Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Mega TR: Las Vegas - May 11-16, 2008 - Day 1 5/11/08

Introduction - Trip Planning

So, its Christmas day, 2007, and we have finished up dinner and are all sitting around. My uncle pipes up with the idea, "Let's go to Vegas!" My uncle, his son and I had been to Vegas twice before, and this time we wanted to bring more of the family, namely my mom and his wife. Previously his wife had been afraid of flying, but thanks to their trip to Orlando last year, she was eager to give it a try.

The Cast of Characters
Rick - my uncle
Ricky - my cousin
Wanda - Rick's wife
Pattie - My mom
David - Myself

So I pull the laptop up to the card table, and in between hands I looked on a few travel sites, as well as the sites that compare airline fares, and the hotels website. On the face of it, I found the best deal for what we wanted through Travelocity. Rick and I wanted to stay at the Luxor this time, and we wanted to arrive Sunday morning, and leave Friday afternoon or evening. I gave people a few days to think about it, ask the time off work, and all, and just before New Years Eve, everybody committed so I booked all the travel arrangements and we were set.

Mom and I also decided we wanted to see "O" by Cirque Du Soleil, and the rest weren't interested so we booked those tickets, and I went ahead and booked a Power Pass which is a pass that gives unlimited access to a wide variety of tourist attractions out in Vegas. I could see me getting my money's worth out of it, but not the others in the group. It was very nice having all the bills for airfare, hotel, show, and several attractions paid before the end of January, as that at least gives the illusion that when you are taking the trip in May that all those items "appear to be free"

Day 1 - Sunday May 11, 2008

Getting there is half the fun!

Our flight was scheduled to depart Cincinnati around 8:50, so we decided to plan on arriving the standard recommended two hours early which meant 6:50 arrival at the airport. Rick had said he would be at our house around 6AM so that we would have time to load up the car and head to the airport. Knowing my Uncle, particularly when he gets excited, we know he will be hyper and arrive early, therefore we were prepared and not surprised when our doorbell rings at 5:30am. We were already all packed so loading up the car didn't take that long, and soon we were headed out to the Cincinnati airport.

The airport is about a half hour drive from home, particularly when there is no traffic, like there is at 5:45 am on a Sunday. We soon arrive at the airport and I guide my Uncle to an off site remote long term parking lot. It's the kind of operation where they give you a row and space number when you pull in, you drive your car to that space at the same time they are sending a shuttle to that same space. The shuttle driver helps unload your car and load the shuttle, then you ride the shuttle to the airport where the driver unloads your luggage, and parks near the curbside check in, had it been open. It's a great service, and not that expensive.

We enter the terminal and go to the self serve check in area. I swipe my ID, punch in the confirmation code and proceed to attempt to check us in. I had tried at home but it said we weren't eligible for web check in. We got all the way to the final "touch here to print boarding documents" when the kiosk crashed. I mean an error message "Unable to continue operation" message. I go to see the kiosk attendant at the counter and the person behind the counter wasn't that helpful "Go to the paper ticket check in counter under the flags over there". However, at about the same time a person that either had more authority or more customer service skills (or both), had come up to look at the strange message on the kiosk screen. He literally jumped over the counter and said "Let me see what I can do for you". After a little probing he discovered the problem, both my uncle and cousin are Rick Sauter, and apparently having two or more identically named passengers on the same confirmation number brings the check in system to a screeching halt. He resolved the problem my moving one of the Ricks to their own confirmation number. He suggested putting a middle name on the record next time at booking. I note to myself that Travelocity didn't give a space to enter a middle name, nor did they catch and try to prevent the glitch from occuring.

Anyway, he gives us our boarding passes and checks our luggage. As the seasoned air traveler, I lead the rest of the group down the escalators to the TSA checkpoint down in the basement. Since I didn't have electronics with me, I had what might be the easiest time I have had at the checkpoint in awhile. I did get sent to the puffer again this time, my name must have "Random Screening" flag on it. I note my uncle follows me like a leming to the puffer even though he wasn;t asked. I get through the checkpoint, and wind up sitting on a bench watching the others get through. The hitch was Aunt Wanda getting stopped for a 4 oz bottle of skin care product, and a TSA person who was being a stickler for the rules. Anyway, we get through the checkpoint, and I guide them onto the subway train out to Concourse B, then up into the Concourse.

In the Concourse we learn that our gate is B11 which is the first one you come to right by the food court. How lucky for us. Speaking of the food court, we decide to grab some breakfast at McDonalds. I like the selection of world flags they have decorating the food court area. We finish breakfast and then kill time with small talk until about 8:15, then we make a pit stop on the way to the gate. We board just after 8:20, and we are seated near the rear of the plane. We watch the safety video and taxi out towards the runway. While we are heading out to the gate the rain and strong winds start up. We are advised that we won't be able to take off until the storm passes. The delay is worth about 20 minutes, but then we are in the air. In flight, our flight has Delta's new EATS extra charge food service. Having just had breakfast, we decline the food service, opting for the usual courtesy drink and snack item. We then hear the news that they were apologizing about the in flight movie. It appears that our aircraft did not have the correct movie "The Bucket List" as Delta had been advertising, but they do have a movie available to show us, so they will be showing "PS: I Love You". Any movie is better than no movie, so I pull out my Delta headset from my last movie flight, being all smug till I learned the this plane had a single prong jack instead of the double prong style my Delta headset had. I point this out to the attendant as she comes down the aisle selling headsets, and she just hands me a new headset, no charge.

Aw we approach Salt Lake City, and arrival times get firmed up, I realize that there is no way we will make this connection walking, even if we were all good walkers, particularly with two different concourses involved. I ring the attendant call button and express our situation, she listens and tells me she will see what she could do. As we arrive at Salt Lake City first they plead with the passengers that if you are terminating travel at Salt Lake City or your conenection is more than 15 minutes away, please remain seated so that those with tight connections can deplane as fast as possible. Before we actually landed, the attendant returned to me and indicated that they had communicated with Salt Lake City airport, and that an electric cart would be waiting for us at the gate to take us to our connection.

We arrive in Salt Lake City, and I have my doubts as to how well the "Please yield to those with tight connections" was headed. We deplane and head up the jetway, and as we enter the terminal, parked right in front of the gate agents desk is a 6 passenger electric cart. We board the cart, and are whisked away from a C gate through a crowded busy passageway to the D gates area. We agree we would have NEVER made that walking. In fact, we arrive at the gate after everybody else had boarded. I start to distribute the leg 2 boarding cards to my group when the gate agent tells me to not worry about it, just hand her the entire stack. She quickly scans all 5 barcodes and hands the entire stack back to me, and urges us to hurry along. We board the plane, take our seats towards the front of coach, and it seems like to sooner than we got settled into our seats and fastened the belts that we were backing away from the gates. I start to worry, "If we barely made it here, with the aid of an electric cart, how is our luggage going to get here on time". That will give me something to worry about for the entire flight. Its a short flight from Salt Lake City to Vegas, so there is no in flight entertainment, and you just get a drink and a packet of peanuts. It seems like no time and we are walking up the jetway in Las Vegas, and learn we can try to get our luggage on carousel 7.

Now we had told Pattie and Wanda tales about the Las Vegas Airport practically wheeling the slot machines out to your plane as you arrive, and admittedly we had been told the same thing before our first trip, but until you see them right inside the concourse as soon as you step off the plane, you don't believe it. We paused for a pit stop, then made our way to the center of Concourse D so that we could take the escalators down to the tram station. I point out the miniature jets alongside the escalators and the floor mosaic. We soon make our way to the trams and we just miss one tram, but not to worry we get to look at the wall murals depicting international destinations as we wait for the next tram. We depart on the tram and soon arrive at the main terminal. A short walk and we are riding the escalators down to the baggage claim area, and more or less make our way to carousel 7. I am almost positive our bags won't be there, I mean with that quick plane change and all. It does take some time, as it seems like our bags are the last to come off the belt. My uncle plays some of the slots conveniently located in the baggage claim area while we wait for our bags. Luck was shining on us, and all our bags arrived.

Our group numbered 5, and we thought taxis only held 4, not knowing about the mini-van cabs. We make our way out to the shuttle bus office outside the terminal, opt for the Gray Line, and for $12 each later, we had round trip hotel transfers from the airport. Not only that the bus is loading as we speak. It seems like no time and we are out on the road. We do make stops at the MGM Grand, New York New York, and the Monte Carlo on our way to the Luxor, but all those hotels are quite near each other, and the scenery isn't bad either.

We're Here! Luxor

We pull up to bus unloading at the Luxor, claim our bags, and follow the signs to registration. I am a bit surprised when they don't have automatic doors, nor a doorman, at the entrance we used. Luxor is the giant black pyramid with the the ultra bright light on top. A giant sphinx guards the front of the hotel, and the marquee sign out front is an obelisk. I had been warned that there was some renovation work going on by Travelocity, and other sources indicated the Egyptian theming is on its way out. The lobby still looks really nice and themed. We get to the registration desk area and there is a huge queue maze there. Not only that I could see only a small handful of the numerous check in desks open. It turns out the line to check in takes about an hour, which would have been more painful had we not struck up a conversation with the group in front of us. (Only Rick and I went to the registration desk) Oh sure, by the time we are nearing the front of the line they add more clerks. Check in is relatively painless, the usual check ID and put a credit card down for incidental expenses. The clerk does take all of our names to add to the guest register, and tries to upsell us to a higher grade room, only $100 per room for the entire 5 night stay. Now I know that many find the upgrade to the newer hotel towers at the Luxor to be an offer to be jumped upon, as the rooms are newer, larger, have more ammenties, and you don't have to deal with the inclinators. Call us crazy, but we wanted the novel shaped Pyramid rooms, and all the quirks that come with them. We sign the registration cards, collect our room keys (enough for everybody), and are handed resort ID cards and resort maps. We meet up with the rest of the group.

Upon looking at the map, we learn that registration is in the northeast corner of the pyramid, and our assigned inclinators are on the southwest corner of the pyramid. The shortest way, and I can't think of any other ways off hand, is to cut through the casino, lugging our bags and all. I tend not to use the bell captain, just a personal preference. I guide my group safely through the casino without anybody getting waylaid and tempted to gamble prematurely. Ah, we have inclinators in the corner of the pyramid that is mostly decorated with construction walls. They did leave an opening to get to a deli and the inclinators. What's an inclinator? Well, the Luxor is a pyramid, and the elevators are placed in the corners, so they can't go straight up. Instead the elevators go up on a 39 degree incline. It's a very weird feeling to say the least, but they did not go for glass windows in the cabs. The inclinators are keycard controlled as you might expect, so we insert cards and head up to the 14th floor. Off the inclinator, and a short walk to the hallway, our rooms are just a little bit further than halfway along one side of the pyramid. I note ice and vending near the elevators. I had made a request for adjoining rooms but that did not happen, but at least they gave us rooms next door to each other, almost. I say almost because the housekeeping crew had a work room between our two rooms. Considering how much snoring this group can produce, that might be a good thing.

Looking around the room, it is in mostly earth tones. I immediately went to look out the window and yes a good portion of the wall, namely the window is slanted, and the small portion on top of the window, as well as some space below it is vertical, I suspect that gives them some room utilities, as well as eliminate creating an area that if something were to fall into, it might be hard to get it back out. Looking out the window, I realized we were on the back (west) face of the tower, which meant a pool view, not bad at all. I note that because of the slant the curtains have to have curtain rods at both the top and bottom of the window. I also noted the window had "BREAK OUT PANEL - FOR FIRE DEPARTMENT USE" written on in in red letters, of course it was written to be read by somebody outside the pyramid. Anyway the rest of the room still had an Egyptian motif in the wall hangings, on the bedspreads, and on the door to the closest. I did think the TV was a bit on the small side, but how much TV do you intend to watch? The other potential downer is that the bathrooms only have showers in them. The rooms aren't perfect, but they aren't near as bad as the reviews you might read on the travel sites would have you believe.

So after getting moved into our rooms, we decided to go get some food. We opted for More: The Buffet at Luxor. We ride the inclinator down to the casino floor, and to access the buffet there is an escalator towards the southwest corner of the casino that goes down to the basement. We ride down to the basement, through some doors and see the path ahead of us blocked by gates that say "EXIT ONLY", we make a left turn and go down the hall. Not much down here you have the buffet on the right, and a "$15 or under" gift shop on the left. The stairs down into the buffet were blocked off, so we had to take the ramp, which feeds into a queue maze that was not in use right now. The queue maze feeds three cashier stations. (There are 4 entrance lanes, but the other one is reserved for VIP guests). The Mother's Day Brunch special was $19.95 and soon our group of 5 was admitted and told to have a seat by the well. Shortly, a hostess seated us, the buffet area still has some remnants of the former Egyptian theming, an is designed so that the dining room is maze like so you don't feel like you are in a big cavernous mess hall. The layout is pretty simple with the salad bar down the center of the room, and then that breaks out into a T at the far wall with hot food stations going out both ways. Along one side of the room is a cash bar for those that want a cocktail, and on the other side is the desert station. Since it was brunch the salad bar also featured a make your own deli sandwich station and one side of the hot foods area had breakfast, including a live omlette station, and the other side had lunch, with a meat carver, taco bar, potato bar, asian bar, and more. I went with mostly breakfast foods, and took delight in a big bowl full of fresh watermelon, as that was not quite widely available in Ohio yet, especially not this fresh. My uncle had come back from the desert station, and quickly proclaimed the cheese cake the best he'd ever eaten. I knew I had to check that out and yes the deserts are very good.

After dinner, it was time to go upstairs to the casino level and start playing. Upon exiting the buffet we noted the up escalator was not working, so we took the elevator, where I noted the floor guide still has its old theme overlay with the buttons being labeled "Pharaoh's Pheast" for the buffet, for example.

Before we can begin playing, however, it's time to join the Player's Club. The casino industry is famous for rewarding players for their play, however the need to know who their good players are, and how much they gamble. In the past this was handled by pit bosses back in the day when table games were king, and slot machines and their players were seen as secondary. Back then a pit boss would not only make sure the games were being played properly, they also kept tabs on who their good players were, and in turn had powers to give players stuff in return. Slot players had no such oversight, and until gaming machines started being responsible for higher percentages of a caisno's revenue, and they realized machine players might be losing just as much money, if not more, they didn't do much about it. Then the players club and slot card was invented. A slot card is essentially a meter card. you insert the card into a gaming machine and then it keeps track, or meters how many credits you play. This way they can start handing out the free stuff to machine players as well. Therefore it is a good idea that if you are going to spend any time at all in a casino to invest the few minutes to get a slot card, and these programs are typically administered by so-called "Player's Clubs" The good news is that player's clubs are free to join, and their are no dues, and they also have another benefit you may not think of. Should you hit a jackpot $1,200 or higher, and need to pay taxes on it, you are also allowed to counteract your gambling wins with provable gambling losses. Player's Clubs are typically happy to send you a statement around tax time, upon request, certifying how much you either won or lost in their casino during the tax year.

So, now I have a light blue "MGM Mirage Player's Club Card" and am told there are about 10 casinos in Vegas that participate in this club, and I can earn or redeem points at any one of them. Well, at least that solves the old advice about limiting your play to one casino, now you can go spread the wealth at several casinos. Uhm, as long as they are owned by the same people anyway.

Well, we go and play around in Pharaoh's casino for quite some time. I won't bore you with the play by play of the gambling session, but the group decided to just spend the day at the Luxor unwinding from the physical and mental stress caused by the airline flights, travel, and all. I naively think, "Well, at least this will get it out of our system".

Instead, I will briefly describe the Luxor casino floor to you. As you might expect the floor is dominated by all kinds of electronic gaming machines, and the table games are placed in a V formation spreading out from the front main entrance to the casino. Speaking of the front of the casino, when you go in the front doors, to the right are all the services related to the hotel operation of the resort: 24 hour convenience store, car rental, bell desk, and registration desk. To the right they have filled in the area with gaming machines and escalators up to the atrium. Elevators up to the guest floors are located in the four corners. The lobby has the main casino entrance flanked by two reflecting poools and staturay, its very impressive.

In the dead center of the casino they have added a cocktail lounge, its a hip looking lounge that also serves to make sure there is no where you can clearly see across the casino floor. It surprises me that casinos have so many bars and lounges, since most casinos run an open bar policy while in the act of gambling. The fixed site bars are not only not included in the open bar but they will charge you high prices for drinks. I understand some say that sometimes you just want a drink with friends without going through the hassles of snagging the "free" drink from a cocktail waitress.

In addition the the lounge in the center of the casino, there are lounges flanking both sides of the main entrance. Going clockwise around from the front doors, you pass a lounge, then LAX, which is an ultrahip very popular nightclub, which replaced the former very popular nightclub "Ra" in its Egyptian theme days. Continuing on you pass the casino cashier cage, then an area of the casino floor that is noteworthy due to the fact it has the largest Wheel of Fortune slot machine I have ever seen. Yes, I know there have been Wheel of Fortune slots for a long time now, but this is a gigantic machine with 10 player positions around the edge of a round machine, in the center is a giant Wheel set i a horizontal position much like the real show, It's a very impressive machine designed to be very eyecatching, and create a sense of "community gaming" much like table games as you can cheer each other on when they get a wheel spin, Well, in theory anyway, slot players tend to keep to themselves. Just past the Wheel of Fortune are the escalators that serve the atrium as well as Mandalay Place, a shopping area that connects to Mandalay Bay Casino.

Past the escalator you start seeing the construction walls as most of this corner is being renovated, you pass the closed Steak House, then an open tobacconists counter and an open counter service deli type restaurant. Around the corner you see the closed Luxor Show Room which is being renovated into a Cirque Du Soleil theater. Across the back of the casino is the race/sports book, another escalator to the atrium, as well as stairs to a bridge to the pool and parking garage. Past that is the Pyramid Cafe, a table service casual dining place. Rounding the next corner and heading back to the front is a Starbucks and the Players Club, then a unique "dinner/entertainment" venue called "Cathouse", yes as in the bordello. You then come to some more costruction walls as the Poker Room is closed off, but the poker tables themselves are in a roped off area across from the Sports Book, forming a sort of Poker Pit, rather than Poker Room,
Across from the Poker Room construction project, is a boarded up High Limit Slots area, so a selection of high limit slots have been placed on the main floor in this section. Between the poker room and high limit slots area are ramps, up to the connector to the Excalibur, or down to the convention area and access to the Tower rooms. Behind the high limit slots area is the Luxors shopping area, business center, and a Starbucks. This brings you back around to the front of the casino. Also in the southwest corner of the casino intermingled in the casino floor are the escalators down to the buffet, an elevator to the atrium or buffet, and a utilitarian looking bar in case you don't feel like walking to the hipper looking places in the front. The Luxor gets some grief in trip reports for being pushy on the timeshares, and I will report that yes the casino floor has at least three timeshare booths, including one positioned at the ramp to the Tower rooms, then there is another on the atrium level. However, these people were not at all aggressive when we were there, and would not approach you unless you walked up to their booth,

Lastly, I noted some hybrid gaming going on with electronic gaming offering some table games like blackjack and roulette often with lower stakes than traditional tables. The most interesting hybrid is Rapid Roulette, which is really an electronic Roulette machine, where the winning outcome is determined by a real human roulette dealer spinning a real roulette wheel located in the middle of the oblong carousel of Rapid Roulette machines, Rapid Roulette is played for similar stakes as traditional roulette, put is designed to play much faster, what's not to like for the casino. Be sure, this hybrid was designed with the casino's profits in mind as it takes the traditionally slow game of roulette and speeds it up by eliminating the need to settle all player bets by hand at the end of each spin, as well as allowing players to cash in/out while others are playing the game.

Okay, your little tour of the Luxor is over, so let me relate on funny story from this first gaming session. All five of us were over at the gigantic Wheel of Fortune, and everybody except Mom kept getting wheel spins, which started frustrating mom more and more as it went on.

When we signed up for the Players Club, mom had noticed a sign stating that new players who accrue 200 points their first day get a free Luxor t-shirt. We had only been here a few hours, and we already each had our 200 or more points. We go to pick up our shirts, first she initially doesn't want to give mom a shirt because "you are not a new member". She protests that this is her first trip to Vegas, let alone the Luxor, well it seems she became a member when she joined the players club at the Gold Strike in Tunica, MS. The players club attendant did, however, decide to give mom the shirt anyway. Then I try, and "you are not a new member", I am disqualified for having had a card at New York New York casino on a prior trip. She does give me a shirt as well, and the attendant next to her snots "So we are giving shirts to everybody now" ,our attendant hushes her all "We'll discuss this in PRIVATE". My hunch is that they will give you anything within reason, I mean why risk turning a person off over a cheap t-shirt. They want to work with you, and at times will bend the rules.

While at the desk, I noted a promotion designed to turn slot players onto table games, its a promotion where they will give you $30 in table game play for $20. Hey, thats a free $10, and it is limited to one use per player, and the players club is the gatekeeper controlling access by validating the coupons of those who want to take advantage of this offer. I fill out a coupon and get it validated.

From there we play some more slots, then Mom decides to go up and watch Survivor finale, Uncle Rick and aunt Wanda go touring on their own, and cousin Rick and I go touring on our own.
Rick talked about going to a club, so we went up to our rooms to freshen up and change clothes.

We went back to the casino floor, and I noted that table games promotion coupon was date stamped, so I made a trip to the casino cashier to hand in the coupon and $20. She went back to the back desk of the cage, and came back to me with $30 in brown promotional chips, a brochure that tells you how to play the game, some pocket "Win Cards" that give you strategy as to the proper moves, and even a coupon to give to the dealer at the table where you use the promotional chips. The coupon gives the dealer a $1 tip. The cashier places all this in a plastic pouch to keep everything neat and together for me, and explains the brown chips can't be cashed out, however the chips I win using them can.

My Win Cards packet in my pocket, we head out the front door of the Luxor with the intention of riding the monorail to the Exccalibur. The Luxor, Mandalay Bay, and Exaclibur are owned by the same people, and they have a free monorail to ride between the casinos. At the luxor the monoail station is out the front doors, accross the driveway and up a short ramp where you come out between the legs of the giant sphinx in front of the hotel, and the Sphinx's platform is actually the monorail platform. Unfortunately, the ramp is roped off with signs indicating the monorail is closed. We re-enter the Luxor, and walk past the hotel services area, then past the shopping area and business center to get to the ramp to the connector to Excalbiur.


There is a large wide ramp up to the Excalibur and the resort has installed motorized Speedramps going both up and down on the ramp. We ride up the Speedramp and go through a doorway. There is a short bridge with moving sidewalks, we ride across, then there is a jog in the walkway then a much longer bridge and moving sidewalks. We ride to the end, make a turn and then we walk through the door from the neutral themed bridge to a hallway that looks like it could be part of a castle. You enter on the second floor which is a restaurant and shopping district, oh and a random age and weight game thrown in. We wind our way around this area and come to the escalators that go down to the casino floor.

We weren't interested in playing at the Excalibur, and thanks to past visits, I knew we had to do a hairpin turn toe left at the bottom of the escalator to head to the main exit. On our way out we pass the access way to the kids entertainment area in the basement, and we pass a night novelty stand. Ricky has sold night novelty products at concerts and fairs back home, and he checked the prices the Excalibur was charging and he commented, "And I thought WE were making a killing on those things, they are charging double what we do" Perhaps becuase the Excalibur is designed to be one of those family-friendly resorts, when you get to the main exit, you either go up a ramp to go up to the driveway, or down a ramp to go through a tunnel that goes under the driveway out towards Las Vegas Blvd. I note in the center of the tunnel there is a Speedramp to assist vistors coming into the casino, but not one for those exiting. We go down the ramp, through the tunnel, and up another ramp to exit.

Hooters Casino

This particular intersection is very busy, and pedestrian crossing at street level is forbidden, and the have built walls to enforce this. When you exit Excalibur you can go straight to a bridge towards New York New York, to the right and up a ramp to a bridge towards Tropicana, and between the two a ramp down to the street level. We take the ramp up through a castle out building that leads to the bridge towards the Tropicana. After we cross the street, we ride the escalator down to the street level. We walk past the Tropicana without going in, we also pass by the escalator that goes up to the bridge to the MGM Grand. We start walking down Tropicana Ave. Just past the Tropicana is Hooters Casino, its in the former San Remo Casino, and the grapevine tells me the Hooters theme package is not long for this world.

We cut through a break in the shrubbery, and given the well worn state of the dirt in that area, presume that is a common tactic to get to Hooters. We wanted to go to Hooters well, because its Hooters, and also because they are aggressively advertising a promotion of $100 in FREE slot play for new players club minimum. No purchase or play required. We know its a come-on but its a very tempting come-on. We enter the casino and its much smaller than most casinos and the walls are plain wood paneling, in fact it looks more like a downtown Vegas casino. The one wall contains the hotel services area, cashier office, poker room, gift shop, players club, and more, the other side has the gift shop, a nightclub and more. There is a table games pit front and center. We walk through the casino and have a look around. As you might expect the cocktail wiatresses and dealers are Hooter's girls. We head to the players club to get signed up. We get our cards, and i notice they don't even punch a hole in it so you could place it on a cord or keyring. They also give us their fun books, well a fun sheet of coupons in this case, and she explains that the new player promotion is a Hooters owl for 500 points (small) or 900 points (large) earned in the first 72 hours. She also tells us the fun book coupon for 500 free slot points after you earn 500 cannot be used towards the large owl.

We take our fun books over to the center of the casino where there is a roped off slot carousel. We turn in our coupons for $100 free slot play, and are told to go ahead and pick any vacant machine at the carousel, but to choose wisely because you have to play the entire $100 through the same machine. Most of the openings are scattered single machines, but we find one group of three machines open, with the center machine blocked off, I guess this is good as we can get. We make a handshake agreement that we will split whatever winnings we get from the promotional slot machines. I sit down to a machine, and the promotion attendant explains the rules. I must play the entire $100 in the same machine, and I can't cash out. There are three ways to win money here, get the top combination on the reels, get $1,000, get the second highest combination and get $100, or if I get the credit meter on the machine built up to 1,700 credits, I get $50. The machines in the free slot play area are supposedly 2 coin $2 machines, and the rules state I must bet the max 2 coins per spin, or $4 per spin. You can see how they can now say $100 free slot play, as $100 in a $2 machine is only 50 credits, and you must bet 2 credits per spin, Other casinos advertise $50 free slot play and use supposed $1 machines, or $20 in free slot play and use supopsed quarter machines. Since you can't cash out credits, (all eligible pays are handpays) it doesn't really matter what denomination they make the machine front say, but using a higher denomination makes the come on offer sound that much better. Later in the week I would see the promotion at a different casino stated as "50 free Credits" with the machine face actually reading "FREE PLAY" where the denomination would normally be posted.

After explaining the rules, the attendant pulls out his wallet and takes a $100 bill and inserts it into the machine bill acceptor. I note the cash out button has been removed, and am assured that if I hit a winning combination or accrue the proper number of credits the machine will lock out to ensure I get paid, only the first winning combination per player paid. Before we get started the player who had the middle machine comes back and tells us his tale. He has been playing the promotional slots for a few hours now, he had the meter up to 1,680 (recall 1,700 gets you $50), but has since fallen back down to the 600-700 range. I start to play my machine, and i get the usual promo slot machine experience, I am done in about 5 minutes, if that. Rick on the other hand if off to the races, and keeps getting playback. I go and play other slots, her is still at it, I go and play still more slots, he is still at it, I go play more slots, and it takes me three tries to get a cocktail waitress to actually follow through and get me a beer, but when it comes it was in one of those aluminim bottles, the only casino I would see all week that used those. I pass Rick and he has his machine up over 1,000. I play still more slots, come back to find he has gone over 1,700 and gets the crisp $50 bill. Our buddy who had been playing for hours is now down to the 400 range on his credit meter and falling.

As promised Rick gives me $25, and we head to the blackjack table to use another fun book coupon for $25 match play. We each put $25 and the coupon on the table, the dealer converts the cash to chips instead of letting the paper money play. The cards are dealt out of a shoe, which is better than the last blackjack table I was at where they used a continuous shuffle machine. Hey look at this we both get dealt 20's in our first two cards, oh and look at that the dealer busts. She pays each of us $50 in chips, and collects the coupons, Okay, so we each now have $75, which represents a $50 win on a $25 bet. Just like that each of have essentially been given $75 by the casino. We play a little blackjack since we have chips, and I notice in Vegas they have more creative license with the design of the felt for their table games, back in Indiana the standard green felt with maybe a casino logo on the betting area is still the norm. I go up some, down some, up some, down some, on a win streak, then hit a losing streak. Getting 12ed on double downs, twice in a row is enough to make you sick. I color up about $100 in chips at that tine, then go back to the slots while Rick continues playing cards. I go on a wining streak and actually wind up turning a nice profit at Hooters. Rick and I meet back up, cash out our chips and tickets and decide to leave the Hooters and go to the Palms.

Palms (Ghost Bar)

We left Hooters, and Las Vegas has made transportation pretty simple, you step outside of any casino and there is a taxi stand and a seemingly endless line of cabs waiting to be filled. We started to head to the taxi stand, when a person with a big black SUV with the name of a limo service on the outside approached us and asked us where we wanted to go. We told him the Palms, and he said he would take us there for $15. We decide to get into the SUV. Shortly into our ride, we get the sales pitch, our driver would be happy to take us to one of the cities finest gentlemen's clubs (read: strip bars) absolutely free of charge, and then return us to our hotel afterwards for free. We indicate we have no interest in this, and our driver acts all "legitimate limo service" extolling the virtues of riding in a big luxury SUV instead of in a common taxi. We do ask him about clubs, and he rattles off the names of a few clubs and even gives us passes for some of them. As fa as the price, we may or may not have done well, becuase he got on I-15 for the one exit quick ride up to the Palms and got into a nasty traffic backup. We could see a meter race in a normal taxi. Anyway, he gives us his card in case we change our mind, and we are safely dropped off at the Palms. We go inside and decide to stick with regular taxi service from now on.

The Palms is several blocks off the strip and caters to the 20-30's crowd with lots of hip clubs and "fantasy style suites" One of the few things Rick mentioned he wanted to do was go to a club known as the Ghost Bar located at the Palms. As he hadn't mentioned anything else on his must-do list and had been mentioning i to me repeatedly for a month, I decided to go.

We walk through the casino and find a metallic gray hallway leading to Ghost Bar. We start down the hallway and come to a bouncer, the bouncer checks Rick's ID which I expect as he is under 30, but then he wants to see my ID as well. ID's checked, we proceed down the hallway to the ticket counter. Ghost Bar runs a $20 cover charge just to get into the place, luckily we weren't surprised as we had already known this. We buy our tickets for $20 each, and get tikets and hand stamps. We continue down the hallway and it makes to quick right turns to emerge into what looks like the hotel elevator bank, where two cars are roped off for access to Ghost Bar. Another bouncer checks our tickets and loads us into the elevator, then sends us up to the 55th floor, At the 55th floor yet another bouncer takes our tickets and admits us to the club. As you come out of the elevator bank, the restrooms are to the left, and everything else is to the right.

We enter a large lounge, along the right hand side is a sleek modern looking bar, to the left there are floor to ceiling windows and some couches, coffee tables and other lounge furniture. The indoor bar area isn't too crowded, and we quickly join the party out on the outside deck. The outside deck faces East, so it faces Las Vegas Blvd, and gives a commanding panoramic view of the entire city. The view is simply breathtaking. The side railings are fairly high but are made of clear thick glass. There are some VIP seating areas down a few stairs alongisde the actual edge of the balcony, then there is a decent size area to stand and mingle above that. The balcony railings have handy drink shelfs, and I note the servers check pads have lights due to the outside nature. We stay up here for quite some time and mingle and chat with some friendly people. The club has dance music and some disco like lighting effects going on. Some time later we work our way to the apex of the observation deck where even the floor becomes clear glass.

When we have had our fill of Ghost Bar we find our way back to the elevators, and ride back down to the main floor, where we exit through the barrier past the other elevators into the casino proper. We decide to play for awhile at the Palms, Rick focuses on cards and I focus on slots. First I head to the Players Club to get a card. As I get my card i also get a brochure on how the slot club works there, as well as a flyer indicating that as a new player I will get a gift, the value of my gift depends on how many points I accrue in my first 48 hours.

I head to a slot machineand start playing, and when I look up at the players club meter, I am surprised I have a couple hundred points in no time. I played a few machines and I noted some hybrid video/reel machines have a real neat video panel that is actually over the reels, and when certain pixels turn clear you can see through the video panel to the reels behind it. Casinos are actually putting lots of high end techonology into gaming machines, a lot of them even have BOSE sound systems. After playing awhile I note the meter says I have 1,020 points which would get me the highest merchandise prize of a golf shirt. I head to the players club to pick up my shirt, or try to get a shirt. The host inserts my card and says "Sorry, you don't have enough points" I look puzzled and mention the slot machine says I have 1,020 points. She looks back at her screen and then while I don't get a shirt she apologizes for the confusion. It seems today is a 5X points day, however I can only use base points towards the new member promotion. She mentions I have 204 base points. I sheepishly go back to the slots, I mean I knoew I was earning points way to fast and there had to be a catch.

I play slots for quite a bit longer, and then Rick and I meet up, by then I have close to 1,500 points or 300 base points. On our way out of the casino, I see what I have earned and i made it up to the second tier, which was actually a really nice baseball cap. Its a beige cap with the Palms logo in beige, really sharp looking, in fact I have worn it around to two baseball gamew now. Hat on head, we go to the official taxi stand, and get in an official taxi to the Luxor.

Back at Luxor for the evening.

We enter the Luxor and play a couple machines and then I decide hey I have been up for 24 hours now, and I don't want to be too tired on our first full day of seeing Vegas. Rick still wants to play so I leave him down in the casino, and I head back to the room for the night. I was somewhat surprised Mom DIDN'T wait up, so I quietly changed and got to sleep. It did not take me that long until I was sound asleep. I don't normally sleep well in hotels, but when you have 24+ hours on the meter...

See you tomorow in our next report. As a sneak preview we go to Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, New York New York, MGM Grand, Tropicana and more.


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