Monday, September 28, 2009

My 2009 Vegas New Year's Resolutions didn't get far

In January 2009, I made a list of my New Year's Resolutions (as they applied to all things Vegas) to see how many I could accomplish during the year. I knew I had two trips planned, but I was hoping for a third one in October. Sadly, that third trip is not to be, so I'm reviewing my 2009 Vegas Resolutions now to see what I was able to accomplish.

Visit Encore - I got this done on the very first day of my March trip. We checked in and headed over to the extremely RED casino. It was very pretty, but I felt very claustrophobic in there for some reason. I prefer Wynn, but some people prefer Encore.

Attend the LV4E Mega Meet in July - I was the co-organizer of this first big event for the LasVegas4Ever website, and it was a great success and a lot of fun to boot. I made some new friends that I've "known" online, and we're hoping to plan an even more successful 'Mega Meet II' some time in 2010.

See LOVE again - This was such a great show the first time I saw it that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see it again this year. I got a 40% discount from The Mirage and opted for a higher seat this time (I was in the 5th row the first time I saw it), and I don't think there's a bad seat in the place. I'm looking forward to seeing it yet again next year!

Watch at least 20 Bellagio fountain shows - You'd think this would be hard to do, but I spent a lot of time in that area during my July trip and I was able to do it quite easily. I love watching the fountains day or night, from inside the Bellagio or from a perch right outside along the railing, or even across the street from the patio of Mon Ami Gabi. I saw it each way on this trip. It will continue to be on my list of things to do as long as it exists.

See Big Elvis perform again - Sadly, I didn't get to do this on either trip. In March I let my mom decide where to go each day (since it was her birthday trip and I'm nice that way), and I over-planned my July trip and was just too tired to get myself over to Bill's on my last day as I had planned.

Watch the revamped Mirage volcano eruption - I totally forgot about this while I was in the area. It was closed part of the time during my March trip for some minor repairs (which is weird, since it had just opened), and I didn't even think about it in July. The thing is, now it erupts on the hour instead of at 15- or 30-minute intervals, so I would've had to get the time just right. Oh, well. It didn't happen.

Visit the Bellagio Conservatory on each trip - Like the fountains, this will remain at the top of my list as long as it's there. I did it in March by myself (mom didn't want to walk over) and I took my time and visited again while I was staying at Bellagio in July. The sights and smells of the displays are always intoxicating and relaxing to me.

Go up the Eiffel Tower at night - I had the opportunity to do this in July, but I didn't do it because of the massive over planning I did on that trip. I've been up right before dusk, and I'd love to stay and take some photos after dark to add to my ever-growing collection. Next time...

Eat at Peppermill -This restaurant is at the top of many Vegas visitors' lists as a Vegas icon that has great food to accompany the seriously old school atmosphere. I was hoping to finally get there in July, but once again the over-planning made me lose my way on my list. They have huge portions, too, so I'd really be better off taking someone with me to share when I finally get to visit this Vegas institution.

Play Sigma Derby at MGM - I didn't get to do this, either, but it was not for a lack of trying on either trip. Since MGM has the only remaining Sigma Derby game on the Strip (and possibly in Vegas), it is usually very crowded and hard to find a seat. The four different times I passed the game found it full to the brim with lots of on-lookers waiting for a seat of their own.

Stay at one new hotel - I surpassed this one by staying at TWO new hotels. I stayed at both Paris and Bellagio during my July trip, and I loved both of them. I'm looking forward to staying at both of these beautiful hotels again in the future, but I'm also hoping to stay at some other "new" hotels (to me), as well.

Eat at Mon Ami Gabi once on each trip - We had my mom's birthday dinner there in March and shared some wonderful entrees and desserts (so we could try more things), and I had breakfast there in July with Mike and Doris. I can't wait to try breakfast again, but any meal at MAG is fine by me!

Try a new drink at each casino - I only tried two new drinks this year: Bailey's and hot chocolate at Harrah's, which is decadent and somewhat addicting if you like both ingredients (and you can get it anywhere, not just Harrah's), and the delicious pineapple mojitos at Wynn. I failed at accomplishing this goal for one big reason: I don't drink as much when I travel solo, so I didn't really stop and think about having something new when I was alone in July. In March I stuck with lots of Bailey's and hot chocolate because it was so GOOD! Maybe next time, right?

Try Penazzi at Harrah's - I was intending to try this with my mom and cousin in March, but we opted to have dinner elsewhere. My July trip was already packed full of meal options, so I didn't even consider it then.

Try the pistachio gelato at Harrah's Flavors Buffet - I was intending to have the Flavors Buffet during my July trip but got a chance to try Trevi at Caesars and went with that, instead. It's not like I won't eat at Harrah's Flavors Buffet again, though, as it's one of the best values in Vegas. Maybe going in for breakfast right before the changeover to lunch? You never know.

Now I'll have to work on my list of 2010 Vegas Resolutions to post in January. I'm planning one trip for sure in early June, and I have another one that is a very good possibility in April. I can't rule out a short birthday trip in October, either, since I really missed celebrating my birthday in Vegas like I've done for the past few years. One, two, or three trips...who's to know how many Vegas trips I'll end up with in 2010? Whatever happens

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Link to article: How to Get Cheap Flights

I got this link from Blonde4Ever at LV4E (it IS her site, after all!) with an overview of how to get cheap flights for any trip and links to the various airlines' websites. Check it out to see if you can find something useful for your next trip:

I had initially wondered how many people still use a travel agent these days, given the ease of using the Internet and the great deals on hotel rooms you can get from any number of online sites OR from your previous gambling play at Vegas hotels. There seem to be fewer and fewer to choose from.

I'm sure that I myself would use a travel agent if I were traveling overseas because I don't know the best deals for any country outside my own (and in my own country I can only find the best deals for Vegas and Disney World, but that's another story altogether). I know travel agents generally have access to the best touring options that could be added on to travel/hotel packages and save you tons of money, but I think finding your own deals in Vegas is very easy to do without having to go through a travel agent. There's so much competition and so many discount sites for shows and rooms that it's easy to find something that fits your budget.

Either way, it's worth a look at this site to find possible deals and good ideas before booking your next trip.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

For the love of slot machines: Gold Fish rules!

There's no need to torture me for the information, I confess: I love slot machines.

I love most types of slot machines, but I really go WILD for the ones that contain multiple bonus rounds and other special features. They are addicting to me, and I make it my personal goal to try and get every different type of bonus round on each new game I try. Sometimes I'm successful, and sometimes I'm not, but I have a lot of fun trying!

My absolute favorite slot machine at the moment is one called Gold Fish. It is one of the newer video reel slot machines, and nearly everything about the game is displayed using computer animation. There are no actual "reels" turning and locking into place; instead the game is played on computer-generated reels that are displayed on the machine's two screens. The main game is played on the screen directly in front of you, and all the bonuses are played out on both the main screen and a secondary screen above the machine depending on the type of bonus you get into. I think the secondary screen was probably developed so that people all over the casino can see what kind of bonus you're playing and entice them to come over and take a closer look. It works; I always find myself stopping my nearby game to watch other peoples' bonuses.
I love this particular slot machine so much because an additional 10-cent "fish bet" tacked onto my wager gives me the opportunity to experience one of the six fish bonuses, and the machines are set so that these bonuses are triggered in a completely random manner. They are so random, in fact, that you don't have to have a winning combination (two matching symbols or more on most machines) in order to go into a bonus game. This is the biggest draw for me because so many of the slot machines out there allow you to get soooooo close to winning, but always seem to be one position off. Here I never know just when the next bonus will begin, so I can't get mad at the machine if I don't know how or when the bonus will be triggered (I know that's irrational, but I still do it).

The thing is, the bonuses can be fickle, and sometimes you can leave a bonus round with as little as 5 credits, which is certainly annoying when you can wait quite a while between bonus rounds on a "cold" machine. People who love and play Gold Fish regularly know the following to be true:

- No one wants to have to pick a bubble, because we always seem to pick the lowest amount.
- When the pink fish shows up to spit out her numbers, it never fails that the "9", "3", and "0" will end up as "039" when they settle on the screen to award the credits if you've been doing badly before that bonus round.
- Getting Goldie to pay you a visit with her free spin selections is cause for celebration every single time.
- Everyone loves the kissing fish because we know that Goldie might kiss our bonus number and double it more than once.

There is an in-game bonus called "Fish Food", and it also leads to wild emotional swings. On the one hand, I can match every combination of fish food and get a really high score in the bonus round, or I can immediately get three turtles on my first three selections and pick the lowest bonus award right away. Nevertheless, I look forward to every bonus round with great anticipation, and they are what keep me coming back again and again.

Mentioning "cold" machines before, all slot machines go through cycles with their Random Number Generators (RNG), and you have to be patient and weather the cold spells until the next "hot" cycle with lots of bonuses come along. Still, I won't put more than $20 into any machine - even my beloved Gold Fish - if I'm not hitting any winning combinations at all, and I will move on to something else...even if it's another Gold Fish machine nearby!

The best non-bonus win I've gotten out of these machines was at Caesars Palace on a solo trip almost two years ago, soon after these machines were introduced in Vegas. Sitting with a nice Scottish couple (she and I got bonus rounds left and right; her husband sat between us and couldn't get a winning combination to save his life), I was actually chatting with them when the winning combination of five Goldies popped up on my screen. I had to stop and snap a photo because the 10,765 credits won looked so neat - even for pennies! High fives all around. I was playing the minimum bet for the maximum number of lines (plus the fish bet, of course), and still hit over $100 on that single spin. It just goes to show you that even penny machines can deliver some very nice wins. In the instance above, I was playing a penny machine with 20 lines + a 10 cent fish bet for 30 cents total - not a bad return!
Next time you're in Vegas, give Gold Fish a try. More than one person of my acquaintance has come back as a Gold Fish addict based on that recommendation. Just be sure to leave some money there for my next trip, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trip Photos - March 2009

If you're interested in looking at some photos from other people's Las Vegas trips, here's a link to the photos from my March 2009 trip for my mom's 60th birthday.

I like looking at all Las Vegas photos, no matter who took them or when. But that's just me.

21 Things to do in Vegas for under $21

My friend EdinOK (from LV4E) found this link to an LA Times article of the same name today and referred it to me, so I thought I'd re-post the list here for your perusing pleasure, although I'm not reproducing the article ad nauseum (link:,0,450572.photogallery?track=rss).

There are some really good ideas here that I haven't posted before in my free and cheap things to do in Vegas. I personally would stay away from the clubs in Vegas, but that's because they are not quite my thing. Thanks again, Ed!

#1: Sunbelt Classic and Antique Auto Collection - Not one I've heard of previously. From the article: "Jim Rogers, the owner of Sunbelt Communications, has more than 300 restored vehicles on display in his car barn. But he doesn't advertise the collection, and tourists can see it only by appointment. Call (702) 649-0110 to arrange a time or join a scheduled tour. The museum opens at 6 a.m. weekdays, except holidays, at 1420 Gragson St. Go to for details. Free."

#2: Free stuff at Las Vegas malls - A printable coupon book offered up by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority is available at Print and redeem the coupons at any of the seven participating Las Vegas malls listed inside.

#3: Wireless Internet - The lobbies and casino areas of Palazzo and The Venetian offer free WiFi (although I personally would be cautious about using a laptop in a casino area for fear that Security might think I'm trying to hack them or cheat somehow). I'll also personally note that the "Sugar and Ice" shop in the Wynn shops is a good place that many people use for their free WiFi while taking a break AND getting a nice snack. Also note that you can check various other places along the Strip for free Internet service, including the seating areas of just about every Starbucks.

#4-6: Dueling piano competitions - At each of these three locations, the winner is determined by audience applause: The Piano Bar at Harrah's (9 p.m., free), Kahunaville Restaurant at TI (9:30 p.m., free), or the Bar at Times Square in NY/NY (8 p.m., $10 cover).

#7: Tour Las Vegas history - Las Vegas City Hall offers a free, self-guided tour of all things Vegas within it's walls. Ask the city clerk for a brochure to check out some things such as a 1959 city map, the 1923 city budget, and various Mayor Oscar Goodman bobble heads (he's a very popular mayor) to include just a few items of interest from the tour. City Hall is open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays (except holidays) and is located at 400 Stewart Ave.

#8: Collectibles on the cheap - If you're renting a car, the Broadacres Swap Meet in North Las Vegas is a 20 acre, open-air market with about 1,150 vendors. Open 6 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Fridays with a 50-cent admission price; open 6 a.m. - 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for $1 admission. (Kids under 12 free on all days.) The swap meet is located at 2930 N. Las Vegas Blvd.

#9: Listen to Bette Midler's band - If you can't afford to see her show at Caesars Palace, you can still check out six members of her band performing as "Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns" in the Lounge at the Palms every Monday night beginning at 10:30 p.m. for free.

#10: The Birdman of Las Vegas - (I have to say I'd never heard of him before this mention. Odd.) Joe Krathwohl, aka "The Birdman of Las Vegas", performs bird tricks with a flock that includes Hawaiian cockatoos, Amazon parrots, and even an endangered Andean Condor. Shows are at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., Friday - Sunday, inside the Hawaiian Marketplace located on the Strip at 3743 Las Vegas Blvd. South. Free admission.

#11: Ride around Mt. Charleston - Las Vegas Carriage offers 20-minute rides around the mountain area, which is located about 40 minutes northwest of Las Vegas. You can take a horse-drawn carriage in warmer months or a horse-drawn sleigh during the winter. The rides begin at the Mt. Charleston Lodge, 1200 Old Park Rd. Call (702) 596-6715 for reservations. Cost is $20 for adults, $10 per child under 12.

#12: Join the Masquerade Show in the Sky at Rio - Twenty-five members of the public are allowed to ride the floats in the hourly show above the Rio's casino floor. The shows run from 7 p.m. - midnight, Thursday - Sunday. Make reservations at Cost is $13 per person.

#13: Weekly blues concerts at The House of Blues in Mandalay Bay - Concerts begin at 9 p.m. every Wednesday inside the Crossroads room. Bands change weekly, and there is no cover charge. For more information on the bands, go to or call (702) 632-7600.

#14: Q VIP discount card - Q Vegas, the city's leading gay and lesbian magazine, distributes the cards that provide discounts to the Atomic Testing Museum and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art amongst other offerings. Send an e-mail to with your name, e-mail address, mailing address, phone number and birth date for a free card to be mailed to you. (No, you don't have to be gay or lesbian to take advantage of the offer.)

#15: Pinball Hall of Fame - A 4,500-square foot "hidden treasure" of a museum display where you can choose to play any of the 200 or so vintage pinball machines. Take a couple of rolls of quarters and enjoy yourself! (I've heard people lose track of time here almost as easily as they lose track of it in the casinos.) The non-profit display is run by Tim Arnold, a former arcade chain owner with a collection that dates back to the 1940's. Open 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily at 3330 E. Tropicana Ave. Visit for more information.

#16-17: Eat at Las Vegas cooking schools - The Culinary Institute of Las Vegas currently serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays through Thursdays at Opus Too, located at 2350 Corporate Circle in Henderson. Call (702) 369-9944 to make reservations. Cost is an affordable $9.95 per person. You can also try the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts' restaurant called Cafe' Bleu. It is open 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. for lunch and 5:45 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. for dinner on Tuesdays through Fridays. Cost is $19-$21. Located at 1451 Center Crossing Road, call (702) 851-5322 for reservations. At both places, the students cook the food and wait the tables.

#18: Laugh at Improv students - Aspiring comics who are training with the Second City comedy troupe perform at 9:30 p.m. on Mondays at the Onyx Theatre, located at 953 E. Sahara Ave. The theater is located behind The Rack clothing shop, so don't get lost. Check them out at Admission is $7.

#19: Great sunset view of the Strip - Instead of paying $13.95 to see the Strip from the top of the Stratosphere (or $9-$11 to see it from the top of the Eiffel Tower), head the bar at Mix atop THEhotel at Mandalay Bay before 10 p.m. Admission is free, but you might feel like buying a drink or two while you enjoy the view.

#20: Lost City of Atlantis attraction - The 50,000-gallon, horseshoe-shaped aquarium tank at the north end of Caesars Palace's Forum Shops houses more than 500 colorful fish in its collection. During the educational tours, you can also handle live starfish if you'd like. The tours start at 1:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. weekdays near the Tower Records side of the aquarium. Admission is free.

#21: Get into two different Las Vegas nightclubs for free - Grab free passes to two of the Strip's "hottest" nightclubs, the Bank at Bellagio and Jet at The Mirage, at stores like Metro Park and Marciano in Fashion Show Mall, Ted Baker and BeBe at The Forum Shops in Caesars Palace, and Marciano and BeBe at the Miracle Miles Shops. The passes can be worth $20 or more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Trip Report from March 2009

I've decided to add another one of my "older" trip reports - this one from March 2009. On this trip I traveled with my cousin and my mom in order to celebrate mom's 60th birthday in her favorite place. This is a kind of long report, so dig in!

Vegas Trip Report – March 25-27, 2009

Well, another trip has come and gone. At least this time I felt like I had time to myself! October’s trip was so crazy I needed another vacation just to recover from that one. This trip was so much more relaxing I was able to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it! Looking forward to leaving on a very early 7:35 a.m. flight, I drove to my cousin’s apartment to meet my mom and cousin for the cab ride to the airport.

This was the first trip in quite awhile where the plane was not completely full or overbooked on the way out, and was only about half full on the way back. I’m used to SWA employees asking if anyone would like to go standby and be guaranteed for the next flight with some cash involved. No begging or pleading needed, and we didn’t have to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze while we waited.

On the approach into Vegas, I was glad to see that we were near Hoover Dam and I could actually get a photo, although my camera was *technically* stowed away, I swear. It’s as close as I’ll probably ever get to Hoover Dam.

Upon arrival, my cousin and I tried to delay my mom a little bit because we knew the limo driver would be there, but we wanted to make sure he was there and waiting. Well, even though we stopped, I pretended to get a pebble out of my shoe, we adjusted carryon bags and purse straps, and thought of all sorts of diversions, my mom was practically running to the baggage claim area! Finally I told her to slow down because I had something for her. She figured it out and thanked me but wanted to know WHY I did it. I told her “You only turn 60 once!” Our limo driver was waiting in baggage claim, and she would’ve missed him because she was headed straight to the taxi area. He was a nice guy, very talkative and funny, and he gave us an ‘old Vegas’ feel because he had a thick New York accent and gave us thoughts of the mob on our journey to Harrah’s.

We checked in but were unable to get into our rooms because it was only 9 a.m. Vegas time. We stored our bags and headed to The Café at Harrah’s for breakfast – we were all starving! We didn’t have breakfast before our early flight out of San Antonio, so we absolutely had to get a little bit of food before we headed out to Encore for a bit of sight-seeing, picture-taking, and gambling. Mom paid for our breakfast with her Total Rewards points since she has a LOT of points, and we let her ‘cause we’re nice that way.

Encore – what can I say? Everyone has been right – it is very, very RED! Beautiful artwork, chandeliers, tapestries…everything. We walked around the property for quite awhile, but I’m sure I missed some things. In fact, I KNOW I did because I remember there were some very specific things in a friend’s photos that I was looking for and never found. I did feel that the casino floor was very small because of all the curtains, but I didn’t get that feeling when I was sitting near the atrium or one of the large windows. With all its beauty, I think I still like Wynn better. I don’t know why, though. I can’t explain it.

I took some photos outside of the Sinatra restaurant, but the dining area was well roped off and I didn’t try to venture in and take any more photos than I already had (even though a roped off area doesn’t usually keep me from taking photos if I really want to). I also managed to have a couple of good spins on a penny Wolf Run machine, so I was happy with that. A little Asian lady next to me was not happy with my wilds, though, because she kept gesturing to my machine and telling her companions something that sounded very angry to me. I finally got annoyed with her leaning over my shoulder, so I gathered up my mom and my cousin, and we headed for Wynn.

At Wynn, I continued my long-standing tradition of losing, losing, losing in that casino. I love the place – love the buffet, love the atmosphere, love their variety of machines. But I can’t win a dime. Or a nickel. Or a penny. I don’t know what that casino has against me, but it doesn’t want me to take anything from it. As long as I get to visit my money every so often I guess it’s okay.

From there we walked to Palazzo. For some reason, this casino’s layout gets me turned around. I can’t find the same place twice. I did find a very nice Hot Hot Penny China Moon machine that let me play on the same $20 for almost 3 hours, so at least I wasn’t just feeding money into the machines all day long. As we were leaving Palazzo to walk to the Venetian, we managed to catch the performers in front of the Palazzo fountain by the escalators. Interesting to watch for a little while, but I wouldn’t stand around waiting for them. I liked their “fountain fingers” – whatever they had on their hands to make it appear that water was spouting out of their fingertips was interesting. (There's a photo of these ladies on my blog page.) Now I can say I saw it and check it off of my list of things to see in Vegas.

In Venetian, we checked the time and saw that it was already 4 p.m., so we decided to head over to Grand Luxe Café for a snack. We shared two appetizers – a plate of fried calamari, rock shrimp, and vegetables in a tempura batter, and another appetizer called Cheese Steak Spring Rolls. Those spring rolls were awesome! They came with a spicy cheese sauce and a more traditional lumpia (spring roll) sauce. The other plate had some kind of lemon tartar sauce and a chipotle sauce for dipping. I think we dipped all the appetizers into all the different sauces just to try them out. No bad combinations there at all. Those two appetizers were big enough for regular meals, and the total for both of them and our three teas was $24. My cousin paid for that because she said she owed me for the limo. Fine by me!

Back at Harrah’s, my cousin ended up with one of the remodeled Premium rooms in the Mardi Gras tower (room 408) that have the flat screen TVs, but I opted for a non-smoking Deluxe room on a higher floor in the same tower (room 1848) so that I could have a Strip view – finally! I saw their room and felt the bathroom was too crowded with the TV mounted on the wall, so I’m glad I got my room with a view. I’ve been going to Vegas for 12 years, and this was the first time I’ve had any kind of Strip view at all. I had visions of sleeping with the curtains open so I could see the lights from The Mirage, Rio, and Caesars Palace. Oh, I was a happy girl, indeed.

After a few room photos, we met downstairs and decided to head over to Imperial Palace (IP) to play for a little while before we settled in for some serious gambling at Harrah’s. We walked around to see what new machines were available, and found IP to be very crowded for a Wednesday night. The craps tables were all full to brimming as usual, and the crowds were very noisy but seemed to be having lots of fun. I finally found a new Monopoly Up, Up and Away slot machine near the front and sat down to play – I just love Monopoly machines! On my second spin, I got a nice little line win for $100. Cool!

A very nice, older lady from Canada sat down next to me, and we chatted while we played. However, it seemed to annoy her that I wouldn’t cash out my ticket with more than $100 on it and just insert another bill to play on. I just don’t do that. A lot of people do, but I play down to even numbers ($100, $80, $60, etc.) and may cash out then if I’m staying there for awhile. Still, she was quite funny and we had a great time admiring each other’s bonus rounds – lots of fun bonus rounds on those machines!

At about 10 p.m. we headed back to Harrah’s. It was EXTREMELY crowded! I walked around for quite awhile trying to find an open seat at my favorite Gold Fish or Double Dolphin Super Jackpot Party machines, but there were none open anywhere. Not only that, there were usually people literally lined up behind the other players, waiting for them to get up and move so that they could get on those machines. I walked all over the casino trying to find some new slots with open seats, but there were none available. I finally gave up and went to find my mom. We played DDB VP side by side for a long time, and traded back and forth four of a kinds (4OAKs) that kept us afloat each time we dwindled down to less than 10 credits. A lot of points were added to our HET cards that night!

I almost forgot to mention my favorite new casino drink: Bailey’s and hot chocolate. I had about 6 of them that night, and they were yummy and strong…*hic!* They went down reeeeeeaaaaaalllllll smooth! All in all, I lost about half of my day one bankroll because of earlier losses at Wynn, Palazzo, and Venetian. It was nice to be able to go back to my room and look out my window lovingly at the beautiful Vegas Strip before I hit the hay. You can’t ask for much more than that, can you?

Day 2 was mom’s birthday. I called my mom in her room to wake her and my cousin up - as is my job in Vegas - and I wished her happy birthday from my Strip view room. I got her tacky birthday card ready and headed down to meet them for breakfast at the IP Teahouse (mom’s choice – it’s her birthday, after all) before we headed down the Strip for our second day. It was all her choice of stuff to do for today. My cousin paid for breakfast with her TR points. I’m still not complaining!

Believe it or not, we got "long-hauled" from IP to Luxor! How the hell does that happen? I suspected something was afoot when the cabbie turned LEFT onto the Strip instead of turning RIGHT to go behind IP onto Koval and make a quick trip to Luxor. He didn’t say a word when I asked him what he was doing by taking us this way. He headed down past TI and turned by the Fashion Show Mall – headed for I-15! I asked him why he didn’t take Koval behind IP. He shrugged and said, “This is faster.” Dirty looks and lots of grumbling from us followed while we were stuck in traffic on I-15. Forget stink eye – I was sending some serious ojo his way. The fare was $14.70, and he got $15. That should’ve been a $7-$8 fare out the back of IP, easy.

Since we hadn’t been to Luxor in quite a few years, I had some photos to take. In fact, the last time we were there I still used disposable cameras on my Vegas trips! I left my mom and cousin at the entrance and walked toward to tram for some photos before we finally headed inside to look around and gamble.

I’ve heard that the casino had changed to a more modern feel. I didn’t really feel that at all. Sure, there’s a bar right inside the main part of the casino that looks a little modern-ish, but the place still feels very old Egyptian to me – just like it always has. It didn’t stop me from taking new photos, though.

A photo shoot was underway at one of the craps tables when we got inside. My guess is that they’re getting ready to update their marketing materials soon. There were lots of 20-somethings all dolled up and crowded around, yelling “Go!” over and over again and throwing the dice. This led to lots of cameras flashing in my eyes where I was sitting. I was initially blinded by the flashes and had to find another area to gamble in because it was really annoying. Then I noticed some open Wizard of Oz (WOZ) machines – cool! I played for about 15 minutes before all my money was sucked away. Then I realized that I had been playing 5-cent instead of 1-cent WOZ. That was the only place I made that mistake. It gets expensive!

I did visit the atrium level because I wanted to see if anything had changed up there. I’m just glad King Tut’s Tomb is gone – it was so lame! I did find out that the Titanic Exhibit opened at 10 a.m. each day so I could plan my visit for July. Otherwise, not very exciting up there at all. There was a pretty cool looking bar up there, but I don’t remember the name of it.

My mom and cousin finally decided they’d lost enough money in Luxor and we walked to Excalibur. They headed for the VP machines near the sports book, but there were open Gold Fish machines nearby calling my name! I sat down at one on the end and stayed there for another couple of hours, finally cashing out $100 for my $20 investment. I was very happy because I had a few visits from Goldie the Goldfish herself – 10 spins, 15 spins, and even 20 spins. I was just glad to know she decided to pay me a visit on this trip, since she has been avoiding me for awhile.

After Excalibur, it was over to NY/NY. I wanted to show my mom the scary Hitchcock slots, since she was in another area when my aunt Mina and I were playing them in October. She got to experience the random surprise of Alfred popping up in the corner for herself – at least it’s not just me! I also found a Hot Hot Super Jackpot Chariots slot that lasted for awhile, but nothing was hitting bonus rounds for me. Disappointing.

I’m glad that they appear to finally be done with all the remodeling in the NY/NY casino. When were there last, the restaurant area in the back was still like the streets of New York with cobblestone walkways, and the casino was partially modern with a lot of temporary walls up everywhere. I still like the old look better personally, but it’s a vast improvement for them to be finished and have the casino looking like it’s all one place and not a hodge-podge of different looks.

Next on our list was a stop at MGM. For some reason, they’ve taken out a lot of their penny machines near the lions. We didn’t find anything that we wanted to play for any length of time, and my cousin was getting perturbed by the lack of VP hits above 3OAK. There was not a seat to be found at Sigma Derby – again – so it’s still on my list for the next trip. The decision was made to walk to Planet Hollywood from there.

I don’t know about the wisdom of this decision because of the WIND! Had it been just another beautiful, sunny spring day in Vegas, it would’ve been great. The sidewalks were very crowded with people, but throw in some swirling dirt and dust from all the construction in the area and it made for a rather unpleasant walk. I did finally get to walk past the Hawaiian Marketplace and other areas I’d previously only heard about, though, and I think I’ll be paying another visit to the area in July, as my companions didn’t want to stop in the wind and dirt. Not that I blame them.

Neither my mom nor my cousin had been in PH since it opened, so I took them on a little tour of the casino floor before they settled in to gamble. My cousin spotted the Big Six wheel and remembered that she still hadn’t made a bet for her sister. Her sister's luck continues on each trip with a $2 bet on 40, and it doesn't matter if she plays it herself or if someone plays it for her. She won for herself at Bellagio during our October trip, and my cousin hit the $2 on 40 bet for her AGAIN! She is one lucky chickie when it comes to the Big Six wheel and her $2 on 40 bet.

We headed over to the area near The Earl of Sandwich deli because my cousin saw some VP machines she wanted to play. I found a machine I hadn’t seen before: Lucky Meerkats, which is a version of Lucky Lemmings. What a hoot! In the bonus round, one of the meerkats does an MC Hammer “Can’t Touch This” dance to award points. I’m obviously easily entertained, because even though I eventually lost my $20, I was laughing my butt off at all the silliness.

Finally we decided we were getting a little hungry, so we headed over to Paris. Once there, we decided to wait just a little while longer to get the dinner menu at Mon Ami Gabi (MAG). I followed another LV4E friend’s advice and had a seat at the Gold Fish machines near the cabaret bandstand. Goldie decided to visit me again and again, and I was happy to see her. We had a nice little visit, and the cocktail waitress was quick and deadly with her delivery. I think I had about 5 (small) Kahlua and cream glasses before my mom decided she was starving, and we had only been there for less than an hour!

When we walked up to MAG, we saw they were now offering breakfast starting at 7 a.m. each day. Breakfast at MAG?!?!? I think I’m in heaven! Oh, it looks like July will be a wonderful time to stay at Paris!

The hostess offered to seat us on the patio, but we opted for a window seat just inside, as the winds were still blowing furiously and you could see the spray from the Bellagio fountains all over the place on the Paris side of the street. I was actually surprised that the fountains were not turned off, but they stayed on the entire time we were there.

For dinner, we decided we would get three different entrees and share them, and then share desserts. The reason for this was because we always wish we’d tried something else no matter what we get, and this way we’d all be able to try several things and still be happy. This turned out to be a good decision – we weren’t stuffed, but we enjoyed a really good meal. We ordered Steak Classique, Steak Bernaise, and Gabi’s Fish and Frites. We cut them into thirds and exchanged pieces. Mom and my cousin both ordered a glass of the house red wine, and I finally got to try the Frangria that my friend Tania had mentioned before. I will be trying it again – it was good but strong. I’m such a lightweight!

The desserts were delicious, too – mom’s favorite flourless chocolate cake was the first choice, and the sorbet of the day was actually two: banana and pineapple. They were both fan-freakin’-tastic! I’ve never met a sorbet at MAG that I didn’t like, and these were delicious. I discovered that if you mixed the banana sorbet with a bit of the flourless chocolate cake it tasted a lot like those frozen chocolate covered bananas that used to be so popular when I was a kid. Also, if you mixed the banana and pineapple sorbets together, it tasted like a pina colada. We were very happy with our choices and think we’ll do that again so we can sample more stuff and not be OVERstuffed. My cousin paid for dinner, as well, as this was her birthday present for my mom. The total for all three of us was $112. Not bad at all.

From there we decided to head into Bally’s, which was extremely crowded – the slots, the tables, the sports book were all very busy – and mom decided we should just catch the monorail back to Harrah’s. She’d already worn out her hip on the walk from MGM to PH earlier, so I didn’t push it and we took the easy way back.

Back at Harrah’s, it was already time for me to print the boarding passes for the next day. Got A24, A29, and A31 – the lowest numbers we’ve had in a LONG time. We headed up to the rooms to put them away and freshen up for the evening.

Downstairs again, I finally found an open Village People Party machine that I had been eyeing the day before. Again I was hitting enough bonuses to keep me from going down to $0. After I had been at the machine for about an hour, a girl sat down at the machine next to me and was extremely excited each time she hit a bonus round on whatever it was. She kept yelling “Fireballs! Fireballs!” every time she’d get the bonus rounds, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I found her to be very entertaining – as did others in the area - and she finally cashed out and left. I cashed out a little while later and went to find my mom. We played side by side VP for awhile again, drinking Bailey’s and hot chocolate - mom loves them, too! - and the 4OAKs kept me alive yet again tonight. The next time I looked at my watch it was 1:30 a.m., and I was just dead on my feet. I said good night and headed for bed, down a little less than half of my daily bankroll.

For our final day we had breakfast at Harrah’s café yet again. We had originally planned to eat at the Mirage buffet for breakfast, but we had eaten dinner so early the day before that we just couldn’t wait to eat – what pigs we are! I tried their Southern Eggs Benedict: two biscuits with sausage and eggs on top, covered with good ol’ cream gravy. Heart attack on a plate! I couldn’t finish even half of it, but it was good and filling. My mom paid for breakfast with her TR points – again – and again I wasn’t put out by either of them spending a small portion of their vast amount of TR points on my food. We checked out of our rooms and took our bags to the bell desk since we wouldn’t be leaving until 7:40 that night and were planning on being gone for awhile.

We walked to Caesars on a beautiful, sunny Friday morning. If every day in Vegas were like that, it would truly be heavenly. I FINALLY got to play my Dancing Dolphins Super Jackpot Party machines! I saw less of them on this trip, and when I did they were usually taken. I picked the wrong dang shell almost every time I got the free spins, and I never got a chance at the Super Jackpot Party bonus. It was depressing.

I also went back to visit my favorite Gold Fish machine that paid my lovely five Goldie win last March, but it wasn’t showing me any love, either. Finally I gave up and went and found my mom and cousin to tell them I was heading to Bellagio to take some photos in the conservatory, as they were planning on skipping it this trip. We agreed to meet at Flamingo at 2 p.m.

As usual, the Bellagio conservatory smelled absolutely wonderful. The spring display includes the butterfly house, as well as different styles of gardens from around the world, including an Italian garden with a funky head statue, a traditional English garden, and a Japanese Zen garden. I could spend all day in there, truly.

I walked over to Flamingo and found my mom had just hit 75 free spins on one of the new Happy Days machines. She had put in $5 and was up to $160. I left her there and headed for the Quick Hits slots. Up and down, up and down – finally I remembered that I hadn’t gotten the Margaritaville T-shirt my DH requested. Mom and I headed over to get the shirt and pick up my cousin and head back toward Harrah’s.

We stopped by Ghiradelli’s for some chocolates at Hayley’s request (she’d rather have them from Vegas than from San Antonio), and listened to the band WonderBoogie in Carnaval Court for a couple of songs. They are so good! Then it was on to a couple of shops in Harrah’s to look for anything else that caught our fancy before we did our last gambling of the trip.

Once again I was able to find an open seat at a Gold Fish machine and hit quite a few bonus rounds. Goldie was really visiting me on this trip, but unfortunately her bonus rounds consisted of a lot of consolation credits. I still love her, though, and I’ll be back to visit her again in July.

We decided for a quick snack at the café again before we headed to the airport, and I just ordered a bowl of French onion soup. Not too bad. My cousin paid for that with her TR points, so I officially didn’t spend any money on food for the entire trip!

At 5:45 we grabbed our bags from the bell desk and caught a cab back to the airport. This time the fare made sense - $14 from Harrah’s to the airport is pretty low these days, actually. I gave the nice guy a good tip and headed up to the craziness that is the new C gates.

For the first time in Vegas history (for me, at least), the TSA agents were all very nice and friendly. Usually they are staring straight ahead, or they are very business-like, but they were actually funny and cutting up with some of us crazy customers and each other. It was a nice change.

Our plane was at the gate early, and we left on time. I couldn’t resist taking one last photo out the plane window before takeoff – once again, I swear my camera was *properly* stowed the whole time.

Anyone who’s going to Vegas soon – please say hello to my money. I left about half of it there for you all to take a crack at. Let me know if any of you give it a good home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Traveling with a first time Vegas visitor

Those of us who travel to Vegas quite frequently may call them "Vegas virgins", but regardless of how anyone may refer to a first-time Vegas visitor, they are likely to be overwhelmed when they finally see Sin City in the flesh.

If you have occasion to take a first-timer to Vegas with you on a future trip, I have a few pieces of advice to share with you so that they are not completely taken aback and left standing slack-jawed in awe while you try to drag them from place to place - and so you're not left wondering how to arrange everything with a newbie in tow.

Ask about their likes, dislikes, and gambling expectations before you begin planning. Just because you love sushi doesn't mean they do. Maybe they have no desire to see another magic show in this decade. They may decide to only play the nickel slot machines while you might prefer to play blackjack all night. You might know a lot of things about them, but not everything you may need to know to make it a successful trip. Find out before you start planning and booking everything so that you know what they're expecting out of the trip.

Tell them your goals or plans for the trip before you leave. If there's something that you do on every trip, or something specific you're really looking forward to doing on this one, let your guest know. That way, they can either decide to join you or opt out and do something on their own.

Discuss preferred travel times, lodging, and transportation before you book. Some people prefer to fly only during the morning hours and only on direct flights. You may have a guest who prefers not to stay in a hotel room that allows smoking. Maybe they have an irrational fear of taxicabs. Find out before you book so that everyone is happy with the arrangements.

Take it slow - there's no need to rush around. Like me, you may want to share all of your favorite sights and shows or indulge in your very favorite meals with your guest, but it can get very overwhelming very quickly. Leave time to get from place to place and allow them to walk and look at their own pace. Remember, it's all new to them, and they may want to take lots of photos...or at least take in the sight of everything.

Don't over plan or overbook the days and evenings for your guest. Don't plan too many shows or attractions, even if you know they will enjoy them. You wouldn't want to have to eat the cost of show tickets or risk a cancellation fee if you can't make it because of exhaustion. Allow some freedom to add in shows, attractions, or meals of their own choosing once they've seen what it's all about and have had time to experience some of what Vegas has to offer at their pace.

Leave some downtime on the calendar for rest and relaxation. You may not need to rest in Vegas (I know I don't!), but a first-time visitor may need to take a nap or go to bed early after they've seen so much so quickly. On the other hand, if they decide they're ready to go, go, GO once they've gotten there and experienced a bit of fun, then you can do that, too, and add more stuff to do if they're agreeable to it.

Discuss possible "time alone" if you're rooming together. Maybe you have a time or place you like to gamble by yourself, or maybe you prefer to go back to the hotel for a hot bath before you head out for the evening. Whatever it is, you should make your feelings known - and find out theirs - so that you don't step on each other's toes.

Let your guest make some decisions. Leave a block of time with no plans to let them decide what to do or where to go toward the end of the trip if they'd like to. This way they can make some entertainment or dining choices based on what they've seen and done so far, and they'll feel as though they are able to get involved in the planning and decision-making more completely. If they prefer not to, be willing to step in and make some suggestions yourself.

Share what you know. Give them some details and facts about different places and attractions if you know them. Yes, it's very tour guide-like, but it may spark interest in other sights and opportunities.

You may learn some new things about your friend or family member by taking a Vegas trip with them, and sharing their first trip is like seeing Vegas again for the first time; it's an experience not to be forgotten.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Transportation Security Administration - Forms and FAQ

The TSA has a great website/blog site with lots of FAQ's for the casual traveler (and for those who haven't traveled in quite a while). Check out the link here:

They have also just announced that they will be providing an on-line form link for passengers who feel they've been harrassed by a TSA agent when going through the screening process at the airport. Their website has a lot of good information regarding civil rights for travelers, as well as links to all sorts of forms for any TSA-related issues:

I found these sites when I read a recent article about TSA harrassment and followed their link. I think it's info that all travelers should know before they fly anywhere.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Traveling Solo: Ideas and advice for making your trip safe and enjoyable

If you've never considered taking a solo trip to Las Vegas before (or perhaps anywhere else, for that matter), maybe you should consider it as an option for a future trip. Think of it as an opportunity to get away from it all, relax, unwind, take stock and refuel before your return to civilization.

Before August 2007, I'd never traveled anywhere by myself on vacation, let alone to my favorite place on earth. I was a little nervous, wondering how I'd fill all the hours with things to keep me busy and not think about being by myself or worrying about the fact that I was ALONE. To be honest, that feeling lasted all of twenty minutes (if that long). Once I landed at McCarran Airport and caught a taxi to my hotel, I was over feeling ALONE. I never felt that way on my trip again - plus I've taken two other solo trips since then with no feeling of ALONENESS whatsoever - and I'm looking forward to taking many, many more trips like this in the future. Solo trips are now my favorite way to travel to Vegas. In my eyes, they just can't be beat.

There are enough ideas here for you to stay occupied whether you're in Vegas for two nights for seven. Read on and consider some of these options for a solo trip adventure.

Do your buffet or restaurant dining in comfort - Sit at the counter or bar if you feel too conspicuous sitting at a table. Chances are you'll be seated more quickly because couples and groups generally don't sit in these areas. Or, if you prefer sitting at a table but don't want to be in the middle of everything, ask for a corner table or booth. This way you're out of the main flow of traffic and you can eat your meal at a leisurely pace and enjoy it. After you're done eating, you can take the time to people-watch or update your trip notes if you're planning on reporting on how well your trip went to others.

Sleep on your own schedule - I am a naturally early riser, but not everyone is. Not only that, but I don't sleep very well in Vegas because I'm just so excited to be there and I figure I can sleep on the plane or when I get home. When I go solo, I know I can get up at 6:00 a.m., head downstairs for an early breakfast (or a graveyard special, since they're generally offered until 7:00 a.m. in most cafe's) or some early morning gambling. In addition, if I feel like going back to the hotel to catch a little afternoon siesta before I head back out to go to a see a show and/or do some late-night gambling, I don't have to worry about anyone working around my plans or setting up a meeting time/place later on.

Go see the Bellagio conservatory and fountains - This is always at the top of my Vegas "to do" list for every trip. These are my two favorite free things to do in Vegas that I must do every time I'm there, without fail. Spending some time walking through the conservatory and taking photos is very enjoyable and relaxing to me, and I can sit and watch the fountains and listen to the music for quite a while before I'm ready to move on.

Head to the pool for some "me" time - Even if you don't like to swim or tan, you can always take a book or read the daily newspaper. It's a relaxing diversion, and you can stake out a spot in the sun or shade and enjoy the day. Just remember that, even though it stays pretty warm in Vegas for most of the year, pool hours are not extremely long in most cases, so be sure you know when your hotel's pool opens and closes each day.

Spend some time in the spa - Maybe you want to get a facial or a massage, or you just want to relax and use the sauna or the steam room. Paying the daily spa fee of $25-$45 on average will allow you to go in multiple times during the day if you'd like to take advantage of the amenities.

Chat up other gamblers around you - If you're comfortable talking to strangers, speak up! You can have some great conversations with people from all over the world - just be sure they are willing to talk, too. Many people enjoy chatting and gambling, and I find that I gamble more slowly when I'm talking to others. There are some very interesting people all around you.

Consider seeing a show - You can buy tickets in advance from any of the online sites that offer them, but don't forget that Tix4Tonite's six Vegas locations make it very convenient to get a ticket to a same-day show for half the price if you haven't previously made any plans. A big plus: it's much easier to find very good single seats for many of the shows, so take advantage of your solo status.

Take in the sights and attractions you've been wanting to see, but haven't - This suggestion alone could take up a couple of days' worth of trip time if you're like me and usually travel with people who don't like to do anything but gamble and eat. Go see a magic or comedy show; consider spending some time in Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage; visit the Liberace Museum or the Bellagio Museum of Art; ride the roller coasters at New York/New York and The Sahara; check out Luxor's Titanic and Bodies exhibits; head for the top of the Eiffel Tower at Paris. These are just a few ideas to get you started. There are many, many options all over Vegas, so don't think you're limited with what you can see and do.

Go see a lounge act - They are everywhere, so check your favorite hotel/casino's schedule. Among the great ones: Big Elvis at Bill's Gambling Hall, any of the cover bands performing at Harrah's Carnaval Court (especially WonderBoogie), The Cabaret at Paris, or the Fontana Bar at Bellagio. There's something for every taste, so give them a shot.

Do some window-shopping - With several great malls on and around the Las Vegas Strip area, you're sure to find something great to look at and drool over. The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, and The Fashion Show Mall are just three of the bigger possibilities for a window-shopping (or real shopping) excursion. Don't forget to check out the shops at Wynn, Encore, Palazzo, Venetian, etc. I could go on and on...

Have a seat in a keno lounge or sports bar - Take a load off! Not only can you watch the games (keno or sports), but you can people-watch, too. Maybe you'll decide to make a couple of bets or have a drink or two, but it's a great place to sit and just relax when you're tired of walking.

Visit an older (or newer) hotel/casino you haven't been to before - I say this because I missed my chance to see some great ones. I never visited the Stardust before it was imploded a couple of years ago, and I wish I'd gotten to take a look around. Now it's gone, and a half-completed hotel stands in its place with no completion date in sight. You never know when a great old Vegas icon will become no more, so take the time to go and see some "vintage" Vegas before it disappears into the desert.

Take some free lessons - Never played table games before? What about starting now? Most casinos have free lessons in the mornings when crowds aren't so large and gamblers are not crowding the tables. Learn to play craps, roulette, poker, or blackjack, and then try out your new-found skills at a table later in the day. You might find yourself talking to your seat neighbors, too.

Don't be afraid to ask security to walk you to your room or car - Especially when you're alone, you don't need to feel vulnerable or make yourself uncomfortable in any situation. Whether you've won money or not, security at all the hotels and casinos can arrange for a uniformed officer to accompany you to out to your car or up to your room in order keep you safe.

I hope you consider an adventurous solo trip some time in the future, because there are so many things to see and do. You'll never be bored alone in Vegas if you keep your mind and your options open!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vegas Trips on a Budget - Part 9 of 9: Wrapping It All Up

This last installment of Vegas Trips on a Budget covers the tips, hints, and money-saving ideas that didn't fit elsewhere in the series. Read on and consider how some of these things might be incorporated into your next Vegas trip.

Avoid the "just this once" mentality - This applies to gambling, dining, shopping, or even traveling. Do what you're comfortable with and don't spend too much money on anything just because you're in Vegas. If you can't afford it, don't spend money on it.

Meet for drinks instead of meals - If you're meeting friends or family in Las Vegas during your vacation, consider meeting for drinks to save money for a meal you'd really like later on (or before, if you're meeting later).

Or meet for an earlier meal - If you'd really rather meet for a meal than for drinks, think about getting together for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner to save some cash.

Scour sites for more deals and ideas - Previously mentioned sites in my other posts offer lots of options for saving money in Vegas, so look around and check out all the deals they have to offer.

Consider joining a message board to get more ideas - Online sites like LasVegas4Ever ( and Trip Advisor ( offer lots of feedback and ideas for trips from people who've been there, done that.

Bring your computer along - Not only can you use it to spend some downtime in your room when you're overwhelmed by Vegas in general or when you run out of money (hopefully not!), you can make notes of your trip experiences to share with others...just like I'm doing now. Also, you can take advantage of free WiFi spots all around Vegas to relax and check e-mails or work if you really have to.

Make sure you have cash on hand - Be sure you save enough money to cover the cost of your cab ride back to the airport and/or to get you home. Some cab companies and parking garages don't take credit cards at all, so you must have cash available as payment.

Get slot cards and use them - Sign up for slot cards and use them when you play slot machines, video poker machines, and even table games like blackjack or poker in order to generate future offers on free or discounted rooms and other comps. Many places start offering discounts for very little play, and you could be missing out on possible savings and deals for future trips.

Use your rewards points, free play, and/or cash before you leave - Unless you know you're returning to Las Vegas in a couple of months, use what you've earned before your vacation is over. Why? Most points and cash back offers expire in 6-12 months unless you put X number of 'new' points on your slot card within a certain period of time. These aren't things you can pass on to your spouse or your kids, so use them before you head for the airport.

Continue to tip appropriately, not extravagantly or cheaply - Just because you're trying to save money doesn't mean you should stop tipping altogether, either. Tip 15-20% for meals and don't forget about the cocktail waitresses, bellmen, and everyone else who still counts on tips as part of their income. For a review of appropriate tipping in Vegas, see my earlier "Tips on Tipping" post from July.

Think about taking a solo trip - Let's face it: solo trips save money because you're only paying for one of everything, but that's not the only good thing about them in my eyes. You don't have to plan around someone else's likes and dislikes, set up meeting times and places, or wait for someone else to get ready or decide to move to another location. It's easier to find seats in restaurants and for shows, too, because single seats are almost always available with little or no wait. Tomorrow's post is all about traveling solo, and there are lots of good ideas and tips that may make you decide to just go ahead and go for it.

Smile! You're in Vegas! - No matter what you do on your trip and how you budget your time and money, this is the most important rule of all. You're on vacation, so enjoy yourself every moment. Do what's fun for you and have a great time. Don't stress or worry, but relax and find something to entertain yourself.

Well, I've come to the end of my series, and I hope you've found some things that will help you save money and maybe even give you some creative, money-saving ideas of your own.

Remember: When the current economic recession is over, being frugal and saving money on your vacation doesn't have to end. Keep using your cash wisely and enjoy all that Las Vegas has to offer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Vegas Trips on a Budget - Part 8 of 9: Coupons and Discounts

Part 8 of my Vegas Trips on a Budget series covers the use of coupons, online gift certificates, and internet discount codes.

While I try to pre-plan my trips so that I know the cost of most major expenditures like entertainment, hotels and, to a certain extent, food, I also leave room for additional coupon usage and a change in plans if I find something new I'd like to try. Good deals go a long way to making my trip more enjoyable.

Coupons and Discounts

Look for the showgirls and casino employees with the smiles and the deals - Many hotels and casinos often have showgirls or other employees handing out two-for-one coupons, $ off coupons, or discounted/free passes to certain shows, events, or the buffet. They are usually found right outside the casino's main doors, or right inside the casino entrances, so keep your eyes open for some good deals.

Check out online sites for promotional codes and discounts before you book anything - Sites like ( have promo codes for everything from late checkouts to a free night's stay, so look before you book. Also, ( offers different types of discounts for hotel stays and shows. Do a Google search for "las vegas discount codes" and check out the numerous savings opportunities.

Look into online gift certificates - Sites like offer different % discounts for dining options all over the country. Participating restaurants and discount rates change frequently, so check back to see if what you're looking for is on the list.

Consider purchasing coupon books before you leave - Coupon books like the American Casino Guide (ACG) or the smaller Las Vegas Advisor (LVA) Member Rewards Book can be purchased from online retailers and businesses like or Las Vegas Advisor (, respectively. The ACG has coupons for places other than just Las Vegas and the surrounding area as the name suggests, and a lot of the coupons are specific to downtown and locals' casinos. Make sure to consider these things before you make your purchase. Also, coupons from the ACG expire at the end of each year, so a new book must be purchased every year if you like what you find. The LVA coupons expire, as well, but not necessarily at the end of each year. Do your research before you purchase.

Arrange your coupons and plan your itinerary around them - Instead of heading from one side of Vegas to the other and back again trying to use specific coupons or get the best deals, plan your trip ahead of time along a predetermined path so that you use coupons at nearby locations and don't end up backtracking and wasting your precious vacation time.

Ask about coupon sheets or booklets at the casino slot clubs before you gamble - When you visit a casino, head to the slot club first and find out if they have a coupon sheet or booklet with coupons that are specific to the casino. Also be sure you sign up for their slot card at that time if you haven't already done so; hopefully you'll receive future offers for discounted or even free rooms and shows, but you won't get the offers if you don't sign up.

Double-check your check in swag - Sometimes you'll receive a matchplay coupon or two when you check in to your hotel, so don't just stuff everything in your suitcase before you look at your loot. Matchplay coupons may be found in your check in packet, or they may be waiting for you on your hotel room bed when you first head to your room. Either way, be sure to use them if you like to play the games offered (usually blackjack or roulette), or offer them to another gambler when you head downstairs to play.

Look for matchplay and free drink coupons on place mats at certain restaurants - Ellis Island is famous for having blackjack match plays and free drink coupons on their place mats at each setting. Use them, but be sure to read the fine print to make sure you are following all their rules. Some places will only allow you to use one matchplay or drink coupon at any table game or bar per visit, even though more than one matchplay and drink coupon is printed for your use. You may have to change tables or seats before you can play or use the additional coupons.

Coupons can be used for freebies, too - Also included in the ACG (as well as from some of the on-line sources below) are coupons for a free gift with slot card sign up. The coupon must be present to receive the free gift, so don't assume you can leave the coupon in the book and just ask when you sign up for the slot card. Also, the coupon sheets received at check in may offer free t-shirts and hats after X number of dollars or points have been played through the machines or at the tables, so don't forget about these.

Miscellaneous free and discounted coupons -

Two free passes for the Imperial Palace Auto Collection -

Las Vegas coupons and deals -

More miscellaneous coupons -

Even more discounts and coupons -

That's it for individual money-saving subjects I'd planned to cover in my series. Tomorrow I'll wrap up my tips with some not-to-be-forgotten rules and advice for making sure your trip is safe and fun, no matter what you decide to do.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vegas Trips on a Budget - Part 7 of 9: Shopping

For my seventh installment of Vegas Trips on a Budget, I'm looking at shopping in Vegas. You generally can't go into any of the high-end stores in the huge malls or shopping promenades to find really good deals, but rather find the bargains and opportunities elsewhere. Read on.

Shop Til You Drop But Don't Spend A Lot

Avoid the high-end stores - Unless you hit a jackpot, you probably wouldn't be able to afford much more than a tiny trinket, anyway. Why torture yourself by trying on clothes or shoes that you can only dream about taking home? Skip the high-end stuff and look for a more affordable way to spend money on shoes and clothing.

Look for the sales - Yes, they are there, even in Vegas, but they might not be exactly where you want them to be. Many of the stores in the Fashion Show Mall have regular sales because they are chains that you'll find in most malls across the country, and the Ross store just off of the Strip is certainly an affordable option if you need to pick up something you just forgot to pack. If you're heading to one of the bigger shopping centers like the Forum Shops or Miracle Mile Shops, ask for sales information at the customer service desk before you begin your shopping expedition.

Get the mall coupon book before you start shopping - While you're at the customer service desk, ask if they have a coupon book with the latest steals and deals. The Miracle Mile Shops has a regular coupon book that has lots of great little freebies like coffee mugs or key chains at certain retailers, and also contains 10-25% off coupons for select stores.

Senior discounts DO apply - If you're over the age of 55, ask about a discount at any shop when you check out. Stores - especially chain stores like Ross - offer discounts for senior citizens on specific days of the week, and you never know unless you ask.

Think about want vs. need before you buy that souvenir - Do you really need a souvenir for a co-worker? Instead of buying a trinket, consider placing a bet for them, instead (with their money, of course). Win or lose, reporting back to them on how you did is sometimes more entertaining and valuable than a souvenir could be. I've placed bets for friends and family on numerous occasions, and I've found than one friend in particular is very successful with his extremely specific roulette bet. The fact that I've brought him double his money from almost every trip I've taken in the past few years probably helps him feel better about his long-distance gambling abilities, and it's fun to gamble with someone else's money for awhile.

Use sign up freebies and gift freebies as your souvenirs - Signing up for new slot clubs often gets you free key chains, coffee mugs, hats, or t-shirts in lots of instances. Also, slot club gifts are often given out for X points on your slot club card, or for hitting a winning combination on various games. Instead of spending your money on a souvenir for someone back at the office who might not really appreciate the thought, bring them back one of your freebies, instead. It won't cost you a dime, either.

For me personally, I consider shopping as a sort of hunting expedition. I always try to find the best deals possible, no matter who I'm shopping for. Shopping is also a form of entertainment to me, and I love to take the time to look for things I like and wouldn't mind receiving myself.

Tomorrow's entry: Coupons

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Vegas Trips on a Budget - Part 6 of 9: Entertainment

This is the sixth installment of tips for enjoying a Vegas trip on a budget. Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started; some of them are my personal ideas and tried-and-true budgeting practices, and others are fantastic ideas from some of the great folks over at LV4E. Hopefully these ideas will spur you into thinking of your own ways to save.

When spending time in Las Vegas, it's not always all about gambling, drinking, and going to clubs 24/7, or even seeing big-name shows every single night. Sometimes you just need downtime, or a little time away from the casino, so here are some hints to get you away for a while.

That's entertainment!

Ride the bus to places you've never been - Whether you take the CAT or the Deuce, you should think about taking a little bus adventure with your camera. Consider it a sight-seeing tour and take advantage of the low cost (and someone else doing the driving) to see a side of Vegas you've never experienced before.

Head off-Strip to see Vegas (and American) history and sights - Visit the Liberace museum, the Pinball museum, the Atomic Testing Museum, or Red Rock Canyon to check out a bit of history and some interesting sights to boot. You can spend quite a bit of time away for just a little bit of money. In addition to these suggestions, think about visiting the Ethel M Chocolate Factory for a tour - free chocolate samples await you at the end of the tour, and the surrounding cactus gardens allow you to relax and reflect away from the Strip.

Check out a cheaper show or sight - Haven't seen Mac King at Harrah's? He's got two shows during the day, and tickets can be found for two free entries plus the price of two drinks per person (an approximate $9 cost per person). Also check out the various comedy shows on the Strip, but remember that prices will vary from place to place. Not in the mood for comedy? You should definitely consider visiting Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage. For a $15 fee, you can visit all the animals at your own pace and enjoy a park-like atmosphere right on the Strip - and you won't even feel like you're in Vegas anymore.

Enjoy the free things Las Vegas has to offer - Go see the Bellagio conservatory and the fountains. The conservatory changes seasonally, and it's never exactly the same. And who can get enough of the dancing fountains? They never get old. If you're in the mood for a good walk, head for the UNLV campus. You can check out the whole campus and maybe even catch a guest speaker during the regular school year.

Hang out in the sports bar - Not only are you surrounded by big-screen TVs and lots of sports action, you can usually get pretty good cocktail service here. If you're sitting in the seats and look like you've got money on a game, the cocktail waitresses will pay attention to you. But please - don't forget to tip them well!

Enjoy the free lounge shows - Who can pass up Big Elvis at Bill's Gambling Hall? I can't if I'm in the area. The man is very talented and performs every weekday afternoon at three different times. Be sure to check his vacation schedule at to make sure you don't miss him on your trip. Also, Paris offers a free cabaret show at different times during the week - check their posted schedule in front of the lounge (near the registration desk) and take a seat to enjoy some great entertainment. This goes for most casinos in general; if they have a lounge, they probably have one or more free lounge acts that rotate during the day or evening hours. It's worth it to give them a listen and relax away from the machines.

Catch up on your people-watching - This is my absolute favorite free thing to do in Vegas. There are so many interesting people to watch from all over the world that I have to spend at least a couple of hours watching as the world literally goes by me. Some of my favorite places to people watch: The Forum Shops at Caesars (pick any spot), Carnaval Court at Harrah's, and from a patio seat at Mon Ami Gabi in Paris. Lots of humanity walking by in each direction, and never dull.

Take a walk - Whether you explore the inside of your home hotel and casino or take a trip down the Strip, taking a walk is a great way to get exercise and see some sights. I personally like to take a walk through an entire casino if I've never visited it before because I never know what kind of interesting sights, shops, restaurants, or games I may find that can't be found anywhere else. And always take your camera, because you never know when a great photographic opportunity will present itself.

Hang out at the pool - Even if you're not a pool-crazy person, you can pick a shady spot and do some reading or people-watching for a while. If you're all about the water, be sure to check your hotel's pool hours, because they typically close a lot earlier than you'd imagine for the hot desert weather. Work your pool time into your day and save your gambling, shows, and other entertainment for the hours the pool is closed.

Use the spa - If your hotel has a spa, use the daily spa entry fee to take advantage of the services and amenities there. For a fee of around $25-$30, most spas allow you to come and go for the entire day. Head over there for a light breakfast if they offer it, enjoy a newspaper and watch the news, or get in a workout and enjoy the showers and amenities afterwards.

Head downtown and visit the Fremont Street Experience (FSE) - FSE is an open-air pedestrian mall and entertainment area that is covered by a 90-foot high, 150-foot long lighted canopy with light/music shows on the hour after dusk until midnight. Entrance to the area is free, and various acts perform on the two stages under the FSE canopy at different times of the day and evening. In addition, many of the downtown casinos are accessible from the FSE and provide a whole different look at Vegas. Plus, most of the downtown casinos offer a free gift with slot card sign up (and you can use them as souvenirs for your friends and family).

Take in a movie - Places like The Orleans, Sam's Town, and Boulder Station have their own movie theaters, so if you're staying at or near one of these properties, why not take in a movie? For further savings, consider a matinee or discount showtime.

Use Tix4Tonite or Goldstar to book your shows - With savings of 30-50% on each show available for same-day purchase, booking a show at one of the six Las Vegas Tix4Tonight locations can save you a lot of money if you're willing to wait and see what's available that day. See my previous post about Tix4Tonite or visit their website here: Don't forget that booking a show through Tix4Tonite one day will get you a line pass to use the next day on another show, plus a $2 off coupon to use on a future purchase. For Goldstar, you can book your tickets online:

Look for two-for-one offerings on show tickets - Check out the hotels or casinos offering two-for-one deals on show tickets for certain performances before you pay full price. Signing up for slot cards may get you a deal (such as for Mac King's afternoon magic performances at Harrah's).

Whatever you decide to do, have a good time and enjoy yourself - fun in Vegas doesn't have to be expensive.

Tomorrow's entry: Savvy shopping in Las Vegas