Our March Break trip was Sunday March 12th to Thursday March 16th this year. No real problems at the Toronto or Las Vegas airports, but my first gamble paid off at the Car Rental. I’m a Dollar Express member, but their prices were sky high in the lead-up to the trip. I’d booked with Kemwel instead for $75 per day which was re-selling Budget. The weekend before we left I checked back with Dollar and their prices had dipped to similar levels as Kemwel. I checked with my wife and said, “Well we’ll get to avoid the line if we switch” and she said, “Sure”.
We get off the car rental shuttle bus and the line for Budget is to the door. I would have been stuck in that huge line had we not switched. A sign is up for Dollar telling Dollar Express members to head outside. Outside are two large lines of folks waiting for cars. I walk up to the counter, talk to the agent who pulls my waiting rental agreement from the rack and tells me, “Wait here” as she grabs the first car that comes back ready for rental. I get in and drive off as a line 20 deep waits for cars.
Hotel room rates were sky high because of the Conexpo Con/AGG convention. I counted myself lucky to get a room for under $300 per night, but that meant we were not staying at Wynn/Encore as we normally do instead we were at Vdara.
Getting to Vdara was a problem. First off they don’t have self-parking for Vdara and instead you’re supposed to use ARIA’s self-parking. We managed to get to the ARIA self-park, but then walking over to Vdara was a trial. We jumped on the tram and the signs were all saying to go to Bellagio. However once we got to Bellagio there was a sign saying that the walkway between Bellagio and Vdara is closed and to get back on the tram. Ugh! We eventually find ourselves at Crystals mall where we exit the mall, head into ARIA, out into the round-a-bout that connects ARIA and Vdara and walk over to the hotel. We’re dragging around our big suitcase as we do all this traipsing around too. That initial ordeal left me sour on MGM’s organization and planning. The Wynn’s self-park and walk in is much better throughout and I’m not paying $18/day for parking either!
Checking in was fairly quick and the room was ready for us after all that walking around rigmarole. They tried to upsell a room upgrade several times to us, but we refused. We ended up on the 23rd floor and the room itself was decent. Was it up to the Wynn standards? No in my opinion. They do have a nice entryway with the kitchen with a small table for two, a hot plate, fridge, and sink as you come in. Past there is a small sitting area with a couch and television. On the other side of that sitting area is the bed and off of the bedroom is the bathroom with a single sink, toilet, tub, and shower. The differences are in the details. The bathroom sink area doesn’t really have a place for towels and whatnot. Instead they have a mirrored two-shelf unit on wheels that holds all your washcloths, hand, and body towels. The drawers for the bedroom/living room are poorly thought out given that it is a hotel room. The closet with the safe and the spot to hang your clothes is jammed in the corner of the room by the bed. I’d heard that Vdara was originally intended as condos, but the 2008-2009 financial crisis made MGM convert them to hotel rooms instead. It certainly feels that way all around Vdara from the room itself, to the elevator layout, to the foyer, and front desk area.
The Vdara isn’t terrible. I guess the big question is would we stay there again? If MGM gave us a deal that knocked my socks off? Sure. That’d have to be under $100/night though and Wynn would have to boost their rates to above $150/night for me to choose Vdara over Wynn. I regularly get offers from the Wynn that run $119/night so I would choose Wynn every time at those differences.
After settling into the room, we looked for the $0.25 8/5 Bonus Poker machines at Bellagio. It took a bit to find them and we only played them for a short time before deciding to grab supper. I believe we broke even after only 15 minutes of play.
Sunday at supper we headed over to Lindo Michoacan to have a margarita and a meal. We shared the guacamole to start and then I had mole chicken and my wife had carne asada. Both were very good, but the portion sizes were huge and we couldn’t finish. It is a good value-for-money meal at Lindo Michoacan and worth a jaunt off the strip to check them out.
After supper, my wife rested in the room and I headed out to get in a little craps. I just popped over to ARIA to stay close. Minimums were high. $25 per hand for 6:5 blackjack, $50 per hand for 3:2 blackjack and there was just one table. Craps was also $25 minimum. I bought in for $200 and decided to go pass line given the minimums. Here’s where I ran into Mr. Eight. There were only three of us at the table. I was at one end and the two other players were at the opposite. Mr. Eight was camped out right at the end. He rolled 4 points of eight in a row before the diced passed to me. I managed a single point on 6 before my seven-out. I happily accepted my good fortune and coloured up for $450 after only 20 minutes of play.
I got up around 6AM to get cleaned up and get in another session of craps while my wife slept in. I was pleased to see a $15 minimum table right as a I walked into ARIA, but when I bought in and looked at the layout I realized my mistake. It was crapless craps. I ended up flipping over to a table on the back side, but this was a $25 minimum table unfortunately. Here my luck wasn’t great. I started pass line when the dice were on the other side of the stick from me, but a seven out had the dice move to my end and I’d just bought in so I let the dice pass to the next shooter. He was actually hedging on the don’t and placing the point so I felt free to bet don’t pass. I won my don’t bet as he had a seven-out within three rolls, but the other end of the table was choppy sometimes making the point and sometimes not. I ended up down overall in that session to the tune of $200 overall, but that left me up $50 for the trip.
I headed back to the room to gather up my wife. We were going to do some shopping at the Fashion Show Mall so we thought we’d take the car down there, park it, and then walk back up to the mid-strip Denny’s for breakfast, gamble a little bit until the mall opened, and then get our purchases in. Here’s where the size of the Conexpo convention hit home. We got to Denny’s about 9AM and the lineup was around the front and down the side of where the escalators come up. We said, “Forget it” and we ended up at the McDonald’s on the other side of Casino Royale instead. It was busy too, but things were moving quickly there.
After breakfast, we sat down at TI for a little blackjack. Several tables were open – 3:2 double deck, a 6:5 single deck, and a couple 8-deck 3:2 tables at a nice $15 minimum. We seated ourselves at an 8-deck game with no other players. My wife didn’t want play. I bought in for $200 and didn’t really get anywhere. I bet $20 a hand to keep blackjack and surrender even and it was a lot of back and forth on straight up hands. No splits, but I lost three double opportunities and won only one. Needless to say I cashed out down $160 and now down $110 overall.
Luckily the mall opened to save me from my beating. We headed into Macy’s and just by chance saw some nice dresses and tops for my wife. We popped over to Macy’s for Men (it’s strange that it is in a completely separate area in the mall) and picked up a couple Nautica shirts for me. It was nice that they were on sale for $44.95. Then we stopped by Lucky Jeans for my wife. She got a couple pairs last year and really liked them so she was hoping for a boot cut jean. She’s a country girl at heart and often wears cowboy boots. It took a while and lots of trips to the fitting room to try stuff on, but she eventually found two pairs.
At this point, my wife wanted to get just a little more shopping in. I, on the other hand, was done. She kindly sent me off to TI where I said I would hang out at the craps and blackjack area while she shopped. She said she’d likely be less than an hour.
I beetled over to TI to first try my luck at craps. It was a $15 minimum and I bought in for $200. I started on pass line, but it was a point made and then two 7-outs. I quickly lost $140 so I bailed and went to try my hand at blackjack and put out another $200. Here there wasn’t much luck either. I lost a lot of straight up hands, but this time a double or a split opportunity would get me back in it. I played several shoes worth and then I began to wonder where my wife got to. I was starting to think I’d need to send out a hunting party. I finally cashed out of blackjack down a modest $60, but that meant I was down $310 overall. The session wasn’t a total loss in that one juicy tidbit came in the form of the relief dealer telling us that the poker room got shut down at TI because there was a bunch of collusion going on within the poker room operation such that they were skimming from the house. I guess it was happening over a few months and the owner stepped in and shut the whole thing down.
I then went looking for my wife. I ran into her after about 10 minutes of looking around the TI casino. It turns out she couldn’t get any of the items she was looking for in her size at any of the smaller shops at the mall or Macy’s. Eventually the Macy’s person looks around to make sure there were no managers around and says, “Go look in Dillard’s”. She did find several items at Dillard’s in her size with the help of a diligent young salesperson and she was very thankful.
Once we found each other we popped back to Vdara. This took longer than it should have because of the crazy street layout for City Centre. The way the GPS brought me in was from the west and once you get to the round-a-bout part you are not supposed to jog left where the access ramp to take you back down toward Las Vegas Boulevard and the ARIA self-park is. You end up going the whole way around to get to that off-ramp. Again the layout down here is terrible.
We were supposed to get a dip in the pool at Vdara, but because of the longer than expected shopping trip we had to forgo the pool as we had plans to visit Red Rock Casino and then dinner at Marche Bacchus. This turned out to be a mistake because Monday was the best day weather-wise with a high of 24C/75F and sunny. Tuesday and Wednesday ended up cold with a fair amount of rain so we missed our opportunity for some pool time.
The big gambling attraction for us at Red Rock Casino is $0.25 full pay Jacks or better video poker. The strip doesn’t offer it at that level anymore. There’s a $1 full pay spin poker machine at Cosmopolitan and $0.25 8/5 Bonus Poker at Bellagio. Everyone else only offers it at the $5 level and above and I would be way undercapitalized to play with a budget of $2000.
We quickly found the machines and plunked ourselves down. For the next hour and a half, we would print out tickets when we were up $20 or more. Most of the time it was a struggle. We would both get way down only to hit a 4-of-a-kind or a couple full houses to get us back into it. We managed to print off a half dozen tickets and ended up winning about $180 between us. This left us down $130 for the trip.
We headed to Marche Bacchus in plenty of time so we could browse the wine shop. We struck up a conversation with the manager while browsing the wines talking about wines they used to have, the chefs like Strata and now Ogden, and that stuffy French waiter that would scold you if you got the wrong wine with your meal, but damn he knew how to serve. We asked the manager to recommend a wine and we gave him parameters like no Syrah or Pinot, but being OK with Merlot or a Cabernet Sauvignon. He suggested several, but we ended up with a Fine Roches from Chateauneuf-du-Pape that was fantastic. We shared an Ogden specialty Seared Foie Gras to start and then I had the lamb and my wife had the Filet Mignon. All were delicious. We shared a crème brulee for dessert. Marche Bacchus has waxed and waned over the years, but it looks to be waxing at the moment with Ogden on board.
I woke up early to get cleaned up and get in a game of craps. The weather had turned overnight with a cold wind and rain forecast. I was keen to get over to Park MGM as I heard that they don’t have smoking in the casino. I spied a sign as I entered the walkway to Park MGM that read, “The only thing smoking are the dice” which I thought was cute. Sure enough the air was clear and while my session was a loser, but I was grateful for the absence of smoke. I bought in for $200 and there was no real pattern. I started on the pass line while the dice were at the other end of the table and no points were made. I tried the pass line too when the dice passed to me, but I also failed to make a point. I was quickly down $160 for the session and now $290 for the trip.
I tucked my tail between my legs with that quick beating and headed over to Cosmopolitan to play the $1 9/6 JoB machine and here I had no luck either. Nothing better than a flush during the session, but it took a while to work down my $100 despite that. Now I’m down $390 so I figured I’d gather up my wife to see if she could change our luck.
I get back to the room and chat with my wife about our activities that day. The plan originally was that we hit the pool on Tuesday, but the weather had turned so we looked to head to Hoover Dam. We’ve been to Hoover Dam several times, but never actually taken the inside tour. Here bad luck hit too. The website said Hoover Dam’s inside tours were closed because the elevators were broken!
With those plans dashed, I dragged my wife over to Park MGM to get in a little more craps and see if she could change my luck. Her presence did help a little. I started on pass line and a point got made right off the bat. Then it got choppy right after until the dice passed to us. I made her roll and she made her point within a few rolls, but followed up with a seven-out almost immediately on the next point. The dice went around the table and we rolled one more time, but also failed to make our point. It wasn’t a complete bloodbath, but we were down another $120 when it was all said and done which meant being down $510 overall. Ugh Tuesday was getting bad all around – weather, gambling, and site seeing.
We ventured over to Cosmopolitan to see if her luck would be any better on the $1 9/6 JoB there, but no it was a quick washout of $100 and now we’re down $610 overall. We decided lunch would be a better idea at this point. We ventured over to Tacos El Gordo north of the Wynncore. We got there just after noon and luckily it wasn’t too busy. We grabbed a couple of the spicy pork, asada, and chorizo tacos. My wife got a quesadilla as well. All were excellent as always and boy they do a booming business there. This time my wife didn’t have any swelling because of MSG. She didn’t eat any of the chorizo this time so maybe that was it.
We drove downtown to Four Queens after lunch. We thought lower level gambling might be the order of the day given our luck to that point. Four Queens has $0.25 9/6 JoB which was perfect. One quibble was that they’ve only 4 of the 9/6 machines in this one bank of 8 machines and they’ve set them up such that the 9/6 is on every other machine. Normally we sit right beside each other, but that wasn’t possible. We spent a good hour on the machines to get our parking validated. I was doing quite well in that I managed to print off a couple tickets for $120 or more after putting in $100. My wife was holding her own on her first $100, but she would get down to $50 or so and then hit a full house or four of a kind to get back in it.
Then it happened.
She got dealt the jack and queen of hearts with nothing better to hold. We use the Wizard’s simple strategy and that’s #11 on a list 14 deep. She hits the button to draw thinking nothing of it. At this point, she thought the machine had frozen. The money counter started going up and up so she double checks her hand and literally had her breath taken away. She could barely talk for shortness of breath and in a hoarse voice she called over to me, “I think I just got a royal flush!”. I wander over to see her holding her chest trying to breathe and I see the counter at $600 and counting and look at her cards and say, “Yes! You got a royal flush!”. That’s our first royal flush on a single line machine ever. We were both flustered. We got the security fellow over and asked if there was someone around who could take our picture as we’d left my phone in my wife’s purse and her purse was back at the hotel room because she didn’t want to carry it. We talked to the cashier’s cage too, and I also asked if the Player’s Club would have a camera. All to no avail. She played several more hands (the picture says 9 hands!) on the machine to get it to an even dollar amount and then we cashed out the ticket and took it to the cage. We were standing by the machine after cashing out when the slot manager came by and we chatted her up about our first royal flush. She was very kind and said she could roll back the machine for us and take a picture:
That big win shot us from down $610 to up $420 overall. Thrilling!
After that I put my annual NFL bets on the NY Jets at the William Hill sports book at Four Queens. $20 for the Jets to reach the Super Bowl and $20 to win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately Aaron Rodgers is running my life because the odds tumbled when the talks between the Green Bay QB and the Jets went public. 8 to 1 to reach the Super Bowl and 15 to 1 to win. I understand, at the time, those were the best odds outside of the favourites like the Bills and Chiefs.
We wandered around the Four Queens as well as the Golden Nugget looking for a cheap blackjack or craps game. All the blackjack tables were crammed full both 3:2 and 6:5 as well as all the craps tables we ran across. Again I suspect Connexpo was to blame. We decided to head back to Vdara and figure out supper from there.
I called around to see if we could go somewhere fancy after our big win. I first tried ‘Cut’ the steakhouse at Palazzo and they were booked solid likely due to Connexpo. Ditto the fancier steakhouses at Bellagio. We decided to give up and just go somewhere close by. We’d had a good experience at a chain restaurant –Applebee’s – last year so we thought we’d try a chain restaurant again and ended up at Olive Garden which is across Las Vegas boulevard from Park MGM so we could walk. Here our luck failed us. The food was meh and our waiter was more interested in spending time at the table behind us with the four young ladies than he was in serving us. Oh well. On the bright side, Olive Garden does have large portion sizes so we ended up packing up leftovers and giving it to a homeless person on the bridge over Las Vegas boulevard on the way back.
I again woke up early to hit craps at Park MGM. This time I decided I’d stick with the don’t pass given how things weren’t going my way. Here I had some luck. The table was choppy, but two point seven-outs for every point made so I was getting a little traction. I wasted a bunch of money looking for a $2 12 on my come outs to no avail, but cashed out up $80 and up $500 overall.
Feeling flush with success and just a little jealous of my wife’s royal flush the previous day I wandered over the $1 9/6 JoB at Cosmopolitan and quickly gave back $200. Oh well that’s gambling.
I headed back to the room where I again saw that the full guided tour of Hoover Dam were unavailable. The weather was still rainy and cold, but we decided those conditions might make for interesting photos of Red Rock canyon. Again bad luck hit. We were literally under a mile from the park when we ran into a State Trooper roadblock. All the rain had enough water flowing through the area that the road to Red Rock canyon was under water. We asked if we could still get to the conservation area and they said well you’ll have to go the long way around which is 40 minutes out of the way. We were determined so we coaxed the GPS to get us around to Blue Diamond highway and to Red Rock’s entrance only to find the water was overtop the scenic drive road in spots as well. Bad luck again!
The Ranger blocking the entrance told us to head down a little further to Calico Basin Trail so that we might get some pictures there. We ended up stopping for pictures a few times on the way back on Blue Diamond highway:
We had a 3PM show for Mac King at Excalibur so we had some time to kill as it was only 11:30AM. We decided we’d stop at Red Rock Casino again and spend some time on their $0.25 9/6 JoB machines. No royal flushes here, but my wife managed to hold her own on $100 for two and a half hours. I only played an hour and then hit the craps table and some blackjack. The blackjack table was initially full so I headed to craps. Here I had to wait. The stickman had broken the stick! No one was playing and he was chatting with the other dealers while flexing the stick and it broke. It took 10 minutes to find a replacement stick so the game could be started. I again stuck to don’t pass and had some success. I did roll out a few don’t come bets as well, but all those points hit so that ate into my success on don’t pass. I then hit blackjack where it was double deck and 3:2. This was a blood bath. I lost 2 hands for every win and lost a couple doubles as well. Between my wife and I we lost $300 so we were even overall at this point.
We drove back to Vdara and then headed over to Excalibur for the show. Mac King’s magic show is a nice afternoon affair that’s fun and family friendly. His legerdemain is top-notch and Mac King mixes comedy and magic together quite well. The show is inexpensive too -- about $60 per person -- which is about half what you’d spend on one of the big evening shows like Cirque du Soleil’s “O”.
For supper, we went over to Beijing Noodle No. 9 at Caesars Palace. We shared some beef and scallion dumplings, veggie chow mien, chicken fried rice, and the crispy skin pork bell. My wife had red bean ice cream for dessert (which I helped eat). All were delicious, but the prices seem to have risen again since our last visit. We had no alcohol and the bill came to $144.96 including tip and tax. Yikes!
After supper, we headed into TI so I could get in a session of cheap blackjack. I sat down at one of the 8-deck 3:2 tables for a $15 minimum with a nice couple from Virginia who were there for Connexpo and a fellow on 3rd base who chain smoked. Unfortunately I was seated next to this fellow. He tried to keep the smoke from heading in my direction by holding his cigarette into the dealer/supervisor area, but I suspect the ventilation is such that it pushes air out of that area. The smoke just seemed to flow back to me as a result. My luck was strange here. I lost 2 to 1 on straight up hands, but both doubles and splits were kind to me such that I ended up $40 for the session.
We headed back to Vdara where my wife wanted to pack and then rest up.
Our flight home wasn’t until 1:30PM so we had some time before checking out. I got in a session of blackjack at ARIA early in the morning on the only 3:2 table they had, but it was $25 minimum. I bought in for $300 and walked away with $50 after a very short 20 minutes. I lost 3 hands for every winning hand and the coup de grace was a split of 3’s against a dealer 6 where the first hand turned into 17 and the second hand went to 11 for a double and a six on the double card. Dealer has a 2 behind for 8, draws a 7, and then a six for 21. Boo!
I popped over to Park MGM for some smoke-free craps as well. Here I managed a little luck on the don’t pass and even hit a couple $2 12’s on my come out roll. The first one was a strange one where the dice hit the back wall and then each die bounced to a separate corner of the table, popped up and back towards stick, smacked together in the air, and fell down showing 12. Wow! The stick asked me if I heard the two dice smacking together in the air which I confirmed. It was a wild roll for sure. I rolled out don’t come bets when the point was 4 or 10 and got probably a half dozen don’t come bets in that situation, but the only one that hit was when my don’t come was on 4 opposite the point of 10. I rolled quite a few points of 6 on myself as well, but left the table up $80 so down $130 overall.
I butted my head against the $1 JoB at Cosmopolitan for another $200 as well. Nothing better than a straight and very few two pair which I found strange. Two pair is the workhorse of Jacks or better isn’t it?
I grabbed coffee and pastries for breakfast which we ate in the room and then dragged my wife down to the $1 JoB to see if her luck was still with us. She quickly lost $50 and turned the machine over to me. Sure enough my luck changed and I printed off 8 tickets of $120 or more. This run was flush with flushes, a full house, and a four of a kind. I walked away up $180 and so down $150 overall.
We checked out of Vdara after that and made our way back to the airport and home.
Well it was a strangely mixed trip. Weather was great Sunday and Monday. Cold, windy, and rainy Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. We didn’t have great luck over all, but offset by our first royal flush on a single line machine. A very nice bottle of wine and meal at Marche Bacchus. A fun and inexpensive magic show from Mac King. No luck with site seeing at Hoover Dam or Red Rock Canyon although we did get some nice pictures driving around. My wife had some nice finds shopping. I likely wouldn’t stay at Vdara again if a Wynn or Encore room were available at a reasonable price. It looks like Connexpo-Con/AGG will return to Las Vegas in 2026 so maybe I won’t be scrambling for a room next year.
Does Mac King now cost $60 a person?
link to original post
They run $45 + taxes and fees which runs you to $59 and change so effectively $60.
As a humourous aside, here's how naive my wife is. She was looking at the tables in the theatre and asking why are there strips of rough patches on the long tables?
I told her this was the "Thunderland" theatre and the headline attraction is "The Thunder from Down Under" so those rough patches help prevent the male strippers from slipping when they are dancing on the tables.
And they split the Macy's into a separate men's store at my local mall, too. Women's clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics in one store, and at the other, men's clothing and furniture.
Thanks for the detailed trip report! Sorry to hear the weather put the kibosh on your non-gambling plans, but happy that you hit a royal flush! (I'm still waiting for mine.) And that was extremely nice for the slot manager to go into the machine and bring up the play history for you! Now THAT is good customer service!
And they split the Macy's into a separate men's store at my local mall, too. Women's clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics in one store, and at the other, men's clothing and furniture.
link to original post
We were grateful to the slot manager for helping us out. We've had good experiences at Four Queens and getting 9/6 Jacks or better at $0.25 level is nice.
My wife tells me women are big business so that's why the Macy's for Men gets shunted off to its own smaller store.