This trip to Vegas, January 17 to 20, took several twists since the planning began in early October. The first iteration had me and my wife getting away by ourselves for a low-key visit over the MLK holiday weekend. We originally booked a room at Bill's. Harrah's sent us some comp nights not long after we booked Bills, so we switched our reservation to the IP. Then Steve Wynn decided to offer alms to the poor and we again changed our reservation to three nights at Encore. Quite a move up in accommodations, but we thought we better take advantage of the opportunity to stay at a place like Encore while we had it.

The trip also changed from being just my wife and me to include my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law surprised my sister with airline tickets and three nights at Wynn for her Christmas/birthday present. They booked the Wynn on the 'invite a friend' option on our offer.

Our flight from St. Louis arrived in Vegas at 9:30 a.m. Saturday the 17th. We had a rental car reserved from Dollar for three days at a ridiculously low rate of $8.55 per day. After taxes, fees and tacking on a few extra hours, the total bill for the rental came to $54 and change for a Dodge Charger. Gas cost us a little more than $6 at $1.97 per gallon. Cabs over the tree days would have easily cost this much, and having the freedom to come and go as we pleased was great. I have not rented a car in Vegas, but this experience was so positive, that I think that will be my norm from now on. The rental facility provides great shuttle service from the airport, and the facility is very easy to get to and from.

One thing that I did prior to our trip was join Dollar's Express program for frequent renters. This allowed me to bypass the counter at the rental facility and go straight to the booth in the garage to pick up my car. All pertinent information is saved in your profile, so all you need to do is sign the paperwork, show your credit card and ID, pick a car and be on your way. I estimate this saved me a good 30 minutes at least, as the line at the counter was several people deep.

The weather in Las Vegas during our stay could not have been nicer. Temperatures were in the mid to upper 60s with abundant sunshine every day. Much better than the single digits and teens we left behind in the Midwest. Shorts and t-shirts were the attire during the day, and a light jacked was sufficient at night.

After we picked up the rental car, we decided it might be a bit early to check into Encore/Wynn, so we headed a little further north and had a late breakfast, early lunch at Peppermill. As always, it was delicious and the portions were more than adequate.

After the meal, we decided to give check-in a try. Both rooms were available. Registration at Encore was a breeze. There was one person ahead of me, so my wait was just a minute or two. I really did not care much what type of view the room had, but the front desk clerk felt the need to apologize for not being able to offer me a room any higher than the 17th floor considering the early check-in. I assured her that I would survive.

Digressing a bit, I have to say that the self-parking garage at the Encore is great. It is very easy to find and navigate. Unlike most other self-park garages, this one is very open and convenient. The walk from our car to check-in and the elevators was extremely minimal.

Room 1735 was north facing so we were looking out over the north Strip/Downtown area with a view of the mountains east and west. The floor to ceiling window was very nice. Being less than a month old, the room could not help but be clean and fresh. Keep in mind, my normal accommodations are the IP/Flamingo, so the standards I hold a hotel room to are not that high. The 'suite' was separated into two areas with the living room housing a desk, two chairs and a sofa. The partition between the area with the king bed and the living room had a large opening which housed a 42' flat screen HD television. The TV swiveled 180 degrees so you could watch it from either area. The color scheme in the room was light beige with black trim. The bathroom was larger than a lot of hotel rooms I have stayed in, with two sinks, a tub and separate shower. The bidet was in its separate area with a door for privacy. Amenities were plentiful and the bottles provided were about twice the size as normal in a hotel. I never confirmed this, but it felt to me like the floor tile in the bathroom was heated.

Some cool features were a doorbell, and an electronic notification to housekeeping for privacy or room maintenance. There was also remote access for all lights in the room and for curtain open/close on a control panel on the night stand. The alarm clock had a docking station for my iPod.... I told you I was pretty simple to please.

When checking in, a choice of newspapers was offered. Not sure, but I believe you could pick the Las Vegas Journal Review, USA Today, LA Times or NY Times. I chose the LVJR for local flavor and the outside chance of finding a valuable coupon or inside info on deals at a locals' casino.

My sister and brother-in-law's resort room at Wynn was very nice as well, but more of just a standard hotel room. Not really a fair comparison, but this room was much more 'tired' than ours at Encore.

The Encore resort is very beautiful with meticulous attention to cleanliness and maintenance. Red is the dominant color, done very tastefully throughout. Butterflies are abundant as well in the carpeting and floor tile mosaics.

The casino is very formal in appearance and atmosphere, but is very comfortable to play in. Table limits during the day began at $10 for blackjack and craps, but went to $25 minimums late afternoon and evening. There are windows in the casino facing the pool area, which is a nice touch.

I can't comment on the restaurants at Encore, other than they looked very nice. I am sure the food is great, but I am not a foodie and can't justify spending the kind of money it would cost to eat at one of these establishments. The few menus I scanned looked like meals would run about $100 to $150 per person on the low end.

So there is my obligatory review of Encore. I enjoyed my stay there, but I would hazard to guess this might be my only opportunity to do so. While nice, I would not spend the $300/night it would normally cost, and I know the limited play I gave them will not precipitate future offers.

I will break the rest of the report into activities. This will illustrate the environments and surroundings I am more accustomed to.

Gambling:

I like to play a little VP, but mainly stick to blackjack and craps. I have really come to enjoy blackjack switch, and having researched this game some, it actually offers very good player odds depending on the variation played and the necessary adjustment in strategy to accommodate the game's nuances from regular blackjack. If it hadn't been for this game, and my success with it, my losses would have been doubled. As it was, I believe when all was said and done, I probably left about $500 at the tables when the trip was over.

Downtown: We made our way downtown during the day Sunday, spending most of our time at Main Street Station, Four Queens and the El Cortez. Our time at MSS was spent at the VP bar next to the buffet with no significant wins or losses. Next was the Four Queens. I did well here at blackjack switch. We then ventured to the El Cortez where I held a blackjack training session for my sister and brother-in-law at their $3 table. No one was playing, so it was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the game. Wouldn't you know I was the only one to walk away from the table a loser! I also spent some time here at a three dollar craps table. Before leaving downtown, we stopped by Mermaids for a Nathan's hot dog and a fried Twinkie.

Strip: My gambling was spread out between Casino Royale, Mirage, IP and Bill's. CR blackjack switch was my saving grace, as craps and regular blackjack at the other places took their toll. My best session of the trip was my last on Monday morning. I had hit a great streak on blackjack switch at CR and was up about $250 to $300. It was pretty quiet in the casino at about 9:30 a.m. I was playing at a table with one other person and we were both doing well. The pit boss was keeping a close eye and decided he had seen enough and thought it best to change the cards in the continuous shuffle machine at our table. This halted the action for a good 20 minutes and when we picked back up again, the feeling was gone, so I gave back a few dollars and decided to cash out with a respectable profit.

Restaurants:

I made it to a place I have been trying to get to for the past couple of trips: Hash House a Go Go. We had breakfast here Sunday morning. Meals were excellent and portions huge. My sister ordered a pancake that had to be 14 inches in circumference! Our waitress said that they are bigger late at night.

We had dinner at Casa Di Amore Sunday evening. I picked up a $25 certificate from Restaruant.com for $2 during one of their sales. We have been here in the past, and really enjoy the food and the atmosphere. An added bonus was being able to take advantage of their weekly Sunday special of 50 percent off on bottles of wine. I had chicken Marsala, my wife had shrimp scampi, my sister had spaghetti and meat balls and my brother-in-law had fettuccini Alfredo with chicken. All meals were excellent. A duo playing keyboard and violin entertained the crowd.

We took advantage of the free limo service offered by the restaurant, tipping the driver $10 each way.

The bill for the four meals with wine and tip was $128.00 after applying the certificate.

I really wanted to get to the Vinnie Favorito show this time out, but circumstances derailed that idea. There was also an Open Vegas meet at the Flamingo Monday afternoon I could not make it to. Hope everyone who attended had fun.













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