Sunday, November 25, 2012

Vegas in Miniature - October 2012 Trip Report

I needed a vacation in the worst way.

My new job has been fun and challenging, but also very, very busy.  And tiring.  I am SO glad I booked this trip to Vegas with my mom, just so I could meet up with my friends at the Halloween Monster Meet.  What better reason do you need to go to Vegas?

Monday, October 29th

We landed on Monday afternoon at about 12:30 and we were in our room at Harrah's less than an hour later.  Gotta love the ability for Platinum Total Rewards members (mom, not me) to check in before 4 p.m.!  We put away our stuff and headed over to Caesars to have lunch at Central.

The service at Central was a bit disappointing, and we got our food at almost the exact same time we FINALLY got our drinks.  We ordered Potato Nachos with Chicken and some Cheese Puffs (cheesy biscuits) because we wanted something "snacky" and got both of them when my mojito and mom's sangria arrived...after we complained to the manager about not getting our drinks.  The drinks ended up being comped, because even he agreed that drinks from the bar - which was about 10 feet away - shouldn't take longer than food from the kitchen.

Cheese Puffs

Potato Nachos - yes, those are potato chips

My yummy - but strong - mojito 

Mom's sangria was good

After a snacky lunch and a bit of gambling, it was off to Bellagio and the Fall decorations in the Conservatory.  We walked around, admiring the decor and taking lots of photos (well, I took lots of photos, but you know what I mean) before we decided it was time for dessert at Jean Phillipe Patisserie.  A round of "eeny, meeny, miney, moe" netted us the Key Lime Tart and the Chocolate Trio Cheesecake to share.  Good choices!  

Key Lime Tart and Chocolate Trio Cheesecake
While we were snacking, I took a look at my Conservatory photos - all taken with my little Canon PowerShot - and I found that the last couple of photos I'd taken using the newly discovered "miniature effect" looked very, very interesting.  So interesting, in fact, that I decided to go BACK to the Conservatory and RE-TAKE all of my photos using the effect!  Mom decided to go and gamble while I did this.  It was definitely worth the time to re-take the photos, because I think they look absolutely AWESOME!  It's my favorite effect by far.

Here are some photos - with comparisons to the originals in some cases:
Original photo - side view

Miniature effect - new photo.  Love it!

Miniature effect.  Lovely!
Regular water wheel...

Very cool!

I will post a separate link with all Bellagio photos in it.  There were just too many to post here.

Walking and gambling were the order of the evening, and we spent some time in Bally's (no luck anywhere) and Flamingo.  Flamingo was extremely nice to me: I sat down at a Hangover slot, put in my money, and on my first spin I went to the bonus round.  I then managed to pick all 5 Alan photos in a row and go right to his bonus, which is the highest.  My very first pick was the progressive for $525!  I was shocked!  I looked around for my mom, and when I didn't find her, I called my husband at home.  Even though it was late I had to tell someone about my lucky win!  He didn't sound so excited, though.  I had one more pick and clicked the "satchel" with $100 in it - so I had $625 right off the bat!  I cashed that out and put it in my own satchel for the TITO machine later.  I played on another $20 for a bit until I decided my luck had run out and went to show my mom the ticket.  She was as surprised as I was.  Great start to a Vegas trip!  Now to cash that in and stash it away...

My, that's pretty!

Time for a happy dance!
We headed back to Harrah's after a bit, and I was very disappointed to find Harrah's has taken out the original Lord of the Rings slots.  I spent the entire trip seeking out my favorite slots everywhere we went.  Cocktail service was very slow at Harrah's that first night, but I ended up with a winning day when mom and I finally gave it up at about 1:30 a.m.

Tuesday, October 30th

Breakfast was the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesars Palace.  We had been planning on trying this buffet for weeks, and we were not disappointed.  There was no line at a little after 9 a.m., and we were seated in the "steel" section (there is glass, wood, and steel), at the far end near the Asian foods, but our lovely seating hostess gave us a full tour as she walked us to our table.  

Buffet decor for Halloween was in abundance.

We ended up spending almost 2 1/2 hours in the buffet.  Thanks to the small, pre-portioned sizes of a lot of the foods in the buffet, I tried the following: Croque Madame, Croque Monsieur, red velvet pancakes (disappointing), artisan sausage and hash browns, shrimp and grits (yum), fresh squeezed orange juice (sooooo good!), Eggs Benedict (the English muffin was a bit tough), papas con chorizo, shirred egg with mushroom (it was okay), a spinach and mushroom quiche (not a fan), salamis, a bacon, egg and spinach salad (very good!), su mia dumplings (delicious!), leek dumplings, pork pot stickers, and beef and broccoli (quite tasty) along with a delish miniature pumpkin pie, chocolate mousse cone (very good), a raspberry trifle (meh...), and a chocolate and peanut butter mini cupcake.  To say I was full would be an understatement.  Breakfast prices are $19.99 for Total Rewards members, which is what we are, of course.

Mom's first plate of goodies - that's the steak and eggs up top.

My first samples - clockwise from top left: Red Velvet pancakes, Croque Monsieur, Shrimp and Grits, artisan sausage and hashbrowns, Croque Madame
Some of the items mom commented about that I didn't try: skirt steak and eggs (she said they were "heavenly", with a perfectly over easy egg and a just right steak), turkey bacon (what do you expect?  it ain't pork!), a biscuit that was a bit dry, and her Kung Pao chicken lacked the "pow".  We had to roll ourselves out of the buffet after that.

More buffet photos to follow in my review of the buffet itself.
Mom loved the matching coffee pot and salt & pepper shakers.

I got to walk off some food by taking a trip through the Forum Shops to pick up some stuff for Hayley.  When I went to wash my hands before I headed off shopping, I had to laugh at a little boy in the bathroom stall across from me telling his mom he was the "wienie ninja!"  Not sure what that means exactly, but it sounds dangerous...

The miniature effect looks cool on the Trevi fountain, too!

After my shopping, I had to do a bit of gambling at Caesars because they HAVE my Lord of the Rings slots back by the Bacchanal Buffet!  Needless to say I spent a lot of time playing them during the trip.  Mom was playing all over the casino, but came to visit me when she got bored.  Or lost too much money.

We managed to wander around for quite awhile before we went back to Harrah's to get ready for the Monster Meet at Monte Carlo.  I put all my stuff in a bag because I was not wearing a costume down the Strip (sorry, just wasn't gonna happen) and we began the long walk down.  It was a very nice day, but we found ourselves sweating by the time we got to Monte Carlo from Harrah's.  Thankfully we had time before the meet to sit and literally chill out.  I found the Gone With the Wind slots I'd been looking for and lurked the lady who was playing them until she left.  A couple of minor bonuses, but no Tara.  Next time, perhaps.

It was almost time for the meet when I saw a woman walk by dressed in a tie-dyed pantsuit and a matching cap.  I figured she must be one of 'ours', and she was - it was Janice!  So I gathered up my mom and we headed to the meet, which was just down the hall at the Monte Carlo Brewery.

A few LV4E members meeting and greeting...
We ended up with 40 people at the Monster Meet, and it was great fun seeing old friends again, and meeting up with some new ones as well.  I had my camera in my hand at all times when I wasn't handing out name tags, but I still didn't take nearly enough photos of everyone.  My mom left and came back because it was very LOUD (I can't imagine why!), but she really enjoyed meeting everyone, especially JeanWA and her husband, Steve - she said they were extremely nice to her.  Thank you, Jean! 

Mercin and Norm gettin' chatty...

Nate and Nat were the cutest skunk couple!

NOBODY is cuter than Vlady and Tania, especially as the King and Queen of Hearts!

I finally met Sandy, the cutest snow leopard I've ever seen.

Jack and Julie catch up.  Is Mercin in ALL of my photos?!?!?!

Apparently, YES!

Our Webmistress, Bonnie, gets witchy with batty Cindy.  I love Cindy!
After the meet we walked back to Planet Hollywood for a late dinner at Lobster ME.  We were finally hungry after all that buffet food!  We both had the Lobster and Chips.  It definitely hit the spot.  Gambling at PH was a bust, though; I couldn't make $20 last in any machine!

Nothing wrong with Lobster nuggets and crispy fries for a late dinner...

It was a nice evening to walk down the Strip, but we weren't sure (at the time) why it was blocked off in places.  We found out later that they were filming part of Hangover 3 and had everything stopped for different shots they were doing over the Bellagio fountains using paragliders and helicopters to film the stunts.  I tried to get some photos of the stunts, but they were a bit blurry.  We did witness a lady getting arrested after she ignored a police officer's order to stop at the side street intersection near Bally's where they had vans moving in and out (presumably with equipment for the shoot).  Traffic rules apply everywhere, people.  If a cop says stop, you need to STOP.

We took a quick, exploratory trip through Imperial Palace on our way back, but all the construction and a lack of air conditioning had us heading over to Harrah's for the rest of the evening instead of stopping to play.  Not many changes in place inside to make it "The Quad" quite yet, but the facade of the building is definitely looking a bit stripped down before its makeover.

These Imperial Palace photos were obviously taken in the daytime, not on our late night walk back to the hotel.  Either that, or the neon lights are VERY bright in Vegas these days.

Something's missing...oh, yeah!  A THEME!

I attempted to make another run on the Hangover slots that night, but it was not to be.  I did manage to put quite a few points on my Total Rewards card, but sadly Alan's bonus eluded me.  Lightning never strikes twice, right?  I ended up losing most of my daily allotment that evening, what a bummer.

Wednesday, October 31st

Today was another first for me: The Peppermill for breakfast.  Mom and I took a cab from Harrah's because we planned to s-l-o-w-l-y make our way back while visiting all the other casinos on the way, which is always a good plan.  

I managed to have the poo scared outta me when a zombie opened the door for us, moaning as he lurched along.  I gave a little scream, totally forgetting it WAS Halloween, after all.  He had the best costume out of all of The Peppermill's employees, and he gladly posed for a photo before we left.
That's a good costume!

A view from our corner booth - with the miniature effect!

Mom and I decided to share two dishes, although sharing ONE would've been more than enough.  We had the Mediterranean omelet, which had shrimp, crab, and avocado in it and was drizzled with a yummy cheese sauce, and the French Toast Ambrosia, which was delicious, as well.  Waaaaaay too much food, but good stuff.  

Yes, there's French Toast under there.

Omelet not shown actual size.

I asked about taking photos in the Fireside Lounge because I didn't know if it was open, and they said to go on in - it's open 24/7.  Quite a Vegas-y lounge, the Fireside.  It was also decorated for Halloween, and the fire pit was pretty neat-looking.  Nobody was in the Lounge at the time (besides the bartender), but I was glad I got to check it out.


Fireside Lounge is definitely unusual.

When you find a color scheme that works, you keep it going...

We walked to Riviera next door - another first for me - and found it dismally disappointing, even in the morning sun.  I know it's one of the Vegas Strip's oldest casinos, but it was sad-looking in its emptiness.  There were probably about 20 or so people in the entire casino.  I did like the look of the Queen Victoria Pub, although it seemed out of place in this particular casino.

The best part of the Riviera casino.

You can use the miniature effect on most anything!

Mom was surprised by the number of homeless people sleeping on the fake grass between the Guardian Angel Catholic Church and the Encore hotel, but I'd just seen that exact spot o' land on an episode of Vegas Strip just the week before and wasn't surprised to see them there.  I WAS surprised at how close they are to Encore, but there's homelessness everywhere.  It was also a sad reminder to look across the street and see a partially built hotel/casino where The Stardust and The Frontier once stood.  At least there were people in those casinos the last time I visited them.
Guardian Angel Cathedral - right next to Encore Las Vegas.

Holy Family statue outside the church.
No photos from inside the church because there was a security guard inside the door.  Boo.

Our tour of the Strip took us through Encore, Wynn, Palazzo and The Venetian at a nice, slow pace.  Mom managed to put together some nice wins on a Fireball slot at Wynn and on a Lord of the Rings slot at Palazzo.  She was definitely having the luck after my first night's win, while I couldn't put anything together for more than a $40 TITO ticket.

Encore entrance - miniature effect!

And again...

We went to Otto Enoteca Pizzeria to try their $15 wine flight, but the hostess had no idea what we were talking about, even though it's still advertised on - Monday-Friday, 3 p.m. - 7 p.m.  Bummer. 

Wynn photographs well in miniature...

The Lake of Dreams looks even prettier this way.

I could do this all day.  Wait...I did!

Wynn mixes colors well.  If Bellagio did the same with their Conservatory, I'd love it even more...

Dinner was at Grand Lux in The Venetian, and we were seated on the "patio", next to the railing, which is a great place for people-watching.  We had plenty of people-watching to do!  The SEMA convention let out at 5 p.m., and we saw more than 2,000 people walk by us we ate our dinner.  I was SO GLAD we weren't attempting to walk through any part of the casino at that time!

Mom had the Grand Fried Calamari appetizer as a meal - it's got calamari, onion rings and vegetables fried in a tempura batter, and I think that's a bit of a rich dish to have by itself.  She did, too, later on at Harrah's when she wasn't feeling very good.  I FINALLY had the Seafood Salad with the Louie dressing - very good, filling, but not overly so.  I was happy to be marking so many things off of my "to do" list that had been on there for so very long.

Mom's Grand Fried Calamari dish

The Shrimp Salad is delicious!  Not too much dressing, either.

My mom managed to hit the royal at Harrah's, too, plus several 4OAKS and other hits that put her in the black while I continued to lose after my only big win.  I kept texting Hayley, telling her that grandma was winning good money, and she would text back "Louis Vuitton purse" every time.  Didn't happen.

Some Palazzo photos, because I don't have any photos of the Halloween costumes I saw, sorry:

I used the Toy Camera effect on this one.  I like it, too, but not as much as the Miniature effect.  Obviously.
People were starting to come out in their Halloween costumes, and I completely forgot to get my fascinator from the room to wear.  Lots of couples were dressed as super heroes, princes and princesses, and pirates.  There were also more than enough scantily clad women to go around - some who should be, and some who shouldn't.  Some who really, REALLY shouldn't.  

Guess what?  The Mirage's volcano looks good with the miniature effect!

The Forum Shops look good, too. 

I saw a man dressed as a police officer (very convincing) with his wife/girlfriend handcuffed to him in her prison striped garb - cute idea!  The best costume I saw - and wish I'd gotten a photo of - was apparently a guest at Harrah's, because I saw her come out of the elevators:  she was the Three Blind Mice.  All three.  She had a giant, blow up mouse strapped to each side of her, both mice wearing dark sunglasses and holding white canes.  She had on a mouse outfit and had her own dark sunglasses and cane.  Made me laugh out loud, it was so cute.  There were a few dealers dressed up, and the cocktail waitresses at Harrah's were all dressed up in costumes, including Mari, who works the front area near the tables and is the Sweetest Cocktail Waitress of All Time.  She was dressed as Little Bo Peep, and she checked on me every few minutes after mom went to bed.  I love sitting in her section.

I completely forgot to text my old high school friend, Lori, and didn't get to meet up with her before the end of our trip. It's easy to forget things in Vegas, and I forgot to see if she'd made it to the Strip after the SEMA convention that day.  I felt like a heel when I remembered, which was at the airport the next evening.

I kept tabs on Halloween goings-on back home with my husband, who was left alone to hand out candy while Hayley was at the movies with her "not boyfriend", Ethan.  I was a bit sad I missed handing out the candy myself, since it's always been my job in the past, but it IS Vegas, and I got over it very quickly.

Finally giving up on gambling at about 1 a.m., I was ready to call it a night.

Thursday, November 1st

The Day of the Dead dawned beautifully - it seemed too pretty a day to be going home, although we didn't leave until after 7 p.m., so it was like a full day.  Breakfast was at Harrah's Cafe', which they are in the middle of changing yet again.  Ming's is still next door, but the Cafe' is currently closed from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. daily.  They open at 11 p.m. and serve breakfast all night and the next morning, with a lunch service until 2 p.m.  It's better than them having "Italian Night" every night, that's for sure.  I hope they get it figured out soon; every hotel/casino needs a 24/7 coffee shop because it's Vegas.

We checked out and stored our bags but stayed close to home on our last day.  We were gambling in Harrah's when I got a text saying our flight was delayed for almost an hour.  It seems all the delays caused by Super Storm Sandy were finally catching up with everyone else.  We met a couple in the elevator who were hoping to finally go home to New Jersey that day - they had been overstaying their vacation by a week due to the cancellations.  I think that's too late to be stuck anywhere...even in Vegas.

Thanks, Doug, but this is one time I want to see Alan.

More gambling at Caesars was in order, with me hoping that Lord of the Rings would decide to let ME win for the day, but it was not to be.  

At Flamingo, mom and I tried the Texas Tea community game, but we couldn't figure out what the heck the bonuses were, exactly.  It was nice when they hit, but we couldn't quite grasp how they were different or what determined your win.  I got a couple of postcards at Margaritaville for my co-worker who was taking care of my phone calls and e-mails because she loves all things beachy, plus she loves Vegas and hasn't been back in a while, so she was very much green with envy when I left work before my trip.

I have to say I dislike the addition of the Carlos and Charlie's restaurant right in the middle of Flamingo's casino, next to the sports book.  It's like they plopped a building down in the area, with 4 walls instead of it being open to the casino on any side.  It doesn't look right, and I don't like being unable to see across a casino at any time.  They could've made it look better, that's for sure.

Mom tried the "new" Lord of the Ring 3-reel slots with me, which I don't care for nearly as much as the regular slots, and she was as frustrated with the bonuses as I was.  I have always said that ANY bonus on ANY slot machine should award you points for making it to the bonus.  Getting a big, fat $0 as your total bonus is always disappointing, and even more so when you'd rather have other slots to play in your "home" casino.

Lobstermania 2 was a little nicer to me before we left, and I hit the lowest progressive twice while I was playing, but I only hit one actual bonus round and got bored with the game quickly.  Harrah's needs to work on getting more interesting slots to play.

There is a new slot that I only saw in Harrah's that might pique the interest of some men - it was always surrounded by men, in fact: Big Game Hunter.  You can shoot everything from gophers and ducks to deer and bears and even cow patties and aliens.  Not joking.  You choose to either play on the screen and touch when you want to "shoot", or you pick up a fake gun, stand up and shoot 'em all.  It would be the one game that might get my dad back on a plane to Vegas.  I played an Epic Monopoly game right in front of it, and the people playing Big Game Hunter were constantly hitting the bonus rounds.  Interesting to watch, and many people did, but it's not my thing.

Go get 'em!

So we headed to the airport a little lighter in the pocketbook. I ended up losing only about $250 for the entire trip after my Hangover win, and mom kept all of her original cash plus some, so SHE came home a winner.  She's already planning her next trip with my auntie in March.  Wish I could go, but I have no time off.

It was great to get away, the weather was perfect, I saw great friends and spent time with my mom.  Nothing is better than a Vegas vacation when all these things come together.