Las Vegas Trip Report – June 14-21 2014 – Flamingo
For our annual family Vegas Vacation – this is the seventh straight year we have gone – we were able to get airfare via Southwest Airlines for $412 a person flying out of Detroit. We pack heavy for a week in Vegas; so having two bags fly free is outstanding. We also like the open seating plan. Plus, Southwest personnel are always so cheerful and accommodating. Our flight was scheduled to depart DTW at 12:50P and arrive in Nevada at 2:05P. Everything went swimmingly and I was fortunate enough to get the exit row seat with plentiful legroom. At 6’3 that was a pretty good start to the week for me. My carry-on was a gym bag full of candy, books, headphones, gambling notes and my video camera. Playing craps, let it ride and blackjack on my phone easily passed the four hours and nine minutes and before any of us knew it, we touched down smoothly at McCarran.
Since this was an even year, we needed a cab from the airport to our hotel. On odd years I order a limousine from Presidential. After a brief wait for our luggage and no line whatsoever for a taxi, the five of us climbed into a van bound for the Flamingo. There was very little traffic for a Saturday. The commute was short and cost $15.50 and with a $3 tip thrown in it was a total fee of $18.50.
Toward the middle of our week we bought 24-hour Deuce passes for $8. This year the drivers seemed friendlier – perhaps they’ve been reading my trip reports! This is a really easy and inexpensive way to get downtown. Your Deuce pass is also good for the Ace – an accordion-style bus that makes far fewer stops.
Also used a cab at the end of night number two to get from Hooter’s back to Flamingo around 3A. Driver was of some Eastern Europe origin and was quite humourous.
We booked three rooms through my Total Rewards card. At the time of check-in (3:15P) the regular check-in lanes were extremely crowded but the Total Rewards lane was sparse. Getting a player’s card would be worth it if for no other reason than this! We were even escorted into the private Platinum/Diamond lounge where we snacked on cookies the size of hubcaps and sweet lemonade.
Our check-in person Claudia from El Salvador was able to get us our three rooms on the same floor by upgrading two of us to mini-suites at no extra cost. I also asked for a refrigerator which would normally cost $15 a day but she said it would be complimentary. I tipped her $15.
I had one of the mini-suites. It was room 7040. The rooms were admittedly dated but in very good condition and extremely spacious. They had a huge living room with couch and separate bedrooms. The windows were floor-to-ceiling and my view was of the strip looking south toward Bally’s and the new Cromwell.
The Flamingo GO Pool is definitely one of Vegas’ best, but the secret is out. It took a brutally early start to even have a chance at a chair lounger. They moved the day beds and cabanas closer to the edge of the pool this year. One day my mom got down to the pool at 8:30A and there was already a line!
The pool food and drink is pretty solid. I enjoyed lucky lemonades and rumrunners – both frozen slush drinks with a kick. We opened a tab to our room and settled up at checkout time. We developed a rapport with our waitress Amanda and she ended up getting us some really good deals on the afore-mentioned day beds and cabanas so we could sleep in and come down to the pool at our leisure.
FOOD & DRINK
Once I learned about my suite upgrade, I made it a point to scout out a local grocery store. I spent $60 at the store on drinks, lunchmeat, chips, etc. I really feel like this saved me a lot of money in the long run. Anytime I needed some sustenance, I went up to my room and made a sandwich instead of going to the food court.
The Flamingo food court features Johnny Rockets, Bonnano’s Pizza and L.A. Subs. Dad treated us to a couple late-night meals at Johnny Rockets a couple times, which was nice. The prices are high but the portions are decent and the refills are free.
We also dined at Denny’s downtown, Coco’s (next door to Hooters and across from MGM Grand) and Battista’s Hole in the Wall – a fine Italian restaurant located behind Flamingo on the newly renamed Linq Drive. Within easy walking distance of anywhere on the strip, the place has been a fixture for three decades and features old Vegas memorabilia and an all-inclusive menu which boasts minestrone soup or Italian salad,
complimentary house wine, Garlic Bread, pasta side and homemade cappuccino. It was an expensive night, but worth it for the food and atmosphere.
We purchased Las Vegas Club Crawl passes for three nights and ended up only going twice. One night was Wednesday and the other was Friday. On Wednesday we went to Coyote Ugly in NYNY, LAX in Luxor, Foundation Room in Mandalay Bay and Chateau in Paris. Coyote Ugly has a handful of security goons who like to think they are far more important than they are. LAX is cool and the interior reminds me of the old Gravitron carnival ride. The Foundation Room is something I’ve been looking to visit for some time. It’s on the 64th floor of Mandalay Bay and features the most stunning view of the strip I’ve come across. Make it a point to visit this room! Chateau is about as cool as it gets, It’s situated on the third floor of Paris, under the legs of the Eiffel Tower. It’s outdoors and rocks hard all night.
Friday’s tour took us to Cabo Wabo Cantina and Koi in Planet Hollywood, Chateau and the Bank in Bellagio. The cantina was swell; more of a bar than a club and Koi is decent, featuring a really cool balcony overlooking the Planet Hollywood gaming floor. I really liked the Bank. It was laid out like an old bandbox arena like the Chicago Stadium or Boston Garden. The layout was awesome. They had a live performance from R&B star Lloyd to coincide with the fourth annual Electric Daisy Carnival.
My gambling experience last year was a disaster. So I brought only about $1,700 for this trip and limited myself to a loss total of $200 since I’m coming back for another week in July. I made mental notes to stick to $5 blackjack, maybe some $10, stay away from craps unless I see a shooter and no three-card poker or let it ride.
My travel party loves the penny slots so I have no qualms about throwing a 20 in and seeing what happens. Unfortunately, nothing did. I like to stick to WMS machines and some video poker. My mom hit for a nice $30 at Tropicana and dad struck for the same at Quad. My brother couldn’t hit sand if he fell off a camel and his lady friend doesn’t play.
I scouted the tables all week but never did sit down. I was gun shy without a doubt. Watched a guy betting black chips at a Caesars craps table one night and was hoping he would get hot so I could piggyback his run but it never happened. He easily lost 20K while I watched. Don’t know if it was his bankroll or if he was giving back some winnings. Regardless, it was sickening to watch.
Finally sat down at a table downtown at El Cortez. They have decent $3 craps and really good single deck blackjack rules for $5. Not anymore. Bought in for $100 and while they still pay blackjacks 3:2, they don’t allow you to double after split! What!? The best casino in Vegas in terms of low limits and good rules just lost a customer. My brother and me each lost $50.
Stopped at Circus Circus/Slots-A-Fun combo on the way back and decided to play one of my favourite games – Deal or no Deal. Based on the popular game show, it’s a penny slot that occasionally activates the briefcase bonus and you either win the amount in your case or sell it back to the game. I reached the bonus where the top award was $250 and the worst was $10. I ended up taking the deal and sold my case for $57 for one reason: it gave me back my blackjack loss. I ended up having $100 in my case so in hindsight it was a horrendous deal. But since it got me even from blackjack, I still left with a good feeling.
That good feeling disappeared the next day when I scouted the tables at the Venetian and Palazzo. For six years now these properties have been my go-to casinos for good, on-strip blackjack games. As soon as I started doing my rounds, the scarlet red signs screamed at me angrily: BLACKJACK PAYS 6 to 5. Absolutely awful. Even on $15 tables it paid 6:5! And still, the tables were packed with foolish, uninformed sucker tourists who were making donations and losing money even when they were winning. I left my Club Grazie card on an empty table in effigy, as I have no reason to play there anymore.
My brother and me finally went on a table games streak on Thursday night. He doesn’t have nearly the experience I have but still knows how to play. We walked over to Ellis Island hoping to find some $5 blackjack and/or craps. They had two blackjack tables open but they were full and no craps running. So we decided to walk back to the new Max Casino inside the Westin.
There, we were greeted with good news and bad news. The bad news was their $3/$5 craps table wasn’t running. The good news was they had several $5 blackjack games going. And after a quick spin around the pit I was pleased to see what I consider the “ideal” blackjack rules for the player. They are:
- Blackjacks pay 3:2
- Double allowed after split
- Double allowed on any two cards
- Aces resplit
- Cards dealt from shoe (no CSMs!!)
- Dealer shuffles between shoes (make ‘em earn those tips!!)
The only two elements keeping this from a perfect game would be offering surrender and dealers holding on all 17s. Even so, I am not sure why any serious blackjack player would play anywhere else on the strip.
Anyways, we each bought into an empty table for $100. Ordinarily I would be leery of buying into an empty table, but the Lawrence the dealer was friendly and we wanted to play so we gave it a whirl. My favourite part of playing $5 tables is the ability to play the progressive betting system. I can gradually increase my bet but also retreat to a measly $5 if things turn ugly. Can’t do that on $10 and $15 tables.
Well we entered mid-shoe and the cards were decent for me but poor for my brother. He constantly got 15s and 16s. I was surviving on 19s and 20s and through the progressive system eventually got up $50. Through my tutelage my brother knows to be consistent on his 15s and 16s. So once he’d hit his first one, he did it every time. I normally would kick out of a table if I’d made 50 percent of my buy-in, but here I decided to keep playing because I was really enjoying myself and Lawrence seemed to be that rare American dealer who truly loved what he was doing. My brother was down $25 and I lost my $50 including three straight hands and decided to colour up dead even and watch my brother in action. Eventually, a pair of clueless frat guys bought in for $20 each. Yes, $20! As expected, they had no idea what they were doing, hitting the stay hands and staying on the hit hands. I don’t even thing they were drunk! They drew against a five while my brother awaited a pair of threes. Their move was against basic strategy. My brother split anyway and got another three, then another. He maxed out his four spits and then came the eights. All told he ended up with $30 on the table against the five. The new dealer revealed another five then drew a nine to wipe everyone out. To my bro’s credit, he hung around and finally left with $95, down just five bucks for a good shift of entertainment.
As the clock struck 2A, we decided to check out the new Cromwell which was formerly Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon and before that the Barbary Coast. The remodel has served this property well. There are a lot of dark reds and crimsons and it’s another Vegas casino to get away from the theme style and just be a casino/hotel. There is a really young clientele here and the dealers seemed to be in that age bracket as well.
We bought into a $5 craps table near the entrance to Drais nightclub and I told my brother we would just play the pass line and odds. He’s never played before and I thought this was a good way to teach him. With the same shooter rolling, we bought in for $100 each and the shooter made three points: eight, six, four. After a seven-out, the table minimum went up – not to $10 – but straight to $15! I’ve never seen such a jump! Everyone coloured up with Drew and me each winning $35.
I thought we could find a $5 table at the Quad, so we walked that way and I was right. But it’s a jam-packed table with some kind of roll going on. One guy has blacks and greens spread out all over the table with the pit boss watching his every move while on the phone. A scantily clad lady interrupted him to get him to sign up for the player’s card. After the guy’s run ended and he left with $3,200, we bought in for $100 each but I really thought we had missed the run.
Fortunately I was incorrect. After a couple early small losses, the table warmed back up. Even Drew got to toss the dice for the first time and made his point – the six. I was able to hit three points, including the valuable 10. Once we were both up over $100, I told him we needed to cash out at the next seven for two reasons: the first being it was 100 percent of our buy-in and secondly I wanted this first ever brother-brother gambling night to have a happy ending. Sure enough we kicked out with him up $115 and me up $105 (I had played five two-way yo’s at $2 each).
I was willing to check Casino Royale to see if their $5 100x odds table was full and it was two-three deep around the outside. So we ventured back to Harrah’s and found several $5 tables with openings. Now I wanted to be done for the night up $140 but persistence paid off for Drew and he talked me into another $100 buy-in. Well we stayed hot and cashed in on another hot shooter for $45 each. After colouring up, he had won $195 on the night and I had cleared $175. Certainly not numbers we can retire on but not bad for playing only the pass line and more importantly we made some great Vegas memories we’ll always remember!
I can’t remember a trip with so few pornography and hooker brochure peddlers; they were extremely few and far between. The costumed characters are still kind of silly but I’d rather see them then the urchins pushing porn and illegal substances, strip club passes, etc.
There was a costumed character dressed as a male reproductive organ outside Flamingo Saturday night, dancing about with a tip jar.
City Center is awful. It does absolutely nothing for me, and I would suspect 75 percent of the visiting tourists. The shops are overpriced and the gaming is out of the price range of 80 percent of Vegas visitors. The architecture is awkward and I can’t think of a bigger waste of prime real estate. Sorry, MGM, you swung and missed on this one.
Conversely, the Linq by Caesars is absolutely phenomenal. It begins as a stylish little nook between Margaritaville and the Quad and opens into a wide brickyard of casinos, restaurants and shops, eventually leading to the coup de grace – the High Roller: a 600-ft. Ferris wheel that rivals the height of the Gateway Arch and delivers breathtaking panoramic views of the Strip along its 30-minute journey. It also changes the skyline of the east side of the Strip forever in a completely positive way. It really reminds me of the London Eye. My dad got to ride free on Father’s Day and all ride tickets include drink credit at the High Roller bar.
O’Shea’s has been reborn as part of the Linq and the armpit of the Quad. This is a great way to keep a cool little casino alive instead of just eliminating it altogether. The beer pong returns!
Stunning to see Sands Corp. (Venetian/Palazzo) destroy their blackjack games. Actually pretty infuriating. What’s even more frustrating is the high number of fools who still flock to those insulting 6:5 tables to make their donations. Casinos get away with killing their blackjack games because the players keep lining up to get slaughtered. Fine by me, keeps the riff raff away from good places like Westin and Gold Coast.
Caesars Palace offers 3:2 blackjack on $15 shoe games. Their single and double deck pays a scandalous 6:5. Their dealers have always had a certain aura – perhaps arrogance – about them. I won $700 here once and came back later in the trip to cash them in wearing a bathing suit and tank top and they almost didn’t cash them in, they thought I’d acquired them illegally! Lighten up you Roman fools!
The Fountains of Bellagio still know how to draw a crowd. And it’s hard to stay for just one show! Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” still pulls at the heartstrings and I love how the last show of the night is the national anthem.
They’ve done some nice aesthetic work outside Monte Carlo including some terraced landscaping and new entranceway.
I don’t know who was the first to do it, but the huge ads on the sides of the hotel/casinos are gaudy and tacky. I’m glad Flamingo took off the Donny & Marie one but Tropicana and Mirage need to follow suit!
Can’t wait to go back in July. I’ll be taking a Vegas virgin for his 21st!
Best of luck to you all!