Hotel

After staying at MGM in 2010 and Flamingo in 2009, we returned to my wife's favorite - Orleans. They gave us a $29/night deal which included a $15 food credit and a $15 slot credit. (Even though there's a shuttle to Bill's, I prefer Flamingo because of it's central location.)

Newly Noticed

A slew of new restaurants have appeared on the Strip. At Treasure Island, Gilley's has opened just adjacent to, and south of, the pirate ship lagoon. At Caesar's, there's Serendipity 3.

Planet Hollywood has PBR Rockbar and Grill, which Vegas.com has proclaimed to be home to the baddest mechanical bull on the Strip. Vegas regulars will recognize it as the site of the former Hawaiian Tropic Zone. Also new to PH is the legendary Hollywood hot dog icon Pink's. (I'll stick to Casino Royale's foot long dog for just $1.99.)

Paris has a huge Sugar Factory which includes a dining room. We noticed at least two other, smaller Sugar Factory candy-only storefronts on the Strip including Mirage on the North Strip.

In 2010, I noticed some costumed "characters" on the Strip who will pose for a photo with you for a tip. This year, they were all over the Strip. I saw every important Star Wars character except Yoda: Hans Solo, Chewbacca, Lord Vader, The Princess, and a few Storm Troopers.

You don't have to bargain with the "Girls Direct to Your Hotel" folks for their T-shirts anymore. I saw the shirts at a kiosk in Hawaiian Village. What took them so long?

Shopping

Although we have way too much Vegas themed apparel, low prices induced us to add to our collection. I picked up a World Series of Poker T-shirt at Caesar's and since the price per shirt dropped if we bought two, My wife decided to get one too (but not WSOP).

The Cirque Viva Elvis store was clearing out a dozen older shirts (in small size only) for just $7 each so we each jumped on that deal since that's our size. I pity the fool who would pass up two Vegas icons (Elvis and Cirque) for less than $10.

Finally, Rainforest Cafe at MGM had their perennial sale of two for $20; (up from $15) and while we have a lot of those shirts there was a very nice Tiger shirt with Chinese characters for my wife so I picked a different shirt out for me so we could get the deal. Otherwise, it was $15 for one shirt. (I think these Rainforest Cafe shirts, most of which have 'MGM Las Vegas' on them are the 'best value' Vegas souvenir.)

Dining

Our Vegas dining is a mix of tradition and opportunism. Tradition includes a steak dinner, which we enjoyed at Hard Rock's Mr. Lucky Cafe. Susie surprised me by finishing off all of her $7.77 Gambler's Special 8-ounce steak and three large grilled shrimp. I had her salad and helped her on the fries. I checked out the $9.99 'all you can eat' prime rib but one slice (it looked to be 10-12 ounces) was all I could handle since it came with a generous portion of broccoli.

Opportunism came in the form of 'senior day' (Tuesdays) at Orleans. Orleans card holders get a voucher for 'buy one get one free' on the breakfast or lunch buffet and so we checked out the latter. The buffet was $9 but I had a $15 food credit as part of our deal and used that.

The French Market buffet features seven 'stations' (including American, Chinese, Mexican, and Mongolian) plus salad and dessert bars. I focused on the roast beef, shrimp and ribs. I was impressed by their extensive dessert bar which featured all sorts of pies, cakes, and a dozen flavors of gelato. I had the coconut gelato...twice.

During the senior day buffet, Orleans placed vouchers by the cashier which offered $5 off per person on any entree at any of the Orleans restaurants. These vouchers were only valid for the following Wednesday and Thursday. So we used it for breakfast Thursday morning. We each had the ham steak and eggs, which featured a slice of ham almost the size of the plate, two eggs, hash browns (which were on top of the ham since there was no room left on the plate), and toast. After the $5 discount, it came to $3 each but we still had $5 food credit so we paid $1 plus tax and tip.

Opportunism mixed with tradition when we dined at P. F. Chang's (Planet Hollywood casino), where we usually enjoy a light dinner of lettuce wraps. This trip, I also had a $10 gift card from a phone purchase. So we visited during happy hour, when they have a discount menu. We split one order of lettuce wraps and added two orders of dumplings. My six 'flaming' dumplings had some bite but were definitely not what I'd consider fiery. Susie went with shrimp and pork dumplings.

Thursday evening, we wanted a light dinner because we were still a bit full from that ham steak breakfast. There's a Denny's near the Palazzo, where we had seen a show, but we passed since they did not (a) carry the the $2-$4-$6-$8 menu and (b) no 20% discount for seniors. But the place was pretty full since it is a 'bargain' for a non-fast food Strip restaurant.

But a few steps away was a small food court with a Chipolte Grill. (One of these has just come to where I live.) They have the largest burritos I've ever seen. Forget Qdoba or Moe's, Chipolte Grill is the Godzilla of burritos.

Shows

We caught two big production shows and two smaller shows. All involved music and three were 'oldies' oriented.

The first show was Cirque's 'Viva Elvis' at the new Aria Casino. We've seen Mystere, which I did not care for at all since it was entirely acrobatics and KA, which I enjoyed because it told a story and the acrobatics were the story line. To my surprise, 'Viva Elvis' mixed the two styles. So I enojoyed some parts of it but not other parts. But when I'm paying $100 a ticket (and that's discounted), I want to enjoy ALL of the show.

The folks sitting next to us at 'Viva Elvis' recommended the next two shows to us. The first was an afternoon show with Ryan Ahern. He won the International Liberace Competition twice, the first time when he was just 16. For $15 a ticket (using a half-price voucher in the tourist mags), we were treated to over an hour of great piano including boogie woogie, rock and film tunes. He delivered a great rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. I enjoyed the show so much I bought the CD.

I was very skeptical of seeing Human Nature, four white Aussies singing Motown. But the show's title is 'Smokey Robinson Presents Human Nature' and Smokey would not 'present' just any Motown singers. So...

Believe me, these four white boys can sing and their show is one of the most pumped up I've ever seen. The three song finale, which includes 'ABC' and 'Baby, I Need Your Loving' gets the audience on its feet. See this show! (The showroom, at Imperial Palace, is a smaller 'nightclub' size venue which is perfect for this type of show.)

Although the tickets were 'only' 30% off and still over $100 for the balcony (but we were third row) we finally saw Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Oh, what a night! (and an interesting history of the group).

Gaming

I played my first tournament Monday at Harrah's. A $60 buy-in gets you 6,000 chips. It was a tight group and I knew I was on the way out after losing twice with Kings preflop to a caller with an Ace, which came up on the flop each time. (For the mathematically challenged, the preflop odds of KK beating an unsuited A is about 71%, so for me to lose twice....) I felt the pain of a woman who made a 'standard' raise of 4x the big blind and one caller went all-in. She had AA; he had A-J unsuited. But by the river, he backed into a flush.

Now some folks will take those three examples and say that poker is just luck. But I'll play all those three hands the same way every time and over the long run I will win. The math is NEVER wrong over time.

My second and final tournament was at Mirage on our last day. A $60 buy-in gets you 5,000 chips but I like this game better than Harrah's because Harrah's starts the ante sooner than Mirage. Those antes make a big difference in play, because even at 25 ante, that's 250 more in the pot in addition to the blinds.

Unlike Harrah's, I got junk most of the game and eventually went out because just from the blinds. But I lasted longer than a number of aggressive players whose 'gut' told them to call strong players.

One of those strong players was on my left, so it was difficult for me to come into the game unless I had a very strong hand because he bet after me. If he had a good hand, he was putting in a big raise, and had the chips for that, while I was so low on chips I could call only with a strong pair.

A part of Vegas history ends mid-May when The Sahara, where the Rat Pack performed and the Beatles stayed, closes. Many Vegas casinos have been closed to make way for a newer casino but at this time there are no plans for a casino to replace The Sahara. Hopefully, once the economy recovers, the Sahara can be the start of the revitalization of the north Strip, which is needed. I wonder how much longer other north Strip casinos such as Circus Circus and Riviera can hold on...

Viva Las Vegas!