Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Las Vegas trip report - The one with the 40th birthday

Time to stop procrastinating and get this trip report done! So, I’m the one with the birthday this time. I’m old. Let’s just leave it at that. At least I got to have my birthday in Vegas though. That cheered me up a lot!

We left MSP on Wednesday, October 30th after weeks of anticipation. We had this trip booked before the August trip actually! I think we used a Delta credit card $99 companion fare deal. So each flight was around $200. It was very foggy and gloomy in MSP and I was a bit worried our flight would be delayed. We started with dinner at Ike’s in the MSP airport. I had the Charlie’s Kitchen sandwiches and fries and John had a BLT. The food was great but the service was super slow. And we had an hour to spend here, but we ended up being a bit rushed at the end. This should have been a hint of what was to come I guess. We also grabbed some wine and bottled water at Surdyk’s flights for the plane. I think their bottled water is the cheapest I’ve found at the airport. Have to stop there again. My juice box of wine was not that great, but it did its job at least. John got a small bottle of sake.

The plane ended up being a little late arriving, so we departed about 20 minutes late, but we made up the time in the air. Plus they pad the flight schedules quite heavily it seems to me. The plane was really empty, so we moved back a few rows to an exit row. So we scored a free exit row all to ourselves. I’m going to call this a small win. Gotta take what you can get! I have not been on a plane this empty in years! Very unusual!

On arrival at LAS our bags came out very quickly and we found a short taxi line. The taxi driver took back roads to the Mirage as I directed him to and he was very quiet, but did not complain. We used MyVegas comps to get 2 free nights at the Mirage. There was a bit of a line to check in at the Mirage, but it moved quickly. John tried the $20 trick and we got a tower room on the 24th floor. These rooms have a semi private elevator and slightly larger bathrooms. It was a nice room and it looked clean and have a nice view of the volcano. Not that it matters. I think I looked out the window for a total of 3 minutes. Too bad we did not have a longer stay so we could have tried the jetted tub. Overall, I was happy with the comped room though MyVegas.

Mirage Tower room 24th floor

After freshening up a bit we took a cab to the Golden nugget downtown and had a few beers, wandered around a bit and played a few slots. We decided to walk over to the newly opened Downtown Grand hotel and casino to check it out. I should have taken some photos, but there have been plenty online. The casino is not that big, but it is nice and new. I was never in the Lady Luck, so I can’t compare it to what it looked like before. We joined the Players club and got a whopping $3 each on our cards. We played a few other slots and had good drink service all over the casino. We played some blackjack and did ok. The dealers are experienced and hired form other casinos, so that was nice. All new dealers is not a good thing. Also, blackjack pays 3-2, which makes me happy. Next we wandered over to The D for some more blackjack and then we went to the Golden Gate to close out the night around 2:20am. I did ok, down slightly, lots of drinks were had though, so that was good.

Thursday, October 31st we slept in a bit and since I got to decide what we did all day, we stated off with breakfast at Bouchon at the Venetian. We had not been to Bouchon before, so it took awhile to find our way there. Overall, we were really pleased with our breakfast here. There were a few minor service mis-steps, but the food was excellent and the prices were not too high.

We had the beignets with jam and what tasted like nutella
John had the Breakfast Americaine that came with a chocolate croissant. Very light and airy. It also came with coffee.

He said this grapefruit juice was fresh squeezed and the best he’s ever had anywhere.
I had the Bouchon French toast. Real maple syrup. Yum. http://bouchonbistro.com/lasvegas

After breakfast we stopped at Walgreen's to get some water and pop and then wandered back to the hotel and went down to the Mirage pool for the afternoon. It was in the mid-70’s and it felt pretty warm in the sun. I am pretty sure the pool was filled with crazy people like us from Canada and the upper Midwest. We need vitamin D badly, you see.

After getting some sun we got ready for the evening and went over to the Wynn for some drinks at Parasole Up Parasole Down. We took a cab on the way and our cab driver told us we smelled clean. Haha I guess. I finally tried a Sinatra Smash! Well, maybe a few of them to be sure they were really good. They have whiskey in them. Yes, this drink was meant for me. It was a nice area to sit outside and relax. We headed back to the Mirage and played video poker at the bar until it was time for our dinner reservation at Heritage Steak.

We had been looking forward to this dinner for a long time and it mostly did not disappoint. Our server, Anthony, was very good, although he did disappear toward the end when it was time to order dessert.

Pork belly with fried oysters, horseradish and tomato molasses
Raw hamachi with smoked crème fraiche, beet, cucumber, lemon puree and caviar. This dish was my favorite, though I did not love the beets in it. John liked them though. This is one of those dishes when you get a little bit of each element on your fork it really comes together in an amazing way.
We shared the ribeye steak which came with baby roasted potatoes
And Brussels sprouts sautéed with onions and bacon. So, now I eat Brussels sprouts. Who knew! Yum.
For sides we ordered the onion rings that were kind of spicy! The spice was in the breading and I had to use ketchup to cool it off a bit!

I think Heritage Steak was the best dining experience we have had in awhile. The service was almost perfect and the food was amazing. I was expecting nothing less from a Tom Colicchio restaurant.  http://www.mirage.com/restaurants/heritage.aspx

Next, we headed over to Bally’s for the Veronique Voices show. I had gotten tickets for $2.50 each thanks to a tip on Trip Advisor. The seats were not great, but we did not care and actually we could see fine as the Jubilee theater is not that large. The show was decent, she does vocal impressions of a variety of performers. She can sing, but it seemed like glorified karaoke or a cover song show to me. We played a few slots at Bally’s before the show and afterwards we walked back toward the mirage stopping at Margaritaville casino at the Flamingo (played some blackjack and lost very quickly), walked through the Quad and Harrah’s and ended up at TI playing 3-2 blackjack on a $10 table. I don’t think I did too badly and we had ok drink service. Somewhere along the way we came up with the brilliant idea that if you win big on a slot machine you should have to get a tattoo with the name of the machine someplace on your body. I hope to get a Kitty Glitter tattoo one day! The possibilities are hilarious really! Or scary! Must be a tax form type of win? Over 10K? We might have to revise the rules if this ever occurs! Stayed up until around 1am.

As an aside, TI is not looking too hot. Seems rather worse for wear and a lot of areas need remodeling and attention. The pirate’s cove area is just sad. Can’t believe they are adding a CVS to the front of TI. What next, a Walgreen’s in the middle of the Mirage volcano? Hope not!

Friday, November 1st started with sleeping in as long as possible, which is not very late in Las Vegas. I think we were up around 9am. We started the day with a free breakfast buffet at the Mirage Cravings buffet courtesy of MyVegas. It was not the greatest buffet, but the desserts, donuts and pastries were good. Glad it was free. I would have been unhappy if we had to pay for that one.

Elara bathroom

studio suite at Elara 33rd floor
Our friends Megan and Jason arrived from Wisconsin and they were already checked into to the hotel and relaxing by the pool at the Elara, which is a Hilton Grand Vacation Club timeshare behind Planet Hollywood. They had points they wanted to use, so we all decided to try Elara. We packed up our Mirage room after breakfast and took a taxi over to Elara and checked in as they had a room already available on the 33rd floor. Turned out after seeing Megan and Jason’s room we had an not yet remodeled room with the black and red colors throughout and they got a newly redone room with browns and beiges. Their room was a lot lighter and brighter, although Megan mentioned their room did not have a full length mirror for some odd reason. Ours had one on the closet door, but that must have been removed in the new rooms. Maybe they got the new room since they are HGVC owners. Not sure. Overall, I think all of us were happy with the rooms and the location of the hotel though. It was nice to have a refrigerator in the room too. The bed was very comfortable and the shower had good pressure, and those rain shower head usually do not.

We met at the pool and decided what our game plan for the day would be. So of course, we headed downtown for awhile. We played blackjack for awhile at the Golden Nugget, but it was not long as I lost right away and I don’t think anyone else did any better. We decided it was time for lunch at this point so we headed down to LaComida. I’d been looking forward to bringing Megan and Jason here as we liked it a lot on our last trip.

The margaritas were once again excellent. Prickly Pear and Downtown Margarita.
The carne asada tacos Jason and I had were great.
John had the shrimp tacos – camaron al maya – as good as he remembered them.
Megan said her enchilada was ok. She had the chicken enchilada with green sauce instead of mole.

The service was a bit slow at first, but improved as the meal went on. http://lacomidalv.com/La_Comida/Home.html

We casino hopped around downtown after lunch going to the Downtown Grand, Main Street Station, and finally ending up at the Golden Gate. I played a combination of video poker, slots and blackjack. I did terribly most of the day and finally made most of my losses back at the Golden Gate on blackjack after John had to spot me some funds. Is it time to quit for the night when you are grumpy due to losing a lot? Probably so. Unless you keep going, but then it is time for the Sunset brochure. "When the fun stops." Sounds so ominous.  Anyway, we went back to Elara fairly early as we had to get up early to watch Wisconsin football the next day. John and I picked up some water and pop at the ABC store before heading to bed. It is nice to have that so close by.

Saturday, November 2nd, we had to get up early to watch the Wisconsin football game at Lagasse Stadium. John and Jason decided to go big and we got seats in the middle stadium seating section of the sports book where you have to spend $100 per person. However, the check in line was long and very slow, so it took forever to get seated. Good thing we were early. Then there was major drama over what was on the big TVs. It was disappointing that the game we wanted to see was on a smaller TV off to the side. I think we should have just gotten the seats along the sides like we did the last time around. It was tough to hit our spend of $400 and we did not, so at the end she just added in a charge for open food to make up the difference. Bummer. As it was we took a bunch of beers with us when we left!

The breakfast food was not very good. So-so at best. The French toast was good, but the syrup was cheap stuff in a plastic packet. It could have been great with good syrup.
The breakfast pizza was terrible. Avoid.
The chicken wings were as good as I remembered them though. Very crispy and tasty.
Lasgasse Stadium drink menu. I could not find one online anywhere.
Lasgasse Stadium drink menu
The steak sandwich was good as well, but the truffle fries were very soggy.
tuna poke- we had this last time and it was really good again. 
view from the stadium seats
view of the stadium seating

After the game, we wandered around the Palazzo casino playing assorted games. I did well on the Aladdin slot and Plinko. We played this strange version of craps with 3 dice called sic bo. We decided to walk back toward Planet Hollywood and we stopped at Paris for a bit to lose some money on blackjack. We took a break at the hotel, it must have been late afternoon at this point.

John and I decided to get ready for the night and try to find space at Book and Stage at the Cosmopolitan. The machines were all full, so we continued on to the Monte Carlo to use a couple more MyVegas awards. First, we had drinks at Hit Lounge in the high limit area. The drinks were great and we got two for one with the MyVegas coupon. Not the greatest deal, but not bad as I had an awesome Moscow mule. Megan and Jason showed up by this point and we decided to go have drinks at Diablo’s with our $50 MyVegas credit.

Huge plate of nachos were quite good. Skirt steak nachos to be exact.
Jason had he steak burrito
Megan had the tortilla soup which was very bland 

I think the bill was $67 after the $100 MyVegas credits, so not a bad deal. We had a bunch of drinks on top of the food of course.  http://diabloslasvegas.com/

After Diablo’s we went over to NYNY looking for $5 tables, which we found, but they were packed. I played some slots and went up and down for awhile and Jason played blackjack at a $10 or $15 table. We wandered over to the Tropicana hoping for some $5 tables and did not find any, so we ended up walking over to Hooters. Found the $5 tables. They don’t have craps here anymore either. But the dealers were decent and we had one dealer Eric that was awesome and we all did quite well here and had a lot of fun. I think we went back to the hotel around midnight.

Sunday, November 3rd. Our last full day in Las Vegas. We started the morning off with breakfast at Planet Dailies just off the casino floor of Planet Hollywood. I had a $40 credit on my Total Rewards card for doing tweets and Facebook shares through their Social Rewards application, so that was a great deal. I think the tweets and shares are silly, but I like getting stuff free. I’m also trying to figure out if it extends the time before my Total Rewards RCs expire. I need to make another transfer to be sure, but it seems to count.
I had the tomato and goat cheese omelet that was quite good. I liked the breakfast potatoes on the side too. Sourdough toast was pretty good too. Though I was missing DuPar’s a lot at this point of the trip.
John had the two eggs any style with bacon and breakfast potatoes and sourdough toast.
Jason had the huevos rancheros
Megan had the egg white scramble

The service was fine, nothing too memorable. I kind of felt the same way about my food. It was good, but not great. I don't think I'd go out of my way to come here again, unless we are staying here.  http://www.planetdailies.com/LasVegas.aspx

Megan and I went for a lap around the mall at Planet Hollywood and Megan found some goodies at Loft. The guys had some sports bets in and they ended up at PBR Rock Bar to watch the Vikings game. We watched the end of the game as it was pretty close for awhile, but things went downhill eventually and the Vikings lost.

We decided to go downtown again, so we got ready for the evening and took a cab to the Plaza. We played a few slots and a little blackjack before heading down to the D for dinner at Andiamo Steakhouse.

Unfortunately, our experience at Andiamo was average at best. The service was so incredibly slow. It took us over two and a half hours to eat there and we were not being slow. After we were seated we waited 15 minutes for the server to arrive and I suspect this only happened because Jason went to the host stand to ask what was going on. The slowness continued all night along.
I did not even really enjoy the table side Caesar salad because I was so annoyed that we had been there for an hour before he came over to make it. And I LOVE things that are prepared table side.
finished Caesar salad
The food all tasted great once it arrived. I had the scallops.
John had the chopped steak
Megan had the torellaci and she said it was fabulous.
Jason had the ribeye steak
We added sides of mushrooms and mashed potatoes
It is too bad the service was so slow. Maybe we should have asked for manager to discuss the experience. Not sure it would have helped. I did not see a manager on the floor of the restaurant anyway.  http://www.thed.com/dining/andiamo-steakhouse/

So, I don’t think we will be going back here anytime soon. For the cost of a meal there, I expect great service and it sucked. Hard. It did not even seem that busy in the restaurant.

After dinner we went over to the Golden Gate for our final night of blackjack. I’m pretty sure I did not too that well either. I’m not sure how late we were out. Maybe around 1am?

Monday, November 4th, the day we head home. Goodbye sunshine, goodbye warm weather. We have to go back to MSP to the cold and snow. Winter approaches. Yuck. We had to check out of the hotel by 10am, so we packed up the room and took our things to the valet. I think this early checkout time is a major negative of this hotel.

Megan and I had gotten Groupons to the Spice Market Buffet, so we basically got buy one buffet get one free, plus mimosas. The food was better than the Mirage buffet for sure, but I’m not sure I would make a special trip, unless I was staying here anyway.

Megan and Jason had an earlier flight than we did, so they headed to the airport around noon. We had to walk back to the Venetian to cash in a sports bet for John, so we headed off in that direction after seeing them off. It was a pretty quick 15 minute walk down to the Venetian, but I bet you could not do that at night when there are a lot more people wandering around. After cashing in the ticket we played a few slots at the Venetian. They have a lot of the newest games actually. Asteroids was a highlight as I recall. John did quite well on slots, but I did not! We walked back to Planet Hollywood, got a few goodies at the ABC store and got our bags form the valet. The cab ride to the airport was quick and uneventful. We grabbed tacos at Baja Fresh, which were surprisingly good and not that expensive for airport food. Our flight home was not that full either and we ended up having the row of 3 seats to ourselves, which was nice.

Goodbye Las Vegas! Can't wait till next time! I think we need to start planning our next trip…if I have all the rest of of my birthdays in Las Vegas am I really my real age? What happens in Vegas….

MyVegas awards on this trip between myself and John:
2 nights at the Mirage
2 breakfast buffets at Mirage
2 $50 credits on food/beverage at Monte Carlo
Buy 1 get 1 drinks at Hit Lounge
Estimated value of all awards: $310  approximately
No resort fee charged at Mirage either. I think we were supposed to pay it too. I’m going to call that a small win!


  1. Hello, I read your article thanks for all information. I have a request or question for you. Your friends who stayed at the Elara (Megan and Jason) do they have any pictures you could share of the renovated rooms at the Elara? I go to Vegas frequently and I really enjoy the Elara even when it was the PH Westgate. When Hilton took over the hotel I was afraid my love affair would be over with this hotel. But to my surprise Hilton has made lots of nice changes with the pool and lobby area. I contacted Hilton on Facebook about Photos for the renovated rooms but they are for owners only currently, they will redo the whole hotel but owners get the new rooms first I was told. I was curious if your friends Megan and Jason would be kind enough to share. Even if I'm the only one who cares about this topic it would be great if I could get them. Thanks for your time. KevinS.McShane@yahoo.com

  2. Hi Kevin, I'm sorry but they did not take any photos of the room and I did not think to take any either. Maybe try Trip Advisor reviews of Elara for pictures of the removated rooms. Thanks for the comment.