We stayed 5 nights at the Vdara, then travelled to Bryce Canyon for 2 nights, before returning to the Orleans for the last 4 nights. Not a lot of gambling to report but a few little wins to make it a winning trip — yippee!

Getting There
We flew direct from Manchester, England on the inaugural direct flight with Virgin Atlantic. It is great to finally have another direct route for us, although prices have gone through the roof! We bagged ourselves a bargain 11 months ago when the tickets were released (£543 per person) - they have since risen at least another £200. The flight takes approx. TEN AND A HALF hours so we really envy our American friends who can be there in a few hours! The flight passed smoothly enough and we were fed 3 times and had unlimited drinks (including alcohol) which went down very well with the groups of Brits who were out to party. As it was the first flight, Virgin were out to impress, with champagne and cupcakes at the gate, mini cupcakes again as we waited to take off, and goody bags with souvenirs reminding us to fly with them in the future. On landing in Vegas the plane was sprayed with water (luckily the pilot had alerted us to this tradition and told us not to panic!) and there were numerous camera crews following us out of the terminal as we received more gifts (passport holders this time). We were out of the airport, into a cab and at the Vdara in less than an hour — excellent start — let the fun begin!

Vdara
We booked this thru an offer on Expedia and were not disappointed. All we needed was a high floor and the 49th floor provided us with a breath taking view of Red Rock and the snow-capped mountains to the left, the Bellagio and fountains underneath us, and the Paris tower to the right. Seriously we could have looked out of those windows all day, it was like the best widescreen tv ever! The electric shades and blackout curtains entertained Mr Fiddly for quite a while I can tell you. It was a nice change for us to have a sitting room area and a kitchen. The kitchen area was very much for show — difficult to use without any pans, cloths, equipment etc. We phoned down for plates, mugs and cutlery and made a few snacks and drinks during our stay but I wonder if anyone seriously cooks there.
We loved the feel and atmosphere of the Vdara. It was a great base for us and we often parked at Bellagio and took the connecting walkway which took less than 5 minutes. There was of course valet parking and they were very efficient — by the time we had phoned and then got to the lobby the car was waiting. The pricy ($18) resort fee includes wi-fi, 2 bottles of water and a newspaper. The papers are at reception so we had to remember to pick one up.
The pool was not so impressive to us. Being a sensitive and delicate English rose (!) I can’t spend any real length of time in the desert sun, so a pool is not a prerequisite for our stay. We did go for a look around and wanted to see if anyone was getting stunned by the ‘Vdara death ray’. It wasn’t quite the weather for the death ray and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere around the pool. It was quite small and concrete-looking and very overlooked and overpowered by the city centre buildings around it. We later toured the Cosmopolitan pool area and found this a lot more cheerful.

Day Two — ‘They’re paying me out in hundys!’
Don’t you just love that first morning — with the whole vacation stretching out in front of you and sooooooooo much to do? Time to put all that planning into action and all those trip reports to good use. I was wide awake at 3am but of course had nowhere to go (no casino at Vdara!) The bed and pillows were lovely — you could buy the bed for $2395!! Pillows were just $28. Didn’t think it would be worth enquiring how much shipping would be to the UK! At a more reasonable hour we had the ceremonial opening of the shades and blinds — WOW! The view was still there and still gorgeous, despite an underwhelming temperature of only 52 degrees.

Strolled over to Paris for the buffet. We have been to Vegas 14 or 15 times (lost count) but have never made it to this buffet. Used Las Vegas Advisor coupons saving $10 each. The food was tasty — the usual breakfast stuff. The choc crepe was particularly good and our waitress was very very cheerful which was lovely because we were cheery too!

First attempt at the Wizard of Oz I got the lucky red shoes and cashed out $48 — can’t complain at that. Played a little more in Paris (just 1c machines, no high rollers here), and left with a small profit. Walked thru Planet Ho and down to the Showcase Mall. Mr Fiddly wanted to take photos from the top of the parking garage. Actually the view was pretty good so I had to forgive him for the long walk.

Suffering from jet lag and still a little tired, we diverted back thru Monte Carlo and got the monorail back to the room. Strangely, the tip for the cleaner had disappeared but the room had not been cleaned. We asked a cleaner who was at the room opposite but she said our cleaner would be back later! When we did return in the evening the room had been cleaned.

After a short rest, back out onto the Strip — up to NYNY and over to check the new improved Tropicana. It was a lot brighter and more welcoming then we remembered and it has a wonderful coconut smell. Gambled there a little but no big wins to report. I still have fond memories of visiting Vegas for the first time and seeing the Tropicana sign ‘Play tic tac toe with a live chicken!’ Anyway, I digress! Back over to MGM and had a peep at the snoozing lions. That place was really busy and we were losing our $$$ too quickly. Fought our way back down the Strip and ignored all the ‘characters’ posing for photos. Saw 3 Michael Jacksons at one point.

Crossed back over the Strip and headed into the Cosmo. We had heard so much about the place and this was our first visit. We planned to eat there tomorrow but couldn’t resist a little look around. It was a HUGE place to explore. Very opulent, with lots to see. There has obviously been a lot of thought into different areas, corridors, places to sit, and art work everywhere. We found a great place up on the second floor just to chill and people watch. I bought some $5 art at the ‘Artomat’ machine. Went to join the slot club and got $5 each for joining and another $5 each for giving an email address. I spent mine pretty quickly but Mr Fiddly won $572 on his final spin!!!!! Woo hoo! Of course, Cosmo. is now our favourite casino. We were playing Goldfish 2 1c slots. People must have thought we’d won the big one from our celebrations and photo taking. Quote of the day from Mr Fiddly at the TITO, ‘They’re paying me out in hundys!’

Time for tea! Over to Planet Ho for the second buffet of the day. What can I say? We Brits don’t get out much and we LOVE to buffet! We used LVA coupons for $10 off per person. The food was a similar standard to previous visits. All the stations were open and busy and the food was hot, with a good selection. Favourites included the pretzel bread, fish and chips and numerous desserts. We continued to gamble thru Paris, Ballys and Bellagio. Still never really get the point of Ballys — the casino seems non-descript and it’s such a difficult place to navigate with that long walk way over the smelly cars. In early tonight, to put our $500 win in the safe and sit with a drink watching the fountains — bliss!

Day Three — And then we went to the Wicked Spoon...
An easy morning, with a lie-in till 7.30am! Got some yummy bagels and bear claws from the Market Café downstairs at Vdara, and sat in our room reading our $18 Review Journal. Headed out thru Aria and Crystals. Took lots more photos and spent a bit of time wandering around. We weren’t too impressed last time we visited and found everywhere a bit too posh and sterile for our liking. It was very quiet — no one was shopping — and Aria was still dark and slots were tight. We made it over to the Cosmo for the 11am room tour. A small group of us were shown 2 rooms on 67th floor and the pool area. It was really informal and informative. The views were stunning and the whole thing took about an hour. Our Cosmo ‘guide’ was happy for us to take as many photos as we wanted and look in all the cupboards. We would LOVE to stay there in future if we could get an offer! The $350 wrap-around balcony suite has gone for as much as $20,000 a night for the Superbowl!!!!! The rooms and views were simply gorgeous and I didn’t want to leave...but we had a buffet to catch.

We had heard a lot about the Wicked Spoon and knew it was going to be good. Wow! $21 each for lunch and well worth it. We were there for nearly an hour and a half! Where to start? The food was really tasty and beautifully presented. Those little baskets, pots and dishes were a triumph. A totally enjoyable experience with lots of highlights...the b.l.t. salad...the prime rib...the sweet potato fries in their own little basket...the Chinese selection in boxes....and the DESSERTS. (Please stop by our photos if food porn is your thing! www.pbase.com/murraymints). We promised to return here later in the week and try the dinner. Meanwhile, we waddled out as it was time to pick up our rental car at Bellagio. No lines there, for a change, so a quick pick up and off to Walmart on Eastern. Up to 86 degrees now so very nice for us — getting a lot colder and windy tomorrow so trying to make the most of it.

We went to GVR and continued to play on our new favourite machines — Goldfish 2, Wizard of Oz and Big Catch. Came out ‘about even’. The casino seemed smoky although it was quiet. Drove down Sunset and stopped at the viewing area to see the planes landing. What a view! A beautiful clear night with the sun going down and 6 planes all in a neat row waiting their turn to land in paradise (how poetic is that?!). Back home for a big bubble bath and another great view of the fountains. Life is good.

Day Four — The fun continues
Sleeping better each night as I get used to the good life at Vdara and don’t have to keep getting up to check the view! Another lazy and luxurious start to the day with a bear claw and a Twix — this is the life! Grey skies and only reaching 65 degrees today — the only downside of coming to Vegas earlier in the year. I think our favourite time is May, but work is stopping us from doing that at present. We are on an adventure to the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts today. It’s a restaurant where the students get to practise their skills and we get to eat cheaply! Only $10 for a 3 course lunch. We reserved a table online a few weeks earlier. It was a little out of the way in Summerlin — basically head for Red Rock casino and turn right before you get there. The food was beyond our expectations and the service was great. We were there early and were only the second table to be seated. At one point we counted 17 staff! You face the kitchens and watch them create your meal. I had Three Onion Soup Gratin with sour dough crouton and melted gruyere cheese, club sandwich (bacon, turkey, salad, herb mayo and friend egg — yum!) and fries, followed by pumpkin crème brulee. Mr Fiddly enjoyed the soup, followed by Roasted Chicken served over Boston bibb and romaine with avocado, warm bacon, tomato, egg, raspberries, blue cheese and champagne-herb vinaigrette, and finally a trio of Profiteroles served with caramel, vanilla and chocolate. I’m really pleased we tried something different and would book a table on our next visit to Vegas. Check out the website, techniquerestaurant.com.

Time for a little retail therapy to help work off the calories. We stopped at Best Buy, Borders, Target, Ross Shop, 99c Store to name a few! I LOVE the 99c Store and am always amazed at what ‘quality and collectable’ merchandise you can get so reasonably priced (ie cheap tat for work colleagues!). On the way back to the Vdara I found a set of car keys under my seat — and they weren’t for our car - I guess the Dollar people would be looking for them! We later dropped them into the key return at Bellagio with a note. I sure hope they found the car that matched them.

After a rest and a read of the $18 newspaper, out for an evening stroll and a ‘little snack’. OK, I know it seems as if we had just enjoyed a 3 course lunch but that was a while back and the shopping has worked up an appetite. We had coupons (LVA) for $5 each off Flamingo buffet, so that was our snack of choice. It was a good job we didn’t have a huge appetite or expectations as this was a disappointing meal. It seems they can do breakfast OK at Flamingo, but their dinner has very little to offer. It was ‘average’ at best, but the choice was really poor — no wonder it was quiet. We filled up on a few desserts and vowed not to visit again.

We joined the crowds on the Strip, past Imp Palace, Harrah’s and Casino Royale. Really hard to navigate the sidewalk, with ‘clickers’ and ‘characters’ everywhere. Took a stop at the gift shop at Toby Keith’s but the timeshare people are REALLY annoying there too. Over to the Mirage for some lucky machines. Mr Fiddly cashed out another $100 on Goldfish 2 — my, how he LOVES those little kissy goldfish. I ‘borrowed’ $1 from his pocket and turned it into $30 on a bonus round — I’m getting to like those fishies!

We had planned to get a choc cake from Serendipity (purely for research purposes), but the line was very long and we really had no desire ever to eat again, so we gave it a miss. Something to put on the list for next time. Ended up at the Bellagio fountains, with a tear in my eye. Still the best place to see them — up front and loud. Strong winds and cooler temperatures expected tomorrow so best to get the walking done tonight.

Day Five — Flies and wind!!!
All the weather reports are focussed on the wind today — 50mph expected. We took a short drive to Rio for breakfast (2 for 1 coupon, LVA). We used to LOVE this buffet, but it has sadly declined each time we have visited. It started promisingly with made to order omelettes, and the typical breakfast choices were fine. The choice is getting smaller each time we visit, although the prices are rising. The desserts were horrendous — with tiny flies around them and even ON some of the plates. Mr Fiddly pointed it out to the server who seemed unconcerned and wafted them away (she said it wasn’t her station!). We left at that point — never to return! I await to see if Rio will reply to my email. We weren’t going to wait around that place and headed out and into a full force gale. The wind was so bad on top of the parking garage.

We headed down the Strip to Mr Fiddly’s favourite place — Fry’s Electronics. This is such a cool place to visit — even for girlies like me. You can browse books, magazines, cuddly toys, chocolate and candy etc if you’re not into the technical stuff! There’s a great coffee shop in the middle of the store to while away the time. We would return later in the week, just browsing today. Next stop was Town Square, more specifically Yoghurtland! 37c for an ounce and the toppings are scrummy. We had a large bucketful each — it is FAT FREE (if you ignore the cookie dough, Oreos, Reece’s pieces, choc chips, brownie toppings). We had to sit in Yoghurtland as the wind was so strong we couldn’t stand up outside — it was getting scary. Drove down to Outdoor World and the Silverton. Couldn’t find a thing to buy in Outdoor World — shame! We did however have a coupon for a free baseball cap, so Mr Fiddly was happy with that. I won a little at the Silverton (Goldfish 2, Liger Loot, Red Hot Streak).

We carried on down the Strip to M Resort. We had a mission to get to the dinner buffet. It had been our favourite buffet on our last trip and we wanted to make sure it was still fine. While waiting for the 4pm buffet to open, Mr Fiddly found a machine with $4 still credited. There was no players card there and no one around so he pressed to play and...won $20! — nearly enough for his $21.99 buffet. We joined the line and chatted with some friendly people from Missouri who were asking about the Royal Wedding and how many times we had met the Queen(!) The food at the buffet was still great I’m relieved to report. Lots of choice, all tasty. The desserts are still impressive (check out the photos). It’s probably getting a beating from Wicked Spoon now, but still has alcohol including Baileys coffee which is lovely.

Time to head back ‘home’. Stopped at Harry and David in the Outlet shops for some emergency Moose Munch, Moose Munch Bars and a cuddly Moose (I love all things moose!) What a great drive past the Vegas sign and up past Mandalay Bay — I’ll never tire of that sight. Off to Bryce Canyon tomorrow so time to pack and say goodbye to Vdara. I’m very sad to leave that place as it’s been a great stay and a great location. I can understand why some people have thought it a little too far ‘off Strip’, but we found it easy to navigate and the perfect location.

Day Six — Out into the snow
Enjoyed a final look out of the widescreen windows and then off on I15 to Bryce Canyon. A fascinating drive for us, with new scenery to appreciate around every corner. It was getting colder and colder all the way. We stopped at Cedar City for gas and snacks. Wandered into an unassuming place called ‘Sonny Boys Barbecue’ — wow! The gorgeous aroma hit us as we walked in and then we saw the meats. The smoked pulled pork was fabulous. As they say on their flyer, ‘Food so good it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out!’ Refreshed and energised we braced ourselves for the cold and began to drive Route 14. We climbed and climbed and the snow became heavier. The temperature plummeted to 20 degrees (and we thought Vegas was getting a little chilly!) and eventually we couldn’t see where the road stopped and the scenery began. We caught odd glimpses of forests, lakes, rivers, mountains, canyons. We expected the drive to take 50 minutes but after an hour and a half, and with no phone signal up there, I was questioning Mr Fiddly’s determination to carry on. Eventually we began to go downhill and I can only imagine how awesome this scenic route would be on a good day. Thankfully we reached Bryce Canyon and our Best Western home to unpack and then go exploring.

I will skip the next couple of days, except to say what a magical, and awe-inspiring time we had at Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. My American friends, what a JOY you have on your door step! We fought the blizzards and the freezing cold temperatures and ended up with some fine photos — but even they cannot do the justice to the mighty scenery. We would have loved to spend some more time exploring and, of course, that gives us a reason to return when the weather is a little better and we can take advantage of the shuttles at Zion. A great diversion from Vegas and such a contrast in the weather. The journey back along scenic routes 12 and 89 were just wonderful — I’ve had to add Utah as another of my favourite places!

Day Eight — Back to the good life
We returned, somewhat reluctantly, from our winter paradise and unpacked for the final time at the Orleans. We have played (and eaten) many times but never gotten around to staying there. The room was on 15th floor, with a view of the Strip. Housekeeping was thorough and replaced every pen and notebook we managed to ‘lose’!
Another highlight of the trip — Hash House A Go Go. It has to be the original, and in our opinion the best, on Sahara. Using our restaurant.com coupon we ordered more food than we could ever eat. The day’s special was a type of pork hash, with crispy potatoes, corn, tomato, mozzarella, biscuit and fried eggs — I’m practically slobbering over the keyboard right now. We also felt it our duty to have a flapjack — almond and blackberry — figuring the blackberries would be our health food and cancel out the fat and calories. HHAGG delivered another memorable meal and we waddled out vowing never to eat ever again. We drove back to the Strip and parked underground at Palazzo. We really enjoy that place and it was nice and quiet. The cupcakes at Sweet Surrender were sooooooo pretty — I had to buy one! (for later of course, in case we get nibbly). I also read in my notes that we ventured over to Mirage and ended up in Blizz frozen yoghurt! In our defence it is FAT FREE if you omit the toppings...which we didn’t.
The gift shop at Mirage had a great sale and we bagged quite a few bargains for friends back home. Hope they’re not reading this as we left the full price tags on! Back to the car and drove down to the Galleria Mall in Henderson. A great place to shop including Dillards, Macy’s and JC Penny.

Over to GVR for a little walk around The District and a little gamble. Dorothy tapped those little red shoes for $80 so I was happy, but Mr Fiddly was only managing a dollar or two with his bonus rounds.

Another ‘must do’ for our trip is the Cheesecake Factory. Now I know it is a big ask of us — especially after the HHAGG earlier — but I did it for you, dear reader. A lemondrop martini to put me in the munchies mood and then a turkey burger (low fat?) with small side salad and fries. Mr Fiddly enjoyed the chicken and cashew salad. A note to the health conscious — Cheesecake Factory now PORTION CONTROL their fries!!!! Ours were in a little metal container and were about a quarter their usual size. Probably a good thing as there was always so much waste and the portion that we had, we enjoyed.
Back to our home at the Orleans, which was really busy. Unfortunately we just couldn’t win a cent! You know that feeling? When you hope your $$$ might last long enough at least to get a drink? What’s happened to those slots? Consoled myself with a lemondrop martini at the Mardi Gras Bar, but even that seemed a little small and dare I say, weak compared to the Cheesecake Factory.

Day Nine — more snacks, sights and slots
Another lovely day in paradise. We wanted to visit the new bridge at Hoover Dam, having seen it under construction over the years and on many documentaries. We were hoping to park and walk over it but unfortunately found ourselves on it and cruising into Arizona! A little detour and we managed to find the car park (just follow the signs for Hoover Dam itself and it’s on the right, after the checkpoint). It’s a steep walk up the hill — steps or a winding pathway — and I imagine in the intense heat of Summer it would be nearly impossible. The view was worth it and we walked over to Arizona and back.

Stopped at Fiesta Henderson to join their slot club and have lunch (LVA 2 for 1). It came to a grand total of $5.38 for both of us. We were amazed by the quality and choice — the Flamingo could learn a thing or two here. I even had sprouts and pretended it was Christmas! We got $10 slot play each for joining and that lasted quite a while (Goldfish 2 and Hoot Loot again).

A few stops again for retail bargains before ending up at Gold Coast for another $10 free play (LVA). That was lost immediately, although I did manage a bargain t-shirt in the gift shop. We decided to return to the Mirage for some more gifts and a little slot play. I love the Alpine Adventure machine and have only seen it there. Woo hoo! Hit the Luxury bonus and the progressive of $135, so cashed out nearly $150.

Where to go for a wholesome and tasty snack? In ‘n’ Out Burger! I was just craving those cholesterol-free fries. They hit the spot and that meal only came to $5.50!

A whole night ahead of us and we wanted to go somewhere different. Excalibur! I know — how bizarre is that?! Haven’t been there for years. Mr Fiddly says he doesn’t need to go for a few more. We self-parked and wandered into the castle. Not a lot has changed since our last visit. It’s loud and brash, with lots of parties and, of course, children. Mr Fiddly landed a Flying Monkey bonus on the Wizard of Oz. They gave him lots of ‘wilds’ and he turned $5 into $45 so perhaps the Excalibur wasn’t that bad. We caught the tram to Mandalay Bay, for old time’s sake and then walked back thru the shops to the Luxor. The shops were much improved and the bars gave a good atmosphere. A bit disappointing that they’ve replaced the Chocolate Swan with a Starbucks! Back to the Orleans and yet again the slots wouldn’t even give a bonus round. The more we tried, the more frustrating it became. Time to call it a day. Only one full day left tomorrow and we want to make the most of it.

Day Ten — why does the last day go so fast?
A little light breakfast at the Orleans buffet (using points). Not a bad selection — the freshly made omelettes were yummy and they had my favourite cakes with the 3 types of buttercream! Now if there’s one thing we Brits do well (apart from Royal Weddings) it’s shopping! We hit those supermarkets like we’ve never shopped before. So much so that we ended up having to purchase another carry-on case to get all the treats home. That felt a little paranoid at the time, but there sure were a lot of Brits having to pay for excess luggage at the airport. We decided to pack today although not leaving till lunchtime tomorrow. We wanted to see what we had accumulated — LOTS of pens and chocolate! Pleased with being so organised, and still with a tiny bit of room for more souvenirs, we headed out once again.

We’ve been watching Pawn Stars for quite a while and decided to make the pilgrimage there to see if it is as bad as people make out. It was a fun diversion and it was really busy inside, although no one seemed to be buying. They are certainly cashing in on their fame and if you’re a Chumlee fan there was lots of fairly pricy t-shirts and souvenirs — even Pawn Stars water for $2!

Back to the Cosmo for our last supper. Dinner started at 5pm and we wanted to be there at the start for photos!!! Obviously everything was fresh and just prepared and it was hard to know where to start. I could have filled up on the pretzel bread alone. I loved the seared salmon served with balsamic reduction and the tender thin cut beef with almonds and celery. Mr Fiddly saved room for desserts — I think we counted 11 — but in his defence some were very small! The waitresses were super-friendly and seemed genuinely proud of the place, talking about the food and how well received the buffet has been. Another place to go on our list of ‘must do’ in Vegas.
We went back onto the Strip for a fond farewell (sob sob, tissues at the ready). We did all the tacky gift shops between Planet Ho and MGM and took lots more photos of the City Centre in all its glory.

Last Day
Sometimes you feel ready to leave and go back to ‘reality’, but we’d had such a great time that neither of us was ready for that. The great thing about flying home direct to Manchester was that we didn’t take off until 5pm and that left us a few more hours for a few more calories. Harrah’s was our choice for breakfast (saving $5 each with LVA) and it wasn’t too bad although the drinks service could do with improvement. We gambled here and there (Harrah’s, Mirage, Caesars) but nothing was hitting. Finally got to Max Brenner at the Forum Shops — ‘Chocolate by the Bald Man’. It was one of those places we wanted to eat at but never got to. I consoled myself with a chocolate syringe! (very yummy, but hardly worth $7).

Check out was quick and painless and we even managed a final stop at Wholefoods, so at least we had something decent to eat at the airport. The international terminal seemed full to capacity, with hardly a seat in the house. As we were preparing to board, the announcer said that if we were taking more than $10,000 out of the country we would have to declare it — you can imagine the reaction to that — dream on!

Highlights:
- Loved the Cosmo hotel — lots of places to chill, lots of art to see
- Loved the Cosmo casino — they pay out in hundys!
- Loved the Cosmo buffet — could you get a sense of that from the report?
- The Vdara was tranquil and wide screen view was amazing
- Driving around in the sunshine, music on, not a care in the world
- 11 nights seemed like a lifetime — in a good way! Leaving the Vdara to travel out of Vegas seemed like madness, but Bryce Canyon and Zion were worth it

Thanks for making it this far. I enjoyed re-living it all again and wishing I was back there. There seemed quite a few references to food and I don’t want to you think we were eating ALL the time! No return trip planned as yet...but I’m working on it. Keep those trip reports and photos coming and thanks for all the advice and help planning the trips.

Please stop by our photos and we hope you enjoy them. Viva Las Vegas!
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