back to the D and took a Lyft back to Park MGM.

My wife took a nap as I headed out to Toshiba Plaza around 2:30 PM to catch the 5 PM Golden Knights in game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. The crowd was insane. I've been to Seahawks home games, legendary for their volume, but those didn't even compare to the volume here. My ears were still ringing 24 hours later, and the energy... I'll probably never make it to EDC or Life Is Beautiful, but the crowd here was so incredibly upbeat.

Next, we Lyft'd to Paris and had dinner at Yong Kang Street. Service was a little slow, but that's fine, we were in no rush. Lyft'd back to Park MGM, tucked my wife in, and then wandered the south strip for several hours losing money at VP and slots.

Me on the right somewhere. Photo from VGK Twitter
Tuesday, May 29: The 360VV6 folks arranged for a spa meetup at Canyon Ranch Spa at Venetian. I was afraid I'd be the only guy there, and although I wasn't, I didn't know the other two guys (who I only vaguely recognized). In the men's area, I tried the heated chairs, the steam sauna, the igloo shower, and the TV lounge. In the co-ed area, I didn't see anyone I recognized, and tried the salt room and the wave room. Ninety minutes and $60 in, I decided that nope, this ain't my thing, showered, and bailed out. More for you.

I met up with the crew for drinks at NYNY, then walked back with them to the construction at Park MGM. Group craps at Tropicana was quick and painful; across the street to the Dismal Castle was also quick and expensive. Todd, Tom, Sandy, and I left that group to play Face Up Pai Gow at NYNY, which also took my money, but at a much slower pace. Once I got felted, I checked my wallet: only $50 left for today's budget. Time to slow play at Chandelier.

After dinner at Secret Pizza, it's time for drinks and slow play. Drink tickets still kicked out at a reasonable pace. An hour or so later, I tweeted:

Two can keep a Secret.
He offered to pay me if he could play my machine while his were locked up. I agreed -- he gave me two drink tickets. After he got paid off and left, another hooker took his seat and chatted with me. I ran out of money shortly after, gave *her* my two remaining drink tickets, and around 1 AM began to wander out. I bumped into Ryan, Rebecca, Joe, and Alastair on the casino floor; hugs, handshakes, and until-next-times were exchanged.

Wednesday, May 30: A noonish breakfast with my wife at Mon Ami Gabi. Yummy food, great people watching, and a minor slot win at Paris. Based on a tip from someone I talked to on Toshiba Plaza during Monday's win, we hopped a Lyft to WalMart in search of a Golden Knights tank top for my daughter at home. No luck, but we found a cheap T shirt for her.

Back to Park MGM, where my wife napped while I headed downtown to watch the Golden Knights game 2. Before the gates opened, I got a new "One Club" card from The D, then took it to a $1 Top Dollar machine at Golden Gate. Ten $2 spins later, I hit a $360 payout, my biggest win of the trip. The Downtown LV Event Center is much less intense than viewing the game in Toshiba Plaza. Chairs and tables help, and it's not the packed-in-festival-crowd feeling. I'd do the Toshiba Plaza viewing again in a heartbeat, but twice in a week is too much.

After the game, I Lyft'd back to Park MGM, and my wife and I walked to Julian Serranos Tapas at Aria. We ordered the marinated olives, the Coca Vegetarian (kind of a deep-dish cheese Boboli), and the Tender and Crab (beef tenderloin and dungeness). It was easily the best food of the trip. I ditched my wife back at the hotel, and as is my tradition, I spent my last night on the strip walking as far north as I dared and then back. I walked up the east side to Encore, then back south to TI and Mirage, calling it a night at around 2 AM.

Thursday, May 31: We dropped our bags at the bell desk and walked over to Bruxie for breakfast. Service was friendly, but the metal shaving in my wife's egg sandwich eliminated our appetites. Her food was appropriately refunded. We played slots for a bit at NYNY, then grabbed our bags and headed to the airport. The trip was over far too soon.

Good food, great camaraderie, fun never-before experiences, and learning the spas ain't my thing -- another outstanding trip is in the books.
Stanley Cup finals at DLVEC

A few observations:
  • Video poker was not kind to me anywhere, and slots were only good at Golden Gate. This is my third-largest loss trip in 23 trips, and my biggest loss trip since October 2015. Still, I came home with about 50% of my bankroll, so it wasn't *that* bad.
  • 14 out of 16 times, Lyft was a cheaper option than Uber. Lyft line was sometimes amazingly cheap, like my $3.53 ride from Park MGM to The D. True, it was 41 minutes with two intermediate stops (Elara and Silver Sevens), but that was time I needed to take anyway to answer some work e-mails, and I think that still makes it faster and cheaper than The Deuce.
  • Most rideshare drivers have no idea how to get to Park MGM's pick-up and drop-off area, and don't trust the GPS. One driver took nearly half an hour to find me.
  • Park MGM is a decent place to stay if it's comped, but so's Excalibur. As I discussed with someone else, the changes are unlikely to make a shift in prices -- especially not a Cromwell-like change -- other than perhaps Parke Carlo and NYNY will swap places on MGM's room product heirarchy.
  • Park MGM is a terrible name. Nobody knows what you're talking about, and assume it's MGM. Its name might as well officially change to "Park MGM Formerly Monte Carlo," because that's how I had to  refer to it all week.
  • I didn't spend nearly enough time at Cosmo. I also don't know when I could have fit more time in.
  • Hookers are terrible at feigning interest in discussion of MGM Resorts shareholder expectations

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trip Report: 21

My daughter turned 21 last month. The only time she's stayed in Vegas before, she was 8 years old. My wife and I took her to Vegas last week, hoping she catches the Vegas bug like I have (spoiler: she didn't). Here's the details, with her commentary in red italics.

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas
Sunday, December 11: We're delayed two hours out of SeaTac due to some mechanical issues on an earlier leg of the flight, but that gives us extra time to watch the Seahawks' pitiful loss to Green Bay before we board. The flight is uneventful, but I've placed her on the right hand side, so she sees the lights of the strip as we land. At baggage claim, I surprise her with Presidential Limo. We stop by the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, drive up the strip (while I prattle off history and random facts about each of the properties we pass), and eventually finish at Elara, where I've gone overboard and booked a two-bedroom suite.

I try the $20 on the front desk clerk. "We don't have complimentary upgrades, sir, but let me see what I can do." I end up with a top floor suite, but no balcony, facing the south strip. The clerk describes the room as "slightly larger." It was certainly big enough for the three of us. Full kitchen, 6-seat dining table, projection TV, two bathrooms, jetted tub, and except for a few scuffs on the furniture and mis-aligned cabinetry doors, in perfect condition.

We ditch our bags and head over to Yong Kang Street at Paris. My daughter's a big fan of dim sum, and she declared that it was merely adequate. The dim sum she makes herself is a little better, and neither are as good as Din Tai Fung, but then again, what is?

Places like Paris are going to fail, because millennials don't appreciate the artificial themeing. It seems fake and insincere. Disney does it better and more classy.

On the way back out through Paris, she mentions how smoky it is. I didn't notice, but she's lived in a tobacco-free environment most of her life -- not at home, in restaurants, or in most public spaces -- so it's an unpleasant place for her. This revulsion continues throughout the week, especially at Flamingo, Mirage, and Planet Hollywood. Aria and Cosmo were OK, and Cromwell was well ventilated near the doors. I didn't even consider showing her Casino Royale, and threatened her with a trip to El Cortez's Home for Wayward Emphysema Patients.

Cigarette smoke is a huge turn-off for millennials, who grew up in a smoke-free environment. Weed, however, is somehow okay with us.

Monday, December 12: While my wife and daughter sleep in, I'm in Vegas mode (go! go! go!) so I head down to Planet Hollywood to play on the best 25¢ video poker machine in the Caesars empire: a 100-play Jacks or Better machine in the high limit room, on which I only play one hand at a time. About 20 minutes in, I hit quad 4's, which sadly ends up being the best hand of the trip.

French toast incoming
Once they're awake, we head over to Mon Ami Gabi for breakfast (tasty) and then to the Cosmopolitan for drinks and video poker at my happy place, Chandelier. My favorite bartender, Sone, is working, and she picks out a delicious wine for my daughter and makes an outstanding whiskey sour for me. Cosmo is on the drink ticket system now, and because my daughter is unemployed and frugal, she's betting small and not getting tickets. No matter; my wife and I are playing enough to hand some tickets off to her and keep a few extras for later.

My daughter heads back to Elara for a nap, and my wife and I head upstairs to China Poblano for a light lunch. It's one of my favorite restaurants in Vegas. Our waiter, Kevin, suggests the Tamal Roja, so we order that, a plate of lamb pot stickers, and a basket of chips and salsa. The chips are seasoned with a little black pepper, which somehow makes them seem a little crisper. I'm sure the lamb pot stickers were outstanding, but realized after my second meal of lamb in three months... I just don't care for lamb. However, the pot stickers' lacy coating had a surprising mild spiciness to them, which offset the earthy gaminess of the lamb a little bit. And the tamal roja? Wow. I know that chef José Andrés refuses to call this place a Chinese-Mexican fusion restaurant, but how else can I describe it? Pulverized pork, as one would find in a pot sticker or xing bao, is molded into a candy bar-sized loaf and cooked in a corn husk. It's served open-faced with a drizzle of salsa. It's so good.

arrive hungrier than I did
Back to Elara, my wife (tired) and daughter (refreshed) switch places. Daughter and I wander up to Cromwell, where she has what I think was her only winning video poker session. We've got reservations for three of us at Carbone, but only my daughter and I make it, and I wasn't that hungry. Oops. You're supposed to be hungry and carnivorous and pulling out the stops, but we order prosciutto with mozzarella, a side of meatballs, and split a mushroom fettuccine. No table-side flair, not to-die-for food, but it was good, elegant, and with excellent service. My daughter described the food as over-oily, and the fettuccine was a little watery, the cardinal sin of pasta preparation. Next time, I go in hungry and order a slab of meat.

We drop off the leftovers for my wife, and then head back out, catching an Lyft to Cromwell and then moseying back through Bellagio, Cosmo, Aria (with a stop for gelato and a macaroon at Jean Philippe Patisserie), The Park, and New York New York, Upon entering NYNY, my daughter points out one of the only millennials she's seen on our stroll. "What she doing here," she wonders out loud, then realizes, "Oh. There's her parents."

Wandering over the skybridge towards the Dismal Castle, I give her the option to check it out or head over to the Tropicana. She's got no interest in Excalibur, and the skybridge to Tropicana is still closed, so instead, we call it a night and Uber back to Elara.

I have negative interest in Excalibur after what I've seen. Another smoke-filled fake casino is not my idea of fun.

Drink tickets; boooo!
Tuesday, December 13: My new morning routine: while the family sleeps in, I play Jacks or Better in the Planet Hollywood high limit room. Once they've woken, I grab some water bottles from the ABC store and head up. It's late enough that we skip breakfast and catch a Lyft up to Lucky Dragon for lunch, which just opened 10 days earlier. Their food court is good, authentic Chinese food, but there's not much else there of interest. I knew going in that I wasn't the target audience, but I'm not sure I'll have a reason to come back. It's pretty, though.

We catch an Uber to Fashion Show Mall, check out a few stores, and then Uber back to Elara for wife and daughter to nap. I wander down to MGM, losing $20 on the Sigma Derby horses but winning double that back on slots. My daughter calls, and we meet back at Cosmo for more VP and drinks at Chandelier. I have a drink coupon left from yesterday, and use it without issue.

Down a little bit, we head out and pick up my wife, getting a Lyft to Battista's Hole in the Wall: classic Italian food, with photos on the walls and a roving accordion player and all-you-can-drink wine. So good. So filling. We wander back to Elara and tuck my wife in, and then we head back to Cosmo for drinks and video poker at Chandelier.

Pomegranate goodness, leading to hazy grins
I feel like it's a good idea to follow up my half carafe of Battista's wine with an old fashioned. My daughter has a Riesling. The bartender is hopping, making drinks non-stop and joking with the other staff. At one point, he pulls out a bottle of pomegranate liqueur and makes martinis for the cocktail waitress to deliver. My eyes widen; my daughter's jaw drops. "One of those, please," I request. "And a pomegranate Sprite for me," asks my daughter. The bartender makes them strong. I'm quite tipsy, maybe the second drunkest I've been in Vegas. "You're the best drinking buddy ever," I quip to my daughter. She grins back, through her intoxicated haze.

When we were there, another millennial ordering a drink leaned in to order a drink, and said to me "I don't know what I'd be doing playing video poker." I never saw anyone else my age playing any machines at all. I only really saw them playing craps and poker, and that was even rare.

Props to another Vegas photog for coming up
with the idea for this shot. I liked it enough to
try it for myself.
Wednesday, December 14: I'm up early, so video poker in PHo's high limit room. My wife wakes up, and we lose a big chunk of change on PHo's slot machines. Once my daughter wakes up, we catch an Uber downtown to Eat. Their pancakes are the best in town (sorry, DuPars lovers, but you're wrong). The cinnamon biscuits are as amazing as we remember. And my daughter's grilled cheese is a four-inch-thick block of gooey goodness. She's not feeling well, so instead of giving her a tour of Fremont Street, we Uber back to Elara for another round of "family naps while Travis plays." I mosey down to Excalibur and slowly whittle away my chip stack at the craps table until I get the call that they're awake. On a whim, I choose Uber Pool for the return trip. It's cheaper, and the app doesn't find any other customers on the way, so that's a great choice when it's not three of us in the car.

We stop by Urban Outfitters and Victorias Secret. I'd allocated a fund of daily "play money" to my daughter, thinking she'd use it for gambling, but shopping appeals to her more. I'm somewhat proud of that. Everybody does their own Vegas, and maybe shopping is her thing.

All you need is LOVE
The three of us are now in a happy rut: back to Cosmo for afternoon drinks and video poker at Chandelier. After a bit of play, we pocket our extra drink tickets and walk back to Elara to get ready for the evening. My wife's now feeling a little under the weather, so it's just my daughter and I catching a Lyft to see the dress rehearsal of Beatles LOVE. The show has a lot of new features since I last saw it, and its as amazing as ever.

As we exited the LOVE theatre, I couldn't stay in the Mirage. I nearly ran out -- the smoke made my throat feel as if it was filling with liquid and I couldn't catch my breath. 

My daughter and I wander back to Elara, checking out the Caesar's lobby and the Chihuly art in the Bellagio lobby.

Chihuly seems to be everywhere in Vegas, and it's unimpressive. We've got a ton of Chihuly works at home, too. It's like we can't walk down the street at home without tripping on a piece.

She's craving street tacos, my wife is, too, so we hop in a Lyft to Tacos El Gordo. Mind you, I know this is the slow time of year for Vegas, but I didn't expect to be one of the only customers in Tacos El Gordo. The line here is usually out the door. Our Lyft driver recommended the Abadabo fries, so that's what I ordered. They're really good, though quite sloppy. My wife and daughter have the steak tacos, and they're unimpressed (due to the amazing tacos at home). We hop in another Uber Pool back to Elara, with one brief stop at Morton's to pick up another passenger. Not too inconvenient for a super-low rate. Seriously: $6.37, Tacos El Gordo to Elara. Hope they didn't mind the taco smell.

Slow time of year
I tuck them in, and at midnight head out on my own, wandering up the strip, breaking even at the O'Shea's craps table, and coming out ahead at Casino Royale's slot machines. At Venetian, around 2 AM, I'm tired as well, and Uber Pool back to Elara. Again, no other passengers pop up, and the fare is $5.52. Cheap!

Thursday, December 15: It's our last day in Vegas, and although check-out time is 10 AM, our flight doesn't leave until 9:30 PM. Both wife and daughter are still showing signs of blah-ness, so I book a cheap $27 room at the Flamingo for the day ($66 with fees). We drag our bags over via Lyft, but know better than to eat breakfast at the Dirty Bird, so Uber back to the Miracle Mile Shops for a cheap breakfast at Blondies. We each order the $3.99 eggs, bacon, and hashbrown special. It's cheap and edible. Good enough. We then Uber back to Flamingo, where my wife naps, and my daughter and I head out to wander a bit. While I grab slices of pizza at Cosmo's Secret Pizza, she tries to redeem yesterday's video poker voucher for a drink. Sorry -- it's expired. They just started scanning the barcodes this week. Dang. After pizza, we head up to the pool to look at the somewhat unimpressive ice skating rink, then head over to play video poker at Cromwell. After an hour or so, my daughter she heads up to take a nap while I play craps, just about breaking even.

I wander a bit more, get a text from my family that they're awake, and head up to the room to see how they're doing. I pocket the soaps, pen, and notepad from the room, like I always do. My wife's still bleh, but my daughter's up to going out. I'd originally planned to catch the start of the Seahawks game at Westgate, but my daughter suggested we watch it at the Cosmo sportsbook bar. We play video poker through most of the first half of the game; I break even, she loses a little, but far less than she would have if the machine hadn't been offline for the first 10 minutes. Somebody stuffed pennies in the card reader. Who does that?

I love the Cosmopolitan because of its drinks and atmosphere. It doesn't feel like it's trying to be anything other than what it is, and I think people my age will appreciate it for that. The only other property close to feeling this way is Aria, but it feels more uptight and pretentious.

Another pomegranate and Sprite.
They won't take my expired drink ticket here, either.
I pointed out the nearby shuffleboard and pool tables, and joked to my daughter, "there's no cornhole. How do they expect to attract millennials?"

He jokes, but that's serious. Millennials want to game, but not lose money to games. We'd rather spend it on drinks. Games like cornhole and giant Jenga really do pull us in.

My Seahawks don't cover the first half spread, so I'm leaving town with a loss. We grab my wife and our bags from Flamingo, Uber to the airport, and watch the 'hawks cover the game spread. You couldn't have done that in the first half, guys?

The flight home is uneventful. All in all, a pretty good trip. Too bad my family wasn't feeling great, but there's always next time.

When we got home, I hated how the smoke seems to have clung to all my clothes. Everything, clean and dirty, goes in the wash.

If the casinos want to appeal to millennials, they'll need to improve their free wifi coverage. I only found it at Aria and Mirage. I'm more likely to go to a casino that has wifi than to one that doesn't.

Overall, I just don't think Vegas appeals to millennials. We're already looking at screens all day, and we vacation to escape that. We want what's real, and that usually involves getting outdoors, not staying inside with smokers.