Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Birthday Trip to Las Vegas

It's been a while since I posted anything in the blog and I wasn't going to write anything on this trip, but I think we did enough to make it interesting (if you like Las Vegas).  We did take our annual New Year's trip to Lake Tahoe, but we've done that many times and there was nothing really new to report so I didn't bother writing about it.

Every year around my birthday we try to take a trip to Las Vegas and this year we timed it so my birthday actually occurred while we were there.  We did our usual thing and left the afternoon before and stayed in Tehachapi to make our drive to Las Vegas shorter, and to maximize our time there.  It also gives us a chance to eat dinner at the Red House BBQ restaurant in Tehachapi, which is one of our favorite barbecue places.

It was cold when we left Tehachapi and we were on the road by 9:30 for an unremarkable drive to Las Vegas.  As usual, we were staying at Harrah's and we were a little concerned as the hotel has been going downhill lately and the rooms, while never great, were becoming badly in need of renovation.  Because we do most of our gambling at Caesar's Entertainment (CET) properties we always get our rooms comped and this time we were happily surprised to find we had been booked into a full suite on the 34th floor.  That was a real shock as we rarely get a suite in Las Vegas, maybe it was because of my birthday.  Anyway, we were happy and though we didn't get a view of the strip we got a great view of the High Roller observation wheel (more on that later) and southwestern Las Vegas.

It looks like Harrah's has spruced up their casino a bit and one of the things they added was a new, very fancy food court called Fulton Street Food Hall, which was upscale from the usual food courts.  There are no fast food type places and all the food choices were from Harrah's.  There was a bar, a bakery, deli, sushi, salads, comfort food, ice cream, pizza and probably other things that I forgot.  We really liked it as it was a big improvement over what was previously there.  After we ate we gambled a bit more and called it day.

The view of the High Roller and Las Vegas from our window.
Day 1
We had purchased Monorail passes, so we started the day (not too early of course) by taking the Monorail down to Bally's and Paris where we gambled a little and then had lunch at Le Cafe Ile St. Louis at Paris.  After lunch we decided to check out a couple of hotels on the north end of The Strip that we hadn't been to for a while so we got back on the monorail and made our way north.

The first stop was the Westgate, which we first saw when it was the Hilton and then became the LVH, and since the middle of last year is now the Westgate.  I don't know if it is the same owners or not, but the casino is quite different.  When it was the Hilton, its claim to fame was a Star Trek exhibit and part of the casino was Star Trek themed.  We're not Star Trek fans so it never really appealed to us, but at least it was interesting.  Now it is one of the most boring casinos I've seen in Las Vegas, which might explain why it was almost empty.  The hotel is very near the convention center so I'm sure it gets busy during conventions, but it was very dead on a Wednesday afternoon.

The next stop was the SLS Hotel which is the north end of the line for the Monorail.  The SLS Hotel was formerly the Sahara, which shut down back in 2011.  New owners took over and completely renovated the hotel and casino and it looks very nice especially compared to the rundown condition the Sahara was in when it closed.  The SLS opened in August of last year and appears to be struggling a bit.  As I said everything looks very nice, but the location is not great as it is somewhat isolated at the north end of The Strip.  The casino was not very crowded, but we liked it and will probably go back.  I believe this hotel was geared to attract a younger, club going group so it may take a while to catch on, I hope it does.

After returning to Harrah's we went next door to the Linq Hotel to look around, have dinner and do a little gambling.  During the last year and a half the Linq has gone from being named the Imperial Palace to The Quad to now the Linq.  The Linq makes the most sense since the hotel is right on the new entertainment area called the Linq Promenade, which I reported on the blog post on last years visit.  When the Linq was the Imperial Palace it was pretty much a dump.  They have completely remodeled the casino and public areas and are working on refurbishing all the rooms.  We were actually going to stay at The Linq, but they couldn't guarantee we would get a refurbished room so we opted for Harrah's (a good thing considering we got a suite).  We ate dinner at the Chayo Mexican Kitchen and had a pretty good Mexican dinner.

After dinner we decided to walk down to the Cromwell which is another hotel that has been redone.  The Cromwell was originally called the Barbary Coast and then CET bought it and renamed it Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon.  In early 2013 it closed to be rebuilt into a luxury boutique hotel and renamed The Cromwell.  It opened in April of 2014 so this is the first time we've seen it.  We really liked what they had done.  The hotel seemed very nice and the casino, though not very large, seemed inviting.  We hung around there for a while and then walked back to Harrah's and called it a night.

Day 2
My birthday today.  The older you get birthdays mean less and less, but it is a milestone and means you've made it another year.  When we are in Las Vegas we tend to stay up late and sleep late so our day didn't start until mid-morning when we decided to walk over to the Linq Hotel where we wanted to have lunch at a new restaurant called Guy Fieri's Kitchen and Bar.  We liked the restaurant and the food was great, but for us the portions were too big.  We would definitely come back again.

After lunch it was back to the Monorail and down to the MGM Grand Hotel.  We visit the MGM Grand Casino at least once when we're in Las Vegas as we like the casino and enjoy gambling there.  By late afternoon it was time to head back to Harrah's as we had dinner reservations at Rao's Restaurant in Caesar's Palace.

Rao's is a famous Italian restaurant in New York City that that has been in business since 1896 and the family that owns it opened a second location at Caesar's in Las Vegas.  It is almost impossible to get a reservation at the New York City Rao's, but luckily it's not so difficult in Las Vegas.  If you are interested, here is a link to an interesting article in Forbes Magazine about the restaurant.  We had eaten at Rao's several years ago and really enjoyed it so when Val asked where I wanted to eat for my birthday dinner, I immediately thought of going back and we weren't disappointed.  Dinner was excellent, we both like Italian food and this was some of the best, highly recommended.  After dinner we gambled a little bit at Caesar's Palace and then walked back through the Forum Shops, across Las Vegas Blvd. and back to Harrah's where we finished the night.

Day 3
Today is our last day in Las Vegas and we decided to start the day by checking out the newly opened Grand Bazaar Shops at Bally's Hotel and Casino.  The entrance to Bally's from The Strip was a long, boring moving sidewalk that seemed to be rarely working and didn't really seem to have much purpose.  It has been replaced by an open air market with many small shops (more like booths), food vendors and entertainment.  It had just opened the day before so not everything was open and the walkway over the hotel entrance was not open at all.  It seemed like it might be a good idea, but we weren't really impressed, but we'll give it the benefit of a doubt and check it out again after it has been open for a while.  I will say that it is a big improvement over what was there before which was nothing.

After that we walked over to Caesar's where we wanted to have lunch at the Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill.  The restaurant is located right off the Forum Casino area and is open to the casino.  We really enjoyed our lunch, but thought that it was pretty expensive for lunch so I don't know how often we would eat there.  I would like to go back and try their dinner menu as it looked pretty interesting.  We hung around Caesar's for a while before making the walk through the Forum Shops again to return to Harrah's.

For our last evening in Las Vegas, we decided to take a ride on the High Roller.  The High Roller is located at the end of The Linq Promenade and is the world's tallest observation wheel at 550 feet.  We weren't expecting much, but we had comped tickets so we gave it a try and it turned out to be really great.  We went just after sunset so it was twilight and you could see the lights, but the sky was still a deep blue.  The views of Las Vegas and The Strip area were spectacular.  Here are some pictures we took during the half hour it took for the wheel to go all the way around.  The pictures aren't great as they were shot through the glass with a cell phone and a pocket camera, but you'll get the idea.

We are just leaving the boarding area.  These are the pods or cabins you ride in. 
Big enough for about 30 people.
Looking at The Monorail station and Harrah's hotel.  You can see our room circled in red.
Up we go into the night sky.

We are almost at the top.
Now it's our turn at the very top.

Val and I with Las Vegas down below in the background.
We even got to see the Bellagio Fountains from above.
I thought that a half hour would seem like a long time, but it went by really quickly.  We only had four other people in our "cabin" so it was not crowded at all as it was big enough to hold thirty.  All in all, we had a great time and will probably do it again.

After the High Roller, it was back to Harrah's to finish the evening.  Since we'd had a big lunch we ended up back at the Fulton Street Food Hall where we had a light dinner.  We called it a night early as we didn't want to get started for home too late in the morning.  Another great trip to Las Vegas comes to an end.

The Trip Home
We didn't get the early start we wanted and ended up leaving around 10:30.  We always stop at the outlet stores in Primm, NV on the way home because of the Williams-Sonoma Outlet Store there, but this time Val also wanted to do some shopping for our upcoming cruise so we spent quite a bit of time there.  There is a pretty good food court there and we had a very good lunch at the Lotus Express.  The Lotus Express seems to have very mixed reviews on Yelp so I won't recommend it, but we've always had good food there.

After the outlets, it was the long drive home.  We drove straight through with only one stop in Tehachapi.  Even though there was little traffic, we still didn't make it home until around 8:00 in the evening, but still a good end to a very good trip.  A great way to celebrate my birthday.

What's Next?
Our travel drought will end in a couple of weeks when we leave on a thirty day cruise to Mexico, Central America and South America.  I don't know whether I will try to post live as we travel or just wait until we get home.  If it's the latter, you won't hear from me again until April.

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